No one was ever again taking her from him.
Ready, he discovered himself unable to leave before making dead certain she was safe and undisturbed in her rest. If he lost her now, after she’d returned to him at last, eyes of midnight blue holding a fragile trust he’d never again expected to see, there would no longer be any question about his sanity or lack of it. The world had no knowledge of the delicate hands that held its fate.
He made sure to position himself in the shadows by the door when he teleported into her room, not wanting to scare her if she wasn’t lost in sleep. Fear in Sahara’s eyes, he’d learned when she’d run from him earlier, burned worse than any acid Santano had poured on him when he’d been a boy. It was dangerous, that pain, could drown the world in blood, but Sahara had been the first, would always be the deepest, fracture in his conditioning.
It was a truth as pure and as inescapable as the wind.
The room was pitch-black, but his eyes had learned to adapt in the darkness of his childhood, and he had no trouble seeing her. Risking going closer when her breathing proved quiet and steady, he saw her face was turned sideways on the pillow as she lay on her back, the black strands of her hair silky and thick across the Egyptian cotton of the pillowcase.
It was the best money could buy. He’d made certain of it.
Hand rising, he almost touched the sleep-warm curve of her cheek before realizing it would wake her . . . scare her. He couldn’t risk that. Not now, when she’d remembered just enough to trust him on a basic level but not enough to brand him the monster he knew himself to be.
“You are what I made you. There is nothing else.”
Visions of blood, bright and hot, spraying across his retinas, he teleported out and manually checked every door and window. Rerouting the perimeter alarms to feed into his cell phone once he was satisfied the house was secure, he made sure the siren remained active. If a breach did occur, he didn’t want Sahara caught unprepared. The filleting knife she’d hidden under her pillow would work fine as a weapon if he was delayed by a second or two, especially since he’d quietly sharpened it until it would take only a single swipe to sever the carotid or jugular.
Security check complete, he looked in a mirror to confirm his mask remained in place, hair combed neatly and suit jacket buttoned, before accessing his Tk to build the framework for a teleport more complex than his usual split-second shifts. As the search for Sahara had thrown into dark focus, his ability to lock onto people wasn’t foolproof. If the individual in question didn’t know who she was, the attempt would fail. It was no coincidence the enemy Tk had found Sahara after she came out of the labyrinth.
A small number of telepaths in the Net—not necessarily the strongest, but the most intelligent—had figured out that weakness, too. If Kaleb had to guess, he’d say that was how the entire Lauren family, now part of the SnowDancer wolf pack, had ensured the success of their defection.
Tonight, he had to locate another individual who understood telepathic camouflage: Tatiana Rika- Smythe, fellow ex-Councilor and a woman who knew how to lay false trails so complex, it had taken him years to navigate the twisted pathways and retrieve Sahara . . . and days to unravel the blueprints of the psychic vault that had concealed Sahara’s mind, hidden her from him.
He’d taken the blueprints apart piece by piece, and the more he saw, the more he’d recognized Tatiana’s meticulous brand of psychic construction. “Do you know the name of the person who held you captive?” he’d asked Sahara earlier that night, as she sat curled up in the chair across from him, the star finally on the bracelet where it belonged. “The one in charge.”
A shake of her head. “I was always blindfolded, my psychic senses leashed, and my hands tied when she came to visit.”
Another nail in the coffin, but it wasn’t enough. The fact that he’d identified the man he’d executed today as being attached to one of Tatiana’s shell companies was even more persuasive, but Kaleb needed to be certain beyond any doubt before he meted out this punishment. Baiting the trap, however, required only a little effort.
Tatiana had been very, very careful about protecting the location of her bolt-hole, which was why Kaleb had concentrated his attention on her finances. As expected, she had a multilayered and profitable empire. He’d long ago stripped away the phantom corporations that owned her assets per the official records, then sectioned the properties into business and personal.
He’d known her hidden base of operations would be in those files—Tatiana’s biggest weakness was that she couldn’t let go of anything she owned, not even to a shell company of which she had full control. Dig deep enough and her name always turned up as the true owner. That digging required considerable patience—and when it came to punishing those who had kept Sahara from him, Kaleb had an endless amount.
Australia had flashed up multiple times in his initial search, but he’d disregarded it as Tatiana had previously retreated to a remote part of that country. It would be unlike her to choose the same location twice. Only later had he considered the fact that Tatiana was intelligent and cunning enough to play everyone by doing exactly that. If not the same exact place as her previous headquarters, then close enough to it that she’d have access to the infrastructure she’d already put in place.
After that, it hadn’t taken him long to discover the hidden property two miles from her known base.
Getting an image he could use for a teleport lock had cost him over a hundred thousand dollars, but the man he’d turned in her employ had come through. Using that image to ’port himself to the fringe of the property, his Tk strength unshielded, he scanned the area bathed in the misty gray of early morning.