“You,” he said to Nikita, “may have certain useful insights.” She’d never confirmed her ability with mental viruses, but everyone in this conversation knew it existed.
To her credit, she gave a curt nod. “I’ll do a reconnaissance tonight.”
“If it’s taken this long to eat up the region of the Net that served Sunshine,” Anthony said, the silver at his temples glinting in the light on his desk, “it must be a slow-moving disease.”
“Indications are it’s grown stronger, but not faster,” Kaleb confirmed. “We can’t afford not to study it, but the Pure Psy threat is far more immediate.”
Nikita shared a glance with Anthony as Kaleb finished speaking, and it was a silent communication that Kaleb knew involved no telepathy. Once again, he wondered exactly how closely the two had begun to work together. Not that it mattered. While Nikita and Anthony were extremely strong, with a massive combined economic and financial reach, they couldn’t stop Kaleb. No one could.
Two years ago, perhaps. However—and thanks to the leopard and wolf changelings in Nikita’s region, though they would never know the role they’d played in his life—his power had matured to its full potential in the interim. The scope of it might have driven another man mad; it was to Kaleb’s advantage that he’d had his brush with madness as a child and survived.
Whether or not he was sane was another question.
“If you’ll excuse me,” he said before Nikita or Anthony could respond to his point about Pure Psy, “I have another matter to attend to.” He left without waiting for a response. Ming and Tatiana had contacted him via the PsyNet, and he’d shared the same information he had with Nikita and Anthony.
As for the suspiciously quiet Shoshanna Scott, he had an extremely reliable spy in her ranks.
There was no reason to waste any further time on the ex-Councilors.
Sahara was still asleep when he returned to the terrace, her breathing even. He was about to turn on his heel and leave when her eyes fluttered open, the deep blue seeming to look straight through him and to the vicious secrets that marked him as kin to the DarkMind.
“I opened the book,” she said, uncurling her legs with the almost feline grace she’d developed as a teen, after taking dance lessons ostensibly to build her muscle strength and sense of balance.
All perfectly satisfactory reasons. All lies. Sahara had simply loved to dance.
“I hate math.”
Sliding off his jacket at her sleepy murmur, he ’ported it to his office, then undid his cuffs and began to roll them up, slipping the cuff links into a pocket. It was his left forearm that bore the mark— the scar—and it was a mark he needed her to see now that her mind was no longer confused, as it had been the night before. He had to know if she remembered.
“Math was never your best subject,” he said when her eyes lingered on the scar without recognition. “But at last count, you spoke ten languages with a native’s fluency. French, Spanish, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, Arabic, and Hungarian, to name a few.”
“Do I really?” she asked, a spark in her eye as she shifted on the lounger in silent invitation.
Taking it, he sat on the edge with his back to her and his arms braced on his knees . . . and he remembered the seven years he had waited for her to come back, the countless days he’d stood on this terrace staring down at the gorge as the rational part of his mind tried to convince the obsessive madness that lived in him of her likely death.
The gorge, deep and without end, hadn’t existed until the first time he’d imagined her erased from existence. “You’re rested?”
“Mmm.” Sitting up with that wordless response, she leaned her side against his back, the heat of her branding him through the fine cotton of his shirt.
Kaleb went motionless, touch so rare in his life as to be a nullity.
“My body,” she whispered, one hand coming to rest on his shoulder, “it aches, it’s so hungry for contact with another living being.”
Kaleb forced his muscles to relax one by one. Her trust was critical—and if this was what it took to gain it, he’d handle the sensory overload. “The changelings,” he said quietly, “have a concept called skin privileges.”
Her fingers brushed his nape, sending a near-painful current over his skin as his body struggled to process the shocking level of input. “How do you know that?” Husky words, her arm sliding around his waist.
No one had held him for . . . an eon. “I,” he said, fighting to keep his tone even, “have certain contacts.” The fact was, he’d made it a point to discover the inner workings of a changeling pack— information was power and power was control.
Hand flexing against his abdomen, she said, “Skin privileges . . . tell me about them.”
“At the most basic level, the term refers to rules that regulate how much contact one changeling can have with another,” he said, barely trusting himself to explore the fine bones of her wrist, her skin so soft. “They’re a tactile race, but permission to touch is never assumed. It is considered a gift and a privilege.” The concept resonated with Kaleb in a way no changeling would ever understand.
Sahara was quiet for several minutes, her breathing the only sound in the universe. “Do you share skin privileges with anyone?” she asked at last, dropping her hand onto his thigh, wrist turned upward, as if inviting him to stroke the vulnerable underside.
Thigh muscles rigid, Kaleb curled his fingers into his palm, flexed them . . . and ran his thumb over the delicate veins he could see through her skin. “I did,” he told her, speaking of a past only one other living being knew existed. “A long time ago.”