It had been a long time since he'd been shot, but the sizzling burn of the silver bullet was still familiar. He hadn't been quite fast enough – and the crowd of people made sure that he couldn't go after the car that had taken off as soon as the gun had fired. He hadn't even gotten a good look at the shooter, just an impression.
"Charles?" Beneath him, Anna's eyes were black with shock and she patted his shoulders. "Was someone shooting at us? Are you all right?"
"Yes," he said, though he couldn't really assess the damage until he moved, which he didn't want to much.
"Stay where you are until I can get a look," said a firm voice. "I'm an EMT."
The command in the EMT's voice forced Charles to move – he didn't take orders from anyone except his father. He pushed himself off of Anna and got to his feet, then leaned down and grabbed her hand to pull her up from the frozen sidewalk.
"Damn it, man, you're bleeding. Don't be stupid," snapped the stranger. "Sit down."
Being shot had enraged the wolf in him, and Charles turned to snarl at the EMT, a competent-looking middle-aged man with sandy hair and a graying red moustache.
Then Anna squeezed his hand, which she still held, and said, "Thank you," to the EMT and then to Charles "Let him take a look" – and he was able to hold back the snarl.
He did growl low in his throat, though, when the stranger looked at his wound: never show weakness to a possible enemy. He felt too exposed on the sidewalk, too many people were looking at him – they had acquired quite an audience.
"Ignore him," Anna told the EMT. "He gets grumpy when he's hurt."
George, the werewolf who owned the restaurant, brought out a chair for him to sit on. Someone had called the police; two cars came with flashing lights and sirens that hurt his ears, followed by an ambulance.
The bullet had cut through skin and a fine layer of muscle across the back of his shoulders without doing a lot of damage, he was told. Did he have any enemies? It was Anna who told them that he'd just flown in from Montana, that it must have been just a drive-by shooting, though this wasn't the usual neighborhood for that kind of crime.
If the cop had had a werewolf's nose, he would never have let her lie pass. He was a seasoned cop, however, and her answer made him a little uneasy. But when Charles showed him his Montana driver's license, he relaxed.
Anna's presence allowed Charles to submit to cleaning and bandaging and questioning, but nothing would make him get into an ambulance and be dragged to a hospital, even though silver-bullet wounds healed human-slow. Even now he could feel the hot ache of the silver as it seeped into his muscles.
While he sat beneath the hands of strangers and fought not to loose control, he couldn't get the image of the shooter out of his head. He'd looked in the window and saw the reflection of the gun, then the face of the person who held it, wrapped in a winter scarf and wearing dark glasses. Not enough to identify the gunman, just a glimpse – but he would swear that the man had not been looking at him when his gloved finger pulled the trigger. He'd been looking at Anna.
Which didn't make much sense. Why would someone be trying to kill Anna?
They didn't go to the zoo.
While he used the restaurant bathroom to clean up, George procured a jacket to cover the bandages so Charles wouldn't have to advertise his weakness to everyone who saw him. This time Anna didn't object when he asked her to call a taxi.
His phone rang on the way back to Anna's apartment, but he silenced it without looking at it. It might have been his father, Bran, who had an uncanny knack for knowing when he'd been hurt. But he had no desire to talk with the Marrok while the taxi driver could hear every word. More probably it was Jaimie. George would have called his Alpha as soon as Charles was shot. In either case, they would wait until he was someplace more private.
He made Anna wait in the taxi when they got to her apartment building until he had a chance to take a good look around. No one had followed them from the Loop, but the most likely assailants were Leo's people – and they all knew where Anna lived. He hadn't recognized the shooter, but then he didn't know every werewolf in Chicago.
Anna was patient with him. She didn't argue about waiting but the cabdriver looked at him as though he were crazy.
Her patience helped his control – which was shakier than it had been in a long time. He wondered how he'd be behaving if his Anna hadn't been an Omega whose soothing effect was almost good enough to override the protective rage roused by the attempt on her life. The painful burn of his shoulders, worsening as silver-caused wounds always did for a while, didn't help his temperament, nor did the knowledge that his ability to fight was impaired.
