Hunting Ground Chapter SIX

CHARLES forced himself to walk. There was no hurry. Tom would have been a problem under other circumstances. But his mate was there to keep him under control. And even mad from pain and weakness, Tom wouldn't hurt an Omega.

He was off balance: Anna's fault. He wasn't used to panicking, and it put him on edge.

There were very few people he'd cared for enough to panic over-and most of them were long dead and forever beyond need of his aid. His father and his brother Samuel he could usually trust to take care of themselves.

Anna left him vulnerable.

She'd said she was fine, and she meant it. He'd heard the stress of survival in her voice, but she was safe for now. And Tom would need calm to deal with his wounds, not some adrenaline-jacked wolf who wasn't one of his pack. But even at a slow, steady pace, Brother Wolf fought against his control, growing more upset, not less.

And the human half wasn't far behind. Someone had tried to hurt his Anna, and he hadn't been there to prevent it.

A young man walking in the other direction jerked his head to stare at Charles-and quickly dropped his gaze when his eyes met Charles's. Only then did Charles realize he was growling softly.

He stopped, sucked in a deep breath-and hesitated as the air he'd taken told him something... unusual. Something missing. Something like the usual concentration of city smells.

He stood on a wide swath of pavement that was as clean as it had been the day it was poured. No visible garbage wasn't really strange, not in Seattle, where the rain washed the sidewalks on a regular basis. But no garbage, no scent, no anything, that was odd. Odd enough to allow him to hold off the frantic need to find Anna and assure himself she was fine, if only for just long enough to think.

Tom's witch had dealt with the blood trail, she'd said, and he was willing to bet that he was looking at the results: a wobbling stretch of walk two shades whiter than the cement around it. It was still a trail for anyone who wanted to follow it-though he supposed a blind woman couldn't know that. And it was a lot better than the blood that would have sent a slew of human police to the hotel.

He could follow it to the hotel-or he could go hunting. He stood very still and consulted Brother Wolf. Then they turned away from the hotel.

Yes, said Brother Wolf, at one with his human half.

Blood and flesh would be welcome. Anna waited for them. She'd be safe with Angus in a few minutes. Angus had taken his car to the hotel.

So there was time to feed. To rid them both, him and Brother Wolf, of the anger so they could regain their balance.

It wasn't long, only a few blocks, until the unnaturally whitened sidewalk returned to its normally dirty state. Despite the rain, Anna's scent lingered in the air.

It was full dark, though the hour wasn't late-a little after six, he thought. It had been twenty minutes since Anna had drawn upon his power, fifteen since he talked to her. The shadows wouldn't have been so dark then, but still dark enough for a lot of the nastier things to come hunting.

He stepped back into the clean space and looked around. A blackened bit of cloth, wet and dirty, a plastic bag that spilled two pairs of women's shoes with another shoe, hot pink and scorched, several feet away. A little casting about on the edges of the witch's spells-and he smelled vampire.

Vampires in Seattle attacking wolves. He considered it-and clenched his fists at the thought of his Anna going up against bloodsuckers.

The cloth smelled of nothing. The lone pink shoe hadn't been so thoroughly caught in the witch's cleaning spell. When lifted to his nose, it smelled faintly of burning flesh and vampire.

The other four shoes were new and smelled of leather, dye, and, lightly, of Anna. One pair was low-heeled pumps and the other red leather and high-heeled, the kind women wore for men.

Charles could care less about shoes-and he suspected he wasn't alone among men in his feelings. Shoe, no shoe, he didn't care. Naked was good, though over the past couple of weeks he was beginning to think that dressed in his clothes was a decent second best.

Even smiling at the thought of Anna in his sweater, he didn't slow down his hunt. He tracked the edge of the witch's spell until he found the trail the vampires had left-not difficult, as at least one of them was bleeding badly. He let his nose go to work, then he had no smile left in him.

A vampire, he'd thought, or possibly two. His nose now told him there had been more than that. He caught six individual scents. Six vampires who'd been after his Anna.

