"She's an extraordinary woman," he commented. "I heard that she became a Councilor at forty. Isn't that very young to reach such a high post?"
She nodded. "But Tatiana Rika-Smythe was younger at the time of her ascension. She's only thirty-five now."
"The Rika-Smythes are your primary business rivals?"
"You know that already."
He shrugged and gestured for her to enter the elevator ahead of him. "Never hurts to make sure."
In the closed atmosphere, the scent of her was intoxicating to his animal senses. She was pure woman, lush and barely awakened, and he was very interested, the panther in him arrogantly convinced that her reaction was without trickery. He had to force down the low growl that gathered at the back of his throat. Now was not the time to stalk this particular prey.
"It's well known that the Rika-Smythes and the Duncans have some of the same business interests."
"How can your mother work with Tatiana when they're rivals?" The doors opened on the first floor.
Sascha walked out beside him, graceful and eerily beautiful with those eyes that kept startling people who came up on them. Cardinals were not often seen outside the rarefied walls of the Psy headquarters. It was critical he find out why he'd been honored with Sascha Duncan.
"Their responsibilities in the Council are separate from their business loyalties."
"Some of it must bleed over. Every administration has its cliques." Which might mean that the Councilors could be keeping secrets from each other.
Sascha gave him a sharp glance. "You're very interested in the Council."
"Do you blame me?" He pushed open a manual glass door. "I'm hardly likely to get another chance to talk to a Psy so high up in the hierarchy."
She walked through the doorway before speaking. "I may be a cardinal but I'm not as high up as you seem to believe. Simply because my mother is Council doesn't mean I'm in the inner circle. I'm just another Psy."
"No cardinal is ever ordinary." Why was she protesting so much? What was it that she was hiding? Blood and death or something else?
"There is an exception to every rule." It struck Sascha that the intensity with which Lucas was pursuing this line of inquiry probably wasn't due to simple curiosity. Wariness kicked in but it was too late - she'd already betrayed her abnormal status within the Psy.
She had to start remembering that Lucas's last name wasn't merely a name - it was a designation. "May I ask you a question?" she said before she could talk herself out of it. Notwithstanding her awareness of his nature, her interest in him continued to heighten. And each time she gave in to the need, it created another chip in the already fragile wall of her sanity. Yet, she couldn't stop herself.
He paused in front of the door that likely led to the construction supervisor's workspace. "Ask."
"What does a Hunter do?" She'd heard rumors on the PsyNet but changelings were very closemouthed about some things.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to barter something special to get that information."
The slow curve of his smile shot her composure to pieces. "What would you like to know?"
He answered almost on top of her words. "What's the incidence of violence in the Psy population?"
She hadn't expected the question but the answer was easy and well known. "Close to zero."
"Are you sure?" The question echoed in the air. "As for what Hunters do, we hunt down rogues."
"Sorry, darling. You only paid for one answer." He pushed open the door.
Frustrated, she walked in and found herself standing a heartbeat away from a dark-skinned man with eyes a deeper shade of green than Lucas's. Something about him made her want to take a step back... and run.
"Meet Clay Bennett, our construction supervisor."
Sascha knew the changeling in front of her was much more than that. "Mr. Bennett." The man's eyes were so calm that she should've felt at home with him. Instead he reminded her of a cobra lulling his prey into a false sense of security - the second she lowered her guard, he'd instigate a deadly strike.
"Ms. Duncan. I'm the man you come to if you have any problems with the materials used during construction, the workers, anything like that."
"I've noted that." She looked around the huge office space, which housed a number of desks. Glass doors made up the facing wall but she could see Zara to the left and an unknown blond male at a desk to the right. He wasn't looking at her, but somehow she knew that he was completely attuned to their conversation. "Do those doors open?"
"Of course," Lucas drawled. "We're animals under the skin - we can't stand being caged." She knew he was mocking the simplistic Psy view of changelings, mocking her. The urge to give back as good as she got was a devil on her shoulder - a mad part of her thought it might almost be worth it simply to see the look on his face.
"What about the higher floors?" She answered her own question the second she looked outside. "The trees. Leopards are excellent climbers."
Lucas went unnaturally still beside her. "You've done your research."
"Of course. I'm Psy."
A few minutes later, Sascha closed the door of the lavatory, put down the lid, and sat. Her whole body shuddered. What a joke. She was no Psy. She was a woman close to the edge of insanity, reduced to hiding in toilets in order to repair the fractured walls of her mind.
Her organizer chimed before she'd done more than gather together the ragged edges of her psyche. It was Santano Enrique, requesting a conference on the PsyNet. The inside of her mouth suddenly felt like it had been stuffed full of cotton wool.