Alright, my dears, here we are on time! You know we try to be consistant, especially now. We're both terribly excited about this Act, as we hope all of you are! With this being the beginning of Act Four, I wanted to take a few minutes to thank all of you once again for taking this ride with us. I hope it's been fun up until now and that we can keep making you smile and fall as in love with these guys as much as we do, as well as surprising and terrifying you. (That last is just a bonus...:D)

If the angst gets too much, we're doing the 12 Days fics to cool it down and they're posted here and on my LiveJournal (the link is in my profile). There's a new round set to be posted sometime in April and there seems to be a growing list of authors, most of whom post here as well. htbthomas, amongst them. ;) Most definitely worth a look.

Also, before I put you all to sleep, I want to take a moment to thank some of our longest and most diehard supporters, since we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you guys!

The Evil Queen of Cliffies, htbthomas Herself (bows to Mom), Mr. Beeto LOL (Love you, Bri!), Hellish Red Devil (No life is complete with MMQ!), Sean Montgomery (hugs her twin), bistyboo1974 (Drop that Brandon right now, lady!), Eviefan (for reviewing every chapter I can remember and for her unrelenting love of the twins and everything about them or with them), alamogirl80 (Mel, you make me laugh too hard for my own good!), Alphie (for excellent editorship at the beginning and one of the most hysterical chats of my life. This girl is a pro, I tell you! ;)), ksb (for your utter faith in us and amazing reviews), mistressbabette51 (for occasionally looking at us like we're nuts and for being one of the critics I strive to please. Yes, I hear you wanting to whack us in the head at some points. :D), AgiVega (again for being there for so long and sticking by us), Mrs. Mosley (who finally gets her cameo this chapter! Told you we'd get you in here!), Tandrelmairon (any review from you is worth its weight in gold. One day we might approach your level of excellence.), the BT girls: Noux, Lauraleye, Vgerland, and Saavikam (we love you and thank you so much for putting up with late reviews and lack of discussion as this monster takes over our life. You were here when it first started and we are forever grateful that you're still here! WE LOVE YOU FOUR!), and to everyone else we may have forgot and for everyone out there reading and reviewing, we say:

IT'S ALL FOR YOU!

And now I'm shutting the hell up! Let's get this show on the road! (Laughs)

Act Four: Luthor


Lois had smiled when she picked up the phone, hearing Barbara's voice. But before she could say more than, "Hello," her expression began to slip.

"Lois, listen," Barbara said, and the tension in her voice was enough to send a chill down Lois' spine. In the background, she could hear Ashlyn crying, and Todd's voice trying to soothe her. "Ashlyn's class got held late, so she came out five minutes after everyone else. When she got to the bench where Mrs. Mosley normally waits with the twins, nobody was there."

"What?" Lois' voice was a tiny, strengthless whisper.

"Todd and I got there right after; we found Mrs. Mosley. Someone hit her in the head and dragged her into the bushes; Todd called an ambulance and the police. She's gonna be okay, I hope… She doesn't remember what happened."

Ashlyn's voice rose in the background, petulant with trauma. "Where are Jason and Kala?!"

Barbara sighed, and her tone made it clear how much she hated giving this news, how deeply she understood the horror she was about to voice. "Lois … the twins are missing. They can't be gone long; we already called the police…"

But the reporter heard no more. At those four words, the twins are missing, her vision went abruptly white, her ears deafened by the sudden roar of her own blood beating faster, faster. "Luthor," she whispered, and came back from the brink of fainting, burning with fury. Luthor. You sonofabitch, I'll kill you. Touch one hair on their heads, and I swear, if it takes my last breath to do it, I will kill you.

She wasn't aware of dropping the phone, letting it thud against her desk as it twisted on its cord. Lois just grabbed her purse with the reassuring weight of the Ladysmith inside, and headed for the doors. She tried to keep her emotions locked down inside, but it was little use. Part of her was wailing in sheer terror, howling for this to be merely a nightmare. Another part screamed for Luthor's blood, enraged and knowing instinctively he had to be behind the kidnapping.

Dimly, Lois heard Jimmy yell, sensed him and Perry following her. She had one goal in mind: hunt Luthor down before he could harm her children. God alone knows what he's figured out, she thought, storming toward the doors. I'm not going to let the twins get hurt because of me, because of what I had with their father. I'll strangle that bastard Luthor with my bare hands if he hurts them… Jason, Kala, Mommy's coming…

She was barely aware of her surroundings until she nearly reached the elevators, and then he was there, barring her way. "Get out of my way now, Kent," she growled, his voice unheard. Not even Superman could stop her when her children were at stake…

Clark had been minding his own business, working on a story and worrying about the arsonist, when he became aware of the absence of a sound that he knew and loved. Lois' heartbeat.

