He gave her the ice packs. "Wear a coat. It's already dark."
"What about you?" The defined strength of his forearms drew her eye. Her hunger to stroke him was almost painful. Why didn't he feel that same need?
"I'll get my jacket and meet you at the garden door."
Ten minutes later, they walked openly past the White Zone and into the inner perimeter - she hoped her brothers would get the hint.
Judd led her to a private spot before stopping. "Talk to me."
It didn't surprise her that he knew the real reason she'd asked him to come out here. She took a seat on a fallen log while Judd leaned his muscular form against a tree across from her, seeming to blend into the deep ebony of early evening in the Sierra.
"I'm messing up my family," she said, admitting the truth. "Drew and Riley - did you see their faces yesterday? They think they're losing me." To insanity.
"They're adults, they'll deal with it."
"Will they? Look at how they react every time I try to reclaim my independence." It was the flip side of their intensely loyal natures, a protectiveness that could destroy.
"They want to keep you safe."
She stared, incredulous. "You're taking their side?"
"In this one case, they're correct. You need to be protected from your own will." His voice was pure steel. "You could hurt yourself in your rush to fix things."
"Men!" It was a snarl as she got up and began to pace up and down beside the log. "You're supposed to support me, remember?"
"Only in public," he said with cool Psy logic. "If you want total obedience, get a dog."
She kicked snow in his direction. Caught by surprise, Judd deflected it with Tk. It just made her madder. "That's cheating."
"I wasn't aware this was a test." He remained unmoving as she strode over to stand in front of him, cheeks flushed red. Things went tight in his body, his skin stretching taut. Such passion in her, such anger. "You're beautiful," he said, disregarding the sudden spike of dissonance, the violent warning that he was too close to losing control of the horror that was his "gift."
She snorted. "I'm not that easily led."
Scowling, she turned to stride back to the log. His eyes found themselves drawn to the sway of her hips, to the lush bottom encased in tight jeans that showed off every defiant feminine curve. More sparks of pain, further warning signals. But that wasn't what made him raise his eyes to her face. It was her abrupt stillness.
He straightened, his senses flaring out. "The leopards." He knew their psychic signature now, could distinguish it from wolf.
"They're here." Her voice was a whisper. "And I don't think they're happy."
"Go back and get Hawke. I'll hold them."
Not arguing, she turned and took off at high speed. Judd moved in the direction where he'd sensed the DarkRiver leopards. They were waiting on the other side of a small clearing. Lucas, Sascha, Dorian, and Mercy. Mercy, Judd didn't know well, but he considered Dorian one of the most dangerous changelings in either pack - the DarkRiver male lacked the ability to change into leopard form, but that meant nothing. On the night of Brenna's rescue, Judd had seen the sentinel tear Enrique to pieces with his bare hands.
"You shouldn't be here." They'd broken the rules. The two packs had an alliance and had given each other the right to move freely in their territorial lands, but to come this close to the den with no prior notice was a sign of aggression.
Lucas waved Dorian and Mercy off when they made a move to cover him. But he went in front of his mate. Sascha scowled but didn't say anything.
"If we'd wanted war, we would've been in the den by now." The markings on Lucas's face - as if he'd been slashed by the claws of some great beast - were dark with blood. "We're here to talk."
"Then we wait." Judd took a position on the other side of the snowy clearing, marking an invisible line in the snow.
One that wasn't broken when Hawke and his lieutenants arrived. Brenna, too, had returned. She took a position to his left while the others went to his right, flanking Hawke. The SnowDancer alpha took a step forward. "Lucas, this sure as hell better be something good."
Lucas mirrored Hawke's move, his face a mask of fury. "There was an attack on the DawnSky deer clan. They were butchered."
Hawke growled low in his throat. "How many dead?"
"Nine adults, three children." Lucas's markings became even more delineated. "Would've been more, but Faith had a partial vision and managed to get out a warning. Mercy and Dorian were close enough to intervene. Tamsyn and Nate are out there picking up the pieces."
Judd watched as Sascha slid her hand into her mate's, leaning against him but staying partly behind his back - giving comfort while not distracting him by becoming an open target. Lucas's fingers closed around Sascha's. "It was a planned slaughter. Six armed Psy against a herd of deer out for a graze."
Judd knew from living with the wolves that deer were one of the most peaceful of all changelings. They were also very weak in terms of physical strength. "Why?" he asked, though experience told him the presence of a Psy assassin probably infuriated the leopard alpha. "The Council always has a reason - they think five steps ahead."
Lucas's voice was close to a growl when he answered. "I went out to the site. There was a pretty slick attempt to mark the bodies as wolf kills - looks like they had weapons shaped to mimic claws. The bodies were shredded, but a very fine scent was somehow layered into two of the deer. Mercy and Dorian must've interrupted the murdering bastards before they could do the other bodies."