Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 85

"We have a leak," Kaleb said after scanning the data. "Someone in the upper tiers."

"The body of a man who was known to sell sensitive information washed up yesterday," Nikita told them. "I had it sent to the lab for processing."

"I agree with Kaleb," Ming said. "Even a top-level information thief couldn't have discovered all our locations on a particular day and time without massive effort - even if he was the conduit, he needed to have sources."

"The other option," Nikita pointed out, "is that this was a long-term plan. They watched and waited for the perfect opportunity."

"Possible," Henry agreed, speaking for the first time. "With the recent defections, they consider us weak."

"That's their mistake." Kaleb would allow no one to shatter that which he considered his. And for now, the PsyNet needed his fellow Councilors. When it no longer did . . .

"Perhaps, instead of speculating, we should reconvene once we have further details of the attacks." Shoshanna.

"We do have another issue to discuss," Kaleb pointed out. "The programmed violence. It's stopped."

A pause of several seconds as the other Councilors brought up their files. Tatiana was the first to speak. "Councilor Krychek is correct. All the most recent interpersonal violence has been one on one, or in families. No cases with the potential for mass fatalities."

"The timing is certainly fortuitous." Nikita.

Kaleb waited for Henry to speak. He did. And confirmed all of Kaleb's suspicions about the identity of the shadowy puppet master.

"It may be," the other Councilor said, "that the aim of the events has been realized. We are now, after all, offering voluntary reconditioning. It's a step in the right direction - toward perfect Silence."

The dinner passed without bloodshed. Mercy wasn't quite sure how, but she had a feeling her mother had a great deal to do with it. Which was why she left Lia to ride herd on Riley, Bas, Grey, and Sage while she went into the kitchen to help her father put on the tea and coffee.

"Sit," she was told the instant she entered.

Having guessed this was coming, she pulled herself up onto the counter and watched him move about. Michael Smith was a big, strong man. A man a woman could rely on.

"So," he said, "that's the best you could do for a mate?"

Mercy snarled before she could stop herself. And an instant later, knew she'd been had. "Dad!"

"Aw, don't be like that, baby girl." Ruffling her hair, he tapped her cheek, a smile curving over his lips. "I suppose I should've known you'd never do anything the easy way."

She made a face at him and opened the cookie jar to take out one of the biscotti her mom always kept in there. Bas loved the things. The rest of them had picked up his addiction. Nibbling on the treat, she said, "So?"

"So what?" He raised one dark red eyebrow.

"Do you like him?" It mattered, his opinion, her mother's. Not that it would make her give up Riley, but she was a pack animal, and inside the walls of this house, within this family, Michael and Lia were the alpha couple. They always would be, even if Lucas and Sascha came over for dinner.

Michael glanced at her with quiet eyes. "He looks at you right."

"Right?"

"Hmm." A teasing smile. It was obvious where Grey had inherited his wicked sense of humor. "Eat your biscotti."

Knowing she'd get nothing more out of him, but her heart lighter at the confirmation that Riley would be welcomed into the family, she did as ordered.

* * *

Riley stared across at Mercy's brothers, very aware that only the small-boned woman on his left was keeping them from trying to play tic-tac-toe with his bloody bones.

"Grey," Lia said, putting more dessert onto Riley's plate, "why don't you play the sax for us?"

Grey looked like he'd been asked to strip na**d and do a lap dance. "Only if you make Riley sing."

A snicker went around the table. Lia scowled and it immediately quieted. All at once, Riley could see Mercy doing the same at their own dinner table. Their children would likely be hellions, but his mate would keep them in line, no question about it. His mate. His heart clenched.

I won't be the same. I'll be less.

How could he do that to her? And yet, how could he possibly let her go?

"Riley." Fingertips on his arm. "I suppose you can't sing a note?"

He smiled. "Actually, I can."

Grey looked crushed. But it was Bastien who spoke next. "But can you take care of my sister?"

"Your sister can take care of herself." No matter how much he wanted to do the job for her. The wolf was alternately proud of her strength and frustrated by it. Perhaps it would be that way their entire life. Or, perhaps, they'd find a middle ground. "But I'd walk through fire for her."

Lia squeezed his forearm, and when he looked down, he saw a blazing inner strength that told him where Mercy had gotten her grit. Reaching up, she pecked him on the cheek. "You'll do, Riley."

Chapter 47

Things were in an uproar in Venice. The chairman made sure to tell the other members of the board to get the hell out of Dodge and keep their heads down. He liked control, but he was no traitor. As he made his own escape, ready to go under the knife and assume an identity he'd set up years ago, he considered the events of the past twenty-four hours.

Some would consider the entire thing a failure. He considered it a first strike. The Psy would never again underestimate the Human Alliance. As a bonus, if the Council stuck to its normal mode of operations, Alliance people would soon begin to die. And the chairman's point would be made without him having to say a word - in the end, the Psy were killers, monsters, and they would crush anyone who dared rise against them.

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