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Chapter or Story Chapter or Story
by Victoria Rivers ©1997
I am standing up at the water's edge in my dream
I cannot make a single sound as you scream
It can't be the cold, the ground is still warm to touch
Hey, we touch
This place is so quiet
Sensing that storm
Red rain is coming down
Red rain is pouring down
Pouring down all over me...*
Jarod dreamed he was flying a small plane above the clouds, the controls at his fingertips. He was heading into a storm, knowing he shouldn't attempt such a dangerous course, but unable to turn away. Something drew him in, and suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the nose of the Cessna, frying it and any hope he might have had of making it through. The plane started a nosedive, and Jarod unstrapped himself, looking around in the back of the craft for a parachute, only the interior of the cabin was completely empty. He stood at the door, wind whipping his face and body, reminding him that Death was waiting at the end of the fall, and he started to turn back to the controls to see if he could force the plane to level out enough to glide down. He didn't want to die.
"Jump!" called a voice from inside his head. "I'll catch you."
He couldn't see anyone, and the plane would not straighten up. The voice urged him out again, and he began to be afraid.
"Who are you? Where are you?" he demanded, fighting the flap controls as he glanced out all the rain-spattered windows in the cockpit for the source of the sound.
"Nathan sent me to look after you," the voice returned. "You must get out now, or you'll be lost."
This is a dream, Jarod told himself. It isn't real. I can do this. I can fly if I want, in my dreams. He lurched against the downward pull toward the door and flung himself out into the sky, arms spread, waiting for the promise to be fulfilled.
An enormous raven swooped down and caught him in its claws, extending its massive wingspan to brake their hasty descent, and a few powerful flaps brought them upward again. The great bird began to glide downward in lazy circles, and far below them Jarod could see the plane crash into the low hills and incinerate in a ball of orange flame. The flight down was soothing, relaxing, and when the bird set him on his feet, he felt almost giddy with delight.
Fascinated, he watched the creature come toward him and shrink in size, until it was just a little smaller than Jarod himself.
"Who are you?" he repeated, studying the bird, trying to see what lay beneath the darkly iridescent feathers.
"A friend," the raven answered. "Nathan has been worried about you and asked me to find you, bring you home."
"I'm fine," Jarod said quickly. "I have some business to take care of here before I go home. Someone needs my help."
The raven cocked its head, its old-man's voice congested with humor. "Always so sure of yourself, aren't you?" Raven observed. "You have much to learn, Many Faces."
"I learn new things all the time," Jarod announced proudly. "I missed a lot, growing up where I did."
Raven shook its head. "The things you need most to learn are the lessons you had with you every day," it said cryptically. "Look around you. What do you see?"
"Nothing," Jarod answered after a quick scan of the barren horizon.
"This is the landscape of your soul, Jarod," Raven told him. "This is where you must begin."
Jarod sat bolt upright in the bed, sweat running in rivulets down his forehead and into his eyes. He blinked to get his bearings, and in the blue glow from the sign on the flophouse across the street he managed to remember who he was supposed to be. He had not planned to halt his homeward journey, but Fate stepped in and detoured him in Denver. Now he was immersed in something he couldn't let go, and his personal life would just have to wait.
He checked his watch for the time and got up, wolfed a quick breakfast and sat down at his computer to check his e-mail. He worked a little on his latest project until he knew Faith would have risen for the day, and then called her. The tone of her latest response to his daily posts was distracted and uneasy, and he needed to talk to her to reassure her that he would be returning as soon as he could.
"Hi," he said softly into the phone, stretching out on the sofa in his seedy apartment. He visualized Athena's lovely face as he heard her reply, then corrected and summoned up an image of Faith instead. She didn't know yet, and he had promised himself to wait and break the news to her gently, and in person, that he knew who she was, that he was the father of her infant sons. "How are the twins?"
"They're fine," Faith replied casually. "And Dr. Michael Ndele says to tell you hello. He just arrived at the Foundation yesterday. Said you were old friends, and that you had directed him to the job here."
Jarod smiled, remembering how Dr. Ndele had helped him rescue Athena from the Centre a year earlier. But he and Faith were strangers to each other due to her memory loss after the auto accident that had nearly killed her and taken her identity from her. Only Jarod held the key to her past, and he could hardly wait to tell her.
"Tell him I'm glad he decided to contact me," Jarod replied warmly. "The Foundation needs a good doctor, and he'll be safe there."
"I understand his specialty is gynecology and obstetrics," Faith told him. "He said he was going to have to brush up on general medicine. Which reminds me. Grace told me you had been sick."
He thought he detected a disgruntled note in her voice. "Are you unhappy with me because I didn't tell you myself?" he asked. "I didn't want you to worry."
"If you didn't want me to worry, then why did you just disappear like you did?" she snapped back. "Grace told me you had gotten some upsetting news, and you just bolted. What am I supposed to think? I believed something was happening between us, and you just up and ran away."
Jarod frowned. This wasn't what he expected at all. "I left you a note," he countered lamely.
"You could have talked to me, told me about your problem. Maybe I could have helped you with it." The anger in her voice was undisguised now, but the hurt was less easy to hear.
"Yes," he agreed. "I could have. But I didn't. I reacted in the only way I know how. I'm... I'm new to this, Faith. I don't really know how to handle relationships. I'm used to depending on myself, keeping it all inside, figuring things out alone. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
Silence echoed on the other end of the telephone in his hand.
"Please help me, Faith," he said softly. "I don't want to screw this up between us."
She sighed. "Then come home and work on it with me."
"I can't just yet. I'm trying to help someone here. As soon as I get done, I'll be on my way home."
"And how long will that take?" she demanded with a touch of bitterness.
