Hunting Ground Chapter TWELVE

ANNA was sweating and swearing-and Charles was fit to be tied and a fair bit on his way to needing restraint himself. Alan had nerves of steel, because his hands were steady even though Charles couldn't keep his growls to himself. Finally, Alan dropped the forceps into the bowl.

"All right," he said. "There is still lead in there. I can smell it, but I'll be damned if I can find it. At least it is not silver. An X-ray machine would be able to locate the rest."

"We have one of those in Aspen Creek," Charles said.

"Or you can let the remainder fester out. There isn't a lot-I don't think it's enough to make her sick."

"That's where my vote goes." Anna's luminous skin was greenish, and there were dark circles under her eyes. "No more probes, please."

Charles slid out from behind her. "You'll change your mind when they start festering," he predicted. "But you can wait if you'd like."

"I'll do that." She huffed indignantly. "Festering. What a lovely thought."

He kissed her lightly, then took a good look at the manacles they'd used on Anna. "I can pick these," he said, "if Arthur has the right tools around."

"Go look," Anna told him. "If I'm going to fester, I'd like to do it in comfort. And these things are not comfortable. Plus they're tacky."

Charles was smiling when he left the room, shutting the door behind him. While she was hurting, and he had to get her help, he hadn't even thought about her nudity. But he didn't want Arthur walking in on her, so he shut the door.

The house was dark, and he thought Arthur must have gone back to bed-morning was still a while away. He wasn't going to sleep again, not in Arthur's house-and he wasn't going to move Anna until she'd healed up a bit.

He went to the kitchen and opened drawers to see if he could find anything useful.

"Charles?" Arthur's voice. It came from the room that he kept his treasures in.

"Yes," he answered. "I'm looking for something to get the manacles off Anna. You wouldn't happen to have a lockpick kit, would you?"

"I probably have something that would work," Arthur said.

Charles stopped sorting through the kitchen implement drawer, lifting his head. There was something... odd about the other man's voice.

Maybe it was nothing. Maybe. He removed a fillet knife from the block and slid it into his jeans pocket.

"That would be cool." He was careful to keep his throat loose, so Arthur wouldn't have any reason to think Charles had noticed anything different. "She's tough, she'd handle it-but I want them off." He moved unhurriedly through the dark living room... and caught Sunny's lingering scent from the couch nearest him.

Poor thing. He hadn't known her well enough to do more than feel sorry for her. No wonder Arthur was off. Oddly, the sympathy he felt for Arthur was far more sincere than any mourning he could do for Sunny.

He tried not to think about how much worse tonight could have been. Anna, they wanted to kidnap. Not kill.

Their taking her made him angry, so angry that not even killing three of them soothed him. Or Brother Wolf, either.

If they had killed her... he would have joined her. He paused, not having worked that out before. But it didn't particularly bother him. If she died, he would follow. Just as he would have followed her wherever they had planned on taking her had they succeeded. She was his and he hers.


His phone rang. "I'll be right there. Angus is calling."

He opened the phone, "Yes?"

"Your Anna was spot on. About an hour ago-fifteen minutes after the cleanup crew left Chastel's place-we had police all over the place. Someone had called in a report of screaming, dogs howling, gunshots, and hell-all-knows else. They brought in luminol-the stuff that glows in the presence of blood. We owe Moira big-time because they found squat. The last witch we had could never have cleaned up that well. The police are still tearing the place apart-but they're being nicer about it."

"Trap sprung too late," said Charles-aware that Arthur had come out to listen.

"Yes." Angus paused. "And your scent? Moira found clothes in one of the... well, in the mess of body parts. As best we can figure, someone snitched the clothes you wore to the hunt, dragged them around the room, and dumped them."


"Absolutely. And not even the fae can pin it on you now. I know you left the hunting grounds in a completely different set of clothes."


"On another interesting news front... that van? The local vampires who were doing the cleanup on it recognized the stick you poked through one of the bad guys. She called it a spellcatcher."

Charles frowned. "Spellcatcher?"

