Bargains and Betrayals
eyes flaring with red and filling with moisture as, searching my face, she discovered my intent. “ Nyet , Alexi!” With a brutal shove she threw herself back from me, past her other sons, ruffling the crests of their furs as she landed at the feet of her guards.
    And gave herself up.
    The wolves whined, Catherine crying out at her choice. Their shapes shuddering, Max and Pietr regressed to their human forms, crouched, damp with sweat and stunned to the marrow.
    “You will not die forrr me,” she roared, the words growing guttural. “I am dead alrrready, do you not see?” Shaking out her long mane of hair she stood and tugged at the silver filling so much of it now. “My clock rrruns down too quickly.”
    Her voice a hoarse whisper, its intensity never lessened. “Hear me clearly. If they will not release me—if they intend me to die here, so be it. I will not have you sacrifice yourself for me. I will not have my family made into martyrs.” She inhaled sharply and bent over, fighting for control.
    “Heart-Rate-Is-Elevated,” the computerized monitor called.
    Mother growled her response.
    A pop sounded and her hands twitched, shifting as they rested on her slender legs just above her knees. Hair shot up from one in a dramatic display of the wolf’s growing power.
    Mother shook, pushing back the change.
    When she straightened to address us again, her eyes were bright with unshed tears. Taking a deep breath she said, “I will not watch my children die as my husband did.”
    Turning her back to us, she led her guards to her cell and waited obediently for the door to open and let her in once more. A guard picked up Pietr and Max’s shed clothing and threw it at my brothers, grinning at our failure.
    Behind me, the agents withdrew their guns and stepped aside to let us out.
    “This was both unexpected and disappointing.” Wanda .
    The agents flanked us, fingers by their trigger guards.
    “You know what this means, of course,” she stated crisply, but in her eyes I read something soft, like pity. “Mother’s now under restricted access. You’ll have to earn your way back into our good graces—and into her environment. And”—she measured the weight of her words, trying to lighten the impact with her tone. But no change in volume or pitch could stop the inevitable pain of hearing—“that will take time.”
    Dazed, we were led away from the bunker’s bottom section, where Mother lived and might very well die, and up the stairs.
    Still stunned, I would not have noticed him if it were not for Pietr’s sudden lunge toward a dimly lit room.
    “Whoaaa—easy, fella,” an agent said, pressing the end of his gun into Pietr’s gut and pushing him back into our midst.
    Blind with rage at whomever lurked in the shadows, Pietr roared and Max grabbed him, wrapping his arms tight around Pietr’s chest to haul him away as the agent and the person he guarded joined us in the narrow hall.
    I’d never met the boy, but I knew him immediately from the descriptions Cat, Max, and Pietr had shared.
    He stood nearly the same height as Pietr, but where Pietr had dark, unruly hair that often hid one eye, Derek’s hair was golden blond pushed back from classic American features. A square and powerful jaw framed Pietr’s crisp cheekbones, where Derek’s jaw was mildly blunted and somehow less threatening. Where Pietr had an edge and wildness to him, Derek had refinement and polish. An artist could have compared the two and viewers would have still argued who was more handsome.
    But after what had happened between Derek, Pietr, and Jessie there could be no doubt of who was more dangerous. And it only made his boy-next-door charms more ironic.
    “Youuu,” Pietr seethed, pulling against Max so he was inches from Derek’s smiling face. And less from the gun barrel of Derek’s smiling guard.
    “Hello, Pietr. How’s Jess?” His eyes unfocused and he looked somewhere beyond us. “Yep. Still hot.” He blinked, his vision

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