Someone was trying to kill Anna. It didn't make sense, but somewhere during the trip back to Oak Park, he'd accepted that it was so.
Satisfied there was no immediate threat in or around the apartment building, he held out his hand to Anna to help her out of the taxi and then paid the fare, all the while letting his eyes roam, looking for anything out of place. But there was nothing.
Just inside the front door of the lobby, a man who was getting his mail smiled and greeted Anna. They exchanged a sentence or two, but after a good look at Charles's face, she started up the stairs.
Charles had not been able to parse a word she'd said, which was a very bad sign. Grimly he followed her up the stairs, shoulders throbbing with the beat of his heart. He flexed his fingers as she unlocked her door. His joints ached with the need to change, but he held off – only just. If he was this bad in human form, the wolf would be in control if he shifted.
He sat on the futon and watched her open her fridge and then her freezer. Finally she dug in the depths of a cabinet and came out with a large can. She opened it and dumped the unappealing contents into a pot, which she set on the stove.
Then she knelt on the floor in front of Mm. She touched his face and said, very clearly, "Change," and a number of other things that brushed by his ears like a flight of butterflies.
He closed his eyes against her.
There was some urgent reason he shouldn't change, but he'd forgotten it while he'd been watching her.
"You have five hours before the meeting," she said slowly, her voice making more sense once his eyes were shut. "If you can change to the wolf and back, it will help you heal."
"I have no control," he told her. That was it. That was the reason. "The wound's not that bad – it's the silver. My changing will be too dangerous for you. I can't."
There was a pause and then she said, "If I am your mate, your wolf won't harm me no matter how much control you lack, right?" She sounded more hopeful than certain, and he couldn't think clearly enough to know if she was correct.
Dominants were touchy about taking suggestions from lesser wolves, so she left Charles to make up his own mind while she stirred the beef stew to keep it from burning. Not that burning would make it taste any worse. She'd bought it on sale about six months ago, and had never been hungry enough to eat it. But it had protein, which he needed after being wounded, and it was the only meat in the house.
The wound had looked painful, but not unmanageable to her, and none of the EMTs had seemed overly concerned.
She took the metal ball out of the pocket of her jeans and felt it burn her skin. While the EMTs had been working on his back, Charles had caught her eye and then looked at the small, bloody slug on the sidewalk.
At his silent direction, she'd pocketed it. Now she set it on her counter. Silver was bad. It meant that it really hadn't been a random shooting. She hadn't seen who fired the shot, but she could only assume that it had been one of her pack mates, probably Justin.
Silver injuries wouldn't heal in minutes or hours, and Charles would have to go wounded to Leo's house.
Claws clicked on the hardwood floor and the fox-colored wolf who was Charles walked over and collapsed on the floor, near enough to rest his head on one of her feet. There were bits and pieces of torn cloth caught here and there on his body. A glance at the futon told her he hadn't bothered to strip out of his clothes, and the bandages hadn't survived the change. The cut across his shoulder blades was deep and oozing blood.
He seemed more weary than wild and ravenous, though, so she assumed his fears about how much control he'd have had not been borne out. An out-of-control werewolf, in her experience, would be growling and pacing, not lying quietly at her feet. She put the stew in a bowl and set it in front of him.
He took a bite and then paused after the first mouthful.
"I know," she told him apologetically, "it's not haute cuisine. I could go downstairs and see if Kara has any steaks or roasts I could borrow."
He went back to eating, but she knew from healing her own wounds that he'd be better off with more meat. Kara wouldn't be home, but Anna had a key, and she knew Kara wouldn't mind if she borrowed a roast as long as she replaced it.
Charles seemed to be engrossed in his meal so she started for the door. Before she was halfway there, he'd abandoned the food and stalked at her heels. It hurt him to move – she wasn't quite sure how she knew that, since he neither limped nor slowed visibly.
"You need to stay here," she told him. "I'll be right back."
