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

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

It hit the exposed stone wall of the tunnel with a hard thump.

Light poured out, muted and cold.

He walked in.

Chapter 2

Empaths are uniformly seen as good, but no sentient being is a two-dimensional caricature. We all have our light and our shadows—this truth is a core reason why I titled this book as I did. Because even Es aren’t without darkness. How can they be? They often deal with the grimmest and most violent emotions of them all.

—Author’s Note, The Mysterious E Designation: Empathic Gifts & Shadows by Alice Eldridge (Reprint: 2082)

SHE STARED AT him from where she sat crumpled on the floor, her tight black curls a wild and matted mass and her dark brown eyes huge and tear-reddened in a triangular face with a pointed chin and lush lips. Her skin was a pallid brown devoid of the glow that came from the heat of the sun, and her clothes hung off her frame: faded blue jeans, a large black sweater, and old canvas sneakers.

Her scent was soap and salt and an intrinsic bite he couldn’t name.

In her arms, she held the body of a gray cat from which Alexei could scent the tiniest edge of decay. Ragged thin fur, a sense of fragility—the cat had been old when it died. A creature that had gone when its time had come, not one whose life had been stolen. The E held it with infinite care, and when Alexei did nothing to approach or startle her, she bent her head over her dead pet and cried again, her grief like waves crashing against his skin.

She wasn’t afraid of him, was too lost in her pain to see the predator in the room. Or perhaps she did . . . and didn’t care.

And he knew: that cat had been her only connection to the world, to life.

Alexei fought his need to go to her, offer her comfort. Before anything else, he was a SnowDancer lieutenant, and their pack had been hurt by the Psy one too many times.

He did a quick but thorough reconnaissance of the entire bunker. It didn’t take long. He found a bedroom, neat and tidy, though the clothes in the freestanding wardrobe made his hand tighten on the wardrobe door. He barely stopped himself from wrenching off the door and breaking it to splinters. A large cat-sized basket sat to one side, complete with what looked to be hand-knitted toys and a blanket. A half-full bowl of water rounded out the items.

No food bowl, but he had a feeling the little E with the big eyes must’ve hand-fed her elderly pet soft foods. She must’ve been so scared as she watched over her pet, knowing that every breath could be its last.

Hands fisting at his side, he carried on in his recon.

The toilet and a tight cubicle shower flowed off the bedroom. Across the narrow hallway from the bedroom was a room that held a small kitchen on one side, and a sofa on the other. The sofa faced a comm screen set to entertainment-only. The communications module, he saw at a glance, had been manually removed.

The kitty litter box sat at the far end of the hallway, close to the door he’d torn off. It was a model that turned the waste into small, odorless pellets that could be disposed of in the trash.

The trash receptacle was similar and connected to a chute that must have been put in place when the water was plumbed in. It didn’t emerge on the outside or SnowDancer would’ve discovered it. Likely, it went to a small recycling or compacting unit concealed behind the wall, a unit that a teleporter could ’port out and put back when it reached capacity. And since the temperature in the bunker was mild instead of freezing, there was probably a heating and cooling system hidden beside the recycling unit.

It wouldn’t need to be big to service an area this size.

He’d also spotted signs of a ventilation system. It was clearly an excellent one—the air was fresh, with no stuffiness to it. He’d put his money on the intake and exhaust valves being hidden higher up the mountainside. If they were small enough, no one would notice, not among all the shattered rocks.

The original work must’ve been done during the period decades earlier when SnowDancer didn’t have the resources for satellites or the people to run regular patrols up here—the Psy who’d built this must’ve come in with precision plans, done the work at speed. Of course, having teleporters on the team took care of most of the risk.

The entire setup was perfect for a prison the warden didn’t often visit.

And that was it.

No other doors to the outside world. No light but that thrown by the old-fashioned battery-powered strips that hummed and irritated his ear and had nothing in common with natural light. No sign that anyone but the empath and her pet had ever lived here.

Yet this place was old. Much older than the empath. That information was visible in the fixtures and panels used to build the place, and in the wear and tear on the walls, along with the age of the built-in appliances in the kitchen.

Whoever had put the E in here hadn’t constructed the place. But it was the perfect hole in which to imprison a living being. No one would hear you scream, not even a changeling standing right on top of you.

Alexei would’ve either gone mad or broken every bone in his body trying to slam through the only door. The woman he’d seen was nowhere strong enough to have caused even minor damage to that door.

