“Excellent.” Much better than what was available in his time.
Something shot out of the toaster, bounced off his shoulder and ricocheted to the floor. Startled, he whirled and almost reached for his weapon.
“Sorry,” Neely said. “I’m so sorry. I forgot to warn you.”
He turned to see that she had her hand over her mouth and her eyes were bright with amusement. Then she burst into laughter. The contagious sound of it had a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But your face. You looked like you were going to draw and fire at my toaster.” Still smiling, she narrowed her eyes. “You were reaching for a weapon, weren’t you? You’re some kind of cop, aren’t you?”
He grimaced slightly at the term “cop,” but didn’t deny it.
“I knew it. When you were asking me about my birth year, you reminded me of a TV cop.”
Max barely suppressed a wince. He’d seen videos of twenty-first-century cop shows. “In 2128, I’m an enforcement officer for Trans Global Security—TGS. It’s a planet-wide security force.”
“Do you have a badge or some kind of identification?”
He took out a wallet and handed it to her.
She frowned down at it. “This looks very twenty-first century. Faux leather.”
“Everything I’m wearing is from the twenty-first century so that I can fit in.”
Without comment, she opened the wallet and glanced at his ID. Then her gaze shifted. “Who’s the girl in the picture?”
“My sister, Suzanna.” He was almost getting used to the tightening of the pain around his heart whenever he thought of his sister or spoke her name.
“She’s beautiful.” Handing him back the wallet, she studied him for a moment before turning back to the stove.
She’d sensed that he didn’t want to talk about Suzanna. Her sensitivity touched him, but he was going to have to be careful about blocking her from his mind. She divided the eggs between two plates, carried them to the large wooden table that dominated the room, then gestured him into a chair. “So in your time, there’s one police force for the whole world. That must mean that the seven deadly sins are still thriving.”
She brought the coffeepot to the table and topped off their mugs. Then she sat down and met his eyes. “What kind of work do you do for Trans Global Security that brings you to 2008?”
That was the tough question. How much could he afford to tell her? Max sampled the eggs while he considered. “These are good.” Stalling, he scooped up another forkful. Gut instinct told him that as perceptive as she’d proven herself to be, she was going to guess most of it anyway. So he would give her as much of the truth as he could. “I work out of the San Diego office where our focus is on reviewing applications for time travel, granting and renewing licenses and tracking down anyone who violates our time travel regulations.”
“And those regulations would include…?”
“Well, on the most basic level, no stealing or looting is allowed. Greed is still a problem in 2128.”
“Can everyone in your century time travel psychically?”
He shook his head as he chewed. “Just as in your century, some people are more psychically gifted than others. So far only one half of one percent of the population can psychically travel through time. We’ve discovered that the ability is genetically transmitted, and we’re able to check newborns for the gene. Then we implant a tracking device in the ones who have it. At the age of eighteen, anyone who wants to use their gift has to apply for a license. And if they get it, they’re monitored wherever they go to make sure they follow the rules.”
She broke a slice of toast in half and handed him a piece. “The most important of which is the Prime Directive thing. It sounds very Orwellian to me.” Then she frowned. “If you’re not still reading George Orwell in 2128, I’ll give you some books to take back.”
“I suppose it does sound like Big Brother, but we believe that the Prime Directive is very important. All the other rules spring from that one.” He met her eyes. “Nothing may be interfered with—the theory being that any tampering with the past could lead to the destruction of the future.”
“In other words, you choose the survival of yourselves and your society over anything that’s happened in previous times?”
“Yes.” Smart girl. That’s exactly what the Prime Directive is all about—saving our own collective butts, Max thought.
“That means the applicant must have a good reason for travel—usually academic. And all time travel has a specific duration. No one can remain in the past, nor can they bring anyone back to the future with them.”
“Remaining in the past or taking someone out of the past has the potential to change the future.”
“And the consequences for breaking the rules?”
“You lose any chance of traveling again. Scientists in our time have discovered how to neutralize the gene.”
She frowned. “So you can take away the gift?”
“That would make a person think twice, I imagine.” She shook some white crystals onto her eggs, then handed him the container.
He took it, imitated her action, then scooped up more eggs. “Very good. What was that?”
She shook her head in disbelief. “You don’t have salt, either?”
“Salt.” He sprinkled some on his finger and licked it off. “It’s probably added to food in the labs.”
Neely set her fork down on her plate and propped her chin on her hand. The routine task of scrambling eggs had helped her to sort out her thoughts a bit, but she couldn’t shake off her acute awareness of the man seated across from her. Every time he looked at her, she felt ripples along her nerve endings. Each time he spoke, he stirred things inside of her. And when his fingers had brushed against hers, she’d lost all sense of feeling in her legs.
They hadn’t referred again to what had happened between them in the bedroom. But she couldn’t put it out of her mind. It was like having a five-hundred-pound gorilla in the room that they were both trying to ignore. His words echoed in her mind—We both know what we want to do about it. She didn’t have to decide. She knew what she wanted to do. She wanted Max Gale.
He met her eyes just then, and she knew that he’d caught the gist of her thoughts. She also knew in that brief instant that they were on the same page. She only had to look at him to want. He only had to touch her to make her crave him. It was that elemental. It was as if on some level, she didn’t have a choice. Neither of them did.
A little ripple of fear moved through her, and she sipped her coffee to ease the dryness in her throat. She had to say something. Anything. “Why did you choose to become a cop?”
“Careers are mostly assigned by an individual’s aptitude. Testing showed me to be someone who basically believes in rules. I also had an aptitude for psychic time travel. Trans Global Security recruited me.”
“So society decides what you’re going to be when you grow up?”
“I suppose that’s true to a certain extent, but I enjoy the work.” He sipped his coffee. “I like the hunt, the adventure. I even like visiting the past on a regular basis. But I also like preventing people from getting into too much trouble. And I don’t think it would be safe for you to go back to London in 1888.”
Neely studied him, and for the first time consciously tried to block him from her mind. There was a flatness in his tone that clearly said cop on the job. At least he hadn’t told her she couldn’t go back to 1888 or that he’d stop her. Or…maybe he couldn’t stop her because she wasn’t from his time? His Trans Global ID wasn’t going to carry much weight with Manhattan’s finest. It might just put him on the fast track to the psych ward at Bellevue.
One thing was certain. His Prime Directive might interfere with what she wanted to do. So she would have to be very careful. She drew in a deep breath. “I’m going back anyway.”
“Then I’ll go with you.”
Instead of arguing, she said, “You still haven’t told me why you’re here in 2008. Are you tracking someone?”
“Something like that.”
“I can’t discuss the details.”
Neely folded her arms on the table and frowned at him.
“That’s pretty lame. Are you tracking someone I know? A customer? Or do I have someone in one of my discussion groups who’s overstayed his visit?”
When he still said nothing, her frown deepened. Then suddenly she just knew. The thought was as clear in her mind as if it had originated there. But she was pretty sure it hadn’t. “You’re tracking the Ripper, aren’t you?” She leaned forward, her expression eager. “Is he a psychic time traveler, too?”
SHIT. She’d plucked the name right out of his mind. He’d have to work harder at blocking her. How much could he afford to tell her? More importantly, how much could he hope to hold back?
Taking a deep breath, Max explained his theory about Jack the Ripper.