Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)

Chapter 10

chapter
Chapter

Adam's lips were blistered, and his face looked like he had a bad sunburn. I'd done that to him.

"You don't ever do that." My voice, my whole body shook from the shock of the magic breaking, from my momentary inability to stop hurting Adam. "I just got you back." The coyote inside me wanted to take a bite out of something, anything in a frenzy of … in a frenzy. "I can't touch you without hurting you. Don't let me hurt you." The last sentence came out as a whine, and I realized I was babbling. I shut up.

Instinctively, I backed away, so I was in no danger of touching anyone. I didn't want to contaminate anyone with the remnants of that magic – filthy magic – on me. Didn't want to hurt Adam again. Didn't want to touch him with my filthy skin, I was dirty, dirty. That was wrong.

I knew that was wrong. An echo of trauma that never quite left me, though its hold was not as vicious as it had been. I tried to collect myself and center on the real issue here. On Adam.

A trace of blood trickled down Adam's chin, but the red flush on his skin was disappearing as I watched. Silver burns. I touched my lips. It was from the silver and not some weird taint of the magic that had robbed me of my will, or a taint that lingered from that long-ago rape. I knew that, but it still felt like the two were entwined – the fae magic and the marks on my mate's face.

"That silver," said Zee, "is something I can help you with, Mercy."

I looked at him, my heart still pounding – with anger at Adam, with the release of a magical spell I hadn't really believed in until it left, and with a shadow of memory. I remembered listening to Tad tell us that I'd had my will stolen away, and I had been … uninterested. I'd felt that way before.

"The silver," Zee told me, his eyes sad as if he knew where my thoughts were dwelling. "Just the silver. The rest is over and done."

"Okay." My throat was tight, and I didn't want him to touch me. Didn't want anyone to touch me ever again, but I knew that made no sense.

"Mercy."

Adam waited until I looked over and met his eyes. "You broke the spell the minute something happened that you didn't want. You were never really in its power. Not once you didn't want to be."

His voice gave me an anchor, and I drew my unruly thoughts back in line. He'd be okay. His lips were healing a lot more slowly than usual, but as I'd yelled at him, he'd had a rough few days. He needed to eat something soon.

"Mercy."

I nodded, so he'd know I'd heard him. I wasn't ready to risk talking right away. Too many things were raw, and Adam and I weren't alone.

"Why didn't the cuff act right away?" asked Asil. Maybe he'd done it to take everyone's attention off me, but I didn't know him well enough to be sure. "The coyote that jumped in and attacked that fae, magic sword and all, was not without willpower."

"It was when Adam came back," Tad said. "It isn't easy to steal someone's will. With Huon's Cup … before …" He made an unhappy sound. Looked at Asil, who might or might not know about that incident. Before. When I'd been raped because I could not resist the magic of the cup I'd drunk.

Tad cleared his throat. "The cup that worked on Mercy before used the act of drinking out of it to imply consent, and it was a more powerful artifact in the first place. Peace and Quiet is a two-part spell, each lesser. The first is spelled to make the wearer happy and relaxed. Sort of like the best marijuana ever. That leaves the prisoner vulnerable so that the second one can work to make the person wearing it compliant. The magic continues to work after the cuffs have been removed, so they could be used to subdue more than one prisoner."

I rubbed the wrist the cuff had been on. I hadn't felt anything from it – though I'd been busy at the time. If she'd used the other cuff first, would I just have let her take me? Instead, the magic had snuck up behind me and taken me without giving me a fair chance to fight it. It had waited until the euphoria of having Adam back had left me defenseless, then stolen my will.

"Will the magic come back if I relax again?" I asked, swallowing bile. I was safe. Adam was here, had been here the whole time. Nothing bad had happened – though I remembered the feel of the weeping ghost's attempt to take control of my body. What would have happened if Zee hadn't built wards into the doorway that I could cross and the ghost could not? The walls of the room confined me when the coyote inside me wanted to run until I focused my eyes on Adam again. In his steady regard, I read my safety – as ridiculous as my need for it was. If the ghost had gained control, he'd have dealt with it – as he'd dealt with the fae magic that had turned me into a helpless doll.

"No," said Zee firmly. "It isn't so easy to work magic upon you, Liebchen. One chance was all it had. Probably you'd have recovered on your own after a few days. The Fairy Queen's Gift is weak, a designed weakness that brought about the downfall of the fairy queen who depended upon it too much."

I nodded, and the tightness in my belly eased.

Zee looked at Tad. "It also isn't so easy to destroy an artifact, powerful or not. I would never advocate it because it would put me in trouble with the Gray Lords." He looked at the black blade and smiled a little, handing it back to Tad. "Hier, mein Sohn. You take this for a while. You might find it useful. Be careful, though, it is a hungry sword and likes best to eat magic – and it has a habit of betraying its wielder."

Tad smiled, worked whatever magic was necessary to turn it back into a steel grip with no blade in sight, and tucked it into the pocket of his jeans. "I understand," he said. "And I know the stories about this sword."

"Good." Zee looked at me. "Removing the silver isn't going to be pleasant, Mercy." He glanced at Adam. "But we have to do it now or maybe never. I don't know if I'll be able to use the mirror gate again." He frowned. "Ariana could attempt it, but her magic is not what it once was. Tad has the magic, but he doesn't know enough to ad-lib such a spell."

"Is magic ever pleasant?" I asked. "I'd rather you did it." I'd been hoping the old gremlin could do something about my little silver problem, and I wasn't going to let a little PTSD moment stop me. I braced myself, closed my eyes, and made sure I had control of my face.

Zee laid his hands on my cheeks and filled me with his magic. It didn't hurt at first. Zee's magic had a flavor, one that spoke of oil, metal, movement, and red heat. I could feel the call of his magic, and it felt very different from the way I'd called the silver out of Adam. Gradually, my feet started to tingle, but as soon as that tingle started to travel upward, the sensation in my feet changed to a sizzle like the bite of a red ant or two that rapidly increased to a thousand. The sensation followed the tingle all the way up my body.

"Ow, ow, ow," I chanted.

"It didn't hurt when she took the silver from me," Adam said, sounding unhappy.

I shut up. I could deal with a little stinging; okay, a lot of stinging. I didn't need to upset Adam.

"Not being Coyote's child with a mystical connection to a werewolf, I have to follow the rules of magic," Zee told Adam. He pulled his hand away from my skin and frowned at the disk of silver he held while I caught my breath. "This is a lot of silver to have scattered in your body, Mercy – and we are not finished yet. And you said that you already rid yourself of some of it?"

Adam nodded. "I saw the bedroom floor." He must have gone to Kyle's first, then, and followed me to Sylvia's. "More silver came out than went in. They gave me five or so good shots of the stuff, but nowhere near the amount on the floor."

