Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)

Chapter 5

chapter
Chapter

The brocade drapes were an inheritance from the people who had built the house. Kyle loved the fabric but complained a lot about the way they left six inches between the bottom of the curtains and the floor.

I dropped to my knees and peered through the bottom of the sliding glass door that Kyle planned to replace with french doors next summer along with the drapes.

Kyle and Warren's bedroom was decorated in a minimalist and very civilized style. The blood on the carpet looked like the single contrasting note one of those designers on TV liked to recommend.

There was so little furniture that the villains had had to bring up a chair from the dining room so they had something to use to stage their interrogation. They'd tied Kyle to the sturdy chair naked. His feet were free, but it didn't matter because they were also bare. Unless you are a werewolf or maybe Bruce Lee, bare feet can't do much damage unless you have more of a strike opportunity than being tied to a chair presents.

From the looks of him this wasn't the first round of abuse he'd taken. I kept my growl to myself, though I could do nothing about the snarl that wrinkled my nose. Kyle's face was bruised, the aristocratic nose sat at an angle, and dried blood covered his chin and upper chest. A cut above one eye had bled, too, and that eye was swollen shut and purple. There were red marks on his cheekbone and stomach that were fresher, having not had time to bruise.

The two men in the room were dressed all in black, and they wore the same body armor the men who held Adam had worn. The taller man was bald, his skin tanned by a life spent outdoors. I put his age between twenty-five and thirty. The other man was heavier built and not so tan, his hair the shade of rust and cut tightly against his scalp.

The bald man's body language was relaxed, and that made the worry he projected in his voice even more of a lie than the words.

"I don't like letting him free to do as he wants, Mr. Brooks. It isn't good for him or you. He might do some serious damage. Things that can't be repaired. I can stop him if you just let us know where you think she might go. We'll get out of your hair, and you never have to see us again."

Kyle spat out blood. "You must be fae. I never heard so much truth built into a lie. Did your mother have wings and pointed ears?" he asked, his voice as cool as it was in the courtroom.

Hadn't Kyle ever heard that you weren't supposed to antagonize your kidnappers? Especially when they were beating on you?

At least he had their attention fully on him.

Taking advantage of their preoccupation, I changed back to human and reached up to the catch on the glass door, which was, luckily for us, unlocked. Hopefully, the heavy drapes would disguise the cold outside air now wafting into the room as I carefully, quietly slid the door open. It was good for us and for Kyle that he had not had time to replace either the door or the drapes.

As soon as I had it opened, Stefan dropped to his knees to get a good look through the gap between the floor and the drapes, and I shifted back to coyote. My four-footed shape might not be as impressive as one of the wolves, but it was more lethal than my human shape. I squeezed next to Stefan and looked again.

The bald man's face had lost its pleasantness, though he'd taken his time to answer Kyle's taunt. "Your mouth is dangerous to you, Mr. Brooks. I'd suggest you use it to give us the information we want, or you might not be able to use it at all."

"You're a dead man," Kyle said. "Warren doesn't take kindly to people who hurt me."

We had to get in there – and now the only obstacle was the curtain. If we could be quiet enough, the men downstairs would not hear us.

"Your Warren is our prisoner," said the bald man, back to his Mr. Nice Guy persona. "He can do nothing to help you."

Kyle smiled. "You just keep telling yourselves that."

The younger man bounced a couple of times on his feet and feigned a strike. Kyle pulled his head out of the line of fire and the man hit him in the shoulder with a spinning back kick that launched Kyle's chair over onto its side. If he'd hit him in the head with that foot, Kyle would have been dead.

On the floor, Kyle's face was aimed right at me. He blinked twice and shook his head. "Get the hell out of here."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Brooks, but we can't do that," said the bald man with mock sorrow, unaware that Kyle hadn't been talking to him. The other man put a foot on the chair and rocked it a little.

Stefan had stood up so there was room for Ben to put his head on the ground next to me and look below the curtain, too. When he saw Kyle, the werewolf went still.

Ben was not the largest werewolf in the pack – though he was big enough. But he was among the most dangerous. He was fast – and he wasn't bothered by the thought of killing someone, even when he was as human as he ever got. He had been abused, severely abused when he was a child. People, outside the pack and Adam's family, just weren't real to him. We were working on that, Adam and I, but I discovered right then that Ben considered Kyle one of the pack.

Better to aim my weapon than to let it go off half-cocked. I bumped him, and when I had his attention, I pulled my nose out from under the curtain. Then I looked up at the top of the curtain and back to him. Shapeshifting makes all of us pretty good at charades.

Ben stood up and kept going until he stood balanced on his good hind leg with a front paw on the side of the house next to the sliding door. I backed out of the way – and realized that Ben and I were alone on the balcony. Stefan had disappeared.

I nodded sharply, and Ben's free front paw slammed the curtain, rod and all, onto the ground, where it would not interfere with us. I'd gathered myself to leap, but what I saw made me pause because there was no one to attack.

Stefan was already in the room, lowering the bald man to the ground with gentle care. The first man, the man who'd hurt Kyle, was dead, his eyes starting to fog over and his body draped over Kyle. Stefan had incapacitated both men without either making a sound. Pretty efficient, the coyote in me thought, and the rest of me was very, very glad that Stefan was on my side.

