Blood Bound Chapter 7

"Hey, Mercy, what'cha workin on? Looks like a miniature Corvette."

I looked up to see Tony, cop and old friend-usually in that order-leaning up against one of my work benches. Today he was dressed casually in a thin shirt and khaki shorts appropriate to the hot summer day. Tony looked a bit frayed around the edges. It had been a little over two weeks since the sorcerer had moved into town and, according to the local news, the crime rate had been skyrocketing.

"Good eye," I told him. "It's a '71 Opel GT, designed by the same guy who designed the Corvette. Friend of mine bought it from some guy who replaced its wussy original engine with a Honda engine."

"He didn't do it right?"

"He did it fine. Excellent job of refitting it, as a matter of fact. I couldn't have done a better job myself." I grinned at him. "Only problem is that a Honda engine turns to the right and the Opel was designed for a lefty."

"Which means?"

I patted the sleek fender and grinned at him. "It only goes twenty miles per hour forward, but can break one hundred backward if you use all four gears."

He laughed. "Cute car." He stared at it for a minute and the smile fell away from his face. "Listen. Can I take you out to lunch? Business, so I'll foot the bill."

"Kennewick PD needs a mechanic?" I asked.

"No. But I think you can help us."

I washed up, changed out of my work clothes and met him back in the office. Honey looked up when I came in. Last week, her second week of guard duty, she'd turned up in jeans (pressed) with a folding chair, small desk, laptop and cell phone. Working out of my office was almost as good, she claimed, as working out of her own. Ever since the incident with Black, we'd been treating each other with cautious friendliness.

"I'm going to lunch with Tony," I announced. "I'll be back in an hour or so. Gabriel, would you call Charlie about his Opel, and tell him the price we got on that used Mazda RX7 engine? The cost won't make him happy, but the RX will fit."

Honey looked up at me, but she didn't protest me leaving, as I half expected her to.

"I hope you don't mind if we walk," Tony said as we stepped out into the sweltering heat. "I think better when I'm moving."

"Fine with me."

We took the shortcut into downtown Kennewick, over the train tracks and through a couple of empty lots. Honey trailed behind us, but she was good enough that I don't think Tony spotted her.

Downtown is one of the older sections of town, small businesses in old buildings surrounded by Craftsman and Victorian houses, mostly built in the twenties and thirties. Efforts had been made to make the shopping area look inviting, but there were a few too many empty shops for it to look prosperous.

I expected him to talk to me while we were walking, but he didn't. I held my peace and let him think.

"It's pretty hot for walking," he said finally.

"I like the heat," I told him. "And the cold. I like living somewhere that actually has all four seasons. Montana has two. Nine months of winter, three months where it almost warms up, then back to winter. Sometimes the leaves actually get to turn colors before the first snow hits. I remember it snowing on the Fourth of July once."

He didn't say anything more, so I supposed he hadn't been trying to make small talk-but I didn't know what else he could have been trying for with his comment, either.

He took me to a small coffee shop where we ordered at the counter and then were escorted into a dark, cool room filled with small tables. The atmosphere the owners had been trying for was probably an English pub. Never having been to England, I couldn't tell how close they'd gotten, but it appealed to me.

"So what am I here for?" I asked him finally, after soup and a largish sandwich appeared before me, and the waitress left us alone. It was late for lunch and early for dinner so we had the room to ourselves.

"Look," he said after a moment "That sour old guy who used to be your boss, the one who still comes in once in a while-he's fae, right?"

Zee had publicly acknowledged his heritage for a long time, so I nodded my head and took a bite of sandwich.

He took a gulp of water. "I've seen Hauptman, the werewolf, at your garage at least twice."

"He's my neighbor," I said. The sandwich was pretty good. I was betting they made their own bread. I'd had better soup, though, too much salt.

Tony frowned at me and said intensely. "You're the only one who always knows who I am, no matter what disguise I wear." Tony was an undercover cop with a talent for changing his appearance. We'd become acquainted after I'd recognized him and almost blown his cover.

" Mmm?" My mouth was full on purpose because I didn't want to say anything more until he got to his point.

"The fae are supposed to be able to change their appearance. Is that how you always know me?"

"I'm not fae, Tony," I told him after I swallowed. "Zee is. The fae change their appearance by magic-glamour, they call it. I'm not entirely sure that the fae can see through each other's glamour-I certainly can't."

There was a short silence as Tony adjusted what he had been going to say.

"But you know something about the fae. And you know something about the werewolves?"

"Because Hauptman is my neighbor?"

"Because you were dating him. A friend of mine saw you at a restaurant with him."

I looked at him and then pointedly around the restaurant.

He got it. "He said it looked like you two were pretty hot and heavy."

Defeated, I conceded. "I went out with him a couple of times."

"Are you still?"

"No." I'd put too much emphasis on it.

