“You know how to love,” Heather said. “That’s really all you need.”
“Love?” Tink snorted. “That’s just dumb.”
“It’s the most powerful force on the planet,” Heather said with a silent nod to Abi, who said the same thing. “It heals every injury and wound.”
“That’s why I know that you’re going to be okay,” Heather said. “You can love.”
“Iv, Iv, Iv,” Mack said. He came over and gave her a hug. He kissed her cheek and Ivy started to cry again. “Don’ cwy.”
Mack patted her cheek. Ivy pulled him onto the couch between her and Tink.
“Maa-maa,” Mack said. “Beck-fst?”
He patted his tummy.
“Hungy,” Mack said.
“That’s right!” Heather said. “Let’s see what we can find for breakfast.”
She got up and went into the kitchen. After a few minutes, the girls followed her. They were staring at the refrigerator when there was a knock on the door.
“Stay here,” Heather said.
She gave Mack to Tink and went to the front door. Terrified, she peered through the peephole.
No one was there.
She opened the door a crack and saw no one. She was about to close the door when her cellphone rang in her purse in the kitchen.
“I’ll get it,” Tink said.
Heather closed and locked the door. She was almost to the kitchen when Tink yelled.
Heather took the phone from her.
“I hope it’s okay, but I signed you up for my usual meal service,” Schmidty said without saying hello.
“Hi Jammy,” Heather said. “What’s your ‘usual meal service’?”
“Food will be delivered morning, midday, and night,” Schmidty said. “I get it for my clients who use the house when they’re in town.”
“Does that happen a lot?” Heather asked as she made her way back to the door.
“A fair bit,” Schmidty said. “When they play at Red Rocks or the Pepsi center, most of them have been on the road a while. It’s nice to get out of the bus. It’s easier to relax at the house than another hotel. Plus, they can do their laundry.”
“Makes sense,” Heather said.
She opened the door. There were two thermoses for hot liquids and a box of pastries. She waved to Ivy and Tink.
“The fridge is full so you can also make anything,” Schmidty said.
“But we … I mean, we don’t have money to …?” Heather started. “Blane’s in the hospital and …”
Tink picked up the thermoses and Ivy retrieved the box of pastries.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Schmidty said. “We want to help.”
“Lizzy and I,” Schmidty said. “If you’ll die without paying for it, I can always take it out of Sandy’s commission.”
“Sandy’s commission?” Heather asked.
“For the piece her mother wrote,” Schmidty said. “Last bid was in the low eighties.”
“Millions,” Schmidty said. “I think it will top a couple hundred, but that’s just me.”
“And your cut?” Heather asked.
“Fifteen percent,” Schmidty said. “That’s a lot more than all the food you could eat in six months.”
“Then, thank you, James Schmidt the fifth,” Heather said. “I appreciate your support.”
“No problem,” Schmidty said with a laugh. “How’s Blane?”
“I’ll go after breakfast,” Heather said.
“Send him my love,” Schmidty said.
“Yeah,” Schmidty said. “It’s the most powerful force in the universe.”
“I’ve heard that,” Heather said.
“I figure he could use it,” Schmidty said. “Just try to relax, Heather. You deserve a little support. Tell the girls I said hi.”
He clicked off the phone She looked at the phone and tucked it in her pocket.
“Well?” Heather asked Tink who was peering into the box.
“It looks really yummy,” Tink said.
“He’s going to drop off lunch and dinner too,” Heather said.
Sitting on the floor playing with Mack, Heather looked at the entrance to Mack’s room. A voice had just said something. Or at least she thought the voice had said something. No one was standing there.
“Tink?” Heather asked.
“T’nk, T’nk, T’nk, T’nk,” Mack babbled.
He was a saliva dripped, babbling mess. He chewed on his fist. Heather wasn’t sure if Mack had seen Tink or if he was repeating what she had said. She hoisted herself to her feet and lifted Mack to her hip. She went to the door to look.
“Tink?” Heather looked out.
Ivy was standing against the wall next to the door. Heather touched her arm and the girl burst into tears. Well, versed in her own melodramatic ways, Heather used her free hand to guide Ivy to the old leather couch in Schmidty’s family room. She settled Ivy on the couch, grabbed a box of tissue, and returned. She set Mack on the floor so he wouldn’t get fussy.
“What’s going on?” Heather whispered when Ivy’s sorrow seemed to ease.
Ivy shook her head with such vehemence that tears and snot flew off her face. Heather groaned at herself. She had done that, more than once, when she and Blane had first gotten married. She looked at the curtains. Yep. The mess was equal to the ones she’d created. She tried to remember what Blane had done that had helped so much.
“I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on,” Heather said.
She was pretty sure that’s what Blane had said. Ivy gave her a hard look. Heather gave a slight shrug and smiled.
“I don’t have a place,” Ivy said in a soft voice.
