As he looks at the sleeping woman in his arms, his heart tells him this isn’t right. He knows, in a place he has never understood but suspects it is where his skills as a pretender come from, that what he is doing is wrong, it is a double betrayal. He pulls lightly on a springy curl and lowers his head, breathing deeply. But she smells of some fruity body wash, a scent he finds cloying and faintly nauseating. Despite his attempts to manipulate her into using something else, she stubbornly clings to the horrible fruity shit. It just might make it bearable, he thinks, if she smelled like her.
Carefully, he eases out of her arms and from their bed. Slipping into his jeans and a shirt he leaves unbuttoned, he sneaks out of the house he’s rented and into the night. He takes a seat on a chaise by the pool and stares pensively into the water, illuminated by lights below the waterline. He wishes—he stops there, he knows how she feels about that line of thinking. Especially since Carthis.
It saddens him how willing she is to wallow in her suffering, to drown in her despair. Surely she understands what he is offering. He will be standing there when she makes that hard right away from the source of all of the misery in their lives. He wonders if he should clarify that to her, make her understand exactly what he meant. But then it dawns on him, how can he care for her the way he wants to when another woman is sharing his bed?
Raking his hands through his hair, he wracks his brain for a solution, something other than the conclusion he came to months before. It isn’t one he cares to acknowledge, much less admit putting into action. Better to be lonely than to be alone. And so often he felt lonely, in spite of Zoe’s presence at his side. He knows, just as she does somewhere deep down in that place she pretends doesn’t exist ninety-eight percent of the time, the intangible connection between them may be something science has yet to define but exists nonetheless. He doesn’t know if it is her soul or her gift that calls to him, but he always answers, always.
It is then he feels a jolt, one he is all-too familiar with. A slow smile appears and he pulls out his cell phone, staring at it for a long moment. It concerns him, as well it should, the longing he has to remain close to her, the woman who tracks him relentlessly across the globe, who wants to return him to his own personal hell, who can no sooner let him go for reasons that vary from moment to moment. But like any addict, he can’t let her go and cannot turn away, not when he’d promised her all those years ago that he would take her with him when he finally escaped. The jolt occurs again and he chuckles softly, amused by her impatience.
“And a good evening to you too, Miss Parker.”
“Christ,” she growls, raking a hand through her hair, “Jarod. What the hell do you want at…two twenty-sevenin the morning?”
“Did I wake you?”
“Don’t run that innocent bullshit on me, I know better.”
“Now, now, it isn’t healthy for you to have all of this hostility, Parker. You should find an outlet, perhaps a hobby.”
“I can’t get a hobby, Jarod,” she says through clenched teeth, “Not when I’m chasing your ass all over Creation.”
“Oh, you’ve given up fencing?”
“What is it this time, more Parker family tragedy? Oh, I know! You’ve discovered my mother’s ashes and want to give me something to bury so I’ll finally have “closure.” Wait, wait, wait. Do I have another candidate in the running to be my daddy?”
“I wish I could give you your mother back. I wish I could—”
“Save it. I can’t take any more.”
He is shocked by the softness of her voice and the vulnerability she didn’t bother to hide or was simply unable to. “Melody?”
“I call bullshit,” he says harshly, switching the phone to his other ear, “Tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s the Centre, Jarod, when isn’t something going on?”
“This isn’t the usual Centre crap, it’s something else.”
Parker sighs. “It’s nothing I can’t handle, all right?”
“You know, every time you say that, someone gets shot.”
“That isn’t true.”
“You’re right, sometimes they get blown up. Or they just disappear.”
“Did you call me just to pick a fight? Don’t we do that enough during business hours?”
“Tell me what’s wrong, Melody. Don’t make me dig for it, it will only make you angrier and you know it.”
“Stop calling me that! You know I hate it when you call me that.”
“Then tell me what’s going on.”
“Same shit, different day—whoever finds you first, lives.”
“Lives? I don’t remember that being a part of the bargain before.”
“Then make things easy for me, come to the house. I’ll take you in, no questions asked, and I’ll never reveal that you gave up so easily.”
“That’s not gonna happen.”
“Worth a shot,” she sighs. “So, what do I owe the pleasure? Get into a fight with Little Miss Muffett?”
“Her name is Zoe, and no, I didn’t. I couldn’t sleep.”
“So, you thought you’d make me miserable too?”
“No, I wanted to check on you. How did Raines take my latest escape?”
“With all of the grace of surgery without anesthesia.”
“Sounds like you and Lyle must’ve had a blast.”
“Yeah, you know it,” she responds sarcastically, sighing again.
“Mel, what’s going on? Talk to me.”
“I’m just…tired, that’s all.”
“I’m not young any more, Jarod. I need a break.”
“Would it make it easier if I just disappeared for awhile? Will Raines let you go away, at least for a little while?”