I'd made a point to stay out of Adam's way since I'd almost made out with him in his garage. Remembering that made me feel like a coward. I didn't want to talk about Adam if I could help it. Truth was, I didn't know what to do about him.

"I'm not fae." I decided not to eat the rest of the soup, but I opened the crackers and munched on them. "I'm not a werewolf."

He looked like he didn't want to believe me, but he chose not to confront my answer directly. "But you know some of them. Some fae and some werewolves."


Tony set down his spoon and gripped the edge of the table with both hands. "Look, Mercy. Violent crime always goes up in the summer. The heat makes tempers shorter. We know that. But I've never seen anything like this. It started with that murder-suicide in the Paseo hotel a few weeks ago, but it didn't stop there. We're working double shifts trying to handle the load. Last night I took in a guy I've known for years. He has three kids and a wife who adores him. Yesterday he came home from work and tried to beat her to death. This just isn't normal, not even in the middle of a heat wave."

I shrugged, feeling as helpless as I doubtless looked. I knew things were bad, but I hadn't realized how bad.

"I'll ask Zee, but I don't think it's anything the fae are doing." I had to quash any hint of that-it might be dangerous for Tony if he started poking around. The fae don't like the police prying into their business. "The last thing they want is to frighten the general population. If one of them were doing something like this, the whole community would search them out and take care of it."

I hadn't talked to Zee for a few days. Maybe I ought to call him and suggest that the police were looking toward them for answers to the outbreak in violence-without using Tony's name. I didn't know what they could do against a vampire who was also a sorcerer. The fae weren't very organized, and tended to ignore other people's problems. They knew about Littleton  -  because Zee knew-but they seemed to be content to let the vampires and wolves search him out. But if the situation started to put a little pressure on them, maybe they'd help find him-Warren and Stefan hadn't been making much headway. The trick would be to make certain that the fae applied their efforts against the villain, and not against the police.

"What?" asked Tony sharply. "What were you thinking?"

Whoops. "I thought that it might be a good idea to let Zee know what you just told me. Just in case there's something they can do about it." I can lie, but living among werewolves, many of whom can smell a falsehood, had made me pretty adept at using the truth to my advantage.

"And the werewolves?"

I shook my head. "Werewolves are pretty simple creatures-that's why they make good soldiers. If there were a rogue werewolf out here, there might be dead"-I found a hasty substitute for bodies  -  " animals, but not regular people going berserk for no good reason. The wolves aren't magical like the fae are."

I slapped my hands lightly on my thighs and leaned forward. "Listen, I am happy to help you with what little I know about fae and werewolves. I will make a point of talking to Zee-but, as you said, we're in the middle of a heat wave. We've been in the three digits for a long time with no sign of cooler weather. It's enough to make anyone crazy."

He shook his head. "Not Mike. He didn't lose his temper when his wife wrecked his '57 T-Bird. I tell you I know this guy. I played basketball in high school with him. He doesn't have a temper to lose. He wouldn't just lose it and beat up his wife because his AC frizzed out."

I hate guilt. Hate it worse when I know that I have nothing to feel guilty about. I was not responsible for Littleton.

Still, how would it be to hurt someone you loved? I could see his friend's situation was eating at Tony-and I had a strong surge of sympathy, and guilt. I couldn't do anything either.

"Get your friend a good lawyer-and get him and his family to see a therapist. If you need names, I have a friend who is a divorce lawyer-I know he has a couple of counselors he recommends to his clients."

Tony jerked his head in a motion I took to be a nod, and we finished lunch in silence. I took a couple of dollars out of my pocket and tucked them under my plate for a tip. They were damp with sweat, but I expect the waitresses were used to dealing with that this summer.

As soon as we exited the restaurant, I could smell a werewolf-and it wasn't Honey. I glanced at the people around us and recognized one of Adam's wolves looking in the window of a secondhand store. Since he didn't look the type to be really interested in the display of old baby buggies, he must be guarding me. I wondered what had happened to Honey.

"What's wrong?" Tony asked as we walked past my security detail.

"Stray thought," I told him. "I guess the heat's making me crabby, too."

"Listen, Mercy," he said, "I appreciate you coming out with me like this. And I'd like to take you up on your offer to help us. Seattle and Spokane have specialists who deal with the fae for them-some of those cops are fae. We don't have anyone like that. We don't have any werewolves either"-they did, at least the Richland PD did, but if they didn't know that, I wasn't going to tell him-"and it would be good not to be wandering around totally in the dark for a change."

I hadn't meant to offer to help the police-that would be too dangerous. I opened my mouth to say so, and then stopped.

The trick to staying out of trouble, Bran had told me, is to keep your nose out of other people's business. If it became known that I was consulting with the police, I could find myself in big trouble.

Adam I could deal with, it was the fae I worried about, them and the vampires. I knew too much and I didn't expect that they would trust me to judge how much to tell the police.

