Another thump against the glass.

Johnny popped his jaw. “She was hot.”

Typical, but truthful. Good. “And that made who and what she was okay?”

“I didn’t know, damn it! She looked human.”

“And smelled human?” McKell had mentioned a putrid scent.

“Yes, damn it.”

So only McKell could smell the rot radiating off her? Interesting. That put him in a position of power.

“Why’d they send you, anyway?” Johnny demanded. “Everyone knows I had you, and now I’m done with you.”

“That’s what everyone knows, is it?” She didn’t try to mask her sarcasm.

His eyes narrowed a little more, becoming slits, his lashes shielding the emotion in his eyes. “Just ask your questions and get out, Ava.”

Gold star for her. The plan was a success. Only, it wasn’t pride that accompanied the victory. How sad that a once-future agent had been reduced to this. Just get it over with. “After you left the bar, she appeared to you on the street.” A statement, not a question.

He answered, anyway. “Yes.”

“Where’d you guys go?”

“Straight to my apartment.”

“Did you talk along the way?”


“About what?”

A lift of his shoulders, followed by a grimace, as if even so small a movement was torture. “About how much she liked me.”

Ava allowed her doubt to show. “You’re telling the truth? Not exaggerating?”

“No, I’m not exaggerating.” Those lashes parted, and he pinned her with a dark stare. “Some women find me attractive, you know.”

“I know,” she told him softly. She simply wasn’t one of them. “So tell me exactly what she said, what she liked.”

Another shrug, limited because of the restraints and clearly just as painful. “‘Oh, Johnny, you’re so strong. You’re so beautiful.’” The falsetto was mocking, dripping with self-deprecation. “‘I’d love to see your bedroom. I’d love to touch you.’”

Didn’t take much to piece together what had happened next. “You cared only about having sex, not about what kind of person she might be.” Of course.

He nodded, a stiff jerky motion.

“What happened once you got to your bedroom?”

“The talking stopped.”

“Be specific.”

Fury flashed through his expression, and for one second, one priceless second, he resembled the agent she knew and not the sick, dying victim he’d become. “She stripped me, stripped herself, then crawled into bed with me.”

“Did you kiss her?”

Another nod.

“What’d she taste like?”

He laughed, but it was a bitter song, acrid and hate-filled. “What does that matter?”

“We’re trying to figure this woman out. Trying to find ways to identify her, to destroy her. To prevent her from doing this to other people. To save you.” As she spoke, Johnny’s fury and bitterness dulled, softening his features. “Help us. Please.”

Silence. Such heavy silence.

“What if she goes after Jeremy next?” Ava hated herself for playing on what had to be one of his deepest fears, but they were discussing life and death. Victory and defeat. What if the queen went after Noelle? McKell?

Johnny hung his head, staring down at his lap. Another bout of silence stretched between them, and Ava suspected she had failed. She didn’t know what else to say, but she leaned forward and rested her arms on the table, sliding her hands closer and closer to his side.

“Johnny. Please. Why won’t you tell me?”

“I know where you’re headed with this, and it’s humiliating,” he snapped, trying to jerk from her coming touch. His chair moved not an inch.

With a sigh, she settled back in her seat and hooked fallen tendrils of hair behind her ears. “Would you talk to someone else? A man?”

More silence. Heavier. Then, “She tasted like … roses,” he admitted, surprising her. “That’s the only thing I can think to compare it to even though I don’t actually know the taste of roses.”

“And you liked it?”


“Did you … did you taste between her legs?”

“See! I knew you were going there.”

Ava didn’t back down. “Did you?”

“Yes,” he lashed out. “I did.”

Now they were getting somewhere. “What did she taste like there?”

“The same. Roses.”

O-kay. What was so humiliating about that? “Did she come?”

A growl pushed from his lips. “What the hell does that matter?”

Ah. Finally. The reason for his humiliation. No, the queen hadn’t come that way, and Johnny had taken it personally, as if he were lacking. “Thank you for your honesty. Now, afterward, you…?”

“Fucked her. Yes.”

“And did you use a condom?”

“Yes, damn it. I’m not stupid.”

So. Either the disease was stronger than latex, or Johnny had contracted it through unsuccessful o**l s*x. Or maybe both. Maybe he’d been doomed either way. Hell, maybe kissing her on the mouth had sealed his fate. “Did she say anything while you guys were having sex?”

“No. She was a moaner, not a talker.” The fury was returning to his tone, laced with annoyance and sprinkled with something else. Something she couldn’t name.

“Did you see anyone else in your apartment?”

“No. I was kind of busy concentrating. You remember how devoted I was to your body, right? Now, are we done here? Because I’m f**king tired!”

“No, we’re not done. And let’s keep me out of this.” Any moment now, he would kick her out. That much was clear. How many more questions could she get him to answer before that happened? She gentled her tone. “So you guys had sex. Did you notice anything different about her?”

“Like what? Like did she have two vaginas?”

“Did she?”

“No,” he snarled. “She seemed human the entire time.”

One down. Only a thousand more to go. “So when did you realize you were infected?”

“When Mia and Dallas busted down my door last night. I woke up … hungry.” His gaze fell to her chest, where her heart pounded, and he licked his lips. “Yeah. Hungry.”

Ava shifted uncomfortably in her seat, caught herself, and stilled. “Is that hunger the only change you noticed?”