Lucas's hand passed over her back, long soothing strokes from her neck down to the curve of her bottom and back. A panther's way of petting. "She might surprise you. She sure as hell surprised Hawke with her latest stunt - I had a chat with him about the hyena situation." His anger that someone had dared touch their cubs put a hard edge in his voice, but right then, there was also a touch of predatory amusement.
She knew it had to be caused by Hawke's apparent problems with Brenna - the two alphas hadn't really learned to play nice with each other yet. "What did she do?"
"She's hooked up with the damn Psy."
Sascha snapped up her head. "Judd? Brenna's with Judd Lauren?"
Her cat licked at her exposed neck. "You smell good."
Sascha tried to keep thinking. "But he's so cold."
"We changelings have ways of thawing out you Psy."
Sascha could hardly argue with her own body melting. But even as she gave in to her cat, a part of her worried. Something was very wrong with Brenna, and Judd Lauren's icy reserve might only exacerbate the problem - he couldn't give the changeling woman what she needed to heal herself. Touch. Warmth. Unwavering affection.
Judd dreamed of killing again, of seeing his hands dipped in blood. Red. The blood was red in the otherwise monochrome landscape. That was when he realized he held Brenna's dying heart in his hands. It was beating, a pulsing accusation of what he'd done.
He wrenched himself awake, sending out a telepathic scan at the same instant. He found Brenna far faster than he should've been able to. She was safe. Asleep. But that was no longer an option for him. Getting up, he began doing pull-ups using the metal exercise bar bolted to the walls.
By the time the clock signaled dawn, he'd pushed himself to straining point. Judging that Brenna would be awake, he called her.
"What?" a sleepy voice answered.
"Did you talk to Sascha?"
She turned on the visual and he saw that her face was soft with sleep. It made the hunger in him twist, its claws raking down his insides - as if he had a beast within him, too. He'd spent hours last night restoring the fractures in his conditioning. It should be holding. But the second he saw her, he realized there was a major flaw he hadn't yet found, a hidden source of subversive emotion.
"Yes, sir, Judd, sir." A small smile. "She's coming up today to see me."
He heard the reluctance in her tone. "Do you - "
"No." Sharp. "I'll be fine alone. See you tonight?"
"I'll be in the den." Switching off the comm, he had a shower and then decided to work off his excess energy by checking in with Sienna. His eldest niece's abilities were developing at a rapid pace - if he and Walker didn't manage to teach her some control, there was going to be real trouble down the road. The problem was that, as with Judd, the telepathy everyone knew about was only her secondary talent. Her true strength was something so volatile, even Psy steered clear of those who had it.
Since Sienna was in an unusually cooperative mood, the session went well. He was returning from it midmorning - after a short detour - when a small na**d body barreled into him in one of the main corridors. Steadying the boy with Tk, he looked down. The child lifted a finger to his lips. "Shh. I'm hiding." With that, he went behind Judd and scrambled into a small alcove. "Quickly!"
Not sure why he obeyed the order, Judd backed up to stand in front of the alcove, arms crossed. A flustered Lara came running around the corner a few seconds later. "Have you seen Ben? Four-year-old. Naked as a jaybird."
"How tall is he?" Judd asked in his most overbearing Psy manner.
Lara stared. "He's four. How tall do you think he is? Have you seen him or not?"
"Let me think...did you say he was naked?"
"He was about to be bathed. Slippery little monkey."
A giggle from behind Judd.
Lara's eyes widened and then her lips twitched. "So you haven't seen him?"
"Without a proper description, I can't be sure."
The healer was obviously trying not to laugh. "You shouldn't encourage him - he's incorrigible as it is."
Judd felt childish hands on his left calf and then Ben poked his head out. "I'm incorwigeable, did ya hear?"
Judd nodded. "I do believe you've been found. Why don't you go have your bath?"
"Come on, munchkin." Lara held out a hand.
Surprisingly strong baby arms and legs wrapped around Judd's leg. "No. I wanna stay with Uncle Judd."
Lara anticipated his question. "Ben spends a lot of time with Marlee."
"I spend a lot of time with Marlee," a small voice piped up.
Judd glanced down. "Are you sure he's wolf? Sounds more like a parrot to me."
Ben's face clouded. "Am so a wolf!" Letting go of Judd, the child shifted in a shower of multicolored sparks. Judd held his breath until a small wolf began trying to climb up his body. Ben's progress was hindered by the fact that he wasn't using his claws.
Bending, Judd picked him up and held him against his chest, unable to explain his own behavior. "He isn't clawed."
"Of course not," Lara said. "It's the first rule we teach them - no claws during play. Can you imagine the carnage otherwise?"
"Logical." The pup was batting at his chest, a warm live weight.
"That's why Tai is so embarrassed he went clawed."
Judd had already put the incident out of his mind. "We weren't playing. Claws were never an issue."
"Not for you. But they were for him." Lara blew out a breath between pursed lips. "He didn't mean to do it. He lost control like a child. I take it he hasn't apologized yet?"