"And people call me hard." He shoved his instinctive urge to protect into flippancy, but his hands curled, claws scraping inside his skin. The leopard was still agitated, still trying to break through the human shell it had never managed to shed. The choking need to shift was something he'd learned to live with - he'd had no choice, having been born latent - but the hunger hadn't been this bad since childhood. One more thing to blame on Ashaya Aleine. "Would you like a hacksaw, Dr. Frankenstein?"
Mercy scowled at him. "Let me concentrate. Med school was a long time ago, you know. And I only went for a couple of years."
He grunted but didn't interrupt again. As she worked, he found himself unable to move from his position beside the bed, the leopard insisting he watch over Ashaya. But even that obstinate cat understood she was nothing like the two Psy women he knew and respected. Both Sascha and Faith had heart, had honor. Ashaya, on the other hand, was one of the Council's pet M-Psy, the butcher in charge of creating an implant that would turn the individuals of the PsyNet into a true hive mind.
She was also, a part of him insisted on remembering, the woman who'd saved the lives of two children at considerable risk to her own, mother to a little boy whom Dorian had promised to protect... and the only female to have awakened the leopard to raging sexual need with nothing but her scent.
He'd dreamed about her.
Always the same dream. Night after night.
He was in the branches of that tree again, Ashaya's face in his sights. A slight squeeze of the trigger and she would cease to exist, to complicate his life. But then she laughed, eyes sparkling, and he knew it was just a game.
He was standing in front of her now, pulling her braids apart so he could thrust his hands into her hair and crush the electric coils of it in his palms. She was still laughing when he took her lips, such luscious, soft lips.
Such cold, cold lips.
The leopard grew angry, thrust her from him. She stood there, unmoved. Then she raised her hands and began to undress. She was beautiful in the moonlight, her skin gleaming with the night's erotic caress. Entranced, he walked to her. She put her arms around his neck, pressing her lips to his pulse.
As his hands cupped her br**sts, the warmth leached out of her. Her eyes filmed over with frost... and he realized she was turning to ice in his arms.
What a f**ked-up dream, he thought, staring at the back of Ashaya's head. What was worse was that despite the screaming horror of it, he always woke with a pulsing hard-on, his body beaded with sweat, his heart racing a hundred miles an hour. Hungry, he was so damn hungry after two months of those dreams - with no relief in sight.
And that pissed him off, too, that he couldn't go near another woman without his mind sending out sinuous reminders of the woman who haunted him nightly. If he hadn't been utterly certain that no Psy could manipulate a changeling for that long and with that much subtlety, he'd have suspected some sort of a telepathic suggestion.
The compulsion to touch her, take her, was a constant beat in his blood by now. It staggered him, the brutality of it. He didn't know this woman, definitely didn't like her, didn't particularly like himself around her. But the leopard's craving for her threatened to turn him traitor to not only his people, but to his own sense of honor, a cipher led around by the cock.
He'd become a sentinel despite his latency - stubborn, unflinching will was his trademark. If Ashaya Aleine tried to use the sexual pull between them to bring him to heel, she'd find herself face-to-face with the cold-blooded sniper at his core.
Councilor Kaleb Krychek looked out the window of his Moscow office and saw the trail of an approaching airjet. "Lenik," he said, using the intercom rather than telepathy. His administrative assistant paid more attention when he wasn't trying to protect himself against the rumored twist in Kaleb's secondary talent - the ability to induce madness. "Do I have any appointments this morning?"
"No, Councilor. You're free until the four o'clock with the BlackEdge pack."
He turned off the intercom and considered the possibilities. It couldn't be Nikita, the Councilor with whom he had a quasi-alliance. She was in Nara, Japan, having an afternoon meeting with a man who made his living stealing information from secure PsyNet databases.
Information like Kaleb's training history.
He hadn't eliminated the leak at the source. There were some things he wanted Nikita to know. A small light lit up under the smooth black surface of his desk as the airjet landed on the roof. He passed a hand across another section, bringing up the images from the surveillance cameras that surrounded the landing pad.
His visitor was no one he'd have expected.
However, by the time Henry Scott walked into his office, Kaleb was prepared for anything the other Councilor might throw his way. "Councilor Scott." He turned from the window and nodded a greeting.
"Krychek." Henry waited until Lenik had closed the door behind himself before advancing farther inside. His ebony skin, stretched smooth over the oval of his skull, seemed to soak in the light, rather than reflect it, but it was the aristocratic lines of his face that held the eye.
According to the human media, Henry Scott was considered both handsome and distinguished. That was why he was the face of the Council, along with his "wife," Shoshanna - what the public didn't know was that the marriage was an empty husk, a coldly calculated act designed to "humanize" the Council to the emotional races. In keeping with the fiction, the Scotts were rarely seen separately, and inside the Council, Henry was considered the beta member of the Henry-Shoshanna pairing.
"Would you like a seat?" Kaleb offered, remaining by the window.