No recognition in those dark yellow eyes, but Indigo wasn’t a SnowDancer lieutenant because she gave up easily. “She’s asking for you, so you better snap out of it and get up.” She put every ounce of her dominance in her next command. “Right now.”
A blink from the wolf, a cocked head. As Indigo watched, he rose shakily to his feet. When she reached for him, he lowered his head, whimpering. “Shh,” she said, gripping his muzzle and staring straight into those wolf-bright eyes. His gaze slid away. Joshua was too young, too submissive in comparison to her strength, to challenge her in that way.
“I’m not angry,” Indigo said, ensuring he heard the truth in her words, in the way she held him—firm, but not in a grip that would cause pain. “But I need you to become human.”
Still no eye contact. But he heard her. Because the next instant, the air filled with sparks of light, and a split second after that, a young male barely past his fourteenth birthday was kneeling na**d on the earth, his face drawn. “Is she really okay?” It was a rasp, the wolf in his voice.
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“I was meant to be watching her, except I—”
“You weren’t at fault.” She put her fingers on his jaw, anchoring him with touch, with Pack. “It was a rockfall—nothing you could’ve done. She’s got a broken arm, two broken ribs, and a pretty cool scar on her eyebrow that she’s already showing off like a peacock.”
The recital of injuries seemed to stabilize Joshua. “That sounds like her.” A wavering smile, a quick, wary glimpse up at her before he dropped his gaze.
Smiling—because if he was scared about the consequences of his actions, he was back—Indigo gave in to her relief and nipped the pup sharply on the ear. He cried out. Then buried his face in her neck. “I’m sorry.”
She ran her hand down his back. “It’s okay. But if you ever do this again, I’ll strip your hide and use it to make new sofa cushions. Got it?”
Another shaky smile, a quick nod. “I want to go home.” He swallowed, turned to look at the tracker. “Thanks for not killing me. I’m sorry I made you come out in the rain.”
The huge wolf beside Indigo, its tail raised in a gesture of dominance, closed its very dangerous teeth around the boy’s throat. Joshua stayed immobile, quiescent, until the tracker let go. Apology accepted.
Making a futile effort to shake the rain from her hair, Indigo looked at the boy. “I don’t want you turning wolf for one week.” When he looked shattered, she touched his shoulder. “It’s not punishment. You went too close to the edge tonight. No use taking chances.”
“Okay, yeah.” A pause, a whisper of shame in his eyes. “The wolf’s getting hard to control. Like I’m a kid again.”
That, Indigo thought, explained his irrational response to his sister’s accident. She made a mental note to kick some ass on the heels of that thought. Adolescents and young teens did occasionally have control issues—Joshua’s teachers should’ve picked up the signs. “It happens sometimes,” she said to him, keeping her tone calm and matter-of-fact. “Did to me when I was around your age, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You come directly to me if you feel the wolf taking over again.” She shifted into her other form as he nodded, his relief obvious.
The journey home to the den—a huge network of tunnels hidden deep underground in California’s Sierra Nevada, out of sight of enemy eyes—was quiet, the rain letting up about ten minutes after they began. A human might’ve slipped and fallen a hundred times on the slippery terrain, but the wolf was sure-footed, its paws designed for increased stability—and it found the easiest route for Joshua.
Indigo, with the tracker taking position behind the boy, herded Joshua all the way to the wide-open door in the side of what would otherwise appear to be a sheer rock face—where his shaken mother was waiting with another wolf, a silver-gold one with eyes of such pale, pale blue, they were almost ice.
The boy fell to his knees in front of the SnowDancer alpha.
Indigo and the tracker backed away, their task complete. The pup was safe—and would be taken care of. Now they needed to run off some of the strain of tonight. She’d really thought they’d have to kill Joshua. The boy had been all but insane when they’d managed to corner him earlier. Glancing toward her companion at the memory—the larger wolf having kept pace with ease—she realized he was bleeding.
She came to a halt with a snarl. He stopped only a step later, circling back to nudge her nose with his. Shifting into human form, she bent over him, pushing back her rain-wet hair. “You need to see Lara.” Their healer would be better able to check his wounds, ensure they weren’t serious.
The wolf nipped at her jaw, growling low in his throat. She pushed him away. “Don’t make me pull rank on you.” Though to be honest, she wasn’t sure she could—and that disturbed both woman and wolf. He occupied an odd space in their hierarchy. Younger than her, he wasn’t a lieutenant, but he reported directly and only to their alpha. And as their tracker, his skills were critical to the safety and well-being of the pack.
Another growl, another nip—this one on her shoulder.
She narrowed her eyes. “Watch it or I’ll nip that nose right off.”
He made a growling sound of disagreement, his canines flashing.
Reaching out, she tapped him sharply on the muzzle. “We’re heading back right now.”