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Entranced

By Benjamin Bradley,2014-11-04 22:06
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SUMMARY:A missing chi d. A desperate mother, A private investigator rwming out of tim , Mel Sutherland didn't need th help of a fraudulent psychic to find the abducted baby -an she wasn't about to let a con-artist exploit a grieving mother's vulnerability, Then all the leads dIied up. Reluctantly, Mel had to acc pt Sebastian Donovan's aid, She was cynical ab ut hi powers and suspicious of hi motives. But as the clock ticked, Sebastian unfailingly knew how to follow th abductor's track and el had to make up her mind. Was Sebastian' gift real? Or wa~ someth'ng far more sini ter at work? Published by MIRA on 2009/02/01

Roberts Nora - The Donovan Legacy 2 - Entranced

    Prologue

    He understood his power early. What coursed through his blood and made him what he was did nothave to be explained to him. Nor did he have to be told that this gift was one not possessed byeveryone.

    He could see.

    The visions were not always pleasant, but they were always fascinating. When they came—evenwhen they came to a small child whose legs were still unsteady—he accepted them as easily ashe accepted the sun's rising each morning.

    Often his mother would crouch on the floor with him, her face close to his, her eyes searchinghis eyes. Mixed with her great love was a hope that he would always accept the gift, and thathe would never be hurt by it.

    Though she knew better, on both counts.

    Who are you? He could hear her thoughts as clearly as if she had spoken aloud.Who will you be ?

    They were questions he couldn't answer. Even then he understood that it was more difficult tosee into yourself than to see into others.

    As time passed, the gift did not prevent him from racing and running and teasing his youngcousins. Though often, quite often, he strained against its limitations and tried for more, itdid not keep him from enjoying an ice-cream cone on a summer afternoon, or from laughing atcartoons on a Saturday morning.

    He was a normal, active, mischievous boy with a sharp, sometimes devious mind, a strikinglyhandsome face set off by hypnotic gray-blue eyes, and a full mouth that was quick to smile.

    He went through all the stages that lead a boy toward manhood. The scraped knees and the brokenbones, the rebellions large and small, the first jumpy heartbeat at the smile of a pretty girl.Like all children, he grew into an adult, moved away from his parents' domain and chose hisown.

    And the power grew, as he did.

    He considered his life a well-adjusted and comfortable one.

    And he accepted, as he always had, the simple fact that he was a witch.

    Chapter 1

    She dreamed of a man who was dreaming of her. But he wasn't sleeping. She could see, with aperfect clarity that was extremely undreamlike, that he was standing by a wide, dark window,with his arms relaxed by his sides. But his face was very tense, very purposeful. And hiseyes… They were so deep, so unrelenting. Gray, she thought as she twisted in sleep. But notquite gray. There were hints of blue, as well. The color of them reminded her of rocks hackedout of a high cliff one moment, and of the soft, calm waters of a lake the next.

    Strange—how strange—she knew that his face was taut and tensed, but she couldn't see it. Justthose eyes, those fascinating, disturbing eyes.

    And she knew he was thinking of her. Not just thinking of her, but somehow seeing her. As ifshe had walked up to the other side of that glass, stood there looking back at him through thewide windowpane. Somehow she was certain that if she lifted a hand to that glass her fingerswould pass right through it until they found his.

    If she chose to.

    Instead, she thrashed, tangling the sheets and muttering in her sleep. Even in dreams MelSutherland didn't care for the illogical. Life had rules, very basic rules. She firmly believedyou were better off following them.

    So she didn't reach for the glass, or for him. She rolled, almost violently, knocking a pillowto the floor and willing the dream away.

    It faded, and, both relieved and disappointed, she dropped deeper into a dreamless sleep.

    A few hours later, with the night vision tucked away in her subconscious, she snapped awake atthe clattering bell of the Mickey Mouse alarm clock at her bedside. One expert slap silencedit. There was no danger that she would snuggle down in the bed and slide back into sleep. Mel'smind was as regulated as her body.

    She sat up, indulging in one huge yawn as she dragged her fingers through her tousled cap ofdark blond hair. Her eyes, a rich, mossy green she'd inherited from a father she couldn'tremember, were blurry for only a moment. Then they focused on the twisted sheets.

