Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)

Chapter 9

chapter
Chapter

ADAM

Adam kept his mouth shut and left his arms wrapped around Mercy so that he was anchored and didn't snarl at the nice policemen.

He kept his eyes off her face because he was having a hard enough time with all the noise and people as it was – the bruise that covered half her face would not help. His instincts kept shouting that something was wrong, and had ever since he'd seen the desk land, and he couldn't tell if it had missed her. He'd stopped breathing. The thought of his world without Mercy in it …

Well, that didn't help him calm down, either. He had the feeling that enemies were watching, that no one was safe. It was just the aftereffects of battle, dealing with his kidnappers last night and interrupting Mercy's fight this morning. That on-edge feeling had been familiar even before he was a werewolf.

Adam politely refused to answer any of Tony's casual questions as they waited for Sylvia to converse with her neighbors. The policeman finally gave up prying. He was a good cop, Tony, and knew that there were things they were hiding; but Adam had scrubbed in the shower of the unfinished winery while they were waiting for Elizaveta to show up. He knew that the only stains left of his killing spree were invisible ones, and he knew how to hide those, even from a good cop's instincts.

Tony picked up a fluttering paper that had attacked his shoe and looked at it. A bill from the power company, Adam saw, with a lot of red on it. Tony clenched it in his hand.

It was no secret that Tony loved Sylvia – or that she had put him off firmly. But, Jesse had told Adam, that had been a couple of years ago, when Sylvia's husband had been dead only a year. Tony had respected her wishes and backed off then, which was the right thing to do. But, maintained Jesse, someone should kick Tony and make him try again.

Or else, judging by the expression on Tony's face while he shoved the crumpled bill into his pocket, maybe a fae should destroy her home, threaten her children, and leave her unpaid bills floating in the wind. Sylvia was tough, smart, and could survive on her own – she didn't need a handsome prince to ride up and rescue her. But that didn't mean such a man might not want to protect her from everything he could, anyway.

Adam tipped his head down to see if Mercy had noticed Tony's epiphany, but as soon as she realized he was looking at her, she turned her attention to him and smiled.

Her lips were outlined in black that faded to gray. If it had been lipstick, it would have been an interesting effect with her coloring. But he knew, from the way the silver had burned his skin when he'd kissed her, that it wasn't some new color of lipstick. He was also sure that the silver impregnating her lips had something to do with the way she'd taken it from him through their mate bond. He just hoped to Hell that she hadn't been harmed any other way from that. It might mean they weren't going to be able to kiss without giving him blisters for the rest of their lives, but he could deal as long as that was the worst it had done.

There were a lot of things to worry about tomorrow. Today he was good. He waited until Sylvia was secured in Tony's car. Then, when he was satisfied the people he felt responsible for were safe, it was time to leave.

He kissed Mercy's temple, and said, "Wait here." Then he headed off at a jog to find his people.

He found both identical Toyota Corollas, the one he'd arrived in and the other manned by Mercy's surveillance team, parked near the Dumpster. He had the man who'd driven with him hand over the keys and ride back with the other two. By the simple expedient of combining them, he gained a car to take Mercy back to Kyle's. He opened the door – but realized, as he bent to slide in, that the pair of shoes on the ground next to his car were Mercy's – as was a sock just under the Dumpster.

He smelled Mercy, death, fae – and a strange werewolf. It was that last scent that made him growl. He'd forgotten that Mercy had gone off with a werewolf Bran had sent to help. A werewolf who was making himself conspicuously absent.

It appeared that more had happened than just the part of the fight he'd seen.

He gathered up sock and shoes and drove the car back to where he'd left Mercy. She waited for him just where he'd told her to, and waved to him cheerfully as he drove up. Beside her, looking at the ground, stood Zee's son; his face – now that there was no one to perform for – looked worried.

As Adam pulled up, Tad turned to him, and said, "Is it okay if I come along?" He looked at Mercy and frowned a little. Adam was unhappy about all those bruises, too. "Before all this happened, I was going to go to Kyle's with Mercy and the kids."

"Fine," agreed Adam. If Tad hadn't asked, Adam would have insisted. He wasn't leaving any of his people vulnerable, and Tad belonged to Mercy and thus to Adam. Adam glanced at Mercy, and said, "I'll drive."

He knew that he looked nearly as rough as he felt. He'd seen himself in the bathroom mirror after his shower, and Mercy was better at reading his face than most people. Even the half beard he wore wouldn't protect him from her scrutiny.

He waited for Mercy's response. He enjoyed their arguments because very few people argued with him at all. Mercy would argue until she won, he convinced her he was right, or it was clear that she was not going to win no matter how right she felt she was. If she was cranky enough about it, she'd get him back – that damned junker Rabbit was still cocked up on one wheel where he could see it out their bedroom window. He kind of liked it – not the leprous Rabbit, the Rabbit made him crazy – but that she cared enough to make the effort.

