San Francisco, USA – Wednesday, the 13th of June 2012. 11:38 AM.
After the brief phone chat with their boss Mr. Turner, Chris gathered the team in their community living room. It didn’t take much to convince them some brainstorming was in order. Seeing as they were confined to their headquarters for security reasons, none of them had made any great plans for the day.
As usual, Peter claimed the big bean bag and stretched out comfortably on it. Nora settled on the couch across from the huge wall-mounted flat screen TV, leaving the old armchair with its knitted patchwork covering to Chris.
For the purpose of their first team meeting, Chris decided to change the seating arrangements and pulled the armchair away from the couch until the Wardens were sitting in a circle. Even then, it took some effort to see all of Peter. His head just barely poked over the edge of the small coffee table that now was at the center of their arranged circle.
“Hey,” Peter said, meeting Chris’s eyes for a moment. “I don’t mind team meetings and stuff, we should do that more often. But you called it, so… does that make you the new leader?”
“I guess maybe that’s the case,” Chris replied. “Unless anyone else is volunteering?”
No one spoke up. The lack of enthusiasm for that kind of responsibility was almost palpable. They all know that in the eyes of the higher-ups, they’d still just be a bunch of teenagers with superpowers, and the leader vote wasn’t likely to convince anyone they could make decisions for themselves. Their team leader would be considered a class representative at best.
But they needed someone to make plans and coordinate their efforts. Peter was too focused on girls and fame to be the right man for the job, and Nora was way less confident than her tough girl act implied.
“No one’s volunteering? Figured,” Chris said. “I don’t see one of you guys doing it, either. No offense.”
“It’s cool with me,” Peter said, lifting a hand over the edge of the table to signal his acknowledgement.
“Just don’t cha boss us around,” Nora said. “But I don’t think you’re gonna do that. You hate bossy people.” She caught one of her wet black tresses and pushed it back into the towel she’d wrapped about her head.
“Right. Anyway. I just finished watching that Liverpool villain broadcast some more,” Chris continued. “And I had an idea. It’s kind of risky, but if we want to wait for anything official, we’ll be waiting a long time.” She shifted to take some strain off her pressure-bandaged ankle, stretching her leg off the couch. It barely hurt if she ignored it hard enough.
“It did sound like we’ll be able to get out of headquarters again soon,” Peter said. “Without costumes, even. I’m really looking forward to it – I’m starting to feel claustrophobic in here.”
“I was talking about going out to do stuff, not to watch movies or eat burgers. You know, try to be heroes and all that?” Chris said, doing her best to conjure up that smile everyone had been so happy about the night before. Leaders that came across as condescending jerks didn’t stay in charge for long, at least not the ones who’d been elected by popular vote.
“Maybe we should wait until you’ve fully recovered,” Peter suggested. “Especially if your idea is as risky and stupid as charging blindly into Mirage was. Hey, don’t give me that look. It worked, but come on… it wasn’t the smartest thing you ever did.”
“Guess not,” Chris admitted. “But we already got a new 9/11 with superpowers. If we just sit around and watch, what’s next? The only reason we never had many villains is because everyone who tried got their butts kicked by the Covenant before they could do much harm. Now the bad guys are starting to figure out that they can blow up New York and get away with it. If we don’t do anything about it, it’s just going to get worse.”
Chris pulled her cellphone from the pocket of her hoodie and flipped it open to check for new messages; hopefully the others would use the opportunity to mull over what she’d just said. She herself had already spent the last hour or two to consider the next steps for herself and her team, and Nora and Peter needed to understand why they had to move forward as a team.
While she sat there with her phone in hand and nothing to distract her from the depths of her own mind, her thoughts wandered back to Ryan in the stadium. To the people she’d seen with kids on their shoulders, to her former boxing coach and the soccer friends she’d left behind in Averton. To her mom’s strained voice on the phone, and how it had struggled with unshed tears.
Be a good girl, Christina.
Chris stared at her cell phone for a couple of seconds, forcing her mind back to the here and now. There were no new messages. Come on, Radiant. She drew in a breath to infuse herself with oxygen and optimism. I’d feel much better about this if I knew you’re still one of the good guys.
“Alright, I got it,” Nora said, breaking the momentary silence. ”We’re heroes and we gotta do something. Your ideas aren’t usually shit, so I’m listening.”