"Another week, maybe two. I'm not sure exactly." He gripped the phone hard, wanting desperately to enlighten her, to explain what he was doing, and why. But he couldn't. He knew she wouldn't understand.
After a long pause, she said flatly, "Then I'll see you when you get here." And hung up the phone.
Part of him wanted to get up, grab his Halliburton and leave right then, but the memory of the simulation he had done as a little boy, trying to save a man trapped in a mine, floated back to the surface. He couldn't save everybody, Sydney had tried to tell him. But he still tried. He would stay, just a little longer.
"She practically gave us an engraved invitation, Daddy," Miss Parker reiterated to the big man behind the desk. "Said we were welcome anytime.
And if I know Jarod, that's where he'll go to lick his wounds, DSAs and all."
Mr. Parker frowned, his eyes shifting from his late wife's photograph on his desktop to his daughter. "I absolutely forbid it. We'll get one of the other operatives to go there, send in a team if we have to," he shot back. "But I don't want you around Grace St. James."
The daughter leveled an accusing gaze at her father. "I thought you wanted me to catch Jarod? Raines wanted to know if the Parker killer instinct was true, didn't he? Why the sudden yellow streak? Don't you think I can handle it? I want to bring him back here more than you can possibly know."
Her last sentence was a smoky growl laden with animosity, and Mr. Parker did not miss the glittering hatred in her glare. He smiled secretly, proudly to himself, and gave her a little nod. "All right then. Sydney's tied up in another project at the moment, but as soon as he can turn loose of it, I'll send him along as well. He might be of use in gaining some extra... cooperation on Grace's part."
Miss Parker stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray on the corner of the big desk. Without meeting his eyes, she observed smoothly, "You speak as if you know her, Daddy."
Mr. Parker said nothing, glancing guiltily at Catherine's photograph again. "Just limit how much time you spend with her," he ordered curtly. "Concentrate on finding those DSAs first, and then we'll find a way to get Jarod away from her. I can't risk pitting her supporters against ours. She has her claws far too deeply into them, and they'll fight harder for her than the Centre's will for us. We can't force things to a showdown. We have to be careful how we tread when it comes to the Foundation."
The young woman smiled warmly, but frost glittered in her eyes as she leaned down to kiss his cheek. "I'll be careful, Daddy," she promised, and turned on her heel to leave his office, wondering if that had really been fear in his eyes or just a trick of the light. The father who had raised her was afraid of nothing, of no one, and for him to show even the slightest concern regarding her trip to the Foundation meant that there was another secret he wasn't telling her. And while she was there, she intended to do some digging to find out just what it was.
Online Host: * * * * * > You are in Mekkanix < * * * *
NUMAQUAD: Did I come to the right place? Deadmime gave me the info.
Angel734: Righteeo, mate. What's the problem you want fixed? Be discreet!
NUMAQUAD: Got a leak in the pipes. It could prove costly, but I'm willing to pay to have it plugged.
Angel734: I'm guessing you've hired plumbers before ;-) You're good at this. Doing it all just right.
NUMAQUAD: No comment.
Angel734: 'Nuf said. I'll need a name and address. Price varies with the difficulty of repair. Estimates cost a flat fee of $50. You know the math, right?
NUMAQUAD: Right. There's a problem, though. It's in a mobile home and the house is on the road. I'm not sure exactly where it is. But as soon as it gets to a rest stop, I'd like you to fix it.
Angel734: This one could get pricey. I'll e you with an account # for direct deposit. We're starting at $100 since I'm going to be hunting the project.
NUMAQUAD: Not a problem. Whatever it takes, Angel.
Angel734: I'll expect a post with the name and address after exiting. Here's a virtual handshake on the contract [hs]
NUMAQUAD: Agreed. Info on the way. Signing off.
Angel734 watched the NUMAQUAD screen name disappear, and waited for the new mail notice to appear before reading the post.
STEVEN CHAMBERLAIN, 6224 Tuesday St, Houston TX
There was also a link to a website and a password that allowed Angel to sneak into the personnel files of a major international company, where the employment record of Steven Chamberlain, complete with color photograph, stared back from the computer screen. That information led to credit records, which revealed buying habits and personal tastes, and by the time Angel was finished studying the subject, a clear picture of Chamberlain had begun to form. Soon enough he would track down the whereabouts of the man he had just been hired to find, and once found, Steven Chamberlain would be defenseless when Angel chose the proper time and place to kill him.
The Justice Department was a tough nut to crack, but Angel finally hacked a way in. Records were difficult to decipher, but there weren't that many places to look, and after a week's searching, the answer was a surprise. Steven Chamberlain had performed his function for the government, and in return he was getting a new life. That would entail being trained in a new career, learning how not to give himself away by falling into old buying habits, developing new tastes and a new lifestyle. Doing all of that would take time, someone familiar with the process as a teacher, and the Justice Department had few resources for that.
Angel laughed when the resource location was finally revealed. It was amazing how the universe worked, the assassin marveled privately. The one place Angel wanted least to visit was the current location of the target. It would be a homecoming of sorts for Angel, and there would be those who not welcome this particular traveler home, but at the St. James Stewardship Foundation it would be possible to blend in and become completely invisible overnight. That was always a boon for a hired killer, and in this case it was a stroke of incredible luck. There were a few old scores to settle as well, and when Angel returned home, those could be taken care of at the same time... with the added bonus of a paycheck when the slate was finally wiped clean.
Angel was going home, and the first thing to do was sit down and make out the list of names for the assassin's personal vendetta.
