Scowling at his back, she folded her arms as Rabbit “helped” Vasic by adding a stick he’d found to the woodpile. “Why? It’s not her fault some fanatic came after her. I was in the same situation, remember?”

“The situations are not analogous.” He began to walk toward the Arrow cabin. “Lianne breached her contract by sharing classified data with her family, including the names of every E in this compound.”

“Wait, what?” Her mind struggled with the implication of his words. “Someone from Lianne’s family tried to kill her?” Family was protection, safety, freedom, not hurt. “She must be devastated.”

Vasic’s response was as gut-wrenching as the realization that Lianne had been betrayed by someone she should’ve been able to trust. Turning in the doorway of the Arrow cabin so fast she almost ran into the leashed power of him, he said, “Your family is not how most families in the Net operate.”

He stepped inside before she could recover enough to reply.

Feeling odd—scared of him in a way that just felt wrong—Ivy followed with Rabbit to see Lianne sitting on the edge of a cot that was literally just a taut piece of canvas stretched over metal. The black-haired, small-boned empath’s eyes were red-rimmed, her shoulders hunched inward as she clutched at the edge of the cot with a brutal tightness that had to hurt. And her fear of Vasic . . . it was a sweat-soaked animal that smashed into Ivy and dug in its claws.

Staggering, she gripped the doorjamb.

Ivy? Eyes of silver frost locked with her own, her body stabilized by a phantom telekinetic touch.

Last night, what did Aden do to me? She had only vague, pain-filled memories.

He extracted the detritus of the block on your ability. Your empathic senses are now wide open.

Yes. Breathing was an effort. Too wide. Most Psy were taught how to filter input from a young age. As a telepath couldn’t hear everything and stay sane, Ivy now understood an empath couldn’t feel everything and not collapse under the overload.

Vasic closed the distance between them, his gauntlet flickering with lights as a cool blue beam swept over her. You’re not getting enough oxygen and your blood pressure is rising.

Ivy attempted to regulate her shallow breaths, calm her pulse.

I don’t know how to help you—Vasic stood as strong and stable as a deep-rooted oak as she steadied herself with one hand on his chest, his lightweight armor absorbing any sign of mortal warmth—but I can get you to someone who can.

No. Lips quivering and eyes wet as she looked at Ivy, Lianne appeared a forlorn child. Ivy couldn’t abandon her. It’s all right.

Forcing herself to break contact with the rock-solid strength of him, she began to walk through the thick syrup of nauseating fear. It clutched bony fingers around her throat, twisted her stomach into a knot that felt as if it would never unravel, and made her skin creep at the idea of Vasic at her back.

Ivy shook her head to dislodge the sensation. The response wasn’t hers. She wanted to curl into his protective strength. No, this came from Lianne, the pungent emotional response clawing into Ivy’s unprotected senses to bewilder and confuse.

The throb at the back of her head now a pounding, she forced her mouth to shape words. “Don’t be afraid.” She nudged Rabbit up beside the distressed empath.

Lianne’s eyes flicked from Ivy to Vasic, then back. “I broke the rules.” Shaking, Lianne clung to Ivy’s hand when Ivy came down on the cot beside her. “I’ll be punished.”

It was difficult for Ivy to think with Lianne’s fear threatening to suffocate her, so it took her several seconds to process the meaning of the other woman’s words. She thinks you’re going to kill her, she telepathed Vasic. There’s a good chance she’ll calm down if you step outside.

Vasic didn’t move from his position by the doorway. Lianne is now a known security risk. I won’t leave you alone with her. He switched from telepathic to verbal speech, his words directed at Lianne, before Ivy could argue with his stance. “You won’t be executed so long as you keep your silence about this project from now on.”

Ivy stared at him. Are you serious? You would’ve killed her if you thought she might publicize what she knows?

No. He turned his attention to her, the gray of his irises so cold, it made the hairs rise on the back of her neck . . . and this time, she didn’t know if the response was her own or Lianne’s. I’d have simply had her memories locked down, he continued. Execution would be an overreaction, as this experiment will either succeed, in which case it will go public, or it will fail, in which case decisions will be made about the information to be shared.

Is that what you’ll do if I break the rules? she asked through the miasma of panic and fear fogging her mind. Erase me?

An infinitesimal pause. That situation will never arise. You and your family don’t want attention, won’t do anything to draw it. Lianne’s, on the other hand, is hungry for power.

Ivy wanted to push at him until he gave her a real answer, but he was so scary she couldn’t—

Lianne, she reminded herself with teeth-clenched concentration, this was Lianne’s fear. Ivy might’ve momentarily doubted her own emotions under the influence of it, but while she accepted that, objectively speaking, Vasic was scary, she wasn’t scared of him . . . would never be again. Because the one thing she remembered from the previous night was his strong-boned wrist under her fingers, this cold-as-ice Arrow allowing her to hold on to him, his voice—

Stabbing pain in her stomach, her mouth full of bile. Copyright 2016 - 2024