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AMAZING GRACE by Sherri
|(This story is rated PG-13 due to a
slight, sexual content.)
"Glory be to Satan ..." the congregation chanted as their leader raised her arms high in the air. "Glory be!"
She turned and faced her growing audience and commanded, "Now, go! Do as Lucifer bids you. And remember ... we will be victorious, my dear friends. We will turn Earth into His new and glorious Kingdom!" She watched as her followers silently left the temple to reek their own havoc upon an unsuspecting city. 'Ah,' she thought as she took off her ceremonial garbs, 'San Francisco is so ripe for the taking. Glory be!'
"You're bored, aren't you?" Alex asked maliciously as she nudged her companion. She laughed to herself as Nick gave her "one of those looks" (by rolling his eyes). She smiled as she stated, "Well, if you'd rather do some research on the next art auction the Foundation is going to be bidding on ...."
"Enough already," he said, humorlessly. "Some choice I've got! I either sit here updating the database with the latest and greatest known Satanic cults, or I get to research priceless -- and might I add ... tasteless -- pieces of art. Wow ... how'd I get so 'lucky'!" He found himself laughing to, despite his previous bad mood and growing headache.
At that moment, Derek entered the room. He smiled to himself; it was good to hear his people laugh for a change. But, there was serious work to do -- both the art auction and the cult listing were important ... even if they weren't as exciting as working on an actual case. He cleared his throat and, in as stern a voice as he could, asked, "So, how's the work coming? Any progress?" He looked at both of them, waiting to see which would volunteer an update first.
Alex looked at Nick and than spoke up. "I've been researching the items that will be up for bidding at the next auction. There are some very nice pieces available. I'd like to go over with you which ones I think we should try to acquire and how high I think we should go."
"Excellent," Derek stated, proud of his protégé. "We'll meet right after dinner then and discuss which pieces should be purchased on behalf of the Luna Foundation." He turned to Nick, noting how bored and out of sorts the ex-SEAL seemed, and placed a hand on his shoulder in encouragement as he asked, "And how's the database coming?"
"If you ask me," Nick stated matter-of-factly, "there's a whole lot more of them then there are of us. I mean, I've been at this all day and I've still got ten to fifteen pages t'go. It seems like there's some kinda cult poppin' up everywhere now."
Derek was sympathetic. He knew how tiring it must be to sit at the computer all day entering such monotonous information; but he also knew that it needed to be done nonetheless. He nodded his agreement with Nick's statement and gently -- but firmly -- said, "Well, stay on top of it. We depend on that database to be accurate."
"Right," Nick sighed as he turned back to the screen. As Derek started to leave the room, Nick asked sarcastically, "It is all right if I take a break now an' then ... right, Boss?!"
Derek stared at his junior associate and then sighed -- Nick would never change ... he always had to push! "Every now and then," he answered as he turned to leave the room. He could hear both Alex and Nick laugh at the statement and was glad that he hadn't spoiled their good mood.
Dinner was more fraught with tension than Derek had suspected it would be. Nick seemed even more out of sorts than he had several hours earlier; at least then, he had had a sense of humor about things. But now ... he had barely touched his food and sat scowling at his plate during most of the meal. Finally, Derek inquired, "Nick? What's up ... why aren't you eating?"
Nick looked up at the Precept and felt a rush of anger. He held it back as he answered, "For one thing, I've got a splitting headache after being at the computer screen all day!" He could tell that Derek was concerned, but he just didn't care at the moment. There was no way he was going back and inputting information for another four or five hours tonight! He softened his voice as he said, "I just don't think I can handle doing any more entries tonight, Derek."
Derek was a little disappointed -- he had hoped it would all be done by tomorrow morning so they could review the newer information; but could understand how Nick felt. "All right," he replied. "Just pick up where you left off tomorrow then." He watched Nick as he nodded and then picked at his food for a few more minutes. "Listen," he said to the young man, "why don't you go up and get some rest? You look beat."
"I think I'd much rather go for a drive ... just to clear my head," Nick responded as he rose to leave. "I'll see ya in the morning." With that, Nick exited the room before Derek could say anything further.
