It wasn’t difficult to see why he intrigued her on the deepest level.
But though he was undeniably a sexy, handsome man, her wolf saw beauty through a different lens. It was drawn to his strength, his ease with himself—and with her. Riaz wasn’t bothered if she lost control during intimacy and drew a little blood, didn’t care if she wanted to take the reins at times. When they’d worked together during the battle with Pure Psy, he’d given orders with cool, calm control even in the midst of chaos. The soldier in her respected him for that, while the woman found it another compelling aspect of his character.
However, she also understood that he’d be maddening in a relationship. He wasn’t simply a dominant predatory changeling male, a lieutenant, he was a lone wolf. It was legend how incredibly possessive and insanely protective a lone wolf became with the woman he claimed as his own—as opposed to one with whom he’d agreed to build a friendship based on a storm of shared need … and shared pain.
“Two seconds,” he said, those amazing eyes locking with her own. “Ready?”
Her stomach clenched in visceral awareness. “Yes.”
“Who the hell is this?” a rough male voice asked, accepting an audio-only transmission after the call rang for a quarter of a minute.
“Bo, it’s Riaz.”
A pause, the sound of sheets rustling. “Christ, let me get out of bed,” was the response, though it had to be midmorning in Venice.
“Late night?” Riaz asked.
“Unfortunately not the x-rated kind.” A couple more seconds passed before Bo’s face appeared on-screen. He’d shaved off his hair, so he didn’t have bed head, but his face was rumpled on one side, the smooth caramel brown of his skin carrying a fine sunburn … as if he’d been out on the water. “That was quick.” Somber eyes that watched Riaz with piercing intensity.
Riaz didn’t blink. “You know what this is about.”
“I can guess.” Bo rubbed a hand over his smooth skull, the lines of his face masculine yet elegant—a man who’d be beautiful if not for the flinty hardness in his eyes, the ropes of muscle across his bare shoulders. “I can’t say anything on this line.”
But Bowen shook his head, a stubborn angle to his jaw. “Has to be face-to-face, and I’m not planning on any travel right now.”
Leaning back against the wall, Riaz folded his arms. “You’re sounding paranoid.”
“You would, too, if you’d just had the week I’ve had. It’ll only take you what”—Bo frowned—“three hours on an express airjet to get here?”
“This isn’t the best time for a SnowDancer lieutenant to leave the pack.” Riaz held the Alliance male’s gaze. “What priority is your intel?”
“High.” No hesitation.
“I’ll call you back.”
“Trust me, Riaz. You want to hear what I have to say.” Bowen signed off with those portentous words.
Waiting until the screen was clear, Adria said, “Why didn’t you confirm a trip?” He was right about the timing, but it was doable, wouldn’t affect the strength of their defenses.
“If he’s on the mark about the comm being monitored,” Riaz said, blue-black strands of hair falling across his forehead, “it’s no use tipping off any listeners to the fact we’ll be in the area.”
Her pulse spiked. “We?”
“I’m going to need backup.” Riaz saw Adria’s eyes widen. “Situation like this, I’d usually ask my man already in the area, but he’s got something else on his plate, and you speak fluent Italian.” He knew it was the right decision, that her linguistic skill and status as an experienced soldier made her the perfect choice. He also knew he was treading a dangerous line.
But Adria, when she rose to her feet, showed no indications of having read more into his suggestion than he meant. “How do you know that? The fact I speak Italian?”
“It’s my job,” he said. “I keep track of anyone in the pack who has a skill that might come in useful internationally.” Adria’s CV had passed across his desk when she transferred. “What I can’t understand is why you chose to learn Italian when Spanish would’ve been more useful in the region.”
She didn’t answer, her next words telling him her mind was on something else altogether. “I don’t want to disrupt things so early on with my trainees.”
“It should only be a day or two.” He knew how heavily the juveniles relied on their assigned supervisors.
A slow nod. “That’s manageable. I was planning to ask Riley to put me on a high-perimeter shift anyway.” Catching his questioning look, she said, “They might be submissives, but constant oversight isn’t good for any wolf’s development.”
“We’ll leave early morning tomorrow,” he said, wondering how a tough senior soldier understood SnowDancer’s submissives so well. “That give you enough time to organize cover for your duties?”
“No problem.” Then to his surprise, she did a funny little dance around her chair, singing, “I’m going to Venice. I’m going to Venice.”
It startled laughter out of him, his wolf standing up in fascination at the unexpected and sweetly charming crack in Adria’s sober facade. “If you’re really good,” he said when she stopped dancing to grin at him, “I’ll take you on a gondola ride through the canals.” Delight, bright and dangerous, cascaded through his veins.