CHAPTER THREE: NATURE/NURTURE
“What are you going to do?” Olivia asked as Rowan handed the cell phone back to her.
“You heard me. I am going to the crime scene,” Rowan said, his voice cold and clipped. He was completely and utterly over Jack. Hearing his voice--his false caring--had no effect on him whatsoever. “I need to determine if this is a copycat.”
She nodded, but asked for clarification patiently, “I meant about the dagger. You told Jack that you don’t remember where it is. If he bought that for one moment, I would be surprised. But the lie won’t hold forever.”
She held up the rolled piece of cloth with the dagger hidden inside. She had not put it yet in the trunk. He took it from her, almost reluctantly. When he was on a mission the dagger felt like another part of him. He’d always imagined it imbued with power and, if his actions were unjust, it would turn on him. It was ridiculous, of course. A fancy. Just like his belief he was invisible. Tessa seeing him earlier showed just how imaginary that belief was.
He had done the right thing by saving Tessa. But now the FBI wanted the murder weapon. A weapon that was linked not just to Bella’s murder, his attempted murder, the murders tonigh, but others. Many others. Giving the dagger to Jack might put him in prison or the same mental institution as his mother. How could this be happening?
“You don’t think I can lie to Jack?” He lifted an eyebrow to show her how ridiculous that was.
“No.” She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. “I don’t.”
He was stunned for a moment. “I lie all the time. Why--”
“Not to Jack.”
“I haven’t seen him in 10 years. I haven’t even thought of him in--”
Her lifted eyebrow had him stopping. He’d thought of Jack just that night.
“I’m going to get rid of it. I should have gotten rid of it a long ago,” he said even as his stomach did a slow flip at the thought of it.
He shrugged. “I’ll throw it in the river.”
“Are you certain that’s what you wish to do?” she asked, that eyebrow still lifted.
He frowned at her. “What else can I do? Certainly not give it to the FBI! It could link me to--to the missions. I cannot risk that or I will be in the same institution as my mother. We can catch up over injections of Thorazine.”
Olivia actually smiled at that.
“That’s not meant to be funny,” he said dryly.
“Oh, I know, but it was the way you said it.” She pressed her hands over his with the dagger between them. “Rowan, you need to have some faith.”
He blinked at her. “Faith?! Faith that forensics won’t test--”
“They want to compare the daggers. No one said anything about forensically testing them for anything. Besides, that dagger has been used by the Labrys for more than just your sister’s murder and your missions,” she said.
“But if they test and find DNA from several unsolved homicides--no, Olivia,” he cut her off as she attempted to object. “It would be insane to give Jack the dagger. You know this. But you are letting your--your belief get in the way of logic! It hurts to think you’d believe I’d be magically protected by the Devil from the FBI!” He pulled away from her. “I would deserve to be bedding down beside my mother if I turned it over!”
He turned away from her and started to bank the fire. Everything was ash or mostly unrecognizable. Normally, they would have buried the evidence. That would have to wait for another night. Hopefully, no cop would come so far from the house to see it before then. Then he was moving to the unremarkable SUV.
“There will come a time, Rowan, when you’ll have to do something based on faith,” Olivia said softly.
“Today is not that day.” He covered the last embers. “You need to drop me by the other car before you dispose of this one.”
They did not take any vehicle registered to him anywhere near the mission sites nor did they take these vehicles anywhere near his homes or, in this case, near Jack. But there was a nearby, nondescript garage in someone else’s name where one of his vehicles was kept.
“Of course,” she said and got into the driver’s seat.
He slid into the passenger side and held the wrapped dagger over his thighs. The garage was on the way to the crime scene so his twenty-minute estimate might not be that far off. Jack had both hated it and loved it when he’d driven. The FBI agent would strap himself quickly into the vehicle when Rowan took the wheel and hold on for dear life.
“You have the luck of the Devil, Rowan. We should have been killed at least twice back there,” Jack would say and laugh before they would kiss and Jack would hold onto him instead of the car door or seatbelt.
“Will you be all right going alone?” Olivia asked, drawing him from his thoughts.
A smile had actually been creeping across his face at the memory. He squashed it and said, “I must. You need to dispose of this vehicle.”
“It won’t take me long, Rowan. If you could wait--”
“I can’t.” He pressed his lips together again as more words that he didn’t have control over might tumble out.
