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Winter Lost

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Winter Lost

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Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace Books, 2024
Orbit, 2024
Series: Mercy Thompson: Book 14
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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In the supernatural realms, there are creatures who belong to winter. I am not one of them. But like the coyote I can become at will, I am adaptable.

My name is Mercy Thompson Hauptman, and my mate, Adam, is the werewolf who leads the Columbia Basin Pack, the pack charged with keeping the people who live and work in the Tri-Cities of Washington State safe. It's a hard job, and it doesn't leave much room for side quests. Which is why when I needed to travel to Montana to help my brother, I intended to go by myself.

But I'm not alone anymore.

Together, Adam and I find ourselves trapped with strangers in a lodge in the heart of the wilderness, in the teeth of a storm of legendary power, only to discover my brother's issues are a tiny part of a problem much bigger than we could have imagined. Arcane and ancient magics are at work that could, unless we are very careful, bring about the end of the world...





There was a 1960 Beetle parked in front of my shop.

I eyed it warily as I let myself into the office. Having a 1960 bug parked outside was not unusual-I specialized in the old air-cooled VWs to the point where people brought them to me from other states to work on or restore. I just hadn't seen this particular one before.

I would have remembered.

I locked away my purse, draped my coat over the chair behind the counter, then walked into the garage bays. The light was already on and Zee was hard at work. He'd been here for a while because the big furnace had already heated the space to human-friendly temperatures.

Buried in the engine compartment of the car he was bitterly cursing in German, Zee looked like a wiry old man with white hair that was thinning on top and a bit of a potbelly. Thanks to fae glamour, he bore no resemblance to the Dark Smith of Drontheim, who had built many deadly weapons and used them in his time to slaughter saints, kings, and anyone else who annoyed him. Currently, he worked a little more than full-time in the garage he'd once owned, helping me repair old cars.

"Unusual paint job out there," I told him as I got into my overalls.

Zee grunted and tapped the quarter panel of the vintage Porsche 930 he'd been working on for the last three days. It was decked out in metal-flake red with extremely good pin-striping that included the word "Widowmaker" hand-lettered on the driver's side in silver. The passenger door had a fist-sized black widow just below the side-view mirror with a silver web that extended over the rest of that side.

"Okay," I said. "But the Porsche's paint job is beautiful, and everyone knows the 930 turbo is called the Widowmaker. Why in the world would you paint a giant eye on the hood of a bright purple bug?"

Zee, back to tinkering in the engine compartment, grunted.

"Not that purple is a bad color for a bug," I said. "And two eyes might even be cute-if they were soft and happy. But one crazytown eye on the hood is just creepy."

"Shameful thing to do to a nice old car," he agreed. "Did you see the plates?"

There was something in his voice that sent me back out into the cold to check the vanity plates on the bug.


It took me a moment to work it out.

I went back into the garage and went to work. After about twenty minutes, I said, "Does it eat flying purple people? Or purple people? Or just people?"

"Now you've done it," Zee grumbled. "Be silent if you can't be useful."

I grinned and went back to work.

Zee broke first. By lunchtime, though, we were both humming the stupid song. An hour later, to change things up, I sang the first line of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini," and our earworm grew by one.

The phone rang as Zee was fighting back with "It's a Small World," which was cheating.

"Mercy's Garage," I answered.

"It's Mary Jo. I-" She paused. "I really need to talk to someone about something and I think you are the right someone."

Mary Jo wanted to talk to me. Maybe the Purple People Eater had changed the orbit of the planet, or hell had truly frozen over.

In December at six p.m., even with the streetlights, it was dark. I was running a little late because I'd stopped at home to change.

The overhead clouds blocked the stars and left the waning but still nearly full moon a faint glow in the sky. Snow drifted down in the giant fat flakes that only happened when the temperature was just perfect, snowman-building snow. The kind, in fact, that stuck to my wipers so they both squeaked and also left water splotches on my windshield.

Mary Jo had asked me to meet her. As I drove through the accumulating snow, I had the same triumphant feeling in my belly that I did at the end of a difficult but successful hunt.

