Shadow Unit
Silver Spring, MD, December 2007

Falkner lay back in the tub, supporting her head on crossed arms. The strands of her hair trailed through her fingers, twining like pond-weed in water near painfully hot. She breathed deep, letting the scents of peppermint and lavender clear her head, and relaxed her neck and into the water. She had to prop her feet on the wall above the faucet to stretch her spine. They never made these damned things long enough.

The heat soaked into her back, and she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, letting herself float lightly, hoping she might relax the muscles enough to hear the soft crackle of her spine unkinking. She had prescription relaxants, but she hated to take them. They didn't help her think.

Ben was taking the girls to his mom's place, and she had the entire house to herself for forty-five blessed minutes.

She was still luxuriating in the idea when something startled her awake and upright, out of the cooling tub, reaching for the nearest weapon. She paused with one foot out of the tub to assess the situation, breathing deeply, and met Ben's surprised face as he peered around the bathroom door. "Yipe," he said.

"Dammit, Ben, you startled me into next week!"

"Sorry. I was afraid you'd slipped under." Tentatively, he lifted his left hand, revealing a greasy brown paper sack in a white plastic carrier bag. "I have chicken pad thai and a bottle of Chardonnay. Will that make up for frightening you half to death?"

She was shivering, and whatever good the bath had done her back had been undone by the cold and the adrenaline. She wrapped her free hand across her chest. Because her voice hadn't stopped feeling shaky, she nodded.

He grinned. "Tell you what. Why don't you draw another bath and take the chill off? Your goose pimples are blue. I'll warm your robe up in the dryer. And then we can have dinner in bed."

She blushed, pretty sure he could see it go down to her toes. "I might let you live," she allowed.

He winked. "Just promise me before you come eat, you'll put the plunger down. And wash your hands."

He had closed the door and vanished before she realized what she had in her hand, upraised and wound way back for a swing. Gently, she set the plunger down. And then, leaning against the wall beside the tub, she started to laugh.