Cry Wolf Chapter TWO

After the disaster this morning, Anna had dreaded the flight to Montana. She'd never been on a plane before in her life, and she'd have thought that it would be terrifying, especially in the little, six-passenger, twin-engine Lear Bran led them to.

Bran sat in the copilot's seat, which left all six of the passenger seats empty. Charles pushed her past the first set of forward-facing seats with a nudge of his nose and stared at the pair of backward seats until she sat down. When he settled in the space on the floor and put his head on her feet, she set her box on the seat next to her, buckled up, and waited for takeoff.

She didn't expect to have fun, especially when Charles so emphatically was not. He rode stiff and grumpy at her feet, growling softly when the plane bounced a little.

But riding in the small plane was like being on the world's tallest amusement-park ride. A gentle one, like the Ferris wheel, but with an edge of danger that just made it all the more fun. She didn't really think they'd plummet out of the sky any more than she believed that a carnival Ferris wheel might break free and go rolling down the arcade. And no Ferris wheel in the world had a view like this.

Not even swooping in to land on an itty-bitty strip that looked smaller than a Wal-Mart parking lot spoiled her mood. She buckled in and braced herself with a hand on her box so it wouldn't fall on Charles as the plane dropped, and her stomach tried to stay where it had been. She found herself grinning as they hit the tarmac and bumped twice before the wheels stayed on the ground.

The pilot taxied into a hangar big enough to hold two planes that size, but the other half of the building was empty. Anna gathered her box and followed Charles out of the plane. He was limping badly-staying still for so long clearly hadn't done him any good. He was still keeping himself between her and his father.

Once on the ground, she started shivering. Her jacket was a little thin for Chicago, but here it was barely adequate. The hangar wasn't heated, and it was cold enough to see her breath.

She hadn't realized how close Charles was, and when she turned to look at the plane, her knee hit his bandaged side. He didn't show any sign it bothered him, but it had to have hurt. It was his own fault, though. If he hadn't been crowding her, she wouldn't have bumped him.

"Ease up," she told him, exasperated. "Your father is hardly going to attack me."

"I don't think he's worried about my hurting you," Bran said, amused. "Let's get you somewhere away from all the other males so he can relax a little."

The pilot, who'd followed them out and had been engaged in some sort of maintenance, grinned at that. "Never thought I'd see that old Indian so worked up."

Charles gave him a look, and the pilot dropped his eyes, but not the grin. "Hey, don't glare at me-and here I got you home, safe and sound. Nearly as well as you could have done it, eh, Charles?"

"Thank you, Hank." Bran turned to Anna. "Hank has to button down the plane, so we'll go warm up the truck." He put his hand under her elbow as they stepped out of the protection of the hangar into ten inches of snow. Charles growled; Bran growled back in exasperation. "Enough. Enough. I have no designs on your lady, and the ground is rough."

Charles stopped making noise, but he walked so close to Anna that she found herself bumping into Bran because she didn't want to hurt Charles. Bran steadied her and frowned at the werewolf beside her but didn't say anything more.

Other than the hangar, airstrip, and two ruts in the deep snow where someone had recently driven a car, there was virtually no sign of civilization. The mountains were impressive, taller, darker, and rougher than the soft Midwest hills she knew. She could smell woodsmoke though, so they couldn't be as isolated as it looked.

"I thought it would be quieter here." She hadn't meant to say anything, but the noise startled her.

"The wind in the trees," Bran said. "And there are some birds that stay year-round. Sometimes when the wind is still and the cold is upon us, the quiet is so deep you can feel it in your bones." It sounded creepy to her, but she could tell from his voice that he loved it.

Bran walked them around behind the hangar, where a snow-covered gray crew-cab truck waited for them. He reached into the truck bed, pulled out a broom, and banged it good and hard on the ground to dislodge snow.

"Go ahead and get in," he said. "Why don't you start the truck so it can warm up. The keys are in the ignition." He brushed snow off the passenger door and held it open for her.

She put her box on the floor of the cab, and climbed in. The box made sliding across the leather seat to the driver's seat a little awkward. Charles hopped in after her and snagged the door with a paw so it shut. His fur was wet, but after her initial flinch, she found that he generated a lot of body heat. The truck purred to life, blowing cold air all over the cab. As soon as she was sure it would keep running, she slid to the middle seat.

