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|Derek Rayne read the
telegram once again, then put it aside. So, the day he'd
prayed for so hard for so many of his childhood years had
finally come. The Wicked Witch of the West was dead at
long last, and her prisoner could be set free. He hoped
it wasn't too late for that poor child, that she wouldn't
be a prisoner all her life. Pulling down the picture he
had hung next to his desk so many years ago, he looked
once more into the face of that child...
San Francisco Legacy House, 1964
"Marian, please go play with your lamb and let me get this done!"
"Wanna horsey wide, Dewek! Please? Pwetty please?"
10-year-old Derek Rayne heaved a heavy sigh, and put his pen down. "Marian, cut out the baby talk! You can speak perfectly well. Maybe the grownups think it's cute, but I know better."
The pretty, dark-haired and green-eyed 4-year-old girl set her jaw, and hugged her stuffed animal close. "Okay, but you gotta gimme a ride, Derek. Uncle Winston said you had to take care of me." Marian Roarke had been at the House for more than a week, and had been following Derek around constantly, dragging her ever-present toy lamb with her. Since both her parents were off on an assignment for the Legacy, they had done as they often did and left their only child in the care of their good friends, Winston and Barbara Rayne. And Marian had taken a decided liking to young Derek.
Like any 10-year-old boy would, he professed to dislike this "baby" following him all over, but his father had told him to put up with it. Winston was actually pleased the child liked his son; with everyone else she was very shy and had shown no desire to have anything to do with other members of the household. And while Derek would never admit it to his father, he was rather flattered to have someone obviously adore him so much.
"Dad also said I had to finish this Latin translation before lunch. Where's Fluffy? Go play with him."
Marian sniffed disdainfully. "He really hates that name, Derek. Couldn't your sister find a better one? He thinks 'Fluffy' is too girly a name for a great mouser."
The House had a cat, a huge furry white beast, and Marian's psychic talent was beginning to manifest itself with this pet. When she first told Derek something the cat said to her, he'd accepted it as the truth immediately; after all, Derek's own psychic talent had appeared just as early.
"Have you told Dad or your parents yet that you can talk to animals?" She shook her head. "You really need to do so, Marian, so they can help you develop it."
"I will, Derek, really I will. But it's so much fun finding things out from the cat that the grownups don't know about!" She frowned. "Besides, Daddy and Mommy aren't here. I wish they'd come back, and we could all stay here with you."
Picking the little girl up, he sat back in his desk chair with her on his lap. "That would be great, Marian. But about the animals: remember what else I told you about your talent?"
She nodded solemnly. She loved it when Derek told her about the outside world and how to act in it, and swore she'd always do what he told her. "I have to be very, very careful about who I tell. Lots of people won't understand."
"That's right. They'll think you're lying, or they'll be afraid of you. Sometimes they'll hurt you because of it." Derek spoke from bitter experience; his first few months at school had been very unhappy. "But it's okay to tell my dad, and your own dad, because they have special talents, too."
"Derek, I need to speak to you." Derek's father, Winston Rayne, the Precept of the San Francisco Legacy House, stood in the doorway of the study. Derek could tell immediately something terrible had happened. "Marian, go to your Aunt Barbara. She has something she needs to tell you."
Worried, the child looked from her friend to his father, then scrambled off Derek's lap and ran out. Winston looked after her for a moment, a sad and pensive look on his face. "What is it, Dad?"
"Bad news from Scotland. Margaret and Brian Roarke have been killed." The boy gasped in shock. "Sir John at the Glasgow House says the authorities believe it was an accident, but he isn't so sure."
"They were crushed by falling masonry in a castle ruin. But there have been too many such accidents' at that ruin over the past two hundred years, and we suspect supernatural agency. Marian's going to need our support over this, son. She was very close to her parents."
"She's so young, Dad. Just a baby. What's going to happen to her?"
"I hope your mother and I will be able to keep her. That's what her father wanted; but there are other relatives, and there could be difficulties." At that moment, the Raynes heard a car pulling up outside and hurried down to the hall.
Winston cursed when he saw who was getting out of the black limousine.
Marian came creeping down the stairs, crying, dragging her stuffed lamb behind her. When she saw Derek she dropped the toy and practically flew to him, and he knelt down to embrace the weeping child at the moment Winston opened the front door.
"Damn it, Corrine, how did you get here so fast?" he swore.
The coldly elegant woman standing in the doorway looked at him disdainfully. "As Margaret's next of kin, naturally the Scottish authorities informed me immediately of the tragedy. I've come to collect my niece. Since they were so very...close...to you, I surmised they left her here."
Barbara Rayne descended the stairs at that moment. "Show some compassion, Corrine. Marian has only just been told of the accident."
"I won't allow my flesh and blood to remain in this house of evil a moment longer."
"You forget whose house this is, Corrine," Winston said angrily. "I won't allow the child to be ripped away from people she knows, people who care for her, especially at this moment. You know that Brian and Margaret wanted me to take over guardianship should something happen to them."
"But they never drew up legal papers, did they, Winston Rayne? I am her closest relative, and I have the legal right to take her away with me immediately. With the harlot and the fornicator dead, she can now be raised as a good Christian; God grant that the wickedness in her bloodline can be overcome."
Derek could see his father growing angrier by the moment. "You've always been pathological over that. You never had a formal engagement with Brian; your sister did not seduce your 'fiance,' they fell in love. There was no wickedness involved."
"Of course you'd say that; but I know the truth. The child will be raised properly; the wickedness of her parents will be driven out of her. And she will never, ever again be tainted by the evil that is your secret society."
Quick as a striking snake, she stepped forward and grabbed Marian's wrist, pulling her away from Derek. Marian screamed and fought, holding her arms out toward the boy as she was being dragged back. "Wicked, disobedient child!" Corrine cried, and slapped her.
Barbara gasped in shock, and Winston grabbed Corrine's arm. "For God's sake, don't take your resentment of your sister and her husband out on the child!"
Derek again embraced the whimpering girl and cried out, "She's not wicked! She's just scared."
The aunt coldly removed Winston's hand from her arm. "Again I remind you that you no longer have any hold over the child. You and yours will stay away from us from now on. If you try to see her or communicate with her in any way-- well, I am a very rich woman, Winston Rayne, and have powerful friends. You wouldn't like if it your 'secret' society were to be exposed publicly, would you? Marian, come here!"
Derek knew he had only a moment. "Marian," he whispered, "listen carefully. Remember what I told you about your gift. Never let her know, baby; promise you will never tell your aunt what you can do. It's our secret."
"A secret," she whispered back. "I promise."
Then pulling the tearful Marian away from Derek's embrace, Corrine marched her out to the waiting limousine. Derek and his parents followed them out and watched sadly as they drove away. Turning back into the house, Derek carefully picked up the toy lamb and then noticed Fluffy sitting on the steps, head hanging. He could almost swear that the cat was grieving.
San Francisco Legacy House, present day
As she was passing, Alex casually glanced through Derek's open bedroom door and was surprised to find him packing a bag. "What's up?" she asked.
"Corrine Gibbons has died at last."
"And just what does that mean?" she inquired, wandering in.
"It means that Marian is finally free to make up her own mind; I want to offer her a chance to come home to the Legacy."
Alex glanced at the photograph lying on Derek's bed, of a small girl holding a big white cat. "The little girl in the picture? You know, I've seen this photograph in your office countless times and never asked about it."
"We knew each other as children. Her parents were in the Legacy, and whenever they traveled, they left her here with us. When they were killed she was taken away by her aunt Corrine; a cold, angry woman with a grudge against Marian's parents and the Legacy, and I thought I'd never see her again. God knows what kind of upbringing she's had, or if she would be willing to even listen to me. But she deserves to hear what we can offer her, and a chance to decide for herself." Before closing the bag, he tossed in the picture and an old, stuffed lamb.
