She appreciated the gesture—many humans took it as an insult when she refused to shake their hands, never realizing that the common courtesy could cost her everything. “I thought I should let you know I’d arrived. I’ve been placed in the apartment next door.”
Max glanced to his right. “That’ll make things easier.” Easy words, but his tone said something else.
“I won’t be spying on you, Mr. Shannon.” Something long dormant in her stirred at the challenge she read in him. “To be quite frank, your personal activities hold no interest for either me or Councilor Duncan.” Not quite the truth. Nikita might not care about Max Shannon’s personal life, but Sophia found herself compelled to know the man behind the enigmatic mask of an Enforcement detective.
The edge of a smile touched Max’s lips, but it was his eyes that mattered. They never lost that blade-sharp gleam that told her he was calculating her every move, her every act. “You just want me for my detecting skills, is that it?”
She didn’t know how to respond to the patently nonserious question—she’d been dealing with humans her entire adult life, but she’d never dealt with someone who evoked this odd . . . fascination in her. It had begun with the way he looked at her but was now a wholly independent thing. And the fact that it was already so strong so soon after a reconditioning, meant she had far less time than she’d previously believed before her telepathic shields sheared forever.
Someone spoke behind Max at that moment, and he turned, dropping his arm from the doorjamb. That was when Sophia saw the two other individuals in the room. A human female and a male who was clearly not human. She took a step back and to her left as the couple exited to stand to her right.
“Clay, Talin, this is my . . . partner”—a pause she knew had been intentional—“Sophia Russo.”
The man gave a nod, while the woman smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
Sophia nodded in response, wondering how this Talin could stand with such calm beside the male who was unquestionably a predator. And since this was San Francisco there were only two possible conclusions—only one once you factored in the way the green-eyed man had moved, with a fluidity at odds with the muscular size of him. “You’re members of DarkRiver?”
“You must be new to the city,” Talin said, tucking back her hair to reveal an ear adorned with a dangling earring made of irregular glass beads in the colors of autumn. “Most people recognize Clay.”
“I’ve been to San Francisco before,” Sophia replied, intrigued by the odd shapes of the beads, the way they’d been put together. There was no conformity, no perfection. “However, I deal almost exclusively with humans and Psy.” Changelings had authority over all crimes that involved just those of their race.
“Sophia’s a J,” Max said, leaning one shoulder against the doorjamb.
She noted the corded forearms revealed by the rolled-up sleeves of his vivid blue shirt, noted, too, the easy grace with which he made even the smallest of movements—this man, she thought, was built along the sleek lines of the low-slung cars preferred by so many of the emotional races.
Her gaze clashed with his at that moment, and the question in them made her aware they were all waiting for something from her. Breaking the contact—which felt oddly, inexplicably intimate—she took a step to her left. “I’ll leave you to your visit. Detective Shannon, if you’d just let me know when you’re ready to start—”
“We can start now,” he interrupted, still in that lazy position against the doorjamb. If she hadn’t seen him in Wyoming, she might have been fooled into believing him “safe.” But she had seen him in that prison. Not only that, she’d read the file that chronicled his stubborn, relentless pursuit of the Butcher of Park Avenue. She knew the danger that lay beneath the languid charm.
“We’ll leave you to it, then.” The woman named Talin stepped forward to kiss Max on the cheek, breaking Sophia’s line of sight. “But I was hoping you’d have dinner with us,” she said, turning to include Sophia in the invitation.
Max glanced at his watch even as Sophia curled the fingers of her left hand into her palm. What Talin had just done, that easy contact . . . it had been ordinary. Human. And it had made Sophia brutally aware of the gulf between her and this cop whose presence, whose watchful eyes, fanned the fires of rebellion in her.
“It’s almost three now,” Max said, his voice low and smooth—and disturbingly abrasive against Sophia’s skin, “so how about dinner around seven? We should be ready for a break by then anyway.” A glance up at Sophia from those eyes that saw far too much. “That work for you?”
She didn’t know why she said, “Yes, that’ll be fine,” when she should have demurred from the social invitation. As her response to Max demonstrated with manifest clarity, she’d failed in her attempts to be the most perfect of Psy. But she was in no way similar to a human. She was, in all probability, even less “human” than most of her brethren, her psyche having been worn away by the corrosive acid of the images stored in her brain.
Clay said good-bye then, his voice deep against Talin’s softer tone. As the couple left, the leopard male’s hand on his mate’s lower back, Sophia found herself the sole focus of Max’s perceptive near-black eyes, the eyes of a man who was used to stripping shields, unearthing the most deeply buried of truths. “Come on in,” he said, “unless you need to grab anything from your place? We should go over the details, make sure we’re on the same page.”