He would call it cowardice.
She called it self-preservation.
Because Dorian was creating giant chinks in her armor, making her question everything, even her decision to keep her distance from Keenan. Her hand tightened on the knob. He didn't understand. Everything she'd done, every single act in the years since his conception, had been to ensure Keenan's safety.
Choking dirt in her throat, grit in her teeth.
Shaking off the flashback, she opened the door. There was no one in the living area of the apartment - the safe house - but a wall sconce had been left burning. It gave her just enough illumination to make it to the kitchenette. Once there, she turned on the light using manual rather than voice activation and, since it was five a.m., began to prepare breakfast.
Psy lived on nutrition bars and she found them perfectly acceptable - they provided everything a body needed to survive. However, she was also fully capable of making do. That thought in mind, she found milk and a sealed container of some kind of wheat cereal, as well as a banana.
Food prepared, she stood at the counter and ate it in measured bites. Taste was nothing that could be bred out, but those of her race were conditioned to consider it a danger. To prefer one taste over another was a slippery slope, one that could easily lead to sensuality in other areas of life. Considering how precariously she was balanced on that slope, Ashaya ate with a deliberate lack of attention to the tastes.
Amara was asleep now; Ashaya could feel it. It gave her a chance to fix the fissures in her shields that had allowed her twin to slip through and find her. She filled her mind with the patterns she knew best - the twining strands of DNA, the proteins glittering like gemstones on a twisted wire of bronze. White noise. A shield.
Hiding from Amara.
She finished the meal in five minutes, and only then realized that her injured leg hadn't so much as twinged. Excellent. Cleaning up after herself took only another three minutes. Rather than go back into the bedroom, she walked to the large French doors that led out to a small balcony overlooking the bay - the glass was clear, the balcony railing formed of iron bars that sliced the view into rectangular pieces. She took a cross-legged position on the soft carpet, her back straight, her eyes on the dark swell of water in the distance.
It was cool where she sat, as if the chill of the outside air had stained the warmth inside. She resisted the urge to touch the glass, and turned her senses inward, into her mind. It was where she felt the most free. She wasn't quite sure who or what she was in her body - it had never truly seemed to belong to her. The psychological separation wasn't healthy, she knew that. But it was a coping mechanism. After the horror of her seventeenth birthday, she'd needed some way to keep her psyche together.
Dorian threatened that separation. She didn't want to know what the result would be if she tried to reintegrate the pieces. Dangerous thoughts. Again, she pushed them away, concentrating on the white noise of DNA... and, behind that psychic wall, on the lethal chill of secrets she'd carried so long, they were burned into her very cells.
She'd told a number of lies during the broadcast.
But those lies hid a far more perilous truth, and it was a truth that Ashaya intended to protect to the death. Except Ming had upped the stakes and her original plan of publicity, misdirection, and distraction lay in shreds at her feet.
The entire plan had been stupidly simple - to make herself so visible that neither her nor her son's death or disappearance could be swept under the carpet. Zie Zen was a good man and his advice to run had been reasonable, but she knew exactly what happened to those who tried to outrun the Council - she had an eleven-year-old death certificate to prove it. Ming had been tracking and executing rebels for decades.
Since she had no chance of killing Ming, she'd weighed the variables and decided to take a stand. The bonus had been the destruction of Protocol I - she didn't want any child exposed to the horror of implantation. It had all been going as it should... until Ekaterina's murder.
Her mind filled with images of the destruction of the Implant lab, but this time, she maintained her calm. Ekaterina was dead, but Keenan, her little man, was alive.
She would let no one snuff out that life.
Dorian watched Ashaya from his bedroom doorway. He'd been sleeping the light sleep of a leopard on guard, but even so, he'd dreamed. Not of ice and death, but of a beautiful woman's cries of pleasure. In sleep, he'd run his tongue over that perfect silky skin, so rich, so tempting that he'd barely resisted the urge to bite, to mark.
Then she'd whispered, "Do it. Take me."
He'd woken hard as a rock, and very aware that Ashaya, too, was awake. He'd listened to her move around, figured out that she was grabbing some breakfast. Joining her had sounded like a good idea. But by the time he got his erection under control, she'd finished her cereal, and was taking a seat by the window.
Intensely curious about her, he simply watched as she brought her breathing and heartbeat under a level of control he'd never witnessed in any living creature. It was almost as if she'd willed herself out of existence.
He came closer on silent feet. It was as he crouched down beside her that he realized how fragile she really was. Intellectually, he'd always known that her bones were weaker than his, her physiology much more breakable. But when she was awake, he tended to forget. He saw only the cold steel of her spine, the chilly determination of her gaze. Strength. He saw a woman of incredible strength.
But now, as his eyes took in the na**d skin of her nape, framed by two tight braids, he glimpsed the vulnerability of her. Her body was curvy, quintessentially female, but delicate, too. He had the certain awareness that he could close his hand over her shoulder and crush it.