Poking his head out the door of his room, he hailed one of the soldiers heading down the corridor. “Eli, what’s up?”
“Indigo and Riaz are running the outdoor course.” Elias’s words carried a hum of anticipation. “You know how fast she is, and he holds the record. No way to tell who’ll win.”
Andrew felt his spine knot with tension, a freezing chill spearing through his veins. “They starting now?” Somehow, his voice sounded normal, ordinary, when all he wanted to do was to hunt Indigo to ground and demand she f**king stop running from him. Because he knew exactly what was going through her head at this moment, knew exactly what her wolf would see in Riaz.
“Yeah. You coming?”
Andrew was already shutting his door behind him. “Wouldn’t want to miss it.” His wolf was beyond agitated, but he’d always been good at keeping his emotions off his face. His current work for Hawke had only refined that skill. As he exited the den with Elias and jogged out to the training ground, no one would’ve been able to tell that he was walking the sharpest of knife edges.
“You going to take bets?” Elias asked with a grin.
Since Andrew had been known to do just that on occasion when packmates challenged one another, he couldn’t fault the question. “Not this time. Indigo might skin me.” It was difficult to keep his voice light, to act as Elias expected him to act. He’d always known this courtship wasn’t going to be easy, but he’d never expected Indy to kick him this hard in the guts.
Then they were on the edge of the run and the kick turned brutal. Indigo and Riaz stood side by side, both of them shoe-less and clearly pumped. Indigo was wearing thin black exercise pants with white stripes down the sides, as was Riaz. The male lieutenant was shirtless, the tattoo on the back of his left shoulder striking against the naturally bronzed tone of his skin.
But it was Indigo who caught not only Andrew’s but Elias’s attention as well. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” It was a quiet comment.
The wolf bared its teeth inside Andrew. “You’re mated.”
“It’s like appreciating a beautiful piece of art,” Elias murmured. “Yuki would say the same if she was standing beside me.”
Andrew understood what Elias meant. Dressed in those practical pants and a black tank that clung to her body like second skin, her hair pulled off her face in a tight ponytail, Indigo was beauty without ornamentation—strong, lethal beauty. And an instant later, she was beauty in motion as someone—Judd—set off the starter bell.
Indigo was liquid lightning as she scrambled up the massive first wall. Riaz, his body heavier, was slower in getting up. But he had the advantage in the next section, which was all about upper-body strength. They were neck and neck as they crawled under the rope-mesh maze, their bodies muddy when they shot out the other end—to run straight up a steep, steep climb where use of claws to ensure stability would get you disqualified.
Indigo slipped, fell back on the slick log, but managed to break her fall with her hands.
Andrew’s wolf urged her to get up. She did.
And Riaz slid back down.
That was when Indigo turned to glance at her competitor. She was laughing, her wolf obviously exhilarated. Andrew’s blood turned to ice. That look in her eyes, that joy . . . He swallowed, forced himself to watch as Riaz got back up the rise and joined Indigo in swinging over a water hazard before they clasped their hands over the bars of the “jungle gym” that had undone many a SnowDancer.
Created with interlocking pieces that were shifted around before each run, it was by nature unpredictable—and had more than its share of booby traps. Indigo set off one, swore as she was thrown to the ground and had to go back to the start of the confusion of metal. This time, she managed to swing herself on top of the whole thing and began to pick her way through with nimble sure-footedness. Riaz, who’d gotten ahead, turned the air blue as part of the metal structure gave away, almost dumping him on the earth.
He caught himself by flipping up his body, but the delay had given Indigo time to close the gap, and they were moving beside each other once more as they dropped from the gym and shot through into the underground tubes that required both speed and strength. Riaz exited first, but Indigo was hot on his heels, and she was the faster runner. She flew past him on the last stretch of the curving run that brought them back to the start.
Laughing, she collapsed into a sitting position just over the finish line. “Too many baguettes, I think.” She waved a finger at Riaz.
Riaz, his chest heaving, hands on his knees, grinned. “You’ve gotten faster since the last time I did this with you.”
The shared history between the two of them didn’t need to be stated; it was all the more painful for being so casually understood. Andrew watched as Riaz held out a hand, as Indigo took it and let her fellow lieutenant pull her to her feet. No hesitation, no worries about dominance—because they knew they were equals, were comfortable with that.
In a way Indigo might never be comfortable where Andrew was concerned.
As everyone clapped and congratulated both Riaz and Indigo—they’d run the course in an incredibly fast time—Andrew hung back, his eyes on Indigo’s glowing face. No matter the mud on her cheek, the dirt that tangled her hair and streaked her clothing, she looked amazing. Stunning. And it wasn’t Andrew who’d put that look on her face.
She turned right then, and her eyes locked with his.
A furious mix of anger and pain threatened to blind him, but he forced himself to walk forward, to keep his tone even as he said, “That was some run,” directing his comment to both of them.