DedicationTo the lovely people who've made the journey with the Arabian horses so much fun: Brenda, who was there at the beginning;terrific travel companions Ed and Adrana; Alice, Bill, and Joan of Rieckman's Arabians, who made the trek before I did and tendered useful advice along the way; Dolly, Doug, and Peggy at Orrion Farms, who provided a jump start and guidance; Deb,Kim, and Portia at Hight Country Training for turning my ponies into good citizens; Robert and Dixie North, who love thehorses as much as I do; and Nahero, my big Arabian gelding, who has been my companion these twenty-eight years. But mostlyto my very patient husband, who is particularly gifted at making dreams come true.
The fae lord stalked back and forth in his cell of gray stone. Three steps,turn, four steps, turn, three steps. He could do it all day. Had, in fact,done it for two weeks.
His boots were soft and he made no sound as he paced. Sounddistracted him unduly from his purpose—which was to bore himselfto the point where he no longer thought about anything.
His clothes, like his boots, were practical, but still representativeof his position as High Court Lord—though he no longer rememberedmuch about that part of his life. Still, his long red hair was confinedin a complicated series of braids that trailed the floor behind him, acourt fashion of at least a millennium ago. Doubtless if there were stillcourts, still High Courts, he would be considered out of fashionentirely.
He'd worn High Court dress for the first week he was here, butthere was no one to impress, so he'd left them off and exchanged themfor the more comfortable clothing. He could have put on jeans, hesupposed, but he was losing that long-ago lord a day at a time, and theclothes served as a reminder of what he had once been—though some days, some years, he could not remember why it was that rememberingwhat he had once been was so important.
There was a knock on his door, and he hissed in irritation becausehe'd nearly succeeded in numbing himself to the imprisonment.Immortality was a curse because no matter how powerful you were,there was always someone more powerful. Someone to obey. Someonewho stole what was yours and left you with the dregs of what you oncehad. Then they took that, too, and here he was in this prison while hisgut ached with need and his body missed magic like meat missed salt.Without magic, he had no savor.
The knock sounded again. He'd pissed off whoever it was becausehis whole prison shook with a noise that hurt his ears and his heart.Wonderful. One of the Powers had come to call upon him. He almostdidn't answer—what more could they do to him than they had alreadydone?
He stopped in the middle of the room, because, of course, therewas always something worse they could do. It didn't do any good tospeculate upon what. He said, “Come in then.”
The woman who stepped in was neat and small. She almost stirredthat beast inside him. But then she spoke and the illusion was gone.
She was the spiritual archetype of the evil queen in the fairy tales,partially because she'd participated in quite a few of the actual eventsthat had spawned the tales. She adored causing misery and pain to theshort-lived humans. All those centuries of power lived in her voice,even if she liked to hold the appearance of a child.
“Underhill will become anything for you,” she said, her lip curlingas she looked around his current home, “and you chose a prison.”
He straightened warily. “Yes, lady.”
She shook her head. “And they want you?”
She didn't say who “they” were, or what they wanted him for. Hedidn't ask because he still had some sense of self-preservation.
She walked around the small room. “They say you have imagination.”She folded her arms as she walked, twisting her torso first so as tosee the ceiling stones and then turning until she got the proper angleto see the subtle bend in the wall that made his hiding place less noticeable.She loosened the granite block, the only one without mortar.“They say you know how to hide from humans, from fae, from othercreatures who might hunt you because your glamour is so very good.”
He wanted to stop her, to keep her from finding his treasure. Hewanted to destroy her. But they had taken away his power and he wasleft with nothing. But that was vanity speaking; he knew that even ifhe'd had his power, it would have done him no good against one of theGray Lords.
He watched as she pulled out the block and found the cubby it hid.She took out the doll he kept there and straightened the pretty yellowskirts, her fingers lingering on the faded tear stains.
A child cries with her whole heart, keeping nothing back. A childlives in the present, and that gives her pain an endless quality. Magic-shornas he was, he could taste the power of those tear stains fromhere.
She put the doll back and replaced the block thoughtfully. Thenshe looked at him. “They tell me you were a skilled magician, subtleand powerful. Once the flower of a powerful High Court—laterthe bane of it, the first dark root of destruction. Able to hide from the besttrackers.”
“I don't know who they are or what they say,” he told her truthfully,trying to hide his temper.
She smiled. “But you don't argue with the sentiment.” She walkedtoward him and touched his face with her left hand.
His glamour fell away, the illusion that truly represented the lordhe had once been. But as his magic had twisted and fouled, so had histrue form twisted and fouled over the years. He waited for her to recoil;he was not good to look upon, but she smiled. “I have a gift for you. Agift and a task.”
“What task is that?” he asked warily.
“Don't worry,” she said, putting her right hand on the side of hisneck. “You'll enjoy the job, I promise.”
And his magic came back to him, flooding his body like the heatof the dead. He screamed, dropped to the floor, and writhed as thebeautiful agony enveloped him.
She bent down and whispered in his ear. “But there are rules.”
“Okay,” said Charles Cornick, younger son of the Marrok who ruledthe werewolves in North America and also, Anna had come to believe,the rest of the world. De facto if not officially. If Bran Cornick said,“Sit up and go there,” there was not a werewolf in the world, Alpha ornot, who wouldn't obey.
