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0.5 On The Prowl (alpha and omega)


  0.5 On The Prowl

  ( Alpha and Omega )

  Patricia Briggs

  Alpha and Omega 0.5 by Patricia Briggs

  The werewolf Anna finds a new sense of self when the son of the werewolf king comes to town to quell unrest in the Chicago pack- and inspires a power in Anna that she's never felt before.

  Inhuman by Eileen Wilks

  Kai has a secret gift of sensing thoughts and desires. What she senses in her neighbor Nathan could be dangerous. Because he has a secret gift, too, and it's about to be let loose.

  Buying Trouble by Karen Chance

  In a New York auction house, a Lord of the Fey crosses paths with a fiery redheaded mage named Claire. But in this strange underground society, the rarity up for sale is Claire herself.

  Mona Lisa Betwining by Sunny

  Among the children of the moon, Mona Lisa is of Mixed Blood- part Monere, part human, and destined to be alone. Then she meets a man who could be her salvation- or her downfall.

  Alpha and Omega

  On the Prowl Anthology SS1

  By

  Patricia Briggs

  Chapter 1

  THE wind was chill and the cold froze the ends of her toes. One of these days she was going to break down and buy boots—if only she didn't need to eat.

  Anna laughed and buried her nose in her jacket, trudging the last half mile to her home. It was true that being a werewolf gave her greater strength and endurance, even in human form. But the twelve-hour shift she'd just finished at Scorci's was enough to make evenher bones ache. You'd think that people would have better things to do on Thanksgiving than go eat at an Italian restaurant.

  Tim, the restaurant owner (who was Irish, not Italian for all that he made the best gnocchi in Chicago) let her take extra shifts—though he wouldn't let her work more than fifty hours a week. The biggest bonus was the free meal she got each shift. Even so, she was afraid she was going to have to find a second job to cover her expenses: life as a werewolf, she had found, was as expensive financially as it was personally.

  She used her keys to get into the entryway. There was nothing in her mailbox, so she got Kara's mail and newspaper and climbed the stairs to Kara's third-floor apartment. When she opened the door, Kara's Siamese cat, Mouser, took one look at her, spat in disgust, and disappeared behind the couch.

  For six months she'd been feeding the cat whenever her neighbor was gone—which was often since Kara worked at a travel agency arranging tours. Mouser still hated her. From his hiding place he swore at her, as only a Siamese could do.

  With a sigh, Anna tossed the mail and newspaper on the small table in the dining room and opened a can of cat food, setting it down near the water dish. She sat down at the table and closed her eyes. She was ready to go to her own apartment, one floor up, but she had to wait for the cat to eat. If she just left him there, she'd come back in the morning to a can of untouched food. Hate her he might, but Mouser wouldn't eat unless there was someone with him—even if it was a werewolf he didn't trust.

  Usually she turned on the TV and watched whatever happened to be on, but tonight she Was too tired to make the effort, so she unfolded the newspaper to see what had happened since the last time she'd picked one up a couple of months ago.

  She skimmed through the headline articles on the front page without interest. Still complaining, Mouser emerged and stalked resentfully into the kitchen.

  She turned the page so Mouser would know that she was really reading it—and drew in a sharp breath at the picture of a young man. It was a head shot, obviously a school picture, and next to it was a similar shot of a girl of the same age. The headline read: "Blood Found at Crime Scene Belongs to Missing Naperville Teen."

  Feeling a little frantic, she read the article's review of the crime for those, like her, who had missed the initial reports.

  Two months ago, Alan MacKenzie Frazier had disappeared from a high school dance the same night his date's body had been found on the school grounds. Cause of death was difficult to determine as the dead girl's body had been mauled by animals—there had been a pack of strays troubling the neighborhood for the past few months. Authorities had been uncertain whether the missing boy was a suspect or not. Finding his blood led them to suspect he was another victim.

  Anna touched Alan Frazier's smiling face with trembling fingers. She knew. She knew.

  She jumped up from the table, ignoring Mouser's unhappy yowl, and ran cold water from the kitchen sink over her wrists, trying to keep nausea at bay.That poor boy .

  It took another hour for Mouser to finish his food. By that time Anna had the article memorized—and had come to a decision. Truthfully, she'd known as soon as she read the paper, but it had taken her the full hour to work up the courage to act upon it: if she'd learned anything in her three years as a werewolf, it was that you didn't want to do anything that might attract one of the dominant wolves' attention. Calling the Marrok, who ruled all the wolves in North America, would certainly attract his attention.

  She didn't have a phone in her apartment, so she borrowed Kara's. She waited for her hands and her breathing to steady, but when that didn't seem to be happening, she dialed the number on the battered piece of paper anyway.

  Three rings—and she realized that one o'clock in Chicago would be considerably different in Montana, where the area code indicated she was dialing. Was it a two-hour difference or three? Earlier or later? She hastily hung up the phone.

  What was she going to tell him, anyway? That she'd seen the boy, obviously the victim of a werewolf attack, weeks after his disappearance, in a cage in her Alpha's house? That she thought the Alpha had ordered the attack?