    Rough night, she thought, kicking her legs free of them. And why not? It could hardly have beenexpected that she'd sleep like a baby, not with what she had to do today. After blowing out onelong breath, she plucked a pair of gym shorts from the floor and yanked them on under the T-shirt she'd slept in. Five minutes later, she was stepping out into the soft-aired morning forher daily three-mile jog.

    As she went out, she kissed the tips of her fingers and tapped them against the front door.Because it was her place. Hers. And even after four years she didn't take it for granted.

    It wasn't much, she thought as she limbered up with a few stretches. Just a little stuccobuilding tucked between a Laundromat and a struggling accounting firm. But then, she didn'tneed much.

    Mel ignored the whistle from the car that passed, its driver grinning appreciatively at herlong, leanly muscled legs. She didn't jog for her looks. She jogged because routine exercisedisciplined the mind and the body. A private investigator who allowed either to become sluggish

would find herself in trouble. Or unemployed. Mel didn't intend to be either.

    She started out at an easy pace, enjoying the way her shoes slapped the sidewalk, delighted bythe pearly glow in the eastern sky that signaled the start of a beautiful day. It was August,and she thought of how miserably hot it would be down in L.A. But here, in Monterey, there wasperpetual spring. No matter what the calendar said, the air was as fresh as a rosebud.

    It was too early for there to be much traffic. Here in the downtown area it would be a rarething for her to pass another jogger. If she'd chosen any of the beaches, it would have been adifferent matter. But Mel preferred to run alone.

    Her muscles began to warm. A thin layer of sweat gleamed healthily on her skin. She increasedher pace slightly, falling into a familiar rhythm that had become as automatic as breathing.

    For the first mile, she kept her mind empty, letting herself observe. A car with a faultymuffler rattled by, with no more than a token hesitation at a stop sign.

    An '82 Plymouth sedan, dark blue. The mental list was just to keep in practice. Dented driver'sdoor. California license Able Charlie Robert 2289.

    Someone was lying facedown on the grass of the park. Even as Mel broke her stride, he sat up,stretched and switched on a portable radio.

    College student hitchhiking cross-country, she decided, picking up her pace again even as shemade a note of his backpack… blue, with an American flag on the flap… and his hair color…brown… and…Name That Tune , she thought as the music began to fade behind her.

    Bruce Springsteen. "Cover Me."

    Not too shabby, Mel thought with a grin as she rounded a corner.

    She could smell bread from the bakery. A fine, yeasty good-morning scent. And roses. She drewthem in—though she would have suffered torture before admitting she had a weakness forflowers. Trees moved gently in the early breeze, and if she concentrated, really concentrated,she could just scent the sea.

    And it was good, so very good, to feel strong and aware and alone. It was good to know thesestreets and to know she belonged here. That she could stay here. That there would be nomidnight rambles in a battered station wagon at her mother's whim.

    Time to go, Mary Ellen. Time to head out. I've just got a feeling we should head north for awhile.

    And so they would go, she and the mother she adored, the mother who would always be more of achild than the daughter who huddled on the ripped and taped front seat beside her. Theheadlights would cut down the road, leading the way to a new place a new school, new people.

    But they would never settle, never have time to become a part of anything but the road. Soonher mother would get what she always called "Those itchy feet." And off they would go again.

    Why had it always felt as if they were runningaway , not runningto ?

    That, of course, was all over. Alice Sutherland had herself a cozy travel trailer—which wouldtake Mel another twenty-six months to pay off—and she was happy as a clam, bopping from stateto state and adventure to adventure.

    As for Mel, she was sticking. True, L.A. hadn't worked out, but she'd gotten a taste of what itwas like to put down roots. And she'd had two very frustrating and very educational years onthe LAPD. Two years that had taught her that law enforcement was just her cup of tea, even ifwriting parking tickets and filling out forms was not.

    So she had moved north and opened Sutherland Investigations. She still filled out forms—oftenby the truckload—but they were her forms.

    She'd reached the halfway point of her run and was circling back. As always, she felt thatquick rush of satisfaction at the knowledge that her body responded so automatically. It hadn'talways been so—not when she was a child, too tall, too gangly, with elbows and knees that justbegged to be banged and scraped. It had taken time and discipline, but she was twenty-eight

    now, and she'd gotten her body under control. Yes, sir. It had never been a disappointment toMel that she hadn't bloomed and rounded. Slim and sleek was more efficient. And the long,coltish legs that had once invited names like Stretch and Beanpole were now strong, athleticand—she could admit privately—worth a second look.

