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It was instinct to scan the area, ensure that she remained unseen as a changeling. Almost no other predatory changeling could’ve pulled this off—but Soleil’s cat had withdrawn so long ago that she no longer carried its scent.
She smelled human.
Half a person.
Half a soul.
Her eyes locked with those of a man on the other side of the street. A striking blue—shards of paleness mixed in with vivid cobalt—his irises stood out against the barely sun-touched white of his skin, the black of his neatly combed hair the perfect foil.
Clean, sharp bone structure, square jaw, a height over six-two, he could pull off a suit as easily as he did the blue jeans, simple white tee, and black leather-synth jacket he was currently sporting.
And he was looking straight at her.
Her breathing hitched . . . as claws pricked against the insides of her skin, her cat jolting to a sudden and violent wakefulness. No warning, no reason. It was just there as it hadn’t been for over a year, baring its teeth beneath her skin and staring right back at the stranger who made her skin prickle, her breath catch.
Her eyes threatened to semi-shift.
“No, no, no,” she whispered even as another part of her sobbed at this sign that she wasn’t permanently broken.
One glimpse of her changeling status and it was all over. There were leopards on this street right now. She’d spotted at least two. They didn’t appear to be dominants, but that didn’t matter. They’d see her as a threat, immediately alert the closest dominant.
Who’d track her down with relentless dedication.
Later, she told her cat.
Ignoring her, it strained at her skin, wanting to pounce on the man across the street as if he were Soleil’s favorite cake: marbled strawberry vanilla with fresh cream. A man who looked less like strawberry and vanilla she couldn’t imagine. And yet she wanted to keep on staring at him, drink him in with an endless thirst.
Perhaps she needed to question her sanity after all.
Her cat snarled inside her.
“No,” Soleil muttered again.
Breaking the unwanted eye contact that threatened the only purpose she had left, she slipped to the left of a tall man in conversation with two women. None of them changeling and enough of a group to block the view.
Her heart thudded, her skin hot, her pulse a roar in her ears. And her cat extremely aggravated with her, even though she’d made the only rational decision. It was so insistent that they had to get back to the man that she had to grit her teeth and fight consciously—not just to keep her eyes human, but to not turn around and walk right up to him.
Now, she said to that primal part of her, you decide to wake up now?
Padding restlessly inside her, the cat lunged at her skin, almost initiating a shift.
Soleil didn’t swear. Yariela had brought her up to be ladylike, but she was swearing a blue streak inside her mind—even as she ran frantically through the known nonleopard members of DarkRiver. The blue-eyed man hadn’t been changeling, of that her cat was certain.
Psy or human, then.
But not a person who’d been identified as part of DarkRiver by the media. That didn’t mean much. While Lucas Hunter was visible in his position both as the head of the pack and as a changeling representative on the Trinity Accord, most of the cats kept a low profile.
The back of her neck itched; she knew that the blue-eyed man who’d awakened her cat was following her. He might have scrambled her neurons, but she had to shake him loose, or it was all over. The only way she could win against DarkRiver was by stealth—alone, she had nowhere close to the strength required to get to the alpha, take her vengeance.
He’d murdered her packmates. He had to pay.
“Leilei,” Farah murmured in her ear. “You know you can’t kill. That’s not who you are. It’ll drive you to madness.”
I’m no one, she said silently, even as tears threatened. Madness would be better than this. Soleil was all alone, the sole survivor of an entire pack.
But Farah wouldn’t let her be. “You’re my best friend. You wear the brightest colors in the world, laugh until everyone gets the giggles, and cuddle so fiercely that it’s a gift. You’re not a murderer.”
Throwing a glance over her shoulder as Farah’s words tormented her, she saw that the blue-eyed man remained on the other side of the street—but he was pacing her.
Her cat stretched in readiness to shove out of her skin, forcing the shift in a way it had never before done. It wanted to go to him with a feral desperation. “No,” she said under her breath, her hands fisted to bone-whiteness. “Not until—”
That was when the world went to hell, screams splitting the air as people fell to their knees or straight down onto their faces. Bones snapped, blood spilled, and chaos reigned.
