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Annalise's mind rose to consciousness slowly, as if she were buried undergorund and had to dig her way to alertness. She first was aware of incredibly plush and silky bedding she was lying upon, her body sinking an impression into it like a snow-angel. Then Jarod's mind came to her senses, that he was nearby and awake and concentrating on something with the mental focus of a lever pushing a boulder uphill. It was tempting to just stay in bed and observe him from afar. She couldn't tell specifically what he was doing, but his steely absorption was soothing to her creaky mind.

Her limbs felt like they were filled with sand, but she dragged her body out of bed and stumbled to the shower. Their room was blanketed with heavy curtains to allow her to sleep, so she had no idea if it was day or night, or even what day of the week they were on. Annalise could barely remember the flight back to LA. She had made it all the way to South Africa, made it through the short interrogation, but the immediate turn-around onto another flight turned out to push her to the brink. She would have paid any amount of money to go to a skanky hotel room and sleep for a couple of days before getting on another plane, but Jarod was afraid of being trapped in a foreign country and chased. The entirety of South Africa was indelibly marked as "Centre territory" in his mind, for reasons she hadn't examined closely.

In any case, upon takeoff the stress of being trapped with several hundred anxious minds added to her burgeoning migraine, producing a full-blown panic attack. Jarod had been forced to give her a sedative to ride out the hellishly long flight in oblivion. There might have been ketamine in whatever he gave her. She didn't care or ask.

It had all been worth it, because they finally -- finally -- had the one piece of information that would really jump-start his search for his parents. Of course, they were probably not using the name "Tully" anymore, just as Annalise and the other Oregon residents no longer used "Wallace," but it still was the key to his family's history. Genealogy information for other relatives, church records, his father's military record, tax returns, property records, police files revolving around the kidnapping, even the Centre's own databanks: All targets of inquiry. His parents' entire history before 1963 could be reconstructed.

After an interminable amount of time in the soothing glass-tiled shower putting her head and body back together, Annalise came padding out wearing an enormous fluffy white bathrobe. Jarod was still sitting in the same spot fixated on his laptop, a coffee pot and pile of junk food within arm's reach. She walked over behind him and ran her hands down his shoulders and chest, kissing the top of his head.

"I think I'm ready to join the land of human beings again. Have you found anything good?"

He smiled and wordlessly handed her a piece of paper. It was a printout from the Social Security Administration, granting a number to one Jarod Marcus Tully, date of birth November 23, 1958. There was a similar document for Kyle, from 1961.

"Hey, your birthday is next week. And only two days after Miriam's. You should celebrate it together."

"Do you think she would like that?" His joyous expression indicated he would like nothing better than to have a real birthday party with his daughter. "It's her thirteenth birthday, I don't want to interfere."

"Well, you'll have to ask her, but I bet she would love it. We normally do it around Thanksgiving anyway, when a lot of people are visiting."

"With a cake too?"

"Maybe even ice cream if you're really good. You are turning forty." She nestled the top of his head again, then worked her way down to his neck. "So. Is there any way I could convince you to take a recreational break? Too much sitting in front of a desk, Jarod. You need to increase your blood circulation."

"Oh, really," his voice twinged with amusement. "As fun as that sounds, you have an appointment in ten minutes. For a massage and spa treatment."

"Appointment? What, you magically foresaw when I was finally going to emerge from my coma?"

"Not ... exactly." The knowledge popped into her mind then, that he had reserved appointments for her every couple of hours all of the previous day, racking up obscene charges on the illicit credit card. She chuckled softly.

"I guess I should actually go then." A professional massage did sound rather heavenly. "Maybe you can tear yourself away for a few minutes when I get back. Pencil in another appointment for me." It was his turn to laugh, and he stretched around to kiss her.

Five minutes later she wandered down the hall, still in her robe and some slippers. The spa center was in another wing across the lobby from their suite. Just as Annalise entered the lobby, she noticed an impeccably coiffed woman getting into a heated argument with the front desk, her shabbily dressed companion looking like he wanted to sink into the floor. The woman looked ... familiar.

