Raleigh, North Carolina
Michelle put the last book into the box and sealed it shut with tape,
looking around the room with a feeling satisfaction. This would be the
last time she would have to do this. After everything had been packed,
the truck would come and pick it up to drive everything to Sydney's home
in Blue Cove, where they would live after the wedding. She understood
his longing to continue to live there, where his daughter was, and had
no objections now that those who had frightened her out of the town in
the first place were no longer in power. Nicholas, too, had seemed keen,
and she had an idea that he had an agenda of his own, one that he refused
to discuss with her, but which seemed immensely personal. Michelle couldn't
help reflecting on the number of secrets that they had kept from each
other for so long.
A knock on the door made her stop packing and she went over to open it,
expecting it to be the man who would give her a quote for the move, once
he saw how many boxes she had. But she nearly slammed it in the visitor's
face as soon as soon as she saw who it was. Only the man's quick respond
was able to prevent it as he grabbed her wrist.
"Not so fast, Michelle," Lucian warned, in a hoarse growl.
"You wouldn't shut your own nephew out, would you?"
"What are you doing here?" she hissed, drawing herself up to
her full height and trying to pull her hand out of his hold. "This
isn't a safe place for you."
"Not many places are, right now," he agreed with a grin, pushing
her further into the house before he turned the key in the lock, securing
the only external door. "At least, not on this continent. But there
are other holes I can hide in for a while."
"What do you want?" she demanded, stepping back as soon as
he let go her wrist.
"I want to know your plans," he remarked lightly, placing an
arm on her shoulder and forcing her into the living room. "I just
want to know what my favorite aunt and cousin will be up to for the next
few weeks, or months."
Michelle suddenly felt anger burning in her stomach and momentarily pushing
aside her fear as she glared at him on the sofa he had forced her to sit
on. "I've warned you before not to touch my son. You might not have
had anything to do with his abduction, but, if anything happens to him
now, I'll know who's responsible."
Lucian raised his hands innocently. "Now, now, Aunty, as if I'd
do anything to the dear boy."
Just like you didn't do anything to your mother, Michelle thought,
not daring to state the words aloud. Or so you told the board.
"You seem to be leaving," the man commented, looking around.
"Back to Blue Cove, I suppose, and the arms of the man you love."
He chuckled. "Only 28 years late, right?"
She clenched her fists around the edge of the cushion on which she sat
to stop herself from the retort that sprang to her lips, dropping her
eyes to the floor so that he wouldn't see the anger that she was sure
was burning in them.
"Well, you won't have to worry," he informed her. "I'm
leaving the States, for a while, anyway. And I think it's about time you
got the chance for something you want." Lucian grinned. "Consider
it my wedding gift. Go somewhere nice. Settle down. Live happily ever
after. All that crap. Just promise me one thing."
Michelle looked up sharply. "What is it?"
Lucian already stood in the doorway and, as she watched, he unlocked
the front door, still with his dark eyes fixed on her. "Keep the
door open, in case your beloved nephew ever needs a place to stay."
He winked. "I'd hate to have to break it down."
On the word, he was gone, the door shutting quietly behind him, and she
could hear him whistling as he strolled down the street. Shakily getting
to her feet, she managed to make it to the window in time to see a car
pull away from the curb, the flashy type of vehicle he usually drove.
Unable to stop trembling, she staggered over to the door and locked it,
going back to the sofa and sinking onto it again, holding her head in
Meetings with her nephew usually left her tense, but, knowing what had
occurred over the past few weeks, this one had been worse, despite the
fact that he had done nothing. He had simply been reminding her that he
was still around, still dangerous and, apparently, still determined to
get back what he perceived to be rightfully his. She knew that he would
now find those parts of his empire that were still under his control and
build them up into a state fit to take back what he perceived as his belongings.
Michelle couldn't bear to think what would happen when he did.
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
The man tapped against the doorframe of the next room, seeing his brother's
head, lying on the pillow, roll towards the door, and a warm smile cross
"Hey, Jarod. C'mon in."
Steering the chair over to the bed, Jarod leaned out of it to hug his
brother, gritting his teeth to hide the pain the action caused him. "How's
the wounded war hero?"
Grinning, Ethan pulled himself slowly up in bed, ignoring the restraining
hand that Jarod put out to stop him. "I've missed you," he stated.
"Morgan and Angelo have come and seen me a few times, but you haven't
"I know. I'm sorry about that, but Morgan gave me some work to keep
myself occupied and it was taking up a lot of my time."
A wistful look crept over Ethan's face. "When are you going down
"Actually, that's the reason for my visit." Jarod leaned forward.
"Sebastian wants me to go down as soon as I can, and your sister
and Sydney have just left, so they won't know until it's too late for
them to do anything about it." He winked at his brother. "Want
to fly down with me now?"
"Now?" Ethan stared at him. "But I can't even walk!"
Jarod indicated the chair he sat in. "That makes two of us. But
I've got other reasons for wanting to go down there today, and your son
would never forgive me if I came without you. Sebastian's jet is already
waiting on the runway, and he sent a nurse up with it, to make sure that
we behave ourselves."
"Hi, Ethan," a familiar, Australian voice stated from the doorway,
and the young man looked up to see Elizabeth standing there. Her fingers
were wrapped around the handles of a wheelchair and she grinned at him.
