She didn't have the strength to laugh out loud, but she laughed inside. She'd done so much to gain Luke's attention. She'd thought he was special. But he wasn't. He wasn't any better than Mark. Al men were alike.

She'd been a fool to care about any of them, especially Luke, who'd avoided her from the beginning. He hadn't even been willing to sleep with her--until he was so drunk he couldn't think straight.

Maybe that was why she'd wanted him so badly. Because, as much as she preferred not to believe it, he was different. Women weren't just a piece of ass to him. People in general meant more.

Seeing his gun below the coffee table not far away, she wondered if she could reach it. She couldn't last much longer--her strength was fading by the second. But if she was lucky, she could take Luke with her.

Or Mark. As soon as Luke's headlights had struck the house, Mark had ducked back, out of sight. She could sense him creeping toward Luke from the kitchen now, hoisting that crowbar....

The creak that came from directly behind him was Luke's first warning that he wasn't alone with the two prone women. He'd been so concerned with trying to find a pulse on Ava, so sure the damage done to both Ava and Kalyna had been the result of a fight between them, that he'd never considered the possibility of a third person. But rapid footfalls made it very clear that someone else was rushing up behind him.

Whirling just in time, Luke managed to duck the metal object that came down hard, aimed at his head. It hit his shoulder instead, which made a cracking sound and hurt like hell.

"What the...Who are you?" he cried.

The man didn't answer. Too intent on kil ing him, he swung the crowbar again, but he put so much of his weight behind it that Luke knocked his feet out from under him with a well-timed sweep of the leg. The man cursed and fell, but he didn't drop the crowbar. He hung on to it and grabbed something else he found on the floor before scrambling to his feet again.

It took a second for Luke to realize this man now had a knife, as well as the crowbar--a weapon in each hand.

Backing up, he remained half-crouched, in a defensive position, so he could dodge whatever came his way. He could gain the advantage if only he could reclaim his gun, but he couldn't reach it without risking the knife or the crowbar, or both. He dared not even glance in that direction for fear he'd give its presence away. He couldn't let this man become aware of it.

Fortunately, he hadn't set it on top of the coffee table.

"I don't know who the hell you are, but you're in the wrong place at the wrong time," the man breathed.

Luke stepped to the left, drawing him away from Ava. He doubted she was alive--there was so much blood--but he hadn't been able to confirm before this person attacked him. "Why are you here?"

"Unfinished business," came the response.

Suddenly, Luke knew he'd heard this man's voice before. Over the phone. It was Mark Cannaby.

"Kalyna already told the police about Sarah," he said. "They'll get to the truth eventually."

"No, they won't. Their only witness is dead." He waved toward Kalyna. "Besides, they're not even sure Sarah existed."

"She existed...."

The sound of Kalyna's voice caused Mark to look at her again. His jaw dropped, and Luke blinked in surprise. She was alive?

"But it...won't matter...not to you. I might be dying,'re going with me."

Mark didn't appear to be too worried until she raised the gun. He'd missed seeing Luke enter with it--missed seeing him set it aside when he found Ava--but Kalyna hadn't.

She was in bad shape. Unable to stand, she stayed on the floor. It required both hands to lift the gun, but she had the muzzle pointed in their direction and, at this range, it wouldn't be hard to hit one of them.

Mark held the knife toward Luke and the crowbar toward Kalyna as if he could ward them both off at the same time. "Don't do it," he said to her.

"You know how I've always felt about you."

"Now I know," she said. "Good thing you...explained it to me...."

"Come on, Kalyna. I had to stab you. You would've done it, too. It wasn't easy for me."

"Yes, it was...too easy." Her hands shook so badly, Luke was afraid Mark would dive for the gun. She was certainly vulnerable. Luke would've done it himself, except that Mark was so much closer.

Determined not to let Mark get hold of that 9 mm, Luke edged toward them. If he could grab one of the three weapons, he'd at least be able to defend himself. But a blast rang out just as he made his move, so he lunged to one side instead.

Kalyna had shot Mark.

"That was for...Tati," she said.

The knife and crowbar fell from Mark's hands. "You bitch!" Grasping his chest, he sank to the floor.

Luke eyed the weapons, now only a few feet away from him. They were available but he didn't dare move. Kalyna had the gun trained on him.

"Tell love me," she wheezed. Her hair was matted with sweat. He could see the effort it took just to stay in a sitting position, just to speak. He didn't know how she was stil breathing. But it didn't take much to pull a trigger. And she'd proven herself capable.

He stared at her, wondering if he could summon any compassion. But he couldn't. Not after what she'd done to Ava.

"Luke!" she cried. "Say it!"

"I can't." He shook his head. In a world where everything else seemed distorted, he finally understood the one thing that mattered. The decision he hadn't been able to make earlier that night. He loved Ava. He hadn't known her long, had no idea if she was even alive, but what they'd had was fresh and new and every bit as powerful as what he'd once felt for Marissa.

The barrel of the gun wobbled but Kalyna managed to compensate. "I just...want to hear it. Is that too...fucking ask?"

Reaching out one hand, he stepped cautiously closer. "Give me the gun, Kalyna. Give it to me, and let me get you some help."

The shaking grew worse. She'd just kil ed Mark. She might kil him, too. But Luke couldn't lie to her. Then he really would be as bad as she thought he was.

"Say it!"

"Give me the gun." Dropping and rolling, he grabbed it away from her, but she didn't fire or try to fight him.

She dropped back onto the floor with a gasping laugh. "I'm...pathetic.

I couldn't...shoot you. Even're the only man I ever really...loved,"

she said, and then she was gone.

Luke sat in the waiting room at the hospital, along with Chuck Bixby, Skye Wil is, Sheridan Granger and Jonathan Stivers. After making sure both Mark and Kalyna were dead, he'd checked Ava and found a weak but steady pulse. She was so beaten up, he hadn't known how to help her, but he'd figured stopping the bleeding in her leg was a good place to start. He'd tied a dish towel around her thigh. Then he'd carried her to his car and driven her to the hospital. He couldn't have tolerated waiting at the houseboat for an ambulance, could never have sat there, watching her slip away. He'd had to jump into action.