Marian wandered silently down the dark corridor of the castle. She reveled in the feel of the silk gown against her bare skin, her long dark hair flowing down her back, the negligee flowing and sliding around her legs, and she ran her hands over her barely covered breasts, down her hips, all the time feeling the silk flowing, sensitizing her pale smooth skin, heating her desires. A fire burned within her shapely body, a fire that needed to be fed.
She could sense no one behind any of the doors she passed, but she continued on, searching for the one she knew was there, somewhere. He couldn't hide from her for long; no, she could feel his passion rising with her own, and soon he wouldn't be able to help himself. He would come and find her. He would be hers then, hers and no one else's, in thrall to her alone, her slave, her master--
As she passed the next door, it flew suddenly open and a long masculine arm pulled her roughly inside the room. It was him, Derek, a wildly passionate Derek who pulled her to him and wrapped her long dark hair in his fist. Pulling her head back, he bent and kissed her hungrily. She kissed him just as passionately, thrusting her tongue deep into his mouth as he ran his large, beautiful hands all over her silk-clad form and her hand slid inside his robe and fondled him. Impatiently, he pulled at her negligee as she pushed open his robe, both wild to feel flesh against flesh; viciously, she closed her sharp white teeth over his earlobe and bit. With a cry of pain and passion, he quickly ripped her gown apart, tossed her, naked, onto the bed, and disposing of his own garment came down heavily on top of her. His face was rigid with lust, and she laughed at him;
then cried out in passion--
With a cry of denial, Marian awoke, panting and sweating-- and alone in her own bed at the Legacy House. She didn't wear revealing silk lingerie, but a very modest cotton gown. Her hair was restrained in a now-ragged braid. And far from reveling in sensual pleasure, she buried her face in her hands, moaning her distress. Dear God, she wondered in horror, where did this come from? She'd never even seen a naked man--how could she dream something so...vile?
And why was it so exciting?
She deliberately came down late the following morning, too embarrassed to face Derek without the others present. She and Derek, both being early risers, had often been the only ones at the breakfast table during the time she had lived at the Legacy House, and until that morning the practice had always been a source of secret pleasure to her.
The moment she'd opened the door to Derek Rayne three months before, she'd known her life would never be the same. And she was fiercely glad. She had lived as a virtual slave to her aunt, never saying or doing anything for Corrine to take exception to. She'd allowed her life to be shaped and guided by a vengeful, evil-obsessed woman, and never voiced a single protest or opinion because that would bring swift retribution. Except for her few years at a very exclusive, incredibly strict boarding school in Europe, she'd been kept almost a prisoner in the very large, very luxurious house. She had no friends; there were no activities allowed except for Church, four times a week and twice on Sundays, and Church-sponsored "good works." All the while inside she'd churned and strained and known this was not how it was supposed to be. Keeping her own counsel had become more than second nature; suppressing her emotions a deeply-ingrained habit.
But they were far from dead. For some time before her aunt's death she had been feeling ready to explode, and if Corinne hadn't succumbed to the pneumonia she might have done so; God knew what the consequences of that might have been! Corrine had been sick and frail for some years, and Marian a grown woman, so physical violence was no longer a threat. But she might have been thrown out, a prospect that had terrified her because she was totally untrained to do any kind of work, and had no friends she could depend on to help--Corinne had made very certain of that. She thought Father McMillan at the church might help her find a job and a place to stay, but hadn't found the courage to broach the subject to him.
She could still understand the animals, but for some years had made no effort to communicate with any of them. Pets had been forbidden in her aunt's house, but there were still the birds in the back yard and the dogs in the park to listen to. But she didn't know if she could make any of them understand her anymore.
The reading of Corrine's will was a shock, although it shouldn't have been: her aunt's fortune was not left to her. So long as she lived in the house, she would receive a small allowance; household expenses would be paid for from a trust fund especially established for that purpose. If she should leave, all money would be stopped and given to the Church. Even in death, her aunt sought to control her life.
So when she opened the door to find the tall, distinguished-looking man standing outside she had already spent nearly a week trying to find the courage to walk away from it all.
"Marian Roarke?" the man asked in his slightly accented voice. "I don't know if you will remember me, but we knew each other when we were children. My name is Derek Rayne."
She stared at him blankly for a moment, and then her memories awoke with a vengeance. That day, that last day, was suddenly just there in her mind. The lesson about guarding her powers; the news about her parents' death followed so very swiftly by the arrival of the frightening woman in the big car; the slap; but most of all, the comforting feel of a small boy's arms hugging her close, whispering to her of the secret they had to keep. "Derek," she whispered. Then he held out an old, stuffed toy lamb to her, and when she took it every repressed emotion broke through.
He caught her as she swayed, his hazel eyes dark with concern as she collapsed. Carrying her swiftly inside he entered an opulent sitting room and placed her carefully on a rather uncomfortable-looking sofa. When he tried to move away to summon some assistance, she grasped the lapels of his coat. "Don't go, don't go," she implored in a whisper.
"No, I won't; I'm right here. I'm here for you now, Marian." Sitting next to her, he pulled her into his embrace.
"I kept the promise, Derek," she whispered. "I never told her. I never told anyone." She started to cry, and as he held her Derek cursed himself for not coming years ago.
She had been mortified later, of course, and had never lost her control like that again. When Derek told her about the Legacy, and offered her a place--her rightful place, he emphasized--she had accepted immediately. When she told him she had no money, he had been shocked. Assuring her that her father had left her a substantial fortune that was supposed to have come to her at her majority, he vowed to look into it for her. As it turned out, while Corrine had subverted the lawyer to a great extent the old man could still not bring himself to permanently dispose of Marian's father's money. High-powered Luna Foundation lawyers had found it hidden in a secret account, and she was now wealthy. Even so, she had never considered not staying with the Legacy.
Or more truthfully, she admitted secretly to herself, staying with Derek.
While she hadn't thought of him since she was a small girl, emotionally she had never forgotten his kindness and had been drawing strength from the knowledge that she made a promise to him to keep the secret. Meeting again as adults, she found herself strongly and immediately attracted to him as a man, feelings she had absolutely no experience dealing with. She had met several other attractive men since she had left her aunt's house, not least of which were Nick Boyle and Father Philip Callahan, but none had affected her anywhere near as strongly as Derek.
It was infatuation, she told herself; leftover feelings from her childhood. Gratitude, maybe. She'd get over it, start feeling more natural and at ease with him--eventually. When she got to know him better. When she got a little more experience with the world.
But in the three months she had been at the Legacy House, it hadn't gone away. Not an iota. In fact, she was very much afraid her attachment and infatuation were growing, and she had no idea what to do about it. Though still shy around him, she treasured those early mornings together, just the two of them, for however short a time before the start of the day. In a way, she forced herself to interact, for she was terrified he might discover her secret. But she couldn't give up those quiet times with him.
For the first time she could remember, she was experiencing sexual fantasies, and Derek was at the center of them all. They were nothing she thought "normal" women would find very exciting, just about holding and gentle caresses, slow kisses and warm feelings.
Until last night.
Derek understood--or thought he did--that it was her extremely repressed upbringing that caused her to be somewhat stiff with him. To the world she appeared calm, serene and even-tempered. He found it promising that with Alex and Kat she seemed to smile more, be more at ease. She would soon learn that she could trust him and the others and act naturally with them.
Not for a moment did he consider that she might be in love with him.
Alex saw it, though, almost immediately. Both she and Derek, as the strongest psi talents, had been coaching Marian in the use of her repressed psychic abilities. However, because of his many duties as Precept of the House and head of the Luna Foundation, much of the training fell to Alex, and the two women were becoming fast friends.
