Two boys, their looks so similar they would always be recognized as brothers, ran across the grass to the playground equipment. "Hey, hey, hey! Be careful!" Jessie Emerson called after them. She shook her head as she settled herself onto a picnic bench. From where she was, she could see them as they wove in and out around the monkey bars. "They never listen."
"Boys will be boys," the woman who was sitting on the other side of the bench said with a laugh. She exchanged a knowing look with Jessie, her dark brown eyes amused. "How old are yours?"
"Seven and five, going on three some days. But I wouldn't give them up for anything." Jessie laughed as her eyes found her boys at the swings. It wasn't often, these days, that she was able to bring them to the park, so she was glad the weather had been good. It was wonderful to feel the sun and light breeze against her face.
"I bet you're hoping the next one is a girl," the woman said, getting her attention again. She sent a pointed look and nod in the direction of Jessie's prominent belly. She flipped her blonde braid over her shoulder. "Did you find out, or do you and your husband want to be surprised?"
Glancing down, Jessie smiled and placed her hand on her stomach. "Oh, I know and have a name picked out," she said, remembering seeing the ultrasound for the first time and hearing the heartbeat of the life growing within her. "James and Eddie are terribly disappointed. They are unimpressed with our family expansion."
"I'm sure they will change their minds when the baby is here."
"Oh, I hope so. How many children do you have?"
Her question received no response. When she lifted her gaze, the woman was no longer there. Frowning, Jessie looked around the park and saw no trace of her. "Strange," she said, shaking her head. Her gaze returned to where she had last seen her sons.
They were no longer there.
Her breath catching in her throat, Jesse pushed herself up and tried not to panic. It had only been a minute; they couldn't possibly have vanished in that short amount of time. They had to have run to some other part of the play equipment. She scanned the children who running and shouting, and tried to spot Eddie's bright red shirt he had insisted on wearing or James' green baseball cap. "Boys! Eddie? James! Answer me!"
Though several parents looked in her direction, there came no obedient response. Fighting to remain calm, and mentally telling herself the boys hadn't heard her, Jessie hurried forward. She had only gone a few steps when a hand curled around her arm.
"If you want to see your sons again, I suggest you come with me and do everything I say," an unfamiliar voice said in her ear.
There were days Nathan Ford wondered how his life had become what it was. He'd once had a happy marriage and a successful career. If anyone had even suggested he would become a master criminal, avenging wrongs done to those who were helpless, he would have laughed and told that person to have his head checked by a specialist.
But here he was, with some of the most gifted criminals in the world. At one time, he had chased each of them, intent on bringing them to justice. Now, though, they were his new family.
"Why are you doing that?"
"Because this is how it's done, Parker. Don't touch anything. I have a system—Parker! What did I just say?"
Some days, Nate had to wonder if he was the one who should have his head examined.
Outside the sky was gray with rain clouds, and rain beat against the windows. Few people would be out and about, though the bar beneath them was filled with men and women escaping the bad weather.
"We need a case," Sophie Devereux, a beautiful grifter, said as she leaned against Nate's left shoulder. She gave a dramatic groan as she hid her face. "We are going crazy with boredom. We need something to do. We need out of this apartment."
"Well, I can't conjure a case out of thin air," Nate said, keeping his eye on his thief who was seated on the counter. "Besides, you all have your own places, don't you? Why are you here?"
Parker, ears like a hawk, sent a grin at him. "It's more fun here. Anyway, it's not that bad," the blonde said with her usual cheer.
Sophie hummed a thoughtful, dissatisfied note. "You're both probably right," she finally said, disappointed. "This down time could be a good thing. Let me check my voicemail. I could have had a callback."
That pulled Nate's gaze from Parker harassing his hitter/chef, who was attempting to cook in peace. Any objection he might have made he swallowed as he watched Sophie walk away. Shaking his head, he raised his mug of coffee to his lips.
"Yo, Nate, you're not going to let her take a callback, are you?" Alec Hardison asked, hurrying over with his laptop. "You remember what happened last time."
Thoughts of the horrified silence that had been the reaction to the last play Sophie had performed in filled Nate's mind. He quickly shook them away. "Unless you have something for us, there's no way for us to stop her," he said in answer.
"Nah, man, it's quiet. But seriously, Nate, you cannot let her do it. None of us have recovered."
Ignoring the hacker's complaints, Nate's attention went to the cell phone that began to ring on the kitchen counter. Wiping his hands on his apron, Eliot Spencer stepped over to it and accepted the call. "Yeah," was all he said. After a moment, he added, a southern twang entering his voice, "Yes, this is Dr. Abernathy. Who's calling?"
By this time, the rest of the team was paying attention. Eliot pulled the phone away from his ear and glanced at the screen. With a shrug, he tossed the phone down on the counter. "Wrong number."
Something about that didn't sound right and Nate frowned. "Really? A wrong number that specifically asked for Dr. Abernathy?"
"What can I say? My identities are that good," Hardison called over with glee. "It was probably a spam call."
Though he wasn't quite convinced, Nate thought no more about it as Parker tried to sneak a taste of whatever it was Eliot was cooking. "Parker!" the hitter exclaimed. "It's not done. Keep your fingers out."
"Nate! Look at this script," Sophie said at the same time. "Don't you think I would be perfect for this role?"