Shadow game (Chapter Three)

LILY normally smiled absently at the guards as she walked through the space between the metal detectors. She had gone through the routine so many times she had long ago ceased thinking about it. Now everything was changed. The enormous enclosure with its high electric fences and coils of barbed wire, the multitude of guards and dogs, the rows of ugly concrete buildings with their underground maze of rooms-this had been her second home most of her life. She had never given the security measures much thought-they just seemed routine. Now she was aware every moment that someone had murdered her father. Someone she probably talked with every day.

Lily walked down the narrow corridor, lifted a hand in greeting, inwardly flinching as the armed guards hurried toward her. She half expected them to grab her and drag her off to the underground cages. She let out her breath as they moved past her, hardly glancing her way. At the second elevator she punched in her ten-digit code. The doors slid open and she stepped in.

The elevator glided silently to the lower floors hidden deep beneath the earth. This was her world, the labs and computers, the white coats and endless equations. The tight security, cameras and codes and keys. Her life. Her world, the only one she had ever known. Where always before the rigid routines had comforted her, now she was all too aware of being watched. The Donovans laboratories had been built just south of San Francisco. The sprawling complex was deceptively innocent-looking with so many buildings inside the high fence. Most of the laboratories were actually located deep beneath the earth and heavily guarded. Even when going from one department to the other, security was always present.

In spite of her desire to remain calm, her heart was pounding alarmingly. She was entering fully into a cat-and-mouse game with her father's killer. And she was seeing Ryland Miller again. The idea was nearly as unsettling as returning to the laboratories. There was no way to ignore the attraction between them-it was magnified by every thought, every movement.

She leaned over the retinal scan, fitting her eye to the lens at the heavy door leading to her father's domain. As she moved into the lab, she snagged a white coat from a peg on the wall, buttoning it over her clothes without missing a stride. Someone called her name and she waved the obligatory hand, still moving quickly.

"Dr. Whitney?" One of the techs halted her determined progress. Lily looked at him, keeping her expression carefully blank. The waves of sympathy nearly swamped her. "I'm so sorry, we"re so sorry about your father. We all hope he's found very soon. Has there been any word at all on his disappearance?"

Lily shook her head. "Nothing at all. If someone took him for money, they haven't asked for a ransom. The FBI thinks they would have already demanded money. There's been nothing at all, just silence." She was reaching for every emotion pouring out of the technician. The man couldn't possibly have been involved in her father's murder. He was genuinely upset at the way his boss had simply vanished. He had liked and respected Peter Whitney. Lily smiled at him. "Thank you so much for your concern. I know everyone feels his loss."

Right now Lily couldn't think about her father and how much she would miss him. She wouldn't think about being alone and frightened. She couldn't talk, she didn't dare. Her emotions were raw, far too close to the surface. She had waited all week, torn between impatience and a terrible dread, to be officially asked by the president of the corporation to take over her father's work. She hadn't dared appear too eager and had stayed locked up in her home, mourning her loss, grieving privately, away from even those whom she called family, all the while planning carefully her every move to find her father's murderer.

She had searched for a hidden laboratory in her enormous home, but there were so many rooms, hidden and not, that it seemed an impossible task. There were secret passageways leading belowground and up to the attics. She had meticulously gone over the blueprints and the floor plans, but to no avail. So far she had not found her father's secret world, and she hoped he'd left her a clue to its whereabouts in his office at Donovans.

Lily moved quickly through the rows of bottles and burners, through two rooms filled with computers to halt at another door. Firmly she pressed her palm and fingertips into the print scanner and leaned close to speak her coded phrase, waiting as an unseen computer analyzed the combination of her speech patterns and hand scan to verify her identity. The heavy door slid aside and she went into another, much larger complex.

The laboratory had muted lighting, turning the world into a bluish, tranquil setting. It was filled with plants and trickling waterfalls. The sound of water added to the calm atmosphere kept at all times in the lab. In the background was the continual sound of the ocean playing on a tape, waves rushing the shore and retreating, adding to the soothing ambiance of the laboratory.