Derek had bought Marian a parakeet a few days after her arrival, not only as a tool for practicing her special abilities but also for a pet. Alex sensed her strong surge of gratitude but also her more tender feelings, although outwardly she seemed to accept the gift calmly. Teasing her about it after Derek had left, Alex had been shocked at the wave of fear that came with Marian's blushing mortification. That someone noticing she had emotions caused this fear horrified Alex; since then she had modified her teasing. But she didn't stop it; she hoped it might help her shy friend learn to deal a bit with her emotions. Friends teased their friends, and Marian needed to discover there was no malice in it, and that she had nothing to be afraid of if she felt something! And she thought she was making some progress. The smiles came a bit more easily, and even the occasional laughter.
Others in the house were still virtual strangers to her, and she to them. Rachel made some friendly overtures which, while not precisely rejected, weren't embraced enthusiastically either. Rachel knew better than to try to push it; instead, she brought Kat over often, because Marian seemed able to be completely herself only with the child. And Rachel trusted that her daughter could make the newest Legacy member feel welcome.
Neither Philip or Nick paid much attention to her at first. Marian seemed to blend into the background, unconsciously encouraging people to overlook her. Her conservative skirts and blouses and her dark hair pulled back tightly from her face reinforced that. But Philip, being a sensitive and observant man, soon sensed a wounded spirit. Knowing she needed time to adjust, he offered an undemanding friendship if she should choose to take it up. Otherwise, he left her to herself.
Although he wasn't an unkind man, Nick's tastes ran to a more vivacious kind of woman. Since Marian never did anything to draw attention to herself, he largely ignored her. Until, that is, he caught the flu, and her care and concern caused him to finally take notice.
"You know," he remarked thoughtfully to the group one evening after his recovery, when Marian had said her quiet good night and retired, "I thought at first she was kinda cold and emotionless; but she isn't. She's incredibly reserved, as if everything has been locked down tight for a long time, and she doesn't quite know how to let it out."
"That's not surprising," Philip answered. "From remarks you've made, Derek, I take it the aunt was quite a bitter and unlovable soul. Marian has been practically cloistered throughout her life and is only just learning how to interact with people."
"When she took care of me during that nasty flu virus," Nick remarked, "I got the first inkling that she wasn't what she appeared on the surface. I hate it when women try to coddle me; but it was rather nice when Marian did it, for some reason. She's a very--I don't know, restful?--sort of woman. I think she'll fit in fine around here, once she starts to relax a bit with us."
"She has a great deal of adjusting to do," Derek said. "I'm hoping you will all give her time, and help her make these adjustments."
"It's criminal, what her aunt did to her," Rachel remarked.
"You don't know just how true that is," Alex told them, and her grim expression brought them all up short. Then, without revealing the precise emotion that evoked the reaction--
Marian deserved to be able to keep her secret-- she told them about her discovery of Marian's fear of anyone seeing her showing emotion.
They stared at her in utter shock and silence.
"It's a damn shame that woman is dead," Nick finally spoke with quiet intensity, "because I'd like to strangle her myself."
Derek's first impulse was to go to her, to do something for her, but Rachel put out a restraining hand. "Wait a minute, Derek. The very last thing she needs right now is some kind of confrontation, however kindly meant."
He relaxed back into his chair. "You're right, of course. But it's difficult to accept. If I'd followed my instincts, and gone to her when she turned eighteen and could legally walk away, it might have saved her years of such abuse."
"Now just hold on there," Rachel said, forcefully. "You can't know that she'd have been receptive to you. Corrine was still alive then and in ill health, and from what I've gathered had convinced the girl that it was her responsibility to take care of her. Marian might have refused you then, you know, because of a perceived duty to her aunt.
"And I'm not sure you should term it 'suffering.' She'd found a way to deal with things, Derek, by closing down. Not healthy, certainly, but she'd achieved a kind of peace with the situation. Give her time; that's really about all we can do, show her that she's safe with us and can let go of her tight controls. Try too hard to force it and you could cause some real
Alex spoke up then. "The thing with the animals isn't her only psi ability. She's got a real talent for empathy. When she allows herself to feel something, she's able to pick up other people's feelings too and identify with them. Have you seen her with Kat? That's when I first observed it, because she's so natural with the child."
"Then maybe the aunt's treatment is not the only reason she's retreated, emotionally," Rachel speculated. "And it illustrates my point. She's totally natural with Kat, because Kat holds no threat for her. She can still feel things, she just has to overcome her conditioning and allow herself to feel them. She's already done so with my daughter."
"And I think I've been making some progress too," Alex said.
"But like Nick says," Derek remarked, "as far as the rest of the world is concerned, she's locked down her own feelings. Until she can learn to deal with them-- even to acknowledge them-- then her empathic talents can't be developed."
Philip smiled ruefully. "You know, it would be a very great gift in a priest. But I fear it will be trouble for someone with Marian's background and upbringing. She's going to need our support. I'm glad you brought her here, Derek." Derek was gratified to feel the agreement from the entire group.
Without her noticing, Marian had acquired five good friends who all had her welfare at heart. But even if she had realized, she wouldn't have known how to react.
Marian caught up with Alex in the front hall. "Alex, here; you almost forgot your laptop." She handed over the attache-sized computer case.
"Thanks, Marian. How'd you know what I was looking for?"
"Peep. He said you packed it and then left it on the desk."
Alex laughed; who'd have thought a parakeet would
notice such things?
Marian smiled a little. "Well, I have to confess that he didn't state things that clearly. He just hopped around chirping about 'the Alex box! The Alex box!' and I figured it out from there."
Both of them laughed over that.
Then she sobered. "When will you and Rachel be back from Hong Kong?"
"Derek thinks we should be able to get things straightened out within a week. Knowing the Chinese, however, it might be longer. I just hope the House in Hong Kong has smoothed things a bit for us. And having Lee Tzin-sung with us will help a lot. But these books are just too valuable to trust to just any courier."
Noticing with concern the gray shadows under her friend's eyes, Alex ordered, "Now, listen up. Leave all that carved stone in the lab alone while I'm gone, and concentrate on something entirely different." She lowered her voice so that the Legacy house leader, waiting out by the car to drive her to the airport, wouldn't hear. "I expect to see some progress on the romance front when I return." She got a little alarmed when her friend turned white instead of blushing as she usually did when she teased her about her secret attraction for Derek. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Marian denied. "You know Derek still thinks of me as that four-year-old child that he couldn't help. I'm like a little sister to him. Besides, he's Precept; he wouldn't think of any of us in that manner." She devoutly hoped so at this moment, although a few days ago she would have been unhappy about it.
"Hah! I don't buy this 'little sister' business you're feeding me for a moment. He does not look at you like that. And 'Precept' business aside, he's still a man, and I've thought for awhile he could use a little shaking up."
"I'm the last woman who could do it."
"If you'd just give him a sign, you might be surprised-- but you're too damn good at hiding yourself away."
"Forget it, please, Alex. Have a safe trip. I'm going to miss you."
"Oh, me too." They hugged, and Alex picked up her suitcases and went out to the waiting car, cursing the blindness of some males and sad that some women couldn't recognize their own worth.
She had him exactly where she wanted him! Greedily, she gazed down at the gloriously nude male spread-eagled on the satin-covered bed, pulling at the silken cords around his wrists and ankles, waiting for whatever she felt like dealing out to him. God, Derek was magnificent like this, she thought. And totally at her mercy. With an evil laugh, she crawled over him and began kissing him, licking and nibbling and tasting his skin, taking her time over it. Oh, he tasted so good! She didn't want to miss an inch of him, working methodically down his chest, his stomach...and lower, delighting in his sensual groans and pleas. Then without warning her head was seized and pulled away--he had broken the bonds around his wrists and was pulling her around and astride him, and she screamed in carnal delight--
Marian awoke with the scream trapped in her throat. She was hot and aroused; she ached with empty desire. She could never have imagined being this hot-- and sick. Jumping out of bed she rushed to the bathroom just in time to heave up the contents of her stomach. Afterward, she collapsed on the cold tiles, leaning against the porcelain bowl, and wept.
