About the Author:
Kelley Armstrong is the author of nine books of the Otherworld. She lives in Ontario, Canada, with her family.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"Antonio." Dominic walked to the table and plunked down a bottle of cheap champagne. "I've decided to name him Antonio."
Malcolm sipped his beer as a chorus of "good choice" rose up from the others. Wally and Raymond Santos glanced Malcolm's way, as if seeking permission to congratulate Dominic, but Malcolm just kept drinking and let them make up their own minds. After a moment, Wally joined in with a raised glass to the new father, while sixteen-year-old Raymond busied himself cleaning out a thumbnail.
Dominic paused behind the head chair. Billy Koenig scrambled out of it, making a quick joke about keeping it warm for him. Dominic thudded into the chair and dropped his burly arms onto the table so hard Malcolm's beer sloshed. Typical Dominic—always throwing his weight around, as if he was already Pack Alpha, not just heir apparent.
"A drink for Antonio," Dominic thundered, his voice reverberating through the dingy bar. He turned to the owner, across the room, counting bottles. "Vinnie! Glasses!"
Waiting tables certainly wasn't Vincent's job, but he hopped to it. As Vincent approached, Malcolm held up his empty mug. Vincent paused, but only for a second, then took Malcolm's glass. Dominic allowed himself only a split-second scowl, but it was enough for Malcolm. It was easy to establish dominance when you were bigger than everyone else. Doing it without that advantage was the real accomplishment.
Once the glasses were filled and distributed, Dominic lifted his. "To fatherhood."
Everyone clinked glasses.
"Now, how about a wager?" Dominic boomed. "Take bets on who'll be the next new father. I'll pick Malcolm." A quick grin. "God knows, he's been trying hard enough."
Malcolm gritted his teeth as the others laughed and called out good-natured jabs. It was his own damned fault. Malcolm had meant to keep his hopes secret until he could show off the goods, but two years ago, sitting around this very table listening to Dominic brag about his sons, he'd announced a pending arrival of his own . . . only to discover a month later, when the child was born, that it wasn't his. Since then, everyone knew he'd been trying, and hadn't even sired a daughter.That was his father's fault—difficulty siring children was one family blight Malcolm couldn't overcome through sheer strength of will.
He had only to look at his father—sitting at the next table with the Alpha, Emilio—to see the second family blight, a cane resting beside his father's chair. He bristled, as he always did, at this physical proof of Edward's weakness. Not just weakness. Cowardice.
As a Danvers, Edward had been expected to fight for Alphahood, but when the opportunity arose, he'd somehow managed to cripple his leg. No one was quite sure how it had happened—the story changed with the teller—but whatever the cause, the injury permanently took him out of the line of succession. As a mediocre fighter, Edward had stood no chance of winning an Alpha match, so he'd intentionally taken himself out of the race. Everyone in the Pack knew it.
Malcolm had spent his life wiggling out from under the shadow of his father's cowardice. And he had. After Dominic, he was now the best fighter in the Pack, and among the mutts, his reputation for ruthlessness surpassed that of every other Pack werewolf. But when his father looked over, there was no pride in his face. Just a lifting of his chin, listening in on the younger men's conversation, making sure Malcolm wasn't saying anything to embarrass him.
As they drank the champagne, the cleaning girl stopped by to wipe off their table. She murmured something that was probably meant to be "excuse me," but her thick accent and whispered voice rendered the words unintelligible.
The girl didn't speak more than a dozen words of English. Malcolm figured the only reason Vincent had hired her was because he could pay her half what he'd pay anyone else, her being a Jap and all. Still, it had to be bad for business. How many ex-GIs came in here, saw her, and turned around and left? Malcolm wasn't sure whether the girl really was Japanese, but it didn't matter. People saw slanted eyes and they saw Pearl Harbor, and five years wasn't enough to make anyone forget.
The girl paused at Malcolm's side and lowered her head. Wally grinned and kicked him under the chair. Malcolm leaned back to let the girl wipe his place. Unlike the quick swipe she'd given the others, she made sure to get every spot, including a few that'd probably been there for weeks.
When the girl finished, she scurried off and intercepted Vincent with Malcolm's fresh beer. She took it and returned to the table. First she wiped a spot for the mug, then she wiped off the mug itself, and finally she laid it before him like a ceremonial chalice. As Malcolm grunted his thanks, snickers raced up and down the table.
