Aden gave a small nod. “The squad will follow my lead on this, and I’ve said we wait. He’ll die when he needs to die.”
Judd knew it wasn’t false confidence. He also knew Aden understood exactly how vicious an adversary Ming would be—his assassination would take careful planning, a precision strike. A single hint of warning, and Ming would turn it into a bloody showdown.
Vasic shifted a fraction, the leaves rustling around his boots. “The Arrows in Venice—they’d like to speak to you, but it can’t be in public.”
“Your face is too well known now,” Aden said. “They can’t risk anything that could compromise their cover.”
Judd had no argument with that, understood why the Arrows needed to maintain this secret. “Do you have images of a private location?” He needed it for a teleport lock.
Aden pulled out a small phone, handed it over. “Photos loaded. Call the preset number when you arrive and one of them will come out to meet you. Connection is secure, can’t be traced, even if hacked.”
Taking it, Judd considered how many more of these defector cells there might be across the world, martial and familial. “You’ve laid the groundwork for a total defection from the Net.” Houses, finances, alternate lives, the defectors had had years to put everything in place.
Aden took time to reply. “It’s an option, but only if there is no other. The squad has no wish to abandon the Net, but neither will we stand by and watch those in power use us up then discard us.”
“Some of us are tired, Judd,” Vasic added quietly, the gray of his eyes holding the darkest of shadows. “When this is all over, all we ask for is peace.”
When this is all over…
Judd wondered if anything or anyone would survive when the civil war in the PsyNet began in earnest, whether Vasic would ever find his peace … or go to his death an Arrow to the last.
“DO we need to see Bowen today?” Adria said to Riaz as they finished breakfast on the balcony, wanting to suggest they spend their time walking around the city. A little space might ease the strange, painful tension that both connected and distanced them.
He shook his head. “Until Judd gets here to test the neural chips, there’s not much we can do.” His phone beeped at that instant, the number on the screen making him grin as he answered. “The deal done?” A pause, then, “Yeah, fine.” His grin widened at whatever the person on the other end had said, before he spoke again. “Where? Right.”
Hanging up without good-bye, he said, “Do you know Pierce?”
“Tall, ice green eyes, could be Italian, Indian, Eastern European, a combination of all of the above or none at all?” The man she was thinking of had visited with Matthias a couple of years back, having driven his mom and nephew over to see a show. “Senior soldier out of Alexei’s sector?”
Riaz grinned at her description. “That’s him. He’s tied up the deal he was working on and is headed in to see us. I assumed you’d be okay meeting up with him.”
“Of course.” Even a lone wolf, she thought, needed contact with members of his pack, and if Pierce had taken over Riaz’s duties, he’d been on his own for months.
“As for his heritage,” Riaz told her, eyes gleaming, “Pierce told me he comes from a line of globe-trotting marauders turned traders who mated ‘with men and women from every known country and some that no longer exist’ over the centuries.”
“From his track record, women obviously think so.”
Pierce had apparently already been on a water bus when he’d called and it was only fifteen minutes later that they caught up with the other man in the lobby of their hotel. Adria’s wolf chuckled at glimpsing the sidelong glances of passing women—and more than a few men—who couldn’t take their eyes off Riaz and Pierce. One woman almost walked into a column. Adria sympathized. Separately they were both sexy, dangerous men with dark hair and bodies that could make a woman whimper. Together, they were lethal.
Oblivious to the attention, the two men embraced in a typically male way, complete with slaps on the back and punches on the shoulders.
“You still f**king owe me a hundred bucks,” was Pierce’s opening greeting.
“I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
The exchange made Adria’s wolf grin, because it was clear the two were close enough friends that they didn’t bother to be polite. When Pierce turned to her, his crystal clear eyes narrowed for a second. “Matthias’s sector.”
“Excellent memory.” Introducing herself, she took a backseat to the conversation as they headed out to explore, the men’s quiet, deep voices a welcome accompaniment to her absorption in Venice.
Walking into a glass-smith’s forge on the neighboring island of Murano, she lost herself in the colors and shapes created from the fire, while Riaz and Pierce prowled alongside her with lazy patience. The pieces created in that small workshop and the ones that followed were beyond beautiful, fragile dreams born of silica and painstaking craftsmanship. She stroked her hand over a flowing sculpture that sighed with sensuality, laughed in delight at the tiny glass birds perched on an indoor tree, was beguiled by the miniature chandeliers.
In the end, she bought a trio of birds with bright cobalt plumage. “For Tarah, Indigo, and Evie, plus this gorgeous necklace for my mom,” she said to Riaz when he walked over from another corner of the artisan’s store, showing him the lustrous beads of orange swirled with gold. “And these for me.” She held up a pair of miniature hummingbirds, the earrings jewel green with a dash of scarlet.