Shadow Game – Christine Feehan

CAPTAIN Ryland Miller leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes in utter weariness. He could ignore the pain in his head, the knives shredding his skull. He could ignore the cage he was in. He could even ignore the fact that sooner or later, he was going to slip up and his enemies would kill him. But he could not ignore the guilt and anger and frustration rising like a tidal wave in him as his men suffered the consequences of his decisions. Kaden, I can’t reach Russell Cowlings. Can you? He had talked his men into the experiment that had landed them all in the laboratory cages in which they now resided. Good men. Loyal men. Men who had wanted to serve their country and people. We all made the decision. Kaden responded to his emotions, the words buzzing inside Ryland’s mind. No one has managed to raise Russell. Ryland swore softly aloud as he swept a hand over his face, trying to wipe away the pain speaking telepathically with his men cost him. The telepathic link between them had grown stronger as they all worked to build it, but only a few of them could sustain it for any length of time.

Ryland had to supply the bridge, and his brain, over time, balked at the enormity of such a burden. Don’t touch the sleeping pills they gave you. Suspect any medication. He glanced at the small white pill lying in plain sight on his end table. He’d like a lab analysis of the contents. Why hadn’t Cowlings listened to him? Had Cowlings accepted the sleeping pill in the hopes of a brief respite? He had to get the men out. We have no choice, we must treat this situation as if we were behind enemy lines. Ryland took a deep breath, let it out slowly. He no longer felt he had a choice. He had already lost too many men.

His decision would brand them as traitors, deserters, but it was the only way to save their lives. He had to find a way for his men to break out of the laboratory. The colonel has betrayed us. We have no other choice but to escape. Gather information and support one another as best you can. Wait for my word. He became aware of the disturbance around him, the dark waves of intense dislike bordering on hatred preceding the group nearing the cage where he was kept. Someone is approaching… Ryland abruptly cut off telepathic communication to those of his men he could reach. He remained motionless in the center of his cell, his every sense flaring out to identify the approaching individuals. It was a small group this time: Dr.

Peter Whitney, Colonel Higgens, and a security guard. It amused Ryland that Whitney and Higgens insisted on an armed guard accompanying them despite the fact that he was locked behind both bars and a thick glass barrier. He was careful to keep his features expressionless as they neared his cage. Ryland lifted his head, his steel gray eyes as cold as ice. Menacing. He didn’t try to hide the danger he represented. They had created him, they had betrayed him, and he wanted them to be afraid. There was tremendous satisfaction in knowing they were… and that they had reason to be. Dr. Peter Whitney led the small group.

Whitney, liar, deceiver, monster maker. He was the creator of the Ghost Walkers. Creator of what Captain Ryland Miller and his men had become. Ryland stood up slowly, a deliberate ripple of muscle— a lethal jungle cat stretching lazily, unsheathing claws as he waited inside his cage. His icy gaze touched on their faces, lingered, made them uncomfortable. Graveyard eyes. Eyes of death. He projected the image deliberately, wanting, even needing them to fear for their lives. Colonel Higgens looked away, studied the cameras, the security, watched with evident apprehension as the thick barrier of glass slid away. Although Ryland remained caged behind heavy bars, Higgens was obviously uneasy without the barrier, uncertain just how powerful Ryland had become.

Ryland steeled himself for the assault on his hearing, his emotions. The flood of unwanted information he couldn’t control. The bombardment of thoughts and emotions. The disgusting depravity and avarice that lay behind the masks of those facing him. He kept his features carefully blank, giving nothing away, not wanting them to know what it cost him to shield his wide-open mind. “Good morning, Captain Miller,” Peter Whitney said pleasantly. “How are things this morning with you? Did you sleep at all?” Ryland watched him without blinking, tempted to try to push through Whitney’s barriers to discover the true character guarded behind the wall Whitney had in his mind. What secrets were hidden there? The one person Ryland needed to understand, to read, was protected by some natural or man-made barrier. None of the other men, not even Kaden, had managed to penetrate the scientist’s mind. They couldn’t get any pertinent data, shielded as Whitney was, but the heavy swamping waves of guilt were always broadcast loudly.

