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Disclaimer: The Characters Miss Parker, Sydney, Jarod, Broots and The Centre are all property of MTM, TNT and NBC Productions and are used without permission. Blah, blah, blah, yea, yea just get on with it. No money has been involved here and no infringement is intended. 12/08/02

Summary: Jarod has finally found the life he has been searching for, but can it live up to his expectations?

A Not so Perfect World


By Phenyx

"Left turn in point five miles." A soft female voice echoed in the car.

Miss Parker guessed that it was supposed to be a soothing, friendly type of voice but she hated it. The satellite navigational service provided by the rental car company had been yammering directions for the past ninety minutes. Parker's patience, usually a tenacious thing at best, was reaching the breaking point.

"Leave it to Franken-rat to live out in the middle of nowhere." Parker grumbled to herself. "More than two hours from the nearest airport, Christ."

When Parker had left Delaware this morning, she had been more than angry. She had wanted to rip Jarod a new ass hole. Her ire had only grown during her flight and the following drive had increased her anger even more.

She had little regard for the rolling hills or the bright autumn colors that sped past her window. Parker was focused only on reaching the old farmhouse that Jarod and his family had purchased and renovated nearly a year ago.

"I'll teach him to ignore my messages." She grumbled. Parker began to imagine all the things she would say to him, the things she would do to him if he refused to go back to Delaware with her.

The least Jarod could do was to come back and see Sydney one more time. He needed to give the older man a chance to say goodbye. Parker was going to make sure that Jarod gave him that chance.

She and Sydney had last seen Jarod at the courthouse just after Sydney had been sentenced for conspiracy charges. There had been an ugly scene in the hallway between Sydney and Margaret Lambert, Jarod's mother. Mrs. Lambert had yelled and Sydney had taken it. Parker knew that Sydney felt he deserved the recriminations being heaped upon him. But Jarod's mother didn't have all the facts. She had behaved as though Sydney alone had been to blame for Jarod's abduction.

Admittedly, Parker understood why the woman had been upset. In Margaret's eyes, Sydney had been responsible for stealing her son and keeping him locked up for more than thirty years. Sydney's sentence of only two to five years must have been like a slap in the face.

But the prosecution had not been able to prove any kidnapping or child abuse on Sydney's part. To Parker's surprise, the DSAs of Jarod's imprisonment had never surfaced in court. Jarod had refused to testify against Sydney during the sentencing procedures. In addition, Sydney had cut a deal with the D.A. In exchange for his testimony against Raines and The Centre, Sydney had been promised a minimal sentence. He would permanently lose his psychiatric license and serve a shortened jail term.

Parker wondered briefly if Mrs. Lambert knew about Sydney's early parole. After nine months in prison, Sydney had been released earlier this week. Parker had called the farmhouse repeatedly, trying to get hold of Jarod. She had left messages but he had never called back.

Parker had been seen the disappointed look on Sydney's face the day he had been released when he realized that Parker had come alone to pick him up. There had not been a single word from Jarod.

"I understand." Sydney had told her. "He has his own family, now. He has the life he has always dreamed of. I can't blame him for wanting to forget about The Centre entirely."

But Parker blamed him.

She had spent most of the last nine months visiting Sydney every week. At first Jarod had written to Sydney regularly. Each week, Parker would visit and Sydney would read the letters to her. She had patiently listened to Sydney tell her about Jarod's stupid farm and the nonsense that he had been up to.

In the spring, Parker had spent a month vacationing in France, at Sydney's urging.

"You are free, Miss Parker." Sydney had said. "Don't waste the last gift your father gave you."

When The Centre had fallen, Parker had finally found out that her 'Daddy' had really cared for her. There had been no trace of her name on any documents involving illegal activities. The man Parker had loved as a father had spent years working hard to keep her name out of any incriminating evidence at The Centre. When the axe had finally fallen, the authorities had left Parker unscathed.

"Go away for a while." Sydney had pleaded.