There is no blood announcing your silent pain
Hey, no pain
Seeing no red at all, see no rain
Red rain is coming down
Weariness clawed at Jarod's senses, making the car drift all over the road, and he knew he would have to rest before completing the trip to Arizona. He stopped at the next motel just as the sun was setting, climbed into bed and slept. He dreamed of demons again, and this time he was tempted to let go and let them take him, rather than continuing the everlasting struggle to stay out of their grasp. Only the horrible creatures scattered before the onslaught of a great furry dragon that towered above him, its tiny rounded ears pitched forward in an expression of astonished surprise. It was cute for all its size and ferocity, looking for all the world like a gigantic weasel with murderously sharp teeth that could tear man or demon to bits in mere seconds.
The creature chuckled and butted against Jarod's dream-body with its huge head. Instantly Jarod knew his savior was the same old man who had been the raven once before in his dreams, and when he spoke the voice was deep and velvet, the consonants soft-edged, as though a great many teeth were missing. There was a quiet richness and strength to it that did not demand attention, but got it anyway.
"You are most vulnerable here in your dreams," the Being said. "I walk with you now, waiting for the demons to strike when you aren't able to fight them. You should rest, Many Faces. You should come home. There are other things more important for you to do just now."
"This is just a dream," Jarod argued gently. "Nothing in it can hurt me."
The being shook his head sadly. "You have been dreaming all your life, Many Faces. Time to wake up."
He opened his eyes and wondered what the dream meant, then pushed his tired body out of bed and decided to continue the trip home. Checking his watch, he saw that he had slept a good four hours, more than he was accustomed to getting at one time, and decided it would be enough to get him the rest of the way there.
April Fool's Day dawned gray with the promise of rain as Jarod pulled into the gates of Galleons Lap. After parking the car in the distant garage, he walked briskly across the landscaped campus toward the main house, morning sunlight gleaming dully on the silver case in his hand. He went straight up to his room and laid the Halliburton on his neatly made bed, draped his coat across it, and went to the Nursery to see his sons.
They weren't there. One of the nursery workers told him that Faith had started taking them with her to early morning dance practice, since so few people populated the dance room at that hour. Jarod jogged to the Arts Building and hurried toward the practice hall, an eager smile plastered on his face.
Faith stood in front of a wall of mirrors by the ballet barre, holding one of the twins in her arms and smiling down into the baby's eyes. She was rocking him gently, swaying softly while she cooed at him. And when she looked up from her baby's face, she smiled into the eyes of a slight blond man holding the other baby close to his chest, chuckling and talking softly to Faith for a moment before leaning across the precious bundles in their arms to steal a kiss from her lips.
She did not resist. She did not back away. She accepted the kiss with a trace of hesitant fondness, and the man smiled down into her eyes with obvious desire.
Jarod turned and walked away without either of them noticing that he had even been there.
He saw the redhead in the gymnasium, and smiled darkly to himself as he watched her dispatch the Foundation's fencing instructor with practiced ease. Miss Parker's presence there was a surprise, but just then he was in need of some fierce combat, so Jarod put on a mask, gloves and chest protector, picked up an epee and strode over to offer her a challenge.
She recognized his voice and shape immediately, even though she couldn't see his face through the heavy wire mesh of the fencing mask. Whipping her blade through the air to make it scream, she nodded, her eyes gleaming. "Shall we make it interesting?" she taunted, giving her hair a coquettish toss over her shoulder. "Live blades, no masks. What do you say?"
The tall man paused a moment, then lifted the mask off his face and tossed it aside.
Miss Parker gasped when he turned to face her again, and she involuntarily stepped back in surprise.
There was a mole on his right cheek, just below his eye.
"Oh, my God," she breathed, trying desperately to regain her composure and not give away what she now knew for dead certain.
There were two of them. Jarod did indeed have a twin brother, and it had been Justin that the Centre had captured over a month earlier. It had been Justin that she had slept with, not Jarod. Everything the captive Pretender had told them had been true, only no one had believed him. She had to tell Sydney, and let him determine whether or not to tell Raines and her father.
"Excuse me," she said curtly, and tried to turn away.
"Not just yet," said Jarod, stepping into her path. "I want to pick a fight with someone, and you're the best candidate." He moved back into a challenging stance. "En garde!"
"Up yours!" Miss Parker snarled back, now fully recovered of her wits, and threw down her blade.
"Thirty seconds ago you were ready to slice my head off," he taunted her. "What's changed? Pick up your blade." He slashed at her, the guarded tip of his blade making a diagonal furrow across her padded chest protector.
She stumbled backward out of range, then darted to one side and snatched up the epee again. She wasn't ready to face him just yet. She didn't want him to see in her eyes that she was hiding something from him, and if she faced him directly she knew he would. "A woman has a right to change her mind, Jarod," she offered brusquely, and bent to pick up the mask he had discarded, eyeing him warily. She put it on before stepping into her ready stance and saluting him with her blade.
Jarod returned the salute and engaged the fight with a long thrust that emphasized his much longer reach. He drove her mercilessly backward, pursuing her all over the room, heedless of her attacks against him. She slashed at his arms and legs, wrapping her flexible blade around his body like a whip, but still he came on. When she got the upper hand he swept her feet out from under her, charging her when she was down, anxious to see the fear in her eyes, envisioning the panic in her face on the far side of the dense mesh mask. A gleam of mad pleasure burned brightly in his eyes as chased her with a flurry of strokes so strong he broke through her blocks, pushed past her parries, overpowering every defense she threw against him, until he forced her to her knees and readied himself to take the final stroke and finish her. His arm drew back, blade shining wickedly in the light from the overheads.
"Jarod!" she shrieked, holding up a hand to ward off the inevitable. Her sword arm was so weary she couldn't even lift it to defend herself anymore.