Despite my earlier stand, even knowing it could come back and bite us, I couldn't deny that I was happy that Stefan had killed Kyle's assailant.

I changed back to human and hauled the dead man off Kyle while Ben aimed himself at the bindings on Kyle's wrists that held the rest of him into the chair. Stefan touched Ben's nose and moved it out of the way.

He looked at the bindings for a moment. Yellow nylon rope wrapped Kyle's wrists and wove in and out of the sturdy wooden chair. "There is no way the police are going to believe you broke out of that."

And that was the first sign I had that Stefan really had taken what I'd told him to heart. We were going to call the police – and Kyle, very human Kyle, was going to rescue himself.

Stefan put a hand on the seat of the chair and the other on the back. "Brace yourself," he warned Kyle, then pulled the chair apart. The ropes fell away like magic.

Everyone but Kyle froze, listening for any sign that someone else had heard us.

"Sweats," Kyle whispered to me, rolling off the chair like it hurt. "Top drawer of the bigger chest of drawers. You can steal a pair, too." He looked at the chair pieces, and murmured, "The bedroom is supposed to be soundproofed. Doesn't work on Warren, but maybe we'll luck out with less gifted listeners."

The first drawer I found had underwear, so he must have meant the other top drawer. They were sorted and army neat, matching bottoms and tops folded together. I grabbed the top two sets.

No one came boiling up the stairs, so either they hadn't heard the chair go – or they thought it was part of the interrogation.

Stefan helped Kyle up and steadied him when he was a little wobbly on his feet. I handed over a pair of bottoms. Stefan continued to hold him upright while Kyle pulled the sweats on with great concentration. Once Kyle had the pants on and both feet on the floor to steady himself, Stefan took the rope and started to tie up the bald man.

"How often do the people downstairs come up?" Stefan said.

"The only time anyone has come up here was a few minutes ago," Kyle told him. "Could be back in a minute, or next week."

I handed Kyle a sweatshirt. He shook his head, and said, "That's the wrong top for these."

"Fashion princess." I rolled my eyes and gave him the other top, noticing only as it unfolded that it proclaimed, "I'm prettier than your girlfriend," in purple glittery script. I recognized it because I'd given it to him for his birthday.

"I have news for you, Kyle, it'll be a while before you are prettier than anyone's girlfriend. Bruises are not your best color. Are you sure you don't want the other top?"

He glanced at me and gave me a crooked smile. "You look worse than I do. These goons get to you, too?"

We were all keeping our voices as quiet as possible.

"Car accident." I pulled on the sweatpants. They were tight, but Warren's would have been tighter and left me with a foot of material to trip on.

"They have Warren," Kyle said, his eyes, briefly, looking as terrified as I was.

"I know," I told him. The top that matched the sweatpants I wore was a spiffy teal. "They have the rest of the pack, too."

"So I gathered." Kyle indicated with a tip of his head that his information had come from the bald man. "Are we on the side of the angels?" Kyle pulled on his top, though not without wincing.

Stefan looked up from the bald man, and said, "The first one I killed because I don't let people who hurt those I care about live. He is dead in such a way that a human could have killed him. Since Mercy has been so concerned with the body count, the second man is merely out – and I made certain he did not see me. If you choose to call in the police, there is nothing that can be used against us – werewolf or vampire."

"So our halos are nice and bright," I told Kyle. I looked at Stefan. "Is calling the police smart? Won't we be putting pressure on the bad guys to get rid of their hostages?"

"No." Stefan turned his gaze on me. "If this is a government operation, having the local police involved will force them out into the open, and they cannot afford the bodies any more than the werewolves can. If it is something spearheaded by renegade agents – which is what it sounds like – involving the police will alert the agency involved and bring us new allies. That's how we'll do this, Mercy. If we can, we trap them in their actions until the only move they have left is what we want them to do."

He took a breath – which he doesn't have to do unless he wants to talk, though he usually does if only out of consideration for we breathers who get distressed if the people we're around don't breathe for a few minutes. "You were right, Mercy. I was thinking like a vampire before. These people want to separate the werewolves from the protection of society. So we'll get society on our side instead. It helps that Kyle is human."

Kyle smiled like it hurt. "Quite human. I am a black belt – got it ten years ago and haven't practiced much since. But it could explain how I took down two trained men with Mercy and Ben's help." He looked at the dead man, and nodded sharply. "Thank you for that, Stefan. He's no loss to the world."

"Will you get in trouble for his death?" I asked Kyle. He was a lawyer – family law – but he should still know.

He shook his head. "Self-defense in a slam dunk." He looked at Stefan. "Do you know who is responsible?"

"Renegade Cantrip agents is our working hypothesis," I said. FBI agents would have had too much experience to react out of fear the way Mr. Jones had. Homeland Security, I didn't know enough about. But Cantrip – short for Combined Nonhuman and Transhuman Relations Provisors – had attracted a number of anti-nonhuman zealots. I knew that they had training but not much field experience – and they'd have access to as much information as the government could amass on the werewolves. For firepower, they'd have to have help. "And a hired troop of competent mercenaries for muscle. Here" – I jerked my chin toward the two men on the floor – "we have the mercenaries. There are at least three more downstairs. I didn't see anyone else, but they'd be dumb not to have someone out keeping watch."

