“Should be something in here,” Riaz said, entering the senior soldiers’ break room.
They worked with honed efficiency to slap together some sandwiches, and were ready to go ten minutes later. Clenching her abdominal muscles as she got into the vehicle with Riaz, Adria told herself to concentrate on the route, the geography, anything but the potent masculine scent of the man in the driver’s seat … because she knew full well why he incited such violence in her.
RIAZ drove them out of the garage and into the mountains, very aware of the arctic silence from the passenger seat. The more time he spent with Adria, the more he realized how unlike Indigo she was, in spite of the superficial similarity of their looks. One of the reasons he’d always enjoyed the other woman’s company was her up-front nature—Adria, by comparison, was a closed box, with Do Not Enter signs pasted on every surface.
He understood that. Hell, he had his own “no go” zones, but with Adria, it was armor of broken glass that drew blood. “This track,” he said, doing his job because, personality clash or not, he knew his responsibilities, “is the most direct route to the hydro station.”
“Not according to the map Hawke gave me.” A quick, penetrating glance. “So what’s wrong with the other road?”
Reining in his wolf when it bared its teeth at what it read as a challenge, though the rational part of him knew he was just revved up for a fight after her earlier provocation, he said, “Sheer cliff face right in the middle.” As a lieutenant who’d had her under his command on the field, he appreciated her intelligence and determination to learn—regardless of how often she used that sharp mind to slice into him with verbal claws.
Making two tight turns, he continued onward through the mountains that seemed to touch the sky. “Meant to delay any aggressors if they ever get that far.”
Adria didn’t say anything for several long minutes, studying the map and their passage into the mountains. “I’ll need to request another senior soldier go with me on some of my exploratory trips”—her naturally husky voice low in thought—“so I don’t miss things like that. I didn’t have reason to memorize or even know all this as a teenager, and I’m sure security details have been changed in the meantime anyway.”
“I’ll take you,” Riaz said, because damn it, he was a lieutenant, even when it came to a prickly piece of cactus like Adria. “Indigo made sure I was familiar with the details after I came back from my posting in Europe.” He’d been away long enough for many of the subtle security precautions to have been altered. “It’ll be good for me to review the knowledge.”
Adria blinked, fingertips tightening on the sides of the plas map. “I appreciate it.” It was the only thing she could say without giving everything away.
Riaz snorted, his hands strong and competent on the manual steering wheel as he navigated a particularly steep embankment, his bronzed arms dusted with a sprinkling of fine black hair. “About as much as you appreciate a root canal,” he said, thrusting the vehicle into hover drive, “but whatever your problem with me, we have to work together.”
Setting her jaw, she focused on the view beyond the window—of the most magnificent scenery on this earth. Summer had faded, fall a crisp promise in the air, but here the land was swathed in dark green, the peaks in the distance touched with white. She’d grown up on this land, and even now, after she’d been away for so long, it sang to her wolf, as it did to every SnowDancer. Den territory had a way of being home to all of them, no matter if they’d given the name to another place.
I can heal here.
It was a thought deep in her heart, one that almost managed to unknot the tension wi—“Who’s that?” She jerked forward as a big tan-colored wolf raced across a verdant meadow to their left, chasing a sleek silver wolf she immediately recognized. “He’s being rough with Evie.” Fury boiled in her blood. “Stop the car.”
Riaz’s chuckle held pure male amusement, fuel to her temper. “That’s Tai, and Evie won’t appreciate the interruption, Aunt Adria.”
Biting back her harsh response, Adria glanced at the two wolves again, saw what she’d missed at first glance. They were playing, all teeth and claws, but with no real aggression to it. Just as Riaz turned a corner, cutting off the view, the two wolves nuzzled one another and Adria realized Tai and Evie weren’t playing, they were courting.
“She’s too young.” While Indigo was very close to Adria in age, Tarah had borne Evie later in life. The little girl had toddled around after her older sister and Adria when they’d been in their teens, sweet natured and stubborn and beloved. Adria couldn’t imagine her submissive niece was in any way ready to handle a dominant—and having met Tai, she knew he was a hell of a lot stronger and more dangerous than Evie.
“She’s still a wolf,” Riaz said, his deep voice a rumble that vibrated uncomfortably against her achingly tight ni**les, “an adult female wolf. You might have forgotten, Ms. Frost, but touch is necessary for most of our kind.”
Her hand fisted, that nerve far too close to the surface.
It had been a year since she’d shared intimate skin privileges, a rawly painful kind of isolation for a predatory changeling in the prime of her life. Even before then, things had been fragmenting for a long time, her wolf starved of affection. But she’d been handling it, handling the broken pieces inside of her, until Riaz and the raging storm of a sudden, visceral sexual attraction that gripped her in its claws and shook, until she could barely think.