The accusation in his eyes spoke loudly: You think that would have been any better?
He looked away.
Shahara closed her eyes and wished she could start over with him.
But it was too late.
Sighing in defeat, she put his hand down beside him and went to join the escorts.
Syn watched her leave. His heart begged for him to call her back.
This time he ignored it. He was through with that part of himself. The part of him that was weak and thought it needed someone in his life.
He would listen to it no more.
All he wanted was peace and solitude away from people who lied and deceived him. The only guarantee he’d ever had in this life was that he would never betray himself.
Taking as deep a breath as he could, he closed his eyes and vowed to think no more of Shahara.
Nero stepped forward. “She does love you, Syn. If it’s any consolation.”
He rolled his eyes, then hissed at the pain it caused.
Nero knelt down by his side and used his powers to heal him. Syn cursed as pain swept through him, only to fade. The last part to heal was his jaw.
He met Nero’s gaze. “Thanks.”
“Anytime. Should I go get Shahara now?”
“No. I don’t want her around me.”
“Don’t waste your breath, Scalera. I’m tired of being lied to. I don’t even know what to believe where she’s concerned.”
“She can’t lie to me. You know that.”
“And I’m not you. I don’t come with a lie detector. Hell, even yours is defective at times.” What they’d had, whatever it was, was over.
He didn’t want to live like that. Besides, he wasn’t out of trouble yet. They were taking him to his mother for a trial . . .
Yeah, like that was going to go well for him.
Weeks went by slowly as Shahara fought with herself about whether or not she should visit Syn in his new cell. There was no doubt in her mind that he hated her.
Would always hate her.
Even so, she wanted to see how he was doing. See if maybe she could do something to help him.
She missed him so much that it became a terrible physical agony that prevented her from eating or sleeping. From doing anything other than aching for him.
Finally, she could stand no more. Even if he beat her and threw her out of his cell, she had to see him again.
Try one last time.
With that thought, she’d flown to Gondara.
Now she waited outside the minimum-security ward while the guards searched the pack she’d brought for Syn. “Okay, Seax Dagan,” the guard said at last. “You may enter.”
“Thank you.” She took her pack from the guards. “Which cell?”
“LD 204.” The guard pressed the release for the series of doors that led down a narrow corridor to the individual cells. It was visiting hours and all the inmates were confined to their rooms.
With a deep breath for courage, Shahara headed down the long line of cells. A two inch square window was cut at eye level in each door, but she resisted the urge to look inside. She didn’t want to see what misery the inmates felt.
She’d been responsible for putting too many of them in here. And she couldn’t help but wonder how many of them she’d wrongfully confined.
As soon as she reached the correct door, the guards buzzed her in. Her hands shaking in fear of her reception, she gently pushed the steel door open.
Syn sat on his cot, his back to her while he gazed out the window onto a courtyard below. His blue prison suit actually looked good against his dark skin and hair and it made her want to take a bite out of him.
But he wouldn’t be receptive to her right now.
He didn’t move at all, which made her wonder what he was thinking about that had him so distracted.
She cleared her throat before she spoke. “I heard you’ll be out soon.”
He jerked around to face her.
For just an instant, she glimpsed his delight, then his face quickly turned stoic. “What are you doing here?”
Ignoring his question, she placed her pack on the small table next to the door.
She’d forgotten just how good he looked when he was freshly shaved and groomed. How absolutely devastating.
Most of all, she’d forgotten how fierce a personality he possessed. Traveling with him, she’d gotten used to it, but now . . .
Now she was well aware of that deadly undercurrent.
“You look a lot better than the last time I saw you.” He didn’t answer.
Sighing at his cold demeanor, she pulled the metal chair back from the table and sat down. “I had the overseer give you permission to run your business out of here. When I called Nykyrian about it, he was more than happy to turn everything over to me. He also sent a bunch of stuff for you to sign.”
She waited, but he never responded.
“Nykyrian also told me to tell you he was sick and tired of running a business he barely understood and that he wished you’d get off your butt and tend to it yourself. He gave me a portable and a bunch of logs and invoice chips from your manager. And in case you haven’t heard, Kiara’s father has dropped all charges against you and The Sentella.”
Again silence answered her.
Well, what did you expect? “Ah, gee, Shahara, how nice to see you again? I understand completely why you turned me over to be tortured by someone you knew wanted me dead. Thank you, sweetness.”
She couldn’t blame him for his anger.
What was it her mother had always told her? Love was a fragile flower that took a lot of care and hard work to sustain. And just like a flower, it would wither and die if abused or neglected.
Once gone, nothing could ever bring it back.
Still, she couldn’t believe it was completely dead. He’d been glad to see her, if only for a second.
Surely he wouldn’t have had even that moment of delight if he truly hated her.
She tried again. “The overseer told me that the judges are ready to release you with amnesty as soon as you testify against Merjack and his son. I guess you’ll be going home in a few days . . .”
She waited, and again he said nothing.
Sighing, she realized the futility of trying. He would never forgive her.
So be it. She wasn’t one to beg.
“Have a nice life,” she said, heading for the door.
With every step that carried her further and further from his cell, her heart broke into another piece. It was really over. Syn would never give her another chance. And she couldn’t even blame him for it.
Unable to stand what she’d done to them, she started to cry.