“No, I didn’t sleep but I suspect you already know that.” Dr. Whitney nodded. “None of your men are taking their sleeping meds. I noticed you didn’t either. Is there a reason for that, Captain Miller?” The chaotic emotions of the group hit Ryland hard, as it always did. In the beginning, it used to drive him to his knees, the noise in his head so loud and aggravating his brain would rebel, punishing him for his unnatural abilities. Now he was much more disciplined. Oh, the pain was still there, like a thousand knives driving into his head at the first breach of his brain, but he hid the agony behind the facade of icy, menacing calm. And he was, after all, well trained.

His people never revealed weakness to the enemy. “Self-preservation is always a good reason,” he answered, fighting down the waves of weakness and pain from the battering of emotions. He kept his features totally expressionless, refusing to allow them to see the cost. “What the hell does that mean?” Higgens demanded. “What are you accusing us of now, Miller?” The door to the laboratory had been left standing open, unusual for the security-conscious company, and a woman hurried through. “I’m sorry I’m late; the meeting went longer than expected!” At once the painful assault of thoughts and emotions lessened, muted, leaving Ryland able to breathe normally. To think without pain. The relief was instant and unexpected. Ryland focused on her immediately, realizing she was somehow trapping the more acute emotions and holding them at bay, almost as if she were a magnet for them. And she wasn’t just any woman.

She was so beautiful, she took his breath away. Ryland could have sworn, when he looked at her, the ground shifted and moved under his feet. He glanced at Peter Whitney, caught the man observing his reactions to the woman’s presence very closely. At first Ryland was embarrassed that he had been caught staring at her. Then he realized Whitney knew the woman had some kind of psychic ability. She enhanced Ryland’s abilities and cleared out the garbage of stray thoughts and emotions. Did Whitney know exactly what she did? The doctor was waiting for a reaction so Ryland refused to give him the satisfaction, keeping his expression totally blank. “Captain Miller, I’d like to present my daughter, Lily Whitney. Dr. Lily Whitney.

” Peter’s gaze never left Ryland’s face. “I’ve asked her to join us; I hope you don’t mind.” The shock couldn’t have been more complete. Peter Whitney’s daughter? Ryland let out his breath slowly, shrugged his broad shoulders casually, another ripple of menace. He didn’t feel casual. Everything inside of him stilled. Calmed. Reached. He studied the woman. Her eyes were incredible, but wary.

Intelligent. Knowledgeable. As if she recognized him, too, in some elemental way. Her eyes were a deep startling blue, like the middle of a clear, fresh pool. A man could lose his mind, his freedom in eyes like hers. She was average height—not tall, but not exceedingly short. She had a woman’s figure encased in a gray-green suit of some kind that managed to draw attention to every lush curve. She had walked with a decided limp, but when he looked her over for damage, he could see nothing to indicate injury. More than all of that, the moment he saw her face, the moment she entered the room, his soul seemed to reach for hers. To recognize hers.

His breath stilled in his body and he could only stare at her. She was looking back at him and he knew the sight wasn’t very reassuring. At his best, he looked a warrior—at his worst, he looked a savage fighter. There was no way to soften his expression or lessen the scars on his face or shave off the dark stubble marring his stubborn jawline. He was stocky with a fighter’s compact build, carrying most of his weight in his upper body, his chest and arms, his broad shoulders. His hair was thick and black, and it curled when it wasn’t kept tight against his skull. “Captain Miller.” Her voice was soothing, gentle, pleasant. Sexy. A blend of smoke and heat that seared him right through his belly.

“How nice to meet you. My father thought I might be of some use in the research. I haven’t had much time to go over the data, but I’ll be happy to try to help.” He had never reacted so forcefully to a voice before. The sound seemed to wrap him up in satin sheets, rubbing and caressing his skin until he felt himself break out in a sweat. The image was so vivid that for a moment he could only stare at her, imagining her naked body writhing with pleasure beneath his. In the midst of his struggle to survive, his physical reaction to her was shocking. Color crept up her neck, delicately tinged her cheeks. Her long lashes fluttered, drifted down, and she looked away from him to her father. “This room is very exposed.

Who came up with the design? I would think it would be a difficult way to live, even for a short period.” “You mean like a lab rat?” Ryland asked softly, deliberately, not wanting any of them to think they were fooling him by bringing in the woman. “Because that’s what I am. Dr. Whitney has his own human rats to play with.” Lily’s dark gaze jumped to his face. One eyebrow shot up. “I’m sorry, Captain Miller, was I misinformed, or did you agree to volunteer for this assignment?” There was a small challenge in her voice. “Captain Miller volunteered, Lily,” Peter Whitney said. “He was unprepared for the brutal results, as was I.

