Story number 10 :D yey! Again, I have no clue where this is going, or if it'll turn out any good, but we shall see. Hope you enjoy!

Nikki x

Chapter 1

Jenny sighed deeply and sunk further down into her plush cream couch, kicking off her four inch heels and taking a minute to relish the blissful relief that spread through her sore feet. It had been one hell of a day. Long, strenuous, and bloody dangerous for the most part. Pressing her fingers into her eyes, she let her thoughts stray back to a few hours previously. When she was younger, she had generally associated theme parks with the joys and fun of being a child, but now all those memories seemed tainted with the image of that Sabre-toothed beast, prowling in the shadows of the bushes, preying on the completely oblivious park-goers. And the that poor girl – Valarie, Jenny reminded herself; the girl had been killed horrifically by a creature, and the least she deserved was to be referred to by her own name. Her death had been the most disturbing sight Jenny had ever seen, and she knew that the image of the girl being ripped apart limp from limp was going to stay with her forever. Immediately, bile started to rise in her throat as she remembered all that blood, and she quickly put the back of her hand to her mouth and straightened up, trying to push it all to the back of her mind.

Don't think about that, she thought to herself firmly for at least the tenth time that day. Just don't think about it . . .

Instead, she found herself thinking about that deranged farmer who had been about sixty seconds from blowing her head off and feeding her to his psychotic dogs. Shuddering slightly at the thought of what would have happened if Stephen and the others hadn't turned up when they did, she sniffed to compose herself, immediately squashing the panic that threatened to flare up in her stomach – she was safe now, she reminded herself resolutely. She was home, surrounded by familiar things and comforting feelings. There was nothing to be afraid of now.

As a distraction, Jenny fished in her handbag and pulled out her mobile phone, checking for any messages that might have arrived when she was lost in her own horrific world. To her surprise, a text message bleeped up from Abby. She blinked and re-read the name to check that her tired eyes hadn't made a mistake. It was not that she had never received a message from Abby before, but their contact was mainly confined to work hours – it's not like they had anything in common enough to socialise together outside of the ARC. In fact, it would probably be fair to say that they were as different as two women could ever be. Jenny liked her of course, but she doubted whether any amount of shared near-death experiences could bridge the societal gap between them. The same could probably be said for the rest of the team as well. There was Stephen, who she found very reckless and annoyingly gung-ho about everything. Not exactly horrible to look at she supposed, but he was too much of a pretty boy for her to ever feel an ounce of attraction to him. Then there was Connor, the token computer geek, who was sweet enough, but most of the time, he was just plain irritating.

Absently, she glanced down at the text –

Hi Jenny, just reminding u that we're all going 2 Cutters 2nite 4 his bday next week. I no its ben a horrible day, but it mite do us sum gud 2 hav a get 2gether. Hope u can make it.

Abby

Short, sharp and to the point. The perfect amount of warmth to give the illusion that they were on friendly terms, but with a hint of distance that jumped off the screen, giving the impression that Abby was still on her guard with her. Hardly surprising, Jenny though. After all, she was a senior member of the team, and was probably tarred to the same brush as Lester. The government officials, most likely classed as the enemies in the eyes of the scientists. In no way seen as part of the team, but more like the restrictive, interfering pen pushers that were more concerned with keeping the public in total ignorance of the anomalies than about the rising death toll. Probably half right, Jenny thought to herself, not that she was entirely comfortable with the idea. But it was her job after all.

She re-read the text message again. Cutters birthday – yes, she remembered a small team get together being mentioned a couple of days ago. Not that she had any intention of going. Nick Cutter was not a person she would generally associate with given the choice, and going to his birthday party would be a little to touchy-feely for her comfort threshold. He was a very odd man; stubborn, impetuous, and she suspected slightly suicidal judging by the predicaments he often tangled himself in. Still . . . she couldn't deny, even to herself, that he intrigued her. Not that she spent a lot of time thinking about him – he was only a colleague after all, and a bloody frustrating one at that. But there was something about him that made her uneasy. Something she couldn't put her finger on.

