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First pages

Chapter One

Prison didn’t agree with Anna Slaten. She didn’t belong here. She never had. They’d just put her here. To protect her, they said. Six months, they said, maximum. We’ll be sure you don’t stay any longer than necessary.

That had been two years ago. Okay, twenty-three months and seventeen days, but who was counting? She was, and it was getting more and more difficult to distinguish one day from the other. Even with her artificially enhanced brain, she had to concentrate to keep track.

Today was Wednesday, April third, and it was cold. It was nearly always cold. For a few days in July and August it tended toward warmer, but in the dead of winter she always wondered if she was going to live until spring.

Spring was here, more or less, and she was alive. More or less. And a voice over the intercom was calling her cellblock to outdoor recreation.

She pulled her shoes on. They were ugly, soft-soled slip-ons to go with the ugly but practical plain jeans and blue chambray shirts all the prisoners wore. It was the same outfit for everyone, every day. At least they didn’t have to wear orange prison jumpers except on laundry day. So it could have been worse. And she’d gotten a new set of clothes for her first incarceration anniversary. Her second anniversary was coming up; maybe she’d get a nice dress.

Thus properly attired, she headed out with her fellow inmates. They all proceeded toward the doors in an orderly fashion, following the instructions of the guards. They looked like sheep. Blue sheep on two legs. The thought usually made Anna smile a little. Today it didn’t.

They filed out into the exercise yard. Anna wondered about the other women. Every day, seeing the faces, the various expressions of resentment and complacency, she wondered why they all were here. Had they truly committed some unthinkable crime against humanity? Were they political prisoners, serial killers, plotters of assassinations? Or were they like her, incarcerated to put her under the radar for a while, until things cooled down, people stopped trying to kill her, and they could come fetch her and put her back to work? Although at this point, she was beginning to wonder if her employers had forgotten about her.

Today there were two new faces. They didn’t appear often, but when they did, Anna paid attention. The new guests at the prison party were both big women, tall and muscular. They looked less tame than the others in the yard—they always did for the first few days, until they found their places. Or, more accurately, had their places shown to them none too subtly by the other inmates. Anna participated in the orientation procedures far less frequently these days. The others knew too well what she could do and how she did it. They’d decided—quite rightly—it was best not to fuck with her.

Anna scanned the new faces impersonally, careful to avoid an inadvertent challenge. She wanted to remember what they looked like. The outlines and details sank through the layers of her memory to that place where she would never forget them, into the locked compartments she could access at will and in need. She also let the images flow into her normal long-term memory. The process occurred instinctively; her brain knew how to do it on its own. God knew it should—she’d been through enough training. Superficial things moved into normal memory, but anything she might need later went into what she and the people who’d reprogrammed her brain called the Vault. So this morning’s breakfast menu? No special treatment. Make a note in ordinary layers of gray matter. But the faces of women who quite likely might attempt to kill her in the next few days? That information she hung on to.

With the women’s faces properly catalogued, Anna turned her attention back to her surroundings. She enjoyed outdoor recreation as much as anyone could enjoy anything in prison. The fresh air made her feel alive, invigorated. Good, clean oxygen penetrating to every cell. She wasn’t sure where this facility was located, though she’d made several educated guesses, but it was far enough away from civilization that the air was truly pure.

Beyond the high fences, topped with barbed wire and electric wires, mountains loomed in a not-so-far distance. In the winter, they remained wrapped in a hazy twilight for nearly two months by her reckoning; in the middle of summer, the sun stayed above the horizon for the same amount of time. Add in the alpine tundra that surrounded the facility, the occasional caribou and frequent marmots and pikas, and what she knew about Agency facilities in general, and she’d decided to put money on northern Canada or maybe Alaska. The grizzly bear that had wandered by last summer reinforced that assumption, as did everything she’d been able to excavate from the Vault. Strangely though, as much top-secret Agency shit as she kept hidden behind her mental firewall, she didn’t seem to have any information on an Agency incarceration facility in northern Canada or Alaska. And she’d tried. If this place had no records in the vast stew of information that was her enhanced, segmented, and precisely programmed brain, it really was about as top-secret as anything could get. She had yet to decide if that made her more secure or less.

