She hadn’t left him, this J who’d become the fulcrum of his universe.
A quiet sound, so quiet he hardly heard it. Shifting his hold, he pushed midnight strands of hair off her face, keeping his hand on her cheek. “Sophie?”
A hitched breath, eyes fluttering open. They remained drowned in black, endless and mysterious. “Wh—” A gasp, her hand flying up to close over his.
His soul went cold. Driven by primal need, had he made a fatal error? If he had, the shock would plunge her back into unconsciousness . . . or worse. But before he could break contact, she gripped his hand, tight, so tight. And as he watched, the liquid black began to recede from her eyes, until finally, only the violet of her iris, the normal black of her pupil was visible. “Max?”
He tried to catch her gaze, but it kept shifting. “Focus, Sophie. Focus.” Her disorientation worried him, could well be a signal of some kind of brain damage.
All at once her eyes locked to his. “Name’s not Sophie.”
“No? What is it?”
The most minute of pauses. “Sophia Russo.” It almost sounded like relief. “Sophia Russo,” she repeated, “Gradient 8.85 J-Psy, employed by the Justice Corps, temporarily attached to the office of Councilor Nikita Duncan.”
“Good.” Relief washed through him as well. “And who am I?”
“Max Shannon, Enforcement detective, highest clearance rate in New York, natural mental shield, and . . . and hands that touch me.” Her own hand spasmed around his, as if she’d only just become aware of how hard she’d been holding on.
“Shh.” Taking that hand in his, he pressed a kiss to her palm. “You’re okay.” His heart shuddered though he fought to keep his voice calm.
“Max, you can call me Sophie,” she said in a quickness of words, as if afraid he’d take her earlier statement the wrong way.
“I plan to do it for a long time.” He’d lost everything else and survived, but he couldn’t lose her, not his J. It would break him.
Intertwining her fingers with his, she turned her head a little. “Someone else is here. I can hear sounds.”
“Faith NightStar and her mate, Vaughn D’Angelo.”
“Faith, foreseer.” She dropped her gaze to their hands. “What happened?”
Faith and Vaughn walked back in at that moment, with four mugs of coffee in hand. “We were hoping you could tell us,” Faith said, placing two of the mugs on the bedside table.
Sophia looked up but didn’t move off Max’s lap, which told him more about her condition than anything else. Because his Sophie had a quiet reserve about her in public, or when they were around others, one that he’d come to realize was part of her nature, not a product of Silence. She’d never be comfortable with open displays of emotion—but that was fine with Max, because with him, she lowered her guard, gave him her trust.
Breaking their handclasp, he picked up one of the mugs and urged it into her hands. “Drink.”
She took an obedient sip, her eyes not on Faith, but on Vaughn. Max felt a sharp tug of irritation. He recalled hearing that Vaughn wasn’t a leopard, but the male was a cat of some kind. He had the same feline grace that Max had seen in Lucas, in Dorian. And Max had been in the world long enough to know that women were drawn to the cat changelings.
Sophia’s eyes didn’t move off Vaughn even when the cat stretched out his arm on the sofa behind Faith’s head, curving his hand around his mate’s nape in a blatant display—and statement—of his loyalty. It was Faith who broke the odd silence. “If you don’t stop looking at my mate that way, I might have to unsheathe my claws.” Her smile took any sting out of what was clearly a tease.
But Sophia didn’t laugh. Keeping her eyes on Vaughn, she spoke to Faith. “He’s not safe, you know. He could snap your neck with a single move. You should shift away from him.”
Delighted at the reason she’d been staring, Max fought not to laugh. But the look of affront on Vaughn’s face was priceless. Burying his own face in Sophia’s hair to muffle his laugh, he tugged her a little closer, just in case the changeling was annoyed enough to snarl at her. But Faith put a hand on her mate’s thigh, and cardinal eyes gleaming with laughter, nodded at Sophia. “I wouldn’t throw stones. Look where you’re sitting.”
Sophia belatedly seemed to realize her position. Color tinged her cheeks, but she didn’t move. That’s my girl. Running a hand over her hair, Max asked her if she knew the reason she’d fallen unconscious.
“Yes.” She cuddled impossibly closer to him. “An attempted hack into my brain.”
Max sucked in a breath, but it was Faith who next spoke. “That should be impossible. I know some F-designation men and women who see only the past, and they work for Justice—their shields are impenetrable. I assume Js are the same.”
“Yes, we are,” Sophia said, giving him the coffee so he could place it on the nightstand. “But the attempt was intense enough to cause near-unbearable pressure on my brain.” Her body trembled just a little, but Max felt it.
Placing her on the bed with all the tenderness he had in him, he swung his legs over the side and said, “We can discuss this more later. Right now, Sophia needs to get some rest.”
“Yes, of course.” Faith stood up at once. Vaughn followed a little more slowly.
Walking them to the door, Max was ready for the DarkRiver sentinel’s final words. “She’s still hooked into the Net, Max. Means she can’t be trusted.”