Mary Benning was an R.N. at the hospital’s memory-care unit. During his stay there, his father had taken a shine to her. Gray was able to hire her away, to serve as a night nurse here at the house, to be on hand when his father had the most trouble. The plan had been for Kenny to keep an eye on Dad during the day, until Gray and Mary could interview and hire a day nurse to cover a full twenty-four-hour shift. It would be expensive, but Director Crowe had arranged adequate compensation, a death benefit, to help cover the costs and keep Gray’s father in his own house.
“Harriet! Let me go!” His father yanked his hand free of Mary’s, coming close to elbowing Kenny in the nose.
The nurse kept a hand on his knee and gave it a squeeze of reassurance. “Jack, it’s me. Mary.”
His eyes found hers, a confused look passed over his face, then he sagged as memory washed back over him.
Mary glanced at Gray. “Your father caught you pulling up with the groceries. Saw the Thunderbird. Just got a little panicked and confused. He’ll be fine.”
Kenny straightened, a stricken look on his face. He’d not really seen Dad get like this before. Shook up, he stumbled away.
The motion drew his father’s attention. His eyes got huge. “Kenny, what’re you doing here?”
Kenny didn’t know what to say, still stunned by the Swiss cheese that was his father’s memory.
Mary covered for him, not hiding the truth, only patting his knee. “Jack, he’s been here all day.”
His father searched their faces, then leaned back in his chair. “Oh, yeah, that’s right … I remember …”
But did he? Or was he only acquiescing in an attempt to feign normalcy?
Kenny shared a glance with Gray, glassy with shock.
Welcome to my world.
“I’d better get back to finishing your dinner,” Mary said, standing and dusting off her knee.
“And I’d better finish unpacking,” Kenny said, seeking a hasty retreat.
“Good idea and wash up,” his father ordered with an echo of his former bluster. “Your room’s up—”
“I haven’t forgotten where it is,” Kenny cut him off, blind to the callousness of such a remark to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.
But his dad merely nodded, satisfied.
As Kenny stepped away, his father finally seemed to notice Gray standing there. The confusion on his face faded, but a stab of old anger took its place. It had taken his father almost two weeks to finally acknowledge and ultimately remember the death of his wife, so, to his mind, the wound was still raw. He also knew the source of that loss. That he always remembered. There had been many bad days in the intervening weeks, but what could either of them do? No words could bring her back.
A knock at the door startled them all. Gray tensed, expecting the worst.
Kenny, already headed to the front stairs, opened the door.
A lithe figure stood out on the porch, dressed in black leather and a loose motorcycle jacket over a maroon blouse. She carried a helmet under one arm.
The gloominess of the day lifted at the sight of her as Gray headed to the door. “Seichan, what are you doing here?”
His father interrupted. “Don’t leave the lady standing on the stoop, Kenny!” He waved the visitor inside. He might be losing his memory, but he knew a handsome woman when one landed on his doorstep.
“Thank you, Mr. Pierce.” Seichan entered, slipping inside, moving with the leonine grace of a jungle cat, all sinew, muscles, and long curves. She cast an appraising glance toward Kenny as she stepped past him—whatever she saw there, she found lacking.
Her eyes found Gray’s face next and visibly hardened—not in anger, more like protection. They’d barely spoken since they’d shared a kiss and a promise three weeks ago. The pledge was not a romantic one, only the assurance that she’d work alongside him to expose those who had a hand in his mother’s murder.
Still, Gray remembered the softening of those lips.
Was there more to that promise, something yet unspoken?
Before he could dwell on it further, his father pointed to the table. “We’re just about to sit down to dinner. Why don’t you join us?”
“That’s very kind,” Seichan said stiffly, “but I won’t be staying long. I just need a word with your son.”
Those almond-shaped eyes—marking her Eurasian heritage—fixed on Gray with plain intent.
Something was up.
Seichan was a former assassin for the same shadowy group responsible for his mother’s death, an international criminal organization called the Guild. Its real identity and purpose remained unknown, even to its own agents. The organization operated through individual cells around the world, each running independently, none having the complete picture. Seichan had eventually turned against it, recruited by Director Crowe to serve as a double agent until her subterfuge was exposed. Now—hunted both by her former employers and by foreign intelligence agencies for her past crimes—she was Gray’s partner and his responsibility.
And maybe something more.
