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Miss Parker stretches languorously on the bed, relieving her back from the joyous ache of a well rested night. A contented sigh next escapes her lips as she slowly opens her eyes. She looks around the room and smiles at her ruffled companion, still asleep on the couch. His hair has grown a little longer than he usually wears it, causing a tendril to fall stubbornly into his face. In his sleep, he keeps swatting at the rebellious lock of hair only for it to fall back in his face. He looks so peaceful in sleep. Like a child almost.
She gently eases from the bed and tips across the floor until she's just in front of him. She takes another moment to stare at him, remembering the beautiful words he uttered to her last night on the beach.
*My heart belongs to you - and only you - for always.*
He promised her he'd love her forever. And she believed him. She was able to utter the same words to him in return. And she meant them. More than she's meant anything in her life. She truly loved Jarod. And realized that she always had. She smiles once more at his sleeping form, eager to gaze into his gorgeous brown eyes.
"Jarod. Time to rise and shine," she whispers into his ear.
His eyes ease open and she watches in wonder as his face lights up in recognition of his location. And then flushes in embarrassment.
"I guess I fell asleep," he says shyly, pulling himself to an upright position, the blanket falling down around his waist. He takes the time to stretch his own stiff limbs, the muscles in his bare chest rippling with the exertion.
"You didn't have to stay on the couch," she tells him, using all her will power to keep her hands from stroking his chest. "The bed was plenty big enough for both of us."
"I didn't want to rush this," he says. "I know in my heart that this is right - us finally being together. But it's too soon. After ZoŽ and what's his name."
"Carson," she shudders in disgust. "The biggest mistake of my life. I can't believe he had the nerve to lay his hands on me. He's lucky I didn't have my gun."
"I'm sorry I couldn't protect you from him," Jarod sulks. He lowers his head in shame, unable to make eye contact with her.
"Jarod, we talked about this last week at the hospital. You are not to blame. Not for what Carson did to me or for what those sweepers did all those years ago." She takes both sides of his face into her hands and gently raises his head until she's looking into his eyes. "You have to get past it."
"I almost killed him," he whispers, resting his forehead against her. "All I could focus on was squeezing the life out of him. And I would have if you didn't stop me. When you grabbed my hands, you touched something deep inside me. I felt connected to you, almost like we were one person."
"I felt it too." She gives him a light kiss and strokes his cheek.
"It felt like my mind shattered. Between the pretend I had worked on before and seeing you walk out that bathroom with your bruised face, I just fell apart," he admits. "I guess being a genius doesn't exempt me from that kind of pain. I just shut down. I remember you holding me, but after that, I woke up in the hospital and you weren't there."
"Jarod, you scared me to death. You had a look in your eyes I'd never seen before. There was so much turmoil and anguish. You almost killed Carson and that almost killed your spirit. And you're right. You *did* just shut down. That's why they took you to the hospital," she explains.
"You made it better," he says, pulling her into his arms. "Just having you with me began to heal me. I don't know what I would have done if you weren't there."
"Jarod if I wasn't there, none of that would have happened. I left you at that hospital because I realized that. ZoŽ was better for you. She'd take care of you. She'd never hurt you . . . . " Her words are cut off by his lips pressing against hers. For a few brief moments, they stay connected enjoying the sweet contact.
"Who's trying to take the blame now?" he chuckles. "Let's just say that we're even and leave it at that, okay?"
"But Jarod . . . "
"No buts," he interrupts again. "ZoŽ is a sweet and wonderful person. And I'm sorry I hurt her. But you're wrong, Parker. She may have been good for me, but you're better. She may have been able to take care of me, but not like you can. And even if she managed to do all that, there's no way I'd ever be able to love her like I love you."
"I like hearing that," she smiles, hugging him tightly.
"What? I love you?" He grins at her when she nods to the affirmative. "Well get used to hearing it. I love you, Parker. I love you . . . I love you . . . I love you." He punctuates each 'I love you' with a kiss to a different part of her face until he runs out of spots and ends up locked on her mouth.
"Mmmm," she moans her approval. "And I love doing that."
"Kissing me? Well, you should get used to that, too. I plan on doing that in every proper place I can think of." He winks at her before burying his face in her neck, nibbling along her collarbone.
"Ooh, just the proper places? What about the improper ones?" she giggles, enjoying the playful turn of the conversation.
"All in due time, my dear," he promises before reaching for the top button to her pajamas top. He's a bit surprised when her hand reaches on top of his, stilling his actions.
"I'm sorry," she apologizes when she notices the hurt and confused look in his eyes.
"No, I'm sorry. I wake up talking about how we should take this slow, and now here I am feeling you up like some hormonal teenager," he berates himself. He untangles himself from her arms and puts some distance between them.
"Jarod, it's not you," she promises, scooting back closer. "I want you as much as you want me. It's just that sometimes . . . Carson wasn't . . . very gentle," she mumbles. But Jarod hears any way and starts to get angry again.
"Parker, did he ever . . . "
"Rape me?" She sort of shakes her head and nods it at the same time. "I never said no to him or stopped him. But I never really said yes, either. I just let him do what he wanted. It was like high school all over again. He kept on pressuring me so much that I finally got fed up and just gave in about a month after we started dating. I remember that I cried when he left that first time and being glad he didn't stay the whole night. I guess after awhile, I just got used to letting him have sex with me. That's all it ever was."
"Did he always hurt you?" Jarod asks in a small voice and Miss Parker can see the guilt rising up in him again. She was suddenly sorry she even brought it up.
"Jarod, it's fine. Really. Forget I said anything," she insists. "I'm just a little cranky. I'm not really feeling all that well and . . ."
"What's wrong?" he asks, suddenly very concerned. "Have you had your follow up visit with the doctor since the incident last week?"
"I never went back," she admits quietly.
"Parker . . ."
"I know what you're going to say," she stops him. "But hanging around the hospital with you and ZoŽ wasn't at the top of my to do list last week. I was trying to forget about you and that whole awful day. And really, I wasn't hurt that badly. I didn't think it was necessary to go back."
"You had a head injury, Parker. They really shouldn't have released you without some observation," he scolds her.
"I got hit a couple of times, Jarod. I'd hardly call that a *head* injury."
"What are you symptoms? Headache? Blurred vision? Dizziness? Nausea?"
"Mostly the dizziness and nausea and a little bit of a headache." She watches the little worry line deepen in his forehead as he slips into doctor mode.
"Any kind of head trauma is potentially serious. You could have a concussion or something. Follow my finger," he orders her as he moves it back and forth in front of her face.
"That's not really helping me," she groans, barely able to hold back the wave of nausea that suddenly strikes. In a flash, she's up off the couch and into the bathroom, emptying the contents of her stomach into the toilet. She feels Jarod's presence behind her and would almost prefer to leave her head buried in the toilet rather than face him. But the mess she made almost makes her gag again and she decides that facing Jarod was the lesser of two evils. She flushes the toilet and turns around and is surprised to see concern on his face instead of smugness.
"Here," he says, holding out a wet washcloth so that she can clean up a bit. Then he helps her stand so that she can rinse her mouth out in the sink. She gets her toothbrush and thoroughly brushes her teeth. When she's done, he leads her back into the bedroom and sits her down on the bed, kneeling in front of her.
"Now will you go back to the doctor?" he pleads with her.
"Alright," she relents. "But I'm sure he's going to tell me I'm fine."
"I hope you're right," he sighs. He goes to the drawer and pulls out something for her to wear. "Do you want me to take you?"
"I'm fine, Jarod," she insists. "I'll go to the hospital since you're not going to let this go, but I'm going alone."
"And what am I going to do in the mean time?" he pouts.
"Go back to your hotel and get packed. Daddy's expecting me back today, so I'll probably be leaving after I get back from the hospital. I can meet you at your hotel and we can leave for the airport together."
"Back to Blue Cove. Back to the real world." He slumps dejectedly onto the bed. "Back to you chasing me and me running. Just like before."
"Not *just* like before. When I chase you now," she starts, leaning over to give him a quick kiss. "I'll make it worth your while if you let me catch you from time to time," she promises seductively before capturing his lips once again.
He folds her into his arms and lays back, pulling her on top of him. His hands glide up her back and into her hair. He grasps the back of her head and brings her even closer to deepen the kiss. Before long, he reaches the point where his lungs are burning desperately for air and he releases her.
