“How are you going with the territorial exploration?”
Hawke’s question snapped her head back into the game—she knew her alpha had to be evaluating her performance as a transfer. “I’m doing a new section each day. I discuss it with Eli or Riley before and after to make sure I don’t miss anything.”
The light caught on the distinctive silver-gold of Hawke’s hair as he cocked his head a fraction to the right—the wolf, listening to her. “Good,” he said, his easy expression doing nothing to tone down the sense of na**d power that clung to him like a second skin. “Another thing, Adria”—a moment of searing eye contact—“if there are any issues I need to be aware of, you let me know.”
“Of course.” Leaving the alpha, her senses prickling with the knowledge that Hawke saw far more than either part of her wanted him to see, she made her way to the weekly senior soldiers meeting. Elias, the man in charge of the group, ribbed her gently for being late, before calling the meeting to order from his leaning stance against a scarred wooden desk so sturdy it would take four men to shift.
It was a perfect fit for a break room that was happily shabby with its worn-in furniture and massive notice board hung with party invites, take-out menus, printouts of the roster, and an eclectic collection of photos. Word was, the maternal females had been politely but implacably rebuffed when they’d made noises about refurbishing it to match the bright new community areas in the den.
Adria was glad—this room had its own identity, its steady, comfortable look reflecting the pragmatic men and women who most often used it. Unlike the lieutenants, who had to deal not only with political issues but also with matters that crossed sectors, senior soldiers had charge of the day-to-day security and running of their particular sector of the territory. Riley took care of overall assignments, making certain the dominants in the den functioned as a smooth unit, but Elias was the one who handled issues specific to the senior soldiers. And it was his advice Riley asked when the lieutenant wanted to know how best to utilize those men and women.
“Right,” Elias now said, “first thing we have to do is hash out assignments during the mating ceremony.”
Adria knew everyone would want a chance to attend the celebration, but the pack’s territory couldn’t be left undefended. “One-hour rotating shifts?” she suggested from her seat on a sofa beside dark-eyed Simran. “We have enough people even without the lieutenants.” Indigo, Riaz, Judd, and Riley would need to remain at the Pack Circle.
Kieran linked his hands behind his head and leaned back, balancing his chair precariously on two legs. “Works for me.” The smooth brown of his skin gleamed with health. “But anyone on the inner perimeter will have to do a two-hour block—have to allow travel time. Outer perimeter’s going to be a problem. It’s too far.”
“Cats have agreed to cover it.” Elias shook his head. “Don’t know when we stopped trying to skin them for their pelts and started to trust them.”
“Shame, I could’ve used a new rug,” some wit commented from the back.
Adria grinned. Like the others, her own wolf was still getting used to an alliance that had gone beyond blood and to the heart. For a pack like SnowDancer to trust its borders to anyone, much less a leopard pack strong enough to be a threat, spoke of ties so deep, nothing would fracture them.
The change hadn’t happened overnight. It had taken years … years while she’d been trapped in amber, driven by a painful hope that had died a slow, cruel death. But, she thought, never would she have to look back and wonder if she’d given up too soon. No, she’d tried. Until her heart broke.
“Back to the shifts,” Eli said, deep brown hair the shade of burnt toffee sliding across his forehead. “Anyone who takes the inner perimeter only has to do a single shift for the night, so if you want one of those, let me know.”
There were a few raised hands, mostly from those who wanted to have the early part of the evening off so they could attend the ceremony with their children. “And,” one of them pointed out, “it’s not like the party’s going to stop.”
A round of laughter followed, deepening when Drew quipped something in his usual sly way. Adria had been surprised to see him at the first meeting she’d attended, his place in the hierarchy was so mutable, but she supposed he was technically closest to the senior soldiers. Of course, Riley’s brother and Indigo’s mate had a way of being welcome anywhere he went—she’d spotted him with the mechanics the other day.
“Okay, now that that’s sorted,” Elias said, glancing once again at the board on which he’d scribbled his notes. “We need to talk about—”
“Hey, Eli,” Kieran interrupted, gray-green eyes wicked with mischief. “Is that one of those scratch-and-write boards they use at elementary school?”
“What?” Unfazed, Elias continued to write on the pink slate. “You just noticed?”
Adria laughed, wondering if Sakura had given the board to her father. From beside her, Simran said, “I think it’s great.”
“You’re a girl,” Kieran pointed out. “It’s pink. Manly men spit on pink.”
Roundly booed by the females in the room, Kieran threw out his arms. “Hey, hey, I like girls.” Pure charm. “A lot.”
“Quiet,” Elias said in his no-nonsense way, “or we’ll be here all day. Next thing we need to sort out are some new training modules. We now have a climber with Level 4 certification in the group, so she’ll be doing a lesson tomorrow for those of you who climb like bears after hibernation.”