Secret Legacy by Anna DeStefano
"Help me..." cries the child from Sarah Temple's nightmare. The voice haunts her more every day, whether Sarah's awake or asleep.A month before, Sarah made the same plea. She barely escaped the covert organization experimenting with her psychic ability. Now, exposing their secrets is the only way to save the lost little girl who's become the next target—a special child who can manipulate dreams and alter people's will.But is Sarah's mysterious link to the girl a clue, or a tactic of her captors to lure her back? The only way to be sure is to trust the man who broke her heart in order to save her life. A psychic warrior honor bound by a centuries-old brotherhood to protect Sarah and safeguard the...Secret Legacy.
Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 1 Chapter One There was a magnificence to the ocean's embrace, violet blue perfection hinting at secrets below. Cool channels wrapped Sarah Temple in velvet, promising her redemption. Luring her deeper. Dream currents caressed as they charmed, beguiled, seduced her into believing that tonight her search would end. She'd agreed not to come. She'd made them believe she couldn't. Dreaming alone was reckless. But what she had to do was too important, too dangerous, to let them follow. They would have stopped this to kept her safe. But there was no safe for Sarah. There was only the truth, and setting it free. And freedom wouldn't come until she faced the insanity of her nightmares. As she rushed through the welcoming sea, deeper than Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 2 they'd ever let her go, acceptance wrapped around her. She drank it down, drowning the doubt that whispered through her dream. She wasn't crazy. She was terrified of her mind's darkness. But conquering the nightmare was the only way to stop the pain. And to make them believe her. To find the proof that would protect everyone. She wouldn't allow another innocent to suffer truth. Richard would be furious. He'd never fail her again, he'd said. He was determined to guide her through this. As if Sarah could trust him after what he'd done. As if there were another path for her besides this one. Streaks of color pulled from every direction. Ribbons of reds and pink bleeding into crimson. It was a beautiful display. Terrifying and tempting and drawing her closer to the soul-deep cry that needed her here. Then the colors became a voice. And the voice was calling to her. "Help me..." it whispered. Loneliness ripped at Sarah, dragging, shoving, pushing her toward the nightmare's hidden heart. It was a baby's cry, she realized. It was a whimper. A little girl's pain. It was because she was too weak to face the Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 3 the shriek of a woman full grown, betrayed by every indecent thing that had been done to her. Demanding that Sarah hear. That she keep swimming. She'd gone too deep to breathe or see clearly. The colors had lost their vivid hues, abandoning her to a watery tomb. "Help me..." she cried. Then the water, too, was gone. Sarah's head spun as she staggered down a twisting tunnel that echoed with taunting pleas that no one believed were real. There was nowhere to stop. No place to rest. The light she needed to guide her wasn't there. Nothing was revealed by the dream's next turn or the next, except her growing fear that she would fail. She looked back before she could stop herself. Her gaze lifted to the surface where Richard's raven had always waited, poised to protect her if she'd let him. There was no shadow there tonight anticipating her call. No warrior in the world beyond the dream, fighting to protect her. Sarah had made sure of it... Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 4 Chapter Two Colonel Richard Metting stood in the control center of the Watchers' underground bunker, studying a wall of monitors and hiding the fact that he could feel Sarah's sanity splintering. The cries that she heard in her nightmares were screaming through his mind now, too. Along with flashes of his dream symbol--a raven--circling above an angry sea. She was dreaming. Alone. If her recklessness were discovered, the council of elders presiding over the Brotherhood would command that her legacy be neutralized Richard's job would be to execute the order. She'd be exiled to an unrecoverable coma. "We've observed only routine activity due to shift change," Mike Donovan reported from the surveillance team Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 5 monitoring the Trinity Psychiatric Research Center. "Only vetted staff entering and exiting the building. There are no doctors or medical personnel on site except those assigned to existing cases. Hourly sweeps detect no psychic activity, no dream projections." In other words, the Center continued to function as what it had always portrayed itself to be: a state-of-the-art asylum for those in need of long-term care. It had been Sarah's home for ten years, while she'd languished in a coma. It had become her prison when the covert government agency funding the place decided her and her twin's gifts would become the foundation for an unstoppable psychic weapon. Richard's brotherhood of watchers had shut down the Center's Dream Weaver program. But Sarah's mind was still in crisis. Her dreams grew more out of control every day that she resisted his help. Now watcher teams assigned to two other family lines whose legacies were Brotherhood priorities had detected psychic surveillance of their activities. Someone-- presumably the Center--had pinpointed their locations. The