This is sort of a missing scene. I was going to write in a future story something like:
"Oh, yeah, James. I told Mandy about the Family."
"That's nice, Adam."
Then I received a threat...oh, sorry...order...uh, request that the actual occurrence be "on-screen", so to speak. Therefore.... :-)
WARNING: The boys do not make an actual appearance, but their presence is heavily noted. Also, this is a Family story, number nine in fact, so it would probably be a good idea to read the others.
Hope you enjoy!
"I think I'll never fly commercial again," she said laughingly, remembering the comfort of the private jet. "I can already tell I'm going to like it here, Adam. You know why?"
"It's not raining!" she cried, kissing him enthusiastically. Cascade hadn't had a dry day in the past two weeks, which is why when Adam asked her if she wanted to come to Virginia with him while he cleared up a business problem, she had first turned to the Weather Channel, grinned at the high sitting over the southeast, then gave him a resounding yes.
"Welcome to Virginia, Dr. Cuthbertson," one of the guards said, holding open the door to the limo as Adam nudged her toward the waiting vehicle.
Her eyes narrowed, then widened. "William, right?" He nodded, pleased she had remembered him. "You guard the Elder."
"When he lets me," William replied, rather dryly before closing the door.
"I say something wrong?" Mandy asked.
Adam sighed and shrugged. "William is not happy about the Elder going around unprotected. Neither am I, for that matter."
"He does seem to get into trouble a lot," she agreed. No one knew better than she how much serious damage had been done to Jim Ellison and his partner, Blair Sandburg. She was, after all, their personal physician. "But it's never been 'Elder' related, has it?"
"No, damn it, and that's the major problem. It's usually cop-related and 'cops don't have bodyguards.'"
She didn't have to be a brain surgeon, although she could have been, to know a direct quote when she heard one. "I take it this is an old issue between you and Jim?"
"Oh, yeah. James is a stubborn s.o.b. when he wants to be."
Mandy leaned over and kissed his cheek. "It must run in the family."
He returned the kiss a little more thoroughly. "Sorry to be boring you with brotherly conflict, love."
She giggled. "Probably what Cain told Eve right before he whacked Abel." He snorted and wrapped his arms around her. "Keep working on him, Adam. You'll wear him down eventually."
"Hopefully before it's too late," Adam said wistfully. Then he cleared his throat. "This trip is to cheer you up, not depress you further. Let me introduce you to our lovely countryside." In a "tour guide" voice, he pointed out the various graying shapes of mountains in the distance, told a few outrageous lies about a shack she glimpsed in a passing field, and had her in teary laughter by the time the car pulled up in front of the white farmhouse.
"God, Adam! It's like in a movie," she gasped as she took in the pristine structure, with its wrap-around porch, complete with rocking chairs. "How do you bear to leave it and come to Cascade?"
Adam shrugged. "You're there. The Elder's there."
She rolled her eyes at the simple reply, but refrained from making another comment as Father and Raleigh appeared on the porch. "I already love this place," she called to the elderly duo, embracing both of them. An impromptu Thanksgiving gathering in Cascade had introduced her to these two men, and she had found them as easy to love as the other members of the Family that she knew.
The Family. That's what they called themselves. Capital F. She figured it had something to do with the security company they owned. That was how she had met Adam. He had come to Cascade to protect Jim-- no, James, or better yet, the Elder. What kind of security firm they were was still a mystery to her, although she had her suspicions. Most of the men and women who served under Adam had military backgrounds, and considering that Family headquarters was so close to Washington, D.C.... She watched CNN, had seen the capable, and multi-talented, people who guarded embassies and consulates around the world. She bet there wasn't a single person at Family Security who worked the late shift at Wal-Mart.
"Show the lady to your room, Adam," Raleigh chided. "She will want to freshen up before dinner. And that's in one hour."
"You'd think I didn't have any manners," he groused as he escorted her up the stairs.
"They spoil you rotten and you know it," Mandy said calmly. "So don't be looking for any sympathy from me."