    It was then that she heard the baby crying. It was a fussy, impatient sound that boundedthrough an open window of the apartment building beside her. Her mood, buoyed by the run,plummeted.

    The baby. Rose's baby. Sweet, pudgy-cheeked David.

    Mel continued to run. The habit was too ingrained to be broken. But her mind filled withimages.

    Rose, harmless, slightly dippy Rose, with her fuzzy red hair and her easy smile. Even withMel's natural reserve, it had been impossible to refuse her friendship.

    Rose worked as a waitress in the little Italian restaurant two blocks from Mel's office. It hadbeen easy to fall into a casual conversation—particularly since Rose did most of thetalking—over a plate of spaghetti or a cup of cappuccino.

    Mel remembered admiring the way Rose hustled trays, even though her pregnant belly strainedagainst her apron. And she remembered Rose telling her how happy she and her Stan were to beexpecting their first child.

    Mel had even been invited to the baby shower, and though she'd been certain she would feelawkward and out of place at such a gathering, she'd enjoyed listening to the oohs and aahs overthe tiny clothes and the stuffed animals. She'd taken a liking to Stan, too, with his shy eyesand slow smiles.

    When David had been born, eight months ago, she'd gone to the hospital to visit. As she'dstared at the babies sleeping, bawling or wriggling in their clear-sided cribs, she'dunderstood why people prayed and struggled and sacrificed to have children.

    They were so perfect. So perfectly lovely.

    When she'd left, she was happy for Rose and Stan. And lonelier than she'd ever been in herlife.

    It had become a habit for her to drop by their apartment from time to time with a little toyfor David. As an excuse, of course, an excuse to play with him for an hour. She'd fallen morethan a little in love with him, so she hadn't felt foolish exclaiming over his first tooth, orbeing astounded when he learned to crawl.

    Then that frantic phone call two months before. Rose's voice, shrill and nearly incoherent.

    "He's gone. He's gone. He's gone."

    Mel had made the mile from her office to the Merrick home in record time. The police hadalready been there. Stan and Rose had been clutched together on the sofa like two lost souls ina choppy sea. Both of them crying.

    David was gone. Snatched off his playpen mat as he napped in the shade on the little patch ofgrass just outside the rear door of their first-floor apartment.

    Now two months had passed, and the playpen was still empty.

    Everything Mel had learned, everything she'd been trained to do and her instincts had taughther, hadn't helped get David back.

    Now Rose wanted to try something else, something so absurd that Mel would have laughed—if notfor the hard glint of determination in Rose's usually soft eyes. Rose didn't care what Stansaid, what the police said, what Mel said. She would try anything, anything, to get her childback.

    Even if that meant going to a psychic.

    As they swept down the coast to Big Sur in Mel's cranky, primer-coated MG, she took one lastshot at talking sense to Rose.

"Rose…"

    "There's no use trying to talk me out of this." Though Rose's voice was low, there was steel init that had only surfaced over the last two months. "Stan's already tried."

    "That's because we both care about you. Neither one of us want to see you hurt by another deadend."

    She was only twenty-three, but Rose felt as old as the sea that spread out beneath them. As oldas the sea, and as hard as the rocks jutting out from cliffs beside them. "Hurt? Nothing cancome close to hurting me now. I know you care, Mel, and I know it's asking a lot for you to gowith me today…"

    "It's not—"

    "It is." Rose's eyes, always so bright and cheery before, were shadowed with a grief and a fearthat never ended. "I know you think it's nonsense, and maybe it's even insulting, since you'redoing all you can do to find David. But I have to try. I have to try just anything."

    Mel kept her silence for a moment, because it shamed her to realize that shewas insulted. Shewas trained, she was a professional, and here they were cruising down the coast to see somewitch doctor.

    But she wasn't the one who had lost a child. She wasn't the one who had to face that empty cribday after day.

    "We're going to find David, Rose." Mel took her hand off the rattling gearshift long enough tosqueeze Rose's chilled fingers. "I swear it."

    Instead of answering, Rose merely nodded and turned her head to stare out over the dizzyingcliffs. If they didn't find her baby, and find him soon, it would be all too easy just to stepout over one of those cliffs and let go of the world.

    He knew they were coming. It had nothing to do with power. He'd taken the phone call from theshaky-voiced, pleading woman himself. And he was still cursing himself for it. Wasn't that whyhe had an unlisted number? Wasn't that why he had one of those handy machines to answer hiscalls whenever anyone dug deep enough to unearth that unlisted number?

