III

Jenna opened her eyes. She stared up at the dark hangings overhead and blinked a few times. It would have been nice if she could have forgotten where she was, but no such luck. She recognized the Dracula-inspired decor at once.

She had no idea how many hours had passed. Apparently Theophilus Black didn't believe in clocks, either; there were none in her apartment. But she had the impression a good amount of time had gone by. Her headache had gone as well, although the spot on her forehead where Scarface whomped her still throbbed a little when she reached up to touch it. Good thing he hadn't given her a concussion.

She would've liked to blame her hours of dreamless sleep on Scarface's blow but knew it probably had more to do with the two glasses of Bordeaux she'd drunk with dinner. Black might be a madman, but he kept a pretty good cellar. That stuff had been strong.

Since she didn't have anything better to do, she crawled out of bed, grabbed some of the clean underwear that had been left for her, and indulged herself in a long, hot shower. The bathroom door did have a lock, so at least she didn't have to worry about her captor or his henchman walking in on her when she was naked. And terrible as the shampoo and soap might have been, it still felt awfully good to get clean. A hot shower cured a variety of ills.

Her post-shower regime was depressingly short, lacking as it did a blow dryer, moisturizer, or any makeup. She blotted her hair as dry as she could with a towel and grimly put on some lipstick, wanting it for its moisturizing properties more than because she really thought it would do much to improve her looks. Besides, at the moment she really didn't give a good crap what kind of impression she might make. And since she hadn't been left any clean clothes, she had to climb back into her jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt, which had a new rip in the hem. Lovely. At least her dark green leather jacket seemed to have survived the kidnapping without any real damage.

She had no way of knowing how long she'd be left to sit alone here in her room, so she switched on both the bedside lamps and retrieved her purse. Theophilus Black had also left her the little notepad and pen she carried everywhere, and that was something. Maybe organizing her thoughts wasn't the best use of her time — maybe she'd be better off trying to short-circuit that thumbprint lock or something — but she'd knew she'd go crazy if she just sat here and stared at the walls.

Notepad clutched in one hand, she climbed back up on the bed and sat there cross-legged, then started scratching away with her pen. She often did this sort of thing when she was brainstorming an article or just wanted to free-associate information she might use later on. Sometimes it helped to let her thoughts go where they wanted.

It seemed fairly obvious to her that she wasn't Dr. Black's first "guest," but she wondered how many young women had been spirited away here. What sort of power did he hold over the people of Plainfield to have earned their complicit silence? You'd think someone would have called in the FBI or at least the state police if the local sheriff wasn't to be trusted, but it seemed that no one had said or done anything to prevent Theophilus Black from claiming his victims. Did he, in true mad scientist fashion, have some way of destroying the town?

Jenna frowned, wrote a question mark, and circled it several times. Logic suggested that Homeland Security or the NSA might be interested in an individual who owned a whole mountain and apparently had the capacity to zip an entire town's collective lips, but it seemed as if Theophilus Black had been able to continue with his kidnappings and experiments and what-have-you without anyone on the outside taking notice.

And where had he come from, anyway? Had he bought the mountain? Or maybe been born here? If that were the case, then she wondered who his father had been, and his mother. Another captive?

A little shiver passed over her then. Maybe that was Black wanted — a mother for the next generation of little Blacks.

He'd definitely picked the wrong woman for that. Jenna prided herself on not having a maternal bone in her body. She'd spent too much time watching her mother sacrifice her own happiness to make sure her daughter wanted for nothing in the years following Jenna's father's death. Kids didn't have any place in her future — it was something Larry had always liked about her. Of course he did, the asshole. Nothing more convenient than a mistress who didn't want to play house. Anyway, as she'd gotten the Mirena implant a little more than a year ago, despite her doctor's objections that it was really intended for women who'd had at least one child already, Theophilus Black was shit out of luck when it came to impregnating her, unless he was hiding a gynecologist somewhere on the mountain

Scowling, Jenna tore off the sheet of paper she'd been scribbling on and crunched it into a hard little ball before shoving it into her jacket pocket. Not that Scarface couldn't search her pockets with impunity if ordered to do so, but somehow hiding her frenzied musings helped her feel a little bit less helpless.

