Jared's Wolf Page 4

Jeannie and Michael, her pack leaders, were stretched out on the carpet in front of a crackling fireplace.

Baby Lara was lying between them. She would carefully extend a bare, pink foot (a foot that looked quite a bit like a pork chop with toes), giggle while her mother tickled it, then would withdraw, and slowly extend the other foot for her father.

Jeannie had settled in, if not seamlessly, at least with minimal trouble after that first hellish week. Moira often wondered if Jeannie thought of her old life. She'd never had friends to the manor, and never talked about her family. It was almost as if she hadn't really come alive until Michael had—almost literally!—swept her off her feet.

Moira felt the usual envy crawling up from the back of her throat, and fought it down. She was happy for Michael. She was. And she adored Jeannie. It was just . . . hard to take sometimes. That was all. They were so happy, and she'd just had the best sex of her life with a man who was trying to pump her for information.

She delicately cleared her throat ("Ah-CHEM!"), gratified to hear the yells of dismay. After the bruising her pride (and bottom!) had endured today, she was grateful to be surrounded by family.

Jeannie, her best friend and the pack's alpha female, was yelling the loudest. The leggy blonde rushed over to her, holding baby Lara and raking Moira with her piercing, blue-eyed gaze.

"What the hell happened to you?"

"Glah!" Lara added, waving a chubby hand.

Moira caught the baby's hand, kissed it gently. Lara had her mother's lungs, and her father's charisma.

With a headful of dark, glossy curls and eyes the color of good cognac, she was a striking infant.

Michael took her in at a glance—bumps, bruises, smelling of sweaty sex and plastic, tired and pissed off.

"Who should I kill?" he asked calmly.

"Are you okay?" Derik asked, hurrying over to join their small group.

"Only my pride has been savaged." She felt the shower curtain start to slip and adjusted it. "But probably permanently." Directly to Michael and Jeannie: "Can we talk?"

"Don't pull that," Derik protested. A broad-shouldered blonde, he and Moira had often been mistaken for siblings. Except for the fact that he towered over her, they looked a great deal alike, although Derik's eyes were the green of wet leaves. "I want to hear what happened, too. Start with, 'I went for a walk,'

and finish with 'then I walked in wearing a ducky shower curtain'."

"Not now," she said, and hated it, because Derik really was like a brother to her, and she had no secrets from him. He'd informally adopted her as a littermate when she'd come to live at the mansion after her mother's death.

But the pack leader deserved to hear about the threat first—Jared had named Michael specifically.

Michael would decide who to tell, after. "Come on, you guys. This shower curtain is itchy."

Jeannie unceremoniously handed Lara to Derik. The baby yelped in protest, then shrieked happily as Derik tossed her four feet in the air. "Later, Moira," he called after them. As in, You'll be telling me the whole story, right?

"Later, Dare." She used the nickname he'd had since they'd been small. The man would do anything if you triple-dog-dared him.

She marched into the soundproofed den and waited until Michael shut the door. Then she told them how she'd spent her afternoon. She left out nothing, save for how astounding and wonderful the sex had been.

She was feeling very guilty about that.

Michael's eyes were thoughtful, distant. "Huh."

"'Huh', he says." Jeannie shook her head in annoyance. "Let's go back to the house and find out what this Jared's problem is." Moira could see every one of the woman's protective instincts was aroused. "Or have him arrested."

"For?" Michael asked mildly.

"Trespassing." She was scowling, but leaned into him for comfort. The scowl eased as he gently rubbed her shoulders. "Being a flaming asshole. Rape."

Moira coughed. "Uh . . . it wasn't exactly . . ."

"Never mind semantics! He's out to get you, Mike. I won't have it, I tell you I will not have it! "

Moira didn't say anything. Jeannie had become one of the family, and was so utterly fearless, it was often hard to remember she wasn't a werewolf. This was hardly the first time someone had come gunning for Michael. He controlled an admirable fortune and had three hundred thousand werewolves at his back.

He was a tempting target.

"I really think we need to go over there and fire a warning shot into his spine," Jeannie continued.

Michael was still rubbing her shoulders, and she raised her hands and closed them over his, gripping tightly. "Fix him somehow. Neutralize his ass."

"What do you propose we do, dear one?"

"Um, hmm, I'm not sure, let me think, how about . . . lock him up! "

"Then he skips bail and he's out and about with a hidden agenda. No."

