Ivy did, caught only the dull echo of emotion that told her the patient wasn’t brain-dead. “I think this is your gift, Jaya,” she whispered, hugging her friend in awe.

Aden didn’t speak again until after Jaya had gone to talk to the nurse about the readings the nurse had picked up during the session. It’s a priceless gift, he said, but it isn’t enough. There have been two further outbreaks in different parts of the world in the time we’ve been at this hospital. We are losing this war.

Chapter 39

Alice was one of the most gifted graduate students I have ever had the pleasure to supervise. In truth, I had come to consider her a colleague long before she earned her doctorate. Alice saw the truth with an incisiveness that is rare in academia and, indeed, the world. She often asked me questions that made me take a second look at my conclusions, challenging me to dig deeper, uncover more.

What she accomplished in a short twenty-seven years is extraordinary. She leaves behind a legacy that will stand the test of countless decades. The consequences of the upheaval in the Net means there are few empaths in attendance today, but they stand for the many, and those many tell me that no one knew designation E as well as Alice. No one.

Excerpted from Professor George Kim’s eulogy for Alice Eldridge, PhD

SASCHA’S MIND WAS full of her intense, frustrating discussions with the Es scattered around the world, when Lucas picked her up at the pack healer’s home around two. Their destination was the Sierra Nevada wolf den. According to him, he had business with Hawke, but the truth was, he knew how much the news of the outbreaks had shaken her. So many dead and injured and it was only the tip of the iceberg.

As for their baby girl, she was being looked after by Kit and his best friend, Cory. The soldiers also had charge of Tamsyn’s “twin terrors,” the healer having gone to take care of an injured elder. Sascha would’ve been leery of leaving the two young males with a baby if she hadn’t known all the juveniles in the pack grew up pulling babysitting duty—and as evidenced by Kit and Cory, most didn’t mind pitching in even when older.

Her phone beeped right then, the screen filling with Kit’s handsome face, a happy Naya cradled nonchalantly in one muscular arm. “Sascha, Naya wants the Toy That Shall Not Be Named. Did you forget to pack it?”

Sascha’s lips twitched, the shadows lifting at the sight of the two of them. “In the side pocket of the bag. I put it in at the last minute.”

Kit disappeared, then appeared with the fluffy little wolf in his free hand. Naya gurgled and reached for it with a squeal of delight before her attention was caught by seeing Sascha’s face on the comm. Making “Mommy” noises at her baby, Sascha waited until Kit had distracted Naya with the plush toy before hanging up. “You’re still growling,” she pointed out to her green-eyed panther.

“Why?” Lucas snarled. “Of all the things in the world she could’ve become attached to, why did my otherwise brilliant daughter pick that damn wolf’s stupid gift?”

“Careful,” she said, voice husky with the knowledge of how lucky she was to have this life, this freedom, “or you’ll start to need that knit cap Hawke gave you.” According to the wolf alpha, it was for when Naya caused Lucas to pull out his hair.

“Grr.” Managing the all-wheel-drive vehicle with ease, he reached out to grab her hand and bring it to his mouth for a playful bite. “You okay?”

“I just hate the unfairness of it all.” She dropped her head back against the seat, choked by the unvarnished fury of her emotions. “All this death when, for the first time in a hundred years, life in the PsyNet might be something more, something better than cold Silence.”

“Give yourself and the other Es time to figure things out,” Lucas said, placing her hand on his thigh after a kiss to her knuckles. “I know exactly how tough empaths can be.”

She curved her fingers over the firm muscle of him. Lucas purred. “Harder.”

Digging her nails into him in a kneading motion, Sascha leaned across and grazed her teeth over the muted-gold skin of his throat. The purr intensified. “I’ll pet you later,” he promised, running his knuckles over her cheek.

Feeling petted and spoiled already, Sascha settled back into her seat but kept her hand on his thigh. The contact, Lucas’s voice as they discussed pack matters, they centered her; she felt far more able to face the stark facts of the crisis in the Net when they walked into the SnowDancer den. Splitting at the entrance to the light-filled network of underground tunnels, they agreed to meet in two hours for the drive back.

When little Ben overheard Sascha asking the SnowDancer healer about Alice’s whereabouts, the human scientist not in the quarters she’d been assigned after being released from the infirmary, he tugged on her hand. “I’ll show you, Sascha darling. She’s outside.”

Bubbles of laughter in her blood, Sascha attempted to frown at the pup, his eyes a gorgeous rich brown and his fine silky hair so deep a mahogany it appeared black in this light, but it was a losing battle. “Where did you hear that?” she asked, knowing the culprits full well.

Ben gave her a cheeky smile as she scooped him up into her arms for a cuddle. “I guess I have a guide,” she said to the SnowDancer healer, after hitching Ben on one hip. “Will he be warm enough dressed as he is?” It snowed heavily at this elevation.

The other woman ruffled Ben’s hair. “He’s a wolf,” she said with a kiss to his cheek.

“Yeah.” Ben lifted a hand, claws out, and made a fierce face. “I’m a wolf! Grr.”

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