“When are they due back?” Rachel queried.
Sometimes, living on the mainland was a nuisance because, perversely, she felt cut off. Things happened on the island when she wasn’t there. By the time she did get to hear about them, they were old news. This trip, for instance. A prime example. A call came in late one evening and, by the time Rachel arrived the following day, Derek and Merlin were long gone.
Even now, two days later, she was still digging the information from Nick.
He frowned, distracted from his work, and looked round at her. “Tomorrow, I think. You know Derek. He changes his plans at the drop of a hat.”
“But they’re due back tomorrow,” Rachel persisted. Nick shrugged, already turning back to the keyboard. Rachel sat on the other chair and leaned forward. “Nick, I know you’re busy but I’m a member here too. I’d like to know what’s going on.”
He glanced round again, his eyes quizzical.
Rachel laughed slightly. “I don’t live here, remember? All this happened when I was at home. I still don’t have the full picture.”
Nick nodded. “Paul Emery called. He wanted a meeting. Face to face. He didn’t expect Derek to fly all the way to London so he offered a compromise. New York. It’s about halfway.”
Now Rachel frowned. “What’s the meeting about?”
“Derek spoke with Alex when he called. You should ask her.”
“I’m asking you,” Rachel pointed out.
“I don’t know,” Nick replied rather curtly.
Rachel wasn’t deterred. “Then take a good guess,” she invited.
Nick sighed and slowly shook his head. “Maybe .. it’s to do with the Forum.” He watched her for a reaction. Rachel’s face remained blank. “When William resigned an’ Paul took over ..?”
“You went to London. Alex and I stayed here.”
“Right … ” he recalled. “They elected Derek the new leader but he turned it down,” Nick related. “Paul got the job instead. They decided to hold a forum every few years. Like a conference. Derek offered to host the first one here.”
“He did?” Rachel was surprised.
Nick shrugged again. “Alex knows more. The message I got was to check, double and triple check the estate security. I only have to do that when it’s something big.”
“Is that why Peri went too?” Rachel inquired. To an untrained ear, her voice sounded the same. But there was a slight delicacy to it.
Nick’s lips thinned. “Paul asked for her specifically. She can’t refuse a request like that.”
Rachel didn’t push on that one. Life had not exactly been a bed of roses for Nick and Merlin lately and, while Rachel had no idea why, she knew neither of them would appreciate overtly intrusive questions being asked. Instead, she returned to the original subject.
“New York .. and they’re due back tomorrow.”
“Last I heard,” Nick agreed neutrally.
“It must be big,” she mused, “if it’s taken over two days to meet about it. A Precepts’ Forum. Here.”
“For us, it’ll be business as usual,” he commented.
Rachel nodded. “Where’s Alex now?”
“Er .. Derek’s room, I think.”
She rose and smoothed her skirt. “His office?”
“Bedroom,” Nick corrected, already focused again on his screen.
Alex’s head was reeling. She’d hoped that, by now, the staccato burst of orders and instructions would have settled into a logical sequence of things to be done. They hadn’t. The immensity of the task was staggering.
She stood at the foot of the bed and looked around almost blindly.
“C’mon,” she urged in a soft, exasperated voice. “Think!”
Derek had received the call from London around ten thirty at night. A Legacy private jet was already on the way to collect him and Merlin. They’d packed and been out the door within three hours. His instructions on leaving had been routine. Business as usual, I’ll call soon as I know anything. They hadn’t been alarmed by his abrupt departure. Merlin was with him and Profelis was still here in the house. What was there to be alarmed about? The Legacy was a much different beast these days. A call from Paul Emery requesting a meeting at such short notice did not generate the fear and trepidation as it would have done if it had come from William Sloan. A call from London caused curiosity and a little eagerness. Even if it was bad news, they had the reassuring knowledge that the Legacy was united and would band together to fight a common enemy, not waste its energy fighting amongst itself.
And, for a few hours, it had been business as usual. Alex had been in the control room when the second call came in. It was Derek. He’d asked if she was well. Alex had said yes. He’d asked if she had a pen and paper to hand. Alex had gotten them. And then he’d rattled off a list of instructions and orders, numbers, dates, and told her to get on with it. If she needed him, he could be reached via the New York house but, he’d added, he had every faith in her ability to get the job done.