"Are you ready to go?"
"Come on, little brother," Jarod urged, as the woman went over
to the wardrobe and began to get clothes out of it. "Let's go and
see our sons."
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan looked approvingly around the playroom, seeing that the ceiling
was covered with helium-filled balloons and that streamers decorated the
walls. Letters cut out of aluminum to make a chain spelled 'Happy Birthday'
and reflected the light, casting blue, pink, orange and green marks on
the opposite wall. The man beside her chuckled softly.
"Sebastian certainly does things thoroughly," Sydney remarked.
"He can afford to," she returned, finally finding her son among
the other Seraphim gathered in a corner. Suddenly, as if feeling her eyes
on him, he looked up and then ran across the room with his arms outstretched.
"Mine!" he shrieked in delight, kissing her rapturously as
she scooped him up in her arms.
"How's my baby?" she asked, hugging him warmly as she walked
over to the corner in which the large furniture stood. "Are you having
a good day?"
"'S'my Birfday, Mommy," he pronounced proudly.
"And how old are you today?" she prompted, watching as he held
up his hand, using the other to force two of his fingers down to his palm.
"Free!" he declared, beaming.
"That's right," she agreed, before turning to Sydney. "Aren't
you going to say 'hello' to Grandpa?"
Gabriel reached out of her arms to enthusiastically hug the man, before
the smile suddenly faded and he turned to his mother with an anxious expression
on his face. "Daddy commed, too?"
She was about to regretfully answer the question in the negative when
a hearty male voice from behind her interrupted.
"Of course I did!"
Turning in astonishment, she found Jarod sitting in his wheelchair and,
behind him, saw Ethan, also in a chair, being enthusiastically greeted
by his son. Gabriel yelped in delight and reached out of his mother's
arms to his father, even as Sydney cast a dubious glance in the younger
"Should you be
"Don't start," Jarod interrupted, gently returning the enthusiastic
hug Gabriel gave him. "It took me long enough to persuade the medical
team in Blue Cove that I was well enough for this." He looked down
at his son's beaming face. "But I wasn't going to miss today."
Morgan rolled her eyes as she sat down and Jarod steered the chair around
so he faced them. "I hope he inherited my temperament, and not yours."
Ignoring the jibe, Jarod reached into a bag that hung from the arm of
the chair and produced four wrapped gifts.
"I missed your other birthdays," he explained to his son, "so
I'll make up for them now. Which one first?"
Gabriel thought for a second before pointing to the biggest one, enthusiastically
tearing off the paper. His eyes went wide as he picked up the large red
diamond and held it wonderingly in front of himself, before turning curious
eyes to his father.
"What is it?"
"It's a kite, Gabriel." Jarod pulled away the paper to reveal
the brightly colored bows on the tail. "When it's windy, we'll take
it outside and let it fly up in the sky."
The little boy suddenly scrambled down from his lap and ran over to a
pile of books in the corner, picking up one and tearing back with it.
Sydney helped him climb back onto Jarod's lap and then he flipped over
the pages until he found the one he wanted.
"Like dat?" he asked his father, pointing at a rainbow-colored
diamond that flew high above the head of a boy on the page, and Jarod
"Just like that. The next windy day, we'll take it to the park and
fly it, okay?"
"Yup!" Gabriel beamed and hugged his father, before taking
up the next present, tearing off the paper as his mother moved the kite
aside. The box it contained was too large for his little fingers to open,
but Jarod eased up the lid and Gabriel reached in, tossing out bubble
wrap, until he felt something hard under his hand.
A clear plastic dome was revealed, with a flat white plastic base, and
Jarod saw a smile appear on Sydney's face as he picked up the snow globe
and twirled it, making the glitter fly around the inside and surround
the little bear and the piles of presents around it. Gabriel's eyes were
wide as he took the globe in his hands.
"Dat's nice," he pronounced, and Jarod agreed. The boy stared
at it for a moment longer, until all the glitter had settled, before turning
to the next package and tearing off the paper. The big brown eyes looked
down at the two objects in confusion, turning the wire brush and leather
leash over in his hands. "What dis for, Daddy?"
Jarod grinned. "You don't think they'd be for you?"
"I's got a brush," Gabriel protested, his little hand patting
the metal bristles. "An' dis is too hard for me."
"Hmm, well, maybe it's got something to do with this present,"
his father suggested, as the other children gathered around, Uriel riding
on his father's lap, his delight at having his father back obvious in
his eyes. "Why don't you open this one, and maybe then it'll make
"Okay!" Cheerfully, Gabriel turned to the last gift, tearing
off the paper and finding a box. When he tore off the lid, Jarod saw the
hopeful expression fade quickly from his eyes and disappointment replace
it. "'S empty, Daddy," he said sorrowfully, turning it upside
down and shaking it, as if to loosen an invisible object.
Jarod saw one of the caregivers wink at him to announce the arrival of
his surprise and looked at the Seraphim to see that Gabriel's disappointment
had spread to the other little faces. The room was silent, heavy with
emotion, but then a scratching sound was heard from the outside the door,
accompanied by a soft whine.
"What's that?" Jarod asked his son quickly. "Did you hear
it? What could it be?"
