Lucas continued to stare at the diagram. "If Ashaya dies, so will Amara. But not vice versa."
"Yes." Sascha put away the pen and organizer. "I don't think it could be any other way. Ashaya is a complete sentient being, but Amara..." She put her head against Lucas's chest, finding comfort in the feel of his arms coming around her. "She's only complete if Ashaya exists."
A pause and she knew he was thinking things through. "I guess we can find her a position at Sierra Tech," he said at last, referring to the research and development company in which DarkRiver held a major stake. "We'll give her a chance to prove herself."
"Who knows," Sascha commented, recalling Amara's piercing intelligence, "she might end up being an asset."
Lucas didn't look convinced but he nodded. "Do we need to tell Dorian all this?"
"I'll keep an eye on things, let him know if there's a problem."
"I guess I'll have to trust you." A teasing statement but one that held a question.
Of course he'd sensed her disquiet, she thought. He knew her to the depths of her very soul. "I need to tell you something."
He rubbed his hand along the sweep of her back. "Good. My patience was about to run out - you've been sleeping badly ever since you visited Amara." A lethal edge had entered his voice.
"It's nothing she did," Sascha said. "It's something she said."
"Sascha, we've had this conversation. The woman is a - "
She put a hand over his mouth. "Listen to me instead of acting all alpha."
He licked her palm. She dropped it and scowled at him. "Behave."
"Amara's words triggered some kind of switch in my mind, clarified something I've been getting hints of over the past few months." She took a deep breath, exhaled. "My powers... they're changing."
"How?" His expression grew solemn. "Is it something that's going to hurt you?"
"No, nothing like that. It's this... sense that they're spreading out, developing. I just have no idea what they're developing into." That scared her. Her mother was the best viral transmitter in the Net. She could kill with a single thought. "What if I turn into Nikita?"
"Not a chance." He ran the knuckles of one hand over her face. "Think of it as an adventure. We'll learn about it together." A pulse of love came down the mating bond, a pulse of devotion.
She felt her heart become his all over again. "I'm so glad you're my mate, Lucas." Whatever it was she was becoming, it was no longer so scary, not when she had a panther by her side.
On the other side of the car park, a dark-haired male lowered a pair of binoculars and coded in a call on his cell. "Definite no go," he said to the person on the other end. "The hospital's swarming with DarkRiver leopards."
"We wait until she's released. Quick, clean extraction. They won't be expecting us."
A small pause. "They never do, do they? After all, we're no threat."
"They'll learn different."
"When we're ready," came the order. "Keep watching. They'll drop their guard sooner or later."
"We should've taken her in the parking garage," the watcher said, referring to the location of Ashaya's final broadcast. "I was less than twenty feet from her and the cat."
"Too big a risk of being caught on surveillance. Surprise is our biggest weapon."
Because not even a leopard could hunt a phantom.
Dorian isn't sleeping well anymore. I can feel the leopard's frustrated anger building once more. The intensity in him, the same intensity that drives his will to succeed, and powers his incredible loyalty, also lends itself easily to obsession. I will not let him go down that dark path. Not again.
- From the encrypted personal files of Ashaya Aleine
Dorian met with Lucas and the other sentinels a few days later, his body fully healed. "They tried to kill my mate. They broke the rules." A quiet statement made in the sniper's lethal tone.
His mate was Psy. The boy he already considered his own was Psy. It made it impossible for him to hate the other race as he once had. But there were some Psy he would never, ever forgive. The Council had taken his sister. Then they'd tried to take his mate. The monsters were all f**king dead.
"I know you want blood, Dorian," Lucas said. "But there's a problem."
Dorian respected the hell out of Lucas but the leopard wasn't just going to let this go. Neither was the man. "What?"
"We don't know who ordered the hit." Lucas held up a hand before anyone could interrupt. "Vaughn, you take it."
"I spoke to Anthony," the jaguar said. "He says there's dissension in the Council ranks. Ashaya was only supposed to be killed if all attempts to recapture her failed."
Dorian swore, low and hard. "It had to have been a Councilor. No one else would've had access to a Tk who could teleport."
"Anthony agrees, but he can't pin it down." Vaughn's face was full of the same cold rage as Dorian's. "Some of the Councilors are suggesting it was actually a vigilante pro-Silence group. They call themselves Pure Psy."
"Yeah." Vaughn folded his arms. "But it leaves us with no clear target."
Breathing past the black chill of the sniper's fury, Dorian forced himself to think. "What's to stop them from trying again?" His need to protect Ashaya was a craving that ate away at him night and day. "She's so high profile, she's an easy target."