He almost heard her mouth snap shut. "I'm not your spy, Vaughn. Get someone else if you want a puppet." The statement was devoid of any emotion that might have made him excuse it, an unwelcome reminder that the woman beside him was a cardinal Psy. One of the enemy.
"You came to us," he grit out. "You came to us because you couldn't trust anyone in your precious world - they would've hung you out to dry. DarkRiver is not a charity for lost Psy." Fur ruffled the wrong way by her words, he accelerated down the road. "Asking you to give us something in return for our help is good business. You understand business, don't you?"
The second the words were out, he knew he should've kept a lid on his temper. He rarely lost it, but when he did, he tended to be brutal. Faith's hurt was all the more painful for being hidden under the brittle armor of Psy Silence, but he could feel it, feel it in the heart of his maleness. "I'm sorry, Red. That was uncalled for."
"Why? You only stated the truth." Her voice was so cold, Vaughn expected to see icicles forming in the air.
Something in him relaxed. He didn't mind Faith's anger - it was the emotionless mask he hated. "Yeah, but that's not why I said it."
"I don't understand." No hint of curiosity, pure Psy calm.
"I said it because you pissed me off." He turned down a leafy lane and glanced over at her sitting so motionless beside him. "We're not above collecting the information you give us - we'd be stupid not to gather as much as possible while you remain in the Net - but we aren't doing it behind your back, so don't accuse us of that."
Faith didn't know how to respond. For twenty-four years, she'd lived in a world that operated on a very different set of principles. Nothing was ever said so bluntly and without any hint of subterfuge. Shoshanna Scott's visit was a vivid example - the Councilor had been all allusions and hints, never quite coming out and saying what it was that she wanted from Faith, though Faith had a very good idea. What she didn't understand was why.
It was almost a compulsion for her to talk about it with Vaughn, but she couldn't. Not yet. If she gave away the Council to the cats, notwithstanding her lack of any definitive knowledge, then she was in a sense giving away her loyalty to the Psy race. And they were her race. They understood what she was, what she could do, and the price that she paid. She was respected, more than respected. If Shoshanna's visit was any indication, she might climb even higher, the highest of any in her PsyClan.
If she did as Vaughn wanted and successfully dropped out of the Net, what would she be? Nothing. A broken Psy without race or family. She'd done enough reading to know that her inborn talent wasn't always respected in the human-changeling world. Many scoffed at the idea of foresight. There were some who went so far as to call her entire designation a fraud.
Of course, none of that would mean anything if her abilities continued to spiral into chaos. She had to find a way to exert control over the dark visions, even if she couldn't block them. Vaughn's fingers whispered over her cheek. She was unable to stop her reflexive movement. "Yes?"
As she removed the blindfold, the lingering sensation of his touch threatened to smudge the strength of her recent decision to regain mastery over her own body and mind. She knew it was hazardous to feel anything, that emotions could drive her over the edge, but that did nothing to diminish the temptation to engage with Vaughn on all levels - physical, mental, and emotional. Because she knew that if she succeeded in leashing the dark side of her ability and returned to her normal existence, she'd live the rest of her life without a jaguar who liked to tease in the most sensual of ways, who pushed her to face her fears, and who, quite simply, made her feel alive.
Leaving the blindfold on the dash, she stepped out and closed the door. Vaughn was already on the lighted porch, speaking to Sascha. Faith couldn't see Lucas, but assumed he was nearby - the alpha had appeared extremely protective of his mate. It made her speculate whether the Council had done more than put a simple prohibition over Sascha Duncan.
"Hello, Faith." Sascha smiled and gestured to the chair beside hers.
"Hello." Faith took the seat, but found herself unable to look at Vaughn. He asked too much of her by his mere presence and she didn't know what answers to give him.
"I'll be close by." Vaughn walked off around the corner, and though it was impossible, she thought she felt him change.
"Where's Lucas?" Faith asked, instead of trailing behind him and indulging her need to see him as a jaguar once more. He was beautiful in either form, a lethal blade of a man, and she itched to stroke him. But she could justify it more while he was jaguar, tell herself it wasn't the same as permitting her fingers to trail over the human male's skin. Of course, quite aside from her confusion about which path to choose, she wasn't sure she could touch either man or cat without crumbling.
"My mate had some other business to take care of."
The unexpected declaration wrenched Faith's attention to the woman beside her. "He let you come alone?"
Sascha flicked her plait over her shoulder. "I'm a cardinal of considerable strength. Why does everyone think I need a keeper?"
"I didn't mean any offense."
"None taken." The other woman shook her head. "You're right, DarkRiver males are extremely possessive and protective. But you can't give in to it - you have to learn to take a stand or it'll end in disaster."
Faith found herself intrigued by the chance to learn something about Vaughn's world. "How?"
"Like all predators, the cats are very strong, physically and emotionally. If they don't receive the same kind of, what's the right word ... feedback, from their mates, they tend to become aggressive in the worst sense of the word." Sascha shrugged. "They try to dominate, but a dominated mate is not what makes them happy. Cats like seeing claws."