"Don't try to distract me, woman," he gasps, watching with rapt attention as she licks her swollen lips and lazily blinks her heavy eyes. "You're not getting out of going to the hospital and I have to go pack." Despite his words, he almost groans in disappointment as she peels her soft, warm body from his own. He stands up and steps into his shoes. "Meet you at my hotel?"
"Yeah," she smiles. "I'll see you later."
He flashes her a smile in return and blows her a kiss before walking out the room. His effect on her was dizzying and she has to sit, her wobbly knees too weak to support her any longer. It's been a long time since a man's made her feel like that. She reaches up and rubs her lips, still tingling from his kiss, and smiles what she knows is a big goofy grin. A long time indeed. She laughs at herself and goes to get dress. She still had to go to the doctor before she was able to meet up again with Jarod. Although, she already knew without a doubt what her diagnosis was - she had been bitten by the love bug.
Jarod paces nervously around the lobby of the hotel, his head snapping almost violently every time the door opened. He was waiting for Miss Parker. Much like he had been for the past six hours. Waiting for her to come like she promised. But with each passing minute, he realized more and more that that promise was one she had broken.
Jarod picks up his one bag and heads out the door. He had mastered the art of packing light, this trip being no exception. It was a nuisance never having things convenient, but it usually ended up working out for the best. Especially if he needed to move quickly. And this was one of those times. He hails a cab and instructs the driver to take him to the hospital. He doubted she was still there, but at least it was a place to start. At the hospital, he easily finds the doctor who saw her.
"Dr. West," he greets the older gentleman who was also his doctor the week prior.
"Jarod. I didn't think I'd be seeing you again this soon. How are you?" the doctor asks.
"Fine. Just fine. You do good work," Jarod smiles. "I'm actually here looking for a woman. Tall. Brunette. Beautiful."
"Ah, the lovely Miss Parker. She was here. But that was earlier today. She's been gone awhile."
"That's what I was afraid of. Dr. West, was she okay? I just don't understand why she'd run off," Jarod sighs.
"You know I can't answer that. Doctor-patient confidentiality."
"What if I told you I were her doctor?" Jarod tries. "Then I could just look at her chart."
"Jarod," the doctor says, shaking his head. "I'm sorry. I can't help you. Even if I could, she had me seal her records and she took them with her. If you want to find out what was in them, you're going to have to ask her yourself."
"Thank you anyway, Doctor." Jarod shakes the man's hand and turns to leave. A few short hours ago, he was on top of the world. And now he was holding his freshly broken heart in his hands. There was only one person who could tell him what was going on. He just had to get to her before it was too late. If she closed herself off to him again, it was no telling how long it would be before she let him back in - if ever.
Miss Parker drops her bags at the door and kicks it closed behind her. She looks around and winces at her home away from home. The office she spent so much time and money decorating. She couldn't go to her house. She knew Jarod would find her there eventually. But even he wouldn't have the nerve to show up here at the Centre. And since she couldn't face him, she was just going to stay here to avoid him.
Of all the twists and turns in life, she wonders to herself why hers had to take this one. Why, just when she was figuring out who she really was, did this obstacle land in her way. For one brief night, she was as happy as she had ever been. Jarod found her on the beach, just when she had given up hope of ever having that joy. He told her he loved her and then they went back to her hotel. They talked for hours, mostly catching up with the little unknown details about each other's lives. Then they fell asleep. She took the bed, he took the couch.
The next morning brought trouble. This morning actually. Just twelve short hours ago, she was in Jarod's arms. Then one trip to the doctor changed her entire life. It's not like things would be any different had she not gone. What was wrong with her then would still be wrong with her now. But at least she and Jarod would have had more time. Now, time wasn't what she had much of. It wouldn't be long before people would know. She wouldn't be able to keep her secret long.
"Miss Parker," a voice from her desk buzzes, scaring her a bit. It was her assistant. "Your father would like to see you."
"Dalton, tell him I just got in. I'm kind of tired and was about to go home," she says, barely holding in a yawn.
"Sorry, Miss Parker. He insisted."
Grumbling to herself, Miss Parker gets up to go meet with her father, stopping by the mirror to make sure she looked her usual cold self, her mask of protection against the evils out there. Satisfied that her reflection showed what most people considered 'the Ice Queen', she makes her way to her father's office.
"Well, well, well. Look who's back," a smug voice calls as she passes.
"Lyle," she growls. "What do you want? I'm kind of busy."
"Going to see Dad? Me too. We can walk together," he grins.
"Oh joy," she says as she rolls her eyes. "So, what's this pow wow all about? Surely not a welcome home party for me."
"Party? You mean some sort of celebration in honor of one of his own children? We must be thinking about different Mr. Parkers," Lyle laughs. Surprisingly, Miss Parker laughs along with him.
"Not exactly father of the year, is he?" Miss Parker adds, still laughing. For a moment, it felt kind of good to be able to share a laugh with Lyle. It beats all the other times when he practically made her cry. But like all good moments, this one comes to an end.
"Oh," Lyle sighs, sounding a little disappointed. "I guess we're here. After you." He holds the door open and she walks into their father's office ahead of him. He wasn't paying much attention and almost crashes into her when she stops abruptly in her path, shocked at the sight before her.
"Angel, you're back," her father says. "Look who's been here waiting on you."
Still shocked at actually seeing him again, Miss Parker could hardly speak. But she forced the words out anyway.
"Carson," she gasps. A mixture of anger and fear course through her body. She didn't know whether to go for her gun or run as far way as she can.
"Angel, what's wrong?" Carson asks, inciting the anger inside Miss Parker.
"Don't call me that," she warns through clenched teeth. Her fists are in tight balls at her side and any minute she knows she's going to give in to the anger.
"I don't think we've ever met," Lyle butts in, not wanting to see Miss Parker fall apart as she seems she's about to do. At least not before he finds out who this guy is. "Carson, I believe it was? I'm Lyle, the often forgotten son."
Carson half-heartedly shakes Lyle's hand, unable to keep his gaze from Miss Parker. Lyle steps back, feeling a little neglected at the moment. Something about this guy was unsettling. Usually anyone who could shake his sister up this much was number one on his list. But something was telling Lyle that something big was going on.
"Listen, Carson told me about the trouble you two had with Jarod in Barbados," her father starts.
"Jarod?" she asks, stunned to hear that her father knew about the 'trouble' in Barbados as well as Jarod being there.
"Yeah, Carson said he was the one who assaulted the two of you, almost killing Carson in the process," Mr. Parker explains.
"I'm a little confused here. The last time I saw Carson was a week ago at the hospital after the . . . incident. I was under the impression that he was being detained for awhile. How did he get here before me? Besides, I wasn't even aware he knew who Jarod was." Miss Parker looks at her father, expecting answers. But the older man starts to get flustered trying to come up with an explanation.
"I can explain it all to you tonight at dinner," Carson says, saving Mr. Parker. "Why don't we get out of here?"
Carson reaches out for Miss Parker and she flinches at his motion. She retreats slightly, until she's standing just behind Lyle. Lyle notices how she unconsciously placed him between herself and this Carson guy. He also noticed the healing bruises on her face and puts two and two together. He knows for sure this guy was no good.
"Actually, we just made plans," Lyle says. "Isn't that right, Sis?"
Her face instantly relaxes and she flashes him a grateful, but shaky smile.
"Sorry, Carson. Lyle and I are going to dinner tonight," she says, confirming Lyle's story. "But I'm sure I'll be seeing you around. You and my father seem to be awfully chummy." She shoots them both accusing glares before turning on her heel and storming out of the office. Lyle is just a few steps behind her. She doesn't stop until she reaches the car garage. Only then does she remember that her car was still at home.
"We can take mine," Lyle says. He walks towards his car, aiming the remote at it to unlock the door. They both slide inside and pull away from the Centre in complete silence that lasts the whole trip back to his place.
Leading her inside his apartment, he goes to the kitchen to put on some coffee while she excuses herself to the restroom to wash up a bit. When she finishes, he's at the table with two steaming mugs.
"Have a seat," he nods to the chair opposite him. She complies and takes a sip from the mug. Her hands are shaking beyond her control, but the warm coffee seems to calm her a bit.
"You want something stronger? Maybe some Bailey's to add to the coffee?" he asks with some concern.
"No thank you," she declines. Alcohol wouldn't help her right now. Even though a good, stiff drink would calm her nerves, it definitely wasn't what she needed given her situation.
"You want to tell me what's up with Loverboy? Looks like he worked you over pretty good."
