Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 23

Anthony sensed the M-Psy running toward the bed, but he focused on the man's dying mind, reading what he could before the shock of death petrified everything to stone. He caught the edge of compulsion, knew someone had been pulling this man's strings. He'd been nothing more than a puppet.

Easily used. Easily discarded.

It was clear the puppet master had implanted a suggestion that his pawn suicide after the completion of his mission, or if he was caught. Only the fact that the shooter had been stunned at the scene, and then under mental guard, had stopped him from using his telepathy to accomplish the task.

Even as the thought passed through Anthony's head, he saw the orderly crumple to the floor, and belatedly realized the man had been laboring under the same compulsion. Who had the access and ability to control this many people? The answer was - a significant number of people in the Council superstructure.

The real question was why.

Chapter 14

Mercy spun around to find Riley amber eyed and cold in a way that told her he wasn't thinking about anything but blood. "Riley."

He didn't look at her. "Who are they?"

The two men opposite her had gone hunting-quiet at his approach, and now she felt the promise of violence lick the air. "Why is this wolf near your home?" Eduardo asked, his leopard crawling in the menace of his voice.

"Quiet," she ordered, turning to the newcomers with furious eyes. "He has a right to be here. You're the interlopers so shut it."

Eduardo blinked as if he'd never had someone speak to him in that tone. Beside him, Joaquin retracted his claws, but she wasn't fooled. These men were sentinels. They could go attack-ready in a split second. But then, so could she. "Stay here." Stepping away from the porch, she headed toward Riley.

He still didn't take his eyes off the men. Snarling, she pushed him in the chest. His head snapped toward her. "Who are they?" he asked again in that cold wolf voice.

"Sentinels from my grandmother's pack," she said, livid at all three men, but mostly at Riley. She wasn't a bone to be fought over. He had no right to act territorial - she hadn't given him that right. "And I thought I told you to head back."

"I'm not leaving you alone with strangers." Quiet. Implacable.

Her temper rose. "We just had this conversation, Riley."

He didn't answer, his amber gaze shifting over her shoulder. "Why are they here?"

"Mercy's grandmother," Eduardo said from the porch, "thought she might have . . . chemistry with one of us."

Mercy decided she'd have to shoot Eduardo. That pause had been calculated, the innuendo unmistakable. Damn cat was enjoying this. And she could all but sense Riley's beast pounding against his skin, ready to savage and kill. "Out," she said, pointing her finger first at Eduardo, then at Joaquin. "You come near my home again without permission, I'll show you exactly why my grandmother calls me her favorite grand-daughter."

To their credit, neither man turned noticeably green. But they did come down off her porch. "I'm not leaving you alone with a wolf." Eduardo again. Acting as if he held authority over her.

Mercy had had it. She moved without warning, spinning her clawed hand out toward the other sentinel's throat. He shifted back . . . but not fast enough to escape the graze across his throat. As he swore, his friend grinned and said something in Portuguese that he probably thought Mercy couldn't understand. But she'd spent time roaming in their homeland.

Now she retracted her claws and said, "Joaquin is right. You asked for that one." She raised an eyebrow when they didn't move. "Why are you still here?"

Surprisingly, it was the quiet one who answered. "We like the night air." His eyes were on Riley . . . who'd stepped closer, until only Mercy separated the three men.

They weren't going to listen.


Tempted to leave them to it, she glanced at Riley, saw his rage in the iron-hard line of his jaw, and felt her heart give a jagged beat. He was at the edge of his control after everything that had happened today - if she left him alone with these two, somebody would get seriously damaged. "You like the night air?" She smiled, sweet as pie. "In that case, let's go for a run."

Wolf and leopard both looked at her like she was insane.

"What? Don't think you can keep up with me? You're probably right." With that, she walked into the forest and took off, hoping the gamble would work. It did. All three followed her, the protectiveness built into their nature winning out over the possessiveness. Not that she needed protecting. Never had. Never would.

And the fact that Riley didn't understand that more than irritated her. But in a tiny, secret corner, she was surprised to find a hint of pleasure. The wolf saw her as a woman, something men were often too blinded by her status to notice. Too bad Kincaid couldn't compartmentalize - what she'd accept from a lover, she'd never accept from an ally who was supposed to be her partner.

Now she took them on one hell of a chase. All were fast. But Riley knew this land like the back of his hand. Quickly outstripping Eduardo and Joaquin, he tracked her to a spot leading away from her house and toward the Sierra. She kept up the run even when he came up beside her.

"Stop," he said, putting a hand on her arm.

She shook it off. "If I have to escort you home, then that's what I'll do. A SnowDancer lieutenant is not going to be injured on my watch on DarkRiver land."

"This isn't about the alliance." The wolf was riding him so hard, she could scarcely understand the words.

"Yeah, it's about you acting stupid."

"Mercy, damn it. Stop." Riley swung around to block her path. "You're tired and bruised from today. You need to be in a bath." It agitated the wolf that she was tiring herself even further when she should've been resting.