He took in a deep breath and tried to sort himself out. He was over Jack. More than over. But he was still angry that Jack had left him. Not that he wanted the other man back. No, not even if Jack begged would he open his heart again. That way lay madness. But he wanted Jack to feel the sense of despair he had when the FBI agent had abandoned him.
He kept saying it was for my own good. That he’d made a mistake getting near me after the attack. That he’d taken advantage! As if I was too weak and addled to know what I wanted! Rowan fumed. Didn’t he understand that after what my parents did that getting close to anyone was a purely deliberate decision? The fool!
“Do you think that it could be your father involved in this murder?” Olivia asked after a long silence had fallen. “The closest Labrys activity we’ve seen is in France last year. Nothing in the States and certainly nothing nearby like this.”
“Before Bella and I, the Labrys murdered plenty of people and left no trace of their activities,” Rowan reminded her. Truly, if his mother hadn’t had a change of heart and called Jack, he and Bella would have been more of the disappeared. His father would have arranged for them to “die” in a car crash or a plane going down or whatever. No one would have known their true fate. “Plenty of people owe my father favors, or simply worship him, so anything he does would be hidden just as well as before.”
“It would be disturbing if he got so close as Ryland,” she said as she turned right into an alleyway.
“It likely isn’t him,” Rowan admitted. “He wouldn’t take down some other Dark One before me. That risks drawing my attention. It’s not the FBI that he’s running from any longer. It’s me. If he were here, he would have kept quiet until he was ready to strike.”
“If you are going to take down the king, you only have one chance,” she agreed.
“My father would see me as a prince, if that,” Rowan murmured. “He’s the king.”
“Your father thought the world of you,” Olivia said.
Rowan frowned as she pulled the car over by a closed garage. “You hate my parents as much as I do so how could you--”
“Say that? Because it was true. Maybe part of him still… holds on even now, which is why he’s stayed away.” She put the car in park and twisted around to face him.
“He stays away because he knows I’ll kill him.” Rowan’s voice went low. “Slowly. Like he did Bella. And no one would ever find his body either.”
“I know,” she said. “But you weren’t always so prepared for him as you are now. You’re so much stronger now, Rowan.”
Since the attack he had honed his body into a weapon. Martial arts training. Training with weapons from knife to gun to simple sticks. He’d hired men twice his size to teach him and try to take him down. Once he was able to defeat them routinely it was onto the next teacher. His father would stand no chance against him even without the supposed supernatural powers his father thought he possessed.
“Your parents believed in their faith more than anything,” Olivia continued, her expression distant. “And they loved you more than anything.”
“You don’t include Bella in that.” Rowan frowned.
He thought this discussion of his parents’ love was strange. It seemed what someone would say to him to try and ease the hurt of his own parents wanting to kill him. But Olivia wasn’t like that. So she must have meant what she said.
“No, because parents--though the good ones will never admit it--can love one child more than another,” she said with a smile. “But I had a long time to observe them with the two of you and there was just no comparison.”
“Bella was brilliant, funny, beautiful and--”
“She was also other things, Rowan. Other things not as easy to love,” Olivia pointed out, but almost fondly.
“You always doted on her,” he pointed out, his hands tightening on the dagger.
“Because…” Olivia smiled tenderly now, “I’m other things not easy to love, too.”
“You act as if I was some ray of sunshine in comparison,” Rowan remarked dryly.
“You’ve retreated into yourself. The warmth you would give others before, you deny is in you now, but it’s still there. Just under a very thick shell of ice, but Jack--”
“Jack will only bring another Ice Age upon me,” Rowan growled. “He betrayed me. Treated me like a child. When the truth was that it was his own desires that scared him. But they didn’t scare me.”
He remembered Jack then, cupping his face while on his knees between Rowan’s thighs, and saying, “I could give everything else up if I could just have you happy like this all the time.”
“Your career at the FBI?” Rowan had asked, laughing as he thought this romantic nonsense.
But Jack had been all seriousness. “Yes. To devote myself to you. Fully you. No one else.”
Rowan’s smile slowly faded. “What about Hemi? Your parents? Your sister?”
“I love them, but I’d give them up if that's what I needed to do.” Jack’s thumbs traced the line of his jaw.
Rowan blinked. “Jack… you don’t have to do that. Give up everything for me.”
But part of him--for a very long moment--had wanted Jack to do just that.
Olivia smiled and sighed. “You always had to put your hand into the flames to know it was truly hot despite what everyone told you.”
