“I almost lost you to total rehabilitation,” he said, his tone somber. “Compared to that, a little discretion is nothing. And”—a Max smile—“you know it turns me on when you’re all prim and proper in public. I just want to take you home and strip you naked, teach you wicked, wicked things.” Possessive hands shaping her flesh with sensual intent.
“Oh yeah?” She began to slide her hand south. “Maybe—”
The doorbell chimed, interrupting Max’s groan of anticipation.
He scowled when she looked up. “Ignore it. It’s probably Nikita’s henchmen come to make sure I’m giving ‘due consideration’ to her offer.”
“As if you’ll make any decision but the one you want.” She pushed him. “Go answer the door. They won’t go away until you do.”
A black look on his face, Max got up and pulled on his jeans, the tattoo on his back stunning. And, Sophia thought, it wasn’t only because he’d had her name written on the blade. “I love you, Cop.”
He turned to nip at her lower lip. “Good ’cause you’ve got life with no possibility whatsoever of parole.” Then, barefoot and with sleep-tumbled hair, he walked out. She knew he’d done it on purpose—to irritate any assistants Nikita had sent.
Getting out herself, she pulled on a thick terrycloth robe and began to brush her hair. “Shall we go see who it is?” she asked Morpheus, who was snaking around her ankles.
As if he understood, he padded over, with her following.
Her hand stopped in midstroke when she saw the man in the doorway.
Max gripped the doorjamb, his knuckles going white. “How did you get past security?” It was the first question that came out, the last thing he cared about.
The blond man in the corridor clasped the wrist of one hand with the other. “I told them who I was at the desk, and they said I was on the list. So . . . I . . .” He swallowed. “Did you know? I mean, should I go? I thought—”
Reaching out, Max grabbed his younger brother in a bone-crushing embrace. “You f**king idiot. If you try to run off this time, I’m dumping your ass in jail.”
River’s arms locked around him. Max felt dampness against his skin, had to blink his own eyes, swallow the knot in his throat. Raising a hand after a long, long time, he messed up the hair on the back of River’s head. “Where have you been, kid?”
River gave a sheepish grin as they drew apart. “Getting my shit together.”
“You couldn’t do that without disappearing?”
River dropped his head, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. It made Max grin, his heart full to overflowing. He knew this man, grown though he might be.
“Max?” Sophia’s gentle voice. “Are you going to invite him in or interrogate him on the doorstep?”
River’s eyes widened as he laid them on Sophia. “Wow, Max, what did you tell her to get her to let you in the door?”
Max cuffed his brother good-naturedly on the ear as River slid in past him and bent to kiss Sophia on the cheek. “Hello, are you sure you’re with the right brother?”
Sophia had never had a younger sibling. But this man with his laughing eyes and bright smile . . . “Are you making me an offer?”
“I would”—a whisper—“but Max always was a little possessive.”
Max’s arm came around her waist, heavy, warm, real. “Don’t you forget it.”
River looked up at Max as her cop turned to press his lips to Sophia’s temple, and for an instant, Sophia saw the truth of River’s emotions laid bare. So much love, so much need, so much pain. Max’s brother, she thought, needed them. “Welcome home, River.”
His expression shifted into a wary kind of hope. “Yeah?” But he was looking at Max.
Max reached out to thump a fist on River’s shoulder. “You’re staying if I have to tie you to the furniture.”
“No need,” River said, dipping his head but not before Sophia saw the sheen in his eyes, “just tie me to your Sophia.”
“I think,” Sophia said as Max mock-scowled, “I’m going to like having a younger brother.” Reaching out, she slipped her arm into the crook of River’s elbow. “So, tell me all of Max’s secrets.”
Max curled his hand around her nape. “Hey now, no ganging up on me.”
River laughed, said something. So did Max, the heat of his hold burning through to warm every part of her as she listened to the joy beneath their words.
Finally, they were all home.