Kylie ran directly into Holiday's office. Her mom stood in front of Holiday's desk, making some declaration. Holiday sat behind the desk, listening to the declaration. Burnett stood stoic, taking it all in. Kylie barely gave him a glance. She focused on her mom, who swung around and ...

Kylie was engulfed in a quick but desperate hug. Over her mom's shoulder, Kylie's questioning gaze shot to Holiday, who stood up. Her mom backed up.

Kylie continued to stare at Holiday. The briefest of memories of the spirit pulled at Kylie's heart. How could they be so identical and not be the same person? Kylie told herself to deal with one thing at a time. So she refocused on her mom. The look on her face scared the crap out of Kylie. It was the same look her mom had when her grandmother had died.

"What's wrong?" Kylie's mind searched for possibilities and her breath caught as one hit. "Is Dad okay?"

She might still be angry at her stepfather, might not have forgiven him for his infidelity with his young intern, but Kylie loved him. She'd never been surer of that fact than right now. Now, when she imagined the worst-imagined her mother telling her that there had been an accident. That Kylie would never get another long hug from the man or go with him on a father/daughter trip.

"Your dad is fine. It's you that isn't." Her mom's gaze shot over Kylie's shoulder and then back at Kylie. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick?"

"I'm not sick."

"You had some headaches. And those nightmares, remember?" Holiday spoke in a certain tone that Kylie didn't quite understand.

Her mom's gaze flipped from Kylie's face over her shoulder again and for some reason it made Kylie turn around. Sitting on the sofa was a man she didn't know.

"I ... don't understand," Kylie said, and looked back at her mom.

"It was in my records," Holiday said, again in a tone that seemed to mean something. "I put it in the files and the administrators thought maybe your mom should be contacted. To see if perhaps you needed testing."

Kylie continued to stare at Holiday.

"They called me and asked if they had my permission to test you. Baby, are you okay?"

Test me? Administrators?

Oh, hell, the dots started going together. It wasn't any administrators. It was the FRU. They were trying to get her mom's permission to test her.

"I'm fine," Kylie said. "I don't need to be tested." Fear shot through Kylie. Her gaze shot to Burnett. He looked at her, straight on. No guilt. And she sensed he didn't have any part in this. She remembered the phone call and suspected that this was what it had been all about. Her gaze shot to the man on the sofa. Was he from the FRU? Was this the bastard who wanted to use her as a lab rat like they'd used her grandmother?

"Who are you?" she asked before she could stop herself. Then she tightened her eyes and checked out his pattern. She blinked and did it again when he came up human.

"This is John," her mom said. "We were out having dinner when I got the message from Mr. Edwards that you've been blacking out."

"John?" Who the hell was John? Kylie looked at her mom. And damn if her mom didn't look guilty.

"He's the client that I had lunch with the other day, remember? I told you about him."

Kylie did remember. He was the guy who was going to ruin all the chances of her mother and stepfather getting back together.

"As I've explained," Holiday continued, "Kylie hasn't actually been blacking out. I think I might have just made it sound a bit worse than I intended in my reports. And when someone read them, they interpreted things wrong."

Emotion fluttered around like trapped birds in Kylie's chest. Holiday glanced at her and Kylie got the feeling the camp leader was trying to communicate something to her. But damn, Kylie couldn't read minds. She couldn't even read emotions.

"Didn't Kylie have night terrors at home?" Holiday asked.

Kylie suddenly thought she understood what Holiday wanted. "Yes. They were just night terrors, Mom. I didn't pass out. You remember how out of it I get when I have one of those. I'm not sick. I don't need testing. Besides, you already had me tested, remember?"

"But I didn't think you were having them anymore."

"I've only had a couple. And I'm fine. Look at me, I'm fine." She held her arms out, mentally searching for a way to prove it. "I can touch my toes; I can touch my tongue to my nose." It was a little rhyme she and her mom said when someone asked if they were okay.

"But why would Mr. Edwards want to run tests on you?"

