Home > Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega #4)

Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega #4)
Author: Patricia Briggs

PROLOGUE

DECEMBER

The fae lord stalked back and forth in his cell of gray stone. Three steps, turn, four steps, turn, three steps. He could do it all day. Had, in fact, done it for two weeks.

His boots were soft and he made no sound as he paced. Sound distracted him unduly from his purpose—which was to bore himself to the point where he no longer thought about anything.

His clothes, like his boots, were practical, but still representative of his position as High Court Lord—though he no longer remembered much about that part of his life. Even so, his long red hair was confined in a complicated series of braids that trailed on the floor behind him, a court fashion of at least a millennium ago. Doubtless if there were still courts, still High Courts, he would be considered out of fashion entirely.

He’d worn High Court dress for the first week he was here, but there was no one to impress, so he’d left them off and exchanged them for the more comfortable clothing. He could have put on jeans, he supposed, but he was losing that long-ago lord a day at a time, and the clothes served as a reminder of what he had once been—though some days, some years, he could not remember why it was that remembering what he had once been was so important.

There was a knock on his door, and he hissed in irritation because he’d nearly succeeded in numbing himself to the imprisonment. Immortality was a curse because no matter how powerful you were, there was always someone more powerful. Someone to obey. Someone who stole what was yours and left you with the dregs of what you once had. Then they took that, too, and here he was in this prison while his gut ached with need and his body missed magic like meat missed salt. Without magic, he had no savor.

The knock sounded again. He’d pissed off whoever it was because his whole prison shook with a noise that hurt his ears and his heart. Wonderful. One of the Powers had come to call upon him. He almost didn’t answer—what more could they do to him than they had already done?

He stopped in the middle of the room, because, of course, there was always something worse they could do. It didn’t do any good to speculate upon what. He said, “Come in, then.”

The woman who stepped in was neat and small. She almost stirred that beast inside him. But then she spoke and the illusion was gone.

She was the spiritual archetype of the evil queen in the fairy tales, partially because she’d participated in quite a few of the actual events that had spawned the tales. She adored causing misery and pain to the short-lived humans. All those centuries of power lived in her voice, even if she liked to hold the appearance of helplessness.

“Underhill will become anything for you,” she said, her lip curling as she looked around his current home, “and you chose a prison.”

He straightened warily. “Yes, lady.”

She shook her head. “And they want you?”

She didn’t say who “they” were, or what they wanted him for. He didn’t ask because he still had some sense of self-preservation.

She walked around the small room. “They say you have imagination.”

She folded her arms as she walked, twisting her torso first so as to see the ceiling stones and then turning until she got the proper angle to see the subtle bend in the wall that made his hiding place less noticeable. She loosened the granite block, the only one without mortar. “They say you know how to hide from humans, from fae, from other creatures who might hunt you because your glamour is so very good.”

He wanted to stop her, to keep her from finding his treasure. He wanted to destroy her. But they had taken away his power and he was left with nothing. But that was vanity speaking; he knew that even if he’d had his power, it would have done him no good against one of the Gray Lords.

He watched as she pulled out the block and found the cubby it hid. She took out the doll he kept there and straightened the pretty yellow skirts, her fingers lingering on the faded tearstains.

A child cries with her whole heart, keeping nothing back. A child lives in the present, and that gives her pain an endless quality. Magic-shorn as he was, he could taste the power of those tearstains from here.

She put the doll back and replaced the block thoughtfully. Then she looked at him. “They tell me you were a skilled magician, subtle and powerful. Once the flower of a powerful High Court—later the bane of it, the first dark root of destruction. Able to hide from the best trackers.”

“I don’t know who they are or what they say,” he told her truthfully, trying to hide his temper.

She smiled. “But you don’t argue with the sentiment.” She walked toward him and touched his face with her left hand.

His glamour fell away, the illusion that truly represented the lord he had once been. But as his magic had twisted and fouled, so had his true form twisted and fouled over the years. He waited for her to recoil; he was not good to look upon, but she smiled. “I have a gift for you. A gift and a task.”

“What task is that?” he asked warily.

“Don’t worry,” she said, putting her right hand on the side of his neck. “You’ll enjoy the job, I promise.”

And his magic came back to him, flooding his body like the heat of the dead. He screamed, dropped to the floor, and writhed as the beautiful agony enveloped him.

She bent down and whispered in his ear, “But there are rules.”

CHAPTER

1

“Okay,” said Charles Cornick, younger son of the Marrok who ruled the werewolves in North America and also, Anna had come to believe, the rest of the world. De facto if not officially. If Bran Cornick said, “Sit up and go there,” there was not a werewolf in the world, Alpha or not, who wouldn’t obey.

Charles had inherited a lot of the dirty work that allowed his father to keep their people, their werewolves, safe. The fallout when a good man was forced to commit heinous and necessary acts was that Charles’s emotions could be mysterious even to himself.

For instance, he’d just said “Okay” when Anna could tell he was anything but okay with the topic at hand. She knew that from the way her husband got up abruptly from the stool where he’d been playing and put his battered old guitar up on the wall hook. Restless, he wandered across the hardwood floor to the big window and looked out at the February snow falling down. There was a lot of it: it was winter in the mountains of Montana.

If he had been a little less self-disciplined, she was pretty sure he would have hunched his shoulders.

“You said I should look into it,” Anna told him, feeling her way. She knew Charles better than anyone, and still he was sometimes impossible to read, this wonderful and complex man of hers. “So I did, starting with your brother. Samuel tells me he’s been working on the problem of werewolf babies for a long time, though not quite from our angle. Children apparently were something of an obsession of his before he found Ariana again. Did you know that werewolf DNA is just like human DNA? You can’t tell the difference unless the sample is taken when we are in our werewolf form—then it’s different.”

“I did, yes,” said Charles, apparently happy to talk about something? anything, else. “Samuel told me when he figured it out a couple of decades ago. Not the first time having a doctor in the family has been useful. I think that a human scientist published that data last month in an obscure journal; doubtless it’ll make the newspapers sooner or later.”

The alternative subject allowed him to relax enough to give her a wry smile over his shoulder before looking back out at the snow. “My da was overjoyed. Because of that, there is no way to use a blood test to see if someone is a werewolf or not—unless you’re testing the actual wolf, in which case the point is moot. I’m not sure he’d have ever brought us out into the open if it were so easy to identify us.”

“Okay.” Anna nodded. “It’s a good thing. Mostly. Except that there’s no way to tell if an embryo is human, genetically, or werewolf, if we want to go with a surrogate.”

“A surrogate,” he said.

She had hopes for the surrogate card. Charles’s mother had died giving birth to him. She knew that part of his objection, maybe his whole objection to having children, was the risk to her.

“If I can’t carry a baby to term because I have to change every full moon, then a surrogate is the obvious option. No one has done it before—so far as we know, anyway.”

Hot Series
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
» The Iron Druid Chronicles read online
» A Shade of Vampire Series read online
» The Sullivans Series read online
Most Popular
» Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega #4)
» Every Exquisite Thing (Ghosts of the Shadow
» Cast Long Shadows (Ghosts of the Shadow Mar
» Son of the Dawn (Ghosts of the Shadow Marke
» Don't Cheat Me (Nora Jacobs #2)
» Don't Rush Me (Nora Jacobs #1)
» Blood Type (Blood Type #1)
» Jinn's Dominion (Desert Cursed #3)
» Dragon's Ground (Desert Cursed #2)
» Witch's Reign (Desert Cursed #1)
» Natural Dual-Mage (Magical Mayhem #3)
» Natural Mage (Magical Mayhem #2)