"Vampire hocus pocus, apparently. Very secret-the vampires here really don't want trouble with your father over this to tell us this much. Only a couple of vampires can make them-and they charge a lot for them. If our team of out-of-town vamps were hired guns, they were successful and expensive to be able to purchase such a thing. Apparently this stick can absorb up to four spells, and the person it's tuned to can use it to cast them, even if that person wouldn't normally be able to do magic."

"That would explain the shadows spell and the Look-Not-At-Me the vampires used when they attacked Anna the first time. And how they kidnapped Anna while we were both in the hotel room-they must have used the spellcatcher to put us out with a witch's sleep spell."

"The thing to remember is that it can only absorb spells given to it voluntarily by the spell caster. Means a wolf gave them the shadows spell and the Look-Not-At-Me."

"Confirming Anna's theory," Charles said. He was pacing. There were many things he did not like about cell phones-but not tangling himself up in cords was a definite benefit.

"Is Anna all right?"

"She'll be fine as soon as a few more chunks of lead fester out, and I get some locks picked so she doesn't have to explain her interesting choice in jewelry."

Arthur was leaning against the door frame of his treasure room, making no effort to pretend he wasn't listening.

"Good." Angus cleared his throat. "You did good, son."

The "son" made Charles smile. He was older than Angus by a few decades. "I think so. She's-she completes me."

"Tell her that," Angus advised humorously. "Women like to hear their men get all tongue-tied."

"I'll do that."

He shut the phone.

"Cleanup crew?" asked Arthur.

And Charles realized that there was a lot Arthur didn't know. "Chastel was killed last night in a particularly bloody fashion that required some quick action."

"Was it you who killed him?"

"No. Vampires."

"Ah." Arthur looked away. "Chastel. Odd to think of him being dead at last. It couldn't have happened to a better person." He looked back and gave Charles a broken smile. "And I guess it did, didn't it? Poor Sunny." He rubbed his face, hiding it for a minute. "Sorry. Sorry. So Chastel required a cleanup crew?"

Charles considered offering sympathy-and decided it wouldn't help. "Anna suggested that the murder was so bloody-especially given it was vampires who'd done it-"

"The vampires killed Chastel? You are sure?"

Charles nodded. "Ironic, considering how many wolves I know who would have loved to kill him."

"Who called the police? The vampires?"

Charles shrugged. "The timing is off. The police were meant to find the scene in all its glory." Maybe to keep his father from bringing the werewolves out. Maybe to keep the wolves away from the scene so whoever had tried to frame Charles for it would have an easier time. Without access to the murder site, the werewolves might never have determined how Charles's scent appeared in a place he'd never been. "But they gave us too much time. The police won't find anything now."

"I suppose not. Angus is remarkably efficient."

"And, I believe, his second's daytime job is with the police. Tom knows what they are looking for and how to keep them from finding it." Charles paused.

It occurred to him that he could see Arthur hiring someone to do his killing for him. But he dismissed his suspicion. Sunny had been killed. A wolf would never kill his own mate.

Even so, Charles gave in to his impulse to throw out some bait. "Whoever called the police did it hours too late. It might have worked if he'd called right after the job was done." He shook his head. "That's what's been bothering me, I think. The incompetence of it all. Most wolves are better hunters. The vampires made a try for Anna-right before we came over here for dinner, as a matter of fact. They failed-and lost two of their pack doing so. Michel, one of the French werewolves, was with Chastel when he was killed. And they left him for dead. He'll survive, and in a few days he'll tell us exactly what the vampires said when they attacked. Maybe they told him who hired them."


"They're pros. Hired to come to Seattle to do at least three things." Charles ticked them off on his fingers. "Kidnap Anna. Kill Sunny. And kill Chastel-making his death horrible and bloody, something that screamed 'Monster' to the police."

Charles hummed thoughtfully to himself. "It wasn't the vampires who were incompetent. If they had known what they were facing when they tried to kidnap Anna the first time, they would have succeeded. Someone underestimated the escort I sent out with Anna. Thought that the only one who would be a problem was Angus's second, Tom. Chastel's death was... masterful. Any humans who'd walked in, who'd seen pictures of it, would remember it for the rest of their lives. But the person who was supposed to call the police was too slow."

