Home > Night Broken (Mercy Thompson #8)

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson #8)
Author: Patricia Briggs

1

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?”

“Get Adam.”

“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.”

   
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