Day of reckoning
Malford Lake, Georgia, mid June
Miss Parker looked at the cottage and thought it was as nice as a dollhouse.
It was a wooden building, painted the colour of oak, with green shutters, a sloped roof of red-orange tiles, a chimney of grey stone; on the porch stood a rocking double chair in white painted iron, with a small table and two matching chairs.
And I bet the curtains are in checked material, white and red, the woman thought. To her own surprise, she noticed that the remark had no sarcastic connotation, instead it was rather amused. She sighed mentally: it was a sign, the nth for some time now, that she was truly fed up being sarcastic. Actually, she was fed up with of everything in her life, beginning from the Centre...
She snorted impatiently, stopping that train of thoughts: it was no time for recriminations, now she had to think about making herself comfortable in what would be her house in the next four weeks. Firmly, she opened the trunk of the small jeep she had rented along with the cottage, unloaded a big suitcase, a trolley and the matching beauty case, all Gucci, and headed for the porch; she had quite a hard time dragging the heavy luggage on the gravel-covered driveway. She climbed the two steps taking to the veranda and, letting go of the suitcase, she rummages in her purse seeking the key the estate agency had given to her. As she found it, she used it to open the door, then she entered and switched on the light. She looked around in the roomy living room: to her left she saw a rustic fireplace, in front of which stood an L-shaped couch, looking very comfy; in front of the shorter part of the couch stood a large TV with a DVD player and a VCR, as well as a satellite receiver, without which she would probably get nothing, in this remote corner of mountain Georgia. On the wall behind the couch, stood a cupboard; inside of it, she glimpsed dishes and glasses. To the right stood a table, six chairs with straw seats surrounding it.
On the windows, white and red checked curtains.
Seeing that, Miss Parked smiles, and for the first time in months, she felt light-hearted.
Next to the entrance stood a console with the telephone; she placed on it her purse and the beauty case, then she turned and pulled in the big suitcase and the trolley, too. Without stopping smiling and not knowing why she was smiling, Miss Parker opened the two windows of the sitting room looking on the porch, then she went into the next room, on the right of the entrance, finding out it was the kitchen with country style furniture, matching the cottage, but equipped with modern issues, such as a large fridge freezer, a microwave oven and even a dishwasher. She opened the window, then she headed for the back of the cottage, where the bedrooms were located, one with a king size double bed and the other with two bunk beds, and here, too, she opened wide the windows, letting in the golden light of this mid June afternoon. The sight that welcomed her when she opened the French doors of the master bedroom took her breath away: from the terrace on the back of the cottage, she could see the Malford Lake, on which shore the estate was located, surrounded by the woods. A small pier stretched out for about ten metres on the crystal clear water, and at its side stood a beached row boat. On the background, she caught sight of the mountain peaks, crowned in snow-white clouds standing out in the deep blue of the summer sky.
This place is magical, she thought in a flash, as all the Irish fairy tales her mother had told her came to her mind; Catherine Parker was from the Emerald Isle and when she was a child, she had told her many myths and legends of that place. She watched intently the trees, almost expecting some merry pixie jumping out from among the trunks, then she smiled at herself: she was surely too old to believe in leprechauns and fairies!
Feeling strangely euphoric, she returned to the living room and went outside to get the provisions she had purchased, then she stocked them in the fridge, freezer and kitchen cabinets. Then, she parked the jeep under the wooden carport next to the cottage, locked the vehicle and went back into the house, where she spent the next half-hour arranging her clothes and toiletries. At a certain point, she realised she was humming to herself and stopped thinking at this, frowning: what on Earth was causing her to feel so cheerful? After all, she was here because her life was such a terrible mess, it had become unbearable and she was trying to escape it...
Miss Parker uttered a growl and forced herself to take off her mind from those gloomy thoughts: there would be plenty of time later, for those. Now she had all of this new place to explore, and she wanted to enjoy the discovery of every corner.
The Centre, Blue Cove, Delaware, one week earlier
Dr. Sydney Green was sitting at his desk, supposedly engrossed in the reading of the relationship of a colleague of his, Dr. Malcolm; but actually, his gaze was staring at an unspecified spot of the page he had in front, and his mind was elsewhere. To be precise, he was thinking of Miss Parker.
He was concerned about her. Oh, he was for a very long time, because he loved her like a daughter and with the passing of the years, he had seen her falling prey to the Centre more and more, becoming a creation of it, losing her psychological autonomy, plagiarised and manipulated by a ruthless father who lived only for himself, exploited by a brother whose unrestrained ambition was equal only to his depravation... But for some time now, Sydney had reason to be more concerned than ever: he was seeing in her cracks that earlier were not there. Her armour, the mask of the Ice Queen that she was wearing for so many years, was shattering little by little. What the trigger may be, Sydney didn’t know for sure, but he suspected it was about the facts occurred on the Haunted Island eight months before. Following those events, Mr Parker had gone missing, perhaps he was dead, and Lyle had taken his place with cunning manoeuvres, passing over his sister also thanks to the support of the abominable Mr Raines, the black soul of the Centre. Besides, for eight months they hadn’t been able to find any clues of Jarod’s whereabouts; for five years, the elusive Pretender was mocking all their attempts to catch and bring him back to the Centre. To all this added the fact that the Miss Parker’s fortieth birthday had come, a moment that means the end of youth and therefore induces to take stock of one’s life.
Sydney put down the dossier, giving up pretending to read it, and thinned his lips, brooding; something in Miss Parker’s attitude told him that she was taking stock of her life and she wasn’t at all pleased. It was a subtle change, and he doubted somebody else had noticed it, except him. But Miss Parker was no more the brilliant young woman with an iron backbone, indestructible and totally self-confident, as she had always been since she had become an adult: on her had descended some sort of patina, which made her opaque. He didn’t like it at all. But what could he do, to improve things? She didn’t want anyone helping her, never, least of all a shrink like him. Despite himself, Sydney grinned: how many times had she called him ironically Doctor Freud? Too many to count them.
However, he loved her too much to do nothing. At the cost of annoying her, he had to talk to her. After all, there was a solution, and even a very simple one. Somehow, he needed to convince her to adopt it.
With a sudden decision, the elderly psychiatrist stood up from the leather armchair and left his office, heading for Miss Parker’s.
He knocked on the door and, hearing her curt invitation, he entered. She was sitting in front of her PC, probably intent on sifting through the local news looking for any trace of Jarod. Hearing the door opening, she lifted her eyed on him; once, she would pierce him through with a glare as cold as polar ice, annoyed by the interruption, but now she simply stared at him, waiting for him to disclose the reason of his visit. This fact reinforced in Sydney the determination to convince her to accept his suggestion.
He approached her desk and took a seat.
“How are you, Parker?” he asked in a soft voice. She wrinkled her wide brow.
“As usual, Sydney”, she answered, perplexed, “Why?”
The psychiatrist sighed: that was to be expected, Miss Parker would never admit the least weakness.
“For some time now you’re not the same”, he declared, his professional attitude softened by the sweetness of an acquaintance that rooted in the woman’s childhood, “You need a break.”
“A break?” Miss Parker repeated, confused, “What the hell do you mean?”
The style was still the same, Sydney observed, feeling a twinge in his chest, but the tone hadn’t the usual determination.
“A nice vacation”, he answered, “That’s what I mean.”
Her light blue eyes widened as she arched her perfectly drawn eyebrows, then she burst out laughing briefly, incredulous.
“You’re kidding, right? It’s been months now that Jarod doesn’t give us the slightest hint, and you talk about vacation...?
“I’m not kidding, Parker”, Sydney interrupted her, “You have all the symptoms of a severe state of mental fatigue. A long break, at least four weeks, are the best cure. Unwind, Parker. Totally. Pack and go to some relaxing place. I suggest a lake. I know a place, down in Georgia, that’s a true paradise: away from residential areas, but equipped with all comforts. In the name of our old friendship, I’m asking you to consider carefully my advice.”
Miss Parker gaped: never, in all the years she had known Sydney, had he talked to her in such a heartfelt way. Not even when he was exhorting her, when she was a child, to accept what they had for a long time believed to be her mother’s suicide, later proved instead her extreme attempt to escape the Centre, unfortunately frustrated by the wicked Mr Raines and anyway ended up in her death.
Miss Parker recovered and closed her mouth, seeking an answer to briskly refuse this ridiculous suggestion, but she realised she wasn’t able to find any. This put her on the spot: maybe Sydney was right, after all?
The elderly psychiatrist saw her gaze becoming remote and waited holding his breath. He knew, because of their long acquaintance, that from her he could expect anything, and the opposite of anything.
The silence continued, becoming heavy.
“Would you and Broots go on looking for Jarod?” Miss Parker asked so suddenly, Sydney jumped on his armchair, “Would you prevent Lyle to take charge of the search and steal it from me?”
“Of course”, the elderly psychiatrist assured her, “You can relax. And should we catch him, we’d keep him somewhere safe until you came back, so that you can take him to the Centre and have the satisfaction you deserve.”
Miss Parker watched him intently: for a long time, she suspected that Sydney didn’t actually want to catch Jarod, who had been his pupil for 30 years, but if he had meant any irony, his tone didn’t reveal any trace of it.
A vacation... she absolutely didn’t remember when it had been, the last time she had gone on vacation, excluding some sporadic week-end, and even this was something she hadn’t done in years, since Thomas Gates, the only man that had been able to have her falling truly in love, had been killed, probably at the behest of the Centre...
Her decision seemed to ripen independently from her will.
“Very well then”, she snapped, “If truly, as a physician, you think you must prescribe me time off, I’ll take that. Where’s that place? Georgia, did you say?”
Sydney felt immensely relieved and couldn’t hide a large smile.
Chapter 2: Chapter II
Malford Lake, Georgia
Miss Parker awoke slowly, feeling wonderfully good. She stretched voluptuously under the light quilt, then she opened her eyes and saw that the morning light was seeping through the small cracks in the shutters. This made her want to get up at once and go outside, even before breakfasting, to breathe the crisp air of the new day. She switched on the light, jumped from the bed and ran to the bathroom, where she rinsed her face with cold water to dispel the last residues of sleep. Raising her gaze, she stared at the image the mirror was reflecting back to her, and she liked what she was seeing more than how she had in the last months: a face with classical features, spacious forehead, high cheekbones, Greek nose, a mouth with perfectly drawn lips even with no lipstick; but it was chiefly her eyes that today satisfied her the most, because they were bright as they had never been after her teens, when behind them were gathering the dreams and aspirations of a life still completely to live. Surprising herself – not for the first time since she had arrived – Miss Parker smiled at her reflection: Sydney had been perfectly right, this vacation was highly necessary.
Feeling in her heart a cheerfulness she didn’t know to possess, the young woman went back to the bedroom, opened wide the shutters and breathed in deeply the fragrant lake air, filling her eyes with the landscape stretching out in front of her gaze. She stayed like this for a long minute, then she hastened to dress, sliding into a cotton tracksuit and sneakers; then she exited through the backdoor, descending the few steps taking to the lawn on the back of the cottage. Almost dancing, she headed for the lakeshore, where she stopped to take again some deep breaths. It seemed like her lungs were expanding, as if they hadn’t filled up in years; she felt a little dizzy, so she stopped: she mustn’t exaggerate, she wasn’t used anymore to breathe clean air, and she risked getting drunk as if she would drink three shots of her favourite vodka in a row.
She began to do some gymnastics. It was a long time since she trained seriously, therefore, even if she was feeling full of energy, she was careful not to oversell. After half an hour, she stopped; while she was going back to the cottage, a sharp feeling of emptiness in her stomach informed her that it was about time to have a good breakfast, like those her mother Catherine used to cook when she was a child, a rich Irish breakfast with fried eggs, lean bacon, sausage and grilled vegetables, and a coffee with cream and sugar.
Entering the kitchen, Miss Parker switched on the radio, tuning it on a station broadcasting country music, and she went to the stove, ready to cook herself a huge breakfast.
Sydney’s home, Blue Cove, Delaware
Sydney picked up the ringing phone and answered:
“It’s me”, a baritone voice simply announced, one he knew very well.
“Jarod!” the psychiatrist cried, not hiding his joy, “It’s been a long time... How are you?”
“I’d be better if the Centre wouldn’t exist any longer”, the terse answer came, and Sydney caught a bitter tone in his previous pupil’s voice, “And you?”
“Ditto”, the elderly man admitted, sincerely. He knew he could speak freely: the Centre monitored his calls, both from home and from the office, but each time he was calling, Jarod made sure the line would be safe with cutting-edge technologies he couldn’t even begin to imagine, “And your family?”
“Still scattered out of safety reasons, but they’re all well, thanks”, Jarod informed him, “Emily is with mom, and sometimes Ethan, too; my father takes care of David.”
“David?” he asked, perplexed.
“My clone”, the young man on the other end of the line explained, “He decided for this name himself. It means beloved. He says he chose it because now he has a family who loves him.”
