He knew why she was giving him that perplexed look—and it soothed him to know the ploy had worked, drawing her back from the edge of the void. “Hmm?”
“You can’t write me notes like that.” It was a hissed order as the elevator doors opened on the correct level. “What if someone had seen?”
Max shot her an innocent look. “I just asked a simple question.”
“What do you think of boardroom sex?” A raised eyebrow. “That is not—”
“Well, since you asked,” he interrupted, walking into the outer section of Nikita’s office, “I vote in favor.”
At that moment, his entire being filled with the sensual delight that came from teasing Sophia, Max had no idea of the bloody consequences that would result from this meeting.
Some women are not meant to be mothers.
—From the private case notes of Detective Max Shannon
Councilor Nikita Duncan, he thought as they entered her private office, was a beautiful woman. If you liked beauty cut in ice. Perfect. Distant. Cold. According to public records, she was part Japanese, part Russian. That explained the combination of high cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes, above-average height. She’d passed on the height to her daughter, but from the images Max had seen, Sascha’s black hair curled rather than ran a slick dark rain, her skin a warm golden brown to Nikita’s flawless ivory.
“Detective Shannon, Ms. Russo.” She gestured for them to take the chairs in front of her desk.
“Actually, Councilor,” Max said, “I think better on my feet.” Walking to the huge plate-glass window that was the back wall of her office, he looked down into the active buzz of San Francisco and played a hunch. “I need you to share the information you’ve withheld.”
He felt Sophia’s eyes on his back, and had it been any other woman, he’d have been prepared to get a royal reaming later on for springing this on her. But Sophia was unlike anyone he’d ever before met. He had no idea how she’d react—and that both delighted him and frustrated him.
“It would,” Nikita answered, “be illogical of me to conceal information when I’m the one who requested this investigation.”
Max turned enough that he could meet those cool brown eyes. “Three deaths—one car accident that you weren’t sure was suspicious, one suicide that could’ve been caused by mental illness, one heart attack—that’s not enough for you to pull in an outsider.” A human.
Nikita stared at him, a lethal adversary for all that she wore a crisp skirt and shirt, her makeup professional, her hair perfect. “It’s gratifying,” she said into the silence, “to know that you have the intelligence to get this task done.” With that, she tapped something on her desk—Max guessed she’d activated some kind of an aural shield as a defense against high-tech spies. “There was an attempt on my life approximately four months ago.”
“I heard rumors. Something to do with the Human Alliance?” he said, referring to the most powerful human organization on the planet. On the surface, it was all about business, but word was, the Alliance had a strong paramilitary arm.
Nikita gave a regal nod in response to his question. “They placed an explosive device in the elevator I use to access this office and my penthouse, their apparent plan being to detonate the charge while I was inside.”
“They hooked into your surveillance system?” Max asked, supremely conscious of Sophia’s silent presence, though his eyes remained on Nikita.
“Yes.” Nikita rose from her chair and, using a thin silver remote, activated a comm panel on what had appeared to be a blank wall.
The boy in Max was intrigued enough to have him walking over. “This isn’t on the market yet.”
“I purchased a small company last year—their engineers are brilliant, but it’s the designers who have proven truly exceptional.”
Another click in the back of his mind, another piece of the puzzle coming into view. “A human company?” He caught a hint of vanilla and lavender as Sophia moved to stand on Nikita’s other side, and the scent was a slow stroke across his senses, a sensual reminder that his body had chosen this woman and had no intention of changing its mind.
“Yes,” Nikita said. Then, using the command pad on the side of the screen, she brought up a three-dimensional model of the Duncan high-rise, drilling down until they were staring at a cross section of the relevant elevator shaft. “Access to this elevator is difficult but not impossible. However, access to the shaft itself is strictly controlled—computronic security, twenty-four-hour surveillance.”
“Emergency hatch in the elevator?” Max asked.
“Sounds an immediate alarm if it’s so much as touched.”
Max understood the import of her statement when she used a red X to mark the place where the charge had been laid.
Above the elevator.
Mind beginning to hum with the exhilaration that came from knowing a case was starting to take shape, he tapped the screen, rotating the image until he could’ve drawn it from memory. “Someone inside had to have either greased the wheels for the saboteurs or done the job himself.” And the two, he thought, weren’t necessarily connected. A smart man might’ve become aware of the Alliance’s plans, used them to further his own agenda. “Surveillance footage?”
“By the time I realized the significance of where the charge had been placed, that footage was gone, erased.”
Sophia stirred, bringing up something on her organizer. “The list of those with the security clearance to successfully execute such an erasure is very short and includes every individual in your inner circle.”