Cry Wolf Chapter ONE


Chicago: November

Anna Latham tried to disappear into the passenger seat.

She hadn't realized how much of her confidence had been tied to having Charles beside her. She'd only known him a day and a half, and he'd changed her world...at least while he was still next to her.

Without him, all of her newly regained confidence had disappeared. Its mocking absence only pointed out what a coward she really was. As if she needed reminding.

She glanced over at the man who was driving Charles's rented SUV with casual ease through the light after-morning-rush-hour traffic on the slush-covered expressway as if he were a Chicago native instead of a visitor from the wilds of Montana.

Charles's father, Bran Cornick, looked for all the world like a college student, a computer geek or maybe an art major. Someone sensitive, gentle, and young-but she knew he was none of these things. He was the Marrok, the one all the Alphas answered to-and no one dominated an Alpha werewolf by being sensitive and gentle.

He wasn't young, either. She knew Charles was almost two hundred years old, and that would necessitate his father being older yet.

She looked hard, out of the corners of her eyes, but except for something in the shape of his hands and eyes, she couldn't see Charles in him at all. Charles looked pure Native American, as his mother had been, but still she thought she should have been able to see a little resemblance, something that would tell her that the Marrok was the kind of man his son was.

Her head was willing to believe Bran Cornick would not harm her, that he was different from the other wolves she knew. But her body had been taught to fear the males of her species. The more dominant the werewolves were, the more likely they were to hurt her. And there was no more dominant wolf anywhere than Bran Cornick, no matter how harmless he might seem.

"I won't let anything happen to you," he said without looking at her.

She could smell her own fear-so of course he could smell it, too.

"I know," she managed to say, hating herself for allowing them to turn her into a coward. She hoped that he thought it was fear at the idea of facing the other wolves from her pack after she'd precipitated their Alpha's death. She didn't want him to know she was scared of him, too. Or even mostly.

He smiled a little, but didn't say anything more.

All the parking places behind her four-story apartment building were filled with strange cars. There was a shiny gray truck towing a small, bright orange and white trailer with a giant manatee painted on the side just above lettering that let anyone within a block know that Florida was "The Manatee State."

Bran parked behind the trailer without worrying about blocking the alley. Well, she realized as they got out of the car, she wouldn't have to worry about what her landlord thought anymore. She was going to Montana. Was Montana "The Werewolf State "?

Four wolves in their human forms waited for them at the security door, including Boyd, the new Alpha. His shadowed eyes took in every bit of her. She dropped her gaze to the ground after that first glance and kept Bran between her and them.

She was more afraid of them than the Marrok after all. How strange, because today there was none of the speculation, the avarice in their eyes that usually set off her fears. They looked controlled...and tired. Yesterday, the Alpha had been killed, and that hurt all of them. She'd felt it herself-and ignored it because she thought Charles was dying.

Their pain was her fault. They all knew that.

She reminded herself that Leo needed killing-he had killed so many himself and allowed the deaths of many others. She wouldn't look at any of them again. She'd try not to talk to them, and hope they'd ignore her.

Except-they'd come here to help her move. She'd tried to stop that, but she wasn't up to arguing with the Marrok for long. She dared another quick glance at Boyd, but she couldn't read his face any better this time.

She took her key and went to work on the lock with fear-clumsy fingers. None of the werewolves made any move that indicated they were impatient, but she tried to hurry, feeling their eyes on her back. What were they thinking? Were they remembering what some of them had done to her? She wasn't. She wasn't.

Breathe, she chided herself.

One of the men swayed on his feet and made an eager sound.

"George," said Boyd, and the other wolf quieted.

It was her fear that was pushing the wolf, she knew. She had to get a handle on herself-and the sticky lock wasn't helping. If Charles were here, she could deal with everything, but he was recovering from several bullet wounds. His father had told her that he had a stronger reaction than most to silver.

"I didn't expect you to come," said Bran-she presumed he wasn't talking to her since he'd manipulated and talked her into leaving Charles alone this morning.

