Home > Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity #1)

Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity #1)
Author: Nalini Singh

PART 1

Chapter 1

To be a Mercant is to be a shadow that moves with will, with intelligence, with pitiless precision.

—Ena Mercant (circa 2057)

SILVER MERCANT BELIEVED in control. It was what made her so good at what she did—she was never caught by surprise. She prepared for everything. Unfortunately, it was impossible to prepare for the heavily muscled man standing at her apartment door.

“How did you get in?” she asked in Russian, making sure to stand front and center in the doorway so he wouldn’t forget this was her territory.

Bears had a habit of just pushing everything out of their way.

This bear shrugged his broad shoulders where he leaned up against the side of her doorjamb. “I asked nicely,” he replied in the same language.

“I live in the most secure building in central Moscow.” Silver stared at that square-jawed face with its honey-dark skin. It wasn’t a tan. Valentin Nikolaev retained the shade in winter, got darker in summer. “And,” she added, “building security is made up of former soldiers who don’t understand the word ‘nice.’” One of those soldiers was a Mercant. No one talked their way past a Mercant.

Except for this man. This wasn’t the first time he’d appeared on her doorstep on the thirty-fourth floor of this building.

“I have a special charm,” Valentin responded, his big body blocking out the light and his deep smile settling into familiar grooves in his cheeks, his hair an inky black that was so messy she wondered if he even owned a comb. That hair appeared as if it might have a silken texture, in stark contrast to the harsh angles of his face.

No part of him was tense, his body as lazy limbed as a cat’s.

She knew he was trying to appear harmless, but she wasn’t an idiot. Despite her offensive and defensive training, the alpha of the StoneWater clan could crush her like a bug, physically speaking. He had too much brawn, too much strength for her to beat him without a weapon. So it was good that Silver’s mind was a ruthless weapon.

“Why did you need to see me at seven in the morning?” she asked, because it was clear he wasn’t going to tell her how he kept getting past her security.

He extended a hand on which sat a data crystal. “The clan promised EmNet a breakdown of the small incidents we’ve handled over the past three months.”

Those “small incidents” were times when Psy, humans, or non-clan changelings needed assistance in the area controlled by StoneWater—or elsewhere, when members of the bear clan were close enough to help. As the director of the worldwide Emergency Response Network run under the aegis of the Trinity Accord, Silver was the one who coordinated all available resources—and in this part of the world, that included the StoneWater bears.

Of course, she had no ability to order them to do anything—trying that on a predatory changeling was an exercise in abject failure. But she could ask. So far, the bears had always come through. The data crystal would tell her how many clan members and/or other resources had been required to manage each instance; it would help her fine-tune her requests in the future.

She took the crystal, not bothering to ask why the alpha of the clan had turned up to personally deliver the data.

Valentin liked to do things his way.

“Why does Selenka let you get away with breaching her territory?” The BlackEdge wolves had control over this part of Moscow when it came to changeling access. The city was split evenly between the wolf pack and the bear clan, with the rest of their respective territories heading outward from that central dividing line.

This apartment building fell in the wolf half.

Valentin smiled, night-dark eyes alight in a way she couldn’t describe. “StoneWater and BlackEdge are friends now.”

If Silver had felt emotion, she may have made a face of sheer disbelief. The two most powerful packs in Russia had a working relationship and no longer clashed in violent confrontations, but they were not friends. “I see,” she said, refusing to look away from those onyx eyes.

Predatory changelings sometimes took a lack of eye contact as submissive behavior, even when interacting with non-changelings. Bears definitely took it as submissive behavior. They weren’t exactly subtle about it, either. In fact, bears were the least subtle of the changelings she’d met through her work as Kaleb Krychek’s senior aide, and as the head of EmNet.

“What do you see, Starlight?” Valentin asked in his deep rumble of a voice that spoke of the animal that lived under his skin.

Silver refused to react to the name he insisted on calling her. When she’d pointed out he was being discourteous by not using her actual name, he’d told her to call him her medvezhonok, her teddy bear, that he wouldn’t mind. It was difficult to have a rational conversation with a man who seemed impossible to insult or freeze out.

