“Back cover” …
Possessed of an extraordinary telekinetic gift, Dahlia Le Blanc has spent her life isolated from other people. And just when she thinks she’s finally achieved some semblance of peace, her well-orchestrated world comes crashing down…
For a reason she cannot guess, she has become the target of deadly assassins. Suddenly no place is safe – not even the secret refuge she’s established long ago. Now she must rely on Nicolas Trevane – a dangerous warrior sent to track her down and protect her. Together they generate a scorching heat Dahlia never imagined was possible. But can she trust this man with her secrets – especially when some people would kill to get their hands on them?
First chapter: Can also be found on www.christinefeehan.com
“She’s obviously not cooperating again,” Dr. Whitney grumbled and scribbled fiercely in his notebook, clearly somewhere between total exasperation and frustration. “Don’t let her have her toys again, until she decides to work. I’ve had enough of her nonsense.”
The nurse hesitated. “Doctor, that isn’t a good idea with Dahlia. She can be very…” She paused, clearly searching for the right word. “Difficult.”
That caught his attention. He looked up from his papers, the impatience on his face fading to interest. “You’re afraid of her, Milly. She’s four years old and you’re afraid of her. Why?” There was more than scientific interest in his tone. There was eagerness.
The nurse continued to watch the child through the glass window. The little girl had shiny black hair, thick and long and falling down her back in an unkept, untidy mass. She sat on the floor rocking back and forth, clutching a small blanket to her and moaning softly. Pitifully. Continually. Her eyes were enormous, as black as midnight and as penetrating as steel. Milly Duboune winced visibly and looked away when the child turned those black, too old eyes in her direction.
“She can’t see us through the glass,” Dr. Whitney pointed out.
“She knows we’re here.” The nurse dropped her voice to a whisper. “She’s dangerous, Doctor. No one wants to work with her. She won’t let us brush her hair or tell her to go to bed and we can’t punish her.”
Dr. Whitney lifted an eyebrow, sheer arrogance crossing his face. “You’re all that afraid of this child? Why wasn’t I informed?”
Milly hesitated. Fear was clearly etched on her face. “We knew you’d demand more from her. You have no idea what you’d unleash. You don’t pay any attention to them after you make your demands. She’s in terrible pain. We don’t blame her when she throws her tantrums. Ever since you insisted we separate the children, many are showing signs of extreme discomfort or, as in Dahlia’s case, a high level of pain. She can’t eat or sleep properly. She’s too sensitive to light and sound. She’s losing weight. Her pulse is too rapid, her heart-rate up all the time. She cries even in her sleep. Not a child’s cry, but a cry of pain. Nothing we’ve tried has helped.”
“There’s no reason for her to be in pain,” Dr. Whitney snapped. “All of you coddle those children. They have a purpose, a much bigger purpose than you can imagine. Go back in there and tell her if she doesn’t cooperate, I’ll take all of the toys and her blanket away from her.”
“Not her blanket, Dr. Whitney, it’s all she clings to. It’s all the comfort she has.” The nurse shook her head hard and stepped back from the window. “If you want that blanket, you go take it away from her yourself.”
Dr. Whitney studied the desperation in the woman’s eyes with clinical detachment. He indicated for the nurse to reenter the room. “See if you can coax her to cooperate. What does she want the most?”
“To be put back in the same room with either Lily or Flame.”
“Iris. The child’s name is Iris not Flame. Don’t indulge her personality simply because she has red hair. She already is more trouble than she’s worth with that temper of hers. The last thing we want is for Iris and this one,” he indicated the dark haired little girl, “together. Go tell her she can spend time with Lily if what she does pleases me.”
Milly took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the small room. The doctor flicked a switch so he could hear the conversation between the adult and the little girl.
“Dahlia? Look at me, honey,” the nurse wheedled. “I have a surprise for you. Dr. Whitney said if you do something really good for him, you can spend time with Lily. Would you like that? To spend the rest of the evening with Lily?”
Dahlia clutched the raggedy blanket to her and nodded her head, her eyes solemn. The nurse knelt beside her and reached out her hand to smooth Dahlia’s hair away from her face. Immediately the little girl ducked, clearly unafraid, simply avoiding physical contact with her. Milly sighed and dropped her hand. “Okay, Dahlia. Try something with one of the balls. See if you can do something with them.”
Dahlia turned her head and looked directly at the doctor through the one-way glass. “Why does that man stare at us all the time? What does he want?” She sounded more adult than child and she looked like a young witch with too-old eyes.
