A surprised expression . . . that segued into pleased arrogance. “No one’ll dare come near me now that you’ve made a claim.” A pause. “You’re worried about the nosey parkers?”
“Maybe they’ll have worked it out of their system with Riley and Mercy,” she said in a burst of hope. “We’re two wolves—no big deal.”
Drew snorted, leaning over to pat her ass with casual proprietariness. “You’re so cute when you’re deluding yourself.” Easily dodging her responding punch on the arm, he grabbed her pack and handed it to her. “They’ll have a field day—the lieutenant who can drop a man in his tracks with nothing but the ice in her gaze, and . . . Drew?” He made a confused, disbelieving face.
Snorting, Indigo put her arms through the straps of her pack. “I’ve known you forever, and I still don’t understand that thing you do.”
A questioning look as he went to pick up his own pack.
“Making people think you’re harmless.” She clicked the support straps across her hips. “You didn’t answer my question, Mr. Harmless.”
“It’s a gift.” Pack on, he walked over to click the second support strap above the UC Berkeley emblem on her sweatshirt as she did the same for him.
“Thanks, Indy.” A casual comment, but right then, the blue of his eyes hit her in the heart.
He could hurt her. Really hurt her. And they’d barely taken the first step into this unexpected relationship. “You’re welcome,” she said, fighting the wolf’s wariness with the memory of how he’d teased her earlier by the stream.
Taking care of her.
Her wolf froze at the realization, and she had to consciously kick herself into gear as Drew turned to lead the way out of camp. She’d never have allowed him to care for her if he’d tried to do it straight out, but she’d been fooled by his playfulness into missing the protective drive beneath.
You’d think she’d know better by now, she thought with an inward shake of her head, but he continued to surprise her with that quicksilver mind. If she was being honest, his keen intelligence was one of the most attractive things about him—even if it did mean he had a way of catching her off guard. The thought made her frown, consider something else. “Drew?”
When he looked over, she said, “Is it because you’re the pack’s tracker? That you make such an effort to appear harmless?” It was a question she’d never thought to ask before—because he was so very good at making people forget what he was.
Drew’s hand tangled with her own, his expression solemn. “I didn’t really think about it consciously when I was growing up,” he said, “but as an adult, yeah, that’s part of it. I’m wolf—I need to be a full part of the pack.”
And, she understood, he couldn’t be that if everyone was afraid of him.
Nodding, she let it go at that—this relationship was too new to push him to share such an intensely private aspect of himself. But Drew squeezed her hand. “It’s okay, Indy. I don’t mind talking about it. Hawke and Riley make me do it on a regular basis.”
“They do?” She blinked.
“Uh-huh.” A grin. “I think they want to make sure I’m not going to crack under the pressure.”
It was then, looking into those amused eyes, that she realized the incredible depth of strength inside him. “It must be beyond hard to know that you could be called upon to track and execute a packmate at any time.”
He didn’t deny it. “The thing is, I was born with this uncanny ability to track my packmates, better than even Hawke’s—so it was obvious what role I was meant to play in the pack. I had to either learn to deal with it or, once I was old enough to understand, give over the mantle so someone else could be trained.”
Though she hadn’t understood until today why he cultivated that air of irresponsibility, she’d known him far too long not to have seen beneath the surface years ago—and to the wolf who was one of the most trusted in the pack. “You never even thought about giving it up, did you?”
“When wolves go rogue”—quiet words, powerful words—“they do things they’d never have countenanced had they been thinking. They attempt to hunt, to slaughter their packmates, children included. If that happened to me, I’d want someone like me on my trail, someone who could find me before I did harm, and offer mercy.”
Emotion a knot in her throat, Indigo stopped and reached up to cup his cheek. He rubbed against it. “Don’t look that way, Indy.” Fingers on her temple, tugging at a flyaway strand of her hair. “SnowDancer is a strong, coherent pack. You know that while I’ve tracked a lot of people, I’ve only had to execute one wolf once I found him—and I don’t think he would’ve judged me for it.”
“He was old,” Indigo said, remembering the sorrow in the den at the elder’s passing. “He had a disease of the mind that somehow evaded the health checks.” But he’d lived a long and happy life before that, been a great-grandfather three times over. “No, he wouldn’t have wanted to harm those he’d spent his life protecting.”
Drew tugged at her hand, his touch warm and solid. “Come on.”
As they walked hand in hand, she considered the titanic shift that had just occurred inside her when it came to this man. Always before, she’d simply not understood a large part of what made him who he was—but now she knew . . . now her wolf knew.