All but the Targon jolted into action, pretending to be too engrossed in counting specks of dirt to listen. The Targon blew him a kiss.
Kitten’s brow furrowed as she ran the image through her mind. “No. I don’t, and no one else has ever mentioned him. Why? Was he the one that . . . that arranged for me to be taken?”
He nodded. To the Targon, he said, “What’s your name?”
“I was tired of referring to you as the Targon, but I think I’ll stick with that.”
“Aw, how cute. You have a crush on me and can’t get me out of your mind. I’d love to say I’m surprised, but I’ll just say I’m not interested and leave it at that, ’k?”
Solo rolled his eyes. Were all Targons as irreverent as this one? “How were you captured?”
Amber eyes lit with amusement. “As if anyone could capture me. I handed myself over.”
“I thought it’d be fun. Turns out, I was right.” But a hard gleam had entered his eyes, draining the amusement.
No, he hadn’t thought it would be fun. That gleam said he was here for a reason. But what? “I don’t believe you.”
“He’s telling the truth,” Kitten said. “I was here when he arrived. Most of the others Jecis brought in himself after someone else brought them in and sold them. From what I’ve been able to gather, that someone has been different each time.”
He wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“So why would this Star person abduct me?” she demanded. A moment later, she added, “Unless . . .”
Solo pounced, insisting, “Unless?”
“I woke up and . . . someone was in my house. Someone I’d hurt a long time ago. After she . . . finished with me, I was drugged and later woke up while some strange guy negotiated my sell to Jecis.”
Details, and he hadn’t had to wait. Details that actually helped him. Michael had mentioned the symbol of revenge, but had assumed it was a means to throw them off. What if Michael had been wrong? What if people . . . what? Took their revenge, then hired Star to do clean up? Or maybe Star actually arranged everything. “Thank you.”
Again, shame colored her cheeks but she nodded. “Which of my coworkers do you know?”
“Dallas.” During their meeting, Michael had only mentioned one name in association with this girl’s unit, and that was it. He only hoped the two knew each other.
She grinned with relish, saying, “Dallas. Things are gonna get ugly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to close my eyes and dream of all the pain he’ll cause.”
As she lay down, he picked up a few of the rocks on his cage floor and tossed them in the air and caught them, tossed and caught. Time to think. To plan.
“Be careful with those.” As beautiful as a spring morning, the Cortaz leaned against the side of her cage. “You might need them later.”
“To hurt Vika?” he found himself snipping.
She flinched at the harshness of his tone. Afraid of him?
She should be.
Steady. Calm. He still blamed her for her too-harsh treatment of Vika, yes, but he also needed her on his side. In a situation like this, allies were important.
“Well, why not?” she said, lifting her chin. “That girl deserves it. And are you really so stupid that you don’t realize we’ve tried every trick possible to bust free of this hellhole? Yet here we stay, and here you’ll stay, too.”
“You’re wrong,” he said. He just needed more time. Soon he would be completely healed from the explosion. Nothing would stop him, then.
“I’ve been here two months. I promise you, I’m not wrong.” She moved her arm through the bars and twisted her hand in the light. “It’s the cuffs. Whatever drugs they’re pumping through our bodies keep us weak, and our superhuman abilities useless.”
He studied the metal circling his own wrists—metal he’d forgotten about in his quest for freedom. He could still feel the thin rods embedded in his bones, screwing with his range of motion, annnd yes, he could feel a slight warmth drip, drip, dripping into his system.
The otherworlders weren’t just drugged for their baths, he realized. They were drugged every minute of every day.
Anger returned, a hot fire in his chest.
Doesn’t matter. You’ll overcome. You always overcome.
A sad, you’ll see smile curved the corners of her lips. “I’m Crissabelle, by the way, but you can call me Criss. Call me Crissy or Belle, and I’ll cut out your tongue.”
He didn’t offer his own name. He wouldn’t. The less these people knew about him, the better. Besides, he’d been named after one of the wisest males ever to live, and yet he’d often acted like the dumbest. Well, not here. Not now. Not anymore.
“Who has the key to the cuffs?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied with an easy shrug. “I’ve never seen it. You’d think Jecis or his spawn would taunt us with it, but no. They never have, and I’m not sure whether that’s been a mercy or a cruelty.”
He dropped the rocks rattling in his palm. Thump, thump, thump. “How were you brought in?”
Fury mixed with regret, flaring in her eyes. “I was out late at night, partying with my friends, and had a little too much to drink. Matas showed up, and somehow talked me into going home with him. I say somehow, because he’s sick and disgusting and I’m not into sick and disgusting. Only, he didn’t take me home. He brought me here.”
Matas again. The name was beginning to bug him.
“So . . . what should I call you?” she asked.
A slow smile bloomed. “No way you’re a Bob.”
The smile grew. “That’s even worse. But go ahead. Keep lying to me, and I’ll start calling you Jolly Red Giant.”
He wouldn’t give her a reaction, he told himself. He wouldn’t rip her head from her body when he escaped, either.
“Has anyone successfully removed their cuffs?” He tucked the fingers of his left hand into the right, and the fingers of his right hand into the left—
“I wouldn’t do that,” Criss rushed out.
—and jerked. Immediately pain exploded through him, sharp, cutting from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. He fell to his side, spiderwebs of black weaving through his vision, colliding with pinpricks of white and forming a dizzying kaleidoscope.