Shadow game (Chapter Five)
Ryland felt helpless, cursing as he raised his body up and down, working his muscles to stay fit. He had to convince Lily that every one of his men was in danger. There was no concrete evidence, but he felt it. In his heart and soul he knew it. If they remained much longer in the cages of the Donovans laboratories, they would all disappear, one by one. Like Russell.
In sheer frustration Ryland leapt to his feet and paced restlessly across the length of his prison. His head was throbbing from holding the telepathic link for so long for all the team members while they discussed how to survive on the outside if their escape succeeded. It had been a longer conversation than usual, and they had continued to test and disrupt the alarms and security system often, using even more energy. He rubbed his temples, feeling slightly sick.
Pain hit him hard. Drove him to his knees. Lily. It was a knife in his gut, doubling him over. A stone in his chest crushing him. Sorrow such as he had never known and never wanted to experience. At that moment nothing else mattered but to get to her. Find her and comfort her. Protect her. The need was alive and crawling through his body and mind.
He began to build the bridge between them. A bridge strong and sure so he could cross the boundaries of time and space.
Lily dreamt of a river of tears. Tears filling up the sea and splashing onto land. She dreamt of blood and pain and monstrous men lurking in shadows. She dreamt of a man kneeling beside her, gathering her into his arms and holding her tightly to him, rocking her back and forth in an attempt to comfort her. When he couldn't stop her tears, he began to kiss her face, following the wet trail from her eyes to her mouth. Kissing her over and over. Long, drugging kisses that robbed her of her ability to think or breathe or even grieve.
Ryland. She knew him. Dream lover. He had stolen into her nightmare to carry her away. "I feel so empty and lost." Even in her dream, she sounded forlorn.
"You're not lost, Lily," he replied gently.
"I am nothing. I belong nowhere. With nobody. None of this is real, don't you see? He robbed us of our life, of our free will."
"You belong in my world where there are no boundaries. You're a GhostWalker. It doesn't matter how it came to be, Lily, it simply is. We belong together. Be with me." Ryland stood up, held out his hand to her.
"What are we doing?" she murmured, reaching to take his offered hand, shocked that they were outside a cage, outside the thick walls of her home. Away from the secrets kept beneath the earth. "Where are we going?" His fingers closed around hers, strong and reassuring. Her heart gave a peculiar lurch in recognition of him.
"Where would you like to go?"
"Anywhere, anywhere away from here." She wanted to be far from that laboratory and the truth buried beneath the stories of her house. The weight of her knowledge crushed her until she could barely breathe.
He wanted her to trust him enough to tell him what had distressed her, but he simply tucked her hand into his and took her out into the night.
"How can you be here, Ryland? How can you be here with me?"
"I can walk in dreams. Raoul, we call him Gator, can control animals. Sam can move objects. There's a lot of talent among us, but there's only a few who are dreamwalkers."
"Thank you for coming to me." Lily said it simply. She meant it. She had no idea why he made her feel whole when she had been so shattered, but walking beside him, tucked beneath the protection of his shoulder, gave her a semblance of peace.
They wandered through the darkened streets together, not really paying attention to where they were going, simply being together. "Tell me about it, Lily." Ryland walked very close to her, his larger body brushing against hers protectively.
She shook her head. "I can't think about it, not even here."
"You're safe here with me. I'll keep you safe. Tell me what he did to you."
"He didn't love me. That's what he did, Ryland. He didn't love me." She wouldn't look at him. She stared off into the night, her face averted, her expression so sad it threatened to break his heart.
Ryland gathered her into his arms protectively, holding her close, transporting them across time and space. Far away from laboratories and cages. Away from reality so that the wind blew on their faces and they could simply be together. A respite her brain grabbed at and held on to. Their bodies soared free and they could go where their minds took them, but her sorrow walked with them in their dreamworld. And so did his worries. "One of my men is missing, Lily. I can't reach him."
She knew what he wanted. "I'll find him. I'll ask to speak with all the men tomorrow. I've supposedly been given access to everyone. Which man?" She ducked her head, guilt weighing heavily.
"Russell Cowling. And I don't blame you, Lily. I know that's what you're thinking. Your father…"
"I don't want to talk about him." Her dreamworld was beginning to dissolve around the edges as the harshness of reality intruded.
Ryland framed her face with his hands. "I saw his eyes when he looked at you. He loved you very much. Whatever sins he committed, Lily, he did love you."
