by Fleurette

Part I

Natalie Lambert stepped out of the broken down rental car and started to walk. She was only a couple of blocks from the hotel and figured she could get there just as easily on foot as she could have in the car. She *wasn't* too thrilled with the idea, but it was the best she could come up with this late at night. Of course, it didn't help matters that the airlines had lost her luggage somewhere between Toronto and Montreal.

I should have taken the bus, she thought as she crossed the street and rounded the corner. She was so wrapped up in her problems that she didn't see the dark figure behind her or realize what was about to happen.

Startled, Nat yanked hard on the purse the man was trying to wrench from her hands. "Help!" she called out, despite the fact that it was quite late and the street was deserted except for her and the mugger.

"Help yourself, lady," the mugger sneered as he pushed her away, slamming her hard against the wall.

Nat felt her head striking the concrete behind her and heard the 'whack' it made upon impact. Then her world promptly went black.

(Three weeks later)

Nick watched as the last passenger walked past him to the luggage claim. None of them had been Natalie Lambert. Puzzled, he went to the information desk and asked the lady there if Natalie had been on the flight.

"Just one moment, sir," The lady said with a smile. She went to check the flight register and came back without her smile. "I'm sorry, sir, but there was no one by that name on this flight. Maybe you have the wrong airline?"

"I don't think so," Nick told her, frowning. He went back to the waiting area and took a seat in the nearest chair. She's just late, that's all. She'll come through that door any minute now... he told himself. Or... at least, he hoped so. The sun was about to come up and he wanted desperately to find Natalie and be home before it did.

After calling Nat's house every ten minutes for an entire day, Nick was convinced that something was very wrong. Unsure of what to do, he called the coroner's office and the hospital. No one had seen her, and she hadn't called in to work. But what was even more interesting, the hospital said they'd received a phone call from the people in charge of the medical convention Natalie was supposed to have attended. She hadn't shown up at her hotel or to the convention. They'd called to find out why she hadn't canceled her speech.

Nick didn't know what else to do. So he did what he always did... he went to the Raven... naturally, LaCroix would know what to do....