Sydney felt tears stinging in his eyes: Jarod had to wait over 30 years to find his family, from which the Centre had taken him away, a child of only 4, to exploit his talent as a Pretender, that is, the innate capacity to step into any theoretical situation as if it was real, resolving dilemmas, averting dangers, preventing problems, or discover enigmas. For a long time, Jarod had believed all this was for the greater good, to help humanity, and only after many years he had discovered that it wasn’t at all, that the Centre was using those information to earn money and power for it’s executives’ profit, who had crazy ambitions about global dominance. Sydney had always been aware of it, but he had chosen to be voluntarily blind as to not lose control on the Pretender Project and, consequentially, on Jarod, whom he loved like his own child since the beginning, and whom he hoped, this way, he could protect. Indeed, unlike all the other Pretenders, Jarod hadn’t gone crazy, nor violent, nor had he lost his talent with the passing of time. When he had found out the Centre’s true purposes – and Sydney wondered how much he had to do with this, even if unconsciously – he had escaped, and the psychiatrist was happy about this, even if he had to pretend the opposite. Under the pretext that he knew Jarod better than anyone did, he had managed to be assigned to the search team, along with Miss Parker and Broots, a timid computer geek, but actually, he favoured the fugitive on every occasion.
“A beautiful name”, he commented, after finding back his voice, “I’m glad to learn he’s fine.”
“It suffice to be away from Raines’ clutches, to be fine”, Jarod observed acidly, making Sydney grin briefly, “And how’s Miss Parker doing, without the hunt?”
“She’s bad”, the elderly psychiatrist answered, “Not much because she’s not able to catch you, but because Lyle took the job she was owed at the Centre’s direction, after their father’s disappearance.”
“Father?” Jarod spat, disgusted, “Psychologically speaking, that sleazebag is his father much less than you are, Sydney! Who comforted her after her mother’s death? Who was at her side each time she needed support? Who eased her solitude? Who did never betray her?”
Sydney kept silent, because there was nothing to say: the younger man was right, along all the line.
After some moments, Jarod pulled together and asked:
“Is she really bad?”
In his voice, there was true interest, which didn’t escape the psychiatrist trained ear. In his mind, a sudden idea arose.
“Yes, Jarod, she’s bad”, he answered slowly, “Oh, outside she looks as if she has her usual determination, but actually, she’s fading day by day. She lost her usual glow, if you know what I mean. Something’s broken inside of her, and Lyle’s manoeuvres to exclude her from the Centre’s top, brought her to her knees. Mind you, she’s trying hard not to show it, and nobody suspects, but I know her too well. Therefore, I suggested – actually, I prescribed her – four weeks off. I sent her to Malford Lake, in a cottage owned by an estate agency I know, so she can rest and psychologically regenerate.”
Sydney went silent, holding his breath: he had planted the bait, and now he wondered if the fish would bite into it...
“I hope she’ll recover”, Jarod commented laconically, “Say her hello from my part when she’s back. Bye.”
Not waiting for a reply, he hung up. Slowly, the psychiatrist put the receiver back on the phone, sighing: he had no way to know if Jarod would take the bait. He just had to hope for the best, the best for both his putative children.
On the other end of the now interrupted communication, Jarod closed the flap of his satellite phone and smoothed back his short brown hair, upset. Miss Parker was truly feeling so bad like Sydney claimed? He had no reason to doubt it: he knew he could completely trust his old mentor.
After their adventure on the Island of the Haunted, in Scotland, he had decided to cut off all his strings to the Centre and his huntress. For a moment, in his mind came forcefully the memory of their almost-kiss, in the sitting room of the blind herbalist Ocee, and his heart stirred. He often wondered what would have become of them if that kiss would occur, but it was no use brooding over something never happened, and that would never have another chance to happen. Not after what he had learnt from the scrolls of the Parkers, which they had found on that island, in which was written about the founding of the Centre, its expansion, its terrible hidden power which would spread all over the world, invisible, unstoppable, growing like a cancer until it would swallow up every democracy, every free thought. Only one person, the Chosen One, would be able to stop it. This Chosen One was called Jarod. The young man shivered, as he always did when he recalled what he had found in that dusty old tome. But his capability to stop the Centre would be related to his capability to escape its control and to ally with a person inside of it. At first, he had thought this person would be Sydney; but something in the terms the sentences were structured, suggested that this person would be a woman, and this woman could be none other than Miss Parker. As for escaping the Centre’s control, the only way was to vanish; therefore, he had cut the umbilical cord that still tied him to his tormentors, stopping leaving hints of his whereabouts around the United States. He had gone on making things right in his own way, but remaining behind the scenes, making others move to right the wrongs he saw around him.
But now, Miss Parker was bad. This wasn’t something he could easily ignore. She had been his childhood friend, the one who has eased his loneliness as an imprisoned orphan, the one who gave him his first kiss, the innocent kiss of two children ignoring they were being manipulated by ruthless adults. Even if time had set them apart, the sweet memories of their shared childhood and pre-adolescence had never left him, and were still of great significance for him.
Once, when they were 12 years old, Miss Parker had asked him if he would be always willing to come to her aid, should she need it, no matter what happened. Jarod has answered yes with no hesitations.
And now, Miss Parker needed him. Probably she didn’t know it herself, and surely she wouldn’t accept his help easily, independent, stubborn and used to manage everything alone as she was.
But she had been forsaken too many times. Her mother had left her when she was a child, then Thomas, and finally her father, or the man she thought was her father.
He wouldn’t fail her, not this time.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Malford Lake, Georgia, some days later
Miss Parker closed the book she was reading, a thrilling novel by Tom Clancy, and looked around from the hammock she was lying in. Her cottage was the only one on this side of the lake, the other ones were on the opposite shore and their occupiers couldn’t in any way bother her. During her long strolls, she had met a number of them, exchanging cordial but reserved greeting nods; in the near village, where she went for supply, people were nice but discreet. Miss Parker welcomed her solitude, which allowed her to relax and ponder about herself and her life like she had never done before. Her thoughts were still chaotic and incomplete, but little by little a new consciousness was dawning inside her mind, beginning form the bitter acknowledgement that she was totally unsatisfied with the way she had led her life so far. Led? she asked to herself with a sneer; she had led nothing, she had been manipulated and influenced for decades by her father and the Centre.
Her father... this was a matter of opinion. The man she had called her father all her life was actually the brother of the man whose semen had impregnated her mother Catherine. When she had found out who her biological father was, she nearly puked, because he was the most disgusting person she knew: Mr Raines, whose kinship with Mr Parker had stayed secret so far. And her only other relative still alive was equally abominable: Lyle, her twin brother. No, wait a moment... she had other two brothers. Half-brothers, actually. One was her little brother, son of Mr Parker and Brigitte, the merciless killer of the Centre, who had died giving birth; an innocent creature who she would do everything in her power to keep from the Centre’s clutches. And then, there was Ethan, son of Catherine and Jarod’s father, Major Charles Russell, whom the Centre had conceived with no cognition of his parents. They aimed to have a Pretender like Jarod through his father’s genetic heritage, with in addition his mother’s Inner Sense, the extraordinary capability to hear inside the voices of one’s ancestors, taking suggestions from their enormous cumulative experience that was this way available. Miss Parker had met Ethan only once, briefly, but she had immediately felt a great affinity with him. He was far more her brother, even if biologically only for one half, than the wicked Lyle; and the same went for her little brother.
Thinking of Ethan brought her mind to Jarod. She closed her eyes. Jarod, where are you? she wondered. She was startled, realising suddenly that she wasn’t wondering about it with the aim to track him down and take him to the Centre, but simply because she wanted to see him. Shocked, she chased away that idea, thinking it absurd, unacceptable. For years, her life had been focused on this sole goal: catching him and handing him back to the Centre. It wasn’t admissible that this would change.
To get rid of that intolerable thought, Miss Parker got up abruptly and went back into the house, where she put on her sneakers; she locked the door and began running along the paths crossing the woods which surrounded the lake. In the days since her arrival, she had trained consistently, and the results didn’t take long to show off, with a visible increase of her resistance and stamina.
She ran as long as there was enough light among the trees, then she got back. She was drenched with perspiration, therefore first of all she headed for the bathroom, where she took a long hot shower; later, too exhausted even to have dinner, she crawled to the bed, where she crashed and fell asleep in no time.
Malford Lake, Georgia, that same night
Miss Parker was dreaming. She was in her house, near Blue Cove, standing with crossed arms in the room that once had been her mother’s study. A room that had been closed for many years, before Thomas Gates, renovating the house, had discovered its existence. At the beginning, she didn’t want anything to do with it and she had commanded him very briskly to rebuild the fake wall hiding its entrance. But Thomas had insisted, kindly but firmly, knowing instinctively what was best for her. And so, after over 20 years, Miss Parker had set foot again in that room, where everything spoke about Catherine, her sweet mommy.
A soft noise coming from the door made her turn and there, on the threshold, stood Thomas, her Tommy, smiling at her. He looked exactly like she remembered him: tall, brown-haired, dark shining eyes, muscular body, and that special smile he saved only for her.
“Tommy...” Miss Parker whispered, as tears welled up in her eyes. What kind of miracle was this? He had died, brutally killed, almost four years ago. But no, the evidence was clear: he was there, in front of her, and he was smiling at her in his special way.
Hear heart beating like a drum, almost painfully, Miss Parker opened wide her arms and ran to him, hugging him. He held her tight, whispering words in a soothing tone, words she didn’t catch, and caressing softly her back. Then Miss Parker felt a change, imperceptible, but unmistakable. It wasn’t an unpleasant or alarming feeling, but curiosity made her drawing back. And in Thomas’ place, there was Jarod, who was looking at her lovingly. For the first time, Miss Parker was stuck by the resemblance between them, in their looks certainly – both tall, with brown hair and eyes, good-looking – but mainly in their character: like Jarod, Thomas had been sweet and strong at the same time, respectful, determined, with an undercurrent naivety due to his faith in the others’ goodness, capable of shouldering his responsibilities, ready to pay the consequences first-hand, there every time she needed him, but discreet, offered and not imposed support, capable of cheering her up, passionate. How was it possible that she had never noticed how much alike they were?
Not at all troubled, Miss Parker laid her head on Jarod’s shoulder and let him rock her. Slowly, the dream faded away, and the young woman went on sleeping more serenely than she had been in years.
The lock was easy, and Jarod had no trouble to figure out how to unbolt it; silently, he opened the entrance door to the nice cottage and entered. Inside, it was completely dark because of the closed shutters, therefore he used the small flashlight he had carried with him. Turning it around, he got an idea of the surroundings, then he moved noiselessly, heading for the door opening on the wall at the back of the living room, which led to the sleeping quarters. In the small hallway he found three doors, of which only one was closed.
Warily, Jarod approached the door; shielding the shaft of light with his hand, he slowly pressed down the handle and opened it.
Miss Parker was sleeping soundly on her side; she had her back to him, and her long brown hair was scattered on the pillow in disarrayed locks. Leisurely, Jarod moved forward, keeping the light carefully away from her face, and stopped beside the bed, looking at her. She was more beautiful than ever, her features peaceful in sleep, her body relaxed, her breath calm. Jarod felt the urge to caress her cheek, but he didn’t want to risk awaking her, so he forced himself to keep his hands still.
His gaze wandered to the nightstand, where her cellphone stood; he took it and slipped it in his pocket, then, using extreme caution as not to make any noise, he opened the first drawer and found what he had expected: Miss Parker’s gun, a chrome semiautomatic 9 mm Smith & Wesson. As usual, she had it ready with the barrel’s shot and the safety on.
Jarod took it and changed it with an identical one, equally prepared, but loaded with blanks: he didn’t want to take chances. He was sure Miss Parker wouldn’t shoot him, at least not to kill him, but you can never know: after all, an accident is always possible.
With one last look to the sleeping woman, Jarod turned and left the room, noiselessly closing again the door. He headed for the other bedroom, disassembled the gun and hid the pieces in several different places, then he did the same with the cellphone. When he was finished, he left ajar the shutters; finally, he laid down on one of the bunk beds and got ready for sleep till dawn, when the first lights of the new day, seeping through the open shutter, would warn him that it was time to get up.
Notice: I won't post for the next two weeks because I go on vacation; I'll be back posting after August 19th. Thank you for reading so far! :-)
Chapter 4: Chapter IV
Malford Lake, Georgia, the next morning
Miss Parker cracked one eye open and caught sight of a shaft of light seeping through a fissure in the shutters. She yawned and stretched, grimacing: the night before she had definitely exaggerated with jogging, her muscles were still hurting. She would need a massage, but she doubted that she would find a masseur for miles around.
With a sigh, she switched on the light, then she got up and, barefoot, crossed the room to open the window. As usual, she lingered there for some moments to breathe in the crisp morning air, watching the clear sky; she felt satisfied, at peace with herself, as she didn’t remember she had ever been in her adult life. She knew she had dreamt, a beautiful and soothing dream, but she couldn’t recall it. She remembered only a feeling of fulfilment and wellbeing she hadn’t felt since her childhood.
With a sigh, she shook off those thoughts and headed for the bathroom, where she rinsed away the last residues of sleep from her eyes and brushed her tousled hair. Finally, she went back to her bedroom, and casually her gaze fell on the mirror of the closet. She stopped to look at herself, smiling slightly, amused that, instead of the usual, sophisticated nightgowns in silk and lace, here she was wearing simple printed cotton pyjamas, made of t-shirt and shorts. Then she turned and opened the door, planning to go to the kitchen and have a glass of fruit juice before beginning her usual morning training.