This wasn’t his natural milieu; he was a creature of the city. But any gaps in his knowledge could lead to holes in the family’s security systems and procedures. Especially now, with the changelings turning into major power players. Ivan didn’t intend to be caught flat-footed, needed to know of exactly what a changeling predator might be capable.
So here he was in Texas, on a course run by a small wolf pack. RockStorm might be small, but their course was highly respected in mercenary circles. Of which Ivan was still a part, even if all his kills were off the books and done for reasons that had nothing to do with monetary payment.
To the outside world, Ivan Mercant was an urbane city dweller with a sophisticated haircut and a wardrobe full of bespoke suits. Even the vast majority of his mercenary contacts only knew his alternate identity, but those contacts were the reason he’d been accepted into this course. RockStorm only took on Psy trainees who’d been vetted and recommended by other trusted changelings—the wolves weren’t out to train the enemy.
It was a tiger named Striker who’d hooked him up with RockStorm, vouching that Ivan wasn’t violent against changelings except in defense of his family. The latter was a more than acceptable qualification to the pack-minded race. Attack one changeling and you made an enemy of their entire pack.
It also didn’t hurt that Ivan had once helped out a vulnerable herd of deer who’d been having a problem with a Psy conglomerate. He hadn’t done it to earn brownie points, had put a bullet in the head of each of the governing board for the simple reason that their operation was a cover for a drug manufacturing plant—and Ivan would destroy anyone who pumped out that poison.
And so here he was, wounded and in an alien environment.
Today’s task was simple: to make it from point A to B without any assistance but for the navigational markers provided by the landscape, and to find water and food on his own.
Ivan would’ve been fine except that he’d been caught in a sudden rockfall that had propelled him onto a sharp edge of stone. His own fault. He’d been overconfident and, as such, hadn’t considered all factors—including the genesis of the pack’s name: RockStorm.
He wouldn’t make that mistake a second time, would remember that nothing was predictable in the wild.
His leg trembled.
Examining the wound, he spotted a bluish discoloration around the tourniquet. Not good. He stopped, scanned his surroundings with his telepathic senses, and when he received no pings that indicated another mind in the vicinity, decided to take a seat on the leaf-littered ground so he could better check his leg.
He’d already cut his pants leg up one side and torn off fabric to use for the tourniquet, so he had no issue seeing the injury. No signs of the redness and swelling that might indicate the onset of infection, but it was obvious he had to call it a day. He might be dogged when set on a task, but no one had ever accused him of stupidity.
That was when he heard a stir in the trees, the leaves rustling in a pattern that wasn’t natural—because it was coming closer. He scanned again, hit a mind. That was the entirety of his knowledge. He knew the mind was there, but it was a blank wall to him.
A rare few humans did have minds that opaque, but it was standard with changelings, and he was in changeling territory. Likely, one of the wolves had been assigned to keep rough track of Ivan and had come looking for him when he didn’t pass by a particular navigational marker.
He still shifted so he could rapidly access the small gun he had in a special holster designed to lie flush against the base of his spine. A lot of people just tucked their guns into their belts. Great way to shoot themselves or lose the gun. This particular gun was a sleek model barely on the market.
Ivan had used it to end the life of a whimpering man last night. Was he sorry? No. Not about that man, or about all those who’d come before him. Grandmother worried he was turning into a psychopath, but Ivan’s PsyMed results always came back clean. He wasn’t a psychopath; he had very firm moral lines. It was simply that they didn’t always coincide with those of the civilized world.
But the person who emerged from the trees with a woven basket held to one side was neither an enemy who needed to be shot nor a hard-nosed wolf trainer in combat fatigues. Tall, her curves lush, she had hair of midnight that rippled down her back in a cloud and midbrown skin that glowed under the faint winter sunlight that penetrated the canopy.
