Tangle of Need

By: Nalini Singh

Dalton’s smile was sad. “We’ll never know—they both died in the final battles.” Glancing at Riaz, he shook his head. “Such disappointment. You wanted a road to follow, but all I give you are ghosts and shadows.”

Shoving his hands through his hair, Riaz rose to his feet, paced across the pebbles and to the water’s edge before walking back to crouch beside Dalton. “There is no reason for the female to have a choice if it means nothing,” he said at last, because while Dalton would share information, he had always made his students find the answers to their own questions.

“Yes.” Wrinkles fanned out from the corners of the Librarian’s eyes. “Perhaps you will be the one who solves this riddle, eh, Riaz? It is ever the lone wolf’s task to journey into the unknown alone.”

“I’m not alone,” Riaz said at once, the words requiring no thought. “Adria walks beside me.” Even if the stubborn she-wolf didn’t see it yet.

Dalton smiled. “So.”

And Riaz understood that while a mate bond would be an incredible happiness, the lack of it did nothing to diminish his love for Adria, his wolf’s devotion absolute. “Call me a fool and be done with it then,” he said to the elder who saw the present and past both with crystal clarity.

Reaching out, Dalton instead patted Riaz’s cheek as he’d once patted the tree trunk. “Go court the one you have chosen, pup, and leave an old man to his ruminations.”

IT wasn’t until Adria walked into the garage that night—two days after Riaz began his relentless pursuit—that she realized she’d been outflanked. “I thought I was on watch with Sam.” The tiny carving this stubborn wolf had left sitting in her locker earlier, of a hilariously drunken skunk, burned a hole in her pocket.

“I’ll only give you so much space,” Riaz said, his smile dangerous, “and you’ve used up your quota.”

She didn’t tell him he was an arrogant S.O.B. who had a store of impossible charm, and she didn’t wrap her starved body around him until nothing hurt anymore. Instead, she got into the SUV and said, “I didn’t have a chance to read the entire brief.” Three of her kids had been pulled into the principal’s office—proof that being submissive didn’t mean good behavior. She’d spent the past two hours getting to the bottom of things. “Anything I need to know about this particular anchor or the location?”

“No, it’s standard.” A pause. “Hold on.” The SUV shuddered over a hole in the road.

Ignoring the jolt, Adria pulled out her mini datapad. “I better scan it anyway—I’d tell off my trainees if they skipped homework.” She focused, managed to absorb the material, but when she tried to carry on and catch up on the pack-wide senior soldiers bulletin, it proved a failed effort. She couldn’t turn off her wolf’s awareness of the male in the passenger seat, the one who did not belong to her, regardless of the unexpected, wonderful battle he was waging.

“I saw Lisette yesterday,” he said without warning.

The words in front of her blurred. “How is she?”

“Not in love with me.” The words were hard, making it clear that courtship or not, his anger had in no way dimmed.

It somehow hit her deeper, that even though he was so mad at her, he continued to want her, continued to court her.

“Which is great,” he added, “because I’m not in love with her either.”

“Give it time.” Love and the mating bond were interlocked for every mated couple she’d ever met—she wasn’t going to fool herself by pretending they would be the exception that proved the rule.

“God you’re obstinate.” It was a snarl. “Must make me a masochist that I like that about you.”

Her wolf bared its canines, charmed but trying not to allow it to matter. “I only get worse the more you know me. Consider it a lucky escape.”

The smile Riaz shot her was feral. “I’m not the one thinking of escape—and just in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not about to let you succeed.”

With that warning, he brought the SUV to a stop in the drive of a small home tucked neatly in the Presidio, enough land around it that the place must’ve cost a substantial sum.

Stepping out of the vehicle, she circled around the front. Riaz met her there, curling his fingers around her upper arm when she would’ve moved past. She jerked, the spark of contact explosive. “I’m not going to leave,” he murmured, his breath hot against her lips, “and I’m not going to change my mind, so get used to having to deal with me.”

Hope was a tiny light in her heart she no longer had the willpower to stamp out. “We have a job to do.” Practical words, but her voice held a vulnerability that terrified her—especially when she saw Riaz’s eyes turn night-glow and knew he’d heard it, too.

SIENNA stopped on a promontory, looking out over the land below. It was her second day in a row on the routine task of running perimeter security—though Riley made sure her routes remained erratic—but she didn’t mind. As she’d said to Hawke, this time around, it was how she could help the pack.