His head snapped up, his expression intense enough to give away his secret if the right people had seen his face. But then her heart began to beat again, and for an instant he relaxed.

The beat was too fast, though, too hard, and it only accelerated. Clark hadn't tuned into the phone conversation yet – he spent most of his time trying not to hear private discussions – but he did so then, catching only a woman's voice as she called out, "Lois? Are you there? The cops are coming … the twins could be anywhere…"

And his own heart stilled in its great steady rhythm. The twins. Oh, my God. No… Lois went steamrolling across the office, Jimmy yelling for the Chief, yelling for him. Clark forced himself to move past the shock and the horror, and as soon as he was up he found his own pulse hammering. He sped out of the side door that lead to a long-disused hallway to some conference rooms, and beat Lois to the elevators in a blur of super-speed. "Lois, wait," he said, and she was nearly incoherent with terror and rage as she snarled a reply and tried to push past him.

Clark caught her arm, held her fast. "Lois, you can't do this," he said as gently as he could, his heart breaking for her. "You can't run headlong…"

She whirled on him, punching his elbow in a vain attempt to make him let go that probably numbed her hand. Her voice rose as she shouted, "Don't tell me what I can't do! Luthor has my twins! And I'll do whatever I have to! Now get the hell out of my way!"

Lois was hysterical. Clark had never thought he'd see her this far gone into that particular madness, but he couldn't let her go. She'd likely run blindly into some trap of Luthor's, and how would that help Jason and Kala? Clark grabbed her upper arms and lifted her off the ground slightly, setting her down again squarely in front of him so that she had to look into his eyes, not at the elevator doors. It was done so smoothly and swiftly that Perry and Jimmy probably hadn't seen or recognized the immense strength behind that simple move. "Lois, get hold of yourself," he told her firmly. "You can't go running off like this; Luthor has a trap laid for you if you do."

She struggled in his grip, her hazel eyes brimming with tears. "Damn you, let me go!" Her voice was near breaking with the extremes of emotion, but she knew all too well that he was far stronger than she was. She had only one way to hit him hard enough to make him release her, and it was with words. "What if it was you, huh? What if Luthor had your kids, what would you do?" Lois glared up at him defiantly, practically spitting the words into his face. While part of her was reeling in disbelief over how close to the truth that was, the majority of her mind and heart hoped it would startle him into letting her go. Nevermind that he was faster, or that he was probably right. Gripped in the vise of panic, all she cared about was chasing down the maniac who had her twins.

And it did shock Clark, but not as badly as she hoped. I suspect he does have them, Clark thought distantly, but he held her and let the certainty in his blue eyes calm hers. "If it happened to me, Lois, I'd pray you were around to stop me from doing something like this."

That stopped her; Lois' eyes went wide as she stared up at him, both of them all too aware of the implication in their words, Lois realizing the inevitability of it. Neither she nor Clark noticed Jimmy whispering to Perry, both men turning away from the doors and shooing the other reporters back to their desks. Clark continued softly, "Getting yourself killed won't help them, Lois. Jason and Kala need you alive and free to act."

Then the tears began to spill from Lois' eyes, and she choked back a sob. "It's my fault, Kal-El," her voice low and trembling, and Clark pulled her close, cradled her in his strong arms, and she was unsurprised at that moment to finally feel at home at last. Closing her eyes at the momentary relief it gave her, she could only close her eyes and hold tightly to him.

"We'll find them," he whispered, and guided her out of the hallway, into the maintenance corridor, where the toughest reporter on the Planet could weep brokenly to the one person who had ever seen her that vulnerable.

Richard had found reasons to stay out of the office. The consulate fire needed following up, some other stories needed a bit of fact-checking, and it never hurt for the International editor to have lunch in the café across the street from the U.N. building.

One more thing required his attention, and in the afternoon he went to Centennial Park. A tent city had sprung up in the meadow, and Richard worked his way through the dispersing crowd. He'd timed this just right, arriving after Lana's show was over…

Flashing his press pass got him backstage, where the slim redhead was shaking hands and accepting congratulations from a crowd of admirers and fellow designers. Richard waited, smiling a little; Lana was unfailingly nice to everyone, even the one or two who were clearly jealous of her success and trying to offer a backhanded compliment. He couldn't help comparing the two women: Lois would have had a scathing reply delivered in the same falsely sweet tone, but Lana acted as if the compliment was sincere and defused any potential insult.

