She heard the shot and woke from her dream. Talia Anderson sat straight up in her bed, sweating profusely, shaking violently. She shook her head, looked around the room then dropped her head into her hands and cried. "No one should have to deal with this." She thought.

Virtually every night for years, Talia had had the same dream. Some of it was a memory. The rest was a mystery.

The dream started with the face of a little girl. That little girl was Anya, Talia's daughter. Anya was a miniature version of her mother. She had fiery red hair, big blue eyes, and a smile that would topple any empire. She'd been eight years old when Talia had made the decision to leave her with her grandfather. For the last eight years, Anya had lived in Moscow, Russia.

Talia had never forgotten the look on her daughter's face as she'd left to return to the United States. Even though they'd seen each other plenty over the years, Talia had never forgiven herself for leaving her daughter behind. She hadn't known what to do. Her husband was D'mitri Gudonov, son of Eduard Gudonov. They'd met during her internship at the U.N., when Eduard had been the Russian Ambassador, and fallen in love. Talia and D'mitri were married shortly after they'd met, and she'd moved to Moscow to be with him. Soon after, Anya had been born. Talia had been perfectly happy to live in Russia. She loved the culture. She loved her family.

Nine years later, everything changed. D'mitri was working with the Detective Administration in Moscow. The Russian Detective Administration is a secret federal agency devoted primarily to blackmail, organized crime, and terrorism. D'mitri had worked on terrorism cases. Right after Anya's eighth birthday D'mitri was killed in a helicopter crash in Lviv, Ukraine. His death had been a professional job carried out by a burgeoning terrorist group that currently called themselves The Alder Nation.

That was when Talia had returned to the states. She had to leave Russia, because as terrorism was on the rise, she wasn't safe without her marital status. She'd started receiving threats against her life and Anya's. The messages said that she would be killed and so would Anya if she didn't leave the country. The group was The Alder Nation, and they had also instructed her to leave Anya behind.

Talia's dream started with the look of abandonment on Anya's face as she'd walked out of her life. She'd never forgiven herself.

It was the second part of the dream that Talia had never understood. She was standing in a bustling square. It looked like an Old Town somewhere in Eastern Europe. There were statues. There was a large building, like a town hall. There was a carnival of some kind. There were row houses all along one side of the square.

Talia passed through the crowded square in her dream to a house in the middle of the row at the edge of the square. There were at least six houses that appeared to be one block long building, as was common in old world Europe. She walked to the black one. It was the only black stone house on the street. She stopped in front of it before entering. She looked at the lions head carvings above the door. She reached out for the doorknob. She turned the knob and went inside.

Next Talia saw herself in an office. She was waiting. A man came into the room. It was D'mitri, her husband. The two had an entire conversation, but she could never remember what it was about. She remembered him smiling at her, and her hating him. Then he turned into a giant red dragon, towering over her. She pulled a gun from somewhere—where she had no idea. She leveled the gun at the dragon, and shot it. Then she woke up.

Why would she shoot the man that she'd loved most of her life? Why would she dream such a thing? She thought that maybe she was angry with him for dying, but that didn't make any sense. She missed him. She hadn't so much as looked at another guy since the day she'd met D'mitri. She'd been totally devoted to her husband. She'd idolized him. Where was she dreaming about, and why had the man she loved suddenly turned into a dragon?

Talia snapped out of her post nightmare trance. Speaking of men, she remembered that there was one asleep on her sofa. She threw on her pink bathrobe and went out to see if he was still there.

He was sound asleep on her pink velvet sectional sofa. He covered a good portion of it. He was well over six feet tall. He was dressed awkwardly, in plaid pants and a sweater vest. Talia wasn't sure if he was into some retro thing, or if he was a total geek. He was good looking behind the goggles that he'd been wearing as eyeglasses. He had straight black hair that needed cut. He had dark skin—he struck her as Italian or Greek. He didn't snore. That was good.

Talia walked over to the sofa and stood over the sleeping man. She guessed he was about 35. She observed him for a few minutes. She took his camera and erased all the pictures of her that she knew he'd taken the night before. Then she tapped him on top of his head.

He jumped when she touched his head. He sat up. "What?" He shook the sleep out a little bit. He looked up at Talia. "Oh, hi."

"Hi. Did you have a nice rest?"

"Yes. Thank you."

"Good." She wrinkled up her nose at him. "Can I ask you a question?"


She sat down adjacent him on the sofa. "Who the hell are you?"

He stared at Talia. She could tell that he didn't know what to say. "I'm Cameron Walker."

Talia put her hand out to shake his. "Hi, nice to meet you. I'm Talia Anderson."

"Likewise. Where am I?" He looked around the room. "Have I died and gone to Barbie heaven?"

Talia's apartment was decorated for a woman, maybe even a little girl. Everything was pink. Her friends and colleagues all joked about her living inside of a Hostess Snowball. She'd never thought about what a man might think of it, because she hadn't really thought much about men in the last decade or so.

Talia let out a little giggle. "No, this is my apartment. Do you mean to tell me that you have no idea how you got here?"

