Ming paused as if thinking. There's no security risk. I'll allow it.
Thank you. I would also prefer that the guard not follow me. His presence is distracting. I do a considerable amount of my work in my head. That much was true and would be borne out by the records Ming was undoubtedly accessing as they talked.
Another small pause. Agreed. We have the whole area secured.
The most subtle of threats. Excellent.
Be careful, Ashaya. So much hinges on your work.
It was a hidden reference to Keenan. But it wasn't an emotional threat - nothing so easy as that. Maternal love was for humans and changelings. Other things drove Ashaya. Ming knew that far too well.
But she was outside now. One minute step at a time. She was an M-Psy with the capacity to sequence DNA inside her mind. Patience was her strong suit.
Deep in the PsyNet, the psychic network that connected millions of Psy across the globe, the Ghost came across a piece of information that made little sense - whispers about the kidnapping of human children. Nothing said in the PsyNet ever left it, but the fact that this whisper hadn't yet fragmented and begun to be absorbed into the fabric of the Net meant it was recent. That knowledge gave him pause.
He was a renegade, determined to oust the Psy Council from power and free his people from a Silence that was false. He had killed in the name of that freedom, would do so many more times before this was all over. But he was still Psy. He felt nothing, not love, not care, not hate. Nothing.
So when he considered this unexpected speck of data, it was with the ice-cold mind of a man reared on logic and reason alone. Touch was something he barely understood, affection nothing he had ever known. In the end, it was the very lack of reason in what he'd found that decided him.
He filed away the discovery, to be passed on to the sole human he trusted. Father Xavier Perez might be a man of God, but he was also a soldier. And for reasons of his own, he was the Ghost's ally in the fight to stop Ashaya Aleine and the Council from bringing Protocol I into force.
Decision made, the Ghost banished the kidnappings from his mind, his focus on something far bigger, something that had the potential to disrupt the entire PsyNet - the assassination of a Councilor.
Tamsyn put away the last of her instruments and leaned back in the chair beside Talin. Both Clay and Nate - talking quietly out of earshot - moved closer.
"I can't find anything wrong with you." Tamsyn thrust a hand through her hair. "The allergy tests are all negative and I have the best damn equipment on the market."
"You can tell immediately?"
"Yes. Which leaves two possibilities. One, whatever you're allergic to is so rare as to not be in the computer's analysis program - "
Talin shook her head, sighing in relief when Clay's hand landed on her shoulder. It felt so right, so what she needed. "I can't think of anything - "
"What about a forest organism?" Clay interrupted. "It's a new environment as far as Tally's body is concerned."
Tamsyn was the one who shook her head this time. "It should've still come up as an unknown. That's the problem - I'm picking up nothing."
"What's the second possibility?" Talin asked.
"That it wasn't an allergic reaction at all. We just got lucky with the epi." Tamsyn frowned. "How are you feeling now?"
"No heart palpitations, nausea, anything out of the ordinary?"
Talin's heart was certainly racing, but it had nothing to do with the medication and everything to do with the man who was playing his fingertips along her collarbone. She wondered if the cat considered that as behaving. "No. No side effects."
The healer blew out a frustrated breath. "I can't make heads or tails of your condition. I agree with Clay - you need to go to an M-Psy for a scan. Problem is, we don't have one we trust yet, though we've been putting out feelers ever since Sascha and Faith joined the pack."
"I'm okay for now." Talin didn't want to die. But neither could she live with herself if she put her life before Jon's. That didn't mean she wasn't scared, wasn't angry. "We'll deal with my problems after we've found Jon."
Clay didn't say anything, but she could feel the wild energy of his leopard racing over her skin. He was furious with her.
Two hours later, Talin walked into a small meeting room located in DarkRiver's business HQ, viscerally aware of the storm building inside Clay. He set her up in the room with the files Dev had had delivered and said, "I have to go check on some things. If you need anything, ask Ria. She's Lucas's assistant." He showed her the key to press on the comm panel. "You oriented?"
She nodded. "I remember everything. Did you forget?"
Instead of laughing at the small joke, he turned to leave the room. Disappointment bloomed on her tongue and she decided if he could brood, she could pout. "Hey!"
He turned in a smooth, sensually feline move and bent down to press a hard, possessive kiss on her lips. "Don't be a brat while I'm gone."
She raised her fingers to her lips as he left, wanting to smile - he might have gone dark and silent on her but he hadn't left without a kiss. Hope struggled to defiant life in her heart. Yes, the possessive leopard in Clay remained wary of her. And yes, she admitted with brutal honesty, part of her kept waiting for him to leave her again.
That distance, those hidden fears, they hurt.
But even so, they were coming back together step by slow step, their bond stronger and far more intimate than it had been during childhood. It was a wonderful surprise - after all these years apart, she'd been scared to come to him, afraid that the truth of the man she discovered would forever taint the happiest memories of her life.