Down the hall, in another bathroom, Derek Rayne stepped into the shower-- still in his pyjamas-- and turned the cold water on full force.
An alarmingly new element was introduced into her life the following day. Drained and nervous from the dreams of the night before, she agreed listlessly to help Nick out with his latest project. "All I need you to do is bring up the files on the computer that I ask for, and I'll correlate them to the database I'm already working on," he said. "Simple."
So she sat at a terminal in the computer room, pulling up the files Nick wanted, when
--Derek backed her against the wall, lifting her skirt and tearing away her panties. Pulling her right leg up and hooking it over his arm, he drove into her with no preliminaries. It was exciting and violent; she welcomed his roughness. She brought both legs up and around him, until she was supported by the wall at her back--and by him.
She gave a weak moan, causing Nick to look up in concern as she shook herself violently and buried her head in her hands. "Marian, you all right?" he asked.
At the sound of his voice she jerked her head up and turned her face away; she had forgotten he was there! Oh, lord, what had she looked like, how long had she been lost in the vision?
"I'm sorry," she whispered, and he had to strain to hear her. "I'm afraid I don't feel very well. I'd like to go to my room."
"Sure, honey; I can finish up here. Do you need some help?"
"No! I mean, no, thank you; I'll be fine on my own. I just need to rest for awhile."
"All right, if you say so. You have been looking a bit puny today. I'll tell Derek."
"No, no, please don't do that! I'll be better in no time, I assure you. I wouldn't want him to worry."
She left the room quickly, not seeing the worried look on Nick's face. He was debating going to search for Derek, despite his implicit agreement not to mention the incident, when the man himself walked in. "Have you seen Marian?"
"Yeah, she was here for awhile, but she left a few minutes ago. Said she wasn't feeling well, and she did look kinda strange. Come to think of it, you don't look real good yourself."
And he did look somewhat troubled. "I have just had a rather disturbing vision; I wanted to talk to Marian about it."
This alarmed Nick. "Is she in some kind of danger, then?"
"No, no, nothing like that. At least-- No, I don't think so. Has she gone to lie down? Then I won't disturb her for now."
In her room, Marian paced from the desk to the bed and back. It had happened during the day! She hadn't even been asleep. She hadn't even been alone! Any doubts she'd had that these disturbing visions were coming from somewhere outside herself were gone now. Someone-- or something-- was plaguing her, sending these dreams to her, taking some of her own feelings and desires and magnifying and twisting them out of all proportion.
It made her sick, that these warm gentle feelings for a man that had only just started to awaken in her-- for the first time in her life!-- were being perverted. But what could she do about it? Who could help her? Alex and Rachel weren't there, and wouldn't be back for almost a week. Could she hold out that long? She ought to go to Derek, who as a strong psychic and as Precept of the House must know something that could be done to protect her. But oh, God, she didn't think she could manage to explain what was wrong! She'd just have to hold on until Alex returned. Pray God that it was soon enough.
She didn't go down to dinner. When Derek came up and rapped gently at her door, she called out that she wasn't feeling well and was going to bed early, and he left. Nick brought her a tray, with soup and crackers, as something of a payback (as he put it) for the care she'd provided him. She was honestly grateful for his consideration, but didn't encourage him to linger.
They were both naked; his powerful hands on her shoulders forced her to her knees in front of him. He clenched his hands in her hair, urging her on, controlling her movements, and when he knew he couldn't last much longer pulled her away and swiftly positioned her on her hands and knees. Moving up behind her, bending over her and reaching in front of her with his large hands--
This time she'd been expecting the dream. She didn't sit up in bed moaning in anguish, nor did she rush to the bathroom to be sick. She simply turned her face into her pillow and wept softly, hopelessly.
There was a gentle tapping at her door; she didn't hear it at first, then it came again. "Marian?" Derek called softly. "Open the door, my dear."
"No," she sobbed weakly. "Go away, Derek."
"Let me in. Let me help." He tried the door, but she had locked it.
"No one can help. I have to be alone."
"No!" he denied, "you don't."
But she refused to answer him any more that night, and the door stayed closed.
Finally, much troubled, Derek returned to his room. Knowing he wouldn't be getting any more sleep that night than Marian, he pondered the meaning of the erotic dreams about her that he'd been experiencing for the past several nights.
He liked her more and more as he got to know her, and found her physically attractive as well; experiencing a few warm fantasies about her wouldn't have surprised him at all. But early on he had sensed there was something not quite right about these dreams. So, he decided to analyze them, taking each of them in turn.
He felt that a dream of hide-and-seek ending in lovemaking could well have come from his own fantasies. But he had always found bondage and humiliation games-- the subject of the second dream-- sexually unappealing, even distasteful. Having experienced both for real, he couldn't play at them for thrills. So the excitement he had gotten from that, while he couldn't deny he'd been excited, had felt very unnatural.
Was he somehow tapping into Marian's fantasies? Was the unnatural suppression of her feelings being released in sleep, and he was unwittingly picking up on them? While his instincts told him that she was too much of an innocent to have dreamed up some of these images, it was a theory he had had to consider.
That afternoon he had realized that it was an unlikely theory. Yes, quite definitely the fantasies were coming to him through Marian. But the incident in the computer room was no idle fantasy. It had every feel of an attack from an outside source. And Marian was the target; he didn't think whatever was responsible for them meant for him to be seeing the visions at all.
Tonight's dream confirmed his suspicion. Her upset was deep and real. That she refused to talk with him was disturbing. The sound of her weeping was heartbreaking. And despite her pain, her fear, her embarrassment, something had to be done about the situation, very soon.
She had to force herself out of bed the following morning, then spent the time until lunch dodging Derek. She knew he wanted to talk to her, but she wasn't ready. She might never be ready, she thought a little hysterically. She was pathetically grateful that he didn't appear at the meal, busy with Foundation business and taking a sandwich in his study.
Nick couldn't engage her attention with his project. A little fed up with her monosyllabic conversation, he sent her to return a book to Philip, who was working in the library. Listlessly, she complied.
She entered the library, calling Philip's name. "Up here," he answered from the gallery, and she started up the spiral stairs.
--clinging to the railing as the steps bit into her shoulders and buttocks, Derek on the stairs below her, on his knees, burying his head beneath her skirt; she gripped the rail hard as she felt the touch of his--
She jumped violently when Philip touched her arm, and dropped the book she was holding onto the steps. She was sweating, and having a hard time catching her breath. "Marian, I've called your name several times; didn't you hear me?" Concern deepened the lines in his gentle face. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, yes, I'm fine," she said, too quickly. Retrieving the dropped book, she tried to explain. "This book-- Nick said you-- I-- here!" She thrust it into his hands and fled quickly back down the stairs and out of the room. Philip stared after her, puzzled and worried.
Which was how Derek discovered him, a moment later. Once again he'd received a powerfully erotic vision of himself with Marian, and if it were necessary after last night, was firmly convinced that she was under attack. His own seeing was incidental to what was happening to her. "Where's Marian?" he asked urgently.
Philip descended the steps to the main floor. "She was here a minute ago, to give me this," he replied, holding up the book. "Derek, I think something's terribly wrong. She started up the stairs, then froze and stared into space, like she was having some kind of seizure. When I spoke to her she didn't seem to hear me, and didn't come out of it until I touched her."
"She stammered something about the book, and left very quickly. What's happening?"
"That, my friend, I am trying to discover. If she returns, let her know I need to see her right away."
His search of the house yielded no results, and he concluded that she'd slipped out. She didn't return until close to the dinner hour; Derek was in the hall waiting for her when she came in. "Where have you been? I need to talk with you."