It must have been Boyd he was talking to, because it was Boyd who answered him. "I had the day off."

Until last night Boyd had been third. But now he was the Alpha of the Western Suburb Chicago Pack. The pack she was leaving. "I thought it might hurry matters a bit," Boyd continued. "Thomas here has agreed to drive the truck to Montana and back."

She pulled open the door, but Bran didn't go in immediately so she stopped in the entryway just inside the door, holding it open.

"How stand your pack finances?" Bran asked. "My son tells me that Leo claimed he needed money."

She heard Boyd's typical humorless smile in his voice. "He wasn't lying. His mate was expensive as all hell to keep. We won't lose the manor, but that's the only good news our accountant has for me. We'll get something from selling Isabella's jewelry, but not as much as Leo paid for it."

She could look at Bran, and so she watched his eyes assess the wolves Boyd had brought like a general surveying his troops. His gaze settled on Thomas.

Anna looked, too, seeing what the Marrok saw: old jeans with a hole in one knee, tennis shoes that had seen better days. It was very much like what she was wearing, except that her hole was in her left knee, not the right.

"Will the time it takes to drive to Montana and back put your job at risk?" Bran asked.

Thomas kept his eyes on his toes and answered, soft-voiced, "No, sir. I work construction, and this is the slow season. I okayed it with the boss; he says I have two weeks."

Bran pulled a checkbook out of his pocket and, using one of the other wolves' shoulders to give him a solid surface to write on, made out a check. "This is for your expenses on this trip. We'll figure out a pay rate and have money waiting for you when you get to Montana."

Relief flashed in Thomas's eyes, but he didn't say anything.

Bran went through the door, passed by Anna, and started up the stairs. As soon as he wasn't watching them, the other wolves lifted their eyes to look at Anna.

She jutted her chin up and met their gazes, forgetting entirely her decision not to do just that until it was too late. Boyd's eyes were unfathomable, and Thomas was still looking at the ground...but the other two, George and Joshua, were easy to read. With Bran's back to them, the knowledge of what she'd been in their pack was fully visible in their eyes.

And they had been Leo's wolves by inclination as well as fact. She was nothing, and she had brought about their Alpha's death: they'd have killed her if they dared.

Just try, she told them without using words. She turned her back on them without dropping her eyes-as Charles's mate, she supposedly outranked all of them. But they weren't only wolves, and the human part of them would never forget what they had done to her, with Leo's encouragement.

Her stomach raw, and tension tightening the back of her neck, Anna tried to keep an even pace all the way up to her apartment on the fourth floor. Bran waited beside her while she unlocked the door. She stepped aside so he could go in first, showing the others that he, at least, had her respect.

He stopped in the doorway and looked around her studio apartment with a frown. She knew what he saw: a card table with two battered folding chairs, her futon, and not much else.

"I told you I could get it packed this morning," Anna told him. She knew it wasn't much, but she resented his silent judgment. "Then they could have come just to carry out the boxes."

"It won't take an hour to pack this and carry it down," said Bran. "Boyd, how many of your wolves are living like this?"

Summoned, Boyd slid past Anna and into the room and frowned. He'd never been to her apartment. He glanced at Anna and walked to her refrigerator and opened it, exposing the empty space inside. "I didn't know it was this bad." He glanced back. "Thomas?"

Invited in, Thomas, too, stepped through the door.

He gave his new Alpha an apologetic smile. "I'm not quite this bad, but my wife is working, too. The dues are pretty dear." He was almost as far down the pack structure as Anna, and, married, had never been invited to "play" with her. But he hadn't objected, either. She supposed that it was more than could be expected of a submissive wolf, but that didn't keep her from holding it against him.

"Probably five or six then," Boyd said with a sigh. "I'll see what can be done."

Bran opened his wallet and handed the Alpha a card. "Call Charles next week and set up a conference between him and your accountant. If necessary, we can arrange for a loan. It's not safe to have hungry, desperate werewolves on the streets."