"Conservation of matter," said Asil, "would indicate that perhaps she pulled the silver from more than just you. How bad is the pack?"

"Conservation of matter," said Tad astringently, "is a funny concept when expressed by a werewolf. Who knows better that magic makes science blink than a 170-pound man who turns into a 250-pound werewolf?"

"They are not as bad as I'd feared," Adam said slowly, though he acknowledged Tad's comment with a smile. "I hadn't considered that she might have helped the lot of us. Most of them are still pretty sick – but Warren and Darryl are almost back to normal. Still, if there had been that much silver, even scattered through all the pack, we would all be dead."

"But there are still some sick from the silver?" Zee asked.

"Yes."

Zee waved to Tad. "Come over here and put your hand over mine, I'll show you how to do this so you can heal Adam's pack."

"Cool," I said without enthusiasm, but my hackles had smoothed out again. "I get to be a teaching exercise."

Like a dog with a face full of porcupine quills, I found it harder to stand still and let silver be drawn out a second time. But the pain did focus my attention on the present, as did Adam's grim face. I gave him a cheery smile, and his frown deepened.

Zee taught magic the way he taught mechanicking – by making Tad do all the work while he stood behind him and made acerbic corrections. He did it in Old German, and though I can get by in modern German, the old stuff sounds a bit like Welsh spoken by a Swedish man with marbles in his mouth.

In the end, Tad held a dime-sized bit of silver, I rubbed the cramps out of my thighs, and Adam stalked back and forth like an enraged baboon I'd seen once at a zoo. Asil had retreated to the far corner of the room with a book, to keep his presence from inciting Adam further.

"If Tad intends to do this to the werewolves," I said through gritted teeth because every muscle on my body was cramping with equal insistence, "then Adam will have to hold them down."

Adam stalked over to me and began kneading my shoulders. I sighed in relief and let him work on them while I turned my attention to my left calf.

"It won't be so difficult with the wolves," said Zee. "Their bodies are already working to get rid of the silver, and all it will require is a little assistance. They also heal faster."

"I'll keep watch," Adam promised me. "Tad won't take any harm."

"So are the fae planning on taking over the world?" I asked Zee.

He laughed so hard, he couldn't speak for a few minutes. "The short answer is yes," he told me cheerfully.

Asil set aside his book and quit pretending he was not interested.

"But?" I said, and he laughed again.

"Liebchen," he said. "If they could all point their swords in the same direction for more than ten seconds, they just might manage something scary. The reality is that everyone is tired of merely surviving and is looking for a way to thrive in this new world of iron." He shrugged. "I don't know what will happen except that things are changing."

"I heard someone" – Coyote – "say that change is neither good nor bad," I told him.

Behind me, Adam made a wolfish noise that meant disagreement. "The older you are, the more you fear change, even if you think you are in charge. Especially if you think you are in charge. There are a lot of very old fae."

Zee inclined his head to Adam in a move that looked a lot more royal in his own shape than it did when he'd done it while wearing his human-seeming. "As you say. I would tell you that there is nothing to worry about except that there is. There are a lot of fae who hate the humans, Mercy. Some fae hate them for the iron encircling the world, some hate them for the loss of the old Underhill even though we have replaced it, and some hate humans for their ease of procreation." He sighed and looked old. "Hatred is not a useful thing."

"To hear you say that – that is a thing I never thought to hear no matter how old I became." Asil laughed and Zee raised an imperial eyebrow and someone who didn't know him might not have seen the wry humor in his eyes.

"Not useful," Zee said, then looked as though he was listening to something, though my ears didn't pick up anything strange. "But it is powerful. Someone is knocking at my door, I must return." He put his hand on his son's shoulder. "Stay safe."

"And you," Tad said.

And Zee walked through the blackness that filled the mirror's frame as though it were just another doorway. He said something that I heard with my bones and not my ears, and the frame was filled with a mirror once more.

"That is one I thought would never change," said Asil thoughtfully.

"He loved my mother," Tad told him. "Love is more powerful than anything, even an old grumpy fae who knows how to hate."

Asil gave Tad a thoughtful look. "Indeed?" And then he looked back at the mirror. "Love is both useful and powerful – but seldom convenient."

"I don't know about that," Adam said. "I've found it pretty convenient."

"That's not what you told me," I corrected him, and he laughed.

The ghost tried to give me trouble again on the way back down the stairway from Zee's mirror room. But I wasn't stoned by fae magic this time.

"Go away," I told her.

"Mercy?" Adam was just behind me, and he put his hand on my back.

"Not you," I told him. "It's the ghost." He growled, and it made me smile.

Proving that she could do something other than cry, the ghost screamed at me, her face all but pressed to mine. No one else reacted. It was really ear-piercing, so someone would have reacted if they could hear it. It was just another one of those things that only I could perceive – lucky me.

For a long time I'd thought that was the only thing I could do with ghosts – observe them. Then I'd met a vampire who could steal the power of those he consumed. He'd taken the power of a walker like me, and he'd been able to do more.

I focused my attention on the ghost, borrowed a little Alpha from Adam, though I didn't really need it, and said again, "Go away."

She disappeared abruptly, and there was a crash somewhere below. I heard Tad, who'd preceded us, run down the stairs to the main level. Asil, like a lot of the older werewolves, didn't make any noise when he ran.

When Adam and I got down there, Tad was sweeping up glass in the kitchen while Asil watched. It looked as though the ghost had managed to dump all the dishes that had been in the drainer by the sink onto the floor.

Tad looked at me as he dumped the shards in the garbage. "I thought you said all that she did was cry?"

"I think," I told him apologetically, "that when I walked through the ghost without my usual mulishness, although she didn't quite manage to take me over, she did succeed in pulling herself a little closer to this world. She's probably going to be a little more of a presence here until the effect wears off."

"We have a ghost."

"I told you that already," I said.

"Cool." He set the dustpan on the counter and grinned at me. "Haunted houses are nifty."

"Tell me that when she keeps you up all night with her sobbing," I told him. "But if she gets too obstreperous, just let me know. I might be able to make her leave you alone." I hadn't done a lot of experimentation on that front. Ghosts had so little self-determination – bound as they were by the rules of their existence – taking any control away from them seemed like a crime. As long as they didn't try to possess me or bother my friends, they were safe from me.

"'Obstreperous,' huh," said Tad. "I see you've been using that Big Word of the Day calendar I got you last Christmas."

"That is irrefragable," I told him solemnly.

Silverless, de-magicked, and vowing never to play word one-upmanship – or even Scrabble for that matter – with either Adam or Asil (What exactly was a quicquidlibet, anyway?), I drove to Kyle's, where we would meet with the Cantrip agent and everyone else.