Still, it didn't seem fair that the police were responsible for keeping the peace when they only knew the things that the fae and the werewolves wanted them to know. There were too many ways that could prove deadly. If something happened to Tony or one of the good guys and I could have prevented it, I'd never sleep a night through again. Not that I'd been doing particularly well at sleeping lately anyway.

"Fine," I said. "Here's some free advice. Make sure that none of your co-workers starts stirring up the fae over this."

"Why not?" he asked.

I took my first step out into the abyss, and told him something that might get me in real trouble. I glanced around, but if the werewolf was still tailing us, he was doing a really good job. Since Adam's people were usually more than competent, I dropped my voice to a bare whisper. "Because the fae aren't as gentle or powerless as they try to let on. It would not be a good thing if they decided someone was looking their way for this rise in violence."

Tony missed a step and almost tripped over a railroad tie. "What do you mean?"

"I mean never put yourself in a position where harm to you would make the fae community here safer." I gave him a reassuring smile. "It is not in their best interest to harm anyone-and they usually police themselves so that you don't have to. If one of them is breaking the law, he will be taken care of. You just need to be careful not to make yourself a threat to them."

He absorbed that for half a block. "What can you tell me about dealing with the werewolves?"

"Here?" I asked waving my hand vaguely at the city around us. "Talk to Adam Hauptman before you try to question someone you think might be a werewolf. In another city, find out who's in charge and talk to them."

"Get permission from their Alpha before speaking to them?" he asked a little incredulously. "You mean like we have to talk to parents before questioning a minor?" Bran had let the public know about Alphas, but not exactly how rigid the pack structure really is.

" Mmm," I looked at the sky for inspiration. None came, so I tried to muddle through it on my own. "A child can't rip your arm off, Tony. Adam can see to it that they answer your questions without hurting anyone. Werewolves can be... volatile. Adam can help with that."

"You mean they'll tell us whatever he wants us to hear."

I took a deep breath. "This is important for you to believe: Adam is one of the good guys. He really is. That's not true of all pack leaders, but Adam's on your side. He can help you, and as long as you don't offend him, he will. He's been pack leader here for a long time because he's good at his job-let him do it."

I don't know if Tony decided to believe me or not, but thinking about it kept him occupied until we stopped next to his car in my lot.

"Thanks, Mercy."

"I didn't help." I shrugged. "I'll talk to Zee. Heck, maybe he knows someone who can give us a break in the weather." Not likely. Weather was Great Magic, not something that most fae had the power to alter.

"If you were a real Indian, you could do a rain dance."

Tony could tease me because his Venezuelan half was mostly Indian of one sort or other.

I shook my head solemnly. "In Montana, the Indians don't have a rain dance, they have a Stop-this-Damned-Wind-and-Snow dance. If you've ever been to Browning, Montana, in the winter, you'll know it doesn't work."

Tony laughed as he got in his car and started it. He left the door open to let the heat out, holding a hand in front of the vent to catch the first trickle of cold air.

"It'll probably cool down about the time I get to the station," he said.

"Toughen up," I advised him.

He grinned, shut his door and drove off. It was only then that I realized Honey's car wasn't in the lot.

Gabriel looked up when I came in. "Mr. Hauptman called for you," he said. "He said you should check your cell phone for messages."

I found the cell phone where I'd left it, on top of a rolling tool chest in the shop.

"Just picked up Warren," Adam's voice had that calm and brisk rhythm he only used when things were really bad. "We're taking him to my house now. You should meet us there."

I called Adam's house, but the answering machine picked up. So I called Samuel's cell.


"I'm on my way to Adam's house now," he told me. "I won't know anything until I get there."

I didn't ask if Warren was hurt. Adam's voice had told me that much. "I'll be there in ten minutes." Not that it mattered, I thought, pressing the end button. There wasn't anything that I could do to help.

I told Gabriel to hold the fort, and to lock up at five.

"Werewolf troubles?" he asked.

I nodded. " Warren 's hurt."

"You all right to drive?" he asked.

I nodded again and dashed out the door. I was halfway to my car when I realized that probably no one would have thought to call Kyle. I hesitated. Warren and Kyle weren't an item anymore-but I didn't think it was due to lack of caring on either of their parts. So I found Kyle's office number on my phone's memory and got in touch with his hyper-efficient office manager.

"I'm sorry," she told me. "He's unavailable right now, may I take your name and number?"

"This is Mercedes Thompson." It wasn't easy to buckle in with one hand, but I managed. "My phone number-"

"Ms. Thompson? Hold on, I'll patch you through."

Huh. Kyle must have put me on his important people list. I listened to classical music in my ear as I turned onto Chemical Drive and put my foot down. I was pretty sure the driver of the green Taurus behind me was the werewolf who had been tailing me.

"What's up, Mercy?" Kyle's soothing voice replaced Chopin before I made it to the welcome to finley sign.

