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"Bitch" seemed to be the word of the day, for, not five minutes later, Brett Keaton called to scream that very word at her over and over again. He told her he knew she had taken his work and made it her own. Great, now he believed his own lies. "You should be afraid," he threatened. "Bad things can happen."

She sighed. She was so sick of it all. "Bring it on," she said, and then she ended the call.

All she needed now was for Brett’s partner, Fred Stiles, to call and threaten her. Then she’d have the devil’s trifecta.

Disheartened and feeling all alone, she muted her phone, turned the lights off, and crashed.

TWENTY-SIX

On Friday, Phillips called allison into his office. She assumed he was going to give her another one of his enthusiastic pep talks as to why she should continue to work for him. She knew how much he enjoyed their talks, and for that reason she decided not to tell him she wanted to stay on at the FBI. In fact, she planned to wait until the last possible minute before giving him a reason to gloat.

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Phillips was waiting for her in the doorway, and there, standing next to him, was Curtis Bale. Before she walked into the office, she braced herself for another yelling fit about how she’d ruined his life. Phillips pointed to her chair. She didn’t want to sit, but she thought she probably should. Phillips was giving her the nod, whatever that was supposed to mean.

"Okay, I’m ready," she said, staring at Bale. "Let me have it."

He smiled. "I want to apologize to you."

She was hesitant to believe him. "Okay . . ."

"I finally realized I needed to get my head out of the sand and look at the evidence. You found the leak, and it was in my department, and I missed it." He sounded sincere.

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"He was very clever the way he hid what he was doing," she said, offering a bit of empathy.

"Still, it was my responsibility. I lost touch with the people in my division. I should have been more vigilant."

She liked that he was owning it. "What happens now?"

"I’m taking some time off," he said.

"Then he and I will talk again," Phillips supplied.

She extended her hand to Bale. "I wish you good luck."

Bale shook her hand. As she watched him walk out of the office, she thought about the irony of it all. If Bale had been a better manager, if he had rid his division of bad employees, there wouldn’t have been a leak, and her life would have been very different. It was the leak that had brought Liam to her. At the moment she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Phillips waited until they were alone, and then said, "I’m not usually wrong, but I admit I made a mistake with Bale. He was so irrational when it came to blaming you for the mess he was in, I actually thought he might be responsible for running you off the road."

"What made you change your mind?" she asked.

"We discovered he had left Boston and driven out to visit his sister in Ohio. He just returned a couple of days ago. There’s nothing to link him to your crash."

"That’s good to know. I guess you don’t need to send guards wherever I go now," she said hopefully.

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"I’m afraid that’s not going to change," he said. "Bale wasn’t responsible, but someone was, and he’s still out there. Until we find him, you’ll have protection."

She was just about to return to her station when Phillips surprised her by asking if she was still going to be modeling for a benefit at the Hamilton Saturday night.

"Yes," she answered. "And it’s important, so please don’t drag me back in here."

He promised not to bother her, and in the spirit of goodwill, since he’d been working her like a dog, he announced she could leave at noon today.

Two agents accompanied her to the spa and salon where Giovanni had booked appointments. She promised to text them when she was finished, but they refused to leave. After a long negotiation, she finally convinced them that two men standing watch might be a tad unsettling for the women patrons of the salon, and they reluctantly agreed to wait outside. She then spent three hours getting waxed and lotioned, pedicured and manicured, and an extra hour listening to her favorite hairdresser, a most unusual young lady named Penny, who had more piercings and tattoos than an entire biker gang. Penny caught Allison up on her exciting life. She always had at least three boyfriends-at the same time, of course-because otherwise, she explained, she would be bored. Penny believed her life was complicated, but compared to Allison’s, it was a walk in the park. Allison couldn’t tell anything about her own life, not that she wanted to, so she sat quietly and listened, letting Penny think she was one dull bookworm. 

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