Tomás’s eyes gleamed. “I think you just volunteered to be my impartial test player.”
“Fine. As long as I get a share of what are certain to be huge profits, taking the competitiveness of wolves and leopards into account.”
Tomás tapped the side of his nose as more laughter filled the room. “I’ll have my people talk to your people.”
Hawke leaned back in his chair, tipping it so it balanced on two legs. “His ‘people’ is Brenna, so watch out or you’ll be lucky to come out of it with the shirt on your back.” Hands linked behind his head, he glanced at Riley. “Okay, what’s on the agenda today? Any attempted mini-strikes by Pure Psy I don’t know about?” It was an irritated question. “It’s like that mole game where they keep popping up.”
“Nothing in the last four days,” Riley replied to a round of applause. “And Sam is leading the trap-detection pool with an impressive nine points.”
“Four days,” Indigo said in a musing tone of voice. “That’s the longest gap to date. Strain on their limited personnel beginning to show?”
“Moles reproduce very quickly,” Judd said dryly.
Jem almost snorted out the water she’d been drinking. “Enough with the moles, let’s not give them the satisfaction of sucking up more of our time.”
“I now declare a mole moratorium.” With that solemn statement—which made Cooper choke—Riley picked up the datapad in front of him. “BlackSea’s first on the list. Kenji, Riaz, give us an update.”
Riaz nodded at Kenji to answer.
“We had a bit of back-and-forth, but they’re now happy with the contract.” Pushing his shockingly sedate black hair out of his eyes, Kenji glanced at Hawke. “They made their decision about the alliance before they ever approached us. It was just a case of working out the details.”
Riaz had to agree. “It’s going to come down to the meet.” He and Kenji, as well as Riley, would accompany Hawke to the face-to-face with Miane Levèque, while BlackSea was sending along Emani and two other representatives of their ruling board with Miane. In deference to BlackSea’s preference to be near water, the meeting was set to take place in a waterfront building owned by DarkRiver. “Still no hint on why they’re suddenly so keen on an alliance.”
“We get an answer at the meet, or we walk.” The alpha’s smile was all teeth. “Beautiful Garnet. Report.”
Jem rolled her eyes. “Nothing new. I’ve still got the steady trickle of Psy coming into my sector. I think the majority are continuing on to San Francisco.”
Frowning, Indigo said, “City’s going to start having a population and housing issue if this keeps up.”
“It’s not that bad yet,” Riley replied. “Cats are keeping an eye on the situation—there are enough apartments in the general area for the time being. The Psy coming in are staying clear of den territory and DarkRiver’s territorial borders.”
Coop, who’d touched base with Riaz just yesterday, the two of them bullshitting over the comm, had nothing to report. Neither did Matthias, but Alexei was sporting an impressive black eye and a scowl. However, all he said was, “All quiet here.”
“No way, Sexy Lexie,” Tomás said, earning a deadly look, “fess up. Where did you get that shiner?”
Hawke’s hands dropped, the legs of his chair slamming to the ground as his expression grew dark. “Another one?”
“Don’t worry—I took off the kid gloves.” White grooves bracketed his mouth. “He’s alive … barely. I don’t think anyone else will want to try their luck.”
“Good.” Hawke’s tone was without pity. “We might’ve gained two or three strong soldiers as a result of the challenges, but it’s a waste of your time dealing with them.”
“Did you even put ice on that?” Jem asked, wincing at the damage to Alexei’s face.
The young lieutenant shrugged. “Wasn’t time—I didn’t want to give him a chance to heal up before we delivered him to his pack.”
The message, Riaz thought, his wolf in complete accord, had to be brutal, unmistakable. “I think,” he said, when Riley turned to him and asked for an update on the Human Alliance, “it might be time to revisit the idea of a permanent liaison with them.”
The sound of teeth grinding. Nobody had forgotten or forgiven what Bowen had done the last time he’d been in the area.
Coop was the one who broke the silence. “Riaz is right. The Alliance is too big to simply ignore.”
Hawke shoved a hand through his hair, asked for opinions. Everyone had one, but they finally decided to feel out some kind of a liaison arrangement.
“Can you handle that?” Hawke glanced at Riaz. “You’ve got BlackSea as well.”
“Kenji can take most of the load there,” he said, receiving a nod from the other lieutenant. “And this isn’t a full alliance negotiation.” He caught Judd’s eye. “I might need your input now and then.” The other man had access to the PsyNet, and Riaz knew there were powerful people in the psychic network keeping an eye on the Alliance.
“The possible civil war inside the Net,” Indigo said to Judd. “Any news on that front?”
“Close to ignition—all it needs is a single match.” A chilling prediction. “I’ve gotten the word out among the Psy in the city. The forewarning may save some of them.”