Indigo, he realized at once, was far more like her aunt than her mother.
“So,” Adria said after they shook hands, “you’re the one.”
He liked her—but then, he had a thing for cool-eyed, stubborn women. “I am.”
Lines formed on her forehead, her eyebrows drawing together. “You’re not what I expected.”
He knew that wasn’t a compliment. “I have a way of surprising people.”
“Hmm.” The wolf prowled behind eyes a shade lighter than Indigo’s. “I’ve seen you in our sector, but we haven’t spoken. Tell me about yourself.”
As he obeyed the brusque order, his wolf more amused by her bristling protectiveness than anything else, he noticed something. Martin, while standing beside Adria, didn’t join in the conversation. That, on its own, meant nothing—Riley had a way of standing silent as a sphinx beside Mercy. There was, however, never any doubt in people’s minds that Riley was a hundred percent tuned in, not only to the conversation but to every tiny aspect of his mate’s presence.
Something was disturbingly different here.
The stiffness of Adria’s spine when her lover’s shoulder brushed her own, the white lines around Martin’s mouth, the way neither of them made eye contact with the other—the two were pissed at one another. Andrew took that in his stride. Being with a strong woman occasionally meant some fire-works. He couldn’t imagine Indigo without her sass.
His wolf growling in agreement, he continued to talk with Adria until Tarah came over to catch up with her sister. Moving to where Indigo was standing against the wall finishing off an apple, he tugged on her ponytail. “What’s with abandoning me to your aunt the inquisitor?”
She bumped her hip to his. “Don’t say your smile didn’t work?”
“Smart-ass.” Reaching behind her, he patted that ass.
“I intend to—later tonight.”
Indigo threw him a quelling glance, but he caught the laughter behind it. “What did you think of my aunt?”
“She’s like an older version of you,” he said with complete honesty. “She’s got her ‘death stare’ honed to perfection.”
Holding her apple core in one hand, Indigo put her other one on his shoulder. “Give me a few years.”
Deeply content at the thought of watching her grow further into her skin, he stood beside her as the others spoke. It took him a little while to realize that in spite of his skill at reading the undercurrents in any given situation, he’d missed something here. Martin and Adria weren’t pissed at each other—only one of them was angry.
Adria put her hand on Martin’s arm . . . only to have it shaken off. Adria’s face betrayed a stark heart pain in the terrible moment before she brought up her shields, cool and controlled once more.
Fighting the urge to punch Martin for putting that expression on the face of such a strong woman, Andrew thought back to the other little things he’d noticed, the way Martin had almost pointedly walked into the room first, saying, “Strongest should bring up the rear, right?”
At the time, Andrew had taken it as a joke between lovers, but now . . . “Who’s more dominant?” he asked, feeling a chill whisper through his veins. “It’s Adria, isn’t it?”
Indigo’s body went motionless beside him. “You know it is.”
Andrew realized at once that he’d have to fight one hell of a battle to wipe the impression this toxic relationship had to have left on Indigo, but there was no time to follow up on the topic, because Abel walked in then, having been delayed at work—as training and resource coordinator for SnowDancer soldiers across the entire state.
First Abel kissed his mate. Then he tapped his cheek so his daughter could brace herself with one hand on his shoulder and kiss him. After that, he hugged Adria and shook Martin’s hand. Then he walked over . . . and Andrew found himself being taken outside for a “little chat.”
“I’ll be blunt,” Abel said as they stood in the crisp night air, drinks in hand, “Indigo’s a grown woman who knows what she wants. She’ll choose who she’ll choose.”
Since Abel paused for a response, Andrew said, “Yes, sir.” Where his wolf had handled Adria fine, it was wary of Abel.
It wasn’t a question of dominance, as Andrew outranked him, but of family.
Abel took a sip of his whiskey. “I’ve been asking about you.”
“Women like you.” A gleam in those deep gray eyes he’d bequeathed his younger daughter.
“You don’t need to worry about my loyalty,” Andrew said, wanting no mistakes or misunderstandings on that point. “Indigo’s the only woman I want.”
“I know that,” Abel said to his surprise. “When we first met, I looked at Tarah the way you look at Indigo.” A chuckle. “Still do, as a matter of fact.”
“Just so you know,” Abel said in that same warm tone, “you hurt her and I’ll break every bone in your body. Twice.”
Having survived both Abel and dinner, Andrew walked into the kitchen and went to stand at Tarah’s shoulder while she cut the dessert cake into slices. “Tarah?”
Instead of answering, Tarah picked up a sliver of cake and turned to feed it to him. “So?”
He chewed, savored the burst of brandy and chocolate, swallowed. “Will you marry me?”
That got him a twinkling smile. “What is it you want to know, sweetheart?”