Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(3)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(3)
Author: Patricia Briggs

Objectively, Leah was far more beautiful. But his Anna was real in a way few people were. He’d tried explaining that realness to his da once, and his da had finally shook his head, and said, “Son, I think that’s one of those things that your mother would have understood without trouble, and I never will.”

Anna connected to the world around her as if she instinctively understood his maternal grandfather’s view of the world: that all things in the world are a part of a greater whole, that harm to one thing was harm to all. She had coherence with the world around her, while most people were fighting to be connected to as little as possible because that was safer. He thought Anna was the bravest person he knew.

He understood that other people would consider Leah the more beautiful of the two. He even understood why. But to him, Anna was—

Ours, said Brother Wolf. She is perfect, our soul mate, our anchor, the reason we were created. So that we could be hers. But we have other business to attend to.

He didn’t know how long the silence between the two women had held—it hadn’t been that long since Leah had stormed out of his office. His father’s office.

“Leah,” he said, because there was no time to wade into the deep waters between the two women even if he’d been stupid enough to want to do so. “I just received a distress call from one of the wildings, I think. Do you know this phone number?”

He held the paper out to her.

Leah demonstrated one of her shining qualities. She dropped whatever fight she was trying to pick with Anna and took the paper he handed her, setting aside her personal business without hesitation when duty called.

“Hester and Jonesy,” she said immediately. “They live up Arsonist Creek about twenty miles. What did she say?”

And that was why he hadn’t recognized the voice. Jonesy very seldom spoke when his mate was available to do it. Hester … Hester was old. In that category of old that meant neither she nor anyone else was entirely sure how old she was.

“Jonesy called me,” Charles said. “He said there’s been an incident, and he wanted me to come to them.”

“Has been an incident?” Leah frowned, glanced over her shoulder at Charles’s mate, and frowned harder. “Hester isn’t easy even for Bran. The last time he went up—last fall—she was lucid and seemed to enjoy singing with him. But then she tracked him halfway back to the road, and he had to call Jonesy to lure her back to her home. If there has been an incident, having an Omega wolf there might be a good move for everyone.”

Charles frowned. “An Omega wolf isn’t always a good thing when dealing with the wildings.”

Initially, Bran had been very excited about what Anna might do for his wildlings. And she’d helped a couple of them. But one spectacular disaster that ended with the wildling dead and three of the pack damaged had taught them to be cautious. That the wildling had been under a death sentence before Anna tried to help him hadn’t kept her from feeling terrible.

Charles was unwilling to expose Anna to such trauma again. He and his da had had several heated arguments about that recently—an argument that both of them were careful to keep from Anna.

“Tracked?” Anna asked, taking a spoon and sinking it into her bowl.

Leah nodded. As long as the topic was important, her voice stayed professionally brisk. “She took wolf form and tracked Bran as if he were prey. He said he wasn’t sure he shouldn’t have let her catch up with him.” Leah’s brisk voice traveled right over what that would have meant: Hester’s death. “But she’d been lucid for the better part of two days—and Jonesy seemed well enough. Bran thought it could have been just having a dominant wolf in her territory that had set her off, so he let it lie.”

She pursed her lips, and said, “You aren’t your father. Hester might not be willing to let you approach her at all by yourself. Unless you want to have to put Hester down, you should take Anna.” She saw Charles’s hesitation. “Unlike the wildling who had such a bad reaction to Anna, Hester’s personality is a strong one. It is her wolf that is her problem—not the human half.” She gave a little biting laugh at his expression. “You can ask your da, that was his assessment.”

“I can put this in the fridge,” Anna said briskly, breaking into the conflict Leah was about to start. “Or someone else can. How much of a hurry are we in?”

The problem with the wildling Anna had tried to help so disastrously had been that the wildling’s wolf half had been the sane part of that pairing. When Anna sent it to sleep, all that was left was the crazy human—who still had had a werewolf’s fangs and strength.

“I don’t intend to dawdle,” said Charles, giving in. “But any emergency is going to be over before we can make it there. As Leah said, Hester’s place is twenty-odd miles away—and most of that is rough country.”

“Okay,” Anna said. She took the spoon she was stirring her dough with and filled it, handing it to Charles to taste as she reached for the plastic wrap with her other hand.

“It’s Mercy’s recipe.” Anna wrapped the bowl with an efficiency that belied the relaxed-chat tone of her words. “I put some orange peel in, too. What do you think?”

The chocolate was rich and bitter in the sugar-butter-and-orange matrix—a brownie batter, he thought, though it might be some sort of soft cookie dough. His foster sister, Mercy, had always had a genius for baking things with chocolate. She’d also had an uncanny knack for driving Leah to unpredictable heights of craziness.

His Anna was really annoyed with Leah if she would go so far out of her way to bring up Mercy. He grunted and dropped the spoon-sans-dough in the dishwasher.

Anna could read his grunts. “Good.” She put the bowl in the fridge and turned off the oven. “Ready when you are.”

Leah had been watching Anna’s performance with narrow eyes, but when she spoke, it was only to say, “Hester’s old enough that a gift is a pretty good guarantee she’ll treat you like a guest instead of an interloper. Bran usually brings fruit because that’s one thing they can’t grow or kill. Give me a minute, and I’ll put a basket together for them.”

She left the room at a brisk trot, presumably to find a basket because there was plenty of fruit on the counter.

Charles knew Leah well enough to know that whatever Anna had done to raise her ire wasn’t over. Leah didn’t let go of a battle—but she wouldn’t bring it up again until the situation with Hester was resolved.

He eyed his mate. To the untrained eye, she looked relaxed and calm.

Charles’s eye was not untrained. He murmured, “Trouble?”

His mate leaned against the granite counter and heaved a put-upon sigh that was only half-feigned. Then she straightened and shook her head. “It’s hard for her to have us here. She has no idea how to handle me in her personal space. She is finding it incredibly frustrating. And you don’t help.”

He raised an eyebrow.

She laughed despite her tension. “It’s not your fault. You don’t do anything wrong except exude Charlesness, but that’s enough to set her off.”

He didn’t know what Anna meant by “Charlesness”—he was who he was. He couldn’t help that. But there was no question that his presence had an effect on Leah.

“This seemed to be a more specific problem,” he said.

“Yes,” Anna agreed. “Tag stopped in while you were wrestling rhinos in Bran’s office.”

“I was moving bookcases,” he told her. “No African animals involved.”

She grinned at him briefly. “Sounded like rhino wrestling to me—complete with animal grunts and bellows. Anyway, he stopped in—apparently to tell us he was bored.” She hesitated. “He came in the middle of a discussion Leah and I were having. I think he had other business, but we distracted him.”

Anna was an Omega wolf. That meant that any dominant wolf felt the need to make her safe—which was the reason Leah thought she might help with Hester. If Tag had come into the room while Leah and Anna were having some sort of heated discussion … yes, the big Celtic werewolf would have done what he could to interrupt it.

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