Feeling the remembered heat of Jack’s body between his thighs, he asked more sharply than he meant to, “Meaning?”
“That you have to learn something for yourself. Theory doesn’t work,” she explained. “So do not get rid of the dagger before you go to the crime scene and see Jack again--”
“Nothing will change,” Rowan interrupted her. “Seeing him again won’t change--”
“He might understand what you’re doing. The missions,” she said.
Rowan shook his head and let out a pained laugh. “Jack is a lawman through and through. He believes that only law enforcement and the courts have the right to determine what justice is, no matter how badly both those institutions fail.”
“He seemed willing to think differently around you,” she said softly.
“Until he didn’t.” Rowan opened the SUV’s door. Cold air rushed inside and seemed to embrace him, replacing Jack’s remembered warmth with an icy chill. “I can’t trust Jack with this. I can just imagine his face if he were to know what I’ve been doing. There would be that look of dismay and sadness, because he would believe me crazy. And then he would lock me up himself.”
He did not hear what else she had to say. He stepped out of the SUV and shut the door behind him. He strode over to the locked garage and flipped open the sensor pad. His thumbprint had the garage door cranking open to reveal a McClaren Speedtail in icy gray.
It was a gorgeous hypercar with a swooping, low profile that made it look like something from the far future that should fly instead of just drive. He went over to the driver’s door, which lifted upwards revealing a sleek, elegant interior. Other than the steering wheel, the whole dash from driver to passenger side was an electronic screen. Everything was controlled by the car’s powerful onboard computer. Wealth had many perks, fulfilled many necessities, but fast cars like this one were pure indulgences.
Rowan gracefully settled himself down into the vehicle, and the door thunked shut behind him. He set the wrapped dagger on the seat next to him. The buttery soft leather seat wrapped around him, the heating element turning on automatically as the car registered that the temperature was not within his chosen parameters. He put his foot on the brake and pressed the ignition button. The Speedtail rumbled to elegant life. He placed his hands on the wrapped leather wheel and smiled. Jack had not been wrong that he loved to speed. And this car was made to go fast.
He shifted into drive, put his foot on the gas and pulled out. He saw Olivia still waiting for him to leave. He waved to her and pushed down further on the gas. The car came to life. The Speedtail could hit 250 mph in less than a minute, but there was nowhere nearby to open it up that much. But Rowan easily had the car going 60 mph down the alleyway and then swinging out onto the side streets. He shifted expertly and roared out onto a bridge that crossed the Marmot River. He pulled the car over and sat there for long moments.
He stared straight ahead and just breathed. He didn’t look at the dagger. But he could feel it. He could feel every inch of it. Every molecule. It tied him to his sister and to his parents. He used it to exorcise them from himself everytime he wielded it against the believers who harmed others. Now he had to give it up. It was the only logical thing to do. He shouldn’t have wielded it at all. Some observant member of law enforcement could link the deaths of cult members together through it and then to himself. Murderers had been caught for less. So maybe this was a blessing in disguise. He was being forced to give it up. That was for the best.
Olivia’s belief that somehow the FBI wouldn’t test it for DNA was ridiculous. But she was right that Jack hadn’t believed his lie that he didn’t know where it was either. If he confessed to Jack that he’d thrown it into the water--though he’d claim that happened long ago--Jack would believe that. He’d likely be glad for Rowan, naively thinking that Rowan was leaving the past behind, moving forward, or whatever pablum people told themselves about acts that scarred them forever. So all in all not only was it logical for him to throw the dagger away, it was necessary.
Yet he sat there. The engine revving. Nothing good could come from him keeping it. He was asking to get caught! Olivia’s idea that Jack would accept his missions, understand his need to cleanse the Earth of those that would use belief as a bludgeon on others, was absurd.
If only he could be like he is in my imagination, urging gentleness and justice instead of revenge. But that Jack would never have left me. Yet he did.
The clock was ticking. He had to act. Rowan picked up the dagger and then opened the glove compartment. He carefully put it inside and locked the compartment. He could keep the dagger and tell Jack he had thrown it away. That’s what he would do. That was the answer to have both things the way he wanted. He could lie to Jack. It would be easy.
Rowan stomped on the gas. The back end of the Speedtail shot to the side, but then the powerful tires caught hold of the asphalt and he was speeding off onto the two-lane highway that would lead to the crime scene.