She headed for the stairs, refusing to meet his eyes. "I was out, in the park. I need to change before dinner, Derek. Please, can't it wait?"
He put his hand on her arm to stop her, and she froze-- a reaction that vaguely alarmed him. "This can't be put off for long."
Still she refused to look at him. "After dinner. Please?"
He let her go, and she relaxed slightly. It bothered him considerably to hear the pleading tone in her voice. "Very well. But no longer." Turning abruptly, he strode into the study as she continued slowly up the stairs.
Dinner that evening was tense for Marian, as she braced for the next attack, and worried about what she was going to say to Derek later on. Consequently she was very quiet; anyone's attempt at starting a conversation was met with polite monosyllables. They had made it all the way to coffee before disaster struck.
The images exploded into Marian's mind unexpectedly: herself on the hearthrug in the study, naked and perspiring, a look of pure lust on her face, as she passionately moved astride an equally sweaty, naked and lustful Derek.
Not noticing the odd flush on Derek's face as he looked up sharply and stared at her, she dropped her coffee cup and cried out, alarming Nick and Philip who exclaimed in concern. Derek moved swiftly, reaching out to support her, but she jumped back from him awkwardly, knocking over her chair in her hurry to get away from him, throwing up her hands to ward him off.
"No! Don't touch me! I-- I'm fine, just don't-- touch--"
She left the dining room at a run, and both Nick and Philip made a move to follow her. But Derek waved them back. "Let me handle it."
A sanctuary, a retreat, she needed someplace-- not her bedroom. God, no, not the bedroom. The parlor beckoned, and she flung herself inside and closed the door. Stumbling to the couch by the blazing fire, she sank down and buried her face in her hands.
"Marian," Derek spoke from just inside the door he had silently opened and closed after him. She gasped, her head shooting up, but she did not turn to look at him.
"Please, Derek," she choked, "I'll be all right, really. I just need to be alone for a little while."
"No, I don't think you will be all right. Something is happening to you, and we have to discuss it." When she refused to speak or even look at him he strode over in front of her, and gripping her arms tightly, drew her up to face him.
"No!" she cried in alarm, pushing at him frantically, afraid that actual contact with him would bring on yet another erotic vision.
He gave her a slight shake. "Listen to me, Marian! We are involved with some very dangerous forces in our work with the Legacy. When something out of the ordinary happens to you, you have an obligation to inform the group. You risk bringing the danger down on us all. It's your duty."
At last, he thought, looking into her suddenly stormy eyes; that had made her angry. Perhaps now she would reveal something of what was troubling her.
She jerked out of his hold, retreating around the couch to place it between them. "This doesn't affect anyone else! It's personal, Derek! Intensely personal and-- and embarrassing. And who are the only people here to discuss it with? Men! All men! And Philip isn't only a man, either, he's a priest! I'm supposed to talk about this with a priest? And Nick, who is younger than I am-- face it, Derek, sometimes he shows all the sensitivity of a turnip!"
That surprised a smile from Derek. Then his face gentled. "I'm here. And even though I'm also a man, I'd hoped we were...friends."
She stopped short, gazing at him with something akin to horror. "Oh, God, you can't know what you're asking."
"I think that I have an idea." He paused, and continued in a gentler tone, "I've been seeing some of your visions. Your dreams these past few nights. An incident yesterday, one earlier this afternoon, and this last one at dinner."
Her eyes widened and she blushed a fiery red, then as suddenly turned alarmingly pale. "No," she whispered. Turning, she stumbled to a chair. Derek moved behind her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder as she pressed a fist to her mouth in distress. "I can't," she whispered. "Maybe I could have talked to Alex. Or Rachel, even though I don't know her as well. Not you."
"They aren't here; I'm sorry, Marian. But this needs to be dealt with now, and I am here. And, for some reason, I believe it is somehow important and inevitable that I be the one to help you." Moving around to face her, he knelt beside her and grasped both of her hands gently in his large ones, trying to convey as much reassurance to her as he could.
Not yet able to actually face him, she looked down at his hands: large, beautiful, sensitive and caring, not cruel and brutal. She realized she loved his hands. And for some reason the thought calmed her. "I couldn't do anything for you when Corrine took you away. Let me help now."
"But you did," she whispered, surprised. Suddenly she looked up at him earnestly. "You told me to keep our secret. I did, and I never let her know what I could do. I never gave her that to use against me. You saved me, Derek. How can I ever thank you for that?"
"It was so little, but I'm glad it was some help for you. You knew then you could trust me; trust me in this too." She nodded, hesitantly. "When did the visions start?"
She took a deep breath. "Four days ago. Right about the time Alex and Rachel left for Hong Kong."
"Did anything unusual occur just before or after they left?"
Marian shook her head. "I can't think of anything. We-- Alex and I-- had been working on my communication with the parakeet, and making some progress, and also on the translation of an inscription on that tablet from the German site. There were some words, proper names I think, that were unfamiliar to me, and I was trying to puzzle them out." She felt Derek's fingers tighten very slightly on hers and looked at him quizzically. "Do you think that's significant?"
"Possibly. Tell me, did you say any of these names aloud?"
She looked puzzled. "I might have done. To get a feel of them, the meaning. I lean rather toward the aural in my comprehension, and sometimes there is enough meaning in the sounds for me to figure things out."
Derek nodded in understanding. "Go on."
Marian licked her lips nervously and looked away again. "I had the first dream that night."
"So they started out as dreams?"
She nodded. "And always very vivid. Highly charged. Emotional. I never considered myself very emotional or-- or sensual. They disturbed me. And I don't usually remember my dreams, but I remember everything about these." She closed her eyes, distressed. "Everything."
"And are they always about making love?"
She drew a deep breath and her face went very stiff and expressionless, telling him clearly how difficult this was for her. And she pulled her hands away from his, and wouldn't meet his eyes. Her voice matched her face: stiff and expressionless. "No. They're about sex. There's no tenderness, no regard. No love. No love-making. Just-- just lust."
His next question came out tentatively, delicately. "And the men-- are there ever any other--"
She interrupted, her answer cold and direct. This must be killing her, he thought compassionately. "No one else. Only one. You." Abruptly she got to her feet, and he rose too. She moved past him to stare into the fire. "They're happening more frequently. And they're--getting rougher. Violent." She gripped the mantle, and her composure began to crack. "I--I've never in my life imagined myself doing--in most of these, these situations. I-- I'm not this person in the visions. I can't be this person! It's--"
He came up behind her and pulled her roughly back against him, ripping open her blouse. Swiftly turning her around, he pulled her skirt roughly up around her waist; she quickly undid his belt and trousers, freeing him and fondling him, pulling him down with her to the hearth rug. He ripped his shirt off, coming down on top of her--
Marian cried out and tried to run from the room, to escape the vision that had slammed into her mind without warning. She didn't see Derek shake his head, to clear it of the images he'd just shared; but she heard him crying her name as if from a great distance, and was suddenly seized from behind. Still gripped by the vision, she fought to get away, but he was strong and determined and refused to let her go. After a moment of struggle she suddenly collapsed against him, and he gently turned her around so she could bury her face in his chest.
"Oh, God, Derek!" she wept. "I can't take this! I can't! What am I going to do?"
He led her to the sofa. Holding her gently, he allowed her to weep into his shirt as he stroked her hair. "I can see you are at the end of your endurance, but you won't be facing this alone now, I promise you. What you are going to do is let me help you fight off this attack. Because, you see, you are under attack, by something very strong and very evil.
"This is what I think happened. The site whose artifacts you are deciphering is an ancient temple dedicated to an ancient evil. Somehow in your researches you have uncovered one of these demons; quite possibly an incubus." She gave a small gasp of horror, and he tightened his embrace protectively.
"But-- I'm not doing these things in the vision! They're just in my head. Doesn't a-- an incubus actually, um--" She stopped, too embarrassed to continue.