"Mercenaries mean money," said Stefan. "A lot more money than most Cantrip agents make."

Kyle smiled briefly. "Follow the money. Fine. You're sure that the police would be helpful?"

"Wait." There had been a click. Everyone fell silent – and then air started to blow out of the registers in the floor. I'd heard the heat turn on. Stefan went to the door, cracked it open, and took a quick peek outside. He shut it noiselessly and shook his head.

But he was quieter when he talked than we'd been before. "They only really need one person alive to blackmail Adam. The rest are just a precaution. If Adam and the pack are hostages, they need every one they can keep their hands on." He frowned at us both. "That doesn't mean they are safe – idiots are the hardest people to plan around, and anyone who captures a werewolf pack without killing every last one is an idiot."

"Okay," said Kyle. "Let's see if we can't make this a little uncomfortable for them." He walked to the side of the bed and picked up his cell.

I grabbed his hand and looked at Stefan. "What if they're listening to the phones?"

Stefan smiled. "Then they'll have warning and either run – or they will attack us up here."

A lot of things could have gone wrong. We settled down to wait, ready to defend ourselves if the men downstairs decided to check on Kyle.

Stefan left when the sun started coming up. Ben and I waited with Kyle, despite Kyle's protests that he could handle this on his own. We were safely out of it; if we left, we gave the enemy no one to follow … Kyle had a lot of arguments, which he delivered with the cell on mute.

I wasn't leaving Kyle alone in a house full of bad guys. I finally stole his phone, took it off mute, and introduced myself to the operator. I explained that I thought that these same men were responsible for launching an attack at my house – yes, I was married to the local Alpha. One of the pack had escaped and found me – and we'd figured out something was wrong. We snuck in through the upstairs window just after Kyle had managed to free himself. I told her about the blood we'd found in the backyard that belonged to Kyle's boyfriend, a pack member, who had been taken off the premises by these bad guys, presumably to be held by whoever had taken the rest of the pack.

Kyle listened hard, since it was the first time he'd heard a lot of what I said. I didn't give the police the whole truth. There were too many things the werewolves didn't want getting out, and I wasn't mentioning Stefan. But I stuck to it as closely as I could.

When I'd finished, it was not just the SWAT team who were headed our way, but a fair percentage of a number of different police departments – and, to my relief, someone was going to go check at the firehouse where Mary Jo worked as well as the houses of our married pack members who hadn't come to our Thanksgiving dinner but had been taken just the same. They'd make sure that there were no other hostage situations.

I handed Kyle back his phone. He shook his head at me but took it in one hand, put it against his ear, and opened the gun safe in his closet with the other. The safe held two handguns and Warren's rifle – it was a Spencer repeating rifle dating back to the Civil War. He'd let me shoot it a couple of times.

Kyle took Warren's .357 in hand and gave me his own 1911 because that fit my hand better than Warren's gun would have. My own gun was still in Marsilia's car. Kyle left the rifle in the safe when he closed it.

Warren's father had carried it during the War Between the States and at his death it had come to Warren, who was eight or nine at the time. That's as much as I knew about Warren's life as a human except that he considered himself a Texan and had spent a long time as a cowboy.

I agreed with Kyle's decision: the Spencer was too important to be risked if the police decided to take the guns. If we had to shoot someone, it was probably going to be within handgun range anyway.

"Stay quiet and find a good hiding place," said the 911 operator on the other end of the phone; she'd been giving us all sorts of good advice and updates.

"We are taking cover in the bathroom," said Kyle, and gave her the basic layout of the house – which took a while because it was a big house.

He was steady and cool while we watched the door between his bedroom and the rest of the house. The bathroom afforded us a little protection – the walls were marble slabs, and we weren't in direct line of sight from the door.

Kyle kept the phone tucked between his ear and shoulder, and I could hear the operator keeping him up-to-date on what was happening. I had a sudden sick thought that we really didn't know if we could trust the police. What if the government really was behind it all? What if the police were in on it, too?

Paranoia: the gift of the survivor and the burden of the overtired, stressed, terrified coyote.

I thought about the likelihood of the police being under the control of the bad guys and came up with it as being unlikely – but not as unlikely as a group of humans descending on pack HQ and abducting a pack of wolves – including wolves who were not out to the public. Since the latter had happened, it made me feel less paranoid for suspecting the former.

"Okay," said the operator. "The police are there and in position, just hang tight and wait for them."

As the sounds of rapid-fire orders seeped into our bolt-hole, I became more and more uneasy about trusting the police to be on our side.

About that time, there was a gentle tap on the bedroom door.

"Mr. Brooks? This is Kennewick PD, sir. Please put down your weapons. We have the suspects in custody and you are safe."

Kyle put his gun down on the floor – then noticed me not doing the same thing. He reached out toward me, and Ben growled. I was not alone in my paranoia – or else Ben was just picking up on how unhappy I was. Wounded and surrounded by the dead and terrified, he wasn't exactly Mr. Sane right now, either.

