Dev watched Katya's face fill with pleasure and wanted only to undo the zipper on his jeans and take her. But no way in hell was he doing that with Tag and Tiara down the hall, not to mention Cruz. It had been hard enough to keep things quiet this long. A little more and his control would be shot to smithereens.
But no matter that they hadn't consummated their attraction, they'd crossed a line tonight and there'd be no going back from it. His jaw set. He would fight for her, for the woman who'd woken from that hospital bed and started to battle for her right to live. No one would take that right from her.
Soothing her down from the sexual high, he carried her to the bed. Heavy-lidded eyes opened to give him an inherently sensual look as he laid her down. "What about you?" Fingers trailing over his chest.
He caught her hand. "Later." Pressing a kiss to her lips, he thought he glimpsed a fleeting shadow, but when he looked up, her eyes were closed as she gave in to the kiss. "I have to go." He'd have given anything to spend the night by her side, but he needed to sit down and go over the implications of the previous day's conference call. The agitators were becoming more and more vociferous. Something had to be done - but how could he embrace a "solution" that would rip his people apart from within?
Katya's fingers on his cheek. "You have so much weight in your eyes, on your shoulders. I wish I could share it with you."
The honest offer made something clench in his chest. Bracing himself on one elbow so he could look down into her face, he echoed her hold. "That you made the offer is enough."
He wondered what it would be like to have someone of his own, someone he could trust absolutely. The irony was, the only woman he could see in that role was the one woman he couldn't ever trust. "Get some rest," he said, brushing her hair off her forehead. "We'll talk tomorrow."
She opened her mouth, then closed it. "Tomorrow. Good night, Dev."
He wondered if she'd been about to ask him to stay before thinking the better of it. The sense of loss lay heavy on his shoulders as he got off the bed and picked up his T-shirt. Then, unable to simply leave, he moved back to the bed to press a kiss on the exposed curve of her neck. "Have good dreams."
Half an hour later, as Katya finished dressing, she held Dev's final comment close to her heart. There'd been such care in those words, such tenderness. It had made her hesitate, but this was her only option now that she'd given up on getting him to enter her mind. He would be furious, but he'd also be safe - she couldn't hurt him from so far away.
Doubt hit again.
What if her actions weren't her own? What if she was meant to run, to go wherever it was her heart and soul insisted she go? What if the compulsion was only another clever trap?
"No." She knew these thoughts were her own. She knew. But how? Frowning in concentration as she laced up her sneakers, she felt a headache coming on. But this time she didn't retreat. . . and the answer appeared from the mists.
"You're a blunt instrument, nothing more." A single fingertip touching her forehead. "There's no room for subtlety."
"Why?" she asked, too numb to be afraid anymore.
She didn't expect an answer, was surprised when he spoke again. "Subtlety requires mind control. You're not worth that much of my time."
"What am I supposed to do until the triggers activate?"
"You'll exist. Though, of course, not much of you is left anymore." A spreading blackness in her mind, tentacles digging deep, clawing and vicious.
Swallowing a cry of agony, Katya bent over, fist pressed to her stomach. Oh, God, it had hurt when he'd done that. It had hurt so very badly. She'd been little more than the most primitive of creatures by then, but she remembered the final torture, the final obliteration of her psyche.
"But I didn't die, you bastard," she whispered, rising to a standing position though nausea continued to churn in her stomach, a trickle of blood snaking out of her nose. Wiping it with a tissue, she stared at the door. "And when you locked me in this prison, you also freed me." Because no one could strike at her through the PsyNet. No one could spy on her. No one could stop her.
All she had to do was get out of this house.
Which might've proved very difficult had there only been the three other adults in the house. All three were dangerous. And Dev . . . well, she wasn't even going to think about taking him on in a physical fight.
But there was a fifth person here. A telepath.
He'd contacted her yesterday, while Sascha was visiting - Katya didn't know how he'd circumvented Tag. When that curious mind had brushed hers, she'd been so startled, she hadn't pulled back. And he'd talked to her.
I'm sorry they scared you away last time.
Surprised at the clarity of that voice, she'd answered without projecting, hoping he'd pick it up. They were trying to protect someone. This telepath, she'd realized at once, knowing that there was no way to wipe the information now that she had it. So she'd have to make sure no one would ever again rip open her mind. You shouldn't be talking to me. Go back before you get in trouble.
A quiet pause. You're like me. You're scared, too.
I'm trying not to be, she'd answered honestly. How about you?
I like Dev - he makes me feel safe.
Another pause. How come you want to leave?
She'd sucked in a breath at the ease with which he'd picked out that thought, even if it had been at the forefront of her mind. That's not good manners, to read someone's thoughts.
He'd been silent so long, she had thought he'd gone. Sorry. Quiet. So quiet. I don't know all the rules.
It's okay. We all had to start somewhere. Wanting to help, she'd taken a chance and carried on the conversation. Just remember - if it's not something you'd want someone else doing to you, you shouldn't do it to them.