Secrets in the Moon (Crescent City Werewolves #1)

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The Last Word

Captain Albert Dempsey once again found himself in his dress uniform. And once again, he found himself stuck with Commissioner Keene while the other man paced and worried at his mustache. Yet there the similarities ended: they waited for only one wolf instead of several, and they were at the police station, in a rarely used office built as an entire second level for the front half of the building. Massive two-sided glass windows provided a view of the entrance and areas open to the public, and Al looked out in silence while the commissioner fumed.

“He’s obviously fled. I don’t know why you wasted time leaving a message at his office. All the information points to him leaving with the Marshall girl. Her disappearance at the opera and a subsequent call where she refused to say anything except that she had left of her own free will, neither of them at his office or home this morning… do we have people watching the city’s border with Saxby territory?”

“Sure do.” Al knew the significance of Miss Marshall leaving her father. The sigil was off her and would no longer be a problem to his investigation. It gave him enough patience with Keene’s blustering to keep his reply mild. “He won’t show up at the Saxbys.”

“Oh, no?” The commissioner stopped to look at him. “He’s never let us interview him. He blatantly withheld information about his connection to Isabelle Saxby. There are only unreliable sources for the claim that he hates his former pack. What if he’s as duplicitous as the rest of the Saxbys? We should have entertained that angle earlier.”

Al smothered a sigh and finally glanced away from the windows. “You really think he kidnapped Cora Marshall and took her to his old pack?”

“We’re uncovering more and more evidence that the Saxbys were involved in the murder attempt against Isaac Marshall, which makes their past interest in Miss Marshall all the more notable.”

“I don’t disagree, but Sam Hayes doing that? He’s got puppy dog eyes whenever he looks at her. All his evasions have been related to protecting her, including not telling us that he’s Isabelle Saxby’s mate.” And now that Miss Marshall was free, his protection no longer needed to include silence. “No, he’ll come to the station as asked.”

The commissioner scoffed. “What makes you so sure?”

Al faced the windows again and then tried not to laugh at the timing. “Because he’s just stepped inside.”

Keene turned and muttered something at the sight of Sam Hayes willingly giving up his guns and dagger to the officers who had stopped him just inside the entrance. Al had told his men to handcuff the wolf only if he resisted being taken to an interview room, but he didn’t expect it to happen. It didn’t.

As they both watched two officers escort Hayes out of sight, the commissioner said, “I’ll lead the questioning.”

Al nodded, uninterested in arguing.

They left the office together, but while Keene moved for the room where Hayes would be placed, Al approached the officer who was tagging the weapons taken from the wolf. “Ehrl. Did he ask for a lawyer?”

“No, sir.”

That fit with his suspicions about Sam deciding to break his silence and cooperate. Al rubbed the back of his neck, wondering if something would finally go smoothly in this damn case.

By the time he stepped inside the room, the commissioner was already seated across from Hayes, sifting through a thick case file. The two officers stood within lunging distance of the wolf, but Sam seemed unconcerned, remaining still and silent. The harsh, overhead light constricted his pupils to pinpoints when he glanced toward Al, expressionless.

Al settled into the nearest corner and lit a cigarette. “Did your secretary give you the full message?”

The question drew a miffed look from Keene, who had likely wanted to let the silence stretch on to fray Sam’s nerves. Al knew better than to try that tactic; wolves never saw a lack of conversation as silence. Their ears still picked up too much information—pulse rate, the steadiness of a breath, and probably even a mouth drying from fear or teeth grinding in frustration. Keene should’ve figured out that much from all the times they’d questioned Isabelle Saxby.

When Sam responded, his voice sounded as steady as ever. “She said the police department called to tell me that Isabelle’s execution has been set for six this evening. And that Isabelle’s last request was to speak with her mate. Me.”

“Do you deny it?” said the commissioner, already jotting down notes with a gold filigree pen.

Al didn’t miss how Sam looked at the glittering pen with contempt, but the wolf’s tone didn’t change. “No.”

“Why did you hide this information?” said Keene.

“I didn’t. I cut all loyalty to the Saxby Pack when I left, including with Isabelle. I’m just here to clear any suspicions against me.”