"Give us a moment," Kyle called out. "Mercy's pretty freaked-out. She's had quite a night, and it's not over. Let me talk her down."

There was a pause, then a more familiar voice called, "Mercy, drop the gun. We're the good guys. We'll find Adam, but you've got to put down the gun and let us in."

"Tony?" I called out, not releasing my grip on Kyle's gun. But my stomach muscles started to loosen. Tony Montenegro worked for the Kennewick police and he was on our side.

"It's me, chica. Let us do our job."

I engaged the safety and put the gun down on the floor next to Kyle's.

"Come on," Kyle said. "They'll feel better if we're not near the guns." And then he murmured, "I'll feel better, too. Ben, is there anything you can do to look less frightening?"

Ben dropped his head and tail, hopping on three feet to accompany us to the bedroom door. I wasn't sure his posture made him look less lethal – and that was before he ruined it by snarling at the bound kidnapper who had awakened at some point and was struggling.

The bald man froze, and I patted Ben on the head. "Sorry, Ben," I murmured. "No eating the bad guys when they are tied up, and the police are on the other side of the door."

I wasn't really kidding, though I didn't know it until I said it. Both Ben and Kyle gave me a thoughtful look.

"I'm going to have the werewolf lie down next to the wall," Kyle said loudly. "He's already been hurt by the guys who took out Adam. I don't want anyone shooting him by accident."

"Everything's been going smoothly," said Tony reassuringly. "We've got two guys, they surrendered peacefully enough, so no one is too trigger-happy except for Mercy. But lying down by the wall is a good idea."

There had been a third man downstairs, I thought. Or maybe one of the two from below had been the man who'd come up to give the men holding Kyle their orders. I listened to Tony explain that the wolf who was in the room was one of the victims and not to be shot. He was being very cautious, but then he'd seen the werewolves before.

Timber wolves are big and scary. Anyone who has ever seen one in a zoo or in the woods is in no doubt that they are in the presence of an apex predator. Werewolves are bigger and scarier than that. Sometimes they can downplay it, a little body language, a little pack magic, and they can pass for a huge dog if no one is looking for werewolves.

Ben was in no condition to play harmless, which wasn't his best thing anyway. That he was wounded meant that if someone got jumpy, Ben would take it to the next level. Lying down next to the wall ten feet from the door was as good as it got. I stood between him and the door.

"Okay," said Kyle. "No one is armed or – " I think he started to say dangerous but stopped himself. He'd told me that no one should lie to the police; the trick was not to tell them much until you had a lawyer. "No one is armed."

The door opened, and the police cautiously entered, giving Ben a wide berth – which was probably smart. He might be tracking a little better than I was at that point, but not much better. And he didn't like being cornered by strangers in uniforms at the best of times. We all held very still while they examined the two men on the ground without touching.

"I killed the first guy," said Kyle, sounding shaky. I couldn't tell if it was an act or not. No one would believe a lawyer would confess to murder unless he was in bad shape, but Kyle didn't want them looking at Ben.

"No bite marks that I can see," said one of the officers, who was kneeling by the dead man. "I'm not a doctor, but I can't turn my head that far around. I'd say his neck was broken."

The tension in the room immediately dropped, replaced by a curious elation.

"No one wants a werewolf kill on their watch," Tony explained quietly to me when he saw my expression. "And Adam has been very helpful from time to time. And no shots were fired, no one died at our hands, none of ours was hurt – and we got to play heroes. This operation went down slick and smart. It is a very good day when we can say that."

Of course, it wasn't over then. They took us to the Richland Police Department – I didn't ask why they didn't use the West Richland office.

They interviewed Kyle and me separately; he'd told me that would happen. I didn't know the policemen who talked to me, and at least one of them was terrified of Ben.

I had told them that Ben needed to stay with me, and they didn't argue after I pointed out to them that if I wasn't with Ben, I wouldn't be there to stop him if he got upset. I'd removed his bandages, and they'd taken photos of his wound – which still wasn't healing. I'd refused medical care for him (by that time he was in a foul temper – in pain, his vulnerability exposed and photographed, and hungry). Someone had found a first-aid kit, and I'd rewrapped his leg.

His presence made the police who were talking to me start out a little unfriendly. No one likes to be afraid, and only an idiot wouldn't be a little afraid of Ben in his current mood. They also seemed to be a little slow, asking me the same questions over and over again.

Then they went out for a bit and came back actively hostile.

Fine. I could be hostile, too. Adam was being held by crazy people with guns – and I was stuck arguing with a pair of officers I was beginning to think of as Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber. Maybe Ben wasn't the only person in a bad mood.

They were convinced that the attack couldn't have been unprovoked. What had the pack been involved in that got such a response? The attack on our house looked a lot like some of the drug cartel attacks. Did I know about the way the cartels were blackmailing the field hands at the paper-pulp tree farms to plant drugs between the rows of trees near Burbank?

About the fiftieth time we were going through the same old thing – they had a problem with me being unwilling to tell them where Jesse and Gabriel were hidden – a youngish man in a very well-tailored suit came in and introduced himself as Loren Hoskins, my lawyer. He advised me not to say another word, so I shut up and let him do his job.

