Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen
Intrusion

When Sydney returned home that night, Isabelle and Sophie were already in bed. Nicole, clad in a tank and pajama pants with her legs tucked under her, was sitting on her couch with a book, and when the door opened, she marked her place in her book and put it aside. Nicole watched with inquisitive brown eyes as Sydney entered the living room area and frowned at her.

“I thought you’d be in bed by now,” Sydney remarked. “It’s almost midnight.”

Nicole jerked a shoulder in a gesture of nonchalance. “I couldn’t sleep.” She motioned to the book. “I thought I’d read or something. Better than counting sheep.”

Sydney came closer and the book beside Nicole came into view. Sydney was shocked to find that Nicole had been reading Jane Eyre. Her paperback copy was riddled with note-making tabs and dog-eared pages. Sydney lifted her eyes to Nicole’s, and Nicole found shock there.

Nicole’s eyebrows arched. “What—I can’t read classic British lit?” When Sydney said nothing, she added, “I have a degree in English, you know. But anyway…” Nicole glanced briefly in the direction of the guest bedroom where Isabelle and Sophie were sleeping. “Has anything changed?”

Sydney lowered herself to the couch and said nothing for a while. She felt the stare of the young woman on her face while she tried to figure out what she could tell her. The truth was, when it came down to it, Nicole was a civilian, and Sydney’s job was to protect her from knowledge that could cost her her life.

Sydney remembered Will and Francie, and their disastrous fates, and decided to do her job. The lying that had curdled her stomach had protected them from the world the barely knew about. Nicole could know nothing more. It would be better for her—and for all of them involved—in the long run.

“Sydney?” Sydney’s gaze remained locked on the ground in front of her. “Um…you gonna answer my question?”

“Nicole,” Sydney began in a quiet tone that contained all of the suffering she had endured from losing two people she loved because of her harrowing job, “from this point on, I will have to be less candid with you about this situation.” When Nicole sighed in frustration, Sydney shifted to face her. “This is for your protection.”

Nicole chuckled dryly. “For my protection. Are you serious? I hate to be like this, but Isabelle, Sophie and me? Yeah, we’re in some deep shit because of this situation, and as far as I’m concerned the more we know the better. And it doesn’t help matters that Marisol was killed—”

“Marisol was not killed by some two-bit amateur,” Sydney interrupted sharply. “She was not killed because someone wanted to steal her wallet or pawn her jewelry. She was killed because someone wanted to ensure her silence—for good. It is extremely possible she was killed by someone who was sent by people you really don’t want to mess with.” Nicole drew up then and appeared insulted. “Now I don’t doubt that you could hold your own in a bind, but I don’t think you could take down a whole terrorist organization. Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to know what I know. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to know what I’ve seen. You are much better off just the way you are.”

When Sydney was finished, her brown eyes blazing and her breathing slightly elevated, Nicole stared at her.

“All right, fine,” Nicole said after a tense silence. “What can you tell me, then?”

A cry from the other room jolted them from the circumstance at hand. Nicole and Sydney were both at the doorway before either one realized they’d even moved. Instinctively, Sydney moved in front of Nicole as if to protect her if anything was amiss. Nicole pursed her lips but said nothing. Sydney inhaled sharply and threw open the door. Beside her, Nicole flicked on the light and braced herself.

Isabelle was in the throes of a violent nightmare, her slim frame twisted up in the sheets. The thin nightshirt Isabelle had donned for bed was made even thinner by the sweat that coated her thrashing body. She cried feverishly in her sleep, and her daughter, eyes wide with terror, tried with all of her might to shake her from her slumber.

“Mami!” Sophie exclaimed tearfully. “¡Despiértate!”

Nicole rushed to the bed and carefully extracted Sophie so that Sydney could awaken Isabelle.

“Isabelle,” Sydney began as she shook her, “wake up.”

In her sleep, Isabelle shook wildly in Sydney’s grasp. “No!” she cried. “Por favor, ¡no me dejes! ¡No mueras por mí!”

Sophie sobbed in Nicole’s arms as Sydney brought her mother to a sitting position. Sydney gave Isabelle one good shake and brought her out of her stupor. Isabelle gasped out panting breaths as she took in her bearings. She shuddered out a sob as she spotted Sophie crying in Nicole’s arms.