He looked at her in horror. "Don't tell me you're buying into their 'we're just kindly old gentlemen' act. Hah. You've heard of the terrible two's, right? That's nothing compared to the stubborn, sulky, sullen, and let's not forget, spiteful sixties. Too old to spank. Too deaf to yell at. Too damn wily to keep your eye on. And you wonder why I retreat to Cascade every chance I get. James knew exactly what he was doing when he set up a life on the opposite coast."
"You pushing for beets tonight, sweetie?"
"He told you?"
She nodded, biting back a grin at the look of dismay on his face. "Raleigh told me that occasionally you get a bit big for your britches and need to be put into your place. He said since I didn't have to upper body strength to pin you to the wall like the Elder, that beets were the next best thing."
Adam opened the door to his suite of rooms which were across from James'. "I don't have a secret left to my name, do I?"
"That's okay, baby," Mandy replied, wrapping her arms around him. "They're all safe with me."
"Yeah," she whispered.
He closed his bedroom door.
"Morning, sleepyhead," Adam called as Mandy wandered down the stairs in search of him.
She shrugged unrepentedly. "A three hour time difference. Doesn't seem to affect you, though."
"Old soldier's trick," he explained, laying down his newspaper. "Raleigh left you a breakfast tray warming in the kitchen. I'll get it for you."
"Speaking of old soldiers, where are they?" she asked as she attacked the tray. Must be the clear Virginia air....Or the workout they'd gotten in Adam's bed last night. Adam's bed. It was actually weird being there in his room. They had only gotten together on her territory, or someplace neutral, like a bed-and-breakfast in the Cascades.
"They headed out early to a horse show."
She remembered seeing the farm's collection of show animals. "You should have awakened me. We could have accompanied them."
"No, I have other things to show you today."
She started to smile, then noticed the tension in him. "Everything all right, Adam?"
"Yeah. It's just time that you got to know the Family better."
"Hey," she called, nudging his knee gently. "This isn't necessary. I didn't travel nearly three thousand miles because I was curious about your work, Adam. I came just to be with you."
"And get away from the rain?"
"That too," she said, smiling. "You don't have to let me in on state secrets."
He shook his head. "It's time. The Elder agrees."
"Oh." She should have known this was not an initiative Adam would have made. Adam preferred everything to stay at status quo, and since that was the man she had fallen in love with, she had no problem accepting that. But when the Elder spoke, Adam obeyed. That too was an intrinsic part of the man she loved. "Well, if Jim thinks it's necessary...." She finished her breakfast and followed him into the library.
She wasn't surprised when he pushed a button, and a wall opened up to reveal an elevator. She wasn't surprised when the elevator began to sink. An underground bunker fit right into the images her mind had come up with as she studied the man she had chosen to be her "significant other". But she had to admit to a slight amount of surprise when the elevator spoke.
"You're not going to make introductions, Adam?" a voice inquired. Mandy looked around for speakers, but couldn't see any.
"I hadn't planned on it."
"Some host you are," the voice replied contemptuously.
"Didn't introduce her to my stereo system, laptop, or the can opener in the kitchen, for that matter. I guess I'm just the original bad boy," Adam drawled. Mandy glanced at him, and found him slouched against the wall with his arms crossed.
There was a clicking sound. "You know what that was, Adam? That was me adding beets to this week's grocery list."
"Bite me, Sam."
"You know, the Elder really should think about reprogramming you. Being so rude in front of a guest, a female one at that," the voice chided. "Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson, let me introduce myself. I am Sam, a fully functioning artificial intelligence, capable of seeking out and processing information without human interface. In other words, I am capable of learning, which unfortunately cannot be said of all humans." Adam snorted derisively, which Sam clearly ignored. "On behalf of the Elder and the Family, I welcome you to our alpha facility. I hope you enjoy your tour. For your convenience and safety, protective accessories will be provided as you depart the elevator. Certain areas require more stringent precautions. Please take heed of warnings posted as you approach these sites. If at any time you have a question, just address me, and I will come to your assistance."
"Uh, thank you, Sam," Mandy replied, instantly liking the polite...what? Surely, he was far above a computer. "He called himself an artificial intelligence?" she asked her companion.
"Yeah, Sam the AI. One of the Elder's toys."
"I see." She saw the tension that still remained in Adam. "You don't like him."
"He thinks James likes him better than he likes me."
"He does," Sam sang out.
