Fisting his hand on the table, he blew out a breath, his next statement not as drenched in anger. “The initial rollout was soft, limited only to Alliance personnel I personally vetted. Reuben wasn’t on the list. If he had been…” He shook his head. “That’s done and gone. Fact is, the Psy are going to find out about it sooner or later, so we’ve begun an Alliance-wide operation. Everyone who wants a chip gets one.”
There was nothing Riaz could say to that, every word Bo had spoken an ugly truth. But SnowDancer understood his sense of violation in a way the other man couldn’t comprehend. Psy had broken so many of their strongest two decades ago, almost destroyed the pack. Riaz had been a juvenile, but he would never forget the blood, the loss … and the lethal determination in the eyes of the boy with hair of silver-gold who had become their alpha while barely more than a child.
Riaz saw the same unyielding determination on Bo’s face. Whatever it took, whatever the personal cost, he knew Bo wouldn’t flinch, not if it meant protecting his people. “Did you go first?”
“No way I was going to ask my men and women to do something I wouldn’t.”
Adria’s husky voice brushed over Riaz’s skin, snagging his attention. “I didn’t see a chip in the back of your neck. Did you change the location?”
“It’s there. Covered by a dermal patch that blends into my skin.” He jerked his head toward Adria, challenge and flirtation both in the faint smile on his lips. “You can feel it if you like.”
Once again, Riaz’s wolf flashed its canines but held its silence, well aware Bo was jerking his chain. Nonetheless, his focus was acute and deadly as he watched the woman who was his lover walk to stand behind Bo’s chair.
“Where?” she demanded.
“Here.” Reaching back, he tapped a spot.
Unable to see any difference in the honey brown of his skin tone, Adria pressed the pad of her finger over the warmth of his nape. The hardness was slight, but when she traced around the area, she realized it formed a small square. Looking at Riaz, she nodded, startled by the way the wolf watched her out of those eyes. Throat suddenly dry, she had to break the eye contact, clear her throat, before she could speak. “Could be a dummy.”
Bo shrugged. “I’m sane and alive after being taken captive by seven Psy. Think about it.”
She had, and in spite of her words, her instinct was to believe him.
Riaz placed his arm on the back of her chair as soon as she retook her seat, his attention on Bo, but his fingers just brushing her hair. Her heart slammed into her ribs, because subtle though it might be, she understood it for a possessive display—it was the first time he’d ever done anything of the sort in public, a warning of the notorious lone-wolf tendency toward possessiveness. The thing was, Adria had never expected him to train that aspect of his personality on her.
She was still trying to work out how to respond to the unexpected act when he spoke, his voice creeping under her skin to touch parts of her it had no business touching.
“If you didn’t ask Ashaya to help you test the implant,” he asked, eyes that had returned to their human shade locked on Bowen, “who did you trust enough to do the testing?”
Bowen took his time answering. “We heard about the Laurens,” he said when he did speak, his expression giving nothing away. “About how they’ve been alive all this time. How’d they do it? A familial net?”
Adria leaned forward in excitement, inadvertently breaking the contact with Riaz. “Another family of defectors?”
However Bowen shook his head. “No.” Another pause. “Let’s just call them a well-organized group.” His expression made it clear he’d share no other details of their identity. “They dropped out of the Net in degrees, changed their appearance, and blended into the population. No one would’ve been the wiser, except that one of them was injured in a freak accident six months ago—hit by bricks falling onto the street from a building undergoing maintenance.”
Adria found herself sliding back into her seat, her skin burning at the renewed contact with Riaz’s fingers.
“I saw him trying to limp away,” Bo continued. “I’m certain he wouldn’t normally have said a word, but he was concussed at the time, and kept repeating ‘no DNA profile’ as I was leading him to the ambulance. I figured he had a criminal warrant out on him, but then he mumbled the word ‘PsyNet.’” A shrug. “I did what any good security chief would do. I brought him here, had him patched up, and interrogated him while he was still dopey.”
A ruthless act—but then, from what Adria knew of him, Bo had never pretended to be anything else when it came to taking care of his people. The wolf in her respected that, even as it understood that the Alliance man would betray even the staunchest ally if it came down to a choice between that ally and those he considered under his protection.
“By the time his friends tracked him down,” he said, “we knew who they were and that blackmailing them would be a very bad idea, so we simply suggested that our interests might mesh and let it go at that.”
An intelligent and calculated decision, from a man Riaz had seen leak charm like a tap in a successful effort to divert people’s attention from his cold-eyed intelligence. “You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that.”
Bowen’s grin was a flash of canines. “The reason we know it was Tatiana behind the attack on Reuben,” he said, grin vanishing as quickly as it had appeared, “was that the men who were sent to take me in didn’t bother to hide the comm conversation they had with her once I was onboard, even though the stun had worn off.”