He'd loved it. She thought she was turning into a sex ma niac.
"Sascha." The tone of his voice had her sitting up.
She glanced over his shoulder. "Where's Dorian?"
"Gone." Walking over, he sat beside her, a package in his hand. "He took Ashaya and Keenan out to dinner, popped into HQ to pick up something, and was there when this was delivered. There's no return address, but . . ."
"But what?" She swallowed, scooting closer to his warmth. "Lucas?"
"It has Nikita's scent on it."
Whatever she'd expected, that wasn't it. "It's not - "
"Not dangerous," he reassured her. "You know Dorian - he ran every diagnostic test he could on it. It's inert. A book, from the weight and size."
"Why would my mother send me a book?"
He handed it to her. "Let's find out."
"I - " Her fingers were trembling too much to undo the packaging.
Lucas's hands closed over them. "She can't hurt you here." Panther-green eyes looking into hers. "You're stronger, far stronger, than she'll ever be."
He knew that for the truth with everything in him. Sascha was a healer of minds, of souls. She walked undaunted into darkness, into nightmare, for no reason than to help others. It took a courage Councilor Nikita Duncan would never possess.
Now he saw her straighten her shoulders, tuck the edges of the sheets firmly under her arms - the burst of familiar modesty delighted and amused him in equal measures - and take a deep breath. "If you would, Mr. Alpha," she requested.
"As you please, Mrs. Alpha." Sliding out one lethally sharp claw, he tucked it under the flap and slit it open.
"You're awfully convenient to have around," she said in her best prissy Psy voice, and he knew his Sascha, with her quiet strength and warm heart, was back.
Wrapping an arm around her, he said, "I live to please," and watched as she slid out a book that had been meticulously wrapped.
"So much packaging," she said as she peeled off layer by layer. "Must be something important."
Or Nikita could be playing with her mind. He didn't want to say it, knew that Sascha was still vulnerable where her mother was concerned - and how could he not understand that? "Kitten," he began.
"I know, darling." A shaky smile. "I know. I lived with Nikita's politics and ethics for most of my life." Reaching out as she found herself at the last layer of fine tissue, she gripped his thigh and peeled the edges of the paper apart with one hand to uncover the title. "The Mysterious E Designation," she read out loud. "Empathic Gifts & Shadows. By Alice Eldridge."
Mercy kicked out a leg and spun, hitting her target - her favorite tree. She called it Riley, having been driven to kick it after their first real meeting. Now she "ran" up the tree and did a backflip, coming down on her feet, no wobbles. Though it was closing on eleven o'clock, she was too wired to sleep. Even talking to her gran hadn't helped with the angry pain that continued to rip through her veins.
Another kick. "Stupid." Slap. "Male." Slap. "Wolf."
Fury expressed - at least for now - she took a deep breath, centered herself, and began going through the martial arts routine her original trainer had helped her devise. She'd embellished and changed it over the years to take her increasing strength and flexibility into account, and Dorian had taught her several new moves, but as a training routine, it still worked perfectly. It kept her toned and supple, something that was often more of an advantage than brute strength.
As she moved, she felt joy. This was who she was. And it felt good. A dance of the soul. One no one had the right to steal from her. Not even the man who made every female instinct in her sit up and pay attention. Her anger threatened to derail her rhythm, but she gritted her teeth and kept going.
Once, a long time ago, she'd worried about her tendencies - she'd been a young teen and, like her peers, had just wanted to fit in. The phase hadn't lasted long. How could it? Her mentor, Juanita, had been a soldier, her grandmother an alpha, and even her nondominant mother had a spine of pure steel. They'd all taught her that being a strong female was a good thing, a thing to be cherished.
Too bad Mercy had had to go and find herself attracted to a throwback like Riley who wanted little wifey at home with an apron and a dress and a "Oh, honey, I missed you - I can't do anything without you" smile on her face.
"Ha!" She speeded up the routine, hoping it would stop her brain cells from firing.
No such luck. Instead, she began to scent Riley on the air currents. At this rate, she'd be seeing him - "Fuck!" She continued with the workout, knowing he was watching her. She hid nothing of her speed or strength, doing her best to intimidate him.
To show him the truth of who she was.
He leaned against the tree and watched her with the intense focus of a soldier who'd trained more than a few young ones. He was watching for mistakes, errors, not because he'd get pleasure in pointing them out, but because it was habit - it was better to warn a fighter in training, than have them fail when it meant life or death. Mercy knew - she did the same thing herself.
Finally, a good twenty minutes later, she lowered her speed and began to go through a cool-down routine.
Riley didn't speak until she'd finished and was wiping the sweat off her face using the towel she'd hung on a tree branch.
"You move like liquid lightning," he said quietly. "I've never seen anything that beautiful."
Her mouth dried out. Damn it. She'd been good and mad at him. And now . . . "You're a lieutenant. You'll have seen lots of people train."