"How was he last night?" Lily asked after greeting the dark-haired lab tech, who had snapped to attention in his chair when she entered. She had known Roger Talbot, her father's assistant, for five years. She had always liked and respected him.

"Not good, Dr. Whitney; he didn't sleep again. He's pacing back and forth like a wild animal. The level of aggression and agitation has risen daily this last week. He's asked for you repeatedly and has ceased all cooperation with testing. His pacing is driving me crazy."

Lily pinned him with a sharp gaze. "From what I read in the reports, his hearing is extremely acute, Roger-I doubt if he cares much for your admission. You're not the one locked up, now, are you?" Her voice was low but it carried a lash of reprimand.

"I'm sorry," Roger apologized immediately. "You're right. I don't have an excuse for being so unprofessional. I'm letting the colonel get to me. Colonel Higgens has been extremely difficult. Without your father around to provide some kind of a buffer, we're all…"

"I'll see what I can do to keep him out of here for a while," she soothed.

"About your father…" Roger trailed off as she continued to look at him. "It must be difficult for you," he tried again.

Lily was monitoring his emotions as she had with the other technician. Roger had no idea how her father could have disappeared and he was desperate for his boss to return. She tilted her chin. "Yes, it is difficult not knowing what happened to him. Take a break, Roger, you've earned it. I'll be here for some time. I'll beep you when I leave."

Roger glanced around the room as if they might not be alone. He lowered his voice. "He's getting stronger, Dr. Whitney."

She followed his gaze toward the other side of the lab, waited a heartbeat, her mind assimilating the information. "What gives you the impression he's growing stronger?"

Roger rubbed at his temples. "I just know. He becomes very quiet when he's not pacing; he sits there, perfectly still, concentrating. The computers go crazy, alarms start going off, everyone scrambles, but it's a bogey. I know it's him. And I think he might be able to talk to the others." He leaned closer still. "Not only has he stopped with testing, but so have all the others. They aren't supposed to be able to communicate with the heavy glass and all, yet it's like they have a collective brain or something. No one is cooperating."

"They're all isolated from one another." Her hand went to her throat, her only sign of agitation. "You've been in here cooped up with him too long. My father chose you because you're always so calm, but you're letting the talk spook you."

"Maybe, but he's changing, and I don't like the way it feels. Your father's been gone over a week, Dr. Whitney, and Captain Miller is different. You'll see what I mean when you see him. When I'm with him, he feels invincible to me. I'm afraid to leave you alone with him. Maybe the guards should be here inside the lab with you."

"That would only agitate him more, and you know he needs it quiet. The more people around him, the worse it is for him. He's been trained in the Special Forces, Roger, I'd say he's always had confidence in himself." Lily rubbed the pad of her thumb over her lower lip. "I'm perfectly safe with him." Even as she said it, a shiver of fear crept down her spine. She wasn't certain it was the truth, but she managed to look serene, unconcerned.

Roger nodded, recognizing defeat. He scooped up his coat, hesitated at the door for one more warning. "You call for help if you need it, Dr. Whitney."

She nodded. "I will, Roger, thanks." Lily stared at the closed door for a full minute, allowing the breath to move slowly through her lungs, to allow the peace of the room to seep into her pores. The entire lab was soundproofed, free from all outside noises. She rubbed her hand over her face and took another deep breath before turning resolutely toward the partitioned room on the far side of the lab.

Captain Ryland Miller was waiting for her, pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. She knew he would be. He would have known the moment she entered the complex. His gray eyes were turbulent, angry, storm clouds betraying the violent emotion swirling beneath his expressionless mask. The force of his gaze penetrated straight through her body to her heart. They regarded one another through the thick glass of his cage. His dark hair was wild from his hands raking through it, but he took her breath away. He knew how to get to her, and he used the knowledge shamelessly.

Open it. The words shimmered in her mind, his ability to use telepathy growing stronger with each use.

Her heart began to pound. Obediently she pressed the required sequence of buttons to activate the mechanism. The heavy glass partition slid aside so he was left staring at her through the thick bars.