Derek looked at Alex and inquired, "Is he all right? Did he say anything to you?"
"Just that he was bored," she answered, disappointed that Nick was going out and she was still going to be working tonight -- going over the art auction information with Derek. It wasn't that she minded ... it was just that Nick seemed to get away with behavior like this -- all the time! "You know Nick ... he can't sit still too long or he goes out of his mind," she finished.
"I know," Derek commented, softly and dejectedly. "I know." He turned all of his attention to Alex and stated, "Well, then, let's get going on the art pieces, shall we?! What're your recommendations?"
Nick had every intention of heading up into the mountains for a peaceful drive. However, when he left the ferry dock upon arriving in San Francisco, he quickly changed his mind; he realized that what he really needed right now was a nice, cold beer! He drove over to a Pub located a mile from the docks and parked; the place looked empty tonight. 'Just as well,' he thought. 'I'll just have a quick drink an' head back to the Island. Anything to get those damned files outta my head!'
As he walked in the Pub, he quickly surveyed the place. There were about twelve people scattered throughout the small bar. He approached the bartender, sat and ordered whatever was "cold and on tap". He then began to munch on a dish of peanuts near him as he took a longer look around at the others in the place. Most of them, he realized, looked either like they were homeless or like they didn't want to be at home -- like him! There was one woman though -- sitting alone in a corner booth -- who looked completely out of place.
He took a long, appreciative sip of his cold beer and immediately began to feel better. Spending an entire day behind a keyboard, staring at a computer screen, was not his idea of a "good" day! He could feel the tension easing off his body as he took another, smaller sip. Glancing over his shoulder, he stared at the young woman in the corner. Picking up his beer, he headed to her table.
"Hello," he said, in a friendly tone. "Do you mind if I join you?"
The young woman slowly looked up at Nick. He was captivated by her powder blue eyes and bright smile as she looked at him. She hesitated a moment before answering, in a pleasant, Southern drawl, "No, not at all." She smiled broader as he sat opposite her. "In fact, I was just sittin' here feelin' a little lonely a minute ago, wishin' I had me somebody t'talk with."
Nick enjoyed her accent ... it was refreshing after the Dutch and Irish ones he heard so often. "Well," he responded, "you're not alone now. My name's Nick ... Nick Boyle."
"Grace," she answered as she stretched out her hand to shake his. "I'm Grace Montgomery. And, if ya haven't guessed by now, I'm not exactly from 'around here'." She laughed and Nick felt his heart skip a beat. It had been a long time -- a very long time -- since a woman had attracted him ... or, for that matter ... interested him! Her laughter sounded like music to his ears and he joined in.
"Yeah," he said, "I kinda guessed that. So, where in the South are you from?"
She stared long and hard at the man in front of her. There was something about him; something she really liked! It had been a long time since she had been truly attracted to a man. Feeling comfortable and at ease, she decided to tell him the truth. "I'm from Mobile ... originally. Ya know ... Mobile, Alabama?!"
"I think I've heard've the place," he laughed. This time, she joined him in the laughter. Of course he had heard of Mobile! "So," he continued, "what brings you to San Francisco ... and this neighborhood? I mean, it's not exactly on the tourist stop, if you know what I mean."
"That I do," she agreed. Taking another sip of her wine cooler, she replied, "I moved t'San Francisco about two weeks ago. I've been doin' a little sight seein' in the evenings an' had wanted t'go over t'that Island out yonder. But I guess I missed the last boat over, so I decided t'stop in here and have a drink before headin' back to my apartment." She smiled at Nick. She liked the way he was looking at her -- with such interest. He had a nice smile and wonderful eyes. She added, with a hint of sexiness in her voice, "Ya know, it's lonely there too."
Nick grinned at the beautiful, young stranger. If he wasn't missing the implication, she had just invited him to her apartment. "I bet it is," he answered, half wanting to get up and leave with her right now. Suddenly, images of Julia ... and the episode a few months back with Karen ... flashed across his mind. The smile quickly vanished.
