Nicholas hefted the shovel full of snow, flinging it well into the yard.
He scooped up another load off the sidewalk, and tossed it after the first
one. The work was an excuse to get him out of the house, where he didnt
have to watch his mothers beatific looks at the man he now knew
was his father. It was hard, seeing them like that.
But he had spent much of the last year talking with her about her relationship
with Sydney, and spent some time trying to look at things from his fathers
viewpoint. Had it been Nicholas himself who had the woman he loved walk
out on him to protect their child, hed have been just as eager to
have them back. In fact, he couldnt say hed have shown the
remarkable restraint Sydney had offered him, letting Nicholas have time
to adjust to the truth.
No, hed have worked hard at making a relationship, pushing it until
it might have failed. He had that kind of passion in him, and not as much
patience. His mother had told him about the Centre, how dangerous it had
been for her when she worked there. It was difficult, coming to terms
with the stories she told him about the work they did. Most difficult
of all was meeting Jarod, and learning about the relationship Sydney had
with him. There were so many questions, and no one to answer them
Nicholas was halfway down the sidewalk when Sydney came outside to help,
shovel in hand. The younger man grinned. I can handle this,
he assured his father. You come to talk?
Sydney smiled and held his arms wide. Guilty. I thought the snow
made a good excuse.
Start at the other end, then. Well meet in the middle.
He watched Sydney scuff up a load of the powdery stuff and heave it into
the yard. Hows Jarod doing these days?
Quite well, apparently. Sydney smiled. I wanted to
tell you, Nicholas. You have a cousin. Her name is Kimberly Leone. My
brother Jacobs daughter. I just found out about her recently, and
met her for the first time a few days ago.
Mom said Jacob was your twin.
A flash of remembered grief tugged at Sydneys mouth. Yes.
Nicholas leaned on his shovel for a moment, and returned to his previous
topic. You raised Jarod, didnt you?
Sydney glanced up at him, his brown eyes flashing. I cant
say much about my work, son. Your mother has explained-
Was he like a son to you?
The older man straightened up. Nicholas, we dont need to
talk about Jarod right now.
I do. I need to talk.
Because I want to know. I want to know why Jarod would lay his
life on the line to save me, if he was just your project.
Sydney shook his head. "Jarod was never just a project to me. Hes
such a remarkable person, Nicholas-
You spent every day with him, didnt you?
Sighing, Sydney debated with himself just how much to reveal about his
relationship with his protégé. He didnt really understand
why Nicholas wanted to know about Jarod, and until they discussed it further,
he wouldnt know what his son was after. But he did know that it
was important. Having experienced firsthand some of the Centres
threat, Nicholas wouldnt ask questions just out of curiosity. He
had a purpose, a need that had to be fulfilled.
Yes. I worked with Jarod most of my waking hours.
So you raised him. Like a son. You taught him right from wrong,
about girls. You showed him what it was to have character.
didnt have a normal childhood, Nicholas. There
were a great many things I wasnt allowed to teach him. A small
grin touched the corners of his mouth. Like, interaction with girls.
But I taught him to tie a tie, Sydney added to himself. I taught him
manners and etiquette. I saw the joy in his eyes when he knew hed
pleased me. And yes, I did teach him right from wrong. His moral compass
comes from me.
He heard the scrape of metal against concrete cease for a moment, and
turned to look over his shoulder at the younger man. Nicholass brown
eyes bored into his own, pleading and hungry.
Did you love him like a son?
The question slammed into his gut like a velvet hammer. That was what
Nicholas needed, the connection with Sydney that he was seeking. He needed
to know if Sydney wanted to be a father to him, if he truly loved him
like the son he raised by proxy, or if this new relationship was one of
responsibility brought on by the revelation that he had a son of his own.
For a moment, Sydney couldnt speak. All the emotions he had kept
so long buried, so rigidly under control for so many decades rose gently
up through the barrier he had built to house them in his soul. He closed
his eyes as they began to fill, felt the anguish shoot through his chest
like a lightning bolt. He took a deep, trembling breath and let it slowly
out in a cloud of steam.
He looked at his son. Did I love Jarod? he repeated. You
want to know, if I had known about you, would I have loved you? You want
to know if I love you now. You want to know if you mean as much to me
as the boy I raised.
