Home > Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson #12)(8)

Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson #12)(8)
Author: Patricia Briggs

It didn’t look that much like a snakebite, anyway. What it really looked like was a rabbit bite. I have had my fair share of rabbit bites—when I am a coyote, rabbits are fair game. But Dennis wasn’t a coyote shapeshifter, and they didn’t have rabbits.

For some reason I thought of the jackrabbit I’d seen, the one my coyote had taken notice of because there was something wrong about it. Had it been headed in this direction? Maybe.

Could it have been infected with rabies? Rabies was a disease that rabbits could carry, I knew. Other than being traumatized by Old Yeller when I was a child, I didn’t have any experience with it. Dogs, I thought, at least in Old Yeller’s case, foamed at the mouth and bit people. It seemed like a long way from that to causing someone to kill his wife and then shoot himself.

Deciding it was unlikely that venom or rabies was the culprit, I resumed my examination for some chemical cause. I closed my eyes and inhaled, looking for the scent of alcohol, drugs of some sort—or illness. Despite my care, my nose touched Dennis’s skin as I inhaled.

Magic filled my nose, burned into my sinuses, and brought tears to my eyes as I jerked back from the burn. I opened my eyes as I lost my balance, narrowly avoiding falling onto Dennis’s body—which glowed with the magic that still bit at my nose like menthol oil.

Adam was of the opinion that it wasn’t really my nose that allowed me to detect magic—otherwise he and the other werewolves would be able to smell it, too. He thought that my perception of magic felt like a scent to me because I had no other way of processing it, a sort of synesthesia. He may have been right, but that didn’t change that it was mostly my nose that told me when there was magic around.

Usually, though, with magic that affected me this much, I’d have been able to smell it from the front door—maybe from the road. My fingers buzzed with it, my nose burned—and to my eyes, Dennis’s whole body glowed. I didn’t understand why I hadn’t noticed it until I smelled Dennis’s skin. No. Until I touched his skin. A lot of magic reacted to skin on skin.

Given that there was a brand-new door to Underhill in my backyard, not a quarter of a mile away, my initial suspicion would have been that it was fae magic at work. But it didn’t smell like fae magic.

I can sort witchcraft from fae magic, werewolf from vampire magic. This wasn’t anything I was familiar with. I had once gone to an exhibit of South American artifacts, and the whole room they were displayed in smelled like magic I’d never sensed before—dark and complex. The magic in Dennis’s dead body was closer to that than to fae magic. Though not an exact match. It also reminded me of the magic that I’d scented around a sorcerer who had made a bargain with a demon—and a little, very little, like Underhill herself. No, not like Underhill—but there was some of the same lingering feel to it that I’d felt the whole time I’d spent in Underhill—something primordial.

I didn’t know what it was. I did know what it wasn’t. It wasn’t witchcraft. It wasn’t fae—though that was a little less definite. Some of the fae shared far less similarity to each other than I did to a milk carton. It didn’t smell like the magic I had sensed from any fae I had encountered, anyway. With a nod to the faint resemblance to something about Underhill—and I wasn’t sure that Underhill counted as fae—it was not an exact match to any kind of magic I’d ever run into before. It certainly hadn’t belonged to Dennis because he hadn’t had a molecule of magic to call.

“No, Anna,” I murmured, though she wasn’t here that I could tell. “It wasn’t Dennis who killed you.” It had been, I was sure, given how well I knew Dennis, whatever had left so much magic in him.

I got to my feet and moved away from the body until my hands quit tingling, and then I went in search of Anna. I found her in the kitchen, collapsed on the white tile floor. She had fallen face-first, her blood pooling around her. At the edge of the dark pool was a white-handled French chef’s knife.

When I touched her body, it was still warm, and there was no bloom of the magic that saturated Dennis. Feeling confident that I’d found everything I was going to discover on my own, I pulled out my phone and called 911.

I SAT ON THE LAWN BY THE HOLE DENNIS HAD DUG AND watched the police carry out their business. Adam showed up about the time the coroner’s office carried Anna’s body out of the house.

He stood beside me, watching the proceedings without speaking for a while. It seemed to me that he was trying to figure out what to say, rather than playing any kind of power game.

I thought of him, of all of the ways that he had risked his life since I’d met him. The image that had come to me earlier when I’d thought of my old home burning, the memory of Adam’s burned body in the hospital, lingered still. He had thought I was inside the inferno and nothing could stop him from diving in to find me. He’d nearly died to save me—and werewolves are hard to kill.

That man, that man I had to believe in. I had to believe that there was something going on that I did not understand—yet. Something that would explain why my mate was keeping me shut out of his life right now. Something other than the possibility that he didn’t want me anymore.

I hadn’t done more than glance up at Adam when he’d come over. I hadn’t even explained what had happened. It said a lot about our current relationship that he hadn’t asked me. How had we come to this? How had I let this happen? Because a relationship is a two-way street. It took both of us to let it get this bad.

I might not have been looking at him, but I felt him there, tense with uncertainty—even if our bond was shut down tight, I could still feel that much. It was not any lack of love, I decided, with the memory of his burned body fresh and real in my head, that had mangled our relationship.

Adam did not desert the people he loved. And he loved me. I would have faith that there was nothing wrong we could not fix.

I reached out and wrapped my hand around his ankle.

“Did you find them?” Adam asked, as if my touch had forced words out of his mouth. His voice was gruff.

I glanced toward my other side, where Anna’s ghost worked in her garden, pulling weeds only she could see.

“Sort of,” I told him. “Anna found me.”

“Murder?” he asked. He knew about me and ghosts.

“Oh yes,” I said.

The muscles in his leg tightened. “And you didn’t call me?”

Hurt, I thought—and an edge of anger. Too bad for you, I thought without sympathy. I might love the man, but that didn’t mean there weren’t consequences for the way he’d been acting.

“The danger was gone,” I told him—and then wondered if I was right about that. Since I try not to lie to Adam, even by omission, without good reason, I added, “As far as I could tell.”

And when that last increased the tension in his calf muscle, I wasn’t the least bit sorry. Petty of me, maybe—but I’d learned in a hard school that I couldn’t let a werewolf, especially a dominant werewolf, get away with pushing me around.

I told him what I knew, starting with Anna’s appearance in the living room of my manufactured house and ending with my calling the police. By the last bit, he’d calmed down about my not calling him. He didn’t know the Cathers very well. He didn’t go out making friends with the neighbors; he had enough to do running his company and the werewolf pack. I didn’t know the neighbor up the road from the pack house, either, for much the same reason, though I did make sure to send them something—flowers, candy, fruit baskets—every time there was a disturbance at our house. My relationship with the Cathers predated my relationship with Adam.

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