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Disclaimer - These characters aren't mine. Well, some of them are. But the important ones are all property of MTM and NBC Productions and used without permission. I'm not making any money out of this . . . . Blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.

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Prologue

She opens the door, stopping abruptly once inside. It's quiet in her house. Too quiet, and a voice inside her lets her know something is wrong. She takes her gun out, aiming it into the darkness, before continuing into the house. Too late she reacts to the sound behind her. She spins to face her attacker, but finds herself instead held tightly in two, powerful arms. She takes a deep breath to prepare to scream, but only ends up with a lungful of a sickeningly sweet fragrance soaking a rag now covering her face. She struggles uselessly with her captor as her eyes lose the battle to stay open, her mind and body drifting unwillingly to a forced unconsciousness.

Chapter 1

Sydney runs a nervous hand through his already thinning hair as Broots explains the contents of what seems to be just another useless screen of data. It's been almost a week. Six days have passed and they have no idea where Miss Parker is.

"Basically, she's disappeared," Broots sighs, concluding his presentation. "I have no idea where she could be. Whoever took her knew exactly what he was doing and has been able to avoid discovery. Sounds like someone we know, doesn't it?" he says bitterly.

"You can't still think Jarod did this," Sydney objects.

"Syd, who else could have done it this cleanly? If Jarod didn't do it, then I believe he knows who did. And where we can find her," Broots says, crossing his arms across his chest. "I know you feel certain loyalty to him, but Miss Parker's the one in danger. She's the one we need to find."

"I know, Broots. But I still think you're barking up the wrong tree by looking for Jarod. He wouldn't do something like this."

The phone rings, cutting off the argument between the men. Sydney pulls out his cell phone and answers it quickly without even checking the caller ID display. It could be about Miss Parker and he doesn't want to risk missing the phone call.

"This is Sydney," he answers.

"You really should tell Miss Parker to go home. It's not good for her to stay there all hours of the night for no good reason. It's not like you all are any closer to catching me," the caller says, a smug grin evident in his voice.

"Jarod," Sydney sighs. "What makes you think she's still here?"

"Either that or she's screening her calls now. I haven't been able to reach her all week."

"So you don't know where she is?" Sydney asks.

"What do you mean?" Jarod's voice takes on a worried edge that Sydney knows cannot be faked. "Syd, you're scaring me. What's going on? Why are you asking if *I* know where she is?"

"Because we don't know where she is either," Sydney finally admits. "The last time we saw her was last Tuesday."

"Last Tuesday? Sydney, it's almost Tuesday again," Jarod practically yells. Where could she be?"

"We don't know," the man repeats, looking to Broots for answers he can't give.

"Don't tell me you're buying that act," Broots huffs incredulously. He starts to furiously type in an attempt to trace the line. "I'm going to find him and make him tell me where she is."

"Is that Broots?" Jarod asks, almost amused at the hostile tone the man is taking, not knowing the hostility is directed towards him. "He seems worked up about something."

"Yeah, about you," Sydney tells him. "He's convinced you're behind Miss Parker's disappearance. He's trying to track you down now."

"Tell him it's no need," Jarod says solemnly. "I swear I haven't done anything to hurt her, Syd."

"I know, Jarod. We're all just worried."

"Here, take my number down," Jarod says, giving the man the phone number to his current location. "I'll check around and see if I can find her. Call me if you get any clues to her whereabouts."

"You do the same, Jarod." Sydney listens to the click on the other end of the line, letting him know that Jarod has hung up. He looks up when Broots lets out a frustrated groan.

"He hung up to quickly. I couldn't completely trace the call."

"Is this what you're looking for?" Sydney flashes the strip of paper with Jarod's number in front of the man. "He's not trying to hide anything. He doesn't know where she is and he's just as worried about her as we are. You're going to have to trust him. He's going to look for her."

"Well I guess we don't have a choice," Broots pouts. He stands to leave the room. Just as he walks out the door, he turns back to Sydney, eyes narrowed. "You better be right about him, Syd. I've been holding back these past few years in the search for Jarod because I didn't feel you and Miss Parker truly wanted to find him. But if he hurts her, I'll do everything in my power to track him down and bring him back here like we should have done all those years ago."

He turns and walks out, leaving Sydney in a stunned silence. He's never seen the technician like this. He knows the man has a crush on Miss Parker, but seeing his reactions, Sydney would guess that the infatuation has grown to full blown love. With a frown, he feels sorry for his friend. He's known Jarod and Miss Parker practically all their lives. He knows them both better than they know themselves. He knows them enough to know that Broots will never have a chance with Parker because her heart has always belonged to Jarod. Broots might not want to see it. Parker might not realize it. And Jarod might be trying to deny it. But Sydney knows. Hopefully by the time this whole mess is settled, they'll all know as well.

****************************

After hanging up the phone, Jarod begins typing on his laptop, so intent on his purpose that he forgets he's not alone in the room.

"Who was that?"

He stops typing when he hears the voice, guiltily looking up at his forgotten companion.

"Oh, ZoŽ. Sorry I zoned out for a second."

"Who was on the phone?" she asks again.

"Just someone I know. He needs help tracking down a mutual friend of ours," Jarod explains cryptically.

"Oh," she nods as if she understands. "So do you need to do that now? Dinner's just about ready. I thought we'd eat together tonight. You've been so busy lately."

"I wish I could, Honey," he says sweetly, trying to placate her. "But the sooner we find clues, the sooner I'll be able to find her." He almost bites his lip when he realizes what he's said. He never really understood the jealousy emotion. But he now knows enough about it now to understand that there are two words he's learned never to say around ZoŽ. Those words being 'Miss', Parker', and any other words referring to her. For some reason, any mention of the woman gets ZoŽ all riled up.

"Her?" ZoŽ asks, one perfectly manicured eyebrow lifting almost to her scalp. "This *friend* you're trying to find wouldn't happen to be Miss Parker, would it?"

"ZoŽ, Sydney is really worried about her," Jarod says quickly, trying to explain. "She's been gone almost a week."

"So what? You're going to try to find her? Bring her back home? Let her get back to chasing you like she has been doing all these years? Are you nuts, Jarod? You should be grateful someone's gotten her out of the way . . . "

She stops suddenly, jumping at the sound of Jarod's laptop slamming shut. He stands up and angrily stalks across the room, getting right in her face. His eyes burn with a passion that she hasn't seen in months and she misconstrues it as amorous attention. She quickly learns how mistaken she is.

"How could you say a thing like that?" he growls. "I wouldn't wish something like this happening on my worst enemy."

"You're right," she says repentantly, lowering her eyes to the floor. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry." She slinks closer to him, running her hands up and down his chest. "How about we go into the bedroom and I'll see what I can do about making it up to you?"

"Not tonight, ZoŽ," he says, stepping away from her touch. "I need to get to work."

"Okay," she nods. She watches him walk back to his laptop and focus all of his attention on the screen and realizes that she's essentially been dismissed. She turns to go up to bed, forcing a smile on her face to show her understanding. But she's far from understanding just what Jarod sees in that woman. All she does is chase him around the country, forcing him to move almost as often as he changes his underwear.

ZoŽ considers herself to be a bit of a free spirit, so the constant moving at first seemed like an adventure. But now she's growing tired of it. She'd like to put down roots somewhere. But she can't as long as he's running from Miss Parker. He's always given her the impression that he'd like nothing better than to stop running. But apparently she misread his intentions. Because from where she's standing, Jarod seems content to continue running just so long as it's Miss Parker doing the chasing. It's like some sick game with those two. Or at least that's what she likes to think. Deep in her heart in a place she doesn't want to admit, ZoŽ knows it's more than a game. Matters of the heart rarely are. And it terrifies her to think that Jarod has finally realized it as well.


Chapter 2

Jarod tosses and turns, flinging the covers off of him several times before finally giving up on sleep. He sits up on the sofa and looks around the dark living room. He'll tell ZoŽ in the morning that he just fell asleep and didn't get a chance to come to bed. But in his heart he'll know the truth. That he didn't *want* to go to bed. Not with her. Not anymore.

Things with ZoŽ used to be fun. He never loved her. He never said that he did. But they did have fun together. That used to be enough for them both. Lately, however, ever since their time in Carthis, Jarod can't keep his mind off of Miss Parker. And suddenly, every minute spent with ZoŽ is just a reminder of every second spent without the only woman he's ever loved.

It's not a surprise to him anymore, that he loves her. He's known it all his life. But he's only recently started to admit it to himself. And now being with ZoŽ seems like he's somehow being disloyal to Miss Parker.

He looks to his computer, deciding to use his wakefulness in a useful manner. Scrolling through the screens, something catches his eye. Something he must have missed earlier. With a big smile, he realizes that it's something that will tell him exactly where Miss Parker is. He picks up the phone, hands shaking with excitement, and dials a very familiar number.