Al blew out some smoke, deciding to push at Sam a little. If the wolf came here to spill his guts, then he needed to start before the commissioner lost patience. Anger might burn away his terseness. “Does that mean you won’t be at the execution? It’s your right as her mate.”

He knew Sam well enough to all but read the words don’t give me that bullshit in the glance he got in reply.

Then Commissioner Keene added, “More to the point, why should we trust what you have to say about Isabelle Saxby? She’s been much more forthcoming. Much more willing to work with us.”

Sam remained more polite with the commissioner. “Look, squeezing information out of people is my job as well. I know all the tricks and don’t want to wait through them. I’m here to give straight explanations, and I’ll prove their honesty with some truth-teller.”

In the silence that followed, he looked between Al and Keene with a trace of impatience. “I’m talking about taking the serum before continuing the interview.”

“We know what you meant,” said Al, staring. “We’re just stunned to hear you say it.”

Technically, there were a few options for someone wanting to prove their innocence. Truth-teller serum was one of them—an experiment in using select bio-thaumaturgy. Inject it into a fella and he couldn’t lie. He didn’t have to talk at all, either, but whatever did come out of his mouth would be honest.

Realistically, truth-teller was a dead end of a technique. It had been around for years but was rarely requested by either side of the interview. The city didn’t like the option because statements given under the influence of the serum were inadmissible in court. And the suspect or witness rarely asked for it because anything they said might give detectives enough information to find evidence that could be used in court. Sam must have been pretty damn sure about wanting to stay in the city’s good graces—and being able to do that once he talked.

Even Keene seemed hesitant over what to say. “It’s an option for citizens. Humans. We don’t know how effective it is with a wolf.”

“There are some documented cases down in the department archives. After all, truth-teller was modified from magic used by wolves.”

The commissioner briefly tapped his pen against the file. “Why do this now?”

Sam smiled grimly. “I know Isabelle. If she wants to see me, there’s a reason. Her request alone has me in trouble. I don’t want our final conversation to add to that.”

“It’s called a request for a reason,” said Al, watching him carefully. “You don’t have to talk to her.”

“Yes, I do,” came the quiet reply. “I couldn’t live with myself if I refused to face her.”

Truth-teller was injected into the crook of the arm, and it was Master Enchanter Byrd who administered it and stayed to watch for any sign of a bad reaction. The wolf showed no sign of pain or confusion while rolling his sleeve back down, but Al noticed sweat on his face and neck while the magic took effect. The slight buzz from the overhead lamp was the only noise in the room.

Keene thumbed through the file, frowning slightly. With the commissioner’s gaze on the table, it was Al who saw Enchanter Byrd nod as a signal that they could start asking questions.

Al finished off his cigarette and then said, “Why the hell are you doing this? You’re smart enough to have a lawyer keep us off your back.”

Despite the harsh light flooding over him, Sam’s pupils had widened until the gold of his eyes was almost gone. His answer sounded steady enough. “There’s no reason to stay silent anymore. The city no longer suspects my client of crimes she didn’t commit, and the Saxby Pack has collapsed. Revealing its secrets can’t hurt anyone at this point.”

“Let’s start at the most logical point,” said the commissioner, glaring at Al before resuming his focus on Sam. “Are you Isabelle Saxby’s mate?”

“Yes.”

“For how long?”

“Nine years now. We went through the ceremony when I became a junior inspector at twenty-two.”

The commissioner’s pen scratched against the paper before he said, “We’re very curious about what having a mate means for a Saxby wolf. It clearly varies among the packs we’re in contact with, from the coldness of a legal contract to the belief in soul mates.”

“It’s much like your marriage. Instead of a ring, it’s a tattoo over the heart using ink made from your mate’s blood. And unlike a ring, you can’t take it off, only hide it with an enchantment.”

Al nodded. Isabelle Saxby had such a tattoo, and the enchanters had wondered at its significance since it glimmered like magic but didn’t hold any spells. “Any other differences?”

Sam’s voice turned grim. “Divorce doesn’t exist if you want to get out. Just death.”

