You can defeat your enemies, but can you defeat your friends?
Danyael Sabre, an object of desire, would much rather not be. An alpha empath by birth, a doctor by training, and an empathic healer by calling, he is stalked by the military that covets his ability to kill, not heal. Bereft of two days of memories, he goes on the run under the protection of an assassin, Zara Itani.
The more he uncovers of his lost hours, the more he doubts everything that once anchored him. He knows only that he endangers those around him and that he is falling in love with Zara, who hates him for reasons he no longer remembers.
As forces—both powerful and ruthless—threaten those he cares for, Danyael has only two options. He can betray his values and abandon the path of the healer, or he can wait to be betrayed, not by enemies, but by his friends.
PERFECT BETRAYAL is the second novel in the award-winning Double Helix series.
Danyael Sabre fought a losing battle against fatigue and the wet chill of a New York winter storm. As the minutes ticked by slowly, he slipped past extreme exhaustion into mindless automation. The neighborhood deteriorated, the deeper he traveled into Brooklyn. The icy drizzle could not mask or wash away the stench of cheap alcohol and urine in the streets. He paused at the pollution-stained façade of an apartment complex. It was a welcome sight; home, at last.
Danyael unlocked the door of his apartment, slipped in, and quietly shut it behind him. He leaned his head against the door and closed his eyes. His shoulders sagged. He was alone; he could relax. With a soft sigh, he lowered his psychic shields. The suffocating weight of emotions he did not understand and could not remember flowed out of him.
A woman’s shriek of panic ripped through the silence of the apartment and shattered his lethargy. His dark eyes flashed open. I’m not alone!
She hurled herself at him. Instinctively, he caught her wrists as she clawed at his face. The swirl of long dark hair, swaying wildly, concealed most of her face, but he caught a glimpse of unreasoning terror in her eyes, terror he had put in there.
He struggled to contain the emotions he had released. The effort plowed through him, a punch to his stomach. It tore the breath out of his lungs. He convulsed, doubling over, the strain too much for a body pushed to its limits. His grip on her wrists loosened. She lunged away from him and raced to the kitchen.
“No, wait.” He grabbed her before her fingers wrapped around the hilt of the knife in the drying rack. His empathic powers surged, irresistible as the tides. They snaked, graceful tendrils of living vines, through her psyche and siphoned out the emotions he had unwittingly forced on her. To his relief, rationality seeped into her wide violet eyes. He started to ask if she was all right, but before he could utter a single word, scorching pain ripped down his spine.
Only his training suppressed the scream of agony. He flung himself away from her and crashed into the sink. Violent shudders wracked his body. He gripped hard on the countertop to brace against the spasms of pain.
What the hell?
He gritted his teeth and tasted blood in his mouth. He had not been prepared for her roiling emotions. Targeted at him, her emotions sliced through his defenses with devastating precision, anger and hate, vitally alive, scalding hot. They flared when he touched them, punished him when he tried to absorb them from her. He had to work through them. There was no other way. The alternative—returning the emotions to her—was not an option.
His eyes closed. Trembling, he focused on each breath burning in his lungs. As he shakily exhaled, he unclenched his fists. Release the pain.
Most of the time, the technique worked flawlessly. He had years of practice.
That day, it nearly didn’t.
Minutes passed before the red haze of pain obscuring his vision thinned and eventually wafted away. He looked up to find her staring steadily at him, the passion and fury he had briefly witnessed now perfectly regulated beneath an icy-cold façade.
“Are you all right?” he asked hoarsely.
Her eyes narrowed. She tilted her head but did not answer. She merely looked at him as if he were insane for asking the question.
“Are you all right?” Danyael asked again. He leaned against the old fridge. His quiet tone concealed his exhaustion. A quick empathic probe confirmed she was calm and rational, but her lack of response worried him. He thought he had reabsorbed the poisonous brew of his emotions before they sank into her psyche, but perhaps he had not been fast enough. Had he hurt her?
“I’m sorry. I know you’ve had a shock. Would you like to sit?” He paused; the aloof distance in her demeanor caused him to hesitate. He tried for a smile, though fatigue limited it to a faint curve on the edges of his lips. “I’m Danyael Sabre.”
“Zara.” Her answer was brusque. She did not offer a last name.
The name toyed on the edge of his consciousness, as if he had heard it before, but he was certain he did not know her. There was no way he could have forgotten someone as attractive as she was.
His mind mocked him. Who was to say what he could have forgotten? After all, he had no memories of the prior two days.
He crushed the flicker of panic as he focused on what little he could still handle. Danyael averted his gaze as his mind chased a fleeting memory from years past. Lucien and Zara. “Zara…Itani,” he murmured as the memory sharpened. He glanced at her. “You’re Lucien’s friend.”
“What are you doing here? How did you get into my apartment?”
“I picked the lock.” Zara pushed away from the wall and walked past him to sit at the table. She crossed her legs gracefully, hooking one ankle behind the other. “What do you remember?”
He tensed; without memories, he had to play it safe. “Nothing.” His tone was carefully neutral.
“What took you so bloody long to get back here? I know the plane landed twelve hours ago.”
“It’s a long way from Teterboro, New Jersey.”
“It’s an hour away.”
He glanced at the digital clock on the microwave oven. “It took eight hours to walk, and I had a late start.”
She frowned. “You walked?”
Without probing, he could not tell if her reaction stemmed from annoyance or incredulity, and he was too tired to keep probing. Somewhere, somehow, he had lost his wallet, leaving him with no means of paying for transportation, but there was no point in explaining. Something in her cool eyes made him feel like a fool for trying; she had already judged him and found him wanting.