This was a battle he wouldn't lose, though he probably shouldn't drive. His concentration was as shot as his temper. Nothing like lack of sleep and battle fatigue to give him fuel for a really nasty case of road rage. Even so, there was no way that he could relinquish enough control to let anyone else take the wheel, not even Mercy, who was a good driver.

Instead of arguing, Mercy just smiled and got into the passenger seat without a word. Inexplicably, that sent his temper flaring worse than if she'd argued.

He bit his tongue because he'd look like an idiot if he yelled at her for not arguing with him. Tad hopped into the back and fastened his seat belt.

As Adam drove out of the parking lot, Tad said, "We should pick up the other werewolf over by the high school; just turn down Tenth."

"Why did he run off?" Adam asked, then looked at Mercy.

"He was worried that his presence would just complicate things." In the rearview mirror, Adam noticed that Tad was tapping his fingers and watching Mercy as if he was worried about her.

"Who died over by the Dumpsters?" Adam asked.

"The other half of the fae team who tried to take Jesse," Mercy said, sounding as if she were talking about something mundane … like grocery shopping. "She jumped me when we parked, and Asil killed her. By the time it occurred to me that it would be smart to tell the police about her, the kids had already taken off in the car with the body."

Adam damned near stopped the car. On any other day, he'd have been upset about a body in the trunk of the kids' car. But that was before he'd heard Asil's name. "Bran sent the Moor?"

"Asil," Mercy agreed, so he knew he hadn't misheard. "He said Charles sent him, but he was talking in front of Agent Armstrong of Cantrip."

Armstrong must have been the fed who was at Kyle's house, the one who'd tried to get him to wait when Adam had hustled out to find Mercy.

Mercy was right, Bran had sent the Moor to take care of Mercy and Jesse. The Moor, who was so crazy his own son had sent him to Bran to be put down. Except that Bran, for his own reasons, had decided not to do it.

Asil. Maybe he had recovered from being crazy.

"He kept that bastard from wiping the floor with me," said Tad. "I was overmatched – and that's an understatement. I might have been able to slow the spriggan down long enough for Jesse and Gabriel to get the kids away, but it would have been a close thing, and I would have had to pull out my big guns to do it." He looked out the window, and continued blackly, "My control of the big guns isn't what it should be. So I'm glad Asil showed up."

College had changed Tad. It was supposed to, Adam knew. But looking at Tad for a moment longer than was really safe while he was driving, Adam was afraid that he'd gained the sort of knowledge that a chick learned from being pushed off a cliff rather than the low branch of a tree, and had taken damage from the fall.

Adam had grown up that way, too.

The Moor was waiting for them, leaning on a lightpost and looking bored. Adam had never actually met Asil, but he looked Moorish, wolfish, and dangerous. Who else could he be? He didn't have a mark on him from the fight, though it would be hard to see a bruise on his skin from a distance. People were looking at him as they drove past in their cars, mostly, Adam thought, because Asil was wearing nothing more than a summer-weight shirt. It took a more experienced eye than most people had to see exactly what Asil was.

As he pulled the Corolla over to the curb, Adam met Asil's eyes briefly, and the old wolf gave Adam a commiserating smile, which Adam found himself returning. This trip was going to be rough. Probably worse for Adam, who was still wound up tight with the aftermath of this morning's killing. But if half the stories Adam had heard were right, Asil was wobbling precariously between human and beast, so it wouldn't be easy for him to be cooped up in the car with an unfamiliar dominant wolf, either.

Asil opened the door behind Mercy and slid into the back seat. As soon as the door shut, the urge to tear out the strange wolf's throat tightened Adam's hands on the wheel. He should not be driving feeling like this. But without the task of getting to Kyle's in one piece to focus on, he was certain to do something regrettable.

"Adam," said Tad, clearing his throat, because he doubtless could read the uncomfortable atmosphere in the car, "we need to go to my dad's house before we go anywhere else."

"Why?" It was almost a growl rather than a real word. Adam needed to keep his time in the car with the other wolf to a minimum, and that didn't include a side trip. Asil's presence behind him was an itch between his shoulder blades.

"Because that damned sword isn't the only fae artifact that Sliver and Spice ran around with, and Mercy is acting strange."

Yes, howled the beast that lived in his heart. There is something wrong with Mercy. I've been trying to tell you, but you thought it was just from the fighting. It isn't. This is like what happened to her before, when we couldn't protect her.

Adam looked at Mercy, who looked back at him with big eyes and a half smile on her face. "I'm fine," she said, which if it had been true, she would never have said, not in that tone of voice. She'd have been arguing with Tad or making smart-ass quips about strange people.

"Rub your nose," Tad told her.

She rubbed her nose.

"Pat your knee."

She did that as well.

"Cough twice."

She covered her mouth and coughed.