Gabriel's little head tilted to one side as the scratching sound came
"Where did it come from?" Jarod asked, seeing that Rebecca
had taken Tempest on her lap to keep her still and Ethan was holding Uriel
back from calling out the answer, the brothers having spoken about the
surprise gift on the flight.
Turning his attention back to his son, Jarod could feel that the boy
was tense with anticipation, and then Gabriel wriggled down once more
from the chair, going over to the door and struggling to open it.
"Mine!" he called urgently, and Morgan got up from the sofa,
lifting him so that he could reach the handle, helping him to pull the
He gasped, before 'oohing' softly with delight and stretching out his
hands eagerly for something that nobody inside the room could see. Morgan
took a step back and Elizabeth appeared, a small brown bundle in her arms,
with a pink tongue that licked Gabriel's nose when he leaned out of his
mother's arms to touch the puppy. The other Seraphim ran over as Elizabeth
put the dog down and Gabriel wriggled until his mother put him down beside
it, sitting on the floor with a bump and taking the little animal into
his arms, patting the spaniel puppy's soft head and floppy ears.
"What made you think of it?" a soft voice asked, and Jarod
turned to find that Sydney had moved to sit on the sofa near him.
"I remembered a discussion I had with Sebastian and the others,
a couple of months ago, about the need to ensure that these children know
the value of other people's lives," the younger man responded. "I
figured that if they had even partial responsibility for something else,
it would go a long way towards developing that."
"I'm surprised it isn't a rabbit," Morgan remarked drily, and
"I wouldn't want to repeat myself."
* * * * * * * * *
"And you know what they liked the best, Daddy?" Debbie's voice
asked from the back seat of the car, and Broots smiled at her in her rearview
"My tattoo!" The girl beamed, and Broots heard a muffled choking
sound from the woman sitting in the front passenger seat. "They were
"Are you still taking care of it?" Kim asked, suppressed laughter
in her tones.
"Just like they said to," Debbie agreed.
"Well, that's good," Broots stated, somewhat uncertainly.
"And what was the most fun thing you did?" the woman asked,
turning around to smile at the girl in the back seat.
"Hmm, I think it was the night we stayed up to have a midnight feast
and tell ghost stories," she was told. "Amy had the best one."
"Amy is her oldest cousin," Broots told Kim under his breath,
seeing her nod slightly.
"She told all about this house that's got a real ghost." Debbie's
eyes were wide. "Nobody can bear to live in it, because they get
"What are they scared of?" her father asked.
"Apparently this house shows them all their worst fears and nightmares
and stuff." She bit into the bread roll that her father had bought
when he had stopped to buy gas, chewing and swallowing it before continuing.
"The story goes that an old guy - Mr. Woods - built it for his family
to live in. He was really into magic and talking to dead people and stuff,
and he used to travel around doing it, with his family, but then he got
too old, so he came back to this place that his family owned and built
a house on the land and moved in."
Debbie took another bite. "But apparently his son fell in love with
a woman, and she moved into the house with them. Mr. Woods believed that
she was a witch."
"Was she a good witch or a bad witch?" Kim asked curiously,
enjoying the story.
"A good witch," Debbie responded emphatically. "But Mr.
Woods thought that she was a bad one, and that she'd bewitched his son,
so," the girl's voice lowered, and Broots felt a chill run down his
spine, "one night he tied her up and tried to force her to leave
the house and his son, but she wouldn't go, so he killed her."
Broots found that his hands were gripping the steering wheel unnecessarily
tightly, and he had to force himself to calm down as his daughter took
another bite of the roll.
"He buried her body under the house," Debbie went on, "and
wrote a note to his son, pretending to come from his girlfriend, which
said that she was leaving and wasn't coming back. But his son didn't believe
it, and every morning said that she'd come into his room at night and
told him that she was still in the house. And Mr. Woods kept having dreams
about the woman, and she always accused him of killing her. Then, finally,
one morning his wife found him dead at the bottom of the stairs. Nobody
had heard him get up or leave the bedroom, but they guessed he was walking
in his sleep. After that, Mr. Woods' wife wanted them to leave, but the
son, the one whose girlfriend had been killed, didn't want to. The rest
made him come, but he remembered what his girlfriend had said about still
being in the house, so he made sure that the family kept it."
"So ever since then, her ghost has haunted the house, and scared
people away?" Kim offered, and Debbie nodded in agreement, beaming.
"Pretty cool story, huh?" she suggested.
"Very cool," the woman agreed, before turning to the driver.
"Lazslo, do you want to swap places, like we discussed? I can drive
for a while."
* * * * * * * * *
Rue de Victor Hugo
Lucian glanced at his watch as the sun peeped over the edge of the window-ledge
in his rented apartment. He tucked his hands behind his head, gazing thoughtfully
at the ceiling. Being in this city was possibly a little close to the
Berlin branch, but he was waiting to see what repercussions would follow
the takeover, in preparation for his own attack.
His gaze fell on the paper that lay on the bed beside him, which had
earlier been occupied by one of the city's night workers. It had almost
gone against the grain to pay her and let her leave, but he wanted to
remain in this place for some time, so he had been forced to do so, so
as not to attract unwanted attention. The front page bore a photo of one
of this country's politicians, but what had attracted Lucian's attention
was the similarity this face bore to that of his father. Picking up the
paper, he let his eyes roam over the picture, recalling the problems Hermann
had had with this organization in the years before his death.
