Trial by Fire (4/22/1997)

by Patti (email address unknown)

Alex learns the true meaning of "forged in fire"


Dublin, Ireland, 6 months earlier

....Derek, Alex and Nick stood just inside the door, watching their friend and wondering what would happen next. They couldn't take their eyes off the demon. Iuvart...demon of all the lesser evils. It was hideous. Huge and black, with smoldering yellow eyes. Alex thought about the dream Philip had had the night before and realized that he must have reserves that they didn't even know existed. He'd faced this thing down in his dreams. She shivered involuntarily at the thought. The two men next to her weren't even aware yet of that little tid bit. Her respect for Philip had grown enormously in the past few days, and this was the icing on the cake.

The demon moved to stand in front of the man and girl, and the young priest put Briony behind him for protection. He was still clutching the crucifix in his right hand. Alex could see he held it so tightly that his knuckles were white. Suddenly he screamed in pain and dropped it. The icon glowed white hot.

The demon laughed and said "You didn't really think that THING would protect you, did you boy?"

Philip looked the demon squarely in the eye and said with all the righteousness he could muster, "You have no power over me. Do what you must t'me, but I'll not bend t'your will."

The demon bent his face to Philip's and he almost passed out from the stench of the thing's breath. He gripped Briony's hand so tightly that she cried out, but her cry went unheard by him. "You think that there's nothing I can do to convince you to relinquish your soul? What about her? How long will you see her suffer before you break, eh boy?"....

The ensuing scene was horrific, and Alex held her breath until she noticed the pain in her chest. Nick and Derek just stood on either side of her, watching the gruesome scene in utter silence. Philip tried to remain strong, but in the face of the devastation being wrought on the girl he loved so dearly, he was weakening...she saw it in his eyes.

Alex felt more pain on his behalf, than she could ever remember feeling in her life. The tears she saw on his face rent her heart in two. The girl on the floor had been the most important thing in his young life, and Alex knew she couldn't even begin to grasp the depth of their feelings for one another.

She also realized that she would never have been able to withstand the demon as long as her priestly friend had been able to. When Philip shouted that he gave up, she actually cried out in pain, but her cry went unheard by all as the demon went wild with ecstasy.

As Philip knelt back down beside Briony to help her into a sitting position, the young woman inside the doorway felt a niggling worry at the edge of her subconsciousness. He put his arms around the girl on the floor, and Alex sensed, more than heard the whispered conversation taking place in front of her.

"What is he going to do?" she thought, and her heart felt like it had leapt into her mouth when she saw him palm the knife Seamus had left lying on the floor.

"Oh my God," she thought more than worried now. She touched Derek's sleeve, and when he looked at her she mouthed the word "Knife."

Derek looked puzzled for a moment, then looked at the two young people on the floor. The knife that was there a moment ago, was no longer to be seen. He turned back to Alex, a question in his eyes. She nodded her head grimly.

The next few moments were ones that Alex would never forget. Philip looked down at Briony in his arms and spoke to her softly. Then he looked to the sky and said a silent prayer. Suddenly, the priest shouted the demon's name. Iuvart looked down at the pair on the floor mockingly and asked what he wanted. Derek grasped Alex's hand as Philip shouted, "Don' call me BOY!", crossed himself and plunged the knife deep into Briony's chest, piercing her heart.

The three in the doorway were completely stunned. Nick shouted something unintelligible, Derek was squeezing Alex's hand tightly, and she nearly fainted in relief that her friend hadn't used the knife on himself as she had suspected he would. The demon wailed like there was no tomorrow, and in the ensuing chaos, Alex stood crying softly, astonished at Philip's calmness. He just sat on the floor holding the girl as she died. It wasn't until he knew that she was indeed gone, that he stood and faced the thing which had caused such torment in his life.

....The demon ceased his screaming. There was total silence in the room when Philip said, "She's dead. And when I chose, not you! I will NEVER betray her memory by giving in t'you. So kill me now, if you will, but know this. I'll never join you. Not in a million years." There was steel in his voice even though he spoke through his tears.

The demon growled at him, but Philip was unmoved. He realized that he no longer feared the thing. The worst it could do would be to kill him and send him to Briony. He almost wished it would do just that. However, Philip sensed that he was in no danger of losing his life to this beast. The demon just stood there, looking at Philip with loathing. "Now who's the coward?" he thought. After a moment, he bent over and picked up the amulet.

"Here." he said to Iuvart, "Take this sacrilege and return t'Hell, where you belong." He threw the amulet at the demon, who caught it in one huge hand.

The demon, embodiment of evil said, "You haven't seen the last of me, boy! I'll get even with you for this." then he vanished, as quickly as he had appeared....

I. Sparks

The Luna Foundation (a.k.a. The San Francisco Legacy House), August 14, 1997

Alex was sitting in the morning room picking at a buttery croissant and drinking coffee. She absently stared out the windows overlooking the city. Normally, she could sit for hours and just gaze at the city scape from these windows. Today however, she saw nothing of the magnificence before her...she was preoccupied. She'd been having the nightmares again and didn't feel rested.

That scene from the Dublin House had been haunting her for ever; it seemed. Alex couldn't believe that Philip was as calm about the incident as he had appeared to be the last time they spoke of it.

"How could he be?" she unwittingly spoke her thoughts aloud.

"How could who, be what?" Alex was startled by a deep masculine voice, which still held traces of his European education.

"Oh, Derek." she said, "I was just thinking aloud, that's all."

The handsome Dutchman smiled at her and replied, "Well, that much is obvious. What is it that troubles you, Alex?"

She cringed. The young woman knew that Derek was still sore over Philip's decision to leave again, and especially her support of that decision. She really didn't want to get into another "discussion" with him over their friend's understandable desire to return to his clerical life.

Understandable from her point of view, at least. She wished she had somewhere she could run away to and hide from the images which took possession of her dreams at night. However, her precept had never seemed to be affected by what had happened in Dublin. "I guess I'll never understand him." she thought.

Aloud she said, "Oh, it's really nothing, Derek. I just didn't sleep well last night...bad dreams I'm afraid."

The man at the head of the table put two and two together. "More nightmares of Dublin..." he thought, concerned for her well being.

After a few minutes of silence between them, Derek said, "You know Alex, you need to get out of this house more." and she laughed. "No, I'm very serious. You spend too much time locked away in the laboratory. You need some fresh air. Why don't you take the day off and just go shopping?" he finished with a smile at her raised eyebrow.

It didn't even take his psychic insights to know what she was thinking... "WHO needs to get out more???" he could just hear her say, but she kept the thought to herself.

Instead she said, "Shopping? Hmmmm." She was thinking about his approaching birthday. She still hadn't decided what to get him. Suddenly Alex came to a decision. "Alright Derek, I think I will take the day off. Thanks."

Alex stood idly at the checkout counter in the men's department of Neiman Marcus wondering where everyone was. Normally the clerks pounced on you as soon as you entered a department. Today, she had seen no one since entering the store. "I wonder what's going on?" she thought.

In her hands she clasped a beautiful man's silk suit. It was pewter in color with almost invisible iridescent rose, blue and green threads running through it. She was so proud of herself. She had actually managed to find something that Derek might just like for a change. Normally her tastes were considerably more radical than his, and her presents were usually greeted with uncomfortable thanks. Not this time, though. She was sure that he'd be pleasantly surprised when he opened his birthday present this year. And he needed a new suit. His business suits were getting pretty outdated.

"I wonder what he'll make of my decision to take a vacation and go home to New Orleans" she thought with a grin. He had said "Take a day" not two weeks, but she just couldn't resist when she saw how low the airfares were.

"If he says anything, I'll just remind him that I haven't had a REAL vacation in over two years, and he owes me one!" she thought aloud and chuckled to herself as another thought occurred to her. "Yeah, right! I'd really say that to Derek. Not! Well maybe if he makes me mad enough."

Alex sighed. It would be good to see Gra'ma Rose and Sis again. They were the two people she'd missed more than anyone else, when she'd made the move to California.

As she stood there lost in her thoughts, suddenly she thought she glimpsed a very tall man with a wicked looking gun at the coat rack nearby. She looked more closely and he stared back at her. He seemed startled that she noticed him. Then he looked right at her, grinned evilly and pointedly aimed the gun at her.