“You haven’t actually told us what the idea is,” Peter said from his beanbag, lazily waving a hand as if to conjure up the explanation he was waiting for. “Does it have something to do with that villain broadcast? I watched the whole thing too. It was kind of confusing, really. Not what I’d expect from a bunch of villains hijacking a live show to send a message.”
“Me neither,” Chris said. She tucked the phone away, pondering how to outline her plan in a way that didn’t sound retarded and suicidal. She’d never been very good at explaining things, and right that moment, she was very aware of Nora’s dark eyes that were watching her expectantly. Even Peter had made the effort to actually sit up in order to do the same.
“Okay,” Chris began. “The woman in the video didn’t give me a very villainous impression, but I guess it’s possible she was mind controlled by someone else – probably not Legion, though. As far as we know, he hasn’t been active in Europe.”
“What if he is, and no one has bothered telling us?“ Peter objected.
“I asked Athena in a text message, and she said no,“ Chris replied. “I’m pretty sure she would have told me.“
“Fair enough,“ Peter said.
“Back to that broadcast. The woman – Tess – belongs to a group that can mask their presence and suppress or manipulate sound. It’s one of the few facts about the studio assault that were made public. I did a check on her and she went off grid a couple months back, as did Dancer and DJ, who are believed to be part of the same group.“
Peter perked up at that. “Dancer is with those guys? Really?” He looked as if he wanted to challenge that notion, but after a long look at Chris’s face, he deflated and sank back onto his beanie bag.
“According to Athena, it’s very likely,“ Chris said.
“Dancer. That’s got to be the dumbest villain name ever,“ Nora scoffed.
“You mean like Noire?“ Peter shot back.
Nora gave him the finger, failing to look terribly offended.
“Guys, can we focus for a minute? This is important,“ Chris reminded them. Once she was reasonably sure that she had their attention, she went on. “Interesting fact – Gentleman and Data also went off grid, but more than just a couple of months ago. What if they formed a new group of Evolved that works for the Conglomerate and gets around unnoticed? Maybe Gentleman somehow covers all of them, using the same power that prevented Queenie from tracking him.”
“It’s kind of weird that so many witnesses are under NDA,” Peter suggested. If the Antithesis was involved in Liverpool, that would explain why.”
“NDA? There’s ‘Antithesis in Liverpool’ rumors all over the internet,” Nora said.
“Yeah, not sure about the reason for that,” Chris admitted. “Maybe it’s nothing and someone’s just being an ass. The source hasn’t been tracked down, far as I know.”
“No way Dancer is the Antithesis,” Peter protested. “I talked to that girl. She really wants to be a heroine.”
She did transition the day Shanti died, though. And she’s not a healer. Considering Peter’s overly emotional reaction, Chris decided to keep that thought to herself for now.
Nora rolled her eyes without comment.
Chris continued, trying to piece everything together in a way that made sense. “We can’t do anything about these guys – let’s call them the Liverpool group for now. They’re on the other side of the Atlantic. But the kidnapping in Liverpool must have been orchestrated. I mean, Raven’s gang could have taken the UN guy anytime, why did they do it in the middle of a live broadcast? When all those guards and cameras were present? I think someone planned this. Athena told me that Mirage, One Fell Swoop and the Vortex guy were bought by someone, too. One Fell Swoop didn’t know or say by who, but I’d like to find out.”
“You got an idea how to do that?” Nora asked, peering at the crutch Chris had laid across the couch to keep it within easy reach.
I’m not a cripple.
“Maybe,” Chris said. She picked the crutch up and lowered it to the floor. It was still visible there, but less prevalent. “I know one villain. He tried to recruit me a few weeks ago, and he said something like this was going to happen. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was about the heroes losing control in the near future.”
“So you think this was planned long in advance?” Peter asked skeptically. “Even what happened to Saint? If Saint hadn’t gone insane, the Covenant would still be as strong as ever. And what happened to him was some messed up shit. I don’t think anyone could plan that.”
“He’s got a point,” Nora agreed. “Don’t think Legion was part of anyone’s plan.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m bullshitting. But I’m sure Gentleman knows something, and he’s the only option. I think he’ll talk to me without trying to kill me. His toy robot never tried to blow me up until I attacked it.”
