Kaleb Krychek might be like them, but Judd was one of them.

In the ensuing minutes, the other man explained the remaining security protocols, the majority involving satellite surveillance. The trees in this area were spaced widely enough that the packs could and would keep a remote eye on the Psy in the compound—but the changelings promised to keep the surveillance at a general level as long as those in the compound made no aggressive or suspicious moves.

“We have no desire to spy on your lives,” Lucas Hunter said bluntly, his arms folded loosely across his chest as he leaned against the cabin in a manner that struck Vasic as lazily feline. “But we’ll come down hard the instant it appears you’re using the compound as a base for aggression.”

Any issues? Aden asked Vasic.

No. Their precautions are impressive. Vasic did have another geographic—as opposed to facial—lock in this territory, but it was not one with any military value. That hadn’t been the point. The Es will be safe here. Ivy and her pet would be safe here. The protections may be designed to keep us in, but they will also keep aggressors out.

“We agree to all the specifications,” Aden said aloud. “However, we do have a request.” He stated the need for an emergency safe-passage protocol.

A quick discussion later, Vasic’s proposed solution of an SOS code was accepted.

“Is Sascha Duncan willing to work with the Es?”

Lucas Hunter’s green eyes took on a feral glow at Aden’s query. “Yeah. But we’ll talk about that after your people are in.”

“We can build the remaining cabins,” Vasic began, but the changelings waved away the offer, preferring to do it themselves in order to minimize the impact on the natural environment.

Vasic made a note to sweep the dwellings for surveillance equipment before moving in his Arrows and the Es. The changelings didn’t appear interested in such intensive and invasive surveillance, but Vasic took nothing on trust. It made it much harder for people to betray him.

• • •

AFTER the two Arrows left the clearing, Hawke looked to where his and Lucas’s people stood talking a short distance away. Indigo grinned and shook her head at something Dorian had said. A second later, Judd replied—to Dorian’s sharp grin and quick retort.

“Could you have imagined this scene five years ago?” Lucas said at the same instant. “Not just leopard and wolf and Psy together, but the situation with the Arrows and the empaths.”

“Five years ago, SnowDancer as a pack was isolated and content with it.” The past had scarred Hawke’s men and women, hardened them to anyone who wasn’t their own. “We had no idea what we could be. I had no idea who I could be.” Not simply an alpha who would bleed for his pack, but a man who’d savage the world for his mate.

It was clear Lucas sensed the primal protectiveness that lived in Hawke, his next question directly related to Sienna. “You still planning to mount an assault on Ming in a month?”

Hawke’s wolf snarled inside him, lips peeled back to showcase its fangs. As long as Ming LeBon lived, he’d be a threat to Hawke’s mate, and that was unacceptable. “This”—he nodded at the compound—“is throwing a spanner in the works.”

He couldn’t leave his territory with so many Psy in the vicinity, and the operation couldn’t be moved forward. Ming was a combat-grade telepath with significant forces. They’d only get one shot at him, so all of the pieces had to be in place.

Lucas’s cat-green eyes held Hawke’s. “DarkRiver will help keep your pack safe.” It was the promise of one alpha to another, the blood bond between them set in stone. “Ming threatens all of us. You told me Judd’s contacts say he may have supported Pure Psy.” The leopard alpha’s jaw tightened at the mention of the violent force that had attacked DarkRiver and SnowDancer both.

Hawke had never trusted anyone with his pack, never truly would. That was part of what made him a good alpha—he took responsibility for each and every member of SnowDancer. However, if his and Sienna’s plan went as intended, he’d only be gone for a day at most, and not only were his lieutenants eminently capable of covering his absence, Lucas had earned his trust. “I’ll keep you updated.”

Indigo waved them over right then, and the two of them walked across to the stump the others were using as a table. “We’ve decided on a further nine one-bedroom cabins,” the lieutenant stated, “along with a larger cabin for the Arrows, since they’ll be sleeping in shifts.”

They discussed the placement of the cabins and the teams needed to get them up as fast as possible. Since DarkRiver was in construction, the leopards would take charge, with the wolves providing labor as needed.

“I know it makes humanitarian sense,” Indigo said, rolling up the map to carry back, “and Judd you know I trust your judgment to the core—”

“But your wolf’s still prickly at the idea of so many assassins in our territory,” Judd completed. “I’m the same. This is our home,” he said simply. “It’s instinct.”

Yes, Hawke thought, it was instinct of the deepest, most primal kind. Hawke’s wolf, too, was on aggressive alert, claws pushing against the insides of his skin. The Psy had savaged SnowDancer once, brutalized them to agonizing pain, and no wolf in the den would ever forget that—but his mate, his f**king heartbeat, had also come from the Psy. Sienna had saved life after life in a battle meant to annihilate the pack, with no care for her own. As had Judd. His brother had protected their young. No wolf would ever forget that, either.

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