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Note: This is the last of a series. Read 'The Not so Wonderful Life''mu inka descarga gratis, 'A Special Valentine' and 'Afterglow' first!

Part 1
by N.R. Levy

Sydney remembered being fascinated by a story he’d seen a few years ago about the wildfires that had devastated Southern California. It amazed him that once lush and vibrant land could be turned into little more than black, scalded earth.

That was what life had become for he and Parker and for all of those who loved Jarod the moment the reality of the pretender’s death had set in. Every day seemed to resemble a ravaged and devastated landscape left to try and find some small trace of life with which to rebuild. Since his phone had rang and he’d heard the voice of a man named Bailey Malone telling him to come to the cabin right away, nothing in the world seemed as horrible to Sydney as the grief that weighed down on them like leaden stone.

By the time he’d reached the cabin, the place where his brother had died just two years earlier, Malone and his colleague, a woman named Rachel Burke, had managed to coax Parker outside. She sat on the steps, a blanket wrapped around her as police officers and FBI Agents moved in and out of the cabin. He saw a body bag being carried out by two paramedics, and his heart seized thinking it was Jarod. It was only as he stepped inside that he realized his mistake. Jarod still lay there on the ground, his body covered so that the terrible, bleeding wounds that had taken his life went unseen.

Sydney was not sure how long he stood there, but he suddenly realized that he had been left alone in the room. Alone – already the reality had begun to sink in. Jarod was not here anymore despite the 6’3” form lying on the floor. He did not move the blanket from Jarod’s face.

Somehow, Sydney knew he wanted to remember those eyes wide with curiosity and anger and wonder and amusement. He did not want to see them closed and lifeless. Instead he reached under and took one hand in his and moved it to his chest, pressing it close over where his heart beat.

“I promise, Jarod, I promise you that I will make sure she’s all right.”

He replaced Jarod’s hand under the blanket and stood. After a moment, Sydney headed out to the front porch. He was shocked to see that Malone

and Burke were the only two law enforcement officers still there. The two of them were standing to near the front porch steps. Parker had discarded the blanket she’d been wrapped in earlier and now stood at the far end of the porch facing the lake. Sydney chose to step toward the two FBI agents to find out what would happen next.

“I’m very sorry, Dr. Green.” Sydney looked at Bailey Malone’s face, surprised that such a gruff looking man had such a gentle voice.

“Thank you.”

“Miss Parker has asked that she be allowed to take Jarod’s body. Since he doesn’t officially exist in any database anywhere, I didn’t think that was a problem. Our report will simply say that I tracked Lyle down here after his escape and my attempt to arrest him ended in his death.”

Sydney, noting the continuing silence of Rachel Burke, simply nodded. The female agent turned to glance in Parker’s direction. Then Burke suddenly bolted from the porch, racing toward the black Suburban that sat parked beside the cabin. Malone tipped his hat to Sydney, and then turned and headed toward his partner. It was clear to both men that there was nothing more to be said.

In moments, the black Suburban was heading down the driveway to make its long journey to the airport, and Sydney was left to try and help the wounded and fragile woman who stood across from him. How, he wondered, now that the words had been spoken, would he keep his promise to Jarod?

With those thoughts on his mind, he was surprised to look up and see that Parker had walked over to him. He searched her eyes and saw that she had pulled something akin to a steel mask around herself. Steel was perhaps all that would protect her. Certainly even the strongest curtain of ice would have melted and left the famous Ice Queen drowning in her pain. Sydney could see in those eyes that she had a plan, and he knew he would follow it wherever it led.

It led back to the Centre. He had carried Jarod’s body out of the cabin and placed in the backseat of the car Parker and Jarod had driven here so recently. Then he had taken the wheel and driven silently back to Blue Cove as Parker stared out the window, lost in a place that he darednot disturb. She did not speak until they arrived at the Centre.

“Stop in front of the building.”

He glanced over at her, uncertain she meant what she was saying, but that one glance told him that there was no doubt she meant him to do exactly what she had instructed him to do. So Sydney stopped the car and waited to see what she would do next.

“Let me see your phone, Sydney.”

Sydney nodded and handed her the phone. She dialed a number into the pad quickly and waited just a moment before speaking.

“Come outside. The front lot. Come now.”

With that, she disconnected the line and then handed the phone back to Sydney. He watched, fascinated, as she climbed from the car, seemingly unaware that her designer clothes were now covered with the blood of the man she loved. He had never seen Parker so cool or composed, and it terrified him to see her this way now.

As he thought about his feelings, the front doors of the Centre opened, and Mr. Parker walked out, flanked by Raines and a crew of sweepers. Sydney noticed that Sam was among them, which surprised him a bit. Since when did Sam do anything for Mr. Parker?

“Angel, what is it?” The chairman spoke, his eyes not registering his daughter’s appearance for several moments. Once he did, once he saw the blood all over her, his brow furrowed and he narrowed his gaze. “What’s happened?”

Parker walked around to the driver’s side of the car then, and she opened the back door. Without looking down, she reached out and grabbed the blanket that covered Jarod, throwing it back. She then watched with no emotion as looks ranging from shock to disbelief crossed the faces of everyone who had joined them from the Centre. The chairman stepped closer, looking at the body and then up at his daughter.

“You – you killed him?”

“No, your son did. And Jarod killed him. If you want his body, you’ll have to call the FBI.”

“Lyle did this?”

“Don’t act so surprised, Daddy. And don’t act so disappointed. Dead or alive, isn’t that what you said?”

Mr. Parker took a step back from his daughter as her bitter words radiated out at him. She was not yelling, her voice still even and unemotional, yet somehow that seemed worse than when had she railed at him like a shrieking harpy.

“Angel, I... You’ve done your job. You brought him back. Let the sweepers take him inside and –“

That was when Sydney figured out why Sam was there. At some point during the last few hours, perhaps when he’d been in the cabin saying his goodbye to Jarod, Parker had called her trusted sweeper. Sydney knew this because the moment her father mentioned taking Jarod’s body, Sam moved to stand between his fellow sweepers and the car in which the fallen pretender lay.

“No, Daddy.” Miss Parker took a step closer to her father as she spoke. “You will not take Jarod anywhere. He’s dead, end of story.”

“We have to do tests, Angel, make certain that –“

“You will do nothing more to him, do you understand me? You and your son and this monstrosity have done enough to him. You will not get the chance to defile his body, too. I brought him here so you could see with your own eyes that your pretender was gone. Now that you have, I’m taking him.”

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