“Hey,” Brenna called out as he put his hand on the door-knob, “how’s the charm offensive going?”
Andrew thought of how furious Indy was with him, thought, too, of her silence in response to his note. “I’m working on it.” Leaving, he made his way through the corridors and to the White Zone. His target, the outdoor nursery, was tucked in one well-guarded corner of the designated safe area, and he wasn’t more than a foot inside when he was accosted by a determined two-year-old.
“Up,” she said, raising her arms imperiously.
Being the sucker that he was, he obliged, throwing her into the air. “Again!” she ordered when he caught her, the morning light blazing off the thick brown of her curls.
He obeyed. Four more times—to her squealing delight—before her chubby little arms hugged his neck. “Down.” As he bent to put her on the ground, she smacked his lips with her own in a silent thank-you.
“So the charm works on two-year-olds, too?” A gentle comment from the woman who stood watch over the littlies as they played in the secure playground area—fenced off with stone walls to ensure no harm could come to the smallest of SnowDancers.
He rose to his full height. “The only one it doesn’t seem to work on,” he said, well aware that her acute gaze would see through any attempt at prevarication, “is your daughter.”
Tarah Riviere’s smile deepened, and there was such serenity in it that his own wolf turned calm, unwilling to disturb her with its chaotic emotions. “Your mate is a lucky man,” he said without artifice. Such peace would never suit his own wild nature, but there was no denying the beauty and grace of it.
“Charming me won’t do you any good with my daughter.” Bending down, Tarah kissed a boo-boo, then sent the little boy toddling happily away.
Andrew shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants, rocking back on his heels. “I adore her,” he said, figuring honesty would only help his case. “And if nothing else, she”—he couldn’t say “wants me” to Indigo’s mother—“is attracted to me, but I can’t even get her to talk to me about it because I don’t fit the image she has in her mind of the men she ought to date.” His frustration punched through in spite of himself.
Tarah scowled. “No criticizing my baby.”
“Sorry.” Shoving his hands through his hair, he caught a pup in wolf form as the boy tried to make a daring escape, and tapped him gently on the muzzle before setting him back on the right path. “She’s making me crazy.” He remained hunkered on the ground, playing with the pup, who’d circled back to growl and bat at his hands with little paws.
Tarah’s fingers touched his hair. “My Indigo is willful. Always has been, always will be.” Affectionate words. “She knows what she wants.”
“Well, she’s wrong,” he muttered, growling back at the pup when the little one tried a dominance display.
The pup froze.
Reaching out, Andrew picked him up, nipped him on one ear, and sent him on his way.
“Very well done,” Tarah murmured. “The babies are always trying things like that. They need to know their boundaries at this age.”
“It’s the wolf,” Andrew said, remaining where he was . . . because it was nice to have a mother’s fingers playing through his hair. He only had a few precious memories of his own lieutenant mother, but he missed her—the way she’d pepper his face with kisses, the way she’d brush his hair, the way she’d smell after coming in from duty. Small moments, fleeting whispers, those were the things he remembered. “It needs the certainty of the hierarchy.”
“That doesn’t change with age.” Sighing, she tugged a little at his hair, making him look up. “You don’t fit the hierarchy, Andrew.”
Almost no one called him Andrew. He felt like a little boy again. “That’s not my fault.”
“Oh?” An arch sound. “You knew exactly what you were doing from the instant you learned to walk. What that pup just tried? The Great Escape? Well, you succeeded nine times out of ten, and you did it by being so completely sweet and well behaved that no one thought to keep an eye on you.” Another tug, a little harder. “Do you know how many times I had to go chasing after you?”
“Sorry?” Making a contrite face, he finally got to his feet, Tarah’s hand sliding away to curl around his upper arm.
“No, you’re not.” A small laugh, but her eyes had turned solemn. “I like you, Andrew,” she said, “and I like the way you sound when you speak about my girl.”
Andrew touched the hand she had on his arm. “I’d do anything for her.”
Tarah looked at him for long moments. “Your mama used to call you her ‘loving baby.’”
“Yeah?” Andrew’s throat grew thick. “What was Riley?”
“Her stubborn baby.” Tarah smiled. “Brenna was her sunny baby.”
“She had us pegged.” Andrew couldn’t hold Tarah’s gaze anymore, his own misting over. Turning his head, he stared unseeing at the children.
Tarah didn’t speak for long moments, but when she did, it wasn’t about his mother. “Do you know my Evangeline?”
Glad for the change of subject, he said, “Sure.” He had an impression of long black hair, deep gray eyes, and the slender body of a ballerina. “She used to play with Bren when they were young.” The two girls had drifted apart as their interests diverged, but they still went to the occasional movie together when Evie was in the den. “She’s away at college at the moment, isn’t she?”