"Syd, it's me," he says as soon as he hears the phone pick up. "I think I know where we can find her. She's closer than we think."

****************************

Sydney and Broots pull up to the predestined spot and turn off the car, looking around out into the darkness.

"I don't see anything," Broots says. "Are you sure this is the place?"

"This is where Jarod told us to meet him," Sydney says, looking down at a piece of paper. "I don't see why . . ."

He's cut off by a sharp knock at the window. He looks out and sees Jarod standing there, nervously looking around at the trees. He opens the door and steps out. Broots does the same.

"Thanks for coming," Jarod whispers.

"Well, we'd do anything for Miss Parker," Broots says, a threatening tone lacing his voice. "So if this is a trick . . ."

"I think that's exactly what it is," Jarod says, interrupting him. "But not one of mine. I think this whole thing is a set up by Mr. Lyle and Mr. Raines to catch me. They kidnap her, bring her here to Raines' Forest House and wait for me to come rescue her. It almost worked."

"What do you mean 'almost' worked, Jarod?" Sydney asks. "You're here now. Aren't you going to rescue her?"

"I can't. That's what they're going to be expecting. I can't get anywhere near that house. But you two can," he explains. "From what I can see, they have the place surrounded and they're expecting me. I'll create a diversion, allowing the two of you to slip in and rescue her. They're keeping her in that hidden room where her mother gave birth to Ethan. You remember from the video, Syd."

"I don't know, Jarod. It sounds too dangerous for you," Sydney says.

"Don't worry about me. Just get her out of there. Get closer to the house and wait for my signal," Jarod insists. He pulls a mask over his face and jogs into the trees, moving silently through the wooded area. They do as he asked and get closer to the house, waiting on the right time to go in.

"Any idea what this 'signal' of his is supposed to be?" Broots asks sarcastically after twenty minutes of nothing happening. "I don't supposed he'll be like Batman and shine the Bat Signal in the sky for us."

Just then, a large explosion goes off in the distance. The sky lights up momentarily and a lone figure can be seen in the brief flash.

"It's Jarod," a voice says through the walkie talkie of one of the sweepers posted at the front door. "He's a half a mile away and headed towards the lake."

"Everyone after him," another voice crackles. "We knew he'd come. Let's go get him."

"Well. I guess that was the signal," Broots says after the sweepers leave.

"Whether it was or not, it's a distraction that we should take advantage of," Sydney responds. "Let's go in and find Miss Parker."

****************************

ZoŽ looks up from her book when she sees Jarod stumble wearily into the house. Upon closer inspection, she sees a bruise on his forehead and notices his gait has a bit of a limp. She's instantly at his side, helping him to the sofa.

"What happened, Jarod?" she asks, genuine concern in her voice.

"I'm okay," he grunts as she pulls a boot off a swollen foot.

"No, you're not. You're bleeding," she points out as if he didn't know. "And your foot looks all chewed up. Like it was caught in something."

"A beaver trap," he says with a groan. She pulls his hand away from an obviously injured shoulder and raises her eyebrows questioningly at him, waiting on an explanation.

"And this?"

"Gunshot. It went clean through."

"Beaver traps? Gunshots? You could have been killed, Jarod," she says, tears starting to fill her eyes. "And for what? What in the world would you risk your life for? Or should I say who?" She asks after his long silence.

"I had to help, ZoŽ," he says quietly.

"This was for her, wasn't it? For Miss Parker."

He doesn't say anything, but his silence is answer enough for her. She just shakes her head in disbelief.

"I'll go get the first aid kit," she says finally, standing from her spot next to him.

"No. That's okay." He pulls himself to a standing position and makes his way to the stairs. "I'll go get into the tub and take care of the wounds there. It'll be easier."

She watches him limp up the stairs, furious at him for being so cavalier about his own safety and risking his life for that woman. But at the same time, she's glad he came home safely. She's glad that he came home at all actually. Too many of her nightmares have ended lately with him leaving her.

When it seems like only a few minutes have passed, she looks up at the clock and notices absentmindedly that it's been closer to an hour and Jarod's still upstairs. She goes up to check on him, just to make sure he's okay.

"Jarod," she says, knocking on the bathroom door. "Are you alright? You've been up here for awhile."

"I'm okay," his muffled voice says through the door. "I'll be out in a bit."

She knows he's far from okay, but takes his word for it and goes back downstairs. She hears a voice and is afraid until she realizes that it's the answering machine coming on. The phone must have been ringing while she was upstairs and she didn't hear it. She races to try to pick up the phone when the beep sounds before she can get to it, signaling the caller to leave their message.

"Jarod, it's me," the voice simply says. A woman's voice. ZoŽ somehow knows that it's Miss Parker. "I thought you'd be home by now, but I guess you're not. Either that or you're waiting until some ungodly hour to call me like you usually do."

The caller chuckles, but ZoŽ just feels a frown pulling at her lips. She knew Jarod didn't sleep well most nights. But she never suspected he was up calling *her* at those times.

"Listen," the voice continues. "Sydney told me what you did for me. How you risked your life coming to save me even though you knew it was a trap. I just wanted to say thanks. And I guess I'll see you around."

ZoŽ stands there for a few moments after the call has been ended. The sound of the bathroom door opening breaks her from her little trance. Jarod's finally done and about to come downstairs. Before her conscience can tell her otherwise, she quickly hits the delete button on the answering machine and turns around to greet him, a nervous smile pasted on her face.

"Feeling better?" she asks him, stepping away from the answering machine.

"A little," he says, eyeing her suspiciously. "Did we get a phone call?"

"What?"

"You were at the answering machine. Did someone call while I was getting cleaned up?" he asks again.

"No," she quickly lies. "I accidentally knocked the phone book off the table. I was just picking it up. You look really tired," she says, trying to change the subject. "How about I fix you something to eat and then we can go to bed?"

"That's okay," he says. "I'm not hungry. And I'm tired, but a little too wound up to sleep right now. You go ahead without me."

She almost opens her mouth to offer herself to him as a way to relieve stress. But she doesn't want to run to risk of being rejected again. It's been ages since they last made love. Almost too far back to remember, since before he left to go on that trip to Scotland looking for his mom. Since that trip, everything has been different between them. *He* is different. Colder and more distant. Whatever happened over there changed him in a way she can't even begin to understand. But she understands enough to know that he doesn't want her comfort right now.

"Okay," she smiles, leaning over to give him a kiss. She notices sadly that he turns his head at the last minute, taking the kiss on the cheek instead of on the lips. "Good night, Sweetie."

"Good night, ZoŽ," he says with a yawn. He doesn't even look up when she leaves the room. For a brief moment, he feels guilty for how distant he's been with her. But he can't help it. It's never been clearer to him how he feels about Miss Parker. Her disappearance let him see how empty his life is without her. Filling his time with pretends and ZoŽ isn't enough anymore. Searching for his family isn't how he wants to spend his life anymore. He wants to spend it with her.

Jarod rests on the couch for about an hour until he thinks ZoŽ has fallen asleep. He reaches for the phone and dials a number he's dialed so many times before.

"Hello," she answers expectantly.

"Parker? Is that you?" he chuckles. "I almost didn't recognize you. I don't think I've ever heard that word come out of your mouth."

"Well, I figured my hero deserved a better greeting tonight," she says, her smooth voice sending tingles up and down his spine. "Don't get used to it."

"I won't," he laughs.

They sit in silence for a few moments, neither of them knowing what to say. But it's a comfortable silence, the sound of their breathing somehow soothing to each other.

"You know, I'm no hero," he finally says. "Broots and Sydney saved the day."

"They told me what you did," she admits. "And we heard about the blood found by the lake. It was yours."

"No big deal. That sweeper just winged me."

"Jarod, you got shot?" she gasps. "I can't believe you'd risk your life like that for me."

"I'd do anything for you, Miss Parker," he confesses.

"I think I knew that," she says quietly. "But I never really realized it until today. Thank you. I know I called earlier to tell you, but . . . "

"You called earlier?" Jarod asks, sounding worried. "When?"

"About an hour ago, I guess. I left a message. And don't worry. Even though I got the number from Syd, no one heard us," she says quickly. "I memorized it. I didn't write it down or anything. You don't have to worry about being tracked down."

"It's not that," he says distractedly. "You called here? Did you talk to someone?"

"No. The machine picked up. I left a message."

"Are you sure you called here?" he asks again.

"Pretty sure. I got the number from Sydney and it was your voice on the answering machine. Why?"

"No reason," he says. "I'm sorry I missed your call. I wouldn't have had to call tonight and wake you."

"Oh, you know you would have done it anyway," she laughs. And again, he feels the tingling, but this time it goes all throughout his body.

"Yeah, you know I can't resist the idea of . . . ringing you in bed," he says, shocking her with his innuendo.

"My my my. What's this? Have we learned all about the double entendre?"

