The setting sun threw red and orange onto the snow-covered trees as her car whipped past them. She was hoping to get to her destination before the sun set; she didn’t think driving in the middle of Northern Alberta in the dark was the best idea.
She smiled at that thought. Actually, it was more at the memory of Weiss’s face when she told him she was going to spend her suspension time relaxing in a cabin in a small town in the middle of nowhere. He had looked like he was going to choke on his lemon chicken.
“Jesus Bristow, you weren’t lying when you said you wanted to get away from it all. This place is literally away from everything!”
She’d giggled. “I know. But it’s perfect! Somewhere I can go and be alone and just relax, not having to worry about my job, or these people for a time. It’s somewhere I can hide, because no one would think to look for me there.”
He’d rolled his eyes and stolen some of her ginger beef. He’d been upbeat ever since her hearing. Apparently Lindsey had come storming out of the office yelling obscenities at Dixon later in the day and it had caused the entire office to stop and watch. The second show had started when Lauren started screaming at Vaughn about betraying her. She had tried to attack him and it caused Dixon and Jack to stand and watch as other agents restrained her. Sydney had felt sort of bad for being the reason to cause them to fight like that, but Weiss told her that the buzz around the office was they’d been having problems for a while now.
She had finally spoken to her father about everything and he had forgiven her. He had also comforted her in her mourning. Jack Bristow didn’t pretend to understand his daughter’s feelings, but he did not blame her for having them. He had not encouraged her desire to take a vacation, but she finally convinced him that she needed to leave L.A. for this time. She also had promised to tell him where she was going, but she had planned to do that anyway. He was surprised at her choice, much like Eric had been.
Actually, she had been surprised herself. She’d spent a day searching the Internet for a quiet place to get away to and she had been frustrated by either prices or location. For some reason she didn’t want to go anywhere warm or anywhere large or tourist-y. She had almost given up when she clicked a link accidentally and ended up at “Cedar Woods Retreat”. According to the information, they were renting a cabin on a month-to-month basis in a small, lakeshore town. She was drawn to the pictures of the place immediately. It seemed so homey and idyllic. She had called the number listed on the web page on a whim, thinking that she didn’t have much of a chance this late. The cheerful voice over the phone informed her that they had just had a cancellation and they would love to have her come stay for a while. She had accepted instantly, and as soon as she hung up, had blinked in shock.
When she explained this to Eric, he’d laughed at her. “So, you’re gonna go freeze your butt off in the middle of nowhere because this place looks ‘homey’”
She’d smacked his arm. “It sounds funny, I know, but I can’t describe how I felt when I saw it. It had such a strong pull. It just…felt so right to be there. Besides, it’ll be something different, something to experience. I can go skating or hiking or curl up in front of the fire with a good book…it’ll be so nice.”
“Well, okay,” Eric had mumbled through his chow mien. “But when you catch hypothermia, I’m not gonna come up there and identify your body.”
She’d smacked him again, harder, then pulled him in for a hug when he yelped. He had grown to be her closest friend and confidante during this whole ordeal. They had finally sat down and talked about everything: her pain at learning that she had lost two years of her life, her relationship with her mother and father, how much she missed Will and Francie, her surprising new feelings for Sark. She had cried more than once and he had held her and listened. She was thankful for everything he had been to her in everything. He had been the one to drive her to the airport and she promised to call him once a week, just to check in. She would miss him.
She pondered all of this as she navigated through a narrow curvy highway. The sun was hidden behind the trees and the sky was now a light purple-blue. She hoped she was near her destination as she took one last corner and suddenly she was at the top of a hill, looking down at a small town with many twinkling lights. The whole world seemed to be coloured in that eerie blue light. It was almost magical.
She followed the directions the phone voice had given her as she drove slowly through the town. Everything seemed to be situated on the main street. It was still early, only 5 pm, but it was already dark. The streets were still busy and packed with people going home for the day, getting groceries, teenagers hanging out in gangs, visible breaths puffing from their mouths as they laughed about something. Christmas decorations still hung on the streetlight posts and it gave the town a cheerful feeling. As she looked around, the strange homey feeling struck her again. She smiled wryly at the thought. Must be the atmosphere.
Finally she hit the other edge of the town. Apparently “Cedar Woods” was located just on the outskirts of town. The owners lived in the big house near the highway and the cabin was back in the bush about half a mile. She slowed her car slightly and started looking for a sign. Finally a cutesy hand-painted one sat by a long winding driveway and she pulled in and stopped the car.
The main house was huge, with three levels. Another homemade sign was on the front door, inviting people to “Come In!” Sydney stepped out of the car and sucked in a breath as the cold air hit her cheeks. The temperature had dropped considerable since she landed in Edmonton and it was much colder outside now that the sun was gone. She walked quickly to the door, but before she had gotten to the porch steps, the door flew open and a bundled little figure came flying out at her. She stepped back in surprise and slipped on a patch of ice; her feet flew out from under her and she landed hard on her butt. Before she had time to register the pain, another little figure tripped down the steps and landed on her chest with an “Oof!” Her hands instinctively came up to shove this thing off but the bundle shifted and as she sat up, she found herself looking into a pair of dark purple eyes. Reddish curls peeked out from the hood, surrounding a cherub-like face.
“Caleb! Abigail! Be careful, both of you!” Another figure stood framed in the doorway, this one taller and obviously a woman by the voice. Sydney carefully placed the child in her lap on the ground and stood as the woman came out to meet her. “I’m so sorry, miss. My children are waiting for their uncle and they get a little overly excited when they hear a car in the driveway. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, just a little surprised,” Sydney smiled warmly. The woman standing in front of her was about her height, with long straight brown hair and purple eyes much like the child that had landed on her. She had a friendly smile, with laugh-lines in her eyes and a tired expression to match. She had a young baby pressed to her hip and she reached her other arm out to Sydney.
