Snow

Author: UTsSQ



1

Mark stared out his bedroom window, watching as white flakes swirled from the sky, blanketing the grass and trees. Night had fallen, the lack of light adding a sad and lonely touch to the weather. He sighed and rapped a knuckle against the cold glass, the window seat seeming to hold the air from outside.

If he focused on the reflection in the window, instead of falling snow he would see an empty bed, the comforter thrown across it haphazardly. He was tired but restless, and knew sleep would be a long time coming that night.

He stared out across the back yard, toward the trees that lined the back of his property. Without knowing why, he rose and padded barefoot from the bedroom. He went silently down the stairs, not wanting to wake his brother, who slept in a room at the other end of the hall. He stopped to tug on a pair of boots, ignoring the fact that he was wearing pajama bottoms and nothing else. He unlocked the back door and stepped out onto the deck, shivering as the icy December air wrapped around his bare chest and arms. The wind picked up momentarily, blowing his long dark hair back from his face. He squinted against the flying snow, peering across the snow covered yard. The swimming pool had been covered several months before, most of the water drained from it. It was nothing but a sunken square of white in the middle of more white.

Snow shifting underfoot, Mark stepped from the deck and onto the grass, the cold air making his eyes water. In moments he was past the pool, nearing the tree-lined edge of the back yard. He had no clue what was drawing him there, to the woods. He'd explored them many times, and could have probably found his way out no matter where he was.

His steps faltered before he could duck between the low branches that marked the beginning of the treeline. Mark halted, peering through the darkness, wondering what he could possibly be looking for.

A hand fell on his shoulder, pulling him from the trance like state he'd been in. Mark turned his head, not surprised to see his brother. Glen had taken the time to put on a flannel shirt, but he was dressed in a similar fashion to Mark.

"What is it?" Glen didn't have to raise his voice over the wind to be heard. Mark was no lip reader, but he knew it was what he would have asked if their roles were reversed.

"Trouble." Mark replied slowly, not knowing how he knew, but knowing that it was true.

Glen nodded helplessly. "Tonight?"

"Soon." Mark sighed and forced himself to turn his back to the trees.

Glen shivered and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes went to the woods, taking in the way the leafless branches seemed to reach to the sky, a thin layer of snow coating them. There was nothing in the woods that could harm them.

"Not yet anyway." Glen muttered to himself, smirking at the thought. He turned and followed his brother toward the dark house, ignoring the snowflakes that landed on bare skin and melted.

Glen headed back to bed, but Mark was still restless. Even more so that usual. Things like this had happened before, and they'd dealt with the problems that arose. This time it felt as though something were different. He wished he knew what the difference was.

Mark went to the kitchen and rummaged in a cabinet under the sink. Usually he drank beer. Tonight he had a feeling something stronger was in order. He finally found an unopened bottle of Maker's Mark. Grabbing a glass, he headed for the living room couch.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Shit, shit, shit."

The Jeep sputtered uselessly, refusing to start no matter how many times Jamie cursed at it. She'd just had the damned thing serviced a week before, and already it was giving her issues.

Jamie knew she should have just bought a new car. It wasn't like she couldn't afford it. But the Jeep was the only thing she had left of her brother, and she could not bring herself to part with it.

John had bought the Jeep the year they'd graduated high school. It took him all summer working two jobs to save up enough money to just pay for it outright. He'd driven it everywhere, logging more miles than the vehicle could keep up with. Eight years after he'd bought it, John had been killed in an accident. He had worked in construction. Although he was smart, and could have done anything he put his mind to, he loved to build things. His idea of the perfect day had been twelve hours straight working high above the ground with power tools.

Unfortunately, his passion for building had been his undoing. He'd gotten complacent, had lost his concentration, and fell to his death from the tenth floor of a new skyscraper.

His death had hit Jamie hard. Their mother had put both of them up for adoption just weeks after they were born. Unfortunately, the home they'd been placed in was not equipped to deal with a set of twins. They'd learned over the years to rely only on each other. At eighteen, still with six months of their senior year to go, they'd both gotten jobs and an apartment near the school. It had been rough, but better than going 'home' to screaming adults, crying children, and fear of having any of it aimed at them.

Shaking her head, Jamie tried the key again. The engine clicked, coughed, and died. She sighed heavily and leaned her forehead against the steering wheel, feeling near tears. It had been a rotten day, and this was just the cherry on top. She was a waitress at a bar. The job was totally her own choice. She had gone to college, had earned her nursing degree, had worked in the ER of an extremely busy hospital. And when John had died she'd lost her passion for it. Just like that. As if a light switch had been flipped. He'd been the one to talk her into pursuing her degree, to cheer her on when she got discouraged.

The bar wasn't bad. Normally. Most of the time she enjoyed the patrons, and there was never a dull moment. The money was decent as well, although she could have made much more using her degree. She was lucky that she was generally a witty, personable waitress. And all-right looking. Some men had called her beautiful but she'd laughed them off. It was easy to see beauty after drinking four or five beers. The tips rolled in anyway.

At any rate, the day had started off like any other. She got up at ten, ate breakfast, did her shopping for the week. It wasn't until she got to work that trouble started. It was a Tuesday...not necessarily the day for dealing with trouble makers in the bar. A group of men were sitting in a booth at the very back corner. Jamie wasn't their waitress but for some reason she got the feeling they were trying to get her attention. Any time they tried to flag her down, she told Angela, the other waitress, to deal with them.

It had worked for a while. As the bar started to fill up, the men got rowdier. There were five of them. They all gave Jamie the creeps. At one point one of them, a hulking brunette, had cornered her on the dance floor. Jamie tried to move around him but he refused to let her pass. His friends had gotten a laugh out of it. Jamie grit her teeth and stood still, waiting until he proved what a 'man' he was. It was just Angela, herself, and two other girls working that night, so any problems like this they had to deal with themselves. It didn't mean Jamie had to like it. She wished fleetingly that she worked at the kind of place that had six or seven well built bouncers on payroll, but hers was a fairly peaceful place.

Soon their regulars were leaving in disgust. The five guys were hitting on every woman who dared venture too close. They got so bold as to practically strip the shirt off of one young lady. She had gotten mad, and slapped one of the men, leaving a red hand print on his face.

Finally Jamie had called the police. They'd shown up just as the five men were surrounding another customer, ready to gang up on him and beat him up for defending his girlfriend. The cops dealt with the trouble makers. Everything after they'd left was subdued. Tips were horrible. Several small arguments erupted. It was a relief to finally close down for the night. Jamie was off until Friday. She just wanted to go home and soak in the tub and forget that this Tuesday had ever happened.

Of course the Jeep was acting up, ruining that plan.

Jamie raised her head from the steering wheel and looked around the deserted parking lot. Everyone else was gone. She had been the last one out, depositing the night's money into the safe, setting the alarm, locking the door. There wasn't even a car moving on the main road, thirty yards to her right. At some point during the evening it had started to snow. Huge flakes swirled from the sky, piling on the roads, blanketing everything in pristine white. Normally Jamie would enjoy the wintry weather, but not tonight. She was facing a two mile walk home in sub freezing weather. It definitely was not conducive to a good mood.

She reached out and tried one last time to make the Jeep start. The engine practically groaned before coughing and shutting off once more. "Damn it..." She muttered, wondering if maybe she had flooded the damned thing.

Her thoughts were interrupted by someone pounding on the window beside her head. Jamie let out a startled shriek, nearly jumping out of her skin.

It was the hulking dark-haired guy from earlier.

He stared in the window, face a careful blank. "Car trouble, darlin'?"He said it loud enough to be heard. Jamie nodded slowly, scared out of her mind. What the hell was he doing here? She looked past him and saw that his friends were gathered together near another vehicle. It hadn't been there just a few minutes ago, she would have seen it.

Thank god she had locked her doors when she'd gotten in the Jeep.

He was looking at her critically. "Pop the hood."

Jamie pressed the button before she realized what she was doing. The guy nodded and opened the hood to her Jeep, his upper body disappeared into the space so he could see what he was doing.

She nervously tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, wondering if she should run for it while the guy was occupied. They had been trouble in the bar earlier, they had been kicked out hours before, yet here they were again.

"Try it..." His voice was barely audible. Jamie obediently reached for the key, and turned it. The engine sputtered and caught, roaring to life. The heater blew cool against her face for a moment before the air warmed up. She rubbed her hands together as the warmth washed over her.

The guy slammed her hood shut. He returned to the window. "Loose spark plug cable. You might want to get those checked."

Jamie smiled at him for the first time, grateful she actually had some heat now. "I will. Thank you."

"Anytime. Careful goin' home, the road is slick."

Jamie nodded, almost afraid to hope that the guy was going to just let her go. She put the Jeep in gear and he stepped away, all but disappearing in the whirl of falling snow. She carefully guided the car out of the parking lot and onto the road.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You're crazy. How the hell did I let you talk me into wanderin' out here in the middle of the fuckin' night anyway?"

Kayla turned to peer at Jeff, shining her flashlight at him. "Because you love me, that's why. Or the thought of me wanderin' along in the woods was too much for your maleness to handle. You decide." She smiled sweetly.

"Do you know where we are?" He asked, stopping beside her. Even though he had put on a heavy coat and gloves, the cold still bit at him through his clothes. He rubbed his gloved hands together, wishing he knew why the hell his cousin had wanted to go for a walk. At two in the morning. Through the woods.

"Sure...your house is back that way..." She pointed north. "The river is there." Another point, this time west. Kayla wasn't wearing gloves. Or a coat. She had on a warm-up jacket. It was her only concession to the weather.

"You're going to die of exposure." Jeff said with a smirk, pointing out what he thought was the obvious.

"Don't you wish. Let's go this way." She turned and headed east. Jeff shook his head and followed her. "You know, you could go home any time."

"Yeah, like I could find my way out of here." Jeff said shaking his head. The woods were thick, and with the falling snow he'd lost all sense of direction.

"You've lived here how long and you don't know where you are?" Kayla laughed.

"I don't come out here. It's kinda creepy." Jeff laughed at himself.

"If it wasn't for Justine, I'd think you were a hermit."

Jeff smiled. Justine was his girlfriend of four years. She was the reason he'd bought the house. At the moment, she was on a business trip. Ten days in New York. Jeff missed her, but having his cousin visit helped keep his mind off his loneliness. It had been a few years since he'd seen Kayla. And he wasn't surprised to find she hadn't changed a bit. Everyone thought that Jeff was a risk-taker. That was only because they'd never come up against Kayla when she was in the right mood.

"I'm freezin' my balls off." He said conversationally.

"Gross." Kayla giggled. "It's not really cold out here. Your mind is just equating snow and the arctic circle."

"Yeah, sure." Jeff rubbed his hands again and put his gloved palms to his face. He couldn't really feel anything. "Ok, this is ridiculous. Let's go back. I'll make some hot chocolate."

Kayla stopped. Jeff thought he'd finally found the right bribe. But she didn't turn around. Instead she held herself still and seemed to become fascinated with snow falling in front of her.

"What is that? A house?"

Jeff looked where she was looking. He could see nothing. Trees and snow. And darkness. "I dunno. Can't see a damned thing." He stomped his feet, knocking snow off his boots.

"I didn't know anybody else lived out here."

"I didn't either. It's a big place though." Jeff said with a shrug. "Come on, let's get outta here."

"You go."

"You come with." He shot back. Kayla finally looked at him.

"You're started to get an icicle on your nose."

"I'm surprised my whole face isn't frozen." As if to punctuate the remark, Jeff's teeth started to chatter. Kayla smiled and turned, and Jeff sighed in relief when she began leading the way back in the direction they'd come from.

"Are there coyotes out here?"

Jeff snorted. "Coyotes? Does this look like the wild west?"

"Ok, how about wolves?"

"Not that I've ever heard of. A couple of years ago there was a family of bears, but the wildlife people moved them farther north." Jeff said with a shrug.

"Oh."

"What? Why?" Belatedly he thought to ask.

"No reason." Kayla said with a smirk. Jeff sighed again from behind her, and she guessed he was wondering why her brain wandered in the directions that it did. She didn't want to tell him the real reason, it was better not to freak him out too much. Jeff wasn't a coward by any stretch of the word, but sometimes the strangest things set him off.

Kayla didn't let Jeff see her looking, but with every sweep of the flashlight, the light picked out strange tracks in the snow. Paw tracks. Too small to be a bear. They looked like dog tracks, but if there was a wild dog wandering the woods, she hadn't heard a peep out of it. Jeff would not have freaked out over that. Animals wandered forests throughout the world. It was the fact that the tracks followed along beside their footprints in the snow that would get him. As if something were stalking them.

Kayla wasn't scared. She had the big flashlight after all, it made a better weapon than a baseball bat. Plus...there was really no reason for a dog to attack them. The woods were full of rabbits and skunks and squirrels, plenty of smaller prey for it to have for dinner. She felt fairly secure.

She planned to get back to Jeff's house, indulge in a huge steaming mug of hot chocolate, and come back outside as soon as Jeff passed out for the night. He'd freak out if he knew, but oh well. She was a grown up. She would do what she wanted. The woods called to her like nothing else she'd ever felt before. She had to see what it was that kept pulling her toward the dark trees.

2

Her apartment felt like an ice box.

Jamie cursed under her breath and went to the thermostat. It was set to seventy-two, just as she'd left it. She flipped the switch a few times, and nothing happened. "Great. What else tonight?" She muttered, heading down the hall to the small closet that held the water heater. She had no clue how to tell if the pilot light had gone out. She went back to the small living room and grabbed the cordless phone, dialing the maintenance number from memory.

It wasn't that she called them so much, but it was an old house. The four floors were divided into two apartments each. The landlord was always checking something, fixing something.

"Yeah?" The grumbling voice startled Jamie out of her thoughts.

"Hey, Frank?"

"Yeah? Oh...is this Jamie?" His tone lost the edge.

"Yup. Got a problem."

"No heat?"

"How'd you know?"

"You're the only one who hasn't called yet. The gas company is supposed to be sending somebody out tonight. I couldn't figure out what happened."

"Oh...well, ok I guess. Should I stay up and wait on them?" She shivered and sank down on the couch.

"Nah...if you can sleep there you should. I'd hate to send you out on a night like this, but you might want to get a motel room for the night. No telling how long it will take those jerks to get their asses in gear." He said goodnight and hung up. Jamie heaved a sigh and got up, heading for her bedroom to pack an overnight bag. She'd much rather pay a few dollars than have to freeze her butt off waiting for the heat to be fixed. Although the thought of going back out and driving on the slippery roads was less than appealing.

Finished packing, she grabbed her phone book and looked up the number for the motel up the road. Apparently the heat loss was effecting more than just her building. The motel was booked solid with people needing somewhere warm to sleep.

She lucked out on her fourth call. A small lodge on the outside of town had one room left. Jamie took it, giving her credit card number to make sure no one else got it first. The Jeep started on the second try. Breathing a sigh of relief she headed back out into the snow storm.

It took more than an hour to drive the eight miles to the motel. Jamie's nerves were on edge. She'd almost slid off the road twice, and that was with the Jeep's four-wheel drive activated. The radio weather was calling for at least a foot of snow dropping on them that night, maybe more in some areas, and another system heading their wait the next day. She might not leave the motel until spring at the rate the weather was going.

Depressed at the thought of spending time in the motel, Jamie parked in the first open spot she came to and shut off the engine. She listened to it ticking as it cooled, and watched snowflakes splatter again the windshield and melt. Christmas was a little over a week away. It was nice it would be a white one, but the thought of spending yet another holiday alone was too depressing to contemplate. Heaving another put-upon sigh, she grabbed her bag and keys and exited the Jeep, heading for the motel's office.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Emma took a drag from her cigarette, blew smoke from her mouth, and tugged her robe a bit tighter around her body. In deference to her husband's wishes, she only smoked outside. Actually, Eric thought she had quit smoking a year ago. It wasn't the worst secret she had kept from him over the years.

Her biggest secret was upstairs, taking a shower. Even though she'd tried to turn Chris away, he knew that she could not in the end say no to him. Their affair had been going on for more than five years. They started as co-workers, became friends, and soon Emma found herself falling into bed with him on a night when her husband was out of town.

There was no rhyme or reason to their sex. Sometimes Emma and Chris had seen each other once a week. Months would go by with no contact. It would start up again before Emma could stop herself.

This time she had been determined to stand her ground. He'd shown up the week before, and had found out that Eric would be out of town. He knocked on the door a little past eleven. Emma had smoked a cigarette with him, had joked around with him, but when he asked to come inside she'd told him that she could no longer carry on their affair.

Chris had come inside.

He kissed her as soon as she closed the front door to the blowing snow outside. Breathing heavily, moaning at the feel of his hands as he slid them under her shirt, Emma could do nothing else but hold onto his shoulders and let him have his way with her.

Two hours and three orgasms for her later, she stood on the front porch smoking. Her robe was hardly appropriate attire for the weather, but she didn't care. Chris made her feel so good when they were making love, so wanted, but the aftermath left Emma swathed in guilt. Her body felt flushed, which meant she didn't feel nearly as cold as she should.

Chris opened the door behind her. He'd gotten dressed. Sometimes he spent the night, other times he was ready to leave as soon as they were done. His hair was still damp from his shower. He smiled at her as he closed the door.

"I meant what I said." Emma spoke softly. She knew he heard her though.

"You always do." Chris stood next to her and draped an arm over her shoulder. She offered him a drag of her cigarette. He took it and finished it off, flicking the butt into the yard.

"I can't keep doing this. To myself or to Eric."

"If you really cared for him, Em, you wouldn't be doing this at all." Chris pointed out.

"I know." Tears pricked her eyes but she blamed it on the cold air.

"I love you, you know that right?"Chris turned and forced Emma to meet his eyes. She sighed and shook her head. "Believe what you want. I told you before, if you ever get enough guts up to leave the bastard you're married to, I'll be waiting."

"Chris..." Emma hated it when he put Eric down. It was true, she didn't care for her husband as much as she should. After ten years of marriage, it was hard to con herself into believing that they would last. And it was also true, Eric had a temper. He'd never laid a hand on Emma in anger, but she sensed the potential in him, just under the surface. He held it back though. He got to her in other ways. Long stretches of aloofness, followed by sex so rough she could barely move the next day. If he ever found out about Chris...

She couldn't complete the thought. There was no telling what Eric would do. It terrified her to think of what could happen. Emma reached up and touched Chris on the cheek with her cold fingertips. He sighed and pressed closer to her hand. "You say the word Em. Say it and I'll have you out of here so fast your head will spin."

"I know." Emma whispered. "Thank you." She kissed the tip of his nose. "I love you too."

Chris smiled. "About time you admitted it." He brushed his lips across hers. "I have to go. Want me to come back tomorrow night?"

"I don't know. Call me." Emma wasn't sure if Eric was going to be home tomorrow night. The weather would play a role in that. Chris nodded at her and let her go, whistling as he headed for his car parked on the street.

Emma waited until even the glow from his tail lights was gone before turning to go into the house. She wanted a shower herself, and some sleep. She had a feeling it would not be so easy to drop off tonight, even if Chris had left her feeling weak with release. Smiling at her own helplessness, she locked the door behind her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There was something about the snow.

Kayla turned her face toward the sky, feeling the wet flakes drop onto her skin, smiling at the sensation. Jeff had gone to bed, looking quite bedraggled. She had waited half an hour before escaping back outside, once more with her trusty flashlight. She used it sparingly, preferring instead to wander in the dark, listening to the complete silence of the woods. The snow was a great sound baffle.

She wandered aimlessly. Every now and then she checked her tracks. They were quickly filling with snow, but she wasn't worried about getting lost. The compass in her head was better than following her own footprints.

Of course, the idea of being Gretel in her own version of the old fairy tale had crossed her mind. If only because she was wandering the woods with no breadcrumbs. And possibly seeking out the gingerbread house.

The house she thought of was the one she had seen earlier in the night. It was well over half a mile from Jeff's, so deep into the woods that neither of them had known it was there. Kayla didn't even know of a road or driveway that went to the house, and she thought she had been very thorough in her explorations the year Jeff had bought his house.

The weird thing was...she was having trouble finding the house. She'd come on a direct route to the place where she'd spotted it earlier, but it was just...not there. So she'd wandered a little, back and forth through the woods, crossing her own tracks from time to time. Still no house. She'd taken a break to let the snow fall on her, wondering how a person could miss seeing something as big as a house.

Kayla laughed at herself and turned, freezing in her tracks when her eyes fell on a wolf.

It stood there, staring at her, breath coming from its mouth in a white plume. The animal was solid white. Its eyes were black as coal. They stood there for several long minutes, as if measuring each other. The wolf moved, sidestepping.

Kayla held her ground. From what she'd read, wolves usually traveled in packs, and they weren't particularly keen on attacking humans. Of course, she'd also read that wolves were not necessarily fond of the area where Jeff lived. There hadn't been a wolf sighting in these woods in over eighty years.

The wolf stopped moving, its nose going up as it sniffed the air. A high pitched whine issued from its throat. Kayla winced at the sound but did not flinch.

A branch snapped behind her. That did make Kayla jump a little. She looked behind her, saw nothing, and turned her attention back to the wolf, expecting it to be jumping at her since she was distracted. There was nothing there. The wolf had vanished just as quickly and silently as it had appeared.

"What the hell are you doing out here?"

The deep voice from behind her had Kayla jumping again. She spun around and came face to face with the biggest man she'd ever seen in her life. He was nearing on seven feet tall. His dark hair feel past his shoulders in loose waves. He wore jeans and a flannel shirt under a heavy coat. She turned her flashlight on and pointed it at his legs so as not to blind him. The light let her see he had dark eyes, either brown or hazel.

"Just taking a walk." She finally answered him, still eying him warily. A wolf was one thing. A gigantic hulk of a man was another entirely.

"This late at night through the woods?" There was no challenge in his tone. If anything, he sounded amused.

"I could ask you the same thing."

"I live here." He shrugged.

"So does my cousin."

"I'm Glen."

"Kayla."

"Nice to meet you." He smiled at her. His attractiveness went up about ten points at the expression. Kayla didn't believe in love at first sight, but she was a firm supporter of lust at first sight. She was afraid she was starting to suffer from the effects of that very thing.

"So what are you doing out here?" Kayla asked him.

"Walking. Couldn't sleep." He ducked his head and shrugged again.

"You aren't like a crazy person are you? Wandering the woods, looking for victims?"

"If I was, I wouldn't tell you. I figured if I left my hockey mask at home I wouldn't be nearly as intimidating."

Kayla smirked. So he had a sense of humor. "Well thank goodness for that. I was worried."

"Do you need an escort out of here? I know my way around." Glen asked.

"Nope. I'm good. Uh...I didn't stumble onto your property did I?" It was the only reason she could figure that the guy would really be outside.

"Almost. Don't worry. I won't tell if you won't." He winked at her. Kayla found herself grinning in response. She almost forgot about the wolf, talking to the handsome guy who had appeared.

"Oh...did you see it?" She asked suddenly.

"See what?"

"The wolf. A white one. Scared the hell out of me. I guess when you came along, you scared it away."

"I didn't see it." Glen said after a hesitation. Kayla got the distinct feeling he was lying. Although she could not fathom why he would lie about such a thing. "No wolves around here. I guess if you were afraid of big animals a deer might chase you off, but that's about as big as it gets."

Kayla studied him thoughtfully. She looked once more at the ground, at Glen's boots. Her footprints were overlapped where she had been turning circles. His tracks were clearer, deeper than hers. And near his footprints were the distinct tracks of an animal. The wolf. It had apparently stopped and circled around Kayla before deciding to make its presence known.

So if he had been following the animal, why wouldn't Glen admit it?

Kayla bit her lip and met his eyes again. She had to hand it to him, if he were lying, if he were maybe illegally hunting the wolf for sport, he hid it well. His eyes were utterly guileless. And she didn't see a rifle or any other weapon on him. As a matter of fact, he wasn't even carrying a flashlight as she was. She did not know what to make of that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jamie lay on the too soft motel room bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening as the couple in the room next to hers tried to break the sound barrier with their moaning. She should have asked for a sound proof room. The thought made her smirk. The noise next door rose to an even higher pitch and suddenly all was silent.

"Hallelujah." She muttered dryly. God help her if they decided to try for a marathon. She'd never get any sleep.

It wasn't looking like sleep was coming for her anytime soon. She'd gotten her bath in a cramped tub, had ordered room service-which consisted of an overcooked cheeseburger and some undercooked fries-and had tried to go to bed.

She couldn't do it. Jamie would never be able to sleep in a strange room. Her first month at college, when freshmen had been forced to live in dorms, had been hell. She eventually got over it. Luckily for her, she wouldn't be staying in the motel for more than a night.

With a groan she sat up and pushed her hair back from her face, aggravated. Without thinking about why she was doing it, she dug through her bag and pulled out a pair of jeans and a sweater. She dressed and sat on the edge of her bed to tie her shoes. Jamie had no clue where she was going to go, but she had a feeling she'd go crazy if she stayed in the room.

She tugged her coat on, pocketed her keys, and tucked the small wallet she carried into her jeans. The couple next door started moaning again. Apparently they had only needed a small intermission. Jamie was surprised the pictures didn't fall of the walls. Smirking to herself, she opened the door and stepped outside.

Cold air and snow pelted her face. Jamie shoved her hands into her coat pockets, gave the Jeep a disappointed glare, and ducked her head against the wind. She started walking. At first just along the building. She angled across the parking lot eventually, not realizing she was doing it. She let her feet go where they would. The snow had drifted a bit while she'd been inside. In some places there was bare asphalt. In others the snow was well above her ankles. She winced every time snow fell down the sides of her shoes, but didn't want to go back to her room yet.

Jamie realized how ridiculous she was being. If she wanted to be cold, she could have saved herself fifty dollars and stayed at her apartment.

There was absolutely no traffic on the road. Jamie stopped at the edge of the blacktop, peering through the whirling snow at the ground. Apparently the snow plows and salt trucks couldn't keep up. There was no sign of tire tracks. She gingerly picked her way across the road and nearly fell through a deceptive looking snow bank on the other side. The road dropped off two feet before the ground leveled, but the snow had blown to make it look like a gentle slope. She twisted her ankle a bit and yelped at she sank into snow above her knees.

"Damn it..." Struggling, she kept her forward momentum, once more nearly falling when she cleared the slope and the snow went back down to a paltry six inches. Jamie bent down and ran her hands over her legs, trying to knock the snow off her jeans. Sighing she gave up. The more she knocked away the more stuck to her now damp pants. She looked around, realizing for the first time that her wandering had led her near a line of trees. She'd lived in town long enough to know the woods were not somewhere she wanted to hang out on a snowy night. Or a clear night for that matter. Maybe even in the day time.

She blamed it on John. He had told such stories when they were kids that Jamie couldn't even harbor the notion of camping. Even if she stayed in an eighty-thousand dollar camper. She knew it was childish, but she could not seem to help herself.

Instead of going into the trees, she turned and walked parallel to the road. The streetlights were few and far between on this side of town. Her ears got cold. Jamie alternated taking her hands out of her pockets to cover them from time to time.

Eventually she pulled herself out of her thoughts long enough to realize that she could no longer turn and see the motel in the distance. It was one of the last buildings between her small town and the next town, nearly eighty miles away. Jamie turned and began walking back the way she'd come, cursing to herself. She would probably freeze to death before she ever got to her room. Although considering her neighbors, she wasn't sure that was such a bad idea.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Emma had thought she wouldn't be able to sleep, but eventually she dozed off.

It didn't last long. She dreamed that a huge animal was stalking her. Not just stalking, but actually in her bedroom with her, on her bed, breathing hot air on her face. Terrified, she'd woken up, clicking on the bedside lamp to assure herself that she was still alone in the room. There was nothing there but the king-sized bed she had tried to sleep on, the matching dressers, and the doors to other rooms.

Emma could not shake the dream. Sure she was alone in her room, that didn't mean that someone or something wasn't lurking elsewhere in the house. Feeling more than ridiculous, she got up and tugged her robe on. She hesitated and went to her dresser. In the top drawer, under her pajamas was a lock box. In it was a gun. It was something else Eric didn't know about, and wouldn't approve of. Just talking about guns made him uneasy. Chris had given it to her as a 'gift'. In reality, she knew he just wanted her to be able to protect herself in any situation.

She pulled the .38 out and carefully loaded it, making sure the safety was on. Emma didn't want to really shoot anybody...she hoped the sight of the gun would be threat enough. With a sigh, steeling herself, she opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway. The house was silent. She held her breath a moment, listening. Nothing, not even the hum of the heat blowing.

As she walked along the upstairs hall, she became aware of the distinct feeling of being watched. She checked all three of the spare rooms, the two bathrooms, even the closet. There was nothing there.

Biting her lip nervously, Emma headed downstairs. The living room was to her right. The kitchen and dining room to her left. The floor plan was open, and she could see at a quick glance that no one waited for her at the bottom of the steps, or in the other room. Unless they were hiding behind the butcher block in the kitchen, or in the bathroom under the stairs. She checked every possible spot she thought would hide a full grown man.

Emma finally lowered her gun. She was alone, just as she'd known. The damned dream had left her jumping at shadows. She couldn't remember much beyond the feeling of being breathed on. If it was her subconscious telling her something about Chris's visit earlier, she didn't understand it a bit.

She went back upstairs and stopped in front of her dresser. She looked at the gun in her hand. Resolutely, she shut the dresser draw and took the gun to bed with her. She put it under Eric's pillow, handy just in case. Feeling better but no less ridiculous, Emma forced herself to shut off the light and lay back down. She wasn't going to sleep. Her nerves were on edge. But she knew that she shouldn't waste energy pacing her house all night either. If something were wrong, if someone somehow managed to get into her house, she wanted to be prepared to deal with them.

3

Mark slowly rolled his half-full glass between his fingers, watching as the last of the amber liquid swirled. Glen had gone outside. Mark hadn't stopped him to find out why. The alcohol was not doing what it was supposed to do. He felt more sober and alert than he had before drinking.

That was par for the course though. He should have known better. But the alcohol warmed him better than the empty fireplace in front of him could.

There was a noise at the door. Glen came in, knocking snow off his boots. Mark glanced at him, his eyebrow up.

"Nice walk?"

"Interesting. Met a girl."

"Only you..." Mark shook his head.

"Something was following her." Glen shrugged his coat off and hung it near the door.

"Something?"

"A wolf." With a sigh, Glen sank down onto the couch. He reached for Mark's untouched last shot, and knocked it back, sucking in a breath as the alcohol burned its way down his throat.

"Here?" Mark's eyebrow went up again.

"Close. Too damned close."

"And the girl?"

"I followed her, made sure she got home all right." Glen shook his head. "Had to be sneaky about it too."

"Did she find the house?"

"That was close too. I found her first though." Glen smirked. "I have a feelin' she'll be back. Struck me as bein' stubborn."

Mark sighed. "Should have known. It was bound to happen sooner or later."

"We've had three years."

"Seems like three days." Mark rose to his feet. He carried his empty bottle to the kitchen and dropped it in the trash. He stood in front of the sink, staring out the window at the swirling snow.

"Gotta do what we gotta do." Glen said from behind him. He put the glass on the counter with a thump. "We don't even know if any of this is meant for us. Could be we just happened to buy a house near trouble."

"Yeah, and I could be president of my own country." Mark said with a crooked, humorless smile.

"At any rate..." Glen clapped him on the shoulder. "She was nice lookin'."

"I figured as much."

Glen chuckled and headed for the stairs. Mark shook his head, wondering why his brother found it so amusing to fall for any pretty woman that crossed his path. Maybe fall wasn't the right word...it was more like lust until a conquer. That idea made Mark's smile more genuine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jamie halted under a street lamp, staring down at the snow coated ground. It was coming down so hard her tracks from earlier had been obliterated. She had no clue how much longer she would have to walk. The motel was impossible to see from where she was.

She crossed her arms and put her head down, trudging along. Now she felt like she could sleep. The thought brought a sarcastic smile to her lips. She should have just paced laps around the bed. Maybe that would have been the answer.

Jamie stopped again, put a hand over her eyes so the snow would not blind her, and peered along the roadway. The next streetlight was twenty or so yards away. The motel was still no closer. At least, not that she could tell. Maybe she had walked right past it in the blowing snow and was heading toward the center of town, eight miles away. There was a comforting thought.

She shivered and tucked her hands back into her pockets. Before she could take another step, a low noise stopped her. Jamie stood still, headed cocked to the side, wondering if maybe it was the wind rattling the tree branches in the woods to her right. There was nothing for a long minute. She almost put it down to her imagination.

That was until she saw a shadow move through the trees.

Jamie couldn't make out what it was. A dog maybe...it was low to the ground, and fast. The noise came again, and this time she could not mistake it for anything but what it was. A growl. It didn't sound like any dog she'd ever heard.

"Silliness. Like I could tell the difference between two dogs growling." She muttered to herself, more to hear a noise besides the growling than to make a point to herself.

The growling stopped. The shadow moved again, this time darting from left to right, disappearing behind a tree. Jamie slowly backed up toward the road, keeping her eyes on the line of trees.

She forgot about the drop.

Jamie had no clue that the shoulder of the road was a drop off where she was currently standing, but she should have remembered her lesson from earlier. She fell backward into a snow drift, her feet tangling against each other. A grunt escaped her lips, even though the snow cushioned her fall somewhat. The drift was over three feet deep now. Snow fell on top of her from the sides, nearly burying her in the cold white depths.

She struggled, trying to free herself. With one hand Jamie pushed off the ground. With the other she tried to bat away the snow that covered her. Rolling a little, she managed to get a leg under her, and pushed up onto her knees.

And came face to face with the biggest damned dog she'd ever seen.

Maybe dog was not the right word. It was a wolf. Completely white, nearly blending in the snow. Its lips pulled back, revealing more teeth than Jamie had thought were possible in an animal. A growl came from low in its throat, and she could feel and smell its breath even through the blowing wind.

A noise issued from her lips. Jamie had tried to yell, but her voice seemed to have deserted her. What came instead was a terrified squeak. She pushed herself backward, pumping her legs, almost burying herself in the snow drift again.

The wolf cocked its head and eyed her. If Jamie didn't know better she would have thought it was laughing at her. It took one step toward her, its dark eyes seeming to pin her to the ground.

The wolf suddenly turned and disappeared into the trees. Jamie gasped, letting out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. She slowly rose to her knees again, her eyes glued to the trees in case the animal decided to come back.

"You all right?"

The voice behind her nearly gave her a heart attack. This time Jamie managed to scream, whirling around, ready to run. A hand caught her arm before she could even begin to get her feet moving.

It was the dark haired guy from earlier. The one who'd cornered her at the bar. The one who'd gotten her Jeep started. Jamie wheezed in fear and shook her arm free.

"Looked like you needed a hand. Sorry..." He muttered, giving her a boyish smile. Jamie wasn't the least bit fooled by it.

"You saw it right? That...that...thing tried to kill me!"

"I don't know what the hell I saw." The man shook his head. "Lots of snow. And then you fell backward and I almost ran you over." He gestured to the road. Apparently when Jamie had been distracted by not becoming a wild animal's late night snack he'd pulled up. She had never heard the truck running.

She shook her head and looked around. So maybe the truck had scared the wolf away. She decided to be grateful, even if she didn't trust the guy in front of her.

"Well...thanks I guess." Jamie bent down and brushed snow from her clothes. Again it was pretty much useless, but she tried anyway.

"You look like you're about frozen. You need a lift?"

Caught off guard by the offer, Jamie stopped beating on her clothing and stared at him, open-mouthed.

"I promise I'll behave." He raised his hand in the air as if swearing an oath. Jamie hesitated for half a second. She was shivering uncontrollably now, whether from the cold or her encounter with the wolf she did not know.

"All right..." She hesitated when he offered his hand. His eyebrow went up. Jamie sighed and reached up, letting him help her onto the snow covered road. He held open the passenger door and gave her a hand into the cab. She muttered in relief as warm air from the vents washed over her.

The stranger got behind the wheel, slamming the door. "My name's David." He turned to her and offered his hand again. Jamie eyed it and decided it couldn't hurt. She shook with him.

"Jamie."

He nodded and let her go. Jamie tucked her hands into her pockets and kept a wary eye on him. He guided the truck expertly through the snow. She looked around the cab, surprised to see it was not a four-wheel drive. He did not loose traction on the road. Not once.

"Sorry I was an ass at the bar."

He spoke so softly Jamie wasn't sure she'd heard. She glanced at him and saw the smirk on his features.

"Comes with the job. Sometimes."

"And sometimes I'm even more of an ass than usual." He smiled at her, and Jamie found herself smiling back. Now that he wasn't being a total jerk, she thought he was rather good looking. He had dark eyes, and tanned skin. Either not from around there, or a manic user of tanning beds, she thought. "Where are we going?" He asked, pulling Jamie from her inspection of him.

"The motel right up the road, believe it or not." Jamie said with a put-upon sigh. David smirked and nodded. He knew exactly where it was.

"We'll be there in a few."He said, peering through the windshield at the nearly invisible road. Jamie was glad they weren't going far. It would be too easy to drive off the road in a storm like this.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The phone jarred Emma from sleep, causing her to sit upright with a scream caught in her throat.

Heart racing, she laughed at herself and reached for the cordless on the nightstand. She hadn't meant to fall asleep, but she was more tired than she had accounted for.

"Hello?" Yawning, she leaned back against her pillow, wondering who would call her at so ungodly an hour. It was just past four in the morning.

There was no answer. Instead of a voice, she heard breathing. Not prank phone call, pervert breathing either. Heavy wet breathing. It sounded like an animal. Her dream from earlier came back to her suddenly and she sat up straight, holding the phone as if she were afraid it would bite her. "Hello? Who is it?"

Still no answer. The breathing turned into a whine. The line went dead. Emma let the phone drop and put a hand to her chest, trying to ease herself. She could not convince herself it was just a coincidence though. There was no way. What were the odds she'd dream of something breathing on her, and later would hear that very same thing on her phone? Pretty slim. But it had happened.

Emma started to slide from the bed, but hesitated. She reached under Eric's pillow for her gun. So she'd had a dream. A now she'd heard in reality what she'd heard in her dream. She wasn't psychic, and didn't really believe in it anyway, but she had the crazy thought that if she were not prepared, her dream might become her reality.

Shaking her head at her crazy thoughts, Emma went to her dresser and grabbed a pair of jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt. She dressed quickly, hating to put the gun down but knowing she had to. She felt infinitely better once she held it again. She tucked at her back in the waistband of her jeans and slid her boots on.

She hesitated again, this time looking at the phone. Emma did not want to call Chris. He might think she were losing her mind. And she couldn't call Eric. The hell he would put her through when he got home if she woke him up this early...

Emma had no choice. She grabbed the phone and dialed. "Hey...I need you."

"That's what I like to hear." Chris said, sounding sleepy. He also sounded amused. How he managed to pull both off was beyond Emma.

"Something...happened. I don't want to get into it on the phone. Please Chris...get over here..."

Something in her voice must have gotten through. "Em...baby, are you all right?"

"No. Just...hurry." Emma's voice wavered.

"I'll be there in twenty minutes. Fifteen..." Chris corrected himself.

"Be careful."

"You be careful." He said right back to her. "Love you, Em. I'll be..."

The line went dead.

"Chris? Hello?"

There was nothing but smooth silence. The lights flickered, glowed brighter briefly, and went out. With the storm blowing outside, there was not even the ambient light of the moon coming in the windows. Emma stood in the silence, tears slipping from her eyes. She had never been so terrified in her life. "Hurry Chris..." She whispered, turning and running for the bathroom. It had a good lock. She was going to shut herself in until Chris got there. At least that way there was only one entrance to defend if the need presented itself.

4

David brought the truck to a stop behind her now completely snowed in Jeep. Jamie sighed in relief. But she didn't move to get out of the truck just yet. The snow was swirling just as rapidly as earlier, but now...she had the strangest feeling that going into her room would be a mistake.

She turned her head and looked at David. He seemed to be mesmerized by the door to her room. A light burned next to the entryway, but it barely penetrated the blowing storm.

