Dev watched Sascha Duncan sit down on the other side of Cruz's bed, her mate's hand on her shoulder. Cruz's eyes went from Dev to Lucas and back again. Sascha sighed. "Would you two stop looking at each other as if you're about to get into a shoot-out?"
"No guns," Dev said without taking his eyes off the DarkRiver alpha.
Sascha scowled. "Lucas." A command to behave.
The leopard alpha's eyes lit with feline amusement. "I will if he will."
On the bed, Cruz's lips curved slightly as he waited for Dev's answer.
"Since you're a guest," Dev said, leaning back against the wall by the door, "I suppose I'll have to let you win this round."
"Generous of you." Lucas moved to echo Dev's position closer to his mate. "See, Sascha, we're all friends now."
Instead of answering, Sascha focused on Cruz. "How old do you think they are?"
Cruz's cheeks actually dimpled as he smiled. "Ten?"
Sascha's laugh filled the room, and for the first time, Dev truly understood what she was. A number of empaths had dropped out with the Forgotten, but so many had stayed behind, hoping against hope that their mere presence would help their people. His great-grandmother Maya had been a child when her parents chose to defect, her empathic abilities in the moderate range. Because of her, he'd thought he knew empaths . . . but never had he been in the presence of a cardinal E-Psy.
It was, he realized, quite simply impossible to feel hate or anger toward Sascha if you felt any kind of emotion at all. And that, he suddenly understood, was why E-Psy were systemically suffocated in the Net, their powers bound - they were a real threat to Council power. Should Silence break, it was the empaths who might well take control.
But extraordinary as she was, he felt nothing but admiration toward Sascha. She awakened none of the complex, turbulent feelings brought to life inside him by the woman sitting silently in the room at the back of the house.
It destroyed something in him that he couldn't set her free.
Sascha met his gaze at that moment, her own holding nothing but warmth. "I think you can trust me with Cruz." She glanced over her shoulder at Lucas. "Shoo. No one's going to jump through the window with half the pack on watch outside."
Lucas straightened from the wall as Dev looked over to see if Cruz was okay with being alone with Sascha. The boy already had a hand wrapped around hers. "You want Tag and Tiara to continue to shield?"
"Yes." Sascha smiled as Lucas bent down to kiss the back of her neck. "We're going to start with the basic building blocks today. Though I have a feeling Cruz here will catch on fast."
Walking out with the DarkRiver alpha, Dev pulled the door shut so Sascha and Cruz could have privacy. "Sascha's very slender for being pregnant."
Lucas bristled. "Are you saying I don't take good care of my mate?"
"Stop antagonizing him, Dev," Tiara said from her cross-legged position in front of the entertainment screen in the living area. "You know perfectly well how feral predatory changeling men get with their pregnant mates. Tag, go hit one of them."
Tag sighed and looked up. "Is that really necessary, gentlemen?"
Lucas, his eyes human again, looked from Tag to Tiara and seemed to see something he shouldn't. But he didn't say a word. "I'd like to meet Katya."
Disliking the familiarity with which the changeling male said her name, Dev began to walk down the corridor. "She's staying with me."
"Well, now. . ." Lucas shrugged. "Ashaya's attached to her."
Lucas gave him a shrewd glance. "You talk to her like that, too?"
"None of your damn business."
"That's what I thought." A feline smile. "Here's a tip - don't snarl at women. It makes them mad."
"Go screw yourself," Dev said without heat.
Lucas laughed. "I don't have to. I have a gorgeous mate."
Katya opened the door at that moment. "I thought I heard - " Her eyes locked on Lucas.
The DarkRiver alpha was all green eyes and that warm leopard charm as he smiled. "You must be Katya. I'm Lucas."
"Hello." Katya gave a small smile.
Fire rippled up Dev's spine. "Let's go outside to talk." There was no way in hell he wanted the other man in Katya's room.
"Not so long as Sascha's in the house," Lucas said, taking a position against the wall opposite the doorway. "We can talk here."
"What's there to talk about?" Katya asked, gripping the doorjamb.
Lucas's eyes went to her white-knuckled hold. "Ashaya wants you to know you have a way out."
Dev's jaw tightened. "Don't play the alpha here, Luc. I've got no loyalty to you."
"I have to look after my people, Dev, same as you. And Ashaya considers Katya a true friend."
Dev thought of Katya's determination to go north, waited to see what she'd do.
"Thank you," she said, uncurling her fingers only to wrap her arms around herself. His body bucked at the reins, wanting to go to her, crush her close. Then she spoke, and his pride at her turned into a flame inside of him. "I think of her as a friend, too. And because I am her friend, I won't put her family in jeopardy."
"There's your answer," Dev said, making sure Lucas heard the absolute lack of flexibility in his voice. "Anything else?"
"You change your mind, Katya, all you have to do is say so." Lucas's head angled slightly to the right. "I have to go talk to my mate."
Knowing Tag and Tiara would keep an eye on things, Dev stayed behind as Lucas walked away. "You should've taken the chance he gave you."