"Well, apparently, we ran into Jarod and he assaulted us," she says mockingly, repeating her father's version of the events.
"Um hm. So what really happened? Because I know for a fact that Jarod would rather die than lay a finger on you." He almost laughs out loud at the look she shoots him. "Don't look at me like that. I may not be a genius, but I'm not dumb, either. I know how much he cares."
"Okay, you're right. Jarod didn't assault us. Well, not me anyway. He practically killed Carson," she tells him.
"For doing that to you?" Lyle points at the bruises on her face. "Who is this Carson guy anyway? How did you get mixed up with him?"
"Just some guy," she sighs. "At least, that's what I used to think. Something tells me there's a lot more to him than meets the eye. And Daddy absolutely adores him. Something's not right." She lets out a huge yawn, despite the coffee. It had been a long day and her fatigue was catching up with her.
"You're dead on your feet," he comments. "Why don't you go to bed? You can have the guest room down the hall."
"I don't want to impose," she says.
"It's no problem. Actually, it's saving me from having to take you all the way to your place," he tries to play it off.
"Thanks," she says, halting as if she were about to say something else. But she stops herself in time. As nice as Lyle was being, she didn't think she could trust him. Especially not with a secret as big as she was keeping.
"What? It looked like you were about to say something else."
"Just good night," she says. "I think I'm going to go to bed now." She smiles a bit uneasily at him before heading towards the guest room.
He watches until she's down the hall and into the room. No one would ever accuse him and Miss Parker of having the typical brother/sister relationship. In fact, it's been said that they take the notion of sibling rivalry to a new level. But for some reason, they always seem to manage a truce of some sorts when there was a common enemy. And this Carson was the enemy they shared.
Lyle knew she was tired and needed the rest. But he could have just as easily called a cab or taken her home. What he didn't want to admit was how worried he was about her. She was tough, but this man was dangerous if he was able to beat her the way he did. Lyle didn't want her going home alone where he could get to her again. He didn't often fight his sister's battles, but he knew this was one she wasn't going to be able to win alone. Especially with their father involved. She was going to need help. She was going to need him. And he was going to be there. Not only for her, but for himself as well. Whatever this guy was plotting with their father, it couldn't be good for Lyle.
Hyatt Regency Hotel
6 weeks later
Miss Parker falls backwards onto the hotel bed, fighting a losing battle with a pair of pants that refused to button. She tried everything, even holding her breath and attempting to hold her stomach in. Nothing worked. With a sigh of defeat, she rises to search her suitcase for something else suitable to wear. She's holding up a skirt that had a more generous cut when a knock sounds at the door.
"I'll be there in a minute," she yells, stepping into the skirt. The skirt was a slightly bigger size than the pants and it buttoned with ease. She reaches the door and opens it for an impatient Lyle.
"What's taking you so long?" he asks in a huff.
"Why are you in such a rush?" she snaps back. "We already know from the landlord that Jarod is long gone." She says that with mixed emotions. Although she lived each day with the fear that Jarod might some day be caught, she was kind of hoping to get at least a glimpse of him. It's been six long weeks since she's seem him last. And even though that was all her fault - leaving him in Barbados without so much as a word - she missed him terribly and ached to see him. Her attention is turned back to Lyle when he lets out a concerned sigh, feeling a bit uncomfortable as he studies her intently.
"Are you okay?" Lyle's tone is much softer and gentler. "I know you haven't been feeling all that well these past few weeks." Lyle would know this because they had been spending a surprisingly great deal of time with each other. He couldn't seem to let her out of his sight with Carson around. And they had been getting along surprisingly well, considering how much they hated each other before. But Miss Parker seemed to need Lyle. And Lyle seemed to need to be needed. He liked playing the role of protective brother.
"I'm fine," she smiles, although his kindness makes her want to cry. Something she finds herself doing at the drop of a hat these days. "Just having a slight wardrobe crisis."
"I think you look great. Don't take this the wrong way, but you look like you've put on a few pounds," he says. But he instantly regrets it when her eyes pop wide open and get kind of glassy, like she's about to cry. "No, it looks good you. You were too skinny. I meant it in a good way." That doesn't seem to help any, so he tries something else.
"Listen, I can do this by myself for now. How about you meet me there later? I'll go and check the place out," Lyle offers. "Chances are, we're just going to find a bunch of meaningless clues anyway. No sense in both of us wasting our time. And if I need you, I'll call."
"That would be nice," she says, visibly relieved. She didn't think she looked any different, but Lyle has noticed. And the truth was, she still wasn't feeling her best. Even though she felt a lot better than she had felt in weeks, she was still kind of tired. A little more rest would do her some good.
"Alright then. I'll see you later. Take care of yourself," he says before walking out the door.
Miss Parker stands there for a minute, still a bit taken aback by this newfound relationship with her brother. He's been so caring and it seems genuine. The only thing he seems to want is to be rid of Carson. And since she wants the same thing, she can't complain. Unfortunately, it's not going to be that easy in her case. She was stuck with Carson for life, she feared. Placing a hand on her abdomen, she looks down and sighs wistfully.
"Jarod, why couldn't it have been you?" she whispers. A lone tear makes it's escape and she angrily wipes it away. She didn't have time for wallowing. Wallowing didn't change this nightmare she called her life. She starts to walk back to the bedroom. A knocking at the door stops her in her tracks.
"Decided to wait after all?" she asks when she opens the door, assuming that Lyle is back. But she's not expecting the person standing in front of her.
"Actually . . . I got tired of waiting."
Miss Parker is stunned, unable to do more than open and close her mouth a few times before one word finally makes it to the surface.
Jarod pushes his way into the hotel room, locking the door behind him. There was much to be discussed and he didn't want any interruptions.
Miss Parker is still in the same spot by the door, trying to process this sudden turn of events.
"Jarod," she says again. "Wh - what are you doing here?" She makes her feet move and they carry her into the living room to stand in front of Jarod.
"I know my being here is a big shock to you," he says nastily. "Especially since you went through all that trouble to get the cops after me for beating up you and that loser boyfriend of yours."
"Carson is not my boyfriend," she denies vehemently. "And I didn't sic the cops on you. That was all Daddy and Carson. They had done it before I even got back to Blue Cove."
"After you deserted me in Barbados, you mean," he accuses. "Parker I trusted you. And I waited for you. But you never came back. Why didn't you just tell me you didn't want anything to do with me? I would have been a much better way to trample on my heart than sneaking out of town. I would have gotten the picture."
"Jarod, it wasn't like that," she cries, practically cursing at herself for the tears she can't seem to control.
"Then tell me what it was like," he yells. "Tell me what happened between the hotel and the hospital to make you decide you didn't want to be with me."
"Let's not do this," she begs, turning her back so he won't see her heart breaking. "I want to you go, Jarod."
"Parker, I'm not leaving. Not until I get some answers."
She figured he'd say that. Which made her next action that much harder. Taking a deep breath, she went the table to pick up her cell phone. Dialing a number, she keeps her back to Jarod, unable to look at him, knowing she was about to betray him.
"It's me," she says when Lyle answers. "Send the sweeper team back to the hotel. I just got a call from the front desk that Jarod's been spotted lurking around here."
She hangs up the phone and sits it back on the coffee table. Without saying anything more, she walks straight back to her room, closing the door behind her. She's not surprised to hear the front door to her hotel room closing a few moments later. She did what she had to do. Jarod couldn't find out the truth. He was getting too close, asking the right questions. And she knew she wouldn't be able to lie to him. She's never lied to him. So she pushed him away instead because she knew it was for the best. But knowing that doesn't stop the sobs from taking over her body.
Mr. Parker's office
Mr. Parker isn't paying attention when he walks into his office and doesn't notice the door slightly ajar. And he doesn't notice the person sitting behind his desk in his chair until the last moment.
"Carson. This is a nice surprise," he says to the occupant of his office. "Tell me you've got the news I've been waiting to hear."
Carson smiles and holds up a folder. He waves it gaily in the air and watches Mr. Parker form his own grin.
"Everything's going according to the plan," Carson says. "But, it happened a lot sooner than we expected, so we're a bit behind. She was able to hide it for a while."
"Good. Good. That means we won't have to wait as long," Mr. Parker thinks out loud. "Are your people ready?"
"Not quite. There are a few last preparations that need to be taken care of," Carson admits. "I'd say two weeks at the most, though."
"That's perfect. She and that poor excuse of a son of mine are in Raleigh following up a lead on Jarod. We can proceed after she returns whenever you're ready."
