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Home > Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega #4)(7)

Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega #4)(7)
Author: Patricia Briggs

“Good to meet you,” Anna said.

Hosteen inclined his head but didn’t say anything, just stared at her while Charles tossed their bags into the back of the truck. Her mate didn’t seem to be worried about Hosteen’s lack of response, no matter how awkward. He opened the passenger door in open invitation for Anna to sit in the middle.

Anna got in and watched as Hosteen walked thoughtfully around the front of the truck with no sign of the get-things-done stride he’d had before he met her. He opened the driver’s-side door as Charles got in beside her, but then Hosteen stood in the shelter of the door as if he were reluctant to sit next to her.

“Navajo?” Anna asked, trying to make things easier on him with a little conversation. “I thought the Navajo in Arizona mostly live north of Flagstaff.”

Hosteen narrowed his eyes until she thought she’d said something wrong. Then he muttered something in a foreign language that she didn’t quite catch, nodded to himself, and hopped into the driver’s seat.

He didn’t say anything more until they were headed down the bumpy, unpaved road.

“Yes,” he said. “Most Navajo live in the north, in the Four Corners region. There are a few Navajo here, because there is work here, but you are right, mostly it is Pima, O’odham, Maricopa, with a dash of Apache or Kwtsaan to liven the mix.”

She read the atmosphere in the truck as strained, but that might only be two dominant males in a small truck. Or more of Hosteen’s reaction to her. She honestly couldn’t tell whether Charles liked Hosteen or not. They certainly knew each other well; otherwise two dominant wolves would never have gotten into the same vehicle together.

She decided to keep quiet and let them figure things out.

After five minutes or so of silence, Hosteen gave a jerky nod as if in answer to some question only he heard. Then he put an end to any image of the laconic Native American; an image that Charles, for instance, could have been the poster boy for.

“There is a long story to how I ended up here, away from the lands of the Diné, the Navajo,” he told her. “When I was Changed, a hundred years ago, more or less, I thought I must be a skinwalker. I had never heard of werewolves, you see, and neither had anyone I knew. You know what a skinwalker is?”

Yes, but she’d learned that it was better to plead ignorance because sometimes what she thought she knew about the supernatural world was wrong or incomplete. “A little.”

“Skinwalkers are evil witches who take on the shape of animals—usually it is animals—they skin. They delight in destruction, suffering, and pain. They spread illness and evil. I thought that was probably what I was—though I didn’t feel more evil than I had before I was attacked.” He smiled at her, inviting her to enjoy the joke on the young man he had been. She thought it was more horrific than funny—too close to her own experience.

When she didn’t smile back, he regarded her thoughtfully, then turned his eyes back to the rough dirt track they were following.

“I didn’t skin an animal for its shape. But even an ignorant boy such as I was could see that changing into a wolf, a monstrous wolf, gave me something in common with the witch people,” he said. He seemed to relax as he settled into the story, his voice drifting into a cadence that made her think that he had told this story more than once. “Those who follow the witchery way are evil, so I figured I must be, too. My parents loved me, but I was dangerous to them and to my family, so I left. This is where I ended up.”

“California is where you went first,” said Charles, and the way he said it made Anna think that he was encouraging the other man to tell stories. “Hosteen is a movie star, Anna.”

Hosteen smiled—and it changed his whole demeanor. Anna saw that she had been wrong when she’d thought he was a little grim. There was delight and innocence in that smile.

“You’ll see my face in a few movies,” he conceded almost shyly. “But only if you like the old silent movies. No real parts, just Apache number two, Hopi number eight, that sort of thing. When they found out I was good with horses, I moved pretty quickly into horse wrangling. Worked on The Son of the Sheik.”

And Anna realized that Charles had prodded Hosteen because he knew that she’d enjoy this story.

Charles kept telling her that just because a wolf was old didn’t mean that he’d ever met a famous person from the past. She and her brother had spent a lot of Saturday afternoons eating popcorn and watching movies with her father. He liked either very old black-and-white movies, though usually with sound tracks, or kung fu theater.

One afternoon, her father had rented a whole bunch of Valentino films and they’d watched them, one after another. The finale had been The Son of the Sheik.

“Rudolph Valentino’s last film?” Anna asked.

“Yes,” Hosteen said. “I wrangled horses for a few of his movies. Valentino was a horseman. He was famous, but he didn’t mind stopping to talk to the Indian who was handling the horses. I liked him.”

Hosteen had answered her question, but he kept talking. Either he sensed her continued interest, or he liked to tell stories. Maybe a bit of both.

“They brought in a small herd of Arabian horses for the movie. Rented them from Kellogg, the guy who invented cornflakes.” Hosteen laughed to himself as if something about the deal amused him. “Anyway, they brought in a number of Arabians—prettiest horses I’d ever seen. Valentino liked this big gray the best. But Valentino was too valuable and Jadaan, he could be unpredictable. The producers were worried Valentino would get tossed, so he mostly rode other horses for the film. Valentino was furious and insulted.” He pursed his lips. “They were idiots, those producers; Valentino could ride.”

Hosteen fell silent, and Anna tried to think of a question to get him going again. Before she did, he said, “That Jadaan. He had terrible front legs. But he was as good as Valentino himself at striking a pose. Cameras loved him.”

They bounced on over the rutted dirt road.

“They brought in a stunt double to do the dangerous stuff,” Hosteen said after a while. “Carl Schmidt, he was a good horseman. Later, he changed his name to Raswan and wrote a lot of books about the Arabian. A good horseman, but a ridiculous person—like that singer who changed his name to a symbol instead of a word. Carl Raswan.” He snorted. “Raswan was a horse. Still, Carl was a good rider, did most of the shots with Jadaan and anything that required more speed than a canter. No one on the set, except perhaps Valentino because he was a nice guy, would have missed Carl if he’d broken his fool neck, so he was a good choice for a stunt double.”

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