Keene raised his eyebrows. “That’s not really a problem for you at this point, is it?”

The wolf’s stare in response made the commissioner clear his throat and flip through a few more pages in the file.

Al sighed and circled around the room until he fully faced Sam. “We just need to know that you won’t try anything. The diplomat from New Obsidian finally agreed to be in the same room with wolves, which meant the execution could go forward. Less than an hour later, we learned from Isabelle Saxby that she has a mate. By right, you’re allowed to be there, even if the other witnesses to her death are convinced you’ll lose your mind and go on a murder spree.”

“I won’t do anything. I haven’t loved her for years. There’s no loyalty between us.”

Keene tapped his pen again. “What about loyalty toward the Saxby Pack?”

For the first time, Sam lost enough of his self-control to rub his face, looking truly tired. “On her end? I don’t know. On mine, I’m trying to help what’s left of the Saxbys overthrow their king before another pack takes over the territory and does it for them. They suffered under his rule for years. They shouldn’t have to suffer more.”

Al didn’t miss the distant word choice Sam used to talk about his former pack. “Who’s going to be the new alpha-king?”

“That’s their decision, not mine.”

Even Commissioner Keene couldn’t deny the wolf’s disinterest, and after shuffling through the papers for another breath, he closed the file. “Very well. I need to speak with others before you’ll hear the city’s decision about the execution, but I’m satisfied that we can safely fulfill Isabelle Saxby’s last request. If you’re willing, we’ll bring you to her cell at the prison.”

“Then it won’t be private,” said Sam. He didn’t sound surprised.

“No,” said Keene, his tone threatening against any argument. “Do you still want to see her?”

At the wolf’s nod, the commissioner rose from his seat. “A route to the prison has been closed off for restricted use for the day. It won’t take more than a half hour to get there. Good afternoon, Mr. Hayes.”

When Keene turned to him, Al stayed where he was. “I still have questions related to the Davenport case.”

“Fine.” Then the commissioner knocked on the door in a signal that he was ready to leave.

After the door closed behind the man, Enchanter Byrd looked at Al doubtfully. “Should I administer the antiserum?”

“Sure,” said Al, watching Sam’s hands shake until he clenched them. It didn’t take a genius to realize the wolf was feeling the truth-teller. “Then you can get out of here. I know you’ll be running around for the rest of the day.”

Half a cigarette later, Al watched Sam relax back in his seat, eyes back to normal. When he said nothing, Al did. “Still feeling helpful?”

“Depends on what you want to know.”

“When did you realize the Saxby Pack was probably involved with Freddy Davenport’s cult and Isaac Marshall’s disappearance?”

Sam thought for a moment. “Soon after I took on Miss Marshall as a client. I saw how Isaac Marshall’s car looked. The fire distorted a lot of the metal, but I saw claw marks in a few areas. Too large for any wolf’s, but unmistakable. Then I interviewed the two witnesses who were chased by Marshall’s driver. One of them made drawings that were very detailed. The similarities between them and the accounts of throwback wolves were obvious.”

Al nodded. “My men scrounged up the basic information about these throwbacks. We found out that it’s a wolf that doesn’t change over correctly. He’s deformed, some sort of half-man, half-beast creature in appearance. He’s also mindless with bloodlust and tries to kill anything that moves. And finally, he’s a big, strong son of a bitch that’s impossible to control. Sounds like the descriptions of Dominic Tierney.”

“Throwbacks also don’t change at will. Something can trigger their shift at any moment, and they can’t prevent it. Think of it like migraines.”

“Except migraines don’t end in a massacre.”

“No.” Sam almost looked back to normal, absently adjusting his damp collar as he added, “But there are some differences. Harold Beaumont’s enchantment must have added… traits to what Tierney changed into. The autopsy report mentioned silver bullets didn’t drop him, and that interested me. Silver is as deadly to throwbacks as to any wolf.”

“Meaning?”

Sam shrugged. “It locked in my suspicions about the Saxby Pack being involved. They needed military strength. Fighters. What’s better than an unstoppable creature having immunity against silver?”

Al nodded. It fit with what he’d thought.