At odd times, she would catch him looking at her, sometimes with a frown on his face, and others with his mouth slightly open as though he was puzzled by her in some way. Which was rich, considering he was the one who had introduced himself to her by raving some garble about a woman called Claudia Brown. If anyone had the right to be puzzled, it was her. But he was the one who was staring. It was bloody unsettling, and made her feel more than a bit uncomfortable. At first, she had dismissed it, reasoning that it was simply a case of him fancying her. After all, it wouldn't be the first time she had been the object of a work colleague's affections. She had thought that her suspicions had been confirmed when he had turned up at her front door after the incident with the prehistoric worms, babbling something insane about her being a different person. And he had left when Mark had turned up at her side, his words unfinished, a sure sign that he was disappointed by the discovery that she was already taken. But now, after working with him for a few months, she knew that attraction was certainly not the case. He didn't fancy her – he hated her. He would avoid any conversation with her, and limited any interaction between the two of them unless it was absolutely necessary. And even then, when he was forced to speak to her, he would never quite look her in the eye, but instead fix his gaze on the floor or off into the distance. Any questions she directed to him were answered by him addressing others, and in the rare instances that they found themselves alone together, he would busy himself with something, or else simply walk away without a word. Not that it bothered her. If he had a problem with her doing her job, then he could go and jump to be quite frank. He had no right to judge her. In fact, he had a bloody cheek. There was no way she was going to go round to his house and force herself on the celebrations where she was certainly not welcome, or indeed wanted. However, she did feel rather touched that Abby had thought to invite her along in the first place. At least she was nice enough to try and include her in the team, and Jenny made a mental note to make more of an effort with her in the future.

Jenny jumped slightly as her house phone rang, wrenching her thoughts away from Nick Cutter. She glanced around, about to heave herself to her feet to answer it, but she couldn't seem to be able to summon the strength to bother moving. So, resting her head back on the couch, she closed her eyes and let the stiff ringing tone wash over her. Eventually, it went to the machine.

Hi darling, it's me (Mark's voice said). I'm just phoning to let you know I'm working late again tonight . . .

Jenny snorted to herself, still not bothering to open her eyes. 'Working late.' She knew very well what that meant. Not that she had any proof to back up her suspicions with; more of a niggling doubt that Marks honey-coated words were masking more than an impressive work ethic. Still, she would do what she always did whenever such thoughts crossed her mind – bury her head in the sand, and pretend it wasn't happening. After all, it might just be her own paranoid mind falsifying everything, and she was certainly not the type of woman to allow anyone to see her insecurities, not even her fiancé.

Things hadn't been particularly easy between the two of them since Jenny had joined the ARC. Before, they had been affectionate with each other - passionate even - but the burden of keeping her secret seemed to be taking its toll on their relationship. Jenny tried to act normal and keep a smile plastered to her face, but on days such as today when she had witnessed something no-one should ever have to see, even an expert PR woman such as herself couldn't hide the trama, and the fact that she couldn't even give Mark a reasonable answer when he asked her what was wrong meant it was inevitable that a wedge would be driven between them. She couldn't confide in him, and even if she wasn't under the Official Secrets Act, the chances of him believing her if she did so were pretty slim. So this was their life now. A long string of lies and deceit, thrown together by the odd kiss and cuddle that failed to plaster over the growing cracks in their relationship. They were both being untruthful with each other, she knew that, but she couldn't do a thing about it.

. . . so don't wait up sweetheart. I love you, and I can't wait to see that beautiful face in the morning.

She smiled to herself as the message ended, marvelling at how he managed to convey so much genuine adoration in his words when he probably had his hot blonde assistant perched on his lap as he spoke.

Stop it, she thought to herself immediately, shaking her head slightly. You're just being paranoid. He's a hard working man – what's wrong with that? It doesn't necessarily mean he's shagging his secretary . . .

Still . . . another thought piped up, if he is getting up to all sorts . . . are you just going to sit here, bored and alone, like the besotted wife-to-be? Waiting for him to finish enjoying his 'overtime'?

"No!" she said to herself aloud, feeling a prickle of fury as she stood up. "No way!"

Mind made up, she stalked off to the kitchen and roughly pulled a vintage bottle of red wine from the wine rack, and before she knew it, she was in the car, on her way to Cutters house.

Anything - even the open hostility that Cutter was sure to lever her way - had to be better than sitting home alone, with only a bottle of wine to accompany the thoughts of what her husband-to-be was probably getting up to.