A dog barked, shattering the midnight silence. Gabriel glanced up briefly, his psychic senses alert. Then he went back to breaking into the house.
In a moment, the lock on the door gave way to his lockpick. The door swung open.
There were four people awake in the house. One of them Kaitlyn. Beautiful Kaitlyn with the red-gold hair. A pity he might have to destroy her-but he was her enemy from now on. He couldn't afford weakness.
He was working for Mr. Zetes now. And Mr. Zetes needed something-a shard from the last perfect crystal in the world. Kaitlyn had it... Gabriel was going to take it.
As simple as that.
If anyone tried to stop him, he was going to have to hurt them. Even Kaitlyn.
For just an instant there was a tightening in his chest. Then his face hardened and he moved stealthily into the dark house.
"Give up, Kaitlyn."
Kaitlyn looked into Gabriel's dark gray eyes.
"How did you get in here?" she said.
Gabriel smiled silkily. "Breaking and entering is one of my new talents."
"This is Marisol's house," Rob said from behind him. "You can't just-"
"But I have just. Don't expect help; I've put everybody outside to sleep. I'm here, and I think you know why."
They all stared at him: Kaitlyn and Rob and Lewis and Anna. They were refugees, runaways from the Zetes Institute for Psychic Research, and Marisol's family had taken them in. Marisol herself was absent; once a research assistant at the Institute, she'd found out too much and ended up in a coma. But her family had been kind-and now Kaitlyn had brought more trouble on them.
It was past midnight. The four of them had been sitting up in the room Marisol's brother had assigned the girls, talking and trying to figure out what to do next. And then the door had opened to reveal Gabriel.
Kaitlyn, who was standing directly in front of the handsome mahogany desk by Marisol's bed, made her face utterly blank. She tried to make her mind blank, too.
Anna and Lewis, who were sitting on the bed, were looking just as blank, and Rob's mind was just one wash of golden light. Nothing for Gabriel to grab onto.
It didn't matter. He looked past Kaitlyn, at the desk, and his smile was dazzling and dangerous.
"Give up," he said again. "I want it, and I'm going to get it."
"We don't know what you're talking about," Rob said flatly, taking a step toward him.
Gabriel answered without turning to look at Rob. He was still smiling but his eyes were dark. "A shard of the last perfect crystal," he said. "Do you want to play hot and cold-or should I just take it?" He looked at the desk again.
"If we did have it, we wouldn't be giving it to you," Rob said. "We'd use it to destroy your boss-he is your boss now, isn't he?"
Gabriel's smile froze. His eyes narrowed slightly, and Kaitlyn could see darkness rilling them. But his voice was calm and easygoing. "Sure, he's my boss. And you'd better stay away from him or you're going to get hurt."
Kaitlyn could feel a stinging behind her eyes. She didn't believe this was happening, she didn't. Gabriel was standing here like a stranger, warning them away from Mr. Zetes. From Mr. Zetes, the man who'd tried to make them into psychic weapons to sell to the highest bidder, who'd tried to kill them when they rebelled. Who'd hounded them all the way up to Canada when they ran away from him, and who was clearly still after them now that they'd returned to fight him. They'd hoped Marisol's house would be a safe place to hide from him-but they'd been wrong.
"How can you, Gabriel?" Anna said in her low, clear voice, and Kaitlyn knew she was feeling the same thing. Anna Eva Whiteraven's face-usually serene between its dark braids of hair-was now clouded.
"How can you join him? After everything he's done-"
"-and everything he's going to do," Lewis put in. Lewis Chao was normally as cheerful as Anna was serene, but now his almond-shaped eyes were bleak. "He's bad, Gabriel; he's bad, and you know it,"
Reb said, closing in from behind. Rob Kessler wasn't built for menace either, but just now with his tousled blond hair and blazing golden eyes he looked like an avenging angel.
"And he'll turn on you in the end," Kaitlyn said, adding her voice to the chorus against Gabriel. In her mind she added herself to the group: Kaitlyn Fair-child, not as gentle as Anna and Lewis or as good as Rob, a girl with fiery hair and a temper. And eyes that people called witchy, smoky blue with darker blue rings in them. Right now, Kait fixed these eyes mercilessly on Gabriel, staring him down. Gabriel Wolfe threw back his head and laughed. As always, it almost took Kaitlyn's breath away. Gabriel was so handsome it was frightening. His pale skin made his dark hair look even darker, like the silky pelt of some animal-like his namesake. A wolf, a predator in his bones, who enjoyed stalking and toying with his prey.
Of course he's bad, Gabriel said. Kaitlyn heard the words in her head, rather than with her ears, and the tone was amused and mocking. I'm bad, too-or hadn't you noticed?