“You’re right, looking for Gentleman is a stupid idea. He’s off grid, man. Not even the Covenant can track him.” Peter glanced over to Nora as if beseeching her to agree with him, his youthful face scrunched up in disapproval.
Nora didn’t display any optimism, either; her dark eyes were glowering at Chris. “I get a say in this, too. It’s not just your plan, we’re kinda chained together, right? Any shit you put up with is mah shit.”
“Besides, how the hell would you contact him? Did he leave his phone number?” Peter cut in before Chris could open her mouth and elaborate. This isn’t going well, she realized. They’re probably right.
“I didn’t mean I’d try to join up and spy on them or anything like that,” Chris said when she got the chance. “It wouldn’t work, and if Mr. Turner found out, we’d be in real trouble. I was thinking I could like, bait him. By sending a message on TV in a talk show, something only he would understand.”
“You think villains watch talk shows?” Peter asked, not sounding very convinced.
“I think this one does. He knew about Ryan a day after my transition and tried to influence me with his face. You remember what Gentleman does, right? He can assume any appearance and voice he likes, even change the look of others. The voice act is as good as Kid’s – it will fool just about anyone.”
No one said anything for a few long seconds. Peter and Nora exchanged another glance, leaving Chris to read the emotions that rippled over their faces. If her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her, she was beginning to see a glimmer of approval there.
“You’re one crazy chick,” Peter finally said. His frown was gone, replaced by a flash of his distinctive ladykiller grin. “But also pretty badass. I might even ask you out if I wasn’t afraid of getting punched in the face.”
“You’d ask your momma out,” Nora scoffed.
“I put Mr. Turner on hold with the talk show because I want to be sure you’re both okay with it,” Chris said. “This could backfire and go really wrong. It’s the only option I see, but if one of you has a better idea…”
“No shit,” Nora said. “There’s real villains now. But I’m already on borrowed time. If I’m gonna bite it, I’d rather be dealing with some murderous asshole than an execution order from the good guys.”
And that decided it.
“Wardens! You’re on in ten minutes!” the studio assistant called down into the prep room. Chris heard applause drifting down the stairs from the main studio, trying to figure out how many people were awaiting he rup there. Her best guess was a few dozen, which wouldn’t be too bad. She was reasonably sure she could cope with a few dozen people watching her every move.
She tried not to think about the millions who’d be sitting in front of their TV screens in a few minutes. There was exactly one person she wanted to address, and that one wasn’t going to care about the witty, amiable heroine act Mr. Turner was expecting from her.
“Try to relax,” the stylist said as she applied another layer of face powder on Chris’s forehead. “Mr. Reid is a pleasant host who doesn’t ask uncomfortable questions. I’m sure that all of the actual show talk was cleared with your superior beforehand.”
“Why does she need face powder? Looks fine to me,” Nora said, ready and waiting next to door. The stylist had undone her long braids and tamed the wavy mane with a blue cloth headband. In combination with her short blue skirt and the pair of black leggings, it gave her a cute girly look that softened her strong featured face.
Chris envied Nora for the hair. Hers just turned into a mess if she let it grow too far beyond her chin, and braids just looked ridiculous on her.
“She has nice skin for someone her age. But the lighting is different in the studio.” The make-up artist enveloped Chris in a cloud of perfume as she leaned over to check her work. “We don’t want her skin to gleam.”
I’m just glad we don’t have to be in costume for once. Glancing down at the sling-supported cast of her arm, Chris wasn’t sure would have managed to squeeze into the bulky, furry thing even if the authorities decided to be unreasonable about it.
No heroes had been murdered since the events in New York, and the world had been relatively quiet. Hopefully the President was still going to go through with the permanent abolishment of the costumed hero appearance law.
“It’s kind of weird to see you with make-up, Chris,” Peter said. He stepped to the side of her chair to inspect her appearance from up close. “You almost look like a girl. Why’d you insist on wearing that old hoodie, though?”
Because it’s my lucky charm.
Chris looked up from the mirror ahead to meet his eyes and do something that would throw him: she smiled. The look of puzzled amazement on his face was priceless. Expected a finger, didn’t you?
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” she said, shooting finger guns at him.