He moved with lightning speed. That surprised her, how fast he was. She had thought herself safe, out of his striking distance, but he caught her wrist and jerked her against the bars. "You left me alone in here like some rat in a cage," he snarled, his mouth pressed close to her ear.

Lily didn't struggle. "Hardly a rat, more like a Bengal tiger."

But her heart melted at the word "alone." The thought of him alone in his glass cage was heartbreaking.

When he continued to glare at her she sighed softly. "You know I couldn't come back here without an official invitation. I received it this morning. If I had tried before that, they would have been suspicious. They had to ask me. I made certain I showed no interest at all, and don't pretend you don't know why." She raised her voice, just enough to reach the recorders. "I'm sure you must have heard my father has disappeared. The FBI suspect foul play. I have all of his projects and my own to take care of and with all the work here and at home too, I'm afraid my time is at a premium." Deliberately she glanced up at the camera to remind him they were not alone.

"You think I don't know it's there?" He hissed the words, anger seething in the deep timbre of his voice. "You think I don't know they watch me eat and sleep and piss? You should have come here immediately."

Her eyebrow shot up. It was a struggle to keep her face without expression. Her gaze began to smolder. "You're lucky I came at all, Captain Miller." She made a supreme effort to keep her voice soft even when she really wanted to lash out at him. "You know my father disappeared." She lowered her voice even more. "You were there with us, weren't you? How dare you be angry with me!" For one awful moment tears threatened and she fought them back.

His voice changed completely, dropping an octave so that it whispered in her mind, weaving them together as if they were bound in some way. You can't think I had anything to do with his death.

The intimacy in his tone robbed her of air. Worse, he was flooding her with warmth and comfort. His thumb was stroking small caresses along her sensitive inner wrist. She attempted again to jerk her arm away from him, the movement reflex, one of self-preservation. His fingers settled around her wrist like a shackle. His fingers were warm, enormously strong, yet he was very gentle.

"Don't fight, Lily, you'll have every guard in the compound running to save you." There was an edge to his voice as if he couldn't quite make up his mind whether to laugh at the thought or be angry for the accusation in her mind.

Can you command from a distance, one human being to kill another? She refused to look away from him, staring directly into his eyes, speaking back to him in the same way, mind to mind. Can you do that?

Ryland couldn't look away from the deep blue of her eyes, a mirror reflecting his soul. He wasn't certain he wanted to see what she saw. And he wasn't certain he could afford for her to see him as he had become. There was so much raw anger seething in him.

The disembodied voice of the guard crackled over the speaker. "Dr. Whitney, do you require assistance?"

"No, thank you, I'm perfectly fine." Lily continued to stare into Ryland Miller's eyes. Challenging him. Accusing him. Seeing him.

His fingers still circled her wrist like a vise, yet his thumb feathered over her rapidly beating pulse, to soothe her. He said nothing, only continued to look at her.

Tell me. Can you do that?

What do you think?

She studied him for a long while, her gaze penetrating beyond his mask, seeing the predator prowling just below the surface. I think you can.

Maybe. Maybe it's possible if the person was already filled with malice and capable of killing, wanted to kill, it's possible I could manipulate them to do so.

I felt your dislike of him. You believed he put you here, that he was responsible for killing the men in your unit.

I'm not going to deny that, it would be a lie. But you're touching me. Read me, Lily. Did I have anything to do with your father's death?

Her blue eyes drifted over his face, returned to his glittering gray ones. Am I supposed to believe you can't hide your true nature from me? I see only what you want me to see.

I'm not shedding tears over his death, I'll give you that, but I did not order anyone to kill him.

"Peter Whitney was my father and I loved him. I'm crying over him." And she was, deep inside where no one could see. She felt alone. Bereft. Vulnerable.