"Have you ever seen Mercy take three orders in a row without arguing?" Not being psychic and able to hear Adam's inner beast, Tad thought he had to convince Adam.

"Not even when Bran is the one giving the orders." Adam put his foot down on the gas. If the tension in the car had been strong before, it was nothing to the current conditions – and it had nothing to do with the Moor.

Adam wanted to kill something, anything to make Mercy all right. Under his hands, the wheel of the car groaned, and he loosened his fingers and fought not to lose control.

The other werewolf was doing his best to make this easy, keeping quiet and keeping his gaze focused out his window, so Adam couldn't meet his eyes. Adam appreciated it and tried to reciprocate as well as he could when anger was a tide that threatened to blind him.

"What did they use? And how do we fix her?" He spoke between gritted teeth, trying to keep his human form and stay between the white lines on the road. His hands tightened again, and there was a pop as something gave way in the steering wheel of the little car. When it didn't seem to affect his ability to turn, Adam ignored it.

"I don't know how to fix her," said Tad. "But my dad will. He can't use phones anymore – Mercy called him yesterday, and the powers that be took away his phone privileges. I have a way to reach him at home."

Okay. Zee was good. Adam sucked in a deep breath and tried to make his wolf realize that changing right now was a genuinely bad idea.

"What was it that got her?" He knew squat about fae magic but couldn't help but ask. Maybe it would be something that wore off.

"An artifact – a set of bone wrist cuffs," Tad said. "It's supposed to make prisoners easy to control. Before Asil killed her, did Spice put a set of cuffs on you, Mercy?"

"Just one," Mercy said in a chipper voice. "I changed to coyote and stepped out of it. Asil threw the cuffs into the trunk with the body."

"If this is true," Asil said, "why didn't it show up until after the battle was over? She wasn't being compliant when she threw herself at the fae in the apartment."

"I don't know," answered Tad. "Maybe because she only wore one of the cuffs. Maybe because she only had it on for a short time. But you see it, don't you, Adam? It took me a while to be sure."

"Yes." His beast had noticed immediately and become frantic, but Adam hadn't wanted to see anything wrong.

Zee's house was less than a mile from Kennewick High School, a small Victorian nestled in a small cluster of houses that dated from the time that Kennewick was a tiny transportation hub connecting railroad and river traffic. The house needed paint and a little work on the porch. The yard was tiny, as was common in the days when the use of horses meant that the distance between places mattered more. House and yard were surrounded by a wrought-iron fence that was suitably elaborate for an iron-kissed fae's home.

Adam put his hand on Mercy's shoulder and brought up the rear of the procession to the house. Even through the sweatshirt she wore, he felt the silver that coursed in her blood.

Tad didn't unlock the door when he turned the fancy brass knob, but Adam had the feeling that he'd unlocked it in some other way. Mercy would have known because Mercy could sense magic a lot better than Adam could.

Zee's house was furnished sparsely and none-too-fancily despite its Victorian appointments, which included the original light fixtures and fine woodwork. The living room had a matching couch and love seat that were comfortably worn. A small flat-screen TV adorned the wall between two built-in bookcases filled with paperback books. A handmade rug softened the hardwood floor.

To the right, a door opened to an eat-in kitchen that had a 1950s-style table for two that had passed shabby and hit antique. On the wall next to the table was a large photo of a serious, young-looking man who looked a lot like Tad. The man was dressed in a suit and standing next to a good-looking woman in a wedding dress with her brown hair in a poofy style common a couple of decades ago. Her smile lit up the room even from a photograph.

Mercy lingered, looking at the photograph.

"Come on, Mercy," said Tad, and she immediately complied.

"You've made your point," growled Adam, unable to hold back his anger, though Tad didn't deserve it. "That's enough."

Asil hadn't spoken a word, just took everything in. He didn't protest when Adam hung back so that the other wolf was never behind them.

Tad took them up the typically Victorian narrow and steep stairs to the second story and from there to a hallway. At the end of the hall was a half door – two feet wide by three feet tall, the kind of door that would have hidden a linen closet or a dumb-waiter. Since it was next to the bathroom, Adam would put his money on the linen closet.

Tad put a hand on the door and closed his eyes. Mercy stirred, staring at the floor and moving closer to Adam, away from the wall. Adam could smell her unease, and he put his arm around her. Her feelings were clearly written on her face, too – and she'd never have shown fear to anyone if she could have helped it. She watched the walls as if something dangerous were crawling up from the floor beneath them.

"Whatever they did to her is more than just following orders," Adam said.

"Yes," agreed Tad, his hand still on the door. "I think it steals her will. That way, she'd answer questions, follow orders – and not try to hide it when something scares her. It's okay, Mercy," he told her when she took another step back from him. "This is old magic, but it knows me, and it won't hurt anyone here and now."

"Carefully worded for a fae who doesn't have to tell the truth," said Asil.

