COLE WAS FAIRLY certain that Megan Fox hadn't known that he was following her, keeping his distance. She hadn't seen him at the house, but neither had he seen her. He knew how to track someone discreetly, essentially hunting them down.
He knew how to do it, having certainly done enough tracking in his day on the frontier. It was definitely different in the big city, but then, Megan wasn't exactly hiding, didn't expect to be followed. She was easy to follow. Even with his late start.
He'd had his own agenda while she'd been in the carriage with Mr. Lincoln.
He thought over his own meeting that morning. After Alex and Megan had left, he'd convened with Lisette Annalise at the Willard Hotel for an early lunch. He'd thought that she had some factual information to give him, information that would have helped them get their way into Harpers Ferry.
But she had met him to give him a serious warning. At least, that was all he could surmise the purpose had been by the end of their meeting.
Lisette was not happy with the circumstances. She knew that the group intended to split and that Cole would be alone with this mysterious half-vampire woman that they had known for less than a week.
Lisette had promised him that she would join them in Harpers Ferry as soon as certain matters were handled in the city. In the meanwhile, she didn't trust Megan, and had urged him to talk with Cody, convince him that Megan was dangerous-that she really should be imprisoned, with hand-selected guards to watch her until the danger was past. She was adamant that Cody himself get to know his sister better before he entrusted her with anything of importance. Moreover, Cole noticed that she carefully termed her every word, and did everything short of suggesting that Megan needed to be taken care of on a permanent basis.
He understood Lisette Annalise; the woman was a fanatic. She was loyal. She loved her country-almost to a fault, if there be such a thing in a time of war. It was understandable-to many people, at least. Cole was sure of that. There were many who believed that the assassination of certain generals would end the war more quickly. That agile spies, willing to give up their own lives for the greater good, should simply arrive at battle stations as messengers, draw out guns and start blazing.
Though the citizens at home longed to applaud their generals, they usually wished that meant men such as Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jeb Stuart. They had ruled the beginning of the war. But now, the North was adhering to more drastic tactics than before, and hard-knuckled men such as Sherman and Grant were beginning to sacrifice numbers for battles. If they could do so long enough, those tactics might win out.
But no military man would condone cold-blooded murder, even though one could reasonably argue that thousands of boys went down in cold-blooded murder on the battlefields, face-to-face, on a daily basis. Though of equal tragedy, the two things were always different to generals and commanders.
And so, because most men did have a sense of right and wrong and honor, Lisette hadn't managed to get her thoughts and passions through those in power and into action. Cole wondered though, sometimes, that she had never tried such a tactic herself. The more he saw her, the more she seemed alarming in her determination.
It had been strange to sit in the restaurant at the elegant Willard, sipping coffee from delicate cups and dining on fine china set atop snowy white cloths. The hotel was Lisette's home in the city, and she reigned there as if it were her castle alone, that her presence is what made it special, despite the fact that it had hosted many famous persons. Pinkerton had arranged for Lincoln's stay there before his inauguration; the songbird Jenny Lind had visited; and Julia Ward Howe had written the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic while a guest at the hotel.
People chatted. They were dressed in elegant clothing. Politicians sat with other politicians. Constituents fiercely spoke to their representatives. There was many a man in uniform, as well as some women training to be field nurses. The war was all around them-and yet it wasn't. In this social setting, it seemed far removed.
Only the soldier missing an arm or a leg, balancing on a prosthetic here or there, gave credence to the real world hinted at beyond the fine linens and sparkling dinnerware.
While Lisette tried to emphasize the danger Megan Fox presented, basically suggesting that she be eliminated in whatever manner necessary, she still maintained the appearance of a tiny angel. She was exceptional in her ability to speak to him in a passionate whisper then turn graciously to accept an acknowledgment or compliment from a fellow diner.
Despite the elegance and the comfort, Cole couldn't wait to escape.
He was most eager to return because, he'd admitted to himself, he was afraid to be away from Megan. He knew that he wasn't afraid of her-but afraid for her. He couldn't explain that, since he knew she could protect herself.
He listened to Lisette, but when he realized the subject of her tirade, he began to daydream a bit and became simply anxious to leave. He'd been saved by the appearance of her assistant, Trudy Malcolm, the timid, mousy little woman who drifted about like a shadow, a pale shadow, albeit. Thankfully, Trudy had a note from the office, and Lisette was disturbed to discover that she had been asked back immediately, regarding information just received from the telegraph office.
He was grateful that somehow, despite the time he was gone, he managed to return to the house in time to see Alex heading for the doorway-and to learn that Megan had just left.
Thankfully, she hadn't been in a hurry. And she had far from perfect traveling instincts and had to stop for directions.