And he wondered if she'd been as honest as he thought when she told him she was all right. The pink shoe broke in his hand, and he dropped it. He was growling again as he followed the vampires to a parking garage-space number forty-six.

Four minutes, and a little intimidation-not difficult, the way he was feeling-and he found that the space had been paid for six months but occupied only now and then.

No way to tell if the vampires were connected to the person who rented the space or if they'd just found an empty space to use. He was inclined to suspect the latter. They weren't planning on being there long, and the cars were checked every two hours.

"Yeah," the man-not much older than a boy, really-said. He wasn't looking at Charles now, and not doing so had allowed him to calm down a little. "Someone came boiling out of here like they were fit to be tied. I remember it because it was a minivan, a blue Dodge-not the kind of vehicle you roar out of town in. I didn't notice it coming in, but I did the vehicle check when I started work tonight. I don't remember a minivan except Mrs. Sullivan's parked in here when I did it."

Charles wasn't concerned about that. Mind tricks that work on humans were among the most common gifts of the vampires. If they'd told the attendant not to remember, he wouldn't have.

"Tell me about the minivan."

"Three men and a woman. They all looked like FBI, you know? Expensive and conservative." The man looked up at Charles. "Are you a cop or something? Shouldn't you show me some ID?"

"Or something," murmured Charles, and the attendant paled and looked away again. Gently, Charles thanked the man for the information and left.

He could have gotten their faces from the cameras, but there was no need to traumatize the young man further-he had their scent, and he would not forget. If not today, then eventually he would run into them-the world was not that large to a man who lived forever. When he found them at last, he would remember this night to them.

When he reached the place where the attack had occurred, he stopped and put Anna's new shoes in the plastic bag and took them with him. There had been no blood, no meat at the end of this hunt-and Brother Wolf was not satisfied. Not in the least.

By the time he made it to the hotel, he'd gotten a semblance of control. It would have to do.

ANGUS was sitting on the floor in front of their room, reading a newspaper. He didn't look like much of a guardian, but there were few other wolves Charles would rather have guarding his mate's door. There wasn't much that would be able to get past the old wolf who ruled Seattle.

"Something interesting in the paper?" Charles asked politely.

"Not really, no." Angus folded the paper back into its original shape with economical precision, then got to his feet. He kept his face averted and down. Not slow on the uptake, was the Alpha of the Emerald City Pack. Charles might have his game face on-but any wolf worth his salt would smell the frustration of a failed hunt on him from twenty feet out.

"Your mate was worried about allowing anyone in before you got here. With Tom mostly down and out, and Moira-"

"-without enough magic to light a candle," finished Anna, opening the door. "And I'm sorry, but I don't know Angus from Adam-I know we were introduced, but I met a lot of people this morning. And I think that our attack was engineered by one of our own kind. Opening the door just because someone said he was Angus didn't seem smart."

Charles gave her a sharp look-he'd smelled only vampires. Had there been a werewolf, too? He pulled the predator in him under better control once more.

He needed a few answers. And he had to make sure she didn't guess how hard it was for him to appear calm and collected. It was a good thing she was still working on listening to her nose.

"As there was no urgent danger threatening, wisdom dictated that I wait here until someone she knew better came," said Angus, sounding rather pleased with Anna.

"Anna," said Charles, ignoring the urge to inspect her more closely to make sure she was all right. "This is Angus, Alpha of the Emerald City Pack. He would never, under any circumstances, have set Tom up to face a pack of vampires."

Angus gave Charles a sharp look as Anna examined him-and Charles tried to curb his possessive instincts. She was just evaluating Angus. The Emerald City Alpha was only an inch or two taller than Anna, who wasn't overly tall for a woman-and he didn't weigh much more. He was wiry and whip-thin. Sandy hair and dark eyes gave him a casual handsomeness that he used ruthlessly. People who didn't know him underestimated him all the time, which was probably one of the reasons he was so pleased with Anna's caution. The other would be that she had taken it upon herself to protect one of his wolves.

But Anna knew Bran, who was even better than Angus at being underestimated-Bran did it on purpose.

"I'm sorry if I offended you." Anna's apology was sincere.

