"Sleep." It was an order in her ear as his body closed around hers, protective, and yes, very definitely possessive - the thigh he pushed between her own ensured she wouldn't be going anywhere without him.
For the first time, her compulsion to go north wasn't the overwhelming thought in her mind. And though the heat between them burned white-hot, that wasn't at the forefront either. No, it was the tenderness of the kiss Dev pressed to the curve of her neck, the intensity of his hold. He was, she realized, looking after her.
It was an odd feeling, one that swept warmth through her limbs, turning them heavy. But she found the will to untangle their legs and turn so she could tuck her head under his chin and place her hand over his heart. He thrust his thigh back between hers the next instant. Smiling, she snuggled close. Her sleep was soft, dreamless, peaceful.
* * *
Six hours later, the precious interlude was a thing of distant memory. The car was warm, but Katya huddled into her jacket as Dev drove them out of the lodge with grim determination. The dread he'd silenced with the protective warmth of his embrace had a clawhold on her heart once again. She didn't know if it was because of what she'd sensed, what she was leading them toward. . . or because of her terror that the compulsion was born of nothing, her mind a place of nightmares and lies.
"Don't think about it." A cool order from the director of Shine.
His strength fed her own. "It's hard not to," she said. "I can feel something calling to me, but I know I've never been in this area before."
"Is it possible you were held around here?"
"I suppose. But. . . I feel no sense of familiarity with anything." The snowy fields passing by on either side as they drove ever deeper into largely uninhabited territory sent a chill down her spine, but not because of any memory of torture.
The world on the other side of the window was actually rather beautiful, the snow glittering with diamond shards under the morning sun, the sky a placid blue that should've made evil impossible. But - "In my mind," she whispered, "everything's swathed in shadows."
The cold, clear-eyed soldier in Dev told him to turn back, that Katya was most likely leading him into a trap, but he kept driving. Today, he was going to follow the gut instinct that had saved his life more times than he could count. This woman - his woman - needed this, and he would give it to her.
"Tell me something," he said when she fell silent, her eyes locked on the outer vista.
She started, as if he'd broken into a trance. "What?"
"You mentioned your parents - any memories you want to share?" He just wanted to get her thinking about something other than the darkness coming inexorably closer. It wouldn't take long, he thought. They'd reach their goal either tonight or early the next morning.
"Well," she said after a long pause, "since my parents had a full coparenting agreement, we all lived together in a family unit. They always consulted each other before making any decision about my welfare."
"Doesn't sound too bad." It was, in fact, far better than he'd expected.
"No. It was a good existence." Folding her arms, she tilted her head to face him. "But it was simply an existence. When I turned eighteen and moved out, there was no difference in my life other than the fact that I could make decisions on my own from then on."
"I thought Psy were pretty strong on family loyalty."
"Yes, but it's a cold kind of loyalty. A month after I reached my majority, my parents - who'd ceased living together the day I turned eighteen - dissolved their coparenting agreement, and my memories tell me that I never knew them to speak to each other again." She shrugged. "They'd achieved their aims, fulfilled their contracts. I have connections to both families, of course, but when I turned twenty-one, I had to choose."
"Because Psy only trust loyalty that is absolute," she said. "I had to formally identify with either the maternal or the paternal side of my family."
"Which did you choose?" Dev asked, fascinated by this glimpse into the forces that had shaped the woman by his side.
"The paternal," she answered. "My father's family is involved in scientific endeavors, while my mother's is more focused on economics. It made sense for me to align myself with the group that would allow me to best utilize my skills."
"And your mother didn't feel like she'd gotten the worst of the bargain?"
"Of course not - genetically, I'm still half hers. But since she did co-raise me, my father had to buy out part of the contract since his family would get the benefit of my training, skills, and connections."
Dev blinked, trying to understand. "He bought you?"
"It's a perfectly normal transaction in the Net." She blew out a breath. "Everything's calm and practical and business-like. No fights, no disagreements. All the contingencies are covered in the parenting and fertilization agreements."
Dev couldn't imagine such a cold life, such a cold relationship. "So since you're considered part of your father's family, did you have to contribute financially?"
"Yes. Our family had a central investment fund. I did quite well out of it - we had a good investment strategy." Stretching out her legs, she tapped her fingers on her knees. "I wonder how my death affected things. Likely very little - my work for the Council raised my family's ranking in terms of their influence in the Net, but it was a small contribution. Losing me wouldn't have caused that big a ripple."
To hear her talk of herself in such a clinical way infuriated him. "But your life will cause one hell of a big ripple."