Boyd nodded.

The Marrok's business apparently concluded, the other two wolves surged past Anna, George deliberately bumping against her. She pulled back from him and instinctively wrapped her arms protectively around herself. He gave her a sneer he hid quickly from the others.

"Illegitimis nil carborundum," she murmured. It was stupid. She knew it even before George's fist struck out.

She ducked and dodged. Instead of a fist in her stomach, she took it in the shoulder and rolled with it. The small entryway didn't give her much room to get away from a second blow.

There wasn't one.

Boyd had George pinned on the ground with a knee in the middle of his back. George wasn't fighting him, just talking fast. "She's not supposed to do that. Leo said no Latin. You remember."

Because once Anna realized that no one else in the pack except Isabella, who she had thought was a friend, understood Latin, she'd used it for secret defiance. It had taken a while for Leo to figure it out.

"Leo is dead," said Boyd very quietly, his mouth near George's ear. "New rules. If you are smart enough to live, you won't hit Charles's mate in front of his father."

"Don't let the bastards grind you down?" said Bran from her doorway. He was looking at her like a child who had been unexpectedly clever. "That's horrible Latin, and your pronunciation needs some work."

"It's my father's fault," she told him, rubbing her shoulder. The bruise would be gone by tomorrow, but for now it hurt. "He had a couple of years of Latin in college and used it to amuse himself. Everyone in my family picked it up. His favorite saying was, 'Interdum feror cupidine partium magnarum europe vincendarum.' "

" 'Sometimes I have the urge to conquer large parts of Europe '?" Boyd said, sounding a little incredulous. Isabella hadn't, apparently, been the only one who understood her defiance.

She nodded. "Usually he only said it when my brother or I were being particularly horrible."

"And it was his favorite saying?" Bran said, examining her as if she were a bug...but a bug he was growing pleased with.

She said, "My brother was a brat."

He smiled slowly and she recognized the smile as one of Charles's.

"What do you want me to do with this one?" asked Boyd, tilting his head toward George.

Bran's smile fled, and he looked at Anna. "Do you want me to kill him?"

Silence descended as everyone waited for her answer. For the first time she realized that the fear that she'd been smelling wasn't hers alone. The Marrok scared them all.

"No," she lied. She just wanted to get her apartment packed and get done with this, so she never had to see George and those like him again. "No." This time she meant it.

Bran tilted his head, and she saw his eyes shift, just a little, gleaming gold in the dimness of the outer hall. "Let him up."

She waited until everyone was in her apartment to leave the anonymity of the landing. Bran was stripping her futon down to the bare mattress when she entered her apartment. It was sort of like watching the president mowing the White House lawn or taking out the trash.

Boyd approached her and handed her the check she'd left on the fridge door, her last paycheck. "You'll want this with you."

She took it and stuffed it in her pants. "Thanks."

"We all owe you," he told her. "None of us could contact the Marrok when things started getting bad. Leo forbade it. I can't tell you how many hours I spent staring at the phone trying to break his hold."

She was startled into meeting his eyes.

"It took me a while to figure out what you were." He gave her a bitter smile. "I wasn't paying attention. I tried really hard not to pay attention or think. It made things easier."

"Omegas are rare," said Bran.

Boyd didn't look away from her. "I almost missed what Leo was doing, why he chose you for such treatment when he had always been the 'kill 'em quickly' kind. I've known him a long time, and he's never condoned abuse like that before. I could see that it sickened him-only Justin really enjoyed it."

Anna controlled her flinch and reminded herself that Justin had died last night, too.

"When I realized why Leo couldn't rely on you following his orders, that you weren't just a very submissive wolf, that you were an Omega...it was almost too late." He sighed. "If I'd given you the Marrok's number two years ago, it wouldn't have taken you so long to call him. So I owe you both my thanks and my humblest apologies." And he dropped his eyes, tilting his head to show her his throat.

