Memory powered through Sahara in a single slamming punch, and all at once, she was sitting on the edge of a small, hidden pond in the farthest corner of the NightStar grounds, colorful koi moving lazily beneath the clear surface and the taste of salt on her lips.
“What? ” she whispered to the boy who sat a foot in front of her, his arm telling her a story his voice never would.
“See. ” He held up the beautiful blue pebble she had given him after finding it in the small box of stones her father had given her as an educational tool. He’d told her to look up the properties of the stones, but Sahara had also read about the nonscientific meanings. Lapis lazuli, the text she’d accessed had said, was a stone meant to represent friendship.
Now the blue stone rose high into the air. “Like that. ”
Smiling, Sahara caught the stone, wiping the backs of her hands over her cheeks, and memory segued into reality.
Drawing back to look into eyes gone ebony, she cupped his face. “That was a fun day, wasn’t it?”
He had made her fly, after they stole away into a secluded section where no one would see them.
“You wanted to sit on the highest branch of the biggest pine in the woods.”
Sahara laughed through the remnants of her tears. “You let me.” Delighted, she’d sat up there without a care in the world, legs hanging off the sides as she waved to Kaleb. “I think you were terrified I would fall off.”
“I may have been . . . uncertain of your balance.”
Sahara’s laughter faded as other memories came into clear focus, other times he’d been hurt and tried to hide it from her. “How,” she whispered, “did you manage to contain all that power as a boy without the pain controls? Why was the monster never afraid you’d strike out at him?”
Kaleb went motionless, and she wanted to call back her words, stifle them as she’d done before, but some secrets were poisonous, and it was time they faced the bloody night that had scarred them both. And that night began in a childhood that had been a nightmare of pain and loneliness and horror.
“Together,” she whispered, telling him he wasn’t alone in the darkness, would never be alone.
“Now and forever.”
Eyes of impenetrable black in that beautiful face, but his arm slipped around her waist, his palm warm on her lower back even through the sweatshirt. “Santano placed the telepathic equivalent of a choking leash in my mind,” he said at last. “As a cardinal himself, he could constrict that leash at any time to cut off my power.”
Sahara kept a vicious grip on her anger. “You broke it as an adult?”
“It was more a case of the leash disintegrating under the force of my strength as my abilities matured . . . but not fast enough.” His hand fisted on her back. “And even when I thought I was free, I wasn’t; he could always make me watch.”
Sahara could erase those memories, heal his pain that much at least, but in so doing, she’d forever taint the indefinable trust between them. “He tried to break you,” she said, fierce in her pride, “but you didn’t only survive, you thrived to become a power unlike any the world has ever seen.”
Kissed by the passionate fury of this woman who loved him enough to fight his demons, Kaleb knew he had to finish this, had to tell her everything. “Don’t you wonder how he found out about you?
When we were so careful?” When Kaleb had been dead certain he’d built a secret compartment in his mind that Santano couldn’t reach.
Sahara didn’t flinch, didn’t turn away. “A child has no shields and he was a cardinal,” she said, the deep blue of her eyes an endless midnight. “There is no blame.”
“You don’t understand.”
“What?” Hand over his heart, she said, “That he did to me what he did to so many changeling women?”
He froze, every cell as hard as ice. “Yes.” With that brutal confirmation, he put her gently aside, rose, and shoved open the doors that led to the terrace.
Outside, the sky was black with rain heavy clouds, the air gray, the chill wind slapping against his bare upper half. Walking to the broken metal railings, he began to rip them out with methodical precision, piling the remnants in one corner of the terrace. He was aware of Sahara standing in the doorway, eyes on him, but she didn’t say anything until he’d finished demolishing the fence he’d put in place.
Stepping to the very edge of the terrace, he stared out into the darkness. “It turned out Santano knew about you for years,” he said, the padding of her feet on the wood as she crossed to him hammer blows against his ribs, “but he didn’t interfere. He later told me you kept me stable, so you were useful.” Useful. The most beautiful thing in his life had been useful to Councilor Santano Enrique.
“Because of me, he knew you existed.”
Sahara’s hand on his back. “You warned me to be careful,” she said with a confidence that told him the memory was crisp, clear. “You said I should never, ever be alone with that monster. Kaleb, you were bleeding so badly that day, I was afraid you’d cause serious damage to your brain—you fought the compulsions so hard for me.”
Kaleb watched rocks tumbling down into the gorge and knew he was the cause, his rage seeking an outlet. “It wasn’t enough. Not when he dug deeper into my mind and realized your true ability—and how quickly you were learning to discipline it. It wasn’t simply that you might be capable of seeing all his secrets one day soon, but that you had the contacts to be heard.”