Hide and seek, p.1
Hide and Seek, p.1Part #12.10 of Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
HIDE and SEEK
Kaleb telepathed Sahara when she wasn't by the old tree stump in her father's backyard where he'd said he'd pick her up. Sahara.
I'm here. Come find me.
It had been a long time since he'd played this game with her, but he knew it well. The most important rule was that he couldn't cheat by using her face as a lock to teleport directly to her location--as he'd done the first time she'd invited him to play hide and seek, back when they'd both been children.
He could still remember her exasperated face as she told him that wasn't the point. Hands on her hips and leaves in her hair from where she'd been hiding under a bush, she'd said, "You have to hunt, Kaleb. That's why it's fun!"
Today, more than fifteen years later, he first entered her father's home to check she wasn't inside. Thankfully, it appeared Leon Kyriakus had gone off to his medical practice already so Kaleb didn't have to interact with him. It wasn't as if Leon had anything against Kaleb. It was more that Kaleb didn't understand how to act with a man who was quickly developing a tendency to call him, "son".
Paternal-type contact was a complete mystery to Kaleb. At times, when Kaleb accompanied Sahara here at her insistence, it appeared that Leon forgot who it was he was talking to. Those times, the older man treated Kaleb as Sahara's and therefore a member of the family--since Kaleb was Sahara's in every way, he had no issue with Leon's behavior. He just didn't understand it.
Why doesn't your father view me as a threat? he asked after checking the house. I assumed he'd tolerate me because of you, but he is actively welcoming. Very few people in the world trusted Kaleb enough to turn their backs on him, but Leon treated him with a kind of absentminded affection.
Sahara's telepathic voice entered his mind. You brought me home. He knows you'd die before causing me harm, and so of course you'd never hurt him. You know that.
Kaleb did...and yet he still didn't understand Leon Kyriakus, perhaps never would. The single adult male he'd truly known as a child had been a monster, pain and fear the only things Kaleb had experienced at his hands. Kaleb wasn't sure he could ever overcome that scarring, the part of him that lived in the void--a void forged in blood and torture--capable of trusting only one being on the planet on that level.
However, he would continue to be cordial to Leon Kyriakus, because unlike the male who had given Kaleb half his genetic material, the other man was a true father. One who had never given up on his child...and who had never tried to separate Sahara from Kaleb. That, Kaleb would've never forgiven.
Leaving the house after checking all the rooms aside from Leon's because he knew Sahara wouldn't use that as a hiding place, he went directly to the biggest tree in the NightStar compound. It was much larger than when they'd clambered over it as children, its branches even thicker, but one thing remained the same. Sahara had managed to climb up to perch on the highest possible branch that would bear her weight. Hands on the branch and jeans-clad legs kicking out, she waved. "I've been waiting for you!" She patted the branch. "It'll hold you!"
Kaleb looked at the solid trunk, the wide branches, thought about the fact he hadn't climbed a tree for well over a decade, and took the first grip. The roughness of the bark was familiar, as was the lingering warmth the tree seemed to retain on sunny days. Even the chill of winter hadn't stolen that. As a Tk, Kaleb was more physically adept than most people, but he tried not to use his ability here. Some of it was impossible to block--telekinesis was part of his blood, as reflexive by now as breathing. However, he made the climb as relentlessly physical as he could.
Hauling himself up onto the branch beside the woman who had first taught him to play, then taught him to enjoy it, he said, "Do I receive an award this time?"
"Here." Sahara gave him a cookie from the small bag she held in her hands.
He took a small bite of the colored cookie spotted with nuts, then fed the rest to her. "I decline this award."
"More cookies for me," she said, leaning forward to kiss him.
It was instinctive to steady her with his arm around her waist, to throw a telekinetic shield around her body. He would allow nothing and no one to ever again harm Sahara.
"Kaleb." A husky whisper before she kissed him again, sweet and hot and his. Always she had been his. Always she had chosen to be his. It was a gift beyond price.
"Did you have a good visit with your father?" he asked afterward, every part of him humming in quiet, intense awareness.
