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Lara, Adria knew and respected. Ashaya Aleine, too, was familiar after that dinner at Mercy and Riley’s, her tight curls pulled severely off her face into a neat bun, her blue-gray eyes startling against the rich brown of her skin. The third woman, with her soft curves, honey-toned skin, and cardinal eyes, was no one Adria had ever spoken to, but recognized nonetheless. Sascha Duncan, mate to the DarkRiver alpha, an E-Psy. Adria’s wolf wasn’t quite comfortable being around a woman who could sense its emotions—especially when those emotions were so painfully deep and complex. Living with Riaz, it was nothing like living with Martin. The man was dominant and pushy and arrogant enough to want his own way, but he was also perverse enough to be delighted with her when she snarled at him. The thought made her lips twitch for a fleeting second, before darker emotions rose to the fore. In spite of the realization she’d had on the wildflower-strewn meadow in the mountains, a desperate kernel of self-preservation kept warning her to keep a piece of herself separate, apart. Not to hurt him … but because she wasn’t Riaz’s mate, never would be, their relationship unbalanced on the most fundamental level. PERIPHERALLY aware of Eli and Adria in the doorway, Lara glanced at Ashaya. “Yes?” The scientist nodded. “We’ve done as much as possible without injecting her.” Conscious the M-Psy was profoundly concerned about the damage they might cause, Lara said, “If we do nothing, she’ll die. Her body is failing.” Ashaya’s head snapped up from the panel at the end of the bed. “I told you to warn us if she went downhill. We could’ve moved faster.” “I spoke to Amara,” Lara said, thinking of the woman who was physically identical to Ashaya, but so very alien in her thinking. “She told me that if we injected Alice with the uncalibrated serum, the risk of failure rose by seventy percent. I made the decision to wait.” Ashaya gripped the top of the panel, her bones pushing white against her skin. “My twin has a way of being right while hiding things, Lara. You know that. You should’ve double-checked with me.” “I didn’t want to distract you at such a critical stage.” Ashaya herself had told Lara the final calibration would take precision work—so much so that the scientist had spent two days away from her mate and son, in the dedicated lab DarkRiver had built for her. “No harm done—the serum wasn’t ready.” Ashaya went as if to shove a hand through her curls, realized they were bound, and dropped it back on the bed. “For future reference, though, my twin is very, very smart, but she has no moral compass.” Sascha made a small sound in the back of her throat. “I didn’t like Amara when I met her,” she said, clearly still troubled by what she’d described to Lara as an overwhelmingly hostile response. “Even now, she sends a chill through my bones because of the lack in her, but that lack isn’t as total as it once was. I don’t think she’ll ever be capable of the normal range of emotions, but she may be showing a stunted kind of awareness of the emotions of others.” Ashaya’s face held painful hope. “You’re not certain, though?” “No, I’m sorry.” Sascha touched the other woman on the arm. “I have such a strong reaction to her that I find it difficult to get a clear read, and as you said, her intelligence is unquestioned. She’s fully capable of manipulating her responses.” Smart enough, Lara thought, to fake empathy. “But,” Sascha added, “there has been a change in her, that much I can verify. It might simply be the effect of being in a clean psychic network—there’s no DarkMind in the Web of Stars, no hidden miasma that’s seeping into her brain.” “I’ll take that.” Swallowing, Ashaya returned her attention to the computronic readout on the panel in front of her. “Unless either of you disagrees, I think it’s time we spoke to Alice.” Lara and Sascha both nodded at her to go ahead. Pressure injector in hand, the scientist looked to where Sascha’s fingers now intertwined with Alice’s. “Are you sensing anything?” “Frustration again,” Sascha said, three deep vertical lines between her eyebrows. “But there’s something else.” Lashes lowering, she squeezed the bridge of her nose between the thumb and forefinger of her free hand. “Determination.” Her eyes flicked open. “I’d bet my life she’s trying her hardest to wake up.” “That’s enough for me.” With no more hesitation, Ashaya pressed the pressure injector to Alice’s neck, punching the serum into her bloodstream. “The effect should be apparent within two or three minutes if it works as it’s supposed to.” No one said a word, the silence so pristine Lara could hear the hushed breaths of everyone in the immediate area, including Eli and Adria. If the room had boasted an old-fashioned ticking clock, she thought, every tick would’ve sounded like a bomb. One minute. Checking the data coming in through Alice’s computronic skullcap, Lara shook her head at the others. Two minutes. It was Ashaya who checked this time, her fingers flying over the panel. “No change.” Three minutes. Four. Five. Disappointment a heavy rock on her chest, Lara squeezed Ashaya’s arm in silent sympathy, and they walked to stand across from Sascha. However, the cardinal empath paid them no attention, her eyes gone a midnight that denoted either strong emotion—or a powerful use of her abilities.
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