Reaching forward, he tugged her into his arms, crushing the feminine softness of her to him, burying his face in her hair. “You don’t know what this means.”
Her fingers dug into his back, her emotions as clear as if she’d spoken.
“You do, don’t you?” he whispered against her ear, the scent of her a balm across his ravaged soul. “You know exactly what this means.”
“Family, Max. You’ll have family.” Fierce, hopeful words. “You won’t be alone.” After I’m gone.
Max clenched his hand in her hair, drawing back so he could look down into her face, so he could speak with his lips against hers. “We,” he said. “We’ll have family.”
Her eyes filled with light, with untrammeled happiness. “Max.” She pressed a kiss to his jaw just as his cell phone began beeping.
It was Bart. “Bonner’s escaped.”
“How is that even possible?” Sophia stared at Max when he shut off the phone and told her what had happened. The prison was underground, all access points securely guarded. Even the emergency exits were set with pressure-sensitive alarms that would activate upon perceiving anything bigger than a field mouse.
Max’s anger was a cold, hard thing. “He had an ‘accident, ’ had to be taken to the medical bay. From the sound of it, he’d been working on the doctor for months. He must’ve convinced her he was innocent.”
“Even so”—Sophia couldn’t imagine the sly evil that was Bonner back out on the streets—“the doctor couldn’t have had the necessary clearance to get him out.”
“But she had access to tranquilizers—she took out the warden, then ransacked his office for the override keys.” Max clenched his jaw so tight, he could hear his bones grind against each other. “Manhunt’s in progress and they’re fairly certain he’s driving the doctor’s car.”
Sophia sat down on the arm of the sofa, her fingers digging into the fabric. “And the doctor?”
“If she’s lucky,” Max said flatly, “she’s already dead. If she’s not . . .” He knew Sophia understood better than anyone what Bonner was capable of, the pain that would be the doctor’s reward for being foolish enough to believe in a sociopath.
A quiet nod. “Do you need to join the manhunt team?”
“I can liaise with them from here.” Bonner was not going to f**king steal Max’s time with Sophia. And—“They have the numbers on the ground.” The team was huge and growing bigger by the hour. “What they need me to do is predict where Bonner might go, update the search grid as we get sightings.” The first thing that had come into Max’s mind had been Bonner’s twisted interest in Sophia. “Sophie, there’s a chance he’ll head to you.”
Sophia swallowed, nodded. “I’ll be with you the majority of the time, and when I’m not, I’ll be in secure buildings. I’ll take one of the security officers with me if I need to go out on my own.”
He loved her for not making him fight to protect her. “Right now, he’s on the ground, so there’s not much danger.” But if he managed to get on a flight . . . “I’ll alert Enforcement here, let DarkRiver know so their network can keep an eye out.”
“Why is Enforcement having such trouble tracking him? Wasn’t be embedded?” Sophia asked, referring to the transmitter all violent offenders had placed under their skin for the duration of their sentence.
“He managed to disable it soon after his escape—most likely possibility is that the doctor dug it out for him.”
Sophia took a deep, trembling breath. “Will she—the doctor . . . satisfy him for a period?”
Max’s stomach turned. “He’s been behind bars long enough to have built up his needs.” Refined his perversions.
“What can I do to assist?”
He didn’t want her anywhere near Bonner’s evil—she’d walked into the void enough for ten lifetimes. “Take another look at Quentin Gareth—I have this gut feeling there’s something we’ve missed. Especially with Tulane out of the running.” He told her what he’d discovered at Amberleigh Bouvier’s house.
“Interesting—the dynamics of Nikita’s workforce.” A reflective statement. “I’ll look at Gareth’s file now.”
As she did so, he hunkered down to cross-reference the location of the D2 penitentiary with Bonner’s known bolt-holes, sending the list to the manhunt team as soon as it was in any kind of shape. “He’s smart,” Max told the team over the comm line that he’d secured, after discussing the possibility that Bonner might try to get to Sophia, so that they could put alerts on the relevant routes. “I don’t think he’ll go anywhere near his old hidey-holes.” But the team would still have to check each and every one, just in case. “I’ve also sent you some properties I know were his, but that I couldn’t ever legally link to him—those were never in the police files, so he didn’t have a right to see them during the trial.”
“Fuck it, Max—why can’t he just die and do us all a favor?” The lead on the team, a man who was legendary for never losing his cool, broke for a second before taking a calming breath. “We’re sure the doctor’s already dead—dogs led us to a patch of forest not far from D2. Lot of blood.
“Some of it was Bonner’s—they cut out the transmitter there. From the high-velocity spray, he thanked the doctor for her help by slitting her throat. He’s never been this impatient before—we didn’t even have a chance to save her.”