A pungent mix of shock and panic dried out Talin's mouth. The way Faith was speaking, it was as if she could see the bond - if true, that meant Talin and Clay had truly mated. But that was a question she would ask only Clay. "So," she said, forcing down her disquiet, "what are we going to do tonight?" She had to do something or she'd go insane.
Tammy shot her a mischievous look. "Well, we know you had to clear out of your apartment in a hurry and that you probably didn't take much time to pack, so we did some shopping for you."
"Except," Faith added with a smile, "Sascha got lost in the lingerie department."
Tammy laughed. "Don't worry. We got you at least two non-X-rated pieces. Including this." She held up a beautiful green sweater, the one she'd begun knitting the night Talin had first traded barbed remarks with Faith. "It was always for you."
Talin felt off center, lost. "Why?" She didn't have friends, didn't know how to give that much of herself to anyone but Clay.
"Because," Sascha said from behind her, "you're one of us. And DarkRiver looks after its own."
Clay figured that if this Larsen bastard planned to hit Talin, he'd start off at either the last spot where she'd been seen or Max's hospital room. He and Dorian eliminated the latter option by getting Max discharged.
The cop thanked them for it. "I thought I'd never get out," he said as they helped him to the car. He wasn't so pleased when they took him to a small and very private changeling hospital, used only by wolves and, now, the cats. "What the f**k?"
"Tally likes you," Clay told him. "Shut the hell up and get better so she doesn't worry."
Max grimaced. "How long am I going to be stuck here?"
"Doc said you'll be out end of the week if you do what you're supposed to."
That made Max happier. "I'll be a boy scout. Happy hunting."
Clay didn't ask how the man knew they were hunting. "Thanks. We'll give you an update afterward."
"At least I got one of the f**kers." Yawning, Max dropped off.
That done, they got into the car and checked in with Lucas, who was keeping an eye on Talin's apartment.
"No movement," Lucas told them. "Rina's come and gone. Did a pretty good impression of Talin. Went in, turned the lights on and off, opened and closed the closets, played the recording you made of Talin muttering, then snuck out the back. Oh, yeah, she took the initiative and faked having a shower, too."
Clay hoped that that would be enough to draw out the kidnappers - earlier today, while Tally had been busy with Jon and Noor, he'd come in and confirmed that the apartment was being monitored. There were at least ten bugs inside.
He and Dorian arrived at the meeting spot across from the apartment building as the clock was ticking one in the morning. They weren't the only ones. "You really think this'll work?" Judd asked from the shadows. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're just hoping the person behind this will turn up here once his surveillance tells him Talin has surfaced."
"We're going on instinct," Clay said, unsurprised the SnowDancer lieutenant had accepted his invitation. Judd was proving a good man to have at his back, though Clay had had to threaten to kick his ass after the way he'd spoken to Tally. "The bastard has to start somewhere and this is Tally's last known location. Thanks to Rina, we might even have fooled Larsen into thinking she's moved back in."
They all went silent. Minutes turned into tens of minutes. Nothing stirred.
"If it was me," Judd said, "I'd go for Max - far easier to get Talin's location by breaking him."
"Max is no longer accessible," Dorian muttered, smug.
Judd didn't say anything for another ten minutes. "It would still be inexcusably stupid to come here. He should go to Shine and torture Devraj Santos."
"Jesus." Lucas's scowl was in his tone.
"Logic says," Judd continued, unperturbed, "he'll go to those likely to know Talin's location, not run to this place she hasn't been to in days. He won't fall for the Rina gambit."
"You're thinking with the trained mind of a soldier," Dorian said. "Larsen isn't a soldier, he's a scientist playing at murder. He was smart at the start, I'll give you that, but the recent slipups all smack of an amateur overreaching himself - the failed attack on Max, the way the bodies were dumped, even the mess he or his goons made of Talin's apartment."
"No." Clay shook his head. "I had a look today. What they did was savage, like bullies trying to scare a child." Losing those pictures had to have hurt Tally. Clay intended to replace each and every one. "There was a senselessness to the whole thing."
Lucas's anger was a na**d blade when he spoke. "You're thinking we have ourselves a sociopath using experiments as cover to prey on children?"
"Yeah." That was what he had never been able to understand - and what had probably confused Tamsyn - about the photos of those fragile, broken bodies. There had been too much glee in the way the victims had been brutalized. Someone had hurt those children simply because he could. "Worse, I think he's slipped the leash - no one in the Council superstructure would've okayed anything but the total disappearance of the victims. Larsen wanted them found because he wanted the attention."
"If that's true," Dorian added, "it means things are seriously shaky in the PsyNet."
"Because they've had too many mistakes escape lately?" Lucas asked.
"Think about it. Before Enrique" - Dorian's tone was a chilling frost as he named his sister's killer - "we hadn't heard of any violence in the Psy. But after him, we had that serial who was hunting Faith and now this."