“Tomorrow.” Leaning down, he nuzzled at her, only taking a small bite before rubbing his lips over the spot. “Time to go back.”
“Just a minute more.” Scared this was a dream, she dared to wrap her arms around his neck, stroke her fingers over his nape. He was much taller, but he stayed in position so she could hold him, his breath hot against her skin. Just for a minute.
LARA wasn’t surprised to see Walker in her office that night. He’d come to her the previous evening, too. The part of her that was still bruised had her keeping a wary emotional distance, but that same part held her complex, painful feelings for the quiet Psy male, and they left her unable to ask him to leave—especially when she sensed a subtle difference in him, a lessening in that wall of reserve.
However, not wanting to set herself up for another fall, she’d brought up something she was sure would have him making a fast exit last night. “You never talk about Marlee’s mother.”
To her shock, she’d gotten an answer.
“Her name was Yelene,” he’d said, his expression telling her nothing of his emotions toward the woman who had borne him a child. “We lived together in a family unit, both of us of the opinion that psychologically speaking, it was the most secure way to bring up Marlee and, later, Toby.”
Such a cold rationale on the surface, and yet beneath it was a love that had led him to walk into near-certain death on the slim chance that the children would find sanctuary. “I’m sorry about your sister.” She knew Walker was the eldest of the three siblings, Judd the youngest. Sienna and Toby’s mother had fallen in the middle . . . and died far too soon.
“Kristine was gifted but troubled.”
“I’m glad Toby had you to turn to.” Because Walker, he would’ve understood a child’s pain at the loss, even in Silence.
“I couldn’t protect Sienna”—dark, edgy words—“but I wouldn’t have allowed anyone to seize Toby from us.”
Devastatingly conscious of what it must’ve cost him to see Sienna taken by Ming, she hadn’t asked the question on the tip of her tongue yesterday. Tonight, however, as they sat at the small table in the break room, his long legs encroaching on her space, she couldn’t contain it any longer. “Yelene,” she said. “What was she like?”
“Our genes were a good match.” His big body betrayed nothing of his inner thoughts as he gave her that nonanswer. “It was predicted that we’d create high-Gradient offspring, and Marlee is living proof of the veracity of the geneticists’ predictions.”
Lack of overt body language or not, Lara knew he wanted her to back off. But she had no intention of turning back the clock, of returning their relationship to what it had been before the kiss—when she’d allowed him to dictate the boundaries in that subtle way of his. “You felt something for her, didn’t you?” Every instinct she had urged her to touch him, to connect with him on the most basic level, but Walker hadn’t acceded her those skin privileges, and even if they had had more between them than this strange friendship, he wasn’t the kind of man with whom a woman could demand.
“I was Silent,” he said, his jean-clad leg brushing her own in a rough caress that made her breath catch in spite of her warning not to let herself read too much into his visits, his words. “I felt nothing.”
He put down the coffee she’d made him. “There was no love or affection—not as you feel it. But there was, I believed, a true commitment and loyalty to the family unit. I was wrong.” So cold and final, the statement told her the subject was now off-limits.
It wasn’t Lara’s determination that had her fighting his dominance to say what she did next, but the deepest instincts of her healer’s heart. “She hurt you.”
A tendon pulled taut on his jaw. “She made the most logical choice when the entire family was slated for rehabilitation.” Walker would never forget the day, the minute, he was served the edict and told he had three days to put his affairs, and those of the minors under his care, in order; three days to prepare his daughter and the boy he considered a son to undergo a psychic brainwipe that would turn them into vegetables suitable only for the most menial tasks.
“According to the rehabilitation order, the Lauren line had been judged ‘unstable’ and ‘undesirable.’ ” Kristine’s suicide had been listed as one of the pieces of evidence, but Judd and Walker had always known that to be nothing but a convenient excuse. “Yelene’s name wasn’t on the notice.”
He’d gone home to discuss the situation with her, to lay out the plans he and Judd had put in place, both of them having seen the writing on the wall when the extent of Sienna’s powers became clear. Add in Judd’s telekinetic strength and Walker’s telepathy, as well as Marlee’s and Toby’s nascent abilities, and the Lauren family had become a threat that needed to be neutralized.
“She was packing her bags when I walked in.” At first, he’d believed she was preparing for a defection attempt. To this day, he didn’t know what had stopped him from sharing their plans—perhaps some part of him had always understood that though Yelene had carried Marlee in her womb, their child was only a collection of cells to her . . . a replaceable entity. “When she saw me, she said point-blank that she didn’t intend for her genes to die out alongside mine.”
Lara’s pupils dilated, taking over those tawny irises. “I can’t understand.” Disbelieving bewilderment. “I never will. All I can do is . . .” She put her hand on the table, palm up.