An unpleasant three and a half hours later, he escorted me outside, a firm warning to me that I leave the police work to the police ringing in my ears. Presumably that meant that they didn't want me out looking for Adam because the police are so well equipped to take on guys capable of taking out a whole werewolf pack. I might have said something to that effect as we were leaving. But they didn't have a werewolf's hearing, so the only one who heard me was my lawyer.

"They have training that you don't," said the lawyer in a very quiet voice.

That was true. But they didn't have a mate bond and a werewolf pacing beside them. Ben was limping, but he was putting weight on his bad leg. Either he was getting better, or he was so tired all of his legs hurt.

"Kyle called me," Loren-my-lawyer said, opening the back door of his car to let Ben inside without any apparent concern for his leather upholstery or the worry of having a werewolf sitting at his back while he drove. "He told me he thought that the both of you were at a point that a lawyer would be good – and heavily implied that if they were being so hard on him, it might be because there was some pressure from above. He also said, in so many words, that if they were giving him, a lawyer, a hard time, that they were likely doing worse to you – would I mind coming to your rescue and sending a lackey his way?"

He held open his passenger door for me like a gentleman. I was sweaty, bloody, bruised, and wearing Kyle's sweats. We were getting looks from people walking by – the nice-looking, well-dressed man and the psycho woman from hell. Inviting me into his car might have been a braver thing than letting in a werewolf he didn't know.

"They didn't have you under arrest," he told me. "So, theoretically, we could have walked out of there anytime. But I didn't like the vibe I was getting from them. If I'd pushed earlier, we might just have gotten you arrested – which is ridiculous under the circumstances."

I sat down and discovered that the relative safety of his car was enough to make me try to doze off as soon as the seat belt was fastened and the door shut.

"Kyle's free as well," Loren-my-lawyer said, waking me up from my doze. I don't think that he'd noticed I'd fallen asleep, as we were just turning out of the parking lot. I'd missed him getting in, starting the car, and backing out of his parking space. "According to my associate, who texted me, they released Kyle as soon as his lawyer appeared. While we were talking to the nice police officers, Kyle has been to his doctor, who has already checked him out and let him go. Kyle texted me as well. He suggests that I drop you by his place for lunch. He told me to let you know that he has hired a security team to watch the house to keep this from happening again."

I needed to find Adam and the pack. Before I could do that, I needed to contact Adam. My hands closed into fists, and I had to flatten them on my leg. I needed to check with Gabriel and Jesse, and I needed to check with Tad, who had expected me back a long time ago. Gabriel's sister's phone was in Marsilia's car, and so was my gun.

"What time is it?" I asked.

"Half past noon."

I'd been up for thirty hours and was stumbling stupid tired. I needed a safe place to sleep before I would be useful to anyone. Kyle's house was as good as any.

"Sure," I said. "Wake me up when we get there."

After that initial bit, I found I couldn't sleep with a stranger so near. I kept my lids closed, though, and it helped with the dry burn in my eyes from staying up too long. I directed him to turn a block later than Kyle's house, and he let Ben and me out by Marsilia's car.

He glanced at me and glanced at the car. Sure blood, bruises, and werewolves didn't make him turn a hair – but me driving Marsilia's car? That was worth a second look.

I'd left the keys in the pocket of my jeans, which were still in the back seat. Anyone could have sat down, pressed the ignition button, and driven off. There were some places – down by my garage was one of them – that you wouldn't want to do that. But here, in the wealthy area of West Richland, it was more or less safe. Besides, who would believe that someone would leave a key in a car like that instead of locking up?

I opened the back door of the car, and Ben, somewhat wearily, hopped in onto the bloodstained blankets. He was tired, or he'd just have run the block or so to Kyle's house. He looked thinner than he had earlier that night. He hadn't eaten since Thanksgiving dinner yesterday evening, and he was going to need a lot of food. Kyle would have red meat for Warren.

I should have thought of that. Loren-my-lawyer wouldn't have minded stopping at a fast-food place to get food for Ben. I needed to take better care of him.

I pressed my fingers to my cheekbones and let the pain from my injury drive my tears away. I would cry when everyone was home – everyone except for Peter. Until then I had more important things to do.

I parked the car in Kyle's pristine driveway. When Kyle opened his door to let Ben and me in, he did a double take.

"Holy Hummer, Batgirl, where did you get a Mercedes AMG?" Kyle had changed out of his sweats and wore a black-and-red button-up shirt that complemented his dark hair and went with the black slacks that were so casual I knew they must have cost him a pretty penny. We all found our refuges where we could: I baked cookies, and Kyle wore expensive clothes.

"It's not my car," I told him. "Marsilia left it for an oil change, and I couldn't resist." Kyle knew who Marsilia was. So I added, "Ben's been bleeding all over the back seat. Do you think we can clean the blood out of the leather well enough that she'll keep it? Who do you think should pay for the damage? Ben for bleeding on it; the bad guys for shooting Ben so he was bleeding in the first place; or me for stealing it?"

