God, Adria thought, how that must’ve killed Riaz. Her pain for him was endless, her own anguish a cavernous darkness inside of her. To know and accept that the man she loved had a mate, and to come face-to-face with that mate were two different things. It ripped away the rose-colored lenses she’d put on since the night under the moon, slapped her in the face with the reality of her status as nothing but a substitute for the woman Riaz really wanted.
She didn’t know how she got through the meeting, but neither she nor Riaz said a word about it until they were in SnowDancer territory. “So … she’s the one.” A statement that was in reality, a question, because she needed to have it confirmed, to hear it from his mouth. Yet, some small part of her was a child, wanting to hear him say, “No,” and tell her she was imagining things, even when the truth was a neon sign in front of her.
Riaz brought the car to a halt. “It changes nothing between us.” His response was harsh, the hand he placed against her cheek rough with warmth. “You’re the one in my heart.”
No, I’m the consolation prize. They both knew he was only with her because he couldn’t be with Lisette. Pride choked up her throat, but she didn’t shove his hand aside, didn’t tell him to get the hell away from her—she’d come into this with her eyes wide open. To punish him for something over which he had no control, to walk away at this moment when she knew he had to be suffering the most vicious pain … no, she couldn’t do that to her black wolf. Love, she realized at that terrible moment of truth, could be incredibly unselfish, even when it hurt until she bled.
Unclipping her safety belt, then his, she crawled over to straddle his lap, wrapping her arms around him. “I’m here.”
SHE broke him, Riaz thought, his arms clenching around the sleek muscle of her body, his heart thundering. Unable to speak, he buried his face in her neck, drawing in the strange delicacy of her scent, so complex and unique. It anchored his shocked and newly wounded wolf, calmed the man.
He’d expected fury, had thought he might find himself out in the cold when he needed her more than ever. The one thing he’d never expected was this generosity of spirit, and he should have, because she’d shown him over and over that she wasn’t only a tough-skinned soldier, but a woman of empathy and heart, a woman any man would be proud to call his own.
Pressing a kiss to the beat of the pulse in her neck, he felt her hand stroke through his hair. His wolf basked in the tenderness. “It was the shock more than anything,” he said, her skin so soft under his lips. “I’ll be fine now.”
Adria rubbed her cheek against his before she drew back. “No pretence, Riaz,” she said, holding his gaze with the unflinching honesty of her own. “You tell me if this isn’t working for you.”
He fisted his hand in her hair, shock obliterated by possessive fury. “It damn well is.” Maybe he’d gone into this relationship needing the comfort of a packmate’s touch, but now? Now he’d staked his claim. “You’re mine.” The wolf growled in agreement. “I am never letting you go.”
VASIC WAS IN a remote, night-shrouded part of Nunavut, Canada, talking with Aden about their progress in tracking Henry, when a shudder rocked him. Initially, he thought the Cape Dorset region had experienced an earth tremor.
Then Aden shook his head. “Something’s happened in the Net.”
A split second later, having opened his psychic eye, Vasic dove into the slipstream of the PsyNet as Aden did the same. The Net was the biggest data archive in the world, millions, trillions of pieces of data uploaded into it each and every day. But rather than the relatively smooth rivers of information Vasic was used to seeing, this section of the Net was twisted, crumpling in on itself.
Shield! he telepathed to Aden.
Around them, the star-studded black of the Net was literally collapsing, taking the hundreds of minds anchored in this section with it. He expanded his shields to protect as many minds as he could, but while he was a powerful Tk-V, Aden was the stronger telepath, able to shield a far greater number.
Straining in his physical body, he focused on holding the shields on those he’d managed to grab from the edges of the disaster zone, not thinking about the ones who’d been caught in the collapse. Severed from the Net, they would’ve died a quick and violently painful death.
Aden, he telepathed when he saw the edge begin to expand in a rippling wave. His telepathic abilities weren’t enough to hold back the continuing cascade of destruction and protect at the same time.
I’ve called the others.
But someone else arrived before the rest of the squad, and his power was so vast it blinded. He single-handedly built a buttress around the collapse, sealing up the breach, until Vasic could release the minds he’d protected.
Krychek’s not only a cardinal Tk.
A dual cardinal, Aden replied. Impossible.
Except that much telepathic power was nothing less than cardinal level.
“It’s holding,” Krychek said on the psychic plane, the conversation protected from leaking into the PsyNet by shields of impenetrable black. “Can you get into the collapsed section to check the extent of the damage? I need to maintain this suture until the Net seals itself.”
Aden checked with Vasic, got a risk assessment identical to the one he’d made. “Yes.”
“I’ll leave this small window open for you.” Kaleb indicated the coordinates. “Go.”
Diving into the twisted wreckage, Vasic at his back, Aden maintained heavy shielding as he navigated broken pathways that threatened to cut and shove into his mind, the blackness of the Net somehow jagged and devoid of life. “Stop.” He made Vasic check his biofeedback link, as he did the same.