Strolling along the inside of the fence, she looked out over the greening stretch of tundra. Spring was definitely on the way; she could see tiny, white, star-shaped flowers among the short grasses. She wondered how long it would be before she would see babies—little mountain goats or bighorn sheep.

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Absorbed in her thoughts as she was, she might have missed it, but even musing over the change of seasons, part of her was always alert, on watch. Hell, even sleeping, part of her was always alert and on watch. She spun and brought up an arm just in time to block the shiv the woman—one of the newcomers, Anna realized in a flash—had swung at her, directed at the base of her skull. Had the blade connected, it would have severed Anna’s spine.

As it was, she caught the other woman’s forearm against her own, like crossed blades, with a force that made Anna wonder for a moment if she’d cracked a bone. Ignoring the pain lurching up into her shoulder, she snaked into a counter move, ripping the shiv from the other woman’s hand and unbalancing her to the ground.

It wasn’t over though. A second woman—the other newcomer—came at Anna right as she straightened again. Anna slewed her body, avoiding most of the impact, and the second attacker face-planted into the wire fence. Too bad it wasn’t electrified, Anna thought. She would have liked to see the woman flailing against the wire. But she only bounced back on her ass and glared up at Anna, flexing to initiate another attack.

“Okay, you’re done. It’s over.”

Anna had been only vaguely aware of the guards moving in. She’d been too focused on avoiding sharp pointy things. But she’d known it was only a matter of time. The question, as always, was how much time? She straightened, lifting her hands to show she was unarmed and willing to obey orders.

Her two attackers, though, were not so complacent. One of them rushed the guard, distracting her. The other headed straight back for Anna.

With the woman between her and the guard, Anna didn’t see the gun go off. She heard it, though, a horrible roar in the quiet, alpine morning. And when the bullet exited her erstwhile attacker’s head, blood, brains, and bone spattered out behind it, striking Anna’s shoulder, the side of her face.

The bullet missed her. The second attacker didn’t. The big woman caught Anna hard, bearing her down to the ground. Anna brought up an arm to deflect the coming blow, but it was the same arm that had taken the impact of the shiv attack. Biting pain tore through her at the second hard hit, turning her vision red. The blow was partially deflected, but the woman’s big fist caught her in the temple with a glancing blow. It was enough.

The gun gave a second bark, and everything went black.

* * * *

Evgeni Belyakov consulted his GPS with a skeptical eye. It said he was within a quarter-mile of the top-secret facility near Barrow, Alaska. But he saw no sign of it. If he’d taken his regular equipment, issued by the Agency, he would have been more confident in the device’s accuracy. But for this mission he hadn’t dared use anything that officially belonged to him. There was too much danger of being tracked.

He looked away from the GPS and instead took in the stretch of tundra around him. It looked pristine, unmolested. A ptarmigan, in its spring brown, hopped by not far from him. Evgeni could see a fox crouched a few yards away, ready to leap on its dinner.

“Psssht,” Evgeni said, not sure why he did it. The ptarmigan took flight, startled. The fox turned at the sound as well. If foxes could swear, Evgeni was certain he would have gotten an earful. He was almost certain its eyes narrowed at him before it turned and loped away.

“Sorry, my friend,” he said softly after it. The Russian words mangled the quiet. He returned his attention to his surroundings.

There. Yes, the landscape looked pristine, unbroken, but right there, at about eleven o’clock, he found a nearly imperceptible break in the silhouette of the tundra.

If he’d had any doubt that this facility was as deep undercover as any place he’d ever been, that doubt was gone. Above the Arctic Circle, in an area practically inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t determined to get there, and hidden this perfectly, the prison was one of the most guarded areas he’d ever seen. Only in his earlier days with the Agency, when he’d been sent to the remote Siberian medical facility where he’d been refigured, had he ever seen such care taken to hide a place.