Alex was trying to do that. She’d passed on the instruction to Nick about the security. She’d spoken with Andrew. The butler had asked when, and had swallowed at the reply but nodded his understanding. As far as she knew, the situation was more or less under control. There was just the small question of …
“Alex?” Rachel began, easing across the threshold.
Alex jumped, startled.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, y’know,” Rachel smiled.
“It’s okay. I was miles away. Running thru lists,” Alex replied.
“In here?” Rachel queried. Her voice was light but had a puzzled edge.
“There’s a reason,” Alex admitted and sat heavily on the bed. A moment later, Rachel sat beside her. “When Derek called, he told me that we’re hosting the first ever Precepts’ Forum. At least, the first ever Forum in the modern Legacy.”
Rachel nodded. “Nick said something about it being like a conference.”
“Right,” Alex agreed, nodding. “And they’re all staying here, on the island.”
“Exactly,” Alex grinned. “Derek said they’ll double up in the guest rooms.”
“We still don’t have enough,” Rachel commented soberly.
“I know. I said the same thing in just about the same tone of voice. That’s when he said to open up the other wing.”
This brought a frown to Rachel’s forehead. “What other wing?”
“The old family wing. I’m not surprised you don’t know about it,” Alex remarked. “You’ve walked around it a hundred times in the garden, you know it’s there, it’s just .. when you get inside this house .. you kinda forget it’s there. It was locked when Barbara Rayne left the island and, as far as I know, it’s not been unlocked since. Derek’s never needed the room before. I’ve never been in there, neither has Nick. Derek hasn’t set foot inside in years.” She looked around his room. “The reason I’m in here is .. I have to find the key.”
“Ah, now I understand,” Rachel murmured. Alex was right. Rachel had seen the old wing from the garden but she had forgotten it was there. Now Alex had said about it, a foggy memory of a single, shadowy door limped forward for her attention. “But .. he’s due back tomorrow.”
“I know. But consider for a second. Andrew has to prepare all the rooms for occupation. They haven’t seen the light of day in .. twenty years? Maybe longer. They have to be aired. Cleaned. Maybe even redecorated. It’s a huge task, Rachel, and I can’t even begin till I find the key to unlock the door.”
“Have you asked Nick to take a look at it?” Rachel asked. “He has been known to render assistance in that area. And, if he fails – which I doubt, Profelis could do something, I’m sure.”
Alex sighed. “It’s on my list. I’d rather use the proper key. But .. where would Derek keep it? It isn’t what I’d call a secret so there’s no need to hide it away. He asked me to open the door so it can’t be in a safety deposit box in town because he’d know I can’t get to it. It has to be in here somewhere .. because it isn’t in his office.”
“Shall I help you look?” Rachel offered. “That way, if we can’t find it, you’ll have a witness to back you up when you tell him we’re behind schedule.”
After a brief moment of thought, Alex said, “Good idea.”
Nick was profoundly glad that he had a task he could sink his teeth into, something which kept him focused no matter where he was. He even dreamed about it. It meant he didn’t notice so much the empty space beside him in the bed or the fact that he took his morning run alone. It was still there, however, lurking in the back of his mind but concentrating on a thorough security review kept it from ambushing him when he least expected it.
He wasn’t particularly looking forward to Merlin’s return. They hadn’t argued but she had distanced herself very slightly from him. She hadn’t said why. Hadn’t even so much as hinted at the reason. She didn’t have to. He already knew. Nick could put a place, date and time to the moment it had started. It was when he’d asked her about raising a child.
He hadn’t thought it a bad idea. If he had, he would’ve kept quiet. Jazz had set it in motion with his idle question. It had grown. Nick had asked. Merlin hadn’t answered. In fact, she’d never answered him. It was as if he’d never said the words. She still smiled and laughed and talked with him, slept with him, made love with him, worked on the new house with him, but there was distance between them now that hadn’t been there before.
Nick knew they’d have to talk about it sometime but he was damned if he knew how to raise the subject again without making it worse. Just saying it might only cause more distance but that was all he knew how to do. Speak his mind. He wasn’t the kind of guy to skirt around the edges, dropping hints. If it was on his mind, he either spoke up or he said nothing.
He didn’t like his life right now. Nick felt that, at any other time, Merlin would have at least queried why she had to go to New York with Derek. She hadn’t. She’d packed her bags with shocking alacrity and left the house so abruptly that it almost seemed like she was making her escape.
