Chapter 2

After a Herculean effort of will, Parker had barely managed to keep his wolf at bay. He slammed the glass down on the bar’s marble countertop. It shattered into myriad shards, one of which gouged the base of his right thumb. He didn’t notice.

 

“I know how to get Kurt outta my head,” Parker muttered, his bright green eyes blazing. Dropping into a squat, he yanked open the doors to all of the lower storage cabinets, unaware of his cut thumb dripping and spattering blood on the floor. Knocking various objects out of the way, he rummaged for the marijuana stash he thought he’d put there. It wasn’t.

 

“Shit.” He stood up and loped toward his study on the other side of the house, leaving the cabinet doors hanging open. By the time he reached it, his speed hurled him through the open doorway. Parker kicked at the pile of software magazines on the floor and sent them flying. He rooted around for whatever stash he might have left in his desk and file cabinets. He even looked under the cushion of his desk chair, but there was nothing.

 

“Where is it?” Parker shouted to his house. His wolf’s growling inside his head grew louder. This was serious. On top of everything else, his frustrated searching was making it harder for him to stay human.

 

Whirling, Parker dashed out of the study and back into the great room. Then he sprinted up the stairs and crashed into the large master bedroom. He flipped the switch, and the bedroom flooded with light. Four long strides brought him to his Art Deco clothes bureau. With its intricate pattern of variously colored wood and mother-of-pearl inlay, the piece was worthy of an Erté print. He’d found it at a yard sale.

 

“Okay, okay…where?” Parker tore into the drawers’ contents. After several minutes of searching, he still hadn’t found what he was looking for—nothing, not even an old, dried-out weed stem. He stepped back from the dresser, trying to remember. Turning this way and that, his gaze swept over the rumpled king-size bed and the nightstands on either side. “I can’t have gone through a quarter pound of weed in less than two weeks.” He scratched his chin. “Could I?”

 

Giving up the hunt, Parker stumbled across the frayed blue braided rug to an overstuffed chair near his bed and fell onto its cushions. He blew a heavy breath. Propping his elbow on the armrest, he rubbed his eyes and tried to think.

 

“Ya smoke it all again, Park?” a voice from his past echoed in his head. It belonged to Frank Suggs, his werepanther friend in Arkansas who’d been skinned alive by three local men when the boys were fifteen years old. At thirteen, the two had discovered a small patch of weed growing wild in the woods behind their houses. In those last years of Frank’s life, Parker’s buddy had said that to him a lot. “Hey, Park—ya smoke it all again?”

 

Parker snorted at the memory. “Guess I did, Frank.”

 

The telephone rang. Pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing one eye shut, Parker glared at the thing on the nightstand next to him, willing it to stop. The phone rang twice more. He snatched up the receiver. “Berenson,” he growled. “Alpha?” a young child’s timid, sexless voice said. “Alpha, it’s me, Susie.”

 

Despite his desperate state, Parker’s face relaxed, and the murderous look in his eyes softened. Crossing his left leg over his right, he smiled into the handset. “Hey, Susie.” His voice was gentle, showing no trace of rage. “Whassup?”

 

Parker-the-human and Parker-the-wolf were very fond of this darling, precocious little werewolf girl, one of the few children in his pack. Parker-the-human thought it was because the child was a lot like him at that age. Parker-the-wolf thought it was because this girl cub just might turn out to be an alpha someday. Female alphas were rare.

 

“Alpha, are you coming to my birthday party on Saturday?” she said, her voice sounding relieved now she knew Alpha wasn’t mad at her.

 

“’Course, honey. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

Susie had just taken a breath to say something else when Parker heard the faint sounds of a scuffle. The anxious voice of a young woman replaced the child’s. “Alpha, I’m sorry,” Susie’s mother said. “Susie knows she’s not supposed to call you, but she picked up the phone while I was out of the room, and—”

 

“Hey, it’s okay, Janet,” Parker reassured her, keeping his tone light. The child had broken an important pack rule—no one under the rank of Third contacted the alpha wolf directly unless it was a dire emergency. Anyone who did was subject to punishment. Even her mother wouldn’t have called him since she was a Sixth.

 

“She’s only four years old. Okay, almost five. The cub’s excited about her party. Can’t blame her for that.” He shifted in the chair, back to his original position.

 

“But Alpha—”

 

“No, Janet.” Parker’s voice was firm. “Susie broke a pack rule, but she’s too young to understand what it’s for. You can punish her for it any way you like, but I won’t. I’ll see you guys on Saturday. Stay human.”

 

Parker dropped the phone into its cradle. She dared to question me, he thought, annoyed. But it soon faded. He stared at the ravaged bureau drawers without seeing them, thinking. Maybe I should have been more polite?

 

<<You asking me? I would’ve—>>

 

“No, I wasn’t asking you. It’s just that—look, just because Janet is one of the lowest-ranked wolves in my pack doesn’t mean I have to treat her like it.”

 

<<Why not?>>

 

“Oh. So you would’ve pulled a Slade on her, right? Maybe beat her to a pulp while Susie watched?” Darrlyon Slade was the old alpha Parker had defeated in a death-match almost five months ago.

 

Parker felt his wolf’s anger rise. <<Don’t wanna think about him.>>

 

“Fine. So let’s just relax, huh? Think good thoughts. Say, what about our last pack hunt, when we caught that deer?”

 

His wolf calmed. <<Uhrrm. That was great, wasn’t it?>>

 

Parker sighed in relief. Between his wolf’s rage and his own, he’d had enough trouble staying human tonight. He stretched out his six-foot-six-inch frame in the chair and tented his hands over his stomach. Closing his eyes, he willed forth the memory of the big buck he and his wolf had brought down and the feast his pack had enjoyed afterward.

 

It didn’t work.

 

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