Her scream punctured the bubble of emotion that had blinded him, and he stepped away, panting hard, and saw her cowering against the wall, truly afraid of him for the first time. He glanced at the guarded tip of his blade and was thankful he had left it blunted, or she would have been cut to ribbons. He couldn't believe how close he had come to hurting her, and that scared him. He gave her a curt bow of approval for her expert performance, put away the equipment and returned to his room to hide the Halliburton from her, frightened by the depth of his rage, fury that he had almost taken out on someone who had nothing to do with the reason behind his anger. An apology was in order, and he hoped she would accept his proffered truce.
After a shower and shave, he went down to the kitchen and prepared a tea tray, asked one of the Navajo housekeeping staff for the proper room location, and carried the tray up to Miss Parker's room on the fourth floor penthouse. She came to the door in a Foundation robe, embroidered with the St. James crest on the right lapel, and hesitated before letting him in.
"What's this?" she demanded, glancing down at the tray in his hands, not sure if he wanted to poison her after beating her into the ground in the gym.
"A peace offering," Jarod answered contritely. "I understand you'll be staying a while, and thought we should try to make the best of the situation."
To her surprise, she swung the door open and gestured him inside. A wisecrack about handcuffs leaped to mind, but she had to bite it back, reminding herself that none of that had happened to this man. She closed the door quietly behind him and turned to watch him set the tray on a writing desk near the patio doors.
"You won't find the DSAs, you know," he mentioned as he poured two cups of steaming peppermint tea.
"Maybe that isn't what I came here for," Miss Parker returned. "Maybe I'm tired of the hunt. Maybe I just want some answers, and to be done with you."
He smiled to himself as he added just a hint of honey to both cups, and a squeeze of fresh lemon to hers. "You'll pardon me if I don't believe you," he confessed lightly. "You get off on the thrill of the chase, and the thought of bringing me back to Daddy is better than sex for you. I know you, Morgan. We're made from similar molds. The Centre did its job well."
A frown perched between her artificially darkened eyebrows for a moment. "What the hell's that supposed to mean? And nobody calls me that name. Not even in bed." She blushed, remembering that his twin had done exactly that.
His eyes were hot with righteous indignation as he handed her a cup, and his smile was fixed, mirthless. "We are what they made us. But we can choose to be who we were, underneath all the training. We just have to find out who those strangers used to be."
She stared at the cup in his hand as if it was the head of a cobra, hood spread and ready to strike. But something inside her made her reach out and take it, inhale the pleasant aroma and take a small sip. And it was good.
Someone who didn't know better had rudely interrupted her dreams.
Miss Parker flung back the sheets and slipped her nightgown on over her head, smoothing the peach-colored silk down over her hips as she stood. Instinct made her reach toward the nightstand for a cigarette, but she remembered she was hoarding the smokes since there was no way to replenish her supply while she was incarcerated at the Foundation. Further irritated, she finger-combed her hair back from her face, cursed silently because she had no makeup on to greet the moron who had roused her, and stomped toward the glass patio doors leading outside to the roof garden. She was alone in the penthouse, far from the other denizens of Galleons Lap at her own request, and that was how she wanted to keep it. Grace St. James promised her that she rarely quartered anyone there, and it would be her private sanctuary during her stay.
She slung the door open and stepped out into the gray dawn, barefoot to the morning, and scanned the garden for her new enemy.
On the eastern side of the spacious balcony, a broad-shouldered silhouette sat on a sleeping bag, guitar in his lap, quietly picking out Shawn Colvin's tune, Sunny Came Home. The lyrics fleeted through her mind briefly, and somehow the sentiment of an abused woman getting even for past wrongs and setting fire to the world pleased her, calmed her ire a fraction. But she still resented the early interruption of her sleep, and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Do you always serenade the dawn, or is this a special act of torture, just for me?" she demanded crossly.
The man turned around quickly, obviously surprised by her silent appearance.
He was gorgeous.
His close-cropped dark hair was brushed backward, a lock of premature silver streaking back from his forehead. Intense emerald eyes fixed on her, and once the shock of her presence was past, they began to smolder with unbridled passion. Deep dimples cleaved his cheeks, and perfect teeth shone out of a delirious smile, contrasting whitely against his deeply tanned skin.
"I must be dead or dreaming," he growled sensuously. "I got in late last night, and rather than roust somebody out of bed to get me a room, I thought I'd just camp out here on the roof and enjoy a lovely spring night. They don't usually bunk anybody up here, so I thought I was alone. Sorry for waking you. On second thought, no I'm not." He laid the guitar aside and stood up in a graceful, fluid movement. He wore nothing but a pair of black cotton boxers, his muscular chest covered with a thick mat of dark hair. Long, powerful legs carried him cautiously closer, and his smile faded away. "I'm yours to command, my goddess," he promised with a dramatic flourish.
She smirked, amused by his obvious desire and willing to admit that she was equally stimulated by his attractive maleness. He was an Adonis, and she was interested. Suddenly she was self-conscious about her lack of grooming, and wished she had been prepared. But he didn't seem to mind at all, from the way he was staring, and she could bluster her way through anything.
"Lose the guitar," she ordered. "At least until after morning coffee."
"If that's an invitation, I accept," he shot back warmly, and extended his right hand in greeting. "Call me Jay. Call me anything. Just call me."
Her smirk melted into a pleased grin, teeth and all. "Don't fall overboard," she cautioned him. "You might drown in all that bullshit."
When she released his hand he clutched at his chest and stumbled backward. "That's it. I'm dead. I've gone to heaven. Or maybe..." He grinned wickedly. "Or maybe you're the Devil."
She laughed huskily, and took a step closer, close enough to feel the heat radiating from all that beckoning bronze skin. "Welcome to Hell, handsome," she purred, her voice a silken whip, and stood on tiptoe for a kiss.
"Jesus, I'm so weak," said Justin Pierce as he sat down on a chair on the balcony outside his hostess's bedroom.
