"Apparently it's like a computer virus but affects the mind of the person it's directed at. The rumor on the street is that Nikita rose to the Council by quietly getting rid of the competition." Steel lay beneath Vaughn's deceptive drawl.
"Several cardinals suffered mysterious breakdowns or deaths around the time of her ascension. Nothing could be traced to her and the general consensus is that that only increased her cachet with the then sitting Councilors. Murder is an accepted part of Nikita's arsenal."
Lucas prowled around the room. "We've always assumed the entire Council was in on it, but even if we're wrong and some members don't know, Vaughn's information makes it highly unlikely that Nikita doesn't."
And if Nikita knew, then it was almost impossible that Sascha, her cardinal heir, didn't. He was having trouble accepting her complicity in the cover-up - the panther in him was captivated by her, and he didn't want to be captivated by cruelty. "Sascha is our way in."
Clay, who'd been sitting silently on a window ledge, finally spoke. "Can we break her?"
Lucas knew what the sentinel was asking. Nobody on the changeling side was willing to play nice anymore, not after eight of their women had been butchered in the most brutal way.
"We don't torture women." He made his voice a whip.
"I was talking about sex." At thirty-four years of age, the dark-skinned sentinel was the only other packmate, aside from Nate and Vaughn, who knew the full details of that blood-soaked night that had turned Lucas from juvenile to alpha in everything but name. "Women are drawn to you. Can you use that against her?"
Dorian laughed. "You don't know the Psy, Clay. They're about as vulnerable to sex as I am to mating with a SnowDancer."
Lucas let the idea wash over him. Seducing Sascha was a strangely compelling idea. His body recognized hers in a way that made not touching her an exercise in restraint. The panther wanted to lay her down and luxuriate in the essence of her femininity, while the man wanted to shatter the shell she lived inside and discover the real woman. What made him wary was the possibility of learning that she was rotten to the core, daughter to a woman who'd killed with cold brilliance.
"We go in slow. Don't tip them off," he told the sentinels. "Let them think we're just animals."
Too bad if the Psy had forgotten that animals had teeth... and claws.
Lucas shifted into panther form after the sentinels had disbanded, and went for a run. A second after he set out, he knew that one of them was following him. The sentinels existed to protect him but they weren't his bodyguards - no leopard liked to be babysat. Clay was good enough to have hidden his scent if he'd wanted to. The fact that he hadn't meant he was asking permission to join his alpha.
Circling back, Lucas came close to sneaking up on the sentinel, but he moved out of reach a bare instant before Lucas dropped down from the tree limb he'd been padding along. They greeted each other with throaty rumbles and then set off. It was something beyond price to run like this, to let the night air whisper along his fur, to blend into the darkness until he was only a shadow and Clay an orange-black blur.
Running with his sentinels was one of the things every alpha did to strengthen the bonds of loyalty. Lucas had no need to do that with Clay. Like Vaughn and Nate, the sentinel had been tied to him since the night they'd hunted down and savagely ripped every single male member of a roaming leopard clan into tiny little pieces. It had been changeling justice. An eye for an eye. Vengeance to lay his parents' souls to rest.
Now he ran with the sentinels because they were tough, fast, and dangerous enough to test him to the limit. No alpha could afford to let his skills slip. Though they were more civilized than their wild brethren, an alpha's rule would only be accepted as long as he was strong enough to lead the pack. And such strength wasn't always of the body.
The Psy thought the changelings stupid because they sacrificed the wisdom of their elders in favor of young blood. The Psy didn't know anything. The sentinels withdrew from frontline positions as they grew older because they had to be physically invulnerable - Nate was already on the lookout for his replacement. Upon retirement as a sentinel, he would become one of Lucas's advisors, his rank undiminished.
If Lucas retained the incoming sentinels' respect as he aged, they'd take over the physical role he played in the pack-meting out Pack justice and keeping Pack discipline. During such times, those who didn't understand their ways often came to believe that the strongest of the sentinels had become the new alpha. Changelings saw no need to educate them otherwise.
But that was in the unknown future. Right now he had to be the most lethal of them all, savage and brilliant. Because not only was the pack watching but so were the SnowDancers. One hint of weakness in DarkRiver and the wolves would come down on them in a hail of teeth and claws.
He couldn't allow his inexplicable attraction to one of the Psy sway him from his goal. More depended on this than merely the sating of vengeance. After DarkRiver had realized the existence of a serial killer preying on changeling women, they'd warned all other changeling groups in the killer's hunting grounds. Every single alpha had wanted to go for the jugular - none more so than the wolves.
Lucas had insisted on taking on the job of hunting the killer because in spite of losing Kylie, he was the lone alpha who could still think. It was as if the blood that had christened him had also given him the ability to see beyond the dark-red glimmer of fury and retribution.
The SnowDancers had reluctantly handed him the reins because his pack had lost a member while theirs hadn't. But their patience was limited. The wolves knew that sooner or later, the killer would strike them too. The second that happened, all bets were off - the SnowDancers would begin to hunt down the Psy and the Psy would retaliate, leading to war on a catastrophic scale.