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really was. Ignorance, in this case, was safer than discretion."Perhaps it was."His voice was reflective, and he didn't explain further."Why did you have a cover with us? We were a team. None of us were out to get you.""If you didn't know my real name, then, if any of you were captured, you couldn't reveal it."'And if you were captured?""I wouldn't be.""Oh? How would you prevent it?""Poison," he said matter-of-factly.Niema recoiled. She knew that some operatives, back in the tense Cold War days, had carried a suicide pill, usually cyanide, that they were to swallow rather than allow themselves to be captured. To know that John Medina did the same made her feel sick to her stomach."But- ""It's better than being tortured to death." He shrugged. "Over the years, I've pissed off a lot of people. They would all like to have a turn removing my body parts."From what she had heard about his exploits, he was understating the case. It was even rumored he had killed his own wife, because he discovered she was a double agent and was about to expose a highly placed mole. Niema didn't believe that particular rumor, but then neither had she believed John Medina was a real man. Not one of the people who talked about him had ever met him, seen him, or knew anyone who had. She had thought him a kind of... urban myth, though one restricted to intelligence circles.She couldn't quite take in that not only was he real, but she knew him. And even more astounding was how accepting he was of everything entailed in being who he was, as if his notoriety was simply the price he had to pay to do what he wanted."Given your circumstances," she said with asperity, "you shouldn't have told me now, either." The fact that he had made her suspicious."Actually, I was so surprised to see you that I blurted it out without thinking."The idea of him being taken off guard was so out of character that she snorted, and stretched out her left leg. "Here, pull this one, too.""It's true," he murmured. "I didn't know you were going to be there.""You had no idea Mr. Vinay wanted me to ... whatever it was he wanted me to do? And you just happened to show up? How likely is that?""Not very, but unlikely things happen every day.""Does he expect you to talk me into taking the job?""Maybe. I don't know what he was thinking." Irritation colored his voice now. "I suspect, though, that he's working two angles. You'll have to ask him what those angles are.""Since I'm not taking the job, whatever it is, it doesn't matter what the angles are, does it?"He grinned suddenly. "I don't think he was expecting to be turned down, especially not so fast. Not many people can tell him no.""Then he needed the experience."He said admiringly, "No wonder Dallas was so crazy about you. Not many people stood up to him, either. He looked as tough as he was."Yes, he had. Dallas had been almost six-four and weighed two hundred and thirty-five hard-muscled pounds. His biggest strength hadn't been his body, though, as superbly conditioned as it was; his mind, his determination and focus, were what had made him ... extraordinary.She had never been able to talk about Dallas to anyone. For the past five years her memories of him had stayed bottled up inside; they hadn't been married very long, hadn't known each other very long, so they hadn't had time to develop a circle of friends. Because of their jobs they had traveled a lot; they had gotten married in a hurry in Reno, had that wonderful honeymoon in Aruba, then Dallas had been gone for six weeks and she had been in Seattle working on surveillance for Customs. With one thing or another, they hadn't even met each other's families.After Dallas's death she had gone to Indiana and met his folks, held hands, and cried with them, but they had been too shocked, still too involved in the whys and hows to reminisce. She had written to them occasionally, but they hadn't had time to develop a relationship before Dallas's death, and after he was gone neither party seemed to have the spirit to develop one now.Her own family, her nice, normal suburban family in Council Bluffs, Iowa, had been sympathetic and , caring, but neither were they completely able to hide their disapproval of her and Dallas being in Iran in the first place. Her entire family, parents, brothers Mason and Sam, sister Kiara, wanted nothing more than the familiar routine of nine-to-five, marriage, kids, living in the same town from cradle to grave, knowing everyone in the neighborhood, shopping at the same grocery store every week. They hadn't known what to do with the cuckoo in their nest, hadn't had any idea of the restlessness to see more, the urge to do more, that had driven Niema to leave her hometown and seek out adventure.She had paid penance for the last five years and lived alone with memories that no one else shared. She might whisper Dallas's name in her thoughts, or sometimes when she was alone the grief would well up and she would say his name aloud, an aching, unanswered cry, but she hadn't been able to talk about him with anyone.But Medina had known him, had been there. He would