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saboteurs. It was even possible, Tucker thought, that no word of intruders had gotten out. The facility had been remote, with only one phone line going in. Dallas could well have pushed the button before anyone got to the phone, assuming any of the workers thought to make a call anyway.The building was charred rubble. Tucker himself had reconnoitered, leaving Niema under Hadi's worried and watchful eye. As always, Dallas had been thorough; what the plastique hadn't destroyed, the fire had.That was the one time Niema had spoken without first being asked something. When Tucker returned she stared at him, her dark eyes fathomless, haunted, somehow hopeful. "Did you find him?" she asked.Startled, keeping it hidden, he said, "No.""But-his body . . ."She wasn't clinging to an irrational hope that Dallas was still alive. She wanted his body for burial."Niema . . . there's nothing left." He said it as gently as he could, knowing there was nothing he could do to cushion the blow but trying anyway. She had been a trooper all through the job, but now she looked so damn fragile.Nothing left. He saw the words hit her, saw her reel with the shock. She hadn't asked anything since, not even for water. His own stamina was so great he could go for long periods before he was aware of thirst, so he couldn't rely on his own needs to remind him of hers. He set a time limit: Every two hours, he made her drink. Every four, he made her eat. Not that there was any making to it; she accepted whatever he gave her, without protest.Now it was time for them to split up, as planned, but instead of Niema going with Dallas she would now be staying with him, while Hadi made his own way out of the country.Tomorrow they would be in Tehran, where they would blend in with the population. Tucker would then make secure contact and, if there was no trouble, acquire transportation. Another day after that, and they would be just across the border from Turkey. He would abandon the vehicle and they would walk across during the night, in a remote location he had already scouted. Hadi would cross over at another point.Hadi scratched his beard. Neither of them had shaved for two weeks, so they were decidedly scruffy. "Maybe I could scrounge around tomorrow when we get to Tehran, find a pharmacy, buy some sleeping pills or something. She's got to sleep."They had stopped for a brief rest, sheltered by the lone remaining wall of a small mud house that had long since been abandoned. Niema sat a little way off to the side, alone in a way that went far beyond the slight distance between her and them. She didn't fidget. She just sat. Maybe if she cried, Tucker thought. Maybe if she let some of it out, exhausted herself, she would be able to sleep. But she hadn't cried; the shock had gone too deep, and she hadn't yet recovered from that enough for tears. The time for crying would come later.He considered Hadi's suggestion, but didn't like the idea of drugging her, in case they had to move fast. Still.. . "Maybe," he said, and left it at that.They had rested long enough. Tucker stood, signaling that the break was over. Niema stood too, and Hadi moved forward to help her over some loose, unbaked mud bricks. She didn't need the help, but Hadi had become as protective of her as a mother hen.He stepped on a loose board. It tilted up and dislodged some of the bricks just as Niema stepped on them, shifting them out from under her feet. She staggered off balance, slipped, and landed on her right shoulder in the rubble.She didn't cry out, her training not to make any unnecessary noise still holding. Hadi swore softly, apologizing as he helped her to her feet. "Damn, I'm sorry! Are you all right?"She nodded, brushing at her clothes, her shoulder. Tucker saw the slight frown knit her brows as she brushed her shoulder again, and even that much expression was so alien to her face these past two days that he knew immediately something was wrong."You're hurt." He was beside her before he stopped speaking, pulling her away from the rubble."Did you jam your shoulder?" Hadi asked, frowning with concern."No." She sounded puzzled, no more, but she twisted her neck to look at the back of her shoulder. Tucker turned her around. There was a small tear in her shirt, and blood was welling from it."You must have fallen on something sharp," he said, and thought maybe the damage had been done by a shard of brick, but then he saw the rusty nail protruding about an inch out of a rotten board."It was a nail. Good thing you had a tetanus booster." He efficiently unbuttoned her shirt as he spoke. She wasn't wearing a bra, so he only undid the first few buttons, then pulled the shirt off the injured shoulder.The puncture wound was purplish and already swelling, sullenly oozing blood. The nail had gone in high and right of her shoulder blade, in the fleshy part just beside her arm. He pressed on it to make the blood run more freely. Hadi had already opened their meager first-aid kit and extracted some gauze pads, which he used to mop up the blood as it ran down.Niema stood motionless, letting them tend to the