Adam only raised his eyebrows when I told him I would drive – which meant he was really exhausted. He closed his eyes as soon as I got the car on the road, and no one said much on the trip. Probably, with two dominant wolves who weren't in the same pack, it was just as well.

Marsilia's car was parked in Kyle's driveway. I had to park the Corolla a block away because there were a lot of cars on the street – including a short bus that was covered with quotes from the Bible – mostly from Romans, but there were a few Revelation quotes and a lot of Proverbs. Most of them I recognized, but the chapter and verse were helpfully spelled out on each just in case. When I paused to read, Adam gave a quiet laugh.

"Elizaveta," he told me. "I told her we had the whole pack to transport, and she showed up with a couple of vans and that. She said that one of her nephews borrowed it from his church. He told them that he needed to move some things. They left it here for us to use until we get everyone all sorted out."

"It's a good thing that Kyle's old neighbor is dead," I told him. Adam hadn't called me; he'd called the witch who hadn't even bothered to answer my phone call. "Every time I parked my poor old Rabbit in front of Kyle's house, Kyle got a letter of complaint taped to his door. I can't imagine what he'd have done in response to this bus."

"Hey," Adam said, quietly into my ear. "I called you first, but your phone was dead. Then I called Elizaveta."

It shouldn't have made me feel better. Elizaveta was more useful; he should have called her first. She could destroy evidence and had minions who could borrow vans. But he'd called me first instead. Impatient with myself for having been so jealous about something so stupid, I looked around for a distraction, and my eyes found the bus again.

"'Thou shall not suffer a witch to live,'" I told him, pointing at the front quarter panel. "I wonder if Elizaveta saw that. It doesn't say werewolves, but I expect it is implied."

"'Wives, be subject to your husbands,'" Adam deadpanned without looking at the bus. "'Let your women keep silence in the churches.'"

"Ah, Paul. He has so many useful things to say. 'It is well for a man not to touch a woman,'" I replied sagely, and Adam laughed and kissed me.

I stiffened, irrationally worried that Zee might not have gotten all the silver, but Adam made a sound closer to a purr than a growl. So I relaxed and participated.

"Do they always flirt with biblical quotes?" Asil asked Tad.

In long-suffering tones, Tad said, "They can flirt with the periodic table or a restaurant menu. We've learned to live with it. Get a room, you guys."

"Quiet, pup," said Adam with mock sternness. He gave my butt a promissory pat as he said, "Respect your elders."

At Kyle's house, I took time to take a better look at the dent in Marsilia's car. It wasn't as bad as I remembered it, but it was bad enough. She was going to be furious, and I couldn't blame her. I just hoped she kept it between us and didn't try to involve the pack – the pack had sustained about as much damage as it could handle right now.

"Don't worry," Adam said. "We'll get it fixed."

"It can't make her hate me any more than she already does," I said, willing to look on the bright side.

"It might make her hate you more immediately," offered Tad, and I laughed even though he was right.

"She won't hurt Mercy," said Adam softly. "She knows better than that."

Asil trailed past the trunk, nostrils flaring. "The dead woman is still in the car." He glanced around as if he was looking for something. "Armstrong's rental is gone. He said he had some more coordinating to do with his people. He'll be back, though. Sooner rather than later."

"Tell me about him," said Adam. "I only had time to shake hands and go."

"I'm not your wolf," warned Asil, his voice suddenly harsh.

Adam took in a breath of air and shook out his shoulders. "Sorry," he said, looking at the car and not the other wolf. "Habit. We need to get ourselves ironed out before there's bloodshed. You've been very courteous, and I thank you for it. I'll try to do better. Would you share what you know about the Cantrip agent with me?"

There was a pause, and I kept my eyes on Asil, watching for a sign that he'd decided not to take Adam's apology. His eyes were yellow – that they'd shift back and forth so easily told me as much as his earlier warning had about how little control he had over his wolf.

"Charles vouches for him," Asil said at last, letting the apology lie – which was the safest way to play it. "Lin Armstrong is a troubleshooter for Cantrip and has the power to make things happen. Charles told me to tell you that he can be trusted. As long as we're following our own rules, he won't rock the boat."

"Even with the blood of Cantrip agents hot on my hands?" asked Adam softly.

"Tell him the whole truth," I said impulsively. "Better yet, wait and catch Tony when he comes with Sylvia and tell the whole herd. We're in the right here, and they are the ones who benefit from lies."

"Talk to the lawyer first since you have one immediately available to you," cautioned Asil. "Then give the others as much truth as the lawyer tells you to, and not one word more."

"If you do that, we'll need time to get the story straight," I said.

"We'll tell him the truth," Adam said heavily. "I'm tired of playing games. Maybe it's time to spread a little fear. If they had been a little more afraid of us, Peter would still be alive."

Adam opened the front door, and we were hit with a wave of noise and motion that only got louder when people realized who was at the door.

"Quiet," said Adam – and everyone – the wolves, security personnel, and what looked like two dozen little girls (though I knew that there really weren't that many, they just moved fast) shut up and stood still.

"Good." He looked around. "Where is Kyle? I need to talk to him and get y'all organized." He was tired if he was drifting back into Southernisms.

"I'll get him," said Mary Jo's voice in the back of the crowd. I caught a glimpse of her before she disappeared up the stairs. She was dressed in sweats that were too big for her, and her skin tone was greenish, like she'd just woken up after spending the night at an all-you-can-drink orgy.

Jesse, with the littlest Sandoval on her hip and her hair mussed and damp, waded through the crowd and kissed her dad on the cheek. She rested against him for a moment. "Welcome home, Dad."

He hugged her hard, then relaxed his hold to ruffle Maia's hair.

Maia said, "I rode in a car with a dead body."

Adam gave me a laughing glance. "I guess we might as well tell everyone the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

"It's a secret," Maia explained.

He ruffled her hair again. "Yes. But not a secret from your mom. You shouldn't keep those."

"I tell Mama everything."

"Good for you."

"So," Jesse said, backing up a step, "I hear that you managed to survive without Mercy to rescue you this time."

He smiled. "Brat. Remember who's paying for your college."

She grinned at him. "Maybe I'll just get pregnant and work at fast food for the rest of my life." She turned and trotted off the way she had come before he could formulate a reply.

Amid laughter that had as much to do with relief we were safe as with Jesse's humor, Adam went to work ordering the chaos. I waited for a while, watched various members of the pack come and go. They needed to check and make sure he was still okay, and I understood exactly how they felt.

When he and Asil disappeared together to take care of the who-was-the-biggest-baddest-wolf issue, I slipped away to the kitchen to look for food for Adam – werewolves need to eat, and from the looks of him, wherever they'd held him, they hadn't fed him at all.

