Caressed By Ice (Psy-Changeling 3) - Page 23

"Trust has to be earned."

"Most changelings hate the Psy. SnowDancers go a step further." After having seen Enrique's handiwork, Judd couldn't argue with their reaction.

Hawke didn't dispute his analysis. "You helped get Brenna out - that's a good enough place to start. I want you doing soldier work."

It was the one response he hadn't factored into his plans. "I would have thought you'd throw a party at the thought of getting rid of me."

"The alpha in me says you could come in very handy."

Judd knew why Hawke wanted his abilities. It was the same reason the Psy Council had. A pet assassin was not something those in power wanted to lose. "If I decline?"

Hawke's eyes gleamed. "Then I withdraw safe harbor for Walker."

Only the adult. Not the children. It was more than the Council had offered and Judd had bathed in blood for them. "Fine." He silenced the part of him that questioned his easy capitulation. Walker had no need of his protection - his brother could save himself. "But I want the same autonomy as the rest of your soldiers." No more chains, no more cages.

"You have nothing to bargain with."

"I have my skills." It wasn't a threat. Not yet.

A low growl emanated from Hawke's throat, as if his beast had sensed the danger. But his voice, when it came, was calm. "Most men would've lost their temper by now. I sure as hell would've gone for the throat."

"I'm not most men." Sometimes, he wasn't even sure he was human, not a monster. "Of course, if I want revenge, I'll simply send Sienna your way." His niece could make Hawke lose his cool faster than any other man or woman in the den. "She's been in a particularly...interesting mood since you forced her to train with Indigo."

Hawke's face darkened. "Keep that damn brat away from me - she's more trouble than a pack of rabid cats." He reached behind himself for a map. "I need a man to keep an eye on some stuff in the eastern quadrant."

Judd walked over to look at the large sheet of plaspaper as Hawke rolled it open across his desk. "Isolated area, no habitation within miles," he said, orienting himself. "Includes a segment of the outer perimeter." That perimeter was the den's first - if farthest - line of defense. That put his placement there in a new light. A test?

Hawke pointed to the border section. "We've had reports of people encroaching. Might be human or nonpredatory teenagers playing chicken, but we need to know if it's something more. No unnecessary contact. I need intelligence before we make a move.

"If it is kids, a good scare will make them mind their manners. If it's adults from a predatory species, they know the rules." That unauthorized access meant death. The SnowDancers weren't particularly forgiving and Judd had seen the bodies to prove it. It was why they had not only survived, but become the most powerful pack in California.

"Understood." Rusty sections of his mind stretched awake in anticipation.

"It's pretty damn lonely out there." Hawke glanced up. "You might not touch another person for weeks. I'll set you on a rotation - two weeks out, one week in. Most of my people in isolated areas do it that way."

"Touch is a changeling need." As important, apparently, as eating and breathing. He'd observed how aggressive they became without it. During Brenna's recovery, she'd often been surrounded by packmates.

What very few knew was that in the hardest sessions, the ones where she'd wanted no one in her pack to see her, but had needed the tactile contact, it was Judd who had held her. Oddly, she had granted him skin privileges - the right to touch - almost from the start. It had been the first time he'd had such sustained contact with another. She'd been soft. Warm. Trusting. And highly disturbing to his Psy senses.

"I'm designed to work alone." Nature's gift to him.

Hawke took him at his word. "There's an old cabin here." He indicated a spot close to the boundary that delineated the area into which the SnowDancers would accept no unauthorized entry. Their territory was so broad that it covered several regions where other species lived and worked, and they were more lenient about access in those sections, but the massive tract of heavily forested land stretching out in all directions from the den was sacrosanct. "It's fully equipped with comm equipment. You can use it as a base."

Judd left within the hour, having decided to cover the considerable distance on foot with the aid of his Tk abilities. It would both speed him up and serve the purpose of releasing some of the psychic energy built up in his system.

As he began running across the snow at a speed that would've shocked the wolves, he considered Brenna's probable reaction to his sudden departure. She was confident enough, had enough wolf arrogance that she'd be considerably annoyed if he wasn't there when she came looking. However, given that he was no longer her sole source of information about Psy-related material - and especially after what he'd told her to do yesterday, she might not even notice that he'd left.

His hands tightened on the straps of his pack. Rationalizing away the action as necessary to secure the light burden, he kicked up his speed until he was moving too fast to concentrate on anything but avoiding the obstacles in his path.

Brenna knew something was wrong the second she woke. She became convinced of it when Andrew gave her a big grin at breakfast. He'd been in a shitty mood ever since she'd returned from fighting with Judd yesterday, having found out exactly how much time she'd been spending with the man. They had had such a blazing row over it that she'd spent the rest of the day with Lucy and a couple of other female friends, disgusted with the whole male race in general. But now her brother was acting eerily cheerful.