Once she had her back to the trunk, he put her foot on his lap and grimaced. "It won't be pretty - I think your skin's started to heal around it." That was the problem with changelings - they healed quickly, especially when it came to minor flesh wounds. But if this healed over, the thorn would remain embedded in her heel.
"Do it." She set her jaw.
Shifting so his back was to her, he pressed the flesh on either side of the thorn with enough force to send it through the surface. He heard Mercy suck in another breath, knew she was hurting. The damn thorn had barbs. His wolf swept over his skin, hackles raised. Every male instinct in him wanted to give comfort, but he knew Mercy would hate that with a capital H. "You know," he said, fighting to keep his tone even, "I think I see a family resemblance. Maybe that's why it was drawn to you."
"You think you're hilarious, don't you?" It was a little breathless.
Another hard press got the thorn most of the way out. "Say ahhhh." One final application of pressure and the ugly thing was out. He made sure to crush it using a claw before dropping it to the ground.
Mercy didn't say a word as he checked the already healing wound. He was fast about it, but thorough. "I don't think it left any traces. Get Tammy to have a look anyway."
"It'll be fully healed in another hour."
He shot her a narrow-eyed look, noting her strained expression. "Do you want me to report you to your healer?"
She glared daggers at him, color rapidly returning. "I want you to let go of my foot."
He kept hold, gently massaging the area around the wound, ensuring good blood flow. It would help her heal even faster. "Will you see Tammy?"
"Yes! Fine! Can we go now?"
"In a second." He checked the wound again. "It'll be a bit tender to walk on until it heals. Be careful."
It looked like she was going to snap something at him but she clamped her mouth shut and put on her remaining sock and boot. Standing, she tested the foot. "It's fine. The sucker just hurt like hell while it was in there."
Riley nodded, but kept his eye on her balance. It was good. His wolf retreated. "Let's head in." Grabbing the identity bracelet, he slid it into a pocket.
Mercy folded her arms. "Thanks." It was a grumpy acknowledgment.
As she closed her eyes as if to count to ten, he felt the wolf rise again, this time with pure mischief as its aim. "You never answered my question."
"Whether you're running from us because you don't think you can handle me."
"I did answer it. I said I didn't have time."
"Chicken." Said as they came within hearing distance of the men and women guarding the house.
Mercy's mouth fell open. Surely she'd heard wrong. Surely solid, staid, stick-in-the-mud Riley Aedan Kincaid had not dared her by calling her a chicken?! "What did you say?"
"You heard." He greeted the four others who'd joined Monroe and Owen. Two of them were wolves.
Monroe walked over. "I saw nothing under the house that could've been used to pipe gas into the home, but I'll make sure the techs recheck," he told them. "Thing is, Owen does some sharpshooting - he says if you were good enough, you might be able to get some sort of gas pellet through the little vent in the bathroom."
"That vent is tiny," Mercy muttered.
Riley made a sound of disagreement. "I know two men who could do it."
Dorian and Judd. Nodding, she glanced at Monroe. "Tell the techs to pay extra attention to that area when they arrive." Raising her voice, she held up a hand. "Owen and Monroe, stay on the house. Rest of you - with us."
Mercy hit pay dirt barely five minutes into the search. She knocked on the door of a small cottage with frilly curtains and a garden so neat that no weed would dare show its head, and found herself being scrutinized by a tiny woman with such strength of will in her that it fairly pulsed in the air. Bright brown eyes looked Mercy up and down. "So, you tumbled that wolf you were with?"
Mercy was too much a pack animal to take offense at the personal question. She grinned. "How did you know it was me?"
"Do I look senile to you?" Not waiting for a response, she continued. "I was coming out to you, but you took off too fast."
Every sentinel instinct came on alert. "You saw something?"
For an answer, the woman picked up a piece of paper from a table beside the door and shoved it at Mercy. "Registration number of the van that was parked here for much too long - I knew they were up to mischief."
"Did you call Enforcement?"
" 'Course I did." A pause. "Got a nephew in there. Good kid. He says it was off a stolen vehicle. But I wrote down the description of the van, too."
Mercy was already pulling out her cell to get the DarkRiver techs onto surveillance.
"So?" her informant prompted before she could code in the call.
"Yes," Mercy said. "And I'm not doing it again." If she kept telling herself that, maybe her traitorous body would actually notice and shut up with its demands.
The older woman gave her a sour look. "Damn shame. What, you like them prettier?" A snort. "In my day, we liked men who looked like men."
Mercy had no chance to reply, finding the door shut in her face. Everyone was a critic today. And coming on top of Riley's "chicken" taunt, it didn't put her in the best of moods. But the tech answered then and she gave him the info. He promised to get back to her the second they had anything.