“You have a place here,” Heather said.
“In the world!” Ivy’s voice rose with rage.
“Sure, just nod,” Ivy said. “You don’t know what it’s like. You have the perfect house with the perfect guy and the perfect child and friends who lend their mansions to you and …”
“You’re right,” Heather said. “Everything is really good for me right now.”
“I mean look at Mack,” Ivy said. “He’s beautiful and …”
“He looks like his dad,” Heather said.
“Sort of but …” Ivy said.
Heather said the name of Mack’s biological father.
“What?” Ivy asked.
“I thought he was going to rescue me,” Heather said. “My prince had finally come. Real Walt Disney stuff. You know what he did when he found out I was pregnant?”
Ivy shook her head.
“He left me at the swanky romantic restaurant we were having dinner at,” Heather said. “I used the last of my money on the restaurant tab and a cab to his place. By the time I got there, he’d packed up my stuff and left it with the doorman. I had to hitchhike to the airport and then sleep there until my plane.”
“How long was that?” Ivy asked.
“Two days,” Heather said. “When I got back here, my mom kicked me out of her house. I lost my job, so I was couch surfing. No money, no food, and of course, I was too ashamed to even tell my best friends.”
Heather shrugged. She noticed that Tink was standing in the doorway.
“Delphie says Blane and I are soul mates,” Heather shrugged. “Before that, it was just me and my ridiculous mother.”
“Your mother wasn’t great?” Ivy asked.
“She suffered a great injustice,” Heather repeated what the fairies had taught her. “She wasn’t like you. She couldn’t recover from it. She became bitter, whiney, and manipulative.”
Tink picked up Mack from the middle of the room and set him down in front of the couch. She sat down next to Ivy.
“I’m not going to tell you that you’re strong and you are on your way and you have people who love you and stuff like that,” Heather said.
“Why not?” Tink asked.
“Because you know that,” Heather said. “Even if it doesn’t feel like it today, you know that.”
Tink and Ivy looked at each other before looking back at Heather.
“What I’ll tell you is that you have everything you need,” Heather said.
“What do you mean?” Tink asked.
“You went through this horrible ordeal that never seems to end,” Heather said. “On top of that, you both lost your families.”
The girls nodded.
“Rather than giving up, you created a family with Charlie and the others,” Heather said. “Then, when you were able, you found a new forever family.”
“No, I mean, how do we have everything we need?” Tink asked. “I don’t feel like I have anything. Charlie almost died. Noelle’s gone some place far away. Sissy, too. I’m just starting to catch up at school and now I can’t go. That’s if I don’t have another seizure or have to tase some rapist.”
“I don’t have anything,” Ivy’s voice was soft and very sad. “My mom and grandmother and dad and Aunt Gracie and even Delphie, they are all gone. All gone! I just have me.”
She pointed to the number on the side of a plain apartment building. The nondescript building was neither too big nor too small. It wasn’t a nice place, exactly, and also wasn’t a dump. It certainly didn’t seem like the kind of place a senior FBI agent would live. The women looked up at the building and then pressed their heads together to look at Yvonne’s phone again.
Yvonne shrugged, and Dionne nodded. Yvonne pulled on the apartment building’s outer door. It opened easily.
“How did you do that?” Dionne asked.
“I thought ‘open,’” Yvonne said with a smile.
She held the door for Dionne and they went inside the apartment lobby.
“You did not,” Dionne said.
“You’re right.” Yvonne chuckled. “I didn’t. It wasn’t locked.”
Dionne gave a soft laugh and pressed the button to the elevator. The elevator doors slowly opened.
“We have to hurry because she might leave for work,” Yvonne said.
“Who might leave for work?” a woman asked as she stepped off the elevator.
The woman gave Yvonne a long look before assessing Dionne. She wasn’t as tall as either Yvonne or Dionne. She had long black hair and light brown skin, like Seth had told them to look for. She wore a dark blue windbreaker, exercise tights, and running shoes.
“What’s it to you?” Dionne said.
“You’re Dionne Wilson,” the woman said, “Doctor Leroy Wilson’s wife, Jeraine Wilson’s mother, and an incredible singer.”
“So?” Dionne asked. “It’s a free country.”
“That makes you Yvonne Smith,” the woman said.
“You are more beautiful than I’d imagined,” the woman nodded. “They told me but …”
“If you will excuse us,” Dionne said, “we have important business.”
“Maybe I can help,” the woman said. “Who are you looking for?”
“We came to see the woman in 431,” Yvonne said.
The woman looked surprised.
“Urgent business,” Dionne said.
“Who sent you?” the woman asked.
“A friend,” Dionne said.
The woman looked at Yvonne and then back at Dionne.
“I thought Art was in hiding,” the woman said.
“You know my handsome agent?” Yvonne smiled.
“Why are you here?” the woman asked.
