Explore new heights of sensuality in this return to the world of the Psy—where two people who know evil intimately must unlock the good within their icy hearts…
As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now a defector, his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins—cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…
Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted—and had her mind violated—by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…
Unedited Advance Excerpt
A fist crashed into Judd's cheekbone. Focused on eliminating his opponent from the field, he barely noticed the impact, his own fist already swinging out. Tai tried to evade the blow at the last second but it was too late--the young wolf's jaw slammed together with a thick sound that spoke of damage on the inside.
But he wasn't down.
Baring teeth stained red from a cut on his top lip, he rushed at Judd, clearly aiming to use his heavier build as a battering ram to smash his adversary into the hard stone wall. Instead it was Tai who ended up with his back slammed against the stone, his mouth falling open as air punched out of his lungs in an uncontrollable blast.
Judd gripped the other male by the throat. "Killing you would mean nothing to me," he said, tightening his hold until Tai had to be having trouble breathing. "Would you like to die?" His tone was calm, his breathing modulated. It was a state of being that had nothing to do with feeling, because unlike the changeling across from him, Judd Lauren did not feel.
Tai's lips shaped into a curse, but all that materialized was an incomprehensible wheezing sound. To a casual observer it would have seemed that Judd had gained the advantage, but he didn't make the mistake of lowering his guard. So long as Tai hadn't conceded defeat, he remained dangerous. The other male proved that a second later by using the changeling ability to semi-shift--slicing up hands turned to claws.
Those sharp talons cut through leather-synth and flesh without effort, but Judd didn't give the boy a chance to cause him any real injury. Pressing down on a very specific pressure point in Tai's neck, he slammed his erstwhile opponent into unconsciousness. Only when the changeling was completely out did he release his hold. Tai slumped down into a seated position, head hanging over his chest.
"You're not supposed to use Psy powers," a husky female voice said from the doorway.
He had no need to turn to identify her but did so anyway. Extraordinary brown eyes in a fine-boned face topped by a choppily cut cap of blonde hair. Those eyes had been normal and that hair hadn't been short before Brenna had been abducted. By a killer. By a Psy.
"I don't need to use my abilities to deal with little boys."
Brenna walked to stand beside him, her head just reaching his breastbone. He'd never realized how small she was until he'd seen her after the rescue. Lying in that bed scarcely breathing, her energy had been contracted into a ball so tight, he hadn't been sure she was still alive. But her size meant nothing. Brenna Shane Kincaid, he had learned, had a will of pure, undiluted iron.
"That's the fourth time this week you've been in a fight." Her hand rose and he had to stop himself from jerking away. Touch was a changeling thing--the wolves indulged in it constantly and without thought. For a Psy it was an alien concept, something that could ultimately foster a dangerous loss of control. But Brenna had been broken by an evil spawned of his own race. If she needed touch, so be it.
Faint imprints of heat on his cheek. "You'll have a bruise. Come on, let me put something on it."
"Why aren't you with Sascha?" Another renegade Psy, but a healer not a killer. Judd was the one who had blood on his hands. "I thought you had a session with her at eight p.m." It was now five past the hour.
Those stroking fingers slid to linger on his jaw before dropping off completely. Her lashes lifted. And revealed the change that had taken hold five days after her rescue. Eyes that had once been dark brown were now a mix he'd never seen on any sentient being--human, changeling or Psy. Brenna's pupils were pure black, but surrounding those dots of night were bursts of arctic blue, vivid and spiking. They jagged out into the dark brown of the iris, giving her eyes a shattered look.
"It's over," she said.
"What is?" He heard Tai moan but ignored it. The boy was no threat--the only reason Judd had allowed him to land any of his punches was because he understood the way wolf society worked. Being beaten in a fight was bad, but not as bad as being beaten without putting up a solid resistance.
Tai's feelings made no difference to Judd. He had no intention of assimilating into the changeling world. But his niece and nephew, Marlee and Toby, also had to survive in the network of underground tunnels that was the SnowDancer den, and his enemies might become theirs. So he hadn't humiliated the boy by ending the fight before it began.
"Is he going to be alright?" Brenna asked, when Tai moaned a second time.
"Give him a minute or two."
Glancing back at him, she sucked in a breath. "You're bleeding!"