She was shocked and turned to find someone to tell about it. Seeing no one, she turned back to look at the man again, and he was gone. The department was not so overstocked that she could have lost sight of a man of that height, and there was no where he could have gone in the seconds she was turned away. "What the Hell?" she thought. "I must be losing my mind."

Lost in her own thoughts, she was startled by the salesman who came up behind her and asked her if she needed any help. "Finally!" she thought, when she'd gotten her pulse back under control. Then she turned to hand the suit to him and all thoughts of the disappearing man with the gun were forgotten. She felt her jaw drop and made an effort not to stare, but he was the most attractive man she had seen in a long time.

He was young, probably younger than she and was quite tall, taller than Derek. His eyes were the most unusual color she could ever remember seeing, a honey gold with multicolored flecks. Against his bronze colored skin, the contrasting color of his eyes was remarkable. He smiled at her, and she couldn't help but smile in return. He was absolutely gorgeous.

"With my luck, he's probably gay!" she thought, but said aloud "Yes, please. I would like to purchase this suit."

His smile grew when he looked at the suit. He told her that she had excellent taste. Alex nearly laughed out loud, but realized that he wouldn't understand and didn't want to offend him. Instead, she murmured a quick, "Thanks." and handed him her American Express platinum card.

Then she remembered the man with the gun. "Hey, have you seen a rather tall man, very pale with dark hair here in the last few minutes?" she asked.

The salesman shook his head and said, "No Miss. You are the only customer I've seen this morning. Why, is there anything wrong?"

Alex sighed. "I guess my eyes were just playing tricks on me." she said, attempting a self-depreciating smile.

She could tell he wasn't quite convinced. However, he said nothing more and began the transaction. He rang up her purchase, and handed her the receipt to sign. He looked at her with keen interest, and seemed to find her as attractive as she found him. "Maybe not gay." she thought, encouraged at his response.

"For your husband?" he asked as he handed the receipt to her.

Such a blatant question! She was flattered and amused at the same time. "Oh no. Just a birthday present for a friend." she answered, smiling sweetly and looking up from signing the receipt.

She caught him off guard. He had been peering at her hands to see if she wore any sort of ring that might indicate that she had someone waiting somewhere. She grinned as he blushed and turned away with the receipt in hand.

"I'm Alexandra Moreau, but my friends call me Alex." she said to his back.

He finished the transaction and turned around to face her as he put the suit in a garment bag. "Hi Alex. I'm Brendan Gautier." he said.

She smiled at him and he seemed to come to a decision. "Would you like to have dinner some time?" he asked her quietly.

She was surprised. She hadn't expected him to actually ask her out. "" she started, but he interrupted her.

"I mean, I don't normally ask customers to dinner, or anything, it's just that, well...I...uh ...oh forget it." he seemed embarrassed, and was rambling.

"NO!" Alex said quickly, "I'd love to. It's just that I don't know if I can make it real soon. I'm supposed to be leaving for New Orleans the day after tomorrow."

Brendan seemed relieved that she wasn't going to turn him down outright. "Oh well. You can't blame a guy for trying." he said, with a rueful smile.

She grinned as she took the sack from him and said, "I'll tell you what. Why don't you give me your number? That way I can call you when I get back."

He seemed surprised that she would pursue the idea. "Okay." he said and he reached for her receipt. He wrote his name, address and phone number on it. "So you won't lose it." he said with a grin.

"Don't worry, I won't." she returned his grin and said, "Well, I guess I had better get going. I'll talk to you soon Brendan."

"Bye Alex, it was very nice to meet you." he said and held the door for her to leave.

Meeting Brendan had caused Alex to completely forget about the man with the gun. She felt happier than she had in quite some time. She put the top down on her Mazda Miata, so she could enjoy one of the few truly warm days of summer in San Francisco. She was humming along with the radio, feeling like a free spirit again.

Alex had gone through a really rough time after returning from Ireland and all that trouble with the demon and the amulet. She had felt for Philip and they had spent long evenings together just trying to get over the horrible experience. She thought about him now and wondered how he was faring back at his parish. Philip had been gone now for several months and his going had left a huge gap in the team. Alex still missed his presence.

Driving along the Embarcadero on her way back to the dock and the ferry which would take her to the island, she suddenly remembered that she'd promised Nick to pick up some gun cleaning oil.

"Damn." she said aloud.

There wasn't a gun shop anywhere nearby. She knew that Nick was neck deep in an assignment with Derek and wouldn't be able to break free just to run his own errands. So she turned the car around and headed back into the city.

Over an hour later, with Nick's precious oil in hand, Alex walked back to her car. Suddenly, she was gripped by an unaccountable fear. She looked around her. The area she was in wasn't very nice, but she'd been to worse parts of the city. Then she saw him. It was the man from the store.

This time he held a long, strange looking dagger and it was dripping blood. Alex started to scream, but no sound would come. She felt like she was having a nightmare. The kind of dream where you run as fast as you can, but get nowhere. Then the vision hit her with a ferocity which was unusual, even for her.

The images in her mind were extremely violent, yet she could see no real details. She couldn't even tell who the primary subject of her vision was. She was assailed for several seconds by images of blood, the bizarre looking knife and a woman's tortured screams. As suddenly as the vision began, it stopped.

Alex was sobbing when the vision dissipated and she looked around, terrified that in her weakened condition the man would try to harm her. For a second time in two hours the "specter" of the man had just vanished into thin air.

When she felt calmer, Alex examined the parking lot for signs of blood or anything else which would be a clue to the man's identity. He had to have followed her here. It was just too much of a coincidence that he would wind up in two places at the same time as she. As she pondered the puzzle, Alex felt a buzzing in her ears, and knew that she was about to get a second vision.

Within seconds she was witnessing another vicious incident. However, this time she clearly recognized the man. The two visions seemed to be connected, but not the same. She distinctly heard Derek's voice calling her name, but she couldn't tell what either of them was doing in the scene. There was a flash of light and the loud report of a gun. Then it was gone.

Reality came crashing back in. Another shopper had arrived at the car next to her and was standing staring at her like she had sprouted another head. Alex would have laughed if she had, had the strength. He cautiously asked her if she needed any help. She assured him that everything was fine and that she'd just sit down in an adjacent coffee shop until she felt herself again. He seemed relieved to be dismissed, and almost dove into his car.

Shakily, Alex made her way to the coffee shop and ordered a glass of orange juice. The orange juice did it's magic and after about 10 minutes Alex felt strong enough to get into her car and begin the long journey home.

As she drove she thought back over the images she had seen in her vision. There was something not quite right about her dream. Alex's gift took many forms, but normally her visions were somewhat more centered. Names, places, faces. This one had more of a waking nightmare feeling about it. Like someone or something was toying with her.

That thought disturbed her. After witnessing first hand the kind of pure evil that could do something like that, she was worried. Suddenly, she remembered Iuvart's last remark to Philip. "You'll pay for this." Why think of that now? From nothing she had seen, could Alex place her friend anywhere near this mess.

Alex parked the car at the dock and got out. After she had collected all her packages, she turned on the alarm system and walked to the ferry gate. The private launch was there waiting to take her back to the island. She heard a shout behind her and turned. It was Rachel and she had Kat with her. They had been invited to a dinner party at the house that evening.

"Damn" Alex said again as she remembered the party.

When Rachel and Kat caught up to her, Kat claimed one of the smaller bags as her own and scampered on ahead of the two women. Rachel could detect an unsettled air about her friend. She asked Alex if she was all right.

"Oh, I'll be okay when I get some food in me. I'm just starving, and I'd completely forgotten about the ‘Benefactor's Dinner' tonight. Now I suppose I'll have to wait." the taller girl replied. She didn't understand her own reticence, but something told her not to mention the visions or the man to anyone, yet.

Across town on Mission Street, in the parish office of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Father Philip Callaghan sat looking at the gilded, embossed invitation in his hand.

He was torn between wanting to see his friends again, and wanting to avoid another confrontation with Derek about his place in the Legacy. Their ‘discussion' had become quite heated and acrimonious when he made the decision to leave again. But in the end, he had left.

