To be aware so young that he was unwanted, to grow up with no one who was his own, even in the cold way of their race . . . the scars would’ve been brutal. Because while love was anathema in the PsyNet, family—or at the very least— genetic loyalty was part of the bedrock of their race.
Swallowing her feelings, knowing they would not be welcome, she said, “Why aren’t you an Arrow?” The words came out unexpectedly taut, until she realized she’d stopped breathing under the intensity of the eye contact she couldn’t remember making and yet that held her captive.
“Santano had other plans for me.” With that flat statement, he ate his way through the last sandwich with the methodical pace of a man for whom taste meant nothing, food only a source of fuel; then he unwrapped a chocolate bar. “Why don’t you ask?”
“What?” It took effort to keep her voice even when a slow-burning fury raged within her veins, her anger directed at the people who had brought a strong, gifted child into this world, then abdicated all responsibility for him.
“Exactly how much of a protégé I was to my trainer.”
Frost digging into her heart, jagged and brittle. “Because I’m not ready for the answer.” She might suspect him of the most terrible crimes, but if he admitted to helping the dead Councilor torture then murder his victims, it might snap the fragile clawhold she had on reality.
Kaleb’s expression didn’t alter, and yet she had the haunting sense she’d given the wrong answer, that she’d hurt him in some inexplicable way. Another sign of the madness that had her body aching for his no matter what he might’ve done, how many moral lines he might have crossed, how much blood he had on his hands.
Flexing her own hand on the table until her fingertips brushed his, her eyes seeing her actions but her mind repudiating her orders to withdraw, she whispered, “Why are you holding me?”
Closing his hand over hers, the tanned skin of his shoulders warm in the sunlight pouring through the window, he said, “Because you belong to me.”
She shivered at the dark possession in the words, in those eyes of obsidian. “As those changeling women belonged to Enrique?” The words spilled out, bloody rain in the sunshine.
Shifting his hold to cup her hand, lift her palm to his lips, he pressed a kiss to the center that made her womb clench. “No.” A hard answer, all razor-sharp edges. “They never gave themselves to him.”
Her breath caught. “Did I?” Curling her fingers into her palm, she pulled back her hand. “Give myself to you?” She’d been sixteen, her conditioning never quite right, but the idea that she’d broken the biggest taboo of her race and shared her body with him had everything in her responding in a violent negative.
Yet the way she burned for him, it spoke of an attraction that had had years to ferment, to come to maturity. At twenty-two to her sixteen, powerful and dangerous, he would’ve been shockingly attractive to her senses . . . as he was now. The idea of those strong hands on her flesh, possessive and caressing, it made perspiration glimmer on her skin, even as she accepted that should he have taken advantage of a teenage girl, it would be an unforgivable act of trespass.
“I,” he said, rising to move around and cup her cheek with his hand as he had at the start, “am a virgin.”
Of everything he could’ve said, that was the least expected. Throat dry, she shook her head. “That doesn’t answer the question I asked.” Didn’t tell her who he was to her, who he’d been . . . if he’d been anything at all. This raw attraction could well be nothing but a coping mechanism formulated by her fractured psyche, something Kaleb was smart enough to use to his advantage. No one became a Councilor at age twenty-seven without having a piercing level of intelligence. He’d use her susceptibility to his body as ruthlessly as he’d use any other advantage, the physical contact he permitted apt to be a calculated ploy.
“Whatever I tell you,” he said, rubbing his thumb over her lower lip before releasing her, “you’ll disbelieve. You don’t trust me.” With that blunt comment, he headed for the door. “I have to finalize some documents, but we can go for a walk later if you feel rested from this morning.”
Startled by the abrupt change in the situation, she nodded, her eyes lingering on the muscled sweep of his back as he left without further words. “This,” she whispered desperately to herself, “is a predictable psychological response to the fact he holds me in his power.” Her mind, however, flatly rejected that hypothesis. As proof, it offered memories from the start of her original captivity, when she’d still been in a small suite of rooms rather than a cell.
She’d had one main guard those first months. He’d never harmed her in any way, made sure she had extra blankets, reading material, educational games to ensure her mind didn’t stagnate—though it had been dulled by the drugs they put in her food. Tall and blond, with aquiline features and sharp green eyes, he’d been classically handsome and, at nineteen, only three years her senior.
He’d no doubt been chosen because of his projected appeal to a scared teenage girl with suspect conditioning, but never, not once, had she forgotten that he was her jailer, his aim to keep her content in her pretty cage. She certainly hadn’t craved his touch, had in fact actively avoided even accidental contact. In helping to steal her freedom, he’d negated every other act of apparent kindness.
None of that seemed to matter with Kaleb.
Her body ached, her senses drinking in the lingering freshness of his aftershave until it was all she could scent, until the need to go to Kaleb, this stranger wrapped in darkness and painted bloodred, was a stranglehold around her throat. All she wanted to do was strip herself to the skin and wrap herself around him so close that nothing could ever separate them again.