“You’ll get it—but there’s only so much I can do. After what happened in Somalia, Sigma has a big target on its back. And you know Washington … once they smell blood in the water …”

The feeding frenzy begins.

The intercom buzzed. “Director, the initial files are up on your desktop.”

“I’ll leave you to this,” Metcalf said, standing and letting Painter take his seat. “This castle’s about to be stormed, and I’m better off manning the gates and fortifying the ramparts.”

Painter knew his statement was more than a metaphor. Sigma headquarters lay in the bunkers beneath the Smithsonian Castle, within the shadow of the White House—even now, the battle lines were being drawn between them.

As Metcalf left, Painter turned his attention to the computer, to the files gained at such risk. He worried about Kat … and even more about Lisa. Still, he sensed that all the mysteries, the true pulse of the Bloodline, lay in the life or death of another woman.

Gray, you must find Amanda.


July 3, 2:44 A.M. Gulf Standard Time

Off the coast of Dubai

Gray held the man’s neck in the crook of his arm, the flat of his hand against the side of his head. A twist and a sharp crank on the chin shattered the guard’s cervical vertebrae. The strangled body fell limp.

He lowered the guard to the lawn and began stripping off the man’s helmet, vest, and shirt. The gear was identical to that worn by the commandos back in Somalia, offering further proof that Amanda had been moved here.

In his earpiece: “Done.”

That was Seichan. She had taken down her man.

As Gray strapped on the dead soldier’s helmet, he glanced at the phone in his hand. On the screen, a dog’s-eye view revealed a lone guard posted beside a park bench. Kane moved nearer, drawing the man’s attention, while Tucker closed in from behind with a blade. As silently as the others, he dispatched the last guard that stood between Gray’s team and the twisted spire of the Burj Abaadi, the Eternal Tower.

“Move in,” Gray radioed.

He ran low through the remainder of the nighttime park, still wary in case Kane had missed any hidden guards. But no alarm was raised as he reached the edge of the grounds.

As he waited for the others, he looked up at the sheer majesty of the slowly turning tower, each floor revolving independently of the others. He imagined the view must be breathtaking from up top, the scene eternally changing, spanning from the panoramic brilliance of Dubai’s skyline to the dark mystery of the starlit sea.

Still, something bothered Gray as he stared upward.

Something about its ever-changing shape …

A rustle drew his attention back to the ground. The others converged from different directions. Seichan and Tucker came similarly outfitted in stolen gear. Kane kept out of sight, slinking wide upon a signal from his handler.

As they gathered to him, Gray studied the front entrance to the Burj Abaadi. He expected there would be cameras watching the steps and lobby, possibly other guards inside. The disguise was a feeble one, but the ruse could buy them an extra few seconds of surprise if needed.

Kowalski finally pushed past a grove of palms, struggling to pull a small vest over his wide shoulders. The helmet sat on top of his head like a crown. “My guy was pint-size,” he explained.

Gray pointed his rifle at the big man. “Drop all of that and put your hands on your head.”

Kowalski frowned. “What the hell, Pierce?”

Seichan sighed. “Just act like a prisoner.” She waved toward the lobby stairs. “For the cameras.”

Understanding slowly sank through Kowalski’s thick skull, widening his eyes. He shed his stolen gear and laced his fingers atop his head.

With a final few instructions, Gray marched Kowalski forward, flanked by the other two. From the corner of his eye, he caught a blur of shadow, easy to miss unless watching for it. Kane vanished into the bushes at the base of the building and crept from there toward the same stairs.

Bright lights lit the steps, but the lobby was dark, with only a few pools of subdued illumination inside. It looked deserted. Maybe their disguises weren’t necessary. The guards in the park had certainly been easy to take down. Gray had even caught his target sleeping.

The enemy plainly must have thought themselves safe out on this island—especially since they suspected no one was looking for Amanda.

Gray marched with the others up the stairs. They kept their faces lowered from the cameras. Gray motioned for Tucker to run ahead and check the tall glass doors that led into the lobby. The man ran forward and tugged. The door swung open, unlocked. Tucker looked relieved. It saved them the trouble and exposure of using the minipellets of C-4 to blast the deadbolts, or larger pyrotechnics if necessary.

The only one disappointed by the ease of entry was the team’s explosives and demolitions expert. “Aw, man,” Kowalski groused. “I was all set to blow some crap up.”

Gray poked him in the back with his rifle. “Keep moving.”

Kowalski stumbled across the threshold. Gray and the others crowded in behind him.