Hermann Bruce read the report and frowned. He'd heard the rumors,
of course, that Catherine was on a downward spiral, that her mental state
was deteriorating rapidly. That didn't bode well, and sure enough, Catholic
or not, it seemed she had taken her life in that elevator, ending their
hope of the excellent potential her offspring could have brought them.
He pushed the report aside, pleased now that he wouldn't have to make
up excuses to the Triumvirate to have her killed afterward. She had stolen
from him, and that was unforgivable. And he had no doubt she was planning
to go to the Triumvirate with the truth about his secret eugenics projects.
It might already be too late, if she had tipped off one of them already.
But he had plans to resolve that, as well. And should anything happen
to him before he could carry it out, he knew he could depend on his son
to see his plan through. Lucian was as brilliant as both his parents,
and as handsome as his mother. He would make an excellent commander in
chief when his turn came; in fact, Hermann was thinking of setting him
up as the Chairman and letting the young man run things personally. But
Lucian had his own ideas about how things should be handled, and had requested
to be enrolled in some of the training programs. Though he hadn't specified
which ones, Hermann trusted his judgment and signed the orders.
That had been months ago, and he'd hardly seen the young man since.
The Triumvirate was making him nervous, snooping into research and
funding, asking questions about a project they should have left alone,
and he was beginning to wonder if it might not be time for a drastic change
in personnel. He'd talk to his son about it, the next time Lucian called.
But for now, the science was all that mattered, and he signed off the
report and put it in his OUT box for filing.
Lucian thought of the heads that had lined the wall of his secret room
at the Centre and smiled. It had been the perfect outcome, as far as he
and his father had been concerned, not that Hermann had been alive to
know it. From that time, he had been able to move forward without interruption,
and although Lucian knew how furious his father would have been at the
fact that the truth about Ethan had been hidden from him for so many years,
that small detail hadn't mattered to Lucian. It had only proved to him
how devoted Raines was to the cause in which the entire Bruce family had
wanted to be involved. The man smiled at the thought of how it could go
forward once he regained control of his empire.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod paused in the doorway that separated the two apartments, looking
in to see Jordan sitting on the floor against the sofa, a blue blanket,
patterned with white clouds, between his hands, his fingers rubbing it
gently as he stared blankly at the floor. Jarod's fingers tightened around
the control of the chair as he saw a single tear slip out of his son's
eye and begin the slow trek down the boy's cheek, which looked thinner
than it had the last time they had seen each other. Out of the corner
of his eye, the man could see piles of papers on the desk in the corner,
recognizing his own script on formulae, a mockery of what had not been
achieved in time.
"Jordan?" he asked softly, and the young man's brown eyes,
filled with unshed tears, rolled up to meet his. Another salty drop began
its journey as the man rolled over to the sofa, stopping beside his son
and reaching out to gently brush it away.
Jordan blinked several times to clear his vision and then eased himself
up onto the sofa, reaching out for his father. Speechlessly, the man returned
the embrace, pulling him as close as the chair would allow, feeling the
warm tears soak through his t-shirt and tasting salt in his mouth as he
let some of his own emotions out in a similar fashion.
"I'm sorry, Jordan," he murmured, tightening his grasp. "Sorry
that I wasn't there. Sorry that you had to go through it all alone."
"You're still here," the young man choked out. "That's
all that matters. You didn't leave me, too."
The voice, so similar to his own, broke into a storm of sobs, his hands
clutching at Jarod's back, tightening his hold so much that pain flashed
through Jarod's chest and he was almost forced to ask Jordan to let go.
He inhaled a difficult breath, feeling his son's head immediately lift
as he let his arms drop.
"I'm sorry," he snuffled, rubbing his sleeve across his nose.
"I didn't mean to hurt you."
"It's okay," Jarod assured him, reaching out to smooth his
son's hair with a loving hand. "I'll be all right."
"Are you sure?"
Jarod wiped Jordan's cheeks with his thumbs, meeting his gaze steadily.
"You know I wouldn't lie to you, son. The doctors say I'll be almost
back to normal in another few months, with no long-term problems, thanks
to Namir." His voice trembled slightly. "And Faith."
Jordan nodded numbly, pulling a tissue from a box on the table and scrubbing
his eyes before he pushed it into the pocket of his jeans.
"Have you been spending time with your brother?" Jarod continued,
choosing his words carefully and watching as Jordan nodded.
"He misses you," the young man confessed. "He wants to
"I wanted to see both of you," Jarod responded gently. "But
if you'd come up, Gabriel would have wondered, and we couldn't have exposed
him to that sort of environment at his age. That's the same reason Uriel
didn't come up to see his father."
"I figured as much," Jordan stated, sniffing back tears. "Is
"We flew down together," the older man informed him. "He's
in the playroom now."
Jordan nodded speechlessly, and Jarod decided to change the subject.
"She's okay," his son replied, inhaling shakily. "She's
been really good, you know, about knowing when I want to be alone or when
I want to talk about things."