He squinted toward the slight anomaly, muttering to himself as he calculated distance. More than a kilometer, not so far as two. It wouldn’t take him long to get there. And when he did, the forged paperwork he carried would get him past the guards, easy as could be.

He hoped.

He climbed back into his Humvee and continued his journey.

* * * *

Anna woke with her head buzzing. She lay still for a few moments, eyes closed, trying to assess her surroundings before she let anyone know she was conscious. The sharp bite of antiseptic in her nose made her suspect she was in the prison infirmary. The lumpy, uncomfortable nature of the surface under her—a hospital bed, she was certain—confirmed that suspicion.

She heard murmurs in the near distance, maybe from the corridor outside her room. The voices were female—all the personnel at this facility were female, as were the residents. Inmates. Whatever.

“He’ll have to wait,” one said.

The other voice countered, “He has priority paperwork. I don’t know how long I can hold him off.”

“Well, he can’t exactly perform an extraction if she’s still unconscious, now, can he?”

This seemed to Anna like an appropriate time to open her eyes. Her heart had lurched at the word “extraction.” Were they talking about her? She hoped to God they were.

As she opened her eyes and took in her surroundings, the buzzing in her head resolved into something she recognized. She had heard something while she was unconscious. Her brain was signaling her to retrieve it.

It could wait a few more minutes. She lifted her head, hoping to catch the attention of the medical personnel who were talking about her in the hallway beyond the open door. A moaning noise would probably be helpful, so she added one.

Almost immediately, one of the doctors was at her bedside. Anna recognized Dr. Potter, who’d tended to her on previous occasions. “Welcome back, Anna,” she said.

“What happened?” Anna knew damn well what had happened, but she wanted to keep up the pretense of being muddled, at least for now. Once she’d sorted things out, she could let them know she was okay.

“You were attacked in the yard,” Dr. Potter said. “Do you remember?”

Anna nodded, pushing herself into a sitting position. “Yeah. Why? Why did they come after me?”

“They were new to the facility. We think someone might have dared them to.”

It was a reasonable enough explanation. “Were?” she repeated.

“Unfortunately, the guards were forced to eliminate them both.”

Anna nodded. Also reasonable, and not an uncommon occurrence. And she’d seen with her own eyes why the first one had been killed. Sorry—eliminated—mustn’t forget proper Agency parlance. But something about the way Dr. Potter said it made hairs on the back of Anna’s neck stand up, and the little alarm dinged again in the back of her head. Something was wrong. Painfully wrong.

“Your arm isn’t broken,” the doctor said, “so you’re lucky there.”

“But?” Anna had the distinct impression there was a “but.”

“You were struck in the head. We have protocols to follow before can you can be allowed to leave the infirmary.”

“I’m fine,” Anna insisted.

“This isn’t a public hospital,” Dr. Potter stated. “You can’t sign yourself out against doctor’s orders.”

“I’m fine,” Anna stated again, more firmly this time, as if she could impose her will on the obviously stubborn doctor. Something shifted in the back of her brain—information reorganizing itself to bring the new data to the surface. “And if there’s someone here to see me, I’d like to know who it is.”

The doctor didn’t manage to hold back the blink of surprise, but it was a near thing. Anna had to admire the restraint. But she saw the slight tightening of the other woman’s eyelids and knew that, once again, the automatic recording features of her brain had performed as advertised.

“His paperwork is…irregular,” the doctor said.

Anna was silent a moment, letting another memory float to the top. “No. There’s something else bothering you about him.”

The extraction conflicts with the orders we received yesterday. Anna heard the voice in her head as clearly as if the speaker were in the infirmary with her. But his paperwork looks to be in order. Should we call HQ to confirm?

Something strange was going on, no question about it. Anna swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her head hurt where she’d been hit, but there were no other symptoms—no vision anomalies or nausea that might indicate a concussion.

“If he’s here to extract me, my orders are to go with him. No questions. Those orders came from higher up than anyone in this facility.” She wasn’t about to let a little head injury or confusion about her status keep her from getting the hell out of here. Just the thought of finally leaving had her heart pitter-pattering in her throat.