security of key watcher activities had been compromised just a month after bringing the Temples under Brotherhood protection. Another shriek from Sarah's nightmare seared through Richard's mind. He shielded the psychic energy from the others Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 6 in the bunker. She shouldn't have been capable of projecting a dream. Sarah shouldn't have been able to independently connect with his or anyone else's consciousness. "Awaiting orders," Donovan relayed. Richard pressed a button on the device wrapped around his ear, accessing the transmission. "Continue surveillance." He closed the link and unhooked the receiver. He tossed it aside and braced his hands on the edge of his workstation, forcing down Sarah's panic and pain so he could think. He was the Temples' watcher, but he also held a top command position within the Brotherhood. His job was to analyze, strategize, then carry out whatever action was best for all the gifted families the watchers protected, and for the psychic realm at large. A single legacy was sometimes required to pay an unfair price in order to protect the whole. It was a brutal paradigm Richard had become intimately familiar with as a young boy, when his own legacy had been in play. A reality he'd had no difficulty guiding other lives through during the two decades he'd risen up the Brotherhood's chain of command. Then his mind had felt the first brush of Sarah's complex, vulnerable energy. There'd been something special, powerful, there that he and the watchers hadn't been ready to silence, no matter how Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 7 risky preserving the Temple Legacy continued to be. But tonight's activities might force the council's hand, if the work of a man who'd been dead for over a month was still a threat through Sarah's mind. "There's no evidence that Tad Ruebens has been replaced," Jeff Coleridge said, his thoughts in tune with Richard's. Richard's second-in-command had killed the Center director who'd led the push to control the Temples' powers. "Nothing to suggest that Dream Weaver research is now focused on the child Sarah says she's hearing. This voice is merely another symptom of her psychosis. And now her mind may be bleeding key Brotherhood information to our enemy." "Or the Center could be continuing its dream work on her behind psychic shielding we haven't penetrated. The way they've been tracking other legacy families without our detection." "You're wasting time and resources exploring Sarah's fantasies. We need to shut down the Center's access to us through the twins' minds, or wherever else it's coming from." The exposed watcher teams had regrouped, relocated, and their psychic shielding had been reinforced, effectively masking their activities. The status of both surveillance ops had been escalated to observe and protect. The legacies Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 8 involved were once more off the grid. But Jeff was right. It was a short-term fix at best. The Brotherhood had to know how the families had been targeted in the first place. "Our intel shows no evidence of continued dream testing at the Center," Richard reasoned out loud. "No reason to believe they're still interested in the twins' ability to control others through shared dreaming." "Zero whispers on the government side, either." Jeff scrolled through the latest report. "No elevated psychic activity at any known testing sites since we brought the twins within the bunker's shields. But Sarah's emotional stability is degrading to dangerous levels, while our security has become compromised." "Ruebens' work damaged her mind far worse than her sister's." "Damage you haven't been able to reverse, even after we ended the hold he and his wolf image had on her." Richard braced himself so Jeff wouldn't sense the fear and confusion flooding his mind from Sarah's. He reined in the impulse to run to her quarters. To somehow stop the agony his brotherhood was thrusting into her life. His eyes narrowed. He should have alerted his elders the moment he sensed Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 9 her dreaming consciousness. Even without the threat of a an intelligence leak, Sarah projecting a dream matrix beyond their control was a disturbing development. If the Center was making a new play for her legacy, every minute Richard delayed notifying the council put everyone the Brotherhood protected at risk. But he couldn't give her up yet. He refused to accept that her mind was beyond his ability to save. "Take the con." He headed for the elevator bank built into the control center's back wall. He'd failed to protect Sarah from Dream Weaver, but he'd done everything he could for her since Ruebens's death, including working with the twins in his dream lab while maintaining the emotional distance Sarah had demanded. Distance that was no longer an option. "Orders?" Jeff slipped on Richard's earpiece and took over reading the psychic activity reports streaming to them from teams across the globe. He shot Richard a questioning glance. Like many of the watchers who'd sworn to prevent control of powerful gifts like the Temples' from falling into the wrong hands, Jeff saw the twins as ongoing threats. The Brotherhood's near-disastrous resolution of Richard's mission to derail Dream Weaver, then Richard's insistence that Sarah Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 10 and Madeline be brought to the command bunker, had created an unfriendly environment toward the women, even within their council of elders. No one could know about Sarah's rogue dream until Richard brought her mind back under his control. "Up the alert on Center activity and the search for possible satellite testing locations," he said. "And when there's still nothing to report?" Jeff asked. Richard punched the button to take him deeper into the bunker--to Sarah's sleeping quarters just off his dream lab. "Then I'm sending you out on the next sweep. No one's more motivated to prove me wrong about this legacy than you are, right?" Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 11 Chapter Three The dream shifted, sensing that Sarah was weakening. Water rushed back, dragging her through the tunnel that had become a maze of endless corridors. Each turn was the beginning. Never the end. Never the way forward. There was no air to breathe. Her fear fed the sea's hold. There was no mind to steady hers in the darkening surge. There were only screams, growing louder but never leading her to the light. Until the cries were suddenly coming from Sarah herself. Until they'd always been hers. Sarah covered her ears. She surrendered to the next turn, to the madness. She'd come for this, to let the dream take over. She might be lost here forever, but she wasn't stopping. Not until she reached the little girl calling to her with both Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 12 beauty and exquisite pain. "Trinity..." Sarah said into the sea. "Where are you?" Her voice tumbled through murky water, joining with the never-ending cries and building until the sound was pushing, lifting, driving Sarah toward a door covered in the vibrant colors from before. They were melting into one another now, creating a mottled, grotesque stain the tint of dried blood. The sea slammed her against the door's surface. Her nails dug into its battered wood. Her heart thundered, straining for oxygen. Her lungs burned, refusing to expand. "Open it," a child insisted. "Help me... See what we've become." Sarah clawed at the latch's gnarled loops. There was light waiting on the other side, like morning's new promise sprinkling hope across a diamond-kissed shore. Trinity would be there. A magical child no one else could hear. A fantasy born from a promise of redemption. A dream that Sarah had come to make reality. Except her mind had been trained for death, not dreams. Her fantasies bred deception, not promises fulfilled. Her nightmares had destroyed too much for her to be anyone's savior now. Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 13 What if the darkest part of her lurked just beyond her grasp--shadows waiting to use her for evil, instead of the light she needed to set free? Screams swallowed more of the dream. "Trinity..." Sarah begged. The water, the cries, the impassible door... Her dream ocean had become a soulless, empty place waiting for her to fail. She fought the latch. She yanked and twisted and pulled until there was nothing left. Ribbons of blood swirled into the sea's eager embrace. "This is where you belong," the ocean chanted, soothing her panic. "This is why you came alone. Let the light go. You don't want to hurt anymore." But there was suddenly another energy fighting to be heard, infusing the frigid water with vitality and warmth. A raven flew above the sea. His strength and logic filtered into Sarah's mind, demanding that she resist the sea's embrace. That she release the water and the latch and the door and her failure to reach Trinity. He wanted her to come back--to him. "Wake up," he projected from the other side of sleep. His voice was every good thing that had once tempted Sarah. Then trusting him had become her greatest failure. Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 14 "Damn it, Temple," he said, "you're in v-tach. Break the dream link before your heart gives out." His psychic strength battered at the mental shields she'd secretly strengthened. The hidden place inside her still connected to him yanked her through the tunnel, away from the truth she'd risked so much to reach, until she was struggling with the calmer currents near the surface. "Help me..." Trinity begged from below. "Wake up..." the raven called. But his concern wasn't real, Sarah reminded herself. His job was to control her legacy. He didn't care about Trinity. He'd never cared about Sarah. Not enough. She dove deeper, looking for the door again. There was no gentle seduction now. The ocean grabbed her with greedy claws. She welcomed the brutality, as long as it took her back to Trinity. The raven flew above the ocean's surface, tracking her descent. When she found the girl, he would see. He'd believe. He'd come back for the child even if Sarah couldn't save her. He'd have no choice. Trinity would be too important for the Brotherhood to leave behind. "Release the dream." Hands gripped her shoulders in her sleeping quarters. Secret Legacy Anna DeStefano 15 Fingers bit into her skin, shaking her. The powerful consciousness she'd once given her heart to layered storm sounds, wind and rain and lightning, over the roar of her seaswept currents. Their familiar vision of a misty summer forest tempted Sarah. He knew exactly where she was weakest. But she clung to her nightmare, free-falling with no end in sight. There was no more tunnel for her to run through. No maze leading to the truth. "Trinity," Sarah called into the icy water. "Come closer," the ocean chanted. "Help me," a lonely child begged. "Wake up," demanded the voice that had saved Sarah from the darkness before, only to feed her to a monster that had destroyed her mind. "Release the dream," he demanded. "Come back to me before it's too late."