" Warren 's hurt. I don't know how badly, but Adam called in the troops."

"I'm in my car near Twenty-seventh and 395," he said. "Where is Warren?"

Behind me, I saw flashing lights as the police car that usually hid just past the railroad overpass pulled over the Taurus. I put my foot down harder on the gas.

"At Adam's house."

"I'll be there shortly." As he hung up, I heard his Jag's big V-12 open up.

He didn't beat me there, but I was still arguing with the idiot at the front door when he skidded to a stop, splattering gravel all over.

I pulled out my cell phone and played Adam's message for the door guard. "He's expecting me," I grated.

The idiot shook his head. "My orders are no one but pack."

"She is pack, Elliot, you moron," said Honey, coming to the door behind the big man. "Adam's claimed her as his mate-which you very well know. Let her in." Honey's hand clamped on Elliot's arm and dragged him back from the door.

I grabbed Kyle's arm and pulled him past the obstreperous moron-guard. There were werewolves everywhere. I knew that there were only about thirty wolves in Adam's pack, but I'd have sworn there were twice that in the living room.

"This is Kyle," I told Honey, leading Kyle to the stairs.

"Hello, Kyle," Honey said softly. " Warren 's told me about you." I hadn't realized she was a friend of Warren 's, but her smeared mascara told me she'd been crying.

She didn't follow us up the stairs-doubtless she'd have a few unhappy moments with Elliot before she could do anything else. Idiot or not, Elliot was a dominant, and so higher in the pack than Honey, who took her rank from her submissive husband. Have I mentioned that werewolf etiquette is stuck in another century? Honey had really put her neck out for us.

Adam's house has five bedrooms, but I didn't have to guess where Warren was. I could smell the blood from the top of the stairs, and Darryl, Adam's second, stood watch at the door like a Nubian guarding the Pharaoh.

He frowned heavily at me. I was pretty sure it was for bringing a human into pack business. But I had no patience for it right now.

"Go rescue Honey from that idiot who was trying to keep me out."

He hesitated.

"Go." I couldn't see Adam, but it was his command that sent Darryl past us and down the stairs.

Kyle entered the room first, then stopped abruptly, blocking my sight of the room. I had to duck under his arm and scoot past before I got a good look.

It was bad.

They'd stripped the bed down to its bottom sheet and Samuel was working furiously over the battered, bloody thing that was Warren. I didn't blame Kyle for hesitating. If I hadn't smelled him, I would never have known who the man on the bed was, there was so little left that was recognizable.

Adam leaned against the wall, out of Samuel's way. Sometimes, if a pack member is badly hurt, flesh and blood of the Alpha can help heal him. Adam's left arm had a fresh bandage. He looked over at us, his gaze taking in Kyle. When he looked at me, he nodded once, in approval.

Samuel saw Kyle and directed him over to the bed next to Warren 's head with a jerk of his chin.

"Talk to him," Samuel said. "He can make it if he wants to badly enough. You just need to give him a reason." Then to me he said, "Stay out of my way unless I ask you for something."

Kyle, dressed in slacks that cost more than I made in a month, sat without hesitation on the bloodstained floor next to the bed and began talking quietly about baseball, of all things. I tuned him out and concentrated on Warren, as if I could hold him here by sheer force of will. His breath was shallow and unsteady.

"Samuel thinks the damage was done last night," Adam murmured to me. "I've got people out looking for Ben, who was with Warren, but there's no sign of him yet."

"What about Stefan?" I asked.

Adam's eyes narrowed a bit, but I met his gaze anyway, too upset to worry about damned dominance or any other kind of games.

"No sign of any vampire," he said finally. "Whoever hurt Warren, dropped him at Uncle Mike's." Uncle Mike's was a bar of sorts in Paseo, a local hangout for the fae. "The man who opened today found him in the Dumpster when he was taking out the trash. He called Uncle Mike, who called me."

"If it was done last night, why isn't he healing better than this?" I asked, hugging myself tightly. Anything that could do this to Warren could have done the same or worse to Stefan. What if Warren died? What if Stefan were already dead-the never-to-rise-again dead-left somewhere else, in some other Dumpster. I thought of the joyous way Littleton had killed the maid. Why had I allowed myself to be convinced that the wolves and the vampires would be a match for him?

"Most of the damage was probably done with a silver blade," Samuel told me in an absent voice-he was paying attention to his work. "The other wounds, the broken bones, are healing more slowly because his body is overtaxed trying to heal everything at once."

"Do you know where they went last night?" I asked. Samuel's hands were so quick with the needle. I couldn't tell how he knew where to set stitches because Warren looked like so much hamburger to me.

"I don't know," Adam said. " Warren called me with reports of what they did, not what they were planning to do."

"Have you called Stefan's house?"

"Even if he were there, he wouldn't be awake yet."