What a genuinely nice person, he thought, mentally kicking himself in the next instant. What are you thinking, Richard? And while we're on the topic, what are you doing here anyway? You're engaged!

For how much longer? Was that his conscience, speaking so coldly? Richard shook off the thought, silencing his doubts for the moment. He was just here to congratulate a source on her successful show. Nothing more than that. Really.

The press of people abated somewhat, and Richard was able to make his way to Lana's side. "Hi," he said, turning that winning grin on her. "I wanted to be the first to congratulate you on the show, but it looks like I was a little late."

The redhead seemed startled to see him, but her lips curved up in a smile that lit her green eyes. "Richard! What a pleasant surprise," she said with real warmth. Perhaps she had shaken hands with too many fans and rivals in the past few minutes, because Lana automatically reached out and took hold of Richard's hands.

The spark that leapt between them was tangible to both, and their eyes widened simultaneously. His fingers tightened on hers for an instant … and then Lana dropped his hands as if she'd been shocked, chuckling nervously. "Well, it is good to see you," she said, and the comment sounded lame to her own ears. Lana scolded herself, Quit fawning over him, you idiot! He's engaged to be married, remember?

Even if he's unhappy… The traitorous little voice that whispered in her ear spoke the truth, but Lana didn't want to listen. He was a nice man and a good reporter; that was all. She couldn't let herself get close to him. "So how are Lois and the twins?" she asked, quickly trying to put some distance between them.

Richard flinched; that was pure icewater, there. "They're okay," he answered automatically. Then he remembered whom he was talking about, the conversation he'd had with Perry that morning, and went on. "I learned something else I wish I didn't know about Lois, but that's to be expected by now."

Lana smacked his arm. "Don't talk about your fiancée like that," she said sternly. "She can't be … the way you make her sound, or you wouldn't be with her."

Her frankness surprised an uncensored reply out of him. "I might not be for much longer."

Dark auburn eyebrows rose questioningly. "Oh? Did she find out about your extensive background check?" Darn it, can you be any more abrasive? What are you trying to do, make him feel at home? Thank God he couldn't hear the thoughts whispering in her mind. Did I just think that? My God, that was catty.

Richard gave her back a look that was just as cool. "No, I found out she kissed another man," he replied. But this was Lana, so he amended, "Almost kissed him, anyway."

"What?" she asked. "Is this the guy you think is the father of the twins, or someone else?"

"Yeah, it's Clark," Richard replied, and bit his tongue a second too late. Aw, damn. I can't believe I just did that.

"Clark?" Lana's voice rose. "Clark Kent? You're out of your mind! I've known him since grammar school!"

"Keep your voice down," Richard hissed. "Yes, that Clark. Think about it, Lana. Have you ever seen the way he looks at her?"

"I've met her once," Lana replied, "and she was too busy tearing your head off for me to notice anything … else…" No, wait. He was watching Lois – and that scolding was as much for him as for Richard. She pretty much stalked over and marked them both as hers… Not to mention that day in the Chinese restaurant. Textbook definition of awkward there – and the look she shot me just screamed 'jealous.' Dear Lord, I think Richard's right.

Clark is the twins' father. That cashier didn't know how right she was – Daddy's girl indeed! And oh, what Richard just said he found out… Clark's been fooling around with an engaged woman?

Martha Kent is going to kill him!

There was no more time to talk, or to think, however. Richard's cell phone buzzed, and he muttered, "Let me check this." The screen displayed Perry's desk, and little as Richard wanted to take the call, he knew he should. "Hello, Uncle Perry, I'm with a source… What? What? Who has them? Wait a minute – Perry, where's Lois?" He listened a moment longer, his complexion going pale as chalk, and Lana caught his arm, afraid he would faint. "Thank God. I'll be there as soon as I can," he said into the phone, and snapped it shut.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Lana asked. She didn't need to know exactly what was going on; his face and voice told her it was terrible, and her compassion moved her.

Richard looked at her blankly, as if he'd forgotten who she was and where he stood. Then his wild eyes focused, and she saw a little relief in them. "I don't know, but if there is, I'll call you. Lana, I have to go."

