Home > Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(4)

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(4)
Author: Patricia Briggs

In the end he decided on a private talk and continued on to the library, where he found a copy of Ivanhoe and reread the first few chapters.

"Romantic claptrap," said Bran from the doorway. Doubtless he'd scented Asil as soon as Asil had walked by the study earlier. "As well as historically full of holes."

"Is there something wrong with that?" asked Asil. "Romance is good for the soul. Heroic deeds, sacrifice, and hope." He paused. "The need for two dissimilar people to become one. Scott wasn't trying for historical accuracy."

"Good thing," grunted Bran, sitting down on the chair opposite the love seat Asil had claimed. "Because he didn't manage it."

Asil went back to reading his book. It was an interrogation technique he'd seen Bran use a lot and he figured the old wolf would recognize it.

Bran snorted in amusement and gave in by beginning the conversation. "So what brings you out here this afternoon? I trust it wasn't a sudden desire to read Sir Walter's dashing romance."

Asil closed the book and gave his Alpha a look under his lashes. "No. But it is about romance, sacrifice, and hope."

Bran threw his head back and groaned. "You've been talking to Anna. If I'd known what a pain in the ass it would be to have an Omega who doesn't back down in my pack, I'd have - "

"Beaten her into submission?" Asil murmured slyly. "Starved and abused her and treated her like dirt so she would never understand what she was?"

The silence became heavy.

Asil gave Bran a malicious smile. "I know better than that. You'd have asked her to come here twice as fast. It's good for you to have someone around who doesn't back down. Ah, the frustrating joy of having an Omega around. I remember it well." He smiled more broadly when he realized he'd once thought he'd never smile at the memory of his mate again. "Irritating as hell, but good for you. She's good for Charles, too."

Bran's face hardened.

"Anna came to see me," Asil continued, watching Bran carefully. "I told her she needed to grow up. She signed on for the hard times as well as the good. She needs to realize that Charles's job is tough and that sometimes he's going to need time to deal with it." That was not exactly what he'd said, but he'd have bet it was what Bran had told her. His Alpha's blank face told him he was right on target.

"I told her that there was a larger picture that she wasn't looking at," Asil continued with false earnestness. "Charles is the only one who can do his job - and that it has never been more necessary than it is now, with the eyes of the world on us. It's not easy covering up the deaths with stories of wild dogs or scavenger animals eating someone's body after they died from something else, not anymore. Police are looking for signs that their killers might be werewolves, and we can't afford that. I told her she needed to grow up and deal with reality."

The muscle on Bran's jaw tightened because Asil had always had a talent for imitation - he thought he'd gotten Bran's voice just about perfect on the last few sentences.

"So she gave up on me," Asil said, back in his own voice. "She was leaving while I sat content in the smug knowledge that she was a weak female who was more concerned with her mate than with the good of the whole. Which is only what a woman should be like, after all. It really isn't fair to blame them for it when it inconveniences us."

Bran looked at him coolly, so Asil knew he'd hit hard with that last remark.

Asil smiled ruefully and caressed the book he held. "Then she told me that it's been months since he's made any music, viejito. When was the last time that one went more than a day without humming something or playing that guitar of his?"

Bran's eyes were shocked. He hadn't known. He rose to his feet and began pacing.

"It is a necessity," Bran said at last. "If I don't send him, then who goes? Are you volunteering?"

It would be impossible; they both knew it. One kill, or maybe as many as three or four, and his control would be gone. Asil was too old, too fragile, to be sent out hunting werewolves. He would enjoy it entirely too much. He could feel the wild spirit of his wolf leap at the chance of such a hunt, the chance of a real fight and the blood of a strong opponent between his fangs.

Bran was still ranting. "I cannot send an Alpha into another pack's territory without it becoming a challenge that will spawn even more bloodshed. I cannot send you. I cannot send Samuel because my oldest son is even more at risk than you are. I cannot go because I'd have to kill every damned Alpha - and I have no desire to take every werewolf into my personal pack. If not Charles, then who do I send?"

Asil bowed his head to Bran's anger. "That's why you are the Alpha and I will do anything I can to never be Alpha again." He stood up, head still lowered. He caressed the fabric cover of the book and set it down on the table. "I don't think I really need to read this book again. I have always thought Ivanhoe should have married Rebecca, who was smart and strong, instead of choosing Rowena and what he thought was right and proper."