"I don't know if you should stay here by yourself." He finally said, pulling his gaze from the door and pinning her with his dark eyes.

Jamie raised an eyebrow. "Was that a line?"

David smirked. "More like...a warning." He shrugged. "Not to freak you out or anything, but something feels weird about this place."

Jamie looked once more past her Jeep to the door. Something in her stomach seemed to ice over. "You don't need to freak me out, I'm doing a pretty good job of that on my own."

"I can take you to another place..."

"They're all booked up. I tried earlier."

"Hmm..." David made a noncommittal noise in his throat and glanced at the room door once more. "You have anything in there you need?"

"My bag. My clothes." Jamie nodded.

"I'll get 'em. You stay put. Lock the doors when I get out. Oh..." He held out a hand. "I'll need your key."

Jamie handed it over willingly enough. As soon as he climbed out of the truck, she hit the door lock button. And felt utterly ridiculous doing it. That was until David went into the room. He left the door open behind him. He had only been gone a minute when the lights flickered and went out.

The only light now came from the glow of the dashboard lights. The doorway was completely in shadows. Jamie tapped her fingers on her legs, her nerves starting to get the best of her.

A large shadow came toward the truck. Jamie waited until she saw it was David before unlocking the doors. He tossed her bag onto the seat beside her and slammed the truck door. "Power went out."

"I noticed."

"Is that everything?" He gestured at the bag. Jamie shrugged.

"I didn't unpack. So it should be." She nearly sighed in relief again when David dropped the truck into gear and guided it from the parking lot. "So...where do I go now?"

"I know a place." Instead of turning toward town, David pointed in the truck the opposite direction. The direction she'd walked when she'd left the motel.

"Um...there's nothing out here for about forty miles or so..."

"It's closer than that. Some friends of mine have a house. They won't mind you bunking with them for a while." David looked at her and smiled.

Jamie found herself smiling back. "If you're sure. I could just go back to my apartment. Although the heat wasn't working earlier."

"Well if the storm knocked the power out, it's not going to get fixed any faster. Trust me...you'll be better off staying with my friends."

Jamie couldn't help but feel that his last statement held several meanings beyond the obvious. She forced herself to relax against the seat as David drove them through the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"There's nothing here."

Emma nodded her head. She still held Chris's hand in a death grip though. "You think I'm crazy..."

"No...I would never." Chris turned and kissed her forehead. "Maybe it's the weather on top of being stressed out. I'd freak out too if I was in this big house all by myself and the power went out."

"I freaked out before the power died." Emma pointed out. She sat down on the living room sofa and sighed. "I could have sworn though..."

"You had a bad dream, Em. I'm not going to judge you because some of it spilled over into the real world." Chris sat next to her and pulled her against his side. Emma let him hold her for a few minutes, just trying to figure out why she had reacted the way she had.

"I can't stay here." She said finally. "I'll lose my mind for real."

"Do you want to go to my place?"

"Do you have power?"

Chris chuckled. "No. But we could keep each other warm."

"We could do that here." She pointed out, although reluctantly. She really did not want to stay in her own home.

"Yeah, but I don't know if I like the idea of snoozin' and waking up to see your husband standing over me."

"He could come home anytime." Emma agreed.

"So let's go to my place." He let her go and rose to his feet. "Come on, I'll help you pack a bag."

"Ok..." Emma let him lead her up the stairs. She found a bag and threw in a couple pairs of jeans, a few shirts and underthings. She grabbed her cell phone from where it was charging on her dresser. Her gun was still tucked against her back. She was ready. Emma glanced at the clock, surprised to see it was nearly six in the morning. "I'm going to call Eric's cell. Hopefully he won't answer and I can leave a message."

Chris nodded and waited as she dialed. The phone rang three times before Eric's voice informed her he was away from the phone. Mentally sighing in relief, Emma quickly told him that the power had gone out and she would be spending a few days with a friend to keep warm. Chris was smiling when she hung up the phone.

"What, you didn't want to tell him where you were exactly?"

"Hell no." Emma felt some of her humor returning at the idea she would be leaving. "Let's go. Oh hell...can we even get anywhere in this storm?"

"It's slow going, but yeah." Chris led her outside. Emma locked up the house and hurried to Chris's car. He turned the heat to full blast and carefully backed out onto the snow covered road. "Better buckle up." He reminded. Emma smiled and did so, feeling much more relaxed that she had earlier. She might even be able to get some sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I don't know about this."Jamie said, peering through the snow at the huge house that was hidden among the trees.

David glanced at her. "What's not to know?"

"It's awfully early. And I don't know you people, so why would I want to stay here?"

He smiled. "They'll be up. And you don't have to worry. Nothing bad will happen to you here."

Jamie sighed. "So says you, a strange guy I met a few hours ago."

"Believe me, there are stranger than me out running in the snow tonight." It was said cryptically. Jamie had listened to him talk enough during their driving that she understood he was making a joke. She laughed weakly and clutched her bag against her side as he brought the truck to a halt near another vehicle. It was a huge black SUV. She wasn't sure the make or model, the snow had almost completely covered it.

"I just...don't want to intrude..."

"You won't be. Trust me."

"What if they're busy?"

"I didn't bring you here to entertain them, so if they are busy, good for them." David chuckled wryly.

"Maybe you should just take me back to my Jeep. And I can drive to..." David was shaking his head before Jamie could even finish her weak protest.

"I've seen how you tense up every time snow hits the windshield. You really want to make me worry about you driving eighty or so miles to find another motel?"

"You would worry?" Jamie laughed, this time more naturally.

"Like a put-upon mother hen. Come on. I promise, it'll be all right." David shut off the engine and opened his door. Cold air blew in, making Jamie shiver. With a sigh she unhooked her seat belt and followed his lead, stepping out into the snow, her bag clutched close to her side.

David took her elbow to help guide her through the snow. The house loomed in front of them. It was two stories, the exterior covered with rough logs. Light poured through all the lower floor windows. It was completely surrounded by the woods. Jamie had not even known there was a house this far out. She knew that a development had been under works, but that was on the other side of town, nearly fifteen miles away.

David knocked on the door, the sound breaking Jamie from her thoughts. He gave her one more smile and turned as the front door opened.

Jamie had thought David was a big guy.

The man who opened the door easily overshadowed David by three or four inches. Long dark hair framed a ruggedly handsome face. He had piercing green eyes. Jamie felt her breath catch when his eyes met hers, and had to remind herself to breath. There was something decidedly intense about his gaze.

"David." He didn't sound surprised. Jamie found her eyes going to the stranger's lips. He possessed the most sensuous mouth she'd ever seen on a man. His lips were perfectly formed, surrounded by a well-kept goatee, the same deep red nearing on black as his hair.

"Hey, didn't wake you up." It was not a question. The man shrugged and looked pointedly from David to Jamie. "Oh...this is Jamie. Jamie, my friend Mark."

"Hi." She was shocked she could talk. Mark eyed her again. At least he didn't look angry.

"Mornin'." He nodded. She picked up a hint of a drawl. "Rough weather." That was aimed at David.

"It's gonna get worse." David said with a smirk. Mark stepped aside and held the door open. David gestured for Jamie to go inside. She did so with more than a little trepidation. "The power got knocked out in town. Jamie needs a place to crash."

"Ok." Mark shrugged. Jamie glanced at him, wondering how on earth he was so accepting at having a stranger all but dumped in his lap.

"You still have power." Jamie said, feeling the need to say something in the silence that had come over the three of them.

"House runs on a generator." Mark said, looking at the overhead light as if to confirm it. "You can stay in the spare room."

"I hope I'm not putting..."

Mark shook his head and held up a hand. "It's not a problem, darlin'. Don't worry about it. Nobody should be out in this mess."He gestured and Jamie followed him through the living room, to a set of stairs. David took a seat on the couch. Jamie spared him a glance. He smiled reassuringly as her.

Jamie turned her attention back to following Mark. At the top of the stairs he turned to the right and opened the first door he came to. "Here you go." He looked around as if taking inventory. There was a massive bed, the head and foot boards made of dark carved wood. A thick deep blue comforter was spread across the top. The floor was carpeted in the same shade of blue, the walls were cream colored. There was a fireplace against one wall, and an open door than led to a small bathroom against the other. "If it gets too cold in here, I can start a fire..."

"It's fine." Jamie said with a smile. It was actually better than her room at home. As a matter of fact...the bedroom she was now standing in was probably bigger than her whole apartment. Snow fell against a huge window behind the bed. The room was cozy and warm in spite of the weather.

"There are towels in the bathroom if you want a shower." Mark spoke from behind her. "My brother is around here somewhere. You'll meet him later. He's probably sleeping."

"Oh. Ok." Jamie turned around to look at him. Mark studied her thoughtfully. She fought against squirming under his gaze.

"If you get hungry..." He finally spoke. "The fridge is stocked. Help yourself."

Jamie smiled up at him. He didn't really return it though. One corner of his well formed mouth lifted. That was it. It still set butterflies fluttering in her stomach though. "Thank you."

"No problem." Mark shrugged again. "If you need anything, I'll be downstairs." With that he turned and left the room. Jamie stared at the empty doorway and sighed. Her eyes went to the bathroom door again. After her fall in the snow drift and driving around damp all night, a hot shower sounded like heaven. She set her bag on the bed and pulled out her pajamas before heading for the open doorway.

5

Mark was surprised to see David still standing in the living room when he returned downstairs. Usually he showed up from nowhere, disappeared into nowhere, and didn't waste his time on visiting.

"We gotta talk." David said as Mark once more dropped onto the couch.

"About?"

"Her." David gestured, obviously meaning the woman who was currently upstairs.

"Picking up strays." Mark muttered to himself. David heard him of course.

"You could say that. Weird thing was...I think maybe she's in trouble. There was a wolf..."

Mark rubbed his eyes and heaved a sigh even before David could finish explaining. "About to attack her."It wasn't a question.

"I don't know. It looked like it was seriously thinking about it." David shoved his hands into his pockets and cleared his throat. "Maybe it hasn't started yet."

Mark cursed under his breath. "But it will. Doesn't it always?" He eyed David thoughtfully. "Will you be sticking around to help?"

This earned a smug grin. "Of course not. Dealing with the dead is more your thing." He shrugged. "Got to go. I'm gonna see if I can find sign of that wolf."

"You won't." Mark warned with another sigh. "I'll deal with it."

David nodded and said nothing else before turning and leaving the room. Mark let his head fall against the back of the couch and rubbed his eyes. It certainly seemed that his feeling from the night before was right, and that trouble had found them. The fact that she came in the form of an attractive woman didn't surprise him in the least.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You're insane for wanting to drive anywhere in this. Let alone six hours away."

Jeff smirked and continued shoving clothes into the bag he'd thrown onto the bed. "And you wander the woods in the dark. Clearly, we're both in need of mental help."

"It's the family curse." Kayla muttered, looking at the frosted window. The snow had stopped sometime during the wee hours of the morning, but it was just a small reprieve. More was headed their way by noon. The sun had risen just an hour before, but it was hard to tell. The cloud cover was so thick only weak light penetrated it. The news had said they'd hit eighteen inches of snow. Another ten or so inches of powder was expected before it was all through, and that was their conservative guess.

And here Jeff was, wanting to travel. Justine had left a message, saying her flight had been canceled. There were no rental cars available. He wouldn't want her to drive anyway. Instead, he'd be risking his own neck to get to her. Kayla watched as he eyed his closet thoughtfully. "I guess that's all I'll need."

"Should be." Kayla smiled. "You want me to go with you? I drive in the snow better than you do."

"Ha. Nope. You stay here, enjoy the big empty house. I'll be all right."

"You want to take my car?" Jeff had a brand new pick-up, but Kayla had a more reliable and weather worthy all wheel drive.

"If you don't mind." He grinned and took her offered keys before shouldering his bag. "We'll be back in a few days I guess. When it starts melting off."

"I hope so. Call me so I know you aren't splattered across the highway."

"You're way with words as always is astounding, Kay." Jeff laughed and led the way downstairs. He tugged on his coat, checked for his wallet, and eyed Kayla more seriously. "If you need anything, give me a call."

"Doubt I will. You be careful out there. If it gets too rough, you turn and come back. Justine will have to make do in a hotel by herself." Kayla hugged Jeff and held the door open as he went outside. Cold air blew through the open door, making her shiver. The temperature seemed to have dropped even more with the start of the day.

Jeff waved and disappeared toward the driveway. Kayla watched as her car was guided out onto the road before closing and locking the front door.

And Jeff's house felt too empty suddenly, too lonely.

Kayla frowned and shuffled toward the kitchen, tightening her thick robe around her. By nature she didn't get lonely, she didn't get get bored, she was used to being on her own. Shaking her head, she poured a steaming mug of Jeff's too strong coffee and sipped it as she looked at the sea of white out the kitchen window.

Maybe she was just tired. She'd only gotten a few hours of sleep after all. That made her smile. That was another of her quirks. If she slept more than three or four hours a night, she felt lazy. She was seriously contemplating another walk through the woods. She carried her coffee out of the kitchen and into the living room. The fireplace crackled and popped as she sat down on the couch. Maybe she'd just stay in today. Read a book. Curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and the fire as her backdrop.

Kayla smirked at herself. Of course, as soon as she finished her coffee, she was going to go outside. She wasn't planning on going far though, not all the way to the middle of nowhere as she'd done last night. She wanted to take her camera and get some pictures of the snow. It was, after all, one for the record books.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jamie sat up with a gasp, her heart nearly pounding out of her chest, her eyes wildly trying to take in everything at once. She didn't know where she was, nothing was familiar, not the bed or the room or...

She remembered. David had brought her here. Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, she glanced at the window and saw pale light filtering in through the glass. Whatever time it was, the sun was out. Kind of. Jamie pushed back until she was sitting with her back against the headboard, the thick blankets covering her legs. She hadn't slept very well, even though the bed was big and soft. She'd had weird dreams, running the spectrum from nightmare to naughty. The erotic dreams she didn't remember at all, except the general feel of them. The bad one had been the one to finally wake her up. It was fading from her memory too, but she shivered as she thought of what did stand out. A wild animal, breathing on her as she lay in bed.

Whatever else happened in the dream, Jamie was done sleeping. And she was hungry. And thirsty. She hesitated before pushing the covers back and stepping out of bed. She grabbed her bag and pulled on a pair of jeans and a dark shirt. She went to the bathroom, brushed her hair and teeth, used the toilet, washed her hands, put her shoes on, and made the bed. It seemed ridiculous, even to her, but it was a habit she'd developed over her lifetime that she couldn't quite shake.

Jamie opened the door and quietly stepped into the hallway. The house was silent. In fact, she couldn't recall hearing anything at all after she'd gotten into bed. Normally she was a light sleeper and a slight breeze would wake her up. Apparently she'd been more tired than she'd thought.

She wasn't sure what to do next. Her stomach growled, making her smirk. Ok, that answered that. Cautiously, Jamie moved down the hall toward the stairs, not wanting to disturb anybody who might be sleeping.

It turned out to be a pointless worry. Jamie found the kitchen, and also discovered Mark sitting at the table. A huge mug of coffee was in front of him, along with a book. He didn't appear to be reading it though. His fingers rifled the pages and his eyes were apparently glued to something fascinating on the dark wood of the table.

Jamie felt herself blush as he lifted his eyes to hers and studied her thoughtfully for a long minute. "Morning..." She said, her voice unsure.

Mark nodded. "Hungry?"

"Starving." Jamie agreed, smiling a little. One corner of his mouth twitched. He had almost smiled back. She wondered idly why he would bother holding back a thing as simple as a smile. And she wondered why her thoughts were so damned scattered all of a sudden.

"Help yourself. There's plenty." Mark motioned to the refrigerator. Jamie nodded and crossed the kitchen, aware that he was watching her closely as if she were going to do something out of the ordinary. Jamie smirked to herself and opened the fridge, eying the shelves that were almost overflowing with food. She carefully extracted a few things, thought about it, pulled out a few more. She didn't cook often, and was sure that she'd win no awards for whatever she made, but she did enjoy the task. There was something comforting about whipping together a meal.

Jamie didn't ask Mark if he wanted to eat. She just assumed he would. Therefore she made a lot more than she would have just cooking for herself.

"Let me guess. You're a short order cook, right?" A deep voice spoke from behind her. Jamie glanced over her shoulder and did a double take. Another man had joined Mark at the table. She'd been so engrossed in her cooking that she hadn't noticed him entering the room. He was as big as Mark, his hair was long and dark, his eyes a shade of hazel that missed being green only by an inch. That the two men were related was obvious.

"Actually, I'm a waitress. Kind of." Jamie smiled and went back to stirring her eggs.

"Kind of? How does a person become 'kind of' a waitress?" The man asked, sounding amused.

"Well, I used to be a nurse. Now I wait on tables." She shrugged as if it had been the most natural transition in the world. She thought momentarily how odd it was, that she had let some stranger bring her to a house with more strangers, and here she was cooking and being domestic. She didn't feel nearly as awkward as she thought she should. At the very least she should be wary, especially around two guys who were bigger than anybody she'd ever seen in her life.

"Interesting career change. I'm Glen."

"Jamie. And the food is ready if you guys are hungry."She shut off the stove and looked at her handiwork. Eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns. Her stomach rumbled. Without waiting on the two men, she grabbed a plate and loaded it up.

Glen and Mark exchanged a look. Glen was still amused, barely holding back a smile. Mark had a better poker face. Glen got to his feet and fixed himself a plate. Mark followed his lead. Jamie abandoned her plate for a moment to go back to the fridge for orange juice. They all ate in silence for a few minutes.

"So Jamie..." Glen wiped his mouth with a napkin he'd gotten from the counter. "How did you wander into our neck of the woods." His mouth curved into a smile.

Jamie raised an eyebrow and smiled back. She got the distinct feeling that Glen was going to be a flirt. Working at the bar, she'd gotten to know the warning signs. "I didn't actually wander. I was brought here. It's a long story though." She sipped her juice and glanced toward Mark. He was chewing thoughtfully and watching her.

She recapped most of her night between bites. She ended with David dropping her off. "I'm probably going to have to find a way to get back to my Jeep before the motel tows it off."

"I don't think much of anything is gonna get towed away in this mess." Mark spoke for the first time in a while. "If you want, I can try to get it here for when you're ready to go."

Jamie smiled at him. Once again the corner of his mouth twitched, as if he were fighting against returning it. "I don't know why you'd want to drive. I know I don't."

"It's not so bad. Just gotta have a feel for the road." Glen said, finishing his food. He gathered their plates and busied himself washing dishes. Jamie was suitably impressed. And now awkward. She'd cooked, she'd eaten, and she'd planned on cleaning up. Now she sat unsure at the table with Mark, who was still sipping his coffee, watching Glen take care of it.

"Relax, darlin'. You cooked, we'll clean." Mark said softly. Jamie looked at him, met his green eyes, and wondered if it were possible he'd read her mind. "After he's done, Glen can run me into town to get your car. Just need to know where it is and get the keys."

Jamie nodded and told him. She dug into her pocket and handed him her keys. "Maybe I should go and drive it...it's kind of temperamental, and I could go to my apartment and get some clothes, and see if my heat is on..."

"That's all right. I'll take care of it."Mark actually smiled at her when he said it. Jamie was floored at the sight of it. "In the meantime...there's no TV here, the reception is for shit this far out in the woods. But there's a room full of books if you want something to occupy yourself with. Make yourself at home."

"Thank you." Jamie said softly. She watched as the smile faded and Mark took his cup to the sink. She shook her head, wondering what exactly it was about him that had her so fascinated.

6

"You didn't sleep much." Chris's voice was rough from sleep. Emma glanced over her shoulder. She was in the kitchen, standing at the back door, looking at the snow that blanketed the back yard.

"Couldn't. Wish the power was on. I could use some coffee."

"I can run out and get some." Chris chuckled. "Or not. Guess the power is probably out everywhere."

Emma watched his reflection in the window as he opened the fridge and took out a soda. The house was chilly, and she crossed her arms over her stomach against the chill.

"We need to find somewhere else to stay, since there's no telling when the power will be back." Chris set his drink on the counter and walked to stand behind her, wrapping his arms around her.

"Maybe we could find a kerosene heater or something." Emma said, leaning back against his broad chest.

"We can grill our food. Live off the land." Chris kissed her ear. "I'll get dressed and see if I can't make it to a store that's open. Want to come with me?"

Emma shook her head. "I don't know if I can take another trip in this weather. Snowy roads freak me out."

"Well then I'll have to hurry up." He kissed her again, squeezed her, and left the room humming under his breath to get dressed. Emma shivered and turned to sit at the kitchen table.

To be honest with herself, it wasn't just the driving conditions that gave her the willies. There was something about being outside, about the storm in general, that left her feeling scared.

Chris left. Emma held her cell phone, wondering if she should call Eric again. It was strange that he hadn't called her back. It was unlike him. Sighing she dialed and listened as his voice mail message played.

Emma hung up without talking. It was so unlike him to not answer, to not respond to voice mails. As controlling as he was, she was surprised he hadn't been calling her every hour on the hour.

She shut her phone off and tossed it onto the table. Emma stood and paced the kitchen a few times, hers eyes drawn again and again to the windows. There was nothing to see there she hadn't seen. Snow. Houses. The oak tree in the middle of the yard. But still she was scared. It was low level, just in the pit of her stomach, but she knew what she felt. Chris seemed unaffected. She took hope in that. Maybe it was just the weather bringing her down, not some strange and sudden ability to sense things.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"We shouldn't have left her there alone."

Mark glanced at Glen as he guided the SUV through the drifted snow. They'd had a reprieve, but apparently it was ending. More snow was beginning to fall. The wind had stopped for the time being, so it wasn't nearly as bad as the night before. Not yet anyway.

"She'll be fine in the house."

"Can't guarantee she won't go outside." Glen mumbled.

"You told her not to."

"Doesn't mean she'll listen. There's the motel..." He pointed. Mark nodded and pulled in behind the snow covered Jeep.

"I'll go to her place, get her things. You head on back." Mark left the engine running and stepped out into the cold. Glen slid over and looked at him with an unreadable glint in his eyes. "What?"

"Nothin'." Glen smirked.

"Spit it out. Haven't got all damn day."Mark shoved his hands in his pockets and waited.

"I said nothin'. Just funny to see you worryin' about a girl."

Mark grunted and slammed the truck door. Glen laughed and put it in gear, cutting a path through the nearly knee deep snow that covered the parking lot. With a sigh Mark turned toward the Jeep. From what he could see, the vehicle was damned near an antique. He spent fifteen minutes knocking snow off the windows and hood before actually getting in.

It took a few tries but the engine groggily turned over. Mark shook his head, wondering if the Jeep would make it even the short distance he was going to push it. He put it in reverse and listened to the engine whine, already picturing in his mind what it would take to fix it. He had an affinity for fixing things, especially engines. It passed the time until he got to Jamie's apartment. He almost passed it up, not really looking for the building to be a house like all the others on the block.

He left the engine running, not wanting to risk restarting it. Jingling her keys, he climbed the stairs and let himself into her apartment.

The place was tiny and freezing cold. The living room was on the right, the kitchen on the left. There was a short hallway with three doors. One was a bathroom, one a closet, the last her bedroom. Mark started there, opening her closet and taking out a bag she'd told him was there. He went to her dresser and made quick work of packing things, trying not to notice that his hands were touching her underthings. He felt like the worst kind of lowlife, pawing through her drawers. The thought made him grin ruefully at the double meaning.

Finished with that, he went to the bathroom and glanced around. She'd already brought most of her toiletries, so he didn't see anything she'd need.

Mark shouldered the bag and headed toward the door. He stopped with his hand on the knob, his attention pulled to a picture hanging near the exit. In it, a younger Jamie stood smiling next to a man who faintly resembled her. Her hair was longer, hanging past her shoulders in dark waves. Her gray eyes were full of happiness. The man was grinning as well, his muscular arm slung over Jamie's shoulder.

He didn't know why, but Mark reached out and touched the picture. His fingertips tingled faintly. Dead. The man was dead. His name had been John, he was Jamie's twin brother. Mark felt his stomach flutter as the distinct sensation of falling came over him. He pulled his hand back and the feeling stopped as soon as it had begun. Careful not to touch the actual picture again, he pulled it from the hook on the wall and put it in his coat pocket. He still didn't know why. He just knew he would end up needing it.

Now that the picture was off the wall, the apartment took on a decidedly abandoned feel that hadn't been there before. Mark couldn't help but think that Jamie would never return there. He didn't know how he knew, he just did. It was another of his gifts. With another sigh he left, locking the door behind him. He still had to get back to the house in one piece. Thoughts of driving in the snow pulled his mind from thoughts of Jamie's dead brother.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jamie sat curled up in a comfortable leather armchair, looking out the window as snow once more began to fall. Someone had started a fire. It crackled cozily to her left. She had looked at the titles of the books lined up against the wall, but hadn't really felt like reading. They practically had a library here. She had to keep reminding herself she was only staying until the power came back on, and not to get too comfortable.

She also couldn't read because of the strange warning Glen had given her about going outside while the brothers were gone. It was strange because although he had made it sound like a joke, something in his demeanor told her that he was deadly serious. Jamie shivered and rubbed her arms, wondering just what in the hell gave her that idea.

0After about an hour, she got up and headed for the kitchen to get something to drink. The house was too quiet, it was freaking her out a little bit. Too bad they didn't have a television, the background news would have soothed her nerves.

Jamie glanced out the window and jumped as something moved outside. She laughed at herself as she realized it was just Glen, returned from town. He came in the door and stomped snow off his shows, grinning at her. "I don't know why I'm bothering. I'm soaked to the elbows."

Jamie smiled and took a seat at the table. "Did it start ok?"

"As far as I know. I didn't see it parked at the motel on the way back from the store."

"Oh...well, do you need help carrying anything in?" Jamie was already rising.

"No, no. It's stuff for Mark anyway." Glen shrugged out of his coat and hung it up before sitting across from her. "Anything exciting happen while I was gone?"

"Not unless you count me throwing some wood on the fire." Jamie took a sip of her soda and shrugged. "I'm getting the distinct feeling that something is going on here beyond a couple of brothers living in the woods, though."

"Oh yeah?" Glen got up from the table and went to a cabinet. He pulled out a bag of pretzels and grabbed a soda for himself on the way back. "What gives you that idea?"

"I dunno. Just a feeling."

He munched a pretzel thoughtfully. "Nothing in life is ever what it seems. I think I read that somewhere."

Jamie smirked. "So you're saying there is something strange here?"

"Did I say that?"

"You implied."

"I barely opened my mouth. Implying would imply that I rambled."

"Well then you implied that too." Jamie laughed. "So what is the deal?"

"There is no deal. We moved here because it's quiet." And that, Glen thought to himself, was the absolute truth.

"A little too quiet." Jamie deadpanned. "I'm used to being in town I suppose. Never thought I'd miss the sounds of traffic and the people in the building."

"The quiet grows on you." Glen smiled and held out the bag. Jamie took a pretzel and eyed him.

"Am I in some kind of trouble here?"

His eyebrow went up. Apparently her direct question had momentarily thrown him. "I couldn't say." He finally responded. "Are you?"

"I don't know why I would be, but..." Jamie shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just nervous around strangers."

"You work in a bar. Can't be much stranger than that." Glen said grimly. He really shouldn't freak her out, he knew it, and Mark probably wouldn't like it, but he did not like to lie. And she seemed to be picking up on it no matter how he tried to joke around. "Maybe there is something going on. I don't know what exactly yet."

"Something bad?"

Glen shrugged. "Don't know. It's not always bad..."

"What isn't?"

He smiled sheepishly and sighed. "Look, you should talk to Mark."

"I should?"

"He could explain it better...he's..." Glen struggled to find words, but they weren't forthcoming. It was always so hard to talk about what they were, what they did. Especially for him. But Mark had met Jamie first, and obviously Mark was worried about her. It was possible Mark was attracted to her. It was easy to see why. Jamie was a knockout. But she obviously didn't think so, she wasn't smug in her beauty like other women that Glen had known. It was her eyes especially, they were an unusual shade of gray. He had never seen eyes even close to that color outside of cosmetic lenses.

"I get the feeling that he'll like my asking even less than you do."

Glen smiled. And got the feeling that Mark's attraction might be mutual. It wasn't unheard of. Knowing Mark though, he'd fight it to the death. Glen didn't know why. He thrived on his relationships, no matter how short of long they were. Mark could not seem to grasp the theory himself.

"He'll get over it." Glen finally said. "Do you play cards?"

"What kind of cards?" Jamie let the subject drop. She understood Glen would tell her nothing more than he already had. So that left his brother. It gnawed at her, wondering what was really happening, but she would manage to quell her curiosity. At lease for a little while.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click, click, click.

Kayla snapped pictures in rapid succession, aiming her camera into the line of trees where the snow seemed to glisten in the dim light like diamonds. More snow was falling, but she hardly noticed. That happened sometimes when she was, as Jeff put it, in the zone. She loved photography, loved capturing perfect moments on film. Her mother had accused her once of being born with a camera in her hand. She wished. That would have made for some strange pictures.

The only bad thing was she was using her digital camera. She preferred the decidedly old fashioned camera she'd had for fifteen years. She knew every lens and effect with it, knew exactly how far she could shoot, and how crisp the pictures would be even before she developed them. The digital was better for travel though. It was smaller. And she didn't worry so much about it breaking.

Kayla checked her memory card and found she'd snapped well over two-hundred pictures already. She was getting hungry too. She tended to lose track of time when she was working. That thought made her smile. She turned to head back to the house, pressing the buttons on the camera to pull up the pictures she'd just taken to get a preview.

She'd only taken one picture of Jeff's house, from the ground near the deck in the backyard. Two rabbits, both of them as white as the snow around them, had been hopping across the expanse of snow covered yard. Kayla smiled and thumbed the button, scrolling past shots of the trees, the ground, the sky. She'd found a clearing in the woods, small and nearly perfectly round where some deer were grazing. Unfortunately she'd scared them off before taking the pictures, but there had been something about that place...

Kayla had stood at the edge of the clearing snapping pictures, and without realizing it had walked to stand in the center. An overwhelming feeling of absolute peace had overcome her. Her finger had stopped pressing the button for several minutes as she stood in snow to her knees, wondering what it was that made that place so special.

There was no way to capture that feeling on film. She knew it. But she had hoped for something.

The pictures looked like pictures. There were seventeen in all, each from a different spot as she'd walked. One clearly showed the tracks made by the deer. One of them focused on the trees on the other side of the clearing.

There was something there, among the trees.

Kayla stopped walking, bringing the camera closer to her eyes. Yes, there was definitely something there, something next to one of the trees. There appeared to be two legs. Her first thought was a bear, but...there was no hint of color. Not black, not brown, not gray. The camera had picked up something that was as white as the snow, yet outlined in the shape of a person. A man. Even without magnifying it, she could tell.

And it wasn't the guy she'd met the night before. The one in the picture didn't look nearly tall enough.

Kayla finally pressed the button one more time...and nearly dropped her camera in the snow. The figure from the trees had come dramatically closer. He was less than fifteen feet away, every detail clear and precise. He appeared to be wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. His hair was cropped short. He was smiling broadly.

But he was still all white.

It took a moment to realize why.

He was not solid.

She could clearly see the snow covered ground through him, the trees behind him. "Holy shit..." Kayla whispered. She pressed the button again. This time the man was directly in front of her, close enough to reach out and take the camera from her. He was still smiling. There was nothing malevolent about him. He looked as if he were greeting an old friend, that smile as open and welcoming as any she'd ever seen.

Kayla could see a hint of color in this photo. A slight bit of red on his shirt. Dirty blonde hair. Blue eyes. She could still see through him though.

She looked up and glanced over her shoulder. That made her laugh. As if she expected to see the guy behind her. She hadn't 'seen' him in the clearing, why would she spot him now?

She pressed the button again. It was the last shot of the clearing. The man was gone. She thumbed through the pictures again, staring down in wonderment. Kayla finally forced herself to shut the camera off. She wanted to hurry back to the house and print the pictures so she could get a better look. She knew there was no possible way what she had seen was some kind of camera defect. It had only happened on three of the pictures she'd taken. And she'd been using that particular camera for three years. She would have noticed something like that by now, surely.

Kayla pocketed the camera and trudged quickly through the snow. The longer she stayed at Jeff's, the stranger things got. And the stranger things got, the more Kayla loved it. She wasn't one to shy away from a good mystery, and she was not a skeptic in the least. She kept one hand in her pocket with the camera and already in her mind was plotting out exactly what she was going to do when she got back.

7

Jamie looked up at the swirling snow, breathing deeply of the cold midday air. After lunch, Mark had reappeared carrying a duffel bag stuffed with clothes for her and plastic bag bearing the name of a local auto parts store. He'd eaten and headed outside without saying much to either Jamie or Glen. Once again she had cooked, therefore Glen refused to let her wash the dishes.

"Go outside and keep Mark company." He'd shooed her out of the kitchen, amusement making his hazel eyes sparkle. Jamie wondered momentarily if he just wanted to use her to annoy his brother. That didn't feel like the reason, so she grabbed her coat and tugged on her shoes before stepping outside.

Jamie winced as she stepped in snow to her knees. Some of it went down the sides of her shoes and up the legs of her jeans. "Awesome..." She grouched to herself.

"I didn't see any boots at your house."Mark's voice was muffled. He was head and shoulders under the hood of her Jeep.

"I don't own any boots."Jamie went to stand beside him and peered in at the engine. Some women might learn how to fix cars, but to her it was like looking at a foreign and alien landscape. "What are you doing?"

"Mining for gold." Mark huffed out. He looked over his shoulder and did the lip curl that was the start of a smile.

"If you find any I'll give you a good cut." Jamie leaned against the side of the Jeep, looking at the wires, hoses and metal parts. "What the hell is that thing?"

Mark grunted, yanking on something before answering. "You're gonna have to be more specific. Lots of things in this dinosaur."

"Ha, ha. Never mind, I'll just forget five minutes after you tell me. So why are you messing with my Jeep?"

"Somebody needs to. Darlin' this thing is a mess."

"I just had it serviced a few weeks ago. Spent an arm and a leg." Jamie had felt a little tingle when he'd called her 'darling' again. He had a deep, drawling voice when he said it. She'd been called that before, of course, working at the bar. Along with other favorites like 'baby' and 'sweetie'. Coming from Mark it didn't seem condescending.

"You should fire your mechanic. And then shoot him." He pulled back, bringing with him some piece of equipment that was a tangle of wires. "Wanna hand me a wrench?"

"Sure." Jamie noticed a box of tools near his legs, almost completely hidden in the snow. She dug a moment and pulled out a wrench. "Here. And don't look surprised. I know the difference in tools...just not what the hell they have to do with a car."

"I wasn't gonna say a word, darlin'." And it was a good thing Jamie had resumed leaning against the Jeep, because Mark had winked at her as he'd spoken, doing it with the offhanded ease of a professional flirt. She had fully expected that kind of thing from Glen, but Mark had seemed more...normal. That was the wrong word but she could not think of a better one.

Mark busied himself with wires and bolts. Jamie watched his hands. She was fascinated really. She'd once stood alongside surgeons who did not have such steady hands. And their hands weren't nearly as big.

"Somethin' wrong?"

Jamie realized that Mark had been watching her stare at his hands for who knew how long. She felt a blush creeping across her cheeks as she met his eyes a little guiltily. "Sorry, had a flashback of high school hormones there." At his confused frown, Jamie started laughing. "Meaning I was daydreaming."

"No harm in that, darlin'. Here, hold this a minute..." He held out the twisted wires. Jamie took them and forced herself to pay attention to what he was doing.

Fifteen minutes later that job was done. But Mark had already found something else to take from the Jeep to tinker with. Jamie handed over tools when he asked, held things so they didn't drop in the snow, but otherwise stayed out of his way.

"Why don't you just rebuild the whole damn engine, Mark?" Glen said from behind them, making Jamie jump. Mark shrugged and made a sound that was very near a chuckle.

"Where you off to?" Mark asked instead of answering. Glen was wearing his coat and spun the SUV keys around his finger.

"Thought I'd visit our neighbors." Glen smirked.

"That girl again." Mark shook his head and beat on something with the wrench. The clang of metal on metal went on for a moment before he finally got the part he was working on loose.

"If I'm lucky." Glen winked, making Jamie snicker. She'd been right in her earlier thought.

"Get Jamie a pair of boots while your out." Mark said, ducking back under the hood. He glanced back once more, this time eying her thoughtfully.

"You don't have to get me..."

"What size?" Glen asked, as if Jamie wasn't speaking.

"Seven?" Mark raised an eyebrow at her in question. Jamie reluctantly nodded.

"I have some money in my..."

"Don't worry about it. Consider it a gift." Glen held up a hand to stop her from protesting. "I'll do that first, drop 'em off. With any luck I plan on being too busy later to remember boots." With that he went to the SUV and climbed in.

Jamie shook her head as he drove off. "Seriously, I have plenty of money. You guys don't have to buy me anything. Matter of fact...I'm going to pay you guys for letting me stay here."

This statement brought Mark's head around from whatever he'd been doing under the hood. "We don't need your money."

"Needing and being owed are two different things."

"You don't owe us a thing." He set a screwdriver aside and turned to face her fully. "I'm not runnin' a b-and-b here, darlin'. If you wanna help out around the house while you're here, all right, but your money stays in your pocket."

"If you say so."

"I do." Mark raised an eyebrow. "And don't try to sneak and pay Glen either. He won't take it."

Jamie smiled. She had been thinking just that. "Ok, ok. I get it. My money is no good here. But I have a little thing called pride, and it's starting to sting just a little."

"I don't mean to step on your toes, Jamie. But offerin' me money kinda wounds my pride, so let's just leave it at that."

She nodded and watched as he went back to work on her Jeep. "What about paying you to fix my car?"

Mark made a low noise in his throat, a groan. Jamie grinned and tried to hold back a laugh as he shot her a glare over his shoulder.

"I was just asking."She said, imitating his emphasis.

"Keep it to yourself, smart ass." But he was smiling when he said it. Jamie would have sworn it. She stifled her humor to go back to work helping him with her Jeep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kayla whistled as the printer hummed softly behind her. There was no shortage of power at Jeff's house. He lived so far out of town he wasn't on the same grid. She'd caught the news as she'd moved her pictures from the memory card to her laptop, and shook her head at the poor souls who had been forced to find shelter during a raging blizzard.

She sorted the pictures as they came out, throwing away a few that hadn't turned out nearly as perfect as she'd thought they were on the small LCD screen. The pictures from the clearing she'd saved until last. She'd opened her photo editor and had re-sized them to make sure they were large enough to see without having to squint.

Finally the printer stopped. Kayla set aside her coffee mug and spun in the desk chair, carefully picking up the photo paper.

It was the last and best picture of the group, in her opinion. The see-through guy stood within arms reach, smile on his face. Kayla did not kid herself. Unless her camera had throw the bitch of all circuits, she had a photograph of an actual ghost.

She used her finger to lightly trace the man's shoulder. She wondered who he was, where he had come from, and if he had died there in the clearing that she had found so peaceful. The thought sent a shiver down her back. It momentarily made her think that wandering the woods alone was maybe not a good idea after all.

Smiling to herself, Kayla turned to set the picture on the desk with the others when a movement outside the window made her jump and let out a yelp.

Glen stood there, peering through the sliding glass doors, smiling sheepishly. Kayla started laughing as she unlocked the door. "You scared the hell out of me!"

"Sorry...I knocked on the front door. I heard the TV. You didn't answer so I got worried."

Kayla held the door open and let him into the house. "I didn't hear you. Lost in my own world I guess. So what brings you here?"

"You do." He smiled and stomped snow off his boots. It was starting to get serious again outside, big flakes swirling from the sky. The weather reports had them getting at least another six inches by nightfall, maybe more in some areas.

"Ah, I must have been using my psychic powers to pull you in. Coffee?" Kayla picked up her mug and headed for the kitchen for a refill. Glen followed her, glancing around the house as he went. There was artwork everywhere. Sculptures, paintings, photographs...it was almost like walking into some kind of strange museum.

