“It’s near certain,” he said, “that you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Wanting to test herself, she stood, too. Her legs trembled, but held. “I should probably have specialist help,” she murmured, simply to see how he would respond, this man who let her wander the house at will, who protected her mind, who gave her the tools to gain knowledge about the world —but who alarmed the doors so she couldn’t leave.
“Would you like to speak to someone from Psy-Med?”
Startled, she stared at him. “If I say yes?”
“I’ll make sure you have access to the best specialists in the world.”
She couldn’t judge him, she realized with a sense of despair out of all proportion to the topic of conversation and the fleeting time she’d known him. He gave off none of the physical or vocal clues that even other Psy did, his control honed to an impossible edge. “How? By taking someone else captive?”
A steady look. “No one speaks my secrets.”
Sucking in a breath at the sheer, terrifying emotionlessness of his statement, she shook her head. “I don’t want the terror of another living being”—Silent or not—“on my conscience.”
His stillness was suddenly so absolute, she’d have believed herself alone if she hadn’t been able to see him in front of her. “There are other ways.”
She wanted desperately to believe he was attempting to compromise, that he wasn’t the cold- blooded murderer the articles had made him out to be. The vicious depth of her need scared her to the bone—she didn’t need a specialist to tell her the compulsion she felt toward Kaleb was unhealthy and could turn deadly.
“I’m not ready yet.” After years of having her mind splayed open, she couldn’t bear the idea of anyone else attempting to divine her secrets. “All I want,” she whispered to her jailer, “is to be free.”
Kaleb’s lashes came down, the world fragmented for a single split second, and then she was standing on the shimmering black sands of a windswept beach, not another being in sight for what appeared to be miles in every direction; the rolling sand dunes to her right home to hardy grasses that waved in the breeze. On her other side, water danced gently to shore, leaving graceful ripples in the sand, the sea foam wild lace entangled with tiny shells that sparkled under the yellow-orange sunlight of late afternoon.
“Is this real?” she whispered, afraid he’d created an illusion inside her mind, one so detailed she could even feel the salt-laced wind against her lips.
“Pain is the best indicator of whether something is an illusion or reality.”
She recognized the words from a childhood lesson, one taught to all Psy children.
Reaching up, she pinched the sensitive flesh at the back of her arm, winced. Then she smiled and, turning, kicked off her shoes to curl her feet into the sun-warmed grains that weren’t truly black at all, but an amalgam of colors that shimmered in the light.
She knew this wasn’t freedom, not when Kaleb stood by the nearest dune, silent and watchful, but to a girl who’d come to womanhood in a cage, it was enough for this sunshine-drenched instant. She would enjoy the beautiful now and worry about the future after drinking of happiness.
Running forward, she spread her arms and spun around in circles, the sky a shattering blue overhead, the sun’s caress languid against her skin, the sand sugar-fine between her toes. She laughed and laughed, and when she was finally too dizzy to spin anymore, she collapsed on the heated softness of the sand to see that Kaleb had taken a seat at the foot of a dune, his arms braced loosely on his knees, his no-doubt expensive suit utterly out of place in this wilderness untouched by the hand of man.
And yet . . . he fit.
It was nothing she could’ve ever predicted, but Kaleb Krychek fit here in this wild place, where the sea held the promise of fury even in the calm and the wind stroked possessively through the grasses, tugging at her hair, his own. He appeared as much a part of the landscape as the dunes and the water . . . and as isolated, as alone.
Frowning when she realized her eyes were lingering on him, her thoughts once more circling back to her captor, she got up and started to walk toward the cliffs in the distance. They stayed remote though she must’ve walked for an hour, but the peace of the water, the lap of the waves, the salt in her every breath, it was better therapy than any invasive Psy-Med exam.
She stopped only when her body protested the unaccustomed level of exercise. Looking back, she could see Kaleb waiting with a patience that somehow did nothing to mute the power of him, but she knew she couldn’t make it back to him, her body almost at its limit. Her heart, however, wasn’t yet full enough, her skin still soaking in this dramatic, haunting part of the world far from the morning skies of Moscow.
Tucking back a flyaway strand of hair, she sat down on the sand, her arms around her knees in an echo of Kaleb’s position, her mind in turns frustrated and fascinated by the enigma of him. There was something not quite right about this captivity, something not quite right about Kaleb’s behavior. She’d been imprisoned for over seven years, knew the difference between a cage and . . . whatever this was.
“You belong to me.”
An unambiguous statement of ownership that told her he’d come after her if she attempted to escape. Yet so far, he’d given her every other thing she’d requested. It could be a clever ploy meant to cause exactly the confusion that had her so off balance, but that didn’t explain why her own mind was split in two on the subject of Kaleb Krychek.