The girl pointed to the nearly empty bowl of peanuts nearest him.
"Sure," he said. "Fill it up."
When she scampered off with the bowl, Wally hooted. "That girl has it bad, Mal. Gets worse every time we come here."
Malcolm only gulped his beer.
"Hey, come on, Mal. Think about it. She waits on you like that in public? Imagine what she'd do for you in private."
Another chorus of snickers.
"Not my type," Malcolm muttered.
Dominic leaned forward. "Because she's Japanese? Nothing wrong with that. From what I hear, they're damned eager to please, if you know what I mean."
Billy nodded. "Buddy of mine at work has one of them for a girlfriend, on the side, of course, and you wouldn't believe the stories he tells. Ever heard of geishas? All their girls learn some of that shit, and they'll do anything to make a guy happy. Nothing's too kinky—"
Dominic cut him short as the girl approached.
"What?" Billy hissed. "She doesn't understand English."
"Doesn't matter," Dominic murmured.
When she was gone, they started up again, regaling Malcolm with tales of Asian women.
"And," Dominic said as they finished, "unless my nose is wrong, there might be a bonus."
"Just what I need," Malcolm said. "A slant-eyed Jap brat."
His father looked over sharply, frowning his disapproval.
Billy snickered. "You're going to get a talking-to later, Mal."
Malcolm snorted and pretended it didn't matter. Edward wouldn't give him a "talking-to." That implied anger, and Edward never showed that much emotion with his son. He'd calmly speak to him about stereotypes and prejudices, and counsel him to make better choices with his opinions and his language, all the while clearly doubtful that his words were having any impact. Malcolm was a fighter, not a thinker . . . to Edward's everlasting disappointment.
"You should give it a shot, Mal," Dominic said. "Don't worry about who the mother is. Look at Ross Werner. His momma was black and you can hardly tell. With us, it's the male blood that counts. Women . . ." He shrugged. "Just the vehicle. At most you might get a kid with dark hair and dark eyes, but yours are dark enough anyway. Wouldn't matter. And . . ." He leaned closer. "You never know. A little foreign matter in the mix might be just what your boys need to get the job done."
Malcolm gritted his teeth. Dominic always sounded so sincere, like a big brother who really wanted to help, but Malcolm knew he'd like nothing better than to see Malcolm humiliate himself by presenting a half-breed baby to the Pack.
As the night wore on, though, and Malcolm drank more beer, he couldn't stop thinking about what Dominic had said. Mixing up the bloodline might help. He'd never tried that. And Ross's case did suggest the foreign blood wouldn't show, which was all that mattered.
The girl was in the fertile stage of her cycle, and she obviously wanted him. An easy conquest. Plus, if Asian women were as submissive as the others said . . . Malcolm smiled. Submissive was good. Especially if it came from a girl who was in no position to complain if things got out of hand.
By the time the group settled the bill, Malcolm had made up his mind. He sent the others on without him, then cornered the girl as she came out of the back storage room. She started, seeing him there, then dropped her gaze and made no move to get past him.
"Been a long night," he said. "Bet you could use a drink."
When she didn't answer, he pantomimed drinking, then pointed from her to himself. "Drink. You. Me."
"I—I work," she said. "Done soon."
"No, babe, you're done now. Let me handle Vinnie."
He reached for her apron and snapped it off. She gave a shy little smile, then nodded.
"Get drink," she said. "For you."
She took his hand. Hers was tiny, almost birdlike. He wondered how hard he'd need to squeeze to hear those thin bones snap like twigs. Not very hard, he'd wager.
He turned to let her lead him into the bar, but she stopped at a locked door a few feet down and took out a key.
"Room," she said, gaze still lowered. "Upstairs. My room. Yes?"
He smiled down at the girl. "Sure, babe. Whatever you want."
Malcolm sat in a tiny room, empty except for his chair and a sleeping mat. A few candles cast a wavering, sickly light that lined the room with shadows. When the girl went to get his drink, he'd flicked the light switch, but nothing had happened.
That cheap bastard Vincent probably cut off the electricity when he let the girl take the room. Maybe, if the girl was as good as the others claimed she'd be, he'd see about "persuading" Vincent to spring for lights and heat up here. Wouldn't be any inconve...
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