In that moment, she'd had the startling realization that she was seeing the real Devraj Santos for the very first time. He'd retreated behind his walls an instant later, and now, ten minutes into the journey, he was busy working on his electronic datapad. Not a word had passed between them in the ensuing time.
Up ahead, she saw Tag shift his gaze to follow his gorgeous companion's progress as she walked down the corridor to get some water. He snapped his head back around the instant the woman began to return. Katya's lips twitched.
She was so surprised by the question that she turned to stare at Dev. He was still looking at his datapad. "How did you know?"
In the apartment, she'd made a vow to be civil to him but nothing more. He wasn't her friend - how could he be when he didn't believe a word she said? But at this moment, sitting next to him, she realized that distance wasn't the way to get to Dev. The man obviously knew too much about it - he could outfreeze her any day of the week. But laughter . . . Dev didn't seem to know much about laughter. And while she might be Psy, she'd found a vein of humor in her new phoenix heart.
"Tag," she said, dropping her voice. "He keeps looking at that woman when he thinks no one is paying attention."
"Her name's Tiara." Dev input something else on his datapad. "There's an open betting book at Shine on those two."
Curious, she waited for him to continue. "What about?" she prodded when he didn't.
"When Tag'll get up the guts to ask her out."
Blinking, she stared at the big, solid man with a face like stone. "Your friend doesn't seem like he's scared of anything. I can see him taking on the Psy Council without blinking."
"That's why it's so funny."
"Oh." Now she understood. For some reason, this Tiara rattled Tag on the deepest levels. "When I was in the PsyNet," she said, catching another wisp of memory, "I never understood how human and changeling females could trust their males without the ropes of Silence."
Dev finally looked at her, those exotic eyes intent.
"Especially," she continued, "when the males were bigger and stronger. Like when Sascha Duncan defected to mate with the DarkRiver alpha. I simply couldn't understand how she could feel safe around him."
"There's no male-on-female violence in the Net?"
"No, not in the sense that you mean. Domestic violence is unheard of - I suppose there's no chance for it," she said, staring into the face of a man who was the effective alpha of his own people, as lethal, as dangerous. "Men under Silence are cold, controlled. But the men outside? You get so angry - there's nothing to stop you from harming a weaker person."
All at once, the temperature dropped, until she could almost see her breath frost the air. "Your research must've been very thorough."
"What're you talking about?"
Dev stared at her, his face holding no emotion whatsoever. After a long, frozen moment, he returned his attention to his datapad. "There's an entertainment module in the datapad in the seatback in front of you."
She didn't know where she got the courage. Reaching over, she grabbed his own datapad and pushed the Off button. He simply held out a hand. "You're lucky that model has automatic memory."
Instead of giving it to him, she put it down the side of her seat. "I'll drop my shields."
An absolute silence, unbroken even by the murmurs of the others on the plane.
"You can't," he said at last. "Unless the whole being-locked-away-from-the-Net panic was another lie?"
It was a surgical strike, precise and deadly, but she refused to let him rattle her. "I'm blocked from the Net, but he did nothing to stop me from using my abilities - "
"Why?" Dev interrupted.
"Probably because that kind of a blackout requires constant policing." Dust in her throat, gravel in her mouth. "Or maybe it's because he wants me to use my abilities, but whatever his reason, it means I have control over my personal shields. I can drop them."
"Is that an offer or a threat?" Cool words, an expressionless face.
"An offer." She was sick and tired of being mistrusted. "You said you had some telepathy. Is it enough to scan an open mind?"
He didn't answer her.
So she went with instinct, assumed he could do what she was asking. "Come in, see what I know, see what I am." Trust me, she wanted to say. Because anger would only take her so far. She felt so alone. In the days since he'd locked her in that room, she hadn't slept more than a couple of hours a night, too aware of the endless emptiness of her existence.
The skin tightened over Dev's cheekbones. "You trust me that much?"
"You've been up-front - if I prove a threat, I die. Otherwise, I don't think you'll brutalize me."
He flinched, as if she'd hit him. "That kind of invasion, it's nothing a telepath would choose."
"I am. I need you to stop treating me like a fraud. I'm not."
"No." His jaw set.
"Why?" She twisted to face him. "Because you'd feel guilty about invading my mind? I'm giving you permission, Dev."
"That makes it no less invasive."
"And this?" She waved her hand. "This - where I'm treated like a consummate liar - is better?"
He glanced up. Following, she saw Tiara looking at the two of them with unconcealed interest. Dev's tone was clipped when he turned back to her. "We're not discussing this here."
Heat rolled up her body, threatening to color her face. "Fine. But we will be discussing it."