Charles had been watching Arthur out of the corner of his eye. The wolf's face showed nothing but polite interest. His body, on the other hand, had been tightening with anger throughout Charles's whole speech.

"Incompetent," he said again. And watched Arthur's fist clench.


His father had been suspicious of the death of an Alpha who'd recently been killed in London. Tough man and very dominant-decapitated in a car accident. Could have been deliberately arranged.

Charles resumed pacing, ignoring Arthur as if he weren't there at all. So Arthur didn't realize he'd given himself away.

Taking out Chastel made sense. Chastel was a threat to Arthur. Kept Arthur from expanding into Europe. His death left a huge power vacuum-and Arthur would have stood no chance in a fair fight against Chastel. He couldn't have just assassinated him and left the murder open, though-if anyone knew Arthur had taken the coward's way of killing Chastel, they would never have followed him. Arthur was not Bran, he wasn't strong enough to rule a continent based on his own power-he'd need them to be willing subjects. He'd need to pin Chastel's death on someone else.

Charles didn't think Arthur cared one way or the other about the werewolves' coming out. He was precisely the charismatic kind of wolf that Bran planned on introducing the public to first. But making Chastel's murder look as though it was designed to attract human attention was a way to send suspicion elsewhere. There were a lot of wolves who were unhappy about his father's plans. Bran would not believe Charles had killed Chastel, after all-so Arthur needed a nameless villain for Bran to blame. Someone who hired the vampires, then conveniently disappeared.

That whole butcher thing... was Arthur making an observation. Chastel was a barbarian-Arthur clearly his superior. He wouldn't see the similarities. In his mind, a brute who killed for pleasure was uncivilized. Arthur didn't kill for pleasure.

Chastel ruled by killing all who challenged his place-and by terrifying the rest. Arthur... had started out killing the Alphas in Great Britain, then stopped. Or found a better way to dispose of the wolves who would challenge him. Bran could figure it out from here. As far as Charles was concerned, Arthur and Chastel were just two sides of the same coin-all the need for power and none of the need to take care of what was theirs. Arthur wouldn't see it that way, though perhaps he needed to make that more clear with the brutal method used to dispose of Chastel's body.


If the reason for hiring the vampires was that it would have been difficult for a werewolf to attack an Omega, hiring them to kill your own mate, who was Omega, or nearly so, would have been imperative.

And suddenly the attempted kidnapping of Anna made so much more sense. Arthur wasn't the only werewolf to have his own jet-but he did have one. And Anna was what Sunny could have been. Omega. Valued not so much because of who she was-but for who everyone else would think her to be. Prize possession. And, unlike Sunny, she would live forever. Sunny had been getting old, as humans did. Arthur's pain at that knowledge had been genuine. So he'd had her killed to spare himself the suffering. From his reactions at the warehouse, Charles rather thought Arthur had underestimated the pain of her death. He hoped so.

Casually, he pulled his phone out and set it to text. "Forgot to update Da," he said. "He'll be eating breakfast about now and doesn't like it interrupted. I'll text him about the happenings of tonight, and he can call me about it at his leisure." No lies for Arthur to hear. He kept the text message simple. IT IS ARTHUR.

He kept the phone tilted away from Arthur so he'd think he was still texting Bran and typed out a message for Angus. DON'T CALL. SEND HELP HERE. ARTHUR IS VILLAIN. He deemed it a little melodramatic, but it was short and simple and impossible for Angus to misinterpret. He hit SEND.

He could handle Arthur. Arthur had not been wolf enough to take Chastel. But Anna and Alan Choo were here, and they needed him to keep them safe as best he could-and that meant calling in help.

"You were looking for lockpicks," said Arthur.


"I have some in there." Arthur tipped his head to indicate his treasure room. "I've been packing things up-I won't be coming back here."

