Ivy had the feeling Samuel Rain had always been high-strung and outside Silence, his genius intellect such that he’d been given a pass from the authorities—until one of the Councilors had apparently decided to make an example of him. Right after Rain turned down a job offer from the Councilor in question.

Aden had unearthed that fact yesterday. It was simply more evidence of the ugly hypocrisy and self-interest hidden in Silence, Ivy thought as she folded her arms and said, “I don’t care if you dance na**d at midnight, as long as you help Vasic.”

A roll of his eyes. “It’s cold at midnight,” Rain said with exaggerated patience. “If I planned to dance na**d in winter, I’d do it at noon.”

Then he left, telling them not to follow.

Growling low in her throat, Ivy lifted her hands and made a squeezing motion. “I want to strangle him.”

Vasic pressed a kiss to the top of her head, the affectionate act making her toes curl. “He’s right, you know,” he said, while she fought not to make a big deal of something that was a big deal. “The implant team should’ve never grafted the only prototype. I’ll have to find the most detailed simulation files we have and send them to him.”

“I don’t care if he’s right.” She scowled. “No one is allowed to treat you that way.” Hauling him down with her hands fisted in his jacket, she kissed him with all the passion in her heart. His hand rose to cup her face, his body hardening against hers.

When their lips parted, she looked around to find he’d teleported them back to the apartment. “We should’ve told Clara we were leaving,” she whispered, far more interested in shaping Vasic’s chest with her hands.

He raised the gauntlet, tapped in a short message. “I’ve sent her a notification.”

Arousal fading, she touched her hand to the carapace, slick and hard. “You’ll miss it, won’t you?” It was a fact she hadn’t considered until now. “It’s truly become a part of you.”

He lifted both hands to her face, stroking her hair behind her ears. “I’ll adapt. No piece of technology is worth losing time with you.” Continuing to hold her face, he said, “You’re sad, Ivy.”

She went to protest, but he shook his head, said, “I’m not an empath, but I know you. You enjoyed the sex—”

“The other races call it making love.” Ivy had heard that on comm shows. “It felt like that, didn’t it?” She curled her fingers against the firm breadth of his chest.

Vasic tasted the words, nodded. “Yes.”

Her smile was luminous. “I loved making love with you. Can we do it again?”

“Ivy.” Brushing his thumbs over her cheeks, he held her gaze. “Don’t try to distract me. You were happy for a while, but there’s sadness inside you.” Tiny flickers in her eyes, her smile fading when she thought he wasn’t watching, he’d noticed it all. “Tell me why.”

“Could you get Rabbit first?” she asked, her expression holding a raw vulnerability that kicked him in the heart. “I don’t want him to wake and find himself in an unfamiliar place.”

Vasic left at once, to return less than half a minute later. Rabbit was still curled up in his basket, fast asleep. Going down into a cross-legged position on the floor, Ivy petted the dog with a gentle touch. “My brave Rabbit,” she murmured, as Vasic came down to sit with his back against the wall, one arm braced on a raised knee.

Ivy took time to speak, and when she did, it was with helpless pain in her voice. “I can’t stop thinking about the gauntlet. I try so hard not to, but it’s always there at the back of my mind.” She dashed her hand across her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Vasic didn’t know how to comfort her. All he could do was draw her close, wrap her in his arms. “Surely,” he said, “you don’t doubt Samuel Rain’s genius. Are you a monkey?”

When she spluttered wetly and slapped at his chest, he felt a staggering sense of achievement. He’d given his mate what she needed, brought her through the sadness. Nuzzling his chin into her hair, he continued to hold her as they sat on the floor beside Rabbit.

“That wasn’t funny,” she said at last.

“You laughed.”

He saw her lips tug up at the corners, only to curve downward not long afterward. “There’ll be another outbreak soon, won’t there?”

Vasic didn’t want to talk about that, wanted to indulge in Ivy, but the world continued to turn beyond the walls of this apartment. “Chances are high.”

“I don’t know what to do, Vasic.” It was a trembling confession. “I was so foolish at the start, so sure instinct would guide me, but . . .” She moved her head in a negative motion against his chest.

“You weren’t foolish.” He couldn’t stand to see his tough, determined Ivy so beaten. “You were ready to try, to take a chance. Without you pushing for placements in infected zones, Jaya and Brigitte wouldn’t know who and what they are, and Sascha wouldn’t have made her breakthrough.”

Ivy’s hand curved over his upper arm. “That doesn’t change the fact that I can’t do anything to help!” Angry frustration. “The medic told me I’d cause an aneurysm if I continued on my current path.”

Vasic thought of the secret he’d kept from her about Isaiah, knew she’d be angry with him for it, but told her anyway. Her eyes darkened as she sat up to face him, one hand lifting to her mouth. “Will he . . .”

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