“Hey now.” Raising his head, he touched his forehead to hers. “Pregnancy hormones strike again?”
A jerky nod as she melted into his embrace. “I should’ve told you about visiting Marsha, but I swear I wasn’t in any danger.”
Lucas went predator-still. “Who went with you?”
“I’m not telling you if you’re going to go snarl at them.”
“I’m their alpha—they should’ve told me.”
She thumped a fist against his chest. “I’m their alpha’s mate.”
And, Lucas thought, she’d earned her packmates’ loyalty in her own right. “Dorian,” he said, knowing the sentinel had a mile-wide soft spot for Sascha. “Why wasn’t he on Max’s surveillance?”
“He was less than thirty seconds away, in the emergency stairwell, monitoring the corridor with his superduper high-tech gee-whizz surveillance equipment, while I had the meeting. He even had me wired in case Martha suddenly went insane and tried to kill me by throwing her organizer at my head.” A theatrical gasp.
Lucas nipped her lower lip in punishment for the smartaleck response—and because he was proud of his mate’s strength, no matter that he hadn’t gotten his own way. “Come on then, let’s go see what Blondie has to say.”
“Lucas, did you notice?”
“Max and his J.”
Lucas leaned one arm against the table, scowling. “No, I didn’t notice.”
“Sophia Russo’s almost impossibly good at hiding her disintegration,” Sascha said. “I only picked it up because of my empathy. So much pain, so much.” She closed her hand into a fist, rubbed it over her heart. “I wanted to reach across and tell her it was alright, that she was safe, that we’d help her.”
Lucas was used to his mate’s empathic nature. But he was also an alpha, pledged to protect his people. “She’s in the Net, Sascha. No way to know if she can be trusted.”
“I know.” A stubborn look. “And if she decides to call me one day, I won’t say no to any request she makes.”
“Were you this hardheaded when I mated with you?” A growl formed low in his throat.
“No. I think I’m maturing with age.”
“Well, stop it.” In spite of his teasing words, her responses, he caught the edge of fear in her eyes. “Don’t worry, kitten. The cop knows what he’s doing.” Max Shannon, Lucas thought, might appear nonthreatening with that easy smile of his, but it was deceptive—the cat had sensed the truth, sensed the hunter that lurked beneath the human skin. “He won’t stop until he brings down his prey.”
No one ever expects betrayal. No one.
—From the private case notes of Detective Max Shannon
Making it back to the Duncan building by five, Max and Sophia managed to round up the other four people who’d appeared on the surveillance footage.
The intern, Ryan Asquith, was unable to provide any useful information, but Marsha Langholm was far more forthcoming. “Detective,” she said. “I’ll get straight to the point. While I did see Edward for a brief period this morning so he could sign a contract, I was in a private meeting at the time of his murder, and I’d rather not—”
Max held up a hand. “Sascha told us she was with you.”
A slight nod. “In that case, you’ll understand the need for discretion.”
“The Councilor wasn’t aware Sascha was in the building?”
“I have no way of knowing that.”
An artful dodge, but Langholm’s loyalty to the Duncans—even to the extent of protecting one who had defected—was clear. “You’re one of Nikita’s highest-ranking people,” Max said. “Is there anything you can tell us that might help with tracking down the person or people behind these murders?”
The woman didn’t pretend not to understand. “I knew Vale didn’t commit suicide—it was simply not in his psychological profile.” A pause. “I can’t give you names or any concrete details, but there have been ongoing . . . ripples from Sascha’s defection.”
Tapping Max’s foot beneath the table in a silent signal, Sophia put down her organizer. “Surely no one holds the Councilor responsible for her daughter’s so-called flaw? In any case, I thought it was common knowledge that Nikita severed all familial ties with Sascha.”
Marsha responded directly to Sophia. “There were questions after Sascha left the Net, but they calmed once it became clear the Councilor was going about her business as normal. Eventually, Nikita’s business association with the changelings began to be considered an asset because they are an unusually difficult market to capture.”
Max sat back—it was clear Sophia knew precisely the right questions to ask. But he couldn’t resist tapping at her foot in playful response. She put the high heel of her pump over the front of his leather shoe in silent reproof.
“What’s changed?” In sharp contrast to her foot, Sophia’s fingers lay unmoving on the glass-topped table.
He remembered those same fingers weaving through Morpheus’s fur, remembered, too, the expression of discovery on her face, as if she’d never before petted a living creature. He wanted to share a thousand other pieces of his world with her—but to do so, he’d have to plumb her secrets, discover everything the Justice Corps kept hidden. Because he wasn’t letting this J disappear into the dark.