RIAZ and Adria joined Judd for the trip back to the den that night. The automated water bus from Venice to the mainland was empty, no chance of being overheard, so they spoke in quiet voices, the wind brisk against their cheeks.
“Do you think anyone will want to take the risk?” Adria asked, worry and empathy battling for space within her. Sam, strong, loyal, courageous, was both a dominant and human. It would devastate him if he fell victim to a Psy mental violation, the act a savage blow to the heart of his nature. “I can see why they would.”
Bracing his forearms on his thighs, Riaz said, “I have to admit, I never really considered just how vulnerable humans must feel,” a troubled expression marking the strong lines of his features.
“Yes,” Judd said from her right.
It hadn’t escaped her notice that the two had sandwiched her between them the entire time they’d been together. Her wolf was irritated, its hackles raised. She wasn’t a pup to be protected, but a senior soldier, well able to get herself out of trouble. “Do you think Hawke will want the information circulated throughout the pack?” she asked, fighting the urge to snarl. It would be like trying to explain trigonometry to someone who’d never seen a math book. The words just would not compute in their testosterone-laden male brains.
“No.” Riaz’s answer was decisive, the dark masculinity of his scent twining around her in invisible threads. “Not until Ashaya’s done exhaustive tests to confirm the chip is safe.”
“It could be said”—Judd’s calm voice—“that the humans in the pack should be given the information and allowed to make up their own minds.”
Riaz glanced at the Psy male. “You know a pack doesn’t work like that. It can’t.”
“Yes.” Judd echoed Riaz’s position, the wind rifling through the dirty blond of his hair. “Hawke is responsible for the health of the pack as a whole, and sometimes that means making hard calls when it comes to individual choice.”
“Yes,” Riaz answered. “If our human packmates decided to do this, and the chips failed, their deaths would rip the heart right out of SnowDancer. The gain is not worth the risk, not yet.”
Riaz’s statement echoed inside Adria.
She thought of the risk she was taking, with this passionate, loyal lone wolf who might never fully belong to her, knew she might just be setting herself up for the hardest fall of all. But, as she’d told Riaz, she wasn’t exactly undamaged goods. And … she didn’t ever want to look back and regret what could’ve been.
Life might hurt, might bruise, might forever scar, but it was for living.
“If you think about it,” Judd said as the fierce thought passed through her mind, “the PsyNet is structured more like a pack than anything else, with the Council in place of an alpha.”
Adria shook her head, her wolf rejecting the idea. “There’s a big difference—Hawke’s every decision, whether or not it’s democratic, is for the good of the pack, while the Councilors have a way of using up their people until there’s nothing left.” It angered her to the core that it was the ones who were meant to protect, who were doing the most harm.
“This generation, yes.” Judd’s agreement was solemn. “But Councils pre-Silence were focused on the strength and health of the race as a whole. Ironically, it’s that desire that led to Silence, but I think the seeds of hope are there, buried in the darkness.”
As Riaz responded to Judd, the low rumble of his voice raising the hairs on her arms, she found herself thinking that Riaz was, in many ways, more similar to Judd than he was to another wolf. It would take him time to trust a woman enough to fully open up to her, but once he did, he would be devoted.
Adria didn’t expect such devotion … wasn’t sure she could handle it if it happened, her wolf panicked at the idea of the possessiveness that would be part and parcel of that kind of love. It made her wonder how Brenna handled it with Judd—the other woman wasn’t a dominant, and had been terribly wounded when she and Judd had first gotten together.
But that wasn’t the only thing she wondered. “Do you ever regret being mated?” she asked Judd after they’d made their way from the water bus to the airport and grabbed seats in the gate lounge. Even as she spoke, her eyes followed Riaz’s muscled form as he walked over to the coffee stand to grab them drinks, his hair glinting with hidden highlights of copper and bronze.
Judd gave her an unreadable glance. “An unusual question from a wolf.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier,” she clarified, “to do the work that you do, to walk into danger, if you didn’t have a mate whose heart would break if you were hurt?”
Judd took his time answering, his gaze on the wide concourse and the people walking and running to catch their airjets. “It would be more … convenient,” he said at last. “But it wouldn’t be easier—Silence is based on the precept that emotion is a weakness, but what I feel for Brenna makes me stronger. I fight harder, dirtier, and rougher, because I know any injury to me will rebound on her.”
“Sounds like a serious discussion,” Riaz said, handing Judd the bottle of water he’d requested, before passing over Adria’s hot chocolate. “With marshmallows.” A smile that creased his cheeks, made his eyes flicker gold, wild and compelling.
Her wolf awakened at the sight of his own, the happy memories of lying beside him on the bed in their hotel room making it rub up against her skin in primal affection. It was all she could do not to nuzzle her face into his neck. “I can tell you’re drinking your usual sludge.” The scent of his coffee was rich, potent.