"Are you the artist?" He asked as he accepted a steaming mug and took a sip.

"Oh...no. I couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler." Kayla laughed. "Although the pictures are mine."

"Are you a photographer?"

"Sometimes." She smiled. "Mostly I write. Photography is a hobby of mine though."

"And what do you write?" He asked, looking at her with interest on his face.

"Raging romance novels." Kayla said, deadly serious. Glen raised an eyebrow.

"For real?"

"Believe it or not." She smiled. "I have a few other books out, but the mushy stuff is what sells the most. It pays the bills so I can play with my cameras and do my real writing."

"And what is your real writing?"

"Currently, I'm thinking I want to write a story about ghosts."

His eyebrow went up. "I take it you don't usually explore the supernatural."

"Honey, until this morning the only other-than-natural thing I had ever seen was my cousin's hair color."

"So what happened this morning?"

"Are you asking out of curiosity, or are you asking because you already have a pretty good idea and you just want me to say it?" Kayla now looked at him shrewdly, putting him off his guard.

"You saw something." Glen finally said.

"I got pictures of something." Kayla admitted.

"Just...something?"

"Of a person." She shrugged and gestured for him to follow her. Glen set his forgotten coffee on the counter and walked back into the living room. Kayla was at a desk in the corner, shuffling through some pictures. She absently tucked a strand of dark blonde hair behind her ear as she turned to face him. "There wasn't anything there when I was taking the pictures. I'd stake my life on that. But when I looked, and printed them out..." She held out the pages. Glen took them and glanced through them quickly before meeting Kayla's eyes again.

"Only in that one spot?"

"Yeah." She nodded. "And why don't you look the least bit surprised?"

Glen smiled and looked at the pictures again, this time slower. He paused at the last one, the closest one. He did not know the man who stood there smiling, but there was something about him, something vague...

"Mind if I borrow this?"

"Borrow?" Kayla asked surprised. "Why? Do you know who he is?"

Glen hesitated. "No..."He shook his head. "But I might know someone who does." And now that he'd thought about it, he knew it was true. It was Jamie he had thought of. Although the man had light hair and blue eyes, there was a certain resemblance that could not be denied.

8

Jamie sat at the kitchen table and tugged her boots on for the second time that day. Mark had worked on her Jeep for two hours before the snow began falling so hard it was nearing on impossible to see inside the engine compartment. He'd left off until it slowed down again. Currently he was upstairs taking a shower. Jamie had glanced through the sliding doors to the backyard, had seen the deck, and had wanted to go out for just a few minutes to enjoy watching the snow. Unlike the night before, when the wind had whipped the snow into drifts, it fell now in straight white curtains.

She tugged her coat on and slid the door open. After sitting near the fireplace for the past fifteen minutes, it felt even colder out than before. She closed the door behind her and stepped against the rail, knocking snow off as she leaned on it to peer into the yard.

Something cold touched her neck. Jamie rubbed at it absently, a shiver crawling down her spine. She tugged her coat collar tighter around her neck to prevent snow from falling inside. The lights from the house behind her didn't illuminate far into the snow. Night was falling, she was sure of that as trees at the edge of the property darkened from gray to black.

She carefully stepped from the deck to the ground, mindful that she did not know the terrain under the snow. She'd seen the front of the house plenty earlier when she was outside with Mark, now she was curious about the back. Jamie walked through the snow and turned to face the rear of the house. She could see a light on in one of the bedrooms upstairs, and all of the lights downstairs. The flying flakes made it look as if the house were in the center of a snow globe.

Jamie glanced around and vaguely made out a depression in the ground, obviously a pool. She circled around it once, keeping an eye on the woods. All of those damned stories of John's were coming back to her. Most of them started with it being a 'dark and stormy night'. She had to smile at the memory of him, even if thinking about him eventually led her to cry.

Again something cold touched her neck and caused her to shiver. Jamie rubbed at her nape absently, wondering how the snow managed to penetrate her hair to touch her skin. There was a soft noise from behind her and Jamie slowly turned to look at the line of trees.

The noise grew louder. Jamie found herself face to face, once again, with a wolf. From the looks of it, the very same one from the night before. It wasn't actually growling this time, but it was making some strange noise in its throat that sent goosebumps up her arms. Jamie stepped backward and watched as the wolf matched her distance. It snarled silently at her, exposing rows of teeth.

Jamie stepped back again, not taking her eyes off the wolf. Again it matched her. She debated whether to stand her ground or run for the house. The wolf wasn't going to give her time to think it over. It suddenly growled and jumped, leaping through the falling snow straight toward her.

Something pushed her.

Jamie nearly fell on her face as she was shoved forward, closer to the wolf. But apparently it worked. She dropped to one knee and caught herself with her hands as the wolf tried to turn in midair. It landed with a thud at the spot where Jamie had been standing. It whined and snarled, this time growling as it did, already spinning around for another attack. Again she felt hands, pushing at her shoulders. Jamie had time to notice that no one was there, it was just her and the wolf, as she stood up and turned back to the animal.

It hunkered down in the snow, on its haunches, ready to leap at her again. Jamie gasped for breath, surprised at how tired she felt all of a sudden. The wolf stood between her and the house now. Running for it just got a little harder.

The wolf jumped. Once again, hands pushed her, this time to the left. Jamie fell down and slid in the snow, coughing as some went into her mouth. The wolf missed again, but it was quicker this time. It snapped itself sideways and caught her on the leg, its sharp teeth cutting through her jeans and into her skin. Jamie didn't think, she reacted, kicking her foot and catching the wolf on the shoulder. It was knocked aside long enough for her to regain her feet in the snow. Her injury burned but it seemed far away. Jamie began backing toward the house once more, limping without realizing it.

The wolf shook off her kick and growled at her again. Jamie wished she had some kind of weapon. Even a branch would have made her feel better. Her bitten leg throbbed, and she nearly fell down again. The wolf readied itself to jump at her again. Jamie prepared herself to be knocked sideways or backwards or even into the snow filled pool. Instead, Mark was suddenly stepping between her and the growling animal.

Apparently he hadn't been out of the shower long. He wore a pair of jeans and boots that were not laced, as if he'd put them on in a hurry. His long hair was still dripping water. He'd skipped a shirt. Jamie idly thought that he must be freezing. She dropped to her knees again, wondering why her leg refused to hold her up.

Mark kept his eyes on the wolf. It had stopped growling. Instead of attacking, it suddenly whined and lowered its head. In a moment it was as if the wolf had never been there, it had gone so fast back into the woods. Mark debated on chasing it, but he would not leave Jamie alone. He turned to see her sitting in the snow, swaying a little.

"You all right?"He asked, kneeling down beside her and brushing her dark hair back from her face.

"I need a nap. That thing bit me." Jamie's voice sounded faraway and dreamy. Mark, unmindful of the snow melting against his bare skin, gently rolled her onto her side. The wolf had gotten her just below the knee in the rounded upper curve of her calf. Her jeans were soaked with blood. He had no doubt her boot was full as well. It was a deep bite. She was probably getting loopy from blood loss.

"Come on, let's get you inside darlin'." Mark gathered her up against his chest and stood, cradling her against him. Jamie let her head rest against his shoulder. She winced as her leg swung with every step he took, but she wasn't going to complain. At least she wasn't having to walk back through the snow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I didn't know this was even back here." Kayla said as Glen drove through the trees.

"Maybe you're not the explorer you thought you were." He said with a smile. In truth he was kind of nervous about taking her to the house. She'd insisted though. It as the only way she would let him take the pictures.

All of the downstairs lights were on. Glen brought the SUV to a halt and turned off the engine, getting the distinct and undeniable feeling that something was wrong. Kayla could barely keep up as he hurried to the front door.

"Where's the fire?" She asked as he opened the door and let her in. She got a brief glimpse of a huge living room with a fireplace before Glen took her hand and pulled her though the house.

"Mark?" Glen called out instead of answering.

"Kitchen..." A voice replied. Kayla was all but dragged through a doorway. There they both stopped and gaped.

"What the hell happened?" Glen asked, letting go of Kayla to go to the table.

Mark shook his head, grabbing a pair of scissors from the table. He'd carried Jamie into the kitchen and had set her down on the table. She had told him what to get. He'd spent several long minutes gathering bandages, gauze pads, peroxide, scissors, needle and thread, tape and bourbon. Glen had come in just minutes after the wolf had attacked her.

"You all right, Jamie?" Glen asked her, moving around the table so Mark would have more light.

"I'm great. In a lot of fucking pain, other than that it's all roses." She sounded angry. Glen couldn't help but smirk at her tone.

After her initial shock had worn off, Jamie had gone into what she thought of as nurse mode. Even if the patient was herself, some habits died hard. She'd practically barked orders at Mark. He had been surprised but he'd done what she'd asked of him.

"Get her boot off, would ya?" Mark said to no one in particular as he began cutting up the side of Jamie's jeans with the scissors. Kayla was on the right side, so she stepped forward and unzipped it before pulling it from Jamie's foot. Blood spilled onto the tile floor.

"What a waste of money." Jamie said, eying the ruined leather. She sighed dramatically. "You got that yet?"

"Hold your horses..." Mark said, splitting the material of her jeans up to the thigh. He cut off the fabric and tossed it to the floor.

"Fuck...what the hell..." Glen said, peering at her leg as Mark slowly turned it to look at her wound.

"She was outside. Wolf jumped her." Mark said, studying her leg. The wolf had taken one hell of a bite. Blood ran in a near steady stream onto the table, "I don't think you're gonna be able to get this stitched. Not with needle and thread anyway."

"Doesn't matter. Got to get a tourniquet on it before we do anything else." Jamie watched as Mark raised an eyebrow and looked to Glen. She rolled her eyes. "I said get something to tourniquet, did you not hear me?"

"I was kind of in a rush." Mark pointed out at her sarcastic tone.

"Hellfire..." Jamie pushed herself up, hissing as her leg moved. She reached out and without a word grabbed the waistband of Mark's jeans. More specifically his belt. She yanked and got it open and off before he realized what she was doing. With a moan of pain, she looped it around her leg above the knee and pulled it tight. In a moment the blood flow had dramatically slowed. "This won't work for long. Got to hurry up and get it packed and bandaged. Gimme the booze."

Glen handed her the bottle. "We have rubbing alcohol upstairs..."

"We've got peroxide for cleaning it." Jamie said, spinning the cap off the bottle. "What you don't have are painkillers. This'll do it for now though." With that she brought the bottle to her lips and tilted her head, taking several deep swallows.

"Isn't alcohol a blood thinner?" Kayla piped up, still holding the boot. She was completely lost, but from the amount of blood on the table she knew it was bad.

"At this point it doesn't matter..." Jamie said, her eyes watering as the bourbon burned her throat. "Shit hurts like a bitch. Here..." She reached down and shoved the bottle of peroxide toward Mark. "Dump it on."

Mark opened the bottle, hesitated, and poured some of the clear liquid onto the wound. Jamie involuntarily jerked her leg back, sucking in sharp breaths as it felt like knives were jabbed into the open skin. Glen reached over and held her still while Mark took a few gauze pads and began to clean out the hole on her leg more thoroughly.

Once Jamie was satisfied, she showed him how to soak the gauze and pack it into the wound. Glen grimaced watching, but apparently the bourbon was working to numb Jamie's senses. She barely flinched as Mark made sure every open bit of her injury was packed and covered. He took the bandages and without needing instruction on that part covered his packing job. He applied a liberal amount of waterproof tape, making sure that the bandages were going to be immobile.

Jamie took another healthy swig of bourbon and let her head fall back. "Still hurts like a mother fucker. I'm probably going to need rabies shots..."She brought her head back to normal and looked at the mess she'd made. "Good thing I'm not squeamish." She said it, but her voice sounded distant again.

"Does somebody want to tell me what the hell is going on?" Kayla asked, looking from Glen to the man next to him. Obviously his brother. He had quite a bit of blood on him, nearly as much as the girl on the table, but he was not injured. He looked at her for the first time before letting his eyes drift to Glen.

"I didn't know you were bringing company. I would have cleaned up."

Glen smiled. "Yeah, well. You doctored her. Guess the least I can do is lend a hand. Mark this is Kayla. Kayla, my brother Mark."

"Hi." Kayla said, waving the boot. "And what is going on?" She wasn't going to let it go.

"Long story." Glen muttered, gathering up what was left of Mark's supplies.

"She's bossy when she's injured." Mark said, getting a clean gauze pad and using it to clean blood from Jamie's leg.

"She's not asleep, so don't talk about her like she is." Jamie said crossly, easing her leg to the side so she could look at Mark's handiwork.

The corner of Mark's mouth lifted in a half-smile. "You need anything else?"

"Yeah, to get my fuckin' leg back from that damn wolf." Jamie took another sip of bourbon.

"A wolf did this?" Kayla asked.

"Yep." Jamie eyed her. "Who are you again?"

"I'm Kayla." She glanced at the boot in her hand. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Shoot." Jamie said instead of staying yes.

"How the hell did you get his belt off him one-handed in two seconds flat?" Kayla pointed to Mark. Jamie raised an eyebrow and watched as Mark's face took on a faint red tint.

"Years of dealing with drunks in the ER." Jamie made her point by taking another drink herself. "Here, take this away from me before I drink the whole thing." She held the bottle out. Mark took it and set it aside. He turned back to her, looking at her with concern. Kayla glanced at Glen and saw his knowing smile. She wondered just what in the hell she'd wandered into here. Pictures of a ghost and now this craziness.

"We'll explain what we can." Glen had come to her side. He took the boot from her finally. "I'll try to get this cleaned up too."

"I'm taking Jamie upstairs. She needs to get some rest." Mark said, leaning down to lift Jamie against his chest.

"You'd better not tell her anything that I don't know. I will be pissed if you do." Jamie warned as she yawned.

"I'll take it under consideration." Mark shook his head and carried her out of the room. Upstairs he hesitated before turning to his own door. He'd started a fire there earlier, so it was warmer than the guest room where he'd put her that morning.

Mark started to lay her on the bed but Jamie shook her head. "I'm gonna get blood everywhere if you put me here. I need to change clothes."

"You think you can with your leg hurting?"Mark asked, looking into her eyes.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Let me down and we'll see."

Mark slowly released her legs and heard her breath hiss in when she tried to put weight on the right one. "Maybe Glen's friend can help you..."

"No, don't bother them. Shit that hurts..." Jamie clutched Mark's shoulder in a death grip. "Do you have more scissors up here?"

"Yeah, in the bathroom." Mark said, ignoring the feel of her fingernails against his bare skin.

"Good. Get 'em, finish cutting my jeans off, and then go and get me some pajamas. Easy. Just get me over to your window seat for now. At least I can take the cushions off in case I bleed all over it."

Mark did as she asked, making sure she was steady before disappearing into his bathroom. When he came back, Jamie had leaned sideways with her eyes closed. He stooped down and slid the scissors under the material of her jeans. With a few cuts he was at the waistband. He reached down and took off her remaining boot, and very carefully tugged her destroyed jeans from her uninjured leg.

"Sit tight..." He said, giving her knee a gentle squeeze. Jamie nodded as he got up and walked off. She could hear him moving, but kept her eyes shut. Her leg was throbbing again, but the alcohol she'd consumed had left her pleasantly buzzed. She knew it was the blood loss that was making her so sleepy. The best thing to do was to rest. She would have Mark or Glen wake her up in a few hours to eat, to help rebuild what she'd lost.

"Here we go." Mark had returned. He carried a small plastic tub, a towel, and a washcloth. He also had a white t-shirt thrown over one shoulder. He dipped the washcloth in the tub and cleaned the rest of the blood from Jamie's leg. He peeled off her socks, and they joined her pants on the floor. He checked and was finally satisfied he'd gotten all the blood off of her. "You can wear this. Then you don't have to wait for me to find something of yours for you to sleep in."

Jamie opened her eyes to see him holding out the white shirt. She nodded and took it from him but didn't move to change. She felt light-headed suddenly. "I could sleep for a week."

"Not until you change." Mark said, taking the shirt back. He hesitated and reached out, touching the bottom edge of her shirt. Jamie looked at him nodded once. Mark lifted her shirt and she managed to get her arms out of it without too much trouble.

It was definitely hard to concentrate on the job at hand. Even if she'd almost gotten mauled to death by a wolf, Jamie was still one of the finest looking women he'd ever seen. And now she was sitting in front of him in nothing but a pair of panties and a lace bra. He swallowed and cleared his throat before taking the t-shirt and pulling it gently over her head. The white cotton shirt was huge on her, hiding her curves from sight. He should have been grateful for that, but he regretted the loss of all that smooth skin she'd exposed.

"Ugh..." Jamie twisted on the window seat, her arms going into the shirt. She finally pushed her hands back through with her bra dangling from her fingers. "I can not sleep wearing one of these things." She tossed it in the general direction of her other clothes. "Help me to bed would you? Before I pass out right here."

Mark smirked and lifted her once more. She wasn't heavy, so he didn't mind carrying her the short distance. He used one hand to throw the bed covers back before gently laying her on his pillows. Jamie rolled onto her side, grimaced, turned a bit more and muttered a thick 'thank you' before she dropped off into a deep sleep. Mark pulled the covers over her and watched her sleep for a few minutes, frowning as he worried. The wolf had almost gotten her, and right under his noise. The thought pissed him off.

9

Emma paced the kitchen, glancing every now and then at her watch. Her stomach rumbled, as if she needed a reminder that she hadn't eaten all day. Chris still wasn't back. Even given the condition of the roads, he should have returned hours before.

She'd gotten a fire started in the living room but could not sit still long enough to warm up. For a while she'd busied herself randomly cleaning things that didn't need to be cleaned. Now she just paced. She'd tried calling Chris on his cell phone, but he didn't answer. She was beginning to feel so isolated, it was ridiculous.

The front door rattled and opened. Emma sighed in relief as Chris came in, carrying several plastic bags. He smiled at her. "Barely made it out with my life. All the stores are like madhouses."

"I was scared to death. Why didn't you answer your phone?" Emma crossed her arms and glared at him. Chris raised his eyebrows, surprised she was angry.

"I didn't take it with me. It died and I couldn't find my car-charger." He put the bags down and stepped forward, pulling Emma against his chest. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"

"No..."Emma's voice was muffled. She clutched at his shirt. "I want to get out of here."

Chris chuckled and kissed the top of her head. "Seriously? It's a fuckin' mess out there. And the new snow is only making it worse."

She groaned in frustration. She couldn't make him understand what she was feeling because she didn't understand it. She was glad Chris was all right but could not shake the feeling of dread that had settled over her.

He pulled back and looked down, meeting her eyes. "You're really freaked out aren't you? What is wrong with you?"

"I don't know!" Emma pushed away from him and crossed the kitchen to the back door. "I don't know." She whispered it again as she watched the snow fall through the glass.

"Come on, Em. We'll figure it out. Let's eat, and then we can talk. Maybe we can come up with something, all right? Just...I don't like seeing you like this." Chris put his hands on her shoulders.

"I don't like being like this." She said softly, watching as her breath fogged the window. A cold chill made her squirm. She wished she could find out what was causing this feeling. She hated feeling so damned helpless.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hopefully this will do it." Glen set an armload of bags on the couch and shrugged out of his coat. He and Kayla had made yet another run into town. He'd bought a new pair of boots for Jamie, a new pair of jeans to replace the ones Mark had cut to shreds, and a ton of medical supplies. Since Jamie was sleeping, they'd just guessed at things they would need. It was Kayla's idea to grab a light aluminum crutch from one of the pharmacies.

It had been three hours since Mark had taken Jamie upstairs. Mark and Glen had scrubbed the kitchen until every last trace of blood was gone. They had made sandwiches that no one had felt like eating. The rest was just waiting. Mark had moved aimlessly from room to room, window to window, as if hoping to spot the wolf if it decided to return in the falling snow. Glen knew that was kind of pointless considering the visibility outside was less than two feet.

"Should we get her up?" Glen asked, unpacking the bags. He rattled a box of sterile gauze.

Mark shook his head. "She needs to rest. Give her another hour and then we'll have to change her dressing." He gathered up a handful of supplies and carried them into the kitchen to put them up. Glen shared a glance with Kayla.

"Shouldn't you consider maybe taking her to a hospital?" She asked, sorting through one of the bags.

Glen heaved a sigh. "It’s complicated."

"When is it ever not complicated?"

"I dunno. If you figure it out, you'll have to tell me." Glen smiled at her and finally stopped fiddling with the bags. "How about a drink?"

Kayla shrugged. "Sure." She followed him into the kitchen. Mark and Glen took a seat at the table while she stood near the sliding glass doors that led outside. The two men didn't seem to be in a mood to talk, so Kayla didn't bother them. Instead she amused herself by puffing her breath across the glass to fog it, and drawing patterns in the fog before it disappeared.

"You're going to have to clean that off you know." Glen said conversationally, watching with a smirk as Kayla ignored him and did it again.

"You guys need a television. Or a radio at the very..." She trailed off. Mark and Glen both looked at her expectantly. "What is this?"

"What is it?" Glen half rose from his seat, almost expecting to see the wolf charging the door. Instead there was nothing but swirling snow. Until Kayla stepped to the side. She pointed at the window. There was nothing there.

"Wait...watch..." Kayla leaned close long enough to puff out a soft breath. It faded quickly at the heat from the kitchen. But on the outside of the window more fog appeared, puffing across the window from left to right in a wide swathe.

Glen and Mark once more shared a look. They were not nearly as freaked out by it as Kayla was, and maybe freaked was not the word. She'd taken pictures of a ghost earlier after all. She puffed another breath out. This time the fog on the outside of the window covered nearly all of the upper half of glass. There was a soft squeak, the sound of a finger being dragged across wet glass. A line appeared in the fog.

Kayla stepped away as the fog puffed across the window again. Mark and Glen had both risen to their feet as more lines appeared drawn on the window. "How the hell..." Kayla managed to breath out. The lines were joining, forming words. She didn't want to believe it, but there it was. She wished she had her camera with her. It was in her coat pocket in the living room, but she did not want to walk away. Who knew how long this would keep going?

The lines came together. There was one last puff and the fog on the outside once more became stark and white. A gasping noise behind them made all three in the kitchen turn around. Jamie was standing there, her face white, leaning against the wall for support as she stared at the words on the window.

"Hello, Jimmie." Mark said it out loud. That was what had been written on the window in staggered letters. He looked to Jamie with a frown of worry on his face before stepping near her in case she fell down.

She ignored him for the time being, watching as the words on the window began to fade. The fog once more puffed across the glass, making the message easier to read. "How did...what..."

"What is it?" Mark asked softly, taking her elbow and helping her as she stepped closer to the door. She favored her injured leg, and it must have been hell getting down the steps but no sign of pain crossed her features. Instead, tears of sadness welled in her eyes, turning their soft gray stormy.

"Jimmie was...my brother...he used to call me Jimmie..." She had trouble putting together the words, and forgot about her leg. She put her full weight on it and nearly fell to the floor. She looked up at Mark. "What kind of trick is this?"

"It's not a trick, Jamie." He said, shaking his head.

"We all saw it happen. By itself." Kayla put in, watching as the fog once more began to fade. It puffed out again, left to right, renewing the message. "I think he wants you to say hi back."

"Is it..." Jamie turned her attention back to the door. "John?" More fog appeared on the window. There was one soft squeak, and the letter 'y' appeared. Jamie sucked in a breath. "Hi John...oh...what is..." She couldn't finish. She grabbed onto one of the chairs at the table and managed to collapse into it instead of onto the floor. The fog puffed brighter again, highlighting the message. "What the hell is going on?" Jamie finally asked, her voice sounding watery to her own ears. A tear slid down her cheek and she angrily wiped it away.

There were more squeaking sounds from the window. They all watched as more words formed there.

"What does that mean?" Kayla asked, looking to Jamie. "I know the message, why do I get the feeling the tone is sarcastic?"

The words 'you're welcome' had appeared under the original message. Jamie made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob, shaking her head.

"Was that you? Outside earlier?" Again the letter 'y' appeared. "I should have known. You were always so damned pushy..." She sniffled and rubbed her temples. "How is this happening?"

"He wanted to talk to you, I guess." Glen said, watching as the fog dimmed and reappeared. As if whatever it was outside was merely waiting for Jamie to continue her conversation.

"We can't let you in. You know that right?" Mark said in a low voice, causing the two women to look at him, identical expressions of surprised confusion on their faces. There was a hesitation, and a line appeared under the second 'y'.

"What do you mean...we can't let him in?" Jamie asked slowly. "And what are you talking about when you say it?"

Mark shared another look with Glen. "If we let him in, we leave the house open for any kind of spirit that wants to get in. You can't open a doorway for just one, it doesn't work like that. At least, at this house it doesn't."

"I don't get it." Jamie looked from Mark to Glen. "Are you saying this kind of thing happens a lot?"

Glen nodded. "More than either of us care for."

"Is John still out there?" She asked, looking to the window. The fog had faded. At her question it reappeared and another line was drawn under the 'y'. She laughed, although it sounded harsh. "This is scaring the absolute hell out of me."

The fog puffed. The window squeaked. The words 'sorry Jimmie' appeared from nowhere. Jamie slowly rose to her feet and ignored Mark's offered helping hand. She limped painfully to the door until her nose was just a few inches away. "Why can't I see you?" She asked softly. There was nothing to see outside but blowing snow.

The window squeaked. The word 'weak' appeared. Jamie let her head rest against the window for a moment, the icy glass cooling her forehead. "Because of what you did earlier?" Another line under the 'y'. Jamie put her hand to the glass and felt tears course down her cheeks.

"I wonder why he hasn't moved on. You said he died in an accident, right?" Glen asked from behind her. Jamie nodded slowly.

"He fell and..." There was a sharp knock on the window in front of her. She jumped and laughed. "He still interrupts me. He's been dead for years and he's still rude as shit." The message that had begun stopped. Fog puffed up right in front of Jamie's nose. The words 'ha ha' appeared as if by magic. That made her laugh even more. Again there was a light knock on the glass and squeaks as yet another message appeared. 'NO ACCIDENT'. In all capitals. As if it were important. There was a moment of silent hesitation, and the word 'pushed' appeared.

Jamie turned her head to look at the at Mark, Glen and Kayla. "But I thought..."

"Why haven't you moved on, John?" Mark asked. This time the hesitation was longer. Jamie worried that John had left until the squeaking started again. 'Protect Jimmie'. A line appeared under it. And another one. As if it were more important than the fact she was for all intents and purposes sharing notes with her long dead brother. Jamie felt more tears threatening. Mark studied the message. "Are you saying you have to protect her? Or are you telling us to?"

'BOTH'. Again with the capitals. The fog started to dissipated. All of the messages began to fade. "John?" Jamie whispered it. There was nothing for several long minutes. She almost turned away when a small patch of it returned. The squeaking started again. 'Weak' and 'tired' appeared followed by 'rest now'. It ended with a scribbled J that Jamie would have recognized anywhere. It was how John signed off on everything, from paychecks to the rare letter he wrote. The feeling of a presence, of John, disappeared along with his last words. Jamie held her hand against the glass until her palm went numb from the cold, waiting to see if he was truly finished.

"He's gone." Mark said softly, taking her hand and leading her back to the table.

"How do you know?" She sank down, suddenly aware of her aching leg and the stares she was getting from the others. She took a napkin that Glen held out to her and wiped her still watery eyes.

Mark sat down next to her and motioned for Kayla to join them. He only wanted to have to go through this once. And even that was too much. When everyone was settled he looked at Glen before reluctantly speaking.

"Ever since we were kids, we had this weird...ability..." He faltered on the word, as if unsure of it. Glen nodded him on. "Our mom was something of a psychic. None of the obvious guessing shit either, she was the real deal. Hell by the time we were in school we'd seen more kids who were dead than living ones. Mom helped them..."

"She called it 'crossing eternity'." Glen supplied. "The spirits were somehow pulled to her, and she figured out what it was they needed to send them to wherever they were supposed to go."

"So is that what the two of you are doing?" Kayla asked, her eyebrow raised, not sure if she was believing what she was hearing.

"Almost." Mark said, looking at Jamie. "Glen and I were different from the beginning. Because some of the ghosts were afraid of us."

"I know some cage fighters that would be afraid of you two." Kayla said with a smirk.

"Not because of our size. We were kids back then, and it's been happening since we were old enough to realize that the people we were seeing in our house weren't actually there at all." Glen said, grinning.

"Which ones were afraid?" Jamie asked softly. Obviously not John, since he'd been right in their faces, scribbling on their window.

"The bad ones." Mark licked his lips and shook his head. "Some...most...of the spirits Mom dealt with were not bad, just confused. Some just needed to be told they were dead. Some of them needed to say goodbye. But there were a few..."

"The bad ones." Glen took over. "There was one, he'd been killed in prison. He was in prison for torturing and killing six women. Some of them, when they are evil in life, they get stuck in a loop and they want to continue doing what they had done before. And why not? There wasn't a cop in the world who could catch them. It takes a lot of energy for a ghost to make a person feel their presence. Even more to hurt a living person. But for the really evil ones, its like their battery is always charged."

"So how did you get rid of him?" Jamie asked, studying him curiously.

The brothers met eyes again. Mark sighed. "You're not going to like this part." He muttered it softly but she still heard. He cleared his throat. "We were like Mom in a way, because we could actually see the ghosts. Most people can't unless they are connected in some way. But we were unlike Mom because we could actually touch the spirits. If you had seen your brother and you tried to hug him you'd fall right through him. Unless he had the energy to make himself solid for you. Like he apparently did earlier in the day." He looked pointedly at Jamie. She smiled.

"There wasn't time to tell the story."

"There is now. Anyway..." Mark's lips curved into a smirk. "We didn't need them to have the energy. If we could see them, we could touch them. And hurt them. And to get rid of the evil ones, sometimes we have to do things that we normally would not do."

"Things such as..." Kayla prodded.

"Killing them again. Most spirits don't realize they're dead, or they're pissed that they are, and the only thing that works is if we destroy the spirit completely." Mark said, meeting her eyes.

Glen was nodding. "You would think since they are a spirit we couldn't hurt them, but if Mark or I put our minds to it...they're gone in a puff of smoke. They don't move on. Mom always called it the otherworld. That's where the worst of them got sent after we dealt with them. She sensed it was a version of Hell that no human being could imagine. If they go willingly, if they cross, even the evil ones, they just wink out. Job done, collect the afterlife reward I guess. If they fight it, they go to otherworld."

"What about guys like John?" Jamie asked. "Is sticking around this long a version of fighting it?"

Mark shook his head. "No...it’s different when a spirit hangs around to do damage. John apparently has unfinished business. Whether that is making sure you are kept safe or finding out what really happened to him, we'll have to ask him when he comes back. He's not one of the bad ones."

"So what is going on here that Jamie needs protection?" Kayla asked. Mark and Glen shrugged at the same time.

"Hard telling." Mark said.

"Don't know." Glen spoke at the same time. "The wolf..."

"Obviously doing work for someone else." Mark nodded.

"Hold up...what?" Jamie rubbed her head again.

"Some spirits have an affinity for animals. Usually with a good spirit, it's a cat or dog. A domestic pet. The bad ones always get the animals with a bit more vicious bite."Glen said with a smile.

"Punny." Jamie rolled her eyes. "So you think that wolf that took a chunk out of my leg was doing it because some evil demon spirit told it to?"

Mark shrugged. "Its possible. Although we haven't ever seen a demon." He pointed out.

"Well that's a comforting thought on a cold night." Jamie couldn't keep the sarcasm from her voice. "What the hell could any kind of evil spirit want from me?"

"That's what we have to figure out." Mark reached over and impulsively took her hand, soothing her a little as his fingers traced circles over her skin. "Generally, when this happens, its because the spirit knew you while it was living, and it had you marked for something. Sort of their own version of unfinished business."

"Wait, wait, hold up." Kayla broke into their conversation. "I saw the wolf too. Last night in the woods. Does that mean I'm a target?"

"Maybe. Maybe not." Mark sighed again. "It could be it was stalking you, it could also be that it was looking for Jamie and it ran across you first. It was trying to figure out if you were the one it wanted to begin with."

"What about David?" Jamie asked.

"A friend of ours. We've known him for a long time. He's good at finding the ones who are in trouble and bringing them to where they can get help." Glen answered that one. "Although you must have struck him as something special if he brought you here. Mark and I have been...semi-retired...for a while now."

"How the hell do you almost retire from talking to ghosts?" Jamie asked.

"You find a place away from people and you mark the house so the spirits can't enter unless you invite them. Sometimes it's as simple as asking them to come in. Sometimes you have to use tools. A Ouija board works, or tarot cards." Glen smiled. "This house is protected. And it was a nice vacation. But I gotta admit, I did miss it. Just a little bit."

"I am so confused right now." Jamie said, shaking her head. Kayla smiled at her.

"I'm your vice president in that club." She stretched and yawned. "I need to head back to my house soon. As engrossing as this has been, I'm about done for the day."

"You're not going back there." Glen said.

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, really. That wolf followed you. We don't know why. So you'll stay here too. Until we figure out what's going on." Glen's tone told them all there would be no argument. Kayla shrugged and smiled at him.

"I need to change my bandage." Jamie had been looking at her injured leg while Glen had lectured Kayla. For the first time Mark noticed that she was still wearing his t-shirt. The white gauze was red in a few places, but it didn't look too bad.

"We got some stuff." Mark helped her to her feet while Kayla went to the living room for the crutch. Jamie got it adjusted and thumped around the kitchen, checking out their supplies.

"All right. Once again, what do you people have against painkillers?" Jamie grouched, noticing there wasn't even a bottle of aspirin on the counter.

"I didn't even think about it." Glen said with a laugh at the look on her face. Mark offered her another shot of bourbon but Jamie shook her head. She kept handing things to him to hold for her. He had an armload already.

"I think the booze has done all it's going to do. Maybe tomorrow someone will drive me to the clinic on the other side of town and I can get some good stuff. Until then I will suffer." She held out a roll of gauze to Mark. "You ready to do this?" He nodded and cast a look toward his brother, who was doing his best not to grin at Jamie's tone of voice. Without a word, Kayla and Glen vacated the kitchen so that Mark could settle Jamie on the table again. He grimly set to work, knowing that she was probably going to be asking for the alcohol before he could get all the tape off her leg.

10

Jamie sat on the leather couch in the living room, her leg elevated by several pillows. Glen and Kayla were on the floor, each taking turns reading out of a book of the most god-awful jokes any of them had ever heard. They were so dumb that they had to be laughed at. After taking care of Jamie's leg, Mark had slipped into a brooding silence that Glen hadn't been able to bring him out of. He'd gone upstairs for reasons unknown to any of them.

"You have a nice voice. Here, read this to me." Kayla had snatched the joke book from Glen's hands and pushed another book into them. He glanced at it with a grimace.

"Charlotte's Web?" Glen scoffed. "I didn't even know this was in there."

"Somebody is denying their inner child." Jamie said with a laugh.

Mark rejoined them just as Glen got to the beginning of the second chapter. He raised an eyebrow as he took a seat on the couch near Jamie's legs. He looked at her bandage, smoothing the tape where a corner had peeled up. Jamie smiled at him and pretended not to notice as he absently rubbed her leg as he listened to Glen reading.

At chapter three Glen took a break to grab a drink. Kayla held his place in the book. "I cry at the end every time. I'm such a freakin' sap." She smiled as Jamie laughed at her.

"I'm a sympathy crier. Fair warning."

"You'd have to be heartless not to..." Kayla trailed off. "Somebody's outside. I saw headlights." She pointed at the windows to her side. Glen had come back carrying a glass of water. He went to the window and peered through the glass.

"Oh. Great." His voice was utterly unreadable. "It's Miranda."

"Who is Miranda?"Kayla asked, picking up the book and waving it in Glen's direction.

"A friend of Mark's." Glen snickered and took the book before Kayla hit him on the leg with it and carried it with him to the door.

Jamie looked at Mark curiously. He had stopped rubbing her leg. He got to his feet as Glen answered a light knock.

"Hey Miranda...why are you out driving in this mess?" Glen greeted, his friendliness sounding forced even to Jamie and Kayla. The woman didn't seem to care. She smiled and stepped inside.

"Thought I would pay a visit to Mark." Miranda glanced around, her dark eyes taking in Jamie and Kayla. "That is if he's not too busy." She said it pointedly, her eyes lingering on Jamie especially.

Mark shared a look with Glen before motioning for Miranda to follow him to the kitchen. She didn't greet anyone. Jamie raised an eyebrow and looked at Kayla, who was obviously biting her cheek to keep from making some sarcastic comment.

"She seems friendly." Jamie said in a whisper, supplying her own sarcasm. Usually she was pretty good about holding back but after the day she'd had, she didn't give a damn.

"Friendly as a polar bear. Excuse me, Glen, you were reading." Kayla reminded him. He smirked and sat down on the floor once more, picking up where he left off. Jamie's attention was torn. She kept wondering who Miranda was and what she wanted with Mark. She knew she had absolutely no right to question it, it wasn't as if she and Mark were an item after all.

Glen got through half a chapter before Kayla made him stop again. She got up to use the bathroom, forcing him to wait until she got back to continue reading. He smiled as she left and turned his eyes to Jamie. She was shifting awkwardly on the couch, trying to sit up against the arm without disturbing her injured leg or hike her shirt up too far.

He helped her without her asking and knelt down next to her. "Don't worry about her."

"About who?" She asked, settling herself on her pillows again.

"Miranda." He kept his voice down to nearly a whisper. "She and Mark had a...a thing. I don't even wanna call it a relationship."

"Does she know about you two?" Jamie asked, voice equally low.

Glen hesitated before nodding. "She's got a bit of the same thing. She can hear them talking. She can't usually see them, and she's clueless when it comes to helping them."

"Oh."

"Don't let her bother you."

"Why would she bother me?"

"I'm just sayin'..."

"You two sharing secrets without me?"Kayla reentered the room.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Glen shared a grin with Jamie as he got on the floor once more. "Now do you want me to read this or are you going to need a glass of water and your jammies?"

"Ha. Smartass." Kayla sat down next to Glen. They were leaning on the couch in front of Jamie instead of sprawled on the floor. Kayla let her head rest against his arm as he continued reading.

He really did have a perfect reading voice, soothing and deep. Jamie forced thoughts of Mark and Miranda to the side and paid attention. At least until she saw the two of them heading up the stairs without a word to anyone in the living room. Fifteen minutes passed. And then half an hour. Glen paused in his reading once more to see if anybody wanted a snack. Jamie agreed without actually hearing him. He went to the kitchen to get some popcorn for them all, and drinks. Jamie asked Kayla if she could scrounge up a blanket. She wasn't cold, but Jamie wanted to cover up anyway. She hadn't felt the least bit uncomfortable before Miranda had shown up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You can't be serious."

Mark stood near the door with his arms crossed over his chest. He watched as Miranda stalked around the room, taking in the pile of clothes in the floor and the rumpled bed.

"It isn't what it looks like." Mark said, keeping his amusement to himself.

"Oh?" Miranda picked up Jamie's lace bra by the strap, looked at it, and dropped it distastefully. "I realize I'm in no position to tell you how to live your life, but honestly Mark, I thought you'd know better than to get starry-eyed over one of your little projects."

"She's not a project." He stated simply. "She needs help. We're helping her."

"It's obvious you want to do more than help her." Miranda moved to stand in front of him. "I see your brother managed to find another lady to keep him warm at night. I'm surprised to see you going that path though."

"I'm not going on any path." Mark sighed heavily. "Is this all you wanted?"

"No, what I wanted was to come down and spend the night. I can see that I'm an unwelcome presence." Miranda's tone grew cold. "You'll call me when she's all sorted and gone out of your life. You always do. If you can sort this one."

"Have you heard something?"

"No. I haven't tried. I just had a feeling that something was going on here, and I'm not surprised that I'm right." Miranda motioned at the door. "I'm leaving. Since you are so preoccupied with that girl, I'm not even going to try this tonight."

"That girl has a name." Mark said, keeping the anger he was feeling out of his voice. He opened the door so Miranda could step out.