Charles had inherited a lot of the dirty work that allowed his fatherto keep their people, their werewolves, safe. The fallout when a goodman was forced to commit heinous and necessary acts was thatCharles's emotions could be mysterious even to himself.
For instance, he'd just said “Okay” when Anna could tell he wasanything but okay with the topic at hand. She knew that from the wayher husband got up abruptly from the stool where he'd been playingand put his battered old guitar up on the wall hook. Restless, he wanderedacross the hardwood floor to the big window and looked out atthe February snow falling down. There was a lot of it: it was winter inthe mountains of Montana.
If he had been a little less self-disciplined,she was pretty sure hewould have hunched his shoulders.
“You said I should look into it,” Anna told him, feeling her way.She knew Charles better than anyone, and still he was sometimesimpossible to read, this wonderful and complex man of hers. “So I did,starting with your brother. Samuel tells me he's been working on theproblem of werewolf babies for a long time, though not quite from ourangle. Children apparently were something of an obsession of hisbefore he found Ariana again. Did you know that werewolf DNA isjust like human DNA? You can't tell the difference unless the sampleis taken when we are in our werewolf form—thenit's different.”
“I did, yes,” said Charles, apparently happy to talk about something,anything else. “Samuel told me when he figured it out a couple ofdecades ago. Not the first time having a doctor in the family has beenuseful. I think that a human scientist published that data last monthin an obscure journal; doubtless it'll make the newspapers sooner orlater.”
The alternative subject allowed him to relax enough to give her awry smile over his shoulder before looking back out at the snow. “Myda was overjoyed. Because of that, there is no way to use a blood testto see if someone is a werewolf or not—unless you're testing the actualwolf, in which case the point is moot. I'm not sure he'd have everbrought us out into the open if it were so easy to identify us.”
“Okay,” Anna nodded. “It's a good thing. Mostly. Except that there'sno way to tell if an embryo is human, genetically, or werewolf, if wewant to go with a surrogate.”
“A surrogate,” he said.
She had hopes for the surrogate card. Charles's mother had diedgiving birth to him. She knew that part of his objection, maybe hiswhole objection to having children, was the risk to her.“If I can't carry a baby to term because I have to change every fullmoon, then a surrogate is the obvious option. No one has done itbefore—so far as we know, anyway.”
He didn't say anything, so she continued, laying out the issues forhim. “Because there's apparently no way to tell which embryo is werewolf,human, or some combination of the two, there's still a goodchance of spontaneous abortion, the same problem human mates ofwerewolves have. And then there's the issue of what happens to ahuman woman who carries a werewolf baby for nine months. Will shebecome a werewolf? Samuel said we ought to consider a surrogate whowants to be a werewolf. That would eliminate the risk of catching . . .um . . . being infected . . .”
He said, very dryly, “Feeling diseased, Anna?”
No. But she wasn't going to let him distract her.
“It would eliminate problems if such a pregnancy does make herChange, if our child is a werewolf instead of human,” she said withdignity. This wasn't going at all well. “We don't know if carrying awerewolf baby and giving birth would infect the mother—or if so,when. No one but your mother has ever carried a werewolf baby toterm. If the surrogate wanted to Change in the first place, that wouldeliminate one part of that problem. The other being if the surrogate isChanged before the baby is viable.”
His back was now all the way toward her. “It sounds like we areoffering a bribe. Carry our baby and we'll let you Change. With theimplied corollary—whatever we say or deny—that if you don't carryour baby we won't allow you to Change. And there is also the truththat most people die during the Change, and fewer women survivethan men.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “It sounds ugly when you put it like that. Butthere are a lot of surrogate births every year—and normal pregnancyis a life-and-death risk, too. If the surrogate goes into it knowing whatmight happen, and she's still willing to make that deal in exchange formoney and/or the chance to be Changed, I don't have a problem. It'sstill a risk, but it is an honest risk.”
“So we can risk someone else for this, can we?” he said, the hint ofa savage growl in his voice. “Because they know as much as we knowabout what might happen to them, which is that we really don't knowwhat will happen.”
She opened her mouth to tell him about the things in the thick fileSamuel had sent her, but she reconsidered. Maybe if she went at theproblem from a different direction she'd get better results.
“Alternatively,” she said, “because science is having trouble withmagic, I thought maybe someone who dealt with magic would havesome ideas. I called Moira—”
He turned back to her, and some chance of light brought out thebones of his face and outlined his shoulders. He was so beautiful toher. His Salish heritage gave him bronze skin and rich, almost-blackhair and eyes. Hard work and running as a wolf gave him the musclesthat defined the contours of his warm skin. But it was the core ofintegrity and . . . Charlesness that really made her heart beat faster, thatswamped her with knee-weakening desire.
Not just lust—though who wouldn't lust after Charles? She savoredthe whole of him and thought again,Who wouldn't lust after Charles?But she was consumed with the desire to claim him, to wrap herselfin his essence.
Charles allowed her to understand the line in the marriage vowsabout “these two shall become one.” That sentence had annoyed herimmensely when she was nine or ten. Why should she give up who shewas for some dumb boy? She'd taken her objections to her father, whohad finally said, “When and if 'some dumb boy' loses his mind andagrees to marry you, then doubtless he'll also be happy to take thatphrase out.”
