Hunting Ground Chapter NINE

WHICH way? Which way? Anna, her tongue lolling out to absorb the coolness of the air, decided to let the others choose. Her breath sang out of her throat, and exultation made her shiver.

The hunt.

It didn't matter that the moon's song was only a will-o'-the-wisp chime in her heart, or that the prize was a bag of pork that had been spoiling for two days and might or might not also have a ring inside. For the first time ever, she loved the hunt even when Charles wasn't running beside her.

Because we are with you, Brother Wolf told her. That is what mating means. You are never alone. Never so long as we live.

Good, she told him.

They'd followed Angus's scent for a long time before it ended in a note propped in front of a very small battery emergency light. It read, "I didn't hide any of them-Angus." They weren't the first ones there-she could smell the scents of several other wolves-and another wolf showed up just as they were leaving.

Then Ric had picked up another scent-presumably belonging to another of Angus's pack, though she didn't recognize it. And she'd been hot on his tail when his Alpha threw his weight against her and she stumbled sideways against the wall as a net snapped up and jerked Ric off his feet in a nicely packaged bundle.

Between her jaws and Isaac's, it had taken them only a moment to get it off-after they teased him a little. Five turns later they'd come upon a wolf hanging upside down in a tall shaft that ran all the way to the open air some four stories above their head.

Isaac made a noise in his throat that sounded sympathetic and probably wasn't. The trapped wolf snarled as they left him behind, and Ric's Alpha appeared extremely happy for a while after that.

Anna caught Moira's scent and led them through a tunnel no more than two feet around that was such a tight fit Isaac was very unhappy-and Ric had to drop to his belly to squeeze through.

It dumped them off into a small, almost airless chamber. They were coughing with distress by the time Ric managed to destroy the two-by-six wooden wall lined with a moisture barrier that had kept the air out. Anna and he had to drag Isaac by the scruff of his neck into a place with better air-though it was smelly (not in a good way) and stale.

"ANYONE here have Arthur's mate's cell phone number?" Charles growled. No one answered, and so he took his own cell and dialed his father for it.

"What's wrong?" asked Bran when he answered on the first ring.

"That's what we're trying to find out. Do you have Sunny... Arthur's mate's cell phone number here in Seattle?"

"Yes, give me a second." As good as his word, Bran was back on in a moment and read him off the number.

"I'll call you when I know what's happened," Charles said, and hit the END button.

He called it, but was unsurprised, given Arthur's distress, that she didn't answer. Then he called another number. "I need to know where this cell phone is: 360-555-1834. GPS location, then an address for that if there is one." He didn't bother waiting for a reply, just hung up.

Arthur was pale and sweating, his skin chill to the touch. His body twitched, but he remained unconscious.

It would take a while before his man could track the phone. Hacking a system without leaving a trail took time. He could have done it, given a computer, Internet access, and a few days-his man was better. But time was not Sunny's friend.

Twenty minutes passed, maybe twenty-five, before his phone rang.



"That phone is about a quarter mile from yours, and it isn't moving."

He looked at Angus. "I have to check this out. You'll watch over her for me?"

The Emerald City Alpha nodded. "I, my pack, Isaac, his Omega, and the fae, we all will watch."

THEY found Sunny just outside the fence, a hundred yards from the locked gate: naked, broken, and dead. Just in case they didn't spot the body, a sky-blue Jaguar that he presumed was her car was stopped a couple of body lengths away, with the driver's side door hanging open.

Sunny's body was still warm, and her eyes were open, fogged with death.

A spirit knelt beside her, one of the forest folk. He seldom saw them, though he could tell when they were about. The spirit's slender brown hands petted Sunny's cheek as it crooned to her-so he knew that Sunny had been alive when they dumped her here. The spirit was a shy thing, slipping away as men, who didn't notice its presence, surrounded the corpse. It brushed against Charles, and he felt its sorrow pull his own spirit.

Poor thing, it told him. She was so scared, so scared. Alone. She was all alone.

Distracted, Charles barely remembered to stop the others before they could touch her.

"Let me catch the scent," he said. "So I'll know her killer." It wouldn't help to question the spirit. They told him what they wanted to, whether he wanted to hear it or not.

The other wolves backed away, and he set his nose between her neck and jaw, where scent would linger. And he smelled, not unexpectedly, a familiar villain. How many things could there be running around in the night targeting werewolves and their kin?

He didn't touch her as he moved from one pulse point to the next. Where the vampires had fed, the flesh was torn, but there had been no time for bruising. And they had fed everywhere.