"I can imagine," Jarod remarked thoughtfully, giving his son
another gentle hug. "Gabriel wants to show you the birthday presents
I gave him."
Nodding, Jordan struggled to his feet. "Just a sec."
"Sure." Jarod watched his son go into the bathroom, hearing
a tap turned on a moment later, but his thoughts were distracted as two
arms wrapped around him from behind.
"I thought I heard your voice," a voice scolded in his ear.
"What are you doing here, Jarod?"
He looked up into his mother's brown eyes, smiling as she bent down to
kiss his forehead. "How could I miss my son's birthday?" he
asked, warmly returning the hug.
"But are you sure you were up to flying?" She closely examined
his face with her eyes. "I planned to come up and tell you about
"It's not the same as being here," Jarod retorted, as Jordan
came out of the bathroom, his eyes less red and swollen.
"No, it's not," Margaret agreed, her hand resting on her son's
shoulder as the trio left the room.
When they got into the elevator, Jarod suddenly remember something he
had thought of on the flight over and pressed a button for the first floor,
on which the offices and boardroom were located.
"I'll meet you up there in about 20 minutes," he explained,
seeing that Jordan was about to speak. "Promise."
His mother and son stepped out of the elevator a few moments later, to
be excitedly greeted by Gabriel, while Jarod pressed the button to close
the doors. Exiting the car a short time later, he steered the chair along
the hall, glancing into the boardroom as he passed and, when it proved
to be empty, continuing to an office, the door of which stood open.
"You know," he remarked lightly, seeing the occupant's head
snap up in astonishment, "there's a party happening on the nursery
floor. I'm surprised you're not up there."
"Jarod!" Sebastian exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I thought Trevor would have told you that he sent the jet down
for Ethan and me," Jarod stated, as he entered the office.
"He didn't say a word to me." Sebastian shut down the screen
on which he was working. "How're you feeling?"
"Getting better." Jarod sat back in the chair and looked at
the man opposite. "Morgan said you had something you wanted to talk
to me about."
"A couple of things actually, but one is more important." Sebastian
told the older man about Keely and her reaction to the patches Jarod had
given her. The Pretender's expression became more thoughtful as he listened.
"To be honest," he said, once Sebastian had finished, "that
isn't totally unexpected. It's the sort of thing I was expecting when
I said it might make you sick. But I spent more time on it for your dose
and, because we were running out of time, just scaled hers down according
to height and weight. Obviously it needs more than that, or she might
have an allergy to one of the components of the drug."
"She's too scared to stop it, in case she can't control what happens.
I think she's willing to put up with the side-effects, if it keeps the
pyrokinesis at bay," the girl's brother reported.
Jarod's fingers tapped on the arm of his chair as he contemplated ways
to work on this project and also the others to which Morgan had assigned
him. Suddenly a thought struck him.
"I can't desert the Centre yet, much as I want to," he explained,
seeing Sebastian's face fall at the prospect of his sister having to suffer.
"But I'll get Jordan to work on a few preliminaries for me. He needs
something to think about before he flies to Australia
"What?!" Sebastian's expression reminded Jarod that no one
knew about the invitation except for himself, and he laughed slightly
before explaining. When he was done, Sebastian nodded. "I think it's
a good idea," he stated. "I'll even fly them back on one of
the jets, with all the trimmings."
"Sounds like fun." Jarod grinned. "I might go with them."
"We'll give you the trimmings here," his host retorted, smiling
also. "Name it and it's yours."
"You already gave me what I wanted," the Pretender remarked
softly. "I couldn't ask for any more than what's been done since
you rescued me at the airport that day."
"Ditto," Sebastian agreed, before looking concerned again.
"But what about Keely?"
Jarod's thoughts dwelled on Alexander, the project, of all those he had
worked with, who seemed to most need the continuity of the same advisor.
He would also be useful in the research Jarod knew would be necessary
to help Keely. Explaining a little of the young man's situation, he then
put forward his request.
"Is it possible for Alexander to come here? We're trying to locate
his family, but so far we've had no luck. In the meantime, he'll need
to work so he doesn't go out of his mind with boredom, and he's got the
potential to be a gifted researcher."
"He sounds like somebody we could really use," Sebastian enthused.
"Either here or up at Saltier. And, if he turns out to be as good
as you think he is, once he's able to work on his own, he can have a position
there, if he wants one."
"Great." Jarod smiled in satisfaction. "I'll put it to
him when I go back in a few days."
Sebastian's smile dimmed. "So you are going back to Blue Cove?"
"For as short a time as possible," Jarod affirmed. "I'll
need to talk to Alexander about moving, and to the team at the Centre
about transferring him, just so they know where he is, if they manage
to find his family. Hopefully, that will only take a day. Once it's settled,
I should be able to come back for good. I don't have any reason to stay
there. Morgan can handle any problems that might come up."
The younger man nodded slightly. "If you are intending to come back,
I might as well put forward my suggestion now, so you've got time to think
about it." He sighed, before continuing. "As I'm sure you know,
we lost a lot of people in the takeover, and although some, like Ramona,
will be well enough to come back to work eventually, a few can't manage
that sort of pressure. They'll all stay here, of course, if they want
to, but not doing the work they were before."