She stared down at the torn edge of her T-shirt for a long moment and grinned suddenly. Then she picked up her pen and began scratching out a list.


Theophilus waited until nine o'clock the next morning before he had her brought to him in the lab. While he had been up far earlier than that, he didn't know whether his guest was a late sleeper or not. Apparently not; Scarface reported that she was awake and dressed and appeared to have been that way for some time.

An important piece of information, one that Theophilus filed away against future use. When Jenna entered the lab, she looked rested, clean and scrubbed and with her hair waving against her shoulders instead of lying sleek and straight as it had the day before. He thought he liked her better this way.

She waited until Scarface had gone and the door had closed behind him. A little ghost-smile touching her mouth, she stepped forward, hand extended with a piece of white paper held between her thumb and forefinger.

"What's this?" Theophilus inquired. Despite his best efforts to prevent it from doing so, his forehead wrinkled in a frown.

"A list of demands," she said, her lips still curving with that faint hint of a smile. "Requests, if you prefer."

He repeated, "Requests?" even as he unfolded the piece of paper and began to scan its contents.

She had very clear block printing, clean as an architect's. So he was able to make out the words without much difficulty, but their contents mystified him.

"Dermalogica Calming Cleanser, Sheer Moisture, Enjoy Sulfate-Free Moisturizing Shampoo — " He broke off and stared at her in consternation. "What on earth is this?"

"Just the necessities of life," she replied calmly. "Be glad I'm not addicted to La Mer like some of my friends back in L.A. That stuff is a hundred and fifty bucks an ounce."

"You can't be serious."

She didn't blink. "If you're planning on keeping me here for some time, then you can at least show me the courtesy of letting me take care of myself the way I'm used to."

The smile faded slightly, and she crossed her arms and stared up at him, one eyebrow lifted in an expectant arch. He found himself admiring her technique even while he groped for some way to reply without showing her how much she had discomfited him. After a second or two he decided that a counterattack was probably the best response. The voices were mysteriously silent; perhaps they were as confounded by this Jenna Masterson as he was.

"And how on earth did you procure these items in Plainfield?" he demanded.

"Little thing called the Internet. You have heard of that, haven't you?"

"Of course," he said at once, stung.

"If you don't have it up here, you could have Scarface go into town and use a computer at the library — "

He cut her off, wounded pride spurring him to say, "I do have an Internet connection. And multiple firewalls, and IP masking, so don't bother hoping anyone could track you down by using it."

The precautions had all been his; it had been easy enough to read up on the requirements for setting up a secure installation and then having all the necessary components delivered to a blind postal drop in Billings, the closest big city. One of his more nondescript-looking henchmen handled all such pickups.

The smallest flicker of irritation passed over her features, but then she smiled again. "I'd never think any such a thing. Your computer?"

"Follow me." He led her over to the closest workstation and pressed a button on the remote he kept in his lab coat's pocket. A flat screen raised itself up out of the desktop, while a tray containing the computer's keyboard extended itself from beneath the desk's surface.

"Slick," Jenna commented. "Very Star Trek."

He didn't bother to ask her what that meant, but instead moved past her to enter his access code and bring up a browser window. Then he stepped back. "Go ahead and place your order."

"Maybe we should have Scarface go fetch my credit card — "

"Now you are being ridiculous," he said. "Do you think I can't afford a few face creams?"

She lifted her hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay. But I'm going to need some new clothes, too — "

"Just do it!" he snapped, then wished he could have taken the words back. It would never do to let her see she could make him lose control so easily.

If his outburst had unnerved her, she didn't show it. "No problem, Theo." She turned back to the screen and navigated to a site that appeared to cater to every possible beauty need a woman could have, filled her shopping cart with an alarming number of items, and then paused when she got to the payment screen.

The total was slightly staggering, but he had more money than he knew what to do with. He leaned past her to type in his false name and the address of the mail drop in Billings, along with one of his credit card numbers. He from inhaled deeply so he could drink in the scent of her hair as he bent past her. How could the products she was ordering manage to smell any more delicious than that?

"Theodore White?" she asked, reading the name off the screen.

He gathered himself enough to reply, "Pseudonyms are a necessary component of my operation, Miss Masterson."

"Of course they are."