She looked up at him, her long lashes wet with tears. "Did he? I thought he did, but there's an entire room filled with tapes neatly labeled 'Lily' to prove otherwise."
Ryland bent his head, taking her mouth, needing to take away her sorrow. His mouth was exquisitely gentle on hers, tender and coaxing. A kiss meant to be innocent. Healing. It was his intention to comfort her. But fire raced through him. He felt it in his veins. In his belly. In the heavy fullness of his groin. It burned along his skin and took him by surprise.
Lily melted into him, pliant and yielding. Her mouth opened to his, her arms creeping around his neck so that he could feel her generous breasts pressed tightly against the wall of muscles along his chest. Energy arced between them, snapping and sizzling as if alive. His skin to hers and back again. Small bolts of lightning whipped in his bloodstream. His arms tightened possessively.
Lily lifted her head to look at him, searching his face for answers. Nothing could prepare her for the instant and overwhelming physical attraction. She didn't trust anything so strong. She shook her head silently in denial.
Ryland could see it in her face. A groan escaped. "Lily, can't you see there's more than just something physical between us? I ache for you, I won't deny it, but I feel sad when you're sad. I want more than anything to make you happy, to know you're safe. I think about you every minute of the day. You refuse to see what's between us. I look at you and see clouds in your eyes when you're looking back. Does it matter so much to you the why of it?"
"This isn't real, Ryland. You're here with me, talking to me because you felt my need, but it still isn't real. It's a dream we're both sharing."
"I felt your need, across time and space, I still felt your need of me. Doesn't that tell you something, Lily?"
"It's still a dream, Ryland."
"It's real enough that we could be caught in it. Dreamwalking isn't easy, Lily." He allowed his arms to drop to his sides, unable to bear her body touching his when she didn't want him.
Lily caught his hand, weaving her fingers through his because she couldn't stand to be without physical contact with him. "What do you mean, we could be caught in it? Caught in the dream itself?"
He shrugged his broad shoulders. "No one knows for sure how it works. Your father was the one who warned me to be careful. He said it was too difficult holding the bridge in this state and that anyone riding the same wave might enter and be able to harm me if I wasn't expecting it. And if I were caught in the dream, living in this world, I might not return to the other. I'd be in a dream state, appearing much like I'm in a coma to the outside world." Ryland glanced down at her and found himself smiling. Lily reacted as he expected she would, assimilating the information with great interest.
"I had no idea it was possible. Can any of the others walk in dreams?"
"One or two. We found it was very rare and it does take a tremendous concentration and focus. Even more than sustaining the telepathic link for an extended period of time." He brought her hand to his chest, trapping her palm over his heart. His thumb stroked along the back of her hand, small caresses she felt all the way to her toes.
"I'd like to see the recorded data on it and read my father's notes to see what he thought. It doesn't make sense that it seems so real. I can feel you." She ran her free hand over his chest. "I can taste you." He was still in her mouth, on her tongue, deep inside her where she would never get him out.
"And yet we can be anywhere. Anywhere at all." He tugged at her and Lily found they were in a park, surrounded by trees. Leaves glittered silver in the moonlight above her head. "I can't see trees in that cage I'm in so sometimes I come here."
Lily laughed with delight and looked up at Ryland. At once the smile faded from her face and her heart began to pound. It was the way he looked at her. The intensity of his hunger for her alone. The stark desire he never tried to hide from her. His hot gaze burned over her possessively, marked her for his.
Her entire body went hot. Deep inside, molten heat swirled and pooled low, leaving her aching and bereft. Her fingers splayed wide across his chest. For one moment she thought of removing his shirt, to feel the warmth of his skin. She wanted to be melded to him, skin against skin. Bodies tangled together. Sweat mingling.
"Stop it," Ryland said quietly. He tipped her chin up to claim her mouth. There was nothing innocent or comforting in his kiss. His hand moved over the silk of her shirt to capture her breast. "What you feel, I feel. You broadcast loudly and I can't think straight." His thumb stroked her nipple right through the material, even as he bent his head once more to hers. "Are you wearing anything under this blouse?"
His kiss rocked her. Flames danced in her blood and colors burst behind her eyelids. He robbed her of breath, yet fed her air. With the weight of her breast resting in the warmth of his palm, every muscle in her body tightened and ached for fulfillment. For just one moment, Lily allowed her body to rule her brain. She kissed him back just as possessively, just as wantonly. Without thought or inhibition.
