"I want to apologize." It was time to face her crimes. "When Larsen hurt you, I didn't stop him." She made no excuses, because there were none.
"I heard your memory was messed up. Is it all back now?"
"Most of it." There were still pieces missing, things, if she was being honest, her mind probably didn't want to remember. She was at peace with that. Because Ekaterina, the woman who'd been a Psy scientist and later a victim, was gone. Katya had risen from the ashes, and she would make her own memories, her own future.
Jon gave her a funny look. "And you don't remember that? He backhanded you f**king hard." He winced. "Don't tell Tally I swore, okay?"
Her entire body went taut. "Who backhanded me?"
"Lizard Man, Larsen, whatever." Despite the careless words, he drew up his legs, putting his arms around his knees. But his eyes held concern, not fear. "He was doing stuff to me, and you said he'd gone far enough, that he was breaking the agreed-upon protocols."
Her mind remained a blank on the incident. "Are you certain? He had drugs in your system."
"Yeah, I'm certain. Not something I'll ever forget, drugs or not." He shook his head. "You tried to move his hand off my forehead and wham, that was when he backhanded you so hard, you ended up unconscious on the floor."
Still no memory, but a bubble of hope. "How did he justify the hit?" Violence was supposed to have been wiped out by Silence, and Larsen had been pretending to be the perfect Psy.
"Dunno. You were out, so it wasn't like you could call him on it." He stared critically at her face. "I'm pretty sure I heard something crack. I thought he'd broken your nose or your jaw."
A pulse of pain in her nose, a phantom memory. Hazy. Indistinct. But coming into focus. "Yes," she whispered, raising her fingers to the bridge of her nose. "He said he'd had to do it to keep me from compromising the experiment. . . he did the medical work on it himself."
"So don't beat yourself up about it," Jon said. "You were stuck, same as me. You did what you could."
"That's very wise for someone your age."
He smiled and it was devastating, all charm and youth and a slight cockiness. "Shh. Everyone else thinks I'm hell on wheels."
At that instant, Noor got away from the woman who'd been playing with her and ran pell-mell toward them. "Jonny!"
Rising in a fluid movement, Jon grabbed her up and swung her around to the accompaniment of her delighted laughter. Katya looked at the child in wonder. Larsen, she remembered as she got to her feet, had never touched Noor, Jon having taken her place, but the little girl had known terror. Today, she wrapped her arms around Jon's neck and stared at Katya.
Lines formed on her brow. "Who're you?"
"Noor," Jon said, "that's not nice."
Noor wrinkled up her nose. "Is she your girlfriend?"
"Why do you care?" Jon teased. "You're going to marry Keenan."
Noor leaned close, her next words a loud whisper. "But you like Rina."
Jon went bright red under his golden skin. "This is Katya. She's our friend." His eyes met Katya's as he said that last word, and there was only acceptance in them. "She helped us once."
After another moment, Noor gave a small nod and stuck out a hand. "Nice to meet you."
Katya took it with gentle care, very aware of the delicacy of the little girl's skin, her bones. "Nice to meet you, too. So, tell me about Rina."
Noor's smile was as bright as her name.
Five hours later, as the house quieted down after dinner, Katya crushed the part of her that remembered only Dev's tenderness as he took her into his arms, and instead picked up the gauntlet he'd thrown down that first night. She should have done it yesterday, but Dev had been so busy, the lines of strain around his mouth so deep, she'd hesitated to interrupt him. It would be so easy to keep doing that - find excuses to put it off - but she would never be allowed any freedom until Dev saw the truth of who she was. And she needed that freedom to escape.
The drive to go north was a clawing need in her throat by now, a hunger she had to physically fight to keep herself from taking irrational risks.
Narrowing her telepathic senses to a fine, fine point, she sent a thought to Dev. He couldn't hear the words, but he'd feel the attempt.
We need to talk.
She snapped back into her mind before Tag could pick up on it.
A curt knock sounded on her door an instant later. "Come in."
"What was that?" Walking in, Dev closed the door behind himself and leaned back on it, arms folded. Instead of the suit she'd become used to seeing in New York, he was dressed once more in those jeans that made him even more dangerously attractive and a plain white T-shirt.
Itching to touch him, she nonetheless remained on the other side of the room. "A way to get your attention."
"You got it."
"It's time." She walked to stand at the foot of the bed. "You need to go into my mind."
A single brutal word. "I told you, that's not happening."
"Why?" She stepped closer. "Because it'll make you feel like a monster?"
He jerked as if he'd been shot. "Yes."
"Tough," she said, refusing to buckle under the urge to just give in, to let him have his way. If she did, they'd never move beyond this point. And every time she looked into his eyes, no matter how much he wanted her, she would see distrust. It hurt. So much more than she could have ever imagined. "If I can bear it, you can do it."
He closed the space between them to glare down at her. "But here's the thing, Katya. You can't force me to invade your mind."