Tad turned to the old wolf coolly. "I am always careful with the truth. It is a powerful thing and deserves respect."

"Of course," answered Asil. "When you are old, you will find yourself assuming that everyone else is careless with important things, too. My comment was not meant as censure; you merely surprised me."

"What do you see?" Adam asked Mercy, who was looking at things he couldn't perceive.

"Magic," she told him. "Fae magic, old magic, and it's crawling from the basement up to Tad's hand like a cat seeking a treat." She looked at Tad, and for a moment Mercy looked more fae than he did. "It likes you, but it isn't very happy about us."

Tad smiled at her. "It'll behave itself."

The white milk glass knob on the door turned without help, and Adam liked that no better than he liked the description Mercy had given. Magic was outside his ability to sense unless it was very strong, and he did not like things that he could not perceive.

When Tad pulled his hand off the door, it opened and revealed dark wooden stairs that were even narrower and steeper than the ones they'd just come up. They twisted as they rose so they took up only the same amount of room as the narrow linen closet had, and Adam could only see four steps before they were out of view.

Tad stepped in, and Adam heard the fabric of his shirt catch on a rough spot on the wood at the top of the doorway. Asil followed, and Adam urged Mercy up as soon as the old wolf's feet disappeared from his sight.

The passage was tight, even for Mercy, and she banged a knee on a step, winced, and stopped climbing.

"Are you all right?" he asked, his hand on her ankle.

"No," she said without heat. "Not really. That was the knee I hurt in the car wreck, and there's a ghost."

"A ghost?" He knew Mercy saw ghosts, but she usually didn't tell him when she saw them. She'd once explained to him that most ghosts were only sad memories. The ones that were closer to alive were often better off if they didn't know she could perceive them. He had a feeling that there was a story there, but he hadn't pressed.

"Mmm," Mercy said. "Right in front of me. I think she's the same one that looks out of Zee's dining room window sometimes."

Adam couldn't see anything except for Mercy's back because of the stupid spiral staircase, but he'd probably not be able to see a ghost even if they were in an open room. "Can you get her to move?" he asked.

"She's a repeater, I think," Mercy replied hesitantly.

A repeater, he'd learned from her, was a ghost that she could see but who did not react to the real world at all, just did a certain action over and over again, usually in the same place and sometimes at the same time every day. More an impression than a remnant of a real person.

"What is she doing?"

"Crying." Mercy's voice sharpened a little, making her sound more like herself. "That's what she does in the window, too. I wonder if she was that much of a wet blanket in real life?"

Peripherally, Adam had been aware of Tad and Asil talking somewhere above them. But he'd been paying attention to Mercy, and so he didn't react quickly enough when Tad called out, "Mercy, what's the holdup? Get up here."

She scrambled up the stairs, heedless of the ghost. It was too late to do anything, so Adam hurried behind her. He saw nothing unusual and didn't feel so much as a shiver. He emerged right on her heels to find Mercy tight-lipped and shaky.

"Mercy, are you okay?" he asked, and she looked at him and solemnly shook her head.

"I was wrong. It wasn't a repeater." She rubbed her hands and glanced behind him. "But she can't get in here."

"Who is she?" asked Asil.

"What does it mean that she wasn't a repeater?" Adam didn't like the way Mercy looked – too pale, and there was sweat on her forehead.

"It means that she tried to hitch a ride." Mercy hugged herself and bounced on the balls of her feet.

"Who is she?" Asil asked again.

"Give us a minute," snarled Adam, though he stopped himself from looking at Asil and escalating matters further.

The other wolf's chest rumbled warningly.

"Sorry," Adam said with an effort that cost him. "Mercy. Is there anything I can do?"

She shook her head. "No. I'm okay. I've just never had that happen before. She just clung to me, and I couldn't tell her to go away." She shivered. "But Zee has this place barricaded with magic, and she couldn't follow me here."

She'd been in danger, and Adam had been right there and helpless. He had been leaving her alone because she didn't like "cuddling in public" much, and in this state, she had no choice. But when her teeth started chattering, he hugged her to him. She was icy cold and leaned into him. She was all muscle and bone – and she'd be offended if she knew he thought of her as fragile. Without the formidable will that drove her, she was … small.

Her teeth quit chattering almost right away. She looked over Adam's shoulder, and said, "She's a ghost, Asil. I've seen her a few times hanging out around this house."

"Our house is haunted?" Tad sounded taken aback.

"She doesn't bother you," Mercy said defensively. She stepped away, and Adam let her go. "I'd have told you about it if she were bothering you."

Crisis apparently averted, Adam looked around. The room was narrow and long, wide enough, if barely, for three people to stand shoulder to shoulder. The floor was carpeted with layers of Persian rugs that were worth a not-so-small fortune.