“They’ll never let me go, you know that. It’s the reason you ran, you knew you’d be a prisoner there forever if you didn’t.” She sniffs, grateful he can’t see the tear she wipes away before it makes much progress down her cheek. “I’d better go. I need to try to get some sleep tonight.”
“Parker,” he calls. Pretending she can’t hear him, she closes her phone with one hand and presses it to her lips as she struggles to control her emotions.
Rubbing his head, he stares into the water again, wondering what the hell was going on in Blue Cove. He feels her again, but it is softer, tinged with grief, and he knows that despite her brush off, she needs him. She wants him near but is unable to voice it. Mr. Parker might be dead, but the lessons she learned at his feet, or by his fists, are still very much alive and well.
It is a no-brainer. He knows what he has to do.
“Jarod?” she murmurs, still mostly asleep.
“Yeah, it’s me. Go back to sleep.”
“Are you going somewhere?”
“Yes, a friend needs me.”
“Why is that important? Isn’t a friend in need good enough?”
“It’s that Parker woman isn’t it? That evil bitch who’s been chasing you, keeping you from your family, from me.”
“She isn’t. Never really was, as it turns out.”
“Coulda fooled me.” She sits up, letting the sheet slide down to her waist, hoping to entice him back into their bed. She’s seen Parker, seen the look on Jarod’s face when he mentions her, and Zoë has never been so threatened by another woman in her life.
“Look, Zoe, I’ve known Parker since we were children. We were very close and if it hadn’t been for her father, we would still be. Most likely, we would have fled the Centre together. I don’t know what happened to her in the years we were separated and she won’t talk about it, not that I’ve asked, but somehow, something tells me not to. She’s wounded, deeply, and not just because her mother was murdered by her father—”
Zoe gasps, “What?”
“It’s a very long story and I don’t have time to go into it now. I shouldn’t betray her like this, but I want you to understand why she’s such an important part of my life, and I want you to be okay with it.”
“That will never happen, Jarod, no matter what you tell me about her.”
“Then this is never going to work.” He pauses in the packing of the small duffle bag, keeping his back to her.
Incredulous, Zoe demands shrilly, “Are you—Jarod, are you telling me it’s over? You’re leaving me because I won’t share you with another woman?”
“I never said I was leaving you, not the way you’re insinuating. But you will have to come to accept that Parker has a place in my life too.”
“I’ll never accept it. Never.”
“Then there isn’t anything else to say, is there?”
She’s stunned, unable to argue with his logic, disinclined to sink to emotional blackmail because it will only push him further away from her. Been there, done that, shrunk the t-shirt. Instead, she draws her knees to her chest, watching silently as he resumes packing. When he slings the strap across his chest and turns to her, she looks back at him somberly, remaining silent.
“Goodbye, Zoe. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She doesn’t speak until he’s walking out the door. Still in shock, she says sadly, “I don’t believe you will, Jarod.”
“What the hell?” Parker hisses. She scrambles backward to the opposite side of her bed, eyeing her “visitor” warily. “What are you doing here?”
“You need me.”
“The hell I do!” He shoots a knowing look in her direction and she is unable to maintain eye contact. “How do you always know?”
“How can you not, Parker?” He reaches for her hand and she allows the touch, gathering a measure of comfort from his gentle touch. “Are you really unaware that you call out to me?”
“Bullshit!” She gasps the epithet, her eyes wide and fearful at his revelation.
“I don’t have the sense, Parker, you and Ethan do. I can never know things the way the both of you do. Not unless you want me to.”
“Don’t do this. It’s too dangerous for both of us. Go back to Zoe; disappear for good, make a happy life for yourself and your family. Live for both of us, Jarod, please, I’m begging you.”
He smiles and touches her cheek tenderly. “I could never abandon you.”
“You did once without compunction.”
“I never forgot our pact. I thought you had, that you had forgotten all about me. You never came to visit when you came back home for good, you never asked about me andSydneytold me you ordered him never to speak of me to you and vice-versa. What was I supposed to think, Melody?”
Like a large cat, she springs suddenly and without warning, surprising him as she grabs the lapels of his leather jacket and jerks him to her, their faces a breath apart. “I told you to stop calling me that!”
“I will not. It’s the name your mother gave you, the name you would still answer to if Mr. Parker hadn’t allowed Raines to create Ethan and approved the directive to murder her immediately after his birth. If she had been able to complete her plan, if he had never gotten his hooks into you and directed your upbringing, our lives would be dramatically different and we both know it. So don’t try to hoodwink me.”
“How, Jarod, how can I possibly come from them?” she whispers brokenly, her eyes welling with tears as her hands fall away from his clothing.
“If only we could have read the scrolls,” he laments, shaking his head, “I know, deep in my heart, he took them with him to his death because he didn’t want us to discover the real truth.”
“What do you mean?”
