Blue Ridge Mountains, just west of Charlottesville, Virginia

"I'm freezing my buns off. I swear, when we get Gavin out of this, I just might kill him myself. I can't believe he was this stupid."

"He's a man. She's hot. He was at a disadvantage from the get go." My sister, Lena shrugs one shoulder at me.

"Like I said...stupid." I hunch further down in my jacket in a useless attempt to hoard body heat.

Sitting next to my sister in our aunt's land rover that we sort of borrowed, halfway up a mountain and numb with cold, I'm thinking this is not the way normal eighteen year old girls spend their Saturday nights. But then, no one in the entire history of my family, up until, and including me and my three sisters, has ever laid any claims to being normal. We understood that right about the time we sat up and said mamma, but I had to admit, this was extreme – even for for us.

"Gavin and his damn hero crap." I sputter through my chattering teeth, "This is all his fault."

"Oh yeah, saving people, putting bad guys away, laying himself on the line every day to make the world a better, safer place..." Len's dry voice is a veritable downpour of sarcasm, "What. A. Loser."

"Okay fine. He's a damn hero." While I sound grumpy, my heart knows it's the truth. My cousin is a hero, not only for what he does for his country, but for what he's been to me and my sisters

"So what do you think this is really about?" Lena interrupts my musings, her hands reaching down to the floorboard, rummaging through the backpack at her feet.

I close my eyes, and sift through the information floating in my head. My brain is...different...really different. Experts say it's a disorder, some say it's a gift, my family understands it just is. I'm a McGovern. We're all different, I just got an unusually large dose. The pieces of information swirl in my mind, stubbornly refusing to fall into place, "I'm honestly not sure." I open my eyes to see her punching a small packet, she squeezes it a few times and hands it to me, heat warms my hands, "Damn, you had heat packs? What were you waiting on?" I shove the pack in my coat, and tuck my hands under it.

"Don't want to waste them." Lena gives me her signature left shoulder shrug, "We don't know what shape we'll find Gavin in." she shifts and I feel the weight of her ice blue stare, "and why don't you give it your best guess?"

"Seriously Lena, there are still too many pieces missing. What I know for sure is the same as you. Gavin's partner is dirty. She's selling stuff. What - I'm not sure, to somebody - again I'm not sure, but she's setting him up to take the fall, which means she's got to kill him The rest...I just don't know."

Her ice blue eyes continue to study me, "Best guess sis?"

She's a tenacious thing.

I rub my temples, where a dull throb has started behind my eyes. I shift the pieces around in my head, trying to make them fall into place, "Well according to what Allie deciphered, it's a product. Drugs maybe, weapons..." I drift off as dull, screeching sounds seep into my head, knowing what will happen if I keep trying to force it, I let it go. "I'm sorry sis. They're still floating."

Lena nods. She's familiar with the eccentricities of my brain. I rest my head on the back of the seat, "but I'm leaning towards guns or weapons of some kind."

"Okay it's about weapons." She's absolute.

"It's just a feeling. I'm not..."

"Mac, when has one of your so called feelings, ever been wrong?"

I just blink at her.

"Exactly." Lena affirms with another small nod, handing me a rubber band. I just look at it.

"For your hair. If things get rough, you don't want to worry about it getting in the way."

"Okay" I pull my long auburn hair up in a high ponytail, "Is that why you cut yours?" Lena got rough a lot.

"It's just easier." She flicks a hand through the short midnight strands, then leans down to pull something else out of her black bag of tricks, "So just how much trouble you think we're going to be in tomorrow?"

That question makes me wince. Spiking my aunt's tea with a little something to help her sleep, taking her car...yeah, a lot of trouble,"I don't want to think about it." I watch her rummage, "Just what have you got in there, anyway?"

She left shoulder shrugs me, "Eh, you know, this and that."

This and that, uh-huh. She probably had an arsenal in there, not to mention all kinds of techie spy crap. At sixteen, my sister was a character study of all things shady. She could break into anywhere, hack into anything, and sneak up on anybody. Oh, and she was a genius, all three of my sisters were, with I.Q.'s in the high 190's.

I jump at the sound of my pocket ringing, Christy, finally. I whip my shone out, "Hey, what have you got?" She's at the local Honkey-Tonk, less than half mile down the mountain, where Gavin's bimbo slut partner's men are known to hang out.

"Look you'll have to speak up." My youngest sister yells into the phone, "This joint is jumpin'. Between all the drunk rednecks and the bad music, and when I say bad, I mean somebody shoot me in the head now awful, I can't hear for poop. Give me a second, I'm trying to get outside."

I smile at my sister's word choice. Our Granny Rose had an issue with cursing. That issue being if she heard it, she'd crack your knuckles with her trusty wooden spoon before you had time to even think about apologizing for "such overt rudeness". Dear Goddess, I missed her. My knuckles were sore half the time, but she was the kind of crazy you couldn't help but love.

"Wow, okay, much better." Christy's voice cuts into my memories, "No sweaty, stinky Bubbas and no awful music. So it looks like there's six of them."

Six men working with the bimbo trying to frame our cousin, all members of some white supremacist group. Another reason I'm leaning toward weapons.

"We need to make sure they stay where they are until I can get Gavin out."

"Oh, they're not going anywhere. Allie came up with a heck of a plan."

"Allie! What the hell, you brought Allie?" Lena's twin, and my middle sister was sweet as anything and brilliant, but she could be a bit naive and this was way too dangerous.

"ALLIE?" Lena grabs the phone, hitting the speaker function, "What the hell Christy? We told you to leave her at home."

"Well, since I don't have a driver's license, she was kind of upset when she saw me trying to sneak out of the driveway with the Barbie-Mobile"

Yep, Allie was very protective of her little red mustang convertible.

"So I guess she knew better than to drink the tea."

"Yeah, no dice on that one," Christy's voice became musing, "You know, I think she's getting suspicious in her old age."

Frankly, I could see Allie's point. My youngest sister was a prodigy at brewing what we used to call potions. I found myself sniffing any liquid she handed me. Great Aunt Talulah, our family's official brew-master, kept an eye on her, but Christy could be a very enthusiastic pupil. She loved to experiment.