"Sam, code 130." Silence reigned.
"What did you do? Shut him off?"
Adam shook his head. "Can't do that. Sam controls the security and maintenance systems here. The code merely makes him silent until he is addressed again. Something the Elder devised when I threatened to yank his wires."
"No, Sam's," he replied automatically, then had the grace to look embarrassed as Mandy laughed at him. "Yeah, James thinks it's hilarious too. Sam and I literally push each other's buttons. I would appreciate it if you would put that knowledge with those other little secrets of mine you promised to keep."
"Gonna be as grateful as you were last night?"
"Even more so."
She grinned. "Now I know how to survive a Cascade winter-- find out more secrets about you."
"Well, if you run out of them, let me know, and I'll point you in the direction of others. We wouldn't want you to catch a chill in all that Cascade rain," Adam offered politely.
"And Raleigh said you weren't a gentleman," Mandy said as she leaned forward to kiss him.
"I have my days," he growled as he deepened the kiss.
"And your nights as well," she purred.
As the elevator doors opened, Mandy was confident she had figured out what Sam was warning her about. Knowing how thorough Adam could be, she wouldn't put it past him to train his men with all the dangerous material they may run into, including biological and nuclear weapons. But as she stepped out into the pristine hallway, she realized she was wrong.
"This is a laboratory facility," she murmured as she looked around. A hell of a facility. A to-die-for facility. "Where am I?" she demanded of her lover.
"Family Labs #1."
Family Labs. She knew of them. Every researcher knew of them...and either blessed or cursed them. It was well-known among the scientific community that the quickest way to get "invited" to join Family Labs was to participate in something "ethically questionable." Considering some of the scientists she'd had contact with, she was a member of the "blessing" crowd. "There are over two hundred facilities under the auspices of Family Labs." Adam nodded. "And you run security for all of them?"
"Uh, you could say that," Adam hedged as they walked down the main aisle.
Mandy shot him a look, confirming she had caught that hesitation. "Sam?" she called out.
"Yes, Dr. Cuthbertson?"
"What is Adam's title and position?"
"Vice President of Family Labs, Incorporated; executive in charge of all North American operations."
"All North Amer..." Suddenly, she was very angry. All these months she had been with this man, and she hadn't known him at all. She thought he was some kind of security expert, someone with a dubious background, and an even murkier present...only to find out he was an expert in her field of expertise. "No wonder you were so understanding about my work," she muttered, before reaching out to punch him in the arm.
Adam rubbed the spot ruefully. "You hit me because I'm understanding?"
"I hit you because you misled me." She couldn't say lie, because as she looked back on it, she realized she had done a lot of assuming. "And Jim?"
"He is second-in-command behind Father. Actually, he should be CEO already, but he has other distractions at the moment."
"Like a full-time career as a detective?" she asked dryly. "And Blair? Don't tell me. He's just pretending to be a grad student, but he's really a nuclear physicist, right?"
Adam shrugged. "Not to my knowledge. But I do think he's a lot brighter than he lets on."
"His position in the Family?"
"Still undefined. His knowledge of the Family is a rather recent occurrence."
"Oh, you mean I wasn't the only one kept in the dark?" She couldn't quite figure out why she felt so betrayed. Going into the relationship, she had known Adam was a secretive man. Some of her friends wondered how she dared to close her eyes around the man. But she not only closed her eyes, she always slept like a baby in his arms. Because despite all his secrets, she trusted him...and loved him. "You may be a lot of things, Adam," she said quietly as she took his arm, "but you're a lousy tour guide. Get with the program, love."
He looked at her in amazement. "That's it? That's your whole 'outraged' repertoire?"
She smiled and tugged him down the hall. "I have this quirk; I can't be angry and curious at the same time. Consider yourself lucky, Black-- curiosity won. So either start talking, or I'll ask Sam for assistance."
"I wish Blair were here," Mandy said as she slumped into a chair in Adam's well-appointed office. High-tech. Everything the Family had was high-tech. Expensive. Cutting edge. And comfortable, she added, as the chair molded to her weary body. She had made Adam take her on the "grand tour" and her feet were just now realizing just how "grand" the facility was.