Gemini Rising smiled indulgently at him and smoothed a lock of raven hair back from her face as she eased past him, trailing her fingertips over his broad shoulders on the way to her own chair. A breakfast tray awaited them, filled with fresh fruit and sweet breads and muffins, a pot of aromatic coffee drawing his attention away from her for a moment.
"You're going to be weak for a while, love," she told him warmly. "You nearly died from a gunshot wound, remember? Healing takes time."
He took a long swallow of the strong black coffee, feeling it warm his throat all the way down. "I know," he returned with an unhappy grin. "I'm just being impatient. It's just that I'm in such a hurry to hook up with Jarod. I want to see him for myself." He turned his gaze out on the impossibly blue Bay of Biscay clearly visible on the early spring morning from Gemini's villa in the city of Getaria. They were in the heart of Basque country, an area overlapping the borders of Spain and France. The yacht ride over had been a long, gentle one, and she had not told him where they were headed. His lack of identification of any kind didn't seem to trouble her in the least, and when she brought him into Getaria to stay with her, no one seemed to take the slightest notice of either of them, except for the attentive, friendly staff.
Gemini picked up a blueberry muffin and tore a bite-sized bit from the moist crown, hesitating before she popped it into her mouth. "You see him when you look in the mirror now, don't you, Justin?" she asked tentatively.
Her perceptions of his emotions still astounded him. "Yes," he breathed tightly. "I want to tell him. I want to hear his voice on the phone. But it would just be so wrong to do that to him. He doesn't know. He should be able to touch me when he finds out. That will make it real for him." He paused and swallowed another small sip of coffee. "And for me, too."
"Do you want me to send the message yet?"
Justin shook his head. "I need to get my strength back. After we see Jarod, we'll need to take him home to our mom. Getting there is no easy task. I'll have to be in good shape first. How long do you think that'll be, doc?"
His eyes met hers at last, held for longer than he intended. He picked up an orange and rolled it across the table top between his hands idly.
She stood up and turned away from him, leaning on the marble wall embracing the balcony, trying to remain casual, detached, clinical. And hoping he didn't see how miserably she was failing. "It's been two weeks already and you're healing nicely. The infection's gone, but you've still got a lot of repair to accomplish. Another month, perhaps. You should be able to start doing some light exercise now, short walks and such, but your energy levels will still be low for another few weeks. Six weeks is the normal recovery time, so be patient, dear. You've waited 30 years. One more month should be a breeze."
"Not if The Centre catches up with him before then," Justin corrected bitterly. "Jesus. What they did to him."
"And to you." Gemini said it so softly he barely heard her. "I saw Jarod's simulation records, Justin. Most of them, anyway. You can ask me questions about him, if you like."
Silence stretched between them for a moment, and his first query took her off guard.
"How well did you get to know him, Gemini?" There was a distinct darkness in his tone that was unmistakable.
She took a deep breath and considered how best to phrase her answer. "I introduced myself by stealing his memories from him, Justin," she said slowly. "I was intrigued by his... circumstances, so I decided to investigate. I spent some time with him while preparing my introduction to the Centre. But I was never in love with him." She sighed deeply. "I've avoided the possibility of emotional entanglements all my life, even distancing myself from my parents as early as possible. I left home when I was 16."
His response was a deep growl. "Did you sleep with him?"
She turned around and looked at him, and felt the unpleasant sensation of tears welling up in her eyes. His displeasure spoke volumes, and she knew her honest answer would push him away from her. But she wouldn't lie to him. She loved him enough to give him the truth.
Her affirmative answer fell from her lips as she walked behind his chair, heading back into the bedroom so she wouldn't have to see his face once he knew. And he wouldn't be able to see hers.
He was standing before she could get past and caught her by the elbow, pulling her around to face him, but she wouldn't look up from his chest. He drew her close, held her against him by her upper arms.
"Do you think of him when you're with me?" he demanded softly.
She swallowed a lump forming in her throat and quelled her tears harshly. She would be strong and accept the fact that such feelings were impossible for her to keep. "I haven't been with you, Justin," she reminded him. "We've shared a few kisses here and there, but you haven't been well enough for anything more than that. Don't make this into something it can't be."
His hands slid up her arms, over her shoulders, cradling her face gently but firmly as he tilted her chin upward to draw her gaze to his. "You laid your life on the line for me, Gemini," he stated in a husky whisper. "I had to mean more to you than just another conquest. Isn't that right?"
"This is pointless," she snapped irritably. "I don't want to play this game."
"I just want to know that you aren't getting me confused with my twin," he breathed.
She felt herself falling, sagging weakly against him, and the strength faded from her voice. "Different as night and day," she sighed as his lips drifted nearer. "Jarod's a little boy, love. But you're all maaaan..."
Her last word was a groan of pleasure as her eyelids fluttered closed. He was coming down to kiss her, his thumb pads stroking across her lower lip sensuously.
"Oh, God," she squeaked as his right hand drifted down, pulling the lapel of her dressing gown off her shoulder and following it with his lips. There was no hesitation as he caught his first glimpse of her dragon tattoo, the reptilian head curling over her left shoulder, glaring up at him in defiance.
He chuckled softly as he descended on her bare breast, his hands pushing her red silk robe the rest of the way off, letting it pool around her bare ankles.
"Your dragon doesn't scare me, princess," he whispered against her throat as he moved upward again. "But as much as I'd love to, I can't pick you up and carry you to the bed. You're going to have to get there under your own power."
"Give me a minute," she breathed. "My knees don't work at the moment."
"Meet you there." He stepped away from her, pulling at the sash of his own robe as he headed for the unmade bed she had slept in the previous night. He dropped it unconcernedly on the floor halfway there, pushed the covers back and reclined slowly on his back, wincing at the tenderness of his freshly healing wound.
