"We won't. Not unless we have no other choice."
"No, Vaughn! Not ever. If you back the Council into a corner, they will come at you with everything they've got. And they'll kill your most vulnerable, the children, first."
His vows as a sentinel slammed up against his unspoken vows to her. "You're my mate." A loyalty that overshadowed any other.
"That's why I'm asking you to never use that recording on my behalf." Stopping, she looked up into his eyes. "I need to know that I didn't bring death into this new family. I need to know I'm something good."
"You're everything good." He enfolded her in his arms. "Don't worry. We have the capacity to take them on - we had to devise a countermeasure after Sascha's defection. The cubs will be safe." Exposing them to danger had never been a possibility.
"But how many adults will die in the fight?"
"You're Pack." And Pack stood together. He'd bled for them and they'd do the same for him.
"I can't have their blood on my conscience." She hugged him hard. "Promise me you'll never use that recording in a fight for me. Not even as a last-case scenario."
"And if I don't?"
"Then I'll turn myself in to the Council." An intractable expression clouded her face. "I'll do it the first chance I get."
He knew she was stubborn enough to go through with the decision. "You've left me no choice." And the beast was angry at that, at her. But what enraged him most was having his hands tied. Judd had taken out the killer. Lucas and Sascha were meeting Nikita. He could do seemingly nothing to protect the one person he needed to protect. "Get on." He didn't want to speak any longer.
Faith didn't argue, letting him hoist her onto his back and then holding on as he raced through the forest, an animal on two legs, a jaguar caught tight in the grip of a trap that had no acceptable way out. Tonight he saw nothing of the beauty around him, felt no exhilaration, no joy. He was furious at everything and everyone. The Fates, the Psy who was his mate, and mostly, himself.
Ignoring the waves of tenderness coming down the mating bond, he poured himself into the forest and let the beast take over. Though he remained human in shape, his mind, his heart, his soul became jaguar. And the cat didn't allow human foolishness to color its thinking. It just was.
Vaughn didn't know how long he ran in that semishift state, but they were close to the car when his keen hearing picked up something very odd. He came to a complete stop. Faith clutched at him and he knew she was about to speak.
"Shh." He kept the sound extremely low.
But she'd heard. The second he released his grip on her legs, she slid down with utter quietness, allowing him to ease her down using his strength. Once there, she remained motionless. He scanned the surrounding area with his animal senses and felt every one of his instincts flare in warning.
Glancing over Faith's head, he looked back the way they'd come. The perfect tree stood almost directly in his line of sight. He turned his back to her and she jumped on. Moving with the catlike silence that was second nature to him, he retraced his steps to the large sequoia and began to climb, using his claws to dig into the wood. Faith held on tight and didn't say a word as he went ever higher. He was proud of her.
When he spotted what he was looking for, he shifted position so she could get off and sit down in the hiding place formed by the intersection of several branches. Only then did she whisper, "What did you hear?"
He made sure she'd be invisible from the ground. "Something that doesn't belong." Leaning in, he kissed her. His way. Hard, savage, and raw. "Don't leave this tree until I or one of the pack return for you. And don't try to telepath Sascha or use any other Psy sense."
The stars in her eyes were blotted out by blackness in an eyeblink. "They've come for me."
"Nobody will touch you." That wasn't even an option. "Do exactly what I told you. They might be able to track you if you try anything Psy." He wasn't Psy, but he was a soldier - he knew about strategy and drawing out a target.
"Let me help," she whispered.
"I'll tell you if I need you." He watched understanding spread across her face. The mating bond wasn't Psy, therefore the others wouldn't be able to intercept it.
"Be safe and come back to me."
He had every intention of doing that, but first, he had to get rid of some vermin. Going back down the tree took almost no time. He touched the ground with silent feet and started to determine and categorize what his senses were telling him. There was definitely more than one Psy out there.
That they'd gotten this far into DarkRiver territory without alerting anyone told him they were good. Very good. Vaughn had no intention of underestimating their skills. He also knew he had to get them before they realized he was hunting. Otherwise, they'd smash his mind with a blast of pure power.
Stripping off the jeans, he cached them a small way up the tree and went jaguar. The Psy might be good, but this was Vaughn's territory and in this territory, his paws were silent, his senses even keener, his savagery unparalleled. These Psy had broken the first rule when they'd come into an area off-limits to anyone but cats and wolves. They'd broken the second by lying in ambush for his mate.
The first was a mistake. The second, unforgivable.
Vaughn walked a ways on the ground before taking to the trees. His sense of smell was not as strong as his sight, but it was far better than an ordinary human's, sufficient to tell him that there was a Psy to the left of his position and within meters. He padded along a branch until he was directly on top of the male. Dressed in black, his face camouflaged with paint, the Psy lay flat on the ground, one eye pressed to the scope of what looked like a Series III Ramrod.