"I know," she replied, and everything left unspoken between them could stay that way for now. Whatever he'd just heard overrode all else. "Is it Lois or the kids?"

"The kids," Richard replied. "They've been kidnapped. Thank God Clark stopped Lois from running after them or she'd have been taken by now, too."

Sympathetic pain tore through Lana, and her sea-green eyes filled with fear and grief. "My God, Richard," she whispered, and squeezed his shoulder gently. "Be safe – and call me if you need me."

Richard placed his hand over hers briefly, mute gratitude in his glance, and then he was gone. Lana was left feeling suddenly alone in a sea of people, her mind in turmoil. It doesn't matter that he's not their biological father, he loves those kids. And to have come so close to losing her as well… My God, please, don't do this; he doesn't deserve it. None of them do. Please, please, let the twins be okay…

Jason cried out as the big man shoved him into the room, making him stumble and fall. Kala writhed in her captor's grip, kicking at his shins with as much accuracy and force as she could muster. He said a bad word when she connected, and dropped her. Before the girl could whirl on the man who'd pushed her brother, the other man put his hand between her shoulder blades and shoved her hard. She staggered into the room and hit Jason just as he was getting to his feet again, and both twins tumbled to the ground.

It took them a moment to disentangle themselves and get up, and during that time they heard metallic noises on the other side of the heavy door. "They locked us in," Jason said in affronted tones.

Kala muttered one of Mommy's bad words, trying to keep a brave face. "They better leave us 'lone, or I'm gonna bite 'em next time. You okay?"

"Uh-huh," Jason said, looking down at himself. His knees and palms stung from where he'd caught himself in the fall, but the boy had hurt himself worse on the playground. His brand-new shirt was another matter, though. It had a rip in the sleeve, which he picked at sorrowfully. "What about you, Kala?"

I'm really scared and my arm hurts where the bad guy grabbed me, she thought, but she only shrugged and said, "I'm fine." Thinking back to all of the school fire drills and Officer Safety and her parents having always told them to stay calm in any kind of emergency, Kala knew that was what she had to do. She needed something else to think about besides the bad men hitting Mrs. Mosley like that, and then picking her and Jason up like they were bags of groceries or something. Some way to keep calm until they could get rescued. If Mommy was here, what would she do?

Look for a way out, maybe. Kala looked around intently. This was a very large room, almost as big as the bullpen at her parents' job. It was hard for her to remember that all of this, and lots more, was actually on a boat. Not much else in it besides the two of them, a piano on a raised dais at this end of the room, and some couches and tables at the other end. This looked like the kind of room where grownups had really boring parties where they danced slow and drank too much. She did see one other door over by the seating area, and started toward it.

A sudden low throbbing caught her attention, and she turned in a slow circle. That noise sounded big somehow, and to her sensitive ears it was quite loud even in the insulated ballroom. It was almost like the roar of a furnace, or Daddy's plane engine…

They felt the movement at the same time, Jason turning to her with wide eyes. "They're takin' us out to sea!" he said anxiously, and his voice hitched as his breath grew shorter.

Kala had had enough asthma attacks to recognize the beginning of one, and she hurried to her brother's side. Those other doors were probably locked, anyway – grownups weren't usually as dumb in real life as they were in the movies. "It's gonna be okay," she told Jason, hugging him. "Mommy and Daddy are gonna find us, and they're gonna beat the snot outta these guys and take us home."

Jason locked his arms around his sister and hugged her back tightly. The painful knot in his chest started to ease a little; as long as the two of them were together, everything would be okay. "Yeah," he replied with false bravado. "An' I won't let them take you 'way from me, Kala. We're safe if we're together."

"Right," she said forcefully. "We'll always be safe as long as we're together. No ugly bald bad guy's gonna getcha while I'm here, either."

In spite of their courageous words, the two children clung to each other, desperate for comfort.

Richard made it across town in record time, his palms slippery on the steering wheel. The elevator at the Daily Planet seemed incredibly slow, and he paced the confined space. Finally, the doors opened on the sixtieth floor, and Richard rushed out.

Jimmy was waiting for him. "They're in the conference room in back," he said in a low, urgent voice. "Perry's already told everybody we're not rolling on this one 'til the twins are home safe, so it's none of their business."

"Good call," Richard muttered, but his mind was focused on one goal. He hurried down the disused hallway, making Jimmy stretch his legs to keep up, and was at the door in moments. The international editor twisted the doorknob, not slowing down until he was past the threshold.

