The blond sentinel folded his arms. "How did you know?"
"I'm older and wiser, Boy Genius."
"Knock it off." Dorian scowled in Talin's direction. "I swear if that nickname takes off, I'm going to take your Tally and dump her in the nearest body of ice-cold water."
"Then I'd have to beat you up."
"Hey, I spar with a Psy assassin on a regular basis and I'm not dead." He began to play his pocketknife over his fingers in a familiar fashion. "Ashaya gave me some information I didn't think you'd want Talin to hear."
Clay kept his eyes on the tableau in front of him as Sascha came out of the house and headed toward Talin. For the first time, Clay realized how glad he was for Sascha's presence in the pack. Without her, they might have lost Dorian forever after his sister's murder. The sentinel Talin teased - it wasn't the same Dorian as the one who had once wanted to tear open Sascha's throat.
He hoped his alpha's mate could help Jon and Noor, too, but knew that even the most gifted empath couldn't fix everything. Until Tally had come back to him, Clay had been in danger of hurtling into such deep violence that nothing could've brought him back. And if she dared die on him, he'd hunt her into the afterlife.
"So," he said, calming the leopard's possessive violence by focusing on Tally. She made his heart so f**king tight, it hurt. "What did Aleine tell you?"
"That these two" - Dorian nodded toward the children - "might be safe, but the people running these experiments aren't going to stop. Head guy's name is Larsen. Ashaya thinks the man will come after Talin, too."
His leopard roared to angry wakefulness. "We knew that. With Max down, she's become their most visible adversary."
Clay reached up and caught a football that seemed to come out of nowhere, then threw it across to the other side of the yard - in the direction of the woods that backed onto Tamsyn's home. Nico and Jase were just walking out. The teenagers grabbed it, waved, then jogged over to join Talin and Sascha.
Nico was clearly taken with Tally. Clay didn't interrupt the kid's flirting. The boys knew what lines they could and couldn't cross, and the fact that Nico was secure enough to seek affection from Tally meant he saw her as part of DarkRiver.
"We've got to clean up the loose ends." His blood simmered at the hint of danger to his mate, but that wasn't his top concern. Anyone who dared threaten her would die, end of story. He had seen her broken once. Never again.
Tally, eyes glazed, face splattered with blood, huddling in the corner. Quiet. So quiet. Even then, even after he'd terrified her with his violence, even after he'd left her alone with strangers, she had protected him with her silence.
Zeke got desperate when I still wouldn't talk...
His Tally had gone mute rather than betray him. She had continued to love him though he'd broken every damn promise he'd ever made to her. It enraged the leopard that he couldn't keep her safe now, reminded him of those years when Orrin had been hurting her and he hadn't known. She was his life. He'd destroy the world for her. Yet this disease left him helpless.
"I had a call from Dev Santos earlier." He forced himself to think past the blood fury. "He's disposed of the mole."
Dorian gave him a curious look. "Disposed?"
"I'm guessing in very small pieces."
"I like this guy already." Leaning back against the wall of the house, Dorian frowned. "You know, if these kidnappers have lost that source of information, they're going to need a new one." He swore. "They won't kill Talin. They'll try to take her alive."
"No, they won't." Clay felt the claws of the animal unfurl within his skin, felt the power of it rip through his flesh. "It's hard for dead men to do anything."
Ming LeBon sat in Ashaya's office once more. She hadn't expected to see him for days, given the situation in the PsyNet.
"Larsen seems convinced you had something to do with the disappearance of the two remaining test subjects."
"I did," she said, wondering if she'd made a fatal mistake. Had Larsen had Ming's active support? Her findings had led her to conclude that the other scientist had gone far beyond the limits of anything Ming had authorized.
Ming didn't even blink at her confession. "What did you do to them?"
"I terminated them."
"Where are the bodies?"
"Gone." She met his expressionless face with a blank look of her own. "It would've been stupid to kill them as a message and then leave their remains to be found so Larsen could utilize the brain tissue."
"And my man?"
Ashaya had no need to lie. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage. I did this on my own."
"I don't take well to losing one of mine."
"Ming, while I'm happy to take on Larsen," she said with absolute truthfulness, "I have no desire to make an enemy out of you. We both know who would walk out alive. If one of your men has disappeared, I would look elsewhere for the culprit."
A pause that lasted sixty seconds. The chill of the lab worked its way into Ashaya's bones but she remained unmoving. She was glad for her control when Ming said, "A traitorous e-mail has been traced to this facility."
An inexcusable error. She had acted on the assumption - always dangerous - that the outmoded Internet pathways out of Cinnamon Springs were not being monitored. "I'm sure you've taken care of the culprit."
"I will - as soon as I break the encryption on the remaining e-mails."
She thanked Talin McKade for whatever it was she had done to hide their tracks. "Would you like to scan my organizer?" she offered, having prepared a duplicate for this very purpose. It would pass most checks. The critical word was "most."