Tangle of Need

By: Nalini Singh

“I don’t think the shooter had ever targeted a changeling before—he was too slow.” Tucking the torch back into her pocket, she kept her face turned away from the carnage, but there was no way to avoid the fact that her clothing was splattered with flecks of things she didn’t want to think about. Her face, she’d wiped on the clean T-shirt she wore under her sweatshirt, but she desperately wanted a shower, the scent of death clogging her nostrils. “Here.”

Ripping off a clean part of her T-shirt, she wiped off the blood that had hit the side of Riaz’s face, his clothing relatively unscathed because of the angle of the shot.

His hand touched her hip, startling her enough that she froze. Holding her gaze, he stroked gently. Not a sexual caress, she realized, simply comfort from one changeling to another, one wolf to another. Swallowing the lump of emotion in her throat, she threw the torn fabric into a small metal trash can probably meant for office detritus, and lowered her voice to a sub-vocal level. “Not here, not yet.” She couldn’t afford to break down, to crawl into his arms and give in to her own rippling shock.

Cutting the contact, he nodded, and they both pushed up to their feet. Riaz was a fraction unsteady, but it only lasted a couple of seconds. In front of them, the two Psy males got up from their crouching position beside the body, the quiet one walking across to the desk to pick up Sonja and teleport out. His speed was stunning to witness, especially when he teleported back less than ten seconds later.

“The Tk wasn’t working alone,” she said to them both. “His partner shot at the house, then at me when I realized it had to be a distraction and headed inside.” Bypassing the front door, she’d smashed her way through a lower-floor window. “I’m pretty sure he was standing in the shadow of the stand of eucalyptus trees out front.”

“One minute.” Vasic left for the corridor and—Adria guessed—the window from which he could see the trees. He returned not long afterward, holding several blackened pieces of grass. “Yes, he was there. As was what appears to be a jet-powered motorcycle. The scorch marks on the grass make it clear he left in a rush.”

Knowing there was nothing they could do to help track the shooter if he’d departed on the high-speed vehicle, Adria nonetheless made a note to see if she could pick up a scent by the trees. It might come in useful later, if they had to identify a suspect. Beside her, Riaz said, “I’ll talk to DarkRiver, see if the shooter blew past one of their security patrols. Long shot, but worth a try.”

“An analysis of the weapon’s signature might provide some clues,” Adria said, but knew the chances were their quarry was too clever to have used a conspicuous tool.

Vasic’s next words proved her right. “Generic projectile gun, mass-produced,” he said, glancing at the black screen of the computronic gauntlet that covered his left forearm.

Riaz shoved a hand through his hair, messing up the already tumbled black strands. “We can continue to watch the perimeter while you work.”

Aden shook his head. “There’s not much to be done here beyond the cleanup. We’ll take care of that and secure the house.” He sounded as if the task was a simple case of spilled milk, not bone and brain matter drenched in blood. “We appreciate the assistance.”

Adria wondered how often one of these men said that to anyone.

ADEN stood at the window in the corridor and watched the two SnowDancers get into their vehicle after spending several minutes by the eucalyptus trees where the shooter had stood. He was interested in whether the male would insist on driving, regardless of the fact he’d been unconscious not long ago. Predatory changeling males had a reputation for irrational behavior. However, this one bent his head toward the tall, beautiful soldier female—her eyes a shade Aden had never before seen—before laughing and allowing her to take the driver’s seat.

It made him wonder what the woman had said that she’d provoked the emotional response from a man who had watched Aden and Vasic with a predator’s stealthy focus since he regained consciousness. “This isn’t the first time the changelings have helped Psy,” he said, watching their taillights disappear into the night. “And yet we have never assisted them.”

“The point is moot,” Vasic said from inside the room where the body lay. “The changelings do not ask for help.”

True—the packs were very insular. “It seems all three races have faults.” The Psy were arrogant to the point of not seeing the reality in front of them, and the humans, they had allowed themselves to be subjugated and treated as weak for far too long.

Leaving the window, he returned to the body. “One of Henry’s. Confirms the Pure Psy connection.” Visual identification made impossible by the fact the SnowDancer’s kill shot had obliterated the Tk’s face, Vasic had accessed the Council’s main Tk database, confirmed ID via DNA. An Arrow who had infiltrated Pure Psy had then provided verification of the dead male’s continued political allegiance to the group.

“Have you had any success in tracing Henry?” Vasic asked.