Home > Play of Passion (Psy-Changeling #9)

Play of Passion (Psy-Changeling #9)
Author: Nalini Singh

CHAPTER 1

Indigo wiped the rain off her face, clearing it for a split second, if that. The torrential downpour continued with relentless fury, slamming ice-cold bullets against her skin and turning the night-dark of the forest impenetrable. Ducking her head, she spoke into the waterproof microphone attached to the sodden collar of her black T-shirt. “Do you have him in your sights?”

The voice that came back was deep, familiar, and, at that instant, lethally focused. “Northwest, half a mile. I’m coming your way.”

“Northwest, half a mile,” she repeated to ensure they were both on the same page. Changeling hearing was incredibly acute, but the rain was savage, drumming against her skull until even the high-tech receiver she’d tucked into her ear buzzed with noise.

“Indy, be careful. He’s functioning on the level of a feral wolf.”

Under normal circumstances, she’d have snarled at him for using that ridiculous nickname. Tonight, she was too worried. “That goes double for you. He hurt you in that first tangle.”

“It’s only a flesh wound. I’m going quiet now.”

Slicking back her hair, she took a deep breath of the watery air and began to stalk toward their prey. Her fellow hunter was right—a pincer maneuver was their best bet of taking Joshua down without damage. Indigo’s gut clenched, pain blooming in her heart. She didn’t want to have to hurt him. Neither did the tracker on the boy’s trail—the reason why the bigger, stronger wolf had been injured in the earlier clash.

But he’d have to if they couldn’t bring Joshua back from the edge; the boy was so lost in anguish and torment that he’d given in to his wolf. And the wolf, young and out of control, had taken those emotions and turned them into rage. Joshua was now a threat to the pack. But he was also their own. They’d bleed, they’d drown in this endless rain, but they would not execute him until they’d exhausted every other option.

A branch raked across her cheek when she didn’t move fast enough in the stormy weather.

Sharp. Iron. Blood.

Indigo swore low under her breath. Joshua would catch her scent if she wasn’t careful. Turning her face up to the rain, she let it wash away the blood from the cut. But it was still too bright, too unmistakable a scent. Wincing—their healer would strip her hide for this—she went to the earth and slathered mud over the superficial injury. The scent dulled, became sodden with earth.

It would do. Joshua was so far gone that he wouldn’t detect the subtle undertone that remained.

“Where are you?” It was a soundless whisper as she stalked through the rain-lashed night. Joshua hadn’t taken a life yet, hadn’t killed or maimed. He could be brought back—if his pain, the vivid, overwhelming pain of a young male on the cusp of adulthood, allowed him to return.

A slashing wind . . . bringing with it the scent of her prey. Indigo stepped up her pace, trusting the eyes of the wolf that was her other half, its vision stronger in the dark. She was gaining on the scent when a wolf’s enraged howl split the air.

Growls, the sickening clash of teeth, more iron in the air.

“No!” Pushing her speed to dangerous levels, she jumped over fallen logs and new-made streams of mud and water without really seeing them, heading toward the scene of the fight. It took her maybe twenty seconds and a lifetime.

Lightning flashed the instant she reached the small clearing where they fought, and she saw them framed against the electric-dark sky, two changelings in full wolf form, locked in combat. They fell to earth as the lightning died, but she could still see them, her eyes tracking with lethal purpose.

The tracker, the hunter, was bigger, his normally stunning silver-colored fur sodden almost black, but it was the smaller wolf, his pelt a reddish hue, who was winning—because the hunter was holding back, trying not to kill. Aware her drenched clothing would make stripping difficult, Indigo shifted as she was. It was a searing pain and an agonizing joy, her clothes disintegrating off her, her body turning into a shower of light before forming into a sleek wolf with a body built for running.

She jumped into the fight just as the red wolf—Joshua—slashed a line into his opponent’s side. The bigger wolf gripped the teenager’s neck. He could’ve killed then, as he could have earlier, but he was attempting only to subdue. Joshua was too far gone to listen; he reached out, trying to go for the hunter’s belly. Teeth bared, Indigo leaped. Her paws came down on the smaller wolf, holding his struggling, snarling body to the earth.

She didn’t know how long they stood there, holding the violent wolf down, refusing to let him go over that final destructive edge. The hunter’s eyes met hers. A brilliant copper in his wolf form, they were so unusual she’d never seen the like in any other wolf, changeling or feral. She glimpsed a piercing intelligence in that gaze, one that many people missed because he laughed so easily, charmed with such open wickedness.

Most in the SnowDancer pack didn’t even realize he was their tracker, able to trace rogue wolves through snow, wind, and, tonight, endless rain. And though it was not their practice to call him Hunter, he was that, too, charged with executing those they could not save. But Joshua understood who it was he faced. Because he went silent at long last, his body limp beneath theirs.

Indigo released her grip with care, but he didn’t spring up, even when the larger wolf let go. Worried, she shifted back into human form, her hair plastered to her naked back between one instant and the next. The tracker stood guard next to her, his fur rubbing wet against her skin.

“Joshua,” she said, leaning down to speak to the boy, determined to bring him back from his wolf. “Your sister is alive. We got her to the infirmary in time.”

No recognition in those dark yellow eyes, but Indigo wasn’t a SnowDancer lieutenant because she gave up easily. “She’s asking for you, so you better snap out of it and get up.” She put every ounce of her dominance in her next command. “Right now.”

A blink from the wolf, a cocked head. As Indigo watched, he rose shakily to his feet. When she reached for him, he lowered his head, whimpering. “Shh,” she said, gripping his muzzle and staring straight into those wolf-bright eyes. His gaze slid away. Joshua was too young, too submissive in comparison to her strength, to challenge her in that way.

“I’m not angry,” Indigo said, ensuring he heard the truth in her words, in the way she held him—firm, but not in a grip that would cause pain. “But I need you to become human.”

Still no eye contact. But he heard her. Because the next instant, the air filled with sparks of light, and a split second after that, a young male barely past his fourteenth birthday was kneeling naked on the earth, his face drawn. “Is she really okay?” It was a rasp, the wolf in his voice.

“Have I ever lied to you?”

“I was meant to be watching her, except I—”

“You weren’t at fault.” She put her fingers on his jaw, anchoring him with touch, with Pack. “It was a rockfall—nothing you could’ve done. She’s got a broken arm, two broken ribs, and a pretty cool scar on her eyebrow that she’s already showing off like a peacock.”

The recital of injuries seemed to stabilize Joshua. “That sounds like her.” A wavering smile, a quick, wary glimpse up at her before he dropped his gaze.

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