“I’m aware of that,” said the doctor, her voice tight. Anna should be used to that kind of reaction by now; no one liked it when she pulled rank. “But there’s still your well-being to consider—”

“I’m fine,” Anna shot back. She rattled off a list of symptoms, accessing a catalog of medical data hidden in a place that felt like it sat behind her left ear. She didn’t have any of them.

“You’re a terrible patient,” the doctor told her testily.

“I’ve heard that before.” Dr. Potter, of course, knew about Anna’s surgically reconfigured brain and knew her rank in the Agency. She also knew damn well that Anna had special privileges when it came to deciding her own fate. If Anna decided to walk out of the infirmary and go with whoever was waiting for her, there wasn’t much anyone here could do about it.

“Fine,” the doctor conceded. “But I want to look you over first to be sure you’re responding correctly to basic tests. If they extract you and find out you got broken and I didn’t treat it, it’s my ass on the line.”

“Fair enough.” Anna could tolerate having her knees banged with hammers and lights shone in her eyes. But after that she was hightailing it the ever-loving fuck out of here.

Chapter Two

Evgeni was about four seconds away from punching someone in the face. Normally he was willing to be patient when he went in for a mission, but not today. Of course, normally whatever mission he was on was sanctioned by higher-ups in the Agency, and he wasn’t watching the clock tick waiting for someone to challenge him.

He was more concerned, though, with the fact that they’d told him Anna was in the infirmary. Had the others gotten to her first? If they had, was it Coalition people or was her injury related to the splinter Agency group he’d discovered? There was no way to know, and either way he wouldn’t be satisfied until Anna was standing in front of him. Or better yet, sitting next to him in his Humvee while they got the hell out of here.

Right now he was perched on the edge of a chair in the facility’s small waiting area. He wanted to pace, but impatience at this point would look suspicious. He’d supplied all the right codes, passed the retinal scan, walked through the X-ray, suffered the indignity of a thorough pat down, and handed over his paperwork for inspection. So far everything had passed muster. He didn’t want to ruin it now by acting too anxious. Or by punching someone in the face. It would be satisfying, yes, but ill considered.

He heard voices in the hallway and pulled his back straight, listening. The woman manning the main desk gave him a narrow look, and he smiled at her cautiously. Her automatic smile in return relaxed him, but not much. He couldn’t afford to relax.

The voices came closer. He saw the two doctors stop in the doorway to confer a moment longer, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. After a minute or so one of the doctors departed, heading back down the hallway. The other came into the waiting area and approached Evgeni.

Evgeni pushed to his feet. It was the polite thing to do, but also a relief to uncoil from the wad of tension he’d turned himself into. He extended a hand. She took it, fingers and palm all but disappearing inside his huge grip. He kept the handshake careful—solid enough to be polite but not in any way taking advantage of his strength and size.

“Mr. Belyakov,” she said, her voice firm. “I’m Dr. Potter. I understand you’ve come for Ms. Slaten.”

He nodded. “Yes, that is correct.”

“She was injured in an altercation in the recreation yard. I apologize for the delay. She was struck in the head. I had to follow certain protocols.”

“She is all right?” The idea of a head injury made his stomach clench. He wasn’t well-versed on the refiguring process they’d used on Anna, but he knew a head injury could be disastrous on numerous levels.

“I believe so, yes,” the doctor replied. “Could I see your paperwork?”

He wanted to protest that she was about the only person left in the facility who hadn’t seen his paperwork, but he just drew the long, leather wallet out of his jacket and passed it to her.

She looked over the papers, reading the signatures. Evgeni had forged three of them. The doctor frowned and handed the wallet back.

“Forgive my questions,” the doctor said, and a prickle of suspicion went up Evgeni’s spine, “but per my original orders I was expecting to hear from…a different office.”

He understood then why she had hesitated. If it had been any other reason, he would have been fucked, right there, no chance to pull off the escape. But this he could deal with.