Lois was sitting at the big conference table, looking very fragile and frightened. Everything he suspected, everything he knew, everything he feared, shattered in the moment that Richard met her gaze. None of that matters now, he told himself as he crossed the room with quick strides. The twins are all that's important.

He had almost reached her when he realized who was standing behind her, his hand on her shoulder. Clark saw Richard, and started to step away, but Lois covered his hand with hers even while her eyes were locked on Richard's. He stayed, and squeezed her shoulder gently.

For the moment, Richard ignored him, ignored Perry at the other end of the table, ignored Jimmy closing the door behind him. He dropped into the chair beside Lois, caught her free hand, and cupped her cheek. "Lois," was all he could whisper, words failing him.

"Richard," she sighed, leaning against his hand on her cheek. "Thank God. Perry told you?"

"Yeah," he replied. "I'm so sorry…"

"It isn't your fault," Lois said, and the guilt in her eyes was heartbreaking.

"Okay, kids," Perry said gruffly. "Save the blame game for later. Right now we need to get those kids back. Any ideas where they are?"

Lois rubbed her temples briefly. "Not a clue. We need to check the Vanderworth and Luthor property records, although I doubt he'll make it that easy. The sonofabitch could be anywhere."

"Are we totally certain this is Luthor?" Richard asked gently. "I mean, Lois, you're a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. You've made other enemies…"

The raven-haired reporter was already shaking her head. "No, it's him. It reeks of Luthor. The timing, the precision, the sheer bastardy of hitting me through my kids – it's Luthor."

"But why now?" Perry asked. "He hasn't made a move since he threatened you at the Pulitzers, and you've left him alone."

Lois bit her lip, her gaze skittering away. Then she sighed heavily and tilted her head back, her raven curls blanketing Clark's hand that was still on her shoulder, still anchoring her. "I went to the Vanderworth estate this morning," Lois said.

"You what?" the four men said simultaneously.

"I checked all the specs on the security system," Lois said sharply in her own defense. "There's no way he should've known I was there. And I picked up an important piece of evidence."

"Evidence is for cops," Perry growled. "What the hell did you find?"

Now she hesitated. "A piece of crystal. Very small, but it was out of place. I wonder if it's part of a detonator or…" Lois trailed off as Clark's hand tightened on her shoulder, and she turned to look up at him, seeing his face, seeing his eyes suddenly full of horrified recognition. It was only then that a possibility occurred to her as well…

"But what does crystal…" Jimmy started to ask, and they were interrupted by Lois' cell phone ringing.

That wasn't the normal ring tone, however, and Lois clawed it out of her purse. Just as she'd suspected, it was a text message, and she hurriedly pressed the buttons to view it.

The first thing that appeared on the tiny screen was a grainy picture from a camera phone. Lois' breath froze in her chest, her lungs squeezed painfully tight, as she looked at Jason and Kala being held roughly by their upper arms, forced to face the camera.

Clark and Richard saw the photo at same moment, and both drew in sharp breaths. That image held all three frozen in shock, fury, and terror, but it soon began to scroll upward. The message that appeared beneath was, if anything, more horrifying.

"Greetings Ms. Lane,

Such lovely children you have. They're fine, for now. Don't involve the police or the military if you want them to stay that way. Come looking for me yourself – or bring the Boy Scout. I've got a little present for him.

It might take you a while to find my island hideaway, but don't worry – I'm aware of your children's special needs. Nobody will feed them peanuts while your back is turned.

Just a reminder: Get your father's military contacts on this one, and I'll mail them back to you in pieces. First Jason's right pinky finger, then Kala's left ear.

Yours,

An Old Friend"

Lois' free hand trembled, and the text began to blur. "Oh, God, Clark," she whispered in a choked voice, holding his hand all the tighter. "The twins…Oh, God, he really does have my babies."

"We'll get them back," he told her, and his voice was firmer than the others had ever heard it. There was an underlying anger to the words as well, something that didn't bode well for Luthor. "In the meantime, let's get started tracing him down. Perry, Richard, and Jimmy can start looking at the property rolls – I'll see what I can do about tracing the phone he placed the message from."

The other three men glanced at each other speculatively; was this Clark Kent taking command of the situation? They'd seen him protective of Lois before, but never like this.

He wasn't finished, however. "As for you, Lois, I think you need to get in touch with Superman. We can really use his help."

"After what happened last time, do you think he'll be easy to get hold of?" The question came from Richard, clearly reluctant to ask it but voicing all of their concerns.

