Release date: June 14th 2016
The “unparalleled romantic adventure”* of Nalini Singh’s New York Times bestselling series continues as a new dawn begins for the Psy-Changeling world…
A staggering transformation has put the Psy, humans, and changelings at a crossroads. The Trinity Accord promises a new era of cooperation between disparate races and groups. It is a beacon of hope held together by many hands: old enemies, new allies, wary loners.
But a century of distrust and suspicion can’t be so easily forgotten, and it threatens to shatter Trinity from within at any moment. As rival members vie for dominance, chaos and evil gather in the shadows and a kidnapped woman’s cry for help washes up in San Francisco, while the Consortium turns its murderous gaze toward a child who is the embodiment of change, of love, of piercing hope: a child who is both Psy…and changeling.
To find the lost and protect the vulnerable—and to save Trinity—no one can stand alone. This is a time of loyalty across divisions, of bonds woven into the heart and the soul, of heroes known and unknown standing back to back and holding the line. But is an allegiance of honor even possible with traitors lurking in their midst?
*Publishers Weekly on Shards of Hope
Hawke shoved up the sleeves of his shirt. “Lucas also asked that we all keep an ear open for anything related to Naya. Looks like certain Psy in the Net are looking in her direction, and the interest isn’t friendly.” The wolf-blue of Hawke’s eyes had turned frigid as he spoke, the power that came off him a near-palpable force.
There was a reason even Psy were very careful when dealing with strong changeling alphas. At times, Judd wondered how his niece dealt with her mate. Sienna was a power, one honed in brutal circumstances, but she was young . . . and she had challenged Hawke from the instant she set foot in the den, never backing down, even when it would’ve been prudent. It was a reminder that his niece had her own wild streak, wild enough to handle the primal wolf who was her mate.
“Is Lucas okay with my passing on the word to my contacts?” Judd asked, not saying Kaleb’s name though everyone present here knew he and the most dangerous telekinetic in the world were friends. It was old habit to protect the other man’s identity, from the time the two of them—and Xavier—had been rebels working in the shadows.
Hawke gave a short nod. “Use your judgment, speak only to people you trust to look after Naya’s interests.”
Kaleb wasn’t “good” in any ordinary sense of the word, but Judd knew the other man would never harm a DarkRiver child for the simple reason that DarkRiver was important to his mate. And whatever was important to Sahara, Kaleb protected. “I’ll do it now.” Breaking away from the group, he made the call.
It was early in Moscow, but he had a feeling the other man would be up.
He was right.
“I’ll release a tracking program into the Net to listen for mentions of the child,” Kaleb replied after Judd explained the situation.
Understanding as he did the complex amounts of data Kaleb could sieve through at any one instant, Judd thanked his friend.
Kaleb’s response was simple. “DarkRiver protected and nurtured Sahara when she needed it.”
Those words said a great deal about the loyalty of which this deadly man was capable, of the lengths he’d go to, to protect the rare few people who’d earned that loyalty. It also hinted at the other aspect of his personality, of the ruthless vengeance he’d mete out should anyone ever harm Sahara.
Black and white, both existed in Kaleb.
Living in the gray was something he did with ease.
“Have you heard from Xavier?” Judd asked, having long ago accepted the duality of nature that was Kaleb Krychek.
“A week ago,” Kaleb responded. “I offered to ’port to him, but he continues to insist that he needs to walk alone during this time.”
Kaleb never truly betrayed emotion, not even among friends. Likely Sahara alone saw that side of him. But right then, Judd had the feeling the other man was frustrated by Xavier’s intransigence. So was Judd. But some things, no one could force. “He knows he can call on us for help at any point.”
That they would respond at once should that call ever come was an unspoken vow.
Kaleb didn’t reply to that—nothing needed to be said, not between two men who’d fought side by side for so long. “I have to go,” he said instead. “Meeting with Ena Mercant.”
Judd raised an eyebrow. He’d been out of the PsyNet for almost four years, but he had deep links with his fellow Arrows. As a result of that connection and the information to which it gave him access, he knew the Mercants continued to be a shadow power. It was said the family had more moles and puppets in the Net than everyone else combined. Silver Mercant had long been Kaleb’s aide, but Ena Mercant was the reclusive matriarch of the family, one who hadn’t been seen in public for years. “Did you blackmail her?”
“I got an invitation,” Kaleb replied. “I’m considering taking Silver along to taste test any offered food or drink for poisons. Ena has a reputation for ruthless efficiency.”
There it was, that bone-dry sense of humor the majority of the world simply didn’t pick up on, much less understand. Judd knew Kaleb would never be anything but gray, but his friend had far more light in him since Sahara came back into his life. Judd understood what love could do to a man. He, too, had once walked in the darkness, once believed he could be nothing but a murderer, his ability to move the very cells of a body a curse.
It had taken a certain stubborn wolf to teach him different, to remind him that he was a man, that he had a right to a life and to love. Never once had Brenna looked away from the darkness inside him—she’d embraced it as simply another facet of his nature. As Sahara had embraced Kaleb. As they hoped Xavier’s Nina would embrace their friend.
