Shadow game (Chapter Fourteen)

LILY stared at her face in the mirror. The bruising around her cheek was too pronounced to ignore.

"I don't think you're going to be able to hide those bruises from Arly," Ryland said. "You look very… colorful."

"Oh, don't even say his name. I'm going to hide all day. Maybe you can lie for me and tell him I went to the laboratory." She frowned and touched the blue-black smudges. Her cheek was puffy and there was a distinct bump on her temple.

Arly and Rosa were going to go totally ballistic on her. And John, sweet John would probably get teary-eyed. But it was a good excuse not to go in to work.

"You try going near that place," Ryland challenged, "and I'll rat you out so fast to Arly, your little head will swim."

She made a face at him. "Your true colors are beginning to show. You have a mean streak in you." She peered at her face again. No amount of makeup was going to hide the purple and blue smudges. "I'm going to have to send Arly to Alaska on a mission of great importance."

"As long as you don't go back to Donovans today." Ryland handed her the phone, then stood watching her as she dialed and left a message for Thornton saying she would be working out of her home until the swelling in her face went down.

Lily handed Ryland back the phone. "Try not to look so smug," she told him, "I had every intention of calling in today, it had absolutely nothing to do with your bossy ways. I think giving orders to your men has gone to your head."

"Is this some kind of women's lib thing?" Ryland's eyebrow shot up. "Because if it is, look in the mirror again, lady."

Lily ignored him and twisted her hair into a tight chignon. Her gaze jumped to his when he made a sound in his throat. "Was that you growling? Do you have a kind of affliction you need to tell me about?"

"I wasn't growling. It was an involuntary protest."

"It was a growl, and what could you be protesting now? You're a high-maintenance person, aren't you?" Lily asked with a straight face and an aristocratic lift of her perfectly arched brow.

"High maintenance?" he echoed. "Lily, you're out of your mind. I don't think you have a clue what I do. Men obey orders because they trust me to know what I'm doing in high-risk situations." Nobody disobeyed or questioned his orders. Until Lily.

"Really?" She looked down her nose at him, princess to peasant. "Men obey your orders because of your rank. Women think things out and decide all by their little lonesome what to do." She patted his head, her fingers lingering for just a moment on a spiral curl. "Don't worry, now that I know about your little ego problem, I'll do my best to look all gushy when you pound your chest."

"Little ego problem? There's nothing wrong with my ego! How the hell did you manage to turn this around? Woman, you keep it up and you're going to find out just how kinky I really am."

Lily looked amused. "Of course. Sex. When losing an argument, man resorts to sexual implications. I have to assume you're referring to kinky sex for some kind of male caveman gratification. I did read about it, but, never having experienced kink, it didn't sound all that stimulating to me."

"Would you like me to remedy the situation for you?" Ryland offered in exasperation. "I'd be more than happy to give you an example. I want to see this book you keep referring to, and damn it, Lily, if you're laughing at me, I will turn you over my knee. Are you always this annoying?"

She leaned over to kiss his shadowed jaw. "I get worse if anyone tries to tell me what to do. Ask Arly. Even my father gave up after a while. He said I had problems with authority figures." Her hand stroked the slight stubble on his jaw and at once a delicious tingle began immediately at the junction of her thighs. She could feel the rasp against her skin all over again, heightening her pleasure.

His hand captured hers and he pulled her fingers into his mouth. One by one. Slowly. He suckled each finger. His tongue curled around her skin, laved and teased and danced. A slow burn started deep in her core, spread liquid heat like a fire through her veins. Lily jumped away from him. Eyes dancing. Skin flushed.

"You should be outlawed."

Ryland grinned at her, pleased with her response. "I am outlawed. And I don't mind you stroking my ego when it's genuine."

Her eyes widened. Her mouth opened but nothing came out. Lily shook her head. "Go away, I have work to do. I have to find all the tapes my father made on the first experiment and get every single exercise. What worked, what didn't."

His grin widened so that his silver-gray eyes lit up. "Lily falls back on science and work when she's losing."

"I didn't lose," she snapped instantly. "I never lose. I just don't choose to continue with this silly discussion when there's work to be done. Go away and bug your men. They're probably all ready for a chest-pounding session."

"It's not quite as fun when there's only a few of them. When do you think we'll hear from the doctor about Jeff's condition?"

"I'm certain he'll get back to me today." She pushed him away and walked toward the outer rooms.