But when she tried to open the door, he stepped in front of it.
"Charles," she said and then she saw his eyes and swallowed hard. There was nothing of Charles left in the wolf's yellow gaze.
Leaving the apartment wasn't an option.
She walked back to the kitchen and stopped by the food bowl she'd left him. He stayed at the door for a moment before following her. When he had finished eating she sat down on the futon. He jumped up beside her, put his head in her lap, and closed his eyes with a heavy sigh.
He opened one eye and then closed it again. She ran her fingers through his pelt, carefully avoiding the wound.
Were they mated? She thought not. Wouldn't something like that have a more formal ceremony? She hadn't actually told him that she accepted him – no more than he had really asked her.
Still... she closed her eyes and let his scent flow through her and her hand closed possessively in a handful of fur. When she opened her eyes, she found herself staring into his clear gold ones.
His phone rang from somewhere underneath her. She reached down to the floor and snagged the remnant of his pants and pulled the phone out and checked the number. She turned it so he could see the display.
"It says father" she told him. But evidently the wolf was still in control, because he didn't even look at the phone. "I guess you can call him back when you're back to yourself." She hoped that would be soon. Even with silver poisoning, he ought to be better in a few hours, she hoped.
The phone quit ringing for a moment. Then started again. It rang three times. Stopped. Then rang three more times. Stopped. When it rang again she answered it reluctantly.
"Is he all right?"
She remembered the werewolf who had brought out a chair for Charles to sit on while the EMTs worked on him. He must have called the Marrok.
"I think so. The wound wasn't so bad, pretty much a deep cut across his shoulder blades, but the bullet was silver and he seems to be having a bad reaction to it."
There was a little pause. "Can I speak to him?"
"He's in wolf form," she told him, "but he is listening to you now." One of his ears was cocked toward the phone.
"Do you need help with Charles? His reaction to silver can be a little extreme."
"No. He's not causing any problems."
"Silver leaves Charles's wolf uncontrolled" crooned the Marrok softly. "But he's giving you no problems? Why would that be?"
She'd never met the Marrok, but she wasn't dumb. That croon was dangerous. Did he think she had something to do with Charles being shot and was now holding him prisoner somewhere? She tried to answer his question, despite the possible embarrassment.
"Um. Charles thinks that his wolf has chosen me as a mate."
"In less than one full day?" It did sound dumb when he said it that way.
"Yes." She couldn't keep the uncertainty out of her voice, though, and it bothered Charles. He rolled to his feet and growled softly.
"Charles also said I was an Omega wolf," she told his father. "That might have something to do with it as well."
Silence lengthened and she began to think that the cell phone might have dropped the connection. Then the Marrok laughed softly. "Oh, his brother is going to tease him unmercifully about this. Why don't you tell me everything that has happened. Start with picking Charles up at the airport please."
Her knuckles were white on the steering wheel, but Charles was in no mood to ease Anna's fears.
He'd tried to leave her behind. He had no desire to have Anna in the middle of the fight that was probable tonight. He didn't want her hurt – and he didn't want her to see him in the role that had been chosen for him so long ago.
"I know where Leo lives," she told him. "If you don't take me with you, I'll just hire a taxi and follow you. You are not going in there alone. You still smell of your wounds – and they'll take that as a sign of weakness."
The truth of her words had almost made him cruel. It had been on the tip of his tongue to ask her what she thought she, an Omega female, could do to help him in a fight – but his brother wolf had frozen his tongue. She had been wounded enough, and the wolf wouldn't allow any more. It was the only time he could ever remember that the wolf put the restraints on his human half rather than the reverse. The words would have been wrong, too. He remembered her holding that marble rolling pin. She might not be aggressive, but she had a limit to how far she could be pushed.
He found himself meekly agreeing to her company, though as they got closer to Leo's house in Naperville, his repentance hadn't been up to making him happy with her presence.
"Leo's house is on fifteen acres," she told him. "Big enough for the pack to hunt on, but we still have to be pretty quiet."