"Will Lyle be a problem? They've been spending a lot of time together. I'd hate for him to be in the way," Carson says, rolling his eyes at the thought of Lyle.
"If he is, then just remove him," Mr. Parker coldly orders. "Lyle is of no consequence. Do with him as you see fit."
"Well, I thank you, Mr. Parker," Carson grins. "It's been good doing business with you." He stands up and shakes the older man's hand.
"This will be our last meeting. I don't think we need any further contact." Mr. Parker gives him a warning glare. "And I trust this . . . transaction . . . will be kept in the strictest of confidence."
"Don't worry. We both have just as much to lose if word gets out." Carson nods at the older man and walks out the door. Things were working out on both ends. Hopefully when this was all over, both men would have what they ultimately desired.
Mr. Parker sits at his desk and opens the folder Carson left. He flips through until he finds the sheet with the blurred image. Though not discernible to the untrained eye, Mr. Parker knew its importance. He got goose bumps thinking about how he literally was holding the key to his future in his hands.
2 weeks later
Miss Parker drags her tired body into her house. She hasn't spent much time there for the past two weeks since she's seen Jarod trying to avoid the call she knew she'd get from him. She knew he'd be angry for the stunt she pulled at the hotel in Raleigh. But she couldn't stand having him that close and not being able to touch him. She had to do something and that was the only thing she could think of.
The really strange thing is how Carson has been conspicuously missing since Raleigh. She and Lyle left to follow up a tip on Jarod and when they returned, Carson wasn't lurking around like he has been since they started dating almost six months ago. As creepy as it was to have him constantly around, it was even creepier to have him suddenly gone.
She sinks into her couch, kicking her shoes off and lifting her swollen feet up onto the coffee table. She knows she should eat something, but she was so exhausted. She'd probably fall asleep in the middle of her meal. She leans her head against the back of the sofa and lets her eyes drift shut. She'd rest for a few minutes and then get up to eat.
An hour later, the ringing phone wakes her from her deep sleep. She picks it up and grumbles a drowsy greeting into it.
"Kind of early for you, isn't it Parker? I thought you usually kept later hours," the voice on the other end taunts. It was Jarod. She had been so careful letting her voice mail screen her calls to avoid talking to him. But now she had no choice. Even then, she can't make any words come out of her mouth.
"This is rich. *You're* giving *me* the silent treatment. Believe me, I'm the one who should be mad. Parker, you called the sweepers on me," he yells after her silence becomes too much.
"I know," she sighs. "It was the last thing I ever wanted to do Jarod. But you wouldn't leave. You were there and you shouldn't have been. So close I could almost touch you. And you wouldn't leave."
"Why couldn't I be there, Parker?" His voice is calmer now. He just wants to know what's making her run from him. "I thought you loved me."
"Jarod I *do* love you," she says before she could stop herself.
"Then why are you pushing me away?"
"Jarod, let's not do this tonight. Please," she begs. Silent tears start to drift down her face and once again she curses the situation that she's in. Her emotions were out of control.
"Why not, Parker? You've been running for 2 months and I don't even know why. I just want to know what happened. Did I do something? Did you suddenly realize that I wasn't worthy? What, Parker? Tell me and I can fix it."
His desperate voice just makes her cry even harder. She was the one not worthy. Not him. She didn't deserve someone like him. He was so good. Honorable. She was tainted. Used goods. And she now had more baggage than he should have to deal with.
"It's not you, Jarod. It's me," she tries to explain. "Something came up. A problem I have to deal with on my own. You don't deserve to get dragged into my mess."
"Tell me the problem and we can deal with it together," he implores with her. "Parker, when I said I loved you, I meant it. And I meant that I loved everything about you - including your problems. If something's bothering you, then it bothers me too. And just because you run from me doesn't mean that I stop worrying."
"Jarod . . ."
"No. Let me finish," he interrupts. "For the past two months, I've been wondering what's going on with you. I've been wondering why we weren't together. We waited so long, Parker. We've been through so much. Whatever this is, we can get over this too. But we have to do it together."
"I'm afraid," she whispers. "I'm afraid that this is something even you can't handle. And then you'll end up leaving me anyway."
"Just tell me, Parker." He listens to her breath on the other end of the line, hoping she'll finally open up to him.
"Jarod," she sighs, almost in a whisper. "Just do me one favor first and I'll tell you everything." She gently rubs her stomach, waiting on his response.
"Anything," he eagerly replies.
"Just tell me that you love me. That way if you feel differently after what I tell you, then I'll have that to keep with me."
"Parker, I love you. Forever and longer. My heart belongs to you - and only you - for always. I promised you that. Do you remember?" he asks.
"You said that to me that night on the beach," she smiles, remembering. Keeping it in a place close to her heart so that she'll remember it.
"I meant every word. Forever and longer. Nothing you tell me will change that," he promises.
"That remains to be seen, but here it goes." She takes a deep breath and tries to decide how to start her tale.
"Just start at the beginning," he gently suggests, as if he were reading her mind. "I left you at the hotel to go pack. You were on your way to the doctor. What happened there?"
"He gave me some pretty shocking news, Jarod. He told me that . . ." She pauses when she hears the doorbell. "Oh, hold on. Someone's at my door." She sets the phone on the table, relieved at the brief reprieve, but still a little nervous at telling him the rest.
Jarod sighs in frustration. They were finally getting somewhere before the interruption. Whatever she had to tell him was terrifying her. He just hopes that when she gets back to the phone, she'll continue on with the story.
A loud scream from Miss Parker's end catches his attention. All of his senses are on alert and he put the phone closer to his ear to try to hear what was going on.
"Parker?" he yells. "Parker are you there?"
He hears another scream followed by a gunshot and his heart suddenly drops into his stomach. He doesn't know what's going on. But he knows that there's trouble. Keeping the phone on, he jumps into his shoes and runs out of his latest lair.
"Parker," he yells one more time. But all he hears is silence. He suddenly was very afraid of what he was going to find when he got to her place. But that didn't stop him from going. He had to get there. Not five minutes ago, he promised to be there for her. And he wasn't going to let her down now.
An hour later, Jarod pulls in front of Miss Parker's house and jumps out the car. He doesn't even remember if he turned off the car or not. That didn't matter. Only she did.
"Parker," he yells, running towards the house. "Talk to me, Parker. Are you here?"
He runs into the house, noting with fear that the door was pulled from the hinge. He stops in the middle of the living room, and looks around, trying to find a clue about what happened.
"She's not here," a voice says, startling him. He turns around and is surprised to see a shaken Lyle sitting at the foot of the stairs.
"You," Jarod growls, running over to the man. He grabs him around collar and holds him up against the wall. "Where is she?"
"I don't know. She was gone when I got here," Lyle swears.
Jarod releases his grip and takes a step back. He looks at the man standing before him and can see that he's just as upset. That seemed to be the final straw for Jarod. If Lyle was to blame, Jarod could focus on anger. But this was just a man concerned about his sister. Just as hopeless as he was. His grief momentarily takes over him and he lets out a pained cry into his hands.
"I was on the phone with her," Jarod says. "Someone came to the door. Then all I heard was her screaming. After a gunshot, everything went quiet. I came right over. But that was an hour ago. What are you doing here?"
"I don't know," Lyle admits. "I don't know how to explain this. It's going to sound crazy. But I . . . I heard her."
"You heard her?" Jarod asks.
"Yeah. I told you it was going to sound crazy. I heard her calling to me just as clear as if she were in the same room. She sounded like she needed help. She sounded terrified," he sighs before continuing. "It was almost like a dream, but at the same time it was so real. I rushed right over here to see if she was alright."
"I heard a gunshot. But there's no blood. So she's probably alive," Jarod says with some hope. "Who would take her, though? And why?"
"It's that guy, Carson. I know it is. He hurt her before," Lyle says. "I wish you had killed him when you had the chance."
"You know about that?"
"She told me that he knocked her around one day. Used her face as a punching bag. And that you had attacked him. I saw her bruises, Jarod. I would have done the same thing myself," Lyle assures him.
"What else do you know about this guy?" Jarod asks, trying to gather enough information to get inside this guy's head. He didn't have time to grieve. He had to find Miss Parker.
"Not much. She's been avoiding him like the plague since Barbados. Spending a lot of time with me. But we haven't been able to figure out why Carson's still hanging around. Or why he suddenly seems to be our father's new best friend."