When the truck was mostly cleared of snow, Bran tossed the broom back into the truck bed and hopped into the driver's seat. "Hank shouldn't be much longer." He took in her shivering form and frowned at her. "We'll get you a warmer coat and some boots appropriate to the winter here. Chicago isn't exactly tropical-you should have better winter gear than that."

While he was talking, Charles stepped over her, forcing her to move to the outside passenger seat. He settled between them, but in order to fit, half of him draped over her lap.

"Had to pay the electric, gas, water, and rent," she said lightly. "Oof, Charles, you weigh a ton. We waitresses don't earn enough for luxuries."

The back door opened, and Hank climbed in and put on his seat belt before blowing on his hands. "That old wind has quite a bite to it."

"Time to get home," Bran agreed, putting the truck into drive and starting out, though if he followed a road, it was buried under the snow. "I'll drop off Charles and his mate first."

"Mate?" She had her face forward, but it was impossible to miss the surprise in Hank's voice. "No wonder the old man is so worked up. Man alive, Charles, that was some fast work. And she's pretty, too."

And she didn't appreciate being spoken of as if she weren't there, either. Even if she was too intimidated to say so.

Charles turned his head toward Hank and lifted a lip to show some very sharp teeth.

The pilot laughed. "All right, all right. But nice work, man."

It was only then that her nose told her something she hadn't realized on the plane: Hank wasn't a werewolf. And he clearly knew that Charles was.

"I thought we weren't supposed to tell anyone," she said.

"Tell them what?" Bran asked.

She glanced back at Hank. "Tell them what we are."

"Oh, this is Aspen Creek," Hank answered her. "Every-one knows about werewolves. If you haven't married one, you were fathered by one-or one of your parents was. This is the Marrok's territory, and we're one big, happy family." Was there sarcasm in his voice? She didn't know him well enough to tell for certain.

The air blowing in her face had warmed up, finally. Between that and Charles, she was starting to feel less like an ice cube.

"I thought that werewolves have no family, only pack," she ventured.

Bran glanced at her before looking back to the road. "You and Charles need to have a long talk. How long have you been a werewolf?"

"Three years."

He frowned. "Do you have a family?"

"My father and brother. I haven't seen them since..." She shrugged. "Leo told me I had to break all ties to them- or else he'd assume they were a risk to the pack." And kill them.

Bran frowned. "Outside of Aspen Creek, wolves can't tell anyone except their spouses what they are-we allow that for their spouses' safety. But you don't need to isolate yourself from your family." Almost to himself, he said, "I suppose Leo was afraid your family might interfere with what he was trying to do to you."

She could call her family? She almost asked Bran about it, but decided to wait and talk to Charles instead.

* * * *

Like the plane ride, Charles's house was different than she'd expected. Somehow, since it was in the backwoods of Montana, she'd thought he'd live in one of those big log houses, or something old, like the pack's mansion. But the house where Bran dropped them off was not huge or made of logs. Instead, it looked like a simple ranch-style house, painted a rather pleasing combination of gray and green. It was tucked up against the side of a hill and looked out over a series of fenced pastures occupied by a few horses.

She waved a thank-you at Bran as he drove off. Then she carried her box, which was looking a little bedraggled since it had gotten wet on the floor of the truck, up the steps, with Charles skulking at her heel. There was a light covering of snow over the steps, though it was obvious that usually it was kept shoveled off.

She had a bad moment when she realized that she'd forgotten to ask Bran to unlock the door-but the knob turned easily under her hand. She supposed that if everyone in Aspen Creek knew about werewolves, they'd know better than to steal something from one. Still, to her city-bred self, it seemed odd for Charles to leave his house unlocked while he traveled halfway across the country.

She opened the door-and all thoughts of locks fled. The exterior of the house might be mundane, but the interior was anything but.

Like her apartment floor, the living-room floor was hardwood, but his had a parquet pattern of dark and light wood that edged the room in a pattern that struck her as Native American. Thick, soft-looking Persian rugs covered the central part of the living room and dining room. Against the far wall was a huge granite fireplace, both beautiful and well used.

Comfortable-looking couches and chairs were intermixed with handcrafted bird's-eye maple tables and bookcases. The oil painting of a waterfall surrounded by a pine forest could have hung in a museum and, she calculated, probably cost more than she'd earned in her entire life.

From the doorway she could see straight into the kitchen, where subtly glittering light gray granite countertops contrasted with dark Shaker-style oak cabinets that were just irregular enough to be handmade, like the furniture in the living room. Stainless-steel appliances trimmed in black should have looked too modern, but somehow it all blended together. It wasn't a huge kitchen, but there was nothing in it that would have looked out of place in a mansion.