Anna had taken out the “obey” part when they married. She didn'twant to lie. Listen to, yes—obey, no. She'd had enough of obeying forten lifetimes. She had, however, left in the part about “one flesh.”
With Charles she didn't lose herself, she gained Charles. They werea united front against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”He was her warm safe place in the storm of the world, and she . . . shethought that she was his home.
She wanted his children.
“Absolutely not,” he said, and for a moment she thought he wasreading her mind because she had lost track of the conversation. Butthen he said, “No witchcraft.”
She wasn't stupid. He was throwing out any obstacle he could find.She would have backed off except for the deep belief, born of the matingbond they shared, that he wanted a child even more than she did.
“Don't fret,” she told him. “I won't do it the way your mother did.”Unless there are no other options. “I actually thought that Moira mighthave some insights for Samuel. I thought it only fair to call and warnher that I've sent him after her . . . he sounded quite intense about thewhole thing.”
He raised his head like a panicked horse. “Ah. I misunderstood.Good.”
Charles liked children. She knew he liked children. Why did hepanic over the thought of their child? She considered asking him. Butshe'd tried variants of that; he'd given her a series of answers that weretrue as far as they went. She was pretty sure that he didn't know thereal answer. So it would be up to her to figure it out.
Once she figured it out she would be able to see if there was a wayaround it. The panic she could work around—and if he honestly didn'twant children, well, she'd deal with that, too. But it was the sadnessthat lingered behind the panic, the sadness and longing her wolf knewwas there, that made her dig in and fight. Anna style.
“Okay,” she said brightly. She who fights and runs away, lives to fightanother day. “I just thought I'd give you an update.” She picked up herbundle of information and tucked it under her arm.
She walked over to the window and looked at the falling snow thathad frosted the deep green trees and coated the not-so-distant mountains,making the world seem clean and new. Also cold.
“Have you decided what you're getting me for my birthday yet?”she asked.
He liked giving presents. Sometimes it was a flower he'd picked forher—other times expensive jewelry. He'd gradually learned that reallyexpensive gifts, which he liked best, freaked her out. He now left thosefor important occasions.
He put his arm around her, his body relaxed against her. “Not yet.But I expect I'll figure something out.”
Charles couldn't keep his mind on the numbers, so he closeddown his computer. Money was power, and in the long run it couldkeep his people safer than his fangs and claws. Finances were somethinghe never messed with unless he could pay attention.
His gaze fell on the yellow sticky he'd put on the top of his monitor—Anna's birthday, her twenty-sixth.He needed to find her a present. His preference was for jewelry—which,as his da pointed out, was sort ofmarking his territory for the other males in the vicinity.
My mate, the ring on her finger told them. And when she venturedto wear any of the necklaces and earrings he'd gotten her, they said,And I can provide for her better than you. After his da made him awareof the reason for his need to bedeck Anna in jewels, he'd begun to workon presents that she did want.
Anna wanted children.
He stared at the bright-coloredPost-it note.
His phone rang and he picked it up absently—until he heard thevoice on the other end.
“Hey, Charles,” said Joseph Sani, once the best friend he had in theworld. “I was thinking of you today. You and your new bride.”
“Not so new,” Charles said, not fighting the happiness rising up.Joseph affected everyone that way. “It's been three years—a few monthsmore than that. How are you?”
“Three years and I haven't met her yet,” Joseph said, his tone asking,Why not?
Years slipping away without notice, Charles thought.And the lasttime I saw you, you were an old man. I don't want you to be old. It makesmy heart hurt.
“I couldn't come to your wedding,” Joseph was saying, “but youdidn't make mine, either. We're even.”
“I didn't know about yours,” Charles told him dryly.
“You didn't have an address or a telephone that I knew about,”Joseph said. “You were a hard man to find. I admit you sent me aninvitation to yours, but it was through Maggie—and I didn't get it untilthe day before.”
Yes, he'd rather thought that Maggie wouldn't pass it on. “I'm surprisedyou got it before the wedding at all,” he said, acknowledging hisown culpability. “But we didn't send out invitations through the mail.Just called. I tried three times and got Maggie twice. The second timeI just left the message.”
Joseph laughed, and then coughed.
“That's quite a cough,” Charles said, concerned.
“I'm fine,” Joseph said lightly. “I want to meet your wife, so I cansee if she's good enough for you. Why don't you bring her up?”
Charles worked the numbers in his head. He'd met Joseph whenhe'd been twelve or thereabout, back shortly after World War II. Josephwas in his eighties. The last time he'd seen him face-to-face he'd beenin his sixties. Twenty years, he thought in dawning horror. Had hebeen so much a coward?
“Okay,” he said decisively. “We'll come up.” His eyes caught on thePost-it note again, and that gave him an idea. “Are you and Hosteenstill breeding horses?”
Three Days Later
Chelsea Sani parked her car, pulled off her sunglasses, and got out. Shepatted the oversized sign that declared that Sunshine Fun Day Carewas a place where children were happy as she passed it. The fenced-offplay areas on either side of the sidewalk were empty of children, butas soon as she pulled the heavy door of the day care open, the cheerfulblast of kid noise brought a smile to her face.
There were day cares closer to her house, but this one was cleanand organized and they kept the kids busy. With her kids, it was alwaysbest to keep them busy.
