Friday, 17th May 2002
Trader Vic's Emporium and Campground
Rural Blue Cove
"Can we talk?"
Jarod recognized the troubled voice on his cell phone instantly. "What
do you want, Yuri?"
"You know what I want, bro. You know what I'm feeling inside."
Jarod had been waiting for this. There had been no word of any additional
killings, not since Kruger. Not since Emily ran away from him, after
discovering who he was. "I can't help you. You asked for the dance.
Now you have to pay the band."
For a moment, there was silence. "I'm ready to do that, Jarod.
I was wrong. Maybe not about everything, but I made mistakes. I'll admit
"You killed people, Yuri!"
"So have you."
That stung, and for a moment, Jarod was speechless. "I never committed
"I don't want to argue semantics. I don't want to argue, period.
Please, Jarod. Just tell me where she is. I need to see her." There
was need in his voice, bordering on desperation.
"She's afraid of you."
"Emily's safe with me. I'd never hurt her," Yuri protested.
He hesitated, his tone softening, pleading. "I'm in love with her,
He felt his heart twist up inside of him, too aware of how both his
sister and this man were hurting. He gripped the phone, searching for
the right words to say.
"I know what you're planning, bro."
"I'm not your brother."
Yuri chuckled. "Sure you are. All the Centre's children are bonded
by common suffering, blood relations or no." He sighed. "I
want to be there when it goes down. Put me on point if you want. I just
I just want to see Emily one more time before I go."
"And if you make it out alive, then what?" Jarod knew Yuri
would keep his word. He just wasn't sure he could trust which side Yuri
would be on when it mattered.
"Then it'll be for you and yours to decide. I'll abide by whatever
decision that court hands down, but no other. Only people who have been
where we were can judge me." There was sincerity behind the words,
spoken softly, with great feeling.
Jarod sighed. He considered, weighing all the different options. "Give
me a little time to think about it."
"We don't have much left," Yuri reminded him.
"I know." Jarod's throat closed up. He didn't want to think
about that, about how it might end. But that was exactly the sort of
thing he did best. He had seen visions of his own body lying in a pool
of blood inside the Centre, calculated the odds, and knew this might
well be the last good thing he did. But there were far too many other
things needing to be done before everything hit the fan.
And now, there was one more wrinkle to iron out, for his sister and
A Pretender's work, it seemed, was never done. Maybe that would help
to keep him alive.
Morgan Parker read the email, her mouth dropping open in disbelief.
She grabbed her cell phone out of her purse, rather than use the company
telephone, and headed straight for the elevator. Once she was outside
with the wind in her hair and no one nearby to overhear, she dialed
"Peter, did you see?" she asked as soon as he answered.
"I can't believe it! The timing--"
"I know," she interrupted. "Looks like Yuri did some
good after all. We don't have to worry about Boer City, now."
"Are you ready?" he asked her gently. "Everything's
She sighed, her chest tightening. She started to pace along the green
beside the driveway in front of the main entrance. "Yes. Soon.
How about you?"
"Right on schedule." He cleared his throat. "Be careful,
Morgan. My heart's in your pocket, you know."
"Yeah. It's squishy," she teased, and felt him smile through
the phone. "I'll meet you in Paris in a week, Peter. You'd better
"I wouldn't dream of standing you up," he promised.
"Smart man." She hesitated. "Till Paris."
She folded the phone up and trudged back to her office. During the
few minutes her private phone call had taken, a paper appeared on her
desk. She skimmed through the official wording, taking note instantly
that it was a sanction, looking for the name.
Then she saw the signatures at the bottom. The Chairman's was second,
not first. The only other signature was from Lucian Bruce.
Broots had told her about this mysterious man, and the tech's inability
to dig up anything regarding his identity. She had him continue the
search and discovered that the Centre was privately owned, every branch
set up by the Bruce family generations earlier. While the Chairman and
the Triumvirate were the governing body of the corporation, the ultimate
power still lay with the last of the family line. No one knew who Lucian
was, what he looked like or where he lived. He could be anyone
But as she studied the signature, she was certain she recognized the
Where had she seen it before?
Quickly, she dug through the papers on her desk, certain she had seen
that distinctive "B" only moments earlier. A scrap of notepaper
in one of the folders caught her eye, and she snatched it out, comparing
The distinctive capitals were almost identical.
Valentine was Lucian Bruce!
She sat down hard in her chair, her eyes wide as she stared at the
Valentine was a low-level security goon. He was a tech of moderate
capabilities. He was an unambitious underling, basking in the success
of his boss, a known serial killer. How could he be the owner of The
Centre? Why wouldn't he want the Chairmanship for himself?
As she thought about it, she knew. He wasn't interested in the power
or the prestige. He wanted to hear all the secrets, to know where all
the skeletons were in every closet. Executives were never privy to the
but in the king's palace, the maids and kitchen
servants knew everything that happened. It was a game to him.
That's all. Just a game.
And carrying all that power in his back pocket left him completely
bulletproof. No one could touch him, and he knew it.
Her head swam. She put her elbow onto the desk and leaned her forehead
into her hand, studying the sanction. Voorhees had abandoned his duties
as senior officer at The Pretoriat and dispensed with Centre property
in an unsatisfactory manner, which would result in the loss of billions
of dollars in revenue. The Triumvirate wanted him dead, to set an example
to others who might come after him, as they rebuilt the resources that
had been lost in South Africa.
If she implemented the sanction, Voorhees would be dead before nightfall.
But if she waited
The damage had already been done. The horse was gone, and there was
no need to close the barn door right then. She would let the sanction
sit, buried in the pile of papers on her desk, until she was forced
to act on it. And by the time anyone noticed that Voorhees was still
alive, it would be too late.
She tucked the note to Broots back into the folder where she had found
it and slipped the sanction into the stack, third item from the top,
under more pressing items.
It would wait, she would argue. And Voorhees would live a little longer.
Saturday, 18th May 2002
Upstate New York
Dead things were everywhere, looking at him, and laughing. They had
always been so quiet before, offering him a peace that the living could
not. He had always loved dead things.
Cox sat in the corner of the upstairs bedroom, his eyes wide in disbelief
and terror. He had tried to escape, but the house wouldn't let him out.
Windows and doors resisted his attempts to open them, except for the
ones that would allow him to change rooms in the interior of the house.
It would let him go anywhere he wanted, as long as he didn't leave.
For three days now he hadn't slept. For three days they had haunted
him, all the people he had watched expire with such pleasure. Some of
them visited their hatred on him and left, but others chose to stay.
The worst was Sun-Chai. He remembered what he and Valentine had done
with her. She had been very still when he used her, because that was
the way he liked it. She had been unconscious, unaware what he did.
But she knew, somewhere in her mind, what was happening. She knew, and
she brought it all back to him in that terrible house.
He kept telling himself that it wasn't possible, that once life was
gone, it was over. There was no coming back. But Ammon House showed
him proof that his judgment was in error.
Sun-Chai had taken his clothes. She had tied him to the bed and done
unspeakable things to him. And when he had wept like an infant and begged
her for mercy, she had let him go. Now she paced solemnly back and forth
beside the bloodied bed, in a room crowded with taxidermied animals
that blinked and licked their chops as they watched him with their dead,
He waited, trembling in the corner, and tried to tell himself it wasn't
real. None of it was real. It was just hallucinations.
The house laughed.
It had a feminine sound, light and happy with his pain.
Sun-Chai watched him as she paced, smiling with her dark eyes. "I
could play with you like this for a long time," she assured him.
"I like it. Don't you?"
"No," he begged breathlessly. "No more. Please. No more."
She stepped toward him, and the dead animals slid out of the way on
their pedestals. "I know what you need," she teased, squatting
down in front of him. "A new playmate. You'll like her, I promise.
She's been waiting to see you for a long time."
Cox buried his face in his hands, too terrified to look.
"I'm waiting," said a softly feminine voice, tinged with
that husky, laryngitis hoarseness that most men found so sexy. "C'mon,
didn't you miss me? Haven't you thought about what you did the last
time we were together? I know you have. I know you enjoyed it. You got
to kill me with your own hands, after all."
He knew who she was without looking. He would see curly red hair and
warm brown eyes if he looked up at her. He would see her smiling down
at him, waiting for her turn to torture him.
Cox screamed. He flailed out with his arms and pushed himself to his
feet, lunging for the first open space he could see, and ran out of
the room. He couldn't give them the satisfaction of more, couldn't take
the sight of Zoe's pretty face while she hurt him. Into the kitchen
he ran, and jerked the power cord from the monitoring equipment Jarod
had left behind from his previous visit. He yanked it free and dashed
into the living room for another one, then into the great room, heading
for the stairs.
