Home > Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity #3)(7)

Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity #3)(7)
Author: Nalini Singh

“Wait.” Grabbing a thinner towel from the sushi roll shelf, he handed that to her, too. “For your hair. Be easier to wrap around your head than that green one.” Despite his recent state of mind, he wasn’t feral; women generally liked him and he’d been around enough of them, both as a lover and as a friend, to pick up certain things.

The empath stared at him, those fathomless eyes searching his face for some indefinable thing. Man and wolf watched her as intently in turn, attempting to figure out this lost E who had claws hidden under her skin. The wolf was of the opinion that it might like a skinny would-be lion with psychic claws who dared meet its gaze.

Then she shivered.

Pointing to the shower, Alexei growled. “Warm up. Now.”

A slight—very slight—narrowing of her eyes that made him want to snap his teeth at her. But she shivered again at that instant and it seemed to decide her. Turning on her heel, she walked through into the shower.

It shut; he heard the lock click, then the shower come on.

Alexei released a harsh breath.

He had not been looking forward to picking her up and dumping her under the hot spray—that would’ve well and truly eliminated any wary trust she had in him. Though . . . being an obstinate and testy lioness-type under her chilled skin, she might well have kicked him in the family jewels while blasting his mind with fury.

Alexei grinned, cheered by the thought.

Deciding he could warm up without the shower, he stripped, then picked up his suspiciously sweet-smelling towel and sniffed at it. Fuck it, he was going to smell like roses. Wolf and man resigned to the ignominy, he rubbed vigorously, until his skin was pleasantly warm from the friction and his hair damp but not wet.

At least none of his pack were here to rag him about his floral bouquet. Brodie would’ve—

His stomach tightened, his heart a stone in his chest.

Hauling the door to the substation open after unlocking it, he stepped outside, shut the door behind him, then threw back his head and howled up at the thunderous black sky. The sound was whipped away by the wind and the rain, his throat raw in the aftermath. But the pain and anger, it was bearable again.

He could think of his big brother again without wanting to break the world. “Fuck you, Brodie.” His chest hurt, his claws stabbing at his skin. “Fuck you.”

This time, he heard no echo of yesterday, no laughter from a ghost. Just the rain and the thunder as lightning cracked the sky.

Chapter 4

Abstract: A study of changeling rogues. Prevalent only in the predatory changeling population. Not subject to any academic study or paper since Dr. Menet’s Rogue Genetics (1989). Shame, fear, grief, are all part of the reason for changeling reticence on this subject.

—Changeling Rogues: Broken Minds & Broken Families by Keelie Schaeffer, PhD (Work in Progress)

BACK INSIDE THE substation, Alexei dried off a second time, then pulled on a pair of black sweatpants and a gray T-shirt that hugged his pecs and biceps. He wasn’t the biggest male in SnowDancer, but he was muscled enough through the shoulders and chest that this had been the best option in the trunk. He’d have to let the supply team know clothes were running low for the larger sizes—should Matthias come up here while he was visiting the main den, he’d be shit out of luck.

Alexei’s friend and fellow lieutenant was built like a tank.

The ordinary thoughts, the ordinary business of being part of a thriving pack, it steadied him. He could never forget that Brodie was dead, had been executed, but he could function again as a SnowDancer lieutenant, as Alexei. Not the Alexei he’d once been, but the man he’d salvaged out of the ashes of his brother’s betrayal.

He didn’t feel the need for a sweatshirt. The substation was kept at a comfortable temperature for his changeling body. Picking up his wet gear and the towel, he placed them in a neat pile outside the bathroom. There had to be a container inside in which he could carry dirty laundry down to the den.

Because he’d learned that lesson a lifetime ago.

His lips kicked up at the unexpected memory.

Aunt Min had blistered both his and Brodie’s ears when, as teens, they’d begun to drop towels on the floor. “Do I look like your maid?” Crossed arms, her booted foot tapping on the floor. “I’ll answer for you—no, I do not. I look like a goddamn SnowDancer soldier who will boot you up the backside if I come home to this mess again.”

Harsh words, but Aunt Min’s discipline had always been meted out with a ferocious love that engulfed them and kept even Brodie from going off the rails—Alexei’s brother had taken up doing dangerous hoverboard stunts and raced dirt bikes on deadly trails, but when he fell, he called their aunt.

Shaking his head at the memory of the time Brodie had broken his leg after taking a dare from a friend to dive into a treacherous waterfall—the idiot had grinned about winning the dare even though his femur was sticking out of his skin—Alexei went back to the front door and input multiple security codes.