"Why?" Adam asked curiously, as Sam started downloading the email that had arrived during his absence.
"Because he always has something to say and at the moment, I can't think of the proper words to convey my feelings. Amazed, stunned, overwhelmed...none of them say what I want to say, you know? They seem...harsh, and that's not what I'm feeling. I mean, I sort of like having a boyfriend with the power of the universe in his hands."
"Power of the universe is a little over the top, don't you think? But I kinda like the words like and boyfriend in the same sentence," Adam teased. He typed in a couple of commands to Sam, then focused his entire attention on Mandy. "This wasn't just because I thought-- the Elder thought-- it was time for you to know."
She heard something "official" in his voice and she suddenly realized she was talking to the vice president of a major organization. "Why was I given this tour?"
"Dr. Richardson, the current director of this facility is retiring in six months. The Family would like to offer you his position. These would be your duties," he handed her a folder, "and the back page discusses other particulars, such as salary and benefits."
"May I take some time to read over this?"
"Of course. Give me one minute and we can go back up to the house. Sam has indicated Father and Raleigh are back."
She flipped idly through the papers. "You forgot to list one of the benefits," she pointed out as Adam stood.
"Really? Our lawyers are usually quite thorough. What did they miss?"
"You." He looked at her strangely. "Or am I being hasty in assuming if I'm here, you'll be here too?"
"I think I can manage to be wherever you are, Mandy. And by the way, that's a list of your benefits, not mine," he said meaningfully.
"I love you, Adam."
She smiled, wondering if he realized how startled he looked every time she said it to him. But that was okay. He was a bright man; if she said it often enough, eventually he would have to believe it automatically. And as for her, he didn't have to say it ever. It was always in the depths of his dark eyes. How incredibly comforting. "Let's go have dinner with your Family, hmm?"
Adam bowed. "After you."
She couldn't sleep. With a sigh, Mandy bunched up the pillows, and sat back against the bed's headboard. Her mate softly snored on as expected. Give Adam a little sex, well, actually not so little, and he was down for the count. Except if his cell phone rang. She could read, watch TV, work on her research, whatever, in bed, and it never disturbed him. Even the ring of her phone merely caused him to shift positions. But one shrill tinkle of his cell phone and he was completely awake. At first, she thought he was so attuned to the sound because he didn't want her answering it. When she assured him that if it rang, she would immediately awake him, he had confessed that he was always worried something had happened to the Elder when a call came in late at night. From that point on, he wasn't the only one tensing whenever the cell trilled.
It didn't take a genius to know why she couldn't sleep. The day had been full of surprises. To find out that Adam's Family was the Family of Family Labs still caused her jaw to drop whenever she thought about it. And to be asked to head the facility.... Only a Nobel Prize could equal that honor, in her opinion. After dinner she had asked Father if she had been offered the position because of her credentials, or because she was Adam's girlfriend. She'd known the question was probably in poor taste, but hell, it had bothered her, and she hadn't made it through med school by biting her tongue. Father, gentleman that he was, didn't appear to be offended. He had merely led her to a computer screen, and asked Sam to bring up the files they had on her. Even she had been impressed.
So the offer was legit, and now the ball was in her court. Adam said she could take whatever time she needed to make up her mind, but she knew that was her lover talking, not the vice president of North American operations. If she did take the offer, she needed to give Cascade General sufficient notice, and if she didn't, then the Family needed time to interview other candidates. Of course, being the sane, professional woman she was, the decision shouldn't be difficult. She had earned the right to head one of the best research facilities in the world. As director, she wouldn't have to give up her research either. She would be given her own laboratory, as many assistants as she needed, and the necessary funding and materials. This was the nirvana she, and thousands of other researchers and doctors, had always dreamed about. Why then was she unsure about accepting the offer?
Take a moment to step through the problem, Mandy, she could hear her friend, Sadie Farmsworth, telling her. Picture yourself at the bottom of a staircase, getting ready to climb. If you take it stair by stair, you will end up at the top of the flight...where your heart's already waiting. Sadie always believed the heart knew every answer; it was the head that was the slow learner. Okay, Sadie, here goes.
