Hunting Ground Chapter ELEVEN

MICHEL was bad. Almost-dead bad. And he wasn't going to be telling anyone anything anytime soon. Alan had him on a hospital bed-in a cage in the basement of his house twenty minutes away. The cage was necessary because seriously injured werewolves, when not attended by more dominant wolves, tended to be violent.

It was probably not useful to go talk to him until he'd had a day or so to heal, Charles decided. Tomorrow then, he'd take one of the other French wolves with him to talk to Michel.

Anna looked sick and tired-sickened, he corrected himself. She had been right. The horror of the scene was lost on him, and probably Angus as well. If the carving had been done while Chastel was still alive... maybe it would have bothered him more. If it had been someone he cared about, or someone he was supposed to protect-it would have been different.

But Anna was young, and despite her rough first years as a werewolf, there was a lot she hadn't seen-or maybe it was just that she could look at the murder site and not think about breakfast.

"Angus, we're going back to the hotel to get a few more hours of sleep. Would you call me when the cleanup is done?"

Angus-on the phone again-waved his agreement, and Charles touched Anna on the shoulder to get her moving.

"I thought we were going to talk to Michel?" Anna said.

"Not tonight. Let's give him some time to recover. I'm satisfied that this was done by the vampires. It wasn't me. I don't see that Michel could have done it. Even if he could have taken a wounded Chastel, which I don't really think is a possibility, there is no way a badly wounded man could take the time and effort necessary to paint such a picture. This was done coldly, professionally: vampires."

She stopped. "Why did the room smell like you?"

He pushed her forward again. "I have no idea. Angus, check it out please?"

Angus nodded without pausing in his conversation.

She took a step and stopped again. "And who won the hunt?"

"Is it important?"

"Maybe. If Chastel had the ruby ring-and Dana had access to it. The fae can put spells on objects, right?"

Charles looked over and saw that Angus was still listening to them.

"Hold a minute," Angus told whoever he was speaking to. "Valentin won it. The German wolf."

Anna said, "Shoot."

He'd never heard anyone use that word with such feeling before.

She gave him a tired grin. "Valentin snatched that bag from us. We almost got it."

"He took it from you and the Italians?" Charles asked appreciatively. "That will please Valentin-a bit of getting his own back after the Omega decided to stay with Isaac's pack."

"So no fae-magicked gem involved," Anna said.

"Seems not." Charles guided Anna through the front door and out into the cool night... or early morning anyway.

Ian gave them a salute with his beer can as they came out and Charles stuffed Anna into the passenger seat.

She was tired enough that it took her a few blocks before she said, "Hey. How come you are driving?"

"Because you're so tired you're slurring," he told her. "Close your eyes, and I'll get us back."

"HOW long can we sleep?" asked Anna, shedding her clothes before he got the hotel door fully closed behind them.

"Until we have to get up," Charles told her. He was tired, too-but he picked up her clothes and tossed them on top of a suitcase before dealing with his own in a similar fashion. He left his underwear on, as he usually did now: it seemed to make things a little easier on Anna.

He joined her on the bed, lying flat on his face and all but groaning with the pleasure of relaxation. Four in the morning, but with the curtains drawn they might see four or five hours of sleep-as long as Angus didn't have anything new to report.

She was on the far side, leaving two cold feet of mattress between them. He knew that she'd fall asleep like that... and then gradually move over until she was plastered against him. Then he could go to sleep, too.

"Charles?" she said.


She moved, but with his head down he couldn't tell if she'd turned away or toward him. There was a tentative-ness in her voice, and Brother Wolf, the canny old hunter, told him to keep his head down and his body relaxed while their prey came to them.

"Does it bother you?" she was whispering.

He considered all the things that might be bothering him, but couldn't come up with one appropriate to this situation. "Does what bother me?"

"Tonight." Pause. "Me. My wolf." And then she didn't say anything more.

It was enough. She was talking about their earlier lovemaking. How to answer? I'll take you any way you come to me-how about now-didn't seem quite the right response.

"Does it bother you?" Charles asked.

A soft thump, thump, thump, and subtle vibration told him that she was tapping her fingers on the bed. Then the bed bounced as she sat up. He turned his head so he could open one eye and look at her.