His thumb stroked again, sent heat curling through her, sent her pulse skittering. I would be a fool to kill the one man who might save our lives. Aloud he murmured to her softly, "I'm sorry he's missing, Lily, sorry for your loss." His other hand moved up to slide over her hair, lingering just long enough to steal the breath from her lungs. You left me alone. I couldn't comfort you. I felt you, Lily, your sorrow, but I couldn't comfort you. You knew I was there when it happened, I knew the truth. There was never a need to cut off contact with me. You needed me, and damn it, Lily, I needed you. You should have talked to me. I understand the need to stay away, but you should have talked to me.

She didn't want to acknowledge that, the implication of his words. She didn't need any more complications in her life. She didn't need or want Ryland Miller. She concentrated on gathering information. How were you there with us? My father had no telepathic ability, how could you connect with him? How could you break my connection with him?

I connected through you, of course. Your distress was so strong you touched me, even here in this prison designed to keep me from touching other minds.

Her heart jumped. His answer suggested a connection between them. A strong connection. She struggled to understand. Lily stared at him for a long moment, feeling her way, trying to see beyond his mask to the man beneath it. She studied him critically. He wasn't particularly tall, but he had wide shoulders and a muscular build. His hair was thick and so black it was nearly blue. His eyes were ice cold, the color of steel. Merciless. Slashing. Eyes so cold they burned. His jaw was strong, his sculpted mouth tempting. He moved with fluid grace, power and coordination, a hint of danger. He was pure magic to her, he had been from the moment she had laid eyes on him. And she didn't trust something so instant and so strong.

When Colonel Higgens was here before with my father, could you read him? Was he involved in my father's death?

Every muscle in Ryland's body went taut under her inspection. Her gaze was direct, assessing, speculative. It was so Lily. Being in her head gave him the advantage of knowing her far more intimately. Her brain processed information at rapid rates of speed, but when it came to something personal, she was much more cautious, taking her time before deciding on a course of action. He wanted to crush the silk of her sable hair in his large hands, to bury his face in the fragrant strands and inhale her. She smelled fresh, like a bed of roses. Her hair glinted with lights-glossy, so shiny, even with the blue lights, he was captivated.

Higgens made no secret of his dislike of your father. They didn't agree on anything. I can pick up his emotions when he's broadcasting anger but he never gets close enough for me to touch. And he's careful to keep his possessions out of my reach. I didn't detect any plots against your father.

Her eyes were almost too large for her face, thick-lashed and incredibly blue, unexpected with her dark hair. And her mouth… He had spent far too much time fantasizing over her mouth.

Lily took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His gaze was unexpectedly hot. Hungry. Devouring her. And his thoughts had suddenly turned to erotic fantasies. She tried to ignore it, tried not to let it affect her. Her gaze shifted momentarily to the surveillance cameras. "I'm taking over his research. You have to be patient. I'm not my father and I have to backtrack to catch up." She said it for the benefit of the cameras, and the ever-present watching eyes. "I'm coming into this cold." Her wrist was hot where his thumb had caressed it. "Stop looking at me that way, it isn't helping." She paced away from the cage and then turned back to face him almost resolutely.

Ryland watched with interest as she looked at him coolly. She had been rattled for a moment, but just that fast she recovered, turning into a cool, haughty ice princess. He wanted very much to shake her up again. "I can't help what I feel when I'm around you." He pitched his voice low, a husky invitation to hot sex and wild times.

Lily blinked. Color tinted her cheeks but she met his gaze steadily. He had to give her that. She was courageous.

She stepped to the bars, gripped them with her fingers. "Have you even bothered to wonder why we're so connected? It isn't natural."

Ryland studied her face for a long moment then covered her hands with his own. "It feels natural."

His voice had a way of whispering over her skin like the brush of fingers. Lily's stomach flipped, her heart doing a curious meltdown she couldn't control. "Well, no one feels this much physical attraction without some kind of enhancement."

"How do you know?"

She tilted her chin at him, her eyes beginning to smolder a warning. "Well? Have you? Do you feel this sort of connection with every woman who walks into a room with you?"

That look in her eyes, made him want to pull her right through the bars. The urge to kiss her was so strong he leaned toward her.

Lily shifted away from him in sudden alarm. "Don't!" She glanced again toward the camera. "You know this isn't real. Think with your brain, not other parts of your anatomy. We have to know everything that's going on, not just the pieces of the puzzle."

