A taut moment, as they stared at each other, both furious, both unable to walk away. He waited to feel real pain - predatory changeling females could do serious damage when riled, and he'd made her plenty angry - but he didn't care. Right now, this moment, it was pure ambrosia.
Mercy's lashes lowered, and when they came back up, he saw the cat prowling behind the irises. "You're insane, Kincaid." She bit his lower lip hard enough to make her point. Then, withdrawing her claws, she raised a hand to her throat and pulled at his pinkie. "I'll break this if you don't get your hand off me."
He knew instinctively that he'd pushed her far enough.
"Good choice," she said as he released her. "Now come in and maybe I'll patch you up."
Realizing he'd somehow skirted the icy blade of her anger, he walked in. She padded away into the bathroom and he followed, pulling off his T-shirt as he entered. She stared at the claw marks on his chest, the cuts on his side, his face. "You don't need stitches." Putting her hands on his arm, she tugged. "Turn."
He decided to obey because it felt so good to have her touch him.
"Hmm. No stitches necessary here, either, though you'll have some enormous bruises. Most of it will heal within the next couple of days."
"Do you have anything for the bruises?" Stiff muscles could be dangerous, slowing reaction time when it mattered most.
Coming to face him again, she said, "Maybe. Shower off the blood and find me. I might be in a good mood. I might not."
He blocked her exit from the bathroom, very aware of the sleek nakedness of her body beneath that old T-shirt. "Stay." God, he was starved for her touch. Just that, just touch.
She looked at him out of eyes that continued to hold a golden edge. "Shower and I'll let you sleep with me. I did a night shift."
He moved immediately out of the way. "Why didn't you say so? I wouldn't have kept you from bed." He scowled, the protectiveness he felt toward her trumping everything else. "I'll be out in five."
He was as good as his word, rubbing his hair dry as he walked na**d into Mercy's bedroom. She was curled up, half-asleep below the sheets, but waved him over. "Bruise cream."
"I'll put it on."
"Shuddup and lie still."
Throwing aside the towel, he lay down on top of the sheet. Her fingers felt like perfection on his flesh, feminine and strong and uniquely Mercy. When she'd put the cream over all the bruises, she yawned and got up to wash her hands before crawling back into bed. He was waiting for her beneath the sheets, and to his surprise, she didn't say a word as he spooned his body around hers, their lower limbs tangling, his hand flat on the warm skin of her abdomen.
"Take off the T-shirt," he murmured against her ear.
"Pushy." But she gave him what he wanted, surprising him once again.
Mercy, he thought, was an intrinsically generous woman. He'd known that, but today, he saw another facet to that part of her nature. She was angry with him for fighting with Joaquin, but even so, she was giving him what he needed. She could've made him beg - he was so starved for her, he might just have done it. Instead, she'd allowed him into her bed, allowed him the most intimate of skin privileges.
That truth made something in his heart unsnap, unlock, and he wasn't quite sure what it was.
A feminine hand curled over the arm he had around her waist. "Sleep."
Holding her tight, awash in the warmth of her, he did as ordered. And unlike the night he'd spent awake and walking the halls of the den, this sleep was utterly peaceful.
Mercy was smiling that afternoon as she sat in DarkRiver's business HQ. Sleeping with Riley again had been nice. Really nice. They'd woken together, made love with a lazy slowness that had turned her blood to treacle. It had been tempting to stay in bed, but Riley had an afternoon shift on the patrols they were running in the city, and she had to complete several of her security reports.
She'd just finished a call with a firm specializing in high-tech intrusion detection systems when the phone rang. The ID was exquisitely familiar. She answered by switching the clear screen of her computer to comm mode. "Riley?"
His response was audio only, with a little icon that told her he was on a cell phone. "Mercy, you still in the city?"
The sound of his voice crawled inside, touched the cat . . . and wasn't immediately clawed away. "Yeah, what's up?"
"We got a tip that something odd was going on in one of the new warehouses they're building along the Embarcadero," he said, referring to the long stretch of road that ran around the eastern edge of the bay. "Near the Bay Bridge."
Excitement sparked. "I'll be there - "
"No rush. I went in with a small team, checked things out. They - "
Mercy tried to counsel patience and failed. "You what? This is our op, Riley. Not yours. You knew I was in the city, that I could've been there in minutes, but you still didn't call until after you'd gone in?"
He didn't bother to lie to her, to make up something about using their resources wisely or some other crap like that. He just said, "I made the decision. Deal with it."
Deal with it? Fine. "What did you find?" she asked, hand curled into a fist so tight, she could see tendons push up white under skin.
"This particular warehouse is almost complete and the foreman says no workers have been inside for two weeks. But someone was here and very recently," he said, sounding a little guarded at her apparent calm.
Good, she thought. "Alliance?"
"From the human scents and the fact that we found some bomb-making apparatus, I'm saying it's a good bet."