Now, the other man shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “I’m pumped to see it coming together after all the planning. It’ll take a while for the area to regenerate, but a few years from now, no one will be able to tell this patch from any other in the territory.”
Hawke looked up at the sky streaked with the final fading embers of sunset, lines of tension bracketing his mouth. “I hate that we’ve got this massive gap where the satellites can spy on us.”
“It’s on the edge of the territory,” Riaz pointed out. “Unless you plan to put on a ballet performance while covered in nothing but chicken feathers, they aren’t going to see anything interesting.”
“Damn,” Hawke said with a straight face. “And here I’d already plucked the chickens.”
Laughing, the three of them headed for the truck. The alpha jumped into the flatbed at the back, alongside Riaz. As they were the final three to leave, it was a peaceful if yet barren view that drew away from them when Felix started the engine and began the journey home.
Back propped against the cab of the truck, Riaz let the wind rifle through his hair, grunting when the ride turned bumpy. “Doesn’t this thing have hover facility?”
“I’d answer but I think I just lost a tooth.”
The hydraulics sounded on the heels of Hawke’s words, creaking and groaning before they successfully lifted the truck off the ground.
“It’s well past time we replaced this,” the alpha said, patting the side of the truck. “But Eli was the one who originally bought it for the pack, and he’s attached to the rust bucket. I think he calls it Sheila.”
“Sheila?” Riaz grinned. This was why he’d come home, heart-bruised and licking his wounds, wary of the solitude that had always been so integral to his nature. No one could fix the hurt, but his pack … they gave him the gift of laughter, wrapped him in warmth, and kept him busy. Until he could almost forget the jagged hole that was his heart, its edges bleeding and raw.
A wild tangle of a kiss. A lithe female body twisting against his own, her legs locking around his waist. His fingers slick with her need. His c**k pulsing with the urge to thrust deep.
Hissing out a silent breath, he strangled the roar of sensory memory. He’d damn well forgotten his mate then, hadn’t he? Not only forgotten, but betrayed in the basest of fashions. The worst of it was that the memory of his hotly erotic encounter with Adria aroused him every single time, his gut clenching not in repudiation, but in claw-raking desire.
“My father,” Hawke said as they passed under the shadow of a towering pine, its thick trunk scarred with the marks from a hundred claws, “was a lone wolf.”
Folding his arms on his knees, Riaz continued to keep his eyes on the forest path retreating behind them, the failing light turning the trees into distant smudges. “I know.” A year older than Hawke, he’d been a gangly boy about to head into his teens when Hawke’s father was killed, the pack drenched in blood.
Even so young, Hawke had already begun showing his inclination to be at the center of pack life, while Riaz had preferred to prowl alone through the mountains. Yet in spite of their differences, they’d gotten along. Some part of him had seen in the boy Hawke had been, the man he would one day become. And when the pack almost broke under a hail of pain and violence, he’d made the decision to follow that boy rather than striking out on his own as so many lone wolves did.
“That’s why,” Hawke continued, “I understand lone wolves better than most.”
“Your father was mated.” It was the single thing that changed a lone wolf’s soul-deep need for long stretches of solitude—transforming it into a devotion so intense, they became more possessive and protective than any of their brethren. Some people said a lone wolf spent his life searching for that one person who could become his lodestar.
“He had friends who weren’t.” Hawke propped his arms loosely over his knees in a mirror of Riaz’s position. “That means I know lone wolves have friends. Who are you talking to, Riaz?” It was a blunt question. “Not Coop, or he’d be down here kicking your ass so I wouldn’t have to.”
Riaz gripped the wrist of one hand with the other, squeezed. Cooper and he had grown up together, gotten into trouble together, and made lieutenant together. The other man knew him better than almost anyone else on this earth—which was why Riaz couldn’t afford to show his face in Cooper’s sector. The only reason Coop hadn’t picked up on the fact that something was wrong when Riaz first returned home, was that he’d been distracted by his pursuit of Grace, the woman who was now his mate.
Instead of admitting the fact he’d been avoiding Coop, Riaz said, “Since when are we girls who have to have heart-to-hearts?”
His flippant answer didn’t faze Hawke. “You think I’ll let you get away with bullshit, you don’t know me.” A hard stare. “Have you even been to visit your folks?”
His parents were currently based in San Diego. They’d wanted to be closer to their only grandchild, three-year-old Marisol, the child of his younger brother, Gage. “Are you seriously asking me that?” It was a snarl of disbelief. “Of course I went. Right after I came back into the country.” If he hadn’t, his mother would’ve been knocking on his door, and there would’ve been hell to pay. No one messed with Abigail Delgado
Hawke’s shoulder brushed his as Felix tilted the vehicle to get around an overgrown elderberry bush. “I think you need to go visit them again.”