He smelled her fear, her suffering, and stood her witness. He was thorough, making sure they hadn't added to their hunting party. But he found no surprises: there were just the four vampires who'd attacked Anna.

Brother Wolf went wild as he understood that this could have been her, this could have been their Anna lying here.

Charles closed his eyes and forced his body to stillness. Long, cool fingers stroked his face and sang to the wolf-which didn't help. What a forest spirit was doing out here in the middle of the city, he didn't know-and he seized upon the distraction of the mystery it offered.

He opened his eyes and looked around. There were any number of abandoned warehouses nearby-and blackberries, the infamous weed of the Pacific Northwest, were taking over their empty parking lots, creating a sanctuary for those who didn't mind their thorns.

One mystery down. Charles let the sound of one of his grandfather's songs run through his head, bringing clarity and peace-despite the spirit that patted and petted him. If he'd been alone, he would have knocked the spirit away-Brother Wolf didn't like to be touched by anyone except Anna. But no one else could see it... and he had enough of a reputation for oddness. He didn't need people to know that he saw things no one else did, too.

When he could be reasonably sure that Brother Wolf would allow him to behave in a civilized manner, he stood up.

"Vampires," he said. "Bring her into the warehouse for Arthur." It wouldn't help the British wolf-except as confirmation that she was out of the vampires' hands.

FRUSTRATED, Anna looked at the bag dangling twenty feet over their heads, up one of the long shafts that occasionally perforated the ceiling of this level-after their near disaster with the airless room, Anna was pretty sure that the shafts were useful.

As she stared at it, a wolf snatched victory out of their reach.

It was too dark to be sure who it was, even if she had known all the other wolves in their furred form. The wolf leapt out of an opening a story above the bag, snatched the prize, and disappeared into another opening a floor lower, still well over Anna's head. Watching helplessly as their prize was stolen out from under... okay, above their noses, was maddening.

Isaac snorted in disgust.

And Brother Wolf was... surrounding her, his anxiety, his fear and love making her stagger against Isaac-which Brother Wolf did not like at all.

Something was wrong. But when she asked, Brother Wolf couldn't or wouldn't tell her.

She had to get to Charles. Now. The problem was, Anna didn't know precisely how to get back-oh, she could have backtracked, but they had wandered all over the place and would have had to go through the narrow tunnel again.

Up would be good.

She was running full speed ahead when a white wolf pushed in front of her. A second wolf was hard on her tail-Isaac and Ric.

It was Isaac who found the first set of stairs headed up. They emerged on the ground floor of the smaller warehouse, and when they made for the door, a werewolf in human form stopped them.

"If you cross the outer door, you are officially done," he said.

The Alpha wolf stared coldly at him and the man dropped his eyes, throwing up his hands as he backed away. "Just saying what I'm told, man. You go outside, that's out of bounds."

They ran past him and out into the fresh air. Ric, his fur gray in the light of the yard, sneezed his pleasure at leaving the underground labyrinth behind. Anna took in a deep breath and smelled-vampire.

She stumbled to a halt, examining their surroundings for the enemy. At last she saw him standing on the other side of the chain-link fence a hundred yards away.

It took a moment for her eyes to link the spiffily dressed older man to the vicious killer she'd last seen sitting on top of Tom. But her nose had already made the connection. She'd gotten two good strides in when she hit the side of the white wolf, who'd run in front of her to stop her, his attention on the vampire as well.

The dead man laughed and motioned with his hand. A blue minivan drove up, and he climbed in. It took off before he'd finished closing the door.

Isaac growled low in his chest, an echo of the noise she was making, too. He'd known what that one was, all right. Ric gave them both a puzzled look-but Anna had never run into vampires before yesterday either.

There didn't seem to be much point in sticking around here, so Anna turned and made for the main room of the bigger warehouse, where the lights were blazing, Brother Wolf's presence an ache in her chest.

Inside the warehouse, all of the wolves who had stayed in human form were gathered in a tight group, focused inward. There were too many of them for her nose to tell her anything.

All of the clothes had been pushed against the wall, and it took her a while to sort hers out. By the time she had them collected, Charles had found her. His eyes were all for the gathering in the center of the room, and there was an odd stiffness to his body that worried her.

She changed, her body protesting the shift even more than it had when she'd taken wolf form. She, like all the wolves, had been well trained not to make much noise while she shifted, but, damn, it hurt.

"Ow, ow, ow," she whispered as her hands slowly, grat ingly, reluctantly re-formed as wholly human. She tucked them under her arms and squeezed, the pressure helping the pain. Every change was different, but she hated the ones where her hands were the last thing to make it to human. There are so many nerves in a hand, and all of them hurt. It left her light-headed.