The banister was old, but still sturdy. He tied one end of the cord
securely around several of the railings and tossed the remaining length
over the side. From the kitchen he brought a chair and stood on it while
he tied a slipknot on the dangling end of the power cords, and adjusted
"What are you doing, Doctor?" Zoe demanded from above him
on the landing. She looked angry.
That wasn't good.
His palms were sweating. "Leave me alone!" he shouted up
to her, just as Sun-Chai joined her friend upstairs.
"Hey, don't leave me out," Brigitte called and materialized
beside them with a bright grin. "He may not have done me in personally,
but he did have a hand in it. I want to play, too." She licked
her lollipop, her eyes gleaming with anticipation. "And I really
know how to make him scream."
Cox remembered the scene of Brigitte's death, Miss Parker bending over
the woman's body, blood up to her elbows and liberally splashed all
over her chic clothes as she delivered the designer baby that Cox had
He hurried now, testing the strength of the banisters with a few strong
tugs. They were coming for him, the three women ambling slowly down
the stairs, chatting amiably among themselves as if he wasn't there,
discussing what they were going to do to him, and what he had done to
them. Panic set in as he looped the cord around his neck, setting the
knot at just the right place to snap his neck and make his death all
but painless. With one foot against the back of the chair, he gave it
a shove and toppled it out from under him.
The cord slipped on his sweaty skin and twisted around to the front
of his neck, rather than the back. He clutched at it, trying to adjust
his weight against it, but his body was heavy and he had no leverage
and the cord was stretched tight. It would be slow and agonizing now,
as he died. It would take hours, and the women gathered around his feet
to watch, and to talk, and to glory in their triumph over him.
Sunday, 19th May 2002
Our Lady of Refuge Convent
Emily strolled through the grass, warmed by the sunshine on her bare
shoulders. She was worried. Though her mother had been improving steadily,
she still slept a great deal, and when she was awake, she asked for
Jarod. Emily knew something was going on, and that it was important,
but her brother had avoided sharing any information. He promised to
come in the next few days, but something gnawed at her insides, warning
her that it might not happen as she had been promised.
The sound of a car pulling into the main driveway at the convent caught
her ear, and with a thump of excitement in her chest, she hurried toward
it, hoping it would be her brother. The racy lines of the car didn't
look like something Jarod would pick for routine transportation, and
as soon as the driver got out, her hopes were dashed. She stood rooted
to the lawn, unable to move, to hide, or to run.
It was Yuri. He was dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans, his
short dark hair spiked on top as he always wore it. Her heart twisted,
knowing what he was, but unable to avoid feeling the pull of attraction
to him, the gentle warmth of how much she cared for him reminding her
that there was good in him, too.
With tears in her eyes, she waited for him there. He jogged toward
her, not smiling, his face grave. She wondered briefly who he had killed
recently, and then chastised herself for even thinking such things.
But it was true. She knew he had murdered people, and he had enjoyed
How could she love someone like that?
He stopped ten feet away, and nervously stuffed his fingers into his
pants pockets. "I'm sorry, Em," he began. "I know what
you must think of me, and you're right." He swallowed hard, and
nodded, casting his guilty gaze to the ground. "I'm what the Centre
made me. Life and death serve a purpose, and I'm not averse to doing
what's necessary, what others can't bring themselves to do."
"There are always other ways," she heard herself mumble.
"You don't have to kill people
"Maybe not," he agreed, meeting her eyes. "I may have
made some mistakes along the way. I thought I was doing the right thing,
and now I'm ready to pay for it. But I can't turn myself in just yet.
Not without absolution."
Her eyes filled with tears and spilled over. She glanced toward the
nearby church. "There's a priest in there," she informed him
"I need it from you," he told her, his voice a mere
whisper, filled with emotion. He told her how he got the scars on his
back, and what Raines had done to him. He told her how they got rid
of him, hoping the cold and the torture would kill him. And he explained
how she had changed him with her love. "Forgive me, Emily. Please.
I can't go on without
without knowing -- h-how you feel. About
me. Now, that you know the truth. All of it, like I promised."
She shook her head, tears blinding her, the lump in her throat so large
she could hardly breathe. Suddenly, his hands were on her, gently grasping
her by the upper arms, his body so near she could feel the warmth, smell
the wonderful scent that was uniquely his. She loved him. She had no
choice in that. But he was still a murderer, a monster the Centre had
created from unbearable pain.
"I can't," she sobbed. Jerking free, she turned on her heel
and ran blindly toward the shelter of the white stone buildings, screaming
back over her shoulder. "Just go away!"
By the time she reached the doorway, she knew he wasn't following her.
