"Usually," he told Sascha, "if you got this far, there'd be a welcoming committee awaiting you. Nobody's ever found a single bone of the missing." The predator in him appreciated the efficiency.
"Do you think they eat them?"
He grinned at her gory attempt at a joke. "Nah. Even wolves have higher standards than to feed on human carrion."
Her hand rose to his shoulder. Something taut in him relaxed. His mate was starting to trust him on a level so deep she was completely unaware of it.
Thirty minutes later, they finally reached the end of the winding path, only to find themselves up against the craggy stone face of a mountain that seemed to reach for the sky. It looked like the path simply stopped, an illusion that had protected the SnowDancers for years.
"Open up, Hawke." He allowed his voice to carry. Leopards and wolves were their solitary audience.
A few seconds later, the bottom of the mountain magically started to crack open. The "door" slid back just far enough to allow them to enter. Lucas could feel Sascha's fascination at the structure but waited until they were inside to speak. The door closed behind them without any hint that it had ever been open.
Sascha's gasp echoed off the stone walls as lights came on all around them, illuminating a long tunnel beautifully paved with river stones. Paintings graced every surface, the artist having used the rock of the tunnel as a canvas. The scenes were of the wild, of wolves running, of the different faces of the forest. There was something hypnotically beautiful about the images. Beautiful and dangerous.
"Welcome." Hawke stepped out of the shadows and raised a brow. "Should I let your sentinels in?"
"No need." Lucas smiled. Vaughn and Clay were already inside. Dorian was to remain on the outside.
Hawke's eyes betrayed nothing but Lucas knew the other alpha was pissed that his people had managed to get inside... again. "Care to share?"
"Everyone needs secrets. Don't tell me you can't get into our safe houses."
Hawke scowled. "What about mutual trust?"
Sascha laughed and both men turned to look at her, their beasts fascinated by the purity of the sound. It was, Lucas realized, the first time he'd ever heard her laugh. The possessive need in him tightened to the most aching kind of tenderness. She meant more to him than she'd ever know. If she died, so would his heart.
"You're like two wild animals who aren't quite sure you believe the other's offer of peace. I wonder how long you'll circle around each other before you decide." She shook her head, those eerie eyes sparkling with feminine amusement. At that moment she was everything the beast in him craved, woman and passion, laughter and play, sensuality and hunger.
Lucas felt Hawke take a deep breath. When he looked back at the wolf, he read a simple message on his face: If she weren't yours...
"But she is," Lucas said, one predator to another, one alpha to another.
Sascha, who was staring at one of the paintings, didn't hear. "These are lovely, Hawke." She turned to him. "Is the artist one of your pack?"
Hawke's face seemed to harden till it was as unfeeling as the rock upon which the paint had been laid. "She was." He jerked his head behind him. "Let's go."
Troubled eyes met Lucas's when he went to take Sascha's hand. He shook his head - he knew nothing of the artist.
"They live underground?" Sascha asked after they'd been walking for five minutes, going steadily deeper.
"Some of them. This functions as their Pack headquarters." Before the SnowDancers had become as feared as they now were, group after group had tried to find the hideout in order to take them down. They'd all failed. Until DarkRiver. Lucas and his sentinels had not only found the den, they'd infiltrated it. Their sole purpose had been to leave behind a simple message.
Don't hurt us and we won't hurt you. DR.
A day later, a response had been found in Lucas's lair.
Sometimes it was good being an animal. In the world of the Psy and even in the human world, such negotiations could've taken months. In the years following that initial contact, they'd started to edge warily toward a more workable relationship. But that simple rule remained - don't hurt us and we won't hurt you.
Hawke turned right ahead of them.
"What's on the left?" Sascha asked, looking down that corridor.
"Homes." When they'd first breached the tunnels, DarkRiver had ensured the SnowDancers knew that they'd been near the homes of their pups and had left without doing harm. There was no clearer indication of friendship.
A few minutes later, they came to another fork. The corridors went off in several different directions. Ahead, they could see rooms opening up and people walking about. Hawke took them through the rightmost corridor and stopped in front of a closed door.
Beside him, Lucas felt Sascha's whole body go quiet. "Hawke," she said, an odd note in her voice. "What can I feel behind that door?"
Those icy eyes met theirs. "You'll see." Pushing open the door, he walked in.
Lucas went in ahead of Sascha, every one of his senses primed for trouble. Vaughn and Clay were already nearby, having taken human form and put on stolen clothing to throw the wolves off their scent. It would be hard getting out if something happened. Hard, but not impossible. Otherwise Lucas would've never brought his mate here.
However, what awaited them in the room wasn't anything he could've prepared for. Five people of varying ages sat around a large circular table. They didn't smell like wolf. Then one of them raised her head and night-sky eyes met his. "Christ!" He let Sascha enter but left the door open.