"Oh, I've learned about lots of stuff, Miss Parker," he teases her.

"I bet you have," she says, practically purring into the phone now.

"I should probably let you go," he says, his breathing becoming more and more shallow. "This call is turning out to be like one of those 1-900 numbers you keep on telling me about."

"Jarod," she laughs out in surprise. "I know I shouldn't admit this. And if you ask me tomorrow, I'll deny I ever said it. But you never cease to amaze me. The art of innuendo? 1-900 numbers? Since when do you know about things like that?"

"I told you," he says, his voice taking a deeper tone. "I've learned lots of stuff out here. I think I'll be able to keep you on your toes. You certainly keep me on mine."

She opens her mouth to say something back to him when a soft click sounds in her ear. He's hung up on her, as usual. She shakes her head with a little laugh. 'Oh no, Jarod,' she thinks to herself. 'You already keep me on my toes.' With a deep sigh, she sinks into her bed, the memories of his voice lulling her into an easy sleep.


Chapter 3

ZoŽ wakes early the next morning with an uneasy feeling. Sitting up in the bed, she looks around the room and finds Jarod sitting in a chair across from the bed just staring at her.

"Jarod?" she asks with a confused look on her face. "What are you doing in the chair, Honey? Come to bed."

"You lied to me," he says with a fake calm. ZoŽ can see the anger simmering under the surface and braces herself for the storm she knows is coming.

"What are you talking about?" she asks. But she has a feeling she knows what this is about. Miss Parker. It's always about her.

"What do you mean it's always about Miss Parker? Is that your excuse?"

ZoŽ’s eyes widen in panic. Either Jarod's learned how to read minds or she's talking aloud without even realizing it.

"Slow down, Jarod. I'm just waking up. Back this up and start from the beginning."

"I had a phone call last night. A message on the machine that isn't there anymore. Do you know anything about it?"

"Are you accusing me of something?" she asks him in return, trying to stall him.

"ZoŽ, let's stop playing this game," he sighs. "Did you erase a message from Miss Parker while I was in the tub last night?"

"Yes," she answers straightly, her arms crossing defensively across her chest. "I guess the phone rang when I came upstairs to check on you. By the time I got back downstairs, the message was already recording."

"And you deleted it when you heard it was from her." He stares at her, expecting an answer but only gets defiant silence. "You can't just erase my messages, ZoŽ. It could have been important. This isn't some game you're playing with people's lives. Keeping that message from me could have gotten someone killed."

"Like who, Jarod? You? Her? You risk everything for her. But all she does is bring trouble for you. She's the one who's going to get you killed. What is it about her, Jarod?" ZoŽ asks quietly.

"You could never understand," he says, shaking his head. "We go way back. She's as much a prisoner of the Centre as I was. It's her job to try and catch me. But she never has. That's not a coincidence, ZoŽ. She would never hurt me. Just like I can't stand to see her hurt."

"So it's just friendly concern? You'd risk your life and freedom for an old friend? Is that all she is, Jarod? An old friend?" ZoŽ watches his cheeks turn red and his eyes lower to the floor. He can't even look her in the eyes anymore. "Do you realize how much you talk about this old friend, Jarod? Do you even know how much you mention her?"

"You ask me about my past, ZoŽ. She's a part of it. She's actually all I remember of it. So it's natural that in talking about myself, I'd include her," he tries to explain.

"Is it also natural to dream about her?" ZoŽ challenges.

"How do you know . . . I mean . . ." He stops when ZoŽ lifts her hand up to silence him.

"You talk in your sleep," is all she says by way of explanation. "Almost every night you talk about her. And before you try to explain *that* away, let me say this. I would understand it if you would say they were nightmares. That woman chases you day in and day out, threatening your life and your freedom. *I* have nightmares about her. So I'd certainly understand it if you did as well. But Jarod, your dreams don't sound unpleasant to me."

"Oh," he says quietly, still unable to meet her eyes. "Is that all?"

"I'd think that would be enough," she chuckles mirthlessly. "But no, that's not all. Of course, it's been so long that I barely remember this. But you have mentioned her at . . . other times. Other times when it should just be me and you in this room. In this bed. You apparently have her on your mind then as well. You've . . . called out *her* name while making love to *me*."

"I'm so sorry, ZoŽ," he says, sounding duly contrite. "I never realized. I would never hurt you that way."

"And why should I believe that?" she asks, fiercely wiping away the tears from her face. "Because you love me?"

"ZoŽ, you know I can't . . "

"Yeah, that's what you always say. You don't know enough about love to know if you love me." It's a line she's heard many times before. But she's not about to let him get away with it now. Right now, she wants answers and she believes she deserves them. "Tell me this, Jarod. You can't say that you love me. But can you tell me that you don't love her?"

"ZoŽ . . "

"Answer me, Jarod," she yells. "I think I deserve the truth about this. Can you tell me that you don't love Miss Parker?"

"No," he says, finally looking up at her. "No, I can't say that. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. But she left me. And when she came back, she wasn't that same little girl."

"But you still loved her," ZoŽ nods, her tears falling down to wet her pajamas. "You still do."

"I'm sorry . . . " he tries to apologize.

"You should be," she says, getting up out of the bed. She quickly dresses, leaving her gown on the floor. It's one that Jarod bought her. She doesn't want to keep it. She grabs a bag from the closet and throws in some essentials - underwear, jeans, sweaters - and zips the bag closed.

"What are you doing?" he asks, confused at her actions.

"I need to be away from you," she says.

"We can talk when you get back," he says, realizing he owes her more than he's given her. He at least owes her an apology about how he's treated her since he got back from Carthis. "I'll be here waiting for you."

"In body maybe," she smiles a teary smile. "But she's had your heart and soul from the start, Jarod. I really don't think you knew that when you met me, but I can see you know it now. There's no need in drawing this out. When I come back, I'll be coming back for the rest of my things. Good-bye, Jarod."

He watches her pull on a pair of boots, grab her bag, and walk out the door. He doesn't even stop her. Because he knows she's right. It's over between them. It's been over for a long time. If he's honest with himself, things never should have even started with her to begin with. The best thing he can do for her now is to let her go.

****************************

Miss Parker rolls over at the sound of the ringing phone, looking at the clock and smiling at what time it is. Right on time, she thinks to herself.

"Hey there, Loverboy. What's your name?" she asks in a husky voice when she picks up the phone. She hears some incoherent stuttering on the other end and can't help but burst out into a fit of giggles.

"Funny, Miss Parker. I didn't realize you had such a sense of humor," Jarod says wryly on the other end. "How did you know it was me?"

"Jarod, who else would call me this time of night," she laughs. "I'm surprised you haven't dropped by."

"I did actually," he says sheepishly. "I drove by a few times today, but there were too many sweepers around. Do you know you're being watched?"

"No, I didn't. But I'm not surprised," she sighs. "Lyle staged my kidnapping to trap you. I wouldn't put it past him to watch my house and wait for you to show up here. He's relentless in this pursuit of you now. Ever since that little threat issued from Raines after we got back from Carthis."

"What threat?" Jarod asks, concerned suddenly for her safety.

"He made it clear the expectations he had for his children," she says, a shudder running through her at the very thought of being that man's child. "No longer is capturing you just a job. My life depends on it."

"Miss Parker," he gasps. "Is my staying out here a danger to you?"

"Not anymore so than if I allowed Lyle to capture you," she says. "It's better this way. Trust me."

"But . . . "

"But nothing, Jarod. We're both better off with me pretending to search for you and you trying to avoid being captured by Lyle. So don't try to come up with some little plan for me to bring you in. It won't do either of us any good."

"If you insist," he says. "So if I don't have to worry about you catching me, what am I going to do with all my spare time?"

"You could stop calling me, for one. Maybe spend a little time with that perky little girlfriend of yours." She bites her lip, hoping he can't hear the jealousy in her voice.

"Who ZoŽ? I'm not exactly her favorite person right now. Neither of us are as a matter of fact. She left me," Jarod tells her.

"I'm sorry," she smiles, only feeling slightly bad that ZoŽ's out of his life.

"I'm not," he shrugs. "It was over a long time ago. I'm just sorry I strung her along for as long as I did."

"Wait, you said I'm not one of her favorite people. What does she even know about me?"

"She's heard me talk about you from time to time. And not under some of the best of times. There are just certain, um . . . situations when a man just shouldn't utter another woman's name."

"Oh, Jarod. Tell me you didn't."

"Guilty as charged. Not that I realized it at the time, mind you," he admits with a blush. He can't believe he's telling her this, though. But maybe it's time to get things out in the open with them. Maybe this could be the turning point she was looking for back on that island.

"Why me?" she asks quietly. "Those times when you were with her, why think about me?"

He takes a deep breath, deciding to put it all on the line. They've run from what they feel for each other for far too long. It's time that someone forces the issues, or else they'll be playing the 'You run - I chase" game forever.