The aroma of freshly brewed coffee reached her nostrils, stopping her dead in her tracks. She listened carefully, hearing someone moving in the kitchen. Then she noticed that the daylight was illuminating the hallway, coming from the other bedroom and from the living room.
Adrenaline rushed through her veins: who was there, in the house with her? Whoever he was, probably he wasn’t ill-intentioned, given his behaviour so far – would he be a prowler, he would have assailed her while sleeping – but how dared he breaking into her house?
She tiptoed back to her room and grabbed her gun from the nightstand drawer, took off the safety and, keeping the gun straight in front of her, she approached warily the kitchen, ready for anything.
For anything, except for what she saw.
Jarod was stooping in front of the open fridge, busy looking inside of it, evidently searching for what he needed to cook breakfast. On the stove, he had already placed the pan to fry the eggs and the table had been set for two people with dishes, cups, glasses and cutlery.
At that moment, the man turned, holding two eggs in one hand, in the other the bacon. He saw her standing stock-still on the threshold, in her pyjama, barefoot and with her gun aiming at him, and froze.
“Good morning, Miss Parker”, he greeted her in a totally normal tone. His brown eyes showed no surprise whatsoever: he had expected seeing her exactly like this.
“You!” Miss Parker hissed. She couldn’d decide if she had to feel indignant, surprised or glad, and this confusion irritated her beyond expression.
“No, you must say good morning”, he corrected her ironically, then he lifted his hands, hinting to what he was holding, “May I put down these things? And close the fridge?”
Miss Parker lowered her gun, keeping it nonetheless aimed at him.
“Okay”, she conceded; hence, Jarod pushed the fridge door with one foot, closing it, and placed eggs and bacon on the kitchen counter.
“What do you think you’re doing here?” Miss Parker questioned him. Her aggressive tone was meant to conceal her shaken feelings, but Jarod looked past her mask, as he always did.
“I’m here to see you”, he answered coolly, “I talked to Sydney, I was rather worried about you, and so I decided to pay you a visit.”
“Sydney should mind his own business”, Miss Parker fumed, but she realised her tone wasn’t how she wanted it, “I can take care of myself.”
“I have no doubts about this”, Jarod agreed, “but we all need a friend, from time to time.”
“I am self-sufficient”, she growled, but it sounded more like a defence than like an affirmation. Jarod noticed it, but chose to ignore it.
“How about lowering that cannon and take a seat?” he suggested instead, “I’m cooking breakfast, as you may have noticed, and I have no intention to go anywhere with an empty stomach.”
“Oh, you’ll go somewhere for sure”, Miss Parker declared, finding back her self-confidence and lifting again her gun, “To the Centre, and immediately.”
Jarod rolled his eyes.
“Still talking about this?” he sighed, “When will you stop?”
“Soon, when I’ll hand you over to the Sweepers”, she answered, trying to remember where she had left her cellphone. Jarod seemed to read her mind and grinned:
“If you’re looking for your cell, just know that I have dismantled and hidden it”, he announced, “As for the house phone, I cut the wire.”
“You have thought it through, he?” she grumbled, annoyed, “Very well, this means I’ll tie you up, load you in my car and take you in myself.”
At her statement, Jarod frowned and set his jaw; his expression didn’t promise anything good, but Miss Parker didn’t even blink. He moved forward, approaching her slowly, until he was in front of her, the barrel of the gun only inches away from his chest. He was a good 5 inches taller than she was and looked imposing, but she didn’t budge.
“You know very well that you cannot take me back alive to the Centre”, Jarod said through clenched teeth, “You’ll have to kill me.”
Miss Parker didn’t move. Her eyes staring in his, blue versus brown, she glared at him with a terrible look, but he wasn’t intimidated.
“Come on, shoot”, he exhorted her in a harsh tone, “Come on! It’s the only way you have to take me back to the Centre. I’ll never return there alive, you know it.”
Again, she didn’t move. She felt like paralysed, unable to pull the trigger or to do anything else.
“Shoot!” he yelled in her face. Miss Parker jumped and clutched the gun grip harder. Her knuckles grew pale, but her finger on the trigger seemed lifeless.
A lump formed in her throat, choking her.
With a cry that was the sound of suffering, she pulled away the weapon and let her arm fall.
“I can’t!” she croaked. Jarod felt immensely relieved: he had been right, she wouldn’t shoot him. However, he carefully concealed his relief under an angry mask; he stretched out his hand and took her gun away, placing it on the table behind him.
Miss Parker felt tears welling up in her eyes and got mad. How did Jarod dare, just how could he?!
“Damn you, you knew it!” she attacked him verbally, and immediately after, physically, too, grabbing his t-shirt, “You knew I wouldn’t shoot!”
Jarod seized her wrists, trying to placate her.
“I wasn’t sure…” he began, but she didn’t hear him, overwhelmed by a violent, irrational rage, but if against him or herself, she didn’t know. She broke free and punched him hard in the face; Jarod staggered backwards and bumped against the fridge.
“Calm down, Parker!” he shouted, but she was already coming straight for him, her hands in an attack stance, her eyes flashing. He dodged on one side, placing the table between them.
“Parker, come on, what are you doing?!” he threw at her. He couldn’t figure out why she was assailing him so furiously.
But she wasn’t listening. Her mind was prey to a blind fury, irrational, almost crazy. Her whole world, her certainties, her convictions, had shattered in a single minute and were reduced to a pitiful heap of rubble. The wrath she was feeling was her only defence against fear, the horrifying fear of the emptiness she would find when the cloud of dust would settle down, when she would be forced to confront with the fact she had nothing left. No father. No Centre. No chase. Nothing.
Her face deformed into a livid grimace, she grabbed the edge of the table and upturned it, tableware and all. Jarod stepped hastily back toward the living room. She ran after him, and again he stepped back, until he reached the door; he opened it and dove outside.
“Coward!” Miss Parker spat, “Stop and fight!”
Jarod was waiting for her: as soon as she got over the threshold, with no cautiousness in her rash running after him, he grabbed her arm and, using her own momentum, he had her doing a quarter turn and hurled her headlong on the wooden floor of the porch. Landing, she ran over the table and one of the chairs, knocking them down.
Jarod leaped down from the porch to the lawn surrounding the cottage.
“Do you want a fight?” he yelled at her in a challenging tone, “Very well then! Stand up, Parker! Fight!”
She didn’t make him repeat it; she got up and jumped on the grass, placing herself in front of Jarod. He goaded her, beckoning her to attack him, his face a provoking mask. Miss Parker began her assault, spinning around in a high roundhouse kick, but Jarod bowed instantly to avoid it and, pivoting on one leg, he stretched the other in a sweep that knocked her down on her back. The blow took her breath away; she saw Jarod plunging over her and managed to roll away, then to jump up again. She tried to kick him hard in the ribs, but he seized her foot and twisted it, making her cry out in pain and forcing her to spin around trying to ease it. She fell again, facedown; as Jarod was getting up to jump over her, she turned just in time to use her legs in a scissor kick that caught him in the knees and sent him tumbling on the ground, face up. In an instant, she was sitting on his stomach and Jarod had barely the time to harden his abdominal muscles to avoid running out of breath. Miss Parker stroke a blow, but Jarod parried it using one arm and grasping her wrist in an iron grip. She then tried with her other hand, but she was equally stopped. Anticipating any other new strategy, such as for instance a nice head butt in his face, Jarod lifted and opened her arms; with no support, she fell over him.
Their faces a few inches away, they froze, staring at each other, wide-eyed, panting hard, motionless like pillars of salt.
Then, Miss Parker lowered her gaze on Jarod’s lips, very close to hers.
She never knew what pushed her, but a moment later, her mouth was on Jarod’s.
It began brutally, not a true kiss but only another way to fight, looking for supremacy over him. But soon it changed, becoming desperate search, anxious request, breathless answer, and then even frantic exploration, unbridled passion, convulsive yearning. Years, decades of repressed reciprocal desire exploded in a few moments, overwhelming them irresistibly, almost choking them in a whirl of sentiments and emotions as strong as a hurricane.
Miss Parker relaxed in Jarod’s arms, her mind short-circuiting, her perception of the universe reduced at the sole awareness of their mouths, molten in a breathtaking kiss, and of their bodies, glued together. Jarod perceived her relaxing and loosened the grip on her wrists. Miss Parker used her now free arms to help herself lying down on him, then she cupped his face and increased the force of their kiss. Jarod lifted his arms and closed them around her, one hand on her back, the other on her nape. His thoughts had flown away, his mind was empty except for Miss Parker, her soft lips, her warm tongue, her hot breath, her exciting scent. His blood ran immediately to his crotch, and in a few seconds, he was ready for her.
Miss Parker felt his excitation pressing against her; her body answered in an instant, flooding her femininity with a hot gush. She moaned, taken aback by the violence of her own desire.
Her reaction was fright, so great it bordered panic. With a gasp, she tore her lips from Jarod’s and escaped his hold, rolling on her side; she jumped up sitting, but she was shaking so hard, she wasn’t able to stand up and flee. Therefore, she curled up in a ball, hugging her knees and hiding her face.
Dismayed, Jarod stayed lying on the ground some more moments, before being able to recover enough and sit up in turn. He looked at the young woman curling up at his side and saw the fierce tremor that was shaking her. He realised she was in terror, but he couldn’t believe he was causing it.
“Parker… what’s wrong?” he whispered, getting near her and placing gently one hand on her shoulder, “It’s me, Jarod… Why are you afraid of me?”
Miss Parker didn’t withdraw from his touch, but shook her head.
“This is madness, Jarod”, she said through clenched teeth, refusing to meet his gaze. Jarod needed less than one second to understand what she was referring to.
“What is madness?” he asked anyway, soliciting an explanation which he actually didn’t need, but determined to make her digging out that thought.
“We two”, Miss Parker answered brusquely, “No way. We’re not meant together.”
“Says who... the Centre?” Jarod commented, his ironic tone diluted in bitterness, “Are you forgetting that, when we were children, they had us meeting because they wanted to provoke attraction between us? Attraction that existed, innocent as it may be between children, but undeniable. Then they realised how dangerous this attraction could be and split us up, making us become strangers to one another, trying to make us enemies of one another...” talking, he bent over her and put his lips next to her ear, going on softly, “But they didn’t succeed, right, Parker? You saw it for yourself earlier in the kitchen, when you couldn’t shoot me. Then we fought, true, but how did the fight end up?”
Feeling his warm breath against the skin of her neck, Miss Parker shivered. She felt weak, and this was a feeling she hated. Therefore, she reacted fiercely, shoved Jarod away with one hand and jumped to her feet like a spring.
“You’re talking nonsense, Jarod!” she cried in a harsh tone, “I repeat, this is madness!”
Taking big steps, she got back into the cottage and slammed the door forcefully, but she didn’t lock it: it was useless, if Jarod had got inside once, he could to it again. She stormed in her bedroom and from there to the bathroom, where she turned on the shower; she got rid of her clothes, almost ripping them off, then she slipped under the jet of cold water. The first gush left her breathless, but she stayed stubbornly still until she began feeling numb. Finally, she turned off the shower, grabbed a large towel and rubbed herself vigorously to reactivate the blood circulation and warm up; then she used the hair dryer. When she returned to her bedroom, she was feeling calmer, her mind mind clear; her jets had cooled down.
She dressed, donning lace underwear under a tight sleeveless t-shirt and skinny jeans that highlighted her beautiful, long-legged shape, then she thought that she looked too sexy to face Jarod after what had just happened. But she hadn’t much choice, her style had always been sexy, whether formal or casual; even her track suit was tight and didn’t hide anything of her exquisitely feminine curves.
To stay true to herself, she went back to the bathroom and put on some makeup on her eyes – eye pencil, eyeliner and mascara – but left her lips natural. Lifting her chin in a challenging gesture, she returned to the living room; as she expected, she found Jarod in the kitchen, busy frying eggs and bacon as if he had never been interrupted. Everything had been tidied up, and the table set again. Even her gun had been picked up and placed on the counter.
Without a word, Miss Parker took a seat. A few moments later, Jarod turned and smiled at her.
“With your belly full, the world looks better”, he declared, coming near with the frying pan and slipping one egg with two curls of crunchy bacon in her dish. At that moment, the toaster trilled and four slices of bread sprang out, toasted to the right degree. Jarod filled up his dish, too, placed the pan back on the turned off stove, then he got the bread and carried it to the table in a tiny basket, which he placed next to the pot of blueberry jam, Miss Parker’s favourite. There were also honey and butter, a bottle of orange juice, a carafe of cold milk, two bowls of corn flakes and a bottle of maple syrup. From the microwave oven, Jarod took out a dish with a pile of pancakes, which he had prepared in advance and kept warm. When he sat down in front of Miss Parker, on the table there was almost no place for anything else. The young woman observed this profusion of food, which reminded her of the breakfasts her mother used to cook, and she felt amused in spite of herself.
“A huge breakfast”, she commented, grimacing as she tried to conceal her smile.
