“Yes.” He stepped closer. “Would you like to bring Rabbit?”

God, how could this incredible man ever have thought himself so beyond redemption that he’d volunteered for an experiment that was a death sentence? Stifling the words because she didn’t want to fight with him anymore, she said, “He’d enjoy the adventure.” Bending down, she gathered her pet in her arms. “Ready.”

“Close your eyes.” A pause, his fingers rising to just barely graze her hair. “Please.”

Charmed and heartbroken, she did so, felt the slight psychic shimmer of a teleport. When Vasic murmured, “Open,” she lifted her lashes to find herself atop a sand dune, amidst a stunning sea of rolling sands spotlit by a huge silver moon.

A gasp escaped her, pure wonder in her blood. She’d never been anywhere near a desert except for those fleeting instants the previous night when Vasic had lost control. “It’s cold!” she said as Rabbit jumped out of her arms.

“Temperatures drop steeply at night here.”

Utterly mesmerized, she sat down on the fine, fine sand, while Rabbit sniffed suspiciously at the unfamiliar environment before racing down the dune. “I’ve never seen such an enormous moon.” She could almost reach out and touch it, it sat so heavily in the sky.

Sitting down beside her, Vasic said, “I come here to think.”

“I understand.” It was peaceful without being barren. The silica glittered under the moonlight, a gentle breeze played with the rare clumps of grasses she could see in the distance, and the dunes threw smudged moon shadows that turned the landscape into an oil painting. “Thank you for showing me,” she said, watching Rabbit chase imaginary prey below them.

They sat in silence for several minutes. It wasn’t a comfortable silence, the haunting beauty of the night not enough to make Ivy forget what Vasic had done. It was stupid to feel betrayed, but she did. He should’ve known, should’ve waited for her to find him, cried a stubborn, irrational part of her.

“Are you still angry?”

Her anger crumbled. Leaning her head against his arm, she said, “I’m sorry for taking out my temper on you.”

Vasic put his gauntleted arm around her shoulders. “I wish I’d met you ten years ago.”

His words destroyed her, they carried such loss, such tightly held pain. What, she thought with a stab of fury, had her strong, wounded, beautiful man been forced to do in those ten years? She didn’t ask, unwilling to contaminate his haven with such terrible memories. “Look,” she said instead, “Rabbit’s trying to climb up the dune.” Her poor little dog kept sliding down, unable to figure out how to make the sand behave.

Face set in increasingly stubborn lines, Rabbit continued to try in an adorable display of will. “Come on,” she said to her pet, “you can do it. You can do it, Rabbit.”

And then he was scrambling up, slowly but surely. She slapped Vasic lightly on the chest. “You’re helping him.”

“It seems only fair since I brought him here.”

Rabbit flopped down beside them seconds later, his eyes closed and tail wagging slowly as he rested from his labors. Ivy went to pet him when Vasic stood, slightly unbalancing her. She braced her hand on the sand, looked up. “Do we have to leave?”

He shook his head and came back down . . . except this time, he sat behind her, his legs on either side of her own and his chest a hard wall at her back. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her close. She didn’t shy away from the gauntlet; the malfunctioning piece of technology was part of Vasic and as angry as it made her, never would she reject him in any way.

At this second, however, her focus wasn’t on the hardware. Neither was it on the stunning landscape. Not with her body deliciously imprisoned by the muscled heat of his. Pulse racing as a fine sheen of perspiration broke out over her skin, she whispered, “Vasic.”

His breath was hot against her neck as he leaned down . . . and then she felt his lips brushing over the place where her pulse jumped. Whimpering, she gripped at his thighs. The muscles in his forearm tightened in response, pushing up her br**sts, but he didn’t intensify the intimacy, didn’t reach up to squeeze her needy flesh, tug at her ni**les.

No, Vasic was patient. Excruciatingly patient. He explored her with an erotic attention to detail that made her squirm. But no matter how she begged and pleaded, he wouldn’t allow her to turn. “I’ll lose it,” he said bluntly. “Let me be selfish.”

“If this is you being selfish,” she gasped, clenching her thighs together in a vain effort to ease the ache within, “I’ll never survive your version of generous.”

Ivy—another kiss—let me.

That was when Ivy realized she had a serious Achilles’ heel when it came to negotiating with a certain Arrow. She couldn’t say no to him. Shivering at the wetness as he opened his mouth as if tasting her, she melted into him and let him be as selfish as he wanted.

• • •

VASIC met Aden at dawn the next morning, deep in the woods surrounding the cabins. “The gauntlet,” he said, “I need you to help me run down any possible solution, no matter how dangerous.”

Aden, who’d opposed the procedure from the start, said, “I’ve been keeping up to date with the science since the day you volunteered. Edgard and the biofusion team have pushed their limits and are now at a dead end. The only person who might have an answer is the original inventor of the concept, but—”

“All indications are that Samuel Rain is dead.” Vasic had attempted to ’port to the brilliant engineer, using his face as a lock, to no avail. The only other thing that could explain the ’port failure was a complex telepathic shield. However, given the fact that Samuel Rain had literally disappeared off the face of the planet, leaving projects half-finished when he was known to be meticulous and obsessive about his work, that was a slim possibility at best.

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