Hunting Ground:Alpha & Omega 02

By: Patricia Briggs

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to the daring young men and their flying machines, for letting us pick their brains: Clif Dyer of Sundance Aviation, and John Haakenson, director of airports and operations at the Port of Benton.



And to the usual suspects who read it when it’s bad so you don’t have to: Collin Briggs, Michael Briggs, Dave and Katharine Carson, Michael Enzweiler (who also does a terrific job on the maps), Debbie Hill, Jean Matteucci, Anne Peters, Kaye and Kyle Roberson, and Anne Sowards.



And a very big thank-you to Cthulhu Bob Lovely for “Running Eagle.” I’m sure Charles will forgive us eventually.





ONE



SHE observed him from her chosen cover, as she’d done twice before. The first two times he’d been chopping wood, but today, after a heavy snowfall appropriate for the middle of December, he was shoveling the sidewalk. Today was the day she’d take him.



Heart in her mouth, she watched as he cleared the snow with carefully controlled violence. Every movement was exactly the same as the one before. Each slide of the shovel was strictly parallel to previous marks. And in his fierce control, she saw his rage, tamped and contained by will alone—like a pipe bomb.



Flattening herself and breathing lightly so he wouldn’t see her, she considered how she would do it. From behind, she thought, as fast as possible, to give him no time to react. One quick movement and it would all be over—if she didn’t lose her courage, as she had the first two times.



Something told her it had to be today, that she wouldn’t get a fourth opportunity. He was wary and disciplined—and if he hadn’t been so angry, surely his senses, werewolf sharp, would have discovered her hiding place in the snow beneath the fir trees lining his front yard.



She shook with the stress of what she planned. Ambush. Weak and cowardly, but it was the only way she could take him. And it needed to be done, because it was only a matter of time before he lost the control that kept him shoveling to a steady beat while the wolf raged inside him. And when his control failed, people would die.



Dangerous. He could be so fast. If she screwed this up, he could kill her. She had to trust that her own werewolf reflexes were up to this. It needed to be done.



Resolution gave her strength. It would be today.





CHARLES heard the SUV, but he didn’t look up.



He’d turned off his cell and continued to ignore the cool voice of his father in his head until it went away. There was no one who lived near him on the snow-packed mountain road—so the SUV was just the next step in his father’s determination to make him toe the line.



“Hey, Chief.”



It was a new wolf, Robert, sent here to the Aspen Creek Pack by his own Alpha because of his lack of control. Sometimes the Marrok could help; other times he just had to clean up the mess. If Robert couldn’t learn discipline, it would probably be Charles’s job to dispose of him. If Robert didn’t learn manners, the disposal job wouldn’t bother Charles as much as it should.



That Bran had sent Robert to deliver his message told Charles just how furious his da was.



“Chief!” The man didn’t even bother getting out of the car. There weren’t many people Charles extended the privilege of calling him anything but his given name, and this pup wasn’t one of them.



Charles stopped shoveling and looked at the other wolf, let him see just what he was messing with. The man lost his grin, paled, and dropped his eyes instantly, his heartbeat making the big blood vessel in his neck throb with sudden fear.



Charles felt petty. And he resented it, resented his pettiness and the roiling anger that caused it. Inside him Brother Wolf smelled Robert’s weakness and liked it. The stress of defying the Marrok, his Alpha, had left Brother Wolf wanting blood. Robert’s would do.



“I … ah.”



Charles didn’t say anything. Let the fool work for it. He lowered his eyelids and watched the man squirm some more. The scent of his fear pleased Brother Wolf—and made Charles feel a little sick at the same time. Usually, he and Brother Wolf were in better harmony—or maybe the real problem was that he wanted to kill someone, too.



“The Marrok wants to see you.”



Charles waited a full minute, knowing how long that time would seem to his father’s message boy. “That’s it?”



“Yes, sir.”



That “sir” was a far cry from “Hey, Chief.”



“Tell him I’ll come after my walk is cleared.” And he went back to work.



After a few scrapes of his shovel, he heard the SUV turn around in the narrow road. The vehicle spun out, then grabbed traction and headed back to the Marrok’s, fish-tailing with Robert’s urgent desire to get away. Brother Wolf was smugly satisfied; Charles tried not to be. Charles knew he shouldn’t bait his father by defying his orders—especially not in front of a wolf who needed guidance, as Robert did. But Charles needed the time.

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