Her voice was tight. He thought she was trying to make conversation with him to keep her anxiety in check. Angry as he was, he couldn't help but come to her aid.
"It's hard to hunt in the big cities," he agreed. Then, to check her reaction because they'd never had a chance to really finish their discussion about what she was to him, he said, "I'll take you for a real hunt in Montana. You'll never want to live near a big city again. We usually hunt deer or elk, but the moose populations are up high enough that we hunt them sometimes, too. Moose are a real challenge."
"I think I'd rather stick to rabbits, if it's all the same to you," she said. "Mostly I just trail behind the hunt." She gave him a little smile. "I think I watched Bambi one too many times."
He laughed. Yes, he was going to keep her. She was giving up without a fight. A challenge, perhaps – he thought about her telling him that she wasn't much interested in sex – but not a fight. "Hunting is part of what we are. We aren't cats to prolong the kill, and the animals we hunt need thinning to keep their herds strong and healthy. But if it bothers you, you can follow behind the hunt in Montana, too. You'll still enjoy the run."
She drove up to a keypad on a post in front of a graying cedar gate and pushed in four numbers. After a pause the chain on the top of the gate began to move and the gate slid back along the wall.
He'd been here twice before. The first time had been more than a century ago and the house had been little more than a cabin. There had been fifty acres then and the Alpha had been a little Irish Catholic named Willie O'Shaughnessy who had fit in surprisingly well with his mostly German and Lutheran neighbors. The second time had been in the early twentieth century for Willie's funeral. Willie had been old, nearly as old as the Marrok. There was a madness that came sometimes to those who live too long. When the first signs of it had manifested in him, Willie had quit eating – a display of the willpower that had made him an Alpha. Charles remembered his father's grief at Willie's passing. They – Charles and his brother, Samuel – had been worried for months afterward that their father would decide to follow Willie.
Willie's house and lands had passed on to the next Alpha, a German werewolf who was married to O'Shaughnessy's daughter. Charles couldn't remember what had happened to that one or even his name. There had been several Alphas here after him, though, before Leo took over.
Willie and a handful of fine German stonemasons had built the house with a craftsmanship that would have been prohibitively expensive to replace now. Several of the windows were thickened on the bottom with age. He remembered when those windows had been new.
Charles hated being reminded how old he was.
Anna turned off the engine and started opening her door, but he stopped her.
"Wait a moment." A hint of unease was brushing across the senses bequeathed to him by his gifted mother, and he'd learned to pay attention. He looked at Anna and scowled – she was too vulnerable. If something happened to him, they'd tear her to bits.
"I need you to change," he told her. Something inside him relaxed: that was it. "If something happens to me, I want you to run like hell, get somewhere safe, then call my father and tell him to get you out of here."
It was not his nature to explain himself. As a dominant wolf in his father's pack, he seldom had to. For her, though, he would make an effort.
"There is something important about you being in wolf form when we go in there." He shrugged. "I've learned to trust my instincts."
She took a while. He had time to open his notebook and look at her list. He'd told Justin that Leo could have Isabelle and his first five. According to Anna's list, other than Isabelle, of those six only Boyd was on the list of names his father had given him. If Justin was Leo's second, then there wasn't a wolf other than Leo who was a threat to him.
The ache of his wound gave lie to that thought, so he corrected it. There were none of them who would give him a run for his money in a straightforward fight.
Anna finished her change and sat panting heavily on the driver's side seat. She was beautiful, he thought. Coal black with a dash of white over her nose. She was on the small side for a werewolf, but still much larger than a German shepherd. Her eyes were a pale, pale blue, which was strange because her human eyes were brown.
"Are you ready?" he asked her.
She whined as she got to her feet, her claws making small holes in the leather seat. She shook herself once, as if she'd been wet, then bobbed her head once.
He didn't see anyone watching them from the windows, but there was a small security camera cleverly tucked into a bit of the gingerbread woodwork on the porch. He got out of the SUV, making sure that he didn't show any sign of the pain he was in.