“Nothing’s better to begin a day”, Jarod replied, starting to butter one slice of toasted bread.
Miss Parker began eating with mistrust, but soon she discovered she was very hungry. After all, the night before she hadn’t had dinner, worn out by the exhausting run she had taken, and this morning she had expended much energy, both physically and mentally, fighting against Jarod – and her feelings. This thought disconcerted her, but she shoved it away at once, as she always did with ideas upsetting her, simply refusing to accept their existence.
Chapter 5: Chapter V
As they finished the rich breakfast, they cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher, where the tableware of the previous day still stood; hence, Miss Parker decided to start it. Straightening, she noticed that Jarod was watching her; in his eyes a light was burning, she had never seen before, and a slow shiver travelled down her backbone.
“What are you looking at, Jarod?” she enquired, trying to use her typical haughty tone and failing miserably. Her fiasco didn’t escape Jarod, who stifled the smile that was about to reach his lips.
“I’m looking at you, Parker”, he answered amiably. She didn’t lower her blue gaze – it wasn’t her habit – but she couldn’t avoid the slight blush on her cheeks.
“We need to talk”, she decided, heading resolutely for the sitting room. She took a seat on the shorter side of the L-shaped couch; Jarod joined her, sitting on the other side, not too close, but not even too far.
“What do you want to discuss?” he asked.
“As if you don’t know!” she snorted, impatiently, “Don’t insult my intelligence, please.”
Jarod raised his hands in a surrendering gesture.
“You’re right, I beg your pardon”, he said, apologetically, “But I can think of a number of topics.”
“Then, suggest one”, Miss Parker invited him.
“You and the Centre”, he promptly answered. The young woman thinned her lips in an annoyed grimace, while her eyes flashed.
“I’ve had enough of the Centre!” she cried angrily, “I’m sick of having them control every single aspect of my life, they even prevent me having my own life… When Lyle ousted me, with Raines’ complicity, I got mad, because it was mine to take over my father’s position…”
She paused, realising what she was saying.
“My father…” she whispered with a bitter grimace, “Biologically, my father is Raines, the man I despise the most in the whole world, along with Lyle, my twin brother… Raines, Mr Parker’s secret brother, makes him my uncle and not my father… Have you ever heard about a family history more messed up than mine?”
“Mine’s no joke, either”, Jarod replied, but with no acrimony, “I’ve been abducted when I was four years old, shortly after my brother Kyle was abducted, too, my parents went on the run and gave birth to my sister Emily, then they impregnated your mother with my father’s semen and Ethan was born…”
This time, it was Miss Parker the one raising her hands as if to surrender.
“You should hate me”, she whispered then, bending forwards and placing her elbows on her knees, her hands joined in front of her, “What my family has done to yours through the Centre is unforgivable… They abducted you and Kyle, my brother killed yours, and he tried to kill Emily, too, and then they tried to kidnap… what’s your girlfriend’s name?”
“She’s not my girlfriend”, Jarod answered, knowing exactly who she was talking about, “Anyway, her name’s Zoe, and the last time I heard from her, she was fine. She told me about a taxi driver who was wooing her and who attracted her. I wished her all the happiness in the world.”
Miss Parker looked at him askance, refusing to admit to herself that she was feeling relieved that Zoe was no part of Jarod’s sentimental life anymore.
“We’re wandering away from the point”, she said instead, “The topic was me and the Centre. Well, I decided I had enough. But even if you stay out of the way, I don’t see how I can get rid of them. I tried once, and the result was Thomas’ murder...”
Her voice failed her, a lump in her throat as always when she thought about her Tommy. Jarod didn’t intrude in her grief and stayed silent for some moments.
“Now they cannot blackmail you anymore”, he reminded her then, “They took away from you all the people you love: your mother, Thomas, and ultimately even the one you thought your father. Who can they threaten to kill, now, to make you stay?”
“Sydney”, Miss Parker answered at once. She felt surprised: it was the first time she admitted she loved the elderly psychiatrist.
“My little brother”, she went on. Another half-brother, like Ethan, but this time, at least she had known about his existence since the beginning. Even if he was actually her cousin.
“Debbie”, she added, on a lower tone: she had come to care very much about Broot’s daughter, now a fourteen-years-old girl. Then she sighed.
“Broots... and Angelo”, she confessed finally, almost unwillingly, referring to their childhood friend, whose mind had been burned by Raines’ inhuman experiments. She wondered what was going on: as an adult, she had always suppressed any feeling toward anyone, thinking it a weakness. She had allowed herself this weakness only with her father – the man she believed being her father. Then Thomas had come, but her love for him had cost him too high a price. And now, she was confessing openly feelings she didn’t even think she had for other people.
Jarod wasted no time wondering: the moment of truth comes for all, the moment when you must look reality into the eye and accept it, even if you don’t like it, even if it hurts. Apparently, for Miss Parker this moment had arrived.
“Then, you need them safe from the Centre, before getting rid of them, to use your words”, he pondered aloud.
“I thought about it. Sydney is old enough to declare that he can’t go on working and wants to retire. He’s always proven loyal to the Centre, they’d have no reason to doubt him. And once leaving legitimately the Centre, he could disappear, change his identity: I have the means to help him. As for Broots, I think they have always underestimated him because of his shyness, it shouldn’t be difficult for him to resign and vanish in turn with Debbie. They’ll consider him too small a fish to care. For Angelo it’d be more difficult, but we could fake his death. And for my little brother, I’d resort to the same solution.”
She had thought about it, and so thoroughly, she had even made concrete plans; this was very encouraging, Jarod thought.
“Well, then”, he said, “All this talk answers other topics I wanted to submit you: you and your father, you and Sydney, you and your future… There’s only one thing left: you and I.”
She immediately shook her head:
“I told you, it’s madness.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Parker”, Jarod contradicted her with serene firmness. His tone, so totally confident, caught her off-guard. Very little used to this feeling, she frowned.
Noticing her mood, Jarod continued with the same inflection in his voice:
“Don’t you understand the reason why the Centre separated us? We’re made for each other, together we are invincible! They thought they could use this to their advantage, but at a certain point, they realised it was too dangerous for them, for their existence, and therefore, first they divided us, then they played us against one another. Or they tried to. But they never succeeded. Not fully. The proof is right here, right now: the two of us discussing it. “
Miss Parker tried to speak, to confute, to deny what Jarod was saying: everything inside of her was instinctively rebelling, because those few sentences, added to the earlier facts, were inexorably finishing dismantling over 20 years of mental cleansing, destroying her assumptions and the wall she had built around her heart and soul to survive, to not die inside. Now the whole building shook under the battering ram of Jarod’s words, and if it was shaking, this meant it was less solid than she had believed; and if so, it was because it was wrong. This idea frightened her like nothing else so far, therefore she was trying desperately to keep together the pieces of her old life, but it was a battle she was going to lose with what Jarod was about to tell her, topping it off:
“I read the scrolls, Parker”, he disclosed to her, “They talk about the Chosen One, destined to destroy the Centre, which is called a malignant cancer. I am this Chosen One, Parker. But I cannot do it alone: you must help me, you, the woman of my destiny. You are called this way.”
Jarod went silent, to allow Miss Parker wrapping her mind around all the things he had told her, very aware of how much they were shocking, to her.
At length, Miss Parker regained her power of speech, but instead of denying Jarod’s words, to her own surprise she asked him a question:
“How can you know that it’s me, this woman?”
She didn’t argue about him being or not this mythical Chosen One, or if the manuscript was truly talking about the Centre and not something else: her Inner Sense, the gift she had inherited from her mother Catherine, allowed her to discern truth from falsehood, and now it was telling her that this was the way things were. She didn’t like admitting having his gift, because it frightened her, but now it was to her benefit.
Jarod inhaled, deeply and carefully, before answering with the highest straightforwardness:
“Because I feel it with every fibre of my being, with my soul, my heart, my mind and body.”
Miss Parker had gone farther in this half-hour conversation with Jarod, than she would ever imagine possible, but she wasn’t ready yet to accept this possibility.
“I don’t want to think about it, now”, she declared in a firm tone, standing up abruptly. Doing so, she felt a sharp sting in her lower back and a groaned in pain.
“What’s up, Parker?” Jarod asked promptly, standing up in turn to go near her.
“Nothing…” she tried weakly, but she doubled over in pain. Jarod grasped her elbow.
“Come, lay down on the floor”, he ordered her in a peremptory tone, leading her to the thick wooden carpet in front of the fireplace. He helped her laying on her stomach, making her place her forehead on the back of her crossed hands, then he lifted slightly the hem of her t-shirt and touched the lower part of her back.
“What are you doing?” Miss Parker grumbled, but the pain she was feeling muffled her aggressive tone.
“Your lumbar muscles are terribly contracted” Jarod diagnosed, recalling his experience as a physiotherapist in a Simulation, about three years before, “You need a massage. Have you some oil for sporting use, for warming-down?”
She recalled having purchased a bottle, the third day since her arrival, to ease the muscle cramps that had troubled her after the first workouts.
“In the bathroom cabinet”, she answered. Jarod left her for some moments to go get it; when he came back, he got rid of his shoes, then he kneeled again at her side and shoved her t-shirt up to her shoulders.
“I need to unfasten your bra”, he warned her. She hesitated for a moment, then she gave it up: it was obvious that the piece of underwear would be a hindrance to the massage.
“Fine, then”, she muttered.
Trying to think only in a professional way, Jarod proceeded; after pouring some of the agreeably perfumed oil on the palm of his hand, he spread it on her back and began to massage her. Even if he started softly, Miss Parker uttered a slight moan because she was so tense. Annoyed by this unusual show of weakness, she bit her lower lip and forced herself to stay silent; little by little, under Jarod’s gentle and skilled touch, she relaxed. Perceiving it, he increased slightly the vigour he was applying, and Miss Parker had to stifle another groan. She relaxed again, and again Jarod increased the energy of the friction, continuing until the contracture had passed. At this point, the massage became gentler and he extended it to her whole back, up to her shoulders.
“Relax, Parker”, he whispered, “Close your eyes and breathe slowly, clear your mind of all concerns, enjoy the present moment...”
Miss Parker had her eyes closed and was breathing slowly already for a long time. At Jarod’s soft touch and his soothing voice, she relaxed her mind besides her body, letting it wandering freely in a sensation of bliss that she hadn’t felt in ages.
Little by little, at first in fragments, then increasingly clearer, she recalled the memory of the dream she had had that night.
Thomas and Jarod.
Jarod and Thomas.
Their faces alternated in her imagination, twirled, superimposed on one another, melted.
And in the end, Miss Parker realised it: she had fallen madly in love with Thomas because he reminded her of Jarod. The two men were so alike, in their looks but above all in their personality, that she wondered why she hadn’t realised this before. This implied that she had always seen Jarod in Thomas, and this meant that she had always been in love with Jarod.
The revelation was a trauma.
Miss Parker opened wide her eyes, stiffened and escaped Jarod’s hands. She rolled aside and sat up, pulling down her shirt and glaring at him with flashing eyes.
It was Jarod, the one who made her meet Thomas. He did it because he knew she needed it, so she would find out that her heart wasn’t dead, but still capable of a deep feeling, so deep, that she had been willing to leave her life at the Centre to follow the man she loved... whom she thought she loved. No, this was unfair towards Thomas: as much as he had reminded her of Jarod, she had loved him for real. But now she had to admit that her love for Thomas was an echo of the love she felt, she had always felt, she would feel forever, for the man who was standing in front of her.
Her face lost its belligerent expression. Her shoulders sank.
“You knew”, she said in an undertone. Jarod’s eyes didn’t leave hers, but he frowned, at a loss.
“What?” he asked.
“That through Thomas I actually loved you.”
This statement caught him short. Not the assertion in itself – he knew it was true – but the fact that Miss Parker was willing to admit it, and furthermore, in such an explicit way.
He took a deep breath and sat on his heels.
“I didn’t know it”, he clarified in a soft voice, “but I thought it could be…” then, he thought that so great a sincerity deserved being returned with no reservations, “Well, to be entirely honest, I hoped it was, because in this way, you would love me at least by extension…”
Miss Parker swallowed. She felt on the edge of a precipice, and she knew that, would she fall into it, there could be no going back. She closed her eyes and wavered, on the brink of the edge, undecided. The depths of the abyss yawning in front of her feet enticed her, seductive like a siren song. Falling into it wouldn’t mean plunging into a chasm, but soaring in the light flight of a butterfly and slide on the wings of a sweet breeze down to the bottom, where awaiting for her was…
Frightened, she drew back. She squared her shoulders again, and as she opened her eyes, the expression on her face hardened.
“No…” she whispered, “No”, she repeated, more firmly, “It’s happening too fast. I can’t sweep away 25 years of my life like this, in one hour. For years, decades they taught me to despise you, to consider you less than human, only a guinea pig, a lab rat, an experiment. Only now I understand they drove me where they wanted me, trying to cancel what cannot be cancelled anymore, and what they had provoked by themselves: my feelings for you. They had us meeting on the precise purpose of making us mate, but then they realised this could be too dangerous for them and made everything they could to separate us. They took control of my life and made sure that we couldn’t talk to each other for… what, 20 years? And then, damned them, when you escaped, they forced me to chase you, confidente, in their arrogance, that they had me. And they were right…” Miss Parker broke off the tirade to look into Jarod’s eyes, “Until this day.”
