Anthony Kyriakus, Clay thought, was an enigma, a Psy Councilor with an apparent heart. “He came through.”
A quick nod, a tendril of rich black hair escaping her braid to curl over her cheek. “Tammy, Ashaya, and I all had a look at them.” Her expression was bleak when she glanced up. “According to those scans, her organic brain is fine.”
Ah, damn. “That’s what the kids fix, isn’t it?”
“As far as we know—yes. But the fact is, we’re learning as we go with Noor and Keenan.” She caught a leaf that had floated down through the gold-hued forest light, worrying it between her fingers. “Js have also been a mystery since the dawn of their existence. My best guess is that the damage is psychic and cumulative. When I met her . . . I sensed this incredible will containing a vast pain.” Her voice was taut, her bones strained against her skin. “Her shields aren’t broken—they’ve been worn away by a thousand slow drips of acid.”
Clay shoved a hand through his hair. “Is there anything that can be done?” He wanted to help the cop who’d been a friend to his mate when she’d been alone, who’d shed blood in the hunt to find a monster experimenting on vulnerable children like Noor.
Sascha looked so distressed, he knew the answer before she spoke, this empath with her huge heart. “I was going to try to see if I could do something on the psychic level, but according to a note in her file, she’s a minor anchor.” A single tear streaked down her face, her sorrow so heavy he could feel it in his bones. “She’s mainlining the Net—and that Net is slowly going insane.”
Clay released fisted hands to reach out and close one over Sascha’s shoulder. “Did she ever have a chance?”
Sascha’s fingers gripped his in painful sympathy. “No.”
Max returned to his apartment to discover that Morpheus had defected for good. The well-fed cat was purring happily on Sophia’s coffee table when she let him in. “I missed you today,” she said with a smile, but he saw the shadows under her eyes, the new lines of strain on her face.
Heart tight with the force of what he felt for her, he waited only until the door was closed before cupping her cheek, before taking her mouth in a kiss that held as much savagery as tenderness. She responded with a moan low in her throat. “Max, wait.”
He bit her lower lip, furious with her for what she would soon do, the betrayal she would soon commit.
Her eyes shimmered. “Max.”
It wasn’t the tears that stopped him. It was the way she said that, the way she looked at him. Not afraid of him, but for him. “What is it?” He gripped her hips, unable to let her go.
She dropped her forehead against his chest for a moment. “Will you hate me, Max?”
“Every moment of every day.”
Anger whiplashed inside him, at this woman who needed him to remember her. Didn’t she know he’d never forget? “What,” he said, his voice rough with rage withheld, “did you want to tell me?”
A long breath and she raised her head. “While I was in the Net, I did some searches outside the parameters of the case.” Those unusual eyes shifted away, then back. “I found some information for you.”
He wasn’t used to this kind of evasion from her. “If you don’t know that I’ll stand by you—”
Her fingers on his mouth. “I know.” Glittering eyes, a tone that left no room for doubt. “I don’t want this knowledge to hurt you . . . and I know it holds the capacity for enormous pain.”
He took her hand, kissed her knuckles. “I’m tough. I’ll survive.” That’s what he did—survive. But this scar, Sophie’s scar, was never going to heal.
She placed her hand on his cheek in gentle affection, and he knew she understood what he hadn’t said, the hurt he hadn’t vocalized. “River may have been alive as of two years ago.”
His heart stopped. When it kicked out again, he found himself shaking his head, his hands clenching on her—he’d searched for River ever since he became a cop, through every known database and come up blank. “Why would there be anything about him on the PsyNet?”
“His path crossed with that of a human researcher doing a study on adults who’d been drug addicts as children.” Gentle words, a worried gaze. “That researcher’s paper was footnoted—and linked to—by a Psy scientist’s paper on Jax addiction.”
“Where—” he began, but Sophia was already pulling away to pick up a sheet of paper from beside Morpheus’s purring body. Taking the printout, he went straight to the part she’d highlighted.
There it was. River’s name in black and white. The citation noted that the subject had been free of addiction since his fourteenth birthday, when he’d voluntarily entered a program run by a charitable organization.
“Max.” Sophia’s fingers closing over his wrist.
It was only then that he realized his hand was trembling. “They just used first names—this could be someone else altogether.”
“It’s an unusual name and coupled with his age at the time the paper was written, and the addiction . . .”
His mind wasn’t working too well. He looked up, to see her holding a small piece of notepaper. “What’s that?”
“The phone number of the researcher who wrote the original article. He’s currently lecturing at the University of the South Pacific and is stationed in Vanuatu.” There was a near-painful hope in her eyes. “You should be able to get him in his office a little later on, check if it’s your brother.”