“Oh God.” Isabelle held her arms out for Sophie, when she had her daughter in her arms she clutched her tightly. After Sophie had quieted, Isabelle turned to Sydney. “I am so sorry. I…”

“You were having a very bad nightmare,” Sydney said soothingly, stopping her before she could apologize for something she had no control over. “Are you all right now?”

Isabelle attempted some calming breaths before speaking. “I’m…I’ll be fine.”

“What the hell were you dreaming about? Can you remember?” Nicole wanted to know.

Isabelle stared at Nicole grimly. “I don’t think I could ever forget it.” Sensing that she was going to explain what she had dreamt about, Nicole climbed onto the bed to be beside her for support. “I was…” She looked down at her child idly. “I was being beaten…”

Nicole’s eyes went wide, and she looked as if she wanted to start swinging at someone. “Somebody was beating you?! When the—?!”

Isabelle shook her head before Nicole could start talking about Vaseline and straight razors. “Calm down—it wasn’t me, Nicole. It was the dream me.” Nicole said nothing to that, just pursed her lips together. After another moment, Isabelle spoke again. “It was dark—late at night. The street we were on was deserted. I was with someone. We were in a heated discussion… We were both emotionally distraught. We…” She blinked as snippets of the dream came back to her with startling clearness. “She had slept with my husband…and I knew it was going to happen.”

Sydney and Nicole shared a look, eyebrows arched. Are you going to say it or am I? Nicole’s expression seemed to say. Sydney narrowed her eyes to indicate that she thought neither one of them should say a word. Nicole’s eyes narrowed but she said nothing.

“We were talking when this teenage boy came up. Before we knew it, he attacked me. She…the person I was with…she tried to fight him off. She fought very well, in fact.” Sorrow crossed her features. “Not well enough, unfortunately.”

Sydney patted her hand and squeezed it. “We understand what you mean.”

Isabelle swallowed hard then, and even though moisture filled in her eyes, she made a manful attempt not to cry. “He beat her within an inch of her life before…” She had to stop and put her lips together to keep them from trembling. “I killed him. I found some power inside of me and killed him. And when he laid dead in a pool of in his own blood, I…I knelt next to her and pleaded with her not to die for me. But she couldn’t help that the life had been beaten out of her…” She trailed off then as she tried to control the emotions she couldn’t help. After a long lull, she remarked in a half-stunned, half-apologetic tone, “It was a very vivid dream.”

“Sounds like it,” Sydney agreed. She reached out and squeezed Isabelle’s hand. “Maybe all this business with Marisol is giving you nightmares.”

Nicole frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. “You know, I never have dreams that vivid. As crazy as it sounds, you might have had a flashback or something.”

“A flashback, Nicole?” Practical Sydney sounded dubious.

Nicole shrugged. “I mean, can you remember the last time you had a really intense dream like that?” Sydney did, but she wasn’t going to let Nicole know that particular piece of information. “We all have nightmares, but I can’t imagine it just being this vivid, you know what I mean? Maybe she was this woman in a different life or something.”

“Well, there was one face I clearly remember,” Isabelle said thoughtfully. As the image came to the forefront of her brain, her mouth went slack and her chin trembled. She looked sorrowfully at Sydney. “Oh…Sydney…”

“The face, Isabelle,” Sydney said gently but firmly. “Whose was it?”

“Yours,” Isabelle responded, voice nearly at a whisper. “The face was yours.”

[—-]

Nicole closed the door behind her half-an-hour later, brown eyes shadowed. She leaned on the door for a moment and closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes and spoke, it was in a low, fatigued tone.

“What the hell was that?” she demanded.

Sydney crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head wearily. It had already been a hell of a day, and this just capped it. This whole nightmare business pretty much capped it. “I wish I knew. If I did I would tell you. But all I know is things are about to get really strange.”

Nicole emitted a sardonic chuckle. “Oh—it’s already there, Sydney, trust me.” It was her turn to shake her head. “I don’t see why you were in Izzy’s dream.”