Kyle's kitchen was a mess. Dirty dishes everywhere and one whole counter was covered with trays of sandwiches that looked as though someone had called out a caterer at some point. I took a few minutes to unload clean dishes from the dishwasher and start the next batch running – dominance displays take a little time. Then I snitched a heavy-duty paper plate from a stack on the counter and loaded it with four sandwiches thick with near-bloody roast beef.

When I emerged from the kitchen, Adam was the only werewolf in sight, and the total volume of the noise in the house had dropped an appreciable amount. He was trying to push his security team gently out the door.

"We don't think that the house is secured. And with all due respect, Mr. Brooks hired us."

I had never met Jim Gutstein, but I recognized his voice from several phone conversations. He was in his fifties and still in the kind of shape primarily limited to professional athletes and werewolves. His dark gray eyes and jutting chin proclaimed his resistance to leaving despite the tiredness even I, who did not know him, could see. Exhaustion, I knew, only made stubborn people more stubborn.

"Here," I told Adam, before he could say something that put Jim's back up even further than it already was. I had experience dealing with dominant personalities, most of them werewolves. A human had no chance. I put the plate in Adam's hand. "You eat this."

I turned to Adam's man. "Jim, I'm Adam's wife, Mercy. It's very good to meet you." I opened the door and stepped into him, forcing him to back out the doorway. He'd have had to get more physical with me than he was comfortable with to stop me. The rest of his team followed me out.

"Thank you," I told him sincerely. "Go home so Adam will sit down and eat. He's fine, he's grateful, and he'll talk to you on Monday. Leave a couple of people here, and he'll never know – but you, Jim, need to sleep."

Jim Gutstein frowned at me, but another one of the men put a hand on his shoulder. "She makes more sense than you do right now, Gutstein. Sleep. Then you can give him hell. Chris and Todd have the house covered, and it is chock-full of werewolves. You heard the boss man, the likelihood of another mass attack is slim to none."

"Good night," I said, while they were still talking. I went back into the house and shut the door before Jim could bull or argue his way back in.

Adam was alone in the foyer, holding his plate and looking at me with a bemused expression on his face. I decided I was on a roll and pointed toward the kitchen.

"You need to go eat that right now, mister," I said.

He laughed, and I could see again how tired he was. "Yes, Madame Alpha Coyote, I do. Would you join me? I think everyone else will keep for now."

He meant for more than food. Only a blind woman could miss it. It was a gentle invitation, and I could pretend not to see, could escort him into the kitchen and get started on the dishes while he ate.

"This is a big house," I said, instead. "But there is a pack of werewolves lurking somewhere as well as your daughter, her boyfriend, a police officer, a federal agent coming back shortly, and a pack of Sandoval girls. I'm not sure there's a spare space anywhere."

Adam smiled, and I was glad I hadn't just taken him to the kitchen. "Leave that to me."

We ended up sneaking out to the garage and up a rope ladder into the attic space above. Sunlight illuminated the room from a pair of skylights. The walls were finished and painted a light teal that complemented the dense cobalt carpet, but there were no lights or furniture.

"How did you know this was here?" I asked. I pulled up the rope ladder and pulled the trapdoor up until it latched. No sense giving obvious clues about where we were if we were going to sneak off alone.

Adam set his plate down on the floor.

"Warren. He said he and Kyle could keep everyone out of their bedroom, but that stealth might work better for us."

He looked at me and his warm brown eyes had a touch of gold and his voice was a little hoarse. "Let me see your skin, Mercy. I need to know you are okay."

I stripped, feeling a little self-conscious. I didn't mind being naked, but a woman likes to be pretty for her mate and I was covered with bruises, cuts, and bumps. My bad knee was swollen and probably purple to boot. At least my lips weren't silver anymore.

I didn't cover myself up, but I turned my back to him as I slid Kyle's sweats down my legs.

"Mercy," he said.

"Yes?" I glanced back at him to see that he was pulling off his shirt.

"A bargain for us," he said. "I will not hide from you if you don't hide from me."

The idea of Adam's hiding from anything left my mouth open while he made short work of the rest of his clothes, so I had to hurry to catch up. He was right. I didn't feel quite so naked when he was naked, too. He didn't say anything, just touched my bruises with light fingers.

When he paused at my cheek, I said, "That was the car wreck." He frowned at me. "Okay. The car wreck and then it hit the ground when the fae assassin jumped on my back."

We went on like that. Him touching a cut, a bruise, a bump, and I'd tell him what happened.

When he was finished, he put his forehead on my shoulder and pulled me hard against him. "You'll be the death of me," he told me. "I could wish you less bold, less brave – less driven by right and wrong."

"Too bad for you," I commiserated. "I know it's rough. My husband tried to kill himself to save the pack, you know. And earlier today, he faced down a fae he knew nothing about – and some of the fae are forces of nature."

"My wife was going to fight him," explained Adam. "I had to protect him from that."

I laughed.

"You know what Jesse's mother would have done if the feds came and took the pack while she was my wife?" he asked.

"Filed for divorce," I hypothesized.

It was his turn to laugh. "Point to you. And then she would go to everyone she knew and tell them how awful her life was, how people expected too much of her. Do you know what my second wife did?"

"Got beaten up and ran in circles mostly while you rescued yourself," I told him.

"She cared for the pack that was left," he said. "She got my child to safety. She got word to Bran – who sent help. She stepped between my child and those who would harm her."

I snorted. "Sounds like a paragon."

"She saved my life and gave me strength to save the rest of the pack." He heaved a sigh and pulled back so he could look at me. "And I have this urge to turn you over my knee and bruise your butt so that you do exactly what my first wife did."

I narrowed my eyes at him. "You ever lay a hand on me and you better never go to sleep again."

He laughed, sat down on the carpeted floor more as though he just couldn't stand up anymore than as if he'd actually made the decision to sit, and laughed some more. He was very, very tired – but he had just threatened to spank me, so he got no sympathy from me. I folded my arms.

He wiped his eyes with his thumb and looked up at me. His laughter had died altogether. "You don't know how fragile you are, Mercy. The last time we got into trouble, you spent months in a wheelchair. You fight as long and as hard as any werewolf, without any of the weapons we've been given. You are smart. You are careful. And you've been very, very lucky. And that scares me more than any spriggand carrying one of Zee's swords or a Cantrip zealot armed with silver. Luck runs out."

"I tell you what," I said, sitting beside him and biting down the urge to feed him the line he'd given me: did you think I'd die of old age? I hadn't found it funny at the time and didn't think that he would, either. "Think of me as Coyote's daughter, if that helps you. Coyote is lucky."

Adam shook his head. "No, Mercy. Coyote isn't lucky. Coyote is rash, and everyone around him dies – including him. But when the sun rises, he's all better and he goes out to look for new friends. Because Coyote is immortal." And you are not. He didn't say it, but we both heard it.

