Ivy looked at the other woman, said, “Come closer,” in a solemn tone of voice. “I need to examine your eyes . . . since you’re obviously going blind.”

Having fallen for Ivy’s first words, Jaya pushed at her shoulders, and then they were laughing, their fingers tightly intertwined.

• • •

VASIC was held motionless by the sound of Ivy’s laughter, so rich and warm and vibrant. Tell me why you laugh, he demanded, wanting to understand it, understand her.

Tilting her head to the side, she shook it. That’s between me and Jaya.

Her words drew his attention to the woman beside her. He became aware at the same instant that Abbot, too, was focused on the porch. Having already made the decision to leave the younger Arrow with his empath, Vasic didn’t comment.

If there was a chance Abbot could forge a better life for himself, then Vasic wouldn’t steal that chance from him. Neither would Vasic permit the E to savage Abbot. Your friend, he said to the woman with tousled curls who watched him from the porch, must understand that Abbot may not catch emotional nuances. If she’s merely using him to explore her emotions, she needs to stop.

Ivy hugged Jaya, both women now on their feet. Only when her fellow E had begun to walk toward her cabin did Ivy say, Come over here and talk to me. The demand held more than a hint of challenge, her arms folded defiantly across her chest.

Glancing at Abbot to see the other male was staring after Jaya, he said, “We’ll continue this discussion later.”

Abbot left without further words, his course set to intersect with Jaya’s. Striding across to his own E, Vasic stopped a foot from her. “Did my statement about your friend offend you?”

Arms still folded, Ivy narrowed her eyes. “You ever think about the fact that maybe it’s Jaya taking all the risks?” she demanded. “For all she knows, Abbot could turn around and say it’s too late for him.”

He heard the echo of his own words, knew it had been deliberate. “Abbot and I,” he said, “are not the same.”

“Why? You’re both telekinetics, went through the same training—”

“No.” Ivy had to understand that what she sought to see in him was simply not there. It was his fault—he’d been selfish, withheld the truth from her and stolen time, allowing things to go so far that she thought his hands were clean enough to touch her. “Abbot,” he said, “wasn’t inducted into the training program till he was ten.”

Frowning, she unfolded her arms. “But he’s a very strong Tk.”

“Abbot’s father was the same, and he not only took responsibility for his son, he held enough power to enforce his decision. It was only after his death that Abbot was claimed for the squad.” That had always been part of the problem—unlike many Arrows, Abbot had known what it was to be valued as an individual before he was thrust into a world where their leadership saw them as interchangeable pieces. Under Ming, an Arrow was valuable because of his training, but only until he began to malfunction.

“At ten,” he continued before Ivy could interrupt, “Abbot already had excellent psychic control. His father had made certain of that.” There was no question the younger Arrow had suffered considerable physical and psychological pain in the intervening years, but he hadn’t been tortured as a child.

The sudden contrast was one of the reasons why Abbot was so unstable. The shock of it had left jagged fractures in his psyche. “Abbot did eventually adjust to the change in his life,” he told Ivy, “and he’s an Arrow I would have at my back in a heartbeat, but he’s also fragile on a certain level. Jaya is the first person with whom he’s bonded emotionally since he lost his father.”

Copper-colored eyes watched him with a near-painful clarity. “Jaya is falling for him and she’s just as scared.” A lopsided smile. “You don’t have to worry about his heart.”

Vasic didn’t know anything about the heart, but Abbot was his responsibility. “Do you understand, Ivy?” he asked into the air filled with birdsong.

Abbot was damaged, but he’d had a foundation once, had been loved, even if only in the cold way of Silence. That fact had shaped his life . . . the same way Vasic’s total abandonment by his own father had shaped his. “I’m not like Abbot.” He’d been too young to fight the torture, and it had broken him. “I didn’t survive my childhood.”

Ivy stubbornly shook her head. “You can’t push me away, so stop trying.”

Catching the fisted hand she touched to his chest, he battled the desire to surrender to her will. If he acknowledged the nascent bond between them, she’d use up her very life force in an attempt to heal him—and the abyss of numbness that existed deep inside him would suck her in, suck her dry.

Watch over your Sunny as I wasn’t able to watch over mine.

His honor might be in shreds, but this one good thing he would do—he would keep Ivy Jane safe from her own too-generous heart, so she wouldn’t end up dust long before her time.

Chapter 25

“THANK YOU FOR making me feel alive for the first time in a decade,” he told her as he fought and failed to release her wrist. “If I could alter time, I’d make myself into a man who could walk by your side, but I’m meant for the shadows.” Meant to live in the cold dark with the other monsters. “It’s where I intend to stay.”

Ripping away her hand to leave him forsaken, Ivy said, “Inside,” in a voice that shook. “I have something to say to you, and I won’t do it out here.”

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