"Shine doesn't take on whole families."
"I'm not so sure. Look." She tapped a particular record. "One kid in this three-sibling family has Shine support, but all three are being monitored. The only reason the other two were left alone is because they have other scholarships."
"That can't be the case with all of them."
"No. But if you look carefully at the charts, you'll see that a lot of the unfunded or untraced ones are actually stepsiblings. They're following bloodlines."
Clay stopped sliding Talin's hair through his fist, though he kept the smooth, silky stuff in his grip. "That explains a lot."
Lines formed on her forehead. "Why do I get the feeling you already know what I'm leading up to?"
He tugged at her hair, tipping up her head. Then he kissed her. A short, fleeting brush of lips on lips that tantalized the cat, teased and tempted in a way that would eventually become dangerous. But not yet. He still had enough control to pull back. "I have suspicions, no proof."
Her eyes were catlike in their smugness. "Look at the heads of the family trees."
He finally released her hair so he could spread out the charts. "I'm not seeing anything obvious."
"That's because it's not." She picked up one particular sheet. "This is Jon's record. I was staring at it this morning when it struck me that I'd heard - read - the name Duchslaya Yurev before. He's at the top of this tree. I did a search." She pointed to the computer built into the side of the desk. "Yurev was one of his generation's greatest minds. He's half the reason we know as much as we do about genetics."
"Kid's full name is Jonquil Alexi Duchslaya," Clay said, looking at the chart. "Okay, it's an ancestral name. Not unusual."
"No, but guess what." She traced a line on the chart. "Jonquil is Yurev's only remaining direct descendant."
Excitement gripped his gut. "Was Yurev human?"
"No." Her next words were a whisper. "He was a cardinal telepath."
For a minute, they just stared at each other. "What about the other names?"
Her face fell. "Nothing. It's like they've been erased from the system - I only realized about Yurev because he was mentioned in an out-of-print textbook I read when I was fifteen. I was bored and it was the last physical book in the library I hadn't read."
She stuck out her tongue at him. "I guess Yurev was too famous to wipe out completely - though you know, he's not in any of the electronic textbooks, hasn't been for over half a century. Even the Internet databases have very little on him. If he was that hard to trace, I have no clue how Shine did the others."
"Maybe," he murmured, "they had a head start, a list to a certain point."
"Hold on." Tally liberated a small notebook from the confusion of paper on the table. "See on the family trees, they also have locations listed next to the names. Around two generations back, sometimes three, they start to scatter."
"A diaspora." Clay blew out a breath. "Yurev wasn't the only Psy."
"No," she said. "I can't prove it but it fits. The murdered kids were all gifted in a way that was almost Psy." Her mouth fell open at the echo of Dev's words. "Dev was telling us without telling us."
"Someone's trying to gag him, but I don't think he's happy about it."
"You don't think we could be jumping to conclusions?"
He shoved a hand through his hair. "My instincts say we're right, but one name isn't enough to go on."
"And," Talin pointed out, "once, the Psy were like us. I mean they intermarried with humans and changelings. It wasn't anything weird." Her tone became less certain. "A lot of us probably have Psy blood in our past."
"I know for certain that Lucas does." Turning, he leaned back against the table and wrapped an arm around her waist, delighted when she automatically put her hands on his shoulders. "We need a Psy perspective."
He felt her body go stiff, but her response was a nod. "You're right. Here or - "
"Sascha's likely to be around." He was male, but he wasn't stupid - no sense in aggravating Tally with Faith. The cat preened in the heat of her possessiveness. "We've got a new development deal going with a Psy corporation."
"Psy?" Curiosity had her leaning into him. "I thought they liked to keep to their own businesses. I've heard rumors saying, you compete with the Psy, you die."
He couldn't resist reaching out to trace the curve of her lip. She pretended to snap her teeth at him. His c**k was suddenly taut with need but he resisted the urge to lay her on the table and satisfy his hunger. "DarkRiver ran a project for Nikita's mother. The profits were huge."
"It's a big shift," Talin murmured, her heartbeat steady under his stroking fingertips but her scent edged with the exquisite bite of arousal. Her mind might not have made the decision yet, but her body craved his. "I wonder if you guys even realize it."
"Oh, we realize it." Clay relaxed at the clear signs that she wasn't suffering any ill effects from that morning. "But no sense tipping off the enemy."
"You make it sound like a war."
"It damn well is. And these children" - he pointed to the files - "are some of the casualities."
That shook her. "I have the feeling there's more going on here than I know." But she wouldn't ask. He either trusted her or he didn't.
He drew her between the vee of his thighs, one hand sliding down to press over her lower back. "Are you trying to pretend to be stoic?" he asked. "It doesn't work if you tap your toe in temper."