Charles growled at her pain.

She looked up, but there was no one anywhere close to them. Ric and his Alpha were still caught up in their change on the other side of the pile of clothing. She glanced at him and let her body grow still. His eyes were yellow, and the corner of his mouth twitched, then twitched again, as if he had a nervous tic.

"Charles?" her voice was still hoarse from the change.

"Sunny's dead." His voice was guttural, and she knew that he was on the verge... of something.

Anna worried about it for all of a half second before his words registered. "Arthur's Sunny?"

He nodded a quarter of an inch, his eyes locked on her face. "Vampires. We found her body just outside the gates."

And the vampires had hidden, waiting for the wolves to find Sunny. When he-the vampire in the suit-saw Anna, he made sure she saw him, too. Staring into those wild gold eyes, she decided it was something she would tell Charles in a while. The vampires were gone. She had the plate number, but it wouldn't matter: probably the van was rented anyway.

A wolf howled, a wild mournful cry, and a half dozen other voices lifted in song to show their sympathy for one who had lost his mate-all of them from human throats.

Charles held out his hand, and Anna let him pull her to her feet. She was a little stiff still-and he looked as though he needed something to do.

He used his body to shield her from the sight of anyone in the rest of the room, as if he knew she didn't really like being naked in front of a bunch of strangers. Most wolves got over that in the first year of being changed. For Anna, it was still an effort. Not because of modesty, but because clothing gave her the illusion of safety from the attention of the males of her first pack.

She grabbed her clothing and put it on as quickly as she could, shoving her feet into her tennis shoes while she tucked her socks in her pockets.

"Is Arthur all right?" she asked.

Charles closed his eyes and pulled her to him, pressing his nose into the crook of her neck, breathing in like a marathon runner.

"No," he said. "And neither am I."

Her skin hurt, her bones ached, and she wanted to be held as much as a person who'd fallen asleep on the beach for four hours without sunscreen would want to cuddle. But because he needed it, she relaxed against him.

Sunny had been killed by vampires.

"Sunny would have been an Omega if she'd been turned." She made it a statement, but she meant it as a question.


Anna shivered, and his grip tightened. Her change-sensitive skin protested, her sore muscles complained, but her wolf wanted to burrow inside of him, to keep him safe.

SHE was here, she was safe. He let the reality of her, of her scent, push away the need to make something bleed.

He was holding her too tightly, he knew it. Just as he knew she needed time to recover, and he couldn't give it to her. The sound of her pain as she changed had stirred the wolf up again. Brother Wolf wanted blood or sex, and he wasn't going to get either. No blood-and no sex, not until he calmed down a lot. Brother Wolf wouldn't hurt Anna, but he might scare her.

Holding Anna was the next best thing. Gradually, as she softened against him, Brother Wolf consented to settle down a bit. It would be a long time before he calmed enough to cede Charles full control again. It was too easy to see Arthur's agony and understand that it could have been his own.

The attacks were odd. Too focused on the wrong things, the wrong people, to accomplish anything. The attack on Anna could have been an attempt to kidnap her for ransom or hostage. But Sunny's death accomplished nothing. An na's death would accomplish nothing. He couldn't see why Omegas would be targeted-especially since one wasn't a wolf. So maybe they had targeted the mates of two of the three most powerful or dominant wolves at the conference. What would that accomplish? Especially given that the talks had done all that they could.

He couldn't see the shape of what the vampires, or whoever hired them, were after yet. Nothing fit.


Anna thought the vampires were working for a wolf. Her personal experience with the enemy gave her instincts weight, and he would trust her insight-Brother Wolf did, and that was good enough for him.

Whatever the ultimate goal, Charles could think of at least one reason why a wolf might hire someone to murder Sunny and attack Anna. A wolf, especially a dominant wolf, would have a hard time deliberately hurting an Omega, even a human Omega.

Maybe even Chastel wouldn't have been able to do it.

Charles made himself let Anna go and stepped back to give her space. He tried to ignore the relief in her body posture-it wasn't a reaction to him. It was the feel of the change still lingering on her flesh that made her want to stand alone.

"You're the first ones back," he told Anna. "What brought you in so early?"

She gave him an odd look. "Brother Wolf told me you needed me here."

He had no idea what to say to that. Should he admit that he had no idea what Brother Wolf had been up to? Would that worry her? Before he had to make a decision, Dana broke free of the group around Arthur and approached Charles.

