“A Justice Psy has a use-by date,” she said, expression difficult to read. “I’m living a second life now, but many never do. I don’t wish to steal Samuel’s second chance from him by forcing him to compare the man he is now with the man he once was.” A potent statement, for all that Clara never raised her voice. “His value is not diminished; it is just different.”
“We understand.” No wonder Anthony Kyriakus had chosen this woman to run Haven, Ivy thought. She was extraordinary, a quiet warrior.
“We will do no harm,” Vasic said to Clara. “We’ll simply sit with him until it becomes clear whether or not he wishes us to stay or go.”
Clara nodded and led them around a hedge and into the dormant starkness of a rose garden in winter. Seated on the other side, on a bench situated beneath the shade of an evergreen with spreading branches and fine needles, was a thin man who might have been in his early thirties.
Dressed in wheat-colored slacks teamed with a simple blue shirt, the dark blond strands of his hair disordered by the breeze and what looked like a windbreaker discarded by his side, he stared out at the garden through old-fashioned wire-rimmed spectacles. They were unusual when eyesight could generally be corrected without issue, but Ivy didn’t get the impression the spectacles were an affectation.
“Samuel.” Clara placed one gloved hand on his shoulder when they reached him. “These are the guests I told you about. Ivy, Vasic, and Rabbit.”
No response from Samuel Rain.
Giving them another solemn glance to reiterate the ground rules, Clara walked away. Ivy took a deep breath of the crisp air, painfully conscious that she couldn’t sense Samuel Rain on the empathic level. It was as if he’d gone so deep into himself that he no longer existed.
“Woof!” Rabbit dropped a stick at her feet.
“Rabbit.” Affection blooming in her, Ivy bent to pick it up. “Where did you get this? If you’ve messed up their garden, we’ll both be in trouble.”
Vasic was the one who answered. “I saw him find it beneath the tree to the right.”
Glancing at Vasic, she telepathed, Maybe it’s better if we don’t crowd Mr. Rain?
Vasic took the stick she handed up. “Come on, Rabbit,” he said, leading their excited dog to the left of the rose garden and to a rectangular area of open ground. It was within sight of Samuel but not in his face.
Meandering through the sleeping roses as her man and their pet played, Ivy read the small weatherproof card by each bed, examined the accompanying images—an exuberant peach rose was planted next to a vibrant yellow one, which in turn was beside a sexy red. Then and there, she decided she’d plant a flower garden at the home she made with Vasic.
Do you think you might want to settle at the orchard? It was a place she loved, but she’d go anywhere with Vasic.
I’m home with you, Ivy.
Undone, she went to turn toward him and was almost bowled over by Rabbit as their pet ran through the garden pathways to drop the stick in front of Samuel Rain. When the man didn’t respond, Rabbit nudged at him with his head. Her heart melted. “Come here, Rabbit,” she said, patting her thigh. “Samuel wants to sit quietly today.”
Rabbit tried one more head butt before picking up his stick and coming to Ivy for a scratch. As he ran back to Vasic, Ivy looked up . . . to see Samuel Rain’s eyes on her Arrow. Ivy’s pulse thudded, but she didn’t make any sudden movements. Until the engineer stood up and strode toward Vasic.
She took the other path to reach him at the same time.
Not saying a word, Samuel Rain grabbed Vasic’s gauntleted arm and stared at it. “Are you mad?” he asked in a tone so sharp it could’ve sliced flesh. “This isn’t ready for human integration.”
“I was self-destructive when I volunteered,” Vasic answered. “I no longer am. Can you remove it?”
The engineer shot him an incredulous look. “I’m brain damaged, you idiot. You don’t want me playing around in your body.”
“You seem quite mentally competent at this precise instant.”
Hitting the gleaming black carapace of the gauntlet with his knuckles, Samuel Rain said, “Open it.”
Vasic didn’t move, but the carapace slid down on both sides to reveal the control panel within. Rain stared at it for a while. “The interface is creative. I need to see the guts of it.” He glanced around in a distracted fashion. “Damn it, where are my tools?”
“Here.” Vasic handed him the case.
Taking it without questioning how it had got there, the engineer put it on the ground. “Don’t touch, Rabbit,” he said absently, and took out a delicate laser tool. A couple of moves with the tool and the interface panel slid back.
Close your eyes, Ivy.
Ivy took Vasic’s free hand in both of hers, pressed a kiss to the back. It’s you. I love every part of you.
A long pause before he lifted his arm. Tucking herself under it, while Rabbit sniffed round the toolbox but didn’t mess with it, she steeled herself to deal with the sight of the deadly threat within Vasic, and looked. She didn’t know what she’d been expecting, but it wasn’t the astonishing symmetry of man and machine.
Fine multihued cables sparking with current twined with muscle and tendon and bone, the delicacy of the filaments such that she knew she wasn’t seeing everything with the na**d eye. It shouldn’t be so beautiful, she said to Vasic, anger rising anew at what he’d done to himself.
His fingers curled around her nape. Are you going to be mad at me for this our entire life?