Taken by Midnight (Chapter Twenty-nine)
She wished the same for his Gen One grandfather, too, although Lazaro Archer hardly seemed the kind to need anyone's sympathy. Once the funeral ceremony for his son, Christophe, had taken place at the compound, Lazaro had refused to so much as speak of that violent night. In the time since, he'd devoted himself to working closely with the Order. The Gen One civilian now appeared as determined as any of the warriors to see Dragos and his entire operation destroyed.
Jenna knew that feeling. It was maddening to think that evil like Dragos was loose in the world. He was stepping up his operation, which meant the Order could not afford to let any opportunity to gain an upper hand slip away. After what he'd been willing to do to Lazaro Archer and his family, Jenna couldn't help worrying even more about the group of Breedmates known to be kept under his control.
At least on that front, there was a glimmer of hope. Dylan had gotten a call that morning from the administrator at Sister Margaret Howland's retirement home in Gloucester. The elderly nun had been told about Dylan's request for a visit, and she was excited for a little company and conversation.
Jenna had been first to volunteer when Dylan announced the afternoon excursion. Renata and Alex had also offered to ride along, everyone eager to see if Claire Reichen's sketches of the captive Breedmates would bear fruit.
Now, as the four women drove into Gloucester in a black Rover from the Order's fleet, all they had to hope for was a few moments of mental clarity from the aging sister.
Even Lucan had agreed that if they could get just so much as one female's name, it would make the entire mission worthwhile.
Brock hadn't been thrilled about the prospect of Jenna leaving the compound, particularly so soon after the violence perpetrated on Lazaro Archer and his kin. He worried, as always, and where it used to rankle, now his concern warmed her.
He cared about her, and she had to admit, it felt very good to know that she had someone guarding her back. More than that, she believed Brock was a man who would guard her heart every bit as carefully as he did her safety and well-being.
She hoped he would, because over the past few days–and incredible nights–she had laid her heart openly in his hands.
"Here we are," Dylan said from the front passenger seat of the Rover as Renata turned into the retirement home driveway. "The administrator told me that Sister Margaret takes her afternoon tea around this time in the library. She said we could just go on in."
"There it is." Alex pointed toward a bronze sign sticking out of a snowbank in front of a modest little clapboard cottage.
Renata parked in the half-empty lot and killed the engine. "Here goes nothing, eh? Jenna, will you grab that leather tote bag from the back?"
She pivoted to pull the collection of file folders and notepads out of the cargo area, then climbed out of the vehicle with her friends.
As Jenna came around the front of the Rover, Dylan took the tote bag from her and held it against her chest. Pursing her lips, she blew out a heavy sigh.
Alex paused next to her. "What's wrong?"
"All my research the past few months is coming down to this moment.
If this turns out to be a dead end, you guys, then I don't have a clue where to begin to looking next."
"Relax," Renata said, taking Dylan's shoulders in a sisterly hold.
"You've been busting your ass on this investigation. We wouldn't even be this far without you. You and Claire both."
Dylan nodded, although not quite buoyed by the pep talk. "We just really need a decent lead. I don't think I could handle it if we end up back at square one."
"If we have to start all over," Jenna said, "then we just work harder.
Renata smiled, her pale green eyes twinkling as she buttoned up her leather duster to conceal the blades and gun belt that studded her fatigues-clad hips. "Come on. Let's go have tea with the nice old ladies."
Jenna thought it wise to zip up her own coat, too, since Brock insisted she carry a weapon whenever she left the compound. It felt strange to wear a firearm again, but it was a different kind of strange from the way she'd felt back in Alaska.
Everything about her felt different now.
She was different, and she liked the person she was becoming.
More important, she was learning to forgive the person she'd been in Alaska.
She'd left a part of herself back in Harmony, a part she could never get back, but as she stepped into the warm cottage library with Renata and Dylan and Alex, she couldn't imagine returning to the woman she'd been before. She had friends here now, and important work that needed to be done.
Best of all, she had Brock.