"No trouble," Angus said. "Do I look offended? Let's all get inside, and you can tell us what happened, so we'll see what's to be done. Vampires, eh?"

Anna backed away from the door. The scent of her distress and the stink of recent fear permeated the room. Her lip curled as she smelled it herself. "Sorry," she said. Her shirt was covered with blood, and the air in the room was redolent with the rawness of open wounds.

Not hers, Brother Wolf told him hungrily. But it could have been. He couldn't tell who had thought that last, maybe both of them. It didn't help his control: he was having an unusually tough time keeping it together.

He had to keep his distance, just until he could get himself calm and centered. He allowed Angus to pass between him and Anna, and when it didn't send Brother Wolf into a rage, Charles took a deep breath of relief and allowed himself to examine Anna.

Her freckles stood out on her pale cheeks, but the scent of her fear wasn't fresh. Angus hadn't scared her, she'd just been being cautious. Brother Wolf settled down, but only a little.

"Here," Charles told her, and handed her the bag of shoes.

She looked at the bag blankly before her face lit up in a grin. "You are supernatural, Charles. Absolutely supernatural."

She opened the closet and dumped the shoes in with a pile of bags that hadn't been there this morning. There were a couple of plastic-covered dresses hanging next to the hotel's bathrobes, too. She'd been shopping and back once before they were attacked. The vampires could have been waiting, watching the hotel, and followed them out.

A low growl in the room brought his attention back to the task at hand. The little witch, still wearing her sunglasses, was curled up on the giant pillow at the head of the bed. If Anna was pale, the witch's face was chalk white under the inky blackness of her short hair, and she looked gaunt, as if she'd lost ten pounds since he'd seen her earlier that day.

From the dent in the bedspread, Charles could tell the brown wolf who was Tom had been settled in front of his witch, but the invasion of other wolves had sent him to his feet. One of his front legs was visibly crooked and must be hurting-but that didn't keep him down.

Charles closed his hands on Anna's shoulders before she could get between Angus and Tom, and he brought her back against him. "No," he told her. "It's all right. Angus has this in hand."

There were Alphas he might be worried about, but Angus had been an Alpha for a long time, and he knew what he was seeing: a wolf protecting his mate from an unknown threat. Not defiance.

In a cool voice that held more than a little command, Angus said, "Tom. No harm to yours. No harm." Angus might not be a big man, but his voice, when he chose to use it, was powerful enough to raise the dead.

The wolf's lips curled away from impressive fangs and growled again.

"Down," Angus said, putting serious energy into the word.

And the wolf sank instantly to his belly, his breathing harsh as he dealt with his unwillingness to allow others around his mate when he was injured while meeting his Alpha's demand for obedience.

"Tom?" The witch sounded lost, and Charles wondered what she thought was going on. Damnable to be helplessly blind in a world of monsters.

"He's all right," Anna told her. "Just protective of you. He knows you can't protect yourself right now-and he hasn't had time to gather himself together from that rough change yet. He's hurt and not thinking right. Everyone is going to give him just a minute to calm down."

Slick, he thought with a secret smile. Anna slid that information to Angus as if she were just talking to Moira, so he wouldn't think she was trying to tell him what to do. Then she'd spoiled it all by ordering everyone, Charles included, to leave Tom alone. The white flash of Angus's teeth told him that he'd caught it, too, and had chosen to be amused.

"We'll just do that," Angus said, settling himself on the arm of the chair nearest to the window. "Alan called while I was in the hallway. He's about five minutes out. While we're waiting for him and for Tom, why doesn't someone enlighten me as to what damaged my wolf?"

"Vampires," said Anna. "Six of them-and they hunted like a pack." She glanced at Charles.

"You mean as if they'd hunted together before," he said. Charles knew his calm facade was in place because her nod was matter-of-fact.

"Exactly," she said. "They didn't get in each other's way, not even when five of them ganged up on Tom after they'd knocked Moira over. They were in a basement apartment stairwell and hidden behind a shadows spell. It smelled like wolf magic to me-unless the vampires have access to the same thing. If Moira hadn't brought the sun in, we'd be dead."

