Home > Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity #3)(15)

Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity #3)(15)
Author: Nalini Singh

Then there was Alexei’s report about her ability to impact changelings with potent emotional broadcasts. A weapon? It was a possibility Hawke couldn’t discount, not when pockets of the Psy race remained violently opposed to the Ruling Coalition’s progressive decisions—including the decision to sign the Trinity Accord. To those Psy, changelings remained an inferior race that had to be brought to heel.

He braced for a barrage as he walked across the snow-laden field, but the E wasn’t broadcasting. He’d made the call to go in first, with the others waiting in the trees. No point in startling or scaring the empath if she was an innocent, and if the time came that Hawke couldn’t take on a small E who stared at him in mutinous fury, then he needed to give up being alpha.

Inside him, his wolf was too astonished by her temerity to be annoyed.

He focused on her strange courage as he walked forward, and not on the ghosts awakened by Alexei’s discovery of the bunker. Not on the husky voice of a woman with sea green eyes and an artist’s hands who’d tumbled a small boy to the floor with enthusiastic kisses that made him laugh . . . and who hadn’t been able to survive her mate’s passing. And never on the last words spoken by a strong, tormented man who lay dying on the snow, his blood scarlet against the white while the same boy, a little older by then, clutched at his hand.

Hawke’s parents were long dead, could feel no more pain. His pack, however, was vibrant and alive, and it was his task as alpha to protect each and every member. Even if that meant eliminating a threat in the form of a small empath with the grit—many would say foolhardy grit—to meet an alpha wolf’s gaze.

Alexei’s eyes opened. They held no surprise at seeing Hawke coming toward him. Rising to his feet, he said, “Hawke.” A glance at the E. “Memory, this is my alpha, Hawke.”

The empath’s shoulders were already stiff. Now her hands fisted at her sides, and she shot Hawke a look full of such anger that it battered his skull. Catching Alexei’s glance, he saw the other man give a small shake of his head. So, the little E with the big eyes wasn’t doing it on purpose—and she was a power.

“Renault isn’t my father!” The words were thrown down like a gauntlet. “If you try to give me back to him, I’ll stab him in the heart right in front of you, then smash his head open and stomp on his psychopathic brain.” Her chest heaved, her words resonant in the mountain air.

Hawke’s wolf decided it liked this small, angry, bloodthirsty creature. “Never heard an E speak so violently before,” he commented, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Renault is a special case.” A deadly growl in Alexei’s voice that had nothing to do with the habitual grumpiness designed to keep others at bay—not that it worked. Pack never let anyone drown; in this particular situation, it was the submissives who’d taken the lead—they had the advantage over their dominant packmates. Where Alexei might snarl and pick a fight with a dominant, he’d never shove away a submissive who needed affection.

Hawke wondered when Alexei would click to the fact that their plant expert Felix didn’t actually need a hug every afternoon and that sweet Evie wasn’t morose without her morning cuddle from him. Hawke was fucking proud of the subtle sneak attack mounted by the gentlest wolves in his pack. “Oh?” he said to Alexei, since the E appeared too apoplectic to form words.

“Memory and I had a ‘talk’ after you sent through the information about her adoption.” Alexei’s slow smile caught Hawke’s attention—he hadn’t seen that particular designed-to-provoke smile for over a year. “It involved her yelling at me for being an imbecile.”

“He didn’t adopt me!” The empath uttered a short scream. “He stole me after murdering my mother!”

The fury coming off her was a deluge of red that threatened to incite Hawke’s wolf to violence regardless of that wolf’s liking for her. As alpha, he was far calmer than most of the dominants under his command, but even he was hitting a teeth-clenching edge.

He was considering how to deal with the E’s violent broadcast when Alexei said, “Memory,” in a tone that was an order.

The E glared at him.

“Want to stomp on my brain, too?” The lieutenant’s lips kicked up in a genuine grin that had been missing for far too fucking long. “I’ve been told my head’s as hard as rock. But you’re doing a good job smashing at it with your mind.”

The E froze at his final words. Ducking her head the next second, her shoulders rigid and her fingers flexed out hard and stiff, she inhaled once, exhaled with slow care . . . and the wave of emotion retreated. Hawke’s wolf shook its fur into place while considering the empath with new eyes. This one had claws.

When she lifted her head back up, her eyes were obsidian. And they were focused on Alexei. “I wouldn’t stomp on your brain,” she said in a firm, sure voice. “I would tie you naked to a chair and put a small biting insect on you. It wouldn’t hurt you, just bite you in places you couldn’t reach to scratch. Over and over.”