She wanted him. She had dreams often of the right man, what it should be, what it would be. In every dream she had cast aside her inhibitions. Here he was, the perfect man. Her man. Standing right in front of her and anything she did wouldn't count.
Her hands moved instinctively over his body, claiming him as intimately as he was claiming her. She was bold and sure, unable to control the wildfire burning out of control. There was a roaring in her head, a dizzy kaleidoscope of pure feeling, fire and color. Silks and satins. Candlelight. Everything she'd ever dreamt of and more. She simply gave herself up to him, willing to be in a dream. Willing to feel nothing but obsession and belonging.
Lily stiffened. Jerked back to stare up at Ryland's face. At the passion stamped there, the dark possession. The naked love. She pushed hard at the wall of his chest, shaking her head. "No, this is going too far, change it. Change the dream."
His hands framed her face. "This is our dream together. It isn't just me, Lily."
"I was afraid of that," she murmured. Lily rested her forehead against his chest, trying to breathe air into her lungs and clear her mind. "I've never once in my life been like this around anyone."
Ryland's palm curved around the nape of her neck. His lips brushed the top of her head. "Is that supposed to make me feel bad? I would rather you didn't want every man you saw, Lily." There was a hint of laughter in his voice.
She lifted her head to glare at him. "You know exactly what I meant. I can't keep my hands off you." Even in her dream she blushed a vivid red at the admission.
"Close your eyes." He ordered it softly.
Lily felt his kiss, featherlight on her eyelids. When he lifted his head, she opened her eyes in puzzlement. She was standing in her favorite museum. Her comfort spot. She roamed the museum often, sitting sometimes on the benches to look at the beauty of the paintings. The artwork never failed to bring her peace. For some reason, while she was in the building surrounded by such priceless treasures, she could fend off the emotions of those around her and simply soak up the atmosphere.
"How did you know?"
"That you love it here?" He took her hand, drew her to stand in front of a fantasy depicting dragons and warlords. "You thought of it several times. It mattered to you so it mattered to me."
Lily smiled up at him, her heart in her eyes. She couldn't help it. It touched her that he would trade his outdoor dream for her museum. "I'm not exactly certain what I am wearing under these clothes, Ryland." She laughed softly, invitingly, knowing she shouldn't but unable to stop herself.
Ryland kissed her again because he couldn't help it. She was looking at him with her eyes too big for her face and her tempting mouth and she shook him all the way to his soul. He lifted his head to look at her clothes. The thin silk of her blouse. The long skirt that covered her legs all the way to her ankles. He raised an eyebrow. "Very nice."
"I thought so. But you have to guess what I have on underneath."
Every muscle in his body contracted, tightened. Every cell went on alert. His gaze immediately swept her figure, searching for clues to the mystery. Lily laughed softly and led him around the room, pointing out her favorite paintings.
As they stood in front of a large crystalline sculpture of a winged dragon, Ryland reached out casually and slipped his fingers inside the neckline of her blouse. Loosely. The pad of his fingers feathered over her bare skin. "Are you wearing underwear, Lily? I have to know." And he did have to know. It seemed the most important thing in the world.
She skimmed her hand down his chest, knowing she was being provocative, but no longer caring. She was in a dream and she meant to take full advantage. In a dream she could do anything, have anything, and she wanted Ryland Miller. "And you think I should be talking about such things here in this very public place."
Ryland laughed softly. "Not so public tonight. I had them shut it down for us. A private showing. And I can't stop thinking about the underwear, Lily, whether you're completely naked beneath that outfit, or whether you're covered." His fingers dipped lower, over the swell of her breast. "I have to know."
"What are you doing?" Lily asked breathlessly. His hand skimmed down the front of her blouse, as if brushing crumbs from her silken top, yet lingering on the dark nipples hidden beneath the thin material. He brought her body to instant life, her nipples taut, her breasts full and aching.
His fingers brushed over her breasts a second time. Slow. Unhurried. This time sliding a button open. Her blouse gaped slightly, giving him a better view of her cleavage. She was beautiful, her breasts full and firm, swaying gently beneath the silk as she walked beside him. And she wasn't wearing a bra, just as he had suspected. His body instantly reacted, hard and thick and full with heat.
"I don't know, honey, something about this place just turns me on." He grinned at her, outrageously uninhibited, sinfully wicked. His eyes were hot with desire. His fingers tangled with hers and he tugged her off balance so that she fell against him. Her body molded to his, fit perfectly.
