“SLOW,” he radioed to Kane.
The jumbling view on his phone steadied as the shepherd’s lope became a deliberate pace. Turning, Tucker motioned the others behind a parked yellow Hummer. A tow rig behind the truck held a sleek watercraft and offered additional shelter. In another block, the avenue dumped—like the other four spokes of the star—into a central park that surrounded the twisting spire of Burj Abaadi.
The Eternal Tower rose like a glowing sculpture into the night sky, each floor slowly turning, making it appear as if the entire structure were gently swaying in the wind off the sea. Only the bottom five stories were stationary, encompassing the building’s lobby and maintenance levels, including its power station that collected energy generated by the horizontal wind turbines positioned between each floor.
“Shouldn’t we be closer?” Gray asked.
“No need,” Tucker said. “That park ahead is full of shadows, with lots of trees and hiding places. Don’t want to stumble upon a guard by mistake. Leave this to Kane.”
Seichan agreed. “He’s right.”
“Works for me,” Kowalski said, running his fingertips longingly along the sleek side of the yellow jet boat.
Outvoted, Gray nodded for Tucker to continue. The man sent Kane forward with a single command.
Kane stalks slowly forward, remaining in shadows. He moves against the breeze flowing from ahead, letting the scents wash over him, catching what he can with his upturned nose.
He smells salt and wet weed from the distant waves and sand.
Closer … he is hit by the crisp bite of cut grass … the trickle of sweetness from petals opening to the night.
But through it all, a rank undercurrent flows … reeking of sweat and oil and ripeness of body.
He hunts each scent, drawing in its heady, foul richness. He stays in shadows, behind bushes, along the edges of benches. He tracks each one down until he hears the satisfying whisper in his ear.
Then moves on.
He creeps deeper, tail low, haunches tense, ears pricked to every tick, tap, and creak. The smell of man fades behind him, carried away by the wind, leaving spaces for new scents.
Then he stops.
A trickle of thrill stirs his hackles. He tests again, nose higher, taking that odor deep inside, tasting it, recognizing it. He moves again, tracking its trail through the air.
It rises from a truck—he knows trucks and rides and hanging his head into hard winds. But now is not that time. He dashes across an open stretch and into the shadows beneath the truck, a darkness reeking of oil and grease.
He slips out the other side, twisting, stretching his neck. He circles and paces, making certain.
Then whines his triumph and points.
“Good dog,” Tucker radioed back.
Pride spiked through him—and a raw affection that ached.
They had all watched Kane’s hunt, huddled around his phone’s tiny screen. His shepherd had spotted four guards stationed out in the grounds—then he snuck up to a pickup truck parked crookedly in the circular drive fronting the entrance to Burj Abaadi.
“He’s found Amanda’s scent there,” Tucker said. “She’s on the island!”
“Can you get Kane up into the bed of that truck?” Gray asked.
“No problem.” It was never hard to get Kane to take a ride. He sent the command. “UP IN THE TRUCK!”
The dog immediately backed a yard—then, with a burst of speed, he launched from his haunches and flew over the side and landed in the rear bed, skittering slightly to avoid hitting what lay there.
Kane danced around it, sniffing intently.
Seichan leaned closer. “Is that an open casket?”
Gray pointed out the bits of tape along the edges. “That’s how they moved Amanda. No wonder she was never spotted at the airport. They crated her here, likely under diplomatic seals.”
Kowalski looked over his shoulder. “Yeah, but where is she now?”
They all stared up at the fifty-story tower, spinning slowly in the night. They all recognized the truth.
The hunt was just beginning.
But were they already too late?
The tiny boy rested on Amanda’s bare belly, quiet now.
The furnace of her body, stoked to a fiery dampness by the delivery, kept him warm. A small blanket covered him, but a tiny fist protruded, no bigger than a walnut.
Amanda stared, consuming him with her eyes. With her arms bound to the sides, she could not hold him. That was the worst cruelty. Even giving her this moment with her child was necessity, not compassion. She had read all the baby books. The newborn was placed facedown to encourage the draining of any fluid; the skin-to-skin contact encouraged her body to release its own natural oxytocin, to help with the final contractions to push the placenta free.
Her body had performed its ageless duty.
Spent, exhausted, she tried to stretch this moment for an eternity.
“My baby boy,” she whispered, tears streaking through the sweat of her heated face; she wanted him to hear his mother’s voice at least once. She willed all her love, christening him with the name murmured in the night with her husband, Mack, his broad hand resting on the bump of her stomach.
“My little William.”
But, sadly, the child was not her husband’s, at least not genetically. She knew some of the truth, saw the medical records in the terrifying note that sent her fleeing in terror out to the Seychelles. Still, Mack had loved the baby as much as she did. It shone in his face, even after the truth was known.
He loved you so much, William.
New tears flowed, for the family that was never to be.
Voices intruded, but she never took her eyes off her child.
“Petra, make sure you collect at least five milliliters of blood from the umbilical cord. We’ll need the sample serum-typed, in addition to the standard tests. I’ll also want to harvest some umbilical stem cells.”
Amanda listened, realizing the truth. They were already parsing her child into parts.
“Dr. Blake, the radiant bed is ready,” Petra called from the side. “I’ve prepared the vitamin K and the eyedrops. Did you want to perform the APGAR assessment?”
“No. You can do it. I should pass on word about the delivery as soon as possible.”
Blake shifted from the foot of the delivery bed to Amanda’s side. He reached to scoop up the child.
“No, please,” Amanda begged. “Another minute.”
“I’m sorry. It’s better this way. You did beautifully.”