Holiday leaned forward in her chair. "Oh, don't listen to him. He's just overcautious." She smiled, doing her best to sound convincing. "But if you would like to schedule Kylie for some tests with your own doctor for your peace of mind, I'd completely understand. I mean, nothing against the doctors here, but I would hope you have a good relationship with your own physician."

"Do you think I should?" her mom asked Holiday with her worried maternal look.

"Actually, no, I don't. I think Kylie's fine. With only two occurrences of the night terrors, I think she's doing great."

"I am doing great," Kylie persisted. "I'm fine. I promise. Please, Mom. I don't want to go through those tests again."

Her mom ran her palm over Kylie's cheek. "Do you know how scared I was? Oh, Lordie." Her mom looked back at Holiday. "You should consider having a serious talk with Mr. Edwards. I swear, the way his message sounded, you would think Kylie was in serious trouble."

"I'm sorry that scared you." Kylie looked at John over her mom's shoulder.

The man stood up, moved forward, and rested his hand on her mom's shoulder. Kylie had the oddest desire to slap his hand away and tell him he didn't have the right to touch her mom.

"Hello, Kylie," John said.

Kylie took in his suave smile, brown eyes, and matching chocolate-colored hair that was styled to perfection. She so wished she could find something ugly about him, but nope. He wasn't ugly. He wasn't completely older-guy hot like Burnett, maybe because he was a tad older, but he had the whole distinguished-looking thing down pat.

"I wish our first meeting could have been under different circumstances," he continued, "but I've been hoping to meet you. Your mom has told me so much about you."

Funny, Kylie thought, her mom hadn't told her so much about him. Well, she'd told her about having lunch and that he'd said he might call her again, but she'd neglected to say he had called. Probably because she knew Kylie had mixed feelings about her dating. Ahh, but right now, they weren't so mixed.

Kylie didn't like him. However, because she didn't have a reason-except her gut feeling and maybe her wanting her mom and stepdad back together-she was going to have to suck it up. Be nice. What was it Miranda had said? "Fake it until you make it." Could she learn to like this guy?

"It's nice to meet you." Kylie plastered a warm expression on her face. But she worried he could tell it was a sham.

"The pleasure is all mine," he said.

Kylie just smiled. He was completely right about that.

For the next half hour, Kylie sat in the meeting room in the office and visited with her mom and smarmy John and pretended like everything in her life was just peachy. Peachy and Smarmy. Phrases that Nana, who'd passed away about three months ago, would have used.

Weird how Kylie seemed to be channeling her right now. She'd love it if Nana would pop in for a visit. You there, Nana? Kylie asked in her head while John rattled on about the years he'd lived in England.

Nana didn't answer. But Kylie got the oddest sensation she was close.

"I've always wanted to see England," her mom said, holding on to every word the man said.

"We can fix that," John added with enthusiasm. "I have a trip scheduled next month. Why don't you take some time off and come with me?"

"Really?" her mom said. And damn if Kylie wasn't thinking the same thing. Really? The man wanted her mom to go to England with him. She didn't even know him. And would he expect her mom to share a hotel room with him, too? No way!

"Mom's work schedule is pretty demanding. She won't be able to make it," Kylie declined for her mom, before she realized she shouldn't have a say in the matter.

Her mom's mouth dropped open at Kylie's declaration and she shot Kylie a that-was-rude scowl. "Well, my work is demanding, but I might be able to get a few days off." She cut her eyes back to Kylie, warning her not to speak up.

"Great," John said, as if he missed the silent tension.

"Great," Kylie repeated, her smile so stiff she didn't think her lips moved.

"Speaking of schedules." Her mom looked at her watch. "We should be heading home. It's almost a two-hour drive. And I do have to work tomorrow."

Her mom gave her a quick hug. And for her hug-impaired mom, it was pretty good. When Kylie pulled back, she mouthed the word sorry. And she was sorry. She didn't want to hurt her mom's feelings, even if she didn't like this guy.

