Muscle and Bone by Mary Calmes



Without question, the gatherings were the worst part of being an omega.

If the guys at work could see me dressed in my black tailcoat and matching dress pants, the wing-collared shirt with studs and cufflinks, white piqué waistcoat and white bow tie, along with the black silk socks and the patent leather cap toe dress shoes…they would laugh themselves into a coma. The good news was, they never would.

It wasn’t that I was hiding anything. They all knew I was a lupine, and therefore only part human. My ancestors were not fully homo sapiens but homo canum as well, because, to put it simply, I was part wolf. It was a mutation that gained a foothold at the same time humans were evolving from apes, and instead of us going extinct, like a million other species that blipped in and out of the fossil record, lupines stuck. And even though both species moved through the centuries together, one was hidden in darkness and one lived in the light.

A hundred years ago, the species were segregated, not allowed to marry, barely even permitted to be friends, but like progress of any kind, there were reformers and radicals and people fighting for change and equality and inclusion.

Seventy-five years ago the courts ruled that humans and lupines were equal, and if a human being could be a police officer, then so could a lupine. I was lucky, because I grew up in a time where me wanting to go into law enforcement had never been the pipe dream it was for my grandfather. Even if it did mean I was still somewhat of an anomaly. He was very proud the day I graduated from the academy, as was my mother. My father, on the other hand, had explained to me, ad nauseum, that the occupation was both beneath me and not something that would, or could, even be tolerated once I was mated. He changed his tune a bit when it was written into my contract, but assured me that a smart alpha could work around any clause, no matter how ironclad the language. I would give him the indulgent nod at that point, which would bring about a quick end to our conversation.

As the son of one of the richest lupine families in Chicago, I was part of the jarl, the upper class, the elite, and was supposed to concern myself with only the glitterati of the city. That had never interested me in the least. And while my father had insisted I join the family business, as only he would—I was an omega after all, good for very little—and my brother tried guilt to get me to come on board, and my sister threatened me with bodily harm, my mother had always been on my side. She taught middle school in the inner city; I was a police detective. We were the rebels in our family, two peas in a pod, each of us following our dreams.

“You’re late, Avery,” my parents’ housekeeper, Corvina, informed me tersely as I walked through the kitchen. She was there supervising the caterers, snapping out orders, something she loved doing.

“Good evening, Corvie,” I called out cheerfully, grinning wide.

“You, with the face and the dimples,” she fumed at me, but couldn’t help smiling. I was her favorite after all, had been since birth. “You’re not eating enough!”

“You always say that,” I teased her, breezing through the swinging kitchen door and out into the short hall.

From there I went to the closet, hung up my coat, and then slipped into the meandering crowd, moving through the ten thousand square foot limestone mansion in Chicago’s Gold Coast area. I was hoping to fly under the radar until I could locate the sanctuary that was my mother. I just needed to keep my head down,

“Avery.” My brother, Ambrose, called out my name.

Normally, I was able to get the lay of the land first, but he’d spotted me before I could avoid him. Someone, probably my brother, had gotten wise to me climbing up the side of the house on the rose trellis to my old bedroom. That maneuver would dump me out on the second floor and allow me to make sure I looked presentable before I walked out my door and peered over the balustrade and down to the level below to check and see where everyone was. But tonight, when I was about to start my climb, I saw one of Ambrose’s many assistants standing on my old balcony, clocking me and talking on his cell phone at the same time. No doubt he was reporting my position to Ambrose. My partner, Wade Massey, would have asked how I knew he was one of my brother’s flunkies. And I would have told him it was because they all looked the same, like little clones from a GQ photoshoot, sycophants with their two-thousand-dollar suits, polished wingtips, and three-hundred-dollar haircuts.

“Come here!” Ambrose ordered, actually yelling, which he never did. I would have told him it was gauche and stood there in mock horror, trying my best to look aghast, but I knew he was thinking it to himself as he looked around, appalled at his own behavior. I’d hear about it later, what I’d “forced him to do,” but I didn’t care, and had no idea if it was the volume or his spontaneous action he was so chagrined over. Either way, I continued with the pretense that I hadn’t heard him over the din of conversation, and said excuse me and pardon me a hundred times as I moved through the crowd to evade him.