Unmatched bookcases lined the wall on one of the long ways of the room, ranging from hand-carved museum pieces to boards separated by cinder blocks. The top two shelves of each held a selection of unpainted metal toys. The rest of the shelves were filled with various sharp-bladed weapons. The books, and there were a lot of them, were piled on the floor on the other side of the room. The wall directly across from the doorway they'd entered was entirely covered by an enormous mirror.

"Could you shut the door, Mercy?" Tad asked, walking up to the mirror. "I don't activate the mirror without the door closed."

Adam got to the door before Mercy could and closed the ghost out. He didn't like it that she was still obediently following orders, although this time, he thought, Tad hadn't meant it like that. Tad would know that giving Adam or Asil orders, under these circumstances, might be a bad idea, and so he'd told Mercy.

Mercy touched the door after Adam shut it. "There's some kind of magic," she said.

"Protections," Tad agreed, without turning from the mirror. "Useful to keep out ghosts and spies."

He knocked three times on the mirror, and said,

Spiegel spieg'le finde,Vaters Bild und Stimme,

in der Tiefe Deiner Sinne, seiner Worte seiner Form,

meiner Worte meiner Form, fuhre, leite, fuhr' zusammen,

deiner Wahrheit Bindeglied,

verbinde unsere Wirklichkeiten,

Wesen und Natur im Lied!

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall," Asil murmured when Tad quit speaking.

"Shh," said Tad. "This isn't that mirror. That mirror broke, and good riddance to it. Let's not give this one ideas, please."

Adam couldn't tell if he was serious or not.

After a few minutes, during which the mirror did nothing more interesting than reflect everyone present back at it, Asil started to look at the toys on the shelves, though he kept his hands to himself. It gave him an excuse to keep his back to Adam, which Adam appreciated.

Mercy bent down to get a better look at the books – most of them were German and old. But Adam noticed that there were a couple of newer mysteries, too – and what looked like a complete Doc Savage series, numbered one through ninety-six, in paperback. Mercy reached out to touch one old book, and Adam's instincts made him block her hand. "It's not smart to touch a grumpy old fae's things," he said.

"It wants me to touch it," she explained earnestly.

"All the more reason not to do it," Adam told her, keeping a hold on her hand.

A compliant prisoner, he thought, has to do whatever she is told by who – or whatever – tells her to do something. He wondered if that ghost would have given her trouble if she had been able to exert her will. He glanced at the mirror, but there was still nothing more interesting than their reflections in it. "Tad, what's the holdup?"

"Shh," the young man said. "Not so loud. Someone on the other side of the mirror might overhear. He'll come as soon as he can."

"There's a lot of metal in here for a fae's den," murmured Asil. "And enough magic to make my nose itch."

"Zee is a metalsmith," Mercy explained, leaning against Adam. Like Asil, she spoke quietly. "Iron-kissed. Siebolt Adelbertsmiter."

"The Dark Smith of Drontheim?" Asil was suddenly a lot more tense, his voice half-strangled.

"That's right," said Tad, looking away from the mirror because Asil was more interesting. At least that was why Adam was looking at him. Fortunately, the other wolf was looking at Tad.

"Your father is Loan Maclibhuin, the Dark Smith of Drontheim?" Asil turned to Adam, averting his eyes at the last minute. "Are you sure you want to contact Maclibhuin? Do you know what he is?"

"He's mellowed with age," Mercy assured Asil before Adam could say anything. She sounded like herself. "No more killing people because they annoy him. No more making crazy weapons that will inevitably cause more problems than they solve because he had a bad day and wanted to destroy a civilization or two."

Tad snorted. "He likes Mercy. He'll help us."

Suddenly exhausted, as much by keeping a tight rein on himself as by the events of the past few days, Adam sat down on the rug and pulled Mercy onto his lap, where she couldn't get into trouble.

When Mercy squeaked in surprise – though she didn't fight him – he said, "No telling how long it will take the old fae to answer. No sense for you to stand the whole time. Your knee is bothering you." He'd noticed that she was keeping her weight off it.

"Car wreck, then that step," she said, relaxing against him. "But it's my cheekbone that really hurts. Falling from Sylvia's apartment didn't help."

"Wait a moment," Tad said, and left them in the attic by themselves as he ran downstairs for something, closing the door behind him.

"He left us alone in the heart of his father's power," said Asil.

"That's because I would kill you before I allowed you to do anything," Adam assured him with an easy voice. "Tad knows that we stand with him, Mercy and I. And if you think this is the center of Zee's power, you are very much mistaken. This is a cache, he probably has fifty of them around somewhere. Paranoid old fae." Adam understood paranoia. It was a useful attribute if you were trying to keep the people you loved safe.

Asil didn't reply, which was probably a good thing. They needed more space between them before they could deal with each other safely. Tad came pounding back up the stairs with a deck of cards and a poker-chip carousel.

Mercy drew in a breath, and Adam looked at her. There was nothing Mercy enjoyed so much as complaining to people about the idiosyncrasies of werewolves; he had always found it charming – and useful. He waited a moment, but she didn't say anything.