"There is some concern for Arthur's sanity," she murmured softly as soon as she was close.

And there were no other wolves here who would stand a chance of controlling Arthur if he lost it, she meant. They needed him to be on watch.

"I'm coming," Charles said.

"I'll come over, too," Anna told him. "It can't hurt, right?"

He didn't want her anywhere near the other wolves. There were too many of them. If they all attacked her, there was no way for him to protect her.

But an Omega wolf could be useful.

"Thank you," he told Anna as he argued silently with Brother Wolf. "That would help."

Arthur was sitting on the ground, cradling his mate in his arms and whispering to her while the others held a wary vigil. His face was streaked with tears and his nose ran. "Sunny girl, my sunny girl."

He looked up, and his eyes focused on Charles. "She is gone."

"Yes," Charles said.

"Vampires did this," he whispered. Then he roared, his voice echoing in the tall room. "They hurt her!"

"I know. I will find them."

"Kill them." Arthur's face was ravaged, almost unrecognizable in his grief and rage. In his pain.

"I will."

Arthur tightened his hold on his wife, tucking her head against his shoulder. "She hated growing old," he said, rocking her. "Now she won't have to. My poor Sunny girl."

Angus said to Charles, though he made no effort to quiet his voice, "He'll survive. If the madness was going to take him, it would have already done so. That being so, it might be a good thing to remove our fallen and wounded from the hunting grounds altogether." He looked at Arthur a moment. "Arthur, would you let us take you home? The others will be here soon, fresh from the hunt." A dead body smelling of fear and pain was not, probably, going to send any of these wolves into a frenzy. But there was no use in taking the chance.

"Yes." Arthur stood up, his wife cradled in his arms. Charles thought that Angus might be a little too quick to pronounce Arthur well. He swayed a little and looked shocky-still, it would be better to get him away from the hunt.

But he couldn't go alone. He hadn't brought any of his pack-a statement of strength and, maybe, trust. But that left him alone in a foreign county with his dead wife.

Angus met Charles's eyes briefly, maybe he saw the panic in them-Charles wasn't up to comforting Arthur tonight. Offering comfort wasn't something he was very good at on his best day.

The Emerald City Alpha looked over his shoulder at one of his wolves. "Send someone to find Alan Choo. Bring me Tom." He glanced at Charles, not long enough to be a challenge, just enough to indicate he was talking to him when he said, "Alan's cousins own a funeral parlor. His family takes care of our dead, they know what we are, and they can help Arthur now. And if Tom and his witch can fight off a pack of vampires-they should be able to keep Arthur on track."

"You wanted me, Angus? I was just outside." Tom's usually easy glide was a little stiff-the only thing that showed he wasn't fully recovered from his fight. His calm gaze took in the distraught werewolf and Sunny's corpse. "I see. You send someone after Alan, too?"

"Yes. Gather a couple of more pack members, your witch, and Alan-he'll be here in a moment-and see if you can settle Arthur in for the night at his house."

Charles pulled out his wallet and extracted one of Arthur's cards-he had two, one from his father and one from Arthur. "This is where he's living in Seattle. Someone should take his wife's car back to his house as well. It's the blue Jaguar parked just inside the gate-I don't know what he drove here."

"I do." Tom took the card. "I'll see to it." And within a few minutes he'd extracted Arthur, the body, and a handful of Angus's wolves as skillfully as a surgeon.

And the first victor of the hunt came into the room just as the door closed behind Tom. Charles looked around for his Anna and found her talking to Ric and Isaac, her face solemn.

Better that she talk with them than with him at this moment. He wanted to take her away, fly her home, where the vampires and whoever was behind them would never be able to come. Lock her in his house and bar the door.

Yes, it was better that he not talk to her just yet.

THE wolf who came in was carrying their bag. Anna could recognize the scent of it, of Moira's hands on it, even in human form. The wolf who brought it in paused in front of their group, and she caught his scent. This was the wolf they'd found trussed up in the net early in their hunt.

"Yes, Valentin, dear," said Isaac. "I see that you got it. Congratulations." Under the biting sarcasm, Anna heard Isaac's reluctant amusement. "Get it away from here, it stinks."

The smell of rotten pork was a little overwhelming.

The wolf grinned around his prize and continued to where Dana and Angus awaited him. The bag was taken and tagged with a marker.

"So the talks are doomed," Anna said, continuing the conversation the wolf had interrupted. Charles hadn't told her about today, maybe he hadn't admitted defeat yet-but Isaac seemed pretty certain.