She was right. The attraction went far beyond anything he had ever experienced. It bordered on obsession. His body was hard and hurting and he knew better. It didn't seem to make much difference though. From the first moment she'd entered the room, he had been wrapped up in her. "What do you think it is?"

"I don't know but I'm going to find out. My father was acting strange that last day, do you remember? He asked me to come here. I was busy and said I had to make it another afternoon, but he insisted, practically ordered me to come." She lifted her fingers, signaling to let her go.

Their voices were pitched too low to be overheard, and both were careful to keep their faces turned away from the cameras so no one could read their lips, but body language could just as easily betray them. Ryland complied with her request very slowly.

Lily took one step back in an attempt to allow both of them to breathe. Skin-to-skin contact served to deepen the physical attraction, the chemistry between them arcing with electricity, sizzling so it seemed alive to her. "He didn't tell me anything about you or what they were doing. I walked into the room and saw you and…"

There was a small silence as they stared at one another. In a rare display of agitation she pushed her hand through her hair. Her hand was shaking and he instantly wanted, needed, to pull her into his arms and comfort her. "The earth moved," he finished quietly. "Son of a bitch. Lily, he was watching us together. That damned cold-blooded scientist was watching us like two insects under his microscope."

She shook her head in denial, but he could see she was computing. She couldn't have it both ways. Either her father had expected something to happen between them when she walked into the room, or he hadn't. Ryland closed his eyes momentarily against the glimpse of her raw pain. It was bone deep and overwhelming. What had possessed him to make such an accusation? She'd lost her father, she didn't need to learn what an all-out bastard the man was. He had crushed her with his careless comment.

"Lily." He said her name very softly, a whisper of a caress. An apology. He breathed it, so that it sounded sensual. So that it connected them intimately.

"Stop it!" she snapped in a low voice. "If this isn't real, if we're being manipulated in some way for an experiment, we need to know."

"Maybe it isn't that," Ryland suggested, wanting it to be real.

"I anchor you, that's all. That's probably all it is. We're different and I have some kind of emotional magnet in me and it enhances…" She trailed off, her mind obviously attempting to fit more pieces of the puzzle together for a logical explanation. "That's got to be it, Captain Miller…"

"Ryland," he interrupted. "Say my name."

She had to take a breath. He managed to turn the mere speaking of his name into something intimate. "Ryland," she agreed. How could she not? She felt as if she'd known him forever. As if they belonged. "We're attracted and somehow our special gifts enhance what we're feeling. That's got to be it. It's the way you smell."

He burst out laughing. The sound was so foreign to him he was as startled as she was. "You're trying to explain away our rather explosive chemistry by calling it enhanced pheromones? That's priceless, Lily." She could even make him laugh in the midst of everything. Lily Whitney was an extraordinary woman and quite unexpected.

"Well," she pointed out, "pheromones can be nasty little traps for the unwary."

He shook his head. "I think we're just attracted to each other, but we'll leave it there if it makes you feel better."

"Whatever the reason, Captain"-a brief smile lit up her eyes as she corrected herself-"Ryland, I think we have enough on our plates without that." She raised her voice to a normal level. "I've read all the reports my father generated for the colonel-I was given copies-but there's no data at all stating how my father accomplished what he did." She looked at him very steadily. You heard what he said to me. He believes you're a prisoner here. I can't find the laboratory he spoke of before they murdered him… She faltered for a moment, and he felt the wrench in the vicinity of his heart. I need the information in that room if I'm going to help you.

"You don't actually think you can find a way to reverse the process when your father couldn't do it?" You have to find it, Lily. Whatever is there is important to us. I don't know if my men can survive on the outside. And if Higgens has his way, some of us will be terminated. I have a feeling I'm number one on his list.

