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Although the individual story ideas are mine, the characters are not and nor is the central concept of The Pretender. They belong to TNT, MTM and NBC productions, as well as the fertile imaginations of Craig Mitchell and Steven Van Sickle.

Original characters are mine and I would beg you not to use them without my permission.

Escape From Alcatraz
Part 1


The boy reached out for the phone as it rang, not taking his eyes off the book in his hand, but the ringing stopped an instant before he picked up the receiver. Murmuring from the other room told him that it was for her and he turned his attention back to his novel. Several minutes later, a click revealed to him that the call was finished, and he sat up as the door of his room opened.

“You’re still awake?”

“Yeah.” He sheepishly ran a hand through his hair. “I got into the book.”

The young woman grinned, her bright blue eyes dancing. “I know the feeling. Don’t stay up too late, okay, Josh?”

“Are you going out?” he demanded.

“For a little while,” she answered cautiously. “I’ve got a few people to meet, but I should be back by morning, say eight.”

“If you’re not, I’ll call out the cavalry,” Joshua promised, watching her shrug into her coat and wrap a scarf around her neck. “Have a good night, Prodge.”

“You, too.” She cast a lopsided grin in his direction, a dimple appearing in her cheek, before she shut the door. Minutes later, he heard the key locking the front door and then the garage door opening.


When Joshua came into the kitchen the next morning, the young woman already sat at the table, reading the paper. He fetched a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice and sat down opposite her, picking up the sports pages.

“What time’d you get in?” he asked around the first mouthful, and she grinned.

“About four.” Her eyes fixed thoughtfully on his elbow, which rested on the table, and he quickly slid his hand down onto his lap. “Busy day ahead?”

“Not really. A few classes, but that’s it.” He spooned in and rapidly chewed through a mouthful of cornflakes. “You?”

“An article to finish editing, so that we can eat for another week.” She cast an eye over his lanky form. “It used to be so much cheaper before you came.”

“What’d you reckon would happen if the editors of those papers found out what you did between articles?” he suggested, ignoring this. His voice deepened dramatically. “By day, Shannon is a mild-mannered newspaper editor, but by night…”

“Stop it!” she protested, throwing the paper at him and standing up to grab a pear out of the fruit bowl. Sitting down again, she began to slice and core it. “Will you be home for lunch?”

“Depends on who’s doing what after class. Why, did you have anything special planned?”

Shannon smiled, reaching into her bag and producing two tickets. “A friend got them for me and I had this idea you might feel like going to a special audience test screening of the third Lord of the Rings movie this afternoon. We can go out for dinner after.”

“Oh, man!” Joshua’s brown eyes shone with delight. “I love your friends!”

“I’ll meet you outside the Plaza cinema at four thirty. The show stars at five, but we can stock up on popcorn first.”


“I only have two tickets,” she warned him, “and I’m not giving up mine to anybody, so you can just hold your tongue about it at school and act all superior tomorrow. Okay?”

“Sure.” He snatched an apple out of the fruit bowl as he stood up. Joshua’s bag lay near the door and he picked it up, shouldering it. “I’ll see you there at four thirty.”

“Have a good one,” she responded, carrying his bowl over to the sink with her own dishes and beginning to rinse them as he shut the door behind him and went to get his bike.



Shannon picked up the phone, her eyes still fixed on the screen in front of her, picking out and correcting the mistakes in the article she had received the night before, after getting back from the cinema.


“It’s Nat, Prodge. How’re you doing?”

“Hey, Nat!” She pushed away from the desk and turned the chair to look out of the window next to her. “What’s up?”

“You busy tomorrow night?”

Shannon grinned. “Are you asking me out or wanting my help?”

The man on the other end chuckled. “Which would you rather?”

“I want you to tell me that project’s ready for my input.”

“It is,” he affirmed. “I wanted to check with you about tomorrow night being best.”

She started up a program and produced a digital 3-D model of the building. “What’s security like?”