Dont psychoanalyze this, Nicholas said slowly, softly.
Feel it. Answer with your heart, Sydney.
I would have loved you, if I had known, Sydney murmured.
I love you now. Thats all that matters, isnt it? I never
knew about you. I never had the choice to be your father, or stay at the
Which would you have chosen?
You. There was no hesitation in his answer. Sydney could
see the younger mans chin quivering, knew the turmoil in his heart.
He wanted to believe, but couldnt quite. Jarod already has
a father, Nicholas. Hes the one Jarod will turn to when hes
in need, now that he has that option. But a part of him will still need
me, for as long as we both live. Can you accept that?
Nicholas nodded. A single tear rolled down his cheek. Ill
try. He sighed, and scrubbed the tear away with his gloved hand
before bending to his task once again. I guess that means I have
a brother, of sorts. Dont I?
Sydney scooped up another shovel full of snow as well. Yes, I suppose
If hes willing to risk his life to save mine, then he deserves
to be part of the family. Nicholas sniffed back more tears. We
should invite him to spend Christmas with us.
Next time I talk to him, Ill do that, Sydney promised,
knowing it could never happen. He understood his sons underlying
need to get to know the man his father raised, to see what kind of person
he might have become under Sydneys parenting. He could hope for
that, and might even suggest to Jarod that he develop some kind of regular
contact with Nicholas, as long as they were careful about it. He didnt
want the Centre to use Nicholas as bait to catch Jarod again, and if they
were aware of any correspondence between the two, that could become a
Thanks, Nicholas returned warmly. After a pause, he added,
My dad was an honorable man, Sydney. Its good to know my father
The two men fell silent as they set to work clearing the sidewalk of
snow, each committed to his own thoughts about the man who connected them
as father and son.
* * * * * * * * *
Parker opened her eyes and noticed that she was in bed. Not in that amazing
room he had decorated for her private quarters, but in a conveniently
prepared room next door to the prom hall. He was lying on the pillow next
to hers, eyes open, staring at the ceiling.
And he was smiling.
"I don't remember coming here," she confessed sleepily. The
sound of a waterfall nearby made her glance at its source, and she turned
to look at the burned-out candles and potted plants that gave the room
its outdoor appeal that she had appreciated for about a microsecond the
previous night. Birdsong still played on the stereo system, giving it
a distinctively morning feel.
"You came here several times, as I recall."
She laughed. "Now, that I remember." Propping up on one elbow,
she studied his expression of pure satisfaction. "I don't suppose
you'd buy it if I said I was faking."
He rolled his head on the pillow to make eye contact. "Some things
can't be faked, and I know the difference between acting and body responses."
His smile softened. "But last night was a first for you, wasn't it,
She sobered. There had been so many of those in the short period of time
she had been in that building with him. "Yeah. It meant something
special with you." Swallowing hard, she added, "And that's going
to make it harder when it has to end."
"Does it?" He regarded her steadily.
"I have to go back, Jarod. You know that. I can't stay here with
you in this winter wonderland, living out your fantasies."
"I know. But things will be different one day. We won't be afraid.
We won't be looking over our shoulders all the time. If I can make that
happen, what then? Will you want to be with me? Will you want to raise
our son together?"
"I think we're going to have to wait and see. I can't imagine that
She splayed her hand across his bare chest, feeling the crisp mat of
dark, springy hair set her nerve endings on edge. Dreams could wait. What
she wanted right then was something more immediate, more concrete than
fantasy. She wanted Jarod.
* * * * * * * * *
Our Lady of Refuge Convent
Emily pulled her coat tighter around her as she walked across the snowy
grounds. The news lately had not been good, but it was Christmas, and
she was going to be with her mother. The presents she had sent had already
arrived and would be waiting for her in the convent office, where she
stopped for a brief report on her mothers condition.
Sadly, she made her way to the little room that was Margarets home,
and found the older woman sitting in a wheelchair facing the window.
Its me, mom, she said brightly, hoping for a response.
There was none. She took the packages she had retrieved from the office
and brought them to the neatly made bed. After hanging her coat on a peg
on the back of the door, she went to kneel down beside her mothers
Merry Christmas, Mama, she said softly, looking up into the
other womans face.