Hiding in the shadows there, she turned and wiped her eyes enough to
make out his shape as he walked, head down and shoulders hunched in
defeat, back to his car. Moments later he was peeling out of the parking
lot to the squeal of burning rubber in the quiet afternoon.
She would never see him again, she was sure of that. But the knowledge
of what he was would eat at her for the rest of her life. He wasn't
responsible for how he was programmed. She knew that after talking with
Jarod about him earlier. The Centre was good at destroying lives, as
they had done with her late brother, Kyle. Yuri was just another innocent
casualty. But he still had a choice, and the ones he had made pushed
her out of his arms forever.
It took her a while to calm down, and when she thought she could manage,
she headed for her mother's room. A feeling of incredible dread took
hold of her then, and she knew that he had left to do something drastic.
She reached for her cell phone to try to call him, to talk him out of
whatever he had planned, but all she got was his voice mail.
She'd had an opportunity to save lives, and missed it. The next blood
he spilled would be on her hands as well, unless she found a way to
stop him. Emily headed to her own room, pacing the floor while she put
herself in his shoes, trying to figure out what he would do next.
She was good at that sort of thing. It ran in the family, after all.
Monday 20th May 2002
8:37 am EST
Tower Office of Chief Administrator, Mr. Lyle
"Bad news, boss," Valentine droned as he settled into the
guest chair in the Tower office. "I sent a sweeper team to check
in on Cox at that new place he inherited. Looks like you won't be getting
any more brilliant work from him."
Lyle glanced up sharply. "Why, is he dead?"
Valentine pressed his lips together thoughtfully. "Apparently,
he hanged himself, but we've got our forensics people checking it out.
Seems Jarod was there at one time
" He grinned. "Maybe
your errant Pretender's developed a taste for blood."
Lyle swallowed hard, remembering Jarod's late girlfriend. "Make
sure you find out if Jarod had a hand in it. I want to know." He
cleared his throat nervously. "He's been sending little annoyances
to Cox ever since he killed Zoe. If he's turning his attention to me
for my part in that, I want to know beforehand."
"Sure thing, boss," Valentine assured him calmly. "I
thought I might drive out there and take a look myself, maybe later
in the week. If that's okay with you."
"As long as I'm covered, that's fine." An idea popped into
his head, and his consternation vanished. His eyes narrowed as he gazed
at his sweeper. "You know, since Cox is gone now, that leaves all
his projects up for grabs. Does anybody else know yet?"
Valentine shook his head. "Probably just you and the Chairman."
"Then I'd better get to Cox's office before the vultures swoop
down. Come on." He led the way, eyeing people as he strode past,
looking for signs of disquiet, but all seemed perfectly normal. He locked
himself in, sending Valentine off on another mission, and rubbed his
hands with glee. After perusing some of the files, he congratulated
himself on his impending rise to the final seat of power. With all this
under his control, Lyle knew that nothing was out of his reach. He could
depose his father and clean house in short order, a few days at most.
It felt wonderful. He thought he would burst with the unbridled joy
those discoveries brought him. His body trembled, excited now beyond
his control. He wanted to celebrate, to do something so wild, so shocking
that no one in that place would ever dare to challenge him, once he
had taken control.
Gathering as many of the important files as he could carry, he phoned
the Security Chief's office and ordered two sweepers posted outside
the door to prevent entry by anyone but himself. Once they were at their
stations, he carried the files to his office and locked them safely
away. He could hardly control himself, couldn't wipe the smile off his
It was time to make his statement of absolute power. Now all he needed
was the most important element of the ritual. He had seen a new face
in the secretarial pool, and after he had the room set up below, he
would hunt her down wherever she was in the building, pick her up in
his arms and carry her there.
He wanted windows in the room. He wanted people to see his handiwork,
when he was done. He wanted them to know what he was, so they would
Fear was the key to absolute power. And he owned them both. They were
gifts from his father, from Raines, and from the Centre. And soon, he
would wield them like royal scepters over his community of abject slaves.
Monday 9:04 am EST
Miss Parker's office
She glanced up at the knock on her door, less than thrilled to see
Valentine standing there.
"I guess you've heard about your esteemed colleague, Dr. Cox,"
"What a shame," she deadpanned. "He'll be so missed
around this place." She shuffled some papers across her blotter,
saved and closed a couple of files on her laptop, and straightened as
he came to stand on the far side of her desk.
"He was a smart man. Made progress in a lot of areas. His death
will certainly hurt the company finances."