"Will you..." She swallowed to moisten her suddenly dry throat. "Will you make sure it doesn't happen again? Not to anyone? I'm not the only one who was hurt." She didn't look at Thomas. Justin had taken great delight in tormenting Thomas.

Boyd bowed his head solemnly. "I promise."

She gave him a short nod, which seemed to satisfy him. He took an empty box out of Joshua's hands and strode to the kitchen. They'd brought boxes and tape and wrapping material, more than enough to pack everything she owned.

She didn't have any luggage, so she took one of the boxes and put together the basics to take with her. She was very careful to keep her eyes to herself. Too much had changed, and she didn't know how else to deal with it.

She was in the bathroom when someone's cell phone rang. Werewolf hearing meant she got both sides of the telephone conversation.

"Boyd?" It was one of the new wolves, Rashid the doctor, she thought. He sounded panicked.

"You've got me. What's wrong?"

"That wolf in the holding room, he's-"

Boyd and his cell phone were in the kitchen, and she still heard the crash through the speaker.

"That's him," Rashid whispered desperately. "That's him. He's trying to get out-and he's tearing the whole safe room apart. I don't think it'll hold him."

Charles.

He'd been groggy when she left, but had seemed happy enough to leave her in his father's hands while he slept off the effects of having a few silver bullets dug out of him last night. Apparently things had changed.

Anna grabbed her box and met Bran in the doorway of the bathroom.

He gave her a searching glance, but didn't seem upset. "It seems that we are needed elsewhere," he said, sounding calm and relaxed. "I don't think he'll hurt anyone-but silver has a stronger and more unpredictable effect on him than on some wolves. Do you have what you need?"

"Yes."

Bran looked around, then his eyes fell on Boyd. "Tell your wolf we'll be there as soon as possible. I trust you to make certain that everything is packed and the apartment is clean when you leave."

Boyd bowed his head submissively.

Bran took her box and tucked it under one arm and then held his other out in an old-fashioned gesture. She put her fingers lightly on the crook of his arm, and he escorted her all the way back to the SUV that way, slowing her down when she would have run.

He drove back to the Naperville mansion that the Western Suburb pack kept for its own without breaking any traffic laws, but he didn't waste any time, either.

"Most wolves wouldn't be able to break out of a holding room," he said mildly. "There's silver in the bars, and there are a lot of bars, but Charles is his mother's son, too. She'd never have allowed herself to be held by anything as mundane as a few bars and a reinforced door."

Somehow, it didn't surprise Anna that Bran would know how the pack's safe room was built.

"Charles's mother was a witch?" Anna had never met a witch, but she'd heard stories. And since becoming a werewolf, she'd learned to believe in magic.

He shook his head. "Nothing so well defined. I'm not even sure she worked magic-strictly speaking. The Salish didn't see the world that way: magic and not magic. Natural and unnatural. Whatever she was, though, her son is, too."

"What will happen if he breaks out?"

"It would be good if we get there before that happens," was all he said.

They left the expressway, and he slowed to the posted speed limit. The only sign of his impatience was the rhythmic beat of his fingers on the steering wheel. When he pulled up in front of the mansion, she jumped out of the SUV and ran to the front door. He didn't appear to hurry, but somehow he was there before her and opened the door.

She ran down the hall and took the cellar stairs three at a time, Bran at her shoulder. The lack of noise was not reassuring.

Usually the only way to tell the safe room from the basement guest rooms was the steel door and frame. But great plaster chunks had been torn off the wall on either side, revealing the silver-and-steel bars that had been embedded in the wall. The wallpaper from inside the room hung down in strips like a curtain, keeping Anna from seeing inside.

There were three of the pack in human form standing in front of the door, and she could feel their fear. They knew what they had in that room-at least one of them had watched as he killed Leo, even though Charles had been shot twice with silver bullets.

"Charles," said Bran in a chiding tone.

The wolf roared in response, a hoarse howling sound that hurt Anna's ears and contained nothing but blind rage.

