Home > Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(7)

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(7)
Author: Patricia Briggs

"You are barely old enough to be out on your own and your husband is higher up in the werewolf power structure than Hauptman," said Agent Fisher. "What did they do? Make you marry him when you were twelve?"

Anna blinked at her. In her little world built of religiously watched TV shows and movies, FBI agents would never have said something that personal to a person they had just met. They'd work up to it gradually - or insinuate something carefully. By the suddenly appalled look on Agent Fisher's face, it was the same in her little world.

An Omega makes everyone a bit more protective, Asil had told her a while ago. Anna hadn't really connected it to the human world.

Anna grinned and hid her sympathy. "No. They didn't tie up poor, weak, innocent, little old me and force me to marry him." She considered it. "He's not weak or innocent, but if I'd had to, I might have tied him up and forced him to marry me. Thankfully, it wasn't necessary."

The other woman had recovered herself. "You said that he is the reason we couldn't bring in more people?"

"Right," Anna said. "But if you wait a moment, I'd rather just explain it once, and I think that - "

She let her voice linger while she timed the footsteps (not Charles's) that she heard outside the conference room door. It might have been some hotel guest wandering the halls, but there were two men walking with purposeful speed that was just a little too fast to be comfortable, the way men who are competing with each other sometimes do.

The door popped open. Leslie's attention diverted from listening to Anna to watching the new additions to the room. She took a couple of steps forward until she stood between Anna and the newcomers, putting Anna at her back. Which made Anna and the FBI agent a team facing the pair of Cantrip people - at least, that was who Anna assumed they were because there were two of them. Two Cantrip, two FBI, and one Homeland Security was what Charles had told her. She found it more than a little interesting that the FBI agent saw them as opponents - and Anna as an ally.

"Jim. So they're letting you out with the big boys now?" Leslie's tone was dry. Anna thought that the two men who came in took that as an amiable comment, one of those digs friends might make. But watching the other woman's body language carefully told Anna that Leslie was very guarded, more so than she'd been around Anna after the first few minutes.

"Leslie!" the younger man exclaimed with a real smile. His body language said he liked the FBI agent, whatever she thought of him. "Special Agent Fisher," he corrected himself. "Good to see you. I am one of the big boys and have been for a long time. This is Dr. Steve Singh."

Leslie reached out and shook the hands that were offered her. "And what does Homeland Security want with a serial killer? That's for the local cops. The only reason this one is FBI is because our killer's been traveling across state lines for years."

Homeland Security. There was supposed to be only one person from Homeland Security. Anna frowned. Charles wasn't going to be happy about that. He didn't like surprises. He probably had a file on everyone who was coming to this shindig.

Singh didn't say anything, just studied the FBI agent's face before moving on to Anna's. She stared back at him, just to see what he'd do. He frowned at her and tried to get her to look away, but even Bran couldn't do that if she didn't allow it, and he was nowhere near as dominant as Bran - or even Agent Fisher, for that matter. But Anna dropped her eyes anyway. There was no sense starting a fight until it was important.

"We heard that there was going to be someone higher up speaking for the werewolves on this," answered Jim Nolastname, apparently oblivious to the staring contest his partner had engaged in with Anna. "We decided that it would be a good idea if we knew who he was and what he had to say."

Only a subtle tightening in the FBI agent's back told Anna that the unconscious arrogance in the man's voice had ticked her off.

"And why are there two of you?" Fisher asked. "The request was for no more than five people. Two of us, two from Cantrip, and one of you."

The FBI agent had known why Homeland Security was checking out the werewolf, Anna thought. She hadn't been surprised that there were two of them - but she was making a point of it for Anna's sake. By not introducing Anna first, she was leading them to think Anna was the other FBI agent and letting them spill their agenda in front of the enemy.

"We leaned on Cantrip a little," said Jim. "They owed us."

It shouldn't really matter that Fisher had made this an us-against-them kind of thing. They were all on the same side in the end - catching the villain. It might have been something as simple as departmental rivalry: FBI versus Homeland Security. Anna narrowed her eyes and considered it. It might have been a little of that - and Fisher definitely didn't like Jim. But Anna thought it was a show aimed at her. Anna was patient; she'd see what the FBI agent wanted from her. In the meantime, she needed to get a handle on the other people in the room.

Jim had a freshness about him that gave him some charm. Anna didn't miss the brains behind the shiny front. Dr. Singh, the older man, was reserved in a manner that reminded her of some of the Alpha wolves she'd met over the past few years.