"I think you know the answer to that, Miss Parker," his smooth voice answers. "I think you know how I feel about you. How I've always felt about you. After what we went through on Carthis, I couldn't hide it anymore. And I couldn't pretend with ZoŽ anymore."

"Couldn't pretend what?" she whispers, barely able to speak anymore.

"I couldn't pretend that I didn't love you. I couldn't pretend that I didn't wish she was you. That I didn't think about you while I was in bed with her."

"You'd make love to her and think of me? Call out my name?" she asks shyly.

"Not after Carthis. After Carthis, I didn't make love to her at all. I couldn't bring myself to touch her. But before . . . yeah, I guess I did. Although I didn't realize I was doing it until she told me this morning."

"Jarod, I don't know what to say," she cries, tears flooding down her face now.

"Say you love me too," he offers. "Say you'll turn to me. You said to me on that island that a turning point only comes when there's something to turn to. Well, I'm here, Parker. Turn to me."

"I'm afraid," she admits. "I'm afraid of letting myself love you only to lose you."

"I'm afraid of the same thing," he tells her. "But when Sydney told me you were missing, I realized that it would be worse to lose you without ever having loved you. I don't want to miss out on that."

"I don't either," she sniffs, wiping away her tears. "I want to open myself to you. Allow myself to love you. But how?"

"We let go of the past," he says. "We live only for each other and for our future. We'll go away, just the two of us. Somewhere they can never find us. We'll be safe."

"But by leaving the Centre, we'll be leaving behind all the answers. What about your mother, Jarod? We'll never be able to find her."

"I've lived my entire life without her. But the thought of living without you is more than I can bear. I'd rather let you take me in than let you risk your life trying to protect me. I couldn't stand it if anything else happened to you."

She silently contemplates his proposal. But for only a minute. She knows deep in her heart that if he ever offered what he's offering now, she'd take him up on it. She's known the answer all along. She was just waiting on him to ask the question.

"Promise me no more rat trap hotels and we got a deal," she says.

"Is that a yes?" he asks cautiously, trying to hold back his enthusiasm.

"And if you snore, I'm making you sleep on the couch," she adds.

"Hey, if I can put up with your drooling, I think you should be able to handle a little bit of snoring. All in the name of love, of course."

"The name of love," she repeats with a sigh, a small smile playing on her lips. "I do, you know."

"You do what?"

"Love you. I love you, Jarod," she giggles. "It feels good to say it out loud."

"It feels good to hear it from you," he says. "I love you, too, Miss Parker."

"That does feel good to hear," she smiles. "Say it again."

"I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I wish I were there with you right now. To seal this deal the proper way."

"I wish you were here too," she whispers. Her tears are starting to return and she doesn't want him to hear her crying again. It's amazing how quickly his words can turn her to mush once she let herself hear them.

"Soon. I promise you. Soon."

"I'll be waiting," she says with a smile as she hangs up the phone before he gets a chance to like he usually does. But things are changing. And all for the better, she hopes. She loves Jarod. Jarod loves her. And they're finally going to be together like they were always meant to be. But despite all his promises for the future, she can't shake the feeling of that proverbial other shoe dropping. For some reason, she has a feeling that things will be getting a lot worse before they get any better.


Chapter 4

After the fourth ring, he finally leans over and grabs the phone from the hook.

"What?" he yells, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"You told me to call with any news. I'm sorry to wake you Mr. Lyle," the voice on the other end says.

"That's okay," Lyle yawns, trying desperately to wake up. He must have been more tired than he realized. But he's been busy all of last night and all of that day trying to figure out exactly how both Miss Parker and Jarod escaped his little trap. "What is it? Is Jarod there?"

"No. Your sister is still alone. She's been alone all day," the sweeper reports. "She went to bed about an hour ago. But there's been another car here for the past few hours watching the house as well."

"Jarod?"

"No, some woman. A red head. Check your messages. We took a digital photo of her and e-mailed it to you."

Lyle lumbers sleepily to his computer and pulls up the message on his Centre e-mail account. He smiles when he recognizes the photo.

"Her name is ZoŽ. She's Jarod's girlfriend," Lyle explains. "But what is she doing there stalking the place? Unless . . ."

"Unless what?"

"Trouble in paradise?" he guesses. "Maybe she's checking out the competition. I don't know. Just keep an eye on her."

"Actually, it looks like she's leaving," the sweeper says. "And she doesn't look happy."

"Follow her," Lyle orders. "Tell team 2 to stay and watch the house and you follow Jarod's girlfriend to see where she goes. Maybe she'll lead us right to him."

"Yes sir," the sweeper says before hanging up.

Lyle turns off the phone and begins dressing. Something tells him his luck is starting to look up.

****************************

ZoŽ is feeling no pain. After leaving Miss Parker's house, she found this bar and decided to come in and drown her sorrows away. The drinks have done the trick in numbing her senseless. In a way she's disappointed with herself. Not for getting drunk. But for coming all the way to Blue Cove to do nothing about Miss Parker. That woman has ruined any chances of her and Jarod ever being happy. She deserves to pay for that. ZoŽ deserves the chance to make her pay. Before she even realizes what's going on, drops of moisture fall on her hand and she realizes embarrassingly that she's crying.

"Excuse me, Miss," she hears from above. She clumsily lifts her drunken head and looks at the blurry image before her. "Are you okay? I notice you're over here crying. Did someone hurt you?"

"I'll say," she says rolling her eyes. But that only succeeds in making her head spin even more.

"How about a dance," the man offers. "Maybe it'll help you feel a little better."

She tries to focus on him, but is still seeing multiple images of him. But from what she can tell, he's tall with dark hair. Good enough for her, she thinks with a shrug. If she can't have Jarod, she may as well have a replacement if just for one night.

"Sure," she says, giving him what she hopes is a sexy smile. "I'm all yours."

The man helps her stand from the table and leads her to the dance floor. Looking up at him as she moves in his arms, her vision starts to clear a little.

"Don't I know you?" she asks, not sure that her mind isn't playing tricks on her.

"We've met briefly," he confesses. "Although not under the best of circumstances. My name is Lyle."

"You're one of the ones who kidnapped me," she remembers. She tries to pull out of his arms, but he only tightens his grip when he realizes what she's trying to do. "Let go of me."

"I just want to help you, ZoŽ," he says, putting an innocent look in his face. "You look like you need it."

'And I need your help too,' he says to himself. The sweeper followed ZoŽ to this bar not too far from Miss Parker's house and called him immediately. If his instincts are right, she's been rejected by Jarod. So right now she's pretty open and vulnerable. The perfect time for him to swoop in and try to sway her to join his cause.

"You work at that place. With *her*. Did she send you after me?" she asks him, eyeing him warily.

"Did who send me?" he asks.

"Her. Miss Parker," she says, nearly spitting the name out. "She can't have Jarod all to herself, so she's trying to get me out of the way." ZoŽ finally manages to push Lyle away and stumbles back to her table. She doesn't see the looks of triumph cross his face as she unwittingly gives him the information he needs, confirming his suspicions. This will be even easier than he originally thought.

"Ah yes. Miss Parker. I know her well," he tells her. "She's my sister. But we don't get along. In fact, she's been trying to get rid of me since the day we found out we were related. She really hates having competition. In fact, she was the one who had me kidnap you last year. To keep you away from Jarod," he lies. He motions for the bartender to bring another bottle of tequila and pours some for them both.

"It figures," ZoŽ says with a snort. She downs the shot of tequila in front of her, determined to get her buzz back. "That woman needs someone to give her a taste of her own medicine."

"I couldn't agree more," Lyle smiles as she drinks yet another shot. "I think we may just be the ones to do it."

"We? What do you mean?"

"Why don't we get some coffee?" he suggests. "We can talk about this with clear heads. The way I figure it, both Jarod and my sister have hurt you very badly. I can help you get revenge."

"Revenge?" she asks, shaking the fuzziness out of her head. That last bit of tequila hit her harder than she expected.

"Are you okay?" he asks, sounding very concerned. "You look a little out of it."

"I think I just need to get out of here," she says, trying to catch her breath. "I need to go some place quiet. I can't think in here."

"Come on," he smiles. "I know just the place."

ZoŽ looks into his eyes and sees a passion she hasn't seen in a long time from Jarod. She wants that passion, from wherever she can get it.

"Okay," she nods, making her decision. "I just want to run to the ladies room and freshen up a bit."

"Take your time," he says. "I'm going to settle your bar tab and wait out front for you."

He waits until she's out of sight before picking up the bottle of tequila and taking it back to the bar.

"You might want to get rid of this," he tells the bartender. "We can't have any evidence left here."

"Yes Mr. Lyle," the bartender says, obediently taking the tequila from Lyle and dumping the contents into the sink. When he's done, he surreptitiously slides a small vial across the bar back to Lyle as Lyle slips him a $100 bill.

"Thank you," Lyle says, lifting the empty vial with an evil smirk on his face. A drunken, distraught ZoŽ was just the thing he was hoping for. But he couldn't count on only that. He knew he'd need a little something extra to help persuade her to his way of thinking. This little serum is just the thing. The combination of rohypnol and sodium penathol should make her very malleable, Lyle thinks to himself. He'll be able to make her do or say anything.

****************************

ZoŽ wakes with a relentless pounding in her head. Memories of how much she drank last night fill her mind and she groans with the wave of nausea that consumes her.

"Good morning," she hears from next to the bed she's in. She peeks out from under the covers and suddenly remembers she didn't go home alone. In fact, she didn't go home at all. She let Lyle take her back to his place.

"Morning," she smiles shyly, covering herself with the blanket before sitting up. But when she looks down, she notices with much surprise that she's still fully clothed, minus her shoes. "I'm still dressed," she comments.

"You were very drunk," Lyle smiles. "I'd never take advantage of a woman. You passed out pretty much as soon as we got here. I took the couch while you slept in here."

"Thanks for being such a gentleman," she says. "I don't know what I was thinking last night. I feel much clearer this morning."

"About what?" Lyle asks curiously, even though he knows what she's going to say. He spent half the night making sure it was well programmed into her head.

"Revenge," she says. "Jarod and that sister of yours have to pay for how they hurt me. How they hurt both of us."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Making Jarod's worst nightmares come true," she tells him. "He fears getting caught and going back to the Centre. So, that's exactly what we should do."

"ZoŽ, we've been trying to do that for years. Jarod's a lot harder to find than you would think he'd be."

"That's because you all didn't know where to look. I know exactly where he is," ZoŽ smiles.

"Oh yeah?" Lyle asks, his grin growing wider by the second. "Tell me."

"Not yet," ZoŽ shakes her head after a few silent moments. "It'll ruin all the fun. The point behind this revenge is to get back at both of them. Me telling you where Jarod is will only let you catch Jarod. What about your sister?"

"I'll make sure she gets what she deserves. Just tell me where to find Jarod," Lyle pleads desperately. His desperation makes her suspicious.

"What's this really about, Lyle?" she asks. "You seem so determined to catch Jarod. Why is that? What is it about him?"

"The truth?" he asks her, trying to give himself some time to make up a story. He's a little shocked at her question. Her intelligence was greatly underestimated. He's going to have to be careful now because it's obvious she won't just unquestioningly follow his lead. He'll have to make sure he's very convincing. "Okay, here it goes. The truth is, Jarod isn't who you think he is."

"What do you mean?"

"What has he told you about us? That we kept him prisoner his whole life until he escaped a few years ago? And that since his escape we've been trying to get him back?"

"That's basically it," she nods.

"But did he tell you why he was at the Centre in the first place?" When she shakes her head, he continues on with his story. "Jarod is a very sick man. He has a chemical imbalance that we've been trying to keep under control his entire life. We finally were able to help him to the point where he became almost normal. But we didn't fully comprehend his level of genius. He masterminded a plot and was able to escape from us. And we've been trying to get him back because without his medication . . ."

"Are you telling me Jarod's some sort of escaped mental patient?" ZoŽ asks, her eyes widening in shock. Lyle mentally rolls his eyes at how gullible she is, but puts on a sympathetic face to perpetuate his lies.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you like this," Lyle apologizes, taking her hand and squeezing it gently when he notices tears falling down her face. "But I think you deserved to know the truth about who we're dealing with."

"I can't believe I believed him. That I lived with him. I let him touch me. I feel so dirty now," she cries, falling into his arms. "Lyle, help me. Make it all go away. Take away his touch. Please."

She shakes in his arms, grabbing onto to anything of substance she can find to ground herself. She starts a line of weepy kisses up his neck and he suddenly understands what she's requesting of him.

"ZoŽ, are you sure?" he asks. But the only answer he gets is in the form of her lips attacking his own in a brutal, crushing kiss. He feels her fingers grasping desperately the back of his neck, holding his head to hers.

"I'm sure," she mumbles. "Make love to me, Lyle. Now."

She's not his type. But the feel of her hands running up and down his chest is more than he can resist. Her desperation to use him to get Jarod out of her system spurs him on. Jarod has taken too much from him. It's time for a little payback.

"Let's do this right," he whispers to her, pulling slightly out of her embrace. He lowers her to the bed, falling down on top of her and trapping her under his body. He kisses her to distract her as one hand stealthily makes its way to the end table next to his bed. He reaches in an pulls out a remote control, hitting a button to start a hidden video camera. Something tells him the memories from this night will come in very handy one day.


Chapter 5

Broots sighs in frustration as yet another one of his players dies. He's been trying for weeks to master this game and has yet to beat it. He decides a small break is in order to clear his head.

"You should at least try not to look so bored, Broots," Miss Parker says with an amused smile as she breezes into the office. She's been that way since she came back to work after that botched kidnapping, Broots has noticed. Happy. Really happy. Happier than he's ever seen her since he's known her.

"I wouldn't have to try if I actually had something to do. Like search for Jarod," he mumbles more to himself. But she hears him anyway.

"But that would just be a waste of time, seeing as how we know exactly where he is," she says. "Besides, we've worked hard these past few years. I think two weeks of doing nothing is the least the Centre owes us. They should be glad that's all I'm expecting after being held hostage by my nut job brother for a week. I say we just enjoy the down time."

"Or, we can actually go capture Jarod and not put our lives in jeopardy anymore by just pretending to search for him," Broots suggests.

"Don't be silly, Broots," she laughs. "I feel safer with him being on the loose than if we were to capture him. I don't trust Lyle or Raines. Me bringing in Jarod will not keep me any safer. They'd probably kill me and then take the credit for capturing Jarod. So as you see, we're actually better off with Jarod still free."

"Is he filling your head with that nonsense?" Broots asks, not believing these words are coming out of her mouth. "Miss Parker, what's happening to you? You used to see things so clearly. Now, I'm worried that Jarod's poisoning your mind so that he can use you. That's all he does. Use people for his own purposes and then get them killed. All he wants are answers."

"That's not true," she snaps at him, before realizing where she is and regaining her composure. "Jarod and I are after the same thing now. If there's anyone trying to use me for their own purposes, it's my so called family. In case you forgot, it was a few weeks ago that my own brother and father had me kidnapped in hopes that Jarod would come rescue me and they could catch him."

"Of course I hadn't forgotten."

"Good," she says. "Don't ever forget what these people are capable of. They are not to be trusted. I know that now on my own. But I would have been better off if I had listened to Jarod all those years ago."

"So what do we do in the mean time?" Broots sighs in resignation. He can see there's no changing her mind. "I can't play computer games forever."

"It won't be forever," she says cryptically, suddenly finding the floor fascinating. "But you're right. You should have something more constructive to do with your time. That's actually why I came in here. I keep on running into Lyle and he's strutting around here looking like the cat that ate the canary. He's up to something. I'm just not sure what. We need to stay on top on his activities and make sure he's not getting close to finding Jarod."

"Oh no. I don't like the sound of that," he cringes. "Does this mean I have to . . . "

"No, don't worry, Broots," she smiles at his discomfort. "I won't have you snooping around his place just yet. Just check his computer log. See what he's been into these past two weeks. My kidnapping didn't exactly go the way he planned. I'm sure he had to regroup and come up with another plan. Maybe he slipped up and left us a trail to follow."

"I'll get right on it," Broots nods. "I'll probably have something for you in a few hours."

"Don't rush," she smiles. "Tomorrow will be soon enough. I'm taking off the rest of the day."

With a wink, she leaves him alone and he turns back to his computer to comply with her wishes. He's only doing it because she asked him to. He'd do anything for her. But he still doesn't trust Jarod anymore than she trusts Lyle. He just has to hope that neither of them hurts her.


****************************

She waits until she's flying down the highway before placing the call.

"Hello?" the smooth voice answers.

"Hello to you to, Jarod," she smiles into the phone, blushing like a school girl talking to her crush.

"You must be psychic, Miss Parker. I was just thinking about you."

"What a coincidence. I was just thinking about you, too. Wishing I could see you," she sighs.

"Me too. But it won't be much longer."

"You keep on saying that, but . . . "

"But what?" he asks nervously, noting the tiny tremor in her voice.

"I'm not really sure what to make of this," she starts. "I just feel like something bad is going to happen, Jarod. Like we're tempting fate or something. I'm probably just being silly."

"Or there could be something to it. Don't discount your intuition, Parker. It's your gift," he admonishes. "Is there anything in particular making you kind of nervous?"

"It's Lyle," she tells him. "He's up to something, I just know it. I'm having Broots look into it now. For the past two weeks, he's been acting kind of, I don't know, I guess cocky is a good word. And I know he's always like that but this is different."