  All Leo had to do was tell the Marrok that he'd come upon the kid later—that he hadn't sanctioned it. Maybe that was how it happened. Maybe she was projecting from her own experience.

  She didn't even know if the Marrok would object to the attack. Maybe werewolves were allowed to attack whomever they pleased. That's what had happened to her.

  She turned away from the phone and saw the boy's face looking out at her from the open newspaper. She looked at him a moment more and then dialed the number again—surely the Marrok would at least object to the publicity it had attracted. This time her call was answered on the first ring.

  "This is Bran."

  He didn't sound threatening.

  "My name is Anna," she said, wishing her voice wouldn't quiver. There was a time, she thought a little bitterly, when she hadn't been afraid of her own shadow. Who'd have thought that turning into a werewolf would turn her into a coward? But now she knew the monsters were real.

  Angry with herself she might have been, but she couldn't force another word out of her throat. If Leo knew she called the Marrok, she might as well shoot herself with that silver bullet she'd bought a few months ago and save him some trouble.

  "You are calling from Chicago, Anna?" It startled her for a moment, but then she realized he must have caller ID on his phone. He didn't sound angry that she'd disturbed him—and that wasn't like any dominant she'd ever met. Maybe he was a secretary or something. That made better sense. The Marrok's personal number wouldn't be something that would be passed around.

  The hope that she wasn't actually talking to the Marrok helped steady her. Even Leo was afraid of the Marrok. She didn't bother to answer his question—he already knew the answer. "I called to talk to the Marrok, but maybe you could help me."

  There was a pause, then Bran said, a little regretfully, "I am the Marrok, child."

  Panic set in again, but before she could excuse herself and hang up, he said soothingly, "It's all right, Anna. You've done nothing wrong. Tell me why you called."

/>   She sucked in a deep breath, conscious that this was her last chance to ignore what she'd seen and protect herself.

  Instead she explained about the newspaper article—and that she'd seen the missing boy in Leo's house, in one of the cages he kept for new wolves.

  "I see," murmured the wolf at the other end of the phone line.

  "I couldn't prove that anything was wrong until I saw the newspaper," she told him.

  "Does Leo know you saw the boy?"

  "Yes." There were two Alphas in the Chicago area. Briefly she wondered how he'd known which one she was talking about.

  "How did he react?"

  Anna swallowed hard, trying to forget what had happened afterward. Once Leo's mate had intervened, the Alpha had mostly quit passing her around to the other wolves at his whim, but that night Leo had felt that Justin deserved a reward. She didn't have to tell the Marrok that, surely?

  He saved her the humiliation by clarifying his question. "Was he angry that you had seen the boy?"

  "No. He was… happy with the man who'd brought him in." There had still been blood on Justin's face and he stank with the excitement of the hunt.

  Leo had been happy when Justin had first brought Anna to him, too. It had been Justin who had been angry—he hadn't realized she'd be a submissive wolf. Submissive meant that Anna's place was at the very bottom of the pack. Justin had quickly decided he made a mistake when he Changed her. She thought he had, too.

  "I see."

  For some reason she had the strange feeling that he did.

  "Where are you now, Anna?"

  "At a friend's house."

  "Another werewolf?"

  "No." Then realizing he might think she'd told someone about what she was—something that was strictly forbidden—she hurried to explain. "I don't have a phone at my place. My neighbor is gone and I'm taking care of her cat. I used her phone."

  "I see," he said. "I want you to stay away from Leo and your pack for right now—it might not be safe for you if someone figures out you called me."

  That was an understatement. "All right."

  "As it happens," the Marrok said, "I have recently been made aware of problems in Chicago."

  The realization that she had risked everything unnecessarily made his next few words pass by her unheard.

  "—I would normally have contacted the nearest pack. However, if Leo is murdering people, I don't see how the other Chicago Alpha wouldn't be aware of it. Since Jaimie hasn't contacted me, I have to assume that both Alphas are involved to one degree or another."

  "It's not Leo who's making the werewolves," she told him. "It's Justin, his second."

  "The Alpha is responsible for the actions of his pack," replied the Marrok coolly. "I've sent out an… investigator. As it happens he is flying into Chicago tonight. I'd like you to meet him."

  Which was how Anna ended up naked between a couple of parked cars in the middle of the night at O'Hare International Airport. She didn't have a car or money for a taxi, but, as the crow flies, the airport was only about five miles from her apartment. It was after midnight and her wolf form was black as pitch and smallish as far as werewolves were concerned. The chances of someone seeing her and thinking she was anything but a stray dog were slight.

  It had gotten colder, and she shivered as she pulled on the T-shirt she'd brought. There hadn't been room in her small pack for her coat once she'd stuffed it with shoes, jeans, and a top—all of which were more necessary.

  She hadn't ever actually been to O'Hare before, and it took her a while to find the right terminal. By the time she got there,he was already waiting for her.

  Only after she'd hung up the phone had she realized that the Marrok had given her no description of his investigator. She'd fretted all the way to the airport about it, but she needn't have. There was no mistaking him. Even in the busy terminal, people stopped to look at him, before furtively looking away.