Michael saw her as she peeked into his class of fellow four-year-oldsand hooted as he dropped the toy he was playing with and double-timedit to her. She scooped him up in her arms, knowing that the timewas soon coming when he wouldn't let her do it anymore. She blewagainst his neck, and he giggled and wriggled down to run to the wallof coat hooks where his backpack was.
The teacher in charge waved at her but didn't come over to chat asshe did sometimes. Her assistant helped Michael with his backpack,grinned at him, and then was distracted by a little girl in a pink dress.
Michael held her hand and danced to music he heard in his head.“First we go to pick up Mackie and then we go home,” he told her.
“That's right,” she agreed as they walked down the hall. She openedthe door to Mackie's classroom and found her sitting on the time-outchair with her arms folded and a familiar stubborn expression—a lookthat Chelsea had seen on her husband's face more than a time or two.
“Hey, pumpkin,” she said, holding out her free hand to give herdaughter permission to get up. “Bad day?”
Mackie considered her words without leaving the chair and thennodded solemnly. The new teacher, who was maybe twenty, hurriedover, leaving the rest of the kids with her assistant.
“Sharing time didn't go well,” she said, a little grimly. “We had tohave a talk with Mackie about being kind to others. I'm not sure ittook.”
“I told you. She isn't hozho,” said Mackie stubbornly. “It's not safeto be near someone who isn't hozho.”
“And she is old enough to speak clearly,” continued the teacher,whose name Chelsea couldn't remember.
“She is speaking clearly,” piped up Michael, always ready to defendhis sister.
“Hozho is a Navajo word,” Chelsea explained as Mackie slid off thechair, finally, and took her mom's hand in a fierce grip.Ally amidstenemies, that grip said, which meant that Mackie didn't think she haddone something wrong. She never looked for help from her mom whenshe'd misbehaved. “Their dad or grandfather teaches them a little nowand then. Hozho is”—complicated and simple, but hard to explain—“what life should be.”
“Happy,” said Michael, trying to be helpful. “Hozho is like picnicsand swing sets. Happy little trees.” He twirled around in her handwithout losing his hold and half danced as he chanted. “Happy littlebreeze.”
“Navajo?” asked the teacher, sounding surprised.
“Yes,” Chelsea gave the teacher a sharp smile. No one could lookat Chelsea, whose ancestors had sailed on dragon-headedships, and think that she was responsible for her children's warm-tintedskin and eyes dark as a stormy night.If you make my children, make any child,feel bad for who they are, I will teach you why people fear mama grizzliesmore than papa grizzlies. I will teach you that if a child parented byMartians comes into this room, they should still be safe.
“That's so cool,” said the teacher, unaware of her danger. “We'replanning on studying Native Americans in a couple of weeks. Do youthink their father or someone you know who is Navajo might be willingto come in and speak to the kids?”
The wind pulled out of her defend-her-children-to-the-deathsails by the new teacher's enthusiasm, Chelsea silenced her inner Vikingand said, “If you wait to ask him until the end of the month. His familyraises horses and there's the big show coming up. The whole familywill be at sixes and sevens until it's over.”
A little girl caught her eye. The child was standing in the middleof the room, oddly alone in the chaos of excitement caused by thebeginning of the arrival of the parents.
After picking her kids up every day, Chelsea knew the faces of mostof the children in their classes. She'd seen this one before, too. Thisgirl and Mackie had built clay flowers together and given them toChelsea and the other girl's mother for Christmas a couple of monthsago. Both girls had been giggling like triumphant hyenas as they'dtried to explain how they made the flowers. She was named for a gemstone.Not Ruby or Diamond . . . Amethyst. That was it.
Today, though, Amethyst was watching Mackie intently, and therewas no sign of the giggling child she'd been. As the teacher talkedabout her own childhood pony with enthusiasm, the little girl shiftedher gaze from Mackie to Chelsea. Green-gray eyes met Chelsea's eyesbriefly and then the girl turned away.
“I ride a little,” said Chelsea, half-distracted.“But I don't usually show the horses. My husband does, and he has a couple of assistants,too.”
“Cool,” said the teacher. “I'll remember to ask about getting yourhusband to come in after the show is over.” She looked at Mackie. “Bye,sweetie. We're going to build pinwheels tomorrow, I think you'll like it.”
Mackie considered her solemnly, then nodded like a queen. “Allright, Miss Baird. I will see you tomorrow.” The teacher, it seemed, wasprovisionally forgiven.
Mackie was strong in her likes and dislikes. She liked Ms. Newman,who'd been her teacher last year and was Michael's this year. She didnot like the principal, the janitor, or Eric, one of her much older brotherMax's friends. Eric had quit coming over because Mackie had madehim so uncomfortable. Eric seemed like a perfectly nice boy to Chelsea,and she had deep reservations about Ms. Newman.
Mackie tugged on her mother's hand and led the way out of theday care. While Chelsea seat-belted Michael, Mackie belted herself in.Mackie had been belting herself in ever since her hands could workthe buckles.
“Independent” was an understatement, Chelsea thought ruefully.Mackie got that from her mother as well as the managing nature. Bothserved Chelsea quite well in the business sector but would probablyensure that this wouldn't be the only time the new teacher was goingto have trouble with Mackie.
Speaking of which . . . “What happened?” Chelsea asked her daughter.She rubbed her temples because she was starting to get a headache.“Why did the teacher put you in time-out?”
