“He is your pet and your responsibility.”
Letting her step into the elevator as it arrived, he bit back a grin at that prim reminder and reached for the keypad. “I was told we’d have a vehicle—do you know if it’s already here?”
“Yes. I picked it up and parked it in the basement garage.” She waited until he’d pressed his finger to the appropriate number before surprising the hell out of him. “You can drive.”
When he raised an eyebrow, she said, “I’ve had enough contact with human males to realize you seem to have a congenital inability to function while a female is at the wheel, and I’d rather your full attention be on the case.”
He rocked back on his heels, way past intrigued and well into seriously screwed—because there was only one way this could end. That hint of personality and the inexorable tug of a deeper something between them notwithstanding, Sophia wasn’t only a J, wasn’t only a Psy, she was Councilor Duncan’s personal eyes and ears. A smart man would keep his distance, make sure she never forgot that while they might be working together, they sure as hell weren’t on the same team.
There was just one problem with that—he, a man known for leaving his lovers with smiles on their faces, and without a backward look, wanted to know every tiny detail about this woman who spoke to parts of him that had been in cold storage so long, his body physically hurt as they woke. It was, to be honest, uncomfortable as hell. More, the shocking intensity of his response went against the pragmatic nature of his mind—he was used to thinking, to planning.
But he was also a man who knew how to adapt. And he hadn’t backed down from anything or anyone since the day he’d grown old enough, and strong enough, to defend himself . . . to protect himself.
“You know,” he said as the elevator doors opened, determined to uncover the truth of the enigma that was Sophia Russo, “changelings would consider your letting me drive a surrender.”
She stepped out into the garage, so prim and proper that he wanted to mess her up three ways to Sunday, the long-forgotten boy in him sitting up in mischievous anticipation. What would she do, he wondered? Did Sophia Russo even understand the meaning of the word “play”?
“I’m sure you realize,” Sophia said in response to his comment, “that nothing is that easy with Psy, Detective.”
“Max.” He wanted to hear her say his name, acknowledge him as a man.
A slight nod. “This is our car.” She stopped in front of a black sedan with tinted windows.
He whistled through his teeth. “This is a very well-designed tank.” Sleek, meant to mix into ordinary traffic, but—to his experienced eyes—surely bulletproof and with a body built to survive impacts from vehicles twice its size.
“Councilor Duncan thought it prudent since I’ll be working with you.” A curl of raven black hair swung against her cheek as she began to slide off her right glove. “It’s become common knowledge that once a J takes an ‘impression’ of a memory, that memory becomes inaccessible to another J.”
Realization coalesced into a tight line of tension across his shoulders. “How many times has someone tried to kill you?”
“I’m not certain.” She used her thumbprint—her hand unmarked, unscarred—to unlock the car and access the computronic control panel. “I can program you in now if you’ll come over and press your thumb to the scanner.”
He did so, waiting patiently while she ensured he had full rights to operate the vehicle. “Guess,” he said afterward, as she got out and walked around to the passenger side door.
“Give me an estimate of how many times you may have been the target of an assassination attempt.”
She opened her door. “I’ve only been shot at three times.”
Only. A lot of cops didn’t get shot at that many times their whole career. Sliding into the driver’s seat—after shifting it back more than a foot—he brought up the manual controls, viscerally aware of the delicate vulnerability of her skin bare inches away. “Why is that?” he asked, speaking past a sudden possessive edge that honed his protectiveness to a steely gleam.
And that, too, was a surprise. Though he was a protector at heart, a facet of his personality he’d learned to handle, he’d never been possessive . . . or maybe, a long silent part of him whispered, he’d simply learned not to be. If you didn’t claim people, they couldn’t reject you, couldn’t leave you, couldn’t break your f**king heart. Except even that reality didn’t stop his primal response to Sophia—it came from some place deeper, beyond the civilized skin of his humanity.
Sophia turned to buckle her safety belt. “I assume,” she said in response to his question, “people wanted to stop me from giving evidence—if I die, the impression dies with me.”
His fingers almost brushed her hair as he braced his arm on the passenger side seatback in preparation for reversing the car.
The way she shifted to avoid any contact was subtle . . . and a chilling reminder that for all her lush femininity, Sophia Russo would never melt for any man. It should’ve thrown cold water on his simmering hunger, nipped that dawning possessiveness in the bud, but all it did was make him want to tug at her curls, just to see what she’d do.
There was a reason he’d spent most of junior high in detention.
Fighting the urge, he dropped his arm once he had the car out and angled toward the exit. Slow, he thought, he had to do this slow. She was so skittish, he’d have to stroke her into trusting him. If he pushed too hard, too soon, he’d lose any hope of getting through her shields—and that was unacceptable.