"Yes." Pushing off his chest, she stepped out of his arms. "Do you know - sometimes I remember being chased by a panther."
The change of topic stymied him for a second. Then he understood. "Do you want me to find out if it might have happened?" He could still feel the imprint of her body against his, a quiet brand that disturbed him on the deepest level.
"If you can. I need to know if I can trust the things in my head." She rubbed her hands down the front of her jeans. "It's such a strange thing to remember. Maybe everything I remember is a fantasy."
Dev didn't think so. He knew one changeling panther - but what the hell would Lucas Hunter, alpha of DarkRiver, be doing going after Katya in his aggressive animal form? "Do you think you can handle the stairs?"
A pause. "I believe so. There's always a way out with stairs."
That told him more about her captivity than anything else. Muscles tense with a rage that had no outlet, he bent to pick up her bag, then, in an act he'd never expected to come so easily, held out a hand. She took it at once, acting nothing like the Psy he knew her to be. The Silent race never touched, not if they could avoid it. Tactile contact was a slippery slope, they said, one that could lead to sensuality in other areas of life. But Katya openly craved contact.
There was no light, no sound, no touch, no Net.
Tightening his fingers on the already familiar warmth of hers, he held open the stairway door until she nodded that she'd be alright. And though she gripped his hand so hard he could see her every tendon, she didn't halt once on the way up - he wasn't sure she even breathed until they exited into the airy lobby.
Her gasp as she saw the soaring arches of the atrium made him appreciate the beauty of the building anew. In a clever bit of design, the square footage of the ground floor was wider than that of the solar-paneled office tower that stood atop it. The architect had used the extra real estate to bring light into the lobby - curving glass archways covered both the entrance and the large island manned by the receptionists. As part of the building's eco-rating, greenery crept over that glass, healthy and lush below a second protective layer of glass.
The end result was that on a cloudless day like today, walking through the lobby felt like crossing a sun-dappled clearing. But the architect had gone even further, using clever positioning of glass and mirrors to make optimum use of the natural light. That ingenuity not only minimized the use of artificial light during daylight hours, leaving more solar power for Shine to sell to the city grid, it bathed the entire area in a golden glow.
That glow lit Katya's face, caressing the translucent beauty of her skin as she stared, enraptured. "There's so much light" - she reached out as if to touch it - "it's so bright."
As he watched her, his gut went taut with an anger that had nothing to do with her being an enemy, and everything to do with the evil that had trapped her in the dark. No one had the right to savage another living being that way.
Yet . . . he knew that every time he "connected" with metal - and now - with machines, he took another step toward the kind of emotionless mentality that might green-light torture of the worst kind. The last time his great-grandmother Maya had seen him, she'd clasped his hands and begged, pleaded with him, to shield himself, to "stay human." But, just as an empath couldn't not sense emotions, Dev couldn't not feel the metal all around him. Metal was his shield.
And if that shield was slowly stealing his humanity . . . that was a price he was willing to pay to safeguard his people. His eye fell on Katya then, and something in him rebelled against what had always been an absolute acceptance. Her face was still lifted up to the light, her hands hanging loosely by her sides. Simple pleasure suffused every inch of her, until he was tempted to reach out and touch, see if he could absorb that joy into himself.
Dangerous, he thought, she was dangerous in so many ways.
Looking away from Katya's delighted face with reluctance that sparked a blazing red warning light in his brain, he found himself facing one of his vice-directors. "Aubry."
"Hi." Aubry smiled at Katya, his teeth flashing bright white against skin the color of "the most luscious dark chocolate" according to Maggie. Like most of the women in Shine, his secretary had lost her heart to the tall black man the first time he smiled at her.
Dev waited to see Katya's reaction, aware he was pulling metal from the building itself. She reached too deep, made him feel too much, slipped under his defenses as if they didn't exist.
Katya gave the slightest of nods. "Hello."
Aubry appeared a little startled at the formal greeting. But he recovered fast, gentling his smile, tone. "You need to eat more, darlin'." The slow music of Texas wove through every easy syllable.
Dev was aware of Katya shifting closer to him, even as she nodded. "Dev keeps putting food in front of me and saying eat."
The calm shook, threatened to break. He drew more metal, letting the chill work its way down to his very bones. But then Katya's fingers brushed his, and the metal boiled, a sudden, violent heat he'd never before experienced. He should've moved away. Instead, he allowed her to tangle her fingers with his, closing his hand firmly around hers.
Aubry chuckled. "Sounds like the boss." His eyes shifted to Dev.
Tempering the unfamiliar internal heat with more metal, Dev met the other man's gaze, knowing he couldn't give Aubry the answer he wanted - he couldn't promise to take care of the woman by his side, no matter that she aroused his most primal instincts. "Did you need me for something?"