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“I don’t like this, Georgia,” said Mahir, worry and exhaustion blurring his normally crisp English accent into something much softer. He ran his hand through his hair. He’d been doing that for hours, and it was sticking up in all directions. “The situation is starting to sound like it isn’t exactly safe.”

“You’re on the other side of the planet, Mahir. I don’t think you’re going to get hurt.”

“It’s not my safety I’m concerned with here. Are you sure we want to continue to pursue the situation? I’d rather not be reporting your obituary.” He sounded so anxious that I couldn’t be angry with him. Mahir’s a good guy. A little conservative, and generally inclined to avoid taking risks, but a good guy and a fabulous Newsie. If he couldn’t understand why we were pursuing things, I just needed to make them clearer.

“Everyone who died at the ranch was murdered,” I said. His image winced. “The people who died in Eakly were murdered, too, and that set of casualties nearly included me and Shaun. There’s something connected to this candidate and this campaign that someone wants to see destroyed, and they’re not above causing a little collateral damage. You want to know if we want to continue pursuing the situation. I want to know what makes you think we can afford not to.”

Mahir smiled, reaching up to adjust his glasses. “I was assuming you’d say something along those lines, but I wanted to be certain of it. Rest assured that you have the full support of everyone here. If there’s anything I can do, all you have to do is say so.”

“You know, Mahir, your support is something I never worry about. I may have something for you very soon,” I said. “Although if you play ‘test the boss’ again, I may kill you. For now, it’s almost four in the morning, and the senator’s going to want to talk before much longer. I hereby declare this discussion over. Rick, Mahir, thanks for sticking it out.”

“Any time,” said Rick, voice echoing as the relay raced to keep up with him. His window blinked out.

“Cheers,” said Mahir, and logged off. I closed the conference, standing. I was so stiff that it felt like my spine had been replaced with carved teak, and my eyes were burning. I removed my sunglasses and rubbed my face, trying to relieve some of the tension. It wasn’t working.

“Bed?” asked Rick.

I nodded. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but—”

“Get out. I know. Wake me when it’s time to go?”

“I will.”

“Good night, Georgia. Sleep well.” Rick opened the adjoining door with a faint creak. I opened my eyes, turning to wave as he slipped out.

“You too, Rick,” I said. Then the door was closed, and I staggered to the bed, shedding clothes as I went. When I was down to T-shirt and panties, I abandoned the notion of looking for nightclothes and crawled under the covers, closing my eyes again as I sank into blessed darkness.


The voice was vaguely familiar. I pondered its familiarity for a moment, and then rolled over, deciding I didn’t need to give a damn.


There was more anxiousness to the voice this time. Maybe I needed to pay attention to it. It wasn’t the sort of anxiousness that said “Pay attention or something is going to eat your face.” I made a faint grumbling noise and didn’t open my eyes.

“George, if you don’t wake up right now, I’m going to pour ice water over your head.” The statement was made in an entirely matter-of-fact manner. It wasn’t a threat, merely a comment. “You won’t like that. I won’t care.”

I licked my lips to moisten them and croaked, “I hate you.”

“Where’s the love? There’s the love. Now get out of bed. Senator Ryman called. You slept through me talking to him for, like, the whole time I was getting dressed. How late were you up last night?”

I opened my eyes and squinted at Shaun. He was wearing one of his bulkier shirts, the ones he puts on only when he needs to cover body armor. I pushed myself unsteadily into a sitting position, holding out my left hand. He dropped my sunglasses into it. “Sometime around four. What time is it?”

“Almost nine.”

“Oh, my God, kill me now,” I moaned, and rose, shuffling toward the bathroom. The hotel had been happy to switch our standard light bulbs for lower-wattage soft lights that wouldn’t hurt my eyes, but management didn’t have a way to swap out the built-in bathroom fluorescents. “What time will he be here? Or are we going to him?”

“You’ve got fifteen minutes. Steve’s picking us up.” There was a distinctly amused note in Shaun’s voice as he relayed this piece of information. “Buffy’s pissed. She and Chuck are already with the Rymans, and she didn’t have spare clothes with her. I got the world’s angriest text message while I was on the phone.”

“She wants to have her night on the town, she can take the walk of shame the day after.” The bathroom lights were searingly bright, even through my sunglasses. I looked in the mirror and groaned. “I look like death.”

“Cute journalistic death?”

“Just plain death.” I was washed-out and sallow, and it had been too long since I had my hair trimmed; it was getting long enough to tangle. My head wasn’t throbbing, but it would be soon. The light seeping in around the edges of my glasses was telling me that. There was a way I could avoid that, if I was willing to deal with the inconvenience. Muttering under my breath, I grabbed my contact case off the sink and clicked the bathroom lights off. Even with as little as I voluntarily wear my contacts, the nature of my medical condition means I need to be able to put them in despite near or total darkness. Doing otherwise means risking retinal scarring, and I have things to do that require having eyes.

Shaun’s feet shuffled on the carpet as he crossed to the bathroom door. “George? What are you doing in there in the dark?”