“Lax, at that hour. Most of the big-shots have left already, at least by the time you’ll be leaving.”


“Pick me up at eight. I’ll check in for duty and come up to help you.”

“Make sure you do and the next time we talk, I’ll accept the invite of a date,” she teased him. “And what do I look like?”

“You’re Italian, with green eyes, red hair and darkly tanned skin. I’m sending you a picture now.”

Shannon opened it and laughed. “Well, it’s certainly different,” she joked. “And should I look like it when we go out, as well?”

“Let’s get this over with first,” Nat told her sternly. “This is the biggest you’ve done.”

“I know,” she responded solemnly. “I’ll see you at eight, at your place, tomorrow night.”

Disconnecting the call, she raced through the remainder of the article and then sent it off. Getting to her feet, she knelt beside the bed and pulled out a large box, opening it on the mattress. Using the photo as a guide, she selected the correct hair and skin color packages, carrying them into the bathroom, to be applied later. Turning she found Joshua standing behind her.

“Is this the big one?” he demanded. “I know you’ve been planning it for a while.”

“You know I don’t talk about what I do,” she snapped. “Not even to you, Joshua.”

“Take me with you,” he begged. “If this is the big one, the more help you’ve got, the better.”

“No,” she responded sharply. “I’m not risking your life on this.”

“You’re risking your own.”

“It’s my life and I can do what I want with it,” she told him angrily. “But, whether you like it or not, you’re under my guardianship and I say no.”

She brushed past him, going into her room and slamming the door behind her, sitting down at her computer again and using it to mentally walk through the plan for the following night. Joshua had been correct when he said this was the big project, one to which she had been working since her rescue. It was also one of the most dangerous she had ever attempted. Despite her belief in her ability to pull it off, she couldn’t deny a tremor of nervousness as she began to prepare for putting her long period of planning into practice.


The sun was sinking towards the horizon when Shannon stepped out of the shower and began to rub the tanning cream over her hands, face and neck, paying special attention to the area around her hairline. A few minutes later, as she put the bottle down, her skin was significantly darker. The next bottle provided the dye for her hair, and she combed it through carefully. Her mouth already held several prostheses that would alter her jaw line and the position of her cheekbones. Practice had enabled her to talk clearly around them. A pair of green contacts completed the look, making her appear to be a different person.

“Signora Maria Lanzano,” she murmured softly to herself, shaking out the red skirt in which she was attired, before she looked at herself in the mirror, her eye caught by the necklace she wore, the crucifix hanging from it and imitating the Boss in her whispered exclamation. “Oh God, I hope this works.”

Her hands fell to her sides after fastening her hair up on top of her head and washing the dye off her hands. It would take a special cream to remove the fake tan, and it couldn’t afford to come off until she was safely home again, hopefully having completed this mission.

The house was quiet when she left the bathroom and pulled on her white shirt, knowing that the dye was dry enough not to transfer onto the material. Standing in front of the mirror, she penciled a few lines onto her face, instantly aging herself several years. This was one of the things she did best: disguise. It explained her value to the team that used her. That, and her ability to be anyone she wanted to be.


“You have 30 minutes until you’re due to arrive in the building,” the man told her softly from the front seat of the car, his hand on the handle, waiting to exit it, his eyes fixed on the large building ahead of them. “The parking space is available – we made sure of that – and the car be ready to go when you get out.”

“Did you talk to Cici?”

“She’ll be waiting at your house when you arrive. If you don’t need her, she’ll leave again.”


“He’s already waiting. He’ll set everything up and then be at the car when you get back to it.”

“And you, Dan?”

“I’ll call you with the signal if it’s clear.”


“Three hours after you leave here, to the minute. You’ll be home by then.”

“Assuming it goes to plan,” Shannon murmured.

“It will.” Dan’s hand came down on hers, squeezing gently. “It has to.”

