He lifted his eyebrows, and one side of his mouth turned up. I was amusing him, and the realization pissed me off. I glared, and he smiled as he pointed out, “You didn’t answer the question, chicklet.”
“You sure I’m a girl?”
His face broke into a full smile and he asked, “You want me to check?”
No, I most certainly didn’t want him to check, so I changed the conversation. “What do you want from me, Wulff?”
He’d been leaned over me, invading my space and intimidating me, but now he sat up, ran his hand through his hair, and said, “We’ll get to that later. How are your wrists and ankles? Too tight? Or are you okay?”
What the hell? He wanted to make sure I was okay? Well, no way was I going to tell him they didn’t hurt and I was fine. “Yeah, my wrists are going numb, if you wouldn’t mind undoing them.”
He looked at me a second, grinned, and said, “Total lie. You’re fine.”
Was he one of those body-language experts who could tell if people were lying? If so, I needed to work on not giving him any tells because my getting out of this depended in large part on my ability to bullshit him. Usually, I’m way smarter than most people I come into contact with, but this guy… not so much.
“Here’s what’s gonna happen,” he said, no longer smiling. “I’m gonna tell you what I’ve pieced together, and you’re going to fill in the blanks for me.”
I glared at him, and he said, “At twenty-one, you took on a job to hack into a Russian server farm. You didn’t ask a lot of questions back then, but you did enough research to know you were hacking a fairly benign website, so the danger should’ve been low. What you didn’t know, was the website was a front for the Russian Mafia, with a hidden portal for their people to log into.”
My heart sped as a hefty dose of adrenalin dumped into my bloodstream, but I didn’t say yes or no, didn’t give him any indication of whether he was right or not, but he smiled as if I’d confirmed it, and he continued. “The Russians found the guy who paid you, tortured him, and he gave you up. He only knew a few things about you, however — he told them you were a boy, and on the small side, your hacker name was Ice, and he met you in a small diner on the outskirts of Cincinnati.”
No way could he have found any of this out if he wasn’t hired by the Russians, and terror filled my veins as I struggled to breathe enough to keep from passing out. “If you’re going to kill me,” I said, trying not to let him see my fear, “just get it over with.”
He sighed and ran his hands through his hair again, obviously distressed. Maybe he didn’t want to kill a girl? If so, I could use his reticence to help me stay alive. I wondered, though, how he was so sure I was a girl. He’d seen me dressed as a boy more than as a woman, and all my disguises were damned good.
“Let’s sit you up, see if I can make you more comfortable.” He put his hands around my ribcage, pulled me up, leaned me against the headboard, and checked my arms, wrists, and hands.
“What do you want from me?” I asked again.
“I told you, I want answers.”
“What?” I quipped, “You’re going to write my biography? Don’t you want to know about my early childhood? My parents? Siblings?”
“Sure. You talk, I’ll listen.”
I shut up and glared at him, and he grinned and kept going with what he’d discovered. “Since the university in Louisville participated in the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, and is within easy driving distance of Cincinnati, I looked for someone matching your body type who competed. Now that I know you’re a girl, it’s a no-brainer, Lauren.”
My stomach turned over on itself, and if I’d eaten recently, I’d have thrown up. I took a deep breath, trying to control the fight or flight response because I could do neither at the moment. I bent my legs, brought my thighs to my chest, and put my forehead on my knees.
“Hey, I know you prefer Destiny now, or, I assume you do, since it’s on the ID you seem to use the most.” God, his voice sounded as if he was trying to soothe me, and fuck if I was going to fall for the Stockholm Syndrome bullshit. He was my enemy, no matter how nice he wanted to pretend to be. He hadn’t hurt me yet, and I needed to get away before he did.
He stood and paced, his hand going through his hair every few seconds. Finally, he turned to me and said, “Okay, brutal honesty. I need to know who hired you to hack into our servers, and if I have to hurt you to get it out of you, I will, but I hope to god you don’t make me.” He shook his head. “Been a long time since I’ve come up against someone who could give me a run for my money, and it hasn’t happened since I became an adult. You have my respect and admiration, and I have a few things I can offer in exchange for the information I need from you, but… if you don’t take them? I can make you talk.”