She wandered into the room, her eyes bright with passion, struggling to maintain her composure. "It's too early for this, darling," she advised him, but didn't halt her forward movement toward the bed. She had to stop; she knew the relationship could not be allowed to progress.
"You've wanted to do this since that morning in the infirmary when you saw me in the next bed," he teased.
"Yes," she admitted. Her eyes took note of his careful movement as he rolled onto his side to face her, and she slammed on the brakes. Smiling, she sat down beside him on the mattress and stroked her hand across his cheek. "And as much as I'd love to finish what you started this morning, you're not up to it yet. I don't want you popping a stitch and bleeding to death internally after the most fabulous climax of your life."
He laughed softly. "Not a bit modest, are you?"
Gemini shrugged. "No reason to be," she answered confidently. She was pleased that he wanted her. But rather than be happy, it saddened her that his desire was so obviously physical. He wanted her body. But she wanted more than that from him, and everything about him suggested that it was nothing more than a well-practiced, meaningless seduction for him. And she could not allow herself the pain that would follow when he went away.
She rose, stone-faced, and strolled back to the balcony to fetch her robe.
"That's some tattoo," he commented admiringly. "What does he protect you from?"
She touched the warm skin where she knew the dragon's head lay, though she couldn't see it without the aid of a mirror. Her face was expressionless, the picture of calm as she tried to convince herself that the magic was still working. She knew what Justin was, that he would not be satisfied with her for long before he went on to someone else. Monogamy was not in his vocabulary, and she didn't want to share him with other women.
"From love," she replied firmly. "Get some rest. I'll see you in a few hours."
She turned and headed for the downstairs gym for a good workout before hitting the showers and preparing to face the day.
Faith's hair had grown out to her shoulders, but she kept it dyed brown, her blue eyes still hidden by brown contact lenses. The sensation of danger still haunted her, and she mentioned it to Jarod when they sat down to dinner in the kitchen of her new quarters. Grace had given her one of the small cabins built as housing for the Navajo staff to help her develop a sense of independence, and while she enjoyed the privacy, Faith was uneasy about being so far from help if she should need it.
"You're safe here, Faith," Jarod assured her, reaching for her hand across the tiny kitchen table. He hadn't mentioned the man in the dance room. That wasn't as important as the news he had, and once she knew it, she might turn her back on the other man without a second thought. "You've done the right things to protect yourself and the twins," he said warmly. "Your disguise is infallible. Even I wouldn't have known who you were without some help."
She frowned, her forkful of homemade enchiladas hovering in mid-air between her plate and her mouth. "What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded crossly.
"It means..." He took her hand in his and blinked back the tears gathering in his eyes, tears of joy he was trying desperately to hold inside. She would need room for her own emotions once she knew, without drowning in his. He smiled. "It means that I know who you are. Or rather, who you were before the accident, Faith. You were my wife, and the twins are my sons."
He grinned a little, remembering that wasn't quite true. "Actually, I asked you to marry me, but you wanted to put off making the decision for a year or so, just so I could be sure. You said I needed to experience more of the world before I committed to you. But nothing's changed for me. Even when I thought you were dead, I still loved you. I will never feel for anyone else what I feel for you."
Faith drew her hand from his, set her fork down quickly and glared at him. But the glare softened, and she rose from the table and left the room without a word. Moments later she returned with the little wrapped package she had tried to give him on Valentine's Day, and put the box in his hand.
"Open it," she ordered gently.
He glanced up at her in startled surprise when he pulled out the locket he had given her for her birthday, the locket with his picture in it.
She shrugged. "I wasn't sure. The picture is so small. That's why I was afraid of you when you first came here. I thought, maybe you were what I needed to hide from. But after I got to know you, I realized it must have been something else that I was afraid of. And I wanted you to know who I was, too." She swallowed hard. "This was very hard for me, Jarod. I tried to tell you before, with a letter at Christmas. Only when you didn't say anything about it, I was confused." She grinned shyly, the dimple in her chin peeking out at him. "I found out later about Grace's 'burning the past' ceremony and guessed you must have torched the note without reading it."
He smiled broadly. "I did. I thought you couldn't manage to toss it in with your arms full of babies." He leaned forward and started to fasten the locket around her neck, but she held up her hand.
"I'm not ready to go there yet, Jarod," she told him. "Whoever I was before the accident, I'm not her anymore. If I was your wife then, I'm not now. We have to start over. I'm ready to trust you. But you can't just take for granted that I'm going to fall into bed with you and expect to set up housekeeping and all. I can't do that."
"I know," he assured her. Something indefinable hurt inside him, but he didn't want to think about that just then. "But I want you to know who you were, Faith. I want you to know how much I loved you then. How much I still love you now. My feelings for you haven't gone away, and the fact that you've become a different person doesn't change things for me. It's something we both do -- or did -- all the time."
He told Faith her name, how they met and all the different roles she played in her daily existence. He described their life together, and how they were separated. And sparing few details, he explained why he didn't recognize her immediately when so many things about her reminded him of Athena Morgan. When he finished she was pale and trembling, and he escorted her into the tiny living room, sat her down on the worn sofa and held her while she shivered in his arms, taking it all in. She asked him questions about The Centre and he answered them truthfully, leaving no doubt to the source of her unconscious fears for the twins' safety.
And he warned her about Miss Parker, cautioning Faith to keep her distance while the redhead was on Foundation grounds.
Faith rose shakily and went into the bedroom she shared with her sons, just to check on them. They were waking, ready to be fed again, and Jarod changed and held one while Faith tended to the other. All during the feeding, neither of them spoke except to soothe the babies, and once Justin and Michael were asleep in their crib again, Faith stretched out on her double bed, staring up at the ceiling.
Jarod leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, preparing to leave for the night.
