Home > Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)(11)

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)(11)
Author: Patricia Briggs

"I don't want to cause trouble," Jesse said. "Why don't you leave me with Kyle or ... I could stay with Carla."

Jesse didn't have a lot of close friends once the werewolves came out, and everyone learned whose daughter she was. There were rumors that some kids' parents had pulled them out of the local high school and were trucking them all the way to Richland because of Jesse. There were other teens who followed her around just to talk about the werewolves. Carla belonged to that group, and Jesse generally tried to avoid her even though they'd known each other since grade school.

"Kyle's house is the first place they'd look," I told her. And I was going to have to make sure Kyle was okay, too. "We don't have anyone strong enough to protect you from the government here - the best thing is to stay somewhere no one will look for you." I didn't even mention Carla.

"Let's get this over with," Gabriel said. He got out of the car and started for his mother's apartment with all the enthusiasm of a sailor walking a plank. Jesse forgot all about herself and the discomfort of staying where she wasn't wanted. She scrambled out of the car and hurried over to Gabriel and caught his hand.

I glanced at Ben. He lay down on the back seat with a sigh. He was right. Having a werewolf in her apartment wouldn't make Sylvia more cooperative. I shut him in before following the kids.

Gabriel stood at the door for a moment before knocking quietly. Nothing happened - it was still dark out, so presumably everyone was asleep. He knocked again, a little louder.

A light turned on, the door cracked open, and a teenage girl's head peeked out. It had been a year since I'd seen any of the girls except for Tia, the oldest, who snuck out once in a while to visit. Tia looked like her mother, but this one was a female version of Gabriel, which told me that it was Rosalinda, even if she'd gotten taller and sharper featured since I'd last seen her. She froze a moment, then the door was thrown open, and she launched herself at him. He hugged her, hard, until she squeaked.

Sylvia's apartment was clean and well cared for beneath the clutter that accumulates in a household that has children living in it. The furniture was mismatched and worn - Sylvia was supporting her family by herself as a police dispatcher. Her salary didn't leave a lot of room for luxuries, but her children grew up rich in love. They'd been a happy family until she and Gabriel had come to a place where neither could compromise.

"Who is knocking on the door at this hour?" Sylvia's voice emerged from somewhere in the depths of the apartment.

"It's mi hermano," the girl said, her voice muffled by her brother's shoulder. "Oh Mami, it's Gabriel." She pulled back, but latched onto his hand and hauled him into the living room. "Come in, come in. Don't be stupid. Hi, Jesse. Hi, Mercy. I didn't see you lurking behind Gabriel, come on in." Then she muttered something low in Spanish. I think she was talking to herself.

I didn't understand what she said, but Gabriel scowled fiercely at her. "Mind your tongue. Don't talk about Mama like that. She deserves your respect, chica."

"Does she?" asked Sylvia. I don't think I've ever seen her with a hair out of place, and even at this unholy hour of the morning, her hair was smooth and shining. Her only concession to the time was a dark blue bathrobe. She folded her arms, her face was grim, and she ignored Jesse and me.

"Of course, Mama," Gabriel said softly.

Her chin was raised and her mouth tight as she stared at her son. Rosa bounced a little and looked back and forth at the two of them before grabbing Gabriel's hand.

"You chose strangers over your family," Sylvia said at last. "I said, you pick. You stay here and work for Mercedes Thompson, or you come home right now. You chose her. Where is the respect in that?"

He snorted, a bitter half laugh. "I told you this wouldn't work, Mercy."

Rosa made a soft sound as Gabriel turned and took two quick strides away from Sylvia. At the door, he turned back around, and said, "Mama, everything is black-and-white for you, but the world is gray. You asked me to abandon my friends because you thought they were dangerous. Life is dangerous, Mama. I won't run away from my friends, who are good people, because I am afraid. Because you are afraid."

"She put my children in danger," Sylvia said, jerking her chin in my direction. She lost the cool anger she'd come into the room with and replaced it with heat. "She lied to me. And you chose her."

"Mercy can't tell other people's secrets, Mama. And that wolf was more likely to dive off a cliff into the ocean than he was to hurt one of the girls. She was raised with him, she knows him." Gabriel's voice was soft, but his chin looked a lot like his mother's - which didn't make a reconciliation look likely, not if they kept talking about the incident that left Gabriel living in my house not talking to his mother, anyway.

