He was gone an instant later.
Knowing she should have protested, but reassured by his protectiveness, she fed Morpheus—who graciously permitted her to stroke him once—then took a quick shower. Afterward, refreshed, she changed into a pair of soft velour pants—they were like nothing she’d ever before worn. She’d bought them on impulse several months ago, in a decision so non-Psy she hadn’t required a medic to tell her she needed to go in for reconditioning. But she hadn’t worn them until now.
The dark blue material was velvety soft, delicate, and beautiful against her skin. Enjoying the tactile pleasure, she put on a stretchy T-shirt, zipping herself into a hooded gray sweatshirt several sizes too large for her to complete the outfit. It wasn’t cold in her apartment, but the sweatshirt was Max’s, carried his scent.
Her cop, she thought, would never understand the depth of what he meant to her, what he’d given her. It was at once a wild, earthy thing and an incandescent joy. The only shadow came from the knowledge that their time had almost run out, that one day soon, her mind would fill with noise and she’d lose Max, lose the tearing power of the emotion that had made her whole, every broken part of her accepted and cherished.
Her fingers clenched.
She forced them to open. It was no use being angry, no use railing at fate. Fact was fact—she’d gone through every manual, spoken to every one of her colleagues, all to no avail. Telepathic shields could not be rebuilt once they began to degrade from the core out.
“They use then discard us like garbage,” a fellow J had said to her.
“Why did you accept the position?” As an eight-year-old girl strapped to a hospital bed, Sophia had had no choice, but other Js did.
“It was the only available job.”
Sophia had understood. “Is it always the only available job when a J attempts to find work?”
Fury had made her gut twist. “In the past, before Silence,” she’d dared ask, knowing the J opposite her would’ve been a historian if given the choice, “was it like this?”
“No. Js were only ever used in capital cases. Or if there was a hung jury where the crime fit certain parameters.”
The load, Sophia had realized, would’ve been spread, placing far less pressure on each individual.
“Js still went mad, still broke,” her colleague had continued, “but no more than the rest of our race.”
But now the Council used them up in order to consolidate its power. In light of that brutal truth, Sophia wasn’t sure she wanted to save Nikita, but Max was a good cop. He believed in justice, made her want to believe in it, too.
Her mind took that thought, connected it to a rumor tangled up in the information cache she’d begun to process while she got out the ingredients to prepare a breakfast drink of the hot chocolate Max had bought for her. Interesting. Leaving the milk unopened on the counter, she found a piece of paper and, taking a seat on the sofa, began to note down the relevant facts as she smoothed out the “lumps” of raw data.
The click of her door being opened was quiet, but it shattered her concentration. “Ma—” But it wasn’t her cop.
Her eyes took in the security override key in the woman’s hand, the Center badge on her lapel. No. She went to lower her PsyNet shields, send out a psychic mayday, but the woman’s male companion was already gripping her arm, slapping a pressure injector against the vulnerable skin of her neck, his na**d hand mere centimeters away. Her concentration fractured—and they shot something into her bloodstream that turned her mind dull, sluggish.
“Useful that Js have such solid PsyNet shields,” the woman said, supporting Sophia under one arm while her partner took the other.
“Why is she on the rehabilitation watchlist then?”
“Her telepathic shields are all but gone. If she isn’t rehabilitated now, there’s a chance she’ll break on her own.” They began to head down the corridor. “And the death throes of the fractured are always so disruptive to Silence.”
Sophia tried to resist their hands, the way they directed her like a rag doll, but her mind was mired in thick fog, her body refusing to follow her commands. They “walked” her down to the garage level, each holding up half her weight. And the only thing she could think was that Max would never know how much she loved the scent of him.
Max jogged through the doors of DarkRiver’s Chinatown HQ just as the skies opened up. “That’s some storm,” he said, shaking off the droplets that had managed to hit him.
“Forecast to clear sometime tonight,” Dorian said. “So, what’s up? Clay still shadowing that intern for you?”
“No, he had to switch with a guy named Emmett.” Who had texted Max a few minutes ago to say that Asquith had arrived at work.
“That’s right.” Dorian clicked his fingers. “Clay’s holding a training session for some of the soldiers today.”
Max nodded. “I hear you’re good with computers.” What he’d heard was that the blond sentinel was an expert hacker.
Bright blue eyes blazed with an intelligence many people missed, being taken in by looks reminiscent of some teenage surfer. “Yeah? Where did you hear that?”
Max tapped the side of his nose. “You have your sources. I have mine.”
“I don’t work for free.” Dorian folded his arms and stared meaningfully at the box Max had carried inside. There was a very feline look of anticipation on his face.
“Thanks for driving Sophie home last night.” Max handed over the doughnuts.