IT TOOK SERIOUS concentration, her arms aching by the end, but her hair hung straight and thick down her back an hour later, as she made her way through the house again. Peeking inside the large room situated right beside the main doors to the terrace, she saw Kaleb sitting at a desk. In front of him was a transparent—from her point of view—computer screen apparently functioning in comm mode.
Steel—platinum?—cuff links at his wrists and a tie of chrome blue at his throat now, a sharp contrast to his white shirt, he was focused on someone on the other side of the screen, but he curled his fingers to her in a “come in” motion. Drawn toward him on a level that threatened to overpower her ability to reason, until it felt as if they were connected by an invisible thread, she walked in.
His desk was a hunk of highly polished wood, the edges jagged, as if the roots of a forest giant had been cut in slices then smoothed, the flowing lines within telling the story of centuries past. It was beautiful, and not what she might have expected of him . . . but there was something in the primal nature of the choice that suited him. As did the bitterly clean surface of the desk, unmarred by even a single pen or piece of paper.
The walls opposite that desk held shelves that housed a number of expensive hard-copy books on a myriad of subjects, from changeling society to physics to construction manuals and geological research, with a number of separate volumes dealing with earthquakes and volcanoes.
She could understand the eclectic collection compiled by an intelligent mind, could even comprehend the reason a cardinal Tk might be interested in the movement of the tectonic plates— though the idea that he might have that much power made her heart stutter—but here and there on the shelves sat things jarring in their incongruity. Like a polished blue pebble beside the book on South American volcanoes. Lapis lazuli, she identified after rubbing the pebble between her fingertips.
On another shelf sat something as inexplicable: a flat piece of wood carved with his name and the spindly image of a tree. The workmanship was rough, nothing unique about the wood itself. Not far from it, and slipped in between a thick textbook on earthquakes and one on undersea currents, was a tiny volume of poetry. It was so thin, she only saw it by chance, and from the look of the spine, she could tell it was cheaply bound, in ragged condition, unlike the other books on the shelves.
Curious, she took a second look at the shelves and found several more unexpected volumes hidden in plain sight. All were of relatively flimsy construction, and they contained everything from further poetry to plays to a reprint of a nineteenth-century classic written by a human. Then there was a twisted piece of metal that wasn’t identifiable as anything in particular, except that her mind kept telling her it had once been part of a bullet train.
Shaking off the odd sense of knowing, she focused once more on the cardinal currently ripping his opponent to shreds with cold-blooded precision, taking in the dark hair cut with brutal neatness, the clean lines of his face, his skin tanned enough that he couldn’t spend all his time indoors, those incredible eyes. But in spite of his beauty, he was harshly masculine, his every action marking him as quintessentially and fascinatingly male.
Her breath hitched, her fingers worrying the lapis lazuli pebble she’d never returned to the shelf.
Forcing herself to return it, because she wanted to steal it, captivated by the feel and shape of it, she attempted not to stare at Kaleb. The majority of her guards had been male—and a number had undoubtedly been chosen because of their looks in an effort to manipulate her youth and splintered Silence. Not once had she forgotten the fact that they were a threat to her very existence.
And yet she saw primal beauty in this merciless, no doubt manipulative, and bitingly intelligent male who clearly lived for power, for control—all things her shadow ability would make it ruthlessly simple for him to acquire. The individual who controlled Sahara Kyriakus could control the PsyNet, and Kaleb Krychek, her ears told her, was the kind of ruthless man who would use every advantage at his disposal when it came to the dance of power.
Disturbed by that realization on an elemental level, an ache in her chest, she walked toward the open glass doors to the right of his desk. It was instinct to stay out of the line of sight of the aggressive-voiced man on the other end of the comm who, it was clear, was about to lose the skirmish. For now, it was better she remain a ghost in the eyes of the world.
The polished wood of the terrace was smooth beneath her feet, the sun a languid caress against her skin. Tilting her face upward, she drank it in, her skin greedy for the kiss of heat, of light.
Startled by the cool words that had traveled along a telepathic pathway she hadn’t been aware she’d opened, she twisted her head to look inside the study. The man who continued to both intrigue and confuse her had his eyes on the comm screen, still involved in a business negotiation that was more akin to a deadly play of razors, each word designed to inflict maximum damage. Sliding the doors shut, she padded to the sun lounger in the far corner, an item that hadn’t been there earlier this morning, and sat with her legs stretched out on the cushioned fabric, toes reaching for the sun.
A large outdoor umbrella stood above her a second later, shading her face while leaving her feet exposed. Stop doing that, she said along that same telepathic channel, and it didn’t feel new, didn’t feel awkward. No, it felt as if the pathway was carved into her mind, the groove worn in over countless years. As if she’d known Kaleb longer than she’d known herself. It’s showing off.
A pause that might’ve indicated surprise before a small table appeared at her elbow. On it sat a plate of cookies and a long glass filled with what turned out to be mango nectar. Drawn by the cookies, she ate two different kinds and took a sip of the thick, refreshing drink before pointedly ignoring her beautiful captor and opening the book in her lap.