Feelings soothed, if not totally mended, she nodded. "Alright. I'd better get back to work."
But she didn't immediately return to her patrol area after hanging up, feeling a strong urge to speak to her mother. Comfort, she thought. She was like a cub seeking comfort. She didn't care. Coding in the number for her childhood home, she waited until Lia answered. "Hey, Mom."
"What's the matter, darling?"
Her throat closed up at the unconditional love in that single sentence. "Things are a little mixed up." She bent to pick up a marble that had seen better days and threw it lightly into the air, catching it on the way down. "I guess I just needed to hear your voice."
"Come to dinner, baby."
"I don't know if I can tonight, Mom." She'd be lousy company in her current frame of mind. "But I'll be by this week."
"Mercy, sweetheart, does some of this 'mixed up' stuff have to do with a certain wolf?"
Mercy winced. "Who told you?"
"Well, I kept expecting you to do so . . ."
"I planned to," she said, rolling the marble between thumb and forefinger and wondering why she'd ever thought anything could remain a secret from her mom.
"It doesn't matter, baby. I took matters into my own hands." A familiar hint of steel.
Mercy's leopard sat up. "Oh?"
"I called Riley a few minutes ago. He's coming to dinner tomorrow at seven. Don't be late, sweetheart."
Mercy hung up after a few more words, knowing a summons when she heard one. If she didn't turn up, well, Mount Vesuvius had nothing on her mom.
It seemed to be her day for calls because no sooner had she gone to shove the phone into a pocket than Ashaya rang through. "We did a very, very quick run-through with the samples you brought up from the body," the scientist told her, her voice excited. Too excited. Mercy went to ask what was wrong, but Ashaya was already continuing to speak. "He had traces of the same drug in him that we found on the men who tried to kidnap me."
"Damn." Mercy closed her fist around the marble. "You figured out what's so special about it yet?"
"Possibly." Ashaya paused. "I'm supposed to make sure I deliver reports to DarkRiver and SnowDancer simultaneously on this issue."
It was normal procedure, but after the call with Lucas, she found herself irritated. Fighting the irrational emotion, she said, "Riley's in the city. I'll get him to meet me at HQ."
Hanging up, she called Riley with the message before making her way back to the medium-sized office building DarkRiver owned near Chinatown. She should've felt more comfortable in her own office, but her cat refused to settle, its hackles rose - as if it could sense a danger the human side of her was too dense to see. Frustrated, she pushed the amorphous knowing to the back of her mind. Nothing, she thought, could be worse than having her loyalty questioned - if only by implication.
"You called?" Riley pushed through the office door, locking it behind him.
The leopard didn't like that, seeing in it a possession that threatened an integral part of her life. "Ashaya's got something to tell us." Switching the clear screen of her computer to the comm function, she coded in the call.
Riley walked around to stand beside her chair, one arm along the back, fingers grazing the top of her head. She flicked him off, to his surprised expression. When he frowned, she concentrated on the screen, knowing that to him, her behavior had to be inexplicable. "Ashaya, we're ready."
The scientist came on-screen, blue-gray eyes vivid against smooth mocha-dark skin. "Alright," she said, and recapped what she'd already told Mercy. "I've been working with Amara on this in order to speed things up, and we believe we've discovered the purpose of the drug."
"Go on," Mercy said, at the same time that Riley said, "What is it?"
Folding her arms, Mercy leaned back in her chair.
Ashaya looked from one to the other, but didn't ask questions. "We can thank Amara for this. My twin decided that since it appears the targets of this substance are Psy, she'd inject herself." Her hand was shaking when she lifted it to push back her hair - which was secured in two tight braids.
Mercy jerked upright. "Is she okay?"
"Yes, yes. She's fine. Now." Ashaya dropped her hand. "She took a very small amount."
"And?" Riley prompted.
"And she found she couldn't use any of her psychic abilities for five minutes."
Annoyance forgotten, Mercy caught Riley's eye. She saw the same tight excitement in him that she felt in her own gut. Glancing back to Ashaya, she said, "Can we replicate it?"
Ashaya didn't look happy. "It's like a drug that would stop you shifting, Mercy. How can I possibly justify reverse engineering something that painful? Amara would've had a breakdown if I hadn't been linked with her through the entire process."
"Shit, I didn't think of it that way." Mercy rubbed her face. "The thing is, if we had that drug, then we wouldn't have to kill Psy on sight." Right now, there was no talking, no negotiation. If a Psy came after a changeling, the changeling aimed to kill.
"It'd be a deterrent," Riley added.
Ashaya shook her head. "Amara's heart stopped."
Mercy froze. All at once, she remembered the sudden, odd panic she'd felt on patrol a couple of hours earlier. She'd put the fleeting emotion down to her hyperawareness of her surroundings, but what if it had been something else, Ashaya's scream for help? After all, as Dorian's mate, Ashaya was in the Web of Stars, the blood-bonded network that connected DarkRiver sentinels to Lucas. "I thought you said she was okay."