"It doesn't matter. I don't think she'll be around long enough for me to learn it." Miranda grinned with absolutely no humor. It turned her beautiful face ugly. Mark sighed as he followed her down the stairs and to the front door.

She didn't bother saying goodnight to anyone. Miranda cast one last look at Mark before she closed the door behind her. Mark heard her car start and turned toward the living room. Glen was still reading, Kayla was cuddled next to him, and Jamie was covered in a blanket on one side of the couch. He would have to make Glen move if he wanted to sit next to her. Mark thought it would be best if he didn't bother. Kayla had given him a questioning smile but Jamie hadn't even looked his way since he'd returned. He sank down and listened as Glen read on, undisturbed by Miranda's departure.

Glen decided to stop when he noticed Kayla yawning. It was getting late, and if that day had been any indication, tomorrow would be quite busy. He was a little tired himself. He marked his page and got up stretching.

"So what are sleeping arrangements?" Kayla asked, following his lead. Glen shrugged as Mark excused himself to go into the kitchen.

"Can you help me up the stairs to the guest room?" Jamie asked, slowly working herself to her feet. Her foot actually. She held most of her weight on her left leg. Glen nodded, wondering why she hadn't asked Mark. Then it struck him. Miranda. He bit back a smirk and wrapped an arm around Jamie's back, helping as she limped to the stairs.

"We only have the one guest room." Glen said in Kayla's direction. She grinned.

"Oh and I suppose you think that means I'll share with you?" She joked as she followed them up the stairs.

"I was hoping." He winked at her. Jamie laughed softly at that.

"We haven't even had a real first date yet, and already he's trying to get me into bed."Kayla muttered.

"You can sleep with me." Jamie spoke up. "I won't require you to put out."

"Hey...it wasn't a requirement." Glen said as the women giggled. He'd sensed Jamie's turn in mood and was glad to hear her laugh. "And I can always take the couch."

"Nope, I don't want to put you out. Or put out." Kayla followed them as Glen led Jamie into the guest room. "As long as Jamie doesn't mind, I'll stay in here for tonight. Somebody should be with her in case she needs to go to the bathroom or something."

Jamie nodded. Although earlier she had hoped that person would be Mark. Now she didn't even want to look at him.

"Suit yourselves. Although if you two decide to do some girl on girl stuff, come get me so I can watch." Glen laughed at their giggles and dropped a brotherly kiss on the top of Jamie's head. He repeated the gesture on Kayla.

"Aw, I feel special." She said, smiling at him. "Oh...can you bring me something to sleep in?" In all the action of the day, she hadn't even considered the fact that she didn't have an overnight bag.

"I have pajamas you can wear..." Jamie said, hobbling to the bed. She pointed to her bags in the corner before collapsing onto her pillows.

"See you two in the morning." Glen smiled and headed out the door as Kayla went to Jamie's bags.

"You sure you don't mind?" Kayla asked.

"Of course not. It's not like you want to borrow underwear."

The comment had Kayla laughing again. "Don't worry, I won't ask. I am going to take a shower though. Do you need anything first?"

Jamie snuggled under the comforter and shook her head. "I'm good for now." She yawned. "Hopefully I'll sleep for ten hours and the world will make sense again."

"I'll cross my fingers for you. And I'll try not to wake you up. Good night." With that Kayla shut herself into the bathroom.

Jamie stared into the empty fireplace for a few minutes, lost in thought. A knock came at the door and she absently said 'come in'. Mark entered the room and looked in the direction she was gazing.

"You want me to start a fire?" He asked, walking toward the bed. Jamie shook her head and shrugged.

"Don't care either way."

"I thought I'd check your bandage one more time..."

"It's fine." Jamie still hadn't looked at him. She seemed to be lost in her own thoughts.

Mark stood uncertainly for a minute before turning to the fireplace and busying himself with getting a fire going. Jamie watched him in silence. She had no clue what to say, and besides that...she had no right to be angry with Mark. She didn't own the man, had barely known him for a day, yet she was acting like a lovesick teenager who had been wronged. She sighed and shifted a little, easing her leg into a new position.

"So was that really John talking to me earlier?"She asked softly.

Mark hesitated before answering. "Do you think it was?"

"I guess...it felt like him." She didn't know how to explain it. "Do you think he'll be back?"

"I know he will." Mark finally got the kindling to catch and built up the flames a bit before brushing his hands off and rising to his feet. "He's got unfinished business. He can't go anywhere until he's done."

"So he can pop up anytime, anywhere? And I'll be able to see him?"

He crossed to the bed and sat down on the edge next to her, careful of her leg. "That depends on how strong he is. He could need to rest for a few days. He could be full power in twenty minutes. There isn't any rhyme or reason to any of it, not that I've ever seen. Maybe he'll just leave you messages like he did tonight, maybe he'll appear and you'll see him. We won't know until it happens."

Jamie nodded. She still couldn't really wrap her mind around what had happened earlier. It was almost as if she'd dreamed it.

"Are you sure you'll be all right in here?" Mark asked, bringing her out of her thoughts. Jamie looked at him and nodded again.

"Kayla will be right here. And I can change my bandage myself. You should get some rest."

"Never had a need for much sleep." He said gruffly. "I was kinda figuring on keeping an eye on you tonight."

Jamie raised an eyebrow. "Is that why your friend didn't stay very long?" She hadn't wanted to bring Miranda up, but she couldn't help herself.

Mark rolled his eyes. "She didn't stay because she knew I didn't want her to."

"Oh." Jamie shrugged one shoulder and let her eyes go to the fire.

"Do you want me to explain her?" Mark asked, his voice low. The shower cut off and both of them looked toward the bathroom door.

"You don't have to explain anything to me. I was just curious."

"Ok...I guess...uh...good night. If the snow lets up I'll finish workin' on your Jeep tomorrow."

"I appreciate it." Jamie mumbled and closed her eyes. She'd never felt less sleepy in her life, but she knew Mark was uncomfortable which was making her feel the same. She should have kept her mouth shut.

He hesitated for a few moments before rising and leaving the room. Jamie shook her head, wondering what the hell had gotten into her. There was just too much going on to process anything as she normally would. She promised herself that she'd get a handle on her pointless jealousy. She had too much to deal with to add that to her list.

11

Jamie shifted uncomfortably in bed and opened her eyes. The fire had died down dramatically, and it was so dark in the room she could barely see. Kayla's deep breathing reminded her that she had someone else in the room. Gritting her teeth, she carefully sat up, putting her feet on the floor. Apparently she'd managed to move the wrong way while sleeping. Her injured leg throbbed with pain.

She managed to make it to the bathroom by holding onto furniture. Her leg was stiff and sore. Jamie managed to change out her pack and bandage without making too much noise. Kayla slept on, undisturbed. Jamie envied her that for a moment before slowly pulling on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. She grabbed her crutch and hobbled out of the room as silently as she could.

The house was silent. She had no clue what time it was. Jamie paused at the head of the stairs, wondering if she should just go and knock on doors. She shook her head to herself. If no one was up, she'd torture herself with a climb up the steps.

She made her way to the living room. The fire that burned there was burning hot and bright, so obviously someone had kept up with it. Jamie thumped into the kitchen and smiled at Glen, who was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in front of him.

"Mornin'." He sounded wide awake. Jamie sank down gratefully in the chair across from him and glanced around. The clock over the stove gave the time as five-forty.

"It's early."

"Something wrong?" Glen asked, sipping his steaming coffee.

"Besides being gnawed on and talking to a ghost? I'm great." Jamie said with a sigh. "Did you not sleep?"

"A little bit. Enough anyway. How about you?"

"My leg woke me up." Jamie gingerly touched the bandage through the material of her jeans. "I'm glad you're up actually. I wanted to see if you'd run me to the clinic so I could get checked out."

Glen raised an eyebrow. "You sure that's a good idea? There's bound to be a billion questions...not everyone is gonna understand what happened to you..." But Jamie was shaking her head.

"It's all right. I know everybody there. I worked there for a couple of years." She smiled. "I'll need some pain meds at the very least. And probably some shots. I want to get it over with. The clinic opens at eight, but most of them get there by six or so. I might be able to sweet talk my way into an appointment."

"Right." Glen nodded. He looked up at the ceiling. "You want me to get Mark to take you?"

Jamie shook her head. "Let him sleep. If he's sleeping. I just wanna get this over with." She repeated. Like many in her profession, she made a far better nurse than patient.

"All right. Need help with your boots or coat?"Glen asked, rising from the table.

"I think I can handle it. If not, I'll holler." She accepted the boots that Glen held out to her, a pair almost identical to the ones that were ruined by the blood. Jamie managed to tug them on, along with her coat.

While she did that, Glen had gone outside to warm up the SUV. He also knocked off the six inches of snow that had coated it overnight. Snow was still falling, but it was tapering off. She made a mental note to check out the weather forecasts before they headed back.

Glen helped her into the passenger before he slid behind the wheel. It was slow going. Apparently people had been out in the night...they saw several abandoned cars along the way, all of them so far off the road it was impossible to believe they had parked that way on purpose. Glen was careful though. In forty minutes they were pulling into the clinic parking lot.

There were four other cars already there. All were empty except for one. A woman was sitting behind the wheel of an older sedan, talking on a cell phone, waving her hands in agitation. Jamie didn't have to hear to know what she was upset about. She'd worked here long enough. Apparently someone else wanted an earlier appointment and wasn't getting the attention she thought she deserved. She could recall several occasions when people would call and start screaming curses at her just because she refused to unlock the doors until the clinic opened.

Glen gave her a hand down from the truck and waited, watching closely as she got her crutch settled under her. The snow made for slippery footing as they walked toward the building. Jamie led him toward the main entrance. Through the glass double doors he could see a reception and waiting area. A woman was seated at the desk, head bent as she studied some papers.

Jamie knocked on the door. The woman barely glanced up, did a double take, and a bright smile appeared on her face immediately knocking ten years from what Glen estimated was her age. Jamie waved and waited while the woman flipped the locks and opened the door.

"Jamie! I thought that was you!" The woman pulled Jamie in for a hug. Glen watched, amused, as the crutch fell to the floor. "Hurry up and get in here before a crowd follows you." The woman guided them into the waiting room, grinning from ear to ear. "Please tell me you're coming back to work, we could use all the help we can get."

Jamie smiled and shook her head. "No such luck. I'm strictly here as a patient today. Oh...Glen, this is Cora." Glen nodded and handed Jamie her crutch.

"Damn. What happened?" Cora became concerned.

"Dog bit me. Is Phillips here?"

"Ha. No, that blowhard is out on vacation. He couldn't have planned it better." Cora huffed and went behind the desk. "It's just me and Irvine until eight. We both stayed the night here."

"Ah. Is he busy?"

"Not yet. Doing paperwork and chugging coffee most likely. We didn't open yesterday, so everybody had to go to the ER. He showed up last night and got the generator going, and called to see if I'd come in. And I did." Cora smiled. "You go on back. I'll buzz him. He's in his office."

"Thanks." Jamie got her crutch settled and turned to Glen. "You can wait out here. I won't be too long." He looked as if he wanted to argue and thought better of it. It was a good thing. Jamie did not need anybody to hold her hand while she sat on an exam table.

Glen took a seat. Jamie pushed through a swinging door and limped down a brightly lit hallway. She gave the office a knock before opening the door. She was surprised to see there were two people in the room already.

"Jamie." Chris greeted her warmly, grinning at her. Jamie smiled back and let the door close behind her.

"Hey Chris. I didn't know you were already with somebody..." Jamie paused when Chris started shaking his head before she could finish.

"She's not a patient. Oh, you might remember her. This is Emma Jones. She did some temp work here off and on a few years back."

"Oh...right." Now that she had a name, the woman's face was familiar. She had spoken to Emma on several occasions as she helped switch the files from paper to computer. "I'm not interrupting anything am I?"

"Nope. Just trying to wake up." Chris gestured to several coffee cups scattered on his desk. "Our power got knocked out. It was either freeze or come here."

"Good thing you're here. Good for me anyway." Jamie gestured to her leg.

"Come on...we can go next door to the exam room." Chris took her arm and helped lead her back out of the office. He got Jamie settled on the exam table before turning to wash his hands. "So what happened?"

"Well...I was out wandering in the woods and a dog bit me." It was the simplest and least strange sounding explanation.

"Uh oh. Can you get the pants off?" He winked at her as he pulled on a pair of gloves. "So I can examine you, that is."

Jamie laughed and carefully slid from the table. Chris dutifully turned his back as she took her jeans off. She grabbed a towel from the rack next to the exam table to cover her lap, mostly out of habit. Once she had gotten back on the table, Chris turned and bent down to pull the bandage off her leg.

"Yikes. Really nailed you." He muttered more to himself that to her.

"Yeah. Tore my favorite pair of jeans too." Jamie grumbled, wincing as he exposed the wound. He ran his fingers lightly around, checking for obvious signs of infection.

"It looks all right, all things considered. You pack it yourself?"

"The last couple of times. I had some help though."

"Peroxide?"

"It was all they had."

"We can put a few stitches in it. Right here, right here..." He was pointed. Jamie craned her neck to see. "And you don't need to pack it anymore. Regular bandaging until it scabs over. How's the pain?"

"It only hurts when I move it. The rest of the time its sore."

"What do you want to take for it?"

"Wow...are you asking my professional opinion?" Jamie said with a laugh.

Chris raised an eyebrow and looked at her. "Surely you haven't forgotten the job."

"Of course not." Jamie smiled. "I'll take something strong so I can sleep at night without waking up every five minutes. And some ibuprofen for swelling."

"Good girl." Chris gave her leg a pat. "You sure you don't want your job back? I'll personally rehire you right now."

"You'll have to ask me again when I'm not dealing with a chewed up leg." Jamie said.

Twenty minutes later, Chris had her stitched, bandaged and taped. They went back into his office after Jamie got dressed so he could write out her prescriptions. Emma was toying with a laptop, looking tired and bored.

"So how did you get suckered into coming back?" Jamie asked as Chris scribbled away on his prescription pad.

"I wasn't suckered. I too am without power." Emma said with a smirk.

"Are they ever going to get it fixed?" Jamie asked. She snapped her fingers. "You live in that big house by the town line, right?"

"Yup." Emma laughed. She was used to people recognizing her house before they recognized her. Eric had it built to be talked about.

"My brother..." Jamie's voice caught for a moment. "Uh...anyway...he helped build it."

Emma smiled and let it pass without comment. She got the feeling it was a sore subject. Chris finished and held Jamie's prescriptions. She took them and put them in her pocket.

"Thanks for seeing me. And if you were serious about the job, I might be back. In a few weeks. Got to get some things straightened out first." Jamie had not wanted to admit it, but she did miss nursing. It had been all she had wanted to do with her life. Maybe after she put the past behind her, dealt with what was going on, and took a break she'd be ready to get back to it. She hoped.

"I'm serious. I'll be pissed if I walk over to the hospital and see you working there instead." Chris informed her. He draped an arm around her shoulders and hugged her. Jamie smiled warmly at him. Unlike some of the other doctors she'd worked with, Chris was one of the decent ones who didn't believe he was better than anybody else. It was a welcome change from the egos she'd gotten used to.

She turned down his offer to aid her down the hallway. Jamie had already managed it once, going back would be easy. Sure enough, without her leg stinging from being packed, it was easier to bend her knee. Glen was still sitting in the waiting room, idly flipping through a magazine. Cora was at her desk, talking into her phone. When he spotted her, he rose to his feet and smiled.

"You all right?"

"Better. Got to get these filled." She pulled her prescriptions from her pocket and waved them. Glen took them and shrugged.

"I can run them over to the hospital pharmacy if that'll work."

"Sure." Jamie smiled.

"Sit tight, I'll be back in a few." Glen turned and wandered off. Jamie went toward the television that was in the corner of the room meant to keep waiting patients occupied. It was currently turned off. She pressed the power button and nothing happened.

"The television won't run with the genny going." Cora spoke from behind her. Jamie shook her head and limped back toward the desk.

"That's great. Where can I see the news?"

"Ha. You won't be able to see much in here. There's a radio though." Cora turned around and fiddled with a battery powered portable cd player behind her. She turned the volume up a little as a reporter droned on and one about the many accidents the snow had caused. It only took a few minutes for the weather report. The official snowfall measurement was twenty-two inches. And there was even more coming. This time the meteorologist assured his listeners that the next system to move through the area would only drop another inch or two on top of what they already had. After that they would have clearer weather until Christmas. The news picked up once more.

"I guess I have to unlock our doors now." Cora said, dialing the volume back down and looking at the clock. Jamie nodded, wondering if the news would say anything about the power outage. Cora's voice as she greeted people who were waiting to come inside was soothing, low. Jamie moved around the reception desk and took one of the chairs for herself, wanting to stay out of everyone's way.

Glen had been gone for fifteen minutes. Jamie thought that even though it was early still, he wouldn't be back too soon. The hospital stayed busy. Especially when the weather was bad. She made herself useful, helping Cora pull up files from her computer and checking people in.

Once everyone had been taken care of, Jamie propped her chin in her hand and tapped her foot idly. She hated waiting.

"Jamie."

Jamie turned to look at Cora, who was leaning on the desk and speaking to one of the patients. She glanced around, but there was no one else there that she knew. She frowned and shook her head, just as her name was repeated.

That time she had been looking up. No one had been looking her way. Cora finished up with her instructions and excused herself to lead a patient back to the exam rooms.

"Jamie..."That time, the voice was decidedly male. And coming from behind her. Jamie turned, expecting to see Chris. Instead, her eyes fell on the softly muttering radio. As if that were a cue, whispering voices issued from the speakers, none of them clear enough to understand. She reached out a shaking hand and turned the volume up. It didn't help. The whispers could be heard around the sounds of the reporter, but they didn't get any clearer.

She jumped as a hand fell on her shoulder. Glen was looking at the radio, a frown on his face. He reached out and turned it off with a resolute snap, dropping the waiting room back into silence.

"What was that?" Aware of the people sitting ten feet from them, Jamie whispered it. Glen shook his head and gestured toward the door. Jamie rose to her feet and followed him, waving a goodbye to Cora when she reappeared before they stepped outside.

Glen led the way to the SUV. Jamie climbed in and looked at him expectantly. He sighed and glanced at her before speaking. "Was it just the whispering, or did you actually hear anything clear in that?"

"My name. What the hell was it?"

"Voices of the dead." Glen said, starting the engine. Warm air washed through the enclosed vehicle. "You might have noticed...we don't have TVs or radios in the house. Because for some reason they constitute a doorway to some spirits. I don't know how the hell they figured out where you were, never seen it happen before."

"I was wondering about the TV thing." Jamie said with a slight smirk. "It was a guy's voice, that said my name. But not John's. I didn't recognize him."

"It could have been anybody." Glen said, shifting the SUV into gear. "There are spirits everywhere. They could have heard your name. It could have been someone who died at the clinic eight years ago. It could have been some random floater." He shrugged. "I wish I could explain it better."

"You're doing fine. So I take it I'm supposed to stay away from electronics from now on?"

"It would probably be for the best." Glen said with another sigh. "If some bad spirit is after you, he'll get to you any way he can. We gotta make it as difficult as possible."

"Understood."

"Good. So no more listening to the weather." Glen chided her. Jamie smiled.

"Duly noted. Good thing I don't have a lap top. I'd really freak out if dead people started messaging me."

"They could probably do it." Glen said, unable to keep from smiling at the thought. He was worried though. Something had tried to communicate to Jamie at the clinic, and from what little he'd heard, it wasn't necessarily a doting family member wanting to say goodbye. He was forced to drive slowly due to the road conditions, and fought against the urge to hurry up and get Jamie back to the house as soon as he could.

12

"You're going to wear a hole in the floor if you keep pacing."

Kayla's voice broke into Mark's thoughts. He glanced at her and realized he had forgotten that she was even in the room. He'd gotten up when he'd heard a vehicle leave. And he'd been worried ever since without knowing why.

"Obviously your brother can take care of himself. And Jamie." Kayla said, tapping her fingers on the table.

"Of course he can." Mark nodded and ran his fingers through his hair in aggravation. Beyond the worry was an emotion he was much more familiar with. Anger. Mostly at himself. He had thought that if Jamie had needed anything she'd come to him. It annoyed him that she trusted Glen more. At least that was how he was looking at it.

"You think she went with him because of your lady friend last night?" Kayla asked, smirking a little. She didn't have to be a mind reader to know that Mark's worry was solely for Jamie, and his annoyance was at himself. It was sort of obvious, even to her, that he was harboring an attraction. Of course, she wrote romance novels, so it was possible she herself was just harboring a little plot developing fever. What was happening to them would surely make for a great novel. Kayla thought she should be taking notes.

"What does she have to do with anything?" Mark said gruffly as he turned to stare out the window. He figured that Kayla had just hit the proverbial nail on the head though. Jamie had distanced herself from him the minute that Miranda had walked into the house.

"Seriously, does that require an answer?" Kayla laughed. "You men are so oblivious. I swear."

"Humor me." Mark turned to look at her with an eyebrow up. He wasn't finding the situation nearly as amusing as Kayla.

She rolled her eyes. "She likes you, you lummox. It took me all of three seconds to figure that out yesterday, and that was when she was barkin' orders at you and cussin' like a sailor. Your girlfriend came by for a visit and I guess she got struck by the reality stick." At that she shrugged.

"Miranda is not my girlfriend." Mark said tiredly.

"Did you tell Jamie that?"Kayla smiled at the flush that worked its way over Mark's face. "I figured as much."

"She said she didn't want to know."

"I'm sure she did say that. I'm also sure you should have told her anyway. You're not around a lot of women, are you?" Kayla was laughing again. Mark sighed and took a seat at the table, rubbing his eyes with one hand.

"Apparently not nearly enough." He finally said. The sound of an engine rose from outside and he visibly relaxed. Kayla smirked and rose to her feet, heading for the fridge and something to drink.

Glen helped Jamie through the door and they both spent a minute knocking snow from their shoes. The first thing Mark noticed was that Jamie's limp was much less noticeable. The second was that something else was definitely wrong. Glen looked at him and cocked his head toward the living room. Mark rose to his feet and followed him.

Jamie took her coat off and hung it by the door. Kayla held out a can of soda and she took with a smile. "It's crazy out there."

"I can imagine. I think when I head home I'll be walking through the woods." Kayla sat down once more.

"Leaving already?"

"Nope. Things around here are way more interesting." Kayla grinned and sipped her soda. Jamie had to laugh.

"The power is still out at my apartment." She sank down carefully onto one of the chairs. "And they don't know when they're going to get around to fixing it. Too many lines down. Of course, it was like pulling teeth getting them to say that much."

"So where else did you go? Besides your place?"

"Visited the clinic, got some drugs." Jamie shook her head. "Got myself patched up too. I won't be running any marathons but I can live with that."

"Good. Mark was worried."

"Was he?" Jamie asked, smirking.

"He was. Pacing the floor all morning. But don't tell him I told you that. That man's got a little crush on you, if you ask my semi-professional opinion."

Jamie snorted a laugh and shook her head. "How does one become a semi-professional crush sensor?"

"Years of training. And reading and writing the trashiest romance novels in the world." Kayla propped her chin on her hand and leaned on the table. They were both quiet as Glen re-entered the kitchen. He gave the women a look of distrust as he went to the fridge.

"I'm starving. And what were you two talking about that apparently I'm not supposed to hear?"He asked with a laugh.

"If you must know, I was just telling Jamie here that I was half-tempted to maybe experience some high level smut with you." Kayla said, leaning back and crossing her legs. Jamie started giggling, putting her hand over her mouth to muffle it. Glen grinned broadly and raised an eyebrow.

"And what exactly would you classify as high level?"He asked, food momentarily forgotten.

"High level. That would be full nudity and actual intercourse. Descriptive intercourse, if you catch my meaning."

"I'd like to." Glen said with a laugh at the look she gave him. "What do we want for lunch?"He ignored the two laughing women and went back to rummaging in the fridge.

"Uh oh. If he's going to cook, that means we'll have to be on cleaning duty." Jamie pointed out.

"I'll clean up. You are excused due to injury." Kayla waved a hand.

"Woo. Lucky me." Jamie got to her feet and winced. Her leg had stiffened up a little bit. That was all right. At least it wasn't throbbing. "I'm going upstairs to change my bandage." She wiggled her fingers at Glen and left before he could offer to help her up the stairs.

It was slow work, but she finally reached the top. She headed for the guest room and the bathroom beyond, gathering up what she would need. She managed to step out of her jeans without falling over, and was proud of herself for that fact. There were a few small red spots on the bandage over her wound. That was nothing to worry about. It would be spotty for a while as it healed. Jamie sat down on the bed and tried to get her leg angled enough so she could put the new bandage on straight.

"You need a hand?" Mark asked from the doorway. Jamie sighed and nodded. He entered the room and stooped down next to the bed, looking at her leg critically. "It doesn't look nearly as bad as it did." He said softly. "Do you need to clean it out?"

"I have the stuff." She pointed at the peroxide and cotton swabs she'd snagged from the bathroom. Mark nodded and turned her a little so her leg was straight. He went to work, gently running a moist swab around her wound.

"Glen told me something tried to talk to you through a radio." He said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to talk about.

"Yeah. Just my name. I didn't catch anything else." Jamie watched as Mark carefully dried her leg off before smoothing a clean bandage over the injury. He used waterproof tape again, this time not as tight so that the air could help dry the seeping areas of the wound.

"Do you want to go outside?" Mark asked, using his thumb to lightly press the tape to her skin.

"Outside?" Jamie looked at him, puzzled. "Why?"

"To see if your brother will come visit again." Mark met her eyes, his hand resting lightly under her injury. "He might not...it depends on how strong he is, how much rest he needs. But we can at least see if he's out there."

Jamie nodded slowly. "What about the bad ones?"

"I'll be with you." Mark held out a hand and helped her sit up again. "I'm not going to let it get to you again. I promise you that."

Jamie looked at him as if weighing the statement before nodding again. "All right. Now?"

"After lunch should be soon enough." Mark said. Silence descended. She got the feeling that he wanted to say more but was holding back. He sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. "I guess it'll be ready soon. You need a hand down the stairs?"

She shrugged. "I guess." She followed him out of the room. To his credit, he didn't coddle her, didn't offer to carry her, or do anything else that would probably set off her temper. Instead Mark walked in front of her, keeping an eye on her in case she lost her footing.

Glen was in the midst of cooking monster-sized cheeseburgers. Kayla was sitting at the table. She smiled at Jamie as she joined her before digging into her pocket. "I need to call my cousin. He'll be freaking out that I haven't been answering my cell phone."

"Cell phone?" Mark asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"You know...one of these things." She finally got it out and waved the small black phone around. "I probably have a couple dozen missed calls..."

"Get rid of it." Mark said, staring at the phone as if it were a snake poised to bite him.

"Why?" Jamie frowned and watched as Mark and Glen exchanged a look.

"Just...take it outside and put it in the car or something..." Glen finally said. Kayla looked from person to person, confused.

"It's just a phone." She said, but she rose to her feet anyway. Perplexed, she headed outside without bothering with her coat to use the phone in the SUV. Ten minutes later she returned, noticing the tension that was in the air. "What?"

"You might have noticed we don't have phones, or radios, or televisions." Glen said, moving the burgers onto a plate. "Because the spirits use them as a gateway. A door."

"Ah." Kayla shook her head. "You could have just said so."

"I just did." Glen had relaxed a little. A smile played at the corners of his lips. "Better not to tempt them by having it in here though. No telling who might decide to call you. Maybe Elvis."

"Impossible. Elvis isn't dead." Jamie said with a smirk.

"Oh no. You're one of those weird people." Kayla let the matter of the phone drop. It was just another interesting but strange thing to file away for use in a future book.

"How am I weird?" Glen had put a couple of bags of chips on the table. Jamie reached for one and tore it open, popping one in her mouth and chewing before continuing. "Just because I think the man's birthday should be a national holiday..."

"Well I won't argue that, but the man is dead. Maybe you two should focus your energy and bring up his ghost or something so Jamie isn't deluded all her life." Kayla pointed it at Glen and Mark. They both chuckled at that.

"If only it worked that way." Mark said, shaking his head.

The women made small talk as they ate their lunch. It was all Glen and Mark could do to keep up. It was Kayla's nature to make friends easily...to her thinking, she had never met a stranger. She steered the topics away from anything supernatural. In fifteen minutes she had learned more of Jamie's history than either Mark or Glen had in two days.

Once they were done eating, Kayla gathered up their plates and busied herself at the sink. Mark caught Jamie's eye and she nodded. To be honest, she really didn't want to see what was outside, and with good reason. Maybe her brother, yes, and if it were only him she would be happy. But she had the wound on her leg to remind her that John wasn't the only creature in the woods.

"Before you go out there..." Glen had seen the look and knew from talking to Mark what they were going to do. "Kayla, were did you put those pictures?"

"My jacket." She said it over her shoulder. Glen retrieved the photos and handed them to Mark.

"What are those?" Jamie asked, trying to see.

"You tell me." Mark held out the picture with the close up of the figure in the snow. He heard Jamie suck in a breath as she took the picture from his hand.

"That's John."

"Are you sure?"

"Am I..." She made a sound of exasperation. "Of course I'm sure. He might be gone, but I think I would recognize my own brother." Her finger traced the outline on the photo. "Where...how?"

"I took the pictures. There wasn't anything there. He showed up on the photos though." Kayla, soapsuds to her elbows, turned to look at them. "You're going to go out there, aren't you?"

"It's the best place to start. You getting pictures of him...it's like he's trying to tell us where he'll be." Mark said.

"Your brother must have been a good guy. There was a real...I don't know, happy peaceful feeling all around that little clearing." Kayla turned back to her dishes, at a loss as to how to describe it.

"We need to get out there. Are you up for walking through the snow?" Mark asked Jamie, gently taking the photograph back.

"I think so." She followed Mark's lead, pulling on her coat and heading for the door. The snow had stopped temporarily. Jamie took a deep breath of cold air. "Do you know where you're going?" She asked, trudging through the snow, trying to stay in the tracks that Mark created.

"Yeah. Been out here a few times." One they reached the treeline, Mark reached back and took her hand. She was surprised but didn't say anything as they followed a path he apparently had memorized.

"So how far out is it?"

"Not too far. I think you can make it." He looked at her and offered a half-smile.

"Yeah, but can I make it back is the question." Although she was trying hard, her injured leg still managed to drag a bit.

"I guess we'll find out." Mark said before turning his attention back to the woods around them. They walked in silence for a while. In twenty minutes, he halted and looked once more at her. "You doing all right?"

"Yup." Jamie gave his hand a squeeze and smiled. The walk was tiring but she knew it would be good for her leg.

"Ok. It's just up ahead now." He led her another twenty yards and suddenly the trees ended in the small clearing.

Kayla had been right.

A feeling of such warmth and...something else, something Jamie couldn't put words to, came over her suddenly.

"There's definitely something here."Mark said softly.

"What should we do?"

"Just wait. Let's see if anybody is going to come out and say hello."

Jamie nodded and stepped closer to him, keeping quiet. Even though the clearing made her feel good, it could not take away the fear that being attacked had caused. She knew that was just her nerves, of course.

Mark laced his fingers through hers and used his thumb to lightly trace the back of her hand. They stood there five minutes, then ten, but nothing happened. Nothing changed. No one appeared. Jamie was disappointed. She had expected something...well...miraculous.

"Maybe we should just..." Jamie decided she'd had enough. She was cold. The words were barely out of her mouth when something hit her on the back, pushing her toward Mark. He caught her easily enough, smirking when she grabbed onto him unsteadily. "What the hell was that?"

"Don't know. I didn't see anything." Mark looked around, his arms still protectively around her. Everything was quiet. It took a moment to realize that even the few winter birds who were brave enough to be out in the weather were now silent.

"I..."

Mark shushed her, head tilted to the side, a slight frown on his features. He nodded slowly, his eyes taking on a far-away cast. Jamie got the distinct feeling that Mark was no longer seeing her, was in fact looking right through her.

"Ok." His voice when he spoke was as distant as the look in his eyes. Jamie raised an eyebrow as he finally seemed to focus on her.

"Ok what?" She managed to ask.

"Just...trust me, all right?" Mark said it softly but didn't give her time to even think about what he said. His head lowered and he pressed his mouth against hers.

She was too stunned to react for what seemed an indefinite amount of time. He gave no indication of noticing. Instead, he angled his head and sucked lightly on her lower lip, until her lips parted. Jamie forced herself to stop questioning why he was kissing her, and just enjoyed the feel of his mouth on hers, the slide of his tongue against hers, the light scratch of his goatee on her skin. She didn't feel cold anymore, that was for sure.

Her leg throbbed, the leg with the bites. A strange tingle seemed to begin at the bandaged skin and radiate up and down, until her whole body shook with an unseen current. Mark muttered something against her lips as Jamie suddenly grabbed his arms and dug her fingers in. It wasn't that the tingling hurt exactly. She suddenly felt dizzy, and her legs were shaking uncontrollably. Mark broke their kiss and pulled her against his body, holding onto her as she shivered.

"What...the hell...was that?" She managed to ask, her voice muffled against his chest.

Mark smiled and shook his head before letting his chin rest lightly on the top of her head. "Something told me to do that. I couldn't fight it...it was like somebody else was controlling me."

"That's not very comforting." Jamie said weakly. She wanted to sit down. She'd never felt so tired in all her life. She wondered idly if she were suffering the beginnings of hypothermia. Mark bent and scooped her up, cradling her against his chest.

"Just relax. I'll get you back to the house." He ducked his head and spoke softly against her ear. He figured that she hadn't heard him. She appeared to have fallen asleep as soon as he'd gotten her feet out from under her. Smiling grimly, Mark began trudging through the snow toward the house. He had felt a little weak himself for a moment, but he knew it had more to do with kissing Jamie than dealing with the supernatural. She would rest for a while and he'd have to try his best to explain what had happened. If she hadn't already figured it out for herself.

13

"Do you even know what you're looking for?"

The voice behind her brought Lucy out of her thoughts. She stopped trudging through knee deep snow and turned to look at Randy. Even from a ten yard distance, he knew she was giving him a patented Lucy look-full of sarcasm and weary patience.

It wasn't as if she were so much smarter than him, or better at tracking. Hell, she was only older than he was by four minutes. She just had an attitude. And he was her favorite target.

"What do we usually look for, Randy?" She finally asked. Randy smirked at the exasperation in her voice.

"You never said what exactly put this particular bee in your bonnet." He ignored her smart mouth and kicked at the thick snow.

"Megan. Remember her? Our cousin?"

Randy sighed. "Yes, Lucy...but I don't see what she has to do with us being out here in the middle of nowhere. You found him. The end. Let's move on."

"Can't move on until he does." Lucy said softly. Randy saw her hand drift to one of the deep pockets of her coat. She had a gun there, a nickel-plated .45 that had belonged to Megan. Their cousin had only used it on practice ranges. Lucy had made it a bit more proactive.

Randy didn't agree entirely with what had happened. Unlike Lucy, he'd been content to let the police stumble their way into finding Meg's killer. Justice didn't mean taking the law into your own hands. Of course, he could find no argument when Lucy had pointed out that the cops had nothing, the courts were slow and more apt to let the guy off with a slap to the wrist. Never mind he'd killed before. Fifteen girls and women, all in different states, all different ages. There was nothing to tie them together except for the word of a spirit. And when it came to spirits, Randy and Lucy were nothing if not experts.

And he had to admit that Lucy was right. Meg's murderer wasn't burning in the afterlife as he should have been. He still wandered, searching for who knew what. If he were evil enough, he might have the energy to keep on his life's work. And then the police would really be shit out of luck. It wasn't possible to put a ghost in jail, at least not to his knowledge. Smiling to himself, Randy shook his head. So his sister had become the hand of vengeance. At least, that's what their grandmother had said yesterday, at Meg's funeral. Of course, ending his life as she had, Lucy had not taken in the fact that the guy maybe hadn't wanted to move on.

"So what makes you think he'll be in the woods? Are you talking to your friend again?" Randy asked. Her 'friend' was another spirit, a tortured soul named Adam. Apparently he and his girlfriend had both been victims of the serial killer. She had moved on. He couldn't seem to until he saw justice served. Randy had never seen or heard him. He'd talked to spirits before, had even helped a few move on, but not in the violent ways that were common with the bad ghosts. He mostly took care of the spirits who were confused, or scared, not knowing what waited for them on the other side.

Lucy was different.

She saw spirits, she talked to them, she sent the ones who needed a gentle hand in Randy's direction, and dealt with the mean ones herself. They had never questioned it. It had been taught to them by their grandmother, someone who shared Randy's particular power.

"He's resting. But yes, he said the bastard was hiding out in the woods. Stalking somebody." Lucy smiled sweetly. "Of course you know who lives around here, right?"

"No...who?" He swatted a low hanging branch, making a pile of snow drop to the ground with a muffled thump.

"Your good friends and mine." She snorted when she said it. Randy grimaced. Obviously, Glen and Mark. There was no love lost between Lucy and the brothers, for reasons even Randy wasn't sure about. The fact that they refused to use their specific powers to help the cause, maybe. Or maybe because Mark had been sleeping with Miranda, another spirit hunter than Lucy absolutely loathed. She was trouble. They both knew it. Randy made a mental note to take away Lucy's gun if they happened to run into the other woman in the woods.

Now there was a funny thought. Randy couldn't hide his smile thinking about it. And Lucy saw it and gave him yet another one of her patented gazes. Annoyance.

"Maybe they'll have coffee. I can't feel my feet anymore."

"Don't be such a wimp." Lucy turned and continued walking. Randy could follow or be left behind. He wouldn't put it past her.

"I haven't seen any tracks. Maybe he's beyond using animals." Randy commented fifteen minutes later.

"Yeah, and maybe I'm really the queen of America." Lucy said it in a distracted way. Her head was tilted to the side, and her pace had slowed.

"What's wrong?" He was next to her in four steps, matching her steps now instead of following.

"Nothing...something..." Lucy blinked and shook her head. "You don't feel that?"

Now that she mentioned it...Randy took a deep breath and shivered. Not from the cold. Something was in the woods, definitely. Whether it was their ghost or something else, he couldn't say for sure. A shiver wasn't much to base recognition on.

"...power drain." Lucy was muttering. Randy glanced at her and shrugged.

"What? Sorry, was tryin' to get a vibe."

Lucy sighed and pushed her hair back from her face. "I said it was almost like one of those power drain things, like Grandma used to talk about. Somebody conjuring up something or...hell, I don't know."

"I remember. She said we pulled our strength from other things, so we can do what we need to do. You think one of the brothers used their power?"

"Perish the thought, Rands." The sarcasm was back. Randy smirked.

"Consider it perished." He waved her on. Lucy walked. Really she was just trying to get a feel for the place they were. Their ghost was dormant at the moment, resting, recharging. If he did anything, they'd feel it.

Fifteen minutes later it was Randy's turn to halt their trek. Lucy had gone four or five more steps before he reached out and snagged her coat, nearly toppling her into the snow.

"What?" She was exasperated again. Randy held up a finger and shushed her.

"I heard somebody talking."

She bit back whatever remark had been dancing on the tip of her tongue and listened. Randy was right. She'd been lost in thought and hadn't noticed the voices. Two of them, one male, one female. They must have nearly walked into them, Lucy thought, considering the sound muffling quality of the snow.

The male spoke again. And she knew the voice. Although she couldn't make out the words, she would know that deep voice anywhere. Mark. Definitely. Glen also had a deep voice, but he didn't have nearly the rumbling drawling quality of his brother's.

"Ugh...you don't think he and Miranda...in the woods?" Lucy whispered. Randy had to bite his cheek to keep from giggling.

"Hell no. Their asses would freeze off. The..." He didn't get to finish. Again there was the strange shivering, the feel of something unseen passing down his spine. His eyes met his sister's. "Maybe he's using his power after all."