Staring at the chair where Shahara had been, Syn pulled out the tiny ring he’d bought for her and looked at the flashing amber stones. He’d had to bribe the hell out of one of the guards to get it.
He should have said something to her. Thanked her at the very least for getting him released—for bringing him his work.
But he’d been afraid to trust himself. If he spoke, he might have forgiven her.
Oh, to hell with forgiveness, anyway. He had his life back and she had hers. He’d known all along that they were incompatible.
What was the use of trying?
With that thought, he went to the pack she’d left on his table. As he reached in for the portable, his hand brushed a large piece of canvas.
Pulling it out, he froze.
It was an enlargement of his picture of Paden. Absolutely stunned, he stared at his son’s laughing face.
She must have found someone to repair his photograph and transfer it onto a 10 × 13 panel. And beneath that was a wallet-sized picture of him and Talia. He’d assumed it’d been destroyed along with his place.
A crushing pressure seized his chest as he held the photographs. Only Shahara would have known how important those pictures were to him.
She was the only person who had ever known him at all.
And he’d let her go.
Syn lay on the couch in his office, staring out at the stars while he did his best to drain another bottle of Tondarion A-Grade Hellfire. He’d tried everything else to forget Shahara and the pain she’d given him.
Only this helped.
He wanted to see her so badly that it caused a physical ache inside him. But he just couldn’t bring himself to go crawling back.
Not after she’d turned him in.
True, she’d also freed him. And if she’d handed over the right chip to Merjack, he’d now be dead. It still didn’t erase that moment of utter despair when she’d handed him off and had stood over him telling him that she’d used him.
That was what he couldn’t forgive. Those words were forever carved in his heart.
Besides, she was a seax. She’d have been stripped of her title had she not taken the chip to the overseer and seen Merjack punished. That had nothing to do with her feelings, or lack thereof, toward him.
The truth of it cut him like a knife. And even in her endeavor to save him, she’d forced him to spend weeks staring at his mother on a vid screen while he’d been held in a cubicle to testify.
The sight of his mother sitting there so emotionless while she listened to his testimony . . .
Every day had cut him to his soul.
He curled his lip and guzzled more alcohol. That had probably been the worst part of all this—watching his mother sit in judgment on him.
At least she hadn’t condemned him—this time. But her refusal to address him had spoken louder than anything else. He had no family.
He would never have a family.
Like I care.
With a deep sigh, he took another swig. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been home. His days blurred together, marked only by the empty bottles that he’d strewn across the floor.
A knock sounded on his door.
Was it payroll again? Another week gone by?
Shaking his head to clear it, he decided he’d give Criam the authority to sign the pay forms. He no longer wanted to be bothered with it.
He didn’t look around at the door as it opened. But the hair on the back of his neck stood up when he didn’t hear anyone walking in.
It wasn’t until a shadow fell over him that he knew who it was.
The tall blond assassin was dressed all in black, his long hair pulled back into a braid. He leaned heavily against a cane—an injury he’d sustained while saving his wife’s life from his enemy. Likewise, one half of his face was still scarred from the crash that had almost ended his life.
“You look like hell, buddy.”
Syn saluted him with the bottle. “Funny. I was just thinking the same thing about you.”
One corner of Nykyrian’s lips quirked up into the closest thing to a smile he’d ever seen from his friend.
Syn took another drink. “What are you doing here? Figured you’d be with your wife living the happily-ever-after bullshit that makes me want to puke.”
“You sounded like total shit when I called, so I wanted to see you for myself. I would say I was worried about you, but you might think I’ve gone soft and hell will freeze before that happens . . . By the way, if my wife goes into labor while I’m here and not at home with her, I will kill you where you lay.”
Syn made an obscene gesture at Nykyrian.
“How’s he doing?”
Syn tilted his head back to see Kasen in the open doorway. Curling his lip, he snarled at her. “In case you haven’t heard, I’m not exactly on good terms with your family right now. So why don’t you take your ass out of here before I find enough energy to beat it.”
“Ooo,” she cooed, crinkling her nose as if he’d just given her some sexual pleasure as she neared his couch, “you promise?”
He rolled his eyes at her. “I should have known that’s all you wanted. Well, you’re too late. Your sister effectively killed any sex drive I might have for a long time to come. Personally, I’d rather masturbate.”
“That’s harsh and crude, you pig.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Anyway, that’s not why I’m here. You know, me and you were friends. And friends are something I don’t have a lot of.” She moved to stand by his side. “I really was worried about you, Syn. You haven’t been exactly seen by anyone since you got out.”
Syn took a deep breath. He didn’t mean to be such a self-absorbed ass**le. It was just that the pain was too raw to deal with right now.
Even so, he hadn’t meant to lash out at them.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t take my anger for your brother and sister out on you.”
“It’s all right. I’m used to it. I always catch hell because of one of them. Why do you think I’m so surly?”
“Ah, so that’s the reason.”
She took a seat by his feet and eyed the half-empty bottle in his hand, then shifted her gaze to the other three empty bottles on the floor. “Are you drunk?”
“Comfortably Inebriated,” he said with a dark laugh, thinking of Shahara and her continuous need to know what C.I. stood for.
Nykyrian scoffed. “Well, if you get any more comfortable, buddy, I’ll have to call in a med-tech.”