Margarets eyes never moved. They stared straight ahead, seeing
nothing. The sisters had said she had slipped into a catatonic state,
lost to her own interior world of fantasy, completely out of touch with
the real. She could neither hear nor see, moved only on instinct to eat,
sit or stand, incapable of autonomous movement.
Emily buried her face against her mothers knees and wept. Oh,
Mama, she whispered brokenly. I need you. Dont leave
* * * * * * * * *
Inside, it was just like an ordinary living room. A fireplace across
the room proved to be a giant flat screen video recording of a roaring
fire, and beside it stood a masterfully created artificial evergreen tree.
On the floor beside it were several boxes of ornaments, which she recognized
as having come from her own storage room. There were others as well, and
Jarod had already started hanging the lights.
"Merry Christmas, Morgan," he greeted her cheerily from between
The Christmas Song played softly in the background, and the room
smelled of bayberry and cinnamon. In the corner, stacks of plain brown
cardboard boxes waited to be wrapped with rolls of bright paper. On a
silver tray on the coffee table, two tall glasses of eggnog waited beside
slices of fruitcake.
"Merry Christmas, Jarod," she mumbled in reply. "Looks
like you've got everything under control here." She took a seat on
the sofa and picked up one of the glasses. A test sniff confirmed that
it was booze-free.
"Try the fruitcake," he suggested.
"You're not actually supposed to eat that stuff," she told
him. "Some of those things circulate for years."
"I made this one. It's very good." He straightened, remembering
when he had perfected the recipe years earlier, and the secret ingredient
that helped him sting a coroner who had murdered a homeless man. "And
this time, there's no fugu toxin in it."
She eyed it with apprehension. "Thanks. I'll take your word for
it." She sipped her eggnog. "So what are we doing today?"
"Getting ready for Christmas. My family's coming soon."
For a moment, she froze. Even though she knew now that Major Charles
had not been the one who killed her mother, there was still some discomfort
digging at her soul whenever she thought about him. Old habits died hard.
"I'd better be going, then. When will they be arriving?"
"A couple more days." He left the lights dangling and came
to sit down beside her. "Are you sure you won't stay? I'd like for
them to meet you under better circumstances than the last few times."
He beamed. "Jordan's coming, too."
"Gemini. My father named him." He bowed his head, no longer
looking quite so self-assured. "The boy needs a father, and more
than anyone else, that's rightfully me. I
I don't quite know how
to do that yet."
"You'll learn," she assured him, and touched his cheek. He
hadn't shaved since prom night, and his stubble scratched at her palm.
"Does he know about Gabriel?"
Jarod nodded. "Ethan told him and my father, back when I was still
in the Centre. They helped me to recover after
" He stood up
suddenly, his eyes haunted. She watched him fidget a moment, unsure what
to do with his hands, with himself. He went back to the tree and started
with the lights again, wringing them fiercely into place.
"After Aurora," she finished for him softly.
"I have two sons now," he said thickly. "But I can't be
a father to either of them. And I'm afraid Jordan may be grown up before
I get the chance."
She said nothing. Setting down her glass, she went to the corner and
pretended to look at the packages, checking for scissors and tape, idly
considering wrapping a few. There was nothing for her to say to that.
The man she had spent her life calling 'father' had been responsible for
that, for virtually every horror visited upon both of them throughout
their lives. And until she had some way to change things, to take away
the power he wielded, she was as helpless as Jarod had been his whole
He was going to destroy that tree, wrenching the lights around it. She
could feel his pain, feel his grief tugging at her, and she had to answer
it. Striding toward him, she grasped his hands and yanked them free of
the tangle of green cords. She pushed him back against the wall and made
him look at her.
There were tears in his eyes.
"Don't torture yourself," she whispered tightly, and caught
his body in a firm embrace. She kissed him, ignoring the bristles of his
beard that sandpapered her cheeks and chin. His need was fierce, and she
wanted more than anything else in that moment to fulfill it. "I'm
right here, Jarod. You can let go with me."