"That is Marsilia's car, and you stuck a bleeding werewolf in the back seat?" Kyle said, ignoring my attempted humor. "I shouldn't have sent Loren – you'd have been safer stuck in the black hole of the justice system for a few months until something distracts the Queen of the Damned from killing you."

He'd picked up my name for Marsilia. I hoped he never used it around her. I noticed that the earlier red marks on his face had darkened to bruises to go with the other bruises he had. His nose had been reset, but both of his eyes were black and puffed up. I might have won the disreputable award last night, but with Kyle's new bruises, for the first time in a long time, someone looked more beat-up than I did.

He limped when he stepped back to let me in.

"It's a good thing for the guy who beat on you that Stefan killed him," I said soberly as I walked into the entryway. Ben also limped, and I found that since my knee decided to hurt, I was limping, too. That made three of us. Kyle's house smelled like gun oil and strangers. "Or he'd have to face Warren."

Kyle flinched, closing the door behind Ben. "I know. It's going to be months before I'm not explaining my face to everyone I meet. Hello. No, I was beaten by an army of muscle-bound men who didn't even have the courtesy to be cute. No, don't worry about it. I'm fine now. The nose just has a little bump – like Marilyn's mole, it emphasizes the perfection of the rest of my face."

He glanced down at Ben. "Both of you come into the kitchen. Ben, I've pulled out the remains of last night's turkey. There's also four pounds of roast I was going to cook tomorrow. I'll cook Warren another turkey so he can have turkey hash. It's on a platter on the table."

Ben rubbed his muzzle over Kyle's shoulder in a way that I think was supposed to be reassuring. Kyle sucked in a breath. Either it hurt, or the reminder that the werewolf was big enough to rub his shoulder without much effort wasn't exactly reassuring.

"Ben, when was the last time you brushed your teeth?" asked Kyle.

Or else Ben's breath was really bad.

Ben showed his teeth in a mannerly grin and started eating the food Kyle had left on the table with enthusiastic concentration.

I slumped in one of the breakfast-bar stools and blew out a loud breath. "Did you find out if they found out anything about them?" I asked.

Kyle gave me a look, then busied himself making me a peanut butter and huckleberry jelly sandwich. "What really bothers me is that I understood that question. You will eat this and go to sleep, so your pronouns get their antecedents back. The police haven't gotten very far yet investigating the men who invaded my house. The bad guys have good lawyers, very good lawyers. Not as good as Loren and nowhere near as good as I am, of course, but top-notch, expensive, out-of-town lawyers. Loren tells me that he thinks the lot of them will be out on bail by tomorrow because of all the money floating around. Tough to keep them when the only dead body is one of theirs – and by my own testimony he was the only one guilty of assault."

I stared at him over the sandwich he put in front of me. "You're kidding, right?"

Kyle shook his head. "Eat that, Mercy, don't just stare at it. Dickens has it that 'the law is a ass,' and a lot of the times he is right. We have them on criminal trespass. Tony is incensed, he told me, but they can't get them for terrorist activity. Somehow, the two men downstairs were unarmed when they were arrested – so another man must have gotten away with their weapons, because the police turned my house upside down looking for guns while they were questioning us and all they found were our guns, the guns we took from the bad guys, and the Spencer in the gun safe." I thought about the man who'd given the orders, who might or might not have been one of the men in the living room and my vague suspicion that they would have left someone on watch.

"Then, mysteriously," continued Kyle, "the guns belonging to the two men up in my bedroom have disappeared from the evidence room. They are holding ours, Mercy, pending further investigation. So I'm doing some shopping today because I'll be damned if I'm going unarmed when people have kidnapped Warren." His manner had been as confident as always until he reached that last part, and his voice broke.

"He's alive," I told him. "You'd know if he weren't. The only one they killed was Peter."

Kyle jerked his head up. "Peter's dead?"

I nodded. It was too much trouble to stay upright, so I folded my arms and put my forehead down on them. "Peter's dead. The moron shot him because Adam let him see what Alpha meant. Now Peter's dead, and Adam …" I shook my head.

A hand rested on my shoulder, then Kyle's face buried itself in my shoulder.

"I called my father," he said, his voice muffled by the material of the sweatshirt I wore. "Told him that if he didn't want his friends knowing all about his gay son who was sleeping with a werewolf, he needed to release my trust to me today. In four hours, we'll have money to throw at the problem."

"I'll finish this sandwich," I told him. I knew how much it had cost him to call his family. The only one he talked to was an older sister. "Then I'm going to sleep. Do you mind if I sleep here?"

"Well, not here," said Kyle, pulling away from me. He wiped his eyes and covered up the emotion with brisk efficiency. "But in a guest room. A bed will be helpful when you wake up and feel like you are going to feel after tonight. I'm going to hit the hot tub and join you in the same room."

He gave me an apologetic smile. "The security people say it's the only bedroom in the house that is really securable. They've swept the place for bugs, and we have our own army surrounding the house. Jim Gutstein tells me this will be gratis – Adam is apparently a very good boss, and they are embarrassed to have lost him. He also expressed his desire to find Adam and assures you that the full power of the company is currently turned in that direction. They will let us know when they find out a bit more."

