It took Vasic’s hazed mind at least a minute to process the words. “It’d be a paltry substitute.” His body was nothing in comparison to hers.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Leaving her cardigan and jacket on the chair, Ivy didn’t close the space between her and Vasic. Her Arrow was on a razor-thin edge, his body rigidly controlled and his eyes pure black.

Ivy, too, realized she’d hit her limit . . . at least tonight. Pleasure was like a drug. She couldn’t gobble it up, or her starved mind would overload.

Skirting around the only man with whom she could imagine taking the next bite and the next, she busied herself making drinks for them, her skin prickling at Vasic’s presence. He hadn’t laid a finger on her, but his eyes, those eyes. Swallowing at the memory of the heat in the silver before it turned to midnight, the dominant strength of his body as he trapped her against the screen, she almost spilled the sugar she was putting into her tea.

She could hear the sound of his boot moving on wood as he headed to the door.

Ivy turned, searching for a noninflammatory subject to keep him here for a little longer. “Your gauntlet,” she blurted out as the light caught on the black gleam of it. “Will you tell me about it?”

Vasic went motionless, the lingering heat in his eyes doused as if she’d thrown a bucket of cold water over his head. “We should talk about the infection.”

Ivy wasn’t stupid. “What’s wrong with the gauntlet?” she asked, her blood turning to ice.

“It would take too long to explain the complexities of the biofusion.”

She strode over to him, her pulse in her mouth and all thoughts of passion buried under an incipient panic. “What’s wrong with it?” she repeated through a throat gone bone-dry. “Vasic.”

“It’s classified.”

“You’re scaring me.”

He didn’t flinch, but she had the sense the words had hit him like a blow. Glancing at the gauntlet, he said, “It’s an experiment. There are significant glitches.”

“How bad?” She gripped the hand of his gauntleted arm, held up the arm with her other hand under the smooth black carapace.

“When it was first integrated to my arm,” he answered, not pulling away, “there was a twenty-five percent chance of an overload that could permanently short-circuit my central nervous system.”

Death, she thought, horror uncurling in her gut, he was talking about a twenty-five percent chance of death. “And now? It’s lower?” It’d be a terrible risk at any percentage, but the lower it was, the more time they had to find a solution.

Then his eyes met hers. “No.”

The single word smashed her heart to pieces. “Don’t make me ask,” she whispered.

“Ivy, I volunteered for the experiment long before I knew you.”

No, she thought, no. She couldn’t have found her quiet, strong, protective Arrow only to have lost him before they’d ever exchanged a single word, a single touch. Eyes burning, she just stared at him.

“Seventy-two percent probability of a fatal overload.”

A strangled, broken sound tore out of Ivy. “How could they . . .”

“The biofusion team believed they could use a living trial to work out the final glitches, but the technology is proving too complex and too unpredictable.” None of that had mattered to Vasic until a woman with eyes of startling copper had looked at him and seen not a monster, but a man.

Just a man. Just Vasic.

“You have to get it removed,” Ivy ordered, blinking rapidly. “Contact Aden right now and have him arrange it.”

He wished he could do exactly that, turn back the clock on his self-destructive choice. “It’s too late. The fusion is too advanced, the computronics integrated into my nervous system.”

Ivy shook her head, jaw set in a stubborn line. “No.”

Vasic went to touch her, but she stumbled back. “No, no, no!” She came at him a heartbeat later, slamming her fists against his chest. “How could you do that? How could you value yourself so little?”

He gripped her wrists, her skin delicate and warm against his palms. “Because I was already dead.” A walking, functioning shell. “You brought me back to life. And seventy-two percent still means I’ll likely have years.”

Ivy’s face twisted, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Find a way to get it off,” she said, tugging at one hand until he released it. Dashing away her tears, she gave the order again. “You know the most powerful man in the Net. Find a way.”

The robotics expert who had designed the heart of the biofusion technology was gone, presumed dead, and the people on the current team were the best of the best, but Vasic had no intention of giving up. Not this time. “I’ll fight, Ivy.” He’d wage war against his own body, grip at life with bloodied nails and broken fingers. “I’ll push for advancements in science and medicine, hunt down any individual who might possibly offer even a glimmer of an answer, hack into every secure database. I will fight.”

Ivy’s breath was a sob. “Don’t ever give up.” Using her free hand to cup the hand he had around her wrist, she bent her head to press a kiss to his knuckles. “Promise me.”

His entire body in shock at the sweet, hot caress, he nodded. For her, he’d conquer even the dark numbness that had been eating him alive for years. “I promise.” He touched her hair. “Ivy, I was trying to protect you.” He’d never intended this bond to form, never intended to cause her pain. “From the terrible things I’ve done, the destructive choices I’ve made, the broken mess inside me.” Copyright 2016 - 2024