To her credit, Katya only blinked once. "We could render him unconscious, but that would defeat the purpose. If there is a key to unlock the shield, it has to be a telepathic one."
"There's also a high chance he could use the opportunity to kill you." Nani's tone was pragmatic.
Dev had already considered that. "Not if he knows that if she dies, he dies."
"Which brings us back to the point of how to disable Ming." Katya frowned.
And in that instant, Dev realized exactly what they had to do. Pacing from one end of the room to the other, he swept out a hand. "Leave that for now." His every instinct rebelled against the plan his brain told him was the only possible answer. "We'll need an exit strategy, too."
"Make him meet you on your ground," his grandmother suggested. "Turn him into the intruder - it'll make it much easier for you to get away."
"Getting him to come to us will be close to impossible," Katya said. "He's extremely security conscious." When Dev didn't reply, Katya looked up. And said, "Oh. You've already thought of the answer, haven't you?"
He didn't bother to lie. "Yes."
"When were you going to tell me?"
"Never - I planned to come up with another way." Thrusting his hand through his hair, he walked over to pull her up from her chair. "I don't like the idea of using you as bait."
"It's the best shot we've got." Cupping Dev's cheek, she made him meet her gaze. "We're doing this."
"Then you're damn well obeying every order I give you. Understood?" His voice was pure frost, protective rage barely contained.
Dev's grandmother sighed. "That's not the way, beti. With men like my grandson, you have to be disagreeable on principle."
Laughing at the amused advice, Katya reached out to take the other woman's hand, feeling so at ease it was as if she'd known Kiran forever. She never got that far. Her spine twisted into an unnatural shape as agony spiked down her body. The last thing she heard was her own high-pitched scream.
"What happened?" she asked Dev hours later from the hospital bed.
His cheekbones were razors against his skin as he gripped her hand. "Glen thinks your motor controls somehow shorted out at the same time that you had a problem with your nervous system." His voice was ragged, raw with anger.
"The countdown's speeded up." Even if Ming gave them the key, even if that key unlocked the shield, even if it miraculously released the talons sunk into her brain, whatever was already damaged could never be fixed. "There's more, isn't there?"
He swore. But he didn't let go of her hand, and she held on tight. Or tried to. "Please, I need to know."
His eyes were tormented when he looked at her. "We took a scan of your brain. Parts have been permanently compromised. You'll always have problems with your fine motor controls, your memories."
That explained why her fingers didn't quite grip right, didn't quite feel right. Rage boiled within her, but she didn't let it rise, afraid that if she did, it would be all she was, all she'd become. She loved this man too much to waste time on useless anger. "You won't reconsider trying to take Ming?" If Dev died . . . no, she'd make sure he didn't.
"Then let's put the game into play."
Judd slipped into the child's room without anyone being the wiser. The boy stared at him wide-eyed as he shifted out of the shadows twenty minutes after the boy's parents had finally gone to bed. If Judd's intel was correct, however, both of them would be back to check on their son within the hour.
"Have you come to take me?" The child sounded both terrified and strangely glad.
Judd understood - in a way William's loving parents never would. "No. I've come to see if I can help you."
"You can't. I'm a monster." A tear leaked out of his eye, a tear he brushed off with an angry fist. "I hurt Spot."
Crossing the room to sit on the boy's bed, Judd raised a hand. "I need to touch you." This would have to be a very delicate telepathic investigation. If he activated the wrong trigger, the boy would try to strike out, and while Judd was well shielded, there was no need to make the kid feel worse about himself than he already did. "Will you lower your shields?"
"Okay." Dull compliance. As if he hurt so much, he'd given up.
Judd touched his fingers to William's temple, his psychic senses arrowed to a fine point. Then he went looking. According to the notes Ashaya had shared, the doctors at Shine had found an unusual version of the Tk gene, but what Judd saw was blindingly familiar. It seemed the Tk-Cell mutation didn't discriminate against the half-blooded.
This boy, this bright, beautiful young boy, was a murderer waiting to happen.
Judd's jaw set. No way in hell was that future ever going to be. "I want to tell you something and I want you to listen."
William nodded, but his eyes were dull.
Judd took the boy's chin in his hands, made him focus. "I can do what you can do."
"No one - "
Taking a pocket knife from his jacket, Judd flicked it open and ran the blade across his palm, releasing a thick line of blood. "Watch." Piece by piece, cell by cell, he closed the wound, until nothing remained but the blood. Using a tissue from the bedside table to wipe it off - and ensuring the tissue ended up in his pocket so he'd leave behind no trace of himself - he showed the boy his palm. "I can do what you can do."
This time, William's eyes were anything but dull. "Can you fix me?" he whispered.