Five on one was difficult to manage, especially with a cunning old wolf like Tom, who knew how to maximize others' weaknesses. And a shadows spell... Anna was right, that sounded like a hunting pack-except they were dealing with vampires.

"There are vampiric spells that could mimic one of ours," said Angus. "Tom's old enough to tell the difference. When he can think again, we can ask. That's what made you think that they were sent by a wolf?"

Anna nodded, but Moira said, "Vampires don't lightly take on the wolves, not in this city, anyway. They were trying to kidnap Anna-and what would a vampire want with Charles's mate?"

Angus smiled coldly. The wolves in Seattle had held the upper hand for decades. "If the vampire seethe here found themselves holding Charles's mate, they'd escort her back with armed guards and polish her fingernails before they delivered her to me without a hair on her head out of place. I'll certainly call their Master, but I suspect they are interlopers. He should know about them-and if so, maybe he'll have some names for me."

"One of them was a woman who wore a size six shoe," Charles said. "But I don't think she'll be a problem to anyone again."

Moira's part in the story bothered him. She'd saved Anna-but... He frowned at her. "Witch, I've never heard of a white witch who could call sunlight. That's not even something witchcraft should be able to call-witches know mind and body, not the elements."

"I didn't call sunlight," she snapped, responding to his tone of voice, he thought, rather than his words. "Just made the vampire's bodies believe in it-even the dead bodies." She wiggled her fingers. "Sssst, and they were dust or running away."

"That's a lot of magic. Vampires have some resistance-and then you made your trail disappear for the better part of a mile."

"She's a white witch," snapped Angus.

Moira grinned fiercely. "I'm a mutant, all right. Poor little blind white witch..."

"Sacrifice," said Charles slowly, "is the power that witches pull from. Mostly it is the loss of other people's blood and flesh-but rumor has it that one of the reasons witches have familiars is that they can use them as a higher sacrifice-not just the animal's death but the death of something the witch holds dear."

"You think I kill kitties to power my spells?" Her voice was nasty, and despite the nagging suspicion that all wasn't as it should be, Brother Wolf approved of her.

He couldn't let it be, not with Anna's safety to worry about, but Brother Wolf's approbation gave him pause. There might be a different answer. "I've always heard that self-sacrifice-as when the witch uses her own blood to fuel a spell-has some power, but it's difficult to work with."

The witch pulled down her glasses and he saw his guess had been correct. One eye had been blasted by magic. He'd seen similar results before, and it wasn't something he'd forget soon. Her eye was stained white and shriveled, as if something had sucked it dry. The damage had happened a long time ago because no scent of it clung to her-and when that had happened, she would have reeked of magic for quite a while. The other eye had been destroyed more mundanely, though just as painfully-and likely just as long ago.

Interestingly, Angus stiffened, as if he had not known, and Anna didn't have any reaction at all. Not to the witch's face anyway-she was definitely reacting to him. She was not a bit happy with the way he was going after the witch.

After Moira felt he'd had a chance to look his fill, she put her glasses back on. Tom stared at Charles with intelligent yellow eyes that promised retribution, and Anna looked not much happier with him.

"I don't know Moira," said Charles to the wolf who was Tom, since he understood his reaction the best. "I did know that I've never heard of a white witch who could do what she did. And if a black witch is masquerading as a white witch... first, the deception implies she is one of the enemy. And second"-he gave the wolf a small smile-"I've never encountered a witch who could hide her nature from me."

"We were nearly killed by a black witch a few weeks ago," Anna told them, though he could tell she was still miffed with him. "It's left us a little skittish."

Moira reached out and touched Tom's flank and let her fingers drift down over his tail, which she tugged playfully. "It's all right, Tom. These are the good guys-even if he's being rude."

She turned her head to Charles. "Fair enough. I've never heard of a white witch that can do what I can either. And I'm not sure how it happened exactly. I can understand being cautious."

"I am sorry I had to push," Charles said, honestly.

"I'm sure I'll find a way to return the favor," she said, showing her teeth in a white smile. "At least you didn't say ick and run screaming."

