Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 19

He glanced at his watch. It was five after four. There was a chance something would break today. "We might as well go over the new training schedule."

"I'd rather eat needles." But she started walking back to their vehicle. "Why did we think it was a good idea for the cat and wolf juveniles to mix?"

"So the alliance would become stronger." Riley wasn't sure anyone had realized how volatile the combination would be. Leopards and wolves were both predators used to being at the top of the food chain. Add teenage hormones to the pot and you had a recipe for trouble. "It needs to be done."

Mercy's cell phone rang before she could respond. "Yeah?"

"Merce," came Rina's voice, "I'm tracking two gorgeous men heading to your place. Do I let them go?"

"They've got safe passage," Mercy muttered, rubbing at her temples. She loved her grandmother to pieces, but she was going to strangle her for this. "And I don't plan to be home anytime this century."

"You need to make time, because wow. Hot. Beautifully, lickably hot."

"You're welcome to them."

"Oh, no, I think they most definitely want you."

Mercy hung up to the sound of the younger woman's laughter . . . and realized Riley's wolf was in his eyes. "Don't go there." She immediately turned down the volume of her phone.

"Who are they?"

"No one you need to concern yourself about." Shoving the phone into a pocket, she raised an eyebrow. "You hungry?" Neither of them had eaten since before lunch.

It took him a long time to respond, but he finally nodded. "Yeah."

They ended up parking in front of a fast-food place along a small suburban shopping strip. "Meat and grease. Yum." She licked her lips, stomach rumbling. "I luuuuuuve burgers."

"It's crowded," was Riley's only comment.

"You can sit in the car. I'll bring you something after I finish eating." A smirk. "It'll be cold and congealed but hey, wolves have no taste buds anyway, right?"

He got out and followed her to the restaurant. When he paid for her order, she shrugged and decided that was one battle she didn't care to fight. With predatory changeling men, you had to make some allowances, or you'd give yourself a concussion. They were that bloody hardheaded. And since she still wasn't letting Riley drive, this was a good enough compromise.

Not that Riley thought so. His expression was so irritated when they took their seats that the teenagers sitting at the next table - a group of nonpredatory changeling kids - gave them wary looks.

"Relax," she told the kids. "He's just grumpy because they didn't have sweet-and-sour sauce."

One of the girls ventured a nervous smile, but the kids went back to their meal.

Riley thrust a burger at her. "Put that in your mouth."

"Are you telling me to shut my piehole?" She bit down on her burger and made a low purring sound in the back of her throat. "Nice." It came out "Niishe."

Riley ate half a burger with one bite, then started on the biscuits they'd both added to their orders. When she stole his fries, he didn't even growl. The cat decided to be nice to him during the meal, given that the food was clearly mellowing him out. She was on her third burger - hey, she was hungry - and he was on his fourth when the hairs on the back of her neck rose in warning, even as Riley went predator-still.

Both of them looked very carefully toward the door. A man had come in. A Psy, from the way he was dressed and the scent of him. He didn't have the ugly metallic smell of those who had become utterly lost in Silence, but the echo of it was there. Tainted, Mercy's leopard growled, the man was tainted.

She was moving before she stopped to think, aware of Riley beside her. The man at the door looked around as if confused, then reached into the paper bag in his hand. Mercy kept moving with silent, leopard grace, peripherally aware that everyone in the restaurant had gone very, very quiet. Changeling or not, all living beings had a primitive core in their brain that told them when danger neared.

The man's hand began to come out of the bag.

"Now!" She didn't know which one of them spoke, but by the time the man's gun cleared his bag, wolf and leopard both were moving at lethal speed. They slammed into him and took him straight through the glass doors and onto the pavement outside.

He cried out as he crashed onto the cement, pedestrians scattering in a rush of dropped bags and short screams. Glass glittered under the sunlight, but Mercy had eyes only for the gun.

"I've got him," Riley said.

Letting go of the Psy male, she grabbed the weapon and unloaded it with cautious but quick hands. "Jesus. It's a machine gun - he could've taken out the entire place." Her heart grew cold as she thought of those innocent kids, the mother she'd seen with a baby carriage, the elderly couple by the door.

"Call Enforcement," Riley said, ignoring the glass sticking to his skin. "And an ambulance. He's hurt."

The would-be shooter was moaning as he lay there, but his eyes were unexpectedly clear. "I don't remember," he whispered. "I don't remember."

"I called them already," a shaky voice said.

Mercy looked up to meet the gaze of the nonpredatory girl who'd smiled at her - a bird of some kind, her hair as soft and feathery as her wings would be in changeling form. "Good girl. Can I have your sweatshirt?"

Nodding, the girl pulled off the thin sweatshirt to reveal a pink baby-tee. "Here."

Mercy used the material to cushion the Psy male's head. The glass had been safety glass, so it hadn't cut, but they'd hit the pavement hard. The man was bleeding. "I think he's concussed."

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