Philip had changed almost imperceptibly, unnoticed by even those who knew him well. In those long dark months after the incident in Dublin, he had struggled mightily with issues of life and death. With Alex's help he came to terms with Briony's death, the defeat of the demon and how close he had come to losing everything. After that he realized that his soul no longer felt tormented. Only he knew how much he had actually changed. Philip knew his spirit was stronger than it had ever been.

He was comfortable with his life at last, and no longer maintained such unnaturally high expectations of himself. He felt as if he had finally found himself, and he just didn't understand why Derek couldn't understand.

It wasn't that he felt the ‘need' to leave this time, it was that he had no real option if he was to retain his clerical status. It was then that he realized how much he loved the priesthood, even with all it's drawbacks, and he couldn't envision life without it. "I guess tha's the way Derek feels about the Legacy." he said aloud to himself. He knew that his own commitment to the Legacy was far weaker than his friend's, but he also knew that he didn't want to give it up entirely either.

"I'll go to the party." he decided. He realized that Derek wouldn't have sent him the invitation if he didn't want him to attend. It was that simple.

"What do you mean, you'll be gone for two weeks?" Derek asked heatedly.

Alex was sitting on the couch in the study nursing a gin and tonic. The two of them had been first to arrive downstairs for the dinner party. Derek wore his normal black tuxedo with white tie and tails. She was dressed elegantly in a gown of shimmering gold velvet.

The dress was stunning and she was completely unaware of the effect her appearance had had on the precept when she walked into the room. The material had eddied and flowed around her as she walked. The dress itself was of a design which made her already tall slender form look positively statuesque. It was cut in a slightly narrow style with a draped bodice, plunging back and cap sleeves. The skirt was slit all the way to her mid-thigh. The dress was designed to seduce, and Derek's pulses had quickened when she joined him, but he quickly had them under control again.

Then she had mentioned the trip to New Orleans. His angry reaction was primarily caused by the fact that he realized he would miss her presence in the house terribly. He was more upset with himself for his reaction than he was at her desire to leave for two whole weeks.

"Damn, he looks good in that tuxedo." she thought, then said aloud, "Derek, c'mon. You know I haven't had a real vacation in a long time. I just couldn't resist the airfare. Besides, you guys don't need me on this assignment. You've been doing real well without any help from Rachel and I."

Derek was silent for a while, lost in his own thoughts. He had winced a little at the accusatory air of her last statement. "She's right." he thought. "We do tend to leave them out whenever anything potentially dangerous comes along."

It was his place to look after the members of the house, but he knew that this wasn't the only reason he tended to leave her out of the more exciting missions. "I just don't want to lose you, Alex." he said. She was surprised by his answer, both by it's simplistic honesty and by the fact that it was completely off topic.

"And I thought we were discussing my trip to New Orleans." she thought amused by the fact he focused on her last comment. She decided to pursue the statement he had just made. It was a sore spot for her, and she took the opportunity presented by him, to let him know how she really felt.

"I know that Derek, but you know, just for once I would like you to treat me like you treated Julia. You never seemed to doubt her ability to hang in there with you guys." she said, then regretted the words when she saw the look come over his face.

He was remembering Julia's death. Alex reached out and touched his hand. "Hey, Derek. It wasn't your fault. Julia would have been the first to tell you that." she said, comfortingly.

He sighed, turned his palm over and took her hand in his own elegant one. He leaned closer to her, and said, slightly cajollingly, "Don't you see, her death makes it even harder for me to put you in danger."

Alex gave a snort of disgust and pulled her hand from his. She was getting angry now. "Don't even go there, Derek. You have treated me like your secretary ever since I came to this house, and that was LONG before what happened to Julia. Face it Derek, you just don't trust me to take care of myself. You never have."

She turned away and poured herself another drink. He looked at her back, so rigid before him. "My God, she's beautiful." he thought. He moved toward her and started to reach out to her. So much was unsaid between them.

Suddenly Kat came bouncing into the room, all frothy pink taffeta and lace, followed by Rachel at a more sedate pace. The time for confessions was past. He turned with a smile to Kat and picked her up. He tossed her in the air, and she squeeled with delight.

"Such manners, Katharine." her mother said amused. She was dressed in a simple, but elegant black dress, which covered only one creamy shoulder.

Soon Nick came down, looking almost as handsome as Derek in a similar tuxedo. Never one to simply follow fashion, however, the younger man had added a bit of color to his costume. His tie and cumberbund were a light green. The effect was no less attractive than that of Derek's formal attire, if slightly more colorful.

The five awaited the arrival of their guests over lighthearted tales of Kat's schooling and Rachel's wackier patients. Drinks were handed around, and Nick began to play with Kat on the floor, heedless of their attire.

Rachel protested loudly and in the ensuing chaos, Alex surveyed the precept. He was subdued after their near argument. "Good" she thought. She would probably never tell him, but she understood his feelings about putting her in danger very well. She suffered the greatest anxiety when he went charging off on one of his ‘quests'.

"Too bad, he's in charge." she thought, sourly amused. Then she realized that they never had settled her going to New Orleans. "Well, after that little discussion, I'm going whether he likes it or not." she decided. Derek looked at her questioningly, and she just smiled brilliantly at him.

"Oh no you don't. I know you're still angry with me." he thought, amused by her attempt to throw him off.

The guests began to arrive, and the party started. One of the last to arrive was a handsome young Irish cleric.

"PHILIP!" Alex cried when she spotted him.

She rushed him almost before he could hand his coat to the waiting domestic. He hugged her back and then held her at arms length to view her gown.

"Well now, don' you look a treat." he said. Alex laughed.

"So do you, lad." she said archly, and Philip laughed at her imitation of his native accent.

Derek had come into the hall when he heard her shriek. He had purposely not informed Alex of Philip's invitation. He didn't want her disappointed if the young priest had been unable, or unwilling, to attend. The young priest turned to his friend and mentor, stiltedly. Their argument over his decision to leave again still rankled. However, the older man seemed genuinely glad to see him. Immediately, Philip smiled.

"Hello Derek. I was glad t'get the invitation." he said.

"The annual benefactor's dinner wouldn't have been the same without you, ‘Father'." Derek said with a smile, stressing the nickname.

The hansdome young priest grinned back and said, "I hope you realize that my gift is that you let me give the Benediction." Derek laughed aloud at that.

"I wouldn't have it any other way, my friend." he said, still chuckling.

Alex stood aside and watched the two men. Both so precious to her, both so much alike. "Almost like a father and son." she thought. Her heart was full as she watched them renew their friendship.

The three entered the drawing room arm in arm, Alex between the two men, and were immediately pounced on by Kat. She just loved Philip and he was completely unarmed by her. He squatted down to give the little girl a big hug and took her on one knee as she began to babble. She regaled him with tales of her exploits at school and hit him with a barage of questions about where he'd been. He took it all in stride and attempted to keep pace with her lightening quick changes of subject.

"What a daddy he would have made, huh?" she whispered to Derek over their heads.

His eyes met hers. Family. They each realized the supreme sacrifice they had made in joining the Legacy. There were members who had maintained a family within the confines of the organization. Derek and Nick's fathers were prime examples, and William Sloan was another. However, it wasn't the healthiest of environments to raise a child and both had their reservations about doing so. Her comment brought home the fact that each wanted a family, but didn't know if they would ever have the chance. They just stood there for several moments, lost in their own thoughts.

Philip cleared his throat. One of the maids had come at Rachel's command to retrieve Kat, and take her to bed. She had allowed the little girl to remain until he had arrived, but it was far past her bed time.

He stood between his two closest friends and noticed their discomfort. Suddenly, Alex felt her face getting hot. She realized that she and Derek appeared to have been gazing into each others eyes, oblivious to everyone around them. Luckily, only the priest seemed to notice. Their host moved away to speak with other guests and Philip turned to the tall beauty at his side.

"What's up with you two?" he asked.

"It wasn't what it appeared, Philip." was all she said.

She squeezed his arm and turned away to speak with one of her other friends. After a short time, she looked over to where the precept was standing. He was laughing at something one of the ladies in the group had said.

