I turned away from the mirror and stepped into the shower.

When I got out, I had a new text. Dad, requesting an audience.


I avoided looking at the bench as I crossed the courtyard. No little girl, but the lullaby still hung in the air, floating on the cold autumn wind.

The Chronos offices occupied a full square block in the Central Business District, just off Canal, in a building designated for Girard Industries. Heavy security discouraged most visitors, and if anyone managed to get through, two floors of apparent telemarketers would’ve bored them away. Most days, my dad worked from that building. But today, I’d been called to his home office.

I liked to call it the throne room. He didn’t like it at all.

“Poe is where?”

“Tennessee.” Dad wore his usual poker face. “ICU at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was hurt, badly, but is expected to recover.”


“I don’t know how, Hallie. Just that he had a terrible knife injury and almost bled to death. But he didn’t.”

I blew out a deep breath. Dad’s words rolled through my brain like the crawler at the bottom of a news broadcast.

“When’s he coming back to New Orleans?” I asked.

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Dad’s eyes closed briefly, and he pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger.


“No idea.” He dropped his hand. “But if I let him come back, things are going to change.”

If. I wanted to let loose, like Godzilla on an unsuspecting city, but people crossed oceans to avoid Paul Girard’s anger. Not a good idea to cause more if I wanted to get Poe back.

“No one else has the same skill he does,” I said, trying to reason. “Are you really willing to let him walk?”

“Possibly, yes.”

“Can we talk about why?”

My father went to the mahogany liquor cabinet, took a few ice cubes from the ice bucket, and dropped them into a glass. He poured a glass half full of amber-colored liquid. It was only on the rocks because lunchtime hadn’t rolled around yet. After that, it was straight-up.

“Poe’s loyalties have come into question.”

“Who would he be loyal to besides us?”

Dad set his glass down firmly and wiped his mouth with his thumb. His hands went to his hips, pushing back his suit jacket, exposing the lines of his holster.

“No,” I said. “No way. Not Poe.”

The cutting edge of betrayal overrode the feeling of dread she usually conjured up.

My mother.

“How did you find out?” I asked.

“She called. As a courtesy.”

I could imagine how courteous that conversation had been.

Dad and I didn’t talk about her, and only in business terms when we did. She’d done a bunk when I was ten, though she’d stayed at Chronos. I rarely went on jobs for her and had started to refuse them altogether, so a couple of years ago, she’d “made things easier for all of us” by choosing to operate out of her own office. She’d only made things easier for herself.

Teague Girard might be able to give up her family, but she’d sure as hell stick around for science.

“Why? Why would Poe do that?”

“I think you should sit down,” Dad said.

My head came up sharply. Weakness wasn’t in Paul Girard’s vocabulary, yet he sounded unsure.

“You know I’m about business. Always have been.” He filled his glass a little higher than halfway this time. “That’s why your mother pursued me, because of my connections and business sense.”

Not because she loved him.

“She brought Chronos to me.” He took a drink. “This much you know.”

I nodded.

“Chronos had chosen to be esoteric instead of savvy, and she wanted to change that. Time is money, and things were going downhill. There are people with special time skills all over the world. I didn’t know about those talents until your mother. Once I believed, I threw my backing behind Chronos. It didn’t take me very long to see the benefits, so I got involved.” He swirled the Maker’s Mark whisky in his glass. “There were people who didn’t agree with the way your mother wanted to handle things. One is the head of the Hourglass.”

“The ones who do the squeaky clean jobs?”

“The perfectly legal ones, yes.” He took another drink, a long one. “Your mother has recently been involved with them.”

“If they’re into legality, why would they hook up with her? Don’t they know who she is?” How she is?

“I don’t think they had a lot of choice in the matter.”

Mom had sacrificed our familial relationship, and now she’d ditched our business one, too. She couldn’t cut us out any more clearly if she’d used an X-Acto knife.

“And as far as Poe is concerned, I believe your mother persuaded him to help her instead of us.”

The hits just kept coming.

“He wouldn’t betray me like that.” He couldn’t have. He was my only friend.

“I hope not, Hallie, but I’m not sure what to expect from anyone anymore, and until I know exactly what your mother is up to, I’m going to hire extra security.”

“Come on, Dad,” I whined in protest. “What are you going to do, put a guard on every inside door?”

“Just yours.”

I put my face in my hands to stifle the sound of my groan. “You can’t—”

“I can. I’m making my final decision this afternoon.” He set his jaw. “Whoever I choose will start tomorrow. Prepare yourself.”

My phone rang just as I reached the top of the stairs.

I didn’t want to answer, but I always did. I stopped in front of the window seat in the upper hallway that looked out over the street. “Hello, Mother.”

“Good morning, Hallie.”

“It’s already afternoon.” I wondered if she was in a different time zone. I strained to listen for background noises on her end of the line.

“Why must you always split hairs?”

“What do you want?” I dropped down onto the red velvet cushion and watched a dragonfly repeatedly crash into the window. I figured they’d all have taken to the swamps with the recent cold snap.

“You’ve usually hung up by this point in our conversations. What’s stopping you today?”

Poe. The fact that my mother always had me on a hook. The endless pull between wanting her approval and wishing she didn’t exist at all. It tore at me constantly, leaving my insides busted up and oozing. “I know you want something. Might as well find out what it is now.”

“I wanted to talk to you.”


She sighed. “There’s something you and Poe retrieved for your father. I need to know its location.”

“Oh. That’s why I rank a phone call.”

“You rank a phone call because you’re my daughter.”

“Don’t.” I knew it was wrong to roll around in all my upper handedness, but damned if it didn’t feel good. “You know my involvement ends after the jobs are done. I’m not privy to the location of things, and I seriously doubt Dad would leave whatever you’re looking for lying around for some idiot to come across.”

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