He sometimes forgot that about her.

He nodded. “I can get you a flight out first thing in the morning.”

She smiled, glancing over at Lisa, who wore a similar grin.

Painter realized the truth at that moment. The two women had played him from the outset, intending this result all along. Rather than calling them on it, he simply resigned himself to the inevitable.

“We should return to my office,” Kat said to Lisa. “Get everything in order before our morning flight.”

Lisa stood, gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and headed after Kat—but not before hanging back in the doorway with a smile that held infinite promise. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Painter watched them head down the hall. It was not an unpleasant sight. As they disappeared around a corner, the worries settled back over his shoulders.

He reached to a file on his desk and slipped out the top photo inside. It was the last picture taken of Amanda, smiling next to her husband, one hand supporting her belly, protective, proud.

Painter stared harder at the picture, noticing for the first time the edge of fear in her eyes, the way she leaned close to her husband, almost sheltering herself. Even the arm clutched around her partner’s waist clung a bit too tightly.

What were you so scared of, Amanda?

11:59 P.M. East Africa Time

Cal Madow mountains, Somalia

The needle sank into Amanda’s belly, delivering a burning sting of anesthetic. Her fingers dug into the thin sheets of the hospital bed. She watched it all, refusing to look away.

Her hospital gown had been pulled up over her stomach, exposing her swollen belly and protruding navel. A privacy sheet covered her from the waist down—not that they’d spared her from any indignities up to now.

“That should numb her well enough, Dr. Blake,” the tall blond woman said, disposing of the used syringe in a red sharps container. She had a slight German accent, maybe Swiss.

“Thank you, Petra.”

The British doctor patted Amanda’s arm. Like his nurse, he wore scrubs—but rather than the typical blue, his were old-fashioned, solid white. “We’ll be done in a few minutes, and you can get some rest for the night. I know it’s been a long day.”

The pair left to finish final preparations for the procedure.

Amanda had no choice but to wait in the bed. She kneaded her belly, reassuring herself and the child inside. She noted the leather restraints hanging from the rails. It frightened her that they hadn’t bothered to tie her down. It demonstrated their unflagging confidence in the security surrounding the cabin.

She stared at the ultrasound’s monitor, dark at the moment but waiting to be used in the procedure to come. They’d already performed a scan of her abdomen when she arrived here, recording her baby’s position, measuring the dimensions of his skull and approximate body length. She hadn’t resisted that first ultrasound. At the time, she had wanted to know the status of her child as fiercely as the doctor had.

In the end, it had brought her great relief to see the flutter of his heartbeat, his tiny curled fists, his small, sleepy movements. After a close examination of the sonogram, the doctor pronounced her boy wonderfully healthy.

But it seemed the medical team was not done with her.

Dr. Blake returned. Petra carried a tray holding a large syringe equipped with a five-inch-long needle. Amanda had already had an amniocentesis when she was eighteen weeks along, so she knew what to expect.

Petra swabbed her stomach with fresh antiseptic, then powered up the ultrasound and handed the lubed probe to Dr. Blake. With an eye on the monitor, the doctor guided the needle deep into her belly. The pain was minimal, like a mild menstrual cramp.

She looked away from the monitor as the tip of the needle approached her sleeping child. It was too disconcerting to watch. One slip and she could only imagine the damage that might be done.

In the end, all went well.

Fluid was drawn skillfully from the amniotic sac around her boy, and the needle withdrawn. She finally let out the breath she had been holding. Tears suddenly blurred her vision.

“Monitor her for fever,” the doctor ordered Petra. “Watch for any vaginal bleeding.”

Petra nodded.

Dr. Blake turned to Amanda. “There’s no need for tears. At least not now. We won’t have the genetic test results until the morning.”

Her first amniocentesis had been routine, done to rule out various chromosomal abnormalities like Down syndrome or genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis. But she knew that wasn’t all the doctors had been searching for—not then, not now.

The note that sent her running from the States had warned of something genetically different about her baby, something others wanted to possess. She didn’t understand much else, only enough to run before they came for her child.

Blake continued, “If the genetics are stable, your child will live—the very first of his kind. If not … well, we’ll worry about such matters then, won’t we?”

Again that paternal pat on her arm.

Even if the results were stable, she knew awful consequences would be in store for her baby boy. And if they weren’t, the medical team here would likely perform a late-term abortion.

She turned her head to the side, not knowing which result to hope for in the morning. Tears welled again as her hands found her belly—but she was certain of one thing. With the last breath in her body, she would die defending her baby.

I won’t let them harm you.

A bonfire in the outer camp glowed through the canvas wall, highlighting the crimson cross she’d noted earlier. Again she saw the odd, almost fanciful decorations along its spans, a twisting and coiling pattern that traversed both crosspieces. Only now—after the amniocentesis, after the worries about chromosomal abnormalities—did she recognize the structures.

They were helices of DNA.

Genetic code.

She stared, disbelieving. Coldness crept through her body. Though she’d never seen this cross before, she had heard whispers about this symbol, marking an ancient mystery that traced back to the founding of her family, to a secret buried at its heart.

She had thought its existence a myth, a story meant to scare children.

But now she could no longer deny the horrible truth. It was what that cryptic note had warned her about, what had sent her running to the Seychelles in terror.

The Bloodline.

They’ve found me.


July 2, 10:12 A.M. East Africa Time

Airborne over Somalia

Gray adjusted the bulky earphones, muffled against the roar of the helicopter’s twin engines. He stared out the cabin window as Captain Alden pointed.

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