Home > Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(8)

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5)(8)
Author: Patricia Briggs

She hopped into the truck and impulsively slid over, rose up, and kissed his cheek. As she settled back and put on her seat belt, she said merely, “Remember not to drive in the ruts.”

• • •

THE LAST THING Charles thought he would do, on his way into the mountains to (probably) kill one of his da’s beloved wildlings, was laugh.

But life with Anna was like that.

Once she was safely belted in, he set out getting to Hester’s as quickly as possible. His wolf spirit’s growing unease—something separate from his dislike of killing wolves who needed to meet death—rode the back of his neck and told him that they needed to be at Hester’s now.

He navigated the track that wound around the mountain with a speed that could have been fatal (to the truck, anyway) if he didn’t have a werewolf’s reaction time and a familiarity with the area. Anna made small sounds now and then and kept a death grip on the door that made him grateful for the Detroit steel that held up under her hand.

As he’d told Anna, it had been some years since he’d been up here. Once Hester and Jonesy moved in, his da had decreed that this area was off-limits for casual runs. After that, he’d only traveled this road by necessity. But he’d been here often before that, in the truck this one had replaced nearly fifty years ago. He knew where the road turned and twisted, though he had to maneuver around a few more trees that had not been here the last time he’d traveled this way.

The truck roared and growled and occasionally, when he found some of the mud left over from the rainstorm, howled. But he piloted it to the top of the ridge at the edge of Hester’s valley without coming afoul of anything larger than a few aspen fingerlings that gave way under the pressure of his bumper.

He paused there on the top of the ridge—a strategic move. He noted the clear-from-the-truck-cab marks that told him the four-wheelers had turned off the track here. Charles hesitated, but the path the other people had woven through the trees was too narrow for the truck. So he turned down the track to the little valley where Jonesy and Hester lived.

As they bounced down the track toward the still, small building, Charles noted absently that the windows were old-fashioned double panes that they should replace with vinyl soon. Other than that, the structure was in good shape. For all that it had been cobbled together over years, the house appeared all of a piece. There were flower boxes on either side of the door, filled with the black-eyed Susans that grew wild in the mountains around here. Those hadn’t been here when Charles had helped put in solar panels the last time he’d been up.

He stopped the truck and let it idle for a moment, unhappy with the quiet. But as soon as he turned off the engine, the front door of the house opened and Jonesy emerged.

Hester’s mate looked like a throwback to a bygone time, mostly an effect of his hand-spun clothing. His pinesap-colored hair was rough-cut to stay out of his eyes. There were a few leaves and a twig or two tangled in its ragged length.

His feet were bare and mottled with dried blood, though he walked evenly enough. Once Charles was looking for it, he noticed that there were small tears in Jonesy’s shirt. He was clean-shaven, though, with skin that looked as smooth as a woman’s. Maybe he, like Charles, didn’t have much of a beard to shave.

It was impossible to read his expression or his body language, and that made Brother Wolf unhappy. Charles hopped out of the truck and met Jonesy halfway between truck and house. He made a slight gesture with his hand, and Anna dropped a little behind him. He knew, without looking, that she was keeping a sharp eye out for trouble so he could concentrate on Jonesy.

When in the company of the dynamic woman who was the fey man’s mate, Jonesy hadn’t made much of an impression on Charles. Brother Wolf’s intent wariness made Charles think that perhaps that lack of attention had been confined to his human self.

“Charles,” Jonesy said, his unhurried voice carrying a Welsh accent stronger than Charles’s da’s, stronger than it had sounded on the phone. “Diolch. Thank you for coming.”

He smelled like the fae that he was, a scent so overpowering that Brother Wolf couldn’t make heads or tails about his state of mind—not from his scent, anyway. His body language was meek, an affect not detracted from by his slender frame.

He was everything that Brother Wolf would normally be protective of, which made Charles’s wolf’s reaction that much more strange. Brother Wolf thought they should pin this one to the ground so that he would understand that they could kill him at any time. Charles couldn’t figure out why Brother Wolf thought Jonesy was such a threat, but he wouldn’t dismiss his other self’s instincts. Even if Brother Wolf had never reacted to Jonesy this way before … but then Hester had always been present.

Hester kept the fae in line, agreed Brother Wolf.

“Croeso,” Charles told Hester’s fae mate. “There is no cost to our help for you this day,” he said carefully, because exchanging words of gratitude with the fae was dangerous. Having the fae owe him a favor was as dangerous as owing the fae a favor. “My word on it. This is my mate, Anna,”

Jonesy glanced up at Anna’s face, glanced away, then back, squinting his eyes as if she were too bright to look at. Then he took two quick steps that brought him within reach, and raised his hand suddenly to touch her face with a hand that trembled. Anna didn’t move.

Charles had to fight Brother Wolf to keep from knocking Jonesy to the ground.

Anna could protect herself—and, other than the speed of it, Charles could see nothing threatening in Jonesy’s action. He had enough magic in his own bloodline to feel it if the fae tried anything with power.

“Oh,” Jonesy said, wonder in his voice. “Oh, and haven’t I heard that the mate of the old one’s son was an Omega wolf? And haven’t we all been overjoyed that such a wolf ran in our woods.” The look he turned on Charles was pure hope. “Maybe she can help? Hester hasn’t been herself lately.”

Jonesy might not be a wolf, but there was no question that he felt something from Anna. Charles reviewed all he’d ever heard about Jonesy—which wasn’t much. Jonesy was … different, even for a fae. Slow, Charles had heard, but watching him now, he could tell that wasn’t it. More that he interacted with the world a little askew from how most people did.

Anna smiled at Jonesy and let him touch her. But her eyes were wary. Maybe she was picking up some of Brother Wolf’s wariness—or maybe she sensed something herself. But that heartfelt plea for his mate’s safety … that was something Charles and Brother Wolf understood.

“She saved me,” Charles told Jonesy. “I don’t know what she might do for Hester. Da thinks she might be of some help.”

Jonesy frowned. “I don’t know if Hester needs saving …”

Charles stepped forward a little to put himself in a better position to protect Anna if he needed to. “What happened? Why did you call me?”

Jonesy blinked a couple of times and let his hand fall away from Anna as he turned his now-vague attention to Charles. “Did I call you? I called the Marrok, I thought.”

“I answered the phone,” Charles reminded him.

Jonesy frowned. Cleared his throat, and said, “You are Charles. Yes. That’s right. I remember. Why did I call you?”

He shivered, as if a wind that Charles couldn’t feel blew across his shoulders. He bowed his head, closed his eyes, and said, clearly, in a crisp British accent.

“She’s my caretaker, you know. Hester is.”

“I didn’t know,” said Anna, putting a hand on Charles’s arm to ask him to leave the interrogation to her. “What happened to Hester, Jonesy?”

Jonesy’s eyes snapped open, and he reached for both of Anna’s hands.

Dangerous, said Brother Wolf. He could hurt her even if he doesn’t mean to.

Charles tensed but managed not to move when Anna linked her fingers around Jonesy’s hands. The touch seemed to steady Hester’s mate. Charles could see alertness and intelligence stir in the other man’s eyes.

Dangerous, said Brother Wolf, but quietly, as if he didn’t want to attract Jonesy’s attention.

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