Table of Contents
Praise for Patricia Briggs’s #1 New York Times bestselling Mercy Thompson novels
“The third book in an increasingly excellent series, Iron Kissed has all the elements I’ve come to expect in a Patricia Briggs novel: sharp, perceptive characterization; nonstop action; and a levelheaded attention to detail and location. I love these books.” —Charlaine Harris, NewYork Times bestselling author of From Dead to Worse
“Once again, Briggs has written a full-bore action adventure with heart . . . Be prepared to read [it] in one sitting, because once you get going, there is no good place to stop until tomorrow.” —SFRevu
“Plenty of action and intriguing characters keep this fun. In the increasingly crowded field of kick-ass supernatural heroines, Mercy stands out as one of the best.” —Locus
“Briggs’s world, in which witches, vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters live beside ordinary people, is plausibly constructed; the characters are excellent; and the plot keeps the pages flapping.” —Booklist
“Briggs has created a believable alternative world populated with strong, dynamite characters, deadly adversaries, and cunningly laid plots that leave the reader looking for more.”
—Monsters and Critics
“Patricia Briggs has the unique gift of being able to make the reader believe, for the space of three hundred some pages, [in] her truths—that vampires, fae, werewolves, and magic makers live in tentative harmony with humankind. Her world is just like ours, only a bit more dangerous and a bit more sexy.” —Dear Author
“A compelling and fascinating supernatural tale that fans of Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris will thoroughly enjoy. Patricia Briggs is a powerful storyteller who convinces readers [that] her earth inhabited by supernatural creatures actually exists.” —The Best Reviews
"Fans of Kim Harrison and Laurell K. Hamilton will enjoy this tightly plotted and fast-paced tale set in a world of vampires, werewolves, fae, and one shapeshifter named Mercy.” —Romantic Times Book Reviews
“An excellent read with plenty of twists and turns. Her strong and complex characters kept me entertained from its deceptively innocent beginning to its can’t-put-it- down end. Thoroughly satisfying, it left me wanting more.” —Kim Harrison, New York Times bestselling author of For a Few Demons More
“Patricia Briggs always enchants her readers. With Moon Called, she weaves her magic on every page to take us into a new and dazzling world of werewolves, shapeshifters, witches, and vampires. Expect to be spellbound.”
—Lynn Viehl, USA Today bestselling author of the Darkyn series
“A suspenseful read that will have you on the edge of your seat as you burn through the pages. Ms. Briggs weaves paranormal and mystery together so deftly you can’t put the book down. The cast of characters is wonderfully entertaining, and Mercy’s emotional struggles will pull on your heartstrings. For lovers of the paranormal, this is a must-read.” —Romance Junkies
“A strong story with multidimensional characters . . . Mercy is, at heart, someone we can relate to.” —SFRevu
“Inventive and fast paced . . . Mercy’s first-person narrative voice is a treat throughout. And best of all, the fantasy elements retain their dark mystery and sense of wonder . . . entertaining from start to end.” —Fantasy & Science Fiction
“I’ve never been disappointed by one of [Patricia Briggs’s] books, and this one is no exception. Mercy’s world is an alternate universe much like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books . . . or the Buffyverse or more recently the Kim Harrison books . . . Moon Called ends on a high note and leaves you wanting more—like a good book should.”
“Fans of Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking are sure to enjoy this fast-paced, creature feature-packed suspense story. Mercy’s no-nonsense approach and quick wit coupled with a strong story line and interesting subplots make for a thoroughly entertaining read.” —Monsters and Critics
"Mercy’s a compelling protagonist . . . The story hums along like a well-tuned engine, keeping the reader engaged through the tumultuous climax.”
—Romantic Times Book Reviews
“A really good story . . . exciting, interesting, and not always predictable . . . a fun read for a lazy afternoon.”
“Authors the likes of Tanya Huff, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Charlaine Harris have successfully peopled our modern world with vampires, lycanthropes, and other supernatural beings who, to some extent, coexist politely among us mere mortals, living within complex hierarchies, bureaucracies, and clan protocols. Add Patricia Briggs to the list . . . Moon Called is an exciting new entry in the field of dark urban fantasy . . . I will be watching for Mercy Thompson’s next adventure with great anticipation.” —Rambles.net
Ace Books by Patricia Briggs
STEAL THE DRAGON
WHEN DEMONS WALK
THE HOB’S BARGAIN
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Amanda, fashionista, musician, and hairstyle artist.