The E hadn’t moved while he prowled around, her tears silent as she hugged her pet to her heart. As a wolf, Alexei wasn’t much of a cat person—the only exceptions were a newborn SnowDancer who promised to turn into a leopard, and her mother. Little Belle would be the only cat with “dual citizenship” in a wolf pack. But no matter his views on cats, Alexei understood what it was to love a pet who’d been a loyal companion for years, and he understood what it was to grieve the loss of that pet.

That the cat had died a natural death didn’t mean the E’s pain would be any less.

Crouching down across from her, at least a foot of distance between them, he tempered his driving urge to haul her into his arms. She wasn’t a wolf. More to the point, he was a large, strange male.

Act civilized, Alexei.

His wolf took a step back while the human half of him tried to look smaller and less like a very dangerous wolf with sharp teeth. At least his eyes were human again. And while he was generally annoyed by his face—he was far too fucking pretty for a SnowDancer lieutenant—it might come in handy here.

The first thing he needed to know was if the teleporter who’d put her in this place was apt to return—and if that teleporter could lock onto faces or just locations. Barking out that question, however, was a bad idea.

“What was your cat’s name?” he asked with every ounce of gentleness he possessed.

The empath went motionless, her body stiff and her shoulders raised as she hunched protectively over her pet’s body.

Alexei realized then and there that he couldn’t hope to gain this trapped woman’s trust rapidly enough to keep her safe; trust took time, took patience. “I’m Alexei, a SnowDancer wolf, and I need to get you out of here,” he said, switching tactics with the speed of the predator that lived under his skin. “I’m assuming it’s a teleporter who brought you here. Can that person lock on to your face?” The latter was a rare ability among teleport-capable telekinetics, but he could assume nothing.

A long silence from the E, followed by a jagged shake of her head.

“Then we move.” He could take care of himself, his bones tough enough to handle being thrown against a wall by telekinesis. She didn’t have that advantage—and a teleporter could grab and leave with her while he was out of action. There was a reason the now-defunct Psy Council had co-opted telekinetics into their ranks; the fuckers were tough opponents.

Alexei rose, went into her bedroom—to return with the knitted blanket from her cat’s basket. “You can wrap your pet in this.” He knew without asking that she would never agree to abandon the body, not even to save her own life. “We’ll give him a burial as soon as we’re safe.”

No response.

Barely stopping the urge to bare his teeth at her, his wolf wanting to get her to safety now, he said, “You don’t move, the teleporter comes back, you stay in this prison.” When she didn’t stir, he went for the jugular. “So does your pet.”

A burst of ragged motion at his rough words devoid of softness or apparent care. But regardless of her intent, she struggled to get to her feet with her pet’s body in her arms, as if she’d been in that position so long that her legs didn’t work quite right anymore.

“I’m going to help you up.” Alexei waited and, when she didn’t twist away, placed his hands under her upper arms.

He all but lifted her up.

Her bones were like a bird’s. He’d seen food in the kitchen, so her captor wasn’t attempting to starve her—but trapped creatures often gave up on eating. Jaw clenched, he made sure she was stable, then stepped back and spread the blanket over his arms. Her lower lip quivered as she put her pet on it before quickly reclaiming the blanket-wrapped body from him.

Alexei took a second to grab a metal chair he’d seen in her lounge.

He didn’t have to ask her to follow—she did so without a word. Once under the trapdoor, he put the chair directly beneath, illuminating the area using the light from his phone. She didn’t have a wolf’s eyes, couldn’t see in the dark. “I’m going to stand on this,” he told her. “I need you to climb up close to me and allow me to lift you up through the hole.”

He held out his arms for her pet’s body, sorry for this wild creature that may have spent its entire existence in a cage; the only mercy was that it appeared to have been deeply loved. “I’ll pass him through after.”

Her eyes flicked up to the trapdoor, an unexpectedly ferocious determination suddenly vivid on her features. Instead of handing him her small burden, she put it down on the ground with tender care. Alexei used the opportunity to shrug off his jacket so he could give it to the E. He’d looked for her own coat when he’d grabbed the blanket, but hadn’t spotted one. The sweater she was wearing appeared to be her thickest item of clothing.

As it was, he didn’t need his jacket for survival; he’d only put it on because the pack’s very pregnant healer had silently held it out with a “wear this or feel my wrath” look on her face. Alexei wasn’t scared of Lara’s wrath, but neither was he about to stress her out when she was growing a pup inside her. He’d put on the damn jacket and had been glad of it when the freezing rain pelted down.

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