"Not as deep as before. She'll probably wake within the next few minutes. You should change. The broadcast." The plan was for her to make the morning news.
"I don't know if I can do it." She put her ear over his heartbeat.
Man and leopard were both pleased she saw safety in him. "Yes, you can. Don't give up."
"I can't leave her alone." She looked more lost than he'd ever seen her.
"We won't." He rubbed his thumb over her lower lip in a predator's soothing caress. "Dezi's already out there and more packmates are heading over. But," he added, "I'm not going to push you. I've been thinking about how far the Council seems ready to go - they came close to violating our implied truce today." It displayed an arrogant determination that had him questioning his earlier belief that a high profile would ensure his mate's safety. "We'll find another way to - "
Ashaya was already shaking her head. "No." A husky voice, crushed velvet and feminine will. "I need to do this, for Ekaterina. For my mother. They killed her for daring to speak out, then told us she'd died a 'natural' death." She took a deep breath. "I need to show everyone the Council hasn't intimidated me into silence."
His protective instincts collided with a raw sense of pride. "Once more," he said, voice husky. "After that, we renegotiate."
"One more broadcast might be all that's needed." She took a deep breath. "I'll go change."
Dorian nodded, but kept his senses focused on Amara. "Can she attack you from a distance?"
"No, not telepathically," Ashaya said from the bathroom. "She's not strong enough." The sound of crisp cotton sliding over warm skin. It made his body tighten, but he stayed put, his eyes on a woman who should've been identical to his mate but wasn't.
"What about through the PsyNet?" he asked.
A pause. "Possible. She's the only one who can find me there. If she does, it'll blow my cover... even though I'm starting to panic about exactly how that cover is staying in place. I'm feeling too much - my shields should've been compromised days ago."
Dorian ignored her final murmurs. "Would she do that, put you at risk?"
Ashaya walked back out, fingers busy with the buttons on the cuffs of her ice-blue shirt. "I broke the rules - I brought someone else into our game. I don't know what she'll do in retaliation."
About to answer, he heard Amara take a deeper, more conscious breath. "She's waking up."
Ashaya gave him a startled look. "How can you tell? She's shut me out, I can't feel her anymore."
"Good." Amara's head rose from her chest to pin Ashaya to the spot, but when she spoke again, it was to Dorian. "Wonder what the Council will say about changelings interfering in their business again."
"Don't know where you've been," Dorian replied conversationally, "but we don't give a shit about your Council."
Amara continued to stare.
He smiled. "Trying to crack my shields? You're not strong enough to do it."
Amara's head swung toward Ashaya. "You've been telling secrets. Ming won't like that. Should I contact him?"
"Are you sure he'll help you?" Dorian raised an eyebrow. "He left you for us to deal with."
Amara didn't blink. "I suppose I should've expected that - I put six of his guards in a narcotic coma."
"Will they live?" Ashaya asked.
"Should." A shrug. "He won't." A flat glance at Dorian. "I'm going to kill you."
"No, you won't," Ashaya said. "You're not a murderer."
"I know. I wouldn't kill you."
"Amara, you can't kill anyone."
Dorian's phone beeped in the ensuing silence. He glanced at the readout. "We'd better get going."
Ashaya looked at Amara. "You need to have a shower."
"I'll make sure she gets the chance," Dorian told her, knowing Sascha would ensure Amara didn't pull any psychic tricks. He would've preferred to have Judd come down, but didn't want to take the other man away from Keenan. Then there was the fact that like Ashaya, Amara was still in the Net. And according to the Net, Judd Lauren was dead.
Amara was now staring at her twin. "I saw your broadcast. You lied."
"What did you expect me to do? Let them continue to torture my son?" Ashaya's voice rose for the first time. "Or should I have handed him over to your tender mercies?"
Dorian found it interesting that Amara didn't challenge Ashaya's claim to Keenan. "What will you lie about this time?" she asked instead.
"I'm going to reiterate the message, make it clear I'm not out for political gain."
"It's obvious you feel things." Amara stared, unblinking. "Your eyes give you away."
Very perceptive, Dorian thought - Amara Aleine was a sociopath, but she was in no way stupid. "So what?" Dorian said. "It's the message that's important."
"The second my twin acknowledges a breach in her conditioning," Amara said, eyes never moving off Ashaya, "she loses all credibility. The Council won't have to do anything to rebut her accusations."
Dorian had an uneasy feeling her point might be valid. He met Ashaya's gaze. "She right?"
Her nod was reluctant. "Silence is being challenged on a number of levels. People know it's failing for some - there are whispers of violence, of madness, but for the vast majority, it's an indelible truth, something they'll fight to maintain."
"Because," Amara said with the absolute detachment Dorian was coming to expect from her, "at the heart of it, they're afraid."