"You were right," I broke in blandly. "Hanging around us is dangerous. Someone is after Jesse." I don't know why I said it that way, I had no real reason to believe they would go after Jesse - they already had their hands full, but my instincts were certain, and I always listened to my instincts. "They have already kidnapped her father and killed one of his werewolves."

"See, hijo? That's what happens when you associate with the werewolves," Sylvia said - but I saw her eyes linger on Jesse. Sylvia talked tough, but she had a heart as big as the Columbia. She also had four daughters, the oldest of whom was only a little younger than Jesse.

"Her father is a werewolf," Gabriel snapped, not seeing Sylvia's softening. "She can hardly avoid them."

I put a hand on his arm to get him to stop antagonizing her, but it was a mistake. Sylvia looked at my hand, and her face hardened again.

"The people after Jesse are human," I told her before she could say something she couldn't take back. "Not werewolves, fae, or anything other. They are human - and they will hurt her. And you raised a man who cannot leave someone he cares about to face that danger alone, any more than he could desert his friends just because it was the safer, smarter thing to do. Not even if his mother asked him to - because it was she who taught him how to love other people in the first place. So he is in danger, too. Won't you hide them for a couple of days so that they will be safe?"

Sylvia looked at me, straight in the eyes. Then she shook her head and gave a little laugh as her expression softened. "A compliment slipped inside a reprimand inside a request I cannot possibly turn down. Leave a child in danger? Leave my child ..." And when Gabriel made a protesting noise, "You'll be my child when you are fifty and I am seventy, hijo, so it is better that you accept it early. I am not going to leave my son, whom I love, to face danger alone for pride's sake. Even I am not such a fool. Oof."

The "oof" was because Gabriel was hugging her hard, tears in his eyes that he wouldn't shed because he was not a man who cried in front of others if he could help it. About that time there was a squeal from one of the other bedrooms. My ears had told me that the girls were all awake and listening. They had apparently just been awaiting their mother's decision before exploding into action because the room filled with Sandovals.

I told them the whole story. If they were going to protect Jesse, they deserved to know everything.

When we were done, Sylvia shook her head. "What is this country coming to?" she asked. "Mi papa, your abuelo, is rolling in his grave. He died for this country, for good and right and freedom. He would be so sad."

"If it's the government," said Tia, Gabriel's oldest sister, "then you'd better get rid of your phones. They can trace those, you know."

"Done," said Gabriel. "Mine's back at my home, but we trashed Jesse's and Mercy's before we came here."

"Adam didn't think they were government agents," I explained again. "Even though they had proper ID."

Rosalinda got up off the floor and ran into one of the bedrooms, emerging with a cell phone encased in pink sparkly things. "Here, Mercy. You'll need a phone. No one will think to trace mine."

"Thank you, Rosa," I said.

"Thank you for taking care of my brother and giving him a place to live," she said solemnly.

"You only say that because when I moved out, the little girls moved into my room," said Gabriel. "So you don't want me to move back in."

"Well, yes," she agreed. "That was very thoughtful of Mercy."

He ruffled her hair and looked at me. "Ben's going to be getting restless."

"I need to go," I agreed.

"Be careful," Jesse said.

"I will," I said.

I got in the Mercedes and headed out to West Richland and Kyle's house. Ben stayed in the back seat, where the leather was covered. The car was an awkward fit for him. The seat was too narrow, and the floor was not big enough, either. His wound had quit bleeding, but he couldn't brace with that leg.

Warren should have been home with Kyle. Adam had smelled Warren on the men who had taken the pack. So they had taken Warren, but Kyle hadn't called Adam or me. That meant that either something was wrong with Kyle, or they had taken Warren in some way that had not alarmed his lover. Unhappily, the first was more likely.

I turned on the radio to listen for the news. It was pretty late - or rather, early in the morning - to get real news, but Mary Jo had been taken while on duty as a firefighter. If the enemy had done something to the people she worked with, doubtless we'd hear about it. It would be stupid of them, but people who attack a full pack of werewolves are either very stupid or very strong. I was betting that if someone had kidnapped a firefighter - or killed a bunch of them - there would be some sort of special report on the radio even at this hour.

While I was driving, I used Rosa's bling-covered phone and tried Elizaveta the witch's number to no avail. Then I tried Stefan's.

It said something about how ambivalent I was feeling about Stefan that I'd tried the witch, who didn't like me, first. If Stefan had still been part of the local seethe, I'd have had a good excuse to hesitate. But Marsilia had screwed him over to save her position as Mistress of the seethe. Vampire politics make the very complicated dance of manners that is werewolf protocol look like the Hokey Pokey.

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