"Yes." Sahara's smile sparked in the dark blue of her eyes. "He's terrible--works himself to the bone. But I took him for a stroll, made him sit in the sun while I read to him from an old printed book I found in our library. It was all about medical science in the time of the Territorial Wars. He was fascinated, but I told him he can't have the book because he'll inhale it in one go and forget about relaxing. I'll read more to him the next time I visit."
"Are you ready to go home?"
"No." She put one hand on his thigh. "I just want to sit here with you. Ever since the fall of Silence, life's been so busy. I miss you."
"You never have to miss me," he said, holding her eyes. "If you need me, just call." He'd abandon the world for her.
She stroked his jaw, her skin glowing from within. "I know--and that's why I can't give in to the urge. I'm wildly possessive where you're concerned, but you carry the fate of an entire race on your shoulders."
"Sahara, that race is only alive because you told me I couldn't destroy them." Kaleb knew himself, knew he wasn't good, knew he did good things only so as not to lose the way she looked at him. He would never forgive or forget that it was the leaders of the Psy race who had once taken her from him. "Were it up to me," he said, "I'd abandon them all to swim or drown and teleport us to an isolated island where no one would bother us for eternity."
"No you wouldn't." Sahara laughed, turning to brace her bent arm on his shoulder. "You like being hooked into the world too much. I bet you know exactly what the temperature is in outer Mongolia right now."
"No, but I can find out for you in a second."
That only caused her laughter to deepen, her delight making the creature in the void sit up in unreserved attention. Even now, with the two of them bonded on the most intimate psychic level, that part of him found astonished joy in belonging to her, in having the right to her laughter, her touch. "I love you," she said, running one hand through his hair. "I've never been to a tropical island. I don't suppose you have one in your mental database?"
A thought and they were on the white sand beach of an isolated atoll in the Indian Ocean, the heavy moon shining down from a midnight sky. Rising to her feet a heartbeat after they arrived, Sahara kicked off her shoes, pulled off her socks, and began to shrug off her coat. "It's hot! No snow!" Having shucked her sweater while he watched in fascination, she said, "Will anyone see me? Can I strip?"
"No one will see you." Not only was this island uninhibited, it was in a satellite shadow and invisible to spies in the sky. Kaleb knew that because he made it a point to know such things.
Dressed in khaki cargo pants and a black T-shirt himself, he took off his boots and socks, then just watched Sahara. When she'd said "strip" she'd meant to the skin, and since she wore the dark fall of her hair in a braid today, nothing hid his view.
He watched her run into the water, emerge wet and sleek as a seal. "Kaleb! Come in! It's so warm!"
For the second time that day, he played with Sahara. Leaving his clothes beside hers, he dove in and stroked out to her. Telepathically touching base with his aide at the same time, he cancelled the meeting he was meant to be attending in thirty minutes and told her to reorganize it for tomorrow.
An hour later, he teleported in food and drink. She pulled on his T-shirt over damp skin, while he tugged on his cargo pants.
When she aligned herself against him while they lay on the sand and watched the moon, he held her as she stroked his chest, and he thought of how as a child, she'd patted helplessly at him with those same hands, her eyes wet and distress in her voice at his wounds.
In all his life, Sahara alone had touched him with gentleness, was the only one from whom he'd accept it. He didn't know how to ask her to never stop doing that...and he didn't need to. The bond between them pulsed bright as she pressed a kiss to his pectoral, his shoulder, his jaw.
Sahara knew his need.
She always knew.
He turned to her to see a wicked smile on her face.
"Want to make an earthquake?" she said, running one foot up his shin.
"Yes," Kaleb responded, his body already rock hard for her. "But not in this region. The atolls are too low and may flood."
Sahara stared at him, and then she started laughing, falling over onto her back with her arms wrapped around her stomach. Leaning down on his elbow, he watched her, and he thought he might learn to laugh with her, too.
