No matter where she went, if she stayed in Witness Protection, US Marshalls were not going to be able to provide her with twenty-four-hour protection. That's not how the program worked. What Ryker was offering seemed far superior to what the government could supply. It also meant she could leave WITSEC. Emmie hadn't imagined this was possible. She'd been schooled by them into believing that once she made the decision to enter Witness Protection, she'd have to remain in it for life.

"After one of their agents tried to murder you?" Ryker shook his head. "I know it was extenuating circumstances, but let's face it... if we want to keep you alive, and until I finish that new Hulk robot that will smash anyone who ever tries to hurt you, the security force I put together will have the feds beat by a mile."

She didn't have to think long to make her decision. That night, she called her mother in Chicago. Dora had been as moved as Emmie to be reconnected after so many months. Both ended up sobbing for five minutes before they could chain more than a few coherent words together. Her mom understood that she couldn't return to Chicago, and after Emmie explained, she also understood that her daughter's life and future was now elsewhere. While it wasn't safe for Emmie to travel to Chicago, her mother and sister could visit Oregon as often as they liked. Emmie's reunion with Dora at the airport in Portland three weeks after Anabelle's birth had been one of the happiest moments of Emmie's life.

Ryker insisted that her mom, sister, and niece all be given protection, a fact that eased Emmie's mind considerably. Even when they were far away from her, they had someone looking out for their wellbeing. Soon, Dora wouldn't be far away, however. She couldn't wait for her mom's next trip, only five days away now. Dora missed the birth of Emmie's first child but was thrilled that she'd be there for this baby's arrival. Three and a half years ago, such a thing would have seemed impossible...

The lilacs were just past their peak on the day Anabelle came into the world, three weeks early, but health and whole. When it came time for Emmie to fill out her birth certificate, she'd paused at the line requesting the father's name.

"Tiberius is spelled i-u-s, if that's what you were wondering." Ryker leaned over her shoulder, gently cradling a swaddled Anabelle in his arms.

"What?" She lifted the pen from the paper. "Ryker... are you sure?"

He looked at Anabelle and then back at Emmie. "If you are. It's your decision, of course. I just want you to be safe." He nuzzled Anabelle's nose. "I want you both to be safe."

He was right, of course. Anabelle would have greater protection if Ryker's name was on her birth certificate. The more people who believed her to be his biological daughter, the better. She printed Ryker's name and then paused again at the line for her daughter's. Names were a tricky thing in Emmie's life. Marsden, for instance, held little meaning for her, though she'd stuck with Emmie because it felt like it belonged to the person she'd become. But for her daughter, Marsden didn't really fit, and reclaiming the name Larson felt like she was signaling to the world that this child was born from the chaos of her Chicago past. She couldn't have that.

"Anabelle Dora James." She handed the paperwork to Ryker for him to sign. "It has a nice ring to it.


Three years later, Emmie had learned to live with the presence of highly trained, armed bodyguards. Though they dressed to blend in with the casual atmosphere of Moon Beach, when they first showed up, they'd become the talk of the town. This intrigue had ebbed over time until the community, just as they'd accepted Emmie, had accepted her unusual entourage as well.

While complacency was not her friend, no one, as far as she knew, had tried to do her harm since the day Sam had driven her away from Moon Beach. Perhaps the Brothers were seeking revenge elsewhere—no doubt they kept an extensive list of people they perceived as doing them wrong. Perhaps they'd had Ryker's protection unit scoped out and determined it wasn't worth the effort.

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