His hand lifted and then he was out of the car, using the shadows to disguise his path over to the patch of darkness in which another car waited. Although the woman couldn’t see it, she knew that the drivers were switched, the man who had been sitting in the car with the engine running, so the bonnet would be sufficiently warm to suggest that it had been driven some distance, replaced by Dan, who would then drive into the parking lot of the building.

The passenger door opened and the other man slid into the seat, placing a package on his knee and flipping it open. She presented her left wrist and he attached a watch, containing a case in which was nestled a pill in case things went disastrously wrong. Her eyes were immediately fixed on it, trying to imagine how it would feel to take it. Her mind refused to accept the idea.

A small gun appeared as if by magic on her knee, and she hoisted up her skirts and slipped it into the hem of the garment, knowing that the casing in which it was contained would protect it from magnetic detection. This group was organized and planned ahead for these missions. However, they also lost agents at a steady rate, and Shannon couldn’t help wondering if this was her turn.

“Ready?” the man growled softly, and she nodded.

“This has been a long time coming.”

“You’ve proved your worth time and time again,” her companion agreed. “That’s why we’ve given you such an important target.”

“I value that.” Her finger gently stroked the face of the watch.

“This is what you’ll need to set the scene,” she was told, and a small bag was placed in her hand. “You’ve been a doctor for years, or that’s what they believe, and you know how to administer this with the least fuss.”

“It won’t hurt for long,” she promised, half to herself, accepting the case. “Not him.”

“No, it won’t,” he agreed. “Nat will be waiting for your signal. You know what to say.”

“We’ve been through this,” she reminded him. “I know what to do.”

He turned his head, his eyes glittering darkly in the dim light. “I don’t want to lose you, Shannon,” he murmured. “If you know it all, that’s not as likely to happen.”

“This will be a success,” she told her companion firmly. “This is the one we can’t afford to fail on, and we won’t. I won’t.”

“Good luck, Prodge,” he murmured, slipping out of the car and into the darkness. A subdued roar told her that the motorbike had taken off and she was alone.

Checking her watch, she knew it was time and started the car, driving it into the parking lot and to the space she had been told was left for her. It was in shadow, she noticed at once, but also only a short distance from the rear entrance. Gathering her things, she got out and casually locked it, her attitude relaxed as she mounted the few stairs and entered the building, mentally controlling the pace of her heart. Her papers were presented at the desk and passed with barely a glance. She looked around, as if mildly interested, recognizing the interior from the many photos she had seen and memorized.

“Signora Lanzano?”

She turned at once, hearing her heart pounding rapidly in her ears as a lump formed in her throat, which she hastily swallowed. “Si.”

A bald-headed man stood a short distance away, his hand clutching a small trolley, on which lay an oxygen tank. He smiled. “I assume you speak English, Signora. My Italian is a little rusty.”

“I do, Signore,” she agreed, stepping forward and offering her hand.

“My name is Raines,” he told her, his voice grating and making her feel slightly ill at the sound of it as he shook her hand. She knew about this man, much more than she wanted to. “If you will follow me, I will take you down to the room where people are expecting you.”

The fake Signora Lanzano accepted her papers from the reception desk and affixed her card with her picture to her shirt, pulling it straight as she followed Raines to the elevator. He chatted lightly as the car descended, and she kept an eye on the board above the doors, already aware of her destination.

“You have a large complex here, Signore Raines,” she commented, in heavily accented English. “This must be a difficult place to organize.”

Raines’ features darkened instantly. “Unfortunately, ma’am, I haven’t had the opportunity of being in charge here myself. My work is restricted to some of our projects. However, I believe it would be a heavy responsibility, yes.”

She nodded solemnly, feeling the large gold loops in her ears brush coldly against her neck. “And is it one of your projects with whom I shall have the pleasure of working?”

“Again, no, Signora Lanzano,” he stated, his voice lowering to an even deeper growl. “But this is a very interesting subject. I’m sure you will find working with him a fascinating experience.”

