The maleness in him settled at the verbal stroking. “I’ll teach you how to make me come willingly to your hand,” he murmured, pressing a single, gentle kiss to the sweet slope of her neck. “Anytime you want.”
A long, shuddering exhale, her skin shimmering with heat. “Max.”
“Ride it,” he said. “Don’t fight, just ride the wave.”
Sophia shook her head. The impact of his touch—hard, jagged, almost painful—shoved through her. “I can’t. It’s too much.”
For an instant, she thought he wouldn’t shift and she’d drown in the avalanche of sensation, but then he rose to his full height, releasing her from the sensual prison of his arms. Pushing back her chair, she got up and stumbled to the bathroom. The cold water she splashed onto her face snapped some semblance of control back into her, but it still took several long minutes before she got herself under enough control to dare check her PsyNet shields.
Holding—a hard carapace that left her battered inside. Battered but protected. A strong PsyNet shield was a J’s sole protection against early rehabilitation, and as such, was an unspoken secret in the Corps, the shield techniques passed on from J to J outside of any scheduled lesson. Even her boss, who played politics with cold-blooded ease, would never divulge that one truth. Because no one in the Corps was ever safe.
“Sophie.” Max’s voice, shaping her name like a caress. “Either you come out or I’m coming in.”
Tucking her hair behind her ears, she opened the door and walked toward the table. “I’m fine.” A lie. She was terrified he’d decided against her, a woman who couldn’t handle a simple kiss. “It was just a shock to my senses.”
Max pulled out her chair. “Tell me.”
She didn’t sit, didn’t dare go so close to the temptation and danger of him. “I miscalculated how big the impact would be.” How visceral. Her hands trembled as she went to pick up her discarded gloves. “We should work on the case.” It was a jerky, unsophisticated attempt to change the subject.
Max smiled, and it felt as if he’d stroked a fingertip across the most sensitive parts of her. “We’ll watch the data files from the security cameras in the corridor outside Chan’s apartment—you can finish your lunch at the same time.”
Her stomach felt tight, twisted into knots. “I don’t really need any more—”
“You’ll eat.” Cool words. “You’ll need your energy.”
Her negative response whispered away as she read the intent in those dark, dark eyes. “You still want to be with me? Even though I couldn’t even handle . . .”
“I figure it just means you need more practice.”
The provocative words turned the knots in her stomach into butterflies. “You mustn’t say things like that.”
“Why?” A slow, deep smile that revealed a lean dimple in his cheek. “Practice will be fun—I intend to be a very demanding coach.”
She stared, wishing she could kiss her way down that dimple.
“Come on.” Smile widening and filling with a wickedly sensual heat, he turned to head to the comm screen in the living area. “Bring your plate.” A coaxing glance over his shoulder as he inserted the crystal into the built-in player on the side of the screen. “I promise to behave.”
She wasn’t sure she believed him, but she couldn’t resist. He stretched out an arm on the sofa behind her head as soon as she sat down. “Max, you need to sit a little farther away.”
“No.” The dimple disappeared, but his expression remained warm . . . intimate. “No backward steps.” He turned on the comm screen using the remote, even as his fingers began to play with strands of her hair.
For the first time, she found herself wondering what she’d taken on.
A tug on her hair. “Focus, J.”
J. It had always been, if not a curse, then a symbol of the inevitable. But when Max said it . . . Her eyes lifted to the screen as it filled with a shot of the corridor leading to Edward Chan’s room. As she watched, Max programmed the screen to skip to anything that disrupted the image of the empty corridor. The first time, it was a cleaning bot, buzzing its way industriously along the carpet.
“I don’t think he did it,” Max murmured, his focus very much on the screen.
Sophia took the chance to watch him. His profile was all clean lines, his skin that strokable dark honey, his bone structure flawless. But Sophia had seen beautiful men before. Objectively speaking, Councilor Kaleb Krychek was one of the most devastatingly attractive men on the planet—but the one time she’d been in his vicinity, he’d made her blood run cold. Max, on the other hand . . .
Her eyes went to the triangle of flesh bared at the open collar of his shirt. Other men sometimes had hair there, but she could see only smooth, unblemished skin. It made her want to ask him to unbutton the shirt farther so she could kiss her way across his chest, learn him with her mouth.
“Now who’s this?”
Sophia jerked her head to the woman onscreen. Dressed in a deep green pantsuit, she stepped out of the elevator and headed toward Chan’s room, but entered the suite opposite his. Putting down her plate, Sophia reached for her organizer. “That has to be Marsha Langholm, Nikita’s most senior advisor. She uses that apartment while in the country.”
“We’ll need to talk to her.” Reaching over, Max took her organizer so he could read the notes she had on Langholm. “If you didn’t like sushi, you should’ve spoken up.”