"And what are your instincts telling you?"

"To go. To get as far away as I can," she admits. "I know running is the coward's way, but I'm not Wonder Woman, Jarod . . ."

"Wonder who?" he asks.

"Oh brother. We've got a lot of TV watching to catch up you on," she says, rolling her eyes. "But the point I was trying to make is that I'm just one person. And despite my attempts in the past, I can't fight them on my own."

"Then we go," he simply says. "We'll find a good time to slip away unnoticed and just leave. I was trying to wait until ZoŽ got back because I figured I at least owed her some sort of apology or something."

"It's been two weeks, Jarod. Maybe she isn't coming back. Does she normally stay gone for this long?"

"Well, I've never told her that I'm love with another woman before, so there really isn't a precedent for this," he laughs.

"That's true," she says, joining in his amusement. "This may be for the best, though. You probably don't want to be around her right about now. Haven't you heard that saying about a woman scorned?"

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," he quotes. "It's from The Mourning Bride by William Congreve."

"Okay, you know that but you don't know who Wonder Woman is. Jarod, you are such a freak," she laughs.

"Gee, thanks," he says sarcastically.

"Oh, but you're my freak and I love you," she adds quickly.

"Stop it. You're making me tear up here," he deadpans, causing her giggles to start up again.

"Thank you," she says after her giggles die down. "Thanks for making me feel better about this whole thing with Lyle. It had me pretty nervous."

"Don't worry about him. I won't let him hurt you anymore. Once we get away, there won't be any way for them to find us. I just need a little more time to finalize a few more details and we can go. In the meantime, you need to make sure that you're ready to go at any time. We may only get one chance at this."

"I'll be ready," she says, letting out a deep breath she didn't even know she was holding. "I'll be waiting for your call."

She hangs up the phone just as she pulls into her driveway for possibly the last time. A sentimental pang pulls at her heart for a moment for all the good times she's had in the house. But bad memories also haunt the doorstep. It's time to get away from it all. Past time, in fact. And in a little while, she'll do just that.

****************************

Broots sneaks into the office, cursing silently at the situations he finds himself in because of Miss Parker. He was only supposed to be keeping an eye on Lyle and his activities. But unfortunately, Lyle's computer files are impenetrable from outside the office without a special code. Broots is hoping to get in, download the codes on his own computer and get out. Getting caught by Lyle is no where on that list.

The office is dark, just a ray of light shining through the closed blinds. He makes his way over to Lyle's desk to set up his lap top. Halfway across the room, he hears footsteps coming down the hall. He should have figured with his luck he'd get busted. Looking around the office quickly, he finds a place to hide just as Lyle enters. And he's not alone.

"I know you were on your way home, Mr. Lyle, but I was told to get these test results to you immediately," a nervous technician says, the envelope shaking in her hand.

"Thank you, Jillian," he says as he takes what the woman is offering. She leaves immediately, wasting no time getting out of the office. Which is exactly where Broots wants to be. Hopefully Lyle won't stay long.

Lyle sits at his desk and opens the envelope, pulling out a single sheet of paper. He quickly reads the document and practically gasps at what he sees. A smile grows on his face and he can barely contain his excitement as he reaches for the telephone.

"It's Lyle. Let me talk to Raines," he barks. A few seconds later, he's speaking again. "I got the test results. They turned out better than I could have ever imagined. This is what I've been waiting for. I'm going to get Jarod. And this time, I can guarantee a success."

He disconnects the call only to place another one. Broots soon discovers it's to the travel department.

"This is Lyle," he barks into the phone. "I need the jet fueled and ready to go as soon as possible . . . The location doesn't matter, I won't be on it. Go to Wyoming or something for a few days and then come back. I need to make some people think that's where I am while I'm gone for a few days."

After hanging up the phone, Lyle opens the bottom drawer of his desk and pulls out a thick file. He places the test results on top and puts the file back into his desk. A minute later he's gone and Broots comes out of his hiding spot. Before he can convince himself not to, he takes he file Lyle was so interested in. He's curious what's on that piece of paper and knows that Miss Parker will be too. Flipping open the file, he quickly skims the document and sees what Lyle was so excited about. Unfortunately, Miss Parker won't be as happy, Broots realizes. But at least it'll help her to see what kind of man Jarod really is. Hopefully this will be the thing to end her obsession with the pretender once and for all before it gets her killed.


Chapter 6

The photo of her mother and a picture of her and Debbie are the last to go in her bag. She doesn't want to pack too much to make it seem like she's obviously running, but there are also things she can't bear to leave behind. She just finishes zipping the bag when a knock at the door interrupts her.

"Who is it?" she nervously calls. She wasn't expecting anyone. And the last unexpected visitor she had ended up kidnapping her. She's not going to be that careless again.

"It's me. Broots," the voice calls.

"I'll be right there," she says, releasing the breath she was holding. It's just Broots. But she still can't let him know what's going on, so she hides her bag in the closet before going to answer the door.

"Hi," he says nervously. "I'm not disturbing you, am I?"

"Broots, what are you doing here?" she asks curiously.

"I found some information on what Lyle's up to. I thought you should see it."

"I told you tomorrow would have been fine," she says, becoming slightly annoyed at his intrusion.

"No. You need to see it now," he says ominously and she feels a shiver run up her spine. He's starting to scare her now. "Why don't you sit down."

"Broots, just tell me what it is. You're making me really nervous," she smiles weakly. She can hear the shakiness in her voice and knows he can hear it too.

"Just sit first," he repeats. After she's complied, he hands her the file he brought in and watches her open it.

"This is a file on ZoŽ," she says, looking up at him with confusion on her face. "Where did you get this?"

"From Lyle's office. Just read that first page. They're test results."

"Broots, Lyle has kidnapped ZoŽ before. I'm not surprised he has a file on her . . . "

"The tests are from today," he interrupts her. "Just look at them."

"Okay," she huffs, rolling her eyes. She looks back at the stack of papers in her hand. Broots only has to wait another minute before he knows she's found the punchline, so to speak. All the blood drains from her face and she looks as if she's about to faint.

"Miss Parker. Are you okay?" he asks, kneeling down beside her and steadying the papers in her shaky hands.

"She's . . . pregnant?" she gasps. "But Jarod said . . ." She stops herself before she can say anything else. Broots doesn't need to know what Jarod has claimed about his love life with ZoŽ.

"I'm sorry," Broots says, gently stroking her back. "I know you wanted to trust him, but . . ."

"No, I *do* trust him," she sniffs, wiping away a stray tear. "I trust him with my life, Broots. There's got to be something else going on here. Because how could the Centre have gotten their hands on these tests results? Maybe they're fake."

"You're going to trust him on a maybe?" Broots asks quietly.

"Well, I'm not going to condemn him on it," she says, her face set in determination. "Not until I find out what's really going oh. Now, you can help me or not. But you're not going to stop me."

"I'll help," he sighs, reaching out for some of the papers in the file. She smiles her thanks and starts going to through the other half of the stack.

"This is interesting," she mumbles a few minutes later. "You ever hear of Project Honesty?"

"At the Centre? I wouldn't think they'd even know of such a word," Broots chuckles.

"It has something to do with some serum. It appears Lyle's been using it on ZoŽ. Apparently she's been living with him for the past two weeks. Ever since she left Jarod."

"She *left* Jarod? Oh no," he cringes. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That she's hurt and vulnerable over the end of her relationship with Jarod? That Lyle uses that knowledge and this serum on her to get her to tell him things about Jarod to help the Centre catch him? Is that what you're thinking?"

"Something like that," he nods, flipping through the papers when he remembers reading about something. "Oh, but much worse than that. Listen to this. The serum not only compels the subject to tell the truth, but it also has properties to heighten suggestibility."

"So that he can brainwash her," Miss Parker realizes. "But I'm still confused about something. If she's been with him all this time, why doesn't he have Jarod yet?"

"He will tonight. I heard him talking to Raines about finally having what he needs to go after Jarod. And I heard him on the phone with Travel making arrangements for the Centre jet to be out of town and for you to think he was on it," he explains.

"Yeah, but why hasn't this all happened before tonight?" she asks again.

"Maybe because ZoŽ hasn't told him where Jarod is yet. Maybe because she doesn't know she's pregnant. Maybe because he hopes that by telling her, he'll be able to get the information out of her one way or another. Either by threatening to kill Jarod or by threatening to kill Jarod's child," he suggests.

"It's not Jarod's child," Miss Parker denies.

"Listen, I know you want to trust Jarod, but who else's baby could it be?"

"Lyle's. She's been with him for two weeks. I doubt he's been sleeping on the couch the entire time."

"Eww. I can pretty much guarantee it," he says, flipping to a group of photos in the file. "Here's proof of it, live and in living color. Looks like stills from a video Lyle must have taken of the two of them."