“Huh. Okay. Never mind!” Peter tucked his hands into the pockets of his loose fitting grey linen pants and made a swift escape, joining Nora by the half open door to the stairway instead. Seeing as his hair was nearly the same shade of brown as Chris’s and not that much shorter, the stylist had blow-dried it into that windblown look that was all the rage among male teens. He wasn’t bad looking from behind. Or the front, for that matter; but his big Casanova act put a huge damper on the looks.
Besides, Chris’s interest in the male specimen had pretty much perished alongside Ryan’s smile. If anyone asked her who she thought was hot, she wouldn’t have known what to say.
“And we’re done!” the make-up artist enthused, pulling the protective linen cover away. Chris glanced to the mirror to make sure her face hadn’t been pasted up beyond recognition while she’d been distracted. Then she pushed up slowly and accepted the offered crutch.
Once she felt reasonably sure she wasn’t going to topple over, she hobbled to the door, where a woman with an E-Life staff headset did a quick check of the microphone that stuck out of Chris’s collar before giving a thumbs up.
“Hey Chris. You hear back from the Euro heroes yet?” Nora asked curiously.
“Haven’t emailed Rune yet,” Chris replied. “Seems like a dick move when their teammate is still in hospital. It’s on my list for tomorrow, though.”
“Point,” Peter said. “I’d really like to meet some other heroes, but it doesn’t have to happen today.”
Especially the girls, right? Chris thought with a flicker of amusement that didn’t last. The heroes had just lost one of their heroines, after all; it was an uncomfortable reminder that heroes were as vulnerable as everyone else was.
“Five minutes,” a television crew member informed the Wardens. “Come on up. We’re on commercial break, and we need you to be seated with the host in a minute.”
Christ checked her cell phone for missed messages one last time. Then she turned the power off and tucked it away within her hoodie, sending a silent wish to whatever higher powers there might be that Radiant wasn’t going to try and call her during the show.
Peter took the lead, nearly running up the stairs. Despite Nora’s support, Chris took a minute of excruciatingly slow progress to reach the top. The weeks of boxing practice she’d missed so far made themselves felt on every step and in every muscle of her aching right arm.
The rotund stage manager awaited them in the short passageway leading to the studio, eyes gleaming with anticipation. He guided them past a heavy green curtain and onto the stage. Upon entering the studio, Chris spotted a rosy-featured, pleasant faced man in his thirties who had to be the host. He sat on a brown leather armchair beside a vacant green upholster sofa, dressed up in a light summer outfit that screamed ‘casual chic’.
The spotlights aiming at the green sofa were a touch too warm and intense for Chris’s taste, she could feel beads of sweat trickling down her back the moment she’d finished hobbling up the steps to the stage. If she narrowed her eyes against the light, she could make out half a dozen semicircular rows of seats that surrounded the stage on three sides. There were eighty to a hundred seats in total, all occupied except for a few at the very back.
Eighty to a hundred, not just a few dozen. Damn.
Mr. Turner sat in the front row. He was watching the stage with rapt attention, leaning forward with his elbows resting his knees.
“Please, take your seats,” the host said with a sweeping gesture towards the sofa. “I’m so glad to finally welcome you to my show, Wardens. I’m a fan! Call me Steven if you like. I’m not too keen on formalities, and I want you to be comfortable.”
Trying a little too hard to get chummy, Chris thought as she watched the man lounge in his armchair. She had checked out some of his previous shows from E-Life’s online archives, and he hadn’t appeared nearly as nonchalant and down-to-earth then.
Chris wasn’t a fan of adults putting on a special teenage acts. No matter the reason, falseness just bothered her on some deep, profound level.
Peter didn’t seem to share her reservations. He swiftly claimed the section of couch that was closest to the host’s armchair, sitting uncharacteristically straight with square shoulders and an inflated chest.
Nora waited until Chris was comfortably settled next to Peter, then joined her on the couch. A studio assistant reached for the crutch, and Chris passed it over reluctantly. She was a sitting duck without her crutch. If any kind of emergency came up, she would hardly be able to stand, let alone move.
Mr. Reid leaned forward to extend his right hand to each of the Wardens in turn. Chris didn’t like his fake, plastered on smile any more than she had liked the chumminess, but she shook the offered hand for the sake of not starting off on the wrong foot.
“I’m so glad you could make it,” he said. He held his hand out to Nora for a few long seconds until she finally took it.
