Max twisted so he could face her, one hand braced palm down beside her leg. “It sounds like your nerves are raw—overloaded.”
“Maybe.” Clear words, a steel will. “But I don’t want to slow down.”
He had a will as strong. “No more touching. I will not hurt you.”
Her shoulders slumped.
Sensing his advantage, he pushed. “Why did someone try to hack your mind tonight?”
“Probably because they wanted to contaminate the evidence I’m due to give in a high-profile murder case,” she said, her eyes not meeting his.
Shame, he thought, that’s what he read in her expression. “Sophie?”
“I’ll tell you . . . just give me a little more time?” So vulnerable, her emotions stripped bare. “Please, Max?”
He blew out a breath. “I’m starting to think you’re using the world ‘please’ to get around me.”
A startled flicker of light in her eyes. “No, I’m not . . . but could I?”
He felt his chest shake with unbidden, unexpected laughter. “Do you think I’m going to answer that?”
“That means I can.” She sounded astonished and delighted in equal measures. “I promise to use my powers for good.”
Reaching over he slapped her lightly on the bottom through the comforter. “You have the makings of a brat in you.”
A slow, so-slow smile, his Sophie beginning to wake from a decades-long sleep. “I need to tell you something about the Nikita investigation that I forgot to mention earlier.”
He kept his hand on her hip, enjoying the warm curves of her even if he couldn’t touch skin. “I meant to ask you something, too. About Ryan—”
“That’s who I wanted to discuss,” she interrupted, “specifically, the reason for his reconditioning six months ago.”
Max frowned. “The file’s sealed.” He’d already tried to access it tonight.
“I called in a favor from another J.” Pushing up into a sitting position, she shivered when he slid his hand over to her thigh. “Ryan killed someone, but it was an accident. His telekinetic powers went out of control.”
Stroking her through the comforter once more, Max got up to walk to the window and back. “How much would the reconditioning have messed with his head?”
“No way to know—the process is intense, but it leaves the mind intact. That’s the whole purpose—to eliminate fractures so the individual can function.” Her words held the knowledge of experience. “It would make sense that he’d be sympathetic to Pure Psy if his own abilities are spiraling out of control.”
“But”—Max folded his arms, leaning back on the wall beside the window—“we come back to the fact that he wasn’t working for Nikita at the time of the elevator sabotage. One mole I can accept. Two? No. Not in Nikita’s organization.”
“He’s still the best lead we’ve got.”
Max straightened. “And he won’t be going anywhere tonight. I’ll call, make sure security has him in their sights. We can talk to him tomorrow.”
She knew he was going to leave. Sliding down under the comforter, she turned her back to him. She’d accepted his will, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
She thumped her pillow into shape.
A low blue word, then the bed dipped. “I can’t stay tonight, baby.” His hand on her hip, a blaze of heat even through the comforter.
He’d promised to fight for her. Well, she was going to fight for him, too. “We don’t have to be skin to skin.” She turned to face him, keeping her hands to herself. “You can sleep on top of the comforter.” Then she gave a small smile. “Please?”
“You’ve definitely got the makings of a brat.” But Max stayed, sleeping beside his J for the hours till dawn. The dream came just before he woke, a dream in which River ran laughing behind him as they chased a stray dog they’d made into a pet.
He opened his eyes to find his throat thick with tears, his heart a swelling ache in his chest. And he knew he’d dreamed the joy because of the woman who woke a moment later. “Thank you,” he said.
Sleepy eyes, dark curls falling across one cheek. “For what?”
“For making me remember.” He’d buried his past because it hurt too f**king much. But in doing so, he’d buried River. “I think,” he said, “you would’ve adored River. He could’ve taught you every trick in the book on how to be a true brat.” Then, as they rose, dressed, and ate, he told her about the brother who’d left a mile-wide scar on his heart.
Sophia halted Max when he would’ve gotten out of the car at the Duncan building. “I want to tell you about the reason for the hack.” She couldn’t hide anymore, not after the raw honesty of the memories he’d shared, of the family he’d shared. Her heart was so full it was hard to breathe, hard to speak.
“Whatever it is,” Max said, his hand along the back of her seat, “you know it doesn’t matter. Not between us.”
“I can alter memories.” She made no effort to dress it up.
She jerked up her head. “What?”
“I’m a cop, Sophie.” A wry reminder. “I hadn’t been in the job two years before I realized what Js could do.”
“Then why don’t you hate us?”
“I always figured you had no choice in the matter. And, I did my job. I got the evidence. Not every major case is won or lost on the evidence of a J.”