“I’ll send out a search party if you don’t return from your meeting,” he said to Kaleb now. “Though even Arrows agree that if a Mercant buries a body, it stays buried.” Interestingly, no Mercant had ever been in the squad; that family had a way of holding on to its children.
“You see why I want them on my side,” Kaleb said before hanging up.
Judd returned to the meeting to find the others discussing details of something SnowDancer’s healer, Lara, had proposed in concert with DarkRiver’s healer, Tamsyn, two weeks earlier. The two healers had strongly recommended a SnowDancer-DarkRiver function, to be arranged around the birth of Mercy and Riley’s pupcubs. Hawke and Lucas had agreed, so now it was a case of hashing out the details and figuring out who should do what.
“Put Mercy in charge,” Indigo said, to Judd’s surprise.
It wasn’t because Indigo had nominated a leopard—the two women were close friends. No, it was because planning parties wasn’t exactly in the dominant-predatory-changeling-female job description. The maternals and submissives were far more experienced at wrangling everyone who needed to be wrangled to pull off an event.
Then Indigo added, “She’s going stir-crazy, and this is something she can work on with Riley’s input for the wolf side of things. For the physical stuff, she can haul in helpers from either pack.”
“Luc suggested the same.” Hawke’s eyes gleamed with wolfish humor. “I think the cat is afraid Mercy will rip off someone’s head if she doesn’t have something to do now that she can’t run patrol and the healers have asked her not to go in to work at CTX.”
Judd knew Mercy worked in communications when she wasn’t carrying out her duties as a DarkRiver sentinel. It was a job she could’ve kept doing, but it would’ve required daily and likely tiring round-trips to San Francisco, which would also mean she wasn’t in close proximity to the DarkRiver healer for much of the day.
No one wanted to take that risk, least of all Mercy or Riley.
“It’s a good idea,” Judd found himself saying after he’d processed Indigo’s points. “Mercy’s sociable and she has experience with communications. Plus, with her already off the rotation, it won’t mean a change in DarkRiver’s duty roster.”
“And we don’t have to worry that she won’t take the wolf perspective into account,” Drew said in a voice that held open love for his brother and Riley’s leopard mate. “She and Riley want the pupcubs to grow up at home in DarkRiver and SnowDancer both.”
Hawke grinned. “My bet is four wolf pups.”
Golden eyes going wolf, Riaz snorted. “We’re talking about Mercy here. She’ll probably smugly produce all cubs. Five of them.”
The others booed his prediction, calling out their own bets as they spoke. Judd had placed a two-and-two bet. Word was the pupcubs’ changeling animal would be linked to the dominance of each respective parent, and Judd wasn’t about to bet against either Mercy or Riley. They were the most evenly matched dominant changeling pairing he’d ever seen. And he didn’t think Mercy was big enough to be carrying quintuplets. Triplets or quads were far more likely.
A sudden rise in the noise level broke into the group’s friendly argument.
Children poured into the White Zone seconds later, having clearly been given permission to escape whatever it was they’d been corralled into the den for. Judd wasn’t the least surprised when they made a beeline for the adults—big playmates to climb over were always welcome.
“Hawke! Hawke!” Brown-eyed, silky-haired Ben tugged on his alpha’s hand as the lieutenants who’d attended the meeting remotely signed off with good-byes that held smiles. “Are we really gonna have a party with Julian and Roman and Keenan and everyone?”
That explained the excitement in the air, Judd thought as he reached down to pick up a little girl who was too small to push through the pack of pups. Putting her on his shoulders, he held her gently in place with one hand rather than with telekinesis. Children this young sometimes got scared when they couldn’t feel his hand.
She laughed and kicked feet clad in sparkling blue sandals. Before living in the pack, Judd would’ve never understood why changeling parents spent time and money on dressing their children when those children could shift without warning at any minute, destroying the items. Now no one had to explain it to him. Judd had given Ben the superhero T-shirt he currently wore.
The six-going-on-six-and-a-half-year-old was jumping up and down at Hawke’s positive reply. “Will we get to play games? And climb trees?”
Ben was one of the few wolves who could really climb, even in his wolf form. All thanks to his leopard playmates—Julian and Roman might be a year younger, but they were as prone to getting into mischief as Ben. The last time the three had been together, when Tamsyn came up to consult with Lara, they’d somehow managed to get into a supplies cupboard and gorge on the fancy chocolate the maternal females had been saving for dessert after a planned working dinner.
The chocolate-smeared miscreants had been found snoring away in the cupboard.
“I don’t think it would be a party without play,” Hawke answered with a grin before he hitched Ben onto his back, where the little boy clung like a monkey. “I don’t know about climbing though. I like the earth under my paws.”
“It’s fun!” Ben insisted, the chorus repeated by other children nearby.
