"Is it all from being a soldier? Your ability to compartmentalize?"
Shadows whispered at the back of his mind, voracious and grasping. He fought their attempts to drag him back into the grief-shrouded past. "Why?"
"There's a sense about you . . . as if the need for control is ingrained into your soul."
"One way to put it." Releasing a slow breath, he ran his hand over her hair. "I told you my father killed my mother. What I didn't tell you is that I witnessed the murder." He kept his voice even, his words clear. That emotional stranglehold was the only weapon he had to fight the shadows' insidious taunts.
"Oh, Dev." A soft whisper, his pain echoed in her voice. "How old were you?"
"Old enough to understand that my father shouldn't have his hands around my mother's neck like that but not old enough to pull him off." The memory haunted him every day of his life. If only he'd been stronger. But he'd been a slight boy of barely nine, his father a big man who outweighed him four times over. "He probably would've killed me, too, except that my mother managed to broadcast a telepathic scream for help."
He could still hear the jagged shock of the door being broken open, the stamp of booted feet, shouting, then people thumping fists onto his mother's chest and breathing into her mouth. Her chest had begun to rise and fall, feeding his hope . . . until he'd realized that she wasn't doing it on her own, that she wasn't really breathing.
"It took the rescuers ten minutes to realize I was in the room." He'd been thrown into a corner by his father's back-hand, had lain there dazed and bleeding as his world shattered in front of him. "I saw them drag my screaming, crying father from the room. Then I saw them pronounce my mother dead."
Katya's kiss was a benediction against his forehead. "Honed in fire," she murmured. "Did your father suffer a psychotic episode?"
"Yes. And he never really came back. He spends almost all of his time in a room in a facility in Pennsylvania. It's a nice place, lots of gardens, trees, real peaceful, but he only ever leaves his room when he's forced to, or if I visit."
"Do you visit him often?"
"No." He closed his hand around her hip, his grip tight. "The adult in me, the reasoned being, understands that he didn't do what he did out of choice. So I go. But then I see him, and I'm that child again, watching him snuff out my mother's life. And I can't go that last step - I can't forgive him."
"At leas - " Katya began, just as Dev's watch beeped.
"This can wait," he said, shamefully relieved. "It's time."
Forty-five minutes later found them sitting in a car outside a row of storage lockers located on the eastern edge of Queens, Katya at the wheel. Dev had chosen the location for two very important reasons - one, it was out of the way, lessening the chances of interruption, and two, it gave the snipers an excellent line of sight.
"Okay," he said, checking his phone. "The business association dinner's about to wind up. He'll be on the road within the next ten minutes. Surveillance confirms the teleporter isn't with him - this is our best shot."
Rubbing her hands on her thighs, Katya looked at him. "I don't know if I can do this."
"You have to, baby. If he decides to utilize a back door into your mind, he needs to see what he expects." Reaching over, he pulled her out of her seat and into his lap. "Hopefully, his arrogance will have him accepting everything at face value."
"I don't want to share this with him." She put her hands on his face. "I don't want him to know how much you matter."
"He won't," Dev whispered, the gold in his eyes electric in the hushed dark inside the car. "He has no comprehension of what it is to feel this much for someone." He brushed her hair off her face.
She had no defenses against him. So she leaned forward and took his mouth in a soft, sweet kiss. Tenderness and pain ravaged her in equal measures as he put his arms around her. Taking the taste of him inside her mouth, she allowed him to seize the lead, to kiss her as if he'd never get enough.
Fire licked up her spine, passion rising even in the midst of chaos. When his hands slipped under her sweatshirt to move up her back, she shivered. Focusing only on the sensations, on the heat he could stoke so easily, she moaned in the back of her throat and moved her hand to his neck, playing her fingers over his pulse.
He nipped at her mouth, his own hands sweeping around to cup her br**sts. Hunger rocked through her, but it was then, while he was distracted, that she dropped the pressure injector hidden in the sleeve of her sweatshirt into her palm. "I'm sorry, Dev." Pressing the injector to the pulse in his neck, she pushed the trigger.
His body jerked. Breaking the kiss, he stared at her. "Katya?" Betrayal snuffed out the gold and an instant later, his head slumped back on the seat.
Swallowing tears, Katya picked up his cell phone and input a number she'd found embedded in her memory.
Ming's voice was an ice-cold blade at the other end. "Councilor LeBon."
"I have him," she whispered, letting her desperation, her fear, her anguish flood her mind.
A pause. "This is unexpected." The crawling brush of fingers slithering over her mind. "A double cross, Ekaterina? I wouldn't have thought it of you."
Nausea roiled as those fingers probed and violated. "I want to live." She kept her thoughts mired in the torment she'd felt the instant Dev understood what she'd done. "You promised you'd release me if I delivered Devraj Santos."
"I ordered you to kill him."