Sahara hugged her arms around her raised knees. “That’s bad, but not as bad as what the infection is doing to the psychic fabric of the Net.”
Kaleb said nothing, his attention on the scent of her hair as the wind swept the strands across her face and over his arm.
“If the rot creates enough points of weakness,” she whispered, “the Net will fragment and eventually collapse. Everyone will die.”
“It won’t fragment, won’t collapse.” If it did, Sahara would die and that was unacceptable. “I have the power to ensure it maintains its integrity.”
Sahara had already begun to understand what drove Kaleb. “You plan to seize total control.” She knew she should be horrified—Kaleb was an avatar of darkness, in no way the right man to trust with the fate of an entire people. But she couldn’t argue with his reasoning; his power was vast. He might be the only one capable of saving their race from the day of reckoning coming ever nearer with every infection, every inch of rot. “What will you do with it?”
“That has yet to be decided.”
Beads of cold sweat rolled down her spine, and suddenly the declaration of possession she’d taken as a sign of an obsession that could entomb them both in black ice was something else altogether.
“That’s why you want me, isn’t it?” she said, her pain so deep, it had no name, no ending. “You know what I can do.”
Kaleb stared out over the water, his profile limned by the sun. “I’ve always known what you could do.” Had been aware of the vast potential locked within her slender frame since she was a child. “I won’t use you or hurt you.” The promise was one he’d made long ago, one she could no longer remember . . . though she’d kept her own promise.
Sahara had no comprehension of the power she wielded, of the empires he’d destroy for her, the blood he’d spill. All she saw was the monster he’d become. “I would never hurt you.” Every man had a breaking point, and Sahara was his—and though he knew his declaration to be the wrong move on the chessboard, her trust in him wavering, he could no longer stand the wariness of her.
Sahara’s eyes were of infinite depth when she looked at him, the clarity of her gaze seeming to strip away the mask until she saw the ugly truth of his becoming. “I want to go home,” she said, “to Tahoe. To my father.”
Every muscle in his body went rigid. “I’ve told you, you belong to me.” She was the only person in the world who did, and he would never surrender his claim.
Not unless and until she did the one thing that would forever separate them.
“You also promised me you’d never hurt me.” It was a quiet reminder of the vow he’d just remade.
“This— us—I’m being subsumed in it.” Acrid fear, the line of her jaw taut as she turned her gaze to the water. “I can’t become who I’m meant to be in your shadow. I’m afraid of waking up one day and finding there’s nothing left inside me but this furious need for you that wrenches away my sanity.”
The cold void in him, the part that spoke to the DarkMind and found satisfaction in Tatiana’s terror, saw in her confession—in the memory of the way she’d held him to her, both of them out of control— a submission that gave him the power to bend her to his will. If he held her long enough, Sahara would be his in every way. But even the part that was the void, merciless and without conscience, knew one thing: the woman who remained would no longer be Sahara, her murder a quiet suffocation.
“There is no guarantee NightStar will be safe for you,” he said, the waves crashing to shore with increasing force as his telekinesis threatened to slip its bonds. “You had your suspicions about what they did to Faith.”
“My father, I remember him now.” She blinked against the spray of a wave that slammed to the sand with enough force to reach them both. “He’s not just a name, was never just a genetic donor. He would’ve missed me.”
Seeing the flecks of water on his shirt, Kaleb was reminded of the shards of glass that carpeted the living room. “Your father is Silent.” As he spoke, he switched on the dissonance at the highest level, wracking his body with a nerve-shredding pain that he bore in expressionless quiet. He could not risk losing lethal control while Sahara sat next to him, asking to walk away. The pain itself did nothing to halt the Tk—no, it was simply a reminder that he could never, ever let go.
If he struck out and ended her, he would become a nightmare in truth.
“He might be Silent,” Sahara said, her mind filled with images of a big man who had picked her up and dusted her off after countless childhood accidents, “but I was more to him than a biological legacy.” In front of her, the waves remained aggressive but no longer violent, and she knew the Tk beside her had found the black ice again. Passionate anger bubbled below her skin, her hatred directed at the very remoteness that might make him open to reason.
“My father treated me with care”—she tightened her grip around her own wrists to stop from reaching for Kaleb—“even when my only known gift was backsight at a level far below my standing on the Gradient. He never once made me feel as if I were a disappointment. My whole life, I knew I was important to him.”
Glancing at Kaleb when he remained silent, the wind whipping her hair off her face, she said, “Did he search for me?”
Kaleb’s eyes remained on the water, his gaze that blackness so absolute, she couldn’t imagine what he saw. “Yes. Leon Kyriakus has led the NightStar search since the day of your disappearance, to the present day.”