“Who are you?” Dionne stepped in front of Yvonne. She towered over the smaller woman.
“Angela Muniz, FBI,” the woman said. “I was just going for my run and … You got my address from Art?”
“O’Malley,” Dionne said.
The woman nodded.
“I’m going to let you into my apartment,” Agent Muniz said.
Agent Muniz got back into the elevator.
“Well, come on,” Agent Muniz said. “I’ll let you in and go running. You can eat and freshen up.”
“We need to talk to you as soon as possible,” Yvonne said.
“Whatever you have to say, it has to wait,” Agent Muniz said. “I’m running a marathon in a month and a half and I can’t miss training.”
The woman nodded. Dionne and Yvonne got back on the elevator. Before they could say another word, they were standing in Agent Muniz’s apartment watching the door close.
Sandy woke up with a start. Sitting up in bed, she glanced over to Rachel’s crib. In the last month, Rachel had started sleeping through the night. She had even made it a week in her own crib. Tonight, Rachel was sound asleep.
Sandy glanced at Aden. He was asleep.
Groggy and hung over from her emotional day, she rested her head back on her pillow and almost fell asleep. Something nagged at the back of her mind. More asleep than awake, she got out of bed and slipped out of their bedroom. She went to the end of the hallway and peeked in Charlie’s closet.
It was empty. Charlie’s bed wasn’t slept in. Her heart squeezed with panic.
She went to Noelle and Sissy’s room. Their beds were made. Noelle’s half-open closet door drew Sandy like a magnet. Noelle’s closet was almost empty. Sandy spun around and jogged through the adjoining bathroom and into Nash’s bedroom. His bed was made and his room was clean. Sandy dropped onto his bed.
Something was seriously wrong if Nash’s room was clean and his bed was made. She racked her brain.
Where were her children?
They were somewhere. Her heart told her they were somewhere safe.
Why weren’t they with her?
She heard the sound again in their living room. She ran to see if her kids were sleeping in the living room tonight.
Buster, the ugly dog, was lying in front of the apartment door the way he did when the kids were due home from school. He looked up at her.
With his soft whimper, Sandy remembered.
She had sent the kids away.
Charlie was at Seth’s house. Noelle and Sissy were safely ensconced in Bestat’s palatial New York apartment. Nash and Teddy were in the mountains snowshoeing.
Her kids were gone. And they weren’t coming home anytime soon.
Sorrow overwhelmed her. She fell to her knees next to Buster. He made another sound and she laid down beside him.
One day at a time, they would watch the door in hopes the children would return.
Sound asleep, Jacob felt the air in their bedroom change. Jacob opened his eyes.
“Brother,” Fin’s voice came from the end of the bed.
“What is it?” Jill sat up in bed.
Jill turned on the bedside lamp. Fin was on one knee with his head down. He was breathing hard. His shirt was wet with blood.
“Fin?” Jacob asked.
“I need your help,” Fin said to Jacob.
“What’s happening?” Jill asked.
“The curse is not lifted,” Fin said. “At least for me.”
“She’s carrying our son,” Fin said. “She’s dying. Our healers say the curse hasn’t lifted for her.”
Their bedroom door opened and Keenan was standing in the doorway.
“You will need me there,” Keenan said.
“Jacob?” Fin asked. “The healers said we need you and the Oracle.”
“Keenan?” Delphie whispered. She put her hands on his shoulders. “What are you doing here?”
Her eyes took in Fin.
“What’s going on?” Delphie asked.
“The curse hasn’t lifted for me, for Abi,” Fin said. “Please.”
Jacob looked at Jill.
“Go,” Jill said. “We’ll be fine.”
“Go,” Jill said.
Jacob jumped out of bed and started to get dressed.
“I am going, mother,” Keenan said. “It is my curse that lingers. He will need me before it’s over.”
“The healers say that need the Oracle too,” Fin said.
“I just need to change,” Delphie looked at Jacob and then back at Fin. “How bad is it?”
“The kingdom is rotting from the inside,” Fin said. “We have been here so we haven’t been affected.”
“Yet,” Delphie whispered.
“Yes,” Fin said.
Delphie gave a curt nod. Jacob closed the door to the bathroom.
“Come on, Keenan,” Delphie said. “Let’s get dressed.”
Delphie and Keenan rushed out of the room. Fin fell to all fours to catch his breath. Jill got out of bed and knelt down to him.
“Show me,” Jill said.
Fin turned his hand over and the events on the Isle of Man unfolded. He brought Abi there. The healers stemming the flow of blood only to have it rip open again. Over and over again, Abi was healed and injured until she started to lose her life force. Fin’s desperate eyes looked up at her.
“I can’t leave the boys,” Jill said. “They are too young for curses and evil jealousies, too young to be without me.”
“But Katy?” Fin asked.
“No,” Jill said.