"Have sex with the victim?" Derek carefully made his voice matter-of-fact, attempting to give her a bit of distance between herself and the events. "Usually; but there are occurrences in the literature of it starting out with dreams. Perhaps one of the names you spoke released it and drew its attention to you. Or perhaps it was here with the artifacts all along, and waited until Alex and Rachel-- your support group, so to speak-- were gone, and you were more vulnerable to its attack."
He moved her away slightly so that he could look into her face. His expression was very gentle and earnest. "I believe this demon chose you as the most vulnerable member of the House. Your psychic abilities are strong, but largely undisciplined right now. Not your fault; you are only at the beginning of your training. And-- what I am about to say is not meant to hurt you, Marian. But I believe your upbringing and, I think, a naturally shy and retiring nature have left you more repressed than most of your contemporaries."
She looked down, away from his too-perceptive gaze. "I think that's fairly obvious," she replied quietly, "and I'm not offended. I realize that I don't have the, well, experience that most women my age would have that would make them able to hold out against this thing more, uh, successfully. I see that it waited until the stronger psychic-- Alex-- was gone. Alone, I-- well, I'm just not strong enough to fight it on my own, am I?"
Derek stroked her cheek, meaning reassurance, but her eyes flew up and she gazed at him a trifle warily. "Don't sell yourself short, Marian. Alex or Rachel wouldn't be able to fight this alone, either. And considering that such visions very often feature more than one man in them, that this demon only used me to torment you shows you have a strong mind that is resisting this evil force. Nick and Philip are both here, and you say neither has appeared in your visions."
She winced in distaste and blushed bright red at this thought, and could not meet his eyes. "Philip is a priest, for goodness' sake," she choked.
"Ah, yes; a holy man of God, to you, could never be regarded in a carnal way. But for a demon, a man of God would be the perfect choice to torment you with. And while there is only a year or so between you in age, you've already mentioned how young Nick seems to you. Another unholy choice. Yet this demon, which feeds on your shame, has not been able to use them. You see, you are stronger than you realized." Suddenly enlightenment dawned. "Marian, are you attracted to me? Is that how the demon got past your natural defenses?"
She tried to pull away, but his arm around her shoulder tightened. With his free hand beneath her chin he forced her to look up, and saw the truth. He sighed softly. "I have been blind, haven't I? I never guessed. You hide it very well."
"I saw no reason to embarrass us both," she whispered.
Derek gently shook his head. "I would not have been embarrassed. I'm flattered. And, I think, embarrassment was not your only concern."
She forced herself to be honest with him and herself. "No. I've never had...feelings like this for-- for anyone before and I can't figure out what I'm supposed to do. I couldn't face the rejection, or the kindly meant attentions you may force yourself to offer. It could get so awkward. It wasn't worth the risk."
"Risk," he repeated, a little sadly. "You think it is so perilous, showing tender feelings for another person?"
She swallowed. "You don't feel the same feelings. I don't want-- Derek, I don't want to have to leave here! Please! I'm trying very hard to fit in. It feels like...home. The way my aunt's house never did. If-- if I had to leave..." She couldn't finish the thought.
This, he sensed, was the heart of the matter. He paused, considering how to deal with this deepest fear. "Marian, are we friends?"
"I like to think so." She was a little confused by his question.
"And friends trust each other, correct?"
"Well, yes, I suppose they must. Or it isn't much of a friendship. At least, I think so. I haven't had many friends in my life, Derek. My aunt rather frowned upon us getting too closely involved with others." She stated this matter-of-factly, simply explaining with no sorrow or self-pity, but it hurt Derek to think of the barren life in which his childhood friend had been raised.
"Then do you trust me? Do you know that I would not hurt you, or patronize you, or ask you to do something against your wishes unless I knew it was in your best interest?" Marian was somewhat confused by this line of talk, and getting a little alarmed at where the conversation seemed to be heading.
"Derek, do you think that because I didn't tell you how I feel that I don't trust you? Because that isn't true! I do. More than anyone else." Then she blushed and looked away, embarrassed at her forcefulness.
Tenderly, Derek brushed his lips across her forehead, and she blushed, if possible, even more deeply. "Thank you.
I am very glad to hear this. Trust me, then, not to bruise your feelings. Trust me not to send you away. I would never do that to you; this is your home now, and even if you should choose to leave for awhile remember that you will always be welcome here."
He leaned her away from him to look in her eyes. "Know also that trust is one of the most important weapons we have to free you from this demon. It will test this, try to use it against us. And while they don't need the details, we have to tell Philip and Nick about what is happening. We're going to need their help." She shivered, and he touched her hair comfortingly. "I know how painful this is. I'm sorry."
She took a deep breath, gathering her courage. "What needs to be done?"
"Marian," Philip explained, "I'm going to be performing the rite of exorcism. You must be prepared for an ordeal; it's now that the demon's attack will be most concentrated. We must be stronger."
They'd taken the precaution of removing most of the furniture and breakables from the great room upstairs, and Marian sat in the only remaining chair, scared to death. Nick and Derek stood on either side of her, to provide emotional as well as physical support should it be required. She was very much afraid that it would be. The stone tablet with the demon's name lay on the table before them. Derek and Philip had identified the name earlier, one that did not appear in any of the references so they felt fairly confident that it was only a minor power. But with the name, they could call directly on the demon to cast it out. "What do I have to do?" she asked in a small voice. Derek rested his hand comfortingly on her shoulder.
Philip smiled reassuringly. "Fight it, my girl. Demons are liars, every one of them; don't believe whatever it tells you or offers you. Reject it, and tell it to go back to Hell where it belongs." She smiled weakly at that. "I'll let you know as we go along if you need to do anything else."
"Trust us, Marian," Derek told her. "We're your friends and we love you. Don't forget that."
She reached up and squeezed his hand. "I won't." Taking a deep breath, she said, "Shall we get on with it?"
"That's the spirit," Nick winked at her.
Philip opened the book and began the ritual.
All of them; she could handle all three of them, even the priest. Oh, yes, particularly the priest; it would be such pleasure to have him down on the table, that cassock ripped to shreds, climbing over him, sliding against him and driving him wild as that other handsome young brute rubbed his naked body against her back and put his hands all over her, while that magnificent giant waited impatiently for his turn, calling her name, and she would reach out to touch him. He wouldn't need to wait long, oh no--'
As Philip continued Marian's eyes closed and her breathing became swift and shallow. When she moaned aloud and ran her hands sensuously across her breasts, beginning to pull at the buttons of her blouse, Derek and Nick grasped her hands to restrain her and Derek began to call her name. "Fight it, Marian," he urged. "Don't let it trick you into giving it a hold."
She was deep into the fantasy the demon had created for her, Derek could see. He thought he was the only one of them sharing it with her, but from the look on Nick's face he could tell that wasn't the case; then Philip faltered and he knew all three of them were being affected. Nick gulped; Philip turned red, but resolutely continued the ritual. "Don't let it do this to you, honey," Nick begged her. "You're stronger than this."
Without warning the vision abruptly ceased, and Marian's eyes flew open. There was a strange green glow in them, and the heavy-lidded expression of lust on her face was one Derek had glimpsed only in her dreams. "Stop," she commanded. Derek and Nick were knocked back by an unseen force and stood aside, paralyzed. Then with a wave of her hand she caused Philip's book to be slammed shut and fall to the ground.
The young priest was undaunted. "Begone, foul demon; return to Hell and free this woman from thy evil enslavement."