She was naked. Some of the movement had been her pulling off the last of her clothes. As he watched, she reached out with her hand, leaned forward, and touched his bare back. She just held her hand there. As she sat there, her pulse rate picked up until he could see it beat in her neck-and it wasn't passion.

"Bad thoughts?" he asked.

She nodded. "It's over. Done. Has been for a long time. Why does it still have such power?" The hand on his skin fisted, pulled away, then landed back where it had been, fingers widespread.

Words. He wasn't good with them. But he'd try. "It's not over in your head. And that's all right, Anna. Don't expect it to be over and done so fast. It's like... like the silver left in my wound. It needs to fester out-and sometimes it'll feel worse than the original wound did."

"If I let the wolf in," she said a little bitterly, "it's not a struggle at all."

"Wolf is emotion: needs and now," he agreed. "She doesn't care about the past as long as it doesn't affect now."

"She knows you won't hurt us," Anna said, sounding frustrated. "I know, too, but it doesn't help. She can reach out and take what she wants."

He rolled over, taking his time in the doing of it so he wouldn't startle her. When he finished he was a foot closer to her and could look at her without getting a crick in his neck.

"And do you want me?"

She'd pulled her hand away when he'd moved, and now sat straight-backed and stiff. Something started to change...

"Not your wolf," he said. "Do you want me? Or is it only the wolf."

Was she only doing her best to live with the creature inside her? Giving it what it wanted? That was what his father did with his mate. Wolf to wolf they were tight as any mated pair he'd ever seen-man to woman... they did not match. He didn't want that for Anna.

He didn't think Anna disliked him, didn't think everything between them was her wolf. But even the possibility of it was searingly painful.

"I want you," she told him with a thumb at her chest. "I do." Then she gave him a little rueful smile. "So does she."

He went back to his original question, then. It was very important that he know the answer to this one. "Does it bother you when your wolf initiates our lovemaking?"

She dropped her eyes, not from any desire to submit, but as a human impulse to hide what she felt. "Not the way you mean," she said finally.

"And how do I mean it?"

She gave him an exasperated look.

"I'm not playing games, Anna," he told her, holding her gaze when she would have dropped it. "I need to know how to handle this. I need to know more."

"You are asking if I'm entirely willing to have sex when she starts things." Her voice was brittle with the embarrassment that colored her cheekbones.

"That's what I'm asking."

She swallowed. "Yes." And then said, in a rapid pace, like a balloon deflating, "I think I give her the idea in the first place."

Relief washed through him. Anything else he could work with. Anything. "So. Does it bother you when she initiates lovemaking in the way you mean it?"

She gave a snort of laughter. "Sorry. But it sounds stupid when you put it that way." She dropped her head, then lifted it, tossing her hair back and showing him her face, bright with embarrassment and heat. "It bothers me that she can do it without me. But I can't touch you-naked skin to naked skin-without a little help from her."

"Ah," he said. "So let's try a little play time and see if, with my cooperation, instead of hers, you can get results."

She blinked at him. "What? It's four in the morning. You're going to have to speak in shorter sentences that make more sense."

He lay flat on his back, lifting his chin in a submissive pose he'd only ever offered to his father before. "Here I am," he said. "Stuck tight." He flopped his hands as if his wrists were tied to the mattress. Wiggled his feet. "What are you going to do with me?"


SHE stared at him. Submissive? Charles? But that bared throat was still there. No threat. He couldn't have made her believe with words that he wouldn't hurt her, because she already believed the words. But his body was telling her the same thing-and that she trusted right down to her bones.

Because she trusted, she was able to move closer, until her knees bumped into his body. She put her nose against his throat and he moved to make more room, even when she opened her mouth and let her teeth rest against his skin.

Under her tongue, his pulse began to speed up. Not fear-she smelled his arousal, and the sheer, unadulterated call of that scent loosened something inside her, making her moan in pleasure. She licked the side of his neck, appreciating the taste of salt and man, appreciating the freedom he'd given her to touch and taste at her leisure.

She took her time, her touches tentative at first. It felt... like she was violating his privacy. Intruding.

She remembered something abruptly. "Someone told me you don't like to be touched," she told him. She couldn't remember who it had been. Asil, maybe.

His chest lifted off the bed, following her fingers when she started to lift them. Uncertain, she left her hands where they were, so he had to make an effort to keep them on him.