He was one of the ones who sat in the back and watched their packs, letting matters work out as they would until they veered too far from where he wished. Then he'd pounce with a brutal efficiency that meant he wouldn't have to move again for a while. He'd noticed what Fisher had done, all right, but his relaxed shoulders told Anna that he hadn't yet realized just who and what Anna was.

The door opened abruptly and another man came in. Anna started a little. She wasn't as good at multitasking as she could have been. If she'd been paying attention, she would have heard him approach, but she'd been engrossed in the power play and had missed the sound of his footsteps.

Slight and almost frail in appearance, the newcomer glanced at them all with cool gray eyes. His suit was off the rack and looked a little wrinkled, but its blue gray color matched his eyes and complemented the fringe of trimmed dark hair that narrowly circled the top of his head.

His eyes looked older than his body, and if he was more than five feet tall, it wasn't by much. The paleness of his skin added to the effect, but he moved easily, like a runner.

He frowned at the two men. "Homeland," he said in a neutral tone, then looked at Leslie. "You must be Special Agent Fisher. I'm Special Agent Craig Goldstein. Introduce me, please."

She did, starting with the Homeland Security team. Jim Nolastname, Anna discovered, was Jim Pierce.

"And this," said Agent Fisher with only a hint of mischief, "is Anna Smith, our werewolf consultant. Anna, this is Special Agent Craig Goldstein. He's our expert on this case."

Goldstein looked...stunned, which she was pretty sure was an unusual happening. The Homeland Security duo looked just as surprised. Singh, recovering first, gave Fisher a sharp look.

Anna smiled warmly and reached out to shake the hand that Goldstein had automatically extended at the start of the introductions.

"Hello, Special Agent Goldstein," she said earnestly. "I know that I'm not what you were planning on, but I'll do my best. We're waiting on the Cantrip people and my husband, who has gone out to get coffee."

Charles would be here soon. She'd hoped to wait until the Cantrip people came, but she'd have to take what she could get. If Charles got here before she explained the rules, it might be disastrous.

Anna glanced at them all and blew out a breath. "Listen, there isn't much time. We'll help you. But there are some things you should know. We all need to be sitting down when my husband arrives. Don't look him in the eye. If you do, please, blink or look away if he meets your gaze. Don't touch me, not even casually. I'm going to sit with an empty chair between me and anyone else." Bran had cautioned her before they'd left. In Aspen Creek, in the pack, Charles would be confident in her safety. That could change in a moment out of his territory. Anna was pretty sure he'd be fine. It wasn't Brother Wolf who was in trouble; it was Charles. But she'd promised Bran she'd do what she could to avoid trouble.

Goldstein's face tightened, but it was Singh who asked, "Is he dangerous?"

Anna snorted. "Of course he is. I'm dangerous and I'd bet that you're pretty dangerous, too. This isn't about who is the most dangerous; it's about being smart and keeping everything low-key."

"Are you playing good cop, bad cop with us?" asked Jim Pierce.

"Dominant werewolves don't mix well with others," Anna told them. "If you play my game, we'll all be a little happier." She gave Singh, who looked the least happy, a stern look. "If you were meeting a Chinese foreign minster, wouldn't you listen to someone giving you a few pointers in Chinese manners? Think of it like that."

Chapter 3

Charles held two of the awkward drink carriers and strode through the crowded hotel lobby. In his hurry, it didn't dawn on him that there was anything unusual about the way his path cleared, or the empty elevator that took him to the third floor where their meeting with the feds was to take place. Not until the man waiting for the elevator when it opened on the third floor backed up three paces and, keeping a wary eye on Charles, broke for the stairs, did it strike him that people's reactions had been a little unusual.

He was a big man and Indian. (He'd been Indian for more than a century and only occasionally thought of himself as Native American. When he paid any attention at all, he might consider himself half-breed Salish or Flathead.) The combination of size and ethnicity usually had people avoiding him, especially in places where Indians weren't as commonplace. Not their fault; it was in the nature of man to find the unknown intimidating, especially when it came in the shape of a big predator. His da dismissed it, but Charles was pretty sure that somewhere in their hindbrain most people knew a predator when they met one.

His brother maintained that what sent people backing away was neither his size nor his mother's blood, but solely the expression on his face. To test Samuel's theory, Charles had tried smiling - and then solemnly reported to Samuel that he had been mistaken. When Charles smiled, he told Samuel, people just ran faster.

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