Whatever Ivy had expected of Kaleb Krychek’s mate, it wasn’t this woman with an open expression that said she’d welcome a friendship. “Ivy.”

Any other conversation had to wait, the mob attack a priority.

“We’ll need the cooperation of the others.”

Everyone agreed with Kaleb’s assessment, and they were soon in a comm conference with representatives of the worldwide rapid-response network set up by Silver Mercant. No one had any arguments about working together to stop the chaos from spreading.

“A mob might think it has a purpose,” said the security chief of the Human Alliance, “but sooner rather than later, it all devolves to mindless violence. We need to nip it in the bud.”

Decisions were made, plans to head off another incident set in place.

“Sahara’s discovered something intriguing,” Krychek said after the comm conference ended, taking a seat on the arm of the sofa that held his mate.

Sahara put one of her hands on his thigh as she leaned forward. “Do you remember Miguel Ferrera? The commercial telepath apparently immune to the infection?”

“Of course.” Ivy could still feel Miguel’s panic, his horror as he hunched in that closet.

Vasic, standing behind the sofa on which she sat, stroked his thumb over the side of her neck in tactile comfort. Her Arrow knew how touch anchored her, never withheld it. The tension in her muscles easing, she looked across at Sahara. “Miguel still isn’t showing any signs of infection as far as I know.”

“Kaleb”—the other woman turned her face up to the cardinal—“was able to confirm his immunity for me. The reason why he’s immune may explain all the outliers.”

“The ones who have no connection to an E?”

“No obvious connection,” Sahara replied, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear with impatient fingers. “Miguel Ferrera has an empathic neighbor who was away at the time of the outbreak.”

Aden, having taken a seat next to Ivy, shook his head. “Many of the infected lived in close proximity to an empath—even closer than Ferrera.”

“That’s just it,” Sahara responded as Rabbit jumped down from his favorite window ledge and came to sit at Ivy’s feet. “Miguel doesn’t just live down the corridor from an E. He’s listed as her emergency contact.”

A hush fell over the room.

“Three months ago,” Sahara continued into the quiet, “Miguel was the one who called an ambulance when the E had a fall. Three weeks after that, she named him as her emergency contact.

“Soon after that, their purchasing patterns changed. The E started ordering certain food items that previously never appeared on her online grocery order but that regularly appear on Miguel’s, and vice versa. In the same period, he also twice purchased two tickets to a lecture series at a nearby gallery.”

The evidence was circumstantial, Ivy thought, but compelling. “They have an emotional bond.”

Sahara nodded. “That’s my conclusion.”

Ivy rubbed her hands over her face; something was niggling at her. “But, if an emotional bond with an E is the deciding factor, why was Eben’s father infected? With such a young empath, I’d expect a connection—even if it was one-sided.”

Sahara’s hand tightened on Kaleb’s thigh. “That case frustrated me, too,” she said. “I tore the data apart looking for an answer, and I finally found it.”

Chapter 56

ENERGY PULSED OFF the other woman. “It appears Eben Kilabuk is the child of a contractual dispute—the conception and fertilization agreement was drawn up by an incompetent lawyer, and while the mother believed she had the right to full custody, the father challenged it for unknown reasons when Eben was ten. He won.”

Ivy thought of how Eben had asked to call his mother during the time the teenager had stayed at the compound. “He never bonded with his father.”

“Yes.” Sahara held her gaze, dark blue eyes intense. “And his mother, a low-level Tk, just survived an outbreak that took out everyone else in her building.”

Aden stirred. “Does the theory hold for the other outliers?”

“Yes.” Sahara thrust a hand through her hair, messing it up. “All the anomalous survivors I was able to track eventually connect back to an E.”

That also, Ivy thought, explained the other commonality among the survivors—a fractured Silence that was accepted by the individual. Bonds couldn’t be formed within the cage of the Protocol.

“I know the data is thin yet,” Sahara said, “and there’s no way to manipulate the emotional bonds to protect everyone, but I thought it was important to share it.”

Ivy barely heard the qualification. She could feel something pushing at the back of her mind, a huge knowledge, but she couldn’t reach it. Frustrated, she met Sahara’s gaze again. “The bonds, why aren’t they showing up on the Net?” Ivy had grown up knowing she was loved and wanted, and yet the connection with her parents was nowhere in existence on the psychic plane.

Sahara looked to Kaleb, who said, “They’re there but concealed.” The cardinal’s voice was obsidian in its controlled power . . . and his love for Sahara so absolute, it burned against Ivy’s senses.

Sahara’s emotions were as potent, as deep, and oddly—as old. As if the two had known each other far longer than they were said to have been together.

Kaleb continued to speak as Ivy considered the mystery of the couple’s relationship.

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