I’ve been searching for a way to reverse the process but so far, everything I’ve tried has failed.” “I don’t believe that’s the proper way to handle this,” Colonel Higgens snapped. He glared at Peter Whitney, his bushy brows drawing together in a frown of disapproval. “Captain Miller is a soldier. He volunteered for this mission and I must insist he carry it out to its conclusion. We don’t need the process reversed, we need it perfected.” Ryland had no trouble reading the colonel’s emotions. The man didn’t want Lily Whitney anywhere near Ryland or his men. He wanted Ryland taken out behind the laboratories and shot. Better yet, dissected so they could all see what was going on in his brain.

Colonel Higgens was afraid of Ryland Miller and the other men in the paranormal unit. Anything he feared, Higgens destroyed. “Colonel Higgens, I don’t think you fully understand what these men are going through, what is happening to their brains.” Dr. Whitney was pursuing what was obviously a longstanding argument between them. “We’ve already lost several men…” “They knew the risks,” Higgens retorted, glowering at Miller. “This is an important experiment. We need these men to perform. The loss of a few men, while tragic, is an acceptable loss considering the importance of what these men can do.” Ryland didn’t look at Higgens.

He kept his glittering gaze fixed on Lily Whitney. But his entire mind reached out. Took hold. Closed like a vise. Lily’s head snapped up. She gasped out a soft protest. Her gaze dropped to Ryland’s hands. She watched his fingers slowly begin to curl as if around a thick throat. She shook her head, a slight protest. Higgens coughed.

A barking grunt. His mouth hung open as he gasped for air. Peter Whitney and the young guard both reached for the colonel, trying to open his stiff shirt collar, trying to help him breathe. The colonel staggered, was caught and lowered to the floor by the scientist. Stop it. The voice in Ryland’s mind was soft. Ryland’s dark brow shot up and his gleaming gaze met Lily’s. The doctor’s daughter was definitely telepathic. She was calm about it, her gaze steady on his, not in the least intimidated by the danger emanating from him. She appeared as cool as ice.

He’s willing to sacrifice every one of my men. They aren’t expendable. He was just as calm, not for a moment relenting. He’s a moron. No one is willing to sacrifice the men; no one considers them expendable; and he isn’t worth branding yourself a murderer. Ryland allowed his breath to escape in a soft, controlled stream, clearing his lungs, clearing his mind. Deliberately he turned his back on the writhing man and paced across the cell, his fingers slowly uncurling. Higgens went into a fit of coughing, tears swimming in his eyes. He pointed a shaky finger toward Ryland. “He tried to kill me, you all saw it.

” Peter Whitney sighed and walked with heavy footsteps across the room to stare at the computer. “I’m tired of the melodrama, Colonel. There is always a jump on the sensors in the computers when there is a surge of power. There’s nothing here at all. Miller is safely locked in a cage; he didn’t do anything at all. Either you’re trying to sabotage my project or you have a personal vendetta against Captain Miller. In any case, I’m going to write to the general and insist they send another liaison.” Colonel Higgens swore again. “I’ll have no more talk about reversing the process, Whitney, and you know what I think about bringing your daughter on board. We don’t need another damn bleeding heart on this project—we need results.

” “My security clearance, Colonel Higgens, is of the highest level and so is my commitment to this project. I don’t have the necessary data at this time, but I can assure you I’ll put in whatever time is necessary to find the answers needed.” Even as she spoke, Lily was looking at the computer screen. Ryland could read her thoughts. Whatever was on the screen puzzled her as much as what her father was saying, but she was willing to cover for him. She was making it up as she went along. As calm and as cool as ever. He couldn’t remember the last time he had smiled, but the impulse was there. He kept his back to the group, not certain he could keep a straight face while she lied to the colonel. Lily Whitney had no idea what was going on; her father had given her very little information and she was simply winging it.

