He slid one arm around her waist, his throat thick. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Her forehead touching his in tender affection, her hands cupping his face. “You’re the one who taught me that life isn’t predestined. We are who we make ourselves.”
Her faith in him tore him wide open, reformed him a better man. “Open it for me.”
Sophia took the envelope, able to be strong for her cop, to give him what he needed. Sliding her finger under the flap, she slit it open to remove two pieces of paper. The first was closed around the second—which proved to be an automatically sealed printout with serrated edges which could be pulled apart to reveal what lay within. The first was a handwritten note.
“Max,” she read out, “as far as the computers are concerned, this scan was never done. I don’t know the results. Neither does the computer tech. We requested that the results be printed automatically sealed. I hope you find what you’re looking for.” It was signed with Reuben’s name. But below that was another line—“P.S. A man’s father doesn’t make the man. If it did, I’d be a self-serving SOB with three wives and an inability to be faithful to any of them.” Sophia put down the letter, her curiosity a wild thing. “I assume he means three consecutive wives?”
“Nope.” At her gasp, his lips curved. “Bart’s father founded his own religion.”
“And how many wives does Bart have?”
“He’s been married to Tasma since they were in law school. Got four brats they love like crazy.”
Sophia smiled. “So.”
She broke the serrated edges but held the letter closed. “You should see it first.” Passing it over, she waited as he read it, then put it on the coffee table. Nothing happened for the next few seconds . . . until Max gave a shuddering sigh and dropped his head, thrusting his hands through his hair.
Worry tore through her . . . until he lifted his eyes. Relief shone a beacon of sunlight through his irises. “Max?”
“I always thought,” he said, his voice rough with emotion, “that there was something wrong with me that my mother couldn’t love me. She could love River, and I think she even loved some of the men she brought home. But not me, never me.”
Sophia’s eyes went to the envelope, her brain making connections out of the experiences of a lifetime spent in Justice. “Who was your father, Max?”
“His name isn’t important,” Max said, and she saw that to him, it truly wasn’t. “But what he did to her . . . He raped her, was convicted of it, died in a prison fight.” A short, brutal summary. Max shook his head. “The only thing I don’t understand is why she kept me.”
Sophia’s hand clenched on his thigh. Looking up, he saw eyes huge with concern, with empathy. “Ah, Sophie.” Pulling her into his lap, he nuzzled his face into the sweet curve of her neck as she wrapped her arms around him. “I’m not in shock.” Part of him, somewhere deep inside, had guessed the truth a long time ago. “Now that I know why she couldn’t love me, I can forgive her for it.”
“You’re a better person than I am,” Sophia said, her anger a steel flame. “You were a child.”
Max smiled, holding her tight, this woman who would fight for him. “But I’ve become a man.” Looking back, he could feel only pity and sorrow for the tormented, haunted woman who’d been his mother. “And I’m a man who is loved. Who loves to the depths of his soul.”
There was no way in hell he was ever letting anyone take Sophie away from him. She was his. The Justice Corps would have to just f**king get used to that. “Baby,” he said, turning his relentless will to how to ensure no one would ever dare come between him and his J, “we need a plan.”
Sophia’s eyes gleamed. “I have an idea.”
Nikita entered the mental vault of the Council chambers knowing that what she was about to do would change the course of Psy history. Whether she’d come out of the change alive, time alone would tell.
Kaleb entered with her, Ming LeBon coming in just after.
“You’re well?” she asked.
The militarily inclined Councilor didn’t give much away. “Yes.”
They stopped speaking as Henry and Shoshanna Scott entered, followed by Tatiana Rika-Smythe and Anthony Kyriakus in short order.
“Nikita,” Shoshanna Scott said as soon as the psychic doors closed, “is this about the problems you’ve been having?”
“Yes,” Nikita said. “The specialists I hired were able to track the assassinations to a Pure Psy zealot.”
“I wouldn’t term the members of Pure Psy zealots.” Henry, joining in the conversation.
“Oh?” Nikita had played enough games. “The dictionary definition of zealotry is ‘fanatical partisanship.’ I’d say Pure Psy fits the definition.”
Ming LeBon was the one who spoke next, and his words were nothing Nikita had expected. “I, too, have become concerned about the direction of Pure Psy.”
“They seek only to protect our Silence,” Henry said. “There is nothing of concern in that . . . not unless you wish to protect those who are flawed.”
Nikita ignored the pointed reference to her daughter, focusing on Ming instead.
“However,” Ming continued, “that goal is now being interlocked with a noticeably racial agenda. Pure Psy has begun to see the other races as ‘unclean’ for want of a better word. It’s indisputable that Nikita was targeted because she has strong business ties with the changelings.”