“Good.” Her father’s response was fierce. “It means she’s safe from any further attempts to abduct and cage her, even if it is Krychek doing the protecting.”
“Agreed.” Anthony leaned back in the black leather of his chair. “Do you know the identity of the individual or individuals behind your captivity?”
Sahara hadn’t discussed this with Kaleb but saw no reason why he’d want the truth kept secret— and it was the truth, of that she had no doubt. Kaleb did not lie to her. “Tatiana Rika-Smythe.”
No surprise in Anthony’s expression, nothing but the penetrating intellect of a man at the head of one of the most influential families in the Net. “Did Kaleb mention why he rescued you?”
Sahara hesitated . . . and then she lied. “It was a challenge, and NightStar now owes him a significant favor.” What was between her and Kaleb was between her and Kaleb. She’d allow no one else to interfere with the raw, passionate relationship formed of hidden memories and the charm bracelet she wore concealed under her simple white shirt, a talisman of strength from a man who might be her greatest, deepest weakness. “The psychic cost of the exercise, he decided, would be worth the gain.”
From the way Anthony’s eyes, a rich brown, lingered on her, he knew she was hiding something, but Sahara didn’t flinch. Secret, the girl she’d been whispered. Secret.
“The secondary benefit of your lack of visibility in the Net,” Anthony said into the heavy quiet, “is that your splintered Silence remains hidden from the pro-Silence lobby.”
Fingers trembling, she gripped the arms of her chair. “Are you planning to order me to undergo a program of reconditioning?” No one was ever again going to attempt to mold her mind to their liking, and if that was what Anthony planned, she had to know.
“No.” Her father’s gaze locked with his half brother’s, his loyalties clear. “No one touches Sahara’s mind.”
Anthony’s response was a calm “Yes. It’s too late for that,” but his eyes continued to watch her.
“Kaleb may not have attemped to hack your mind; however, Tatiana had you for an extended period.
How certain are you that you haven’t been compromised?”
“Absolutely,” Sahara said without hesitation, conscious Anthony would continue to keep an eye on her regardless. That was part of his mandate as the head of the PsyClan and she didn’t resent him for it. She also knew he’d find nothing of concern—even before the labyrinth became a barrier of chaos Tatiana couldn’t navigate, Sahara’s unique natural safeguards had acted as an impenetrable firewall against any attempts at mental manipulation.
“It’s why,” Sahara said, her stomach twisting, “Tatiana resorted to such unsubtle methods as ripping my shields apart to leave my thoughts exposed and inflicting physical torture.” By then, Sahara had already created the labyrinth; it had not only helped her protect her secrets and sense of self when her mind was torn open, it had given her a place to go where nothing hurt, negating the danger that she’d break under the psychic and physical torture, cooperate, simply to avoid the pain.
“You’re right,” Anthony said, somewhat to her surprise. “Tatiana never uses open force if she can utilize a telepathic worm or other similar methods.” Pausing a beat, he added, “You’re safe inside the family when it comes to your broken Silence. As for the outside world, I’d suggest caution. Learn to pretend and pretend well.” The words were coolly practical, the message unexpected in spite of what she’d learned about the events that had shaped the clan in the years since she’d last sat in this office.
“One more thing, Sahara,” Anthony said as she was walking out the door a half hour later, “Kaleb might have rescued you, but don’t make the mistake of trusting him. He’s never done a selfless act in his life—and he’s more than manipulative enough to set you free as part of his strategy to win your loyalty.”
Unspoken were the words that the person who had Sahara’s loyalty would also have access to her ability: an ability so quiet and so terrifying that no one and nothing could stand in its path, and yet one that left not a single trace. No bodies, no anger, no embers of rebellion. The perfect weapon for a man who wanted to seize control of the Net.
* * *
ANTHONY spent several minutes considering his next move after the door closed behind Sahara and Leon. Though he’d joined in the search for his niece on multiple occasions as his duties permitted, the last as recently as two months ago, he’d known the chances of locating her were low. She was far too valuable a prize for her captors to be in any way careless.
Now not only had she been located, but returned. Despite the warning Anthony had given Sahara, it was near certain Kaleb hadn’t understood the power he held in his grasp, or he’d never have given her up. Unlike Nikita, however, Anthony had learned not to ascribe motives to the cardinal Tk that couldn’t be backed up by cold, hard fact. Kaleb played political games with the skill and ease of a man who’d begun grooming himself for the position long before adulthood.
In the end, the only viable choice was to open a line of dialogue and see if he could divine the true reason behind the other man’s actions. One thing was categorical—it wasn’t because tracing her was a challenge that Kaleb had begun hunting Sahara in the first place. A man with Kaleb’s lust for power did not waste his energies.
Inputting the other man’s code into the comm, he waited.