Shadow game (Chapter Twenty)

"THE story broke this morning in the papers, the networks, and radio," Arly announced. He leaned over and kissed Rosa squarely on the mouth, grinning unashamedly as she smacked him with a rolled-up newspaper. "McEntire, Higgens, Phillip Thornton, and several others were charged with murder, espionage, and several other crimes."

"It took them long enough to complete the investigation," Jeff complained. He leaned heavily on his cane. "I thought I was going to die of old age before they finished it. What took so darned long?"

"General McEntire and Colonel Higgens were well-respected men with impeccable records," Kaden said. "The rot started years ago, back in school when they decided they were smarter than the rest of the world and thought it would be a great game to be spies. Both of them liked the excitement of it and felt that outwitting everyone around them was half the reward."

Ryland nodded his head. " Thornton talked so much they didn't know how to shut him up. He wanted some kind of a deal. Thornton was in it for the money. He agreed to help Higgens sabotage the psychic experiment because he hated Peter Whitney. Whitney was smarter and had more money and power than Thornton. They'd butted heads a few times, and Thornton always came out looking like an ass. His image was everything to him. Once he started imagining slights, he couldn't wait to get rid of Whitney. He gloated about helping Higgens lure him out to the ocean where they could kill him. He told him he had important information to give him about Higgens and Peter was worried enough to go alone."

Arly winced. "Lily wasn't there to hear that, was she?"

Ryland shook his head. "No, she's been so busy, trying to keep Donovans on its feet and save jobs and the corporation's reputation, she hasn't had time for anything else."

"Oh yes, she has." Jeff nabbed a handful of potato chips. "Ever since General Ranier put her in charge of our operation, she's spent the majority of her time thinking up masochistic exercises to strengthen our brains. When she's not doing that she's into physical fitness. And then there's therapy. The woman is a slave driver."

"You're just mad because she invited your family to come and see you and your mother sided with her over your therapy," Ryland pointed out. "And she better not catch you eating those potato chips either. Aren't you on some kind of nutritional plan?"

Rosa gasped and slapped the chips out of Jeff's hand. "What do you think you're doing? You eat an apple."

Tucker winked at Jeff and floated a bag of chips right off the counter straight to where he was lounging in the doorway. Rosa pretended not to notice, consoling herself with the fact that "the boys," as she called them, were all becoming stronger and practicing the things Lily had told them were important.

"Where is Lily?" Arly asked. "I haven't seen her today. She didn't go to the laboratories this morning, did she?"

"On her wedding day?" Rosa was horrified. "She better not have."

Ryland stood for a moment in the brightness of the kitchen, absorbing the laughter and the camaraderie that Lily had somehow managed to provide for them all. She had generously shared her house with the men. Had given her time and knowledge to the men. They were all stronger for the things she had done and the home she'd provided for them. Even Jeff had progressed remarkably well.

Ryland's entire team was in good standing with their commander and the unit was functioning well on practice missions. General Ranier was taking an active part in their day-to-day operations. Things couldn't be running smoother… for them. Lily was bearing the burden of it all. Making up for her father's mistakes. Frantically trying to save jobs and lives. Working secretly and silently to find the young women whose lives had been tampered with so early in their existence. His Lily.

He knew where she would go on her wedding day. He sent Nicolas a faint smile and sauntered casually out when he was feeling anything but casual. He went unerringly to her father's office, grateful that he had asked Arly to include his prints in the security code to open the heavy door.

The room was empty but he knew she was underground. He felt her, was drawn to her. He always would be. He locked the door after him, always conscious of security, just as Lily was. The room represented her childhood. It also held untold secrets of psychic research. Lily often got up in the middle of the night to go downstairs and read more. A lifetime of successes and failures her father had carefully recorded.

In spite of the horror she felt at what he had done, Lily was fascinated by it. As was Ryland. Now that his unit was functioning successfully without the threat of death, he wanted to know how to grow stronger. He wanted to know just what he was really capable of doing, what his men were capable of doing. The hidden laboratory was a storehouse of knowledge. He couldn't fault Lily for wanting to tap into it.

Ryland made his way down the steep narrow stairs, each step taking him closer and closer to her. He felt her easily now, the deep sadness that always seemed a part of her. His Lily, willing to take on the sins of her father and set the world right again.

Lily was staring at the frozen image of a young girl on the video screen. He could see evidence of tears on her face when she looked up as he approached, her. Her long lashes were spiky and wet, and just looking at her hurt him.

Lily smiled at him. "I knew you'd come to me. I was sitting here trying to decide if my father was a monster. And I knew you'd come."

