Leaving Hawke to his own demons, Riley got changed into workout gear, found an empty training room, and began to go through his usual sparring routine, but without a partner - he was in no mood to hold his punches. Hawke could've taken him, but his alpha already saw too much. He didn't want to betray anything else.
"Go away." He'd heard Brenna enter, had decided to ignore her.
But Brenna had never been easily dissuaded. "Drew said you're not sleeping well - that you were up most of last night."
He went through a vicious series of moves and ended a foot from her, breath calm, eyes furious. "Drew has a big f**king mouth."
"Yeah, tell me something I don't know." She grinned, but there was worry in those magnificent eyes she'd turned from a scar to a badge of courage. "Riley, is this . . . I . . ."
Scowling, he closed the distance between them to cup her cheek. "It's not about you." Her hurt haunted him, but he wasn't going to put that weight on her back. That was his cross to bear. "I'm not sleeping because I want sex."
Her mouth dropped open. Then she went bright red. "Too. Much. Information!"
Satisfied at having distracted her from the past, he raised an eyebrow. "You did ask."
"Argh." She rubbed at her temples. "Am trying to erase image from mind."
His temper lessened at her theatrics. "What, you think I'm a monk?"
"Might as well have been," she said with a shrug. "You haven't been with anyone for months."
"And that's not too much information?"
"That's looking after my brother." She poked him in the chest. "And if you're - you know - why don't you go and do something about it?"
He stroked a hand down her hair, reassuring himself for the millionth time that she was still alive, still breathing. God, he felt for Dorian. The other man's sister hadn't come back. That heartbreaking truth was why Riley had allowed Dorian to strike the killing blow when they'd hunted down the monster who'd stolen so much innocence. "You think it's that easy?"
"You've got confidence leaking out your pores."
"The bigger the ego," he muttered, repeating something Mercy had said to him, "the louder they pop."
Brenna laughed. "You never had an ego problem, Riley. You had a responsibility problem. You didn't even go away to roam - you were always there for me and Drew."
"You were more important. And Pack centers me."
"Maybe now's your time to roam?" She grinned at him. "With a certain redhead."
"Out," he said, pushing her to the door. "There are some things little sisters don't need to know."
He shut the door on her grinning face, but as he went back to his routine, his mind circled back to the problem that had driven him here in the first place - the gulf that would always separate him from Mercy. His wolf was blood-loyal to the pack, to his people. Her leopard felt the same about DarkRiver.
He knew all that.
And still he wanted her with a fury that made him snarl at the idea of any other male laying a hand on her.
The men and women tapped for the second San Francisco operation were loyal, had reasons to be loyal.
"A Psy killed my family," one man said to his workmate, "but the Council covered it up, said there was no violence among their race. They made it seem like my father killed my mother."
"Fucking bullshit," his teammate muttered. "They've got those Jax junkies, strung out on the streets. That's violence - they're killing themselves every time they mainline that stuff."
"I never thought about it that way," the first man said, "but you're right." A pause. "Why did you sign up?"
"I'm sick to death of being at the bottom of the food chain." A shrug. "Maybe we succeed, maybe we fail, but no one will ever dismiss us again."
"DarkRiver and SnowDancer know we're here," his partner replied. "I almost got caught today."
"We lost a bunch of supplies, too - no one can get near the pickup point." A word that turned the air blue. "People are making mistakes. We do that, we might as well give it up."
"You really think we can pull this off in wolf and leopard territory?"
"Sure." He shrugged. "They're searching for a needle in a haystack."
"Where do I put the wire?"
"Here." The explosives expert completed the low-tech but stable bomb and handed it off to the third man. "You know what to do?"
The man nodded. "I'll make sure no one sees me."
"Hey," the first man said. "Why are you here?"
For a minute, the other man was silent. Then he said, "One of them wanted something I knew. I wouldn't give it to him. So he tore into my mind and took it."
The word wasn't used, but they all knew it - rape. The Psy had been getting away with it for far too long. Now they would pay. And if this attempt failed, the Alliance would rise again. And again. And again.
Because the Psy wouldn't stop until they were forced to.
Mercy was not amused to come home after a night shift in the city to find breakfast waiting for her. "Out," she said to both the males on her porch. "And I'm not messing today."
Eduardo raised his hands in surrender. "I'm heading home. This is good-bye."
"Thank God for small mercies," she said. "And you?"
Joaquin gave her an enigmatic smile. "Still no scent."
"Suit yourself." Grabbing a muffin, she walked into the cabin and shut the door. She heard Eduardo laugh and Joaquin curse, but she really wasn't in the mood. Eating quickly, she showered and got ready to catch some shut-eye. When she looked out the window, it was to find the men gone, though they'd left the food behind in a thermal container. Reluctantly impressed by their refusal to give in, she stored the food in her kitchen, then crashed, planning to be up by one in the afternoon.