Blowing out a soft breath, Dorian returned his attention to his mate. "You make that decision, you bring me in. You let me prepare her." His voice was a harsh, low order.
Dev was more used to giving orders than taking them, but Ashaya had saved the lives of Forgotten children at risk to her own. Then she'd blown the Council's secret perversions wide open. She'd earned his respect. "Fair enough." However, as he watched Ekaterina's chest rise and fall in what seemed to him to be a dangerously shallow rhythm, he wondered once again if he'd be able to do the deed if it came down to it. Could he break that body that had already been broken so badly?
The answer came from a part of him that had been honed in blood and pain. Yes.
Because when you fought monsters, sometimes, you had to become a monster.
PETROKOV FAMILY ARCHIVES
Letter dated May 24, 1969
My dear Matthew,
Your father says that one day you'll laugh at these letters I write to you, to the son who is, at the moment, trying to suck both thumbs at once. "Zarina," David said this afternoon, "what kind of a mother writes political treatises to her seven-month-old son? "
Do you know what I told him?
"A mother who is certain her child will grow up to be a genius."
Oh, how you make me smile. I wonder, even as I write this, if I'll ever let you read these letters. I suppose they've become a kind of journal for me, but since I'm far too sensible to write "Dear Diary," instead I write to the man you'll one day become.
That man, I hope, will grow up in a time of far less turmoil. The psychologists' theories notwithstanding, early indications are that it'll prove almost impossible to condition rage out of our young.
But that isn't what worries me - I've heard disturbing rumors that the Council is looking more and more to Mercury, Catherine and Arif Adelaja's secretive group. If those rumors prove true, we may be in far more trouble than I believed.
It's not that I have anything against Catherine and Arif. Indeed, I once considered them friends and have only admiration for their courage in surviving the worst tragedy that can befall a parent. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that they are two of the most extraordinary minds of our generation. And, having spent considerable time with both of them, I know one thing with categorical certainty - they want only the best for our race.
But sometimes, that depth of need - to save, to protect - can become a blinding fervor, one that destroys the very thing it thinks to safeguard.
I can only hope the Council sees that, too.
Two days later, the woman everyone called Ekaterina stared at the stranger in the mirror and tried to see what they saw. "It's not me."
"Still no memory?"
She swiveled to find the man who'd introduced himself as Devraj Santos standing in the bathroom doorway. Dark hair, dark eyes . . . and a way of moving that reminded her of some unnamed predator, sleek, watchful, dangerous beyond compare.
This predator wore a perfect, charcoal-colored suit.
Camouflage, she thought, her most basic, most animal instincts whispering that he was anything but safe. "No. That name . . . it's not mine." She couldn't quite explain what she wanted to say, the words locked behind a wall she couldn't break through. "Not now."
She expected him to brush off her statement, but instead he leaned one shoulder against the doorjamb, hands in the pockets of his suit pants, and said, "Do you have another preference?"
No one had given her a choice for. . . a long time. She knew that. But when she tried to reach for details, they whispered out of her grasp, as insubstantial as the mist she'd felt on her face as a child.
She grabbed onto the fragment of memory, desperate for even a glimmer of who she'd been, who she was, her psychic fingers curling almost into claws as she tried to rip away the veil.
Nothing. Only blankness.
"No," she said. "Just not that name." The shadow-man had used it. His voice haunted her. Saying that name over and over and over. And when he said it, pain followed. So much pain. Until the phantom memories made her jerk awake, certain he'd found her, put her back into that hole, that nothing place.
"How about Trina?" Dev's voice snapped her back to the present, to the awareness that she was with a man she didn't truly know, a man who might be another shadow. "It's close enough to jog your memory."
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. "Too close."
She paused, considered it. Hesitated.
Somehow she knew no one had ever before called her that. It felt new. Fresh. Alive. Ekaterina was dead. Katya lived. "Yes."
As Dev walked farther into the room, she realized for the first time how big he was. He moved with such lethal grace, it was easy to overlook the fact that he was over six feet three, with solid shoulders that held his suit jacket with effortless confidence. There was considerable muscle on that tall frame - enough to snap her in half without effort.
She should have been afraid, but Devraj Santos had a heat to him, a reality that compelled her to move closer. He was no shadow, she thought. If this man decided to kill her, he'd do so with blunt pragmatism. He wouldn't torture, wouldn't torment. So she let him get close, let him lift a hand to her hair and rub the strands between his fingertips, the scent of his aftershave soaking into her skin until the fresh bite of it was all she could smell.
Her body began to sway toward his the moment before he said, "You need to brush this out."
"I washed it." She picked up a brush, fighting the urge that threatened to destroy what little control she'd managed to cobble together. "But it's so knotted, I couldn't get it smoothed out. It might be easier to cut it."