Gray stepped close to her. “What’s up?”
She kept her voice low. “I got a call from Director Crowe. Came straight here. There’s been a kidnapping off the Seychelles by Somali pirates. A high-value American target. Painter wanted to know if you were up for a mission.”
Gray frowned. Why was Sigma involved with a simple kidnapping? There were plenty of policing and maritime agencies that could attend to such a crime. Sigma Force—made up of Special Forces soldiers who had been retrained in various scientific disciplines—was a covert wing for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Sigma teams were sent out into the world to protect against global threats, not to address the kidnapping of a single American.
Seichan must have read the suspicion in his face. Her eyes bore into his. She plainly knew more but was unable to speak freely in front of the others. Something big was happening. The realization set his heart to beating harder.
“The matter is time sensitive,” she added. “If you’re coming, there’s a jet already fueling, and Kowalski is on his way to pick us up. We can swing by your apartment on the way out. Otherwise, we’ll be briefed en route.”
Gray glanced at the chair by the cold hearth. His father overheard their talk, his gaze fixed to his son’s face.
“Go,” his father said. “Do your job. I’ve got enough help here.”
Gray took comfort in that gruff permission, praying it represented some small measure of forgiveness by his father. But his next words, spoken with a harsh bitterness, dashed such hope.
“Besides, the less I see of your face right now … the better.”
Gray backed a step. Seichan took his elbow, as if ready to catch him. But it was the heat of her palm, more than anything, that steadied him, the reassurance of human contact—like that kiss weeks ago.
Mary had stepped into the room, drying her hands on a towel. She’d also heard those harsh words and gave Gray a sympathetic look. “I’ve got things covered here. You take some time for yourself.”
He silently thanked her and allowed Seichan to guide him toward the door. Gray felt the need to share some parting farewell with his father. The desire burned painfully in his chest, but he had no words to voice it.
Before he knew it, he found himself out on the front porch. He halted at the top step and took in a deep, shuddering breath.
“Are you okay?” Seichan asked.
He ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ll have to be.”
Still, she continued to search his face, as if seeking a truer answer.
Before she could find it, the squeal of rubber on the pavement announced the arrival of his transportation. They both turned as a black SUV came to a hard stop. The window rolled down, allowing a pall of cigar smoke to waft out. The shaved head of a gorilla followed, chewing on a stump of a stogie.
“You coming or what?” Kowalski called hoarsely.
As much as the man aggravated him, Gray had never been happier to see his brutish teammate. He headed down the steps, only to have Kenny come rushing out after him, blocking his way.
“You can’t leave now. What am I supposed to do?”
Gray pointed back at the house. “It’s your turn. What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?”
He shoved past his sputtering brother and crossed toward the waiting SUV and Seichan’s parked motorcycle.
She kept beside him, slipping on her helmet.
“Who else has been assigned to us?” he asked.
“We’ve been ordered to pick up another two teammates, local assets already in the region, with unique skills to help us on this mission.”
“Who are they?”
She offered a ghost of a smile as she snapped down her helmet’s visor. Her words echoed out from inside, darkly amused.
“I hope you’ve had your rabies shots.”
July 1, 6:32 P.M. East Africa Time
Republic of Tanzania
The low growl warned him.
Already on edge, Tucker Wayne flattened against the brick wall of the narrow street and slid into the deeper shadows of a doorway. An hour ago, he noticed someone following him, watching from afar. He had managed to lose the tail quickly in the labyrinth of alleyways and crooked streets that made up this crumbling section of Zanzibar.
Who had found him?
He pressed his back against a carved wooden door. He intended to stay lost, undiscoverable. He had been adrift in the world for the past three years, now one year shy of his thirtieth birthday. Two weeks ago, he had reached the archipelago of Zanzibar, a string of sun-baked islands off the eastern coast of Africa. The name alone—Zanzibar—conjured up another time, a land of mystery and mythology. It was a place to disappear, to live unseen, and where few questions were asked.
People knew better than to be curious.
Still, he often drew second glances here, not because he was white. The ancient port of Zanzibar remained the crossroads for people of every race and color. And after a full year traveling through Africa, his skin was burned as dark as that of any of the local merchants hawking wares in the spice markets of old Stone Town. And he certainly struck a tall figure, muscular—more quarterback than linebacker—though there remained a hardness to his eyes that made any curious glance toward him skirt quickly away.