  Native Americans, while fairly rare in Chicago, weren't so unheard of as to cause all the attention he was gathering. None of the humans walking past him would probably have been able to explain exactly why they had to look—but Anna knew. It was something common to very dominant wolves. Leo had it, too—but not to this extent.

  He was tall, taller even than Leo, and he wore his black, black hair in a thick braid that swung below his bead-and-leather belt. His jeans were dark and new-looking, a contrast to his battered cowboy boots. He turned his head a little and the lights caught a gleam from the gold studs he wore in his ears. Somehow he didn't look like the kind of man who would pierce his ears.

  The features under the youth-taut, teak-colored skin were broad and flat and carried an expression that was oppressive in its very blankness. His black eyes traveled slowly over the bustling crowd, looking for something. They stopped on her for a moment, and the impact made her catch her breath. Then his gaze drifted on.

  CHARLES hated flying. He especially hated flying when someone else was piloting. He'd flown himself to Salt Lake, but landing his small jet in Chicago could have alerted his quarry—and he preferred to take Leo by surprise. Besides, after they'd closed Meigs Field, he'd quit flying himself into Chicago. There was too much traffic at O'Hare and Midway.

  He hated big cities. There were so many smells that they clogged his nose, so much noise that he caught bits of a hundred different conversations without trying—but could miss entirely the sound of someone sneaking up behind him. Someone had bumped by him on the walkway as he left the plane, and he had to work to keep from bumping back, harder. Flying into O'Hare in the middle of the night had at least avoided the largest crowds, but there were still too many people around for his comfort.

  He hated cell phones, too. When he'd turned his on after the plane had landed, a message from his father was waiting. Now instead of going to the car rental desk and then to his hotel, he was going to have to locate some woman and stay with her so that Leo or his other wolves didn't kill her. All he had was a first name—Bran hadn't seen fit to give him a description of her.

  He stopped outside the security gates and let his gaze drift where it would, hoping instincts would find the woman. He could smell another werewolf, but the ventilation in the airport defeated his ability to pinpoint the scent. His gaze caught first on a young girl with an Irish-pale complexion, whiskey-colored curly hair, and the defeated look of someone who was beaten on a regular basis. She looked tired, cold, and far too thin. It made him angry to see it, and he was already too angry to be safe, so he forced his gaze away.

  There was a woman dressed in a business suit that echoed the warm chocolate of her skin. She didn't look quite like an Anna, but she carried herself in such a way that he could see her defying her Alpha to call the Marrok. She was obviously looking for someone. He almost started forward, but then her face changed as she found the person she was looking for—and it was not him.

  He started a second sweep of the airport when a small, hesitant voice from just to his left said, "Sir, have you just come from Montana?"

  It was the whiskey-haired girl. She must have approached him while he'd been looking elsewhere—something she wouldn't have been able to do if he weren't standing in the middle of a freaking airport.

  At least he didn't have to look for his father's contact anymore. With her this close, not even the artificial air currents could hide that she was a werewolf. But it wasn't his nose alone that told him that she was something far rarer.

  At first he thought she was submissive. Most werewolves were more or less dominant. Gentler-natured people weren't usually cussed enough to survive the brutal transformation from human to werewolf. Which meant that submissive werewolves were few and far between.

  Then he realized that the sudden change in his anger and the irrational desire to protect her from the crowds streaming past were indications of something else. She wasn't a submissive either, though many might mistake her for that: She was an Omega.

  Right then he knew that whatever else he did in Chicago,
he was going to kill whoever had given her that braised look.

  UP close he was even more impressive; she could feel his energy licking lightly over her like a snake tasting its prey. Anna kept her gaze fully on the floor, waiting for his answer.

  "I am Charles Cornick," he said. "The Marrok's son. You must be Anna."

  She nodded.

  "Did you drive here or catch a cab?"

  "I don't have a car," she said.

  He growled something she didn't quite catch. "Can you drive?"

  She nodded. "Good."

  SHE drove well, if a little overcautiously—which trait he didn't mind at all, though it didn't stop him from bracing one hand against the dash of the rental. She hadn't said anything when he told her to drive them to her apartment, though he hadn't missed the dismay she felt.

  He could have told her that his father had instructed him to keep her alive if he could—and to do that he had to stick close. He didn't want to scare her any more than she already was. He could have told her that he had no intention of bedding her, but he tried not to lie. Not even to himself. So he stayed silent.

  As she drove them down the expressway in the rented SUV, his wolf-brother had gone from the killing rage caused by the crowded airplane to a relaxed contentment Charles had never felt before. The two other Omega wolves he'd met in his long lifetime had done something similar to him, but not to this extent.

  This must be what it was like to be fully human.

  The anger and the hunter's wariness that his wolf always held was only a faint memory, leaving behind only the determination to take this one to mate—Charles had never felt anything like that either.

  She was pretty enough, though he'd like to feed her up and soften the stiff wariness in her shoulders. The wolf wanted to bed her and claim her as his own. Being of a more cautious nature than his wolf, he would wait until he knew her a little better before deciding to court her.

 
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