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“A few hours. Put it —”

“Underneath the top patch, right?” Kevin interrupted. “Second down.”

“Yes, that will work.”

Alex heard Kevin’s low chuckle.

“Mission accomplished. Wade Pace is one very deserving dead man walking. Moving on to target number two.”

“Will you check in when you’re in position?”

“Negative. Should be less than twenty-four. I’ll see you back at the apartment.”


“Get on your guy, Ollie.”

Her voice was a little higher-pitched when she answered. “Yeah. I’ll have that, um, done before you’re back.”

He tuned in to her nervousness, and his tone became gruff, commanding. “You’d better. If I cause ripples, your plan might not work.”


He disconnected before she could. Again.

Alex took a deep breath and set the phone and the computer down on the bed next to her.

Daniel was cross-legged on the floor at her feet, one hand curled loosely around her calf. His eyes hadn’t left her face throughout the phone call.

“Did you get all that?” she asked.

Daniel nodded. “I can’t believe he didn’t wake anyone. Tell me my voice isn’t so piercing.”

She grinned. “It’s not.”

He leaned forward to put his chin on her knee. She felt his hand tighten around her leg.

“And now it’s your turn.” He said the words in barely more than a whisper, but the volume didn’t disguise his intensity.

“Not quite yet.” She glanced automatically at the digital clock she’d set up as part of her temporary lab. The display read 4:15. “I’ve got a few hours till showtime.”

She felt the shift against her skin as his jaw tightened.

“I’m not doing anything dangerous,” she reminded him. “I won’t be breaking into anyone’s fortress. It’s not so different from placing the tracker.”

“I know. I keep telling myself that.”

Alex stood, stretching, and Daniel leaned back to give her room. She nodded to the corner where her lab equipment was spread out inefficiently across a variety of end tables. She’d taken advantage of the setup to create a healthy supply of Survive after she was done with the recipes for Pace.

“I suppose I should clean this up before it upsets Val.”

Daniel got to his feet. “Can I help?”

“Sure. Just don’t touch anything without gloves.”

It didn’t take long; she’d had so much practice setting her lab up and taking it down, sometimes with an urgent deadline. Daniel was quick to grasp the order of things, and soon he had the proper case ready before she had the equipment totally dismantled. As she carefully wrapped up the last round-bottomed flask, she glanced at the clock again. She still had hours before Val would need to start on her makeup.

“You look exhausted,” Daniel commented.

“We got an early start. Val will fix me up so I’m presentable.”

“A nap might not hurt, either.”

Alex was fairly sure that she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. She was working to seem composed so that Daniel wouldn’t worry, but in truth she could feel the seeds of panic beginning to take root in her stomach lining. Not that she’d lied to him about anything she would be doing, but she wasn’t anywhere close to relaxed about the next phase. The actual action part. The truth was, she’d fallen back into her usual mind-set, gotten very comfortable with preparation. Now that it was time for her to implement the plan, her nervous system was in overdrive. Still, even just resting would probably be smart.

“Good idea.”

As Alex watched Carston’s housekeeper walk through the automatic doors into the huge supermarket, she took a few slow, deep breaths, trying to center herself. She examined her face in the visor mirror and was reassured by the illusion Val had created. Alex was sandy blond today, quite believably so. Her makeup appeared understated, despite all the coverage. Alex was happy to see that her nose was settling into its new shape, probably permanently. Every little bit helped.

A few other shoppers parked and entered, and Alex knew it was time to move. One more deep breath. This wasn’t that hard. Just a normal shopping trip for now.

Inside, the market was busy. It was a diverse group of patrons, and Alex was sure she wouldn’t stick out. She was suddenly reminded of Daniel’s catastrophic shopping spree in Childress, and she was surprised to find herself smiling. She blamed her reaction on nerves.

Despite the traffic, it wasn’t hard to find the woman she was looking for. The housekeeper was wearing a bright yellow cotton wrap dress, and the color stood out. Rather than follow her through the store, Alex worked the opposite pattern and crossed paths with her every other aisle. It put Alex in the woman’s sight line more often but seemed more natural, less creepy. The woman – who appeared to be about fifty from close up, in good shape and fairly attractive – paid Alex no attention. Meanwhile Alex filled her cart with random items that seemed innocuous – milk, bread, toothpaste – and then added the few items that mattered.

Carston liked these small bottles of organic orange juice. They must expire quickly, because the housekeeper bought a few every trip but never stocked up. Alex grabbed three – the same number as in the housekeeper’s cart – and put them in the front child seat of her own.