“Well, hurry up, come on in, it’s freezing today. Kids!” she shouted over her shoulder as she led Sydney into the house, “You be careful out there, okay? And don’t attack Uncle Julian like you did with this nice lady. You must be Sydney Bristow,” she turned back to Sydney as she shut the door.
“Yes, I am.” She had decided to use her real name instead of one of her usual aliases. Besides, no one really cared about her being up here too much. She looked around the house as she took off her jacket and accessories. The entranceway was cluttered with jacket and boots, most of them kid-sized. Beyond that was a large living room, chaotically decorated with tons of trinkets. Lumpy couches and chairs made a circle around a giant fireplace, which was crackling and filled the room with warmth and an enticing smoky scent. She heard banging to her left and she caught sight of a busy kitchen before she was whisked into the living room and deposited on the couch.
“Here you are, sit down right here and make yourself comfortable.” The woman quickly walked back toward the kitchen and Sydney heard her have a short conversation with a man, then she walked back into the living room without the baby and sat on the couch next to Sydney. “Sorry about that. It’s kind of been a crazy day. We just got another snowfall last night and so the children have been going insane all afternoon wanting to go play. You’d think being at school would wear them out, but they seem to have endless energy. Oh, where are my manners? I completely forgot to introduce myself! I’m Anna Phillips. Call me Anna,” she grabbed Sydney’s hand in a tight grip.
“And I’m Sydney Bristow. You can call me Sydney or Syd,” she smiled again.
“Oh yes, and I knew that because you said that already! See what I mean about crazy?” Anna shook her head and thin strips of hair escaped from her already loose braid. “I’m sorry, I wish I was more businesslike, but this is it!”
“It’s all right.”
“So, two months! We usually don’t have single attractive ladies renting our cabin, especially for that long! It’s usually rich businessmen who are willing to pay the big bucks to pretend they’re fur traders or hunters or something.”
“Well, I have a very stressful job, and I’ve been needing a real vacation for a while, and…well, the pictures on your web page really attracted me here. It looks perfect.”
“Well I hope it is! The cabin is actually our nicest place. Oh, we run a B&B upstairs, year-round,” Anna explained at Sydney’s perplexed look. “We have six rooms on the third floor, all done up nicely as suites that are usually full, but it’s been a quiet year so far. We’ll get better traffic up there in summer. The cabin is strictly a winter thing. It’s been there for years, but Steven, that’s my husband, he had the idea to renovate it and fix it up and turn it into a little place we could rent for people. So everything’s brand new. It’s fully furnished, like I said on the phone, and it has central heating, and water and electricity and a kitchen, so you can make your own food, and lots of warm blankets…my grandmother is a very crafty woman, so that’s why this house is so crammed with junk,” she giggled. “Anything you see, you could have made, if you’d like to buy some stuff. It’s very well done. I tried to keep most of it out of the cabin, but…don’t worry it’s nothing like this!”
Sydney laughed. Anna was very friendly and she was enjoying sitting here with her. “I can’t wait to see it,” she said.
“Oh! You’ll want to do that, to get all your stuff in there! I should take you right now, before supper is ready. You’ll be staying, by the way.”
Sydney was alarmed at this. “Oh, no, I couldn’t intrude…”
Anna rolled her eyes as she stood up. “It’s not an intrusion; we’d love having you! Besides, it’s late and I’m sure you don’t want to drive to get groceries tonight and make your own supper. I love having guests; that’s why I started the B&B. And I know you’re probably starving to death.”
Sydney tried to protest, but the warm smell of food drifting in was incredible and she weakened. She went and redressed herself in her winter clothes while Anna grabbed some keys and papers from a desk. “Honey, I’m taking Sydney to see the cabin! Julian should be here soon; make sure the kids put away their coats and wash up before dinner, okay?”
A burly man stepped out of the kitchen with the baby in his arms. “Anna, do you want to take Ian with you? He’s being a bit fussy and it’s hard to finish the potatoes with having to carry him around. Hello,” he smiled in Sydney’s direction.
Anna rolled her eyes and took the baby. “Oh all right, hun. By the way, this is Sydney, the woman who rented the cabin. Sydney, this is my husband, Steven Phillips.”
“Hi,” Sydney stuck out her hand and he shook it. He was tall and powerful with red curly hair and bright blue eyes. He had a friendly smile to match his wife’s.
“Very nice to meet you, Sydney. Hope you enjoy your stay, and I hope you’re ready for supper.” He waved at them before retreating into the kitchen. “And don’t let my wife scare you, or the terrible twosome outside. It’s been a bit of a crazy day for them.”
“Steven! Honestly, that man!” Anna shook her head as she finished bundling up the baby in her arms and tried to get herself into her coat and boots. .
“Here, would you like help with him?” Sydney reached out and took the wriggling baby from her arms. She cradled him to her. He looked up at the stranger with wide blue eyes like his father’s. His hair was fairer and soft, like his mother’s, and he smelled like baby powder. Then he smiled, giggled, and reached his hand up to pet her face. She laughed.
Anna smiled tiredly. “Thank you, Sydney. It’s been a hectic day and he hasn’t napped at all. He seems to like you a lot,” she said as she finished dressing herself.
“He’s beautiful. His name is Ian? How old is he?” Sydney asked as they stepped back onto the cold porch.
“Five months. And he’s the last one for a while, I’ll tell you that. Those two commandos,” she gestured to the two bundles now running around and throwing snow at each other, “are Caleb, age 8 and Abigail, age 5. We usually just call her Abby though. Kids!” she called “I’m taking Ms. Bristow to the cabin, but I’ll be right back. Uncle Julian supposed to come soon, and you better be in the house when he comes. And make sure you wash up before dinner, all right?”
“Aww, Mommmm!” two voice came from the bundles in perfect unison. Anna shook her head again, smiling and walked with Sydney to her car. “It’s just along that path; sorry there isn’t a main access from the road, but it’s better security this way. We know everyone who comes back here.” She directed Sydney down a very narrow path that had recently been cleared of snow. “Steven cleared it this morning, or we would have been in trouble. It’s been snowing endlessly here, I hope you don’t mind that, you being from California and all.”