“I’m glad too,” Peter said. “It’s been a while since our last interview. A couple months at least. We didn’t have our mascot back then.” He lightly bumped Chris’s shoulder with a fist, and she absently smiled back at him, her thoughts already drifting off elsewhere. She still had to figure out how exactly she was going to bait Gentleman without tipping her fellow Americans off.
The stage manager raised a hand and started the countdown to the start of the recording, and the camera crew scurried into position. The host took a final sip from his glass of water, then settled back, crossing one leg over the other.
Chris felt a brush of fingers against her own as the E-Life jingle played on the loudspeakers. She looked down to see Nora’s hand rest over hers.
I got your back too.
Over on the armchair, the host did some kind of introduction to the show. Chris only paid glancing attention to it. She lightly squeezed Nora’s fingers, then withdrew her hand and settled it over one knee.
“…the Wardens, who have only just returned from New York,” Mr. Reid enthused. “They’ve gotten permission to leave their costumes at home today, meaning we’ll get to see them exactly as they are. And here they are: Peter Moore, Christina Chung and Nora Landry!”
A round of applause boomed from the guest stands. Mr. Turner contributed from the forefront, clapping his hands more firmly than anyone else did.
“Hi, Steven,” Peter said from his seat. He’d draped an arm over the back of the couch, looking relaxed and comfortable in his role.
Would be nice if I could let you do all the talking. She couldn’t, though. Knowing Peter, he’d spend a full thirty minutes talking about himself. He wouldn’t even notice until someone stopped him.
Mr. Reid chuckled. “Hi, Peter. How do you feel about making a public appearance soon after your life-threatening ordeal? Everyone would have understood if you decided you needed some rest.”
“I was lucky, actually. Got away with a few bruises thanks to Chris here protecting me.” Peter rolled his sleeve up to his elbow, revealing the purple-black bruise that covered most of his forearm. “I wish I could have done more for the people who weren’t as lucky as I was.” His smile slipped.
That’s going to bounce back to the Guardian – me. Chris spoke into the brief silence that followed, not giving the host the chance to follow up with uncomfortable questions.
“The Covenant did most of the work there,” she said. “I’m glad we were able to make a difference, but I’m not sure how I feel about… you know. Mirage. I heard she died on the way to the hospital, and… I really wish she hadn’t.” The words didn’t come easy, but she couldn’t think of anything else to push the interview onward.
Mr. Reid took the bait. His expression darkened a notch, eyebrows drawing together. “That must be difficult for someone so young, though you weren’t directly responsible and acted out of a greater need. How old are you, Christina?
“Eighteen,” she replied truthfully. “Nora’s eighteen, as well. Peter is nineteen.”
Come on. Give me an opening.
“Eighteen,” he echoed. “You haven’t had much time to find your place in the team, and the Wardens have faced numerous challenges in the past weeks. The death of Nato, who was a member of the team before you came into play. The loss of a team leader as well as a number of very real threats to you and your companions. We heard about some of the dangers, but you were in the midst of it all. How do you feel about the risk to your life, Christina? Are you afraid at all, or does the hero role come with a superhuman boost of courage?”
“I don’t know, I just kind of got thrown into it all,” Chris said. She glanced over to Peter, signaling him to let her continue by flicking a finger on her knee. He gave a nod and settled back, seemingly content to let her take the lead.
“Anyway,” Chris continued. “There wasn’t much on the news about it, but I had already encountered a villain back in May. I guess in some way, it prepared me for everything that came later, even though we never finished what he’d started.”
“How come?” Mr. Reid asked, his pudgy face lighting up with interest. “And what villain was this? I hope you forgive me, Christina – the details of this story were kept from the general public.”
“Gentleman,” Chris said. “I’m pretty sure he’s behind the deaths and kidnappings in New York. And we never got to finish our um, standoff because he ran.”
“That’s… a daring statement, to say the least.” He wet his lips, maybe anticipating a bump in viewing figures. “I don’t doubt you startled the villain with your speed and your costume, but what makes you believe he was afraid of your encounter?”
Did you have to put it that way? A couple of chuckles rose from the audience, quickly hushed but still very audible. Chris pointedly avoided the existence of Mr. Turner on his chair. She could just picture his tight grimace of disapproval.
“Let’s call it a hunch,” Chris said. “I have another hunch that says I’ll run into him again soon, and then maybe we’ll get a chance to finish. I still have some questions for him.”
