Lucas's beast hated the thought of her linked to anyone other than him, but he realized that if it would keep her alive, he'd share her. It would tear him to pieces but he'd do it. It was the first time he'd understood the depth of his own feelings.
"Any other ideas?" Hawke asked.
The wolf stood. "Prepare for war."
Sascha argued with him every inch of the drive home. "You're going to let hundreds die because you want to keep me alive for a few extra days?"
"An hour of your life is worth more than a thousand people to me."
"What about Julian and Roman? What about Kit? What about Rina? Are you willing to lose them?"
He felt the questions like kicks to the heart. "They won't die."
"Like hell they won't!" The use of profanity told him how far he'd pushed her. "If the Council decides to eliminate your pack, every single one of you will be eliminated, even if it takes them years."
"So you want me to lie back and let you kill yourself?" His words were so angry, her head snapped back as if he'd hit her.
"No. I want you to help me save someone's life. I want you to give me back my pride."
He scowled. "When did you lose it?"
"When I found out my mother was aiding and abetting murderers." It was a brutally honest statement.
He tried to grasp her hand. She tore it away. "No! I won't let you do this."
"You need us to cooperate for your plan to work," he pointed out. "No one is going to go behind my back to help you." They knew he'd gut them, tear them into such small strips that nothing would remain. He wasn't alpha because he played nice when his people were threatened. And his woman? He'd lay waste to the world for her.
"Maybe I don't," she whispered. "Maybe I'll try it without one of you. My shields are failing one by one - exposure is inevitable. They'll come after me within days and when they do, I'll have to drop out of the Net anyway, to escape rehabilitation."
And he knew. "You're going to do it with or without my help." He brought the vehicle to a stop in the front yard of the safe house.
"What would you do in my place?" Her eyes were pure black when he looked at her. "What would honor demand?"
"You're my mate. Honor means nothing."
She opened the door and got out. He sat inside until she came around to his side and opened the door. Her hands were warm and alive on his face. "Liar," she whispered. "Honor means everything. Otherwise, we're exactly like them."
Getting out, he wrapped his arms tight around her trembling form. "I'll do it." He wondered if she understood that he'd just torn out his heart and laid it at her feet.
She shook her head. "I can't hurt you like that."
"No dice, kitten. I'll anchor you and, afterward, you'll psychically reach out for me. No more fighting our mating. Your reluctance is the only thing holding it back - the second you try to link, the bond should snap into place."
Pushing off him hard enough to break his hold, she said, "No."
"What will happen to DarkRiver without you? Have you thought of that?" She was shaking her head, eyes ebony night. "You're not going to last longer than a couple of months if I link with you in any way - I'll suck you dry. Don't ask me to destroy you."
"Vaughn's strong enough to take over until Kit comes of age." There was no choice to be made.
"No, Lucas. No." Her entire body was shaking.
"It's the only way I'll allow you to go in." He let her hear the steel in his voice, let her remember his threat to incapacitate her. There was nothing civilized in him where Sascha was concerned. "Promise me."
She shook her head mutely.
"Promise me, kitten."
Turning, she ran from him. He let her go into the house. Then he waited until Vaughn slipped out of the woods to stand before him. "She's right. DarkRiver needs you."
"And I need her." Lucas had watched one woman he loved die. He couldn't do it again. "If I survive her, I'll be as good as dead anyway."
Aware she hadn't fully recovered from shadowing Henry, Sascha decided to put the plan into effect the following night. It would give her time to carefully examine the thought patterns she'd be mimicking. Rina had volunteered to allow Sascha to scan her patterns, as it had become clear that the young soldier fit the victim profile.
Those were the logical reasons but the truth was, no matter how selfish it made her, she wanted one more night with her lover. In bed, in the darkness, she was the one who reached for him.
He was wild and angry and she felt his withheld fury. But his hands were unbearably tender, his touch a kind of devotion she'd never dreamed of. She fell asleep in his arms, safe and protected. Which was why when the dream began, she couldn't quite believe the horror.
"Help me!" It was a scream from the core of a woman's consciousness. "Please help me!"
Broken by the raw suffering she could hear, Sascha tried to soothe her. The woman retreated from her as if she'd been burned. "No!"
"Let me help you," Sascha begged, tears streaming inside her mind for this woman whose face she couldn't see.
"You're Psy." That voice was full of rage but agony throbbed endlessly beneath the surface.
"I'm not like him." She sent out subtle waves of healing. The emotions that washed back up to her echoed with so much suffering, she ached. She kept taking it and it kept coming. "You're unbelievably strong."
"I cried." The defiance was gone from the whisper. It was as if she had to trust Sascha, the solitary voice in the darkness. "I begged him to stop."