Their goal was simple: to develop an implant that could be fitted into all Psy brains - but with a focus on infants - in order to create a totally unified society. In other words, a hive mind.
By the time Talin made it up to her apartment, having no idea how long she'd spent in the Jeep, her eyes were swollen, likely bloodshot. Tasting salt on her lips, she pressed her palm against the scanner beside her door, waited for the lock to disengage, then pushed the door open. The lights came on automatically - she hated being in an enclosed space in the dark. Being outside in the dark didn't scare her. It was the sense of being shut in that got to her - and she didn't need a degree in psychology to figure out why.
Closing the door behind her, she took a step forward. And froze. At first, she couldn't comprehend what it was that she was seeing. Then it hit her in a stomach-churning rush, a kaleidoscope of color and destruction perfumed with the smell of death.
The intruders were gone, that much was obvious. But they had left their mark. She slid down the back of the door to collapse into a sitting position, unable to take her eyes off the message dripping down the opposite wall in a dark red that screamed with the iron-richness of blood.
Stop. Or you're next.
What a stupid message, she thought, childish in its sniggering simplicity. But it worked. The chill of a visceral fear crawled up her body until it closed around her throat, making her want to gag. Still she didn't blink, didn't look away.
How dare they? How dare they!
She didn't care about the intrusion or the mess. Those things meant little to a woman who had never allowed any place to be home. But to do what they had done with the photos of her kids?
The holo-image frames had been crushed into the carpet, but they hadn't stopped there. The hard copies had been shredded, the pieces stuck into the blood creeping down the wall. That desecration she couldn't forgive. It made her want to scream and cry and crawl forward to gather up the broken pieces.
But she wasn't a fool. Though anguish and a bone-deep anger roiled in her gut, she didn't attempt to rescue those small things that meant so much to her. That was what they wanted, the monster or monsters who had taken and murdered the children under her care. They wanted to shred her credibility, turn her into a crazy woman no one would believe.
Well, f**k them.
Reaching for her cell phone, she began to press the keys. Only at the last second did she realize she was punching in the code for Clay's office line. A different kind of nausea filled her mouth.
Taking several short breaths, loath to drag in the violated air of her apartment, she shook her head, cleared the screen, and pressed in a far more familiar code.
After leaving Talin, Clay made his way back to the bar and proceeded to get blind drunk. He was aware of Dorian coming to sit with him, aware of Rina throwing worried glances in his direction and of Joe coming by several times, but he ignored them all, determined to wipe out the image of Tally, his Tally, with other men.
"Enough." Dorian grabbed the bottle out of his hand.
Clay backhanded the other sentinel, retrieving the bottle at the same time.
"Jesus H. Christ." Dorian got up off the floor, rubbing at his jaw. "I am not letting you pass out here."
"Get lost." Clay had every intention of drinking himself into an unconscious stupor.
Dorian swore, then went quiet. "Well, thank bloody God. Maybe you can talk some sense into him."
Clay said nothing as Nathan settled into the other side of the booth. DarkRiver's most senior sentinel folded his arms and leaned back against the crimson leather-synth of the bench seat. "Give us a minute, Dorian. Get Rina to ice that bruise."
"Call me if you need a hand to drag him out of here."
Clay waited for Nate to light into him, but the other man simply watched him with those dark blue eyes that were always so damn calm.
"What?" he said, his tone flat. Other leopards might have growled or snapped, but Clay knew if he allowed his rage to surface tonight, it would end in blood.
"The one and only time I've ever seen you drunk," Nate replied, "was when I hauled your sorry ass out of that bar in New York."
Clay grunted, well aware that Nate had saved his life that night. Fresh out of juvie and having just been told that Talin was dead, he had been well on the road to self-annihilation. It was in that pain-fueled anger that he'd picked a fight with Nate. Over ten years older and a trained fighter, Nate had wiped the floor with him.
But instead of leaving him to the scavengers, the sentinel had dragged Clay back to his hotel room. Nathan's mate, Tamsyn, had taken one look at him and said, "Good Lord, I didn't think there were any big cats in New York!" That was the first time in his life that Clay had been in the company of fellow leopards.
"That time," Nate commented, "it was a girl. You'd lost your Talin."
"I should've never told you about her."
"You were young." Nate shrugged. "Rina said you were in here with a woman earlier."
"Rina has a big mouth."
Nate grinned. "Pack law. Being nosy about fellow packmates is required. So, you gonna tell me?"
"Fair enough." The other man rose to his feet. "When you've finished destroying yourself, you might recall Lucas and Sascha have a meeting with Nikita Duncan tomorrow. You're supposed to be watching our alpha pair's backs."
"Fuck!" Clay put down the bottle, the black haze of his anger clearing in a harsh burst of reality. Nikita Duncan was Sascha's mother, and a member of the powerful Psy Council. She was also a murderous bitch. "I'll be there."