Silence has fallen. The Psy are free to feel emotion. Free to love. But Silence was never a prison for Ivan Mercant. The biggest threat to his future lies dormant in his brain—a psychic monster that wants only to feed. And now, the brutal leash he’s kept on that monster is slipping. He prepared for this day, for the end of Ivan Mercant . . . but that was before he met Lei.
As primal as she is human, this wild changeling brings color into his life, laughter to his soul. Then the dream shatters in a rain of blood, in silent bodies in the snow. Lei is gone. Vanished without a trace . . . until he meets strangely familiar eyes across a busy San Francisco street.
Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who has lost everything. She exists in a world of desolate aloneness . . . till the day she finds herself face-to-face with a lethal stranger. The animal who is her other half knows this man, but her memories are tattered fragments. Sorrow and a need for vengeance are all that drive her. Her mission? To kill the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack.
But fate has other plans. Soon, a deadly soldier who believes himself a monster and a broken healer might be all that stand between life and death for the entire Psy race. . . .
About the Author
She is the author of the Guild Hunter series, including Archangel’s Sun, Archangel’s War, and Archangel’s Prophecy. She is also the author of the Psy-Changeling novels, including Last Guard, Alpha Night, and Wolf Rain, and stand-alone novels A Madness of Sunshine and Quiet in Her Bones.
Read an Excerpt
The child has severe attachment issues. It is not Silence. He is simply psychologically damaged to the extent that he may never be able to form an attachment to another on any level. As such, his loyalty to the family cannot be guaranteed. He is a risk.
-Private PsyMed report on Ivan Mercant, age 8 (20 June 2059)
3 May 2083
In terms of age, Ivan fell in the older cadre of Ena's grandchildren. Younger than Canto, older than Silver and Arwen. He'd also always been the one who gave the family the least trouble-no trouble at all really. Canto was as stubborn as a bull and Silver had a steely spine, and neither ever bent for Ena unless they wished to do so.
As for Arwen, gentle, empathic Arwen could be obstinate in his own way. Like water running over stone. Slow and persistent until the edges of the rock were no longer so sharp and the water had carved a new channel without the rock ever being aware of the change.
Ivan, in contrast, was more wont to say yes than no. Ask any of the other three and they'd never use the words "obstinate" or fistubborn" in relation to Ivan. One of the teenage members of the family had used the term "chill" to describe Ivan, and when Ena had looked up what that term meant when used in that context, she'd had to agree.
Ivan flowed through life, willing to bend, never opposing Ena . . . and still doing exactly what he wanted and nothing else. It had taken a long time for Ena to realize that the least openly stubborn of her grandchildren was also the most relentless in his quiet will. It was Ivan, after all, who'd never studied at the tertiary level, despite Ena's strong desire that he do so; and it was Ivan who'd chosen to walk a path she'd initially forbidden him from pursuing.
Ivan did as he pleased . . . but he did have one vulnerability.
"Ivan?" she said now, as she watched him pack the final items for his journey to San Francisco. She rarely intruded in the suite he kept at the family compound, but with him leaving today, it was well past time to have this conversation. "Is all well?"
"Of course, Grandmother." He unzipped a side pocket of his holdall, then reached for a small and flat black bag that could contain either his toothbrush and soap-or a weapon.
There was no way to know when it came to Ivan.
"Are you certain?" She remained in the doorway, for she would not push into the private area of his bedroom-though she knew Ivan wouldn't rebuff her. That was the problem, and why she asked so little from him. Because Ivan would give it to her. He went his own way when it came to his life and the choices he made, but should Ena ever request he do a task, he'd do so without hesitation.
Whether it was to put a bullet in someone's head or to allow her in his space.
That was Ivan's only vulnerability.
"I'm fine," he said, zipping up that pocket. "Why do you ask?"
"You've been different since you returned from that training course in Texas." Close to a year and a half ago. She hadn't been sure at first, and Ivan had somehow slid out of any conversations where she tried to bring it up, and then he'd vanished from her sight for various duties. "Did something happen?"