Nick understood her reluctance at the idea. Merlin couldn’t have children of her own. She’d had surgery to prevent it ever happening. The reason was because any child born of her body would have her power and would have to be raised very strictly, just as she had been. Merlin refused to do that. But there was no reason why they couldn’t adopt a child. Nick wanted to know why she was so against that idea.
She’d be home tomorrow. Maybe he could get some time alone with her, talk it out, put everything back on an even keel. It wasn’t even that he was desperate to do this, to raise a child of their own. It wasn’t dominating his life. He didn’t feel that he’d be missing out on something magical if he didn’t. But it was an idea and he was, at the very least, interested in her reply. That was all.
The phone rang and he swore under his breath as he scooted his chair back to get it.
“Luna Foundation. Nick Boyle.”
He smiled despite the sudden pang of hurt. She sounded so pleased to hear his voice. “Hi, babe. How’s it going?”
“We’re just about done here. Paul’s treating us to dinner and then we’re heading for the airport. We should be back in the early hours tomorrow. Three, at the latest, unless there’s a delay, of course.”
“Great.” He hesitated. “Merli .. we need to talk when you get home.”
“I know. I haven’t exactly been the best just lately. But you’re right. We do need to talk. Tomorrow, okay?”
“I still love you,” Nick said. “That’s never changed.”
“I love you too, tough guy. I’ve just a lot to think about. My feelings for you haven’t changed a bit. Nicky, I have to go. Derek says to tell Alex it’s in the bureau, left hand drawer, right at the back, in a velvet box.”
“What is?” he frowned.
“What she’s looking for. She’ll know. Tomorrow, okay?”
“Sure.” Nick smiled and the line clicked dead. He rose and went to pass on the message, forgetting that well worn phrase that tomorrow never comes …
Nick stood with a flashlight ready in his hand. Rachel stood beside him, her eyes wide. Alex glanced back at them.
“Ready?” she asked.
They nodded quickly then Rachel added, as Alex turned and bent slightly, “Derek should be here for this.”
“I know,” Alex agreed as she inserted the key into the lock. “But he isn’t and he told me to do it.”
She turned it, wincing a little as the key resisted and she had to apply more pressure. Then, with an audibly echoing click, it moved round. Alex straightened, looking back again. Rachel shivered. Nick just raised his eyebrows, silently questioning either the delay or her reluctance. Alex turned back to the door and put her fingers on the ornate brass handle. She swallowed, then her shoulders sagged and she smiled to herself.
Don’t be ridiculous, she thought. This is my home. This wing is just .. history. When Barbara lived here, this part of the house was excluded from everything Legacy. It can’t possibly be haunted. And, even if it is, we’re surely the people who can cope best with it. I only feel like this because the door just happens to be in a part of the house we don’t visit often and it’s kinda dark and shadowy here. In fact, if you didn’t know this was where the door is .. you’d miss it.
She opened the door.
As Nick switched on the flashlight and sent a broad, bright beam dancing into the darkness beyond, Rachel said, “How can this be? I don’t understand.”
Alex saw she was frowning. “What don’t you understand?”
“This,” Rachel replied, gesturing at the door and the passage beyond. “We blew up this house. Everything was destroyed. How can there be, one, a wing we’ve never been in before, and, two, a door locked with a key that only Derek knew where it was kept? Nick, you oversaw the rebuilding. You were here. Yet .. you’ve never been in this part of the house?”
“Strictly speaking .. we didn’t blow up the entire house,” Nick responded, peering into the darkness. “This wing, being so far from the main action, survived. Not unscathed, I have to add. The foundations were damaged. We had to dig down on the outside to underpin an’ strengthen them. That was the very first priority because the walls had some big cracks already from the detonation.” He pulled back and pushed the door almost shut. “See here?” he pointed. “The wood’s charred from the fire. We couldn’t get in because it was locked and we didn’t have the key. We believed the key had been destroyed along with everything else. But the door held. Could be some minor smoke damage in here.”
Alex opened the door again. “If that’s the case, you and Profelis have some work lined up. If this is the only part of the original house, it hasn’t had any security work done on it in a very long time. It needs to be brought up to spec. Internal monitoring in the public areas. The electrical wiring may be unsafe,” she remarked as an afterthought.
