And the tension broke, just like that. Mercy threw part of a taco shell at Sascha. "Some help you are."
They were still laughing when Dorian arrived, followed by Clay. The four of them managed to demolish the salsa by the time Lucas returned, with Nate and Vaughn on his heels. None of the sentinels' mates had come today, which was surprising. Mercy said as much.
"Kids are at Tammy's - Tally's gone to dinner with Ria," Clay told her. "They're calling it a strategy meeting - how human females deal with changeling males."
Everyone but Dorian laughed. His next words told them why. "Shaya's with Amara."
"She'll be fine," Lucas said. "Your mate's tough."
"Yeah." A proud smile. "I can't help but worry, though. Keenan's at Tammy's."
"Faith, too," Vaughn added. "And Brenna was there when I left."
No one found that strange. Brenna and Faith had quietly become very good friends over the past months. "Did Judd come down?" Mercy asked.
"Probably." Dorian passed her a box of take-out fried rice. "He has trouble letting Brenna out of his sight."
"Oh, please," Mercy muttered, "you're all so overprotective you'd be delighted if you could pack your mates in cotton wool and put them inside glass bubbles."
Sascha started laughing so hard, she almost dropped her egg roll. "I think that's Lucas's secret fantasy."
Her mate growled at her. "All I said was that you looked a little tired. You didn't have to blow a gasket."
"You told me to go lie down." Sascha poked her chopsticks in his direction. "Do I look like an invalid to you?"
Of course, that was just an invitation for the men to throw in their support behind Lucas, while Mercy had to back Sascha on principle. Come to think of it, the cardinal did look different. Not tired exactly. A little more fragile. Softer. More breakable.
"Enough." Sascha cut off the discussion with a hand. "We have actual work to do."
"Right," Lucas said. "Clay, you had some intel."
"Rats." Clay named his source. "They're catching hints that a group of people are gathering chemicals that could be used to make bombs. Low-tech bombs, but they'll do the job same as high-tech."
Everyone went quiet.
"Alliance?" Dorian finally asked.
"Unconfirmed but from the surveillance footage we were able to get, one of the buyers looks very similar to a face we flagged as a possible Alliance mercenary from the flights that came in around the time of Nash's abduction," Clay said. "Teijan has his people on it twenty-four/seven, but whoever they are, they're being very careful. No clue as to where they've set up base yet."
"We'll find them," Lucas said, eyes grim. "No one makes trouble in our city."
The night after his frustrating call with Mercy, Riley was antsy. It was tempting to blame it on his day - DarkRiver and SnowDancer had both upped their already visible presence in the city in silent warning to the Alliance, but they weren't any closer to running down the operatives. Since he'd just come off a full day shift in the city, it would've been easy to lie to himself.
But that wasn't who he was. "What would you say if I asked you a hypothetical question?" he asked after giving Hawke his report.
Hawke's eyes gleamed. "That there are no such things as hypothetical questions."
"That's what I thought." He lapsed back into thought.
Hawke stared at him. "I can answer your hypothetical question, though."
"You don't know what it is."
"I know you're jumpy as hell for Mercy. Go find her. Get naked. The end."
Riley looked at his alpha. "That's your pitch to women? Let's get naked?" He snorted. "No wonder your balls are blue."
Hawke gave him a one-finger salute. "Go take care of your own balls."
"Maybe I will." He got up. "I have an answer for you, too."
"I don't want to hear it."
"Too bad. Lieutenant privileges." He put his hand on the door to the office. "I know why your balls are blue."
"Whatever the hell is happening between you two, make a note that several different men, me included, will kill you if you touch her. She's not ready."
"I don't know who you're talking about." Hawke's voice remained unconcerned, but his hand was squeezing his pen so tight, he'd probably shattered it.
"But none of us will kill you for spending time with her." He pulled open the door. "Track her down, taunt her into a sparring session. It'll get you skin-to-skin contact."
Hawke's eyes were pure wolf when they met Riley's. "I don't think so."
Riley looked at his alpha and gave a slight nod. "Yeah, I see your point." A little contact would only enflame the wolf. "You need to draw some blood?" It was an honest offer, wolf to wolf, frustrated male to frustrated male.
"Not yet." Putting down his mangled pen, Hawke shoved both hands into his hair, leaving a streak of bright blue ink on the pale strands. "You'll find me when I do." He sounded disgusted.
Riley shrugged. "It's my job." Being the senior lieutenant was about more than responsibility to the pack. It was about responsibility for the alpha as well. With Hawke unmated - and likely to remain so - Riley had to make sure the other man never went too close to the edge. Hawke, in turn, kept a watchful eye on him, too.
Now the alpha raised his head. "You're so f**king calm you fool everyone else, but don't fool yourself, Riley. You're in no better condition than I am."