"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.

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