This one’s for you.
The usual bunch for editorial service above and beyond the call of duty: Michael Briggs, Katharine and Dave Carson,
Michael Enzweiler, Anne Peters, and Kaye and Kyle Roberson.
My patient and terrific editor, Anne Sowards. The
Ace art team, especially Daniel Dos Santos, who keeps giving me these lovely covers. And my research sources: my good friend CthulhuBob Lovely (this time I hope I spelled it right); Shelley Rubenacker and her Latin Forum buddies;
Bill Fansler, forest recreation staff officer, Kootenai National
Forest—and especially my husband, Mike, who has aided and abetted my research attempts for years (he, unlike me,
is not shy on the phone). As usual, if it’s good, it’s their fault—all mistakes are mine.
Cabinet Wilderness: October
NO one knew better than Walter Rice that the only safe place was away from other people. Safe for them, that is. The only problem was that he still needed them, needed the sound of human voices and laughter. To his shame, he sometimes hovered on the edge of one of the campgrounds just to listen to the voices and pretend they were talking to him.
Which was a very small part of the reason that he was lying belly-down in the kinnikinnick and old tamarack needles in the shadow of a stand of trees, watching the young man who was writing with a pencil in a metal-bound notebook after taking a sample of the bear scat and storing the resultant partially filled plastic bag in his backpack.
Walter had no fear the boy would see him: Uncle Sam had ensured that Walter could hide and track, and decades of living alone in some of the most forbidding wilderness in the States had made him into a fair imitation of those miraculously invisible Indians who had populated the favorite books and movies of his childhood. If he didn’t want to be seen, he wasn’t—besides, the boy had all the woodcraft of a suburban housewife. They shouldn’t have sent him into grizzly country on his own—feeding grad students to the bears wasn’t a good idea, might give them ideas.
Not that the bears were out today. Like Walter, they knew how to read the signs: sometime in the next four or five hours there was a big storm coming. He could feel it in his bones, and the stranger didn’t have a big enough pack to be prepared for it. It was early for a winter storm, but this country was like that. He’d seen it snow in August.
That storm was the other reason he was following the boy. The storm and what to do about it—it wasn’t often anymore that he was so torn by indecision.
He could let the kid go. The storm would come and steal away his life, but that was the way of the mountain, of the wilderness. It was a clean death. If only the grad student weren’t so young. A lifetime ago he’d seen so many boys die—you’d think he’d have gotten used to it. Instead, one more seemed like one too many.
He could warn the boy. But everything in him rebelled at the thought. It had been too long since he’d spoken face-to-face with anyone . . . even the thought made his breath freeze up.
It was too dangerous. Might cause another flashback—he hadn’t had one in a while—but they crept up unexpectedly. It would be too bad if he tried to warn the boy and ended up killing him instead.
No. He couldn’t risk the little peace he had by warning the stranger—but he couldn’t just let him die, either.
Frustrated, he’d been following for a few hours as the boy blundered, oblivious, farther and farther from the nearest road and safety. The bedroll on his backpack made it clear he was planning on staying the night—which ought to mean he thought he knew what he was doing in the woods. Unfortunately, it had become clearer and clearer it was a false confidence. It was like watching June Cleaver roughing it. Sad. Just sad.
Like watching the newbies coming into ’Nam all starched and ready to be men, when everyone knew that all they were was cannon fodder.
Damn boy was stirring up all sorts of things Walter liked to keep away. But the irritation wasn’t strong enough to make a difference to Walter’s conscience. Six miles, as near as he figured it, he’d trailed the boy, unable to make up his mind: his preoccupation kept him from sensing the danger until the boy student stopped dead in the middle of the trail.
The thick brush between them only allowed him to see the top of the boy’s backpack, and whatever stopped the boy was shorter. The good part was that it wasn’t a moose. You could reason with a black bear—even a grizzly if it wasn’t hungry (which in his experience was seldom the case), but a moose was . . .
