Shadow game (Chapter Six)

RYLAND was waiting, his mercury-colored eyes hot with emotion. The moment her gaze clashed with his, the memory of his mouth crushing hers rose up to taunt her. Her body instantly grew hot and uncomfortable. Became soft and responsive. Her breath caught in her lungs and she tasted him. Felt him. She felt him deep inside her, filling her, a part of her.

Stop it, Ryland.

He was angry with her. She had cut herself off from him. He had been unable to reach her even in her sleep. Ryland had resolved to let her know just what he thought of her behavior, but the moment he saw her he changed his mind. He detested seeing the dark circles under her eyes, shadows that hadn't been there before. She was suffering and he wasn't about to add to it. Forcing down the tidal wave of emotion he spoke softly. It isn't me. I swear to you, I don't do this.

Yes, you do. You have a… vivid imagination and you broadcast very loudly.

He saw it then, her need to push him away from her. He had thought it would be the erotic dream they shared, embarrassment or shyness with him. He could get around that. Persuade her. Tempt her. But Lily couldn't believe in him because she couldn't believe in anyone. Whitney had done that to her. Damn the man for leaving her with nothing. "Lily." He said her name gently. Enticing her. Coaxing her. "Thank you for coming when I know it's so difficult for you right now."

Her blue eyes widened. It was nice to see shock instead of wariness. Ryland tried a smile. "Come here, talk to me."

Lily stared up into his face, studied his feathery lashes, his strong jaw, the black hair spilling across his forehead. His strict military cut was long gone, replaced with shaggy unruly waves that left him immensely attractive. I do need to talk to you, but not like this. I need to arrange it so we can go someplace where the recorders and cameras won't pick us up.

His cool gray eyes rested thoughtfully on her face. Lily looked away from him, faint color stealing into her cheeks in spite of her determination to appear serene. She had dreamt of this man. Hot, steamy dreams of sinful sex and passionate responses. She hadn't been alone in that dream. Ryland had somehow been with her, sharing her every fantasy, touching her, kissing her. She closed her eyes, remembering how she had straddled him wildly, without inhibition. It had been a dream. She had needed to escape and she threw herself into it with everything she was. And he knew it.

"Lily, it was beautiful."

"I'm not discussing it."

Ryland let it go because she didn't need to be uncomfortable. The moment he'd laid eyes on her, he knew she was the woman born for him. She might not know it, but it didn't matter. He did, and he was relentless once set on a path. I can shut down the cameras and recorders. I've been doing it for a while, on and off, at first for the practice, now to get them complacent about it. They're used to it enough now they don't come by right away to check on me. You don't want to talk with me this way.

She didn't. It was too intimate and she didn't trust the intensity of what they shared. She feared every time they spoke telepathically, it strengthened the bond. But more than that, she feared for his health. She could feel his constant pain, felt the drain on his strength. And she had no idea of the consequences of prolonged use of a telepathic connection. If he could remove the threat of the cameras, it was better for them. Better for him. The desire to keep him from harm bordered on obsession. And she couldn't trust that someone else might not be listening.

Lily looked up at Ryland, drowning in the stark need in his eyes. No one had told her it would be like this, a wild craving that crawled over her skin, heated her blood, and created hunger so deep, so elemental she could hardly bear being separated from him.

She turned away from him, unable to continue looking at his face. He would know, he could read her easily. The chemistry between them was storming out of control. Sometimes she was afraid if he were out from behind the bars, she would do anything with him, right there, cameras or not.

"Stop it," his voice was husky, a raw ache in it. "I can't move, not a step. Now you're the one projecting. You're messing me up until I can't think straight."

"I'm sorry," she whispered the words, knew he could hear her. She didn't turn around, keeping her face averted. "You haven't slept in days, would you like something to help you?"