"The screws were coming out of the hinges, sir. On their own," said one of the wolves nervously, and Anna realized the thing he was holding in his hands was a screwdriver.

"Yes," Bran said calmly. "I imagine they were. My son doesn't react at all well to silver and even less well to captivity. You might have been safer letting him out-or not. My apologies for leaving you here alone to face him. I thought he was in better shape. It seems I underestimated Anna's influence."

He turned and held out his hand to Anna, who had stopped at the base of the stairs. She wasn't bothered nearly as much by the raging wolf as she was by the men who stood in the basement. The walls of the hallway were too narrow, and she didn't like having so many of them close to her.

"Come here, Anna," said Bran. Though his voice was soft, it was a command.

She brushed past the other wolves, looking at feet rather than faces. When Bran took her elbow, Charles growled savagely-though how he had seen it through the hanging wallpaper was beyond Anna.

Bran smiled and removed his hand. "Fine. But you're scaring her."

Instantly, the growls softened.

"Talk to him a little," Bran told her. "I'll take the others upstairs for a bit. When you're comfortable, go ahead and open the door-but it might be a good idea to wait until he quits growling."

And they left her alone. She must have been crazy because she immediately felt safer than she had all day. The relief of being without fear was almost heady. The wallpaper fluttered as Charles paced behind the barrier, and she caught a glimpse of his red fur.

"What happened to you?" she asked him. "You were fine when we left this morning."

In wolf form, he couldn't reply, but he did stop growling.

"I'm sorry," she ventured. "But they're packing up my apartment, and I had to be there. And I needed to get clothes to wear until the trailer makes it to Montana."

He hit the door. Not hard enough to do damage, but in clear demand.

She hesitated, but he'd quit growling. With a mental shrug she threw the bolt and opened the door. He was bigger than she remembered-or maybe it was just that he looked that way when his fangs were so prominently displayed. Blood oozed out of the hole in his left hind leg and trickled down to his paw. The two holes in his ribs were trickling a little faster.

Behind him, the room, which had been pretty nicely furnished when she left, was in shambles. He'd pulled large chunks of plaster off all four of the walls as well as the ceiling. Shreds of the mattress carpeted the room, intermingled with pieces of the chest of drawers.

She whistled at the damage. "Holy cow."

He limped up to her and sniffed her carefully all over. A stair creaked, and he whirled with a growl, putting himself between her and the intruder.

Bran sat on the top stair. "I'm not going to hurt her," he commented. Then he looked at Anna. "I don't know how much he's actually understanding right now. But I think he'll do better in his own home. I called our pilot, and he's ready to fly out."

"I thought we'd have a couple of days yet." She felt her stomach clinch. Chicago was her home. "I have to call Scorci's and tell Mick I'm leaving, so he can find another waitress. And I haven't had a chance to talk to my neighbor and tell her what's going on." Kara would worry.

"I have to get back to Montana today," Bran said. "Tomorrow morning we're holding a funeral for a friend of mine who just died. I was going to leave you here to follow me later, but I don't think it's a good idea now." Bran nodded at Charles. "He's obviously not healing as well as I thought. I need to get him home and have him checked out. I have a cell phone. Can you call your neighbor and your Mick and explain things to them?"

She looked down at the wolf who'd put himself between her and his father to keep her from harm. It wasn't the first time he'd done something like that.

Besides, what was her alternative? Stay in the Chicago pack? Boyd might be a vast improvement over Leo, but...she had no desire to stay with them.

She put her hand on Charles's back and feathered her hand through his fur. She didn't have to reach down to do it, either-Charles was a big werewolf. He altered his stance until he pressed against her though he never took his eyes off of Bran.

"Okay," she said. "Give me your phone."

Bran smiled and held it out. Charles didn't move from between them, forcing Anna to stretch out and grab it while Charles stared coldly at his father. His attitude made her laugh-which made it much easier to convince Kara that Anna was going to Montana because she wanted to.
Prev Next