Hawke’s eyes narrowed at the challenge in hers. Later, after everyone else had left the room, he snapped his fingers around her wrist, tugged her close and whispered, “You sure you want to play with the wolf, baby?”
Her stomach somersaulted, but she was ready. “Sure you’re ready to handle an X, wolf?”
FOUR HOURS LATER, in a fortified compound in Southern Australia, Tatiana Rika-Smythe looked at images of the wreckage that had once been a solid marble sculpture. The cost of the piece—miniscule—was of no relevance. The destruction was a message, and as that, it hit the mark. She used the comm panel to input a call to Henry.
It wouldn’t go through to his London residence, so she traced him via the PsyNet. “You—” she began when he answered her psychic hail.
“I can’t have this conversation now, Tatiana,” he interrupted without any attempt at courtesy and disappeared back into his mind.
Tatiana wasn’t used to being brushed off, but she was also not stupid. Dropping out of the PsyNet, she brought up the feed from the spy satellite she used to get information on Henry, having increased her surveillance of him after he’d begun to act in away that suggested he had become the driving force in the Scott partnership.
A two-second delay and the visuals came into crisp focus. Henry’s London residence was collapsing. Slowly enough that she could see it had been evacuated, but there was no way to rescue it. The charges had been laid with careful precision—which begged the question of how anyone could’ve skirted Henry’s security to get that close to the building.
Certain now that there would be a third target site, she began switching through the news channels. It took her only seconds to find it. Shoshanna’s new office tower looked spectacular as glass fell in rippling blue sheets from its windows. The building was a skeleton in under a minute, its metal bones gleaming under the unforgiving desert sun.
The conclusion was clear—the Scotts had underestimated the changelings. Again.
Picking up her cell phone, she sent Henry a text message, the method of communication an indication of precisely how much she valued his mind at present. Leave me out of it.
HENRY received a call three minutes after Tatiana’s curt message.
“A miscalculation,” the male voice said. “But better now than later.”
“So,” Henry said, “you don’t plan to pull out?”
“WE MIGHT HAVE given them pause,” Hawke said to Riley, Riaz, and Indigo as they stood on a cliff overlooking SnowDancer territory four days after the retaliation, “but they’ve succeeded in one respect. We’re running at high alert—how long can we keep that up before our people begin to get exhausted?”
“I have an idea about that.” Riley’s eyes swept over the clearing below, and Hawke knew he was looking out for the sentry on duty. “A soldier can maintain this pace for a week without starting to slip—we run each for five days, swap him out with a soldier from one of the other sectors.”
Right then, a wolf loped across the verdant land below and into the thick stand of firs that seemed to sprawl to the horizon. Tai, Hawke thought, identifying the large tan-colored wolf. “Can that be done without flicking up warning flags?” They could betray no hint of weakness.
“We do it in stages,” Indigo said, namesake eyes even more intense in the mountain sunlight. “Set it up so the ones closest to den territory are moved in first, those who are farther out rolling in to take their places. We do it right, no one knows any different—Psy sure as hell can’t tell one wolf from another when we’re in animal form.”
“Except for you,” Riaz muttered to Hawke. “Because you have the bad taste to be a color that yells ‘Here I am, shoot me now.’ ”
“Let’s see who’s a target when the snow falls, shall we?” Hawke turned a fraction to welcome the feral wolves loping up the rise. They wiggled between Indigo and Riley—on either side of him—to press against his legs.
“Spoiled,” Indigo said, shaking her head. “They think you’re theirs.”
Hawke let his lips curve a little. “Do the rotation. But shorten the shifts to four days spread out over a week—I want everyone rested up if we have to kick into full defensive mode. Can we work that?”
Riley and Indigo both nodded, though Indigo was the one to speak. “I think it might actually work better that way.” She growled when one of the feral wolves pushed too hard.
The wolf retreated.
“What about the cats?” Riaz asked, hunkering down to mock fight with another wolf. “Are they going to need extra manpower in the city?”
“I’ve talked to Mercy about it,” Riley said, “and we’re splitting duties unless any of you disagree. Leopards are going to focus on San Francisco while we handle the rest. We’re also aligning our sentries so rather than doubling up in some spots, we’re going to start working DarkRiver and SnowDancer land as one big territory.”
No one disagreed, and for a moment, they simply stood there, looking out over the flourishing green of the valley, the slender spires of the pines, the jagged snow-kissed peaks of the mountains. It was a beautiful piece of the earth, but more, it was their heartland, singing a song of welcome to any lost or wounded wolf.
“We fight,” Hawke said quietly. “All the way.”
SURE you’re ready to handle an X, wolf?
The operation against the Councilors and the ensuing time he’d spent helping maintain security, along with his other responsibilities as alpha—in combination with Sienna’s duty schedule—had kept him from following up on her brazen challenge, but Hawke was ready to hunt today. Unfortunately, Judd had other ideas.