“You have permission to move as soon as you see an open window,” Henry replied, his broken voice short of breath. “We will succeed, Vasquez.”
“Yes, sir. We will.” No one and nothing had the power to stop them. Not this time.
TWO DAYS AFTER Adria moved in with him, Riaz was a happy wolf. He loved having her in his space, loved that her scent was everywhere—and that his was all over every perfect inch of her. And he was definitely smug about the fact that though their request for quarters in the couples section hadn’t yet gone through, she hadn’t made any noises about his room being too small for the both of them.
Wiping the smile off his face since it totally destroyed his hard-ass rep, he put through a call to Bowen, needing to talk through some final details about SnowDancer’s permanent liaison arrangement with the Alliance. The security chief asked him to organize clearance for the liaison to fly to San Francisco for a sit-down discussion within the next few days. “I think I have the perfect candidate, but I want to discuss her with Lily. She’s taken over Human Resources, knows our people inside out.”
“Hold on.” Switching lines, Riaz made a quick call to his counterpart in DarkRiver—Nathan—and got the clearance, the city very much leopard territory. Back on the line with Bo, he said, “You’ve got permission,” then set out the conditions—basically dealing with how much freedom of movement the liaison would be permitted. “You coming along?”
“I’ll try. Depends on the security situation.”
“Any further aggression from Tatiana?”
“Nothing obvious. Covert surveillance is likely.” A beep in the background. “That’s my cell phone. I better get it—link up with you later in the week to confirm flight details.”
Hanging up, Riaz swung by Indigo’s office to discuss a personnel matter. The other lieutenant gave him a considering look across her desk after they were done. “Adria told me about the rose petals.”
He knew when a wolf was fishing. “Did she?”
“Damn it. She mentioned rose petals and then she blushed. Adria never blushes.”
Sprawled in her visitor chair, he just smiled. “So, you and Drew are heading to take over Alexei’s sector in a month.”
“Only caretaking,” Indigo clarified. “You know how good he is. Needs a bit more seasoning is all. I’m taking most of my novices and younger soldiers along,” she added. “Good for them to learn to work with dominants from other sectors. The ones I’m leaving here are those with an aptitude for weapons—Alexei’s going to do sessions with them while he’s here.”
Knowing Alexei’s strength in that area, Riaz knew the novices had lucked out. “He had any more problems with challenges?”
“No, but there has been an interesting development as of last night—the wolves in the pack that kept challenging him?” At Riaz’s nod, she continued. “Turns out they’re in a bad way. Their alpha passed two months ago from old age, and while the lieutenants were able to keep it quiet and hold the pack together, they’re all comparatively young and weak.”
In a situation where a pack had no successor to their alpha, Riaz thought, a strong lieutenant who had the backing of his fellow dominants could ensure the pack’s continued health. But it needed to be someone of Riley’s caliber—a man every wolf in the pack could respect and whose strength was unquestioned.
Without that, the natural aggression of the dominants would spill over, disintegrating the pack from the inside out. “Is that why all the challenges?” he said, seeing the weaker pack’s plan—a clever one, if only they’d had someone who could take Alexei. “They wanted one of their people in a position of power in SnowDancer?”
Indigo nodded. “They’re desperate to merge with us, but it’s a tough ask for them to bring in their people under someone they don’t know and trust. Especially given our reputation.”
A reputation that, Riaz knew, had been carefully cultivated in the years after Hawke took over as alpha. No one else, that young boy had declared, would ever see SnowDancer as easy prey. Each and every dominant in the den had backed that reputation up with teeth and claws and blood, until even the most aggressive packs steered clear of SnowDancer territory. “Alexei’s show got their attention,” he guessed.
“Yeah—and since pretty much every dominant in their pack was there when he returned their man, they had a chance to judge him for themselves. They’ve made a formal request to be permitted to move in under SnowDancer’s banner, bringing their territorial lands with them.”
“This pack know what that means?” SnowDancer expected total and absolute loyalty, had executed one of their own not long ago when he proved a murderous traitor.
“They will—and if it goes through, our region swap might have to wait a bit while our new packmates get settled in under Alexei.” Indigo glanced at her watch. “It’s time for you to leave for the meet. Make sure the octopus doesn’t get you.”
“Funny,” he muttered, but part of him was intrigued by the idea of changeling octopuses. Or should that be “octopi”? BlackSea was so secretive, it was impossible to separate wild conjecture from fact.
Hawke and Riley met him in the garage. The three of them—and Kenji—had debated dressing in suits, but had settled on their usual jeans and T-shirts. This was who they were, and if BlackSea didn’t like it, there wasn’t much hope for a functional alliance.