"Anyway," Christy went on, "Like I said, she's come up with a solid plan, and is executing it flawlessly. You should see her out on that dance floor. Every guy in here is panting. She's working them all against each other and coming off sweet as honey. They haven't got a clue. It's only a matter of time before the first punch is thrown, whole place is a powder keg. Actually, she's a little scary. "

"I'll just bet." Allie was gorgeous. At sixteen she had the face of an angel and the body of a sex goddess, along with an innocent sensuality that drew men like bees to honey.

"Fuck, Hell, Damn!" Lena spat out. Her knuckles were sore all the time, "You keep her safe Goddammit." She's is very protective of her twin.

"I've got this." Christy said, with an assurance way beyond her fourteen years. "Just get Gavin."

"Right, give me fifteen minutes, if you don't hear from me call in the cavalry."

"Do you really think they're close?"

"Oh yeah, I can feel it." Gavin's team was right on top of us. Something big was getting ready to go down.

"I'm still not sure why we just didn't do that in the first place."

"She's one of them. It will tip her off, and she'll kill him before they can get within a hundred yards."

"Oh yeah right. Mac, listen that toxin is serious," Christy's voice lowers to a whisper. I fiddle with the little device in my hand, a needle thin as a human hair, sealed inside a thin plastic shell. "All you have to do is push on the end, pop the needle through, and prick her skin. You've had the antidote so you should be fine, but as it's still in the experimental stages, best to avoid exposure and destroy it asap. Use the lighter. The fire will destroy it instantly, and uh...I'm not sure exactly how long it will take, probably five minutes, so you'll have to stall."

"Okay right, well if all goes according to plan A, I won't need it," Plan A being I get Gavin out before Bimbo girl catches on and shows her true colors, "but if A doesn't work out..."

"You fucking stick the bitch and wait for her to die," Lena's voice is at once hard as granite, "Just so you know, I'm on board with plan B."

"Aren't we all," Christy whispers.

"Well since plan B is gonna entail I don't even know what the fuck, pardon me, if I hope it's as easy as dropping in and getting Gavin out before slut-girl knows what's going on."

"Good luck with that one." Lena said under her breath, and I have a feeling she's spot on. This just isn't going to happen the easy way.

"Alright, so B is prick, destroy, stall, and retrieve. Got it. Good luck Christy, stay safe."

"You too." Christy quips, disconnecting.

"Here." Lena leans over and shoves a small device in my ear "this will keep us in contact. You can hear me. I can hear you, and probably everything in the room, but still we should have a code word so if things go bad, I can come to the rescue."

"How do you propose to do that?"

Another left shoulder shrug, "I'll get creative."

"Okay, how about we keep it simple. If I'm up shit's creek, I'll need a..."

"Paddle." she finishes for me.

"Paddle, good," I fiddle with the piece in my ear. Lena opens the door and steps out into the night.

"Blood on the moon."she whispers. I follow her gaze to the full moon overhead. There's a red ring around it, "The Goddess demands a sacrifice." My gaze drops briefly to my middle sister. Of the four of us, she's the only one who still practices the religion of our ancestors.

"Well, she's not going to be disappointed," I murmur. As she shuts the door, my eyes dart back to the cold white orb. Unlike my ancestors, I don't believe it holds mystic powers, and yet I feel its influence over our lives, as if by controlling our past it commands our future. Shivering, I shake off my musings and shove my foot down on the gas. The SUV roars up the mountain, and I find myself muttering a prayer to that very goddess I have no faith in.

"Gavin! Gavin, dammit, you open this door right now!" I wail at the top of my lungs while banging on his cabin door with both hands. It hurts like hell. I'm not wearing gloves and my fingers have long since gone numb. I figure go in strong like I'm some pissed off girl with a crush or... something...get in and get to Gavin and get him out, before double crossing psycho-slut gets suspicious. Yep, hoping for Plan A. And damn, it pisses me off to think of that woman in our cabin. Yes, technically it's Gavin's, but we've been coming here since I was ten years old. If that bitch has been in my bedroom...I pound harder and add a couple kicks, "Dammit, I know you're in there with that stupid slut! Open the fucking...whoa..."

The door jerks open and I surge forward, stumbling into the cabin, and even though I'm struggling to stay on my feet, my eyes are moving around the great room, empty - no Gavin. There's a fire crackling in the hearth, the kitchen is spotless, but on the coffee table sits two glasses, and an open bottle of red wine, one of the glasses is smudged with lipstick, I'm pretty sure that particular shade is "cheap whore red".

"Well, well, well, who do we have here?"

I turn to see stupid slut leaning against the door. She's gorgeous. I can see the appeal. Tall and fit, a perfect body, sheets of silvery blond hair, plump pouty lips and clear green eyes. Eyes that are calculating as a snake and cold as the grave, as they roam over me. Something in that look is telling me plan A's not going to work out.

Plan B it is. Lena will be thrilled.

I ignore the shiver of unease that comes with being on the receiving end of such a look from such a psychopath, and plow ahead.

"Where is he?" I spit out, my voice loaded with venom.

"Oh, he's around." she answers breezily, pushing herself up off the door and walking across the room with the grace of a predator, a really creepy predator, "and did I hear you right, you called me a slut?"

"Did I?" I give her my wide eyed innocent look. Unfortunately that's not a look I can pull off. Allie's tried to teach me. She could be caught with the bloody knife in her hand standing over the dead body, look at you, and you'd be convinced the person somehow stabbed themselves and planted the knife in her innocent, perfectly manicured hand. Me? The blood on my hands wouldn't have time to dry before I'd be locked up on death row. My wide eyed innocent look just screams insane serial killer.

"Yes," Slut girl's answer pulls me from my pondering of death row, "yes I believe you did."

"Well, you know what they say," I cross my arms over my chest and shrug one shoulder, " if the stripper pole fits, you just have to bump and grind..." the slight narrowing of her eyes is my only warning...and...CRACK! her open palm slams across my face with enough force to knock me sideways.

Okay, so yeah, that hurt, but I don't dwell on the pain. Knowing I'll only get one chance to be underestimated, I make a big deal of rubbing my jaw, while fingering the tiny needle in my other hand, I make a fist holding it between my knuckles, and springing up with my legs, I haul back and put the entire force of my body into the blow. My fist hammers her jaw with the force of a two hundred pound man, her head snaps back, and she falls right on her perfect, pert, little ass. With tremendous satisfaction, I see that not only is her face red from the impact but, she's also bleeding just a bit from the scratch of the needle.
"First blood, bitch." I snarl down at her, depositing the needle in my pocket, and rubbing my sore knuckles with my good hand. Damn, Lena was right, hurts like a bitch. A little ironic that said sister is howling with laughter in my ear, "Way to go sis." She whoops, then, "Oh sorry, distracting I'm sure, I'll shut up."