He gripped her tightly, lifting her off her feet for a moment. "Morgan,"
he whispered brokenly. "I need my family, all of them. I want them
safe. I'll do whatever I have to, to set them free."
"I know, Jarod. I know, and I'll help you. I want it, too."
She kissed him, and poured her soul into that connection with him. No
one else in the world knew her as well as this man. No one else cared
as much for her as he did. And for the first time in her life, she felt
as fiercely protective of him as she did of her child. The memory of Tommy
brushed against her heart, and she knew that not even he had been as deeply
involved in her life as Jarod.
This man had sent Tommy to her. He had put aside his own feelings for
her and found someone she could love, someone who would put her welfare
above his own, who would pull her away from the Centre and give her a
chance at a real life somewhere else. That kind of selfless love was almost
impossible to find.
"Im here, Jarod," she whispered against his trembling
"I know," he breathed, and lifted her in his arms, heading
for the couch, solace and passion that knew no bounds.
* * * * * * * * *
Parker pushed the package at him. This is for you. Open it.
Jarod stared at the holographic foil images of reindeer and snowflakes,
shimmering in the light. But it isnt Christmas yet.
I want to see you open it, and Im not staying until Christmas.
Open it, Jarod. Cmon.
Then you have to open yours, too, he shot back, and dug through
the pile of boxes until he found the one at the bottom of the stack that
Its not a bunny, is it? she asked as he lifted the
good-sized box toward her. It was wrapped in red paper, and she didnt
see any air holes in it, but with Jarod one could never be too sure.
No bunnies, I promise. Nothing you have to feed. He sat back
down on the sofa and pulled her package into his lap. You first.
He grinned. It broadened into a blinding smile. Okay. His
fingers tore at the wrapping paper, flinging bits of it everywhere, revealing
the box beneath. Whisking the lid off, he let it fly, sailing halfway
across the room to land on the floor.
Something white and fuzzy lay beneath the gold-snowflake sprinkled tissue
paper. He reached in gingerly and lifted out a bathrobe made of white
terry-cloth. On the left breast a pink cartoon pig with pale blue wings
zoomed beside an appliquéd cloud, and other flying porkers adorned
He looked puzzled, just staring at it, waiting for it to make sense.
There are expressions that people say when somethings impossible,
Jarod, she told him. When hell freezes over, is
one. When pigs fly is another. Weve got the odds stacked
against us with Mommas plan, and I wanted you to have this as a
kind of inspiration. If a pig can fly, then maybe we can do the impossible.
He stared at it a moment longer, then laid it in his lap. You dont
think we can do this?
Well die trying. She tried a brave smile, but it wobbled
and broke. She looked at her package instead of the pain in his eyes.
I guess its my turn, now.
Carefully lifting the tape seals to keep from tearing the paper, she
took her time opening the package. Unfolding the paper rather than pulling
it off, she gently lifted the lid, parted the tissue inside, and gasped
as she saw the photograph he had made for her, held in a beautiful cherry
wood frame, hand carved with delicate Art Nouveau swirls.
Somehow, he had gotten his hands on pictures of her mother, herself and
Gabriel, and put them into a composite grouping that looked as if they
had posed for it together. He had aged Catherine to what she would have
been in that year, her hair streaked with silver, her face lined with
traces of a lifetime of joy and sorrow.
She lifted the framed picture out of the box, unable to take her eyes
off it. Oh, Jarod! she breathed. Its beautiful.
Her fingertips trailed over the beloved faces, and she smiled wistfully
as she studied her mothers eyes. Catherine always used to read Dickens
Christmas Carol to her during the holiday season, when she tucked
her in bed at night. The Ghost of Christmas Past.
And the specter of Christmas Present, Jarod added softly.
Merry Christmas, Morgan.
She glanced at him, her attention snatched by the haunted sound of his
voice. He was sitting perfectly still, his robe gripped in white knuckled
hands. He stared straight ahead, at nothing in particular. Perspiration
beaded his forehead and upper lip.
What is it, Jarod?
He swallowed, blinked, shook his head as if
trying to rid himself of something. I wanted Aurora. Every moment
of happiness makes me remember, and every hurt, no matter how small, makes
The hunger never quite goes away, and sometimes
it had been sitting right in front of me, Id have taken it, even
now. He sighed raggedly, and rubbed his face with his hands wearily.