"Not usually," he admitted, sounding a little breathless. "But I love your touch. Touch me anytime. Any place. Anywhere." It was heartfelt and honest: and she had a sudden vision of him talking to his father and her with her hands on inappropriate places.

She was going to share the picture with him, but then she got a good look at his face and realized he meant what he'd said-and the impulse to laugh left as quickly as it had come. Deliberately, he pushed up higher, pressing her hands into him, using the muscles of his back because he kept his hands and feet where they had been.

"Pet me," he told her. "I like it."

Her heart beat so hard she could hear it-fear, a little, yes. But also there was something momentous and empowering in having Charles at her mercy. He was as good as his word: no matter what she did, his hands and his feet stayed where they were.

SOMETHING vibrated under her head.

It was such an odd sensation that-still only half-conscious-Anna tried to figure out what it was. Her ears told her there was a car motor somewhere very nearby, and she tried to figure out how she'd made it from the bed to a car without noticing.

And then she smelled the vampires.

"She's awake, Ivan," said a woman's voice.

Anna opened her eyes and saw the vampire who'd attacked Moira. The woman smiled at her.

"Now me," she said, "I didn't like Krissy. She was a pushy little bimbo. But Ivan had a thing for her-and he doesn't like you at all. So you just be a good puppy, and we'll not have any trouble, right?"

Anna didn't bother answering. She was naked, chained hand and foot and stuck in what could only be the back section of the blue minivan the vampires had been running around in. They'd removed the backseats and installed huge eyebolts to which they'd chained Anna. They were going to be paying the rental company through the nose when they returned the van. She was pretty sure that even rental insurance wouldn't cover things like drilling eyebolts through the floor.

The woman vampire was leaning against one of the big sliding doors. Her feet were pressed against Anna's side. Next to her was a man who looked about forty-five, but he was a vampire. He'd probably been forty-five for years.

Questions bubbled to the tip of her tongue. What do you want with me? How did you get me out of the hotel? What did you do with Charles?

Charles wouldn't have just let them take her. She closed her eyes and felt for her end of their bond-and it was just as it usually was when Brother Wolf wasn't holding it open. Whatever had happened, Charles was all right.

The last thing she remembered was leaning down to taste the skin of his belly. Mustn't show the enemy weakness. So pick her question carefully.

"Who hired you?"

The woman smiled displaying a set of fangs. "Not my part of the show," she said. "All I know is the job. We're to box you up and ship you across the shining sea on an airplane. No harm to you if you don't give us any trouble."

Her smile got bigger. "Of course, if you do give us trouble, we get to hurt you. Fun, fun, fun."

Across the sea sounded like Europe to her, Anna thought. One of the wolves kidnapping her? Did they think that Charles couldn't find her out of the country? If so, then they were wrong. Still, it would be easier on everyone if she didn't go in the first place.

She jerked up, using the big muscles of her back and thighs for strength. The metal handcuffs cut into her skin, but she ignored the pain. Whatever her hands were chained to was tough, but the eye hook attached to her feet began to bend, the floor beneath it pulling up.

"Shit!" The man who'd been sitting by her feet looked to the front of the car. "I told you that there was no good place to attach the chains in this stinking rental."

"Shoot her," said the driver.

She couldn't get her head up and around enough to see who was driving, but she was betting on the man she'd seen at the warehouse. A shotgun flew back, thrown by someone in the front passenger seat. The male vampire she could see caught it and fired it from three feet away, hitting her in the shoulder.

CHARLES sat up and grabbed his aching head. It took him a moment to catch Brother Wolf's frantic message. She's gone. They have her. Couldn't move. Couldn't stop them. Couldn't wake you up. Wake up!


She was gone-unarguably. There was no one beside him in the bed.

The room smelled of vampires and night air, both scents coming from the broken window. He grabbed his jeans and pulled them on. He grabbed shoes and socks because not ripping up his feet might let him catch up with them faster.

Seventh floor would have been impossible, but the second room he'd gotten them had been on the fifth. He jumped out the broken window, landed on his feet, and rolled to soften the fall. He got to his feet, shoulders and knees aching but functional.

He might be able to track them, even in the city-but there was a better way. He recklessly threw open the bond between him and Anna.

