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CHAPTER TWO - COPYCAT

“Jack…” 

His name said in those sensual yet coolly elegant tones had FBI Special Agent Jack Corbyn closing his eyes for a moment.  Even over the cell phone, that voice had lost none of its power over him.

He quickly turned his back on his partner, Hemi Natia, so that his reactions wouldn’t be observed as he spoke. Not that Hemi would judge him badly for losing his professional cool. His partner had been there the first time Dr. Rowan Winter had said his name, and he’d been there for the last time, too. 

The first time had been when he was thanking Jack for saving his life. There was not the complicated history between them as there was now. It had been the simple gratitude of a crime survivor who had wanted to express that gratitude in words to the FBI agent who had saved his life. 

Rowan had been in a hospital bed. Not a typical bed or room with white washed walls and the beep of monitors where Rowan would be one of a hundred patients harried nurses and doctors had to see to. No, he’d been ensconced in a private suite on the top floor of the most prestigious hospital in the city, attended to by multiple physicians and nurses whose sole duties were to him.

Rowan also had bodyguards, including his most formidable assistant/butler/bodywoman Olivia Strange, guarding him 24/7 since the attack. Even so, the press had already pierced Rowan’s privacy and it would get worse as more of the details of the case leaked out. A cult. Parents murdering their own children. Wealth. Power. Privilege. And demons. Even one aspect of this case would fill days, weeks, months of cable news reports.

Olivia stood at the side of the bed, erect and solemn, her focus solely on Rowan. A bandage covered part of her face from a burn she’d received in the fire beneath Aldweather. She’d tried to save Rowan herself from the Labrys cult, but the flames had stopped her and nearly taken her life too. Hemi had gotten her to safety. But she moved fluidly now as she adjusted Rowan’s pillows. Other than the bandage, there was no sign in her movements that she’d been injured at all or was on any drugs to dull the pain. 

Jack wondered what her story was.  He would later do extensive investigations into her past, but he'd find no trace of her before she’d joined the Winter household right after Rowan was born.

Rowan was laying down in a king-sized bed, practically swallowed by the pillows behind his back and head. Even recovering he had been lovely. Fine-boned. Classical features. A hint of delicateness that turned men from handsome to beautiful. Lithe yet muscular. But just eighteen-years-old so not completely into his manhood yet. So beautiful though. So haunting. 

The floor to ceiling windows on the wall opposite the bed showed the skyline spread out before them like a kingdom. The sky was a peerless blue and the city sparkled underneath the brilliant sunlight. This day was so perfect that it made it hard to imagine the horror of the one before. But Rowan’s chest and abdomen were swathed in bandages and a bloody imprint of the labyrinth design that was carved into his flesh was visible in spots. No amount of plastic surgery would be able to remove the scars that would be left behind.

“Special Agent Corbyn,” Rowan’s voice had been soft, uncertain, but he’d been smiling and trying to lift himself up to greet Jack properly.

“Jack is fine. Please, don’t get up. We’ve just come to talk to you if you feel up to it,” Jack told him, standing there awkwardly at the foot of the bed. 

First interviews of survivors were always fraught, but Jack couldn’t help but flash back on how he’d found Rowan: bound, bleeding, begging for his sister to live and his parents to stop in a secret chamber beneath the Winter family’s mansion Aldweather. The scent of burning flesh in his nostrils and the scent of blood as a terrible chaser. He thrust the memory away. Now was not the time. Rowan was safe. He was looking longing at Jack. 

“The doctors have approved your visit,” Olivia said as she jerked her head towards the white-coated figures who hovered nearby. “But if your questioning upsets Rowan--”

“It’s all right, Olivia. I want to talk to them. And I want to know what they’ve discovered, too. I’m not some fragile flower,” Rowan said pointedly, showing some of his thorns.

Olivia did not argue with him, merely nodded, but Jack was certain she’d step in again if Rowan showed any signs of distress.

“As I said, I’m Jack and this is my partner Special Agent Hemi Natia,” Jack said as he gestured to the big man beside him.

“You can call me Hemi,” Hemi added.

Hemi was an imposing figure at nearly six and a half feet. Built like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, people often found him frightening at first look. Until Hemi smiled and then the warmth and kindness in the big man was revealed. Criminals never got to see that smile, but Rowan did. The young man seemed to instantly relax.