“You have seen my papers,” he stated, keeping his tone authoritative. He’d learned he could get away with more if he acted like he had full right to do what he was doing.

He saw the doubt rise in her features, but it shifted as she absorbed his words. No matter what office he was from, he had paperwork with names on it she couldn’t ignore. On the other hand, Evgeni didn’t have the right air to be from an administrative office. His English wasn’t slick-smooth like the Agency men who slid easily undercover, and his overall demeanor didn’t match the suave and careful aura of the high-level infiltrators, back stabbers, and double agents—the best kinds of spies.

But Evgeni was more. And less, if you chose to look at it that way. Unlike Anna’s refiguring, which had enhanced her brain, his refiguring had actually damaged certain brain functions. One of those was language processing. He could speak Russian fluently because it was his native language, and he’d taken immersion courses in several other major languages, English among them, before he’d been refigured, so he’d retain some of the basics later. But much of that knowledge had been lost to him after the procedures. He could speak English, French, German, Italian, and Japanese, but just the basics. For what he did, what he was, advanced language centers weren’t necessary.

The doctor’s expression turned stubborn. “Your papers contradict previous orders—”

Evgeni blinked, and the doctor took a step back, her eyes widening. His eyes burned as if he’d scraped something across his corneas, and he knew they had shifted from deep brown to a tawny gold. He blinked again, and the burning receded.

“I would like you to retrieve Ms. Slaten now.”

The doctor nodded. His request had been firm but not rude. He was this woman’s superior on a number of levels. Never mind he’d manufactured a few of those levels. She needed to stop questioning him.

But still she faced him squarely, and after a moment she said, in a barely audible voice, so no one else could hear her, “Are you here to kill her?”

He held her gaze a moment, evaluating. Instincts clicked in. Instantly, he regretted having threatened her with the wolf. “Nyet,” he said, because it felt more sincere to him than saying it in English. “I am not.”

The doctor nodded. “I’ll do everything I can.”

He settled back in the chair as the doctor headed again down the hallway. That was more like it. Now all he had to do was watch the clock again and hope he had enough of a head start on the real extraction team.

* * * *

Anna sat waiting in the infirmary with infinite impatience; it was all she could do to hold still. It seemed more and more like a matter of life and death to get in the same room with whoever had come to extract her.

And maybe it was. Left alone, she’d started sorting through the bits and pieces her brain had deemed worthy to file away. They were disconcerting, to say the least.

She’d been unconscious, so the medical personnel hadn’t worried about talking right next to her bed. What they didn’t know was that Anna’s brain recorded everything it could take in, even while she was asleep or unconscious. Even these Agency personnel, who were supposed to protect her until the time came for her to return to mainstream duty, didn’t know everything about how Anna functioned.

Anna was glad her superiors had seen fit to be dodgy and secretive in this instance. It gave her a chance to figure out her situation. So far though, she wasn’t happy with what her brain was coughing up.

“…and now they’re both dead. Why were the guards allowed to terminate them?”

“I’m not at liberty to provide that information.”

The voices were muzzy even when the words were clear, so it was hard for her to determine who she’d heard speaking. Oddly, the second voice had sounded like a man’s, which was strange because there were no men at the facility.

“This was not a random attack by new inmates,” the first voice went on. Anna thought it might have been Dr. Potter, but she wasn’t certain. “They targeted her specifically.”

“Because she is seen as the most powerful person here. The alpha dog, if you will.” Again, the voice sounded male. “That is all.”

“I don’t—”

The other voice broke the doctor’s off brutally, the tone as forceful as a slap across the face. “The details of this incident do not concern you, Dr. Potter. Anna Slaten will not be your concern for much longer. Be sure she is prepared for the next step.”

That was all Anna had. Which fit with what she knew. It also fit with the fact there was a mysterious someone waiting for her, presumably to accomplish that “next step,” which Anna assumed would be her official extraction. But something about that voice—the hard, intense, male voice that had cut through Dr. Potter’s determined attempts to mine more information—something about it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, made her skin run cold and her heart beat too fast, triggered by fear. She didn’t recognize the voice, and nothing in the multilayered vaults of her refigured brain seem to know either, but somehow she knew it represented a threat.