understand. He was, of all people, the only one who would fully understand.She hadn't resisted letting him drive her home; her guilt wasn't his fault. Maybe she needed to talk to him, to put this part of the past behind her. She might have already done it, had she known how to contact him, but after they reached Paris he had vanished.Lacing her hands in her lap, she stared out the windshield as the dark streets wound by. She wondered if Dallas would love her now, if he would even recognize the woman she had become. He had fallen in love with a gutsy young woman who'd had a taste for adventure. Those days were over, though. She was through taking risks."I never thanked you," she murmured. "For what you did."His eyebrows lifted in surprise, and he slanted a quick look at her. "Thank me?"She got the impression he wasn't just surprised, but astounded. "For getting me out of Iran," she explained and wondered why she needed to. "I know I was a liability coming out." Basket case was actually a better description. Long patches of those days were lost from her memory; she couldn't remember leaving the hut at all. She did remember walking through the cold, dark mountains, her emotional misery so intense that she hadn't felt any physical pain."I promised Dallas."The words were simple, and ironclad.It hurt to hear Dallas's name spoken aloud. In five years, not a day had gone by that she hadn't thought about her husband. The terrible pain was gone, replaced sometimes by an ache, a loneliness, but mostly she remembered the good times she'd had with him. She regretted that they hadn't had more time together, that they hadn't had the chance to learn all the little things about each other. Hearing his name brought back the ache, but it was softened now, gentled into something bearable, and she could hear the regret in Medina's voice. What time hadn't softened was her own guilt, the knowledge that Dallas wouldn't have been on that job if she hadn't wanted to take it.And perhaps she wasn't the only one who felt guilty. Medina, under whatever guise, struck her as a man who would do what was expedient and then forget about it, but he hadn't. He had taken care of her, just as he had promised Dallas, when leaving her to freeze to death in the mountains would have been much easier. She couldn't imagine what had motivated him, but she was deeply grateful all the same. "Do you think I blamed you?"' she asked softly. "No. I never did."Again she had surprised him. Looking at him, she saw the way his jaw tightened. "Maybe you should have," he replied."Why? What could you have done?" She had relived that night a thousand times on the hard journey to accepting reality. "We never could have gotten him out of the plant alive, much less out of Iran. You knew it. He knew it too. He chose to complete the mission and chose a quick death over a slow, terrible one." She managed a crooked smile. "Like you with your cyanide pill.""I'm the one who told him to push the button.""He would have done it no matter what you said. He was my husband, and I knew when I married him that he was a damn hero." She had known the type of man Dallas was, known that he would feel he had to complete the job at all costs, and that cost had included his life.Medina fell silent, concentrating on his driving. She gave him directions on the next turn; she lived in McLean, on the same side of the river as Langley, so the commute was easy.Once before she had sat beside him as he drove through the night, and he had been silent then, too. It was after Hadi had "liberated" a 1968 Ford Fairlane from the Iranian village, and they had driven into Tehran together. Then Hadi had split off, and she and Medina had gone on alone. She had been feverish and aching, battered by grief and guilt, barely functional.Medina had taken care of her. When the nail wound in her arm became infected, from somewhere he procured a vial of antibiotic and gave her an injection. He made certain she ate and slept, and he got her across the border into Turkey. He had been there during the first awful paroxysm of grief and hadn't tried to comfort her, knowing that weeping was better than holding it in.All in all, she owed this man her life.Blaming Medina would have been easy, much easier than blaming herself. But the inner steel that had attracted Dallas to her in the first place made it impossible, after his death, for her to do anything but face the truth: When Medina approached her and Dallas about the job, Dallas wanted to decline. She was the one who wanted to take it. She could tell herself that the job had been important, and it had been, but there had been others Medina could have recruited if she and Dallas had turned him down.Yes, Dallas had been very good at explosives. She was very good with electronics, whether it was putting together a functional radio or detonator or bugging a phone line. But other people were also good at those things, and they would have done the job just as well. She had wanted to go, not because she was indispensable, but because she craved the adventure.As a child she had always been the one

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