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“Georgia,” said Emily, as I reached them. Letting go of Jeanne and Amber, she put her arms around me in a too-tight hug. The girls moved to stand behind an elderly woman who looked like she might be their paternal grandmother, blocking their mother from grabbing them again once she was done with me. I couldn’t blame them; Emily’s grief had given her a measure of hysterical strength that seemed likely to crack one of my ribs. “We’re so glad you came.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, patting her awkwardly on the back. “Buffy and Shaun send their regrets.”

“Emily, let the nice girl go,” said Peter, tugging his wife’s arm until she released me. I stepped quickly backward, and both Jeanne and Amber cast understanding glances my way. They’d been their mother’s targets since she ran out of the convention to get to them. “Georgia.”

“Senator Ryman.” He didn’t try to hug me. I appreciated that. “It was a beautiful ceremony.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” He glanced toward the churned-up earth. “Becky hated these things. Said they were morbid and silly. She would’ve stayed home, if she weren’t a required attendee.” He laughed, bitterly. “She really wanted to meet you.”

“I’m sorry she never got the chance,” I said, pushing my sunglasses up to shield my eyes from the light glinting off the patchy snow. “Would you mind if I took you aside for a moment? It won’t take long.”

“No, of course not.” He kissed Emily on the forehead, and said, “You just get back to the girls, all right, sweetheart? I’ll only be a moment.”

“All right,” said Emily. She managed to force a wavering smile, and said, “We’ll see you at the reception, won’t we, Georgia?”

“Of course, Mrs. Ryman,” I replied.

The senator and I walked until we were about eight feet from the group, far enough that they couldn’t hear us, but close enough to maintain visual contact. “Now, Georgia,” he said, without preamble. “What’s this all about?”

I tilted my chin up until I was looking directly at him, and said, “Senator, if you don’t mind, my team and I would like permission to go up to the ranch and take a look around.” He was silent. I continued: “If we walk the grounds and post our footage ”

“You think it’ll reduce trespassers looking for a little excitement?”

I nodded.

Senator Ryman looked at me for a long moment. Then, shoulders sagging, he nodded his acquiescence. “I hate this, Georgia,” he said, in a voice that was a million miles away from the proud, self-confident man I’d followed most of the way across the country. “This is supposed to be the start of the most exciting fight in my career, and instead I’m standing here consigning my eldest unto God when I just want to shake the bastard until he gives her back to me. It’s not fair.”

“I know, Senator,” I said. Glancing back to where Emily had managed to recapture her surviving children, I added, “But you’re not the only one it isn’t fair to.”

“Are you telling me to mind my family, young lady?” he asked, with a mirthless chuckle.

“Sometimes family is all we have, sir.”

“Very true, Georgia. Very true.” He followed my gaze back to Emily and the girls. “I’ll tell Em I’ve given you folks permission to go to the ranch. She’ll understand. The guards, now ”

“We have the proper licenses.”

“Good.” Raking his hair back from his forehead with one hand, he sighed. “Ain’t this just one hell of a mess?”

“Very much so,” I agreed.

We made our good-byes without much conviction; he needed to get back to the business of mourning, and I needed to get back to my team before Shaun decided to go hiking or Buffy took the wireless network off-line for upgrading. Rick hadn’t been with us long enough for me to know what I didn’t want him doing, but I was sure he’d come up with something. He was a journalist, after all, and we’re all incurably insane.

I walked toward the cemetery gates, tapping my ear cuff. “Shaun, what’s your twenty?”

“We’re parked behind the security vans,” Shaun said. Someone asked a question in the background, and he added, “Buffy wants to know if we need her or if she can go with Chuck. He’s pretty torn up, and she wants to get in some ‘couple time.’ ”

“Shaun Mason, you may be the only boy above the age of nine who still says ‘couple time’ like it was a dead rat.” I nodded to the guards as I passed through the gates and scanned the parking lot for the security vans.

“I do not,” said Shaun, sounding affronted. “I like dead rats.”

“Sorry. My bad. Tell Buffy she’s free to go, but I want her to have the field equipment ready, and she needs to be back for editing by nine.”

“The field equipment ?”

“I have Senator Ryman’s clearance. We’re heading for the ranch.” I grimaced at Shaun’s whooping and tapped my ear cuff again, cutting off the connection. The van was in sight; I could let him yell in my ear once I was inside, rather than putting up with it remotely.

Buffy was seated on a counter doing something arcane to a shoulder-mount camera when I stepped through the rear door. She’d changed out of her funeral clothes into something more comfortable, if still subdued, and when she looked up, it was obvious that she’d redone her makeup to match. “Hey.”

“Hey.” I looked around, starting to unbutton my jacket. “Where’s Shaun?”

“Up front checking his armor for holes.” She peered into the camera, blew lightly on the exposed circuitry, and snapped the cover back into place. “Chuck’s going to come pick me up, so you can leave me here when you head out. It’ll only take a few more minutes to review the field equipment.”

“Anybody call Rick?” I tossed my jacket onto a chair and started unbuttoning my dress shirt. I had a tank top under that; swap my skirt for jeans, add a Kevlar vest, my motorcycle jacket, and combat boots, and I’d be ready for a low-hazard field op. Most girls learn how to accessorize for dinner parties and dates. I learned to do it for hazard zones.

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