Sydney said nothing to that because, quite frankly, she didn’t want to think about why Isabelle had dreamed of her in such a dire situation. Suddenly, something occurred to them both. Nicole raised an eyebrow at Sydney and gazed at her meaningfully.

“I wasn’t going to tell him, Nicole,” Sydney assured her. “Not unless it got out of hand.”

“’Cause you know the first thing he’s gonna do is overreact,” Nicole continued in case Sydney decided otherwise. “And the last thing we need is Vaughn here pressing Izzy on this. She’s already torn up about losing Marisol.”

“I’m not going to tell him,” Sydney assured Nicole more firmly. “I promise. Now look—I need to go to bed, and I think you should too.”

Nicole grumbled but agreed. With that, they both trudged tiredly to bed, weighted down with the strange events of the evening.

[—-]

A few days later, Vaughn noticed that Sydney seemed withdrawn.

She was not usually Ms. Popular, but Sydney was a team player like most of them, so when she mainly remained at her desk doing computer searches most of the morning, Vaughn became concerned. He knew very little about the Gracia Police Department’s investigation of Marisol’s death, and he had not spoken to Sydney yet. He had heard about her interview with Jessica Thomas and figured something salient had come from it. He hadn’t been around to ask since a Covenant-related assignment had sent him overseas, so hadn’t communicated with anyone in almost two days, including his wife.

Sydney didn’t even bat an eyelash when he came over and stood at her shoulder before he went off to lunch. She was engrossed in the document on her screen. When she didn’t say anything, Vaughn trained his own eyes on the screen.

Name: Evangeline Gosselin
Date of Birth: February 23, 1933
Place of Birth: Nice, France
Place(s) of Residence: Nice, France
Hair: Brown (Gray)
Eyes: Hazel
Height: 5’6”
Occupation: Sociologist
Education: B.S. in Sociology; Doctorates in Sociology and Women’s Studies
Parents: Adele Pascal (Mother, deceased), Jean-Marc Gosselin (Father, deceased)
Siblings: None
Spouse: William Bullock (Deceased)
Offspring: Robert Isaac Bullock, Sharon Nichole Bullock Harrison, Bridget Elise Gosselin Flannery
Grandchildren: Amber Roxette Bullock, Derrick Timothy Bullock, Emily Samantha Gabrielle Bullock, Jessica Kathleen Robyn Thomas, Eric Ashton David Thomas, Claudia-Michelle Ellen Thomas, Moira-Selene Eleanor Thomas, Daniella Elizabeth Melissa Thomas, Gretchen Ashleigh Amanda Thomas, Cordelia Westcott Harrison, Julianne Rebecca Harrison, Victoria Katherine Marie Harrison
Great-Grandchildren: Shannon Marieanne Thomas, Abigail Josephine Thomas—

“Bridget Gosselin Flannery,” Vaughn remarked thoughtfully, causing Sydney to break her gaze from the screen and gaze at him bemusedly. “That name sounds very familiar.”

As she had just looked up Evangeline Gosselin’s profile and hadn’t gotten as far as her offspring yet, Sydney found Vaughn’s intrusion both bothersome and illuminating. She chose to find it illuminating and did a quick search on Evangeline Gosselin’s youngest daughter.

Name: Bridget Elise Gosselin
Date of Birth: March 7, 1970
Place(s) of Residence: Nice, France; London, England; Los Angeles, California
Place of Birth: Nice, France
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Hazel
Height: 5’7”
Occupation: Anthropologist
Education: B.S. in Anthropology from the University of California
Parents: Evangeline Gosselin (Mother), William Bullock (Father, deceased)
Siblings: Robert Isaac Bullock, Sharon Nichole Bullock Harrison
Spouse: Jonathan Lamar Flannery (Deceased)

“Oh my God,” Vaughn muttered in shock.

“Isabelle’s dead brother had a wife?” Sydney inquired, her thoughts following the same track as Vaughn’s. “And she was Evangeline Gosselin’s daughter?” She shook her head in disbelief and rubbed her tired eyes. “This is some coincidence.”

“I’ll say.” Vaughn looked down at his bemused co-worker as something occurred to him. “Hey—what made you look up this Evangeline Gosselin anyway? I know you didn’t pick this name out of a hat.”

