Stop, said the part of him that had made him confess his perfidy to her, forced him to show Ivy the hands so soaked in blood, the stain was permanent, she isn’t for you.

Vasic ignored that voice. He’d torn himself to shreds today with what he’d done, but he’d hurt Ivy, too. That had never been his aim. This candy made her happy. So he’d order it now, pick it up tomorrow. Taking care of her was his reason for being.

• • •

THE world went to hell at eleven the next morning.

Ivy was stomping around in the woods with an equally grumpy Rabbit when Vasic blasted a message to everyone in the compound. Shield and maintain until advised otherwise. Do not venture into the Net.

Reaching for him, she touched blank nothingness, as if he’d gone too far for her telepathy to reach. It was tempting to jack into the Net, read the datastreams, but she knew Vasic. He wouldn’t send a warning like that unless it was necessary. Leaving the woods, she walked to the center of the compound, the other Es already converging on the snow.

“Ivy,” Isaiah said the instant she was within earshot. “He’s your Arrow. What do you know?”

Yep, the guy was still an arrogant ass. “Nothing you don’t.” She hadn’t even spoken to her obstinate male this morning—he’d been gone when she woke, and hadn’t turned up for breakfast as he usually did. When she’d looked out the window to see if he was just avoiding her, having every intention of hunting him down, she’d seen him with his unit, the nine of them locked in a taut discussion.

An hour ago, she’d returned from a conversation with a couple of the other Es to find a box of Turkish Delight on the kitchen table. Ivy wanted to alternately throw it at his head and haul him down so she could share the taste with him, mouth to mouth.

Concetta raised a hesitant hand. “I was on the Net before the warning came.” Lower lip trembling when everyone focused on her, the shy empath ducked her head.

Rabbit ran over to nuzzle at her leg in an attempt to help. Aware the other woman was afraid of her pet, Ivy went to call him back, but to her surprise, Concetta bent down to very carefully stroke Rabbit.

“Well?” one of the men urged.

“Can it, Chang.” Isaiah walked over to crouch next to Concetta, his next words too low to carry.

Nodding, the tiny blonde allowed him to gently tug her to her feet. “I was looking at the infection, and”—she locked her fingers together, flexed, unflexed—“I saw the leading edge of a power wave smashing through the Net, like during the anchor collapse in Australia, but this was worse.” Her amber eyes stark, she shook her head. “I expected to go down under it, but I haven’t felt anything.”

Neither had Ivy. It took a split second for her to guess why. Oh God!

“The Arrows,” Jaya whispered as Ivy glanced frantically around the compound. “They must’ve protected us.”

“Where are they?” she asked, unable to see a single black-clad figure. “Where are the Arrows?” Vasic! Answer me!

The others scattered in a rush of pounding boots over snow.

Abdomen twisting as she thought of the blank absence when she’d reached for Vasic, Ivy fought her nausea to bend down to her loyal pet. “Rabbit, where’s Vasic? Find him. Find Vasic.”

Her dog took off toward their cabin. Racing after him, she saw her Arrow seated against the far wall, his open eyes bleeding ruby tears, and his hands fisted so tight, she could count each tendon and bone. “Vasic!”

No answer.

Collapsing to her knees in front of him, she sucked in a breath. No iris, no pupil, his gaze was the pure black that denoted a massive use of power. A vein pulsed dangerously on his temple, drops of perspiration rolled down to his jaw, his breath ragged but present. When she touched her fingers to his wrist, she found his pulse was running so fast, she couldn’t count the separate beats.

Dawning horror in her veins.

The incident, whatever it was, wasn’t yet over. Vasic was holding the shield that had protected her and the other Es.

Jaya, have you found Abbot? she asked, telling herself she could give in to the clawing panic inside her after Vasic was safe. Is he conscious?

Yes, but I can’t reach him, Jaya replied, her mental voice shaky. Isaiah’s Arrow was with Abbot, and he just lost consciousness. Isaiah’s checking his vital signs.

One hand on Vasic’s rigid leg, his muscles strained to the breaking point, she touched base with the others. The news was not good. Six Arrows are down, she telepathed to the group once she’d heard back from everyone. That leaves only Vasic, Abbot, and Mariko to hold the shield. I know Vasic told us to stay out of the Net, but we need to help them.

Unanimous agreement.

Already on the PsyNet, Ivy ignored the ferocious turbulence beyond the transparent black of the Arrow shield, forced thoughts of her parents aside, and talked the others through how to merge shields. The resulting creation was ragged but effective.

It was also . . . different.

Where the Arrow shield was a hard dome, the one below it rippled with the kind of hazy color seen in a bubble of sunlit water, and appeared as thin and as fragile. Yet when part of the Arrow shield cracked, Abbot losing his battle with unconsciousness, the empathic shield didn’t collapse under the strain. It simply flowed with the storm surge until there were no more waves, the PsyNet quiet.

And still Vasic’s jaw remained clenched, his blood crimson against the gold of his skin.

• • •

VASIC telepathed Judd the instant the shock wave stopped pummeling their shield. I need your pack and DarkRiver to make sure the empaths come to no harm. There’s an emergency in the Net.




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