His E with a temper could continue to come and go at will, but the system would now send an alert to his phone if the door was opened without his authorization. Alexei wasn’t certain the little lioness was functioning on all cylinders right now. He’d found her in a prison meant for the long term. He’d also seen items of clothing in her closet that had been ragged with age and use, but too small for her petite body. As if she’d grown out of them.

His jaw knotted.

Being imprisoned in a place with no natural light, her only companion a cat, what had it done to her? That she was functional on any level was a fucking miracle—and that she had the strength to feel anger?

He wanted to pick her up and kiss her with a wolf’s pride, tell her she was a goddamn ferocious wonder. But he couldn’t trust that she wouldn’t have a screaming nightmare and run off into the cold and the rain. He had to be ready to intercede if she was in danger of hurting herself.

His nostrils flared. He had her captor’s scent, would never forget it—there’d been only one other scent apart from the E’s—and her pet’s—in the bunker. If the fucker ever came anywhere near Alexei, he was a dead man. Alexei wasn’t a forgiving type of wolf when it came to those who hurt the defenseless.

Mind satisfyingly filled with images of rending the shadowy figure into bloody shreds, he strode to the kitchenette. As he’d expected, it was stocked with nonperishable items. The first thing he did was heat some water and make a couple of packet soups in mugs. The smell that wafted up was salty and delicious. Stomach rumbling, he put the mugs on the small table to one side.

He might be a wolf, but he had manners.

Once, in another universe, women had even considered him charming. But he’d lost his charm when he lost Brodie. He could barely remember the young lieutenant he’d been before his big brother went rogue. All those dominance fights he’d had to handle because people thought he was too pretty to be tough used to aggravate him, but he’d welcome one now. He needed an excuse to pound out his fury on a hapless opponent.

The shower shut off.

Snapping back to his task, he located a stack of ready meals that could be prepared quickly using the small unit in one corner. He took out a selection and put them on the table. Then, as his wolf was all but gnawing at his gut, he chucked in a pasta for himself and—giving up on the manners since he didn’t want the E faced with a snarly wolf—was halfway through it when the bathroom door opened.

His lost E was wearing the stone-gray sweatpants he’d handed her, along with a black T-shirt. She’d also put on the dark blue sweatshirt he’d found. The front featured a maniacally grinning chipmunk with an eye patch.

Lips twitching, Alexei fought back a grin.

The demented chipmunk was the mascot of a local high school. But petite size or not, there was nothing juvenile about the woman in the sweatshirt. It wasn’t so much her body, of which he’d seen little, but her eyes.

Such old eyes.

She’d wrapped the second towel neatly around her head. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat, a glow to them that ameliorated a bit of the sickly paleness beneath the brown of her skin. And the fire he’d spotted in her, it was there yet.

The E wasn’t about to show him her throat.

Cute, he found himself thinking, then was annoyed for noticing when she was skinny from grief and traumatized. But he had eyes, and it wasn’t as if he planned to lunge at her. Alexei preferred his women be tough enough to claw him back—his lovers had always been fellow soldiers. No submissives and definitely no healers.

Empaths fell into the latter category. Soft, gentle creatures. People who broke and got hurt and who should never be in intimate contact with a male of Alexei’s bloodline. Brodie’s mate hadn’t stood a chance when Brodie turned. Brodie had torn out Etta’s throat, spraying the forest grove a wet scarlet.

Alexei’s hand tightened on his fork, the cold, hard metal anchoring him to the here and now as the soft, gentle creature he’d rescued walked toward him. She smelled of lavender soap and some kind of fruity shampoo now—seriously, who was stocking the substation?—but below that was her scent: warm, mysterious, with a sharp bite.

Putting aside his pasta, he nudged the soup in her direction. “Here,” he said, his tone gruff because the fucking memories were haunting him today. Brodie was haunting him, his big brother who’d always been there for Alexei but who Alexei hadn’t been able to save. When Brodie needed him, he’d been helpless.

“Which meal do you want?”

She chose in silence.

They ate and drank in that same silence for a quarter of an hour before he leaned back in his chair. “My name is Alexei,” he reminded her, not sure she’d even processed the words the first time around. “My pack is SnowDancer.”

Seven minutes later: “Memory.” A voice rough with disuse. “My name is Memory.”

Chapter 5

Kaleb Krychek, Ivy Jane Zen, Nikita Duncan, Anthony Kyriakus, and Aden Kai. The names of the five who now control the fate of the PsyNet. We are not humans, to be ruled by democratically chosen leaders. We are more akin to the changelings, who choose their alphas based on power and respect.

   
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