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“There were snacks? Damn,” Bryn sighed, and she was only half kidding. “Okay, let’s roll if we’re rolling.”

The SUV was a monster of a thing, not too late-model but it had the look of a truck well suited to its surroundings. If vehicles could evolve, this one definitely had, and as she set out from the airport down a partly muddy, partly snow-clogged road, it seemed to handle the terrain easily, if not comfortably. That was probably the springs in the seats, which had long ago given up the fight.

Patrick was hanging on to the strap, which was probably wise, considering the bouncing, and simultaneously studying the map she’d marked, though how he could do it and not be motion-sick she couldn’t imagine. The town of Barrow fell away within minutes, and the Alaskan tundra stretched on in a blotched, mostly white expanse. “Glad it isn’t winter,” he said. “The snow would be impassible without plowing paths.”

On Bryn’s left was the distant curve of the bay, and beyond that, straight north, would be . . . well, she supposed, a pole. Strange to think that this shore here was, in a way, what people liked to mark as the end of civilization . . . at least until you crossed the pole and came down on the other side. She’d put on her sunglasses, so the sun’s glitter on the snow wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but within just a few miles she understood why it would blind people. The constant, unyielding glitter . . . beautiful, but deadly.

“Slow down,” Patrick finally said, and released the safety strap to point to the left. “Should be some kind of trail that way—yeah, right there. Turn.”

If he hadn’t directed her, she would have missed it, because it was less a road than a vague depression in the landscape. Snow had covered it for about a foot, and buried all traces it existed . . . except for a snow-covered mailbox burdened by another layer of white. Beneath, it was painted a shocking Day-Glo yellow, probably because it would have otherwise been regularly missed.

Bryn slowed, and without being asked, Joe bailed out of the back, jogged over, and checked the mailbox. Empty. He got back in the SUV, and Bryn followed the barely visible curves of the trail up a hill . . . and at the top, she spotted a snowy roof.

She stopped. Joe and Riley exited to check the perimeter, and to keep watch; she and Patrick then drove the rest of the way up. The chill was penetrating through the windows, and she hadn’t really noticed until now. “Is it getting colder out there?”

“Yeah,” Patrick said. “Getting on toward sundown in the next couple of hours, and we need to be back in Barrow before it’s dark or we’ll have hell finding our way. This isn’t country for tourists.”

No kidding. She couldn’t imagine how dark it would be out here, and how forbidding. Getting stuck or stranded could be a death sentence.

“Got an approach planned?” he asked her. Bryn shook her head and brought the SUV to a stop in the dirty packed snow of the cabin’s front yard, such as it was.

“I don’t think planning’s going to help,” she said. “I have no idea what to expect from her, so I’m going to play it by ear. And be as honest as I can. I—I think she deserves that. She’s not part of this.”

He nodded, whether or not he agreed with her, and it moved her to lean over and give him a very quick, but very warm, kiss. He smiled. “Be careful,” he said. “I’ll be out here.”

“My last line of defense?”

“Something like that,” he said. “Or you’re mine, which is probably closer to the truth. I just have to love the powerful women.”



She moved quickly up to the cabin’s front door; the glow of lights in the windows guaranteed, she thought, that someone was home—and probably watching, because having a strange vehicle drop by in this remote expanse was likely worth noting.

The door opened on her knock, and she was facing the business end of a double-barreled shotgun, held very competently by a woman who’d probably grown up with it. The smile was gone, but the face was the same as the picture on the blog. Kiera Johannsen, in the flesh.

“Don’t mean to be rude,” Johannsen said, “but who the fuck are you, and why are you on my porch?”

Bryn slowly raised her hands. Her skin felt very exposed to the wind whipping across the snow, and she shivered as it found ways inside the neck of her sweater, under the parka she’d worn open. “Bryn Davis,” she said. “You don’t know me.”

“Damn right I don’t.”

“Calvin Thorpe sent me.”

That made the woman blink and take a step back. The shotgun, though, didn’t come down. “Why would Cal send you? Where is he?”

“He’s dead,” Bryn said. “I’m sorry. He was killed in an explosion in California.”