I cant ever be near it again, you know? I cant trust
myself with it. And maybe you shouldnt trust me completely. Not
She leaned close, her picture clutched to her chest. Slipping her arm
around his shoulders, she whispered, I trust you with my life. And
I know that, if you had to choose between someone you care about and Aurora,
youd choose love. Youre just made that way.
He nodded, but his black mood did not lighten. Wed like to
think that, wouldnt we? But you dont know how powerful Aurora
is. He held the robe to his chest, and turned to her with a fragile
smile. Thank you, Morgan. Ill keep this with me always.
Come on. You can help me pack and call the furry taxi, and then
Ill help you wrap presents. Okay? She got off the couch filled
with positive energy, determined to relieve his depression before she
* * * * * * * * *
The Bon Ton
Emily couldnt help the tears. She sat down on a sofa in a living
room display, pulled a tissue from her coat pocket and daubed at her eyes.
The family would never be whole again, and it was all her fault. In trying
so desperately to protect her mother, she had isolated Margaret from the
very people who might have been able to help her most. She should have
tried to arrange a meeting between her and Jarod sooner. That might have
brought her back from the brink of the terrible place she where she was,
lost now forever.
She would carry that guilt always. And she would never tell Jarod what
had happened to their mother. He had been wounded enough already.
When she felt a little more composed, she rose and tried to continue
with what little shopping she still had to do. She had an address now
where she could send presents to her father and brother, and to Jordan.
She wanted to make it a special Christmas for him, even though they couldnt
be together yet.
Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew the little leather-covered notebook
that carried all the important leads and - at this time of year - her
shopping list. Referring back to the gift ideas she had jotted down over
the last few months, she started to return it to her pocket, but a newspaper
clipping caught her eye. She pulled it out from between the pages, read
it over again, and flipped back a few pages for the notes she had made
from that article.
MacCaffrey Enterprises - too many deaths - intentional, or coincidence?
Caulfield Chemistry Corporation - plant closed due to anthrax scare
Executioner murders in Europe
How are they connected?
She was sure they were linked somehow, but with the emotional turmoil
she was in, conclusions were harder to draw these days. She tucked the
notebook back into her pocket, unaware that the clipping fell out and
onto the floor before she started away on her errand.
You dropped this, said a man behind her.
Emily turned and found herself staring up into a familiar strangers
Ethan! she whispered. Oh, my God! Is it you?
For a moment, he just stared at her. Then, he gave her a solemn nod.
Youre Emily, he said softly. Youre my sister.
Yes. Yes, I am. Ive been looking for you for a long time.
Are you all right? She reached for his coat sleeve, touching it
gently, uncertain if he would shy away from her and bolt, or welcome her
with open arms.
He nodded, shrugged, flashed a hesitant smile that vanished quickly.
Im okay. Im sorry it took me so long to find you.
No, thats okay! she assured him. Slipping her arm into
his, she led him into the interior of the mall and headed toward the food
court. Youve been looking for me? Did the voices tell you
where I was?
Fear glimmered in his eyes, and he glanced about to see if anyone had
Its all right, she promised. I know youre
not crazy, Ethan. Ive just been so worried about you. Jarod said
you were okay, that someone was looking after you, but I-
-wanted to see for yourself, he finished for her. I
know. Thats why I came. That, and to help you. To give you a good
His eyes were big and dark and sad, little boys eyes filling with
tears blinked quickly away. The smile he gave her then was hopeful, tugging
at her heart, and she lost the last of her reserves. She buried her face
against his chest and sobbed, not caring who saw them or what they thought
of her display.
Ethan put his arms around her, held her close and whispered, Were
a family, Em. Just like Jarod promised.
* * * * * * * * *
The trio stamped their boots on the floor as Jarod closed the door behind
them, sealing out the frigid arctic climate.
I was only expecting two guests, he said with a smile. Whos
Merritt pushed back the hood of her parka and smiled. Surprise!
Can you fit in a spare somewhere? I brought a sleeping bag.
No problem, he assured her, and gave her a hug of welcome.