"You hired Hauptman security?" I asked. Jim Gutstein was the highest-ranking non-werewolf at Adam's office.

"Only the best," he said.

I filled him in on everything I knew that he didn't until he tapped me on the shoulder to stop me.

"Finish your sandwich and go to sleep in a proper bed. After sleep, we can go buy guns, then tear the Tri-Cities apart looking for our men, right?"

Kyle was a smart man, and I followed his advice.

I smelled him first: the musk and mint that said werewolf, the other unique scent that said mine. I was so relieved. I'd been sure he was hurt and alone and I couldn't find him … but, silly me. Here he was, right beside me.

"Adam," I murmured.

The wolf stirred and put his nose on my shoulder. He was lying on top of me and making it hard to breathe under his weight. I vaguely knew it was a dream because Adam was both human and wolf at the same time, but Adam was more real than that thought, so I discarded it.

You are alive, he said, and there was a relief in his voice that shook me.

"Of course I am."

Something stirred the ant's nest, he said, nuzzling under my ear. What did you do?

I didn't want to think about it because then I knew I'd remember that this was just a dream, and I wanted to be safe in our bed with Adam stretched out half on top of me, touching me as I allowed no one else to touch me.

This was a dream where he was safe, and there were no men in body armor armed with nasty weapons who were backed by someone powerful enough to put pressure on the police. Not powerful enough to suborn them entirely, or they wouldn't have ridden to our rescue. But there was a lot of money involved and some raw power.

Figure out who they are, ordered Adam, pulling his head back so he could look me in the eye.

"Follow the money," I agreed, pulling him back down. I needed his warmth against me more than I needed to see him. My body believed better than my eyes, which knew I was looking at a figment of memory. "Kyle already suggested it. Now if I can just work out a way to do that." I could set Adam's associate Gutstein on that, couldn't I?

Gutstein can look. You were talking about the police. What have you been up to that the police were involved?

"When the bad guys took Warren, they took Kyle, too. Held him at his house."

Adam growled, and so did someone else. I couldn't see him or feel him, but my nose told me it was Warren.

"He's okay."

Adam stiffened, and that other wolf who was Warren snarled.

"I said okay, not terrific," I grumbled at them. "I wasn't lying. He got beaten up – Stefan killed the one who did it, though Kyle has to claim credit for it. He handled it, Warren. He's smart and tough. He'll be waiting, so you'd better survive this."

The snarl died, and Adam and I were alone in our bed in the huge house that served as pack HQ and as our home.

"Ben and I helped Stefan," I murmured to Adam. "They had Kyle alone and were trying to get him to speculate where Jesse and I would be likely to show up. Stefan killed the one and tied up the other. Kyle called the police, and they swarmed the house and saved the day."

Jesse.

He didn't have to say anything more. In this dream of mine I heard his terror, his fierce burning protectiveness.

"She's safe," I promised him. "I hid her with Gabriel and set Tad to watch over her."

Adam's body stilled, the stillness in a hunt that occurs just before something dies. Tad?

Here in my dream, safe with it just between us, I could tell him. "Zee told me that Tad could keep Jesse safe." Not in those words, but that was what the grumpy old fae had meant. Truths that you can read between the lines in a fae who is your friend are as far from a lie as a fae can get.

Adam's body softened, turning warm and melting into mine, the distance between us blurring into nothing. Then she is safe.

His mouth sought mine. He tasted of heat and love. But he tasted also of illness born of silver, and I was crying before he was finished. They were killing him, I could feel it. Much more silver, and he would no longer be able to link with the pack and he would die while the bastards who had him were still waiting for signs of weakness.

His chest rose and fell, and his heart stuttered against mine. I could feel how close his death hovered – too much silver, too much of the drug that slowed his reflexes.

Jesse is safe. You are safe. It's all right, Mercy. You didn't think I was going to die of old age, did you?

It was a joke, graveyard humor. Werewolves never died of old age because they didn't age. But he had no business making a joke like that. Not now, not ever.

Anger roared through me and carried with it a tidal wave of terror because Adam had given up.

No. He told me. I haven't given up anything. But the pack comes first. While they concentrate on me, the pack is working to free themselves. When I die, I can take the poison with me, and our pack will be strong enough to protect themselves. I love you, Mercy.

I absorbed what he said. He'd found something he could do. I'd seen him draw upon the pack to force silver out of his body. Apparently it worked in reverse. He was drawing the silver from that damned concoction Doc Wallace's son had created. When he was finished, he'd be dead – but the pack would be free.

I couldn't breathe, couldn't respond. Adam intended to die.

Are you not my daughter, whispered another voice, Coyote's voice, so quiet I almost missed it. Had I not been caught in that first moment of shock when everything goes quiet before the pain begins, I would not have heard it.

Coyote never loses, Coyote told me. Because I change the rules of the games my enemies play. What are the rules of your game?

Adam hadn't heard that other voice. I knew because he still hovered over me, his mouth soft with our kiss, a terrible good-bye in his eyes. He'd found a solution to the game that his enemies played, found a way to win, because Adam was competent like that. The cost was too high.

"Find another way to win," I said, my voice hoarse.

There is no other way, he said. I love you.