Adam put his hand on her face and turned it, gently, toward Tad. It would be better if she explained the problem to him. Until Asil and Adam had been properly introduced on Adam's territory – such things had a very well-established protocol so that no blood was shed – Asil would be easy to offend. He and Adam had both been very careful not to pay too much attention to each other.

"Mercy, would you tell Tad why poker is a bad idea?" he asked her.

"Asil and Adam don't know each other," she said amiably. "And even if they did … poker isn't really a good werewolf game." She appeared to consider that a moment. "Or rather, it is too good a werewolf game. It would end with bodies."

Tad glanced at both wolves, one after the other. "Seven-up?" he suggested. "War? Gin rummy? I know you play gin rummy because Warren taught me to play it when I was a kid."

"Tell him," Adam said to Mercy.

"No games between two dominant wolves unless they know each other very well and have established their dominance. There was a very nasty chess match that happened in the Marrok's pack when I was six or seven. Bran put an end to it, but not before one of the wolves ended up with a pickax in his leg." Mercy continued instructing the uninitiated in her Mercy-matter-of-fact fashion. "Adam and Warren could play, for instance, because, though they are both dominant wolves, Adam has firmly established himself as more dominant in both their eyes. One lost game won't make any difference. Darryl and Warren, though, are second and third in the pack hierarchy. They play CAGCTDPBT during pack gaming days, but they play on the same side. Always."

Tad gave Mercy an assessing look. "No poker. No gin rummy, and especially no chess if you don't want to end up pickaxed. And I didn't know you played CAGCTDPBT."

"Werewolf games," Mercy said solemnly, "play for keeps, or go home." She was so cute sometimes it made Adam's heart hurt. She was also a killer CAGCTDPBT player. The pack made Mercy and him play on opposite sides to keep it fair.

"I threw out my Go-Fish cards a long time ago." Tad's voice was dry. "I'm going to play some solitaire and leave the rest of you to twiddle your thumbs."

Exhausted, worried, and unhappy, Adam leaned against the wall and let his eyes half close in an old soldier's trick. He wasn't really asleep but not really awake, either. Any break in the current patterns of sound, sight, or scent would attract his attention.

Tad sat down in front of the mirror and laid out a game of spider solitaire. He played three or four games and lost all of them – no cheating for Tad.

Asil seemed happy to occupy himself studying Zee's little toys as far away as he could get from Adam. The Moor wasn't exactly what Adam had expected. Much less crazy, and also much better at the dance that kept everyone alive in a small room with two dominant wolves who were strangers to each other than a wolf of his reputation ought to be. Bran usually knew what he was doing, and that seemed to be true when he sent Asil as well.

Mercy wasn't sleeping, but she lay quietly in his lap. She liked to cuddle when they were alone. He decided to enjoy it because it settled the beast inside him a little. The wolf was convinced that as long as he held her, nothing could touch her.

Neither could he. Not for long.

Mercy put her hand on Adam's, and he could feel the silver go to work on his skin. He didn't react because he craved her touch more than he minded the burn – and she'd taken it for him, hadn't she? So maybe part of it was guilt, feeling that he deserved to hurt because he'd brought harm to her.

She leaned forward, reading the titles on the books again. He opened his eyes a bit more to make sure she didn't try for that book that called to her again.

Zee had a modern college text on metallurgy right next to a very old book bound in leather with a title that was nearly indecipherable, between the faded gold embossing and the old German script. And just out of easy reach was the little green linen-bound book with the warped cover that had fascinated her earlier. Mercy shifted restlessly then froze, jerking her hands away from him.

"I've burned you," she whispered, horrified.

Tad looked up from dealing another round, and Asil glanced their way – and then returned his attention to the fae weapons on the shelves.

"I'm a werewolf," Adam said softly. "It won't kill me."

She frowned at him, and he closed his eyes again. "It's all right, Mercy. It's already healed." He wanted to tell her not to worry, but then maybe she wouldn't. Not because she chose to follow his advice but because of the damned fae artifact that made her obedient. An obedient Mercy because she had no choice – that was an abomination.

She curled up, tucking her hands in where they couldn't accidentally touch him. She closed her eyes, too – he knew because he had only mostly shut his.

The better to see you with, my dear, said the Big Bad Wolf.

He also saw something else. Adam had a habit of keeping track of things in his environment – situational awareness. It had saved his butt more than once. He was especially aware of things that could be used as weapons.

One of the blades on the shelves was moving. He didn't catch it in actual motion, but when they'd first come into the room, it had been in the back corner of the bottom shelf of the bookcase nearest the mirror. Now it was in the middle of the shelf and had slid nearly off the edge.

He wondered if it might be chasing Asil, if only very slowly.

