However, the biggest advantage of the Internet was that it was completely outside the purview of the NetMind, the neosentient entity that was both the librarian and the guardian of the PsyNet. Henry considered the NetMind nonpartisan, but as a cardinal Tk, Kaleb Krychek had considerable control over it, which meant his fellow Councilor was likely privy to information others would prefer stayed secret. Such as the existence of this group.
With a discreet beep, the browser deposited him at the site. The entire page was black, except for one line of text in white and an empty box.
Henry didn't need to check his e-mail. The password was easy to remember.
The inevitable future is fast approaching, but there's time. Time enough to convince you of what you must do if they ever discover the truth. Run and hide. It's the only way to survive. But even as I try to convince you, I know I'll fail. She might appear stronger, but you've always been the brave one, with more courage than I could ever imagine. But courage won't stop a Council assassin. Run.
- From a handwritten letter signed "Iliana" circa July 2069
Things happened faster than Dorian had anticipated - he found himself playing bodyguard in the first subbasement of DarkRiver's San Francisco HQ at nine the next morning. While the pack held shares in CTX, a major communications company, this basement was set up for guerrilla broadcasts. Ashaya's segment would go out on the Internet and all of CTX's stations at the same time.
A makeup girl dared approach Ashaya, fluffy brush brandished like a peace offering. Dorian glared. The nineteen-year-old - a packmate like every other person in this room, bar one - swiveled on her heel, and went in the opposite direction.
He turned to the woman who'd spoken. He was still pissed off with her.
I choose to embrace Silence of my own free will.
He wasn't stupid enough to believe that Silence could be easily shrugged off - it had taken Judd Lauren more than a year, and the catalyst had been finding his mate. But Ashaya had a child. A child she'd refused to see again this morning. Disbelieving, Dorian had left her with Mercy for a couple of hours while he went to speak to Keenan.
The boy had been quiet, but he'd allowed Dorian to hug him.
"He trusts you," Sascha had said, having spent the night at Tammy's.
"I promised him I'd be there for him." And he kept his promises. As Ashaya should have been keeping the promises she'd made simply by giving birth. He knew Keenan mattered to her - she'd given herself away there too many times - so what possible justification could she have for depriving her son of the love and affection he deserved? It was an abandonment neither man nor leopard could accept. "What?" It was a growl.
Her spine went rigid. "The way you got rid of the makeup artist. Efficient."
Instead of increasing as it had till this point, Dorian's temper receded at the ice in her voice, his instincts shifting in a different direction. Challenge. Let's see how long Ashaya Aleine could hold out against a cat determined to charm her out of the cold world she clung to. He wasn't some green juvenile. No matter how bad things got, he could control his cock. But he wouldn't have to if he could thaw her enough to shatter her Silence, get her into bed... and work this clawing sexual need out of his system.
His conscience gave a twinge at the ruthless way he was planning to pursue, then take her, but he figured Ashaya could look after herself. The woman was no pushover. She'd make him work for it, he thought, his aggression turning into a lethal kind of focus. "I got rid of her because you don't need makeup," he said after a long pause. With her hair pulled off her face in a tight bun that irritated him, and her eyes naturally wolf blue, she looked like a perfectly cut diamond.
"You're correct," she replied in that perfect diction of hers, devoid of any hint of personality. "While good grooming and makeup are considered useful tools among the Psy, I need to appear professional to the utmost. A more ascetic approach is the better choice."
Dorian wondered if she really was as calm as she seemed. He couldn't scent deceit, but he was beginning to see that Ashaya was an expert at faking Silence. She was also good at stonewalling - he hadn't been able to get her to tell him why she was so intent on doing this broadcast. But he'd find out. "That's not what I meant." He kept his hands behind his back, though his fingers itched to trace the warm silk of her skin. Her voice might've been ice, but her skin... her skin called to him with a seductive whisper. Maybe he wasn't as in control of his c**k as he'd thought.
"No," he said. "Your skin is flawless." It was a deliberate attempt to make her uncomfortable, to push her into betraying the humanity he'd glimpsed mere hours ago. "If you lay na**d under the sun, would you glow that same luscious shade all over?"
Her face remained expressionless, but he saw her hands curl. "That is an inappropriate question."
He smiled, and it was a smile designed to get under her skin. "Why? You're a woman of science - it's a simple biological query." Mocking her to see how she would react. Testing her. The leopard inside him wanted to gauge her strength, find out what its prey was made of. The man was testing her for other reasons - learning her beyond the savage, sexual instincts of the beast.
She tugged at the cuffs of her white shirt, aligning them to perfect straightness and breaking eye contact in the process. "You appear to enjoy playing psychological games with me."
He didn't respond, just waited. She was a scientist. He was a predator used to hunting with stealthy patience. He couldn't go leopard, but it was a wild, integral part of him, filled with the same hungers and needs as that of any other cat in DarkRiver. As a child, he'd sometimes thought he'd go mad with the craving to run, to hunt, to feel his teeth and claws sink into the living flesh of prey.