Right there, in the room filled with hundred-year-old paintings, he lowered his mouth to hers. She tasted his desire, a hot, masculine passion that instantly ignited an answering flame in the pit of her stomach. She lost herself in his strength and hunger. His hands slid down her back, shaped her body, feeling his way through the material of her skirt.
At once his heart began to thud in reaction to the knowledge. His groin tightened to the point of pain and a fire spread in his belly. There wasn't a single pantie line. His mouth grew hotter and he pressed her tightly into him. Whips of lightning streaked through him with the contact against his throbbing arousal. "We need a bed, Lily," he breathed into her mouth. "Right now. The bench is looking darned good."
She kissed him, deliberately rubbed her body along his, her breasts pushing hungrily into his chest, her hands exploring the muscles of his back. "We don't need a bed, we don't have time for a bed. I don't have a single stitch on underneath this skirt." It didn't matter, it was a dream. She could go with erotic, she could be totally without inhibitions. She didn't want reality, she wanted Ryland.
His breath slammed out of his lungs. "Are you wet, Lily, hot and wet waiting for me? Because I'm as hard as a rock."
"I never would have guessed."
She was laughing at him, teasing him. The world would be bleak and cold without Ryland. It would be empty and the knowledge of betrayal would come creeping in to push a knife through her heart. "They have security cameras," she reminded, determined to stay with him within the framework they had set.
He dragged her to the relative privacy of a small enclosure housing three rare paintings by some artist he couldn't name. "We're in a dream so it doesn't matter, now does it?"
His mouth was hot and wild, deliberately dominating, demanding her response. She opened for him like a blossom, heat for heat, her tongue as demanding as his own. Breathing hard, he sat on the small bench, stretching out his legs to ease the bulge in his jeans as much to pull her between his thighs.
"What are you doing now?" Her breath caught in her throat, her entire body shivering in anticipation as his fingers circled her ankle and he began to slowly raise her skirt. Instantly she was hot and moist, her muscles clenching and throbbing. Hungry for him, hungry for him to fill her emptiness. The temperature of the room seemed to go up a hundred degrees. She waited, her body still, every nerve ending aware of his hand circling her bare ankle like an anklet.
Slowly he began to slide his palm up the contour of her leg, caressing the back of her knee, stroking her thighs. His legs urged her to a wider stance, exposing her more fully to him.
The slow revealing of her expanse of skin nearly caused an explosion in his gut. It was like unveiling a masterpiece. Exquisite. Beautiful. For him alone. Moisture glistened in the dark curls of her triangle. He bent his head to taste her unique flavor. His tongue caressed her lightly, just a taste. Her body clenched, jumped. He took his time, his fingers stroking, memorizing every secret place. When she caught his shoulder in a tight grip, in a silent plea, he pushed two fingers into her tight sheath, in a long stroke that had her crying out.
He knew what they were doing was dangerous. They could be caught in a dream, lost forever together, but he couldn't have stopped if his life depended upon it and maybe it did. Ryland didn't know all that much about walking in dreams. The excitement, the sheer pleasure washed over him in such intense waves it was difficult to remember it wasn't wholly real. She was so beautiful wanting him. He loved the cloudy, sultry look on her face, the heat of her body as her muscles clenched tightly around his fingers. He loved the way she trusted him so completely even if she thought it only an erotic dream.
He pushed deep, insistently, long strokes so that she moved with him. Her body tightened, a hot, moist sheath for his fingers. He felt it coming, the beginnings of hard release, and he pulled his fingers away, dragged her to him and buried his tongue deep. Her climax was wild and he shared it, the rippling explosion, the hot liquid, the intensity of pleasure exploding in her body, in her mind.
Lily's legs were rubbery, shaking, fine tremors seizing her. She opened her eyes to look at him. His face was so perfect to her she brushed a caress over his scarred jaw. She could see the lines of strain. It wasn't difficult to see why. The bulge in his jeans was huge, as hard as a rock. She simply reached down and unzipped him so that he sprang free, erect, thick, engorged with need.
"Lily." It was a protest. A plea for mercy. "It's too risky. We can't, baby, not here." But it was already too late, she simply lifted her skirt and straddled him, right there on the bench while the eyes from the portraits stared at them with shock. Or maybe indulgence. "I'll never hold the bridge, never, not when you're distracting me," he told her, his hands at her waist to lift her away.
She settled over him slowly. It was torture. She was so hot, so wet, so tight he had to push his way into her velvet folds. A growl escaped him, a throaty note of pleasure/pain he couldn't stifle. Her muscles, still rippling from her orgasm, gripped and milked him as she began to move.