Jarod was still sitting on his heels, hands resting on his knees, and returned her gaze. In his eyes shone such a tenderness that Miss Parker felt her throat tighten out of emotion. He truly cared for her. He loved her for good. With no secret agenda, no concealed purposes, no hidden intents. Despite anything and anyone, despite the passing of the years, despite they had become estranged, antagonists, prey and huntress, he loved her.
“I… need to think”, she said, trying to infuse her voice with the usual firm tone, but not succeeding completely. Jarod nodded slowly.
“Of course”, he confirmed, “I won’t put pressure on you.”
He stood up and extended his hand to her. Without thinking, she accepted his help, and when she was upright, she wondered: all the mistrust for Jarod they had taught her had disappeared as if by magic. She frowned: this could only mean that, as a matter of fact, it had never existed, that it was only a mental construction the Centre had instilled in her. Once, she trusted Jarod, she trusted him completely; for all those long years, this trust had stayed buried in her unconscious, wisely hidden, carefully defended, and now inevitably it was resurfacing to her conscious mind.
The Centre was losing its grip over her.
Then she felt the uneasiness of having her bra unhooked under the shirt.
“Excuse me a minute”, she muttered. She went shortly to her bedroom to tidy up, then she returned in the living room, where she found Jarod sitting on the couch, staring into nothing.
“One dollar for your thoughts”, she said softly, the hint of a smile in her voice. She had addressed him this sentence so many times, when they were children!
Jarod lifted his gaze to her, surprised, showing clearly that he, too, remembered it. He watched her taking a seat on the other side of the couch and smiled at her.
“I’d be a rich man, with all the money you owe me!” he joked. Miss Parker stared at him for a moment, then she began chuckling; Jarod was affected. Looking at each other, they worsened things and laughter overwhelmed them, shaking them hard for several minutes, without knowing exactly why. Each time one stopped to catch his breath, the other laughed harder, engaging again the other one.
They laughed until their bellies ached, tears streaming from their eyes. Finally, out of breath, they calmed down and stopped, staring at each other, in silence.
Jarod thought that Miss Parker was becoming more and more beautiful. Her shoulder-long black hair framed her oval face, where her extraordinarily blue eyes shone brightly, and her sensual, full lips were slightly parted in a tiny smile; she possessed the body of a model, generous breasts, slender waist, lovely hips and long legs... that he would like feeling intertwined with his...
An erotic image surfaced with no warning in Jarod’s mind: the two of them in bed together, their bodies shining with perspiration, their limbs entangled, their crotches aflame...
He blinked, chasing away this inappropriate picture. Touching her, forcing back his thoughts about passionate embraces had cost him a noticeable effort, now it wasn’t the best idea to indulge in such fancies. But it was difficult, so difficult, with her looking at him smiling...
Miss Parker thought that Jarod was truly very attractive. He sported his brown hair slightly shorter than the last time they had met, in Scotland; his dark eyes, the colour of chocolate, were highlighted by the mole on his right cheekbone; his tight black t-shirt showed off his muscular arms and his broad chest; but it was his mouth, slightly bent in a smile, that drew her gaze the most... mouth that, just a short time before, was glued to hers in one of the most intense kisses she had ever given and received...
She saw herself back outside, laying on the lawn with Jarod under her, but this time there were no clothes separating them, e she wasn’t feeling his manhood against her belly, but inside of her...
She forced herself to distract her mind from this exciting image. She saw Jarod blinking and noticed his eyes were shining in an unusual way. It lasted only a moment, then they went back to normal, but it was enough to make her feel a shiver running down her back. She needed a minute to understand what had brought it on: she had seen Jarod’s longing, and her body had reacted instinctively. Another irrefutable demonstration that the two of them were meant together. Her entire being was screaming it, but the mental cleansing of a lifetime was very difficult to overcome.
“I hadn’t laughed so much for I don’t even remember how much time”, she said haphazardly, just to break the silence. Jarod moved, making himself more comfortable on the couch.
“And now, how are you feeling?” he asked, slowly, watching her intently with his dark eyes, so acutely that she thought he was looking straight into her soul. She opened her mouth to say simply fine, but she realised this would be an insufficient answer. Hence, she looked inside herself. She looked inside herself like she had began to do, unwittingly, since her arrival here, but this time, she did it consciously, and went all the way to the bottom of her soul.
“I feel... light”, she answered, matching the slowness of Jarod’s question, “As if a great weight had been taken off my shoulders, a weight I wasn’t even aware I was carrying. I feel... free”, she concluded, with a note of wonder on the last word.
All this just for a laugh? How was it possible?
But it was.
She resumed watching Jarod, who hadn’t taken his eyes off her.
“You know this will be hard, and very dangerous”, she said. He had no need to ask her what she was referring to.
“I know”, he confirmed, “but I know, too, that if the Centre is afraid of the two of us together, there is a reason. And the reason is, they know we can destroy them.”
“That’s why they kept us apart”, Miss Parker concluded, wondering why she hadn’t realised it earlier, “That’s why they tried to convince me I despised you... But now I broke the chains, I think with my own head and not with theirs anymore! Damn them!” she swore through clenched teeth, “How much I hate them!”
Worried about her temper tantrum, Jarod bent over to her.
“No, Parker, don’t let hate blinding you”, he exhorted her, taking her hand, “Resentment destroys your soul. Don’t let them rule again your life through it.”
Parker looked at him, thunderstruck. Never had she thought in these terms.
“Don’t you hate them?” she asked, incredulous.
“At first, I did, with my all”, he answered, nodding to emphasise his words, “but in time, I realised that my hatred made me mentally prisoner of the Centre, as much as I had been physically. Everything I did, I did it because of them. I was what I was because of the Centre, but whether this would be a good thing or a bad one, it was up to me, to the use I would put it. Little by little, I began to do things for myself, because I wanted them, because I thought them right for me and for those around me. And so, gradually, I stopped hating them. But this doesn’t mean I have stopped wishing to destroy them, because even if I don’t hate them anymore, I haven’t forgiven them for what they did, to me, to my family, to you, to Angelo and to so many others, and for what they still do. Except that now I don’t want to do it for me, out of vengeance, but to free the world of this horrible cancer.
These were no familiar concepts for Miss Parker; her gaze became remote as she tried to let them sink in. After a while, she realised she shared them, and she was surprised about how easily she had accepted them, once discovered.
“You’re right”, she whispered, “Hatred is as much a connection as love, and I surely don’t want any other connection to the Centre. I don’t know how I’ll manage it, but I’ll try to stop hating them.”
“Good”, Jarod approved, slightly tightening his grip on her fingers, “Good.”
Miss Parker’s eyes focussed again on him; she realised she was feeling an unpleasant pressure at her temples.
“My brain’s on fire”, she declared, “I’ve had enough for today. Do you mind if we stop here, for now?”
“Okay”, Jarod answered, “I don’t want to push you too much all at once, I’d risk only you digging your heels.”
Miss Parker frowned and opened her mouth to protest vehemently, then she shut it and instead smiled.
“You know me so well, Jarod...” she said in a soft voice, “It’s... comforting.”
Jarod lifted her hand, which he was still holding, and brought it to his lips, placing on it a feather-light kiss.
“That’s true, I know you well... Breanna”, he whispered. Miss Parker started, hearing her first name. The name her mother had given her, the name of a romantic heroine of Ireland, Catherine Jameson Parker’s homeland. Nobody called her this way. Her mother always called her baby, while her father – no, her uncle, she remembered bitterly – called her angel. Even Thomas had called her only Parker. She allowed nobody calling her by her first name.
But all of a sudden, it seemed to her that with Jarod, this was only fair.
Not only because he knew her like nobody else, but also because, with the use of this name, he was transforming her. Miss Parker died in that instant, and in that same instant she was born again as Breanna.
But she didn’t know it yet, and because of this, her headache worsened. She decided she had to busy her mind with something else than the ponderings of the last hour.
“Today I was planning to go into town for get some supplies”, she said, standing up, “Are you coming with me?”
“Sure”, he confirmed, standing up in turn.
Chapter 6: Chapter VI
Breanna went for her purse, then she exited from the front door; Jarod had preceded her and was picking up the chair he had made her knocking over during their short but intense fight. Involuntarily, Breanna looked towards the spot where the fight had stopped; she saw herself again above him while they were kissing furiously, and she found herself suddenly wishing with every fibre to experience again those sensations, pressed against his chest, her tongue intertwined with his and his virility crushed against her hot centre...
Meanwhile, Jarod had straightened the table, too, and turning to her, he asked:
“Shall we go?”
The sound of his voice roused her out of her reveries:
“Yeah, the car’s over there.”
Of course, Jarod had already seen it, when he had explored the surroundings before stealthily breaking into the cottage, the previous night. He followed Breanna – he wasn’t able anymore to think about her as Miss Parker, even if he had done so all his life – to the jeep and climbed on the passenger seat.
Breanna turned on the engine, then she turned the car around and drove slowly down the driveway to the paved road. After merging into the county road, she sneaked a glance at Jarod.
“How long will you stay?” she enquired, “You know, so I can figure out how much extra provision I have to buy...” she added hastily, not wanting to take Jarod’s stay for granted. Please, stay with me. The heartfelt thought surprised her.
Jarod turned to look at her, but she kept her eyes on the road; her face showed nothing, however he noticed that her knuckles had paled as she was clutching the steering wheel harder, waiting for him to answer.
“All the time you want me to”, he said therefore, in a soft voice.
Breanna stood still for a long moment before breathing again – she hadn’t even been aware she was holding her breath – then she relaxed.
But only briefly.
“A long time ago”, she whispered, “I asked you never to leave me.”
Jarod lowered his head, feeling ashamed.
He remembered perfectly.
Breanna made this plea shortly after Catherine’s death – or better, of what they had supposed to be her death by suicide, while instead it had been just an act, so she could give birth to Ethan away from the Centre. In her despair for the loss of her much beloved mother, Breanna had held on to her friend Jarod to receive comfort, to be reassured that he wouldn’t abandon her, but he, with all his exceptional cleverness, his genius as a Pretender, hadn’t grasped it and had answered he couldn’t make her such a promise, because he couldn’t be sure he would keep his word because of life’s unpredictability.
He wouldn’t make the same mistake two times.
“Nothing will keep me away from you, now that I’ve found you back”, he declared, his voice low and vibrant of conviction, “Nothing, except death, or your will.”
Breanna’s eyes filled up with tears. Prudently, she slowed down as she blinked quickly to clear her sight. Her heart was pounding in her chest and her throat was tight. Unable to speak, she simply nodded to show him she had understood.
The rest of the way, they stayed in a thrilled silence.
When they arrived in Malford, a village of hardly 3000 inhabitants, they parked in front of a small supermarket. They heard a merry tinkling when they opened the door to go inside, and the checkout girl, a very pretty blonde in her early twenties, addressed them with a cordial welcoming nod.
“Good morning, Nancy” Breanna greeted her, passing in front of her to take the cart; she began to stroll along the first aisle, between shelves full of supplies, and Jarod followed on her heels.
Neither of them saw Nancy craning her neck to look after them with a very perplexed face. This was the first time ever that the haughty and standoffish Miss Parker had been the first to say hello. And smiling, no less! Then Nancy noticed her escort – good heavens, she had never seen such an attractive man! – bending and whispering something to her, and she laughed and nodded. Then, the girl giggled: now she had understood everything.
Breanna was amused: Jarod had just manifested his wish to buy some ice-cream.
“Sure”, she approved, “What flavour do you prefer?”
“Vanilla and chocolate”, he answered at once, so quickly, she felt even more amused.
“Okay”, she said, bending over the refrigeration unit and choosing the best brand, “Here we are.”
They filled up the cart with every food they fancied, then, when they were finished, they returned to the checkout. A housewife was just paying and left soon after; while Jarod was placing their purchases on the small conveyor belt, Breanna realised something was missing.
“I forgot orange juice”, she told Jarod, moving to get it, “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Nancy began processing the goods through the scanner – an ultramodern technology one wouldn’t expect in such a small town like Malford – and smiled at Jarod:
“I’m glad you’re here”, she declared. Jarod raised his brows, surprised:
“Really? And why’s that?” he asked, intrigued. The girl cast a glance in the direction where Breanna had gone and went on hastily, in a conspiratorial tone:
“I could tell that Miss Parker was unhappy. You had a fight, hadn’t you? And she ran away. But now you came here to make up. That’s a good thing. I had never seen her like this, she’s even radiant! That’s why I’m glad you’re here...”
Jarod smiled vaguely in response, while his eyes fell on the condom packs displayed next to the checkout. He took one: he hoped with all his heart that things between Breanna and him would ripen to that point as soon as possible, and he wanted to be ready...
Nancy, of course, noticed it; her smile broadened, but she avoided carefully to make any inappropriate remark. She had already decided she was a fan of this gorgeous couple.
As soon as the packet was processed through the scanner, Jarod grasped it and slipped it into his pocket: Breanna could think he was giving for granted that they would end up in bed together, while he wasn’t at all. This was simply respect for her.