Sydney sighed. She swiveled in her chair so that she could speak in a low tone and he would hear her. “Last night, I interviewed Jessica Thomas with the detective on Marisol’s case. She mentioned that she had been on the telephone with Marisol before she died, and Marisol had found Evangeline’s name written on a piece of paper hidden among the artifacts Isabelle had donated.”

“So somehow Evangeline and Alejandro Garza knew each other,” Vaughn hedged.

Sydney nodded. “Right. And I have this feeling they didn’t meet at a backyard barbeque.” She saved the data to a file and closed the windows on the computer screen. “Listen, do you mind keeping this to yourself? I don’t want anyone bothering Isabelle until I get to the bottom of this. It’s likely she didn’t even know about Evangeline Gosselin’s connection to her father outside of Bridget’s marriage to Jonathan Flannery.”

As Sydney shifted away to gather papers to put neatly in a file, Vaughn inquired, “How is Isabelle? Is she…?”

Sydney put the file in her briefcase. She’d made the decision with Nicole’s agreement not to tell Vaughn about Isabelle’s strange nightmare. There was no sense in worrying him further. “She’s fine.”

“I was thinking about taking her out to lunch, get her out of the house some.” He frowned at her. “But you don’t seem all right.”

Startled, Sydney looked up at Vaughn. She spied genuine concern in his eyes that disconcerted her slightly. For a moment she had gotten used to his cool professionalism toward her at work even though they more often than not saw each other after work at the dinner table. Perhaps Nicole was right, and he wasn’t getting any at home. Not wanting to think anymore about Vaughn getting any or not, she forced a smile. “I appreciate your concern, Vaughn, but I’m fine.”

Vaughn was prepared to refute her claim when Lauren strode up. Sydney didn’t even have to look behind her; the scent of Lauren’s signature perfume confirmed her identity and had irritation and dread pooling in her belly.

“Excuse me,” Lauren began, “is it possible that I could borrow my husband for a moment?”

Sydney opened her mouth to say that she didn’t care, but Vaughn interjected. “I actually have plans,” Vaughn said in a voice that was decidedly cool. Sydney had to fight to keep her face schooled to blankness. “We will have to talk later.”

“Plans?” Lauren repeated, sounding slightly puzzled as if she hadn’t expected Vaughn to refuse her.

“I am going to have lunch with Isabelle and Sophie,” Vaughn explained in that same cool tone. “And if I know Isabelle, Nicole will be there, too.”

At the mention of Nicole, Lauren’s eyes cooled considerably. “I see,” she simply said.

“Isabelle likely hasn’t been out of the house or seen anyone who’s not part of her household since Marisol was killed,” Vaughn explained.

“And maybe she doesn’t need to be,” Lauren pointed out before he could go any further. “Couldn’t whoever came after Marisol come after her, too? You could be putting her in considerable danger, Michael.”

“I would never put Isabelle into any danger, trust me,” Vaughn shot back, sounding slightly defensive. Deeming the matter closed, he shifted to Sydney and said, “Keep me posted on the case, Sydney.”

“I will, Vaughn. Maybe we’ll have a new development today,” Sydney told him. “Mick and I are following some leads during lunch.”

Vaughn was poised to leave the scene, but something in Sydney’s voice had him rooted in place for an instant longer than necessary. Ah yes—the mentioning of Detective O’Lara by his first name. Were they close? Were they more than friends? Had things changed that drastically since he’d been overseas? Sydney’s gaze narrowed a touch and her head tilted as she spotted those questions in his eyes. The silence that descended upon them was like smoke, heavy and hard to breathe through.

“Well, good luck then,” Vaughn managed before walking away.

“Thanks,” Sydney murmured, watching him walk away. She signed off of her computer and grabbed her purse, fully cognizant of Lauren standing at her elbow. She rose and turned to leave herself but found herself face-to-face with her.

Her heart knocked against her rib cage once before thumping in a normal rhythm. This was the closest she’d been to Lauren in a long time and she was bemused by what she saw and felt. Sydney could sense her frustration, but there was a sort of calculated gleam in her eyes that had Sydney’s antenna vibrating.

“Yes, Lauren?” Sydney pressed.

There was a hesitation in which Lauren seemed to weigh something in her mind. She came to a decision and spoke.

