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SHE WAS DEAD THE MINUTE SHE ANSWERED THE ’LINK. SHE didn’t question the caller or the urgency of the request. In fact, pleasure and excitement rushed through her as she put aside her plans for an early night. Her movements both graceful and efficient, she dressed quickly, gathering what she needed.
She strode through her pretty apartment, ordering the lights to dim, and remembered to switch to sleep the little droid kitten her lover had given her as a companion.
She’d named it Sachmo.
It mewed, blinked its bright green eyes and curled into a ball. She gave its sleek white fur an affectionate stroke.
“Be back soon,” she murmured, making a promise she couldn’t know would be broken.
She glanced around the apartment as she opened the door, smiled at the bouquet of red roses in full and dramatic bloom on the table near the street window. And thought of Li.
She locked her door for the last time.
Following ingrained habit, she took the stairs. She was a slim, athletically built woman with eyes of deep blue. Her blond hair swung past her shoulders, a parted curtain for a lovely face. She was thirty-three, happy in her life, flirting around the soft edges of love with a man who gave her kittens and roses.
She thought of New York, this life, this man as a new chapter, one she was content to walk through, page by page, and discover.
She tucked that away to turn her mind to where she needed to go, what she needed to do. Less than ten minutes after the call, she jogged down the second flight of steps, turned for the next.
She had an instant to register the movement when her killer stepped out. Another for surprise when she recognized the face. But not enough, not quite enough to speak before the stunner struck her mid-body and took her down.
She came to with a shocking jolt, a burn of skin and blood. A rush from dark to light. The stunner blast had left her body numb, useless, even as her mind flashed clear. Inside the paralyzed shell, she struggled, she strained. She looked up into the eyes of her killer. Into the eyes of a friend.
“Why?” The question was weak, but had to be asked. There had to be an answer. There was always an answer.
She had the answer when she died, in the basement five floors below her pretty apartment where roses bloomed red and a kitten purred in sleep.
EVE STEPPED OUT OF THE SHOWER AND INTO the drying tube. While the warm air swirled around her, she shut her eyes and wallowed. She’d snagged a solid eight hours’ sleep and had woken early enough to indulge in what she thought of as water therapy.
Thirty laps in the pool, a spin in the whirlpool, followed by a twenty-minute hot shower. It made a hell of a nice way to start the day.