Fire Touched

By: Patricia Briggs

(The ninth book in the Mercy Thompson series)


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.

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