Mary Jo and I had been not friends but certainly friendly until her Alpha had pulled me into the werewolf pack as his mate. She wasn't the only wolf who had resented him bringing in someone who turned into a coyote, but Mary Jo had been the central player in the anti-coyote faction of the pack.

At first I'd tried ignoring their dislike of me. The pack was Adam's problem, and they seemed to run better when I kept my head down. He'd put a stop to any active harassment, and what various of the werewolves had thought about me hadn't mattered.

But things were different now. Our pack was responsible for the safety of anyone in our territory, thanks to yours truly. As an added bit of icing on the cake, we had to do it as a lone pack.

The Marrok who ruled the werewolves in this part of the world was worried that our actions could draw them all into a real war. So he'd cut us off. If we were unaffiliated (what a pedestrian word for the blood-and-flesh bonds that bound the werewolves together), then the worst that would happen is that the fae would wipe out our pack. Or the humans would kill us all. Or the witches. Or the vampires. Or some unknown nasty we hadn't run into yet. But the damage would be local and not an interspecies war.

We were on our own and in over our heads. That meant we didn't have time for petty rivalries or stupid games within our pack-we were too busy running to put out one figurative fire before another started. I had to fix the damage bringing me into the pack had done.

As Adam's mate, I'd taken my share of organizing the defense of our territory. I had made a point of taking on the worst of the resultant jobs myself-and I'd made sure to bring Mary Jo with me. Every time we went out, she was a little less unhappy with me. Two days ago, we fought a fishy-something-with-teeth that decided to take up residence on one of the small islands in the middle of the river.

When Mary Jo killed it, the unidentifiable giant river monster thingy had exploded into a mass of inch-long versions of the giant thing. My legs still had bite marks. But Mary Jo had given me a high five when we'd hunted the last of them down.

Mary Jo wasn't the only recalcitrant wolf I brought with me to awful jobs. She had just been the most resistant. There was nothing like shared misery to build relationships. Adam said that he'd felt the pack bonds settling in tighter since I'd started my campaign.

As I headed to the meeting with Mary Jo, I thought that just possibly I could start giving some of the worst jobs to people other than me. That would be nice.

My cell phone rang as Columbia Drive swung west on its trip to the Blue Bridge. The suspension bridge would have made the journey a lot shorter, but a troll fight had damaged it, then a fae lord demolished it. Reconstruction was set to finish, barring delays, in the spring, and in the meantime the Blue Bridge, already overcrowded, had become the main artery between Kennewick and Pasco.

I'd taken my Vanagon tonight. Built in the last century, it had a CD player but no Bluetooth. As a small business owner and the mate of the Alpha of a werewolf pack, I needed to answer my phone. I'd solved the problem with a Bluetooth earpiece.

My stepdaughter, Jesse, rolled her eyes when I first put it on. "The time-share call center called, and they want their headset back. Get some earbuds, Mercy, you'll thank me later."

Earbuds and mechanicking weren't good partners-at least not for me. I'd lost three pairs of earbuds before I decided that my twenty-dollar Bluetooth earpiece that could go through the wash and still work was a better option.

The phone rang twice before I'd fumbled the earpiece in and tapped to activate it.

"Mercy here," I said.

No one answered.

I knew that silence. My breath hitched because my diaphragm thought it would be a really good idea to run away from whatever was scaring us. Scaring me.

I'd gotten a different number and switched carriers. Only the pack and family had this number. It wasn't listed anywhere-and my current phone was under Warren's boyfriend Kyle's name.

It could have been a misdialed number or a failed robocall. I hoped for a thickly accented voice to tell me their name was Susan and they were calling to talk to me about my credit card. But I knew who it was.

I felt my heart rate pick up as the seconds ticked slowly by. I should have disconnected, because anyone I knew would have already spoken by now. But I didn't hang up. He would only call back.

The windshield screeched again, so I turned the wipers off. Someone honked at me. To get out of traffic, I took a right-hand turn too quickly, veering briefly into the wrong lane. Rather than continuing to drive, I pulled over and parked next to a used car lot.