It was a hunting knife with a dark blade that showed just a touch of rust. The hilt was some sort of antler. When he closed his eyes a little more and turned his gaze so that the knife was in the corner of his vision, he could tell that there was some sort of runic lettering down the blade. But as soon as he looked directly at it again, the runes disappeared.

Because Adam was carefully not-watching the blade, he noticed something was happening to the mirror.

The corners were darkening until, gradually, it quit reflecting the room and looked more like a huge photo of a heavy, gray, silk curtain than a silver-backed glass mirror. Adam lifted his head to see it more clearly. As soon as the whole of it was dark, frost bloomed. It started in the very center of the mirror, as if it were very cold and someone was blowing on it with a warm, wet breath. A fog of ice spiderwebbed out in a crystalline sheet across the glass.

As soon as the ice covered the entire surface, a darker line dripped down the middle of the mirror and dark, callused, long-fingered hands slid out of the glass and pulled the gray aside, sending a light snow to the rug that butted up against that end of the room.

Zee stepped through the mirror. Tad looked up and started gathering his cards together, though his game wasn't half-finished yet. Asil's eyes slitted, and he rolled to the balls of his feet, ready for whatever would come. Mercy turned her head, and said, "Hey, Zee. Long time no see."

The Zee that stepped through the mirror wasn't the one Adam was used to. Gone was the glamour that he'd presented to the world. He was no slender, balding old man – his sharp-featured face was both unaged and ancient, with skin the color of fumed oak. His body showed the musculature of a man who spent his days before a hot fire bending metal to his will – wide shoulders and taut flesh that knew hard work.

"Mercedes," he said. "What have you done to your lips?"

Mercy touched her lips but didn't say anything. Adam found that a hopeful sign.

White-gold hair slicked down over Zee's shoulders like a waterfall of pale wheat. He wore, incongruously, a pair of black jeans and a gray flannel shirt with a motor-oil stain on one cuff. On his feet were his old battered, steel-toed boots.

Asil's lips curled back, and he snarled softly.

"Peace, wolfling," said Zee in his usual impatient and crabby fashion. "It's been a long time since I hunted your kind. And, as I recall, you got away cleanly anyway. You have no axe to grind."

The old fae frowned at Tad, who had set the deck of cards on the poker caddy and gotten to his feet.

"What's wrong, Tad, that you've called me here?"

"What isn't is a better question," said Tad. "I'm really glad to see you. I don't know exactly where to start."

"If it helps," Zee said, "I'm caught up to where someone has apparently taken most of the wolf pack captive. Last I heard, Mercy set you to guard Jesse and Gabriel while she went off to see how Kyle fared. I see that you managed to recover at least one of the wolves, Mercy."

"Adam recovered himself," Mercy told him. "The lips are from the silver."

Zee frowned at her and took a couple of steps nearer. Adam stood up and pulled Mercy to her feet beside him, unwilling to let this stranger with Zee's eyes and voice approach him when he was in a vulnerable position.

"Silver?"

Mercy explained how Coyote told her to change the rules and so she'd drunk the silver out of Adam's body. Adam intended on having a word or two with Coyote the next time he saw him – not that it would do any good. Mercy backtracked and began again with Stefan's helping her free Kyle and ran all the way through to escorting Asil to Sylvia's house.

"So I sent Jesse and Gabriel to take the kids to Kyle's house," Mercy said.

"In Marsilia's car, which now has a dent and a dead body in the back," said Zee.

"It sounds worse than it is," she assured him.

"No," Adam disagreed. "It is exactly as bad as it sounds."

"You know these assassins?" Zee asked Tad.

"It was Sliver and Spice." Tad leaned against the bookcase nearest him and caught the hunting knife before it fell on the ground. He frowned at it and set it back in the corner it had started in. "You stay there," he told it.

Zee smiled, and his face suddenly looked a lot more like the Zee Adam knew. "I wish you better luck than I have with that." He nodded toward the knife. "It doesn't like to stay in one place when interesting things are going on. How do you know it was Sliver and Spice? They are both skilled at hiding who and what they are."

"Here," said Tad, taking out the small bit of metal that the fae man's sword had turned into. "This is yours. Sliver was using it on Asil – who fought him off with a baseball bat from Walmart. And Sliver had to drop the glamour to keep up with him." There was a bit of hero worship coming off Tad.

"The Moor doesn't need a pesky magic blade to triumph over evil," Mercy murmured, and Adam gave her a sharp look.

Zee took the object from Tad, and in his hands, it formed once more into a blade. This time, though, it was black as pitch but only two feet long.

"Of course he did," Zee said, sounding a little put out that Asil had triumphed over one of his blades. But his face smoothed out, and he said, "He outsmarted me for three weeks in high winter in the Alps. It stands to reason that a spriggand would have no chance at all, even with such a blade as this."

"Sliver got away," Tad said. "But not before Adam showed up out of the blue and stole that sword from him."

"You didn't bring me here to tell me this," Zee said. He didn't look at Mercy, but Adam could feel his attention.