“He wants to see if you can do anything special,” the nurse answered.
“I don’t like him.”
“You don’t have to like him, Dahlia. You just have to show him what you can do. You know you have all sorts of wonderful tricks you can do.”
“It hurts when I do them.”
“Where does it hurt?” The nurse glanced at the glass too, a small frown beginning to form.
“In my head. It hurts all the time in my head and I can’t make it go away. Lily and Flame make it go away.”
“Just do something for the doctor and you can spend all evening with Lily.”
Dahlia sat silent for a moment, still rocking, her fingers curled tightly in the blanket. Behind the one-way glass, Dr. Whitney sucked in his breath and scribbled across the page of his notebook hastily, intrigued by the child’s demeanor. She was clearly weighing the advantages and disadvantages and making a judgment at her young age. Finally she nodded, as if bestowing a great favor on the nurse.
Without further argument, Dahlia placed her small hand over one ball and began to make small circles above it. Dr. Whitney leaned close to the glass to study the lines of concentration on her face. The ball began to spin on the floor then rose beneath her hand. She transferred the ball to her index finger, keeping it spinning a few inches above the floor in an amazing display of her phenomenal ability to control the ball with her mind. A second sphere joined the first in the air beneath her tiny palm, both spinning madly like tops. The task appeared almost effortless. Dahlia seemed to be concentrating, but not wholly. She glanced at the nurse and then at the glass, looking nearly bored. She held the balls spinning in the air for a minute or two.
Abruptly she let her hand fall, clapping both hands over her head, pressing her palms tightly against her temples. The balls fell to the ground. Her face was pale, white lines around her mouth.
Dr. Whitney swore softly and flicked a second switch. “Have her do it again. This time with as many balls as she can handle. I want the action sustained this time so I can time her.”
“She can’t, doctor, she’s in pain,” Milly protested. “We have to take her to Lily. It’s the only thing that will help her.”
“She’s only saying that so she can get her way. How could Lily or Iris take her pain away? That’s just ridiculous, they’re children. If she wants to see Lily she can repeat the experiment and try a little harder.”
There was a small silence. The little girl’s face darkened. Her eyes grew pitch black. She stared fiercely at the glass. “He’s a bad man,” she told the nurse. “A very bad man.” The glass began to fracture into a fine spider’s web. There were at least ten balls of varying size on the floor near the child. All of them began to spin madly in the air before slamming again and again against the window. Glass fragments broke off and rained onto the floor. Chips flew wildly in the air, choking the space until it appeared to be snowing glass.
The nurse screamed and ran from the small room, slamming the door behind her. The walls swelled outward with the terrible rage on the child’s face. The door rocked on its hinges. Flames raced up the wall, circled the door jam, bright crackling orange and red, spreading like a storm. Everything that could move was picked up from the floor and spun as if in the center of a tornado.
Through it all, Whitney stood watching, mesmerized by the power of the childish tantrum. He didn’t even move when the glass cut his face and blood ran down into the collar of his immaculate shirt.
Dr. Lily Whitney-Miller snapped off the video and turned to face the small group of men who had been watching the tape with the same mesmerized enthrallment the doctor in the film had exhibited. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was always hard to watch her father behaving in such a monstrous fashion. No matter how often she viewed the tapes of his work, she could not equate that man with the man who had been so loving to her. “That, gentlemen, was Dahlia at age four,” she announced. “She would be a couple of years younger than me now and she’s the one I believe I’ve located.”
There was an awed silence. “She was that powerful at the age of four? A four year old child?” Captain Ryland Miller put his arm around his wife to comfort her, knowing how she felt when she delved into the experiments her father had performed. He stared at the picture of the black-haired child on the screen. “What else do you have on her, Lily?”
“I’ve found more tapes. These are of a young woman being given advanced training as some kind of field operative. I’m convinced it’s Dahlia. My father’s code is different in these books and the subject under training is referred to as Novelty White. I didn’t get it at first, but my father called each of the missing girls he experimented on by the name of a flower. Dahlia is often referred to as a novelty. I think he interchanges the name Dahlia with Novelty in these experiments. These tapes cover preteens and teen years. She’s an exceptional young woman, high IQ, very talented, tremendous psychic ability but the tapes are difficult to watch because she is wide open to assault from the outside world and no one has taught her how to protect herself.”
