They drove into Eclipse Bay just after sundown. Like all small towns on the coast in winter, the community was quiet and mostly dark. The shops on the main street were closed.

Fallon followed the directions he had been given and pulled into the driveway of a weathered cabin. Light glowed in the windows. There was another vehicle in the drive, an SUV painted camouflage green and brown.

The door of the cabin opened before he got the engine shut down. Two women came out onto the porch. Both wore their tightly permed steel-gray hair cut short in the classic senior helmet. The taller of the two was dressed in military-style fatigues and heavy black boots. The shorter one wore a faded denim shirt, jeans and running shoes. In spite of their age, there was an air of wiry vigor about the women.

Isabella smiled. “The smaller one is my grandmother. On the phone she said she’s calling herself Bernice Fitzgerald here in Eclipse Bay.”

“That means the other woman is Arizona Snow,” Fallon said. “I’ve talked to her once or twice on the phone, but we’ve never met in person.”

“Easy to believe they really did work for some clandestine black-ops agency at one time. They both look pretty tough, don’t they?”

“I like that in a woman,” Fallon said. “I’d be glad to have either one at my back in a bar fight.”

Isabella laughed and unbuckled her seat belt. “You’ve got me, instead.”

“You’ll do.”

She cracked open the door, jumped out and ran toward the porch.

“Grandma. I knew you were alive.”

The smaller woman opened her arms for Isabella. “About time you got here. What took you so long?”

Fallon climbed out of the SUV and looked at the woman in fatigues. “A pleasure to meet you, Arizona Snow.”

“Well, well, well, so you’re Fallon Jones.” Arizona gave him a head-to-toe survey and nodded once, evidently satisfied. “Yep, you look exactly like I thought you would. Come on inside, both of you. You’re just in time for dinner.”

THEY SAT at the old oak table and ate the hearty, cumin-scented stew that Bernice had made. There was crusty bread and a salad on the side.

“I knew as soon as I got that phone call from Isabella telling me about the conspiracy she had uncovered at her new job that she had stumbled into something real dangerous,” Bernice said. “Told her to go to ground. If that didn’t work, I said, get yourself to Scargill Cove and contact Fallon Jones. He’ll know what to do, I said.”

“It was more complicated than we guessed,” Isabella said. She bit off a chunk of bread and chewed with enthusiasm. “The conspiracy at Lucan involved stolen paranormal weapons and ultimately linked to an even bigger conspiracy involving this group called Nightshade. They’ve stolen a secret formula from Arcane. The stuff enhances psychic talents but it’s badly flawed. Makes you crazy.”

Bernice narrowed her eyes. “I had a feeling that Lucan’s operation was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Arizona leaned back in her chair, grimly knowing. “A stolen formula and paranormal weapons, eh? Now that explains a lot. Wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a connection to what’s going on here at the Institute. They tried to smuggle in some Area 51 artifacts a while back, but I put a stop to that.”

“Wheels within wheels, all right.” Bernice chuckled. “Reminds me of the old days with the Agency.”

“Sure does,” Arizona said.

Like old comrades in arms, the two started to talk, sharing war stories of the days when they had worked for clandestine agencies.

Fallon settled back to enjoy himself. Isabella leaned forward to whisper under cover of the lively conversation.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“That I feel right at home,” he said. “I’m with my kind of people. No one in this room thinks I’m weird.”

“Of course not.”

Arizona got up and took a bottle of whiskey out of the cupboard.

“Remember that time when they assigned us to find out what was really going on in that basement in a building at the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina?” she said to Bernice.

“Sure do.” Bernice snorted. “Turned out to be another black-ops agency running lucid dreaming experiments. They were using psychic dreamers to hunt serial killers. What a snafu that was. The director of the dream research operation thought our director was trying to take over his territory and vice versa. Turned into a real pissing contest. Classic bureaucratic turf war.”

“I still laugh whenever it comes to mind,” Arizona said.

“Hey.” Fallon pushed his empty bowl aside, sat forward and folded his arms on the table. “I never heard of the lucid dream research going on in North Carolina. Tell me about it.”

Arizona brought the whiskey and four glasses to the table and sat down.

“Well, you see it was like this,” Bernice said.

She started to talk. Fallon opened up his senses and listened closely. It was all about context.

Under the table he reached for and found Isabella’s hand. She squeezed his fingers very tightly. The energy of their shared love flowed through him, brightening all the places that had once been locked in shadow.

When there was a brief lull in the conversation, he smiled at her.

“You’re not the only one who finally got a life,” he said. “I’ve got one now, too.”

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Isabella said.

“Yes,” Fallon said. “It feels very good.”

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