So Parker had gone to Marseilles. She had spent her days on the beach or shopping, her nights at clubs dancing with strangers. There had even been a couple of affairs that had each held her interest for a brief time.

When she had returned, Sydney had no new letters to read to her. They had simply stopped coming without warning. Over the next six months with no further word from Jarod, Parker had watched the strain of incarceration wear her old friend down. Sydney had grown older and more haggard as the months dragged on. By the time his parole was approved, arthritis in his knee had forced him to start walking with a cane.

Last night, Parker and Broots had been at Sydney's house. The three of them had celebrated Sydney's return with an excellent meal and an evening of cards. Broots' daughter, Debbie, had spent the night with a friend. As a result, the party had also involved several bottles of very good wine.

It was well after midnight and all three had been a little tipsy when Sydney's phone rang. Parker had seen the hope that flared in Sydney's eyes as the telephone jangled. Sydney had hurried to the phone with a smile spreading across his face.

"Jarod?" Sydney had asked as he picked up the receiver.

Parker could tell immediately that the caller was not Jarod. The empty, deflated look that replaced the joy on Sydney's face had filled Parker with rage.

"No." Sydney had sighed. "There is no Dennis here." He paused. "Don't worry about it. It's quite all right. Good night."

The anger that had overwhelmed Parker last night had kept her awake. After stewing for several hours, she had finally decided to go and fetch Jarod. She would drag him to Delaware by his hair if she had to. Parker would not let him end things with Sydney this way. Her old friend deserved better.

No matter what Sydney had done in the past, he deserved more than to be discarded in such an off-handed way. Jarod at least owed him a good-bye.

Parker pulled off the paved road and onto a graveled drive leading to the farmhouse. She could see the large two-story building at the end of the long lane. The driveway was flanked on either side by wooden split rail fences. To her left, Parker could see someone riding a horse along the fence line.

At first, Parker thought the rider was Jarod. But as she drew closer Parker could see that the figure was shorter and much younger than the man she was looking for.

Parker stopped the car and rolled down her window as the rider reined the horse to a stop nearby.

"Hello, Jack." Parker said.

"Hello, Miss Parker." The young man answered politely. Then he smiled.

Parker returned the smile. She couldn't help it. The boy's smile was an infectious thing.

Jack, created from Jarod's DNA in the Gemini project, was a younger version of Jarod in so many ways. His looks, his mannerisms and his smile were all duplicates of those Parker remembered from when Jarod had been young. But in other ways, Jack was very different from the pretender who shared his fingerprints.

Jack was an impulsive young man. He often acted first and thought much later. Having fun was almost always a top priority. He made friends easily and often and had become quite popular at the high school he now attended.

But Jack fought desperately to be an individual, separate from Jarod. The boy could get very upset whenever compared to his older twin. One day, in a fit of defiance, Jack had stormed to his room and pierced his eyebrow with one of Emily's earrings. A silver stud still lanced through the young man's brow today.

The boy had been showing little interest in his education. His report cards consisted of a suspiciously steady stream of B's. Parker knew from Jarod's early letters that the boy had also gotten into trouble on several occasions.

Once, Jack had been accused of seriously beating the star of the school's football team. There had been rumors that the football player had taken advantage of a cheerleader while on a date. Nothing could be proven by anyone involved and all charges of any kind had been dropped. But the entire cheerleading squad had since become Jack's devoted fan club.

There had also been the time that Jack had been suspended from school for cheating. He had been caught red-handed selling the answers to final exams. Evidently, he had hacked into the school's computer network and retrieved copies of several tests. It had been easy for Jack to complete the tests and sell the answer keys for five dollars a pop. The suspension had prevented him from participating in any of his own finals and would ultimately force him to repeat the entire semester.

Jack was an intelligent kid, overindulged by his parents so that he got away with more than was good for him. But overall, Parker felt that Jack was a sweet young man who just tended to give in to his baser impulses a little too often. He was independent and a bit of a rebel. Parker liked him a lot.