And with that she returned her attention to the keyboard and visited another site, this one selling clothing. At least it appeared that she was purchasing practical items — trousers and shirts and sweaters and flat shoes. Even so, the total from this site was even more impressive. He held back a sigh as he handed over his payment information once again.

"Anything else?" he inquired. Somehow he managed to keep his tone neutral.

"I think so. I hope you don't mind that I asked for express delivery — "

"Of course not. Far be it from me to prevent you from receiving your moisturizers in a timely manner."

In response she tilted her head to look at him. The smile had disappeared for the moment, but her eyes had a certain mischievous sparkle. "I have to say that you're definitely the nicest mad scientist I've ever met."

"I am not mad," he said automatically.

She rose from her chair. "If you say so."

For the barest second she remained standing there, so close that all he had to do was reach out and pull her toward him. Perhaps she wouldn't have even resisted.

But then she stepped away, and the moment was lost. The pang that surfaced somewhere between his fourth and fifth ribs on the left side might have been regret…or maybe it was relief.

He didn't know for sure. All he could do was watch her as she moved off a few paces and paused in the center of the lab's main floor. She sniffed once, twice, and then the eyebrow went up again.

"Is that French roast?"


So okay, a mad scientist with deep pockets, a decent wine cellar, and access to crazy-good coffee. Maybe she'd have to revise revise? her opinion of Skullcrusher Mountain and the odd Dr. Black.

Not that she was willing to give herself over for a killer cup of French roast and a couple grand of clothes from J. Crew and a few hundred bucks' worth of beauty products, but still, if he were all that evil, would he have acquiesced to her demands without so much as batting an eye? Okay, maybe his eyelid had twitched just a bit when he saw the J. Crew total, but still…

Jenna took a few swallows of coffee, broke off a bit of bagel, and tried to watch Theophilus Black without appearing as if she were watching him. It wasn't that difficult, actually — he'd already risen from the lab table where their impromptu breakfast had been laid out and was puttering around with a complicated gizmo that consisted of a multitude of wires coming out of a box covered with dials. The entire setup was connected to what looked like a seismograph. For all the attention he was currently paying her, she might as well not even be in the room.

His hair was a mess, she decided objectively. It looked as if he'd hacked away at it himself with a pair of not very sharp scissors, which was probably the simple truth. It almost touched the collar of the dark shirt he wore under his lab coat, and she guessed he kept it at that length because it wouldn't require frequent trimming, while at the same time not being long enough that it would constantly fall in his face. And somehow it helped to soften his sharp features a bit.

He glanced up then, and for a second or two his eyes met hers. She looked away at once and busied herself breaking off another piece of bagel.

"What is that?" she asked, and pointed at the gizmo. Maybe she could make him think she had been looking at the mysterious device and not at him.

His face didn't exactly fall, but somehow he seemed to deflate slightly. "An earthquake detector."

"There's no way to detect earthquakes," Jenna replied. As if the scientists at Caltech hadn't been working on that sort of thing for decades. And Theophilus Black thought he could just pull an earthquake detector out of his back pocket?

"According to whom?"

"Every seismologist I've ever interviewed," she replied. And there had been a good number of them over the years, Southern California being what it was when it came to earthquakes.

"They don't know what they're talking about." An amber light flashed on the side of the device. He smiled. "A 3.0 in sixty seconds."

"A what?"

"This area is more seismically active than you might think, what with its proximity to Yellowstone. We will have a 3.0 earthquake in less than a minute."

She crossed her arms. "You don't really think — "

And then she stopped, because she had felt it. Just a tiny tremor, nothing that a native of Southern California would even have noticed unless warned that it was coming. She looked from Black's device to the seismograph, where a small cluster of black lines told her that the machine had recorded the same small quake she'd just felt.

"That's impossible," she said.

"And yet you see that it isn't."

He gazed at her, face impassive, eyes unreadable behind the wire-rimmed glasses. If he felt any pride in his accomplishment, it didn't show.

Fine. If he didn't seem to care, then she wasn't going to let him know how impressed she actually was. And how selfish, really — he was just sitting up here on his mountain with an invention that could potentially improve the lives of millions of people, and he acted as if he hadn't done anything more exciting than call heads or tails correctly.

Well, she could play that game, too. She shrugged, then poured the last of the coffee into her mug. "Is there any more of this French roast?"