He’d been handling the curious and dangerous attention she drew since the instant they relocated. He hadn’t had to execute anyone yet, but he would the instant any individual posed a threat. He wasn’t a good man, but she was something exceptional. He would protect her . . . till the day he died.
Unacceptable, said the grimly resolute core of him, his eyes on the gauntlet.
“Vasic?” Ivy’s fingers curled into her palm. “I can feel you.”
He could sense her as well, in a way that meant he’d be able to tell if she was hurt or in pain. “Good,” he said, and used the technology that was killing him to send out a message to the unit about merging shields, while Ivy got on the comm and did the same with the Es.
She’d just finished the final call when he remembered something she’d seen in a shop window just before an elderly woman had stopped to admire Rabbit. “We forgot to buy the pastries you wanted to try.”
Ivy blinked, laughed. “Next time.”
And he wanted there to be a next and a next and a next. Cupping her face, he kissed her smile into his mouth. Her gasp was startled, her nails digging into his chest through his T-shirt a tiny bite of sensation.
Ivy’s body rubbed against the hard ridge of his erection as she tried to become taller. It was, he thought with a surge of emotion in his heart that he couldn’t categorize, an impossible task. She was small and perfectly formed, her curves made for his hands. When she broke the kiss to go down flat on her feet, he waited to see what she’d do.
This was an operation for which he had no training. The boundaries were unclear.
“If we keep doing that,” she said a little breathlessly, “you’ll get an awful crick in your neck.”
“My neck isn’t the part of my body that has my attention at this point.”
Ivy’s cheeks went bright red, her eyes dipping to his groin, then flying back up in a flustered flick. It was as if she’d gripped him in her hand, squeezed. He tightened his abdominal muscles, dead certain he was nowhere near ready to handle the feel of her slender fingers imprisoning his erection. “Should I not have said that?”
A shy look, her hands petting his chest in a way that was already familiar. “I think we should say whatever we want,” she whispered, skin glowing gold as her blush faded.
Vasic decided to take her up on that. “I wasn’t finished kissing you.”
Her skin heated up again. “There.” She pushed him gently back with her fingertips. “Sit in that armchair.”
Vasic allowed himself to be nudged down and had his cooperation rewarded by Ivy’s soft weight on him as she took off her coat and straddled his thighs, her knees on either side. “See?” It was a whisper.
“Very practical,” he said, and slid one hand under her curls to her nape. He liked the delicate warmth of her skin there, liked how she always gave a little shiver when he surrendered to the urge to touch. But most of all he liked that the hold was perfect for gauging her reaction to his kiss.
Her pulse thudded hard and fast against his fingertips when he opened his mouth on hers, spiked when he played his tongue against hers. Vasic took note, repeated the act. Making small, impatient, feminine sounds, Ivy wrapped her arms around his neck and licked her tongue along the roof of his mouth.
Vasic’s free hand clenched on her hip, his fingers brushing the curve of her backside. Firm and yielding both, it made him want to explore. He shifted his hand down, cupped one cheek, squeezed.
“Vasic.” Shuddering, Ivy’s head fell back, her pulse visible beneath her skin.
He put his mouth on it, sucked . . . just as something smashed to the floor. Telepathic senses having been set to an automatic security sweep, he moved with ruthless speed to lift Ivy off and shove her into the armchair out of harm’s way as he stood in front of her.
There was no intruder.
There was, however, a mountain of fine sand on the carpet.
Ivy hooked her fingers into his waistband as she sat up on her knees behind him on the armchair and looked around his body. “There goes the security deposit.”
He turned at the solemn statement to see her eyes sparkling. Shoulders shaking, she fell back into the armchair. Laughter escaped her in giggling bursts. Bright and beautiful and sexually addicting and his. No way in hell was he leaving her. No other man would ever have the right to touch Ivy Jane.
• • •
ZIE Zen was reading an old and faded note when he received a comm call from the son of his heart.
“Grandfather,” Vasic said, his eyes steady and his voice calm, “I need your help.”
Then, as Zie Zen listened, Vasic told him about the malfunctioning gauntlet and the death sentence he’d been given. “Amputation won’t solve the problem,” his great-grandson told him. “The most critical malfunctioning component is directly integrated into my brain stem.”
Zie Zen thought of Vasic as he’d become in the past decade, remote and increasingly distant, as if he was already walking in the twilight lands. Zie Zen had tried to hold his great-grandson to the world and knew he had failed. Now, however, he saw that someone else had succeeded. “You fight to live,” he said, something breaking inside the heart he’d walled up behind titanium shields an eon ago.
“Yes, Grandfather.” Ice gray eyes met his. “I cannot leave my Ivy to the care of any other on this planet, not even Aden.”
Zie Zen’s hand clenched on the top of his cane, his thoughts suddenly full of a girl with sunshine in her smile who had teased him and laughed with him and left him notes all over the house.