“Shouldn’t we focus on the case?” she’d asked before she left his apartment, her eyes huge. “My incident has already taken time we could’ve spent going over the evidence.”
He’d realized, with a strange warmth in his chest, that she was once again trying to help him in her own way—that smart mind had figured out he’d feel better if he buried himself in work. “We can discuss as we eat,” he’d said. “And, I think we’ve got time.”
“Why do you sound so certain?”
“You know the pattern we talked about?”
“With the victims all being murdered on the verge of a major deal?” An intent look. “Edward Chan’s murder doesn’t fit.”
“I did some digging on that.” He’d set his cell phone to run a number of Internet searches, glanced at the results as they finished up the final interview today. “Chan was scheduled to speak before a group of changeling alphas in South America later this week. No Psy has ever before been acceded that right.”
Sophia had gone very quiet. “Did they kill him because he was about to get Nikita access to a major untapped market—”
“—or because the contact would’ve violated a belief in Purity?” From what he’d learned of Pure Psy, he was convinced they wouldn’t shy away from murder. “No way to tell. But I’m going to call Nikita, alert her to the possibility.”
When he did contact Nikita, she’d not only agreed with his theory, she’d confirmed that no other project was at a stage which might trigger a kill. “I’ve also got twenty-four-hour surveillance on all my high-level people. They won’t be easy targets—and if one of them is behind this, it should give him pause.”
Now, as Max began to prepare dinner, he considered the possible impact of his and Sophia’s investigation on the conspiracy. Not significant, he decided. Whoever was behind this—the kingpin—was running things with a cool, clear head. He or she wouldn’t be put off their game by a mere human and a J at the end of her useful life.
His jaw went tight just as the doorbell chimed. Putting down the knife he’d been using to chop up some herbs, he went to the door and pulled it open. The woman at the center of his thoughts stood on the other side dressed in jeans and a cardigan in a delicate cream shade that made him want to peel it open—to expose skin of an even richer cream.
“Max?” Her voice was tentative when he continued to block the doorway.
He stepped back, waiting until she was inside and away from the cameras before he gave in to the urge to touch her. Lifting away her hair, he pressed a single kiss to the soft skin of her nape.
Her shiver was violent, but she didn’t pull away. “I wasn’t sure if I was meant to contribute anything to the meal.” A breathy voice, her head angled slightly to the side, as if she was welcoming another kiss.
Unable to resist the exquisite temptation, he moved behind her, put his hands on her hips, and said, “You’ll be dessert.”
Sophia felt her throat lock, her skin stretch painfully taut over her body. “Are you playing?” she finally managed to say. “Like with the notes?”
Max’s breath against her neck. “No.”
She balled her fingers into fists. An emotional reaction. One that would’ve concerned her before she’d decided to live . . . to love. She wasn’t sure she knew how, wasn’t sure the capacity hadn’t been cut out of her with brutal efficiency. But Max was important. She’d kill for him, she thought, this man who saw in her a woman worth trusting . . . a woman worth teasing. “This cardigan has pearl buttons, too,” she whispered.
His body seemed to relax a fraction at her reference to the note he’d dropped into her bag earlier, and she hoped she’d brought some light into his heart. “Witch.”
Releasing her clenched fingers one by one, she lifted her hands and then, very deliberately, stripped off her gloves. Dropping them to the floor, she reached for his hand.
His palm met hers, his fingers twining with her own to curl into her palm.
For an instant, everything went black. When she could see again, she found herself leaning against Max’s chest, his free hand curved over her abdomen as he held her against the masculine heat of his body. “I’m here.” A rough murmur.
She clung to the strength of him, the lean muscle of his body a solid wall in a shifting universe. It was difficult to breathe—he was in the air, too, an invisible caress. Dark, potent, male, Max surrounded her.
“Your shields,” he said against her ear, his lips touching her skin in small, erotic bites. “Are you safe?”
Knowing he was right to be concerned, she opened her psychic eye and checked her protections against the PsyNet, ready to patch any fractures, hide any weaknesses. What she saw made her go motionless. “They’re holding, but not in a normal way.”
“My shields have always been rock solid, but now . . . they’re moving. It’s as if I’m in the middle of a tornado.” The psychic wind blew back her hair as she stood shocked in the center of her mind. “Nothing can get in or out because the layers shift constantly, tearing apart anything that attempts to penetrate.”
“Is it harming you?”
“No. It’s efficient beyond anything I’ve ever seen, but it may bring attention to me.” She’d survived this long by being faultless when it came to her work, but deliberately unremarkable in any other way—the perfect Psy.