That changed today.
After a long, heated call, Kenny had agreed to come out at this critical juncture. With their father suffering from advancing Alzheimer’s, the sudden death of his wife sent him into a downward spiral. He’d spent the past three weeks in a memory-care unit, but he’d come home last night. And during this transition, Gray needed an extra pair of hands. Kenny had accumulated enough vacation time to be able to come out for a full two weeks. Gray intended to hold him to it this time.
Gray had taken a month off from work himself and was due back at Sigma headquarters in a week. Before that, he needed a few days of downtime to get his own house in order. That’s where Kenny came in.
His brother hauled his luggage out of the convertible’s trunk, slammed the lid, but kept his palm on the chrome bumper. “And what about Dad’s car? We might as well sell it. It’s not like he can drive it.”
Gray pocketed the keys. The classic Thunderbird—raven black with a red leather interior—was his father’s pride and joy. The man had gone to painstaking ends to restore it: tricking it out with a new Holly carburetor, a flame-thrower coil, and an electric choke.
“It stays,” he said. “According to Dad’s neurologist, it’s important to keep his environment as stable and consistent as possible, to maintain a familiar routine. Besides, even if he can’t drive it, it’ll give him something to tinker with.”
Before Kenny could figure out what else to sell of his father’s belongings, Gray headed toward the door. He didn’t bother to offer to carry his brother’s luggage. He’d had enough baggage to deal with lately.
But Kenny wasn’t done. “If we’re supposed to keep everything the same—to pretend nothing’s changed—then what am I doing here?”
Gray swung toward him, balling a fist and tempted to use it. “Because you’re still his son—and it’s high time you acted like it.”
Kenny stared him down. Anger burned in his brother’s eyes, further reminding Gray of their father. He’d seen that fury all too often in his dad, especially of late, a belligerence born of dementia and fear. Not that such anger was new. His father had always been a hard man, a former oil worker out of Texas until an industrial accident took most of his left leg and all of his pride, turning an oilman into a housewife. Raising two boys while his spouse went to work had been hard on him. To compensate, he had run the household like a boot camp. And Gray, as stubborn as his father, had always pushed the envelope, a born rebel. Until at last, at eighteen years of age, he had simply packed his bags and joined the army.
It was his mother who finally drew them all back together, the proverbial glue of the family.
And now she was gone.
What were they to do without her?
Kenny finally hauled up his bag, shouldered past Gray, and mumbled words he knew would cut like rusted barbed wire: “At least I didn’t get Mom killed.”
A month ago, that gut-punch would have dropped Gray to his knees. But after mandatory psychiatric sessions—not that he hadn’t missed a few—his brother’s accusation only left him iron-hard, momentarily rooted in place. A booby trap meant for Gray had taken out his mother. Collateral damage was the phrase the psychiatrist had used, seeking to blunt the guilt.
But the funeral had been a closed casket.
Even now, he could not face that pain head-on. The only thing that kept him putting one foot in front of the other was the determination to expose and destroy the shadowy organization behind that cold-blooded murder.
And that’s what he did: he turned and took one step, then another.
It was all he could do for now.
10:58 P.M. SCT
Off the Seychelles archipelago
Something woke her in the night aboard the anchored yacht.
Instinctively, Amanda slid a hand over her swollen belly, taking immediate personal inventory. Had it been a cramp? In her third trimester, that was always her first worry, a maternal reflex to protect her unborn child. But she felt nothing painful in her abdomen, just the usual pressure on her bladder.
Still, after two miscarriages, the panicky flutter in her heart refused to calm. She tried to reassure herself that the other two babies—a boy and a girl—had been lost during her first trimester.
I’m crossing my thirty-sixth week. Everything is fine.
She lifted up an elbow. Her husband snored softly beside her on the queen-size bed in the yacht’s main stateroom, his dark skin so stark against the white satin pillow. She took comfort in Mack’s muscular presence, in the masculine bruise of black stubble across his cheek and chin. He was her Michelangelo David chiseled out of black granite. Yet, she could not escape the twinge of unease as her finger hovered over his bare shoulder, hesitant to wake him but wanting those strong arms around her.
Her parents—whose aristocratic family went back generations in the Old South—had only approved the marriage with the strained graciousness of modern sensibilities. But in the end, the union served the family. She was blond and blue-eyed, raised in the world of cotillions and privilege; he was black-haired and dark of skin and eye, hardened by a rough childhood on the streets of Atlanta. The unlikely couple became a poster for familial tolerance, trotted out when needed. But that poster of a happy family was missing one key element: a child.
After a year of failing to conceive—due to an issue with her husband’s fertility—they’d resorted to in vitro fertilization with donor sperm. On the third try, after two miscarriages, they’d finally had success.
Her palm found her belly again, protective.
And that’s when the trouble had begun. A week ago, she had received a cryptic note, warning her to flee, not to tell anyone in her family. The letter hinted at why, but offered only a few details, yet it was enough to convince her to run.
A loud thump echoed down from the deck overhead. She sat upright, ears straining.
Her husband rolled onto his back, rubbing an eye blearily. “What is it, babe?”
She shook her head and held up a palm to quiet him. They’d taken such precautions, covering every step. They’d chartered a series of private aircraft under a chain of falsified papers and itineraries, landing a week ago on the other side of the world, at an airstrip on the tiny island of Assumption, part of the archipelago of the Seychelles. Hours after landing, they’d immediately set out in a private yacht, sailing amid the chain of islands that spread out in an emerald arc across the azure seas. She had wanted to be isolated, far from prying eyes—yet close enough to the Seychelles’ capital city of Victoria in case there was any trouble with the pregnancy.