“Have you been contaminating your packmates with leopard ways?” Indigo asked darkly, though her eyes were dancing.
“No,” Ben said, then frowned. “What does contami-ating mean?”
Laughing, Indigo clapped her hands. “Who wants to play tag? Hawke is it.”
“Yay!” The sound wave of agreement shook the trees before the kids scattered, Ben scrambling down to run away as fast as his little legs would carry him.
A slightly older group of kids, meanwhile, was huddled in another corner of the White Zone. As a grinning Riaz jogged past them to the den to safely stow the mobile comm, Judd managed to see between the children’s bodies, realized they were filling colorful water balloons from large bottles of water they’d smuggled out.
In front of Judd, Hawke narrowed his eyes at Indigo. “Right, I know who’s next.”
The lieutenant took off without a backward glance, weaving between delighted children while Drew got in Hawke’s way. “Can’t let you tag my mate,” the tracker said, hands open palms-out on either side of his body.
Having lowered the little girl he’d been holding so she could toddle away to hide, Judd used his telekinetic abilities to move Drew out of the way.
“Hey!” His brother-in-law scowled at him as Hawke took off after Indigo, their alpha pretending to growl and go after several small children along the way, who all ran off squealing. Sienna, meanwhile, was laughingly trying to herd Indigo into a trap, with a returned Riaz’s help.
“What the hell was that for?” Drew snarled, his shoulders moving fluidly under a dark blue tee with a silver design on one side as he threw up his hands.
“Remember that time we played war games and you almost broke my ribs?” It had been before Judd and Brenna’s mating, at a time when Drew was certain Judd was no good for his baby sister. “I decided I’m still holding a grudge.”
“You got your own back!” Drew’s response was half wolf, his claws sliding out of his skin. “You almost dislocated my shoulder that day!”
Judd pretended to think about it. “I did, didn’t I?” Having telekinetically stolen a water balloon from the enterprising group in the corner, he said, “So maybe I just wanted you here so I could do this,” and threw the balloon at Drew.
It caught the wolf in the face.
Growling as water dripped from his face onto his chest, Drew body-slammed Judd, and they went down. At which point, the other man clawed up dirt and grass and stuffed the mass down Judd’s back. Judd attempted to flip his brother-in-law off him, was foiled when pups drawn by their commotion ran over.
“Here, Drew,” one said, holding out a bright pink water balloon.
Drew bared his teeth and smashed the balloon right on Judd’s neck, which meant the water went down his back and chest, turning the dirt to mud. “Oops.”
Fighting dirty now, Judd got him with a couple more balloons. This time they were supplied eagerly by the children. Then he got lucky and managed to rub dirt onto Drew’s face. The pups, young and old, loved this new game. Mud was soon being rubbed onto both Drew and Judd with enthusiastic little hands, while the pups laughed like little demons.
Judd, sitting up now, with Drew behind him, back-to-back, felt something build inside his chest.
“Your fault,” Drew growled. “Remind me to wring your neck.”
“Noted.” That powerful feeling kept building and building.
And then a pup stopped squishing mud into Judd’s hair to peer at him with big blue eyes. “Uncle Judd’s laughing!”
He was, he realized. Quietly, shoulders shaking, but the laughter, it wouldn’t stay inside. Drew elbowed him from the back. “Not funny, man. I had on a new T-shirt.”
Judd just laughed harder, until Drew gave in and began to chuckle, too. Judd’s stomach was aching when he looked up and saw a beautiful blonde SnowDancer step into the carnage of the White Zone.
Lucas had had to chase Naya around the aerie at bedtime last night—her walk might still be a little shaky, but she was a rocket when it came to crawling. Dressed only in a diaper, she’d laughed uproariously and said a loud, firm “No” each time Lucas caught her and put her in her crib.
After which she’d clamber out—she’d figured out how to escape a month earlier—and the game would begin again.
Of course, since Lucas was a cat, he’d been having just as much fun as their daughter. Sascha, meanwhile, had sat in the living room with a cup of hot chocolate and just indulged in the sight of her mate playing with their cub.
She’d had to pretend to be stern when Naya ran over and pleaded her case with loud sounds and wild gesticulations of her hands. “No, Naya,” she’d said, biting her tongue in an effort not to laugh. “It’s time for bed. Go with Papa.”
At which point, Naya had growled at her, eyes sparkling with mischief.
And Sascha had cracked, laughing so hard she’d had to put down her hot chocolate before she spilled it. Lucas had shaken his head as Naya plopped down on her diaper-covered butt and joined in, clapping her hands at having made her mommy laugh.
“No discipline.” Lucas had mock-growled at her before picking up their misbehaving baby. “And you”—a growly nuzzle that made Naya laugh harder and pat his stubbled cheek—“time for bed.”
He’d finally got her to sleep—by walking around with her pressed up against his bare chest.
Copyright © 2016 by Nalini Singh
from Author's site: http://nalinisingh.com/books/psychangeling-series/allegiance-of-honor/
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Psy - Changeling Series (so far):