Charles followed him in. It looked as if Arthur had been doing exactly as he said. The tapestries were off the wall, set into two-by-four frames to keep them stable and slid into the kind of plywood rough-lumber shipping crate museums used to transport artwork. A smaller wooden crate had already been sealed. The only thing left out was the box that held the sword.

"I understand the rest," Charles said, running his fingers over the wood that protected the old sword. "But how did you bribe Dana into breaking her word?"

He looked up and watched Arthur go very still. The British wolf... altered subtly. Lost the aura of grief almost entirely.

"The same way I got the vampires to do my bidding. Offered her something she wanted." Arthur smiled. "Even that wouldn't have worked if you hadn't ticked her off."

"How did I do that?" As soon as Charles asked the question, he remembered Dana's extreme reaction to the painting his father had sent her. It was lost, that place that had once been hers, and his father meant to gift her with a remembrance-but maybe she'd thought it was a taunt, instead.

Arthur threw up his hands theatrically. "How should I know? Fae are easily offended. As for what I offered her-" He motioned to the sword case.

"That is not Excalibur," Charles said. "When she discovers you don't have it, she'll be... offended."

Arthur ran his fingers gently over the display case-and slid open a dark chunk of wood on the end. "There is something to be said about hiding things in plain sight."

The sword he removed from the hidden compartment wasn't the one that had been on display-though it looked very like. Both were swordsmen's weapons rather than movie props. As soon as this once-hidden sword left the case, the hair on the back of Charles's neck came to attention.

Excalibur or not, there was no denying that the sword in Arthur's hand was a fae blade: he could feel its magic on his skin, could smell it.

Arthur was a swordsman, Charles knew. He'd studied fencing and had received the same sort of martial training that Charles himself had. Arthur's balance was right and his grip-neither too tight nor too loose-showed all that training had not been wasted.

He hadn't been worried about a sword, but that sword... Charles was a dead man, most likely. But Angus would be coming with help. Enough help that even with the sword, Anna should be safe. All he had to do was delay as long as possible. And Arthur always had loved to perform.

"Anna won't go with you," he told Arthur. "She won't stand by your side. She'll wait until you take your attention off her for a moment, then she'll gut you."

Arthur smiled. "You really don't believe in reincarnation, do you? Or fate. I came here to kill Chastel and your father. Chastel I had an answer for. For your father, I needed more."

"Why my father?"

Arthur looked at him as though he was stupid. "Because I am he, of course. King Arthur. It is my destiny to be the high king."

Madness indeed, thought Charles

"But my father didn't come."

"No," agreed Arthur. "Fate is an odd thing. Do you know just who Dana is?"

"Obviously you are going to tell me," said Charles dryly.

"I wonder if your father does. This is what I mean by fate-that I who was Arthur would find Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, here. I knew a couple of decades ago that she was here in Seattle -the first time I saw her, in fact. I knew that there would come a time that it was important-so I bought Sunny this house."

Obviously, Charles thought, it wasn't going to be hard to keep Arthur monologuing.

Arthur's smile turned sly. "I didn't find Excalibur in an archaeological dig-though that's what I was doing at the time. At Cambridge I made friends with a boy whose family was old Cornish gentry. He invited me home for Christmas. I discovered that they'd been guarding a treasure for so many generations that they'd forgotten all about it. It took me to find it again. It was hidden under the flagstone in the carriage house. A sword in the stone-so to speak." He laughed at his own cleverness.

"The boy's older sister looked enough like Dana to be her twin." With his free hand, he rubbed his thumb over his first two fingers. "A little research, and insight becomes knowledge. So I knew when I saw Dana I had the perfect thing to bribe her with." He swung the sword gently. "She had no idea it wasn't resting beneath the stone where she'd placed it until I showed it to her-a photograph. I am not stupid."

"I could disagree with you on that," Charles said. "You've done a number of stupid things that I can pick out. But trying to get the best of a Gray Lord is the stupidest by far. You never had any intention of giving her the sword."

