"I'll see that she does," Charles told her, the small smile still on his face.
Kara reached way up and patted his cheek in a motherly gesture. "Thank you." She gave Anna a quick hug and pulled an envelope out of her pocket and set it on the table next to the bagels. "You take this for watching the cat so I don't have to take him to the kennels with all those dogs he hates and pay them four times this amount. I find it in my cookie jar again, and I'll take him to the kennels just for spite because it will make you feel guilty."
Then she was gone.
Anna waited until the sound of her footsteps reached the next landing, then said, "How did you change so fast?"
"Do you want garlic or blueberry?" Charles asked, opening the bag.
When she didn't answer his question, he put both hands on the table and sighed. "You mean you haven't heard the story of the Marrok and his Indian maiden?" She couldn't read his voice and his face was tilted away from her so she couldn't read that either.
"No," she said.
He gave a short laugh, though she didn't think there was any humor behind it. "My mother was beautiful, and it saved her life. She'd been out gathering herbs and surprised a moose. It ran over her and she was dying from it when my father, attracted by the noise, came upon her. He saved my mother's life by turning her into a werewolf."
He took out the bagels and set them on the table with napkins. He sat down and waved her to the other seat. "Start eating and I'll tell you the rest of the story."
He'd given her the blueberry one. She sat opposite him and took a bite.
He gave a satisfied nod and then continued. "It was one of those love at first sight things on both their parts, apparently. Must have been looks, because neither one of them could speak the other's language at first. All was well until she became pregnant. My mother's father was a person of magic and he helped her when she told him that she needed to stay human until I was born. So every month, when my father and brother hunted under the moon she stayed human. And every moon she grew weaker and weaker. My father argued with her and with her father, worried that she was killing herself."
"Why did she do that?" Anna asked.
Charles frowned at her. "How long have you been a werewolf?"
"Three years last August."
"Werewolf women can't have children," he said. "The change is too hard on the fetus. They miscarry in the third or fourth month."
Anna stared at him. No one had ever told her that.
"Are you all right?"
She didn't know how to answer him. She hadn't exactly been planning on having children - especially as weird as her life had been for the last few years. She just hadn't planned on not having children either.
"This should have been explained to you before you chose to Change," he said.
It was her turn to laugh. "No one explained anything. No, it's all right. Please tell me the rest of your story."
He watched her for a long moment, then gave her an oddly solemn nod. "Despite my father's protests, she held out until my birth. Weakened by the magic of fighting the moon's call, she did not survive it. I was born a werewolf, not Changed as all the rest are. It gives me a few extra abilities - like being able to change fast."
"That would be nice," she said with feeling.
"It still hurts," he added.
She played with a piece of bagel. "Are you going to look for the missing boy?"
His mouth tightened. "No. We know where Alan Frazier is."
Something in his voice told her. "He's dead?"
He nodded. "There are some good people looking into his death, they'll find out who is responsible. He was Changed without his consent, the girl who was with him was killed. Then he was sold to be used as a laboratory guinea pig. The person responsible will pay for their crimes."
She started to ask him something more, but the door to her apartment flew open and hit the wall behind it, leaving Justin standing in the open doorway.
She'd been so intent on Charles, she hadn't heard Justin coming up the stairs. She'd forgotten to lock her door after Kara left. Not that it would have done her much good. Justin had a key to her apartment.
She couldn't help her flinch as he strode through the door as if he owned the place. "Payday," he said. "You owe me a check." He looked at Charles. "Time for you to go. The lady and I have some business."
Anna couldn't believe that even Justin would take that tone with Charles. She looked at him to gauge his reaction and saw why Justin had put his foot in it.
Charles was fussing with his plate, his eyes on his hands. All his awesome force of personality was bottled up and stuffed somewhere it didn't show.
"I don't think I'd better go," he murmured, still looking down. "She might need my help."
Justin's lip curled. "Where'd you pick this one up, bitch? Wait until I let Leo know you've found a stray and haven't told him about it." He crossed the room and took a handful of her hair. He used it to force her to her feet and up against the wall, shoving her with a hip in a gesture that was both sexual and violent. He leaned his face into hers. "Just you wait. Maybe he'll decide to let me punish you again. I'd like that."
She remembered the last time he'd been allowed to punish her and couldn't suppress her reaction. He enjoyed her panic and was pressed close enough that she could feel it.
"I don't think that she's the one who is going to be punished," Charles said, his voice still soft. But something in Anna loosened. He wouldn't let Justin hurt her.
She couldn't have said why she knew that - she'd certainly found out that just because a wolf wouldn't hurt her didn't mean he wouldn't stop anyone else from hurting her.
"I didn't tell you to talk," Justin snarled, his head snapping away from her so he could glare at the other man. "I'll deal with you when I'm finished."
The legs of Charles's chair made a rough sound on the floor as he stood. Anna could hear him dust off his hands lightly.
"I think you are finished here," he said in a completely different voice. "Let her go."
She felt the power of those words go through her bones and warm her stomach, which had been chill with fear. Justin liked to hurt her even more than he desired her unwilling body. She'd fought him until she realized that pleased him even more. She'd learned quickly that there was no way for her to win a struggle between them. He was stronger and faster, and the only time she'd broken away from him, the rest of the pack had held her for him.