I pulled out my cell phone and called Stefan's number and waited for his answering machine to pick up. "This is Mercedes Thompson," I said clearly, hoping someone was listening. I knew that Stefan didn't live in the seethe, but he probably didn't live alone. Vampires need blood donors, and willing victims were much safer than taking someone off the street.

"Last night Stefan went out hunting. One of his comrades is in seriously bad shape and we don't know where the other one is. I need to know if Stefan came back last night."

There was a click as someone, a woman, picked up the phone and whispered, "No," and then hung up.

Adam flexed his fingers, as if he'd been clenching them too much. " Littleton took two werewolves and an old vampire-"

"Two vampires," I said. "At least Stefan had another vampire assigned to help him."

" Warren said the second vampire wasn't much use."

I shrugged.

"Two werewolves and two vampires, then." Adam seemed to be working something out. "Stefan had already fallen to him once; that makes Warren the strongest of the party. It wasn't chance that he was the one given back. 'See, Littleton is telling us, 'send your best against me and see what I return to you. Littleton didn't finish him off because he wanted us to know he didn't consider Warren a threat. He doesn't care if Warren survived to go after him again or not. This..." Adam's voice deepened into a rough growl "... thing has drawn a line in the sand and dared me to cross."

Adam knew how to play mind games. I think it's a requirement for being an Alpha. Or maybe it was just from his time in the army, which, according to his stories, wasn't that different, politically speaking, from the pack.

"And the others?" I asked.

He didn't say anything, just shook his head. I hugged myself again, feeling cold.

"So what are you going to do?" I asked.

He smiled unhappily. "I'm going to play Littleton 's game. I have no choice. I can't leave him running around in my territory."

Just then Warren 's breathing, which part of me was listening to with rapt attention, stopped. Adam heard it too, crouching as if there were an enemy in the room. Maybe there was. Death is an enemy, right?

Samuel swore, but it was Kyle who came off the floor, tipped Warren 's chin and began CPR with silent desperation.

I hadn't been able to hear Warren 's heart, but it must have stopped, too, because Samuel started chest compressions.

Useless again, I watched them fight for Warren 's life. I was really tired of being unable to do anything while people were dying.

After what seemed like a long time, Samuel pulled Kyle away saying, "It's okay, he's breathing. You can stop now." He had to repeat himself several times before Kyle understood.

"He'll be all right?" he asked, sounding quite different from his usual airy tones.

"He's breathing on his own, and his heart is beating" Samuel said.

It wasn't exactly an agreement, but Kyle didn't seem to notice. He sank back onto the carpet and started telling a story as if he'd never been interrupted. His voice showed none of the strain in his face.

"Tell me what I need to know about demons," I told Adam, though I couldn't take my eyes off of Warren. I had the strangest feeling that if I quit watching him, he would die.

There was a long pause. He knew why I wanted to know. If he didn't tell me what he could now-didn't help me with what I intended-then he wasn't the man for me.

"Demons are evil, nasty, and powerless unless they manage to attach themselves like a parasite to some damned fool. Either they are invited in as a guest-which is what makes a sorcerer, or they sneak in because someone weak of will does an evil thing. A simple demon possession doesn't last long because the possessed man cannot blend in: a demon in control wants one thing-destruction. A sorcerer, someone who controls the demon by means of a bargain, is far more deadly. A sorcerer may live undetected by the human population for years. Eventually, the sorcerer will lose control, and the demon takes over."

Nothing I hadn't known.

"How do you kill a demon?" I asked. Samuel's hands were once more sliding needle and thread through bloody flesh.

"You can't," Adam said. "All you can do is remove the threat by killing its host. In this case, Littleton, who is a vampire, bolstered with the demon's magic." He took a breath. "Not any kind of prey for a coyote. You can leave it to us, Mercy. We'll see that he is dead." He was right. I knew it. I was useless.

I noticed that Kyle was staring at us with wide eyes, though he didn't pause in his baseball story, something about when he was in Little League.

"Did you think that werewolves were the worst monster in the world?" I asked Kyle in a nasty tone. I didn't know until I spoke how angry I was. It wasn't right, taking it out on Kyle, but I couldn't seem to stop my mouth. He had rejected Warren for being a monster-maybe he ought to learn more about monsters. "There are a lot worse things out there. Vampires, demons, and all sorts of nasties and the only thing that stands between the humans and them are people like Warren." Even as I said it, I knew I wasn't being fair. I knew that being lied to had bothered Kyle as much as finding out that Warren was a werewolf.

"Mercy," said Adam. " Shh."

It seemed as if his words carried a cool wind of peace that swept over me, washing away all the anger, the frustration and the fear, the Alpha werewolf calming his wolf-only I wasn't his wolf. He had done it again.

I jerked around to stare at him; he was watching Warren intently. If he'd done this to me on purpose, he wasn't concerned about it. But I was pretty sure he'd done it out of habit, because it shouldn't have worked on me.