The doors of the elevator opened at that point, and it was an effort for the woman to refrain from a sigh of relief as several men in dark suits joined them, meaning that she was no longer alone with Raines. Numerous other guards were waiting in a room to which Raines directed her, along with two men, one in a paler suit with white hair and the other in a black outfit, with dark hair and eyes, who remained seated as the older man rose.

“Sydney, this is Signora Maria Lanzano,” Raines began, indicating the woman. “Signora Lanzano, Sydney is one of our psychiatrists and has been Jarod's handler since he began working here.”

“A pleasure,” she murmured, offering her hand again. Sydney accepted it with a faint smile.

“You are Italian, I believe, Signora,” he stated, and she nodded.

“That is correct, Signore. I was born in the south of the country and emigrated here to America a number of years ago. I hope that you will pardon any errors in my English, but it is still a new language for me.”

“You speak it perfectly, madam,” he complimented her. “However, if you would prefer it, we could converse in your native tongue.”

“I’ll leave you to get acquainted,” Raines growled, and turned away without another word, many of the sweepers accompanying him out of the room.

Sydney waited until he was gone before waving the woman to a seat and taking one opposite. “I understand that you have been involved in studying people of abnormally high intelligence,” he began. “It would be fascinating work.”

“It is,” she assured him honestly. “It is an area of particular fascination for me. I do appreciate this chance to work with your subject.”

The psychiatrist indicated the younger man, who still remained silent. “This is Jarod,” he told the woman. “I’m not sure precisely what information you’ve received about him.”

“Some.” She smiled slightly. “And what I have read intrigues me. It will be a pleasure to get to know such a powerful mind more intimately.”

“I can imagine.” Sydney passed over a folder, which contained all the details necessary to work with this project. “I will be interested to read your report.”

“I have no doubt.” She watched the man rise to his feet and say goodbye to his student, nodding as he left the room. Only one sweeper remained when the door slid closed behind the psychiatrist and was locked. The only way out now was the key hanging from the sweeper’s belt, and Dan’s eyes were blank, showing no recognition. She let out a slow breath and turned her head to find Jarod watching her.

“From where in Italy do you come, Signora?” he asked curiously, in fluent Italian, and she arched an eyebrow.

“I believe it will be better, Jarod, if I ask the questions and you answer them. Now, you were given a simulation to complete for my arrival, I understand.”

“Si, Signora.” He rose from his chair and waited for her to rise also before leading the way across the room to the corner where the results waited. His explanation took almost twenty minutes, and then she waved at a chair that stood in the corner.

“Sit down, Jarod.”

He obeyed immediately, watching as she extracted a case from her pocket and placed it on the table, opening it and extracting a syringe. As she filled it, she could see tension rising in him.

“I don’t generally receive artificial aids to help me with my work, Signora,” he protested quietly, in his native tongue.

“This will be most beneficial to me, to ensure I get accurate results for the project I have in mind,” she responded, approaching him and seeing as the sweeper also moved to his side, seeming to wait in case Jarod reacted violently. However, the Pretender allowed her to inject the contents of the syringe without any response.

She turned to Dan once the shot had been given. “That will require approximately thirty minutes of incubation,” she ordered. “Escort Jarod to his room and bring him back in,” she stood back and appraised the subject, “forty-five minutes, just to make sure it worked.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The sweeper waited until Jarod was standing and then went with him to the door, using the card at his belt to release the lock. The woman returned to the table, laying out objects from the case and flipping the folder open, occasionally glancing at her notes.

Suddenly the lights in the room dimmed and she left the objects where they lay, hurrying to the air vent and easing the cover open. Inside, from the dim light cast by other covers, she could see the passage that would lead to the other exit and she hurried soundlessly along it. The cover already stood ajar for her exit and she slipped into the room, checking that the hallway was empty before hurrying to the service elevator.