I tapped on the floor and then leaned forward. Time for a distraction. "This coyote is all better right now. Are you and I going to be friends, wolf?"

He canted his head and touched my chin with his hand. "I don't know. Are you going to keep doing your best to get yourself killed?"

It hadn't been I who had been trying to commit suicide – I hadn't realized I was still mad at him about that. I turned my head and nipped his finger. I'd meant it as chastisement, but he didn't take it that way. Gold lit his eyes with fire, and he left his finger where it was.

"I guess so," he said, sounding resigned, but his lips were soft on mine.

Both of us dozed a bit afterward, not really asleep but too content to get up. I buried my nose under his ear, where his scent could wrap around me. I licked tenderly at the warm skin of his neck.

"Peter is dead," he told me suddenly.

I put my weight on his chest, so he wouldn't feel so alone. "Yes."

"It was my job to protect him."

"The average werewolf lives ten years after he is changed," I reminded Adam. "A human has seventy years or so upon the earth before his time is done. Peter was older than that, four times older than you are. His was not a short life, and his death was quick." It wasn't enough, and I knew it. But it would count for something later, when his death wasn't so … near.

"My fault," Adam said. Someone who didn't know him would have thought his voice was calm. "There were not so many of them. If I had attacked them when they came to take the pack …"

"You thought they were feds," I said. He knew all of this, but if he needed to have me say it again, then I would. "If werewolves start killing federal agents, soon there won't be any werewolves. It was the right thing to do. I was there when Peter was killed, and it could have been any one of you. Jones had decided to kill someone, and nothing would have stopped him."

"Jones is dead." But his body was relaxing underneath me. Adam wasn't stupid. This wasn't the first time bad things happened that he couldn't control.

"I'm not surprised."

He huffed a laugh. "I didn't kill him."

I lifted my head so I could see his face. "That does surprise me."

"I killed the rest of them and let Honey kill Jones." He watched my face closely. He'd hidden what he was from his first wife, who had been entirely human, and she'd still run away from what little she'd glimpsed.

"Good," I said. "That way, I won't have to."

He laughed again, and his body softened as much as it ever did – there just wasn't much soft about Adam. "I love you," he said.

"I know," I told him seriously. "How could you help it?"

He laughed again and rolled over until I was on the bottom, and flexed his hips against mine. "I tried," he whispered in my ear. "But it didn't work."

I breathed into his ear for the pleasure of feeling him shiver against me. "Of course not." He smelled like home, like safety, like love. "Of course not."

"I promise I won't spank you," he told me, his voice rough and low as he added, "not unless you ask me to."

I let him feel my laugh against his shoulder. "That's because you aren't genuinely suicidal."

We loved again then, the short nap of the rug soft under my skin and the warmth of him surrounding me.

Afterward, he fell asleep while he was eating, between one bite and the next, like a toddler. I don't think that he had slept since the pack was taken. He didn't even stir when I pulled away from him to go put my clothes on.

The room might have been finished, but it was not heated. Adam was a werewolf, which meant the colder the better for him – not so for me. Fully clothed, I sat down next to him to watch over him while he slept.

The quiet time didn't last.

The door between house and garage opened no more than twenty minutes after Adam dropped off. Warren called, "Sorry, boss. You're needed if you don't want Kyle to shoot the rest of the pack."

He didn't speak that loudly, but Adam's eyes opened up anyway. He smiled at me, and said, "Good to know. Tell Kyle to hold up, and I'll be right down."

Warren steadied the rope ladder when Adam tossed it out of the trapdoor. "We've put the pack downstairs in the big room to create some space apart from the Sandoval girls." The big room was the largest room in the house, and it had a pool table and a stairway leading to an outside door into the backyard. Kyle's house was bigger than ours, but not set up for groups of people quite this large.

"They wouldn't do anything on purpose," Warren said, as I climbed down the rope ladder behind Adam. "But we're all on edge."

"Silver-sick doesn't help," I said. "Tad can help with the silver."

"And then we'll send most of them to their own homes," said Adam. "Even if our enemy has teeth left, it will take them a while to regroup. For the short term, we should all be safe enough."

Warren grunted, and, with my feet safely down on the cement floor, I took a good look at him. Warren was my first friend in Adam's pack – he'd been my friend before he'd joined the pack.

"You look better than I expected you to," I said, and, to my surprise, he flushed.

"Food," he said with a shy smile.

Adam snorted. "Kyle."

"Well, yes," agreed Warren, then his eyes went cold as he tossed the rope ladder back up into the hole in the ceiling. "Mercy, next time you see our favorite bloodsucker, you tell him I owe him one."

"I'll tell him, but he did it for Kyle."

Warren nodded and hopped on top of the metal shelving that lined the wall so he could close the trapdoor properly.

There were no digs, humorous comments, or even sly looks when Adam, Tad, and I joined the pack in the great room in the basement. I took that as a sign of how bad everyone was feeling.

Some of the wolves were notable by their absence.

"Darryl and Auriele went to their home," Warren told us. He glanced at Adam. "They seemed mostly recovered from the silver, and he is supposed to participate in a conference call with some Chinese scientists on Sunday."

"All the most dominant wolves seem to be pretty well clean of silver," Tad said.

"He told us it's because you used your mate bond to pull the silver out of Adam, and through Adam, the pack," said Honey. She was sitting on the pool table with her legs crossed underneath her. She was pale, and her mouth was tight, but other than that she looked mostly like herself. "I didn't believe him until Kyle showed us the silver on the floor." She frowned at me. "What kind of freak are you?"

Any other time, I'd have said something cutting. I felt Adam stiffen beside me, and I put my hand on his arm to forestall whatever he wanted to say. Honey had never liked me much – and since I had forced the pack to take a new look at their hierarchy, particularly the way women's ranks were awarded, she'd liked me even less.

Honey was as dominant as Peter had been submissive, and a female wolf is supposed to take her rank from her mate. She wanted the role she'd been assigned as his mate rather than the one that should have been rightfully hers as a dominant wolf. She didn't want to be who she was; she wanted to be delicate and ladylike and feminine. She resented me for challenging that.

I wasn't afraid of her. She wasn't the type to take her dislike to the next level and try to kill me. Normally, I'd have given her as good as I got, but she'd just lost Peter. We all had just lost Peter.

"I am Adam's freak," I told her. "Get over it."

"Kelly," Adam said, ignoring Honey altogether. "Come here."

I didn't know Kelly well; I'm not sure anyone did. He was a big, quiet man who worked at a local yard and garden store. He usually had an air of vitality, but now half crept, half stumbled to Adam.