Jack rested his arms nonchalantly on the saddle horn and tilted his head curiously at Parker. On the inner side of one forearm was a bandage about two inches wide and four inches long.

"What did you do to your arm?" Parker asked, eager to prolong her contact with the boy.

Jack smiled mischievously, peeled the bandage from his arm and leaned over the fence to show Parker a fresh tattoo. Professionally carved into the tender flesh was a colorful image of two girls. It was a zodiac symbol of the Gemini twins.

Parker smirked. "I thought you had to be eighteen to get a tattoo." She said.

Jack shrugged. "I have an ID that says I'm twenty two." He replied. "It also says that my name is Guido Capuletie but what the hey."

Parker laughed. She did like this kid. "Jackie my boy, if I were twenty years younger." Parker teased.

"You'd still be too much woman for me to handle, Miss Parker." Jack laughed. "Besides, Jarod would kill me for even thinking such a thing."

"Speaking of Jarod." Parker said, suddenly serious. "Is he at home?"

The frown on Jack's face caused Parker some concern. "No." he said slowly. "Jarod has been staying at The Pines. I thought Ethan had told you."

"Ethan hasn't told me anything." Parker replied.

Jack nodded. "That explains it." He mumbled.

"Explains what?" Parker pried.

"Why you've taken so long to show up here." The boy answered. "Come on, I'll meet you up at the house." Making a clicking sound in his cheek, the young man spurred his mount forward and the horse shot toward the end of the lane.

Parker frowned at the mysterious statement Jack had made. If Jarod had moved, it would explain why he hadn't returned her messages. He would not have gotten them. But Parker couldn't figure out why Jarod would have relocated without notifying Sydney.

By the time Parker pulled up in front of the house, Jack had dismounted and was fastening the reins to the porch railing.

Parker gave the house a cursory glance. The white porch seemed to wrap around the entire structure. Late blooming flowers lined the walk. There was a porch swing hanging from the beams to her right. The place looked like something straight out of an episode of "The Waltons".

Jack disappeared into the house and returned a moment later with Ethan in tow.

"Miss Parker!" her little brother cried. Ethan wrapped Parker in his arms and hugged her tightly. "It is good to see you."

"It's good to see you too little brother." Parker said gently.

Jack, arms crossed as he leaned against the porch, spoke harshly. "Ethan. Why didn't you tell Miss Parker about Jarod?"

Ethan chewed at his lower lip with worry. Frowning, he answered. "Your mother made me promise that I wouldn't say anything." He said to Jack. Then he turned to Parker and added, "Margaret felt that we just needed a little time."

Jack stepped toward them and patted Ethan gently on the shoulder. "Well, time's up. I think you should take Miss Parker up to The Pines. Today. It may help."

Ethan nodded slowly. "Your mother won't like it." He said cautiously.

Jack shrugged. "You two go on now, before Mom and Dad get back. I'll stall them as long as I can."

"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Parker demanded as her anger began to return.

Jack looked at her sadly. "You need to see for yourself, Miss Parker."

Ethan headed toward Parker's rental car and climbed into the passenger seat. Parker returned to the driver's seat and steered the car back down the lane. As she followed Ethan's directions, she tried to get more information out of him.

"Ethan," she pried. "How long has Jarod been living at this pines place?"

Her brother swallowed guiltily. "Almost six months now. It all happened so suddenly. I just didn't know how to stop it."

Goosebumps broke out on Parker's flesh and she was suddenly more frightened than she was angry. Had Jarod been in an accident? Had he been hurt all this time?

"Ethan," she began.

"Miss Parker," Ethan interrupted. "Please just wait until we get there. It's only thirty minutes away. And try to understand, I just didn't know what to do." Parker glanced at her brother in concern. He was troubled, almost in tears.

Parker nodded reluctantly.

Ethan relaxed a bit. With a sigh he said, "I told Jack that you would come, sooner or later. You will know what to do, Miss Parker. You will know and everything will be okay."

