He had never tasted the sweet liquid himself, but he’d done his research on sensations and tastes that were considered to offer “comfort” in the emotional races. Given the current state of mind and physical health of the woman who sat in the sunshine, such items might be effective in breaching the wall of her distrust.
Walking over to place the mug in front of her, he asked, “Are you hungry?”
Dark blue eyes peered at him from behind the tangled but clean strands of her hair, and he had the disconcerting sensation she was looking right through his shields. Not that it mattered—she already knew his darkest secret, had tasted the iron rich scent of it as she screamed.
Breaking the eye contact with a sudden shift of her head, she bent closer to the hot chocolate. As she examined it, he mixed up the nutrient drink he preferred as breakfast, and mentally went over his schedule for the day. Whether he took the upcoming comm meeting here or at his central Moscow office made no difference to the eventual outcome—Kaleb would come out on top. He always did.
Failure was not an option.
Right then, the woman for whom he’d searched for seven years slid out of her chair to walk toward him. When she stopped a meter away, he stepped back, saying nothing as she reached for the food he’d teleported in, the remote ’port a simple matter: that particular hotel kitchen was run by a chef who liked everything exactly in its place, including the baskets of fresh pastries individually wrapped in distinctive paper sleeves. Kaleb’s image file of the kitchen gave him a location lock, the paper sleeves a detail lock within that specific location. Now, he watched as his guest chose a warm apricot Danish, put it neatly on a saucer, and took it back to her seat.
He’d expected her to eat the pastry, but she returned to the counter, picked up another Danish— blackberry—put it on a second saucer, and took it back to the table. It wasn’t until she placed it on the other side of the table and pushed the hot chocolate to the middle that he realized he was being invited to breakfast.
Lenik, he said, waiting only long enough for Silver’s subordinate to open the telepathic pathway before saying, reschedule my meeting with Imkorp.
Sir. They’re already unsteady about the agreement.
They’ll wait. Kaleb held the power in the negotiation, a fact of which he’d be happy to remind the Imkorp CEO should he have forgotten.
I’ll contact them immediately.
That done, Kaleb poured himself a glass of water and took it to the table. “Thank you,” he said, pushing the mug back to her, “but that’s for you.”
She continued to examine him, a sudden, incisive intelligence in the deep, deep blue of her irises that had his instincts on full alert. “Who are you?” The words were a rasp, as if she hadn’t used her vocal cords for months . . . or years.
A pause. “Kaleb Krychek.” Bending her head after repeating his name in the same flat tone he’d given it, she picked up her Danish and bit in. When she stared at him, he echoed the action.
The taste was a violent insult to taste buds accustomed to flavorless nutrition bars and drinks designed to deliver the necessary calories and minerals, with the occasional bland meal thrown in to balance his diet, but he swallowed the bite he’d taken of the pastry, drinking some water to wash it down. Seemingly satisfied with that, the small woman on the other side of the table continued to eat her own Danish in neat, precise bites until the entire thing was gone.
Good. She’s eating.
She’d always had a slender and graceful body, as befit the dancer she’d been, but she no longer carried the supple muscle that screamed health regardless of low body weight. Her frame was now fragile, her shoulder bones protruding through the green T-shirt she continued to wear, her cheeks sunken. When he teleported the remainder of the tray onto the table, she stared at it with considering eyes before choosing a banana muffin.
Taking a butter knife from the tray, she cut the muffin in two and put half on his plate. “Thank you,” he said again and took a bite of the soft, too-sweet item to pacify her.
She ate her half of the muffin and drank most of her hot chocolate before speaking again. “Kaleb Krychek. That’s a long name.”
“You can call me Kaleb,” he said, and they were words he’d spoken to her before, when she hadn’t understood what he was, why she should run from him.
“I have your shell, Kaleb.”
He processed her words, could make no sense of them. “Do you?”
“It’s black and hard.”
“You’re talking about the mental shield I’ve put over you.” He finished his water. “It was necessary. Your mind was exposed.” Naked, vulnerable—a fact unacceptable to him on every level.
“The obsidian shield conceals all trace of you from the Net.”
Open concern on her face, she whispered, “Are you exposed now?”
Her empathy didn’t surprise him; it was what had led to her torture. “No,” he said, “I have the capacity to maintain dual shields without problem.” He was the most powerful Psy in the Net, of that he had no doubt, his psychic strength enough to destroy the very fabric of their race—or to control it.
As to which he chose to do . . . it depended on her.
If she demanded vengeance, he’d turn the world bloodred.
She reached for his abandoned muffin, cut off a piece, and ate it. “Can you see me?”
“Your thoughts are your own.” He hadn’t invaded her mind past that instant of contact required for the teleport.