He led them into the warmer interior, showing them where to stow their
gear, and then took them into the mess hall for a hearty meal. After that,
they visited briefly before wishing each other a good night, and turning
in for some rest. He took Merritt into the only other guest room he had
available, setting her suitcase and sleeping bag on the bed while the
girl looked around.
Merritt picked up one of the photos and studied it. This was Miss
Parkers room, wasnt it? she asked quietly.
Yes. She left yesterday. He stuffed his hands into the pockets
of his black jeans and meandered over to the bureau where all the photos
I look just like she did when she was my age, Merritt observed,
setting the photo of young Miss Parker down and picking up another. She
cleared her throat nervously. Jordans told me a lot about
you. About the two of you.
Jarod kept his eyes on the photos, rather than look at her. Yes.
The Centre made him from me. A copy of me.
Yeah. She swallowed audibly. Thats a hard thing
to know, that youre a copy of someone else.
Jordan is still his own person, Jarod assured her. Hes
different from me in a lot of ways.
She nodded. He says theres this weird connection between
you. It scares him.
The Pretender said nothing, but met the girls curious gaze.
Why dont I feel that with Miss Parker? I am her clone, arent
He sighed. Maybe you should just get some sleep for now, Merritt.
Its been a long trip, and I know youre tired.
She shrugged, and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Sure. We
can talk later. Gnight, Jarod. And thanks for letting me stay. I
didnt want to spend Christmas without a family. The nuns are nice,
I know. It isnt the same. He gave her a brief hug and
wished her a good night.
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan woke early in the morning. Checking his watch, he saw that it
was well before dawn, but he couldnt sleep. Throwing on a robe over
his pajamas, he stepped out into the corridor and listened for sounds
of activity. Jarod had given him and the Major rooms on either side of
his, but Jordan saw that the middle room was empty, and he wasnt
sure which one Merritt was in, or if she was even up yet.
He strolled toward the mess hall, thinking to make himself some hot chocolate
to warm up, and find a place to think where he wouldnt disturb anyone
else. The sound of humming drew him into the room next to the mess hall.
He pushed the door open quietly and stood there watching as Jarod scrubbed
some kind of dried mass off the wall. It looked like a birthday party
had exploded in the room.
Can I help? he asked softly.
Jarod jerked around to face him, obviously surprised, then flashed him
a smile. Sure, if you want. His head jerked toward the kitchen
next door. There are more towels in there. Buckets on the
table. This stuff doesnt come off easily when its dried. I
guess I should have cleaned up when it was fresh.
Jordan studied the room. What happened in here, anyway?
Jarod went back to scrubbing. Just trying to make a point with
The youth envisioned how each splat landed where it had, simulating what
must have happened in that room. Looks like you had fun. He
meandered toward the kitchen.
Jordan stepped into the kitchen, retrieved a couple of towels and returned
to the party room. Did you ever have a birthday party? he
The older man straightened, glanced nervously at the rag in his hand,
then up at the boy, before scrubbing on another dirty spot. I dont
even know when my birthday is, Jordan. I keep meaning to ask. There are
a lot of things I still dont know about my family, about who I am,
but it never seems to be the right time.
Jordan nodded. I know what you mean. He dipped the cloth
into the bucket of warm, soapy water, and squeezed out the excess before
starting on a spot of crusted frosting on the table. There was so much
he wanted to say, so much to ask, but he didnt know where to begin.
So, he kept his silence and worked with the man who shared the exact same
genetic coding as himself, helping him clean the room.
* * * * * * * * *
The Centre, SIS
What is Project Thor, Broots? Miss Parker asked, skimming
over the file she held in her hand. Theres so little here
its almost laughable. She handed the papers to Sydney, who
shifted his reading glasses into place and began to study it.
The tech shrugged. I dont know yet, he told her. But
its on our list as one of the Blue Files. I intercepted this document
when Valentine sent it via a secure link to Mr. Lyle. Whatever it is,
your brothers very interested in it.
Parker turned on the tech, frustration pushing the words out her mouth
before she could stop them. Hes not my brother, Broots. Dont
ever call him that in my presence again. She sighed, knowing the
damage was irrevocable. No one is to know that little tidbit. Understand?
