Chapter IV

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Dubai, UAE, Present Day

JOHN CROSS HUGGED HIS old friend Ethan Maxwell, noticing that he was still in impeccable shape if a little bushier around the eyebrows. "How are you, Ethan?"

Holding John out at arm's length, he grinned. "Right as rain, Johnny boy. It is truly good to see you, my old friend. You should bring the family here. I'd love to see them—"

John hoped he wouldn't have to explain the awkward details about how his daughter was in a coma and his sweet Maggie was a shell of herself at Airel's bedside, but Ethan never stopped to take a breath.

"Oh wait, I don't exist. I forgot." Ethan jabbed him. "Must be all the killing and dying." He threw his head back and laughed.

John smiled reflexively. "You do exist, but you're also dead, so . . ."

"I love being dead," Ethan said. "No constraints. You should try it sometime."

John laughed again. It was insincere, but to men like Ethan, that didn't matter a whit. "Maybe I will."

"Maybe you should, Johnny boy. Now. First, how dare you show up without calling. What if I had a woman here? It would have been embarrassing."

"Really?"

"Well—for you." Ethan laughed again. The apartment was lavish, a studded glass jewel high up in an exclusive tower that overlooked the sea on one side and the city lights on the other.

John said, "I've walked in on you in worse situations. Remember Shenyang?"

"You never knew how to have fun."

"They were underage."

"Barely. And technically not, according to some of the lesser-known procedures within the Chinese government." He waggled a finger at him, turned away, and pulled a couple of beers from the fridge.

John would have been surprised at Ethan's lowbrow approach to hosting if he didn't know him better. Ethan Maxwell, once a regular guy from Schenectady, never learned how to care about genteel behaviors. He didn't do couth, he didn't drink aristocratic alcohol, and he didn't give two rips about what anyone thought about any of it. He occupied a special place in John's heart and mind because John was his junior partner when he first came on at the CIA. They worked together for years; Ethan was his mentor. If there was anyone John felt like he could trust, it was this man.

Ethan knew more about John than Maggie did. He knew about the nightmares early on—stuff he didn't dare tell anyone else. Ethan was there in D.C. when he'd first met Maggie; he'd practically introduced them. Ethan and John smoked cigars when Airel was born. They never got together for barbecues and the like because Ethan was a womanizing world traveler based out of D.C. and John was . . . well, John is just John.

A moment passed in silence. "Why so quiet? You came a long way for a drink."

"You crack open a good can of beer, Ethan."

He chuckled. "That I do, that I do. Now, before you start to bore me to death, tell me what you want, and remember, I'm old now. I'm not up for the midnight kill-and-drag thing anymore. I run the big stuff now."

John decided to tell him the truth. Up to this very moment, he was going to give Ethan a story, get what he needed, and go. He watched the fountain in the corner of the room, letting his mind get lost in the sound of water moving, rushing, trickling. It had the same effect as fire; it could hypnotize, it held power. It was seductive.

"Airel is in a coma."

Ethan was silent, looking away.

"Maggie just sits there at her bedside, empty. Waiting."

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