Then Sam unexpectedly said, “Has Isabelle talked about this at all?”

“Barely anything. We’re hoping she’ll open up to you.”

The wolf scoffed, expression turning grim once more. “We’ll soon find out.”

Al drove himself to the prison, not wanting to get stuck with the commissioner again. The crowds waiting outside the high walls were massive; news about the impending execution had spread like wildfire.

Inside was just as bad. Various city aides and enchanters scurried around while he sought out the block that would hold the condemned. He knew the place well enough to find it without trouble, and the guards knew him well enough to leave him alone.

The interrogation room in this section of the prison was much more modern than the one at the station, but that fact was clear only on the other side of the two-sided glass. Both the commissioner and the prison warden were already there, watching Sam Hayes while he sat at the bolted table. The chair across from him was still empty.

The warden, a barrel-chested man with ice blue eyes, nodded at Al. “They’re bringing her in soon. It’s good to see you, Al.”

“Same, Mick.” Then Al glanced into the room. “Think she’ll be trouble?”

“She hasn’t been so far.”

Just then, the door into the room opened, and two guards escorted Isabelle Saxby inside. Despite the unflattering prison uniform, the she-wolf looked lean and lethal, sitting across from Sam with complete composure. He remained silent, watching her without expression.

“Hello, Sam,” she said, with a faint smile.

He didn’t smile back. “Why did you ask for me?”

“I wanted to see you. Why did you come?” Her voice sounded light, playful, as if she wasn’t hours from death.

“Isabelle, it’s all over. Alpha-king Saxby has barricaded himself with the remaining royal guards and most of the pack’s stored supplies. The rest of the Saxbys are trying to kill him and crown a new king. The chance to find out what the plans were with Harold Beaumont’s experiments will be lost once you die.”

“The humans are satisfied. Why aren’t you?”

“Because the city wants to wrap up its case. I want to make sure the Saxby wolves left behind won’t have any nasty surprises.”

“Noble Sam.” Isabelle cocked her head at him. “You could have gone so far if you’d dropped your delusions of keeping a conscience while advising the king. I thought you would. We could have both been happy then.”

When he said nothing, just narrowed his eyes at her, she added, “Why should I help you now? There’s no benefit in it for me.”

“You always wanted the last word. Here’s your chance.”

“It’s tempting,” she mused. Then she leaned back in her chair. The chains connecting her hands jingled from the movement. “What do you want to know?”

Sam wasted no time. “Why did the alpha-king focus on creating and controlling throwback wolves?”

“He thought to get use out of the Sinclair prince even after he’d died. The power of such a creature was impressive. Imagine an army of them. Even with our resources so badly drained, we would have ruled the other packs in a year. The Sinclair prince had been skinned like all the rest, so we were able to give Harold Beaumont the pelt to help his experiments in developing the ‘berserker serum,’ as we called it.”

“Why go to humans for help?”

“As much as it pains me to admit it, there was no other choice. Jane is an annoying little bitch, but she was the pack’s only enchanter worth anything. How is she, by the way? Surely grateful for that thick-headed police captain coming to her rescue.”

Sam’s voice didn’t quite dip into a growl. “She’s very excited to watch you die.”

Isabelle just smiled again. “Are you?”

“You won’t get me to bite. We’re long past our old arguments.”

When the she-wolf glanced away, lips moving into a smirk that suggested they both knew better than to believe that, Sam added, “Why use that serum for Isaac Marshall’s assassination? It was clumsy and too intricate to be a surefire death.”

“He had to die, anyway. Why not use his driver to test the serum? That Freddy Davenport was against it, of course. He sniveled over every little thing. But it was easy for the enchanter to set the transformation to be triggered by the moonrise, and even easier for us to arrange the human to be near our land when it happened.”

A trace of remembered excitement had appeared in the she-wolf’s expression. In contrast, Sam’s eyes had darkened in disgust. “All so you could see what happened when unknowing wolves tried to fight the berserker.”

“They were only pack guards. Their deaths offered much more than their lives.” Then she refocused on him. “I’m impressed, Sam. You used to take the loss of your friends very badly, even when it was at our king’s command. Do you hate him as much as me?”