She stood dripping melted snow on the highly polished floor and knew without a doubt that she and her box didn't belong here. If she'd had anyplace to go, she'd have turned around and left, but all that awaited her outside was cold and snow. Even if they had taxis out here, she had four dollars in her wallet, less than that in her bank account. The check still in her pocket might get her halfway to Chicago if she could find a bank to cash it at and a bus station.

Charles had brushed by her and padded on into the house but stopped when he realized she wasn't following him. He took a long look at her, and she tightened her arms around the wet cardboard. Maybe he was having second thoughts, too.

"I'm sorry," she said, dropping her eyes from his yellow gaze. Sorry she was a bother, sorry she wasn't stronger, better, something.

Power flared over her skin and jerked her eyes back to him. He'd dropped to the ground and was starting to change back to human.

It was too soon, he was too badly injured. Hastily, she shut the outside door with her hip, dropped her box on the floor, and hurried to his side.

"What are you doing? Stop that."

But he'd already begun, and she didn't dare touch him. Changing either way hurt-and even a gentle touch could leave him in agony.

"Damn it, Charles."

Even after three years of being a werewolf, she didn't like watching the change-her own or anyone else's. There was something horrible about seeing someone's arms and legs twist and bend-and there was that stomach-churning part in the middle where there was neither fur nor skin to cover the muscle and bone.

Charles had been different. He told her that either his mother's magic or being a werewolf born made his change quicker: it had also made it almost beautiful. The first time she'd seen him change, she'd been in awe.

This time wasn't like that. It was as slow and horrible as hers. He'd forgotten the bandages, and they weren't shaped right to change with him. She knew that the bandage would tear eventually, but she also knew it would hurt.

So she slid along the wall to avoid touching him, then ran to the kitchen. She pulled open drawers, searching frantically until she found the one where he kept his sharp and pointy things, including a pair of scissors. Deciding that she was less likely to stab him with scissors than a knife, she grabbed them and went back.

She cut as he changed, ignoring his rumbling growl as she forced the blade under too-tight cloth. The additional pressure would hurt, but it would be better than waiting until the stress on the fabric finally tore it to pieces.

The speed of his change slowed more and more as it continued, until she worried that he was going to be stuck halfway between: she'd had nightmares about being stuck in neither one form nor the other. At last he lay curled on his belly at her feet, fully human.

She thought he was through, but then clothing formed around his naked body, flowing over his skin as his skin had flowed over flesh as he changed. Nothing fancy, just jeans and a plain white T-shirt, but she'd never known a werewolf who could do that. This was real magic.

She didn't know how much real magic he could do. She didn't know a lot about him other than he made her heart beat faster and nudged her usual state of half panic away.

She shivered, then realized it was cool in the house. He must have turned down the heat when he'd come to Chicago. She looked around and found a small quilted throw folded over the back of a rocking chair and snatched it up. Careful not to brush too hard on his oversensitized skin, she laid the blanket lightly over him.

He lay with one cheek against the floor, shuddering and breathless.

"Charles?" Her impulse was to touch him, but after a change, the last thing she wanted was touch. His skin would feel new and raw.

The blanket slid off his shoulder and when she lifted it to cover him again, she saw a dark stain growing rapidly on the back of his shirt. If his wounds had been of the usual sort, the change would have mended them more than this. Silver-inflicted wounds healed a lot slower.

"Do you have a first-aid kit?" she asked. Her pack's first-aid kit was equipped to cope with wounds dealt in the half-serious fights that broke out whenever the whole pack got together. Impossible to believe that Charles wasn't as well prepared as the Chicago pack.

"Bathroom." His voice was gravel-rough with pain.

The bathroom was behind the first door she opened, a big room with a claw-foot tub, a large shower stall, and a white porcelain pedestal sink. In one corner of the room was a linen closet. On the bottom shelf she found an industrial-sized first-aid kit and took it with her back to the living room.

Charles's usually warm brown skin was gray, his jaw was clenched against the pain, and his black eyes were fever-bright, glittering with hints of gold that matched the stud he wore in his ear. He'd sat upright, the quilt pooling on the floor around him.

"That was stupid. Changing doesn't help silver wounds," she scolded him, her sudden anger fueled by the pain he'd caused himself. "All you did was use up all the energy your body needs to heal. Let me get you bandaged up, and I'll find some food." She was hungry, too.

