Getting up off the floor, she walked to the kitchenette and poured herself a glass of water. As she swallowed, she caught her reflection in the ornamental mirror that hung beside her built-in cooler. It had been a gift from a changeling advisor on another project and she'd kept it despite her mother's raised brow. Her excuse had been that she was trying to understand the other race. In truth, she'd just liked the wildly colorful frame.
However, right now she wished she hadn't held on to it. It showed too clearly what she didn't want to see. The tangle of darkness that was her hair spoke of animal passion and desire, things no Psy should know about. Her face was flushed as if with fever, her cheeks streaked red, and her eyes... Lord have mercy, her eyes were pure midnight.
She put down the glass and pushed back her hair, searching. But she hadn't made a mistake. There was no light in the darkness of her pupils. This was only supposed to happen when a Psy was expending a large amount of psychic power.
It had never happened to her.
Her eyes might've marked her as a cardinal but her accessible powers were humiliatingly weak. So weak that she still hadn't been co-opted into the ranks of those who worked directly for the Council.
Her lack of any real psychic power had mystified the instructors who'd trained her. Everyone had always said that there was incredible raw potential inside her mind - more than enough for a cardinal - but that it had never manifested.
She shook her head. No. She hadn't expended any psychic energy so it had to be something else that had caused the darkness, something other Psy didn't know about because they didn't feel. Her eyes drifted to the communication console set into the wall beside the kitchenette. One thing was clear - she couldn't go out looking like this. Anyone who saw her would have her sent in for rehabilitation in a heartbeat.
Fear gripped her tight.
As long as she was on the outside, she might one day figure out a way to escape, a way to cut her link to the PsyNet without throwing her body into paralysis and death. Or she might even discover a way to fix the flaw that marked her. But the second she was admitted into the Center, her world would become darkness. Endless, silent darkness.
With careful hands, she pulled off the cover of the communication console and fiddled with the circuits. Only after she'd replaced the cover did she press in Nikita's code. Her mother lived in the penthouse several floors above.
The answer came seconds later. "Sascha, your screen is turned off."
"I didn't realize," Sascha lied. "Hold on." Pausing for effect, she took a careful breath. "I think it's a malfunction. I'll have a technician check it out."
"Why did you call?"
"I'm afraid I'll have to cancel our dinner. I've received some documents from Lucas Hunter that I'd like to start going through before I meet with him again."
"Prompt for a changeling. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon for a briefing. Good night."
"Good night, Mother." She was talking to dead air. Regardless of the fact that Nikita had been no more a mother to her than the computer that controlled this apartment, it hurt. But tonight that hurt was buried under far more dangerous emotions.
She'd barely started to relax when the console chimed an incoming call. Since the caller identification function had been disabled along with the screen, she had no way of knowing who it was. "Sascha Duncan," she said, trying not to panic that Nikita had changed her mind.
Her knees almost buckled at the sound of that honey-smooth voice, more purr than growl now. "Mr. Hunter."
"Lucas. We're colleagues, after all."
"Why are you calling?" Harsh practicality was the only way she could deal with her roller-coaster emotions.
"I can't see you, Sascha."
"It's a screen malfunction."
"Not very efficient." Was that amusement she could hear?
"I assume you didn't call to chat."
"I wanted to invite you to a breakfast meeting with the design team tomorrow." His tone was pure silk.
Sascha didn't know if Lucas always sounded like an invitation to sin or whether he was doing it to unsettle her. That thought unsettled her. If he even suspected that there was something not quite right about her, then she might as well sign her death warrant. Internment at the Center was nothing less than a living death anyway.
"Time?" She wrapped her arms tight around her ribs and forced her voice to even out. The Psy were very, very careful that the world never saw their mistakes, their flawed ones. No one had ever successfully fought the Council after being slated for rehabilitation.
"Seven thirty. Is that good for you?"
How could he make the most businesslike of invitations sound like purest temptation? Maybe it was all in her mind - she was finally cracking. "Location?"
"My office. You know where that is?"
"Of course." DarkRiver had set up business camp near the chaotic bustle of Chinatown, taking over a medium-sized office building. "I'll be there."
"I'll be waiting."
To her heightened senses, that sounded more like a threat than a promise.
Lucas prowled to the edge of his office and stared down at the narrow streets that led into the sensory explosion that was Chinatown, his mind on Sascha Duncan's night-sky eyes. His animal nature had sniffed something in her that didn't quite fit, wasn't quite... right. And yet, she didn't have the sickly smell of insanity but a delectably enticing scent that was at odds with the metallic stink of most Psy.
He had no need to turn around to identify his visitor. "What is it, Dorian?"