“I don’t mind,” Sydney smiled. They followed the path very cautiously and eventually it opened up to a small clearing where a wooden cabin sat in the middle. Anna got out and went to unlock the door as Sydney hauled her bags from the car. She stepped into the building and gasped. It was small, one big open room with a fireplace in the middle, a couch and two huge chairs surrounding it. A small kitchen was in a small alcove on the right with all the appliances and a tiny table on the side.
“First door here is the furnace room, with the washer and dryer. Then a linen closet, and the door to the bedroom is…here.” Anna flicked on the light and Sydney stepped in. It was large for the size of the building. Against the left wall was a queen-sized bed with tons of fluffy blankets and pillows stacked on it. Facing that was a chest of drawers with a mirror on top. The closet door was to the right of that, in the corner, and another door was on the left. She looked in there and saw a small bathroom with a shower and counter. She deposited her bags on the bed and went back to the main room.
“It’s small, I know, but…” Anna trailed off uncertainly.
“It’s perfect. It’s even better than I imagined!”
Anna smiled, relieved. “I’m glad you like it. I hate to rush, but we should be getting back…”
“Oh! Sorry.” Sydney closed the bedroom door and looked around one last time. As they got into the car, Anna handed her a key. “Here’s the key. If you need anything, our numbers are posted next to the phone in the kitchen and the one by your bed, along with emergency numbers. I’ll probably be calling every so often to invite you over…I hope you don’t mind too much.”
“No, I wouldn’t. Your family is lovely, and I’d appreciate the company.” Sydney smiled, totally at ease with this stranger. It struck her as funny, because her line of work usually had her distrusting everyone new she met. She highly doubted, though, that Anna and her family would be involved in international espionage.
“Good! I like you a lot, Sydney, and since you are our guest, I’ll be needing someone to pamper.” Anna giggled at this and Sydney laughed. They chatted while she drove back to the main house. There was another car there when she pulled up and the two kids had gone inside.
“Good, Julian’s here. That means we can get supper started.” They walked up the porch steps, where the door stood open. “Ah! Those kids!” Anna handed Ian off to Sydney again and rushed into the house, her voice raised as she encountered a mess of coats in the living room.
“Um, okay Mr. Ian, let’s see how we’re going to do this,” she shifted the baby onto her hip as she tried to dislodge her arm from her coat. She got stuck about halfway and she wriggled herself around, nearly tripping on the coats and boots strewn around her feet.
“Here, why don’t you let me take him?”
She froze at the sound of the familiar voice in her ears. She turned around slowly, arm still stuck in her jacket and faced the other person in the room.
His face quickly went from friendly to shocked as he recognized her. His arms, held out to receive the baby in her arms, dropped to his side as he took a step backwards. He raised one hand to run through his blonde curls and blinked his ice-blue eyes. “Sydney.”
She tried not to faint as she replied, “Sark.”
Time seemed to stop as she stared at him. She knew she probably didn’t look the best right now: Her hair was mussed from her hood, her coat was half hanging off her body, her mouth was still open in surprise. She closed it and took a steadying breath. The baby in her arms began to wriggle and squawk, and she realized he was slipping out of her limp grasp. She hauled him up and placed him on her hips, but he still squirmed.
“Here, let me,” Sark automatically reached out and took Ian into his own arms. Free of that bundle, she took her jacket off and hung it up, but she stayed completely still, watching him. He took the baby out of the clothing he had been tightly bundled up in and then he shocked the hell out of Sydney by blowing a raspberry on the child’s stomach. Ian burst out with giggles and she nearly fainted again.
“Ah, I thought I heard my little angel!” Anna came breezing back into the entranceway, her arms filled with coats and other articles of clothing. She quickly hung them up and plucked her giggling child out of Sark’s arms. “Julian, so good to see you again,” she pulled him down for a quick peck on the cheek. “This is Sydney. She’ll be staying in the cabin for a while. She’s from California! Sorry to be so rushed, but I’ve got to get my husband’s spawn ready for supper.” She ran off again, leaving Sark and Sydney alone again.
“What are you doing here?” she finally choked out.
“I could ask you the same thing,” he smirked. It had been a couple weeks since they had seen each other, and he looked about the same. Except…real. He wore faded jeans, and a blue sweater that matched his eyes. It hugged to his body and showed off his leanness. His hair was mussed a little, just like she liked it…no! He couldn’t be here. She needed to leave.
Her head felt light and she felt like she was going to pass out again. Sark must have sensed this, because he grasped her arm and pulled her to sit down in the living room. He sat next to her and murmured, “Breathe in deep and lay your head back.”
She followed his instructions and she could feel her head coming back down to earth. Suddenly she realized how close he was sitting to her and her face flushed hot. She lunged herself back, away from him and crossed her arms over her chest. She told herself her short breaths were because of the quick movements and not the effect he had on her.
He didn’t look surprised at her skittishness. He just simply watched her as she nervously fidgeted, running her hand through her hair to make sure it was fine, taking deep breaths to calm herself down, wiping her flushed face. Finally she felt like she wasn’t going to be sick or faint and, taking a deep breath, she looked at him. He was studying her with unblinking eyes. She blushed crimson under his gaze, and looked down at her lap. He moved closer to her, grasping her hand and whispering, “Sydney…”
Joyful screams startled the both of them. Two figures launched themselves at Sark and she scrambled back to the far corner of the couch to miss being hit again.
“Uncle Julian!” A small girl had attached her arms around his neck and was looking up at him with adoration. Sydney recognized her as the bundle that had landed on her outside, Abby. She was beautiful. Her dark red hair was wild with messy curls flying everywhere. In the bright light of the room, the purple eyes had a bluer quality, extremely exotic.
