Moon Called

Chapter 16

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Because there isn't much a mechanic with a broken arm can do besides get in the way, Zee sent me to the office to work on my paperwork. I didn't get much done there either, but at least-as Zee put it-I wasn't whining at him. He wouldn't tell me anything about his dagger or who Adelbert was and why he needed smiting-and I hadn't been able to find it on the Internet, either. When I got persistent, Zee told me he liked the modern era, with its steel and electricity, better than the old days because there was more for a Metallzauber, a gremlin, to do than build swords to kill other folk. Then he exiled me to the office and went back to fixing cars. I am right-handed, and it was my right arm that was broken. I couldn't even use it to hold a piece of paper still because the doctor at the emergency room insisted I wear my arm strapped to my side. I even had to type on my computer using one hand-which made it painstakingly slow to do any work. So I used the computer to play Vegas-style solitaire and lost two thousand dollars of imaginary money, instead. It was probably not the best moment for Gabriel Sandoval to show up. I'd forgotten I'd told his mother to send him over Monday after school. He had to wait until I typed in their bill, then an hourly wage that looked fair to me. It would give him twenty hours to work off, though, and that seemed too much to me. So I added a couple of dollars an hour, until the time looked better. I printed it out and handed it to him. He looked it over and crossed off the salary and replaced it with the original one. "I'm not worth that yet," he said. "But I will be by the end of the first month." I reassessed him. He wasn't tall, and he'd never be a big man, but there was something solid about him, as young as he was. "All right," I said. "It's a deal." I showed him around the office, which took all of five minutes. Then I sat him down at the computer and ran him through my inventory program and my billing system. When he seemed to have the hang of it, I gave him my stacks of paperwork and left him to it. I walked back into the shop and tilted my thumb at the office when Zee looked up. "I think I've found Tad's replacement," I told him. "I gave him my paperwork, and he didn't even growl at me." Zee raised his eyebrows. "Tad never growled at you." " 'Damn it, Mercy, can't you remember to give me the bills the day you get them? " I quoted in my best crabby-Tad voice. "You'd think someone raised around werewolves would know the difference between growling and swearing," Zee observed. He put down his wrench and sighed. "I'm worried about that boy. You know he got that scholarship so they could have their token fae to tow around and point out." "Probably," I agreed. "They'll never know what hit them." "You think he's all right?" "I can't imagine a place where Tad wouldn't be all right. Nothing scares him, nothing bothers him, and he's frighteningly competent at whatever he chooses to do." I patted Zee on the back. I enjoyed watching him play nervous father. This was a conversation we'd been having since Tad left for Harvard. I kept track of them and e-mailed Tad with a count once a week. I heard the office door open and waved Zee to silence so we could listen to how my new office lackey dealt with customers. "Can I help you?" he said in a smooth, dark voice that surprised me. I hadn't expected him to flirt. But then I heard Jesse say, "I'm here looking for Mercy-she didn't tell me she had someone new working for her." There was a short pause, then Gabriel said in a sharp voice, "Who hit you?" Jesse laughed and said lightly, "Don't worry. My dad saw the bruise, and the person who hit me is dead now." "Good." Gabriel sounded as though he wouldn't have minded if it had been the truth. Which it was. "I have someone waiting for me in the car," she said. "I'd better go talk to Mercy." She came into the shop with a thoughtful look on her face. "I like him," she said. I nodded. "Me, too. Nice haircut." We'd stopped by Warren's house after cleanup at the tree farm to find Jesse minus the duct tape that had still been stuck to her hair-and also minus most of her hair. Warren had looked... well, he ought to have looked ashamed, but there had been amusement in his eyes. Jesse rolled her eyes at me. "Who'd have thought a gay man couldn't cut hair." She ran her fingers through the inch-long strands that had been tipped with a glittery gold color. She looked like a flapper from the 1920s wearing one of those beaded caps. "He told you he didn't know how to give haircuts," I said, as she walked over and kissed Zee on the cheek. "I got it fixed the next day." She grinned at me, then she lost her smile. "Dad called Mom