A slightly swollen hip postponed the morning's Tai Chi session. Dawn wasn't sad about the delay. The physical aspect of the training opposite Frisco unnerved her. His proximity caused her to make mistakes. And she was not a person prone to making errors.
Frisco had a telephone conference so he gave her paperwork to review. He handed over the psychological profiles the WSB had compiled on the abductees. She was told to cross-reference the data and using her insight, decipher the similarities between the victims, if there were any. He gave her a laptop and a Number Seven security level. She wouldn't be able to access everything, but Frisco advised that a good report had its rewards.
She took the vacant office on the first floor and went to work. This was better than grad school, Dawn decided. The feeling of power was heady. She could actually help these people. Oh, she'd done her share of therapy sessions and had done some good. But this was different. Working for the WSB made it different.
Hours passed. She was down to the most recent abductees: Sabrina DeLane and Jasper Jacks. She leaned in close to the computer screen. Her hand tightened its grip around her pen as her eyes devoured the information before her.
Images of Sabrina's life in Greece flashed before Dawn's eyes. Unable to stop herself, she skipped forward to the early eighties and Nikolas' birth. Her heart surged as she looked at the early childhood images of the man she loved. He was such a cute little boy. She read about Sabrina's interaction with her nephew. She and Nikolas were close. Just as she and Andrèsj. Dawn's throat constricted. She didn't want to imagine the possibility of Sabrina not being returned to her family. Nikolas didn't express his sadness, but it was there. Dawn saw it in his eyes.
She moved back to the beginning of the DeLane file. Nikolas' aunt led an interesting life. Extensive travel in Europe followed by medical school in the States. Her name was associated with many of the world's most eligible as well as most handsome bachelors. Outrageous exploits were common, yet, when it came to her career in medicine, she was completely serious.
Using shorthand, Dawn completed her profile on Dr. DeLane on a legal pad. Later, Dawn planned to type the report for Frisco. Her fingers ached from holding the pen for so long. Her knuckles popped loudly as she flexed her fingers. Movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention. She quickly swiveled around in the office chair. A pair of greenish gray eyes assessed her from head to toe. Irritation flared inside her from the stranger's perusal.
Dawn rose from the chair. Her gaze covered him from top to bottom, taking in the scuffed hiking boots, well-worn jeans molded to muscled thighs, and the shadow of stubble that darkened the man's jawline. When their eyes locked, she noted that faint flicker of amusement.
"Did you enjoy the view?" he asked, an Aussie accent punctuating each word.
She moved to the edge of the desk. Her fingers searched under the wooden top for the hidden security button. The stranger didn't frighten her, but she believed it was better to be safe than sorry. "I haven't decided, yet. Who are you? How did you get in here?"
"The same could be asked of you," he said as he sauntered inside the office. "So the WSB recruits children. They must have hit upon hard times."
Dawn refused to be baited. "You haven't answered my question."
He came to stand only a few feet from her. "I don't intend to. Where's Frisco Jones?"
"I'm right here," came a voice from the door. "I knew it was only a matter of time before you returned from the wilderness."
The man turned to face Frisco. "And I knew I'd find you here, sitting on your arse!"
"Assumptions aren't like you," Frisco countered.
"What are you doing to find my baby brother!"
Dawn subconsciously flinched as the man's shout shook the walls. He rushed toward Frisco. She was a millisecond from pushing the safety button when Frisco told her not to.
"His bark is worst than his bite," Frisco said even as the man's hands balled into fists. "Calm down. You're scaring her."
"Children shouldn't be here. Back to my brother--"
"I'm not a child," Dawn interrupted. "I'm an agent in training. Get it straight."
"He has that affect on everyone," Frisco said to Dawn. "Agent Jensen, allow me to introduce you to Jerry Jacks. WSB's rogue agent."
"Are you sure?" Nikolas pulled Emily's wheelchair deeper into the tree's shadow. The midday sun was warm and he worried that it might be too much for her.
