If her intent had been to drive him to the asylum—
“You confirm it?”
He’d scented Riley nearing, didn’t startle. “Yeah. Definitely Psy.”
“Damn.” A harsh exhalation. “They’re really going to do this.”
“Any word from our sources?”
“Lucas spoke to Nikita. She says tensions are increasing in the Council, and it’s out in the open now. Henry and Shoshanna Scott are making it clear they think the two of them should lead. Anyone who argues differently is in their sights.”
“We don’t need to be in the middle of a Psy war.” His duty was to protect his people—the Psy could destroy themselves for all he cared . . . as they’d once almost destroyed SnowDancer.
Riley said, “No,” but his tone brought up another question.
Hawke stared at the pine needle–strewn land in front of him, the ground otherwise clear because of the heavy canopy. “You’re thinking the same thing I am—no way is this going to be contained to the Psy.”
“Like Max pointed out,” he said, naming Nikita’s human security chief, “this region’s already seen as interlinked. No matter what, they won’t leave us be.” A shrug. “And fact is, we’ve bitten back and bitten hard. I think at least part of the Council has decided we have too much power to be allowed to continue as we are.”
Hawke knew that. He also understood that Nikita and Anthony were the lesser of two evils, but it still pissed him off that the pack had been forced to work with a couple of Councilors. “Let’s increase the security patrols around the boundary. Don’t worry too much about the border with DarkRiver, but we need to let them know the Psy might be sniffing around even though it looks like they’re focused on us.”
Riley nodded, his gaze thoughtful. Hawke waited for the lieutenant to speak. Riley and Indigo were the solid foundation on which he stood—Riley had been there since before Hawke became alpha at fifteen. At the time, Hawke had had the strength of the remaining lieutenants around him, but he’d gone most often to the level-headed teenager who was his best friend. Indigo, a little younger, had entered the picture a few years later but had become Hawke’s left arm as Riley was his right. They’d pulled Hawke back from the edge more than once, pushed him when necessary, and offered support without question. It was a gift, one he never took for granted.
“I’m going to ask Kenji and Alexei to fine-tune our strategic plan,” Riley said. “The fact it appears they’re running physical reconnaissance in our territory argues for a rapid escalation. We need to be ready.”
Hawke nodded. The two lieutenants had the best tactical minds in the pack. “Use Drew as well. He might be able to pinpoint areas of vulnerability we might otherwise miss.” The SnowDancer tracker wasn’t only Hawke’s eyes and ears among the most vulnerable in the pack; he’d also become a clearinghouse for all kinds of information.
“I’ll grab him for the comm-conference with Kenji and Alexei tomorrow,” Riley said, then glanced at Hawke. “I hear you went dancing last night.”
The words made every muscle in his body go tight, but he kept his tone even. “I’ve had a talk with the young males and so has Lucas. That kind of bullshit won’t be tolerated.” A little posturing between young dominants was expected and accepted. Hard physical violence? No.
“Rock solid. This isn’t about that—it’s because of you and Mercy.” Everyone was still trying to work out the rules for the whole interpack dating thing, juveniles and older adults included. Add in testosterone and you got last night. “Not that I don’t appreciate you stealing us a leopard sentinel.”
Riley didn’t smile at the familiar joke, perceptive eyes trained on Hawke. “Why did José call you and not Lucas if both groups were making trouble?”
“José switches between us. Luc gets the next postmidnight call.”
A silence filled only with the rustle of the trees as a stiff wind blew through the canopy.
“You need to talk about it?” Riley asked after the forest had gone quiet again.
“Nothing to talk about.”
Riley’s nickname wasn’t The Wall for nothing. “You’ve never been one to ignore a problem.”
“Not a problem.”
“Then why does the gym log show you there half the night, every night?”
Hawke growled low in his throat. “Keeping tabs on me?”
“It’s my job.” Riley’s temper remained even. “I let you go lone wolf up in the mountains, but if you think I’ll watch you self-destruct, you don’t know me.”
Hawke’s wolf snarled, but he and Riley had too much history between them for him to shrug off the concern—and what it meant. “Can you cover for me tomorrow afternoon?”
“You don’t have to ask.” That the other man didn’t question Hawke about what it was he was planning to do, told him exactly how well his lieutenant knew him.
SASCHA RUBBED THE hard mound of her pregnant belly and stared at the jar of Moreno cherry jam. “No. Absolutely not,” she said to the child in her womb.
The baby wiggled, its emotions sparking of hunger.
Groaning, she picked up the jar, unscrewed it, and spooned up the jam. It should’ve tasted far too sweet, far too rich. Instead, it was ambrosia on her tongue. Unable to stifle a moan of greedy pleasure, she leaned against the counter in the staff kitchen at DarkRiver HQ and licked the spoon. It was tempting to eat a second spoonful, but in spite of the baby’s ravenous urgings, she closed the lid and put the jam away. It’s not good for you, she told her child. We already had chocolate-cherry ice cream.