Only years of controlling her reactions kept her from betraying the tight fist of need that formed in her stomach. "You think the bond's functioning on some level."
Another wicked, wicked smile. "Yeah. And I also think you're hot for me." He drew in a deep breath. "Fucking ambrosia."
She'd forgotten about his sensory abilities. It made her cheeks heat in an unfamiliar physical reaction. But, it also made her... happy. An odd thought, a strange sense of warmth in her body. But true. She was happy because he was happy. Neither of them had spoken again about what had taken place in the dark hour before dawn. There was no need for it. They understood that he'd trusted her more than he'd ever trusted anyone... and that she'd die before she betrayed that trust.
Because, no matter the ties that kept her bound to the PsyNet, he was hers. And she was his.
No! The vicious telepathic blow almost knocked her to the ground.
She clutched at Dorian, sensing his instant alertness. "She's close enough for telepathy." Close enough that though she couldn't get into Ashaya's mind, Amara could feel the weakening of the twin bond, the strengthening of something else. "Give me a second." Blinking past the lights flickering in front of her eyes, she tried to quiet the adrenaline-spiked beat of her heart. "She wants you dead." Ashaya's soul screamed in repudiation.
"I can take care of myself." Dorian urged her toward the door, handing her his cup. "Lock yourself in and - "
"No. I need to face her." She put the cup just inside the doorway.
"You can do that after I have her contained." Dorian was scanning the forest as he spoke, his nostrils flaring as he used every one of his superior senses. "I can't be distracted worrying about keeping you safe."
That made her mad. "I'm not useless, Dorian," she said. "If you recall, I got out of the lab without your help."
He shot her an irritated look. "You're going to do the pissy woman routine now?"
"You're hiding away the one individual who might be able to control Amara." She stood toe-to-toe with him when he shifted to face her fully. "You're being blinded by your protective instincts."
The lack of denial threw her. But only momentarily. "That's stupid. I might be able to calm her before she incites a violent response in you."
Dorian's eyes glittered. "Shaya, she tortured you as a f**king experiment. I don't want you anywhere near her."
Get away from him!
I know what I asked was unfair, yet I also know your shoulders are strong enough for the task. Ashaya - my stubborn one, my brave one. But she's mine, too. Ours. Broken, but still my daughter, still your sister. She's still a mind more beautiful than either of us has ever seen.
- Handwritten letter signed "Iliana" circa October 2069
On guard against her twin this time, Ashaya rebuffed the telepathic blow. But Dorian's eyes narrowed. "She's hitting you hard."
She stared out at the shadowed spaces dawn had yet to caress. "She sees you as competition." Reaching out with her telepathic abilities, she tried to calm her twin's erratic mind.
Stop! Stop! Stop!
The mental cadence was off, the sound wrong. Amara was beyond listening. Ashaya looked at Dorian. "She won't allow herself to be captured if she arrives to see you beside me. Take her in an ambush, bring her here. Don't hurt her." She walked out into the murky daylight of a forest morning.
After a few stiff curses, Dorian jogged past her - stopping only to press a possessive kiss to her lips - and disappeared into the trees. She knew he'd never let her out of his sight, but for an instant, she felt incredibly alone.
Keenan was linked to her. So was Amara.
But something was missing.
- the sensation of leaves brushing her hair and bark under her palms. A thousand scents in her nose and -
A shutterblink and it was gone.
"Dorian," she whispered, imagining their fledgling bond as a holovision set with bad reception. Or perhaps bootlegged cable was the better analogy. But who was the hacker? Thinking of the bond in such technical terms helped her get her mind around the shimmering wonder of something so outside her realm of experience, she barely dared imagine she might have a right to it.
She stepped over a fallen log and paused, listening with an inner ear that had nothing to do with being Psy, before turning left. The earth was softer the deeper she went, the trees closer together. But there were still large patches of open land covered with the debris of the forest - leaves and branches, rocks and moss. She had no difficulty skirting the obstacles - light had infiltrated but it was a subdued, heavy kind of light. A waiting light.
She paused again and listened, this time with her human ear. Silence. Dorian was good, very, very good.
- earth and the sharp bite of pine, concentration. The sight of a beautiful woman walking along the forest floo -
She glanced behind her, searching. But the man who thought she was beautiful was nowhere to be seen. Yet she could feel him inside her, though she was in the PsyNet and he was outside. How had he broken - "Of course," she whispered, coming to a standstill. Dorian hadn't broken in. No, she had invited him in.
The mating bond was piggybacking on the powerful emotional attraction she felt for him. Full of color and chaos, this emotion tied her to him far more powerfully than any psychic bond.
It didn't matter that she refused to accept the bond. She'd already accepted Dorian into her heart.
Amara walked out from behind a copse of tall firs at that instant, her face ravaged by scratches, dirt, and a mental disturbance that had given itself physical form. "No," she said, voice husky and lips parched. "He can't have you."