    But he'd answered that call. Because he'd felt he had to. Known he had to. So he knew they werecoming, and he'd braced himself to refuse whatever they would ask of him.

    Damn it, he was tired. He'd barely gotten back to his home, to his life, after three gruelingweeks in Chicago helping the police track down what the press had so cleverly dubbed the SouthSide Slicer.

    And he'd seen things, things he hoped he'd never see again.

    Sebastian moved to the window, the wide window that looked out over a rolling expanse of lawn,a colorful rockery, and then a dizzying spill of cliffs dropping down to the deep sea.

    He liked the drama of the view, that dangerous drop, the churning water, even the ribbon ofroad that sliced through the stone to prove man's wiliness, his determination to move on.

    Most of all, he liked the distance, the distance that provided him relief from those who wouldintrude, not only on his space, but also on his thoughts.

    But someone had bridged that distance, had already intruded, and he was still wondering what itmeant.

    He'd had a dream the night before, a dream that he'd been standing here, just here. But therehad been a woman on the other side of the glass—a woman he wanted very badly.

    But he'd been so tired, so used up, that he hadn't gathered up the force to focus hisconcentration. And she'd faded away.

    Which, at the moment, was just fine with him.

    All he really wanted was sleep, a few lazy days to tend his horses, toy with his business,interfere in the lives of his cousins.

    He missed his family. It had been too long this time since he'd been to Ireland to see hisparents, his aunts and uncles. His cousins were closer, only a few miles down that windingcliff road, but it felt like years rather than weeks, since he'd seen them.

    Morgana was getting so round with the child she carried. No, children. He grinned to himself,wondering if she knew there were twins.

    Anastasia would know. His gentler cousin knew all there was to know about healing and folkmedicines. But Ana would say nothing unless Morgana asked her directly.

    He wanted to see them. Now. He even had a hankering to spend some time with his brother-in-law,though he knew Nash was hip-deep in his new screenplay. Sebastian wanted to hop on his bike,rev it up and whoosh up to Monterey and surround himself with family and the familiar. Hewanted, at all costs, to avoid the two women who were even now heading up the hill toward him.Coming to him with needs and pleas and hopelessness.

    But he wouldn't.

    He wasn't an unselfish man, and he never claimed he was. He did, however, understand theresponsibilities that went hand in hand with his gift.

    You couldn't say yes to everyone. If you did, you'd go quietly mad. There were times when yousaid yes, then found your way blocked. That was destiny. There were times when you wanted tosay no, wanted desperately to say no, for reasons you might not understand. And there weretimes when what you wanted meant nothing compared to what you were meant to do.

    That, too, was destiny.

    He was afraid, uncomfortably afraid, that this was one of those times when his desires meantnothing.

    He heard the car straining its way up his hill before he saw it. And nearly smiled. Sebastianhad built high and built solitary, and the narrow, rutted lane leading up to his home was notwelcoming. Even a seer was entitled to some privacy. He spotted the car, a smudge of dull gray,and sighed.

    They were here. The quicker he turned them back, the better.

    He started out of the bedroom and down the steps, a tall man, nearly six-five in his bootedfeet, lean of hip and wide of shoulder. His black hair swept dramatically back from hisforehead and fell over the collar of his denim shirt, curling a bit there. His face was set inwhat he hoped were polite but inaccessible lines. The strong, prominent bones gifted to him byhis Celtic ancestors jutted against skin made dusky by his love of the sun.

    As he walked down, he trailed a hand along the silky wood of the banister. He had a love fortexture, as well, the smooth and the rough. The amethyst he wore on one hand winked richly.

    By the time the car had chugged its way to the top of the drive and Mel had gotten over herfirst astonishment at the sight of the eccentric and somehow fluid structure of wood and glasshe called home, Sebastian was standing on the porch.

    It was as if a child had tossed down a handful of blocks and they had landed, by chance, in afascinating pattern of ledges that had then fused together. That was what she thought as shestepped out of the car and was assaulted by the scents of flowers, horses and the trailing windfrom the sea.

    Sebastian's gaze flicked over Mel, and lingered a moment as his eyes narrowed. With thefaintest of frowns, he looked away and focused on Rose.

    "Mrs. Merrick?"

