The “smoldering heat, epic romance, and awesome action”* of Nalini Singh’s New York Times bestselling series continues as two Arrows find themselves caught in a chilling conspiracy that spans all three races...
Awakening wounded in a darkened cell, their psychic abilities blocked, Aden and Zaira know they must escape. But when the lethal soldiers break free from their mysterious prison, they find themselves in a harsh, inhospitable landscape far from civilization. Their only hope for survival is to make it to the hidden home of a predatory changeling pack that doesn’t welcome outsiders.
And they must survive. A shadowy enemy has put a target on the back of the Arrow squad, an enemy that cannot be permitted to succeed in its deadly campaign. Aden will cross any line to keep his people safe for this new future, where even an assassin might have hope of a life beyond blood and death and pain. Zaira has no such hope. She knows she’s too damaged to return from the abyss. Her driving goal is to protect Aden, protect the only person who has ever come back for her no matter what. This time, even Aden’s passionate determination may not be enough—because the emotionless chill of Silence existed for a reason. For the violent, and the insane, and the irreparably broken...like Zaira.
*Jaci Burton, New York Times bestselling author
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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Nalini Singh lives and works in beautiful New Zealand, and is passionate about writing. She also loves chatting to readers. You can find her on Twitter (@nalinisingh) and Facebook (facebook.com/authornalinisingh), and via her website: nalinisingh.com
Nalini's Newsletter: Goes out monthly and includes exclusives for subscribers, including free short stories, sneak peeks, deleted scenes and more. To join, just copy and paste this into your address bar and fill in your name and email address: mad.ly/signups/59681/join
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CAST OF CHARACTERS
In Alphabetical Order by First Name
Key: SD = SnowDancer Wolves DR = DarkRiver Leopards BE = BlackEdge Wolves
Abbot Arrow, teleport-capable telekinetic (Tk)
Aden Kai Arrow, telepath (Tp)
Amara Aleine Psy member of DR, former Council scientist, twin of Ashaya, mentally unstable
Amin Arrow, telepath (Tp)
Andrew “Drew” Kincaid SD Tracker, mated to Indigo, brother of Riley and Brenna
Anthony Kyriakus Psy Councilor, father of Faith
Ashaya Aleine Psy member of DR, former Council scientist, mated to Dorian, twin of Amara
Blake Stratton Arrow
Bowen “Bo” Knight Security Chief, Human Alliance
Carolina Arrow child
Council (or Psy Council) Former ruling council of the Psy race; no longer extant
Cristabel “Cris” Rodriguez Arrow, sharpshooter, teacher
DarkMind Neosentient entity and dark twin of the NetMind
Devraj Santos Leader of the Forgotten (Psy who defected from the PsyNet at the dawn of Silence and intermingled with the human and changeling populations), married to Katya Haas
Faith NightStar Psy member of DR, gift of foresight (F), mated to Vaughn, daughter of Anthony, cousin to Sahara
Ghost Psy rebel
Gregori BE Lieutenant
Griffin BlackSea Changeling, Lieutenant
Hawke Snow SD Alpha, mated to Sienna
Ida Mill Psy, leader of group that believes the Silence Protocol is the only right path and that the empaths should be removed from the gene pool
Ivy Jane Zen President of the Empathic Collective, married to Vasic Zen
Jen Liu Psy, matriarch of the Liu Group
Jojo Leopard cub
Judd Lauren Psy member of SD, Lieutenant, former Arrow, mated to Brenna
Kaleb Krychek Leader of the Ruling Coalition, psychically bonded to Sahara Kyriakus
Lara SD Healer, mated to Walker
Lucas Hunter DR Alpha, mated to Sascha, father of Naya
Malachai BlackSea Changeling, Lieutenant
Max Shannon Human, Security Chief for Nikita Duncan, married to Sophia Russo
Mercy DR Sentinel, mated to Riley
Miane Levèque Alpha of the BlackSea Changelings
Mica Arrow, Lieutenant of Zaira Neve, based in Venice
Ming LeBon Former Psy Councilor, military mastermind, cardinal telepath
Nathan Ryder DR Senior Sentinel, mated to Tamsyn, father of Roman and Julian
Naya Hunter DR cub, daughter of Sascha and Lucas
Nerida Arrow, telekinetic (Tk)
NetMind Neosentient psychic entity said to be the guardian and librarian of the PsyNet, twin of the DarkMind
Nikita Duncan Former Psy Councilor, part of the Ruling Coalition, mother of Sascha
Pax Marshall Head of the Marshall Group, grandson of Marshall Hyde
Pip Arrow child
Riaz Delgado SD Lieutenant, mated to Adria
Riley Kincaid SD Lieutenant, mated to Mercy, brother of Drew and Brenna
Ruling Coalition Formed after the fall of Silence and of the Psy Council; composed of Kaleb Krychek, Nikita Duncan, Anthony Kyriakus, Ivy Jane Zen for the Empathic Collective, and the Arrow Squad
Sahara Kyriakus Psy (uncategorized designation), psychically bonded to Kaleb Krychek, niece of Anthony Kyriakus, cousin to Faith
Samuel Rain Psy, genius, robotics engineer who developed experimental biofusion
Sascha Duncan Psy member of DR, cardinal empath, mated to Lucas, mother of Naya, daughter of Nikita
Selenka Durev BE Alpha
Shoshanna Scott Former Psy Councilor, head of Scott Enterprises
Sienna Lauren Psy member of SD, cardinal X, mated to Hawke, niece of Judd and Walker
Silver Mercant Senior aide of Kaleb Krychek, in charge of worldwide rapid response emergency network that spans all three races
Sophia Russo Former J-Psy, married to Max Shannon, aide to Nikita Duncan
Tamar Civilian member of the Arrow Squad, financial and data analyst
Tamsyn “Tammy” Ryder DR Healer, mated to Nathan, mother of Roman and Julian
Tavish Arrow child
Vasic Zen Arrow, teleporter (Tk-V), married to Ivy Jane Zen
Walker Lauren Psy member of SD, mated to Lara
Yuri Arrow, telepath (Tp)
Zaira Neve Arrow, telepath (combat)
Smoke and Mirrors
SPRING IS IN full flower in the year 2082.