"Thanks, but I'll pass," she frowns. "That's not exactly an image of my brother I'd want ingrained on my mind. Okay, so we know they had sex. Plus, I know a little something about reading these kinds of blood tests. You see this? This hormone is just barely detectable. She isn't very far along. Probably not even far enough along for a home pregnancy test to confirm it. Plus, Jarod told me he hasn't been with her since before Carthis. That was months ago."

"That's what he *said*," Broots says, shaking his head.

"And that's what I believe," she tells him, gathering the different parts of the file and putting it back together. She shoves the entire thing into his hands and pushes him towards the door.

"What are you doing?" he asks her, confused by her actions.

"Listen, what you or I believe is pointless. This whole thing is, really. What matters is that Jarod is in danger. Lyle is confident he'll be able to get to him tonight. And if I don't get there first, it'll be too late."

"Are you sure, Miss Parker?" he asks, watching her check her weapon to make sure it's loaded.

"I have to do this, Broots," she says. I'm the only one who can."

"Be careful then," he sighs, knowing that he won't be able to change her mind.

"I will," she smiles. "Thanks Broots. For everything. You've been a great friend."

Before he can respond, she closes the door in his face, leaving him on the porch to wonder about her good-bye. It sounded so . . . final. It leaves him with the feeling that he's never going to see her again. He shakes off the thought and heads towards his car.

She watches from the window until he pulls off down the street. When she knows he's gone, she takes her bag from the closet and goes out to her own car. Taking a deep breath, she gathers the courage to do what she knows she has to do. She has to rescue Jarod. And face her brother in what she hopes to be one last battle against the Centre.

****************************

Lyle pulls up to a small house. It's a normal looking house in a normal looking neighborhood. He can imagine what went through Jarod's head when he picked out this house. Certainly nothing Lyle has planned for him tonight. He suppresses a victorious grin as the woman next to him lets out a sigh.

"I guess this is it," she says, looking at the house and biting her lip nervously. "Lyle, do you really think . . . "

"ZoŽ, this is the only way," he tells her, grabbing her hand for effect. "It's the only way we'll be free to be together. You know that. We have to get Jarod and my sister out of the way."

He places a kiss on the hand he's holding and hears her let out a contented sigh. It's amazing what a few words of love mixed in with a truth serum can do to a woman's mind, he thinks to himself, trying hard to hold in a hearty laugh.

When he got home from the Centre, ZoŽ had a little dinner planned for them, as a way to celebrate the two weeks they've been together. But Lyle suggested another way to celebrate. He convinced her to finally tell him where Jarod's been hiding. And he convinced her that now is the time to put their plan in action. He was determined to get the information out of her one way or another. But luckily she gave in. He didn't even have to use his secret weapon.

ZoŽ doesn't know yet that she's pregnant. That'll remain his secret for now. It'll come in handy if things get . . . complicated in the house with Jarod. Whether the baby is his or Jarod's, he doesn't care. It'll only end up spending it's life in the Centre anyway. But, he'll use its existence to get the upper hand on Jarod if necessary.

"Are you ready to do this?" he asks her.

"I think so," she frowns. "Can you explain the plan to me once more? I'm a little nervous. I don't want to mess anything up."

"Don't you worry about that, my love," he says, remembering that she love the pet names. "You won't mess anything up, I promise. If anything, you're the reason I know we're going to succeed."

"Oh, Lyle," she gasps. "You're so sweet. I can't believe I wasted so much of my time on someone like Jarod. I have a feeling that after tonight, my life won't be the same."

"It won't, ZoŽ," he says hiding a smile. "That I can guarantee. Now go ahead. I'll be right behind you."

She gets out the car and walks toward the front door of the house. He reaches into the glove compartment and pulls out a gun. He's not leaving the house without Jarod. He'll do whatever it takes.

He gets out the car and quickly catches up with ZoŽ as she reaches the front door. She knocks once before pushing the door open and stepping inside. Lyle peeks around the corner and sees the surprised look on Jarod's face when he sees her.

"ZoŽ. You're back," he says, still in shock she's there. "I wasn't sure I'd see you again."

"Well, I told you I'd be back. I'm actually surprised that you're still here. I'm surprised you didn't go running straight to her."

"ZoŽ, I'm so sorry," he starts to apologize.

"Save it, Jarod," she says, interrupting him. "You hurt me. And sorry isn't going to fix it for me. There's only one thing that will."

"What's that?"

She says nothing, letting only a sly little grin play on her lips. The look in her eyes scare him more than anything else ever has in his life.


Chapter 7

Jarod takes a deep breath before taking a step towards ZoŽ, arms held out to show he's not trying to harm her. But she doesn't back away from his advance. And the look in her eyes turn even colder, sending a visible shiver up his spine. She has something planned. And he can tell already he's not going to like it.

"ZoŽ. What's going on here? What are you going to do to me?"

"Me? I'm not going to do anything to you," she says. "But, I'm afraid I can't say the same thing about my new friend."

All the breath leaves him as the last person he expected to see comes walking in the door. He stands in shock, not even able to SIM a possible way out of there. There *is* no way out of this.

"Not exactly the welcome I was expecting from the great pretender," Lyle says, a smirk on his face. "But under the circumstances, I guess I can understand."

"L-l-lyle," Jarod manages to stutter, his heart racing madly in his chest. "What are you . . . "

"Doing here? I think you can figure that out, Genius," Lyle says with a laugh.

"ZoŽ. Why are you doing this? After all I've told you and after what you went through when Lyle kidnapped you. How could you work with him?"

"Don't play innocent with me, Jarod," she says coldly. "I know who you really are and I think I'm doing the world a favor by sending you back to that place. You're sick, Jarod. Just go back and let them help you."

"I'm what?" he asks, the confusion evident on his face. "Lyle, what have you been saying to her?"

"Just stop this, Jarod," she yells. "You've been caught. And you're going back. Deal with it. You wanted your precious Miss Parker. Well, you'll get to see plenty of her at the Centre."

"ZoŽ, don't do this," Jarod pleads. "You don't know who you're dealing with."

"That's where you're wrong, Jarod. I know exactly who I'm dealing with. Lyle and I care for each other. He was there for me after you so unceremoniously dumped me for that evil witch of a woman."

"You think he cares about you, but he doesn't, ZoŽ. Lyle doesn't care about anyone but himself." Jarod takes one last step until he's right next to ZoŽ. He grabs her and pulls her in front of him, using her as a shield.

"Let go of me," she yells, struggling against him. Jarod starts to pull her towards the back of the house, where she knows he'll be able to escape. "Lyle, help me."

"Stop right there, Jarod," Lyle says, bringing the gun out of his jacket pocket. "Don't make me use this. You know I will."

"Where did you get that thing, Lyle?" ZoŽ asks in a panic. "I don't want him killed. No one's supposed to get hurt."

"That's not for me, ZoŽ," Jarod says, trying to weigh his options. With ZoŽ as a shield, he's sure he'll be able to make it out alive. But not without running the risk of ZoŽ getting hurt. And even though she brought Lyle to him, he doesn't think she truly realized the consequences of her actions. She doesn't deserve to be sacrificed for his own safety. But maybe Lyle won't hurt her. He moves closer to the back door to test that theory.

"Take another step and I shoot her," Lyle warns.

"Lyle!" ZoŽ shrieks. "What are you doing? This isn't part of the plan."

"The plan?" Lyle laughs. "You don't know anything about the plan. All I wanted all along was Jarod."

"You were just using me?" she cries, confused at what's going on. "I thought we meant something to each other."

"Boy, Jarod. You sure know how to pick them," he laughs. "She was good in bed, but not much going on in the brain area."

"You're right," Jarod shrugs, shocking both Lyle and ZoŽ with his attitude. But really he's stalling for time, trying to figure out a way out of this mess. "So why should I care whether or not you kill her?"

"You talk a good game, Jarod. But I know you. You won't be able to let an innocent life die in exchange for your freedom."

"Innocent?" Jarod laughs. "I think we both know ZoŽ's *far* from innocent. So kill her. Don't kill her. I'm going to get away in either case."

"Go ahead," Lyle shrugs, pointing the gun to ZoŽ stomach. "But only if you're sure ZoŽ is the innocent life I was referring to. She's pregnant, Jarod. She's going to have your child. Is that a life you're willing to risk?"

Jarod looks Lyle in the eye to try to see if he's telling the truth. But in his heart, Jarod knows that, truth or not, the life of an unborn child is far to precious to even think about risking. Assuming she is pregnant, a quick calculation lets Jarod know the baby couldn't be his like Lyle wants him to believe. But still, a baby is a baby. Not a bargaining chip.

"You're crazy, Lyle. I'm not . . ." ZoŽ starts.

"Oh, but you are," he interrupts her. "I got the test results today."