"You know why I can't sleep. You can't sleep either. Damn it, you're afraid to sleep." His tone was pitched so low it smoldered. It played over her skin, seeped into her pores, stroked her body so that every cell was alive with a hunger that was edgy and needful. When I sleep I dream of you. Of your body beneath mine. Of my body deep inside yours.

She knew he dreamt of her, of their bodies tangled together. She shared his erotic dream, his wild fantasies she couldn't hope to match in reality. "It's a complication we didn't expect." She cleared her voice, it was hoarse and unfamiliar. "That's all it is, Ryland. We can get past it if we're disciplined enough."

"Look at me."

Lily lifted her gaze to his. She couldn't stop herself from crossing the distance to his side. His hands found hers through the bars even as she felt the heightened awareness of energy, his outpouring to interfere with the equipment.

"What is it, baby?" He moved beside her, silent, calm, his larger, heavily muscled body brushing against hers protectively right through the iron bars. "Talk to me. Tell me what you found."

Lily listened to the sound of the ocean, in the background, the water soothing, even though the waves sounded angry. She imagined them rushing toward the shore, crashing against the rocks. Foam gushing into the air, spraying white water high.

She wished she could roar like the waves, escape out onto the wide raging sea with her wild emotions, not just listen to a tape being played.

"I was an experiment, Ryland." She said the words so low he had to strain to catch them. "That's what I was to him. An experiment, not his daughter." She tasted the bitterness of betrayal as she spoke the words out loud, her world crashing around her.

He remained silent, holding her through the bars, feeling the pain in her like a living, breathing entity. Ryland didn't want to say or do the wrong thing. Lily was close to shattering like glass, so he stayed silent.

Lily took a deep, calming breath, let it out slowly. "I found his secret laboratory. Everything was there. Videotapes of me, of other children. A room where he kept us, where we ate and slept and did his tests. I had a very regimented diet, all the best nutrition, watched only educational tapes. I was given only educational material to read. Every game was designed to strengthen my psychic abilities and further my education." She pushed an unsteady hand through her hair. "I didn't know any of it, he never let on, not once. I never suspected, I really didn't."

Ryland desperately wanted to take her into his arms and shield her from every hurt. He silently cursed the bars between them. This was the biggest blow Lily could have suffered. Peter Whitney had been her father, best friend, and mentor. Ryland leaned closer, rubbed his jaw along the top of her head so that her hair caught in the stubble of his shadow. It was a small caress, a gesture of affection, or tenderness.

Lily was grateful he remained silent. She wasn't certain she could have told him everything if he had protested or sympathized. Her faith and trust were shaken. The foundation that had been her world was cracked. "He said…" Her voice wobbled, trembled and broke.

Ryland's heart broke right along with her voice. He found he was gripping her hand far too tightly and made an effort to ease his strength. She didn't seem to notice. She cleared her throat and tried again.

"He tried the enhancement of psychic ability first on orphans. He tested young female children from countries where orphans were plentiful and neglected. He had the money and the connections and he brought the ones into the country he thought would suit his needs. I was one of them. No last name, just Lily. The female subjects"-she cleared her throat-"that's me, Ryland, a female subject. We were taken directly to his underground laboratory. We were tested and trained every day much like the regimen you were put through."

She did look at him then. Her eyes swam with tears. Before she could blink them away, Ryland bent his head to hers and took them with his mouth. Tasting her tears. Kissing her eyelids gently. Tenderly. Lily blinked up at him, confusion in her gaze.

"Tell me the rest of it, get it out, Lily."

She lifted her head to study his face, her blue eyes so grief-stricken he felt sick. But something in his steady gaze must have reassured her. Lily took a breath and continued. "He felt the other girls and I were unwanted anyway and he was providing a decent home, medical care, and food. It was more than we had where he found us, that's how he excused his behavior. He couldn't be bothered with our names, so he called us flowers and seasons and things like Rain and Storm." She tore her hand from Ryland's, knotting her fist against her trembling mouth. "We were nothing at all to him. No more than rats in a lab."