wound, which Tucker supposed was minor in relation to the concern both he and Hadi were showing. Any wound or injury that caused a delay was dangerous, because it would force them to stay in Iran even longer, so their concern was based in logic; but the biggest part of it, Tucker admitted, was the male instinct to protect the female. Not only was she the only woman with them, but she was already wounded, emotionally if not physically. Add in the fact that she was a lovely young woman who had quickly endeared herself to the team with her guts and wit, and of course they were jumping to protect her.Mentally, he knew all the reasons, instinctive as well as personal. On a gut level, he knew he would move mountains to prevent anything from adding to the load of pain she already carried. He had promised Dallas he would take care of her, and no matter what it cost, he would keep that promise.Sunlight gleamed on her bare shoulder, turning her skin to pearl. She had a pale complexion, despite the darkness of her hair and eyes. The elegant slant of her collarbone was exposed, and even as he applied an antibiotic ointment to the wound, Tucker couldn't help admiring the graceful structure of her body. She was remarkably feminine, despite her rough clothing and the fact that she wore no makeup, her hair wasn't combed, and all of them really, really needed a bath. She looked so female and elegant, he had constantly been surprised by her toughness."She looks like someone you want to put on a pedestal and keep from ever getting dirty or hurt," Dallas had said, before Tucker had ever met Niema, when he was putting the team together. "But she'd kick you in the teeth if you tried." He'd said it with intense male satisfaction, because she was his, and Tucker had shaken his head in wonder at seeing Dallas Burdock so obviously, unabashedly in love.Tucker plastered a large adhesive bandage over the wound, then drew her shirt back up onto her shoulder. He would have buttoned the garment for her but she did it herself, her head bent over the task, her fingers slow.Her reaction time was way off, dulled by shock and fatigue. If anything happened that necessitated quick action, he didn't think she could function. She had to get some sleep, he thought, one way or another.He motioned for Hadi to step aside with him. "I'm not going to push her any further. According to the map, there's a small village about fifteen miles north of here. Think you can liberate some wheels for us?""Is the Pope Catholic?""Don't take any chances. We can't risk any pursuit. Wait until late at night, if necessary."Hadi nodded his assent."If you aren't back by dawn, we'll move on."Hadi nodded again. "Don't worry about me. If I don't make it back, just get her out.""I plan to."Hadi took some food and water with him and soon was out of sight. Niema didn't ask where he was going; she simply sat down and stared emptily at nothing. No, not emptily, Tucker thought. That would be easier to bear than the bottomless well of suffering reflected in her eyes.The day wore on. He spent the time constructing a meager shelter for them, something to block the sun during the day and the wind at night. As they worked their way out of the mountains, the temperature had risen, but the nights were still damn cold. They ate, or at least he did; Niema refused more than a couple of bites. She drank a good bit of water, though, more than usual.By nightfall, her cheeks were a little flushed. Tucker felt her face and wasn't surprised to find it hot. "You're feverish," he told her. "From the nail." The fever wasn't especially high, so he wasn't worried on that account, but her body didn't need this fresh assault.He ate by flashlight. The fever robbed her of what little appetite she had, and she didn't eat anything that night; again, she drank a lot of water. "Try to get some sleep," he said, and obediently she lay down on the blanket he had spread out for her, but he watched her breathing for a while and knew she didn't sleep. She was lying there staring into the shadows, aching for the husband who wasn't there and never would be again.Tucker stared at her back. She and Dallas had been circumspect in their behavior, refraining from public displays of affection, but at night they had slept next to each other, with Dallas spooned protectively around her and his big arm draped around her waist. She had slept like a baby then, utterly secure.Perhaps she couldn't sleep now because she was alone and could feel the chill on her back. It was a simple thing, the kind of routine married couples seemed to develop so easily: the comfort of human warmth in the night, the sound of a loved one's breathing. Perhaps it was the trust, the intimacy, that meant so much. Intimacy didn't come easily to Tucker, trust even less so, but he knew it had existed between Niema and Dallas. Dallas's death had left her bereft, and she no longer found comfort in the night.Tucker sighed inwardly. The sigh was for himself, because he knew what he had to do, and knew the cost.He got a bottle of water and silently went to her, lying down behind her

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