Then I hear male laughter, full, rich, dark, beautiful male laughter, "Oh, very good. What a punch."

I spin around shocked, at the heavily accented male voice, to see an impossibly good looking, and impeccably well dressed man, grinning at me, and immediately I hear that tell-tale discordant note in my head. Oh, this can't be good.

I need information, my brain jumps ahead and I open my mouth before I can stop it."Who are you?"

"Yeah, who the fuck is he?" Lena demands in my ear.

"Who am I... " Mr, Tall, Dark, and Indecently Handsome, murmurs musingly as he prowls over to me, his eyes still alight with laughter, "Now that is quite the question, but you can call me Andre'"

"Andre.'" I repeat slowly.

"Andre'? Who the fucking fuck is Andre'? What the hell is going on in there? " Lena demands in my ear. I bring my hands up like I'm rubbing my eyes, "Hell if I know," I whisper behind my hands, "and stop yelling in my ear."

"Right. Yeah, shutting up again."

I take my hands from my eyes to see Andre' now standing very close, his dark, almost black eyes, studying me, like I'm some sort of new species. Reaching over, he takes my sore hand in his much larger one, lightly brushing his thumb over my throbbing knuckles, it tingles all the way up my arm and down to my toes, "And I have to know who you are Miss... " Sheesh, his voice is like smooth whiskey and rough velvet or …..something. He may be an evil villain, but Holy Moly, is he a sexy one. This thought no sooner runs through my brain than that off key note pierces my head.

"Mckenna McGovern." I answer, my mind racing trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

"Mckenna," he repeats my name softly. The discordant note gets louder. I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from wincing, at this rate, I'll have a hell of migraine in no time.

"Who taught you how to land a punch like that Mckenna?" he asks in that 'drop your panties' voice of his, his thumb still moving gently over my knuckles. I can't think, I pull at my hand, reluctantly, it seems, he lets go. I take a couple steps back.

"My kid sister." I answer truthfully.

"Well, when I'm done with you. I'll go hunt her down."

I spin around. Oh right, bimbo girl. I'd sort of forgotten, but she's definitely still here and looking especially vicious, as she pulls out a long knife.

Oh, well this just keeps getting better.

"Oh Mia, you and that knife of yours," Andre' shakes his head and walks gracefully over to psycho slut. I can't help but notice he looks just as good from the back. "Now is not the time for such childishness. You hit her. She hit you back. You're even. Besides, I'm on a schedule. We don't have time for your games." Andre' admonishes like he's speaking to a five year old, "Hand it over."

"No." comes bimbo's petulant response.

"Mia, Mia, Mia," Andre' shakes his head and does a tsk-tsking thing, that, quite frankly, is sexy as all get out. Briefly I wonder what it says about me that I find this evil Lothario type so freakin' hot, but damn, he is hot, and not just like a balmy day in Florida. This guy's blastin' heat like from the seventh circle of hell. If he gets anywhere near the polar ice-caps we'll all drown.

"My darling girl," he goes on, "You don't want to force me to have to take it. Do you?" and his voice, while still smooth as silk, has changed subtly, something underneath that suave smoothness, something that made me glad he wasn't directing those words at me. Bimbo Blondie must have heard it to, cause she goes a little green, and hands over the knife. If she hadn't been such an evil psycho, I could have felt some sympathy. I feel naked without my dagger. I finger it lightly where it's strapped to my forearm under my wrist. It's comforting.

"Good Girl." Andre' pockets the weapon, then turns back to me.

"As delightful as your visit has been so far Mckenna, this really is not the best time." My eyes shoot to his, again his voice is smooth as silk, and again there's an underlying current, but it's different, reproachful, worried? Ah... Goddess something's not right. The note in my head gets louder.

I turn away from him and focus all my attention on Gavin until the note fades slightly.

I turn back, "I'm here for Gavin."

"Yes, yes I heard you earlier," his lips twist in amusement, then "What is he to you?"

I give him the truth, "It's complicated."

"Aah, complicated," he nods as if he understands perfectly, coming over to stand in front of me, "perhaps, if you speak to him, it will clarify things, no?" He looks behind me where the bitch slut is standing, still a little green. "Mia, where is our host?" He then looks back down at me, "I got here just before you did. I haven't had the opportunity to meet him."

"Oh you guys should really hit it off." I give wide eyed innocent another try.

A "Hmm." and that sensual mouth turning up is his only response, his hand takes mine and tucks it into his arm and escorts me down the hall behind Bimbo Barbie.

"Oh, I've been keeping him entertained." Psycho slut's words freeze me in my tracks, and for the first time I feel a real tremor of fear. There's something in her voice, barely contained glee, as if she's really looking forward to what's coming next. Andre' must have recognized it as well, I feel him stiffen slightly beside me.

"And here we are," with a flourish, Super Slut opens the door and leads us into the back bedroom. My bedroom, hell the slut's been in my room. When Gavin had the cabin built he put in two bedrooms especially for me and my sisters, two huge rooms one on either side of the hallway connected by a very large Jack and Jill bath. I share the room with Christy, the sage green walls and dark rustic wooden furniture always soothe me, and even in this circumstance I feel a little more calm in it's familiar surroundings, that is until I look around to see Gavin, tied up in my reading chair. Naked, and bleeding.

"By the Goddess," I breathe out, pulling away from Mr. Suave', and running over to my cousin's seemingly lifeless form. "What the fuck did you do to him?" the words tear from my throat as tears fill my eyes. Frantically I feel around for a pulse. It's there, strong and steady.

Meanwhile Lena's screaming in my ear, "What what the hell?! What's going on, is he okay? Dammit Mac, talk to me!"

Shit, I've got to shut her up!

"You tortured him, you crazy bitch!"

"Torture?" Lena's bellowing now, "Fuck! Dammit to hell! I'm coming in there, and don't you dare let that bitch die before I get to kick her skinny, slutty, sorry ass!"

"No no no," I mutter, "His pulse is good." I whisper.