“We will not succeed without her,” Fin said. “We need a Titan.”
Jill closed her eyes to his desperation and pain.
“Please,” he whispered.
Jill gave him a long look before she sighed.
“Father,” Jill said in a soft voice. “I need you here.”
Perses appeared in her room. He lifted her to her feet with one arm and brandished a sword at Fin with the other. Fin dropped his head in submission.
“What have you done?” Perses asked. “Confess now and I might spare you.”
“No,” Jill said.
Perses looked at her.
“He’s still affected by the curse,” Jill said. Perses set her down. “He needs a Titan. I can’t go because of the babies. He could use Katy, but …”
“I cannot ask for a child,” Fin said. “I would never ask for a child.”
“And your husband?” Perses gestured toward the bathroom.
“He and Delphie are going,” Jill said. “Keenan too.”
Perses nodded. As if by magic, Jacob appeared from the bathroom at the same moment, Delphie and Keenan were standing at the door.
“What are you…?” Jacob started.
Perses nodded and they disappeared. The room was absolutely silent. Jill knelt down to touched a drop of blood on the carpet.
“I know these men,” Yvonne said. “They are business partners in some financial company, some kind of private bank. Lots of money. They finance a lot of businesses here in Denver.”
Yvonne flipped through the pages. She looked at one and then the other.
“They say they are good Catholics,” Yvonne snorted. “These men are into some kinky shit. You would not believe …”
“I don’t need to believe,” Sandy said. “I know.”
Yvonne tipped her head and gave Sandy a sideways look. For a moment, the two women sized each other up.
“I’m sorry,” Yvonne said at the same time Sandy said, “It must have been horrible for you.”
The women hugged.
“It’s over now,” Yvonne said.
“Not really,” Sandy said. “I just had to send the kids away because some freak is trying to keep them from testifying at this rape trial.”
“It’s not over for everybody,” Yvonne nodded.
“Just for us,” Sandy said.
“I should have figured,” Yvonne nodded. “What can I do?”
“Nothing,” Sandy said. “I’ll take care of this.”
“But you have to go to your meeting with the police,” Yvonne said.
“I could talk to my handsome Homeland Security agent,” Yvonne said.
“He’s in hiding,” Sandy said.
“He’s in danger too!” Yvonne’s face flushed with rage. “How …?”
“They own politicians, agents, police … They get away with it and …” Sandy panted from the rage that squeezed her heart.
“What can I do?” Yvonne asked.
“There was an FBI agent,” Sandy said. “Out of Arizona. Her name is Angela Montiz. She helped me with my mom’s case. I think she’s our best bet.”
“What does Seth say?” Yvonne asked.
“He remembered her name,” Sandy said. “Do you remember these men’s names?”
“Better than that,” Yvonne said.
She went around the corner to a closet where the trash and recycling were stored. She knelt down and flipped through the stack of old newspapers. Pulling the Business section from the Denver Post, she stood up.
“This is an article about them,” Yvonne said.
Yvonne put the newspaper on the counter. Yvonne and Sandy put their heads together as they leaned over the paper.
“That’s them,” Sandy said as an out breath.
“They are evil,” Yvonne said. “What can I do?”
“Seth is supposed to be getting me Agent Montiz’s home address,” Sandy said.
“How can he do that?”
“He has connections almost everywhere,” Sandy said. “We need to get this information to her.”
“Tonight?” Yvonne asked.
“As soon as we can,” Sandy said. “I can’t go tonight. I have to meet with the police and check on Charlie and …”
“I’ll go,” Yvonne said.
“What about Jabari?” Sandy asked.
“What about him?” Yvonne asked. “I’ll call my friend Dionne. We’ll head to Arizona tonight and the men can have a boys’ night.”
“You’re sure?” Sandy asked.
“I’m more than sure,” Yvonne said. “I know stuff about these men that would …”
“Me too,” Sandy said. “If we stop them now …”
“They can’t set up again,” Yvonne nodded. “Good thinking.”
“I have to go,” Sandy said. “I’m going to keep your book, if that’s okay.”
“No bother,” Yvonne said. “I have a copy.”
Yvonne jogged out of the kitchen. Sandy heard her moving around, she came back with another copy. Together, they found the right pages. Yvonne turned down the pages.
“What about telling Alex Hargreaves?” Yvonne asked. “She’s been taking care of a lot of this.”
“Her hands are tied,” Sandy said. “Colin is her brother.”
Sandy looked at the clock.
“I have to go!” Sandy said.
She jumped off the stool and stuffed her copy of the journal into her bag.
“You’re sure?” Sandy asked.
“I’m almost already there!” Yvonne said.
Yvonne walked Sandy to the door, and Sandy ran out to her car. Yvonne dialed her cell phone.
“Hey Dionne,” Yvonne said. “You want to go on an adventure with me?”