The look her mother sent her was one of pure understanding. Which only made Kylie feel a little worse.

Leaning in again, her mom whispered, "Love you."

"Love you, too." Kylie went back in for another hug, and this time she held on a little tighter and for a second longer.

When she walked them out and passed by Burnett's office, she saw his six-foot-plus frame seated at his desk. He pretended to do paperwork but no doubt his super-hearing ears had been tuned in the entire time. And that was fine, she didn't have anything to hide, but as soon as Mom and the creepy guy left, Burnett had better be up for more than listening. He had a lot of explaining to do.

She had known the FRU wanted her tested, but she hadn't believed they'd go so far as to contact her mom. And if they would go that far, what was next? Would her mom's refusal to have Kylie tested be the end of it? For some reason, Kylie didn't believe so.

When Kylie returned a few minutes later, Holiday and Burnett were waiting on the cabin porch.

"What's going to happen now?" Kylie asked.

Burnett frowned and led them into Holiday's study. "I don't know. I'm stunned that they did this. They called me to come in and talk about changing your mind. I told them that you'd already declined. Someone said you weren't of legal age and suggested they go through your mom. I pointed out that your mom wasn't supernatural and how that could lead to too many questions. I thought I'd convinced them it wasn't the route to take. But when I got back here, Holiday was on the phone with your mom. They must have called your mom the minute I left the office."

Holiday sat down on the sofa. Kylie joined her. When Holiday reached for her hair and twisted it into a rope, Kylie remembered the reason she'd come to the office in the first place. Her gaze went to Holiday's neck and she remembered the spirit's angry bruises. Fear for her friend took a lap around her heart.

"Lucky for us, your mom bypassed calling the FRU back and came straight to us," Holiday said. She met Kylie's eyes. "It's going to be okay," she said, obviously reading Kylie's concern.

"I hope so." Kylie slumped back against the sofa.

"You're still upset about what happened earlier," Holiday said.

"What happened earlier?" Burnett took a step closer.

"I didn't get a chance to tell you..." Holiday explained about Kylie's father telling her she was a chameleon.

Kylie waited for disbelief to appear on the vampire's face, or the you're a lizard response everyone else had given her. When Burnett didn't offer up either, suspicion settled in.

"What do you know?" she demanded.

His eyebrows pinched. "The word chameleon was mentioned in the documents I found about the test responsible for your grandmother's death."

"What did it say? Did it explain how I can have a human pattern and still be supernatural?" Kylie asked, annoyed he'd kept anything from her. Kylie saw Holiday frown as well.

Burnett's gaze went from Kylie to Holiday and concern pulled at his frown. "They didn't explain anything. One of the doctors used the word chameleon in his notes. It didn't make sense; as a matter of fact, I wondered if it was a typo. I didn't have the original documents. Just one doctor's notes made while referring to the other documents."

"But at least this proves it," Kylie said.

"Proves what?" Burnett asked.

Kylie gazed from Burnett to Holiday. "That this is what being a chameleon is. Having a pattern that says you're one thing when you're not. I mean, we know I'm not all human." She pointed to her forehead. "And yet my pattern says I am. Of course, it doesn't tell me squat about what I really am."

"I don't think we've proved anything yet," Burnett said. "Yes, I think somehow these two things mean the same thing. I just don't think we've proven what they mean, yet."

Holiday's expression said she agreed with him. "I've been thinking," Holiday said. "Maybe your ... pattern issues are somehow linked to you being a protector. I don't think there's ever been a part-human protector that we can compare you to."

"I hadn't thought about that," Burnett said. "That could be it."

"But what about the whole chameleon thing?" Kylie asked.

"I don't know," Holiday said. "I'm just saying it could explain your pattern issues."

Kylie's mind ran around everything that was said. The more she thought about it, the less sense any of it made. "I want to read those files."

"I'm sure by now the few files I was able to pull up have already been hidden."

