“These are fantastic adventures, and Mercy reigns.” —SFRevu
#1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series has been hailed as “one of the best” (Fiction Vixen Book Reviews). Now Mercy must deal with an unwanted guest—one that brings a threat unlike anything she’s ever known.
An unexpected phone call heralds a new challenge for Mercy. Her mate Adam’s ex-wife is in trouble, on the run from a stalker. Adam isn’t the kind of man to turn away a person in need—and Mercy knows it. But with Christy holed up in Adam’s house, Mercy can’t shake the feeling that something about the situation isn’t right.
Soon her suspicions are confirmed when she learns that Christy has the furthest thing from good intentions. She wants Adam back, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him, including turning Adam’s pack against Mercy.
Mercy isn’t about to step down without a fight, but there’s a more dangerous threat circling. Christy’s stalker is more than a bad man—in fact, he may not be human at all. As the bodies start piling up, Mercy must put her personal troubles aside to face a creature with the power to tear her whole world apart.
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#1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs lives in Washington State with her husband, children, and a small herd of horses.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Hurog, Inc.
The phone rang while I was elbow-deep in sudsy dishwater.
“I’ll get it,” said my stepdaughter, Jesse, hastily dumping two glasses and a fork in my sink.
A werewolf pack that eats together stays together, I thought, scrubbing stubborn egg off a plate. Sunday breakfasts weren’t attended by the whole pack—some of them had families just like regular people or jobs they worked on the Sabbath. The breakfasts weren’t mandatory because that would have ruined the intent. Darryl, Adam’s second, who usually prepared the meals, was a hellaciously good cook, and his food attracted anyone who could manage to come.
The dishwasher was running, stuffed full and then some. I would have let the rest of the dishes wait until it was done, but Auriele, Darryl’s mate, wouldn’t hear of it.
I didn’t argue with her because I was one of the three people in the pack who outranked her, so she’d have to back down. That felt like cheating, and I never cheat.
Unless it is against my enemies, whispered a soundless voice in my head that might have been mine but felt like Coyote’s.
The second reason for my compliance was more self-serving. Auriele and I were getting along, which made her the only one of the three female werewolves in the pack who was friendly with me at the moment.
Auriele hadn’t been happy having me as the Alpha’s mate, either—I was a coyote shapeshifter among wolves. She didn’t think it was a good thing for pack morale. She also thought, correctly, that I brought trouble for the pack with me. She liked me despite herself. I was used to the company of men, but it was nice to have a woman besides Jesse, my teenage stepdaughter, who would talk to me.
So, to please Auriele, I washed dishes that the dishwasher could have taken care of, ignoring the burn of hot soapy water in the wounds of my trade—barked knuckles are a mechanic’s constant companion. Auriele dried the dishes, and Jesse had volunteered to tidy up the kitchen in general. Three women bonding over household chores—my mother would be pleased if she could see us. That thought hardened my resolve that next week, some of the men would do cleanup. It would be good for them to expand their skill set.
“There’s this kid in my second-period class.” Auriele ignored the ringing phone as she hefted a stack of plates up to the cupboard with a grunt of effort. It wasn’t the weight of the dishes that was the problem—Auriele was a werewolf; she could have lifted a four-hundred-pound anvil onto the shelf. It was that she was short and had to stand on tiptoe to do it. Jesse had to dodge around her to get to the phone.
“All the teachers love Clark,” Auriele continued. “All the girls and most of the guys, too. And every word out of his mouth is a lie. ‘Enrique cheated off my paper,’ he told me when I asked him why they both had all the same mistakes. Enrique, he just gets this resigned look on his face; I expect that Clark has done this to him before.”
“Hauptman residence,” said Jesse cheerfully. “Can I help you?”
“Is Adam there?”
“So I told him—” Auriele stopped talking abruptly, her sensitive ears caught by the familiar voice on the line.
“I need Adam.” My husband’s ex-wife’s voice was thick with tears. Christy Hauptman sounded desperate and half-hysterical.
“Mom?” Jesse’s voice was shaky. “Mom, what’s wrong?”
“Mom?” Jesse gave me a frantic look.
“Adam,” I called. “Christy’s on the phone for you.”
He was in the living room talking to Darryl and a few of the pack who had lingered after breakfast, so I didn’t have to raise my voice much. It wasn’t the first time Christy had called needing something.
Dealing with Christy was usually enough to give me a stomachache. Not because of anything she could do to me or Adam. But Jesse, who loved her mother but was currently fighting to keep liking her, suffered every time that woman called. There was nothing I could do to stop it.
“He’s coming, Mom,” Jesse said.
“Please,” Christy said. “Tell him to hurry.”
Desperate, hysterical tears—those weren’t unusual. But she sounded scared, too. And that wasn’t anything I’d heard before.