Jarod walks around the room, trying to get a feel for what happened. But he had a hard time getting past the overwhelming sense of loss.
"She's alright . . . isn't she?" Lyle asks, sounding much like a little boy. "I mean, if he had wanted to kill her, he would have left her body here. Wouldn't he?"
"That's what I'm hoping," Jarod sighs. "If he wanted her dead, he would have killed her right after Barbados. But for some reason, he wants her alive. And I think it has something to do with why she left me two months ago."
"So, just start at the beginning and work up to this point in time," Lyle suggests.
Jarod looks around the room again, contemplating Lyle's words. The beginning of this whole thing was Barbados - the trip to the doctor that sent her fleeing. She said that the doctor had given her shocking news. He suddenly gets an idea. He rushes over to the far wall and pulls back the oil painting of Catherine Parker.
"There's a safe back here," he tells Lyle. "Maybe she put them in there," he mumbles to himself.
Jarod gives a little cheer of victory when his hands pull out a thin folder that's been sealed shut. He rips through the tape, stopping for a moment to explain to a confused Lyle his theory.
"She went to the doctor in Barbados. That was the last I saw her. She was about to tell me tonight what she's been keeping a secret before . . . Anyway, I remembered how the doctor told me that she took her records with her. I figured they'd be around here someplace."
"So, what do they say?" Lyle asks, getting excited at their first real clue.
Jarod's silent for a while, skimming through the medical file. The small file starts off with her initial visit to the emergency room for her injuries from Carson.
"Okay, a couple of facial bruises they cleaned up," Jarod starts. "Her lip was split and needed stitches, which she refused. They did manage to take some blood, although she was being pretty stubborn about that as well." Both men let out a small chuckle at her typical behavior.
"The tests came back two days later, but they couldn't reach her with the results. It was only when she went back to the hospital later that week were they able to tell her . . . " Jarod freezes. He can't believe what was in the chart. But now that he knows, he can see why she would run. But she was running from the wrong person. Carson was who she needed to steer clear from.
"What did the tests say?" Lyle asks, begging to be clued in. He was getting worried. Jarod had turned pale and his knuckles where white from grasping the folder too hard.
"She's . . . pregnant," Jarod reveals. The file falls from his hand and onto the floor. Jarod follows suit, sinking down onto his now unsupportive knees. "She was having that lunatic's baby and now he must know about it. That's probably why he took her."
"She's going to have a baby," Lyle says, just as stunned by the news. "But why did she keep it a secret?"
"She thought I wouldn't handle the news well. She thought I'd stop loving her," Jarod admits, not even caring that he was spilling his guts to Lyle.
"Does this change things? Do you feel any differently because she's carrying another man's child?" Lyle asks bluntly. "Because, I'm going to find her. Whether or not you help is up to you."
"Lyle, I've loved Miss Parker for as long as I've known her. Nothing's going to change that."
"That's what I thought," Lyle smiles. "So let's do this. Let's go find my sister." The two men shake hands, sealing their unlikely alliance. But they knew they would have to work together if they were going to bring home the woman they both loved.
Miss Parker groggily blinks her heavy eyes. She's confused at her unfamiliar surroundings. Sitting up, a sharp pain shoots through her head. She moves her hand to her head and notices a bump on the back. Suddenly, it all comes back to her memory. Everything that happened that lead her here. Unfortunately, she didn't know where 'here' was.
She gets up to investigate, peeking through doors and opening closets. She's in a suite of rooms, kind of like a small apartment. There was a bathroom, a bedroom, kitchen and living room. The only difference was that there were no exits. She couldn't see any outer doors or windows. The walls were white and sterile, but no matter how the room was dressed up, she knew this was no ordinary room. It was a lab of some sorts. And she had a bad feeling that she was the lab rat.
The last thing she remembered was talking on the phone with Jarod. Jarod! Heard the whole thing. He'd be worried sick about her. She sinks onto the bed falling back in despair. She tries hard to hold in the tears that were inevitable. She was lost and she was scared. She had no idea what was going on, and that terrified her. But what was actually breaking her heart was knowing that Jarod had to sit helplessly by while she was abducted.
She remembers two men showing up at the door while she was talking to Jarod. They barged in and tried to grab her. She managed to grab her gun and fire off a shot, but it didn't make a difference. They grabbed her anyway and knocked her out. That's how she got the bump on her head. She lifts her hand up again to feel the bump, but a sharp pain in her arm stops her. Looking down, she notices a small mark where a needle might have gone. They must have drugged her. She gasps, putting her hand on her stomach and is only slightly comforted at the small bump still there. Whatever they'd given her, she prays didn't hurt the baby. Suddenly, the reality of her situation overcomes her and she can no longer hold in the tears. They come out in violent sobs that leave her body shaking.
"You need to calm down, Ma'am," a light voice calls from above her. Miss Parker rolls on her back and sees a woman in a uniform standing over her. "This stress isn't good for the baby."
"My baby?" Miss Parker sniffs. "My baby's okay?"
"Of course, Ma'am," the woman smiles. "Your husband has you here to keep you and the child safe."
"Husband?" Miss Parker is confused.
"Yes, Ma'am. Your husband, Dr. Stone. He's . . . "
"Thank you, Nurse Lyreen," a deep voice calls from the door. Miss Parker looks up and sees Carson standing there. Her blood starts to boil, realizing that he was behind this whole thing. Which means her father was involved as well. "I'll explain things to her."
"Very well, Doctor." The nurse pats Miss Parker on her hand and smiles kindly before leaving.
"Carson, what's going on?" Miss Parker yells. "You had me kidnapped and brought here?"
"Calm down, Sweetheart. I'm sure the nurse told you this stress wasn't good for the baby," he smirks.
"You know about my baby?" Miss Parker protectively covers her stomach with both hands. She looks away, unable to stand the predatory gleam in his eyes.
"I think you mean *our* baby." Carson laughs when he sees the shocked expression on her face. "That's right, my love. I know you were afraid to tell me, but I'm fine with it. It was about time we started a family."
"We're not a family, Carson. And we're not going to be one. This is *my* child," she snaps. "Why did you tell that nurse I was your wife? What am I doing here anyway? And while we're on that subject, where exactly is here?" The questions roll off her tongue as fast as she can think of them. Her ungrateful tone starts to annoy the man.
"I warned you when we took that little trip to Barbados," he growls, his face suddenly growing hard and cruel. "You belong to me. I can do with you as I please. You disappointed me when you seemed to forget that. And it may take awhile, but I'll eventually forgive your for your indiscretion with the man who tried to kill me."
"Jarod was trying to protect me. He does that, you know. So you better watch out. He will find me. And I won't stop him from killing you this time," she growl back, not showing any fear.
"I'm not worried," he says smugly. "He won't find you. Not until it's too late anyway."
As if on some kind of cue, two large orderlies come into the room and stand on either side of her bed. They grab her and hold her down while Carson prepares an injection. Her struggles are useless. The men are too big and they pull out straps to bind her to the bed. Soon she feels the prick of the needle in her arm.
"What did you give me?" she cries, starting to feel a little groggy.
"Just a little something to make you rest. Believe me, you don't want to be awake during the first treatment," he warns.
"What . . . treatment?" Her words are slurring now and it's becoming harder to keep her eyes open. "Don't hurt . . . baby. Please. Not my baby." She finally drifts off to sleep. Carson instructs the orderlies to release her restraints. The nurse enters the room again, this time with an IV for Miss Parker. She expertly inserts the end into her hand and starts the fluid drip.
"The first dose is in, Doctor. Is there anything else?"
"That'll be all, Nurse. She should sleep until the next morning," Carson says, dismissing her. The orderlies and nurse leave the room, leaving Carson alone with Miss Parker.
"You had to make things difficult, didn't you, Parker?" He strokes her hair obsessively, wanting desperately to be with her right then and there. But that wasn't on the agenda. It was fun while it lasted. She let him do whatever he wanted to her without much struggle. Sure, she didn't participate much, but he didn't care. He just wanted her body. And now that he's accomplished the first part of his goal, he couldn't jeopardize it in anyway. His lustful urges can wait a few more months. Because if his plan worked, that's how long it'll be before all his hard work paid off. He could wait. It would be worth it. Because she belonged to him. Like it or not, she was his for good.
2 weeks later
Jarod waits impatiently outside the apartment building in his car. It's long past the end of the work day, and he begins to wonder how long he would have to stay there. His patience is rewarded when in the next few minutes, he sees a car pull into the designated spot. Waiting a few minutes to make sure no one was following, he goes up to the building and slips inside.
