Katya was sitting in the sunroom out front.
Her mood was opaque to him, her secrets hidden.
Slamming a glass on the counter, he poured the milk into the blender and scooped in some vitamin-laced protein mix. "Katya!"
She appeared in the kitchen doorway a minute later. "Yes?"
For an instant, he thought she'd tell him she wasn't hungry, in which case, this would've gotten ugly - his need to take care of her was a f**king fist in his gut, a violent protectiveness that demanded release. But she stepped closer and picked up a mango.
He gave her a knife. "Peel and chop."
Taking a second mango, he quickly did the same. He was done before she got halfway . . . because she kept licking at her fingers. His entire body became one giant pulse as he watched her close her lips around a finger and stroke it through. "Katya."
She colored, misreading that single strained word. "It tastes so good."
He couldn't help it. Raising a piece of the juicy yellow flesh to her lips, he said, "Open."
Eyes locked with his, she obeyed. Her lips - soft, lush, wet - brushed his fingertips as he fed her the fruit and it was the most erotic thing he'd ever felt. "Good?" he asked, his voice husky.
A nod, blonde hair catching the light. "Where's the ice cream?" An ordinary question, but the way she was looking at him said something else altogether.
Reminding himself that, everything else aside, she'd been unconscious not that long ago, he shut the door on a desire that threatened to undermine his every vow, his every promise. "I'll get it." Adding it to the mix, he finished blending everything and poured her a glass. "You're eating a sandwich, too."
"I'm not really hungry."
The glass she'd picked up met the counter with a bang. "What will you do if I don't eat?"
"Tie you to a chair and wait until you decide to cooperate. Then I'd feed you every bite." Shoving bread across the counter, he began to take out the fixings. "Start making your own, or I'll do the choosing."
This time, the look she shot him was pure female fury. "Just because you're bigger doesn't mean you have to be a bully."
"Just because you're a woman doesn't mean I'm going to let you get away with bullshit."
She slapped butter on her bread, then reached not for the ham or cheese, but for the raspberry jelly. "Quiet," she said when he opened his mouth.
Raising an eyebrow, he went to the pantry and brought back a jar of crunchy peanut butter. "Goes well together."
She shot him a suspicious look but took the jar. Not saying anything, he quickly put together his own sandwich, then took it and her smoothie to the table. Katya followed him a minute later, after putting away the jam and peanut butter with slow deliberation - as if hoping he'd be gone by the time she was done.
When she did sit, she kept her eyes resolutely on her meal.
He was, he realized, being ignored. Grinning, he sprawled back in his chair, his legs encroaching on her space.
Katya had spent her life in science. She might not remember much of it, but she knew she'd been cool, calm, collected, even beneath the Silence. But today, with Dev, she'd come startlingly close to losing her temper. And right now, she wanted to kick his feet away from her chair, aware he was deliberately pushing into her personal space.
Big shoulders, long legs, muscled power, and contained arrogance. No wonder he made her mad. But - She put down her sandwich, her mouth suddenly bone-dry. "Why isn't my emotional state leaking out into the Net?" Betraying her, warning the others that she was a traitor to Silence.
"You said you were trapped." The hairs on her arms rose in response to the ice in every word. "It makes sense that the shield isn't only meant to serve as a cage. It has to hide you, too - the fewer people who know about a Trojan horse, the more damage it can do."
"Why do you sound so calm about that?" She leaned forward, searching for answers. "For all you know, my task might be to kill you." A chill snaked up her spine, and she found herself whispering, "There's a good chance it is that."
One shoulder lifted in a negligent shrug. "I'm not easy to kill."
"Don't be so overconfident. I'm a telepath, after all."
She blinked. Shook her head. "Yes, I'm a midlevel telepath. . . and M-Psy. Dual abilities, with both my telepathy and my medical talent measuring at around the same level. Below 5 on the Gradient."
Dev knew the Gradient was the scale the Psy used to measure power, with 10 being the highest level. Apparently, cardinals were unmeasurable beyond that point. "Send to me."
"Dev! If they find me - "
"Council already knows we've got some remnant abilities - and I don't intend to let you go." Soft words, lethal as blades. "I've only got a touch of telepathy. I want to know if it's enough to 'hear' a Psy."
She sent the first thing that came to mind. Don't you consider yourself Psy?
Dev tipped his head slightly to the side, a furrow between his eyebrows. "I almost caught it. Like a too-soft murmur. What did you say?"
She repeated her question aloud.
"No." His mouth firmed. "The Psy cut off my ancestors without a thought - then they tried to annihilate them. Far as I'm concerned, that removes any family connection." He reached forward with a speed she had no hope of avoiding and gripped her chin, his hold gentle but firm. "Do you? Consider yourself Psy?"
"It's what I am." But his question raised ones in her own mind, stabbed phantom pain into her heart. "They threw me away."