Lucas shook his head. “So, Krychek isn’t exactly giving up anything by offering us the data.”
“And,” Riley said in his quiet, direct way, “it’s not as if we didn’t already know about the existence of empaths.”
Everyone looked at Sascha.
Hands cupped around the mug of hot chocolate Mercy had offered her in lieu of the aromatic coffee the others were drinking, Sascha leaned a little into Lucas. “I have no hesitation in helping other Es,” she said, able to sense Lucas’s panther rising to the surface to rub against the insides of his skin . . . against her.
It made her feel safe and protected even before her mate wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tucked her close. “There’s nothing I want more than to stretch my psychic muscles with others of my designation,” she said, making no attempt to hide the depth of her hunger.
She adored working with Judd’s nephew, Toby, but while the young boy was a cardinal telepath who could blow her out of the water when it came to telepathy, the reverse was true when it came to their E abilities. “I want to learn from the others,” she said, “even as I teach them what I know.” Things she’d figured out through often frustrating trial and error. “But most of all,” she whispered, “I want to help those of my designation accept that they’re not broken”—her fingers tightened on the mug, her eyes wet—“that they aren’t flawed.”
Lucas pressed a kiss to her temple. Her strong, loving, protective mate had been with her when she’d understood the truth about herself, understood that she wasn’t a defective cardinal as she’d been told all her life, but a woman with a gift meant to help the hurt and the lost.
It was Mercy who said, “Yet something’s making you hesitate,” the red of her hair vivid against her fitted blue shirt.
“I’m a mother as well as an E.” Sascha’s heart bloomed with love at the thought of her and Lucas’s sweet baby. “And Naya is only one of the children in DarkRiver and SnowDancer.” Pups and cubs who were painfully vulnerable. “We can’t justify putting them at risk.” Even to help men and women who were as bruised and as wounded as Sascha had once been.
The thought made her chest clench in agony, but she couldn’t see a way around the threat posed by those coming in with the empaths.
“Kaleb won’t harm anyone in either pack.”
Lucas stirred at Judd’s confident statement. “Exactly how much of an ex-Arrow are you?” he asked, panther-green eyes intent.
“It’s been pointed out to me that an Arrow who has never broken faith with the squad continues to be considered an Arrow regardless of his location or belief otherwise.” The lieutenant’s lips curved up unexpectedly at the corners, the light reaching the deep brown of his eyes, the gold flecks in them bright.
It struck Sascha then that Judd existed on the same continuum as Kaleb. Not as ruthless—she didn’t think anyone was as ruthless as Kaleb Krychek—but a man who had walked long and alone in the darkness. The critical difference, of course, was that Judd had always been anchored to the world through his family, while Kaleb had been trained by a psychopath who’d murdered countless women.
“I’m in direct contact with more than one member of the squad.” The SnowDancer lieutenant paused, his gaze shifting to Hawke.
At his alpha’s slight nod, Judd added, “I’m also in direct touch with Kaleb, have been since long before the San Francisco op.”
“I thought we weren’t keeping secrets?” Lucas locked eyes with Hawke, alpha to alpha, dominant to dominant, his voice holding the edge of a growl.
Hawke folded his arms as Sascha put down her hot chocolate and patted her mate’s chest to get his attention, his dark green T-shirt soft under her palm. Left alone in this kind of an aggressive mood, two changeling alphas would stare at one another until it ended in violence. “No fighting,” she said to Lucas when he turned to scowl at her. “You know how cranky Hawke gets when his mate is out to lunch with a certain future leopard alpha.”
Lucas’s grin was very feline as he relaxed.
“Yeah,” Mercy murmured, shoulders shaking, “be kind to the poor wolfie.” She squeaked as her own wolf mate did something to her the rest of them couldn’t see.
Growling low in his throat, Hawke bared his teeth. “We passed on the data,” he said, “just not where it came from. Krychek’s been Judd’s connection for several operations—including the one that netted us Alice Eldridge.”
Sascha sucked in a breath at the mention of the human scientist who’d completed what was possibly the most detailed sociological and anthropological study on E-Psy ever done. That research had been meticulously wiped after Silence, with only a rare few copies of Alice’s seminal work—The Mysterious E Designation: Empathic Gifts & Shadows—surviving in the world of underground collectors. Alice herself had been put into a cryonic sleep, only to wake mere months ago with her memories in pieces.
“So,” Sascha murmured, “Krychek wants easy access not only to me, but to Alice.” Even with her problematic memory, the human scientist remained an invaluable resource. Alice’s surviving published work might not have focused on how empaths did what they did, but no one knew what knowledge she held in her brain.
“Yes.” Judd drank some of his coffee. “But he’s aware of the state of her memories, so I think he’s far more interested in you. Regardless, he won’t harm a single individual in either pack.”