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

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

That, Charles was in wholehearted agreement with.

He had been working with his da to see how he and Anna might go about adopting a child. It was complicated by the low profile Bran was trying to keep for Aspen Creek and the pack.

But Anna’s dissatisfaction wasn’t something a child would fix. She wasn’t a person who lived through other people.

“What do you think about Tag’s suggestion?” Anna asked, changing the topic. “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to have some sort of get-together that isn’t just pack but the whole community?”

“Not to take Leah’s side—” he began, but had to laugh at the look she gave him. “Just listen up, Anna-my-love. The musical evenings were the center of a battle between my da and Mercy—and you know how Leah feels about anything that had to do with Mercy.”

“I do,” she said. “I even understand it, much as it pains me to say so. Bran is funny about Mercy. If you were that funny about Mercy, I would feel the same way Leah does—no matter how likable I might find her.”

“Bran’s not funny about her,” he told Anna, feeling uncomfortable. “He thinks of her as his daughter, and he doesn’t have any other daughters still alive. There’s nothing strange about it.”

“Or so everyone is much happier believing,” agreed Anna blandly. “Including Bran. We’ll leave it at that. So the musical evenings were a thing between Bran and Mercy?”

“Not like that,” Charles said, feeling defensive because Anna put her finger right on something that he’d been ignoring for a long time. He took a deep breath. “All right. All right. You might have a point about Da and Mercy.”

She smiled, just a little.

He threw up his hands. “Okay. Yes. I saw it, of course I did. As did Leah. But my da would never have moved on Mercy. Say what you will about him—but his wolf has accepted Leah as his mate, and he will not cheat on her. And Mercy has never seen him as anything except a father figure and her Alpha. That’s what she needed, and that’s what he gave her. I don’t think Mercy has ever recognized that it could be more than that.”

“Yes,” Anna agreed, to his relief. “That’s how I read their relationship, too.” She paused, then said in a low voice with her eyes firmly on the road in front of them. “Do you think she’s okay?”

“Mercy?” Mercy had been taken. For that reason, Bran had left the pack in Charles’s hands. Luckily, that situation had been quickly resolved—at least Mercy’s part in it had. He had the feeling that the shake-up from it would be playing out for a long time.

“Yes, Mercy.”

He pressed a fist to his heart. “If she were not, my da would have brought down the fiends of the ages to wreak vengeance. Since he decided to go visit my brother in Africa, of all places, and ‘take a vacation,’ I expect that she is fine. You could call her.”

Anna blew out a breath. “Okay. I tried calling her today, but her cell number isn’t working, and the house phone was answered by some boy who said that she was outside trying to figure out how to get Christy’s car functioning, quote, ‘well enough to make Christy go away again,’ unquote. He advised me to let her cool off for a day or two before trying again.”

He smiled wryly. “Have you met Christy?”

Anna shook her head. “Who is she?”

“Adam’s ex-wife. Beautiful, fragile, a little helpless—just the kind of woman most Alpha wolves gravitate toward.” He smiled a little wider as Anna let out an impassioned huff of air.

“I am not helpless,” she said. “Nor fragile.”

“No,” he agreed. “And neither is Christy, really. I give thanks every day that my da found Leah as a mate and not someone like Christy. Leah is a lot more straightforward.”

“Nor am I beautiful,” Anna continued, undeterred.

“On that,” he said peaceably, “I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

“Tell me about the music nights?” Anna asked after a moment, though he noted with pleasure that her face had flushed a little because she would have heard the truth of his words.

“Mercy and Bran engaged in a feud over those musical nights,” Charles said. “You’ve met her. ‘Stubborn’ doesn’t quite cut it.”

Anna frowned. “Something has to set her off, though.”

He nodded. “Mercy doesn’t like being front and center. She is a fair musician. She sings on key, but she doesn’t have a real voice, and she knew that. But she was pretty decent on the piano.”

“She told me she hates piano,” Anna said.

“I think it all got caught up in the mess of Leah’s feud with Mercy,” he told her. “Leah was merciless in her torment of Mercy, restrained by two things.”

He held up a finger.

“My da made it clear that anyone who actually physically harmed her was answerable to him. And Mercy’s foster father, Bryan, was a scary bastard when he was angry. It took a lot to get him there, though, and Leah was very careful to skirt just on the edge of that. Mercy made it easier for Leah because Mercy always retaliated—and that muddied waters that would otherwise have shown Leah clearly at fault.”

Anna grimaced in sympathy, so he added, “And there is this, too—usually everyone ended up feeling sorrier for whoever had pulled Mercy’s wrath down upon their heads than they did for Mercy herself.”

She laughed. “The shoe thief.” And she lowered her voice conspiratorially. “The chocolate Easter bunny incident.”

“Exactly,” Charles said. “To be fair, my da, he believes in trial by fire. No one will ever again be able to maneuver Mercy into being blamed for something that wasn’t her fault. Leah taught Mercy that revenge has to wait until the right moment but that justice can be satisfied without dying for it.”

“That’s fair?” Anna asked.

Charles nodded. “Mercy wanted to believe that the world was a just place—and she can turn into a coyote in a world filled with werewolves and vampires. She has no quit in her. She had to learn how to survive—and Da let Leah teach her how to do it. Not that Leah knew she was helping Mercy.” He wasn’t completely sure that his da had known that he was helping Mercy.

“What did you do?” she asked.

Brother Wolf wanted to roll in her confidence that they had not left their little coyote sister alone to face off with Leah.

“I could not override my father’s decision,” he said. “Which was that we not interfere between Mercy and Leah. Leah, he told me, was his mate—and thus dominant to me.”

“So what did you do?” she asked again.

“Whenever there was a chance that Leah would find Mercy alone, without a witness between them, I was there.” It had taken work—and if his da ever found out just how many of the pack had made it their business to help him in his self-appointed task—there would be a reckoning. What he had done undermined Leah’s authority in the pack, something his father would not have stood for had he known about it. But Charles had learned something from Mercy, too—it’s all good as long as you don’t get caught.

“So how does that tie in to the musical nights?” Anna asked.

“Mercy finally figured out that Bran knew about Leah and had no intention of interfering. Bryan—”

“Her foster father.”

“That’s the one,” he agreed. “He told me about it because he was worried about what Mercy would do. We both knew she wouldn’t just let it alone.”

“Of course not,” Anna agreed.

Charles smiled. “The evenings started sometime in the 1960s. My father was a victim of a self-help book some idiot gave him for Christmas one year. He decided the pack … the town needed some kind of bonding experience. He’s a musician—so he turned to music. All of the kids over the age of five would perform on a rotating schedule—pack-related or not.” Aspen Creek was tiny, but there had still been five or six children at every performance. “They would be followed by a couple of volunteers, willing or not, from the pack. And finally, he would cap off the night with a performance of his own: music usually, but sometimes storytelling. It made the rest worth sitting through for the adults not related to the kids. By the time Mercy came to the pack as a pup, the evenings were an established tradition.” He slanted a look at his mate. “Some of us might have felt that they were a tedious tradition.”

   
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