It was that thought that made her smile a little brighter as Dylan brought them over to a frail elderly woman who sat quietly on a rose-patterned sofa near the library's fireplace. Cloudy blue eyes blinked a couple of times from beneath a fluffy crown of white curly hair. Jenna could still see the kind expression of the nun in the shelter photograph in the lined face that peered up at the Order's women.
"Sister Margaret?" Dylan said, holding out her hand. "I'm Sharon Alexander's daughter, Dylan. And these are my friends."
"Oh, my goodness," exclaimed the sweet old nun. "They told me I was having company for tea today. Please, sit down, girls. I so rarely have guests."
Dylan took a seat on the sofa next to the sister. Jenna and Alex sat on either side of the coffee table, in a pair of worn wingback chairs. Renata positioned herself with her back to a wall, her eyes on the door–a trained warrior, ever on guard.
Never mind that the only people in the room besides the four of them and Sister Margaret were a couple of cotton-topped ladies hobbling behind metal walkers and wearing emergency call necklaces along with their rosary beads.
Jenna listened idly as Dylan attempted a bit of small talk with Sister Margaret, then delved into the purpose of their visit. She pulled out a handful of sketches, trying desperately to jump-start the aging nun's failing memory. It didn't appear to be going very well.
"Are you sure you don't remember any of these girls being clients of the shelter?" Dylan slid a couple more sketches in front of the old woman.
The sister peered at the hand-rendered faces, but there was no glint of recognition in the kind blue eyes. "Please try, Sister Margaret. Anything you recall could be very helpful to us."
"I am sorry, my dear. I'm afraid my memory isn't what it used to be."
She picked up her teacup and took a sip. "But then, I never was any good with names and faces. God saw fit to give me enough other blessings, I suppose." Jenna watched Dylan deflate as she reluctantly began to gather up her materials. "That's all right, Sister Margaret. I appreciate that you were willing to see us."
"Oh, my word," the sister blurted, putting her cup back down on the saucer. "What a terrible hostess I am! I forgot to make you girls some tea."
Dylan reached for her tote bag. "It's not necessary. We shouldn't take up any more of your time."
"Nonsense. You came for tea."
As she got up from the sofa and shuffled into the cottage's little kitchenette, Dylan sent an apologetic look at Jenna and the others. As the sister rummaged around in the other room, putting on the water and rattling cups, Dylan swept up all of the sketches and photographs. She stuffed everything back in the tote bag and placed it next to her on the floor.
After a few minutes, Sister Margaret's reedy voice filtered out to them. "Was Sister Grace able to help you at all, dear?"
Dylan glanced up, frowning. "Sister Grace?"
"Yes. Sister Grace Gilhooley. She and I volunteered at the shelter together. We both were part of the same convent here in Boston."
"Holy shit," Dylan mouthed silently, excitement glittering in her eyes.
She got up off the sofa and walked into the kitchenette. "I would love to talk to Sister Grace. You don't happen to know how we can find her, do you?"
Sister Margaret nodded proudly. "Why, of course, I do. She lives not even five minutes from here, along the coast. Her father was a sea captain.
Or a fisherman. Well, I don't quite recall, to tell you the truth."
"That's okay," Dylan said. "Can you give us her phone number or address, so we can contact her?"
"I'll do better than that, dear. I'll call her myself and let her know you'd like to ask her about some of those shelter girls." Behind Sister Margaret, the teakettle began to whistle. She smiled, as pleasant as a sweet little granny. "First, we're going to have that cup of tea together."
They'd gulped their tea as quickly as they could without seeming completely rude.
Even so, it had taken more than twenty minutes to get away from sweet Sister Margaret Mary Howland. Fortunately, her offer to phone Sister Grace had proven useful.
The other retired nun was apparently in better health than her friend, living without assistance, and, from the one-sided conversation Jenna and the others had been privy to, it sounded like Sister Grace Gilhooley was willing and able to provide whatever information they needed about her work in the New York shelter.
"Nice place," Jenna remarked as Renata wheeled the Rover along a stretch of shoreline road that led to a cheery yellow Victorian secluded on a jutting peninsula of rocky land.