There was a small silence while they stared at one another. "Like me. Like my men. He repeated the experiment on us."

Lily nodded slowly, paced away from the cage and back to him, a restless anger growing. Ryland watched the shadows chasing across her pale face as she paced back and forth, unable to remain still, and his heart went out to her. She was fighting back in the only way she knew how, with her brain, thinking things through logically.

"And the worst of it is, all the same problems he had here, with you, he already knew about with us. My God, Ryland, he just sent those little girls out there, unprotected, unwanted, when they became too much trouble."

Her voice was so low he could barely hear her. She was too ashamed, as if she were to blame for what her father had done.

Ryland reached through the bars of his cage, tried to catch her arm, to pull her to him, but she was already pacing away, withdrawn, pulling her emotions in close.

"I never saw his data, Ryland, I never had a chance to really know how he did it. What he did was pure genius-wrong, but nevertheless genius. He noticed the older antidepressants like amitriptyline decreased psychic ability, while the newer serotonin reuptake inhibitors were either neutral or they enhanced it. Dad was able to do a postmortem study on a clairvoyant. The subject demonstrated a sevenfold increase in serotonin receptors in hippocampal and amygdala tissue, compared to controls."

"You're losing me."

She waved a dismissing hand, not looking at him, still pacing. "Parts of the brain. Never mind, just listen. Moreover, it was a receptor subtype with completely new binding characteristics. He sequenced the protein, found the associated gene, cloned it, and inserted the gene and expanded it in a cultured cell line. He elucidated the protein structure with computer modeling and then modified an existing serotonin reuptake inhibitor to have high specificity for the newly discovered ligand. The tricky part was to keep the molecule lipid soluble, so it would cross the blood-brain barrier. Presto! Suddenly the radio was tuned to the right station."

"Baby, I'm not understanding a word you're saying." Lily didn't realize it, but she had shifted from hurt daughter to interested scientist. "Can you speak English for me?"

Lily continued to pace, quick, agitated movements betraying her inner turmoil; she was speaking more to herself than to him. "Not all subjects had the same abilities. Like a poorly performing weight lifter, the answer was more drugs. Using a threefold program of training was a stroke of brilliance. Each separate avenue provided a way to enhance the natural abilities. And he used pulses of electricity, much like they've tried with Parkinson's disease in the hopes that it would stimulate more activity. But the little girls all began to fall apart, on sensory overload. He found there were a few anchors in the mix and all the other girls gravitated toward them. He thought it was their young ages. They began to have severe emotional and physical problems. Seizures causing brain bleeds, hysteria, night terrors, symptoms associated with severe trauma. I think the pulsing electricity probably caused the brain bleeds, but I'll have to study it further. They were just children. We were just children."

She turned away from Ryland, crossing her arms across her breasts. "He turned off the natural filters and then abandoned them all. I was a subject. He called me that. Subject Lily."

Staring away from him toward the computer, she looked desolate. "He realized the girls were going to overload, burn out, so he hastily found them families, came up with some plausible explanation for their problems, and turned his back on them. He kept me because I was an anchor and he hoped to use me again." She turned her head then, her blue eyes cloudy with pain. "And he did."

"Lily." Her name was an ache between them. Her beautiful name, so much like her, pure and perfect and elegant. He wanted to strangle her father with his bare hands. Ryland knew there was much more to it. Peter Whitney was a scientist driven to achieve. He wasn't a man who would deliberately hurt another human being, but he was ruthless in his methods. Ryland could see him "purchasing" the little orphan children from a country that didn't want them anyway. He had the money and the connections.

"When he decided to try again, he used grown men, already well disciplined." She looked at him. "I don't even know my real name."

Ryland managed to catch her shirtsleeve and reel her in. He pulled her against the bars, close to him, slipping his arms around her, unable to stop himself. She was stiff and resistant, but he tucked her beneath the shelter of his shoulder, close to his heart where she belonged. "Your name is Lily Whitney. You are the woman I want at my side night and day. I want you to be the mother of my children someday. I want you for my lover. I want you for the person I turn to when the world gets to be too much."