The boy, Caleb, was jumping excitedly around them. He was quite tall for his age, but skinny. His hair was fair and thin like his mother’s, and it stuck out at odd angles from his head. His eyes were a dark intense blue, and his features were a lot like his father’s, while his sister favoured Anna. He began to alternate between running around in circles and then bouncing on the couch. Sydney couldn’t help but laugh at their antics.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, okay, I’m happy to see you both, but you very nearly hit Ms. Bristow. You should be more cautious next time. Have you met her yet?” Sark gestured in her direction.
Caleb spared her a quick glance. “Sure. She’s the lady Abby knocked down outside,” he shrugged.
“I did not!” the little girl cried shrilly. “You knocked her down, I just fell on her.” She crawled over and kneeled next to Sydney. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s okay,” Sydney smiled at the pretty girl. “My name is Sydney. I know your name is Abigail.”
“Abby,” the child said seriously, then brought her hand up and gently began to trace Sydney’s face. Sydney almost recoiled at the touch, but she remembered what it was like to be a curious kid and she let Abby explore. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Sark watching them intently, as if cataloging her response. She tried not to blush again.
“Abby, did we not talk about personal space?” Anna came whisking into the room again.
“She’s beautiful, Mommy,” Abby responded, never taking her eyes off Sydney’s face. Her small hand trailed into Sydney’s hair and played with the soft strands.
Anna smiled. “Yes, she is, but you know you can’t just go touching people like that. It bothers them. Let Ms. Bristow have her space.”
“Can I call her Sydney, Mommy?” the little girl looked at her mother in askance.
“I said she could, if that’s all right with you,” Sydney said softly to Anna, who smiled and nodded. “You could call me Syd if you want, Abby.”
The child nodded and let her fingers stroke Sydney’s hair once more before she let her hand drop back to her side.
“Okay, come on everyone, supper is ready now.” The kids vaulted off the couch at their mother’s words, and Sydney stood as well. She found herself face to chest with Sark again. She willed herself not to flip out in front of him even though she desperately wanted to. Why was he here? She wanted to pound his chest and tell him to leave, or fall on the couch crying, she really didn’t know. And of course, there was always the option of grabbing him and pulling him in for a long, hungry kiss…
“Sydney, will you join us?” The soft voice awoke her from her thoughts. He was holding his hand out to her and as if she was in a trace, she placed hers into his and let him lead her into the dining room. A large oval table was full of food, with wonderful smells wafting and mixing in the air. Steven appeared from the kitchen with a basket of dinner buns and moved to part his children, who had been squabbling over who sat where. They apparently both wanted to sit next to ‘Uncle Julian’.
“Well, neither of you are going to sit by him at this rate,” Anna hooked the baby into his chair. “Sydney, why don’t you sit here?” She gestured to the spot next to Ian, who was banging around in a high chair. As Sydney sat down, the problem of seating arrangements was settled as Sark took the place next to her. She shot him a poisonous look, which he retaliated with a smile. The kids grumbled, but sat down on the opposite side, while their parents sat at the ends.
“Now that we’re all here, whose turn is it to say grace?” Steven asked.
“Mine,” Caleb answered. Sydney bowed her head, but kept her eyes open. “Dear God, we thank you for all the snow and this food for us and that we had a good day. Thank you also for bringing Uncle Julian to visit us.” He stopped there and Sydney saw him eye the food, but a subtle kick from his father caused a quick, “Oh, and for Sydney too. In Your name, amen.”
She giggled silently as everyone raised their heads and began to pass around the food. She really hadn’t realized how hungry she was until now. Everything looked perfect and she took everything that was handed to her, careful not to meet the eyes of the person sitting so closely next to her.
“Sydney, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? What brought you up to our neck of the woods?” Steven asked her.
She put down her utensils. “There’s not much to tell, really. I work at a bank. It’s a very busy job; I travel a lot and lately I’ve had to deal with…more stressful situations than usual and I needed a break. I saw the pictures on the Internet and…I don’t know, it just looked so perfect. I just needed to get away for a while.”
“Do you have any kids?” Abby piped up from her side.
Sydney smiled. “No, I’m not married, but I want to have kids someday.”
“You say that now,” Anna laughed, “but wait until it happens! You should enjoy your freedom while you can. I would love to travel all over and have your life. Not that a family isn’t rewarding in itself. When it’s right for you, you’ll settle down.” She smiled at Sydney.
The evening passed quickly. Once supper was over, the kids excused themselves to go play in the family room and left the adults to drink coffee. Thankfully Sark hadn’t tried to talk to her during the meal; he was engrossed in discussing something with Steven. Anna and Sydney were chatting about what things Sydney wanted to do while she was there when they were interrupted by Ian pounding on the table, loudly shrieking. Sydney pulled him out of his chair and held him in her lap. He smiled and grabbed onto her hair, pulling it into his mouth to chew on.
“He’s hungry,” Anna reached over and grabbed a bottle from the side table. “Would you like to feed him, Syd?”
“I guess so,” she said dutifully. Anna handed her the bottle and she laid the baby in her arms, holding the bottle to his mouth. He took it eagerly and his small hands wrapped around the bottle the best he could. He lay calmly, looking up at her with big eyes. She smoothed his hair with one hand and kissed his forehead. “He’s absolutely adorable,” she remarked.
“Yes he is, but I’m biased, so…” Anna sat back and relaxed. “I love how comforting it is to hold a baby in my arms like that. When they’re quiet and still and you can look at how precious they are, you seem to remember why you have them in the first place. Then, they learn to talk, and it’s all over. I’m kidding!” She laughed at Sydney’s perplexed look. “They’re a handful, but definitely worth it.”
“Yeah,” Sydney breathed, watching Ian suckle at his supper. He snuggled in closer to her and she sighed quietly. Anna removed some of the plates from the table and took them to the kitchen, leaving Sydney alone. She became aware of someone watching her, and she turned slightly to see Sark still sitting next to her. He brought his arm up to lie across the back of her chair and softly stroked her hair. She tried not to blush under his intense stare.