“How could she possibly exist in the outside world without being taught shields?” One of the men sitting in the shadows asked. Lily turned her head to look at him, sighing as she did so. Nicolas Trevane always seemed to be in the shadows and he was one of the GhostWalkers who made her nervous. He sat in such stillness he seemed to blend in with his surroundings, yet when he went into action, he exploded, moving so fast he seemed to blur. He was raised for part of his childhood on a reservation with his father’s people and then spent ten years in Japan with his mother’s people. His face never seemed to give anything away. His black eyes were flat and cold and frightened her almost as much as the fact that he was a sniper, a renowned marksman capable of the most deadly and secret of missions.
Lily bowed her head to avoid looking into his icy eyes. “I don’t know, Nico. I have fewer answers now than I did a few months ago. I’m still having trouble making myself understand how my father could have experimented on children and then again on all of you. As for this poor girl, this child he virtually tortured, if I’m reading these notes correctly, she was eventually trained as a government operative and I think its possible they’re still using her.”
“That’s not possible, Lily,” Ryland objected. “You saw what happened to us when we tried to operate without an anchor. You said your father had tried using pulses of electricity on all of you. You know the results of that. Brain bleeds, acute pain. Strokes. It just isn’t possible. She’d go insane. The experiment Dr. Whitney conducted opened all our brains leaving us without barriers or our natural filters. We’re grown men, already trained, yet you’re talking about a child trying to cope with impossible demands.”
“It should have driven her over the edge,” Lily agreed. She held up the notebook. “I’ve discovered a private sanitarium in Louisiana that the Whitney trusts owns. It is run by the Sisters of Mercy. And it has one patient. A young woman.” She looked at her husband. “Her name is Dahlia Le Blanc.”
“You aren’t going to tell me your father bought out a religious organization,” Raoul ‘Gator’ Fontenet protested. He hastily crossed himself. “I won’t believe nuns could possibly be a part of Whitney’s cover-up.”
Lily smiled at him. “Actually, Gator, I think the nuns are fictitious as is the sanitarium. I think it’s really a front to hide Dahlia from the world. As the sole director of all the trusts, I was able to dig fairly deep and it seems she’s really the only patient and aside from the trust picking up all her bills, she has a sizable trust in her name with regular deposits. The deposits coincide with entries seemingly indicating my father had become suspicious she was being used as an operative for the United States government. Apparently he allowed her to be trained and then when he realized it was too difficult for her, he moved her to the sanitarium and, as always, when things went wrong, he left her without following up.” There was an edge of bitterness to her voice. “I think my father tried to create a safe place for her there, just as he created this house for me.”
Ryland bent his head to Lily’s, his chin rubbing the top of her sable hair. “Your father was a brilliant man, Lily. He had to learn about love, it wasn’t shown to him as a child.” It was a refrain he reminded her of often since it had come to light that not only had Dr. Whitney experimented on Lily, removing the filters from her brain in order to enhance psychic ability, but that she wasn’t his biological child as he’d led her to believe, but one of many children he’d ‘bought’ from foreign orphanages.
There was another silence. Tucker Addison whistled softly. He was a tall, stocky man with dark skin, brown eyes and an engaging smile. “You did it, Lily. You actually found her. And she’s a GhostWalker like all of us.”
“Before we get too excited, I think you all should watch some of the other training tapes I found. Each of these is labeled Novelty.” She signaled to her husband to press play on the machine to start the video running.
Lily found herself holding her breath. She was certain the child Novelty and Dahlia were one and the same. “According to the records, Novelty, is eight years old here.” The child’s hair was thick and as black as a raven’s wing. She wore it carelessly braided and the braid hung to her waist in a thick rope. Her face was delicate, matching the rest of her and the thick hair seemed to overpower her. “I’m certain this is the same child. Look at her face. Her eyes are the same.” Lily felt the child was hiding from the world behind the mass of silken strands. She looked exotic, her origins, Asian. Like all the missing girls, Dr. Whitney had adopted her from a foreign country and brought her to his laboratory to enhance her natural psychic abilities.
In the video, the little girl was on a balance beam. She didn’t walk carefully. She didn’t even look down. She ran across it as if it was a wide sidewalk instead of a narrow piece of gymnastics equipment. She didn’t hesitate at the end of the beam, but did a flip off of it, landing on her feet still running without breaking stride. She was far too small to leap up and catch the bars over her head, but she didn’t seem to notice. She launched herself skyward, her hands outstretched, her small body tucked as she connected with the bars and swung over them with ease.