She made a soft sound of protest, a cry deep in her throat, and tried to turn away from him, but he caught her face with his hands, bent over her protectively, instinctively shielding her from the camera, even though it was not functioning. "I know you can't hear me when I say this right now, but you were Peter's world. He was a man without laughter or love, driven by his brain's need to learn more. I saw the way he looked at you. He loved you; he may not have started out that way, but he grew to love you. He may not have brought you into his life for the right reasons, but he kept you because he loved you. He couldn't bear to part with you. You made him know what love was." Ryland would have said anything to take away her pain, but as he uttered the words, he felt they were true.

She shook her head in denial, not daring to believe him because if he were wrong it would be another knife through her heart. "You can't know that."

His gray eyes glittered with truth. "I do know. Remember what he said to you? He wanted you to find the others and make it right. He was talking about those other girls. He knew what he did was wrong and he attempted to make up for it, finding the children homes, setting up trust funds for them. It was wrong, Lily, but he didn't operate on the same kind of wavelength as the rest of us." He had caught the rest of her father's intentions in her mind and used the knowledge shamelessly.

She waved her hand toward the surface. "They're out there somewhere. He poked in their brains, turned something on they can't turn off, stripped away every natural filter they had; he left us all to fend for ourselves." She looked up at him. "Higgens and the people here can never know about the girls. If they find them, they'll use them-then kill them."

"You have to destroy the tapes," Ryland said. "There's no other way to protect everybody, Lily, to protect others in the future. Your father knew that or he wouldn't have asked you to destroy his data. They couldn't pull any information off his hard drives. He made certain he never recorded anything of use where they could get to it."

"Those tapes are the only things I have that might give me a clue as to how to reverse the process, Ryland. If I get rid of them, there's no going back."

"We already knew that, honey. Peter knew it too. He repeated his experiment, a little more refined, with older, much more disciplined subjects, but the end result was still the same. Breakdowns, seizures, trauma. Sensory overload."

"I have to view them all. I can't take a chance on missing any of the details. I have a photographic memory. What I read or view, I'll remember. It's going to take time. My father was suspicious over at least two deaths, Ryland, and I'm worried about you and the men. He wanted you out of here, enough to ask me to help. After reading his report, I think he might have had reason to worry. I agree with him that you and the others aren't safe here. There are records of phone calls from my father to several military officials, yet no one pulled the plug on Higgens. I have no idea how far up the chain of command the stink goes. That's your department. You have to figure out who you can trust. I'll try to feel out General Ranier, but I haven't been able to reach him. He's been a family friend since I was a child."

He nodded, his gray eyes intent on her face. "Lily, we have to talk about last night. We can't pretend it didn't happen."

Lily shook her head. He wanted her to believe he could fall in love with her when he didn't even know her. They didn't know anything about one another. He thought it would reassure her that in some way she was lovable, but it only reinforced her belief that her father had enhanced the chemistry between them.

Ryland Miller and his men needed sanctuary. She could not distance herself from him when he needed her so much. "Arly, who's head of my security, showed me two entrances to tunnels that lead through the property to my home. My father used them when he didn't want anyone in the house to see people he brought in."

"Are you certain you can trust this man?"

Lily shrugged. "I gave up being certain of anything, Ryland. I can only hope he's on my side. The entire east wing of my house will be set up to keep you and the men hidden. There's something like fifteen rooms along with my suite of rooms and the wing is entirely self-contained. Arly is filtering in supplies and you can use the house as a base, but there are patrols and security cameras inside and out. I'll give you the codes you need to get in."

"Thank you, Lily." His heart swelled with pride in her. Damn, but she was courageous and willing to put herself on the line for his men. For him.

"I believe Higgens is going to arrange for more accidents and I think he has a GhostWalker or two of his own, unless one of your men is working with him. In which case, your escape isn't going to work."

