Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 43

"Look." Ashaya held up a new vial. "It's the color of your hair."

Hawke strode toward the Laurens' quarters - Sienna had chosen to remain with her uncle, Walker, his daughter, Marlee, and her own brother, Toby, even after she turned eighteen and was entitled to a separate one-bedroom unit in the den. Whatever else he might say about Sienna, one thing was undeniable - she was a good cousin, a good sister. Marlee and Toby both adored her. So, for that matter, did a lot of the other pups.

Too bad she turned into a demon every time he came within breathing distance. "Riley's right," he muttered under his breath, staring at the closed door of the apartment. Half the reason Sienna was bent on driving him insane was that she had too much spare time on her hands.

She was bright, and her uncles had ensured she was enrolled in a distance-learning degree course run by a major university. But that did nothing to release her physical energy. Indigo, too, had been nudging at Hawke to get Sienna into a position within the pack - because, for better or worse, she was now part of SnowDancer, and not being given a position was an insult.

Hawke felt his jaw set. Insult or not, he had to balance the rights and well-being of every single member of the pack - Sienna had less control over her impulses than almost anyone else in her year group. He couldn't chance her not following orders when it might mean life or death for the rest of her team.

And how do you think she escaped the PsyNet? By being a ninny and disobeying Walker and Judd?

Sometimes he hated that voice in his brain, the one that slapped him upside the head anytime he got too stupid. Funny, it happened a lot with Sienna.

"Whatchya doing?"

He glanced down at the owner of that tiny voice, having scented his miniature shadow several feet down the corridor. "Looking for Judd." The lieutenant hadn't been in his quarters, and Hawke wanted to get his take on Sienna's psychic control.

Ben took a slurp of his orange popsicle. "Not here."

"Yeah?" Crouching down, he made eyes at the popsicle.

Ben immediately turned it in his direction. "Wanna bite?"

"No, I was just kidding." This pup, he thought, would grow up into the kind of man any pack would be proud of. An alpha simply knew with some. "Do you know where Judd is?"

"Outside. With Brenna." Another slurp. "Doing kissy stuff."

Hawke grinned. "And you know this how?" Ben was too young to be allowed out of the White Zone, and Judd surely wasn't doing "kissy stuff" in the area where the little ones played.

"He told me."

"He told you?"

"Yeah. I asked him how come I couldn't come, and he said he was going to kiss Brenna so I'd probably get grossed out." This time he took a bite and chewed. "I decided to come visit Marlee instead."

"She in there?"

"Yeah. With Sinna and Toby."

"Then I guess I'll be speaking directly to Sinna," he said, saying the name as Ben had. "You knock."

Ben tapped with a little fist. "Are you mad?"


"You're scowly."

And that was when Sienna opened the door.

Chapter 24

The Information Merchant had a partial list. He considered how to get that list to those who had hired him. Most people would've used a comm screen, or a secure phone link, but the Information Merchant took being careful to the extreme.

He thought about a face-to-face transfer, but determined that that wasn't necessary at this stage. Instead, he decided to use an old-tech method. Slipping into an office building utilized mostly, though not exclusively, by humans and changelings, he dropped the envelope containing the data into a nearly full out-box while the receptionist's back was turned, and sat down to read a newspaper on his organizer.

The automated mailroom cart came by ten minutes later, impeccably on schedule, and emptied the out-box. It would be in the post within the hour. Satisfied, the Information Merchant got up and walked to the elevators, heading up to a meeting he'd set up earlier that week. He didn't believe in leaving loose ends.

Especially when he was trading the most treasonous of secrets.

Chapter 25

Riley was an hour out from the bears' territory when he caught a very familiar scent. Wolf and man both came to a halt, on alert. The wind ruffled the wolf's fur, a cool, gentle stroke. The earth, the wind, the sharp bite of the evergreens, it all served to calm him . . . normally. Today, excitement beat in his blood.

Instead of chasing the scent, he stalked it. Careful, careful, the wolf whispered to the man. Be patient, or she might disappear. And he didn't want her to disappear. He used every trick he knew to hide his scent as he came ever closer. And then there she was, curled up on a warm, exposed rock, her coloring golden, the rosettes on her body dark. She was his natural enemy, but the wolf agreed with the man this one time - this leopard was too magnificent to attack. Perhaps he stood there for a minute, perhaps ten. But when he finally padded out of the shadows, her head didn't jerk up in surprise.

Instead, sleepy eyes opened to half-mast. They were a vivid color close to gold in this form, as if the brown had been heated by internal sunlight. Her eyes seemed to say, "What?" and "Go away, I'm napping," in equal measures.

Holding her gaze, he shifted. The pleasure/pain of it swept through his body. A familiar thing. And yet, new each time. He came to crouching on the forest floor, his eyes still locked with the leopard's. "You're in my range."

A disdainful sweep of her tail. Even in this form, she found ways to sass him.

"Kitties get eaten up here."

A yawn this time, full of teeth. Oh yeah, Mercy knew how to play.