Adam walked into the room, and from his grim face, I could tell he’d heard at least part of what Christy had said. He took the handset from Jesse but hugged her with the other arm. Jesse’s eyes grew watery under his comforting hold. She gave me a frantic look before bolting away, out the door, and up the stairs, presumably to her room, where she could collect herself.
“What do you need?” Adam said, most of his attention still on his daughter.
“Can I come home?”
Auriele glanced at me, but I was already wearing my blank face. She wouldn’t be able to tell what I was thinking from my expression.
“This isn’t your home,” Adam said. “Not anymore.”
“Adam,” Christy said. “Oh, Adam.” She sobbed, a small, hopeless sound. “I’m in trouble, I need to come home. I’ve been so stupid. He won’t leave me alone. He hurt me, he killed a friend of mine, and he follows me everywhere I go. Can I come home, please?”
That wasn’t anything I’d expected. Auriele quit trying to pretend she wasn’t listening to every word and jerked her face toward the phone.
“Call the police,” Adam said. “That’s what they are there for.”
“He’ll kill me,” she whispered. “Adam, he’ll kill me. I don’t have anywhere else to run. Please.”
Werewolves can tell when people are lying. So can some of the other supernatural critters running around—like me, for instance. Over the phone is a lot trickier because a lot of the telltale signs involve heartbeat and smell—neither of which is possible to detect over a phone line. But I could hear the truth in her voice.
Adam looked at me.
“Tell her to come,” I said. What else could I say? If something happened to her when we could help . . . I wasn’t sure if I could live with that. I knew that Adam couldn’t.
Auriele continued to watch me. She frowned, finally turned away, and started to dry the dishes again.
“Adam, please?” Christy pleaded.
Adam narrowed his eyes at me and didn’t say anything.
“Adam,” Mary Jo said from the doorway. Mary Jo is a firefighter, tough and smart. “She is owed by the pack for the years that she was yours. Let her come home, and the pack will protect her.”
He gave Mary Jo a look, and she dropped her eyes.
“It’s okay,” I said to Adam, and tried to make it not a lie. “Really.”
I bake when I’m stressed. If I had to make enough chocolate chip cookies to feed Richland while she was here, it would be okay because Adam needed me to be okay with it.
If she tried anything, she would be sorry. Adam was mine. She had thrown him away, thrown Jesse away—and I had snatched them up. Finders keepers.
Maybe she didn’t want them back. Maybe she just needed to be safe. My gut wasn’t convinced, but jealousy isn’t a logical emotion, and I had no reason to be jealous of Christy.
“All right,” Adam said. “All right. You can come.” Then, his voice gentle, he asked, “Do you need money for plane tickets?”
I went back to the dishes and tried not to hear the rest of the conversation. Tried not to hear the concern in Adam’s voice, the softness—and the satisfaction he got from taking care of her. Good Alpha werewolves take care of those around them; it’s part of what makes them Alpha.
I might have been able to ignore it better if all the wolves still in the house hadn’t drifted into the kitchen. They listened to Adam’s finalization of the details that would bring Christy here and snuck occasional, furtive glances my way when they thought I wouldn’t notice.
Auriele took the last cup from my hand. I unplugged the sink and shook the water from my hands before drying them off on my jeans. My hands aren’t my best feature. The hot water had left my skin pruney, and my knuckles were red and swollen. Even after washing dishes, there was still some black grease embedded in my skin and under my nails. Christy’s hands were always beautiful, with French-manicured nails.
Adam hung up the phone and called the travel agent he used to coordinate his not-infrequent business travel: both business business and werewolf business.
“She can stay with Honey and me,” said Mary Jo to me, her voice neutral.
Mary Jo and Honey were the other two female werewolves in the pack. Mary Jo had moved in with Honey when Honey’s mate had been killed a few months ago. Neither of them liked me very much.
Until Mary Jo made the offer of hospitality, I’d been half planning to put Christy up with one of the other pack members because I hadn’t thought it through. I knew that putting Christy in with Mary Jo and Honey would be a mistake.
Adam and I were working hard to increase the pack cohesion, which meant that I was trying very hard not to further alienate either Mary Jo or Honey. I was doing pretty well at keeping our interactions to polite neutrality. If Christy moved in with them, she would use their dislike of me and fan it into a hurricane-force division that would rain down on the pack in a flood of drama.
Once I recognized the power of Christy as a divisive force, I realized that it wasn’t just a problem for my relationship with the pack, but also for Adam’s. Putting Adam’s ex-wife in the same house with Honey and Mary Jo would be stupid because it would force Mary Jo to take Christy’s side on any tension between Christy and Adam or Christy and the pack. The same thing would be true of anyone Christy stayed with.
Christy was going to have to stay here with Adam and me.
“Christy needs to be here, where she’ll feel safe,” said Auriele before I could reply to Mary Jo.
“Uhm,” I said, because I was still reeling under the weight of just how much it was going to suck having her not just here in the Tri-Cities, but here in my home.
