Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(14)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(14)
Author: Patricia Briggs

It was only five or six minutes after the last tremor before the leaves rustled and Charles, in human form, crawled into her refuge. Light trickled shyly through the canopy of foliage over their heads and touched his braid and the edge of his cheekbone.

This time his tee shirt was black. Usually, the shirts he wore when his magic clothed him were red. The black one meant that he’d known about Hester, Anna thought, either from the eerie knowing of her death through Bran’s bonds with the pack or from the strange waiting feeling that had followed the last earthquake.

Earthquakes weren’t as common here as they were in California, but the heart of the Rocky Mountains was a living thing, and sometimes it moved. But the rumble of the ground beneath her had felt more personal than that.

“First shot took her in the head,” Anna told him, her voice sounding abnormally calm to her own ears. “She dropped before the second shot.”

Charles’s eyes, dark and liquid, watched her carefully.

She cleared her throat. She was a werewolf, she reminded herself sternly, someone who was used to death, the proper mate of Charles Cornick, son of the Marrok. She held out the slug to Charles and pretended her hand wasn’t shaking, that her free hand wasn’t buried in the ruff of Hester’s thick, black coat, clutching the other wolf as if letting go would signal the end of something important.

Her voice was steady when she spoke. “This is what killed her—it looks weird to me. Not like the bullets we shoot.”

She forgot to warn him that it was silver. He hissed and dropped the slug, then he took his focus off her face and dropped it to her hand.

Her skin was blistered, she noticed, following his gaze, but that had happened when she opened the cage door for Hester. Now, though, the palm of her hand was blackened and crusted, oozing a clear fluid. She hadn’t noticed the pain of it until she saw the burns.

She would heal. She turned her palm away from Charles’s gaze and hid her hand in Hester’s fur.

“I picked up the witch gun,” she told him. “Before I noticed that Hester was in trouble.”

He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, and she shuddered from the sadness that he felt, emotion that bled over through their mating bond. Marrok’s son, death-bringer, bogeyman of the werewolves was Charles Cornick—but he was no monster. He mourned Hester’s passing, too.

He murmured something in Welsh, his father’s native tongue, then translated for her. “Heaven keep us from the fate we deserve.” When he opened his eyes, they were dry.

He touched her face with his naked hand, and she could breathe again. “Are you hurt?”

Yes. Hurt by thinking he was dead, if only for a moment, when the witchcrafted gun dropped him. Hurt by killing a stranger. Hurt by having Hester die without a chance to defend herself.

But that wasn’t what he was asking. She didn’t think that was what he was asking.

“No one shot me,” she told him because that was the truth. “Just Hester. What about you?”

He shook his head. “Not a new scratch.” He gave her a searching glance, then ripped off the bottom of his shirt and wrapped it around his hand. Skin protected, he picked up the malformed slug he’d dropped into the leaf-litter mulch that covered the ground.

Silver didn’t mushroom like lead, it was too hard. Silver bullets, then, were not as deadly to werewolves as legend would have it. The wounds they made were more like the wounds from arrows than from lead bullets: a neat and tidy hole. Werewolves mostly healed human slowly from such wounds—but as long as the hole wasn’t in the wrong place, they survived.

Right between the eyes was the wrong place. Especially when the bullet inexplicably behaved more like a lead bullet than a silver one.

“That’s silver,” she told Charles. “So why did it mushroom?”

It hadn’t really mushroomed, exactly. Instead, it had opened up like a flower with sharp-edged petals. But she figured he’d understand what she was asking.

He frowned at it. “Winchester had a bullet they called a black talon that deformed like this.” He looked at her. “About the time you were born. It looked scary but wasn’t any more lethal than a standard hollow-point round. Less lethal, actually. But scary-looking sells to a certain segment of the gun market.” He gave her a rueful look. “When the bullet was famously used by a serial killer in Florida, Winchester decided they didn’t need that kind of notoriety and took it off the market.”

He glanced at Hester, and ghosts moved in his eyes. “Someone figured out how to use that design to make a silver bullet that expands. I remember something about …”

He closed his eyes for a moment.

One of problems people whose age was in the three digits had was that they had a lot of memories to sort through. She’d noticed that sometimes important items didn’t shake out until later.

Anna wasn’t hampered by the weight of too many years. “Remember the vampire in Spokane, the one Mercy dealt with awhile back? Didn’t he make specialty ammunition intended for the supernatural communities? Did his company produce something like that?” She’d remembered the reference to the bullet from the nineties that had been discontinued because a serial killer had made it famous.

Charles opened his eyes and smiled at her. “Yes. That’s what I was looking for. You are useful to have around.”

“Back atcha,” she told him. “And there was some connection between that vampire and Gerry Wallace—the one who paid Leo to make werewolves.” She thought she got the name of her first Alpha out in a steady voice, but every muscle in Charles’s body stiffened, and he growled.

“Leo’s dead,” she told him firmly. “But the moneyman, the guy with the money and some kind of political clout who seems to be lurking in the background …”

Charles nodded. “Because Gerry didn’t have that kind of money—or those kinds of connections. Gerry used those poor wolves Leo made to try to find drugs that work on us. That part was all Gerry. But the person who knew that Leo had been trying to keep his mate alive by changing beautiful men—and you—and killing the pack members who objected, the person who knew Leo would be willing to supply the wolves with a little blackmail and money—that person we didn’t find. He’s a ghost—assuming he’s all the same person. I get a whiff of him now and then. He was involved in that group of ex-CANTRIP people who attacked the Columbia Basin Pack. He might have been a part of the Boston business we ran into last fall.”

He tossed the bullet in the air and caught it, his eyes a pale gold. And then he whispered thoughtfully, “And here he is again, what did you call him? The moneyman.”

Anna looked down at the wolf they had both been trying not to think about too much. Or that she had been trying not to think about too much even as her hands tried to comfort Hester and herself.

“Why are we taking time now?” she asked. “I mean, you don’t usually talk while there are things to do.”

Things like bringing Hester’s body back to her mate.

“I’m giving him time,” Charles said. “Jonesy.”

“He knows she’s gone,” Anna said.

It hadn’t been a question, but he nodded anyway. “The earthquakes. Those were him, I think. We should wait here a little longer. Old creatures are dangerous when they are grieving.”

Anna nodded and untangled her hands from Hester’s fur. “Why did they kill Hester?”

Her voice sounded too small, but she couldn’t help it. Hester wasn’t the first dead person, dead werewolf, she’d been around. Anna had killed another person today. Shouldn’t she be getting over death by now? She was a werewolf, right? She didn’t get to be shaken by the deaths of near strangers.

She cleared her throat and tried to sound … unshaken. Or at least less shaken. “They tried so hard to take her away with them. Why not wait to see if they could capture her later?”

The question he answered wasn’t the one she had voiced. “It is all right to mourn Hester. She is worth the weight of your sorrow.”

“I didn’t know her,” Anna said. “How can I be so sad when I didn’t know her? I mean, why mourn her and not that guy I killed? I didn’t know her any better than I knew him.”

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