“You look beautiful,” he murmured and she melted. She looked down to hide her face from his eyes. She wanted to say something, but the words wouldn’t come out.
“Sark,” she whispered, bringing her head up to look at him. He leaned in closer and his hand rested on her shoulder. Her eyes closed involuntarily as his face drew closer to hers. She could feel his warm breath on her cheek…
“Uncle Julian!” Caleb bounded into the room. They drew apart quickly as the boy grabbed Sark’s hand and pulled him up. “You have to come see this sword I made! It’s so cool!” He ran back into the family room.
Sark smiled down at her. “Kids,” he said and followed Caleb through the door. Sydney sat back in her chair and let out the breath she had been holding. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Seeing that Ian was done with his bottle, she put it on the table and pulled him up to her shoulder to rub his back. He yawned and closed his eyes.
Anna came back in to collect the rest of the dishes. “Oh, Syd, have you been sitting here alone this whole time? I thought Julian was still in?”
“He was, but Caleb pulled him out to show him something.” She had the sneaking suspicion that Anna was trying to set her and ‘Julian’ up, even though they had apparently just met. If she only knew. “I should probably get going, get settled in before it gets too late. Thank you so much for supper.” She stood up.
“It’s no problem. I wish you could stay longer, though. The kids will be going to bed soon, and I thought we could all sit around and talk a bit.”
“I’d like that, but I’m really tired from this whole day, and I’d just like to get settled.” The lie slipped out easily and Sydney mentally berated herself when she saw the disappointed look on Anna’s face. “I’m sorry,” she said.
Anna sighed. “No, it’s okay. I really should be thinking of you right now. Besides, we’ll have some time later to talk. I’m sorry, Sydney. It’s just so nice to have another woman around.”
“It’s okay,” Sydney smiled at her host. “So what should I do with Mr. Sleepyhead here?” Ian was now curled in her arms, breathing steadily, his hand wrapped around a strand of her hair.
“Just drop him in the playpen in the front room. He’s probably so tired he won’t even notice the noise.” Anna followed Sydney out into the main room. “Kids, you make sure you play nice with Julian, okay? He’s only here for a couple of days.”
“Actually, I wanted to talk with you about that, Anna dear,” Sark stood from his place on the floor. “It seems my business here is going to take a little longer than predicted, and so I was wondering, if it’s not too much trouble, if I could stay here?”
Anna beamed. “Of course! We’re completely open for the next month, and we’d love to have you stay. Did you hear that, Steven?” she turned to her husband, who had just come up behind her. “You can have the double suite for as long as you like. I’m glad, though, that you’re deciding to stay with us instead of the hotel. The kids are going to be ecstatic.”
Sydney bent over and laid the sleeping baby down in the playpen. He stirred slightly, but stayed sleeping. She stroked his hair, keeping her face averted from the other people in the room. She could hear their conversation and she didn’t want them to see her face right now because she could feel her cheeks burning. Thoughts were whirling through her brain and she needed to get somewhere quiet so she could sort them all out. She stood, waited until the two men were preoccupied with the children, then followed Anna back into the kitchen. “I’m sorry to leave Anna, but I’m really tired.”
“Oh, Sydney, it’s all right! You need your rest. Listen, I need to go grocery shopping tomorrow; would you like to join me? Then you can get the things you’ll need and we’ll have some time to talk alone, okay? I’ll call you in the morning,” Anna smiled.
Sydney smiled back, then accepted the hug that was offered. She made her way inconspicuously to the entranceway, bundled herself up, and left.
She moans as his hands travel over her fevered skin. His mouth feels wonderful, laying light kisses along her neck and shoulders. She runs her hands up and threads her fingers in his hair, arching her body as he makes slow, passionate love to her…
Sydney threw her book as hard as she could against the wall. Fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!! she thought. She had come back to the cabin and curled up with a book in the hopes that she might be able to just forget about what had happened that evening, but she couldn’t stop her thoughts. Every time she tried to focus on the words in front of her eyes, she kept thinking about Sark.
“Fucking, fucking BASTARD!” she screamed.
She clenched her eyes shut and balled her hands into fists, frustrated. All she had wanted was a nice quiet vacation with nothing to remind her about ANYTHING in her life, and Sark was here. Here and gorgeous, her mind reminded her. Sinfully beautiful as he leaned in to kiss her at the table… She screamed again as she punched the pillows on her lap.
What was he doing here?
She was so confused. Apparently this was his family. She still couldn’t believe it. Sark didn’t have a family. Or, if he did have a family, they shouldn’t be so nice and wonderful. She was pissed off at him for being here, for showing up when she was trying to forget it all for a while.
Or, the nasty little voice in the back of her head spoke up, are you angry because you’re still attracted to him while you’re supposed to be mourning for Simon?
She threw the pillow after the book. Okay, now that was bothering her, she could admit it. It was something she had been agonizing over since she had left that bunker in Berlin, the night she had finally told Simon that she loved him.
Had she really felt anything for Simon Walker, or had she wanted to be with him because she couldn’t have the one she really wanted?
She felt her frustration melt away slightly as she remembered that night. She hadn’t originally planned on seducing Sark to the point of sex, just until she could gain the upper hand and get out of that complex alive. But as everything had gotten more heated, she couldn’t deny the fact that she was intrigued by him, always had been, and being totally wanton had completely turned her on.
But it all went wrong, because he was tender and loving the entire time and she knew it wasn’t just the attraction for him wasn’t just physical; that night had apparently meant something for Sark, and that in itself affected her. And suddenly it wasn’t a seduction game anymore; it had involved real people with real feelings and the second time, when they had fallen on that cot and she looked into his eyes and finally saw through the icy barrier, it had rocked her. All the emotion that had been hiding for whatever reason had struck her heart as she recognized it in herself, and she had understood his words about their connection. For those who truly know you, they are always able to sense your presence, he had said. We’re always able to feel each other, and she knew at that moment what he meant.
