He was silent. The most crystal clear of answers. But in place of sadness, all she felt was a blinding fury. It was the last thing she would have expected - what right did she have to be angry with him? But she was. So damn angry that she left the room, afraid of what she might say.
His name was Jonquil Duchslaya but most of his friends called him Jon. Talin sometimes called him Johnny D. But the last time he'd messed up and gotten busted, she'd pulled him out and then she'd called him Jonquil Alexi Duchslaya.
"One more time and we're through." Her eyes had been black ice as they stood outside the justice office. "I won't pay your shoplifting fine and I sure as hell won't turn up as a character witness and convince the judge to give you probation instead of jail time."
He'd flashed her a smile, certain she was just blowing off some steam. "Aw, come on - "
"Shut it." She'd never before used that tone on him. Shocked, he'd obeyed. "Three chances, Jonquil, that's all I give. That's all I have to give. I don't have time to waste on lazy thieves - "
" - who can't be bothered to respect my rules," she had finished, sounding nothing like the gentle, encouraging Talin he had come to know. "Once more and we're done. You can start collecting jailhouse tattoos."
He'd flinched at the pitiless reminder of what had become of the rest of his family. Every single member, male and female, had ended up behind bars. Now they were all dead. "You're supposed to be nice to us. That's your job." She worked for some big-deal nicey-nice foundation.
"No. My job is to be your friend." Her eyes had blazed with an emotion he'd never before felt directed at him. "I'm not your nanny or nursemaid. I made sure you had a safe place to stay and study. I made sure you were out of reach of your old gang. I've done my job. It's up to you now."
"I don't have to take this shit," he'd said. "I can take care of myself." He had been on the streets for years before she walked into his life.
"I love you, Johnny D. I want you to make it."
Embarrassed at how her words had made him feel, he'd smirked. "So that's it. You want a piece of young meat. What the hell - you're not bad for an old piece of ass."
"I love you," she'd repeated in that strong, gentle voice of hers. "You're one of mine. I will fight for you. But you have to fight, too."
It had almost broken him. "I don't need or want your love! So you can shove it."
That was the last time he'd seen Talin. They had taken him a week after he had run away from the home Talin had found for him. He didn't even know why he'd done it. That foster family had been nice to him. No one had tried to steal his stuff, no one had tried to touch him, and no one had used him as a punching bag. But full of stupid pride, he'd run.
Now he lay in this lightless cage, able to hear the screams of other children. They hadn't come for him yet, but they would. And it didn't matter what he'd told himself over the endless hours of captivity, he knew he'd scream.
He was fourteen years old and he'd told the only person who had ever loved him that he didn't want or need her. A tear streaked down the angular barely man planes of his face. "Please, Talin," he whispered. "Please find me."
Talin woke from an inadvertent nap with a jerk, her heart beating triple time. After almost exploding at Clay in inexplicable rage, she had headed upstairs to put down her stuff, then collapsed on the bed to try to get her emotions under some sort of control. She couldn't remember anything after that.
Afraid the disease had struck again, she glanced at the clock. To her relief, she'd only been out ten minutes at most. A nap, that's all it had been. Getting up, she staggered to the bathroom and threw some cold water on her face.
The eyes that looked back at her from the mirror above the sink were haunted, bruised. She wished she had the magical power to wipe away all the badness, all the evil in the world, and make everything right. A stupid wish. But that didn't mean she couldn't hope. Her resolve firmed. As of today, she would act with the absolute and total belief that Jonquil was still alive. "I'm going to bring you home, Johnny D. Hold on for me."
Decision made, she got moving, aware if she delayed too long, Clay would come searching. And though that violent surge of anger at him had passed, her emotions were a turbulent stew where he was concerned. Nevertheless, fifteen minutes later, she had put away her things, taken a shower, and brushed her wet hair back into a ponytail while admiring the leafy morning view from the balcony of her third-floor aerie.
It was time.
Wiping her hands on her jeans, she went to open the trapdoor. Her eye fell on the large bed as she passed and she bent to smooth out the marks she'd made on it during her nap. Her fingers lingered - she might be human, with senses far less acute than Clay's, but she could smell the earthy masculinity of his scent in this room, in this bed. It was frighteningly easy to imagine the muscular strength of him sprawled over the white sheets, arrogant and assured of his right to dominate that intimate territory.
The image caused an odd, melting sensation in the pit of her stomach. She blinked, shock rooting her to the spot. This slow curl of need in her body, it was something wholly new. Her previous sexual partners had been...nothing. Faceless, nameless bodies. None had touched her emotions, much less given her pleasure.
When she'd admitted her senseless promiscuity to her long-ago counselor, she had expected censure, but the other woman had simply nodded. "You're punishing yourself," she'd said. "Punishment is meant to hurt. And it does hurt, doesn't it?"