His mind emptied usually when he drove. Like when he fought, when he drove, he was one with the machine. He switched lanes as if they were rivers. He was pushed upstream, navigating between cars as if they were rocks in the rapids. But though his focus was on the car and the road, he swore he smelled his father’s cologne. It was the familiar woodsy scent that filled his father’s office in Aldweather.
For a moment, he could see it perfectly though he hadn’t set foot there in 10 years. The walls covered in books. The mahogany desk. The Tiffany lamp shade decorated with red birds and vines. The leather and silk blotter where his father still wrote letters in a beautiful cursive hand. He’d even had a wax seal of a labyrinth, of course, to close his letters.
There was no backseat in the Speedtail. The trunk was miniscule. So his father could not be there with him. The scent was brought on by memory. A memory of that last day when they had been a family and Rowan believed he was loved.
“Rowan, I need--need to talk to you,” his mother had said.
Rowan had been curled upon the brocade couch in his father’s study, one of his father’s leather bound books on his lap, and his father’s cologne perfuming the air. The sun streamed through the section of stained glass behind his father’s desk and painted the book’s pages in reds and greens. He had a glass of port by his elbow. He looked up at her, a little absently because he’d been lost in the story, and hadn’t expected to see anyone for hours yet. Her affect though sharpened his mind and he set the book to the side.
“Mother, what’s wrong? And what are you wearing? Are you going to a Renaissance Faire?” Rowan laughed.
His mother wore a long white dress that hung down to her ankles. A black robe with a hood was around her shoulders. Her long blond hair was loose to her mid-back. Her eyes though were wild.
“What is going on?” Rowan asked.
“Shhhhhh, shhhhh, be quiet, they’ll hear you!” She reached out towards him with shaking hands.
He half rose from the couch. She scuttled across the room and put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him down. She sat on the couch beside him. Her eyes flickered over his face as if she were memorizing it.
“I need to know something,” she said, her voice low, rushed and whispery.
“Okay.” He gave her an uncertain smile. “Ask away.”
“If you believed something… no, not believed, that’s not accurate.” She licked her lips. “If you knew something about someone… knew that they would do great evil in the world, what would you do?”
He blinked at her. This question was asked so seriously, but her clothes and manner were so odd. “Are you talking about like a--a baby Hitler situation?”
Normally, if any conversation devolved into something about Hitler it was a bust. But his mother looked almost desperately serious.
“No.” She shook head, but then began to nod. “Maybe, yes. You have an opportunity to stop the Holocaust by--by killing a child.”
“Killing… okay, yeah, sure, I guess that’s one way to stop the Holocaust, though the least imaginative,” he said, getting into it, even as his eyebrows rose into his hairline.
“Least imaginative? Perhaps. But safest. Most certain,” she pointed out.
“But you have Hitler as a baby! He can be taught. Changed. You can guess the things that might trigger him to believe as he did so you can fix them,” he argued.
“What if you can’t?”
His eyebrows were higher now. “Why couldn’t you?”
“Maybe it’s his nature. Maybe it’s his fate,” she said. Her hands twisted around themselves. “And you can’t be sure that anything you do will be enough.”
“No, I suppose not, but you have a baby in your hands can you really just... kill him? Because I think that says more about you than him, doesn’t it?” Rowan asked.
She lifted a hand and cupped his cheek that drifted down to his neck. “Maybe it does. Maybe it shows that we’re not good enough to make sure that he’s good enough.”
He tilted his head to the side. She pressed her hand tighter against his throat. “Mother, what is this all about?”
And that was when the door to the office opened and his father appeared, dressed in a white pair of pants and shirt and the same hood and cloak. Rowan blinked. His father wore tailored suits and cashmere sweaters when he was dressed casually. He was always beautifully attired. Not like this. This was not normal.
“It’s time, Genevieve,” his father said softly, grief in his eyes and staining his handsome face.
“Time for what? Ah! Mother, what did you--you do?” Rowan gasped as a piercing pain radiated from his throat.
His mother’s hand had tightened again on his neck and he’d felt a stab of something against his skin. He pulled her hand back. He recognized the emerald ring she always wore, but there was a barb on the underside that he’d never seen before. The barb had a bright red bead of blood on its tip.
Rowan reached up and touched his neck where the pain had been. He wasn’t feeling pain now. More a sense of numbness. His vision started to spin. He drew it back and there was blood on his fingers.
“I don’t--I don’t feel right. Something--something is wrong,” Rowan got out of lips that suddenly didn’t want to obey him.