When Sam said nothing, some of the playful malice left her face. “Will you give me nothing to take to the grave?”

“What do you want?” he said, quietly.

“Something you don’t want to tell me.”

There was a long moment of silence. All mockery had left her face, and all indifference had left his. Then he murmured, “At one point, you were my everything. I won’t enjoy watching you die. I can’t.”

“Because it’ll hurt,” she said, her words equally soft.

He didn’t answer. He didn’t need to.

She nodded as if he had and then looked away. “Just like it hurt me to choose the pack’s well-being over your life.”

“You chose the king’s well-being, not the pack’s.”

“I never saw a difference. Think up a final question, Sam. I’ve grown tired of this.”

“What was Freddy Davenport’s reason for working with the alpha-king? Money? We know Davenport was up to his neck in debt.”

“Of course not. Why would you…” For the first time, Isabelle looked truly surprised. Then she laughed. “You’re still missing links in the chain, and now you’re out of questions. Don’t worry, Sam. You’re smart. I’m sure you’ll figure it out even without my help.”

A muscle jumped in Sam’s jaw, but he said nothing while she twisted to look at the guards in a clear signal that she was ready to leave. When she faced Sam again, that dark playfulness had returned to her eyes.

“You know, I didn’t love him,” she said, remaining seated as the guards drew near. “The king. I don’t think I ever felt love aside from you, Sam. But power was always more important.”

Then she did rise, turning with the guards without resistance and letting them escort her out.

Sam stood as well, keeping to his side of the table, but his teeth flashed as he said, “No, Isabelle. You were always in love, but only with yourself.”

She started, as if shocked that he had responded, but then the nearest guard shut the door behind them, leaving Sam alone in the room.

Behind the two-sided glass, Al watched the wolf while the prison warden told one of his men to let him out only when Isabelle Saxby was back in her cell. If he’d had any doubts about trusting Sam to stay calm during the execution, this had flattened them. The wolf waited with the stiff posture of someone aware they were being watched but looked damn tired.

“He won’t be a problem,” said Captain Inge Falk, stepping up beside Al. “All he waits for is relief.”

Al turned away from the window, taking in how the others were already leaving before glancing at her. Ballistics had proven Isabelle Saxby had killed five of Falk’s men during the fight at the meeting. Maybe his old friend looked unflappable as ever, but Al bet she was boiling inside. “Agreed. How are you, Captain?”

“Somber. It’s never an easy thing, an execution.”

He grinned while they began walking out of the viewing room and down the first of the hallways to the execution wing of the prison. “Bullshit. I know you’ve been looking forward to this. You’re like a mother hen to your boys, and your bloodthirst is bigger than a wolf’s.”

Falk almost smiled, but her voice remained crisp. “True. Hopefully, there will be no more delays.”

“From Sam Hayes being her mate? Unlikely. You saw him yourself.”

“Then you haven’t heard.” Captain Falk spoke the words just as Al heard the first echo of voices. None sounded happy. “The Frosthound alpha-king and queen have arrived to witness the execution. The seating plans will have to be reapproved by all.”

Al sighed, realizing the hours ahead would be a circus.

He was almost right. The sight of people hurrying around the audience chamber was more reminescent of the time he had investigated a murder committed during the opening night of a musical revue while the damn thing was still playing. Insanity whirling all around for a single event that would cycle through newspaper headlines for a day and then be forgotten.

City aides shouted orders at sweating, disheveled men who arranged the rows of chairs. Their voices grew oily and compliant whenever they spoke to a higher-ranked aide or one of the diplomats frowning at diagrams of the proposed seating changes. Family members of the victims stood in the lone quiet corner of the room, their black mourning clothes acting as an invisible shield against the chaos. And then there were the wolves, avoiding each other and humans by carefully drifting through pockets of space, never lingering in one area for too long.

Al picked a spot near the viewing window, which currently had its heavy curtains drawn, to wait out the confusion. He had just lit up a cigarette when one figure broke away from the rest to approach him. Some of his irritation melted at realizing who it was. Jane Feral’s eyes glinted with excitement, and unlike the others, she was openly smiling.

