Amanda still sat on her bed, holding the IV pole. “Who was that?”
Jimmy pictured the face of the young man, the analyst from before. He couldn’t remember his name, but he knew one thing about the boy.
“That was my new best friend.”
July 12, 10:10 A.M. EST
Painter stood at the foot of Amanda’s bed at George Washington University Hospital. He had his arm around Lisa’s waist as she reviewed the young woman’s chart. Mother and child had been here for a week, transferred shortly after the revelation of the president’s miraculous recovery following the assassination attempt.
James Gant was at the same hospital, two floors up, in his own secure wing, all the better to hide his feigned post-op recovery. Only those who knew the truth were allowed access. The shooter remained a mystery, more fodder to add to the myriad conspiracies surrounding presidential assassinations.
Off in South Carolina, the destruction at the Gant family estate was kept hushed and restricted from view by the no-fly zone. The official story was that a natural sinkhole had opened in the mountains on their property, accompanied by a quake strong enough to cause a gas leak and explosion at the Lodge. The report of the heroic death of Robert Gant—who died in the fire, while trying to rescue people—helped divert attention from the truth. A handpicked detachment of the National Guard, sworn to secrecy, still continued the cleanup of the dead pods that littered the surrounding landscape.
Lisa finally lowered the charts of Amanda and William.
“Happy?” Painter asked.
“Everything seems to be in order.”
Lisa was having a hard time letting go, feeling a personal responsibility for the child. The child had his own team of geneticists, allergists, and neonatologists who were overseeing the boy’s care. He continued to shed away the rest of the PNA, becoming a normal little boy. Any further allergic responses were watched closely and ameliorated.
But she wasn’t the only one concerned for his well-being.
“When do you leave?” Amanda asked, cradling the sleeping child in her arms.
Tucker sat next to her bed, a large stuffed dog at his elbow, a gift for the baby. “Tomorrow morning. Kane and I are headed to Russia.”
One of Kane’s ears swiveled toward his handler, but he never lifted his head from the bed’s blanket, his eyes watching every small facial tic of the dreaming baby, sniffing occasionally at the footy pajamas.
“Make sure you visit if you’re ever in Charleston.”
“I’ll do that.” Tucker stood up, kissed his own fingertips, and gently touched the crown of the child’s head.
Amanda tilted the baby out of the way and raised an arm, wanting to hug Tucker. He obliged, keeping it brief—or at least, he tried to. She held him tightly with all the stubbornness of the Gants. She kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you.”
He straightened, a blush rising to his face.
Painter and Lisa also said their good-byes. Out in the hall, Lisa crossed to talk to the doctors at the nursing station.
Alone with Tucker, Painter tried one more time. “Sigma could use your help. And Kane’s. We have a lot of work ahead to root out the rest of the Bloodline.”
That statement was true, but they were already making significant strides to that end. Armed with Jason’s database, they had many names to pursue. Threads were being pulled, and the tapestry woven over millennia was starting to shred. Gray was right when he said that in the modern age it was harder to hide. The wildernesses of yesteryear had shrunken, offering less shelter.
Painter knew with certainty.
The Guild was dead.
“But we always have new crises to attend, too,” Painter pressed. “We could use someone with your unique talents.”
Tucker gave him a crooked smile. “I’ll pass. I’ve never been much of a team player. But if you ever need me, you have my number.”
Tucker turned and headed down the corridor, Kane at his knee.
Painter called out, “Wait! I don’t have your number.”
Tucker twisted around, walking backward a few steps, his crooked smile straightening. “Something tells me, director, if you ever need me, you’ll find me.”
He was right.
Painter lifted his arm in a good-bye.
Tucker merely swung around and vanished around a corner. The last sight was Kane’s tail wagging, ready for their next adventure.
Painter watched a breath longer, knowing that wouldn’t be the last he would see of Tucker and Kane.
Lisa finally rejoined him. “Ready?”
They headed out of the hospital, hand in hand, into the brightness of a new day. A horse-drawn carriage waited at the curb, covered in her favorite chrysanthemums, each petal a deep burgundy trimmed in gold.
Jason had hunted down that rare specimen, getting a large shipment in time. Kowalski was assigned to arrange the livery service. He spent the entire week exiting rooms with the same joke: Sorry, gotta see a man about a horse.