He smiled at her-just a little smile. Then he closed his eyes. "All right." His voice was hoarse.

She would have to take off most of the clothes he'd put on. "Where do your clothes come from?"

She'd have assumed they were what he'd been wearing when he'd changed from human to wolf, except she'd helped strip him so the Chicago doctor could examine him. He hadn't been wearing anything except bandages when he'd changed into his wolf.

He shook his head. "Wherever. I don't know."

The jeans were Levi's, worn at the knee, and the shirt had a Hanes label. She wondered if there was someone somewhere who was suddenly running around in his underwear. "Sweet," she said as she carefully peeled up his shirt so she could get a look at his chest wound. "But this would be easier if you hadn't dressed."

"Sorry," he grunted. "Habit."

A bullet had pierced his chest just to the right of his sternum. The hole in the back was worse, bigger than the one in his front. If he'd been human, he'd still be in the emergency room, but werewolves were tough.

"If you put a telfa pad on the front," he told her, "I can hold it for you. You'll have to hold one on the back. Then wrap the whole thing with vet wrap."

"Vet wrap?"

"The colored stuff that looks sort of like an Ace bandage. It'll stick to itself, so you don't need to fasten it. You'll probably have to use two pads to get enough coverage."

She cut his T-shirt off with the scissors she'd found in the kitchen. Then she ripped open the telfa pads and set one against the little gaping mouth on his chest and tried not to think about the hole that ran inside him from his front to his back. He pressed the pad harder than she'd have dared to.

She sorted through the kit, looking for the vet wrap, and found a full dozen rolls on the bottom. Most of them were brown or black, but there were a few others. Because she was angry with him for hurting himself more when he could have just stayed in wolf form for a few days, she grabbed a pair of fluorescent pink rolls.

He laughed when she pulled them out, but it must have hurt-his mouth thinned, and he had to take shallow breaths for a while. "My brother put those in there," he said when the worst of it was over.

"Did you do something to annoy him, too?" she asked.

He grinned. "He claimed that was all he had in the office when I restocked the kit."

She was ready to ask a few more questions about his brother, but all desire to tease him died when she looked at his back. In the few minutes she'd spent organizing her bandaging efforts, the blood had pooled in the area between his skin and the top of his jeans. She should have left his shirt alone until she had everything ready.

"Tarditas et procrastinatio odiosa est," she told herself and cut open a package of telfa pads.

"You speak Latin?" he asked.

"Nope, I just quote it a lot. That was supposed to be Cicero, but your father tells me my pronunciation is off. Do you want a translation?" The slice from the first bullet, the one he'd taken protecting her, burned a puffy red diagonal line above the more serious wound. It was going to hurt for a while, but it wasn't important.

"I don't speak Latin," he said. "But I know a little French and Spanish. Procrastination sucks?"

"That's what it's supposed to mean." She had already made things worse; he ought to have a doctor for this.

"It's all right," he said, answering the tension in her voice. "Just get the leak plugged."

Grimly, she set about doing just that. She gathered his waist-length, sweat-dampened hair and pushed it over his shoulder.

There weren't any telfa pads big enough for the wound in his back, so she got two of them and held them in place with judicious pressure from her knee while she reached around him with the roll of vet wrap. He took the end for her without her asking and held it to his ribs. She used that anchor to wind the rest of it around him the first time.

She was hurting him. He'd almost quit breathing except in small, shallow pants. Giving first aid to werewolves was fraught with danger. Pain could make a wolf lose control like he'd done this morning. But Charles just held himself very still as she pulled the bandage tight enough to hold the pads where they needed to be.

She used both rolls of the wrap and tried not to notice how good the bright pink looked against his dark skin. When a man is on the verge of passing out from pain, it seemed wrong to notice how beautiful he was. His smooth dark skin stretched over taut muscles and bone...maybe if he hadn't smelled so good under the blood and sweat, she could have maintained a distance.

Hers. He was hers, whispered that part of her that didn't worry about human concerns. Whatever fears Anna had about the rapid changes in her life, her wolf half was very happy with the events of the past few days.

She got a dishcloth from the kitchen, wetted it down, and cleaned the blood from his skin while he recovered from her clumsy efforts at first aid.

"There's blood on your pant leg, too," she told him. "The jeans have to come off. Can you just magic them off the way they came on?"

He shook his head. "Not now. Not even to show off."