Inside, she inserted a key into the lock and released the panel to reveal the wiring, setting it to go directly to the ground floor. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears now, her eyes fixed on the lights indicating the floors, as they rose up through the last few underground levels. Reaching into the hem of her skirt, she pulled out the small gun, cocking it and then turning the key in the lock to seal up the panel, allowing the elevator to stop at the ground floor.

The doors slid open to reveal a thankfully empty hallway. She eased along it, her eyes flickering around the dimly lit space, her mouth tasting metallic. Her fingers tightening around the gun in her hand, she moved up to the external door. A box mounted on the wall beside it revealed that it was locked, and she mentally counted down the last few seconds in which the security system would be on a loop, knowing that the door would be unlocked for the quick half-second during which the system would be returning to normal.

The lights dipped and she pushed the door opened, lifting her skirts and slipping out of the door, letting it fall shut silently behind her. Two shadows already waited in the car as she hurried to it. A moment later, she was in the driver’s seat and pulling out of the space.

“Jarod okay?”

“He’s out,” Nat’s voice told her out of the darkness. “But he’ll be okay.”

“Now we just have to get out of here,” she murmured, fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel, disliking driving without lights, although she did it regularly.

Suddenly, there was a mass of shouting and yelling from her right and her head whipped around in that direction. A figure could be seen racing towards the car, several sweepers in pursuit, and the breath caught in her throat in a horrified gasp as moonlight made identification of the figure a possibility.

“Get out of here,” Nat ordered. “Now, before they catch us!”

“No,” she snapped back, reaching over to throw open the passenger door and revving the motor so he would hear it. The figure hurled himself into the seat and slammed the door shut after him, at which point Shannon threw the vehicle into gear.

The car flew through the carpark and Shannon flicked on the headlights, aware that secrecy was no longer possible. As the boy beside her fought to catch his breath, she heard yells from behind them and then the first of numerous dull pops.

“Get down!” she shouted about the noise. “They’re shooting.”

Joshua slid down onto the floor of the passenger seat and she could just make out the darkened shadows on the floor of the back seat when she turned to look back over her shoulder.

“They won’t shoot to kill,” Nat yelled about the noise. “They wouldn’t want to kill him.”

“They don’t know he’s here,” she shrieked back, steering the car towards the exit. “They’re after Josh, not Jarod.”

She heard a curse from the back seat but her attention was immediately diverted by the sight of the boom gate beginning to lower. Forcing her foot flat against the floor of the car, she heard the engine scream in protest, but the vehicle leapt forward. At the same time, however, a sharp crack to her left was followed by the window shattering. Pressing her head back against the headrest of the seat, she felt the bullet whistle past, seeing out of the corner of her eye as the passenger side window suddenly turned white.

The boom gate scraped along the top of the car as it went down, and then she felt a sudden blow to her upper arm that knocked the breath out of her. Pain came next, an agonizing pain, which, in a normal situation, would have made her scream, but she couldn’t afford the luxury of that now, and she tried to ignore the white-hot agony as she forced the car to its limits.

For a few seconds, apart from the high-pitched sound of the engine, there was silence, before suddenly headlights through the rearview mirror lit up the inside of the car.

“Is the rendezvous point ready?” Shannon demanded through gritted teeth.

“Yes, at the place we planned it,” Nat responded curtly.

She nodded once, recalling the discussion about escape plans and plotting her actions when she arrived at the point.

“God, there’s heaps of them,” Nat reported, sounds suggesting that he was pulling himself back onto the seat again. Suddenly his voice yelled loudly in her ear over the revving engines of their own car and the ones behind. “Go, Shannon. We should be able to outrun them.”

Nodding again, she pressed her foot to the floor again, feeling wind rush past her face from the broken window. Breathing would have been difficult in normal times, but, with her injury, it was even more of an effort, however she tried to force that away.