    "Yes. Mr. Donovan." Rose felt a bubble rise to her throat that threatened to boil into a sob."It's so kind of you to see me."

    "I don't know if it's kind or not." He hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his jeans ashe studied them. Rose Merrick wore a plain, painfully neat blue dress that hung a bit on herhips. As if she'd recently lost weight. She'd taken some care with her makeup, but, judging by

the way her eyes were shining, it wouldn't last long.

    He struggled against sympathy.

    The other woman hadn't bothered overmuch with appearances, which made her all the moreintriguing. Like Sebastian, she was wearing jeans and boots, both well used. The T-shirt she'dtucked into the waistband of her jeans had probably been a bright red at one time, but was nowfaded with many washings.

    She wore no jewelry, no cosmetics. What she did wear—and Sebastian saw it as clearly as he didthe color of her hair and eyes—was attitude. Bad attitude.

    You're a tough one, aren't you… He scanned for her name and was thudded by a whirl offeeling—a kind of mental static—that told him this one was in as much emotional turmoil asRose Merrick.

    Terrific.

    Rose was already moving forward. Sebastian was trying to stand aside, to remain dispassionate,but he knew he was losing. She was fighting those tears, the ones he could feel burning out ofher heart.

    There was nothing on earth that weakened a man like a courageous woman.

    "Mr. Donovan. I won't take up much of your time. I just need…"

    Even as her words trailed off, Mel was by her side. The look she shot at Sebastian was anythingbut friendly. "Are you going to let us come in and sit down, or are we just going to…"

    Now she was the one whose words trailed off. It wasn't threatening tears that robbed her of hervoice. It was utter shock.

    His eyes. It was all she could think for an instant, and indeed she thought it so clearly, soviolently, that Sebastian heard the words echo in his own mind.

    Ridiculous, she told herself, regaining control. It was a dream. That was all. Some silly dreamshe was mixing up with reality. It was just that he had the most beautiful eyes. The mostuncomfortably beautiful eyes.

    He studied her for a moment more, and, though curious, he didn't look beyond her face. She was,even in the harsh sunlight, quite attractive. Perhaps it was the defiance he saw so clearly inher steady green eyes, or the lift of her chin, with its faint and oddly sexy cleft.Attractive, yes, he decided, even if she did wear her hair inches shorter than his own. Even ifit did look as though she hacked at it herself with a pair of kitchen shears.

    He turned away from her and offered Rose a smile.

    "Please, come in," he said, and gave her his hand. He left Mel to follow.

    She did, and he might have been amused to see the way she swaggered up those steps and into thehigh-ceilinged great room, with its skylights and open balcony. She frowned a bit, wishing shedidn't find it so appealing, those warm, honey-toned walls that made the light so soft andsexy. There was a low, wide couch, long as a river, done in a lustrous royal blue. He led Roseto it, over a lake-sized rug of bleeding pastels, while Mel checked out his living quarters.

    It was neat as a pin without appearing viciously organized. Modern sculptures of marble, woodand bronze were interspersed with what were surely valuable antiques. Everything was largescale, with the result that, despite its size, the room was cozy.

    Here and there, set with apparent casualness on those polished antiques, were clusters ofcrystals—some large enough to strain a man's back lifting them, others tiny enough to fit in achild's palm. Mel found herself charmed by them, the way they winked and gleamed, shaped likeancient cities, slender wands, smooth globes or rough mountains.

    She found Sebastian watching her with a kind of patient amusement, and she shrugged. "Somedigs."

    His lips curved, joining the humor in his eyes. "Thanks. Have a seat."

    The couch might be as long as a river, but she chose a chair across the island of an ornatelycarved coffee table.

    His eyes stayed on Mel another moment, and then he turned to Rose. "Can I get you some coffee,Mrs. Merrick? Something cold?"

    "No. No, please don't bother." The kindness was worse, somehow, undermining her desperatecontrol. "I know this is an imposition, Mr. Donovan. I've read about you. And my neighbor, Mrs.Ott, she said how you were so helpful to the police last year when that boy went missing. Therunaway."

    "Joe Cougar." Sebastian sat beside her. "Yes, he thought he'd give San Francisco a try, anddrive his parents crazy. I suppose youth enjoys risks."