She weighed the difficulties in getting a pair of jeans off and picked up the scissors she'd used on his T-shirt. They'd been nice and sharp-and they cut through the tough denim as easily as they'd cut through the shirt, leaving him in a pair of dark green boxers.

"I hope you've got a good surface on this floor," she murmured to help distance herself from the wound. "Be a shame to stain it."

His blood had spread all over the fancy patterning on the floor. Fortunately, the Persian rugs were too far away to be in danger.

The second bullet had gone right through his calf. It looked worse than it had yesterday, puffier and sore.

"Blood won't bother it," he answered as if he bled on his floor all the time. "It's got four coats of polyurethane applied just last year. It'll be just fine."

His kit was out of pink, so for his leg she chose the next-most-objectionable color, a chartreuse green. Like the pink, the brilliant shade suited him. She used the whole roll and another pair of telfa pads to keep the bandage from sticking-and he was done, leaving the quilt, his clothes, and the floor covered in blood. Her clothes hadn't fared too well, either.

"Do you want me to get you to bed before I deal with this mess, or would you rather have a few minutes to collect yourself?"

"I'll wait," he said. His black eyes had changed to wolf yellow while she'd worked. Despite the temper tantrum he'd thrown this morning that had scared the Chicago wolves, his control was very, very good to allow him to hold still for her-but there was no reason to push him.

"Where's your laundry room?" she asked, grabbing a change of clothes from her box.


Downstairs took her a minute to find. At last she opened a door in the short wall between the kitchen and dining room that she'd assumed was a closet and found a stairway. The laundry room she found in one corner of the half-finished basement-the rest of the basement was a weight room equipped with an impressive thoroughness.

She threw the rags of his bandages and clothes into the trash next to the washing machine. He had a sink in the laundry room, and she filled it with cold water and loaded it with everything salvageable. She let them soak a few minutes while she changed into clean clothes, dumping her bloodstained shirt and jeans into the sink, too. She found a five-gallon bucket filled with folded, clean rags sitting next to the dryer, and grabbed a few to clean the floor.

He didn't react when she came in; his eyes were closed and his face composed. He should have looked silly sitting in bloodstained underwear with stripes of pink and green bandage wound around him, but he just looked like Charles.

The blood on the floor cleaned up as easily as he'd promised. She gave it one last polishing swipe and stood to go back downstairs with her bloodstained rags, but Charles caught her ankle in one big hand and she froze, wondering if he'd lost control at last.

"Thank you," he said, sounding civilized enough.

"I'd say anytime, but if you make me bandage you very often, I'd have to kill you," she told him.

He grinned, his eyes still closed. "I'll try not to bleed more often than necessary," he promised, releasing her to her tasks.

Once the washer was churning away downstairs, she busied herself nuking frozen burritos from his freezer. If she was hungry, he must be starving.

She didn't find any coffee, but there was instant hot chocolate and a variety of teas. Deciding sugar was what was needed, she boiled water for cocoa.

When everything was done, she took a plate and a cup of cocoa into the living room and set them on the floor in front of him. He didn't open his eyes or move, so she left him alone.

She looked through the house until she found his bedroom. It wasn't difficult. For all the luxuriousness of his furnishings and trimmings, it wasn't a huge house. There was only one room with a bed.

That gave her an unpleasant little pause.

She pulled back the blankets. At least she didn't have to deal with sex for a few days yet. He wasn't in any shape for gymnastics right now. Being a werewolf had taught her- among other things-to ignore the past, live in the present, and not think too much about the future. It worked, too, as long as the present was bearable.

She was tired, tired and completely out of place. She did what she'd learned to do over the past few years and drew on the strength of her wolf. Not enough that another wolf could sense it, and she knew that if she looked in a mirror, it would be her own brown eyes staring out at her. But under her skin she could feel that Other. She'd used the wolf to get through things her human half wouldn't have survived. For now, it gave her more strength and insulated her from her worries.

She smoothed her hand over the forest green sheets- Charles seemed to like green-and returned to the living room.

He was still sitting up, his eyes were open, and both the cocoa and the burritos she'd left him with were gone-all good signs. But his gaze was unfocused, and his face was still paler than it should be, with deep lines of strain on it.

"Let's get you to bed," she told him from the safety of the hallway. Best not to startle a wounded werewolf, even one in human form who was having trouble sitting up on his own.

He nodded and accepted her help. Even in human form he was big, a foot or more taller than her five feet two. He was heavy, too.

