“Fuck,” Noelle breathed.
“Yeah. That’s exactly what he did. Fucked the queen.” Mia pushed out a breath. “Not one of her servants or lackeys or whatever they are, but the queen herself. So his infection has spread quickly, more quickly than any of the other victims. We gave him the last remaining supply of Bride’s blood, and that slowed things down, though we don’t think it’s healed him completely.”
Bile joined denial, but she swallowed them both. Now was not the time to allow either to overtake her. She had to stay strong, and she had to keep her wits. Poor Johnny. She harbored no ill feelings for him, well, no death wish, even though he was a tool for kissing and telling.
“No one here has been able to get any details out of him,” Mia continued. “But you, Ava, once slept with him, so we thought—”
“Accidentally,” Noelle interrupted.
Dallas’s brow furrowed. “Excuse me?”
“I, uh, accidentally slept with him,” Ava explained, cheeks heating as they always did when this subject arose.
A delicate hand punched through the air. “I don’t care if you fell from a ladder and somehow landed on his dick. He has feelings for you, so you’re going to talk to him.”
Not for a second did she think about refusing. If there was anything she could to do help, anything at all, she was going to do it. “What should I ask him?”
“I want details. What did she say to him? How did she f**k him? What position? Did they do anything afterward?”
“Also, ask him if he’s noticed any changes in his body, besides a hunger for human flesh,” Dallas added.
Mia propped her elbows on her desk, pinning Ava with her ice-blue stare. “If you’re scared, we can find someone else. Just say the—”
“I’m not scared,” she growled. A lie. The thought of being in the same room as a person with a highly contagious disease terrified her. What if Johnny spit on her? What if he leapt at her and bit? Would she be infected, too? Would that stop her, though? No. “I’ll do it. Just tell me where is he, and it’s done.”
Dallas nodded in satisfaction, gaze returning to Noelle before again skidding away, as if he didn’t trust himself to prolong even so small a contact. “I’ll lead the way.”
“I’ll come. For moral support,” Noelle said.
A muscle ticked below his eye, but he unfolded from the chair, tall and leanly muscled. A dark avenger. As he strode past Ava and Noelle—both of them had to step to the side to provide a space for him to exit—the door opened. Without missing a beat, he hit the hallway. Reminded her of McKell, when he’d left her apartment. On a mission, determined.
But she wasn’t going to think about him. Or that. Not even to distract herself from the dangerous pool she was about to jump into.
She and Noelle followed Dallas, silent. Along the way, Noelle twined their fingers and squeezed in reassurance, offering comfort.
Thank you, she mouthed.
Noelle nodded, and looked away from Ava as quickly as Dallas had looked away from her. To hide her fear, Ava knew. She gave a squeeze of her own, letting her friend know all would be well. She kept the I hope to herself.
A few twists and turns, agents striding in the opposite direction, and they finally entered the interrogation wing of the building. So soon? she thought, panic suddenly beating hard fists in her lungs.
You can do this. You will do this.
Dallas stopped in front of an unmarked door, then motioned to the entrance next to it with a tilt of his chin. “This one’s ours. That one’s yours.” He opened his own and once again motioned with his chin, to Noelle this time. “Hustle, Tremain.”
Noelle didn’t budge. “Shouldn’t she be wearing protective gear or something?”
“You know that won’t help.”
His eyes, as icy a blue as Mia’s, but somehow warm despite that, met Ava’s. “He’s restrained. You can touch him, even lick him, and you’ll be fine. Just don’t blow him or screw him. That’s when problems arise. So if you don’t think you can resist doing those things …”
“I can resist. Swear to God, I can resist.” Finally, the panic faded.
He nodded his approval. “Tremain. What about that hustle?”
“Good luck. Not that you’ll need it.” Noelle gave her a quick hug before striding past Dallas and into the room.
He followed and shut the door in Ava’s face.
After a deep breath, she pivoted on her heel and approached the second door. Her hand shook as she reached out and flattened her palm on the ID box. Blue lights sparked at her fingers, then traveled to her wrist. Entire process took less than two seconds, but those seconds lasted forever—and yet not long enough.
The door slid open, and she was suddenly peering into a white room that boasted only one frivolity. A mirror. A mirror Dallas and Noelle stood behind. Johnny had been restrained, as promised, his hands cuffed to the arms of his metal chair and his ankles cuffed to its legs. He wouldn’t be able to leap at her, she thought with relief, but he could still spit on her. Bye-bye relief. At least the cold wash of panic remained at bay.
She raised her chin and marched all the way inside. He watched her, silent. She claimed the chair across from him, a table stretching between them, and studied him. Dark half-circles had formed under his eyes, like Mia’s, only bigger, and raw. Lines of tension branched from his mouth, and his skin possessed a sickly yellow tint. His lips were dry and cracked.
“Nothing to say to me?” Even his voice was different. Lower, harder. Frayed at the edges.
Just like that, even her hesitation evaporated. This was Johnny. Eager, if clueless, Johnny. She could handle him. “I’ve got plenty to say, actually. We’ll start with how stupid you were.”
Something thumped against the back of the mirror. Ava imagined Dallas pounding against the shield-armor, wanting to bust his way past the obstruction and slap her for kicking things off with criticism, and Noelle latching onto his forearms and refusing to let go. Dallas probably didn’t conduct his interviews this way, but Ava didn’t care. She had a plan. She was going to irritate Johnny so much he would be willing to answer anything to get rid of her.
She just prayed it worked.
“How could you sleep with her?” she demanded.
His eyes, glassy and blown, narrowed. “Jealous?”
As she’d learned the day after crawling out of his bed, when he cornered her at her desk and told her that he was willing to give her another chance with him, everything began and ended with Johnny’s ego. “Do you want the truth or a lie?”