“You give them hell.”

Her smile widened. “That’s the plan.”

She pictured Monk at their apartment, balancing one of their babies on his knee. He was not what most women would consider handsome, with his shaved head and stocky but muscular physique, but he still could make her melt with his smile and she’d never met a man with a bigger heart, a heart that only grew larger with each addition to the household.

“Did you give Harriet her second bottle?” she asked.

An exasperated sigh followed. “Yes, dear. And I went to Costco and got the Pampers. You go save the world. I’ve got things covered here.”

She had hoped her call would erase that edge of apprehension hiding behind his jovial banter, but it only seemed to make it worse.

“Monk, I’m almost at the clinic. Give Penny and Harriet a kiss for me.”

“Done. And I’ll save what I’ve got for you until you get home.”

“Ah, always my gallant knight,” she said sarcastically—but it was forced. Because he was her knight … and always would be.

His voice grew husky. “Just get back here safely.”

“I promise.”

“You’d better. I’m holding you to it.”

After she hung up, the world seemed slightly less bright. A twinge of guilt plagued her as she pocketed her phone.

What am I doing here? I should be at home.

Still, she could not discount the electric thrill that coursed through her as she reached the grounds of the clinic and turned her attention to the task at hand. It happened with every mission. She had a duty, and she was good at what she did. And knowing her family was safe—and always would be with Monk—helped steady her. He was her rock, even hundreds of miles away.

With renewed determination, she crossed along the tall stacked-stone fence of the clinic and stepped through the wrought-iron gates, entering a garden oasis set amidst the surrounding commercial parks. A path led alongside the entry road, winding through manicured hedgerows, small burbling fountains, and perfumed beds of blush-pink roses.

Someone had gone to great expense to make the clinic feel warm and inviting, a veritable Garden of Eden, where dreams of infertile couples could not help but come true. No wonder this place drew celebrity clients and people from around the globe—including the president’s daughter.

Then again, the complex was owned by a subsidiary of a Gant family enterprise, one dedicated to biotech and genetic engineering. The clinic, established in the early eighties, was the end result of much of that research, offering the latest innovations to the public. The clinic also employed its own research protocols, drawing reproductive scientists from as far away as Japan. The place continued to be at the forefront of fertility studies and stem-cell research.

Over the past eighteen hours, Kat had investigated the clinic extensively—from its staffing and clientele down to its latest tax filings. She knew everything about the clinic: where they got their bed linens, the average weight of their hazardous waste material per day. The deeper she delved, the more certain she grew that the reason for Amanda’s kidnapping lay hidden somewhere within the four buildings that made up this facility.

This conviction came not from anything she uncovered—but from what she didn’t. After a full decade gathering global intelligence, she had developed a nose for when something was being hidden from her. During her investigation, she had reached too many dead ends that made no sense, certain matters that didn’t balance in her head. Worst of all, she stumbled across an impenetrable corporate firewall at one point, employing encryption algorithms that were military-grade. Even if she could, she feared smashing through it. The act alone could set off too many alarm bells, alerting the powers that be at the clinic that someone was sniffing at their door.

So she opted for a more direct approach.

On foot.

She reached the parking lot and spotted the rental car, a silver Audi A6 sedan. Lisa Cummings had beaten her here, but her friend hadn’t had to navigate through two bus transfers from the airport to reach the clinic. They had come separately, each with her own mission.

Kat climbed the steps to a wide porch that fronted the main building. It looked nothing like a medical facility. The façade was typical for Charleston: a Georgian stone mansion with wrought-iron railings, three floors of balconies, and a gambrel roof covered by mossy-fringed slate tiles.

She stepped through the doors into an air-conditioned main lobby, refreshing after the hot bus ride and short walk. A reception desk beckoned. She approached it, noting out of the corner of her eye that Lisa sat in the waiting area, a space as sumptuously furnished as would be expected from the exterior, decked out in velvets and overstuffed cushions.

Lisa matched the décor in a handsome St. John platinum dress with a drawstring waist. Her blond hair hung loose and shone under the soft lights; her makeup was flawless. She came posing as the private doctor for a select Washingtonian clientele, coming to interview the clinic for possible referrals for her patients. She had an appointment to meet with the head of the facility in a few minutes.

Lisa was conducting this cursory investigation from the top down.

Kat was taking the other extreme.

“How may I help you?” the receptionist asked. She was a small woman with large eyes, made even more prominent by her harsh eye shadow.

Kat moved closer to the desk, pressing against it, leaning a bit too forward as if trying to keep the conversation from being overheard. “I heard … someone told me … that you all are looking for donors.”

The receptionist’s brows pinched in irritation.

Kat pushed even closer, glancing surreptitiously over her shoulder, raising an embarrassed blush to her cheeks. “You know. Looking for a woman’s eggs. I heard you pay good money.”

The receptionist sat straighter, her voice growing hushed, if not a touch condescending, made worse by the patronizing tone of her Carolina accent. “Hon, that’s handled elsewhere. This is for patient intake. If you’ll stand over there …” She waved a manicured hand away from the waiting area, toward a corner. “I’ll have one of the staff assistants come fetch you and bring you to the donor facility, if that’s all right?”

Kat nodded and slunk back. “Thank you.”

The woman made a noncommittal noise and picked up the phone.

As Kat retreated to her corner, she met Lisa’s gaze. At the moment they were divided by a cultural and financial gulf. Lisa represented the end buyer; Kat embodied the product to be sold. There continued to be much ethical and moral debate about the sale of human ova. Once a price tag was put upon such a commodity, it became tied to the power of supply and demand—and the inherent abuse.

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