"Were you followed?" Jarod asks once inside.
"I don't think so." Lyle turns around and hands Jarod a disk. Jarod sets up his laptop on the kitchen table. "That's the download from Broots like you asked."
Jarod inserts the disk and types in some commands, frowning when nothing important initially shows up. He tries hard to keep his emotions under control, but it was hard. Miss Parker has been missing for two weeks, and no one seems to care. No one except for Lyle, Broots and Sydney. Everyone else at the Centre, including her father, seems to act as if she never even existed.
"Nothing," Jarod sighs. "Your father has been really careful. He's covered his tracks well."
"How can a person just disappear without a trace? A pregnant woman at that. She's got to be somewhere." Lyle and Jarod exchange knowing looks. They only hope that she's somewhere. Because the other alternative is too horrible to imagine right now. But, the longer she's gone, her being dead seems to be the more likely scenario.
"I have a feeling that we're missing something," Jarod says, frustrated at the lack of progress. "Something's that's right in front of us."
"Let's start with what we know," Lyle suggests. "We know that my father and Carson Stone has something to do with this."
"But we can't find Carson," Jarod interjects. "It's like he just disappeared too. So more than likely, he's with your sister. Find him, we should find her."
"What else can we do to find him? There's no information available about him - not officially or otherwise."
"That in itself may be a clue," Jarod says, deep in thought. "I have no information about me. Neither does Miss Parker. You. Sydney. Most Centre employees. You seeing a pattern here?"
"You think he works for the Centre?"
"No. There aren't any Centre records about him either. But he may work for a place similar to the Centre," Jarod guesses.
"Research facility. Medical Lab. Places of that nature. Quite possibly . . . ."
"Wait," Lyle interrupts. "Did you say a medical lab?" He goes to his safe and pulls out all the research they've been doing for the past two weeks. He flips through pages and pages of documents until he finds the one he's looking for.
"What do you have?" Jarod asks.
"My father's Centre expense account transactions. He made several large payments to Black Hill Medical and Genetic Research Authority, dating back about 6 months. That's about the time Carson and my sister started dating."
Jarod furiously starts typing into the computer, connecting to the internet to try to find anything about this organization. He's not surprised when he doesn't find any matches. There's wasn't anything on the internet about the Centre either. His failure to find information about this research facility only encouraged him. He was starting to get the feeling they were finally looking in the right place.
10 weeks later
Nurse Lyreen keeps herself busy in the kitchen preparing Miss Parker's meal. She tried to avoid looking at the woman if she could. She seemed so sad and despondent. Nothing could break her from the depression she's settled into.
She watches Miss Parker waddle slowly to the sofa and ease her bulging mass onto the seat. Almost simultaneously, one hand moves to wipe away a tear that always seemed to be present, while the other gently rubbed her stomach.
"How long have I been here?" Miss Parker asks quietly. The nurse is startled, expecting the usual quiet visit. Her young patient rarely spoke.
"A little over 2 months," the nurse tells her. "Ten weeks to be exact. That's how long your treatments were supposed to last."
"Treatments," Miss Parker snorts with obvious doubt. "Is that what Carson is calling this? What is he doing to me anyway?"
"Mrs. Stone . . ." the nurse starts to explain.
"And stop calling me that," Miss Parker yells. "The name is Parker. Miss Parker. I don't care what he tells you. That man is not my husband. He's keeping me here against my will and you're perpetuating that."
"Miss Parker, I can't really get into it," the nurse mumbles. She hastens her motions to quickly get the breakfast to her patient. She didn't want to answer questions that shouldn't even be asked.
"Just tell me," Miss Parker pleads. "You won't even have to say much. I'll guess and you tell me if I'm right or wrong. Now, these treatments obviously have something to do with the baby." She pauses and watches the nurse hesitantly nod her head.
"I'm put to sleep and when I wake up, I have an fresh needle mark in my arm. So you're giving me some kind of drug." The nurse nods again and Miss Parker continues. "I'm going to guess it's a growth hormone or something. I seemed to have expanded quite a bit since I've been here. I've never been pregnant before, but I look and feel practically full term." She looks down at her huge belly and cringes slightly as the active child shifts and pinches a nerve.
"When you got here, you were approximately 20 weeks along. That's halfway through your pregnancy. And tomorrow will be your last treatment. The baby's ready now," the nurse says surreptitiously, lowering her voice so no one could overhear.
"What do you mean ready? Are you trying to tell me that I've gone through the last 20 weeks of my pregnancy in half the time? Are you trying to tell me that this baby will be born tomorrow?" Miss Parker asks incredulously.
"I have to go," the nurse whispers. "I've said too much."
"What's going to happen to my baby?" Miss Parker asks frantically.
The nurse doesn't answer. She just looks at Miss Parker sympathetically before practically running out the door.
Miss Parker sits in shock for a few minutes. There was no doubt in her mind the baby was ready. Even though she was only technically about six and a half months along, she looked and felt like she was full term. She wonders briefly how a drug like this could benefit Carson. She wonders what role in this whole thing her father played. She didn't know much more about what's going on than what she told the nurse. But the one thing she knew for certain was that she had to get out of there. They were going to take her baby tomorrow. And she couldn't let that happen.
"Jarod!" Lyle yells excitedly, not even caring about the precautions they've taken over the past few months to keep their alliance a secret. He runs into the apartment, only taking the requisite amount of time to ensure the door was closed and locked before rushing into the living room.
"Jarod," he calls again, waking the man up from his nap on the couch. "Wake up. I think I've got it."
"Got what?" Jarod yawns. As he sits up, a stack of papers from a file he was reviewing scatters to the floor.
"I think I know where she is."
Jarod perks up instantly when he hears this news.
"You've found her?" he asks Lyle.
"Not exactly. But I think I've found where she might be." He hands Jarod an article, but can't wait for the man to read it. He rattles off a summary of what it says. "This article is about an annual convention held in Canada by the private medical sector to help solicit funds. It mentions how this year, many of clinics and research facilities seem to be focused on the mysteries of pregnancy and childbirth."
"So if we're going with our assumptions about Carson working for a place like this, it's possible that he, or a representative from whatever facility he's with, was at this conference. Based on those bank records, your father wasn't paying him enough to support an entire facility. So they'd need funding from somewhere else."
"Not just possible," Lyle grins. "It's definite he was there." Lyle points to the picture with the article. A black circle was drawn around an area in the top right.
"What am I looking at?"
"It's hard to see on here. But I had Broots enlarge and digitally enhanced just that area of the photo." He hands Jarod the other picture and waits for his reaction.
"That's Carson," Jarod gasps. "He looks a little different with the blonde hair, but that's him."
"And every one attending had to register and give a name and address of a legitimate clinic or medical research facility," Lyle adds.
"We already know that your father was making those payments to Black Hill Medical and Genetic Research Authority. We checked them out and didn't find anything."
"It doesn't matter. They're not on the list anyway," Lyle tells him. "There is, however, a place called CarMed Tech. They're on the edge of a breakthrough in the gene enhancement and manipulation frontier. And, as it turns out, they're a subsidiary of Black Hill Medical and Genetic Research Authority."
Jarod stands up and starts to pace, trying hard to process all the information Lyle's brought to him. Miss Parker was within their grasps now. He could feel it.
"I think this is it," Jarod admits. "I think we've found her."
He starts to pace a little faster. His mind was already running through a basic SIM of the situation. He had to come up with a way to get in and get her out safely.
"Lyle, tell me what you know so far. I need a little more information. I can't quite get a clear picture of the whole puzzle here," Jarod says. "Tell me about this gene manipulation thing they're working on."
"There's not much," Lyle sighs. "But from what I can tell, this company was the leader a few years back in the attempts to manipulate and enhance DNA in unborn fetuses."
"For the purpose of creating 'designer' babies," Jarod realizes. He's worked at a facility like that himself during the course of his pretends. "I thought those attempts failed. They may have been successful in enhancing a particular gene, but that usually adversely affected a different gene. Most times, the children wouldn't even survive. For that very reason, it's incredibly difficult to get funding for those projects."
"Well, it's been rumored that CarMed was on the brink of eliminating all of the side effects. Not only that, but through use of a growth hormone, they were able to dramatically reduce the gestational period."
"I can't believe this," Jarod mutters, almost to himself. "It's all so clear now. It all makes sense."