A scar, old and taut, bisected her right eyebrow, ran over her eyelid, and down her cheek before trailing off toward her ear. But it circled back across her neck, or perhaps that was a different scar.
Her clothing couldn’t be further from fatigues: she wore an ankle-length dress of vivid aqua with a swirly skirt that had a white frill around the bottom. Her cardigan was the same white, but the clusters of gemstones that dangled from her ears were all the hues of the world, with no regard at all to her dress.
Ivan found himself staring, it seemed so impossible that she existed in this time and place. He was concerned he was hallucinating. That would mean he did have an infection.
“I knew I smelled blood!” Striding over to him on long legs, a stern frown on her face, she put down her basket with a bad-tempered grumble that was very real. “I’m going to have to talk to the wolves about this,” she said as she began to undo his tourniquet. “They can’t just keep releasing helpless people into the wild!”
Ivan preferred to keep people at a distance, but somehow, he’d not only allowed her this close without protest, he’d then let her grumble at him—however, this he couldn’t let go. “I’m far from helpless.”
She didn’t bristle or startle at the ice in his tone, her attention on sanitizing her hands using what looked—oddly—like a medical wipe. “And I know what I’m doing, so hush and let me concentrate.”
No one told Ivan to hush.
Copyright © 2022 by Nalini Singh
“Singh’s worldbuilding is elaborate as ever, and she brings all the romance, family dynamics, and intrigue her readers crave. Series fans will find this un-put-downable.”
– Publishers Weekly
4. Alpha Night
5. Last Guard
6. Storm Echo
7. Resonance Surge
For the Complete Chronological Reading Order, click here.
1. Slave to Sensation
1.5a “The Cannibal Princess” – free short story
1.5b “The Shower” – deleted scene
2. Visions of Heat
3. Caressed By Ice
3.5 “Miss Leozandra’s” – deleted scene
4. Mine to Possess
4.5 “A Conversation” – free short story
5. Hostage to Pleasure
5.5a “A Gift for Kit” ~ free short story
5.5b “Movie Night” – free short story
6. Branded By Fire
7. Blaze of Memory
7.5. “Christmas in the Kitchen” – free short story
8. Bonds of Justice
9. Play of Passion
9.5a “Wolf School” – deleted scene
9.5b “Clean and Dirty” – free short story
10. Kiss of Snow
10.5 “Stalking Hawke” – free short story
11. Tangle of Need
12. Heart of Obsidian
13. Shield of Winter
14. Shards of Hope
15. Allegiance of Honor
16. The Psy/Changeling Trinity series (2017)
1. “Beat of Temptation” in An Enchanted Season
2. “Stroke of Enticement” in The Magical Christmas Cat
3. “Whisper of Sin” in Burning Up
4. Wild Invitation (featuring Beat of Temptation, Stroke of Enticement, Declaration of Courtship, and Texture of Intimacy)
5. “Secrets At Midnight” in Night Shift
6. Wild Embrace
Book 6: the Psy/Changeling Trinity series
New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh takes us into the hearts of two fractured people in a world on the brink of a psychic Armageddon . . .
Silence has fallen. The Psy are free to feel emotion. Free to love. But Silence was never a prison for Ivan Mercant. The biggest threat to his future lies dormant in his brain—a psychic monster that wants only to feed. And now, the brutal leash he’s kept on that monster is slipping. He prepared for this day, for the end of Ivan Mercant . . . but that was before he met Lei.
As primal as she is human, this wild changeling brings color into his life, laughter to his soul. Then the dream shatters in a rain of blood, in silent bodies in the snow. Lei is gone. Vanished without a trace . . . until he meets strangely familiar eyes across a busy San Francisco street.
Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who has lost everything. She exists in a world of desolate aloneness . . . till the day she finds herself face-to-face with a lethal stranger. The animal who is her other half knows this man, but her memories are tattered fragments. Sorrow and a need for vengeance are all that drive her. Her mission? To kill the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack.
But fate has other plans. Soon, a deadly soldier who believes himself a monster and a broken healer might be all that stand between life and death for the entire Psy race. . .