It has been four months since the fall of Silence, the protocol that bound the Psy race to a cold, emotionless existence. Telepaths or telekinetics, strong or weak, the Psy are now free to feel, free to love and hate, free to laugh and cry. Emotion is an intoxication to many, but to others, it is a deadly threat.
For the Silence Protocol was put in place for a reason.
The ten-year debate preceding the implementation of Silence was fractious and raw for a reason.
Millions of Psy decided to condition all emotion out of their young for a reason.
The Psy gave up joy as well as sadness for a reason.
That reason was the violence and madness endemic within their race. To be Psy was to have a far greater chance of criminal insanity, a far greater chance of striking out in a moment of uncontrollable anger and ending the life of a loved one. To be Psy was to be cursed.
In 1979, Silence was a beacon of hope. To a desperate people on the verge of a violence-fueled extinction, it was the only hope. They ignored the smudges on the beacon, the flickers of darkness within, the whispers that perhaps Silence was all smoke and mirrors. Driven by love for the very children they were condemning to a loveless existence, the Psy accepted the harsh tenets of the Protocol, accepted the hope held out by their leaders.
Today, the smoke has dissipated, the mirrors have shattered.
And the darkness at the heart of the Psy race is once more a vicious truth no one can ignore. For what happens to the murderers and the insane in this new world? What happens to the broken?
They still exist.
They still kill.
ADEN WOKE ON a cold, hard floor, his head throbbing. Another man might have hissed out a breath, might have groaned, but Aden’s training was so ingrained that his sole response was to lift his lashes a bare sliver, only fully opening his eyes once he realized he was surrounded by darkness. He wasn’t, however, alone. He could hear breathing—quiet but jagged. As if the other person was trying to maintain silence, was unable to do so for reasons Aden couldn’t yet identify.
Remaining exactly where he was, he scanned outward with his telepathic senses . . . and had to capture a scream before it traveled to his vocal cords. The pain was blinding, the agony leaving his vision white. Controlling his breathing and his body through sheer strength of will, he fisted his hand, gritted his teeth, and made a second attempt, this time to reach the PsyNet, the sprawling psychic network that connected all Psy in the world but for the renegades. A Net connection would give him a viable way to alert the squad about his capture.
The backlash of pain almost led to a blackout.
Quietly lifting his arm when he could function again, white spots burning in his vision, he reached to the back of his head and the center of the starburst of pain. He expected to find blood-matted hair that denoted a cracked skull. What he discovered instead was a raised bump close to the lowest part of his skull, near the area that housed the cerebellum and beyond it, the brain stem. No, it wasn’t a bump but a scar—it shouldn’t have been there and it still felt tender.
That wasn’t the only anomaly. From the dryness in his throat and the stiffness of his limbs, Aden calculated that he must’ve been unconscious for hours. Long enough for the squad to realize he was missing and to locate him. Vasic alone should’ve been able to accomplish that. Except it appeared even the best teleporter in the Net hadn’t been able to lock on to his face, using it as an anchor to get to him.
The only other times Vasic had failed to lock on to people was when those individuals had created complex shields designed specifically to thwart teleporters capable of locking on to people rather than simply places, or if the individual concerned didn’t know his or her own identity—such as those whose minds were broken.
Aden’s mind was whole, but whatever it was that had been done to his brain via the barely healed incision he’d discovered, it had screwed up his psychic wiring. Vasic’s absence told Aden his psychic signature must’ve also been affected on a deep level. He knew of no surgical technique—or technology—that could achieve that aim without a full psychic brainwipe, but he didn’t make the mistake of thinking he knew everything.