Lily turned away from him, afraid the shock would show on her face. "I don't know if I can reverse it, or even if it's necessary, but consider this: You and the others have had terrible side effects. Is it possible one of the side effects is paranoia?" Lily willed him to act out a part for the camera. If she couldn't convince Higgens she was impartial and willing to go along with whatever the colonel wanted, the possibility of her being excluded was very real. I'll find the room, Ryland, but we have to buy ourselves some time. You have to appear somewhat cooperative or Higgens might move before we're ready. Surely you have a contact in the military I can go to. She had a feeling Ryland might be right, that Higgens wanted to go forward with the experiment and Ryland Miller stood in his way.

I don't have a clue who I can trust. I trusted Higgens. Ryland paced the length of his cage, as if contemplating the question. He raked both hands through his hair, playing to the camera. "I hadn't considered that. Colonel Higgens was always behind us, but when he locked us up and separated us, I felt as if…" Deliberately he trailed off.

"As if he had deserted you. Left you alone. Cut you off from your command."

Ryland nodded. "All of those things." He sat down heavily in a chair and regarded her with glittering eyes and the beginnings of a smile in his mind as he teased her. You rich types can act with the best of them, can't you? He admired the cool way she played her part, the cool way she handed him cues and lines. With her brains and quick thinking, she would fit right into their team.

Do you have a prejudice against money? She actually teased him.

Only because you have too much. It puts you out of my league.

Lily ignored his response, the only sane thing to do. "I think the possibility of paranoia induced by the experiment is a possibility we have to consider."

He nodded. "I want to see my men. I want to know they're all right."

"That's not an unreasonable request. I'll see what I can do." Now you're trying to get to me.

I'm trying to make you laugh. Your sorrow is weighing on me like a stone. Ryland pressed a hand to his temples.

Lily was instantly contrite. She'd felt the shards of glass on more than one occasion from strong emotions she couldn't block out. Telepathic communication was difficult and prolonged use was downright painful. She went to his cage and once more gripped the bars. "I'm sorry, Ryland, I can't help grieving over my father's disappearance. I'm hurting you, aren't I? Would it be easier if I put the glass barricade up to protect you?"

"No." He rubbed his throbbing temples one last time as he came out of the chair, stretching as he did so, a lazy ripple of muscle she couldn't help but notice. "I'm fine. It will pass." He crossed unhurriedly to her, took her hand in his.

The jolt hit them both like a lightning bolt. Lily half expected to see sparks flying. "It isn't going to go away, is it? We just…" She trailed off, unable to think clearly with him so completely focused on her.

For the briefest of moments his white teeth flashed at her. "Fit." He supplied the word for her. "We fit."

She tugged to free her hand. Ryland retained possession, a glint of male amusement in his eyes. Deliberately he raised her knuckles to the warmth of his mouth, swirled his tongue over and between each separate bone.

She shivered at the sensuous contact. Fire sparked and raced over her bare skin each time his tongue tasted. He lifted his head, his gaze meeting hers. Everything in her went still; even her heart seemed to cease beating. The amusement in the depths of his eyes was gone, replaced by stark possession. It glittered there in plain view for her to see. A challenge. A promise. Her breath caught in her throat.

The camera. She reminded him, struggling to pull her hand away. He held on to her. "What's your relationship with Roger?"

The question threw her, completely taking her by surprise it was so unexpected. There was an edge to his voice, his eyes gleaming with icy menace. She blinked at him. "Roger? Roger who?"

"Roger, the tech I make so nervous he wants the guards in here with their guns." There was the merest whip of contempt in his voice. "As if that would help him in time."

"What does Roger have to do with anything?"

"That's what I'm asking you."

Are you completely crazy? I'm trying to help you. There's a major conspiracy going on and a murderer running around loose. Roger is completely beside the point.

"Dr. Whitney?" The voice floated over the intercom. "Do you need assistance?"

"If she needed assistance, pal, it would be apparent," Ryland snapped, glaring up at the camera, daring the unseen observer to reveal himself. Roger is the point. He was drooling over you.

"I don't require assistance, thank you." Lily smiled for the camera as she yanked her hand away from Ryland. I think being in that cage has finally gotten to you. Will you focus on what's important here?

This is important to me.

