“You’d do that? Thanks, Kaleb!” She threw her arms around him.
It was the first time he could ever remember being held.
SAHARA WOKE TO find Kaleb watching her, his eyes of starlight. “What are you thinking?” she asked in an intimate whisper, her legs tangled with his and one of his arms acting as a muscular pillow for her head.
He tumbled her gently onto her back, his body pressing down on hers. “How you taught me to climb trees.”
Delighted at the idea, she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Was I a good teacher?”
“Yes, but you kept trying to trade your teaching skills for answers to your math homework.”
The cool comment made her grin and demand further stories about her aborted career as an extortionist. He gave her what she demanded—and she hoped that these wonderful memories, innocent and bright, were safe in the vault, that she’d soon be able to access them herself.
“You even made a plaque to commemorate my first successful climb of the biggest tree in the compound,” Kaleb added. “It’s in my study.”
Sahara frowned. “I don’t . . .” Laughing as she realized what he was talking about, she nuzzled at his throat. “The piece of wood with your name?”
Fingers weaving into her hair, he held her to him. “You worked on it for weeks,” he said, as another related memory tugged free of the vault.
Kaleb took the small, battered book from her hand. “What’s this?”
“Poetry.” Sahara saw from his expression that he had no idea what to make of that and clasped her hands nervously behind her back. “I know the lines seem nonsensical, but they always make me think.”
Perhaps, she thought, her heart hurting, the sheer perplexing nature of the rhymes would help him see that the world wasn’t simply full of horror and pain, that there were strangely wonderful things, too. It worried her how much darkness she saw creeping into him day by day, hour by hour, and she’d fight the slow loss of her Kaleb any way she could. Even if it was with whimsical poems about fantastical creatures.
“Thank you,” he said, opening the cover to see the homemade birthday card she’d put inside.
His hands treated both the card and the book with care, as if they were precious. Kaleb always treated her gifts as precious.
“I’m sorry it’s not in very good condition.” She’d bought it with part of her stationery allowance, after managing to fix a broken datapad so she didn’t have to replace it.
Kaleb’s eyes were filled with stars when he looked at her. “It’s perfect. Even if I am certain I’ll be as bad at understanding poetry as you are at math.”
The memory fading, Sahara smiled at the dangerous man in bed with her. “Did you read the poems I gave you?” she asked softly, thankful to the girl she’d been for fighting for Kaleb with every weapon in her arsenal, no matter how small.
“First, I had to learn French,” he said, to her shout of laughter. “They were still incomprehensible.
I told you that, and next time, you gave me a seventeenth-century romance.” His hair fell across his forehead as he dipped his head. “You had to decipher it for me.”
Laughing even harder, she cupped his face, their foreheads touching. They talked for several more minutes after she finally caught her breath, until Kaleb had to leave—but not before he gave her a molten kiss that was a promise. Feeling as if her body were one big smile, she tidied up the aerie, then called her father for a chat. Of course, he was already at the medical center. “I don’t suppose you’ll be going home early,” she said, worried he was overdoing it.
Leon Kyriakus gave her a steady look out of eyes of deep blue. “No, but I have confined myself to writing academic papers in the afternoons. Does that make you happy?”
“Yes,” she said, not the least bit sorry for hounding him about his health.
After she hung up, Sahara decided it was time to go back into San Francisco. She intended to be careful about it, but she had earned her freedom and no bounty hunter was going to steal that from her.
She also wanted to run some informal tests to gauge the development—or lack—of her ability with languages.
Catching a ride with Mercy when the other woman swung by after a routine perimeter check, she rubbed the eagle charm on her bracelet.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the company,” Mercy said as they drove out, “but why didn’t you hop in with Vaughn? I saw him leaving as I came in.”
Blowing out a breath, Sahara fixed the knitted cap that hid her hair. “He’s developed a distinctive protective streak when it comes to me.” There was no way her cousin’s mate would’ve left her alone in the city, and it was something she needed to do, to prove to herself that she could.
Mercy, by contrast, raised an eyebrow when Sahara asked to be dropped off near Fisherman’s Wharf, but didn’t attempt to stop her. “According to my orders, we’re meant to provide a safe harbor, not imprison you. And if that gun I glimpsed at your ankle’s what I think it is, you’re smart enough not to need a babysitter.
“Still, put this number into your phone.” She passed over a card. “Any trouble while you’re there, call that and a packmate will come get you—our city HQ isn’t far.” A wry smile. “I mean in case you don’t feel like being teleported by the scariest man on the planet.”
Sahara was still smiling an hour later, her mind lingering on the way that scary man had held her against his heart throughout the night, when she noticed the gathering crowd in front of one of the large public comm screens on Pier 39. Unlike with a sports game or musical performance, the group was deathly silent.