Teleporting Aden back to the morgue, Vasic returned to Ivy. Jaya left a few moments later, after once more making him promise to keep her updated. “Rabbit will probably run in soon,” she told him as she slid her arms into her jacket. “He’s been doing that the entire time—but he goes back to Eben before the boy can miss him and start to follow. It’s almost as if he understands Eben can’t see Ivy in this condition.”
Eben, however, had clearly guessed more than anyone realized. The boy entered the cabin twenty minutes after Jaya’s departure, his shoulders tense. “Did I hurt Ivy?” he asked in a ragged voice. “Please tell me the truth.”
“No. She’s simply resting after the power outlay.”
Open relief. “Oh, I’ve done that before, when I stretched my telepathy too hard.” He petted Rabbit when the dog came out from behind the screen after checking on Ivy. “We’ll go hang with Isaiah and Penn so we don’t disturb her. Come on, Rabbit.”
It was sixty-seven minutes after that conversation, the world graying into evening outside, that Vasic finally heard a rustle.
Checking Ivy’s pulse—strong and steady—he touched her mind again, and this time sensed the normal patterns of sleep. What he didn’t expect was the sleepy, Vasic? that was Ivy’s telepathic voice in his own mind.
I’m here. Rest.
Stretching out, then curling up again, blanket pulled to her neck, she smiled. He should’ve left now that she was stable, but he hesitated. And then he went down on his haunches by the bed and dared touch his hand to her hair, the silky strands snagging on the calluses that marked his palm.
• • •
TWO hours later, Vasic was in the trees at the inner perimeter, speaking with Judd, when he sensed Ivy’s presence. Turning around, he found her walking toward him, her hands in the pockets of the jacket he’d given her and her unbound hair dusted with snow that must’ve fallen from a tree branch.
“There you are,” she said with a deep smile before she noticed Judd. “Oh, I’m sorry. Am I interrupting?”
“No. I was giving Judd some details about Anchorage.” The other man had asked in his position as a SnowDancer lieutenant, the pack wanting to ensure it was prepared in case there was a similar incident in any part of their sprawling territory. “You should still be resting.”
Ivy’s smile morphed into a scowl. “Says the man who sleeps less than anyone else in this compound.”
I wouldn’t. Judd’s mental voice touched Vasic’s mind when he would’ve pointed out that she’d experienced a major psychic strain today. She’s ready to be annoyed with you.
Vasic met Judd’s eyes. How do you know?
A faint amusement in the other man’s expression. I have a mate and two nieces. I also live in a wolf pack. Trust me when I say I know annoyed women.
As the only women Vasic really knew aside from Ivy were the other Es and his fellow Arrows, he decided to take Judd’s word for it. “Did you need something?” he asked Ivy.
Scowl fading, she said, “I wanted to ask about Anchorage, actually.” Her tone was bleak. “I’m following several PsyNet news feeds, but all they’re saying is that there was a mass psychotic outbreak, no other facts.”
Vasic’s instincts rebelled against dousing her in the ugliness of the death and madness he’d witnessed today.
Tell her. Judd’s telepathic touch again.
She’s had a traumatic day.
You’ll be the one having a traumatic day soon. Strong women don’t like being wrapped in cotton wool.
Vasic held his ground. Were this your mate, would you tell her?
Of course, was the immediate answer. Mating is a partnership. It’s not about keeping secrets or about one half of the pair bearing all the weight.
“Do you two geniuses think I can’t tell you’re talking about me?” Eyes narrowed, Ivy folded her arms.
“Sorry.” Judd coughed into his hand. “I’d better be heading off anyway.” A glance at Vasic. “Think about what I said.”
Ivy waited until the other man was gone before raising an eyebrow. “Well?”
He realized she was tapping her foot. For some reason, that tiny action fascinated him. “You suffered a major psychic burnout earlier,” he said, disregarding Judd’s advice in his need to protect Ivy.
“Empaths are built to handle turbulent emotion.” She rubbed the heel of her hand over her breastbone as she stated that fact in an exasperated tone.
Zeroing in on the unconscious act, he said, “You’re feeling the aftereffects of working with Eben.”
“Yes, like a bruise,” she admitted. “And like any bruise, it’ll fade.” A piercing look. “Now talk to me—we can’t work blind, Vasic.”
She was right. Such blindness could be fatal. “It appears the infection is more stealthy than originally believed,” he said, and gave her everything he had to this point. “I’ll make sure to brief the rest of the Es, too.”
“Thank you.” She swallowed. “Were there any other Psy survivors?”
He knew she was talking about people anchored in the region, not visitors. “A mother and child. I’m certain they’re empaths.”
Ivy said nothing for a long time, and Vasic simply watched her. The top of her head just reached his breastbone and he could see the snow on her hair had melted to leave jeweled droplets of water on her curls. As he watched, a single droplet rolled stealthily down past her ear to disappear into the raised collar of his jacket.