"It will okay. Everything is fine." Ethan went on as he murmured to himself. He abruptly grabbed Parker by the arm with desperation and said, "Trust your inner sense, Miss Parker. I know I do."

A shiver ran down Parker's spine as though someone had just walked on her grave. Ethan's words echoed in her mind.

Jarod had said exactly the same thing once while standing in her living room. Parker had been aiming her gun at Jarod's heart when a moment later Jarod had effortlessly taken the gun and was pointing it at her. "Trust your inner sense, Miss Parker." Jarod had said. "I know I do." And he had casually handed her gun back to her and walked out of the house to find Ethan.

The scene had been a display of Jarod's confidence in Miss Parker. His belief in her that day had been so strong, his conviction in Parker's integrity so great that Parker had been left shaken and speechless. It had been a show of trust between two people who had little experience with trust.

Jarod had needed to believe in her then. Did he need her again now? Or were Ethan's words just a coincidental duplication?

Ethan fidgeted in his seat, casting nervous glances at Parker as she drove. His apprehension grew as time went by as though he feared Miss Parker might turn viciously on him. Ethan's edginess reminded Parker of the way Broots used to act back at The Centre whenever she had been in a particularly bad mood.

They left the rural farmland behind as they entered a suburban area. There were other cars around them now and Parker had to stop several times for traffic lights.

Parker maneuvered the car around a bend in the road and she saw a sign off to her left. SUGARDALE PINES PSYCHOGENIC INSTITUTE.

She stopped the car in front of the gates, "Ethan." Parker whispered. "Tell me that Jarod is working here."

Ethan stared at her silently.

Parker closed her eyes, taking deep calming breaths as she fought the rage that swelled within her. Ethan had known she would be angry. He had known her well enough to be afraid of her reaction. Yet he had been brave enough to bring her here. Parker wouldn't take this out on her little brother. She would talk to Jarod and find out what was going on.

Without another word, Parker put the car in gear and slowly drove through the open gates and up the paved road to the mental hospital.

They parked the car and entered the facility. Ethan led the way through the halls with confidence. He told Parker that he'd been here many times to visit. As they entered one of the wards, Ethan stopped at the nurse's station.

"Hi, Cheryl." Ethan said to a petite blonde haired girl behind the counter.

"Hello, Ethan. Today's not your regular visiting day." The girl observed.

"I know." Ethan answered. "But I've brought someone new with me."

The nurse gave Parker a curious glance before she turned back to Ethan. "Well, I'm not sure that he's up to having visitors today." The girl said gently. "He had a pretty rough night."

Ethan frowned. With a sigh he asked, "Did they sedate him?"

The girl nodded. "Nick was working the night shift. He told me that they had no choice. You can go and see him if you like but the medication hasn't worn off entirely. He'll be a little out of it."

Parker spoke, "I've come a very long way to see him."

The blonde girl shrugged. "He's in the common area. You know the way Ethan."

"Thanks, Cheryl." Ethan said as he headed down the hallway.

At the end of the hall, Ethan led Parker through a set of double doors and into a large room. In one corner there was a television surrounded by several cushioned chairs. Scattered through the room were small tables and chairs. At some of the tables there were people playing cards or chess or other games. On the opposite wall was another set of double doors leading outside.

Ethan walked through the room, weaving around other people when necessary, and headed outdoors with barely a glance around the room. Parker paused long enough to see that Jarod wasn't there before she followed her brother.

The outdoor recreation space was a large sun filled area. There were trees and benches and a paved path that made a large circle in the grass. Near the doors was a patio with lawn chairs and more tables. If not for the ten- foot chain link fence, Parker would have thought they had stumbled into a park somewhere.

Ethan stopped at one of the tables to talk to a trembling young man sitting in a wheel chair.

"Hi, Toby." Ethan said gently as he crouched beside the man.

"Ethan!" The younger man giggled.

"How are you today?" Ethan said.

