His protectiveness stabbed at her heart. If he had crossed the line, if she had to use her ability to end him, it would break her. And this time, she wouldn’t come back. “That means I can leave the forest,” she said around the rock in her throat. “No one in the wider world has any reason to recognize me.”
Kaleb slipped one of his hands into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, the charcoal fabric sitting perfectly on shoulders that might yet bear the marks she’d made on his body two days before. “A means of defense,” he said, having retrieved a sleek little gun. “This is considered one of the most dangerous weapons in the world, because even a child can point and shoot and hit his target.”
Showing her the controls, he handed it over. “Make sure the safety is on at all times unless you want to debilitate or kill.”
Sahara forced herself to handle the deadly piece, knowing he was right. Her ability wouldn’t protect her if an aggressor shot at her from a distance. “I expected you to attempt to stop me from leaving the protective zone inside DarkRiver land.”
“I told you, Sahara, I will never hurt you.”
Fingers trembling, she placed her free hand over his heart. “Thank you for keeping your promise, for coming for me.”
His response was to tuck her hair behind her ear, the action as possessive as it was gentle, his face so darkly handsome as to steal her breath. No man should be as hard, as beautiful as her Kaleb.
“There’s something else,” she said, voice husky. “You can release me from your shields—mine are now operational.”
Kaleb stilled, the primal creature that lived in the void rigid in its attempt to maintain control.
“Your Silence is broken. You’ll become a target for Pure Psy the instant you reappear in the Net.” He would never permit her to be so vulnerable.
Sahara’s hand spread on his heart. “Take a look at my shields.”
He did so and beheld a mind so Silent, it had not even the finest of hairline fractures. Intrigued, he examined it from every angle and could find no errors that might give her away, nothing that would make anyone take a second look, the lie told with flawless skill.
“This isn’t your work.” Sahara was gifted in many things, but advanced shield mechanics of this complexity was a highly specialized field that required years of practice. “Sascha Duncan,” he said, and saw from Sahara’s wide-eyed surprise that he was right.
Councilor Nikita Duncan’s daughter was not only a defector and mated to the alpha of DarkRiver, she was the best shield technician Kaleb had ever seen. He had acquired some of his most useful tricks by covertly monitoring her while she’d been part of the Net.
“She’s enhanced her technique.” Unexpected, given that Sascha Duncan was infamously no longer in the Net—or perhaps not. This region had seen a significant rise in the number of Psy with fractured or suspect conditioning. Those individuals would need a way to hide in plain sight.
Leaning to his right, Sahara put the gun on the window ledge, and he could tell she was uncomfortable with the weapon. As long as she used it when necessary, that didn’t matter.
“It’s not a shield but a shell,” she told him, her hand sliding to his waist as she straightened, “its sole function to mask my broken Silence. My natural protective shields are hidden beneath, and they’re tougher than most people’s. They always were.”
Yes, her natural shields were formidable, a side effect of her ability—but she’d been sixteen and already compromised by severe trauma when taken captive, while Tatiana had been an adult in full control of her scalpel-sharp telepathy. An inequitable contest from the start. “Total restoration?”
A nod that sent her hair sliding over the hand he’d curved around the side of the slender column of her neck, the strands cool and heavy. “Yes, faster than I predicted. It helped that no one was tearing away new growth before it could take root.”
Kaleb decided he needed to increase the misery of Tatiana’s punishment. Perhap he’d introduce insects into her environment. It was amazing how much terror such small creatures could cause.
“What are you thinking?” Sahara’s eyes were suddenly acute, as if she’d glimpsed the darkness that lived in him.
He told her, felt her flinch. “I managed to kill all the insects,” he said, thinking of the tiny, lightless closet in which he’d once spent three days for no reason but that Santano wanted to remind Kaleb who held the power, “and I was only ten.”
“No.” Sahara cupped his face, her own grim with an anger he knew wasn’t directed at him. “You do not do this, you do not become that monster’s legacy.”
“You are my legacy.”
“Tatiana is evil,” she continued over the chill sound of memory, “and she’ll do more evil if she’s free, so I won’t argue against her imprisonment, but no torture. Not of the physical kind and not of the mental. You’re strong enough to tie up her mind without isolating it as you’ve done now.”
Kaleb thought of the seven years he’d been alone in the dark, of the horror of a sixteen-year-old girl forced to imprison her own mind to survive, and said, “I’ll consider it.” In deference to Sahara’s request, he wouldn’t torture Tatiana as he’d been deliberating, but seven years would have to pass before he’d review the state of her mental imprisonment.
Sahara shook her head, her expression fierce. “Do you think I don’t see you?”