“You don’t have to decide that right now.” Faith frowned over her carry cup of coffee, the scent luscious enough to make Sahara question her own dislike of the bitter liquid. “If anyone’s earned downtime, it’s you.”
“That’s what I thought”—Sahara made a face—“but that’s not my personality.” It never had been.
“Now that I’m healthier, my brain’s going a hundred miles an hour.” She’d already inhaled multiple textbooks on her favorite subjects.
Mercy grinned. “Leopards, as they say, don’t change their spots.”
After the laughter, they spoke of her options, whether she might want to go back to school or if she’d prefer to do something less academic for a while. It was a valuable conversation, one that gave her plenty of food for thought.
“I was worried I’d be overwhelmed,” she confessed upon arriving in the busy city by the water that was San Francisco, “but I love the noise and the color and the people!”
It was a couple of hours later, as they were walking into a small Italian restaurant for lunch—after stashing their shopping in the SUV—that three things happened in quick succession. Someone shot at Faith and missed, the bullet smashing a window; Mercy spun to cover Faith with predatory grace while yelling at Sahara to duck; and bony hands gripped Sahara around her upper arms.
Then the restaurant was gone, and she was in what appeared to be a small, empty warehouse, dust motes dancing in the streaks of sunlight slanting through the old wooden boards that made up the walls.
“I assume you’re after the bounty?” she said in a calm tone in spite of her racing heart, stifling her first instinct—which was to call Kaleb. Since she wasn’t dead or bleeding, it meant the man behind her, his gloved hands already off her skin, wanted her alive, so there was a chance she could defuse the situation without violence.
The kidnapper shifted to face Sahara. He was thin and relatively short, only two or three inches above her in height, but he not only moved with an economy that shouted skill, he had a gleaming black laser pistol in his hand. “The bounty is gone,” she said at his continued silence, her own gun snug in the ankle holster covered by her jeans.
“I have a private client.” Curt words that added to the impression of a honed professional. “As long as you cooperate, I have no intention of causing you bodily harm.”
Glancing around the warehouse, she spotted an overturned crate a meter away. “May I sit?”
A brisk nod as, keeping her in his line of sight, he moved to a paper – thin portable computer set up on what appeared to be a cheap card table.
“Are you checking to see if your client has wired the payment?”
No answer. But while he believed her docile and resigned to her fate, Sahara watched him. It soon became apparent that he was moving with a deliberate care she hadn’t noticed at first glance. The man was weak, close to his limit—either he’d teleported her to a location far outside his range, or he’d had to ’port several times in close succession in order to pull off the shot at Faith followed by the grab.
“How,” she said, working through her options, “did you locate me?”
“That knowledge can’t assist you now.”
“I’d like to know where my security failed.” True, except she didn’t need him to tell her. “An intellectual exercise.”
A slight pause before, surprisingly, he gave her an answer. “According to my employer, it was certain NightStar would put you in a secure location. There was only an outside chance you’d be with your cousin, but I decided it merited forty-eight hours of my time. Since DarkRiver’s territory is large, I determined to surveil the parking lot of the pack’s city HQ with the intention of tailing Faith.”
Chance, Sahara thought, was a tricky beast. “Luck is certainly on your side today.” Rising, she took a few slow steps toward him, aware of his eyes tracking her every move, his fingers curved around the gun at his side. “May I?” she said and nodded at the water bottle beside the computer.
“Here.” He handed it to her, confident of the protection afforded by his gloves.
That was his mistake and part of what made Sahara so dangerous.
A split second after her fingers brushed his, the kidnapper handed her his gun, his eyes blurry with confusion. “What am I doing here?”
“You got lost.” Weaving a new memory for him, she sent him to sleep on the floor. When he woke, it would be with a recollection of an altercation that required he lie low for a week.
Sahara hated the idea of violating anyone’s mind, but this bounty hunter had lost the protection offered by her abhorrence for mental invasion when he decided to abduct her. Slipping in and out of his mind as if it were her own, she logged on to his computer using his password and erased everything that referenced the deal, whether in his e-mail or in his bank accounts. It helped that he was organized, his mind filing the data about her in a discrete section, but it still took time.
Rather than attempting to overwrite the hard drive, she decided to take the computer with her. That meant another memory insertion where the kidnapper’s phantom opponent in this altercation threw the small backpack containing his computer under a passing truck, the pieces that remained fit only for the recycler.
Kaleb, she said afterward, conscious it was past midnight in Moscow. Are you awake?
Yes. What do you need?
For you not to kill someone.
He appeared beside her a second later, taking in the situation with a single glance. “Why shouldn’t I kill him?” An ice-cold question.