Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

Kin Stewart used to be a time-traveling secret agent.

Eighteen years ago, give or take a few months. At least that's what his instincts told him. But even now, he wasn't sure where he was or what just happened, let alone who he was sup posed to be.

His eyes opened.

Lights. Light, and a hard pavement. Aching in his knees. Cold on his cheek, his ear.

A car horn.

Then voices. Two female voices, muffled but gradually coming through, one distinctly younger than the other, speaking at urgent clips.

"Kin? Kin! Are you okay?" the older one said.

"Should I call nine-one-one?" the younger one said, panic wrapping each word.

"Come on, come on, get up. Can you hear me?"

"What about a doctor?"

The world blinked into focus. He closed his eyes, took in several breaths, then pushed himself to remember.

Something must have knocked him out. Cold fingers touched his face, and agent instincts immediately kicked in.

From the way the fingers felt, he calculated the angle of the hand. His peripheral vision picked up two kneeling silhouettes—they were behind him. He was on the floor, facedown. Prone. He had to get to safety. But where?

His hand flew up, pushing the fingers away, and he rolled a full circle, shoulders to back to shoulders again until propping himself on his knees, arms in a defensive position.

Two terrified faces stared back at him. Around them, sparkles in his vision flashed and tracked with his eye movement.

Heather, still in office attire with her long red hair hanging down, one arm extended and hand open. His wife.

Miranda, standing slightly behind her in her high school soccer uniform, concern tinting her wide eyes. His daughter.

And the blind spots, like fireworks everywhere he looked, another symptom that arrived shortly after a blackout.

His mind registered Miranda's fear. Heather's concern. He'd had another fainting spell and he needed to reassure them, even though his wobbly frame barely stood. He projected a smile, not a huge one, but one grounded in warmth, a father and husband offering comfort through a single expression despite the tornado whirling inside him.

"I'm okay, guys. I'm okay. I just..." The dull aches in his knees lit into a sudden burning, causing him to buckle ever so slightly. The pounding in his temples thumped to its own rhythm. Day light from the open garage door blinded with an overwhelming intensity, and the rumble of Heather's idling car filled his ears. "I must have just tripped."

Miranda leaned over to her mom. "I think we should call a doctor," she said. "This is the third time this month."

Her voice was low, but Kin still heard it. He had to put them at ease, especially his daughter. "It's fine. I promise, let me get my bearings. See?" He straightened past the aches and muscle spasms firing up and down his body. "I'm good."

"Miranda, I know you have to go. I'll help Dad out."

"Okay." The fourteen-year-old reached into the car and grabbed a backpack and gym bag before approaching. "I hope you're okay, Dad."

"I am. I'm fine, sweetie." He put his arm out, and she half leaned into his attempted hug. "I'll get started on dinner soon. Lasagna tonight. My own recipe. Adding a layer of quinoa for texture." The sentence finished, prompting details to flood his mind. Years of training and missions had informed his mental muscle memory to scan every scene and identify all variables, so much so that he couldn't shake it during the simpler tasks of cooking and garage cleanup. He visualized the recipe, steps and ingredients superimposing in his mind's eye, along with projected cook times and the bubbling cheese of a perfect lasagna, something he hoped worthy of TV's Home Chef Challenge--if he ever got the nerve to audition.

Kin looked at Heather, who offered her usual smirk and subtle eyeroll whenever he prattled on about recipes, and Miranda, who shot a worried glance back at him while rolling her bike out of the garage.

Now all that training was used for family mode—and he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Wait—the four questions."

Whatever concern Miranda had seemed to slip away, a crinkled brow arriving instead. Kin fired off the first of the four questions asked whenever she went out. "Where are you going?"

"Tanya's. To work on our programming project." The answer arrived with slanted lips and weight shifting back and forth. He'd happily take irked teen disrespect over a worried daughter at this point.

"Who's going to be there?"

"Just Tanya. And Tanya's parents."

"When will you be home?"

"Seven-ish. It's—" Miranda glanced at the wall clock "—three forty right now. So in time to try your lasagna."

"In case of emergency—"

"You can call to check on me. I'll have my phone. Good?"

"All right. Don't forget, it's first-Monday-of-the-month TV night."
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