Mackie looked at her with a contemplative expression.
To her dad, Mackie would tell the complete, honest truth if he asked.But he seldom did, being more interested in her handling of the situationrather than the particulars of the incident. Had she done the rightthing? Could she have chosen a different path that would have led to abetter result? Those were the things that were important to Kage.
Chelsea, on the other hand, would be given what Mackie thoughther mom needed to hear. Not because Mackie was trying to avoid gettinginto trouble, but because, Chelsea firmly believed, Mackie madea huge effort to spare her mom any burden of pain or sorrow.
Mackie worried her mother. Both of her boys, Max and Michael,were joyous, healthy spirits. Mackie was born solemn and watchful, ahundred-year-old soul in a barely five-year-oldbody. She had moments of lightheartedness, but her usual state was wary. Kage said his daughterhad the soul of a warrior.
“The girl I was supposed to share crayons with was chindi,” saidMackie, finally, which didn't make sense. Chelsea was pretty sure, evenwith her mere bits and pieces of Navajo language, that chindi were evilspirits of the dead. “But not chindi,” added Mackie, even more obscurely.“You aren't supposed to say chindi,” said Michael direly. “ÁnáliHastiin says bad things will happen to you.”
“Okay,” Chelsea said, abruptly cranky with trying to interpret whathad happened at day care. Kage could talk to Mackie about it when hegot home.
It was February and usually there was some rain this time of year,but today the skies were blue and the sun beat down and made her eyesache along with her head. Chelsea didn't have any pain reliever in thecar, so she had to get home to find any relief. Any relief from anything.
“I think I'm going to have to talk to your grandfather about whathe is teaching you,” she said.
“Not Granddad,” said Mackie. “Ánáli Hastiin.”
Ánáli Hastiin meant grandfather. But they only used the Navajoterm for Mackie's great-grandfather, Hosteen.
“Fine,” Chelsea said. “I will have a talk with Ánáli Hastiin aboutwhat is appropriate to discuss with five-year-oldsand what is not.” She shut the back door of the car with a little more force than necessaryand started the drive home.
“So far this trip,” said Anna with wry amusement that would carryjust fine though Charles's headphones, “we've talked over current stockmarket trends and why they are good for us and bad for lots of otherpeople. We've discussed the problems with using military tactics forpolice-type problems. We've talked about the literary license used whenfilming classic fantasy novels and whether the results were enjoyableor heinous. We've agreed to disagree, even though I'm right.”
We have not discussed the topic that we really need to talk about,my love. My mother used to say that no one does stubborn like a Latham,and I will prove that to you. We have time.
So she brought up the other topic he hadn't been willing to talkabout. “Are you ready to tell me about where we're going?”
Charles smiled, just a little.
She gave a huff of amusement. “I'm just trying to decide if it's abirthday present or a job.” It would be a birthday present, she was sure.Her birthday was two weeks away, but Charles was never playful aboutwork assignments from his father.
“Okay,” Charles told her agreeably, and she gave him a mock punchon his shoulder.
“Careful, now,” he told her, waggling the wings of the airplane justa little. “We might crash if you keep hitting the pilot.”
“Hmm,” she said, not worried. When Charles did something, hedid it well. “Where are we going? Besides Arizona.” He'd already toldher Arizona, sometime between the discussion about police work andthe one about movies. “Arizona is a very big state.”
“Scottsdale,” he told her.
She frowned at him. She knew only one thing about Scottsdale.“Are we going golfing?” Her father enjoyed golfing on his infrequentvacations.
“No, we're doing the other thing Scottsdale is famous for.”
“Going to a resort and hanging out with celebrities?” she saiddoubtfully.
“We are going to find you a horse.”
“Jinx is my horse,” she said immediately.
Jinx was a mutt that was, Charles had told her, probably mostlyquarter horse. He'd acquired the aging gelding at an open auction,outbidding the meat buyer.
Anna had learned to ride on him.
“No,” Charles said gently. “Jinx is a great babysitter, but you don'tneed him anymore. He's a good horse to learn on, but he is lazy. Hedoesn't like the long rides or being asked to speed up. You need a differenthorse. I have a good home in mind for him. He'll be carryingkids around very slowly: he'll be ecstatic.”
“There aren't any horses that would suit me in Montana?”
He smiled. “I have an old friend who breeds Arabians. I talked tohim on the phone the other day and it got me thinking about yourbirthday and about how it is time for you to get a different horse toride.”
Anna sat back. An Arabian. Visions of The Black Stallion dancedacross her vision. She couldn't stop her happy little sigh.
“I like Jinx,” she said.
“I know you do,” Charles said, “and he likes you.”
“He's beautiful,” she said.
“He is,” agreed Charles. “He'll also see you saddle up another horsewith a sigh of relief and go back to sleep.”
“Arabians look like carousel horses,” Anna said, still feeling asthough she were betraying the amiable gelding who'd taught her somuch.
Charles laughed. “That's true enough. The Arabians might not suityou; they don't suit everyone. They are like cats: vain, beautiful, andintelligent. But you deal well enough with Asil, who is also vain, beautiful,and intelligent. Still, if they don't have a good match for you here,we can find a horse nearer to home that suits you.”
“Okay,” Anna said, but in her heart of hearts she was riding a blackstallion without bridle or saddle along a beach on a deserted island,and they were galloping full speed.