"Don't go," she pleaded, grasping him by the wrist as he started to move away. "I'm scared, Jarod."
He sat down on the bed beside her. "I'll protect you, Faith," he promised. "I swear it."
"You won't run away again?"
He leaned closer, bracing himself over her body with his arms. "Not unless I take you and my sons with me," he vowed solemnly.
Jarod meant only to kiss her for a moment, but her arms came up around his neck and her lips opened hungrily beneath his. He could feel her crying and suddenly his arms were holding her, his hands struggling with her clothes, his body stretched out on top of hers. She was just as desperate as he was, her fingers running feverishly through his hair, her nails digging into his back through his shirt. She cried out when his mouth settled on her breast, arching beneath him and clutching him fiercely to her, but she pushed away from him as his hands moved lower, panting hard and trying to regain control of her mind and body.
"I can't, Jarod," she sniffed. "I'm sorry. Not yet. I'm not ready for this with you. And I don't want to take a chance on getting pregnant again."
He nodded, understanding, but confused. He was certain he read her bodily responses correctly, that she wanted to make love with him as much as he did with her. He sat up, clutching the bedcovers as he tried to calm down, not looking at her, at how beautiful she was with her hair all mussed from his hands in it, her lips swollen from kissing, her eyes bright with confused passion.
"I didn't mean to lead you on," she said softly, her voice still trembling as she sat up behind him and began to straighten out her clothes. "I don't know why this happened. I'm -- I'm--"
"I do," he breathed. "Your mind may not remember who Athena was. But your heart still does. She's still alive in you, and she still loves me." He turned to face her then, his eyes looking deep into hers, searching for the kindred soul that he loved. "Part of you still knows me. Knows how I ache to be touched, how I love to feel you kiss that little spot on my neck just beneath my ear, how I gasp when you... Well, never mind that. But part of you is still Athena. And even if you never remember, Faith, part of you will always be her."
He stood up with his back to her, trying to calm his arousal before he faced her again. "I never said it properly to Athena," he said huskily. "I have regretted that daily since..." He swallowed hard, wanting so much to take her in his arms again, yet not daring to risk her rejection a second time. "I'd like to say it now."
Faith stared at him, not sure what to say. She watched him kneel down beside the bed, his arms crossed as he leaned on his elbows, as if to keep from reaching out for her.
"I love you, Athena," he said warmly. "You taught me what that means. You're a candle in my darkness, a well of cool water in the desert of my life. I can't be whole without you, and I will never willingly leave you again."
He rose and went to the bedroom door. "Good night, Faith. I'll be watching over you and our sons for as long as you want me."
She heard him sit down on the squeaky sofa, and after a few moments Faith Wise rose and began to undress for bed, trying to comprehend the complexities of the strange, wonderful man in the next room.
They were walking to the Learning Center the following morning when Jarod spotted an official car driving up and parking on the bricked path that served as interior roads in Galleons Lap. After seeing the twins to the nursery and Faith to her first class of the day, Jarod decided to take a stroll by Grace St. James's office and see what the tribal police wanted with the Foundation. He stood outside her door, not intending to eavesdrop, but waiting for an appropriate time to intrude. The uniformed officer was an older man, his thick black hair shot with silver, and he seemed to be on familiar terms with Grace.
"The radio report didn't give the priest's name," she was saying, "but I was hoping it was Father Nichols. I'm glad he's dead, Lt. Tso."
The policeman sighed heavily. "That's why I'm here, Grace. Can you tell me where you were night before last, between midnight and two a.m.?"
Jarod could almost feel her physical shudder as the shock of Tso's implication shot into her.
"I was right here, asleep in my bed," she returned coolly. "And while I might shake the hand of whoever killed Nichols, I can assure you it wasn't me. I campaigned for years to have him removed from the priesthood and prosecuted for pedophilia, but the Church decided it was better to just transfer him from his post here and bury him in obscurity elsewhere. I'm horrified they put him in a teaching position in St. Patrick's Catholic School. How could they?"
Righteous indignation glowed in her face as old anger crested anew.
"You have no witnesses to your whereabouts, Grace?" Tso pressed unhappily.
Jarod swung into the room with a brief knock on the door. He feigned surprise as he made eye contact with the detective, and quickly took his measure. The stranger met his gaze evenly and held it, sizing him up as well.
"Sorry, Pooh," Jarod apologized casually. "I didn't know you had company."
"Yes, you did," she corrected with a glance at his eyes. "Don't lie in front of the police, son. It's not a good first impression." She introduced the two men briefly. "It seems that an old enemy of mine has been murdered, and Lt. Tso seems to think I may have had a hand in it."
"Enemy, Pooh? I can't picture you hating anyone." Jarod's expression of surprise was more genuine now, and slightly confused.
She met his sloe-eyed gaze with leashed rage. "Any mother would hate the man who tried to seduce her 12-year-old son, Jarod," she responded brusquely. "I spent 25 years pressuring the Catholic church to get rid of him. And now that he's gone, I feel rather like celebrating."
"How did Father Nichols die, Lt. Tso?" Jarod asked innocently.
"Someone strangled him in the confessional," Tso responded bluntly.
"In the wee hours of the morning on a Saturday?" asked Grace. "Rather an unusual time to be offering absolution, don't you think, lieutenant? Aren't the chapels usually locked up at that time?"
"So Father Nichols opened the chapel for someone," Jarod surmised. "Probably someone he knew."
Tso turned his intent gaze on the Pretender, still standing near the doorway. "You might say that," he returned.
"Why don't you check with Foundation Security?" Jarod suggested, crossing his arms over his chest. "While Grace may not have had any witnesses to the fact that she was sleeping in her room, Security would have noticed if anyone entered or left the grounds during those hours. They can prove she didn't leave, and since she's still here, that should be a pretty good alibi. Don't you think?"