He tried to keep his distance from her, fooling himself into wondering what she was planning to do, even as he intuitively knew. Megan was convinced there was a benevolent presence in the cemetery.
He simply wasn't so trustful himself.
Of her, or of her hopes?
He wanted to believe in her completely, and to believe in this hopefulness of hers. He wanted to be with her, and know more and more about her. Frankly, he wanted just to be with her in every sense of the word. She was Cody's sister, and of course that meant...
He wasn't sure what that meant. She wasn't Cody's sister in the traditional form. Cody was ethical, a man with far more honor than most he had ever met. Others might speak well, but Cody lived his life by his beliefs. Still, Cody hadn't grown up as the big brother protecting her. Those feelings might be absent in him, for all Cole knew.
Of course, for that matter, Cole himself was an honorable man, or so he wanted to believe. He had come from the frontier, where life could be harsh, where people-men and women-did what was necessary to get through life, raise their children, survive. But there was still honor there, even when survival was paramount and sometimes desperate.
What he wanted, and he knew he wanted it, was...
Night and shadow. A dream that stayed a dream.
A woman with the fierce passions, the determination, courage and beauty that Megan Fox possessed. The sensuality that was so naturally hers.
He still imagined her coming to him in the night, but seeking no evil, just to be held, just to be...
She might be in serious danger, and here he was, his mind working below the belt. He gave himself a shake.
She'd tethered her horse at the gate. He did the same.
He was positive that she had gone to the chapel.
He did the same.
He wondered what it was with this cemetery. It was still early enough in the day-afternoon, but far before the night should be coming on-and yet the cemetery seemed darker than time would merit.
Maybe it was the day, and maybe it was his mood. And maybe something that had shades of pure evil was casting something malignant over a place where the hallowed dead should have rested easily.
Storms were gathering again. The storms that seemed to plague the capital as spring began its slow roll into summer.
Graves and monuments shrouded in mist.
Rain coming again.
It was the season, he told himself.
But he felt...something.
Being with Cody, learning to listen, to sense the environment around him, what he could see and what he couldn't, all had had their effect on him.
And he didn't like what he was feeling that afternoon.
And yet he wondered if the elements themselves feared a presence of evil and cast the gloom over the cemetery and the city as a warning. Was the encroaching darkness the problem, a warning about the problem...or all in his mind?
Cole gave a mental shake and reminded himself that he wasn't a fanciful man. He wasn't, but then again, life itself was proving that bizarre and ghastly fancy could be real, and thus it might have been a preternatural instinct for self-preservation that made him wary. He wasn't fanciful; he was aware.
He moved swiftly yet carefully through the abundance of graves, angels, obelisks and assorted shapes that marked the last resting places of many a good man and woman. And some not so good. War was not careful; the decent died with the liars and the rogues.
He paused briefly now and then, assuring himself that he heard or saw-sensed-that he was alone in the field of grass and stone.
The sky grew darker as he neared the chapel.
He was ready, however, as he moved. Alert to every sound. He could even hear the grass bend beneath his feet.
His bowie knife in his right hand, a fine honed, razor-sharp stake in his left, he came around to the chapel and neared the door.
It was ajar.
He was but twenty feet away when he saw what appeared at first to be a dark whirlwind taking form in the doorway. It was like a black shadow-wind that burst out, swirling and twisting in a growing fury. He held still for a moment, waiting, tensed and ready.
But the thing didn't come near him. It appeared like a tangle of rain clouds, battling for prominence, and swiftly it shot off as if caught by an even greater wind, or engaged in a deadly race.
He didn't know. He watched it disappear toward the north.
Against the wind.
Then a sense of dread and fear, unlike anything he had ever known.
His muscles came to life and he sped across the remaining distance to the chapel, kicking the door fully open and shouting her name.
There was no answer, and he ran down the length of the chapel.
He found her at last.
She was on the floor, fallen at an awkward angle, her face toward the floor. He raced to her and dropped his weapons, hunkering down at her side, reminding himself that she healed quickly as long as...
He turned her and saw her face, beautiful features pale, lustrous lashes closed over the golden orbs of her eyes.
He touched her cheek, lifted her chin, desperately looking for where she might have been wounded. He sat, sprawled on the ground, and pulled her onto his lap.
She was warm. She had a heartbeat. She was breathing.
"Megan!" he whispered in anguish.
Her lashes fluttered, her forehead creased in a frown, and she seemed to grimace in pain. Then her eyes opened and she was looking up at him, or somewhere just past him.
"Megan," he said again, unaware of how his voice trembled.
She blinked. "What-Cole? What happened?"
For a moment, she didn't even try to move. She just stared at him in confusion.