Ryland kept pace easily. "I'm going with you, Lily. Two pairs of eyes are better than one."

She stopped in her tracks, not looking at him. "The day staff is here and it isn't safe, you might be seen."

"I can get by your day staff with no problem, Lily, that's not the reason you're so reluctant to let me go with you. You don't want me to see those tapes of your childhood."

His voice was so exquisitely gentle, so tender, Lily's heart turned over and she had to blink back tears. "I feel betrayed when I'm watching them, and if you're watching, I feel as if I'm betraying him. What he did was wrong, Ryland. It was bad enough that he did it to me, but there are other girls, women now, who didn't have the luxury of this house and the people in it. They had to have struggled, maybe even were institutionalized. That's not right. It will never be right and nothing I do will ever change it."

Ryland took her hand, pressed a small kiss to her open palm. "He learned to love through you, Lily. He learned right from wrong and morals through knowing and loving you. Don't feel guilty because you loved him. He tried to do right by you. He knew he was inadequate by himself so he surrounded you with others who would fill in the gaps. And he gave them a home, a sense of purpose, a family. Few people are all bad or all good, Lily. There are shades of both in most people."

She nodded. "I know that, Ryland, but this hurts. Going into that horrible room and having memories return… Watching those tapes and hearing his voice. I didn't mean anything at all to him back then. You can hear the impatience when I don't perform to his satisfaction. Rosa-who was the nurse then-is a much younger woman, and looks very different, she tries to comfort me and he yells at her all the time." She pressed a hand to her head, still refusing to look at him.

"Lily, why should you put yourself through that?"

"I need the information for all of us. For your men, for those girls. When this is over, if it takes a lifetime, I'm going to find every one of those women, and I'm going to make certain each of them is all right."

"You don't need to be alone when you're watching the tapes." He tightened his fingers around hers. "We're partners in every sense of the word. I know you loved your father, and you don't need forgiveness for loving him, Lily. The man loved you and did his best to provide you with a home, a family, and the best education he could. There's no shame in that."

"The shame is in you seeing," Lily insisted. "He looks at me as if I'm a specimen. I don't want you to see that. I can't let you see me that way." She couldn't find the words to tell him it diminished her. It reduced her to that frightened, unloved child in a house of strangers. Ryland would see her like that. She couldn't bear that.

"I love you, Lily." He caught her chin, tipped her face up to his. "I'm going to love that little girl because she's in you."

Lily pulled her head away. "Ryland, don't. You don't know that. You don't know how you're going to feel about me when you view those tapes."

He started to protest, stopped abruptly when he noticed her hand trembling. He ached for her, felt her inner turmoil, pain swamping him, swamping her. "If I'm so shallow, Lily, that I'm not going to feel the same about you because you were mistreated as a child, then you should find out now. Do you really think that of me?"

She closed her eyes for a moment. "No, Ryland. It's just hard for me to sit there and watch it. To know it's really the truth. He never prepared me, I had no idea of any of it."

"Just keep in mind your father grew to love you. You gave him something all the money in the world couldn't buy."

"Isn't that the point, Ryland?" For the first time, her voice was bitter. "He did buy us and when everything went wrong he used his money to get himself out of trouble."

"At that time, Lily, he knew no other way." He slipped his arm around her, drew her beneath the protection of his shoulder. "Let's face it together. It won't be so difficult if we're together."

She remained stiff, holding herself away from him.

"I'm part of you. Whether you like it or not, I'm part of you. I feel what you feel. It's there, Lily, and it's always going to be there, whether we're separated or not. Take me with you."

Lily did look at him then. Her blue gaze moved over his face, studying him feature by feature. Looking for something. He sent up a silent prayer hoping she would find it. "You trusted me completely last night, Lily, this isn't different. You have to believe in me."

"This isn't just about me." She whispered it to him, wanting him to understand, wanting him to realize what he was asking of her. There were all those other little girls. She owed them something. Privacy. Respect. Protection.

His fingers massaged the nape of her neck, even as his body urged hers down the long hallway toward the winding stairs. "I know what it feels like to want to look after others. To have to look after others. It's born and bred in us, we can't help it. Share this with me and allow me to make it easier for you."

Lily already knew he would be going with her. She needed him there, because this time she had to look at all of it. She had an obligation to Ryland and to his men. The information on those tapes was invaluable to them. And perhaps to the girls on those tapes. She had to view all the records this time, she couldn't afford the luxury of spreading out that task over time.

