At her nod, he pulled the door closed and waited until he heard the lock snick into place before he walked out to the front. He wasn’t surprised to check the surveillance and find Nikita on the other side, with Quentin Gareth beside her. “Nikita,” he said, opening the door, his stunner hidden by his side. “What is it?”
“Quentin has a stunner held flush to the back of my skull,” Nikita said, frigidly unruffled.
Max took a step back as Gareth urged Nikita into the apartment. Max saw Nikita’s eyes sweep the room, wondered what she was searching for. “Sophia’s not here,” he said, testing Gareth’s reaction. “The medics wouldn’t release her.”
“Her brain’s likely mush by now in any case,” the other male said, his eyes glittering in a way that spoke of a disordered mind that had lost any sense of reality. “Detective, if you don’t want the Councilor’s brains to leak out her ears, too, please place your own weapon on the coffee table.”
Max did as asked, having caught Nikita’s eye. For some reason, she was cooperating with Gareth. What, he thought, would make a woman of Nikita’s power hold her fire?
“Good,” Gareth said as Max drew away from the coffee table. “Stand against the counter.”
Max did so, facing Gareth. “What’re you planning to do now?” He heard something from the bedroom, felt his spine lock as he realized Sophia had exited the bathroom.
But Gareth didn’t seem aware of anything but his mission. “Now we wait.”
“For Henry, I assume,” Nikita said. “Does he really think you have the ability to dispose of me?”
“I press this trigger, and your brain is so much liquid three seconds later.”
“I’ve infected you,” Nikita said quietly while Max, for the first time in his life, wished that he’d been born a telepath. What the f**k was Sophia thinking? “Your mind,” Nikita added, “is already being consumed by a mental virus.”
Gareth’s hand didn’t tremble, though the odd shine in his eyes seemed to flare even brighter. “I expected as much. It will be a small price to pay to save the Net.”
Martyrs, Max knew, were even more dangerous than fanatics.
“Is Sascha dead?” Nikita asked, giving Max the information he needed.
“No. But she’s in our control. She won’t be harmed if you do exactly as ordered.”
“If she’s alive,” Nikita continued, “I should be able to reach her telepathically, and I can’t.”
“You’re a creature of habit, Nikita—I spiked the water jug in your office with a drug that’s temporarily dampened your range.” A pause. “It’s a variant of Jax, still experimental, so I hope you didn’t drink more than your usual single glass.”
“How could you have possibly reached Sascha?” Max asked, hoping like hell that Sophia would keep herself hidden. Quentin Gareth was insane, but he was still in full control of that weapon. “She’s surrounded by DarkRiver cats.”
“We shot the DarkRiver alpha as he drove her home. It was easy to take her.”
And Max knew without a doubt that Gareth was lying. Because if Lucas was dead and Sascha missing, Dorian would’ve been hunting Gareth down with the lethal rage of a leopard in stalking mode, not running a search for Max. “He’s lying.”
Nikita met his gaze. “I need to be certain, Detective. Quentin informs me that if he tells his superiors he’s been taken, or if his star disappears from the Net, Sascha will be put to death.”
Max saw the bedroom door begin to open. Shifting to the left in a sudden move, he made Gareth swivel toward him—though the man continued to use Nikita as a shield. “I wouldn’t go for your stunner, Detective,” he said. “We need to question you in order to ensure you didn’t share classified information about our cause, but you’re not indispensible.”
A tiny squeak as the bedroom door opened farther, but Max was already talking. “What’s your master promised you?” The choice of words was deliberate. “A position of power? Money?”
“That question shows you know nothing about me. I’m doing this for the good of the Psy race.” And then at last, he confirmed his allegiance to Pure Psy. “Purity will save us.”
“I called Faith.” It was a husky statement from the bedroom doorway. “Sascha’s fine.”
What happened next was so fast, so deadly, Max was never quite able to put the sequence of events in order. A stunner blast hit Gareth from the bedroom, the pulse glancing off him as Sophia’s arm trembled. At the same time, or an instant later, Nikita went to her knees, even as Max’s hand closed around the stunner on the coffee table. He turned, his shot, set to stun, hitting Gareth square in the chest . . . but the male was already falling, blood pouring out of his ears, his eyes, his nose.
Rising to her feet as Gareth crashed onto the floor, his body twitching in the throes of death, Nikita coded in a call on her cell phone. “Sascha,” she said as Max ran to Sophia, “I wanted to ask if you received the contracts I sent last night.” A pause. “Excellent.” Hanging up, Nikita looked down at Gareth’s corpse with an utterly dispassionate gaze. “Henry is very good at telepathic wipes. He made sure Quentin carried no memories I could use to pin this on him, but I know he was behind it.”
Max placed Sophia gently against the wall and looked up at the woman who’d just destroyed a man’s brain in a splintered second. “I guess the drugs didn’t dampen your range enough.”