He stepped away before she could touch his shredded forearms. "It's nothing serious." And it wasn't. As a child he had been subjected to the most excruciating pain and then been taught to block it. A good Psy felt nothing. A good Arrow felt even less.
It made it so much easier to kill people.
"Tai went clawed." Brenna's face was furious as she glared down at the male slumped against the wall. "Wait till Hawke hears--"
"He won't hear. Because you won't tell him." Judd didn't need protecting. If Hawke had known what Judd truly was, what he had done, what he had become , the SnowDancer alpha would have taken him out at their first meeting. "Explain your comment about Sascha."
Brenna scowled but didn't press him about the scratches on his arm. "No more healing sessions. I'm done."
He knew how badly she'd been brutalized. "You have to continue."
"No." A short, sharp and very final word. "I don't want anyone in my head again. Ever. Sascha can't get in anyway."
"That makes no sense." Sascha had the rare gift of being able to speak as easily to changeling minds as to Psy. "You don't have the capacity to block her."
"I do now--something's changed."
Tai coughed to full wakefulness and they both turned to watch him as he used the wall to drag himself upright. Blinking several times after getting vertical, he lifted a hand to touch his cheek. "Christ, my face feels like a truck ran into it."
Brenna's eyes narrowed. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"
"Save it. Why did you come after Judd?"
"Brenna, this is none of your concern." Judd could feel blood drying on his skin, the cells already clotting. "Tai and I have come to an understanding." He looked the other male in the eye.
Tai's jaw set, but he nodded. "We're square."
And their relative status in the pack's hierarchy had been clarified beyond any shadow of a doubt--if Judd's rank hadn't already been higher, he would now be dominant to the wolf.
Shoving a hand through his hair, Tai turned to Brenna. "Can I talk to you about--"
"No." She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "I don't want to go with you to your college dance. You're too young and too idiotic."
Tai swallowed. "How did you know what I was going to say?"
"Maybe I'm Psy." A dark answer. "That's the rumor going around, isn't it?"
Streaks of red appeared on Tai's cheekbones. "I told them they were talking shit."
This was the first that Judd had heard of the clearly malicious attempt to cause Brenna emotional pain and it was the last thing he would have predicted. The wolves might make vicious enemies, but they were also fiercely protective of their own and had closed ranks around Brenna as soon as she'd been rescued.
He looked at Tai. "I think you should go."
The young wolf didn't argue, sliding past them as quickly as his legs would carry him.
"Do you know what makes it worse?" Brenna's question shifted his attention from the boy's retreating footsteps.
"It's true." She turned the full power of that shattered blue-brown gaze on him. "I'm different. I see things with these damn eyes he gave me. Terrible things."
"They're simply echoes of what happened to you." A powerful sociopath had ripped open her mind, raped her on the most intimate of levels. That the experience had left her with psychic scars was unsurprising.
"That's what Sascha said. But the deaths I see--"
A scream ripped the moment into two.
They were both running before it ended. A hundred feet down a second tunnel, they were joined by Indigo and a couple of others. As they turned a corner, Andrew came tearing around and clamped his hand on Brenna's upper arm, jerking his sister to a halt and raising his free hand at the same time. Everyone stopped.
"Indigo--there's a body." Andrew snapped out the words like bullets. "Northeast tunnel number six, alcove forty."
Brenna wrenched out of her brother's hold the second he finished and took off without warning. Having caught the unhidden blaze of her anger before she'd quickly masked it, Judd was the first to move after her. Indigo and a furious Andrew followed at his back. Most Psy would have been overtaken by now, but he was different, a difference that had predestined his life in the PsyNet.
Brenna was a streak in front of him, moving with impressive speed for someone who had been confined to a bed only months ago. She'd almost reached the number six tunnel when he caught up. "Stop," he ordered, his breathing not as ragged as it should have been. "You don't need to see this."
"Yes, I do," said on a gasping breath.
Putting on a burst of speed, Andrew grabbed her from the back, linking his arms around her waist to lift her off her feet. "Bren, calm down."
Indigo raced past, a flash of long legs, dark hair streaming behind her.
In Andrew's grip, Brenna began to twist furiously enough to cause herself harm. Judd couldn't allow that. "She'll calm down if you set her free."