"My men are not traitors." He made it a statement.

"I would never have believed someone in my household would betray my father but someone did. I would never have thought someone here at Donovans would help murder my father, but they have. And I would never have thought my father would have taken a child from an orphanage and experimented on her, but he did. Don't count too heavily on loyalty, Ryland, you'll get your heart handed to you."

He was silent, feeling the waves of sorrow and shame wash over her.

"I've already visited your other men on the pretense of asking their cooperation in further testing. I couldn't find Russell Cowlings. According to the log he had a seizure over a week ago and was rushed to the medical unit. I checked with the hospital and they signed him out to transport by medical helicopter within twenty minutes of receiving him. That doesn't wash. If he were that unstable they would have needed time before they sent him off. I'm trying to track him down, but I'm afraid he's lost. Nobody seems to have the paperwork on him. I put in a call to Higgens but he hasn't returned it."

"Damn it, Lily." Ryland hung his head, his fists clenched at his sides. "Russell's a good man. This isn't right."

"No, it's not," she agreed. "None of it is right."

"Lily…" Her blue eyes drifted over his face, stopping his words before he could say them.

She shook her head. "I don't want whatever happened between us to go any further. It's not right and I'll never trust it. You don't know me, how could you possibly think you could love me? I don't know myself. We haven't even talked."

"I've walked in your mind. I know what kind of woman you are. I know exactly who you are, Lily, even if you think I don't. I see what you've done, what you are doing for us. That's extraordinary, whether you want to think so or not." He had her wrist again, his thumb sliding back and forth in small caresses over her sensitive inner wrist. His eyes on hers, he brought her hand to his mouth, his tongue tasting her skin.

"You don't play fair at all, Ryland."

His smile actually climbed to his eyes, a brief flash that fanned an ember deep inside her into sizzling fire. "It isn't a game to me, Lily. I saw you. I knew you were meant to be mine the moment I laid eyes on you. It doesn't matter that we're in the middle of all this bullshit. You're forever. You're real." As he reluctantly released her wrist, she backed away from the bars, cradling her hand close to her body. Her knuckles throbbed and burned, branded for all time by the brief, searing contact with his mouth.

"And if you think you're perfectly safe," he continued, "remember, the cameras aren't working."

"I'm sorry," she whispered the words, knew he could hear her. She didn't turn around, keeping her face averted. It was humiliating to know she couldn't control the wild flares of desire she felt each time she was near him. Lily had always been in control, now she felt confused and off-center.

"Look at me."

Lily shook her head silently.

"You're a little coward, aren't you?" he taunted.

She did turn then, her eyes flashing sparks at him, her shoulders straight. "You'd better pray I'm not a coward or you don't have a chance, now do you?"

He swore, his hands curling into fists at his sides. He forced air through his lungs, tamped down his frustration, and focused on her. She was always so professional, and it annoyed the hell out of him. He wanted her in the worst way, craved her. And the shared dreams hadn't helped. It only left him wanting more.

Needing her had eaten at him day and night since he'd first met her, crawled through his body until he knew the meaning of the word "obsession." Every fantasy he had ever had, he wanted to share with her. "I'm sorry, Lily. You're not the one in this cage. My body's one hard pain and my mind is roaring at me. Jackhammers are ripping at my head."

Lily heard the stark truth in his voice and hurried over to the cage to look at him closely. "My God! Ryland!"

It was too late to protect her. He had kept up the barriers as best he could in his weakened condition. But he couldn't help trying to protect her. She was an enhancer, an amplifier, as was he. She felt his pain and echoed it back tenfold. He gripped the bars of his prison so hard his knuckles turned white.

"Why didn't you let me see this?" She stilled in sudden comprehension. "Last night. Holding the bridge between us, you were doing that alone." Her hand slid through the bars, trailed fingers over his face in a gentle caress. "Ryland, you can't put yourself in jeopardy for me. The voices I was hearing, that was you checking on the men. You're using your talents too much. You have to rest, think about yourself."

