Max peeled off his Windbreaker, bunching the black material in his hand. “I don’t like the Psy,” he said with blunt honesty. “I don’t like how they mess with human minds and pervert justice so the Council can get what it wants.”
She’d known that, of course she’d known that. But she hadn’t wanted to know.
“But Sophie”—what had he called her?—“I’m no bigot. And you’re a J. Cops and Js have always gone together.” He held her gaze until she looked away, scrambling to find her footing by reciting the minutiae of the case in her mind. Because what he’d just offered, it was something she wanted so badly that if she dared reach for it and he drew back his hand, it would push her the final step into an irrevocable insanity.
“Sophie.” A quiet demand.
She shook her head. “There’s not much left inside me, Max.” Sometimes, all she heard were echoes. “I don’t know how to play the games that woman was playing with you.”
Max sucked in a breath, blindsided by Sophia’s stark honesty. It stripped away the sophisticated rituals of the dance between male and female, allowing no room for illusions and half-truths. He could’ve pulled back, but he’d made his choice—to follow this strange, powerful attraction through to the end. “No games,” he said, holding her gaze. “Not between us.”
She took a long breath. “I’m Psy, Max.” Not a rejection . . . a reminder.
“You’re a J.” Turning away, he dropped his Windbreaker on the back of a nearby sofa before crouching to examine the small glass cabinet below the comm console. Several data crystals lay neatly within. “Might be something here.”
He saw Sophia tug at her gloves to ensure every inch of her skin was covered before she extended her hand to accept the crystals. Reading the tense line of her body, the desolate simplicity of her earlier words still circling in his head, he dropped them into her palm with care, avoiding physical contact. “Not likely to be entertainment,” he said, rising to his feet. “News footage?”
She bent to place the crystals on the small beveled coffee table in the center of the room. “He may have kept business documents within easy reach”—the words were cool, Psy, but he’d seen the mask fall, wasn’t fooled—“things that weren’t sensitive. They were probably left behind to help the psychologists create a full mental profile.” She gestured down the corridor. “He took his life in the bedroom.”
Nodding, Max walked to the room where Kenneth Vale had spent his last minutes on this earth, slowly, painfully choking to death. “You should look at this,” he said to Sophia, “the image in the file doesn’t really convey the impact.”
Moving to stand beside Max in the doorway, confident that for all his relentless will, he wouldn’t touch her without invitation, Sophia looked up and to the gleaming meat hook that hung from the bedroom ceiling. “The fact that he went to the trouble of screwing it into the ceiling was tabled as evidence of his disturbed state.” Her thoughts flashed to another crime scene photo—Vale’s face contorted, his tongue grotesquely swollen. He’d evacuated his bowels, his expensive wool trousers stained with death.
“I didn’t have a chance to read the full report on the plane,” Max said, his gaze still on the brutal shine of the meat hook. “How did the investigators explain the fact that there were scratches around his neck?”
“That he realized the irreversible nature of his actions when it was too late.” Death was forever. She’d learned that truth young and had never been given a chance to forget.
“He was a fairly decent telepath, right?” At her nod, tiny lines fanned out from the corners of his eyes. “Then someone must’ve heard him cry out for help.”
“They identified Jax in his bloodstream,” Sophia said. “The general consensus is that he was disoriented by a drug haze, couldn’t find the door out of his own mind.”
“You’re my Psy expert—tell me if that’s possible.”
“Yes, it is.” Mental pathways could twist, could turn, could shatter . . . especially if you were a hunted child, terrified and screaming. “However, Vale had no indicators of any prior drug use—and it seems to me that if he was going to take drugs to dull the edge, he would’ve simply suicided by that method, using far more effective agents.”
Making a hmming sound low in his throat, Max went to the na**d white of the floor below where Vale had taken his life, the carpet having been cut away. “Plus, it just doesn’t fit the profile PsyMed had of him before he died.” Looking around, he grabbed a chair sitting in one corner of the room and brought it to that barren patch of floor. “The fact that everyone was so ready to believe the suicide verdict in spite of all that tells me the Psy are in more trouble than anyone knows.”
She watched him stand on the chair, her fingers gripping the doorjamb at the sudden transposition of his body with Vale’s. “Max?” His name spilled out, the broken girl inside of her scared, so scared. He was too close to the evil. What if it touched him, this man with his unexpected smiles and his eyes that saw her?
Max tugged on the hook, his biceps defined as he placed his weight on the ugly object. “Strong, but it had to be—he was hanging here for at least an hour or two before he was found, wasn’t he?”
She forced herself to think. “Time of death suggests that.” Years of experience sparked her neurons to life, notwithstanding the chill of terror. “However, he wasn’t seen for two days beforehand.”