“—but Bonner will see only Ms. Russo.”
The scrape of a chair.
“I’ll move a little,” Max said, “make sure I’m out of the shot.”
“You good, Sophie?”
Sophie. Tenderness in the way he said that name, making it something special between them, a gift.
“Yes.” She held his gift tight to her heart.
“Instant you want out—”
“—say the word.”
Reuben’s face disappeared, to be replaced by the gilded blond looks of a killer so vicious, the tabloids had fought to tell his story. He was a megastar in the shadowy underworld of serial-killer groupies, his “authorized biography” read with religious fervor. She wondered how many of his fans realized the book was mostly fiction.
Bonner was incapable of truth.
“Ms. Russo.” That charming smile, but there was an edge to it. “I was so looking forward to seeing you in person.”
“That would have been an inefficient use of my time,” she replied, keeping her hands loosely in her lap.
“But how will you take my memories if you aren’t nearby?” A slow raising of his shoulders. “I’m afraid my mind isn’t cooperating with my need to share.” Deep blue eyes filled with rueful laughter, the charming apology of a man who’d done something a little naughty.
It would, Sophia thought, be so easy to kill him. She’d just have to be in the general vicinity. Her telepathic reach was long enough—she could make him suffocate himself with a pillow, maybe beat his skull against a wall until pieces of bone pierced his brain. The terror would make him mindless.
A tap on the table to her left.
Max. The reminder of the gift she’d been handed, the gift she was determined not to lose, made her snap back to attention, the otherness retreating in the face of her resolve. “The prison officials stated that you’d remembered a place we’d be very interested to learn about.”
Bonner displayed his teeth in a smile that could’ve graced a toothpaste commercial. But his eyes. Reptilian eyes. She’d seen eyes like that before—on the powerful in the Net, men and women for whom the sanctity of life meant less than nothing.
The man who’d done her last childhood evaluation—making the final call on whether she was useful enough to be saved or should be put down—had had eyes like the Butcher of Park Avenue. “Mr. Bonner?” she prompted when the killer didn’t reply.
“The memory seems to have faded away.” A disappointed sigh. “I know it had something to do with trees, but . . .” Another shrug. “Maybe if you came here, used your abilities to jog my recall . . .”
“It seems even this was a waste of time.” Glancing to her left, she gave a curt nod. “Cut the connection.”
Bonner’s face twisted to reveal the monster within for one violent second. “Ms. Russo, I don’t think you realiz—” The empty slate of a blank screen.
“I want to kill him with my bare hands,” Max said in a voice so calm it made every single hair on the back of her neck rise in warning. “It’s not a need for justice or anything pure. I want vengeance. I want him to suffer as those women—those girls—suffered.”
“We all have the capacity to kill,” Sophia said, telling herself to stop, but unable to keep quiet—she needed to know what he thought of the broken part of her that knew only the most lethal kind of justice. If he was going to reject her, better that it be now, when she’d only touched the wild heat of him once, when she’d just begun to learn him . . . when she might survive the denunciation. “The lines are simply different for everyone.”
Max’s eyes met hers, piercing in their intensity. “And yours involve children. Sometimes women, but most often, children.”
Sophia swallowed, uncertain how to answer, uncertain how to read his answer.
Bartholomew Reuben’s face reappeared on the comm screen at that moment. “He’s pissed. Never saw that ugly face of his until today.”
“Not even at trial?” Sophia asked, her confused terror translating into a rigid composure.
“Cool as a cucumber, that one,” Reuben said. “Smiled at the jurors, flirted with the gallery. If we hadn’t had airtight evidence, he might well have charmed himself out of a conviction.” A small pause. “Please be careful, Ms. Russo. Bonner is under constant supervision, but he does have rabid fans. If he manages to get out a message to one of them, you could be in danger.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Reuben.” Sophia took the small, folded note Max passed her under the table. “Right now, he needs me alive. He wants to awe me with his brilliance.” After that . . .
Max felt his gut grow painfully tight as he thought back to the expression on Sophia’s face before Bart signed off. He’d known exactly what she was considering, his complex, dangerous J, knew, too, that he couldn’t let her do it. But they were geographically far enough from Bonner right now that Sophia’s tendency to hurt nasty people in creative ways was something he had time to deal with.
He knew it wouldn’t be easy. Not when her actions—and the crimes of those she’d punished in that peculiarly J way—all added up to a past that spoke of a brutal kind of hurt. Those scars, he thought, were invisible. But they were far more important than the thin lines that marked her face.
“Max,” she muttered under her breath as they headed up to Nikita’s office.