Grace noticed the strange, sad look that crossed her new-found friend's face and asked, "Is everythin' all right? I ... I didn't mean t'be talkin' s'forward. Where I come from, ya just say what yer thinkin' an' leave the rest t'fate."
"No," he quickly answered, angry at his own sudden mood change. "It's not you. It's just ... well ... I lost someone I cared about a few years ago, and it's a lot harder getting over her than I thought it would be. I just ... like to move a little slower then most guys, that's all." Seeing the understanding and compassion in her eyes, he continued, "But, no, I wasn't offended; in fact, I was actually a little flattered. It's just ...."
"Ya wanna take things slow," she finished, smiling warmly. "I understand. I'm not goin' anywhere; I really like this City an' plan t'make it m'own. But, I would like t'see ya again sometime."
Nick felt a wave of gratitude course through him. Whoever this "Grace" was, she was very understanding ... and very attractive! He smiled once again saying, "If you're interested in seeing the Island tomorrow, I could take you; I work and live over there ... at the Luna Foundation. We've got our own boat to go back and forth so we're not stuck with the ferry schedules. How about if I meet you tomorrow ... say around 2:00? ... and take you over for a tour myself?!"
Her spirits lifted tremendously as she replied, enthusiastically, "Why that'd be just lovely, Nick! I'd be honored if ya'd give me a tour o'the Island. It sounds like a real fascinatin' place!"
Finishing his beer, Nick rose and took her hand one more time. "It has it's moments," he answered, happy that she agreed. "So, I'll see you tomorrow ... here at 2:00." With that, he walked up, paid the bartender for the drinks -- his and hers! -- and then headed back home. All during the ride across the bay, he couldn't get the image of Grace out of his mind. For the first time that day -- in fact, in a long time! -- he actually felt happy!
Nick rose at 4:00 the next morning ... just under two hours of turning in for the night. He found it difficult to sleep; he couldn't stop thinking of Grace! He quietly changed and headed out into the crisp morning air to take a run. With each step, he longed to return and get the database records entered so that he could keep his "date" with Grace. He pushed himself even harder than usual to finish the run.
Showering quickly, he threw on a nice pair of jeans and sweater and headed to the Legacy Control Room. He turned on the terminal he had been working at the previous evening and then began to search the room for the files. 'Damn it,' he thought to himself, 'where did Derek move 'em?' He searched everywhere and finally, left -- not quite as quietly as he had entered -- to search Derek's office for the remaining files.
Absorbed in thought, he jumped when he heard the Precept whisper from behind him, "What's going on? What're you doing in here?"
He turned, his anger spilling out before he could stop it, "How the Hell am I suppose to finish inputting the Satanic cult files when you've moved 'em?!"
Derek stood perplexed. He gazed at the clock on the wall, noting that it was only 5:48 in the morning! He looked back at Nick, concerned with the way the young man was behaving. "You got up this early to enter the files now?!" he asked, clearly confused. "What's the rush, Nick?"
Nick was angry; he didn't want to waste time explaining things to Derek. The Precept never seemed to understand him anyhow! "I just wanted to get them done," he explained. "I made plans for this afternoon -- while I was in town last night -- so I'd appreciate it if you'd just give me the files and let me get started!"
"I finished 'em up fer ya last night," Nick heard a familiar brogue from behind Derek say. He moved to see Philip entering the office. 'I should've known,' Nick thought to himself. He noticed both men staring at him, looking confused and concerned, which only seemed to anger him more. "I didn't think ya'd mind a little bit o'help on 'em," Philip finished.
Knowing that it was his anger that was upsetting Derek and Philip, Nick struggled to push it aside. "Thanks," he answered, in as even a tone as he could muster. "I appreciate it." Looking at the Priest, he snapped, "I just didn't know you were coming back last night. But then, we never know when you're gonna show up now ... do we?!"
"Nick!" Derek snapped, "That's enough! Philip is and always will be a part of his House; he's welcome here whenever he can come! And I think you should be grateful to him for finishing those files that had 'bored you' so much yesterday."
Nick hated being scolded by Derek ... particularly in front of Philip! He shrugged his shoulders and headed out of the office, saying, "Yeah, well, I already said 'thanks', didn't I!"
