“How did you prepare this so fast?” Sahara asked as her cousin followed her inside. “There’s food in the cupboards, a new set of toiletries in the bathroom, fresh towels.” It felt warm, welcoming.
“Both these aeries are new, built in anticipation of younger members of the pack wanting their own space in the coming year,” her cousin said. “In the meantime, we keep them ready for guests of the pack. Vaughn and I just had to stock the food, and that was easy enough since we all keep extra supplies these days, with the growing unrest.”
Her cousin’s reference to the turbulence rocking the world had Sahara thinking of Kaleb again, of the games he played with a ruthless ease that made him as much a predator as the jaguar lounging in the doorway.
A jaguar who said, “There’s a big family of wildcats in the area. Lynx, too. They might come by to scope you out.”
“I hope they do visit.” Excitement bubbled in her blood. “I can’t imagine seeing them up close.”
“Those might be famous last words. Cats are incurably curious—you’ll have more wild visitors than you know what to do with.” Vaughn paused before adding, “I guarantee none will make any aggressive moves, not with what I’m guessing is Krychek’s scent all over you.”
Sahara sucked in a breath and met Vaughn’s incisive gaze, suddenly conscious he’d intuited the intimate nature of her relationship with Kaleb. “There’s something bad in his scent?” she asked, a painful knot in her abdomen.
“No, Sahara. There’s something very dangerous in it.”
* * *
IT was an hour later, the skies graying, that Sahara said good-bye to Faith and Vaughn. “I’ll be fine on my own, I promise,” she reassured her cousin when Faith hesitated on the landing. “I have your comm and cell codes if anything goes wrong.”
Faith’s lips curved in a rueful smile. “Sorry, I know I’m being overprotective. I promise I’ll leave you be.”
“Rest and heal,” Vaughn said, brushing the back of his knuckles over Sahara’s cheek in an unexpected caress. “You’re safe here.”
Sahara watched them leave from the doorway, thinking how very, very lucky she was in her family.
She had expected an interrogation about Kaleb, but Faith had asked only if Kaleb was coercing her in any way. Accepting Sahara’s negative response, her cousin had promised not to tell Anthony about her relationship with Kaleb, though Faith and Vaughn would have to alert the DarkRiver alpha.
“Do you know what we did to Santano Enrique?” Vaughn had asked, expression grim.
At her nod, he’d said, “Krychek’s name came up in our investigations after we executed that sick bastard—we didn’t go after him because there was no indication he’d ever been near the victims we know about, but that doesn’t make him innocent. Be damn careful. And if he ever hurts you in any way, you run to me.”
“I was there for every second of their torture and deaths.”
Kaleb’s gruesome confession circled in her mind, and she knew the sane thing would be to tell Vaughn and Faith, but she didn’t. Because deep inside, she simply did not believe him capable of such heinous acts, the girl inside her mutinous and unyielding in her rebellion. Maybe that was a sign of her escalating obsession, but she wasn’t yet ready to give up on him, and on the darker, uglier truth she sensed below the words he’d spoken.
So she kept her silence, and a half hour after the others left, said, Would you like to see my treehouse?
Are you inviting me?
When he appeared a foot from her, dressed in black suit pants and a dark gray shirt, she felt as if she’d found a missing piece of herself. “It’s almost time for breakfast. Will you have something with me?” It was a growing need she had, to care for him.
No one else ever had or ever would.
“I’ve eaten,” he said, making no move to avoid the fingers she curved over his shoulder, just brushing the tendons of his neck. “But you should have more nutrition.”
Perhaps it was the fact that she stood in an aerie far from everything she’d known, a silent indication of inner strength that belied her near breakdown when Anthony had mentioned a safe house.
Perhaps it was that she fought the terror of losing her father with every breath, time more precious than diamonds. Perhaps it was the way Kaleb didn’t repudiate her touch, regardless of the fact that he knew exactly what it could cost him.
Or . . . perhaps it was because her heart was heavy with a truth everyone else seemed to forget— that this deadly man had been a defenseless child when taken by Santano Enrique—but she knew the time for avoidance was over. If they were to move beyond the haunting fragility of the bond that connected them, she had to dare ask the question she’d long left unspoken. “Did you choose to witness or participate in the murders committed by Santano Enrique?”
Sahara’s mind, however, wasn’t so reticent, her question activating a hidden key to unlock a secret mental vault. Memories swirled within, confused and clouded by time and the mistakes made during storage by the scared girl she’d been: a girl who, in a desperate attempt to save the most important pieces of herself from the ravages of the labyrinth, had locked the vault not with words . . . but with emotion.
The personal key meant no one else could violate her memories, destroy what she held most precious. But it also meant that should Kaleb have never found her, should they have never met again, that part of her would have been forever lost. A huge risk built on the same wild faith that had kept her going for seven hellish years.