Brenna jerked to a stop, chest heaving and eyes surprised. Andrew wasn't so silent. "I'll take care of my sister, Psy ." The last word was a curse.
"What, by locking me up?" Brenna asked in a razor-sharp tone. "I'm never going to be put in a box again, Drew, and I swear if you try, I'll claw my hands bloody getting out." It was a mercilessly graphic image, especially for anyone who had seen the condition she'd been in after they had first found her.
Behind her, Andrew paled, but his jaw remained set. "This is what's best for you."
"Perhaps it's not," Judd said, meeting Andrew's angry eyes without flinching. The SnowDancer soldier blamed all Psy for his sister's pain and Judd could guess at the line of emotion-driven logic that had led him to that conclusion. But those same emotions also blinded him. "She can't spend the rest of her life in chains."
"What the fuck would you know about anything?" Andrew snarled. "You don't even care about your own!"
"He knows a hell of a lot more than you!"
"Bren." Andrew's voice was a warning.
"Shut up, Drew. I'm not a baby anymore." Her voice held echoes of darker things, of evil witnessed and innocence lost. "Did you ever stop to wonder what Judd did for me during the healing? Did you ever bother to find out what it cost him? No, of course not, because you know everything."
She took a jerky breath. "Well, guess what, you know nothing! You haven't been where I've been. You haven't even been close. Let . Me . Go ." The words were no longer enraged but calm. Normal for a Psy. Not for a wolf changeling. Especially not for Brenna. Judd's senses went on high alert.
Andrew shook his head. "I don't care what the hell you say, little sister, you don't need to see that."
"Then I'm sorry, Drew." Brenna slashed her claws across his arms a split-second later, shocking her brother into letting her go. She was moving almost before her feet hit the ground.
"Jesus," Andrew whispered, staring after her. "I can't believe..." He looked down at his bloody forearms. "Brenna never hurts anyone ."
"She's not the Brenna you know anymore," Judd told the other male. "What Enrique did to her altered her on a fundamental level, in ways she herself doesn't understand." He took off after Brenna before Andrew could reply--he had to be beside her to deflect the fallout from this death. What he couldn't understand was why she was so determined to see it.
He caught up with her as she raced past a startled guard and into the small room off tunnel number six. She came to such a sudden halt that he almost slammed into her. Following her gaze, he saw the sprawled body of an unknown SnowDancer male on the floor. The victim's face and naked body bore considerable bruising, the skin splotched different colors by the damage. But Judd knew that that wasn't what held Brenna frozen.
It was the cuts.
The changeling had been sliced very carefully with a knife, none of the cuts fatal but the last. That one had severed the carotid artery. Which meant there was something wrong with this scene. "Where's the blood?" he asked Indigo, who was crouching on the other side of the body, a couple of her soldiers beside her.
The lieutenant scowled at seeing Brenna in the room but answered. "It's not a fresh kill. He was dumped here."
"Out of the way room," one of the soldiers, a lanky male named Deiter, spoke up. "Easy to get to without being spotted if you know what you're doing--whoever did this was smart, probably chose the location beforehand."
Brenna sucked in a breath but didn't speak.
Indigo's scowl grew. "Get her the hell out of here."
Judd didn't follow orders well, but he agreed with this one. "Let's go," he said to the woman standing with her back to him.
"I saw this." A faint whisper.
Indigo stood, an odd look on her face. "What?"
Brenna began to tremble. "I saw this." The same reedy whisper. "I saw this." Louder. " I saw this!" A scream.
Judd had spent enough time with her to know that she would hate having lost control in front of everyone. She was a very proud wolf. So he did the only thing he could to slice through her hysteria. He moved to block her view of the body and then he used her emotions against her. It was a weapon the Psy had honed to perfection. "You're making a fool of yourself."
The icy-cold words hit Brenna like a slap. " Excuse me?" She dropped the hand she'd raised to push him aside.
"Look behind you."
She remained stubbornly still. Hell would freeze over before she obeyed an order from him.
"Half the den is sniffing around," he told her. Pitiless. Psy. "Listening to you break down."
"I am not breaking down." She flushed at the realization of so many eyes on her. "Get out of my way." She didn't want to look at the body anymore--a body that had been mutilated with the same eerie precision Enrique had used on his victims--but pride wouldn't let her back down.
