"Did you have to give her permission to work here?"
There was a reason changelings didn't give away information to the Psy - it had to do with survival. However, this tidbit was common knowledge. "Once I'd enticed her to join us, I had to ensure her safety." To guarantee that, he'd "adopted" her into DarkRiver for the duration of her stay. She was marked by the scent of him and his sentinels so that enemies and friends alike knew who she belonged to.
If she hadn't been... There was a reason predatory changelings were very careful about straying into areas controlled by other predators. Enforcement officers had no jurisdiction in intra-changeling disputes, and the changeling way of settling things could be savage.
It occasionally put them on the back foot in terms of business because the Psy could move much faster. But it balanced out in the end - unlike the Psy, they had an open-and-shut friend-enemy line. There was no backstabbing. His race preferred to go straight for the throat.
"Let's see the designs, Zara," he said, wanting Sascha off this topic. Most of her race thought of changelings as lesser beings who'd somehow clawed their way to enough power to hold back the Psy. He'd never before met one who seemed to respect their ways enough to want to learn them. Was she merely curious by nature or was she the advance guard of a subtle invasion, feeding everything she learned into the PsyNet?
Zara rolled out one plan. "This is the design for the first home."
"The first?" Sascha asked. "They aren't all going to be the same?"
Kit stared. "Of course not. Who'd want to live in something that sterile? It'd be like a stack of those coffins the Psy live - " Suddenly appearing to realize who he was talking to, he turned bright red.
"Take your foot out of your mouth." Lucas tried not grin. "Changelings are different from the Psy, Sascha. We like things that are ours alone, things that are unique." His eyes met the night-sky glimmer of hers and he wondered if she felt what he did. It was as if a thin wire connected them, vibrating with their unacknowledged awareness of each other. "We don't share well." Lucas was the worst of the lot. What was his, was his.
"I see." She paused for a moment. "Will this delay the completion date?"
"No. We've factored that into account." He nodded at Zara to continue.
"Since this area is controlled by leopards and wolves, I've designed the houses mostly for them." Zara pointed out the wide-open living spaces and the easy access whether on human or animal feet. "But I've got a few plans for the non-predatory species."
"How likely are they to want to settle in with the cats and the wolves?" Once again, her question displayed disturbing insight.
"That's the thing," Zara said. "They're not very likely to. I mean, we don't attack non-predatory changelings without provocation, but if you were a deer, would you want to live next door to a leopard who might get peckish one night?" It was the blackest of changeling humor.
Kit grinned. "Yum, yum. I love deer shish kebab."
Sascha looked at him as if examining a bug. To his credit the juvenile didn't fidget and even tried out his smile again. Sascha's response was to shut her eyes for three seconds. When she opened them, she said, "I've been given the authority to veto or accept designs. Please show me the ones you think will work the best."
Before Zara could speak, Sascha asked another question. "How likely are the wolves and the leopards to coexist peacefully? I don't want to waste money building for the wolves if they're not going to go near the leopards and vice versa."
This was beyond unusual. Lucas knew he had to start looking very carefully at this slender Psy who thought disturbingly like a changeling. He said, "We've declared a truce that allows us to live together without major bloodshed. The bulk of the residents will be leopards but there'll be enough wolves for it to be worth planning for them. There's a shortage of homes for both species."
This was because the Psy owned a lot of building enterprises and they built the coffins Kit had mentioned - small, compact homes no self-respecting predator would go for. The Duncan family had been the first to grasp the need for changeling involvement in the initial phases of a development. In order to lure the hunters, the beasts of prey, you had to think like them.
Zara chose that moment to speak. "This is the design I like for the cats and this for the wolves." She put two fairly basic plans on the table. "I'm going to customize from there to take the land, the views, and the available runs into account. For a few homes, I'll begin from scratch in order to match the client's personality."
Sascha studied the designs. "To do that you'd have to know who was going to be the purchaser."
"We've already got a waiting list of prospective buyers. Their money is sitting in our trust account." Lucas watched Sascha's eyes as she looked up and caught the momentary flicker in the stars that lit them from within. Surprise, baby, he felt like saying.
"It's the first new development that's being designed and built by changelings." He shrugged, fully aware it made the musculature of his shoulders stand out under his T-shirt. Like any cat, he liked to be admired, but this time it was a deliberate attempt to make Sascha react.
She looked away. "So you already knew you'd fulfill your part of the bargain when you negotiated the bonus."
"I consider myself bested." But when she glanced at him, he saw anything but meek acceptance.
Good thing he'd never liked easy prey.