"To you maybe, but how about bringing it home to us non-genius types," Lyle laughs.
"CarMed Tech is run by Carson Stone. He may just be the administrator, but I think he may be a little more involved. Possibly a doctor. He found a way to successfully manipulate and enhance fetal DNA. Unfortunately, he had no money to complete his research. And no suitable test subject. Your father helped him out on both counts."
Jarod closes his eyes and concentrates even harder on the scenario running through his mind. Now that all the pieces where there, it took no time at all for his mind to assemble them.
"Your father is looking for the future of the Centre. I've been more difficult to recapture than they thought. And for some reason, I don't think there have been an overabundance of natural born pretenders in the past few years. So he needs another pretender. And if he can't find one, he'll make one.
"He funded Carson's project and even supplied him with a guinea pig - your sister. The pretender genes are already there in her, just dormant. She's the perfect subject. And I think all he wants in return is the baby."
"You know, I think you're exactly right. During one of our last board meetings, my father was actually pushing for ending the search for you and investing in the future. I can only guess that this is what he meant," Lyle comments. "But what about Carson? What does he get out of all this?"
"Fame. Notoriety. Once his process is proven successful, he'll be rich and famous. But I personally think that all Carson wants in return is your sister."
"You don't think he'll give her up?" Lyle asks.
"I doubt that," Jarod shakes his head. "That means we're going to have to go get her. Before it's too late."
Miss Parker wakes the next morning after a restless night of sleep. She had fallen asleep shortly after dinner. The stress the baby was putting on her body caused her to tire more quickly than usual. Generally she welcomed the sleep. It was a way to block out the nightmare she seemed to be living. But this morning, she curses silently as she sees the time on the clock. She didn't have the time to waste sleeping. She needed to come up with a way of escape.
"What are we going to do, Little One?" she mumbles out loud while she rubs her stomach. "Your daddy wants to take you away from me, but I'm not going to let him. No one's going to hurt you," she promises.
She slowly lifts her awkward body from the bed. Slowly is just about the only way she can do things these days. Which didn't give her very many escape options. She goes about her normal routine. She eats breakfast, gets dressed, and waits on Carson and the orderlies to administer her treatment. Day after day, this routine was the same.
Except for today. After spending hours going over possible escape scenarios, Miss Parker realizes that Carson's past due. Mid afternoon rolls around and still no treatment. Then she remembers Nurse Lyreen's words from last night.
*'. . .tomorrow will be your last treatment. The baby's ready . . .'*
This last treatment apparently wasn't like the others. Or else Carson would have been in by now to give it to her. This must be what the nurse was talking about. This last treatment must be when they're going to take the baby. Tears spring to her eyes as she realizes that there's no hope. Getting out would be impossible. And any minute now, they'd be coming for her baby. The only thing she could do now was pray. Pray, and do all she could to make this as difficult for them as she possibly can.
"What time is it now?" Lyle asks impatiently, sounding much like a small child on a long car trip.
"It's 20 minutes after the last time you asked that question," Jarod sighs with frustration. They'd been sitting outside of CarMed for most of the afternoon now, waiting on the appointed time for them to enter. Once they got inside, it was going to be like searching for a needle in a haystack. They had no idea where Miss Parker would be. So they decided to go in when things were going to be a bit confused anyway, around shift change time.
"If she's in there, she has to be in a room without a camera," Broots says, sticking his head from the back of the van. They brought the computer techie with them to help bypass security if necessary. "I've hacked into their video surveillance and have access to all of their cameras. None of them show her."
"That doesn't help us much," Lyle scowls.
"Actually, it does," Jarod interrupts. "At least we know where NOT to look for her. That could save us some time."
The men fall silent again, watching the building from afar. Finally about another hour later, they start to see movement from the exit doors. A few slackers trying to tip off early. But there would be more to follow.
"I think this is it," Jarod says. "It's time for a shift change. This is our chance to get inside, hopefully unnoticed. Broots, we're going closer. Wait until there's a lot of activity in the hallway and then loop the video on the security cameras. Let us know when it's safe to go in."
Jarod and Lyle recheck the listening device in their ear. It would be their only link to Broots in the van.
"Ready?" Lyle asks Jarod, who nods his reply.
"Let's do this."
Miss Parker goes on alert when she hears the keypad outside the door being activated. She hated that the room was soundproof. She couldn't hear when anyone was approaching down the hall. The door opening was the only warning she ever received. But today, she was waiting for them. They weren't going to take her baby without a fight.
She was standing between the sofa and the end table, her hands resting on a lamp. If anything, she could use it as a weapon to delay the inevitable. Maybe even possibly escape. The door opens slowly and Carson steps inside the room. He's holding a case of medical supplies in one hand and an ominous looking needle in the other.
"Parker," Carson says, sounding somewhat surprised. He wasn't prepared to see the woman in her confrontational mode. "What are you doing up and about? You should be resting."
"You can just put that needle away, Carson," she growls. "You're not taking my baby."
"Oh darn. The surprise has been ruined," he laughs. "Who told? Never mind. It must have been Nurse Lyreen. I always knew she had a big mouth." He walks towards her, setting the supplies on the table by to door to free his hands.
"Don't come any closer," she warns, lifting the lamp over her head.
"You don't want to do that, Parker."
"Back away, Carson," she warns again. "I will hurt you. That's a promise."
"Oh no, Parker. You're going to be the one feeling pain. Now, you're going to have that baby. Nothing you can do will stop that. How painful the experience is will be up to you. Cooperate with me, and I'll make sure you have some relief during the delivery. Otherwise, that baby's coming the hard way."
As usual as if they've been cued somehow, the two large orderlies make their appearance. Refusing to give up, Miss Parker throws the lamp at the biggest one, who falls unconscious into the doorway when the lamp makes contact with his head. She decides to make a run for it but gets just to the other side of the couch when she's caught by the other orderly. He drags her kicking and screaming into the bedroom where all the other treatments have taken place. With Carson's help, he's able to get her strapped down.
"I warned you," Carson yells, wiping flecks of blood where Miss Parker managed to scratch him. "Now we're going to have to do this the hard way. He storms back into the living room and returns moments later with the syringe. She screams as he stabs the needle mercilessly into her arm.
She struggles for a few minutes while Carson stands over her grinning. Eventually, she just degenerates into tears when she realizes there's really nothing else to do for her baby. Carson was intent on taking it, and she didn't know how to stop him. A chill runs through her thinking about the kind of life her baby would have to endure.
"She's calming down now," Carson tells the orderly. "Stay with her for awhile and then you can leave. I'll be back when the labor starts." Carson walks out the door, jumping over the body of the still unconscious orderly.
After Carson leaves, the orderly paces impatiently around the suite, glancing at his watch every few minutes. Finally after about an hour, Miss Parker looks at the clock to see why he's so antsy. She realizes that it's past shift change time. He must be ready to go home. A renewed feeling of hope washes over her as she decides to use this to her advantage.
"Hey," she calls to him. "Are you going to leave me strapped in here all night? I've got about 8 pounds of baby pressing on my bladder and unless you want to clean up a big mess, I suggest you let me go to the bathroom."
The orderly looks confused for a moment. The doctor didn't say anything about unstrapping her. But he also knew what a 9 month pregnant woman was like when she had to use the bathroom. He figures he better let her go. He unstraps her hands and then her feet, escorting her to the bathroom. Once she's inside, he hears the lock snick and decides she's secure for now.
After about a minute, his attention is grabbed by a light murmuring by the front door. Running up front, he sees that the other orderly was coming too.
"You alright, O'Riley?" he asks him.
"I think so," O'Riley says. He tries to sit up, but the dizziness overcomes him. "What happened?"
"Take it slow, man. You'll pass right back out," the first orderly warns him. "You got hit in the head with the lamp by the pregnant woman."
"She got good aim," he chuckles, wincing when pain shoots through his head.
"I said you need to take it easy. You're going to be hurting for. ." He stops midsentence when he feels a prick in his neck.
"Don't move," Miss Parker growls into his ear. She moves the needle in deeper to make sure she had his attention. "Right now, I have a needle full of air in your jugular. You so much as breathe funny, you'll be dead before you hit the floor."
She glares at the other orderly, warning him with her eyes to stay where he is.
"Are you guys armed?" she asks.
"Just with stun guns," O'Riley answers.
