"Is that all?" A harsh question from Hawke.
"Yes. Bye." And then Sienna walked out. She saw Riley and gave a little wave but didn't come over to say hi. Riley narrowed his eyes, almost able to feel the vicious strength of the control she was keeping over herself. One hard push and that girl would shatter. "What the f**k is going on?" he asked, stepping into Hawke's office and shutting the door.
"You're asking me?" His alpha's jaw was clenched so tight, Riley could almost hear bones grinding.
"She's closed up tighter than a f**king drum." And Riley knew that was wrong with every fiber of his being. "If she was wolf, I'd say she was trying to choke her animal."
"Fuck it, Riley." Hawke pushed back from his desk and paced across the office. "I don't know what's up. I went to talk to her, gave her the option of becoming a trainee soldier."
"And nothing." Hawke kicked the stone wall violently enough that it had to have hurt, then turned and walked in the other direction. "She said 'thank you' and 'I'm happy to accept.' "
"That's not Sienna."
Hawke's pale eyes were wolf furious. "Apparently it is now. Good thing for the den, too." Except he didn't sound convinced.
Mercy opened her front door to a gorgeous male. Unfortunately, it was the wrong one. "Joaquin. What a lovely surprise." Her tone said otherwise.
He reached up to push a hand through that sleek black hair of his, dark eyes watchful. Unlike Eduardo, he didn't flirt. But that only meant he did his hunting in a stealthy fashion. "I thought we might have breakfast together."
"I don't recall inviting you."
"I'm here at your grandmother's behest." A gleam of feline cunning in his eyes. "She said you'd treat me as an honored guest."
"She probably told you I'd kick your ass to Mexico." Mercy snorted and folded her arms. "But what the heck. I have to eat."
Joaquin didn't move from the doorway. "Won't you invite me in?"
"You just want to come in so your scent will be inside." And if Riley walked in and smelled it, she wouldn't be able to stop the resulting bloodshed. Part of her was irritated that she was allowing a male's possessiveness to dictate her actions, but the other part of her was thinking like a sentinel. And buried below that was a raw protectiveness that broadsided her with its strength. "I'm not having you create an interpack incident. We'll go to a pancake place."
To her surprise, Joaquin turned out to be an interesting breakfast companion. He also clearly adored her grandmother. "Isabella is an alpha we'd follow to our graves, no questions asked."
"Isn't that the definition of a sentinel?" she said, taking a bite of her maple-syrup lashed stack. "I'd do the same for Lucas."
"We're both lucky. I've heard of packs with a weak alpha, one who doesn't command such respect. It ends up killing the whole pack."
Mercy nodded. "So is that why you're here? She asked?"
"It would've been a good enough reason, but she showed us videos of you." A smile in his eyes. "I was away when you visited us. If I hadn't been . . . well, perhaps you'd be roaming the Amazon now."
"In your dreams." Laughing, she finished off her coffee and stood. "I have to get to work, but Joaquin, you have to know - the field is not open. Go home."
Implacable dark eyes. "You still don't wear his scent."
Rolling her eyes, she left him to the temporary duties Cian had assigned as part of the agreement to allow two out-Pack sentinels into their territory. But the way he'd said those last words, the confidence in them, niggled at her. Scent layers only became ingrained in long-term lovers or mates.
She'd only been intimate with Riley a handful of times, but they spent a lot of time together. And still no scent? It was her, she thought, taking an unflinching look at the almost mutinously independent nature of her leopard. That leopard was suspicious of even the ties between lovers. What if the suspicion never ended?
That thought worried away at the edges of her mind even as she got to work in a CTX station in Oakland. It was a relief to get a call from Ria, Lucas's administrative assistant - she was sick of going round and round in circles inside her own head.
"Sentinel meeting tonight," Ria told her. "At Lucas's place."
"Time?" She circled a possible security hole in the blue-print in front of her, her mind flicking to the last time she'd been in an underground garage. Damn but she missed the wolf already. And, scent layer or not, that spelled trouble.
"Seven. Sascha's doing dinner."
"God save us all." Sascha had decided she liked cooking. Unfortunately, cooking didn't like her back.
Ria chuckled. "She's improving. She made me a cake the other day, and it was only a little salty."
"That makes me feel a whole lot better."
"Don't worry - tonight it's tacos. She told me there's not much she can do to destroy that particular meal."
"We'll see," Mercy joked. "Any other news?"
"Zara's designing for us again as of today."
Mercy liked the changeling wildcat who'd been on contract to DarkRiver's construction arm before heading back to her own pack. "Say hi to her for me. Tell her Sage still has a crush on her."
"Aw, cute. How come your brothers are single?"
"They say I scare the women off."
"More likely they're spoiled - they're not going to settle for any woman who doesn't match the standard you've set."
Buoyed by the compliment, Mercy shook off her odd mood and focused on the work. The rest of her day, including a security shift in the city, passed with surprisingly little drama - the Alliance had gone cold again, and Bowen and his crew were still behaving. Even Eduardo and Joaquin were nowhere to be seen, for which boon, she could only thank the heavens.