“I’m on it,” Nick nodded. “Profelis and I will survey the entire wing in the morning. Until then, we stick with the flashlight and don’t touch any of the wall switches. We don’t need another fire.”
Rachel eased over the threshold into the passage. “Smells musty. Oh, look, portraits … ” She smiled. “All the Raynes from way back when, d’you think?”
The beam flicked along the row of oil paintings which lined this particular hall. “Could be,” Nick agreed softly. “This one looks like Winston .. but a lot younger.”
“The floor feels uneven,” Alex commented, sliding her feet forward. “We are going to have to get contractors out here. The whole place needs a thorough refurbishment. Top to bottom. Andrew is going to be so mad.”
“How long do we have?” Rachel asked, her voice wary.
“Not long,” Alex replied heavily. “Derek has the exact dates but he was provisionally saying the first week in January.”
Rachel blinked as she stumbled to a halt. “It’s less than a month till Christmas. Why so soon?”
Nick shrugged and his voice, when he spoke, was tinged with cynicism. “That’s Precepts for you. Make a general decision years before but then leave it to the last minute to get the details worked out.” He sighed. “Well, we do our best work under pressure. An’, Alex? If you need a contractor, I can recommend the guys who worked on our house.”
They crept on.
Andrew checked supper was proceeding as it should then turned back to the kitchen table and his lists. For a moment, his gaze passed over them without noticing a thing. His mind was instead staring at a mountain. He let out a sharp breath.
“Any mountain can not only be tackled but conquered as well,” he said out loud. “You just have to chip away at it until it’s gone.” He sat down. “Okay. The other way to look at conquering a mountain is to climb it in stages. So .. have I reached a base camp yet or am I still in the village ten miles away?”
There were several lists. One was headed up ‘Housekeeping’, another was ‘Notes’. A third was ‘Catering’. A fourth was titled ‘Suppliers and Contractors’. The last was called ‘Domestics’. The Notes list was daunting. It was numbers and dates, and none of them were finalized. They were all provisional. Maybe, when Derek returned tomorrow, Andrew would get some firm information.
The Domestics list was basically household supplies. Extra toilet paper, soap, routine medications like antacids and painkillers, towels, light bulbs. Anything except food and drink which was on the Catering list. For the main meal each day, Andrew would hire in outside caterers but he would be responsible for breakfast and lunch for the five days of the conference plus the two days before and afterward as people arrived and left. Even so, he would get in some temporary help. There were at least one hundred people scheduled to attend. He’d helped organize big parties before – the numbers involved here didn’t scare him – but he’d never had to turn his place of employment into a hotel. The Housekeeping list had a few items checked off. The existing guestrooms had been cleaned and the beds stripped ready. Fires had been made up in the hearths. Towels, soap, and toilet paper were in the bathrooms which had also been scrubbed. Those rooms were nearly ready for occupation. All he had to do was make up the beds. Possibly he was at base camp with this list. The first base camp anyway.
His gaze traveled to the Catering list. He’d made a start planning the menus which was on another sheet of paper pinned to this list. He couldn’t see about hiring the caterers until he had the menus done and he couldn’t finish that until he’d spoken with Derek about dietary requirements.
The door opened and Nick came in. “How’s it going?” they both asked at the same time. Nick grinned. Andrew didn’t.
“I can’t do any more until Dr Rayne returns,” the butler commented. “I need firm numbers. I need to know if anyone’s vegetarian or vegan, or has an allergy to dairy. I need access to those extra rooms.”
Nick pulled back a chair, turned it and straddled it. “We got the door open.”
“Well, that’s something to celebrate,” Andrew muttered.
“But you can’t get in there yet,” Nick concluded. He saw Andrew’s eyes close. “It has to be checked over for safety. Wiring may not be up to code. Entire wing has to be surveyed. May have to be totally redecorated.”
Andrew groaned softly.
“Look at it this way – if it does, it’ll be cleaned ready,” Nick encouraged.
“When you say redecorated, are we talking about just freshening the paint-work .. even though that will leave an odor which does tend to linger .. or are we really saying total refurbishment? New bathrooms and plumbing, plastering on the walls, possibly new floors even?”
Nick hesitated and Andrew groaned again.
“It’d be easier and cheaper to take over the Saint Francis for ten days,” he sighed. “They’re geared up for that number of guests and they have conference facilities. We have Christmas and New Years. The Christmas Eve party. We’ll never be ready in time!”
