“Talk to Faith.”
“She’s not here.”
“You’re just like an annoying little sister, you know that?” A sadness in his voice, in his eyes, that was old and worn. “Always asking questions.”
Seeing the smile that balanced the sorrow, Sahara decided not to pull back. “So?”
The smile grew wider, deep grooves forming in his cheeks. “So, talk to Faith.”
Having arrived at their destination, Sahara checked to make sure the coast was clear. Except this time, she pressed her hand against the door once inside to make sure they didn’t inadvertently shock anyone else. “You’re checking for small incendiary devices?”
A nod. “The Arrows found one at the other end of the station—cheap and easy to make, small range but big noise. Vasquez might have seeded the station with them to fool people into believing the entire place was mined to blow.”
“To delay rescue efforts once people began to collapse from the gas.” Intelligent in the most psychopathic of ways.
“Ye—” Vaughn’s sudden silence told her he’d found something. “Stay behind the wall until I give the all clear.”
Sahara didn’t argue, well aware that, protective as he’d become of her, Vaughn wouldn’t be able to focus if she flouted his command. Earlier, he’d thrust a chocolate bar into her hand with an order that she eat the whole thing. “Psychic muscles use energy,” he’d said. “And don’t even try to argue. Faith doesn’t get away with that and neither will you.”
Sahara had taken great pleasure in pointing out that he was acting exactly like Kaleb. His growl would’ve raised every hair on her body if she hadn’t been grinning and eating chocolate at the time.
“Done,” he said now, three minutes after he’d asked her to stay behind the wall. Placing the remnants of the device into his duffel bag, he rose. “Let’s go.”
They had just stepped outside when— “—may have been compromised. Push go!”
Sahara was speaking to Kaleb even as the final word echoed in her mind. They know! Kaleb! So close to the poison, he’d never survive the exposure.
A minuscule pause that sent her heart into her throat before Kaleb said, It’s all right. We’ve defused the poison bomb. I’m in the process of teleporting the container out now.
There were three small booms on the heels of Kaleb’s words, but though people hesitated, looking around for answers, no one panicked. Acting as planned in the event of a possible panic situation, the Arrows ducked their heads and merged into the flurry of people in the station, as changeling teams moved in to cordon off the damaged areas.
Since Vaughn was one of those changelings, she heard him feed the curious a story about teenagers playing with banned fireworks. The explanation wasn’t wholly believed, but the travelers, regardless of race, relaxed as soon as they realized the changelings had the situation under control. It gave Sahara a glimpse of exactly how much San Francisco had become a changeling—specifically leopard —city.
In the end, that was the only damage done that day, but Vasquez, faceless and unidentifiable, remained in the wind. Accepting Kaleb’s offer of a teleport, the changeling trackers used the faint scent found at the fan to begin their hunt, each changeling accompanied by an Arrow who could scan for and block possible psychic attacks.
Not strong or fast enough to keep up, Sahara decided to stay at the station. “In case Vasquez or his men decide to circle back,” she said to Kaleb.
He nodded, his eyes connecting with Vaughn’s. “Take care of her.”
The jaguar male’s responding nod was quiet, the grim look he laid on Sahara after Kaleb left not the least unexpected. “He’s not the kind of man you want to be involved with.”
Sahara made a face at him. “That would be my business.”
“Sorry, doesn’t work like that.” Folding his arms, he leaned back against the wall, eyes fully jaguar. “You’re family now, little sister.”
“And look how safe you are,” she said, hands on her hips. “I’m sorry, anyone who turns into a predatory cat with big teeth and claws can’t exactly throw stones.”
Vaughn narrowed his eyes at her. “I will hurt him if he puts a single bruise on you.”
“You won’t have to,” Sahara said softly. “He’d end himself before causing me harm.” As he’d once almost done . . . her beautiful Kaleb who had bled so much she’d thought he’d do permanent damage to his brain.
“No! Don’t! Kaleb, stop!”
* * *
I T was a long day that merged into an even longer night. Kaleb stayed with the changeling trackers . . . and Sahara stayed with him. She’d left the station when it became night-quiet and gone to DarkRiver’s HQ, but remained connected to Kaleb on the telepathic plane. It was a quiet reminder that he mattered, that someone would miss him if he was gone.
Ahead of him, one of the trackers—a wolf named Drew—held up a hand. Kaleb scanned the area and pinpointed a number of Psy minds in the vicinity, but there was nothing to tell him if one belonged to the individual who’d left the scent, whether it had been Vasquez or one of his skeleton team. Then a gunshot rang out from the four-level garage to the left and he had a far smaller area to scan.
Unable to teleport to the location without a clear visual, he ran to a vehicle in front of the structure, then reached for both Judd and Aden with his mind. I need cover.
Go. Laser fire erupted from all sides, interspersed with the harder sounds of gunfire.