An illegal rifle meant for hunting big cats.
Vaughn didn't give the Psy any warning. He couldn't be allowed to send a telepathic signal to his team members, though the communications link clipped to his ear probably indicated they were maintaining mind-silence. They didn't want to tip off Faith. In that case, they were likely not scanning the area telepathically either, relying on their physical senses alone. Mistake number three - never go into a predator's territory thinking to beat him at his own game.
Slamming down on the male's back, Vaughn crushed his skull between powerful jaws before the Psy ever knew he'd been marked as prey. He'd broken the would-be assassin's back, and in all likelihood killed him, with the jump, but no one could rise after his brain had been caved in as this Psy's was.
Pain shot through the mating bond. He froze. Faith had experienced his kill. It had disturbed her. He waited to see what she'd do. And realized the pain was for him - for having to do this for her. The jaguar had no time for such foolishness. Of course he'd do this for her - she was his mate.
He took to the trees again, knowing she was with him now. That was good. She should see the other side of his nature, know that he wasn't human, wasn't civilized. Then he silenced that thinking part and became the predator again. West of the first Psy, he found the second. This one had a small gun in his hand. Not a weapon meant to kill, but to subdue. For Faith.
This Psy was more wary, scrutinizing the area around him with the trained eyes of a scout, looking up into the trees with every sweep. He knew what hunted him. But jaguars were patient - Vaughn simply waited until the male was scanning a different section, then dispatched him with the same efficient technique he'd used on the first male.
The third was northwest of the second Psy. He saw their tactic at once. A half circle with his vehicle as the center point. Likely six armed Psy mercenaries. Now two were dead and the positions of the other four had become obvious. Mistake number four. He'd never have placed his men in such a predictable pattern. But, of course, the Psy thought of changelings as animals too stupid to reason.
Mistake number five.
Assassin number three was gone in a minute. Four followed. Five actually saw Vaughn coming and fired off a shot, but that was as far as he got. However, he'd warned number six. Instead of launching a psychic attack, the last Psy took off, zigzagging through the forest on an evasive path that would've eluded most humans. Unfortunately for him, Vaughn wasn't human. He could've let the Psy think he was getting away, could've tortured him by playing with him, but that wasn't who he was.
He stayed in the shadows as he ran down the sixth assassin, knowing the Psy couldn't attack him if he didn't know where he was. Changeling minds were tough. Psy had to aim and focus to destroy them - a diffuse hit would never penetrate his natural shields. In the end, taking the man out was almost an anticlimax. The Psy had no idea what hit him. One second he was running, the next he was dead.
The jaguar flipped him over onto his back and Vaughn shifted into human form to search the body for evidence of further plans. He found something in the left pants pocket. A small, flat, closed pad that he immediately identified as a long-distance remote. Flipping it open, he checked the computronic readout.
The car was rigged to blow.
If they hadn't been able to capture Faith, they'd had orders to destroy her. He growled. It was a good thing these men were already dead. Shifting again, he took the pad in his mouth and ran back to Faith. There was blood on his fur, which would translate to his skin when he changed forms. That couldn't be helped. But he was human and dressed in his jeans by the time he came to her.
"Are you alright?" Her eyes flicked over every inch of him. "You're bleeding!"
"It's not mine." He watched her expression for signs of disgust.
Instead, it was only relief that showed. "I got the sense that one of them got off a blast."
"He missed. Come on." He brought her down from the tree.
Her face remained white, strain lines at the corners of her mouth. "You had to kill for me."
"It's what mates do." He kissed her for several long minutes, grounding his beast in the feminine scent of her. By the time he drew away to pull the pad from his pocket, there was a healthy flush to her cheeks. "See this?"
She took the pad. "It looks like a remote of some kind." She placed it in the center of her palm, her curiosity apparently cutting through the residual shock. "Exceptionally compact and nothing that's on the market at this time. I'd say it's a prototype from Exogenesis Labs - they had me do some work last year."
"It's to blow up the car."
Her head jerked up. "They wanted you dead."
Suddenly, he knew she was right. Faith was too important to kill. "Wanted is the operative word. I assumed you could talk to Sascha - can you?"
"I'm not sure about 'pathing, but if the Web works the same way as the Net, I can try to do it that way."
"Tell her to give Lucas a message: We need a cleanup crew. Five cats to our location."
"How will they know where to come?"
"They know the general area where I left the car and they'll track us the rest of the way by smell."
Nodding, she closed her eyes. "Okay, I'm trying a telepathic page. She's not that far and I know her... there you go. She's receiving me." Silence for a few beats. "Lucas says they're on their way. One extra man to take me back to the aerie."
She opened her eyes. "Why do I have to go back?" Stubborn, her forehead furrowed with lines.
"Because you can't drag one of these bodies where it needs to go."