Ryland was true to his word, slipping past the workers easily, waiting patiently while she unlocked the door to her father's office. He slipped inside, then stepped back to watch her lock it to prevent anyone disturbing them.

"Did you let Arly know where you were going to be?"

Lily made a face. "I'm staying away from Arly. He's going to smuggle more groceries past Rosa for your men. Fortunately he's always had a completely private suite in the house so he grocery shops all the time. I don't want Rosa to know about anything until this is over."

"In order to clear the men, I've got to find someone to help us. If not Ranier, then we'll find someone above him, Lily." He followed her down the stairs, noting she was limping more than usual. "Does your leg hurt?"

She glanced back at him, and his stomach clenched hard as he caught another glimpse of the swollen blue-black cheek and temple. The surge of rage, of the need for violent action, swirled to the surface. He had a sudden desire to wrap her up and lock her somewhere safe. "I didn't realize I was limping again. Sometimes the muscles knot up and it's painful. I don't pay much attention."

"How did it happen?"

Lily shrugged her shoulders as she entered the laboratory. "No one ever really talks about it. If I bring it up Rosa gets upset and crosses herself. She says not to speak of evil things."

"Your leg is an evil thing?" Ryland didn't know whether to be angry or to laugh.

"Not my leg, silly." Lilly burst out laughing, the dark shadows in the depths of her eyes instantly banished. "With Rosa anything has the potential of being evil. Falling on the floor could be evil if you land wrong. Who knows? I don't inquire too closely into Rosa's strange ideas." She waved her hand toward the far wall, where books and tapes and disks lined the walls. "They're in order. I think the earlier tapes have more of the exercises we're looking for."

It was easier facing that cold room with Ryland with her. Lily smiled at him, unable to put into words how she felt. How much it meant that he cared enough to insist on being with her.

Ryland watched her slide her hand over the library of videos. So many of them. He could feel her relaxing with him, but there was a definite apprehension in her as she pulled several videos from the shelf.

"Most of the tapes are narrated by my father, but he also has several notebooks that seem to go with each video where he's added more data and his thoughts on what he's found." Lily tried to keep her voice strictly neutral.

Ryland settled onto the long couch. Peter Whitney had obviously spent many hours in these rooms and must have used the sofa for sleeping. Lilly turned on the video.

Several little girls were sitting at desks. Each child wore her hair in braids and all wore a gray tee shirt over jeans. Ryland felt his heart twist as he realized the little girl to the left of the screen was Lily. He glanced at Lily; her expression was carefully blank and she was staring straight ahead at the screen.

Over the next three hours, Ryland watched the little girls carefully performing mental tasks. Peter Whitney seemed to forget the girls were children, berating them for slacking off, yelling at them in disgust if they cried. When one little girl complained of a headache, he told her it was her own fault for not working hard enough.

Lily remained silent through the first two tapes, carefully observing each exercise that Whitney gave the children and his comments on which ones appeared to work to strengthen shields and allow them some respite from the outside assault of sound and emotion on them.

Whitney had made the observation early that certain girls seemed to be anchors for the others, allowing them to function better. He removed the anchors and played various sounds and even had two nurses yell angrily at one another. The little girls collapsed, holding their heads, rocking back and forth, and eventually had to be sedated.

The third tape showed Lily as a child sitting on the floor in one of the small soundproof rooms. She sat for a long time, unmoving, no expression on her face. Suddenly the toys scattered around her began to come alive.

Lily sat up straighter and leaned forward, her gaze glued to the screen. The objects in the room were moving, the dolls dancing, the balls juggling in the air. Peter Whitney's voice narrated his observations on the tape. "Subject Lily is growing stronger in her ability to control objects. An orphanage nurse observed this phenomenon and, as an infant, subject Lily was branded a child of the devil. I was excited when I heard the stories of her mobile spinning and dancing in her crib and knew I had to acquire her. She is a strong natural talent and with the enhancement may prove to be the one to use for future generations."

Ryland stiffened, not daring to look at her. Damn the man. Damn him to hell for that. Lily had to know the implications of what he meant. She already believed Peter Whitney may have manipulated the strong physical attraction between them. Whitney's comment could reinforce that idea in her mind.

"This is such a prime example of history repeating itself." Lily swept her hand over her face. "Isn't it terrible how families perpetuate cycles of violence or criminal activity? In this case, experiments? Dad should have known better, he hated his childhood, yet he turned right around and did the same thing."

