Life. Sascha laid a fluttering hand over her abdomen. "I still can't quite believe it." A soft warmth lay curled in her belly, a presence that she sensed with every empathic sense in her. It was a spark now. No, a tiny fraction of a spark. So tiny that she had to focus all of her power to feel it. "I never expected to be a mother." Perhaps that's why she hadn't understood what her body had been trying to tell her.
Tamsyn looked surprised. "Really? But you love children."
"Yes." She reached out for Tammy's hand, wanting to share the depth of her joy. "But when I was in the Net, when I thought I was flawed, I swore I'd never submit a child of mine to that kind of an existence."
Tammy leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the cheek. A gift. A comfort. "You're not in the Net any longer."
"And," a deep male voice said from the doorway, "you were never flawed."
She raised her head to look into the face of the panther who was her heartbeat, and now, the father of their unborn child. "You were supposed to stay downstairs."
"Yeah," Tammy said, even as she released Sascha's hands and walked to the doorway, "this was a girls-only session."
A slow smile crossed Lucas's face. "I wonder if it'll be a girl."
Tammy passed him, brushing her fingers over his arm in an affectionate gesture. "Way too early to tell."
Lucas stayed in position after Tammy left, his green eyes stroking a caress over her. "Scared?"
"Yes." She didn't know how to be a mother. "Nikita was hardly a good role model."
"I'm scared, too."
"You're the alpha of the pack," she said, finding they'd somehow moved toward each other without realizing it. "You're only saying that to make me feel better."
He took her hand, placed it over his heart. "Listen."
It was jagged, touched with a tinge of sheer terror. "Why?" she whispered.
"My parents were wonderful," he told her, continuing to hold her hand. "But they couldn't protect me. It terrifies me that I won't be able to protect our child."
She shook her head, pressed her hand more firmly against him. "They died fighting for you. If that's the legacy we leave our child, that child will grow up knowing he or she was loved, loved so completely."
"Such faith in me, kitten." He cupped her cheek with his free hand, his touch warm, wonderfully familiar. "Have the same in yourself."
Leaning into him, she drank in the beat of his heart. "Give me a few months. I have to study the mother thing."
"Ah, Sascha." He laughed, and the sound of it wrapped around her like a sensual blanket. "I'm sure you'll have a graduate degree in it by the time the kid decides to pop out."
She fisted her hand and thumped him on the chest, fighting the smile that threatened to edge her lips. "Don't tease."
He kissed her, a quick, wild burst of easy male affection that echoed down the mating bond. "I'll take you to the bookstore."
"Will you read the books?"
"I won't have to - you'll read them to me." He smiled and it was a slow, feline curve of his lips. "I do love the things you say in bed."
She burst out laughing, the emotional chaos of the day buried under the incandescence of their mingled joy.
Everyone was early to the Council meeting. "Are we all secure?" Nikita asked.
There was a round of confirmations.
Kaleb asked the next question. "We need to have an idea of what they're capable of. I'm willing to share what I found - I'm assuming I was the hardest to get to?"
"Correct," Ming responded. "Your teleportation abilities made you the most difficult target. However, Tatiana is also close to impossible to get to without warning."
Kaleb had heard rumors the other Psy could strip shields, enter any mind she chose. She hadn't yet broken his shields, and he made sure never to be anything but absolutely guarded against her. "Tatiana?"
"I see no harm in sharing the information," the other Councilor said. "Downloading the details now."
Streams of silvery data began to flow against the pure blackness that was the psychic vault of the Council chambers. Kaleb caught the vital facts on the first pass. "They planned to poison you."
"It appears that way," Tatiana said. "It's difficult to fully guard against insects in my part of Australia. The perpetrators released a number of toxic funnel-web spiders around my property."
"That strategy has a high chance of failure," Shoshanna pointed out.
"Yes," Tatiana agreed. "From what I discovered afterward, I think it was an opportunistic ploy after their first one failed. I was meant to be on a private jet to Papua New Guinea today - that jet, I'm now told, developed mysterious engine failure and crashed into the ocean, killing all on board."
"How did they get to the jet?" Kaleb asked. "I assume it was yours?"
"That's a critical security breach - I know it wasn't any of my people." Her tone of voice made it clear how she knew. "We're still working on it."
Kaleb decided to speak next. "They attempted to blow up my house from a distance." He gave them the necessary facts without betraying his own security protocols.
One by one, the others laid out their data. Surprisingly, it was Ming who'd come the closest to being killed. The assassins had made no attempts at stealth for the most militarily inclined Councilor. Instead, they'd fired at his armored vehicle using high-explosive antitank rounds. The car was so much twisted metal. The sole reason Ming was alive was because one of his Arrows, a true teleporter, had been with him at the time. Vasic had blinked everyone out of the vehicle in the minuscule fragment of time after the rounds hit.