Marian-- or, rather, the demon-- laughed. "You think I enslave her? I'm freeing her from the enslavement she's already suffering! I release her from her inhibitions so that she can experience her true passions! And I can free you from yours as well. I'm more than capable of satisfying all of you." Her voice dropped to a low, seductive murmur. "Come, priest! Aren't you the least bit tempted?" Rising from her chair, the demon-possessed Marian slid sensuously over to Philip and ran her hands lightly, caressingly across his chest. "Wouldn't you like to sample what I have to offer you? Your blood running hot through your veins, as my hands and lips and body do all the things that you've only dreamed of?" Running her hands up his arms, she twined them behind his head and pulled his mouth down toward hers. "Let my kisses inflame you..." She thrust her tongue passionately into his mouth.
Philip pulled her hands away, breaking the passionate kiss. "Marian, stop it! Fight it, Marian! Don't believe its lies!"
And then it released her, and she was Marian again.
She pulled away from Philip in horror, backing into a corner, hugging herself. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Philip! Oh, dear God, she was right; Aunt Corrine was right. I am wicked.
My God, a priest!" Tears began flowing down her cheeks. "She said it, she told me all along: no goodness can come from evil; a child of a whore and a seducer will be a whore and seducer. Oh, God, she was right!"
Derek and Nick were released from their paralysis at the same moment as Marian. And hearing her, Derek was truly furious, whether with Corrine or Marian or both he didn't stop to analyze.
Marching over to her he pulled her out of her corner and shook her; she stared up at him in shock. "Enough of this bullshit! You could never be a whore! Stop letting that woman's poison eat away at you. You are not evil!"
"Derek, take it easy!" Nick was pulling him back, and in spite of her self-revulsion and attempt to avoid his touch, Philip led the shocked and horrified woman to the chair and urged her to sit. Kneeling in front of her he gently took one of her hands in his. The contact, he sensed, was very important.
"Marian," he said earnestly to her, "the demon can't have any power over you unless you let it. Look at me, Marian." When she finally could bring herself to raise her eyes to his face, he continued. "This is what it wants--it wants you to feel ashamed and wicked. But it's wrong; your aunt was wrong. I can sense so much goodness in you! Think of all the times you've done something for one of us, without it being expected or necessary, just because it was helpful. You left your own bed in the middle of the night to go over to the mainland and watch Kat when Rachel was called to a patient, only a week after you came to us! You bring tea to Alex when she's spent long hours at her computer screen. You transcribe my notes on particularly difficult translations, and I know how awful my handwriting is. And you always seem to have the time to listen to any and all of us natter on. It's your quiet little kindnesses that display your goodness in loud tones. Remember them, Marian."
She sniffled, and gripped his hand tightly. "Fear," she whispered. "Maybe it was fear. I was afraid you'd send me away unless I could be useful."
"That's nonsense." Nick came over and grasped her other hand in both of his, and as Philip moved back he too knelt next to her. When she turned to look at him he took up the cause. "Honey," he said, "you're one of the sweetest women I've ever met. Much too often I find myself around the other kind, you know, so knowing you is like fresh air blowing through a musty room. When you brought me soup when I was sick with the flu-- d'you remember that?-- then bullied me into staying in bed when I wanted to get up too soon, that was one of nicest things anyone's ever done for me. You even let me teach you how to play poker to keep me busy, when you must have been bored out of your mind. Marian, it isn't fear; you care about us, and it comes through. And rather than being smothering with it, you're undemanding and restful to be around. While you might think that's a negligible talent, and I might take it for granted most of the time, it's a rare gift and I admire you for it. You're comfortable, and comforting. And I'm as sure of this as I'm sure of anything: none of this came out of fear."
Derek, once more in control of himself, came over and took Nick's place, grasping both of her hands in his large, gentle ones. "Listen to me. Your aunt was a bitter woman, who felt betrayed by her sister and her lover--your parents. In her pain and bitterness, she tried to instill feelings of wickedness and inadequacy in their daughter."
Her voice was a whisper, uncertain and ashamed. "She said...she told me my mother seduced him." He could see the rest of it in her eyes: and that I was evil just like her.
"That's not true. Your mother and father were bonded by love. He didn't abandon Corrine, but fell in love at first sight when he saw your mother. Neither of them did what they did lightly; they didn't want to hurt Corrine, but their love was so strong they could not deny it. And they both loved you very, very much. You are not responsible for the actions of your parents in any case, despite what your aunt tried to make you believe. They were gone, beyond her reach; you were all that was left for her to take out her revenge upon. And you are the most truly innocent person in this entire story.
"You have to know and accept this truth, and know that you showed a great deal of strength when you did not allow your own pain to cause you to be bitter in turn." She wanted desperately to believe him, he could see it in her eyes.
"My dear Marian, you have the friendship and support of every member of this House. You also have my own love and friendship; something I don't give lightly. Do you think I would lie to you about this?"
Calm again but not convinced, she put a hand on his cheek, her eyes sad and tender. "You're a kind man, Derek Rayne; it could be pity."
He didn't lose his temper, but his tone became brisk and impatient. "Pity? Why should I pity you? You have a great deal going for you, you know. I respect you, because you are talented and smart and strong, because you didn't let your aunt turn you into a bitter and vindictive woman or grind your sweetness into the ground. No; she is the one I pity, because she could never see what a precious treasure she had in you."
He smiled tenderly at the expression of wonder in her green eyes; finally, she started to really believe. "I love you and admire you; for your gentleness and kindness and sweetness of spirit, but mostly because you're Marian." Gently wiping away the tear sliding down her cheek, he kissed her lips softly.
Philip once again took up the book and began to recite the words of exorcism.
The fury of the demon was suddenly unleashed on them all! Armed now as she was with the conviction of the support of her friends, the demon was unable to get into Marian's psyche. It raged through the room with the force of a small hurricane, nearly knocking them to the ground. Derek, Nick and Marian clung together and Philip dropped to his knees, not pausing in his recitation.
"Marian," he cried then, "it's you who must send it away! Say the words and reject it!"
"Remember that we love you, Marian," Derek told her.
"We're here for you," Nick said.
"Never doubt the strength of our support."
With a new resolve, she pulled away and stepped out, alone, to face the demonic rage. "Leave me alone!" she cried out. "I don't want you here! I'm not the evil creature you want me to think I am. I don't need you, and never will. Begone, and trouble me no more!" Turning to the table in a fury, she pushed the heavy stone tablet off; as it smashed, the demonic raging suddenly ceased.
Everyone was silent for a long moment. Then, laughing, lighthearted, suddenly free of a horrible burden she'd carried most of her life, Marian turned to her friends' embrace. Strong in the knowledge of their love, trust and support, she had successfully banished more than one demon from her life that night.
The changes in Marian didn't happen all at once, of course.
While she was less of what Nick called "buttoned down," all three of the men could see that she hadn't completely overcome her shyness-- and her mortification of them sharing those last shameful fantasies. After several days, she was still uncomfortable and avoiding being alone with any of them.
Nick, without consulting anyone else, began his own campaign to overcome her stiffness by casually touching her whenever he was with her, almost as he would Kat: a friendly hug when she came into the room, an occasional peck on the cheek when they said goodnight. And he told her jokes and stories, trying to get her to laugh more. He kept it very light, very casual. And whatever he could think of to get her to relax, he did.
Philip, not naturally a toucher himself, had begun following Nick's lead. And she was responding, they noticed, forgetting that mortifying night and gradually getting more comfortable with such friendly gestures from them. Alex's return continued the "therapy," although Alex would never label it as such; it was just the way she was with her friends. Rachel and Kat's visits reinforced the progress; Marian was totally natural in the child's presence, and her friendship with Rachel was growing.
However, she continued to avoid Derek and made very sure he was never close enough to casually touch her. He concluded that she was embarrassed for him to know of her attraction to him, ashamed that he had seen the demon-induced dreams he was a part of, and uncertain how to act. When she steeled her courage enough to see him alone in his office, and brought up the idea of leaving for Louisiana to study with a similarly gifted woman Derek had told her about, he challenged her.