"In the end he learned, Lily."

"Did he? If he learned, Ryland, why was he still experimenting on you?"

The voice continued in the background. "I have encouraged her to play with her toys in such a manner and have found the talent has grown stronger and in fact she is refining it. The only way to obtain her cooperation was to isolate her from the other children. She showed little interest in playing with objects when the other girls were around. It took sixteen hours of isolation before subject showed interest in the objects provided for her."

"He's right," Lily said softly, "in the earlier tapes I controlled one or two dolls and the movements were jerky. Now nearly every toy in the room is moving with perfect control."

Ryland might have thought her absolutely calm, but he was tuned in to her emotions, could observe her fingernails digging into her palms.

The child on the tape suddenly cried out and pressed her hands to her head. The toys fell to the floor and lay still. Whitney hissed in frustration and Rosa ran into the room to gather the crying child to her.

Ryland felt tears burning behind his eyes. He couldn't look at her as Lily changed tapes to view the next in the series. Peter Whitney had done nothing to comfort the child. He had only displayed his displeasure and frustration at the interruption of his experiment.

This time the child, Lily, was sitting alone in the same small observation room. Adult Lily fast-forwarded the tape until they could see action once again. The child shook her head stubbornly, her hands clenched in tight fists. Rosa stood in the background, her hand pressed to her mouth and tears running down her face.

"You're too little to do it, aren't you, Lily?" There was a sneer in Peter Whitney's voice, a taunting challenge.

Lily's chin went up and her eyes flashed. She leaned against the wall, her legs sprawled out in front of her, and she stared determinedly at the large box bolted into the corner of the room. One by one the bolts began to wriggle, spin, fly loose. The child pressed a hand to her temples but her gaze never wavered. Inch by slow inch, the box began to lift from the floor.

"Higher, Lily. Stay in control." There was a fierce eagerness in Whitney's voice, a wonderful triumph.

The box rose higher, dipping at one end, shaking unsteadily.

"Now move it across the room. You can do it, Lily, I know you can."

Ryland watched with his heart in his throat as the large box, obviously very heavy, rose even higher and began to float across the room. Telekinesis. He had no idea the weight of the box because they had fast-forwarded the tape but he had the feeling it was extraordinarily heavy. The child broke out in a sweat but her gaze remained resolutely on the box.

It was trembling visibly now, rocking in the air. It was high, nearly to the ceiling, but had only traveled a foot from its original position. Whitney made a sound of displeasure. The child winced. The box rocked more.

"Concentrate!" Whitney snapped the order.

Ryland was watching the child. Her face was white, her eyes enormous. Lines of strain appeared around her mouth. She was trembling with the effort to hold the box steady. Every muscle in Ryland's body was tense. He began to sweat as well. He remembered the tremendous concentration it took to hold an object and the pain suffered by all who were able to accomplish it. And they were grown men. Watching Lily's childhood unfold sickened him. He wanted to gather her to him and hold her protectively but Lily had moved a distance from him, her body posture screaming at him to leave her alone. Her arms were crossed protectively over her breasts and she'd drawn up her knees, hunching into herself.

Sickened, Ryland watched as the box began to make its way across the room, inch by slow inch. The closer the box moved toward Lily, the more control the child seemed to have. The box steadied, spun around, began to travel back.

Just that fast, the child was through. She slammed both hands to her temples, crying out in pain. The box dropped like a stone from its position near the ceiling. The crate hit Lily's leg, driving through flesh, tearing through muscle, pulverizing bone. Lily screamed hysterically as blood erupted and pooled around her. The wooden box splintered apart on impact, spilling weights onto the floor.

Rosa leapt past Dr. Whitney, reaching both hands to Lily's leg, clamping down hard and yelling instructions to her boss. The man stood in total shock, the color drained from his face, his eyes on the little girl writhing in pain.

"Dr. Whitney, help me!" Rosa barked the order, going from trembling shy girl to assertive woman in a crisis. "You did this with your meddling in God's ways. Now you have to fix it! Do as I say."

Lily's hand went to her throat, a protective gesture. "That's why Rosa would never talk about my leg. She always believed the things I could do were unnatural and should never be talked about. More than once she told me to make certain I never do anything 'unnatural' or God would punish me." Involuntarily she rubbed her aching leg.