yesterday and told her what happened. Everything that happened." I knew her mother. She and Adam had only been divorced four years, and Adam had lived behind me for almost seven. "What did she say?" "That he was to fly me back to Eugene on the first flight home and never darken her doorstep again." She touched her lips. "She does it on purpose, you know. Tries to make him feel bad, like he's an animal. If that doesn't work, she brings up her four miscarriages as if they didn't hurt him as much as they hurt her. As if everything is his fault. And he buys it every time. I knew what she was going to do, so I made them let me listen in on the extension. I think he was just going to agree with her and send me back, so I said some things that maybe I shouldn't have." I didn't ask, just waited. She could tell me if she wanted to. Apparently she did. "I told Dad about her boyfriend who tried to climb into bed with me when I was twelve. And the time two years ago, when she left for a weekend in Vegas without telling me she was going anywhere. It got pretty ugly." "I'm sorry." She lifted her chin. "I'm not. Mom agreed to let me stay here for the rest of the school year, then they'll talk. Anyway, Warren's out waiting for me in the car-Dad said it would be a long time before he could contemplate leaving me alone-at least a week. I have a request for you." "What did'ja need?" I asked. "Dad asked me to stop in and see if you'd come to dinner. Somewhere expensive, 'cause we owe you." "I'll close up here so you can go clean up," Zee said a little eagerly. I hadn't been that whiny. Really. "All right," I said. "You can pick me up at-" I started to twist my right wrist, winced and remembered I'd put my watch on my left wrist that morning. It was almost four. "Six-thirty." "He'll be there," she said, and waltzed back into the office to flirt with the help. "Go," said Zee. It wasn't that easy, of course. I introduced Gabriel and Zee, then puttered around getting things finished until nearly five. I grabbed my purse out of the safe and started out the door when my undercover friend pulled up in the parking lot driving a black and shiny eighties convertible Mustang. "Tony," I said. He was still in his ubermacho guise, I noticed, as he sprang out of the car, over the door. The opaque black sunglasses disguising his eyes made him look menacing and sexy. "Your engine is missing," I told him. "Funny"-he gave his car an implacable look-"it was here just a minute ago." "Ha-ha," I said. My arm hurt, and I wasn't in the mood for stupid jokes. "Get someone to check your engine." "What did you do to your arm?" he asked. I remembered Jesse's method of telling the whole truth, and said, "I got knocked into a bunch of wooden crates by a werewolf while I was trying to rescue a young girl from the clutches of an evil witch and a drug lord." "Ha-ha," he said in the exact same tone I'd given his joke. "Must have been something stupid if you won't tell the truth." "Well," I said, considering it, "maybe 'drug lord' was too strong a word. And maybe I should have mentioned the girl's handsome and sexy father. What do you think?" "Mercy," he said, taking my good arm and turning me around so we were walking back into the office. "We need to talk." "Can't talk," I said. "I've got a date." "Nice try. But you haven't had a date since I met you." He opened the door and escorted me inside. Gabriel looked up from my... his paperwork and the pleasant smile on his face went away. "What are you doing here?" he said, standing up and coming around the corner. "Let her go. Now." Great, I thought. Just what I need, another macho male in my life trying to take care of me. Tony dropped my arm and collapsed onto one of the uncomfortable chairs I use to encourage my customers to find something else to do rather than wait around while I fix their cars. He buried his face in his hands and either started laughing or crying. I figured he was laughing. When he raised his head, he'd done one of those amazing changes-partially helped, I have to admit, by losing the sunglasses. But it was body language and facial expression, as much as anything. He just suddenly looked ten years older and, except for the earrings, much more respectable. "Tony?" said Gabriel, obviously stunned. "I've been working undercover at Kennewick High right under his nose," Tony told me. "He never even noticed. I told you most people can't recognize me." "I've never argued with that," I said. "I think you're a good undercover cop." Tony shook his head. "Hey, Gabriel, would you give us a minute alone? I have some questions for Mercy." "Sure." Gabriel shook his head and started off. He turned around once on his way out to the shop, as if to make sure that Tony was still sitting there. "I've been