"Maybe." Lucy whispered with a frown. "But on what? I'm not feeling anything beyond that...whatever it is. No ghosts. Hell." She gestured for Randy to follow her and took off walking toward where the voices had come from. He didn't want to interrupt if Mark were doing something in the woods that was better meant for the bedroom. Then again, that odd shivery feeling had left him curious. He followed his sister without argument.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark hadn't gone more than twenty feet when a noise brought him to a halt. Jamie muttered softly, and he frowned, trying to figure out what he had heard. The soft thump of snow falling, and maybe the low wet crunch of footsteps. But not Glen. Definitely not. He would have sensed his brother coming a mile away.

He turned in a circle, taking in the shadowy woods, the unbroken snow. Nothing. The wind had even stopped rustling in the trees. He cursed himself for jumping at shadows, something that he had learned early on got old fast. He turned to continue back to the house and jerked in surprise when he found his path blocked.

"Hell...Lucy?" He cocked an eyebrow and managed to sound both embarrassed and angry.

"Hello to you to. What you got there? Find a trophy in the woods?" Her eyes were on Jamie. Mark glanced down.

"Not quite. She found me." Mark sighed. "What are you doing out here?"

"The question is...what are YOU doing out here?"

"I live out here. In case you forgot." He looked around. Lucy usually didn't travel far without her twin, and of Randy there was no sign. Yet. Which meant that these two were getting much better at sneaking around. When he'd first butted heads with Lucy, he had been able to sense her coming much the same way he found Glen.

"I didn't forget. And in case you are actually that dense...who is she and what are you doing to her?"

"If I said mind your own business, would you?"

"Not on your life."

Mark sighed again. "She came looking for help." He stated it simply.

"And managed to find you? Pardon me while I choke back my laughter."

"Look...I could stand out here all day and explain what's going on, or you and Randy can come to the house and find out for yourselves. I need to get her inside before she freezes to death."

Lucy cocked an eyebrow. "An invitation? How could we say no?" She nodded. Mark heard a noise behind him and looked over his shoulder to see that Randy had appeared. He stood five feet away, looking apologetic. "Lead on."

Resigned, Mark stepped around Lucy and followed the trail he and Jamie had walked earlier. Randy caught up to him and peered around his shoulder at Jamie's face. "Is she in trouble?"

"Of course. Why else would she be here?" Mark said in a low voice.

"We definitely need to have a little discussion. A lot of things have happened..."Randy shook his head. "It can wait though. At least until Lucy gets an itchy trigger finger."

"Ha. I can hear you, jerk." Lucy had fallen behind, walking more slowly than the trail warranted. Mark raised an eyebrow, knowing this tactic. He was carrying someone, and Randy didn't sense the bad spirits, so Lucy was distancing herself a little to keep a special kind of watch. It was almost...nice of her. The thought made him smirk. He knew it wasn't for his benefit, but Jamie's. Lucy didn't even know her, and already felt an urge to protect her. On one hand that was good. Great. On the other...it could only mean trouble. More trouble than getting attacked by a wolf.

"I try to get away and this shit keeps falling into my lap." Mark muttered, mostly to himself. Randy heard him though.

"Talking about Lucy?" He said with a grin.

"She's the least of my problems." Mark admitted. Lucy could be abrasive, but he really had nothing against her. She seemed to not like him, which did not bother him a bit. He didn't need her opinionated approval for his actions.

"Good grief, who owns that death trap?"

It was the first time Lucy had spoken since calling Randy a jerk. And she was pointing at Jamie's Jeep.

"It's hers." Mark gestured to Jamie. "I was trying to get the thing working again, but I keep getting sidetracked..."

"Deal with it, Rands." Lucy smiled at him. Randy grimaced. Yes he knew cars. It didn't mean he wanted to spend all day with his head under a hood in the freezing cold.

"Bite me, Lu."

"Kids." Mark muttered and shifted Jamie. She wasn't heavy, but it wasn't easy work carrying a person through two or so feet of snow. He went in the front door, stomping snow off his boots. The house was quiet. He'd barely registered the fact that the SUV was gone. Glen must have taken Kayla to her house for more things. If she planned on coming back.

Mark nodded his two new 'guests' toward the living room while he carried Jamie up the steps. He had no clue how long she would sleep. Nothing like this had ever happened before. He got her into bed with her boots and coat off without disturbing her too much. He tucked the blanket around her shoulders and let his thumb lightly trace the curve of her jaw, her chin.

"First you kidnap her, then you molest her."

Mark looked over his shoulder at Lucy, who stood in the doorway. She'd taken off her coat. He figured she planned on staying a while. His day couldn't possibly get better. Shrugging off the sarcastic thoughts, Mark straightened up and herded her out of the room. He shut the door resolutely behind him. "I wasn't molesting her."

"Checking for a pulse, were you?" Lucy followed him as far as the top of the stairs.

"Drop it."

"Well at least tell me where his highness is hiding a bathroom."

"Second door on the right." Mark didn't stop walking. Lucy smirked and shook her head.

"Well isn't that just the sweetest thing." She said softly to herself. Even she was sensing some connection between Mark and the woman on the bed. And the woman was asleep. She could care less if Mark was happy about it. What really struck her as hilarious was picturing the look on Miranda's face when she found out. Lucy turned and went to the bathroom, nearly feeling like giggling. She only wished she could be here when that woman showed up. It would be worth socializing with the brothers to see it.

14

Jamie winced and blinked her eyes slowly open. She had the distinct after nap feeling of having slept for way too long in the middle of the day. She heaved herself up on one elbow and froze, spotting a woman sitting in a chair next to the bed. Not Kayla, not even that Miranda woman. This one was new. She had dark hair that fell in unruly curls down her back, and ice blue eyes. The woman wasn't looking at her, instead her attention seemed to be entirely focused on a magazine in her hands.

"Who are you?" Jamie expected the woman to jump at her voice. She didn't. Instead she slowly closed the magazine before letting her eyes rest on Jamie's.

"Welcome back to the world of awake people. I'm Lucy. You're Jamie. Now that introductions are out of the way, how are you feeling?"

"I'm...all right. I guess." Jamie finished pushing herself into a sitting position. She eyed Lucy warily. "What the hell happened to me? Last thing I remember was going outside..." She frowned, thinking.

"In the woods. With Mark." Lucy provided. "I couldn't tell you what happened, as I was a late-comer to your party. But now that I'm here, I guess the fun can really start."

Jamie shook her head, trying to clear what felt like cobwebs out of her thoughts. Her brain apparently hadn't figured out that her body was now awake. She gingerly swung her legs over the side of the bed, mindful of not pulling too much on her stitches. To her surprise there was no ache, no tug of sutured skin...nothing. Confused, she leaned down and gently pressed her hand against her leg. Even through her jeans she could feel the bandage. But that was all she could feel.

She forgot about Lucy and reached down to tug the hem of her pants up. She picked at the bandage, hissing a breath as her skin fought the adhesive. And then her hand froze. Where earlier there had been inflamed skin and black stitches, now there was nothing. Not even a tiny scratch. Her leg under the bandage was smooth and unmarked. Unbelieving, Jamie pressed her fingers lightly where the wound should have been. There was not even a sore spot to mark the area of her bites.

"What the hell?" She muttered to herself.

"I take it you had some kind of miraculous recovery or something. Explains a lot, actually." Lucy was looking at her leg with some interest. Mostly because Jamie was showing so much interest in it herself.

"What are you talking about?" Jamie finished tearing the bandage away. She tested her weight on her leg by standing up. Still nothing. No pain. Not even the itch of mending skin.

"Why don't you start by telling me what you were expecting to see, and I will fill in your blanks about what you're not seeing." Lucy said, leaving back in the chair. Jamie rubbed her neck and her frown returned.

"Wait...I still don't know who the hell you are."

"I told you. I'm Lucy. Are you having problems with your memory too?"

"No, my memory is fine, thanks. What I'm having a problem with is some stranger hovering over me when I'm sleeping."

"Ah. I would feel the same, I suppose. Let's just say I'm a friend of Mark and Glen." The way Lucy said 'friend' left no doubt about how she really thought of them. Jamie sat down on the edge of the bed again and tried not to look too confused. Without knowing quite why she was telling her, she found herself repeating her story of coming to the house, of the wolf attack, of her brush with her dead brother.

Lucy listened without interrupting, nodding at some points, raising an eyebrow in others. When Jamie's voice quieted, she cleared her throat and rubbed her hands together. "Ha. I knew that explained it."

"Explained what?"

"When I was in the woods I felt this strange...I don't know what. Apparently healing you took some major juice."

"What are you talking about?"

"Mark. You just said that you faintly recalled going out with him. He must have called on some hidden talent if he managed to fix you up."

"How the hell would Mark be able to heal my leg?" Jamie still didn't understand.

"How the hell are any of us able to see ghosts? Or talk to them, or help them? My grandmother says that our powers are limitless if we can find the right reason to use them. And she's never wrong."

"So you're like them?" Jamie's mind at last seemed to focus.

"In a way. Although we are all different. Everybody has their little talents." Lucy brushed her hair back from her shoulders. "Now, tell me this. Did you actually have contact with your brother, or do you just think you did?"

"What do you mean? I think I would know my own brother." Jamie said, wondering what she was implying.

"I'm saying...are you sure that your 'brother' wasn't just conjured up to make you feel the warm and fuzzies?"

"I'm getting tired of saying this, but what the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm saying that maybe Mark decided he liked you and decided to use your brother to nudge you in his direction."

"What? No...he wouldn't do that." Jamie struggled for words. "I mean, he couldn't do that. Could he?"

"Who knows? He used whatever secret hidden power he's got to heal you. Stranger things have happened."

"No. There's no way."

"You're absolutely, swear on a bible, positive?"

"Yes! How would Mark have known my brother's nickname for me?" Jamie finally seemed to grasp what Lucy was saying.

"Ok. Just a theory I had that is now shot down." Lucy held up a hand to calm her down. "Pardon me for being the group skeptic."

"Why would you even think he would do that?" Jamie asked, shaking her head.

"Because he's done it before. Of course, from what I was told it was with an altruistic purpose. I just thought I would make sure he hadn't gone around a bend."

"Well you can rest your mind."

"Consider it rested." Lucy smiled. It seemed to change her entire attitude. "Although if I were you, I would find myself a better knight in shining armor."

"If a dragon kills him, I guess I'll have to." Jamie reached down and fixed the leg of her jeans.

"So tell me...what are you doing to handle your little supernatural problem?"

"I don't know." Jamie answered, sighing once more. "What can I do? I don't even know what it is that you do."

"Well technically you can just sit back and let the experts work." Lucy smirked. "Would it help if I said I might know who your problem spirit is?"

By the time Jamie headed downstairs, her head swimming from her talk with Lucy, Kayla and Glen had returned. Everyone was gathered in the kitchen. Including another stranger, although this time she had been warned that Lucy's brother was there too.

Kayla spotted her and grinned. "Well. Look who decided to climb down from the ivory tower."

"Ha. Bite me." Jamie wasn't in the mood for joking. She wasn't in the mood to really be sitting in this kitchen discussing things supernatural. For some reason she couldn't fathom, she was angry. It was fairly low level, but it was there.

"Thanks but I already ate." Kayla scooted her chair to make room for Jamie at the table. She dropped into a chair and sighed, letting her eyes rest on Lucy's brother. He appeared totally at ease, slumped in his chair, finger idly tapping the table. He smiled at her. Jamie managed to smile back, but she knew it looked fake even to a stranger.

"So..." Glen spoke when no one else would.

Everyone looked at him expectantly. Except for Mark. Jamie noticed him for the first time, sitting there was a glass of water in front of him. His fingers turned the glass, but he didn't drink. He looked lost in thought.

"I think we should probably..." Randy decided to step in. Jamie rose to her feet.

"I've gotta make a phone call. Can I use your phone?" She asked in Kayla's direction.

"Sure, it's in the..." Kayla didn't get to finish. Jamie was already stepping outside. "Should she be going out by herself?" She asked pointedly, looking at Mark. He sighed and stood up. They all watched as he shut the door behind him. "Who rained on his parade?"

Glen was looking at Lucy. "You already got on his nerves, huh?"

"I would never."

"Right." Glen smirked.

"Lucifer's right. She's barely said ten words to him since we got here." Randy said with a smile.

"Can it, Randall."

"You wish."

"Does somebody want to tell me what's going on?" Kayla asked. "I mean, since I'm sitting here amidst you strange people and all."

"How much does she know?" Lucy asked Glen.

"She's sitting right here, and so far she knows what Jamie knows. Pretty much." Kayla answered before he could. "Don't talk about me like I'm not sitting in front of you."

Lucy cocked her eyebrow. She already liked Kayla. "Consider me spanked for my error." She shared a look with Randy. "And I think maybe Glen should start us off. Maybe catch all of us up."

"What's wrong?"

Jamie had the phone to her ear, but that didn't stop Mark from speaking to her. She was sitting in the passenger seat of the SUV, legs dangling out the door. Kayla had plugged her phone into the car charger. Her boss didn't answer at his house or the bar, so she was attempting his cell phone.

She gave Mark a sour look and held up a hand when she saw him start to speak again. "Hey Tommy. Yeah..." She paused, listening. "So you don't know when? Great." She tried to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. It almost worked. "Right. You too." She hung up and tapped the phone thoughtfully on her leg.

"Now you wanna spill it?" Mark asked, leaning against the door frame. He crossed his arms, thinking that if he was chilly she must be freezing. She was wearing a t-shirt she'd changed into at some point after they'd come back.

"Spill what? Can't I have a mood swing in peace?" She leaned back and tucked the phone into the center console where she'd found it. She had managed to use it and there had been no phantom voices. Maybe they were all taking naps too. Sighing she turned to look at Mark. "I guess I'm not going back to work anytime soon. The snow managed to collapse part of the roof. Plus there's no power."

"Sorry to hear that." Mark said, studying her. "You're mad. Something I did? Something Lucy said? She was up there an awful long time with you."

"I'm not mad. I'm full. I think I've hit my information limit." Jamie rubbed her arms and shivered.

"I know it's a lot to take in..."

"Did you have anything to do with John contacting me?" Jamie interrupted him. She wasn't looking at him anymore. She stared down at a drift of snow that hadn't been trampled by the vehicle or anyone walking.

"What do you mean?"

"Did you...I guess...make him appear?"

"I wouldn't even know how that would be possible, darlin'."

"That's not what your friend said." Jamie said sullenly.

"Yeah? Well, Lucy's sharp but this time she's wrong. I don't know what you're talking about."

"Ok."

"Anything else?" Mark asked, half-expecting a rant about any number of things. He didn't expect that Lucy had many good things to say about him. It wasn't that Mark didn't like her, to him she seemed just a little too eager about her work. And he couldn't see why. Dealing with dead people was depressing. She just hadn't burned out on it yet.

"What else could there be?" Jamie sighed and reached for the phone again. "Could I have a few minutes to myself, please? I need to think." Mark nodded and waited while she swung her legs into the SUV. He closed the door for her and hesitated before turning to the house. He figured he'd give her ten minutes alone and then come back with her coat.

Jamie waited until the door shut behind him before setting the phone back down. She couldn't think of anyone else she would need to call. In reality, she really did want to be alone. The house was getting way too crowded.

Lucy's theory was running through her mind, anyway. Jamie had gotten what she assumed was the short version. Randy and Lucy's cousin had been murdered. He had died. Now it was maybe his ghost that had targeted Jamie. There didn't seem to be a reason, other than the fact that he was insane, and now didn't have to worry about the police catching up to him.

Jamie sighed tiredly and rubbed her eyes. She'd already taken a nap, but she thought she could use another one. For the first time since the snow started, she was homesick for her own bed. Her own uncomplicated life. She had always thought it was boring, being her. Now she realized just how good she'd had it. Minimum fuss, minimum drama.

She shook her head and reached for the door handle. As soon as the power came back on in town, she was leaving. If the killer ghost hadn't been dealt with by then, oh well. Jamie figured the guys would either bodyguard her, or Lucy would. She had a personal stake in the matter.

A movement caught her eye before she could open the door. Jamie looked over her shoulder and saw nothing. It was late afternoon, nearing on evening, and darkness had started to fall. She smiled to herself, and glanced at the rear-view mirror. The angle was bad from the passenger seat, but it was where she had seen the movement. She shifted the mirror and gasped in shock as her brother smiled at her in the reflection.

Jamie spun in her seat, grabbing the back as she did. The rear was empty. Nothing in the back seat, nothing in the cargo hold. She looked once more at the mirror. Now she could see her own reflection. And she was blocking the reflection of her brother.

She turned back to front with a thump, breathing deeply, trying to control her racing heart. "John?"

"Hiya, Jimmie." His reflection spoke to her. She saw his lips move, but his voice didn't come from the mirror. It was as if he was speaking softly right into her ear.

"John...what are you..." She looked over her shoulder once more, confirmed that her dead brother was definitely not in the back seat, and finally relaxed. Obviously he wanted to speak to her in private. She just hoped that Mark wouldn't come back before he was done.

15

"We don't have a lot of time."

Jamie thought John was stating the obvious. She nodded, unable to stop looking at the mirror. It was as if he were actually sitting in the back seat, solid and real.

"You have questions. Ask 'em." He gestured. It was patented John. Jamie smiled and cleared her throat.

"Why are you here?" She finally asked.

"Short answer? Because you need me to be. Although to tell the truth, I've been with you since I died." John smiled back at her. "Maybe it's my fault, what's happening now."

"How? I don't see what you would have to do with..."

"I have everything to do with it. I wasn't sure at first, but now..." He rubbed a hand through his short hair. "I told you...it wasn't an accident, what happened to me."

"I know, you said you were pushed. But why? Why would anybody want to hurt you?"

"The why is easy. I got a call from my foreman. Remember, I was staying near the construction site?" At Jamie's nod, John went on. "He said that an alarm went off at the site. Usually it's kids. It's like they can't stand not going in an off-limits site and mess with stuff. I couldn't even tell you how many times they ran off with tools and stuff. At any rate...I was closest, so he asked me to check it out. I wasn't doing anything, so I went."

"It wasn't just kids, was it?"

"No." John met her eyes in the mirror. "I walked in and saw a car. Not one I recognized, but nothing like a kid would drive. Too fancy. I looked around and didn't see anything. Then I heard a scream." He rubbed his temple. Jamie knew it was a nervous tic of his, usually he did it when he was thinking of something he'd rather not remember. "It came from above me. The elevator didn't work. Damned thing. I thought maybe some idiot had gone up and gotten stuck. So I grabbed my gear and climbed up the safety ladder."

He paused for a full minute. Jamie waited him out. "Got to the top and guess...I was too shocked to really process what I was seeing at the time. There were two people there. At first I figured some weird couple decided to get a thrill by breaking into the site and...you know." A slight smile tilted Jamie's lips. It died shortly though. "Except when the woman saw me, she screamed again, this time for help. The guy was...raping her. I got myself in gear and ran over, yanked him off her. I didn't see it in his hand...all I could think was it couldn't be happening. He had a knife. He got me in the stomach before I could really get him away from the girl. I didn't feel it though. It seemed far away."

John drifted again, not nearly as long as before. "I tripped." He laughed without humor. "My own damn fault. I got tangled up on my safety line that was attached to my belt. I fell backward. By the time I got my legs under me, the guy was coming. I was bigger than him, but...I don't know. Something about him. It was like he was a wild animal. He cut me, across the chest, on my arms..." Jamie shuddered, watching as John traced the where the wounds had been on his body. "Stabbed me again. This time got me..." He pointed to his chest. His heart. Jamie felt tears welling in her eyes. "He rushed me after that. I couldn't get a breath, it felt like I was drowning. Next thing I know, I'm falling. Then...nothing."

"But if he stabbed you, how did it get ruled an accident?" Jamie asked.

"Because of where I fell. Right into the site garbage pit, basically." John smiled. "Full of broken concrete and glass, and metal rods. A few of them went through me...ah...sorry Jimmie, I know it's gross."

"It's all right, John." Jamie said unevenly. She'd seen pictures, much to the horror of the police officers at the station. And she'd worked in an ER. She'd seen enough gore in her day to desensitize her a bit to the description of it.

"Anyway, the cops thought...or made themselves think, that it was the fall into the trash that killed me." John sighed heavily. "The next thing I remember after falling was standing there by my body. Just watching it. I guess...denying it was me. I looked up and saw the guy. He was still looking down, making sure my body wasn't moving. Then he went back to the woman..." At this he struggled. "I heard him kill her. I felt it happen too...in a way...it was like I suddenly couldn't breath. Ridiculous considering I was already dead. But I felt her go..."

John leaned forward in the backseat. "For a little while there was nothing. Then I heard the elevator. I saw him toss this lifeless body into his car. He walked over to where my body was and kicked it. I guess he was satisfied I was dead. He got down on and dug out my wallet. He looked through all of my stuff, and he wrote my name down. I didn't know why..." He swallowed. "He found a picture I had of you, Jimmie. You know, right after you graduated from college. You were standing in front of the fountain at that amusement park you used to love..."

Jamie nodded. She remember. She had carried a similar picture of John with her until she'd decided to hang it up in her apartment.

"He took the picture. Got this weird kind of...grin...on his face. Tucked it in his shirt pocket." John balled his hands into fists. Obviously it had made him angry. "He put my wallet back in my pocket, and left."

Jamie shivered as John spoke. "So you think this guy is after me?"

John nodded. "I know he is. He couldn't find you before. I died four hours away from my place, and you were unlisted. I think he just looked out for you, just in case. And then...he died."

"Which would be a good thing, normally." Jamie pointed out.

"Normally." John smiled wryly. "But this time what happened was...this guy didn't move on. And he somehow sensed me. Maybe because he killed me. I'm not sure how that part works. But he found you, Jimmie. If I hadn't hung around you, watching out for you, he probably never would have. Now you're in real trouble, and..." He spread his hands apart, frustrated. "There's not much I can do to help you. I'm too weak. The guy...he's stronger than anything I've ever known now. And the stronger he gets, the weaker I get."

"He's using you, right? Drawing something from you to make himself stronger?"

"That's what I figured. I just...hell, I don't know how to stop it." John rubbed his legs. Jamie resisted the urge to reach back and touch his hand. She had to keep reminding herself that she would only be disappointed when her hand encountered nothing but leather seat. "I could leave. I should leave. But I can't. This is my unfinished business. I'm stuck here until it's all over."

"How do I get rid of him, John?"Jamie asked softly.

"I don't know if you can." He relaxed suddenly, the nervous energy that had built up leaving. "Your friends can though. Thank whatever powers there are that I found them out here."

"So are you the one who sent me here?"

"In a way." John managed to smirk. It was weak though. He was tired. Jamie could see it, but she wasn't quite ready to let him go yet. "I kind of smoothed things over in your mind so you wouldn't freak out in a house of strangers. But once you went in, you were on your own. I can't go in there. It's...blocked. Somehow."

"They said they sealed it. I don't know how."

"Doesn't matter. Look..." John leaned forward again. "I can't stay much longer. It's hard as hell to even do this little bit of work. Just, trust them. Especially the ones with the tattoos."

Jamie raised an eyebrow. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Ask. They need to tell you the rest." John said. He smiled again. "And if you like him, don't shut him out."

"Who?"

"You know."

"Was it you? In the woods? My leg..."

"No. How could I manage to get the energy to do that? I can barely make a draft to blow a curtain two inches." John held her gaze in the mirror. Jamie noted that he was not quite as solid as he had been. She could see the seat through him. He was fading, his energy ebbing. "I have to go, Jamie. Somebody is coming out for you. We've been out here too long."

"Wait...if I find a way to get you in the house, would you be protected from that ghost?" She asked. John was barely visible now, nothing more than a vague outline.

"I don't know. Maybe. And maybe it would just be a way to let him in. Don't do that, Jimmie. Don't take the chance." At that he winked out. One minute a dark shadow, the next nothing. Jamie waited for several minutes, unsure of what to do.

"John?"

There was a weak whisper near her ear. "Tomorrow...meet me here again if you want...I have to rest now Jimmie...but...be careful. I knew him. The guy who killed me. I know who he is." A shiver went down her back. And with that Jamie knew that John was gone.

Just in time too. The door to the house opened and Mark walked through the snow, a concerned look on his features. Jamie opened the door and accepted her coat that he held in his hand.

"Everything all right?"

"Yeah, fine." Jamie struggled into her coat. She hadn't realized how cold she was until she saw her coat. She was crazy for sitting outside so long in just a t-shirt. Mark gave her a hand out of the vehicle and Jamie let him. Her anger was gone. She was still confused. But maybe not nearly as lost as she had been before. She and Mark were definitely going to have a talk.

"Did you get everything taken care of?" He asked, letting her walk ahead of him toward the door.

"Some." Jamie shrugged. She reached the steps and came to a halt, turning to look at him. "Are your friends staying?"

Mark raised an eyebrow. He hadn't really given it much thought. "Don't really know, darlin'. Doubt it. Lucy doesn't like me much. As you probably noticed already."

Jamie smiled. Yes, she had. "Ok. Just curious." She turned and opened the door, stepping into the warm kitchen. Mark was confused by her sudden turn in mood but followed along. He supposed if he was going through what she was, he'd be a little moody too.

No one spoke much the rest of the evening about the events that had happened. Everyone ate dinner, and Kayla kept the talk to lighter things. Jamie thought the woman was a born hostess. Either that or she really didn't like tension.

After eating, Lucy and Randy decided to leave. She wasn't even rude about turning down Glen's offer of a place to sleep. She and Randy had to get their car and move it away from the road. Plus...she said she wanted to learn the lay of the land. Randy looked resigned but followed her out the door.

It wasn't much later when Kayla and Glen decided to head for her cousin's house. Earlier they had gone out shopping. Now Kayla wanted to check on things to make sure the house was still standing. They had been listening to weather reports earlier in the day and the forecast called for snow flurries and a dip in temperatures into single digits.

Jamie cleaned up dinner dishes and wiped down the table before heading upstairs. Mark had gone outside, to do what she had no idea. She climbed into the shower and fifteen minutes later toweled herself dry. She dug in her bag and found a pair of drawstring shorts and a tank top. With the heat on and the fireplace going, the room was plenty warm enough for her usual sleep attire.

But it was too early for bed. She wasn't tired. She thought about going downstairs and finding a book, but that didn't sound appealing either. With a sigh she got up and went into the hallway, listening to the near empty house.

Mark had apparently come back in. She could hear a shower running from the direction of his room. She walked down the hall and peered through his door. He was definitely in the shower. She went in and shut the door behind her. Jamie sat down in the window seat, looking out into the yard. She could barely make out the sunken square of the swimming pool. The snow had nearly brought it up even to the rest.

Snow was falling again. It was fitful, for a few minutes heavy before tapering off to nearly nothing. The wind had picked up. It blew the snow against the window where it melted. Jamie hugged her knees to her chest, her back resting against the wall. The window seat was a lot cooler than the rest of the room. Not cold enough to chase her away from her seat though.

A few minutes later Mark came out of his bathroom. He was wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. He had a towel wrapped around his shoulders, catching water from his wet hair. He didn't seem the least bit surprised to find her sitting in his room.

Jamie studied him shamelessly while he rubbed his hair with the towel. His arms were completely covered with tattoos. There were some on his stomach too. She had seen his arms of course, but it hadn't really registered just how much ink he had on him.

"I thought you went to bed." He finally spoke after tossing his towel back into the bathroom.

"Couldn't sleep. I'm not tired." Jamie rested her chin on her knees and watched as he sat down on the edge of his bed.

"How's your leg?"

"You didn't notice?" Jamie asked. He shook his head. She stretched her leg out, twisting it a little to show unblemished skin. Mark raised an eyebrow. She had expected more of a reaction. "You did this?" She made it a question.

He shook his head. "I don't know how I could have. I'm not a healer." He ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing out some tangles.

"Are there such things?"

"Aren't you one? You were a nurse. Maybe you did it yourself." Mark's lips twitched a little at that.

"If you can do something like that, why would you hide it? Or deny it? It's...amazing." Jamie rubbed her leg idly before bringing it back up to join the other.

"I told you, darlin'. I'm lookin' to retire. And that...doesn't always work. It's not a power that can be trusted."

"Well I'm sorry you had to come out of retirement and do it then." Jamie said. "It would have healed."

"It happened on its own. That's why you can't trust it."

"Ok." Jamie sighed and shivered as a cool puff of air wafted over her skin. Mark rose from his seat and grabbed a soft blanket that was piled on the foot of his bed. He walked over to her,dropped to one knee, and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, bringing it closed in front of her.

Jamie stared at his eyes as he covered her. The blanket was warm. Her shivering stopped. Mark met her gaze and fiddled idly with the material he'd draped her with. "You shouldn't be sittin' there with your hair wet. You'll get sick."

"I'll survive." Jamie said, her voice low. "That's an old wives' tale anyway. Wet hair doesn't cause a cold. Germs do."

"Guess that makes me an old wife then. I believe it."

Jamie smiled. "Why not just say...'I have this power that might heal you'?"

Mark sighed. "Aren't you freaked out enough? How much more do you wanna hear?"

"I'm nosy. So everything." Jamie managed to shift and get a hand free of the blanket. She touched his arm. "Like where these came from." She traced one of his tattoos with her finger.

Mark watched the motion for a moment before raising his eyes to meet hers. "You won't believe it if I tell you I was really drunk, huh?" Jamie rolled her eyes. "Fine. Who told you to look?"

"Does it matter? What do they mean?"

"I have no clue what they mean." Mark looked down at his arms again, taking in the colors and shapes. "I don't even know why they turn into what they do. I just know I got one for every bad spirit I sent to hell where it belonged."

"One for every...but...there are so many of them..."

"I know. I told you, retirement. Doesn't matter what somebody like Lucy thinks. There comes a time when you get too old or too tired or just...too...hell...something. I've seen too many of 'em, Jamie. Been doing this shit since I was a kid. I think I deserve a break."

"Too bad I got dumped in your lap then." Jamie said softly.

"You didn't get dumped. You needed help."

"Yeah, but you didn't want to help. I'm sorry I dragged you into this."

"You didn't drag me anywhere, darlin'. I've been willin' the whole time." Mark offered her a crooked smile. "Do me a favor though. Don't tell anybody it was me that fixed your leg. I don't need any more grief than I already get from Lucy. Glen doesn't even know, and I'd prefer to keep it that way."

Jamie nodded. "If you want me to keep it quiet, I will." She looked at him solemnly. So she understood what John meant now about the tattoos. Which raised another question. "Does Glen have any? Tattoos, I mean." Mark shook his head.

"No. He only sent the good ones. I always figured it was...kind of a warning to the bad ones. Not any kind of reward or..." He shrugged, unable to finish.

Jamie understood what he was getting at. She used her hand to turn his arm, looking at the artwork on his forearm. For a minute they were quiet, Jamie looking at his tattoos, and Mark looking at her. When she finally raised her eyes, her expression was completely unreadable.

She shrugged the blanket off her shoulders and lowered her feet to the floor. Without saying a word she reached out and put her hands on Mark's shoulders as she leaned forward and kissed him.

16

Lucy whistled the whole way to the car.

"Do you have to do that?" Randy asked, sick of hearing Jingle Bells.

Her answer was to whistle louder. Randy sighed and resigned himself to having to either tune her out or kill her. And she still had the gun. He should have swiped it when he had the chance. The thought made him smile. It took him a full minute to notice that Lucy had stopped whistling and walking just as they neared the end of the woods on a path that led to the road.

"What is it?" He whispered, looking around. Nothing but dark woods. The wind gusted, blowing snow in his face. Not for the first time, he made himself a promise to move to a tropical climate. He didn't like the cold.

"Look..." Lucy pointed. Randy followed her finger, and through the line of trees he could see a glint.

"Is that a car?"

"SUV. I think. There's so much snow on it I can't really tell." Lucy kept her voice low, her eyes moving to take in the outline of the vehicle. "Silver Caddy. Well, well. I wonder who it could belong to."

"You think Miranda parked her car out here and walked?" Randy snorted. "She wouldn't risk her shoes."

"Maybe she bought some boots."

"Maybe she's in trouble?" Randy made it a question. In truth, it didn't feel like it. His instincts might not be as honed as Lucy's but he knew when someone needed help. This...well. The SUV was not on the long winding drive that led to the road. It was parked on a hidden walking trail. Lucy and Randy had started too far north to spot it on the way in.

"What the hell would she be doing out here?" Lucy asked. It was rhetorical. "Oh...do not tell me she's resorting to spying on people." She looked at Randy. She was highly amused. "You think she knows about Jamie?"

"I don't know." Randy shrugged. "What's it matter?"

"You men. So dense." Lucy shook her head. "Maybe she didn't trust her man meat alone in a house with an attractive woman who isn't a total bitch."

Randy snorted again. She did have a point. Miranda did seem the over-dramatic jealous type. "So what do you wanna do?"

"Find her. What else?" At Randy's questioning look, Lucy grimaced. "And believe me, not to the benefit of Mark. I have a bone to pick with that bitch myself."

"Yeah, yeah." Randy gestured. "Lead on, Lu. Before we both freeze to death out here."

Lucy did as he said. She walked in a slow circle around the SUV, peering at the ground, the trees. Finally she shook her head. "She's been parked for a while. No tracks. Damn...has she been snooping around the woods for a day or more?"

"How would I know?" Randy asked, rubbing his hands together. He left Lucy staring at the ground in frustration and walked over to the SUV. He knocked snow off the window and peered inside before trying the door. It was unlocked. He cast a look at his sister before swinging the door wide and leaning in.

The vehicle was strangely clean. No dirt, not even on the floor mats. Lucy kept her car clean but there was always some sign that it had been driven. This one could have just come off the lot. There was nothing in the front seat, and nothing in the rear that he could see. His breath puffed out white as he searched and found the lever that released the cargo door.

He was expecting more nothing, but instead there were three red containers. Randy lifted one, surprised it was empty. "Lu?"

"Yeah?" She was at the front of the SUV. When he didn't speak, she joined him at the back. "What is it?"

"Gas cans. What do you suppose she was doing with these out here?" He twisted open the cap and sniffed. The cold in the car had kept the smell down, but this close it was obvious the can had been used. And recently. There was still a bit of liquid at the bottom. Not enough to add any weight to the plastic though.

"Well I haven't seen any smoke signals. Or bonfires." Lucy sighed. "You don't suppose she's in a fit and burning down Mark's house right this second do you?"

"How would that be possible? We were just there. She couldn't have done it and gone around us. Not Miranda." Randy snickered. "I don't even see her carrying one of these cans. She might break a nail."

"True." Lucy sighed heavily. "All right. So...we can either trek back to Mark's, see if she's hanging around, sniff to see if she magically spilled gas. Or..."

Randy rubbed his forehead. "Jamie."

"Miranda's a jealous bitch."

"Hell. How do we know where she lives?"

"My guess would be we head toward town and see if we can spot some smoke."Lucy said.

Randy nodded. He put the gas can back and slammed the cargo door shut. "How far to the car?"

Lucy smiled. "Wasn't planning on taking ours." She smacked her hand on the side of the SUV, sending snow falling to the ground.

Randy gave her a grin of his own. Although Lucy was a little more vocal about her dislike of Miranda, there was no love lost with him either. And it would be kind of funny, if she were to return and her car was gone. "I'm on it." He said, turning and heading for the driver's seat.

"What was that for?" Mark asked when they finally pulled apart. Jamie leaned back and touched her lips lightly with her fingers.

"I don't know. Just felt like it." She smiled.

Mark nodded as if she'd explained herself. He had a troubled look in his eyes though. Jamie could almost feel him struggling with his thoughts. He was confused. She was too. She'd never been so attracted to a person in her entire life. It was kind of scary.

"You know...we've only known each other a few days." Mark said slowly.

And there he put into words what she'd been thinking. It was a little crazy to be lusting after a guy she knew nothing about. "Of course." Her smile faded. "Sorry."

"Nothin' to be sorry about. I'm just...you know..." He sighed heavily. "You have to be careful who you get involved with."

"I think this is the first time a guy has ever warned me about himself." Jamie said, smirking at the idea.

"Well you see what we go through. Hell, even when we want out we're still doing it." He reached out and let his hand rest on her knee. "This isn't the kind of life I'd wish on somebody who wasn't ready for it."

"I must have missed the part where I proposed marriage." She said wryly. For some reason the situation was striking her funny.

"You want me to scare ya away?" Mark asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Take your best shot."

"If I wanted somebody to be a convenient lay, I would have asked Miranda to stay." He stated, a look of distaste on his features.

"Ah. And I'm not convenient enough, huh? Or maybe I'm too convenient?"

"That's not what I meant." Mark said, frowning.

"I know. It's not like you insulted me." Jamie rose to her feet. "Ok, well good night. Thanks for the blanket." She handed said blanket to him, ignoring his surprised expression. She didn't wait for him to speak either, instead she headed for her own room.

Jamie paced for a few minutes, wondering why it was she was finding it funny and annoying at the same time. She hadn't been coming on too strong, at least not in her opinion. In fact, he was the one who had been giving her the heated looks and he'd kissed her first. And yes, he had done it for the purpose of healing her, but still...really, had it required a kiss at all?

She went to her bag and grabbed a pair of jeans and a shirt. She was definitely not going to get any sleep for a while yet. She was too worked up. Jamie got dressed and headed for the stairs.

The building was a loss.

Lucy had no way of knowing when the fire had been started. Given the snow piled on the car, Miranda had spread the gas and then gone back to Mark's. She'd somehow come back to light the blaze. She had to have someone helping her, otherwise it wasn't possible. The woman couldn't sprout wings and fly after all.

"They're not trying to put it out. Just hosing down the houses on either side." Randy said from beside her. They had climbed onto the roof of an apartment building across the street from the fire. The burning building was barely visible through the billowing smoke. Every now and then orange flames would flicker in one of the busted windows.

"Because nobody was there. Everybody headed for the hills when the power went out. Damn good thing. If Miranda did it, she didn't give a damn if there were people there or not." At Lucy's words something on the rear of the building popped and suddenly the smoke thickened. The ground shook. There were a series of small explosions, each one sending fire shooting into the sky. "Must have been the gas lines going. Well, if our intent was to scavenge any of her stuff, I guess we can forget it now." Lucy said, watching as the roof of the other building fell in with an anti-climactic thump.

"We should get back." Randy said, watching as the firefighters finally began aiming their hoses at the building that was burning. "Better tell her before someone else does. Namely that bitch Miranda." At that, Lucy looked at him with a grin.

"Ha. I knew you would finally turn over to my side."

"Hard not to. What kind of psycho fruitcake burns down an apartment building because she's jealous?"

"The kind we're going to hunt down before she does any more damage. Let's beat it." Lucy glanced at the fire one last time before following Randy to the rear of the roof where they had gotten up. Whatever Miranda was thinking, even somebody as thick-headed as Mark would have to see she'd gone completely over the edge. For some reason the prospect of rubbing it in his face didn't make her as happy as it should have. Lucy figured she was just tired.

Randy got the SUV started and headed back toward where they had found it. They were both quiet on the drive. He figured Lucy was plotting. She'd think of something. She always did. He was thinking of Jamie, feeling sorry for her. From what he had gathered talking to her and the others that afternoon was that she had lost her brother, and was the focus of some other strange things. And she was alone. He dreaded having to break the news to her. If he were lucky, Lucy would actually show some tact and not turn it into a joke, as was her usual attitude. It wasn't that she was callous, she just handled stress and drama in different ways than most people.

He guided the SUV along the trail into the woods and parked it in almost exactly the same spot. He almost wished he'd be there to see Miranda come back and tried to figure out how there were tracks that led out but her car was still there.

"Let's go see if we can find her." Lucy said it so low Randy almost didn't hear her.

"Huh? I thought you wanted to go break the news to Jamie."

"We will. They don't have phones or TV or even a fuckin' radio at that place. But we need to catch the bitch out. She's not here, she's not at the fire, which means she's most likely watchin' Mark's house. Or already in it."

"So guard duty?"

"If we have to." Lucy sighed and climbed out of the SUV.

"Maybe we should go find Glen and Kayla, let them know too. She might be a target if Jamie is."

"She might be. But I highly doubt it. I got the feeling that Mark was into Jamie. And if Miranda sniffed it out, it might have put her off her rocker." Lucy pushed her hair back from her face and winced as the wind gusted and pelted her skin with snow. "You gonna be all right in the cold?"