She could have picked him up and carried him if she'd needed to, but it would have been awkward and she'd have hurt him. Instead, she put her shoulder under his arm and propped him up on the way to his bedroom.

So close to him, it was impossible not to respond to the scent of his skin. He smelled of male and mate. Aided by that scent, she let herself sink into her wolf's certainty of him, welcoming the beast's contentment.

He didn't make a sound the whole way to his bed, though she could feel the extent of his pain in the tension in his muscles. He felt hot and feverish, and that worried her. She'd never seen a werewolf feverish before.

He sat down on the mattress with a hiss. The blood left on the waistband of his boxers was going to stain the sheets, but she didn't feel comfortable pointing it out. He looked ready to collapse-he'd been in a lot better shape before he decided to change to human. As old as he was, he should have known better.

"Why didn't you just stay wolf?" she scolded.

Cool eyes met hers with more wolf than man in their yellow depths. "You were going to leave. The wolf had no way to talk you out of it."

He'd gone through that because he was worried she'd leave him? Romantic...and stupid.

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "And just where would I have gone? And what would it have mattered to you if you'd managed to bleed to death?"

Deliberately, he dropped his gaze.

That this wolf, this man, so dominant that even humans skittered away when he walked by, would give her the advantage took her breath away.

"My father would take you wherever you wanted to go," he told her softly. "I was pretty sure I could talk you into staying, but I underestimated how badly hurt I was."

"Stupid," she said tartly.

He looked up at her, and whatever he saw in her face made him smile, though his voice was serious when he answered her charge. "Yes. You throw my judgment off."

He started to lie back in the bed, and she quickly put her arm around him, just above the bandage, and helped him ease back onto the mattress.

"Would you rather lie on your side?"

He shook his head and bit his lip. She knew from experience how much lying down could hurt when you were badly injured.

"Is there someone I could call for you?" she asked. "A doctor? Your father?"

"No. I'll be fine after a little sleep."

She gave him a skeptical look that he didn't see. "Is there a doctor? Or a medical person who knows more than I do around here somewhere? Like maybe a ten-year-old Boy Scout?"

He flashed a quick grin, and it warmed his austere beauty until it hurt her heart. "My brother is a doctor, but he's probably still in Washington state." He hesitated. "Maybe not, though. He'll probably be back for the funeral."

"Funeral?" Bran's friend's funeral, she remembered- the reason Bran hadn't been able to stay longer in Chicago.

"Tomorrow," he answered, though that wasn't what she meant. Since she wasn't sure she'd wanted to know more about who was dead and why, she didn't ask again. He fell silent, and she thought he was sleeping until he spoke again. "Anna, don't trust too easily."

"What?" She put her hand on his forehead, but it didn't feel any hotter.

"If you decide to take my da up on his offer to leave, remember he seldom does things for simple motives. He wouldn't be as old as he is, wouldn't hold as much as he does, if he were a simple man. He wants you for his own use." He opened his gold eyes and held her in his gaze. "He's a good man. But he has a firm grip on reality, and his reality tells him that an Omega might mean that he never has to kill another friend."

"Like the one whose funeral is tomorrow?" she said. Yes, that was the undercurrent she'd been sensing.

He nodded once, fiercely. "You couldn't have helped with this one, no one could have. But maybe the next one..."

"Your father won't really let me leave?" Was she a prisoner?

He caught her anxiety. "I didn't mean that. He doesn't lie. He told you that he'd see to it that you could leave if you wanted to-and he will. He'll try to get you to agree to go where he needs you most, but he won't keep you against your will."

Anna looked at him, and the wolf inside her relaxed. "You wouldn't keep me here if I didn't want to be, either. "

His hands moved with breathtaking speed, clasping her wrists before she could react. His eyes lightened from burnished gold to bright wolf amber as he said hoarsely, "Don't count on that, Anna. Don't count on that."

She ought to have been afraid. He was bigger and stronger than she was, and the speed of his movement was calculated to scare her-though she wasn't sure why he felt he had to unless he wanted to make sure she understood. But with the wolf ascendant, she couldn't be afraid of him-he was hers and would no more hurt her than she would willingly hurt him.

She leaned forward, resting her forehead on his. "I know you," she told him. "You can't fool me." The conviction settled her. She might have known him only a short time-a very short time-but in some ways she knew him better than he knew himself.

Surprisingly, he laughed-a quiet huff that she hoped didn't hurt too much. "How did Leo manage to fool you into behaving like a submissive wolf?"

