"Yes. It's done. You can't get out." His fingers tightened on her hip.
"Get out?" She wanted to laugh, but couldn't find enough air to make the sound. "Vaughn, I was scared I was imagining it because I wanted it so much."
His fingers relaxed. "Good."
"How does it work?"
"I don't know. It's the first time for me, too."
"Oh." That strange ache inside of her intensified.
"But I do know it'll keep you alive after you drop out of the PsyNet."
"One changeling mind can't give a Psy brain the feedback it needs. Experiments have proven that conclusively." She shook her head, nails digging into his skin. "I won't kill you to keep myself alive."
She did, so much. "Always."
"Then don't worry about it."
"You can't provide the necessary biofeedback," she insisted. "It's psychically impossible."
He kissed her. "Trust, Red. Trust doesn't have any logic or sense."
"I trust you with my life." Placing a kiss on the hard angle of his jaw, she raised her lashes to meet his eyes. "But I'm not sure I trust you with yours." Because she knew how protective the cat was, how possessive.
A slow smile curved over his lips. "Oh, no, Red. I'm planning on living a long, long time now that I've got me a mate who'll satisfy my every need." His fingers lingered on the swell of her bu**ocks, that wicked smile accompanied by images of -
"Not on my knees," she said, more to tease than anything.
"What if I licked you into submission?" His fingers dipped to stroke lower, hotter places. "Would you go down on your knees then?"
"Perhaps." She felt her breathing start to alter. "You're trying to distract me from the point."
"No, Red. I'm trying to make you see." He stopped teasing her with his fingers. "If I die because of the feedback, then so will you. I'm not letting that happen." Grim determination in every word.
"The protections are holding. I could stay linked and download more data."
"Don't be scared of letting go."
She drew circles on his chest. "The PsyNet is so beautiful, so alive."
"But it's time for you to cut away from it. You know that."
"Yes." The second she was found missing, NightStar guards would be sent to locate her on the psychic plane and haul her back in. Whatever it took. That was if the Council didn't decide to do the job itself - she hadn't forgotten those cloaked martial minds.
In her case, they'd probably attempt containment. But she'd rather die than be incarcerated.
"I've got you." A callused hand pushed strands of hair off her face to cup her cheek.
The unexpected tenderness wrenched at the heart of her, and deep within her mind, she saw the bond pulse. But then it stopped. A frown forming before she could Silence it, she looked inward. "I can't experience the bond in its entirety until I cut the Net link."
"I thought you were unconsciously jamming it." He scowled. "Unless ... Usually, both sides have to deliberately accept the bond for it to come into complete effect. I thought we'd skipped that stage."
"I'm not doing anything. I didn't even know it could be." She paused. "It must be an automatic mental process. It makes sense that only one deep link can be functional at a time. Otherwise, the risk of overload would become unacceptable. But the mating bond is functioning to a certain extent." She could see the images he sent. He could feel when she was in psychic trouble.
Vaughn kissed her hard on the mouth. She gasped and stared.
"You can analyze the bond all you like. After you're out." A demand. "I don't like you being open to Council attack."
"Vaughn." She felt things for him she couldn't even have imagined feeling mere weeks ago. "My sister."
"Do you think you have a real chance of finding the killer through the Net?"
She took her time to answer, to order her thoughts. "The visions are the single link and they come through the channels of my mind. I haven't found anything on the Net."
"Then do it now, Faith. Before they realize you've come over to the side of the damn troublemaking animals."
A small laugh bubbled out of her. It was over before it began, but it had been spontaneous and it had been very real. "Hold me."
Laying her head on his chest, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Pain squeezed her heart. It was almost a compulsion to step out into the PsyNet for one last look at the magnificent world that was about to be lost to her. But she couldn't. Too much was at stake. The mating bond tied Vaughn to her - if she were ambushed or erased, who knew how it would affect him? And he was more important to her than anything. She did, however, regret that she wouldn't have a chance to say good-bye to the one entity within the Net that wasn't broken, wasn't twisted. It was her hope that the NetMind would understand what she'd done and why.
Drawing in the scent of her mate, she went deep, deep inside herself, past every shield and block, past reason and cognition to the primitive nucleus - because the link to the PsyNet was powered by instinct and made at the instant of birth, the one thing about her race that wasn't controlled or manipulated.
And there it was, in the absolute and utter center.
She'd thought she'd linger over this, but she couldn't. It hurt too much. Saying a soft good-bye, she reached out and sliced through it in a single fatal stroke.
For one microsecond, she was the only thing in the universe, the only light in the darkness, the only living being in memory. Nerve endings screamed in agony and she felt her physical body jerk in hard spasms that threatened to tear muscle from bone. Life couldn't exist in a vacuum and she was -