He steered her into a narrow hall. Through a door to her right, she caught a glimpse of comfortable-looking couches. A wall of windows offered a view of a shoreline. Flowers spilled out of pots along a dock. This doesn’t look so different from my world.
No. And as I said, this sailboat dates back to your time. He led her through another door into a bedroom.
Here the wall of windows offered a view of the sea.
That’s the San Diego Bay, and the curved bridge is the Coronado Bay bridge.
Neely stared in awe at the vehicles flying above it, before finally turning her attention back to the room. It was neat with carpets scattered here and there on gleaming wood floors. Lace curtains stirred at the windows. A white chenille bedspread covered a dark-oak bed. The details were so clear in her mind. We’re not really here.
We’re only here in our minds. Dr. Rhoades is still reading from his book.
She was much more aware of the scent of the sea and Max than she was of the lecture. It’s so vivid.
I want it to be. He needed it to be. In his mind, he turned her to face him, ran a finger along her cheek and felt the response tremble through her. Then for a moment he merely studied her, standing here in his bedroom with the sun pouring through the windows and highlighting the gold in her hair.
I wanted to see you here. He could have taken them anywhere in his mind—a moonlit beach, a mountain meadow with a stream rushing by. But he’d brought her here. Because he wanted her here. He wanted her in his life. The truth of that, the impossibility of that, left him shaken. He had to find a way.
She cupped the sides of his face with her hands. Now I’ll always be able to imagine you here. Kiss me, Max.
He lowered his mouth to hers, tasted, then moved on to nibble at her chin, her shoulder, her ear. Her breath caught, then released on his name. The sound shuddered through his system, making his blood pound. And though his needs sharpened, he kept his movements slow as he slipped Neely out of her clothes and pulled his T-shirt over his head. He could have imagined the clothes away, but then he would have missed the brush of that silky skin against his hands and the thrill of seeing those long legs step out of those jeans. He also would have missed the darkening of her eyes and the quick hitch of her breath when he stepped out of his.
He wanted to make this last for both of them. Only when they were naked did he finally let himself return to her mouth, tracing it with his tongue before he fit his lips fully to hers. For a time, he lingered, exploring the contours of her lips, enjoying the way her tongue sought his. When her head fell back, he cupped it in his hand, then changed the angle of the kiss and took them both deeper. She shuddered when he brushed just the tips of his fingers across her breast.
She reached for him then, grasping his buttocks to pull him closer, but he resisted. He wanted more, needed to give her more. Lifting her, he carried her to the bed. When he covered her, she spread her legs to make a place for him. They were in the same position that they’d been in when she first dragged him back from Buck’s Row. Beneath his, her body was so soft, so yielding. He could feel her heat, her wetness against the head of his penis. He could have her now and end the terrible ache that was building inside him.
But he still wanted more.
Neither of them moved as they clung to the moment, treasured the anticipation, their bodies pressed together—heart to heart, heat to heat. A breeze fluttered the curtains at the window. A gull cried out as it soared to the sky.
Neely thought she was going to die of wanting him. He was there, right there. But trapped beneath his weight, she couldn’t move. He kept her teetering on that delicious peak between delight and torment. Desperate, she raised her hands to his shoulders to pull him closer, but he grabbed her wrists, pressed them into the mattress and linked his fingers with hers. Then he began to kiss her, slowly, thoroughly, as though he meant to go on kissing her forever. He tormented her with teeth and tongue until her system heated almost beyond bearing.
Then he began to move down her body, using that clever mouth on her throat, the valley between her breasts and finally on her nipples. Her fingers flexed on his as he nipped and suckled until she was sure she would die of pleasure. Her breath backed up in her lungs, her world narrowed to Max. Only Max. The texture of his skin, the brush of his hair as he moved lower and lower down her body. Murmurs filled her mind—a whisper of approval as he traced his tongue along her upper thigh, the sound of her name as he once more sampled the heat at her very center.