A hill loomed ahead and she knew that just over the top of it was the place that the set-up waited for them. There was a short distance between them and the first of the black sedans, so she was able to flash her lights in the prearranged signal and then extinguish her headlights, steering the car into an area of bushes and then around them to conceal it from the oncoming cars.

Killing the engine, she placed her uninjured hand on Joshua’s shoulder, preventing him from rising, watching as the Centre’s cars flew past in pursuit of the other vehicle. Suddenly there was silence and she turned to look at her backseat passengers.

“Everyone still alive?”

“Yeah.” Nat’s eyes gleamed in the dim light. “Good driving, Prodge.”

“How’s our passenger?”

“All right.” His gaze rolled around to where Joshua was slowly climbing back onto the passenger seat, his eyes wide with terror. “What kind of an idiotic thing did you think you were doing?!” Nat raged. “Do you have any idea how important it is that nothing goes wrong with these operations? Did you want to kill us all?”

“Not now,” Shannon intervened. “Let’s wait until we get away from here. Personally, I don’t feel safe yet. A second team could follow the first.”

“Fine,” Nat snapped, with difficulty pulling Jarod up onto the back seat, and the woman could see that the Pretender’s eyes were closed and he was limp, the drug she had administered having sedated him sufficiently to allow him to be smuggled out of the building, as Nat did up seatbelts to keep the unconscious body still. “Let’s get out of here.”


The gate was already open when they approached it, and, as they drove along the driveway, the woman shut it behind them, heaving a sigh of relief when it was closed. Pulling the car up to the door, she saw two people come out of her house and approach the car. Exhaling slowly, she turned to Joshua.

“Go inside,” she stated coldly, as the back door of the car was opened and two people helped Nat to carry Jarod into the building. “We’ll talk about this later.”

He shot her a scared look and obeyed immediately, leaving her to back the car into the garage with one hand, the other arm throbbing so agonizingly that she was unable to lift it out of her lap.

“It’s over,” she stated aloud, trying to calm herself and halt the adrenalin rush. “It worked. You did it. He’s safe.”

The relief was undeniable as she shut the car door and staggered into the house on weak legs, her right hand pressed over the wound on her left arm. Closing the garage door, she entered the living room to see Nat sitting on the sofa, his head in his hands and Joshua standing awkwardly opposite him.

“I can’t deal with you now,” the man snapped. “Go to bed. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

“It’s already morning,” Shannon interrupted. “It’s just past two.”

Joshua turned as she spoke, his eyes widening in horror as he looked at her. “Geez, Shannon,” he breathed. “What happened?”

“Your idiocy,” she snapped. “Go to bed, Josh. Now.”

Nat looked up sharply at her tone, bounding to his feet as he saw the red-soaked shirt she wore and the blood oozing from between her fingers. “Glory be,” he murmured, helping her to a seat. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“We didn’t have time,” she explained, looking down at her shirt, grinning wryly. “I guess this will need to be dry-cleaned before it can go back into the dress-up box.”

“Cici,” Nat called loudly, ignoring this. “Bring your case here.”

A tall woman with blond hair and sparkling green eyes appeared in the doorway a moment later, hurrying to the duo when she saw the blood and opening a case she carried onto the table.

“Bullet wound?” she suggested, soaking cotton wool with some antiseptic and dabbing at the arm and shoulder.

“Yes,” Shannon agreed. “And I’m going to need a few new car windows.”

“The Centre can pay for those,” Nat ground out, his eyes full of concern. “They caused them.”

“Do we know about the others?” the injured woman panted, as the wound began to throb.

“Dan called. They’re safe,” another man told her as he appeared in the doorway, running a hand through his hair, which showed numerous gray strands. “And apparently the pursuit cars headed back to the Centre about an hour ago.”

“Good.” She leaned against the man who still stood beside her, closing her eyes. His hand gently stroked her hair and she let out a deep sigh.

“This will hurt, Prodge,” Cici stated evenly. “Sorry.”