The warm anger at the vampire attack settled a little deeper in his gut, and he let a little of it leak into his voice. "I hope you turned whoever did into a pig."

She stilled, surprised by his reaction, he thought.

"Cowards don't deserve better," said Angus.

The witch clearly wasn't expecting support from that quarter either. Had there been so many repulsed by her scars?

But what she might have said had to wait, as someone knocked tentatively at the door. "It's Alan," their interloper said. "Can someone let me in?"

The minute the Emerald City Pack's submissive wolf walked through the doorway, Charles felt more settled. Alan Choo was full-blood Chinese, and he looked it: delicate and unexpectedly strong, like a well-made blade.

Except for when he was alone with Anna, Charles had spent his entire life with Brother Wolf raging inside of him, pacing and growling against the trappings of civilization they were forced to bear. That's what it meant to be dominant and ready to kill anything that threatened those under his protection. Kill at a moment's notice.

Today was worse than usual. Brother Wolf was raging, and it was all Charles could do to make sure no one knew how hard he was struggling to hold on to control. He'd thought it only a minor addition that there were two other dominant wolves-wolves not of his pack-in the room with him and his mate.

But that was before Alan Choo walked into the room. He wasn't an Omega like Anna-but he was submissive, and he knew how to deal with raging werewolves. Somehow having him in the room tipped the balance, and between him and Anna, they calmed everyone down-including Charles.

Charles sat in the chair on the other side of the little table from Angus. It was more to give Choo room to work than because he wanted take a seat, but being able to sit down with the other wolves in the room was an improvement.

Anna took a quick glance around, so Charles knew she'd sensed the new quiet in the room, too. She caught his eyes and gave him a quick smile and perched on the arm of his chair.

"He's hurt because of me," she told Choo.

Charles shook his head and told her the truth as he saw it. "Not your fault someone decided to try to grab you. Tom did his job, don't be sorry."

"Hey, Tom, man, whatcha been doing to yourself?" Choo's words might have been flippant, but his hands were careful as he handled the injured wolf.

Tom allowed Alan to straighten his leg without uttering a grunt of pain-the little witch did more than enough of that for him.

"Damn it, damn it," she muttered, as Alan worked. "With just a little more power, I could keep this from hurting you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Finally, Angus, Angus, who had no use for anyone who wasn't a wolf, said, "Enough, Moira. It's just a little pain. Over in a moment and not worth your fussing. It would be a lot worse if you hadn't been with them-six vampires are more than a match for two wolves and any other witch I've ever seen. If you hadn't used up your magic when you did, no one would be worried about a little thing like a broken leg. Enough."

There was a sharpness in the last word that shut her up and earned the Alpha a glare from his wolf. Angus raised an eyebrow, and Tom dropped his gaze. Angus rolled his eyes. "God save me from lovebirds," he said, and his gaze lighted on Charles and Anna.

They weren't cuddling: Anna didn't cuddle. Charles had the feeling that if life had been fair to her, she would have enjoyed it-and maybe a few years down the line she might. But for now he was grateful that she didn't cower every time he touched her.

Still, she was sitting close enough that the old Alpha grinned.

"All of you lovebirds," he said. "It gets in the way, and I'm not patient by nature. You-" He pointed a finger at Anna, and Charles was up and standing between them.

Reflex. So maybe he wasn't as relaxed as he'd thought.

Angus dropped his finger, but finished his sentence. "Tell me what happened. I want more details."

"Native Americans don't like to be pointed at," observed Choo quietly as he wrapped Tom's rib so it could heal properly. "Native witches, skinwalkers and the like, use the gesture to throw curses and disease."

Angus threw up his hands and dropped to his chair. "Oh for God's sake. I'm not a witch. I don't throw curses-I just want to know what the hell went on tonight."

He sounded frustrated and offended-but all the wolves in the room knew the truth: he was afraid of Charles. He hadn't been before, not until he looked into Brother Wolf's eyes and knew the threat of death. Angus was Alpha and old with power, but there was no question as to who was dominant.

