The leopard shot her a quick glance.
“They would’ve hurt you, too.” How dare they!
Lucas took her hand, brought it to her lips. “The pack would’ve never let that happen.”
The cunning way her leopard had turned her words back on her when it suited him thrust past the anger to leave only a deep need to touch, to love, to cherish. “Take me home, Lucas.”
Max called Lucas the instant they landed. “She’s safe?”
“We’re both fine—you the reason Nikita knew?”
“Sophie managed to pass on a message through the PsyNet.”
“Clay and Dorian have some intel out at our HQ that you should see—probably shouldn’t come over the comm lines.” A long, indrawn breath. “And, Cop—thanks.”
Hanging up, Max nodded to Sophie. “She’s fine. And we might have a lead.” He waited only until they were inside the car before reaching over to close his hand over her thigh, his palm separated from her skin by nothing but the material of her skirt. He understood exactly how feral the DarkRiver alpha was feeling at that moment. If Faith hadn’t warned them about the bomb . . . “I want to strip you to the skin and drive into you until we both scream.”
It took him three minutes of teeth-gritting control before he could begin driving. Neither of them said another word until they walked into the DarkRiver building. Clay met them in the lobby and led them upstairs to a meeting room, where Dorian was waiting.
The sentinel with his blue-eyed, blond good looks raised a hand. “Here’s the lowdown—the assassin I found ate some kind of a f**king suicide tablet. I haven’t seen anything like it outside of historical dramas.”
“I worked a case where a small cult committed suicide en masse,” Max said, his mind cascading with bleak images of small bodies curled up beside larger ones that should’ve protected, not harmed. “They used a wine laced with poison.”
“It speaks of fanatical devotion,” his J said, “rather than professionalism.”
“But he was a professional, too.” Dorian showed them some images on the comm screen. “His gear, the way he’d been waiting there long enough to have left DNA behind, if you know what I mean—the man knew what he was doing.”
“Where’s the body?”
Clay was the one who responded. “Enforcement morgue.”
“And the other one?” Max asked.
The sentinel looked disgusted. “He figured out we were on to him and rabbited. I had to bring him down in a public area—Enforcement was there within a minute. He’s sitting in a cell not talking right now. No doubt he’s Psy.”
“There’s something else.” Dorian picked up what looked like a business card off the table. “This was left behind in the room where the second sniper was hiding.”
“That’s evidence.” Max scowled. “You’ve f**king contaminated the hell out of it.”
“Trust me,” Dorian said, “you don’t want that in the system. And we processed it.”
Max glanced down to see that the card carried a single line of text—what looked like a comm code. Turning it over, he read the handwritten note: Sascha, DR HQ
“I recognize that code,” Sophia said in a quiet voice. “It’s Councilor Duncan’s private line.”
“Very well guarded,” Dorian said. “And available only to a select few.”
Max shook his head. “Nikita isn’t behind this. And the handwriting—the time’s missing.”
Sophia took it from his hand. “They were going to insert that once they’d hit Sascha, make it seem as if Nikita had given them the location and time.” She placed the card back on the table. “But the fact that they have this number further implicates someone in Nikita’s inner circle.”
“Another Councilor would also have it—or be able to get it,” Max said, eyes narrowed. “No question that Nikita has a mole inside her organization, but there’s a much larger power behind this.”
“I’ve already got our informants on alert for anything that might be related.” Clay said with a tightly held fury. “You need us, we’re there.”
Max tapped the card. “What did you find?”
Dorian’s scowl did nothing to lessen the sheer beauty of his face. “Only usable print was—surprise, surprise—Nikita’s.”
“They really thought you were going to fall for that?” Max had seen the way the cats operated—they were highly intelligent predators.
Dorian’s mouth went grim. “If they’d succeeded in hurting Sascha, we wouldn’t have been thinking too straight. The leopard would’ve gone for blood.”
And, Sophia realized with a chill in her heart, the ensuing carnage would have begun a war.
Nikita thought long and hard about her next move, considered, too, what it might betray. Nothing. If she was careful.
Picking up her cell phone, she input a code.
Anthony Kyriakus answered after a few seconds. “Nikita, this is unexpected.”
Yes, Nikita thought, it was. Though they occupied the same basic area of the state, their paths rarely collided. The NightStar empire was built around the foreseeing abilities so prevalent in their genetic line, while Nikita’s own company had a much more prosaic base in housing and design. But—“We do have certain commonalities.”
A pause. “Is this a Council matter?”
“No.” That left them with only one common thread, a thread they’d never before discussed. “Sascha was targeted by my enemies today. You may wish to ensure Faith’s safety.”