He'd checked in the bathroom of Anna's house and he didn't think the wound would slow him appreciably now that the worst of the silver poisoning had passed. He'd considered acting more hurt than he was – and he might have if he'd been sure that it was Leo who was responsible for all the dead. Acting wounded might lead Leo to attack him – and Charles had no intention of killing Leo until he knew just exactly what had been going on.
He held the SUV door open until Anna hopped out, then closed it and walked with her to the house. He didn't bother knocking on the door; this wasn't a friendly visit.
Inside, the house had changed a lot. Dark paneling had been bleached light and electric lights replaced the old gas chandeliers. Anna walked beside him, but he didn't need her guidance to find the formal parlor because that was the only room with people in it.
Everything else in the house might have changed, but they had left Willie's pride and joy: the huge hand-carved granite fireplace still dominated the parlor. Isabelle, who liked to be the center of attention, was perched on the polished cherry mantel. Leo was positioned squarely in front of her. Justin stood on his left, Boyd on his right. The other three men Charles had allowed him were seated in dainty, Victorian-era chairs. All of them except for Leo himself were dressed in dark, pin-striped suits. Leo wore nothing but a pair of black slacks, revealing that he was tanned and fit.
The effect of their united threat was somewhat mitigated by the pinkish-purple of the upholstery and walls – and by Isabelle, who was dressed in jeans and a half shirt of the same color.
Charles took two steps into the room and stopped. Anna pressed against his legs, not hard enough to unbalance him, just enough to remind him that she was there.
No one spoke, because it was for him to break the silence first. He took a deep breath into his lungs and held it, waiting for what his senses could tell him. He had gotten more from his mother than his skin and features, more than the ability to change faster than the other werewolves. She had given him the ability to see. Not with his eyes, but with his whole spirit.
And there was something sick in Leo's pack; he could feel the wrongness of it.
He looked into Leo's clear, sky-blue eyes and saw nothing that he hadn't seen before. No hint of madness. Not him, then, but someone in his pack.
He looked at the three wolves he had not met – and he saw what Anna had meant about their looks. Leo was not unhandsome in his own Danish Viking sort of way, but he was a warrior and he looked like a warrior. Boyd had a long blade of a nose and the military cut of his hair made his ears appear to stick out even farther than they really did.
All the wolves Charles didn't know looked like the sort of men who modeled tuxedos at a rental shop. Thin and edgy, with no real flesh to mar the lines of a jacket. Despite differences in coloring, there was a certain sameness about them. Isabelle pulled her bare feet onto the mantel with the rest of her and heaved a big sigh.
He ignored her impatience because she wasn't important just now – Leo was.
Charles met the Alpha's eyes and said, "The Marrok has sent me here to ask you why you sold your child into bondage."
Clearly, it wasn't the question Leo had expected. Isabelle had thought it was Anna, and Charles hadn't disabused her of the notion. They would deal with Anna, too, but his father's question was a better starting place because it was unexpected.
"I have no children," said Leo.
Charles shook his head. "All your wolves are your children, Leo, you know that. They are yours to love and feed, to guard and protect, to guide and to teach. You sold a young man named Alan Mackenzie Frazier. To whom and why?"
"He wasn't pack." Leo spread his arms, palms outward. "It is expensive to keep so many wolves happy here in the city. I needed the money. I am happy to give you the name of the buyer, though I believe he was only acting as a middleman."
True. All true. But Leo was being very careful how he worded his reply.
"My father would like the name and the method you used to contact him."
Leo nodded at one of the handsome men, who passed Charles with his eyes on the ground, though he spared an instant to glare at Anna. She flattened her ears at him and growled.
He had been a poor influence on her, Charles thought unrepentantly.
"Is there anything more I can help you with?" Leo asked politely.
They had, all of Leo's wolves, used Isabelle's trick with perfume, but Charles had a keen nose and Leo was... sad.
"You haven't updated your pack membership for five or six years," Charles said, wondering at Leo's reaction. He'd been met with defiance, anger, fear, but never with sadness.
