Centered by his touch, his faith in her, she petted his chest through the fine merino wool of his charcoal sweater. Like most changelings, he didn’t feel the cold the same way as a human or Psy, but he was a cat, too, enjoyed such textures against his skin. Not that he’d ever bother to take the time to buy things like this for himself.
But he loved it when she did—and the small, domestic act gave her intense pleasure. As feeding her chocolate habit gave him. It wasn’t only emotion, raw and real, that Silence had stolen from her race, she thought, but the myriad quiet intimacies that colored the intricate tapestry of life. “Okay,” she said, after another nuzzling kiss from her panther. “I’m ready.”
Having decided to walk in the rest of the way, other pack soldiers spreading out behind them, they stepped through the trees of the compound a half hour later. Vasic was waiting for them, a petite but curvy woman with softly curling black hair by his side. She wore a thick cowl-neck sweater in white and jeans tucked into snow boots, her stunning eyes lit from within.
“Ivy.” Sascha felt her lips curve, recognizing the empath from their comm conversation. “It’s lovely to meet you in person.”
Ivy’s returning smile was infectious. “I’ve been so excited since Vasic said you were coming.” She made to step forward and embrace Sascha, caught herself midstep to glance at Vasic, as if she’d received a telepathic warning.
Conscious the Arrow was playing by the known rules when it came to approaching a predatory changeling’s mate, Sascha completed the hug herself, then introduced Lucas to Ivy, Vasic and Lucas having already acknowledged each other.
“Would you like to sit on my porch?” Ivy asked afterward. “It’s so nice and sunny out.”
“That’s perfect.” Sascha had been instructed to remain in sight of Lucas and the rest of the security team, and Ivy’s suggestion removed any awkwardness from the situation.
Nodding, Ivy led her to the porch, the wood warm from the sun. Then, to Sascha’s surprise, the younger empath whispered, “Are there guns pointed at me?”
Sascha gave a small laugh, knowing that no matter what happened with the other Es, Ivy Jane would become a friend. “What do you think?”
“I read that changelings are highly protective of their mates.” Smile fading, the other woman’s copper gaze shifted to linger on Vasic where the Arrow stood speaking to Lucas. “Do you think,” she murmured, “that a person who’s been Silent for almost the entirety of his life can learn to feel?”
It didn’t take being an empath to guess at the reason for Ivy’s question. “I think,” Sascha said gently, “the Psy race has been kidding itself about Silence for a long time.”
Ivy seemed to forcibly turn her attention back to Sascha. “In what way?”
Sascha paused to admire a little white dog, its breed unclear, that scampered up to the porch. Sniffing at Sascha’s hand when she held it out, it wagged its tail, then went to sit at Ivy’s side. “No one sane has ever successfully eliminated their emotions,” she said. “It’s simply a case of how deeply they’ve been buried.”
Ivy petted the adorable little dog with absent affection. “And if there’s a winter of the soul?” Troubled eyes met Sascha’s. “If the ice is so integrated that even when there’s a fracture, it seals itself as soon as he closes his eyes?”
“I don’t know,” Sascha said honestly. “There are probably some in the Net who’ve been intensely conditioned to the extent that they come as close to Silence without sociopathy as possible.” The Arrows, she thought, fell into that category.
“These people,” she added with care for Ivy’s heart, “probably embraced Silence on such a deep level for a reason.” Vicious psychic abilities, the threat of madness, a family history of violence. “They may not wish to shatter it.”
The day I feel is the day I die.
Ivy’s fingers stilled on Rabbit’s coat as Vasic’s words rang in her skull, as harsh as Sascha’s had been kind. Ivy had been so happy this morning. He’d teased her, even if he wouldn’t admit it, but when he’d woken three hours later, it was as if they’d never had that conversation, never started to weave the fragile threads of a bond she couldn’t name but that she knew she wanted. So much.
“Ivy.” Sascha’s fingers brushing her cheek.
Seeing the gentle sympathy in the cardinal’s starlit gaze, Ivy felt her eyes burn. She blinked the sandpaper of it away and consciously put aside her thoughts about the Arrow who made her want to take a sledgehammer to the ice he might need to survive.
“Can you teach me how to shield?” she asked Sascha. “I’m picking up every emotion in the compound—including your mate’s feral protectiveness.” One wrong move toward Sascha and Ivy knew she’d have claws buried in her throat. Even now, she could feel the changeling alpha’s wild green eyes on her, though he stood several meters away.
Ivy—a caress of ice-cold water in her mind—you’re afraid of Lucas Hunter.
Her fingers curled into her palms, her breath catching at the dark, beautiful sound of him. Reading my mind?
No, just your body language and facial cues.
Ivy wanted to tease him but couldn’t find the heart for it, Sascha’s words having made her realize Vasic’s Silence could be a survival mechanism.
Then he said, Don’t be afraid. I won’t let him hurt you.
Ivy felt as if she’d been wrapped in his arms. Giving in, she looked across the compound to meet the eyes of clear gray that watched her. I know.