The lobby soared five stories high, drawing the eye up. In the center rose a grand spiral staircase, made entirely of glass and sparkling in the wan light with Swarovski crystals and figurines depicting sea creatures. It wound up from the grand entry hall, spiraling around the central axis of the tower and continuing ever upward.

The only illumination came from a ring of huge pillars, also made of glass. They formed massive vertical aquariums, glowing with an inner soft radiance that slowly shifted along a spectrum of hues.

Initially, Gray thought the aquariums were empty, merely bubbling on the inside, catching and multiplying the glow. Then his eyes adjusted, and the bubbles became palm-size jellyfish, swarming and drifting within the giant pillars.

The wonder of the moment was interrupted by a harsh call.

A towering, beefy figure rose out of hiding from behind a security desk and stalked forward, rubbing a knuckle in one eye. Somebody else had been caught napping. The man shoved a black beret on his head, clearly the leader of this African contingent.

A second figure crawled from behind the desk and stood. A dark-skinned girl of thirteen or fourteen, slim, frail-limbed, wearing a soldier’s uniform. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. The leader’s pants were unbuttoned.

So the man hadn’t been caught sleeping.

Fury roiled up inside Gray. He knew many of the village children nabbed by the warlords of Somalia weren’t all turned into soldiers, like Baashi, but instead were brutalized as sex slaves.

Or both.

The monster’s gaze remained fixed on Kowalski as he stalked across the wide lobby, clearly mystified by the sudden appearance of this prisoner. The ruse would only last another couple of sec—

The leader froze, half-skidding on one foot, his hand lunging for his holstered pistol.

Seichan whipped her SIG Sauer out.

“Don’t shoot!” Gray snapped—the noise of a firefight, even a single shot in this crystal echo chamber, would surely draw any other guards and alert the enemy hidden within.

The leader freed his sidearm, under no such restraint.

But Gray had seen the flicker of movement from Tucker’s wrist, heard a whispered command over the radio.

Kane burst out of the shadows behind the man and barreled forward. The girl squealed, dancing to the side. The dog hit the man in the ankle, hamstringing him and flinging him into the air. He flew high—then landed hard, his head striking the marble floor.

His pistol slid away into the shadows.

Tucker was already moving, charging forward, blade in his fist. He slid on his knees, passing Kane, whose momentum carried him in the opposite direction. Tucker reached the downed man, raised his dagger, then simply lowered it.

“Neck’s broken,” Tucker said.

“So we each got a soldier,” Kowalski said, lowering his arms, rubbing his shoulders. “I gotta get me one of those dogs.”

From the shadows to the side, the young girl reappeared. She held the lost pistol in both hands, pointed at Tucker. Her face was a mask of terror.

Tucker dropped his dagger and raised his palms. “It’s okay …” the man intoned softly.

The girl spat something in Somali. They didn’t have a translator, but it sounded more angry than scared. She steadied her pistol, her finger finding the trigger.

Then the girl suddenly jerked back a step—coughed blood. She dropped the pistol, her fingers scrabbling for the silver blade sticking out of her neck.

Gray turned to the source.

Seichan had a second throwing dagger in her fingers, ready if needed.

It wasn’t.

The girl slumped to her knees, then toppled forward.

Tucker gave out a soft cry of dismay. He lunged forward, going to the child’s aid, but it was no use. “What did you do?”

“What needed to be done,” Seichan said, her eyes glassy and cold.

Tucker stared across at her. “She was just a child.”

“No, she wasn’t,” Seichan whispered under her breath. “Not any longer.”

Logically, Gray knew she was right. The girl would likely have shot and killed Tucker, and the noise would have jeopardized everything. And a sad truth of the matter: some brutalized war orphans never recovered, never healed, becoming no more than animals in children’s bodies.

Still, his heart ached at the death, echoing Tucker’s anguish.

Seichan merely headed across the lobby. “Let’s find Amanda. That’s what we came here for.”

Still, he noted her fingers trembled as she tried to return the unused blade to its wrist sheath.

“Seichan’s right,” Gray said and pointed to Tucker. “Get your dog. We need to pick up Amanda’s trail.”

Tucker glowered at Seichan, but he obeyed.

As dog and handler worked in tandem, sweeping through the lobby, Gray moved to the security desk. There he found a bank of monitors. It appeared the desk was wired to the lobbies on each floor. He began hitting each button, bringing up one view after the other, looking for any evidence of habitation. Reaching the penthouse lobby on the fiftieth floor, he came up empty. Every lobby was dark, offering a dim view of marble elegance, fine rugs, and the continuation of the spiral stair.