Vasic’s battle readiness was a reminder that much as she wanted to pretend this was a date, as she’d read about in the novels she’d “accidentally” downloaded onto her reader back home, they were out here for a far bleaker reason.

Anchoring herself in the warmth of Vasic’s hand clasped around her own, Ivy began to listen with her empathic “ear.”

Tension dominated the air, understandable given what had happened in the neighboring street. Psy, human, changeling, the race didn’t matter; the emotion was the same. She hadn’t expected to find many changelings in such a compact city, but while they were a minority, there were enough. Of course, she was only guessing with her identification of them as changeling—but there was a wildness to their emotional scent that echoed that of Lucas Hunter.

“Do you know the species of changelings who live here?” she asked Vasic.

“Eagles are the apex predators.” Releasing her hand as a large group exited out of a restaurant right in front of them, he put his own on her lower back and angled his body to take the accidental shoulder hit of one.

“Sorry!” the human male called back, before carrying on.

Tucked against Vasic’s side, Ivy didn’t try to keep her smile from her face—even as an influx of dark emotion battered her senses. Dread, sweat-soaked terror . . . and below that the taste of rot, of infection. A businesswoman who passed them in a hurry of swift strides smelled so pungently of it that Ivy went to stop her.

Vasic caught Ivy’s hand.

Chapter 34

“IT’S A DEATH sentence at present,” he said when she began to argue.

Confirming it when she could offer no cure, Ivy realized, would do nothing but rob the woman of hope. And hope, cried Ivy’s own bruised heart, was everything.

Tears in her throat, she turned back to continue walking and almost ran into an overalled man bearing the badge of a major comm company on his front pocket. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

A curt nod at her apology and he was gone, the infection in him, too. Again and again and again, she tasted the fetid miasma of it, until her stomach began to churn. Yet when she glanced into the PsyNet, she saw nothing . . . nothing but Vasic right beside her. Oh God. Understanding crashed into her with the force of a freight train.

“You and Abbot”—she half turned into Vasic’s body—“you’re no longer safe.” Arrows had been protected by default at the compound, the infection leery about approaching the heavy knot of high-Gradient empathic minds. Now, Vasic was open on multiple sides.

“Our shields are extensive. The infection has shown no signs of penetrating them.”

Ivy shook her head, her hand on his gauntlet. “What about the microscopic filaments? We can’t even see them!” It was horrifying to know that that ugliness could invade his brain, destroy what made him Vasic. “I need to tie my shields to yours.”

We’ll talk about this back at the apartment.

She brought up the subject again as soon as they walked out of the elevator door onto their floor. “You know I’m right.” Having already unclipped Rabbit’s leash, she dropped it onto the hallway table after Vasic entered the apartment first in order to clear it of threats.

“How can shields protect me if the infection comes in through the biofeedback link?” he asked.

She stared at his back, wide and strong. “You knew.”

“The infection is in the Net,” he said, striding over to check her bedroom, Rabbit trotting at his side. “That means we’re all vulnerable to breathing in the poison if we come too close to it.”

Yet he—the other Arrows—had all agreed to walk into an infection zone. And these men and women saw nothing heroic about themselves. “I can’t tell you how I know,” she whispered after he’d cleared his own bedroom, too, “but I know that linking my shield to yours will extend my immunity to you.” The knowledge was a rapid stream of visuals in her head, as if she was being sent a message by a mind at once innocent and vast.

It should’ve scared her, but there was absolutely no harm in the sender. No, it felt like the touch of a child . . . an oddly wise one. “Vasic,” she said when he didn’t respond. “Let me do this.” Protect you this much at least, she thought through the rain of tears inside her soul.

“My task is to shield you.” He folded his arms. “Not the other way around.”

Ivy wanted to shake him. Striding over until they stood toe-to-toe, she held the winter-frost gaze that had become the center of her existence. “You won’t be able to protect me if the infection burrows into your cerebral cortex and turns you into a madman.”

Vasic didn’t want Ivy near his mind, didn’t want to risk tainting her with the darkness that lived in him. However, he couldn’t refute her point—should he become infected, he could turn on her, snuff out the luminous candle of her life. “The others should also connect to their Es.” They might be separated, but he remained the leader of this unit.

“I’ve already telepathed Jaya.” Ivy stroked her hands down the sides of his jacket.

He hadn’t ever been touched as much. Raising one hand, he closed his fingers over the fragile bones of her wrist, holding her to him.

Not disputing his right to the contact, Ivy said, “We’ll talk to everyone else the instant the merge is complete.”

She closed her eyes, and ten heartbeats later, the flat black of his shielding became interwoven with the translucent color of hers. The increased visibility was anathema to an Arrow. Vasic would deal with it because hiding Ivy was impossible—and shouldn’t be done. Any attempt to suffocate the wild beauty of an E, of his E, was a crime he’d punish with lethal efficiency. Copyright 2016 - 2023