No movement; even his breathing was strictly controlled. “If you’d rather I didn’t utilize your answers in any official report, I won’t.”
“I’d rather.” Forcing her eyes off the stark, dangerous beauty of him, she ate another bite of salad.
Vasic didn’t rush her, just waited. He was, she realized, comfortable with quiet in a way very few people ever became. Again, she thought of a warrior-priest, relentless and devoted . . . but she no longer liked the idea of a man dedicated to an ideal. A warrior-priest was untouchable, and Ivy was beginning to understand that she very much wanted to touch Vasic.
All her life, she’d made physical contact with her parents. As a child, it had been instinct. As she grew older, she’d realized how lucky she was that they never rejected her touch as other Silent parents might. Tactile contact, she’d long ago comprehended, helped her feel centered . . . happy, but not just anyone would do. Aside from her parents, she’d exchanged hugs with only two others in the settlement, both close women friends.
Her pulse rocketed at the idea of such intimacy with the deadly male who sat beside her. Self-protective instincts should’ve shut that thought down before it took form, but it continued to grow in her abdomen, a tight ball of warmth and nerves and foolishness. Because Vasic hadn’t given her a single sign that he’d welcome any physical contact. He was an Arrow, as inaccessible as the cold splendor of the stars.
Unfortunately, Ivy’s body and mind refused to listen to reason.
“I talk a lot,” she said, keeping a firm hold on her bowl and fork so she wouldn’t yield to the compulsion to run her fingertips over his skin. “To Rabbit mostly, but I’ll probably talk to you too if you’re around.” It came out too fast, his proximity continuing to do strange things to her. “Do you mind?”
Vasic’s lashes, straight and dark, came down, lifted again. “No.”
Deciding to take the one-syllable answer at face value, she hauled her wandering thoughts back in line with teeth-gritted concentration. “I like the majority of the other empaths,” she said in answer to his original question. “A couple get on my nerves, and I think I’ll become good friends with Jaya.” The two of them had clicked at once. “All pretty normal.”
“Yet you sound . . . disappointed.” The last word was chosen with care, as if he’d taken in her words, considered her tone of voice, then run it against a mental database of emotional expressions.
Wondering if he’d tell her, she said, “How did you judge my emotional response? Do you have a specific process?”
“Yes,” Vasic said, turning to look at the copper-eyed woman who didn’t seem to comprehend that he was a monster. “Does the analysis have less value for being done consciously?” It was a serious question, her answer important to him in a way he couldn’t articulate.
“No,” she said at once. “People who live with emotion do it instinctively, but the process is the same.”
It affected him to realize she saw him as a man, not as something lesser, but he couldn’t permit her to believe a lie. “The empathic connection is missing.” He didn’t feel an echo of her emotions or think back to a time when he’d felt the same. “It’s a wholly remote calculation.”
Her fork making a clinking noise against the bowl as she abandoned her salad to one side, Ivy braced one hand against the wood of the porch and angled herself to face him. “I’ve never been truly Silent,” she admitted as her pet wriggled under her arm to sit tucked up against her. “Not even when I thought I was.” A sudden tightness to her jaw, her lips pressed to a thin line, and her spine rigid.
“Once, when I was fourteen,” she said as he recognized the signs of cold fury, “I saw an older Psy boy using a sharp branch to stab at a cat trapped in a culvert. I told him to stop, and he said he was running an experiment.”
Vasic went motionless. “That wasn’t Silence.” He knew because he’d seen men and women like that boy too many times—and a large number were in positions of power in the PsyNet. “It was a sign of the psychopathy Silence makes it easy to hide.”
“Yes.” Ivy shifted to run her hand over Rabbit’s back, petting the dog to heavy-eyed somnolence. “But back then I couldn’t think that clearly. I was so angry at him that I found another stick and began to poke him in the neck and the face until he lost his balance and fell.” A tremor shook her frame, and her hand fisted on Rabbit’s coat.
The memory, Vasic understood, still incited the same rage.
“He said I was being irrational and he’d report me”—the copper of her eyes glittered—“and I said go ahead.”
Vasic catalogued the expression in a private mental folder in which he’d begun to collect even the tiniest details about Ivy. It was a small madness, and one of which no one need be aware. “He didn’t, did he?” Cowards who attacked the defenseless and the vulnerable did not last long against Ivy’s kind of honest strength.
“No,” she confirmed, her voice steeped in disgust. “He knew what he was doing was wrong, and I knew never to be caught alone with him.” Cuddling Rabbit, she shot Vasic a fierce grin. “The cat was fine—and it scratched him hard across the cheek before it ran off.”
Vasic watched the vivid play of emotions on her face in a vain attempt to know every nuance of her. When color touched her cheekbones, her lashes coming down to veil her eyes, he realized he’d stared for too long, but he didn’t shift his gaze. “Why are you disappointed with your reactions to the other empaths?”