"I'll survive." Randy said ruefully. In his head he pictured a beach, complete with palm trees. It was mental torture. He wished he were already there.

"Let's get going then. Got to stop her before she gets up to too much more trouble." Lucy had a grim smile on her face. Randy tucked his hands in his pockets and walked with her, back into the woods along the trail they'd created earlier.

17

A noise from the back of the house caught her attention.

Jamie was curled up on the couch, a book in her hand. Instead of reading, she'd mostly been staring into the flames that danced in the fireplace. The noise came again, a soft knocking. She sighed and set the book down before rising to her feet and heading for the kitchen.

She squinted through the glass pane of the back door and smiled a little as she unlocked it to let Randy into the house. His noise and ears were so red they were practically glowing. "Great night to catch a case of frostbite." She commented, shutting the door behind him. Randy grinned and rubbed his hands together briskly.

"Believe me, it's not by my choice. Please tell me they have something hot to drink. I feel like an ice cube."

"I could make some coffee." Jamie went to the counter and got busy. Randy stripped his coat off and tried to stop his chattering teeth. "You know, I wasn't kidding about the frost bite."

"Yeah." He cupped his hands over his ears, trying to warm them up.

"So what are you guys doing out there?" Jamie asked, watching as dark liquid began to trickle into the coffee pot.

"Wandering around like idiots." Randy sank into one of the kitchen chairs. His fingers were so cold they hurt. "Lucy doesn't feel the cold like normal people. I think the government should study her."

"Technically the government would probably love to study her. And you. And everybody else around here." Jamie smirked. "Isn't that what they do?"

Randy raised an eyebrow and flexed his fingers. "Into conspiracy theories?"

Jamie shrugged. "Not really."

"Well, thanks to half-baked psychics, the feds tend to ignore us. People who can truly communicate with the dead do what we do, and do it quietly. We don't like to draw attention to ourselves."Randy watched as she poured him a steaming cup of coffee and set it down in front of him. He sipped it cautiously and sighed. "My tongue is melting finally. Thanks."

"No problem. You might want to consider a warm bath too." Jamie poured herself a cup. She didn't normally like coffee, but it was nice to hold the heat between her hands. And the smell was making her stomach growl. "Not hot, just barely warm. To heat the rest of you up."

"I might do that. As long as Lucy doesn't come hunting for me, calling me names." Randy chuckled and took another drink.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure." Randy looked at her, waiting.

"Did something happen out there?" She gestured to the window.

"Nothing but me freezing my butt off." He met her eyes and sighed again. "Is my face to frozen to be able to pretend everything's okey-dokie?"

"Pretty much." Jamie eyed him. It wasn't his face, it was something about how he was sitting. Almost like he was expecting her to throw a punch at him. She knew that look, she'd seen it plenty of times in the ER, and again when the police had arrived to tell her that John had been killed. It was the posture of someone carrying bad news.

Randy took a breath and decided not to wait for Lucy. "Well, we found a car in the woods. I don't know if you know who she is, but we think it belongs to a woman named Miranda..." At Jamie's nod, he went on. "We checked and found empty gas cans. And then we drove to town and..." He shook his head. "You're apartment's gone, Jamie."

"What do you mean, gone?"

"Burned. We heard a few small explosions from the back. Figured it was gas that was settled in the pipes. But everything was beyond saving. I'm sorry..."

Jamie set her cup aside and dropped into the chair across from him. She was stunned. "Are you sure? I mean...I should go there, and look for myself..." She started to rise but he stopped her with a hand on her arm.

"It can wait. It's not pretty." He gave her arm a squeeze with cold fingers. "Did you share it with your brother?"

Jamie shook her head. "No...I've only lived there a year or so. Moved because I didn't need two bedrooms anymore, and working at the bar I couldn't really afford..." She stopped herself. "Well, I could have afforded plenty, I got John's insurance money, and some savings. But I...never mind. Doesn't matter. It's not the place, it's what was in it. Pictures. That was all I had left of my brother, besides my Jeep. I gave all of his stuff to charity when he died, he had a will and that's what he said he wanted."Her voice faded. "All of my pictures."

"I'm so sorry, Jamie." Randy rubbed her arm. "We would have tried to go in and save what we could, but there wasn't any use."

Jamie blinked a few times, trying to process it. If Randy were right, and she had no reason to disbelieve him, the only possessions she had left in the world were upstairs in an overnight bag. Her whole life, subtracted down to a few pairs of jeans, a few shirts, and a Jeep that should have seen a junkyard years before. She pulled her arm away from Randy and put her face in her hands, sure she was going to start crying.

"Look...we can go out. Well, I was going to say in daylight, but with the weather...I guess we'll just say in the morning. I'll drive you out there, you can poke around. Maybe you can salvage something." Randy drank his coffee and studied the top of Jamie's head thoughtfully.

"Why?" Jamie's voice was muffled by her hands but understandable. "Why would that woman want to burn my apartment down?"

"Do you know for sure it was her?" Mark's voice from behind Randy brought the younger man's head around. Jamie didn't even look up.

"Evidence points that way. She's still around somewhere, her SUV is nearby." Randy finished his coffee and rose to set the cup in the sink. "I think I'm going to borrow you're bathroom, and thaw myself out." He left the room. Mark sat down in the chair that Randy vacated.

"You all right?"

"Do I look all right?" She still held her hands over her face.

Mark reached across the table and took her hands, pulling them down. Jamie let him, and even though she had every right to cry about her loss, she wasn't. Instead there was a look of tired anger there.

"This is my fault." He said it so low she almost didn't hear him.

"Sure." Jamie nodded. She knew it wasn't, she didn't know why he'd take the blame.

"No. If I had known that she was going to come here, I wouldn't have let myself..." Mark cleared his throat. "Anyway. She's my problem to deal with. I should have listened to everybody that warned me about her. But I'm hard headed, damn near to a fault." He rubbed her hands.

"That's nice. You'll deal with her. What about my stuff? Everything I had..." Jamie hitched in a breath, got herself under control, and once more met his eyes.

"Not everything." Mark said softly. He ran his thumbs over the backs of her hands. "Wait here. I'll be right back." With that he let her go and left the kitchen, heading out the back door. Jamie raised an eyebrow at that. He was wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else, not even socks. She rose and dumped out her own untasted coffee, unable to even taste it. Her stomach was suddenly in turmoil. The smell of the coffee was making her nauseous.

Mark returned after a few minutes, ignoring the snow that fell from the legs of his jeans. He was holding a small object in his hand. Without a word, he held it out to Jamie. She took it slowly, turning it to face her. "Where did you..."

"When I went to get your things. Something told me to take it." Mark's lips formed a sad smile. "Lucky again."

"It's..." Jamie slid her fingertip across the surface of the picture. "This was after I graduated. We were celebrating. Riding roller coasters." She gripped the frame tighter, her eyes once more meeting Mark's. "Thank you. I don't know why you took it, but thank you."

"Don't mention it." He reached out and brushed her hair back from her face without even thinking about it. Jamie leaned into his palm, feeling the heat from his hand on her cheek.

A door closed upstairs, breaking the mood that had fallen over them. Jamie stepped back, still clutching the picture like a lifeline. Mark turned and busied himself washing the two cups in the sink.

Randy appeared in the doorway. He was no longer glowing red. That was a plus. "Thanks. I feel almost human again."

"Anytime. You can take Glen's room if you wanna catch some rest."

"I'm good for now. A little more coffee, and I'll probably go back out." Randy looked at Jamie and then back to Mark. "Got to find Lucy. Wouldn't want her to get stuck in the snow."

"I'll get you a key. Don't wanna leave the door unlocked for obvious reasons." Mark dried his hands and went to the living room. From a side table he pulled out a ring that held spare keys to the SUV, the house, and the storage shed out back. He tossed them to Randy. "You going out with wet hair?"

"He's an old wife." Jamie said, smiling a little. She looked once more at the picture before looking up at the men. "I'm going to get ready for bed. Again."

"An old wife, huh?" Randy snickered and tugged a hat over his head. He planned only on going out long enough to find Lucy. No freezing himself solid this time.

"She's a smartass." Mark said with a put-upon sigh. "Be careful out there. If you find that bitch, leave her for me to talk to. If you don't mind."

"I don't at all. Lucy, on the other hand, might shoot her."

"Lucy has a gun?"

"Oh yeah. She's packing like Dirty Harry." Randy tugged his coat on, watching as Mark went to a small utility closet. He came back out with a heavy pair of gloves. "Thanks." Randy pulled them on, feeling like a kid again getting ready for school.

"Don't let Lucy get too gung-ho out there." Mark said, opening the door for him.

Randy smirked. "No worries. Her fingers are probably so cold by now she can't bend them to pull the trigger. Take care."

"When you come back, wake me up. I'll spell you outside."

Randy nodded and waved over his shoulder as he headed into the darkness. Mark watched for a moment before resolutely shutting and locking the door. He should sleep, he should get all the rest he could, but he knew it would be useless. Especially since Glen was not there to help keep an eye out. If Miranda would burn down Jamie's apartment, there was no telling what she would do to Mark's house.

He turned and headed for the living room. The fire had died down to embers. Mark considered building it again, but decided against it. He went up the stairs and nearly knocked Jamie down at the top. She was dressed once more for bed.

"I don't know how I'm going to be able to sleep." She said, shrugging. "Arsonists and demon wolves and ghosts. It's all a little too much."

Mark nodded, hesitated, and reached out. He let his hands rest on her shoulders, feeling her bare skin that her tank top left uncovered. Without a word, he leaned down and caught her lips with his, surprising her with a kiss. She swayed a bit under his hands before stepping closer, pressing herself against him. Her lips parted and he felt her tongue flick lightly at his lower lip. Mark let the tip of his tongue brush hers before kissing her deeply.

Out of breath, he pulled back just enough so that he could look into her eyes. "Do you want me?"

His question took her by surprise. Jamie took a deep, shuddering breath and answered. "Yes."

"Then I'm yours." He let his thumbs brush over her shoulders. He shouldn't, he knew it, but he couldn't seem to help himself. Unlike Miranda who he had considered a casual bedmate, he knew Jamie was something different. To be honest, it damn near scared the hell out of him, wanting her so much. He knew he was asking for trouble, complicating his already complicated life.

"Boo." It wasn't often that Randy managed to get the jump on Lucy, and he couldn't resist the opportunity when it arose. His sister was standing next to a tree, peering into the darkness. She didn't jump. Of course. She gave him a disgusted look and pointed.

"Lights."

"A house?" Randy asked, looking in the directin she indicated.

"Not out here." Lucy gestured to her left. "A mile or so...that's the place where Kayla and Glen are. Out here? I think we're seeing a ghost we're not supposed to see."

"Just one?"

"And candles."

Now that she pointed it out, Randy easily picked out the flickering candles. Four or them. And another light that floated a little higher than the others, It did not flicker. "Who would be out here, this late, lighting candles?"

"Three guesses." Lucy said softly. "First two don't count."

"Why? Miranda is completely nuts. I agree with you on that one."

"I think she's talking to a spirit. I can't see it. Just the light. Whoever it is, he's hiding."

"You think it's our ghost?"

"I wish I knew. Adam is still out. And there isn't another spirit within miles. Like they're all hiding." Lucy sounded troubled.

Randy frowned and pulled his coat tighter around his throat. For as long as he could remember, there had always been spirits around them. Some wanted help. Others were hiding, but they could still be sensed. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this kind of emptiness.

"Are they all afraid of it?"

"Or her."

"Great." Randy sighed. "Are we crashing the party?"

"Of course." Lucy smiled without humor. Randy was glad to see the gun was still safely tucked away. She motioned and he cautiously followed her through the snow as the crept up on the lights.

They were ten yards away. Neither of them made a sound in the snow. Randy was sure of it. But as soon as they got close enough to see a figure in the hovering light, all of the candles winked out. Lucy and Randy's eyes had adjusted to the meager light. Now the night was pitch black. Lucy cursed under her breath and pulled her flashlight out. With a click, a beam of bright light pierced the darkness. The area where the candles had been was empty. Even the candles were gone. Randy dug his own flashlight out and headed to the right, while Lucy took the left. They met in the middle of the area they had been watching.

"No footprints, no candles, not even a fuckin' twig." Lucy said, looking down. "Only tracks are ours."

"Then what the hell was that?"

"I have no idea, Rands. But I don't think I like it." Lucy sighed and shook her head.

"Maybe it was a sign?" Randy made it a question.

"From who? And meaning what? Don't use candles in the woods?" She didn't hide the sarcasm. This time it was Randy who led the way as they headed back toward Mark's.

"I don't know. This whole thing has gone screwy. Let's get back to the house. I don't like this."

"Scared?"

"Not for myself." Randy said.

"Remember this spot. We'll come back later, and see if it feels the same way."

"Got it, boss." Randy trudged through the snow, no longer looking for signs of Miranda or ghosts. The candles and the light had seriously freaked him out. He'd never heard of anything like it. A ghost couldn't light candles and then blow them out and stick them in his pocket. Something more than strange was going on. "We'll need to make a phone call." He said over his shoulder. Lucy smiled. She was thinking the same thing. Every time they ran into something they did not understand, there was always someone who did. Their grandmother, who had pretty much written the book on ghost hunting.

18

Miranda lit the last white candle, not feeling the cold air against her fingers. Her anger had kept her warm for most of the night. Now it was something else, something sexual. Setting fire to that bitch's apartment had turned her on in a way that could not be compared. It wasn't that she fancied herself in love with Mark...quite the contrary. She didn't even like him, not really. But he was good looking, and he was good in bed, and he was HERS. No doe eyed normal was going to step in and take something that belonged to her. Not in this lifetime.

She smiled coldly to herself and stepped back, waiting. How amazing it was that she'd only driven a hundred yards from Mark's house and had found...him. She didn't even know his name, but that didn't matter. He was also dead...but that too was inconsequential. There were other ways around the spirit world.

It only took a few minutes, but she was impatient. It felt like hours. Finally the snow in the center of the candles began to glow. And he rose up in front of her eyes. He was not nearly as tall as Mark or Glen, but he was solidly built. He had dark hair and dark, nearly black eyes. He was handsome and that was putting it mildly. And there was something dark beyond his looks, something sinister almost, that she found hard to resist.

"You've done it."

His voice was low and sent a shiver down her back. "Yes. You could go see for yourself."

"No need. I trust you." He smiled. It was rather funny, that Miranda sensed some sort of dark sexual energy about him. Unfortunately for her, it was not the energy she was looking for. It was taking all of his concentration not to kill the insipid bitch where she stood, staring at him as if drinking him in. "I take it she is still in the house?"

"Of course. They're being cautious now." Miranda sneered. "Protecting her."

"Well it's just a matter of time, isn't it?" Again the smile. "I have more business for you to take care of. My host is getting rather angry at me. He thinks he can get control. But instead of wasting my energy fighting him, I think I'll humor him this."

"What is it?"

"His wife..." He paused and tilted his head, his eyes taking on a faraway cast. "He wants the whore killed." He met Miranda's eyes once again. "His words. I'm sure his wife is perfectly lovely. But she's been a naughty girl."

"You want me to...kill her?" Miranda let the thought settle. Could she kill someone? For this man, yes.

"And the bastard who is trespassing on his property." He smirked to himself. "Her brother is becoming quite the problem. We'll need to deal with him. If he ever shows his cowardly face."

Miranda frowned, and realized he'd gone from cold-blooded murder to talking about Mark's pet project in the space of a breath. "He will. You'll think of something."

"Of course I will." He reached out and stroked a fingertip over Miranda's cheek. She whimpered softly, not noticing that his touch was colder than the air around them. "Take care of his wife first. Then we'll see about your friends in the house." She nodded as he pulled back. "Her name is Emma. She's staying with the bastard who is fucking her. A doctor." There was another smile. Had she been looking, it might have made Miranda scream. There was nothing human in it. "Do this for me, and you'll be rewarded."

"I don't need a reward." Miranda said softly. She looked him over once more, knowing their time was ending. The spirits were hiding. He didn't have anyone to draw energy from. It was starting to make her angry.

"Noble of you. But this is going a step further than petty arson." He met her eyes. "You may feel free to burn them both. If you choose. But we will need you to bring her wedding ring. Can you do that, Miranda?"

The sound of her name send another shiver down her spine. "Of course I can..."

"Good. We will need it for the binding ceremony, if you and I are to be together."

"Together?"She barely managed to get it past her lips.

"Of course. Your reward. Is that not what you want?" The tone of his voice told her that he already knew it was what she wanted.

"I want it. I'll get it done. All of it." Miranda accepted his hand when he offered it. He stroked his fingers over hers, nearly making her moan.

"Don't disturb me until it's done. I need to rest. Tomorrow night, things are going to start happening. One way or another. Don't fail me in this, Miranda. You wouldn't want to make me angry."

"Of course not..." She didn't get to finish. He disappeared without a sound, the candles going out simultaneously, dropping her into darkness.

Miranda sighed and gathered up her candles. She heard a soft brushing sound and looked down. The snow was moving in her wake, covering her tracks. She smiled to herself. How sweet of him, to want to hide her involvement. It wasn't necessary of course. She really didn't give a damn if anyone found out what she'd done. There wasn't anything they could do after all. She headed for her SUV, plotting how to best go about finding Emma and her doctor.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark opened his eyes and glanced blearily around the room. The fire had died down, leaving nothing but smoking embers. Through the window the sky was getting lighter in the east. It was nearly dawn. He rolled to his side, smiling a bit at seeing Jamie's sleeping form next to him. She had turned on her stomach, the blankets slipped to her waist so he had a view of her smooth bare back. Being with her had been mind blowing. He was endlessly fascinated by her, and sleeping with her hadn't changed it a bit. She was just...a paradox. One minute sweet and shy, the next cussing like a sailor. In bed she was no different. At first she'd touched him tentatively, but after a bit she'd been urging him on, telling him what she wanted, driving him crazy with her breathless voice in his ear.

"Did anybody ever tell you how rude it is to stare?" Her voice surprised him from his wayward thoughts. Mark chuckled as Jamie shifted until her back was pressed against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and breathed in the scent of her hair.

"Somebody might have. I didn't listen obviously." He said, voice rough with sleep. And hoarse with need. He wanted her again. With a soft groan he pressed his hips forward, rubbing himself against her rear.

Jamie giggled. "I feel like a wrung out sponge, and I'm going to be sore for a week. Are you trying to kill me?"

"Nope." He ducked his head and kissed her on the sensitive spot where her neck met her shoulder. "But I'll rein it in."

"For now." Jamie corrected, snuggling closer. She was tired. She was shocked she had even woken up when she felt the bed move. Mark nuzzled her and smiled as her breath evened out. She'd fallen asleep again.

His smile faded as he thought of her situation though. He'd been thinking it over, and could come up with no way, other than keeping her locked in the house, to solve it. He and Glen could of course go back out hunting, but that didn't mean they would help her. In fact, he had tried. He'd opened himself up and there had been the usual chatter of random spirits. Nothing dark enough to be whatever it was that wanted her. And that scared him. Usually the dark spirits were easiest for him to pick up. Their thoughts were clear because they were generally angry.

Once, earlier, he had gotten a glimmer of her brother. It had been when Jamie was in the car, on the phone. He'd looked out and seen her talking. And had seen a shimmer in the back seat. She hadn't admitted she had spoken to him, but he didn't mind that. She needed time to process it.

He heard the sound of movement from downstairs. Randy or Lucy. Possibly even Glen and Kayla back from her cousin's house. He doubted that though. If Glen had his way, Mark might not see either of them for at least a week.

He sighed, wondering if he should go down and see if they needed something. The thought didn't form fully. He was dozing off again.

Jamie carefully extracted herself from his arms as soon as he was out. Noise from downstairs had woken her up, but she also needed a drink. Her throat was dry. As silently as possible, she gathered up her clothed and pulled them on. Mark didn't stir. She eased the door open and stepped into the hallway.

There was soft voices from downstairs. Jamie smiled and went down, following the noise to the kitchen. Randy and Lucy were sitting at the table. Randy was wearing his coat, his nose and cheeks a bit red from being out in the cold. Lucy was wrapped in a robe that was at least a mile too long. Glen's or Mark's obviously. Her hair was wet from a shower she'd taken.

"We didn't wake you up, did we?" Randy asked, catching sight of her.

"Nope. Need some liquid bubbles." Jamie went to the fridge and pulled out a soda. She popped the can and took three long swallows, sighing in relief as the cold liquid hit her dry throat. "What are you guys up to?"

"Switching shifts." Lucy said, cradling a cup of coffee between her hands.

"Shifts? What...are you guarding the house?"Jamie asked, a bit alarmed.

"Nah. We're looking for someone in the woods. Don't worry." Lucy smiled warmly. Randy glanced at his sister, wondering if it was as obvious to Jamie as it was to him that she was lying.

"I'll worry if I want." Jamie took a seat at the table with him. She hadn't been kidding when she had told Mark she would be sore. She could feel it settling into her legs. That would teach her to go so long without male companionship The thought made her smile to herself.

Lucy raised an eyebrow in Randy's direction. He had to bite his lip to keep from grinning. Obviously Jamie had other, better thoughts on her mind than psycho ghosts. "I'm about ready for twelve hours of sleep." He said, instead of laughing.

"You want some breakfast first? I'm starving." Jamie got up from the table again. Randy and Lucy watched as she gathered up food to cook. She was humming to herself, in her own world, ignoring the two at the table who spoke quietly to each other. Randy got up long enough to shrug his coat off and hang it to dry.

"Did you get in touch with Nan?" He asked Lucy.

She shook her head. "Nope. She's out ghostbusting with her friends again. I swear I'm gonna staple a cell phone to her hand."

"Like she would let you." Randy grinned. Their grandmother refused to use her cell phone. Or her computer. It was a rare day when she turned on the television. It had nothing to do with ghosts using electronics to contact the living. She just did not trust gadgets. "Maybe one of us should head back and help her out."

"Psh. Right. I'm not gonna piss her off." Lucy said with a snort.

"Just a thought." Randy chuckled. He lowered his voice a little, noticing that Jamie was busing mixing pancake batter. "Our friend in the SUV left sometime. Its not there anymore."

"Doesn't that figure. I was asking too much to hope she'd freeze to death in the woods." Lucy rummaged in one of the pockets of her robe and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She offered one to Randy before putting taking one for herself. "You smoke, J?"

Jamie looked over her shoulder at them and shook her head. "I used to. Once upon a time."

"Mind if we do?" Randy asked, accepting a light from Lucy's match. He inhaled deeply and blew smoke out across the table. He didn't smoke much, but one every now and then did wonders for his mood.

"Nope. Knock yourselves out." Jamie smiled and went back to cooking. She was humming under her breath.

Lucy flicked ashes into her mostly empty coffee cup and sighed. "I hate it when there's something weird going on, and I'm not in on it. I hate surprises."

"Well it was your idea to come here. We could have kept to ourselves." Randy said with a laugh.

"Right. And the retirees would have handled everything?" She snorted again. "I'm actually glad we're here in a way. Whatever it is that's out there, its new. Nobody has ever seen anything like this."

"I know. At least, not that we've heard."

"What have you heard?" Jamie asked, coming to the table with a plate of steaming pancakes. "Not to butt into the conversation."

"You're not. It's about you, kinda, anyway." Randy got up and used the sink to put out his cigarette. He tossed the butt in the garbage and washed his hands before going to the cabinets and helping Jamie get plates for them. "We're just trying to get a handle on what's going on around here."

"Yeah. You and me both." Jamie smiled as she sat down with them again. "So what do we do? I mean...do we just need the ghost to come and get sent? Or is it something else?"

"Normally..." Lucy shrugged. "Well, even the bad ones are attracted to us. The ones who can send them. It's like they can't resist. On occasion we've had to go out and actually hunt them down. But some of us can sense them...its like having radar built into your head." She tossed what was left of her cigarette into the dregs of her coffee. "This one though...nothing. Unless we can get him to do something and one of us can pinpoint him. I don't think it's going to be that easy though."

"Nothing ever is." Randy commiserated, taking a huge mouthful of pancake. He chewed and moaned noisily. "That is the best damn food I've ever eaten." He said when he'd finally chewed enough to breath.

"You're welcome." Jamie said with a laugh. "I'm not even going to get freaked out about this ghost stuff today. Does that mean I'm getting used to it?"

"Possibly. Hey jerk." Lucy nodded in the direction of the doorway. Mark was standing there, trying not to look too amused as the three of them ate breakfast.

Jamie met his eyes and smiled at him. He smiled back. Randy gave Lucy a light kick under the table, warning her without words not to run her mouth and ruin whatever it was the two of them had going. Lucy rolled her eyes but said nothing. Sometimes she did heed his advice. Usually when he was violent about it. The thought brought a grin to his face as he ate.

 

19

"So what's the plan for today?"

Mark and Glen were sitting on the couch. Kayla and Jamie were sharing the oversized chair next to it. Randy was still sleeping and Lucy had gone out. It was Kayla who had broken the silence the four of them shared.

"No clue. I'm stumped." Glen shared a look with Mark.

"I'm starting to get cabin fever." Jamie grouched. It was true. She hated being stuck inside, and even though she had been outside...she missed being able to just up and go wherever she wanted. It had been a long morning. There had been no morning after awkwardness between her and Mark, she was thankful for that. They went on like nothing had happened. She wasn't sure that was such a good thing either. She was confused, and when she was confused she liked to go for walks to clear her head. That couldn't happen here.

"What...need a good workout or something?" Kayla asked with a snicker. She elbowed Jamie playfully. "Why don't you just ask Ma..."

"Bite me." Jamie cut her off. She had to laugh when Kayla bent closer and actually bit her on the shoulder. "Great. Now I'm gong to live forever." That made everyone crack up. It was a good tension breaker. The guys visibly relaxed.

"We do need to find out what the point of all this is." Mark said, sobering and getting them back around to the problem at hand. "This thing is getting bigger by the minute."

"Well, I don't know what else to try." Glen said, running a hand through his hair. "There's nothing out there. Not that I can sense anyway."

"We're not doing any good just sitting around here." Mark said with a sigh. He was back to serious. Glen thought he looked more troubled than usual, and he knew it wasn't because of any ghost. "Maybe we should go out today, stomp the woods. See if we can scare up some help."

Glen raised an eyebrow. He looked at the women, decided to hell with it, and met Mark's eyes. "You want to go back into it? Fully?"

"I don't see any other way."

"Excuse me guys..." Kayla broke in. "But want to clue us in?"

"Not particularly." Glen said with a half-hearted smile. "It's probably something better left to us."Mark was nodding in agreement.

"We're going to go talk for a few minutes." Mark looked at Jamie. "Don't worry. We'll let you know what's going on before we do anything."

"Good." Jamie spoke as he left the room. Neither she nor Kayla moved for a few minutes, both thinking.

"I suppose I could get off your lap. I like you and everything J, but I swear too much more of this cuddling and I'm going to expect you to put out." Kayla grunted and got to her feet, grinning at Jamie's laugh. "Oh...since we womenfolk have been left out of their conversation, I have a proposition for you."

Jamie smiled and watched as Kayla went to a small overnight bag she'd dropped near the door. She pulled out a notebook and a pen, which she clicked repeatedly as she went back to the couch and flopped back against the cushions.

"Do I even want to know?" Jamie asked, unsure.

"Probably not. I told you, I write stories..." At her nod, Kayla grinned. "Well this one is too good not to write down. So...I need to get your stats. For fiction's sake." She laughed at the look on Jamie's face. "Don't worry. I won't use anybody's real names. And other stuff will be changed around too. I just need some...research."

Once she was settled, her notebook open, her pen ready, Kayla began asking questions. Jamie answered reluctantly at first, but soon was giggling at the thought of being a character in some romance novel.

"Favorite color?"

"Purple." She smiled and said it without thinking.

"Favorite sex position?"

"On top...wait...?" That one had caught her by surprise.

"Research I told you." Kayla laughed. "Dream job?" The questions went on and on. It passed the time. Jamie didn't even notice Glen standing in the doorway, watching them with amusement on his features.

"When you ladies are finished, Mark wants a word with you Jamie." He finally broke in when Kayla paused for a breath. Jamie laughed and got up, heading for the kitchen where Mark was waiting. Glen took a seat on the couch next to Kayla and tried to snatch her notebook from her.

Mark was standing at the door, looking through the windows and into the sunless day. Everything outside looked like a postcard. Nothing but unbroken white and shades of gray. Jamie stood next to him and waited to hear what he wanted to say.

"I thought I could do this without getting fully in it." Finally he spoke, so low she could barely hear him. "Guess I can't."

"I'm sorry. You don't have to do it on my account. I just...I wish I knew how to help myself..."She immediately apologized, feeling guilty for dragging him into this.

"Don't say you're sorry, darlin'." Mark slowly wrapped an arm around her waist, giving her a light squeeze. "You need help. We were taught to help. Its simple as that." He sighed again and shifted away, letting her go. "Glen and I are going out into the woods. We'll have to...got to get a handle on this thing before it gets too far away from us. And I'd prefer if you didn't come with us this time." At her sound of protest, Mark raised a hand. "Sometimes when we try to find a spirit, we attract the wrong ones. That's all. I don't think we're going to find the right one today...maybe tonight. Tomorrow most definitely. It's just a feelin' I have. But I want you to stay in here, where you're safe."

"Are you saying that you won't be safe out there?" Jamie asked, feeling smaller than she ever had. She didn't want Mark or Glen risking their lives for her.

"Glen and I will be fine." He reached over and gave her a pat on the shoulder. Jamie almost laughed. It seemed fatherly. And now she felt awkward. "We've dealt with this stuff all our lives." The tired note crept back into his voice. Jamie felt like crying suddenly, at what she was making him do, and she was angry at whatever it was that insisted on him doing something he did not want.

"I'll stay here. No problem." She couldn't keep her voice steady. Mark looked at her for a long moment, wavering, not knowing if he should comfort her and tell her again it would be all right...or just leave and get it over with so they could get on with their lives. In the end he could do nothing. He stood there and resumed staring out the window for lack of knowing how to proceed.

Jamie took in a shaky breath and let it out. She got herself under control, at least. No sense in crying for no good reason in front of the man. But there was something...either in his face or his posture, maybe even in his tone of voice, that made her feel lost. She was heart broken and she had no idea why. It made her think the night before had been a mistake, that she should not have let herself get swept up by him. She wanted to kick herself for thinking that way. It had been without a doubt the best night of her life. He was passionate and warm and she had felt so damned protected in his arms. And now, well now there was nothing there. Just the feeling that he was going to do a job and that was it. She had no idea what had changed between them, and it scared her.

A noise behind them caused both to look around. Glen was in his coat and boots, ready to go outside. He nodded and gave Jamie a smile. She couldn't find it in herself to smile back. Instead she brushed past him without a word to either brother and headed upstairs to the bedroom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Do you want to tell me what happened?" Glen asked, keeping in step with Mark as they wove between snow laden trees.

"Nothing happened."

"Bull shit. You might think you can hide it, but not from me." Glen kept looking at him. Mark kept expecting him to walk into a tree. Even that thought didn't get a smile out of him.

"It wouldn't work. That's what happened."

"What wouldn't work?"

"Whatever it is between Jamie and me. That's what."

"How the hell do you know that?"

"I just know." Mark sighed and came to a stop, looking around. "It just hit me. Ok? Is that enough information for you?"

Glen raised an eyebrow. "Are you hiding psychic powers now? Because last time I checked, predicting the future wasn't really your strong point."

"Is it yours?" Mark kicked angrily at a pile of snow that had fallen from a nearby tree branch. "We made a mistake last night. I could see it on her face that's what she was thinking." He turned his gaze on his brother, more lonely and unhappy than he'd been in years. "Its because of this shit, Glen. Don't you see it? Every fuckin' time I think I'm in something good, this bullshit rears its head and ruins everything."

"What, Mark? What has it ruined?" Glen shook his head. Sometimes his hard-headed brother frustrated him so much, it was all he could do not to smack him. It was drivel. And that wasn't a word that Glen used. He was making up excuses, as he always did. He'd had Miranda, basically a cold woman shaped shell, and he'd been 'happy'. A night of sex, a year of nothing, no expectations. And then it hit Glen like a hammer to a nail. "You fell for her."

"In three days? Hardly."

"Why is this a bad thing?" Glen grabbed Mark by the sleeve of his coat and shook him. The urge to hit him was still strong. He held it back. "Why can't you admit for once that somebody managed to crack that fucking shell of yours? Its not the end of the damn world Mark."

"Could be for her. Who knows what we're stirrin' up with this shit?" Mark was unfazed by Glen's anger. He gestured around. "We spent how many years hiding ourselves? And now we're going to be bait. I don't know...and you don't know...if we can get rid of this shit again, like we did before. It took a lot of time and energy. What if we can't? What if we're stuck doing what we've done and there's no end to it? You think I wanna bring somebody I care about into that?"

"Hallelujah. You admitted you cared for her." Glen let go of his arm. "Who gives a shit about the rest Mark? We know what we have to do, we know how to do it. If we can't hide anymore, oh fuckin' well. We don't hide."

"You don't get it." Mark said sigh a weary sigh.

"I get plenty. I don't wanna involve her any more than you do, and probably for totally different reasons."

"What are you talking about?" Mark narrowed his eyes at his brother.

"Hell...Mark...have you not noticed? She talked to her brother. SHE TALKED TO HER BROTHER."Glen yelled the repetition. He had to...he wanted to get his point across. Mark had said that Jamie had been speaking to her brother in the SUV the night before, although she had not wanted to discuss it with anyone. "She saw him, talked to him, and HEARD him. Do you even remember what the fuck that means?"

Mark looked stricken for a moment. He did remember of course. How could he forget? "Maybe its just that they are bonded and..."

"Bull shit. She's one of us. She just never got trained. She heard the voices on the radio, she's seen things. Fuck Mark, somebody sent a wolf to take her out because apparently she's got a lot of untapped power and they are afraid of it. Get your head out of your ass for two minutes and see. She needs us. She needs YOU. She needs training. Because without it, she's never going to be safe. Especially not now, when the whole goddamned spirit world knows what she is!" Glen had to stop and catch his breath.

Mark just stared at him, his mouth open. Glen was right. Damn it. He was right. No one who wasn't one of them had ever been able to see a ghost. Or hear one. On occasion there might be a cold spot or a general uneasy feeling for the normal people, but no one without their gift was able to communicate with the spirits. And he was right...again...about Jamie not being safe anymore. Her powers had awakened. She was probably broadcasting like a radio tower without any of them noticing. Had he been so wrapped up in his own issues to not see it? It was so obvious. Mark wanted to hit himself.

"Christ." With that he sat down, unmindful of the snow that all but froze his skin through the material of his jeans.

"We have to do something. We have to train her or at least move her in with us permanently. Because this won't be the end of it. Whatever it is...whoever it is that's after her...its not going to be the only one. You know that Mark." Glen rested a hand on his shoulder. "You want a reason to push her away, I'm not gonna be able to give you one. You care for her...so CARE FOR HER. Its not that fucking difficult."

"It is." Mark rubbed his face. "She won't accept it. Even if she did...I can't train anybody. I wouldn't even know where to fuckin' start."

Glen made a low noise in his throat and threw his hands up in aggravation. Mark would listen...to a point. Then twist it around to suit himself. Typical.

Mark didn't know what to do. Did he care for Jamie? Yes, of course, even to himself he couldn't lie about that. The hell of it was, he did not know why. They barely knew each other, but damned if he didn't feel for her. They could go no further. He thought maybe, just maybe, there might be a way to make her go dormant again. As in...neither he nor Glen mentioning what they knew. If they could keep her safe for just a little while and shield her from the spirits, whatever power in her that had awakened might just atrophy and die. He hoped for her sake it was true. He wouldn't wish their lives on his worst enemies.

 

20

Kayla had latched onto Randy the moment he came downstairs from his morning sleep. She was throwing everyone into her book, with a passion that Jamie admired. It was also kind of funny. Randy was still mostly asleep but answering her questions with a straight-faced seriousness that tickled her to no end.

"Has anybody ever told you how cute you are?" Kayla asked, grinning impishly at him. Randy cocked an eyebrow and smirked.

"Constantly. Do you know what its like to be referred to as 'cute' when you're on the other side of thirty? Kinda insulting. Cute is for five year olds."

"Oooh. A quote." Kayla scribbled madly.

Sitting with the two of them was doing wonders for Jamie's mood. It wasn't that she was over her earlier depression, it was just stored away for later. And of course she knew it would come up again. She had too much time on her hands, there was nothing to occupy herself with here except for cooking. And reading. And she didn't feel like reading. She didn't see how Mark and Glen could stand it.

"What's this about again?" Randy was riffling the pages at the edge of the notebook, apparently awake enough now to notice that Kayla was taking down just about everything he was saying.

"My magnum opus. Just humor me." Kayla went back to clicking her pen, a nervous habit from childhood. Story ideas when they came were just like fireworks going on in her mind. This one though...it wasn't just a story of course. But the idea of writing it down, getting it on paper, was like a rocket in her brain.

Jamie wandered away from them. She went to the sink and looked through the window at the dreary day. Usually when it snowed she loved it. Now...just looking at it made her feel bad. She realized with a bit of surprise that Christmas was only a few days away. It would be another one alone, of course. Her idea of celebrating meant not working at the bar. Looked like she'd be getting that gift this year anyway. The bar probably wouldn't open for a few weeks.

That left her with the problem of the present. And that was the ghost or spirit or whatever it was that wanted her. And even that seemed small in comparison to what she was dealing with in Mark. She'd never fallen for a guy so fast in her entire life, including those ridiculous crushes she'd gotten as a teenager in high school. She was getting rather aggravated with herself, in fact. This was not like her at all. But looking back...when David had first brought her here, when Mark had first opened the door, there had been something between them. She didn't want to think it was something to trite as a spark, or chemistry, but it was. Like they already knew each other, they just didn't know they knew each other.

"Maybe we had a past life together..." Jamie muttered to herself.

"Huh?" That was Kayla. While Jamie had been lost in thought, Randy had finished his questioning and had left the room. She had not realized she'd spoken aloud until she turned to look at Kayla's questioning eyes.

"Talking to myself. I was thinking that maybe we have past lives, and we keep running into people from them. I know I'm not making sense."

"Actually, I kind of believe in that stuff." Kayla smiled at the look of surprise on Jamie's face. "What? You think we get one turn on this merry-go-round?"

"I have no idea. Maybe they do. How would you explain there being ghosts? Wouldn't they just die and wake up in a new baby body or something?"

"Who knows? Maybe they're too afraid. They don't want to leave this life because of something they did or didn't do. They don't want to know what they'll be getting after this." Kayla shrugged. When it came down to it, what did any of them know? It was all up for guessing. Even the people who sent these ghosts on to wherever it was they needed to go, they didn't know. Maybe they were destroying a soul, or maybe it was just dissipating energy. That was the reason Kayla wanted to write a book about the situation. She wanted to answer her own questions. It was how she worked best.

Jamie went back to her window. Kayla scribbled away on her notes, lost in the process of creating something. Jamie envied her the ability. She wished she had something that would take her mind off of the things that were happening.

Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. There was a noise from the front of the house. "Hey, anybody home?" It was Lucy, finally returned from whatever errand she'd been running.

"In the kitchen!" Kayla answered without looking up. Jamie sighed and turned from the window, and came to a dead stop. Lucy was in the doorway. And standing beside her was a woman, elderly, with snowy shite short cut hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was tiny, dwarfed by Lucy who was no Amazon. Jamie wondered how she managed to walk in the snow without getting lost. And where Lucy had found her.

"Nan...this is Kayla and Jamie. You know...the one I told you about." Lucy introduced them. "And people, this is my grandmother Nanette. Just call her Nan or she might break your arm or something."

"Lucy." Nan spoke in a clear firm voice that belied her age. She certainly had a presence. Her eyes settled on Jamie and she smiled. "She tells me you're the one with all the trouble."

"I guess." Jamie shrugged, knowing it was true. Also knowing that the longer she stayed here, the more trouble there was apt to be.

"Well...we should definitely talk." She beckoned and turned for the living room. Jamie shared a look with Kayla and decided to follow her. It couldn't hurt.

