“Careless.” Riaz traced circles on Adria’s nape with the tip of his finger.
“They figured I wouldn’t be in a position to say anything after she got through with me.” Bracing his forearms on the gleaming wood of the table, Bo bit out his next words. “The bitch does her own reprogramming—she made it clear no one else was to touch me.”
Considering the facts, Riaz made the tactical decision to share some knowledge. “Tatiana is thought to have the ability to penetrate almost any shield.”
Bo’s pupils contracted. “Shit.”
“Yes. No way of knowing if the chip would’ve held her off, since it’s technological, not natural,” Riaz said, “but seems she can get into most minds without causing major damage.”
“Less scars to hide,” Adria said, and he heard the empathy in her, the soft heart she hid beneath the tough exterior.
“But,” he added, cupping her nape gently with his hand, “Tatiana’s ability is noteworthy because of how unusual it is, so it doesn’t change the impact of the chip. Still, your people need to make sure they don’t get cocky.”
“Once you take away their psychic advantage,” Adria said into the silence that had fallen after Bo’s curt nod, “Psy are very vulnerable.”
As, Riaz mused, Bowen had proven with deadly efficiency on the yacht.
“They have a tendency to rely on their abilities,” the human male agreed. “The ones I took down on the yacht were armed, but they paid so little attention to me it was the easiest op I’ve ever completed. A single guard on the door?” He snorted. “Soon as I had his weapon, it was all over. None of the others were on alert because they assumed their telepathic sweeps would warn them of an intruder.”
“Why kill them?” Adria’s question betrayed the inherent compassion of her nature. “Why not simply incapacitate?”
“A message,” Riaz answered, the predator in him recognizing the one who sat three feet away. “He was sending a message. They f**k with the Alliance, you aren’t going to take prisoners.”
A small shrug from Bowen, his jet-black eyes steely with lethal purpose. “Leaving them alive would’ve been a sign of weakness, and Tatiana expects weakness from the ‘emotional’ races. What the bitch doesn’t understand is that rage is an emotion, too.”
HAVING SPENT TWO hours with Bowen, going over the advantages the artificial shields might present the humans in SnowDancer and in the packs of their allies, Riaz reported in to Hawke via a highly secure satellite comm link set up using equipment at a small SnowDancer office hidden in Venice. Though the office was unmanned except for when Pierce was in the city, it had multiple layers of security not even a teleporter could breach without setting off a silent alarm. Not that they’d find much except some expensive comm equipment—the call history was set to erase itself the second after a user signed out.
“Bo says he couriered Ashaya the final chip earlier today, after making the decision to let us in on the secret,” he told his alpha. “Have her test it as well as she can.” Riaz wasn’t certain how far the scientist could go without implanting it in anyone, but it was worth a shot. “No way I’m taking Bo’s word on the effectiveness of the technology.”
Hawke nodded, and Riaz could almost see him weighing up every possible variable before he said, “I also want to send Judd in, test the one Bo has in him.”
“I figured. Bo’s expecting it.”
Hawke glanced to the side, his head cocked at a listening angle. Turning back to Riaz after a couple of seconds, he said, “Judd won’t be able to get there until tomorrow night. You okay to stay?”
“Yes.” He turned to the woman beside him. “You?”
Adria nodded and spoke directly to Hawke. “I cleared two days just in case.”
“Even if you hadn’t,” Hawke said, the wolf’s laughter suddenly in his eyes, “Riley’s so happy right now, he’s granting leave to anyone who asks. I’m half afraid to turn around and find the entire den has left for the Bahamas.”
They all grinned at the idea of solid, stable Riley in a spin of joy. Riaz couldn’t imagine it happening to a better man. “He drive Mercy to violence yet?”
“Not so far, but I have popcorn for when the show begins.”
Signing off after another round of laughter, Riaz and Adria reset the office’s security and left via an ingenious passageway that spilled them out into a small but busy shopping district.
The walk to the hotel was quick, the streets around them swathed in velvet darkness broken by the twinkling lights from several eateries spilling warm conversation onto the street. “Dinner on the balcony?” he suggested as they entered their second-floor room.
Adria lit up.
And something in him gentled, wild tenderness invading his veins. “What do you want?” He picked up the room service menu.
TIPPING the waiter at the door, Riaz took the food out to the balcony himself. The temperature had cooled but remained comfortable, the night below dotted with pretty colored lights from a nearby restaurant, the golden-hued windows of another small hotel, the old-fashioned streetlights. Not far in the distance, water danced black and silken through a canal.
Pouring two glasses of wine, he handed one to Adria. “To Venice.”
She clinked her glass to his, her hair tumbling around her shoulders. “To Venice.”
It almost felt as if they’d made a vow … but to what, he didn’t know.