She didn't remind him that she was fully capable of punching out people on her own. Bas was her brother - he couldn't help protecting her. As Riley couldn't help it. It was like a switch went off in them at times. Mercy could bend when necessary, she wasn't always a hard-ass. Bas had in fact, punched out people for her. She could deal.
The problem with Riley was, he didn't seem to have any give in him. She didn't want her only glimpses into his soul to be after the crushing darkness of nightmare. For her cat to trust him, he needed to trus -
"Hey." Bas squeezed her shoulder. "Where did you go?"
She glanced ahead to where Grey and Sage were strolling, checking out the window displays in the adjacent shops. "I'm dealing with stuff."
A silky pause. "What's his name?"
"As if I'd tell you."
"You chased off my last girlfriend."
"She was a hyena." Not literally, but in heart. "Wanted you for your money." Bas was smart, crazy smart. He made money on the stock market simply by breathing. Which was why he was in charge of DarkRiver's financial assets.
"My ego bleeds." A hand rubbing pitifully over his chest.
"We're going to be wiping up blood for weeks, it's so colossal."
He hugged her closer. "Come on, you can tell me. It'll be our secret."
"And you'll go hunting him the second I'm distracted. I don't think so." But she hugged him back. "So, no new hyena for me to chase off?"
"I'm still healing the scars from the last one." A piercing look. "I know who it is."
"No, you don't."
Her mouth fell open. She looked up. "What?"
"Jesus." He stopped walking. "It was a guess, but I'm right. You're . . . they're . . . he's a wolf!"
She snapped around to make sure the other two hadn't heard. "How did you even make that guess?"
He thrust a hand through his hair, almost making a woman on the other side of the street trip, she was looking at him so hard. "Only dominant male I could think of that you'd been reacting to lately. You bitch about him a lot."
She glanced again at her two younger brothers, currently distracted by a display of lanterns. "Don't tell them."
"Why the f**k not?"
"Because you know they'll do something stupid."
"So will I." He jerked his head and they started walking again. "I might not be a sentinel, but I'm your brother. And I know how to kick wolf ass."
"Don't 'Bas' me. You might be able to control Grey and Sage but don't even try it with me."
She glared at him. "This is my business." She trusted Riley not to hurt her brothers, but a lot could go wrong when men got stupid - especially when those men had claws and teeth meant for hunting prey.
"Should've thought of that before you told my ex-girlfriend I eat live kittens for breakfast."
A tiny twinge of guilt. Then the cat wondered what Riley would think of her last successful "shoo-away." "Who knew she'd believe me?"
"Oh no? When you 'accidentally' opened the cupboard to expose my 'kitten cage' full of the poor, sad kitties I was going to snack on?" A raised eyebrow. "Wasn't the cage next to my special 'kitten defurring' tools?"
"They were obviously fake."
Bas just stared at her.
Mercy snarled. "Damn it. Let's go dancing."
"Yeah, let's. I need to plan how I'm going to fillet this bastard if he hurts you."
* * *
Riley couldn't do it. He couldn't stay away from Mercy. However, her cabin proved empty. He debated calling her, then realized that would betray far too much of the driving need in him. And he couldn't let her learn that, couldn't give her that much power over him. Shoving the phone into his pocket, he headed back to his vehicle.
That was when he scented him. Another male. One of the South Americans. His wolf bared its teeth inside him, but it was possession, not rage. The man had been here but wasn't any longer. He'd probably come looking for Mercy. It was tempting, oh-so-tempting, to track him down and make sure he understood that Mercy was off-limits, but Riley knew his cat. She wasn't the kind of woman to play off one man against another.
And if he went after Eduardo and Joaquin, she'd assume he didn't know that.
"Fuck." Logic was a bitch sometimes. Forcing himself to get in the vehicle, he turned around and went home, parking the four-wheel drive in a designated spot miles from the den and completing the rest of the distance on foot.
The exercise burned off most of his frustration and anger, but he couldn't make himself stay inside the network of beautifully constructed tunnels that had protected SnowDancer from enemy eyes more times than anyone could count. Instead, after showering and pulling on a fresh T-shirt and jeans, he went outside and found a seat on a storm-fallen tree on the edge of the White Zone.
He was sitting there, second-guessing his decision not to track Mercy down, when someone tracked him down. Catching the strawberry and candy scent on the breeze, he kept his back to his visitor, allowing her to decide if she wanted to talk to him.
A moment later, a small hand tugged on his sleeve.
Turning, he chucked Sakura under the chin. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"
"It's only nine and I had a nap today." A smile and a hopeful look.
Knowing he was a sucker, but unable to resist, he picked her up - doll and all - and sat her on his lap, where she curled into a contented little ball, her ear over his heart. A wave of tenderness swept over him and he cupped the back of her head in a gentle hold.