Then she saw him. The man from the store was standing behind Derek, and he was holding the knife she had seen before. Alex gasped. She quickly excused herself to her friends and made her way to their host's side without taking her eye off the man behind him. As she got within 2 yards of them, the man vanished right before her eyes. Alex stopped mid stride. She was stunned.

"What the Bloody Hell?" she said aloud.

Several guests turned to look at her strangely. She smiled weakly and apologized for her outburst, then walked quickly out of the room. Derek made as if to go after her, but was forestalled by a very tenacious female guest. He looked imploringly at Philip, who nodded almost imperceptably and left the room in Alex's wake. He found her in the darkened morning room.

"Alex?" he queried, uncomfortably.

"I'm alright, Philip. I just needed some air, that's all." she replied, not turning around to face him.

He realized that there was more to it than she let on, and came further into the room. When he was about a foot away from her, he could see she was shaking.

"ALEX!" he said, more forcefully this time. He turned her around and put his arms about her and she rested her head on his shoulder. "You're not all right. You're shakin' like a leaf. Wha' happened?"

Alex didn't want to talk about it, but it felt good to be held. She felt grounded with Philip's arms around her.

"I'll be alright in a minute. I just had a kind of vision. It was a shock, that's all." she said finally.

Philip realized that she wasn't going to confide in him the nature of the vision, and was disturbed. However, he didn't push her. He just held her like he would a child and soon she had regained her composure. She straightened up, and checked her makeup. In the mirror she saw the streak on his jacket collar and started to giggle. He came to stand behind her, looked in the mirror at his coat and groaned.

"Well, they'll all think I've been tumbled." he said with a grin. She smiled at that.

"You'll get quite a reputation this way, Philip. I hope you don't make a habit of comforting women in need like this." and they both burst out laughing at the picture they made in the mirror. Alex with her lipstick smeared, and traces of it on his clothes.

"Did you leave any of your stuff here when you left? A jacket maybe?" she asked.

"Actually, I left quite a bit o'stuff here, but no clerical clothes. Oh well, c'est la vie, as the French would say." He turned to her and formally offered her his arm. "Shall we go?" he asked, resigned to the whispers which were bound to erupt when they rejoined the party in progress.

They entered the room together and Derek looked over at them. His eyebrows all but disappeared into his hairline when he noticed Philip's clothes. Soon, they began to notice whispered conversations and furtive looks in their direction. Alex held her head up and Philip pretended not to notice.

Rachel came over to where they stood talking quietly and said, "Well you two really know how to liven up a party. What were you doing, playing rugby?" Obviously, Rachel was quite amused.

"Alex needed somewhere t'blot her lipstick and I forgot my hankie." he replied quickly. The younger woman turned to look at him sharply. Philip making a joke? His face was as straight as if he'd said that it was really beginning to rain outside, and Rachel whooped with laughter.

The dinner gong rang, and Philip leaned over to Alex and said, "Me an' my big mouth. Did I really volunteer t'say the Benediction?"

Alex chuckled, and said "Sounded more like a demand to me." They joined the line of guests headed for the formal dining room.

"Well that was one of the most grueling experiences of my life." Alex sighed.

Dinner was over, and the whole ordeal just a painful memory. The rumors would abound for sometime, though.

"Poor Philip." she thought, then said "I can't believe people could actually think that I would try to seduce a priest. And Philip at that. My God, he's like a brother to me!" Rachel burst into giggles again.

"Well you have to admit Alex, he's a very handsome priest. And who says they thought you did the seducing? It's my understanding that Philip followed you into the ladies room with the intent of ravishing you. You know, priests can be such hor..." she said, and was cut off by a shriek from the other woman.

"RACHEL!" Alex shouted, horrified.

"Aaalleeeex...I was just repeating what I HEARD. I don't believe it, not a word. Well, maybe just a wee bit..." Rachel was giggling again at the image of the two in a compromising situation.

The younger woman turned to her sharply, and said "IT'S NOT FUNNY RACHEL! Poor Philip! I could have just died of mortification when they all started giggling and snickering during the Benediction." The three men entered the study just then.

"Don' worry about it, Alex." Philip said. "It'll be a nine day's wonder. I'm just glad the whole thin' is over." he said and collapsed onto the couch. Suddenly he jumped up. "OH SWEET JESUS!" he cried.

"WHAT?" They all shouted in unison.

"Archbishop Grant is comin' t'evaluate me for my annual review! What if he gets wind o'this? He already thinks I'm too ‘unorthodox' for a simple parish priest! I'm doomed." he finished, subsiding onto the couch and burying his head in his hands.

Rachel piped up again, "Don't worry Philip. I'd be glad to explain matters to his excellency." All four spoke up in unison again.

"Rachel." said Derek, chuckling lightly.

"Rachel!" said Nick with a smile.

"RACHEL!" cried Alex, horrified.

She grinned at them. Her suggestion had met with the appropriate result. Philip had jerked up right, and shouted "NO!" Then he softened a little at her expression. He realized her suggestion was just a ploy to bring him out of his doledrums.

He smiled wanly at her as he said, "Thanks Rachel, but I think I can deal with his excellency, IF the need arises. Which I pray t'God it won'"

"Well, it's been evening, and I think I'll turn in." Nick said. As he made the statement, his glance flickered to where Rachel sat.

Derek noticed the glance and had to hide his grin when Rachel stretched, yawned, and said "Yeah, I guess I'll hit the sack...I mean, uh go to bed too."

Alex and Philip appeared oblivious to the implications, but Derek smiled. He wondered when Rachel and Nick would realize that they truly cared for one another. He knew that there was no intimacy between them yet. Rachel was a stickler for propriety when Kat was in the house. However, Derek wondered how long her good intentions would hold out in the face of their growing mutual attraction. They all nodded and waved the two off to bed. Derek turned his attention to his stars of the evening.

"Well, you two have certainly set this city on it's ears tonight. Care to explain to me what the Hell happened that brought you, Philip, into the room with Alex's lipstick on your collar? You were just supposed to check and make sure she was all right."

"Derek, I just..." Philip started to explain, but Alex came up off the sofa with a deep throaty growl and cut him off mid sentence.

"So you sent him to check up on me, did you? Well let me tell you something DR. Rayne. The next time I NEED YOUR GODDAMNED HELP, I'LL ASK FOR IT! GOT IT? GOOD!" and with that she marched out of the room.

Derek and Philip sat in stunned silence for a moment, then the young priest spoke. "Wow." He chuckled a little, then sobered as he said, "I think you should talk t'her Derek. She's really upset with your treatment of her. Even I can see it. She doesn't wan' your least not like that. She EXPECTS more from you. You should really tell her how you feel, you know."

The subject of her wrath sighed deeply, and said "I know, that Philip. I just don't want to start something I can't finish."

The younger man simply shrugged and said, "Well I guess I'd better go make sure she doesn't break anythin'. Maybe I can smooth thin's over a little." Derek looked at him skeptically and shook his head.

"I doubt that, my friend." he said, glumly.

Philip smiled at the gloomy look on his friend's face. "Oh, never underestimate the diplomatic skills of a priest." And with that piece of wisdom, he rose and left Derek to ponder his ‘mistakes' of the evening.

Alex slammed her lingerie drawer shut in an attempt to vent some of her frustration. "WHAT??!!" she shouted to a light tapping on her door. The door was opened just a crack and Philip stuck his head in the opening.

"Oh, it's you Philip. Sorry. Well, come in." she said, ungraciously.

He looked around the room after he had closed the door behind him. It looked like it had been hit by a small but powerful tornado.

"Goin' somewhere?" he asked, looking pointedly at her suitcase open on the bed.

"Actually, I'm going to visit my grandmother." she said.

The tone of voice she used told him that she wanted to add, "if it's any of your business." He grinned. She was furious, more so than he had even realized.

"I see. Here, I thought that your plane didna leave till day after tomorra. Oh well, what do I know?" he asked, impishly.

"Don't start with me Philip. You know why I'm leaving early. He is the most infuriating man I've ever known! I just don't know how I manage to put up with him!" She was tossing things at the suitcase helter skelter as she spoke.