There had been no threat from Angus. Charles knew it, but it took more effort than it should have to sit down again. If Angus's quick withdrawal hadn't satisfied Brother Wolf, there would have been blood spilled.

Charles took his seat slowly and reached up to put a hand on Anna's knee, the contact soothing him.

"Well," she said brightly, "hasn't this been interesting." She reached out and put her hand on his shoulder, as if she needed help balancing on the arm of the chair. She and he were the only ones who knew that her touch helped him find balance while she distracted the others with her words.

"Okay. What happened." She sucked in a breath. "Tom and Moira took me to Pike Street and we loaded ourselves down with as much as we could carry and delivered it here. I had everything I needed except for shoes-so Moira took me to her favorite shoe place a couple of miles away. We were on our way back when they jumped us. No warning, no sound, no smell, they were just on us." A cold hand folded over his on her knee. She wasn't as calm as she sounded. He turned his hand palm up and held her fingers in his hot grip.

"Four of them attacked Tom, one hit Moira, and the other grabbed me. I killed mine-" There was a growl of satisfaction under the stress in her voice, and he tightened his grip. His mate was tough. "By that time Tom had killed one of his attackers and Moira's decided she wasn't a threat and was helping the others with Tom. I was just about to throw myself into the fray when my brain caught up with my ears and I finally realized that Moira was trying to find out what had attacked us."

Anna looked over at the witch with a grin. "I can remember thinking, 'Poor thing can't see what's after us. How frightening for her.' And so I told her. Then we were all nearly blinded by sunlight. The dead vamps burned, and the others fled. We called Alan, and I carried Tom and led Moira back here while she cleaned up behind us and kept us out of view."

The witch, lightly petting Tom with clever fingers, gave Anna an innocent look, and Anna snorted. "Poor little blind witch, my aching butt. One-woman demolition crew. They never knew what hit them."

"You think it was a wolf behind it," Charles said.

Anna looked at him and, now that the story was laid out, she hesitated.

"Instinct," he told her, "is most often right."

Her mouth relaxed. "Yes. I think it was a wolf." She closed her eyes while she mulled it over. "The attack felt like a pack attack. Hide in plain sight-enough people to do the job easily. They didn't know about Moira, or they underestimated her." She looked at him and gave him a small smile. "And me. They concentrated their attack on the strongest of us first-werewolf tactics. And they wanted to take me away with them. What would a vampire want with me?"

"Wolves." Charles tried to feel it out. But the spirits were silent as they habitually were in the city. Or any other time they might be useful. "So what do you think, Angus? Could it have been Chastel? We had a run-in last night, and he was angry enough to kill someone."

Angus was sprawled deliberately in his chair, showing how relaxed he was in Charles's presence. "The Frenchman's a beast. A powerful beast-but he's addicted to the kill. He wouldn't send anyone else. He wouldn't want someone else to spill blood that he could feast on instead."

"So who do you think?"

Angus frowned irritably. "I don't know most of them well enough. We could question them-if we wanted to start a war. The Europeans are twitchy about their honor. If they only wanted an Omega wolf-I'll call the Italians and warn them to keep theirs close."

Charles's eyebrows raised. "I knew they had one, but not that they brought him here." He looked at Anna. "If he'd have been useful to you, I'd have told you about him-but he's only been a wolf for a year or so and knows less than you do about being a wolf at all, let alone an Omega. Asil, who was mated to an Omega, is a much better teacher-and don't you tell him I said that."

Angus turned his attention to Anna. "He's a young German, actually, who was skiing in the Italian Alps and had a bad fall. The rescue worker who found him was a werewolf and felt compelled to save him any way he could."

"Turned him into a werewolf," Anna said.

Charles nodded. "And the Germans were hotter than blazes when the Italians claimed him as theirs."

"A custody battle, in fact," said Angus. "I expect that's why the Italians brought him-to rub it in the Germans' noses that he chose to stay with them."

Charles was watching the interest in Anna's face. Yes, he thought, you aren't alone. He should have thought of it himself. He'd see to it she met the young German Omega.

