His hand fisted.
“The car crash,” Clay pointed out, raising his voice to be heard above the rain pounding on the wreck, “could’ve gone very wrong.”
“No.” Max shook his head. “It was planned very well. Look at where we are—right after a curve, so their speed would’ve been low.”
“The car had to be on wheels for this to work,” Clay said. “And they were—doesn’t make sense with the rain.”
Realizing the sentinel was right, Max examined the side of the vehicle, focusing on the section that he knew controlled the hover system. “Does that look like a bullet hole to you?” He pointed to a distinctive hole in the plasmetal.
“Here’s another one,” Clay said from the other side.
“He must’ve tailed them from the apartment, overtaken them at some stage to set up the oil slick,” Max said, well aware of the Butcher’s intelligence. He would’ve checked his vehicle’s nav system, discovered this road had no turnoffs, no side streets. “All he had to do then was lie in wait and shoot.” Squatting, he stared through the broken wreckage of the car. “The straps in the back have been cut through—but it’s obvious Sophia was strapped in far more securely than either of these two.”
“And if he was stalking her, Bonner would’ve seen them strap her in.” Clay’s eyes were leopard-bright in the rain dark. “Acceptable f**king risk.”
“For him, yes.” Rising, Max began to consider and discard options, refusing to let Clay’s anger feed his own. Not yet. He had to think, had to find Sophie. “Bastard’s got money. His family’s helping him stay on the run. He won’t be out in the open or even in a cheap motel, but he’ll be close.”
Clay walked around to stand beside Max. “It would make more sense to take her as far as possible, give himself room to breathe.”
“He’s . . . impatient.” Max swallowed his fury for the thousandth time, told himself he could scream at the heavens later. “He’ll want to have her to himself as soon as possible.” And if the Butcher touched her, the viciousness of him might just shatter her mind.
No. Teeth gritted, Max hunkered down, blocking the rain with his body as he examined the vehicle again. Bonner had apparently had no problem with the front seat passengers. Either one or both had been unconscious at the time. There were absolutely no signs of a struggle.
He moved to crouch beside the window that Sophie had been dragged through. That was when he saw something glint in the headlights of Clay’s car, right below the window itself . . . where Bonner might’ve braced his foot to gain leverage. He bent down, until his nose almost touched the earth, using the built-in light of his cell phone to illuminate the area.
Tiny particles that glittered and glimmered, having been hidden from the rain by the angle of the wreck.
But there was something strange about it. Picking it up in between his fingertips, he brought it even closer to the light. Sparkles of yellow and crystalline red, along with the odd flicker of what looked almost like blue. “Clay!”
Max’s eyes fell on a tiny white shell just as the leopard ran over. “What’ve you got?” the sentinel asked.
Max showed him what he’d found. “The sand’s not natural. I don’t think we’re talking a beach house.”
“Wait.” Clay took the tiny shell, brought it up to keen changeling eyes. “I think this is coated with something. Protective plas would be my guess.”
“You know of any place nearby that might use this stuff? It’ll offer enough isolation that Bonner will feel comfortable—but won’t be too rugged.” That wasn’t the Butcher’s style.
Clay’s eyes narrowed. “Kit and the boys were laughing about some kind of a fake ‘beach resort’ about an hour from here.” He pulled out his cell. “I’ve still got the web address saved. There—says it has bungalows set ‘discreetly apart,’ laundry and room service.”
All the comforts of home for a killer who liked to work without lowering his personal standards. It fit. Max rose to his feet, trying not to think about what Bonner might be doing to Sophia—if he did, he’d shatter, and Sophia needed him to hold it together. “Send the location to my phone”—he was already running to his car—“I’ll hook it into the nav system.”
“Done!” the cat called out after him. “We’ll continue the search here, just in case!”
He was five minutes into the drive—too f**king slow—when his phone beeped. It was Nikita, wanting an update. “Councilor,” Max said, telling her where he was heading, “how many teleporters do you know?”
He didn’t expect help, not now that it was a human sociopath who’d taken Sophia, rather than another Councilor’s interference. But she said, “I’ll see what I can arrange.”
Sweat trickled down Max’s spine. I’m coming, baby. Just hold on.
Sophia’s stomach roiled, nausea filling her mouth. Drugged, she thought. She’d been drugged. The Psy brain didn’t react well to narcotics. A moan whispered out of her as she was jostled about, her already battered body unable to stop its jerky movements.
“Sorry.” A smooth, charming voice with . . . excitement, yes, it was excitement that bubbled beneath the surface. “We’re almost there. This road’s the private one to my bungalow. Made to look like a natural pebbled road. They should’ve sealed it. At least the rain’s stopped.”