Ashaya pulled at his hand. Tightening his hold on her, he turned. "Yes?"
"I'm not that brittle." Her face was smooth, showing no sign of her earlier panic. "I had to learn how to keep it together. I was underground in that lab for a long time."
He felt a layer of deepest respect coat his understanding of this woman who'd gotten to him from day one. "How did you do it?"
"When something has to be borne, there's no choice." She looked to him. "You know that better than anyone."
He gave a slight nod. His latency - what it had cost him, what it demanded from him - was something he rarely discussed. He was who he was and people had learned to accept that. But Ashaya had a right to an answer after he'd scared her that badly. "And you had a son to protect."
Her face softened in a way that was everything female, speaking to a part of him that had nothing to do with lust and everything to do with tenderness. "Yes. The worst mistake the Council made was taking him from me." She held out her free hand. "Give me the letter."
He handed it over, amazed but unsurprised by her strength. "What does it say?"
" 'Hide and seek, hide and seek. Boo! I seeked you!' " Ashaya glanced up. "It's what I thought - she has a lock on me, but she hasn't told the searchers the precise location."
Nodding, Dorian punched in a familiar code on his cell. "I need an extraction. Quiet." He gave the details of their location.
"The Rats' tunnel - " Clay began.
"Not an option."
The other sentinel didn't argue. "I'm sending one of the vans to pick you up. It'll be" - a pause - "an old ice-cream one."
"You can swap to a normal vehicle once you're out of the immediate danger zone - it's the Council's spies, isn't it?"
"Yeah. You heard anything?"
"They're sniffing, but they don't have the scent. We know where they are and we're letting them know that, too. Five minutes." Clay hung up.
Dorian told Ashaya what was happening, then picked up the thread of their earlier conversation. "Now, tell me about your sister and why she can track you when the others can't."
"It's complicated." She pulled at her hand. "Please, let go. The more physical contact I have with you, the harder it becomes to maintain what shields I have left. One slip and the Council won't have any need to physically hunt me - they'll find and cage my mind."
Releasing her hurt. The leopard clawed at the inside of his skin, until Dorian could almost feel skin break and muscle tear. "Start."
She looked at him with cool brilliance. "You have a habit of doing that - treating me like someone subservient. I'm not."
"I'm used to dominance. It's part of what makes me a sentinel." Only the strongest of the pack became sentinels. They had to be the alpha's protectors, his enforcers if need be.
"Then become unused to it in my presence," was the immediate response. "I'm not part of your pack and even if I were, I would hold equal rank."
He felt his lips curve upward. "That certain of your strength, Shaya?"
"I saw the respect you showed Tamsyn. Yet she's nowhere near as physically strong. Therefore, your pack gives women high rank. Given my abilities and focus, yes, I'm certain."
He bowed his head in a slight nod. "Point taken. But I still want to know about your sister and you still have to tell me. Right now you're a refugee seeking sanctuary. DarkRiver's giving it to you for a number of reasons, but we won't do it blindly - protecting our young comes first. Choose." He held back the other truth - that she was going nowhere without him. The leopard wanted to keep her. And that, Dorian knew, spelled a very special kind of trouble.
"What about Keenan?" she asked, eyes locked with his. "If I don't tell you what you want to know, will you withdraw protection from him, too?"
He heard the smooth engine of an arriving van. "I think the real question is - will you keep hiding what we need to protect him effectively?"
She sucked in a breath just as he jerked his head toward the door. "Transport's here. Come on."
He was aware of her jogging behind him as he ran to the door and pushed it up. The van had been backed up right against it. "In," he ordered, pulling open the vehicle's back doors. As she scrambled inside the seatless interior, he closed up the warehouse and followed, pulling the van doors shut behind him. They were moving an instant later.
"Where are we heading?" he asked, recognizing the driver's scent as that of Rina, Kit's sister and one of the younger DarkRiver soldiers.
"Out to the Presidio. Jamie's gonna meet us there with a car for you. Okay?"
"Works." He propped his back against the side wall of the van, aware of Ashaya attempting to do the same across from him. Stretching out his legs, he braced his feet on either side of her. She didn't hesitate to put her hands on him. "You couldn't find something with better suspension?" Not that he minded Shaya's touch, but his teeth were about to rattle out of his head.
"Oh, hold on." A few mechanical groans, the slight jolt of wheels retracting, and then the ride smoothed out. "I turned on the hover-drive. Barker told me this vehicle's not really meant to be run on wheels. Sorry, forgot." A sheepish sound.
"You're doing fine." Rina was under his direct command, and now that she'd figured out he was immune to her sensual nature, she was turning into a good protector for the pack. If the girl learned to control her quick-fire temper, she'd become one of the best. He switched his attention to Ashaya, keeping his legs where they were. "Better?"