Home > Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson #13)

Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson #13)
Author: Patricia Briggs

 

 


For Ann Peters, my Trusty Assistant, aka Sparky, who makes everything in my life work better.

 

 

Prelude

 


   He stood in Mercy’s bedroom, in the heart of the home of his enemy.

   He frowned a little. No, she wasn’t his enemy anymore. His ally, then. She had asked for his aid—something even his Mistress seldom did, untrustworthy servant that he was.

   He had helped Mercy—maybe—and then she had, she had . . . done something to him. He wasn’t sure what to call that, either, because it had felt as though she had saved him until the effects wore off and he understood that she might have destroyed him instead. Hope was the most deadly of emotions.

   He didn’t think she was his enemy. But certainly not his friend.

   He held the silk fabric of his treasure carefully. It was very old now, though not as old as he was, and he seldom got it out of its protective box for fear of damaging it. He brought it to his nose and pretended that he could still smell the rich jasmine perfume she had worn to cover the scents that healthy human bodies used to carry in a time before daily—or even weekly—baths. He missed those scents; everything smelled weak and pallid to him now.

   This frail cloth, a gift to the person he had once been, was his touchstone, a reminder that once he had been whole. Once there had been joy. He was taking a chance leaving this here, this last scrap of his soul. Mercy was unpredictable, and she brought chaos in her wake.

   He brought the embroidered silk belt closer to his body at the thought of releasing it into chaos. But only for a moment. Because Mercy, unlike himself, did not harm the innocent. She would keep this bright and pretty thing safe, he thought with sudden relief at the truth of that, understanding, at last, the impulse that had moved him to bring the belt here.

   He lay down upon Mercy’s bed, put his head on her mate’s pillow, and held the loops of the silk girdle against his cheek. He closed his eyes.

   He was not a Christian, had never been that he could remember. But the ironic words of the child’s prayer came to him.


Now I lay me down to sleep,

    I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

    And if I die before I wake,

    I pray the Lord my soul to take.

 

   He laughed silently as tears rose in his eyes. His mouth moved without sound against the old silk belt, mouthing the words “Ardeo. Ardeo. Ardeo.”

   I burn.

 

 

1

 


   “Mercy.”

   Adam peered down at me. His feral, golden eyes held my gaze. Only a few bits of darkness lingered in the bright depths, like bitter chocolate melting in butter. Icy rain dripped from his forehead onto my face, causing me to blink.

   The gold was worrisome, I thought muzzily, wiping my cheek with a clumsy hand. I should pay attention to the dangerous gold in his eyes.

   “Pretty,” I said.

   Someone stifled a laugh, but it wasn’t Adam. His frown deepened.

   I had just been . . . well, I couldn’t remember exactly, but it had definitely not been lying on the wet ground, icy rain—or possibly very wet snow—sluicing down on my face as I stared up into Adam’s wild eyes. I reached up with a hand that didn’t want to obey and closed my fist on the collar of his shirt.

   Though my brain still wasn’t tracking quite right, it didn’t take much thought to make a connection between the splendid headache that seemed to be centered around my temple and my position on the ground. Something must have hit me hard. I figured I’d be—cold water dripped on my cheek—right as rain in just a minute, but judging by Adam’s expression, it might not be soon enough to prevent an explosion.

   That could be bad. Worse than if Adam merely lost out to his wolf. His usual wolf. The flash memory of the twisted version of a David Cronenberg–inspired movie werewolf worrying at my throat with huge, already bloodstained teeth served to wake me more effectively than the cold water splashing my face from the skies above us had.

   I sucked in a breath with a sudden surge of adrenaline that seemed to extinguish the last few dark bits of humanity in Adam’s eyes even as it left me thinking more clearly. Neither he nor I knew if the vicious monster the witch Elizaveta had cursed him to become when she died was gone or merely biding its time.

   Adam had warned the pack about the possibility that he could turn into something more dangerous, a monster that he couldn’t always control. But in true werewolf fashion, they seemed to look upon it as a new superpower Adam had achieved rather than the terrifying threat it was. They hadn’t witnessed it firsthand.

   After the full moon had come and only Adam’s usual wolf form had answered that call, Adam had been relieved. His temper, already easily roused, had continued to be on an even-shorter-than-usual fuse, but I thought that could be attributed to the unusual strain of the past few months. And yet . . .

   I examined my mate’s face for a hint of the monster and saw . . . Adam. He carried the experiences of this past year, and despite the werewolf-bestowed youth, his eyes looked older. There was a tightness to his features due to the bite of Elizaveta’s curse and the various horrors of the past few months. He still had the confident air that was so much a part of him, but now it looked as though it was riding a war-weary soldier.

   I tugged a little harder on the collar of his shirt.

   He blinked and a ring of darkness solidified around the outside of his irises. Reassured, I tugged hard enough to choke him, ignoring the soreness this spawned in the newly healed muscle of my right arm where an assassin had shot me shortly before Adam’s monster had eaten her.

   I couldn’t have pulled Adam down to me if he hadn’t wanted to come. He was a werewolf and I wasn’t. I could have levered myself to him, but I didn’t have to make the effort. He bent down and brushed my lips lightly, with a wry tilt of one eyebrow that told me he knew what I was up to but he was willing to play my game.

   He sat all the way down on the ground, ignoring the slushy mud, and hauled me into his lap. It was like sitting on a furnace. My whole body softened into him, into his warmth and the rich smell of home. For a half second there was another scent, a more rank scent—or maybe that was just my imagination, because when I inhaled again, I smelled only Adam.

   I leaned my head into his shoulder, which was as hard as stone. That wasn’t just because he was tense with anger; he was just in that kind of shape. What little softness there had been was worn away, leaving only muscle and bone behind. There was no give to him, but if I’d wanted soft, I would have had to look for someone who wasn’t the Alpha of a werewolf pack. Someone who wasn’t Adam.

   When my temple touched his collarbone, I hissed, and he went rigid. I’d almost forgotten. This had all begun when something had hit me in the temple and dropped me.

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