Walter drew his big knife, though he wasn’t sure he’d try to help the boy. Even a black bear was a quicker death than the storm would be—if bloodier. And he knew the bear around here, which was more than he could say about the boy. He moved slowly through the brush, making no noise though fallen aspen leaves littered the ground. When he didn’t want to make noise, he didn’t make noise.
A low growl caused a shiver of fear to slice through him, sending his adrenaline into the ozone layer. It wasn’t a sound he’d ever heard here, and he knew every predator that lived in his territory.
Four feet farther and he had nothing impairing his view.
There in the middle of the path stood a dog—or something doglike, anyway. At first he thought it was a German shepherd because of the coloring, but there was something wrong with the joints of its front end that made it look more like a bear than a dog. And it was bigger than any damned dog or wolf he’d ever seen. It had cold eyes, killer’s eyes, and impossibly long teeth.
Walter might not know what to call it, but he knew what it was. In that beast’s face lurked every nightmare image that haunted his life. It was the thing he fought through two tours of ’Nam and every night since: death. This was a battle for a blooded warrior, battered and tainted as he was, not an innocent.
He broke cover with a wild whoop designed to attract attention and sprinted, ignoring the protest of knees grown too old for battle. It had been a long time since his last fight, but he had never forgotten the feeling of the blood pounding through his veins.
“Run, kid,” he said as he blazed past the boy with a fierce grin, prepared to engage the enemy.
The animal might run. It had taken its time sizing up the boy, and sometimes, when a predator’s meal charges it, the predator will leave. But somehow he didn’t think that this beast was such an animal—there was an eerie intelligence in its blindingly gold eyes.
Whatever had kept it from attacking the boy immediately, it had no qualms about Walter. It launched itself at him as if he were unarmed. Maybe it wasn’t as smart as he thought—or it had been deceived by his grizzled exterior and hadn’t realized what an old veteran armed with a knife as long as his arm could do. Maybe it was aroused by the boy’s flight—he’d taken Walter’s advice at face value and was running like a track star—and just viewed Walter as an obstacle to its desire for fresh, tender meat.
But Walter wasn’t a helpless boy. He’d gotten the knife from some enemy general he’d killed, murdered in the dark as he’d been taught. The knife was covered with magic charms etched into the blade, strange symbols that had long ago turned black instead of the bright silver they’d been. Despite the exotic fancy stuff, it was a good knife and it bit deep in the animal’s shoulder.
The beast was faster than he, faster and stronger. But he’d gotten that first strike and crippled it, and that made all the difference.
He didn’t win, but he triumphed. He kept the beast busy and hurt it badly. It wouldn’t be able to go after the kid tonight—and if that boy was smart, he’d be halfway to his car by now.
At last the monster left, dragging a front leg and bleeding from a dozen wounds—though there was no question as to who was worse wounded. He’d seen a lot of men die, and he knew from the smell of perforated bowel that his time had come.
But the young man was safe. Perhaps that would answer, in some small part, for all the young men who hadn’t lived.
He let the muscles of his back relax and felt the dried grass and dirt give way beneath his weight. The ground was cool under his hot, sweaty body, and it comforted him. It seemed right to end his life here while saving a stranger, when another stranger’s death had brought him here in the first place.
The wind picked up, and he thought the temperature dropped a few degrees—but that might just have been blood loss and shock. He closed his eyes and waited patiently for death, his old enemy, to claim him at long last. The knife was still in his right hand, just in case the pain was too much. Belly wounds weren’t the easiest way to die.
But it wasn’t death that came during the heart of the first blizzard of the season.
ANNA Latham tried to disappear into the passenger seat.
She hadn’t realized how much of her confidence had been tied to having Charles beside her. She’d only known him a day and a half, and he’d changed her world . . . at least while he was still next to her.
Without him, all of her newly regained confidence had disappeared. Its mocking absence only pointed out what a coward she really was. As if she needed reminding.
She glanced over at the man who was driving Charles’s rented SUV with casual ease through the light after-morning-rush-hour traffic on the slush-covered expressway as if he were a Chicago native instead of a visitor from the wilds of Montana.
Charles’s father, Bran Cornick, looked for all the world like a college student, a computer geek or maybe an art major. Someone sensitive, gentle, and young—but she knew he was none of these things. He was the Marrok, the one all the Alphas answered to—and no one dominated an Alpha werewolf by being sensitive and gentle.