In a few more steps, Lisa recognized the flower and immediately suspected something was up.
“Painter …?” she warned.
He walked her to the carriage, helped her up, then dropped to a knee on the carriage step, revealing the small velvet-lined box in his palm.
She covered her cheeks. “No!”
“I haven’t even asked the question yet.”
She lowered her hands, her face radiant, blushing as darkly as the petals of the chrysanthemums. “Then yes, yes, yes …”
She pulled him to his feet, practically yanking him to her mouth. They kissed, laughing between their lips, then moving to something deeper and more meaningful. For the longest moment, they remained embraced, pledging silently never to be parted.
But, apparently, there was a catch, a clause in the contract to be addressed first.
Lisa moved into the carriage, drawing him up. She faced him. “I want kids … just to be clear.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have done this after seeing the baby.”
“I’m serious.” She held up her fingers. “I want two.”
Painter stared at her hand. “You know you’re holding up four fingers, right?”
Kat dropped heavily onto the living room sofa, sprawling out, taking off her sunglasses and the light scarf that hid her bald head. Her sutures itched like mad, all over her body, setting her nerves on fire.
Monk followed a few minutes later through the apartment door, carrying Penelope, who hung limply in his arms with the slumber of innocence.
“The baby?” he asked.
“Already in her crib. Did you get the stroller?”
“It can stay in the minivan. Someone wants to smash a window and steal it, then let ’em. They can have the case of Pampers, too.”
Monk headed down the hallway to the baby’s room, settled the child into the bed, and came back and joined her on the couch. He collapsed next to her, sighing loudly.
Kat ran her palm over her head. Tears suddenly burst out.
Monk pulled her to him. “What’s wrong?”
“Look at me. Covered in sutures, scabs, no hair. Did you see the looks I was getting in the park?”
He tugged her face toward his, leaning in close, making sure she could see the sincerity in his eyes. “You’re beautiful. And if it bothers you, hair grows back and the plastic surgeon promised there would be very little scarring.”
He gently kissed her lips, sealing the deal.
“Besides,” he said, rubbing his own shaved head, “bald is beautiful.”
“It works for you,” she said, wiping her tears.
They lay in each other’s arms for a few long, perfect minutes.
“I heard you talking to Painter,” Monk said. “You sure he’s okay with the decision?”
Kat nodded against his chest, making a soft, sleepy sound. “Mm-hmm.”
“Are you okay with it?”
She pulled back, sensing his seriousness. “I know I was just crying about my injuries. But …”
She stared away, slightly ashamed.
“You still loved it,” he said. “Being out in the field.”
“I did. Especially with you. It was better together.”
He smiled. “Looks like I’m back in Sigma, then. I mean, someone’s got to keep you out of trouble.”
Her grin widened.
“And speaking of things that are better together.” He lifted her and pulled her atop his lap. Her legs straddled his waist. “And in case you wanted solid proof about how beautiful you are …”
Her eyes widened. “Oh.”
President James T. Gant sat in his wheelchair as the nurse pushed him, trailed by two Secret Service agents.
“Your wife is resting comfortably,” the nurse assured him as they reached the private room, guarded by another agent.
“Thank you, Patti,” he said. “I’d like to go in alone, if that’s okay.”
“Certainly, Mr. President. If you need anything, you can buzz the nursing station.”
The guard opened the door, and James wheeled in by himself, leaving the agents outside. After the door closed, he climbed out of the wheelchair and crossed to the hospital bed on his own.
Teresa had two operations already to repair the damage from the “car accident,” which was the official story. They’d plated her shattered cheekbone and cracked her skull open to cauterize internal bleeding. The doctors warned him each time that the brain damage was too severe, that his wife would remain in a vegetative state, likely forever.
Still, James played the stricken husband who would do anything to keep his wife alive, demanding the painful surgeries.
He stared down at her shaved head, the tubes going into every orifice, the droop of her eyelids.
“You look a mess, Teresa,” he said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “The doctors explained the difference between a coma and a vegetative state. Coma is characterized by a lack of awareness. You have what’s known as partial awareness. They say there’s a good chance you can hear me in there. I hope so.”