Charles must have heard it in her voice because he smiled.
Then a nagging thing—that she hadn't immediately pounced onbecause she'd been dazzled by the horse part of what he'd said—suddenly caught her attention. “An old friend,” he'd said. Charles didn'thave many friends. Acquaintances, yes, but not friends—and he wasvery careful in what words he chose. The people he was close to werenumbered on the fingers of one hand—Anna; his brother, Samuel; andhis da. Probably Mercy, the coyote shapeshifter who'd been raised inhis pack, would qualify. But that was it. Charles was nearly two hundredyears old and he'd collected very few people to love.
“Tell me,” she said, “about your old friend.”
For a moment his face grew still and her stomach clenched.
“Joseph Sani is the best horseman I've ever seen or heard of,”Charles said slowly. “He's a daredevil with no sense of self-preservation.”Most people would not have heard the half-despairing, admiration in Charles's voice. “The more dangerous something is, the more likely he is to throw himself in the middle of it. He sees people—all the way through them—and he likes them anyway.” Cares aboutme went unspoken, but Anna heard it just the same. This Joseph wasa man who knew her husband and loved him.
You love him, too, Anna thought. And I've never in three years heardyou mention his name.
She didn't say it out loud, but his eyes flicked to her and then away,so she thought he might have caught her thought through the matebond that sometimes startled her with its usefulness. Hard to keepsecrets from your mate, harder to stay angry when you can feel the otherperson's pain . . . and love. Their bond seemed to communicate theiremotions better than words. But it sometimes slid the words in, too.
“Yes,” he said. “Until I met you, he was my best friend. I haven'tseen him for twenty years because the last time I was there, I suddenlyrealized that he was getting old. He is human, not werewolf.” He staredout at the blue sky. “I didn't stay away on purpose, Anna. Not on purpose.But visiting him wasn't a . . . good thing anymore. I counted onhim keeping me . . . level. What you do for me now, when Da's assignmentsare bad.” He let out a shaky breath. “I don't say good-byevery easily, Anna. Not gracefully or prettily. Good-byetears your heart out and leaves it a feast for carrion birds who happen by.”
She put her hand on his thigh and left it there until the planetouched down.
Chelsea's headache redoubled on the way home, and after afew sharp interchanges the children fell silent. She craved home in away that she hadn't since she was ten years old returning from a verylong, very bad summer camp.
When she turned the car into the driveway there was no magicalsurcease from pain. She got the kids out of the car and into the house.She should have . . . done something with them, but she worried thatin her current state she might hurt their feelings . . . or worse.
She left them to their own devices while she stumbled through herbedroom to the bathroom beyond. If she could just get rid of thisheadache, she could regain her balance.
She took three painkillers when the directions told her to take two.The pills were dry and stuck in her throat; she took two more and thenput her mouth to the faucet and drank water to get them down.
Too many, she thought, but her head really hurt. She felt like sheshould take more. Her hand went up to the medicine cabinet wherethere were some leftover painkillers from when she'd had a root canaldone a few months earlier. She hit the glass toothbrush holder, and itfell into the sink and shattered.
She cleaned it up, but her headache made her clumsy. She slicedher finger on a shard she was throwing away. It wasn't a bad cut. Shestuck the finger in her mouth and stared at herself in the mirror overher sink. She looked . . . wrong. She put her hands to her face and pulledthe skin back, flattening her nose a little, but it didn't change thestranger in the mirror where she was supposed to be.
She washed her face in cold water, and that seemed to help theheadache a little. Her finger had quit bleeding.
A glance at the clock showed her it was nearly time for Max to behome. Ten years older than his half brother and sister, he had . . . whatsport was it? Basketball. He had basketball practice after school.
And if he was almost home, she'd been in the bathroom an hour,left a four-year-old and a five-year-oldwithout supervision for an hour. She hurried out and down the stairs. The sound of the TV led her tothe family room, where the kids were watching a cartoon. Michaeldidn't look up, but Mackie gave her a wary look.
“Sorry,” she told them. “I have a bad headache. Will you two beokay for a while more? I have to get dinner started.”
“Okie-dokie,”said Michael, without looking away from the TV.
Because he couldn't be bothered. TV was more important than hismother.
Mackie didn't say anything. Just watching her with her father's eyesand judging what she saw, always judging her and finding her lacking.
Chelsea turned and went to the kitchen. She got random things outof the refrigerator with shaking hands: carrots, celery, summer sausage,and radishes. The cutting board hadn't been put back where it belongedand she had to search for it. She found it among the pots and pansinstead of in the narrow cupboard next to the stove, and by then shewas in a fine rage.
Max came in the kitchen door, letting it bang carelessly against thewall. He took after her, tall and blond, rather than her first husband,who'd died in a car wreck, leaving her to raise her two-year-old on her own. For a moment Max's presence cleared her head like abreath of fresh air.
“Hey, Mom,” he said cheerily, sounding so much like his father thatit sometimes made her heart ache. She loved Kage, but that didn't meanshe hadn't loved Rob, too. “What's for dinner?”
He was always hungry these days. Always expecting her to feedhim when he was old enough to get his own food. She clenched herfingers around the chef's knife, so cool and powerful in her hand.
“Would you do something for me?” she said through gritted teeth,unable to look away from the bright silver promise of the knife.