He wasn’t young, either. She knew Charles was almost two hundred years old, and that would necessitate his father being older yet.
She looked hard, out of the corners of her eyes, but except for something in the shape of his hands and eyes, she couldn’t see Charles in him at all. Charles looked pure Native American, as his mother had been, but still she thought she should have been able to see a little resemblance, something that would tell her that the Marrok was the kind of man his son was.
Her head was willing to believe Bran Cornick would not harm her, that he was different from the other wolves she knew. But her body had been taught to fear the males of her species. The more dominant the werewolves were, the more likely they were to hurt her. And there was no more dominant wolf anywhere than Bran Cornick, no matter how harmless he might seem.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” he said without looking at her.
She could smell her own fear—so of course he could smell it, too.
“I know,” she managed to say, hating herself for allowing them to turn her into a coward. She hoped that he thought it was fear at the idea of facing the other wolves from her pack after she’d precipitated their Alpha’s death. She didn’t want him to know she was scared of him, too. Or even mostly.
He smiled a little, but didn’t say anything more.
All the parking places behind her four-story apartment building were filled with strange cars. There was a shiny gray truck towing a small, bright orange and white trailer with a giant manatee painted on the side just above lettering that let anyone within a block know that Florida was “The Manatee State.”
Bran parked behind the trailer without worrying about blocking the alley. Well, she realized as they got out of the car, she wouldn’t have to worry about what her landlord thought anymore. She was going to Montana. Was Montana “The Werewolf State”?
Four wolves in their human forms waited for them at the security door, including Boyd, the new Alpha. His shadowed eyes took in every bit of her. She dropped her gaze to the ground after that first glance and kept Bran between her and them.
She was more afraid of them than the Marrok after all. How strange, because today there was none of the speculation, the avarice in their eyes that usually set off her fears. They looked controlled . . . and tired. Yesterday, the Alpha had been killed, and that hurt all of them. She’d felt it herself—and ignored it because she thought Charles was dying.
Their pain was her fault. They all knew that.
She reminded herself that Leo needed killing—he had killed so many himself and allowed the deaths of many others. She wouldn’t look at any of them again. She’d try not to talk to them, and hope they’d ignore her.
Except—they’d come here to help her move. She’d tried to stop that, but she wasn’t up to arguing with the Marrok for long. She dared another quick glance at Boyd, but she couldn’t read his face any better this time.
She took her key and went to work on the lock with fear-clumsy fingers. None of the werewolves made any move that indicated they were impatient, but she tried to hurry, feeling their eyes on her back. What were they thinking? Were they remembering what some of them had done to her? She wasn’t. She wasn’t.
Breathe, she chided herself.
One of the men swayed on his feet and made an eager sound.
“George,” said Boyd, and the other wolf quieted.
It was her fear that was pushing the wolf, she knew. She had to get a handle on herself—and the sticky lock wasn’t helping. If Charles were here, she could deal with everything, but he was recovering from several bullet wounds. His father had told her that he had a stronger reaction than most to silver.
“I didn’t expect you to come,” said Bran—she presumed he wasn’t talking to her since he’d manipulated and talked her into leaving Charles alone this morning.
It must have been Boyd he was talking to, because it was Boyd who answered him. “I had the day off.”
Until last night Boyd had been third. But now he was the Alpha of the Western Suburb Chicago Pack. The pack she was leaving. “I thought it might hurry matters a bit,” Boyd continued. “Thomas here has agreed to drive the truck to Montana and back.”
She pulled open the door, but Bran didn’t go in immediately so she stopped in the entryway just inside the door, holding it open.
“How stand your pack finances?” Bran asked. “My son tells me that Leo claimed he needed money.”
She heard Boyd’s typical humorless smile in his voice. “He wasn’t lying. His mate was expensive as all hell to keep. We won’t lose the manor, but that’s the only good news our accountant has for me. We’ll get something from selling Isabella’s jewelry, but not as much as Leo paid for it.”
She could look at Bran, and so she watched his eyes assess the wolves Boyd had brought like a general surveying his troops. His gaze settled on Thomas.
