With all that done, she and Tao made their way out of the caves. At the clearing near the lake, he began removing his clothes. Riley was so distracted by the flow of muscle rippling fluidly beneath his skin that she just stood there, practically drooling.

Naked, he grinned at the hunger in her eyes. “We’ll get to that later. My wolf wants time with you first.” He pulled back and gave his wolf the reins.

Riley squatted to pet the wolf. She loved his thick, midnight-black fur. Loved sifting her fingers through it and hearing him rumble contentedly.

She laughed as he did a complete circle around her body, rubbing himself against her. “Someone’s possessive,” she teased. He playfully bared his teeth, so she did the same. Then Riley stripped and gave her raven freedom.

The wolf padded through the woods, hopping over logs and thick tree roots. The scents of pine needles, moss, and sun-warmed earth spoke to him. But it was the scent of his mate—their combined scent—that stood out above all else for him.

Her shadow moved over his as she soared above. She was agile. Graceful. Called to him to play. With a playful growl, he gave chase. She swooped low. The wolf bounced up to swat her. He missed. She was fast, sneaky.

The raven flew in circles around the wolf, taunting him. Then they raced through the woods alongside each other. Tired, the raven perched herself on his back as he padded back to the clearing. On their way, they passed two enforcers.

Dominic blinked at the sight of them. “Now that’s something you don’t see every day.”

Trick raised a brow. “Or ever.”

Deep inside the raven, Riley smiled.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The next day Trey and Taryn called a strategy meeting in Trey’s office. The Betas, the enforcers, Tao, Riley, and Makenna were all invited. In addition, Nick and Shaya, the Mercury Pack Alphas, were included in the meeting via teleconference.

Leaning against his office desk, Trey ran his gaze along everyone as he said, “Taryn and I have been talking about the best way to deal with Ramón. We can all agree that he’s not going to give up, and ignoring what he’s doing will give him the impression that we’re scared. We need to retaliate, but we need to do it in a way that’s smart. He’ll be expecting an attack, so he’ll be prepared for it. Besides, his residence is locked up tight and well guarded, which means that trying to infiltrate it would be difficult. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but, honestly, I’m sick and tired of war.”

Nick spoke. “I know what you mean, I feel the same way. But it just seems like everyone keeps bringing the fight to us.” His redheaded mate, Shaya, nodded, her elfin face grim.

Marcus looked from Trey to Taryn. “What kind of retaliation did you have in mind?”

Taryn, who was sitting on the desk and swinging her legs, replied, “We thought about pretending to back down so we could get close enough to get a grip on him, but he won’t buy it. Not after how long and hard we’ve fought him, and especially not while he knows we’ll be righteously pissed at him for trying to snatch Dexter.”

Shaya leaned forward, brow creased in concern, as she looked at Riley. “How is the little cub?”

“He doesn’t seem to remember any of it, and we think the drug they gave him is to blame for that. He wants to go back to the park so he can get a red balloon.” Riley had wondered if the memories would come back to him, but they hadn’t. It was a blessing, really, because what two-year-old wouldn’t be frightened after almost being snatched? Savannah had been watching him like a hawk, as if afraid he’d disappear if she didn’t. It broke Riley’s heart a little.

Tao, doodling lazy circles on her nape with his thumb, spoke. “We need to scare the shit out of Ramón like he scared the shit out of us when his men tried to kidnap Dexter and gut Riley’s raven open.”

“Spooking Ramón is exactly what we need to do,” said Trey. “But it’s not easy to scare someone like him.”

Nick tilted his head. “Maybe we should have someone sneak into his home and leave a message, show just how easily we could get to him, despite all his security.”

Not a bad idea, thought Riley. “I could do it.”

Linking his fingers with hers, Tao shook his head. “He’ll know to look out for a raven. He’ll tell his men to shoot any birds on sight.”

“Ryan can get in and out of anywhere without being seen,” said Taryn.

“I wasn’t thinking about Ryan,” said Nick.

Shaya’s gaze sharpened on her mate. “You’re thinking about Harley’s cousins.”

Nick lifted his shoulders. “Isn’t sneaking into their enemies’ homes and killing them in their sleep what they do?”

“Yeah, because margays don’t believe in war,” said Shaya. “But you’re talking about leaving Ramón a message. Seriously, Nick, there’s no guarantee her cousins won’t just kill the bastard. They’ll despise him for trying to kidnap Dexter.”

Makenna raised her hands. “I got no problem with them killing Ramón. Just putting that out there.” Ryan grunted.

“I doubt killing him will help,” said Nick. “There is always someone who’ll step up to the plate in a lifestyle like that. Someone else will take over and they’ll likely seek to avenge him. Your best bet of completely avoiding any war would be to scare him into backing off.”

Taryn raised a brow. “And if he doesn’t?”

“Then we fight him,” replied Nick.

Lips pursed, Dante spoke. “I like this idea. If he realizes a shifter got inside his home, it’ll shock the shit out of him. An act like that says, ‘We can kill you anytime we want, you arrogant bastard; you’re nothing to us.’ It’ll remind him who he’s fucking with. Not humans, but shifters—the ultimate predators.”

Taryn’s mouth curved. It was clear that she was warming to the idea. “Shaya, do you think Harley’s cousins will agree to do it?”

The redhead grinned. “Oh yeah. They’ll enjoy the challenge.”

“Talk to them,” Trey said to the Mercury Alphas. “If they’re happy to do it, we’d appreciate it.”

Nick inclined his head. “We’ll have Harley call them and we’ll get back to you soon with an answer.”

As Trey switched off the monitor, Riley turned to Tao and said, “Involving Harley’s cousins might actually work.” She sincerely liked Harley, who was a margay wild cat. They’d sort of connected . . . maybe because they both knew what it was like to live in a pack of mostly wolves. Riley had briefly met her cousins at Harley and Jesse’s mating ceremony. They were all very different and quirky in their own individual ways. They were also incredibly lethal—though at first glance they didn’t look it. None of them appeared to be 100 percent sane either.

“Let’s hope so,” said Tao, “because we need—” He frowned at the sound of her phone chiming. “Is it Ethan?”

Looking at the screen, Riley shook her head. “No, it’s Lucy.” They’d spoken a few times since Riley left Sedona. “I’ll just be a minute.” She walked out of the office and swiped her thumb across the screen. “Hey, Luce.”

“I just spoke to Ethan and Max,” said Lucy. “I can’t believe you didn’t call me to say that you’re mated.”

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