“We will,” Nick responded. “Alex an’ Rachel are still in there, making an initial assessment. Derek will be home in the early hours of tomorrow. Then it’ll be all hands to the pump. The contractors you’ll be hiring, I need to know who so I can check ’em out.”
“I’ll give you the names as soon as I’ve spoken with Dr Rayne. Until then, I’m stymied,” Andrew shrugged. “I can only do so much and I’ve already done that.”
“We’ll work as fast as we can,” Nick promised.
“Thank you,” Andrew said fervently. “Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes.”
While Nick had gone back to tell the good news and bad news to Andrew, Rachel and Alex continued their slow exploration. It all depended on the survey Nick and Profelis would carry out tomorrow but, from what they’d seen so far, it looked fine. There were sitting rooms and lounges which looked as though someone had only just walked out of them. They were dusty, yes, and the air was stale but the furniture was there. The decoration hadn’t faded because the drapes had all been drawn. The furniture wasn’t dated because it was old to begin with. Classic workmanship. Brass buttoned leather sofas and high winged brocaded armchairs. Scroll legged writing tables and desks. Bureaus. The walls down here were wood paneled. But these were the ‘public rooms’ where Barbara Rayne had met and entertained her guests and friends. Rachel and Alex had agreed not to go upstairs to the private rooms. That was for Derek to do first. They felt it would be intruding into his personal memories.
“What I find strange,” Rachel murmured, “is that there’s only one door which connects this wing to the rest of the house. Most wings have a door on every floor but not here.”
“There may,” Alex replied, equally softly. It didn’t feel right to talk normally. “We may just not be able to see them from our side. They could be paneled over.”
“Barbara really hated the Legacy, didn’t she?” Rachel commented. “I mean, this feels musty and unused, sure, but it also feels .. I don’t know, fresh in some way. Untainted.”
Alex nodded. She felt the same way. “I know she hated the obligations the Legacy placed on Winston, the time he devoted to it. But she also understood that it was necessary. It must have hurt her terribly to see Derek go into it as well. She did her best to shelter and protect him and Ingrid from the Legacy’s influence.”
“I think she’s also proud of him,” Rachel remarked. “His decision took guts as well as honoring a family tradition. Barbara must have known she’d done a great job raising him.”
They halted outside a set of double doors. “Shall we?” Alex wondered.
“Why not?” Rachel agreed and pushed them open.
Alex shone the flashlight around and had to narrow her eyes. “Now I understand why Derek said to open this wing for the Forum.”
“Oh my .. would you look at this ..?” Rachel breathed. “I never once imagined … ”
The beam flashed and gleamed on gilt and crystal. It was a magnificent ballroom. Two huge crystal chandeliers hung on chains from the ceiling. Enormous gilt framed mirrors dominated the walls at both ends of the massive room. There was space here for two hundred people, easily.
Alex took three steps inside and lifted her chin, tilting her head back to look at the ornate plaster ceiling. “This is fabulous. This says party.”
“I wonder if Winston ever danced in here … ” Rachel moved past her. “It’s fantastic, Alex. I know this is private but Derek has to keep this level open at least. Look at the plasterwork … ”
They heard footsteps and turned. Nick eased thru the door and halted sharply. “Whoa … ”
“An’ then some,” Rachel agreed, laughing.
“Andrew says dinner’s in around twenty minutes if you wanna go wash up.”
“How is he?” Alex asked, biting her lip.
“Not a happy camper,” Nick relayed. “He needs the boss.”
“He’ll be back tomorrow,” Alex replied.
Profelis nodded. “I’d be glad to help out.”
“Thanks,” Nick responded. “We’ll concentrate on the first floor until Derek’s had a chance to get a look at the upstairs rooms.”
“I could do something tonight,” Profelis offered. “It’d make a change from training.”
“An’ have Peri lecture you?” Nick grinned.
“Maybe I’ll wait,” Profelis commented after a moment’s consideration. “Not that I’m scared or anything,” he added quickly.
“You guys aren’t scared of anything,” Nick commented. He studied the monitors on the wall and nodded. Everything was set for the night. He entered a code and hit a button. That was it, the place was locked down. “Think I’ll grab a beer an’ turn in.”
“The Legacy is strange to me but there is wisdom in your words,” Profelis remarked, following Nick from the control room.