"Let them come, Ryland," she whispered wickedly, her blue eyes staring straight into his. "I don't care if they find us locked together. Do you know what it feels like to have you so deep inside me?"
Her words nearly shattered him. He knew what it was like to fill her, to stretch her. He knew what it was like to have her ride him, slick with hot heat, and he knew what it was like to thrust almost helplessly, violently into her, spearing her deeply. Over and over, hard and fast, uncaring that they might be locked forever in this dream. Nothing mattered at that moment except the sheer indulgence of each other's hunger.
The roaring started in his head. The fire flamed in his belly. Her muscles spiraled around him, her sheath so tight she milked him into an explosion so intense he couldn't muffle the yell torn from his throat. For a moment colors seemed to burst around him. He clung to her, breathing deeply, trying to regain some semblance of control. They clung together tightly, holding each other while their hearts tried to slow down, while their lungs tried to find air.
The low murmur of voices drifted to them. Late-night visitors to the museum. Intruders into their dreamworld. Lily reluctantly slipped off of him, felt his seed trickle down the inside of her thigh. How had visitors managed to invade their dream? She looked around, saw the sudden flashing light of the alarms. Blazing lights spilling around them, pointing an accusing finger at them. Two freaks of nature who no longer belonged in the world with others.
Ryland wanted to cling to her, hold her to him, sensing her grief rising as she began to slip away from him. His mouth was hard on hers, demanding. His hands moved over her body with loving caresses, with greedy eagerness, with trembling need. At the melding of their mouths, fireworks erupted around them, orange and red and white.
Lily could feel his muscles beneath her fingers, hear his heart slamming hard against her breast. The fireworks burst once more around her, into her, flashing red and white. The light was distracting, pulling her away from her erotic world of lovers and comfort and back to reality where the sand had shifted out from under her feet for all time. No matter how hard she clung to her dream, the light buzzed a warning insistently in her head, determinedly pulling her out of Ryland's arms and into the cold reality of the dormitory.
Lily looked around, slightly disoriented, with unfocused sight, blinking repeatedly to clear her vision. Red light was strobing into the room. Bursts of it coming and going as if shouting an alarm. She pushed herself up off the bed, shocked that her body was throbbing and burning, fully aroused, craving Ryland's possession. She did crave him, needed him. There was no point in lying to herself, but the intensity was shattering. She had felt his touch on her bare skin, felt his hand on her body, caressing her. She heard his soft cry of protest fading as she stumbled away from the bed. Away from the dream.
The red light was hurting her eyes and pushing needles into the walls of her mind. Bold red stripes of pain like the lash of a whip. She pushed into the outer room and hurried to find the controls for the cameras she knew would have been installed. Pressing a button instantly turned on the screen over her head. She saw her father's darkened office, saw the door was ajar despite the fact that she'd locked it. A shadowy figure moved through the room, opened and rifled through drawers at her father's desk.
The intruder was dressed in black and wore a mask over his face, hiding everything but his eyes which she couldn't see clearly in the darkness. Her heart in her throat, she watched as he examined the grandfather clock, then turned away from it to run his penlight over the titles of the books on the shelves. She watched the way he moved, no wasted motion, clearly a professional. He had entirely ignored the computer, as if he knew already it was useless to him. He completely ignored her father's day planner, still sitting neatly beside the computer.
He pulled a few books at random, rifling through the pages, then neatly returning each to the exact spot where he had pulled it. It made no sense to her that he would go through her father's office without really searching. What was he doing?
The intruder glanced at his watch and left the room, looking back once to make certain everything was in place. He closed the door softly and the empty room was all that was on the screen.
Lily felt her wrist, realized her communicator, the one Arly insisted she wear for emergencies, was on the nightstand by her bed where she'd dropped it in utter annoyance. For obvious reasons, there was no phone in her father's hidden laboratory so she hurried back up the stairs, wound the hand of the clock etched into the ceiling around nine times, leaving it pointing toward the Roman numeral IX and watched the trapdoor swing open.
The intruder had to have planted surveillance equipment and she had to find it before he got it online. She would need entry to the lab to study the documents. She couldn't have anyone looking over her shoulder all the time. Picking up the phone, she stabbed the button to ring Arly's room.
"I'm already on it, sweetie pie. He triggered a silent alarm when he went through the door of your father's office," Arly said without preamble. "Stay in your room while we round him up."