"Goddammit, fuck!...Fine. Okay, I'll stay put for now," Lena's grudging agreement assaults my now constantly pounding head, "but Christy's going ahead and calling the cavalry in. This thing has gone too far."

I don't bother answering. I feel Andre's presence behind me. I turn to see him holding the quilt from my bed, "To cover him with." he whispers. He seems genuinely upset by my distress, "It's not as bad as it looks, caro," he reassures me gently.

"Really?" I spit out,"Well, I can't tell you what a relief that is."

I turn back to Gavin, my eyes filling with angry tears at the sight of him. Both his eyes are swollen and purple, his nose looks like it's been broken, and he's covered in blood from the multitude of fine shallow cuts all over his body. Trembling, I cover him gently with my old quilt.

"Protecting his modesty, how sweet." I spin around to see Blond Bimbo Bitch looking oh so pleased with herself, and I can feel rage burning me like acid, with a herculean effort, I beat it back. Losing control now would be a mistake. I know this, but McGoverns are infamous for their black tempers, and controlling mine now is taking everything in me. Shaking with the effort, I take deep breaths through my nose and bite down on my cheek - hard. Hoping to still the hot rush of my ancestors' blood.

"He has nothing to be ashamed of," Bimbo rattles on, clueless as to the danger she's in, "I can personally attest to how impressive his equipment is." She saunters over to whisper in my ear, "I just couldn't bring myself to cut it off. I had to settle for a few shallow slices, it's unbelievably painful, but don't worry, he'll still be able to fuck you."

That did it. Before I was aware of it, the dagger slipped into my hand. Then, at the same moment my other hand grabs her hair and yanks her head back, my dagger hand is already moving. I bring the wicked blade up, slashing all the way across her too pretty barbie doll face. Bimbo Slut screams, leaping away from me, holding what's left of her bottom lip that's gushing blood. She automatically goes for the knife, but Andre's taken it. Seeing my chance, I charge, giddy with the soon to be satisfaction of slicing what's left of that pouty bottom lip clean off. When out of nowhere, I'm grabbed and pulled up against a rock hard chest, the wrist of my knife hand held down at my side in an in an iron grip

"Drop the knife, little one." The words are whispered against my ear.

I pull back and look up to see Andre' smiling down at me. He's amused. Oh that really pisses me off. I'm a McGovern. We are fucking lethal, and the temper I inherited is literally the stuff of legend. I am not amusing when enraged. In one movement I drop my weight and pull up with my knee, it's a useful maneuver, but he blocks it easily, "Calm down, you little hellion." now he's actually laughing... laughing

"Don't you dare tell me to calm down," I screech. So furious I can't see straight. I shove and then pull struggling against him with everything in me, desperately trying to break his hold, "look at what she did to him," then something occurs to me, and I look up at him with pure venom as pain slices through me, "You gave her the order."

"No." his denial is swift

"You did." Why this realization hurts me so badly, I don't know but, the rage and pain coalesce into something I can hardly bear, I feel like I'm splintering into a million little pieces. I struggle fiercely, railing, pushing against him, frantic in my efforts to get away.

"No." he denies again, "Mckenna, look at me." his voice stern, he gives me a little shake. Panting from my effort to break free, I stare into his serious face, "I did not." he states simply, enunciating every word, as his arms continue to hold me in their implacable grip. "Do you hear me, Mckenna? I did not." I study him for a full minute. I'm so confused. My brain can't function, and that note in my head is causing it to pound, and though I have no reason to believe him, I do.

"Yes, okay, I believe you" I sigh.

"Good," he smiles down at me, loosening his grip, one of his hands moving in soothing little circles on my lower back, "Now drop the knife caro."

"No." I respond simply. Pleased to hear my voice doesn't sound like a petulant child's.

One perfect, dark brow arches, "No?"

"No." I look past him to where bimbo slut is holding one of the pillow cases off my bed on her mouth. (Yeah, I'll be burning that.) "I still need it."

"Do you now?" I look back at him. His lips are twitching. He's amused again.

"Yes, you see, I'm going to carve Bimbo Barbie over there, up into nice little bite size pieces, and serve her to hell on a fucking platter!"

Andre' throws his head back as laughter erupts from him. I probably could have used that moment to break away, but I was mesmerized by the sight of him laughing. He looked like a fallen angel.

Finally sobering, he smiles down at me, his black eyes sparkling, "I've no doubt you could, but now is not the time." He releases my arm and holds out his hand, "Give me the knife Mckenna."

"It's actually a dagger, and it's a family heirloom." I protest weakly.

"Really? Well then, I'll see to it that you get your dagger back ." he takes the weapon from my hand, "little hellcat." He whispers brushing his lips against my cheek, before pulling back. Then, looking down at me, his eyes warm, he reaches out, his long, elegant fingers brushing a lock of hair off my face, "Did little sister teach you to use a knife as well?"

I can't help my smile "Don't be ridiculous. My Granny Rose taught me."

"Of course, what was I thinking?" still smiling, he shakes his head as he turns away, and I hear him mutter under his breath, "You girls and your knives."

Then his entire demeanor changes as he turns to Bimbo Barbie, the dagger still in his hand. "Miss McGovern raises an excellent point, Don't you agree Mia?"

Now that his attention is off me, I realize Lena's been mighty quiet, "Lena?"

"Yeah still here, just talked to Christy, damn honkey tonk blew, twenty people got arrested, She said the Sheriff is seriously pissed at all of them. Our guys are in jail for the night. Gotta go, kind of busy." then under her breath, "Can't believe you brought the dagger."

This from a girl who travels with her own personal arsenal.

I look back to where Andre' is now standing in front of Bimbo Slut Girl.

"I do not, in fact, remember giving you permission to torture our host." His tone is conversational, as he lightly slaps my dagger against the palm of his hand, then holding it up."This is beautiful." He glances back at me, "Are these gems real?"

"Yes," It was beautiful. The blade was steel, but the handle was carved ivory with gold inlay, and three large gemstone set in the hilt, a ruby, an emerald and a sapphire, representing the Divine Trinity. , "What is the inscription, is it in Latin?"

"Yes, it translates, 'Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.'"

He looks over at me, both eyebrows raised,"Really?"

"Yes, it's a ceremonial dagger, used by the Catholic Church to torture witches in the fourteenth century. My ancestor, in fact."