"Are you looking for a way of training your powers, or for a way to escape from an uncomfortable situation?"
She tried to laugh that off, but didn't meet his eyes. "Derek! What a question. You told me yourself about this woman, and that you think she could help me."
"Marian, let's be honest with each other.You aren't comfortable around me, and that saddens me. I'd like a chance to change that. I'd like to have my old friend back."
She bit her lip, but looked him directly in the eye for the first time since that night. "I don't like it, either. But I don't know what to do to fix it." She gazed at him helplessly. "I don't know how to act around you."
Derek stood and came around the desk, to take both her hands in his large, capable ones. He lost eye contact again, but she wasn't moving away, and he thought that was promising. "Just relax; be yourself."
She sighed in helpless frustration. "Derek, I don't know how! I don't know who I am any more, or what I feel. Well, I guess I know that, a little, but I don't know how to handle what I feel!"
He felt her pain and confusion, and wracked his brain for a way to help her through this. First love was difficult in adolescence; how much harder must it be in a mature woman? He knew she was feeling horribly vulnerable.
And how must he appear to her? Confident, experienced, a man of the world? Was that frightening, in light of her own vulnerability? Did she think he didn't feel uncertain, and a bit vulnerable himself?
"You've made a good start with the others, Marian," he said, finally. "I see you playing with Kat, or laughing with Nick or Alex, and this warms my heart. But I'm also feeling a bit left out.
"So, I have a suggestion. There's this inn up the coast, peaceful and isolated with its own private beach. It's very comfortable and overlooks the ocean. I can get us a room there, and we can be together without all the distractions of the Foundation and the Legacy, and get to know one another and become friends again."
She stiffened, reddening slightly. "A room? Derek..."
"No; wait, please, and hear me out." He laughed a little, ruefully. "You'll probably think this is some kind of 'line,' but I assure you I mean it. You still have a fear of intimacy, especially physical intimacy; a lingering feeling that your aunt was right and that such feelings are wicked and evil. I'd like to be the one to help you discover how much joy such closeness can bring."
At first this suggestion seemed exciting, though a little scary; but then her lips tightened and her eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "I see. You want to do this for my own good, as a kind of therapy. Are you offering a mercy f--"
Quick as thought his long, strong arms drew her up tightly against him and his mouth descended upon hers in a deep, soul-stirring kiss. She couldn't think or even respond; all she could do was cling to him, and open her mouth to his gently insistant tongue, and feel.
She opened herself to his feelings, allowed her latent empathic talent to surface, and discovered something wonderous. He meant it! He wasn't feeding her a line, or offering her pity. He really felt... he wanted to...Oh,my...
When he pulled his head back fractionally she gazed up at him, her green eyes dazed and wondering. He smiled slightly, a bit dazed himself. "Well?" he murmurred. "Do you still think I'm feeling sorry for you?"
She tried twice before she could get any words out. "I-- you-- oh, Derek, do that again. That was..." Her hands slid up behind his head to twine in his curly hair, and gently pulled him down to join their lips again. He complied willingly. Prepared for it this time, she could offer her shy, inexperienced response. He found it totally charming.
Sometime during that long interlude, Derek had sat down on the desk and pulled her between his spread legs. She was suddenly aware of a hard part of him pressing insistently against the juncture of her thighs, and blushed. Of course he noticed, and wasn't the least bit shy about pulling her even closer against him, teasingly. "I think you know that, far from having to force myself, I would very much love to make love with you. I find you enchanting and exciting, and you can tell that the thought of us being intimate has an obvious affect upon me."
She was embarassed, but flattered as well. He could see there was a distinct sparkle in her eye. "You know, Derek, I'm really no one very special--"
He put a finger over her lips to stop her words. "No, you're wrong there; you are very special, and I would like to show you that. I want you, Marian; and you want me. The thought of being alone together is becoming more attractive by the moment.
"But I'm going to make you a promise. Nothing has to happen in the bed but sleeping; it's your decision. Truly, Marian, I don't want to pressure you. But I would like you to consider it. Leaving aside my own desires here, the demon was banished, but it still haunts you."
She hesitated, considering, then began to smile. "You really think I'm enchanting? Me?" She laughed a little, delighted. "I don't know if I really am, but if you think so who am I to argue? All right, Derek: yes, I'll come."
The inn was charmingly Victorian, the room large and comfortable with an ocean view and a very big bed with a white canopy and lace bedspread. And despite her knowledge of how he felt about her, and she about him, she was nervous.
Derek smiled tenderly, stroking her arm. "Remember what I told you: if all you want to do is sleep in that bed, then that's all that will happen. You can trust me to keep my word on that."
She turned to him with sudden intensity. "Derek, Derek, I do trust you! I want to love you; I do. You're the most important person in my life. But this is so strange and new to me... I need just a little time. Please understand."
He drew her gently into his arms and kissed her lips tenderly. "I do. No pressure this weekend, remember? We'll go at your pace, and when you're ready you'll let me know."
She rested her head on his chest. "I feel like a terrible idiot. And an awful coward. I don't know how you put up with me."
He hugged her and chuckled. "Because I care, silly.
Now, how about a walk along that beautiful beach I see out there?"
And that first night Marian did simply sleep in Derek's arms. They even shared dreams; not the dark, lustful fantasies of before, but of deeper and gentler feelings. Simple human contact, something she had been starved for all her life, became the most important gift he gave her. Their eventual-- and inevitable-- coming together in the early hours of the morning was warm and natural and very fulfilling. His lovemaking was slow and gentle, so very different from the nightmare passion she'd experienced in those demon-induced fantasies. He prepared her so thoroughly to accept him that with the exception of a moment of discomfort he didn't hurt her at all. And she wasn't scared once.
Days were spent on the beach, strolling along holding hands, interspersed with occasional kisses. She amused herself by talking with the seagulls. "Pretty boring," she told Derek. "All they ever think about is eating." She couldn't seem to find any way to communicate with the mollusks and starfish in the tidepools, and thought their brains may have been just too primitive. However, that first memorable afternoon she held a long conversation with a dog, a mongrel terrier who'd been playing with his boy in the surf. The excited canine told her all about the trip and his family and tried to get her to play, too. Derek stood by, enchanted, as she laughed at the dog's efforts.
She seemed to laugh more that weekend than she had in all her life previously. Whole evenings spent simply cuddling in front of the fire, talking together, had deep meaning for her. She thought he was exceptionally nice to cuddle with. And he introduced her to the delights of calamari and clam chowder, the pleasure of kite flying, and the joys-- and perils-- of making love in the shower.
By the end of their vacation they were entirely intimate and at ease with one another, and their friendship was forever cemented. In the end, it wasn't the sex-- which, she admitted, was fantastic-- but the closeness they developed that completed the healing.
On the drive back, she asked Derek if he would arrange for her to go to Louisiana for awhile. "I think it's time, don't you?" she asked.
"Be certain, Marian."
"Oh, I am. You were right before-- I wanted to use it as an escape, which would have been a mistake. But now I want it for me. I'd like to be able to communicate with the animals with ease, instead of the strain it always seems to be. Talking with that dog-- Derek, I can't tell you how amazing that was! But I don't know if I conveyed even half of what I wanted him to know. I want to talk with someone else who can do this, find out if there are other things I could do, or things I could do differently."
He smiled. How strong she was now, in herself and her friendships. How confident she seemed to be. "All right. I think it will do you a lot of good. But Marian? Don't stay away long."
She caressed his arm. "I won't. I'd miss you too much. All of you at the Legacy. But even if I had to, I'd still know you were there, backing me up. Oh, Derek, I feel right now like I could take on the whole world!" She laughed, with joy and delight.
They'd be there for her, whenever she needed them. Their very existence made her strong. It was, Derek told her, part of what being in the Legacy was about.
She had a family. She was home.
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