It wasn’t difficult. Kaleb had learned to do so as a boy.
Tatiana followed him with her eyes. “You’re not planning to leave me here.” Swinging her legs off the side of the table that had channels on either side meant for blood and other bodily fluids, she bit down on her lower lip, her left knee grotesquely swollen. “Kaleb, you can’t. You’re not Santano Enrique.”
“Aren’t I?” He smiled again. “The food will last for six months if you don’t gorge. I hope you enjoy the accommodations.”
“Wait! Wait! What is this place?”
Closing the distance between them, he leaned in to whisper the truth in her ear. “It’s Santano’s oldest playroom, of course.” A room no one else knew existed, the stains on the floor created by the blood of countless victims Kaleb had watched scream and plead and break.
* * *
HAVING woken early to find Kaleb’s door closed, Sahara dressed in jeans paired with a floaty rose-colored top, made herself a hot drink, then padded down to visit the koi, before curling up in her favorite armchair in the living room. She loved the way the pale gold morning sunshine made the room glow, the grasslands beyond shimmering with light, until they weren’t desolate but achingly beautiful.
Her intent had been to read further articles on her cousin Faith’s spectacular defection from the PsyNet, but the light kept hitting the bracelet she wore on her right wrist, and each time it did, she’d think of a man kissed by darkness, of the single star and a history she couldn’t remember. She was rubbing her finger over the final platinum charm when Kaleb walked into the room. Dressed in the same business suit she’d seen him in last night, it was clear he hadn’t been asleep as she’d assumed.
Her first thought was that he was a dangerously seductive predator in a flawlessly cut mask. Her second was that something was very, very wrong. “Kaleb, what is it?” Putting aside her organizer, she shoved aside the lap blanket she’d found folded on the back of the armchair and ran to him. His expression was as remote and as inscrutable as always, and yet her blood ran cold, the tiny hairs on her body standing up in alarm.
“Kaleb, please.” Desperation had her daring to touch the fingertips of both hands to his cheeks.
“What have you done?” It came out a near whisper.
“Nothing that didn’t need to be done.” Closing his hands around her wrists, he tugged her own gently off his face and to her sides, where he broke contact. “You don’t want to touch me right now.”
“Why?” There was a wildness inside of her, a screaming, panicked girl who said she had to fix this, fix him, though she knew, she knew that she couldn’t turn back time, couldn’t undo that which had made him into this shard of obsidian. “Are you afraid whatever you’ve done will rub off on me?”
“Do you think I’m sorry?” He gave her a smile that was lazy and perfect . . . and horrifying. “I’m not and I never will be.”
WALKING AROUND HER trembling form, he moved to the windows that overlooked the grasslands. “Why are you so certain I’ve done anything at all?”
Sahara swallowed around the chilling fear incited by his otherness. He had always been lethal, but now it was as if he’d gone so far into the abyss that he’d become a living, breathing part of it. At this instant, she wasn’t certain the intelligence behind those eyes of darkest night was anything she could comprehend, so cold as to be inhuman. “I just am,” she said at last, the gut-deep knowledge rising from the hidden part of her in which lived the girl she’d once been. “Talk to me.”
“Perhaps your backsight has evolved,” he said, his tone gentle . . . and heavy with the same black rage she’d witnessed in the kitchen when he executed the guard. “Your cousin Faith’s visions are now apparently no longer limited to business.”
Unable to bear seeing him all alone by the window, though he scared her down to her bones right now, she walked to stand close enough that their clothing brushed. “Faith,” she said, picking up on the topic he’d raised simply to keep the line of communication open, “helped me refine and build my firewalls.” Such shielding would be critical should she set foot in the PsyNet.
“Unusual for a cardinal F.”
“When she was much younger, the M-Psy in charge of her believed contact with another child might help develop her lagging speech.” Delayed speech was common in the F designation, but Faith had been three before she said her first word. “I was younger than her, but they chose me because I was so vocal.”
“And perhaps because a child closer to her age may have resented the extra training and attention mandated by her cardinal status.”
“Yes.” Sahara had been too much in awe of her cardinal cousin, with her pretty red hair, to feel any such envy. “She was older than her years, her Silence faultless, but she was never unkind to me—she made me feel important.” Strictly supervised at all times, they had never had the freedom to become friends, but Sahara had felt the promise of it. “I was sad when her power spiked after eleven months and further contact was deemed disruptive and unhealthy for her mental state.”
The justification was one Sahara had been too young to doubt. Clearly, however, since Faith had ended up mate to a jaguar changeling, a predator with very sharp teeth, she was in no way fragile.
“Did our PsyClan betray her for money?” Had they locked Faith up to milk her of visions, and the millions those visions brought into the family’s coffers?