Tiny needles of pain jabbed into Kaitlyn's temples. She managed not to gasp, but she could sense Anna's alarm, and Lewis's and Rob's. Gabriel had gotten stronger. Kaitlyn could feel it through the psychic web that connected the five of them, the web that Gabriel had created. The web that would link them until one of the five died. They were all psychics: Rob was a healer and Kaitlyn saw the future, Lewis was psychokinetic and Anna controlled animals-but Gabriel was a telepath. He fused minds. He'd fused their minds, the five of them, by accident, and now they were like the arms of a starfish: separate but part of one being.
Gabriel's power had always been strongest, but now it rocked Kaitlyn with its force. His mental voice had been amused, yes-but it had also been like a white-hot poker burning the words directly into her brain.
By contrast, Lewis's thought sounded weak and distant. I'm scared.
Kaitlyn glanced at him quickly and saw that he hadn't meant it to be heard. That was the problem with telepathy, with the web that connected them, held them close. It held them too close, sometimes, throwing their private thoughts into the public forum. Leaving them totally exposed, naked to one another.
Unable to hide anything.
Realization flashed through her, and she looked back at Gabriel.
"That's it, isn't it?" she said. "Why you left. It was too much for you, being so close. It was too intimate-"
"Gabriel, we all feel the same way," Anna said, picking up on Kaitlyn's theme. "We'd all like some privacy. But we're your friends-"
Gabriel's smile was savage. "I don't need friends."
"Well, you've got them, boy," Rob said softly. He moved in another step and his hand closed on Gabriel's shoulder. With a gesture that made it look easy, he turned Gabriel around.
Kaitlyn could feel Gabriel's startled outrage in the web. Rob ignored it, speaking quietly and seriously, looking Gabriel straight in the face. His anger was gone, and so was the usual defensiveness that flared between him and Gabriel, the male rivalry, the jostling for position. Rob was struggling with his pride, his internal honesty conquering it. Forcing himself to be vulnerable with Gabriel.
"We're more than friends," he said. "We're part of each other, all of us. You made us that way. You linked us together to save our lives-and now you're telling us you've defected to the bad guys? That you're our enemy?" He shook his head. "I don't believe it."
"That's because you're an idealistic idiot," Gabriel hissed, his voice as soft as Rob's, but feral and menacing. He didn't try to move out of Rob's grip. "Believe it, country boy-because if you mess with me, you're going to be sorry."
Rob shook his head. He had a look in his eyes that Kaitlyn knew well, and his jaw was at his most stubborn. "You can't fool me, Gabriel. You act like a dumb tough guy but you're not, you're smart. One of the smartest people I've ever met. You could make something of yourself-"
"I am-" Gabriel began, but Rob went on, gentle and relentless.
"You act like you don't care about people, but that's not true either. You saved us all from the crystal when Joyce and Mr. Z were trying to kill us with it. You saved us again when they trapped us at the Institute. You helped Kaitlyn save us from that psychic attack in the van."
And then Rob did something that astonished Kaitlyn. He actually shook Gabriel. Once again, startled outrage washed through the web, but before Gabriel could say anything Rob was speaking again, fierce and insistent. "I don't know what you're trying to prove, but it's no good. It's no good. You care about us; you can't change that. Why don't you just give in and admit it, Gabriel? Why don't you stop this nonsense right now?"
Kaitlyn's breath was caught in her throat. She didn't dare breathe, didn't dare move. Rob was walking on a tightrope above razors and knives. He was insane-but it was working.
Gabriel's body had relaxed slightly, some of the predator-tension draining out of it. And though Kaitlyn couldn't see his eyes, she guessed that they were lightening, a warm gray instead of cold. His presence in the web was warming, too; Kaitlyn no longer got images of stalactites and glaciers. Under the burning heat of Rob's golden eyes, Gabriel's icebergs were cracking up.
"We all care about you," Rob said, never letting up the intensity. "And your place is right here. Come back to us and help us get rid of Mr. Z, okay? Okay, Gabriel?"
And then he made his mistake.
He'd been speaking vehemently, throwing his words into Gabriel's face, and Gabriel had been listening as if he couldn't help it. Almost as if he were hypnotized. But now Rob switched to nonverbal communication to punch his message directly into Gabriel's mind. Kaitlyn knew why he did it- telepathy was forceful and intimate. Too intimate. Her cry of warning was lost as Gabriel snapped.
Come back, Rob was saying. Come back, Gabriel- okay?
Kaitlyn felt fury building in Gabriel like a tsunami. Rob, she thought. Rob, don't-Leave me ALONE!