"I'm good. Real good. Getting better every day you know."

Ethan smiled. "Yes, I know."

The man in the wheelchair frowned. "He's not so good. Not good at all. No pictures today, no drawings."

"I heard." Ethan said. "Cheryl told me that he had a rough night."

"Real rough." The man agreed. "I heard him. I heard." He paused for a moment then said seriously. "He's not getting better, you know. He has more not good days than he has good days. Some days, even his drawings are scary."

Ethan nodded sadly as he patted the other man's trembling hand. "I've brought Miss Parker to see him."

The crippled shaking man looked up at Parker as though he hadn't noticed her before. "You're Miss Parker?" the man asked. "Yes. You would be her." He said without waiting for an answer. "He's there." The man pointed an unsteady hand toward a large tree several yards away from the main path.

Parker placed a hand on Ethan's shoulder and said, "You stay here and visit with your little friend. Let me talk to Jarod alone for a while."

Ethan nodded and Parker headed toward the tree. As she approached, she could see a figure sitting in the sunshine just outside the shadow cast by the tree's foliage. His knees were pulled toward his chest and he was rocking back and forth methodically.

Parker gaped at the man sitting at her feet. This pale, vacant creature was not the pretender she knew. He was staring sightlessly at the grass in front of him. He silently sat there and rocked.

Parker lowered herself to her knees beside him. "Jarod?" she whispered. "Jarod." She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.

The fact that he stopped rocking was the only indication that he had heard her.

She shook him again. "Jarod?" Parker searched his face for some sign of consciousness. His pupils were hugely dilated, his gaze glassy, attesting to the fact that he had been heavily sedated recently. Several days' worth of stubble covered his jaw. There were deep dark circles under his eyes making Parker wonder how long it had been since he had actually slept.

"Jarod!" Parker shook his shoulders harder this time. She was getting very frightened. "If you are faking this, Jarod, I swear to God I'm going to put a bullet in your ass."

Jarod stared at some point above her right shoulder. He was totally unresponsive. "Jarod." Parker hissed. "It’s me. It’s Miss Parker." She shook his shoulders again. "Jarod, please talk to me."

"Maybe he doesn't want to talk to you, Miss Parker." A woman's voice said from behind.

Parker whirled around and came face to face with Jarod's parents. Margaret Lambert had an angry determined look on her face. Major Charles stood beside her wearing a frown. Several feet away, looking worried, Ethan and Jack waited fretfully.

Miss Parker slowly rose to her feet. In her three-inch stiletto heels, she towered over Jarod's mother. The older woman edged closer to her husband. 'Go ahead' Parker thought to herself. 'Create a united front against me. It won't do you any good.'

The anger and rage that Parker had been fueling for the past twenty-four hours rose unabated. Anyone who knew Miss Parker would have known by her stance exactly how dangerous she was at this moment. But Jarod's parents didn't know her very well. Margaret Lambert stepped right into Parker's wrath.

"I don't think he wants to talk to you." The older woman reiterated.

"You don't think." Parker hissed. "I don't give a rat's ass what you think."

Parker had to give the woman points for bravery. Jarod's mother didn't back away. Most people turned tail and ran off at this point.

Parker stepped menacingly toward Jarod's parents. "What have you done to him?" She snarled. "What have you done?"

"We haven't done anything, Miss Parker. He had a bad night. Things look worse than they are. Once the medication wears off you'll see." Major Charles said firmly.

"You only managed to do to him in less than one year, what The Centre couldn't do in thirty." Parker growled as she pointed to the man curled at her feet. "You've broken him."

"We are helping him." Mrs. Lambert stated with resolve.

"You helped him right into the nut house." Parker yelled.

"No, we." Jarod's mother started.

Parker glared and standing toe to toe with the older woman she hissed, "Is this or is this not a hospital for mental disorders?" Without waiting for an answer Parker went on. "Yes. It is. That makes it a nut house, a loony bin, a cracker barrel, a funny farm."