“You don’t want her here?” asked Auriele, and for the first time, I realized that Auriele, like Mary Jo, had liked Christy better than she did me. “She’s scared and alone. Don’t be petty, Mercy.”
“Would you want Darryl’s ex staying at your house?” asked Jesse hotly. I hadn’t realized she’d come back downstairs. Her chin was raised as she flung her support my way. I didn’t want her to do that. Christy was her mom—Jesse shouldn’t be trying to choose between us.
“If she needed help, I would,” Auriele snapped. It was easy for her to be certain because Darryl, as far as I knew, didn’t have an ex-wife. “If you don’t want Christy here, Mercy, she is welcome at my house.”
Auriele’s offer was followed up by several others, accompanied by hostile stares aimed at me. Christy had been well liked by most of the pack. She was just the sort of sweet, helpless homemaker that appealed to a bunch of werewolves with too much testosterone.
“Christy will stay here,” I said.
But since Mary Jo and Auriele were arguing hotly about where Christy would be happiest, and the men were paying attention to them, no one had heard me.
“I said”—I stepped between the two women, drawing on Adam’s power to give weight to my words—“Christy will stay here with Adam and me.” Both women dropped their eyes and backed away, but the hostility in Auriele’s face told me that only the Alpha’s authority in my voice had forced her to stop arguing. Mary Jo looked satisfied—I was pretty sure it meant that she thought Christy’s staying here might give Christy a chance to resume her position as Adam’s wife.
Though Adam was still on the phone, my pull on his authority had made him look around to see what was happening in the kitchen, but he didn’t slow his rapid instructions.
“Having her here isn’t a good idea. She’d do okay at Honey and Mary Jo’s.” Jesse sounded almost frantic.
“Christy stays here,” I repeated, though this time I didn’t borrow Adam’s magic to make my point.
“Mercy, I love my mother.” Jesse’s mouth twisted unhappily. “But she’s selfish, and she resents that you took her place here. She’ll cause trouble.”
“Jesse Hauptman,” snapped Auriele. “That’s your mother you are talking about. You show her some respect.”
“Auriele,” I growled. This morning needed a dominance fight between the two of us like it needed a nuclear bomb. But I couldn’t let her dictate to Jesse. “Back off.”
Teeth showing in a hostile smile, Auriele turned her hot gaze on me, yellow stirring in the cappuccino depths of her eyes.
“Leave Jesse alone,” I told her. “You’re overstepping your authority. Jesse is not pack.”
Auriele’s lips whitened, but she backed down. I was right, and she knew it.
“Your mom will feel safer here,” I told Jesse without looking away from Auriele. “And Auriele’s also right when she says we can protect Christy better here.”
Jesse gave me a despairing look. “She doesn’t want Dad, but that doesn’t mean she wants anyone else to have him. She’ll try to get between the two of you—like water torture. Drip. Drip. Drip. You should hear what she says about you.”
No. No, I shouldn’t. Neither should Jesse, but there was nothing I could do about that.
“It’s all right,” I told her. “We’re all grown-ups. We can behave for a little while.” How long could it take for a werewolf to hunt down a stalker and scare him off? A stalker, by definition, should be easy to find, right?
“Good Samaritan Mercy,” Mary Jo muttered. “Shouldn’t we all be grateful for her charity?” She glanced around and realized she was the center of attention and flushed. “What? It’s true.”
Still on the phone, Adam looked at Mary Jo and held her—and everyone else in the room—silent with his gaze. He finished his business with the travel agent, then hung up the phone.
“That’s enough,” he said very softly, and Mary Jo flinched. He is quiet when he is really mad—right before people start dying. “This is not up for debate. It is time for everyone to go. Christy is not pack, was never pack. She was never my mate, only my wife. That means she is not pack business, and not your business.”
“Christy is my friend,” said Auriele hotly. “She needs help. That makes it my business.”
“Does it?” Adam asked her, clearly out of patience. “If it is your business, why did Christy call me, not you?”
She opened her mouth, and Darryl put a hand on her shoulder and led her out of the room. “Best leave well enough alone,” I heard him say before they left the house.
The wolves—including Mary Jo—slid out of the room without waiting for Adam to say anything more. We stood in the kitchen, Adam, Jesse, and I, waiting until the sounds of cars starting and driving away left us in silence. All the uniting benefit of this Sunday breakfast was gone like the last of the waffles.
“Jesse,” I said. “Your mother is welcome here.”
“You know what she’s like,” Jesse said passionately. “She’ll spoil everything. She can get people, can get Dad, to do things they had no intention of doing.”
“Not your problem,” I told her, while Adam’s face tightened because he agreed with Jesse.
“She can get me to do things, too.” Jesse’s face was desperate. “I don’t want you hurt.”
Adam’s hand came down on my shoulder.
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