The mental shout was like a physical blow. Literally. It threw Rob backward, body spasming in total reflex as the signals from his own brain scrambled. He fell with every muscle contracted, his face twisted, his fingers clawed. Kaitlyn felt a spasm of sheer terror on his behalf. She wanted to run to him, but she couldn't. Gabriel was between them and her legs wouldn't move. Anna and Lewis stood frozen as well.
I don't need any of you, Gabriel said, still with enough force to numb Kaitlyn's mind. You're wrong about me. I'm no part of you. You can't even imagine what I am, what I've become.
"I can," Kaitlyn gasped. She was thinking of what Mr. Zetes's crystal had done to him, what it had made him. A psychic vampire, who needed to drain life energy from others to live himself. She could feel the ghost of teeth in her spine, just at the base of the neck. As if a single sharp tooth were piercing the skin there.The memory brought a certain fear, but no revulsion. And anxious as she was to get to Rob and help him, she wanted to help Gabriel, too."It's not your fault, Gabriel," she whispered. "You think you're evil because of what you can do with your mind, because of what the crystal made you do. But it's not your fault. You didn't ask for it. And you're not evil.""That's where you're wrong." Gabriel had turned to face her, and she saw that he was calmer. But the ice was back in his eyes, the cold, lucid madness that was more terrifying than any rage. When he smiled, goose-flesh broke out on Kait's arms."I've known what I am for a long time," he said conversationally. "The crystal didn't change me, it just enhanced my abilities. And it made me accept myself." His smile widened, and Kaitlyn had a primal instinct to run. "If you've got the darkness in your nature, you might as well enjoy it. Might as well go where you belong.""To Mr. Zetes," Anna whispered, her lovely, high-cheekboned face drawn with disgust.Gabriel shrugged. "He has a vision. He thinks psychics like me have a place in the world-on top. I'm superior to the rest of the lousy race, I'm smarter, stronger, better. I deserve to rule. And I'm not going to let any of you stop me."Kaitlyn shook her head, struggling with words. "Gabriel-I don't believe that. You're not- ""I am. And if you try to keep me from getting that shard, I'm going to prove it to you."He was looking at the desk again. Kaitlyn drew herself up a little. Rob was still lying helpless on the floor; Lewis and Anna seemed frozen. There was nobody but her to stop him."You can't have it," she said."Get out of the way.""I said, you can't have it." To her amazement, her voice was fairly steady.He moved closer to her, his gray eyes filling her field of vision, filling the world. Don't make me do it, Kaitlyn. I'm not your friend anymore. I'm your hunter. Go home and stay away from Mr. Z and you won't get hurt.Kaitlyn looked into his handsome pale face. If you want the shard, you'll have to take it by force."Whatever you say," Gabriel murmured. His eyes were the color of a spiderweb. Kaitlyn felt the touch of his mind like a searing caress and then the world exploded in pain.Kaitlyn!"Dimly Kait heard Rob's shout, felt him struggling to get to his feet. Then, when he couldn't, beginning to crawl. She could barely sense him for the overwhelming pain in her head.Anna and Lewis were closer and she could hear them shouting, too."Let go of her!""What are you doing to her?"Gabriel brushed them away and kept on doing it. The pain increased-like fire. Kaitlyn had only one memory that would compare to it: being connected to the crystal. The big crystal, the impure one, the one Mr. Zetes used for enhancing psychic powers-and for torture.Waves of red-streaked agony that peaked very quickly and died away just as another wave was coming.Kaitlyn's own muscle tension held her rigid, standing motionless under it. Kept her from getting away, kept her from screaming. It wasn't heroism. She didn't have the air.Stop it, damn you! Stop it!Rob had gotten to her, somehow. His hands were on her, and golden healing energy flooded up to combat the red-streaked anguish. His powers were protecting her."Leave her alone," Rob said hoarsely, and pulled Kaitlyn away from Gabriel, toward the bed.Gabriel regarded the cleared path in front of him thoughtfully. "That was all I wanted," he murmured.He opened the middle drawer of the mahogany desk and took out the crystal shard.Kaitlyn was gasping for breath. Rob put her down on the bed, one arm still around her protectively. Kait could sense his trembling anger, and the shocked fury of Lewis and Anna-and she was surprised to find that she herself felt very little resentment toward Gabriel. There had been a look in his eyes just before he blasted her-as if he'd had to turn himself off to do it. To squelch his own emotions.Now he turned to face them, and the shard flashed in the bright light of Marisol's halogen lamp. It was the size and shape of a small unicorn's horn, a foot Jong, multifaceted. It glittered not like crystal, but like diamond."It's not yours," Anna said in a low voice. She and Lewis had flanked Rob and