At their nods, she continued. "Fire crews are waiting one street over like we agreed. Soon as anything goes, they'll haul ass."
"Good." Mercy glanced at her watch, holding on to her impatience with her teeth. "The tip said it was set to blow in about ten minutes."
They both waited until Indigo had jogged away before resuming their conversation. "So," Riley asked, "what have you got for me?"
Taking his hand, she placed it palm-down over her heart. It would hurt like a bitch, she thought, but he was hers to protect as much as she was his. "Me." And she opened up her soul, laid herself bare.
The mating bond shoved through her body like white lightning, hot and wild and right. Incredibly, wonderfully right. His energy was different from hers - wolf, not leopard - but it laced itself with her own until their combined strength was far greater than either would've ever been alone. "Wow."
He blinked, swaying on his feet. "Damn."
She gripped his chest to keep him upright, a difficult feat since she was feeling intoxicated herself. They both almost fell over, laughed, and then they were kissing. The physical connection between them had never been in any doubt, but the mating bond added a new resonance to it, until she could feel his touch in every cell of her body. "Mmm, I like."
Riley heard Mercy's words but couldn't respond, his wolf still stunned from the impact of a bond he'd always known about, but never truly understood. This wasn't anything like he'd imagined - it was more, it was better, it was . . . damn f**king amazing. Sweeping his tongue into Mercy's mouth, he groaned.
Some time later, he raised his head. "That building's supposed to explode soon."
"Hmm." Dreamy eyes looking into his. "Who cares."
Riley felt like agreeing. "We're drunk." He didn't dare approach the subject of her sentinel bond. He could feel his own blood bond to Hawke strong and sure, which meant his precious Mercy had lost a chunk of her heart. He'd make it up to her, he vowed, love her so deep and true that it would bury the pain of that devastating loss.
However, right then, she looked so content, he didn't want to break the moment, didn't want to destroy their mingled joy. His mate, his mate had given herself to him. It was more than he'd ever expected from this wild, independent leopard he adored. Stroking a hand over her hair, he held the beauty of the moment tight to his heart, a secret treasure no one could ever take from him. Mercy's gift. "I think," he said through the thickness of emotion, "this is better than being drunk."
"Yep." She dropped her head to his chest and rubbed her face against him. He knew what she was doing - rolling in his scent. He wanted to do the same. Preferably with her all long, lean, and na**d below him.
They stood there for several minutes, getting themselves under some sort of control. At long last, Mercy glanced at her watch. "One minute to time of detonation if the tip was legit."
"I hope it wasn't." Because if it was, then things were going to get ugly.
"I don't know about internal Alliance politics," Riley said, "but I don't like the way they use up their people like they're nothing."
Mercy nodded. "And if they kill - Oh, my God!"
Riley followed her gaze skyward to see something plummeting in what looked like an uncontrolled dive. It was too big to be a normal bird. "Hell." He looked around for something to cushion the blow, but the entire area was old-fashioned concrete and wood. "Flare your wings," he said to the falling bird between gritted teeth. "Slow it."
"Come on, come on." Mercy rose on tiptoe, as if she could reach up and catch the other changeling.
Three seconds before impact, it was as if the falling one heard them. His wings spread, though one looked strange . . . broken, Riley realized. It slowed his descent from killing to crippling. The changeling also managed to shift his trajectory so he slammed into a pile of old wood instead of the concrete, but he came down hard, a falcon in full animal form.
They were both running before he hit, heading back toward the building. Riley hated that his mate was going into danger, but his wolf respected her strength. This was who she was, and she was perfect. The falcon lay as if dead, but when Mercy put her hand on its body, she nodded. "Alive."
Riley gauged the bird's weight. "Big son of a bitch." Carrying him in animal form would be awkward, but if he was this big as a bird, he was likely bigger as a human. Bird changelings did seriously weird things with their weight when they shifted, but in general, their animal form was smaller. In the end, it took both of them.
He slid his hands under the falcon's back half, while Mercy took the front. "Ready?"
"Go." They headed away from the scene, knowing they only had seconds.
But they didn't even have that. They smelled the ignition at the same moment. Riley looked at Mercy. "Shift!" Their animal bodies were lower to the ground, would take the impact better.
Laying down their burden even as they shifted, they covered the injured changeling with their animal forms as the world turned to fire around them.
The wolf's howl lifted above the city, mournful, sad, so desperately sad that everyone who heard it felt their heart tremble in echoed grief. Running from the Palace of Fine Arts at a speed that made the humans in his way gasp and wonder if they'd really seen what they thought they had, Hawke followed the sound to a patch of concrete not far from a collapsed building. Dust and smoke clogged the air, but he didn't need to see to find them.
A large gray wolf stood in front of an unconscious leopard. The wolf was licking at her muzzle, patting her face with his paw, trying to nudge her to wakefulness. But the leopard lay still, so still that it was almost as if she wasn't breathing.