Damn it.

Warren made a noise, the first one I'd heard out of him since we'd come into the room. I'd have been happier if he hadn't sounded scared.

"Easy, Warren," Adam told him. "You're safe here."

"If you die on us, you won't be," said Kyle with a growl that would have done credit to any of the werewolves in the room.

Battered, bruised, and bloody they might be, but Warren 's lips could still smile. But only a very little bit.

Samuel, his work apparently finished, pulled the old bent-wood rocker from its place in the hall and set it next to the foot of Warren 's bed, leaving the space at the head of the bed to Kyle. Samuel leaned forward in the chair, elbows on the bentwood arms and rested his chin on his folded hands. He looked as though he was watching his shoes, but I knew better. His attention was on his patient, listening for a change in breathing or heartbeat that might signal trouble. He was capable of sitting there, motionless, for hours-Samuel had a reputation as a very patient hunter.

The rest of us mimicked his quiet stillness as Warren drifted to sleep-except for Kyle, who had dropped back into his trials as a ten-year-old third baseman.

While Warren dozed restlessly, there was a steady, but silent, stream of visitors over the next hour. Some of them were friends, but most of them were just checking out the damage. If Adam-or Samuel-had not been there, it would have been dangerous for Warren. Werewolves, outside of a well-run pack, will kill the wounded or weak.

Adam leaned on the wall, watching the visitors with brooding intensity. I could see the effect of his regard as his wolves (and even though they were in human form, they were still his wolves) entered the room. As soon as they saw him, their footfalls quieted further. They dropped their heads, tucked their hands under the opposite arms, took a quick, comprehensive look at Warren 's wounds and left.

When Honey came in, she was sporting a bruise on the side of her face that was healing visibly fast. A half hour later there would have been no sign of it at all. She gave Adam a quick look from the hallway. He nodded his head-it was the first reaction he'd given to any of the visitors.

She scooted around Samuel's chair, then sat down on the floor beside Kyle. She gave Adam another look, but when he didn't object she quietly introduced herself to Kyle, touched him on the shoulder, then settled against the wall with her head leaned back and her eyes closed.

A few visitors later a blond man with a short, reddish beard came into the room. I didn't know him by sight, though I recognized his scent as belonging to one of Adam's pack. I'd quit paying attention to the visitors-and would have ignored this one as well except for two things.

His posture didn't change as he walked through the doorway-and Adam's did. Adam pushed against the wall with his shoulders, propelling himself completely upright. Then he took two steps forward until he stood between Warren and the stranger.

The red bearded man was a head taller than Adam, and for a second tried to use that extra height as an advantage-but he was no match for the Alpha. Without a word or an aggressive move, Adam backed him down.

Samuel appeared not to notice anything. I doubt that anyone else would have seen readiness in the slowly tightening muscles of his shoulder.

"When he is well," Adam said, "if you give fair challenge, Paul, I won't stop the fight."

Under the Marrok's rule, there were very few sanctioned fights-real fights, not just a couple of snaps and a bite or two. That was one of the reasons there were more werewolves in the New World than in Europe, where the werewolf, like the fae, had originated.

I can usually sort out the pack from most dominant to least (or the reverse), just from body language. Wolves are better at it than I am. Humans, if they pay attention, do the same thing-though it's not nearly as important to them as it is to the wolves. For a human it might mean getting a promotion or not, or winning a hard-fought argument. For a werewolf, survival depends upon the pack-and a pack is a complex social and military hierarchy that depends upon each member knowing exactly what his place is.

Dominance among wolves is a combination of force of personality, strength of will, physical ability and a component of other that I can't explain to anyone without the eyes, ears, and nose to sense it-and those with the proper senses wouldn't need it explained. Willingness to fight is as close as I can come. It is because of that other that, outside of a pack, the natural dominance of a wolf changes within a fairly broad range. Like all of us, some days they are tired, depressed, or happy-all of these affect natural dominance.

In a pack, these natural swings are gradually sifted through. In wolves that are near-dominants, sometimes a fight between them will allow strength to determine pack rank. An Alpha's second and third were the next two most dominant males in the pack.

Warren, among enemies, was quiet and watchful, rather than adapting the more typical aggressiveness of a dominant male. His body language skills weren't even as good as mine because he'd spent so little time with a pack when he was first Changed. He ran beside the pack, rather than inside it. Because of that, he was vulnerable to challenge from wolves who thought they might be stronger, better, faster.

It was Adam, I knew, who told the others that Warren was his third. If Adam had been less dominant, less well-liked or respected, there would have been blood shed over his declaration. I knew Adam's determination was right-but I was one of the few people for whom Warren dropped his guard.

A significant minority of the wolves felt that Warren wasn't strong enough for the position he held. I knew-from Jesse rather than from any of the wolves involved-that some of the wolves wanted Warren out of the pack or, even better, dead.

