Lisa nodded. “I’m sure some of my clients would prefer the anonymity of care outside the DC circles.”


His eyes lingered a bit too long on her. Plainly, he desired to know more about whom she represented, but he knew better than to inquire directly. Lisa’s ironclad cover had been built to draw the personal interest of the clinic’s head, and obviously succeeded. She had been given the grand tour, along with the full-court sales press.

“Why don’t we return to my office? I can supply you with brochures detailing each level of service, including fact sheets containing our success rates, and, of course, I’ll be happy to answer any other questions.”

“That would be perfect.” She checked her watch in a move to urge him to hurry along. “I won’t take up much more of your time.”

His office was up a level from the workspaces. It was like walking into a mahogany library, with bookshelf-lined walls, trophies, and framed diplomas, including one from Harvard, his alma mater. Like the rest of the tour, the room was also designed to impress. Huge arched windows overlooked the parklike grounds with views to the other three buildings that made up the complex.

Cranston circled around his desk, where a prepared binder was already waiting for her atop his leather desk blotter. He handed it toward her, but she ignored it, focusing her attention out the window. She also kept a keen eye on his reactions. Besides a medical degree, she had earned a master’s in physiology. She understood bodily responses and could read them as accurately as most lie detectors—but unlike those detectors, she also knew how to manipulate those responses for a desired result.

Now to get to work.

“What happens in those other buildings?” she asked.

He lowered the binder and followed her gaze outside. “The wing directly behind this one is for donor evaluation and collection.”

Lisa eyed the three-story structure.

That must be where Kat is.

“The other two buildings are strictly for research,” he said. “We run reproductive studies for a dozen different universities, including as far away as the University of Tokyo and Oxford.”

She turned her back to the window. “I’m assuming that any biological specimens, eggs, or embryos from my patients wouldn’t be used for such purposes without their consent.”

“Of course not. We have a robust donor program that supplies such material. Let me assure you, Dr. Cummings, our research programs and patient services are completely separate. There is no crossover.”

“Very good.” Lisa returned to the chair in front of his wide desk and sank into the seat, shifting her purse into her lap. “Now let me be frank with you, Dr. Cranston.”

“Please call me Paul.”

She smiled, giving him that much. “Paul, I must be honest that I have been considering other facilities. It’s come down to here or a clinic outside of Philadelphia.”

“Of course.”

He kept an even demeanor, but she did not mistake the flicker of desire—to poach another client was even better than merely to win one. That was the bait.

“But I assure you,” he continued, “you’ll find no other facility with the level of technological advancement, the latest tools, and the professional staff to oversee each stage of the process.”

Cranston definitely wanted her imaginary high-profile client list—but how badly?

First to let some slack in the line, intended to unnerve him. “I understand and appreciate that, Paul, but Philadelphia is also much closer to DC. I must take that convenience into account. My clients’ time is very important.”

He looked crestfallen. “I can’t argue with that.”

Now to dangle hope. “But your clinic has one distinct advantage. Beyond your stellar medical reputation, you have an unmatched social reputation, an excellent pedigree, if you will.”

“How so?”

“Amanda Gant-Bennett.”

The edges of his eyelids grew more strained at the mention of Amanda.

“Several of my patients are well acquainted with the First Family,” she continued. “They know of the delicate situation regarding the president’s daughter and how matters were handled at your clinic. In many ways, Washington is a small town.”

She offered him a modest smile.

He echoed it—the desired effect.

“One patient of mine in particular is faced with a similar situation: an infertile husband. She asked me to specifically inquire into your donor program. To put it bluntly, using my patient’s words: ‘If it’s good enough for the president’s daughter, it’s good enough for me.’”

She rolled her eyes, feigning amused disdain. “In certain Washingtonian circles—whether it’s the latest purse or the season’s designer fashions—name brands are all that matter. And this even extends to the choice of medical facility and, in this case, even the preference of donor.”

He gave her an understanding nod and steepled his fingers under his chin. “There is, of course, no way to divulge who was the male donor in this situation. But I can guarantee you that each of our donors must pass the most thorough and exacting background check and evaluation. Each is ranked on several criteria: physical appearance, IQ, medical history, ethnic background, and many others.”

