They glittered and shimmered until she reached out a hand, wanting to touch. But they were too far away . . . and in her hand, she held a book. Startled, she almost dropped the unexpected item, but the cushion of solid air around her hand told her the man of black ice wouldn’t have allowed the book to plummet into the abyss.
She couldn’t read the words on the cover in the dark, didn’t know if she could read words at all.
But drawing the slender volume back through the bars, she held it against her chest as if it were a treasure, and when she was certain he wasn’t watching her, she chanced a look at the man.
He wasn’t like the guards in the white place full of painful light that had been her prison. They’d hurt her, but this man, he could slit her throat and not blink. She knew that with the same part of her brain that had birthed the labyrinth, the part driven by the relentless will to survive. It cared nothing for the quality of her life, only that she remain alive. That brutal pragmatism was why she’d lived long enough to be here under the stars beside a man who possessed eyes of the same starlight, icy white on a background of black silk.
Cardinal, whispered a hidden pocket of memory, his eyes are those of a cardinal.
She k— The labyrinth twisted again, wrenching the thought out of shape and turning her mind into a kaleidoscope; a million vivid images splintered and spun until nothing made sense and beauty was a creation of shattered glass. At times, she gave in to her fascination for the kaleidoscope for untold hours, allowing it to take her away into an inner world where the acute white light didn’t hurt and her mind wasn’t a crab without a shell, soft and vulnerable and exposed. So horribly exposed. It hurt.
But . . . she had a shell now.
Frowning, she poked a psychic finger at the adamantine black shield around her mind. No give.
None. Intrigued, she stroked her fingers along the inner surface and found that it “tasted” of black ice.
Of him. The dangerous, beautiful man with the hard voice who’d stolen her from the place where they wouldn’t let her sleep, where they demanded she do things that would bleed away her very being.
The same man who had put her in a place with bars.
It was the last coherent thought she had before the labyrinth reset once more, tearing words and sentences into confetti that dazzled her senses and blanked out the reality around her.
* * *
KALEB watched his guest leave the terrace two hours after she’d arrived. Except for when she’d reached out into the night and he’d taken the risk of giving her the book, she’d stood motionless, her eyes lifted to the stars. It could be that part of her remembered the starlit night that was the PsyNet, as visualized by the vast majority of the populace, each Psy mind a spark in the darkness, or perhaps she’d been hypnotized by the openness of the sky after having spent so many years in a cage.
The sound of metal straining.
Twisting, he saw one of the heavy iron bars had bent almost in half. He fixed it with a glancing thought before walking into his bedroom via the sliding doors that opened directly onto the left side of the terrace. His room was located across from hers, meaning he’d be able to keep an ear open for her even in sleep.
It took only a few minutes to shower off the sweat.
Lying down in bed after drying off, the sheets crisp against his na**d skin, he set his mind for exactly five hours of sleep. He could survive for long periods on less, but five hours was the optimal amount of rest he needed to recharge his physical and psychic batteries. The entire house was already locked and alarmed, but, setting a psychic alarm that would go off the instant she made any noise, he went to sleep.
Dreams denoted a sublevel failure in his conditioning, but Kaleb had long ago learned to compensate for those failures, though he couldn’t control his subconscious. However, the dreams were no longer as all-encompassing as they’d been in his teens—then, he’d often woken so stressed it had taken him at least an hour to regain his concentration. As an adult, he woke alert and with full memory of every aspect of the nighttime visions conjured by his subconscious.
Psy-Med would draw some interesting conclusions from his dreams, he thought the next morning as he dressed in work-ready suit pants of black along with a white shirt, leaving the collar open for the time being; but as none of their number would ever be invited inside his mind, that was a moot point.
The door across from his own was closed when he exited the bedroom, and he didn’t disturb his guest’s rest—he had all the patience in the world now that he had her under his roof. Entering the kitchen, he came to an abrupt halt. She was curled up in a chair in the sun-drenched breakfast “nook”
he’d embedded into the design during the custom build by several human corporations—though he’d never planned on using it.
The humans had seen nothing wrong with features that would’ve alerted a Psy architect to the fact that something was not quite right with the house, not when it was meant for Kaleb Krychek, considered one of the most Silent individuals in the Net. As it was, the humans had done a stellar job, and with each firm privy to only a strictly limited slice of the construction process, with Kaleb himself having put in the final security features, they had no knowledge of the advanced systems that protected it.
As his guest had no knowledge of the psychic alarm he’d set—yet it hadn’t activated, in spite of the fact she’d left her room. He checked the alarm, found he’d made a basic miscalculation. Because he was the source of her shields, and though his mind was separated from hers by an impenetrable firewall, his consciousness considered her a part of him. Resetting the parameters so the mistake wouldn’t be repeated, he walked to the counter and, after ’porting in breakfast pastries from the kitchen of a highly successful hotel he owned, prepared a cup of hot chocolate.