Arthur bobbed his head-a polite agreement. "The first deal would have been honest. Excalibur isn't the only thing I discovered there. I had other weapons, you know. I offered her the dagger. She refused-and made it clear she would hunt me 'to the ends of the earth,' I believe. I know her, you see, but she doesn't know me. Doesn't believe I am Arthur."

Charles knew which Arthur he was talking about.

"But my father didn't come."

"No, you did. And you brought her with you."


"Gwenevere. My white lady."

And then Arthur proved that he wasn't as stupid as Charles had started to believe. Because without telegraphing his move by so much as a breath, while Charles was still absorbing the idea that Arthur wanted Anna because he thought she was his, Arthur struck.

The sword in his stomach didn't hurt, just robbed Charles of his strength. Of his ability to move.

He heard Anna cry out, but his attention was on the icy cold that was sucking him down.

As his legs collapsed, Arthur followed him down. "A swift fight," Arthur said, "is the best kind of fight. I know you. When your father didn't come, I was so disappointed. But when I saw her... saw my Gwenevere, I knew." He grimaced. "She was mine, and you had her, just like before. I could have killed you cleanly, you know. But I want you to suffer. Lancelot."

"There was no Lancelot, fool."

For a moment Charles thought that he'd said those words, he'd thought them so hard. But the voice was a woman's.


Arthur jerked the sword free and stumbled back until he regained his feet. As soon as the steel left his body, the coldness dissipated. Charles put a hand to his belly to staunch the bleeding. It hadn't gone all the way through-Arthur had wanted him to suffer-so if he could keep from bleeding to death, Brother Wolf could heal them. The wound was small enough to heal fast.

Sharp steel, Brother Wolf told him, cuts swiftest, hurts least, heals soonest.

Charles gave the pack magic a little tug and received a bounty in return. He wasn't the Alpha, but his father could grant him help if he chose. And Bran was a generous leader. Pain faded. No need to advertise that he was not dying, though. Not yet. He stayed collapsed, out of the way. Don't pay attention to me, I'm not a threat. Charles could become less noticeable if he had to, though not as well as Bran-his da had the technique perfected. It is easier to go unnoticed, Bran liked to say, when everyone is focused on something else.

"Give me the sword," she said.

"She is my sword," Arthur said, taking a tighter grip and pulling the point up into a guard position. "Mine from the first. She came to my hand from yours-and when I died, it was not I who gave her back."

Dana moved into Charles's view. She'd dropped the glamour-or adopted a new one. It wasn't so much that she changed anything, but she had become more. And Anna was right, she was riveting. Good. Keep Arthur's attention.

Charles moved his hand, and when blood didn't pour out, moved his shirt and looked at the scab. Too fresh to move yet, but soon.

"You stole it," Dana said, her voice low and fierce. "It is not yours. Was never yours. The King may indeed come again-it was foretold so. But that is not you. Has never been you. You are not Arthur."

"You are not meant to know me," Arthur told her. "And we are quit of our bargain. Chastel didn't kill Charles, as you promised. And when Charles defeated the Frenchman-you were unable to find another way to kill him, to kill Charles. You failed. I owe you nothing."

She lifted her hand. "Caladbog. Caledfwych. Excalibur. I have delivered it to the hands of great men, fighters, heroes all. Your hands profane it. A coward who hires his deaths and kills those better, smarter, stronger than he."

"You can't take it from me," Arthur said. "Not unless you kill Charles. And you cannot harm me as long as Charles still lives. I know how fae bargains work."

I wouldn't be so confident if I were you, Arthur, thought Charles. I thought my father had worked out a bargain with her-and look what happened to us. Excalibur meant more to her than her word, and it still does.

"Fine," she said, and flung out a hand.

And Charles had the very odd experience of seeing himself fall all the way to the floor while he sat and watched. Which was better than the vision he had briefly had of himself falling dead.

"You can't kill like that," said Arthur, his voice breaking with sudden fear. He raised the sword between them, as if the blade could hold off fae magic-which, if it were Excalibur, and that appeared to be nearly certain-it might possibly do.

Arthur was right, thought Charles, as he got to his feet. Dana couldn't kill like that-but she could fling illusions of death all day long. His wound was still sore, but unlikely to open up and let him bleed to death when he moved.

