Home > Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)(5)

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)(5)
Author: Patricia Briggs

I didn't want to think about closing the shop, but I was afraid it might be coming.

"Mostly, it is a lot easier to get hurt in a Vanagon," I said to Jesse. Losing the Rabbit and lack of sleep were making me melancholy, but I wasn't going to share that with her, so I kept my voice light and cheerful. "No crumple zone. That's one of the reasons they don't make them anymore. Neither of us would have walked out of an accident like this in the van - and I am very tired of being in a stupid wheelchair."

Jesse let out a huff of laughter. "Mercy, all of us are tired of you being in a wheelchair."

I'd broken my leg badly on my honeymoon (don't ask) this past summer. I'd also managed to hurt my hands, too, which meant I couldn't use crutches or even push myself. Yes, I had been pretty crabby about it.

The woman was still arguing with the police, but the driver was walking toward us. He might have been coming over to check that I had proper insurance or something, but I had a little warning zing down my spine. I pulled the ice bag away from my face and stood up just in case.

"Still," said Jesse, staring at the car. She didn't react to my change in position; maybe she hadn't noticed. "I loved your little Rabbit. It was my fault we had the wreck. I am so sorry."

And the driver of the other car went for Jesse like a junkyard dog, dripping words for which my mother would have washed his mouth out with soap as he barreled toward us.

Jesse's eyes got wide, and she jerked to her feet, stumbling. I stepped between them and said, with power I borrowed from the Alpha of the local werewolf pack who was also my husband, "Enough."

He jerked his gaze from Jesse to me, opened his mouth, and froze where he stood. I could smell the alcohol wafting from him.

"I was driving, not Jesse," I said calmly. "You stopped - I hit you. My fault. I am fully insured. It will be a pain in the neck - for which I apologize - but your car will be fixed or replaced."

"Goddamned spic," he spat, incorrectly because I'm Native American not Hispanic, and swung a fist at me.

I might have been a mere coyote shapeshifter instead of a muscle-bound werewolf, but I had years of full-contact karate under my brown belt. The irate owner of the SUV was a lot bigger than me, but, from the smell and the lack of coordination in his movements, he was also drunk. That negated most of the advantage his size gave him.

I let his fist slip by me, took a step that angled my hips into his, grabbed the elbow and hand of his attacking arm, and slammed him face-first into the pavement using, mostly, his own momentum to do it.

Hurt me too, dang it. Car wrecks suck. Twinges of pain slid down my recently abused neck and into a hip that I hadn't thought damaged at all. I stayed balanced and ready for a moment, but the impact with the ground seemed to wipe the fight out of the big man. When he didn't immediately rise swinging, I stepped back and touched my cheekbone, wishing for the ice pack that I'd dropped.

The whole fight hadn't taken more than a few seconds. Before the downed man even twitched, one of the cops was there, putting a knee into the small of the man's back and cuffing him. The motion was smooth and practiced, and I was pretty sure the policeman had had some martial arts training, too.

"No more driving for you, tonight," the cop told the downed man cheerfully. "No more hitting nice ladies, either. It's off to the pokey to dry out."

"Pokey?" I said.

The other cop, an older, less energetic model sighed. "Nielson likes old films." He handed me a ticket for following too closely and gestured toward the cuffed man. "His girlfriend is under arrest for assaulting an officer. We got him for driving under the influence. Do you want to press charges for assault? We all saw him take the first swing."

I shook my head, suddenly feeling tired. "No. Just tell him to have his insurance call mine."

There was a loud scraping sound and a crunch. A tow truck pulled the SUV away. The Rabbit settled to the ground with a sigh, a gurgle, and a hiss of hot antifreeze hitting cold pavement as the radiator tore open.

Jesse shivered beside me. I needed to get her out of the cold.

"When's your dad coming?" I asked her. She'd called him while I'd been caught up talking to officials and people who handed me ice bags.

"I called," Jesse said. "He didn't pick up, so I called Darryl. No answer, either. I should have told you earlier."

Adam didn't answer the phone? That felt wrong. Adam wouldn't be unavailable while we were out shopping among the hordes. He'd even volunteered to come. That would have been ... interesting. He couldn't handle Walmart on a quiet day. That Darryl, his second, hadn't answered his phone didn't bother me as much, but it was still weird.

I pulled out my cell phone and saw that I had a new text message from Bran - even weirder. The Marrok, ruler of the werewolves, just didn't text.

I checked it and got: The Game is Afoot.

"Bran is channeling Arthur Conan Doyle," I said and Jesse peered over my shoulder to see.

I tried calling Bran back (my fingers were too cold for texting with any speed), but his phone came back disconnected or no longer in service. I tried Samuel, the Marrok's son, and got his answering service.

"No, that's fine," I told the service lady who picked up. "I'll just go into the emergency room if Dr. Cornick isn't available." There was no reason not to leave a real message with her, but the text from Bran had unsettled me. My panic attack - the cause of the wreck - unsettled me more.

I continued with other pack members: Warren, Honey, Mary Jo, and even Ben. Their cells were - in order - off, ring to voice mail, off, ring to voice mail.

I puzzled over Bran's message as I called Paul - who would as soon kill me as rescue me, though he'd feel differently about Jesse. As the phone rang without results, I remembered that the werewolves were fond of top-secret-emergency-code-word things. Nothing to do with being a werewolf and everything to do with just how many werewolves found themselves in the military at some time or other, and how that left them a particular kind of paranoid. Boy Scouts had nothing on the "be preparedness" of werewolves.

I knew about the secret codes because I'd grown up with werewolves, but I hadn't learned them because I wasn't one. Adam presumably would have gotten around to teaching me now that I was a member of his pack, but what with river monsters and broken legs and pack drama, it was no wonder it hadn't made it to the top of the list.

Paul didn't answer, either. I was willing to bet, based on the evidence, that Bran's text meant "no phones." Which was all well and good, but Jesse and I were stuck here at the mall until we found someone who would answer their stupid phone. If this was just a test of the emergency-secret-code system, I was going to chew on someone.

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