He trapped her hand against his mouth. "I'll rest when they're safe. I talked most of them into this experiment. I could always do things, things other people couldn't. I wanted to do more. I'd like to blame Dr. Whitney, your father. But I thought it was a brilliant idea. I liked being able to walk into the camp of an enemy and 'suggest' the guard look the other way and have him do it. The team, we were invincible together."

The pain was real, shards of glass stabbing deep into his brain. His pulse was too fast and small beads of sweat stood out on his brow. "Ryland, I would order you medication to sleep but I'm afraid of what they're doing. I can get you something myself but it will take a little time. You need to rest and let your brain relax."

He shook his head. "I won't take medication. Just get me the hell out of here, Lily. I can rest when I'm safe with you."

He made it sound so intimate. Lily couldn't force a protest. Ryland had given so much energy to her. To his men. He thought of everybody but himself.

He smiled at her, a brief flash of his cocky confidence. "I was thinking of myself last night, Lily, not just you."

The color rose in spite of her determination to ignore his every reference to their night. "The guards are probably worried about me since it's been a while. You should conserve your energy and stop disrupting the security. Where is your family, Ryland?" She could only distract him.

He allowed her hands to slip off of him only because he needed to sit down. Ryland made his way to the bed and stretched out, closing his eyes so the dim light couldn't pierce his brain. "My mother raised me alone, Lily. You know the story. Unwed teenage mother without prospects." There was a smile in his voice that told her he adored his mother. "She didn't believe in living by other people's rules, though. She had me in spite of everyone telling her to get rid of me, and finished high school at night. She worked and took one class at a time until she got through junior college."

"She sounds impressive." Lily sat in a chair near his cage as the computer blinked and the monitors came to life, signaling Ryland had given up shutting them down.

"You would have liked her," he confirmed. "We lived in this old beat-up trailer, in the middle of a cruddy park. Our house was the cleanest trailer on the lot. There were all these flowers and bushes around our place. She knew the name of every flower in the garden and she made me pull all the weeds." Ryland rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Well, she pulled weeds with me. She believed in talking things out."

A small, reluctant smile tugged at the corners of Lily's mouth. "Is there a lesson in this I'm about to hear?"

"Probably. I was getting to it."

"I'll just bet you were." Lily lifted an eyebrow at the guard as he rushed in. "Is there some reason you're disturbing us while we're talking?"

Her voice was ultracool. Ryland couldn't help but admire how confident she appeared, dismissing the guard with her haughty tone. Her face was completely expressionless as her disinterested gaze drifted over the intruder. Ryland was pleased that she appeared an ice princess to everyone else but burned like fire for him.

The guard cleared his throat, visibly squirming. "I'm sorry, Dr. Whitney, the microphones are fried, the security cameras weren't working, and-"

"They often don't work," she interrupted. "I see no reason to break a cardinal rule and enter a laboratory while I'm conducting a private interview, do you?"

"No, ma'am" The guard hurried from the room.

"You're supposed to be resting," Lily reprimanded Ryland.

"I am resting," he said piously.

"You're broadcasting blatant sexual interest."

"Am I?" He turned his head to grin at her. "I've been thinking about that. I don't think it's me at all."


He started to shake his head and thought better of it. "Yes, I've been giving it quite a bit of thought. Kaden's an enhancer, but when he walks into the room I certainly don't have this obsessive sexual attraction toward him."

Lily choked back a laugh. Ryland felt the sound all the way to his toes. Her voice alone could touch him. He smiled in spite of his pounding head. "Think about it, Lily. You're the one generating all the sexual feelings toward me and, you being an enhancer, the feelings are especially strong." He did his best to sound innocent.

"You have burst a few brain cells, haven't you? You aren't a very good liar, Ryland. I'll bet you never got away with a single thing when you were a little boy." For some reason the thought of him as a curly-headed boy melted her heart.