"I'm in my father's office and he's planted little bugs everywhere. So much for your extra men, Arly," Lily pointed out.
"Don't you move, Lily," he snapped, fear for her creeping into his voice. "Why the hell aren't you hiding under your bed like a normal woman would be?"
"Ask yourself how he got in when you have this place locked down, you chauvinistic smart aleck. And how did he manage to get through my father's locked office door? He would need prints, Arly. My father's prints. He got through three security systems and didn't know about the safeguard, but he knew about the others."
"You listen to me, Lily, lock that door and don't open it for anyone but me. I'll come for you when I know you're safe."
"I'm not exactly worried, Arly. You and Dad made certain I could protect myself. They may have gotten my father, but they won't find me such an easy target."
Arly swore at her before slamming down the phone. Lily didn't care. He was the security expert. He had access to enough money to install all the latest toys to stay ahead of everyone else, but still, someone had gained entrance to the house and had bypassed the security to the office she had activated when she'd locked the door.
She was shaking with fury. She absolutely refused to be intimidated by an intruder to her home. She would not let them shake her up or hide under her bed. She didn't know who was the enemy or who was a friend, but she was going to find out and make her home safe again.
Lily began searching for the bugs she knew the intruder had dropped casually in her father's office. The drawers, the coffee table. She retraced his steps, finding the books easily. Her brain had recorded the pattern, random to him, but seen as a precise configuration to her. There was an order to randomness she could see clearly where others could not. She destroyed every bug as she found it. Arly could make a sweep of the room later, but she was certain she had found all of them.
She wanted the intruder caught and questioned. She wanted the name of the traitor in her home. She wanted the name of the conspirators in the Donovans Corporation and the military. Lily's soft mouth firmed and she lined the remains of the expensive surveillance bugs across her father's desk.
Tell me, Lily. Talk to me. Open your mind to me.
You're too distracting. She didn't want to talk to him. She couldn't talk to him. She was trying to cope with too many things. When Ryland was in her mind or near her body, guilt and white-hot heat were predominant, not cool logic. My mind is open enough for you to contact me whether I want it or not. She was shocked at how far away Ryland seemed, as if his powers had faded.
I find you crying, swamping me with grief, now something else is very wrong. Damn it, I'm locked up like an animal in a cage and I can't get to you. I used too much holding the bridge between us. My head…
Her heart jumped at the pain in his voice. She could hear the note of sheer frustration. There was a raw edge to his voice, a harsh implacable note that warned her he was becoming dangerous. She weighed her options. The last thing she wanted was for Ryland Miller to try to reach her and overload. Their shared erotic dream had drained him and pushing beyond his limit was dangerous. Lily sat heavily in her father's chair.
It's nothing. An intruder. This place has security measures to rival Donovans yet a man got into the house.
There was a small silence while she felt some of the tension drain out of him. You should have contacted me immediately.
The reprimand irritated her as much as it frightened her. She did not want him getting the wrong idea about her, thinking she needed protection. Most of all she knew he needed rest. If he continued pushing their communication, he could easily overload. I realize I've been broadcasting extreme emotion, but I hope you realize with my father's murder and the knowledge of the experiments he conducted and the sudden distressing and very uncomfortable physical attraction to you, I've been under duress. You are broadcasting anger and on the edge of control yet I know from being in your head you're a man with extreme control. Make certain you know that I'm a capable woman and very much able to take care of myself. I would hope you don't have the wrong idea about me.
There was a long silence. Lily absently played with the small electronic pieces on the desk, turning them over and over, creating patterns while she waited. She found she was holding her breath waiting for his answer. Waiting for something she needed from him. The silence stretched for an eternity.
Distressing and uncomfortable physical attraction? Damn you for saying that, Lily. I am very aware you're way out of my class. You're smart and beautiful and so damn sexy I can't breathe when you're in the same room with me. I'm sorry if my needing to protect you bothers you in some way, but that's part of my personality. I'm rough around the edges, and I'm nothing to look at, but damn it all, I have a brain. I can see exactly what you are.
The knock on the door had Lily jumping out of the chair, her heart accelerating before she could prevent it. I like the way you look, Ryland. I like just about everything about you. Unfortunately that was the truth. She admired him and his need to protect those around him. She sighed. They didn't have time for a heart-to-heart. Arly's here.
Lily shouldn't have admitted it to him, but she loved the way he looked. Everything about him appealed to her and she didn't trust it. She didn't want the intensity of their chemistry, so explosive they could barely control themselves. It was utterly foreign to her nature. Had her father done something besides the despicable experiments he had conducted on young children and then on grown men? Had he decided to meddle with her life even more? Had he found a way to enhance physical attraction between two people?