His mother’s hands fluttered over his shoulders. She was crying. Tears were falling down her cheeks. “Fate, Rowan. You can’t escape it. None of us can.”
“What--what are you talking about? What…”
He tried to stand up. Rowan’s head began to feel light as if it might float off of his shoulders. He stumbled back down, collapsing on the couch. He couldn’t even lift his head anymore. His vision was tunneling. His last sight was of his father and mother hovering over his supine body.
“You shouldn’t have spoken to him, Genevieve,” his father said in that rich, dark voice of his. “You know their abilities. The Dark Ones can make us believe anything. Even that we love them. Especially that.”
An angry blare of a horn brought Rowan out of the memory. He swerved instinctively. The Speedtail reacted to his overcorrection by veering towards another car. He had slowed down and drifted as he’d remembered, evidently.
He quickly gripped the wheel and got back on track. Cold sweat covered his upper lip. He shook himself and saw the exit to Ryland. He smoothly switched lanes and took the off ramp. He could already see the blue and red lights from various squad cars around a barn that was lit up by klieg lights as if it were a stage. Reporters were sure to be alerted soon by a curious neighbor, but it was still clear.
He turned into the long driveway. He felt Jack’s presence before he saw him. It was as if his gaze was drawn to the FBI agent. His heart beat harder and his stomach flipped.
Jack had a full beard now, thick and dark, making him look distinguished and powerful somehow. For a moment, Rowan remembered how he’d teased the other man about his beard compared to his clean, smooth skin.
“You shave every morning, but by noon, you already have a five o’clock shadow.” Rowan had been sitting on top of the sink’s vanity as Jack lathered up.
Jack had teasingly put a dollop of lather on Rowan’s nose. Rowan snorted and wiped it off, flicking the white, creamy stuff back at his bare chest where it stuck by one of Jack’s nipples.
“You like my beard,” Jack murmured.
“I love your beard. Makes you look like a daddy,” Rowan teased and both of them froze. “Not that I’m looking for that. I think my one father is enough.”
Jack caressed his cheek. “It’s okay to want a father, Rowan.”
Rowan wound his legs around Jack’s waist. “Ah, well, I never did this with Richard Winter and the next time I’m this close to him…” Rowan’s voice grew dark, “he won’t enjoy it.”
Jack looked back at him steadily, face covered in foam, but still appearing serious instead of silly. “He’s gone, Rowan. The DNA--”
“Could have been forged. You think he doesn’t have people in your precious FBI?” Rowan asked sharply.
“You believe that people are like you, but they aren’t, Jack.” Rowan grimaced. “They can be bought. They can be convinced that blue is red and red is blue. Sometimes they just want to be near power. You can’t assume the other people in the FBI are as upstanding as you.”
“Upstanding?” Jack let out a sigh. His eyes focused on Rowan. “If I were so upstanding, taking you to bed--”
“I took you to bed,” Rowan corrected.
“I went willingly. Eagerly. I don’t regret it in any way, but a truly upstanding person would have not done this,” Jack told him.
“I don’t want you to be upstanding then. I want you to be mine,” Rowan said.
“I am yours,” Jack said.
There was a knock on the driver side window. His head snapped towards the sound. Jack was leaning down and looking in at him. Hemi hung back a bit but his big frame filled up the rest of Rowan’s view. Rowan felt a sense of unreality that Jack was just inches away. A single piece of glass separated them. He swallowed and rolled down the window.
“You got here in 22 minutes. I should be glad. That means you paused at some stop signs,” Jack said with an easy smile that made him look even more handsome.
The scent of him--a cologne that reminded Rowan of a warmer version of his father’s--filled Rowan’s nostrils. Sense-memory threatened to overtake him. The first time he’d smelled that scent over the smell of blood and fire as Jack had picked him up from the cold stone floor as the fire raged around them to one of their many, many lovemaking sessions where he’d licked that taste from Jack’s skin, wanting to devour it, devour him.
“Don’t be too glad. I underestimated the time it would take me to get here,” Rowan said.
“Well, you had to take time to find the dagger,” Jack said and nodded towards the passenger seat of the car.
“What?” Rowan felt his heart race.
“The dagger. I’m glad you brought it. We can compare them,” Jack said.
Rowan’s head snapped towards the passenger seat. It should have been empty. He’d locked the dagger away. But now, not only was it sitting on the seat, but it had been taken out of the wrapping and was sitting on top of it for all to see.