He went red. Bright red. "God damn it, Mercy!"
"Sorry." She grinned.
"No, you're not." Rolling his eyes, he leaned back in his chair. "I don't suppose your pack has anyone else like you?"
"No, I'm one of a kind." She stared at him. "Are you trolling for women?"
"Would you shut up?" But he was laughing. "No, but I'm keeping my eyes open - I'm getting antsy to settle down."
"That's an oxymoron." Flippant words but her mind was connecting the dots. "You came back to see if I was your mate?"
He shrugged. "We had good chemistry and we're friends. I figured it couldn't hurt to come have another sniff - you know what I mean so stop gagging - and make sure. I can see I'm too late."
Mercy got a very bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. "And you know this, how?"
"The scent layer's new, but it's unquestionably there. You're marked, babe." He grinned. "Does the poor man know what's in store for him?"
Mercy's intestines tied themselves into a giant knot. It wasn't surprising that Hamilton had picked up the scent layer faster than those in her pack. They knew how much time she and Riley had to spend together, probably figured it was a surface layer of contact. But she'd showered this morning after Riley left, then slicked pretty-smelling body cream over herself. And if Hamilton could still sense Riley . . .
No need to panic, she told herself. Lovers often wore layers of scent that made it clear who belonged to who - females and males both. "What's the scent layer like?"
Hamilton gave her a keen glance, then whistled. "You didn't know."
"Answer the question."
"I picked it up the instant I walked in the door - I'm getting a very definite 'hands-off' vibe."
Mercy swore under her breath. Then again. "It's the start of the mating dance."
"Which is why I'm sitting wayyy over on this side of the desk and making no physical contact," Hamilton said, raising his hands in the air. "I have no desire whatsoever to be hunted by some rabid male who's decided I touched his woman."
"I'm no one's woman."
"Not yet anyway. Am I the first to sense it?"
She nodded, trying to find her footing when the world had just shifted sideways.
"Since no one in your pack's exactly a slouch," he commented, "it means the change is recent. I probably picked it up because I haven't seen you for so long."
"And you're single," she said between gritted teeth, realizing the dance had to have kicked in the night before. By accepting his word that he'd try to never again hurt her as he'd done yesterday, she'd trusted Riley on a level she'd never before trusted a lover. More than that . . . he'd trusted her. "Every male I've seen this morning has been mated. The scent wouldn't register as strongly to them."
"So, who's the lucky guy?"
"I'm going to kill him," she muttered. "He knew and didn't tell me." Changeling males always knew when the dance began.
"Ah, Mercy . . . I wouldn't tell you, either."
She felt her eyes go leopard. "Men!"
"Please," he drawled out. "Look how you're reacting. Dominant females don't like the idea of being tied down. So if it was me, and you somehow didn't notice the scent, I'd make sure we were well and truly entangled before I said anything. Less chance of you deciding not to accept the mating." Getting up, he gave her a mock salute. "Are you sure you don't know any more like you?"
She thought about it. "Indigo."
"The wolf lieutenant?" He whistled. "She's all kinds of fiiine. Would she date a cat?"
"Damn if I won't." He held out his hand for Indigo's number.
Mercy gave it to him in thanks for the fact that he'd spilled the beans about the mating dance. She also threw in a bonus warning. "Don't try any dominant shit on her - she'll eat you for breakfast then suck the marrow from your bones for dessert."
It was a measure of Hamilton's confidence that he grinned as if he'd just been told he'd won a million bucks. Hah, she thought as he walked out. He was all fun and games now, but if it got serious, he'd probably turn as crazy as Riley and try to keep Indigo from harm. Now that, Mercy thought, would be a fireworks show she'd pay to witness.
Of course, Riley had seen the error of his ways. More, he'd offered her a glimpse of his heart, something she'd never expected. It had undone her.
Ten minutes later, he surprised her again. "We need to go look at a corpse."
Mercy blinked. "Wow, so romantic."
"Intel came to me since I'm in charge of city security this morning. But I thought you'd want in on it. I'm on my way to pick you up."
"I'll grab a kit with gloves and things."
It didn't take them long to get to the body - found by a couple of the Rats in one of the less accessible corners of the bay, the information had traveled to cat and wolf ears rather than Enforcement, which meant they had free rein at least for a short time frame.
The body was wedged between several rocks, having apparently been washed up at high tide. Parking the car in the shadow of a large tree, the two of them headed down the tiny dirt access road to check it out. Though the sea had done a credible job of smothering the man's natural scent, they both caught the faint metallic tang.
"Psy," Mercy said, crouching beside the body. "Those squads that Sascha and Judd told us about must be combing the city, searching for him." All Psy who disappeared from the PsyNet without explanation were tracked to verify the reason for their sudden disengagement.