His eyes were calm, his answer brutal. “War.”
RIAZ halted in the doorway of the meeting room on the lower floor of the same art deco hotel in San Francisco. “Where’s Bo?”
Looking up from the other side of the small oval table, Lisette said, “He flew back to Venice an hour ago,” in that distinctive clear tone of hers. “There was another attempt to take Alliance personnel. Everyone’s safe, but he wants to be there on the ground. He assumed you’d be fine working out the final details with me.”
“Of course,” he said, making a mental note to follow up on the attack with her later in the day. As liaison, Lisette should have the most up-to-date information. “Have you been through the communication protocols I e-mailed through? Any problems?”
Lisette’s smile was soft. “Won’t you sit?”
He took a chair across from her, and it was the first time he’d really looked at her since her arrival in the country. The impact was … unexpected. The primal draw he felt toward her hadn’t disappeared, but it had dulled to background noise, leaving him clearheaded and in control. What had him taking a deep, quiet breath was that his wolf, too, showed no desire to wrench at the reins, to lunge at her. It lay quiet, watchful.
Lisette lifted a hand in a graceful motion, the fine gold bracelet around her wrist sliding lower down her arm. “I have no issues with the protocols. I should’ve told you that in my e-mail, but I … wanted to talk.”
He took in the shadows under her eyes, the paleness of her skin, felt his protective instincts stir. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m sorry.” She swallowed, shook her head. “I don’t know why—” Another head shake before her face crumpled.
“Hey, hey.” Walking around the table, he crouched down beside her, taking her hands into his. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
It took her several minutes to catch her breath. “I haven’t spoken to Emil in a month,” she whispered, her eyes red.
“Ah, Lisette.” Rising, he pulled her into a hug.
She held on tight to him. “I don’t know why I can speak to you about this, why it feels so easy.” Bewilderment. “I haven’t told anyone else.”
Riaz’s wolf understood why she felt so comfortable with him, yet he knew to his bones that she wasn’t the one he’d go to if he was hurting as badly as Lisette was now. There was only one person he trusted enough to lower his guard, leave himself defenseless, only one person to whom his wolf would speak its secrets. The knowledge was another piece settling into place, another filament in the bond between him and his empress.
Squeezing Lisette tight, he released her and nudged her back into her chair. “Why?” he asked after getting her a cup of coffee. “I know you’re crazy for one another.”
“Something happened and he just stopped talking to me,” she said in an almost sub-vocal tone. “I can’t believe he’s having an affair, but what else could it be?” She wiped off another rush of tears. “I said I was leaving him, hoping the shock would get through to him and he’d finally tell me what was wrong … and he said he wanted a divorce.”
MERCY wasn’t the teensiest bit surprised when Riley turned up that night to join her on her security patrol of the city. Her leopard butted up against his scent, playful and affectionate. Riley’s returning touch was careful, almost … tentative.
Tilting her head to the side, she said, “What’s up, my personal and very sexy big, bad wolf?” Riley was never tentative. Though quiet, the man had steamrollers beat. He’d have made mincemeat of the little submissive he’d once dreamed about—Mercy had forgiven him for that, but she still liked to jerk his chain about it now and then.
Not tonight, not when he looked so solemn.
“You’re being sweet,” he said, the tentativeness replaced by frustration. “I keep waiting for a hiss and a swipe with your claws, and instead you pet me.”
Laughing softly, she pressed her body to his. “Riley, my Riley.” So solid and strong and stable, he was her port in the storm. No matter what happened, she knew she could come home to Riley, his love as enduring as the mountains themselves. “I know what it does to you to have me vulnerable.”
The fact she carried a child—children—in her womb, meant she was no longer as fast or as lethal, cognizant as she was about not doing anything to injure their young. It was the reason she’d asked to be put on routine patrols. “I know.” Claws kneading gently at his shoulders, she spoke with her lips against his. “It doesn’t make me crazy when you check up on me.” His deep need to care, to protect was patent in every shimmer of the mating bond. That’s who Riley was, and she loved him for it.
“Honest?” he said, stroking his hand around to her nape.
“Honest.” Sealed with a kiss. “Are you going to stay?”
He gave a sheepish nod. “I put myself on shift here. I know it’s doubling up, but we have enough people that no one will notice.”
And Riley, she thought, had earned the time. He was SnowDancer’s rock, too, had been for as long as Hawke had been alpha. “Come on. Let’s go neck on the pier—Zach will cover for me.” Her partner was being very discreet on the other side of the street.
Riley laughed; it was one of her favorite sounds in the universe.
“IT’S AS I expected,” Vasquez said to the man inside the sterile chamber. “The anchors in the California region are now under heavy guard.”