Caressed By Ice (Psy-Changeling 3) - Page 95

Chapter 42

An hour after he'd been forced to leave a distraught Brenna - she'd thrown him out when his nose started bleeding openly - Judd received the encrypted message from the Ghost. A simple list. Six names.

He called Brenna, audio only. The sight of tears on her face was disturbing to his senses. "I'm leaving my watch outside your door. Riley's sending a replacement." He'd already spoken to her brother about his suspicions and the other man was pulling together duty and leave rosters from the time of Brenna's abduction. The data would help narrow their suspect base, but Judd's sense of urgency said it wouldn't be fast enough.

"I hope the bastard does try for me again - I want to flay him alive." There were no tears, only a lacing of the most unadulterated anger.

"Be careful of everyone." Riley had set tasks far from the den for those on their short list of suspects, but the killer could always sneak back in. It was also possible that he'd gained unauthorized access to the classified code and wasn't a soldier at all.

"I will. Has the bleeding stopped?"

"Yes," he said and ended the call. Not technically a lie. His nose wasn't bleeding anymore, but other things inside him were.

D'Arn soon arrived to take over the watch and Judd left to deliver the names to Hawke. He was almost there when he saw Sienna limping out of a training room. She had a bruise on her cheek and her lip was promising to swell. A few months ago, he'd have discovered the name of the perpetrator and taken care of it. That was before Hawke - with Judd and Walker's cooperation - had thrown Sienna into a training program designed to turn her from "tame housecat" to wolf. "Did you try to take on Indigo again?"

Sienna's jaw became an obstinate line. "She keeps making me do exercises over and over. I wanted a bout."

"And look where it got you." Indigo walked out of the same room. Dressed in loose black pants and a gray T-shirt, she didn't have so much as a hair out of place. "Good for me, though - helped work out the frustration from the crap I'm wading through."

He knew she was referring to the drug situation, which she was now focusing on as Riley took over the murder investigation. "That bad?"

"Not if you compare it to the outside world, but I can't believe how any of that poison got in here in the first place. We're a goddamn pack. We look out for one another, get our strength from pack loyalty, not - " She glanced at Sienna's interested expression. "I'll fill you in later."

Judd waited until the lieutenant had left before speaking. "Why don't you follow Indigo's training advice?"

Those night-sky eyes flashed. "They treat me like I'm a pup! I'm a cardinal who could kill them with one psychic hit and they expect me to do physical exercises more suitable for a child!"

He let her blow off steam - for some reason, Sienna's conditioning had begun to fail almost immediately upon defection. That was going to become a severe problem, because her abilities were as lethal as she believed. Maybe more so.

"You're no longer in the psychic world," he told her, hardening his tone. "And the fact that this is a physical issue is an excuse. You have the same difficulty following orders in psychic training."

Her eyes narrowed. "Maybe because you treat me like a child, too."

"Why do you think that is, Sienna?" He folded his arms - this was important. Family was important. It formed the basis of Pack. Brenna wouldn't thank him if he neglected his responsibilities in this arena, no matter his need to return to her. "You're a cardinal, you should be able to work that out."

A sullen silence. He didn't understand what was going on with his niece - she was the most unpredictable of the three minors in the Lauren family. It made no sense, not when she'd been arctic in her emotionlessness in the Net, enough so that she had already begun receiving placement offers. One overture had come from Ming LeBon himself.

"Building blocks," he said when she maintained that obdurate silence. "Without a strong base, you'll crumble the first time you meet someone smart enough to work out your lack of a foundation."

She swallowed and looked him in the eye. "I'm seventeen now. Why won't anyone treat me like it? The wolves get treated better!"

"It's not discrimination and you know it. It's the fact that you can't follow orders, and right now, you can't even defend yourself without killing someone."

"You're not so good at following orders either!"

He waited.

"I'm not an idiot," she muttered. "I know you were an Arrow and I know Arrows are too valuable to be sentenced to rehabilitation."

Her tone dared him to disagree, reminding him of another strong-willed female. "And?" He had to identify what she knew before he answered.

"They must've had some plan for you to escape rehabilitation." She squared her slender shoulders. "A new identity, something!"

"The sentence was for everyone in the Lauren family," he said, accepting that she deserved to be treated as an adult at least in this. To do anything else would disrespect her intelligence and spirit.

"Why?" she interrupted before he could answer. "I know my mother committed suicide and we had some incidents of instability in the family, but why sentence us all?"

Yes, she was smart. "We're very strong as a group, Sienna. Before Kristine's death, we had three cardinals." That didn't count his, Walker's, or Marlee's considerable powers. "We threatened someone powerful enough to get us wiped out."

"I figured..." She looked up. "And you?"

"My name was removed from the family register at age ten." The age at which he'd first killed. "My birth certificate doesn't exist, nor do any medical records aside from those in the squad files." Including a DNA profile that would send up a classified red flag if he was ever typed. "As far as the general Net is concerned, I don't exist." No Arrow did. "There was no need for a new identity. I wasn't considered a Lauren."