"Fascinating." he murmurs. Then, while still looking at me, his other hand moves lightning quick and grabs Bimbo by the hair, "May I?"

Oh hell yes. "Be my guest."

I hear a feminine whimper, and then he strikes. Wielding the knife with quick fluid movements, he makes three shallow slashes across each cheek, then shoves little barbie away, like so much garbage. She falls to the floor and has sense enough to stay down.

Wow,...so... yeah, don't cross Andre'.

"Good help can be hard to find."

"Hmm, yes, that is true, perhaps I should hire you." His eyes bore into me as he crosses the room to stand in front of me.

"Oh you couldn't afford me." I assure him, in what I hope is a confident voice. There's a difference in him. He seems determined. The note in my head screeches again.

"Who is he to you ?" He nods his head toward Gavin

"He's a distant cousin, but his mom raised us."

"I see."

"Yes it's a fascinating story, but you probably don't have time to hear it."

"Yes, I have a feeling I should be leaving very soon." his voice is still thoughtful. "I was thinking we should wake Mr McIntyre up so that we might have a little talk, but now I am not so sure that will be necessary."

"Whad duh yuh min?" bitch slut speaks up from her spot on the floor, "Weh nehd tuh knuh whuh bro the co."

"She developed that code?" I asked.

"Yes, yes she did." Andre' replies ruefully.

"And she's your insider?"

"More of a middle man, really."

"Huh," I rub my temples as the pieces start to shift again, the dull screeching sounding louder, "Well, I don't know how much you're paying her, but you got ripped off."

"Whad ah yuh tahkin abou?" Big Blond Bimbo gets up off the floor, moving to the bed, I notice she's breathing heavy, and she has a fine sheen of sweat over her skin, her arms wrapped around herself like she's chilled. Excellent. It's time to pull out the big guns.

"I'm talking about your stupid code, you seem to be so damn proud of. You want to know who broke it? Your code was broken by a sixteen year old mall rat." That the mall rat is an off the chart genius, I feel no need to divulge.

"Yuhr lyun." Bimbo snarls through the pillow case, she rises from the bed and stalks over to me, stumbling just a bit, her arm tensing, and I know it's coming this time, wince, and decide to go with it, but the blow never comes, With a grace that seems incongruous to his speed Andre' moves, before I can blink his arm comes up to block the blow, moving between myself and bimbo bitch his face hard as iron, as he pushes her arm back down, "Mia, that temper of yours is going to get you killed one day."Andre's tone is mild, but there's no mistaking the threat this time, Blondie goes from pale to a dull gray-green color, and retreats once more, plopping down on the bed.

So I'll have to burn that comforter too, well damn, I really liked it, but sleeping on it now is out of the question. I mean, there's only so much bleach and detergent can do.

"A mall rat, little one? I am unfamiliar with this term." Andre's rough velvet voice interrupts my thoughts of fire and flame,

"It means a teenage girl, one who likes to shop, and my sixteen year old sister, loves it. She lives and breathes designer labels."

"And she broke her code."

"Yep, in ten minutes," I wave over at slut girl, "She's not nearly as smart as she thinks she is."

"Alas, yes I know." he's shaking his head.

"These kinds of mistakes shouldn't go unpunished." I go on conversationally, "Makes you look weak."

I see Andre's lips twitch, "Does it now?" I can hear the amusement in his voice, as he moves close to me once more, "So not a lover then?"

I blink up at him stupidly, "Huh?"

"Mr McIntyre over there, not your lover."

My eyes go wide with real, honest to goodness shock, " What? Gavin? No! God no!"

"Hmm, and yet here you are, all bent out of shape because he's here with the uh... what was the term you used.. stupid slut?" He's so close now I can feel, his warm breath on my cheek, his hand comes up and I feel the feather soft brush as he sweeps that lock of hair off my face again, an unfathomable look in his eyes. All of a sudden I can't breathe.

"Uh...um.." I stammer, my brain's going all fuzzy. "I was worried...she" I waved my hand in the direction of bimbo barbie, "she...seemed wrong."

Andre's watching me intently, to the point of fascination, the puzzle pieces shift wildly, I close my eyes.

"Wrong?"

"Well yeah," opening my eyes and rubbing my temples, a little defensive, "And obviously I was right, she's all kinds of wrong."

"Yes, it does appear so."

"Oh, plus yuh don buhleeb hur?" And I've had as much of Bimbo Barbie as I'm gonna take.

"That's right, Bimbo Girl.".I step around Andre', and face stupid slut bitch, "First an eighteen year old psych major made you. Then, my sixteen year old sister broke into your apartment and hacked into your computer. Her twin, the mall rat, broke your fucking code, and oh, my fourteen year old sister made sure all those rednecks you brought in to do - I don't know the fuck, and it doesn't really matter anymore,- got arrested. They are sitting in jail as we speak. You got your perfect ass kicked by a bunch of teenage girls. So, suck on that, You. Stupid. Slut!"

Blondie's, "umpossabul, came the same time as Andre's "What rednecks"

And over all this, I hear a deep gravelly voice from behind me, "Mckenna Alexandra , when we get home, I am going to turn you over my knee, and give you the spanking of your life."

Andre' and I both whirl around. Oh good, Gavin's awake, and, he is well and truly pissed. Wow, my sisters and I are going to be grounded for the rest of our natural lives.

"Hey Gavin." I smile weakly and try for casual, "I...um... was in the neighborhood and remembered... I left my...boots...in the closet..."

"Mckenna Alexandra, do not start with me." Gavin roars,"You will shut the hell up until I tell you to speak. Is that clear?"

At the same time Andre' grabs me by both arms and pulls me to him, "Mckenna, I need to know about the men, these red necks."

"Get your hands off her!" More, Gavin roaring. Yeah, so no damage to his vocal chords.

"Mac, listen," Oh great, Lena picked a fantastic time to plug back in, she rambles on something about red-necks and jail, but I can't make it out over Gavin's angry bellowing

"I said get your filthy hands off her!"

Sheesh, the man has a set of lungs on him.

Andre' ignores him, shaking me slightly, "Mckenna, tell me about the red necks."