"I thought you might catch that. Did you and Anna compare lists? Yes, I had something of a coup attempt I had to put down a little harshly."
Truth, but, again, not all of it. Leo had a lawyer's understanding of how to be careful with the truth and use it to lie by leading a false trail.
"Is that why you killed all the women of your pack? Did they all rebel against you?"
"There weren't so many women, there never are."
Again. There was something he wasn't catching. Leo hadn't been the wolf who had attacked young Frazier – it had been Justin.
Leo's wolf was back. He handed Charles a note with a name and phone number written in purple ink.
Charles tucked the note in his pocket and then nodded. "You are right. There are not enough females – so those we have ought to be protected, not killed. Did you kill them yourself?"
"All the women? No."
"Which of them did you kill?"
Leo didn't answer, and Charles felt his wolf perk up as the hunt commenced.
"You didn't kill any of the women," Charles said. He looked at the model-perfect men and at Justin who was beautiful in an unfinished sort of way.
Leo was protecting someone. Charles looked up at Isabelle, who loved beautiful men. Isabelle, who was older than old Willie O'Shaughnessy had been when he'd begun to go crazy.
He wondered how long Leo had known she was mad.
He looked back at the Alpha. "You should have asked the Marrok for help."
Leo shook his head. "You know what he would have done. He'd have killed her."
Charles would dearly have loved to see what Isabelle was doing, but he couldn't afford to take his eyes off Leo: a cornered wolf was a dangerous wolf.
"And how many have died instead? How many of your pack are lost? The women she killed for jealousy, and their mates you had to kill to protect her? The wolves who rebelled at what the two of you were doing? How many?"
Leo raised his chin. "None for three years."
Rage rose its ugly head. "Yes," Charles agreed, very softly. "Not since you had your little bully boy attack a defenseless woman and Change her without her consent. A woman who you then proceeded to brutalize."
"If I'd protected her, Isabelle would have hated her," Leo explained. "I forced Isabelle to protect her instead. It worked, Charles. Isabelle has been stable for three years."
Until she'd come to Anna's today and realized that Charles was interested in Anna. Isabelle had never liked anyone paying attention to other females when she was around.
He risked a glance and saw that though she hadn't moved from the mantel, Isabelle's legs were back to dangling down so she could hop down quickly if she wanted to. Her eyes had changed and watched with pale impatience for the violence she knew was to come. She licked her lips and rocked her weight from side to side in her eagerness.
Charles felt sick at the waste of it all. He turned his attention back to the Alpha. "No deaths because you have an Omega to keep her calm. And because there are no females to compete with except for Anna, who doesn't want any of your wolves, not after they raped her on your orders."
"It kept Anna alive," Leo insisted. "Kept them both alive." He ducked his head, an appeal for protection. "Tell your father that she is stable. Tell him I'll see she doesn't harm anyone else."
"She tried to kill Anna, today," Charles said gently. "And if she hadn't... She is insane, Leo."
He watched the last trace of hope leave Leo's face. The Alpha knew Charles wouldn't let Isabelle live – she was too dangerous, too unpredictable. Leo knew that he was dead, too. He had worked too hard to save his mate.
Leo didn't give any warning before he attacked – but Charles had been ready for him. Leo wasn't the kind of wolf to submit easily to death. There would be no bared throats in this fight.
But they both knew who would win.
Anna had been stunned to stillness by what Leo had revealed, but that ended when Leo attacked. She couldn't help the little yip she let out, anymore than she could help her instinctive lunge forward to protect Charles.
A strong pair of workman's hands gripped her by the ruff of her neck and pulled her back despite the scrabbling of her claws on the hardwood floor.
"Here, now," Boyd's rumble hit her ears. "Steady on. This isn't your fight."
His voice, one she was used to obeying, calmed her so she could think. It also helped that Charles avoided Leo's first strike with a minimal movement of his shoulders.
The other wolves had come to their feet and part of her registered Justin's insistent chanting, "Kill him, kill him." She wasn't sure which wolf he wanted to die. He hated Leo for controlling him and for being Isabelle's mate. Maybe he didn't care which one died.
