Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(4)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(4)
Author: Patricia Briggs

“Tag suggested we reinstate the Marrok’s musical evenings,” Anna told him. “Apparently, they were a community staple before the Marrok allowed them to lapse a few years ago.”

“Almost twenty years ago,” Charles said, more than a little taken aback. What had brought that into Tag’s head? Surely there were things more likely to come to mind than events coated in decades of dust when someone walked into the middle of a fight between two women. “More than a few years.”

“Twenty?” Anna frowned. “That’s not what Tag said when he suggested it.”

“Tag’s sense of time isn’t anything I would rely on too much,” Charles told her dryly. “Ask him about Waterloo. He talks about it like it happened a week ago.”

She grinned. “Only if you are the one to tell him that the French lost the battle this time. I’ll sit on the sidelines and eat popcorn.”

Tag’s real name was Colin Taggart. He identified as Irish, Welsh, or Scot depending upon the day and the accent he was using. He’d fought for the Little Emperor during the Napoleonic War. Tag was still particularly bitter about “the English.”

“Anyway,” Anna said with a glance toward the doorway Leah had used to exit the room, “I thought that it would not be a good thing to institute sweeping changes while Bran is away. Leah disagrees.”

Charles blinked at her. It was not like his Anna to come down on the side of caution. Nor was Leah in the least musical. Not being interested in anything that wasn’t centered upon her, she’d been more relieved than almost anyone when they’d stopped.

“Leah thinks that the pack would benefit from some kind of social gathering beyond the moon hunts,” said Leah, emerging from the depths of the house with a basket in her hand and a bite to her voice.

“Anna thinks that the pack won’t fall into despair and boredom if we wait until Bran comes back,” said his Anna mildly, in a tone he had heard his da use on his recalcitrant sons. “She also believes that referring to oneself in the third person is absurd.”

Charles bit back a smile. Somehow, he didn’t think a smile would help the situation, particularly because he could tell by Leah’s pinched expression that she recognized the origins of that tone, too.

Leah restrained herself to a wordless grimace. Then she loaded the basket with apples, peaches, and bananas, which somehow, in her skilled hands, took on an artistic shape.

“Here,” she said to him, handing him the basket. “I hope this helps.” Despite the edge in her tone, she wasn’t lying.

Charles nodded gravely. “Thank you.”

• • •

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND that woman,” said Anna, getting into the driver’s seat of his old truck. She had finally given up offering to let him drive unless there was some real reason that she didn’t want to or he needed to. “Why is everything a battle with her?”

Charles made a hmm noise. Evidently, she was going to blow off all the steam she’d been building up with Leah onto him. That was okay. He had broad shoulders. He liked that she gave him her secrets—even if those secrets were only about how frustrating she found Leah. Not much of a secret, really, but it was his.

Anna turned her irritated frown on him before backing the truck carefully out of the driveway. Anna drove like an old grandmother. He thought it was delightful. So was the frown.

“Aren’t we in a hurry?” she asked. “Shouldn’t you be driving?”

“Whatever happened has already happened,” Charles said. “We shouldn’t waste time, but I don’t think ten minutes one way or the other will make much difference.”

“All right, then,” she said. “Am I going the right direction? I was so upset with Leah that I didn’t ask. I don’t know where Arsonist Creek is. Why don’t I know where Arsonist Creek is?”

“This is the way,” he said. “And the pack lands are riddled with creeks and brooks and puddles. No reason you should know them all—especially when Arsonist Creek is in a part of our territory we leave to the wildlings.”

“Okay,” she said, then she was quiet. Trying, he thought, to contain her irritation with Leah. She stewed a little more before her frustration bubbled enough to be given voice.

“It is a good idea,” she told him. “Tag should be able to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this thing.’ And she should say, ‘Hey, that is an amazingly good idea, let’s do that thing you suggested.’ And it could be just ducky for everyone. Instead, after I made the mistake of saying it sounded like fun, she was all ‘we should wait until Bran gets home.’”

So she’d switched sides, he thought, his clever wolf. He’d seen her do that before. Sometimes to him. Anna would have brought up all of Leah’s objections until there was nowhere for his stepmother to leap except exactly where Anna wanted her to go. If Leah had been smarter … but she wasn’t. As his da had once told him, it was not fair to blame her for being exactly what Bran needed in a mate. Someone his wolf would accept—and the man would not love.

“I can’t see a world in which Leah would use the word ‘hey,’” he said. “Except, perhaps, if it was the homophone ‘hay,’ instead. And only then if she had a horse she needed to feed.”

Anna let go of the steering wheel and waved her hands. “It’s a barbecue, not a rite of passage or a county fair or anything requiring much organization. Just a ‘bring food, bring instruments if you want to; we’re going to have fun tonight’ kind of thing. We’re a musical bunch here. Enjoying that shouldn’t take an act of Congress.” Anna put her hands back on the wheel about a hundredth of a second before he’d have felt compelled to do the same.

“Turn here,” he told her. “Then take the turnoff as though you’re headed up to Wilson Gap.”

He let silence flow between them for a moment. Brother Wolf thought that Anna was fully capable of getting along with Leah if she wanted to. She usually did, in fact. Leah was no exception to the effect that an Omega wolf had or to Anna’s sincere friendliness. If Tag had interrupted a fight, it was one that Anna had allowed to happen.

Brother Wolf didn’t know why she’d do that, but Charles put two and two together for them both. Maybe, he thought, it hadn’t been anything his da had said that had kept Leah out of his hair since Bran had left.

“Have you been picking fights with Leah so that she forgets to pick fights with me?” he asked.

Anna raised her chin.

“Thank you,” he said.

“My job,” she said—and there was a little grimness in her voice—“is to make your job easier.”

He thought about the grimness and the subtle emphasis when she’d said “my job.” Brother Wolf stirred uneasily. In matters pertaining to their mate’s happiness, Brother Wolf sometimes had insights that Charles, distracted with human things, could overlook.

His Anna, whose talent for music had burned so brightly that she’d had a full-ride scholarship to Northwestern University, should have been playing her cello on a stage under spotlights. Instead, she was trapped in Aspen Creek, Montana—where the closest thing to spotlights within a hundred miles were probably the ones on the top of his truck.

“You were going to look into finishing your degree,” he said. He’d been meaning to ask her about it for a while. But Anna could be a private person, and he tried to give her room to breathe. It was a difficult balance between Brother Wolf’s sometimes overwhelming desire to protect/love/defend and Anna’s need to be herself and not be overwhelmed.

She didn’t say anything for a while.

“I can get an online bachelor’s in music theory,” she said finally. “But I’m starting to think maybe I should go into therapy or counseling.”

“Is that what you want?”

She sighed a little and shook her head.

“Then why are we talking about that?”

She was looking for a purpose in her life.

Us, said Brother Wolf. We should be her purpose as she is ours. Then, when Charles disapproved of the wolf’s narrow-mindedness, Brother Wolf offered, But if she wants something more, we need to provide it for her.

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