Storm Echo (Psy-Changeling Trinity #6) - Nalini Singh

Chapter 1

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 “stubborn” 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