Ivy’s laugh was a little wet. “I don’t think anything could make that man do something he didn’t want to do.” A kiss so tender, it enslaved him.

“But,” she whispered against his lips, “if he doesn’t get back to us soon, I’m going to pay him a visit.” Her eyes glinted in readiness for battle. “Rain is about as brain damaged as I am, and it’s time he stopped playing games.”


Vasic kissed her the way she’d kissed him, before releasing her from his hold. “I believe the other male in your life wants some attention.”

A smile in the copper eyes that had been raw with pain since his overload—pain she tried to hide from him but couldn’t, her face without shields—she turned to pick up the stick Rabbit had dropped at her feet. Unclipping the leash while she was hunkered down, she wrapped it loosely around her left hand and stood.

“Come on, Rabbit”—she threw the stick—“fetch!”

As Vasic watched her encourage their ecstatic pet, her delight music in the air, he said, “This wasn’t meant to be my future,” to the man who walked up to join him.

Aden had arrived in the city on a high-speed jet-chopper a half hour ago. Now, his partner stood with his gloved hands on either side of the tailored black winter coat he wore open over a suit of the same color, his shirt white. It was camouflage for an urban environment.

“Are you sorry for the change?”

“No.” Not far from them, Ivy lavished Rabbit with affectionate praise when he ran back with the stick. “I’ll never be sorry for Ivy.” He’d fight the world for her, and he’d battle like a gladiator against the results of his formerly self-destructive instincts. “There’s one more option we haven’t explored when it comes to the gauntlet.” It was something he’d realized during the outbreak this morning, when Dev Santos’s team had taken primary responsibility for ensuring calm. “The Forgotten have certain unusual gifts.”

“I already checked it out.” Aden’s eyes followed Ivy’s arm as she took the stick from Rabbit after a play fight and threw it again. “Their medical tech has gone in a different direction. Santos did say he might be able to assist using an ability about which he’d tell me nothing.”

Vasic braced himself for bad news. It could be nothing else if Aden hadn’t already shared it with him.

“He did a field test in the aftermath of the outbreak, while you were both in close proximity.” Aden glanced at him, shook his head. “Whatever his ability, he says it’s too rough yet to work with such complex computronics.”

Having processed the information as Aden gave it to him, Vasic moved on. Time was the one commodity he didn’t have. “Keep the surgeon on standby. I don’t know if the gauntlet is going to last the full eight weeks Bashir initially predicted.”

Aden didn’t argue with his order. “Have you told Ivy the risks?”

“Yes.” Vasic paused. All his life, he’d shared data with Aden almost automatically—his relationship with his empath, however, was new territory. Ivy, he said telepathically, will it break your trust if I talk to Aden about our relationship?

She shot him a look over her shoulder, eyes bright. No. I plan to complain about you to Jaya. Laughter in her mental voice as she turned back to watch their courageous little dog race toward her. Just don’t go into detail about how we make love. A pause, her body suddenly motionless. What exactly did you ask Judd Lauren? Only about the control issue or—

He sent me his research file on sex.

Vasic could see her turning red even from this distance. Her mental groan was mortified. I will never be able to look him in the eye again, she said, face in her hands. Fine, talk to Aden about it if he needs the information. I hope he does . . . I hope he finds what we have.

So did Vasic. “Ivy,” he said to the other man, “expects me to talk to her, and so I do. I’m learning not to keep secrets.”

Strands of Aden’s straight black hair slid across his forehead in an undemanding breeze that didn’t dislodge the snow from the branches above. “Is it difficult?”

“Sometimes.” Vasic didn’t always do the right thing, but with Ivy, that never meant rejection. She wanted to make mistakes with him, was forgiving of his own. “Being with her is the most complex, most fascinating operation of my life.”

And it was one he knew would only grow more intricate with time. “Some would say this is the punishment for my crimes,” he said into the quiet broken by Rabbit’s excited bark as he ran for the stick again. “To be given happiness only to have my own choices steal it from me.”

His friend looked at him. “Is that what you believe?”

“No.” Once he might have. No longer. Because to do so would be to believe Ivy was being punished, too—and his Ivy had done nothing to deserve the pain that made her cry in her sleep.

Each tear was a drop of acid directly on his soul.

“The recent media coverage of you,” Aden said into the silence that had fallen between them. “Can you handle it?”

“It doesn’t concern me.” Vasic didn’t need to be underground, not like those of his brethren whose lives would be placed at risk should those men and women be identified as members of the squad.

“No.” Aden reached down to pick up Rabbit’s stick when the dog raced over to drop it at his feet. “Can you handle being the public face of the squad?” Throwing the stick past Ivy, he dusted the snow off his hands.

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