"I'm fine!" she replied, ripping the afghan from his hand as he attempted to drape it over her legs. "Nikolas, please stop fussing. Fresh air is good for invalids. Remember?"
His face became hot. "You are not an invalid."
Emily's eyebrows arched with indignation. "Oh, no? Then why are you treating me like one?"
She looked pointedly at their surroundings. They were far from playing children and strolling adults. With the trees providing such excellent shade from the sun, it was hard to tell what time of day it was. And then, there was the telltale afghan in his hand. Nikolas emitted a low groan of minor defeat. He gave her a smile of apology.
"This time," she said after a moment's hesitation. "Only once." She pointed to a nearby stone bench. "Sit. Talk to me. Tell me what's wrong."
Nikolas frowned. This wasn't the reason for their day in the park. He wanted to see for himself that Emily was healing properly. An interrogation was not a part of his plan.
"Nothing is wrong," he said, lowering himself to the bench's hard surface. He stretched his legs out before him. His gaze studied the grass as he felt her eyes studying him. "I am fine, Em."
"I don't believe it. Everyone's worried about you." The wheelchair squeaked as she shifted and leaned towards him. "I had to see for myself if they're right. I can see now that they are."
His eyes flew to hers. Ire threatened to boil inside him. "Who? Who's been discussing me?"
Emily made a dramatic show of rolling her eyes. "I won't say because it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're not okay. Don't pretend with me. We're better friends than that."
He took the hand she offered him. "Yes, your friendship means a good deal to me."
"Then don't lie to me, Nikolas," she said. "Is it all about your missing aunt or is there more? Returning to your family hasn't been easy. You left for a reason and now that you're back, all hell has broken loose. That can't be easy to deal with."
"No, it isn't," he admitted, "and nor can your present condition—"
"We'll save that discussion for later," Emily interjected. "This afternoon is devoted to you. Have you seen Dawn lately? Lucky told me she's living at WSB HQ."
"Yes, she is and before you ask, I am not pleased with her living arrangements. But I love her and I support her."
"Ew, that sounded forced." Emily laughed. "I won't rat you out for disliking her career choice. I hear good things about Frisco."
Nikolas' grunt caused Emily to laugh again. "He is capable," Nikolas said. "He will keep her safe or he will risk my wrath as well as her father's."
"Okay, I'm satisfied that your love life isn't the cause of this dark cloud hovering above you—"
"Oh, Emily please! 'Dark cloud'? You liken me to Heathcliff or some other tortured hero from a Brontë novel." He released a harsh breath. "No one is happy all the time. Yes, I am adjusting to my life and my return. Changes were made in my absence. Changes within myself as well as in my family and friends. I assure you it is nothing to cause alarm for you or anyone else. I will be fine. Agreed?"
Her hand squeezed his. "Agreed. Don't blame us for caring."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
The conversation turned. A happy smile graced Emily's face as she confessed that her relationship with Lucky had changed. Nikolas received the news with mock surprise, never letting on that Lucky had told him a few days before. His happiness for the couple was real and he wished them well. Much unlike his relation who stood listening in the bushes.
Zander learned of Nikolas' outing with Emily and decided to follow them. His heart still burned from losing Emily to Lucky. Thoughts of revenge darkened his mind and as the more he heard, the darker those thoughts became.
Stefan minimized the program on his laptop and looked toward his companion. Tommy sat on the opposite side of the jet. His gaze riveted to the passing clouds, but the slight frown on his forehead proved that his thoughts were elsewhere. Stefan pondered drawing the younger man out. Doubt cautioned him from intruding.
"What if we're too late?"
Stefan didn't hesitate to respond. "There is no what if."
Tommy shifted on the leather sofa to meet Stefan's gaze. "I force myself to face all the possibilities. Even when they're not pleasant. I know it's hard. But you should do the same."
"I have, but her survival is mandatory. Anything else is unacceptable," Stefan stated. He rarely bared his innermost feelings to anyone. On this occasion and with this person, he felt that revealing a part of himself wasn't hazardous. In other words, he trusted Thomas Hardy, Junior.