All those beatings, the unwilling couplings with men she didn't want-she looked down at the scars on the wrists that Charles held. She'd used a silver knife, and if she hadn't gotten impatient, if she'd waited until she was home alone, she'd have died.

Leo had been trying to break her because she wasn't a submissive, she was something else entirely. He hadn't wanted her to know it. She was outside the pack structure, Charles had told her. Neither dominant nor submissive. Omega. Whatever that meant.

Charles's hand traveled rapidly from her wrists to the sides of her face. He pulled her away from him until he could see her face. "Anna? Anna, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"

"It wasn't you," she told him. "I'm all right." She focused and noticed that he looked even more tired than he had before. "You need to sleep."

He looked at her searchingly, then nodded and released her. "There's a TV in the dining room. Or you can play on the Internet on my computer in the study. There are-"

"I'm tired, too." She might have been conditioned to walk around with her tail between her legs, but she wasn't stupid. Sleep was just what her exhausted mind needed to try to cope with the abrupt changes in her life. Exchanging Chicago for the wilds of Montana was the least of it: Omega and valued, not submissive and worthless; a mate and whatever that meant. Better than she'd had, that was for darn sure, but it was still a bit traumatic.

"Do you mind if I sleep here?" She kept her tone diffident, not wanting to intrude where she wasn't wanted. This was his territory-but her wolf was reluctant to leave him alone and wounded.

It felt awkward, this needing. Awkward and dangerous, as if what he was might reach out and swallow her whole- or change her beyond recognition. But she was too tired to fight it or even figure out if she wanted to fight it.

"Please," he said, and it was enough.

* * * *

She was right, he knew. He needed to sleep.

After she'd come back from the bathroom in a thread-bare flannel shirt and faded pajama pants, she'd curled up next to him and dropped right off. He was exhausted, too, but he found he was unwilling to give up any of the time he could spend with her in his arms, his unexpected gift.

He didn't know what she thought about him. Prior to being shot, he'd been planning on taking more time courting her. That way she'd be more sure of him before he dragged her out of her territory.

The look on her face when she'd stepped into his home...she made a noise, and he loosened his arms. He'd done some more damage to himself with that change, and he'd heal even slower in human form-but if he'd lost her, that would be a wound he suspected would never heal.

She was tough to have survived Leo's treatment and still come out whole in the end. No matter what she said about her lack of options, he knew if he hadn't distracted her, she'd have run from him. The weariness he felt now and the pain of the change were well worth it. He'd waited a long time to find her, and he wasn't about to chance losing her.

It felt strange to have a woman in this bed-at the same time it seemed as if she'd always been there. His. She had her hand lying over the wound in his chest, but he ignored the ache for a fiercer, more joyous pain.


The Marrok's voice floated into his head and out again, like a warm stream. The funeral will be at nine in the morning. If you can't make it, let me know. Samuel will be there; he'll want to take a look at your wounds afterward.

Bran wasn't a true telepath; he could send but not receive. Samuel had once told Charles that Bran hadn't always been able to do even that much, but sometime after becoming an Alpha for the first time, he had developed the talent for it.

And there is something I need from you...

His father's voice trailed off, and Charles knew he wasn't meant to hear that part. Or at least his father hadn't meant him to hear it.

He'd never questioned either his father's faith in God or his grandfather's faith in the spirits, because he knew them both. God seldom talked to him, though He sometimes warned or lent comfort or strength. But the spirits were more demanding, if often less beneficent, and Charles had learned to recognize when one of them was tugging at him.

"Sorry," he whispered to Anna as he reached for the telephone, which was thankfully not too great a stretch from his side of the bed. But she didn't stir.

He dialed his father's cell phone.

"Can't make it to the funeral? Are you worse?" Even before caller ID, his father had always known who was calling. With Charles, he'd long since ceased to waste time on greetings and jumped straight into conversation.

"I'm fine, Da," Charles said. Anna's muscles tightened against him just a little as she woke up. "But you had something else to tell me."

There was a pause. "If I'd known your mother was a medicine man's daughter, I'd never have taken her to mate." He'd said that ever since his son had begun showing signs of his mother's talents. Charles smiled: his father knew better than to believe even he could lie to another werewolf-or at least not to his sons. Not even over the phone.

