“Where are you?” she whispered when she reached the tree that was theirs. Without him to take her home, she could only wait for eleven minutes. That was the safe window where no one would miss her. If he was late— But no, there he was.
Having teleported near another tree, he walked toward her, his eyes a brilliant cardinal starlight that she saw in her dreams, his body tall and of a young man, not the boy she’d known over half her life. He was harder than her, ruthless in a way she knew she’d never be, and the fact that he was almost twenty-two to her near-sixteen had nothing to do with it. He’d been the same way six years ago.
Here, however, they were equals, and beneath the disturbing coldness she glimpsed in him too often now, he was still her Kaleb. The one whose Silence appeared as pristine as her own while hiding a chaos of emotion so violent, she knew he could be beyond dangerous should his control ever slip. But never to her. Not ever to her.
Dropping her satchel, she ran into his arms. His own locked around her, squeezing so tight, she could barely breathe. “It’s all right,” she whispered, her hands in his hair. “It’s all right.” Over and over again, she said those words, attempting to comfort the man she loved when love was a crime that could get them both sentenced to living death.
Yet even as she spoke, she knew it wasn’t all right, that the reason for his hurt was a trap he couldn’t escape—and her beautiful Kaleb had never been meant for a cage. It terrified her that he’d go too far in the maddening fight to get out and she’d never again feel the steel of his arms around her. “I’m here. I’m here.”
He just held her, in that way he had of doing during the worst times. She had no need to hear the details to know that he’d had to become even harder, more pitiless simply to survive. If it kept on in this way, she thought, her Kaleb would one day be lost behind a wall of black ice. Angry pain had her tightening her hold, her forbidden emotions hidden behind shields Kaleb had automatically augmented to protect her from exposure on the PsyNet. He’d been doing it for years, ever since he first realized her Silence simply wasn’t sticking, the psychic taste of him as familiar to her as her own.
Never once had he failed to protect her. But she could do nothing to stop him from being hurt over and over again, the helplessness a fury inside her. “I’m here.” She held on even tighter, refusing to surrender him to the ugliness that was Santano Enrique. If the black ice did form, she would shatter it with her bare hands. He was never going to shut her out, shut himself away in the darkness. Sahara wouldn’t allow it.
Today he held her for almost the entirety of their stolen time together, and then he stepped back.
“You shouldn’t meet me anymore.” No stars in the black, his voice dead in its tonelessness. “I’ll hurt you.”
It was a thought so incomprehensible, she didn’t know why he’d said it, why he’d wound himself in that way. “You’d never hurt me.”
“Don’t be so certain.”
SAHARA FELL OUT of the memory to find her cheeks wet and her hands fisted to bloodless severity, anger a jagged blade in her chest. She had loved him. So much. Enough to defy her family.
Enough to chance the psychic brainwipe of rehabilitation. Enough to fight for him even when he warned her off.
She had loved him until it was the defining fact of her existence.
Life, she thought, rubbing her hand over her heart, had come full circle. Because as the girl she’d been had loved him, so did the woman she’d become, her heart branded with his name. No matter what the future held, the terrible choice she might yet have to make, no one else would ever be to her what Kaleb— Another unraveling of memory, dragging her further back into the past.
“Please show Kaleb around the grounds, Sahara.” Anthony nodded at the boy who sat straight backed and expressionless in a chair beside a man Sahara disliked on sight. She knew not to say that, however. She was only seven, her Silence brittle, so she wouldn’t be in big trouble for blurting out her immediate and violent distaste, but she’d still be in trouble, probably have to do twice her normal quota of mental exercises.
Better to keep her mouth shut.
The man she didn’t like shot her a glance out of cardinal eyes that weren’t pretty like the boy’s, but flat, dead. “That child,” he said, dismissing her as if she were a piece of furniture, “is too young to provide conversation that will in any way interest Kaleb. He can remain.”
“I don’t conduct business with children present,” Anthony responded in a calm tone that Sahara knew meant her uncle wasn’t about to change his mind. “We can schedule another appointment next month to discuss the forecasting services required by your company.”
Steepling his fingers, the not-nice man turned his head toward the boy whose name was Kaleb.
“Go. Behave yourself.”
To Sahara, the words sounded like a threat.
Walking with Kaleb around the grounds, Sahara pointed out the things her father had told her she must point out to a guest. “Such independent social interaction with non–family members is an important part of your education,” he’d said. “If your backsight eventually leads you to a career in Justice, you’ll need to interact with a wide range of personalities, both Psy and not. I’ve told Anthony you’re ready to act as a guide for those of your age and slightly older.”
Sahara was pretty sure the boy called Kaleb fell outside that age group, but Anthony probably didn’t have any choice but to use her since the older children wouldn’t get out of school for another hour.