She didn’t know either, but she hoarded the memory in the secret part of her that no reconditioning had ever been able to reach or erase. Everything in her wanted to return his gift in kind, to tell him that she comprehended the agony he must’ve gone through, but trust was such an unfamiliar territory that she floundered, the words stuck in her throat.
And Max blew out a breath. “Must be the sea air, bringing up old memories.” He glanced at his watch. “Looks like it’s time for dinner.”
The dinner proved interesting. Sophia, this J who kept short-circuiting Max’s defenses with her gift of listening with a total and absolute focus, was less Psy in her mannerisms than others he’d met, and though she was reserved, she did join in the conversation—dominated by Clay and Tally’s two adopted children, Jon and Noor.
It made Max’s protective instincts relax to see them all so robustly happy. But what intrigued him most was that Sophia ate the sweet crab flesh he put on her plate—though she’d ordered a simple fillet of fish in white sauce for her own meal. There was nothing on her face to betray whether or not she enjoyed the taste of the crab, but she didn’t reject any of his offerings. And several times, he caught her looking at him as if she wanted to speak, those amazing eyes almost indigo.
He’d glimpsed that same look on her face when he told her about his mother. That was a truth he’d never shared with anyone—that he’d told her, a woman, a Psy, he’d barely met, scared the hell out of him. It was tempting to pull back, to raise a wall of formality between them—he knew she’d get the message, she was too smart, too perceptive not to—but he’d made a promise.
And, the fact of the matter was, her ability to unsettle him notwithstanding, he didn’t want to keep his distance from Sophia Russo. No, he wanted her from the lush beauty of her mouth to the ripe curves of her hips, to the unadorned honesty that had slapped him sideways more than once already.
If this was obsession, he thought as they exited the elevator and headed down to their apartments after returning home, then so be it. “Sophia,” he said, staring at her gloved hands and—driven by the determination he had to possess her, hold her, break through the veil of her Silence—seeing a sudden, gaping hole in the web of her logic.
“Yes?” She spoke again before he could respond. “Did your friend confirm whether Allison Marceau said anything when she was found?”
He hadn’t realized she’d picked up on that short conversation he’d had with Clay when they’d gone for a walk along the pier following dinner. “He said the boys who found her were adamant she didn’t speak. No suspicious scents at the scene either.”
Taking out her keycard, Sophia unlocked her door, the movement a fraction too fast. Max’s instincts uncurled in anticipation—she was trying to get away from him, which meant she already knew what he’d just realized . . . and she was sensitive enough to his moods that she’d picked up the tension that had turned his muscles rigid.
He tried to catch her eye, failed. “I have a question.”
She pushed open the door. “We can talk tomorrow. I should get some rest.”
Max wasn’t about to let her escape. “Have you ever,” he said in a low murmur, “tried to touch someone with a natural mental shield?”
Sophia froze. “No, such people are rare.” And none of them had ever been right.
“How long have you known I had one?” A dark, intense question.
“From the start.” She walked inside the apartment, conscious of both the corridor surveillance and the fact that the pristine surface of her Silence was beginning to crack like so much glass.
Max followed, closing the door with a muted snick that did nothing to lessen the tension that made her chest tight, the air suddenly too thin. “Then why did you let me think my shields would make no difference?”
Because she’d break if this failed, Sophia thought, scrabbling to find a mental foothold. Max, with his intelligence, his smiles, his will to find those lost girls . . . he wasn’t only right, he was the embodiment of every forbidden dream born in the forever shattered part of her psyche. This man would’ve come for her—when she’d been hurt and bleeding in that cabin where the others had died, he would have come for her.
“Answer the question, Sophia.”
She hadn’t realized she’d already become used to hearing him call her Sophie. The loss sliced a line of blood across her soul. “It wasn’t relevant.” She had to fight this pull, had to keep him at a distance. To take the chance and destroy that final flickering hope . . . no, she couldn’t bear it. “We’re colleagues—touch has nothing to do with it.”
“Now who’s playing games?” A single calm sentence that tore her defenses apart.
She looked up, saw the embers in that near-black gaze. And watched as he walked forward until they were separated by a bare foot of distance . . . to hold out a hand, his jaw a taut line, challenge in every part of him.
She stared at that hand. If she took it and his natural shield wasn’t protection enough, Max’s memories would punch into her with the force of a raging tornado—and if she somehow survived the vicious power of that telepathic blow, she’d know him without ever knowing him, all his secrets, all his yesterdays an endless roar inside her skull.
“Come on, Sophie.” A command that vibrated with masculine anger . . . and a darker, richer emotion that caressed a burn across her skin. “We need to know the answer—and don’t you dare tell me you don’t understand why.”