Getting to her feet, she rubbed her hands on the jeans she’d paired with her white sweater and a raspberry colored coat she’d brought from home and never worn because she preferred Vasic’s jacket. Unfortunately, it would make her stick out here when she needed to blend in. That didn’t mean she was giving it back to him.

A footstep at her bedroom door. “Are you ready?”

Ivy looked up . . . and her mouth fell open. She’d become used to seeing Vasic in his black combat uniform, hadn’t really considered what he might look like in civilian clothing. The answer was that he looked luscious. “Hot,” that was the word the other races used; he looked hot.

As hot as her skin at the sight of him.

Blue jeans over his combat boots, black T-shirt, a black leather-synth jacket with a high neck that he’d left open, he was . . . Ivy didn’t have the words. She just knew she wanted to pounce on him.

No armor, she realized with a clenching of muscles low in her body. If she stroked her hands over his chest now, she’d be able to feel all that gorgeous, tensile muscle, the soft cotton of the T-shirt little barrier to her exploration. Especially since she could push it up, graze his abdomen with her fingertips.

“Is something wrong?” He stepped closer as Rabbit ran back from where he’d been nosing around in Vasic’s room.

“No.” Smiling, she stroked one hand down his jacket and thought only of hope, of an unknown future full of possible answers to the lethal question of the gauntlet. His death wasn’t set in stone. So she would live with him, play with him, adore him. “You look gorgeous.”

Vasic closed his hand over hers, and it was rain on her parched soul. “Civilian clothing seemed appropriate.”

“Yes, very.” Mouth curving at the fact he was utterly clueless of the impact of his masculine beauty, she dared brush her fingers over his shoulder just to touch him a little more. Her toes curled when he didn’t protest her right to pet him . . . and the same audacious wickedness that had given her the courage to send him an erotic image, whispered another suggestion in her ear.

Heart pounding hard and urgent against her ribs, she rose on tiptoe. “Will you bend a little?”


She bit down on her lower lip, saw his eyes follow the action, the winter frost of his irises shaded by his lashes. It twisted her stomach into knots, the confetti and the butterflies trapped inside. “Because I asked.”

A slight hesitation that almost made her want to smile, except that her blood was a surging roar in her ears, her skin prickling with a sensation she couldn’t name. Then he dipped his head just enough that she could reach his mouth. Not giving herself time to lose her nerve, she curved her free hand over the warm strength of his nape and brushed her lips once, twice over his.

She didn’t know how to kiss, had never before done it, but she’d seen humans and changelings kissing, had convinced herself it couldn’t be too hard. It was . . . because this was Vasic, who made her neurons stop working and her body hunger. Going down flat on her feet after that slight contact that shot lightning through her body, her chest heaving, she waited, unable to meet his gaze.

When he didn’t move, didn’t speak, she lost her nerve at last, went to turn away.

Unyielding male fingers manacled her wrist. “Ivy, look at me.”

His voice curled around her like a stroke. Taking a quick breath, she obeyed the order and felt her spirits dive. His face was drawn, his expression stark. “I did it wrong, didn’t I?”

“I need to tell you something.” He held her in place when she would’ve pulled away. “I was planning to lie to you, but I can’t. Not when—”

Ivy felt her blood run cold as he cut himself off, suddenly realizing this had nothing to do with her bad kissing technique. “The gauntlet. It’s worse.”

Vasic didn’t draw out the agonizing suspense. “Yes. Eight weeks, maybe less.”

A keening cry broke from her lips. Shaking and still making that horrible sound she couldn’t stop, she collapsed against his chest. His arms locked around her, one big hand cupping the back of her head. “Every Arrow in the squad is searching the Net for answers alongside me.” His breath hot against her ear as she sobbed so hard, it felt as if her body were shattering like glass hit from within. “I am not giving up, not this time.”

Somehow, she heard him through her anguish, heard what he was trying to tell her. Her Arrow who’d once placed no value on his life now understood that it had worth. It only made her sob harder. Vasic held her throughout, strong and warm and so breathtakingly alive that she couldn’t imagine him any other way.

“Please, Ivy.” He rubbed his cheek against her temple. “You are causing Rabbit distress.”

Her breath hiccupped.

“And me.” It was a rough murmur. “Don’t cry.”

His words splintered her already broken heart. She sucked in air, tried to temper her breathing. It took time, but eventually she could speak without her words fracturing, though her voice was hoarse. “Tell me the details.”

Vasic gave Ivy a concise summary of the problem. He hated himself for savaging her so badly, but when she’d caressed him sweet and soft, her body open to his, he’d known he couldn’t betray her with a lie, couldn’t touch her on a false promise.

Now her jaw was set, her eyes red-rimmed but clear. “Together,” she said. “We will handle this together—if you shut me out, I’ll take a sledgehammer to the ice.” Her hands fisted on his T-shirt, tugged him down. “I mean it.” Copyright 2016 - 2024