"Okay." Tammy put down her coffee and took a deep breath. "You know how you and Riley are always fighting over dominance?"
"Yeah, well, your babies are going to have the final word on the subject."
Mercy stared at Tammy. "How final?"
"Very. When two changelings of different species mate, it's the more dominant one in the pair whose genes are expressed as far as shifting goes." Tammy's eyes gleamed with hidden laughter. "Of course, no one knows when things get set in stone - it might depend on who's feeling more feral the day you conceive."
Mercy's hand fisted even as wonder bloomed inside of her at the thought of carrying a child. "We're not bonded yet." There would be no babies until her leopard accepted Riley without boundaries, without conditions, with absolute trust.
"I guessed . . . do you want to talk about why?"
"No. We're dealing with it. I'm just glad to know if we do make it through, our babies will be able to shift."
"You don't mind that your kids might not shift into cats?"
"They'll shift. That's what matters." She squeezed Tammy's hand, knowing the healer understood. "Dorian never talked about it - he's so f**king male - but I know how much it hurt him not to be able to go leopard. I've been way more worried about whether or not my kids would shift, than what they'd shift into."
* * *
On the other side of the world, Councilor Kaleb Krychek drove home through the pitch black of night on the outskirts of Moscow. Putting his vehicle on automatic navigation half an hour from his destination, he used his organizer to connect to the house's security node - he always checked his defenses before he ever entered the zone he considered safe. He had no personnel at his home, no one who could betray him. But the entire area around his property was alarmed and protected. He knew if a butterfly landed on his balcony.
He also knew when people had been creeping around where they shouldn't be.
Tapping into the full security logs, he saw the presence of a number of bodies a hundred feet beyond his outer perimeter. Of course, that wasn't his actual perimeter. He'd set alarm lines well into the fields that surrounded his isolated home, all the way to, and across, the properties of his neighbors.
Kaleb liked his privacy.
He double-checked the data. No way to tell if the people lying in wait were human, Psy, or changeling. Their estimated body weight tilted them toward non-Psy, as Psy of the same size and height had a slightly lower bone density. He rechecked the data for the third time, putting it through the filters of his own mind.
He knew the BlackEdge pack - the wolves that controlled the greater Moscow area as far as changelings were concerned. Selenka Durev, their alpha, didn't like him, but she was willing to work with him to keep the city peaceful, so long as he kept his nose out of her business. The agreement worked because Kaleb had no interest in changeling affairs - though he kept a very close eye on Selenka and her pack. Wolves were smart, dangerous, and could be lethal adversaries, as Nikita Duncan had discovered in her own region.
His agreement with BlackEdge had put him in close contact with several changelings. He was a Tk, used to manipulating kinetic energy. He'd watched their movements, noted the way their muscles and bones shifted without even realizing he'd taken in the data. Now he compared those movements against the intruders.
Not wolves. And not bears, either, the other major group in the area. At present, the StoneWater clan had a wary truce with BlackEdge. The bear changelings moved less gracefully, but with a distinctive style that was as good as a brand. Neither matched. And since both BlackEdge and StoneWater would kill any other changelings who came into their territory without permission, that meant this was most likely a human assault force.
He looked up through the windshield, the entire security check having taken him only three minutes. The next question was - what did they want? Surveillance had to be the answer, as there was no way they could get past his security. He glanced at his organizer and pulled up the data again.
And saw what he'd missed in the first sweep.
Humans had learned to compensate for their lack of psychic or shifting abilities. Especially in the area of weapons. The portable guided missile launchers almost hidden in the mass of body heat were likely primed and ready to level his house the instant he stepped inside. A fast, quick kill. The only way to take a cardinal Tk by surprise. Too bad he knew they were there.
Several hours after the wrench of leaving him, Mercy tracked Riley to the former Alliance hideout on the Embarcadero. His wolf flashed into his eyes when he saw her, and it was all she could do not to press close, and simply savor the warm masculine scent of him.
It wasn't professionalism that held her back. It was the knowledge that to do what she craved would be to torment them both. "What're you doing here?" she asked.
"I always do a pass through here in case one of them doesn't realize it's been made. Might get a new trail." His gaze never moved off her, his jaw a brutally hard line.
Such control had to hurt.
She couldn't let him hurt. Closing the distance between them, she stood so they brushed shoulder to thigh. He sucked in a breath, his hand shifting to lie on her lower back. "I can't be near you and not touch."
She nodded. "Who were we kidding?" The humor was fragile, the truth inescapable. "But that's not why I came."
Riley watched as his cat took out a small datapad and pulled up a map of the city proper. "Something bugs me about the tips we've had about possible Alliance movements." She overlaid the map with the location of those tips. "If we remove the clear outliers, and focus only on the tips that really had some substance behind them, we end up with this."