A collective gasp told Lily the men were all watching. She let the tape play through. All the while the little girl performed amazing skills. At times the child laughed aloud, bringing home to them the fact that she was alone in the room with only the cameras catching her incredible performance. Lily waited for the end of the tape and the reaction it would bring. As many times as she viewed it, she could not believe what she was seeing.
The child went up and over a two story high cargo net and then raced across the floor toward the last obstacle. A cable stretched across the length of the room, sagging in the middle, several feet above ground level. Novelty stared at the cable as she ran, concentration apparent on her face. The cable began to stiffen and by the time she leapt onto the steel wire woven into a thick rope, there was no sag what-so-ever in the middle, allowing her to run lightly across it to the end and jump off laughing.
There was another silence when Ryland switched off the tape. “Can any of you do that?”
The men shook their heads. “How did she do it?”
“She has to be manipulating energy. We all do it to a much smaller extent,” Lily said. “She’s able to take it a step further and at little expense to herself. I’m willing to bet that she’s generating an anti-gravitational field to levitate the cable. It could be done by psychokinetically converting the underside of the cable into a superconductor, and applying the Li-Podkletnov technique of spinning the nuclei in the atoms of the underside to generate a sufficiently powerful anti-grav field to lift it. And that would explain how she just danced across it as if she were floating!” Lily turned to look at the men, her eyes alight with excitement. “She was floating! Her own weight was reduced to almost nothing by the same anti-grav field.”
“Lily,” Ryland shook his head. “You’re doing it again. Try speaking normal English.”
“I’m sorry. I get carried away when I’m excited,” Lily admitted. “It’s just so incredible. I’ve been scouring the research literature and what’s amazing to me is that she’s doing with her mind what a couple of scientists are only beginning to be able to do in labs: generate anti-gravity. Only she does it much better, and she seems to be able to generate anti-gravity whenever she likes. She turns it on and off in a way that the scientists aren’t even close to at this point. Plus scientists, and I as well, would give anything to know how she is doing it at room temperature. They currently need to lower the temperature to several hundred degrees below zero in order to create their superconductors.”
“Anti-gravity?” Gator echoed, “isn’t that just a little far-fetched?”
“And what we do, isn’t?” Nicolas asked.
“Well, actually I thought so at first too,” Lily conceded. “But if, like me, you’ve watched these tapes several hundred times, you begin to notice little details. Here, let’s rewind it to where she’s crossing the cable. Now let’s watch it in slow motion. See? Right there when the cable starts to straighten out?” She touched the screen to indicate where they should look. “Look here, at the ceiling above the cable – see that electrical wire connecting the two overhead lights? Look, it’s moved up, about half an inch! Do you see that? And then it falls back right when Dahlia jumps off the other end of the cable. That’s exactly what you’d expect to see if there was an anti-grav field extending upward from the cable.”
Lily pointed to the image of the young girl frozen on the screen. “Look at her, she’s laughing, not grabbing her head in pain.” She snapped in another tape. “In this one, she moves locks so fast, at first I thought a machine had to be involved.” The tape showed a huge vault with a complex lock system. The bolts slid so fast, the tumblers spun and clicked as if a large pattern was predetermined. The camera had focused completely on the heavy door so that it wasn’t until they heard a child’s laughter as the door swung open that they even realized Dahlia was there, the one opening locks with her mind.
Lily regarded the men. “Isn’t that incredible? She never even touched the vault. I considered a few theories – clairaudition for one, but I just couldn’t account for the sheer speed with which she opened the vault. Finally it hit me. She was directly intuiting and taking pleasure in the state of lowest entropy in the tumbler-lever system of the vault!”
Lily looked so triumphant Ryland hated to crush her joy. “Sweetheart, I’m so excited for you. Really, I am. It’s just that I didn’t understand a damn thing you said.” He looked around the room with a raised eyebrow. The other men shook their heads.
She tapped her finger on the table, frowning. “All right, let’s see if I can come up with a way to explain it to you. You know those movies where the burglars put their stethoscope up against the safe as they’re turning the dial?”
“Sure,” Gator said. “I watch that stuff all the time. They’re listening for the tumblers to click into place.”
“Not exactly, Gator,” Lily denied. “They’re actually listening for a drop in the amount of sound. You’re hearing clicking with each number you pass, and then you hear just a little less clicking when one of the tumblers has fallen into place. That’s why I first thought of clairaudition, which as you know, is like clairvoyance, seeing things at a distance in your mind, but this would be hearing things at a distance in your mind.”
“But you don’t think that’s what she’s doing there?” Nicolas asked.
