"Riley, we're not done here!" Tao clenched his fists against the urge to punch the wall. He turned to his pack, eyes flashing wolf. "She can't be serious about staying."
"I can understand why she's torn, Tao," said Jaime. "She lost her parents. This whole thing will be bringing it all back-the loss, the pain, the fear. Especially since one of the people who was almost killed is one of the people who raised her. I'd want the bastard's blood too."
Tao's mouth tightened. "Her life is more important than revenge."
"I'll bet if you ask her," began Makenna, "you'll find out that this is about more than just revenge. She grew up with these people, Tao. They were here for her like your pack mates were there for you. A couple of them might be assholes, but others have been good to her and they've loved her. For Riley, leaving probably feels like abandoning them all to whatever danger lies ahead."
He closed his eyes. "Fuck, I hadn't thought of that."
Makenna gave him a weak smile. "Talk to her, Tao. All she's hearing now is you trying to bully her into doing what you want. That's not going to get past her anger or the chaos in her head-that's just going to put her on the defensive."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm not good at talking."
"I know, but you've got more chance of getting through to her than any of us have," said Makenna. "She's-much like you, actually-arbitrarily stubborn. If anyone can talk her into leaving, it's you. Your worry will mean more to her than ours."
Dante took Jaime's hand. "We'll head back to the cabins and pack. Convince Riley to do the same so we can all get the fuck out of here."
After the front door closed behind his pack mates, Tao inhaled a deep breath and made his way up the stairs. He needed to be calm, he told himself. Calm. Patient. Nonconfrontational.
Basically, he needed to not be himself.
He found Riley sitting on the chair near the window, her face in a book. It was a dismissive act that raised his hackles. Be calm, he reminded himself.
She didn't pay him the slightest bit of attention as he crossed the room, not even when he came to a halt in front of her. She just kept her gaze on that damn book he knew full well she wasn't even reading.
"Riley, we need to talk."
"I don't want to hear it."
His wolf growled. "Well, you're going to."
"I don't need to." Expression haughty, she flicked over to the next page. "I already know what you're going to say. Don't waste your breath. I'm staying."
Like hell she was. "Sawyer was shot, Riley."
"Yeah, I remember."
"Good, so you must also remember that we're back to not having a fucking clue what's going on here." She didn't respond. Just kept on pretending to read. "Look at me." But of course she didn't. He snatched the book and slung it behind him.
Folding her arms, she glared up at him. "Problem, Fenris?"
"Being bitchy won't push me away, Riley. Annoy me, provoke me, piss me off-it'll do all of those things. But I'm not going anywhere. We're going to talk this out. Tell me why it's so important to you to stay. You won't be abandoning the flock, if that's what this is about. And you can bet your sweet ass that if they were on pack territory and shit started happening, they'd be gone in a fucking blink."
"Not Ethan and Max."
"No, not them," he agreed. "They're also the last people who would ever blame you for going home where you're safe
. Hell, they can come with us if you want." But he knew they wouldn't leave. Like Riley, they wanted to see someone pay.
"You're wasting your time with this, Tao. I won't change my mind."
Jaw tight, Tao growled. He reminded himself once again to stay calm. He tried to come up with something sensitive and diplomatic that might make her think and see things his way, but he wasn't good with words. It didn't help that he couldn't stop growling at her. "Don't forget that someone is claiming you have one of our wolves doing all this shit, that it was you who pulled Wade's strings and you're finishing what he started. If others buy into that, you're going to have a riot on your hands. Do you want your uncles to have to go through that?"
She narrowed her eyes. "This argument will get you nowhere. The motherfucker behind all this is not getting away with it. No way. Like I told the others just now, I appreciate all that you've done. If you want to leave, I understand and-"
"Like you told the others?" he echoed. Like he was nothing more than a pack mate to her, just like them? Anger sparked through him like a fever in his blood.
Standing, she put her hands on her hips. "You leave if you want to, but I'm staying right here. And if you weren't so overprotective of your pack, you'd see that this is the right thing to do."
Patience gone, he loomed over her, his neck corded. "I'm not interested in right and wrong, I'm interested in you. You're not safe here."
"Are we still on that? Boring."
He went nose to nose with her. "Don't fucking test me right now, Riley. You're going."
"I'm. Not. Leaving. You don't get to tell me what to do just because we fuck." Riley froze as something not wholly on the side of the angels flashed in his eyes.
"Fuck?" It was a whisper. "We fuck? That's it?"
"Of course that's it."
"Bullshit," he spat.
"We have something here, Riley. It's fragile and easily fucked up, but it's there. And there's no point in us pretending any different, so don't fucking bother."
Looking at the stubborn set to his jaw, she marveled, "You're serious."
"I'm serious. Don't even think about playing dumb right now. You're not stupid. I'm not stupid. This thing crept up on us when we weren't looking and now we have to face it."
Her hands slid from her hips. "You said you didn't want a relationship."
"Because I'm not good at them. Making people happy is not my specialty, and most people annoy the shit out of me anyway. But you . . . I want you more than I've ever wanted any damn thing in my life. You got right under my skin and it should piss me off but you feel good there."
"We're not going to ignore what's between us. No way. It would be pointless and tiring, just as it was pointless and tiring when I fought how much I wanted you. All that brought me was sexual frustration and a pissed-off wolf. I've learned my lesson."
Yeah, Tao knew that bulldozing her wasn't the smartest move, but he refused to go easy on her. For him there was no budging on this. There was no going back for either of them. He wanted the very thing he'd thought of when he was dying on a battlefield not so long ago while providing backup for the Mercury wolves: he wanted Riley Porter. He'd accept nothing less.
Closing her eyes, she waved her hands. "I can't have this conversation right now."