“Suggests a team with military training,” Kenji murmured before pausing and asking Emani to reorder the images a certain way. “No, not a team. Look at what I’d bet was the first kill—broken neck. The rest are all clean strikes with a laser weapon. Silent and efficient.”
“We agree. It appears the individual responsible for the executions took the weapon from the first victim and proceeded to use it to eliminate the others.”
And, Riaz thought, if the yacht had been found in the high seas, that pointed to the involvement of a second craft—no one but another water-based changeling could’ve swum to shore from that far out. In which case, BlackSea would’ve sunk the boat and its dead cargo in short order, no one the wiser.
“Our people,” Emani said, breaking into his thoughts, “had enough time before a Psy team located the boat that we were able to gather a significant amount of data. One of the things we discovered was this scrap of fabric.”
Riaz stared at the image of the ragged square, one half of it bearing an emblem of some kind. “I’ve seen that before.”
“Yes, very likely.” Emani input a command and the fragment re-formed into a whole.
Kenji hissed out a breath. “Son of a bitch.”
ADRIA had just finished having coffee with Tarah and was heading back to the office she’d been assigned down the corridor from Drew when Shawnelle ran up to her. With an exuberant personality and wild bronze curls to match, the athletic fifteen-year-old was incredibly sweet, a gentle maternal submissive.
“You didn’t forget?” the girl asked.
“No,” Adria reassured her. “I was about to get my camera—you want photos, right?”
A bright smile against skin the shade of polished teak. “Do you think anyone will want to see?”
“Don’t try that shy act on me,” Adria teased, tugging on one of Shawnie’s tight curls. “Walker’s put me onto your tricks.”
Shawnie giggled, protesting her innocence all the way to Adria’s office, where Adria grabbed a camera capable of taking holographic images as well as high-definition two-dimensional shots. “I’m all yours.”
Shawnelle led her quickly down the corridors, past all the busy sections, to a small room at the very back. Pushing through the door, she waved Adria in with excited motions.
Entering, Adria whistled. “You have a bunch of elves working for you?”
“The others helped,” Shawnie said. “Especially Becca and Ivy.”
Adria shook her head. The room had been four plain stone walls and a door when she’d assisted Shawnie make the request for a work space. The teen had been terrified of approaching Riley on her own, but she’d had the will. All Adria had had to do was provide moral support.
Now, the four walls were each painted a different colors from lime green to blood orange to aqua-blue and crisp white, the paint remnants no doubt left over from when the maternals had redone the common areas of the den. Vibrant and alive, it suited Shawnie. The faded carpet on the floor was clearly a discard from someone’s home, but it had been washed and dusted to within an inch of its life, its battered elegance imparting a warm coziness to the room.
Against one wall stood a long table on which were spread swatches of fabric, beside it a compact sewing machine, while there was a small curtained cubicle to the back. Walking to the cubicle, Shawnie whispered to the person on the other side—Ivy, from the scent—then glanced at Adria. “Ready?”
Adria held up the camera. “Set.”
Taking a deep breath, Shawnie pulled the curtain back with a theatrical flourish to reveal her friend dressed in a beautifully worked black jacket that nipped in at the waist before flaring out gently just above Ivy’s slender hips. It was detailed with funky beading on one shoulder—as if a colorful rain had fallen down the velvet of the jacket—and set atop a simple pair of blue jeans, strappy black heels completing the look.
Stunned by the beauty of Shawnie’s work, Adria didn’t say anything as Ivy held a number of poses to fully display the jacket. “Sweetheart, you’re a star.” She smiled at Ivy. “And you’re on the way to being on a catwalk.”
They both blushed, looking toward each other with huge smiles.
Adria snapped a photo, capturing the moment. “That one’s for you two.” Then she took a number of shots of Ivy displaying Shawnie’s creation for SnowDancer’s weekly newsletter.
“You really like it?” Shawnie asked afterward, her heart on her sleeve.
“I’d wear it if it was in my size,” Adria said honestly, conscious that nurturing the juvenile’s pride and self-confidence, while listed nowhere in her official mandate as Shawnie’s trainer, would flow into every other aspect of the girl’s life—including the defensive and aggressive moves Adria was teaching her.
As Shawnie bounced away to help Ivy change out of the jacket, Adria’s wolf laid its head on its paws, its belly warm with contentment—like the human part of her, it knew this work was as important to the health of the pack as any battle victory, any security measure. Shawnie’s bright spirit, Ivy’s innocent pleasure in her friend’s accomplishment, these were the things every dominant fought to protect.
KENJI met Riaz’s gaze after Emani signed off. “How do you want to handle this?”
“I’ll go talk to Bo,” Riaz said, referring to the security chief and effective leader of the Human Alliance, a man he’d taken care to get to know after the Alliance’s run-in with SnowDancer and DarkRiver.