“Before I teach you to shield,” Sascha said at that instant, voice thoughtful, “I’ll say one more thing on our earlier subject.”

Ivy broke the intimacy of the eye contact with Vasic to see the cardinal empath was watching him, too. “What?”

“I know two men who were once as remote as your Arrow.”

“Judd Lauren,” she guessed, not bothering to protest Sascha’s description of Vasic. He was Ivy’s Arrow. She’d claimed him. “And?”

“Kaleb Krychek.”

Ivy shivered, tugging the sleeves of her sweater over her hands. “He’s still . . .”

“Yes.” Sascha nodded. “Except when it comes to his mate. If you succeed in cracking the ice, you have to be prepared to deal with a male as devoted and as violently protective as any changeling.”

Ivy didn’t know anything of men or of relationships, but the idea of having Vasic look at her as Lucas Hunter looked at Sascha . . . it made every cell in her body vibrate with a need so deep, it felt as if she’d been born with it.

“As for Judd,” Sascha said. “A week ago, I saw him go down under a tumble of pups who decided to ‘force’ him to play tag with them.” She closed her hand over one of Ivy’s, squeezed. “I saw him laugh, Ivy”—the cardinal’s eyes shone wet—“and never could I have imagined that when I first met him.”

Inside Ivy the confetti whispered up on a soft breeze.

• • •

VASIC noted the ease with which Ivy accepted Sascha’s embrace at the end of their two-hour session, and instinctively checked her PsyNet shields. The fractures were visible, jagged cracks that threatened to expose her emotional existence on the PsyNet. Ivy, he said as soon as the DarkRiver couple had left the compound.

Her mind touched his in a familiar intimacy, the telepathic pathway private. Yes?

Will you accept my assistance in shielding you on the PsyNet? If she said no, he’d have to find another way to protect her. He would not compel or coerce, would not tie her down as she’d been tied down in that reconditioning chamber—the same way he’d been restrained so many times as a child.

Ivy hesitated in the doorway to her cabin. Not yet, she said at last. I can seal the fractures for now. She sought his gaze. Having your shield over mine blinds me, and I need to be able to see the infection.

It was almost as if she was explaining so as not to hurt his feelings, when she knew he had no feelings. No, he didn’t understand Ivy at all. I’ll work with the other Arrows to firewall this section of the Net instead, he said. It’ll give you freedom to work on the infection without scrutiny from unwanted sources.

Shifting on her heel, she came to join him where he stood near the pines closest to her cabin. “That sounds perfect. I don’t think the Net is ready for us.”

Ivy always smiled with some part of her body, but there was no light in her eyes now, no curve to her lips. “The session didn’t go well?”

“Oh no, it was incredible.” She rubbed at one temple, and he knew her head continued to bother her. “Sascha taught me how to create an internal shield, so I won’t get overwhelmed again like I did with Lianne—though from her experience, it looks like we can’t completely turn off our ability.”

Vasic had begun to suspect that. “Your empathy functions like an extra sense, analogous to sight or hearing.” The same way his teleporting might as well have been another limb, it was so integrated into his body.

“Yes.” Thrusting her hands into the front pockets of her jeans, she stared down at the ground. “I just . . . I thought this would be a better world, Vasic.”

An indefinable sensation inside him caused by the sound of his name on her lips. “How?”

Ivy rubbed at her temple again.

Raising his hands, he said, “Stay still,” and began a scalp and neck massage he’d learned after an injury of his own.

Ivy was so stunned at the skin-to-skin contact that it took several seconds for the pleasure of what he was doing to penetrate her nerve endings. Groaning, she allowed her head to drop forward, her palms braced against his chest. God, but she was starting to hate the stupid uniform that so effectively segregated the heat and strength of him from her touch.

But his fingers, his hands . . .


“Hmm.” Eyes closed, she focused only on the feel of those strong fingers taking away her hurt and turning her bones to jelly in the process. More, more, she wanted to demand, shameless in her tactile hunger for him.

“Why did you think the world would be better?”

Ivy had forgotten what she’d been talking about, had to dredge her pleasure-drunk brain to unearth the thread of their conversation. “After the fall of Silence,” she murmured, eyes still closed. “If and when I ever permitted myself to imagine it”—she moaned again as he shifted his hands to the back of her neck—“I always thought it would be a halcyon environment.” A twist of her lips. “But no matter what, people are still going to try to hurt one another.”

“The attack on Lianne is on your mind.” Ivy’s skin was delicate against the rough pads of Vasic’s fingers, but she inched closer instead of pulling away.

Her proximity increased the abrasive sensation inside his skin, a silent reminder that he should not be touching her, but he didn’t break contact. It was his job to take care of her, and it was clear this was easing her pain.

“A member of Lianne’s own family turned against her,” she said after almost a minute. “It makes me worry about what will happen when the rest of the E designation begins to go active. How many of us will die?”

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