Broots glanced up at her. But the DNA tests we had done-
-were rigged. Jarod retested them, and I trusted him to tell me
The technician paled. So I guess that means that Angelo
She swallowed hard. Yes. It does. She looked at Sydney. And
no one outside this room can know. Not even Angelo himself. She
sighed. Not that hed understand what it meant, anyway.
Sydney did not raise his eyes from the paper. I believe that Angelo
understands far more than anyone in the Centre has been willing to give
him credit for comprehending.
Parker crossed her arms. Im sure everything in his broken
world makes some kind of sense to him, Sydney, but it never will to anyone
else. Not after what Raines did to him. She started to pace. Find
out what this Project Thor entails, and get back to me, Broots. If Lyle
is interested in it, I need to know about it, and I know he wont
be forthcoming with the details.
Yes, maam, Broots responded, and hurried out of the
room to begin working on his latest task.
Sydney closed the folder and made eye contact with her. What do
you intend to do about this latest piece of information from Jarod, Miss
Nothing, at the moment. Her fingers tapped on her crossed
arms thoughtfully. I want to find a way to get you put in charge
of Angelo, Sydney. I want him to have comfortable quarters instead of
that hell-hole he lives in, when hes not roaming around in the tunnels.
Especially now that my security improvements have been approved. Soon
enough, he wont be able to get into the air ducts, and thats
going to upset him. Hell need you to calm him down then.
Whos Angelos handler now?
As far as I can tell, some junior twit who used to work under Raines.
Nobody of any consequence. Can you ask for Angelo without raising suspicions?
Sydney nodded. He needs to be handled deftly. Ive worked
with him many times before, and hes proven useful in the hunt for
Jarod. I cant see why the request would be denied.
Then do it. And Sydney?
He turned, just as he neared the door. Yes, Miss Parker?
Thanks. She heard her voice deepen and knew there were tears
in her eyes. She hadnt meant to share that revelation with them.
She would have to be extremely careful not to let the fact that the Chairman
wasnt Daddy slip, as she had this.
Sydney only smiled, gave her a gracious nod, and strolled out the door
without a word.
* * * * * * * * *
The room was sparkling. Jarod scrubbed at an imaginary spot on the wall,
aware that there was nothing left to clean. He knew the boy was keeping
busy, too, waiting for some signal from him that it was time to begin.
Jarod sighed. He straightened, strolled over to the table and dropped
the cloth into the pail. Jordan, I
He sighed. I
know theres something on your mind. Maybe we should talk about it
The boy came slowly toward him and draped his rag over the side of the
pail. He rubbed his damp fingers on his robe, and shrugged. Im
not sure I know how to start.
Their eyes met. They held. Dad said you had nightmares, Jarod
said softly. He said we needed to talk about them. And Merritt mentioned
a connection between us.
Jordans gaze slid away. He shifted on his feet nervously, and he
shrugged. I didnt know what it was all about at first. I thought
it was just bad dreams. He choked, swallowed and tried again. When
you were in the Centre, when they were
doing things to you, I could
Jarod pulled out a chair and sat down, waiting for the youth to follow
suit. What did you feel, Jordan? This was unexpected, but
I was scared, but I didnt know why. I felt great, but it
terrified me, too. I was so confused. I didnt know what was going
on. Not till Ethan showed up, and told us what was happening to you.
The older man nodded, frowning. He clasped his hands together and took
a deep breath. A long time ago I was involved in research on twins.
Theres a special psychology that goes along with having an identical
duplicate that we studied, a connection that unites them even when they
dont know they have a twin.
We never studied twins raised in different generations, because
there was no applicable data, Jarod confessed. But I have
to believe thats what you were sensing. You knew I was in trouble
because of it.
Jordan clasped his hands on the table, unconsciously mirroring his older
counterparts pose. Does it only go one way? he asked
hesitantly. Can you feel me inside you?
There was such hope, such innocence in the boys expression that
Jarod couldnt help but smile. I think the feelings have to
be strong to be conveyed between us. But now that I know to be on the
lookout, Ill do that. You may be hearing from me more often, if
I think somethings up with you.
