Max shook his head, his eyes solemn. “It’s too late.”
Following his gaze, she saw another Enforcement officer inside with the prisoner, his head bowed in defeat. The Psy male’s eyes stared unseeing at the ceiling.
Nikita was adamant she hadn’t killed the man. “He was eliminated to prevent me from discovering what he knew,” she said when they confronted her. “If I had taken his mind, ripped away his secrets, I’d have no more use for you and Ms. Russo, Detective—and I’d make sure you knew it.”
Sophia watched Max hold that chilling gaze. “Now that, I believe.”
“This wouldn’t have happened if I’d been notified at the start.”
It was true. Because she’d have done the job herself.
But she hadn’t.
And right then, Sophia was too numb to consider anything further. She felt battered and bruised by the time they arrived back home. She didn’t make the slightest protest when Max ushered her into his apartment rather than her own. “Go take a hot shower,” he ordered, nudging her toward the bedroom and the bathroom that flowed off it. “I’ll make you something to eat.”
She felt her lower lip tremble and it was such a strange sensation that she stared at him, uncomprehending.
“Come on, sweetheart.” Soft words, a gentle tone as he walked her into the bedroom and turned her in the direction of the bathroom door with his hands on her shoulders, careful to keep his fingers away from her skin.
He was taking care of her, she thought, her shocked state leaving her without defenses of any kind. “You’re the first person who’s ever taken care of me.” Even before her parents had rejected her, she’d been nothing but a practical responsibility.
Max went very, very still behind her. Then, releasing a long breath, he leaned in close enough that their breaths mingled. “Yeah?” A slow smile. “I guess that makes me a lucky man.” Moving to face her, he tugged at her arms until she lowered them from around her waist. Then he pulled off her jacket. “Baby, if I strip you, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to keep on being noble.”
Something snapped awake inside of her, electrified at the idea of Max seeing her naked. “I’ll be all right.”
Shifting back, Max took out something from the closet. “You can put this on after.”
It was, she saw, one of his shirts. She could’ve as easily asked him to go into her apartment and retrieve some of her own clothing, but she took the shirt . . . took the scent of Max into her hands. “Thank you.”
“There’s a spare towel on the rail. Leave the door open,” he said. “I’ll be in the living room—I want to be sure I hear you if you call out.”
She couldn’t find the words she wanted to say, so she forced her feet forward and into the bathroom. Leaving the door ajar, she listened to the sounds of Max moving about in the bedroom as he changed. By the time she peeled off her clothing and stepped into the shower, she no longer felt so close to breaking. Still, there was a new fragility inside of her, a new fracture in her innermost psychic shields.
I can’t break, she thought to herself, obdurate in her anger, her need, not yet. I haven’t lived yet.
Turning off the shower only after her skin was pink from the heat, she got out and used the spare towel to dry herself, then picked up Max’s shirt and brought it up to her nose. It had been laundered, but she could sense echoes of Max’s innate scent beneath the freshness of the detergent.
It slipped easily over her body, hanging to midthigh. The color was white, but the fabric was thick enough that she didn’t have to worry about her lack of underwear being embarrassingly obvious. Not that Max wouldn’t already be aware that she was na**d beneath his shirt. Feeling her cheeks color, she put her dirty clothes—and gloves—in a neat pile to the side, then stepped out into the bedroom.
It was empty.
Glad for the reprieve, she found herself walking to the dresser. A plain black comb lay on the surface, along with a wallet and a keycard. The austere nature of it suited him, she thought, because for all his masculine beauty, Max was a cop through and through. Taking the comb, she lifted it up to her hair. It felt wonderfully intimate to run it through the damp strands, and she imagined what it would be like to have him stroke her scalp with those strong fingers of his instead.
Startled, she dropped the comb on the dresser, turning to find him leaning against the doorjamb. He’d changed into faded blue jeans and a plain black T-shirt that caressed his lithe frame with soft ease. “You look so young,” she said. With his hair sliding over his forehead and his expression outwardly relaxed, he could’ve been a college kid . . . but there was too much knowledge in those uptilted eyes.
“Look who’s talking.” With that, he pushed away from the doorjamb and closed the distance between them with that inherently masculine grace. “You look good in my shirt.”
She tugged at the cuffs she’d rolled up to her wrists, nervous in a way she couldn’t explain. “Max, I—” The words stuck in her throat, hard, jagged.
Eyes of near black met hers as he bent his knees to bring himself down to her height. “What do you need?”
The dam burst. “Will you hold me, Max?”
Max stepped closer. “Always. But are you sure? Your shie—”
His arms came around her, gently, so gently, as if he was afraid she’d shatter. But when she locked her own around his waist in an iron-tight embrace, his hold turned unbreakable. The electricity of their contact arced through her, but beneath it all was a tranquil, pure silence.