Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(17)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(17)
Author: Patricia Briggs

Tag’s suggestion of finding out who they belonged to and giving them back was a better one, though the manner Tag wanted to do it in seemed a bit complicated. And violent.

Brother Wolf was in agreement with Tag.

While Leah’s team took care of the four-wheelers, Charles set most of the rest of the pack clearing the area around the cabin of anything burnable. He sent the rest out to find any evidence of the invasion, anything that would hold a clue as to who these people were and what they had been about. He didn’t expect them to find much, the people he’d killed today had seemed pretty professional. Professionals don’t leave clues if they can help it.

That’s why he was surprised when Asil came back almost immediately to report that he’d found electronic surveillance equipment up in the trees. Charles asked Asil to let the other evidence-hunting wolves know to look for more electronics. Once that was done, Charles pulled Tag off his backhoe and recruited Anna to help the two of them.

He and Tag because they knew what they were looking at when it came to tech. Anna because she kept him balanced.

The events of the day—the fact that Hester and Jonesy had died while under his protection—had left Brother Wolf beside himself. Most of the pack were afraid of him for one reason or another. Normally, it would not have been a problem, but now the others could sense Brother Wolf’s anger. Their increased fear enraged Brother Wolf more, creating a nasty snowball effect.

Anna took the edge off everyone’s emotions, so he didn’t end up killing some idiot for the crime of stepping in front of Brother Wolf at the wrong time. Some idiot that he was supposed to be taking care of for his da, who had not contacted anyone about Hester’s death.

Brother Wolf didn’t like that they hadn’t heard from Da either.

On the good side, as it turned out, none of the battery- or solar-powered surveillance equipment they found was functional.

“Jonesy probably zapped them,” said Tag from twenty feet up in a lodgepole pine, where he was using a battery-powered drill to extract a camera from its perch in the tree. “He should have told Hester, but he didn’t always tell her everything. He didn’t like to worry her. Having awesome godlike power meant that nothing much worried him even if it should have.”

“Zapped,” said Charles dryly.

Tag made a popping sound with his mouth. He liked to sound dumb, even in front of people he knew were wise to him. “Zapped. That’s why the innards are all melty-like and the out-ards are untouched. Only way I can think of to do that is magical zapping.”

He’d gotten the camera off the tree by that point and opened up the casing. None of the electronics was store-bought. This was equipment built from components by someone who knew what they were doing. That meant that someone, some person, had touched the insides with their hands.

Tag brought the opened camera to his nose for a good smell, reclosed the casing to preserve the scent, then tossed it down.

Charles caught it, then took a moment to reopen the casing and get a good smell of the ruined camera himself. Outside, it just smelled of the forest, but inside … the faint ozone of zapped electronics and the peppery smell of the man who’d put this one together.

All in all, there had been three people who had worked on the custom electronics placed around Hester’s cabin. All of them human—and one of them lay dead in Charles’s truck bed. But the other two were still at large. He’d know them by their scent when he ran into them again. Tag’s nose was pretty good; he’d know them, too. So would Anna.

But he didn’t bother handing her this camera—she’d already gotten the scent of the three people from the other equipment they’d found. If he could count on Tag’s letting him know if he found someone different, Charles wouldn’t have to have Brother Wolf check each one out. But Tag was Tag. Tag took great pride in letting you fall if you leaned on him too much.

“You knew them pretty well,” Anna observed to Tag in a gentle voice. “Hester and Jonesy.”

Tag had been ready to drop down, but at Anna’s gambit, he paused, hanging from a branch, like a nearly seven-foot-tall orange-maned monkey, swinging gently. He nodded at Anna’s comment without looking at her.

“You could say I knew them,” he said, dropping a hand to scratch at his head, his body as relaxed as if he were standing in the living room—or, Charles thought, dangling a thousand feet over an abyss. You didn’t get a permanent spot in the Marrok’s pack if you could function properly on your own.

“Hester better than Jonesy,” Tag told Anna. “Hester and I were lovers a few centuries ago.” He paused to consider that, his body stilled—so the swinging had been on purpose. Eventually, he added, “give or take a few centuries, I guess. She tossed me back in the sea, figuratively and literally speaking as it happens, but we stayed friendly anyway, mostly because she fished me out so I didn’t drown. Then she found Jonesy.”

He loosed his grip with seeming carelessness that nonetheless gave him a clear drop despite the hazards of the proliferation of tree branches and small trees between him and the ground. He landed lightly on his feet for such a big man jumping from thirty feet up, though he took a little hop like a gymnast who hadn’t quite stuck the landing.

An accident of position had Tag meeting Charles’s eyes, just as he landed.

Brother Wolf thought it would be interesting to pit himself against Tag. In Tag’s suddenly gold eyes, Charles saw the same desire. Tag was a little bit afraid of him, Charles knew. Other wolves might have let that fear cow them, but not Tag. Fierce joy and love of battle sparkled through the pack bond they shared. Wouldn’t it be fun? Tag’s wolf asked, and Brother Wolf agreed heartily.

Sometimes Brother Wolf was as crazy as all the rest of the wolves in his da’s pack.

“Another time,” Charles told Tag and Brother Wolf, both. “Someday when there isn’t a job to do.”

“Just for fun,” agreed Tag.

Anna looked back and forth between them and rolled her eyes.

“I guess since Hester fell for both Jonesy and me, she had a thing for dangerous men,” Tag told Anna. He grinned, but there was an edge to it that might have had something to do with the exchange with Charles, or it might have been grief. Or both. “Jonesy was all right back then,” he said. “Mostly. Mostly all right. But there was a dust-up with some of his people, some of whom died who shouldn’t have. He went from being wobbly at times to full out tilt-a-whirl. Hester took care of him.”

“I thought Hester was supposed to be wobbly, too,” said Anna. “Though she seemed pretty sharp today.”

“Hester is … was as stable as me,” Tag told her. “Well, no. Better than I am.” He looked at Charles for a moment, then shook his head. He tipped his chin toward Anna. “As sane as you are.”

“She tried hunting Da down last time he was here,” Charles said dryly. “Sane people usually don’t try that.”

Tag gave him an agreeable look under his brow. “Hester and Bran, they went out of their way to make Hester sound crazier than she was. Especially if Jonesy was having troubles, more than usual. Make sure that no one except he or I came up here. Keep everyone wary of Hester. Like all the wildlings, they were here on sufferance, and the Marrok’s power kept the other Gray Lords from bothering Jonesy. If Bran made them leave, they would have been on their own, and that would have been disastrous. For everyone.”

“Other Gray Lords,” Charles said.

Tag made a noise. “Well. Well. He wasn’t a Gray Lord, not really. Not by his choice, anyhow. But with his parentage, it wasn’t something he could easily get out of. And if any of the fae with an ounce of sense had talked to Jonesy this past fifty years, they’d have hunted him down and killed him. Had to. They take care of their problems, same as us.”

“Would they?” asked Anna. “Did they? Do you think this was something aimed at Jonesy because one of the fae found out he was here?”

Tag pursed his lips, but before he or Charles could say anything, Anna was already shaking her head. “No. Sorry. This was a werewolf thing—werewolves working with humans and technology.” She indicated Charles’s already mostly filled backpack. “A Gray Lord wouldn’t need technology to spy on someone.”

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