Once they were settled on the couch, Nan reached for Jamie's hand. "Has anyone tried to contact your problem spirit?"

"Not that I know of." Jamie answered, feeling a bit silly at the way the old woman was staring her down. And uncomfortable. "Glen and Mark are outside somewhere. Maybe that's what they went to do."

Nan nodded. "I've never seen anything like this. And I've been doing this for seventy years." She paused at that, as if the number had surprised her. "How could Lucy not notice how strong you are?" Now she seemed to be talking to herself.

"Me?" Jamie asked, frowning.

"Goodness..." Nan's hand tightened on hers for a moment. "You've seen a spirit haven't you?"

"I...uh..." Jamie shrugged. "My brother. I talked to him for a few minutes..."

Nan was shaking her head. Jamie got the feeling she was angry. "How in the world could those boys not see this?" By boys she obviously meant Mark and Glen, which Jamie almost thought was funny. They were a country mile away from being just boys. "You've never trained." It wasn't a question but Nan looked at her expectantly.

"Trained for what?"

This got an eye roll. "For what we do, hon. You've got the gift. I haven't seen it this strong since..." She shook her head again. "It doesn't matter. Didn't your mother or grandmother tell you anything about this? It runs in families. Usually in women, unless there aren't daughters to pass it on to."

"I don't know who my mother is." Jamie said softly. "She gave us up for adoption when I was a baby."

"Do you know her name?" Nan looked as if she were winded.

"No. The adoption records were sealed. By the time we were old enough to open them, neither one of us really cared to know." Jamie cleared her throat. "My brother, John, he probably would have been curious. I wasn't. I was...am...mad at her still." She didn't know why she'd admitted it to a stranger, but there it was. She was angry with her mother for dumping them with strangers when she was a newborn.

The look on Nan's face was incredulous. She was even more shocked than moments before. Jamie looked into her eyes and saw something there, beyond the surprise. Something she did not have a name for.

"You think my mother had this...ability?"Jamie asked, keeping an eye on Nan's reactions.

She gave it several minutes before answering. "She would have to. Its the only way the power gets passed down." Nan let go of Jamie's hand.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. Everything." Nan got up and paced slowly back and forth in front of the couch. "I only know that I've been sensing, hearing, seeing and sending spirits since I was five years old. And here I sense nothing. Just a blank. An empty nothing." Nan appeared flustered, and Jamie thought that it was not a feeling that sat well with the other woman. "I've only felt a nothing like this once in my life. And it can't possibly be him."

"Him? Him who?" Jamie rose to her feet and stopped Nan from pacing. "What are you talking about?"

Nan took a deep breath and grabbed both of Jamie's hands in hers. "Your father. I'm talking about your father, Jamie."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Did you hear that?"Glen spoke for the first time in nearly an hour. Mark had tucked his hands into his pockets and trudged along behind his brother, not really bothering to try to contact anything. He was too mixed up in his head at the moment to do more than put one foot in front of the other.

"What?"

"Shhh..." Glen shushed him and cocked his head to the side. Mark did the same. There was nothing. There wasn't even a breeze to rattle the bare tree limbs overhead. "I thought...hell..."

"Maybe we should head ba..." Mark did not get to finish. Something slammed into him with enough force to send him stumbling backward. He grabbed the nearest tree and righted himself before he could fall into the deep snow. Glen huffed and spun in a circle, trying to sense where the hell the attack had come from. "Shit. Look." Mark pointed to the snow to their right. It was smooth and unbroken, except for the message someone...or something had written there. It said 'HELP' in staggered, broken letters. "Help you with what?" Mark asked aloud. There was nothing. And it was starting to unnerve him.

He'd always been able to sense spirits. Maybe not where they were exactly, but their presence. And his radius for sensing them was pretty large for a male with the gift. Even though something had physically touched him to make him see the message in the snow, there was still no sense of anything otherworldly.

"How can we help if you don't talk to us?" Glen asked.

The brothers shared a look. They were not twins, but time had given them their own special bonds, and this was no different. They knew what the other was thinking without having to speak. Something was blocking the spirits from reaching them. Something so strong that it was eating the energy the spirits exuded before either of them had a chance to sense them. That had to be it, but if it was Mark had never heard of such a thing being done. Yes, a stronger spirit could use a weaker to make itself more powerful but there was still the sense of another there. This was nothing like that.

Before either brother could move, a branch dropped out of the tree in front of them. The broken end pointed away from the house like an arrow. Mark knew without a doubt that something wanted them to go in that direction. But he was cautious. He didn't know if he could trust the spirit who was trying to guide them.

"Mark...look..." Glen pointed at the message in the snow. 'HELP' had turned into 'HELP JAMIE'.

"Are you John?" Mark asked, watching the words on the snow. For several minutes there was nothing. Then the snow seemed to fall in on itself to spell out the word 'NO'.

Again Mark and Glen looked at each other. The message changed again, this time 'NO' to 'GO'. "Guess it wants us to go that way." Glen pointed.

"I don't know if I wanna be too far from the house. Something might happen."

"I think its safe. Otherwise whoever this is wouldn't be trying to lead us. Let's see where it takes us."

Mark nodded. There was no sense in arguing. He could feel a pull from the direction the limb was pointing. Maybe they would find answers. Maybe only more questions. And Jamie was safe at the house. Randy and Lucy were there, and she knew not to go outside alone. He led the way this time, taking Glen deeper into the woods.

 

21

Obviously the old woman had slipped a cog.

Jamie had sat in silence letting it drag out, waiting for Nan to explain herself. She couldn't possibly know who her father was, or her mother. Nan just looked at her though, her expression both sad and angry.

"Hey Nan." Randy's voice came from the stairway. The two women looked as if they were deep into conversation, and for some reason it made him uncomfortable. So he'd decided it was time to butt in. "Lucy didn't scare you with her driving?"

Nan smiled at him. "Of course not. How are you, hon?" She accepted a hug from him and motioned to the chair. "Why don't you sit here and tell me your version of what's going on here?"

Randy shrugged and did as she asked. While they spoke quietly, Jamie got up and walked to the windows, peering out. She saw the SUV, her Jeep and presumably Lucy and Randy's car. It was the only vehicle not covered in snow.

"Jamie?" Her name made her turn to look at Randy. He'd apparently asked her something that she hadn't heard.

"Sorry."

"Don't worry about it." He smiled. "Nan thinks we should go outside. Are you up for that?"

Was she? After Mark and Glen had stressed over the last few days that she shouldn't go out, after the wolf had taken a chunk from her leg, after being told that some weird presence outside might possibly be her father? "Yeah. I'm tired of being inside." She spoke while still in mid-thought, surprising herself. She would be with Randy, and Nan. Maybe even Lucy. She would be safe. If Mark wanted to give her hell over it, oh well. It wasn't like he owned her.

She went to get her coat and pull her boots on while Randy helped Nan. Jamie wondered if the old woman would be all right out there in the snow, but shook her head. She probably would be. Any woman responsible for raising Lucy had to be tough. She had that figured out.

Randy and Nan led the way outside. "Lucy not coming?" Jamie asked, zipping her coat and tucking her hands in her pockets.

Nan shook her head. The cold air was already turning her cheeks rosy. "She's got some errands to run in town. You'll be all right, hon." She stepped off the porch into snow that went above her knees. To Jamie's surprise, Nan didn't need help. She plowed through the snow with a lot more ease than either she or Randy could muster.

"So what did you mean?" Jamie asked, after they'd entered the line of trees.

Nan glanced in Randy's direction and sighed. "You don't care if he knows?"

"Of course not. They know everything else."

"Listen, it was a long time ago. If you are who I think you are...I used to work with your mother. She was like a daughter to me. I helped to train her." Nan looked at her once more. "I know I'm old and my memories are not as sharp as they used to be, but you resemble her. Her name was Sophie Reynolds."

"Was?" Jamie asked, feeling sick. Could Nan be right? Could she have known her mother? It seemed farfetched, but she seemed so certain.

"She passed away. Over thirty years ago." Nan sighed. "Its a long story, dear. She was one of the best hunters I'd ever trained. It came so naturally to her that I wondered why she even needed me at all. She was gentle and loving...and the spirits were drawn to her like nothing I'd ever seen. She had a...a...light. That's the only way I can put it that would even remotely describe it. Like a lighthouse, guiding them to her. Her problem was that she tended to get too attached to them. She cried for every soul she sent. Especially children. She had an affinity for them from the start."

"Nan...you need to rest?" Randy asked, taking her elbow as she wiped at her eyes.

"No, no. Its just...she was sad, so everyone else was sad. She had that effect on people." She patted Randy's hand and continued. "She met a man. Jackson. He was such a sweet person himself, and he cared for her deeply. It was obvious. If you can sense spirits, sometimes you can sense the sway of human emotion. Their love was mutual. There was talk of a marriage. Two weeks before the date they had set, something changed."

Nan reached for Jamie's hand. She took it without giving it a second thought. Randy still had her elbow. Jamie worried she was tiring herself out, talking and walking through the snow. "What happened?" She asked softly, unable to keep the question back.

"Something in Jack had changed." Nan spoke with a tremble in her voice. "He was not cold to Sophie, not at all. In fact, he seemed more clingy than loving. She was tired all the time, like he was keeping her up all nights. When I asked about her, she said it was pre-wedding issues, that Jack was afraid she'd change her mind. None of us knew then..." She took a shaky breath. "It was a gradual thing. By the day of the wedding, most of us invited knew that something was wrong. There were no spirits attending the ceremony. There wasn't even a sense of them. There was just...nothing. Spirits love happy occasions like a wedding, or the birth of a baby. They gather. It's something that no one quite understands, but everyone with the gift agrees with. As if they are there to bless the union. To our circle, if you have a wedding or a birth, the more spirits drawn to it, the better the outcome."

"Guests. Instead of spirits. Mom always called them guests." Randy spoke up with a smile.

"Yes. And it was a good thing. But at Sophie and Jack's wedding there were none. That was when I started to get suspicious. What I didn't know was..." She shook her head again. "Sophie came to me a week after the wedding. She was afraid. I'd never seen anyone so scared. She said that Jack wasn't Jack anymore. That there was something inside Jack that was controlling him. To any other person she would have sounded crazy, but you have to remember, I've been dealing with the dead all of my life. I believed her. I asked how she knew, and she said that he had told her. Had said his name was really Odin, and that he had killed Jack and taken over his body. He told her that he would kill her without so much as a blink of his eye. She was terrified. Because she had found out a month before the wedding that she was pregnant. At that point she was three months along. And Jack...or Odin...did not know. Sophie told me she thought that was the point of things anyway...he had kept her in the bedroom as often as he could as if trying to get her pregnant. He wanted children. She said it was his mantra, and the longer she went on pretending not to be pregnant, the angrier he got."

"But...what happened to Jack?" Jamie asked. She realized they had slowed their walk to the point of stopping.

"Died. I'm sorry, dear." Nan squeezed Jamie's hand. "Not long before the wedding. From what I could gather, it was a car accident. Jack couldn't pass. His unfinished business was Sophie. So this Odin got inside him and took him over. He was sucking the energy out of everything and everyone, including Sophie, to keep himself looking solid and real. And the thing was...we never suspected it. He's not a spirit like the rest. He's something else, something we didn't know how to deal with." She cleared her throat. "Sophie decided her only choice was to hide from him. We did the best with her that we could...but we're not experts, Jamie. She was safe for six months, nearly to her due date when he found her again."

"Odin..." Randy muttered. "Isn't that the Norse god?"

Nan smiled. "I'm sure that wasn't his real name either. He lied, of course. He confused himself and gave his name as Claudio to Sophie once when she questioned him about it." She looked to Jamie. "Sophie gave birth. Odin was there, watched as she delivered twins...a boy and a girl. It was the girl that Sophie worried about, because Odin had said if the children belonged to Jack, the girl would belong to him. At that time, there was no way to tell. Except for one thing."

"What was that?" Jamie managed to ask.

"The eyes. Jackson's eyes were beautiful. And unique. I haven't seen another person with gray eyes...until now." She smiled at Jamie. "Sophie waited two weeks after the birth. Odin was torturing her with thoughts of what he was going to do to the girl. The boy he did not even care to mention. It was as if he didn't exist." She coughed again, this time not merely clearing her throat. "The first chance she got, she grabbed the babies and ran. He was gone, presumably resting and gathering strength. She knew he would find her again, but she also knew that he was not linked to the babies. Not yet anyway. She did the only thing she could. She went to a nearby church and left the children there. When Odin found out...he was furious." Nan walked to the nearest tree and leaned on it, catching her breath. "But Sophie was still one step ahead of him. She knew that he would find out from her what had happened to the children, you see. He could pry at her, torture her, and even though she wanted to protect the babies, she knew that under constant torture she might slip and tell him. So she did the only thing she could. She killed herself to keep her secret from him." She pushed a hand through her short hair. "I got a letter from her two days after she had done it. It explained everything. I was told what to do about the children. I sat down and wrote out the letter that day, explaining to the church that had taken them that their mother had passed away, that she had no family, and that the children were to be adopted. Odin rampaged. For two days. Then he disappeared. As if his steam had run out. I myself helped Jack to the afterlife...Odin left his spirit there to suffer. He did not realize the whole time that Sophie had been pregnant, had the children, and died. Odin had somehow kept him from seeing any of it. He did not want to let go, but finally he saw that it was time."

"How?" Jamie asked, trying to process the story. She believed it. Every single word.

"How what, hon?"

"How did Sophie kill herself?"

"Is it important? That's not something that..."

"It might be." Jamie persisted.

"She jumped from a building." Nan finally conceded. "A new construction in town. The police found her body..."

"In the waste ditch pierced by metal poles and glass?" Jamie finished for her. Nan's eyebrows rose.

"How do you know that?"

"Because that's exactly how my brother died. Only in his case...he was pushed." Jamie bit her lip thoughtfully. "And you think Sophie was my mother? And Jack my father?"

"I'm almost positive." Nan nodded.

Jamie felt her eyes water with tears. Randy stepped over and looped an arm around her shoulders, comforting her. "Do you...can you...hell I don't even know what I want to ask."

Nan offered her a concerned smile. "If Lucy remembers what I asked her to do, I'll be able to show you pictures of them both when she gets back. But I already know. You're Sophie's daughter, there's no doubt in my mind."

The thought made Jamie cry harder. Of course she had a mother and father, she wasn't just hatched from an egg. But maybe knowing who they were, seeing their faces...on top of everything else that had happened, she just did not know how to take it.

 

22

Mark stopped to get his bearings. They'd been walking for the better part of two hours, led only by the unseen spirit that pointed the way.

"You ever been out this far?" Glen asked, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.

Mark shook his head. "We're over the county line. That's about the only thing I do know." He leaned against a tree, catching his breath. His fingers had gone numb. And his ears. Glen was in no better shape. "Hope we don't catch frostbite out here."

"That's the least of my worries right now." Glen stretched, popping his back.

There was a soft thud. Another branch had fallen, the sharp point of one end indicating the direction they'd been heading all day.

"I don't know about this anymore." Mark spoke so softly Glen wasn't sure he heard.

"Worried about Jamie?"

"A little bit." Mark sighed and rubbed his hands together briskly, generating some heat between his palms. He cupped them over his ears, getting a momentary tingling.

"She's in good hands." Glen pointed out, smiling knowingly in his direction. Mark frowned at his brother and pushed away from the tree.

"Let's keep goin'."

Their silence resumed. There was nothing but the sound of the wind and the crunch of their boots in the snow. Another half hour and they found themselves at the edge of the woods, both of them looking at the rear of a huge house. It made their seem small in comparison.

"Hell. We've walked over to rich man land." Glen said with a snort.

"I see that." Mark glanced around, taking in the snow covered grounds. "Is this where we were supposed to go?"

As in in answer there was a creaking sound from the house. The rear door had opened. Even over the wind it was audible. Glen and Mark shared a look and headed in that direction.

"So what is this place?" Glen asked out loud. "Better yet...who does it belong to?"

"Beats me." Mark stomped snow off his feet before entering. The house was obviously a custom job, and the decorator must have been paid a fortune. He walked across the living room, taking in the leather furniture and the fireplace that ran the length of one of the walls. There was a stack of mail by the door. He glanced at it, but the names didn't ring any bells. Eric and Emma.

There was a creaking noise from upstairs. Glen had gone up while Mark searched the downstairs. There was nothing. Whoever lived there wasn't at home. The house had an empty and unused feel to it, as if the owners wouldn't be coming back either.

"Find anything?" Mark called up the stairs after walking the entire first floor.

"Nothing." Glen came back down the stairs, looking morose. "Somebody packed in a hurry. There are clothes all over the bed. And I found these..." He held out a hand. In it was a couple of bullets. "No gun." He shrugged and set the rounds on the table by the door.

"This shit gets weirder and weirder by the minute." Mark said, looking around. His eyes were drawn to a small door near the kitchen. He stepped around Glen and pulled it open. Nothing. Just another closet. This one was small, and only had a couple of suitcases sitting on the floor. He started to close the door when there was a scratching noise on the wall. "What the hell..." Mark leaned in the closet and listened. The scratching came again, fainter this time.

He looked over his shoulder at Glen. Without another word between them, Mark handed him the suitcases and stepped into the closet. Set in the lower corner, hidden by the luggage, was a wall safe. It had been painted the same off white color as the walls, so it was hard to see. There was a small door that swung open to reveal a numerical keypad.

"Is this it?" Mark whispered. He was answered by a soft knocking on the wall in front of him. There were more scratching noises. Even though it was dim in the closet, Mark could still see the numbers that appeared. He punched them into the keypad. The safe beeped softly and the door popped open.

He reached down and pulled the door wide before slipping a hand in. There was an envelope there, legal sized. He pulled it out, checked to see if there was anything else, and slammed the safe door shut.

With the envelope in hand, he exited the closet. Glen was eying it with interest but Mark shook his head. He didn't want to open it here. The house had felt empty at first, but now it felt as if a presence were there, not a spirit, nothing like he'd ever dealt with before. Something was watching them. It was not a nice feeling either.

Glen led them back outside. Once in the line of trees, Mark opened the envelope and took out the contents. Pictures. There were a few dozen of them. He turned them over and felt all the color drain from his face.

Each picture showed a different woman, in different positions, dead. There were a variety of methods used to kill them, it was obvious from the wounds. The only thing the women in the pictures had in common were that they were naked...and there were obvious signs that they'd been sexually abused before their death.

He flipped through them quickly, trying not to be sick. "Fuck."

"What?" Glen had glanced at the pictures but after the first few he'd seen enough.

"This..." Mark's hand was shaking a little. He held out a picture and Glen took it, not wanting to touch it. Instead of a woman it was a man. And the man seemed vaguely familiar.

"Is that John?" From the other pictures, from the stories of his death, Glen knew it was a useless question. Of course it was. The photo seemed to be taken from above. John's broken body lay among a litter of glass and metal.

"It gets worse." Mark had another picture in his hand. It was smaller than the others. Glen looked at it, and sucked in a breath. It was a picture of Jamie. Unlike the others, she was very much alive when it was taken. She was laughing and grinning at someone off camera to her right.

"This is the guy then." Glen said softly.

"Yeah. The one who is after her." Mark tucked Jamie's picture into his coat pocket. The others he slid back into the envelope. "Let's get back there. I'm suddenly thinkin' that this was a horrible idea."

"You and me both." Glen said, following his brother's lead. "Why would there be all those pictures?"

"Trophies." Mark spoke over his shoulder. "He'd want to remember what he did to all of them." Saying it left a bad taste in his mouth. Feeling more worry than he ever had in his life, Mark picked up the pace.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jamie managed to dry her tears and let Randy and Nan lead the way back to the house. Nan claimed she wanted to rest for a while, so she headed upstairs to the guest room. That left Jamie with absolutely nothing to do but worry. And think. And she really did not want to think.

Randy decided to try to get her out of the mood she'd sunk into. He fixed them both some hot chocolate and started telling her stories of his childhood with Lucy. Most of them were funny. None of them involved ghosts. He was trying his hardest to take her mind off what she'd been told, but Jamie could have saved him the effort. There was no distracting her from it.

She made a lunch that she didn't feel like eating, and did the dishes before anyone else could offer. The afternoon stretched out, and seemed to never end. It was nearing on dark when Lucy finally pulled up to the house. She carried a bag with her.

"Where's Nan?" She asked Randy as she stepped inside.

"She's coming. Took you long enough."

"Yeah. Had a hell of a time finding these old things." She put the bag on the couch. "I'm starving. Is there food?"

"Yeah. Jamie cooked.." Randy watched his sister go into the kitchen. Jamie had cooked dinner too. And she hadn't eaten much of it either. He was beyond worried.

"Oh good. She got them." Nan stepped down the stairs, accepting a helping hand from her grandson. "Where is Jamie?"

"Right here." Jamie said from the kitchen doorway. Kayla was lost in whatever she was writing, and that was great. It gave Jamie a chance to sit where it was quiet. But now she knew that Nan was probably going to give her more bad news.

"Come, sit with me." Nan had settled on the couch. She patted the cushion beside her. Randy took the other side. Nan fiddled with the bag and finally got it open. She pulled out a huge and ancient looking photo album. "This was my mother's." She explained, running a hand lovingly over the cracked surface. "She left so few things when she passed, I'm not willing to throw it away." She opened the book and flipped through several pages before apparently finding what she was looking for. "Here...this was Sophie. She was about nineteen when I took this picture." She pointed. Randy made a little noise, mostly of surprise.

If not for the way the woman in the picture was dressed, she could have been Jamie. Her hair was long and dark. Her facial features were the same. Even her size and shape. She was sitting on a bench in front of a fountain, laughing at the camera. Jamie felt her eyes watering, wondering if she really believed she was seeing a picture of her mother for the first time.

"She was beautiful, wasn't she?" Nan touched the picture, then her heart. It was obvious she'd loved the younger woman. "Here's another." This time, Sophie was standing with another woman, a serene smile on her lips. There was picture after picture, some with a younger Nan, some with her friends, and some alone. And then Nan came to the picture that she was most eager to show Jamie. "This is Sophie...and Jackson." She pointed out the picture. Sophie was sitting on a rock wall at a park. A man stood next to her, his hand on her shoulder, looking down on her with adoration on his features. There was a faint resemblance to John, there was no doubting that. Mostly it was in the way he smiled. Jamie felt her heart catch at the sight of these two people, long dead, who might very possibly be her parents.

"I wanted you to see this one especially." Nan flipped the pages until she got near the end. There was a picture of Jack by himself. He'd been caught with a wry smirk on his face. And Jamie saw, even though the picture had faded over the years, that he did indeed have gray eyes. Her eyes.

"I can't..." She sighed, feeling like crying again. She reached out to touch the picture, as if making sure it were real. "I just...how sure are you? That this is my father?"

"One hundred percent, dear." Nan took her hand. "It's not just your eyes. There's something about you, something that calls back to both of them. I can't explain it. But I feel it in my heart." She flipped the book open once more and searched a moment before pulling a picture out. "I want you to have this. If you accept it in time, I'll give you the rest of the pictures. This one is so you can have something to think about."

The picture was a sweet one. Jack and Sophie, sitting together in an oversized chair. A Christmas tree was lit behind them. They were looking into each others eyes, neither one noticing the camera taking their picture. Jamie took the photo and sniffled. "Are you sure? I mean..."

"Of course." Nan patted her hand. "You give it some thought. I know it's hard to swallow, some old woman claiming she knows who your parents are. But I know. I'm not often wrong about these things. Now. Randy, if you don't mind. I'm a little hungry. Escort me to the kitchen if you would. I'd like to have a talk with your sister."

"Sure thing." Randy helped Nan to her feet. Jamie was left alone with the album, and the picture she still clutched in her hand. He returned in a few moments, and gently put the album back in the bag. "Do you want to eat?"

"Not really." Jamie had never felt less like eating in her life.

"I know it's a lot to swallow. But Nan is right. As usual. She knows things sometimes. She wouldn't call it a psychic power, but I would. Sometimes it feels like she's reading our minds." He smiled at Jamie and looked at the picture in her hand. "She does look like you. It's uncanny."

"I see that." Jamie sighed and rose to her feet. "I'm going to go lay down for a little bit. I need to think."

"Ok. You need anything, let me know."

Jamie smiled distractedly at him and headed for the stairs. Instead of going to the guest room, she went to Mark's. He'd made the bed at some point that morning before he'd set out with Glen. Jamie stretched out and looked at the picture one last time before setting it aside. Her head was hurting. She'd had a few stress headaches over the years, and she knew it was a sign she was thinking too damn much. Her eyes closed before she realized she was going to fall asleep.

Jamie opened her eyes an unknown amount of time later. The room was completely dark. Night had fallen once again. She sighed and sat up, stretching her arms over her head.

"You're up."

The deep voice from the corner made her jump. Mark was sitting in the window seat. She could barely discern his outline against the slightly lighter square of glass behind him.

"You scared me."

"Sorry." Mark sighed and got to his feet. He'd gotten back with Glen a bit over an hour ago and he'd immediately gone looking for Jamie, more to calm his sudden nerves than to reassure her. And she'd been sleeping. Randy had filled him in on everything that had happened that day. And he realized she was probably exhausted. Emotionally, physically, the whole works. The sleep would do her good.

If there was one thing he would have changed, it would have been the fact that Nan had told Jamie that she was one of the gifted. Once a person knew that, they couldn't un-know it.

"Is everything all right?" She asked, seeming to sense his thoughts were straying.

"Everything is fine. Well, all things considered." He stood uncertainly at the window. Part of him wanted to crawl into bed with her and cuddle her and not let her out. Another part wanted him to stop thinking about her so damn much and go back to the way he was before she'd shown up on his doorstep. "Hungry?" It was the first thing to pop into his head to distract himself from his thoughts.

"Not really." Jamie's eyes adjusted a bit. She could tell by his posture that he was uncomfortable, uncertain. She took it to mean the wrong thing. "Sorry I crashed on your bed. There wasn't anywhere else to go to get some peace."

"You can crash in my bed anytime." Mark spoke seriously, then seemed to backtrack and replay what he'd said. He chuckled softly. Jamie smirked.

"Another open invitation. I may never leave." With a sigh she stretched out again and crossed her hands behind her head. "You can come lay down with me though. I could use the company."

"I thought you wanted some peace and quiet." Mark spoke but he moved to the bed anyway. He lay down next to her and reached out, taking her hand in his and entangling their fingers.

"You don't talk much." Jamie pointed out. She heard him chuckle again. She felt better having him there beside her. For whatever the reason, she'd come to draw strength from Mark. It was scary but also kind of nice. She hadn't had a rock in her life since John had died.

She mentally shook her head. It wasn't like Mark was 'in her life'. It was just temporary. Even though they'd slept together, and even though she felt things for him that she'd never felt before, she could not put her heart into it. There was too much going on, and things were moving way too fast.

Jamie tried to repeat that same thought a few minutes later when Mark rolled onto his side and pulled her into his arms. His mouth was against hers before she could protest it, his tongue probing her parted lips to delve in her depths. What had happened to her earlier thought that what they'd done was wrong? Jamie didn't care. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissing him back, meeting his thrusting tongue with her own.

Mark slipped one hand under her shirt, up her ribs, feeling her jerk beneath his fingers as he tickled her. Her skin was soft, sleep-warmed, irresistible. He touched the smooth satin of her bra, and sighed into her mouth as he settled his palm against the side of her breast. His thumb lightly brushed her material covered nipple in time with the sweeping motion of his tongue.

Jamie pushed closer to him, running her fingers through his silky hair. She cupped his face in her hands and angled her head to deepen their kiss even more. When she finally pulled back, she was panting, unable to catch her breath.

Mark was having the same problem. He lightly tweaked her hardened nipple between his thumb and forefinger, drawing a soft moan of pleasure from Jamie's parted lips. He hadn't meant to do this, but as soon as he'd gotten into bed the need to be with her had overwhelmed him. He heard her murmur softly and pulled back long enough for her to shed her top and bra. He followed her led, dropped his clothes to the side of the bed. She wiggled and moved and her jeans went the way of her shirt. Soon Mark was holding her full against him, skin to skin. It was all he could do to hold himself in check as she drew a knee up between his thighs and pressed upward against his swollen cock.

Mark tangled his hand in her long hair and pulled her head back, exposing her neck. Her sighs and moans fueling his lust, he kissed and licked his way down the column of her neck, across her collar bone, down her chest. His hands caressed her everywhere he could reach, from her thighs up to her neck and back again.

He opened his mouth and ran the edge of his tongue across the surface of her nipple, drawing a gasp from her. He repeated the process on the other nipple, his time adding a little flicking motion. Her breath sucked in as he gently sucked the hard peak between his lips, his teeth nipping her. Jamie held onto his shoulders and shut her eyes, reveling in the feel of his hot mouth surrounding her. His hand dipped low, and came up on her inner thigh, sending tingles up her spine. With one long finger he dipped into her folds, finding her clit. He timed the slow stroke of his finger with the soft pull of his mouth, letting her wordless mutters and moaning guide his speed.

He moved down her body, planting soft kisses along her stomach, his tongue dipping into her naval. Jamie watched through passion clouded eyes as he spread her legs and settled himself between them. Mark used his fingers to spread her open and tongued her clit. Her hips jerked involuntarily from the bed at each touch of his tongue on her slick wet flesh. He put a hand against her lower belly and held her still as he sucked her into his mouth, his tongue playing havoc on her most sensitive parts.

Jamie held herself back, feeling the tension coiling in her stomach. Her thighs twitched spasmodically as he moved his head, his mouth going down, his tongue sliding inside her, only to come out and circle up around her clit. The hand that was holding her down moved, and he used the ball of his thumb against her clit, making her buck wildly against his mouth as her orgasm played out. He stopped touching her clit but kept his mouth firmly against her opening, sucking and licking and drawing out her climax as long as he could.

Jamie collapsed back against the pillows, trying to catch her breath. He'd made her see stars, and that was a literal expression in this case. Feeling pleasantly sated, she watched as he slowly moved back up her body, letting his mouth drop a moist trail along her skin. His cock slid against her inner thigh, and she wrapped her legs around his waist without realizing she had done it. Mark held himself above her, watching as she moved his cock against her slit, her wetness making it slide easily against her skin. The sensation was almost too much. When she finally reached down between their bodies to guide the head of his cock into her heated opening, he groaned in relief. And immediately tensed himself against the feel of her inner walls pulling him in, squeezing him as he began to thrust gently into her.

Mark pressed in as far as he could, his hips jerking a little. He ground against her, hearing her whimper in response. Jamie let her hands slide down his muscled back, onto his ass. She felt him flexing and relaxing against her palms, and dug her nails into him, urging him faster. Mark responded, groaning in pleasure as he buried himself in her body over and over, driving himself harder as she moaned beneath him.

Jamie once more worked a hand between their bodies and began stroking her clit in time with his pumping hips. Mark looked down and watched for a moment, his eyes riveted by the movement of her fingers against her slick little bud. He knew that the end was coming and way too soon, but he felt her inner walls constricting and knew that she was only waiting for him. He let himself go, releasing a long drawn out moan as he came inside deep inside her, her hot center convulsing around him as she followed his lead into another climax.

Mark collapsed, mindful not to crush her and tried to make himself breath without gasping. It was hard. Jamie gently stroked his back, still making low noises in her throat as she rode out the aftershocks. With regret, he eased out of her body and rolled onto his side, pulling her against him. He dropped a kiss on her forehead, making her laugh. He knew the moment she fell asleep. Her breathing evened out and she relaxed against him. And now he was in the same position he'd been in the night before, wanting this woman and knowing he shouldn't have had her, but unable to stop from sleeping with her.

He blinked sleepily and reached down, pulling the blanket up to cover them both. Maybe they could enjoy each other while she was here, and be able to part with no regrets. Ignoring how that particular thought made him feel, Mark snuggled Jamie closer and shut his eyes. He should be doing something productive, solving her problems, but after the long day and the release she'd given him, all he wanted now was sleep.

 

23

 

Mark rolled onto his side, frowning as he reached across the empty bed. All night he'd been aware of the heat of Jamie's body next to him. Hell, the lady was practically a furnace. Better than any fireplace he'd ever slept next to. The thought made him smirk as he opened his eyes. The other half of the bed was empty. The bathroom door stood open, but the room was dark. “Jamie?” Unsure of what time it was, Mark whispered her name. There was no answer. Not even the creak of a floorboard.

 

He pushed the blankets away and sat up, groping on the floor for the jeans he'd shed earlier. He yanked them up and padded barefoot to the door to the hallway. It stood ajar as well. Mark made his way silently downstairs, stopping to glance in on the guest room. Lucy was sharing the bed with Nan, both of them sleeping in the same position. He debated looking into Glen's room, but he had a feeling that Kayla was in there with him, and he was not about to disturb them if they were doing something clothes optional. He smirked again, trying to hold his worry at bay.

 

It wasn't like Jamie wasn't able to get up and wander the house if she wanted. But there was something wrong. The worry was low at the moment, but still there. Eating at him.

 

In the living room, Randy was sleeping on the couch. Apparently they'd decided that a guard on the house wasn't necessary. Mark agreed with that. It was nice to feel proactive, but the woods were huge, and it was a lot of ground for one person to cover. The house was safe enough.

 

Feeling a bit more panicked, Mark checked every room downstairs. He ended up in the empty kitchen, nothing but the sound of the wind and the soft tick of the clock on the wall to break the silence. The wind was awfully loud though. His stomach sank as he noticed the reason why. The back door was open. Just a crack. But enough for the wind to catch it and whistle.

 

“Shit...” He muttered under his breath and stepped to the door, throwing it open. There were footprints in the snow on the porch. Bare footprints. She hadn't stopped for shoes apparently. Mark fought the urge to follow the footprints and turned to go back inside. Before he could, something else caught his eye. The footprints went down the steps and into the yard. Ten feet from the porch they disappeared. As if Jamie had vanished in the middle of the yard. “Shit...” He said it again. Mark hurried back into the house, leaving the door wide open behind him. He thundered up the stairs, not caring if he woke the house up. He didn't hesitate to pound on Glen's door this time. His brother answered sleepily from the other side, and Mark took that as his cue to enter.

 

“What's going on?” Even in the dark, Glen could see that something was not right. He sat up in bed, careful to keep Kayla covered up as he moved.

 

“Jamie's gone. In the woods...fuck!” Mark managed to spit that much out before he was rushing to his own room for his shirt and boots. He didn't know how long Jamie had been gone, and every second might count. Especially when she was outside barefoot in sub-freezing weather. Hell, even the weather was the least of his worries. It was that damn...thing...that was after her.

 

By the time he'd gotten dressed, Lucy was in the hallway. “Where's the fire?” She asked as Mark moved past her.

 

“Jamie's gone.” He repeated it for her benefit as he stomped down the stairs. Randy was sitting up on the couch, rubbing his face blearily. Mark didn't pay him any mind as he snatched up his coat and pulled it on. He grabbed a thermal blanket from the closet too, just in case Jamie really was out there with nothing on. She sure as hell wasn't wearing her coat. It was still hanging on the hook by the door.

 

“Mark...wait...” Glen moved down the stairs, trying to get his brother to calm down. “Give me a minute to get my shit together, and I'll...”

 

“We might not have a fucking minute.” Mark threw Glen's coat to him and went outside. His brother could catch up or stay behind, he didn't give a damn. He started the process of beating himself up. He should have...should have sensed something. Anything. Even when she'd gotten out of bed. He'd gotten too damn comfortable, too damn fast, and now she was gone. Outside alone.

 

Mark plowed through the snow, following the direction the footprints had been leading when they'd disappeared. It could be that the wind had blown snow over her tracks. He tried to be reasonable about it. But he could still see his own tracks from earlier, and the tracks of the others who had spent the damn tromping through the snow. It was not rocket science.

 

Five feet into the woods, Mark cupped his hands around his mouth. “Jamie!” His voice echoed as he shouted it. He waited nearly a full minute before moving forward again. To his shout there had been nothing. Not even the chirp of a bird nesting in the trees. The snow possibly made the yelling inadequate. And there was the possibility that Jamie couldn't answer because...

 

No. He would not let his mind wander in that particular direction. At least not until he saw for his own eyes that she was in serious trouble.

 

“Mark...shit...wait...” Glen was stumbling in his wake, finally catching up to him inside the line of trees. “Calm down. We'll find her.”

 

“We'd better.” Mark looked around. There was nothing to see but trees and snow, snow and trees. “You helped out earlier. Where the fuck are you now when we could really use you?”

 

Glen knew his brother wasn't referring to him. Their helpful little spirit from earlier, obviously. The one who'd guided them to the house. There was still no sense of spirits near them, but he had seen earlier that didn't mean much.

 

Mark turned around and started to move forward. He came to a stop before he'd gone more than a few steps. Glen bumped into him, fully intent on keeping up with him this time. “What?” Even as he spoke the word, Glen saw what Mark had seen. A woman stood in the snow. It wasn't Jamie, but the woman looked so much like her it came as a shock.

 

She had the same hair. Long and dark and wavy. The wind did not move her hair, neither did it move the long blue dress she wore. She had a look in her eyes, equal parts loneliness and despair that hurt Glen to look at. Her booted feet rested on top of the snow, of course. She was a ghost. The first they'd seen in quite a while. To them she was solid, real looking in every way.

 

Without a word she lifted her arm and pointed. North. Away from the house and deeper  into the woods. “Is she out here?” Mark asked, his voice hoarse. Whether it was worry or relief Glen couldn't guess. He would have laughed. Mark relieved to see a ghost? Not in this lifetime.

 

The ghost merely kept pointing.

 

“Are you Jamie's mother?” Glen asked, peering at her closer. The similarity was remarkable really. The eyes were different. And there were subtle differences in the shape of her face. But they could have passed for twin sisters.

 

A tear slipped from her eye. Just one. It fell and disappeared into this air. She suddenly glanced behind her and turned, the sadness replaced by a look of panic. She pointed them urgently northward again and faded out. In moments it was as if she hadn't been there at all.

 

Mark shook his head and moved. Apparently the spirits were in hiding from whatever it was that wanted Jamie. And maybe it was in the area. Either that or the ghost hadn't wanted to take the chance of being caught out. He wasn't going to question it. He glanced at Glen and at his nod led the way deeper into the woods.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The bitch was hiding.

 

Miranda fumed to herself as she cruised the empty streets in town, trying to figure out her next move. It did not help that she was not given any more to go on than the names of the two she was to kill. Odin was being quiet. Resting. Gathering energy. She wished that she could see him, but she knew it would not win her any points asking him to help. It was her job to do after all. Her way of impressing him.

 

She drove past the burned remains of that whore Jamie's apartment building. Nothing was left but a pile of dark rubble. The sight made her tingle in a way she'd never experienced before. It was damn near a sexual feeling.

 

Miranda reached across the seat and picked up the small gun she'd taken from the glove box. It had seemed for the best, to kill both Emma and her lover, but now...it seemed too impersonal. Too easy. Fire...that was much more personal. The thought of them two of them, burning alive, sent another delicious tingle through her. She would take the gun just in case. But what she needed was to keep her book of matches handy.

 

She tried her luck at the clinic again. All night she'd driven in circles, going from one place to another. Emma's house, to Chris's, to the clinic. They were nowhere to be found. The clinic had one ancient old bat working at the reception desk and an even older doctor shuffling around the hallways. She had not asked the whereabouts of Irvine. She knew from peering into doorways that the man was not currently at work.


It made Miranda angrier than she'd ever been in her life. It was all she could do not to set fire to the place anyway, to burn it and all the simpering weak people who were inside. It was a battle she'd won, but just barely. She'd gotten into her car. As soon as she was on the road, the urge faded, leaving nothing but the dull spark of anger.

 

The parking lot was completely empty. “Damn it!” She slammed her hand on the steering wheel and cursed. Where the hell could they have gone? It was past midnight, and there was no traffic on the road. Surely she would have seen them tooling around if that was what they were doing.