Evidently this Paul was one of those, and one dominant enough to challenge Warren. Something Adam had just given him permission to do.

Paul gave a small, pleased nod and left the room with brisk steps, unaware that Warren would wipe the floor with him. If Warren survived-by Samuel's careful focus, I knew that was still in doubt.

Adam watched the man leave with a brooding gaze. He lifted it at last and saw me watching him. His eyes narrowed and he came up to me and took my arm, tugging me out of the room behind him.

He led me to Jesse's room, hesitated and dropped my arm. He knocked once, lightly, on her door and then opened it. She was sitting on the floor with her back against the bed, her nose red and tears running slowly down her face.

"He's holding his own," Adam told her.

She scrambled to her feet. "Can I go see him?"

"Be quiet," he told her.

She nodded and headed for Warren 's room. When she saw me, she hesitated, then gave me a smile like sunshine peeking out from the clouds of Warren 's condition. Then she hurried past.

"Come," Adam took my arm again-I really disliked that-and escorted me to another closed door. This one he opened without knocking.

I held hard to my irritation as I jerked free and walked all the way into the room. If I was irritated, I wouldn't be afraid. I really hated it that I was afraid of Adam now.

I folded my arms and kept my back to him, only then realizing that he'd brought me to his bedroom.

I'd have recognized it as Adam's room, even if it hadn't smelled of him. He loved textures and warm colors and the room reflected that from the dark brown Berber carpet to the Venetian plaster treatment on the buttercream walls. There was an oil painting as tall as I was and twice as wide on one wall, a mountain forest scene. The artist had resisted the impulse to add an eagle in the air or a deer in the stream.

A human might have found the painting boring.

I touched the canvas before I realized I had moved. I wasn't familiar with the name of the artist, which was scrawled almost illegibly on the lower right corner and on a small brass plaque on the center of the frame. The title of the piece was Sanctuary.

I turned away from the painting to find Adam staring at me. He had his arms crossed and there were the little white marks along his wide cheekbones that told me he was in a temper. That in itself wasn't unusual. He had a hot temper and I was pretty good at getting him worked up-though not lately. And not, I would have sworn, today.

"I had no choice," he snapped at me.

I stared at him without the foggiest notion what he was talking about.

My doubtlessly stupid look seemed to enrage him further. "This will keep Paul from ambushing him. It has to be a real challenge, in front of witnesses."

"I know," I told him. Did he think I was stupid?

Adam watched me for a few seconds then turned away and began to pace rapidly back and forth across the room. When he stopped, he faced me again and said, " Warren has more control of his wolf than any of my others, and Ben, despite his attitude is nearly as good. They were the best of my wolves to send after the sorcerer."

"Did I ever say differently?" I snapped. The painting had distracted me-but Adam reminded me that I was trying to be angry with him. Happily that wasn't difficult.

"You're angry with me," he said.

"You're yelling at me," I told him. "Of course I'm mad."

He waved his hands impatiently. "I don't mean now. I mean earlier in Warren 's room."

"I was angry with the stupid wolf who came in to challenge Warren as soon as he was lying on his back." which reminded me of how Adam had scared me when he'd used the Alpha thing to calm me down. But I wasn't up to talking about that yet. "I wasn't mad at you until you grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out of the room to yell at me."

"Damn it," he said. "Sorry." He looked at me and then looked away. Robbed of his defensive anger, he looked tired and worried.

"Warren and Ben are not your fault," I told him. "They both volunteered."

"They wouldn't have gone if I hadn't allowed it. I knew it was dangerous," he snarled, the anger back as quickly as it had gone.

"Do you think that you are the only one entitled to feel guilty about Warren  -  and about Ben?"

" You didn't send them out," he said. "I did."

"The only reason they knew about the sorcerer was because of me," I said. Then because I could see that he really felt guilty I told him my own worse deed. "I prayed that they would catch the sorcerer."

He looked at me incredulously, then laughed, a harsh and bitter sound. "You think that praying makes you responsible for Warren 's condition?"

He didn't believe. I don't know why it shocked me so. I knew a lot of people who didn't believe in God, any God. But all the werewolves I'd grown up with were believers. Adam looked at my face and laughed again at the expression.

"You are such an innocent," he said in a low angry purr. "I learned a long time ago that God is a myth. I prayed every hour for six months in a stinking foreign swamp before I opened my eyes-and a crazy werewolf finished teaching me that there is no God." His eyes lightened from warm brown to cool yellow as he spoke. "I don't know. Maybe there is. If so, He's a sadist who watches His children shoot at each other and blow themselves up without doing something."

He was pretty wound up because he wasn't even making sense-and Adam usually made sense even when he was shouting at the top of his lungs. He knew it too, because he turned abruptly and strode over to the big picture window that looked out over the Columbia.

