Read Fire Touched Online

Authors: Patricia Briggs

Fire Touched

Titles by Patricia Briggs

The Mercy Thompson Series

MOON CALLED

BLOOD BOUND

IRON KISSED

BONE CROSSED

SILVER BORNE

RIVER MARKED

FROST BURNED

NIGHT BROKEN

FIRE TOUCHED

The Alpha and Omega Series

ON THE PROWL

(with Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance, and Sunny)

CRY WOLF

HUNTING GROUND

FAIR GAME

DEAD HEAT

MASQUES

WOLFSBANE

STEAL THE DRAGON

WHEN DEMONS WALK

THE HOB'S BARGAIN

DRAGON BONES

DRAGON BLOOD

RAVEN'S SHADOW

RAVEN'S STRIKE

Graphic Novels

ALPHA AND OMEGA: CRY WOLF: VOLUME ONE

ALPHA AND OMEGA: CRY WOLF: VOLUME TWO

Anthologies

SHIFTER'S WOLF

(
Masques
and
Wolfsbane
in one volume)

SHIFTING SHADOWS

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of Penguin Random House LLC.

Copyright © 2016 by Hurog, Inc.

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.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18091-8

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Briggs, Patricia, author.

Title: Fire touched / Patricia Briggs.

Description: New York, NY : Ace Books, [2016] | Series: Mercy Thompson ; 9

Identifiers: LCCN 2015039281 | ISBN 9780425256763 (hardcover)

Subjects: LCSH: Thompson, Mercy (Fictitious character)—Fiction. | Shapeshifting—Fiction. | Werewolves—Fiction. | Fairies—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Fantasy / Urban Life. | FICTION / Fantasy / Contemporary. | GSAFD: Fantasy fiction. | Occult fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3602.R53165 F57 2016 | DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015039281

FIRST EDITION:
March 2016

Cover illustration © Daniel Dos Santos.

Cover design by Judith Lagerman.

Map by Michael Enzweiler.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Vampires, werewolves, and fae
Were never on the farm.
To Nanette, who drove combine
And did no harm while on the
farm.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First, I'd like to thank Evelyn Walkley, who won the dedication of this book in an auction held to benefit Safe Harbor, which provides support for families in crisis. I'm very pleased with this because Safe Harbor is an awesome charity and because both Evelyn and Nanette are awesome people.

Second, I'd like to thank Lampson International, Bruce Stemp and Lana Laughlin in particular, who put up with us roaming (escorted by Bruce) all over their yards and showed us Big Blue in person.

Very special thanks to the Ed Hendler Memorial Bridge, better known as the Cable Bridge. This book would not be the same without you.

And, of course, I'd like to thank everyone who helped with this one: Collin Briggs, Mike Briggs, Dave Carson, Michelle Kasper, Ann Peters, Kaye Roberson, Bob and Sara Schwager, and Anne Sowards. Last but never least, thank you to Michael Enzweiler for another fine map.

As always, the mistakes are
mine.

1

I sat up in bed, a feeling of urgency gripping my stomach in iron claws. Body stiff with tension, I listened for whatever had awakened me, but the early-summer night was free of unusual noises.

A warm arm wrapped itself around my hips.

“Mercy?” Adam's voice was rough with sleep. Whatever had awakened me hadn't bothered my husband. If there were something wrong, his voice would have been crisp and his muscles stiff.

“I heard something,” I told Adam, though I wasn't certain it was true. It
felt
like I'd heard something, but I'd been asleep, and now I couldn't remember what had startled me.

He let me go and rolled off the bed and onto his feet. Like me, he listened to the night. I felt him stretch his awareness through the pack, though I couldn't follow what he learned. My link to the Columbia Basin werewolves was through simple membership, but Adam was the Alpha.

“No one else in the house is disturbed,” he said, turning his head to look at me. “I didn't sense anything. What did you hear?”

I shook my head. “I don't know. Something bad.” I closed my fist on the walking stick that lay against me. The action drew Adam's eyes to my hands. He frowned, then crouched beside the bed and gently pulled the walking stick away.

“Did you bring this into bed last night?” he asked.

I flexed my fingers, frowning with annoyance at the walking stick. Until he'd drawn my attention to it, I hadn't even realized that it had, once again, shown up where it shouldn't be. It was a fae artifact—a minor fae artifact, I'd been told.

The stick was pretty but not ornate, simple wood shod in etched silver. The wood was gray with age, varnish, or both. When it had followed me home like a stray puppy the first time, it had seemed harmless. But fae things are rarely what they seem. And even very minor artifacts, given enough time, can gain in power.

It was very old magic and stubborn. It would not stay with the fae when I tried to give it back to them. Then I killed with it—or it had used me to kill something. Someone. That had changed it. I didn't know what to do with it, so I'd given it to Coyote.