"Can I not?" Dana asked. "What do you know of the fae? Not as much as you believe, I think. If the bargain is complete, give me the sword."

While she kept Arthur occupied, Charles pad-footed over to the display case. The sword left there was not Excalibur, but it was a fine sword. A replica, he thought, created a long time ago to protect the original. He tore the box open and took the sword to use it for the purpose for which it had been forged.

Arthur spun to see what the noise was and, from his face, he could now see Charles-either the noise had broken the illusions, or Dana had let them drop.

"Arthur Madden," Charles said formally. "For murder of innocents on the Marrok's territory, you have been found guilty and condemned to death."

He didn't have to say anything more because Arthur raised the sword and came for him.

Arthur might have had years of martial arts behind him-but Charles had been trained by his father, a man who had actually used a sword like this to stay alive. Charles was stronger and faster, and Arthur was afraid of him.

All that said, Charles had never actually used a sword in real combat before.

Remember, the memory of his da's voice echoed in his ears, wolves are not human. If you engage another wolf and hit his blade full strength, you're going to destroy your sword. If you need to preserve your weapon, turn blows away and strike body, not metal.

His brother's voice chimed in helpfully, Avoidance is better than a block-less risky.

So Charles slipped away from the first strike Arthur aimed at him. He kept both feet on the floor-ghosting over the hardwood. Rat-stepping allowed him to strike with better balance and to shift direction faster.

The room was small. The swords were short. It meant there was little chance to disengage, and fighting was done close range.

"You're dead," Arthur said. "I killed you."

"You stabbed me with steel and gloated overly much," Charles murmured, keeping his mind on saving his sword. Sliding blocks, moving aside, turning, letting Arthur do the work for the moment. It visibly unnerved the British wolf when he didn't hit anything, so Charles concentrated on not being there when Arthur's sword snaked out.

"I heal pretty damn fast from small wounds like that." No need to mention pack magic-let Arthur eat fear.

Charles was aware of Dana, who had moved back from the actual fight until she stood just outside the room. He'd made the command decision to ignore her. She was not an ally, not anymore-but it was to her advantage if he won this fight. He didn't care if she took Excalibur. She might have broken her word, but he, and more important, his mate, had taken no direct harm from it. Brother Wolf was inclined to hold her somewhat responsible for Anna's wound, but all Dana might have done to avert that was tell him about Arthur.

Arthur was losing it. The smooth, practiced attacks became random and unfocused. Charles stepped up his pace. No longer just dodging interleaved with intermittent blocks, he also began to weave in attacks: two strikes from the left, and a turn and block; right, left, right, down and again-patterns practiced and refined for years-never forgetting that Arthur's sword was probably less damage-prone. Arthur failed to completely block a strike and a long red line appeared across his chest.

The pain of it, or perhaps the fear, lent sudden impulsion to Arthur's return strike, and he hit the other blade squarely. Charles's sword shattered. He let the energy from Arthur's blow spin him around. He ducked around Arthur's unarmed left side and rolled behind, drawing the fillet knife from the back of his pants. With all the force he could muster he stabbed Arthur in the spine, just where it connected with the skull. And the knife, being an expensive, well-crafted tool, slid between bone, through the softer disk, and severed the spinal cord.

Arthur fell forward, his sword rolling away from his hands.

"I-" Arthur said before he lost the ability to speak.

Charles picked up the fae blade and severed the British wolf's neck entirely. Then, blade in his hand, he looked at Dana.

"Did you know he was going to kill his mate?" he asked.

She smiled apologetically. "He held the sword hostage."

"Not an answer," he told her. "But I suppose the life of a human does not matter, not to you. They are so short-lived anyway. What was her life worth? Or Chastel's-he was a monster, right? What were their lives worth when measured against a sword such as this?"

"Sarcasm does not suit you," Dana said with dignity.

"No," Charles said. "I suppose not. He hired you to kill my father?"

She nodded. "I refused until he offered me Excalibur. She was entrusted to me, she is the reason for my existence-and this fool had found her."