“It was the look on his face, the abject shock of what they claim the future holds. I have a feeling the powers that be were confident they could control us, all of the red files, but especially you and I. You were mentioned, I’m certain of it. He whispered “Angel” as he was reading, and the look on his face was…it was shock and fear. You’re the only female red file, Mel, it can only mean you. And I’m mentioned by name, so there’s no confusion there.”
“What are you saying?” She watches him warily, but there is a gleam of hope in her eyes, and that fortifies his resolve to end their suffering once and for all. “Jarod?”
“I’m saying I believe we are supposed to end the insanity of that place once and for all. We can seize control, we can make things right again.”
“Do you realize what you are saying? You’re talking about going back to the Centre.”
“No, not exactly, I’m talking about ending an evil regime of madness and fear and torment, making it the place your mother dreamed about, a facility we can be proud to be a part of.”
She shakes her head, speechless. It’s quite a feat because Parker is rarely without a snarky comment or a cutting remark. “Are you serious, truly serious? Because if you’re talking out your ass, if you get bored before it’s all said and done and walk away, I’ll kill you, Jarod. I will find you and I will kill you, without an iota of guilt.”
Scooting close, feeling the heat of her body against his own, he presses his cheek to hers, breathing softly against her ear for a moment before speaking. Her shiver doesn’t go unnoticed. He doesn’t press her, instead combs his fingers through her hair, his hand coming to rest on her nape. “I will never leave you.”
“You said that once before,” she reminds him in a wry tone.
“If I’d known you remembered, that you actually cared, I would have moved heaven and earth to take you with me, Mel.”
Her hands cup his face, her eyes locking with his, studying him carefully. After several long minutes, she’s satisfied with what she sees, or doesn’t see as the case may be, and lowers her mouth to his. Their first kisses are soft, sweet, and reminiscent of their first kiss. But the kisses that follow are demanding and passionate, not unlike the adults they have become.
Parker gasps as their bodies join and her eyes shut tightly, her brow furrowed. He moves against her gently, slowly sliding deeper, and she whimpers softly, her nails gouging the meaty flesh of his shoulders. He whispers to her, words meant only for her, as his hand slides down her thigh and behind her knee, pushing it toward her chest and slightly out, opening her further to him. She whimpers, tightening her other leg around him, her heel pressing into his butt cheek.
“Oh God, Jarod, don’t. Stop or I’ll—” she whines, breaking off. Her head rolls back, her lip caught between her teeth, her nails raking across his shoulder blades.
“You’ll what?” he pants, teasing her breast with lips and tongue, “Shoot?”
“Oh, yesssss! There, right there!” Even in the throes of ecstasy, she’s the boss, and he finds it unimaginably hot. As he watches her unravel for that much too-brief moment in time, as she breathlessly whimpers, “Jarod,” he nearly loses it.
He grins triumphantly, but his victory is short-lived. She recovers more quickly than he could have imagined (and Lord, has he imagined!), ultimately urging him with lips, tongue and teeth to a loud, long climax of his own as she rode him eagerly. They lay side by side on the floor of her living room, boneless and panting, at ease with each other, more than either has been in decades.
“Jesus Christ, Jarod,” she breathes. Brushing her hair from her face, she turns her head and looks at him, dazed. “What did we just do?”
“We had really good sex.” As if stating the obvious will keep her, and the questions he isn’t ready to contemplate until the bliss of their encounter has subsided, at bay.
“Nice try, wise ass. What about Zoe and the little parts we play in those scrolls?”
“I don’t know,” he murmurs, unable to look at her, unwilling to take the leap without a sign from her.
Sighing, she rolls onto her side, propping her head up on the heel of her hand, her gaze on him. Reaching out tentatively, she traces meaningless patterns on his skin, her nails combing through the crisp hair on his chest. “I want this to end. I want us to be free of them, for good.”
“So do I,” he acknowledges, “For both our sakes.”
“I don’t regret this, with you, I mean.”
“Neither do I.”
“She can’t hold a candle to you.” He rolls to face her and reaches out, his thumb caressing her cheekbone. “No woman ever could.”
“Well then, I guess we’re left with no other recourse.”
He quirks an eyebrow, “Meaning?”
“It means you’re stuck like Chuck, buddy. You better be sure this is what you really want because if you do me dirty, I’ll bust a cap in your ass.”
“Do you really think this is a difficult decision for me?”
“What will you tell Zoe?”
“She doesn’t expect me to return anyway. She told me so as I was walking out the door.”
“I need to know you’re certain that this is what you want. I don’t expect you to promise me forever. If anyone knows that the odds aren’t on our side, it’s me.”
“Hey.” He presses his forehead to hers, brushing her nose with his as his fingers thread through her silky dark hair. “You’ve just joined the side of the righteous and I’m the white knight. Don’t I always win?”
Tersely, she admits, “Yes.”
“Well, there you have it. It’s like it’s pre-ordained. You, me, a white steed, a gorgeous sunset,Hollywoodcouldn’t write a better ending.”