Nightshine, p.33
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       Nightshine, p.33

         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
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Page 33

 

  Samuel grew thoughtful. “What if he doesn’t intend to create a superhuman subspecies?”

  She eyed him. “Then what’s he going to do with the offspring? Sell them the same way their parents were? Who would want . . . ” She stopped as she realized the obvious answer to her own question, and the pillow fell from her hands. “Not GenHance. ”

  “They could be a potential buyer, but to me this operation has all the hallmarks of a long-term investment. Consider our accommodations and our duties. ” He made a sweeping gesture. “One does not keep livestock pampered in a mansion in order to supply a slaughterhouse. ”

  Samuel was choosing his words too carefully again. “You’ve figured out why they’re here, and you’re keeping it from me. ”

  His expression never changed, but a guarded look came into his eyes. “I haven’t yet obtained enough facts to make a reasonable hypothesis, Charlotte. ”

  “My ass, you haven’t. ” She came over to him. “I want to know. Now, you can tell me yourself, or I can climb inside your head and stay there until you forget not to think about it. ”

  “While you keep your secrets safe from me?” he countered. “Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?”

  “What secrets? You know about my job, my ability, my parents forging my records. When we were chatting online I confided in you about everything. God, I even told you about the men I’ve dated. ” Charlie threw up her hands. “What more do you want to know?”

  “What happened to you before the Marenas took you in? Who was your first family?” As she began to reply he shook his head. “You’ve already said that you can’t remember, and I know it’s not the truth. ”

  All the fight went out of her, and she turned away. “Don’t make me go there, Sam. It’s not a nice place. I just want to forget about it. ”

  “But you haven’t. ” He came up behind her and put his arms around her. “It’s because you’ve never told anyone. ”

  “I thought about it. The way Aphrodite talked, it sounded like she’d been kicked quite a bit. I thought she might understand. But every time I tried . . . ” She hesitated and leaned back against him. “It’s always been like a nightmare that I could wake up from and forget for a while. Telling someone else makes it real again. ”

  “Facing it is the only way to get past it,” he suggested as he guided her over to the sofa and sat down with her. “It helps to have a friend there when you do. ”

  She rested her forearms on her thighs as she hunched forward. “I was adopted by a couple in California. They were young, beautiful, knew all the right people—like an eighties version of Brad and Angelina—and they had money. Lots of money. ” She gave him a sideways glance. “Your kind of money. ”

  “It isn’t everything, Charlotte,” he said gently.

  “It was to my parents. You and I probably had very similar childhoods. The big, fancy room filled with toys. The private nanny, the catered birthday parties, the designer clothes, the carefully selected friends. ” She smiled a little. “For me, it was like being part of a fairy tale. King and queen for parents, me their little princess, all of us living in a castle high up on the hill. It was almost like what they tell us heaven is. Of course, I knew we’d live happily ever after, because that’s how my nanny said all fairy tales end. ”

  “Yours didn’t,” he guessed.

  “No. ” Charlie swallowed against the tightness in her throat and turned toward Samuel. “I didn’t understand why my mother was so angry that night; I didn’t know what investment scams and fraud were. I didn’t even realize my father had strangled her and my nanny that night, just before we left the house. I was six years old, and my daddy was taking me on an adventure. My first. ” Tears spilled over her lashes. “His last. ”

  Samuel pulled her closer. “That’s enough, Charlotte. You don’t have to say another word. ”

  “I do. Let me, before I change my mind. ” Quickly she wiped her eyes and forced herself to go on. “My father drove up to the Golden Gate Bridge and took me on the walkway. When he picked me up and climbed over the railing, I thought he wanted me to see the water. Then he kissed me, and he told me we’d be together forever. ” She stared at nothing. “He jumped off the bridge with me, Sam. ”

  Samuel muttered something and pulled her onto his lap. She linked her hands behind his neck and pressed her hot face against his cool skin.

  “I really don’t remember hitting the water, which I know was a blessing. The next thing I knew I was clutching my father’s shirt as we floated away in the dark. I couldn’t wake him up, and I couldn’t swim, so I just held on and cried. ” She shivered, remembering. “The water was like ice. When we reached the shore my arms and legs were so numb I could barely crawl. Once, I looked back, but my father was gone. The current had taken him away. ”

  He stroked her cheek. “You must have been terrified. ”

  “Enough to hide in the bushes for a day and a half, until I was too hungry to sleep. That’s when I heard the first voice in my head, and saw an old woman out walking her poodle. She was tired and annoyed with the dog for peeing on her carpet. I followed her to her house, and when she went inside, I stole some oranges from a tree in her backyard. I crawled behind the lawn mower in her shed to eat them. ”

  “You weren’t injured?”