The most minute pause in his efficient movements. So small that likely not even Canto, Arwen, or Silver would've noticed, and they were the closest to Ivan aside from Ena. But Ena had always looked at Ivan with more careful eyes than she had his cousins. They'd all needed her in one way or another, but Ivan . . . he was the one least likely to verbalize or openly show that need.
He'd learned too young that asking for help was useless. No one would ever come. She'd tried to overwrite that ugly lesson, but it had been too long embedded by the time Ena came into his life. All she'd been able to do was make sure she responded to his unspoken needs-and hope that one day, he'd learn that she would always respond if he asked her for anything.
Now he closed the final tab on his holdall and turned to face her, those eyes of pale blue shot with darker shards striking against his black hair and the cool white of his skin. "Just the cut I received on my calf," he said, "and that's long since healed." Slipping the strap of the holdall over his shoulder, he walked to join her in the doorway.
"Are you certain, Ivan?" Ena didn't budge; she hadn't held this family together through the cold reign of Silence by being weak of will, and she wasn't about to let Ivan obfuscate this. Because the thing was, Ivan never lied to her. He just somehow managed to give her only as much information as he wanted.
Canto had been known to mutter that Ivan was more like Ena than any of them: a Mercant who kept his own counsel and who shared information only when he decided it was time.
Ena respected that. But how he'd been of late . . . as if the light inside him had dimmed . . . that disturbed her on a level beyond flesh and bone. Because Ivan's light had almost been snuffed out once. She'd had to cup her hands around it for years,'protect'ng it from the winds of pain and the storms of scars, until the light was strong enough to survive on its own.
He held her gaze, so much quiet power in him that it hummed in the air, then glanced away. "I can't talk to you about this, Grandmother." His eyes returned to her. "It's not a thing about which I can speak."
There it was, that inviolable core he'd always kept separate from everyone, even Ena. She'd never been able to work out whether it was conscious or a result of wounds inflicted long before he was this powerful man who could hold his own against the world.
There was no point pushing him. Not when he'd given her an unusually forthright response. That alone told her that whatever had happened, it'd had a profound impact on him.
She stepped back so he could exit the bedroom. As she fell in beside him on his walk to leave the suite, she said, "You know I'll always be here if you change your mind."
Opening the door, he paused, met her eyes again. "I know, Grandmother."
Then he walked out, her grandson tall and strong and deadly. She hadn't wanted the latter for him, had wanted him to have a life of calm and peace. But Ivan would not have it. He would not allow her to choose for him a life in the light . . . because he believed he'd been born to walk in the dark.
15 Months Earlier
The child's attachment to the family unit-and associated loyalty-is absolute. His ability to form bonds with those outside this small circle remains an unknown, but it is my view that when he does form any such bond, it will be one without boundaries-he does not appear to have the capacity to limit his loyalty once given.
-Private PsyMed report on Ivan Mercant, age 14 (9 November 2065)
Ivan braced his hand against the tree trunk, the forest hushed around him, then looked down at the cut on his calf. He'd tied a tourniquet above the cut, but the bleeding showed no signs of stopping. If he hadn't known better, he'd have said the fall onto the sharp edge of rock had severed a major artery.
But he did know better-he'd done enough first-aid courses, had enough knowledge of anatomy and of his own body, to judge this wound as disabling but not dangerous. It should, however, have stopped bleeding by now. If it kept up like this, he'd have to call for assistance and drop out of the training course for the day.
If there was one thing Ivan preferred never to do, it was to ask for help. His reticence was bad enough that he was conscious it could end up a fatal flaw, but even knowing that, he had to be on the edge of endurance before he'd reach for a helping hand-because sometimes, being aware of a problem wasn't enough to fix the reason it existed.
Ivan had instead used this awareness to make himself as self-sufficient as possible. It was why he'd taken those first-aid courses when he was the furthest thing from a healer that anyone could imagine. It was also why he'd made an effort to learn basic computronic engineering, as well as gaining a flight certification.
Languages had never been a problem for him, probably because of how many he'd been exposed to as a small child, but he'd made the conscious effort to become fluent in three aside from the Russian and English used interchangeably within the family.
Some would call him obsessive. Ivan called it being prepared.
He'd have made the perfect mercenary had Grandmother not asked him to put his skills to use overseeing the family's overall security instead. The title of security specialist was still one that sat awkwardly on his shoulders, but if there was one person on this Earth to whom he would never say no, it was Ena Mercant.
