Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(15)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(15)
Author: Patricia Briggs

Charles raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you mourning him, too?” he asked perceptively. But he didn’t wait for her to answer his question.

He looked at Hester, and said, “I don’t know why they killed her. I don’t know why they came here or what they wanted. But they were looking for her—for a female werewolf. Maybe because she was female, maybe because she was Hester—and maybe because she and Jonesy were up here isolated. They knew too much, our enemy. They knew that Jonesy is fae, though they didn’t have any idea how powerful he is. My da has been worried about the threat Hester and Jonesy represented—maybe he should have been a little worried about how vulnerable they were. If Jonesy hadn’t called us, it would have been months before someone came up to check on them.”

“We need to know if this was an isolated incident, if it was aimed at Hester and Jonesy, only. Or if someone—the moneyman, maybe—is targeting werewolves living in isolation,” Anna said, grateful for something to focus on besides the dead werewolf, the man she’d killed, and Jonesy, whose mate was dead.

“Yes,” Charles told her gravely. “All of that.” He frowned. “I could have captured the last one. He was human. But Brother Wolf—” He looked at Hester’s body and shook his head. “Brother Wolf thought that it was better to make sure they were all dead.”

He raised his chin and looked around them, his head tilted a little as if he could hear something she did not.

“I think we can go now.” Charles rose to his knees and hefted Hester’s body until he had her in a fireman’s carry. He backed out of the underbrush and stood as soon as he could. He waited until Anna was beside him, then started back toward the cabin.

Her mate had grace in the steep terrain, never faltering as he stepped over downed timber or around rocks. He didn’t slip, didn’t make an unintentional noise, while carrying the huge old wolf.

Anna had been raised in suburban Chicago. The closest she’d gotten to mountains were the hills in Wisconsin, where she’d gone to a few summer camps in middle school. In wolf form, she was almost competent. But her human toes liked to stick themselves under tree roots and thunk into rocks, especially when she couldn’t see because stupid tears kept welling up whenever she let her eyes linger on the dead werewolf.

“Should we be worried about Jonesy?” asked Anna. “As we approach the cabin, I mean?”

Charles hesitated, then said, “We should always worry about anyone as old and worn as Jonesy.”

Any other day, Anna would have pursued that not-answer. But she was feeling as though she’d been knocked off her feet and couldn’t quite find her balance, so she let it pass.

But he clarified his answer anyway. “You should probably stick close. As much for me as for you. Leah was right, bringing you was a good idea. It seemed to help Jonesy.”

“How is that?” she asked his back. “I noticed it, too. Usually, I only have that kind of an effect on werewolves.”

“No,” Charles said. “I would have said that you affect werewolves most strongly. But watching Jonesy with you—you affected him as much as you affect any werewolf. It might be because he’s the mate of a wolf. Or some of the fae are shapechangers …”

Anna looked ahead to see what had distracted him. They had just topped a rise, and the trees had thinned, so she could see the valley with Hester and Jonesy’s cabin.

The happy sunflower-looking flowers that had been only in the flower boxes had now popped up all over the valley, not densely, like the poppies in The Wizard of Oz, but in small patches here and there. Maybe she just hadn’t noticed them.

“Are those flowers new?” she asked.


They were pretty, gathered together like natural bouquets, not elegant enough to be beautiful but sort of homey and lovely. Warm and welcoming. They shouldn’t have caused the dread in her stomach.

The little cabin was quiet. No soft-spoken fae came out to greet them. Charles walked right past the cabin without slowing. He just took Hester to the back of the truck and waited, without saying anything.

She dropped the tailgate, expecting him to lay Hester’s body down, then push it in the rest of the way. Instead, he hopped into the bed himself, then set the body of the wolf down as if she could still be hurt if he didn’t take care.

Anna wrapped her arms around her midriff, watching him. “He’s dead, too,” Anna said in a low voice. That’s why they had waited. That’s why he hadn’t really worried about Jonesy when they were bringing his dead mate back to him.

Charles jumped out of the truck and landed lightly beside her. When he spoke, his voice was heavy. “Probably.”

And she remembered that his father had left Hester and her mate in Charles’s capable hands. Their lives had been his to protect, and Charles took his responsibilities very seriously.

He walked them unhurriedly back to the cabin. She noticed he didn’t step on any of the flowers, so she took care not to as well.

The door was unlocked.

The interior of the cabin was tidy and cozy. A couple of rocking chairs near the fireplace, bookcases stacked with worn books, some of them leather-bound antiques, others modern. There was a small loom with the beginnings of cloth woven only a few inches long, a pale sea-foam green.

She could smell them here—Hester and Jonesy—but the only sounds were the ones she and Charles made. The house felt empty, as if no one had lived here in a very, very long time. No breathing, no heartbeat, none of the small, shuffly noises that come with movement and living. That lack didn’t keep her from feeling like she was violating the private space of someone she didn’t know.

The main floor was all one room, but there was a loft over half of it. Charles climbed the rungs on the wall that gave access to the loft, but when his head cleared the ledge and he could look over, he just shook his head and dropped to the ground without bothering to use the rungs on the way down.

“Here,” said Anna. She whispered because it seemed appropriate—as if she were in a library or private garden, where noise might disturb someone else.

Here was a trapdoor in the corner of the room farthest from the door, next to the bathroom door. It was closed, but not in an attempt to hide it.

Charles passed a hand slowly over it, close, but not touching. Looking, Anna thought, for a trap, magic or otherwise. Once he’d finished, he opened the door and used an eyehook on the wall to hold it open.

A narrow, winding stairway dropped into the darkness below. All of the rungs and stringers were carved with fantastical beasts, the stringer was pine, and the rungs were a similar light wood with a different grain. It was a work of art.

It was not so dark that Anna’s wolf couldn’t see as she followed Charles into the basement. As with the main floor, there was only a single room in the basement, dominated by a large bed in the corner. She heard the sound of a match striking.

There was an oil lamp sitting on a small bookcase next to the stairway. Lighting it seemed to be a complicated matter, but Charles had no trouble. She supposed that he’d lit a lot of oil lamps before electricity became common.

The lamp was brighter than she expected, and, when Charles held it high, it shed enough light to illuminate the whole room.

The bed had no head- or footboard. The bedspread was a handmade quilt, an old-style crazy quilt, the kind the pioneers used to make when every scrap of fabric had been precious, so every bit had been put to use.

On one side of the bed was a swath of deep-black soil of the sort that would make Asil, the pack’s rose-obsessed gardener, hum with pleasure. She could smell as much as see that mixed into the soil were some still-green leaves and flower remnants.

Lying askew and half-buried in the soil on the bed and into the mattress below was a sword.

The sword was no pretty movie prop. It was made for killing things rather than impressing an audience. The blade, short, broad, and leaf-shaped, was nearly black, and so was the cross guard, maybe from age—but it looked as though it might have been charred in a very hot fire.

The grip looked like leather, old and cracking, like some long-abandoned relic. On the very end of the pommel, a rough gemstone the size of a walnut gleamed, a thing of beauty that contrasted with the grim fierceness of the rest of the weapon. It could have been sapphire, blue topaz, or some other deep-blue stone.

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