Isaac shrugged. "Anything is possible-except defying Chastel outright. I expect everyone will go home without accepting anything the Marrok has offered." He smiled at her, though there was darkness under the expression. "Then they'll call him and make quiet deals. Nothing as good as what we could accomplish openly-but maybe, just maybe, enough for our survival."

"Why doesn't anyone go after Chastel?"

"Because he's as good as he claims. The fields of Europe are graves for a good many of our dead who have tried to kill the Beast. Maybe the Marrok could take him on-but in Chastel's own territory, I would not bet on the Marrok. Here?" He shrugged. "But the Marrok is not here, and I do not think that Charles is his match."

"He made Chastel back down," she said, "twice."

"When Chastel hunts, you don't get a chance to face him down." Isaac's face was grim. "That's not how he takes his prey unless they are children or human women." He looked at her. "In the first hundred years he lived, he killed three hundred humans that we know of, probably more. Many, many he took in broad daylight in front of their friends and families. They shot him, hit him, and nothing happened.

"Late in the eighteenth century, Chastel concentrated his killing in Gevaudan, France. It was so bad there that the peasants-those who worked the land-would no longer go out into their fields. Frightened, the nobles organized hunting parties, hired wolf-hunters, and killed every wolf in the region-and many werewolves, too. The king of France was bestirring himself, then history tells us a man named Jean Chastel, whose wife had just been killed by the beast, took a silver musket ball made from a melted heirloom cross. He had it blessed three times by the village priest and went out with a small party to hunt the animal down. A great Beast appeared before them, and Chastel shot it once and killed it-and so died the Beast of Gevaudan."

"What really happened to stop him?"

"The Marrok happened," said Ric.

"He wasn't the Marrok yet," Isaac corrected. "The story I think is most likely is that Bran Cornick hunted the Beast down and told him unless he put an end to things, he would see that Chastel ended up in the hands of the witches." He smiled a little. "The witches were more powerful in those days-and would have liked nothing better than a werewolf to torture for blood, meat, and fur for their spells. Chastel was a hundred years old-and Bran was... Bran. It was a very good threat, then. Now Chastel is stronger than he was then, smarter, too-and he hates Bran like any dominant hates the one who humiliates him."

"He's doing this to get back at Bran?"

Isaac shook his head. "Many reasons, I think. That is one. So is what he said about keeping the Marrok out of his territory."

"Does Sunny's death change anything?" She was still trying to figure out a reason for the woman's death, but she couldn't find one.

Another wolf came in, weary and limping-but he had a bag in his mouth. He paid no attention to them, and only Anna seemed to notice his passing.

Isaac shrugged in answer to Anna's question. "If anything, it adds a final straw to the issue. Arthur is perceived as Charles's strongest supporter: the only one of us far enough from the Beast to risk displeasing him. I'm not sure that is true, except in 'the enemy of my enemy' sort of sense. Arthur and Bran... don't see eye to eye about a lot of things. That doesn't matter, though. Arthur won't be any good for weeks after this. Losing your mate is..." His face twisted a little, then, with effort, regained its usual good-natured expression. "He won't be of help to Charles, that is for certain."

The first victorious wolf had already changed back to human and, naked, was searching through the piles for his clothes. Which reminded Anna that she still had her socks in the pockets of her jeans and her feet were uncomfortable. She toed off her shoes and put the socks on her feet where they belonged.

She was kneeling to tie her shoes when the third winner came into the room. She'd never seen his wolf form before, but his scent told her exactly who he was: Chastel.

As soon as he walked into the room, someone set off the alarm and the whole of the warehouse sounded with a low hum for a count of five. Then again for another count of five: the signal that the third bag had been found.

Anna hardly heard it. Chastel was the most humon gous werewolf she'd ever seen. Ric was larger than average; Charles was bigger than he; and Chastel made both of them look like half-grown puppies. He looked like a Saint Bernard in a roomful of German shepherds-the statistical outlier. His coat was mottled in various shades of brown: the perfect color to blend with a forest.

He met her eyes, his own yellow and mad, and she backed away, bumping into Isaac, who steadied her with a hand on both shoulders and pulled her upright. Chastel trotted from the doorway he'd come through to the place where Anna stood with her hunting comrades.

He stopped in front of her and dropped the bag, taking a step back-an invitation.

"I have a mate," she said. Ric had been right about her participation in the hunt, she realized. She'd been in this room, with all these wolves, and not felt a lick of fear. Here, where Charles was, where her friends were-however new they might be-she wasn't afraid. "And I want nothing from you."