    "But he was fifteen." Rose's voice broke and pressing her lips together, she shored it upagain. "I—I don't mean his parents wouldn't have been frightened, but he was fifteen. MyDavid's only a baby. He was in his playpen." She sent Sebastian a look of desperate pleading."I only left him for a minute when the phone rang. And he was right by the door, sleeping. Itwasn't as if he was out on the street, or left in a car. He was right by the open door, and Iwas only gone a minute."

    "Rose." Though her personal preference was to keep her distance from Sebastian, Mel got up tosit beside her friend. "It's not your fault. Everyone understands that."

    "I left him," Rose said flatly. "I left my baby, and now he's gone."

    "Mrs. Merrick. Rose. Were you a bad mother?" Sebastian asked the question casually, and saw thehorror bloom in Rose's eyes. And the fury light in Mel's.

    "No. No. I love David. I only wanted to do my best for him. I only—"

    "Then don't do this." He took her hand, and his touch was so gentle, so comforting, that thethreatening tears retreated a little. "You're not to blame for this. Trying to make it so youare won't help find David."

    Mel's fury fizzled out like a wet firecracker. He'd said exactly the right thing, in exactlythe right way.

    "Will you help me?'' Rose murmured. "The police are trying. And Mel… Mel's doing everythingshe can, but David's still gone."

    Mel, he mused. An interesting name for a long, slim blond with a chip on her shoulder.

    "We're going to get David back." Agitated, Mel sprang up again. "We have leads. They may beslim, but—"

    "We?" Sebastian interrupted. He got a quick image—here, then gone—of her with a gun grippedin both hands, her eyes as cold as frozen emeralds. "Are you with the police Miss—?"

    "Sutherland. Private." She snapped the words at him. "Aren't you supposed to know things likethat?"

    "Mel…" Rose said with quiet warning.

    "That's all right." He patted Rose's hand. "I can look, or I can ask. With relative strangers,it's more polite to ask than to intrude, don't you think?"

    "Right." With what was certainly a snort, Mel dropped into a chair again.

    "Your friend's a cynic," Sebastian commented. "Cynicism can be very valuable, as well as veryrude." He started to steel himself to tell Rose he couldn't help. He simply couldn't openhimself to the trauma and risk of looking for another lost little boy.

    Mel changed everything. Just, he supposed, as she was meant to.

    "I don't consider it cynicism to recognize a charlatan masquerading as a Samaritan." Her eyeswere hot when she leaned forward. "This psychic business is as phony as a ten-dollar magicianin a shiny suit pulling rabbits out of his hat."

His brow quirked. It was the only sign of interest or irritation. "Is that so?"

    "A seam's a scam, Mr. Donovan. A young child's future is at stake, and I won't have you playingyour mumbo-jumbo games to get your name in the papers. I'm sorry, Rose." She stood, almostvibrating with anger. "I care about you, and I care about David. I just can't stand by andwatch this guy hose you."

    "He's my baby." The tears Rose had been battling spilled over. "I have to know where he is. Ihave to know if he's all right. If he's scared or happy. He doesn't even have his teddy bear."Rose buried her face in her hands. "He doesn't even have his teddy bear."

    Mel cursed herself, cursed her temper, cursed Sebastian Donovan, cursed the world in general.But when she knelt beside Rose, both her hands and voice were gentle.

    "I'm sorry. Honey, I'm sorry. I know how scared you are. I'm scared, too. If you want Mr.Donovan to—" she almost choked on the word "to help, then he'll help." She raised her furious,defiant face to Sebastian's. "Won't you?"

    "Yes." He nodded slowly, feeling fate take his hands. "I will."

    He managed to persuade Rose to drink some water and dry her eyes. While Mel stared grimly outthe window, Rose took a small yellow teddy bear out of her bag.

    "This is David's. His favorite. And this…" She fumbled with a wallet sized snapshot. "This ishis picture. I thought—Mrs. Ott said you might need something."

    "It helps." He took the toy and felt a vicious pull in his gut that he recognized as Rose'sgrief. He would have to go through, and beyond, that. But he didn't look at the photograph. Notyet. "Leave it with me. I'll be in touch." He helped her to her feet. "You have my word. I'lldo what I can."

    "I don't know how to thank you. For trying. Just knowing you are… Well, it gives me somethingelse to hope for. We, Stan and me, we've got some money saved."

    "We'll talk about it later."

    "Rose, wait in the car for me," Mel said it quietly, but Sebastian could see that she wasfeeling anything but quiet. "I'll pass on what information I have to Mr. Donovan. It may helphim."

