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“But there’s a fourth option, too,” Daniel answered. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about.”

Kevin cocked his head. He clearly didn’t get it. She did, just before Daniel said the words out loud.

“What if the scorpions joined forces?”

She pursed her lips, then relaxed them when that pulled at the split.

Kevin groaned. “Stop messing around, Danny.”

“I’m serious. They’d never expect that. And then we’re twice as safe, because we’ve got both dangerous creatures on the same team.”

“Not happening.”

She walked closer to him. “It’s a clever idea, Daniel, but I think some of the personnel issues might be too big to overcome.”

“Kev’s not so bad. You’ll get used to him.”

“I’m not bad?” Kevin snorted, peering through his sights.

Daniel looked straight at her. “You’re thinking about going back, aren’t you? What you said about visiting the pantry.”

Insightful for a civilian.

“I’m considering it.”

Kevin was giving them his full attention now. “Counterstrike?”

“It might work,” she said. “There’s a pattern… and after looking at it, I think that maybe not so many people know about me. That’s why they’re going to such lengths to have a fifty-fifty chance at taking me out. I think I’m a secret, so if I can get rid of the people in on that secret… well, then nobody’s looking for me anymore.”

“Does that hold true for me?” Kevin wanted to know. “If they’re relying on this to get to me, do you think I might be a secret, too?”

“It’s logical.”

“How will you know who’s in on it?”

“If I could be in DC when I send my little note to Carston, I could watch to see who he goes running to. If it’s really a secret, they won’t be able to do it in the office.”

“They’ll know you’re close – the IP will give you away.”

“Maybe we could work together in a limited way. One of you could send the e-mail for me from a distance.”

“What’s your experience in surveillance?” Kevin demanded abruptly.

“Er… I’ve had a lot of practice in the last few years —”

“Do you have any formal training?”

“I’m a scientist, not a field agent.”

He nodded. “I’ll do it.”

She shook her head. “You’re dead again, remember? You and Daniel get to disappear now. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“That’s a stupid saying. If the Trojans had looked in the horse’s mouth, they might have won that war.”

“Forget the saying. I’m trying to make things up to Daniel.”

Daniel was quietly watching the back-and-forth again.

“Look, Oleander, I have had training. A lot. No one is going to catch me watching and I will see more than you will. I have a place to stash Daniel where he’ll be totally safe, so that’s not an issue. And if you’re right, and this Carston guy goes running to his coconspirators, he’ll show me who in the Agency thought this up. I’ll see who put Danny in danger to get to me. Then I can clean up my problem and you can clean up yours.”

She thought it through, trying to be objective. It was hard to keep her dislike for Daniel’s brother from coloring her analysis. That dislike wasn’t fair. Wouldn’t she have felt the same way as Kevin if it were her sibling shackled to a table? Done the same things, insofar as she was capable?

But she still really wished she could inject him with something agonizing, just once.

“First of all, don’t call me Oleander,” she said.

He smirked.

“Second, I see what you’re saying. But how do we coordinate? I’ve got to go under for a while.” She pointed to her face.

“You owe her for that,” Daniel said. “If you have a safe place for me, maybe she should go there, too. At least until her injuries have healed.”

“I don’t owe her anything – except maybe another punch in the face,” Kevin growled. Daniel bridled and took a step toward his brother; Kevin held up his hands in an I surrender motion and sighed. “But we’re going to want to move quick, so that might be the easiest arrangement. Besides, then she can give us a ride. The plane’s a loss – I had to bail out on the way down. I had us hiking out of here.”

Daniel opened his eyes wide in disbelief. Kevin laughed at his expression, then turned to her with a smile. He looked at the dog, then back to her, and his smile got bigger. “I think I might enjoy having you at the ranch, Oleander.”

She gritted her teeth. If Kevin had a safe house, that would solve a lot of her problems. And she could spike his food with a violent laxative before she left.

“Her name is Alex,” Daniel corrected. “I mean, I know it’s not, but that’s what she goes by.” He looked at her. “Alex is okay, right?”

“It’s as good as any other name. I’ll stick with it for now.” She looked at Kevin. “You and the dog are in the back.”



nce upon a time, when she was a young girl named Juliana, Alex used to fantasize about family road trips.

She and her mother had always flown on the few vacations they took – if duty visits to ancient grandparents in Little Rock actually qualified as vacations. Her mother, Judy, didn’t like to drive long distances; it made her nervous. Judy had often said that far more people were killed in car accidents than in plane crashes, though she was a white-knuckle flyer, too. Juliana had grown up unfazed by the dangers associated with travel, or germs, or rodents, or tight spaces, or any of the many other things that upset Judy. By default, she had to be the levelheaded one.

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