She put her foot on the first step. The salary was incredible, the benefits outrageously generous. But she don't have any current money problems, so apparently what she was making was adequate. Okay, next step. As head of a Family lab, her professional standing would shoot through the roof. On the other hand, she could eventually move up the ladder at Cascade General. So far, she had yet to tick off anyone with major clout. And she had had a paper accepted by the Journal, not to mention the recommendations OSHA had made because of her research. After Jim had been accidently exposed to ethylene chlorohydrin while making an arrest at a local factory, she had submitted her findings, and OSHA had made changes. Good work, Mandy. She gleefully hopped to the next step.
Research opportunities were about the same; in a Family lab she wouldn't have to stick to a budget as much, but neither would she have easy access to Jim, whose mishaps were downright inspiring. Without the detective, she probably wouldn't have gone into research at all. His rare sensitivities to certain medicines had been fascinating, and had started her to thinking about others who may also be sensitive. Suddenly, her focus had changed from emergency medicine to the lab.
Blair had already set the basic groundwork for the research. In fact, that was how she came to be Jim's doctor. One of her E.R. colleagues had been bitching about the hippie who apparently thought he was a doctor. The man was a grad student, not to mention some kind of observer for the police department, and he would appear each time a certain detective was brought into the E.R.. He would wave around a notebook of stuff the detective couldn't take, but since no one person could possibly have that many allergies, he was ignored and laughed at.
Mandy hadn't laughed. During one of her intern rotations back in L.A., she had watched a doctor slowly kill a patient because he didn't believe the reactions were being caused by the medications he'd prescribed. She would always hate herself for keeping quiet about it, even though no one would have listened to a lowly intern, and her career would have gone down the drain even before it began. Still, she thought, as the people around her forgot about the cop and his observer, maybe she could redeem herself by taking a moment to look into the situation. So she had approached the man with the long curly ponytail, flipped through his notebook, and changed the detective's medication accordingly. The rest...the rest became her life.
Jim's medical file fascinated her. Several months before she came to the hospital, he had come in complaining of sensory spikes. The doctor examining him had listed the occurrences as being psychosomatic in nature. Another one of her colleagues who should have his license pulled, in her opinion. It was obvious to anyone who bothered to look, that some of Jim's senses were abnormal. Take his hearing, for instance. He couldn't tolerate the sound of medical equipment alarms. Whether it was their loudness or merely the pitch, she wasn't sure. But watching the man curl up into a ball with his hands over his ears gave a pretty clear indication that he was hearing something the rest of them weren't. Touch was also off the scale. Dyed socks irritated him. He would slightly move his arm if a nurse came too close to a previous injection site. She had also heard him complaining to Blair that the hospital sheets were scratchier than usual. She had made some discreet inquiries, and discovered the company doing the laundry had apparently changed their brand of starch....
Of course that was just the beginning of the mystery surrounding her friend. Trace, really barely detectable, amounts of substances like the ethylene chlorohydrin, cocaine paste, and Golden, had knocked the detective on his butt as if he'd taken overdoses of the substances. At least she had known how to treat those instances. But for a while, he'd had episodic seizures. For hours, he would be completely non-responsive, then all of a sudden he would be okay, and no matter how many consultants she brought in, no explanation could be found. Thankfully, those episodes had stopped. In all honesty, they had been the reactions that had scared her the most. Now, what she dealt with were mostly acute toxic reactions to minimum non-toxic level exposure. Cakewalks through the realm of Ellison, she called them. Oh, there was still the occasional surprise or two, but they just served to increase her dedication to her career.
Could she give up being Jim and Blair's doctor? Could she trust someone else to treat them properly? Maybe Blair wasn't as sensitive as Jim, but his treatment was a bit unorthodox as well. He detested strong medications and he literally hated hospitals. What was most effective in healing whatever was wrong with him was to get him stable enough to send home with Jim. The Elder had been a medic in the Army. He knew all the basics, followed instructions to the letter, and was the only person who had a chance of making his partner stay in bed. And if it wasn't possible to let Blair go home, then it was mandatory that Jim have access to him at all times. Blair always responded to his touch. Actually, they responded to each other's touch.
