Adria slapped away her hand. “You have to do it in the exact order or … you won’t see this.” A miniature representation of the Colosseum hidden in the center, complete with carved archways and the suggestion of tiered internal architecture.
Indigo rubbed her finger carefully down the glossy wood. “This is … wow. I’ve never seen a wooden puzzle this complicated.”
He’d created it for her, Adria thought, because he knew she liked puzzles, had to have been working on it for a while.
Empress. “Never mind that,” Adria said, reassembling the box under Indigo’s fascinated gaze. “He’s not listening to me.” The stubborn wolf wasn’t saying good-bye with dignity and grace, he was courting her. Outrageously.
“Adria, darling,” Indigo said slowly. “You do realize you’re talking about a dominant male? Since when do they listen to anyone once they’ve made up their minds?”
“You’re not helping.”
“You know”—a look of glee—“now I understand why everyone had so much fun watching Drew drive me insane.”
Grabbing the cupcake she’d brought to the office, Adria took a big bite. If Riaz thought she was going to soften and melt under his charm offensive and forget the painfully real chasm that divided them, he didn’t know her … but he did apparently know of her love of Italian opera, a vaguely guilty secret she’d shared with no one, and the very unsensible reason why she’d learned the language.
Two tickets to La Bohème greeted her that night, tucked into the corner of her vanity mirror. Her heart leapt, but determined to make him see reason, she took the tickets and pinned them to the board in the senior soldiers’ break room. No one made any effort to claim them, in spite of the fact they were for highly coveted seats.
“None of us are insane enough to piss off a lone wolf,” Simran said when she found Adria glaring at the tickets the next day. “Especially when said lone wolf made it a point to say he’d hunt down and bury the person who dared take any gifts meant for you.”
Ignoring the fact the other woman’s eyes were bright with humor, Adria ripped off the tickets and stalked to Riaz’s office. He wasn’t there—she wasn’t sure if she was relieved at not having to test her strength of will where he was concerned, or cheated at being robbed of the knock-down, drag-out fight she’d been anticipating.
Borrowing a hammer from Walker Lauren, she pounded the tickets into the office door with a nail. Hawke, passing by, helpfully held the tickets in place while she hammered the nail. He didn’t say a word, his expression so bland it was clear he was highly amused.
Riaz didn’t say anything either.
He just snuck back into her room and tucked the abused tickets back in place. On top of the vanity, he left a gaily wrapped box. Unable to resist unwrapping it, she found a shiny new tool kit, complete with a personalized purple hammer. Her wolf was so charmed, it took her a second to focus and see what he’d done.
The hammer was personalized all right—with the name “Adria Delgado.”
“Oh Riaz,” she whispered, “what’re you doing to me?”
KALEB KNEW THE Arrows had a discreet watch on him, but he had long ago perfected the ability to move through the Net undetected, and he used that ability now. He was too close to locating his target to allow any obstruction or delay.
Anyone who tried to stop him would soon discover that unlike the others who had once been Council, he didn’t mind getting blood on his hands.
DEEPLY SATISFIED WITH the fact that he’d forced Adria to play with him, even if she might not see things in the same light, Riaz went looking for Dalton the next morning. Hawke’s thought was a good one—the Librarian carried the pack’s history in his mind, might well know of an analogous situation, information that could aid Riaz in his campaign to convince Adria that what they had was right, was true. He’d take all the support he could get if it would help him court his empress back into his arms.
When he arrived at Dalton’s study, it was to find a note on the elder’s door saying he was at his “lake office.” Smiling, Riaz jogged down to the edge of the lake nearest the den, aware Lara’s grandfather liked to sit not on the pebbled shore, but up on the grassy verge, beneath the spreading branches of a thickly leafed oak.
“We’re contemporaries of a sort,” he’d once said to Riaz, patting the trunk of the still-growing tree. “Though I fear she’ll outlast me.”
Now, he raised his fox brown gaze as Riaz appeared out of the trees. “Ah, there you are,” the Librarian said, as if he’d been expecting the visit. “Come and talk to me, Mr. Delgado.”
Riaz’s wolf sat straight up, reminded of a hundred childhood scrapes. “You only ever used our last names when we were in trouble.”
Dalton’s dark skin shimmered with warmth, his eyes dancing. “You have the same look to you today,” he said. “What have you done, pup?”
Taking a seat beside the elder, Riaz told him everything, aware he couldn’t hide the truth if he wanted Dalton to understand a situation that should’ve been an impossibility. After he finished, Dalton sighed, his gaze on the lake. “Look at it, so smooth, with only the faintest of ripples.”
“The wind’s calm this morning.”
Dalton said nothing for a long time, until those who had not grown up with his presence would have believed him asleep. Riaz knew better, understood the white-haired elder saw everything with those bright eyes he’d bequeathed his granddaughter.