Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(13)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(13)
Author: Patricia Briggs

She looked startled more than frightened. She had probably thought that werewolves couldn’t climb trees. Hunters said the same thing about grizzlies—and that was wrong, too. A grizzly could climb as far up as a tree would hold him. Which was pretty much true of werewolves, and Brother Wolf might be big, but he was a lot smaller than a grizzly.

The shooter was human, and she died quickly, dropping from the tree to the ground with a crash of underbrush. From the tree, Charles saw two more people, presumably more of the team who had been pursuing them. They were taking separate paths toward the place where the woman had been shooting.

Separated by no more than thirty feet of forest, he thought. Only one of them looked up, but it was obvious from his expression that he didn’t see Charles, nearly three hundred pounds of werewolf, in the tree. Evergreens were good at breaking up solid shapes. Both of the men had a hand to their ear in a classic I-have-a-communication-device pose.

Charles dropped to the ground much more quietly than the body had fallen. Brother Wolf had identified the one who looked up as the more dangerous of the two, and this time, Charles decided it would be a good idea to take that one out first.

His familiarity with the lay of the land—even if it was half a century old—allowed him to approach his chosen target from the side and downwind. Like the two earlier in the clearing, this one was a werewolf. He was comfortable in the forest—he moved like someone who was used to combat missions.

He went down easily, though, the only sound being the crunch his spine made between Charles’s fangs.

The third in what Charles’s senses now told him had been a three-person strike team (just as the initial group had been made of three people) had found the body of the sniper. There were too many trees, and the underbrush was too thick for Charles to see him, but he could hear him speak into his communication mic.

As he slid through the woods, approaching the man from behind, Charles estimated about two minutes had passed between the time he’d heard the first shot. He took note of the information the man fed his … superior? Or maybe just someone on the helicopter Charles could hear. The copter was still on the ground, but, from the engine sound, it was ready to take off immediately.

“That’s the report she gave me just a few minutes ago,” the man said. He’d moved away from the dead female shooter and was running now, a path that was designed to take him in a straight line to the helicopter. Charles could have told him that he’d have trouble getting across the wide, swift-running stream that ran between him and his goal.

Not that Charles would let him make it that far.

“Two new players have joined up,” the man said, his breath even, despite the speed he was running. “One is almost certainly Charles Cornick unless you can think of some other Indian who would be up in these woods. My team is gone. Presume the other team lost. Pick me up. We are FUBAR.”

Charles could hear the helicopter lift, engines purring. Perhaps the man knew about the stream. There was a clearing (Charles was pretty sure) about a quarter of a mile from where he was tailing the man.

Unlikely that Charles could pull down the helicopter. But the man was easy prey.

He’d capture this one, Charles thought. This one was human, so not a werewolf intruding on their territory. Brother Wolf wouldn’t insist on his death. This one would be full of interesting information. He slid silently through the forest, he and Brother Wolf on a hunt.

And then the earth rumbled, and the spirits of the earth rose with a howl of anger and loss. Next to Charles, a lodgepole pine that was older than he was, maybe seventy feet tall, fell with a crack that shook the ground again.

It took a moment for Charles to realize what had happened.

Charles understood that some of his choices had just been made for him. Brother Wolf would not allow any of the attackers to live, now. The meaty noise as Brother Wolf tore into the last of their enemies on the ground must also have made it through the device the man wore because the helicopter abruptly changed directions, the noise it generated growing softer and disappearing to the east.

Brother Wolf dropped the body, finished with his task. Charles stepped into his human shape and frowned down at the dead man. He had needed to save one of them. One. So he could question him and find out who was sending teams with helicopter backup into the Marrok’s territory.

But he would have to find that information elsewhere. Inside him, Brother Wolf snarled back, still raging. The earth roiled again, a lesser quake soon over. Charles took a deep breath and starting walking back.

• • •

ANNA DROPPED AS soon as Charles did. She belly-crawled to where he’d tossed the witchcrafted weapon and grabbed it. It was important both as a clue and as a weapon that someone could use against them—as evidenced not only by common sense but because Charles dumped it before he changed so that it wouldn’t go wherever his clothes went when he shifted.

A rifle sounded twice. She was fairly certain the sound came from the same place as the initial shots had. Charles had found their shooter. A moment later, she heard a thud as something heavy hit the ground with significant force. She hoped it wasn’t Charles.

But worry or not, she kept moving. Once the weapon was securely tucked back in the waistband of her jeans, she crawled to where Hester had dropped in the shelter of the underbrush, where her black coat made her virtually invisible.

“We should get deeper into the shadows,” Anna whispered, her attention on the forest around them. She could hear the soft sounds of movement approaching their position. She wasn’t as good as some of the old wolves yet, but she could tell distance and direction pretty well.

Scent should be useful, too, and she took a deep breath of blood-scented air. About that time, Anna noticed that Hester wasn’t just being still—she was still.

She grabbed the wolf by any hold she could find and dragged her deeper into the bushes, where the leaves would give them some cover from any sniper fire. Anna dragged Hester into a bed of old leaves that smelled of coyote and mulch tucked in the lee of a rock the size of a small house.

Sheltered in the overhang of the rock and the leafy branches of a strand of aspen, Anna looked for the wound that left Hester limp and unresponsive.She found it, a darker hole in the darkness of Hester’s black fur, a hole in the center of her forehead. Hester wasn’t going to walk out of this one.

The wolf’s ribs moved, air hissed out, then Hester … Hester’s corpse, was still. A moment later the earth rolled, dirt sifting down from the rock above. Anna gave the rock a worried look, but, like an iceberg, she was pretty sure the biggest part of it was buried underground. If that rock rolled over, it would be a sign that the end was near and nowhere was safe.

Anna crouched beneath the rock, buffeted by the earth and by the death of the wolf she’d only just met, a death she could feel sliding through Bran and into the pack bonds like the icy burn of a dental probe that left numbness behind. Not as bad as when one of the members of the Marrok’s pack itself died, but it was bad enough.

After a breathless second, the earth rolled a second time, then stilled. It was a waiting stillness. Almost, Anna thought she could see the wood as her mate sometimes did, alive with spirits, all of them watching … something. Waiting.

She waited, too. But when nothing more happened, Anna turned her attention back to Hester. Anna found the slug caught in a mass of blood and fur at the back of Hester’s neck. She untangled it, a small, mangled thing. It burned her hands.

If it had been lead it probably would have killed Hester anyway. Werewolves were tough but not indestructible.

Anna closed her fingers around the slug. Such a small thing to end the life of a creature who had been alive when the Mayflower set sail. Powerful … ugly … and sad.

The fingers of her other hand worked their way into black fur, caressing the wolf who would not care. Anna could hear the faint sounds as the enemies around her died, and she could not feel sorry for them. They were the ones who had brought death here.

But the lumpy weapon in the small of her back made her worry for her mate. She could still see, in her mind’s eye, the moment he fell—and only her mating bond had attested that he was still alive. Hester, old and clever, lay dead beside her. In a world where such things happened, Charles could die, too.

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