“Surely,” Sahara said, “there were suspicions of a cardinal born of two low-Gradient Psy.”
“Santano chose two people with the necessary recessive genes to make such a birth a rare but true possibility.” He spread his fingers on her lower back, her skin delicate and warm, but with a promise of sleek muscle beneath, as if her body were remembering the dancer she’d once been . . . the dancer whose flesh had torn under a knife with a chipped blade. “I carry him in my very cells.”
Sahara’s jaw set in a stubborn line familiar to him from her childhood. “You may carry his genes,” she said, “but you are not and never will be Enrique’s son.” A passionate negation that vibrated with cold fury. “If you were, you wouldn’t find pleasure in touching me with care, only in causing me pain.” Pressing her fingers to his lips, she shook her head. “You’re Kaleb. That is your identity.”
* * *
A half hour later, Sahara was intensely aware of Kaleb watching with silent eyes as she moved around his kitchen, putting together a meal for them both, the ends of the white shirt she’d borrowed from him brushing her thighs. Certain parts of her body twinged with every movement, a silent reminder of the uninhibited intimacy they’d shared in the privacy of his bed.
Kaleb, dressed only in a pair of black sweatpants, the ridged muscle of his chest shadowed in the early evening light in this part of the world, was a young god, a Greek statue come to life. Strong and gorgeous and remote.
Except he wasn’t remote, wasn’t cold. Not for her. Never for her.
He’d obtained the most recent update on her father minutes before and had offered to take her to the hospital. The only reason Sahara had forced herself to wait was that Leon Kyriakus remained in isolation, his immune system weakened as a result of a hostile infection caused by the dirty knife the bounty hunter had used. She didn’t want to risk introducing a fatal contaminant into his system in her need to see him alive and well.
“His prognosis is good,” Kaleb had said, scanning the medical report when her eyes watered too much to do so. “The injury was severe, and his recovery will be slow, but with the infection caught in time, there is no cause for concern.”
To anyone else, the words might have sounded callous, unfeeling of the fear that twisted her gut, but to her, they sounded like honesty. Kaleb had never once lied to her, and if he said her father was going to make it, he was. And when Leon woke, he would be disappointed in her if, in her worry, she’d failed to do the one thing he’d asked of her the night they’d talked till dawn.
“Live your life, Sahara. Live it as big and with as much color as you can stand to bear. Don’t let anyone or anything—the family, Silence, the weight of your ability, even my need to keep you close—confine you again.”
So she blinked away the incipient tears, looked into the ruthless face of the man who made everything in her ignite—joy, pleasure, fear, anger, terror, hope—and took the next step on her road to an extraordinary life.
“I need to ask you something,” she said, picking up a spoon to mix the nutrient drink he insisted on having in place of anything with more taste. She’d tried to swallow the question, but it was souring her stomach, making her jittery, and he’d noticed.
A silent look that told her to ask.
“Where exactly did you learn what we just did?” It came out edgier than she’d intended.
“With the way our bodies respond to one another, preparation seemed prudent.”
“I see.” The spoon hit the insides of the glass, her motions jagged.
Shifting to lean on the counter next to her, Kaleb cupped her jaw. When she refused to look at him, he rubbed his thumb over her lower lip. “I researched sexual intimacy the same way I research everything else. Methodically and in intricate detail.”
Sahara grabbed at the edge of the counter as her mind was deluged by a telepathic cascade of erotic images, limbs entangled and fingers digging into flesh. Eyes wide, she met his. “How did you . . . ?”
“Sex,” he said, rubbing his thumb over her lower lip again, “is something the other races find endlessly fascinating. Sourcing the images, literature, and recordings was child’s play. A simple Internet search brought up millions of hits.”
Cheeks burning from some of what had tumbled into her mind, Sahara said, “What about putting theory into practice?” If he’d shared his body with anyone else in any way, her anger would be as violent as her pain. Her fragmented memories, his lust for power and lack of a moral compass, none of it mattered on this most elemental level.
Here, he belonged to her.
“Practical application,” he said in that cool, calm Kaleb voice, “would’ve been a pointless exercise, given the high likelihood I would kill anyone who dared touch me in such a way.” Another brush, his eyes focused on her lips. “With you, however, I fully understand the human and changeling preoccupation with sex.” This time the image he sent her would’ve buckled her knees if she hadn’t had the support of a telekinetic.
The snapshot was of her, as she’d been in his bed not long ago, her thighs spread and her back arched, the point of view that of the man who’d had both his hands on the inner surfaces of her thighs at the time. Accurate in every detail, down to the perspiration that glimmered on her skin and the slickness between her thighs, it showcased the steel-trap memory of the cardinal Tk who was now her lover.
“That,” she rasped, “is unfair. I don’t have the same ammunition.”