 

Muttering in her frustration, she turned and spun her tires in the snow, getting back onto the road. She'd go to his house once more. She would burn it whether they were there or not. At least it would narrow their options about where they would be staying. The thought made her smile coldly. She pressed the gas pedal and sped along the dark street to the other side of town.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Jamie stood barefoot in a clearing in the woods, the snow to her knees. She wore only a white t-shirt. The wind whipped her hair back from her face and made her eyes water. The cold was sinking into her, especially her bare legs and feet. But she couldn't move.

 

She didn't know how she'd gotten outside. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep in Mark's bed, wrapped in his arms and the warm blankets. The thought made her shiver harder than ever.

 

She forced her legs to work. Slowly Jamie turned in a circle. There were no tracks in the snow. If this was a dream, it got stranger the longer she was in it. Surely she hadn't floated out to the woods, but there seemed to be no other explanation.

 

Jamie crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself as she gingerly tested her legs. Her feet were numb from the cold, her legs were throbbing, and she wasn't sure how long she'd be able to trudge. Just the thought of walking back made her feel tired in a way she'd never experienced before.

 

And to top it off...she had no clue where she was.

 

She vaguely recalled the path she and Mark had taken previously. But she couldn't be sure this was the same place. The woods looked the same in any direction. And over the tops of the trees and smoke from the fireplace at the house was masked by the dark and the gray clouds that still hung overhead.

 

Shivering uncontrollably now, Jamie took one step, then another. Her breath caught in her throat when a dark figure emerged from the line of trees in front of her.

 

Jamie almost immediately relaxed. It was John. She'd recognize that lumbering walk anywhere. “W...what are you doing out here?” She stuttered through her chattering teeth. John smiled at her, put his fingers against his mouth and shook his head. He couldn't talk. That was obvious. “Why not?” Jamie rubbed her arms.

 

Again he shook his head. He then lifted an arm and pointed.

 

“What? Is that where I'm supposed to go?”

 

John nodded.

 

“What the hell am I even doing out here?” Jamie asked, refusing to move yet.

 

John looked sad. He raised and lowered his feet, mimicking walking.

“I'm not leaving until you tell...wait. Was I sleep walking?”

 

He nodded. An amused smile played at the corners of his mouth. The sadness was still there, but he was trying to hide in. The familiar mannerisms from her brother brought tears to Jamie's eyes. She regretted it because her nose also started running. Her face was freezing cold, and she'd be surprised more than anyone if she got out of this with no frost bite.

 

“Why? Why damn it?” She reached up and shoved her hands through her hair. The wind had blown tangles into it, and the tugs of pain in various spots seemed to bring her more into herself. She was waking herself up. That's what this was. It had to be.

 

John mouthed something. Jamie could not for the life of her make it out. He motioned, clearly wanting her to move. She slowly did so, trudging with her head down, coming within inches of her dead brother.

 

She didn't get far. Fifty feet at the most. Her left leg had stopped tingling. In fact, it had stopped sending information to her brain. Jamie fell sidelong into the snow, cursing herself mentally. If she never saw another flake again in her life, it would be too soon. Now she had snow up the bottom of the the t-shirt, down the neck, in her hair, in her mouth. It brought her attention to the fact that besides the shirt she wasn't wearing anything else. She should be grateful her sleepwalking self had stopped to put on the damn shirt.

 

Jamie got her hands under her and struggled, pushing for what seemed like an hour to get her head up out of the snow. She got her legs under her but could not get to her feet. Apparently her right leg was taking orders from her left. Both refused to support her weight.

 

She crawled forward a few feet. To the closest tree. Huffing and grunting, Jamie rolled so her back was propped against the trunk. The wind was making the snow drift, so this side of the tree was relatively clear with only a couple of inches between her and the ground. She still reached down and yanked the shirt lower, trying to keep it between her and her bare skin.

 

Jamie blinked sleepily. This was definitely not good. If she didn't get up now and get moving, she probably never would. Hypothermia would set in. She'd fall asleep and freeze to death, and probably be happy doing so.

 

Something touched her face. Touched was maybe not the right word. It felt like a slap. Jamie moaned and opened her eyes, looking up into the piercing eyes of her brother.

 

“What? Fuck you John. You hit me.” She tried to push him away but her hands slid through nothing but air. She gave up on that rather quickly. “Help me. Just fucking help me.” John nodded and hesitated a moment. She saw him sigh but didn't hear a sound. He reached out and touched her. First her face, then her shoulders. Jamie stared at him in confusion as she felt warmth bloom in the spots he touched.

 

John was fading. There was no other way to explain it. Jamie figured he was trying to use his energy to warm her up enough to get moving. The thought made her feel horrible. That he would drain himself to save her...

 

“Go, get up and go Jamie. He's coming. He's coming and if he catches you he'll kill you...” John's voice seemed to come from inside Jamie's own head. She snapped her eyes open, not realizing that she'd been drifting to sleep again.

 

Her legs still hurt. But they were no longer numb. She used the tree for leverage and stood up unsteadily. John was pointing again, but his form was hard to make out. She got the picture though. Half stumbling, half running, Jamie headed south as fast as her cold legs would take her. She tried to keep herself pointed in a straight line but it was difficult. She fell twice. The second time another wave of absolute exhaustion washed over over.

 

John didn't reappear. Jamie had an idea of why. He'd refused to speak until it had been urgent. Maybe by talking, or expending energy, he had been leading the thing that wanted her right to her. It made a certain kind of sense. The spirits were in hiding. That was what she'd been hearing for the past few days. So maybe they were hiding to protect the people with the gift. Lucy had a spirit with her until they'd arrived, and he hadn't appeared since. Not even when she'd gone back to town.

 

Jamie fell for the third time. Even with John's energy, she could not find her footing again. Groaning under her breath, she crawled. She didn't hear anything but the sound of her own breathing and the pounding of her heart. She knew she was in deep trouble here. How far was she from the house? She had no way of knowing.

 

Jamie felt something grab her. She managed to let out a weak scream as she was lifted roughly into the air. He'd caught her. John had done his best but he'd found her after all and now he was going to kill her. Jamie didn't have the strength to fight. Although it was still cloudy, she was suddenly surrounded by stars. She managed one more low moan and passed out, her body going limp as it finally gave in to the cold.

 

24

 

Jamie opened her eyes, feeling the blankets yanked off her body. The room wasn't particularly cold, but she shivered anyway and reached for the covers. And that was when Mark's low groan reached her ears.

 

She yawned and sat up slowly, looking across the bed. He'd turned away from her, and was nearly on the verge of tumbling to the floor. Apparently he was having the mother of all nightmares from the way he kept jerking his body. He said something, low and toneless. She couldn't make it out but the sound sent a tingle of fear up her spine. Jamie reached out and touched his shoulder, shaking him lightly.

 

“Mark?” She felt his arm twitch and managed to stop his elbow from hitting her as it swung back. He came awake and sat up, tangled in the blankets, breathing as if he'd run a race. “Are you all right?”

 

“Jamie?” He was looking at her as if he were seeing a ghost. Jamie found that to be rather funny given their current situation.

                                                                                                                                           

“You scared the hell out of me. Again.” Jamie smoothed her hand over his shoulder, onto his neck.

 

“Fuck...” He spit the word out and rubbed his hands over his face. It had been so damn real. He'd dreamed that something had taken Jamie, something in the woods, while he'd searched for her without luck. He'd found her...too late. He shuddered as his mind kept calling up that last image before she'd awakened him, of Jamie laying naked in the snow, her skin pale and dead, the area around her covered in red.

 

“Hey.” Jamie pressed closer to him, felt the tremor run through his body, and wrapped her arms around him. Mark repaid the embrace, holding her tight, nearly cutting off her ability to breath. It must have been something horrible to scare someone like him. That was her thought anyway. She had a feeling there wasn't much in this world that would freak him out.

 

“I'm ok.” Mark said softly. He did sound better. His breath was back. “Just a dream.” He rubbed her back lightly before releasing her to straighten the blankets again. Once he was satisfied, he pulled Jamie back into his arms and laid back against his pillow, that hollow feeling of being too late still clinging to him. He felt Jamie relax against him as she fell to sleep once more. He knew that the night was going to be a long one for him. He'd gotten the message all right. He could not let his guard down again. Not if he wanted to protect this woman who had given him her trust.

 

Mark did his best not to disturb Jamie as she slept and the clock ticked slowly toward dawn. He couldn't take it anymore. After an hour he carefully extracted himself from her arms without waking her again. He tucked the blanket around her, and felt some unnameable tug of emotion as she muttered and turned to her side. He hesitated before going to his closet for a pair of jeans and a shirt. He dressed quietly and eased from the room without disturbing her sleep.

 

The house was completely silent. Mark padded barefoot down the stairs, mindful of Randy sleeping on the couch. He checked the lock on the front doors, and the windows. Everything was as it should be. So why could he not shake the nagging feeling that Jamie was in danger? Immediate danger. Not something that was going to happen in a month or a year but now. It ate at him as he went into the kitchen to prepare a pot of coffee.

 

“What is up with you damn early birds?” Fifteen minutes later, Mark was seated at the table with his coffee in front of him. He'd been staring out the window and drifting with his thoughts. Lucy's voice pulled him back to the present with a start.

 

“I didn't know I was being loud. Sorry.”

 

Lucy made a low noise and went to the counter to pour herself a steaming cup of coffee. It was just past four in the morning. “Wasn't the noise. It was the smell. Coffee. Makes my stomach growl.”

 

Mark sipped from his cup and shook his head. Lucy was still in her pajamas, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that was about two sizes too small. It showed off the colorful tattoos that decorated her legs and arms. And a scar, that started at her knee and ran up her outer thigh to disappear under the hem of her shorts. It reappeared at the waistband only to once more be hidden by her shirt. He knew that it went up her stomach and chest, and faded as it reached her shoulder and neck. It was a souvenir from an encounter when she'd been a teenager. That was all he knew for sure. She was close-mouthed about it, as was Randy.

 

Lucy took a seat across from him, frowned in his general direction and took a slow sip of her coffee. “What? It's too early to be stared at.”

 

“So go back to bed.” If she could be grouchy, so could he. Actually Lucy grouching was a good distraction. It kept him from picturing Jamie dead in a snowbank, after all.

 

“As if. Once I'm up, I'm up.” She set her cup down and rubbed her arms. “Why are you up?” Her eyes met his. And just like that Mark knew that she knew. The girl had something, a gift that no one else possessed that he'd ever known. It wasn't mind-reading, necessarily, just a perception of things that never seemed to fail her. “Ah. Ok. Yeah.” She said that more to himself than to Mark, and it was as if he'd told her the whole dream. “Pretty bad huh? Night sweats?” That was directed at him. Before he could speak she went on. “Just a dream though. It doesn't have to mean anything. But it must have been bad if he sent you down here all by your lonesome when you could be sharin' your bed with a willing woman.” She snickered at that. As if the very thought tickled her. Mark glared at her without malice and drained the last of his coffee.

 

“I wish you'd stop doing that.”

 

“What? You've practically got a neon sign over your head flashing on and off that says 'bad dream'.” Lucy looked amused. “Here's some advice for you. Shit or get off the pot.”

 

“That's random.”

 

“Not really.” Lucy peered at him. Her eyes still sparkled with amusement. “It applies to so many areas of your life.”

 

Mark grunted, not wanting to be pulled into another discussion about why he chose to ignore the gift he'd been given. Or what exactly it was he felt for Jamie. He rose from the table to pour another cup of coffee when Glen sauntered in. His hair was wet, a sign that he'd been up for a bit and had taken a shower. Old habits were hard to break then. Neither brother was used to sleeping an entire night through.

 

“What's going on in here?” He asked, heading for the coffee pot. Glen took his cup and sat next to Lucy, yawning widely.

 

“Nobody can sleep.” Lucy grumbled. She was looking into her cup as if she were fascinated by the dark liquid.

 

“Ah. Yeah.” Glen sipped his coffee. “We need to figure this thing out. And soon.”

 

No one needed to say aloud what it was they needed to figure out.

 

“Its like the air pressure in here is too much.” Lucy said softly. “Especially around Jamie. Whatever it is that wants her, its not going to stop until it gets her.”

 

Mark closed his eyes and sighed. It was true. He had that feeling as well. “At this point I'm open to any suggestions. Even yours.” He couldn't help but goad Lucy a bit. She'd done it enough to him. “I'm at a loss here. No clue where to go next.”

 

Lucy sighed. “If I tell you something you have to promise not to tell Randy. Or Nan. Or Jamie or Kayla either.”

 

Glen looked at her, his eyebrow raised. Mark nodded slowly. “We won't tell.”

 

“Ok.” She sighed again. “The scar.” She absently touched her stomach. “Look, when I was seventeen I was staying with some friends, kind of a last hoorah for high school friends. We thought we were hot shit, getting our families to chip in and rent us a cabin. It was the weekend before graduation. There were eight of us. One night I just got it in my head that I had to go down to the beach. There was a river, right behind the house, and whoever owned the land had leveled it off and put in some sand. Some beach.” She scoffed. “Anyway...I went out. I got in the water. Swam for a while, felt like the queen of the universe. And when I got out of the water...there was a guy.”

 

Mark glanced at Glen. His brother shook his head and looked quizzically back at Lucy.

 

“See, I already knew what I was. Or what I had. The gift, or curse or whatever the hell you want to call it.” She rolled her eyes. Even though she was still looking into her coffee cup, Mark saw it. “I figured hey, a ghost. Maybe that's why I got the urge to go out in the middle of the night like an idiot. So I walk toward him. He was good looking, for a guy I assumed to be old. I was a teenager remember, hell, thirty seemed ancient. It wasn't until I got closer that I noticed...I didn't feel anything. Most of the time that empathy shit is for the birds, but sometimes it helps weed out the bad from the good, you know? It was like I was walking into a blank wall when I tried to read him. I was confused.” She took a deep breath. “So needless to say, it surprised the holy fuck out of me when he pulled a knife out of his pocket and jumped at me. That's when I thought...hey, he must just be some asshole human thinking I was easy pickings.” At this she laughed. “He disappeared.”

 

“What do you mean?” Mark asked.

 

“I mean poof. Gone. One second he's swinging a blade at my throat, the next he's just...gone.” She shrugged. “I stood there like an idiot for a full five minutes trying to figure out what the hell happened. He didn't come back. So I went back to the cabin. And went to bed.” Lucy cleared her throat. “It was a couple hours later that I woke up. No real reason to. It was still dark, the house was quiet. The infamous 'too quiet'. And that is when this happened.” She traced her finger along her stomach. “There wasn't anything there. It just appeared. Started at my knee and went up...”

 

Lucy pushed her coffee mug aside. “When it got to my shoulder I finally moved. I was freaking out. Literally. I mean, I'd dealt with ghosts and spirits my whole life, you'd think nothing would have fazed me. This did. And it wasn't just the cut, and the blood. It was that feeling that...there was nothing there. Not even my friends...” She pushed her hair back from her face and finally looked up. She met Mark's eyes. “Usually I could sense people, especially people who were a room away. It was like I was all alone with this thing.”

 

“So...” Glen thought out his question. “Why would it go after you and not them? If they were normal, with no gift, they'd be easier targets.”

 

“I don't know.” Lucy hesitated a moment. That alone was enough to convince Mark how truly horrifying it had been. She was not the type of person to ever think about her actions, let alone her emotions and thoughts. Usually she said what was on her mind without worrying about consequences. “Ok...look.” With that she rolled her arm over, laying her hand palm up on the table. There was a twisted pucker of scar that went from her wrist to her elbow.

 

“A burn?”

 

“Oh yeah. Pretty bad one. I was lucky it didn't get infected, and even luckier that fuck didn't roast the rest of me.”

 

“It set you on fire?” Glen asked.

 

“Ha. Yeah it wished. No it just managed to throw me toward the fireplace. And then it jumped on me and held my arm down over the hot ashes.” She said it in an offhanded way. “Ok. And here is the part that nobody else can know. Ever. I haven't even told Nan, and you know her. She's been prying at me for years trying to figure out what else happened.”

 

She let her gaze shift from Mark to Glen. They both nodded. “Ok. All right. It...whatever it was...raped me.”

 

Her revelation was met with stunned silence. Lucy cleared her throat again and looked down, staring at her scarred arm. She touched one of the tattoos that was closest to it, needing something to do with her hands. “I know it sounds nuts, that I couldn't see the damn thing. But I could feel it. Believe me, I could.” She shuddered. “I remember very little about that part of things. Just...pain and cold and...” When Glen reached over and touched her hand, Lucy pulled back. It was reflexive, and both men knew better to take it personally. It certainly explained her distance with people.

 

“Well...I told you all that because this...this feels something like that.” Lucy finished and folded her hands into her lap. “Obviously the thing didn't kill me. And I couldn't figure out what the hell it was. Nobody else in the house heard anything. It wasn't like I was screaming for help. I thought nobody was there. When I woke up again, I was laying on the floor by the fireplace. I was hurt, but more than that...I was pissed. No. I was fucking infuriated. Because my friends were there. And they'd slept through that. And that...thing had done what it did to me and...”

 

Her voice got softer as she spoke. Mark abruptly rose to his feet and picked up their empty cups to carry to the sink. Now he was the one that needed something to do. He listened as Lucy took a deep breath and resumed speaking. Her voice returned to normal as well. Whatever emotion she'd felt, she was manhandling it back to the darker parts of her soul he supposed.

 

“I called Randy. And he called Nan. They both got there in record time. A soon as they appeared, the party was over for my friends. Nan sent them all home. They were mad too, I guess. I didn't care at that point, because it was Nan who confirmed what I'd felt. There was nothing there. She believed me that I'd seen something, but I refused to tell her exactly what it had done other than cut me and burn me. We never did figure out what it was.”

 

“Its got to be a spirit. Something new. Or rare. What the hell else could it be? Do you think it's the same thing that wants Jamie?” Glen asked, stopping himself from reaching out to Lucy again.

 

“I don't know. But if it is, the thing wants Jamie.”

 

“It would have to go through us to touch either of you.” Mark spoke finally from the sink. His voice was as low as Glen's had been when questioning Lucy but it was tinged with anger.

 

“Yeah. That's probably the plan.” Lucy shook her head and rose to her feet. “I just thought I should tell you guys because...well...I don't know. Something struck me earlier, a similarity I guess...”

 

“You did right.” Glen couldn't help himself. He reached out again and touched Lucy's arm. She looked at him and smiled, not pulling back this time. Instead she gave his hand a sisterly pat and left the kitchen without another word. Glen watched as Mark scrubbed their coffee cups a little harder than the use of them had warranted. “What are we gonna do about this?”

 

Mark could only shake his head. He did not know. And the longer he went, the worse the confusion would get. If he could get his hands on the thing that had raped Lucy...and if it or something like it were after Jamie now...

 

The coffee cup in his hands cracked under the pressure he'd applied. He barely noticed the shards of glass that pierced his palm. He kept seeing her, kept seeing Jamie, in a pool of blood in the snow. And he knew if he didn't figure this thing out soon his nightmare was going to become a reality. Mark looked down finally, seeing but not really understanding the blood on his hands. All he could see was Jamie.

 

25

 

Chris was way past being ready for bed.

 

Although house calls were a thing of the past, when the weather was bad sometimes they made exceptions. Like tonight. A woman had gone into labor. After calling 911 and the hospital and finding out there were no available ambulances, she'd called the clinic. Chris had taken the phone and had figured out in four seconds that he was going to have to make the trip himself. The husband was beyond freaked out, as was the expectant mother. Neither of them were fit to drive. They were young and it was their first.

 

He'd done all he could do at their house, with Emma's help. After examining the woman, finding that she still had plenty of time, and calming down the man, they'd all gotten into the car and headed for the hospital. Chris stuck around for hours, lending them a hand since the clinic was closed. Now all he wanted was home and bed. He didn't care if his electric was back on or not. He and Emma could huddle under a stack of blankets and quilts and sleep for twelve straight hours.

 

Of course Em had a head start. She was in the passenger seat next to him, eyes closed, dead to the world. And that was in the space of time it took to pull the car from the hospital lot to the clinic. He locked the doors and left the engine and the heat running while he dashed to the clinic doors to tell Cora to go on home.

 

She smiled at him as he unlocked the door and stepped inside. “It's four in the morning, Cora. Why are you still here?” Chris asked as he knocked snow from his shoes.

 

“The same reason you are most likely. No heat at my house. The hospital director has shut us down until further notice. He called right after you left.”

 

Chris's eyebrow went up. “Why would he do that?”

 

“He wants you to help at the hospital since they're overcrowded and short-handed.” Cora said with a smirk. She finished gathering her things, and pulled her coat on. “Of course he expects you to work the night shift too. So he asked me to tell you to report to his office at eight tomorrow evening.”

 

“Lucky me.” Chris shook his head and walked up the hall to his office. He made sure he'd shut down his computer before turning to escort Cora out the door. Before he could step into the reception area there was a loud bang from the parking lot.

 

“What the hell?” Cora didn't normally curse, so just hearing that got Chris moving a little faster. He ran toward the doors with her at his heels, stepping outside in time to see a large black SUV fishtailing at high speed down the road.

 

“Emma!” Chris managed her name when his eyes fell on the cause of the noise. His car...it had been hit on the passenger side. The doors were crumpled inward, the mirror was snapped off. He took off at a run, ignoring the way his feet slipped on the icy parking lot.

 

Emma had to climb over the passenger seat to get out of the car on the driver's side. She ignored Chris's attempts to get her to sit still so he could check her over. She'd been sleeping deeply one minute, and the next had been throw sideways by the impact of the vehicle being hit. It had scared her. Terrified may have been a better way to describe it, but she didn't feel hurt. Chris was looking in concern at a trickle of blood that ran down her forehead. A piece of glass from the broken window had winged her. She was lucky she wasn't killed. Shaking, she let Chris wrap an arm around her to steady her.

 

“What happened?”

 

“Somebody just rammed the car...” Chris was still studying her closely. Looking for signs of shock? Most likely. Emma surprised him. Actually she didn't feel shocked, she felt angry.

 

“And ran off? Nice...asshole.” She swiped at her forehead and the blood smeared. “Great.”

 

“I've seen that car before.” Cora spoke softly, drawing their attention away from Chris's wrecked car.

 

“What? Is it a patient or something?”

 

“No.” Cora shook her head and turned to them. She'd watched the SUV until it disappeared around a corner. “Earlier tonight. Several times. It pulled in the lot, it pulled out of the lot...I don't know, maybe three times?”

 

“So not just an idiot that can't drive one the ice.” Chris muttered. “Did you see who was driving?”

 

“No. The windows were too dark for that.” Cora reached into her pocket and pulled out a tissue, which she used to wipe the blood from Emma's head. “Just a scratch. You got off lucky. From the sound of it whoever it was didn't slow down before they whacked the car.”

 

“Let's get inside.” Chris said uneasily, trying to lead the women back to the door.

 

Emma resisted. “Wait a minute. Why? Why would some dumbass ram into a parked car on purpose.” She looked at Chris. The first thing to jump into her mind was Eric. But they didn't own an SUV. Not that he couldn't go out and rent of buy one, but that was not his style. If he knew about her relationship with Chris, he'd want to get right up and personal with her. In spite of that...or maybe because of it...Emma hadn't broken it off.

 

“I have no idea, but I really don't want the dumbass to come back and run over a couple of people in the parking lot. We'll call the cops.” With that he finally got her moving. Once they were inside Cora locked the doors and headed for the phone. Chris sat with Emma, holding her close, the strange feeling of danger not leaving him even though they were safe inside. If anything it got stronger. He kissed the top of her head and hugged her, trying not to let his emotions cause him to imagine things.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

If Jamie thought that Mark had been acting distant the day before, today she was being smothered with attention. She was pretty sure he'd go in the bathroom with her if she hadn't shut the door on him. It was unnerving. He wasn't being talkative, and she'd been sensing an angry vibe about him all morning. She had finally asked if she'd done something and he had looked genuinely surprised.

 

After a huge breakfast, Jamie had joined Randy and Lucy in the living room near the fireplace. They had cards. They were passing their time playing blackjack. Jamie declined their offer to deal her in, and instead reached for Lucy's pack of cigarettes. It wasn't a habit that had hooked her, and she knew what the consequences of smoking were, but sometimes she just wanted one.

 

Randy lit it for her and watched as she drew in a lungful of smoke. “Any word yet on what we're going to do exactly?”

 

Jamie shook her head and blew the smoke out. It made her lightheaded, but it sure felt nice.

 

“We caught the weather. It's going to get near freezing today. So stuff is going to melt. Then back down in the teens and more snow on the way.” Lucy shuffled the cards as she spoke. “You'd think it was the first time in history anyone had ever seen snow.”

 

“Hey, it'll be a white Christmas.” Randy said with a snicker as he looked at the cards his sister had dealt.

 

“Hell, I totally forgot about Christmas.” Jamie muttered. From the corner of her eye she saw Mark enter the room. He stood in the doorway for a moment as if trying to decide whether to join her on the couch. Finally he turned and stepped back into the kitchen. “Not that I celebrate it anyway. No family.”

 

“Don't tell him that.” Lucy said with an exasperated sigh. “Rands will adopt you. He brings home strays all the time.”

 

“I do not.” Randy laughed and showed his cards.

 

“Its debatable. Remember that Olivia chick from right after graduation?” Lucy smiled. “You invited her to stay and Nan had to practically drag her out kicking and screaming. Poor kid.”

 

“Yeah, whatever.” Randy rolled his eyes.

 

Jamie finished her own cigarette and flicked the filter into the fireplace. There were no ashtrays, so it seemed like the thing to do. Hearing Randy and Lucy going back and forth was soothing. It made things seem normal when she knew they were anything but.

 

~

 

“I don't like the idea, using Jamie for bait.”

 

A silence had fallen over everyone in the kitchen when Mark spoke. It had been Nan's idea. Since there were four, five including herself, who dealt with spirits, she thought that Jamie would be safe near them. Even outside of the protected house. She could see the idea disturbed Mark and Glen. Kayla just raised an eyebrow and didn't chip in. She was a writer, not a strategist.

 

“Unless you can think of another way to draw it out, I see no more options.” Nan spoke softly. “It will wait you out. I don't sense that, it's just something that I know. It has patience. To a point. If we do it now, tonight, perhaps we can stop it.”

 

“You won't be doing anything, Nan.” Glen said, keeping his voice low too. “We'll take care of it.”

 

Nan reached up and gave Glen a pat on the cheek. “That's sweet, dear. I may be old but I still know a thing or two about this business we're in. Plus, that girl's going to need all the support she can get.”

 

“So tonight? Because I don't want to rush into anything...” Glen was speaking again when Mark interrupted.

 

“We're not going to do it. I won't put her at risk like that.” His tone was final.

 

Nan looked at him, her lips twitching upward in a smile. “She'll be in more risk if we do nothing. The thing is being cautious right now, but that won't last forever. We should surprise it.”

 

Mark huffed a sigh but he knew they were right. It didn't mean he had to like it. “Tonight but after midnight. Christmas day. Maybe it will weaken it.”

 

“It's possible. Although it's a little close to the turn of seasons...it is the only really powerful day we'll have for a while.” Nan eased up from the table, accepting a hand from Glen. She paced slowly to the sink where she peered outside through the window. “I only hope that once we find it, its simple enough to deal with. Obviously it will have to be you, Mark. Or possibly Lucy. There is absolutely no good coming from this thing.”

 

Mark nodded. He had already figured that part out for himself. “We'll take care of it.” He only hoped they would. Because up to this point he'd never dealt with anything like this.

 

~

 

“I need some air.” Lucy stood up and stretched. Jamie stood with her.

 

“Me too, actually. I'll take another cigarette too, if you don't mind.”

 

Lucy smirked and handed over the pack. There were only a few left. “Gonna have to go to the store at some point today too. Damn errands.” She pulled her coat from a chair near the front door. Jamie looked toward the kitchen where her coat was hanging, shrugged, and reached for Mark's. It was on the same chair. She wasn't going to disturb the talking in there if she could help it. They were trying to figure out what to do. She'd leave that to the experts.

 

Mark's leather coat was comically big on her as she pulled it on. But it was warm and smelled good. She took a deep breath, drawing in the scent of the leather, and of Mark's cologne as she followed Lucy onto the front porch.

 

“Inhale any harder you're likely to suck the lining out of it.” Lucy remarked. Jamie laughed and accepted the lighter the other woman held out to her. Lucy leaned closer and sniffed. “What is that? Brut?”

 

Jamie laughed again. “Maybe its Stetson. Could just be that Axe stuff they advertise day and night.”

 

“Fancy britches in there probably wears some hundred buck a bottle shit.” Lucy mumbled. “Better not let him hear you accuse him of using anything cheap.”

 

“I'll try to keep it to myself.” Jamie inhaled again, this time the cigarette smoke. Maybe she would have to peek in the bathroom cabinets to see what exactly it was that Mark wore. Just to prove Lucy right on the expensive stuff. It was nice...acting silly with someone. It took her mind off of everything else that was happening.

 

They smoked in silence for a few minutes, listening to the snow as it melted and dripped from the roof. The door behind Lucy opened, making both of them turn to see who it was.

 

“We're probably going to go to town in a few minutes.” Glen said, looking from one to the other with an unreadable expression on his face. “Last chance. Stores are going to be closed tomorrow.”

 

“I could use some smokes.” Lucy said, digging in her pocket for money. Glen waved her off.

 

“I'm good.” Jamie flipped the rest of her cigarette off the side of the porch and tucked her hands in the coat pockets for warmth. Glen hesitated another moment before heading back inside. Something in the pocket of the coat poked her in the hand.  Curious, Jamie pulled it out. It was a small picture. Of her.  “What is this?” She looked at it, turned it over to look at the back, and then back around to study the front. She recognized the place. She had gone with a friend about a year after John's funeral to a concert in the park. Neither of them had taken a camera, so just where the hell had the picture come from?

 

Lucy was peering over her shoulder at it. “Ah. Summer time. How I miss it.” She smirked. “So are you carrying a picture of Mark around with you? Kinda like back in the high school days. When you wrote stuff like 'don't ever change' and shit?”

 

That made Jamie laugh. Because she remembered doing that very thing. “Nope. They're probably both camera shy. I haven't seen a picture of either of them.” She slid the photo back into the pocket and made a mental note to ask Mark about it later. “I'm about frozen out here. I'm heading in.”

 

“All right.” Lucy followed along. Mark, Glen and Kayla were in the living room, the latter two with their coats already on. Mark smiled at Jamie and held his hand out. She took it off and handed it over, ignoring the amused twinkle in his eyes. Everyone drifted off to do other things, leaving them alone for the moment.

 

“I want you to stay in the house while we're gone.” Mark said, tugging his coat on. It was still warm with Jamie's body heat. “And I mean in. No going out even on the porch. We're going to do something later on...something that might end this. But it has to be on our terms. All right?”

 

“Sure.” Jamie had the feeling of being lectured. Mark must have sensed it because he relaxed a little bit and pulled her forward, giving her a hug and a quick kiss against her lips. She smiled as he pulled back as if afraid someone might see him being affectionate.

 

“We shouldn't be too long.” He stroked her cheek with his thumb before heading in the direction that Glen and Kayla had gone. Jamie sighed and sank down on the couch to stare into the flames of the fireplace. He had said they were going to do something. She only hoped that whatever it was, no one got hurt. Not on her account. Again the day dragged out in front of her. There was nothing left to do but wait.

 

26

 

Mark, Kayla and Glen returned carrying enough groceries, in Jamie's opinion, to feed an army. Mark and Glen went back outside after leaving the bags in the kitchen for the others to put away. Jamie had wanted to ask Mark exactly what it was they were planning to do to help her, and about the picture, but Nan put her to work peeling potatoes. When the men returned a few hours later, everything was ready. They had a traditional Christmas dinner. Turkey and all the fixings, four different desserts, and everything in between. Everyone ate too much, and they kept their conversations limited to nonsense. Randy and Lucy's picking on each other was the main entertainment. Nan looked on, not putting a stop to it. It had the feel of a long-standing family tradition.

 

After dinner, Lucy and Glen started to clean up. Randy was sitting in the living room with Nan and Kayla, talking quietly. Kayla was asking more questions no doubt. She had her ever-present notebook with her. Every now and then she would stop to write something down.

 

Jamie started to clear dishes from the table when Mark walked up to her, carrying her coat. She raised an eyebrow at him when he held it for her to put on. “Where are we going?” She asked, even as she slid her arms into the sleeves.

 

“Giving you a present.” He kept his voice low. But he did sound amused. Jamie looked at him over her shoulder as he guided her toward the door.

 

Outside the wind had picked up a bit. It was below freezing again. The melting snow had formed icicles on just about every overhang and tree branch in sight. Jamie took in a deep breath of the cold air and sighed it out. She really had eaten way too much. Now she just needed a nap. And maybe some football. Since there was no television, she guessed that was out of the question.

 

Mark took her hand and led Jamie to her Jeep. “Where are we going?” She asked, letting herself be led. He didn't talk, instead he reached into his pocket and pulled out her keys. Jamie raised an eyebrow. “You fixed it?”

 

“Guess you'll have to find out for yourself.” He smiled and passed the keys to her. She waited until he had opened the door before sliding into the driver's seat. The Jeep started at the first turn of the key, with absolutely no swearing on her part.

 

“Its a miracle.” Jamie said with a grin. “Wow. I'm blown away. You can hardly even hear it running.” The engine was a soft rumble in the wind. Jamie cut the engine and got out, smiling up at Mark. “Well, I'm not capable of repairing your car, so how in hell am I supposed to repay you for this?”

 

Mark smirked. “You'll think of somethin'.” He brushed a strand of hair back from her face where the wind blew it. Jamie grinned and reached up, taking his shoulders in her hands. She pulled him down so she could press her lips to his. She'd only meant a little peck, but she felt so good at the moment that it deepened into something that left the both of them breathless. “And that's a good start.” Mark said with a grin when she finally pulled back. “I have something else for you too.”

 

“What? You did my laundry or...uhm. Hell what else do I have here for you to fix?” Jamie smiled. Right up until he pulled a small wrapped box from his pocket. “Oh. An actual present? But I didn't get you anything. I can't...”

 

“You don't have to get me anything. I just saw this and I thought maybe you'd like it.” He held it out. Jamie took the present and slowly tore the paper from it. Under the wrapping paper was a velvet box. Jamie opened in and smiled. It was a necklace, silver, with a silver pendant shaped like a snowflake as its centerpiece. “Its beautiful.” Jamie said softly, picking it up. Mark took it from her and put it around her neck, reached around her shoulders to do it. After he got the clasp hooked, he rubbed her neck lightly with his fingertips.

 

“Just thought it would be nice...something to remember all this.” Mark said, looking down at her. Jamie had no idea what 'all this' really meant. Him? The situation? Everything that had happened over the last week? Whatever it meant, she loved it already.

 

“I guess you'll expect more than a kiss for this then, huh?” Jamie said with an impish smile. “I wish I'd gotten you something, I mean...thank you. Its beautiful.” She repeated her sentiment. Mark smiled, glad that something so small had made her so happy.

 

“Ready to head back inside?” He said when he noticed she'd started to shiver, in spite of her coat. Jamie nodded.

 

“Yeah. Ready to go to bed.” She winked at him, taking his hand again as they walked. Once inside the warmth of the kitchen, Jamie shrugged out of her coat and hung it up, and resumed helping the others clean up. Mark went into the living room briefly before deciding he didn't want to be interrogated by Kayla. He went upstairs, disappearing into his bedroom.

 

“I guess since there's no TV Mark is going to be playing the part of the Grinch.” Lucy said from Jamie's side as she washed dishes. It made Jamie laugh. Glen chuckled too as he stowed leftovers in the fridge.

 

“I'd better go rescue them from Kayla.” Glen said, still grinning as he left the room. Lucy and Jamie shared a few minutes of silence as they washed, rinsed and dried.

 

“What's on your mind?” Lucy finally asked, keeping her voice low so the others wouldn't hear.

 

“What makes you think anything is?”

 

“I can tell. Its my secret power. So what is it? Worried?”

 

“Not for myself.” Jamie sighed heavily. It was true. Whatever happened, she knew that Mark and the others would protect her. Even if it meant endangering their lives. It wasn't something she enjoyed hanging over her head.

 

“Well stop it. Some of us actually enjoy this kinda challenge.” Lucy smirked and handed Jamie the last pan before draining the water. “Nan thinks we should go out at midnight or close to it. She feels that its when things are likely to happen. So it will be over soon.”

 

Jamie nodded. She didn't get a chance to answer, there were voices from the living room that while not raised in anger, they were heading that way. She shared a look with Lucy and dried her hands, heading for the doorway.

 

Mark had returned from upstairs. He was standing near the fireplace, a deep frown on his features as he stared at Nan and Glen. The two of them were looking back, and it was clear there was some kind of disagreement. They didn't have to wait long to find out what it was.

 

“Its the best way. She has to go out, otherwise whatever or whoever the hell it is won't show up. Why the hell would it?” Glen kept his voice low.

 

“What would be the use of even taking Jamie out? I mean, if anything happens to her, won't this all have been for nothing?” That came from Kayla, who had apparently decided to switch over to Mark's way of thinking. Jamie and Lucy shared another look. Lucy read exasperation on the other woman's face as clearly as she'd read her worry.

 

“It doesn't matter what any of you say.” Jamie spoke up, making them all notice the two of them standing there. “I'm going. Whatever it is you're going to do, I'm in it too. I'm not staying and expecting everybody to put their necks on the line while I hide.”

Nan was nodding approvingly. Mark's frown darkened. “Bait. They wanna use you as bait.” Mark gestured at his brother and Nan. “We don't even know what the fuck we're up against here, and they wanna trot you out like a prize pony.”

 

“Well...good.” Jamie shrugged. The thought of going outside and trying to attract that thing scared her, no doubt. But she was tired of the waiting. It was definitely time to make something happen. “Just so long as you guys are ready to do whatever the hell it is you do, and this shit ends I'll be happy to do it.”

 

Nan was still nodding. “Then its settled.” She ignored the look on Mark's face that said it was nowhere near such a thing. “Jamie goes with us.”

 

“There's no 'us' Nan. You definitely stay here.” Randy spoke for the first time.

 

“I most certainly will not.”

 

“You most certainly will.” It was odd, seeing Randy standing up to his grandmother. It was something they expected of Lucy, not him. “Its too cold out for you. And you're still tired from earlier. Someone has to stay back. Just in case. And one of us is going to stay here with you.”

 

Nan sighed. She glared at Randy, then shifted her gaze to Lucy. “And what do you think of this, Lucinda?”

 

Lucy rolled her eyes. “I hate when she uses my full name.” She muttered to Jamie. “I think Rands is right. You stay here. I think Rands should stay here too. Apparently we're not dealing with a troubled mother of two who can't let her kids go. He's not used to this heavy stuff.”

 

“Thanks a pantload, sis.” Randy said with a frown.

 

“Ok, look. Just...can we stop arguing for two minutes? Jamie's going out, Nan and Randy are staying here, and we should all get some rest before midnight. Because we have to do it tonight. Whatever it is exactly. I gotta bad feeling if it doesn't end tonight, something worse is gonna come out of it than a ghost wanting Jamie.” Glen warned from his seat. There were nods all around, except for Mark, who was staring at the fire and refusing to rejoin the conversation.

 

Jamie shook her head and headed for the stairs. She glanced at the clock as she went up. Eight. She was going to lay down for a few hours, not to sleep. It was going to be a long time before she'd be able to fall asleep. She just wanted some quiet.

 

Of course she fully expected Mark to come in, and she wasn't disappointed. She kicked her shoes off and lay on the bed, hands behind her head, staring at the ceiling for about ten minutes when the door opened and he came inside. He stretched out next to her on the bed and mimicked her position, neither of them speaking for the moment.

 

It was Mark who broke their silence. “I don't like it.”

 

Well that was obvious. Jamie shifted a little. “I don't want to talk about it anymore. Talk about anything but that.”

 

“Ok.” She was surprised he wasn't going to argue with her. Instead he came at her from left field. “How about after?”

 

“After what?”

 

“After this is over. What will you do then?”

 

Jamie rolled onto her side to face him before answering. “I don't know. H