"Miss Parker," Ethan began as he stepped toward her.

She had plenty of rage to go around. Ethan was caught in her next volley. "Back off, little brother." The endearment fell from her lips sounding like a curse. "Stay out of this."

"I. I want to help." Ethan stammered.

"Then you should have called me." Parker snarled, snapping a fist in the air. "I would never have allowed this to happen."

"You have no say in this, Miss Parker." Jarod's mother yelled. "This is family business and it has nothing to do with you."

"If it involves Jarod, then it is my business." Parker's voice took on a low dangerous tone. "Always has been. Always will be."

"Your job was to capture him and take him back to that god forsaken place." The older woman cried.

"I never drove him crazy." Parker stated pointedly.

"Please!" Major Charles courageously stepped between the two women. "Please, calm down before the staff kick us all out. Miss Parker, my son is not crazy. Please let us explain." Turning to his wife, the major added, "Maggie, she cares about his well-being. We can at least give her all the details."

Parker glanced down at Jarod. He seemed oblivious to the argument going on around him. He simply stared straight ahead and began rocking back and forth again. She sighed heavily. She needed to know what had brought Jarod to this point. It was the only way she would be able to help him.

She took several deep calming breaths in an attempt to rein in her temper. Then Parker crossed her arms defensively over her chest and nodded gravely at the major.

"Not long after we last saw you," Major Charles began. "Jarod started having nightmares."

Parker scoffed. "He's had nightmares since we were children. That's nothing new."

The major explained. "These nightmares were different. He'd wake up screaming like he was trying to wake the dead. He would be disoriented for several minutes afterward. Jarod swears that every time it happens, it is the same dream but he can't remember anything about it."

"At first we didn't think anything of it." The major remembered. "Jarod laughed it off. He chalked it up to the strain of Sydney's trial. He would wake up screaming once a week or so but we all figured it would go away in time."

"It didn't." Parker said knowingly.

"No." The major went on. "The dream started coming more frequently. Still Jarod couldn't remember anything aside from the fact that it was the same recurring nightmare."

"It got even worse after Zoe left." Jack added from a safe distance.

Parker frowned. She had met the red haired girl briefly at the courthouse all those months ago. Parker remembered thinking that Zoe seemed to be an amusing bit of fluff. The girl had been attractive enough but had struck Parker as being a little shallow.

"She left?" Parker asked.

Jack nodded sadly. "She said that she'd come back in a few months."

Parker laughed caustically. "After his nightmares were gone presumably."

"Presumably." Jack confirmed.

"Bitch." Parker spat. Just when Jarod had needed her support the most, the floozy had taken off. When the going got tough, the bimbo just left. Parker vowed to personally slap the bitch if she ever laid eyes on Zoe again.

"It actually seemed to get better at first." The major continued. "The frequency of Jarod's nightmares dropped from nearly every night to barely once a week." He shrugged. "Then we discovered that Jarod was only going to sleep one night a week or so. He was having the dream every time he slept."

Parker sighed dejectedly and leaned against the nearby tree while she watched Jarod rock. The major kept talking.

"One night, we found Jarod in the front yard. He was screaming so loud that the neighbors called the police. We had to do something." The major pleaded. "We couldn't let him continue to suffer like that."

Parker sighed again.

"This hospital has an excellent sleep disorder clinic. Jarod came here for treatment for the nightmares." The major said.

"Observation." Jarod suddenly croaked, making the others all jump.

Parker rushed to Jarod's side and crouched on the ground beside him. She threw a violent glare at Jarod's parents, daring them to stop her. They didn't.

"Jarod?" Parker called softly. "Can you hear me?"

The emptiness in his brown eyes disappeared and was replaced by an unfathomable sadness. His lower lip quivered as Jarod whispered, "They brought me in for observation." He laughed in a sad hollow series of gasps. "Observation."