Ryland laughed softly at the memories. "It had nothing to do with my ability to lie. My mother had eyes in the back of her head. She knew everything. I don't know how, she just did. She knew I was going to do something before I did it."

Lily laughed aloud, the sound playing along his body like the touch of caressing fingers. "You probably confessed all and didn't even know you were doing it."

"Probably. She had a real thing about education. I didn't dare slack off in school. I could get away with the messy room occasionally and forgetting to do my chores to play sports with my friends, but I didn't ever miss a single homework assignment. She checked every one and insisted I read books every evening with her."

"What kind of books?"

"We read all the classics. She had a voice that brought the story alive. I loved to listen to her read. It was better than television any day. Of course, I didn't let on, I groused a lot so she'd think I was doing her favors by reading with her." There was a shadow of regret in his voice.

"She knew," Lily said firmly.

"Yeah, I guess she did. She always knew."

Lily blinked back tears. "What happened to her?"

There was a small silence. "I surprised her with a visit and she decided she had to make me one of her famous dinners. We drove to the grocery store. A drunk driver ran a red light and hit us. I survived but she didn't."

"I'm so sorry, Ryland. She sounds like she must have been extraordinary. I would love to have met her."

"I miss her. She always had a way of saying the right thing at exactly the moment it needed to be said." like Lily. He was beginning to think Lily shared that same trait

"Do you think she was a natural adept?"

"A psychic? Maybe. She knew things. But mostly she was just a wonderful mother. She told me she took classes and read books to find out how to raise a kid." Amusement tinged his voice. "Apparently I didn't react like the kids in the books."

"I'll bet you didn't." Lily wanted to hold and comfort him. She could feel his aching loneliness and it ate at her. She smothered a groan. It didn't seem to matter how reasonable her arguments were, the attraction to Ryland only grew in his company. The need to see him happy and healthy was fast becoming essential to her own happiness.

"I gave her a lot of trouble," he admitted. "I was always fighting."

"Why does that not surprise me?" She lifted an eyebrow at him, but it was the small smile hovering along the curve of her mouth that caught his attention.

He sat on the edge of his bed, raked both hands through his hair. "Living where we did, we were fair game for comments. Both Mom and me. I was kid enough to think I had to defend us, to take care of us."

"You still are like that," she pointed out. "It's a rather charming trait." She sighed with regret, knowing time was slipping away from her. She enjoyed his company, enjoyed talking with him. "I have to go, Ryland. I have so much work to do on other things. I'll be back before I leave for the night to check on you."

"No, Lily, just take off." His gray gaze was steady on hers. He stood up, fatigue in every muscle of his body. He walked over to the bars, even though each step seemed to drive spikes through his head.

She sucked in her breath audibly. "Maybe you should wait."

"I can't afford to take the chance, Lily. Clear out and stay clear."

She nodded, a small frown touching her mouth. Her profile was to him, she was deep in thought, and Ryland took the opportunity to allow himself the luxury of drinking in her voluptuous figure. There were no hard angles on Lily, she was all feminine curves. Her white coat was thrown over her clothes carelessly, moving when she moved, giving intriguing glances of generous breasts. When she walked, the material of her slacks stretched across her round bottom, drawing his attention. Her body was a blatant temptation he couldn't think about too much, without going up in flames. He would have her. She would walk beside him, lie beneath him, come alive, come apart in his arms. She was his match in every way, she just hadn't accepted it yet.

"You're doing it again, Captain," she reminded, a gentle reprimand, the color flaring under her pale skin.

His hands curled around the bars of his cage, his palms itching to see if her skin was as soft as it looked. "Not yet, I'm not, Lily." He said the words beneath his breath, uncaring if she heard or not.

She stood there looking helpless for a moment, completely out of character. "Don't let anything happen to you," she whispered before she turned and left him there alone with his pain and his guilt and the cage holding him prisoner.