Meanwhile Lena's shouting, "Mac did you hear me, three of them got away, they are on the way, they'll be there any minute"

Goddess, they're all talking at once. The puzzle pieces are flying around in my head. I look up at Andre, his face is like granite, and I see real fear in his eyes; and suddenly, the note in my head screeches to the point of agony. Pain, so much pain explodes violently in my head. Screaming, I yank away from him, grabbing my skull, to keep it from splitting open, yelling over all of them, "SHUT UP! FOR FUCK'S SAKE ! PLEASE, EVERYBODY, JUST SHUT THE HELL UP1!"

Thank the Goddess they do just that. Turning, I go over to the window and rest my splitting head on the cold glass, once again focusing my attention on the moon, beautiful and still. I let the clean brightness fill me. Finally, I feel the puzzle pieces shift and drift gently into place, like a whisper. The soothing balm of understanding wraps around my mind, and with it a sweet, clear, single chime and then... silence.

The relief is so overwhelming, I'm weak with it. My whole body begins to tremble, my legs limp noodles. I stumble and would have fallen, if not for Andre' scooping me up in his arms. Effortlessly, he carries me over to Christy's matching reading chair, and sets me gently down. Exhausted, I lay my head back against the soft cushions, close my eyes, and let the quiet wrap around me like a warm blanket.

"Mckenna?" Andre' questions softly.

"I'm fine." my lips move, the whisper falls.

He doesn't take my word for it. I feel him turn around.

"What's happening to her?

"Nothing you need to worry about." Gavin answers, but I can hear the question in his voice, the same question my brain had been working on since I first heard Andre's warm, rich laughter.

"Mckenna baby, look at me?" Gavin's voice is gentle

I open my eyes, I feel tears sting my eyes, "Guns, it was about guns. She's selling guns. You suspected, but she knew Gavin, she knew you were onto her. She had to kill you."

His face lights with understanding, "So you decided to come to the rescue, damn baby..."

Andre' leans down to brush the hair off my face, "Brave, but foolish, little one."

"I said keep your hands off her." Gavin growls, but he's careful to keep his voice low, he knows I won't be able to tolerate any loud noise for at least the next few hours. I can't help my little smile, Gavin protecting me, even from himself,

Andre ignores him, his hand sliding to the back of my neck, massaging the tight muscles.

I look straight at Gavin, and give him the reassurance he needs,"It's okay, he won't hurt me."

Gavin's eyes go wide for a split second, as understanding dawns, before his face returns to its thunderous expression, "Yeah, well I don't care if he's the fucking Pope, I don't want him touching you."

"Yeah, well right now, I don't care if he's demon possessed, and eats cute little puppies for breakfast, I've had a headache from hell all night," I growl right back, then to Andre', "Don't you dare stop."

"Wouldn't dream of it caro." he whispers by my ear, before, brushing a gentle kiss on my forehead. "So you figured me out."

"Yes, Inter-pole, right?" I whisper.

"Yes, very good," his soft laughter rumbles, his hands working on my neck.

My eyes drift shut, my head drops forward, "I should have seen it sooner, but I was worried about Gavin, and I'm so tired."

"Well isn't this sweet."

Well shit, Bimbo Barbie's not dead yet. I'm going to have a serious talk with Christy about her few minute formula. Watching her stumble over to Gavin, I realize it won't be long, she looks two thirds dead now. Her skin is gray and ashy and she's shaking like a leaf, I don't think she has much time left. Of course, she won't need a lot of time. Just where the hell did she get that gun she's waving in Gavin's direction. I feel Andre' stiffen, sense him reaching for his own weapon.

"Paddle."

"Gotcha sis, Step away from the window."

My sister's words are followed by a strange high pitched whine. In unison, the three of us turn to the window, just in time to see it vibrate violently, then with an almighty crash, it shatters, and... Holy Crap! my little sister comes sailing through the window, swinging from some rope thing. She drops to the ground with a bad-ass, "jump and roll" ninja move, and is on her feet tazer in hand. Before Bimbo Girl has time to blink, she's shot full of electrical current, and, wow, she's down. Wailing, seizing and shaking like mad, flopping all over the place like a giant fish. Lena standing over her, all five foot two inches clad in skin tight black leather and looking downright gleeful.

"Uh...hey there, sis." is all I can manage. My eyes going from her to a now unconscious bimbo-girl and back again. Shit! My sister's fucking Cat Woman

"Hey, yourself. " she glances up at me briefly, before strolling around to retrieve the gun super-slut dropped, doing that check the gun thing she walks up to Andre'. "Don't suppose you have a knife I could borrow?" she asks casual as you please, like she's borrowing a cup of sugar.

"Yes, as a matter of fact..." Andre' reaches into his coat pocket, "I happen to have a couple extra." he replies smoothly, as if leather clad, bad ass bitches crashing through windows, were an everyday occurrence. He pulls out my dagger as well as the bimbo's knife, "Take your pick."

"Oh I wouldn't dream of touching Mac's dagger," Lena reaches for the knife, "she's unusually attached to it." Then turning to Gavin, "So cuz, not one of your better days."

"Lyanna Raven Ward," I wince as Gavin uses all three names. Oh, we are never gonna see the light of day again, "You are grounded for so long, you will forget what it's like to walk in the sunlight."

Yep, like he pulled it right out of my brain.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Lena saunters over, making sure to kick slut girl right around the kidney area. I hear Andre' wince, then, his voice right next to my ear, "Suddenly I am very glad you "teenage girls" are on my side.

I turn to look at him fully, "Me too."

Once again, his hand comes out to brush that lock of hair off my face, "Mckenna McGovern," he whispers, his hand lowering to cup my jaw, as his thumb lightly brushes my bottom lip, "what shall I do about you?" and then I hear a growl from across the room. Gavin. Geez, you'd think being tortured would have worn him out or something. Andre' smiles ruefully and pulls back to stand behind me. His hands once more going to work on my neck.

"So is this the sister who taught you to throw a punch."

"Damn straight." Lena replies from across the room where she makes short work of cutting Gavin loose, "Taught her well too, from what I could hear," then handing Gavin the gun, "Yours, I believe." she smirks, before looking back to me, "You know, we really need to talk to Christy about that toxin, I thought for sure the bitch would be dead by now."

I was about to agree, but am cut off by both men in the room. Andre's silky "What is this Mckenna?" is drowned out by Gavin's, "Annwynn Mckenna Alexandra" Oh shit, all three names, "What the hell have you done?"