Hawke’s shoulders threatened to shake. Alexei had clearly been irritating his mouse with a lion’s mental roar for her to have come up with that particular punishment. Right now, the younger male was scowling at her. “I rescued you, in case you’ve forgotten,” he snarled. “And all I get is attitude.”

The E’s eyes narrowed.

Curious what would happen next—he might be alpha, but he had his share of wolf nosiness—but aware he was delaying the inevitable, Hawke broke into the silent staring contest. “Lexie.” He jerked his head to the left.

Prowling over with Hawke to the middle of the field, far out of the E’s hearing range, Alexei pushed back his damp hair while the misty rain settled on their skin. “You found something else.” Not a question, acute intelligence in the gray of his eyes.

Hawke knew Alexei was in no frame of mind to consider it right now, but Hawke and his senior lieutenant, Riley, were of the opinion that it was Alexei who should be trained as Riley’s backup—the senior lieutenant needed extra time off while his and Mercy’s triplets were so young. At the moment, that coverage was spread across Hawke and all the lieutenants, but it’d cause less disruption if one lieutenant could, when needed, take on the full breadth of Riley’s duties.

The person who did so had to be calm, organized, and able to juggle multiple tasks at will. Alexei, despite his growling bad temper of late, was also the most controlled wolf Hawke had ever met. Which was why it was so interesting that the E had managed to niggle at him with her biting-insect threat.

The Hawke who loved Alexei wanted to abandon the lieutenant with the E and see what other reactions she could provoke in him. But the Hawke who was alpha needed to deal with a possible security threat to his pack. “We found something else,” he confirmed, before taking out his phone. “Have a look at the photographs the techs were able to dig up once we had Memory and Renault’s names.”

* * *

• • •

ALEXEI went motionless.

On the screen was an image of a petite woman with brown skin devoid of the kiss of the sun and brown eyes, her body clad in a dark blue skirt-suit, and her hair meticulously straightened and corralled in a twist at the back of her head. Her gaze was . . . not flat, that wasn’t the right description. The look in her eyes was just subtly wrong.

Alexei looked from the image to the Memory who stood glaring a hole in his skull from near the substation door. “It’s as if she’s two different women.” One a wild creature, the other a being of precision and ice.

Bringing up the next picture, he felt his gut churn. She was dressed the same, but wasn’t alone this time—she walked next to a tall and classically handsome man with smooth brown skin and hazel-brown eyes, his head shaven clean. He could’ve passed for thirty-five, though Alexei knew from Memory’s “adoption” papers that he was in his mid-forties. “Renault?”

Hawke nodded, the silver-gold of his hair shimmering with the misty rain that hadn’t stopped falling all morning. “The images were shot a year earlier by a news crew reporting on a merger—she’s listed as his assistant.”

Alexei forced himself to continue through the photos. His wolf was stiff and unmoving inside his skin, both parts of him struggling against the realization that he’d been taken for a fool. Memory certainly didn’t look under duress in any of these images.

“Renault’s business HQ is in San Francisco,” Hawke added, folding his arms. “He’s a businessman, has fingers in various pies. We haven’t dealt with him, but it was worth our while keeping an eye on him.”

Alexei stared at the last item on Hawke’s phone: a short recording. It had been taken outside a conference center. E. David Renault was talking to the business reporter, while Memory stood only inches away—but around her moved multiple others. Including changelings and humans who would’ve come to her aid if she’d cried out for help.

Blood hot and his hitherto silent wolf opening its mouth in a snarl, he stalked back to her through the snow that had accumulated overnight. Thrusting the phone under her nose, he said, “You want to convince me again how he’s kept you prisoner since childhood?” Not only had she fooled him, but she’d made him like her with her stubborn will and her ferocious anger.

Memory stared at the moving images, then glanced up at him. He expected to see fear, panic, desperation. Instead, she snatched the phone from his hand and threw it as far as she could, then—her obsidian eyes shining wet—she shoved at his chest.

He was so startled that he moved back a step.

She kept shoving at him in a wordless rage that was astonishing in a person so small. He felt slapped by the roar of that rage, but beneath the roar was something darker and heavier.

Despair.

It cut through the red of his fury, smashing to pieces everything he thought he knew. She was an E, he reminded himself, could be using her abilities to manipulate him. But his mind flashed with images of her building the cairn for her beloved pet, the silent tears that had run down her face, the ragged determination of her putting one step after the other as he brought her to safety, the way she’d screamed and refused to surrender to Renault.

   
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