Home > Hostage to Pleasure (Psy-Changeling #5)

Hostage to Pleasure (Psy-Changeling #5)
Author: Nalini Singh

CHAPTER 1


To survive, you must become more Silent than the Council, your heart ice, your mind a flawless prism. But never forget—prisms bend light, change the direction of what is known, generate fractures of beauty. Ultimately, prisms create their own truths.

 

—From a handwritten letter signed “Iliana,” circa June 2069

 

 

In the end, the retraction was deadly simple. The sniper had been given the precise coordinates the car would travel along the sleepy rural road, knew exactly how many people were in the vehicle, where the child was sitting. According to his information, the child was blindfolded, but the sniper still didn’t like doing this with an innocent in the vehicle.

However, if left in the hands of his captors, that child would become the unwitting instrument of the worst kind of evil. And then he would die. The sniper didn’t kill lightly, but to keep a child safe, he would do much worse.

“Go,” the sniper said into the air, the sound picked up by his earpiece and transmitted to those below.

A slow-moving truck veered out of the opposite lane without warning, crashing into the side of the target car with a smooth expertise that forced the vehicle off the road, but would do little damage to the people inside—they couldn’t afford to harm the child. More than that, they refused to harm the child. But it wasn’t the child the sniper found in his sights as soon as the car came to a halt.

A single precise shot and the windshield shattered.

The driver and his adult passenger were dead within the next two seconds, a clean bullet hole in the center of each of their foreheads. The bullets were designed not to exit, thereby minimizing danger to the backseat passengers.

An instant later, the rear doors slid back and two men jumped out, one of whom stared straight at the sniper’s location high up in the spreading branches of an ancient pine. The sniper felt a blunt force graze his mind, but the guard had left his telepathic strike for too late. A bullet lodged in the Psy male’s throat with fatal accuracy even as he focused his power. The fourth man went down with a silent bullet wound through his chest, having failed to locate the sniper’s partner.

The sniper was already moving by the time the last body hit the ground, his rifle in hand. He left behind no trace of who he was and when he reached the car, he touched nothing. “Did they get out a psychic alert?” he asked the unseen watcher.

“Likely. Road’s still clear, but we need to move fast—reinforcements will be here in minutes if the Council has teleportation-capable Tk’s on hand.”

The sniper looked through the open doors and saw the final remaining passenger. A tiny boy, barely four and a half years old. He wasn’t only blindfolded. His ears had been plugged and his hands tied behind his back. Near-total sensory deprivation.

The sniper growled and became a man named Dorian again, his cold control falling away to expose the deeply protective nature of his beast. He might have been born lacking the changeling ability to shift into animal form, but he carried the leopard within. And that leopard was enraged by the callous treatment meted out to this defenseless child. Reaching in, he gathered the stiff, scared body in his arms, his hold far gentler than anyone would’ve believed. “I have him.”

Another vehicle appeared out of nowhere. This one was sleek, silver, nothing like the now abandoned truck, though the driver was the same man. “Let’s go,” Clay said, his eyes a flat green.

Getting into the backseat, Dorian ripped off his face mask and put away the gun before cutting through the boy’s bindings with the pocketknife he carried everywhere. Blood slicked his fingers and he drew back so fast, he sliced open a thin line on his own palm. But when he looked closer, he realized he hadn’t accidentally cut the child—the boy had been struggling against his bonds for what must’ve been hours. His wrists were raw.

Biting off a brutal oath, Dorian slid the knife back into his jeans and took out the plugs from the boy’s ears, removing his blindfold a second later. Unexpected blue gray eyes looked into his, startling in a face with skin the color of aged gold, a dusky brown that almost glowed. “Keenan.”

The boy didn’t say anything, his face preternaturally calm. So young and he’d already begun the road to Silence, begun to learn to suppress his emotions and become a good, robotic Psy. But his calm facade aside, he was too young to hide his bone-chilling fear from the changeling who watched him, the sharp bite of it insulting to Dorian’s senses. Children were not meant to be bound and used as pawns. It was not a fair fight.

The car came to a stop. The opposite passenger-side door opened and then Judd was sliding inside, his gun strapped to his back. “We have to do it now or they’ll track him through the PsyNet.” The other man’s eyes were a cold brown when he stripped off his own mask, but his hands careful as he touched the boy’s face. “Keenan, we have to cut the Net link.”

The boy stiffened, leaned into Dorian. “No.”

Dorian put an arm around his fragile, breakable body. “Be brave. Your mom wants you safe.”

Those astonishing eyes looked up at him. “Will you kill me?”

Dorian looked to Judd. “It gonna hurt?”

A slight nod.

Dorian held Keenan’s hand, the boy’s blood mixing with his own where he’d sliced open his palm. “It’ll hurt like a bitch, but then you’ll be okay.”

Keenan’s eyes widened at the vulgarity, exactly as Dorian had intended. In that moment of distraction, Judd closed his eyes. Dorian knew the Psy male was working furiously to unlock the child’s shields and get inside his mind—so he could cut Keenan’s link to the PsyNet, the psychic network that connected every Psy on the planet, but for the renegades. Bare seconds later, the boy screamed and it was a sound of such brutal suffering that Dorian almost killed Judd for it.

The sound cut off as abruptly as it had begun and Keenan slumped into Dorian’s arms, unconscious.

“Jesus,” Clay said from the front, merging onto a busy highway even as he spoke. “The kid okay? Tally will kill me if we get a scratch on him.”

Dorian brushed back the boy’s hair. It was straight, unlike his mother’s curls. She’d had it tamed into a braid the one and only time he’d seen her—through the scope of his rifle—but he’d been able to tell. “He’s breathing.”

“Well”—Judd paused, white lines bracketing his mouth—“that was unexpected.”

“What?” Dorian took off his jacket and covered Keenan in its warmth.

“I was supposed to pull him into our familial net.” The other man rubbed absently at his temple, eyes on Keenan. “But he went . . . elsewhere. Since he’s not dead, I’m guessing he’s linked into DarkRiver’s secret network—the one I’m not supposed to know about.”

Dorian shook his head. “Impossible.” They all knew that Psy brains were different from changeling or human—Psy needed the biofeedback provided by a psychic network. Cut that off and death was close to instantaneous, the reason why defectors from the PsyNet were few and far between. Judd’s family had only just made it out by linking together to form the tiny LaurenNet.

Their psychic gifts meant they could manipulate that net and accept new members. But DarkRiver’s net, the Web of Stars, was different.

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