—PsyMed report on Sophia Russo, minor, age 8
Just over twenty-four hours after his conversation with Commander Brecht, Max exited his gate at San Francisco’s domestic terminal with a single suitcase and one very pissed-off cat in an industrial-strength carrier. A cat whose yowling was starting to make people look at Max with the narrow-eyed stare reserved for those who beat their dogs and ran their horses to exhaustion.
Looking up, he saw a familiar tawny-haired figure. Putting the suitcase and carrier down, he picked Talin up in his arms and gave her a kiss on the lips. “Damn, you look good, Tally.” Her face glowed with health, her freckles golden against skin that had managed to retain the burnished hue of summer even in the crisp chill of January.
A growl emerged from the green-eyed man on Tally’s right, his gaze vivid against rich, dark skin. “Once, I’ll allow. Kiss her again and all you’ll be kissing is the asphalt.”
Grinning, Max put a laughing Talin on her feet and held out his hand. “Nice to see you, too.”
Clay shook it. “Hello, Cop.” His eyes went to Max’s feet.
And Max realized Morpheus had gone utterly silent the instant they neared the couple. Glancing down, Max saw the black-haired ball of indignant fur staring at Clay. “I think he’s trying to figure out what the hell kind of cat you are.”
Talin bent, went to reach through the bars as if to pet the cat.
“Don’t,” Max warned, one hand on her shoulder. “He bites.”
“He bites Tally,” Clay said, looking at the cat with eyes that were no longer human, “I’ll show him my teeth.”
“Shh, now,” Talin said, stroking Morpheus gently on the forehead. “He’s just mad about being cooped up, aren’t you, gorgeous?” Looking up at Max, she mock-whispered, “Clay gets snarly on flights, too.”
“Watch it,” Clay said, but the curve of his lips made Max grin. Man was well and truly a goner.
“I’m glad you brought him,” Talin said, rising to her feet. “He’d have missed you.”
“Nah—he’d have found another sucker to feed him,” Max said, knowing the former alley cat had the survival instincts of a rat on a sinking ship. “But since I’m not sure how long this’ll take, I figured Morpheus might as well come and see the world with me.” Nodding thanks at Clay as the changeling male grabbed his suitcase, Max took the carrier. “I appreciate the pickup.”
“I voted to leave you stranded,” Clay muttered.
Talin linked her arm with Max’s. “Don’t mind him. Secretly, he loves you.”
“Very secretly.” Max’s heart went tight in a good way at seeing Talin so happy. They’d become close during the investigation into several missing kids a while back, but he’d known her on and off for years, their beats colliding in New York. She’d worked with troubled kids—and Enforcement was always picking up those kids.
But it wasn’t just that. He and Talin had a connection, one they’d never really articulated but which was simply understood. They’d both been children caught in the foster-care system, understood the scars that could leave. It wasn’t the kind of thing you could really explain to anyone who hadn’t lived through it.
But Clay got it. Max didn’t know the big man’s history, but the connection Max shared with Talin was slowly being formed with her mate as well. Max had taken them to dinner the last time they’d come up to Manhattan, had ended up getting well and truly drunk with the leopard. Talin had herded them home from the bar, promising to tear the hides off them the entire time, but she’d tucked them both in that night—pushing Max down onto their hotel couch and telling him to stay put.
Grinning at the memory of the pulsating rock music she’d played the next morning as punishment, he looked down at the wild mane of her hair. “Did you check out the apartment?” He’d e-mailed them the details of the place where he’d been put up for the duration.
“It’s near Fisherman’s Wharf,” Talin said, “not that far from the Duncan building. Nice area—close to the shops.”
Clay glanced up as he stowed Max’s bag in the trunk of the car. “You sure you don’t want to tell us what you’re doing for Sascha’s mother?” His eyes were human again—and full of a keen intelligence, as befitted one of Dark-River’s top men.
“Sorry, can’t say anything. Not yet.” Max put Morpheus in the backseat. “I might be able to share more once I know what’s going on.” Getting into the seat beside the still silent cat, he strapped up and waited for Clay and Talin to get in. Except . . . “What the—” Reaching beneath his thigh, he found himself holding some sort of a weird pink-haired doll with joints in impossible places.
“That’s a Metamorph,” Talin told him, turning to look over her shoulder. “They change into animals.”
“Huh.” He played with the little toy, managed to figure out the mechanism, and voila, he had an improbably pink wolf on his hands. “Like a changeling.”
“Yep. Clay keeps buying them for Noor even though she already has at least a dozen.” Talin was twining her fingers with her mate’s free hand even as she teased him. “One look from those big brown eyes and he folds.”
Clay lifted up her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “You don’t complain when I melt for your big gray eyes.”
“Clay.” Blushing, Talin nonetheless blew her mate a kiss.