She snorted, slapped a hand over her mouth. Tears rolled down her face. "W-w-we're almost naked," she pointed out, "a-and you d-d-d--"
Seduced, he gripped her jaw and kissed that laughing mouth. Her laughter poured into him, her arms locking around his shoulders and her legs around his hips. Before her, he'd understood the mechanics of sex, but he hadn't understood other things. Like the fact people laughed and smiled during the act--and that it was about far more than the physical. "I wouldn't want you to drown," he said, releasing her lips so she could suck in a breath. "I also don't want to stop midway."
She giggled again, her fingers caressing his nape. "Excellent point." Nipping at his lower lip, she kissed her way along his jaw. "You're all salty." A lick, a nibble, before she suddenly went still. "Kaleb," she whispered. "Remember that thing we always wanted to do?"
He knew exactly what she was talking about. "Come with me," he said, rising to his feet.
When she went to grab her pants, he said, "You won't need them."
Not arguing, she slipped her hand into his and he led her up the sugar-fine sand of the beach and to a narrow pier about five minutes away. Dropping his hand the instant she saw the rowboat anchored by it, she ran over to it and hopped inside the small vessel--where she knelt on the boards and looked over the side. "You even named her the Gypsy Queen!"
"It's what you wanted." To row away to parts unknown under the moonlight, the dream one of the final ones she'd shared with him before the monsters had stolen her away and hurt her.
Cold rage threatened to bloom in him, until he wanted to go to the hole in the earth where he'd imprisoned one of those responsible, mete out the same kind of torture. But he didn't, because to do so would be to give too much of himself to the darkness, going against Sahara's express wishes.
Kaleb had never broken a promise he'd made to her and he wasn't about to start now.
Stepping into the boat, he released the rope that anchored it, then taking a seat, picked up the paddles and began to row them out. Sahara lay back on the cushions and watched him with eyes that had always seen everything. "You own this atoll, don't you?"
"I usually keep the boat stored elsewhere. Out of the elements."
She touched his knee with her toes. "What else have you kept safe for me, Kaleb?" A quiet murmur. "What other dream?"
"It was my sanity."
This boat, the house, all the other small pieces of her he'd held safe, they had kept him from annihilating the world in his search for her. "Why did you want to do this?" It was something he hadn't asked when she'd told him her dream the month before she turned sixteen...and then, there'd been no chance to ask.
Rising to a sitting position, Sahara shifted to put her hands on his, stilling his strokes through the water. "I was trying to drop hints that you should take me away and kiss me." It had been the most intimate thing Sahara had been able to think to do at that age, the cage of Silence a powerful one. "Since you were always half-naked in my fantasies, this is perfect."
Kaleb closed his eyes as she leaned forward to caress his shoulders, the boy she'd adored having grown up into a powerful man who held her heart in lethal, protective hands. Changing her center of gravity, she took him down to the cushions of this boat he'd kept for her, this silly girlish wish that he'd protected for her.
The boat rocked.
And her lips curved. "I never figured that into my fantasies."
"Your Tk." It kept slipping the leash during intimacy, though he usually managed to direct it deep underground, where it couldn't do much damage. "Kaleb?"
She raised her head to look into his eyes, saw the cardinal starlight had been erased by the obsidian of emotion and passion. "We made it," she said, the quiet words a fury. "We're here under the moonlight and the monsters aren't. They didn't beat us." All the pain, all the horror, she and Kaleb hadn't only survived it, they'd fought their way to the light. "They didn't steal our love."
The boat rocked even more but she wasn't afraid. Kaleb would never allow her to fall.
"Nothing and no one," he said quietly, "will ever steal who you are to me."
One hand on the side of his face, she kissed him, and for that instant, the world didn't matter. The fall of Silence didn't matter. The fact that Kaleb was holding the PsyNet together through sheer strength of will and violent power didn't matter. All that mattered was that they were here, in the middle of a dream that belonged to the girl she'd once been--a dream held safe by the boy become a man who was her heartbeat and her forever.
This was their time.
Nalini Singh, Hide and Seek
(Series: Psy-Changeling # 12.10)
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Hide and Seek by Nalini Singh / Romance & Love / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes