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“You want to catch a few hours?” he asked her.

“If you don’t mind driving, I can sleep in the car again. Better to get where we’re going.”

He nodded once, then went to the bed and lightly kicked his brother.

Daniel moaned and rolled onto his back, covering his head with a pillow.

“Is that necessary?” she asked.

“Like you said, better to get going. Danny’s always had a problem with the snooze button.”

Kevin yanked the pillow off Daniel’s head.

“Let’s go, kid.”

Daniel blinked owlishly for a few seconds, and then she watched his face change as the memories hit, as he realized where he was and why. It hurt to see the peace of his dreams crumble into the devastation of his new waking reality. His eyes darted around the room until he found her. She tried to make her expression reassuring, but the damage done to her face would probably trump any arrangement of her features. She searched for something to say, something that would make the world a little less dark and scary for him.

“Pop-Tart?” she offered.

He blinked again. “Um, okay.”

CHAPTER 12

A

lex did not approve of the safe house.

They’d reached it late in the afternoon. She’d kept her nap to just four hours during the drive. She didn’t want to be on a nocturnal schedule forever. So she’d been awake as they turned off the highway onto a two-lane surface road, then to an even smaller road, until finally they were on a one-lane dirt path – calling it a road was too complimentary.

Sure it was hard to find, but once you did… well, there was only one way out. She never would have chosen to live backed into a corner like this.

“Relax, killer,” Kevin told her when she complained. “No one is looking for us out here.”

“We should have switched plates.”

“Took care of it while you were snoring.”

“You weren’t actually snoring,” Daniel said quietly. He was driving now, while Kevin directed. “But it is true that we stopped at a junkyard and stole a few license plates.”

“So we’re trapped out here on a dead-end lane while Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” she muttered.

“It’s secure,” Kevin snapped in a tone that was clearly intended to close the discussion. “So don’t go stringing your death traps through my house.”

She didn’t answer. She would do what she wanted when he was gone.

At least his setup was far away from neighbors; they drove for at least fifteen minutes down the dirt path without seeing any evidence of other human beings. That would keep the collateral damage low if for some reason she felt the need to burn everything to the ground.

They arrived at a tall gate flanked by a heavy-duty chain-link fence with a crowning line of spiraled razor wire. The fence ran so far off into the distance to both the right and the left that she couldn’t see where it turned or ended. Beside the gate, there was a very serious-looking NO TRESPASSING sign with an additional notice below that read ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK; OWNERS ARE NOT LIABLE FOR INJURIES OR HARM THAT MAY RESULT FROM TRESPASSING.

“Subtle,” she said.

“It gets the job done,” Kevin responded. He pulled a key fob from his pocket and clicked a button. The gate swung open, and Daniel drove through.

She should have expected that his safe house would be so obvious.

After a few more miles, the house came into view like a mirage, its dull gray second story hovering on a light haze over the dry yellow grass. Here and there, a few dark, scrubby trees studded the grassland with some texture. Over it all, the washed-out blue sky stretched to infinity.

She’d never been totally comfortable with the Great Plains. She’d been a city girl for too long. This felt so exposed, so… unanchored. Like a strong wind could just erase everything in sight. Which probably did happen around these parts, biannually. She really hoped it wasn’t tornado season.

The rest of the house was revealed as they topped a low rise in the mostly flat road. It was large but dilapidated, two stories high with a rickety porch wrapped around half the ground floor. The coarse, dead grass ended about twenty yards from the house, replaced by sand-colored gravel that covered the dirt up to the cracked lattice that attempted to camouflage the foundation. The only breaks in the monotone vegetation were the house, the stunted trees, the reddish scar of the dirt lane, and then several indistinct shapes that were in motion, roving along the edges of the road. She’d seen a lot of cows on the way in, but these animals looked too small to be cows. They did seem to be furry, ranging in color from black to brown to white to a combination of all three.

The shapes started to converge on the car, moving a lot faster than cows.

Einstein’s tail began wagging so ferociously that it sounded like a small helicopter in the backseat.

“What is this place, Kev?”

“My retirement plan.”

The animals reached the car – half a dozen dogs of various sizes. Fantastic, Alex thought. One could have been Einstein’s twin. Another was gargantuan, looking like it was more closely related to equines than canines. She recognized a Doberman, two Rottweilers, and a traditionally colored German shepherd.

On the approach, the dogs had been totally silent and aggressive in their posture, but as soon as they saw Einstein, all the tails started wagging and they shared in a raucous chorus of barks.

“I train dogs for placement as guard dogs – commercial and private ownership. I also sell a few to families who just want a really well-behaved animal.”

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