Watching the ex-SEAL leave and head back to his room, Philip turned to Derek. "What's with him?" he asked, clearly troubled. "I've never seen 'im react like that before ... not over somethin' so simple as me helpin' 'im out."
"I don't know," Derek answered, truthfully. "But I intend to find out!"
Grace felt a rush of excitement and anticipation at meeting with Nick in the afternoon. She quickly began to change into her ceremonial garb, but found it difficult to concentrate; she had been dreaming of the young man with the warm smile and wonderful eyes, all night! As she finished her preparations, she checked the clock on the wall. 'Good,' she thought to herself, 'just enough time t'hold a quick meeting and then get ready t'meet with Nick!'
She moved in front of the mirror to check out her own image. She could hear the voices of the people beginning to gather in the temple. Kneeling down in front of the antique mirror she had had all her life, she began to pray that her guiding spirit -- Ariel -- would enter her body. Suddenly, a reddish light came out of the mirror and began to glow all around Grace as her body shook violently. When she opened her eyes, she rose and once again stared at her image in the mirror. She saw the intermingled image of both Grace and Ariel before her. 'Time to feed the flock,' she thought, all traces of her accent now gone. 'Time to do His bidding!'
Moving slowly in front of the gathered mass of Satanic worshipers, Grace looked over the crowd, pleased at the way the number of followers was growing. "My dear friends," she spoke loudly and clearly. "Let us praise our Lord!" With that, the chants of "Glory be to Satan ... Glory be!" began to drone throughout the small temple. As the sound escalated, a smile spread across Grace's face; it was time to begin spreading "The Word".
Nick's absence at the breakfast table was painfully obvious to Derek, Philip and Alex. Mitchell had offered to take a tray up to the young man if he was "ailing", but Derek prevented him from doing so. Finally, the Precept turned to Alex, asking, "Why don't you go see what's keeping Nick?" She nodded and left the kitchen. Derek turned to Philip, "I know this isn't why you've come back, Philip, but I'd appreciate it if you'd keep an eye on Nick. Something's definitely troubling him ... but he won't open up about it."
"I'll do m'best, Derek," Philip replied. "But if he knows I'm tryin' to pry, it'll only make it worse."
"I know," Derek stated, sadly. "I just wish I knew what was bothering him."
"Then why don't you just ask me," Nick commented from the doorway. Alex had been quicker in finding Nick than Derek or Philip had assumed she would be. He entered the kitchen and glared at the two co-conspirators. "If there's something you want to know, just ask!" he stated again.
"All right," Derek answered. "I'd like to know what the Hell is bothering you. You were upset yesterday while you were working on the files and ...."
"I was bored," Nick corrected, then added, "And yeah, so I was a little upset. I just don't like sitting around doing nothing but inputting all day, Derek. It's not what I'm best at!"
"An' what are ya best at, Nick?" Philip interjected. "Gettin' into trouble?"
"Or keepin' your ass out of it!" Nick snapped back. "Look, we haven't had a whole lot to do lately and I've been a little antsy ... I don't think that's a catastrophe -- and I don't think it means there's anything wrong with me either!"
Derek decided to change the subject by inquiring, "Well, you said you had made plans for this afternoon; do you mind telling me what they are?"
"Yeah," Nick answered, a rash of indignation overcoming him. 'Who does this guy think he is ... my father?!' he thought, exasperated. Then, seeing the look on Derek's, Alex's and Philip's faces, he sat down and softened his tone, saying, "I met a woman at a pub last night. She had wanted to come over to the Island on one of those 'tour things' to take a look around; I told her I'd bring 'er over and show her around ... that's it! Nothing dark or mysterious ... no crime involved ... just spending some time with someone I met -- that's it!"
Derek smiled at Nick, warm and friendly. He rose to get another cup of coffee and slapped the ex-SEAL on the back. "Well, why didn't you say so in the first place! You're right ... there's nothing wrong with it. In fact, why don't you invite the young lady for dinner. I'm sure Mitchell wouldn't mind preparing for one more."