Lily shook her head. “No, I had to throw that explanation out. I couldn’t get it to explain her incredible speed. Plus, I found out that the vault in the videotape-like most safes made since the 1960’s, has all kinds of safeguards like nylon tumblers and sound baffles that make them pretty much impenetrable from lock-picking of this sort.”
“So Dahlia doesn’t do it through sound,” Nicolas said.
“No, she doesn’t,” Lily agreed. “I was stumped for a while. But in the middle of the night a much simpler explanation occurred to me; she literally ‘feels’ each lever falling into place. But there’s more. I think she has an emotional distaste for entropy in systems that gives her speed.”
“You’ve lost me again, Lily,” Ryland said.
“Sorry. The second law of thermodynamics says that the amount of entropy, or disorder, in the universe, tends to increase unless it is hindered from doing so. You can see the second law in action in everywhere. A vase breaks into pieces. You never see a bunch of pieces assemble themselves into a vase. Left to itself, a house always gets dustier, never cleaner. And tumblers, because they’re spring-loaded always spring out of place, not into place, when left to themselves. That’s the second law of thermodynamics in action-disorder keeps increasing if things are left to themselves. The closest I can figure it is that Dahlia is a part of nature that runs counter to the second law. In other words she loves order and despises entropy.”
“That’s true of a lot of people. Rosa is a nut about the house being tidy,” Gator said, referring to their housekeeper. “And her kitchen has to be just so. We don’t dare move anything around.”
Lily nodded. “That’s true, but with Dahlia it runs much deeper. Because she’s psychic, she actually takes pleasure when she intuits the tumblers falling into place. It’s because she’s doing her lock-picking at the level of feeling and intuition, motivated by pleasure that gives her speed. Think of how quickly we take our hand off a hot stove when we start to feel pain, or how the knee jerks up when you hit it with a hammer. These are reflexive responses; they don’t involve any thinking, which is a good thing for that hot hand, because thinking is much slower.”
“I can open small locks,” Ryland admitted. He glanced at Nicolas. “You can too. But I admit, I’m definitely thinking about it. I have to concentrate.”
“And neither of us can open locks on that scale or at that speed,” Nicolas denied. His gaze remained riveted to the screen. “She’s amazing.”
“I’d have to agree, Nico,” Lily said. “So as near as I can tell, she’s psychokinetically moving the tumblers into place in the same kind of reflexive fashion. It doesn’t get slowed down by her thinking mind; she’s just getting instantly rewarded by a jolt of pleasure from her nervous system every time she moves one of the tumblers into place. And when all the tumblers are in place… well, that’s why she laughed with such exuberance when the door swung open. That was the real rush for her.” She swallowed and looked away from them. “I’m that same way with mathematical patterns. My mind continually has to work on them and I get a rush when the patterns all click into place.”
Nicolas whistled softly. “I can see why the government would want her working for them.”
Lily stiffened. “She’s still a child who deserved a childhood. She should have been playing with toys.”
Nicolas turned his head slowly, looked at her with his cold black eyes. “That’s exactly what she appears to be doing, Lily. Playing with toys. You’re angry with your father and rightly so. But he tried to do for this child what he did for you. Your brain had to work on mathematical problem and patterns all the time, this girl required a different type of work, but she obviously needed it just as much. Why wasn’t she adopted out?” His voice was flat, almost a monotone, but it carried weight and authority. He never raised his voice, but he was always heard.
Lily repressed a shiver. “Maybe I’m too close to the problem,” she agreed. “And you very well could be right. She does seem to be able to do all this without pain. I’d like to know why. Even now, with all the work I’ve done, the exercises to make myself stronger, I still get violent headaches if I use telepathy too much.”
“But you maybe weren’t a natural telepathic. You have other talents that are amazing. When I use telepathy, it doesn’t bother me at all,” Nicolas said.
“Lily, you said the tapes of the child were difficult to watch,” Tucker pointed out, “but she seems fine in that one.”
Lily nodded. “The tapes involving operative training were difficult for me to watch. This one you’re about to see really covers both her tremendous skills, how dangerous she can be and the cost of her gifts.”
The hallway depicted on the screen was very narrow, an obvious maze set up by to represent various rooms in a house. A dozen other rooms were seen as smaller images along the left side of the screen. A small black-haired woman came into view, stalking silently along the wall. She took several steps into the maze and stopped. She seemed to be listening or concentrating internally. The watchers could see a large man crouched behind a curtain in one of the rooms and a second man in the beams along the ceiling waiting in ambush almost directly above the first man.