“Still strange? Even after all this time?” the other man queried.
Profelis didn’t answer for a moment, he only frowned. “I am not Aquila,” he admitted eventually. “I never had a problem with the rules or with my upbringing. I see the world differently from her. Yes, it is still strange, even after these few weeks. Not as strange, though.”
“We must be doing something right then,” Nick said, yawning, then glanced at his watch. “They’ll be in the air by now.”
“Are they returning by private jet?” Profelis asked.
“Only fair. Short notice trips mean special arrangements.” He paused at the top of the stairs. “I am willing to bet that the reason Peri had to go too was because Paul wants Enforcer security here.”
“This location is already secure,” Profelis pointed out.
“Sure, I know that, you know that, Peri knows that, so does Derek and so does Paul. He’ll still ask for it and she’ll still say okay.” Nick started down the stairs. “At least two of you guys on site.”
“Then we’re covered,” Profelis shrugged. “I’m here, so’s Aquila.”
“If I were you, I’d get one more on standby. Just in case,” Nick advised and wondered why he’d said it. Profelis was absolutely right. Aquila and Profelis could easily cope in an already protected location. So why would they need more?
Rachel was woken at a little past two fifteen in the morning by the persistent sound of the phone. She groaned slightly as she rolled onto her side and hoisted herself onto one elbow, one hand stretching for the bedside lamp. Then the same hand fumbled for the receiver.
“Yes?” she murmured, her eyes still shut.
The totally out of character quaver in Alex’s voice sent a sharp shock wave into Rachel’s sleep fuddled brain and her eyes snapped open. Her chest squeezed painfully.
“Alex, what is it? What’s happened?” she asked quickly, her own voice breathless with trepidation.
“It’s … ”
Shaking her head, Rachel cut in, “Is Nick there?”
“Let me speak with him.” Rachel was trying to hold it together. Her heart was racing and she had a horrible sinking feeling in her stomach.
There was a pause of several seconds, then, “Rachel, it’s Nick. The plane’s gone down, east of the Rockies.”
From the sound of it, Nick was trying to hold it together as well. Rachel swallowed.
“S-Survivors ..?” she whispered. Asking if there had been casualties was stupid. If a jet fell out of the sky, there were casualties.
“Yeah, amazingly. But it’s bad.” His voice caught suddenly and he had to stop. “Very bad. Alex and I are getting ready to ship out. You wanna come?”
“How can you ask that?” Rachel demanded, already out of bed. She was angry with him, angry for asking such a dumb question.
“Kat,” Nick replied. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“And this is Derek and Peri,” Rachel flung back thru a choking knot of tears. “Kat’ll understand. We’ve been thru this before. A call in the middle of the night … ”
He was silent for a few seconds. “Don’t come here. Go straight to the airport. We’ll meet you there.”
“Okay.” She hung up and had to stop. Just for a moment. She was shaking all over, her fingers icy as she held them to her face.
“Mom ..?” Kat’s voice called sleepily from the door. “Who was it?”
Rachel tried to compose herself before turning but it was impossible. Kat’s eyes were huge in the lamplight. “Oh, baby, really bad news, I’m afraid. There’s been an accident. Derek .. an’ Peri .. were in a plane crash. I have to go be with them. Okay? You’ll be all right till I get back?”
Kat was blinking back tears too. “Are they gonna be all right?” she whispered.
“I don’t know, sweetie. But I have to go. I’ll call you, soon as I know anything. I promise.”
“Can I come with you ..?” Kat pleaded in a very small, anguished voice.
“Not this time, baby.”
“But she’s my friend. I want to be there,” Kat choked.
Rachel rushed to her daughter and hugged her tightly, and wept with her. What Kat hadn’t said but what they were both thinking was ‘to say goodbye’. They hadn’t been able to do that with Patrick and Connor. At last, the immediate shock wore off and a dreadful numbness took over.
“Nick said they’d survived the crash but it was very bad,” Rachel related in a dull voice. “We have to be strong, Kat. Both of us. Look, if it’s really that bad and there’s no hope at all, you can fly out there. You’re old enough now to fly by yourself. I’ll call you, I promise. Until I get there to find out … ” Rachel shook her head. “Pray for them. Pray they come thru.”
“What if you get there too late ..?” Kat whispered, her eyes full of memories.