But I'd been talking to myself and not to him. I pulled him back down to me.

He cooperated because he had no idea I was changing the rules of the game on him. I was not Coyote's daughter, not quite. But that was okay because being almost Coyote's daughter in my dream would be enough.

Adam's lips came down upon my own and I opened my mouth. Looking into his eyes, I pulled the things that were killing him into me, swallowing down the silver that was poison to him and nothing to me.

He didn't understand at first, but when he did, he struggled, but it was my dream, not his. In this dream, I wasn't a coyote shapeshifter trying to hold a werewolf, I was Coyote's almost daughter, and I had all the strength of the world in my arms.

"Mine," I told him, though my mouth was still fastened to his. "Mine."

I meant that he was mine, but also that the silver he took from the pack to save them was also mine to bear, not his. I also used the word to call the silver from his body into my own, the silver and the ketamine and all the rest of the harm that had been done to him.

But he was an Alpha werewolf, and he was more than a match for me, even in my dream.

He roared, ripped free of my hold and off of our bed – in my dreams it was still our bed at home, not the one in Kyle's spare bedroom. It wasn't anger in Adam's voice when he spoke. Mercy, you don't know what you're doing. It was fear.

I started to go after him, but had to stop, kneeling on the edge of the bed because I was sick to my stomach. Either the silver or the ketamine wasn't sitting well. Heck. Maybe it was the DMSO for all that I knew. Adam … he was better, I could feel his strength, could feel the pack stir in alertness because they could feel it, too.

Don't do that, he ordered retroactively, coming to his feet. He knew how well I followed orders. He looked away, took a deep breath, and reached out toward me. If you die …

I didn't think it would kill me, no matter how much my stomach hurt. But I wasn't going to show him that it had affected me. "Not my day to die," I told him.

He stared at me, and I lifted my chin and stared back at him. There wasn't a pack around who needed to see me bow down to the Alpha. He could have made me drop my gaze anyway. I wasn't immune to his dominance, just stubborn. I could see the moment he gave up.

I remembered that there were other things I needed to know.

"Did you find out where you are being held?" I asked, then, seeing the answer on his face, I continued, "Any clues at all? Do you smell anything? The river? Sagebrush? Diesel?"

Dust, Mercy. His voice was quiet. Then he looked around himself. I don't think he was seeing our bedroom like I was. Dust and Peter's blood.

I'd heard that kind of rage in Adam once before. He'd torn the corpse of a man I'd already killed into small pieces. The men who had made themselves our enemy had no idea what they had done.

They are sending a helicopter to pick up Darryl and me. Soon.

"They're still sending you out after the senator?" I thought that our call to the police would have preempted the attack.

Yes.

We'd told the police about why Adam and the pack had been taken. They seemed to be taking our word seriously.

They know. They told me it would be more difficult now, but they didn't seem to be really bothered. Either the attack itself is what they want – or there is something else I am not seeing.

He sat back down on the bed and put his hand against my forehead. Are you okay?

I smiled at him. "Ariana is going to see if she can contact Bran. Maybe he can ride to the rescue."

Adam considered that. What about the vampires? he asked.

I stared at him. "Marsilia hates me, and Ben bled all over the back of her Mercedes."

The AMG?

Something distracted me. Something terrible. "What is that smell?"

I woke up with Ben licking my face as earnestly as a cat – which hurt. His breath made my eyes water – and I have a high tolerance for nasty odors.

"Jeez, jeez," I said, scrambling away from him. I hit something hard, then kept moving away from Ben when whatever it was fell to the floor with a thump and freed up some space on the bed.

My stomach hurt. Not like the flu or even bad food. More like I'd swallowed something that was eating me alive. The truly vile smell of Ben's breath didn't help. "Ben, your breath stinks. Have you been eating roadkill?"

"Ow. Ow. Ow," moaned Kyle from the floor where I'd knocked him. I'd forgotten he was in the bed with me – that he'd told me he'd be sleeping here – because even getting myself into the bed was a blur. "Remember, a guy who didn't even have the decency to be cute hit me a lot yesterday. And this room doesn't have a rug."

Ben laughed at me, and I covered my nose with both hands. But I was awake now and remembered where I'd smelled breath that bad before. "DMSO from the tranq, right? DMSO gives you bad breath." Then I saw the clock on the chest next to the bed.

"What time is it?" I asked, hopping out of the bed and stumbling over Kyle's feet. The room was dark, but there were no windows. The darkness reminded me that Adam had suggested going to the vampires. Maybe I ought to. But there was something … Tad. Oh holy wow, I'd forgotten about Tad. I'd told him that I'd get right back to Sylvia's as soon as I made sure Kyle was okay. If it was really dark outside, he'd been watching them for a whole day, expecting me to return soon.

I took a step toward the door, which was a mistake. Every muscle hurt, my face throbbed, and I almost blacked out from the sudden way my body informed me that it wasn't happy with me. My stomach, then the rest of my muscles, seized in the worst charley horse I'd ever had.

"Mercy?" asked Kyle, rolling onto his feet with a little less than his usual grace.

Ben whined.

And I threw up silver goo all over the beautiful stone floor of Kyle's guest room.


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