"So they'll fight hard to keep her. They can't pretend she's defective like they did with Sascha." Lucas's facial markings stood out in sharp relief as anger pulled his skin taut. "And she's a cardinal, too. Those eyes mean she can't be hidden effectively."
"No one's going to be hiding Faith." Vaughn knew his voice had dropped several octaves, but he was beyond caring.
"What about Faith?" Sascha asked softly.
"What about her?" Vaughn put the now empty bottle on the window ledge.
"Have you asked her whether she wants to leave the Net?"
"She's my mate." Of course she'd leave the Net. "I'll try to give her some time to get used to the idea, but in the end, she has no choice."
"I think she does."
Vaughn's beast prowled to the surface of his self. "How?" Mating was a compulsion with changelings. Even the most independent females, the ones who fought the hardest, found it difficult to spend long periods apart from the males who were meant to be their mates.
"She's not changeling, so it doesn't affect her the same way it does you, not unless she opens herself up to it like I did with Lucas. It might be uncomfortable for her, but she can probably block you."
"Are you sure?" Vaughn's claws were so close to his human skin that he felt the hard prick of the tips waiting to break through.
"No. She's different from me. Being an empath meant I couldn't ignore what I felt for Lucas. I don't know if Faith is as bound to you."
"So I could be mated to someone who could choose not to be my mate?" A nightmare idea. Mating was a one-shot deal. The link usually involved a conscious decision at some point by the female, which made Vaughn and Faith's bond very unusual. But no matter how it had come into being, once made, even death couldn't break it. No one mated twice. They might find a lover, but the hole in them would never be fixed. Never. "I need to run."
But though he ran himself to exhaustion, his beast could find no comfort in an act that had always before meant freedom. Because he was chained, tied on the deepest level to a woman who just might destroy him.
Faith missed her jaguar, missed him badly enough to stumble in her act of normality.
She was strolling the grounds in the cool light of morning and considering how to arrange another night escape when she started to think of Vaughn, of his presence, and yes, his touch. So deep was she in her thoughts that she nearly walked into a guard. That wasn't the problem. It was the fact that her nerves were poised to jump in alarm.
Catching the reaction the barest instant before it could become action, she inclined her head. "My apologies. I wasn't concentrating on where I was going."
"The fault was mine." The guard gave a short nod and continued on his rounds.
She forced herself to walk in the opposite direction, her heart a drumbeat in her veins. Careful, she told herself. One slip was all it would take. Deciding to try to distract herself with something less incendiary, she took a seat on a small garden bench and opened up the mental file Anthony had given her.
Kaleb Krychek had led an interesting life. An unexpected Tk cardinal born of two low-Gradient Tp-Psy, he'd been raised almost like her, having spent his entire childhood in a training facility. Her father had managed to dig out that one of young Kaleb's instructors had been none other than Santano Enrique. She didn't know why Enrique had disappeared, but that piece of history could prove a weapon should she ever need it.
Kaleb had been conscripted into the Council ranks almost immediately after his successful graduation from the Protocol. His climb up the ladder had been phenomenal, even more so because he was a cardinal - most cardinals, while they worked for the Council, were too cerebral to bother with politics and power.
Faith turned another page in the file and found herself looking at a list of missing persons. At least ten high-ranking members of the Council substructure had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and, in every instance, it was Kaleb who had benefited. However, nothing had ever been traced to him - a fact that would only make him more appealing to the lethal beings who were the current Council.
Faith was a babe in the woods in comparison. Which begged the question of why she was even a candidate. She was about to dig deeper into Kaleb's file when she felt it. The push of darkness. "No." It seemed obscene that after three days of psychic peace, the evil should hunt her down in bright daylight.
Her first instinct was to fight, to stop a recurrence of the last malicious invasion. But she was through with running. If she could tangle with a jaguar and come out alive, then she could deal with this ugliest facet of her own abilities. Releasing a withheld breath, she let him take her under and exhibit his triumphs. She saw through his eyes, forced herself to watch that which had not yet come to pass. It was changeable, mutable. One day soon, he'd stalk the target of his fantasies, stalk and plan. Faith studied every aspect of his intended victim and tried to figure out who she was, where she was, and, most important, when she was.
Her suit was black, her shirt white, her skin a hue rare among the Psy after generations of intermingling - a pure white that held faint undertones of palest blue. But the expressionless cold of her face made it indisputable that she was, in fact, a member of Faith's race. The unknown Psy's hair was a white-blonde that went with her skin and her eyes were a vivid blue. She looked nothing like Marine.
But, her mind insisted on whispering, the killer hadn't felt the same with Marine. The visions involving her sister had focused on the death itself and the killer's emotions during it, while this new victim was going to be stalked, watched, savored. Yes, it had been a rush for him to take Marine's life, but he'd experienced none of this extreme anticipation. Perhaps if he had, she might've understood in time ... might've saved Marine from the agony of having her breath choked out of her.