Warren grabbed a chair that another wolf vacated without being asked and set it down next to Tad. He pulled Kelly onto the chair and stepped behind him. He reached across the big man's chest and grabbed Kelly's opposite wrist and pulled it tight as he trapped Kelly's free arm, too.

"This might hurt," Tad said.

"Will hurt," I told Kelly. "But I survived it."

Kelly's eyes went gold, and he showed me his teeth. "Coyote."

There were still some wolves who resented having a coyote in the pack.

I smiled toothily back at him.

"Coyotes are tough," he said. Apparently he wasn't one of the coyote-haters. Good to know.

"So are wolves," I told him.

"And both of you talk too much," Tad said. "Brace yourself."

He didn't put his hand on Kelly's face – which was smart. Even in human form, werewolves have strong jaw muscles. He touched his forearm, just above where Warren held it. Tad's eyes drooped to half-mast, and his nostrils flared and power burst into being where there had been none a moment before.

The scent of fae magic seared my sinuses; Kelly roared, and his whole body arched off the chair. Adam dove to help hold him and so did Honey, who grabbed both of Kelly's legs in her arms.

Tad jerked back – and there was a popping noise when his hand came away from Kelly's arm.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said hoarsely. "I didn't mean for that to happen."

Kelly went limp.

"Did you get the silver out?" asked Adam, releasing his hold cautiously, but the werewolf didn't move.

Honey dropped Kelly's legs like they were hot and scooted away until she reached the pool table. Warren let go as well.

Tad showed him a scant handful of whitish gray powder.

Adam smiled. "Good. Kelly?"

The big man shook out his shoulders, took in a breath, and let it out. "I'm good." He glanced at me. "Thanks for the warning."

"No trouble," I said. "Mine took longer."

He leaned his head to the side without smiling. "Coyotes are tough. Good to know."

Tad drew the silver out of the wolves who needed it – including Ben. Kelly got the worst of it, as Tad's skill improved with practice. When Zee's son was finished, Adam sent most of the werewolves back to their own homes, where they could protect their families and rest. Honey stayed because he didn't want her too far away from him for a while. Werewolves can get volatile in extreme emotion and, as her Alpha, he could keep her from losing control. It was not uncommon for wolves who had lost their mates to have to be killed shortly thereafter. She had changed to her wolf but otherwise seemed okay.

Warren stayed, of course, because it was his home. Ben stayed because he wouldn't go home when Adam told him to. Adam talked to him in private and then let him stay. I think it had something to do with the way Honey watched me when Adam wasn't looking.

Once everyone left who was leaving, the house felt like it heaved a sigh of relief; I know I did. Kyle ordered pizza for all who remained, and we were in the middle of eating it when the doorbell rang and a tired-looking Agent Armstrong came in.

Jesse and Gabriel took charge of his sisters and hauled them out to the hot tub after determining that Kyle and Warren did indeed have swimming suits of all sizes. Kyle was a divorce attorney, and sometimes his clients and their children needed a safe place to go for a while. That was why his house was so big and why some of the rooms were Disney-themed and sized for people under ten years old.

Honey was given the job of making sure nothing happened to them. I asked Jesse and Gabriel to make sure that Maia didn't try to ride Honey the way she'd done with Sam. Wide-eyed at the idea, Jesse promised sincerely to do her best. She knew Honey as well as I did, and even on the best of days, Honey wouldn't make a good horsey. Everyone else, Adam called to a meeting in the upstairs theater room. When Armstrong protested all the civilians, looking at Tony and Sylvia, Adam said, in a voice that could have frozen a volcano, "Their presence is nonnegotiable."

It wasn't, I thought, so much that Tony and Sylvia's participation was important to Adam, who knew neither one very well – it was that Armstrong had tried to take control of the meeting, and Adam, fresh from being held captive, was not in the mood for it.

Adam moved one of the two love seats around so it was in front of the TV before sitting on it – at the head of his impromptu council. He didn't bother with his usual charade of human-only strength, having lifted the heavy piece of furniture and carried it by himself with obvious ease. I sat down next to Adam and worried over Armstrong's pale face. We didn't need more enemies.

Warren gave Adam a cautious look and settled in the other love seat, pulling Kyle down beside him. Tad had been planning to go out to the swimming pool, too, but Adam had asked him to come after Armstrong protested Tony and Sylvia. At Adam's direction, Tad sat rather uncomfortably on the couch with Tony and Sylvia. There were no more seats in the room.

Ben – human again and wearing a set of Kyle's sweats that said, "Taste This Rainbow" – glanced around and sat on the ground at Adam's feet without a quibble or change of expression. That left Armstrong standing alone.

The lack of seats was on purpose, I thought, glancing at Adam's face. He was not happy with Cantrip, and poor Agent Armstrong was the only representative present.

Asil came in late. He glanced at Ben and at Agent Armstrong, who was contemplating the reason for his seatless state. Asil raised an eyebrow at Adam – though he didn't really look him in the eye – and headed back downstairs. He brought two of the dining room chairs and pointedly set them on either side of Warren's love seat. He took the side that left him as far from Adam as he could get without leaving the room and, at his gesture, Armstrong took the remaining empty chair.

"You all here know everything Mercy told the police, right?" Adam said as soon as everyone was seated. "So let me begin with last night."

For all that we'd talked about the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Adam's story was edited a little. He was quite clear on the point that he killed the Cantrip agents responsible himself – while I and all the werewolves in the room knew he lied. He wasn't the only one who had killed, but he was the one responsible. I understood that just fine.

"I considered holding them for justice," Adam told us, told me, really. "But they had a kill list that included all of the humans associated with my people – children not excepted." He looked at Sylvia. "Gabriel was on that list. You were not wrong to tell him that his association with us put him in danger."

"Maybe not," she said, "but I was wrong to expect that to matter to him." She looked at me, and her lips quirked up. "A friend in danger is not someone who should be deserted. Safety is not always the right path."

"They were willing to kill children?" Armstrong asked, not as if he were questioning Adam but as if he couldn't quite wrap his head around it.

"Like Joshua at Jericho," said Adam. I put my hand on his leg and squeezed it. "They felt that they needed to dig us out plant, root, and seed so that our corruption was truly destroyed. You'll have to accept my word for it because the whiteboard went up with the winery where we were held."

He paused. "There were three fresh graves in the vineyard that held some of their own people. Maybe they objected – maybe they just got in the way. We didn't kill them, we didn't kill anyone until our escape. From the state of the bodies, the Cantrip agents in the graves died a couple of days before we were taken."

"How did they get you all?" asked Asil.

"We thought they were government agents, so we did not initially respond with lethal force." Adam breathed deeply, but it must not have helped because he got to his feet and began to pace. "That is a mistake, Agent Armstrong, that we will never make again. You might pass the word along." For a moment, his menace was such that no one, not even me, dared take a deep breath. He shook his shoulders loose and spoke more moderately. "At any rate, we did not kill or harm anyone when we were taken. So two dead women and the dead man are the responsibility of either the Cantrip agents or the mercenaries they hired."

