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“He’s probably thirsty,” Alex told her.

“Oh.” She glanced around the kitchen, then grabbed a decorative crystal bowl from the center of the island and filled it in the sink. Einstein licked her hand gratefully and then started lapping up the water.

“Smells good,” Kevin commented as he came around the corner.

“You can finish mine,” Val said without looking at him. “I’m done.” Experimentally, she stroked one of Einstein’s ears.

Kevin leaned comfortably against the island, looking very at home as he started cutting into Val’s food. “Everyone getting along?”

“You were right,” Val answered.

Kevin grinned triumphantly. “I told you she wouldn’t bore you.”

Val straightened up and smiled back. “Anyone who’s chained you to the floor is bound to get along with me.”

Kevin’s grin disappeared. “It was a draw.”

Val threw back her chin and laughed, her long neck looking even more swanlike than before.

Daniel turned the sink on and rummaged for dish soap. Alex joined him automatically, comforted by even just the opening chords of their usual routine. Once again she was in an unfamiliar place, well out of her league, unsure and unsafe, but with Daniel there, she could handle it. He was like a gas mask – a touchstone of refuge. She smiled to herself, thinking how little he would care for that comparison. Well, she wasn’t the romantic one.

“Oh, don’t bother with that, sweetie,” Val told Daniel. “The housekeeper comes every morning.”

Alex shot Kevin a loaded glance, which Val caught. “I’ll leave a note on the counter, and he’ll stay out of the bedrooms,” Val assured her. “I know this is all very cloak-and-dagger. Don’t worry, you won’t be exposed on my account.”

“I don’t mind,” Daniel said. “Dishes relax me.”

“What is this brother of yours?” Val asked Kevin. “Can I keep him?”

Alex smiled when Daniel’s eyes widened in panic, but he kept his face down over the sink so Val didn’t see. He handed Alex a clean pair of tongs and she dried them with a dish towel that felt like silk and was probably meant to be ornamental. She had a feeling Val didn’t care about things like that.

“He’s not your type,” Kevin answered.

“I have many types, though, don’t I?”

“Fair enough, but I don’t think he’ll hold your interest long.”

She sighed. “They so rarely do.”

“So, um, back to this housekeeper – what time will he arrive, leave, et cetera?” Alex asked.

Val laughed. “You take things very seriously.”

“People try to kill me a lot.”

“That must get irritating,” she said casually. “When I’m in residence, Raoul comes early and leaves quickly. He won’t even wake you. He’s good.”

“I’ll just lock the door, then.”

“If you like.”

“We’re not sleeping in tomorrow, Ollie,” Kevin interjected. “There’s a lot to get set before we act, and I don’t want to waste more time.”

“Give her the one morning off,” Daniel insisted. “She’s been driving all night for a week, sleeping in the back of cars. She needs rest.”

Kevin made a disgusted face. “She’s not a child, Danny. The big kids have work to do.”

“It’s not a problem,” Alex said quickly. She glanced at the clock on the oven; it was only seven. “I’m crashing now anyway, so I’m sure I’ll be up long before Raoul arrives.”

“I’ll walk you through my inventory, then you can tell me what else you need. I’ve got the video footage of your subject, which I’m sure you’ll want to review, and then —”

“Tomorrow, Kevin,” Alex interrupted. “Now, sleep.”

Kevin inhaled noisily through his nose and rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

Alex almost reached for Daniel’s hand as she left the kitchen. She had to curl her fingers into a fist and hope Kevin hadn’t noticed. It felt unnatural, and she knew Daniel felt it, too. He followed close behind her, almost as if he were thinking about doing something to instigate the conversation – or possible altercation – that she was trying to avoid. Not now, she tried to communicate to him telepathically without turning. She walked faster, but it was a wasted effort. Daniel’s legs were too long for her to build any kind of lead.

She felt much better when she heard him close the door behind him and click the lock into place.

“Thanks,” she said, turning to wrap her arms around his waist.

“Only because we’re exhausted,” he reminded her. “I will be much more tenacious tomorrow.”

She was really dragging, so she went through only the most important parts of the routine. She didn’t want to bother with rebandaging her face, so she decided to let her skin breathe for the night. The wound was still bright red and puckered, and the stitches in her ear – though she’d used a flesh-toned suture thread – were hard to miss. It looked like the two halves of her lobe would rejoin, though. She’d have a nasty scar, but she didn’t want to think about that now.

She thought about setting up the cot in the closet for show but decided to wait till morning. It wasn’t like Kevin was going to do a room inspection. She also considered stringing a gas-canister line around the door. She didn’t think she had the energy, and anyway, an intruder would surely check the master first, if he got past Einstein. She settled for putting her SIG and belt on the bedside table.