Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(7)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(7)
Author: Patricia Briggs

“And you tell everyone you don’t understand people,” she said.

“I don’t,” he told her contentedly. “I just understand you.”

CHAPTER 2

It took Anna the better part of an hour to drive twenty miles.

Since she had become Charles’s mate, most of the time she felt as though she belonged here, in the wilds of Montana. Then she’d take a drive with Charles in the mountains and be forcibly reminded that she’d been raised in a city.

True, some of Chicago was a wilderness in its own right, but even in the bad areas, roads could be relied upon to be paved, wide enough to get at least one car through, and she’d been able to trust that there wouldn’t be a freaking tree growing up in the middle of the road, hidden by a sharp bend.

If she hadn’t been wearing her seat belt for that one, she might have gone through the windshield. Charles, who hadn’t been, had braced himself just before she hit the brakes, and she wondered uncharitably if he’d known about the tree.

“No,” he said, as if he could read her mind. “I just saw it the same time you did.”

“Why is there a tree in the road?” she grumbled.

“That’s one of those questions without a correct answer, right? Like when a woman asks if her pants make her look fat.” There was no amusement in his voice or eyes, but she knew he felt it all the same, and her lips curled up in response.

She edged the truck around the tree. “At least you didn’t say, ‘When a mommy tree and a daddy tree love each other very much …’”

Charles laughed—and she felt proud of herself, because he didn’t laugh very often.

“I haven’t been up this way in five or six years,” he admitted. “There wasn’t a tree growing here then. But it’s not a big tree, and aspen can grow eight feet a year.”

“No one has been up this road—and I use the term loosely—in five years?” she said. “I thought Bran was up here last fall.”

“There’s another road,” he said. “It’s probably in a little better shape for most of the way because it’s traveled more—but this way is faster.”

“As long as we don’t hit any trees,” she said.

The tree wasn’t the only obstacle. Though the road apparently wasn’t traveled much, there were long stretches with deep ruts. There were rocks—some the size of her fist, with sharp points that might bruise a tire and cause it to go flat; some the size of a bowling ball, which could puncture the workings on the underside of the truck. In a couple of places grass and bushes had grown so thick that she could only guess where the road was. She’d slowed down so much that she thought they might make better time on foot.

“Get your wheels out of the ruts,” Charles advised her in that even voice he had that told her he’d been fighting those words for a while. “You could lose an axle if the hole in the road gets too deep.”

She knew that. She’d just forgotten.

“This isn’t a road,” she told him indignantly, with a growl she hadn’t meant to use. “It’s just wagon tracks through rocks and mud.”

But she pulled the wheel to the left, and the truck tipped a little as the wheels climbed up on the side of the track. Their bumpy ride got a lot bumpier because the bottom of the ruts were a lot smoother than the sides, but the scrape of rock on the underside of the truck happened less frequently.

The road got drier as it climbed out of a ravine, then got mushy again as it dropped over a ridge in the mountain they were, as far as Anna could tell, circumnavigating.

Charles came to alert. Reading his body language, she brought them from a crawl to a full stop before he said anything. She didn’t bother to try to pull to the side because there wasn’t a side to pull off onto; besides, they hadn’t seen another car since she’d turned off the main road.

Charles was out of the truck before she’d come to a full stop. She turned off the engine and got out to join him.

“Hester and Jonesy don’t drive,” he said. “So why am I seeing fresh tire tracks?”

Anna looked down, and there they were—tire tracks. She should have noticed them.

She tried to redeem herself. “ATVs, right?” The odd-to-her-city-eyes vehicles were as common in the rugged country of Montana in the summer as snowmobiles were in the winter. “Four-wheelers.” Because there were older three-wheeled ATVs. “At least two of them because there are two sizes of tires.”

Charles nodded.

“Wait,” she said, waving a hand with one finger extended. “Wait. There are at least three. Because this guy”—she pointed to a set of tracks where they cut into the dirt because the four-wheeler turned—“is heavier, his bike digs in deeper in the same kind of soil. All going in the same direction.”

“Right,” he agreed, and waited.

She frowned at him, looking at the tracks again to see what she’d missed. But no matter how intently she looked around, she didn’t see any boot marks, or convenient scraps of fabric bearing scent, empty beer cans, or cigarette butts that might hold vital clues as to who had been traveling this road before they came here.

She narrowed her eyes. What would Gibbs see? She might have a minor addiction to a certain police-procedural TV show.

“Two days ago we had rain,” he told her before she could get too frustrated. “You can see there is still some mud under the trees where the sun doesn’t reach. These tracks were made after the soil dried—you can tell by the loose dirt. I expect these were made today.”

“And because you got a call today,” she said, “it’s highly probable that these tracks and the call are related.”

“That did lead me to look for reasons those tracks might be more recent,” he agreed. Tracking, he’d told her, was not just about what your senses told you; it was also about using what you knew.

He took a deep breath of air. She did, too. She smelled the pines, the firs, and a hint of cedar and hidden water. There was a cougar nearby. She glanced around, looking up in the trees but couldn’t spot it. They were good at hiding, but sometimes their tails twitched and gave them away. Not today.

Somewhere within a mile or so, but not much nearer than that either, there was a small group of blacktail deer. She caught the scent of the usual suspects: rabbits, various birds, and what Tag liked to call tree tigers because the squirrels were brave and made a big uproar when someone entered their territory.

None of those were what was making Charles look so intent.

“What is it?” she asked.

He looked around again. Breathed in again. Then he shook his head. “I don’t know. Something.”

“Your spidey senses are tingling,” she said.

He gave her a blank look. He had weird cultural gaps, as if there were entire decades during which he had not turned on a TV or talked to anyone. She hoped he had just not paid attention, but the “not talking to anyone” was a distinct possibility.

“Intuition,” she said. “Your subconscious knows something that you can’t put into words yet.”

“From Spider-Man,” he said in as serious a voice as he would have used if she’d been quoting from Shakespeare.

She nodded.

He took one last deep breath, then headed around to the driver’s side of the truck. “Get in. I’ll take it from here. My spidey senses—” he said, his voice a touch dry on the unfamiliar syllables “—are telling me that we should hurry after all.”

“Oh, thank the hairy little men in the moon,” she said sincerely, climbing gratefully into the passenger seat.

It wasn’t that she was afraid she’d kill them—they were werewolves, killing them in a car wreck at ten miles an hour would take some doing. It was that the old truck was something Charles loved—and every time she heard the scrape of tree branch on paint, she could see him not-wince.

But she understood why he’d preferred her snail’s pace and the damage she’d dealt to his truck—he hadn’t really wanted to get to their destination.

When there were incidents involving any of Bran’s wildlings, it usually meant that Charles had to kill one of the old wolves. She knew, better than anyone, that her mate was very tired of being his father’s executioner.

   
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