Philip noticed the garment bag from Neiman Marcus resting over the back of the chair. It was open so he picked it up, looked inside and grinned at what he saw. "And I s'pose you were plannin' on givin' this t'Nick. Or me, maybe?" he asked, archly.

She grabbed the bag from his unresisting hands and said, "Why you nosy parker! What..." she stopped and looked over at him grinning at her.

"I'm sorry, Philip. It's just that he can make me so angry sometimes!" and she flung the bag back down on the chair with force.

Philip took one of her hands in his own and looked into her eyes. "Alex, my grandmother used t'say that there's no heat without fire, and she was right. Think about it." and with that he turned and walked to the door.

"Philip?" she stopped him short of walking out of the room. When he turned to look at her, she said softly, "I care about him so much...I just don't know what to do about it." The young priest smiled at her.

"Just be patient. He's a hard man t'get through ta, but you're gettin' there." He winked at her, and closed the door behind him.

Alex jerked awake. She sat up and realized her heart was pounding like a sledgehammer, and that she was covered in perspiration. She looked around her room almost expecting to see the man in her dreams standing in front of her.

The dream she had just experienced was more violent and horrifying than any she could remember, more so because of how real it had seemed. She was actually trembling. It hadn't been about Dublin either, like all of her nightmares had been lately.

Tonight, she had witnessed a woman's murder. She couldn't see her face clearly, but the woman had obviously been terrified, and the murderer had been feeding that terror until the woman was past the breaking point. Then he had struck. Alex had seen him stabbing the woman over and over and over again. She couldn't even begin to guess how many times he had plunged the knife into the woman's body. The victim hadn't died quickly either.

All in all, it was a horrific scene to have witnessed, and Alex was certain that it was more than just a dream. She picked up the journal and pen she kept on her bedside table and began to write. She had to capture the details as she remembered them, while they were fresh in her psyche.

Once she was certain that she could remember no more, Alex put the book and pen back on the table and lay back down. She couldn't get the images out of her mind, however, and sleep would not come. She lay in bed and thought back over the events of the day. She tried to think of a likely explanation for the hodge podge of feelings, visions and dreams.

Mulling everything over in her mind, she was sure of one thing, and one thing only. The man in her visions, the one she had seen at the party that very evening, was the at the heart of it all. If she could identify him, she would be one step closer to an answer. Of that she was sure. Finally, just before dawn, she dropped off to sleep from sheer exhaustion.

II. Kindling

Alex came downstairs, suitcase in hand. Her flight was scheduled to leave in three hours. She knew that she was cutting it close, but a slight glitch in the computer system had taken up her precious time that morning and she was running late.

After Philip had left her the night of the party, she had settled down and realized that running away would not solve her problems. So she'd stayed. The day before had been unbearable, but she had gotten through it. They had all seemed to be on edge, everyone except Philip and Kat. Between Rachel's decision that she wanted her relationship with Nick to remain platonic in spite of their growing attraction (she had told him the night before, much to the ex-SEAL's dismay) and the Alex-Derek quarrel, Philip had found much to amuse him. He had looked at the rest of them with laughter in his eyes as he and Kat proceeded to make and fly kites.

Finally, after lunch he, Rachel and Kat had left to return to the city. That left Derek, Nick and Alex alone in the house. With Rachel gone, Nick's mood had improved slightly, but not enough to compensate for the silence between the other two members of the household. He had finally given up and went to the lab to do some tests on the parchment he and Derek were working on.

Alex had spent most of the day in her room. She hadn't wanted another confrontation with Derek. She knew that the time in New Orleans was becoming critical to their continued association. "If I don't put some space between us, we're likely to blow everything!" she had thought.

Soon her thoughts had returned to the man she had seen on three separate occasions. She still couldn't get over the feelings she had when he vanished before her. "Am I going nuts?" she had wondered. She had suddenly realized something which had escaped her notice previously. The first and last time she had seen him, she felt nothing. No fear, no concern, nothing. Only in the parking lot had any concrete feelings accompanied his presence. And that was the only time she experienced the visions as well. "There must be some significance to these facts." she thought, but she couldn't put her finger on what that significance might be.

She had pulled out her portable computer and logged on. She thought that maybe a search of the database would tell her who the man was, but after several hours of diligent searching, she had been no closer to knowing his identity than before.

She had wanted desperately to talk to Philip, but he was too far away and it wasn't something she wanted to discuss by phone. "Damn it anyway. Why didn't I just tell him last night, when I had the chance?" she had thought, then realized that something inside her had stopped her from telling anyone at the time. By the time she had fallen asleep, she was no closer to a solution to the puzzle than the had been to start. At least she hadn't dreamed at all during the night.

Now it was time for her to leave. She was glad to be going, but she knew she'd miss the house. It had really become her home in the three years she had lived here. As she headed for the front door, she heard a step behind her. Alex turned around and looked at the man who was at the heart of her personal emotional troubles. "God speed, Alex. Enjoy your stay with your Grandmother. You'll be missed." was all he said before disappearing into the study. He hadn't even given her a chance to respond. She was torn between the need for haste and the desire to make things right with Derek before she left. The chauffeur was standing patiently holding the door for her.

"We need to leave now Miss Moreau, if we're going to make it to the airport on time." he said finally as she stood there undecided.

She knew she didn't have the time to do anything about Derek now, so she turned to the door reluctantly.

"Thank you Robert. I'm ready." she said, handing him her one suitcase.

She got into the back of the black Town Car, and settled into the seat. Suddenly she took out her cellular phone and hit the speed dial button.

"Derek Rayne here." a deep male voice came over the airwaves.

"Derek, it's me. Listen, I'm sorry for yelling at you the other night. I just wanted to say, take care of yourself while I'm gone and don't do anything stupid, okay?" she said it all in a rush in case he tried to cut her off. There was utter silence on the other end, then she heard a chuckle.

"Alright, I'll promise...nothing stupid, if you promise to come straight home in two weeks. Deal?" he asked.

Alex was surprised at the ultimatum. "So that's why he didn't want me to go, he was afraid I wouldn't come back." she thought, realization dawining.

"Deal!" she said brightly. "Oh, and Derek..." she said quickly before he hung up.

"Yes?" he asked, slightly suspiciously.

"I just wanted to say...this is my home now you know. See ya in a couple of weeks." She closed the phone and smiled to herself.

Alex suddenly felt much better. She put her phone back into her bag and looked around at the island she had come to love. She was astonished that Derek could think that she would even want to trade this for New Orleans. She loved her hometown, but it was so different now. It had gotten too big and commercialized. The only reason Alex even wanted to return there was to see her grandmother and sister. Little else remained of the New Orleans she had known and loved. It was still a beautiful city, but it was filled with tourists and business conventions now.

"Oh well. Enough of that" she thought. She fished a book out of her bag. It was a book on the occult. She had grabbed it from the library before she left. Alex hoped that there would be something in it which would shed some light on her ‘visions'. Soon she was engrossed. She didn't even notice when the car was loaded onto and off of the ferry. Before she realized it, they were at the airport with time to spare. Traffic had been light on the 101, unusual for the time of day.

The flight was long and ardous. Alex realized why Derek liked to travel First Class or on the Legacy jet. Her legs were too long for the small space they allowed between seats. She tried to sit with her knees up on the seat in front of her, but the man in the window seat was up and down like a yoyo. She had finally given up.

She shifted her position for the millionth time and wondered what perverseness of nature had made her 5'11" tall. Her parents had been of average height. Her grandmother was a whopping 5'2" and her sister topped out at 5'6". Only she had inherited the ‘tall' gene.

"Argh." she said grumpily as the man got up again. She wished he would lay off the Heineken.

When she stood in the aisle, she took a moment to look around and stretch. Suddenly, she saw ‘the man', as she had started to call him in her mind. He was sitting several rows ahead of her.

"Impossible!" she said under her breath.

At the travel office, she had been assured by the agent that the flight was booked solid and that she had purchased the last ticket. That's why she had an aisle seat instead of her preferred window.

Alex walked up the aisle as if she were heading for the lavatory. When she got even with ‘the man' she looked down to make sure it was him. It was definitely him, he looked up at her and smiled. It was a gruesome smile. Then suddenly his appearance changed and she was looking into the eyes of a total stranger. She felt lightheaded and the airplane cabin began to swim before her.

