Alpha NightBy: Nalini Singh
The subject displays obsessive tendencies that can be utilized to your advantage. If you manage to turn his loyalty toward you, he will never betray you.
—Intake report: Psych, on subject Ethan Night, age six, for Councilor Ming LeBon (2061)
SELENKA BLAMED THE bears.
If Valentin hadn’t gone and mated Silver Mercant, the rest of them wouldn’t be standing around at this giant target of a symposium. It might as well be flashing the words “Here We Are! Come Attack Us!”
As if he’d felt her burning gaze, the bear changeling alpha turned from where he was talking to one of his senior people and waved, accompanying it with a big grin. She glared at him, in no mood for bear charm.
“You don’t like bears?” asked a clear male voice, his Russian unaccented and his words toneless.
Selenka had sensed his approach—she wasn’t alpha of the most powerful wolf pack in Russia because people could sneak up on her. Not that she had to worry much about sneaking when it came to the other major pack in the area. Bears could sneak about as well as ten-thousand-pound elephants.
This man, however, he was quiet. He also smelled like a crisp winter wind around a flame so hot it was blue, with none of that cold metallic smell changelings had learned to look out for among Psy. Those of the psychic race who had that smell were so far gone into the emotionless protocol they called Silence that there was usually no coming back.
“Yesterday, I had to bail three normally well-behaved wolves out of jail,” she said without looking at the male who stood next to her, his height maybe an inch above her five eleven. “Do you know why?”
“Bears.” A grim confirmation. “Nice bears who talked my wolves into going for a ‘friendly’ drink. So friendly that half the bar ended up in a brawl.” The bears had found it hilarious, had still been grinning when she bailed out her three sheepish wolves.
Selenka did not find it amusing.
Her wolves were disciplined predators; they didn’t go around starting bar brawls. Especially not bar brawls where one of them ended up stinking of raspberry daiquiri, his blond hair pink as a result of the enormous cocktail that had been poured over him. The three would be working off the bar’s repair bill into next year.
Her wolves weren’t disciplined simply because she was a hard-ass; it had to do with the different temperaments of their animals. Bears could be brutal hunters, but generally, they were laid-back unless provoked. You could poke a changeling bear multiple times before it rumbled a growl and swiped out with a paw.
Wolves could be pushed to violence far faster. A bear might laugh off an insult that would send a wolf into cold anger. Because bears took not much seriously, while many wolves had an innate and deadly intensity.
Each had pros and cons. The laid-back ursine nature could lead to laziness and had done so in a previous alpha—the reason Selenka’s pack had been able to take over a chunk of bear territory. But her wolves’ primal instincts could lead to rash actions and bloodshed.
Discipline was key to a strong wolf pack.
“But the relationship must be cordial,” the stranger said, with no alteration in his flat tone, and yet his voice, it was hauntingly beautiful in its clarity and pitch. “If the two groups are drinking together?”
“‘Cordial’ isn’t quite how I’d put it.” The BlackEdge wolves and the StoneWater bears had a teeth-gritted truce. Mostly because they were each as dangerous as the other. After a few skirmishes, the two groups had grudgingly come to the same conclusion: a war would decimate them both and leave Moscow and its surrounds open for takeover by another changeling pack.
These days, they satisfied themselves by growling or glaring at each other over the border—or blowing kisses across rooms. That last was nearly always a bear move. Selenka knew Valentin’s bears did it to get a rise out of her wolves—which was why she’d told her wolves to respond with fluttered lashes and obviously fake smiles.
Selenka wasn’t proud of it, but the damn bears could drive a saint to murder. And wolf and bear were both predators. It was either play this game of mutual annoyance, or tear each other to pieces. Right now, however, Valentin’s bears were a peripheral concern at best. She was far more interested in the cool, dangerous presence next to her.