Shoving a hand through her hair at words that would’ve led to a swift rehabilitation order seven years ago, the writer’s mind and personality stripped to leave him barely functional enough for menial labor, she continued to read, absorbing everything with the hunger of a mind that had been starved of knowledge for years.
However, compelled though she was by the political changes that had taken place during that time, the subject that fascinated her most was Kaleb Krychek. But setting aside the conspiracy site Kaleb himself had shown her, searches on him brought up only business and public Council biographical data, the only non-Council biography being on a human-run public encyclopedia: KALEB KRYCHEK Summary: An unexpected cardinal telekinetic born of two low-Gradient parents whose recessive genes combined with powerful results in the fetus. Trained and monitored by Santano Enrique from age five.1 Made first millions at age twenty-three after backing high-risk project that led to a major breakthrough in comm screen tech. Ascended to Council at age twenty-seven.
Resident in Moscow.
Continue to full article 1. Citation needed After reading through the entire biography, which insinuated that Kaleb had risen to his current position by eliminating everyone who stood in his path—timely natural deaths, people dropping out of negotiations without warning, unexplained disappearances—but offered no proof of the allegations, Sahara returned to the conspiracy site. There, she read that he was rumored to be able to cause madness, a fact he’d already confirmed, and that while he had publicly clean hands, he wasn’t averse to doing his own dirty work.
Though Krychek is the youngest member of the Council, stated an update made a year ago, he is the most ruthless and dangerous. No one else ever comes out the winner in any negotiation in which Krychek shows an interest.
Six months ago, Agro Grav turned down an offer by the Councilor. However, the CEO had a sudden change of heart two days later. At no point did he explain his reversal—but it is notable that he removed his daughters from boarding school at the same time, in favor of home tutoring.
Her hand shook again and so badly that she had to put down the tablet before she dropped it. Inside her chest, her heart raced at a manic pace, as her head spun, her body no longer under her control.
Panicking, she swung her legs over the side of the lounger and tried to stand up, only to collapse back down, her bones the consistency of rubber, and her heartbeat was in her mouth now, her breath stuck in her chest, shards of broken mirrors stabbing at her throat and a suffocating blackness creeping into the edges of her vision.
“Breathe.” It was a ruthless command, an insistent hand pushing her head between her knees.
She went, her sight limited to two tiny pinpricks of light.
A sense of movement, Kaleb’s body crouching down in front of her. “In and out.”
She clung to the steady rhythm of the words he repeated in a calm, tempered voice, her chest expanding and deflating until the black began to recede and he lifted his hand from her nape.
Raising her head, she drank the water he gave her before meeting the eyes of this man who might truly be the worst monster of them all. That cardinal gaze was pure black again, no light in the darkness, and for some reason, the sight made her want to sob as if her heart was broken, the knot of tears inside her a painful tightness.
“Thank you,” she said, barely managing to rein in the violent need to mourn something that had never belonged to her. “I’ve never had a panic attack before.”
He stayed in his crouched position, looking up at her with that hard, beautiful face she had the haunting sense she’d seen many, many times before, except he didn’t appear in a single one of her returning memories. Perhaps because her mind was playing tricks on her . . . or perhaps because their meeting had been too ugly to remember.
Kaleb had, after all, been protégé to a serial killer, a fact she could not allow herself to forget.
Santano Enrique had preferred changeling victims, but who was to say Kaleb hadn’t stuck with women of his own race?
Kaleb will never hurt me.
Again that voice from deep within her psyche, that compulsion to trust that sang to the tears locked in her chest.
“Even when they took you?” Kaleb asked, and though she couldn’t forget what she’d read about him, neither could she stop herself from brushing her fingers lightly over the warm hardness of his jaw.
He went motionless, but didn’t stop her.
It’s been so very long.
Holding the mysterious thought inside, she said, “I was afraid,” and waited to see if he would react to the evidence that her Silence had always been problematic, but he simply continued to watch her.
“Afraid,” she said again. “In a way that made everything inside me turn cold, but I didn’t panic.
Not like this.” Saying the words made her realize that far more than her body had turned fragile in the years she’d been kept like a performing animal in a cage. “I’m broken.”
No change in his expression. “Do you believe that makes you irreversibly flawed?”
Frowning, she curled her fingers into her palm when they would’ve reached for him again. “That doesn’t make sense. If I’m broken, I’m flawed.”
“That is one interpretation.” With that enigmatic statement, he rose to his feet, a male of such ice- cut beauty that he was more akin to a statue than living, breathing flesh.
And yet he was flesh—her fingertips held the echo of the warmth of his skin, her body remembered the strength of his back from when she’d leaned against him on this very lounger . . . and it ached for further contact, reason colliding against a need born in memories she couldn’t access, and that might not even exist beyond the realm of the imagination.