Home > Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(15)

Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(15)
Author: Patricia Briggs

“Miniature zombie goats,” I corrected. “Or miniature goat zombies. The ‘miniature’ is important. ‘Zombie goats’ just sound satanic.”

His hands tightened on my upper arms. “I am so grateful that you are quick and smart. That you work at staying alive, Mercy. But I worry that someday that won’t be enough.”

“I worry about you, too,” I told him. “But I would rather worry than try to make you into a . . . an accountant or something.”

My stepfather was a dentist. I had, for years, wondered if part of his appeal to my mother was that he was as unlike the danger-seeking bull rider who had been my father (he had also been Coyote, but she didn’t know that part) as she could find.

Adam laughed, but there wasn’t a lot of humor in it. “For nearly ten years, you led a quiet, blameless life. Danger didn’t visit on a daily basis. I keep looking for the cause. For the reason all hell broke loose in your life. I can’t escape that the impetus might have been me.”

I shook my head firmly. “No. You didn’t start the weird stuff. You were just there to help when bad things began happening. The boy, Mac, who came to my door, that had nothing to do with you.”

Alan MacKenzie Frazier’s appearance had broken a nearly decade-long peace, when I had repaired cars and mostly ignored and been ignored by most of the rest of the supernatural world. Mac had been a ragged harbinger of trouble to come. Poor boy, he’d been dead more than three years.

“If there is a need for someone to blame,” I said, “I choose to blame Coyote. That’s what Gary”—my half brother—“does. He says that nine times in ten he is right. And the one time left over might be Coyote’s fault, too, it’s just that he didn’t leave enough evidence to pin it on him.”

Adam hugged me. “Okay, okay.” He sighed, and there was enough guilt in his sigh that I was pretty sure he didn’t ascribe to my perspective.

He rubbed my arms lightly. “You’re getting goose bumps.” He released me and stood up. “You need to get dressed, tell me all about what you noticed at Elizaveta’s house—”

“Dead people,” I told him.

“—besides dead people,” he continued smoothly. “And then you need to go shower and rest.”

I sighed. “Nope.” Because as the ache of the return to my human self subsided, I realized that a nap was not in my near future. “After my debriefing, I need to shower and head to work. No rest for the wicked.”

He started to say something, then put his hands up in the air. “Okay. But I’ll bring pizza home for dinner.”

Today was my turn to cook.

“Deal,” I said.

He helped me to my feet and I let him. My hands felt clumsy and I was off-balance and had to lean on him to drag on my jeans. My hair smelled horrid—or at least smelled more horrid than the rest of me did. And I kept getting a whiff of Robert. I didn’t want to think about, let alone smell like, Elizaveta’s grandson. I pulled my hair back from my face and rebraided it. It didn’t help much, but at least it wasn’t brushing against my skin every time I moved.

He watched me get dressed with what some people might think was solely an appreciative eye. They just didn’t share a mate bond with Adam. My husband gave the lie to that old adage that men have only one idea in their heads at a time and usually that one thing was sex.

Part of him was cataloging my bruises. Part of him was noticing how wobbly I was. Part of him was worrying about things he couldn’t change. And part of him was thinking about sex.

I gave that part of him a wiggle of my hips, and he laughed.

“Hey,” he said. “No fair teasing when you know if you made it to horizontal, you’d be asleep before I got to first base.”

I stuck my tongue out at him.

“Careful,” he warned. “Or someone will take you up on your offer.” Then, with a quick, rueful smile, he switched gears. “So what did you find at Elizaveta’s?”

“What were you looking for?” I asked as I buttoned my jeans.

I pulled my shirt over my head instead of unbuttoning it, then paid for that bit of laziness with having to struggle when one of the shirtsleeves wouldn’t turn out properly.

Adam helped me get untangled. “Just tell me whatever you noticed.”

“Well, you know about the black magic, obviously,” I said. “It was all of them. All of the dead people were black practitioners—even Militza.”

No wonder Jesse had gotten a funny feeling about her. Maybe if she’d kept giving Militza rides, though, we’d have discovered what had been going on in our own backyard.

“What do you think about Elizaveta?” he asked. “Could she have lived in that house, with all of her family practicing black magic, and still be a gray witch?”