The woman was tiny, her black hair straight and shiny, swept back in a careless ponytail. She wore dark clothes and moved with graceful, almost fluid stealthy steps. When she stilled, she seemed to become part of the shadows, a vague, blurred image, so slight as to be a part of the wall. The watchers blinked several times to keep her in focus.
“She’s able to blur her image enough to trick anyone watching,” Ryland said in awe. “That would be useful for us to learn.”
“The focus and concentration required is incredible,” Lily pointed out. “But it’s costing her. She’s rubbed her temples twice and if you look closely at her face, she’s already sweating. She obviously can feel the emotions of those waiting to attack her. I observed her training in martial arts. She was reading the mind of her opponent, anticipating everything he did before he did it. She utilizes her psychic abilities as well as her physical ones.”
“She’s not armed,” Nicolas pointed out.
“No, but she doesn’t need to be,” Lily assured.
They watched the woman called Novelty continue unerringly to the right room, not even bothering to check the various empty rooms between her and the two men waiting to ambush her. She trusted her instincts and her highly evolved psychic senses.
“She’s so damned small,” Gator said. “She looks like a child. She can’t weigh in at a hundred pounds.”
“Maybe,” said Lily, ” but watch her. She’s lethal.”
The woman moved with confidence until she was against the wall nearest where one man crouched behind the curtains covering the opening to a closet. “She’s laying her hand against the wall, almost as if she’s feeling for something,” Lily said. “Energy perhaps? Could she be that sensitive? Could a human being’s energy pass through the wall in sufficient force to allow her to feel his presence, or is she reading his thoughts?”
Novelty stepped back from the wall in total silence, but remained staring at it for several minutes, slowly sweeping her gaze upward as if she could see the ceiling in the other room as well. The walls slowly blackened. Smoke poured into the hall. Angry flames leapt through the wall to the inside of the room and raced up toward the ceiling, reaching hungrily for both men. Almost immediately the entire room was engulfed in flames triggering a sprinkler system. It was the only thing that saved the two ambushers from a terrible death.
“She generates heat,” Ian McGillicuddy said. He was a giant of a man, with wide shoulders and a heavy muscular body. His dark brown eyes were fixed on the screen watching the flames in awe. “I wouldn’t mind that particular gift.”
“Or curse,” Nicolas interjected.
Ian nodded. “Or curse,” he agreed.
The young woman slipped from the house and moved back into the trees, pressing both hands to her head. She sank to her knees, fell backward and went immediately into a violent seizure. The cameras remained focused on her as blood trickled from her mouth. It was several seconds before she lay unmoving on the ground.
Ryland swore and turned away. His gaze collided with Nicolas’. They stared at one another for a long moment of understanding.
Lily paused the tape, leaving the distressing picture of the woman lying in a heap on the ground. “What’s causing this pain? I’ve checked through my father’s notes and viewed the other training tapes. Every tape where she’s left completely alone she is able to perform all sorts of incredible and nearly unbelievable feats, but if there is a human being close by, she suffers tremendous pain and often passes out.”
“Emotions swamping her?” Gator guessed. “With no anchor she’s left wide open to all the emotions. The men in the room would have been scared and angry and feeling betrayed by their handlers. I would imagine they didn’t like being put in the position of nearly being roasted alive.”
“Maybe,” Lily mused, ” but I think it’s more complicated than what we go through. I’m not certain she reads emotions, or at least not how most of us function.”
Nicolas stared at the screen for a long time, studying the image of the unconscious woman. “She didn’t sense the presence of her adversaries in the way we do, did she? It isn’t emotions, it’s something else.”
“I think it could be energy,” Lily said. “My father didn’t understand about anchors, not really. When he first performed the experiment on all of us children, he thought we just had close friendships. He didn’t understand that some of us trapped the overload of emotion away from the others allowing them to function. Novelty, or Dahlia, is not an anchor, she needs one in order to function without pain. If you notice, in the majority of the training tapes, she’s alone. They built a home for her, much like my home was built for me, and she was shielded from people. Dr. Whitney believed she could read minds in the same way many of us can and he thought he was shielding her from emotions.”
“You’re getting all this from his notes?” Ryland asked. “How dangerous does he say she is?”
Lily shrugged. “He’s talked about necessity of removing her from society several times, yet he continued to allow this training to take place. I studied the tapes as he must have, and she doesn’t attack unless she believes she is forced to defend herself. So certainly, during her teenage years, she’s gained some semblance of control over her abilities.”
