Elias met his gaze. “You sound certain.”
“My dad was badly hurt in the fighting when Garrick died.” His teacher father had known he had no chance against the dominants who had turned, but he’d stood firm in defense of the innocent. “It really shook me.” He didn’t like thinking about it, even now. “Because dads aren’t supposed to get hurt, you know? Best thing my parents did was to not baby or coddle me or my brother afterward—the normalcy helped us settle down.” And even as a boy, he’d known that he was lucky, so lucky.
Riley had lost his parents.
Hawke had lost his father … and not long afterward, his mother.
So many other friends had been made orphans or been left with only one parent.
“Just love her,” he said. “That’s all she needs.”
“I’ll never forget what the den was like back then, after everything was over.” Chill shadows whispered into the warmth of Eli’s eyes. “How eerie, how quiet. So many of the strong were dead. I was a novice at the time, and terrified the pack was going to shatter around us.”
But SnowDancer hadn’t broken. It had grown stronger. Until tonight they celebrated the mating of the boy who had given up his childhood to lead the pack out of the darkness. Nothing and no one, Riaz thought, his own wolf fierce in its loyalty, would ever sway the pack’s devotion to Hawke. “Come on,” he said to Eli, “the megalomaniacs called the techs are gesturing for us to hurry up.”
It was two hours later that the other man said, “Done! Don’t know about you, but I could do with a beer.”
Picking up the T-shirt he’d stripped off earlier, Riaz used it to wipe his face as he nodded. He draped the T-shirt around his neck as they left the Pack Circle, and wasn’t really paying attention when a group of female packmates walked past, carrying small boxes loaded up with decorations.
Until a wolf whistle pierced the quiet.
Glancing back, he found himself being observed by a sexy dark-eyed beauty with curly blonde hair to the middle of her back. She cocked the box on her hip, her full br**sts pushing against the cotton of her navy blue tee, her smile an invitation. Most hot-blooded males would’ve closed the distance between them to accept it, but Riaz shook his head with a gentle smile to soften the rejection, and continued on his way.
Elias didn’t say anything until they’d passed out of the heavily forested area immediately around the Pack Circle, and to an otherwise empty section of track. “You already have a date?”
“Not interested.” His wolf peeled back its lips in a snarl that exposed razor-sharp canines—because the words were a lie. There was one woman who interested him a whole damn lot.
A short pause. “Do you … er … swing the other way?”
Riaz halted, stared. “What the hell, Eli?”
Elias shrugged, unabashed. “Word is, the women are starting to wonder why you keep turning them down when it’s obvious you need to share skin privileges. And don’t shoot me, but Lara’s apparently been asked a few pointed questions, too.”
“Great.” Riaz gripped the ends of his T-shirt, twisted. “My c**k is fixated on a woman who makes my blood boil”—a fixation that kept shoving Lisette into the background—“and the pack thinks I’m either g*y or incapable.” He didn’t know whether to roar his aggravation or break something.
“The one you want”—unhidden curiosity—“she in the den?”
“Doesn’t matter.” He wouldn’t allow it to, regardless of the fact that he’d woken up with a hard-on as rigid as stone this morning, his mind filled with the husky voice and erotic taste of the woman he’d almost f**ked against the cold metal of a car door.
“Fair enough.” Elias’s genial words broke into the teeth-clenched intensity of his thoughts. “Though you should know—I have a feeling a number of the single women are planning to ambush you tonight and get an answer once and for all.”
“I should’ve seen that coming.” He was a strong, eligible male without a partner. It would’ve been more surprising if he hadn’t been playfully stalked. He was also dominant enough to scare them all away, but just because he was in a shit of a mood didn’t mean he wanted to ruin the night for women who were only behaving as their natures dictated. “Why the hell did I come back to the den?” It was a snarl.
Elias slapped him on the back. “You know you love us.”
Yeah, he did. So he’d swallow his irritation and frustration, and dance every dance if it came down to it—each with a different partner, so no one would get ideas about staking a claim.
The one woman he would not be dancing with was Adria.
It shamed him to the core, destroying everything he thought he knew about himself, but he wasn’t sure he could touch her without shoving her to the earth and ripping off her panties to thrust himself into the scalding tightness of her body.
HAWKE CAUGHT AN unexpected scent on the breeze when he stepped outside with Judd, wanting to get some fresh air after the comm-conference they’d just had with Lucas, Sascha, Nikita, Max, and Anthony. It was the second time in a week they’d all connected, unusual for their strange alliance, but necessary given the growing volatility of the PsyNet.
It had become dangerous enough that both Nikita and Anthony had made contingency plans in case of their own assassinations. For the first time, he’d found himself feeling a reluctant respect for the former Councilors—the two had considered the impact of their deaths not only on their business empires but also on the people who counted on them for stability. He wasn’t ever going to trust or like either, not when he knew how much blood they had on their hands, but he’d accepted the need to work with this particular enemy to protect SnowDancer and the region.