"Catch her, she's going to faint!" someone yelled.

Alex put out a hand to steady herself and the moment passed. She couldn't believe what had just happened. The man in the seat where she had seen ‘him' was looking at her with concern.

"Are you all right miss?" he asked.

She nodded. "I'm sorry, but could you tell me? Are you from San Francisco?" she asked.

She was embarrassed to ask the question, but she needed some confirmation of what she had seen.

"Actually, no." he said, obviously a little mystified at her interest. "I'm from Seattle. I didn't even get to get off the plane in San Francisco. I've heard it's a beautiful city. Is that where you're from?" he was warming to the conversation. It wasn't everyday a beautiful woman tried to pick him up on an airplane.

"Uh yes. I'm sorry to have troubled you. Excuse me." Alex replied, knowing what direction his thoughts were taking. She hurriedly returned to her seat. "This just keeps getting weirder." she thought.

She reached for her cellular phone to call Philip or Derek and tell one of them what was happening to her, and just as she touched her bag the announcement came over the intercom. ‘We are beginning our final approach. Please turn off all electronic devices and prepare for landing.'

"Damn." she said. She realized she'd just have to wait until she got to Gra'ma Rose's.

When she disembarked from the airplane, Alex noticed how hot and humid the air was, even inside the airport. "Another thing I don't miss about this place." she thought, amused. While standing at the carousel in the baggage claim area she spotted the man she had spoken to on the airplane. He noticed her as well and started in her direction.

"Oh no." she said under her breath, but smiled in greeting as he walked up to her. "Hello, again." she said.

"Hi there! I was surprised to see you here alone." he said, suggestively. "I was sure your boyfriend or someone would be meeting you here. Are you here on business then? I am, a sales convention." he lowered his voice, and nudged her in the ribs. "I've been selected as Regional Salesman of the Year by my company."

Alex smiled, even though she wanted to grimace. "Why me?" she wondered, then said, "That's wonderful. Congratulations. Oh, I'm so sorry, but I see my friend over there. Will you excuse me? It was nice to meet you." The last part was said in a rush, and she hurried off into the crowd so he couldn't see that there was no one waiting.

"Whew!" She had just breathed a sigh of relief when suddenly she heard her name and she turned around. Her sister was standing waving at her.

"Tayna?" she cried, and rushed over to hug her. "What in the world are you doing here?" she asked, shocked and confused. "I didn't let anyone know I was coming, ‘cause I wanted it to be a surprise!"

"I know Al, but Gra'ma Rose tried to call you this morning and Dr. Rayne told her that you were on your way here. They both seem worried about you. He asked her if I could meet you at the airport." Alex could feel herself getting angry with Derek all over again.

"How dare he interfere with my plans?" she fumed inwardly. To her sister she just said, "Well I guess it's not much of a surprise then, huh?"

Tayna looked sharply at the taller girl and said, "Alexandra Moreau, he was worried! He said something about a feeling that you were in danger. Gra'ma felt something too, ‘cause she's been toying with her cards for a couple of days now. I was surprised when she picked up the phone and called this morning."

Alex hugged her sister and apologized for her reaction. "Sorry Sis! Derek and I've been having some problems lately. His actions just hit a nerve that's all. Forget it. Now how'd you get here? Taxi?" she asked, finally.

Tayna nodded and picked up Alex's suitcase. "Gra'ma is so excited to see you again, you just can't believe! Of course, I am too!" she smiled up at her ‘little' sister. "It just hasn't been the same since you left. Oh, and there are quite a few new jazz clubs. Nice ones, too. It's kinda like a resurgeance of the oldies, you know?"

Alex laughed. "Well, ‘laisse les bon temps roule!' I'm ready to have fun!" she said, and she meant it. It would be good to forget all about what was going on in San Francisco for a while.

The taxi pulled up in front of a smallish whitewashed house. The sound of windchimes filled the air and brightly colored bottles hung from the branches of the two willow trees in the front yard.

"Wow. The place hasn't changed one bit." Alex breathed.

Tayna laughed harshly. "Yeah? Well, sometimes I wonder how it stays together. You know Rose, she won't waste money on fixing anything, except when it's something that she needs. And ever since Zeb passed away last year, I've had to do all the yard work." Zebediah King had been Rose's handyman/gardener for years. He and his wife had been great friends of Rose and her husband. After her husband had died, Zeb and Selma decided they needed to take care of her. Soon Zeb was indispensable around the yard and Selma remained Rose's closest friend for over 35 years, until her death 5 years earlier.

Alex laughed outright. "C'mon Tanya, you know you love to mess in the yard! I remember Zebediah having quite a time keeping you out of his hair when we were kids. You were always trying to get him to let you help!"

Tanya smiled sadly at the memory and hugged Alex. "Well baby girl, it's not so much fun now that he's gone." she said.

A wizened little elderly woman, her salt and pepper colored hair caught up into a bun on the top of her head, came to the door.

"Alexandra!" she cried at the sight of her favorite granddaughter.

Alex smiled broadly and hurried over to her grandmother. She hugged her tightly, and said "Gra'ma! I couldn't wait to see you." She stood back and held the older woman at arms length.

She laughed and said, "You know, you just never age."

Rose tapped her on the arm, and said amused, "Child, you jes don't know da half of it! Lemme look at you. My oh my, you're quite the sophisticate aren't you? Jes look at dem shoes and dat bag. Mmmm Mmmm. Well, what're standin' around out here for, come in side and rest your weary bones. Tanya, let the driver handle dem bags, honeychild. Tha's what he gets paid fer."

Rose was every inch the native born Creole that her heritage suggested. Alex smiled to herself as she followed her grandmother into the house.

Soon the three women had settled themselves into the ‘salon', as Rose called it. Alex could just feel the warmth of her childhood spent in this house. So many memories. Prior to her move to San Francisco, she had been living in her own apartment near Loyola University, so she had almost forgotten how wonderful it was to actually be here. Rose looked the same as she had when Alex and Tanya were growing up, at least she seemed unchanged to Alex.

They talked about family things, this uncle, that aunt, their brother. All the time, there was an underlying feeling of fear when Alex looked at her grandmother. There was a certain look in her eye when she gazed at her youngest grandchild that disturbed Alex.

"Could she know what I've been experiencing?" she thought to herself.

Tanya had said their grandmother had been worried for several days, and that would coincide with the start of Alex's troubles. Alex decided that she wasn't ready to broach the subject and so she suggested that Tanya take her to one of the ‘new' jazz clubs that evening. Tanya readily agreed.

After dinner, the two girls dressed in their party clothes and left the house, more in tune with each other than they had been for a long time.

"Dr. Rayne? This is Detective Sergeant Slade of the San Francisco Police Department. May I have a few minutes of your valuable time?" The man who spoke the words was of average height, graying hair and glasses. His suit was well made, but he wore it with an air of unconcern for his appearance.

Derek shook his proffered hand and bid him enter his office. He nodded at Dominick that all was well, and the majordomo bowed and left them together.

"Of course, Detective. How can I help you? I've done nothing to warrant your interest, I trust." Derek said playfully, to hide his intense apprehension. "Something is really wrong." he thought, but put the thought aside as the policeman came to the point which brought him to the Luna Foundation so early in the day.

"Oh no, Dr. Rayne! It's just that I believe you are acquainted with a woman by the name of Jennifer Osborne?"

Derek was surprised. "Jennifer? Of course. Her father was a close personal friend of my father's. She is a major contributor to The Foundation. We see each other from time to time. In fact she was here for a formal dinner night before last. Why?"

The Detective looked uncomfortable. Finally he spoke, and the words were the last ones Derek expected to hear. "I'm very sorry to tell you this Dr. Rayne, but Mrs. Osborne is dead. Murdered."

Derek sat down in his chair with a thump. He felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. "My God! Murdered? Are you certain?" He looked up at the man who had broken the news to him and asked again, "Murdered? Why?"

Slade looked at Derek with sympathy and said, "I'm sorry, but yes we're sure it was murder. She was stabbed to death in her home. The coroner places the time of death just past 1:30 a.m. on the night of your party. That's why I'm here. I need to ask you some questions about the evening in question, if you don't mind." Derek just nodded his head mutely.