The river was nearly a mile wide just here. Sometimes, when it was stormy, the water could appear nearly black, but today the sun turned it a glittery, bright blue.

"You've been avoiding me," he said, sounding calmer.

The other window looked out over my place. I was gratified to see that the partially dissected Rabbit was framed in the center of his view.


I just kept looking out the window. Lying would be pointless and telling the truth would lead to the next question, which I didn't want to answer.

"Why?" He asked it anyway.

I glanced over my shoulder, but he was still looking out the other window. I turned around and hitched a hip on the window sill. He knew why. I'd seen it in his eyes when I walked away from the garage. And if he didn't know... well, I wasn't going to explain it to him.

"I don't know," I said finally.

He spun around and looked at me, as if spotting unexpected prey, his eyes still hunter's yellow. I'd been wrong. Lying was worse than pointless.

"Yes, you do," he said. "Why?"

I rubbed my face. "Look, I'm just not up to your fighting weight tonight. Can it wait until Warren is out of danger?"

He watched me out of narrowed amber eyes, but at least he didn't prod any more.

Desperate to change the subject, I said, "Did the reporter get in touch with you? The one with the daughter."

He closed his eyes and took a deep, lingering breath. When he opened his eyes again they were the color of a good chocolate bar. "Yes, and thank you for dropping that one on me without warning. He thought you had already called me: it took us both a while to realize I hadn't a clue what he was talking about."

"So are they coming here?"

Adam waved his hand toward Warren 's room, "When there is something that can do that to one of my wolves here? They were supposed to come here. I'll have to call him and tell him it's not advisable. I don't know who to send them to, though. There's not an Alpha I know that I'd trust to watch over my daughter-and his is even younger than Jesse."

"Send him to Bran," I suggested. "Bran said he's raised a few strays in his time."

Adam gave me an assessing look. "You'd trust the Marrok with a child?"

"He didn't hurt me," I said. "And a lot of Alphas would have."

Adam grinned suddenly. "And that's saying something. Did you really run his Lamborghini into a tree?"

"That's not what I meant," I said hotly. "A lot of Alphas would have killed a coyote pup thrust upon them."

I strode across the room to the door. I stopped there.

"It was a Porsche," I said with dignity. "And the road was covered with ice. If it was Samuel who told you about it, I hope he told you he was the one who egged me into taking the car out in the first place. I'm going back to see how Warren is."

Adam was laughing quietly as I shut the door behind me.

I drove home alone a few hours later. Samuel was staying all night to make sure nothing went wrong-at least nothing more wrong than it already had. Kyle was staying as well: I was pretty sure it would have taken more than a pack of werewolves to get him out of that room.

There was nothing I could do for Warren, or for Stefan. Or Ben. Why couldn't the people I cared about just need someone to fix their cars? I could do that. And when had I started worrying about Ben? He was a rat bastard.

But the sick feeling in my stomach was partly on his account, too. Damn it. Damn it all.

There were two phone messages waiting for me when I got home. One from my mother and the other from Gabriel. I returned Gabriel's call and told him that Warren had been badly hurt, but should be fine. My mother I couldn't face. Not without crying, and I didn't intend to cry until I found out for certain what had happened.

I ate ramen noodles for dinner and fed most of it to Medea who purred as she licked the broth. I cleaned up my meal, then vacuumed and dusted. You can tell the shape of my life by how clean my house is. When I'm upset I cook, or I clean. I couldn't eat anything more, so I cleaned.

I turned the vacuum off to move the couch and realized that the phone had been ringing. Had something else gone wrong?

I picked up the receiver and hit talk. "Thompson residence."

"Mercedes Thompson, the Mistress would like to speak with you." The voice was urbane and female, a secretary's voice. I looked out the window and saw that the sun was setting, bathing the Horse Heaven Hills in brilliant orange light.

All the frustrated anger I'd been working off returned with a vengeance. If Stefan's mistress had sent out all of her minions after the sorcerer, instead of playing petty power games, Warren wouldn't be fighting for his life.

"I'm sorry," I said insincerely. "Please inform your mistress that I am not interested in visiting with her." I hung up the phone. When it rang again, I turned off the ringer and pulled the cushions off the couch so I could clean underneath them.

When my cell phone rang, I almost ignored it, too, because I didn't recognize the number. But it might have been one of Adam's pack calling, or Stefan.


"Mercedes Thompson, I need you to help me find Stefan and kill this sorcerer," said Marsilia.

I knew what I should do. If she'd said anything else I could have hung up on her, I would have done it, too, no matter how stupid hanging up on the Mistress of the vampire seethe would be. But she needed me, needed me to do something.

To kill the sorcerer.

But that was ridiculous-what could I do that two vampires and a pair of werewolves could not?

"Why me?"

"I'll explain it to you face-to-face."

She was good, I had to give her that much-if I hadn't been listening for it, I don't think I'd have heard the satisfaction in her voice.

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