"Nothing that bitch didn't deserve." I answer mutinously. I hear Lena's snort of agreement, as with shocking steadiness, Gavin rises, and wrapping the quilt around his waist, stomps over to me.

"You see caro," Andre's voice comes from over my head, "not as bad as it looked."

And then the mountain that is Gavin McIntyre is standing in front of me, and even black and blue wrapped in nothing but my childhood quilt, he still exudes nothing but strength and power. He's every inch the Scottish Warrior.

"Where's the antidote?"

"I don't have it."

"Mckenna Alexandra do not lie to me. I need her alive." Gavin's face and voice are implacable.

"Give me the antidote."

I look into his face, his hard, beautiful, masculine face, and I know he means it, but I can't

"She should die, she harmed us, spilled our blood." I hear my voice thickening with the tears I won't shed, but Gavin hears it, his face softens.

"I need her alive Mckenna, other lives depend on it."

Then from behind me, Andre's voice, soft with compassion,"He's right little one. She has information we need."

"I can't," I whisper, my voice hollow, and I feel the tears falling now. Rising from the chair, I reach out with one finger, and lightly trace one of the slices on Gavin's massive chest, then looking up, "She hurt you, she was going to kill you... I..I .can't..."

My words end on a harsh sob, as Gavin reaches out and pulls me into his arms, and I let the tears fall, crying all over his chest. It's got to hurt like hell, but all he does is rub my hair. I throw my arms around him and hold on tight, "Sshh, Mckenna, it's alright, it doesn't even hurt that bad."

"Now you're lying." I snuffle, my voice muffled, since I refuse to lift my head.

I feel the laughter rumble in his chest. I love that feeling, and squeeze him tighter. I just couldn't stand a world without Gavin in it.

"It barely even tickled." then his hand reaches under my chin, lifting my face to his, looking in my eyes, his voice gentle, "Mckenna baby, I need her alive."

"Can I kick her a couple more times?" I blink away the tears.

"No." His voice is stern, but he's smiling as he pulls away and holds out his hand.

"Lena got to kick her," I grouse, pulling the syringe out of my pocket, and handing it over to him. He wastes no time in going over and administering it,

"It may not work," comes Lena's hopeful voice from across the room, "Christy said it was still experimental."

I feel Andre' come up beside me, his hand at the small of my back making those soothing circles. "When did you manage to poison her?"

I look up at him, "Oh, right away, when I punched her."

"Ahh yes, the scratch." His dark eyes study my face intently, one hand reaching up to brush awy the remnant of a tear, "Your cousin, you would kill for him, you love him very much." the words are soft and rueful, almost sad.

"He's family..."

"Yes, yes, family..." And his face changes the rueful sadness gone, replaced by the same look he had earlier, like I was something he'd never seen before. Oh, how right he was, "So, is this something you girls do often?"

Now isn't that a question. I hear Lena's single shout of laughter form the other side of the room, and I try to think of a way to answer that won't make my entire family sound like a bunch of half-crazed killers, which is sort of true, but... "Well, um, not really." I get the raised eyebrow, "Well, what I mean to say is..."

"Brewing is kind of a hobbyfor several members of our family." Lena interrupts from across the room. Oh, good one, Lena.

"Fascinating." Andre' responds his eyes never leaving mine.

"Um...yeah...well it is part of our family history, and you know, some people knit..."

"while others brew poison."

"Uh...yeah."

"What an interesting family you have."

"Oh, you have no idea."

"Mckenna," Gavin's voice is stern again. He rises from the floor, where he's trussed up bimbo girl like a Christmas goose, Oh crap, I soooo don't like the look on his face, "Where are Christy and Allie?"

"Uh...ask Lena?" That's right, I threw the very sister who saved my ass, under the veritable bus.

I saw Gavin take a deep breath, Oh shit he's gonna bellow again.

But before he could open his mouth to yell some more, and possibly ground us until the next millennium, men appear all around us. Men in black with really big guns flooding silently into the room, from...everywhere, the window, the hall, the bathroom, and all of sudden we're surrounded.

"Stand down. Stand down." Gavin's bellows, then seeing me wince, he lowers his voice, "lower your fucking guns, Goddammit, these are my cousins, lower your fucking weapons."

"Yes sir, we know." One of the silent, black clad men steps forward, lowering his weapon, "We've got two more of them with us." Then, rubbing the back of his neck, "There aren't any more overly protective, teenage girl cousins of yours out there are there? Cause, uh... I got to tell you, I don't know if my men and I can handle the stress."

"Don't be a smart-ass." Gavin growls, but I see his shoulders drop with relief at hearing my sisters are safe.

"Yes sir, but we were kind of wondering about this character here," the guy throws his thumb over his shoulder to indicate Andre', "We can't seem to find out anything about him."

I see Gavin's eyes light up. I know that look, his wheels are turning, "Gavin don't you dare." I warn him.

"Sirocco." I turn at the word softly uttered by Andre'

"Huh?"

"It's a code word, caro'." he explains, looking over at Gavin, his eyes full of equal measures challenge and mirth, "And much to your cousin's, displeasure, it is a good one."

"Like paddle." I murmur as the men lower their guns. There's a lot more head shaking, and cursing, as the men relax their stance, and that's when the little can came flying through the window, it looks like a soda can, it's all I have time to think before Andre' throws me to the ground, his entire body covering mine.

Light bursts into the room like a mini sun, the world goes dark, and chaos erupts over my head. There's smoke everywhere, my ears are filled with the harsh sounds of gunfire, and what sounds like explosions going off, beneath me I feel the floor tremble and shake, and over all this I hear Gavin yell, "GO! GO! GO! GET HER THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!" then I'm lifted off the floor and tossed into the air, and my world is upended, Andre throwing me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, carrying me out into the night, and still I hear Gavin, still yelling, "Lena, goddammit, get the fuck out of here!"

"Like hell, I'm a better shot than you are."

I knew she had a gun in that bag.

Out in the cold darkness, the normally peaceful mountain, is exploding all around us, acrid smoke fills my lungs, and burns my eyes. I blink away the tears and try to ground my senses against the chaos, not easy,as my entire existence is now upside down and bouncing. All I can see is Andre's perfect butt, and the dark ground beneath us. He moves with unbelievable speed. Zigzagging across the clearing, aiming for the tree line, and though he's making good time, we would move a lot faster, if he would just put me down.

