• • •

IVY stroked Rabbit’s coat when he nudged at her hand with a worried nose. She felt as if her life had skewed sideways in the minutes since she’d first heard him bark. So many years she’d lived believing there was something fundamentally wrong with her. Now, this Arrow with his cold eyes and icy calm was telling her she had never been flawed.

Except she was terrified it was far too late. “I lost something in that reconditioning room”—perhaps the very thing for which he’d come to her—“and I don’t think I can get it back. I broke.”

“Do you wish to give up, then? Admit defeat?”

Anger uncurled inside her at that flat statement, though she knew his words hadn’t been a judgment but a simple question. That anger was a raw, wild thing that had been growing and growing inside her since the day she’d become herself again. Vasic had inadvertently made himself a target.

Pushing up onto her knees, the snow a chilling dampness through her jeans, she fought to keep her shields from fracturing under the weight of her emotions. Kaleb Krychek might have declared the fall of Silence, but neither Ivy nor the others in the settlement were planning to expose themselves until they were dead certain the new regime would hold, that it wasn’t just a trick to bring the fractured out of hiding.

“What do you know of emptiness?” she asked him, her body vibrating with the fury inside her. “What do you know of having your mind violated as if a steel brush is being scraped over your every nerve ending, every sense?”

He took so long to answer that the world was beyond silent when he said, “I am an Arrow. I was placed in training at four years of age. I know everything about having my mind torn open.”

Four years old.

Anger shattering as if it had been hit with an anvil, the wreckage tearing holes through her, she rubbed a fisted hand over her heart. “I’m sorry.”

“Why? You caused me no harm.”

She saw from his expression that he meant that, as if the hurt of that small, vulnerable child was nothing. “Do you truly feel nothing?” she whispered. “Are you without fractures?”

“It’s better this way.” His eyes kissed her with frost. “The day I feel is the day I die.”

Chapter 4

I’d like to propose a cooperative venture.

Kaleb Krychek, in a conference call to DarkRiver alpha Lucas Hunter and SnowDancer alpha Hawke Snow

ACROSS FROM SASCHA, Hawke shook his head, the silver-gold of his hair bright in the noon sunlight slanting through the skylight. “I’ll say this for Krychek,” the SnowDancer alpha muttered, “he has the balls of an elephant.”

Splurting coffee, Mercy coughed, eyes watering. “An elephant?” She stared at the SnowDancer alpha as her mate, Riley, rubbed her back. “Are you serious?”

Hawke shrugged. “What has bigger ones?”

“Man has a point,” Lucas drawled from beside Sascha, the six of them seated around Mercy and Riley’s dining table, the land beyond the windows a sprawl of tall green firs draped with snow that turned it into a winter postcard.

The snowfall was nothing like the heavy coating up in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada range, while farther down, there was no precipitation at all, the air cold but dry.

“Whatever the size of Krychek’s balls,” Mercy said after catching her breath, “this is one hell of a request.”

Lucas ran his fingers absently over Sascha’s nape as he looked toward the male who sat on Riley’s other side. When Sascha had first met Judd Lauren, she couldn’t have imagined that the distant and self-contained former Arrow would end up a SnowDancer lieutenant mated to another member of the wolf pack. And never in a million years would she have predicted that he’d become a favorite with the pups and cubs both.

“The information Krychek sent us,” Lucas said to Judd now, “about the infection in the Net, were you able to corroborate it independently?”

Judd nodded, the fine dark gray wool of his pullover sitting easily on his shoulders. “Kaleb’s been up-front.”

“Too up-front.” Sascha wanted to believe love had altered Kaleb Krychek for the better, that he’d found the same joy with Sahara that Sascha had with Lucas, but the fact of the matter was, he continued to be a deadly threat. There was a reason he’d become the youngest ever individual to hold a seat on the Council, a reason why his name caused men and women across the world to tremble in na**d terror.

Biting down on her lower lip as her mate continued to stroke her nape with the tactile affection that was so natural to the cats, she said, “He has my unqualified gratitude for putting his own life at risk to save countless people in San Francisco a month ago”—when the cardinal telekinetic had helped disarm a toxic weapon—“but I think it would be foolish to think we can predict anything when it comes to him.” The other man remained as opaque as ever, an enigmatic figure who held near-total control of the PsyNet.

No one, Sascha thought, should have that much power, hold that many lives in the palm of his hand. Yet, if not Kaleb Krychek, then who? His staggering psychic and military strength was the only reason the Psy race hadn’t collapsed into anarchy and death in the aftermath of the fall of Silence. It was as unavoidable a truth as the fact he’d risen to power with ruthless, blood-soaked determination.

Hawke narrowed his eyes. “The news about the infection.” He glanced at Judd. “Is it a secret?”

“No. It’s not headline news in the Net yet, but the knowledge is gathering steam.”

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