Asil left Bran alone with his thoughts then, because if he stayed, Bran would argue with him. This way, Bran would have no one to argue with but himself. And Asil had always credited Bran with the ability to be persuasive.

BRAN STARED AT Ivanhoe. Its cover was a dull blue gray, the weave of the cloth a visible sign of its age. He ran his fingers over the indentations that were the title and the line drawing of a knight wearing sixteenth-century armor. The book had once had a paper cover with an even less appropriate picture on the front. He knew that inside, on the flyleaf, there was an inscription, but he didn't open the book to find it. He was pretty sure Asil had been here long enough to go through the whole damned library to find this book. Charles had given it to him, maybe seventy years ago.

Merry Christmas, it said. You've probably read this book a dozen times before. I read it for the first time a couple of months ago and thought that you might take comfort in this tale of the possibility that two dissimilar people might learn to live together - a good story is worth revisiting.

It was a good story, even if it was historically inaccurate and romantic.

Bran took the book and replaced it gently on the bookshelf before he gave in to his impulse to rip it into small pieces, because then he wouldn't stop until there was nothing left to destroy - and no one could manage him if that happened. He needed Charles to be something he was not, and his son would kill himself trying to be what his father needed.

How long had he lied to himself that Charles would be fine? How long had he known that Anna was right to object? There were many reasons, good, sound reasons, for Bran not to be the one doing the killing. He'd given Asil one of them. But his real reason, his true reason, was more like Asil's, though that one was more honest about it. How long would it be until Bran started to enjoy the pleading, the suffering, before the kill? He didn't remember much about the time he let his wolf take charge, though the world still had record of it and it had happened more than ten centuries ago. But some of the memories he did retain were of his terrified victims and the satisfaction their cries had brought him.

Charles would never do that, would never glory in the fear others felt of him. He would never do more than what was needed. A paradox, then. Bran needed Charles to be just what he was - and Charles needed to be the monster his father was to survive it.

The phone rang, saving Bran from his thoughts. Hopefully it was a different problem he could sink his teeth into. Something with a solution.

"I WON'T DO it," Adam Hauptman said when Bran called.

Bran paused.

It had surprised him no end when Adam, of all his Alphas, had been the one best suited to deal with the feds. Adam had a terrible temper and not as tight a leash on it as was prudent. For that reason, Bran had kept him back, out of the limelight, for all of Adam's looks and charisma. But his experience in the military and his contacts, as well as an unexpectedly good understanding of politics and political blackmail, had turned him gradually into Bran's most useful political chessman.

It was unlike Adam to refuse.

"It's not a difficult assignment," Bran murmured into the phone, holding back the wolf who wanted to insist on instant obedience. "Just an exchange of information. We've lost three people in Boston and the FBI thinks it's connected to a larger case and want a werewolf to consult with. The local Alpha isn't qualified - and he's too young to be good at diplomacy when his own people are dying."

"If they want to fly out here, that will be fine," Adam said. "But Mercy's legs aren't healed and she can't get around in the wheelchair without help because her hands were burned."

"Your pack won't help her?" Icy rage froze his voice. Mercy might be mated to Adam, but to his wolf she would always belong to Bran. Would always be his little coyote, who was tough and defiant, raised by a good friend because Bran couldn't trust his mate with someone he cared about who was more fragile than his grown sons.

Adam gave a huff of laughter that eased Bran's ire. "It's not that. She's grumpy and embarrassed at being helpless. I had to leave last week on business. By the time I got back, the vampire had to come take care of her because she'd driven everyone else off. I don't have to listen when she tells me to leave her alone, but everyone else does."

Pleased at the thought of Mercy ordering around a bunch of werewolves, Bran settled back in his chair.

"Bran? Are you all right?"

"Don't worry," Bran said. "I'll get David Christiansen to do it. The FBI will just have to wait a week or so until he gets back from Burma."

"That's not what I was asking," Adam said. "'Volatile' is not a word I'd normally apply to you - but you aren't yourself today. Are you all right?"

Bran pinched his nose. He should just keep it to himself. But Adam...He couldn't talk to Samuel about this; the only thing that would do would be to make his oldest son feel guilty.

   
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