His jaw dropped and let his tongue loll out as he smiled at her-creepy bastard. He took the bag up again. He took a pace beyond them, then turned and lunged at her, dropping his bag on the floor to free his jaws. He was fast, so fast. She pushed herself backward and hit Isaac, who was just standing there, not moving at all.

She had no chance to get out of the Beast's way and she waited for his fangs to sink into her. Blood rushed to her head, and she had time to understand that he was going to kill her. In front of all these wolves, he was going to kill her, and no one would be able to do anything about it until it was too late.

And she was not afraid. It had never been death that scared her-it was being helpless.

He stopped his own attack, pulling back at the last moment and snapping his jaws just short of her throat, which he could have reached with both front feet on the floor. Too late, Isaac jerked back, pulling her with him. Chastel gave them all a satisfied look, turned back to retrieve his bag-and Brother Wolf blindsided him.

The attack was swift and silent; Anna was as surprised as Chastel. She hadn't even seen Charles move-hadn't felt him change to wolf.

Chastel snarled and growled, but Charles was dead quiet and all the more frightening for it. There was an intensity to his attack that Chastel was missing: Charles was aiming for the kill, and Chastel was still trying to figure out what was going on.

Anna had seen Charles fight before-but he'd been exhausted and wounded or reluctant-and mostly in human form. Brother Wolf on the offensive was an entirely different thing. There was no intelligence, no science to the way he fought here.

The other wolves backed away, clearing room for the fight. There were no cheers or raucous comments. The witnesses, like Charles, were quiet, intent, as the battling wolves dug in deep with claws and fangs. This wasn't a game, and no one treated it as such.

If the size difference worried Charles at all, Anna couldn't see it. Once Chastel settled in to battle it wasn't nearly as one-sided as it had been at first-and it was brutal. Fur made it difficult to tell how badly either was wounded, but they were both bloody. When they broke apart and stood, heads lowered, fangs bared, blood dripped off their bodies and made little puddles on the wooden floor beneath them.

Chastel dove under Charles and snapped his teeth closed on Charles's hind leg. Before the French wolf's grip was sure, Charles jerked the leg forward, twisted like a contortionist at Cirque du Soleil, and set his fangs into Chastel's nose. Anna could hear the crunch from where she stood.

Chastel forgot everything but getting Charles off his muzzle-releasing Charles's back leg, then pulling, pushing, shaking-anything to get the other wolf off. Brother Wolf, who was Charles, held on like a bulldog while the French wolf's struggles became more and more feeble. Until his eyes closed and his body twitched helplessly.

Something tried to direct her attention away from Charles. A soft look here, look here from inside her-but Anna was busy trying to see how badly hurt he was.

Angus stepped forward. "Let him go, Charles."

Brother Wolf jerked his head around-bringing Chastel's massive and limp body with him. He looked Angus in the eyes and growled. Angus paled and backed up half a dozen steps until he bumped into Dana-who was watching the fight, looking far too pleased.

Cold chills chased up Anna's spine as she looked at the fae whose job it was to ensure order. Yes, here. Look. Look. She means him harm, whispered Anna's wolf.

The intent was written in the fae's body, not her face, which showed only worry. But her body gave it away, the eager flex of fingers, a shift of weight-she was ready to spring for the kill. A hunt was up and, for the fae, Charles was the star-ruby ring at the end of it.

Anna's wolf told her, We will stop her. No one hurts the one who is ours.

"Yes," whispered Anna.

Dana spoke, "Charles Cornick, you have broken the peace here. Release him."

Brother Wolf didn't even bother to look at her. What had he called her? She-Who-Is-Not-Kin, who thought she ruled him here in the place that belonged to the werewolves. Anna could all but touch his thoughts from his body language. Chastel tried to fight again and her mate sank down lower to increase his leverage. After a moment, the French wolf lay still again.

Anna had no trouble with Chastel's death-the consequences for Charles were another matter entirely. If she'd thought Charles would fight the fae, she'd have been less worried. But her mate was, in his heart of hearts, a man of order. If Chastel died because he was trying to terrify Anna, and the fae decided to call it a break of the truce, Charles might just concede the point. She didn't know what the fae would do to him, and she didn't intend to find out.

Anna pulled away from Isaac's slack hold.

"Charles, let him go," she said, walking to the middle of the cleared area. She'd almost addressed him as Brother Wolf, but somehow that seemed too intimate, too private to be shared.

It was certainly Brother Wolf, not Charles, who turned to look at her, his eyes glazed with rage. She tried to open the connection between them wider, but Charles was holding himself apart-trying to protect her from what he was.

