Mercy nodded, her skin tight with expectation. "Text me the details." But her attention was on the wolf who'd stroked her into wild ecstasy only yesterday. Her lower body clenched and she all but bit through her tongue to force down the rising wave of arousal. She so did not want Sage picking up on that little bit of info.
Her brother said a civilized hello to Riley as they passed. Riley responded with a nod, then jerked his head toward the exit. She went - no way did she want an electronic audience to their conversation.
"Can't stay away from me?" she asked when they were safely on the grass verge outside the building. Set in an industrial/ professional area, foot traffic was light, the grass neatly trimmed. It appeared they were alone.
Riley glanced up at the building behind them. "I can feel them watching me."
"Yep. So don't try anything funny." It came out an invitation.
His eyes went dark with a kind of knowledge that made her internal furnace go straight from hot to explosive. "I was passing by, thought you might be interested in some stuff we didn't discuss on the phone earlier."
"Passing by?" She raised an eyebrow.
"I went to visit those kids from the burger place, check they were okay."
Something melted in her heart. "I called them today."
"Yeah, they said." He held the eye contact, all calm and solid and practical . . . except for the blazing heat in that gaze. "Your cat wouldn't leave it alone either, would it?"
"Nope." It was an integral part of them - that need to protect. "They seem to be doing good. That girl Jen, she's a smart cookie."
"She wants to be you when she grows up."
Mercy grinned. "I forgot to tell you something else - we're being stonewalled on what exactly Nash is studying."
"Give the kid a few days," Riley said. "He might change his mind after he thinks it over."
"Especially since we only need enough information to protect him properly." She made a note on her datapad to have Ashaya follow up with Nash - the lynx might respond better to a fellow scientist. "So, what did you want to discuss?"
Riley's mouth became bracketed by white lines. "Judd got confirmation that someone pushed that shooter to do what he did, some kind of a mental suggestion buried deep in his psyche."
Damn. Her sympathy for the poor man who'd been made a puppet mixed with a slow-burning anger toward those who used people so heartlessly. "Tempting to call it a Psy internal war and ignore it," she said, "but it's affecting everyone." She told him about the professorial suicide. "He could've taken so many kids with him."
"No way to know if he was programmed."
"Funny coincidence, though, isn't it?" She gritted her teeth. "You know, the Human Alliance might consider the Psy their enemy, but they're f**king twins when it comes to harming innocents."
Riley's eyes gleamed amber. "You need to burn it off. Come for a walk."
Anger exploded under a surge of raw desire. "No, thanks." Especially when the urge to nibble at that strong throat, that stubborn jaw, was a drumbeat in her skull. And double especially when she was considering the mechanics of tangling limbs in a car.
The wolf was a shadow in his voice. "Scared to be alone with me?"
"Busy." Despite her racing heartbeat, it happened to be the truth. "I want to finish what I'm doing here since we have some downtime." And I need to get a handle on this hunger before it creeps into every corner of my life. Because if she fell too deep and then he found his mate . . . Mercy knew herself, knew the soul-destroying pain that would accompany such rejection - she wasn't good at holding back. If she gave herself to him, it would be with everything in her. "Don't you have work?"
He ran a hand through his hair, mussing himself up so deliciously that she had to fight the leopard's desire to play with the strands. "Yeah, but it's with Hawke and he's in a shit of a mood."
Mercy thought about the girl who seemed to be the - very short - fuse on Hawke's temper. "What's up with those two?"
"He's my alpha," Riley said, eyes full of challenge. "I'm not going to talk about him to a leopard."
"We're not enemies anymore, remember?" she said, tone arch. "We're allies."
"Political allies - our animals still don't trust one another."
"Which is an excellent reason for us to stay away from each other," she said, seeing another glaring truth - her pack was critically important to her life. Being with Riley, that whisper of tenderness growing and twining like a vine around her heart, it held the potential to shake the foundations of her link to DarkRiver.
A sentinel couldn't give her heart to a onetime enemy/new ally and do her job as the first line of defense for her pack. She had to be able to rip out Riley's throat if the unthinkable happened and SnowDancer broke the alliance to turn on DarkRiver.
Her stomach roiled with nausea, but her voice, when it came, was calm. "I'm as loyal to my pack as you are to yours." If those bonds were compromised . . . it would break something fundamental in both of them.
Riley went about his remaining business in the city with impeccable competence, following a checklist in his head. It was the only way he'd found to control the wolf when it got this agitated. Mercy would undoubtedly roll her eyes, but then she had her own ways of controlling things, didn't she? He'd felt her hunger, hot and slick in the sunshine, and yet she'd denied them both.
The light changed to red in front of him. His car came to an automatic stop.