"I can't tell you-you have to tell me," he said.
She drew a hand to her head. "I-I don't know." She winced again. "My head hurts. It's-it's killing me, actually...."
She blinked and looked at him again, puzzled that he was there. Suspicion clouded her eyes for a moment. She tensed in his arms and he found that he held her tightly in return. "Oh, no, no!" he told her. "I came here to rescue you."
"Rescue me from what?" she asked him.
"Whoever attacked you," he said gruffly. "Megan, you had to have seen something!"
She eased in his arms, though she still studied him.
"You were following me," she accused.
"Yes," he agreed flatly.
"Why?" she asked, but then answered herself. "Why? Of course. You don't trust me. You were trying to find out who I was meeting. What other spy was going to relay all the brilliant military information I've amassed here and take it down to someone in the South," she said bitterly.
He smiled grimly. "No."
"I was worried about you."
She shook her head. "Why?"
He angled his head slightly, his smile deepening despite their situation. "Hmm...I was following you to see what you were up to, of course. And it was good, because I was actually..."
She flushed. She tried to sit up, but grimaced in pain.
"Easy," he said, holding her tight and pat in his arms.
Her lashes lowered and she nodded. "I'll be fine in a minute."
He tenderly touched her head. There was a good-size knot on her skull. "Someone really belted you. If you weren't who you are, it might have been a hard enough blow to kill."
"I'm all right."
"You're not all right."
"I will be," she assured him. She stared up at him with those enormous gold eyes of hers.
"I told you," he said softly, "I know you want to find your father, but you can't be certain that he's here. He could be anywhere."
She shook her head. "He's here," she whispered.
"And he conked you on the head?"
"No, of course not," she protested.
"Then you must realize that you're being far too trusting-because you so desperately want to believe. Megan, someone was here who wanted to hurt you, surely you realize that by now."
She shook her head. "No, no..."
"Megan, I didn't attack you."
"No...I know that."
"Then," he said very gently, "whatever force it is that you think is here to help us-isn't. You were lured. Something very evil wants to reach you-remove you from the equation of whatever game this is."
She struggled to sit up. He helped her. "But-if something meant to hurt me, why didn't it...finish me? I was out. I was down. It could have killed me."
"Maybe-I was behind you. It knew that it wasn't going to be alone."
Her lips curled into a slow smile. He was surprised and oddly affected when she reached up and touched his face. "I know...you came gallantly to save me. But...I don't think it would have been afraid of the two of us as a force."
"Wait a minute. We're a pretty good force!" he protested with a smile.
Her knuckles brushed his chin. He was startled by the way her touch sent warmth radiating throughout him. The world came down to the two of them, alone, in a mystic pool of light that streamed through the chapel window.
"No. I agree," she said quietly, looking into his eyes. "There was something evil in here, too, but I think that my father was here and stopped whatever force it was that wanted to harm me. Don't laugh at me, Cole, please don't laugh at me. And don't tell me that something like that couldn't have possibly happened. Yes, of course, it's what I want to happen, but it could be the truth."
She was so earnest. And young. Though hardened by the war, by her own existence, she was still laden with hope.
He remembered what he had seen, or, what he thought he had seen.
A whirlwind, like twin tornadoes, meeting and melding in a storm of spinning darkness, flying away from the chapel.
He had thought that it was like a pair of thunderclouds, clashing with a tremendous violence, battling their way into the wind, together.
The light around them dimmed as the sun was setting.
"We need to get going. You're not particularly strong right now, which is going to make us both vulnerable." He eased her from his lap and stood, supporting her, helping her to her feet. "Are you...are you still in much pain?"
She shook her head and gingerly touched the back of it.
"It's already dissipating."
"Put your arm around me."
"I'm already better, really."
He asked her, "Why don't you accept help, just for a minute?"
She lowered her head with a soft sigh, then let him slip an arm around her and support her as they started from the chapel.
At the door, she paused, looking back.
"What is it?" he asked tensely. The beings, the clouds, whoever or whatever they had been, had gone, heading north.
But this place now made him uneasy.
"I don't really want to leave. My father has been here. I have faith in that, Cole. Please, until something is proved otherwise, please let me have that belief."
"If your father was here, and he's protecting you, he knows about you. And Cody. And if and when the time is right for him, he'll let himself be known, Megan," Cole told her.
She looked up at him. "But we're leaving tomorrow. For Harpers Ferry. He's here."
"Megan, if your father is the force for good that you want him to be, he'll fight this battle the way that he sees fit. If he's good, he's been fighting this for a long time most likely. And you have to trust that if he's not revealing himself to you now, it must not be the time for him."
"All right," she said after a moment.
"I really think we should leave."