She went to him and tapped him on the nose, ignoring the rage that, finally, made him growl full-throated and angry.

"Open up." She hadn't been afraid, but his growls and the smell of blood and other things made her remember too much. Remember when the blood, the desperation, had been hers.

Her hands were shaking, and she was breathing through her nose like a racehorse at the end of the Kentucky Derby. But she stuck her thumb in his mouth and pulled, his canine sliding along the edge of her hand and slicing it open.

As soon as he tasted her blood, he dropped his hold, letting the other wolf's head flop on the ground, and backed violently away from her. She didn't know if Chastel was alive or dead-couldn't bring herself to care, though she knew it would be important in just a minute. Right now, all of her attention was on Brother Wolf.

The red wolf who was both Brother Wolf and Charles stared into her eyes, and she saw him grasp just one thing out of all the things he could have seen in her. She was scared to death-of the fae, of the blood and anger, of her own audacity-but all he let himself see was the fear, not the reasons for it.

He held her eyes for a moment more, then trotted out the door-which opened for him, though no one held it, and slammed as soon as he was through.

"After him," said Dana in a voice like cut glass. "He drew first blood."

Her voice provided impetus to men who had been immobile observers, and they started toward the door.

"Stop," Anna said... and then did something she'd never done, not quite like this. But the wolf knew how to do it, she'd used Charles's power to change faster than she ever had before-and she used it now to put strength into her voice. "Stop."

And the wolves, on two feet and four, who'd begun to move for Dana, stopped where they were and turned to look at her.

The fae turned to her, too, and her voice had power as well. "He drew first blood. I am fae, I cannot lie. My word is that the one who drew blood during the hunt would be punished: blood for blood. The walls cry out for my word to be fulfilled."

She left her eyes on Anna but touched Angus, who stood nearby. "Liam Angus Magnusson, son of Margaret Hooper, son of Thomas Magnusson. By your true name, I tell you to fetch me Charles Cornick."

Angus took a step toward the door.

"No," said Anna, and her wolf made it stick.

Angus turned back to her, a slow smile on his face. "Yes, my lady," he told Anna. The smile grew. "You are forgetting something, Dana Shea. The hunt was over. The bells rang before Charles attacked, and the rule of blood no longer applies."

Dana's face froze, and for one instant Anna read in her eyes a lust for Charles's death, for any death. A lust that rivaled anything she'd ever seen in a werewolf. But the fae regained control, and she smoothed her hands over her suit jacket as if it were wrinkled. "Ah. You are right."

"Chastel threatened Anna, Charles's mate," Angus continued briskly. "Outside of the hunt, such a thing justifies the attack under our laws."

He was right. Anna had been so wrapped up in how Charles felt about the situation that she hadn't pulled back enough to see the full truth. Even though Chastel hadn't harmed her, the threat was enough to justify Charles's in-the-heat-of-the-moment attack. Charles might not feel that way, but the wolves would-and it was enough to force Dana Shea to change her position.

"Not to the death," said Dana.

"He's not dead," parried Ric, who knelt beside the fallen Frenchman with Michel, the French Alpha. Someone, maybe Michel, murmured, "More's the pity."

Angus strode to the wolf on the ground and took a good look. "Not even badly wounded," he said, sounding a little disappointed himself. "Charles just cut off his air, he'll be fine in a few minutes except for a very sore nose."

"Good," said Anna. She walked past Angus and Dana, but stopped at the door. "Finish up here," she said. "I'll go talk to Charles."

HE hadn't gone to the gate, which was what she'd expected him to do.

Anna didn't have much experience at tracking, and most of what she did know needed snow. The gravel would have defeated her if her quarry hadn't been bleeding like a stuck pig. Impossible to miss that the trail went in exactly the opposite direction from the gate. All that blood worried her, and she picked up her pace. Gravel changed to mud-and mud wasn't a bad second choice to snow. Charles had big paws, and his claws dug in deeply as he headed toward the water that edged the warehouse district they were in.

He hadn't been running-rather a steady trot that made her hope that he hadn't been too badly hurt despite the blood. His tracks took her to the fence at the back of the compound. Twelve feet of chain link with razor wire-and wounded, he'd managed to jump it. She wasn't sure she could have, even in wolf form. And she wouldn't change again so soon unless she had to. In twenty minutes, maybe. But she wasn't going to wait that long.

There had been something wrong in Brother Wolf's gaze. Something mad... maddened. As she contemplated the fence, she remembered a challenge he'd issued to her as they went to see Dana Shea for the first time. They'd both forgotten about it.

