“No,” Kaleb said flatly. “I didn’t do anything to stop him.” His hand shook where it touched her hair. “I hurt you—I can still hear you screaming at me to stop.”
“You hurt Enrique, not me!” Sahara grabbed at his upper arms, unable to bear that he’d believed such a soul-destroying lie for seven long years. “You came close to killing him.”
Seeing total incomprehension in the eyes of endless black that had lost their beautiful obsidian sheen, she cupped his face and sent him the images—nuanced, real— from her memory. Having been locked inside the vault within the vault where she’d hidden her sense of self in an effort to protect it from the ravages of the labyrinth, the memory was pristine, every detail of that nightmare room picked out in intricate detail.
* * *
SAHARA tried not to scream as Santano Enrique dug his blade into the upper curve of her breast, knowing her pain was savaging Kaleb. The monster had pinned him against the wall using invisible telekinetic manacles, forced his head toward the bed so he couldn’t miss seeing Enrique torture her.
Kaleb could’ve closed his eyes, shut out the horror, but he didn’t. She’d known he wouldn’t, even when she silently implored him to look away. Her Kaleb would never leave her alone with a monster.
The scream broke out of her in spite of her every attempt to contain it, her body unable to fight the pain after so many cuts that her skin was a slick of red in the light of the two bedside lamps that spotlighted Enrique’s evil. He waited for the scream to fade before continuing to cut. “Do you know why I chose this place? Cheap as it is, the rooms are all soundproofed—and even if they weren’t, there are no other guests at this time of year.”
Sahara had worked that out long before. “Please stop,” she rasped out, her throat raw.
Enrique dug his blade in deeper. He thought she was begging for surcease. She wasn’t. Her words were for Kaleb, her beautiful, strong Kaleb who held her gaze with a violent silence that was a black rage, his own eyes bleeding as he fought to break the compulsion that leashed his powers, fought to come to her.
She knew he was putting deadly pressure on his brain, but he wouldn’t listen to her—and she couldn’t reach him with her mind, Enrique having done something to both of them to block their telepathy. He just continued to fight with a brutal intensity, his face a mask of blood.
“Stop,” she whispered again, trying in vain to reach for him with hands Enrique had bound with Tk. “Don’t.” She couldn’t bear to see him hurting himself, couldn’t bear to think he might do fatal damage. How could she exist in a world without Kaleb?
“Begging will do you no good,” the monster said. Playing his hand desultorily over her brutalized flesh, his fingers smearing wet blood over dried, Enrique leaned in close. To her, his breath was fetid, repulsive as his mind, as he whispered, “You mark his final rite of passage. It will be the sweetest kill of his life, a high he’ll forever attempt to re-create.”
Pain wracked Sahara, her heart breaking for the boy become a man who had done everything in his power to keep her safe since the day they’d met. “It’s all right,” she whispered so low that Enrique didn’t hear as he got off the bed and moved to Kaleb.
But Kaleb heard, he understood, his eyes black pools of nothingness, hard and dead, and of rage.
“It’s all right, Kaleb,” she repeated again, but those stone-hard eyes repudiated her words, the blood beginning to drip from his ears as his brain was crushed between the twin forces of his incredible will and Enrique’s malevolence.
“Cut her,” Enrique ordered, thrusting the bloody knife into Kaleb’s hand and forcing his fingers to close over the instrument of so much pain. “You’re like me, have always been like me.”
A sly look over his shoulder at Sahara before he turned back to Kaleb. “Do what comes naturally.”
Kaleb’s fingers flexed in a jagged spasm, the blade falling to the carpet with a dull thud.
The change in Enrique’s face occurred within a split second, the slyness replaced by something Sahara knew was pure evil. It lived within the monster always, was hidden by the facade of faultless Silence. There was no facade now, no barrier between Kaleb and the ugliness that was Santano Enrique as the monster said, “You think you can defy me?”
Sahara cried out as Kaleb was slammed down to his knees so hard the bed vibrated from the impact. An instant later, his shirt-clad arm was pressed to the old-fashioned radiator on the wall next to him. At first, she didn’t understand what it was she was seeing. . . . then the radiator glowed red-hot.
“No! Don’t!” she tried to scream as the metal melted through his shirt and into his flesh . . . and blood began to drip from his nose. “Kaleb, stop!” He was killing himself in front of her. “Please, Kaleb. Please!”
Her voice was all but gone, but his eyes locked with her own, his head moving in the slightest negative shake. She didn’t need telepathy to understand him, understand what he was asking her to do. Of everything that had happened that night, this was the hardest, but she swallowed the tears that burned her eyes until they became a painful knot inside her chest, and she stopped talking.
If Kaleb could be silent as the scent of burned flesh filled the air, and his blood dripped onto the white of his shirt, then she could keep her tears from falling. Santano Enrique might have drawn their blood, might even take their lives, but the monster would get no more of their pain. It battered and bruised her heart when Enrique kicked Kaleb in the chest with a booted foot, hard enough that something cracked and Kaleb coughed blood, but she kept her face turned toward Kaleb so he wouldn’t be alone, and she didn’t cry, even as her vision began to waver from blood loss.