"Oh, not at all, Sir," Mitchell eagerly offered. "I'd be delighted to have someone else to serve."
Nick felt skeptical of Derek's motives; it was very rare when Derek would do such a quick, "about-face". "And," he said, suspiciously, "this way, you guys can all check her out, right?!"
Derek sighed, "No, Nick. I just thought you might want to invite your new friend over. If you'd rather not, that's fine!" Quickly dropping the subject he said, "Now, let's plan to meet in half an hour to go over the new Satanic cults that Nick and Philip entered into the database. Nick, will you prepare the printouts?"
"Sure," he answered, still leery of Derek's mood change. As he left the room, he decided to trust his friends and commented, "And, if it's still all right, I'll invite Grace to dinner."
"Excellent," Derek commented as he sipped his coffee. He watched as the young man exited the room and then turned to Alex and Philip, whispering, "I'd like you to learn as much as you can about this 'Grace' ... just in case."
"Right," Philip answered, happy to see that Derek wasn't going to just dismiss Nick's mood. He hated to have to constantly be checking up on his chosen younger brother, but he also knew Nick ... the young man had a big heart and was often ruled by his emotions and not his head! He prayed that this time Nick was right and everything would be all right!
As the gathers began to exit the church, many came up to praise Grace on her delivery of Satan's word. They promised to do his bidding and to report back the results of their works. She was pleased so see so many of her new followers taking an active interest in doing Lucifer's bidding ... so unlike the struggle she had had in her home in the "Bible-belt" country.
She returned to her sanctuary and removed her ceremonial garb. She stared at her image in the mirror. Slowly, her eyelids began to flutter and she was once again bathed in a reddish glow. She opened her eyes to see Ariel's image in the mirror before her. "So," Ariel spoke, "tell me about this young man you've met, Grace."
Grace smiled as she pulled a chair over to talk to her friend, confidante and spirit-guide. "Well, I met 'im last night and he's just the cutest thing ... kinda rugged and handsome lookin', but there's this look o'such sadness in his eyes that just melted m'heart right away!" She sighed at the memory of how polite Nick had been. "He's meetin' me t'take me over to that Island ... the one you told me about! An' guess what, Ariel!! He works there ... at some Foundation or other!"
"He what?!" Ariel snarled. "Grace! He might be one of the ones I warned you about ... like the group we've encountered before -- the group that tries to destroy Satan's work on Earth!" She became angry as she stared at her human counterpart. "You have to be careful, Grace. If he finds out about you ... about us ... he'll try to destroy us!"
"Not Nick," Grace assured the upset Ariel. "Trust me, Ariel. I can handle the likes o'him; I've done it before, remember?! Like I said, he's got this real vulnerable side to 'im. Even if he is with the group ... an' even if he does fight against Satan, it doesn't mean I can't change his mind, now does it?!"
Ariel smiled a malicious, evil grin. "Very good, Grace," she stated, "Very good indeed!"
Derek, Philip and Alex sat patiently waiting for Nick to join them. He rushed in with copies from the database records of the newest Satanic cults. He passed one out to each of his associates -- keeping one for himself -- and sat down. "Where's Rachel?" he asked, noting the doctor's absence. "Isn't she coming?"
"No," Derek quickly explained. "She's got several patients she's scheduled to meet with. I figured I would fill her in when she's free." He took the extra copy of the file that Nick handed to him and continued, "So, exactly how many new cults were entered? Nick?"
"I entered about 231 ... before Philip took over," Nick answered in a somewhat sarcastic tone of voice. "Most of 'em were small things -- not what I'd really consider 'a cult'."
"Like what?" Alex inquired, not looking through the printout yet.
"Like doin' some weird stuff with chickens, or people starting their own church or religion," he answered, flipping through the printout. "I mean, some of the ones I entered don't even have any information at all ... just that a following or church started up with no tie to another religion."
Philip spoke up, in support of Nick's findings. "It was the same with the files I entered. Some were legitimate 'Satanic cults', but a lot of 'em were just minor, irregular gatherings."