“Jack. Hemi,” Rowan said as if testing their names and finding that they pleased him. Jack imagined that he took extra pleasure saying his name though.  “I suppose after you’ve pulled someone out of a burning hell titles aren’t necessary.”

“That was all Jack. I was upstairs when that went down,” Hemi insisted.

“Well, still, I thank you both,” Rowan said.

“I… I only wish we had been there sooner,” Jack found himself saying, his voice breaking.

Rowan’s green eyes dropped from his face and the smile left his lips. “Bella.” 

Isabella Winter was Rowan’s sixteen-year-old little sister. She had not survived their parents’ attack. It was the fire set to burn her body in a last desperate attempt by the Labrys cult to send her soul to Hell that had raged out of control and destroyed the cultists themselves. It was only luck that it hadn’t burned Aldweather to the ground.  As it was, Jack had carried Rowan out of the flames via a secret passage that led out to the lake; the fire had blocked all other exits. All the cultists, excluding Rowan’s mother, had burned to death in the hidden room beneath the mansion.

Rowan stirred himself. “You did all you could. My mother did not give you much time to save us.”

Olivia offered Rowan a glass of water with a straw whether it was because she thought he was thirsty or whether to give him a chance to recover himself. He sipped it almost absently, his green eyes were bleak. Genevieve Winter had been the one to alert the FBI to the cult’s plan yet she had taken part in the torture and death of her daughter. It didn’t make sense.

“Do you know why she was there…” Hemi began and then stopped.

They had to ask the questions, but somehow it seemed wrong to ask Rowan why his mother had tried to save her children but also took part in killing them at the same time. Could any child answer that of a parent? Perhaps it would only be painful speculation. Besides she was in custody--in a mental institution to be sure--and not talking currently, but she would be interviewed extensively at some point. Jack would get answers from her.

“Why did she call you and kill my sister anyways?” Rowan let out a soft laugh that wasn’t mirthful at all. “All I know is what they said about why we had to die. Maybe that answers it though… Can anything explain what they’ve done?”

Olivia touched his shoulder. Rowan put a hand over hers and squeezed it.

“What did they say?” Jack asked, wondering what horror these people had offered as justification for their actions.

He should have taken notes, but he didn’t move to pull out a notepad and pen. He wanted to give Rowan his whole attention. Once the young man got the story out once, he’d asked him to go through it again and again. Repetition was its own form of Hell, forcing the survivor to go over the trauma repeatedly, but it also unearthed more information that could lead to arrests and, hopefully, justice.

“They said we were Dark Ones,” Rowan explained and rubbed his temples for a moment as if the very words perplexed him. “Demonic spirits that infested human bodies. Fallen angels.”

“And so you had to be killed?” Hemi clarified and touched a spot near his collar bone.

Jack knew he wore a cross under his shirt and that was likely what he was touching. When something offended Hemi to the core, he steadied himself through faith. Jack had lost his long ago and this case wasn’t helping to retrieve it.

Rowan nodded. “But not just because demons are bad. Though I suppose that would be enough.” He gave a wan, pained smile. “No, they said that if we were allowed to reach maturity that our powers would grant us the ability to open this world to Hell.”

Jack’s eyebrows lifted. “You're eighteen so was that why they decided you had to die? The age of maturity?”

But Rowan shook his head. “No, that’s not why they chose to act now. It was something Bella did. Supposedly did.”

“Something your sister did that led your parents to believe that--”

“We were going to open the portal to Hell? Yes.” Rowan tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling. “It’s madness. It’s sickness really. Bella’s best friend, Jaclyn, committed suicide a month ago.”

“But how could that be Bella’s fault?” Hemi frowned.

“They claimed that Bella had made her do it, because Jaclyn was dating a boy that Bella liked. One of the Dark One’s powers is being able to convince others to do terrible things. Kill others. Kill themselves. All of it,” Rowan explained. “At least that’s what I took from what they said.”

“So your mother believed that Bella was a Dark One because she convinced her best friend to take her own life, but what about you?” Jack stroked his jaw. His beard was coming in and it was beginning  to itch. “Maybe that’s why she alerted us to the planned killings, because she thought you weren’t a Dark One even if Bella was.”

“She did tell my father to--to kill Bella first,” Rowan went pale as he said it.