“Let Isabelle know she’s in my thoughts,” Lauren said, something in her eyes that Sydney couldn’t read. She merely nodded at the statement and walked off with the nagging feeling that Isabelle being in Lauren’s thoughts was probably not a good thing.

[—-]

A few miles away, Julian Sark snapped his cell phone shut, eyes cloudy with thoughtfulness.

At a table in front of a laptop across from him, Samara, clad in dark jeans and a charcoal top with a crew neck, stared at him quizzically when he didn’t elaborate. The hotel suite they had sequestered under the alias of a newly married Midwestern couple was littered with electronics and had been fraught with a sort quiet tension that made Samara uncomfortable.

Things had shifted so quickly in the past few days that Samara had to try and keep up. No longer was the Covenant the same organization she’d joined some years previous; all of the cell leaders had been wiped out, and their bracelets were in a protective case in the other room. The three of them—Lauren, Samara, and Sark—had waged an attack so swift that no one had seen it coming. Lauren and Sark had carried out the first two kills together while Samara had been on her own for two and Sark finished up the last two; when she had joined up with Sark again forty-eight hours ago, there was something different in the way he spoke about Lauren.

When a vaguely affectionate expression flashed over his features, Samara knew.

He had slept with Lauren Reed.

It was hard to say how she felt about this. In reality, nothing that Sark did was any of her concern—unless of course it had to do with their current mission, which had two parts: one, secure a better place in the Covenant hierarchy and two, acquire the Globe before anyone—and that included the CIA—learned of its importance. However, a part of her realized that his becoming intimate with Lauren Reed would make things among the three of them more tense. She was not stupid. She had seen her share of threesomes—professional, of course—go belly up at the pairing off of two of the members. The possibility of the predicament spiraling out of control with the power they now had curdled her stomach.

Sark rose from the bed and put the cell in the pocket of his black slacks. “That was Lauren.” Samara had already known that. “Apparently Agent Bristow has looked up Evangeline Gosselin. She overheard Sydney and Vaughn talking about Gosselin’s daughter and her late son-in-law.” He paused meaningfully. “Your half-brother.”

“Yes, he eloped with Bridget Gosselin a mere two years before his death,” Samara told him. “My mother had been so angry at him for doing such a reckless thing that they never quite made up before he was killed. I only met Bridget once, but I could find her if I needed to.” A cheerful ding had her turning to her computer; she had a new e-mail.

“I think it’s time to visit Ms. Gosselin and your former sister-in-law,” Sark commented as Samara read her e-mail. “Could you—?”

“I’ve located Evangeline Gosselin,” Samara interrupted, gaining much satisfaction out of cutting him off. She could sense his irritation but didn’t address it. “According to my source, she is currently at her home in eastern Normandy. Bridget is somewhere here in North America. Her trail was lost somewhere in Mexico a week ago. No one’s seen her since.”

“She’ll turn up,” Sark assured her. “And I have a feeling she might be heading toward your half-sister because of all of this insanity with the Globe.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I’ll have Lauren keep her eyes and ears open. She’ll be the best asset if that predicament occurs.”

“Hmm.” Samara clicked out of the window. “It seems Ms. Reed has a lot of useful assets.” She flicked glacier-hued eyes toward him meaningfully. “And you seem to know an awful lot about them.”

Something flickered across Sark’s face—a bit of puzzlement mixed in with annoyance. “It pays for me to know about the people with whom I associate, Samara. I happen to know many things about you as well.”

“That may be so, but I doubt you’ve seen me naked,” Samara countered.

Well, she certainly had him there. And with the loudness of his non-response, Samara had confirmation, and the acid in her belly burned like the fire of a thousand suns. He lowered himself to the bed again, trying to find the best way to address this. To be honest, he had no personal ties to Samara, and while she had saved him from CIA custody, that didn’t entitle her to judge him.

“Julian, what have you done?” she asked with an astonished disbelief as she stood over him. “You cannot have sexual relations with Lauren Reed.”

The cold look he leveled upon her would have withered a lesser woman—but she was not a lesser woman. “I find your criticism of a personal matter irritating, ill-timed, and sophomoric, Samara. Whatever you may feel about Lauren Reed is your business, and whatever I feel is mine.”