giving him a really hard time at school," Tony said, once we were alone. "But he can take care of himself." "I really do need to get home," I told him. "What did you need?" He lifted up one hip and pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket. "That kid you had helping you," he said. "I've got some more information on him." I took the paper and unfolded it. It was a grainy black-and-white picture of Mac with 'MISSING' written across the top in capital letters. It gave his vital statistics-he had been sixteen-but gave no more information. "Alan MacKenzie Frazier," I read. "They traced him here from a phone call he made to his family last week." I nodded, handing the paper back and continued to lie to Tony with the truth. "He asked if he could make a long-distance call the last day he was here-a week ago today. He worked all that day, but I haven't seen him since." I'd talked to Bran about Mac. He said he'd see to it that a hiker would find Mac's remains in the spring so that his parents wouldn't have to wait by the phone forever. It wasn't much, but it was the best I could do. It took some scrambling and a fair bit of help, but I managed to be dressed, clean, and beautiful for dinner with Adam and Jesse. Which turned out to be dinner with just Adam because Jesse told him she wasn't feeling well. He left her home watching a movie with Darryl and Auriele because Warren was out on a date with Kyle. Under the mellowing influence of good food and good music, Adam relaxed, and I discovered that underneath that overbearing, hot-tempered Alpha disguise he usually wore was a charming, overbearing, hot-tempered man. He seemed to enjoy finding out that I was as stubborn and disrespectful of authority as he'd always suspected. He ordered dessert without consulting me. I'd have been angrier, but it was something I could never have ordered for myself: chocolate, caramel, nuts, ice cream, real whipped cream, and cake so rich it might as well have been a brownie. "So," he said, as I finished the last bit, "I'm forgiven?" "You are arrogant and overstep your bounds," I told him, pointing my cleaned fork at him. "I try," he said with false modesty. Then his eyes darkened and he reached across the little table and ran his thumb over my bottom lip. He watched me as he licked the caramel from his skin. I thumped my hands down on the table and leaned forward. "That is not fair. I'll eat your dessert and like it-but you can't use sex to keep me from getting mad." He laughed, one of those soft laughs that start in the belly and rise up through the chest: a relaxed, happy sort of laugh. To change the subject, because matters were heating up faster than I was comfortable with, I said, "So, Bran tells me that he ordered you to keep an eye out for me." He stopped laughing and raised both his eyebrows. "Yes. Now ask me if I was watching you for Bran." It was a trick question. I could see the amusement in his eyes. I hesitated, but decided I wanted to know anyway. "Okay, I'll bite. Were you watching me for Bran?" "Honey," he drawled, pulling on his Southern roots. "When a wolf watches a lamb, he's not thinking about the lamb's mommy." I grinned. I couldn't help it. The idea of Bran as a lamb's mommy was too funny. "I'm not much of a lamb," I said. He just smiled. Time to change the subject again, I thought, taking a quick sip of ice water. "Warren tells me you've accepted our favorite serial rapist as a permanent member of the pack." "He wasn't responsible for the rapes in London." He sounded certain, which meant that he'd asked Ben for the truth and gotten it. Still, I could hear the irritation in his voice and I couldn't help but push a little bit more. "They stopped when he left." "He came to the rescue twice, and the second time it was only chance that he intercepted a tranquilizer rather than a bullet. Gerry's men carried silver ammunition," he snapped impatiently. I smiled at him and he balled up his napkin in disgust. "Point to you," he said. "I bet you wouldn't let him date Jesse," I told him smugly. When he drove me home, he got out of the car and walked around to open the door for me. Maybe it was because I couldn't open the door with my broken arm, but I thought it might be the kind of thing that he always did. He walked me to my front porch and cupped his hands around my face. He stood there for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder and up at the moon, which was nearly full. When he turned back, his eyes had yellow streaks running through the brown. His lips were soft as they feathered over mine tentatively until I leaned against the pressure of his hands, trying to get closer. Then he laughed, a low, chest-deep sound, and really kissed me. With my broken arm strapped between us, there was