  “My back and my head hurt, but after two days I was fine. ” She sighed. “Just cold. Always cold and hungry. ”

  “How long did you live like that?”

  “Probably a couple of weeks. People in that part of the city liked to garden, so I found plenty of fruit and vegetables to steal, and sheds and crawl spaces where I could hide and sleep. ” She realized that the nausea she normally felt when she thought about her father and the bridge wasn’t affecting her now. Samuel had been right; it did feel better to talk about it. “I ran away from everyone who saw me, of course. I didn’t understand their thoughts, and I was afraid. I thought they’d know I let my daddy drown, and they’d put me in jail, or take me back to the bridge and throw me off again. Crazy stuff. ”

  “You suffered the unthinkable, honey, and you survived it. That’s not crazy at all. ” He kissed her brow. “What made you decide to stay with your second family?”

  “Mama Marena. ” As always, simply saying her name made a sweet warmth spread through Charlie. “I heard her thoughts as soon as she saw me from the kitchen window. All this love and longing; she thought I was a little lost angel that God had sent to her. When she came out of the house, she had an old quilt in her hands. She sat on the steps and smiled while she waited for me to come to her. When I did, she wrapped me up and carried me inside. She made me warm milk and honey, and sat with me in her rocking chair, singing to me until I fell asleep. I was hers from that day on. ”

  He took her hand in his. “Is she the one who named you Charlotte?”

  She smiled. “At first she called me Charlatana, probably out of wishful thinking. When it came time to fill out my papers she got a baby book from the library and looked for an American name that was close to that. Charlotte was the result. ”

  “What does Charlatana mean?”

  “Talkative. ” Her lips twisted. “After Mama found me, I didn’t speak or make a sound for months. She assumed I was mute, not that it made a difference to her. ”

  “She sounds like a wonderful woman. ”

  “Mama would say she was nothing special. ” She looked up at him. “She wasn’t beautiful or young, and she’d never gone to school. To make a few bucks every week she sold cookies and cakes to the local bodegas. But she saved my life and my soul, Sam. She took care of me, and cherished me, and protected me until the day she died. I’ll never know love like that again. ”

  A strange look came over his face. “Are you so sure of that?”

  “I read minds, and I know people rarely love anyone but themselves,” she assured him. “They say the words to their husbands and wives while thinking ab
out how much they hate them. They tell their kids they love them while they seethe with resentment over how much work they are, or how young they are, or all the advantages they have. You know what most people really love? Things that make them feel good, or help them stop thinking about how miserable they are. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Food. ”

  “You make me feel good, Charlotte. ” He cupped her chin to tip her face up so that she felt his words on her lips. “Does that make it all right to love you?”

  Chapter 15

  “ It’s just sex, Sam. ” Charlie started to climb out of his lap, but he closed his arms around her to hold her there. “Physical attraction and mutual pleasure are powerful things, and they can seem like love, but they’re not. ”

  “As spectacular as it is, I wasn’t referring to the sex. I mean you, the woman you are, the soul inside this beautiful body. ” He studied the stubborn set of her jaw. “You don’t accept that. ”

  “I think we’re in a desperate situation, possibly one that will kill us, and you need hope. ” She glanced down at his arms. “I’m all you’ve got to hang on to right now. It doesn’t bother me. I’m holding on to you, too. ”

  “For a woman who can know anyone’s thoughts and emotions, sometimes you can be remarkably imperceptive. ” He brought her hand up to his face. “Read me now. ”

  “No point. ” The problem with her ability was that it pierced through every lie, even the ones people told themselves. If Samuel had to cope with their situation by convincing himself that he had feelings for her, she wouldn’t take that away. She patted his cheek. “I’m happy with our being friends with benefits. ”

  “Naturally. You believe I love only money and sex, and you’re determined not to let anyone hurt you again. ” He turned his head and kissed her palm. “If you are correct in your assessment, you should find no surprises in my head. Only you, naked, atop large stacks of thousand-dollar bills. ”

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