The windows on the level just up from the pond had been coated in something to protect the books that lined the shelves, hundreds of precious volumes sitting neatly in alphabetical order. The bent spines and worn covers told her the books had been read—or used. Many of them were nonfiction, the subjects as eclectic as those in Kaleb’s study.
A beautiful room, the rug on the floor ruby red and creamy white, the chairs comfortable . . . and yet it felt unfinished. She knew in her bones that while Kaleb might use the books, he never sat in here. As he didn’t sit in the breakfast area, or use the living room. He might sleep in his bed, but his study was the single room in the house that seemed to bear any imprint of the intelligent, lethal, fascinating man who was her captor.
Taking the wide step up to the next level, she looked out through the windows to see a haunting vista of empty grasslands. “As beautiful and dangerous and lonely as you,” she whispered, her mind filled with the image of Kaleb against the backdrop of the dunes.
Skin suddenly chilled, she wrapped her arms around herself and returned to the sunshine on the terrace. It was an automatic act to check the news sites on her organizer, her mind racing to fill in the gaps about this present that to her was an unknown future.
BREAKING NEWS! Bomb Blast in Copenhagen—Casualties Rising Immediately searching for live coverage, she clicked on a comm feed fronted by a human reporter, sadness and shock intertwining inside her at the carnage visible behind the ponytailed blonde: broken bricks, fallen timbers, thick black smoke from what must be a secondary fire, dirty and bleeding victims sitting shell-shocked on the road, medical blankets around their shoulders.
“. . . amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
The reporter’s inappropriate excitement had Sahara frowning . . . just as Kaleb appeared in front of a medical van with a child in his arms, his shirt covered with soot, streaks of black on his face. He was gone a second later, the screaming toddler safely passed to a paramedic.
“As most of you will recognize, that was Councilor Kaleb Krychek,” the reporter said out of frame as her cameraman scanned for the next teleport. “He, with the help of a number of unnamed Tks dressed in what appear to be black combat uniforms, has ensured that the cost of this tragic and unprovoked act of violence will remain limited to those who died in the initial blast.”
The camera zoomed in on the side of the building that had collapsed. “According to unconfirmed reports coming out of Australia,” the reporter continued, “this is the second time in the past two weeks that Councilor Krychek has been involved in a major rescue.”
The camera halted on the seated form of a woman wrapped in a blanket, a field bandage on her right hand. “Ma’am”—soft, sensitive—“you were rescued by the Councilor, were you not?”
“Yes.” Sahara caught the trembling of the woman’s fingers before she hid both hands in the blanket.
“I’d be dead now if not for him.”
“You are Psy, but did you have any reason to hope for telekinetic assistance, particularly from Councilor Krychek himself?”
Tugging the blanket more tightly around herself, the woman shook her head. “Councilors don’t waste their time on such ‘small’ incidents . . . but he did, and I don’t think anyone in this city will ever forget it.”
What Kaleb had done today, actions that had the reporter hailing him as a hero, didn’t line up with either his reputation or his unmistakable lust for power—unless he was ruthless enough to have planned the entire exercise.
No, no, no.
Ignoring the shaken voice in her mind, she scanned more reports, saw that Pure Psy had claimed responsibility for the attack, but that knowledge did nothing to melt the ice in her veins.
What better partner for a man widely believed to be aiming for a total takeover of the Net than a group whose every action led to further cracks in the structure of Psy society? Cracks that left plenty of room for a “hero” to step in and clean up the mess.
As for the lives lost, they’d be written off as collateral damage.
* * *
KALEB returned home without speaking to the news media. It wasn’t necessary—he knew word of his actions had gone viral across the world, the images of him with survivor after survivor in his arms far more powerful than anything he could’ve said. Unbuttoning his shirt as he walked down the corridor to his bedroom, he entered to find Sahara sitting on the edge of his bed.
She jerked up to her feet, her eyes going to his chest, back up, color on her cheekbones. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think. I was waiting for you.”
The latter words were a punch to the solar plexus, an echo across time, but tasting the fear beneath her embarrassment, he kept his distance. “We can speak after I shower.” Smoke and grit coated his every breath.
The color on her cheeks still hot, she said, “Of course,” and slipped out.
Closing the door, he stripped and stepped under the pounding spray of the shower to wash off the scent of smoke and flame that seemed embedded in his very cells. The bomb had been expertly placed to do maximum damage, the resulting fire a bonus for Pure Psy. At least a hundred and five confirmed dead, with fifty-seven unaccounted for.
Chances were good that a percentage of the missing had already left for work and would get in touch with the authorities as the news spread, but there was also a high chance that there’d been people inside who weren’t on the building manifest. Until the forensic teams were able to get in to scour the building for victims, the final death toll could not be predicted with any certainty.