Automatically, her gaze lowered. Her eyes widened as she scanned the contests. Medical records, photos. “A man was infected with the virus?”
“Yes. I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t ovulating.”
The man in question had gray-tinted skin with patches of black. Rot, she guessed, as his body was slowly dying. His eyes were sunken, his pale hair falling out in chunks. He’d probably been a strong man once. He possessed big bones that were capable of holding large amounts of muscle mass. Now he looked emaciated.
Thirty-six. Married. Two children, ages nine and five.
“Where is he now?” she asked.
“He’s being held and isolated at K. Parton Laboratories.”
The very lab she’d just vacated. “Alive or dead?”
“To your knowledge, did he have contact with the Schön or any of the infected women?”
“We don’t know. We haven’t been able to connect him with either and we haven’t been able to get any answers out of him.” Anger laced Estap’s tone. He was not used to failure.
Why did he want the information so badly? He had no interest in saving human lives, of that she was certain. She could think of only three things that did interest him: money, power, and control. What did he plan to do with the Schön?
“Have you considered allowing the A.I.R. agent to talk to the man? His file lauds his ability to gain answers.”
“Yes, we’ve considered it,” was the only reply.
Which told her nothing, but she did not press the issue. “You should bring in all of the people the victim has been in contact with. Perhaps one of them managed to pass the virus to him.”
“He’s g*y. Like I said, though, we can’t connect him with the Schön or the female victims. That doesn’t mean he didn’t get it from one of them, it just means we can’t rule out other means.”
She rolled that through her mind. “Okay, so. There’s a chance he had sexual intercourse with one of the Schön, thereby passing the virus onto him. Which would mean that fertility isn’t an issue. That doesn’t mean Nolan will be attracted to me or even want me.”
“No, it doesn’t. However, because Nolan expressed remorse about the deaths of those women, we think that if you inform him that he can screw you without having to worry about killing you, he might be more inclined to accept you.”
Her stomach twisted. No. No! Don’t say a word. “Is that my mission or do you want me to bring him in?”
Estap shrugged. “Your ultimate goal is to discover the location of his so-called brethren. However necessary. If you do, you are to kill as many as possible. If you can’t, you are to bring Nolan in.”
Sweat trickled down her back. “Bringing him in might prove impossible. The man can disappear at will.”
“As to that.” Estap punched in a code at the left side of his desk and the top right drawer opened. He withdrew a thick, dull necklace. The links appeared stiff and unbendable, leaving no gaps. “This should help.”
Estap held out his hand and she claimed the necklace. Heavy, unbendable, as she’d thought. Warm. “Where did you get it?”
“I have connections. A.I.R. doesn’t even have one of those, as it’s still in the experimental stages.”
What the hell was inside it, then? “Am I supposed to wear it?”
“No. You’re supposed to collar him. We’re hoping that the electromagnetic pulses from the metal will keep his body from dematerializing.”
Ah. She nodded in understanding and placed the necklace on top of the folder. Sometimes the only way to distract or relax a man enough, or to even get close enough to him, was to get naked with him. Just like Estap wanted.
If she slept with another man, she would lose Jaxon forever.
You’ve already lost him.
Logically, she knew that. But hope was a silly thing, just as she’d always known, and she didn’t want to completely destroy the dream that maybe, one day, she and Jaxon could be together again. Would be together. That hope could only lead to disappointment, but she had no other reason to get herself out of bed each day.
“What kind of time frame am I operating under?” she asked.
“Everything needs to be done yesterday.”
“Understood.” One day I’m going to cut out your heart. The thought swam through her mind, and she nearly grinned.
His lips thinned into a grim line. “Do not disappointment me this time, Le’Ace.”
An underlying threat of punishment hung in the air. As if she didn’t know. As if she didn’t live with the knowledge on a daily basis. “I won’t.” After I cut out your heart, I’ll cleave the head from your body.
Estap’s phone buzzed, disrupting the uneasy silence that had developed between them.
Frowning, he glanced at the number and waved his fingers at the door.
She was dismissed. You’re going to die begging for the final blow.
The phone buzzed again as she stood. Like this, she was at eye-level with all the plaques and photos adorning his walls. He’d attended private school and an Ivy League college. He’d been military, considered a brave solider and natural leader.
No one else knew what lurked underneath his confident, affable persona. To him, she was nothing, a fly. A rug to wipe his feet upon.
The phone buzzed again.
She hadn’t moved, she realized. What was wrong with her lately? Never before had she withdrawn into her mind so much, losing touch with her surroundings. She turned on her heel.
There were two exits in Estap’s office. One led to the lobby and his administrative assistant, aka current lover. The other led down a private corridor, hiding those who passed through from prying eyes.
As always, she took the private exit.
“Senator Estap,” she heard, and then his voice faded completely.
The hallway was empty, silver, and narrow, and her footsteps echoed a kind of drumbeat of doom. Jaxon would be searching for Nolan, too. They might even cross paths like she craved. Could she handle it?
Bigger question: what would she be doing if—when—he showed up?
Three days later
The plan to capture Nolan was finally in motion.
Jaxon sat in the corner of a bustling restaurant, shadowed by faux green plants and the constantly opening and closing kitchen door. Waiters and waitresses buzzed back and forth. Chattering voices echoed, melding into one loud tolling bell. Murky light flickered from candles, and those candles seemed to be the spacious building’s only source of illumination.