Parker gently caressed the back of Jarod's neck with her fingertips. He was fighting the medication, struggling to regain his senses. With a heavy sigh Jarod laid his forehead against Parker's shoulder.

"Jarod? It's me." Parker said gently.

"Parker." Jarod breathed her name as though whispering a prayer. "I'm so tired, Parker. So tired."

"I know." Parker soothed.

"I can't sleep." He whimpered groggily into her shoulder. "They come. They come when I sleep."

"Who comes, Jarod?" Parker urged.

"I don't know." He gasped. "Don't let them come, Miss Parker. I can't fight them. Please don't let them come."

Parker didn't know how long she sat there in the grass while Jarod struggled against the sedation he'd been given. He practically crawled into her lap and curled against her like a child afraid of the dark. Parker held him tightly, rubbed his back and murmured nonsense words to comfort him.

When Parker looked up again, she realized that Ethan and Jack had disappeared. Jarod's parents stood watching her every move.

"I don't understand." Margaret whispered.

"I do." Parker's voice caught in her throat. She refused to let herself cry in front of this woman. "Let me take a guess. You brought him here for observation." The last word snarled from her throat like a swear word. "They locked him in a little room with a two way mirror. They hooked him up to a bunch of wires to monitor his reflexes and recorded the entire thing on tape for the sake of posterity."

Margaret swallowed hard. "It was standard sleep disorder study techniques. Jarod knew that."

Parker laughed bitterly. "And the doctors were rewarded with the worst episode he'd ever had, right?"

Major Charles answered with a nod. "It took five orderlies to control him. Two of them were badly injured."

"He has no control over these night terrors." Jarod's mother defended. "He becomes dangerous to others and to himself. He needed treatment."

"So you committed him to an insane asylum." Parker declared.

"We haven't committed him, Miss Parker." The Major contradicted. "Jarod agreed to stay in the hospital to get treatment."

"Do you really think he could argue with you?" Parker gasped. She shook her head slowly. "You are his parents. He had to do what you asked." With a sigh she looked down at Jarod. "And you just locked him back in the same place he's been running away from for the last six years."

Parker was stunned. How could they not see what they had done? More importantly, how was Parker going to fix this? What had Ethan expected her to do? Her brother's earlier statement floated through her mind once again. 'Trust your inner sense.'

Parker closed her eyes and breathed deeply several times. She tried hard to calm herself. Then she listened. She listened to the voice inside her.

"Run." It said.

Parker looked down at Jarod again. She shook his shoulders and called his name firmly. "Jarod? Can you get up?" She shook him again. "Jarod." She ordered. "Get up."

Surprisingly, Jarod picked himself up off the ground and stood shakily in the grass.

"Let's go inside." Parker suggested as she steered him down the path.

They had reached the common room, Jarod's stride getting steadier with each step, when Parker turned to his parents and said, "Do you mind? I'd like to talk with him alone for a few minutes."

To Parker's astonishment, the older couple stopped and allowed Parker to lead Jarod into the hallway alone. She walked him past the nurse's station and out of the ward. The two of them strolled down the main corridor to the hospital entrance.

Parker was nearly giddy with shock at the ease of their escape. They were descending the front steps when Parker heard the commotion caused by their pursuers.

"The blue rental car in the third row. Run!" Parker cried as she shoved Jarod in the right direction. After so many years of training, Jarod didn't need to be totally coherent to do as she told him. Running was an automatic response for him. His instincts kicked in quite nicely and he ran. Parker pressed the button on her key chain that activated the car locks and they both hopped into the vehicle as they reached it.

With a squeal of tires, Parker threw the car in gear and it skidded out of the parking space. She sped down the drive and the car zoomed into the street, barely missing oncoming traffic. Parker nearly lost control when the car jumped a concrete divide and swung down a side road. The vehicle fishtailed slightly then weaved into the stream of cars, blending in perfectly.

Parker laughed. She had come here today ready to pummel Jarod. But instead, she had made herself his protector. After years of chasing him, Parker had just abducted her very own pretender.

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