"So nice of you to join us," whispered Bonarata, the Lord of Night.

He wasn't here. But I pictured him in my head, looking more like Thug Number Three in an old movie about the Mafia than the vampire who ruled Europe and, from what I had been able to gather, any other vampires he cared to take over. A little less than two months ago he'd fought Adam and beaten him. He'd beaten me, too-but I'm a lightweight. In the ten years I'd known Adam, I'd never seen anyone beat him in a fight. Bonarata had made it look easy.

If Bonarata had wanted to, he could have killed us both. Instead, he chose to play a game. He'd decided to make an example of me because I'd escaped from him and made him look weak. I hoped that it would work out to being a fatal mistake-but we wouldn't know that for sure until the game ended one way or another.

The phone calls were to let me know Bonarata had not forgotten his promise.

My hands were shaking and I was hyperventilating. Bonarata scared me more than I would have thought possible. He had promised to kill everyone I loved-and I believed he could do it. But that would not be today, I reminded myself. Today, right now, I needed to control myself or Adam would notice.

I'd left Adam preparing for an online meeting with his business partners in New Mexico over some military legal snafu. I understood it was a dangerous matter, that lives had already been lost. Tightropes needed to be walked and tempers soothed. Adam was good at tightropes, but the temper thing was not his strong suit. Adam didn't need to know about this call right now.

I was supposed to get help when Bonarata called, so we could trace his call and figure out where he was. But we hadn't managed to trace the location meaningfully the last twenty or so times he'd called. I didn't think that this call would be the one to change that.

I could hear someone breathing in my earpiece now, shaky, shivery breaths like a rabbit pinned by a fox. The bunny knows it's about to die, but not when that moment is going to come. Bonarata was a vampire; he didn't need to breathe. And if he chose to, he wouldn't breathe like that. The Lord of Night had invited a guest to join us.

This was going to be one of the bad calls.

I'd hung up the first time and gotten an audio CD of what Bonarata had done over several hours after I'd disconnected. If I listened when he called, he said at the end of the CD, he'd be more merciful. If I hung up, he'd enjoy himself. The length of his victim's suffering was my choice.

If this was going to be one of those calls, I was going to have to do something more than just keep calm, or Adam would drop his important business to come save me when I was in no danger at all.

I shared two bonds with my mate-the bond that made me a part of the Columbia Basin Pack that he ruled, and the more intimate mating bond. I knew how to shut them down hard so that very little information traveled from me through them. Adam had shown me how to do that.

My mate understood that sometimes being part of a werewolf pack could be overwhelming to someone who'd spent most of her life on her own. Sometimes I desperately needed to be alone again. He knew that. He'd shown me how to find solitude when I was bound to him and to the pack-and to the vampire Stefan.

Because that was the other bond I held in my soul. Stefan was careful. Like Adam, he knew that if he tried to hold too tightly, I'd chew my metaphorical foot off to be free. Stefan wasn't going to know about this call. I always kept that bond as closed as I could manage, and Stefan was used to that.

But after our pack and mate bonds were silenced and I was spirited off to Europe, Adam wasn't so sanguine about me closing down our bond, even though he could still sense me. We'd had to figure out something else.

Adam had been married before, but I was his first mate. That should have meant that both of us struggled through how to deal with our mating bond, but he'd been an Alpha since before I was born, and that gave him a distinct advantage. The mate bond was different from the pack bonds, but the rules they followed were written in the same language, figuratively speaking. He understood how the magical ties worked better than I did, and he'd figured out something that would give me privacy when I needed it without causing him to overreact.

Shadowing the bond, he called the new method. "Pull veils across the path until it's difficult to see through," he said. Pack magic, I'd discovered, involved negotiating through a lot of metaphors. Instead of closing it down like a faucet, I layered our bond with stretchy and filmy curtains. The metaphor gave me a method that worked as long as I didn't worry too much about what the curtains were made of.

Copyright © 2024 by Patricia Briggs


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