“Then we’d both get there too late. Kat, I have to go. Call James, see if he’ll come wait with you.” Rachel felt like a monster but she was also very aware that precious time was ticking away.
“You’ll call me? You promise?”
“Cross my heart,” Rachel said, doing just that.
Kat nodded bleakly. “Okay.”
Rachel nodded too. “Call him now.”
She turned to her closet and jerked open the door. She had no idea what she threw in her case. Her mind had shut down, her body worked on reaction and impulse. Within twenty minutes, she was on her way.
Alex stood hunched in her coat, her eyes dull and her face slack. Nick was nearby, talking quietly on his cell phone when Rachel hurried into the concourse. She spotted them easily – at this hour of the morning, there were few travelers. Nick nodded once but didn’t break his conversation. If Alex’s eyes were dull, his were sparking with suppressed emotion. Probably anger brought on by helplessness, Rachel mused distantly.
Nick, she knew, had it under control. Alex, however …
“Alex ..?” Rachel began.
The other woman’s complete lack of reaction worried her and it gave her something to do. Someone to concentrate on other than herself. Nick wouldn’t want an open show of mothering.
At the gentle prompting, Alex gave a convulsive shiver and her eyes flooded with tears. Rachel put her arms around her and they both wept into each other’s shoulder. Best to do it now, before they got to the hospital. There, they would have to be strong.
Nick finished his call. “Charter jet’s being fueled. They’ll call us in fifteen minutes or so.”
Rachel stepped back but clutched at Alex’s hand. “What happened? How did you hear?”
Again, being on the mainland, close to every convenience, meant she had been cut off from important events. For all that this was the most horrific news, she would’ve wanted to be there to share this with them.
“We got a call at around one fifty,” Nick replied, his voice measured. “The Lear fell outta the sky at approximately one ten. No one knows why but we’ll find out.”
Rachel blinked. “Surely, we should stay at the hospital … ”
Nick shook his head. “If they die, I want to know why and how, and, if I find someone was responsible, I want them to feel as much pain.”
“If they die .. we should be with them,” Rachel said steadily. “Have you spoken with the staff at the hospital?”
“Briefly. The cop who called was there and handed us over to the doctors.”
Rachel swallowed. “What did they say?”
“That it was some kinda miracle they were alive at all. They’re both in deep comas. There is brainwave activity but … ” Nick fell silent, his lips pressing together, and looked away.
“They don’t think they’re going to wake up,” Alex concluded in a whispering voice, hoarse thru crying.
Rachel looked around quickly, searching for .. something. “If there’s brainwave activity, it isn’t hopeless – ”
“C’mon, Rachel!” Nick accused. “You have experience of this kinda thing. More than the rest of us. What’re the odds, huh?”
“They’re slim but they do exist,” she replied, flinching back. “Nick, you can’t write them off yet. Derek’s come thru so much. He’s had more close encounters with death than any of us, and he’s survived. And P – ”
“Don’t,” Nick cut in, holding up a hand. “I don’t wanna hear it.”
“The truth is they are both fighters. We all know it. I don’t think it’s wrong to have hope,” Rachel persisted.
Nick nodded and walked away.
Frowning, Rachel looked to Alex. “He isn’t telling me everything, is he?”
“When Profelis heard,” Alex related, “he went to look for Aquila. Aquila can heal Peri, and Derek. She’s done it before. Brought them both back. But Profelis couldn’t find her. Peri’s lost her soul. Aquila’s missing. Without her, Peri has no hope .. and neither does Nick.”
Rachel shivered, momentarily overwhelmed with fear. “Maybe she’s recovering,” she ventured, sounding unsure.
Alex gave a weak laugh. “Aquila doesn’t feel pain. She never needs to sleep or eat. She’s immortal, Rachel. Every soul is. When we die, it’s what survives and goes on.”
“And,” Rachel went on, “when people die, their immortal spirits need to recover a little before they continue their journey, especially if death has been traumatic.”
“Normal people,” Alex amended. “Peri isn’t normal. Profelis isn’t normal. He looked for her .. and he didn’t find her. And, if her soul is missing, what about Derek’s?” Alex asked with sudden fierceness. “Nick’s right. We have to find out what happened. If this is deliberate sabotage, someone has to pay.”
“Revenge isn’t healthy,” Rachel cautioned.
“But it feels damn good at the time,” Alex countered.