So, this older facility was hollowed out, becoming a deserted cathedral to science, most of it shuttered and shut down. Only Robert’s pet project remained, though isolated and adrift. His robotics research was no longer considered by the Bloodline a viable path to extending life, deemed to be too macro in its scope. Instead, everything shifted into the fashionable micro world of stem cells, nanotechnology, and now DNA manipulation. Only lately was that trend reversing, the pendulum swinging back with the advancements in robotics, creating the new field of neuro-robotics, the merging of man and machine.
Still, the Bloodline relegated his work to weapons research, which was not inappropriate. In Afghanistan alone, there were more than two thousand robots fighting alongside American troops—and that force was rapidly expanding in number and intelligence.
So, Robert continued his weapons research here. The facility was perfectly suited for that: isolated, under a no-fly restriction, and, best of all, surrounded by varied terrain. Rivers, forests, meadows, and cliffs—the perfect landscape to field-test the various iterations of his neuro-pods.
Now, with the loss of that major facility in Dubai, life was again returning to these empty halls. New priests were returning to the cathedral, ready to bring the chorus and the chant of the scientific method back to these hallowed halls.
Robert should have been happier, but all he felt was dead inside. The loss of his brother coming so soon on the heels of Amanda’s death. And now the threat to his grandnephew. It finally broke something inside him—or maybe he had always been broken, and it took Jimmy’s blood on his hands for him to finally recognize it.
The Bloodline had not been kind to his family.
He planned on ending that today.
The guard came back online. “Sir, Orange and Blue are negative on the target.”
“Then spread the search on foot, scour every room, closet, and cabinet.”
Robert knew that could be a challenge. With the Fourth of July holiday, only a skeleton staff remained on-site—not that the regular staff was all that much more fleshed out.
But he needed his grandnephew returned to him.
He’d lost too much today—and placed a thin hope that he could save the child and the straggling remnants of his immediate family. But with the outside world closing down upon his private world, he had no chance until he first secured the child.
He knew what he needed.
He tapped a key and brought up a view of a cell in the red zone. A woman with a shaved head sat on a bed, her face in her hands. He was glad she was turned away.
Robert pressed an intercom button.
“Yes,” Dr. Fielding answered from his laboratory in that same zone.
“Emmet, you said you wanted to test the newest pods, a more vigorous challenge of their abilities.”
Excitement frosted his voice. “Of course, sir.”
“Then let’s get started.”
Robert finished with the man and made the necessary calls. Once done, he tapped another switch, accessing a camera that required a code known only to him.
None must know about this prisoner.
The view of another room bloomed onto the screen, only this one was lavishly appointed with a four-poster bed, deep-cushioned chairs, a stone fireplace, and walls decorated with tapestries. The roof was wood-beamed, framed into Gothic arches, and supported a centuries-old crystal chandelier.
But the room was still a cell.
The window, streaming with sunlight, was heavily barred. The stout wood door, banded in iron, was locked electronically.
The prisoner must have heard the stir of the camera as Robert turned it toward the window. She stood limned against the sunlight, a dark shadow, a slender twist against the brightness.
Noting the camera’s motion, she came forward, looking up.
She still wore the same leathers as when she arrived, though it looked like she’d used the neighboring bathroom to shower.
She glared up at the camera.
Those green eyes, pinched slightly at the corner, marked her mixed Eurasian blood. Just the sight of those eyes made his heart clutch.
He touched the screen with his finger, rubbing an edge of his thumb along the side of her face, knowing he could never get closer. She had escaped the Guild years ago, turned enemy to the Bloodline, but now she was returned to the fold.
“Where you belong,” he whispered throatily. “I should never have let you escape.”
Another face blinked into existence in the corner of the screen, irritating him with the interruption.
“Mr. Gant,” the man said, “I wanted to inform you that the helicopter is inbound with the package from DC.”
“Acknowledged. I’ll be back at the Lodge momentarily.”
An underground tunnel ran from the lab complex to a secure entrance at the mansion. He could take the tram and be back there in minutes.
He lingered a moment more, staring at his handsome prisoner.
As if sensing his eyes, she lifted an arm and raised an offending finger toward the camera.
He smiled as he clicked off the camera. He turned around and headed for the tunnel back to the Lodge, ready to face the man who had killed his brother.
