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Finally Kevin dropped his arms. She ducked free and they both spun anxiously to Daniel.

“Don’t move,” they said in unison.

Alex breathed again when she could see that Daniel hadn’t actually tried to reach for the gun.

“Volkstaff?” Daniel asked. “I know that name… where are we?”

“You remember Dr. Volkstaff,” Kevin said. “He saved my best friend’s life in fifth grade – after he got caught in the bear trap. You can’t have forgotten that.”

Daniel blinked. “Tommy Velasquez got caught in a bear trap?” he asked, bewildered.

Kevin smiled. “Tommy wasn’t my best friend.” He stroked Einstein’s head, and the dog rubbed his face against Kevin’s leg, still delirious with joy.

“Wait… Volkstaff?” Daniel repeated, finally putting it together. “You took me to the vet?”

Alex laid a hand on his forehead. “Shh. It was the right place to go. Volkstaff is a rock star. He saved your life.”

“Now, now,” Volkstaff’s gravelly voice broke in. “I was merely the assistant, Dr. Alex. Don’t be trying to give me the credit for saving Danny.”

Volkstaff was sitting up on the couch, patting the unruly tufts of white hair that were arrayed in a jagged halo around his head. It made her think of Barnaby, and she realized why she’d felt so comfortable working with the friendly old man who was apparently still quite devoted to the Beach family.

“It was an honor to work beside you, Doctor,” Volkstaff continued as he tottered over to them. He appeared frail with age now, but he’d shown no feebleness during the long night. He smiled down at Daniel. “Good to see you awake, son.” He dropped his voice into a stage whisper. “You’ve found a winner, kid. Don’t mess things up with this one.”

“Oh, I know it, sir.”

Alex frowned. She hadn’t said anything about her feelings for Daniel, and Daniel had been unconscious. How were they always so obvious?

Volkstaff turned. “What a gorgeous shepherd. This can’t be Einstein, can it? It’s been years.”

“His grandson, actually,” Kevin told him.

“Isn’t that something!” He reached down to caress Einstein’s ear. “Such a beauty.”

Einstein licked his hand. The dog was full of goodwill for all mankind tonight.

“Now, Kevin,” Volkstaff said, straightening, “would you like to walk again? Because if so, you’ll need to get those feet elevated, and all of you needs to rest. Don’t you dare give me that look, young man. You can use my couch over there. Er, Miss…” Volkstaff’s eyes bugged a little as he took in Val for the first time. Alex had warned Volkstaff that the fourth member of their party would show up later, but he clearly hadn’t expected a Victoria’s Secret model.

“You can call me Valentine,” Val purred.

“Yes, thank you, well. Miss Valentine, could you push Kevin over to the sofa and help him onto it? Exactly – thank you.”

Alex watched, feeling numb again, her head disconnected from every part of her body, while Val half shoved Kevin from the chair to the couch. Her expression was irritated, her hands rough, but Alex saw her duck in suddenly to kiss his forehead.

“And you, Doctor…”

Alex turned slowly to look at Volkstaff.

“There are more couches in the waiting room. Go use one of them. That’s an order.”

She hesitated, swaying in place, staring at Daniel.

“Yeesh, you two,” Val said as she stalked back across the room. “Sleep before you collapse, Alex. I’ve had a few hours. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“If anything at all changes on his monitors, the slightest variation —”

“I’ll drag you back in here by your much-improved hair,” Val promised.

Alex bent down and kissed Daniel softly. “Volkstaff and I went through a lot of trouble to put you back together again,” she murmured against his lips. “Don’t screw up our work.”

His lips brushed hers as he spoke. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Be a good girl and get some sleep like my old family vet ordered you to.”

“I’ll have you know I’m in the prime of my life,” Volkstaff objected.

“C’mon,” Val said, suddenly right in Alex’s ear. “Let’s go while you can still walk. I’m sure I could carry you, but I don’t want to.”

Alex let Val guide her through the door and down the unlit hallway. She concentrated on moving her feet and nothing else. Her surroundings were just a dark blur. Val had to lower her to the couch, but Alex was sure she would have been just as happy on the floor. Unconsciousness took her while she was still falling.



t was a strange morning.

For Alex, it was also a very late morning. It was peaceful in the empty veterinary hospital, and no one disturbed her. She learned later that Volkstaff had called his office team, canceled all the appointments, and put a sign in the window that read CLOSED FOR FAMILY EMERGENCY.

It was an odd place to feel so safe – an unfamiliar place, a place where she’d prepared no traps or defenses.

But things had changed. She’d only really thought of rescuing Kevin, but their actions last night had also shifted their position significantly.

Kevin was as energetic as ever, despite the fact that he was stuck in the rolling office chair again, his gauze-wrapped feet elevated on the wheeled stool. Val disappeared as soon as she saw Alex to take her turn on the couch. Daniel had had his eyes closed to ignore his brother but quickly “woke up” when he heard Alex’s voice. Volkstaff was apparently out getting lunch. The others had left her a bagel and cream cheese.


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