"All right." Lucas glanced at Nate. "So, what did you find out about this kid?"
"Boy's a smart troublemaker, but he kept his nose clean until a recent shoplifting charge." Amusement danced in his eyes. "Tried to steal some fancy women's perfume."
Clay snapped off a curse. "For Tally. Idiot kid. He should've known she'd be on to him in a second, even if he wasn't caught."
"Yeah well, what kid thinks straight when he has a crush?" Nate shot Clay a sharp glance. "I know a few men who don't do a lot of thinking either."
Clay refused to be baited. "Nothing's sending up red flags, but then it wouldn't if this is an organized group."
"There is one thing," Nate said. "Everyone I spoke to mentioned that the boy had a beautiful voice. One man said he felt half hypnotized by it."
"That tells us nothing." Lucas frowned.
The leopard in Clay caught a hint of something important but he couldn't pin it down. "It's a factor to add into the mix," he said, getting up to leave. "By the way, Luc, can you ask one of the soldiers to pick up a package for me?"
The alpha raised an eyebrow. "Sure. Any special instructions?"
Clay gave him the details. "Don't damage it." Not yet.
Clay had to force himself not to drag Tally to him the second he and Nate returned to the house. His beast wanted to bite, to taste, to draw her lush Tally scent into his lungs. He satisfied himself with taking the seat beside hers and putting an arm along the back of her chair. "We heard Jon had a good voice," he said, tracing her features with his eyes. "What about the other kids?"
Her gaze clashed with his and he saw her read the depth of his hunger. "Mickey couldn't even do karaoke," she said, cheeks flushing as she bit down on her lower lip. He gripped the back of her chair to keep from taking over the task.
"There goes that theory." Nate collapsed into a chair beside his mate.
Tamsyn kissed him in affectionate welcome. "Talin's done profiles on the kids, but I haven't had much luck - there's something in the autopsy photos. I just can't figure out what."
Clay was about to look down at those photos when his attention was caught by the lists Talin had made, the attributes she'd noted beside Mickey's and Diana's names. The one for Iain was almost as detailed. It listed everything from their heights to known hobbies. Excitement fired in his blood, the cutting bite of a hunt begun.
"What do you see?" Talin leaned into him, her body a soft, luscious weight.
He was suddenly one second away from taking her and damn the consequences.
Clamping down on the savage possessiveness that threatened to derail the new trust between them, he focused on the pages in front of him. "Mickey couldn't sing but it says here that he was a mathematical prodigy. Aren't music and math connected?"
"I think so." She frowned. "But look at Iain's profile - he was a genius at languages."
Clay uncurled his fingers from the back of her chair and stroked his fingers over the skin bared by her sleeveless top, giving in to the starving edge of his need. "Do you have info like this - stuff not in Max's files - on the kids you didn't know personally?" Under his fingertips, she was smooth, resilient, strokable.
"I've been calling around all day," she said, not breaking the contact. "Don't worry, I kept it real low key. A lot of these kids still have open case files at the branches where they connected with Shine, so I pretended to be some office lackey checking data. Sometimes, I called their last known school instead." She dug through her papers.
"Okay, one girl was a brilliant painter. Another had off-the-scale design skills." Talin was very aware of Clay's fingers training up her arm and shoulder to brush her nape. After so many hours without him, she was acutely sensitive to his nearness. More than that, she needed his touch. It anchored her even as it shattered her defenses.
"What else?" His voice was a rumble.
She scrambled to reorder her thoughts. "Diana was a phenomenal runner. Art, sport, math - their strengths are all over the place, no link." It was impossible to hide her disappointment.
Clay's hand closed around her nape and she had the feeling that he wasn't even conscious of the territorial act. "What about the others?"
"My records are incomplete, but I know two more were top athletes," she said, confused by her own reaction to his hold. She was at once wary of what it implied, and hungry for more of the same. "This boy aced every MCAT test that - "
"What?" Tamsyn interrupted. "That's a very specific test. It's used to rank med school applicants."
Talin was so surprised, she almost forgot the dark heat of Clay's possessive touch. Almost. "It's given to all the prospective Shine kids, along with a lot of other tests. To figure out what they're good at."
"But it's so hard." Tamsyn shook her head. "The only people who ace it are M-Psy, and that's understandable because a lot of them can see inside the body."
"This boy was human." Of that Talin had no doubt. "That's the one thing about Shine I'm not comfortable with. They won't widen their mandate to help changelings."
"Gifted human children," Clay said, tone quiet. "That's the link."
Tammy's gaze sharpened. "What about you, Talin? What was your gift?"
"Me?" She shrugged. "Nothing too special. I have an eidetic memory." Except for when the disease ate holes in it, but she didn't want to think about that. It was hard enough to focus with her body rejecting the dictates of her mind, her skin tight with an unnerving depth of sensual hunger. She didn't want to feel desire for Clay. It panicked her to think of their friendship changing in such an irreversible way. "I never forget anything."