Home > Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1)

Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1)
Author: Nalini Singh

CHAPTER 1

Sascha Duncan couldn’t read a single line of the report flickering across the screen of her handheld organizer. A haze of fear clouded her vision, insulating her from the cold efficiency of her mother’s office. Even the sound of Nikita wrapping up a call barely penetrated her numbed mind.

She was terrified.

This morning, she’d woken to find herself curled up in bed, whimpering. Normal Psy did not whimper, did not show any emotion, did not feel. But Sascha had known since childhood that she wasn’t normal. She’d successfully hidden her flaw for twenty-six years but now things were going wrong. Very, very wrong.

Her mind was deteriorating at such an accelerating rate that she’d begun experiencing physical side effects—muscle spasms, tremors, an abnormal heart rhythm, and those ragged tears after dreams she never recalled. It would soon become impossible to conceal her fractured psyche.

The result of exposure would be incarceration at the Center. Of course no one called it a prison.

Termed a “rehabilitation facility,” it provided a brutally efficient way for the Psy to cull the weak from the herd.

After they were through with her, if she was lucky she’d end up a drooling mess with no mind to speak of. If she wasn’t so fortunate, she’d retain enough of her thinking processes to become a drone in the vast business networks of the Psy, a robot with just enough neurons functioning to file the mail or sweep the floors.

The feel of her hand tightening on the organizer jolted her back to reality. If there was one place she couldn’t break down, it was here, sitting across from her mother. Nikita Duncan might be her blood but she was also a member of the Psy Council. Sascha wasn’t sure that if it came down to it, Nikita wouldn’t sacrifice her daughter to keep her place on the most powerful body in the world.

With grim determination, she began to reinforce the psychic shields that protected the secret corridors of her mind. It was the one thing she excelled at and by the time her mother finished her call, Sascha exhibited as much emotion as a sculpture carved from arctic ice.

“We have a meeting with Lucas Hunter in ten minutes. Are you ready?” Nikita’s almond-shaped eyes held nothing but cool interest.

“Of course, Mother.” She forced herself to meet that direct gaze without flinching, trying not to wonder if her own was as unrevealing. It helped that, unlike Nikita, she had the night-sky eyes of a cardinal Psy—an endless field of black scattered with pinpricks of cold white fire.

“Hunter is an alpha changeling so don’t underestimate him. He thinks like a Psy.” Nikita turned to bring up her computer screen, a flat panel that slid up and out from the surface of her desk.

Sascha called up the relevant data on her organizer. The miniature computer held all the notes she could possibly need for the meeting and was compact enough to slip into her pocket. If Lucas Hunter stuck true to type, he’d turn up with paper hard copies of everything.

According to her information, Hunter had become the only ruling alpha in the DarkRiver leopard pack at twenty-three years of age. In the ten years since, DarkRiver had consolidated its hold overSan Francisco and surrounding regions to the extent that they were now the dominant predators in the area. Outside changelings who wanted to work, live, or play in DarkRiver territory had to receive their permission. If they didn’t, changeling territorial law went into force and the outcome was savage.

What had made Sascha’s eyes open wide in her first reading of this material was that DarkRiver had negotiated a mutual nonaggression pact with the SnowDancers, the wolf pack that controlled the rest ofCalifornia . Since the SnowDancers were known to be vicious and unforgiving to anyone who dared rise to power in their territory, it made her wonder at DarkRiver’s civilized image. No one survived the wolves by playing nice.

A soft chime sounded.

“Shall we go, Mother?” Nothing about Nikita’s relationship to Sascha was, or had ever been, maternal, but protocol stated she was to be addressed by her family designation.

Nikita nodded and stood to her full height, a graceful five eight. Dressed in a black pantsuit teamed with a white shirt, she looked every inch the successful woman she was, her hair cut to just below her ears in a blunt style that suited her. She was beautiful. And she was lethal.

Sascha knew that when they walked side by side as they were doing now, no one would place them for mother and daughter. They were the same height but the resemblance ended there.

 

Nikita had inherited her Asiatic eyes, arrow-straight hair, and porcelain skin from her half-Japanese mother. By the time the genes had been passed on to Sascha, all that had survived was the slightest tilt to the eyes.

Instead of Nikita’s sheet of shimmering blue-black, she had rich ebony hair that absorbed light like ink and curled so wildly she was forced to pull it back into a severe plait every morning. Her skin was a dark honey rather than ivory, evidence of her unknown father’s genes. Sascha’s birth records had listed him as being of Anglo-Indian descent.

She dropped back a little as the door to the meeting room drew closer. She hated encounters with changelings and not because of the general Psy revulsion to their open emotionalism. It seemed to her that theyknew. Somehow they could sense that she wasn’t like the others, that she was flawed.

“Mr. Hunter.”

She looked up at the sound of her mother’s voice. And found herself within touching distance of the most dangerous male she’d ever seen. There was no other word to describe him. Well over six feet tall, he was built like the fighting machine he was in the wild, pure lean muscle and tensile strength.

His black hair brushed his shoulders but there was nothing soft about it. Instead, it hinted at unrestrained passion and the dark hunger of the leopard below the skin. She had no doubt she was in the presence of a predator.

Then he turned his head and she saw the right side of his face. Four jagged lines, reminiscent of the claw marks of some great beast, scored the muted gold of his skin. His eyes were a hypnotic green but it was those slashing markings that grabbed her attention. She’d never been this close to one of the changeling Hunters before.

“Ms. Duncan.” His voice was low and a little rough, as if caught on the edge of a growl.

“This is my daughter, Sascha. She’ll be the liaison for this project.”

“A pleasure, Sascha.” He tipped his head toward her, eyes lingering for a second longer than necessary.

“Likewise.” Could he hear the jagged beat of her pulse? Was it true that changeling senses were far superior to those of any other race?

“Please.” He gestured for them to take seats at the glass-topped table and remained standing until they’d done so. Then he chose a chair exactly opposite Sascha.

She forced herself to return his gaze, not fooled by the chivalry into dropping her guard. Hunters were trained to sniff out vulnerable prey. “We’ve looked at your offer,” she began.

 

“What do you think?” His eyes were remarkably clear, as calm as the deepest ocean. But there was nothing cold or practical about him, nothing that belied her first impression of him as something wild barely leashed.

“You must know that Psy-changeling business alliances rarely work. Competing priorities.”

Nikita’s voice sounded utterly toneless in comparison to Lucas’s.

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