With a flash of panic Annalise recognized her from dozens of Jarod's dreams, sometimes as she appeared today, often as a adolescent girl. An absurd thought flickered through her brain: That woman is a lot more gorgeous in real life than in Jarod's mind. Then the true import of the situation hit her, that the Centre was here, and she swiveled and tried to get out of the lobby as quickly as possible without drawing attention to herself. Once she hit the hallway she abandoned the slippers and broke into a dead run back to the room.

Annalise burst in and Jarod jerked his head up in surprise. "Gotta go. Predator chick's in the lobby." Even as she spoke she stripped off the robe and threw on the first clothes she could find.

"Miss Parker?" Jarod stood up abruptly, his face plastered with outrage, but went into action mode immediately. He dumped the laptop and all papers, identification and cash into a bag and grabbed his coat, ready to go in twenty seconds.

"Come on, out through the patio." Most of the suites in the expansive resort were on the ground floor. They darted around the end of the wing through lush tropical gardens, towards the back of the parking lot. Just in time Jarod spotted the sweeper Sam sitting in a town car, but his attention was on the front of the resort and they were able to get around him to the rental car unseen.

Jarod drove aimlessly for a few miles, just to lose themselves in a commercial area. His initial burst of anger and agitation had mellowed into the familiar adrenaline rush of a triumphant escape. The exhilaration of foiling Miss Parker, yet again. He glanced over at Annalise and suddenly realized she was having a very different reaction. She was staring straight ahead, unfocused, and breathing in the short shallow gasps of an anxiety attack. Jarod pulled the car over in an unobtrusive spot and gently brought her into his arms.

"Hey, hey it's okay. Everything will be fine."

"We almost got caught." It came out as a shaky whisper. "If I hadn't gone out, if you hadn't scheduled a massage, we would have gotten caught. They would have dragged us back and locked us up and ... and ..."

Jarod could sense the flashback and terror overtaking her mind, unbidden. He took her face in his hands and forced her to look directly in his eyes. "Listen. Listen. We didn't get caught. They can't find us now. Think about all the good things in your life. Think about your daughter. Think about your cousin, who you were able to help and is now having a love affair with the trees. Think about all the mud and turnips waiting for you to get back."

She was with him enough to give him a weak smile. Jarod held her close until her breathing slowed and her mind was no longer whirling in circles.

"Jarod, how do they keep finding you? You haven't baited them with a phone call or package in months."

A surge of guilt swept through him. "I used the name 'Jarod' on the new credit card. Old habit I guess. Broots must have quite the surveillance operation by now."

"Who is Broots?" Jarod flashed an image of the technician to her in his mind. "Oh, him. He was in the lobby with her."

"Miss Parker does like to drag him and Sydney around on all of her goose chases. Misery loves company."

"Sydney wasn't there, actually. But tell me more about this Broots. He's their main technical support? Cracking your email and Tim's maze program and all of that?"

Jarod nodded assent. "They have plenty of technicians, but he's probably the best. One of the few that can really think outside the box. Miss Parker had good instincts when she brought him on her team."

"Do you think he wants to be chasing you down for a living? He didn't seem to be having too much fun at the resort."

"I doubt it. But he has an eleven-year-old daughter to take care of. They will always be able to hold her over his head."

"Hmmm. A little girl, and now if he does his job a tad bit too well, another little girl will be kidnapped. I know what Miriam would say about this situation. That when the knight is harassing you, sometimes you have to take it off the board. And the pawn, too."

Jarod was silent for a minute, mulling over the implications of her statement. "I'll think about it. Meanwhile, where do you want to go now that the spa is out? Do you just want to go home? Your choice."

Annalise groaned. "That house is still filled with people through Thanksgiving. I think Paul even got dibs on my bed while we're gone. And now there's a squalling newborn to keep everyone awake all night too." She took his hand and switched to mindspeech. You know what I'd really like? A couple of days in a place where there is nothing. No people, no laptops, no credit card trails or fancy rooms. Just you and me and maybe a pretty view. Do you know anywhere like that in the 800 miles between here and home?

He did know such a place. A cabin owned by someone he had helped on a Pretend in the foothills to the Sierras. A very rustic location with minimal electrical and plumbing, miles from the nearest settlement. Nothing but sun and sky, forest and a lake, and themselves.












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