My life so far has been a learning experience. One thing I have learned is: don't give magical things to Coyote. He returned it, and it was . . . different.

I opened and closed my hands several times; the fierce knowledge that something was wrong had faded. Experimentally, I reached out and touched the walking stick again, but my fear didn't return.

“Maybe I just had a nightmare,” I told him. Maybe it hadn't been the walking stick's fault.

Adam nodded and set the walking stick on the top of my chest of drawers, which had become its usual resting place. Shutting it up in a closet had seemed rude.

He came back to the bed and kissed me, a quick, possessive kiss. He pulled back and looked at me, to make sure I was okay.

“Let me just take a look-see around the place to make sure.” He waited for my nod before he left me alone.

I waited for him in the dark. Maybe it had been a nightmare, or maybe something was wrong. I thought about the things that could be triggering my instincts—or things I was worried about.

Maybe something was wrong with Tad and Zee—that would explain the walking stick's presence in my bed. The walking stick could be concerned about them—they were fae. At least, Zee was fae.

When one of the Gray Lords who ruled the fae had declared independence from the human government, the fae had retreated to their reservations. Zee, my old friend and mentor in all things mechanical, had been forced to go to the Walla Walla reservation, which was about an hour away.

The fae barricaded themselves inside the walls the government had built for them. For a month or so, they'd let the humans figure out that the walls weren't the only things that protected the reservations. The Walla Walla reservation had all but disappeared, hidden by illusion and magic. The road that used to lead to it no longer did. Rumor had it that when people tried to find it by airplane, the pilots forgot where they were going. Satellite photos were a gray blur for an area far larger than the reservation had occupied.

Then they released some of their monsters upon the human population. Fae that had been held in check by their rulers were
let free. People died. The government was trying to keep a lid on it, to avoid panic, but the media were starting to notice.

I closed my hands again on the gray wood of the walking stick lying across my lap, the one that Adam had just set on the top of the chest of drawers. The walking stick moved on its own, though I'd never managed to catch it in the process.

I hadn't worried about Zee a whole lot at first—he can take care of himself. Tad and I had been able to contact him now and then.

Tad was Zee's son. Half-fae, product of a mostly failed experiment by the Gray Lords to see if fae could reproduce with humans and still be fae, Tad hadn't been required (or asked) to retreat to the reservations. The fae had no use for their half-bloods, at least not until Tad had demonstrated that his magic was powerful and rare. Then they'd wanted him.

Seven weeks he'd been gone. Without Tad, I hadn't been able to activate the mirror we'd used to contact Zee. Seven weeks and no word at all.

“Is it Tad?” I asked the walking stick. But it sat inert in my hands. When I heard Adam on the stairs, I got up and put it back on the chest.

—

Sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, I paged through yet another catalogue of mechanic's supplies and made crabbed notes on the notebook beside me with page numbers and prices.

I hadn't forgotten last night, but I could hardly sit and do nothing, waiting for something dire to happen. I had no way to contact
Zee or Tad. I also had no way to tell if the walking stick had caused my panic over something real, or if I'd had a nightmare and that had called the walking stick.

If something dire was going to happen, in my experience, it would happen whatever I was doing—and waiting around was singularly useless. So I worked.

The wind rustled the pages gently. It was early summer yet, cool enough to leave windows open. A few more weeks, and the heat would hit in full force, but for now we only had the occasional windstorm to complain about. I flattened the page and compared the specs of their cheapest lift to the next cheapest.

We'd managed to scavenge some tools out of my shop when a volcano god toasted it, but a lot of things got warped from the heat—and other things got demolished when the rest of the building collapsed. It would be months before the shop was up and running, but some items were going to take a few months to order in, too.

Meanwhile, I sent a lot of my customers to the VW dealership. A few of my oldest customers—and a few of my brokest customers—I had bring their cars out to the big pole building at my old place. It wasn't really tooled up, but I could take care of most simple issues.

Music wafted down from upstairs out of Jesse's headphones. Her door must have been open or I wouldn't have heard it. The headphones were an old compromise that predated me. Jesse had told me once, before her father and I got married, that she suspected that if she were playing Big Band music or Elvis or something, her dad wouldn't have minded her playing it on a stereo. He liked music. Just not the music she liked.

She also told me that if she hadn't told him that her mother let her play whatever she wanted (true—you don't lie to a werewolf; they can tell), he probably wouldn't have been willing to compromise on the headphones. Werewolves can hear music played over headphones, but it's not nearly as annoying as music over speakers.

I like Jesse's music, and I hummed along as I sorted through what I didn't want, what I wanted and didn't need, and what I needed. When I finished, I'd compare the final list with my budget. After that, I expected that I'd be sorting through what I needed and what I absolutely needed.