"And my father didn't come." While he had the sword, she would talk to him-and Charles wanted to know exactly what she'd done so he could inform his father.

"No. I knew Bran wouldn't-the elements told me so. But I had to find a reason for that fool to bring Excalibur to me. His fortress in Cornwall is guarded against fae; I needed him to bring her here. I intended to make no bargains with Arthur-just get the sword back."

"You would not have killed my father?"

"Not if he stayed in Montana. And he did stay in Montana, didn't he? But then you chose to come in his stead-and you brought something with you that Arthur wanted more than he wanted your father's death. I was to engineer matters so Chastel killed you. It would have accomplished two things: ensured that Chastel was not at his lethal best when Arthur's assassins came to call-and your death would leave your mate free for Arthur's claiming."

Charles took a deep breath. He had no grounds to convict her of wrongdoing. She had killed no one, spilled no blood-not even Arthur's. Intent was not enough for him to act against her nor was his dislike of her moral compass.

Suddenly, urgently, he wanted nothing so much as a shower to rinse off the blood, sweat, and dirty deeds of this night. He opened his hand until he held the sword's hilt by two fingers and held it out to her. "This is yours-he admitted to the theft. Take better care of it this time."

She took it with her left hand and her knuckles whitened as she sighed like a lover satisfied at last. She held out her right hand. "No hard feelings?"

He looked at the hand and felt no urge to take it. He had hard feelings aplenty.

"Please," she said.

He took her hand. "My father will talk to you about this. You broke your word to him."

Her hand tightened on his, and she looked down. "I know. I know. And I can't have that. No one must know. If no one knows, it will be all right. You understand."

For the second time that night Charles found himself on his knees with very little idea of how it had happened. He looked at his hand, still in Dana's grip-blue patterns ghosted down his arm from her hand.

As he collapsed fully on his side, the pain began, but he couldn't open his mouth.

"If you had been human, you would already be dead," Dana said. She brushed a strand of hair that had escaped his braid away from his face. "This will take longer, but it will leave no traces that can be followed. Your father will suspect, doubtless, but as long as no one knows my part, it will be fine."

She bent down and kissed him on the cheek. "I do like you, Charles. I would never have made a bargain with Arthur to slay you but that I owe your death to your father. He gave me a reminder of that which I can never regain-I only return the same to him, as I promised you I would."

Brother Wolf growled, but the pain kept them motionless on the hard floor.

"TELL her we're about fourteen minutes out," Angus said as soon as he answered the phone. "And, as tempting as it is, I won't be driving randomly around the block, so I suspect the next time she makes you call, we'll be thirteen minutes out."

Alan had been holding his phone out to make sure Anna heard it. "Yes, sir," he said, and ended the call.

Anna knew she should apologize, but it was beyond her. Once they realized that the noise they'd heard a few minutes after Charles had closed the door was a locking mechanism-and that the room they were in was as secure a place to hold werewolves as she'd ever seen, they'd discovered Alan's phone didn't work. It had taken them a while to find the stupid black box that had kept Alan's cell phone from calling out-a cell phone disrupter.

When they called Angus, he'd already been on his way, alerted by a text message from Charles. The Marrok was about thirty minutes out of Seattle. He'd had a bad feeling earlier, and when Charles hadn't answered his phone, Bran had climbed aboard the jet and headed to Seattle.

At this rate, Anna thought, he'd beat Angus here. It had been ten minutes since the noise-identified as a sword fight by Alan-had stopped. Eight minutes since Charles had shut down their bond so tightly that all she could tell was that he was nearby and not moving.

Her wounds had closed, though there were a few itchy spots and a couple of sore places. She'd grabbed a sheet and wrapped it around her like an impromptu dress. As she paced, the short lengths of chains that dangled from her wrists and ankles made cheerful sounds that annoyed her. They probably annoyed Alan worse, but he didn't say so.

Sixteen minutes after their last call, the door unlocked.

"Sorry," Tom said. "We had a little trouble finding the electronic lock-it was in the room with Arthur's body."