“Sure,” Max said, snitching a carrot from the bag she'd put on thecounter.
Bad manners to steal food before the cook was ready. Bad.
Anna blocked the tires while Charles finished tying down theplane to the anchors he'd driven into the ground. The plane wasn't thatsmall, but it was designed to fly. That meant that a strong wind wouldmove it unless it was tied down. They'd done this enough times nowthat Charles didn't have to tell her what to do or how.
A battered truck charged up the dirt road in a cloud of dust andstopped next to their airplane without slowing much in between. Thedriver was young, Native American, and dressed in a cross betweencowboy and First People: jeans, boots, cowboy hat, T-shirt, turquoisenecklace, earrings. He held up his pants with a leather belt decked withsilver and turquoise.
Young meant that he was not the man she and Charles were comingto see.
Charles didn't look up from his task as the stranger rounded theend of his truck and walked toward them, his steps rapid and businesslike.If this man had been a stranger, Charles would have looked up.
The expression on the approaching man's face was a bit grim, as ifhe were engaged in a necessary but not enjoyable task. He watchedCharles until he came within easy talking distance and then glanced,almost absently, at Anna. He staggered, rocked back on his worn bootheels, and let out a gasp of air like a man hit in the stomach.
He was a werewolf, Anna divined more from his actions than fromhis scent, as he was downwind. A dominant werewolf, if his reactionwas anything to judge by. Less-dominant wolves tended not to reactso strongly to her presence.
Omega werewolves were rare as hen's teeth. Anna knew of oneother Omega wolf in Europe. As far as she knew, they were it. Bransaid it was because there weren't many werewolves crazy enough toattack and so Change a person who had the qualities of an Omega.Samuel, Charles's brother, called her “Valium for werewolves.”
Charles, satisfied the little plane would be there waiting for themwhen they came back, looked at the stranger and raised his eyebrows.She knew he was amused at the other man's reaction to her, but shedidn't think that the stranger would notice—most people didn't. A lotof Charles's expressions were more . . . micro-expressions, espeically when he was in public.
“Hosteen,” Charles said, “this is my mate and wife, Anna. Anna,this is Hosteen Sani, full-blooded Navajo, Alpha of the Salt River pack,and breeder of fine Arabian horses for the past three-quartersof a century, give or take a decade.”
Sani meant that he was related to Charles's Joseph. Anna was goingto sit her husband down as soon as she got him in private again andmake him talk.
“Good to meet you,” Anna said.
Hosteen inclined his head but didn't say anything, just stared ather while Charles tossed their bags into the back of the truck. Her matedidn't seem to be worried about Hosteen's lack of response, no matterhow awkward. He opened the passenger door in open invitation forAnna to sit in the middle.
Anna got in and watched as Hosteen walked thoughtfully aroundthe front of the truck with no sign of the get-things-donestride he'd had before he met her. He opened the driver's-side door as Charles gotin beside her, but then Hosteen stood in the shelter of the door as if hewere reluctant to sit next to her.
“Navajo?” Anna asked, trying to make things easier on him witha little conversation. “I thought the Navajo in Arizona mostly live northof Flagstaff.”
Hosteen narrowed his eyes until she thought she'd said somethingwrong. Then he muttered something in a foreign language that shedidn't quite catch, nodded to himself, and hopped into the driver's seat.He didn't say anything more until they were headed down thebumpy, unpaved road.
“Yes,” he said. “Most Navajo live in the north, in the Four Cornersregion. There are a few Navajo here, because there is work here, butyou are right, mostly it is Pima, O'odham, Maricopa, with a dash ofApache or Kwtsaan to liven the mix.”
She read the atmosphere in the truck as strained, but that mightonly be two dominant males in a small truck. Or more of Hosteen'sreaction to her. She honestly couldn't tell whether Charles liked Hosteenor not. They certainly knew each other well; otherwise two dominantwolves would never have gotten into the same vehicle together.
She decided to keep quiet and let them figure things out.
After five minutes or so of silence, Hosteen gave a jerky nod as ifin answer to some question only he heard. Then he put an end to anyimage of the laconic Native American, an image that Charles, forinstance, could have been the poster boy for.
“There is a long story to how I ended up here, away from the landsof the Diné, the Navajo,” he told her. “When I was Changed, a hundredyears ago, more or less, I thought I must be a skinwalker. I had neverheard of werewolves, you see, and neither had anyone I knew. Youknow what a skinwalker is?”
Yes, but she'd learned that it was better to plead ignorance becausesometimes what she thought she knew about the supernatural worldwas wrong or incomplete. “A little.”
“Skinwalkers are evil witches who take on the shape of animals—usually it is animals—they skin. They delight in destruction, suffering,and pain. They spread illness and evil. I thought that was probablywhat I was—though I didn't feel more evil than I had before I wasattacked.” He smiled at her, inviting her to enjoy the joke on the youngman he had been. She thought it was more horrific than funny—too close to her own experience.
When she didn't smile back, he regarded her thoughtfully, thenturned his eyes back to the rough dirt track they were following.
“I didn't skin an animal for its shape. But even an ignorant boysuch as I was could see that changing into a wolf, a monstrous wolf,gave me something in common with the witch people,” he said. Heseemed to relax as he settled into the story, his voice drifting into acadence that made her think that he had told this story more thanonce. “Those who follow the witchery way are evil, so I figured I mustbe, too. My parents loved me, but I was dangerous to them and to myfamily, so I left. This is where I ended up.”