In the meantime, Breanna was coming back.
“Here we go”, she said, placing the large bottle on the conveyor belt. Wordlessly, Nancy scanned the last article, too, and closed the bill. While Jarod was bagging the goods, Breanna paid with her credit card, then picked up two of the four bags and headed for the exit. At that moment, she intercepted the knowing smile Jarod and Nancy were exchanging, and a sting of jealousy pierced her heart; the unexpected, sharp pain knocked the air out of her lungs.
She said nothing until they reached her jeep, but in the short track her annoyance grew and simmered in her soul like an evil, poisonous potion. After placing her load in the trunk, she let Jarod do the same, then she slammed angrily the tailgate and turned to face him.
“So you like young girls, now?” she addressed him through clenched teeth. Jarod stared at her, confused.
“What?” he muttered, not understanding.
“What do you mean, what?” she fumed, “You smiled at each other like cats in heat!”
Jarod was even more confused.
“Cats in heat smile at each other?” he repeated like a fool.
“Oh, stop it!” Breanna growled, showing off all of her Miss-Parker-temperament, “Don’t you dare messing around with me! You know what I mean...”
Her voice betrayed her, dying off all of a sudden. Unable to go on, she tried to save face glaring at him with flashing eyes.
Meanwhile, in Jarod’s mind had finally dawned a light: Breanna was jealous! Jealous of him! With no reason, of course, but it flattered him a lot; and it thrilled him, too, because if she didn’t even stand the thought of him with another woman, it had to mean she wanted him for herself...
He took a step forward and grasped her shoulders; Breanna stiffened from head to toe, but he didn’t care and stared at her intensely, his eyes telling more clearly than words I want you.
“I never messed around you for all my life”, he declared in a low voice, “Not about your feelings. You know that.”
For a few endless moments, Breanna continued to stay still, then suddenly her shoulders fell.
“Yes, I know”, she admitted softly, in a sigh, “But then, what did that smile mean?”
“Nancy believes that we had a fight and because of this you fled from me, but that now I’m here to make up. I think she watches a little too many soap operas like Guiding Light”, he concluded grinning. Despite herself, Breanna, too, chuckled.
“Oh, okay, I believe you”, she declared, “Sorry, I don’t know what got into me.”
Jarod opted not to tell her he instead knew perfectly what got into her; never taking off his eyes from hers, he took her hand and brushed the inner side of her wrist with his lips, whispering:
“There’s nothing to be sorry for.”
Breanna felt a slow, hot shiver running down her back.
Through the shop window, Nancy had followed the entire scene: she had seen Miss Parker turning to her gorgeous man with a frown and tell him something, then him grasping her shoulders, talking to her and finally kissing her wrist in a gesture that was both romantic and seductive. A small argument, she concluded. Too bad they didn’t kiss. She sighed wistfully: would she ever have a love like that, or meet a man as much gorgeous as this, who would fall madly in love with her? As the two protagonists of her mental soap opera parted and got into the jeep, Nancy thought that she would scarcely be so lucky.
Breanna was glad she was sitting: she wasn’t sure her knees would keep her much longer, nor did she know how long she would resist the urge to throw her arms around Jarod and kiss him soundly. She was craving for him; this of course wasn’t the first time a man was arousing such a longing in her, but this time there was a fundamental difference, because it wasn’t just physical desire. No, this time her heart, too, and not only her body, was burning with need. A sentiment that, in all her life, she had felt only one other time, with Thomas. And however, this time it was different: more aware, more mature.
Not a discovery anymore, but a re-finding.
They stayed silent for the whole way back, both their minds lost over elusive thoughts, their hearts bursting with emotions they could barely manage to keep at bay.
Back to the cottage, they unloaded the provisions and carried them inside, where they put them away in the fridge and in the larder. It was almost midday, and the afternoon promised to be very hot. The sole thought to bend over a hot stove elicited a grimace from Breanna, but casting a glance out of the window to the lake, she got an idea.
“What about preparing a few sandwiches and go stretching out in the shade of the trees?” she suggested. Jarod smiled:
“That’s a fabulous idea”, he approved. Hence, they filled up a picnic basket, which was part of the cottage facilities, with sandwiches, fruits, soft drinks and one of the cakes they had just bought; rummaging around in the bedroom he had slept in, Jarod found a rug. When he got back to the living room, he found Breanna waiting for him; she had partly changed her attire and was now wearing flip-flops and shorts. Her long legs were highlighted by the tiny garment; noticing his admiring gaze, Breanna felt flattered like never before. And yet, she was used to men’s appreciative glances, and she knew perfectly she had stunning legs; but Jarod’s admiration affected her much more than any other’s. Confused, she wondered why, but didn’t came up with any answer.
“Shall we go?” he invited her, exhorting her with a wave to lead the way; Breanna moved.
Jarod realised immediately he had made a mistake, walking behind her: his gaze was irresistibly drawn to her gorgeous derrière, moving harmoniously up and down while she strode on. As a result of this vision, he felt a certain tension in his crotch; he decided to avoid the imminent erection by picking up his pace and getting next to her: for goodness’ sake, if he got excited just by looking at her butt, however covered by the shorts, how would he react, should he see her naked in all her breathtaking beauty? He swallowed hard, forcing himself not to think about it.
Breanna was no virgin and noticed the way she was affecting Jarod. For a moment, she considered the possibility to provoke him further, but she changed immediately her mind: she would do that with anyone else, to make fun of him, but she couldn’t do that to him. No, should she tease Jarod, it would be to go all the way through; but she wasn’t ready for this, not yet.
They spread the blanket on the grass under the canopy of a tall tree with a smooth, grey-green bark and, after getting rid of their shoes, they sat cross-legged.
Jarod watched the tree, its leaves made of smaller leaves in an uneven number, shining green.
“This is an ash tree”, he said, “Do you know that the Vikings the ash is the Tree of Life?”
“Really?” she asked, lifting her gaze, “I don’t remember much about my studies of European history...”
“Actually, it’s more mythology than history”, Jarod informed her with a smile, “The Tree of Life represents the link between the underworld, where its roots are embedded, with the earthly world, where the trunk grows, and the celestial world, where its foliage stretches. The god Odin, or Wotan, hanged on it for days and days in the effort to gain all of the wisdom and knowledge of the world. He even sacrificed one eye in order to achieve his aim... but it’s a long story, and it lends itself to thousands of philosophical discussions”, he concluded hastily, afraid he would bore her.
Instead, Breanna realised she was interested; odd, because she had never cared much neither about trees, nor mythology.
“And what else can you tell me about the ash?” she enquired. Pleasantly surprised, Jarod searched in his formidable cultural baggage; remembering Breanna’s Celtic roots, both from her father’s side – the Parkers were originally from Scotland – and her mother’s – Catherine Jameson Parker was born in Ireland – he went on:
“The Celts considered the the protector of youth, and combining both the male and the female aspect. The female aspect was associated to life-giving waters, and therefore to birth, recovery – in particular hernia and rickets – and protection; the male aspect manifested itself into the king’s sceptre, or the warrior’s spear, which were made of its wood. The druids’ staffs, too, were made of ash wood, because it was considered a sacred tree. If an ash made you heal, you had then to protect it, because if it would be cut down, not only your illness would be back, but it would lead you to death.”
“Fascinating”, Breanna whispered, sincere, “And what kind of therapeutic properties would the ash have?”
“Modern phytotherapy says it’s a diuretic, a laxative and an antipyretic”, Jarod listed, recalling the notions he had learned during a Pretence, when he had impersonated a herbalist, “It’s a tonic and an astringent, excellent for the treatment of cellulitis, cholesterol, gout and neuralgia. I guess you have no need of any of these properties”, he added, smiling, ending his lesson. Breanna grimaced:
“Thank goodness! I have enough with my ulcer...”
A few years back, after a very serious ulcerous attack, she had been at the brink of life and death for hours; since then, she had stopped smoking and reduced much the alcohol consumption. This had helped her, but ulcer is no illness you can recover from definitively and by now she was resigned to live with the inconveniences coming from it, such as the constant control over her diet and taking a few medicines.
“Is it still bothering you much?” Jarod enquired, looking at her with some concern. Breanna softened at his face and shrugged, smiling reassuringly:
“Next to nothing, if I’m careful about what I eat and drink.”
He nodded earnestly; then his gaze fell on the picnic basket.
“Well, shall we eat those sandwiches?” he asked cheerfully.
They had their simple lunch chitchatting pleasantly, laughing often over nothing, feeling good and carefree as none of them had for a long, a too long time.
After wolfing down even the last crumbs of the cake, Jarod stretched out on the rug with a satisfied sigh.
“It’s very nice here”, he whispered, his eyes closed, his lips bent in a slight smile. Breanna turned to look at him; seeing him so relaxed and serene, unexpectedly made her feel a lump in her throat.
That was the way she wanted to see him for the rest of her life.
And that was the way she wanted to feel for the rest of her life.
She bent over him and, with a tenderness that surprised her, she caressed his face with her fingertips. Marvelling at her unexpected behaviour, Jarod cracked his eyes open and stared at Breanna’s beautiful face; drawn by his gaze, her eyes stared into his.
For long moments, they gazed at each other, looking directly into their souls. Neither of them tried to conceal or disguise what he or she felt for the other one.
Slowly, the lump Breanna was feeling in her throat disappeared.
Then, Jarod lifted one hand and placed it over hers, still on his cheek. His touch made her heart tremble: a shiver ran along her spine. Without thinking, she moved her thumb and stroke Jarod’s lips. Quickly, he kissed her fingertip; the sensation knotted her guts and took away her breath.
Emotions she didn’t think she could feel were shaking the most secret depths of her psyche, sweeping away years, decades of iron self-control. She should feel scared, but instead, she realised she was attracted to these feelings. She wanted to feel what she was feeling. Nobody – not the Centre, not she herself – would prevent her to.
But again, everything was happening too quickly; she needed some more time to metabolize it all.
She smiled at him tenderly, then she drew back and turned to watch the lake, pensive.
Jarod didn’t push: he didn’t want putting pressure on her, otherwise he would get only an opposition, instinctive and unintentional, but nonetheless powerful. He could possibly break that barrier, but he wanted her, and only her, to be the one deciding to do so, because only this way she would have no second thoughts, later.
The afternoon passed slowly, with pleasant chats and equally pleasant silences; at a certain point, tired of lounging under the ash, they took a walk along the lakeshore, and eventually, when the sun began westering, they got back in the cottage.
The whole time, Breanna hadn’t stopped brooding, sometimes consciously, sometimes completely unconsciously, bringing to maturity the feelings she was carrying in her heart since she had met Jarod the first time, so many years before, feelings that the manoeuvres of the Centre had blocked.
The moment she realised this, she realised, too, that now, finally, the Centre had no longer power over her.
She was free.
Free to love Jarod.
Chapter 7: Chapter VII
This awareness hit her with the strength of a blow, and Breanna gasped as if physically beaten. Jarod, who was preceding her up the stairs of the terrace facing the lake, heard her holding her breath and spun around, dropping the picnic basket he was carrying.
“Breanna! What’s up?” he asked, alarmed. Hearing him calling her name, she lifted her gaze to him and stared into his eyes, but she didn’t speak; for a long moment, she stayed stock-still, then, slowly, her lips bent and parted into a smile, which looked like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.
Jarod held his breath, immediately aware she had reached another stage of her metamorphosis from Miss Parker to Breanna.
Breanna dropped the quilt she was carrying, climbed the two steps separating her from Jarod and placed her hands on his chest, coming up to him.
“I love you, Jarod”, she simply said.
For a moment, Jarod thought his heart would stop; this was the fulfilment of all his dreams! But Breanna didn’t vanish, as she had done so many times in his reveries: she stayed right there, very real and concrete.
“Oh, Breanna...!” he exhaled, taking her into his arms. He crushed her against his body and buried his face in the curve between her shoulder and neck. She leaned against his chest.
Slowly, he caressed her back, from the top down; as he reached her waist, he slipped one hand under her t-shirt and went all the way back to the top, brushing her silken skin. Under his light touch, Breanna felt a warm shiver travelling all over her, and she realised the moment had come to take the decisive step.
She drew a little back, lifted her arms and knotted them behind his neck; she stared into his eyes for some moments, then she moved her gaze to his mouth and bent her head backwards in a clear invitation.
But Jarod thought he had waited for so long, that prolonging the wait some more moments would make everything even more beautiful and exciting. He turned his head and placed his lips on the side of her neck, under her ear. She closed her eyes and sighed, enjoying the caress of his mouth, which was slowly travelling along the line of her jaw. It seemed to her as if he was taking ages to reach her lips; and then, for endless moments, Jarod lingered with his mouth only a few millimetres away from hers, so near, they felt one another’s breath.
“I love you, too, Breanna”, Jarod whispered. Then he finally cancelled the distance between their mouths and sealed her lips with his own.
The kiss began tenderly: lips to lips, over and over again.
Then, the desire they had felt for each other for so many years they couldn’t count them anymore, ran out of control and overwhelmed them irresistibly.