Her dislike of Higgens, compounded by her father’s unusual behavior, had put her firmly in Ryland’s camp for the moment. He had no idea what Peter Whitney’s game was, but the man was buried deep in the mire. The experiment to enhance psychic ability and bring together a fighting unit had been his project, his brainchild. Peter Whitney had been the man who’d persuaded Ryland the experiment had merit. That his men would be safe and that they would better serve their country. Ryland couldn’t read the doctor as he now could most men, but whatever Whitney was up to, Ryland had become convinced it wasn’t anything that would benefit him or his men. Donovans Corporation had a stench about it. If there was one thing Ryland knew for certain, Donovans was about money and personal profit, not national security. “Can you read that code your father uses for his notes?” Higgens asked Lily Whitney, suddenly losing interest in Ryland. “Gibberish if you ask me.

Why the hell don’t you just put your work in English like a normal human being?” He snapped the question at Peter Whitney irritably. At once Ryland swung around, his gray gaze thoughtful as it rested on the colonel. There was something there, something he couldn’t get hold of. It was shifting, moving, ideas formulating and growing. Higgens’s mind seemed a black ravine, twisted and curved and suddenly cunning. Lily shrugged. “I grew up reading his codes; of course I can read it.” Ryland sensed her growing puzzlement as she stared at the combination of numbers, symbols, and letters across the computer screen. “What the hell are you doing getting into my private computer files, Frank?” Peter Whitney demanded, glaring at the colonel. “When I want you to read a report, I’ll have the data organized and the report will be finished and up-to-date, neatly typed in English.

You have no business in my computer either here or at my office. My research on many projects is on my computer and you have no right to invade my privacy. If your people go anywhere near my work, I’ll have you locked out of Donovans so fast you won’t know what hit you.” “This isn’t your personal project, Peter.” Higgens glowered at all of them. “This is my project too and as the head of it, you don’t keep secrets from me. You don’t make any sense in your reports.” Ryland watched Lily Whitney. She remained very quiet, listening, absorbing information, gathering impressions, and soaking it all up like a sponge. She seemed relaxed, but he was very aware she had glanced toward her father, waiting for some sign, for a hint of how to handle the situation.

Whitney gave her nothing, didn’t even look at her. Lily hid her frustration very well. She shifted her gaze back to the computer screen, leaving the others to their argument, clearly another long-standing one. “I want something done about Miller,” Higgens said, acting as if Ryland couldn’t hear him. I’m already dead to him. Ryland whispered the words in Lily Whitney’s mind. All the better for you and your men. He’s pressing my father hard about pushing this project forward, not terminating it. He isn’t satisfied with the findings and doesn’t agree it is dangerous to all of you. Lily didn’t look away from the computer or give away in any manner that she was communicating with him.

He doesn’t know about you. Higgens has no idea you’re telepathic. The knowledge burst over him like a light from a prism. Brilliant and colorful and full of possibilities. Dr. Whitney was hiding his daughter’s abilities from the colonel. From the Donovans Corporation. Ryland knew he had ammunition. Information he could use to bargain with Dr. Whitney.

Something that might be used to save his men. His flare of excitement must have been in his mind because Lily turned and regarded him with a cool, thoughtful gaze. Peter Whitney scowled at Colonel Higgens, clearly exasperated. “You want something done? What does that mean, Frank? What do you have in mind? A lobotomy? Captain Miller has performed every test we’ve asked of him. Do you have personal reasons for disliking the captain?” Dr. Whitney’s voice was a whip of contempt. “Captain Miller, if you were having an affair with Colonel Higgens’s wife, you should have disclosed that information to me immediately.” Lily’s dark eyebrows shot up. Ryland could feel the sudden amusement in her mind. Her laughter was soft and inviting, but her features gave nothing of her inner thoughts away.

Well? Are you a Romeo? There was something peaceful and serene about Lily, something that spilled over into the air around them. His second-in-command, Kaden, was like that, calming the terrible static and tuning the frequencies so that they were clear and sharp and able to be used by all the men regardless of talent. Surely her father hadn’t experimented on his own daughter. The idea sickened him. “Laugh all you want, Peter,” the colonel sneered, “but you won’t be laughing when lawsuits are filed against Donovans Corporation and the United States government is after you for botching the job.” Ryland ignored the arguing men. He had never been so drawn to a woman, to any individual, but he wanted Lily to remain in the room. He needed her to remain in the room. And he didn’t want her to be a part of the conspiracy that was threatening his life. She seemed unaware of it, but her father was certainly one of the puppet masters.

My father is no puppet master. Her voice was indignant and faintly haughty, a princess to an inferior being.

.

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