"Take yours out and slide it over her to me," she orders him. Once the stun gun is in reach, she zaps the orderly she's holding and lets his body fall on top of O'Riley. She zaps O'Riley and watches as his eyes clinch in pain before his body is still again.
She's stunned for a moment, not quite believing that she could be free. A sharp pain to her side kicks her into motion. The contractions were starting. She had to get out of there. Breathing through the pain, it finally subsides and she's able to stand. She peeks out the door and sees the hall is empty. Not knowing which way to go, she picks and arbitrary direction and moves quickly. She can only hope she picked the right way.
Broots keeps a careful eye on all the monitors. The evening shift change was just about over and it was almost time for him to take control of the security cameras. One last employee makes her way down the hall. As soon as she was out of the shot, he would start the looping sequence to give Jarod and Lyle time to sneak in undetected.
The woman looks up and quickly looks back down when she notices the camera. But she's not fast enough for Broots. He saw her face. It belonged to Miss Parker.
"J - J - Jarod," he stutters into the microphone. "I see her. It's Miss Parker. Coming down the hall."
"What?" Jarod asks, completely shocked. Leave it to Miss Parker to rescue herself. "Where is she?"
"She's actually heading towards the exit where you and Lyle are now. She should . . . uh oh."
"Uh oh, what, Broots?"
"Trouble," he moans. "I didn't get a change to loop the video yet. That means she was spotted by security. Some guards are coming for her. And they're led by Carson. By the looks of it, they're going to intercept her before she gets to the exit."
"Forget looping the video, Broots. We have to go in now. Just pull the van up to where we are. Hopefully we can get to her and get her out of there."
Miss Parker gets about halfway down the hall when she sees the exit. She had no idea where she was, but she knew that if she could just get outside, she could eventually make her way to help. She picks up the pace as fast as her huge belly would allow. Suddenly, the door opens, and she looks around to find something to duck behind. Not finding a suitable hiding place, she gets into a defensive position, preparing herself to fight if necessary.
"Parker," the voice from the door yells.
She looks up and tears of relief spring to her eyes.
"Jarod," she whispers, not wanting to believe her eyes. She pushes herself off the wall she was leaning against and starts to waddle towards him. Unfortunately, another contraction hits at that moment, temporarily taking her breath way. She has to stop and focus on not letting the pain over take her.
"What's happening with her? Why did she stop?" Lyle asks in a panic. "She could make it if she hurried. The guards are still a little ways off."
"I don't think she can," Jarod realizes. "She's going to need help. Come on."
Taking a few deep breaths, Lyle and Jarod dash down the hall to where Miss Parker is, each man coming to stop on either side of her.
"Parker, are you okay?" Jarod asks.
"Contraction," she grunts through her teeth.
"Contraction? Just how far along are you, Sis?"
The contraction finally passes and she's able to fully stand up. Both men stare at her in wide-eyed amazement.
"Parker, you're huge!" Lyle exclaims, earning a not so nice glare from the woman. "I mean . . . what I meant to say was that you're . . . "
"Beautiful," Jarod finishes for him with a dreamy smile. "You look beautiful." He moves one arm around her waist and rubs her stomach with his free hand. "Now how about we get you out of here?"
"We should probably hurry. I think I hear the guards coming," Lyle warns. He peeks around the corner, spotting the armed men in the distance. "If we're going to go, we need to go now."
"Can you walk?" Jarod asks her.
"Right now I can. If another contraction doesn't hit, I should be fine," she tells him. She grabs his hand and they walk to the corner where Lyle is.
"Broots, where are you?" Jarod whispers into his microphone.
"I'm pulling up right outside," the man replies. "What's taking you guys so long?"
"We'll be right there," Jarod says before signing off. He turns to Miss Parker to see if she's ready. "We just have to go to the end of the hall to the exit door. Then down some stairs, and Broots will be waiting with the van. You ready?"
"You guys get going. I'll send the gas down the hall," Lyle suggests. "On the count of 3 . . . 2 . . . "
When he gets to one, Jarod and Miss Parker move as quickly as she can waddle down the hall towards the door. Seeing the two cross the path, Carson and the guards quicken their pace. Lyle waits until the guards get a little closer and throws the canisters of tear gas towards them. Holding his breath, he follows Jarod and Miss Parker.
They get outside and Miss Parker stops abruptly at the openness of the vast world. She looks around, momentarily stunned in her tracks. She grabs onto Jarod and he can feel her trembling.
"Another contraction?" he asks, concerned when she stops.
"It's been months," she whispers, trying to hold back her tears. "I haven't been outside since I've been here. It's just all a little overwhelming. I'm okay." She tries to smile to reassure him.
"We've just got to get down these stairs and into the van, okay?" He gives her his own reassuring smile and squeezes her hand for extra comfort. By this time, Lyle's caught up with them and he grabs onto her other hand and helps Jarod coax her down the stairs. They get to the van and pull off just as a few guards manage to make it outside.
"You did it," Broots laughs with surprise. "You guys actually pulled it off."
"*We* did it, Broots. Your help was instrumental to this operation," Jarod corrects him. He pulls a trembling Miss Parker into his arms and tries to comfort her. But he knows it's going to be awhile before she's gotten over this ordeal.
"I'm so sorry," she cries. "I never knew."
"Shh. It's okay," he soothes her.
"No, it's not, Jarod. I was locked in that place for months. They experimented on me and my baby. I can't believe that for years, I tried to inflict that same kind of punishment on you. I chased you and tried to catch you and almost locked you up in a place just like that."
"Parker, it's okay. Really. You don't need to worry about any of that right now. You're out. You're free. And we're going somewhere for you to have this baby," he promises. "It's going to be alright."
"I don't deserve you, Jarod."
He silences her with a kiss.
"Shh. I thought we had a deal. Remember? No one's to blame. We'll call it even and leave it at that," he says, repeating his words from Barbados all those months ago.
"I love you," she whispers, leaning in for another kiss. She barely touches his lips when the van suddenly stops.
"Why are we stopping?" she panics. "We have to get farther away."
"Don't worry, we will," Jarod assures her. "We're just going to split up. They saw the van at the facility. Broots and Lyle's going to drive it as a diversion. We're going in the other direction in another car. I have a place already set up for you to give birth."
"You thought of everything," she smiles up at him, taking his hand to help her out of the van. "All of you. I can't believe you came to rescue me."
"And you didn't even need rescuing," Lyle laughs. "Looks like you were doing just fine on your own."
"I'll always need you," she says to him, almost in a whisper. Dropping Jarod's hand, she pulls Lyle into a hug, catching him off guard momentarily. "Thank you. Thank you for coming to my rescue."
"Yeah, well I figured I owed you," Lyle smiles. "I've been a pretty lousy brother up until now." He pulls back and wipes away the lone tear dripping down her cheek. "But from now on, I'll have your back, Sis."
"That's comforting . . . I think," she giggles. "But you'll have to share the job with someone else who's filled that role for the past few years." She looks over at Broots and opens her arms to him.
"Me?" Broots looks around incredulously, as if she were talking to someone else.
"Broots, you really are a moron," she laughs. "But my you're my *lovable* moron." She pulls him to her and places a kiss on his cheek. His face instantly reddens.
"Parker, we need to go," Jarod gently tells her.
"Okay," she agrees, giving Lyle one last hug. "You two take care of each other."
"And you take care of that little niece or nephew of mine," Lyle makes her promise. He then turns to Jarod and sticks out his hand, which the other man gladly accepts. "Jarod, take care of my sister."
They all say their final good-byes and go their separate ways, knowing that no matter where the road takes them, it will always lead back to each other. They were a family now - joined at the heart. And nothing was going to be able to keep them apart.
Mr. Parker's Office
"How could you let this happen?" the old man screams into the phone. He listens without really listening to the excuse Carson was giving to him on the other line. Basically, his daughter was gone. And she left before they were able to get the baby. All of his plans for the future were down the drain.
"I hope you realize this makes our deal null and void now," he growls into the other line when he hears Carson stop talking. "You won't be getting your last payment."
"Mr. Parker. Don't be too hasty," Carson interjects. "All hope is not lost."
"How can you say that? The very thing I've been paying for is gone. This baby was going to be the key to my future here, Carson. And now, it's gone. Do you have some kind of plan for getting it back?"
"We wait," Carson says simply. "We wait and let them come running back to us."
"What are you saying?" Mr. Parker asks. "What if they don't?"
"They will," Carson assures him, a calculating grin spreading across his face. "They need us. And when they figure that out, they'll be back."