“And when those feelings bleed into our work, Julian, then we’re going to be seriously fucked over,” Samara said sharply. “I’ve managed to suppress whatever disdain I have, but it seems you can’t do the same with your lust.”

When he struck out with his hand, it took Samara an instant to react, but her reaction didn’t register in her own mind until Sark was on the bed with his arm twisted perilously behind his back and the throbbing in her cheekbone began.

“Dammit, Samara—?!” Sark growled, his voice muffled by the comforter on the bed. Samara’s knee was digging into his back and he could not move. At that moment, Sark’s phone chose to buzz, signaling a new call. With her free hand, she dug into Sark’s pocket and pulled out the cell. She answered gruffly, but had not been expecting the greeting awaiting her on the other side.

“Hello, Samara. Or should I say Darcy?”

Samara went cold at the sound of her birthname and she loosened her grip on Sark. “How did you get this number?”

“I should have known you were behind this,” continued the voice. “You would do anything to save your own hide, including getting behind a plot to kill all of the Covenant cell leaders before they could figure out who you were.”

“And you would do the same damn thing,” Samara pointed out. She yelped as Sark rolled over and knocked her on her ass. The phone flew out of her hands and Sark intercepted it. As she seethed in anger, Sark spoke smoothly into the phone as if he hadn’t just been on his stomach in an immobilizing half-nelson.

“May I ask who’s calling?” After a pause, he raised his eyes to Samara’s. The bruise on her cheekbone was starting to color, placing a shadow under her left eye. His lips slowly curved into a smile as he listened to the voice on the other end. “Oh yes. I know who you are.”

[—-]

On the way to Sydney’s, Vaughn thought of the women in his life.

It was peculiar that he had more than one female on his mind. He’d thought that kind of behavior was relegated to men like Weiss, who, bless his heart, had a passion for the female sex, but these were stranger-than-normal circumstances. The mother of his child was being pursued by an international terrorist group, his wife was angered by the newfound knowledge of the mother of his child and the child herself, and his ex-girlfriend and co-worker about whom he’d had several disruptive dreams was hanging out with an attractive detective for hours on end. Oh yeah—and then there was Nicole with her strawberry pies and pot roasts. Needless to say, the influx of women creatures was causing him great distress.

But he wouldn’t be rid of any one of them. A more cynical person would say that was the problem.

Sophie was at the top of his list without a doubt. The more he learned about his daughter, the more fascinating she became. She enjoyed sports and could draw quite skillfully. And her admiration of him was like a balm, soothing all of the jagged tears the past few weeks had left upon him. In second, Isabelle and Sydney crowded in whenever other preoccupations abated. The two women had become close, and for that Vaughn was thankful because Isabelle would need some support after Marisol’s death. However, he had the nagging feeling that they were hiding something from him, which nibbled at him mentally more than the fact that Lauren was mad at him.

Weeks ago, things would have been different. He would have been horrified that he had to sleep on the couch away from his marital bed. He also didn’t have Isabelle and Sophie in his life then. It made him question everything that he had built up in the subsequent two years since Sydney’s death—especially his marriage.

He decided to put it away for later. If Isabelle noticed, she would grill him about it. And she didn’t need to worry about anyone else but herself and Sophie. Not to mention she would mention it to Sydney and Nicole…and he didn’t need that complication. Not when things were so twisted up inside of him at the moment. Mick and I are following some leads during lunch. Definitely twisted.

Before he tapped the brakes to stop in front of Sydney’s, he idly looked up at the house…

…And saw a flash of slate-blue fabric disappear into the hedges.

His next actions were so automatic, so quick, that they blurred together in his head. Later, when he brought the memories back, he could barely separate the stopping of the car with the leaping out of it, or the dash across Sydney’s yard with the gun in his hand. He must have yelled something along the lines of Stop, CIA!, because the man glanced back and Vaughn was treated with a glimpse of his profile. It was one that was slightly familiar, one that had a little red car springing to mind…

Vaughn cornered him in the backyard and ordered for him to turn around with his hands behind his head. When the man whirled with his hands raised, he found himself face-to-face with a familiar set of blue eyes.

 

backhome – next

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