Anna stiffened at the sound of a rustle in the hallway. Dr. Potter appeared in the door, her wide, matronly frame more than a little comforting. Anna took a careful breath, trying to slow her galloping heartbeat. The doctor closed the door carefully behind her.

“Someone’s come for you,” she said, her voice low and even. “His paperwork is all in order. We need to move you out right away.” Oh, thank God. Finally someone had made a decision. Anna slid off the bed, every cell in her body ready to get the hell out of here.

Dr. Potter’s stance shifted, though. “Anna…” Her voice remained soft, careful. The tone put Anna on alert. The doctor was trying to tell her something, some vital piece of information threaded all between her words but not spoken. Anna focused on her eyes, the set of her body, small movements of her hands. “Anna, I don’t think you should take the time to retrieve anything from your cell. I think you should go with him now. I’ll be sure you get a change of clothes, but I don’t think there’s time for anything else.”

Anna nodded. There wasn’t anything in her cell she wanted, anyway. They hadn’t allowed her any personal items when they’d initially put her here. She would have questioned Dr. Potter’s insistence that she go right away if her own instincts hadn’t been telling her the same thing. “I can do that.”

“You also should note that he’s not administrative personnel.”

Anna’s eyebrows rose. Extractions were almost always performed by high-level administration. “What is he?”

Dr. Potter met her eyes levelly. “He’s a Volk.”

Anna went still. Chorney Volk. A Black Wolf. The men—they were mostly men, for reasons she’d never quite understood—who were dropped in to kill and disappear. Men who could make themselves other than human. Some in the Agency called them werewolves, but that wasn’t an entirely accurate description. When they took their killing form, they were larger and more intelligent than true wolves. They were also anonymous. Their human forms varied widely, but every transformed Volk looked alike.

She’d seen one once, not long before she’d been put here. The big, black wolf had easily weighed two hundred pounds or more. It had slammed into her. Sent her sprawling.

And then it had killed Stefan.

Anna swallowed. “I see.”

Dr. Potter held her gaze steadily. “I’m sure it’s all right. Absolutely certain. I just thought you should know.”

Which meant Dr. Potter knew more of Anna’s history than she strictly should. Meant she likely knew about Stefan. Anna held her gaze for what seemed like a long time.

Finally, she nodded. “Take me to him.”

* * * *

It had been so long since Anna had seen the reception area of the facility that she’d forgotten it had one. Not that the place received many guests. Here, “reception” meant a lobby where paperwork was exchanged, prisoners processed, and deliveries occasionally signed for.

The real processing for Anna had already occurred. She’d been sent through a decontamination room—she wasn’t sure what she was being decontaminated from, but whatever. When that was finished, a guard had returned the box of clothes she’d been forced to abandon two years ago.

The clothes—plain Levi’s and a plaid shirt, plus socks and sneakers—were too big. She’d lost weight here. The baggy jeans and the shirt that hung on her shoulders made her feel that much more vulnerable as the guard escorted her into the lobby. At least the shoes fit—her feet hadn’t shrunk.

The thought amused her, allowing her to put on a vague smile as the guard—she knew her, saw her face every day, but had no idea what her name was—steered her toward the man who’d come to fetch her.

“Mr. Belyakov,” the guard said. He nodded to Anna. “Ms. Slaten.”

“Evgeni,” said her rescuer and held out his hand.

“Anna,” she replied and took it.

His hand was immense. A paw. Well, not literally, although it could be if he wanted it to be. He wasn’t exactly small, either—tall and wide through the shoulders but built so that he would have been lanky except for the strong musculature she could see bulging under his suit. The suit was a little too tight.

He met her gaze squarely. He too seemed like he was trying to drill some kind of subliminal message into her brain through her eyeballs. Spies were a pain in the ass.