Lily put on the remaining tapes, one after the other. She had watched them already, the heartbreaking scenes of the woman she was certain was the missing Dahlia doing martial arts, anticipating every move before it was made, defeating every opponent in spite of her small size and lack of weight, but inevitably collapsing in heap of muscle spasms, retching stomach, and blood trickling from her mouth and even her ears at times. She never cried out, she merely rocked back and forth, pressing her hands to her head before her ultimate collapse. The tapes depicted training that could possibly be used for undercover work, and each time the woman called Novelty ended up the same way, curled up in a ball in the fetal position.
Watching it made Lily sick. Once her father discovered Dahlia couldn’t work under the conditions they were expecting, he should have pulled her from the training immediately. Unfortunately, she always performed the given task before she collapsed. Remembering the earlier tapes of the stubborn and vengeful child in the laboratory, Lily wondered what they held over her head to get her to work for them when she was so clearly strong willed enough to refuse.
Instead of watching the tapes she watched the reactions of the men. She wanted to send the most sympathetic after Dahlia. The woman had suffered trauma for years. She needed the safety of the Whitney home with the protection of the thick walls and a compassionate and kind-hearted staff all of whom had natural barriers so they couldn’t project emotions to the GhostWalker team. Her father had provided the safe house for her and she had, in turn, chosen to share it with the men her father had experimented on.
Lily looked at their faces and for the first time felt the urge to laugh. Why had she thought she’d be able to read them? They hid their thoughts behind expressionless masks. They were well trained in the military, each of them receiving special training long before they were ever recruited for duty in the GhostWalker squad.
She waited until the last tape had been played and the impact on the men was the most profound. Dahlia Le Blanc was the kind of woman most men would want to protect. Very small, very slight with enormous sad eyes and flawless skin. She looked a doll with her skin and eyes and wealth of jet-black hair. Lily knew Dahlia needed help, a tremendous amount of help, to adjust to living in the world again. She was determined to give Dahlia everything Dr. Whitney had failed to provide. A home, a sanctuary, people she could call family and count on. It wouldn’t be easy to convince Dahlia to come back to the very place where the original damage had been done to her.
Ryland swept his arm around Lily and bent his head to hers. “You have tears in your eyes.”
“Everyone else should too,” Lily said and blinked rapidly. “My father took away her life, Ryland. No one would adopt her and give her a home. No one could adopt her. I don’t even know if we can help her. And why would she trust me?”
“I’ll go after her,” Nicolas said suddenly. Unexpectedly. And unwanted.
Lily tried not to gape in horror. She took a deep breath and let it out. “You just came back from the Congo, Nico. I know it wasn’t pleasant. You need rest, not another mission. I can’t ask you to go.”
“You didn’t ask me, Lily.” His black eyes pinned her. Held her. “And you wouldn’t ask me, but it doesn’t matter. I’m an anchor and I can handle her. I’m here and I’m on extended leave. I’ll go.”
Lily wanted to protest but couldn’t think of reasons to stop him. It annoyed her that she was so transparent that Nicolas could see she was uneasy around him. It wasn’t that she didn’t like him, but he frightened her with his too cold eyes and his implacable resolve. It didn’t help that she knew his expertise. “I thought Gator would know the area better and find it easier.” It was the best excuse she could come up with.
Nicolas simply looked at her. “I’m going after her, Lily. If you need to give me papers to authorize me to get her out of there and bring her here, get them done. I’ll leave in an hour.”
“Nico,” Ryland protested. “You haven’t had more than a couple of hours of sleep. You just got home. At least rest tonight.”
Lily knew none of the men would argue with Nicolas. They just never did. And she had no good reason to argue with him. Dahlia would be safe with him. She glanced at Gator in the hopes he’d volunteer to go along. He wasn’t looking at her. Of course, the men would stand solidly behind Nicolas. She sighed and capitulated. “I’ll have Cyrus Bishop draw up the papers giving you the authority to remove her. We know we can trust Cyrus to stay quiet.” Lily had taken her time trusting the family lawyer after learning the extent of her father’s hidden secrets, uncertain just how deeply Cyrus Bishop had been involved. Experimenting on people, especially children was monstrous, yet Peter Whitney had provided her with a loving home life and a wonderful childhood. She was still struggling to understand the two sides of her father.
Ryland waited until his wife left the room before turning to Nicolas. “If she knew about that little scratch that almost ended your life, she’d be up in arms, Nico.”