    "All right." A smile ghosted around Rose's mouth. "Thank you."

    Mel waited until Rose was out of earshot, then turned and fired. "How much do you think you cansqueeze out of her for this kind of a con? She's a waitress. Her husband's a mechanic."

    He leaned lazily against the doorjamb. "Ms. Sutherland, does it appear I need money?"

    She made another derisive sound. "No, you've got just buckets, don't you? It's all just a gamefor you."

    He curled his fingers around her arm with a steely strength that caught her off guard. "It'snot a game." His voice was so low, so filled with suppressed violence, that she blinked. "WhatI have, what I am, is no game. And stealing children from their playpens is no game, either."

    "I won't see her hurt again."

    "We can agree on that. If you're so against this, why did you bring her?"

    "Because she's my friend. Because she asked me to."

    He accepted that with a slight nod. Loyalty was something else he could feel pumping out ofher. "And my private number? You dug that up, as well?''

    Her lip curled in something close to a sneer. "That's my job."

    "And are you good at it?"

    "Damn right."

    "Fine. I'm also good at mine, and we're going to be working together."

    "What makes you think—?"

    "Because you care. And if there's a chance—oh, even the slimmest chance—that I'm what I claimto be, you won't want to risk ignoring it."

    She could feel the heat from his fingers. It seemed to sizzle right through the skin to herbones. It occurred to her that she was afraid. Not physically. It was deeper than that. She wasafraid because she'd never felt this kind of power before.

    "I work alone."

    "So do I," he said calmly. "As a rule. We're going to break the rules." He reached in, quick asa snake. He wanted one thing, one small thing, to rub her nose in. Finding it, he smiled. "I'llbe in touch very soon. Mary Ellen."

    He had the pleasure of seeing her mouth fall open, of seeing her eyes narrow as she thoughtback, struggling to remember if Rose had used her full name. But she couldn't remember,couldn't be sure. Shaken, she jerked away.

    "Don't waste my time, Donovan. And don't call me that." With a toss of her head, she strode tothe car. She might not be psychic, but she knew he was grinning.

    Chapter 2

    Sebastian didn't go back inside, not even after he had watched the little gray car trail downthe ribbon of Highway 1. He stood on the porch, both amused and faintly irritated by thesizzles of anger and frustration Mel had left behind to spark in the air.

    Strong-willed, he mused. And just brimming with energy. A woman like that would exhaust apeaceful man. Sebastian considered himself a peaceful man. Not that he wouldn't mind poking ather a bit, the way a young boy pokes at glowing embers to see how often he can get a flame toshoot up.

    It was often worth the risk of a few minor burns to make fire.

    At the moment, however, he was just too tired to enjoy it. He was already angry with himselffor having agreed to become involved. It was the combination of the two women that had done itto him, he thought now. The one with her face so full of fears and desperate hope, the other sovivid with fury and sneering disbelief. He could have handled one or the other, he thought ashe descended the steps. But being caught in the middle of all that conflicting emotion, thesheer depth of it, had defeated him.

    So he would look. Though he had promised himself a long, quiet break before taking on anothercase, he would look. And he would pray to whatever god was listening that he could live withwhat he might see.

    But for now, he would take some time—one long, lazy morning—to heal his fatigued mind andragged soul.

    There was a paddock behind the house, attached to a low, gleaming white stable. Even as heapproached, he heard the whicker of greeting. The sound was so ordinary, so simple andwelcoming that he smiled.

    There they were, the sleek black stallion and the proud white mare, standing so still that hethought of two elegantly carved chess pieces, one ebony, one alabaster. Then the mare flickedher tail in a flirtatious gesture and pranced to the fence.

    They could leap it, he knew. Both had done so more than once, with him in the saddle. But therewas a trust between them, an understanding that the fence was not a cage but a home.

    "There's a beauty." Sebastian lifted a hand to stroke her cheek, her long, graceful neck. "Haveyou been keeping your man in line, Psyche?"

    She blew into his hand. In her dark eyes he saw pleasure, and what he liked to think was humor.She whinnied softly when he swung over the fence. Then she stood patiently while he passed hishands over her flanks, down over her swollen belly.

    "Only a few more weeks," he murmured. He could almost feel the life inside her, sleeping. Againhe thought of Morgana, though he doubted his cousin would care to be compared to a pregnant

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