"Fine," Bran said, when Charles continued to wait. Frustration made his voice sharp. "There's been a kill up in the Cabinet Wilderness. An elk hunter was torn to bits a couple of days ago, on the last day of the season. One of our contacts with the rangers told me. It'll be in the papers tomorrow. They're officially blaming it on a grizzly."

"Rogue wolf?" asked Charles.

"Maybe. Or maybe someone trying to make sure that I know that making the wolves public would be a bad idea." Anna had gone very still by his side. She was awake and listening.

Bran continued, "The Cabinet Wilderness is right in our backyard, where I'd be sure to get the message. We haven't had a rogue in Montana for fifteen or twenty years." Most of them were smart enough to stay away from the Marrok's personal territory. "The rangers also had a report a month or so ago about some monster a grad student ran into-it was within a few miles of where they found the dead hunter.

"The student said this thing just came out of the woods. It roared at him and flashed fangs and claws-everyone assumed it was a cougar, though the student was pretty hot that they'd think he wouldn't recognize a cougar. He maintained it was a monster until they wore him down into changing his story."

"Why is he still alive to tell the tale?" Charles asked, and felt Anna stiffen further. She'd misunderstood his question. So he continued, more for her sake than his father's. "If it was a rogue, it wouldn't have let him leave after seeing him like that," he clarified.

He hadn't had to kill a witness for a long time. Mostly they could rely on general disbelief in the supernatural and, in the Pacific Northwest anyway, Big Foot stories. One of the Oregon packs had made it a hobby to create Big Foot sightings ever since the damage one of their new wolves had done to a car had been attributed to Big Foot.

"The student said some crazy old man with a knife jumped out from nowhere and told him to run," said Bran. "So he did."

Charles absorbed that for a minute. "A crazy old man who happened to be there just as a werewolf decided to kill this kid? An old man wouldn't even slow a werewolf down."

"I never claimed the story made sense." His father's voice was dry. "And we're not certain that the monster was a werewolf. I hadn't paid any attention to it until the hunter was killed in the same area only a month later."

"What about that one? Are you sure the hunter was a werewolf victim?"

"My informant was Heather Morrell. She knows a grizzly kill from a werewolf."

Heather was human, but she'd been raised in Aspen Creek.

"All right," agreed Charles. "You need me to go check it out? It'll be a few days before I'm up to it." And he didn't want to leave Anna. "Can you send someone else?" It would need to be someone dominant enough to control a rogue.

"I don't want to send anyone in to get killed."

"Just me." Charles could use a dry tone, too.

"Just you," agreed Bran blandly. "But I'm not sending you out hurt. Samuel's here for the funeral. He can go check this out."

"You can't send Samuel." His response was immediate. The negative too strong to be just instinct. Sometimes his mother's spirits gave him a little help in planning for the future.

This time it was his father who waited. So he tried to figure out just why it was such a bad idea-and didn't like the answer he came up with.

"Since he came back from Texas, there's been something wrong with Samuel," Charles said finally.

"He's suicidal." Bran put it into words. "I threw him at Mercy to see if she could shake him out of it. That's why I sent you to Chicago instead of Washington."

Poor Mercy, poor Samuel. Charles ran a finger over Anna's arm. Thank God, thank all the spirits his father had never tried matchmaking for him. He looked down at Anna, and thought, thank goodness his father had sent him, and not Samuel, to Chicago.

The spirits responded to his impulsive prayer by interfering a bit further.

"Samuel's tough," he said, picking through the warning images that were thrusting themselves at him. "But he's a healer-and I don't think that's what this situation needs. I'll go. It'll have to wait a couple of days, but I'll go." The unease that had held him since his father contacted him settled down. His decision felt right.

His father didn't think so. "You took three silver bullets yesterday-or am I forgetting something? And lost control this morning."

"Two bullets and a scratch," Charles corrected. "So I'll limp a little on the trail. My control is fine now."

"You let Samuel take a look at you, then we'll talk." His father hung up abruptly. But his voice continued in Charles's head, I don't want to lose both of my children.

Charles replaced the handset, and said to Anna, "Ask."

"Bran, the Marrok, is going to bring the werewolves out to the public?" Her voice was hushed as if she could never imagine such a thing.

"He thinks that too many of the wrong people already know," he told her. "Science and computers have made it harder and harder for to hide. Da hopes that he can control it better if he initiates the flow of information rather than waiting until our enemies or some innocent idiot decides to do it for us."

She relaxed against him, thinking about it. "That will make life interesting."

He laughed, tucked her against him, and fell, blissfully, into sleep at last.
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