Olivia stirred beside him, her eyes flashing warningly at Jack.

“To delay until we got there?  The woman cut it close!” Hemi shook his shaved skull. 

“Or maybe she came to believe that we both were Dark Ones and that I had done something terrible that she simply didn’t know about or that I would in the future.” Rowan shrugged, but looked devastated by it. 

The urge to comfort him was almost overwhelming. Jack’s gloved hands twisted together in front of him. Olivia smoothed back Rowan’s hair and gave Jack a cool look. It wasn’t the touch of a lover. More of a mother. Jack hoped this was one mother figure who wouldn’t betray Rowan.

“Did they explain the labyrinth symbol they--they marked you and your sister with?” Jack gestured vaguely to Rowan’s bandages.

The young man glanced down at the bloody reminder of his ordeal. “Yes, the labyrinth symbol was to lock the Dark One’s spirit in our bodies so that when this body died they couldn’t leave to infest another form, but would be sent to Hell. The Dark One got lost in the labyrinth, you see. It couldn’t get out.”

Jack did not see. He could never understand such wanton cruelty. He imagined how hard it would be for Rowan to look at his bare chest in the mirror for the rest of his life. It was sickening.

“My father and the other Labrys cult members… Do you have them in custody?”  Rowan asked. “I want to know what they have to say. I need to know.”

Jack’s lips parted but no words came out. Hemi’s eyes slid to him and then away. The big Samoan shifted his stance.

“You weren’t told… no, of course not. Rowan,” Jack said then paused. He looked down at the floor. “Your father and the other cultists, excluding your mother, died in the fire.”

“No.” Rowan shook his head. It wasn’t a “no” of shock or denial of the truth, but a singular statement of fact, which threw Jack for a moment.

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Jack grimaced. “He didn’t come out the way we did and--”

“I was at the top of the stairs and he didn’t come out that way either,” Hemi said. “And we’ve discovered the remains of half a dozen people.”

“Which you’ll check the DNA of, yes?” Rowan insisted.

“If there’s anything recoverable, we could do that,” Jack said slowly.

“You’re thinking of not doing that?” Rowan stared hard at him.

“There was no other way out, Rowan,” Jack said. “Your father couldn’t have escaped.”

“You don’t know my father.” Rowan gripped the covers so hard that his knuckles went white with the strain. “He’s still out there. He’ll try again.”

Jack and Hemi exchanged a look. Rowan was understandably terrified that his father was still alive, but that likelihood was vanishingly small. So small as to be non-existent. But Rowan was not in a head space to convince him of that. 

“We’ll definitely test what we can,” Jack finally said.

Rowan wrapped his arms around his wounded chest and let out a laugh. “Now that I really think about it, I wouldn’t trust anything you find. My father knows everyone and everyone owes him something.  You wouldn’t think someone that crazy would be so influential, but he hides it so well. He seems so normal. Loving and… well, he’s mad.”

“Did you get any sense if the cult members present were the only ones there were?” Jack asked.

“I have no idea. But my guess would be no.” Rowan swallowed deeply. He was looking out the windows at the city. “My father wasn’t just an influential person here, Jack. My family’s business interests and other holdings are worldwide. My  father was often traveling, meeting with world leaders and influential people all over.”

Jack felt the mixed excitement of the chase with a sense of yawning dread. Winter Enterprises was vast and byzantine. It had influence all over the globe just as Rowan had said. But how many people would believe the things that Richard Winter did?

Rowan’s gaze slid to Jack. “I’m surprised that your superiors allowed you to raid our home.”

Hemi lifted an eyebrow at Jack then said, “They tried to stop us. But Jack wasn’t going to be stopped.”

Rowan’s eyes widened. “I see. You are a man not to be denied, Jack.”

Jack had cleared his throat under that speculative gaze from Rowan. “If I’d been wrong I’d probably be out of a job. But… I wasn’t wrong.”

“No, you weren’t, as mad as all of this sounds.” Rowan sagged back against the pillows. “How can anyone believe these things?”

Jack didn’t have an answer for that. It was one thing to believe in a benevolent greater being, but another to believe that being wanted one to murder one’s children.

“The irony is my parents’ power and wealth--the things that allowed them to believe they could kill without consequence--were also why they believed Bella and I could be Dark Ones in the first place,” Rowan said. 

