Katya's eyes went wide at his tone.
Something primitive in him pushed at him to finish his, make his claim in the most final way. "I won't let you leave."
Katya knew she should've been angry, but it wasn't a threat she saw in Dev's eyes. No, what burned in those gold-flecked depths was a possessive demand that she knew would end her loneliness forever . . . but only if she accepted his rules. "I may have been broken when I came in," she said, a deeply feminine part of her sensing that if she gave in now, it would all be over, "but that's not true any longer. The pieces are starting to come together."
"Good." He took her chin in a hold that was blatantly proprietary.
Her stomach filled with butterflies, the steel and heat scent of him in every breath - but she kept her voice. "Even if that means I won't do what you want?"
He rubbed his thumb over her lower lip, his eyes on her mouth. "I never said I wanted a puppet."
"In that case," she said, her lips brushing his thumb, "consider yourself forewarned. Nothing you can do will stop me from doing what I need to do."
Dev's expression changed then, filling not with anger but with challenge. "Bring it on."
The kiss was hard, fast, openly possessive - a warning and a promise in one.
Striding down the corridor to find Sascha leaving Cruz's room - to go directly into her mate's arms - Dev nodded at the couple to follow him outside. "Tag," he said, the taste of Katya a lingering sweetness on his tongue, "one of you two should sit in on this, too." They could easily transmit what they heard to the other.
Tiara rose in a graceful movement. "I'll go. Keep your mind open to me, okay, big guy?"
Tag gave a short nod, but Dev saw the flash of hunger in the man's eyes. It made him wonder what it felt like for the two telepaths to communicate - did Tag feel something different when it was Tiara? Part of him couldn't help but think what it would be like to have Katya's mind open to his.
Then you know I'm not going to back down. I want you to look in my mind.
His every male instinct growled in rejection. Such contact would have nothing to do with intimacy - it would be the worst kind of violation, a mockery of what should be.
"Dev, you okay?" It was Tiara, her voice pitched low.
Realizing he'd let his emotions bleed into his face, he nodded. "Sascha," he said, turning to the empath as she came to stand beside him, Lucas on her other side. "What's your opinion on Cruz?"
"He's damaged, but not irrevocably so." An encouraging smile. "The boy can learn to shield."
Tiara blew out a breath. "Damn, I'm glad to hear that. But why wasn't he picking up the things we were trying to show him?"
"His pathways," Sascha said, "are so compromised I had to devise a completely new form of shielding just for him."
"You can do that?" Tiara asked. "Tag wants the blueprint."
"It's a work in progress at the moment - I'm building it from the inside out. Or rather," she amended, "Cruz is, according to my instructions. I'll be happy to give you what I've got so far."
"Luc," Dev said as the two women stepped away, "I've got something else I need to talk to you about."
"You have any contact with that new leopard pack up in the Smokies?"
"That's Remi's pack," Lucas said easily. "RainFire."
"Remi?" Dev shook his head. "Sounds like he should be hunting alligators somewhere."
"Short for Remington. Pisses him off big time when anyone uses that name."
"Thanks for the tip."
"How long's RainFire been around?"
"'Bout a year. Remi rounded up a few loners he knew through his roaming, found territory, and sent out the call that the pack was open. I hear they've got a reasonable group now."
"How's that work, the territory thing?"
"You asking for a reason?"
"I've got nervous people in the area, people who own their land fair and square." A lot of Forgotten had settled in that region, finding comfort in the massive shadow of the mountains.
Lucas shook his head. "Won't be a problem. Remi bought up a huge tract of land for his people, and under the amendments to the Constitution after the Territorial Wars, he's got changeling rights to the areas in public ownership."
Dev had read those laws himself. "As long as he maintains the natural landscape and can hold it against other changelings, it's his? Doesn't that go against the Peace Accord?"
"That area was unclaimed," Lucas said. "If it had been claimed but the pack was weak, he could've gone in then, too. Fact it was empty makes it even easier."
"And my people's access to that public land?"
"Still theirs, but if Remi succeeds in holding it, they'll have to follow his rules."
"Not exactly fair."
Lucas shrugged. "If he does hold it, he also pledges to help the people in his territory, so the humans and nonpredatories get leopard protection. It's not a bad deal."
"Unless Remi is a piece of shit."
A grin spread across the leopard alpha's face. "I'll tell him you said that."
"I'd rather you give me his direct line. I can't pin the bastard down long enough to talk."
"He's busy establishing his territory." But Lucas took out his cell and sent the data wirelessly to Dev's own phone. "Remi's okay. It'll be interesting to see if RainFire sticks together - like I said, the pack's based around a group of leopards who chose to walk alone until Remi sweet-talked them into joining up with him."