Lucas’s arm came around her upper chest, holding her to him. “Have you considered talking to Dev?” he asked, referring to the leader of the Forgotten—Psy who’d left the Net over a hundred years ago and formed their own society.
“I was thinking of doing that.” She gripped his arm. “I wish . . . I wish Nikita had known the joy I feel now. I wonder sometimes if she heard me like I do our baby, or if Silence blocks that connection.”
“It must,” Lucas said, brushing his lips over her temple, the scent of him a stroke of wildness touched with clean male sweat. “How else could a woman carry a child for nine months and not love it with every beat of her heart?”
Sascha felt a deep sorrow for the indescribable beauty of what her mother had missed. “Do you think she’ll care that she’ll soon have a grandchild?” They’d managed to keep the pregnancy under wraps from the general public so far—helped in part by the way the baby sat on her frame, and by clever use of clothing—but it’d soon become impossible to hide the wonderful truth.
Lucas’s free hand slipped between them to massage her lower back with strong, circular strokes. “Better?”
“How did you know?” She pressed a kiss to his biceps. “I’ll melt if you keep doing that.”
But her panther had turned serious. “Do you want to see your mother, kitten?”
“I don’t know.”
The records of your birth were destroyed during a fire twenty-five years ago, unfortunately before they had been archived. We are very sorry to be unable to help you in your search.
—Sisters of Hope Hospital, City of New York,
to Max Shannon, January 2079
Max and Sophia didn’t speak again until they were well on their way to the private garage where Nikita had stashed the vehicle the third presumed victim had been driving when she died.
“Is it just the disturbed that you have to be careful of?” Max’s mind was still reeling at the realization that this woman whose skin he’d wanted to stroke from the very first, whose body sang a siren song to his, might be forever out of his reach.
“Most cops,” Sophia said in a quiet, even tone that cut as deep as a scalpel, “carry as many nightmares as a J. Touching one would be akin to slamming a lightning bolt into my head.”
His hands clenched on the steering wheel as she continued to speak. “All Psy run the risk of becoming Sensitive, but Js tend to have the highest rates of actual onset. To counteract that, the Council once considered banning touch from the instant of birth, but there proved to be certain . . . undesirable consequences to such a course of action. Tactile aversion is taught to us as part of the final stages of our conditioning.”
Max thought of the hours, the days he’d spent locked in a dark box, without any hope of a kind touch when he was finally let out, and knew that no matter the horror, he’d been lucky. Because he’d seen pictures of twentieth-century orphanages where babies had been left to rot in their cribs. Those children had been damaged beyond repair. “I can’t see a Psy rocking her baby to sleep,” he said, feeling a tug deep in his soul.
He’d rock his child to sleep, no damn question about it. No son—or daughter—of his was ever going to wonder what was so wrong with him that his own parent couldn’t bear the sight of him. “What kind of touch,” he said, swallowing the knife blade of pain that was his past, “is permitted during childhood?”
“Nurses hold children during feedings, walk around with them at times. Contact is prescribed at the optimal level to ensure psychological health.”
It sounded so cold, so clinical. But the hell of it was, it was better care than he’d ever had. When he’d been very small and helpless, perhaps his mother had felt a surge of maternal love? But Max didn’t think so. Hate that deep, that violent, took time to grow, to mature.
A small light flashed once on Sophia’s organizer, snapping his attention back to the present. “Anything important?”
“No, just an update on one of my cases from the prosecuting attorney. We won.” She put a hand on the dash to brace herself as the car came to a sudden halt upon sensing the dog that had darted into the road.
Max scowled at the owner of the little terrier but let it go at that. Getting the car running again, he glanced to his left. “This is it.” Time to focus on the case—rather than his impossible fascination with a J who might go mad . . . might die, if he touched her.
“Do you know much about cars?” Sophia asked as they walked to the garage entrance, tugging at her gloves in a gesture she recognized as anxious. She couldn’t help it, her nerves abraded—the more she was around Max, the more she found herself thinking about the faint hope that had taken shape in the back of her mind when she’d read his file.
Max shoved his own hands into his pockets, his stride unconsciously graceful. It made another forbidden thought surface in the darkest, most secret corner of her mind—a thought tied to the whispered intimacy of sex. She’d never before considered the act, one that would tear apart the final fragile threads of her psyche, but today she found she didn’t want to die without seeing Max Shannon’s na**d body move with that powerful liquid grace.
She was so consumed by the fantasy it took her a moment to realize he was speaking.
“. . . hoping to talk to the mechanic who actually went over it. If she’s not on shift, we’ll just take a look at the vehicle, come back later to talk to her face-to-face. I’m no expert on cars, but I want to read her.”