Jarod nodded slowly, not entirely sure where this conversation was leading.
Sebastian seemed to realize this, because he stopped beating around the
bush and came directly to the point.
"I'd like to offer you a place on my board," the pyrokenetic
told him, continuing hurriedly. "It would give you more input into
how the Seraphim will be brought up, and we'll also be working closely
with The Centre from now on, so you'll have some say in that area, too."
There was a long moment of silence, during which Jarod could see Sebastian's
expression grow increasingly concerned, before the Pretender suddenly
grinned. "You're just determined to keep me here, aren't you?"
"Darn it!" Sebastian clicked his fingers, looking rueful. "You
found me out!"
Jarod chuckled, stretching his right hand across the desk. "Give
me time to sort out my things at the Centre, and then you've got yourself
a new employee for Pele Enterprises."
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Kim got out of the armchair and shut her book, strolling over to the
other side of the room where the home's owner sat, hunched over the computer,
and putting her arms around his neck.
"What are you doing, Lazslo?"
Broots' eyes turned up to her face. "It sounds kind of dumb,"
he began hesitantly, with a sheepish grin, and she grinned in response.
"I'm used to that," she teased. "So what is it?"
"It's that story Debbie was telling us about in the car," he
explained, as she pulled up a chair to sit beside him. "It's familiar,
and I don't know why. I know that name from somewhere."
Kim arched an eyebrow. "It's hardly a rare name, is it -- Woods.
The Centre probably has clients with that name."
"But those other details -- I've seen them somewhere before."
The woman laughed. "Next, you'll be telling me that you researched
haunted houses once, just in case Jarod happened to be there."
He stared blankly at her, his mouth slightly open, and she shot him a
curious look, finally clicking her fingers in front of his face.
"Wake up," she ordered sharply. "What is it?"
"That's exactly it," he explained breathlessly. "Almost
two years ago."
She laughed. "Lazslo, that's a ghost story. You know, as in make-believe."
"You don't believe in ghosts?"
"Certainly I believe in ghosts," she told him indignantly.
"Just not in legends that get built around them to promote Halloween
and scare little kiddies, and big kiddies," she teased, leaning forward
to lightly kiss his cheek.
Ignoring the taunt, he opened up the Centre's mainframe, passing the
two new levels of security he had added to keep Lucian and other threats
out, and got into his own files. The information he had gathered about
Ammon House was still there, and he opened it to show her. "That's
where Cox offed himself," he told her. "And take a look at these
articles. They all mention a guy called Woods, who built the house and
died in it."
"Coincidence," Kim stated flatly.
"Coincidence that Debbie was talking about it, yes," he agreed.
"But apparently Jarod gave Cox the deed of the house as a gift, and
the next thing we knew, he was dead."
"And you all cried for days about him doing himself in," she
Broots grinned feebly. "Yeah, something like that."
"Well, what difference does it make?" she queried. "Always
assuming that Jarod's handover was legal, the house goes to any of Cox's
"That's just it." He opened another file. "According to
this, he doesn't have any relatives. His dad died a year ago, and his
will leaves everything to the Centre."
"I wonder how Jarod convinced the Woods family to sell it,"
Kim mused thoughtfully.
"I could find out," Broots offered, reaching for the phone,
but she caught his hand back.
"Lazslo, it's past midnight, and Jarod needs all the rest he can
get to recover from that gunshot wound. Ammon House isn't going anywhere,
so wait until you see him at the Centre next."
* * * * * * * * *
The room was full of a white light. Jarod looked around, trying to
get his bearings, but there was only the brightness. Then two faint shadows
appeared, forming into people, one tall and the other short. They slowly
approached him, their features gradually becoming increasingly recognizable.
Kyle's blue eyes shone brightly as he smiled at his brother, and Jacob's
brown eyes glowed with a peace that he had only ever felt for such a short
time during his life. The boy gave an excited yelp and ran to Jarod, throwing
much sturdier arms around him and hugging him, even as Jarod found himself
sitting on the ground.
"You came!" he squealed delightedly. "I knew you'd
"Not yet, Jacob," Kyle warned him. "He's not staying.
Not this time."
"I know," the boy sighed against his chest as Jarod put
both arms around Jacob, feeling as if his limbs were heavy and that the
child in his arms was so light as to be almost non-existent. "But
I never got to see him after he left."
Jarod struggled to speak, trying to apologize for not being there,
but, although he felt his lips moving, the words didn't come out of his
mouth. Jacob looked up out of dark eyes and seemed to know what he wanted
"It's okay," he responded warmly. "Daddy was there,
so you were, too, sort of."
Nodding mutely, Jarod buried his face in that small shoulder, feeling
his eyes burn as the tears began to slip down his face. His brother's
hand came to rest on his shoulder and Jacob's body gently eased out of
his arms. He looked up in time to return the enthusiastic hug Kyle gave
him, seeing that the scars which had marred his face and, most importantly
to Jarod, his hand were no longer evident.
Then footsteps could be heard, lightly running towards him, and suddenly
two arms slid around his back as he somehow rose to his feet. Turning,
he found Faith hugging him, her eyes glowing with happiness.
