"What happened to force you to come to me?"
The turbulence of his renewed anger was a wall between them. "I finally confirmed you really were here two weeks ago but - " No, she thought. Enough. Clay deserved absolute honesty, even if that meant she had to rip open every painful scar. "Jon disappeared." And all she'd been able to think was that she needed Clay, the same thought she'd had a thousand times before. Except this time, he had been within reach.
He curved his hand around the side of her neck. "Why are you sure the killers have him? One of your feelings, Tally?"
A knot in her throat at the way he understood her without words. Nobody else ever had. "Yeah." Instead of fighting the blatant possessiveness of his touch, she found herself leaning into it, soaking up the heated strength of him. "We had a fight before he ran away. I lost my temper, Clay." She'd just had another small sign of her medical degeneration, had been so scared she'd run out of time to help that bright, hurt boy. "I took out my frustration on him."
"Teenagers are good at getting on your last nerve." Pragmatic. Oddly comforting. "So he was pissed at you?"
"Yes, but my gut says he would've contacted me by now if he had been able to - even if was to flip me off. He was no angel, but he was mine." The things that boy had survived, the things he had done and still come out sane, it humbled her.
Clay's hand tightened on her neck, warm, solid...suddenly dangerous. "When did this boy disappear?"
She didn't move, though her mind wanted to panic at her vulnerability to this predator. "Four to seven days ago," she said, trying to focus. "I traced him after the foster family reported him missing and had fairly reliable sightings for the next three days, then nothing. It's like he vanished into thin air."
Clay's head lifted without warning. "We've got visitors."
An odd kind of fear clamped over her chest and she could feel her heartbeat accelerate. "Your pack?" People who mattered to him, but wouldn't necessarily like her. Probably wouldn't.
"Yes." Clay released her. "Wait here. And, Tally, try not to hyperventilate." He was gone through the trapdoor in the blink of an eye, moving with inhuman speed - because, of course, he wasn't human. He was changeling. He'd heard her racing heartbeat, smelled the sweat beading along her spine. Sometimes, she thought, being human sucked.
Unable to sit still, she cleared the table and was about to wipe it down when Clay called for her. Taking a deep breath and feeling very vulnerable, she went down, not looking up until she was standing beside Clay. As it was, she didn't know which of the two strangers shocked her more.
Even at rest, leaning against the wall, the male - tall, dark, startlingly handsome - exuded a sense of lethal danger. Once you added in the savage clawlike markings on the right side of his face, well, it made her want to take a wary step back and hide behind Clay. Except she had a feeling that her long-ago playmate posed far more of a threat to her than this watchful stranger with eyes a paler shade of green than Clay's.
Still shaky, she turned her attention to the woman who stood in the loose circle formed by the male's arms. Black hair in a braid, skin a deep honey, and eyes of midnight with pinpricks of white. "You're Psy." Not just any Psy. A cardinal. Those eyes...
"I'm Sascha." Her expression was guarded. She turned slightly. "My mate, Lucas."
She recognized both names. Lucas Hunter was DarkRiver's alpha, Sascha Duncan the daughter of Councilor Nikita Duncan. Talin had heard reports of Sascha's defection from the Psy, but hadn't credited them. "Nice to meet you," she said at last, very aware that neither Sascha nor Lucas had made any overtures of friendliness.
Clay shifted to lay his hand against her spine. She went stiff without meaning to and knew everyone had noticed. But he didn't drop his hand, and for that, she was grateful. It was obvious his packmates didn't approve of her. Usually she would've shrugged off their reaction, but this time it mattered. Because these people were important to Clay.
"Talin's been told she's sick," he said to Sascha. "Can you check her out?"
Sascha's eyes widened. It disconcerted Talin to see such open emotion on the face of a Psy, but not as much as when Sascha spoke and she heard the warmth and affection in it. "Clay, I'm not an M-Psy. I'm not sure - "
Lucas raised an eyebrow. "She gets mean when you give her orders." Though his tone was amused, his eyes never moved off Talin.
She leaned more heavily into Clay's hand.
Talin was still trying to swallow her shock at the word that had come out of Clay's mouth when Sascha stepped out of her mate's embrace. "Out. Both of you," she said, imperious and clearly sure of her power. "I need to be alone with Talin."
Lucas dropped a kiss in the curve of his mate's neck, the action speaking of an intimacy that ran deep and true. Talin wondered what Clay's lips would feel like against her own neck. She swallowed, inner muscles clenching. That was when Lucas raised his head, breaking the spell. "Come on," he said to Clay. "I have to talk to you about something anyway."
Clay scowled down at Talin before leaving. "Cooperate."
"I take it you didn't agree to let a strange Psy poke and prod at you?" Sascha's tone was wry, but Talin didn't drop her guard. This woman had no loyalty to her.
"Would you like to tell me what he's worried about?"
Since Clay already knew, she saw no harm in sharing the information. "An unknown disease is messing things up, maybe killing off cells, in my brain. I've had the diagnosis, such as it is, confirmed three times over."