Good god, how long had he been in love with her? More importantly, how long had she felt the same way about him?
She felt sick as she grabbed the other pillow and hugged it to her body. She had run back to Simon Walker and said she loved him because she suddenly realized that she actually loved someone she couldn’t have. Had she deceived him into believing that she shared his feelings when she didn’t? No, she thought. I felt something with Simon; maybe it isn’t as strong as what I’m feeling right now, but he knew a part of me that no one else had before. And maybe that’s who he loved, but it was still me.
She felt her frustration start to grow again as she tried to sort everything out in her mind. She felt the beginnings of a headache in her temples and she decided to go to bed, and maybe sort it all out in the morning. She gathered the blankets and her book and threw it into the corner of her room, letting herself fall to the bed in exhaustion. She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep when she heard a knock at the door. Now there’s a way to piss me off even more, she thought as she threw on her robe and walked back into the main room. She tried for a weak smile as she opened the door, but it dropped and her eyes narrowed when she saw Sark standing there. “What do you want?” she asked rudely.
“Nice greeting, love. Can I at least come in, it’s bloody freezing out here!” he shivered. She stood aside as he walked in and took off his jacket. He turned back to her with a sly smile and opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off when she punched him in the face.
“Bloody fucking Christ, Sydney!” he brought a hand up to his already bloody nose. “Do you mind telling me what the hell that was for?”
“What are you doing here?” she seethed. She really hadn’t expected him to be there when she opened the door, but once she got over her initial surprise, she let all her confused angry feelings surface and did what came naturally. She probably punched him harder than was really necessary, but right now she didn’t care too much. “Explain yourself now, or get the hell out of here. I’m tired, and this day has not been very good on my stress level.”
He winced as he pinched his nose to stop the flow of blood. “Can I at least have a towel or something for this, so I don’t get blood all over the place?”
She went to the kitchen and grabbed a tea towel and a damp rag as he sat down on the couch. She sat next to him and pressed the towel gently to his nose. “Lean your head back; it’ll help the blood clot a little better.” He did what she said but kept a wary eye on her as she wiped his shirtfront and his face as best she could. When she was finished, she sat back and they sat in silence for a few minutes. She could feel all the anger slowly ebbing away as fatigue washed over her and she realized how tired she really was.
When he finally sat forward and used the rag to wipe the rest of the dried blood on his face away, she said quietly, “I’m sorry I hit you.”
He looked at her carefully. “Yes, well, that wasn’t quite the welcome I was expecting from you, but it’s all right.”
“Why are you here?” she asked quietly. “You never answered me before.”
“I never really had a chance to answer; I happened to be bleeding a bit and it took me by surprise.”
“Look, I’m really sorry for that, but you have to understand how much of a shock this day has been…”
“Oh, so that gives you the right to hit me?”
“Stop arguing! God, I am trying like hell to be civil here, and you just want to pick a fight. Is that what you really came here for?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be arguing so much if my nose didn’t feel like someone hit me with a tire iron!”
“That’s it; get out!” She stood up and pointed at the door. This was getting nowhere and she just felt like lying down and crying now. She could feel tears prickling in the corner of her eyes.
“Sydney…” Suddenly his voice was weary and he pulled her back down on the couch. “I’m sorry love, I don’t want to fight right now.”
She curled up and leaned into the back of the couch, facing him. “Just…could you tell me why you’re here? What was all that about?”
He pulled his legs up and took her hand, stroking her palm softly with his thumb. “Well…I grew up here. This is the last remnant of my family left. ”
She raised her eyebrows and he laughed softly.
“I know; hard to believe, me having a family, isn’t it?”
She shook her head slowly. “You grew up here? But, your accent? And…” she fell silent as she realized that she wasn’t supposed to know about his father.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her into his body warmth. She stiffened, but he felt so good that she gave up and leaned into him, laying her head on his shoulder. He threaded his fingers in her other hand and rested his head on top of hers.
“Sydney, I know that you, or Julia, or whoever…” he paused and took a deep breath. “I know how my father was killed.”
She froze in his arms, not even breathing. Oh god, she thought.
He hugged her closer. “Don’t…look, I think I need to explain.” He raised her chin so they could look at each other face to face.
“I was born and spent my first few years in Russia. You already know who my father was. My mother was the daughter of a Ukrainian general and an English woman. Their marriage was one of…advancement for Andrean Lazarey. One problem was, he wasn’t the type of man who settled down very well,” Sark smiled bitterly. “And he certainly didn’t take too well to the arrival of an heir who was born with fair hair and blue eyes, when he and his wife were both quite dark. Of course, it just gave him an excuse to beat on us even more.”
“Oh god,” she whispered. “Sark…I’m so…sorry.” Tears began to run down her face.
He shrugged. “I’m not. Bastard had it coming. I’m just a little bothered that I wasn’t the one to dispose of him myself.” He gently wiped her cheeks with his fingers.
She choked out a laugh. “So…how did you get here? I mean, it’s a long way from Russia.”
He started to stroke her hair. “My mother finally smartened up and ran away, bringing me along. She had distant cousins here, probably the only family that cared to take her in. And it was a great place to hide, being in the middle of nowhere. She sent me to boarding school in England, which is where my accent came from. But I always would come here in summers. Anna is my third or fourth cousin, something like that. We were best friends as children; actually I was in love with her when I was young, because she took care of me when we first came here. She’s the last bit of family I have left. That’s why I gave the CIA information to destroy the Covenant…”
Sydney sat up suddenly. “Wait…you…? You were the one that helped bring the Covenant down? Why?”
He sighed and laid his head back on the couch back. “Because I wanted to stop it. The only reason I began in this business was to somehow get back at my father for all the pain he caused my mother and I. When I found out he was dead, there was no reason for me to continue working for the Covenant. Also,” he shifted and drew her back to his chest. “I realized that I wanted something more from life. I come here and I’m jealous of Anna and Steven and what they have. And now that I’ve done what I set out to do, I can finally settle down to a normal life.”