Damn it, why? Questions pounded through his mind, but he had no answers. He shook his head and stepped away from the refrigerator. He needed food as badly as he needed rest, but he was too tired to eat and too hungry to sleep. He yanked open the refrigerator door, removed a loaf of bread, spread a thin layer of butter over two slices of bread, and placed them in the toaster oven. He pushed on the tiny lever and turned to her. “Would you like something for breakfast?”
“There’s nothing in there I want.”
That was just as well. The little food he had in his apartment would have to last until he replaced his driver’s license, credit cards, and ATM cards. The toaster oven pinged softly. He removed the slices of bread from the toaster oven and placed them on a plate. He would have joined her at the table, but his empathic senses warned him to keep his distance. A woman’s bad mood was more trouble than he needed at that time. Instead, he stood by the kitchen counter and ate his breakfast, washing it down with tap water. Some of the tension eased out of his shoulders as the grinding pain in his stomach slowly dissipated.
Rest would help too, though most of his tension had nothing to do with the lack of food or rest. He would have to deal with the churning madness of emotions he could not understand. He would come to terms with them, likely neither gracefully nor well, but he would survive. He was almost certain of it.
His meager meal completed, he rinsed the plate, placed it in the drying rack, and turned to face her. He met her coolly assessing gaze. How can you find me wanting when you don’t even know me, he wanted to ask, but with two days of missing memories, he could not assume anything anymore. Considering the intensity of her anger, he suspected that the better question was How badly did I piss you off?
An ironic smile curved his lips. Getting off on a rotten start with someone he found compelling was unfortunate. She was beautiful. Long, dark hair framed large violet eyes, a slender nose, and sultry mouth. Her skin was the color of a golden dusk and smooth as silk. Physical beauty was incidental, though. He was personally acquainted with the curse of abundant physical beauty and knew not to place any weight on the appearance of the fragile mortal shell.
Instead, he studied her through the eyes of an alpha empath. His breath caught in his throat. Zara was more than beautiful. She was dazzling. Her emotional spectrum danced in a rainbow of cascading sparkles. Complex patterns swirled light with darkness to create art, both subtle and bold. He could never tire of looking at Zara.
“What do you remember?” she asked again.
“You must remember something.”
“I don’t. And I don’t want to.” He looked away. That was the right answer, the safe answer, until he figured out what was going on.
“Don’t want to?” Her fingernails tapped an impatient rhythm on the table.
“My memories were taken for a reason. I don’t want them back.”
“That’s it? Someone rips out your memories, steals days from your life, and you just shrug and walk away?”
A muscle twitched in his smooth cheek. If only she knew how accurately she had described it. Ripping was an accurate—albeit tame—way of categorizing the gut-wrenching agony of losing memories. He could not remember what he had lost, but he could remember the process of losing them. That particular memory expelled a sly lick of nausea that coated his throat and made it hard to breathe.
Two days. What could have happened in those two days? He had enjoyed the benevolent protection of the Mutant Affairs Council for sixteen years. Would he challenge their decision now? Did he dare? “I trust the council,” he said simply.
“I thought you were stupid. Now I know you’re also incredibly naïve. You trust the council?”
Did he? Danyael could not meet her penetrating gaze. Was he denying the truth or bracing for a lie? He was not certain. “I—”
“Stupid, naïve and scared.”
His eyes narrowed. Her emotions seemed rooted in more than just the repulsive effect of his psychic shields. “Where does this blanket hatred of me come from?”
“From those memories you’re running away from,” she responded sweetly.
He dragged his left hand through his hair. The conversation was pointless. “I need to rest.”
“Go for it.” She did not move from the chair.
“I need privacy. I can find you a hotel room in Manhattan.”
She shook her head. “It’s not happening.”
“I need to rest, and to do that, I need to be alone.”
“You need to be alive.” Zara pushed away from the chair and strode toward him. Her deadly lope reminded him of a stalking tiger. “You have no memories, so trust me on this one. You’re in deep shit, and no amount of posturing or saying that you remember nothing is going to get you out of it.”
Her words chilled him. She hated him, but equally—and oddly—he sensed her genuine commitment to keeping him alive. In spite of how rough the past few hours had been, he was not ready to give up on life yet.
Trust. If he could not trust his instincts, what could he trust?
Danyael stepped out in faith. He met her gaze and released his breath unsteadily. “Fine,” he said. “Do you need to use the restroom?”
Confusion replaced the cold fire in her gaze. “No.”
“All right. If you need it, knock and wait for me to respond before you come in.”
“You’re going to sleep in the bathroom?”
He threw a quick glance around the small studio apartment. “There’s nowhere else private here.” He shrugged helplessly. There was no way to explain without giving himself away. “I need to be alone.”
“I know you’re a mutant.”
At least her answer explained some of her feelings toward him. “Thank you for saving me the trouble of explaining.”
He stepped into the bathroom, closed the door behind him, and shrugged out of his jacket. The leather was old and soft; he could use it as a pillow. The bathroom floor was not long enough for him to stretch out, but he was tired enough that it would not matter. He lay down, inhaled deeply, and carefully lowered his psychic shields as he breathed out.
The tightness in his jaw relaxed slightly. The tension around his neck and shoulders eased subtly. So many questions were left unanswered, but none mattered then. His eyes fluttered closed as fatigue dragged him down to sleep.