"I guess congratulations are in order, you two," Jarod says. "Because ZoŽ will tell you that there's no way that baby is mine."

"He's right, Lyle," she confirms. "This baby is yours. It's ours. Doesn't that mean anything to you? Don't you even care?"

"You would think that I would, but I don't," he shrugs. "It was my way to get to Jarod. You brought me here. And he stayed because of it. Now that I have him, I think you've both served your purposes."

Lyle lifts the gun and shoots.

"ZoŽ! No!" Jarod yells. On instinct, he grabs ZoŽ, spins around and places his body in the line of fire instead. He cries out as the bullet pierces the muscular flesh on his thigh, sending a throbbing burn all throughout his body. He falls to the ground, pulling a shocked ZoŽ with him just as the sound of splitting wood reaches his ears.

"Step away from him," Miss Parker yells, holding her gun in her steady hands. The door she kicked in hangs precariously by one hinge and swings with the slight night breeze blowing. "Now Lyle! I'm warning you."

"Sorry, Sis. I win. I got to him first."

"Lyle," she warns again. "Don't do this. Put the gun down and step away from him. You shoot him, then I shoot you."

"You're bluffing," he smirks, grinning at her with a smile he knows resembles their mothers. He can see when it throws her off guard. "You won't shoot me. You can see too much of our mother in me. So say good-bye to your boyfriend."

He lifts the gun to shoot again. Jarod closes his eyes, not wishing to see where his death shot will hit. A shot is fired. A voice screams. Then all is silent. He opens his eyes and sees an unconscious ZoŽ still tucked under him. He looks around in confusion and sees a bloody Lyle to his left. He looks up and sees a shaky Miss Parker running towards him, her own smoking gun landing with a thud on the floor.

"Are you okay? Is she okay?" Miss Parker asks, nodding her head towards the limp woman in his arms. A quick check of her pulse tells him that she's fine.

"I think she just passed out from all the excitement," he groans, feeling a sharp pain shoot up his thigh. "What about Lyle? Is he dead?"

"I don't know. I don't care. All I could think about was getting to you," she says, unexpected tears filling her eyes as she finally has a chance to actually think about what just happened. "I heard the gunshot from outside, Jarod. But when I came in and saw all that blood all over you, I almost lost it. I thought he had killed you."

"Hey, it's okay. I'm going to be fine. Trust me," he says, pulling her into a hug to comfort her. "We're going to be fine."

"We are, aren't we?" she smiles, wiping away her tears. "But we have to get out of here first. I'm sure your neighbors will be reporting all this gunfire and the cops will probably be here soon. Can you move?"

"I'll need some help," he nods, holding his breath as another wave of pain strikes. She pulls ZoŽ out of the way and then kneels next to Jarod, letting him use her as a crutch to stand.

"Just lean on me, Jarod," she says, wrapping her arm around his waist. "I won't let you fall."

"You never have, Parker," he smiles.

"And I never will."

He stops in his tracks and turns to face her, surprising her suddenly.

"Are you okay?" she asks.

"I'm better than okay, thanks to you," he says, leaning his forehead against hers. "I'm stopping because there's something that I've been waiting a long time to do. And I don't want another minute to go by before I do it."

"Oh yeah?" she smiles. "And what's that?"

"This," he whispers as his mouth covers her own. He softly rubs his lips against hers for a few glorious moments before pressing more firmly against her. With a groan, she opens her mouth to him, gladly letting him inside. She lets out another moan when he pulls away too soon for her liking.

"That was a long time coming," he gasps, desperately trying to catch his breath. "I've been dreaming of doing that ever since you first kissed me all those years ago."

"Well then, don't let a little thing like consciousness stop you," she grins as she reaches for another kiss. He allows one more quick one before pulling away again.

"Didn't you mention something about us getting out of here?" he says, resisting the urge to nibble on her pouting lips. "Let's go. Start our new life."

He puts his arm around her again and she helps him limp to his car. She smiles when she sees his bags already in the trunk. Great minds must think alike. She runs to her car to get her own bag and tosses it next to his before jumping in the driver's seat.

"Where are we headed?" she asks him. But when she looks over, she sees that he's already drifted off to sleep. She kisses him on his cheek and starts the car. Whatever he has planned for them can wait a few more days. What matters now is that they're together. And without the Centre between them, that's how they're going to stay.


Epilogue

She takes a deep breath, the pain almost too much for her to bear. She wishes now she had listened to the doctors and decided on the epidural.

"One more push," she hears. "One more push and the second one will be here."

"How's . . . how's my son?" she manages to gasp out.

"He's doing great. Six pounds, four ounces. And anxious to meet his little brother or sister." the doctor says cheerfully.

She feels a pulsing pressure and just when she thinks she'll explode, it's all over. The doctor hands a small wriggling mass to one nurse as another finally gives her the pain killers she's been begging for. Before she can even blink, a heaviness settles over her, dragging her deeper and deeper into a pain free oblivion. With one last thought, she realizes she never even got to see her child.

****************************

The doctor approaches carefully, having heard the rumors about these men. He clears his throat hoping to get their attention, too afraid at the moment to speak their names.

"The other baby?" the younger man asks.

"A girl," he manages to creak out. "Seven pounds. Very healthy. Very beautiful. Congratulations, Sir."

The man turns and the doctor is shocked at the lack of joy in his eyes over the news.

"Get rid of her," he says before turning to walk away.

"But . . ." The doctor stops cold, realizing that if he didn't comply, he might meet the same fate as his newest patient. He simply nods and walks away.

"Son, are you sure?" the older man asks.

"From birth my sister stole my life from me. My son won't have to worry about that. And when the time is right, he will take his rightful position as the leader of this place."

"What are you going to tell your wife?"

"The same thing you told my mother," Lyle sneers at Raines. "That the child died. ZoŽ won't ever know any different." He gives the old man a chilling smile before walking away. The future of the Centre belongs to him now.

****************************

The doctor drags himself reluctantly into the nursery. He stops and checks on the baby boy. Lyle Junior he assumes. He has the same blue eyes that all newborn babies have, but looks a lot like his mother with a reddish fuzz growing on the top of his head. He turns sadly to the little girl's bassinet, knowing her fate. With shock, he sees that her bassinet is empty.

"Nurse," he calls out nervously, his shaking hands running through his thinning hair. "The other twin. Where is she?"

"The priest came to pick her up. He said her adoption has already been arranged."

"Adoption?" the doctor asks in confusion. He was pretty sure that when Mr. Lyle told him to get rid of the girl, he didn't mean to give her away. But, the girl is gone, regardless. Hopefully Lyle won't ever know any different. With a clear conscious he leaves the nursery, grateful that the little girl will have a future after all.

****************************

Morning comes far too soon for Jarod. He and Miss Parker spent the previous night celebrating yet another month of freedom. And another month of their six month old marriage. He wants to roll over and snuggle in his wife's arms, but the constant ringing of the door bell compels him to leave the warmth of his bed.

"Coming," he growls, throwing a t-shirt on over his bare chest. He rubs his eyes sleepily and stumbles to the front door, shocked to see an old friend standing there.

"Who's here at this time of morning?" he hears her yawn from behind him. He doesn't answer her. Just opens to door.

"Father Moore?" she asks when she sees the guest gracing her front step. "What are you . . ." She pauses when she sees the unusual gift he's bearing.

"Come in," Jarod offers, shaking himself from his own stupor. "We're a bit surprised to see you, Father. How did you know where to find us?"

"Our mutual friend at the Centre," Father Moore says with a cryptic smile. "He told me you were out of the pretending business. But we both thought you'd change your mind and help one last person."

As if on cue, the bundle in the father's arms starts to cry, letting the room know of her presence. Father Moore places her in Miss Parker's arms. She's too shocked to do anything but accept the child.

"I don't understand," she says, looking to Jarod. "Who is she?"

"She is your niece," the priest explains. "Rescued from the Centre by our friend after Lyle ordered her death. Her twin brother remains with his parents."

"What?" she gasps. "Why? Why kill her?"

"Because it's essentially what happened to him," Jarod guesses. "When you two were born, he was sent away, his birth right stolen from him. My guess is that he's feeling some sick, twisted sense of revenge by ordering this child's death, assuring his son's future at the Centre. The vicious cycle is starting over again, Lyle taking over where Mr. Parker left off."

"Unless you two stop him. You can break the cycle," the priest says with a smile, watching the two of them cuddle the baby. "You have the future in your hands. What you do with it, is up to you."

"Us?" Jarod asks, understanding suddenly dawning on him. "You're giving her to us?"

He looks over at Miss Parker and can see the confusion clouding her eyes. But looking deeper, he sees a look of love that he's never seen before. And without even asking, he knows what decision they have to make. They can't go back and change the past. But now, thanks to Father Moore, they have the means to guarantee a brighter future.

The end.









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