"Maybe that's it," said Moira thoughtfully. "Everyone in the pack has been talking about it-sorry, Anna. But most of them were more interested in you than in all the strange wolves coming in. Maybe it's someone who wants an Omega."

"I met someone like that once," said Anna coolly. "Make sure you warn the Italians."

"Yes," said Angus, with a little amused glance at Charles as Anna gave him another order.

"Don't forget you have a dinner to get ready for," said Moira.

Charles looked at the witch, and he wasn't the only one. She smiled at them all. "We don't know exactly what they were trying to do. Probably they were trying to kidnap Anna. But there is a lesser chance that they didn't want you to get better acquainted with Arthur of Great Britain."

"Besides," said Angus, "why give them the power to change your plans when no permanent harm was done?"

Yes, Charles realized. That was logic he could wrap his head around. He had no desire to go out and do the social thing at the best of times-and this attack made him want to take his mate and barricade her in where she was safe.

"I'll go get another room," he said. "Tom and Moira can stay here until he's healed-and order room service."

"I'll stay here, too," said Angus. "Until Tom's up to taking care of himself."

Charles looked at the Alpha and realized that he wasn't the only one feeling protective. "Good," he told them, and left to do as he'd said.

A collective sigh of relief went through the room when Charles left, but no one said anything until the elevator ding was heard faintly through the walls.

Anna knew Charles had that effect on people-but she hadn't seen or felt any trouble tonight. Except for the pointing-finger thing.

"Well," said Angus, and Tom whined. "There's a reason Bran uses him to scare the bejeebers out of miscreants. I think we all saw it tonight."

"Saw what?" asked Moira.

"Exactly," said Alan Choo, who was repacking the bag he'd brought with him. "Angus pointed-and I didn't even see him move. He just was. Standing between his mate and Angus." And then he lapsed into Chinese for a few sentences.

Anna found she didn't like their being afraid of Charles. It hurt him, though he accepted it from everyone. Even if it was safer for him, it wasn't good.

Angus shook his head. "Did you see the faces on some of the wolves when he talked to them today? I suspect they didn't even know he could talk-let alone make so much sense when he did. It was as if a shark started speaking the King's English."

Tom raised his head and looked at Angus, and Alan broke off his Chinese muttering to stare at his Alpha.

"Queen's English," said Anna with more sharpness than she meant to allow. "And there's nothing wrong with Charles."

"Before God there's not," agreed Angus. "I thought to myself-well look at that, he's conducting a meeting just like everyone else. Maybe the other rumors were exaggerated about him, too. And they weren't. Not a bit of it. I don't ever want to face that man fang and claw."

"If you don't shut up," Anna bit out, "you might not ever have to worry about it."

And Angus sat back in his chair and smiled at her with satisfaction. "Well, now," he said in an entirely different voice. "Maybe I won't."

She'd missed it, she realized looking at Tom and Alan Choo. She'd mistaken Tom's astonishment for agreement. Angus had been playing her.

"Why the test?" she asked.

Angus shrugged. "I've known Charles a long time. I saw him turn from a quiet boy into the weapon his father needed-that we needed. Just because I understood the need, it didn't mean I couldn't regret. I just wanted to make sure that you were able to see below the killer to the man beneath."

"So you set him off on purpose?"

Angus's smile widened into a grin. "With the pointing-finger thing? When he was already thirsting after fresh blood because you were endangered and he'd gone hunting with no results? Do I look that stupid? No, that was just an accident."

Anna looked down at the arm of the chair and rubbed a spot lightly with a fingertip. Now that she thought to test it, she could smell Angus's sincerity. He had been worried for Charles, worried she would hurt him.

"I knew people were afraid of him," she said. "You really think they believe there's something wrong with Charles?"

Angus tilted his head, but it was Alan who answered. "Something off, anyway. Not so much crazy as... different. His father's soulless killer, loyal to the Marrok and no one else. Every word that comes out of his mouth put there by the Marrok, like a ventriloquist's dummy only scarier."

Anna thought about the fight Charles and his father had waged, which ultimately Charles had won, and opened her mouth to comment. But then she shut it again. If that was what people thought, it was because Charles wanted them to.