He had pretty eyes, though, dark brown and big, slanted downward at the corners. His face looked like someone had assembled it out of silly putty—the nose a bit bulbous, the lips and ears a shade too big—but somehow he managed to be attractive anyway. Like a weirdly good-looking version of Droopy Dog. The image both disturbed and amused her.

He squeezed her hand, let it go. “We should go. I am behind schedule already from wait.”

His accent was thicker than any she’d ever heard from an Agency man. But of course it would be if he were a Volk. They weren’t known for language skills. Or intelligence, for that matter, though she’d seen something in his eyes that belied that stereotype. And although his expression remained relaxed, something about the set of his shoulders gave Anna the impression he was in one hell of a big hurry to get out of here.

Well, she was totally with him on that count. “Let’s get a move-on then,” she said and followed his wide back out the door.

Chapter Three

Evgeni didn’t manage a full breath until the GPS on the Humvee told him they were ten miles from the facility. Then, after yet another long look in the rearview mirror, he inhaled deeply and let the air drain out through his teeth.

“You gonna tell me what’s up?” Anna’s voice was tight.

Okay, so maybe he hadn’t done the best job concealing his apprehension. Maybe because it wasn’t so much apprehension as sheer terror. Still, if he told her everything, he had a feeling she’d run. And then where would he be? More importantly, where would she be? In the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with no transportation, no equipment, and no food. He’d keep a few cards closer to the vest for now.

“What up?” he repeated. “I not understand this ‘what up.’”

She gave him a skeptical squint. Evgeni should have played that card earlier, before he’d strung together a relatively grammatically correct sentence back at the facility.

“Volk or not, I’m pretty sure you can speak English better than that.”

He looked at her sidelong. She looked different than she had the last time he’d seen her—thinner, more brittle. Hungrier. Two years in prison hadn’t done her much good, whether it had been for her own protection or not.

“Speak English not my job. My job kill people. Tear up, make dead.”

“And you enjoy that?” she shot back.

He smiled a little, glancing at her again. Her eyes were an interesting color—not quite brown but not really gold. If she’d been a Volk, that color would have been a warning he was about to get his throat ripped out. It might be, anyway.

“Sometimes,” he conceded.

“Right.” She stared out the window, seeming to study the nearly featureless stretch of tundra. “Okay, so…are you going to tell me what’s going on? What’s happening?”

“Extraction on Agency orders. They tell me come get, I come get.”

“Why in the world would they send a Volk? Extractions are an administrative duty.”

He shrugged. “I have orders. I not ask questions.”

“I want to see your paperwork,” she demanded.

He rolled his eyes. “All women—only want my paperwork.” He drew the long envelope out of his jacket and handed it to her. “Here. You read.”

“I will.”

He watched her surreptitiously as she looked over the forms, his ID, the abbreviated version of his orders. It seemed she stared too long at the signature on the back sheet. The name belonged to a man who was technically Anna’s superior as well as Evgeni’s. Maybe she’d seen his signature enough times to recognize the forgery.

Finally she let herself sag back in the seat, pushing her dark hair back from her face with the spread fingers of one hand. The hair was longish, the cut uneven. It looked like a prison haircut. No surprise there.

“Happy now?” he asked.

She passed the envelope back to him. Her hand was shaking. She didn’t answer.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem when she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She recently moved from the mountains of Colorado to Urbana, Illinois, where she lives in a house that’s almost a hundred years old with her daughter and a variety of animals. So far, the house appears not to be haunted.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I don't think I ever really decided to become a writer. I've always made up stories. I wrote "novels" all through grade school--mostly about talking horses, a la Black Beauty. I always knew writing was what I wanted to do for a living. It just took me a while to figure out how to make it work.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
The initial seed for this story was a scene from the TV show Angel. Angelus has escaped, and Wesley goes to free Faith, the Slayer, from prison to take him down. From there, my brain started spinning a story about a spy who was in prison by choice, and thus Anna was born, with Evgeni as her rescuer.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Readers can find out more about me at my website, katrienaknights.com, or at my Facebook page at facebook.com/KatrienaKnightsAuthor, or on Twitter at twitter.com/crazywritinfool.

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