Ryland took her hand, squeezed her fingers tightly. "He was a man with a sad life until you came into it, Lily. Remember the father you knew, not the man he once was. You changed him, shaped his life. You made him into someone worthwhile and he did his best for humanity after that." He sat down next to her, this thigh wedged next to hers, his body protectively close.

"I loved him so much, Ryland. I admired him and his brilliance. I tried so hard to live up to his expectations of me."

He brought her hand up to his mouth, rubbed her knuckles back and forth in little caresses over his lips. "I know you did, Lily. He was very proud of you, too. There's nothing wrong with a daughter loving her father. He earned that."

"I was trying to think how I would feel if I were one of the others. If I'd been abandoned because I was flawed. Can you imagine, Ryland? I'm almost afraid to contact them, even knowing I can help them should they need it." She touched the face on the screen. "Look at her eyes. She looks so haunted." There was a wealth of compassion in her voice.

"We have to do one thing at a time," he reminded her gently. "The investigation is over, the story was in today's news. McEntire and Higgens have been selling secrets for years to foreign governments. Everyone is scrambling to do containment and to see how much actual damage was done. My men and I are completely in the clear and there's nothing in our records that could damage our careers. In fact, we were honored for saving General Ranier and breaking this thing wide open. My men are able to be out in the field for longer periods and, even better, they can go without their anchors for extended periods of time. Jeff is improving every day. You've given them hope and a home and a place of safety. You turned all of our lives around, Lily."

She laid her head on his shoulder. "It wasn't all me alone, Ryland. Things just fell into place." She stared at the image of the little girl. "I look at her and I wonder where she is, what her childhood was like. If she'll hate me when she sees me." She looked at him. "I have to find her. Somehow, someway, I have to find her." She was pleading for understanding.

Ryland instantly framed her face with his hands. "Of course you do, Lily. The private investigator is working. We have several files and the places to start that your father gave us. We'll find them all. Together."

"I knew you'd say that too." She leaned into him. Kissed him. Took possession of his mouth like a master. "You always know what to say, don't you?" She murmured the words against his throat, her tongue tracing little designs on his skin while her fingers began a strange little tapping dance over his suddenly bulging jeans.

"What are you doing? Lily! That's driving me crazy. Where the hell did you learn that little trick?' How could she have such an instant effect on him? She could make his body so hard and so hot with just a simple movement.

She laughed at him. "The book, of course. It is our wedding night. I thought a few special tricks might be in order."

"I've got to read this book."

Her fingers continued stroking and tapping and caressing until he thought he'd go out of his mind. All the while her tongue kept the same rhythm on his throat.

"I can't stand in front of all those people with a hard-on, Lily," he told her firmly.

"Why not? Everyone comes into my bedroom when I'm naked under my sheet," she pointed out. Already Ryland was working his magic, dispelling her sadness, making her world right again. Lily caught up the remote and snapped off the video. "You always manage to make me feel like we're partners."

He caught her chin. "We are partners. Life partners. Ghost-Walkers. There aren't too many of us in the world and we have to stick together."

"I guess we do."

"So are you all right now? You're still going to marry me this evening?"

Lily laughed. "Absolutely. I have a high IQ. I'm not about to let you get away."

"So do it again."

"Do what again?"

"The thing with your tongue and your fingers. Do it again."

"I can't do it now. It's for our wedding night. I told you, I wanted to surprise you with my special trick."

"Yeah, well, you gave me the hard-on, now you have to do something about it."

Christine King Feehan

Christine King was born in California, USA. She grew up with 10 sisters and 3 brothers. She spent a lot of time getting in trouble at school for writing instead of doing the things she was supposed to do. Later she forced her ten sisters to read every word. She said: "I've been a writer all of my life ¨C it is who I am. I write for myself and always have. The ability to create pictures and emotions with words is such a miracle to me. I read everything. I mean everything. All kinds of books, even encyclopedias. I am fascinated by the written word and I love storytellers. It is a great privilege to be counted one myself."

Living in the beautiful mountains of Lake County, she always loved hiking, camping, rafting and being outdoors. She has also been involved in the martial arts for years- she hold a third-degree black belt, instruct in a Korean karate system and has taught self defense.

She published her first novel "Dark Prince" in 1999, starting a paranormal saga. Her debut novel won 3 of the 9 Paranormal Excellence Awards in Romantic Literature for 1999. She also has earned 7 more PEARL awards. She has received numerous honors throughout her career including being a nominee for the RWA's RITA and receiving a Career Achievement Award from the Romantic Times.

Christine is married to Richard Feehan with whom she has 11 children. Today, her daughters read and help her edit her manuscripts.