"You're insufferable. Must you always think of every stupid little thing?"

He smiled at her. There weren't many people who dared speak to Michael Wyndham in such a way.

The pack had been deferring to him since he was in training pants. He loved his wife's sharp tongue.

"Every stupid little thing? I thought of going after you, didn't I?"

"Har, har."

His smile faded and he looked right at Moira, who'd been watching their interaction with undeniable longing. "Moira, will you go back?"

"Of course." She had figured out the problem as quickly as Michael had. Obviously Jared was a dangerous man . . . but was he alone? What exactly did he want, and why? And how far was he going to go in order to achieve his goal? Did he want to bring down just Michael, or Jeannie and baby Lara? The entire pack? For what purpose? When? She cursed herself for not having thought of this before jumping out the window. But there was time to make up for it. "Let me get changed and I'll leave right away."

"Leave?" Jeannie's fingers were twitching and Moira could tell, just tell, her friend was wishing for her gun. "Why?"

Moira started sidling toward the door. When the Wyndhams fought, chandeliers shook and foundations cracked. And Jeannie, a good woman in all things, was still a human. She would never be pack, and could never truly understand their motivations. She'd get it intellectually. But she would never feel it.

"Moira is going to go back to that house, and stay with Jared, and get all the information out of him she can, however she can." Michael said this with admirable calm, then waited.

Jeannie's eyes widened and seemed to actually bulge. "Stay put!" she snapped at Moira, who was tentatively reaching for the doorknob. "Moira, you don't have to go."

"Really, I'd be more comfortable up in my room—"

"I meant back to him. "

"Of course I have to. We need to know what he's up to. And I'm in a unique position—he thinks I'm a cute bimbo twit. Also," she added, ignoring the rush of heat to her cheeks, "he likes fucking me."

Jeannie gaped at her, then swung toward Michael. "Michael, don't make her go! She doesn't have to—to whore for us."

Moira laughed, then clapped a hand over her mouth.

"Werewolves don't whore," he said, fighting a smile of his own, "and I'm not making Moira do anything.

She only came here as a courtesy, you know. To—how d'you put it? Keep us in the loop." He glanced at her over the top of his wife's head and they shared a moment of perfect understanding.

"It's not right," Jeannie said stubbornly.

"Protecting us? Your daughter? Our friends?"

"Well . . . okay . . ." She exhaled sharply, puffing blonde strands out of her face. "I feel stupid having to say this out loud, but she shouldn't have to sleep with him."

"It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make," Moira said, straight-faced, but her cheeks felt very warm now.

Michael looked at her sharply, and arched a dark eyebrow.

"Moira," he said, "can take care of herself. It's not like you to moralize, Jean."

Jeannie looked from her husband to her friend. She looked at them the way one might look at a new form of life: with superstitious awe.

After a long moment, Jeannie shook her head. Usually the difference between their cultures and species didn't seem so great, but today the gap yawned. "You'll do as you please," she told him, "you always do.

But expecting Moira to put herself in danger for you, to have sex with a bad guy for you . . . that's going too far. It's—" She glanced at Moira and stopped. Moira was staring at her with a total lack of comprehension. "Oh, forget it. I'm obviously the only one who's got a problem with this. Fine, knock yourself out, have a grand old time, don't forget to write."

She marched across the room, punctuating her exit by slamming the door. Michael turned and looked at the couch. "It's about as uncomfortable as it looks," he mournfully informed Moira. "What a pity I'll be sleeping there, probably for the rest of the week."

Who are you kidding? Try a month. Moira smiled wanly. "It's actually a little flattering—if she didn't think so highly of me, she wouldn't have such a problem with me going back. But I can't think of how to explain it to her . . . why it's not a problem. Why I have to do it . . . in fact, why I should be halfway back to the house already."

"Yes, but first this. You've got to be really careful. Not just for your own sake. If Jared gets too close . .

." He smiled, showing his teeth. They looked very white and very sharp and might have fooled someone slow to notice the smile didn't reach his eyes. "I'd hate for my wife to have to shoot another bad guy on my property. The noise might wake the baby."

"He won't get close to them. And even if he did," she said matter-of-factly, "it will be very hard for him to harm my lady and my future sovereign while I'm chewing on his spinal cord."

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