Leo struck three times in rapid succession, missing each time. He'd committed to the last blow, and when it didn't land he had to take an awkward step forward.
Charles took advantage of the stumble and stepped into Leo, and in a graceful movement she couldn't quite follow did something to Leo's shoulder that had the Alpha roaring in rage and pain.
The next few things happened so fast, Anna was never certain in what order they occurred.
There was a rapid double bark of a gun. Boyd's hands loosened their grip on her fur as he swore, and Isabelle gave a frenetic, excited laugh.
It took Anna only a glance to see what had happened. Isabelle was holding a gun, watching the fight, waiting for another clear shot at Charles.
Anna broke free of Boyd's loosened grip and sprinted across the room.
From the mantel, Isabelle looked Anna squarely in her eyes and said sharply, "Stop, Anna."
She was so sure of Anna's obedience, she didn't even wait to make certain Anna listened before turning her attention back to the battling men.
Anna felt the force of Isabelle's command as it rolled by her like a breeze that raffled her hair. It didn't slow her down at all.
She gathered her hind quarters underneath her and launched. Her teeth closed on Isabelle's arm, and she felt the bone crack with a noise that satisfied the wolf's anger. The force of her leap was such that she pulled Isabelle off the six-foot-high mantel and slammed her into the fireplace as they both tumbled down – Anna's jaws still locked around the arm that had held the gun.
She crouched there, waiting for Isabelle to do something, but the other woman just lay there. Someone came up behind them, and Anna growled a warning.
"Easy," Boyd said, his calm voice touching her as Isabelle's order had not.
His hand rested on her back and she increased her growl, but he didn't pay any attention to her: he was looking at Isabelle.
"Dead," he grunted. "Serves her right for forgetting you aren't just another submissive wolf who has to listen to her. Let go, Anna. You caved her head in on the fireplace. She's gone." But when Anna reluctantly let go, Boyd made sure Isabelle was dead by twisting her head until her neck made a sick-sounding pop. He picked the gun up off the floor.
Staring at Isabelle's broken body, Anna began to shake. She lifted a foot, but she didn't know whether she was going to take a step closer or a step away. A chair hit her in the side and reminded her that there was a fight going on – and Isabelle had shot at Charles twice.
If he was hurt, he showed no sign of it. He was moving as easily as he had in the beginning, and Leo was staggering, one arm limp at his side. Charles swept behind him and hit him in the back of the neck with the edge of his hand and Leo collapsed like a kite when the wind dies.
A soft, moaning howl rose from Boyd, who was still standing beside her, echoed by the other wolves as they mourned their Alpha's passing.
Ignoring them, Charles knelt beside Leo and, with the same motion Boyd had used on Isabelle, he made sure the broken neck was permanent.
He stayed there, on one knee and one foot, like a man proposing. He bowed his head and reached out again, this time to caress the dead man's face.
Justin's move was so fast, Anna didn't have a chance to sing a warning. She hadn't even noticed when he'd changed to his wolf form. He hit Charles like a battering ram and Charles went down beneath him.
But if Anna was frozen, Boyd was not. He shot Justin in the eye a split second before Justin's body hit Charles.
That fast it was over.
Boyd hauled Justin's limp body off Charles and dumped him to one side. Anna didn't remember moving but suddenly she was astraddle Charles and growling at Boyd.
He backed up slowly, his hands raised and empty. The gun was tucked into the belt of his slacks.
As soon as Boyd ceased to feel like a threat, Anna turned her attention to Charles. He was lying facedown on the floor, covered with blood – her nose told her that some of it was Boyd's, but some of it was his, too.
Despite the way he'd been fighting Leo, Isabelle had hit him at least once, she could see the bloody hole in his back. In wolf form she couldn't help him and it would take her too long to change.
She looked over her shoulder at Boyd.
He shrugged. "I can't help him unless I get closer than this."
