"No one's been here. I've never even spent a night inside." Dropping one of the crutches, he reached up to cup her cheek. "I built it for two, not one."
Well, she had to kiss him for that, didn't she?
"Kitty cat," he said, face solemn. "I'm sorry."
She frowned. "For what? You had nothing to do with the explosion."
"No . . . about your sentinel bond."
Her heart clenched and then released as she realized . . . "I don't feel any different."
"You should." Riley looked half worried, half relieved. "I definitely felt it when I got bonded, and there's a connection to Hawke, to the other lieutenants. It's hard to explain."
"I know what you mean - it's like being near a fire and feeling the warmth." She shook her head. "And I tell you, I can still feel that warmth."
"Well . . ." He ran his hand over her hair. "That's good. But if you want to be physically closer to your pack, we can move."
Ah, damn but the man had a way of saying the most tender things in that deep, solid voice of his. "I'm good." And it was the truth. Being with her mate was . . . joy. Such joy that it filled every cell, made her blood golden with the beauty of it.
His head lowered even as she rose on tiptoe.
"Ahem." A pointed cough. "Didn't you two already get that out of your system?"
"Go away, Hawke," Riley said without looking.
The wolf alpha came up the stairs and tugged on Mercy's hair. "Red. Pretty."
Mercy smiled . . . and flashed up her claws. But Hawke was already on the other side of the porch, a smirk on his face.
"Now, now," he said, "I'm your alpha - "
"Bullshit." Mercy sheathed her claws and turned so her back was cradled against Riley's chest as he leaned on the railing. "I'm a DarkRiver sentinel."
The wolf alpha's eyes gleamed. "You sure about that?"
Catching a couple of familiar scents on the breeze, she waited. Lucas and Sascha stepped out of the forest a few minutes later. Mercy took one look at them and bit back a grin, but Hawke didn't bother to resist the urge to make a comment.
"You have a leaf stuck in your hair, cat."
Nonchalant, Lucas reached up to pull it off. "Jealous, wolf?"
"Boys," Sascha said. "We're here to discuss something important." Walking up the steps, she hugged Mercy. "I'm so glad you two are alright." There was a change in her eyes - an impossible new depth of soul, of empathy. And her scent . . .
Mercy's leopard all but pounced on Sascha in excitement. "Holy crap! Congratulations!"
Sascha smiled, and glanced at Lucas. "I don't think I can quantify our excitement." Then she turned back. "But that's not why I'm here. It's about the Web of Stars and the equivalent thing with the wolves."
"You should sit," Lucas said, and he wasn't talking to Mercy.
Sascha stared at him. "I didn't realize pregnancy of four weeks' duration made me incapable of standing upright."
"It makes me incapable of reason," Lucas said, charm in every inch of him. "Humor me."
Rolling her eyes, Sascha turned back to Mercy. "We should go in and grab seats - Tamsyn was here when you woke this morning and she said you're going to be fine, but you need more bed rest. Lara gave the same orders to you." She pointed an admonishing finger at Riley.
"Sascha darling, I don't know what you and the cat get up to in bed, but those two aren't resting." Hawke padded over, and Mercy noticed that though he was wearing jeans and a white tee, he was barefoot. Crazy wolf.
Lucas cut Hawke off, opening the door to usher his mate inside. Mercy went in with Sascha and Riley followed. They heard a thump an instant later, and then some swearing, but when the two alphas walked in, there wasn't a bruise on either of them. Sascha gave them both a narrow-eyed glance, got choirboy smiles in response.
"I'm assuming," Mercy said, trying to control her laughter, "that something weird's happened with the Web?"
Sascha nodded. "When you and Riley first mated, it was as if the Web and the SnowDancer network didn't know what to do. In most cases, I think one of you would've been pulled out of your network - a connection across networks is theoretically impossible."
Riley's fingers played over her hip. Worried. Possessive. She leaned into him. "So what happened?"
"The impossible." Sascha's eyes sparkled. "The mating bond snapped into place between you two, without removing either of you from your respective webs."
Riley stirred. "Are you saying you can see both the SnowDancer and DarkRiver networks now?"
"Not exactly." Sascha blew on the surface of the glass coffee table to steam it up, then used her finger to draw the connections as she explained. "Lucas and Hawke have a blood bond because of the alliance, so the packs are already bonded on some level."
Hawke shifted and Mercy's cat picked up an edge in his movements. Not directed at anyone in the room but there. "Why didn't our networks merge?" he asked.
Sascha looked from wolf alpha to leopard alpha. One was by the fireplace. One behind his mate. Opposite sides of the room. "Because neither of you will submit to the other."
"Hell, no!" From two different throats.
"See." Sascha threw up her hands. "I think a changeling network has to have an alpha at the core - and you can't have two alphas. But the alpha-to-alpha blood bond has obviously had some psychic effect. I can't see the wolf web," she explained, "but I can sense that it's now side by side with DarkRiver's web on the psychic plane. The mating bond goes from Mercy and disappears, and since you two are mated . . ."