“What do you mean?” Hemi asked.

“That wealth, that power, all came from a deal with the Devil supposedly. That’s why the Dark Ones could take our bodies, because our family traded us centuries ago for everything they had,” Rowan stated and laughed bitterly. 

He looked so fragile, so discouraged, so… so in need of help that Jack had to force himself again not to comfort Rowan physically. 

Olivia drew out a cell phone and frowned at it. Her voice was low, “Rowan, it is Walter Noelle.”

“Who is that?” Jack asked when he saw how Rowan’s shoulder had tensed.

“The CEO of Winter Enterprises. He’s my father’s good friend.” Panic flooded Rowan’s features. “I can’t trust  any of these people! They could be helping my father!  They could be members of the cult!”

Jack wasn’t conscious of what he said next, it just came out of him. “Until we find all those responsible for this, those members of the Labrys cult, I will stay with you, Rowan. I will keep you safe. Personally.”

Hemi’s head had swiveled around and his dark brown eyes had widened in shock. Jack knew his offer was insane. The young man had guards. The FBI did not provide the kind of security he had just offered. And who knew how long it would take to truly discover the extent of the Labrys cult?

But Rowan lit up like a fireworks display in excitement.  “You would do that?! That would be…” His smile was brilliant. The first real smile Jack had seen from him and it made Rowan’s beautiful face almost angelically luminous. “Wonderful. That would be wonderful, Jack. I wouldn’t be so afraid.”

Jack smiled back. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”

And that decision had led to further madness.

“Jack?” Rowan repeated his name, crisper, curter, more as a question on the cell phone now.

Jack realized that he’d said nothing in response for too long. Rowan might think he had accidentally called him. He opened his eyelids and looked at the snow that was painted in alternating reds and blues from the squad cars’ lights. 

“Rowan,” Jack said and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.  He had not meant to sound so breathless. He cleared his throat. “Rowan,” he repeated in a firmer tone. A more normal tone or so he hoped. But he doubted he had fooled the other man. Even when Rowan had been an innocent eighteen-years-old, and not the sophisticated world renowned professor that he was now, he had always read people well.  Except for his parents, but that was understandable. “I’m sorry--”

“About what?” Rowan cut him off.

“About…”  so many things.  But he didn’t say that, instead Jack forced his voice to even out again. “I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour.”

There was a pause on Rowan’s end. Was it amusement? Was it anger? It was only 10 P.M. Not too late. Rowan had always been a night owl in any case, groaning whenever Jack had woken with the sun and opened the curtains of their bedroom so they could begin the day. 

There had been that one summer morning when Jack had carried a grousing, moaning Rowan to the pool and dove in with him, sheets and all, to get the young man to wake up. Rowan had acted like a scalded cat after he’d surfaced, promising to make Jack “pay” for that with narrowed green eyes. 

The “price” for the early morning bath was making love all day in and out of the pool with Rowan being in charge the entire time. Rowan had topped from the bottom often, but that day had been especially erotic. Heat flooded Jack and he cleared his throat.  

“Well, you must have a reason for disturbing me. What is it?” Rowan said a little tartly.

Most people would have said that Jack wasn’t disturbing them regardless if it was true. They would have said it out of politeness. A small, social-lubricating lie. But Rowan had never used such niceties.  He’d always been direct. Perhaps his family’s extraordinary wealth and power had done away with that societal need to play nice.  Or maybe it was just his personality. Either way, Jack had always found it both refreshing and disconcerting.

“Yes, yes, I do.” Jack paused and moistened his lips.

Now that it had come time to tell Rowan what he knew he must, he found himself unable to. Hemi shifted his massive booted feet behind him. They’d discussed it ad nauseum.  The big Samoan had offered to call Rowan for him.

“Jack, you’re not okay, brother,” Hemi had grumbled in his deep, mountainous voice. “This is too close. It’s too much what you told him would never happen. And you haven’t talked to Rowan in what? Ten years?”

Jack could have corrected him with the exact year, day and hour. Maybe he could have figured out the minute, too, if he’d thought about it a moment. But he didn’t. That would only confirm his cowardice to himself. He’d left Rowan, because it was the right thing to do.  It was a moment of strength after so many of weakness. 

“He can’t find out about this when the news crews show up at his front door for a comment about how he feels that the Labrys cult might be active again,” Jack had pointed out.