Cameron rubbed the back of his head. "No, not really. I remember following you to a party. I remember some really big guys attacking me. I remember drinking a whole lot. I think I remember the inside of a limo. That's about it." He moaned and rubbed the back of his head again. "I don't to put you out or anything, but would you happen to have an aspirin?"

"Aspirin. Yeah, I think I can find some around here." Talia left the room for a moment, and she returned with a bottle of aspirin and some water. "Well, it sounds like you remember the key points. Now, why were you trying to take my picture? My bodyguards don't like it when total strangers try to photograph me. Are you paparazzi?"

He heard the sound of comical disbelief in her voice and it offended him. "What's wrong with me being paparazzi?"

Talia sat down in front of him on her coffee table. It was acrylic, and it was also pink. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you, but you look more like the kind of guy who would fix my computer than sell my picture to a tabloid. Besides, why would you want to take my picture? I'm not a movie star, and I'm not young and sexy. I'm a terrorism consultant."

Cameron slumped back into the pink velvet. "I know you aren't a star, but your mother is."

"I'm aware of that."

"Well, your mom is so well guarded that no one will ever be able to so much as get a glimpse of her through a window if anyone ever finds her house."

"I'm aware of that too. Tabloid people drove her crazy. They were a substantial part of the reason why she had a nervous breakdown and quit show business. So, why me?" Cameron just sat and stared at Talia. She waited for a long time. He didn't answer. "Well, tell me what's going on, or my guys can come and work you over for real."

"No, please. Those guys are scary. I'll tell you, but you're going to laugh."

"Good." There was something different about this guy. She couldn't put her finger on it. Whatever it was about him, it had made him the first man that she'd had in her apartment for non-business related reasons ever. "I could use a good laugh."

"You're enjoying this aren't you?"

"Yes." She started to giggle a little. "Now, why don't you tell me why you're bugging me? Tell me the truth."

Cameron scowled at her. He hated the smile she was wearing. He knew that he was not going to get out of this apartment without feeling humiliated. Talia Anderson was the one person on Earth that he didn't want to leave with the impression that he was a wimpy little geek.

Talia was waiting. "Come on, how bad could it be? You were already rescued from a seriously unbalanced fist fight by two bodyguards who could throw you around like a basketball, then tossed into a limousine by the seat of your plaid pants, and delivered here to sleep on a pink sofa. Could the explanation be any more embarrassing than that?"

She had him there. "Fine." He'd been told, and now he was seeing it for himself. You didn't say no to Talia Anderson. "You're a pain in the ass, you know that?"

She laughed. "I know its part of my charm."

He couldn't argue that. She certainly was charming, in an annoying sort of way. She loved the control thing. "If you must know, I am a computer geek. I can prove it. Find me a broken computer of any kind, and I'll fix it."

She studied him. She thought him fascinating, but she couldn't figure out why. He was the first interesting man that she'd met since she'd met D'mitri. "Okay, so why were you trying to snap me?"
"I worked with computers for 15 years, and I decided that it was time for me to make a career change, so I went to New York to get a job with the Enquirer."

Talia's jaw dropped. "You mean, you thought you could just show up at the National Enquirer and get a job? You must be kidding me. Every scumbag reporter in the world wants to work for them."

"Tell me about it. I thought that I had an in. I knew this editor over there. I did some programming for them a few years back. Anyway, I went in and talked to her about a job."


"And, she made me a deal."

"What kind of a deal?" Talia was getting curious.

"Well, it was more of a challenge. She told me that I could have a job as a photographer, if I got pictures of your mom."

Well, there it was. She actually thought that maybe he hadn't been interested in her mom, but he was. Talia had spent her entire life being Clarissa Anderson's daughter. Clarissa Anderson was one of the most famous stage and film stars in the world. Talia had never been interested in the world of glamour, but she'd always felt that it would be nice if just once, some reporter wanted to meet her. Talia ran in exciting circles with dignitaries and politicians from around the world. She was famous as an author and an international authority on terrorism. But no, reporters and photographers were always trying to get to know her so that they could meet her mother.

Talia stood up and walked to the door. She opened it and turned to Cameron. "Get out." She was angry. For some reason, this guy had struck her as different. She hated being wrong about it.

"Ms. Anderson, please. It's not like that. I wanted to meet you too."

"Get out!"

"Fine." He got up and walked to the door where she was standing. "Do you listen to everybody this well?" She didn't answer or look at him. "Well, I can see why no one in the world can get to know you. I suppose you're just like your mom. Do you keep your curtains drawn and hide in the dark like her?" Still she didn't answer. "Great. I met the infamous Talia Anderson. There she is world. Terrorist Research and Analysis, Inc. chairman. The only problem she has is that she wakes up in the morning screaming for some reason, and she won't have a civilized conversation with a member of the opposite sex. You don't know me. I'm not some scumbag reporter. I'm a nice guy. I just wanted to join the rest of the human race and meet some interesting new people. I just wanted to get out of my lab and live. You won't ever know that though, because you won't give anyone a chance. Good bye princess." He grabbed the door out of her hand and slammed it behind him as he walked out.

She stood there after he left for a moment. "I had no idea that I screamed when I woke up from dreaming." She thought.