Above Jesse's music, I could hear male voices discussing the pack budget and plans for the next six months. Today was, apparently, a day for budgets. Our pack had money for investments and to help support the wolves who needed help.
Our
pack because though I wasn't a werewolf, I was still a member of the pack—which was unusual but not altogether unique.

Not all packs had the resources that we did. Money was a good thing to have in a werewolf pack. Werewolves had to work to control their wolves, and too much stress made it worse. Lack of money was stressful.

It was a fine balancing act between helping the people who needed help without encouraging slackers. Adam and his second, Darryl, and Zack, our lone submissive wolf, who was the one most likely to hear if someone in the pack was in trouble (in all senses of that word), were upstairs in the pack meeting room—Adam's office being too small to accommodate two dominant wolves.

I couldn't hear Lucia, the sole human in the room. She was there because she had taken over most of the accounting for the pack from Adam's business's accountant. She was quiet because she wasn't yet comfortable enough with the werewolves to argue
with them. Zack was pretty good at catching what she didn't say and relaying it to the others, though, so it worked out.

Lucia's husband, Joel (pronounced Hoe-
el
in the Spanish tradition), sighed heavily and rolled over until all four paws were in the air and his side rested against the bottom of the kitchen cabinets a few feet away from where I sat at the table. Joel was the other nonwerewolf who belonged to our pack.

He was black, but in the strong sunlight, I could see a brindle pattern. His induction into the pack was my fault, though it had saved my life and probably his. Instead of turning into a werewolf—or a coyote like me—he sometimes regained his human form and sometimes took on the form of a tibicena, a giant, very scary beast that smelled like brimstone and had eyes that glowed in the dark. Mostly, though, he looked like a large presa Canario, a dog only slightly less intimidating to most people than a werewolf, especially if the people weren't familiar with werewolves. We were hoping that someday he'd get control of his change and be able to be mostly human instead of mostly dog. We were all grateful that he wasn't stuck in the form of the tibicena.

Curled up next to him, and nearly as big as Joel, Cookie, a German-shepherd mix, gave me a wary look. She was a lot better than she had been the first time I met her, as a victim of severe abuse who'd been rescued by Joel and his wife. Still, she avoided strangers and tended to view any abrupt movement as a cause for concern.

The sound of an unfamiliar car in front of the house pulled my attention away from the merits of a four-post lift over a two-post lift. Joel rolled over and took notice. Upstairs, the men's voices stopped. There was no doubt the car was for us because our house was the last one on a dead-end, very rural street.

It wasn't the mail carrier or the UPS lady—I knew those cars, just as I knew the cars the pack usually drove.

“I'll check it out,” I told Joel, knowing Adam would hear me, too. I was halfway to the front door, Cookie at my heels, when someone knocked.

I opened the door to see Izzy, one of Jesse's friends, and her mom, who was carrying a large teal canvas bag. Izzy usually drove herself over; I wondered if there was something wrong with her car—and if I should offer to teach her how to fix it.

“Hey, Ms. H,” said Izzy, not meeting my eyes. “Jesse's expecting me.”

As soon as she spoke, Adam and his budget brigade (as Darryl called them) went back to work—they knew Izzy, too. Izzy slid around me and—“escaped” was the only word that fit—up the stairs. Cookie bolted after her—Izzy was one of her favorite people.

“Mercy,” said Izzy's mom. I couldn't for the life of me remember her name. While I was fighting with my memory, she continued speaking. “I wonder if you have a few minutes. I'd like to talk to you.”

It sounded ominous—but Izzy had just run upstairs, so it couldn't be one of those “I'm sorry but I just don't feel safe with my daughter coming over here knowing there are werewolves in the house” talks. Those usually happened over the phone anyway.

“Sure,” I said, taking a step back to invite her in.

“We'll need a table,” she said.

I led her back to the kitchen, where Joel had stretched out, big and scary-looking, across the floor, until the only way to the kitchen table was over him. I opened my mouth to ask him to move, but Izzy's mom stepped over him as if he'd been a Lab or a golden retriever.

Joel looked at me, a little affronted at her disregard of his scariness. I shrugged, gave him a small apologetic smile, then stepped over him, too. Izzy's mom sat down at the kitchen table, so I sat down beside her.

She pushed my catalogues away to clear a space, then pulled out a slick, teal-colored spiral-bound book the size of a regular notebook with “Intrasity Living” scrawled in gold across the front.

She placed it gently, as if it were a treasure, on the table, and said, in an earnest voice, “Life is short. And we're not getting any younger. What would you give if you could look ten years younger and increase your energy at the same time? That's what our vitamins can do for you.”

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