With a moan, Jarod parted his lips and touched Breanna’s closed lips with the tip of his tongue; she responded immediately to that invasion she was craving for. She intertwined her tongue with Jarod’s, moving it in an intriguing, sensual dance. Her depths twisted and caught fire in the longing of her flesh, a longing that went far over the carnal aspect, going straight to her love-starved soul.
As he devoured Breanna’s mouth in a ravenous kiss, Jarod felt all his blood rushing to his crotch. With one hand, he stroked her hip, down to her bare thigh; coming back, he took a detour on her backside, caressing the firm curve of one buttock. Breanna moved against him; dazed, Jarod felt her rub her crotch against his erection and groaned in pleasure, swaying his pelvis in turn to increase the friction.
Realising he was on the verge of losing his head, Jarod tore his mouth away from Breanna’s and stared at her, wheezing, until she opened her eyes to look at him in turn. Longing had darkened her azure irises, making them the dark blue of sapphires.
“Breanna...” Jarod panted, “Are you sure you want this?”
“Never been so sure...” the young woman affirmed; her voice, husky with desire, left no room for doubts.
Therefore, Jarod stooped and, to her surprise, lifted her in his arms. Thrilled like a teenager, Breanna held onto his strong shoulders as he carried her to the bedroom, where he placed her down again.
Jarod was about to stoop again over her, when a thought struck him.
“Protection”, he said. Damn, he had stored the condoms in the nightstand drawer in the other bedroom, and going get them meant leaving Breanna...
“Pill”, Breanna revealed to his surprise. Because of her ulcer, her period had destabilised and, in order to restore its regularity, her physician had prescribed her this contraceptive. Even if a scorching lust was fogging her mind, she was grateful to Jarod for thinking about birth control, showing once more – should she still need it – his consideration and respect for her.
Relieved, Jarod enclosed her again in his arms and drew her to him; then, he seized her mouth with his.
The kiss was gentler than both expected, each caressing and nibbling the other’s lips; but soon both felt the need of something more and their bodies glued to one another more firmly. As their kisses became increasingly hotter, Breanna felt warm throbs in the depths of her being, not only on a physical level, but also in the most hidden places of her soul. She perceived Jarod’s hard muscles pressing against the soft curves of her body, and all of a sudden, she was aware he was a man. Of course, she had always known it, but only now she had realised what this meant. Her old childhood friend, the best friend she had ever had, maybe the only one in her life, whom she was in love with since forever, was a vibrant, strong, sexy and willing man. She had never let herself indulge in thoughts about his most primary attributes; one in particular was pressing against her belly, making her hands itch and desperate to touch him. Suddenly, their clothes seemed to her an intolerable hindrance.
Jarod moved his tongue, brushing it inside Breanna’s upper lip; she responded at once, chasing his tongue with her own. Both uttered a groan as their kiss became deeper and more explosive.
At last, Jarod left her lips, but only to draw a line of kisses downwards, along Breanna’s long swan neck, trying to understand what she liked more; he nibbled lightly her skin with his teeth and felt her body shiver in pleasure, but then, when he sucked gently with his lips, he felt her literally melt in his arms. Then he found a particularly sensitive spot just under her ear, which tore a loving moan out of her when he caressed it with the tip of his tongue. He tormented her deliciously for some more moments, then he went back to her lips and found her anxious to explore again his mouth.
Jarod was in paradise; should he be forced to stop now, he could anyway die happy. He had always liked kissing; but almost all the times, the kisses were finalised to the greater prize; but now instead, even if he had the certainty of the completion, he was fully enjoying each kiss, each caress.
Breanna felt her body tingle in anticipation; never had she felt like this before, in a man’s arms. Jarod’s hands, which were slowly travelling up and down her back, felt like fire-branding her. She pushed even nearer to him; against her stomach, she felt all of Jarod’s desire for her, and in consequence, a wave of incredible heat flooded her femininity. She moaned again.
Jarod drew slightly back, moving his hand from her back to her belly, where he began to draw small circles with his thumb; Breanna couldn’t help sighing in pleasure. She was craving to feel his touch on her skin.
She decided to take the lead – why hadn’t she done it yet? It wasn’t like her – and tore away her lips from Jarod’s, placing kisses along the line of his jaw and descending then his neck, caressing the sensitive skin with her lips, tongue and teeth like he had done to her earlier. It was Jarod’s turn to sigh in pleasure. Then, Breanna reached his ear and closed her lips on his earlobe; Jarod flinched and uttered a groan. She smiled secretly, feeling proud of herself.
After another stroke, Breanna drew back, kicked her sandals away and, grasping Jarod’s hand, she laid down on the bed, taking him with her. He kicked away his shoes and laid down next to her, but before he could take her into his arms, Breanna grabbed the hem of his t-shirt and lifted it; Jarod raised his arms and she took off the garment from him, throwing it on the floor beside the bed. Instantly, Breanna placed her hands on his torso, covered in the right amount of hair, and had them running slowly over his muscles, sculpted like a Greek statue, chest and abdomen, amazed she could finally touch him this way.
Jarod was trying hard not to lose control, because he wanted this moment last for a long, long time: after all the time they had needed to arrive to this point, it couldn’t be concluded too soon! To distract her, he seized again her mouth; at the same time, he slipped one hand under her top and started again to caress her belly, slowly moving his hand upwards. He succeeded: overwhelmed by new waves of heat, Breanna stopped and, temporarily out of energy, she dropped backwards.
Her depths trembled as Jarod’s hand crawled upwards; her breathing became laboured and she had to stop kissing him to catch her breath. At once, Jarod attacked her exposed throat, preventing her to recover; his fingers were dancing on the curve of her breasts, brushing the lace and the underlying nipple, which was hard and erect. He thought he heard her whimper, and that sound excited him even more.
Increasingly eager, Breanna raised her arms, like he had done earlier, inviting him to take off her top. As soon as she got rid of the garment, she snaked her arms around his shoulders and drew him nearer; Jarod returned his hand on her body and cupped one of her breasts, running firmly his thumb over her hardened and sensitive nipple. Breanna felt as if an electric shock was running directly from that spot to the burning centre of her body and uttered a chocked cry, halfway between pleasure and surprise. Instinctively, she wriggled her hips, and her thigh brushed against Jarod’s erection; another wave of heat flooded her. Goodness, she was already ready for him! And he hadn’t event touched her most intimate spot yet... She brushed his nape and ran her hand through his dark hair, bringing their faces closer and claiming another kiss. She kissed him desperately, telling him her longing for him.
Jarod moved his hand under her, lifting her enough to unhook her bra; his fingers were trembling so hard, he needed three attempts before succeeding.
And finally, her glorious breasts were exposed to his greedy gaze.
For a moment, Jarod forgot to breathe: shirtless Breanna was infinitely more beautiful than his most savage dreams had made him ever imagine. She was a goddess!
Then, he literally threw himself on one nipple, taking it into his mouth and brushing it with tongue and teeth. Breanna began uttering small moans and whimpers, the most wonderful sounds Jarod had ever heard in his life. He quickly cast a glance at her face and saw that she had her eyes closed and her head thrown back, ecstatic. She was chewing at her lower lip in the attempt not to cry out loud, and that sight was almost too much, for him: unable to restrain himself, he pressed his erection against her leg.
His convulsive movement aroused her even more; the hand she was still holding into Jarod’s hair tightened and she bent the other one’s fingers, caressing his back with her long nails, making him sigh.
Jarod moved his lips all around her breast, as he fondled the other one with his fingers. He was playing her body as if it were a perfect tuned instrument. Then, he withdrew his hand from her breast and slipped it downwards, over her hip to her thigh; he grabbed the rear side of her knee and turned sideways, taking her with him so that she was laying on her side, too, in front of him with her knee bent over his leg. Then his hand slid back, passing over her firm buttocks and squeezing them; the centres of their bodies came into contact, and both groaned at the sensation.
Breanna felt her female depths tingle and twist in the violence of desire. She used both hands to remove Jarod’s head from her breast, where he was still inflicting her a delicious torture, and seized again his mouth with hers. Then, her hands ran all over his exposed skin, from his hair to his chest, on his back, along his arms.
Jarod groaned in her mouth and, unconsciously, he pressed himself more firmly into Breanna’s body. He moved his hand from her superb bottom to her waist and slipped it under her shorts, discovering that under it she was wearing intriguing lace culottes, surely matching her bra. He managed to insert his fingers also under the second garment and moved them towards the front part of Breanna’s body; incapable to wait any longer, she rotated her pelvis so to allow him access, eager to be intimately touched. The tips of Jarod’s long fingers arrived at the curls adorning her female flower, finally reaching the soft petals, moist with desire. Both uttered a groan at the contact, interrupting their kiss.
Jarod caressed her with his fingers, amazed at how much she was hot. The awareness he was the cause of that hotness triggered an ineffable emotion inside of him and whetted his male pride.
Breanna couldn’t stand any longer to keep her hands still. She moved one and placed it on Jarod’s swollen crotch, grasping him through his jeans and stimulating him. Jarod started and uttered a choked cry; almost to counter her, he caressed more firmly her soft female folds. Their bodies shivered together at that very intimate contact, and sighs of pleasure escaped from their chests.
Then, Breanna withdrew slightly from him, interrupting the contact and making Jarod’s hand slip out from her panties; he muttered in disappointment, but she ignored him, pushed him on his back and sat up next to him. She couldn’t wait any more, she had to touch him, at once! She made a quick work unbuttoning and unzipping his jeans, then she slid her hand under his boxer briefs. Jarod started and held his breath at the sensation of intense pleasure as Breanna stroked him; he thought he was going to explode: it had been so long since he had been with a woman... but it wasn’t just this, it was much more, because touching him wasn’t any random woman, but Breanna Parker, the one he had loved all his life. He had to stop her, and soon, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to restrain himself...
He withdrew and, mirroring Breanna’s actions, he made her lay down on her back. At once, her breasts caught his gaze with their erect nipples aiming at him; he bowed his head and took one into his mouth, suckling gently.
“I bet you taste delicious, Breanna”, he whispered. He almost didn’t recognise his own voice, so much was it hoarse, and he realised he was out of breath. He forced himself to breathe, then slowly began drawing a chain of kisses along her body, lower and lower, toward a very apparent goal.
Breanna felt her guts twitch and tremble, while anticipation made all her internal muscles tingle; each touch of Jarod’s lips sent torrents of pleasure straight to the deepest core of her hypersensitive body.
Jarod brought both his hands to the waistband of her shorts and began pulling down the garment, kissing each new inch of newly exposed skin. Breanna raised her pelvis to facilitate him, and one moment later, shorts and culottes were laying on the floor with the rest of her clothes. As she felt Jarod’s hand slipping between her knees in a gentle invitation, Breanna parted her legs to give him complete access to her femininity, in a gesture of trust that filled him with such an emotion, that for some moments he wasn’t able to move.
Then, the sight of her gorgeous body, at last totally bare and disclosed to his eyes, struck him fully; again, Jarod realised that not even his cheekiest dreams had him prepared for such magnificent beauty, and for long moments he wasn’t even able to breathe. The temptation to lie on top of her and take her at once was almost overwhelming.
Recognising what that wild look meant, Breanna felt her depths vibrate in excitation and the warmth became unbearable.
At last, Jarod regained control over his feelings and bent down on her again. However, instead of going directly to the point where Breanna expected and wished him frantically, he started again to kiss her belly, which again throbbed under the delicate touch of his lips; meanwhile, his hand slipped slowly on the silky skin inside her thighs, until it arrived to the centre of her body, now burning with desire. The tip of Jarod’s tongue poked her bellybutton, and at the same time, the tip of his fingers poked the threshold of her secret garden; Breanna couldn’t help restraining another moan, gasping in pleasure.
Then Jarod withdrew his fingers from her, and he heard her muttering, disappointed. Stifling a smug grin, he raised his head and stared at her; noticing his gaze, Breanna stared at him in turn, and then he brought his hand to his mouth and licked his fingers.
“Mmmmmh...”, he murmured, “I was wrong, you taste sublime.”
Breanna’s eyes glazed over as passion overwhelmed her. She had to admit it, Jarod was really good in bed; she had suspected as much, given his Pretender nature that made him excel at everything, but thinking and experiencing are two completely different things. Silenced by the intensity of her own longing, she wasn’t even able to formulate an answer.
But Jarod had no need for it; he lowered himself again on Breanna’s body and placed his mouth on the inner side of her knee, beginning a slow ascent along her leg to the joining of her thighs. Breanna’s breath became short and uneven as she felt his lips brushing her sensitive skin, climbing with intolerable slowness. Forgetting every sense of modesty, she arched her back and pushed her body downwards, in the attempt to making him reach his destination quicker, and finally, he arrived and placed his mouth on her womanly treasure, beginning to lap at her slowly.
Breanna uttered a stifled cry, unable to restrain herself. She trembled from head to toe, as if electricity was running all over her. She moved convulsively on the bed and lifted one knee, opening up completely to him. She placed one hand into his hair, inciting him silently to go on. If she had liked it when he kissed her, it was nothing compared to the explosion of pleasure she has experiencing now.