Anna looked, too, seeing what the Marrok saw: old jeans with a hole in one knee, tennis shoes that had seen better days. It was very much like what she was wearing, except that her hole was in her left knee, not the right.
“Will the time it takes to drive to Montana and back put your job at risk?” Bran asked.
Thomas kept his eyes on his toes and answered, soft-voiced, “No, sir. I work construction, and this is the slow season. I okayed it with the boss; he says I have two weeks.”
Bran pulled a checkbook out of his pocket and, using one of the other wolves’ shoulders to give him a solid surface to write on, made out a check. “This is for your expenses on this trip. We’ll figure out a pay rate and have money waiting for you when you get to Montana.”
Relief flashed in Thomas’s eyes, but he didn’t say anything.
Bran went through the door, passed by Anna, and started up the stairs. As soon as he wasn’t watching them, the other wolves lifted their eyes to look at Anna.
She jutted her chin up and met their gazes, forgetting entirely her decision not to do just that until it was too late. Boyd’s eyes were unfathomable, and Thomas was still looking at the ground . . . but the other two, George and Joshua, were easy to read. With Bran’s back to them, the knowledge of what she’d been in their pack was fully visible in their eyes.
And they had been Leo’s wolves by inclination as well as fact. She was nothing, and she had brought about their Alpha’s death: they’d have killed her if they dared.
Just try, she told them without using words. She turned her back on them without dropping her eyes—as Charles’s mate, she supposedly outranked all of them. But they weren’t only wolves, and the human part of them would never forget what they had done to her, with Leo’s encouragement.
Her stomach raw, and tension tightening the back of her neck, Anna tried to keep an even pace all the way up to her apartment on the fourth floor. Bran waited beside her while she unlocked the door. She stepped aside so he could go in first, showing the others that he, at least, had her respect.
He stopped in the doorway and looked around her studio apartment with a frown. She knew what he saw: a card table with two battered folding chairs, her futon, and not much else.
“I told you I could get it packed this morning,” Anna told him. She knew it wasn’t much, but she resented his silent judgment. “Then they could have come just to carry out the boxes.”
“It won’t take an hour to pack this and carry it down,” said Bran. “Boyd, how many of your wolves are living like this?”
Summoned, Boyd slid past Anna and into the room and frowned. He’d never been to her apartment. He glanced at Anna and walked to her refrigerator and opened it, exposing the empty space inside. “I didn’t know it was this bad.” He glanced back. “Thomas?”
Invited in, Thomas, too, stepped through the door.
He gave his new Alpha an apologetic smile. “I’m not quite this bad, but my wife is working, too. The dues are pretty dear.” He was almost as far down the pack structure as Anna, and, married, had never been invited to “play” with her. But he hadn’t objected, either. She supposed that it was more than could be expected of a submissive wolf, but that didn’t keep her from holding it against him.
“Probably five or six then,” Boyd said with a sigh. “I’ll see what can be done.”
Bran opened his wallet and handed the Alpha a card. “Call Charles next week and set up a conference between him and your accountant. If necessary, we can arrange for a loan. It’s not safe to have hungry, desperate werewolves on the streets.”
The Marrok’s business apparently concluded, the other two wolves surged past Anna, George deliberately bumping against her. She pulled back from him and instinctively wrapped her arms protectively around herself. He gave her a sneer he hid quickly from the others.
“Illegitimis nil carborundum,” she murmured. It was stupid. She knew it even before George’s fist struck out.
She ducked and dodged. Instead of a fist in her stomach, she took it in the shoulder and rolled with it. The small entryway didn’t give her much room to get away from a second blow.
There wasn’t one.
Boyd had George pinned on the ground with a knee in the middle of his back. George wasn’t fighting him, just talking fast. “She’s not supposed to do that. Leo said no Latin. You remember.”
Because once Anna realized that no one else in the pack except Isabella, who she had thought was a friend, understood Latin, she’d used it for secret defiance. It had taken a while for Leo to figure it out.
“Leo is dead,” said Boyd very quietly, his mouth near George’s ear. “New rules. If you are smart enough to live, you won’t hit Charles’s mate in front of his father.”
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down?” said Bran from her doorway. He was looking at her like a child who had been unexpectedly clever. “That’s horrible Latin, and your pronunciation needs some work.”
