Dead Heat Page 3

Once she figured it out she would be able to see if there was a way around it. The panic she could work around—and if he honestly didn’t want children, well, she’d deal with that, too. But it was the sadness that lingered behind the panic, the sadness and longing her wolf knew was there, that made her dig in and fight. Anna style.

“Okay,” she said brightly. She who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. “I just thought I’d give you an update.” She picked up her bundle of information and tucked it under her arm.

She walked over to the window and looked at the falling snow that had frosted the deep green trees and coated the not-so-distant mountains, making the world seem clean and new. Also cold.

“Have you decided what you’re getting me for my birthday yet?” she asked.

He liked giving presents. Sometimes it was a flower he’d picked for her—other times expensive jewelry. He’d gradually learned that really expensive gifts, which he liked best, freaked her out. He now left those for important occasions.

He put his arm around her, his body relaxed against her. “Not yet. But I expect I’ll figure something out.”

Charles couldn’t keep his mind on the numbers, so he closed down his computer. Money was power, and in the long run it could keep his people safer than his fangs and claws. After a hiatus, pack finances were his to protect again.

His gaze fell on the yellow sticky he’d put on the top of his monitor—Anna’s birthday, her twenty-sixth. He needed to find her a present. His preference was for jewelry—which, as his da pointed out, was sort of marking his territory for the other males in the vicinity.

My mate, the ring on her finger told them. And when she ventured to wear any of the necklaces and earrings he’d gotten her, they said, And I can provide for her better than you. After his da made him aware of the reason for his need to bedeck Anna in jewels, he’d begun to work on presents that she did want.

Anna wanted children.

He stared at the bright-colored Post-it note.

It was perfectly reasonable that she’d want children. He understood the urgency of her drive even if she didn’t. She’d been a college student when Justin, the Chicago Alpha’s hit man, had taken away nearly all of her choices; she’d spent the better part of the time since then taking them back. Reclaiming her life from those who would have taken it from her entirely.

His phone rang and he picked it up absently—until he heard the voice on the other end.

“Hey, Charles,” said Joseph Sani, once the best friend he had in the world. “I was thinking of you today. You and your new bride.”

“Not so new,” Charles said, not fighting the happiness rising up. Joseph affected everyone that way. “It’s been three years—a few months more than that. How are you?”

“Three years and I haven’t met her yet,” Joseph said, his tone asking, Why not?

Years slipping away without notice, Charles thought. And the last time I saw you, you were an old man. I don’t want you to be old. It makes my heart hurt.

“I couldn’t come to your wedding,” Joseph was saying, “but you didn’t make mine, either. We’re even.”

“I didn’t know about yours,” Charles told him dryly.

“You didn’t have an address or a telephone that I knew about,” Joseph said. “You were a hard man to find. I admit you sent me an invitation to yours, but it was through Maggie—and I didn’t get it until the day before.”

Yes, he’d rather thought that Maggie wouldn’t pass it on. “I’m surprised you got it before the wedding at all,” he said, acknowledging his own culpability. “But we didn’t send out invitations through the mail. Just called. I tried three times and got Maggie twice. The second time I just left the message.”

Joseph laughed, and then coughed.

“That’s quite a cough,” Charles said, concerned.

“I’m fine,” Joseph said lightly. “I want to meet your wife, so I can see if she’s good enough for you. Why don’t you bring her down?”

Charles worked the numbers in his head. He’d met Joseph when he’d been twelve or thereabouts, back shortly after World War II. Joseph was in his eighties. The last time he’d seen him face-to-face he’d been in his sixties. Twenty years, he thought in dawning horror. Had he been so much a coward?

“Charles?”

“Okay,” he said decisively. “We’ll come.” His eyes caught on the Post-it note again, and that gave him an idea. “Are you and Hosteen still breeding horses?”

THREE DAYS LATER

Chelsea Sani parked her car, pulled off her sunglasses, and got out. She patted the oversized sign that declared that Sunshine Fun Day Care was a place where children were happy as she passed it. The fenced-off play areas on either side of the sidewalk were empty of children, but as soon as she pulled the heavy door of the day care open, the cheerful blast of kid noise brought a smile to her face.

There were day cares closer to her house, but this one was clean and organized and they kept the kids busy. With her kids, it was always best to keep them busy.

Michael saw her as she peeked into his class of fellow four-year-olds and hooted as he dropped the toy he was playing with and double-timed it to her. She scooped him up in her arms, knowing that the time was soon coming when he wouldn’t let her do it anymore. She blew against his neck, and he giggled and wriggled down to run to the wall of coat hooks where his backpack was.

The teacher in charge waved at her but didn’t come over to chat as she did sometimes. Her assistant helped Michael with his backpack, grinned at him, and then was distracted by a little girl in a pink dress.

Michael held Chelsea’s hand and danced to music he heard in his head. “First we go to pick up Mackie and then we go home,” he told her.

“That’s right,” she agreed as they walked down the hall. She opened the door to Mackie’s classroom and found her sitting on the time-out chair with her arms folded and a familiar stubborn expression—a look that Chelsea had seen on her husband’s face more than a time or two.

“Hey, pumpkin,” she said, holding out her free hand to give her daughter permission to get up. “Bad day?”

Mackie considered her words without leaving the chair and then nodded solemnly. The new teacher, who was maybe twenty, hurried over, leaving the rest of the kids with her assistant.

“Sharing time didn’t go well,” she said, a little grimly. “We had to have a talk with Mackie about being kind to others. I’m not sure it took.”

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