After the Detective had left, Derek went in search of Nick. Rachel was on her way to visit an old friend in Idaho for a week. Kat was on summer vacation, and Rachel had wanted to spend some quality time with her, so off they went. Actually, he had agreed that they needed to get away.

The last few months had been pretty stressful, and Rachel had spent more time than usual with the Legacy. Kat was still young enough to resent the lack of attention, as Derek did at that age.

It appeared that Nick was the only one with whom Derek could share this bit of depressing news. He was concerned by the Detective's certainty that Jennifer's death was tied, in some way, to the Luna Foundation dinner. Slade had even admitted that the only thing which convinced him of this was a ‘feeling' or intuition. Cop sense. Derek would never discount such feelings as most would, because he knew that this ‘sense' was as real as the ‘sight' he himself experienced. He had done a paper on the subject when he was in college and had come to the conclusion that a sixth sense was the reason many people became police officers in the first place. They just didn't realize that they had a ‘gift'.

He found Nick in the lab running an analysis on a piece of clothing found alongside the parchment that they were studying.

"Derek!" he said, as the older man walked in. "Guess what? Okay, you'll never guess, so I'll just tell you. This piece of cloth is no where near as old as the parchment. It seems that someone was there before us, but for some reason didn't take the document with them."

He looked at Derek and then said, "Hey, what's wrong? I know it's a set back, but I thought you were suspicious anyway."

Derek sighed. "It's not that Nick." he said. "It's about Jennifer Osborne."

Nick put down the petrie dish he was holding. "What about her, Derek?" he asked.

Derek looked him squarely in the eye and said bluntly, "She's dead. Murdered. Someone broke into her house the night of the Benefactor's Dinner and stabbed her to death when she got home."

Nick looked as shocked as Derek had felt when the policeman had told him. "What? I don't believe it!" he said, then went on, "Do they think it was a robbery or something?"

Derek shook his head. "Nothing was stolen. She was just stabbed repeatedly. They found her body last night. Slade believes that it's tied somehow to the party."

Nick let out a long low whistle. "Oh boy. Well what do they want from us?" he asked, apprehensively.

Derek shook his head and said, "Nothing for now. That is, I've answered all his questions for the moment. I told him we'd be happy to help, but unfortunately two of our people are away. He seemed satisfied with my description of the events, and the fact that you all were here afterward should protect you from suspicion."

Nick laughed grimly. "Yeah, sure." was all he said.

It seemed like forever since Alex had been to the French Quarter. It was always her favorite section of town. It was old and had more character than most entire cities combined. She loved the architecture and there was an energy about the area that was downright seductive. Normally it was crowded with college students. However, in the middle of August only tourists and locals who had decided to brave the searing sticky heat were in evidence.

The club that Tanya wanted to try was called "Wynton's Palace". It was known for the quality of it's jazz and blues musical entertainment, as well as it's atmosphere. When they arrived, the bouncer at the door looked admiringly at the girls, but specifically at the taller girl as he welcomed them to the club.

Tanya was still laughing as they reached their table. "Well baby girl. You've still got it. He was supposed to charge us ten bucks each! That tall willowy figure and beautiful face of yours have gotten us into more places, and out of more jams than I'd like to recall." she said, hugging her sister.

Alex laughed with her and moved to sit down. Then she felt the old familiar buzzing in her ears before she was seized by the vision. Like in the parking lot the last time, she only got images and feelings. The scene was blurred, but she saw blood and then there was a gun blast and Derek was calling her name. The terror was just as intense as it had been before.

Suddenly, the vision stopped. She was aware that she was standing behind her chair gripping it's back with white knuckles. Just before the vision had begun, her sister had turned to ask the waiter for a bottle of merlot and two glasses. When she turned back, she knew instinctively what had happened.

She started to get up, but Alex motioned for her to stay seated, and sat down in the chair in front of her, shaking from head to toe. The waiter was looking at the tall young woman standing across from him strangely, and Tanya took advantage of his continued presence to ask him to bring her a glass of orange juice as well as the wine. He left the two girls at the table with alacrity.

"Couldn't wait to get away..." Alex smiled wanly at his retreating back. "I'll bet we have a new waiter when they bring us our drinks."

Tanya looked at her sister sharply. "What did you see?"

The taller girl just shook her head and replied, "That's the weird thing Sis, like the last time I had this vision, I couldn't see much of anything. It was more just abstract images, and feelings. Very intense feelings. Terror."

Tanya was beginning to understand why their grandmother was so disturbed. She was starting to feel it too. "Like the last time, you say? What last time?" she asked. Alex told her about her experience in the parking lot.

After Alex had told her older sister about the visions, Tanya said. "I see. Well, I really think you should talk to Rose. She's had a feeling for several days now, and I just know it concerns you. When she found out you were coming here, she was really relieved. I don't know what the feeling is, she won't tell me, but I know she's been worried about you."

The girl sitting across from her nodded. "I know." she said. "I just wasn't ready to talk about it to her, and I thought I could relax for just ONE evening. I'll ask her what she knows tomorrow."

Tanya nodded back and within minutes a new waiter came to their table with the bottle of wine, two wine glasses and a glass of orange juice. He looked at them suspiciously, but then must have decided that the other waiter was imagining things. He grinned at the older girl and thanked her when she gave him a generous tip.

Alex sat back and tried to enjoy the rest of the evening, but she had a feeling that the visions were pointing toward upcoming events, and that disturbed her. It was as if things were coming to a head. She couldn't explain where the feeling came from, but she knew that even as she sat there in the club, events were unfolding which would wrap themselves around her.

"What a creepy thought." she thought to herself. She suddenly wished Philip were there. "He'd help me see what the feelings and visions mean." she said softly to herself.

Tanya looked over at her and asked, "What?" The words were almost drowned out by the music, which had just begun.

The young woman looked at her and mouthed the word "Nothing." and her older sister just shrugged and nodded. Soon the music had soothed away most of Alex's fear, but she resolved to begin a serious review of all that had transpired on the morrow.

That night she dreamed of the man from the plane. He was sitting in a bar drinking when ‘the man', walked up and sat down next to him. She appeared to be sitting with them, but they could neither see nor hear her. The two men spoke for a while about generic things. Sports, women, work.

After about an hour the salesman decided he'd had enough of the New Orleans nightlife. He excused himself to the man sitting next to him, paid his tab and left the bar. She found herself with him as if tied by an invisible force. They were outside now, and the man was walking toward a dark sedan in a deserted parking structure. He seemed to be about 50 paces in front of her.

Alex saw him pull his rental car keys out of his coat pocket as if she were watching from a distance. Suddenly the man spun around to face her and she saw the look of recognition pass over his features. "Oh it's you." he said, and turned back to the car. "Do you need a ride or something?" he asked over his shoulder. She tried to respond, but no sound would come. He seemed to be looking through her anyway, as if someone were behind her.

When he received no answer, he turned back, facing her again. His face lost it's color and his eyes went wide at whatever it was he saw in front of him. He began to back away, shaking his head in terror. Soon his back was against the wall, and he was saying "No! No please! Don't do this!" Alex watched in horror as ‘the spectre man' passed her and began to stab him viciously over and over again.

When it was over, as if she were actually on the scene, she heard a voice. It was deep and gravelly sounding. It said, "Well Alex. Wasn't his performance wonderful? His fear was so...palpable! Couldn't you almost smell it? Oh Alex, I'm so glad that I have you to share these experiences with me. It means more to me than you can ever know. I do it all for you Alex...all for you!"

"Nooooo!" The sound of her own voice tore Alex from the clutches of her nightmare.

She sat bolt upright in bed, her breath coming in gasps. Her heart was pounding and she was shaking violently. She looked around the strange room for several moments before she realized where she was. Before she had even had a chance to calm down, her sister arrived on the scene.

"Alex! What's wrong?" Tanya cried, rushing into the room.

The sight and sound of her the older girl soothed Alex more than she thought possible. Tanya came to the bed, sat down beside her and put her arms around her. The frightened young woman looked at her and shook her head.