I shrugged. “Maybe? I don’t know about how witches operate on quite that intimate a detail. But she didn’t. Didn’t avoid it. Is that what you wanted me to find out?” That’s why he’d asked me if I could distinguish one witch’s magic from another’s. I hadn’t actually had to do that—Elizaveta’s confession had been in her bedroom.

He nodded, his face tight. He’d expected that answer, but he’d hoped for a different one.

“I don’t know how she hid it from us,” I told him, or maybe told myself. “I swear she doesn’t smell or feel like a black witch, Adam. But when I went snooping in her bedroom, there was a secret compartment in her closet.”

It had been the most interesting thing I’d found upstairs. The cubby had been well hidden, too. But it’s difficult to keep a compartment secret when it is often used and the person who is searching has the nose of a coyote.

“Did Sherwood vet that compartment before you opened it?” Adam asked sharply.

I waved a hand in reassurance. “Yes, of course he did. My guess is that she didn’t booby-trap it because she uses it too often. She keeps her working clothes there.” She’d washed the blood out but I could still smell it—blood and other things. I hoped that my hair would wash cleaner than Elizaveta’s shirt. “They smelled like death, those clothes. Like pain and rot.”

“Black magic,” Adam acknowledged with something like defeat. “F . . . Freaking son of a gun. Could they have belonged to someone else?”

“In her room?” I asked, but shook my head. “No. They also smelled like her.”

“How did she hide it from me?” Adam asked.

I didn’t think he was asking me, but I answered anyway. “She is a witch, Adam. I expect she used magic.” I swayed a little on my feet. The food had helped, but it needed a little more time to have the full effect. I’d be okay in a bit.

“I’m not an expert,” I told him. “I didn’t know they could do that—hide black magic from our senses. But she did it somehow, and she’s a witch. Makes sense it would be witchcraft. But it’s a guess.”

Adam steadied me with a hand on my back, avoiding the sore places. “Sorry, Mercy. I know you’re exhausted, but there is more that we need to go over.”

“I’m fine,” I told him. “Or I’ll be fine in a half hour or so. But if we’re going to have a drawn-out conversation, right this minute, then I need to sit down.”

Adam pulled a chair out from the table and plunked me down on it.

“The black magic is new, right?” I asked him. “Before we got together, when her house was in town, she’d have you and Jesse over for dinner sometimes. I don’t care how good she is, she couldn’t have hidden that—” Greasy cloud of magic—but the werewolves wouldn’t have felt that. “—odor that permeated the house from you.”

Adam sat next to me, absently taking my hand in his and playing with my fingers. I liked it when he touched me like that, without thought, as though there were some magnetic force between us. The only thing better was that I could touch him, whenever I wished.

Thoughtfully he said, “Right. I never even noticed when that feeling that she was a part of our pack stopped. Before we got together, for sure.”

He thought about it some more, then grunted. “Whatever she’s doing to cover up her foray into black magic, it’s powerful stuff because . . . well, just think of all the people who were on that airplane on the way to Europe. She hid it from all of us.”

“Passive magic,” I agreed. “Because I’d have noticed anything active. Some kind of charm? If you want to know how, I think you’re going to have to find an expert.”

But how Elizaveta had hidden what she’d become wasn’t at the top of his to-do list. Adam looked out the window and gripped my hand.

When he spoke it was soft with hurt. “I wonder when she . . . changed. And why.”

He liked Elizaveta. She charmed and teased him. She spoke Russian to him, like his mother had. Despite being clear-eyed about what even gray witches did to keep their power, he’d thought of Elizaveta as family, or something near to it. Adam didn’t give up on the people he cared about easily or without pain.

“Maybe it was when that sorcerer vampire scared her,” I suggested softly after a minute, when he didn’t say anything more. I hoped that if we could figure out a reason, then Adam would hurt less. “Remember? He scared her enough that she left town until he was gone.”

Sorcerers are possessed by demons, and those demons can control people who have given up following a path of goodness. That included gray witches, and certainly included black witches.

He shook his head. “No, back then I was in and out of her house a lot. So were the rest of the pack. It was almost a second HQ, because it was in town and more central than our house is. Her switch to black magic couldn’t have gone back more than a year or so.”

I’d never been inside Elizaveta’s house, either house, before. She didn’t like me much, and I was afraid of her. The combination, as I’ve observed before, did not make us friends.

   
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