"So you kissed me." It had been, she was forced to admit, a highly practical decision. Even a broken Psy would react to something so completely against her conditioning. "Thank you." It would've been prudent to pull back, but she'd never felt more alive, more real. "I think . . . that was my first kiss."
A low, rough word. "Hell, I'm sorry."
"Do it again."
His lashes came down. Once. Twice. She expected refusal. Instead, he tugged back her head and brushed his lips over hers, a single hot caress. When she tried to get closer, he refused to let her. "Dev."
"Don't rush." And then he touched his mouth to hers again, but this time, he lingered.
Acting on instinct, she sipped at the fullness of his lower lip, felt the rough warmth of his body tense against the palms she'd pressed flat on his chest. For a second, she was afraid he'd stop. But he deepened the kiss with slow, sweet strokes that made her fingers dig into the firm muscle under her hands as her body filled with a liquid kind of heat. Hips twisting in a hunger she barely understood, she tried to pull him closer.
"Enough." Harsh, spoken against her lips.
"A little more." Every hot breath, every stroke, every lick, it anchored her in the most sensual, most earthy of ways. "Touch me."
His fingers tightened in her hair instead, his jaw setting in a way that was already becoming familiar. "Why were you screaming?"
Somehow, the softness of the question, the strength of his hold, made it easier to return to the nightmare. "I dreamed I was in the hole, the nothing-place, again."
Something flashed across his face, something so razor sharp in its fury, it should've made her run. But all she wanted to do was strip him to the skin, feel his body hard and unashamedly male over hers. "Dev - "
"You're scared," he said, fingers on her jaw. "I'm not going to take advantage."
Her eyes dipped to the straining bulge of his arousal. "You want to."
"What we want" - a voice as unbending as stone - "isn't always good for us."
Hearing the finality in that, she swallowed the need that urged her to keep pushing. "Thank you for coming to me."
"Are you going to be alright now?"
The truth came out before she could censor herself. "No." Without the erotic shield of Dev's kiss, fear was already crawling up her legs, creeping into her lungs.
He didn't say a word, simply got up and nudged her over on the bed. She shifted with alacrity, feeling the mattress dip to his side as he lay down beside her seated form. He was, she noticed, wearing only a pair of sweatpants, his chest a lithely muscled plane sprinkled with dark hair. Fingers curling into her palms, she found her gaze dropping, following the trail that -
"Come here." He held up an arm.
Jerking up her head, she felt her cheeks burn.
"I don't bite."
She wasn't so certain. This man, he confused her. As hard as he was beautiful, and yet capable of a gentleness that left her floundering. Now, he just watched her, let her make up her own mind. There was only one choice, only one place she wanted to be.
The erotically charged taste of him still in her mouth, she scooted over and laid her head down on his arm. It curled around her shoulders, curving her into his body. And the contact - hot, real, Dev - shoved the fear aside. When he pulled a sheet over them, she didn't protest, tucking her head against his chest, her fingers curling into the crisp hairs on his chest. The last thing she was aware of was his heartbeat.
Dev brushed Katya's hair off her cheek and studied her sleeping face, his eyes lingering on the lush sweetness of her mouth. Hunger and innocence, it was one hell of a potent combination. His body surged at the memory, defying his efforts to keep it under control. Gritting his teeth, he sought out all the metal in the house.
The cool kiss of iron and steel brushed his mind, invaded his limbs. It wouldn't last long, not with Katya's slight form resting trustingly against him - but he'd use the calm while he had it, see if he could find answers to some of his questions in the ShadowNet. He'd heard stories of the PsyNet, that it was an endless field of black littered with millions of white stars, each star representing a mind, but it was a concept he had trouble understanding.
How could minds remain completely separate?
Closing his physical eyes, he opened a psychic gateway and stepped out into the organized chaos of the ShadowNet. Given their comparatively small numbers, the "skies" of this psychic network were stretched thin in comparison to the endless breadth of the PsyNet, but it was a riot of color, of connections.
From where he stood, he could see the solid threads that tied him to both sets of grandparents - his bond with his maternal grandmother was the strongest, but he was linked indelibly to all four, and the two couples were also connected to each other, though those links were much weaker. More threads linked him to uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, some thin, some strong, some on the verge of breaking.
And then, there was the strange, almost invisible dark thread that tied him to his father.
All the crisscrossing bonds made the ShadowNet a busy place to navigate. Most people tended to follow the lines of connection until they found the person they wanted - sometimes even then, the lines were so tangled that it took a few tries to locate the right thread. But the one that Dev wanted stood out like a beacon - bright silver and tough as titanium.
His maternal grandmother took no shit from anyone.
Smiling inside at the thought of the woman he'd loved since the day he'd first opened his eyes and seen her watching over him, he shot along the silver thread and "knocked" on the door to her mind. She responded a moment later. Conversation in the ShadowNet itself was difficult because of the amount of psychic "noise," so they both hooked into the emotional line that connected them, creating a direct conduit for speech - and affording unbreachable privacy.