He ran a mental checklist of his body and the items on it. All his weapons were gone, as were his belt and his boots. Whoever was behind this had been thorough.
Having maintained an ear on the other person breathing in the room, he crawled silently toward the rasp of sound. His cellmate hadn’t moved the entire time, and there was something in the unsteady rhythm of the breathing that had him certain the individual was hurt. With his eyes having adapted to darkness ameliorated only by a thin edge of light that came in under what must be a door, he could see that his cellmate’s body lay in a corner of the windowless room—as if it had been thrown there. That body was small and with the wrong proportions to be a man. Either a child or a woman.
Close enough now to see the curve of her hip, the fine line of her jaw, he realized it was a woman. A woman who smelled of blood. He moved his hand to her face, brushed away the dark curls that were impossibly soft . . . and found his wrist gripped in a punishing hold. “Move and I’ll rip out your throat.”
“Zaira,” he said in the same low whisper she’d used. “It’s—”
“Aden.” She released his wrist. “I’m injured.”
“I was shot.” Taking his hand, she placed it on the viscous stickiness above her stomach, her thin but should-have-been-bulletproof top soaked with blood and her lightweight body armor missing. “It passed through the left side of my abdomen.”
Aden might not have any equipment or supplies, but he was still a trained field medic. “Do you have any source of light on you?” It was possible their captors had overlooked something.
“Negative. No tools or weapons. They even took my boots.”
He shifted so close to Zaira that, under any normal circumstances, he would’ve been invading her personal space. When he pushed up the long-sleeved black top that hugged her body, she didn’t protest. Her skin was clammy under his touch, and though he felt the edges of a bandage, it had clearly been an inexpert job—blood had soaked through, was continuing to do so. “I need to touch your skull.”
“No need. I’ve been cut, something done to my brain. I’m psychically blind. Any attempt to use those abilities results in extreme pain.” She took a shallow breath. “Since rescue hasn’t arrived, I’m assuming you’re in the same position.”
“Yes.” He checked her head wound to make certain it wasn’t bleeding, too, discovered a roughly sealed incision identical to his own. Their unknown captors had the technology to do brain surgery advanced enough to block psychic abilities, yet they’d left Zaira badly hurt and in pain? “They want you weak.”
“Yes.” Her next words were so quiet he heard them only because he was close enough to feel the soft warmth of her exhale. “I didn’t know it was you, but now that I do, I think our captors plan to use me to break you. One entered the room earlier, said, ‘He’ll talk or we hurt her,’ to another individual.”
“Arrows aren’t so easy to break.”
“And you aren’t fully Silent, Aden. You never have been.” Another strained breath. “Everyone in the squad knows that—now someone outside the squad has figured it out.”
Aden decided he would correct her about his Silence later. “Conserve your strength. I need to be able to count on you when we escape.” There was no “if.” They would escape.
“If you can get me a weapon,” Zaira said, “I’ll cover you as you go. I’m weak, will slow you down. You’ll do better on your own.” She said that as if it was a simple fact, as if she wasn’t talking about the end of her own life.
Leaning in until their noses almost touched, until she could see his eyes as he could see the jet-black darkness of hers, he said, “I don’t leave my people behind.” He knew what it was to be left behind, and though it had been done for the best of reasons it had marked him on a primal level. “We’ll go together.”
“You’re being irrational.”
It was a complaint he’d heard multiple times from her. And not because her own Silence was flawless.
The truth was that Zaira had never needed Silence. What had been done to her in childhood had caused her to retreat deep into her psyche, shoving her emotions into a dark hole in a bid to survive. In their place had grown an iron will and a harshly practical mind. Silence had only ever been a tool she used to create a civilized shell.
Without it, she was close to feral but no less ruthless, her brain having learned long ago to put survival above all else.
It made her the perfect soldier.
Some would say it also made her a psychopath, but they didn’t understand—unlike a psychopath, Zaira had the capacity to feel the full range of emotions. That capacity was in permanent cold storage, but it gave her a conscience regardless. It also gave her the capacity for unflinching loyalty: because Zaira’s violent survival instincts didn’t always equal her own survival. She’d already walked into the path of a hail of bullets aimed at him during an operation three years before, had barely survived her injuries. He wasn’t about to allow her to sacrifice herself for him again.
“You should’ve toppled me from the leadership years ago,” he said as he moved to lift up the bandage, see what he could make out of the wound. “My irrationality where my people are concerned is apt to continue.”
“I thought about it, but I don’t have the patience for politics.”
He knew that despite her icy words, Zaira would take down anyone who challenged his right to lead the squad. For him to lose her loyalty, he’d have to do something so horrific, he couldn’t even imagine what it might be. “How were you shot?” he asked, wiping away the memories of how close to death she’d come the last time. “How many hits?”
“One,” Zaira replied. “They came for me while I was some distance from the Venice compound. Five men. I blasted a telepathic request for assistance but no one made it to me in time.”
“How many did you kill?”
“Three. Fourth injured. Fifth would be dead, to...
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