Krychek didn’t move a muscle but an instant later, Max found himself standing in the middle of what appeared to be a Psy medical facility, Krychek beside him. The medics went motionless for a second before moving into gear. Answering their snapped questions as to what had happened, Max gave over his custody of Sophia—but refused to move from her side.
He had no awareness of when Krychek disappeared.
Kaleb looked at the body of the human he’d just killed, his fingers playing with the small platinum charm—a single perfect star—that was always with him, no matter where he went. Glancing down at the star, he said, “For you.” For the one person who he knew better than anyone else on this earth, and yet could not teleport to, no matter how many times he tried.
And he’d tried every single day for over six years.
If others had been present in the room at that moment, they might’ve wondered at the sweep of black that eclipsed the stars in his eyes, a black so absolute, it was beyond ordinary, beyond acceptable. But there was only a dead man in the room, so there were no questions.
Placing the star in his pocket, Kaleb contacted the authorities and made sure this incident wouldn’t cause any problems. Given Gerard Bonner’s predilections, he didn’t have to push at all.
Then, when he was alone, he teleported to every location he’d ripped from Bonner’s mind to ensure he had the correct coordinates. Cold and desolate, each unmarked grave reminded him of the lightless rooms used by another killer, a sociopath who’d groomed Kaleb to be his audience . . . and his protégé.
Kaleb. Nikita’s voice came into his mind as he teleported away from the final grave and to the deck of his Moscow home.
It’s done. Sophia Russo and Max Shannon are both safe. The gorge that fell away with jagged promise beneath the barrierless end of the deck called to him with the same whispered promise as the dark twin of the NetMind, the neo-sentience that was both the librarian and guardian of the Net. But Kaleb wasn’t going anywhere yet. Not until he’d tracked his elusive quarry, discovered what awaited.
Nikita’s telepathic voice fluctuated in strength for a second. I apologize. I was speaking with the medical staff.
She’s in a coma—the drugs they used appear to have had a serious side effect. A pause. Thank you.
Kaleb could have reminded her it hadn’t been a true favor, that he’d get his payment, but he didn’t. Not today. Are you certain, Nikita?
She didn’t ask him how he knew what she was going to do. There’s no use fighting the wave. Those who do will drown.
Some will say that you’re the one who’ll drown, smashed against a wall of Silence.
Kaleb looked down into the blackness of the gorge, but it was another darkness that he saw, the light blinking out in a woman’s eyes as she begged for mercy. I think it’s time.
Now that it’s come down to it, I find I can’t say good-bye after all, can’t bear the thought of letting you go. It’s a selfish, stubborn need, but it holds me hostage.
—Sophia Russo in an encrypted and time-coded letter to
be sent to Max Shannon after her death
Sophia felt painfully exposed, as if her skin had been rubbed off to bare her insides. Whimpering low in her throat, she opened her eyes. The lights stabbed and the voices, they were too sharp, too piercing.
She turned her unseeing, dazzled eyes toward that voice. And when he wrapped his hand around hers, she held on. Because he was quiet. He made everything else quiet, too. Gulping in a breath, she tried to think, tried to focus. “What . . . happened?”
“They’re using other drugs to counteract the narcotics,” he said, and she knew then that his name was Max. “Medics say you’re beginning to respond well.”
Images, broken, disjointed, fell into her head. “How long?”
“Twenty hours,” he told her, deep grooves in his face that she knew hadn’t been there earlier. “I was starting to worry you’d never wake up.”
Her brain fought to slough off the lingering effects of the drugs, driven by what she felt for this man with his dark male beauty and his tenderness. “My body shut down to deal with the drugs.”
“That’s what the M-Psy said.” He glanced to his right.
Following his gaze, she saw the M-Psy beyond the glass, standing at a monitoring station. “I’m in a Psy hospital.”
“It’s a private one,” Max told her. “Nikita’s certain of the loyalty of the staff.”
But no matter their loyalty, Sophia thought, they had to know she’d broken Silence. By the sheer fact that she was gripping Max’s hand, they had to know. “They’ll—”
“Shh.” Leaning in, he lowered his voice. “I told them my natural shield seems to help anchor you.”
She thought of that, pulling aside the cobwebs that threatened to suffocate her. “It’s true.” He was acting as a psychic wall, keeping everything at bay.