"If you please, Mr. Hauptman," said Armstrong. "Renegade Cantrip agents. My agency was not responsible for their actions, and both officially and unofficially, we find this business appalling."

"I just bet you do." Warren's voice was heavy with rage. Warren was usually the voice of sanity in the pack.

"Warren," said Adam – and Warren looked up, then away. "Do you need to leave?" It was a real question, not a reprimand, and Warren took it the way it was meant.

"You need Kyle here," he said, his voice low and his head tipped slightly away from Adam's. "In his legal capacity."

"Not as our lawyer," Adam said. "Not yet. But his presence is useful, yes. I'd like him to stay."

"Then I'll stay, too. I can deal."

Adam looked at Tony. "I asked Sylvia to come because Gabriel was endangered. I asked you to stay because I do not want to keep the police in the dark about what happened. You are safer if you know everything. However, we cannot afford to let this go to trial in human courts. We … I will not allow it."

Tony narrowed his eyes. "I am a servant of the law, Adam."

"There will be hearings, just not in the human court system," Adam told him. "I answer to a higher power – that power that kept werewolves from being the monsters Cantrip is afraid we are for all the years that humans knew nothing of us. If my actions are deemed excessive, I will pay for them with my life."

"Those werewolves who killed that pedophile in Minnesota this past spring – they died within a few days of it. All of them. Natural causes, we were told, though their bodies were cremated very quickly and no autopsy was performed," Armstrong said neutrally, his eyes on me rather than Adam.

"A force of nature, anyway," I said obliquely. Charles was a force of nature, right?

"I'm a servant of the law, too, Tony," Kyle said too hastily to be as smooth as his usual redirection. "And no one knows better than I how the law and justice do not, can not, always coincide. I swear to you now that werewolf justice is swifter and more just, if more brutal, than our court system can manage." He leaned forward earnestly. "We humans are not equipped to deal with a werewolf fairly. And if the police had tried to arrest those men in Minnesota, some of them would have died. I am content that justice will be served in this case."

There was a long pause.

"Even if I agree it was self-defense," Tony said, "you have just confessed to killing federal agents. I am not qualified to give you a pass on that, Adam."

"Agents who attacked law-abiding citizens without provocation," murmured Kyle. "Adam is a security expert. I imagine that he has the attack on his house on camera somewhere."

Adam grunted. "With nice face shots of several of the Cantrip agents, Gutstein informed me tonight. And we have Peter's body."

"Where is Peter?" I asked.

"Safe," Adam told me. "They'd buried him in the vineyard next to their own dead. We dug him up, and arrangements are being made."

"Suspicious deaths require autopsy," said Tony.

Adam looked at him and nodded. "Yes. We'll talk. There is nothing suspicious about his death. He was murdered right in front of me. He has a bullet hole in his forehead."

No one said anything for a moment after that. The expression on Adam's face might have accounted for the silence.

"I have the power to say that Cantrip and the federal government is satisfied that Adam acted in self-defense when he killed those people," Armstrong said. "Mr. Brooks is right, it would be a political nightmare for Cantrip if the actions of these men were to come out even though they were not acting in any kind of official capacity." He took a deep breath. "It would be a similar disaster for the werewolves. In the current climate, I don't know that you could get a judge to declare self-defense, Mr. Hauptman. If the trial went to a jury, a decision either way could lead to riots and unrest that might break out into open fighting in the streets."

Armstrong looked at something none of us could see, then he met my eyes and held them. "I am a federal agent, sworn to uphold the interests of my country. I am a patriot. I have seen fear and hatred cause men and women who have likewise so sworn to forget their oaths and give in to their hatred. I don't want this to go to court."

Tony threw up his hands. "I agree with you," he told Armstrong. "Both about the self-defense and Adam's chances in court – though if the case is kept local, I think he would do better than you think. Still, there are bodies."

"The buried Cantrip agents were shot execution style, with the same gun that killed Peter," Adam said.

"You run ballistics?" asked Tony.

"No."

Tony frowned at him. "Then how – " Then he shook his head. "Never mind. But those aren't the only bodies."

Adam's face became even more expressionless. "There will be no other bodies. After we escaped, there was a fire at the winery."

Another silence followed.

"I can accept a separate justice," Tony said, finally. "I've known you. I and my department have called you for help, and you have never failed us. I've seen you meet violence with soft words. And I've never seen you lie. I'm in agreement with Agent Armstrong. I have a few ideas, and I think if Armstrong is willing to help, we can sell this to the department."

"You said there was a fire at the winery?" asked Armstrong.

Adam sat down and rubbed his hands over his face. "Yes. We are used to cleaning up our own messes. We've found fire to be very effective."

"Teeth and the denser bones," said Tony with extreme neutrality, "tend to show up after a fire."

"I'd be very surprised if there are any teeth or bones," I told him half-apologetically. Adam had left Elizaveta out of his explanation. "You don't have to worry about that."

Armstrong gave me a sharp look, but he didn't say anything further. Instead he asked, "What about the mercenaries the renegades were working with? Did you identify them?"

"No," Adam said. "They're out of it, and of no more concern to me. I think there are only three players left."

Asil held up a finger. "The money man." He held up another finger. "The turncoat in Senator Campbell's security detail." And a third. "The person who gave the Cantrip agents the contact information for the mercenaries and the dossiers about your pack and werewolves in general."

"I have a friend looking into the information man," Adam said. "He's pretty sure that he can find the contact name from the mercenaries without causing an international incident."

On Kyle's landline, Adam had been able to get in touch with Charles. Charles was scary good at finding out things no one wanted anyone to know. Charles was just plain scary in general.

"But," Adam continued, "I think the damage the information man can do is done. So there is no great urgency in running him down."

"Let's be clear here, in this room," said Armstrong. "Are you talking about killing him?"

Adam shook his head. "Killing him is a lot more problematic than just keeping an eye on him. The past few days aside, we try our best not to go around killing humans, Mr. Armstrong."

"You don't consider yourself human?" asked Armstrong.

Asil raised his eyebrows at Adam, who shrugged, and said, "'Humans who are not werewolves' is too wordy to say more than once. We are as human as we can be."

"So we're left with the money man and the potential assassin in Senator Campbell's security team." Tony was leaning forward intently.