She arched up and fisted her hands into the bedspread as the orgasm ripped through her.
Neely wasn’t sure who spoke the word as he slipped his hands beneath her and lifted her so that he could send her up and over another airless peak. The moment she settled, she threaded her fingers through his hair and drew him up so that they were face-to-face again.
He entered her slowly, watching her lips part, her breath tremble out, her eyes darken. When he finally filled her to the hilt, time simply stopped. His world had become only her. Her world had become only him. The knowledge of that severed the thin grip Max had on his control, and with one mind, they began to move. She groped for his hands as sensations careened through their minds. The murmur of his name, the taste of her skin, the texture of his hair, the heat of her breath—each brought a new thrill that they clung to and savored until it was replaced by the next.
The words pounded in their minds, in their hearts, as they were helplessly caught up in what they were building together. With their fingers still linked, they moved faster and faster and faster until they swept each other over the edge.
From far away came the sound of applause.
VERY SLOWLY, Neely felt her mind and body separating from Max’s until once more only their hands were joined. He gave hers one final squeeze before he released it. Almost at once, their surroundings in the lecture hall snapped into focus. She saw that Dr. Rhoades had begun signing books for fans who had lined up in two aisles. He was being assisted by a blond woman wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat who opened and handed him books to sign while he chatted with his admirers.“We missed the rest of the lecture, plus the question-and-answer session.” There wasn’t a trace of disappointment in Max’s voice.
“You wanted to,” Neely said.
Max sent her a grin. “I did. He’s got the theory right, but so far it’s all guesswork on his part. And I have to say that I’m now a fan of playing hooky. You’ve opened up a whole new world for me.”
“Ditto.” Emotions flooded through her. There was so much she wanted to say to Max. And every time she looked at him, the reality around her seemed to fuzz over. She was about to reach for his hand again when a chill moved through her. Quickly, she glanced around.
“What is it?” Even as he asked the question, Max scanned the crowd.
“I think the Ripper’s here. I don’t feel him as clearly as I did before.” She shivered. “I’m sure he’s here. There’s a coldness inside of him.”
“Maybe he hasn’t sensed your presence yet. So far he’s only run into you in London.”
“I don’t see anyone who looks even remotely like one of those photographs on your palm unit.”
“Neither do I. He could be wearing a disguise. Or he could be invisible.”
Neely gripped his forearm. “Maybe you should become invisible, too. If he sees you and recognizes you, he’ll have an advantage.”
“C’mon, let’s get Rhoades’s autograph.” He drew her up with him and they joined the closest line.
“I thought the plan was that you would hang around the fringes and study faces.”
“Plans change. Now that you sense his presence, I’m sticking close. If he’s invisible, and he’s not expecting to see either one of us here, maybe we can shake him up and he’ll make a mistake.”
The line moved slowly, but eventually Neely and Max were only two women away from the table. She touched his hand and spoke in an undertone. “The feeling’s stronger now.”
They were next in line when Neely took one of her business cards out of her bag. That’s when it struck her—a wave of emotions so fierce that the impact had her taking a quick step back.
Max grabbed her hand. “What?”
For a moment she couldn’t speak, battered by hatred, fury and fear.
“He’s close,” she said in a voice only Max could hear.
“Where? Can you tell?”
Neely shook her head. “His rage is so vast.”
Max pulled her up the aisle. “I’m getting you out of here.”
ANGER WAS A RED HAZE in front of his eyes. He could barely breathe, barely think.
They were walking up the aisle now. But Max Gale and the woman had been close, only a few feet away, and Gale had looked straight at him. Struggling against panic, he stood perfectly still. His disguise was a good one, and Gale had never met him in person.
Why was the hunter here? Why hadn’t he been recalled? And what was the woman doing here? She had to be working with Gale. But how had they tracked him to the Psychic Institute? Even as the questions whirled through his brain, he wanted to scream. He wanted to run after them. But he forced himself to take a deep, calming breath and hand another book to Julian Rhoades to sign.