“Who’s going to drive?” Riaz asked, reaching the vehicle.
They all looked at one another … then stuck out their fists for a game of rock, paper, scissors. Riley won, with Riaz losing and ending up in the backseat. In a good mood, he wasn’t fussed, his mind filled with thoughts of the woman who had brought him back to life, branded her claim on his heart. His tough, prickly, generous Adria, who wasn’t so tough or prickly after all.
Last night, he’d had her in giggling fits after finding a ticklish spot and taking merciless advantage. He’d felt as young as a pup as they twisted and tangled in the sheets, her giggles erupting between stern admonitions and breathless threats. Wolf grinning at the memory, he talked to the back of Riley’s head. “How’s Mercy doing?”
The senior sentinel caressed the steering wheel through a turn, sliding the vehicle gracefully onto the highway beyond den territory. “She hasn’t snarled at me yet.” Pure disbelief in every syllable. “I turn up out of the blue while she’s working, and she smiles, gives me a kiss, and lets me hang around as long as I want.”
Hawke turned to look at Riley, suspicion writ large on his profile. “We’re talking about Mercy the sentinel? The one who’d kick your ass if you dared baby her?”
“Maybe it’s the pregnancy?” Riley sounded hopeful.
Riaz winced. “Pregnancy usually makes dominant females meaner, not nicer.” It tended to take very careful petting to calm one down once she got her fur ruffled. “Are you sure she’s happy to see you?”
Riley gave him a look in the rearview mirror.
“Right,” Riaz muttered. “Mating bond.” The scar inside him stretched, the wound throbbing, but it didn’t bleed. Because the thing was, he knew when his empress was happy, too, his wolf attuned to her own.
Hawke rubbed his jaw. “I’d say enjoy it while it lasts,” was his thoughtful advice. “Sooner or later, she’ll turn into a she-demon.”
Riley’s growl filled the vehicle. “Don’t insult my mate or I’ll have to stop this SUV and beat you dead.”
Hawke’s hair caught the light coming through the open sunroof as he shook his head, the strands gleaming white-gold. “I can take you.”
“After the meeting, you and me. Riaz will referee.”
Well aware the two men were the best of friends and often took each other on in combat, Riaz interlocked his fingers behind his head and looked up at the clear blue sky visible through the sunroof. “Dolphin changelings—what do you think?”
Riley was the one who replied. “That one, I could give credence to. Any number of humans and nonwater-based changelings—even Psy in some cases—report being saved from drowning by dolphins. The survivors always mention how intelligent the creatures seemed.”
“That,” Hawke said, “assumes humans, changelings, and Psy are the only intelligent species on the planet. Pretty arrogant of us.”
“Jellyfish,” Riaz said, after considering the other inhabitants of the sea. “Seriously, there cannot be jellyfish changelings.”
Hawke turned to look over his shoulder. “What the hell have you been smoking?”
Riaz shrugged, his mood undampened. “It was green and leafy.” He made a note to discuss the subject of possible sea changelings with Adria—intrigued as she was by puzzles, she’d find it as fascinating as he did. “There’s Kenji.” His flight delayed, the lieutenant had asked them to swing by the airport and pick him up.
Jumping in sans luggage, Kenji and his magenta hair took a seat beside Riaz. “A teenage girl screamed and asked for my autograph—thought I was part of some boy band from Japan.”
“I told you so,” Hawke said. “Did you give your fan an autograph?”
Kenji grinned. “It would’ve been such a shame to disappoint her.”
The rest of the drive was taken up with a quick discussion about the upcoming meeting, which Hawke would lead, the rest of them providing backup and security as needed.
Riaz tapped Riley’s shoulder when they hit the Embarcadero, pointing left. “That building.” Squat and wide, it fronted the pier, the shimmer of the Bay visible in the small gap between the warehouse and the fence.
Parking, they got out to find Nathan waiting for them. The senior DarkRiver sentinel took them through the empty space Riaz had already checked out with him earlier in the week. Nate went over all the exits and entrances once again, as well as anything that could be a possible blind spot in a fight. Because of its shape, the warehouse didn’t really possess any shadowy corners, part of the reason Riaz had chosen it.
“We’ve disabled the surveillance equipment as you asked,” Nate said to Riaz, “but one of the techs is standing by if you want anything functional.”
Hawke shook his head, crossing the cavernous space to slide open the wide door that led out onto the pier. “No, we’ll lose their trust if they figure out they’re being monitored.”
“In that case, the place is all yours. Call me once you’re done and I’ll send someone to lock it up. Good luck.” The DarkRiver sentinel left with those words.
Riaz and Kenji followed Riley and Hawke out onto the pier. Seagulls cawed overhead, the scent of brine and fish pungent in Riaz’s nostrils, the wind rifling through his hair. Taking a deep breath, he scoped the area one more time. While it allowed easy access to and from the Bay, once on the pier, their guests would be blocked from the view of the other warehouses by the high fences on both sides.