He had imagined Rowan’s beautiful face--those classic, fine-boned features--go pale as the press surged towards him, lights blaring, cameras rolling, shouting questions at him about the most traumatic episode of his life. And it might revive the rumor--the rumor that Jack had done everything he could to disprove--that Rowan’s father was still alive, that he hadn’t burned to death, that he was still out there with his poisonous beliefs, still wanting to kill his son and any other “Dark Ones” he discovered. But whatever Jack feared or believed, facts were facts.

“I wasn’t suggesting we don’t call him just that it isn’t you,” Hemi responded with a shake of his head. “He’s still fond of me. But you? Not so much.”

Jack let out a huff of dry laughter. “You’ve talked to him recently?”

“Actually, I have. He was working with Morrison on that series of ritualistic suicides,” Hemi answered with a shrug of those huge shoulders that always seemed to threaten to burst the seams of his standard FBI dark suits, though his had to be hand-made because of his size.

Jack had to bite down on the jealousy that surged through him. He curled his hands into fists as the familiar possessive flare ignited in his chest. But even if Hemi had been interested in men, he would never have gone after someone Jack cared for. They were more than partners. They were brothers in arms in this dark world.  So he knew that the jealous possessiveness was just part of the old sickness he had. The sickness that had him taking a beautiful eighteen-year-old victim to bed and trying to keep Rowan all to himself no matter what the cost.  

“I--I didn’t know that. You didn’t mention it,” Jack finally responded, sounding wounded and ridiculous.

Hemi patted his shoulder. “I didn’t want to hurt you. It’s ten years old but that wound has not healed, brother. I wish…”

“You wish what?” Jack was smarting because those words were true. This wound had not healed. It would likely never heal.

“I just wish you could be happy,” Hemi answered and Jack wasn’t sure if that was what his partner had meant to say.

“How was he? How did he seem when you saw him?” Jack asked, unable to help himself.

Hemi grimaced. “Still him, but… colder. More edges now. Distant. Like a far star. All the warmth is mostly gone.”

Jack felt like he’d been kicked in the stomach. Rowan had always seemed to be fighting an almost clinical ruthlessness in his character. Jack had brought warmth and softness to the surface. But the betrayal of Rowan’s parents had caused a deep cynicism in the young man that had evidently grown. 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Jack said lamely.

“Well, maybe hearing from you will bring some of the old Rowan back,” Hemi suggested.

But Jack highly doubted that. And the news he had to tell Rowan would only confirm the other man’s suspicions of everyone and everything.

“I appreciate you offering to call Rowan, but he deserves to hear this from me,” Jack said. “He was convinced his father was alive and that the cult was still out there. I was the one who told him he was wrong.”

“It’s been ten years and nothing. No signs. No murders. Nothing,” Hemi reminded him.

“Until now,” Jack answered.

“Until now.” Hemi nodded. “I don’t disagree that you should call. I don’t suppose you still have his number?” When Jack said nothing, Hemi chuckled, “Of course, you do. Memorized, no doubt.”

And now Jack was on the phone with Rowan after ten years and it felt like no time had passed. He looked down at the front of his long, black dress coat. No bleeding wound there, but he felt it.

“The reason I’m calling is because… Hemi and I are at a murder scene,” Jack got out.

“Oh?” Rowan almost sounded bored.

Jack knew that Rowan was often brought in by the FBI and police departments all over the country--actually all over the world--to assist with cases but surely death was not something he was exposed to often. Jack felt a stab of guilt if his fellow law enforcement officers had put Rowan in such a position.  

“Yes, the death…” 

Here Jack turned back to the barn. The klieg lights were being set up. The CSI techs were already inside in their white Tyvek suits. There was the flash of cameras and the swish of fingerprint powder. But it was the young man’s body that was splayed on the barn’s floor that held his attention. The body was naked. Spikes were pounded into the wrists and ankles, pinning him to the barn floor like a butterfly on a board. And then there was the labyrinth symbol carved into his chest, a twin to Rowan’s, except this one was complete

“What about the death, Jack?” There was a touch of annoyance now and could Jack blame him?

Perhaps Rowan was with someone. A lover that was kissing the back of Rowan’s neck, stroking his naked hips… Jealousy surged inside him.

I have no right to feel this way. No right. I left him. It was for his own good. 

