“Mack and one of his trainee techs went up to do a routine service of the hydro station,” Hawke told them, shoving back strands of hair the silver-gold of his pelt in wolf form, “but their vehicle’s not starting, and they’ve got components that need to be brought back to the den for repairs.”
“No problem,” Riaz said. “I’ll take one of the SUVs, pick them up.”
Even as Adria was thinking the task was a one-person job, Hawke turned to her. “You’re now one of the most senior people in the den.” His dominance was staggering, demanding her wolf’s absolute attention. “I’d like you to get reacquainted with the region, given that you haven’t spent an extended period of time here since you turned eighteen.”
She nodded. “I’ll ask Riley and Eli to work some time into my shift schedule.” It was a necessary detour from her normal duties—falling just below the lieutenants in the hierarchy, senior soldiers were often called upon to lead, and as a leader she had to know every inch of this land, not only the section she’d been assigned to during the battle. “It’d be better if I do it on foot.” She’d see, scent, so much more.
“You can explore in detail later on. I want you to have a good working knowledge of the area as soon as possible.” He handed her a thin plas map. “The trip up to the hydro station will take you through some critical sections—and you have certification in auto mechanics, correct?”
“Yes.” It had been an interest she’d turned into the secondary qualification all soldiers were required to possess. Later, it had kept her sane, the ability to fix broken things and make them whole again. “I’ll take a look at the vehicle.”
“What about the replanting?” Riaz asked, his voice clawing over her skin like nails on one of those old-fashioned chalkboards the pups liked to draw on. “Felix’s team have enough security?”
“They’re fine.” Walking to the territorial map on the stone wall of his office, Hawke tapped the large crosshatched section where the battle with Pure Psy had taken place. “Felix’s volunteers and conscripts”—a sharp grin—“are planting the area with fast-growing natives, but for now, it’s so open it’s easy to monitor, especially with the cats sharing the watch.”
Adria thought of what she’d seen on that battlefield filled with the screams of wounded SnowDancers; the cold red and hypnotic gold of a flame so hypnotic and deadly, and wondered at the cost paid by the young Psy woman who held all that power—and their alpha’s heart. “What are the chances of another serious Pure Psy attack?” she asked, intrigued on the innermost level by a relationship that appeared so very unbalanced on the outside, and yet one that her wolf sensed was as solid as the stone of the den.
It was Riaz who answered. “According to Judd’s sources, close to nil. They’ve got worse problems.”
“Civil war,” Hawke said, shaking his head. “If he’s right, all hell is going to break loose—so we make sure we’re prepared to weather any storms.”
“The irritation hits?” Riaz asked, and Adria knew he was referring to the sporadic attempts to lay booby traps in den territory.
“Yeah,” Hawke agreed with a scowl. “Scent trails point to the perpetrators being a number of the Pure Psy survivors who just can’t let it go. They’re disorganized and their traps are laughable. Still, I have all the sentries taking care not to accidentally fall into a hole. A hole for crissakes!”
Adria’s wolf nodded in disgusted agreement. It really was time to retreat when you had to resort to digging holes and covering them up with leaves in the hope that SnowDancer’s people wouldn’t sniff them out a mile away. “They’ll get tired sooner or later, but it might be an idea to make finding these traps a bit of a joke contest between the sentries.”
Riaz angled his head toward her in a very wolfish way, even as Hawke’s frustrated expression turned to one of interest.
“From what I’ve seen,” she said, keeping her eyes resolutely away from the man to her right, “the amount of time they have to waste neutralizing the traps is starting to frustrate the soldiers who patrol the borders, and it’s the kind of thing that can grow into anger. That’s not good for our people, especially coming off the stress of the battle. But if you make it so the sentry with the most sightings gets a prize at the end of each week—”
“—it becomes a game,” Riaz completed with a thoughtful nod. “That’s very good.”
Hands behind her back, Adria squeezed the wrist of one hand with the other to keep from snapping back that she didn’t need his endorsement. The response was so far from her usual even-tempered nature that she bit down on the inside of her lip to snap herself out of it, her gaze focused straight ahead. Except the stranger who’d taken over her body couldn’t simply shut up. “Thank you.” Honey sweet. “I’m so glad you approve.”
A growl tangled up the air currents.
“Wolves do like a game,” Hawke said, his face suspiciously bland. “I think Drew’s the best person to organize it—I’ll get that in motion.” He glanced at the time projected on the wall. “You two better head out so you can get back before dinner.”
Walking out of the office with the man whose very scent—dark, of the forest, with an edgy undertone of citrus and a brush of woodsmoke—made her skin itch, she said, “We should get some food.” The drive wouldn’t be quick, plus Mack and his tech hadn’t planned to be up there this long and would be hungry.