Riley stretched his arm along the back of Mercy’s chair. “Why do you sound so certain?” he asked, cutting to the heart of the matter as always.

“DarkRiver considers SnowDancer family, and Sahara considers DarkRiver family.”

That much was inarguable. Not only had Kaleb’s mate sought the protection of the pack for a time after she’d first been rescued from a hellish captivity, but she had blood ties to another member of the pack, not to mention her growing friendship with Mercy.

“Kaleb is no different from any of the men in this room,” Judd said. “Hurting the packs would hurt his mate, and he’d never consciously do anything to distress her. DarkRiver and SnowDancer are safe. I’d go so far as to say that, in all probability, he’d actively stand with us against an enemy should we ever make the request.”

Sascha couldn’t imagine Kaleb Krychek, cold and powerful, loving anyone enough to sheathe his psychic claws. “I need to meet him,” she said into the somewhat dubious silence that followed Judd’s words. “While he’s with Sahara.” Not only so they could gauge if he could be trusted in pack territory, but to check on Sahara’s welfare; seeing the younger woman safe with their own eyes was a far different thing to hearing her say the same on the comm.

Lucas looked at Sascha, the panther prowling to life in his eyes. “Sahara is family,” he said, his tone that of the alpha he was. “I don’t like the fact I’ve never seen the two of them together.” A grim line to his jaw. “I want to make sure she’s still okay with him before we make any kind of a decision.”

“Say we accept Krychek’s bona fides”—Riley refilled Mercy’s mug with milk rather than coffee, to her unimpressed snarl—“that still leaves the others who’ll be in our territory if we say yes to his proposal.”

“The Es should be no problem.” Stretching out in his chair, Hawke grinned as Mercy gulped down the milk as if it was medicine. “Long as Sascha confirms they are Es. Your designation has a problem with violence.”

“The pain of the victim rebounds back on us.” Though there were more subtle, long-term ways an empath could attack another living being, things that had shocked Sascha the first time she’d read Empathic Gifts & Shadows.

“Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking all Es are trustworthy,” Lucas said on the heels of Sascha’s thoughts. “Kitten, tell them what it said in Alice’s book.”

Conscious that a lack of awareness as to the threat posed by Es could be as dangerous as placing blind trust in Kaleb Krychek, Sascha shared the repugnant truth. “In the past, a minority of empaths were known to have consciously manipulated the emotions of others.” Her skin crawled at the act that went against everything she stood for as an E. “One E wanted everyone to be ‘good,’ while others did it for money, revenge, power . . .”

Judd’s mug hit the wood of the table with a dull sound. “A truly gifted and subtle empath wouldn’t need mind control,” he said, clearly seeing the weaponized potential of such an ability.

“There’d also be no painful rebound effect”—Hawke’s hand curled into a fist on the tabletop—“because the victim wouldn’t even know it was happening.”

That was the most evil aspect of it; an empath could effectively take away an individual’s right to choose. “The good news,” Sascha said, fighting her nausea, “is that such manipulation apparently requires prolonged contact with the intended victim and a high level of skill.” Newly awakened empaths would be stumbling in the dark in comparison.

Mercy tapped her fingers on the table. “So it’s not a danger we have to worry about immediately, but it needs to be part of the briefing given to any member of either DarkRiver or SnowDancer who might come in contact with an E.”

No one had any arguments with that suggestion.

“That leaves the guards.” Riley angled his head toward Judd. “You have a line on who they’re likely to be?”

“Arrows. I’ll vouch for them, though I don’t think that’ll be necessary—Vasic’s heading the security team.”

Mercy’s gaze sharpened. “He’s the one who brought in the medic when Dorian was shot,” she said, naming a fellow DarkRiver sentinel.

“Yes. He also helped Ashaya”—Dorian’s mate—“escape the Net. He’s not interested in picking a fight.” Tone altering on those last words, Judd said, “He’s a man I trust to the bone—if he says this is a straight-up op, then it is.”

Hawke and Lucas both nodded, Judd having long ago earned the trust of both alphas.

“Location’s going to be critical if we agree to this.” Rising, Mercy found a map of the area and spread it out on the table, the slight outward curve of her belly the only sign of her pregnancy. “Anyone have suggestions?”

Hawke used his finger to circle a low-lying section. “This was the site of the hyena attack awhile back. It’s on the edges of both our territories, bracketed by DarkRiver on one side, SnowDancer on the other.”

“It can be isolated within a secure perimeter without problem,” Lucas murmured, eyes on the map. “And the area’s open enough that satellite surveillance is a viable security option.”

For the next hour, the others discussed exactly how the site could be secured, while Sascha sat and listened, the ebb and flow of their voices a rough, familiar music. It had taken her only a short time after her defection to understand that an empath was as social a creature as a pack-minded changeling—it had hurt her to be deprived of that sense of community, of family in the Net, though she hadn’t understood the dull gnawing pain at the time. Copyright 2016 - 2023