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.”