She stared at him, challenging him with her eyes in a way she would never have done before today. It didn't seem to bother him. He just waited for her to make up her mind. The wolf didn't want to trust anyone with her mate – but she knew she didn't have a choice.
She hopped all the way over Charles's body, giving Boyd access. But she couldn't help her snarl when he rolled him over to check him for wounds. He found a second bullet hole in Charles's left calf.
Boyd shed his suit jacket and ripped off his dress shirt, scattering buttons all over the floor. He tore the silk shirt into strips and then, as he was bandaging Charles's with rapid experience, he began giving orders. "Holden, call in the rest of the pack – and start with Rashid. Tell him we need him to bring whatever he needs to treat a silver bullet wound – both bullets are out. When you've finished, call the Marrok and tell him what has happened. You can find his number in Isabelle's address book in the kitchen drawer under the phone."
Anna whined. Both of Isabelle's shots had hit.
"He's not going to die," Boyd told her, tying off the last bandage. He glanced around the room and swore. "This place looks like the last scene in Hamlet. Gardner, you and Simon start getting this mess cleaned up. Let's get Charles someplace quieter. He's not going to be a happy camper when he wakes, and all this blood isn't going to help." He picked Charles up. When he carried him out of the room, Anna was at his heels.
Back in human form, Anna lay on the bed beside Charles. Rashid, who was a real doctor as well as a werewolf, had come and gone, replacing Boyd's makeshift bandage with something more sterile-looking. He told Anna that Charles was unconscious due to blood loss.
Boyd had come in afterward and advised her to leave Charles before he woke up. The room was reinforced to withstand an enraged wolf – Anna was not.
He hadn't argued when she refused. He'd just bolted the door behind him when he left. She waited until he was gone and then changed. There was clothing in the old-fashioned wardrobe, lots of things that were one size fits all. She found a T-shirt and a pair of jeans that didn't fit too badly.
Charles didn't notice when she got on the bed with him. She put her head next to his on the pillow and listened to him breathe.
He didn't wake quietly. One moment he was limp and the next he'd exploded to his feet. She'd never watched him shift and, although she knew his change was miraculously swift, she hadn't known it was beautiful. It started with his feet, then like a blanket of red fur the change rolled up his body, leaving behind it a malevolent, very angry werewolf dripping blood and bandages.
Bright yellow eyes glanced around the room, taking in the closed door, the bars on the windows, and then her.
She lay very still, letting him absorb his surroundings and see there was no threat. When he looked at her a second time, she sat up and went to work on his bandages.
He growled at her, and she tapped his nose gently. "You've lost enough blood today. The bandages don't advertise your weakness any more than bleeding all over would. At least this way, you aren't going to rain the carpet."
When she finished, she threaded her fingers through the ruff of fur around his neck and bent her head to his.
"I thought I had lost you."
He stood for her embrace for a minute before wriggling free. He got off the bed and stalked to the door.
"It's bolted," she told him, hopping off the bed and padding after him.
He gave her a patient look.
There was a click and the door was opened by a slender, unremarkable-looking man who appeared to be in his early twenties. He crouched on his heels and stared Charles in the face before glancing up at her.
The force of personality in his eyes hit her like a blow to the stomach, so she wasn't entirely surprised when she recognized his voice.
"Shot three times in one day," the Marrok murmured. "I think Chicago has been harder on you than usual, my son. I'd best take you home, don't you think?"
She didn't know what to say so she didn't say anything. She put her hand on Charles's back and swallowed.
Charles looked at his father.
"Have you asked her?"
Charles growled low in his chest.
The Marrok laughed and stood up. "Nevertheless, I will ask. You are Anna?" It wasn't quite a question.
Her throat was too dry to say anything, so she nodded.
"My son would like you to accompany us to Montana. I assure you that if anything is not to your liking, I'll see to it that you can relocate to wherever suits you better."
Charles growled and Bran raised an eyebrow as he looked at him. "I am the Marrok, Charles. If the child wants to go elsewhere, she can."
Anna leaned against Charles's hip. "I think I'd like to see Montana," she said.