Chapter Twenty-Three

Sydney sat on the edge of the luxurious double bed, trying not to think about how empty it would be when she went to bed later that night. Her bags were still at the entryway where the bellhop had left them and she didn't have the energy to unpack them. The flight to Rome had been uneventful, almost boring had it not been for her frequent trips to the bathroom to relieve her stomach. Her seatmate had finally gotten exasperated with her and switched seats so she could run up and go when she had to. Now, she felt weak and sick and alone. Her father had left with Vaughn, and her mother had left to comfort his mother. And Vaughn.she'd abandoned him.

The thought of it almost made her want to throw up again, but she pushed the thought from her mind. She would see him again-she'd make sure of it. She hadn't spoken to her parents about it, but she was not going to spend the rest of her life running away. Sloane was hunting her and she was not a helpless deer in hunting season. She was what he made her and now she was going to use all the skills she'd learned to hunt him. He would pay for all the suffering he'd caused, not just to her, but to everyone else whose lives he'd touched.

Maybe a bit of that old ruthlessness rubbed off, she thought with grim humor.

Standing, she went to the desk and took out a pad and pen. She knew Rome well in the sense that she knew where to get what she needed. The shadows in the back alleys with their crates full of pirated high-tech equipment and the store owners who led doubles lives as weapons runners would help her, especially when she waved lira in their faces. As usual, money was no object. The expense account her father had given her was an SD-6 account, still active. It was poetic justice that Sloane's money would ultimately destroy him. She made a laundry list of what she needed, things she could fit into a backpack easily.

Her concentration was broken when the phone rang. She stared at it for a second before getting up and answering it with a thick Italian accent.

"Sydney."

She let out a breath. "Dad."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I'm fine."

"Let me know where you're going next. And Sydney?"

"Yes?"

"Don't do anything that can get you into more trouble."

Sydney only smirked, but she kept her voice even. "I'll be careful."

The phone clicked in her ear and she went back to her list. Ten minutes later, she was ready to go out into the city when she had to run into the bathroom to relieve herself of what little lunch she'd been able to eat. She took deep breaths when she slumped back against the wall, feeling absolutely wretched. Something was wrong. She couldn't go through with anything if she was sick. Racking her brain for possible illnesses, she suddenly realized she hadn't had her period since all this had began.which meant she'd missed it twice. Face getting even paler than it already was, she pushed herself off the wall and grabbed her purse. Before she would seek out what she needed for Sloane, she had to make a run to the drugstore.

Thirty minutes later, she was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, her hands trembling as she stared at the results. Never had she felt more alone, more helpless, and more saddened. She put one hand to her stomach, silent tears streaming down her face as she murmured her apologies to her unborn child.

Their unborn child.

Had it been another life, Vaughn would be at her side, screaming his elation at their gift. He would take her in his arms and they would probably fall into bed. But not this life. In this life, she was going to bring a child into a life that involved running and hiding and being afraid. She couldn't do that. Putting a hand to her mouth to stifle her sobs, she decided then and there that she would give Vaughn's son or daughter a chance at a normal life without secrets.

She didn't know how long she sat in the bathroom, but when she stood to wash her face, her insides felt numb. Sloane would have to wait. She couldn't risk hurting her child should she be in a fight. Hunting Sloane would come later, after the baby was safe. She wanted to find Vaughn, but knew that would not be a wise choice. She needed to lessen the risk as much as possible. Contact with her father would have to remain at a minimum-he couldn't know. No one could. To protect the baby.

Sydney crawled into bed and curled on her side. She couldn't stop the tears from falling, feeling her pillow become wet under her cheek. She closed her eyes and drifted off into a troubled sleep, her only consolation the fact that she wasn't alone anymore.

* * *

Vaughn slumped in the cheap motel armchair, the neon lights from the vacancy sign outside his window bathing his face in its bright pink glow. A half empty bottle of vodka, he'd taken one look at the brandy and felt sick, sat on the table next to him. In his hand, he held an empty paper cup, having just drained it. He looked like hell and felt even worse. Granted, the alcohol, though it did help him for a little while, wasn't improving the situation, but he could not find anything else to do with his time. He was on the run, holed up in a seedy motel in Toronto, and he couldn't risk showing his face outside, not that he would. There was no one to talk to, and he couldn't call anyone he knew, especially the people he wanted to talk to the most.

The paper cup crumpled in the fist that he made. He wondered where Sydney was, breaking his vow of five minutes to not think about her. He hoped that she was suffering as much as he was, but then quickly retracted the thought. He knew that in her highly paranoid way of thinking, she was doing him a favor by abandoning him. That kind of thinking had kept her alive for a long time.but he just wished that she'd put it aside for them. Bitterness filled his mind as he thought of the life he'd left behind, a life that would have been empty without her but at least it would have been a life. Not this running and hiding in complete isolation from the rest of the world. He eyed the bottle of vodka and glanced at the paper bag containing a bottle of gin.he was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic. With black humor, he decided that if the stress of this situation made him forget who he was tomorrow morning, he would welcome another bout with amnesia. As it was, he already remembered too much.

Vaughn tossed the cup into one corner, not caring where it went. He doubted anyone would care. He sure as hell didn't. Leaning forward, he propped his elbows up on his knees and covered his face with his hands. His breathing became ragged as he fought back a wave of anguish, one of many that he'd had to deal with since reading Sydney's letter. He didn't know how she'd managed to get so far under his skin, but he doubted he would ever be able to get over her.

Then, he wondered why he should even try. He had an unlimited amount of money to withdraw from.he had a suitcase full of passports and other identification that would make traveling easy. Straightening and with a sharp look in his bleary eyes, he sat back and considered the possibilities.

Before he could change his mind and capitulate to the need for the numbness alcohol gave him, Vaughn stood, took the vodka in one hand and the gin in the other. He went to the grungy bathroom and poured out both contents at the same time, fighting the urge to right the bottles and save what little was left. When they were empty, he dumped them in the trash and wiped his hands on his jeans.

Now was not the time to give up, he told himself, sitting on the edge of the lumpy mattress. He would not give up on her. Two days in an alcohol haze was all he was going to allow himself from now on. He would find her and stay with her when he did. Sloane's dogs were already out there on the hunt, but they didn't know her the way he did. He'd found her once before, in the train station before going to Taipei, and though the world was definitely larger than L.A., he had faith that he would be able to find her again. In the short time they'd had together, he'd gotten to know her even better and he would use that knowledge now to seek her out. He needed to. Without her.

Yanking his shirt over his head, Vaughn laid back in the bed, trying not to think about the last time the sheets were washed and fell into a restless slumber. The sun streaming through the window woke him up after what felt like only a few minutes of sleep, but one look at the alarm clock told him he'd gotten a good ten hours. With a groan, he rolled out of bed and rubbed his eyes. He shuffled into the shower and stood under the slow trickle to wake himself up. The shower was exactly what he needed and he felt his mind become clear. He finished gathering his things and got ready to leave before he realized he had no idea where he was going to go.

Jaw set stubbornly, he made his way down to the lobby and out onto the street. It took a few minutes to flag down a cab due to his shoddy surroundings, but when he finally did, he told the driver to head for the airport. Where he was going, he didn't know, but he'd figure it out once he was there.

* * *