He tilted her chin up and brushed his lips across hers. “I want to spend my life with someone I love, to start a family and to live in peace.” He ran his tongue over her lips and she moaned. Before she knew what she was doing, he was kissing her softly and she was kissing him back, loving how good he tasted to her. Her hands snaked up and ran through his hair, tugging gently at the curls that sprung there. He lay back on the couch and pulled her onto him, cradling her body into his. She sighed and kissed him deeper, letting her tongue slide around with his. The hand that was on her hip traveled up under her pajama top to cup her naked breast and her eyes flew open in shock.
“Wait, wait, no, just…okay, no…” she broke their kiss and pushed herself off of him quickly. He looked confused as she smoothed her hair and tried to stop herself from shaking. “Sark, I…”
“Hey, hey,” he took her hands and enfolded them in his. “It’s okay, love. I didn’t mean to rush you, Syd. I just…my god, it’s so wonderful that you’re here. I never thought I’d see you again.” He brought one of his hands up to cup her cheek. “I…heard about Simon Walker. I’m sorry, Sydney.”
She started to cry again when she saw his eyes. He didn’t say anything, but pulled her onto his lap and cuddled her as she cried. She gripped his shirtfront as she buried her head into his neck. He stroked her back soothingly, kissing her hair softly while she let all the frustration of the night out. They stayed like that for a long time, until her sobs worked down into small hiccups of breath on his skin. She stayed snuggled into his body, enjoying the support it was giving her.
She still felt slightly confused about everything but it felt so right to be sitting here, curled up in Sark’s arms like this. They’d been given a second chance to be with each other and she wanted him to stay.
But before she could say anything, he slid her off his lap and kissed her forehead gently. “I should go,” he said, standing up, but she grabbed his hands and pulled him back down.
“No, please, stay.”
“Sydney,” he closed his eyes and passed his hand over his face. “You have no idea how much I want this, but I need this to be right for us. I’m not going to rush you into anything if you don’t feel it.”
She brushed her fingers over his lips to stop him. “I’m not doing this to forget Simon, or just to satisfy some need. For some reason, we’ve been given a second chance at this, and I don’t want to miss any moment of it. I want you, because…because I feel something for you and I can’t hide it anymore.”
She ducked her head, suddenly shy about what she had to say. “I think…that I’m in love with you.” She sucked in her breath, shocked at her bold revelation and staying perfectly still.
“Oh my god,” he murmured, and she began to cry again. That was wrong, Sydney, it’s too soon she thought until he pulled her deep into his embrace. She could hear choked laughter in his words as he spoke. “My god, whenever I heard you saying those words…nothing I’ve ever imagined comes close to how wonderful the reality is.” He leaned back so he could wipe her tears and look in her eyes. “I love you, Sydney Adrian Bristow,” he murmured and kissed her softly.
She giggled suddenly. “How is it you know my full name, and I don’t know yours?”
He gave her a sly smile. “I have my ways.”
She cocked her head to look at him. “So, is your name really Julian?”
He nodded. “My legal name is Julian Nikolai Lazarey. And before you ask, ‘Sark’ is an Anglicized version of my mother’s maiden name. I adopted it when I was younger, simply because I didn’t care to be associated with Andrean Lazarey anymore. It was my way of purging that life from mine.”
She caressed his cheek. “I’m sorry for that.”
He shrugged again. “Don’t be. It’s no one’s fault but his, and he’s dead now. That part of my life is done with, and it’s time to move on.”
She nodded and leaned in to kiss him again, this time with more passion and fire. He lay back and when his hand snaked up to cup her breast again, she allowed it and pressed herself into his touch. She broke the kiss again and at his questioning look, grabbed his hand and pulled him up to lead him to the bedroom.
She wound her arms around his neck and pulled him down for a searing kiss. He lifted her gently by her hips and lay her down on the bed, sitting next to her as his hands explored her body. She moaned into his mouth and stroked him deeply with her tongue. He rained small kisses on her jaw line as his hands traveled up her pajama top again, pushing it over her breasts to expose them under the low light. She tried to get him to move faster, frantically pulling and clutching at him, but he caught her hands and pinned them over her head gently, smiling at her fervour.
“No, no, love. I want to savour you this time,” he chided gently and she pouted in frustration. He leaned over and captured her lower lip in his teeth, tugging carefully before he pulled her top off completely. He let his eyes wander over her body slowly, drinking in her beauty. He brought the back of his hand to trace over her soft skin, slowly feeling the heat radiating from her.
She managed to catch him by surprise and pulled her hands from his grip then pushing him down onto the bed and righting herself over him. “You take too damn long,” she hissed in a breathless tone. “We can go slow later. Right now, you’re driving me absolutely crazy.” She kissed him hungrily, her fingers intent on yanking up his sweater so she could feel his skin. He groaned when her nails raked down his chest. She pulled her lips away, rid him of his sweater and latched her mouth onto his chest, alternating sucking and biting. She could feel his breathing getting ragged and when her mouth found one of his nipples, he cried out in a sharp noise when she let her tongue circle around the hard nub.
“Jesus Christ, woman…” he gasped and arched his body up as she bit down playfully. She gave him a smirking look and kissed her way over to his other nipple, where she gave it the same treatment. She moved down pressing kisses over his stomach while her hands undid his jeans, but this time he caught her off guard and flipped her over so that she was trapped under him. She started to giggle as he kissed her again, but her laughs turned into small sighs when his lips moved down her body in a similar pattern as she had done to him.
He hovered over one breast. She could feel his hot breath on her sensitive skin and she tried to push her body up to meet his mouth, but he moved his head and nuzzled the skin in between her breasts, shooting her a wicked grin when she groaned.
His mouth moved back to linger just above her nipple, but still he didn’t touch her. “Sark…Julian…please…you’re torturing me!” she moaned.