"Moira's looking after him," Tom said.

Anna found Charles lying on his side in Arthur's trophy room amidst a scattering of steel shards, blood, and gore. Moira was kneeling beside him with both of her hands on his bare shoulder. "I have him stabilized right now, but it's not going to stay that way. Someone put a death curse on him. He's fighting it, and I'm helping."

Anna looked at his face. He wasn't unconscious, and every muscle of his body was tight, the veins standing out as if he were lifting weights.

"How do we stop it?" Anna asked, not recognizing her own voice. She knew enough about magic to keep her hands off.

"Find out who put it on him and make them take it off," Moira said. "Or kill them."

"Can you tell who did it?"

Moira shook her head. "This is a new one to me. I can't even tell if it is witchcraft, fae, or some sort of werewolf trick-it's too entwined with his magic. And his magic is something I've never encountered."

"His mother was an Indian shaman's daughter," said Angus.

"And his father is witchborn," said Anna without considering if it was something Bran would want bandied about. Witchborn meant Charles had a lot more magic than the average werewolf-maybe that would help Moira keep him alive.

She looked around the room, trying to put together what might have happened so she could figure out how to fix it: a broken sword, a kitchen knife, Arthur dead. Magic... the vampires had been able to use magic, and there was one vampire left. Or it might have been the fae woman.

"How long?" she asked Moira.

"Until I can't hold it anymore," the witch told her. "An hour. Maybe two."

"The Marrok's coming." Angus sounded grim. "If anyone can fix this, he can."

There had been only one fight in this room. Charles and Arthur's. Whoever had taken Charles down was someone who'd taken him by surprise. Something the vampire would never have managed.

She needed to think. Needed to find whoever was hurting Charles and kill them.

"If Charles was right when he sent you that text, and Arthur was the villain-then Arthur had her killed," Anna said. "His own mate."

"Or the person who bespelled Charles," Angus said.

She looked at the neat cut that had sliced through Arthur's neck. Execution style, Charles style. She didn't argue with Angus, but her wolf was certain: Arthur had killed his wife. "I'm going to see if I can find some clothes."

"You and Sunny are about the same size," said Angus. "I don't think she'd mind you borrowing her clothes."

She followed the scent of death into Sunny's room. Ignoring the body laid out on the bed, she went to the chest of drawers and grabbed a pair of bright pink sweats and a T-shirt. After dressing, she slipped on socks and Sunny's tennis shoes, which, wonder of wonders, fit like a glove.

Anna started out the door, paused, and looked at the dead woman. "My husband took care of your killer."

Sunny's mouth opened and sucked in air. Anna froze.

The dead woman said, "Anna Latham Cornick, mate of Charles Cornick, Omega of the Aspen Creek Pack. Wolf. Sister. Daughter. Lover. Beloved."

Sunny's eyes opened, filmed-over and dead, and her head turned until they looked straight at Anna. "She who was Nimue, Lady of the Lake, and is now Dana Shea has broken faith, broken her word. She must be punished, and you we have chosen as the instrument of our justice. We gift you with Finding and with this." Sunny's hand lifted, and in it was a dagger with a blade a few inches longer than her forearm. The handle was bone or ivory, it was difficult to tell. "Take Carnwennen as the means. Your mate's life as the reason. Our geas as the cost. True love your reward. Remind her of the Wild Hunt."

Anna made no move to touch the dagger. "Who are you?"

"We are the Gray Lords. The one who makes the dead talk is she who takes the dead of the battlefield." Sunny's body jerked, the dagger fell from her hand to the bed. "Hurry, or he will die, and you will be left with justice and vengeance your only reward."

Sunny's eyes closed, and her body was once more just a body. Anna reached over her and took the dagger, part of her waiting for Sunny to grab her wrist. But nothing happened until she touched the dagger.

Then, magic curled up her hand, first warming her skin where it touched the dagger, then cooling it. A gift of Finding, the Gray Lords had said, and a reward of true love.

"Where is Dana Shea?" she said. And she knew.

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