“Miss Feral,” he said, since they weren’t alone.

“Captain.” Then she glanced at the curtains. “I wish we could see the execution room. I haven’t heard which method will be used.”

“Firing squad. Only used for wolves since they can’t die from being hanged.” He studied her, amused at how she had bothered to tie her hair back and oil her enchanter’s leathers. “Wanting to look nice today?”

“It is a special occasion.” In a different tone of voice, she added, “I saw Sam a few minutes ago. You were very considerate to take him off the truth-teller as soon as possible. It’s an unpleasant experience for wolves.”

He nodded. “I figured going through the interview was bad enough. While we’re on the topic, do you have a tattoo I should know about?”

“You’ve seen my entire body, Captain, and more than once. What do you think?”

He almost cracked a smile at that, but just then Commissioner Keene’s voice rose to blistering levels, aimed in their direction.

“You. Yes, you, the redhead. Which pack are you with?”

“None. I’m an ex-Saxby,” said Jane, not hiding her contempt for his ignorance.

Al watched the commissioner’s frown deepen. Before the other man could say anything, he did. “Still struggling with the Frosthounds?”

Keene’s mustache quivered in sheer rage. “It’s a nightmare. We can’t turn them away, but the other wolves all refuse to sit beside them. This execution will not be delayed over pack squabbles.”

Al wasn’t about to coddle another round of bluster from Keene, but Jane spoke up, her tone suddenly polite. “Sam and I will sit on either side of them. We won’t mind.”

When they both glanced at her, she added, “The other wolves have agreed to our presence, haven’t they?”

The commissioner traced the stiff shape of his waxed mustache, still eyeing her. Then he nodded shortly and disappeared back into the chaos of bodies.

When Al raised an eyebrow at Jane, she said, “I don’t want the execution delayed any more than that jelly of a human. Isabelle doesn’t deserve a few more hours. She doesn’t deserve anything except those silver bullets.”

There was a heat to her voice that went far beyond hatred. Al had seen the nasty injuries Isabelle had given her; it had been flat-out torture. But his gut told him there was still more to it. “Sam was almost skinned for being a traitor, wasn’t he? And she was the one who put him in that position.”

When Jane started, he knew he was right. Her teeth flashed as she said, “Yes. If he hasn’t told you the details, then I won’t either. But she knew what would happen to him and she did it, anyway. She doesn’t believe in anything except herself. So perhaps it’s gauche to be this gleeful, but I won’t hide it even though it’s improper of me.”

He suspected that one of these days, he’d find out what the Saxby Pack had done to her, and that it would explain why her defiant streak flared at odd times. In the meantime, he knew any sarcastic response to this would send her shying away. “Don’t worry about it. You’ll be surrounded by people who also hate her.”

She relaxed a fraction. “Does that include you?”

“Right now, I hate this damn uniform over anything else.”

Just as she laughed, a hesitant voice interrupted them.

“Miss… Feral?” A city aide approached, already so exhausted that there were dark circles beneath her eyes. “We’re ready to seat you. You as well, Captain.”

“Finally,” he muttered, and took a final drag from his cigarette before following the girl.

He had to sit with the commissioner and the mayor but was mostly resigned to the fact, pretending he was too interested in where everyone was being seated to notice their conversation about the diplomat from Xenic being overdressed. The entire front row was reserved for family members of the victims. Falk sat there as well, her rigid military posture at odds with the shaking shoulders and curved backs of those in mourning. A few were crying off and on, although they tried to stay quiet about it.

The rest of the rows were divided into three sections. The left held the twelve normal citizens brought in as witnesses for the public, as well as the diplomats from the other city-states. The middle section was for him and the other city officials, acting as both barrier and reassurance against any trouble from those sitting in the final section on the right: the wolves.

