Tangle of Need

By: Nalini Singh

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.

Chapter 64

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.

“The Territorial Wars were a storm,” Dalton said at last, “creating a thousand ripples. Shattering everything that should be.”

Including, Riaz understood with a painful burst of raw hope, the normal rules when it came to courtship and mating.

“Records from that time are fragmented at best,” Dalton continued. “Many Librarians were killed in the fighting, while others made the choice to begin anew when the postwar packs were founded.”

Riaz thought back to his history lessons as a boy, recalled that decimated by the bloodshed, a number of packs had amalgamated across the country, each group choosing a new name to represent their varied membership. “So a lot of the records made during the wars may have been destroyed?” Regardless of his intense frustration at coming up against the roadblock, he could understand the survivors’ desire to leave the horror of war in the past—especially when some of those who had amalgamated had once been bitter enemies.

“Yes.” Dalton put his hand on Riaz’s shoulder, squeezed. “But some believed as I do, that the past must not be forgotten, no matter if it is the Librarian alone who knows the truth. Those records exist.” Squeezing again, his fingers strong despite their apparently gnarled state, he dropped his hand back into his lap. “Even in war, the rejection of a mate was a rare thing. More often, when it happened to combatants on opposite sides of the line, the choice was made to come together, to attempt to effect peace. Sometimes, it worked. Other times…”

“They failed, were executed,” Riaz guessed.

“No,” Dalton answered, to his surprise. “Mating is so precious a gift that even warring alphas would not execute those of their packs who bonded with the enemy—but such bonded could not be allowed to remain in either pack. The mated can keep no secrets from one another.”

Riaz thought of Mercy and Riley, and the impossibility of the pair remaining part of their respective packs if SnowDancer and DarkRiver went to war. “It would’ve been hell.” To walk away from your pack was no easy thing, not for a wolf.

“Especially for the most dominant, the wolves the packs desperately needed to protect their vulnerable. The one unambiguous case I know of where two changelings who felt the mating urge chose to reject one another, involved enemy lieutenants.”

Riaz’s wolf lowered his head, comprehending the agony that had to have torn those two apart. Mating was a joy every changeling hoped for, but protecting those under their care was as primal a drive. No dominant could walk away from that duty and live with himself—the guilt would poison any relationship. “What happened?” It was a crucial question.

Dalton rubbed a fallen oak leaf between his fingertips. “The records aren’t as clear on that, but there are hints the nascent bond may have broken under the force of the dual repudiation.”

The ember of hope within Riaz flared brighter—Lisette’s continued and deep love for Emil was as much a rejection as Riaz’s conscious one, their situation not so very different from Dalton’s lieutenants. “So they were able to bond with other people?” To have the chance to mate with Adria…