Riley was waiting for her by the curb, explaining how the old lady knew what he looked like. "Get anything?"
The woman's words in her mind, she ran her eyes over him as she shared the intel. He definitely looked like a man, she thought, all hard and solid and rough. Strength, there was incredible strength in Riley. Which made the gentleness of his hold as he'd gotten that thorn out of her foot all the more extraordinary.
She knew what he'd been up to with those cracks of his. Damn wolf had been looking after her. And he'd done it right. Even now, the leopard didn't know quite what to make of it, so she concentrated on the hunt. "It's a good lead."
"There's something wrong with this," Riley muttered, rubbing at a jaw that already bore the faint shadow of afternoon stubble. "That chip tells us this was an elite Alliance force, but why would they leave the evidence behind if they're so organized? And being so careless with the van?"
"You thinking the chip could be a plant?"
He looked down the street, as if seeing what had happened the night before. "I had a call from Lucas while you were talking with your informant - Nash's professor says he's being courted by several Psy firms."
Mercy blinked. "Psy are very, very insular. Especially with R & D. Why would they want a changeling?"
"A gifted changeling. Nash's apparently a genius in nanotech. And we both know the Council is missing two of its top technical scientists."
Mercy blew out a breath between her teeth. "The Implant Protocol crashed and burned with Ashaya's broadcasts." That protocol had been meant to turn the individuals of the PsyNet into a true hive mind, interconnected and seamless.
"Yeah, but what if someone's got the idea to keep it on the back burner for the future?" He shrugged. "It's a theory."
"But if you're right, either the Psy took Nash and pinned the blame on the Human Alliance, or - "
"The Alliance took him and did a sloppy job."
Mercy rubbed her forehead. "Or we could be screwing ourselves up by making this too complicated."
"I guess we'll find out when we find Nash."
She jerked up her head, hearing a very dangerous thread in his voice. "Hey, cut that out. We're in a human neighborhood."
The eyes that looked at her weren't brown anymore. "And this is wolf territory."
"Leopard and wolf." She refused to back down under that predatory gaze, though it chilled her to the soul. She'd never seen Riley lose it like that. And so rapidly. "What flipped your lid?"
"If Nash is hurt, Willow's going to blame herself for not being able to help her brother."
Oh. "He won't be - he's a predatory changeling. We're not easy to kill." She made her voice as arrogant as she could. "Now, pull yourself out of that slobbering mess of self-pity and get with the program. This isn't about you."
Riley stared at her with those cold wolf eyes, a rich amber that held pure menace. "One day," he said calmly, "your mouth is going to get you into more trouble than you can handle."
Mercy felt a whisper of relief brush across her face. She was confident she could hold off Riley in a real fight long enough for help to arrive, but if he truly went wolf on her, there was a high chance he'd kill her. Unless she cheated. Which, in a fight to the death, she absolutely would. Sometimes, it wasn't about strength, it was about intelligence. "Oh?" she said, and very deliberately ran the tip of her tongue over her upper lip.
Riley sucked in a breath and the wolf was gone between one heartbeat and the next. "Using sex to distract me?"
"Whatever works." Oddly enough, much as she liked to piss him off, she didn't like to see Riley hurting. Not over this. He'd gone through hell when Brenna had been abducted. So now, she grinned and said, "Plus, I know you're going to be tormented by that image the rest of the day."
To her surprise, Riley's lips curved. Just a little. Just enough to make her stomach dive. "So, you want to play, kitty cat?"
"Men." A disdainful snort, but Riley saw the flash of something richer, hotter, far more enticing in those changeable leopard eyes. Good. Because this wasn't over. Not by a long shot.
"Can we get back to work now?" An arch question.
No one ever talked to him like Mercy. If he hadn't had her all but purring for him only a night ago, he'd have imagined she didn't know how. "There's not much more we can do at this stage." He thought over their options. "Lucas and Hawke have taken care of getting the word out to our informants, and looks like the Bakers weren't able to give us any other possibilities to investigate. Have the comm lines been tapped?"
She nodded. "Nate organized it. Techs know to check all other cell phones and computers in the house - data'll go through to Dorian automatically." The blond sentinel was a genius at computers. "He'll alert us if anything jumps out."
"I'll get Brenna to work on the satellite end of things."
Mercy knew SnowDancer had full control of at least one satellite so that made sense. "I also tagged some out-of-state packmates while we were back at Tammy's. They're going to go chat with Nash's friends at MIT."
"Then, until we get a tip about the van, or the scene processing team comes up with something, we wait. Could be the abductors contact us."
Mercy made a sound of frustration. "I hate waiting."
"Leopards are good stalkers."
"The human half of me prefers action." Kicking at the grass, she nodded. "Okay, you're right. Are you going to head back to the den or stay down here?"