That was when the door opened. "Riley?"
Of course she'd known he was there - she was a sentinel. And in some part of his soul, he'd counted on that. "Don't ask me any questions tonight, Mercy." He didn't look at her, feeling vulnerable in a way that panicked his wolf.
"All right." Soft footsteps. "But would you like to come inside?"
Wary of her agreement, but needing . . . something, he walked in. She took his hand, her golden eyes luminous in the dark. "Come on, wolf."
He let her lead him to the bedroom.
"Boots off," she said, and crawled beneath the blanket.
Sitting on a chair near the vanity, he took off his footwear and just watched her, not sure he could do this. She'd given her word so she'd ask no questions, but she'd know, she'd see too deep, to things he kept hidden because they shamed him so utterly.
"No questions," she said again after an endless moment, and lifted up the edge of the blanket.
Man and wolf both hungered for the simple beauty of her touch. He had no power, no will, to resist. Standing, he crossed the carpet to slide into bed beside her, fully dressed. And when her arms came around him, when her fingers stroked into his hair, he buried his face in the curve of her neck and let the unexpected tenderness heal the wounds of the night.
Sometime before dawn, he slept.
Mercy woke to the knowledge that she was wrapped around Riley like ivy, her face against his chest, her legs tangled with his, her hands under the T-shirt he was wearing beneath a khaki shirt. The blanket had been kicked off but she was toasty warm, he generated such luscious heat. Her cat purred, wanting to stay like this all day.
So when the phone rang, she had a hard time extricating herself so she could grab it before he did. She succeeded only because the wolf was half-asleep.
"We had contact from the kidnapper," Lucas said. "He wants a meet."
She snapped upright. "It's mine."
"It's yours," Lucas agreed and gave her the details. "I'll call Hawke, have some wolves meet you there."
She decided not to mention she had one wolf right in front of her. Closing the phone, she ran her fingers over his stubbled jaw. "Time to move, Kincaid."
No words, but his muscles grew painfully rigid under her hands.
He only relaxed half an hour later, when she continued to keep her promise to ask no questions. She didn't have to. She knew what haunted this powerful, proud male, though he'd never spoken of it, never even acknowledged it. And yet when the demons had become too bad, he'd come to her.
It changed things, but that was something they didn't have the time to discuss. Not while Nash remained a hostage.
The kidnapper was waiting for them in the shadowy depths of a half-demolished building on the outskirts of San Francisco. Early morning light whispered over the site, but somehow failed to soften the harsh lines of plascrete and metal.
Everything about the place set Mercy's hackles to rising.
Her eyes scanned the black plastic that floated where the windows should've been, giving the building even more of a sinister cast. Neither side of her liked the place, but it mattered little. She went in first . . . after a furious argument with a Riley who was back to his usual infuriating self.
"Human males underestimate females," she said, "even more than stupid changeling men."
"He could have a gun."
"I'm wearing a bulletproof vest." She touched the lightweight fabric. "You go in, you're so mad you might tear off his face before he tells us anything,"
Riley's hand closed over her upper arm, dark eyes ringed with amber. "He deserves to have his face torn off."
"That won't tell us where Nash is, will it?" She gritted her teeth. "We haven't scented him anywhere near this building. If you kill this guy, we're back to square one."
"I don't like you going in there alone."
"There're ten of you out here! You'll only be a couple of seconds behind me. How is that going in alone?" She was nose to nose with him by now.
Someone cleared their throat.
Riley's growl scared them off. "Don't pull any shit because you want to show off."
"Wait a second." She looked down then back up. "Nope, I haven't grown a c**k in the last few minutes. I have no need to prove whose is bigger."
He leaned forward and bit her lip. Hard enough to sting. She'd have kneed him, but she needed his mangy wolf ass covering hers. "Happy now?" she muttered, wondering if anyone hadn't seen that blatant display of ownership. She and Riley were going to have a long talk after this was over.
"No. I won't be happy until I have you over my lap."
She narrowed her eyes. "Try it and we'll see who still has his balls."
Two minutes later, she walked into the dim room in one corner of the building, the windows half covered by old curtains rather than the ubiquitous black plastic. Some light crept in, but it was dull, as if the room swallowed all energy - the kidnapper had clearly chosen the location for that very reason. His skin shimmered with darkness, and he used the shadows to turn himself into an uncertain silhouette. But she was a cat, her vision acute. She saw his height, the way he held himself, and knew this man could draw blood with a single sharp move.
"I'm armed but I have no intention of attacking," were his first words.
Mercy kept her hands in sight, too. "Excuse me if I don't take your word on it." His English was flawless, she thought, his accent too clean.
"Touche." That word fell far more naturally from his lips. "My name is Bowen." A flash of perfect white teeth. "Bo's what folks call me most of the time."