"I'm better," she told him.
He touched the back of her head. Already the lump was disappearing.
"Still, you're susceptible at this moment."
He led her out. He was ridiculously glad that she didn't push him away, and that she seemed content to lean on him as they walked from the cemetery.
The rain was going to come again soon. The air was damp and heavy with the portent of the coming storm.
He moved quickly, but she seemed lethargic, caught up in her own thoughts. He reminded himself not to allow his mind to wander too deeply into thoughts of her. He needed to stay alert as they left the cemetery.
As they neared the gates, he turned to look back. There was nothing behind him but gravestones, monuments and praying angels forlorn in the shrouded air. The wind blew through the beauty of the spring flowers that had bloomed. The sky looking the way it did, it was almost as if time had stopped during their escapade in the chapel.
When they reached the horses, she straightened. She looked at him gravely. "I'm fine now. I'm really fine. I'll be ready to leave first thing in the morning, whenever you wish."
"So, you're really fine with the appointment, after your meeting with the President?" he asked, ready to help her mount her horse.
She was quiet for a moment. She leaped up on her horse without assistance.
"No," she told him. "I was never here for any political reason, for any government. And now, I'm not going to Harpers Ferry for a president or a government, either. I'm ready to go for that one man, and for people."
He mounted his bay.
"We'll be on our own, you know. We'll really have to trust one another."
"I always trusted you. It's you who's suspicious," she reminded him. "'Trust has to be earned'-you're the one who said that."
He glanced at her sideways. "Maybe you've earned it," he said.
"Really?" she said, and he was glad when she laughed. "How? When?"
He shrugged. "I'm not sure, just feels that way. Then, maybe I'm going on a little bit of faith, too. C'mon, let's get on out of here and back to Martha's before the rain starts, shall we?"
THEY RETURNED IN time for supper, a feast Martha Graybow had prepared in light of the pair's departure the following morning.
Cody and Cole were sequestered in the parlor, talking with one another while Martha set out their meal with Alex and Megan-and Brendan Vincent.
Brendan was being more than courteous, trying to help carry everything while Megan and Alex set the table. Alex glanced at Megan, giving her a quick grin.
It was obvious that romance was beginning to flourish. The Unionist had to be almost twenty years older than Martha, but he was a wise and gentle man, in very good shape-from the military and vampire hunting, Megan assumed-and the widow seemed not at all averse to his attention.
Megan hoped that this meant good things would happen for Martha and her young children. As far as being the perfect gentleman, someone who would truly love and care for Martha-and her children-Megan could think of no finer a man.
She was curious, however, that he wasn't with Cody and Cole, and if she began to wonder if their conversation wasn't more personal than professional.
"I think that we're just about all set," Martha said, flushing, "thanks to Brendan giving us so much help. Will you call in Cody and Cole, and would someone mind stepping over to my house to fetch the children? They've been doing their homework, or, at least, they've supposedly been doing their homework!"
"They're good children, Martha, I'm sure it's all done," Alex said, smiling.
"I'll run out back and get them," Megan offered. As she opened the back door to go out to the carriage house, she was startled to see that there was someone just slipping out the door. His back to her, the man was essentially nothing but a large hat and long, black coat, but even with that, Megan could sense something dark and sinister about him.
"Hey! What are you doing? Who are you?"
The person froze. Then, as she ran toward him, the back of his black coat become a swirl of black movement. Shadowlike bat wings lifted up toward the sky and the figure shot up in swift flight.
Terrified, she watched it disappear, but only for a split second, before racing into the carriage house, dreading what she might find.
"Artie? Marni?" she cried, bursting through the front door, even as she heard Brendan yelling from far behind her.
The carriage house had been divided into four rooms: the entry, set up like a parlor, two bedrooms to the left and right down a hallway and Matha's larger, master bedroom at the rear.
There was no one in the parlor.
Megan hurried down the hallway, calling out to the children. "Artie? Marni? Please, answer me, where are you?"
She burst into Artie's room, a perfect room for a growing boy. It showcased a train set, books on the military heroes and a desk with a telescope and schoolbooks spread out over a blotter. The inkwell had been knocked over; a quill pen lay in the midst of the ink.
Panic began to lodge in Megan's soul. She hurried into the next room, Marni's room. It was a charming room for a little girl. Martha had sewn a ruffled canopy for the small four-post bed, and the curtains matched. Dolls lay on the bed, and Marni's young reader lay on the floor. It looked as if the little girl had been doing her reading, just as her mother had said.
Megan ran back into the hallway and looked down to Martha's room. She ran to the door, not wanting to open it.
When she did so, she had to swallow back the scream of horror that had lodged in her throat before she could breathe again.