The search box blinked at her.
Biting down on her lower lip, she entered not Kaleb’s name, but that of his apparent mentor, Santano Enrique. Had anyone asked her to explain why she’d done so, she wouldn’t have been able to give them an answer—her choice was driven by raw instinct, the “feel” of Enrique’s name as she typed it out on the infrared keyboard causing a churning sickness in her abdomen.
Search results scrolled across the screen. Clicking the top hit, she found herself at a news site.
Councilor Enrique was dead. The details, reproduced from an official Council release, appeared innocuous enou— “Are you finding what you need?”
Her blood ran cold.
When the man who stood next to the desk put one hand on the back of the chair she’d appropriated, and the other palm-down beside the computer, she found herself torn between the urge to run . . . and to lean her head against the dark heat of his body, breathe deep of the clean male sweat that made his skin glimmer. Her madness where Kaleb was concerned was clearly deep-rooted and without reason.
“Ah,” he said, reading the article she’d pulled up. “So you heard about Santano.”
Once, on a nature show, she’d seen a lion playing with a gazelle, allowing its prey to believe it was about to escape, all the while digging its claws deeper into the helpless animal. She knew she was the gazelle right now, just as she knew there was no point in attempting to hide her fear—she wasn’t that accomplished a liar.
However, neither was she going to sit frozen and allow him to torment her; she’d created the labyrinth to escape her previous captors, and while she had no intention or desire to entomb her mind in that way again, she would find another way to outwit him, to survive.
“Sahara! I’ll come for you! Survive! Survive for me!”
The echo of that primal promise had run in a continuous loop in her mind for the duration of her captivity. Sahara didn’t have the memory of the event or the time when the original words had been spoken, didn’t know the identity of the speaker, but she knew one thing: her death would mean more, far more, than the simple extinguishing of a life.
Some might say the belief was a delusional one her mind had created to survive a nightmare—and perhaps it was—but it had helped her navigate the piercing loneliness of the past seven years. It would help her weather this, too.
“What are you going to do to me?” she asked, proud her voice didn’t tremble.
Cardinal eyes devoid of stars met her own gaze, Kaleb’s hair uncharacteristically tousled. “Give you your own organizer.” A paper-thin tablet computer landed on the desk an instant later. “I need this screen for a comm conference in twenty minutes.”
With that, he reached out and entered a URL into the browser—an obscure one to her eyes, created as it was of a string of numbers. “That’ll tell you what you need to know about Santano.” Pushing off the desk, he walked to the door. “Remember, I need that screen in nineteen minutes.”
She stared after him in openmouthed disbelief until she could no longer hear his footsteps. Her mind tried to find some kind of reason in his response, was stymied by the inexplicability of it. Kaleb had to know full well that information was power, and yet he’d handed her the key to it.
Rubbing her fingertips over her temples in a vain effort to clear the confusion, she turned her attention to the page he’d brought up—and found herself on a site run by a self-termed conspiracy theorist. The otherwise anonymous owner identified himself as Psy, and given the amount of information on the site, he was one clever enough to hide his tracks from the Council’s enforcers— because the topics he covered were more than taboo.
Skimming past the recent entries, which stated the Council was no longer in existence, regardless of the lack of an official announcement, she found the search box and once more typed in Enrique’s name . . . to be directed to a single continuous page that held update after update. The most recent one was dated just over two years ago and stated simply: Kaleb Krychek now on Council. Acknowledged protégé of Santano Enrique—no evidence for or against theory that he assisted S.E. in the torture murders.
A stabbing pain in her chest, a cry trapped behind her hand. Scrolling to the bottom of the page, she began to read up from the oldest entry.
According to the author, Santano Enrique had been that rarest of anchors, one who’d not only embraced politics instead of isolation, but thrived in the cutthroat world of the Council. He’d also been a serial killer responsible for the torture murders of a number of young changeling women. He hadn’t died of natural causes, as reported in the mainstream media. He’d been executed by the DarkRiver leopards and the SnowDancer wolves in a gruesome fashion, a message to the remainder of the Council left stapled to his tongue.
“You have five more minutes.”
Snapping up her head, she saw Kaleb in the doorway. His hair was damp but neatly combed, his shirt a deep blue, his pants charcoal, the belt black—the same shade as his shoes. He held a glass of the nutrient drink in his hand.
Whatever he’d learned at his mentor’s knee, it could be nothing good. And yet the compulsion to go to him thundered in her blood, making her distrust her own mind—regardless of the fact she knew she was immune to mind control on that level. As no one could compromise her mind, neither could anyone control her, not without her being aware of the interference.
Still, her stomach twisted, her nails digging into the softness of her palms.
“How could anyone outside the Council know all these details?” she said, surprised the words came out sounding calm and rational when her body and mind continued to fight a battle she couldn’t explain. “Either he’s delusional or he has a source.”