“It already hurts,” Shannon retorted.

“A lot,” the doctor added, and then the younger woman could feel cold metal against her skin. A shaft of pain shot along her arm and she clenched her jaw, her fingers tightening around her red skirt. “Okay, it’s out.”

There was a rattle on the table and Shannon opened her eyes to see a small bullet lying on the wood. Her eyes swiveled round to see that a bandage was being applied to the wound on her arm.

“You’re lucky,” Cici told her. “Another inch or two higher and it could have shattered the bone. But that should heal in a week or two.” She fetched a triangular bandage out of the kit and knotted it gently around Shannon’s neck before settling her arm into it. “That’s it,” she reported. “Go to bed now, and in the morning I’ll check it again.”

“Are you staying?” Shannon asked. “Or will you come back?”

“I’ll stick around to keep an eye on Jarod,” the other woman answered, peeling off a pair of latex gloves and starting to pack her things away as the older man collected the trash and threw it into the bin in the kitchen. “Unless you don’t want me here.”

Shannon reached out and grabbed her hand with a grin. “Don’t be daft,” she scolded the woman, good-naturedly. “Of course I do. Can you find somewhere to sleep?”

“The sofa’ll do,” the doctor responded, gently pushing the woman in the direction of her room. “Go to bed, Prodge.”

“But take out those contact lenses first,” the older man suggested. “Or you’ll have sore eyes when you get up.”

“And let me have that shirt when you take it off so that we can wash out the blood,” Cici added.

“Any other instructions?” the woman joked. “Or can I actually go now?”

Shannon felt Nat’s hand come to rest on her uninjured shoulder, walking her out of the room and in the direction of her bedroom. “Want something to help you sleep?” he offered, but she shook her head.

“No, thanks for offering. You know how I feel about drugs.”

“You did well, Prodge,” he told her warmly. “Very well.”

She shot him a wry grin as she went into the bathroom and began washing the hand of her unhurt arm, preparatory to removing her contacts. “Does this mean I graduate to the big league?”

“It’s likely,” he agreed. “As soon as you get over the injury anyway.”

The woman managed to ease out the two colored lenses, placing them in the relevant containers and then wiping her watering eyes with a damp facecloth. It was a relief to look up at her familiar blue eyes when she raised her head. Nat leaned against the closed bathroom door, his darkly tanned arms folded across his muscular chest and his gray eyes watching her closely, shadows obvious under them. His light brown hair was short, except for a cowlick that hung down into his eyes.

“You look tired,” she suggested.

“I am,” he agreed somewhat testily. “Maybe I wouldn’t be quite so bad if that little idiot – “

“He was only trying to help,” Shannon interrupted quietly. “He figured out what this plan involved and wanted to be a part of it.”

“I thought he would have remembered the dangers involved in his own rescue and realized that we can’t have people messing it up.”

“How could he?” she asked reasonably. “We used the same process on Josh that we used on Jarod, so how could he possibly be expected to remember it when he wasn’t conscious?”

Nat sighed deeply. “You’re right, darn you,” he admitted after a second, suddenly grinning. “Why is it that you can still think clearly when you’re so tired that you can barely able to stand up and I can’t?”

She grinned at him. “I’m female.”

He swung a mock punch in her direction. “Go to bed, Prodge. You’re getting annoying now.”

“You’re standing in the doorway,” she reminded him sweetly. “How can I?”

The man stepped aside, offering a deep bow. “My humblest apologies, your Majesty. Can I do anything else for your gracious Highness before you retire for the night?”

“You can go home, sleep for a bit, and come back feeling cheerful,” she told him. “And you can present a non-biased and unexaggerated report of what happened tonight to the Boss.”

He grinned, gently pulling her towards him and planting a soft kiss on her cheek. “Go to bed and try to sleep, okay, partner? I’ll do my best to obey orders.”

She hugged him with one hand. “Good night, Nat. You too.”

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