Sascha tried to fix the tattered shreds of the woman's pride. "You survived and you kept him from your mind. You didn't break. That's what's important."
"I don't know how much longer I can do this."
"We're coming for you. Survive for us."
"You're not Pack. You smell like the cats."
"We're all one against the enemy." The depth of damage in the young girl's psyche staggered her. That she'd managed to keep the killer from her innermost mind was a testament to her incredible strength of will. "We're coming, Brenna. We're coming."
"Hurry." The voice was fading. "Please hurry."
Sascha woke as morning was breaking and knew they couldn't wait any longer. "Now," she told Lucas, finding him in the living room with Hawke, his lieutenants, and two other males. It didn't surprise her to see the wolves there - both alphas were preparing to rise against the Psy, "We have to do it now. We can't leave Brenna with him any longer." Her tone was on this side of hysterical.
Lucas ordered everyone out. Nobody spoke a word as they filed out and closed the door behind them. Nobody but Hawke. "What time should I tell the Laurens?"
Sascha reached for her timepiece as he reached for his. "Five minutes from now."
"I'll call Judd."
"We'll keep you safe, sweetheart." He touched her face and left.
Hope was a dangerous commodity and she couldn't indulge in it. Her eyes met Lucas's as she walked across the room to face him. "It doesn't have to be you," she said one more time, begging him.
"It has to be me. I'm yours." His kiss held his heart.
It broke hers.
"Let's start," she whispered, unable to bear this any longer. If she thought about what she was going to do, she might never do it, might leave Brenna to be tortured and murdered, her mind raped and then discarded. That she'd even consider such a thing made her fear for her soul.
She felt Lucas's mind welcome hers. Though he wasn't a Psy, it felt almost like shields dropping. She didn't need to go completely inside to gain what she needed. Instead, she made a superficial link that would allow her to feed him information and smell of him on a psychic level.
That scent would bolster the impression of a changeling mind that she was going to create using the glimpse she'd had of Rina's thought patterns. Their minds worked differently enough from those of the Psy that no one would ever mistake one for the other. However, it might be possible to fool the killer long enough for Sascha to get a fix on him.
"Don't expose yourself unnecessarily."
Sascha nodded. One way or another, she'd have to drop out of the Net, but she wanted to get out without revealing the entire scope of her empathic mind. It would keep others like her safe... if there were any others like her. "If he's drawn to this bait enough that he ventures close, I won't have to. But if he's wary, I might have to give him a more interesting victim."
Lucas's eyes flashed with denial but he didn't try to tell her not to do it. Her alpha male was finally learning that she couldn't be ordered around. "Come back to me, Sascha. Promise me you'll initiate the link."
Brenna's screams echoed in her mind, urging haste. "I promise." Leaning forward, she brushed her lips against his, wishing for just another hour, another minute, another lifetime. "Thank you for teaching me how to live."
His hand clasped the back of her neck, those Hunter's eyes violent with the animal's hunger for her. "If you want to thank me, stay alive. Keep your promise."
Initiate the link.
Sascha forced herself to nod. "We should start." She led him to the sofa. Lucas sat down, legs sprawled along its length. Without argument, she crawled up to lie with her head against his chest, putting her arms around his muscular frame.
She could hear his heart, his life, through the soft cotton of his gray T-shirt. How could he condemn her to steal that from him? How could he force his pack to go on without their leader? She wasn't worth the sacrifice, a woman born of a race who'd lost their humanity a hundred years ago.
"Ready?" A gentle hand smoothed over her unbound hair.
She'd never be ready to kill them both. Only, the alternative was much worse. "Yes. Judd and Sienna will be setting off the distraction in a minute." Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and found him.
Lucas's flame was pure heat, pure light. He'd trusted his mind to her but she didn't go in, couldn't face what she might see. His emotions for her might destroy her. Instead, she gently merged into the upper layer until her thought patterns began to echo his in a subtle way that didn't change them but altered their psychic feel.
Letting Lucas's heartbeat soothe her, she opened her mind's eye. She was still behind her shields, still protected. If she wanted, she could pull back without betraying anything.
Brenna's screams reverberated in her mind.
No, she could never pull back. First, she checked that the truth of her healing, rainbow-bright mind was hidden deep. Then she manufactured a flaw in her shields, something that looked natural. In a way, her plan was blindingly simple ... if you were a cardinal E-Psy forced into becoming a genius of multi-layered shields, and if you were able to link with and so easily mimic changeling minds.
She'd realized sometime last night that her ability to touch changeling minds was part of her gift, because the nature of empathy made it impossible for one to turn evil and do harm to an open mind. When they'd crushed the development of empaths, the Psy had destroyed the growth of their conscience.
"This one's for us," she said within her soul. It was for all those E-Psy who'd died tortured deaths in the transitional phase, all those who'd gone insane under Silence, and all those who'd buried their gifts so deep they thought they were broken.