“It’s my father’s fault,” she told him, rubbing her shoulder. The bruise would be gone by tomorrow, but for now it hurt. “He had a couple of years of Latin in college and used it to amuse himself. Everyone in my family picked it up. His favorite saying was, ‘Interdum feror cupidine partium magnarum europe vincendarum.’ ”
“ ‘Sometimes I have the urge to conquer large parts of Europe’?” Boyd said, sounding a little incredulous. Isabella hadn’t, apparently, been the only one who understood her defiance.
She nodded. “Usually he only said it when my brother or I were being particularly horrible.”
“And it was his favorite saying?” Bran said, examining her as if she were a bug . . . but a bug he was growing pleased with.
She said, “My brother was a brat.”
He smiled slowly and she recognized the smile as one of Charles’s.
“What do you want me to do with this one?” asked Boyd, tilting his head toward George.
Bran’s smile fled, and he looked at Anna. “Do you want me to kill him?”
Silence descended as everyone waited for her answer. For the first time she realized that the fear that she’d been smelling wasn’t hers alone. The Marrok scared them all.
“No,” she lied. She just wanted to get her apartment packed and get done with this, so she never had to see George and those like him again. “No.” This time she meant it.
Bran tilted his head, and she saw his eyes shift, just a little, gleaming gold in the dimness of the outer hall. “Let him up.”
She waited until everyone was in her apartment to leave the anonymity of the landing. Bran was stripping her futon down to the bare mattress when she entered her apartment. It was sort of like watching the president mowing the White House lawn or taking out the trash.
Boyd approached her and handed her the check she’d left on the fridge door, her last paycheck. “You’ll want this with you.”
She took it and stuffed it in her pants. “Thanks.”
“We all owe you,” he told her. “None of us could contact the Marrok when things started getting bad. Leo forbade it. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent staring at the phone trying to break his hold.”
She was startled into meeting his eyes.
“It took me a while to figure out what you were.” He gave her a bitter smile. “I wasn’t paying attention. I tried really hard not to pay attention or think. It made things easier.”
“Omegas are rare,” said Bran.
Boyd didn’t look away from her. “I almost missed what Leo was doing, why he chose you for such treatment when he had always been the ‘kill ’em quickly’ kind. I’ve known him a long time, and he’s never condoned abuse like that before. I could see that it sickened him—only Justin really enjoyed it.”
Anna controlled her flinch and reminded herself that Justin had died last night, too.
“When I realized why Leo couldn’t rely on you following his orders, that you weren’t just a very submissive wolf, that you were an Omega . . . it was almost too late.” He sighed. “If I’d given you the Marrok’s number two years ago, it wouldn’t have taken you so long to call him. So I owe you both my thanks and my humblest apologies.” And he dropped his eyes, tilting his head to show her his throat.
“Will you . . .” She swallowed to moisten her suddenly dry throat. “Will you make sure it doesn’t happen again? Not to anyone? I’m not the only one who was hurt.” She didn’t look at Thomas. Justin had taken great delight in tormenting Thomas.
Boyd bowed his head solemnly. “I promise.”
She gave him a short nod, which seemed to satisfy him. He took an empty box out of Joshua’s hands and strode to the kitchen. They’d brought boxes and tape and wrapping material, more than enough to pack everything she owned.
She didn’t have any luggage, so she took one of the boxes and put together the basics to take with her. She was very careful to keep her eyes to herself. Too much had changed, and she didn’t know how else to deal with it.
She was in the bathroom when someone’s cell phone rang. Werewolf hearing meant she got both sides of the telephone conversation.
“Boyd?” It was one of the new wolves, Rashid the doctor, she thought. He sounded panicked.
“You’ve got me. What’s wrong?”
“That wolf in the holding room, he’s—”
Boyd and his cell phone were in the kitchen, and she still heard the crash through the speaker.
“That’s him,” Rashid whispered desperately. “That’s him. He’s trying to get out—and he’s tearing the whole safe room apart. I don’t think it’ll hold him.”
He’d been groggy when she left, but had seemed happy enough to leave her in his father’s hands while he slept off the effects of having a few silver bullets dug out of him last night. Apparently things had changed.
Anna grabbed her box and met Bran in the doorway of the bathroom.