"Then you haven't been watching - several of the characters in this story are Psy," she pointed out. "Oh, look, it's the villain."
He was amused by the way she deconstructed the whole story scene by scene precisely like the scientist she was. But she had heart, too. He caught her sighing at the end.
He had to kiss her then, had to taste her happiness. Because it wouldn't last. The inevitable was fast approaching, he could feel it in his bones. Thirty minutes later, they were back in the car, traveling toward something neither of them truly wanted to see. . . and yet couldn't not see.
"I think we need to turn right at the crossroads."
Not questioning her, he took the direction. The sky finally started to lighten almost three hours into the journey, streaks of pink and orange emerging in the east. But despite the burst of color the world remained desolate. The outpost they'd stayed in had been the last trace of civilization. "Have you ever seen the northern lights?" he asked, watching the car's own lights dim automatically as the sensors picked up the sun's stealthy creep across the sky.
"No." She released a breath. "I'd like to, though."
"You might get lucky - the timing's right and we're far enough north."
"Have you seen them?"
"Yeah. I used to come up here to visit Michel when we were kids. When my mom was alive." The memory ached, but it was one of the good ones. "His mom, Cindee, and my dad are brother and sister." Cindee had wanted to raise him after his father's incarceration, but he hadn't been able to bear the guilt in her beautiful eyes.
Even as a nine-year-old he'd known that if he walked into that house, she'd spend the rest of her life trying to make up for a crime that had never been her fault. It hadn't even been his father's, though that was a forgiveness Dev simply couldn't find in himself. Instead, he'd gone into his nani's spice-and-glass-scented embrace, letting her warmth melt the ice that had grown around his heart.
"But Michel doesn't live in Alaska now?"
"No, he does. He's just on a transfer to Washington State for the year. Some kind of training course."
"He remains a good friend," Katya said, obviously trying to keep her tone light though her eyes were locked on the road in front of them. "He must be - to pull Jessie's truck over because you were looking for me."
Dev scowled. "I still can't believe you managed to get out of the house with three of us trained in combat there."
"People tend to underestimate me." It was the first time he'd heard a hint of arrogance in her.
He decided he liked it. "I won't be making that mistake again. And yeah, me and Mischa, we're close as brothers." Cindee had made sure the cousins met, coming down to West Virginia, where Nani had her home and studio, when Dev had refused to go up to Alaska. He hadn't been able to bear the journey without his mom.
"That's what his mom's always called him." Dev grinned. "He's given up trying to get anyone in the family to use his actual name most of the time."
"Does anyone call you Devraj?"
"My nani - my maternal grandmother." Without asking, he turned left.
Katya leaned forward, her motion almost absent. "Yes." Putting her hands on the dash, she scanned the road in front of them, but there was nothing to see - it twisted this way and that, leaving limited visibility. "What are they like, the lights?"
"Like seeing a piece of heaven." He grimaced at the poetic words, but they were the only ones he had. "Makes you humble, they're so beautiful. If you don't get to see them this time around, we'll come up here again."
"I'd like that." She gave him a strained smile. "Do you visit Michel much?"
"Now and then." Dev had finally returned to Alaska when Cindee was admitted to the hospital after a bad accident on the ice. His aunt's guilt still lingered, but it had been mellowed by time, by seeing him grow up into a stable youth. These days, they could have a conversation almost untainted by the past. "He comes down sometimes, too."
Katya gave Dev a penetrating look, her attention momentarily caught by the amusement in his voice. "What do the two of you get up to?"
"We used to raise hell when we were younger." A wicked grin. "We're more civilized these days."
"Somehow, I don't quite believe you." She thought of Dev and Michel together, darkly sexy and wickedly charming. Hmm . . . "I think I need to hear more about these civilized times."
"Male code of honor. No telling."
A shiver crept up her spine even as she went to tease him back. Whipping her head around, she spied the narrow one-lane road to the right. "There."
Dev was already turning, all humor gone from his face. Now he reminded her of nothing so much as a hunter, lean, hungry, and determined. She was suddenly very glad he was by her side - she didn't know if she'd have made it this far alone. The dread in her stomach was a heavy weight, inciting nausea and a panic that told her to run, dear God, run!
"No," she whispered. "No more running."
Dev shot her a quick look before returning his attention to the road. "We'll finish this." It was a vow.
Two minutes later, they came over a final, snow-covered rise and into a ghost town.
The sun's rays cut over the houses half buried in snow, glanced off the broken windows, the ripped and hanging signs. "How many?" she whispered almost to herself.
"Five hundred." Dev pointed to the severely weather-beaten - but still standing - sign to their right. "Sunshine, Alaska, population five hundred."