When Al glanced in their direction, he saw that most looked stone-faced. It made sense; they were diplomats as well, all from packs that had demanded to witness the trial, sentencing, and now execution for various reasons. All except the Frosthounds, who still hadn’t given a reason for their sudden appearance. Al wasn’t too worried. He knew the alpha-queen was from a death cult, and that the king had risked everything to have her. Dropping in on an execution was probably like going to a party for them. The alpha-king was obviously enjoying himself, watching everything with vicious amusement, especially when it was a nervous reaction from the other wolves. His queen remained fixated on the drawn curtains, hands clasped as if in prayer.

Just before Al’s attention flickered away, the Frosthound alpha-king offered a cigar to Sam Hayes, who sat to his left. Sam’s grim expression didn’t change as he shook his head. Then a soft hiss came from Jane Feral, who sat by the alpha-queen. Jane’s expression was pure anticipation while she motioned the alpha-king to pass the cigar over. With a shrug, he did. The alpha-queen took it from him and handed it to Jane without looking away from the window. She and Sam were the only ones who seemed to feel the finality of the situation, and they were the first ones to stiffen in their seats even before the curtains twitched and then opened.

Isabelle waited in a chair placed against a wall, blindfolded and composed. A hush fell over all witnesses.

A calm always came over Al whenever he was faced with death. He didn’t like feeling so dispassionate but didn’t fight it, either, taking in the narrow slits in the opposite wall where the mouths of the rifles would be positioned. He knew the five men there had all been picked for their aim, and he knew it would be quick.

It was. The glass muffled the deafening blast of five bullets into one sharp crack. Most of the witnesses weren’t used to executions and jumped from the noise. The wolves were all on the edges of their seats, unblinking at the sight of blood. The silent tension around them seethed in comparison to the sobbing from the front row. The alpha-queen bowed her head, and as soon as Al saw her beatific smile, he knew Isabelle Saxby had died.

Al waited until a medic entered the room and checked the body for signs of life before he glanced at Sam. The wolf stared without expression, even when more men stepped into the room to cover up the body and take it away.

Then the diplomat from Xenic rose to his feet with open disgust on his face. “As barbaric as expected. I’ll find my own way out.”

Al didn’t watch the man go. Eventually, he knew they’d fight over an extradition case between the two cities, but right now there were other things to do.

The curtains were drawn shut again, prompting the rest of the witnesses to leave as well. As Al rose to his feet, he remained focused on the wolves. Most representing their packs moved for the exit without acknowledging each other. Jane was among them, looking the wildest he’d ever seen her. When their gazes met, she sucked on the cigar and gave him a grin he already recognized, and he was glad he was off duty for the rest of the night.

To his surprise, the Frosthounds had lingered, with the alpha-queen briefly speaking to Sam. He nodded in reply to whatever she said. Then the alpha-queen turned to her king, who slipped an arm around her waist before they left, sharing his cigar.

The room felt much larger when it was just him and Sam left. The wolf was still in his seat, one elbow on his knee while his other hand rubbed at his face. Al studied him for a moment and then moved for the hidden door built into the left side of the room. He knocked and waited.

The prison warden answered it, shoulders squared as if expecting trouble.“Everything all right?”

“Sure. It’s just us two left. Do me a favor, Mickey, and give me that whiskey bottle you keep around in case a witness faints.”

The man glanced past him. Then the caution in his expression faded. “Right, her mate.”

Within a few minutes, Al sat beside Sam and poured out a shot.

Sam straightened up to take it from him. “Thanks. I told Jane to go on ahead. She hated Isabelle. There’s no reason she should pretend otherwise.”

Al waited until he drank it down and then poured a shot for himself. “Off the record and out of curiosity, who pursued who?”

The wolf was handling it better than he expected, even managing a wry smile before he answered. “I pursued her.”

“Jesus Christ, Sam.”

“I know.” Now Sam leaned back in his seat, looking at the curtains again. “That’s what all of this was about. Wanting to see how blind I was. Trying to see how blind I still am.”

“And there’s no one prettier you can confess this to?” When the comment drew a side-glance from the wolf, Al laughed. “You really think I don’t know you’re the one who whisked away Miss Marshall? Or that I don’t know how you feel about her?”

Then Al poured a final shot for the wolf and rose to his feet. “You can’t get a more definite end than death. Take it, Sam. Go home to your girl.”

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