The big house sat on about two acres of land, a postage stamp compared to home sites in Alaska, but clearly a luxury setting here on the coast of Cape Cod. With snow filling the yard and clinging to the rocks, the steel blue ocean sprawling out to the horizon, the bright canary Victorian looked as wholesome and inviting as a spot of warm sunshine in the midst of so much cold and winter.
"I hope we have better luck here," Alex said from beside Jenna in the backseat, peering out at the impressive estate as they followed the white picket fence in front, then turned into the narrow driveway.
As Renata parked the Rover near the house, Dylan pivoted around from next to her up front. "If she can't help identify some of the missing women from the New York shelter, maybe she'll be able to tell us the names of the Breedmates in the two new sketches Claire Reichen has given us."
Jenna got out of the back with Alex, both of them coming around to the front of the Rover, where Renata and Dylan now stood. "I didn't realize we had new sketches."
"Elise picked them up from her Darkhaven friend yesterday."
Dylan handed Jenna a manila file folder as they walked toward the gingerbread-style veranda and front porch of the house. Jenna opened the folder as she followed her companions up the creaky wooden steps to the front door. She glanced inside at the artist's renderings, which were based on Claire's recollections of faces she saw some months ago, when her talent for dreamwalking had given her unexpected access to one of Dragos's hidden labs.
Dylan rang the doorbell. "Cross your fingers. Hell, say a prayer while you're at it."
A housekeeper appeared a moment later and politely informed them that they were expected. Meanwhile, Jenna studied the two sketches a bit closer … and her heart dropped like a stone into her stomach.
An image of a young woman with sleek dark hair and almond-shaped eyes stared back at her. The delicate face was familiar, even in the pencil drawing that didn't quite capture the full impact of her exotic beauty.
Could it really be her? If so, how? He had been so certain she was dead. He'd told Jenna he'd seen the Breedmate's body after she had been recovered from the river. Then again, he'd also mentioned that it had been months since she'd vanished before her remains had been found, and that all they had to identify her was her clothing and the necklace she'd been wearing when she disappeared.
Oh, God … could she actually be alive? Had she somehow ended up in Dragos's hands and been held captive by him for all this time?
Jenna was too astonished to speak, too numb to do anything more than follow her friends into the house after the housekeeper invited them inside.
One part of her was squeezed tight with the hope that a young woman presumed to be dead might, in fact, be alive.
Yet another part of her was gripped with a dark, shameful fear–the fear that this new knowledge might cost her the man she loved.
She had to tell Brock as soon as possible. It was the right thing to do–
he had to know the truth. He had to see the sketch for himself and determine if Jenna's suspicions might be correct.
"Please, make yourselves comfortable. I'll go tell Sister Grace that you're here," said the pleasant little woman as she left Jenna and the others alone in the front parlor.
"Alex," she murmured, giving a little tug of her coat sleeve. "I need to call the compound."
Alex frowned. "What's wrong?"
"This sketch," she said, glancing at it once more and feeling utterly certain now that Claire Reichen had seen Corinne during her dreamwalk into Dragos's lair. "I recognize this woman's face. I've seen it before."
"What?" Alex replied, taking the folder to look at it herself. "Jen, are you sure?"
Renata and Dylan moved closer, as well, all three of Jenna's companions huddling around her in the quiet front room of the house. She pointed to the delicate face of the dark-haired young woman in the sketch. "I think I know who this Breedmate is."
"By all means, dear," said a cool, female voice. "Do tell."
Jenna's gaze snapped up and clashed across the room with a pair of calm gray eyes that stared back at her from a lined, outwardly kind-looking face. With her long silver hair caught in a loose chignon, Sister Grace Gilhooley's pale blue floral housedress and white cardigan made her seem like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
But it was those eyes that gave her away.
Those dullish eyes, and the prickling of Jenna's new senses, which lit up like a Christmas tree as soon as the woman entered the room.
Jenna held the sharklike stare, realizing in an instant just what the good sister was.
"Holy shit," she said, recalling the same peculiar look in the eyes of the FBI men who'd tried to kill her and Brock in New York just days before.
Jenna glanced over at Renata. "She's a fucking Minion."