The man paled at the warning. “Tk-Cell.” It was a gasp, his hand up, palm out.
Judd released him, fixing the damage as he left. “I assume no further introductions are necessary.”
The answer came from behind him, where he’d sensed a familiar presence. “I apologize, Judd,” said the melodic female voice. “Alejandro has orders to incapacitate all unknowns who enter the courtyard.”
Keeping Alejandro in his line of sight, he turned to see a petite woman in her late twenties with a face that was all soft curves, her lips lush. But it was her eyes that told the truth of her nature—the color of coal, they were like chips of ice. “Zaira.” Born in Jordan and raised in an Arrow training facility in Turkey, she’d been lost in action five years ago.
Zaira’s gaze shifted. A second later, Alejandro gave a sharp nod and left. Only then did Zaira turn and invite him to join her for a walk around the courtyard. “We did not expect you until this evening. That’s why one of us wasn’t on watch.”
“Alejandro is damaged.”
“His neural functions are fine, but he was given an overdose of Jax while on a mission. It’s left him unable to veer from an order. Alejandro no longer understands subtleties.”
“Is he safe?”
“So long as I don’t give him a direct order, he won’t kill.” Zaira paused for a long second before continuing the walk. “I saved his life, and he … imprinted on me. It concerns me, but according to Aden, there’s nothing to be done. His mental pathways are locked.”
Judd picked up the nuances of deep emotion, wondered how much of it was truth and how much a mask created to blend into the human world. Arrows did not easily break Silence. He knew that better than anyone. “Why did you want to see me?”
“From what I’ve gleaned from the media reports, you appear to have carved out a stable life for yourself and your family. We want to know how you did it.”
Judd glanced around the courtyard, aware he was being watched by more eyes than Zaira’s. “You all live here, in this compound?”
“What do you do for income?”
“Diversified investments made over a number of years, including properties in various cities and localities.” Zaira turned the corner of the courtyard, coming to a stop beside a curved archway. “Money is not what concerns us.”
Judd asked one final question before giving the other Arrow the answer she sought. “Do you intermingle with the outside population?”
“Only as much as necessary. The rest of us aren’t like Alejandro, who simply can’t handle the stimulation, but we continue to grapple with being outside Silence.” She looked at him with a directness that would disconcert most non-Psy. “I defected before you, as did a number of the others, but we are nowhere as integrated into the world.”
Judd thought of the kiss Brenna had given him as he left the den, the hug Marlee had run after him to claim, the punch on the shoulder that had been Drew’s way of saying “stay safe.” “You have to accept,” he said, “that you need the humans and the changelings, as they need you.” His race had abilities that had once been greatly respected, not merely feared.
“Isolating yourself will simply further what they began in the Net.” He’d had a family, had known that Walker, Sienna, Toby, and Marlee all cared if he lived or died, and still he’d been brutally close to the edge. The Arrows who lived here had only each other for family—and most Arrows didn’t understand what a family was, much less how to create one.
Zaira looked up at a sky gone that hazy blue that preceded sunset. “We can’t take the chance with any outsiders. Not yet.”
“No,” Judd agreed, because their task was to be a hidden escape hatch. “But change is coming.”
Zaira’s eyes reflected only the steel will that had made her an assassin without compare. “We are ready.”
We are Arrows.
“COME on. Judd’ll be here in a couple of minutes,” Adria said, having showered and changed after their day out.
Riaz, his hair damp from the same shower, followed her out into the corridor, shutting the door behind them. “Pierce just sent me a message to say he’s going to get you for that stunt.”
“It was his own fault,” she said with a laugh, feeling a warm affection for the handsome wolf who was Riaz’s friend.
Riaz’s response was unexpectedly serious. “Shower or not, you carry my scent in your skin.” Watchful eyes. “That bother you?”
Adria waited until they were inside the elevator cage to answer, the frothy happiness of the day suddenly a lump in her chest. “The last time I had a man’s scent in my skin, it nearly destroyed me,” she said, tearing open a barely healed wound.
Knuckles brushing her cheek, the dark wood and citrus tang of his scent in her every breath. “We’re not all bastards, Adria.”
The doors opened, saving her from having to continue the conversation. Not that she didn’t agree with his words. But the memories, they were raw, painful things that clawed and bit and threatened to steal her rational mind without warning … because it had started out tender with Martin, too.
Gut churning at the conscious acceptance of a dread that had been a noxious whisper at the back of her mind throughout the day, she almost walked past Judd where he stood against a column in the busy hotel lobby. It was his scent that cued her, that touch of ice that was a cool kiss. “You make a good blond.”