Max didn’t speak for almost a minute, but when he did, it was about the case.
She didn’t make the mistake of thinking he’d given up. Max Shannon had scented her weakness. And like the puma she saw in his masculine grace, he wouldn’t let up until he’d drawn first blood.
Hundreds of miles away, in the dark outskirts of Moscow, Councilor Kaleb Krychek got out of bed, having slept roughly two hours. Knowing there would be no more rest, not tonight, he pulled on a pair of pants in a thin, breathable material and went for a run across the night-draped countryside that surrounded his home.
The earth was hard, almost cutting underneath his uncovered feet, the wind a whip across the skin of his back. He felt none of it, his mind racing through the endless black skies of the PsyNet, the darkness broken only by the stars that represented the minds of the millions of Psy hooked into the network—a network that provided the biofeedback necessary for life.
Kaleb ignored those minds, his focus on finding the one piece of data the NetMind itself seemed to be hiding from him. Tonight, too, the neosentience that was both the guardian and librarian of the Net—a neosentience that in all other things obeyed Kaleb without question—held him at bay, its shields impenetrable.
Dropping back fully into the world, he ran at a pace that would’ve surprised those who’d seen him only in the suits he wore as a Councilor, pristine and flawless. That would’ve been their mistake. Because he was a cardinal telekinetic, his psychic strength beyond measure, his eyes—white stars on a spread of black—living pieces of the PsyNet. More, he was the most powerful Tk in the Net—movement was as simple to him as breathing. And tonight, he moved through infinite quiet. Even the nocturnal creatures seemed to have gone to ground.
Perhaps it was because they’d sensed a more dangerous predator in their midst.
Returning home after an hour, his body covered in sweat, he took a shower, then sat down at his desk. The first thing he pulled up was a file on Sophia Russo, not out of any particular interest, but because he made a habit of keeping an eye on what his fellow Councilors were doing. Nikita might’ve been an ally, but theirs was an alliance of expediency, nothing more.
The J-Psy’s file was detailed, as was the case with most of her designation. And notwithstanding her irregular childhood, and recent appearance on the rehabilitation watchlist, her abilities fell within fairly normal parameters for a J. So why was Nikita so interested in this one particular J? There was no doubt that she was—the request to the J Corps had been very specific.
Making a mental note to monitor the situation, he was about to pull up another file when he felt something trigger his outermost shields on the PsyNet. Given that those shields were so complex they were all but invisible, he only spared the incident a cursory glance. Many people contacted his shields without realizing it. But then, the intruder made it through those shields.
Kaleb opened his psychic eye between one blink and the next.
The intruder was gone.
Which in itself was an answer—because anyone good enough to have left without getting caught in one of his traps shouldn’t have triggered the alarm in the first place. “So,” he murmured on the physical plane, “the game has begun.”
Sensation builds. You may consider a handshake harmless, but each time you touch a human, it threatens your conditioning.
—Excerpted from lessons given to Psy children during
their transition into adult training
Sophia was more than ready to exit the car by the time Max brought it to a stop in front of a mid-rise building not far from Golden Gate Park—the site of Kenneth Vale’s apartment, the location of his suicide. Sophia had never suffered from a psychological issue that made her vulnerable to claustrophobia, but being in that car with a quietly brooding Max had been . . . unsettling.
He took up more space than he should, the heat of his body inescapable in the confines of the vehicle. She’d felt as if he was touching her with each wave of that starkly masculine heat—and for a woman who hadn’t been touched in years, it had been an experience that left her scrambling for escape.
“Entry codes?” Max asked as they walked up the steps, his voice rubbing against her skin like sandpaper.
Again, it was touch without a touch, something she had no ability to avoid, to process. “I have them here.” She let them into the building and headed toward the elevator security console, her gloved fingers slipping off the pad once before she collected herself.
Trembling, Max thought, Sophia was trembling.
“This is a very exclusive building.” A calm voice, that betraying hand dropping to her side as the elevator headed down to them. “Vale’s position with Councilor Duncan enabled him to secure his privacy to this extent.”
“Why bother?” Max folded his arms to keep from sliding his hand under her hair, to the soft warmth of her neck so he could tug her to him, so he could apologize for pushing her too hard, too soon, with a slow, sweet kiss—no matter that they’d been strangers only a day ago.
“Before these deaths,” he said, forcing himself to maintain a white-knuckled hold on a need that refused to obey the rules of civilized behavior, “I’m guessing being Nikita’s business advisor wasn’t exactly a high-risk position, so why the security?”
“Humans,” she said, “and the occasional nonpredatory changeling, have a way of expecting things from Psy they shouldn’t.” A meaningful glance out of those vivid, impossible eyes. “Vale was, in all probability, protecting himself from those who wanted to pitch to him in person.”