Ryland couldn't watch anymore. He stood up abruptly and turned it off. "I don't see why you would want any of these tapes, Lily. What good are they to us?"

That drew her gaze as he knew it would. She looked shocked, her eyes haunted. Troubled. "The tapes provide us with information we can compare against the data on you and the men. If any of the exercises were left off or not done on a daily basis, we can teach the men to do them. The entire point here is to allow all of you to rejoin society at some level. Hopefully as fully functioning people."

His gaze went to her hands. Her slender fingers twisted together, a certain sign of agitation. All of his men were doing their best to avoid any use of psychic talents, particularly telepathy, unless it was strictly necessary. Cowlings might be able to find them using the surge in energy if he happened to be close enough.

Lily had shields she had developed over the years and it was automatic on her part to use them. The house with its thick soundproof walls and setting away from the close proximity of others was a sanctuary to them, a respite from the noise of the world. They all were catching up on rest and diligently practicing the mental exercises Lily had given them. Just meeting her and knowing she was in the world had lifted all of their spirits. She was an example to them, a GhostWalker who functioned in society. The men knew it could be done and that she was willing to help them.

Ryland had not tried to penetrate Lily's shields once in the house. If her emotions spilled over to him when he made love to her, he accepted it gratefully and returned the heightened feelings to her. He wanted to touch her, to feel what she was feeling, to share her pain. It was bone deep, a sorrow he had no words of comfort to ease.

Ryland had watched Peter Whitney's face, studied his stunned expression as he stared down at the shattered child lying helplessly on the floor. That had been the defining moment-when Dr. Peter Whitney had realized the little girl was a human being. Lily's pain was too raw for him not to notice.

"Lily." Ryland reached out to her.

She stepped away from him quickly, holding up her hand to prevent him touching her. There was no way to explain to him how humiliating that scene had been for her. She hadn't been a child at all. She had been the lab rat Ryland had named himself the first time they met. "I can't, Ryland. I hope you understand."

He edged closer without seeming to move at all. "No, honey." He shook his head. "I don't understand. You aren't alone anymore and you don't have to feel sorrow or pain by yourself. That's what I'm here for." His fingers settled loosely around her wrist, a bracelet that tightened and tugged until her stiff body was brought up against his. "I can't make it go away, Lily. You have the right to grieve for that child. But I saw her suffering too. I saw a child who should have been loved and protected, exploited instead, and it sickened me that a man could do such a thing."

She averted her face quickly but Ryland caught her chin. "I also saw that man open his eyes and see for the first time that he was wrong. It meant something. That accident was the catalyst that turned his life around. I saw it on his face. When you're strong enough you can look again and you'll see what I saw. It was a terrible thing, Lily, but in the end, you made Peter Whitney into a humanitarian. Without you, without that accident, he would never have given to charities and worked to bring about change for the better. He wouldn't have even noticed the world needed those things."

"Then why did he do it again?" Lily burst out, tears shimmering in her eyes. "Why would he even think about it? He put you in cages, Ryland. He treated you with even less respect than he gave those children. Men who served their country. Men who go out and take chances to keep others safe. Men who track down murderers. He stuck you in cages and didn't protect you when he should have. Why would he ever allow any of you to leave the safety of the laboratories and your anchors, knowing you had no natural barriers left and you hadn't constructed new ones? How could he do that?"

"Maybe he had no choice, Lily. You saw him as all-powerful. His money and his reputation certainly gave him far more license than others have, but he was in bed with some pretty powerful people."

"Phillip Thornton is a troll. He's a moneymaker, that's why Dad backed him for the presidency of the company, but he's a wimp, Ryland. He's always been politically correct, seen with the right people, saying the right things. He would never go against my father. Never. He would be afraid to."

"He hated your father. He was afraid of him, Lily. Thornton came into the laboratory while we were working on some tests and interrupted us. Your father was furious and ordered him out immediately. I was standing across the room, but the wave of hatred and malevolence was shocking to me. It didn't show on Thornton's face. He simply apologized, smiled, and went out, but his eyes were flat and hard and focused on your father. If I had to guess that one man wanted your father dead, he would be my guess. Did he stand to gain anything?"

"Of course he did." Lily slipped out of the warmth of Ryland's arms and paced across the room, restless energy feeding her quick grace. "My father's vote counted for a lot. If he and Thornton had a falling out over something and Dad wanted him gone, he could make it happen. In any case I know Phillip is tight with Higgens. Between my father and me we hold the lion's share of stock in the company. Dad's influence counted a great deal among the stockholders."

