The dead calm of his voice had her hesitating, the decision she’d made a painful hope she couldn’t bear to have crushed.
“Sahara,” he said at her silence, “if you’re here for a reason, speak. If you’re not, leave.”
Swallowing at the cold warning that told her not to push him, she took a seat in the chair on the other side of his desk. He watched her with the unblinking gaze of a predator so deadly, the world had never seen anything like him. “Where”—she wet a throat gone dry as a desert sun—“where are the rest?”
His eyes didn’t move off her.
Trembling within, she lifted her fisted hand in front of her. Platinum shimmered in the golden light as her fingers fell open. A moment of absolute, endless silence, and then Kaleb blinked and the stars were back in his eyes.
Not breaking the eye contact that threatened to brand her from the inside out, he laid his right hand palm-up on his desk. Seven charms lay on his skin between one heartbeat and the next. Biting back tears as the most secret part of her keened in joy, she leaned closer, hand rising.
He drew the charms away.
Anger flashed, hot and raw. “They’re mine.”
“That’s not how it works.”
Scowling, and wanting the charms, she sat back in the chair as he stood and moved around the table with that deadly grace that always drew her eye, her body taut with a very adult tension. Breath shallow, she slipped the bracelet over her wrist, snicked the clasp into place, and held out her arm toward him. “Now.”
Leaning against the desk in front of her, he lifted his hand and a single charm appeared between his fingertips. “Seventeen.”
“A compass.” To find my way home. Heart breaking, she looked her fill of him as he finished hooking the charm onto the bracelet, and again, she asked herself who he was to her. Who had he been to her, this beautiful man who might be so deeply damaged as to be forever broken?
HE GLANCED UP, a lock of hair falling across his forehead, midnight dark against his golden skin.
For a fleeting instant, she saw the boy he’d once been, all silky hair and quiet eyes, and she knew the memory was true. Her and Kaleb, whatever it was that tied them together, it had begun long before she was thirteen, begun when they were both children.
“Hurry,” she whispered, helpless as her other hand rose to push that errant lock off his forehead.
He didn’t move away, didn’t repudiate her touch. “Eighteen.” A second charm appeared between his fingers.
She twisted her head this way and that to try to see what it was as he hooked it into place, but he deliberately blocked her sight. She saw the reason why when he straightened. “An unsheathed blade.”
What he had become the day she vanished.
“Nineteen.” He began to hook the charm on before she saw the telekinetic fetch.
A small home.
The rock that was her heart grew heavier. “Twenty.”
“Twenty.” This one, he let her see.
A tiny heart formed of a deep blue stone, so very beautiful it made her breath release in a sigh.
“Tanzanite.” His eyes met hers. “Rare. Unique.”
A frozen heart, she thought, her wonder swirled with a haunting sorrow. His heart or hers?
A fragment of jagged obsidian, edges smoothed only enough not to cut her skin.
A single, perfect star.
Frowning, she looked up at him. “I don’t understand.”
He hooked the charm into place. “Only this star matters.” His thumb brushing over her inner wrist.
“Should it be erased, no other has the right to live.”
“I’d line the streets with bodies before I’d ever hurt you.”
A wave of black rushed through her in a nightmare of understanding. “What’s twenty-four?” she managed to ask through the roar, curling her wrist close to her chest.
“As yet undecided.”
“I know what I want.” This battle was one she had to win, not only for the future of the world, but for herself, for Kaleb, for what they might have been . . . what they could be.
A waiting silence from the man who would’ve annihilated an entire civilization in vengeance for her, ending the lives of millions, innocents and sinners alike.
“A sheath for the blade,” she whispered.
The stars faded into black. “That might not be possible.”
It can’t be too late, she thought again. She refused to let it be too late, refused to believe he was forever gone, the damage permanent. “I want jewels on the sheath, bright and colorful.” And hopeful.
“It’ll require considerable work,” he said softly, the obsidian of his gaze holding her own, “might even be an impossible task.”
“Are you surrendering, then?” It was a question as soft. “Walking away?”
Kaleb’s response held a possessiveness that might yet keep her a prisoner. “I will never walk away from you.”
* * *
KALEB didn’t go to bed after Sahara left his office following an interaction he hadn’t ever thought would come to pass, not given what she’d learned of him, and the injuries done to her in the years of captivity. He should’ve known not to attempt to predict or judge her—Sahara Kyriakus had always had an unexpected and stubborn will. No other woman could’ve survived seven years in hell and come out of it with the strength to challenge Kaleb.
He waited an hour to give her time to fall into deep sleep, before getting up and rolling down the sleeves of his shirt to do up the cuffs. Picking up his jacket from where it hung behind the study door, he shrugged into it. His choice of clothing was another mask—it gave people a certain impression of him, an impression he intended to use tonight to ensure Sahara’s future safety.