“Nikita will allow us to take a short break,” Sophia replied. “As you said yourself, this killer is unlikely to strike in the near future.” She kept talking, though he could see the jagged rise and fall of her chest, the glittering pain in her eyes. “The forensic data from Edward Chan’s murder scene will have been more thoroughly processed by the time we return, and we’ve already spoken to the witnesses. We can continue to run deep background checks and verify their alibis for the earlier murders from a distance.”
Max waited until she paused for breath. “You have to turn this over to another J.”
“No. This is mine.” Tiny lines fanned out from the corners of her lush mouth, an indication of stubbornness—one he’d just learned to read. “I’ll do this. I’ll finish this.”
Max didn’t budge—he had a whole streak of stubborn in him, too. “You’ve told me how close you are to losing your telepathic shields. Working with a mind like Bonner’s will only put more stress—” He froze as she pressed a finger to his lips.
“They’re lost, Max.” A bleakness in her eyes it hurt him to witness. “I have to find them, bring them home from those unmarked graves.”
He heard in those words an echo of the nightmare summer that had almost destroyed her, a silent, painful ache, and knew he had to let her do this. “Even a hint of a problem and you get out. Agreed?”
It was more an order than a question but she nodded. “Agreed.”
“I’m letting Bart know he needs to have an M-Psy on standby.”
“That’s a good precaution.” No M-Psy could heal the telepathic deterioration of a J, much less of an already damaged one like Sophia, but they could perhaps help her handle any physical symptoms. “However, make sure the M remains outside the interrogation room—Bonner will pounce on even a hint of weakness.”
“Don’t let the bastard get to you.” Tugging down her glove to expose a patch of na**d skin between glove and cuff, he bent his head as she watched in thrall. His kiss branded her from the inside out. “We have the little matter of frustration to discuss.”
Sometimes evil wins. But not here. Not today.
—From the private case notes of Detective Max Shannon:
State of New York v Bonner
Nikita wasn’t pleased at the interruption in her investigation, but she didn’t attempt to stand in their way after Max made it clear that not only would they continue to work her case while in Wyoming, but that Bonner’s victims had a prior claim on his loyalty.
“How long will this trip take?” she asked.
“If Bonner gives up the bodies”—a grim hope—“I’ll have to inform the parents.” They knew him, trusted him . . . would know why he’d come after so long. “After that, forensics will take over. Since Bonner is already in prison for the length of his natural life, it’s not imperative I be there at every moment.” Though before, he would’ve been, would have wanted to see it through to the bitter, destructive end.
Now, he had other priorities. “I can delegate the supervision to one of the other detectives”—good cops, cops who’d sacrificed weekends, given up vacations, to help Max in the hunt for the Butcher of Park Avenue—“and keep an eye on things from a distance.” Of course, he’d never be free of the Bonner case, not truly. And perhaps he didn’t want to be. A man carried scars on his heart. They made him who he was.
Sophie would leave the biggest scar of all.
No. He refused to lose her, this J with her hunger for touch and her gifted mind.
“Very well, Detective.” Picking up a cell phone call, she turned to the plate-glass window. “I expect you to keep me informed.”
Max found himself momentarily caught by the image of Nikita standing silhouetted against the glass, her gaze somewhere far in the distance. Powerful. Lethal. Alone.
Sascha stretched out her legs on the ottoman in Tammy’s living room and leaned back against the softness of the couch. Like everyone else in DarkRiver, she’d headed to their healer the instant she’d needed comfort of a feminine kind. Lucas had dropped her off after lunch with a kiss—though she knew it was only because Tammy’s mate, Nathan, was home. Likely, there was another sentinel prowling around outside anyway—DarkRiver took the protection of its healer dead seriously.
Suspicious scrabbles sounded from behind her. Feeling her lips tug upward, she remained in place, her eyes closed. Little click-clacks on the wooden floor, silenced as they hit the rugs. Then a few whispering scratches and she felt a warm, playful presence walk along the top of the sofa back to lie down a few inches from her ear. Another presence, just as playful, a little more mischievous, settled beside her thigh.
She’d half expected a baby roar to make her jump up in surprise, but when she opened her eyes, Julian and Roman, Tammy’s twins—both in leopard form—were looking at her with expressions so innocent, her heart melted. “How am I supposed to resist?” she murmured, stroking Jules while she glanced up at Rome.
Getting up, he padded over to nuzzle at her ear. She tried to catch him in one arm to bring him down, but he jumped onto the couch beside her so she could pet him, too.
“Are my little demons bothering you?” Tammy asked, walking into the living room with a tray piled high with Sascha’s favorite chocolate-chip cookies hot from the oven.
“They’re being sweethearts,” Sascha said, as Rome settled down with his paws on her thigh, his eyes closing in bliss as she petted his gorgeous little head with firm, sure strokes. “They’re not as rambunctious with me anymore.”