Faith was a little intimidated by Tamsyn's strength, but like Sascha, the other woman exuded warmth and kindness. In contrast, Faith knew she appeared cold and standoffish. The leopards didn't offer her the same affection they gave each other, though she'd come to a point where she could bear some touch from others. "I don't know how to be with your pack. I don't think they like me."
"They don't know you," Vaughn said. "Liking comes with knowing. Trust comes with loyalty."
"But you're all so warm. I try, but sometimes ..."
"Red, the pack puts up with Clay. In comparison, you're a barrel of laughs."
She hit his chest with a closed fist. "Be serious."
"I am. DarkRiver has its loners, its quiet ones. They're liked as much as any other member - I'm living proof. Give them your loyalty, give them your heart, and they'll treasure it."
She finally slept. Because Vaughn kept his promises.
At that same instant, a door slammed shut in the dark heart of the PsyNet.
"The situation with Faith NightStar needs to be addressed," Shoshanna said the second the Council was pronounced in session.
"We might have been able to pacify the NightStar Group if you hadn't taken unilateral action," Nikita retorted. "Anthony NightStar holds a substantial amount of power and he's decided to obstruct us."
"How certain is that?" Henry asked.
"The man was a Council candidate soon after my ascension." Marshall's statement was news to Nikita, but she had no doubts as to its veracity. "He turned it down, not because he didn't have the strength, but because he preferred running the NightStar Group. Anthony doesn't like bowing down to anyone."
"If he was a candidate, then he's aware of the realities of Council. Surely he can be talked around," Henry insisted.
"No, he can't." Male, cold, cutting, Kaleb Krychek was the newest member of the Council. "The Scotts' move against his daughter without his prior authorization put him into a situation where his power was questioned. He's reasserting it and will continue to do so. We've lost any goodwill we might've had with the NightStar Group."
A silence as everyone considered the implications of that.
Tatiana was the first to speak. "That is indeed unfortunate. NightStar is one of the leading families. As well as the favors they've done us, the income they control with their various alliances gives us a large portion of our tax revenue."
"Is it possible to remove Anthony NightStar from the equation?"
"Not without attracting the unwelcome attention of several other top-tier families." Nikita usually preferred the clean approach, but it would only cause more problems at this point. "I'm sure everyone understands why we don't want any additional scrutiny right now. We've had two recent incidents." First Enrique and then the Gradient 9 telepath who'd escaped his handlers before being found near a college campus in Napa, his mind permanently compromised.
"Would you care to explain yourself, Shoshanna." Marshall's words weren't a question.
"Someone had to make a move. We should've acted against Faith the second she dropped out of the Net. There was no reason to wait."
"There was every reason." Nikita closed her mental file on the NightStar Group. "She was deep in DarkRiver territory when she cut the link. Have you forgotten that piece of Enrique you got on your pillow only months ago?" The leopards and wolves had announced the former Councilor's death by sending flesh and blood souvenirs to the rest of them.
"If they were going to use what they know, they would've done so by now," was Shoshanna's answer.
"Or they could be sitting on it until it provides the biggest impact." Kaleb sounded nothing like a newcomer, the very reason he was Council. "They were right in this case - they had no need to tip their hand. None of us can argue that their point wasn't made."
"They might've taken out six men, but they won't be able to destroy a squadron," Henry responded. "We go in full force, pull her out, and destroy anyone who attempts a retrieval."
"Dental imprinting showed that a single cat executed all six soldiers." Ming broke his silence. "It was confirmed by three different M-Psy. Only one had fired a weapon. We were unable to check for the use of offensive psychic weapons - their brains were too badly crushed."
"It seems that Henry's assertion is incorrect," Kaleb stated. "They could conceivably take out a squadron."
"Faith NightStar isn't worth the loss of so many highly trained men, especially as she's agreed to provide her services through her family group." Ming's glacial mental voice again. "These men are worth millions, both in terms of their training and the work they do for us. Added to the income we'll lose if the businesses implement their tax strike, it's an easy equation."
"We can't allow the changelings to keep getting the better of us." Shoshanna clearly had no intention of conceding defeat. "How does it look if we lose two Psy within months and the most recent was a candidate? The populace is starting to talk."
Kaleb cut into the small pause. "We say she ran when it became clear I had no intention of leaving a rival alive."
"Perfect," Nikita agreed. "F-Psy are known to be mentally weak. A few well-placed rumors will shred her credibility."
"We need to know how the leopards are keeping the two women alive," Tatiana said. "I've heard of no unexplained changeling deaths since Sascha's defection and if she were feeding off them, there would've been at least two by now."