“They want to respond to outbreaks,” Aden clarified. “If I don’t give the order, you know Zaira will simply make that decision on her own.”

“Yes.” Her independence of thought was why the other Arrow had been given charge of the Venice operation. “Zaira also knows they can’t risk being recognized.” Each and every Arrow in the Venice compound was officially dead.

“She’s put forward a proposal that they be called in on night outbreaks in Europe, where her men and women can work with only a minimal disguise.” Aden rubbed his forehead in an unusual sign of strain. “Venice also holds some of our most broken.”

Vasic thought of Alejandro, the male’s brain reset by an overdose of Jax so that he couldn’t deviate from a command—but only if that command came from Zaira. Alejandro couldn’t be helped, the damage done to his organic brain, but what of some of the others? “A civilian won’t have any reason to ask whether or not an Arrow is supposed to exist,” he said. “We can slowly pair up the Venetians with their own Es.”

Aden continued to look out the window. “That’ll require they rejoin the Net. That can be done covertly, and Zaira’s team is ready to do so, even with the current problems . . . but they will stay in exile as long as necessary.”

Until, Vasic thought, the squad no longer needed the escape hatch. That, however, might no longer be an option. “Is their network clean?”

“No signs of the infection, but a network populated only with Arrows was never going to be balanced,” Aden responded. “Zaira suspects it’s starting to show hairline fractures. There’s no urgency yet, and it’ll become a moot point if they rejoin the Net. For now, they continue to act as our eyes and ears in the wider world.”

Calling in a teleport from another Arrow, Aden left only minutes later to speak to Kaleb about making up a list of dormant cardinal Es. It left Vasic free to concentrate on Ivy. She lay silent in a deep sleep. Rabbit was settled against her back, his small body rising and falling in quiet huffs.

Scanning her using the gauntlet, Vasic noted that the damaged and torn blood vessels the emergency medics had treated—with Aden having double-checked the work—were already healing. Her mental state however . . .

Vasic couldn’t forget how defeated she’d looked when he’d found her in the ambulance. His Ivy, who had fought for him, who never gave up, had appeared in splinters during her single, bittersweet moment of consciousness as he lifted her in his arms.

Eyes dulled and bloody, she’d said, Why can’t I do this? What if what they did to me in the rehabilitation center broke me permanently?

“You are not broken,” he said in a harsh murmur as he got into bed and gathered her close. “You’re the strongest woman I know.” A woman who refused to surrender, regardless of the near impossible odds.

A woman who had beaten the numbness that had been swallowing him alive.

A woman for whom he’d fight death itself.

Chapter 49

GLASS SMASHING, GRUNTS of pain, a dog’s frantic barking.

Ivy jerked awake to find the bedroom door shut, the slits in the blinds on the window telling her it was bright daylight outside.

Another grunt, followed by a loud thud.

Shoving off the blanket as she realized the sounds weren’t echoes of a nightmare but coming from mere feet away, she forced herself to take the small weapon Vasic must’ve left on the bedside table, and made her way to the door. Vasic?

Stay inside.

She cracked the door a minute sliver to get a look at the living area beyond. Her fingers clenched on the slick black plas of the weapon. Dressed only in jeans and his boots, Vasic was fighting against three men, and it looked like all three were telekinetics. The furniture lay embedded in the walls, plaster dust in the air and window glass on the carpet. Vasic was bleeding but holding his own, while Rabbit lay whimpering against the wall, his small body crumpled.

Rage bloomed in her.

Waiting until all three attackers were facing Vasic, she darted out on silent feet to lift Rabbit into her arms and duck back into the bedroom. “Shh,” she said to their injured pet, his side rising and falling in pained breaths. “You’ll be okay, I promise.” Placing him gently on the bed, she went back to the door to see her Arrow take a crushing physical blow to the ribs at the same time that he took multiple telekinetic hits.

The rage darker and molten hot, she switched off the safety on the weapon. Jaya! she telepathed, as it became obvious the weapons capability of Vasic’s gauntlet wasn’t functioning. Where’s Abbot?!

When there was no response, she realized the other woman must be at the hospital, Abbot by her side. Which left Ivy as Vasic’s sole backup. Going down on one knee to brace herself and using both hands as her father had taught her, she aimed the weapon through the gap in the door, but the men were moving so fast, she couldn’t be certain she wouldn’t accidentally hit Vasic.

Jerking back as he sent one attacker slamming into the wall beside the bedroom door, she saw the man was dazed but already pushing up on one arm. Not letting herself think too much, she shot him, the laser beam set to stun. As he went down, she sucked in a breath, expecting an empathic backlash of pain, but none came.

Maybe because all she’d done was put him to sleep. And maybe because Vasic was the biggest, most important piece of her heart. No one was allowed to hurt him.

Turning back to the fight, she saw one of the attackers pull a pressure syringe from his boot. Vasic had his back turned to the man as he fought off the other assailant. Watch out! she screamed telepathically and shot again.

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