Sophia didn’t move to step out of the car. “We can’t risk being overheard.”
“Takeout it is, then.” He wanted nothing more than to be alone with her, to take the next step in this strange courtship of theirs. “What do you want?”
“It matters little to me.”
Max had already slid back his door, but now he paused and looked at her, realizing how far she’d retreated within herself, her expression so remote he knew it was a front, meant to hide the vulnerable truth. “Damn. I’m sorry.” Every protective instinct he had, awakened to quiet, intense life. “I didn’t think about it.”
“It’s alright.” Those night-violet eyes held a surprise that rubbed those same instincts very much the wrong way. “It’s not something you need to think about.”
That she’d say that after the unspoken depth of this connection between them made him want to reach forward and tug her into a hard, hot kiss—remind her of the truth in a way she couldn’t ignore. But he couldn’t touch her, not yet. “Yeah,” he said, “I do.” Because slowly, inexorably, she was becoming his . . . to watch over, to know.
A wash of shadows in that stunning gaze, a silent indication that she’d heard the message behind the words. “Thank you.”
Such a polite statement hiding so much emotion. “Don’t worry,” he said with a slow smile that made the polite mask slip, her expression flickering with suspicion, “I intend to take my payment in kisses.”
Exiting the car to her sharply indrawn breath, he headed into the restaurant. The buzz of human and changeling energy surrounded him from every side—voices rose and fell in animated conversation, the odd burst of laughter punctuating the hum. A woman brushed by him as she left, throwing him an apologetic glance over her shoulder. Another patron almost ran into him as he got off a stool around the island that surrounded the chefs in their open-air kitchen.
Ignoring what for him were distractions, but would for Sophia be a small slice of hell, Max placed his order using the built-in pad on the counter.
The waitress put the order in front of him less than five minutes later. “You look like a cop.”
He raised an eyebrow as he scanned his debit card over the reader.
Laughing, she leaned forward, her cle**age displayed to cheerful advantage. “We get a lot in here—there’s an Enforcement station two blocks over.”
“You’ve developed excellent radar.”
“You’re not from around here—I can hear the accent.” Taking something from her pocket, she slid it across the counter with a smile. “For you.”
Picking it up when she turned to deliver another order, he saw that it was a small personal card made out of Japanese washi, bearing the name Keiko Nakamura and a cell phone code.
“Lucky man,” a morose male said from his left. “I’ve been trying to get her to go out for a coffee for months.” Envy was a thorny vine around every word.
“I’m off the market.” It had been true since the instant he first laid eyes on Sophia Russo, whether he’d known it at the time or not.
A gleam of interest. “Can I have the card then?”
“Sorry.” Max dropped it into the takeout bag. “Keep trying.”
Keiko’s rejected suitor scowled into his udon soup as Max walked away, his mind already on a woman with eyes full of secrets dark and painful. My Sophia, he thought, and it was a vow.
Sophia lifted the takeout containers from the bag as Max went to grab the plates from his kitchen area. When she saw the small white card, she assumed it held the number of the restaurant. Then her eye fell on the text. “Who’s Keiko Nakamura?”
“What?” Max walked out with the plates. “Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s going in the recycling.” Putting down the plates on the table, he plucked the card out of her hand and placed it in the bin marked for the recycling chute.
But Sophia couldn’t let the point go. “You met her at the restaurant?”
“Yes.” Placing two glasses of water on the table, he pulled out a chair with a spare efficiency that struck her as quintessentially male. “Waitress.”
“When a female gives her contact details to an otherwise unfamiliar man,” she said, trying not to be distracted by the heated strength of him so close . . . so touchable, “it is for private reasons.” As with that woman in the elevator at Vale’s apartment. “Women seem to always be giving you their cards.”
Max opened one of the containers and served some sushi onto her plate using the disposable chopsticks. “That bother you, Sophie?” A low, deep tone, a masculine smile that made her skin go tight with warning.
Remembering too late that Max Shannon was a cop used to digging deep, reading truths and lies, she opened the other container. “What is this?”
“Tempura.” Max put what appeared to be a battered prawn onto her plate, his voice holding a distinct male amusement. “Try it. And you haven’t answered my question.”
Having removed her gloves and washed her hands earlier, she used her fingers to pick up a piece of sushi. “I suppose I should become accustomed to women . . .” She paused, unable to think of the correct term.
“Hitting on me.”
“Yes, I should get accustomed to women hitting on you,” she said. “After all, you are a beautiful man.”
Color flagged Max’s cheeks. “I’ll let you—and only you—get away with that. But never in public. Got it?”