"Do you inherit the stocks?"

"I inherit everything, but without his body, it will be complicated. The house is mine and has been for years. Dad gave it to me on my twenty-first birthday. I have a huge trust fund. Fortunately, my name is on everything Dad owned, all his companies, everything, so I can sign the necessary papers to keep things going. We took a few hits in the market when he disappeared but I authorized a publicist to work on shoring up our image of being solid and it seems to have worked. What about Colonel Higgens? He's my guess. He hated my father too."

Ryland shook his head. "No, with Higgens, it isn't personal. He's cold-blooded. I could see him getting rid of someone in his way, but it wouldn't matter any more to him than squashing a spider."

Lily pressed her hands to her head. "I think I need to start all those exercises again, Ryland. My head hurts."

Ryland led her to the couch and urged her to sit. His hands went to her shoulders in a gentle massage. "You're under a tremendous strain, Lily. It's only natural that you'd have headaches." He searched for something to take her mind off of her father. "It feels like we're all back in school, learning what we should have months ago. Everyone is complaining about your latest exercise. You should see Jonas controlling the pencil and blocking noises while Kyle does the chicken dance around the room."

Lily burst out laughing just as he knew she would. "I think we should record Kyle doing the chicken dance so we can blackmail him later on. And tell Jonas he's a baby. The pencil is just the beginning. He's going to be controlling much larger items, blocking noises while Kyle flaps his wings and carries on a telepathic conversation."

"We're going to have a rebellion."

"Men really are babies. I was doing that kind of thing at five. If you don't have a sufficient barrier how do any of you think you'll survive if you're caught and held in an enemy camp? Even working together on a mission, if you went in and Gator was separated from his anchor he would have to be able to function on his own." Lily reached back and caught at Ryland's hands, holding them tight. "If we fix this thing with the military and all of you are reinstated with no charges, you know Jeff Hollister will always have a weakness on his right side. And that's if we work hard with all the physical therapy Adams will recommend."

"I figured as much, Lily. I think he was afraid of it, too."

"It doesn't mean anyone will notice, but he will, and I doubt they'll allow him to function as a member of your team if they keep you all together."

"Kaden is a civilian. He joined to be in the antiterrorist unit only, called up when needed after training. He's a police detective and a darned good one. Probably because his intuition is a real psychic talent. It will be interesting to see if he's able to increase his arrest record and find the perps even faster. He was always remarkable. We went through training together years ago and have remained friends ever since."

"Did you know any of the others before this?"

"Nico. Kaden and Nico and I met up in boot camp and ended up in Special Forces training together too."

Lily shivered. "Nicolas is a bit scary, Ryland."

"He's a good man. You can't be in his business and not have it get to you. That's one of the reasons he agreed to come on board this project."

"Can you see him as a civilian?"

Ryland shrugged. "Nico is the epitome of a GhostWalker. He can disappear and never be found if that's what he wants to do."

"But he won't leave the rest of you."

"Not unless we got caught and then he'd go into hiding until he could break us out. He's loyal, Lily, and if you're his friend he'll go to the wall for you."

"He would have killed you had you been the one to give the order pulling the anchors. I saw his eyes, Ryland."

"I wouldn't have expected less of him, Lily," he replied quietly. "Somebody was killing our men."

She stood up in that quick, graceful way she had, completely unconscious of making his heart turn somersaults. "You live in a different world, don't you?" This time it was Lily who reached for his hand.

Ryland leaned into her, his body brushing up against hers. "I'm squarely in your world, Lily, and so are the others. Ghost-Walkers have no choice but to stick together."

Lily's sudden smile lit her face, drew attention to her enormous eyes. "Did Nico come up with that name?"

"You're beginning to know the men." Ryland was pleased.

"I'm beginning to know you." She rubbed her hand along his jaw. "You have a way of always making me feel better. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but if I forget to tell you, I'm grateful you came into my life."

He kissed the palm of her hand. She didn't know Ryland Miller yet, but she would. Lily was his other half. He knew it with his heart and soul, with every breath he took. He didn't know the future, but he did know wherever it took them, they would be together. And more than likely the other men would be around. His men.

Lily caught his faint grin and her eyebrow went up. "What?"

"Just thinking about the kids."

"What kids?" Lily asked suspiciously.

"The ones upstairs.