"Want me to make you tired?" A rumble against her ear, fingers playing over the dip of her navel.
The butterflies in her stomach were intimately, exquisitely familiar. "That's a very tempting offer."
"But you want to talk."
Heart stretching with the force of what she felt for this man who knew her so completely, she kissed the side of his jaw, tangling her hand in the heavy silk of his hair. "Working with Cruz . . . he's so vulnerable, Lucas, so open to any direction."
"Then it's a good thing you'd never hurt him."
That was what worried her. "That book my mother sent me - it said E-Psy can turn bad."
"No," Lucas said, rising to look down at her. "It said E-Psy often care so much they start to think they know what's best for everyone."
"And then they do bad things," she insisted. "What about that empath the writer profiled - the one who tried to emotionally manipulate everyone to be 'good.' He drove people insane by forcing them to go against their own will."
"He was a loner - without family, without Pack. Do you really think I'd let you turn into a megalomaniac?" An amused gleam in those leopard eyes.
She made a face at him. "This is serious." But he'd succeeded in loosening the knot of fear in her chest. "I never even knew I could feed emotion into someone, literally force them to feel what I wanted."
Lucas played with strands of her hair as she lapsed into thought.
"I wonder why my mother sent the book," she murmured. "Was it to destabilize me, or did she want to warn me of the danger?" With most mothers, it wouldn't have been a question, but most mothers weren't Councilor Nikita Duncan.
"Or maybe she's finally realized what a powerful ally you'd make."
She lifted her face in a wordless question.
"You know what the alpha in me found most interesting in that book?" he asked, bracing his elbows on either side of her head. "The fact that a cardinal empath who has total control of her gift can effectively stop a riot of thousands in its tracks. Imagine how useful that gift would be to a Councilor facing rebellion from within the ranks."
Sascha wrapped her arms around Lucas's neck. "According to Eldridge's book, that empathic skill has saved countless lives over the generations."
"But you don't think that's why Nikita wants it?"
Lucas kissed her with utmost tenderness. "I'm not going to guess at your mother's motives, Sascha. But I can't bear to see you being hurt - be careful, kitten."
His love swept around her, tight and protective and wonderful. "Don't worry," she said, nuzzling into him. "I'm not that vulnerable to her anymore. I just wish I understood why she did this now of all times."
"Ask her," Lucas said, to her surprise. "She might not tell you the truth - probably won't - but you're good at reading between the lines, at reading body language."
"Yes, I think I will." Pressing a kiss to his shoulder, she let her mind meander back to a subject she'd been mulling over earlier that day. "I think something is happening among the Forgotten."
"I get that feeling, too." He shifted so that more of his body tangled with hers. "Those guards on Cruz - I'm not sure Dev is only worried about the Psy. Word is, some of his own people are moving against him."
"Do you think the Forgotten are starting to have the same problems that drove the Psy to Silence?"
"If they are . . . Dev has a hell of a problem on his hands."
Katya felt as if she'd been arguing until she was blue in the face. Dev didn't argue back - he simply refused to change his mind. "Are you insane?" she was finally driven to yell, as they prepared to catch a few hours' sleep at the same little bed-and-breakfast they'd stopped at before. They'd driven half the night, compelled to get away from the malignant violence that marked Sunshine. But from the instant Dev had mentioned going after Ming, she'd had only one thought in mind - stopping him. "That's what he wants! It'll make it so much easier for him to kill you."
Dev pulled down the blankets, having stripped off to his jeans while she changed into sweats. "Get in before you freeze your pretty ass off."
"Dev, you can't just ignore me."
"I said, get in. Or I'm dumping you in there."
Anger rose in a wild flood. "Don't treat me like a child!" Picking up the thing closest to her - a shoe - she threw it at him.
He moved out of the way with fluid grace. "That wasn't a smart move, baby." Calm words, but the heat in his eyes was a slow-burning fuse.
Too furious to be able to read whether that heat denoted anger or desire, she said, "Oh, yeah? How about this one?" She threw the other shoe.
He shifted his head aside without really seeming to move. Then he reached for her. She went to spin away . . . only to realize he'd backed her into a corner. "I swear to God, Dev, I'm so mad at you - "
A finger against her lips.
Startled, she stopped talking.
"You're mine," he said in a quiet, implacable voice. "Now and forever."
Her entire body trembled with the force of that vow.
"I will let nothing, and no one, take you from me." Gold-flecked eyes that pierced her very heart. "Do you understand?"
"I'm not going to let you kill yourself," she whispered against his finger. Pushing it away, she put her hand over his heart. "If you walk into a trap because of me, if you die . . ."
"I won't. I'm not stupid and I don't intend to go into this blind. We gather intel and we move when he's vulnerable." He reached out to brush her hair off her face. "He's powerful, but he can't defend against every eventuality."