“Exactly.” The M-Psy put down the electronic file in his hand. “According to the records I’ve accessed, your shields were a cause for grave concern—to the point where you were on a rehabilitation watchlist. Yet according to my scans, those shields are now airtight.”
Max sucked in a breath beside her, his tall frame held taut. “Is he right?”
“Take me outside, Max,” she said, curling her fingers into the bed beneath the sheets when they would’ve reached for her cop. “I need to be certain.”
A cool breeze stroked its way across Sophia’s face as Max wheeled her onto the roof of the private hospital. It was tinged with the salt of the sea and the living beat that was the population of this vibrant city. A thousand smells lingered in the air, from the sweetness of cotton candy to the briny tang of fish, to the wild spice of some exotic restaurant. Noises, too, rose up from the ground. The smooth shush of vehicles, the heavy pulse of conversation flowing between thousands of people, the odd siren as emergency vehicles went about their tasks.
“It’s all outside,” she whispered, unable to believe it. Nothing crashed against her skull, or if it did, her shields were so incredibly strong that she didn’t feel even an echo. “Take me farther, Max.”
As he pushed the chair forward, she dared try and manipulate whatever it was that was protecting her, opening the steel walls a mere fraction. Fragments of noise, slivers of thought. She snapped the walls shut. “There’s no question—I have functional shields.” Gripping the chair arms, she rose out of the chair. “Highly functional shields.” Better than she’d ever had, even as a child.
Max had his hand out to catch her even as the M-Psy remonstrated with her. She didn’t care. Standing shakily on her feet, she took a deep, deep breath . . . and let the beat of the city flow around her. “I’m free,” she said, though she knew it wasn’t as simple as that. The J Corps wouldn’t release her, not now that she was useful again. But—“And I’ll fight to keep my freedom.” No more acid on her soul. No more.
Max’s expression held mingled joy and determination, and she heard the words he didn’t say, even as the M-Psy spoke. “You should sit back down, Ms. Russo.”
Since her legs felt a little unsteady, she didn’t argue. “Do you have any idea why my shields have regenerated?”
The M-Psy shook his head. “That’s why I want to keep you here longer—shields as badly damaged as yours shouldn’t regenerate. I’ve looked through all our archives without finding another case. I’m concerned the shield will fail again as quickly—”
“In that case,” Sophia said, looking back out over the city, “I’d rather use this time as wisely as I can. Not many Js get a second chance.”
The M-Psy glanced at his chart. “I can only release you if you’ll have someone with you at all times over the next twenty-four hours. The drugs could rebound, trigger a blackout.”
“I’ll make sure she’s never alone,” Max said, his tone implacable. “Sign her out.”
Ten minutes later, Sophia found herself in the passenger seat of Max’s car, being driven back to the apartment. “I’ve lit a fire under security,” he said, his jaw set in a grim line. “Nobody reaches you without having being cleared by me.”
“Max, I know you said to wait for our wedding day, but I really want to tell you something.”
Max’s hands tightened on the wheel. “You’re always in a rush, aren’t you, sweetheart?”
With Max, yes, she thought, she was both impatient and greedy. “I love the way you smell.”
A startled look. “That’s what you wanted to tell me?”
“Yes.” Smiling, content, she closed her eyes and gave in to the slumber that had been pushing at her ever since they entered the vehicle.
She had no awareness of reaching the apartment building, no awareness of being carried up to her bedroom and laid down in bed. Nor did she feel the kiss pressed to her forehead or hear the low, shaken whispers of a man who told her she was his everything.
Max sat on Sophia’s sofa, able to think about Nikita’s case for the first time since the nightmare of the abduction. After what Nikita had done to save Sophia, he owed the Councilor far more than what was obligated by his position as an Enforcement detective.
However, though Nikita had been in touch with him on and off over the past day, he’d withheld the information about Ryan Asquith’s attendance at a Pure Psy meeting—gut instinct said the boy was no killer and he’d probably splinter under Nikita’s version of a “chat.” At most, the intern was a mole, one who might lead them to the kingpin.
But Max had told Nikita about Quentin Gareth, warned her to watch her back until they could determine where the prematurely silver-haired man had been for those unaccounted-for months in his past.
“Quentin’s in Jordan for business,” Nikita had told him. “He won’t be back for three more days, so we have time to unearth the truth—I’ve already begun deep-level PsyNet scans in relation to this issue.”
Wondering if she’d had any luck, he picked up his cell phone and put through a call. However, the office comm line, her private line, the cell, they all went to voicemail. He was about to try her assistant when his phone rang in his hand. Glancing at it, he raised an eyebrow. “Ryan.”
“Detective Shannon, as you kept our previous discussion confidential,” the intern said without any lead in, “I feel I can trust you with this.”