His grandmother had earned the right to ask of him what she wished.
But his title didn't change what he was-a born killer. A born monster. Not even Grandmother, with her indomitable will and ruthless devotion to the family, could change that. All she'd been able to do was redirect him into a task that was about'protect'on rather than violence. And it was for that reason that he was in this dark green landscape.
Deciding once again that, bleeding or not, the cut wasn't enough to halt his participation in the tracking course, he continued on through the heavily forested region still dripping with the last vestiges of the rain that had fallen a couple of hours earlier; the raindrops cradled in the leaves shone like jewels in the dull winter sunlight that managed to pierce the canopy.
This wasn't his natural milieu; he was a creature of the city. But any gaps in his knowledge could lead to holes in the family's security systems and procedures. Especially now, with the changelings turning into major power players. Ivan didn't intend to be caught flat-footed, needed to know of exactly what a changeling predator might be capable.
So here he was in Texas, on a course run by a small wolf pack. RockStorm might be small, but their course was highly respected in mercenary circles. Of which Ivan was still a part, even if all his kills were off the books and done for reasons that had nothing to do with monetary payment.
To the outside world, Ivan Mercant was an urbane city dweller with a sophisticated haircut and a wardrobe full of bespoke suits. Even the vast majority of his mercenary contacts only knew his alternate identity, but those contacts were the reason he'd been accepted into this course. RockStorm only took on Psy trainees who'd been vetted and recommended by other trusted changelings-the wolves weren't out to train the enemy.
It was a tiger named Striker who'd hooked him up with RockStorm, vouching that Ivan wasn't violent against changelings except in defense of his family. The latter was a more than acceptable qualification to the pack-minded race. Attack one changeling and you made an enemy of their entire pack.
It also didn't hurt that Ivan had once helped out a vulnerable herd of deer who'd been having a problem with a Psy conglomerate. He hadn't done it to earn brownie points, had put a bullet in the head of each of the governing board for the simple reason that their operation was a cover for a drug manufacturing plant-and Ivan would destroy anyone who pumped out that poison.
And so here he was, wounded and in an alien environment.
Today's task was simple: to make it from point A to B without any assistance but for the navigational markers provided by the landscape, and to find water and food on his own.
Ivan would've been fine except that he'd been caught in a sudden rockfall that had propelled him onto a sharp edge of stone. His own fault. He'd been overconfident and, as such, hadn't considered all factors-including the genesis of the pack's name: RockStorm.
He wouldn't make that mistake a second time, would remember that nothing was predictable in the wild.
His leg trembled.
Examining the wound, he spotted a bluish discoloration around the tourniquet. Not good. He stopped, scanned his surroundings with his telepathic senses, and when he received no pings that indicated another mind in the vicinity, decided to take a seat on the leaf-littered ground so he could better check his leg.
He'd already cut his pants leg up one side and torn off fabric to use for the tourniquet, so he had no issue seeing the injury. No signs of the redness and swelling that might indicate the onset of infection, but it was obvious he had to call it a day. He might be dogged when set on a task, but no one had ever accused him of stupidity.
That was when he heard a stir in the trees, the leaves rustling in a pattern that wasn't natural-because it was coming closer. He scanned again, hit a mind. That was the entirety of his knowledge. He knew the mind was there, but it was a blank wall to him.
A rare few humans did have minds that opaque, but it was standard with changelings, and he was in changeling territory. Likely, one of the wolves had been assigned to keep rough track of Ivan and had come looking for him when he didn't pass by a particular navigational marker.
He still shifted so he could rapidly access the small gun he had in a special holster designed to lie flush against the base of his spine. A lot of people just tucked their guns into their belts. Great way to shoot themselves or lose the guns. This particular gun was a sleek model barely on the market.
Ivan had used it to end the life of a whimpering man last night. Was he sorry? No. Not about that man, or about all those who'd come before him. Grandmother worried he was turning into a psychopath, but Ivan's PsyMed results always came back clean. He wasn't a psychopath; he had very firm moral lines. It was simply that they didn't always coincide with those of the civilized world.