“Oh,” she said blankly, as if she hadn’t understood. And maybe she hadn’t. “Oh.” The second time had weight to it, and emotion. She sagged a little, as if she’d received a jab to the ribs and couldn’t quite get her breath. But she didn’t look surprised. “You came all the way here to tell me that?”

“No,” Bryn said. “I came because Dr. Thorpe said I could trust you. He left something with you to hold, and I need it. It’s important.”

It was the wrong thing to say, because the woman’s light blue eyes seemed to catch fire, and her face tightened. So did her aim. “I don’t know you. You show up out of nowhere and tell me to hand something over? Why would I do that? How do I even know that Cal is really dead?”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry. I wish I had time to tell you everything, and explain all that happened, but . . . there just isn’t a way I can do it. I was with him when it happened. He wanted me to do this, and I intend to do it, because it’ll save lives. That’s what he wanted to do, in the end. Save lives.”

For a few seconds nothing changed, and then Johannsen shook her head, as if shaking off a bothersome fly. It wasn’t the no that Bryn was expecting, though. “That sounds like him,” she said. “He believed . . . he believed science could save everything. Everyone. I told him he was a dreamer, you know. But he said he’d proved me wrong. He said—you know, he got drunk once and said one day, he’d cure death.” She shook her head again. “He was a fool sometimes. Science can repair, but it can destroy just as fast. I kept trying to make him understand that.”

Bryn said nothing. After another few heartbeats, the woman backed up and lowered the shotgun. “All right,” she said. “Come in. But I warn you, make a wrong move, and I’ll blow you into polar bear bait.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Bryn said. “You need a lot of that? Polar bear bait?”

“You’d be surprised,” Johannsen said. “Sit down. No, I’m not making you tea; I’m not stupid. But if you’re sitting with hands flat on the table, you’re not likely to make me shoot you.”

Bryn moved to the small square breakfast table and sat in one of the two wooden chairs—handmade, felt like, and not entirely steady. One leg was a bit too short, and it clunked as she settled her weight. She put both hands flat on the table’s surface, and waited.

She didn’t have to wait long before Johannsen said, “Tell me what happened to Cal.”

“You know he went on the run?” Bryn got a quick nod. “He was hiding out. We tracked him down because we needed his help.”


“Because we’re trying to stop the same things from happening that he was afraid of,” Bryn said. “And they are happening. He agreed to help us get our hands on a sample of a drug that could change everything, but he was betrayed by his brother-in-law.”

That, finally, was the right thing to say, because a spasm of dislike went across Johannsen’s face. “Not hard to believe,” she said. “And?”

“And his dead drop was compromised. It was a trap. We were both caught in it, but he—he sacrificed himself to save me. Before he did, he said to find you. He said you have the other sample.”

“I don’t—” She went perfectly still for a moment, and then continued. “I don’t have anything from him.”

“You do,” Bryn said, with perfect confidence. “Please. I promise you, it’s very important. And it will make a difference. Cal changed his mind about what he was doing, what he believed was right. He would have wanted you to know it.”

For just a moment, those sharp blue eyes seemed a little less suspicious. Just for a moment. But Johannsen came right back on point. “You found me just fine,” she said. “Should I be worried?”

“Probably,” Bryn said. “You weren’t trying to hide. And that’s fine, except that the people who killed Calvin, who killed his family . . . They won’t stop. They’ll never stop until someone stops them. Do you understand? They’ll kill you because you knew him, and you might be a loose end. I don’t want that. If you give me what he left with you, we can help you get to Barrow. From there, you should get somewhere else. Don’t tell me where, just . . . go. And don’t come back.”

“My work—”

“Your work won’t matter when you’re dead and this whole cabin burns to the ground. They’ll probably make it look like an accident. Or maybe they’ll leave the cabin, and fake a bear attack. Nobody would question it, would they?”

“Not around here,” she said. “We don’t have much of a CSI team.” Johannsen crossed to the windows and looked out. “You have friends with you?”

“Three,” Bryn said. “Two out by the mailbox, watching for any incoming traffic. One by the SUV. They’re here for your protection as much as mine.”

That woke a bleak, but real, smile on the other woman’s face. “Bet that wouldn’t be true if I blew a big ol’ hole in your chest,” she said. “You could have come in here guns blazing and just taken it, you know.”