But along with that understanding came another. “I can’t spend my life holding your hand.” Her fingers clenched around his strong, capable grip. “My telepathic shields . . . I can’t quite focus enough to test them. There’s no way they could’ve survived Bonner and the drugs.”
His expression was grim. “You’re not giving in on me, are you?”
“No,” she said, and meant it. He was hers, the only person who’d ever been hers. And he needed her, this cop who held his pain so close, his scars hidden deep. “I’m not giving you up.”
His eyes blazed. “Good girl.”
She knew from the way he looked at her that he wanted to press his mouth over hers, meld them so closely that nothing would ever again tear them apart. It took everything she had not to beg him to act on the desire. Because when Max touched her, she became alive, became human. “I need you to know something,” she whispered.
He shook his head. “No. Tell me on our wedding day.”
Her mind swirled again, but this time, it was a different kind of a dance, inciting an odd breathlessness. “I once testified in a case where the prosecutor showed a video taken at a Greek wedding”—because the accused had been seen there in the company of the woman he’d eviscerated an hour later, but she didn’t want to focus on the darkness then—“and there was a part where they all threw plates on the floor.”
Max laughed, the lean dimple she so loved coming out of hiding. “You want to throw plates on the floor at our wedding, baby, I’ll buy you a damn crate of them.”
“No.” She wanted to echo his laugh, trace her finger over his lips. “I think I’d like to get married within the walls of the place we decide to call home.”
Max’s expression changed, becoming savagely masculine. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”
With the counteragents acting with remarkable speed, Max intended to take Sophia home later that day so she could heal in privacy, but the M-Psy refused to release her. “Look,” Max finally snapped, his temper hanging on by a thread so thin, it was close to invisible, “she’s got no physical injuries aside from a few cuts and bruises, and the side effects from the drugs are all but gone.” In spite of his wrenching need to hold her, he’d never have suggested taking her home otherwise. “Why does she need to remain here?”
The M-Psy looked at Sophia. “I need to discuss that privately with Ms. Russo.”
“She’s my partner.” Max was going to have trouble leaving Sophie alone for a long time coming. “And she’s already been subject to attack while in a supposedly secure location.”
“Let go of her hand,” the medic said.
Max squeezed Sophia’s fingers. “Are you insane?”
Sophia looked at the M-Psy, then back at Max. “Do it slowly,” she said. “I’ll be able to tell if there’s a problem.”
Protective instincts rebelled. “Sophie.”
“I must know.” Her eyes said far more than her words.
Sweat broke out along his spine as he released his grip until only their fingertips touched—then Sophia broke even that contact. He was ready to clasp her wrist at the first sign of trouble but she stared at him before turning her attention to the M-Psy. “I should be dead. The voices should have crashed into my mind—but I can’t hear even a whisper.” The jagged, splintered thoughts that had stabbed into her mind when she first woke were held far at bay, her mind a clear, pristine pond.
“Exactly.” The M-Psy put down the electronic file in his hand. “According to the records I’ve accessed, your shields were a cause for grave concern—to the point where you were on a rehabilitation watchlist. Yet according to my scans, those shields are now airtight.”
Max sucked in a breath beside her, his tall frame held taut. “Is he right?”
“Take me outside, Max,” she said, curling her fingers into the bed beneath the sheets when they would’ve reached for her cop. “I need to be certain.”
A cool breeze stroked its way across Sophia’s face as Max wheeled her onto the roof of the private hospital. It was tinged with the salt of the sea and the living beat that was the population of this vibrant city. A thousand smells lingered in the air, from the sweetness of cotton candy to the briny tang of fish, to the wild spice of some exotic restaurant. Noises, too, rose up from the ground. The smooth shush of vehicles, the heavy pulse of conversation flowing between thousands of people, the odd siren as emergency vehicles went about their tasks.
“It’s all outside,” she whispered, unable to believe it. Nothing crashed against her skull, or if it did, her shields were so incredibly strong that she didn’t feel even an echo. “Take me farther, Max.”
As he pushed the chair forward, she dared try and manipulate whatever it was that was protecting her, opening the steel walls a mere fraction. Fragments of noise, slivers of thought. She snapped the walls shut. “There’s no question—I have functional shields.” Gripping the chair arms, she rose out of the chair. “Highly functional shields.” Better than she’d ever had, even as a child.