“And if someone wanted to pick a donor of, let us say, equal criteria as the president’s daughter …?”

His smile grew steadier, as he discovered a way to win her over. It was human nature: to almost have something in one’s grasp, then suddenly lose it, only made the desire to win it back that much stronger. It was why gambling was so addictive.

“I’m sure that could be arranged,” he said. “We’d hate to lose you.”

I’m sure you would.

“Wonderful.” She rewarded him with a genuine smile of delight. “And would it be possible to obtain a list and description of such donors, something tangible I can present to my client? As they say, the proof is in the pudding.”

Cranston swung to his computer. “Certainly. If you can give me a few minutes …”

She settled back into her chair. Painter wanted that shortened list of donors, a way to narrow down the number of potential biological fathers for Amanda’s unborn child. But he also needed a way to turn the anonymity of those donors into real names.

That meant gaining access to clinic records.

As Cranston worked, Lisa snapped open her purse and pretended to check her phone. She pressed a button on it as instructed by Painter, then slipped the thin device into the seat cushions of her chair, using her purse to hide her actions. The phone had a wireless micro-router built into it, allowing Sigma to link and hack into the clinic’s server. Painter had tried to explain it in more detail, but electronic engineering was not her specialty. All she knew was to follow his instructions: wait until Cranston had logged into the computer and used his password, then activate the wireless router and leave it running nearby.

She clicked her purse closed.

Her work here was done.

It seemed too easy, but then again, it was supposed to be.

Painter had described the mission here as a soft infiltration. Rather than a full-frontal storming of the gates, Kat and Lisa’s only goal was to leave a trail of electronic bread crumbs: listening devices, cameras, wireless taps. Most of the tools had been engineered by Painter, made for easy concealment and minimal signature.

But anything can be detected, given enough time, Painter had warned.

So the second part of this mission was not to loiter.

And she obeyed that now.

In short order, she had everything she needed from Dr. Cranston, including the binder of brochures and information. He walked her back to the lobby, left her with promises to keep in touch, and she soon found herself back under the swelter of the midday sun.

She headed over and climbed into her Audi sedan, a luxurious rental to match her cover. Though her part of the mission was complete, a knot of tension remained in her neck. The plan was for Kat to meet her back at their hotel in downtown Charleston. She would be relieved only when they were rejoined. From there, the electronic devices could do all the spying for them.

She swung her sedan out of the parking lot and onto the street, still worried about Kat, feeling guilty for abandoning her partner.

Her only reassurance: Kat was a pro.

Nothing fazed her.

1:14 P.M.

What the hell is going on here?

Pacing the small exam room, Kat checked the clock on her disposable phone. It had been over an hour since she first walked through the clinic’s front door. She should’ve been in and out by now. She had completed the sheaf of paperwork and handed it to the same orderly who marched her here and locked her in the room.

He’d told her to sit tight, that the initial approval process could take some time. And that it wasn’t all paperwork. A doctor will be in to do a pelvic exam and ultrasound in a few minutes. You will be paid a small stipend now in order to draw your blood and collect a urine sample. Within five business days, you will be informed by phone whether you’re selected as a donor.

This was all related in a bored monotone, as if he’d repeated the same speech a hundred times each day. And maybe he did. Through the walls, she heard other men and women coming and going, doors opening and closing along the long exam hallway.

She had hoped to get a cursory tour of the donation center, to plant another pen camera here, maybe even attempt to reach the other two research buildings. That didn’t seem likely unless she was bolder.

She stepped to the secured door. She had a lock pick incorporated into the sole of her right shoe, and a folded combat blade hidden in her left. But her escape out of a locked room would be hard to explain if she was caught later. There was an easier way.

She knocked loudly and raised a plaintive lilt to her call. “Hello! I need to use the bathroom! Can someone help me, please?”

It didn’t take long for the door to be unlocked.

She expected to see the same orderly as before—but instead it was a white-smocked doctor, a svelte woman with gray eyes. The orderly hovered behind her, holding a tray with a rack of vacuum tubes for blood collection and an array of syringes.