"Ryland." Couldn't he see the chemistry between them had to be artificial? Enhanced in some way, the way his psychic abilities had been enhanced? He could tune in with much more clarity around her. She was obviously an amplifier.

I'm sorry, I know I'm distressing you, but it's getting worse. I feel like some caveman, wanting to drag you off by your hair or something. Honest to God, Lily, I hurt like hell. Just answer the damn question and give me a little reassurance.

Lily studied his face. He had suffered. He was suffering. "Why doesn't any of this make sense to me?" She asked it softly, afraid of the answer. Her world had always been balanced, necessarily so. Her father was a man who'd protected her from the outside world, yet at the same time, gave her every opportunity to expand her mind and gather knowledge. He'd opened so many doors for her. He'd been kind and considerate and loving.

She knew that Ryland Miller believed her father had betrayed him and his men. Her father had conducted an experiment on human beings and something had gone terribly wrong. She had to find out exactly what it was and how it had been done. The attraction between Ryland and her was threatening good sense on both sides. She was a practical person, logical and serious. She easily put aside emotion when it was called for.

"It doesn't make sense to me either." God damn it, Lily, I'm being eaten alive with jealousy. It's ugly and uncomfortable and I don't like myself very much.

Roger is a good man, a friend, but I've never laid eyes on him outside this building. Nor do I intend to do so.

Ryland pressed his forehead against the bars of the cage, taking in a deep breath to steady his roiling gut. There were tiny beads of sweat on his skin. "What the hell is happening to me? Do you know?"

Lily shook her head, her fingers itching to stray to the unruly spirals falling across his forehead. "I'll find out, Ryland. This has never happened to you or to any of the men?"

He lifted his head and looked at her and there was a mixture of turbulence, anger, and despair. "Kaden is able to draw the angriest and most violent emotions away from the rest of us so we can cope better. I think he's like you in some way. When we're out in the field together and he's with us, things run smoothly and all the signals come in clearer. We have more power to project. At least three others are like him in varying degrees. We try to keep one of them with the others at all times in the field when we're working."

"And the man who died recently in training?"

Ryland shook his head. "He was alone and he ran into the wrong people. By the time we got to him it was too late, his mind was gone. He couldn't handle the overload of noise. We can't turn it off, Lily." Can you turn it off?

She knew he wasn't asking for himself. She knew his concern was for his men and she admired him for it. She could feel the weight of his heavy responsibility nearly crushing him. I've learned over the years to build up barriers. I live in an environment that is very controlled. It allows me to rest my brain and prepare for the bombardment the next day. I believe you and the others can be taught to build barriers.

Who taught you?

Lily shrugged. She couldn't remember a time when she didn't have to protect herself. She had learned at an early age. I think because I was born with it, my mind began to find ways to cope. You haven't had it that long. Your brain is exposed to too much too fast. It can't catch up and give you the barriers you need.

"Unless the barriers are gone for good." He said it grimly, uncaring of the cameras. He had a sudden desire to tear down the bars, rip something apart. He had to find a way to save his men. They were good men, every one of them, dedicated and loyal, men who had sacrificed for their country. Men who had trusted and followed him. "Damn it, Lily."

Raw sorrow shimmered through the storm in his eyes and nearly broke her heart. "I'm viewing the training tapes tonight. I'll figure this out, Ryland," she assured him. "I'll find the information we need to help the others. You just have to give me a little time."

"I don't honestly know how much time my men have, Lily. Any of them could break down. If I lose any of them… Don't you see? They believed in me and they followed me. They put their faith and trust in me and I led them into a trap."

She could feel the shards of glass now, cutting and grinding in her head. He was a man of action and they had locked him up in a cage. His frustration and sorrow were wearing him down.

"Ryland, look at me." She touched him, slipping her hand through the bars to curl her fingers around his. "I'll find the answers. Trust me. No matter what, I'll find a way to help you and your men."

For one brief moment he stared into her eyes, searching, reading her mind, knowing what it cost her to open herself up even more to him. He nodded, believing her. "Thank you, Lily."