The first thing he discovered was that she was not far away, but she was moving fast. And she was hurt-likely her getting hurt was what had allowed him to break whatever spell it was that had put him unconscious. He felt the last trickles of it still trying to hold him-awake and aware he was able to burn away the magic. The spell was pure witchcraft. While the rest of him was focused on finding Anna, a small part noticed that the vampires seemed to have some way of accessing a lot of magic: wolf and witch.

He closed down the bond with his mate until he couldn't feel her pain, until all he had was a direction. Otherwise, distracted by worry and things he couldn't influence until he got there, he wouldn't be able to function effectively. First, find them.

He ran.

The trouble with big cities-especially Seattle with the waterways all over the place-was that he didn't just have to know where she was, but where they were taking her.

South, he thought, sprinting recklessly down the hill. What lay to the south? Beacon Hill, West Seattle, Kent, Renton, Tacoma. Most of the wolves were staying near Downtown, but he thought that the Italians might be staying somewhere in West Seattle.

Airport. Brother Wolf was quite clear and positive. Maybe he'd picked up something from Anna that Charles had missed.

Sea-Tac, he thought-about fifteen miles from the hotel. He could run faster in wolf form, but he'd lose time, and someone might see them on the highway. But if they made it that far, even Brother Wolf couldn't keep up. He'd have to steal a car-which he would do. That would leave Anna in their hands for longer. So he chose to try to catch them now.

Even in this form he ran faster than the car could go on the city streets. The vampires wouldn't want to attract the attention of the police, not with an injured woman in their vehicle. They'd obey speed limits and stop signs.

He was closing in.

It was still dark, and there was not much more traffic than there had been when he'd driven them back to their hotel. No later than five in the morning, he estimated. He hadn't been unconscious long.

They had halted directly ahead. He could see the tail-lights of a minivan no more than a block away, stopped at a red light.

He focused on the traffic light and let his will hold it red. It wasn't something he'd ever done before-and he wasn't sure it would work in a city. But the light stayed red the whole time he ran that block. Stayed red as he launched himself through the back window.

He landed on top of one of the vampires. Without forethought or planning he ripped his head off and threw it in the driver's compartment to add to the confusion. One down. Three to go. Next to his knee there was something long and hard. He grabbed it.

"Shoot him!" The driver was starting toward the back, but there wasn't a lot of room between the front seats, and it slowed him down. Gave Charles time to deal with the last vampire in the back. The front passenger opened his door and jumped out. He was running away or he planned on coming through the side door. Either way, it gave Charles a short window of opportunity where he faced only one.

The female was shouting something about the shotgun when Charles realized that the thing he'd snatched off the floor to use as a weapon was indeed a shotgun. He shoved it through her rib cage and kept going, pushing her through the side window and out into the street. She wasn't dead, but she wasn't going anywhere either. Two down. Two to go.

Anna gasped when the driver, climbing over the front seats, stepped on her.

Inside the van, Charles had the advantage. The small space slowed him down a little-but the vampires were generally faster and more maneuverable, and being inside the van hampered them a lot more.

But inside the van meant Anna, chained to the floor, was in danger. So he grabbed the vampire, feeling the pain of being grabbed in return, and jumped out the passenger-side door when the fourth vampire popped it open. The unexpectedness of the move meant the driver was braced all wrong and Charles could put a lot of push into his jump rather than wasting his strength wrestling against the driver.

The two of them hit the fourth vampire murderously hard, and he dropped the stick he was carrying-it was the size of a cane or fighting stick. Charles didn't take the time to decide which it was-he'd never seen a vampire who carried a weapon so easily turned upon its wielder. But far be it from him to complain about another's stupidity.

Charles released his captive and, by swinging him into the side of the van, managed to get loose in return. He grabbed the stick and stabbed the downed vampire under the rib cage and up through the heart. A werewolf doesn't need a sharpened stake; blunt worked just fine.

That left only one.

He spun to face the van-and saw only damaged sheet metal. He inhaled, trying to pinpoint the other-and heard someone running away. He rounded the side of the van to make sure it was the driver who was running and not some terror-stricken human who had seen the carnage, but there was no mistaking the speed of the vampire for a mere human's.

"Don't leave me."