I have to go, Rye. Nicolas indicated the others as he spoke telepathically to insure privacy. It had taken long months of practice to be able to direct telepathic communication to only one subject and keep the others from hearing, but it was a useful tool and Nicolas had worked hard to learn the skill. Lily has them all bleeding in sympathy for this woman. Anyone capable of generating an anti-gravity field or the kind of heat it takes to start a fire and has the ability to change the structure of a cable is dangerous. Every one of the men would hesitate to do whatever was necessary if she turned on them. I won’t.
Ryland let his breath out slowly. Nicolas always sounded the same. Calm. Unemotional. Logical. He wondered what it would take to ever stir Nicolas up and ruin his tranquil nature. I trust you, Nico, but Lily is afraid for this woman. She feels her father robbed Dahlia of everything she deserved. Parents, a home, a family, essentially a life.
He did. Lily takes on his blame and she shouldn’t. She’s every bit a victim as this poor woman, but none of that changes the danger to anyone trying to persuade Dahlia to leave her only known sanctuary. Don’t you see what they’ve done, Rye? If they’re using her as an operative as Lily suspects, they keep her in line because she needs that home out in the swamp. She has no choice but to return to it. She can’t live outside of that environment so she does what they tell her and returns to it. They wouldn’t even need to watch her, they’d know she’d have to come back.
Nicolas stood up and stretched, suppressing the wince when his body protested. The bullets had come a little too close to his heart for comfort and he was still recovering. He had looked forward to some down time. His team immediately got to their feet. Ian MacGillicuddy, Tucker Addison and Gator were all tired and needed rest. He knew they expected to accompany him. Nicolas scowled at them. “Do the lot of you think I can’t handle that little woman all by myself?”
The men exchanged long grins. “I don’t think you can handle any woman, Nico,” Tucker answered. “Least of all that little stick of dynamite. We have to go along and make certain she doesn’t kick your ass.”
“I’ve gotta agree,” Gator said. “She looks like she could do some real damage to a push over like you.”
Ian snorted in derision. “She might run if she saw your sorry face looking at her through the swamp. She’d think you were some swamp monster sent to drag her into the black depths. She needs to see a good looking man coming to take her home.”
“And that wouldn’t be you, would it?” Gator nudged him. “I’m familiar with the bayou, Nico, and I know how you get so turned around.”
Ryland watched the men laughing and joking with Nicolas. All of them knew Nicolas could be sent out alone into the deepest jungle or the broadest expanse of desert for months and he always returned with the job done. It didn’t matter, they would throw everything they could think of at him and Nicolas would take it all good-naturedly, but in the end, he would leave his team behind.
All of them had pulled duty in the Congo and had spent weeks infiltrating the enemy camps both in the villages and camps to gain vital information. Using psychic talent for extended periods of time, especially shielding themselves from large groups, was extraordinarily draining. All of them needed rest. Nicolas would see to his men first and he would protect them from Dahlia Le Blanc in spite of any sympathy Nicolas might feel toward her.
Do your best to reassure Lily. Ryland found it much easier to use telepathy these days. The exercises Lily insisted the men do daily had added, not only to their control, but to reconstructing a semblance of the barriers her father had brought down in his experiment to enhance them all. Lily worked hard at conditioning them, hoping to give them the necessary tools to be able to live in the world with families and friends. In the meantime, she generously shared her home and her time working with them all. It only made him love her more. He wanted Nicolas to find a way to reassure Lily. Nicolas wasn’t the type of man to lie even to make Lily feel better.
If it’s at all possible, I’ll bring Dahlia back to her. That’s the best I can do.
Ryland nodded to him and left the men to their teasing. He glanced up at a camera and waved in case Arly, their security man, was watching as he went in search of his wife. He found her in their bedroom staring out the large bay window at the rolling lawns below.
“Lily, he promised he’d bring her home to you.”
She didn’t turn around. “It isn’t that I don’t like him, Ryland. I hope you know that. I hope he knows it. It’s just that he can be so unemotional. She needs someone to love her and care about all the things she’s been through. I don’t think Nicolas is capable of that kind of compassion. ”
“So you think the reason he’s leaving his men behind is duty? He looks out for them, watches over them. He takes every dangerous job himself, Lily, and believe me, what you’re asking is very dangerous, very high risk.”
“He’s capable of killing her,” she protested.
“And she’s just as capable of killing him.”
Lily looked at him with sorrow in her eyes. “What did my father do?”