"I had a terrible nightmare Ta. I'm really scared. I think it was more of a vision than a nightmare, but I don't know how to check. Wait... maybe I can check for local hangouts in New Orleans on the internet!" she said.

She pulled out of Tanya's grasp, threw back the covers and went to the desk. She popped open her portable computer, speaking over her shoulder as she worked.

"If I can just find the place, then we could go there and see if what I saw was real or just a nightmare." She turned on the power and sat down to wait for the machine to boot up. Alex turned around in the chair to look at her sister.

"Sis, I saw a man being murdered. It was the man from the airplane." she explained.

Tanya looked blank, and Alex sighed, frustrated. "You know, the one I told you about. The salesman I met on the plane. Anyway, I don't think anyone will find a thing until tomorrow, because from what I saw, the murder happened in a really ‘out of the way' place, void of people. It'll be hours before the police find him, unless I can help."

The computer beeped, and she turned back around to begin her search. The other girl pulled up a chair and watched her sister run search after search, making suggestions from time to time. After several hours with no results, she said she thought they should try to get some sleep. Obviously they weren't going to find anything of use in time to avoid the general public from being the ones to discover the body.

"If it even exists." she said, then asked, "Why don't we go back to bed now, and call the police in the morning?"

Alex, though she felt driven to find the location of the murder, decided that Tanya was right.

"I've had more luck with a computer when I didn't even know what I was looking for." she said, disgustedly. "Okay, let's get some sleep before it gets too late. Thanks for being here, Sis. And for putting up with me." she added as an afterthought.

The shorter girl smiled up at her and said, "Well, I know when you have the bit between your teeth, and mean business!"

Alex laughed weakly. "Oh yeah, stubborn is my middle name, I know." She thought for a moment about Derek. He was as stubborn in his own way as she was in hers.

"Definitely the main reason we haven't been able to resolve the mess we are currently in." she thought, but said to her ‘big' sister, "Thanks anyway Tanya. I was scared, almost out of my mind until you came in."

Tanya hugged her and left. Alex fell into bed and thought that she'd not sleep again that night. However, soon her eyes had drifted closed and she was sound asleep.

"Okay Gra'ma, what's going on? I know you sense something about what's been happening to me. Can you explain any of it?" she asked, cutting to the heart of the matter.

The three women were sitting around the breakfast table. Alex had finished a large helping of eggs and toast.

"I can't believe the amount of food that girl can eat and stay as thin as she does!" thought Tanya, who had to watch every bite she took for fear of gaining weight. She smiled, watching Rose amusedly ‘tut tutting' Alex about her point blank questions. They both knew that was the only way to deal with their grandmother, straight on and head first.

Rose looked at the two girls sitting around the table, and sighed. Her heart was full having them both home again. However, she could feel that there was something specific bothering Alex. She decided to tell her exactly what she knew.

"Oh child, I'd been feeling kinda poorly lately. When I began to read the cards, I knew why. It's you alright. There's a terrible evil at work in your life right now! I've been right worried about you. So has your friend, Dr. Rayne. I felt it when I talked wit him."

Alex was shocked by the term ‘terrible evil'. That's what she felt that day in the parking lot, but she couldn't tell where it was coming from. "And last night, too." she thought grimly. She looked at Tanya, who shrugged as if to say, "I don't feel it." Then she turned back to her grandmother.

"Can you tell me any more about the evil, Gra'ma? I've felt it, but I don't know where to look for it's source."

Rose sighed. "Alexandra, I only know thet you're in trouble, and it's ‘cause of this evil that's pervading your life."

"Do you have any idea where this evil is coming from Gra'ma?" Alex asked, desperately.

"Honeychild, if I knew that I'd certainly tell ya, but I don't. All I know is that you and your friends are in danger. I don't even know what type of danger. Jes danger." She reached across the table and took Alex's hand in hers. "I know you feel it too. I wantcha ta promise me that you'll be right careful. Don' you go doin' anything foolish, now. You hear me Alexandra? You think things through before you go chargin' off on one of your ‘quests'."

Alex smiled mistily at her grandmother and nodded. "You bet Gra'ma. I'll be careful, and I won't do anything on my own. Okay?"

That evening, after dinner, the three women sat in the salon watching the evening news. Alex gasped aloud when the anchorwoman aired a story about a man, Ranleigh Miller, whose body had been found in an parking structure on Rue Charteris.

"Oh my God! That's him!" she cried, "That's the man I saw murdered in my dream!" She jumped up, ran for the phone and began to dial the number on the screen.

Just that morning, when no information had appeared in the local paper, Alex and Tanya had gone out looking for the place Alex had seen in her dream. Unsuccessful, they went to a nearby police station to report the possible murder. They had been treated with amused tolerance, and ultimately dismissed. Dismayed, Alex had given up and they had returned home. They had spent the rest of the day cleaning and discussing the possibilities, but by evening were no closer to understanding what had actually happened in the night.

When the desk sergeant answered the telephone, Alex said "I would like the name of the investigating detective on the Miller homicide, please."

The voice on the other end of the phone asked her to hold the line for a moment. "Oh, here it is Miss. That would be Detective Gordon. He isn't in at the moment. Would you like me to leave him a message?"

Alex thought about it for a moment then said, "Yes please. My name is Alexandra Moreau. I'm visiting my grandmother, Rose Chambourd, here in New Orleans and I have information for him on the homicide. I knew the deceased. That is...well...we arrived on the same flight, and I knew him briefly, but the information I have is vitally important. Tell Detective Gordon he can reach me at 732-4196."

The desk sergeant was taking the information down as fast as he could, but he couldn't quite keep up with her. Finally he spoke, "Uh, 732-4196? Is that the correct number?"

Finally Alex was beginning to feel like she was in control of her emotions again. She said, "Yes. Thank you for your help, Sergeant. And please remember to tell the Detective that it's important I speak with him without delay."

The voice on the other end sounded slightly offended when he replied, "Of course Miss. Just as you say. Thank you for your call." There was a firm click as he replaced the receiver.

About two hours later the phone rang. Alex jumped up to answer it. She felt like she had been sitting on pins and needles all evening waiting for the detective to call. "Hello?" she said hopefully.

"Miss Moreau?" a male voice asked from the other end. "Miss Alexandra Moreau?"

"Yes, this is Alex Moreau. Is this Detective Gordon?" she asked, not wanting to spend time on niceties.

"Yes. I understand that you might have some information concerning a homicide which took place last night. Is that right?" he asked, also getting down to business.

"Well, in a way, yes. think perhaps you should come here so that we can discuss this. I dislike having to tell you over the phone. Would that be all right?" she asked finally.

"Of course. Why don't you give me your address, and I'll be there right away." he said kindly.

Alex gave him the direction and told him that she'd be waiting for him to arrive. Then she hung up the receiver. Her sister looked at her questioningly.

"Why not just get it over with? Why have him come here?" she asked.

The younger girl just shrugged. "A feeling. I can't explain it, but I just didn't think it would be smart to tell him over the phone. This way, at least I have you as a witness to my nightmare. Sort of." she sighed.

Soon they were all seated in the living room drinking tea and discussing the previous night's events. The detective was extremely interested in Alex's assertion that Miller had been drinking in a bar near the French Quarter. He took copious notes and told them that he would look into the possibility. He didn't discount her ‘nightmare' immediately, which gave her hope. He even went so far as to ask Alex if she would consider coming down to the station the next day to sit down with a sketch artist. She agreed willingly, and a time was set for the following morning. When he got up to leave, he assured her that they would find the perpetrator eventually.

The next morning, the three women all went down to the police station so that Alex could help the sketch artist develop a composite drawing. They were there for several hours, but in the end, she was satisfied that the picture was a close enough resemblance to the man in her visions that the police could actually use it to capture him.

For the remainder of her two week visit, no further visions or events occurred to mar her holiday, and Alex actually began to relax and enjoy herself. The police were no closer to capturing the murderer, but the fact that they were still on the case made her feel much better.

It was good to be home, and her grandmother helped her work through her feelings for Derek, as well as his for her, without her ever really knowing it was happening. By the time she was ready to leave, the independent young woman had come to some definite decisions about how she would allow herself to be treated in the future.