Ivy thrust her hands into the pockets of the coat, her forehead furrowed. “We only touched base for a minute last night,” she said, “but I had the feeling that while people were scared, they were also . . . invigorated.”

“A surprising response.”

“Not really if you think about it.” Skin stretching tight over her jawline, she said, “We’ve been in a cage all our lives; most of us have been told we’re defective. Now, finally, it’s clear we’re not—there’s an enemy out there, and we can not only sense it, we may be able to fight it.”

A purpose, Aden understood, could alter everything.

Ivy looked down when her pet swiveled its head to bark at the mist. “That’s not his alarm bark,” she said, glancing around all the same.

Aden scanned the area telepathically in case the dog had scented something they hadn’t sensed, aware of Vasic doing a scan for unknown heat signatures using his gauntlet at the same time, but there were no intruders. When Rabbit took off a second later, Aden heard Vasic say, “I believe Rabbit is after one of his namesakes.”

Ivy’s shoulders relaxed. “Oh, that’s all right. He never actually goes near them when he’s about to catch one.” Lowering her voice, she whispered, “We don’t speak about it, but I’m pretty sure Rabbit is a little scared of rabbits.”

Aden’s eyes were on Ivy, his attention on Vasic. So he saw the way her face glowed when she spoke to Vasic, noted the very slight movement of Vasic’s head as the other Arrow bent toward her.

Never, not once, had he thought his friend might possess the capacity to bond with a woman. Not even when Kaleb Krychek had bonded with Sahara Kyriakus, throwing open the idea that such a connection was possible for members of the squad. Aden had believed Vasic too damaged, had fought only to save the other man’s life.

Now . . .

He looked again at the two of them silhouetted against the mist and felt a new respect for the empath. She’d somehow hauled Vasic out of the numb nothingness that was his self-imposed purgatory. The question was—was she strong enough to go the distance, to walk in Vasic’s darkness?

If she wasn’t, the damage would be permanent.

Chapter 24

Vasic, I appreciate you’re on an active mission, but according to the data you sent through, I need to calibrate the gauntlet to offset a minor overload. To prepare, I’ll also have to run an internal diagnostic while you’re connected to our systems. I estimate the entire procedure will take under two hours.

Message from Dr. Edgard Bashir

IVY FINISHED THE comm conversation with her parents and went out to wait for Jaya on the porch, Vasic’s jacket draped over her thighs and legs. It was a sad substitute for being held in his arms, but it made her feel warm and safe nonetheless.

Ivy, Aden said you asked after me.

A crowd of butterflies took flight in her abdomen at the sound of Vasic’s telepathic voice, her ni**les going painfully tight in a response that left her breathless. Intellectually, she’d known about sexual attraction—but no one had ever told her that all it would take was the sound of a certain male voice to make her lower body clench, her br**sts aching and swelling as her pulse rate rocketed.

She thought of how he’d looked at her the previous night, pure Arrow concentration and ruthless focus, and bit down hard on her lower lip as her mind whispered that she should’ve pushed the strap down instead of pulling it up. Maybe then, he’d have put those strong fingers on her needy flesh.

I just missed you, she said through the sensual storm, unable to see him in the compound.

It was a simple errand, he said after a long pause, and a good time to take care of it with Aden free to cover me. I’m walking in from the sentry line.

Heart skipping a beat at the fact her Arrow had actually explained himself to her, as if she had the right to question his movements, she flexed and unflexed her fingers atop his jacket . . . and then she did something either very brave or so stupid she’d never live down the humiliation. She sent him the erotic visual her mind had created, of her peeling down both straps of her camisole to reveal her br**sts.

The silence echoed.

Groaning, she hid her flaming face in her hands. What had possessed her to, to— “Oh, God.”

Ivy . . . I may have caught an accidental image from your mind.

He was giving her an out. Chest heaving as her blood scalded her skin from the inside out, she grabbed some snow and pressed it to her cheeks. It wasn’t an accident, she admitted before the knots in her stomach tied her up into an incoherent ball. It was for you.

• • •

VASIC remained on his knees in the snow where he’d fallen when the picture of Ivy had slammed into his mind. It might as well have been a roundhouse punch to the jaw, his head was spinning so hard, his heartbeat erratic and a roar of blood in his ears.

It was for you.

No one had ever just given him something he wanted so much. Even though he knew he should erase the image from his mind, that it went against every one of the rules that helped him stay sane, stay stable, he opened it again. This time, the punch hit him directly in the solar plexus.

She was all shy smile and a peach-colored blush as she tugged down the straps of her top to reveal plump br**sts topped with dusky pink ni**les. The flesh of her br**sts was a creamier shade than the skin of her shoulders, and he knew it’d mark easily. Unable to resist, he ran a mental finger over one of those ni**les, felt his rigid penis throb. The line of her neck drew his gaze, the curve of her shoulder, the slenderness of her arms.

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