no body language involved, just mouth and hands. He wore cologne. Something rich and subtle that blended with his exotic scent. When he drew away from me, I left my hand on his cheek, enjoying the faint scratchiness of his beard and the pounding of my heart. Silence grew between us, silence and something tentative and new. Then the door opened and my new roommate looked out with a grin. "Hey, guys, are you through yet? I made some hot cocoa because I figured Mercy wasn't wearing much-but I guess you took care of any chill from the weather." Samuel had been savage when I came home from the garage and told him that I was going out to dinner with Adam. I'd had to remind him forcefully that he had no claim on me, not anymore. He was staying with me until he could find an apartment of his own, and that didn't give him the right to dictate who I went to dinner with. If I'd realized that it was going to be a real date, I'd have been kinder. I knew that Samuel was still interested in me-and part of me still loved him. When Jesse the Matchmaker called me to tell me that her father was on his way over, and not to worry about her because she was just fine, Samuel'd stalked off to sulk in his room, the bigger of my spare bedrooms. But when I'd started trying to put on my dress, he barged into my room to help. I could have done it myself. I wasn't making pained noises, no matter what he said. But, I had to admit, maneuvering clothes, the myriad of mysterious, but businesslike, Velcro straps that grew off the brace the hospital doctor had given me to keep my arm immobilized, and my broken arm was easier with three hands rather than only one. He hadn't been happy when I left, but I refused to let guilt decide who I would date. I don't play games with people I care about, and I won't let them play games with me. I promised him that I wouldn't have sex with Adam any more than I'd have sex with Samuel. Not until I knew what I felt and what they felt. But that was as far as I was willing to go. I'd known that giving him the evening to think about it had been a mistake. I probably should have told Adam that Samuel was still staying with me as soon as I realized he didn't know-but what we'd been experiencing tonight had still been too fragile for that. So Adam got blindsided by Samuel The Live-in Lover. "Not kind, Samuel," I said, then turned to Adam. "He is staying here until he gets an apartment." I looked at Samuel. "It should be really soon now." "I thought you had a practice in Montana, Dr. Cornick," said Adam. He'd released me when the door opened, but then he'd put a hand low on my back-one of those staking-claim gestures that guys do around other guys. Samuel nodded and stepped back, holding the door so that we'd all come inside. As soon as they were both in the enclosed space of my living room, I could smell the power rising from both of them. "I was working at a clinic in rotation with three other doctors," he said, leading the way into the kitchen. "They won't suffer. I left Aspen Creek a while ago, and I've found now that I've returned I can't settle in. So I thought I'd try someplace closer than Texas." Adam accepted a steaming cup and blew on it thoughtfully. "You mean you are petitioning to join my pack?" Samuel's smile, which hadn't left his face since he opened the door, widened even farther. "I wouldn't dream of it. I'm going lone wolf-you'll probably get the official letter informing you of that from Bran sometime this week." I left them to it. They weren't paying any attention to me anyway. I couldn't get the dress off easily without help, but I pulled a pair of sweats on over the top of it. A loose sweatshirt covered my broken arm, strap-bearing torture device and all. Shoes were harder, but I found an old pair of tennis shoes that I hadn't untied and pulled them on my feet over a pair of ankle socks. When I went back out to the living room, both men were still involved in one of those pleasant but deadly conversations that usually ended up badly. They stopped speaking when I opened the front door, but as soon as I closed it behind me, I heard them start up again. I was driving the van, because my Rabbit didn't have power steering. I had to pull over a few miles from home so I could use the cell phone. "Stefan," I said. "Your parts are here. I've got a broken arm, so you'll have to do all the work-but I can talk you through it." "How did you break your arm, Mercy?" he asked. "A werewolf tossed me against a giant packing crate while I was trying to rescue a frightened young girl who'd been kidnapped by an evil witch and a drug lord." "It sounds interesting," Stefan said. "I'll meet you at your garage." See. Some people believe me. READ MORE ...

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