"Right," Tad said. "Mercy, touch your toes, then turn around three times."

Adam understood why Tad had to do it, but he couldn't help the unhappy sound he made. "You need to quit giving her orders," he warned Tad. He wasn't angry, not at Tad, anyway. But her easy compliance made his wolf want to jump out of his skin. The last time she'd been caught in this kind of magic, she'd been raped, and he remembered it, both wolf and man.

"Peace and Quiet, also known as the Fairy Queen's Gift," said Zee, in a contemplative voice that made Adam think that he wasn't the only one who was bothered by Mercy's obedience. "I had heard that it had surfaced again. Did Sliver and Spice get away with it?"

Adam caught Mercy's shoulders and stopped her before she finished the second turn. "You don't have to listen to him anymore, Mercy. Stop."

"No," Asil said. "The cuffs are in the trunk with the dead woman – who it is probably safe to assume is Spice." He grimaced. "Did she pick the name from the singing group?"

Tad smiled. "Not unless they were around a couple of centuries ago."

"Sliver is alone?" Zee sounded for a moment like a hunting wolf. "Interesting." Then he looked at Mercy again, and some of the inhumanity slid away from him.

"Stealing someone's willpower was always a rare and difficult fae gift," Zee said. "It's a spell easier to work on someone who is asleep or happy."

Mercy shivered, as if she were suddenly cold, again. "I don't like being obedient." Adam hugged her and wished he could go back and kill the man who'd done this to her last time before he'd hurt her. Wished, at the very least, he could protect her from her memories because if this was making him remember, it had to be doing the same to her. Rage choked him – and Mercy patted his arm in reassurance.

Zee caught his eye and nodded grimly, and Adam knew he wasn't the only one unhappy that such a spell had caught Mercy again. "Peace and Quiet was made as a gift for a fairy queen who collected the wrong fae's son into her court."

They'd run into a fairy queen before. They weren't fae royalty precisely but had a gift that allowed them to enslave humans and fae alike. Almost like a honeybee queen, they set up courts designed to both feed their power and entertain them. Not Adam's favorite kind of fae.

"She didn't last long," Zee continued, "because the cuffs only work for a short period of time on the fae, though it can be more permanent on humans."

Zee put his hand under Mercy's chin and looked into her eyes. "The woman who gave the fairy queen the gift wanted her son back. Once the queen died, all the humans and fae went back to their old lives."

Without the glamour, his slate gray eyes were brighter and odder-colored.

"Beware of fairy gifts," Mercy said.

"And Greeks bearing gifts," agreed Zee without a pause.

"How do we break the spell?" Adam asked. "Killing the woman didn't seem to work."

"Love's true kiss," Mercy said, though Adam had been asking Zee. "But I can't kiss Adam because it hurts him. Too much silver."

A kiss?

Adam looked at Zee who shrugged. "Actually, a kiss from someone who loves you is an effective remedy for a number of the effects of fae magic."

All right then. Adam lifted Mercy's chin and kissed her. He'd kissed her at Sylvia's apartment, too. But this time he didn't let the burn of the silver distract him.

He pictured his Mercy in his mind. Mercy holding a plate of cookies in the hope that they would make her neighbor feel better after his wife left him. Mercy baring her teeth at him because he'd annoyed her by trying to make her stay safe. Mercy pulling the damned tires off the wreck in her backyard because she was mad at him. Mercy shooting Henry before the cowardly wolf could challenge Adam while he was hurt.

And his lips first bled, then blistered against hers.

He accepted the pain and put it behind him, letting his body feel only the softness and warmth of hers. He took in a breath through his nose and let her scent surround him. This, this was his Mercy, and he wanted her – mind, body, and soul, she was his. And he was hers. The kiss warmed up, and he pulled her tighter into his body and let the heat of their kiss spread through his body in hopes it would catch flame in her.

She returned his kiss, her body softening – his partner in this as in so many things. She fit against him well – all muscle with just a hint of softness, smelling of burnt oil, harsh orange-scented soap, and Mercy.

Then every muscle in her body tensed, and she started to struggle. He held her just a little longer, to relish her fight, which told him the spell had been broken. But Mercy knew how to break the grip of someone who was larger and stronger than she was. That he didn't want to hurt her was of more use to her than his strength was to him. She twisted her wrists to break his hold and ducked out and away.

"Damn it, damn it, Adam," she raged at him, while Adam caught his breath. "You don't let me hurt you like that. You haven't eaten since God knows when because I can see your ribs. You've lost twenty pounds in two days. Too much shapeshifting, not enough food – and having to heal yourself every time you touch me just makes it worse. And then you let me hurt you, you stupid, stupid …" She was so mad, the words wouldn't come out of her mouth.

"Or you could try to force her to do something absolutely against her will," said Zee casually. "That works more often on this kind of magic than love's true kiss."


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