He looked down at the female vampire with the shotgun rammed through her chest.

" Sunrise," she said, as something dark and wet bubbled out around the barrel of the gun. "Not for a long while. Kill me. Please."

With Anna hurt, he had no desire to bother questioning her. Nor did he want to leave her as a possible threat. He acceded to her wish and took care of the other vampire while he was at it. Less than four minutes had passed after he jumped through the rear window of the van, and he had three decapitated bodies and their heads stuffed in the back of the van.

Immediate danger over, he checked on Anna. She was talking to him, but Brother Wolf was more interested in seeing what made her hurt so badly. He didn't have the tools or the patience to deal with the manacles, but the chain snapped when he used the shotgun barrel to apply some leverage.

As soon as he had her free she tried to sit up and made a pained sound. She'd been hit in the shoulder from close range; the shot had barely had a chance to expand. It was a light load, birdshot. Lead. They hadn't wanted her dead, just incapacitated. It didn't mean that she might not die from it anyhow.

"I'm all right," she told him, over and over again, trying to reassure him. It wasn't true.

"Shh," he told her. "Just lie still."

His cell phone was still in his pants pocket-and it was functional. He called Angus.

"Where is Choo?" he asked as soon as the other wolf answered. "Anna's been shot."

"Anna's been shot?"

"I have three dead vampires in a blue minivan that looks like it's been in several accidents this morning. And they shot Anna. I need Alan Choo. Is he with Michel?" He hoped that he wasn't. Angus's house was in Issaquah. He needed to get Anna help sooner than that.

"The mate of one of the French wolves is a nurse. They went home with Michel. Alan's at Arthur's in the University District."

"I know where Arthur's place is."

"I'll tell the local vampires that we have some cleanup for them, and they'll take care of the bodies and the van. I'll call Alan and tell him to expect you. Do you need anyone else?"

"No." Charles hung up.

He didn't like leaving Anna in the back of the van with the dead vampires, but moving her to the front seat would only hurt her worse-and a naked, bloody woman would draw even more attention than the broken windows and dents.

"You stay there," he told her. "I've got to drive. It won't be long."

She nodded, closed her eyes. "Knew you would come," she said. "I just didn't want you to have to come all the way overseas to find me."

"Good thing I'm quick," he said.

She smiled, still with her eyes closed. "Good thing."

He had trouble shutting the side door; it was dented and didn't want to seal. After a failed effort to bend the door back into shape, he ducked back into the van and took a belt off one of the bodies. He rolled down the front passenger window and pulled the door as closed as it was going to get and tied it to the front door frame with the belt.

The vampires had left the van running with the keys in the ignition. He got in and as he shifted into drive, the light turned green.

"Charles?" her voice was tense. "Would you talk to me? I keep thinking the vampires are moving."

"They're dead," he said. "But we can talk."

He worried that he was going to have to come up with a topic-when all he wanted to do was kill something else. But Anna came to his rescue.

"Could our Arthur really be the Arthur?"

"My father says that the Arthur was a remarkable strategist, an awe-inspiring fighter, and an extremely practical man who would have laughed himself silly at the stories of King Arthur, chivalry, and chasing after the Holy Grail. Da says there was a white lady but she bore no resemblance to Gwenevere of Camelot fame. Nimue, Morgain Le Fay, and Merlin, yes, but not as they are depicted. No Lancelot at all. No Round Table. Just a bunch of desperate men trying to keep the Anglo-Saxons out of their homelands. He says the real story is better than the one everyone knows, but not nearly as glamorous." He glanced down at Anna but couldn't tell if she was better or worse. "He never tells the real stories."

"So Arthur the werewolf-"

"Likes to rant about how Lancelot ruined it all," said Charles dryly. "If he is a reincarnation, he bears little resemblance to the real thing. But then there's some unhappiness between my father and Arthur; they cordially dislike each other. You have to take that into account."

"Arthur doesn't seem to dislike you," Anna said.

"We got on all right, here."


He shrugged. "I've never seen any evidence that it's real. But I've never seen anything that disproves it either. I believe the afterlife is better than what we have here-and it would take something extraordinary to make someone willing to come back."

"What about the sword?"

"Old, but my father says it is not Excalibur. Or if it is, it has lost all of the magic that made it Excalibur."

