It was the last thing she'd expected but Lucas's eyes said he'd known. And he hadn't warned her. It made her wary. Was he trying to provoke a reaction from her? "Give me a moment. This isn't a decision I'm authorized to make."
Walking a distance away, though it wasn't strictly necessary, she connected to her mother through the PsyNet. Usually they used a simple telepathic link, but Sascha wasn't strong enough to send over such a long distance. The blunt illustration of her weakness served to remind her to stay on guard. Unlike other cardinals, she was disposable.
Nikita answered at once. "What is it?" Part of her consciousness faced part of Sascha's in a closed mental room in the vastness of the PsyNet.
Sascha repeated the offer and added, "It's definitely a prime location in terms of changeling needs. With the SnowDancers putting up the land, our investment is halved so sharing profits isn't going to cut into our bottom line. We might even do better in the end."
Nikita paused before answering and Sascha knew she was doing a data search. "Those wolves have a bad habit of trying to take over anything they have a hand in."
Sascha had a feeling that most predatory changelings had a habit of doing that. Look at Lucas - he'd been trying to take her over since the moment he'd laid eyes on her. "They're not known for property investments. I think this may be an emotional reaction against letting control of their land fall into Psy hands."
"You could be right." Another pause. "Draft an agreement stating we have control over everything from design to construction and marketing. They have to be a silent partner. We'll share profits but nothing else."
"What about their demand that no plots be sold to us?" Us. The Psy. The people to whom she'd never really belonged. But they were all she had. "It's legal under the Private Development laws."
"You're the head on this project. What do you think?"
"No Psy is going to want to live out here." This much space scared most of her race. They preferred to live in nice square boxes with defined limits. "It's not worth fighting over and we don't have to pay Lucas his million if he doesn't sell all the units."
"Make sure he understands that."
"I will." Her gut said that the panther was way ahead of them. Lucas didn't strike her as anybody's fool.
"Call me if you have any problems."
Nikita's presence winked out. When Sascha returned to Lucas, she found him rubbing the back of his neck as if something had irritated it. Her eyes followed the motion of his arm, fascinated by the sleek lines of muscle obvious even under the leather-synth jacket. Every move he made was fluid, graceful, like a big cat on the prowl.
It was only when he raised a brow that she realized she'd been staring. Fighting a blush, she said, "We'll agree to their demands if they agree to be a silent party. And that means not a sound out of them."
He dropped his hand from the back of his neck and put the phone to his ear. "They agree - I'll draft the contract." He closed the small flat communicator.
"We're not going to forget that you have to sell all the residences to receive that final million."
There was something distinctly smug about his slow smile. "Not a problem, darling."
It was as they were getting back into the car that she realized this was the first Psy-changeling fifty-fifty business deal she'd ever heard of. That didn't bother her - her instincts said they'd do very well out of this. Too bad that mentioning the word "instincts" would get her chemically lobotomized.
* * *
Lucas was utterly frustrated. Not only was Sascha refusing to reveal anything useful, she kept picking up on small changeling traits no Psy should've been able to sense. Even worse, he was having to fight the urge to educate her rather than subtly interrogating her for answers.
"How about this?" He showed her another line of the proposed contract. They were sitting in his office at the top of the DarkRiver building. He'd found her an office right next door. It was the perfect setup. If she'd talk.
She looked at the piece of paper and slid it back across the dark wood of the desk. "If you change the word 'at' to 'in,' it's fine with me."
He thought over the change. "All right. The SnowDancer aren't going to fight you over that."
"But they will fight me?"
"Not if the contract is fair." He wondered if a Psy even understood the meaning of integrity. "They trust me and I'll tell them the truth. So long as you don't try anything underhanded, they'll stick to their word."
"A changeling's word can be trusted?"
"Probably far more than a Psy's." He felt his jaw tighten as he thought of the self-righteous way the Psy claimed to be without anger and violence, when it was becoming damn clear they were anything but.
"You're right. Subtle prevarication is considered an efficient bargaining tool in my world."
He was more than surprised by her acceptance of his point. "Just subtle?"
"Perhaps some take it too far."
There was a stillness to her that made him want to cover the space between them and stroke his hand over her body. Perhaps touch would achieve what words hadn't. "Who punishes the ones who take it too far?"
"The Council." The statement was absolute.
"What if the Council is wrong?"
Her eyes met his, unflinching and eerily beautiful. "They know everything that goes on in the PsyNet. How could they be wrong?"
Which meant, he deduced, that not everyone was privy to the secrets of the Net. "But if no one else has access to all the information, how can they be held accountable?"