Adam leaned back and stretched out his legs. The tension in the room ratcheted down four notches, proof that werewolves aren't the only ones who can read body language. "Let's deal with Senator Campbell's problem as the more manageable evil. I've sent word to Senator Campbell through people I know in the security industry, but it might be better, Agent Armstrong, if you warned the senator yourself. Keep in mind that whoever this traitor on his security detail is, he is not necessarily driven by any agenda other than money. If he is only a gun for hire, taking out the Cantrip people who wanted to kill Senator Campbell might be enough to stop him. If he is a zealot, of whatever stripe, he's likely to get impatient and try on his own." Adam paused and raised an eyebrow. "You can tell the senator that I am happy to send a couple of trained security professionals who are werewolves to ensure his safety if he would allow it. No charge."

Armstrong's mouth quirked. "Have you ever met the senator?"

"No, sir."

"I have. He might just take you up on your offer. He is not as anti-werewolf as he is painted. He just doesn't like it when they go around eating people."

Put like that, he didn't sound so bad. But I'd heard some of his speeches.

Adam nodded, but his voice was reserved when he said, "It would please me if he accepted. If something happens to him at this point, it will cause people to blame the werewolves. I'd rather he and his family be safe and sound for years to come."

"And that leaves the money man," said Kyle.

"Yes," said Adam. He looked at Armstrong. "Do you have any idea where the money is coming from?"

"No. Alexander Bennet – he was the man in charge, and probably the one who shot your man – Bennet's financials show nothing unusual and neither do those of any of the people who were likely associated with him. FYI, identifying those people is going to be a nightmare. Looking for people in Cantrip who have problems with werewolves and the current legislation is like looking for cheese in Wisconsin. Bennet just didn't show up for work one day, and there are two more like that. One of them had a heart attack and is in the emergency room of a hospital, the other is likely to be ashes here – unless she ran off and got married or something. We have to check out everyone who is working from home, on leave, on vacation – or used to work for Cantrip at some point in time. If you had left the bodies, it would have made that part of my job much easier."

Warren, who until that point had been silent, said, "I have driver's licenses for you – though we don't have any ID for the people that were buried next to Peter. You'll be able to figure out who they are from their bodies."

Adam looked at him.

"If you'll pardon me, boss, you weren't in any condition to be thinking of things like that. But it occurred to some of us that we might find it useful to know who our enemies are." He looked at Armstrong. "I'll give you copies and keep the originals."

Armstrong looked as though he'd like to argue, but under Warren's scrutiny, he subsided.

"Okay," said Tony. "One more thing. Adam, you are going to have to come up with a story to tell the press that will fly with my superiors."

Adam nodded. "Jim Gutstein is going to call in a few favors, and tonight I'll talk to the press out of Kyle's office. I'll take Mercy's story and run with it."

"Let me help," said Armstrong. "I have some experience in taking scary things and making them ordinary."

"This is all well and good," said Sylvia. "But you need to explain to me why Maia told me she rode here with a dead body."

"That is my fault," Asil said.

"More bodies?" said Armstrong.

"I thought there weren't any bodies at Sylvia's?" Tony was frowning.

"Someone sent a team of assassins after Jesse and Mercy," Tad said, and looked at me. "They were waiting for you, Mercy. Now that I've had time to think about it, I think they were in place before I even got to Sylvia's to watch over the kids."

Tad cleared his throat and gave me a sheepish smile. "I felt them when I got there. It's one of the reasons I got close enough that the kids spotted me. After a while, when nothing happened, I figured that there was someone like me living in the apartment complex – half-fae and not required to be in the reservation."

"I thought all fae were required to go," Armstrong said. "That was our briefing."

Tad shook his head. "No. Only those deemed powerful enough to be of use. But these assassins, like Agent Armstrong's people, were renegades – "

The door popped open, and a wet and bright green swimming-suit-clad Sofia Sandoval flew in. "Mercy, Mercy. Gabriel says come quick. Someone hit your car. Smooshed the trunk."

I was dead. Marsilia was going to kill me for killing her car, and I didn't really blame her at all.

Everyone in the meeting boiled out to look – as much to get out and move than because anyone else was concerned. It wasn't quite five o'clock, but this late in the fall, the sun had set while we'd been talking, and the rear of the car was beyond the streetlight. I have good night vision, but even my eyes need a minute to adjust between indoor artificial light and darkness.

But it didn't matter, because I didn't get to the car before Gabriel snagged me and pulled me aside with some urgency.

He spoke quickly and quietly. "I think we are in real trouble. We'd just finished getting the kids out of the hot tub in the backyard. Jesse and Mary Jo took everyone else upstairs to dry off and change, but Sofia stayed out to help me put the cover back on the hot tub. We heard a crash and came out front to see what happened. I thought at first someone had just done a hit-and-run on the car."

He gestured, and I could see the top of the trunk, which had a reverse dent rising from the middle. "I sent Sofia in for you so I could shut the trunk before she saw the body. I didn't see anyone driving off. Just a woman on the street. Looked like she was jogging, you know? Making good time, too. I thought about heading after her to see if she'd seen anything, but then I noticed just how odd the trunk was, so I took a better look." He leaned in, and said, very softly. "The body was gone, Mercy. And the sound we heard was her hitting the lid of the trunk so she could get out."

All of the werewolves – Asil, Adam, Ben, and Warren who had been looking down the street, presumably for whoever hit the car – turned to look at Gabriel and me. Asil opened the trunk.

"She was dead," he said. "I swear to it. I know she was fae, but I have killed them before. She was dead. When we walked by here earlier, I could smell the body starting to decompose."

I couldn't help it, I laughed. "Zombie fae. That's all we needed. I don't know about you, but I'm going to get a really good night's sleep with zombie fae running around. I'll go see if I can track her."

"Mercy," Adam said.

"I won't approach," I promised. "I'll just see where she's going and come back and get you. By the time any of you wolves can change, she'll be long gone."

Since young Sandovals were beginning to filter out of the house to see what the excitement was all about, I didn't strip before changing into my coyote. Adam helped me get the sweatshirt off when my coyote-self got stuck in it – and only then did I remember that I'd shifted right in front of Armstrong and Tony, neither of whom had known what I was.

One of my foster father Bryan's favorite sayings had been, "No use crying over spilt milk." Besides, Tad must have used the distraction to get the fae cuffs out of the trunk because I caught a glimpse of him slipping Peace and Quiet under his shirt, so something good came out of it anyway.

I put my nose down and was off and running. Asil was right – she'd begun to rot, and she left a very clear trail.

Adam ran beside me in his human form. Apparently he didn't want me out zombie hunting on my own. Coyotes run a great deal faster than people can, and I run faster than most coyotes. Werewolves are good runners, but even a werewolf can run only so fast in their human form – four-footed travel is a lot quicker than two. He was keeping up with me, and moving faster than any human could have – and maybe I wasn't running at my top speed. Not even close, really.

Having Adam beside me if I had to confront a zombie fae assassin was worth slowing down for.


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