"You're being irrational." Judd didn't move. "This place is obviously having a negative impact on your emotional stability. Step back out." It was a definite command, his tone so close to alpha it set her teeth on edge.
"And if I don't?" She gladly embraced the anger he'd awakened--it gave her a new focus, a way to escape the nightmare memories triggered by this room.
Cool Psy eyes met hers, the male arrogance in them breathtaking. "Then I'll pick you up and move you myself."
At the response, exhilaration burst to life in her bloodstream, chasing away the last acrid tang of fear. Months of frustration--of watching her independence being buried under a wall of protection, of being told what was best for her, of having her rationality questioned at every turn, all that and more snowballed into this single instant. "Try it." A dare.
He stepped forward and her fingertips tingled, claws threatening to release. Oh yeah, she was definitely ready to tangle with Judd Lauren, man of ice and the most beautiful male creature she had ever seen.
Unedited Advance Excerpt
"Brenna, what are you doing here?" The sharp question was bitten out in a familiar voice. Lara didn't wait for an answer. "Move aside, you're blocking the doorway."
Startled, Brenna did as ordered. The SnowDancer healer and one of her assistants slid past, portable medical kits in hand.
Judd moved when she did, continuing to obstruct her view of the body. "This room is getting crowded. Lara needs space to work."
"He's dead." Brenna knew she was being unreasonable, but she was sick of being pushed around "She can hardly help him now."
"And what do you intend to achieve by remaining here?" A simple question that highlighted her ridiculous behavior with cool Psy precision.
Hands curling against the urge to strike out at this male who always seemed to catch her at her weakest, she turned and walked out. Packmates glanced at her curiously as she passed. More than one wore a look of judgment--poor Brenna had finally snapped. It was tempting to walk past without meeting their gazes, but she forced herself to do the opposite. She'd had her self-respect stolen from her once. She would not relinquish it ever again.
Several pairs of eyes shifted away at being caught staring, while others continued to watch her, unblinking. Had the circumstances been different, she would've taken their intransigence as a challenge, but today, she just wanted to get away from the overwhelming dead scent of the body. However, that urgency didn't blind her to the fact that even the boldest of them dropped their stares after looking past her shoulder.
"I don't need you to fight my battles," she said, after they cleared the crowd.
Judd moved to walk beside her, no longer a shadow at her back. "I wasn't aware I was doing so."
She had to concede he was probably telling the truth--most people in the den were simply too scared of Judd Lauren to want to draw his attention under any circumstances. "You saw the cuts." She could still smell the odor of death mingled with the metallic edge of blood. "They were just like his ." The sharp gleam of a scalpel flickered in her mind. An image of spurting blood. Screams ringing against the walls of a cage.
"They weren't identical."
His cool response pulled her out of the nightmare chaos of memory. "Why do you sound so certain?"
"I'm Psy. I understand patterns."
Dressed in black and with those emotionless eyes, there was no doubt he was Psy. As for the rest... "Don't try to convince me that all Psy would've been able to process the details so quickly. You're different."
He didn't bother to confirm or deny. "That doesn't change the facts. The cuts on this victim--"
"Timothy," she interrupted, a rock in her throat. "His name was Timothy." She had known the fallen SnowDancer only in passing, but couldn't bear to have him being reduced to nothing more than a nameless victim. He'd had a life. A name.
Judd glanced at her, then gave a small nod. "Timothy was killed using the same type of method, but the details are different. The biggest being that he was male."
And Santano Enrique, the bastard who'd tortured Brenna and killed so many others, had taken exclusively women. Because he'd liked to do certain things, things that required a woman's-- Brenna shoved the memories back into the locker inside her mind where she kept the darkest, filthiest pieces of what he had done to her. "You think someone's copying him?" The idea made her gorge rise. Even dead, the butcher's evil continued.
"Likely." Judd halted at a fork in the tunnels. "This isn't your fight. Leave the investigation to those who have experience in that area."
"Because I only have experience at being a victim ?"
The metallic scent of blood rose from his shredded flesh as he folded his arms. "You're too blinded by your own emotions to do Timothy justice. This isn't about you."
