Neither had he. “Talk fast, baby.” It came out curt. Yes, he’d meant to scare her, but to be honest, he hadn’t expected it to work. That it had had irritated his wolf. “I’ve got a meeting.”
“If it’s to do with the attack, you need to hear this.” She walked at a rapid clip beside him as he continued on outside, where he’d left a vehicle.
“What they did, it’s a tactic Ming used to talk about.”
“A quick hit designed to hurt the pack’s morale.” The death of five changelings would’ve been considered a bonus. “I guessed that.” His fury was a cold thing, his wolf thinking with clear-eyed precision.
“No, it’s more.” She almost ran as he lengthened his stride. “It’s the beginning of a war of attrition. They’re not going to come at you full force until they’ve whittled down your numbers through surgical strikes. Because you don’t have an obvious target against which to retaliate, you’ll splinter your forces in an effort to keep up, further fragmenting your strength.”
Catching the assurance in her voice, he came to a stop. “You sound certain.”
“I am.” There was nothing of reserve in her now, only steely eyed conviction. “The fact that whoever was behind this used a stealthcraft rather than telekinetics, when they know changelings have superior senses and might well detect a physical intrusion, tells me their Tks were doing something else.”
“You’re assuming they have telekinetics.”
“Anyone with enough power to mount that kind of op has the pull to have a unit of Tks under his or her command.” She put her hands on her hips. “I want to borrow Brenna for a couple of hours, have her bring up satellite images of certain areas.”
She was a novice soldier, didn’t have the rank to make such a bold demand—but she’d also been the protégée of a Psy most considered the Council’s military mastermind. “How do you plan to figure out where to look?” he asked instead of dismissing the request outright.
She tapped her temple. “Ming was, and probably still is, the best of the best when it comes to martial strategy. No matter who’s running this, I can outthink them if I think like him.”
He took an instant to weigh the variables, almost able to see the impatience flashing in her eyes. That was his girl, he thought, hiding his grin. “You can have Brenna—for half an hour,” he said. “She’s got too many other things on her plate.”
Lines formed between her eyebrows but she nodded. “I’ll narrow things down as much as possible before I go to her—that’ll make it more efficient.”
An hour and a half later, he could still see the white-hot rays of the Sierra sun glinting off the red in her hair as she turned to jog back to the den. The woman in front of him was an altogether different creature, had no fire in her soul. Nikita Duncan had given birth to an empath, then thrown her away. She was as cold as her daughter was full of heart. Even in looks alone, they were poles apart.
Nikita had cool white skin, eyes from Japan, and cutting cheekbones that complemented the razor-straight jet of her hair. Sascha’s skin was colored a warm brown, her hair a curling tumble of soft black, her face softer, more rounded. Both unquestionably beautiful women. Except one had the blood of a reptile, while the other would spill her own to save a stranger.
“How are you, Sascha darling?” he murmured under his breath as Nikita turned to say something to the other Councilor at the table, the enigmatic Anthony Kyriakus—tall, patrician, his black hair silvered at the temples.
Sascha made a rueful face from his left. “About to give birth. That’s what it feels like, anyway.”
Her muttered words made him grin, but he could see that Lucas wasn’t amused. He wondered how big of a fight the two had had today about Sascha’s attendance at this meeting—not that Lucas would’ve taken any chances with really riling her up now that she was so close to her due date. If Hawke had to guess, he’d say the leopard alpha had bitten his tongue even as his animal went insane at the idea of his pregnant mate so close to those who might cause her harm. And for once, Sascha, the empath, seemed clueless.
Moving his lips to her ear, he murmured, “Sweetheart, you know I love you, but you need to get Luc away from here before he loses his mind.”
Sascha froze, stared. Her eyes turned midnight within one blink and the next. “Oh dear,” she whispered. “How did I miss that?”
“Probably because you’re nine and a half months pregnant.”
Rolling her eyes at him, she leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.
Lucas’s growl was audible.
“Lucas,” Sascha said at the same moment, “I don’t feel that great.”
The DarkRiver alpha shoved back his chair and bundled Sascha out of the room so fast that Anthony and Nikita were left staring. Vaughn, having been holding up the wall at their backs, slid into Lucas’s seat with smooth feline grace, while Nathan took the one Sascha had vacated. Across from them, Nikita continued to stare out the door.
“She’s not about to give birth,” the Councilor said into the silence a second later, and Hawke realized she’d been telepathing her daughter.
“How close is she?” Max Shannon asked as he walked in. “Sorry I’m late—got caught up in traffic.”
“Where’s your J, cop?” Vaughn asked instead of answering the question.