Hostage to Pleasure (Psy-Changeling 5) - Page 15

Henry shook his head, closing the distance until they were separated only by a short stretch of carpet. "I'll come right to the point."

"Please do." He had no idea why Henry was here. The Scotts made it a point to disagree with any proposal but their own. Shoshanna wanted Kaleb dead, of that he had no doubt. But that was nothing unusual - all the Councilors, but one, were ruthless in their ambition. Anthony Kyriakus was the enigma who proved the rule. "A personal visit is rather unusual."

"I didn't want to chance being trailed on the PsyNet." The other man put his hands behind his back, his stance that of an ancient general. A practiced movement, designed to set the populace at ease, subtly reinforcing the image of Henry as a benevolent ruler. "With Marshall dead, I've become aware that I'm being portrayed as the chair of the Council."

"We have no chair."

"We both know that Marshall controlled things to a certain extent."

Kaleb bowed his head in acknowledgment. "You don't wish to take over the crown?"

"I don't wish to be used as a stalking horse."

When had Henry become this shrewd? The instant after the thought passed through his head, Kaleb realized he'd done the unthinkable. He'd judged Henry on his surface persona, never looking beneath. The man was a Councilor. No one became Council without having considerable blood on their hands. Kaleb knew that better than anyone. "You're the most visible member," he responded smoothly, even as he wondered how much Henry knew. If it was too much, he'd have to be taken out of the equation - Kaleb had crossed too many lines in the past two decades to balk at one more. "You and Shoshanna chose that role."

"We both know Shoshanna chose it." Henry's stare was somehow... off, but Kaleb couldn't put his finger on why. Perhaps it was simply a case of the man showing his true colors. "I'm giving you warning that that is about to change."

Kaleb realized Henry was talking about far more than media appearances. "Why warn me at all?"

As he waited for a response, Henry's eyes shifted to pure black. The other Councilor was receiving a telepathic message. So was Kaleb. But his psychic control was better than Henry's and he knew his eyes had remained the night-sky of a cardinal.

Ashaya Aleine's body is missing. She may have staged her own death.

Ming, came Nikita's distinctive mental voice, that's a problem but not urgent enough to interrupt us all without notice. She's a scientist, devoid of the skills necessary to survive on the run for long, even if you are correct about her being alive. I'm more apt to believe that her body has been taken.

Ming responded on the heels of Nikita's statement. Her organizer was set to wipe all data if anyone attempted to hack in -

How is that possible? Tatiana interrupted. According to my information, Aleine didn't have that level of computing expertise.

The organizer is at least seven years old. I suspect someone else set up the encryption. But the point is moot - the chip from her organizer is a dummy. Ming didn't bother to wait for the ripples to fade from that bombshell. We've searched her rooms and lab, as well as Keenan Aleine's room, and come up blank. If she's alive, she's carrying that chip. If she's dead, it's most likely hidden within her body. We need to find her before that data goes public - it could bring down the entire Implant Protocol.

And Aleine? Nikita asked.

Our priority is to recover the chip.

Shoshanna's icy tone. Are you giving a kill order, Ming?

Taking her alive would be the best-case scenario. However, if she resists, eliminate her. But only after she gives up the location of the chip. If you need interrogation assistance, call me.

No one asked why he thought his assistance would make any difference. They all knew that Ming was a former Arrow with an inborn facility for high-level mental combat. He'd made torture into an art form.

Chapter 9

Only here, in this journal that I should have deleted years ago, but which is the sole thing that keeps me sane, can I admit that every act, every movement, every plan, is for him. For my son. For Keenan.

-  From the encrypted personal files of Ashaya Aleine

The clock had just ticked past eleven p.m. when Mercy finished with Ashaya's leg and said, "She'll be fine."

Dorian looked at Ashaya's unconscious figure, the grinding tension in his body slamming into a wave of raw protectiveness. "That normal?" She looked so damn defenseless.

"You wouldn't have gone out. Neither would I," Mercy said as she cleaned up. "But she's not a soldier. And I think her body had another hit recently. Some of the readings I got from her blood" - she waved a gadget she'd pulled out from the emergency medical kit - "are off."

The protectiveness spiked. "Dangerous? Infectious?" He breathed in her scent, but found no taint but the familiar chill of Silence. His leopard opened its mouth in a soundless snarl - he hated Silence with a viciousness even Sascha hadn't been able to temper.

"No, nothing like that." Washing off her hands, Mercy came back to stand beside him. "It's reading as some kind of poison. I'm guessing her body is slowly working it out of her system. Sascha or Tammy would probably be able to tell more."

Dorian forced himself to look at Mercy rather than giving in to the compulsion to touch Ashaya. To make sure she was okay. "What the hell was that - slipping up with Sascha's name?"

Mercy's cheeks heated. "She's not stupid, and neither of us is exactly low profile." Her tone was low, harsh. "For crissakes, you're the frickin' poster boy for DarkRiver with your 'Gee, shucks, I'm harmless' act."

Dorian was used to being ribbed about his looks. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he looked more like a surfer hanging out for the right wave than a blooded DarkRiver sentinel. "Look who's talking, Miss Bikini Babe 2067." Even as he teased Mercy, he found himself alert to the steady rhythm of Ashaya's breathing.