She glanced at him, and strolled slowly around the desk, leaning back
against it and crossing her arms. "That would affect you more than
anyone, wouldn't it, Lucian?" she asked quietly.
Shock registered on his face, and then melted into pleasure. He sauntered
closer, hands in his trouser pockets, and offered her a boyishly charming
smile. "Now, see, that's what I really like in a woman. Someone
who can present me a proper challenge."
She glared at him down her elegant nose. "Oh, you have no idea
what kind of a challenge I really am, Mr. Bruce. But I'll be happy to
He stepped toward her then, forcefully. He pushed himself between her
knees and lifted her backward onto the desk, his hands cupping her buttocks
and squeezing as he stared intently into her eyes.
For a moment she though he was going to try to rape her right there
on the desk, but then he backed away slightly, pulled his hands out
from beneath her, and smiled.
"You are exactly what I want, Miss Parker," he told her huskily.
"The kind of woman who's always just out of reach. But no one else
can know who I really am. That sort of makes you a liability, now, doesn't
Her whole body was tingling with fear and surprise. She hadn't expected
this from him, and her fingers moved slowly from behind her, where she
had caught herself to keep her balance, toward the letter opener in
the pencil holder near her right hip. She couldn't look at it, or the
movement would give her intent away, so she felt for it as he stared
her down, desperate for a weapon to use against him.
"Not necessarily," she said with an inviting half smile,
playing him for time. "I could be quite an ally
He straightened, pressing himself against her firmly, his arms drawing
her closer still. "You could," he agreed. He chuckled darkly.
"Or you could be an asp in my figs. I'm not sure which you are
yet." He smiled and leaned down for a kiss.
He was surprisingly good at it, but kept his eyes open, just as she
did. Her fingers closed over the metal dagger and she readied it to
strike, drawing her hand onto her thigh and pointing the blunt tip toward
his pants. If he tried anything, she'd castrate him on the spot.
"I know what you have in your hand," he informed her as he
pulled slightly away. His hands stroked up her back, across her shoulders,
and cupped her face gently. "And if you think you should use that
on me, you might want to reconsider. I want you willing, Morgan. I want
you to come to me." He kissed her again, hungrily, his eyes closed
this time, and pulled her away from his mouth with a handful of her
hair. "And I always get what I want."
Like lightning, he struck out at her, sidestepping as she jabbed at
him, controlling her with her hair. He grasped her wrist and twisted
the letter opener out of her grasp, letting it fall to the carpeted
floor. He pushed her sideways across the desk, holding her face down
against the blotter while he reached up under her skirt and grabbed
her panties. It took him a moment to get them off, but the material
ripped with a satisfying sound and came away in his hand.
He backed away and held them up like a trophy.
She sat up, pulling her skirt down, and grabbed a pen from the writing
set on her desk. She was mortified, terrified, and mad as hell that
he had manhandled her so easily. She wanted to kill him.
He dangled her underwear in front of him for a moment, then tucked
the bit of red satin into his jacket pocket with a knowing grin. "You'll
come to me," he promised darkly. "I know all your secrets,
Morgan. I know what makes you bleed, who you love
where they live
"In your dreams," she snarled back, gripping the pen like
a dagger. There was no way he was going to get the better of her now
that she was ready. He'd had the advantage of surprise earlier, and
that had worked in his favor. But she wouldn't let him past her twice.
"I have big dreams, beautiful," he assured her. "You're
already a part of that, whether you like it or not. So's your whole
family, including your
little brother and his baby pals.
They're the Master Race, you know. One day, they'll be gods." He
took a step toward the door. "I will get them back, Morgan.
My organization reaches much farther than you realize."
Fear stabbed at her heart again, and she wondered if Gabriel was in
danger. Was he just playing mind games with her, or was he telling the
truth? All she needed was a few more hours, and the tables would be
"We'll see," she promised. "But don't count on getting
what you want from me."
He retrieved her panties from his pocket and gave them a sensual sniff,
his eyes half closing in pleasure. "I already have, Miss Parker,"
he announced surely. "You just don't know it yet."
He strolled casually out of her office, twirling his prize around one
finger, making sure he ducked into Broots' office long enough to show
Humiliated, she wondered if he had heard their exchange, and decided
she didn't want to know for sure.
"Just a little while longer," she murmured aloud, trying
to comfort herself with that promise. "Please, God, keep my baby
But the memory of Valentine's face, of the bottomless blackness yawning
behind his dark eyes, would not go away.