Alpha and Omega

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 even her 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."

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