Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(2)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(2)
Author: Patricia Briggs

He looked up, Brother Wolf foremost at this interruption to his hunt. It didn’t help his temper that it was his da’s mate who’d barged into (what was now) his territory without permission.

“You have to do something about your wife,” Leah announced. She didn’t react to his involuntary growl at her tone. When she spoke of Anna, she would do better to talk softly.

He didn’t like Leah. There were a lot of people in the world he didn’t like—most of them, even. But Leah had made it very easy not to like her.

When his da had brought her back with him, Charles had been a wild thing, lonely and lost. His da had taken his much-older brother Samuel and been gone for months off and on. Half-mad with grief at the death of Charles’s mother, Bran probably hadn’t been the best person to raise a child when he was home.

Charles’s uncles and his grandfather had done their best, but Brother Wolf had not always been as willing to ape being human as he was now. A werewolf child born instead of made, Charles had been (as far as he knew) unique; no one, certainly not his mother’s people, had any experience dealing with what he was.

A good part of the time Bran had been gone, Charles had roamed the forest on four feet, easily eluding the human adults tasked with raising him. Wild and undisciplined as he’d been, Charles had no trouble admitting that his ten-year-old self had not been a stepson that most women would have welcomed.

Still, he had been very hungry for attention, and Leah’s presence meant his da was around a lot more. If Leah had made even a little effort, his younger self would have been devoted to her. But Leah, for all her other personality flaws, was deeply honest. Most werewolves were honest by habit—what good is a lie if people could tell that you are lying? But Leah was honest to the core.

It was probably one of the things that allowed Bran’s wolf to mate with her. Charles could see how it would be an attractive feature—but when someone was mean and small inside, it might be better to keep quiet and hide it, honest or not, rather than display it for the world to see. The result was a mutual animosity kept within (mostly) the bounds of politeness.

Charles honored her as his da’s wife and his Alpha’s mate. Her usual politeness to him was brittle and rooted in her fear of Brother Wolf. But, since she was a dominant wolf, the fear she felt sometimes made her snappish and stupid.

Brother Wolf recovered his temper faster than Charles. He told Charles that Leah was agitated and a little intimidated, and that had made her rude. Brother Wolf didn’t like Leah either, but he respected her more than Charles did.

Other than the growl, he did not respond immediately to her request (he refused to think of them as orders, or he might have to take an action about them that did not involve anything she would appreciate). Instead, he raised a hand to ask her for silence.

When she gave it to him, he spent a moment leaving himself clear notes about the suspicious engineer that he could follow up later, as well as highlighting a few other trails he’d been investigating. He concluded the other changes he wanted to make, then backed out of his dealings as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Leah waited in growing, but silent, indignation.

Finished packing up his business, he looked up from the screen, crossed his arms over his chest, and asked, in what he felt was a reasonable tone, “What is it that you wish me to do with my wife?”

Apparently, his response wasn’t what Leah had been looking for because her mouth got even tighter, and she growled, “She seems to think that she’s in charge around here. Just because you have been placed in charge temporarily doesn’t allow her the right to give orders to me.”

Which seemed out of character for his wife.

Oh, the disregard for pack hierarchy, traditional or otherwise, was typical of his mate. Anna would not, Charles thought with affection, know tradition if it bit her on the ear. His Anna had carved out her own, fluid place in the pack hierarchy—mostly by ignoring all the traditions completely. It did not, however, make her rude.

Nothing good had ever come from sticking his nose in business that had nothing to do with him.

“Anna is Omega. She doesn’t have to obey the Marrok,” he told her. “I don’t know why you think she would obey me.”

Leah opened her mouth. Closed it. She gave him an exasperated growl, then stalked off.

For a conversation with his stepmother, he thought on the whole it had gone rather well. That it had been short was the best part of it.

One of the reasons he had resisted moving into Bran’s home while the Marrok was gone was because he knew Leah would be in, harassing him all the time. He paused to consider that because, until this very moment, she hadn’t done that. This was the first time she’d interrupted him at work. He wondered, as he began playing with the numbers on the screen in front of him, what it was that his da had said to Leah that had kept her out of his hair this effectively.

Before he was seriously buried in business again, Bran’s phone rang.

“This is Charles,” he said absently—as long as it wasn’t Leah, he could work while he talked.

There was a long pause, though he could hear someone breathing raggedly. It was unusual enough that Charles stopped reading the article on the up-and-coming tech company and devoted all his attention to the phone.

“This is Charles,” he said again. “Can I help you?”

“Okay,” a man’s voice said finally. “Okay. Bran’s son. I remember. Is Bran there? I need to talk to the Marrok.”

“Bran is gone,” Charles told him. “I’m in charge while he is out of town. How can I help you?”

“Bran is gone,” repeated the man’s voice. It was unfamiliar, but the accent was Celtic. “Charles.” He paused. “I need … we need you to come up here. There’s been an incident.” And then he hung up without leaving his name or where exactly “up here” was. When Charles tried calling him back, no one picked up the phone. Charles wrote down the number and strode out, looking for his stepmother.

He hadn’t recognized the voice, and if one of the pack members had been in trouble, he’d have felt it. There was another group of wolves who lived in Aspen Creek, Montana, though they were not part of the Marrok’s pack: the wolves Bran deemed too damaged or too dangerous to function as part of a pack—not even the Aspen Creek Pack, which was full of damaged and dangerous wolves.

Those wolves, mostly, belonged to the Marrok alone. Not a separate pack, really, but bound to the Marrok’s will and magic by blood and flesh. “Wildlings,” Bran called them. Some of the pack called them things less flattering, and possibly more accurate, though no one called them the Walking Dead in front of Charles’s father.

The wildlings lived in the mountains, separate from everyone, their homes and territory protected by the pack because it was in everyone’s best interest for no one to intrude in what peace they could find.

Bran had given him the usual list of names and a map with locations marked. Most of them Charles had met, though there were two wolves he knew only by reputation. The wildlings were, as a whole, both dangerous and fragile. Bran did not lightly allow anyone else to interact with them.

The list had not included phone numbers.

He found Leah with Anna in the stainless-steel-and-cherry kitchen. Anna had her back to Leah, whose face was flushed. His Anna was mixing something—he could smell chocolate and orange—and paying the Marrok’s mate no attention at all. He recognized Anna’s tactic for dealing with people she felt were too irrational to discuss anything with. She’d used it on him often enough.

Leah was tall, even for the current era, when women of five-eight or -nine were more common. She was several decades older than Charles, and in the eighteenth century, when she’d been born, she would have looked like a Nordic giant goddess. Her natural build was athletic, an effect enhanced by a life spent running the woods. Her features were even and topped by large blue eyes the color of a summer lake at noon.

His Anna was, as she liked to say, average-average. Average height, average build, average looks. Her curly hair was a few shades darker and a hint redder than Leah’s dark blond. Anna considered her hair to be her best feature. Charles loved her freckles and her warm brown eyes that lightened to blue when her wolf was close.

   
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