Tso nodded, and turned his dark eyes back to the redhead behind the desk. "Mrs. St. James, do you know the whereabouts of your son at the moment?" he asked tightly.
"You'd have to check with the department of the Navy, Lt. Tso," she shot back irritably. "He's been in the service for years. Last I heard, he was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Mediterranean. But I could be wrong about that. The ship moves around a great deal, you know. He's assigned to the USS John C. Stennis."
The policeman nodded politely, thanked her for her time, and turned to go. But he stopped next to Jarod and asked quietly, "Could you direct me to Security, Dr. Black?"
"I'll take you there myself," Jarod offered, and turned to lead the man upstairs to the operations center.
"There was something I hadn't told Mrs. St. James," Tso began as they walked up the empty stairs to the next floor. "She's really not a suspect in this murder, at least, not a likely one. But we have to cover all our bases. You know?"
"The killer was a man," Jarod predicted. "What led you to that conclusion?"
Tso's expression of surprise quickly melted into suspicion. "Because of the position of the body at the time of death, and the fact that Father Nichols had had sex just before he died." There were other details that Tso couldn't reveal, but if he played it smart, he might be able to trap the killer with them. "Whoever did him wanted to make a statement. And yes, the killer was someone the good father knew. In the biblical sense. Someone strong. I'm guessing one of the boys he seduced a long time ago, now grown up and out for revenge." He eyed the Pretender at the top of the stairs. "Where are you from, doctor?"
Jarod shrugged. "Lots of different places," he answered truthfully. "I just came to Arizona for the first time last year. Grace and I met in Flagstaff back in December."
The policeman said nothing more as they turned into Security Ops, but he was aware of Jarod's quiet presence during his questioning of the staff. He did not reveal any surprise at discovering that Jarod had arrived at 6:30 on the morning of the murder, but filed that fact away and determined to check into Dr. Black's past to see if his path might have crossed the late priest's at some point in his youth. The fellow was much too quick to be innocent, and much too protective of Grace St. James to be completely without motive. He had a lot of other leads to check, but this one seemed the most promising.
Alan Cross was just coming out of the dance room when Jarod passed by. The blond man shrugged out of his way and continued toward the lobby, gym bag in hand. Jarod suddenly decided to change course and follow him. The other man had still not come up in conversation with Faith, and he wasn't sure exactly how to broach the subject without making her defensive about him. That was the last thing he wanted her to feel for a man Jarod perceived as his rival for her affections.
Cross was still rooming in the big house, in a second floor room not far from the staircase. Jarod had to pass it to get to his own quarters, and used the trip as an excuse to fetch his laptop computer for some personal business. He waited until he heard Cross leaving, now freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, and managed to step into his path. The smaller man bumped into Jarod's powerful chest and bounced off, immediately apologizing for the accident.
"It was my fault," said Jarod honestly. "I wasn't looking where I was going. My mind was elsewhere." He smiled and extended his hand to the other man.
"Yeah, me, too," said the blond, returning the handshake with a firm grip. "I'm Alan Cross. Haven't seen you around before. Are you new here?"
"Returning alumnus," said the Pretender. "I'm Jarod. Pleased to meet you."
Cross squinted up at the taller man, frowning. "So sometimes you have to come back and start over again, eh?"
Jarod shrugged, glancing around the big room at the foot of the stairs. "This is my home now," he explained. "Here at the Foundation I've found a place where I can stop running."
"Isn't it safe out there, with the new lives they give us?" asked Cross uncertainly.
Jarod grinned, a hint of something dark gleaming in his eyes. "I kind of enjoy the chase, actually. But my family is here. If my wife decides she's ready to leave, then we'll be on our own again." He slid his hands into his pockets in an attempt to look casual. "Maybe you've seen her around. Her name is Faith. Faith Wise. We had twins six months ago."
Cross's face revealed his surprise. "She's married? She told me she lost her husband in an accident."
"Faith has amnesia," Jarod reminded him. "I didn't find out until recently who she is, or was, so we're starting over. Just broke the news to her last night." He gave a self-satisfied grin that he was certain would communicate unmistakable sexual overtones, thereby staking his claim to the woman and warning off this man from his property. "We were married for three years, and dated a long time before that. We were teenagers together. First loves, and all that."
But Alan Cross wasn't so easy to dissuade. "If she doesn't remember you, then you might be taking advantage of her a little, don't you think?" He leveled a calculating gaze at the taller man, wondering if this meeting was as casual and unplanned as he first thought. "Faith has a lot of adjustments to make, and you should leave her room enough to make her own choices. If you really care about her, that is."
Jarod frowned, knowing Cross was right, but not wanting to hear the truth from this man in particular. "She's my wife," said Jarod tightly. "And Justin and Michael are my sons. Just remember that."
He stayed for a moment longer, fixing his rival with an obstinate, warning gaze, and waited for Cross to be the first to turn away.
The priest's murder played in his head like a badly edited movie as he walked briskly toward Grace's office. He didn't have much information on it, but that wasn't foremost on his mind at the moment. He wanted to know who Alan Cross was, and the only way to access that information was from the Foundation's classified records. Pooh would be teaching a yoga class at that hour, so Jarod knew he would be uninterrupted for the few minutes it would take to get what he wanted from her computer. He went upstairs to Security Ops and programmed in a little privacy for himself, then hurried back downstairs to snoop in Grace's files. There was something furtive about the little man that Jarod disliked instantly, and he wanted to know what had set off his instinctive, finely honed internal alarms.
Ten minutes later he readjusted the computers in Security to do their usual job, and returned to the main house with his laptop and electronic copies of the pertinent files on a diskette for him to peruse at his leisure.