"What kind of a fae is Dana Shea?" she muttered to herself as she searched for a way past the fence. Dana was something strong enough to frighten a troll, certainly, strong enough to be a Gray Lord-though Anna had no real idea how strong that would have to be. Something that ate people-the hunger the fae'd shown was unmistakably predatory. Something to do with water-she lived in a houseboat and still had a water fountain and pond inside.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci. The beautiful lady without mercy, who lured men to her river or stream and drowned them. Made them believe something that wasn't.

Made them believe something that wasn't.

Charles had proven himself immune to Dana's spell of desire. Maybe he wasn't immune to all of her magic, though.

Charles had been kind of on edge tonight. But he was smart, he was quick-thinking-and he attacked after Chastel had withdrawn. That was very uncharacteristic. She'd been worried about the consequences of that-how Charles would feel about his actions. She hadn't stopped to think that was because his actions had been so far out of the ordinary for him.

Her mate knew more about Dana, he'd told her so-and presumably Bran knew even more than Charles. She'd ask him about it, tell him about what she'd seen in Dana's face-as soon as she found Charles.

She went to the nearest fence post and pulled the chain link until she'd popped all the retaining clips that attached it to the post. Then she jerked it up, feeling the bite of it in her shoulders and biceps. It wasn't something a human of her size could have done: there were a few benefits to being a werewolf. When she was done, she had a big enough hole to crawl through-she'd have to remember to tell Angus he needed to fix his fence.

She followed Charles's trail, not hurrying because he wasn't. She didn't know what she'd find at the end of the trail, but she was pretty sure it would be better if she didn't find him too soon. Or too late.

Would he expect the hunt that Dana had been so quick to send out? Was he ready to face dozens of the toughest wolves Europe had to offer? Did he expect Angus to come after him? Or Dana herself? Had he felt it when Anna had drawn upon his power to stop the fae woman? Could he feel her coming after him now? The bond between them sang with strength and tension, but that was all she could sense through it.

Except... she found that as she thought about it, she could tell where he was. He was releasing his hold on their bond, not hiding so hard. Anna stopped at that thought. Was that what he was doing? Hiding from her?

He was not a violent man by nature. She knew that, had felt his gentleness herself. He had made himself into the man his father needed, his pet killer, his sword arm. He was very, very good at his job.

But Brother Wolf craved blood and flesh. Her own wolf didn't: it was one of the differences that being Omega gave her. She remembered Charles's stopping in front of his father's house when it smelled of blood and pain. He'd asked her what she smelled, then told her that if she were not Omega, the smell would have made her hungry.

He'd been hungry, though he hadn't told her that.

In her wolf form, she could eat raw meat and like it. But when she was human, blood smelled like blood, not food.

Anna started walking again and noticed that he was headed downhill, toward the... she squinted and wasn't able to figure out if it was the Sound, or just another of the saltwater lakes that were everywhere she looked in Seattle. She hadn't thought to ask when they drove here; she'd been worried about the hunt.

There was a narrow path next to an equally narrow freshwater stream that slid through the blackberry brambles, now barren of berries and full of dead leaves and thorns. The path was mud and sucked at her shoes, half pulling them off, as it threatened to give way entirely and dump her in the creek.

Charles's paw prints stuck deep, where he'd stopped to drink. Bleeding made you thirsty, she knew. The blood trail had been less and less easy to follow. She hoped it was because he was healing. The more dominant wolves healed faster-as long as you didn't combine wounds with silver, exhaustion, or magic.

Couldn't help but worry about him anyway.

So it was with great relief she made it down to the beach, a rocky, wet, and cold stretch of land, and saw Charles shaking himself off. He'd been in the water, cleaning the blood off. "Brave of you," Anna told him. "That water is too freaking cold for words." But she'd never had cause to doubt Charles's courage.

Amber eyes watched her as she slid down the last ten feet of slope with more grace than she'd expected, only to stumble as her shoes hit the better traction the small rocks of the beach gave her.

"So," she told Brother Wolf, "I have some things to talk to you about when you're ready. But we're safe enough for now. I left Angus in charge, back at the warehouse." Had she? Maybe Angus had left himself in charge at the warehouse.

The rocks were only high and dry in a strip about six inches wide. She looked at her muddy shoes and, deciding there was nothing she could do that would make them worse, she stepped out into about six inches of icy water. The air left her in a startled hiss. "Very cold," she told him, then started off down the shoreline because her body didn't want to stand still.

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