Riaz’s wolf bristled. Maybe Hawke was alpha, but Riaz was a lieutenant—that meant he had the strength and the dominance to bloody the other man in a fight. “What delusion makes you think you have the right to give me orders about my personal life?”
Hawke’s response was a harsh bark of laughter. “Fuck, you remind me of what I was like a few months back. Don’t be a stupid ass like I was.”
Riaz released his wrist. Blood began to flow again in a hot rush, causing painful pinpricks of sensation. Hawke, he thought, was perhaps the one person in the pack who wouldn’t just understand but would know what it had done to him to lose Lisette without ever having had her. Still … “I can’t talk about it yet,” he said, the words rocks scraping his throat.
“Fine,” Hawke replied, the wolf in his voice. “But, Riaz? You’re home now. The pack is only going to give you so much rope—and we certainly won’t let you hang yourself with it.”
He should leave, Riaz thought, get the hell away from den territory, from an alpha who saw too much, and most of all, from a woman who incited a raw sexual hunger that made him so angry it was a white-hot flash through his bloodstream. But the painful fact was, he wasn’t ready to walk alone again, a hard thing for a lone wolf to accept.
Maybe Hawke was right. Maybe he needed to go see his family. He’d eat his mother’s divine cooking, tease his pretty little sister-in-law, play with his dimpled hellion of a niece, drink a beer with Gage and his father, and get his head screwed on straight. The one thing he did not need to do was to give in to the gnawing compulsion to track the subtle scent of wild berries crushed in ice until he had Adria’s nude, sweat-slicked body pinned under the hard demand of his own.
ADRIA came around a cedar, its distinctive red-orange bark gray in the dark, to see Sienna waving at her. “Are you taking over my shift?” the younger woman asked.
“Yes.” Again, Adria was struck by Sienna’s youth, her instincts as protective toward the novice soldier as they were toward Evie. But she had to accept that those cardinal eyes … they were of someone far older and wiser. “Anything I need to know?”
“See that tree over there?” Sienna pointed out the huge black oak, its canopy a sprawling shadow. “Pair of nesting eagles. Steer clear—they’re being very territorial.” She tugged on her braid. “I almost lost this when I ventured too close.”
Having fallen foul of a nesting eagle herself once, Adria knew Sienna had had a lucky escape. “Before I forget—Evie asked me to remind you that you two have a dinner date.” Again, it was a surprise, that her gentle niece was best friends with this tough young woman who’d been forged in deadly fire.
“I’ve been looking forward to it all day.” A guarded but not unfriendly smile. “Evie said you’re an expert in martial arts.”
“A particular discipline,” Adria corrected. “It’s one of the more aggressive forms.” She’d had to utilize it in the battle in a bid to protect fallen SnowDancers from the enemy. Her own ears had been bleeding heavily after the sonic blast, her balance shot, but she’d still been able to function on some level, and so she’d fought.
Right beside Riaz.
His arm all but flayed to the bone by a laser burn, his eardrums shattered, he’d nonetheless refused to go down. And when she’d been too slow and taken a fracturing kick to the shoulder, he’d acted as a living shield until she could punch in a localized painkiller and rise to fight again. The man might be a bastard personally, Adria thought, her jaw tight, but he was blood-loyal with unflinching courage under fire. “I was thinking of talking to Indigo about offering a class to her novices,” she said, strangling her body’s unwanted response to thoughts of the dark-haired lone wolf. “Are you interested?”
An immediate nod. “The reason I was asking is because Evie told me it can be modified to suit a physically smaller individual.”
Smart girl—aware not only of her strengths but also her weaknesses. Then again, no alpha wolf, much less Hawke, would’ve been attracted to anyone who didn’t have a brain. “Yes, absolutely. This might be one of the times we split classes according to height and weight.” She glanced at her watch. “You’d better head back or I’ll hear all about it from Evie tomorrow.”
Sienna laughed, more comfortable with Adria than she usually was with people she didn’t know well. And it wasn’t because the senior soldier shared a strong family resemblance with the Riviere women, all of whom Sienna trusted. The truth was, Adria reminded Sienna most of Riley.
They both had the same quiet, unflashy confidence intertwined with an earthy warmth, the same sense of being a rock in the storm. Sienna didn’t know the pack as well as Hawke did, but she had the gut-deep feeling Adria would soon become one of the unspoken anchors in the den, a woman people went to for levelheaded advice given without judgment or pity.
As she said, “Have a nice night,” and headed off, she saw Adria’s smile fade, to be replaced by a much more stark expression, her eyes going the amber of her wolf. And it struck her that perhaps, the protective armor of someone like Adria was the hardest of all to penetrate—because she gave the appearance of being an open book … until no one was even aware of the tangled emotions that might lie beneath.
VASQUEZ’S GREATEST SKILL was in going unnoticed. It was part of why Councilor Henry Scott had handpicked him to lead the Pure Psy army before the confrontation with the changelings. The fact Vasquez had survived that annihilation spoke both to his intelligence and his ability to come out on top in any given situation.