It was only as they began walking again that she realized how much attention they’d drawn despite the crowd. She glimpsed more than one smile directed their way, along with the odd wink. Her wolf sighed, but even it had to admit it was delighted by Drew’s sense of play.
Just then, as Drew went to grab their ice creams, Indigo found herself being waved over by a tiny Japanese lady seated at a small stall. Intrigued, she went. When the yukata-clad lady urged her forward with a wrinkled little hand, Indigo bent across the trays of sweet mochi on the table until she could hear the woman over the buzz of the festival crowd.
“That one,” the elderly lady said in a soft but robust voice, “trouble.”
Indigo grinned. “Absolutely.”
Laughing out loud, the woman picked up a mochi from the table. “Does my heart good to see a man who’s not afraid of a strong woman.” Putting the treat in Indigo’s hand, she waved away her offer of payment and told her to get back to her “trouble.”
Smiling her thanks, Indigo sank her teeth into the sticky rice concoction to discover that the center was liquid chocolate. “Mmm.” Licking the syrup off her lips, she looked up to see Andrew in front of her, his eyes very much on her mouth.
“Share,” he said, in a husky voice.
Deliberately misunderstanding—because it was, she’d realized over the past few weeks, fun to tease him—she put the uneaten half of the mochi in his mouth. When he scowled, she grabbed her ice cream—mango swirl—and took a lick. “What did you get?”
Drew’s fingers tangled with her own as he swallowed the tidbit in his mouth and said, “Chocolate, rum raisin, and tutti-frutti.”
Freezing, Indigo stared at his triple cone. “Doesn’t that taste weird?”
“No. Try.” It was a relaxed gesture, but as she tasted his mix of flavors, their eyes met and suddenly the moment seemed far from lighthearted.
. . . a man who’s not afraid of a strong woman.
The elderly lady’s words whispered through her mind as she pulled back, as she squeezed her fingers around his and they started walking again through the mingled scents of sugar and ice, and later, through seafood stalls redolent with hints of the most delicate sashimi. Farther down, in the area set aside for arts and crafts, she picked up scents as distant as cured wood and cherry blossoms in gloriously full bloom.
The day seemed even brighter than before—and for the first time, the hope in her heart outweighed the fear. Because that elder had been right. While Drew challenged her, attempted to take over in his own charming way, and beyond a doubt liked being in control, he’d never—no matter what—denigrated her strength or made her feel less feminine because of who and what she was. In fact, he’d made it clear in countless ways that her capable, independent nature was part of the attraction.
“Come here,” she murmured, her heart feeling fragile and yet hugely powerful as she dared consider that this unorthodox—and utterly wonderful—relationship might just work after all.
When he dipped his head, she kissed him. “How do you like mango swirl?” she murmured against those lips she knew so very well.
“I think I need a second taste.”
Andrew could’ve spent the whole day playing with Indigo, but aware of how important it was that they get a feel for the emotional health of the city, he worked the people they met, keeping his questions light, his comments innocuous. And piece by piece, word by word, he began to get fragments of information.
Indigo remained uncharacteristically silent.
“You okay?” he asked when they stopped to look at the parade.
“I’ve never seen you do this kind of work before,” she said, looking up at him. “You’re very good.”
Pride unfurled its wings inside him, and his wolf strutted.
An hour later, when they ran into a DarkRiver couple they both knew—Emmett and Ria—they ducked out of the rush of the crowds to grab seats at a wrought-iron table outside a small café. Drinks ordered, Andrew asked the couple if they’d noticed anything, aware that all of DarkRiver’s senior people would’ve been briefed on the possible situation.
Emmett nodded to his mate, a small, curvy brunette with eyes uptilted just enough to speak of ancestry from Asia. “Ria’s family is in Chinatown, and they’ve been worried about some of what they’ve been hearing from their customers.”
Ria picked up the thread of the conversation so smoothly, it was obvious the two had been mated long enough to learn each other’s rhythms. “There are whispers around the city about ‘Purity,’” she said, making a face as she shifted her body to lean against her mate. “Some group is trying to get humans to believe they’d be better off with ‘untainted’ blood.”
Beside her, Emmett played with strands of his mate’s hair. “If they want to cause division, they’re barking up the wrong tree.” He curved one hand around Ria’s neck, fingers stroking gently. “This city and its people are loyal to DarkRiver; we’ve helped them when the Psy wouldn’t, and enough times that that loyalty is set in stone.”
Andrew took a drink, his wolf fascinated by the couple’s interaction. It wasn’t hard to guess why—he was just a little bit jealous. Not because he couldn’t touch Indigo, but because they hadn’t yet reached that depth of intimacy. No, that kind of love took years to settle, to grow and form.
And Indy hadn’t yet committed fully to him. In spite of everything they’d become to each other, he knew her wolf continued to see him as a younger male first, and everything else second. He wasn’t an impatient man, but neither was he a saint. At times like this, when he saw what they could have, that subtle distance threatened to get to him.