Kaitlyn, the four of them presenting a united front to Gabriel. "The Fellowship gave it to Kait.""The Fellowship," Gabriel sneered. "Those gutless do-gooders. If I'd lived in the old days, I'd have joined a Dark Lodge and hunted them out of existence." Not gutless, Kaitlyn thought. Gabriel's words brought the faces of the Fellowship to her mind: Timon, frail but wise; Mereniang, cool and discerning; LeShan, lynx-eyed and impatient. They were the last survivors of an ancient race, the race that had used the crystals. They didn't interfere with the affairs of humanity-but they'd made an exception for Kaitlyn's group. They'd given up their own power to give Kaitlyn a weapon against Mr. Zetes."And now Mr. Z is forming a Dark Lodge of his own," she said, looking at Gabriel steadily."You could call it that. A psychic strike team. And I'm going to lead it," Gabriel said negligently, stroking the crystal. That was dangerous, as Kait could have told him. One of the facets cut his finger and he frowned at the drop of blood absently. He seemed to feel no danger from the others; he didn't even bother to look at them."This would have been useless to you anyway," he said. "You were planning to take it to the crystal, right? Put them together and set up a resonance that would shatter both."Kaitlyn didn't know what the scientific theory was. LeShan had told them that this shard would destroy Mr. Z's crystal, that was all. She watched a drop of Gabriel's blood fall onto the hardwood floor."But to do that, you'd have to get to the crystal," Gabriel continued. "And you can't. The old man has it under a combination lock-and PK won't help with that, will it, Lewis? Eight random numbers to guess?"He sounded almost jolly-and he was right, Kaitlyn knew. Lewis could move objects with his mind using psychokinesis, but that wouldn't help him figure out a combination.Lewis had flushed slightly, but he didn't answerGabriel's question. Instead he said, "Is Lydia still in this with you?""Your little sweetheart?" Gabriel grinned nastily. "Better give up on her, too. She's back under her father's thumb. She never liked you, anyway."Pity, Kaitlyn thought. Lydia Zetes was a spy and a traitor, sent by her father to snoop on them as they traveled to Canada to find the Fellowship-but Kaitlyn felt vaguely sorry for her. Being under Mr. Z's thumb was a fate she wouldn't wish on anybody."It's like I told Kaitlyn," Gabriel said calmly. "You might as well all go home. You can't get at the crystal.The police wouldn't believe you-the old man has them taken care of. He's taking care of the ones Anna's parents contacted, too, by the way. And the Fellowship can't even help themselves. So there's really no point in you staying. Why don't you go home before I have to hurt you again?"Rob had been silent so far-too angry with Gabriel to find words. Now he found them, standing up to face Gabriel directly once again. Kaitlyn didn't need the web to sense his rage-it was written in every line of his body, in the burning of his golden eyes."You're a traitor," he told Gabriel simply. "And if you won't join us, we'll fight you. With everything we've got."His voice was quiet, but it shook. Not just rage, Kaitlyn thought suddenly. Rob was hurt-he felt personally betrayed. He hadn't believed Gabriel would hurt Kait-and Gabriel had proved him wrong. It had become a battle between them, Rob and Gabriel, the two in the group who had always fought most fiercely together, felt the most antagonism for each other, taken the positions farthest apart.And who knew how to push each other's buttons. Rob was going on, his voice not quiet now but rushed and reckless."You know what I think? I think Kait was wrong- it's not the web you can't stand. It's not the intimacy.It's the freedom. Having to make your own choices, be responsible for yourself. That's what you can't take. You'd rather be a slave to the crystal than deal with freedom."Gabriel lowered the shard, his eyes darkening. Kaitlyn grabbed for Rob's arm, but he seemed oblivious to her."I'm right, aren't I?" Rob said, with a short, strange laugh, as if delighted to have hurt Gabriel. It was so vicious and contemptuous it didn't sound like Rob. "Mr. Z tells you what to do-and you like that. It's what you're used to, after all those years locked up in CHAD. Hell, you probably miss being in jail-"Gabriel went white and hit him.Not mentally-Kaitlyn had the impression that he was too angry for that. He hit with his fist, catching Rob square in the mouth. Rob's head jerked back and he went down.With the fluid, easy movements of a predator, Gabriel reached for him again. Kaitlyn found herself on her feet and between them."No!" She fumbled for Gabriel, meaning to restrain him or at least hinder him-and somehow found herself grabbing the crystal. It was cold and hard. She held onto it and Gabriel, still trying to get to Rob, let go.Lewis and Anna were around Gabriel now, seizing any part of him they could reach and clinging. Kaitlyn managed to detach herself from the group and backaway, clutching the crystal to her chest. Gabriel didn't seem to care; his eyes were fixed on Rob.