As the helicopter swept in a wide curve, Gray gaped at the view of the Gant family mansion below.
He had seen pictures of the massive structure in books, never in person, few people had. It competed with such great American castles as those built by the Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Hearst families. But the Gant clan went old-school, patterning their design on a famous Crusader castle in Syria, the Krak des Chevaliers, the Fortress of the Knights.
Its outer wall, studded with small square towers and peppered with arrow slits, was three meters thick. The only passage through that wall was a massive archway, fronted by a drawbridge over a real moat.
Beyond the wall, a sunlit courtyard was half–parking lot, half-gardens, holding centuries-old oaks and flowering rose beds. The keep itself held seventy rooms, all done in Gothic style of pointed arches, high windows, and a multitude of doors and balconies. It all led up to two square towers crowned by toothed parapets.
The chopper lowered toward a helipad in the courtyard. As it dropped within the outer walls, Gray felt the world close in, trapping him. The skids touched the pavement, and he was led out at gunpoint, his wrists cuffed behind him. The team leader marched him across the courtyard toward the giant arched doors to the main mansion.
Gray had nowhere to run. Even if he could escape, he remained tethered electronically to the transmitter in the leader’s pocket. If he fled farther than ten yards, the countdown to detonation would begin again.
Right now he needed to keep his head.
In more ways than one.
A few steps away, the team leader held his radio earpiece, listening to someone. His other hand nervously scratched at the crucifix tattoo on his neck. All Gray heard was a final “Yes, sir.”
The man turned to Gray. “Come with me.”
They headed up the steps of native fieldstone and through an open wooden door carved with panels depicting knightly pursuits, from jousting to battles.
Beyond the door opened a massive hall. It was like stepping into a cathedral, from the vaulted ceilings to the massive stone pillars. Sunlight flowed through stained-glass windows, again depicting knights, but in a more courtly setting, many wearing the Templar cross on their surcoats.
Despite all of the grandness, there remained an indescribable warmth to the hall. Thick rugs softened the stone floors. Two fireplaces at either end, tall enough to trot horses through, promised merry winter fires. Even now they were filled with massive bouquets, scenting the room with summer’s endless promise.
And Gray could tell where the nickname for the estate, the Lodge, came from. The mansion’s reputation as a hunting lodge was plain. Several of the rugs on the floor were bearskins. Mounted on the walls were the heads of beasts from every continent.
Hemingway would have been very happy here.
“Keep up,” the team leader barked.
Gray hurried forward, led across the hall to a door beside one of the fireplaces. The leader knocked.
Gray was ushered into a small library, done up as a sitting room, with French antique furniture, a small fireplace, and tiny windows, no bigger than arrow slits, offering peeks at the gardens beyond.
The lone occupant sat in a chair to one side of the cold fireplace. He wore a conservative gray suit, though he’d shed his jacket and had it folded over the edge of a chair. The white shirt was unbuttoned at the top, sleeves rolled up.
Robert Gant held out his hand.
The team leader rushed forward, passed the transmitter into his palm, along with the keys to Gray’s cuffs—then hurried out, clearly under specific orders, as not a word was exchanged between them.
The door closed.
The president’s brother stared at Gray’s face and spoke his first words. “Did he suffer?”
Gray didn’t need to be told the subject of that question. Still, he didn’t know his footing here. This was made worse by the fire in his chest, flaming the edges of his eyes, burning at the bonds of his self-control. But cuffed and at the mercy of the transmitter, he could do nothing but stand, his legs trembling with the desire to send him charging regardless of the consequences. His fists tightened so hard that the bulge of his wrists cut into the tight cuffs.
Robert waved him to the other chair opposite the fireplace.
Gray took it, not trusting his control. He sat on the edge, ready to lunge, to exact whatever revenge he could upon the man responsible for his mother’s death.
Robert asked again, his voice cracking this time. “Please … I know Jimmy’s surgery is futile. I heard the grim prognosis. But in those final moments, did my brother suffer?”
Gray heard the pain more than the words. That keen of grief let him see past the red haze to the man’s barely contained agony. Robert’s eyes were stitched with red veins, shadowed darkly by pain, his skin as ashen as his gray jacket.
For some reason, as much as he hated the man, Gray answered as truthfully as he could. “No. Your brother didn’t suffer.”