She opened her mouth to tell him how wrong he was but shut it as quickly. Admitting the truth wasn't an option--it would sound insane, the ravings of a broken mind. "Go get your wounds tended," she said instead. "The smell of Psy blood isn't particularly appetizing." She was worried about how deep Tai had gouged him, but damn if she was going to admit that.
Judd didn't even blink at her insulting tone. "I'll escort you to your room."
"Try it and I'll claw out your eyes." Turning, she strode off, able to feel his gaze on her every step of the way until she turned the corner. It was tempting to collapse then, to release the mask of anger she wore like a shield, but she waited until she was safely back in her room before giving in. "I did see it," she told the walls, terrified.
The flesh parting under the blade, the blood pouring, the pallor of death, she'd seen it all. It had left her a trembling, shaken mess, but she'd found comfort in the fact that it had been nothing more than a nightmare.
Except now her nightmare had taken the ugliest of forms.
Judd ensured Brenna was in her quarters before he returned to the crime scene and spoke at length with Indigo. Then he made his way to his own room. Once there, he stripped and showered to remove the dried blood on his arms. Brenna was right--the scent would only draw attention to him given the changelings' acute sense of smell, and tonight, he needed to be invisible.
When he stepped out, he didn't bother to look in a mirror, simply thrust a hand through his hair and left it at that. A part of his mind noted that his hair was past regulation length. Another part dismissed the issue as irrelevant--he was no longer part of the Psy race's most elite army. The Psy Council had sentenced his entire family--his brother, Walker; Walker's daughter, Marlee; and Sienna and Toby, the children of his dead sister--to the living death of rehabilitation.
If they hadn't defected, they would have had their minds wiped clean, their brains destroyed until they weren't much more than walking vegetables. It had been a calculated gamble to come to the wolves. He and Walker had expected to die, but they had hoped for mercy for Toby and Marlee. Sienna, too old to be a child, too young to be an adult, had decided to take her chances with the wolves rather than face rehabilitation.
But the SnowDancers hadn't killed the adults on sight. As a result, he now lived in a world where his old life meant nothing. Getting dressed, he pulled on his pants, socks, and boots first. A man could defeat an opponent bare-chested; having bare feet was a far greater disadvantage. It was as he was pulling on a shirt that the expected message came through on his small silver phone. Leaving the shirt buttons undone, he read the encrypted words, translating them in his mind.
Target confirmed. Window: One week.
He deleted the message the second after reading it. His next act was to push up the long sleeves of his black shirt and wrap plain cotton bandages around his forearms--they would help mask the smell of rapidly regenerating skin. Brenna would have been very surprised to see how fast he healed.
His mind went over the murder scene one more time. He was certain they were dealing with a copycat. The cuts had been superficially similar to those made by Santano Enrique but nothing more. Where Enrique had taken pride in the precision with which he mutilated his victims' bodies, this killer had hacked rather than sliced. Indigo had also confirmed that no Psy scent had been found at the scene. The final deciding factor was that Santano Enrique was most definitely dead--Judd had witnessed the other Psy being torn to pieces by wolf and leopard claws.
There was no need for Brenna to worry that her tormentor had come back from the grave. Of course that was Psy logic at work and she was indisputably a changeling. More to the point, she didn't know that Judd been present at Enrique's execution and, by extension, her rescue. He had no intention of changing that. Because, while he might not be much good at predicting emotional reactions, he had learned enough about Brenna during the healing sessions--where he'd "lent" his psychic strength to Sascha as she worked to repair the fractures in Brenna's mind--to know she'd react negatively to the knowledge of his involvement.
I'm not a baby anymore.
No, she wasn't. And he wasn't her protector. He couldn't be--the closer he got to her, the more he could hurt her. Silence had been invented for those like him--the brutal killers and the viciously insane, those who had turned the world of the Psy into a blood-soaked hell so bad, Silence had become the better choice.
The second he broke conditioning, he became a loaded gun with no safety switch. That was why he was never going to do what Sascha had done and end the Silence in his mind. It was the only thing keeping the world safe from what he was...the only thing keeping Brenna safe.
Pulling on a black jacket identical to the one Tai had slashed, he slid the phone into his pocket. It was time to leave the den.
He had a bomb to build.