"They killed my grandmother and got away with it, and now they're trying to do the same to me."

"The people who did that were either let go or have retired." His frown deepened. "I know that's how it looks and I agree you should decline testing, but I don't believe they would intentionally jeopardize your life."

"We don't know that." The firmness in Holiday's tone reminded Kylie of her mom's voice in maternal mode.

"Which is exactly why I've done what I have," he said. "Why I'm basically going against my oath to the FRU. I'm on your side. What else can I do to prove that?"

"Please," Kylie said. "I don't want you two arguing because of me."

"You don't have to prove anything." Holiday blushed with guilt. "I'm sorry. I just get so furious on Kylie's behalf."

"I know. I feel it, too." Burnett glanced at Kylie. "And we weren't arguing." He turned and focused on Holiday for a second. "This time we really were just discussing. Right?"

"Right." The slightest of grins appeared on Holiday's lips when she met his gaze.

Kylie grinned, too, even as emotion filled her chest. She was so lucky to have these people on her side. But her smile only lingered a second. "What will their next move be?"

Burnett exhaled. "Chances are they still may attempt to change your mind. Convince you that it's for a greater good. That's what I thought the plan was when I left."

"And is that when I tell them I know about my grandmother? Threaten to expose them if they don't back off?" Kylie asked.

Burnett had taken it upon himself to move Kylie's grandmother's body just in case someone in the FRU decided to hide the evidence of what had happened. In his own words, this would give Kylie some leverage to use against the FRU if they tried to force her to do something she didn't want to do.

"I would just say no, and then if they push, bring up your grandmother's remains." His expression tightened and concern flickered in his eyes. The same emotion reflected in Holiday's gaze.

"What will happen if they find out you were behind the moving of her body?" Kylie asked.

"They won't find out. I covered my tracks," he said adamantly. Maybe too adamantly, as if saying it with conviction would make it so.

"They'll suspect you because you work here. Because you're close to me," Kylie said.

"They might, but they'll have to prove it. And I haven't left any proof for them to uncover."

Kylie hoped that was the case. She glanced at Holiday again and remembered the ghost.

Holiday reached over and put her hand on Kylie's. "Is something else wrong?"

"No. Just this."

"You sure?"

"Do I need more?" Kylie's gaze shifted to the window. She could see the dusk sky going black, but she could still make out the tops of trees swaying ever so slowly.

Her gaze shot back to Holiday and she suddenly felt the need to come clean. "I feel as if I'm being called to something." She motioned to the window. "Something's out there calling me. But I'm not sure what."

Holiday looked confused. "Like being called to the falls?"

"Yeah," Kylie said. Only it felt a lot bigger than that.

"Then let's make a plan to go." Holiday leaned forward. "Do you think tomorrow's soon enough?"

Kylie started to clarify that she wasn't sure it was the falls calling her, but she didn't know how to explain it. So she just nodded.

"I'll go with you," Burnett said.

"Inside the falls?" Holiday looked back at Burnett.

"If you think I should, I will."

"The thought of going to the falls doesn't bother you?"

He shrugged. "I've been there before."

Holiday looked at Kylie and then back at him. "I know. And I find that baffling. Most supernaturals can't seem to force themselves to enter."

A small grin tightened the corners of his eyes. "Like I've been telling you, I'm special."

Holiday sighed. "But the falls-"

"Are not a problem." He cut her off and focused on Kylie. "Why don't I walk you back to your cabin? Della's on shadow duty. I told her I'd see you back." Burnett's diversion of subject appeared to be a deliberate ploy to avoid talking about the falls. What was Burnett hiding? The same question seemed to brighten Holiday's eyes as well.

"She missed dinner," Holiday said.

"All I want is a sandwich and we've got that at the cabin."

Holiday gave Kylie a long hug with warm calming emotion.

The effects from the hug lingered until she and Burnett started down the dark trail and he asked, "Would you like to explain why you lied to Holiday?" Copyright 2016 - 2023