“There’s a labyrinth symbol carved into the victim’s chest,” Jack said quietly.

There was silence for long moments then a harsh breath. “A copycat. That detail was relayed far and wide in the media.  My medical records… ” Rowan’s voice caught, “they were shared.”

“Yes, I know.” Jack’s lips pressed together.

The press had been relentless just as Jack had surmised that first day in the hospital. Rowan, as the sole survivor, with his handsome looks and unconscious sensuality had drawn the press and the public to him like flies to honey. Nothing had been private. Nothing had been sacred. Nothing.

And this would bring that all back again.

“You wouldn’t call me if there wasn’t something at the scene that indicates it was  just a copycat though,” Rowan said, sounding like he was simply saying what he was thinking instead of talking to Jack.

“The Bureau would have informed you, because even a copycat would have renewed attention to you and have caused… distress,” Jack got out awkwardly.

“Renewed?  Do you think the attention has ever stopped?” Rowan let out a shrill laugh.  “Please, Jack! It’s never ended!”

Jack grimaced. He tightened his hand on the cell phone. “I’m… I’m sorry.”

“Stop saying that,” Rowan’s voice was low. “You shouldn’t be sorry for things that you aren’t responsible for.”

What was left unsaid was that there were plenty of things he should be sorry for that were his responsibility.

Jack shifted a foot and said,  “You are correct that there are things here that we never revealed to the public including one of those strange daggers.”

“Dag-daggers?” Rowan’s voice broke a little.

“Yes, I believe it's the twin to the one used--used on you and your sister,” Jack explained, trying to speak unemotionally so that it was easier for Rowan to hear. But could anything take the sting out of these memories? “I want  to have our lab examine the dagger you have.”

The dagger should have still been kept in evidence with the rest of the Winter file, but it had been thought that all the Labrys members were dead. The case was closed. There was no harm in giving Rowan back the dagger though Jack had not thought it good for the young man to have it. But Rowan had insisted. 

“You want my dagger?” Rowan’s voice was soft.

“Your--your parents’ dagger. The Labrys' dagger.” It disturbed him that Rowan would call it his. That terrible weapon had been used against Rowan.

“Yes, of course, I just meant… Well, I don’t know where it is. I’ll have to look for it,” Rowan said.

Jack frowned. He sensed that Rowan was lying. Ten years might have passed since his parents attacked him, but there was no way that Rowan with his practically eidetic memory would ever not know where the dagger was. But why would he lie about it then? Did he simply not wish it to be true? Did not want the dagger to be linked and for the Labrys Cult to be active again?

“Where is the crime scene?” Rowan asked. “Are you there now?”

“Yes, it’s on Old Passmore Road in Ryland, why?” Jack asked.

“Don’t let the techs or the coroner move anything,” Rowan said. “I should be able to get there in twenty minutes.”

There were many things to respond to that statement, but Jack found himself saying stupidly, “Ryland’s more than twenty minutes from the city… even with the way you drive.”

Rowan was a notorious speeder. Or, at least, had been. Jack didn’t know if he still was. But Rowan’s beautiful sports cars demanded to be let out, or so Rowan told him in no uncertain terms. 

There was another of those long pauses where he imagined Rowan considering lying to him, but the other man simply said, “I’m not in the city. Don’t let them move anything, Jack. I need to see everything in situ. I’ll be the one who determines whether this is Labrys’ work or not.”

“We don’t know yet if this is truly related to what happened to you or if--”

“It’s my father’s work?” Rowan’s tone was cutting. “You once promised me that you would stay with me, protect me, until this thing with the Labrys cult was finished.”

Jack shut his eyes. “I… I did.”

“Let’s find out if you have something more to be sorry for then. I’ll be there shortly.”

And then Rowan was gone. He’d hung up on Jack without a goodbye. Jack slowly lowered his cell phone and stuffed it into the right pocket of his coat. He was stunned.

“Well?”  Hemi lifted his left eyebrow.

“He’s coming.”

Hemi frowned. “Coming? Coming here?”

Jack nodded curtly. “He says he needs to see it to know for sure.”

“You’re going to let him see this?!” Hemi gestured towards the naked, dead body. “He doesn’t need to see this, Jack. He’s not on this case.”

