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“So it’s settled. Now let’s go improve our aim.”

Daniel picked things up so quickly, it was no wonder Kevin had been recruited. While they practiced, Daniel told Alex about Kevin’s prowess at sports and his particular gift for shooting. Apparently the boys and their father had taken part in many competitions, and Kevin had almost always come away with the first-place trophy.

“I made the mistake of beating him once, when we were nine. Not worth it. From then on, I went along to keep Dad happy, but I didn’t really compete. I found my own interests, things that Kevin didn’t want to bother with. Like books. Community involvement. Distance running. Culinary classes. Girl stuff, as he frequently informed me.”

Alex loaded a new magazine. They were really burning through Kevin’s ammo, but she didn’t much care. He could afford new ammo.

She’d done a thorough search of the barn today and found a few of his cash hoards. It looked like some of the drug money had come home with him. As a general rule, she avoided stealing unless she’d run out of other options, but she was very tempted now to grab as much as she could carry. After all, it was partially Kevin’s fault she was so much poorer than she had been last month.

“I wonder what would have happened to me if I’d had a sibling who was better at chemistry and biology in high school?” she asked. “Would I have given it up? Become an accountant?”

She took a shot, then smiled. Right in the heart.

“Maybe you’re more competitive than I am. Maybe you would have fought it out for the crown.”

He leaned casually into his shooting position and fired a round at a bale a hundred yards farther away than hers.

She fired again. “Maybe I would be happier as an accountant.”

Daniel sighed. “You’re probably right. I was pretty happy as a teacher. Not a glamorous career, but the mundane can be quite satisfying. In fact, being ordinary in general is highly underrated.”

“I wouldn’t know. But it sounds nice.”

“You were never ordinary.” It wasn’t a question.

“No,” she agreed. “Not really. Unfortunate, as it turned out.” Always too smart for her own good, though it had taken her a while to see things that way. She shot her target in the head twice in quick succession.

Daniel straightened up and leaned the long rifle against his shoulder. Einstein got to his feet and stretched out his back. “Well, I had my few areas where I transcended the mundane,” he said, and Alex could tell from his tone that he was purposely lightening the mood. “And lucky you,” he continued, “tonight you get to see me work in my favorite field.”

Alex set the SIG down and stretched, much like the dog had. Her muscles got stiff more quickly with her injuries. She wasn’t moving the way she usually did; she was favoring the damaged parts of her body. She needed to force herself to use her limbs equally.

“Sounds exciting. And I’m hungry, so I really hope the field you’re talking about is the kitchen.”

“It is, indeed. Shall we?” He made a sweeping gesture with his free hand toward the truck.

“As soon as we clean up our toys.”

Daniel did seem very at home, humming as he diced things and sprinkled spices on things and put other things into saucepans. Of course, she couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the tools appeared to be brand-new and hadn’t been in the cupboards when she’d dug through them earlier. She would hold off on the lecture about how people who were just passing through town rarely bought things for their kitchens. It was starting to smell kind of amazing and she didn’t want to jinx anything.

She sat sideways on the sofa, her legs curled up under her, watching the news and Daniel at the same time. Nothing interesting on TV – just a lot of local stuff and a little bit about the primaries, which were still about nine months away. The whole election process was irritating to Alex. She would probably have to stop watching the news altogether when the real campaigning started. As someone who knew better than most the kind of darkness that went on behind the scenes and how little any of the important decisions had to do with the figurehead spokesperson the people elected, it was hard for her to care much about left or right.

Arnie had eaten another frozen dinner and retired around seven thirty, as seemed to be his habit. Alex had tried to convince him that a home-cooked meal was worth waiting for, but he hadn’t even bothered responding to her coaxing. She was surprised that Daniel didn’t give it a try, but maybe he was concentrating too hard on the food to notice. She offered to help once or twice only to be told in no uncertain terms that all she was allowed to do was eat.

Daniel grumbled to himself as he set out the unmatched plates, random silverware, and coffee mugs. She would have to remind him that he wasn’t to go off on another shopping spree for monogrammed china. He moved all the food to the table, and she got up eagerly, famished and driven half wild by the various fragrances wafting through the room. He held a chair out for her, which reminded her of things she’d seen in old movies. Was this what normal people did? She wasn’t sure, but she didn’t think so. At least, not in the places she went out to eat.

With a flourish, he pulled out a lighter and lit a blue-and-pink-polka-dotted candle shaped like the number 1 that he’d stuck into a bread roll.

“This was the closest I could find to a taper,” he explained as he saw her expression. “And this was the best I could do for wine,” he continued, gesturing to the bottle that sat open beside her coffee mug. The words on the label were all unfamiliar to her. “It’s the choicest vintage the United Supermarket carries.”