"Andre'" I yell over the gunfire, trying to push off him to get a better idea where we are "put me down, I can run, for crying out loud. "

"Mckenna," his normally smooth voice is tight, "as charming I find your fighting spirit, now is not the time."

"But..."

"No buts," he interrupts sharply, and to my shock, he delivers a sharp slap to my behind,

"Ow! What the hell?"

His only response is another slap. "Stay still, and be quiet!" then I hear him mutter a curse, see him reach into his jacket, and I know he's pulling out his weapon. There's the crack of gunfire, I feel the slight recoil run through his body, and as we pass the tree line, I see a man lying on the ground, the moonlight, reflected in his open and unseeing eyes, a nice neat little hole centered in his forehead. Right okay, still and quiet, you got it. Andre continues moving silently through the trees, and though I'm upside down and backwards, I feel like he's moving to the small access road Gavin had put in when building the cabin. Then I'm on my feet, Andre's hands coming out to steady me. As I get my bearings, I see we are no longer alone, I look around to see several of the black clad men and a large black SUV, not my Aunts.

Andre leads me over to it, speaking softly to the men around us, but before I can tune in to what he's saying, the door flies open, and I'm accosted by waves of blond hair. Allie reaches out and pulls me into a ferocious hug, questions rolling out of her at the speed of light. "Mac, oh my God, are you alright? Where's Lena? How is Gavin? Lena said that horrible woman tortured him. Please tell me she's dead." and then her voice lowers, "Is Gavin really mad? Are we in trouble?"

I sputter, spitting her hair out of my mouth and look past her to Christy, who's sitting on the other side of the vehicle, her large blue eyes watching me owlishly behind her glasses, "So how'd I do?"

"Took more than a few minutes."

"I thought that might happen, wasn't real sure about the strength to mass ratio."

I hear Andre from behind me his voice still tense, pushing me the rest of the way into the vehicle, "Ladies, I'm afraid you will have to catch up at a later time. We need to move you out of danger." Then his hand comes up to cup my chin turning my face up to his, "This is where I leave you Mckenna," his voice is soft, and I hear the mellow, deep undertones of regret, as his head lowers, and then, his lips are on mine, soft, warm and fleeting, in a kiss of pure tenderness. I can't help the sigh that escapes as he pulls away, "Until next time, caro." he whispers, his fingers brushing that same lock of hair off my forehead, and with his own sigh, he turns. I try to watch him as he walks away, but my eyes go all blurry.

"Holy Baloney and Macaroni, what an exit! Who was that?" Allie's voice is in my ear, I smile at her word choice, and turn to her, pulling her back to me in a fierce hug, burying my face in her clouds of blond hair, closing my eyes, letting the tears fall. I'm not sure why I'm crying..exhaustion maybe, but then inside my head I hear the mournful sound of taps, see the fiery swirls of the sunset, and smell damp fresh turned earth of the tiny, goldfish sized grave we dug for Christy's little fish, Milo. Christy named them all Milo.

I'm jerked roughly back to the present by Lena's pissed off screaming, "Gavin Dammit, put me down. I can fucking run!"

"Do not push me Lyanna, you're already on thin ice." Gavin bellows, running at us full tilt. Lena slung over his shoulder. "Now, shut it and stay still."

"Oh, he sounds really mad." Allie whispers, her voice full of dread.

I see no need to sugar-coat it. "Oh, he's way past mad."

As they get closer Christy sits forward, squinting behind her glasses, "What's he wearing? Is that a kilt?"

"Uh, no, that would be the quilt from my bed."

And then they are right in front of us. Gavin opens the door and shoves Lena inside, jumps in behind her and shouts, "GO!" and with that one word the SUV leaps forward and roars down the mountain.

My sisters and I are really, really quiet. Gavin's eyes roam over us. He takes a deep breath, here it comes I close my eyes and brace for the worst.

"I can not believe you let that horrible woman stay in our cabin."

Okay, that wasn't Gavin. I open my eyes, to see Allie, pretty, sweet, little Allie, all puffed up, spitting and hissing like an enraged kitten; and glaring daggers at Commander Gavin McIntyre. I look over at Lena and Christy. They're both staring at her with their mouths hanging open.

"Please don't tell me she went into my room," Allie continues, wailing dramatically, "I'll have to burn everything!" then, she actually reaches out, and pokes Gavin in the chest with her perfectly manicured nail, " And you, Gavin McIntyre, can just replace all of it."

What the hell? I risk a quick glance at Gavin, his mouth is hanging open. Wow, our little mall-rat, is sharper than the rest of us.

"She was definitely in our room. Sat on my bed and bled all over my pillow case." I decide to get on the train of the best defense is a good offense, before it leaves the station.

"EW!" Allie wrinkles up her perfect little nose.

"GROSS!" Lena stuck her finger in her throat, and made some really spectacular barfing sounds.

"Maybe we should fumigate." Christy suggested seriously.

Ant then the four of us started griping at once.

"..we'll have to burn everything

"...build a bonfire..."

"...we can make smore's..."

"...Nordstrom's is having a white sale..."

"..Can't believe you slept with that slut..."

"...your partner.."

"...that's just tacky..."

"...when did you get such bad taste..."

"...did she go in our bathroom..."

"...No way, am I taking a shower in there..."

"...nasty funk that slut left behind..."

"... we'll have to gut it..."

"...complete redo..."

"...rip everything out..."

(We''d been after a remodel of the bathroom for a couple years anyway.)

The vehicle was filled with so much teenage girl angst in the car you could choke on it. I saw the exact moment when Gavin caught on. Throwing his hand up, he takes a deep breath, and bellows loud enough to rattle the windows. "ENOUGH!" We stop mid-angst, and as one, sit back, cross our arms, and glare at him in sullen, mutinous, silence. "We'll discuss this later." he says quietly, giving us a look that said he knew exactly what we were up to.

The new bathroom was, possibly, an oversell.

Then Allie leaned into me and whispered, "Is she dead?"

"No," both Lena and I grouse at once, then rolling my eyes, I wave one hand in Gavin's direction, "He gave her the antidote."

Allie's disgusted 'Humph' is drowned out by Christy's, "So the antidote did work. Well, that's a darn shame." and for a split second, I see Gavin's lips twist up and his eyes light with honest to goodness humor, before resettling into his usual thundercloud.

Maybe we'll see daylight before the end of the decade after all.

16