"I wanted to see you again," she explained, reaching up
to plant a gentle kiss on his lips. "I love you so much, Jarod. Be
How can I, he wanted to ask, without you there? But again he couldn't
frame the words. However, Faith nodded with a smile.
"You can," she assured him. "And you will. You have
to, because my daughter will know if you're not. All I ask is that you
take care of her for me. Treat her as your own. Love her."
"Yes," he stated, surprised at the sound of his own voice,
finding that the tears still poured down his face. "Of course. You
know I will. I do."
Faith stepped back beside Kyle, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"We'll look after Jacob for you, too, until you come to us."
The light suddenly dissolved as he jerked up into a sitting position,
the familiar objects of his room barely visible, even in spite of the
lamp that glowed on his bedside table, his vision blurred by the tears
that rolled down his cheeks, his chest heaving agonizingly. A shadow detached
itself from the wall, the woman sitting down beside him and wrapping her
arms around him, her brown eyes glowing with sympathy.
"I thought you'd want to see it," Elizabeth explained softly,
as he wept against her shoulder. "And it was so strong. Almost too
strong for me."
His arms tightened around her back, flashes of the dream that he knew
instinctively he would be able to remember forever recurring in his mind.
"They're happy now, Jarod," she soothed, her own voice thick
with emotion. "You know that. They told you so. Now you have to be
happy again, eventually."
"It's hard," he whispered mournfully, and she nodded.
"I know." Elizabeth gently stroked his hair. "But you
have your sons and your family. You have the chance to build a new life.
You can't change what happened. All you can do now is take control of
He inhaled a shaky breath, squeezing his eyes shut to stop any further
tears, and then felt a slight tingling sensation as Elizabeth placed the
palm of her hand flat against the back of his head. Fear of what might
confront him as soon as he fell asleep made him tense, but she murmured
softly in his ear.
"It's okay, Jarod. I won't let anything happen to you. But you need
to rest, or those wounds won't heal. You're safe with me."
The tingling strengthened, but this time he didn't fight it, feeling
a wave of drowsiness smother the pain, both physical and emotional, that
the dream had conjured up. Her arms supported him as he felt his body
become increasingly heavy, his head drooping against her shoulder and
his arms slipping down from their hold around her back.
"That's better," her voice soothed, gradually becoming more
distant. "Let it go, Jarod. Just relax. I won't let anything bad
happen, I promise."
Darkness swallowed him up as his eyelids slid down, and he felt a gentle
swaying motion, hands supporting his body until he lay against a soft
surface, something warm placed over him. A gentle hand smoothed down his
cheek as his awareness grew hazy and a soft touch on his forehead was
the last thing he felt.
* * * * * * * * *
Emily came out of the bathroom of her small, single-bedroom apartment,
her bathrobe wrapped around her, and picked up her bag from where it lay
on the floor, tossing it onto the bed with such force that it bounced
off again. Grumbling under her breath, she picked it up, rescuing the
pages that had fallen out and stuffing them back in.
She had returned to her work at the newspaper after the funeral, and
after seeing that both of her brothers were going to recover from their
injuries. She hadn't been able to remain at the Centre, knowing that Paul
-- Yuri -- was only a couple of floors below the one on which her brothers
were. Hoping that work would act as a sufficient distraction, she had
eagerly gone back to it, despite her mother's plea that she return with
them to Dallas and Sanctuary. She didn't want to see Michaela, either,
after learning whose daughter she was, and she knew that the little girl
would have sought her out, as she had done constantly after they had met.
A plate containing her dinner was already waiting in the fridge and she
put it into the microwave, glancing through her few letters while it heated
and placing them with her other bills.
In spite of her urge to escape from the warm family unit that was developing,
Emily couldn't deny that she was lonely. She had become used to the companionship
of the man she still loved, and she was torn between that and the feeling
of horror that had come with learning the truth of who and what he was.
Rescuing the food, she ate it without really tasting it. She had been
in this state since her return from Blue Cove, and the few friends she
had made at the paper had begun to comment on her listlessness. Work had
proved such an ineffective distraction, despite working late into the
night and starting early every morning, that she had begun fishing around
for some other solution, but so far, nothing had come up. Sighing, as
she stared out of the window and into the dark night, she hoped something
* * * * * * * * *
The sun was showing on the horizon as Jarod made his way up to the roof.
The bed in his son's room had been empty when Jarod had checked, and he
had instinctively known that the young man would be up here. His instinct
was verified when he saw the long form stretched out on the sun-lounge,
staring blankly at the sky.
"It's a little early in the morning to be trying to work on your
tan now," he joked, seeing a faint grin form on Jordan's face.
"It's nice up here," Jordan told him. "Quiet."
"Yes," Jarod agreed. "It is."
There was silence between them for a few moments, but it wasn't comfortable,
and Jarod had a feeling that Jordan was building up to tell him something.
Finally, the young man turned to him, his expression pained.
"Dad, I don't think I can stand it here anymore."
"Oh?" Jarod carefully kept his tone neutral. "Why not?"
"Because of," Jordan hesitated, his lips quivering. "Because
of Jake. Everywhere I go, there's something that reminds me of him. I
just want to get away from that, until it doesn't hurt so much."
Jarod nodded, glad that he had an alternative to offer, but he wanted
to hear whether his son had any suggestions first. "Where were you
thinking of?" he suggested.