Bears.

She’d heard Selenka Durev say that through tightly clenched teeth on more than one occasion. While Silver’s conditioning under the Silence Protocol remained pristine, her mind clear of all emotion, in the time she’d known Valentin, she’d come to understand the wolf alpha’s reaction. “Thank you for the data,” she said to him now. “Next time, you might wish to consider an invention we in the civilized world call e-mail.”

His laugh was so big it filled the air, filled the entire space of her apartment.

The thought made no sense, yet it appeared like clockwork when Valentin laughed in her vicinity. She’d told herself multiple times that she worked for the most powerful man in the world; Valentin was only a changeling alpha. Unfortunately, it appeared changeling alphas had their own potent brand of charisma. And this bear alpha had a surfeit of it.

“Have you thought about my offer?” he asked, the laughter still in his eyes.

“The answer remains the same,” Silver said as a burn spread through her chest. “I do not wish to go have ice cream with you.”

“It’s really good ice cream.” Smile disappearing, Valentin suddenly shifted fully upright from his leaning position against the doorjamb, the size and muscle of him dangerously apparent. “You doing okay?”

“Quite fine,” Silver said, even as the burn morphed into a jagged spike. Something was wrong. She had to contact—

Her brain shorted out. She was aware of her body beginning to spasm, her lungs gasping for air as her legs crumpled, but she couldn’t get her telepathic “muscles” to work, couldn’t contact her family or Kaleb for an emergency teleport.

• • •

MOVING far faster than most people expected bear changelings to move, Valentin caught Silver’s slender body before she’d done much more than sway on those ice-pick heels she liked to wear. He knew it wasn’t the heels that were toppling her; Silver was never in any danger on those heels. The woman walked on them like he walked on his “bigfoot-sized” feet, as described by one of his three older sisters.

“I’ve got you, Starlight,” he said, scooping her up in his arms and walking into her apartment.

He’d been trying to get in for ten long months, ever since he first met Ms. Silver Mercant. But he’d never expected it to be because she was convulsing in his arms. Placing her on the dark gray of the sofa, he turned her onto her side and gripped her jaw to keep her head from jerking too hard. At least she was breathing, though the sound was ragged.

With his other hand, he grabbed his phone, went to call Kaleb Krychek. The viciously powerful telekinetic could get her to help far faster than any ambulance. But Silver’s body was spasming too violently for him to both hold the phone and keep her from hurting herself. Swearing under his breath, he dropped the phone and placed his other hand on her hip, holding her in place.

“Not how I wanted to put my hands on you, moyo solnyshko.” He kept talking so she’d know she wasn’t alone, but his blood was chilling with every second that passed. It was going on too long.

Deciding to risk it, he released her hip and, snatching up his phone, managed to make the call. “Silver’s apartment,” he said to the pitiless son of a bitch who was Silver’s boss. “Medical emergency.”

He dropped the phone as Silver jerked again. “Hold on, Starlight,” he ordered in his most obnoxiously alpha voice, trying to keep her body from wrenching painfully at the same time. If Silver was going to respond to anything, it would be to the idea that he’d dared give her an order. “You’re tougher than this.”

Her eyes, that glorious silver, met his, the pupils huge . . . right before her body went limp.

Kaleb appeared in the room at the same instant, the Psy male dressed in a flawless black-on-black suit. “What happened?” he asked, his voice as cold as midnight on the steppes.

“Get her to a doctor,” Valentin growled, the sound coming from the human male’s vocal cords but carrying the bear’s rage. “Tell them it was poison.”

Kaleb was smart enough not to waste time questioning him. He simply teleported out, taking Silver with him. Teeth gritted at the fact she was out of his sight, Valentin got up and, going into Silver’s kitchen, began to pull out anything that could be food. Psy had strange ideas of food—meal bars and nutrient mixes. The only surprise in Silver’s cupboard was a block of fine dark chocolate.

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