"Superman would never deliberately abandon Lois Lane," Clark said seriously, meeting the other man's eyes steadily. "Especially not now."

Hearing those words, Lois' hazel eyes met his again, this time with gratitude and something else warring in her expression. Something a lot like love.

A child's sense of time is flexible. Joyful, exciting moments flash by too quickly to capture, and must be repeated again and again for their impact to be felt. The boring times, however, drag along forever and ever. The five minutes between each query of "Are we there yet?" can seem like five hours – or five years – to an active young mind spinning its wheels while the equally active body endures forced idleness.

Jason and Kala had no idea how long they were left alone. Long enough to thoroughly explore the ballroom, try to take a nap on the leather-covered couches, explore again in the hopes that their first search had overlooked something useful, and then sit for an interminable length of time staring apprehensively at the doors. After a while, the sheer boredom grew so oppressive that the twins felt as though they had always lived in that room, in that state of tension, and always would. There would never be an end to the waiting and wondering.

And then, suddenly, something changed. Kala's exquisite hearing captured the sound of the locks being turned, and she sat bolt upright, facing the potential threat, her heart hammering. What she wanted to do at that moment was bawl, but she screwed her face into an approximation of her mother's best scowl. As the door opened a crack, the little girl made her voice sound angry and employed a threat she'd once heard Lois make. "Th' next one who pushes me or my brother 'round gets a kick in th' jools!" Kala didn't know exactly why the words had such an effect when their mother used them on Grizzly Lombard, but she hoped that it would impress whoever was opening the door.

Jason hadn't heard the sound, but when Kala sat up, he did, too. The person who came through the door wasn't scary except for being a stranger, though, and so he asked curiously, "Who're you?"

The dark-haired woman seemed a bit taken aback by both of them, but she recovered quickly, rushing into the room in a clatter of high heels and closing the door behind her. "My name's Katherine," she said, and her voice had a hint of false cheer in it. It had the same affect on a child's hearing that cherry flavoring does in cough syrup; instead of sugarcoating the bad thing, it makes it more obvious by contrast. "What are your names?"

Both twins scowled. Probably no one here could be trusted … but they had been raised to be polite. "I'm Kala," the girl said warily.

"Jason," he answered.

Kitty frowned; these two were much more suspicious than she expected. Luckily, she had a trump card handy. "I'm sorry I can't let you out," she said, and that had the ring of truth behind it. She sensed them defrosting a little, and continued, "Lex – the guy you saw when Grant and Riley brought you on board – he's … he's not a very nice man."

"He's bald," was Jason's blunt reply.

The twins looked at each other for a moment, and Kala wrinkled her nose as she added, "And creepy."

That startled a laugh out of Kitty, which she quickly stifled. "You're very right," she replied. "But you understand why I can't let you go, right? I mean, we're already at sea, there's nowhere you could go."

"Yeah," Kala said with obvious skepticism. "What do you want?"

That one's her mother's daughter, Kitty thought wryly. I only saw the Lane woman on TV for a few seconds and listened to Lex harp about her longer than I like to think about, but I can spot that attitude already. "Well, you could do me a favor," she said aloud. "Or we can say you're doing me a favor, anyway, so nobody gets in trouble. Do you like dogs?"

The twins glanced at each other again as if silently conferring. "All except the drooly ones," Jason replied cautiously.

"And the ones that bark all the time, even when there's nothing there," Kala added with a roll of her hazel eyes, thinking of Richard's parents and their Yorkies.

"Well, I have a little dog," Kitty said. "Lex doesn't like her – he's mean to her. And she's really lonely; there's no one to play with her anymore. Would you keep an eye on her for me, and play with her with her toys?" As she asked, she reached into the oversized purse on her shoulder and brought out Tala.

The little golden puffball barked twice and wagged her tail furiously, her inky eyes lighting up. Tala loved children; they gave her all kinds of people food, either directly or by dropping crumbs while they ate.

Kala and Jason tried to be reserved and watchful, but they couldn't help brightening up at the sight of the dog. Smiling, Kitty set Tala down, and the Pomeranian ran to the twins. Their wary demeanor dissolved as Tala jumped up on them, licking and wagging, and the twins laughed out loud.

Kitty chuckled, smiling wistfully at them. It was the first time in a long time that she had heard such innocent laughter.

Her enjoyment of the moment would've been seriously lessened if she had known who was listening outside the door.


Just who is that listening at keyholes?