“California is where you went first,” said Charles, and the way hesaid it made Anna think that he was encouraging the other man to tellstories. “Hosteen is a movie star, Anna.”
Hosteen smiled—and it changed his whole demeanor. Anna sawthat she had been wrong when she'd thought he was a little grim. Therewas delight and innocence in that smile.
“You'll see my face in a few movies,” he conceded almost shyly.“But only if you like the old silent movies. No real parts, just Apachenumber two, Hopi number eight, that sort of thing. When they foundout I was good with horses, I moved pretty quickly into horse wrangling.Worked on The Son of the Sheik.”
And Anna realized that Charles had prodded Hosteen because heknew that she'd enjoy this story.
Charles kept telling her that just because a wolf was old didn't meanthat he'd ever met a famous person from the past. She and her brotherhad spent a lot of Saturday afternoons eating popcorn and watchingmovies with her father. He liked either very old black and white movies,though usually with soundtracks, or kung fu theater.
One afternoon, her father had rented a whole bunch of Valentinofilms and they'd watched them, one after another. The finale had beenThe Son of the Sheik.
“Rudolf Valentino's last film?” Anna asked.
“Yes,” Hosteen said. “I wrangled horses for a few of his movies.Valentino was a horseman. He liked dogs, too, and he didn't mindstopping to talk to the Indian who was handling the horses. I liked him.”
Hosteen had answered her question, but he kept talking. Either hesensed her continued interest, or he liked to tell stories. Maybe a bit ofboth.
“They brought in a small herd of Arabian horses for the movie.Rented them from Kellogg, the guy who invented corn flakes.” Hosteenlaughed to himself as if something about the deal amused him. “Anyway,they brought in a number of Arabians—prettiest horses I'd everseen. Valentino liked this big gray the best. But Valentino was toovaluable and Jadaan, he could be unpredictable. The producers wereworried Valentino would get tossed, so he mostly rode other horsesfor the film. Valentino was furious and insulted.” He pursed his lips.“They were idiots, those producers; Valentino could ride.”
Hosteen fell silent, and Anna tried to think of a question to get himgoing again. Before she did, he said, “That Jadaan. He had terrible frontlegs. But he was as good as Valentino himself at striking a pose. Camerasloved him.”
They bounced on over the rutted dirt road.
“They brought in a stunt double to do the dangerous stuff,” Hosteensaid after a while. “Carl Schmidt, he was a good horseman. Later, hechanged his name to Raswan and wrote a lot of books about the Arabian.A good horseman, but a ridiculous person—like that singer whochanged his name to a symbol instead of a word. Carl Raswan.” Hesnorted. “Raswan was a horse. Still, Carl was a good rider, did most ofthe shots with Jadaan and anything that required more speed than acanter. No one on the set, except perhaps Valentino because he was anice guy, would have missed Carl if he'd broken his fool neck, so hewas a good choice for a stunt double.”
He laughed a little to himself again. “Now you see. Just ask me aquestion, any question, and it all comes back to horses. But you askedwhat I am doing here. I met Fowler and Annie McCormick, big moneypeople, in California when they brought a couple of their horses to meto train. They had a place out here and were willing to guarantee mesome work. I wanted to breed Arabians, and so I moved here. Boughta hundred acres next to their ranch and started my own operation.”He glanced at Charles. “About the time we first met, eh? Just beforethe Second World War.”
“How's Joseph?” Charles asked, in an apparent non sequitur, andHosteen sobered.
“Still human, and will apparently die that way. Eighty-two,stubborn as a mule.” Hosteen looked at Anna and then the road. “I wishyou would change his mind about that.”
“I've offered before,” Charles said.
“Yes,” said Hosteen. “I know.” He kept his eyes straight ahead.“Maybe you could do more than offer.”
The atmosphere in the truck chilled to below zero, even though,Anna was pretty sure, it was close to seventy degrees outside.
“No,” said Charles.
“You go see him,” said Hosteen with a sudden growl in his voice.“You go see my son, that bright spirit who is trapped in a body that isdying around him. You see him—and then you look me in the eye andtell me that again.”
“Hosteen,” said Charles carefully. “If Joseph had at any time in thelast twenty years changed his stance on the matter, he would have askedyou or me. I will not, and you will not force him. A wolf who Changesan unwilling victim must himself die, by the Marrok's word.”
“Your father would not kill you for it,” said Hosteen, but the fire ofhis anger was gone. “He would kill me—have you kill me— butyou he would spare.”
“If you think that,” Charles said, “then you don't know my fathervery well.”
Chelsea tried not to look at the blood when she called her husband.
“Kage, Kage, Kage,” she chanted in time with the rings.
“This is Kage Sani,” his voice said in her ear, and she could havecried. “I can't answer right now. Please leave a message and I'll get backto you as soon as possible.”
“The children,” she said. “Kage. The children.” She wanted to tellhim about the children, but she screamed instead. When she caughther breath, and silence fell, she could only whisper, as if another loudnoise might wake something evil. Again. “I was so angry, Kage. Thisknife. Blood. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. Blood.” When Kage's phone beepedto signal that it had stopped recording, she was still chanting into themouthpiece.