"Anywhere!" Jordan abruptly got to his feet, furiously pacing
the glassed-in area. "Just
not here." He turned to his
father, his expression pleading. "Do you know anywhere?"
"Actually, I do," Jarod replied quietly. "Sit down, son,
and let me tell you."
Jordan returned to the sun-lounge, his eyes fixed on his father, the
strain he was under obvious in the intentness of his gaze.
"I had visitors a few days ago," the older man began. "Lauren
Taylor and her brother came to see me, and they suggested that I let you
go back with them to Australia when they fly home, in a day or two."
"Australia," Jordan breathed, his eyes shining.
"They also suggested," Jarod continued, "that I send Merritt
along with you. Now, I haven't talked to Morgan about it yet
"Oh, please," a female voice begged, and suddenly Merritt was
standing in front of him, her blue eyes full of eagerness. "Please,
Jarod, let me go! I'd love to see Australia!"
Jarod raised both hands in a gesture of protest, unable to help smiling
at the urgency on her face. "Whoa, slow down, Merritt. I'm not the
person who has the final say. You'll have to talk to your mother about
it, and get her okay."
"But Jordan's going," she protested, and he nodded.
"Yes, if Jordan wants to go, then he can."
Merritt turned and ran for the stairs. "I'm going to ask her,"
she called back, and Jarod grinned at the thought of the way Morgan would
react at being dragged out of a sound sleep to be asked a question like
He turned his gaze back to his son and, seeing that Jordan was looking
at him, opened his arms and embraced the young man firmly.
"Take as long as you need over there," he whispered into Jordan's
ear. "Call whenever you want."
Jarod felt tears dripping onto his shirt and heard his son's voice, thick
with emotion, in his ear. "I love you, Dad."
"I love you, too, son," Jarod responded warmly, swallowing
a lump in his throat. "And all I care about is that you're happy.
I'd send you to the ends of the earth if it would achieve that."
Jordan pulled back with a weak grin. "Isn't that what you're doing?"
"Hey, it's only 16 hours," the older man protested, laughing.
"And we should have a chat about the place before you go, so you
know what you're getting yourself into."
* * * * * * * * *
25 Washington Ave.
Blue Cove, Delaware
A car pulled up in the driveway and a dark-haired woman leapt out, seeing
the home's occupant appear on the white porch. She ran lightly up the
few steps and into his arms.
"Michelle," he greeted her warmly. "I was just beginning
to think you should arrive soon."
He walked with her back down to the car, Michelle opening the trunk as
Sydney greeted his son, who was getting out of the passenger seat.
"How are you, Nicholas?"
"Busy," the young man returned with a smile, hugging him. "I
can only stay for tonight, then I have to get back to work."
"I'm glad you decided to come now." Sydney tried to take one
of the bags, but was circumvented by the younger man.
"I'll get them," he insisted, glancing briefly at the cane
his father continued to use. "You take Mom inside and show her the
rooms you've probably got ready."
Smiling acquiescence, Sydney escorted Michelle into the house, but it
was quickly obvious that she didn't need the brief tour he was ready to
"I think I can remember," she teased. "It's only been
"Not much has changed," Sydney responded, kissing her lightly.
"You can either have Jacob's old room, or
"The guest room?" she joked. "I'd rather be somewhere
"Name it and it's yours," he told her, and she immediately
carried her small bag into his room and put it on his double bed. Nicholas
appeared in the hall outside the room and placed his mother's case on
the floor without a word. Sydney stepped out and waved slightly down the
hall. "I set up Jacob's room for you," he explained, opening
the door. "It's yours for as long and as often as you want it."
Reaching into his pocket, he took out a key and placed it into his son's
hand. Nicholas gazed at it for a moment before pulling his keyring out
of his pocket and solemnly attaching the key to it, looking up.
Sydney smiled. "Dinner's almost ready. Come into the living room
and tell me what you've been up to since we last spoke."
The trio walked down the hall and into the living room, settling themselves
comfortably in front of the fire. Sydney saw Nicholas' eyes drawn to the
picture frames on the mantelpiece and stood up to gather the photos, offering
them with an explanation of who was in them. Returning to his seat beside
Michelle, he watched his son examine the faces, a warm feeling spreading
through him at the thought that he finally had these members of his family
at home with him.
A sound from the corner, near the fireplace, drew his eyes there to find
his older son sitting in the corner, watching the newcomers. Turning back
to Nicholas, he saw that the young man had also see his older brother
and was in the act of handing the photos to his mother. Rising, he went
over to the corner and knelt down on the floor in front of the empath.
"Mom told me about you," he said softly. "You're Angelo."
"Nicholas," Angelo murmured, reaching out to gently touch his
Sydney was pleased to see that Nicholas didn't move away or try to avoid
Angelo's touch, looking at Michelle and seeing her smile, despite the
pained expression in her eyes.
"We talked about him," she murmured, glancing briefly at Sydney
before turning her gaze back to the empath. "It's such a tragedy."
"I know," he responded curtly. She placed her hand over his
and squeezed gently.
"It's not your fault, Sydney."
"That doesn't make it any easier," he replied shortly, and
then got to his feet as a buzzing from the kitchen announced that dinner