"For the first time in a very long while, my family is whole. Fate would not turn a cruel eye to us. Andrèsj was found and Sabrina will be also. I will not consider any other scenario."
"Ooh, it's hot in here!" Sabrina fanned herself, but the movement only irritated her. "Jax, we have to get out of here. I'm about to burn up."
"I know it's hot," he said evenly. "The temperature has been gradually increasing. They're warming us on purpose."
"You don't say?" She didn't mean sound sarcastic, but there it was. Jax sucked in air. To his credit, he didn't lash out. He just kept walking and looking for a way out. Sabrina considered apologizing for being a smart ass and decided against it. An apology would open the airways of communication. It could encourage him to engage in conversation. He might ask questions she wasn't ready to answer.
"It would help if we knew where we are," he said, sticking his inside the bushes that comprised the maze. "The vegetation is unfamiliar. For all I know we could be inside a building. But if we are outside and if I knew where, I could find a way out."
His frustration was palatable. It was obvious that his savior-complex was taking a powerful beating. Sabrina knew about his past lovers. His role in their lives was often repeated—he saved them from their situations and many times, he saved them from themselves. He wasn't like that when they first met, Sabrina thought. Albeit, they were teenagers and saving anyone is not a priority for a fifteen-year-old male. To her recollection, they were partners. Until, she became afraid and ran away.
Think about something else, she silently told herself.
"We're in this together," she said. "I'm not looking to you to save me. We can save each other."
He glanced at her. No words came from his lips. Sabrina knew he heard her, but he wasn't listening. He was too busy adjusting the weight on his shoulders.
She tried another tactic. "The bushes need water to survive. There must be an irrigation system. There's water here somewhere."
Jax became still. "You're right." He dropped to his knees and without preamble, started digging.
Sabrina joined him. She removed her shoe. The heel worked as a makeshift hoe. Jax mimicked her actions. After what seemed like a lifetime, their efforts produced results.
"Bloody hell!" he gasped.
"Water?" She followed the direction of stare. Her mouth dropped open.
Jax hadn't found water, but something much better. A trap door.
Jason sat on the arm of the sofa, his eyes following her with that usual dead stare.
Keesha knew he wasn't listening to a word she said. For the past hour or so, she'd made it very clear how one bed wasn't enough. Discovering that the hotel was completely booked irritated the hell out of her. Her gut told her he knew it would be and that somehow this one bed business was not a surprise to him.
Finally, she threw up her hands. "What's going on, Jason? This isn't about finding Jax, Sabrina and the others. Tell me why you brought me here."
He blinked. She couldn't believe it. In the years since he'd changed, she had never seen him blink once. The mystery of Jason Morgan continued and Keesha began to fear its resolution.
She grabbed her bag and headed for the door. "Forget about it."
He moved faster than she gave him credit for. He wrenched the bag from her hands and grabbed her shoulders, turning her to face him.
"You want the truth?" he asked. His gaze penetrated her. "Are you sure? People always say what they don't mean. You're like the rest of them. You're not as bad as the others, but you're like them."
"Others?" she asked, ignoring the heat of his fingers as it seeped through her fabric, scorching her. "Who are you talking about?"
She pulled free of him. "I'm not like everyone."
"No," he said, not moving an inch from her. "They all put me on a pedestal. You didn't. Did you treat Jason Quartermaine the same?"
"I won't discuss him with you."
"Why not?" Jason quickly asked. "Because you loved him?"
"No," she said, just barely able to keep her tone even, "because he was too complex for you to understand."
"He was good—"
"No," she said, cutting his words with ice cold precision. "He was human. He had compassion, but he could get angry. You share his temper, but that's all. He didn't get off on being cruel, and he wouldn't have brought me here to hurt me."
"We share more than a temper, Keesha." His hand shot out and cupped the back of her head. His fingers kneaded her neck. His other hand went to her waist. "We share a body, too. And you're wrong. I didn't bring you here to hurt you. I brought you here for this."
She had time to move. But she didn't. And Jason took her stillness for acquiescence.
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