How could she explain this to her replacement? How could she make the man or woman understand that these two were special, and had to be treated as such? Aw, hell.... Forget making someone else understand. Could she just sit by on the other end of the country while Jim and Blair fought for their lives? Would she be able to merely consult by telephone, maybe have Blair fax updates to the notebook? Jim was like an addictive jigsaw puzzle. Just when she got one piece to fit, more pieces formed in the box. Like the incident before Christmas.
She thought back to just a couple of months ago. The detective and his partner had driven to the mountains for a day. On the way back, a car had skidded into them, and only by sheer luck had they managed to get out of Jim's truck before it tumbled off a bridge. Then while trying to rescue the other driver, that car had exploded, and Jim had been seriously injured. By that time, a blizzard was raging and quite frankly, no one should have known what had happened to them until the spring thaw. But Captain Simon Banks had not only known they were in trouble, but without a map or a definite location, had directed the helicopter to a spot almost on top of the snow-covered duo-- all by intuition. She had been aware the captain was part of the puzzle in some kind of way. After all, it had been his touch that got Jim through the ethylene chlorohydrin incident when Blair couldn't get back in time. But she had thought he played more of a supporting role, only stepping forward when he had to.
However, it had been more than just support when he had somehow started Jim's heart beating in the small mountain hospital where they had been airlifted. One minute she had been calling for a crash cart, the next Simon was standing between Jim and Blair, and all three hearts had been beating in rhythm. As she had said earlier, fascinating...and worth any awards and letters she could garner as the Family's head researcher. Sadie was right; all she had to do was be honest with herself, and head and heart would meet. She was at the top of the stairs, and her decision was made.
She shook Adam's shoulder. "Wake up," she demanded.
"Hmm?" His eyes never bothered to open.
"No, Adam. I'm telling you no."
He blinked sleepily and tried to figure out what she was talking about. He took an assessment of himself, noted that a certain body part was perhaps prodding a little in her direction, and rolled over. "It's 'kay. Just enjoying myself in a dream. You go back to sleep, love. Sorry to disturb you."
She nearly laughed. Just how often did that thing poke her in the night? And why the hell was he apologizing? "Adam, wake up. This is important." He barely moved, so she knew she had to take drastic measures. "Wake up, soldier!"
He sat up quickly, instantly alert. Damn. There had to be something wrong with a system that could so condition its minions so well, that the conditioning lasted virtually forever. "What's wrong?" he asked, reaching for his gun in the nightstand.
She touched his arm. "No need for heavy artillery, Adam. I just want to talk."
He blinked, then relaxed. "Okay." He touched a lamp, and it shone dimly.
Mandy stared at him. "All you have to say is okay? No comment about the time, or that I woke you from a deep sleep?"
"I know it's 4:23 A.M., and you knew I was asleep when you called. Therefore, you must think this conversation is important enough to disturb me, and I trust your judgment."
She leaned against him. "I love you."
"See? I was right. This was an important conversation. I love you too."
"But I can't work for you. I'm saying no to the directorship."
"Because I know where I belong, Adam. It's not here. It's in Cascade, as a researcher, and the Elder's physician."
"As sure as you are that you belong at the Elder's side."
"I'll inform Father and James in the morning. Unless you think it's necessary I wake them now?"
She turned to him in shock, then noticed the teasing glint in his eye. "Go back to sleep, Adam."
"Can't. You triggered an adrenalin rush. I'm primed for action."
Mandy tugged him back down in the bed. "Since it's my fault you're in such a state, guess I'm the one who's going to have to do something about it, huh?" She dropped a kiss on his chest.
"It would seem only fair."
"You think Jim-- uh James-- will understand? It's probably the best offer I will ever receive, and I'm honored he thought of me, but..."
"When it comes to being where you belong, James will understand, Mandy. I think out of all of us, he understands best of all," Adam murmured, picturing his brother in the loft with Blair at his side. No way James could have ever pictured that scenario. Probably would have laughed if someone had even suggested he would be happy living in Cascade, with its baggage of childhood memories, with yet another brother-in-heart, playing cop, while still deftly handling the Family. Where he belonged.... Yeah. The Elder could definitely relate. "James will be happy if you are happy, my love."
"Then at the moment, he should be quite ecstatic," she cooed. "Now, about that problem you have, mister..."
"I'm all yours, doc."