No! Lily, I don't know what you found that was so devastating but whatever is between us is real.
You weren't born adept. You were enhanced.
The knock was louder this time, accompanied by muffled shouting. Lily sighed and moved toward the door. She was tired. Bone weary. She wanted to close her eyes and sleep forever. Dream forever but even that was lost to her if what she suspected was true.
But it's real now, Lily, I can't turn it off. I'll never be able to turn it off. If your father made you part of an experiment and it involves us both, we aren't going to be able to turn it off any more than I can stop the information flooding my brain.
I have to be sure, Ryland. My world has turned upside down. She coded the door and opened it for Arly. He was looking frantic, but recovered quickly, even scowling at her when she stood arching her eyebrow coolly at him in inquiry.
"We didn't get him." He held up his hand to prevent her protest. "He was good, Lily, I'm talking a major professional. I'd like to know how he knew the codes and what kind of systems we have. He was busy planting bugs and a camera or two in your private office."
She let her breath out slowly. "He knew the way to my office in a house with eighty rooms in it? Nobody knows where all the rooms are, not even me. How would a complete stranger have that information, Arly? He came straight to my father's office, planted bugs, and he does the same to my office. What does that tell us?" She tilted her head at him in challenge.
"That I'm not on top of the security and that you're in more danger than I suspected." Arly balled his fist and smacked his palm. "Damn it, Lily, someone has to be feeding them information. He knew the layout of the house and he was out of here like a damned ghost."
Lily stiffened. Could Ryland break through the security of her home? He was trained to walk in enemy camps unseen. Were there other GhostWalkers? Men she didn't know about, men working with her enemy? Is that possible? Are there others?
"I'm sorry, Lily, I thought the house was impenetrable."
"We have to look closely at the day staff, go over their backgrounds with a fine-tooth comb." Is it possible, Ryland? Are there others?
Arly shook his head. "Day staff wouldn't have the information on our security systems. They might be able to give the location of your office or Dr. Whitney's office, but they would never have the codes. And they wouldn't have Dr. Whitney's prints. That's a pro all the way, Lily, with big money behind him."
There could have been others. There were a few men they said they phased out, men who didn't meet the exact criteria. They could have been taken somewhere else.
Do you think they were?
God only knows. Ryland sounded utterly weary.
Lily silently cursed her father. She looked around for a chair to sit down. How could one man have done so much damage to so many people's lives? And how could she not have ever suspected?
"Lily?" Arly caught her arm and guided her to a chair. "You've gone pale. You're not going to faint on me or anything stupidly female like that, are you?"
Lily laughed softly, the sound bitter and distant. "Stupidly female, Arly? Where did Dad ever find a woman basher like you?"
"I don't bash women, I just don't understand them," he countered, hunkering down beside her chair, his fingers loosely circling her wrist, taking her pulse. "I'm brilliant and handsome and can talk circles around most guys and women shudder when they see me coming. Why is that?"
"Could be the way you curl your lip every time you say the word 'woman.' " Lily pulled her wrist away from him. "You've worked with Dad for years. I grew up with you, following you around…"
"Asking questions. Nobody asked as many questions as you." He grinned suddenly. She caught a brief glimpse of pride in his eyes. "I never had to tell you the same thing twice."
"Did you ever help with his experiments?"
At once Arly's face closed down, the smile fading. "You know I don't discuss any of your father's business, Lily."
"He's dead, Arly." She kept her gaze fixed steadily on his, watching for a reaction. "He's dead and you can't protect the things he's done."
"He's missing, Lily."
"You know he's dead and I think one of his projects got him killed." She leaned toward him. "You think it too."
Arly drew back. "Maybe, Lily, but what difference does it make? Your father knew people most of us hope we never meet in a lifetime. His mind was always working on ways to make the world a better place and in thinking that way, he managed to find the dregs of society. He thought it would help him understand how people worked."
"Did you like my father?" She asked it directly.
Arly sighed. "Lily, I've known your father for forty years."
"I know you have. Did you like him? As a person? As a man? Was he your friend?"
"I respected Peter. I respected him a great deal and I admired his mind. He had a great mind. He was a true genius. But no one was his friend, expect perhaps you. He didn't talk to people, he used them for sounding boards, but he couldn't be bothered knowing anyone. He used people to further his own interests-oh, not for monetary gain, he didn't need that, he already had enough money for a small country, but for his endless ideas. In all the years I knew him, I doubt he ever once asked me a personal question."
