Adria froze in the doorway, her eyes huge.
“More like what you expected?” he murmured in her ear, nudging her forward with a caressing stroke of his hand on her lower back.
Clearly captivated by the meeting room that, at first glance, seemed suspended over nothing but water, she walked slowly inside. The Alliance building was on the very edge of the city, which meant it was possible to actually see the water lapping at the biosphere from a number of lower-floor rooms. Located in a corner, with three glass walls, this one was the most magnificent—it created the illusion of the clear blue-green water touching the glass, when the actual curve of the biosphere was several meters away.
As if putting on a show, a pod of sleek silvery fish darted across that water, their scales catching the sunlight from above.
Not saying a word, Adria crossed the deep green of the carpet to look through the windows into the water. Up close, Riaz knew the view was bisected on the right side by the remnants of neighboring buildings that had sunk and deteriorated pre-Restoration, as well as by the wooden pilings on which those buildings had once stood, but flawlessly clear on the side that faced out into the lagoon.
“She’s damn beautiful,” Bowen said, and it was a question.
Riaz’s response was instinctive. “She’s taken.” Neither part of him cared that the agreement he’d made with Adria gave him no rights of possession.
“Lucky bastard, whoever he is.” An oblique glance.
Adria turned at that moment, the light from the water playing over the clean angles of her face, the light-shot amber of her eyes a silent indication of her wolf’s fascination with this strange city. “I’d go insane living here, but for a visit, yes, it’s a sight.”
“You should see the view during a storm.” Bo walked over to the conference table already set with sandwiches, water, fruit, and cookies, urging them to take a seat. “Even some of the folks who live and work here can’t handle it. The reminder that there’s not much between Venice and oblivion cuts too deep into the bone.”
“You like it.” Adria’s voice had thawed a fraction, her lush mouth soft with the faintest of smiles.
Bowen cheeks creased into a deep smile in return. “Yes. She’s a stunning lady, my Venezia.”
Riaz’s wolf bristled at the hint of flirtation in the male’s voice, but he managed to remain polite as they each grabbed some food. “So,” he said, once everyone had had a chance to take a few bites, “why the intense paranoia?”
Swiveling in his chair, a cookie in hand, Bo used a sleek black remote to bring up an image on the comm screen behind him. It was of a middle-aged man, a little pudgy and altogether harmless looking. “One of our senior comm specialists.” He dropped the cookie onto his plate, his jaw a hard line. “We found out two weeks ago that the Psy broke and programmed him.”
ADRIA pushed aside her plate, appetite lost. “Did he survive?” Brainwashing was hard on Psy minds from what she’d picked up from the Laurens, but it was brutal on changelings, involving as it did the shattering of their strong natural shields. With humans, it could go either way, since their natural shields were so weak as to be nonexistent—but their brains also weren’t built to take that kind of psychic pressure.
“He’s on life support.” Bo’s tone was bleak. “We’re trying everything we can to give him a shot, but…” Rubbing his jaw, he took a deep breath, and when he next spoke, the bleakness had been replaced by anger. “He was—is—a good man, fought hard not to give in to the compulsions. The doctors say he had to have suffered constant nosebleeds, worse.”
“You think he failed,” Riaz said, his anger a quiet, dangerous thing that spoke to her own. “That he compromised your comm system from the inside?”
“Thing is,” Bo said, “Reuben can’t tell us what he did or didn’t do—by the time we discovered what the bastards had done to him, he’d lapsed into a coma.” He shifted his chair sideways, so he could see the comm screen and them at the same time. “We’re in the process of ripping out and reinstalling every single piece of comm equipment on-site. Software and hardware. Until that’s complete, we’re in total shutdown on any but the most general conversation.”
“Cell phones?” Riaz asked.
“We’re replacing the whole lot—Reuben was the one who issued them to us.” He shook his head. “New ones are supposed to arrive today for the techs to pull apart and check.”
Adria agreed with the precautions, extreme though they might seem. Only a fool would consider the Psy race a nonthreat. “Do you have any idea who orchestrated the attack on Reuben?” It was easy to generalize the Psy as the enemy, but the psychic race ran the gamut from the innocent to the evil, same as changelings and humans.
Bo’s expression turned brutal, stripped bare of any lingering trace of the charm he’d earlier displayed. A quick touch of the remote and the image of Reuben was replaced by that of a woman with cheekbones that could cut glass. Her hair was a deep, luxuriant mahogany, her skin slightly olive toned, her eyes an acute hazel-green.
“Tatiana Rika-Smythe.” Ice in every syllable. “She’s not as flashy as some of the other Councilors—this one’s more like a snake in the grass.”
“You sound certain.” Adria had been in the upper hierarchy of the pack long enough to know that Councilors had a way of working machinations behind machinations.
Bo discarded Tatiana’s photo for another image, that of the yacht that had started everything. It sat adrift in the ocean. “Ask me why I was on that yacht in the middle of the f**king Mediterranean with seven Psy guards.”