“I see,” the host said. “A bold statement, but I believe our viewers and all of America will keep their fingers crossed for you. Nora, Peter, what are your thoughts?”
“Chris does the thinking,” Nora said firmly. “I’m just the gal who’s got her back.”
“Same here,” Peter added. He grimaced at his words, then followed up with “I’m not a gal, obviously. But I think we’re ready to up our game and do some old fashioned hero work.”
He was rewarded with a rousing round of applause from the audience.
A few minutes after the end of the show, the Wardens found themselves backstage in the small cafeteria reserved for staff and guests. They had the three tables and twelve chairs to themselves. Mr. Turner had apparently gone to see one of the producers, and the staff could be seen scurrying through the corridor beyond the yellow glass door, busy with some other, still ongoing show.
“Hey Peter. How about you sip your coffee in the car?” Chris asked, not bothering to sit down. “If we get out now, we might make it before we get the boss talk. You know, the one about how we didn’t follow the guidelines and screwed it up.”
Peter leaned against the wall beside the coffee machine, paper cup in hand. “Can you just give me a minute before it gets cold? I don’t think we were that bad. Did you see those cute chicks in the first row? They never stopped smiling at me.”
“You were really cool about being in the spotlight,” Nora said. “Nothing like that first day when we met you down in the hall. I’m not buying the scaredy-cat act. What’s a grumpy boss to you, after all the shit you already put up with?”
“I’m not scared,” Chris said. “But we’re just standing around and waiting. It’s a waste of time. We should be watching out for villains instead.”
“Chill. It’s been what, less than ten minutes?” Peter took another languid sip from his coffee and smacked his lips.
“You know they stream this online, right? If Data runs a search routine on name drops, ten minutes is plenty. Maybe he doesn’t even need to search, maybe he just picks up names from the ether of the internet. He’s the ghost in the machine after all.” Chris tried, and failed, to keep the frustration out of her voice. “Come on, guys. I know I said Gentleman is a talker, but he’s still a villain. Can we please…”
She was cut off by the ringing of someone’s cell phone. It took her a second to realize it came from the pocket of her pants, but once she’d made the connection, her mind froze and her pulse quickened.
“Shit,” Peter said after a moment of startled silence. “No way. No way in hell he’s that fast.”
Chris sucked in a breath and dug her fingers into her pocket, grasping the phone. Once she’d pulled it out, the display showed her an unknown number. Pretty much everyone with a reason to call her was stored in her short list of contacts.
No way he was this fast to get ahold of my number. Not unless he already had it.
“I’m taking this. Be quiet please, okay?” She told the others while she fumbled with the keys.
Nora nodded and moved two steps closer along the cafeteria wall, her dark eyes wide and alert. Peter put the coffee cup down on the nearest table and cupped his hands to his mouth in a mock stage whisper. “Five bucks on Radiant,” he whispered all too loudly.
Chris ignored the quiet chuckle that followed and brought the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“Mascot?” a male voice asked.
“Yes.” Her mind raced, trying to match the voice with the one she’d heard in an underground parking beneath a mall. Not that she could rely on the voice actually being his – she had no doubt that Gentleman could imitate it perfectly. “Who’s this?”
“Radiant. You wanted to talk to me?” The voice had a warm baritone and a noticeable accent. Chris wasn’t sure it was Russian – some Eastern European accents had a similar ring to them – but she supposed it was possible.
If that’s Radiant, would he wait a full day before getting back to me? He hasn’t shown up in New York or Liverpool during the villain attacks, either.
Chris could hear Nora whispering. She couldn’t make out the words, but whatever Nora was saying convinced Peter to go as silent as a mouse in church. Chris appreciated the silence; it certainly helped her think more clearly. She still needed some proof of who she was actually talking to.
“Um, wow,” Chris said into the phone. “That was fast. I texted you what, two hours ago?”
“You sent a text as well?” the man on the other end asked with audible confusion. “My answering machine was out of commission. I only received your call just now.”
“When did I make the call?” Chris asked, not yet satisfied.
“Is this a test?” he was sounding amused now.
“Maybe,” she replied.
“The call was recorded yesterday.” She heard him suck in a breath, then more words came, quick and urgent. “Listen, Christina, we need to talk. I just watched the show. You underestimate who you’re dealing with. Gentleman will go after the people you love before he comes for you.”