"Charles does it deliberately," Angus told her, watching her closely. She hoped that she gave nothing away, but his words were so close to her thoughts that she must have. He tapped the arm of his chair with impatient fingers. "If the other wolves are all scared of him, they won't be stupid and make him kill them. And they're right, whether they know it or not. There is something off, haven't you noticed? His wolf is completely out of control. It should have turned him into a mindless killer-but it hasn't."

Brother Wolf, thought Anna.

"Why do you suppose that is?" asked Choo.

Angus raised an eyebrow and looked at her, as if he thought she might supply an explanation.

There was a wolf responsible for the attack on them tonight. She didn't really believe Angus was the enemy either. He might even be Charles's friend if she could believe her nose. But she wasn't going to be sharing any insights about her mate-even if she had them-with Angus of the Emerald City Pack.

She gave him a look and relaxed on her seat on the arm of Charles's chair and waited for him to return.


He was so angry.

Charles had been all right all the way down to the main desk. He'd focused on the task at hand, gotten a second room, and been fine until he got back into the elevator and considered the attack on Anna. He'd thought he might be able to take what he'd learned from Anna's story and find something new, some hint at why or who.

The control that had always been at his fingertips seemed to be melting away. He watched the floor numbers rise, and they seemed to proceed at a viciously fast pace when he had so much thinking to do.


Tom had nearly been killed. If Charles had sent Anna with any of Angus's other wolves-and he might have-he'd have lost her.


Six vampires.


If Tom's witch had been what she appeared, Anna would have been taken.


If he locked her to his side, he would lose her. She was not submissive, she didn't need his care. Not that way. She needed him to stand back and let her fly.


And if he was going to do that, he was going to have to get control of his temper. Of Brother Wolf's temper. Not just now, today-but forever. Leash his need to keep her safe so that he could keep her happy.


Today, though, she wasn't leaving his sight again.

The elevator door slid open.

ARTHUR Madden fussed with this and that, moving the place settings farther from the edge of the table, then nudging them nearer.

"My dear," said his mate with amusement, "what are you doing? He may be the Marrok's son, but you rule the British Isles. You outrank him-there is no need to be nervous."

She didn't understand. But he was used to that. His wife was human, and there was a lot she didn't understand. He didn't hold it against her. He wouldn't explain that Charles was dominant, that even with the strength of all his wolves behind him, Charles still made Arthur back down with no more than a look. It meant he needed all of his defenses. It meant the dinner must be perfect.

He could trust his mate to make everything perfect.

"You are right, of course," he said. "Dashed silly of me to make such a fuss."

She slid under his arm, as slender as the girl he'd married forty years before. He loved her as much now as he had then, but her age made him sad. When they went out to dinner now, people thought them business associates-or mother and son. When she'd been young and beautiful, he'd never given a thought to her aging, and neither had she.

She smelled of roses. "It will all be fine," she said. "I'll entertain his mate, and you can tell him stories."

He kissed her Saxon-sunlit hair, kept delicately tinted with dyes to the shade it had been naturally when he met her. "And how will you do that?"

"I'll show her my needlework and talk to her about girl things."

He turned and caught a glimpse of them in the huge gilded mirror just inside the entrance of the house. He wore a gold silk shirt that turned his hair a deeper shade of red-gold; his eyes were blue, and the black slacks he wore could have been the slacks he wore to his wedding all those decades ago.

Sunny's deep blue shirt had long, flowing sleeves that showed off the strength of her arms without betraying how her skin showed her age. There was a softness under her chin and laugh lines around her eyes. His Sunny loved to laugh.

She was dying one day at a time. It would take a long while still, he thought, decades, as her skin grew less taut and her muscles stringy and slack. And he had to watch it happen.

She caught his gaze in the mirror. "You look gorgeous as always," she said, hugging the arm that crossed over her shoulders above her breasts.

"I love you," he whispered into her ear, nuzzling at the perfect hair, closing his eyes so he could smell her precious scent.

She waited until his eyes opened and she could look into the mirror and stare into them. Then she smiled the huge smile that had first made him call her Sunny. "I know you do."

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