His finger lazily began to trace a pattern on her stomach. “Hmmm…I like having you say my name, love.”
She rolled her eyes on frustration. “If you don’t touch me, the only thing you’re going to hear me calling you isn’t suitable for all ages.”
He gave her his familiar smirk. “Why darling, I am touching you.” He brought the finger dancing on her skin to his mouth and licked the tip, then went back to drawing little indistinguishable things on her stomach, just below her breasts. She shivered at the feeling his wet finger was making on her feverish skin.
“Julian…” she breathed, and wrapped her arms around his head, pulling him up for a slow, burning kiss. Her fingers threaded into his hair sensuously, then without warning, she gave his head a yank. He yelped in pain and bit her lip.
“You would like us to survive this night, wouldn’t you?” she whispered threateningly, and he laughed low at the fury in her eyes.
“God, you are demanding, Sydney. Mmm…I guess it’s just one more thing to love about you.” He gave her a quick smile before he kissed her breathlessly. She lost all thought as he pressed her deep into the soft mattress, sliding his silky tongue around hers. When she felt like she was going to pass out from lack of air, he broke away and nuzzled her cheek. She whimpered at the loss of him, but his mouth dove back down to capture one of her nipples and she cried out with pleasure. He wet his fingers and they twirled around her other nipple as his mouth and tongue tortured the first. Eventually he switched places and rested his head on her abdomen as he went to work on her sensitive breasts. His free hand slipped under the waistband of her pajamas and nudged her inner thighs gently. She parted her legs to give him better access and he let two fingers tickle her damp entrance before sliding deep into her warmth. She sighed, a long drawn out sound and raised her hips to feel him better.
He looked up at her with a languid smile. “Is that what you were wanting when you asked me to touch you, love?”
She sighed again. “It’s better…ohhhhh…but I want more…” She brought her hand down and stroked the bulge on the front of his jeans and it was his turn to groan with frustration.
“You’re a selfish little girl, you know that?” He began to pump the fingers buried inside of her and she rocked against his hand. “Most people would be content with what you’ve got right now.”
“But I’m not most people,” she purred and slipped her hand under the band of his boxers, so she could wrap her fingers around his hard cock. He gritted his teeth and she could feel him muttering curses against her breast. She giggled again, this time a little more evilly.
“No, you’re not,” he moaned, and with that, he brought both hands up and shed her pants. He quickly worked his own off until they lay naked against each other, his erection pressing into her leg. He rolled her under him, fitting their bodies together perfectly and kissed her deeply, his hand coming around her head to cradle it. She wrapped her legs around his hips and pushed him down until she felt him rubbing against her lower lips; she rocked at the sensation and he broke away from her mouth to suck in a harsh breath. He touched her eyelids gently and she opened her eyes to meet his blue ones, shining with intense emotion.
He slid himself into her and for endless seconds, they lay still, breathing in the wonderful sensation. Then he began to move in long thrusts and she gripped his neck and hair, hanging onto him as he rocked himself deep into her body. She marveled at the feeling of him hard inside, and clenched her inner muscles in time with his movements as she sucked on the hollow of his neck. He groaned into her ear and laved it with his tongue, then planted small kisses against her chin and the rest of her face. She pulled him in to kiss her again, this time sweetly and gently and he reciprocated, his tongue dancing with hers, and then tracing her full lips to taste every inch of her. Their foreheads met and they clung together as they both began to breathe heavily. She could feel the aching fire deep in the pit of her stomach begin to grow faster and she panted for more, her voice breaking with emotion and passion. His rhythm became more frenzied and he brought his hand down between their bodies to rub at her throbbing clit, urging her to come with him.
Suddenly the fire exploded and she stiffened her entire body, arching up as she screamed with enormous pleasure. She could feel her body convulsing and she rode out her orgasm slowly, letting the waves engulf her entire body. He was still moving over her, and she squeezed lightly but forcefully, trying to bring him up with her. Finally he shuddered and came with a choking groan, spilling himself so deeply in her she felt every spurt. He collapsed on her, pinning her down as they both worked to breathe deeply.
When he could finally move, he rolled off of her enough to let her move, but kept his legs entangled with hers and wrapped his arms around her back, brushing his lips over her hair. She smiled sleepily and murmured vague sounds of content into his chest.
“What was that?” his chest rumbled.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be capable of coherent thought now,” she let her tongue trace his defined muscles.
“And yet you use words that would boggle the mind of most laymen,” he tickled her neck and she giggled again. “Sydney, unless you’re ready for another round, you might want to stop teasing my chest.”
“I’m always ready for anything,” she grinned wickedly up at him and he groaned softly. “But maybe we should get some sleep and finish this later.”
“Good, because I’m bloody tired,” he grumbled and she giggled again at the sound of his voice. “You sound an awful lot like a bloody teenager when you’re happy, did you know that?”
“And you use the word ‘bloody’ a lot when you’re tired,” she settled her head into the crook of his neck. She felt her exhausted body drifting away before a thought hit her. “Are you staying here tonight?” she asked drowsily.
“Are you kicking me out?” he sounded tiredly amused.
“No. But I want you to stay with me and I was just making sure you won’t run off.”
“Don’t worry,” he yawned. “I don’t fancy getting up and driving back to that hard motel bed, even though I’m paying $150 for it.” He snuggled himself under the duvet cover, wrapping it cocoon-like around the both of them.
She laughed again. “You’re paying that much for a hotel room out here?”
He groaned and suddenly wrapped a pillow around her face. “Sydney, darling, love of my life, for the love of god, go to sleep,” he grumbled. They wrestled a bit and finally she collapsed, curling up on his chest and looking up at him.
“I love you Julian,” she whispered.
His eyes were closed and he was breathing evenly, but he smiled and whispered, “I love you too, Sydney,” before hauling her up against him. She stretched out her body and lost herself into a warm, happy sleep.