She remained in her seat. Max tapped her foot with his in playful approval—making her heart slam against her ribs, her fingers curl—before turning his attention back to the other couple. “Someone’s attempting to derail Nikita’s organization by taking out her people because he or she can’t get to Nikita herself. It’s looking like the bombers four months ago only got to the elevator shaft because someone on the inside made sure they did.”
Sascha’s hand clenched into a fist on the table. “You don’t think they’ll facilitate another attempt on her life?”
“Your mother,” Max said, “is forearmed and very security conscious. That’s why the killer has become frustrated, started to target those around her.” He blew out a breath. “Sascha, if you’re still in contact with her, you’re a prime target.”
Lucas Hunter tangled his fingers with his mate’s, his lethal anger turning into an intense, protective focus. “Sascha isn’t Nikita’s heir.”
“She’s Nikita’s daughter.” Max shook his head, his jaw a stubborn line. “I don’t care what anyone says about the Psy ability to cut off people without a thought—if a Councilor’s daughter is taken out, it will have an impact.”
“You may not be Councilor Duncan’s financial heir,” Sophia said into the silence, “but you remain her genetic heir, the only one she has.” And genetics were very, very important in the Net. Those of her race had no love, no hate, to tie them together, but they had blood. “As far as I know, she hasn’t arranged for a second child or a surrogate.”
“No,” Sascha whispered. “I’ve never understood why.”
“My pack will protect my mate,” Lucas said to Max. “Thanks for the heads-up.”
Max gave a wry smile. “Thanks for not ripping my face off before I could get a word out.”
“It’s such a pretty face,” the leopard alpha responded, a feline smile warming those feral green eyes, “the women in the office would probably string me up if I messed it up.”
Sophia felt the tension level in the room drop even before Max’s expression shifted to pure male amusement. “I thought Dorian was considered the fairest of them all.”
It was Sascha who replied. “I don’t know, Max”—a tight smile, as the empath fought her worry for her mother—“you’re giving him serious competition. I’m certain I heard Zara say something about wanting to lick you up like strawberry ice cream.”
Sophia decided this Zara person couldn’t be allowed anywhere near Max. Who tilted back his chair in that way he had and laughed. “Since I’ve already broken the rules, if either of you have any idea of who might want to go after Nikita, I’d be happy to hear it.”
“Let us discuss it and get back to you.” Squeezing his mate’s shoulder, Lucas rose to his feet.
“Fair enough.” Max stood as well. “Clay knows where I’m staying, and he’s got my cell code.” As the men shook hands, Sophia got up, taking one last look at the extraordinary daughter Councilor Nikita Duncan had borne. Sascha’s head was bent, her smile having faded away to reveal a haunting worry.
She turned to see Max holding the door. Walking out beside him, she considered whether she’d mourn her own parents when they died. No, she thought. They’d erased her from their lives so cleanly that she’d had to erase them from hers in order to survive. It had been hard, so hard to do that. She’d written letters at first. She’d begged.
Finally, a response had come . . . one that had made her parents’ position clear with brutal precision—she was no longer, it had stated, an “acceptable genetic heir.”
A wolf whistle pierced the air, slicing neatly through the pained numbness of her memories of the day she’d realized her parents were never returning for her. The whistle originated from the mouth of a small woman with coffee-colored skin. “I hear you’re single, Cop.” A blinding smile.
Max’s responding smile revealed the lean dimple in his left cheek that Sophia wanted to kiss each time she saw it. “Your intel is out of date.”
“I knew it—I’m going to die an old maid.” Her face drooped. “I shall now go drown myself in fantasies where three—no four—hot men await my every whim.”
Sophia didn’t say a word until they were back in the car. “I’m . . . glad that you no longer consider yourself single.” It took considerable willpower to say that, to admit how much his commitment meant to her. No one had ever before chosen her. No one.
Reaching out with a deliberate slowness, Max brushed his knuckles over her cheek. The sensation was a hot whip over her skin. “The things I plan to do to you, Sophie,” he whispered in a deep voice that made her toes curl. “Zara’s fantasies have nothing on mine.”
Lucas waited until after Max and Sophia Russo had left to turn to his mate. Fighting the urge to just cuddle the worry out of her, he leaned back against the wall by the door and folded his arms. “Now, kitten, how about telling me exactly what you were doing in the Duncan building?” His heart had almost stopped beating when she’d confessed her little field trip.
“Lucas,” Sascha said in a voice that would’ve normally made him calm down.
“That isn’t going to work.” He dropped his hands, moved to brace them on the tabletop. “I thought we agreed you’d stay out of the limelight while you’re so vulnerable. And God, you went—” He grit his teeth, unable to get the words out.