“I’ve said what I have to say,” Nikita said after a small pause. “Break the rules and you’ll pay the price.”
Sophia knew enough of Nikita to understand that that was no idle threat. The Councilor was rumored to be a viral transmitter, able to infect minds with the most fatal—and if she chose, viciously painful—of psychic weapons. “Understood.” Rising to her feet, she picked up her organizer. “I do have one question that doesn’t relate directly to the case.”
“According to my immediate supervisor, you specifically requested me.” Sophia hadn’t been aware that Nikita even knew her name. “Was there a reason for that?”
“It made more sense to use you than to take a fully functioning J out of the system.” Cool, pragmatic words.
Except for one thing.
Sophia knew Nikita was lying.
Max’s mind had circled back to Bonner by the time they arrived at the apartment—having stopped to pick up a few supplies on the way. Forcing himself off the topic, if only to deny the bastard the satisfaction of knowing he’d once again got everyone dancing to his tune, he looked around the apartment while Talin played with a Morpheus who was still miffed at his recent imprisonment. But judicious use of cat treats and Talin’s stroking hands seemed to be bringing the sulking beast out of it.
“Nicer place than I expected,” he said to Clay. Big bedroom, living area, kitchen, and bath. And he had windows. “Guess being a special investigator pays more than being a detective.”
Clay walked to join Max at the window near the dining alcove. “Good view from here. We’ve had a lot of heavy fog in the mornings, but it makes for some spectacular sun-rises.”
“Yeah.” Lowering his voice, Max asked, “How’s Jon?” The teenager had been kidnapped, held in a Psy lab, and tortured before being rescued. Last Max had heard, he was giving Talin and Clay fits with his tricks.
Clay grinned. “Still a smartass teenager.”
“Yeah. He’s got a crush on one of the young dominant females—poor cub. He doesn’t realize how nice she’s being to him by not kicking his ass.”
Max grinned, relief a crushing wave inside him. “I bet she thinks he’s adorable.”
Clay snorted. “I think it’s more a case of ‘aw damn, he’s a baby, I can’t hurt him.’ ”
“Ouch.” Max winced, feeling for the kid. “That’s got to bite.”
“Uh-huh.” A very feline look appeared on Clay’s face. “But, you know, he’s determined as hell. A few years down the track and who knows.”
Glancing around at Talin’s voice, he saw Morpheus purring in her lap. Ungrateful alley cat never purred for Max. All he got was sniffs and snarls. “Yeah?”
“Do you want me to take him home with us?” Worry marked her expressive features. “He doesn’t look like an inside cat.”
Max scowled on Morpheus’s behalf. “Damn right he’s not. He’ll find a way out of here within the day.” And probably come home with a few new scars to add to his already prodigious collection.
Talin scratched the traitorous cat behind his ears. Morpheus’s eyes all but rolled into the back of his head. “Well,” she said, sounding dubious of Max’s claim, “if he starts to pine for some greenery, you know where I live.”
“Morpheus’s favorite hobby involves garbage cans—I think he’d have an aneurysm in a forest,” Max muttered. “Is he really purring?”
“Of course he is. I know how to treat cats.” A sultry glance aimed solely at her mate.
Max rocked back on his heels, feeling like a voyeur and—if he was honest—a little bit envious as well. He’d give his right arm to be loved like that . . . to love like that. But fact was, he wasn’t capable of that depth of vulnerability, and he was honest enough to know it, to never make promises he couldn’t keep.
One woman had kissed him on the cheek as they parted and said, “You threw away the key to your heart a long time ago, didn’t you, Max?”
He’d smiled that night, because she was a woman he respected, a woman who remained a good friend, but afterward, he’d wondered—had he thrown it away or had the lock become permanently warped, incapable of opening?
The discreet chime of the doorbell silvered into the air, into his thoughts. “I’ll get it.” Walking across, he opened the door.
And knew he’d been waiting for her since the second he set foot in this city of fog beside a sparkling bay.
Any skin-to-skin contact with a human or changeling, even a Psy with inadequate shields, may destroy what remains of your telepathic protections. Avoid all physical contact.
—Advisory letter to Sophia Russo from the
J Corps Medical Division
Sophia was unprepared for the visual impact of Max Shannon, no matter that she’d met him previously. He was the kind of man some women would want to own, she thought, having run across such females in the course of her career several times. They would see him as a trophy, a prize to show off—never realizing that they were attempting to leash a vicious storm.
Though Max was beautiful, what saved him from crossing the line into a more delicate prettiness was the obdurate hardness of his jawline, the unflinchingly adult expression in his gaze. Those eyes said that Max Shannon had looked into the void—and come away with a piece of it in his soul.
Then he spoke, drawing her attention to those well-shaped lips. “Sophia.” He’d braced one hand on the doorjamb, didn’t pull it down to offer to her.