"Why did your parents let them take you away?" Sascha's voice cut through the silence.
Faith didn't want to talk about her past anymore. But that was irrational and she wasn't an irrational individual. "Night-Star has a long history of producing F-Psy. They knew I wouldn't survive in a normal environment."
"Or maybe that's what it was useful for them to tell you." Vaughn's voice was a rough scrape over her skin. Impossible. Such an effect had no basis in the physiological responses of humanoid species.
"My family had, and still has, nothing to gain by lying to me."
"Tell me, Faith, how much do you earn for the PsyClan?" Sascha's voice was somehow different from every other Psy voice Faith had ever heard. It seemed to effect calm without the application of any discernible psychic pressure.
"I don't keep records." But she knew. "My family ensures I have everything I need."
"I have some idea," Sascha said. "You're worth millions. And you've been worth millions since the first day they started training you to give them what they needed - forecasts in the lucrative field of commerce."
"The visions can't be halted."
"No. But like Vaughn said, maybe they can be channeled." Faith didn't answer and nobody said another word, but she heard their silence. No matter how hard she tried not to hear anything.
Vaughn felt irritable, as if his fur were being rubbed the wrong way. He glanced at the blindfolded woman less than an arm's length away and knew she was to blame. But having checked his mind for possible traps - a trick Sascha had taught all the sentinels - he was sure that Faith wasn't using any Psy powers on him.
The cat figured that made it okay to indulge.
He raised his hand to finger a strand of her hair where it lay against the back of the seat. Once again, he felt her go in-finitesimally quiet. He frowned. Psy weren't known for being that sensitive to physical stimuli, which only made Faith more interesting.
The car slowed.
Moving with catlike speed, he was out almost before it stopped moving. "We're here." Though he opened her door, he let her exit on her own.
Her movements were hesitant, but she was soon standing beside the door, back held in the poker-stiff posture patented by her race.
"Don't," he ordered when she began to raise her hands. Reaching around, he undid the scarf himself. The cat took the chance to roll in the rich sweetness of her scent, but the man remained on guard.
She blinked against the light coming off the porch - Lucas had turned on the single bulb - and he saw her eyes for the first time with the sight of a man and not that of the beast. They were just as unearthly, just as beautiful. Two pieces of captured night sky.
Faith looked up. And up. As she'd guessed from the feel of him at her back, the jaguar was tall in human form. His hair was a thick amber-gold, long enough to brush his shoulders, and his eyes ... they were an odd almost-gold, the eyes of a cat made human. There was nothing soft about him, nothing tame. Yet she, a woman who'd never before understood the concept, found him beautiful. It was an inexplicable reaction, one her brain couldn't accept, going as it did against every rule of Silence.
Her breath caught in her throat and she started to breathe faster than was optimal. She knew she was having a stress reaction, but she couldn't stop it. Her heart rate started to speed up a second later. Remembering a simple anchoring technique, she clenched her hand on top of the open car door and squeezed. But the physical action had no effect.
Suddenly, there were big hands on her face forcing her to look up and meet those odd eyes. "Stop it."
She lifted her own hands and tried to pull his off. Didn't he know that he was making it worse? The pressure had increased a thousand times at the skin-to-skin contact. Heat, sensation, power, everything that was him seeped into her and threatened to short-circuit her already overstretched mind.
"Vaughn, let her go." Sascha's command was a gift. "She can't handle that much sensation."
"Yes, she can." Those cat eyes stared down into hers.
She wanted to fight him, but had no idea how to use her abilities in a nonfatal attack. Starting to feel dizzy, she swayed. Her eyes locked with his. "I'm going to lose consciousness." Starkly aware of the possible danger to her PsyNet shields, she was numb to the physical agony of nerves going haywire.
"No, you're not. If you do, you'll be helpless." Vaughn didn't loosen his hold. "Do you want to be at my mercy?"
She tried to tell him it wasn't a choice she could make.
Her body was shutting down. And then the last neuron flickered and went out.
Swearing, Vaughn caught Faith's body before she fell and hurt herself.
"Damn it! Why didn't you let her go when I said?" Sascha ran to cradle the face of the woman in his arms.
"She's too scared of everything." His beast was driven by instinct and it said that what he was doing was right. "We can't afford to baby her."
Sascha looked like she wanted to argue, but then Lucas stepped up beside her. "He's right. Faith has to learn to deal - if she can't handle touch or normal human interaction, how the hell's she going to learn to handle those visions she says she's been having?"
"You two don't understand. This woman has almost never been touched, much less spent time with people who don't follow the rules of Silence. You know what I was like and I wasn't isolated as she's been." She took her hands off Faith. "Bring her inside. I think she'll be alright in a few minutes - it doesn't read like a seizure."
Vaughn carried Faith into the cabin. Her weight was slight, her whole body built on a small scale. But he'd felt the power of her eyes when they'd looked into his, felt the enormous strength of will inside those fragile bones. She was strong and she needed to find that strength if she was going to survive. The cat knew that as an absolute truth. And sometimes the jaguar understood things far better than the human male.