Kiss of Snow Page 35

“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.

“On her way,” Max said, referring to his wife, a former Justice Psy who remained uplinked to the Net in spite of her broken Silence. “She might have some info for us.”

Hawke didn’t trust anyone hooked into the PsyNet given how deep the Psy Councilors’ tentacles were on the psychic plane, but he had nothing against Max’s J in particular. In fact, he kinda liked her—Sophia carried shadows in her eyes. Shadows meant a life lived, a personality beyond the ice.

Riley stirred beside him. “Did you both read the report we sent through?”

“Yes,” Nikita and Anthony answered simultaneously.

Again, interesting. It made Hawke wonder what other machinations the two were getting up to behind everyone else’s backs.

“Neither one of us orchestrated the attack on your people,” Nikita said. “Whether you believe that or not is up to you, but it makes no logical sense for us to weaken this region at present.”

Meaning that if the other Councilors hadn’t been a threat, Nikita might well have spilled changeling blood. Then again, Hawke thought, considering everything they knew about her, Nikita followed the money—war would be bad for her bottom line. There was also the fact that her security chief was a man with an impeccable code of honor, a man who’d laid his life on the line to protect the innocent.

As for Anthony, quite aside from the fact that the cats had vouched for him on previous occasions, the man controlled an empire of F-Psy worth billions. No one and nothing could shake him from that position. More to the point, the NightStar Group had always been willing to deal with anyone who could pay the fees demanded for a forecast: human, Psy or changeling.

Max tapped the table now. “Plus, neither Nikita nor Anthony have the manpower. Simple as that.” It was an admission of weakness, an opening gambit.

“Who else can you rule out?” Nathan, the most senior of Lucas’s sentinels and a man with a head as calm and clear as Riley’s, leaned forward.

“It’s not Kaleb,” Nikita said at once. “He’s distracted by another matter at present.”

“Our information,” Riley inserted, “is that Kaleb has either gained, or is close to gaining, control over the Arrow Squad.”

A long, careful pause. “You have excellent sources,” Anthony replied at last. “Yes, it does appear the Arrows have shifted their allegiance from Ming to Kaleb—and their priority has always been Silence and the integrity of the Net. The squad disassociated from Ming because he lost sight of that priority. Kaleb is unlikely to repeat the mistake.”

That tracked with the information Judd had been able to get from his contacts.

“It’s possible Tatiana is backing the Scotts,” Nikita added, “but she’ll have kept enough distance that nothing rebounds back on her. As for Ming, he has spoken against the Scotts in Council and appears to be more focused on internal matters.”

Hawke entered the conversation. “You seem certain the Scotts are behind this.” Their own intelligence supported the same conclusion, but he wanted to hear Nikita’s and Anthony’s reasons.

“It’s patent they want total, unopposed control of the Net,” Anthony said, the aristocratic lines of his face without expression but holding a charisma that would’ve made the man a force even without the foreseers under his command. “Aside from Kaleb, who is too formidable an adversary to challenge at this stage, Nikita and I are the only ones standing in their way—because we’re acting together and in a region that can defend itself.”

“We won’t be able to pin it on them,” Nikita said with a frigid bluntness Hawke was coming to associate with her. “They’ll have made certain of it.”

SEVENTY minutes later, Hawke had another discussion, this time with a much tighter group. Him, Riley, Judd, the two DarkRiver sentinels who’d attended the meeting, plus Lucas and Sascha. They met outside the alpha pair’s cabin. Hawke didn’t tease the leopard male today, knowing how on edge he had to be, having his mate so close to those who weren’t Pack. It didn’t matter that the wolves were allies—it was about the animal’s need to protect.

Frankly, Hawke was surprised Lucas had agreed to the meeting . . . but no, perhaps he wasn’t. Sascha and Lucas had the kind of relationship that every alpha craved, Hawke included. Sascha wasn’t just a lover, wasn’t simply a playmate in the best sense of the world; she was a partner, Lucas’s first port of call when he needed advice.

It was instinctive to think of Sienna. So young . . . too young.

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.

Frowning at the reminder of exactly how she’d gained that depth of knowledge, he turned to Luc. “What’s your gut say?” He knew the alpha had sat in on the meeting via the subtle comm system Vaughn had been wearing.

“Nikita’s right—no way to pin the violence on the Scotts, though everything points to them.” Lucas rubbed at his stubbled jaw. “But who says we have to?”

“If we strike back and hit the wrong target,” Hawke responded, “we lose the element of surprise.”

“I know it’s not my mother,” Sascha said from the cushioned wicker chair positioned against the cabin wall. “Not because she’s my mother, but because I know how she works. If someone was trying to mount a hostile takeover of SnowDancer’s assets, cut you off at the knees in financial terms, I’d be the first to point the finger at her.”

“It’s not Anthony,” Vaughn said without clarifying. The fact that he was mated to Anthony’s daughter, however, did give the jaguar changeling a high level of credibility. It also made Hawke wonder, not for the first time, about Anthony Kyriakus’s loyalties.

“I agree with Nikita about Ming and Kaleb Krychek,” Judd said. “Ming’s taken a hit with the loss of the Arrows and will still be consolidating his remaining troops. I can say with categorical certainty that the squad won’t have mobilized on this big an operation for Kaleb yet.”

Riley, pragmatic as always, asked the critical question. “Does Krychek have access to other operatives?”

“Yes. But fact is, he’s a powerful enough telekinetic that he doesn’t need anyone when it comes down to it. This is a man who could cause an earthquake, collapse the entire city.”

“Jesus,” Vaughn said as Lucas whistled. “Seriously?”

“His abilities are so far off the scale that the Gradient is meaningless.” Judd’s tone was matter-of-fact. “He’s a master game player, so I won’t discount him totally, but Kaleb’s got two powerful packs in his region, and he’s exhibited no aggression toward either.”

“BlackEdge and StoneWater.” Riley nodded. “We’ve got a line of communication with them, and from what they’ve shared, it looks like Krychek leaves them alone as long as they do the same with him. Doesn’t make sense that he’d come out here to pick a fight with us.”

“If we take Krychek off the table,” Hawke said, “it leaves us with the same three Anthony and Nikita fingered.”

“We go after all three.” Lucas’s tone was hard. “Surgical strikes, same as their hit.”

Hawke, his mind awash in the blood scent and pain of his fallen, growled in agreement. “It has to be hard, and it has to be fast.” The enemy had to understand the packs had teeth and no hesitancy about using them.

“The Scotts and Tatiana,” Judd said, “are all protected behind walls of near-impregnable security. It’s going to be difficult to get close to them.”

“Not them,” Sascha said, then yawned. “Sorry.”

Everyone laughed, and the moment provided some much-needed levity.

“Okay, what I was saying before I fell asleep”—she leaned against her mate’s thigh, where he stood with his back to the wall by her side—“is that you don’t go after them. You go after something that represents them. Something big and shiny.”

Judd’s eyes landed on Sascha. “Are you sure you’re an empath?”

“I grew up with Nikita for a mother.”

It was relatively easy to choose a target for Henry Scott—his London residence was in an eminent location and worth millions. The bonus was that Judd had been in and around the place as an Arrow, knew how their people could evade security. Shoshanna Scott also presented little problem. She’d bought a huge office building in Dubai a month ago—currently untenanted, it had minimal security.

“No casualties—security guards have to be clear before we strike,” Hawke said, because killing innocents would make them no better than the Councilors. “We don’t compromise on this.”

“Agreed.” Lucas closed his hand over Sascha’s shoulder. “Do you have anyone in London? I know Jamie’s roaming in that area, so we can pull him in.”

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