Her hand spread over his chest.
He sucked in a breath through clenched teeth. He was a healthy male in his prime - he liked women, and most of the time, women liked him back. But never had he felt so close to the edge, so close to going out of control. Too many emotions clashed inside him - including a dawning possessiveness that might yet spell his death.
"Dev." It was a complaint. "Stop broadcasting."
He froze. "Have you been listening to my thoughts?" That should've been impossible. He'd never been able to send to anyone but his mother. When she'd died, that part of him had simply gone silent.
A shake of her head, fingers rubbing at sleepy eyes. "It's a drumbeat against my skull - bam, bam, bam."
Intrigued, he ran his fingers through her hair. "How do you know it's me?"
"It feels like you." A yawn and her lashes lifted. "And you're giving me a headache."
He should've been penitent. Instead, he moved to brace himself on his arms, her body slender but intrinsically feminine beneath his. It was her eyes that did it, huge pools that asked something from him he'd never be able to give - to her, to anyone. He'd left that part of himself behind in a sun-drenched room the day he watched his father close those always careful hands around his mother's throat.
Shadows moved in the clear hazel, awareness sparking out of sleep. "Dev."
"Shh. No words." He ensured that by claiming her mouth, by stealing her breath. There was no gentleness in him this time. He crushed her to the bed, used his teeth on her neck, fisted his hand in her hair.
Just one kiss, he thought, just one.
Then she wrapped her arms around him. And he gave himself leave to take this much of her. Their lips came together in a darkly sensual connection, every gasp filled with the inevitable truth - this moment, this kiss, was a stolen one. All too soon, reality would claim them both. And when it did, Dev would either have to destroy her fledgling smile, savage her heart. . . or betray every vow he'd ever taken.
PETROKOV FAMILY ARCHIVES
Letter dated March 4, 1972
Something extraordinary happened today. I'm still not sure I believe it. Catherine and Arif Adelaja appeared in public for the first time in a decade - with their twins, Tendaji and Naeem. The boys are teenagers, strong and quite beautiful. And they are Silent.
Arif made a speech, said that he and his wife had - wait, I have an idea. I'll paste a copy of the relevant part of his speech into this letter. When you're older, it will give you a glimpse of the strange world in which you grew up, in which your sister will be born.
Like many of you, Catherine and I have lost too many family members to the ravages of their gifts. Some have simply crumpled under the pressure, while others have broken in a more violent way, taking countless men, women, and children with them.
We lost our infant daughter to a psychotic outbreak that destroyed a close family friend, turning her into a malevolent creature no one could recognize. Tilly was a sweet, gentle woman who loved children, and yet that day, she used her telepathy to shatter our Margaret's mind as our precious baby screamed and screamed.
In truth, we lost two people that day. Margaret to Tilly's madness, and Tilly to her own horror and guilt.
We refuse to lose any more of those we love. Which is why we've been working to condition emotion out of our sons since the moment of their birth. Perhaps some of you will call us monsters, but today, our children stand alive beside us, in full control of their gifts. We've given them life.
I understand Arif's grief - I was only twenty when he and Catherine lost Margaret, but I'll never forget his keening agony the night he found their poor, sweet baby. It ravaged him, ravaged them both. The man I saw today bears the emotional scars still. They're so deep and true that he can't see the paradox in his own words. To save those he loves, he's willing to destroy the capacity to love itself?
How is that in any way an answer?
Katya accepted Dev's offer of a walk without hesitation the next morning. Something had shifted between them the previous night - she could feel it deep within: a subtle tug, a bond barely formed.
But that wasn't the change that distressed her.
Dev walked beside her, but gone was the man who'd kissed her with a passion that had seared her to the soul. Only the director, hard, focused, unreachable, remained. As she watched his teeth sink into the crunchy flesh of a bright red apple, she couldn't help but remember those same teeth grazing her neck, nipping at her ear. Yet it seemed impossible that this cool stranger was the darkly sensual man who'd taken her mouth until she felt branded to the very core of her being.
"Perhaps he did me a favor," she said when the silence became too crushing.
"The shadow-man." The spiderweb in her mind pulsed, a constant reminder that she was, in the end, nothing but a puppet. Her hand clenched into a fist. "By breaking my Silence."
"There are ways to do that without destroying the individual." He threw his apple core into the undergrowth, his jacket dusted with snow that fell from an overhanging branch. "Let's go down here."
She followed him through the snow-covered firs, but her mind had turned inward. For the first time since she'd woken, she looked deep within, examining the strands of control - of compulsion - that swirled around her psyche. Each was barbed. Ripping them out would destroy parts of her, maybe cause brain damage. It would've been easy to give up - but she chose to let the brutality fan the simmering flames of her anger.
And when she saw the pathway, she didn't hesitate to take it. The vines of control ripped at her from every side, drawing blood that felt real, the acrid scent of it thick in her nostrils, but she pushed through, determined to find answers, determined to find herself.