"There was an Excalibur, though?"

"So Da says-the result of a bargain with the fae who were not any happier with the Anglo-Saxons than the native humans were. Arthur is right that Excalibur wasn't the only weapon. There was a spear and a dagger, too."

For a few blocks Anna was silent. Then she said in a markedly weaker voice, "Your father is old enough that he knew Arthur?"

He hadn't seen any evidence of heavy bleeding, but maybe he hadn't checked thoroughly enough. He put his foot down harder on the gas pedal. "You ask him that, maybe he'll answer you. He never did me."

ALAN and a couple of people he didn't know were waiting for him outside as he drove into the driveway of Arthur's house. As soon as Charles got out of the van, he realized that the strangers weren't from Angus's pack.

"Vampires," he said.

"To take care of the mess," Alan explained. "Where's Anna?"

Charles opened the sliding door that still worked. Alan stuck his head in.

"Hey, Alan," Anna said.

"Got yourself shot," he said after a thorough look.


He laughed. "You'll do." He backed away, and said, "Bring her inside, and we'll get that stuff out of her.

Charles picked her up as carefully as he could. Alan held the front door open, and Charles brushed past him and stopped.

Arthur stood between him and the rest of the house. He looked horrible-his eyes hollow and his skin tone various shades of gray.

Any other time, Charles would have played the games necessary for an outside dominant coming into another's territory, but Anna was bleeding in his arms.

"Where do you want me to put her?" he said, which was as much of a concession as he was capable of making.

"Come." Arthur's voice was tired and strained, but not unwelcoming. Maybe Charles had misread his body language.

He turned and led the way. "There's a spare bedroom back here. Upstairs might be safer, but Sunny... Sunny's in the one upstairs."

The guest room smelled like Alan Choo, who'd evidently been sleeping here tonight. Arthur pulled the covers back farther so Charles could set Anna down.

"Angus said it was the vampires?" Arthur said.

Remembering that Arthur had a right to know, Charles explained briefly. He pulled the blankets up over her until only the wounds on her shoulder were exposed.

"Pity that one got away," Arthur said.

"Ivan," Anna told them. He'd thought Anna was unconscious, she'd been so still. "Ivan is his name."

Charles looked away from Anna for a moment, then looked at Arthur. "He can run, but I will find him."

Arthur veiled his eyes with his lashes instead of dropping his gaze, but Charles didn't care. "Yes. Tell me when you get him."

"I will."

"You think they are hired guns," Arthur looked out the window into the darkness before dawn. "Did you find out who they were working for-or why they killed my Sunny?"

"No. I wasn't in the mood to discuss things," Charles said. "Maybe Anna-"

"No," Anna murmured. "It wasn't a local werewolf. Not Angus or his pack. Or"-she glanced at Arthur and didn't mention Dana's name-"anyone else here. Someone out of the country. They wanted to fly me overseas."

"That doesn't make any sense," said Alan, coming into the room with a tray that held various surgical implements. "Killing Sunny, trying to kidnap Anna, killing Chastel. There's no pattern."

"It makes sense to someone," said Arthur. "If there's nothing more I can do?"

"No," said Charles. Having Arthur in the room with Anna wounded was trying his patience. "Thank you."

Arthur gave him a faint smile. "Call me if you need anything."

And he left them to themselves.

"I have morphine," Alan told Anna. "But wolves have different reactions to it. Some it doesn't help at all. For some it is worse than useless, doesn't stop the pain and doesn't let them brace for it either."

"No morphine," Anna said. "Just get them out."

Alan looked up at Charles.

"I'll hold her for you," he said, sliding in behind Anna so that her upper body was braced on his. That allowed him the most control. He might be a werewolf-but so was she.

"Try and relax into it," he told her.

Alan sat on the bed, too, swiveling until he was facing Anna. He set the tray on the nightstand and a bowl by his hip. He started with a pair of sharp-nosed forceps and picked out the easy ones first.

"Did you see?" Anna said, her eyes closed.

"See what?" Charles asked.

"The one-armed vampire. Wonder what he did with the arm?" She hissed then as Alan pulled another pellet free.

"I don't know." He kissed the top of her head.

Anna didn't struggle against his hold as Alan pulled out more surface pellets. She didn't move until he had to dig deeper.

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