She lifted her chin. "Did you know he adopted me?"
Arly shrugged his thin shoulders. "Since I never saw him with a woman, I figured he had to have adopted you, but we never discussed it. If you weren't his biologically, he would have made damn sure you were his legally. The only thing he loved in his life was you, Lily."
"Did you know he had other children here?"
Arly looked uncomfortable. "That was years ago, Lily."
"And the men?" She took a stab in the dark, watched his reactions closely.
Arly held up his hand. "Anything to do with the military I don't see or hear. That's just the way it is, Lily."
"This is important, Arly, or I wouldn't ask. I think whatever this project he was working on at Donovans, something for the military, got out of hand and someone killed him for information he wouldn't turn over. I'm being asked to take over that project and find the missing information. I need to have all the pieces of the puzzle. Were there men here recently? Men he may have been working with?"
Arly stood up, paced across the room. "I've kept this job and my home here for over thirty years because I knew how to keep my mouth shut."
"Arly," Lily said softly, "my father's dead. Either your loyalty swings to me and you're working for me and you're a part of my family and my household or you're not. This is information I need in order to stay alive. You'll have to make up your mind which it's going to be."
"My loyalty swung to you the moment I laid eyes on you." He said it stiffly.
"Help me then. I intend to find out what's going on and who murdered my father."
"Let the police handle it, Lily. They'll find a lead eventually."
"Did he bring men to this place? Military men? And did they stay here for any length of time?" Lily's gaze was steady on her security man's face, not allowing him to look away from her.
Arly took a deep breath. "I was certain he brought three gentlemen in and I know they didn't leave that same day. I never saw them again, and I never saw them leave. He didn't take them to his office, but up to the second-story rooms in the west wing."
"Are you in my employ or that of the United States government?"
"Damn it, Lily, how can you ask me that?"
"I am asking you, Arly." Deliberately Lily reached out to take his hand, settling her fingers around his wrist. Lightly. Yet her fingers found his lifeline, searched for his emotions. Searched for the truth in him.
Arly instinctively attempted to pull away from her but she tightened her fingers.
She reached for Ryland. Can you read him?
No. I have no ability to do that, not even with you enhancing his emotions for me. He would have to be in the room, touching me, or me touching something of his to tune him in so clearly. Be careful, Lily, he's going to know you're acting out of character.
"I don't work for the government." There was heat in Arly's voice.
"Do you work for the Donovans Corporation?" Lily pursued.
Arly did jerk his arm away and stumbled backward, nearly tipping over. "What the hell's wrong with you? Do you blame me for this? Maybe it is my fault, maybe your father's disappearance is my fault too. I let him drive that old beat-up car he loved so much when I knew he could be a target of any number of whackos."
Lily dropped her head in her hands. "I'm sorry, Arly, I really am. Everything in my life is off-kilter right now. I don't blame you for Dad. No one could have made him stop driving his car. He loved that old thing. He just didn't see himself as rich or famous or working for something others might take exception to. You know that. It wasn't your fault any more than it was mine. But someone in this house is leaking information and we have to find out who it is."
Arly sat on the floor and regarded her with steady eyes. "It isn't me, Lily. You're the only family I have. You're it. Without you, I'm completely alone in the world."
"Do you know why my father brought me here?"
"I imagine he wanted an heir." He waved his hand at the huge house. "He needed to leave it all to someone."
She forced a smile. "I guess he did."
"You look tired, Lily, go to bed. I've reported the break-in and I'll handle the police. There's no need for you to talk with them."
"Arly, I want complete control of the east wing of the house. All the rooms on every story of that wing. I want security on the outside but not a single camera or motion detector on the inside. I want complete privacy. One place I can go where I have absolute privacy after I lock it down. And I don't want anyone else to know. You handle the work yourself."
He nodded slowly. "Will you at least consider a bodyguard?"
"I'll think about it," she promised.
"And wear the transmitter. I went to the trouble of putting it into your watch, the least you can do is wear it." Arly hesitated then took a deep breath. "There's an underground tunnel below the basement levels. It runs beneath the estate and leads to two separate entrances. Your father used the tunnels to bring in people he didn't want you or the staff to see."
"I should have suspected something like that. Thank you, Arly. Will you show me the tunnels?"
He nodded reluctantly. "I'll take you there after the police leave."