Jarod felt his head spinning, as if intoxicated by her flavour. He was sure he could live on just Breanna Parker for the rest of his life. He continued to make love to her with lips and tongue, but he voluntarily kept his touch superficial, because his aim was to drive her crazy, not to satisfy her.
Not yet; not this way.
Breanna was about to toss and turn on the bed out of exasperated want; her fingers were planted into Jarod’s hair as she tried to pull him closer for a deeper contact. His delicious foreplay was driving her mad. Her body was so full of desire that, against her own nature, she found herself begging to find relief.
“Jarod... please...”, she almost sobbed, unashamed.
Jarod thought he had never, in all his life, heard anything so wonderful than Breanna’s plea. Never would he have thought that her voice could be so sexy. He was tempted to give her what she was asking for so desperately but, after so many years of waiting from both parts, it would be unfair, poor and perhaps even irreverent not taking to achievement their love act in the most complete way for both.
And anyway, he, too, couldn’t stand any more waiting.
“Oh Breanna, I love you so much!” he stated, panting.
Breanna was breathless, not much for the words, which she had already heard from him, but for his tone, so heartfelt and passionate, it had her heart stop. Heaven knew how much she loved him, and Breanna tried to put that thought into words, but she failed and she could only utter a broken sigh.
Not receiving any answer, Jarod went on kissing her, slowly climbing along her body, whispering admiring words in between kisses:
“You’re the most sexy... beautiful... charming... smart... and bold woman... I ever met...”
At this point, he had already paid homage to her belly and to both her breasts, got over her long neck and reached her ear, where he whispered:
“I love you so much that it almost hurts, Breanna. I want to spend the rest of my life finding out what makes you happy, what makes you laugh, and most of all, what will make you shout out my name...”
His words were a spell she gave in voluntarily, not wishing even for a moment to resist it. Still unable to voice her feelings, she withdrew her head and searched for Jarod’s mouth in a kiss of complete surrender; she pushed her tongue past his lips, hungry like someone who, on the verge of starving, would find a cup full of divine ambrosia. Urgently, she tried to pull his pants and boxer briefs down his legs without interrupting their kiss, but it turned out as a difficult task. Jarod, too, became impatient and helped her, and together they were finally able to get rid of his last garments.
At last totally naked, Jarod laid himself on top of her and pressed his forehead against hers; their gazes locked. Their eyes expressed unbridled passion, immense desire and boundless love.
Then, Jarod sealed Breanna’s lips with his own and at the same time, he pushed forward his pelvis, plunging into the warm depths of her body, firmly but gently, because he didn’t know how long it was since she had her last sexual intercourse and he didn’t want risking to hurt her; their mouths stifled one another’s moans as they were finally becoming one. Savouring the moment, they both stayed still, except their mouths, busy in a deep, slow kiss. Jarod waited for Breanna’s body adjusting to his sweet, welcomed invasion; he hadn’t to wait a long time, because soon she began to move her hips to meet him. He uttered a gasp of pleasure and instinctively began to push, trying to take it easy, but to each thrust, Breanna responded with a harder one: she knew he was holding back, but she wanted more, more... She placed her hands on the lower part of his back and pushed him to her, simultaneously rising up to him.
Jarod’s control took off like a flock of frightened birds and his thrusts became harder. Breanna gasped her approval, completely lost in his embrace.
She lifted her legs around his waist, allowing him even deeper access to her body.
Jarod was nibbling at her neck with his lips, but as soon as she closed her legs around him, his kisses became wild; from somewhere in his brain came the warning not to leave visible marks on her, but Breanna didn’t seem to care while she was passing her fingers into his hair, actually encouraging him. Indeed, the wilder he became, the higher were her moans.
Jarod realised he was galloping head on toward the peak; as for no reason he wanted to leave her behind, he pushed up on one elbow in a position that allowed him to move his free hand between their bodies and caress her breasts. When his fingers closed around one nipple, Breanna’s whole body shivered and he realised she was close, too.
“Jarod... Oh, Jarod...”, Breanna was barely able to stammer in between sighs.
Having craved for so long a time to make love with her, Jarod was absolutely surprised about his stamina, especially thinking about the frantic pace they were going.
“Ooohhh Jarod... don’t stop...!”
Because of her reserved nature, Breanna did never speak much during sex, but with Jarod it was different: she didn’t feel the need to hold back, on the opposite, she wanted to express everything. She felt her body becoming tenser and tenser and knew that completion was imminent; she sank her fingers in Jarod’s hair and back, planting her nails into his flesh, and finally an incandescent climax shook her depths. She wasn’t able to stifle the cry mounting in her throat, while waves over waves of intense pleasure washed all over her body, making her tiptoes curl and her back arch.
Jarod stayed with her, prolonging her pleasure as much as possible. He was still intent on resisting a bit longer, when her last jolt shattered his control and pleasure overwhelmed him full force, like an avalanche, tearing a breathless cry out of him. At last, he collapsed over her, spent.
Breanna embraced him tighter, enjoying his weight on her. She slowly caressed his back, wordless, her mind still clouded from the pleasure she has just experienced, both of body and soul.
Jarod moved his head and kissed her, long and sensually; then, he rolled away from her to lay on his back, but he kept her in his arms and made her place her head on his shoulder. She stretched one leg over his, reluctant to leave him. They stayed this way for a long time, while the accelerated beats of their hearts got back to their normal rate; Breanna caressed softly Jarod’s chest, and Jarod brushed gently Breanna’s arm.
Finally, while outside the shadows were becoming longer and longer in the westering sun, Jarod kissed Breanna’s brown hair and asked her in a whisper:
She lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him; in the dimming light, her eyes shone brightly in a way they never had before.
“Yes, Jarod”, she answered, determined as she always had been, “Together forever.”
Jarod’s dark eyes mirrored Breanna’s resolution. The hand he had used to caress her arm climbed to her nape and drew near her face for a kiss that was worth more than thousand words.
As it had been foreseen in the Book of Damned, the Centre’s days were numbered.
Half the world away, much more northwards, a book laid forsaken on a deserted Atlantic beach. It was a voluminous tome, looking very ancient, leather-bound in black; eroded by saltiness, faded by sun, worn by water, it was really in a bad shape.
From the distance, a human silhouette appeared, moving slowly, slightly limping, leaning on a walking stick of very simple style. It was an old fisherman with a snow-white beard, his skin worn out and blackened by many years of exposure to the sun and the wind. By now, he didn’t go fishing anymore, he left this job to his son and nephew, who would continue the family tradition that had begun with his grandfather. But he loved the ocean, and he still came often for a walk on its sandy shores.
When he arrived at the spot where the forsaken book laid, seeing it he got curious and bent down to pick it up. Examining it, the old man realised it was irremediably ruined, and he thought disgusted about the little regard that whoever had possessed it, had shown for this beautiful ancient book. Too bad: he loved ancient things and he would have liked to keep it, but it wasn’t worth it, it was just little more than garbage. With a sigh, the old man stuck it under his arm and slowly got back. On his way home, he stopped by the first wheelie-bin and, with displeasure that he couldn’t know as unjustified, he threw the book in the rubbish, and then went on toward his house.
The next morning, in the early hours, the garbage truck came; the workers lifted the bin and emptied its contents into the dump body. At the end of their duty, the men headed for the incinerator, where they unloaded all the collected trash, which soon after was burnt at high temperatures.
This was the inglorious end of the Book of Damned.
Chapter 8: Epilogue
In the days they spent together at Malford Lake, Jarod and Breanna dedicated much time to discover one another as lovers, but also renewing their friendship; they spent hours and hours telling each other their dreams, their ambitions, their deepest wishes, and even more time, of course, making love.
As much as they were intent on each other, however, they didn’t forget to discuss about a way to destroy the Centre. Breanna learnt about Jarod’s acquaintances in the FBI and suggested to use them; he agreed that this was surely the best solution, as the Centre must be considered like a threat to the US national security. Then it would be for the FBI to decide if they had to involve other security agencies, such as the NSA.
Therefore, they created a safe system to stay in touch, so that Breanna could inform Jarod about the best moment to let the law enforcements intervene: it was actually essential that all of the executives would be captured in one go, otherwise those who would escape the net, would exploit the innumerable resources of the Centre to vanish without a trace, as Mr Parker had done, if he wasn’t dead.
At the end of her vacation, Miss Parker went back to the Centre and resumed her work as if nothing had happened. Her behaviour was always the same and nobody suspected how much she had actually changed. Only Sydney, with the sensitiveness of a capable psychiatrist, caught some signals, but they were so vague, he wasn’t able to decipher them for sure.
Meanwhile, Jarod contacted the friends he had made in the FBI and involved them in his plan, soon obtaining all their support. Also the NSA was involved, which made its resources available, in particular a highly trained special military squad to go alongside with the SWAT, which would break in when Breanna would point out the right time. Besides, also the Interpol was involved, because of the many foreign bureaus of the Centre, which complete list was known only to the members of the Triumvirate, who controlled the enterprise.
After a couple of weeks, Breanna learned that two days later a summit would take place: the Triumvirate would have a meeting there to discuss important projects for the future of the organisation. Lyle was very nervous, because his appointment as director had never been officially ratified and feared the possibility to be levered out by his twin sister, and not even Mr Raines was able to calm him down. Miss Parker instead looked as if she was taking this information with her usual Ice Queen impassivity.
That same evening, Breanna went talking to Angelo, unnoticed, and she instructed him to keep well hidden, as to not being involved into the break in of the law enforcements to avoid that, during the commotion, he could be accidentally hurt. The day after, she announced to Sydney and Broots she had located a possible den for Jarod and induced them to leave immediately with her.
Before night, the three chief leaders arrived from different places to the Centre’s headquarter, where they would stay in the lodgings reserved for them inside the facility, so that they could meet the next morning at 8.00 sharp.
That same night, after entrusting Sydney and Broots to Jarod, Breanna headed secretly for Broot’s house and talked to his daughter Debbie, with whom she was close, convincing her with no difficulty to go with her. A few hours later, the teenage girl was reunited with her father in a safe place.
In the meantime, Breanna, along with several plainclothes officers, went to the house of the couple who her little brother was given in foster care after their father’s disappearance; as they were involved with the Centre, they were arrested pending further investigation. The boy, who was almost three years old, was happy to reunite with his big sister.
This way, all those Jarod and Breanna cared for were safe.
The next day, in the very midst of the Triumvirate’s meeting, the NSA special unit and the SWAT attacked the Centre, broke in wiping out every resistance they found, swooped in the conference room and took everyone prisoner, except two: Lyle tried to react and, in the heat of the moment, he got hit by a bullet full in his chest and killed on the spot, while Raines suffered from heart failure and died a few minutes later.
The military examined every inch of the place, and when they stated the place was safe, they let the computer geeks come in; Broots had been recruited among them and his help was highly valuable breaking the firewalls and defusing the computer traps protecting the Centre’s archives. They recovered an enormous deal of data that left them all appalled and ensured a life sentence in a maximum security prison to the Triumvirate’s members for conspiracy against the State and breach of national security, charges that, in times of all-out war against international terrorism, were more serious than homicide.
The Centre was done, forever.
Exactly how it had been predicted in the Book of Damned, now done forever in turn.
Broots and Debbie moved to Los Angeles, where Broots got an excellent job at Microsoft, and with his outstanding job, he got Bill Gates’ attention and good opinion.
Sydney went looking for Michelle, the woman he had loved 30 years back and whom he still loved, and whom the Centre had forced out of his life; just five years before, the psychiatrist had learned, thanks to Jarod, where she lived and also that she had borne him a son, Nicholas. After Sydney found her, Michelle accepter joyfully his marriage proposal and the two of them moved in together near Yale, where Nicholas lived and worked as a researcher.
Jarod was finally able to bring together his family, which he had so fiercely looked for for so long a time: his father, Major Charles Russell; his mother Margaret; his sister Emily; and his half-brother Ethan, who because the Centre’s abominable schemes was also Breanna’s half-brother, because he was the involuntary son of Charles Russell and Catherine Parker. They decided together to go and live in Miami; Charles and Margaret welcomed David, Jarod’s clone, whom the FBI gave a true identity as their son – which was, genetically speaking, absolutely true – while Emily and Ethan chose to live each on their own in two close by apartments, which were in turn not far from Russell’s. As for Jarod and Breanna, they purchased a nice detached house in a quiet residential neighbourhood nearby and moved in with Little Parker, without waiting for the wedding that they wanted anyway have in a short time, gathering all their beloved ones.
This way, the prophecy of the Parker Book of Damned was brought to fulfilment, and our heroes deservedly had, from that time on, a satisfying and serene life to the end of their lives.
I have always been disappointed that the latent love story between Jarod and Miss Parker had no epilogue in the show, therefore I took care of it myself! Of course, thousands of fans of this series have done the same, but obviously this is my personal version, and I hope you may like it.
The finale is deliberately summarised, because the story focuses on Jarod and Miss Parker and about them finding back the feelings they have shared all their life, and not on what happens later.
The tale ends in sweetness and light like a fairy tale; but let me say this: in the series, the protagonists are truly cursed, a bit too much I think, and therefore I chose to turn the tables dramatically, making it super-sweet and maybe a bit sappy. I just hope you enjoyed it anyway :-)