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A pause. “Did you love him?”

“Yes. Aside from my work – and you’ve seen how warm and cuddly that was – he was all I had.”

Daniel nodded. “Well, I don’t feel like laughing anymore.”

“We probably needed the release. Now we can get back to our regularly scheduled depression.”

“Sounds lovely.”

“Hey, Moe and Curly,” Kevin called from outside the barn. “Are you ready to get back to work, or do you want to giggle like schoolgirls a little while longer?”

“Um, giggle, I guess?” Daniel called back.

She couldn’t help it – she snickered.

Daniel put his hand gently over her bruised mouth. “None of that, now. We’d better go see what work there is to do.”



evin kept a firing range set up behind the barn, facing the river. Alex eyed it suspiciously, but she had to concede that random gunshots were probably less likely to arouse attention in rural Texas than anywhere else in the world.

“When’s the last time you picked up a gun?” he asked Daniel.

“Hmm… with Dad, I guess.”

“Seriously?” Kevin heaved a sigh. “Well, I suppose all we can do is hope you remember something.”

He’d brought out an array of weapons and laid them on a hay bale. Other hay bales, each stacked to a man’s height and wearing printed black silhouettes, were arranged at varying distances from their position. Some were so far off she could barely make them out.

“We could start with the handguns, but what I’d like is to try you on some rifles. The best way to stay safe is to be shooting from very, very far away. I’d rather keep you out of the close-up stuff if I can.”

“These don’t look like any rifles I’ve ever used,” Daniel said.

“They’re snipers. This one” – he patted the McMillan he wore slung across his back – “has the record for the longest distance kill at over one mile.”

Daniel’s eyes widened in disbelief. “How do you even know who you want to kill from that far away?”

“Spotters, but don’t worry about that. You don’t need to learn that kind of distance. I just want you to be able to sit in a perch and pick people off if it comes to that.”

“I don’t know if I could actually shoot a person.”

It was Kevin’s turn to look disbelieving. “You’d better figure that out. Because if you don’t shoot, the person coming sure as hell won’t hesitate to take advantage.”

Daniel seemed about to argue, but Kevin waved the mini-conflict away. “Look, let’s just see if you can remember how to shoot a gun.”

After Kevin reviewed the basics, it was evident that Daniel did remember plenty. He took to the rifle with much more instinctive ease than Alex had ever felt with firearms. He was clearly a natural, while she never had been.

After enough rounds were fired for her to get over the fear of all the noise, she lifted the SIG Sauer.

“Hey, do you mind if I try this out on the closer targets?”

“Sure,” Kevin said, not looking up from his brother’s sight line. “Join the party.”

The SIG was heavier than her PPK and had a more substantial kick, but in a way that felt good. Powerful. It took her a few rounds to get used to the sight, but then she was about as accurate with it as she was with her own gun. She thought that with time, she would get better. Maybe she’d be able to get in some consistent practice while she was here. It wasn’t the kind of thing she usually got to indulge in.

When Kevin put an end to the shooting instruction, the sun was almost all the way down. It colored all the yellow grass deep red, as if it were actually touching down on the horizon and setting all the dried brush ablaze.

Reluctantly, she put the SIG away with the other guns. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know the code. She might do some stocking up when Kevin’s party was over.

“Well, Danny, it’s good to see you’ve still got it… and that my talent isn’t just a fluke. Mom and Dad passed us some solid genes,” Kevin said when they were heading back to the house.

“For target practice. I still don’t think I could do what you do.”

Kevin snorted. “Things change when someone is trying to kill you.”

Daniel looked out his side window, clearly unconvinced.

“Okay.” Kevin sighed. “Think of it this way. Imagine someone you want to protect – Mom, for example – is standing behind you. Some new recruits need to visualize in order to get themselves in the right frame of mind.”

“That doesn’t really fit with shooting from a sniper’s perch,” Daniel pointed out.

“Then picture Mom getting stuffed into the trunk of a car by the guy in your crosshairs. Use your imagination.”

Daniel was done. “Fine, fine.”

She could tell he still wasn’t persuaded, but she had to agree with Kevin on this one topic. When someone came for you, your survival instincts kicked in. In a him-or-you situation, you always chose yourself. Daniel wouldn’t know how that felt until the hunters caught up with him. She hoped he’d never have to learn the feeling.

Well, Kevin would do what he could, and so would she. Maybe together they could make the world a safer place for Daniel Beach.

Back at the ranch, the tour continued. Kevin took them to a sleek modern outbuilding, invisible from the front of the house and full of dogs.

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