Jordan shrugged. Nothings ever up with me. You go out doing
all these exciting things, and Im always stuck in the shadows doing
I wouldnt call saving my life doing nothing, Jarod
The boy glanced up sharply at him, the memory of the detoxification process
reflected sharply in his eyes. I was so scared, he confessed
in a whisper. I knew what I needed to study. I knew what to expect,
and how dangerous the procedure was. If I screwed up-
You didnt. Jarod reached out for him, aware of the
teens pain slicing through him like a knife. You did everything
just right. Not many people your age could have done it, but you did.
He held the boy close, feeling his arms wrapped fiercely around him.
Jordan started to sob. I didnt want you to die, Dad. But
I saw how you were with those drugs. You cared about them more than you
did about me. More than yourself.
An echo of Auroras pleasure bubbled up inside him, replaced by
white-hot pain. He struggled to push it away, to concentrate on the moment,
on the child in his arms. He kissed Jordans hair, stroked him, held
him close. I love you, son, he promised. Thats
real. Aurora gave only illusions, empty promises...
that felt more real than this, came an echo in his mind. You
could have it all back, if you wanted. Sweet peace, restful sleep, no
more guilt or pain
Jarod swallowed hard. He felt himself shaking as the craving resurfaced
with a vengeance.
Jordan pulled away from him abruptly, meeting his eyes.
The Pretender saw his sons fear, and knew that the boy had felt
that desire for Aurora, too. He stared at Jordan, concentrating on him,
opening himself, reaching out
Help me, he whispered,
closed his eyes, and bowed his head. His hands clenched into fists as
he fought the need taking control of him.
Subtly, so lightly he could barely feel it at first, Jarod became aware
of a sensation of warmth inside him.
You can beat this, Jordan said softly. He took Jarods
hand and placed it on his chest, holding it there. Youre stronger
than that awful stuff. Youre stronger than the Centre.
The boys heartbeat was steady and strong, but Jarod could feel
soul-deep anguish and fear squeezing his own heart now, and recognized
its source. The warmth of love flowed through him, an unquenchable tide
that swept away the need for Aurora until it was little more than a whisper,
back in the cage where he kept it in his soul. With tears in his eyes,
he lifted his face and struggled to smile at his much younger twin
Its not one-sided, Jordan, he breathed. The connection
it does go both ways.
Tears cascaded down his cheeks. He could feel Jordans tears soaking
into his t-shirt as the boy embraced him again. It was a beginning for
them both, a clearing of the air from which they could both build a more
solid relationship. There would be battles to come between them, and he
was prepared for that, complete with a plan for parenting on the run.
But he was truly a father now. He had a son who loved him - two of them.
And somehow, he was going to make them into a family.
The Barrow weather station would provide them with a safe haven where
they could make that a reality. It would also be a prison of sorts, considering
the weather, but he could keep them safe there. He had already set it
up as schoolroom, research laboratory and communications center, so that
Jordan would have plenty to keep his mind busy. Major Charles would be
his guide and companion, but every day, wherever he was, Jarod would spend
Internet time with the boy, teaching him and helping to shape his character.
He had a chance to do things right with Jordan, and he was going to take
Soon, Jarod would send for Ethan and Emily, bringing them to the isolated
Barrow station, and when their mother came back into their lives, he would
send her there as well. Then, with Gabriel to complete the picture, he
could disappear for a little while into the frozen north and work out
what to do with the Centre to complete Catherine Parkers plan.
Everything in time, and at the moment, he seemed to have plenty of it.
He hoped his luck held, and put his mind to making it so. He would have
to be conscious of his emotional condition, now that he was aware of the
connection between him and Jordan, reassuring the boy whenever things
were difficult. Honesty was the key, but there were some aspects of Jarods
life as an adult that would be beyond Jordans level of maturity,
and those problems would be the most difficult of all. He would have to
have a talk with Jordan about Morgan Parker and where she fit into their
lives. The boy knew she was hunting them, and it wasnt going to
be easy explaining how Jarod could love her, but he had to try. Jordan
hadnt mentioned what Jarod felt during her visit to Barrow, but
he was pretty sure the boy had felt some echo of what happened in his
That talk, however, could wait. Jarod let himself relax, just enjoying
holding onto this miraculous child who had come from his body and now
called him Dad. This, he decided, was by far the best Christmas present