Jack chewed his inner cheek. Was Rowan not on this case? Should Rowan not be on this case? On the one hand, Rowan should be nowhere near this for the other man’s mental health. He didn’t need to see another nightmarish version of what he had gone through. But, on the other hand, Rowan’s understanding of the Labrys cult was unparalleled. He was the go to person for all things cult. And Rowan could be in danger. If this really was the Labrys cult then they would be going after the other  man. Rowan had lived into maturity, but he hadn’t caused the Apocalypse yet.

“Could the reality be worse than anything he imagines, Hemi?” Jack asked.

“No,” Hemi admitted. “And maybe he’ll have an idea who did all of this. But still.”

Please let it not be Richard Winter, Jack thought, but said out loud, “I know, but it is what it is.”

Jack started striding towards the entrance to speak to the Coroner and the CSIs, to tell them to continue with their work, but under no circumstances were they to move anything.  Rowan was going to be there any minute. Could his heart bear it?

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  • Wow wow wow Raythe! I think another commenter said it best: "I was curious at first, but now I'm intrigued!" This is so good! I am enjoying it!
    It is different from your other stories but in a good way. I look forward to seeing where it goes :D

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  • Hemi sounds like an awesome supporting big brother! I already love him! I also love how different this series is. I'm pretty sure this is the first time, from all the books here, where the main couple have had bad past. And I can practically taste the confusion and betrayal and longing between Rowan and Jack. It's just so good!

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  • Dear Raythe,

    I have been in love with your stories for a long time but never really commented as I consumed them in one large binge. One of my favourites is "The Pact" so as this already has a similar dark bloody tone to it I am hooked.
    Unlike some commenters below i quite like the character of Jack so far. Something tells me he haa been " influenced" in a subtle way making decisions he usually wouldn't but nor noticing it until too late. I quite enjoy imperfect slightly unlikeable characters at first. Too many perfect good main leads around. Give me a bit of an asshole any day haha.

    P.S. found a possible typo?: He was looking longing at Jack now. Maybe it should be longingly? Just sounds a bit off.

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  • A big Samoan! Now you definitely have my attention ;)

    You could fairly see the icicles hanging from that phone call - chilly *bbrrrrrrr*

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  • In reply to: ipodpixie

    I'm so glad you mentioned Hemi! I hoped people would like him!

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  • Sorry for the late review but I was really busy yesterday so I had to wait to read the chapter :( I really like Jack so far. He is a lot different than jour other dominant characters!!!! I’m so excited to read more of their interactions!!! I think this pair will be different than your usual pairs and I’m so excited for that!!!! I hope we will see the meeting this month!!!! Fantastic chapter I already love the atmosphere of this story so much!!!! See you tomorrow!!!

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  • In reply to: smint45

    I'm always so glad to hear from you whenever you can! Does Jack seem different? I'm curious why people think so! But I know more of him than you guys do (sort of) so maybe I'll see it.

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  • I'm already invested!!! I can't wait to know more about their relationship,,, and for Jack to really interact with Rowan after all this time!! Gosh the tension is so good. I know this is going to be a wild ride and I can't wait to find out more!!! Thank you ♡♡♡

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  • In reply to: amai

    Thanks so much! I'm working on the next chapter. I cannot stop writing this. I hope you guys keep enjoying it.

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  • I love rowan already. The possible self denial with a hint of weird that makes you question if he has abilities or not, just love it. Olivia seems like an epic personality, not so different from, oh, I don't know, the unamed one, but not like you know powerful, just has the punch to the gut and immediately key in to her kind of persona. She has the kind of energy that makes you hope she is always on your side.
    On the flip side, I know it's early days yet and there is epic amounts of backstory/history/emotional drama going on, and I get that, but for some reason I am not so keen on our good agent here. He seems insipid to me, emotionally destructive to himself, possibly both self defeating and with a hero complex. I don't know why but as I read this chapter from his perspective I got less and less interested and began skimming. This by no means a critique of your work as I usually love your characters, and I do not mean that your writing was prosaic, not at all in fact, it is just that this character hit me wrong for no real reason I can find. I don't get it really. If you got any suggestions as to how this happened please let me know.
    I already love the premise of the story, I also like how this is skirting around the potential/possible special abilities rather than laying it out. I also really like the slightly cynical bent of rowan. All in all I can't wait for the next chapter and finding out what happens next.

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