"I suggest," Derek concluded, "that we read through the records together then, and make note of the ones that we should really be concerned with."
"And also," Alex chimed in, "we should probably start with the ones that are located here ... in San Francisco ... so that we know what we'll directly be up against."
"Excellent," Derek commented. "Nick? Since you worked the longest on these records, why don't you give us a run down on the more serious cults."
Feeling like he finally had something worthwhile to do, Nick flipped to the first "cult" he had highlighted ... he had anticipated this from Derek and was fully prepared! ... and began to inform the others of the known information.
Several hours later, Nick was getting anxious. It was nearly 1:00 and he wanted to head over to the Pub to pick up Grace. He looked at Derek, waiting for the Precept to adjourn the meeting. Finally, Derek said, "I guess that's it then. Out of the 319 records entered by Nick and Philip, only 48 are of any real concern to the Legacy and none of which are located in the San Francisco area. Very well, we'll update those as the most important ...."
"I'll take care of it," Philip interjected, seeing how anxious Nick was to leave.
"Good," Derek concluded, "then we can shift our focus on the art auction. Alex, do you have the information ready?"
"Right here," she stated with pride.
Nick stood, ready to make his getaway. "If we're through and you don't need me for the rest of the day, I'm going over to get Grace."
"Fine," Derek spoke in a even tone. "Mitchell will have dinner ready at 7:30; try to be back with her by then, all right?"
Nick was suspicious at how "understanding" Derek was being, but was grateful that nothing would delay his exit. He quickly nodded and headed out to meet Grace. It surprised him how anxious -- and even a little nervous! -- he was at seeing the beautiful young woman again. It had been a long time since a woman made him feel this way ... a very long time!
Grace had to laugh at herself as she sat and sipped her coffee in the Pub. She hadn't been this nervous to meet a man since the time that she kissed Jimmy Joe behind the Principal's office in the 11th Grade! She thought again about the warm smile, the honest eyes and the rugged good looks Nick Boyle possessed. 'And,' she thought to herself, 'if Ariel is right and he's one o'those 'demon hunter' people she warned me about, I'll just do m'best t'change his mind!'
She glanced up at the clock ... it was 1:57. 'Good,' she smiled, 'he should be here any time now!' As the thought crossed her mind, she looked up to see him rushing in the door. She stood and crossed the room to greet him, relishing the smile that spread across his face.
"Sorry I'm late," Nick quickly voiced. "I had to wait for an open spot on the deck to put the boat."
"Yer not late," Grace said with a smile, as she gently hugged the young man. She could tell she had surprised him with her forwardness, and liked the effect it had on him. "In fact, yer right on time!" She watched as he glanced up at the clock on the Pub wall. 'Oh yeah,' she thought again, 'this one is all mine!'
Nick was amazed at how easy it was for him to talk to Grace. He didn't feel any of the reservations or hesitations he felt with most people. He found himself laughing and joking and sharing everything and anything with her! He had taken her to the far side of the Island ... the area he liked the best ... and they had gotten out of the Mustang and headed out to the beach.
"You sure are an interestin' guy, Nick," Grace said as she plopped herself down on the sandy beach. "I've never met anyone quite like you before!"
Nick laughed. "Is that a compliment?" he asked, a little shyly, "Or should I be worried that I've blown it?"
Grace reached out and took his hand in hers. "You shouldn't be worrin' about a damn thing, Nick," she stated matter-of-factly. "Someone like you shouldn't ever have t'be worrin' about anything."
A sadness washed over Nick as he commented, "Yeah, well .... It's not that easy, unfortunately. Life just isn't always that easy ... you know?"
Grace positioned herself closer to Nick. She placed her hand on his jaw and turned his face so that there eyes could meet. Her heart melted at the sadness and anguish she saw in those eyes! He tried to turn away, but she applied a little more pressure, preventing him from doing so. "Listen, Nick," she said slowly, "I know that I just met ya an' all, but I want ya t'know that ya can tell me anythin' ... anythin' at all! I'm not one t'be judgin' people, ya know. I've had my share of heartaches an' sorrows too. There's more goin' on then you just bein' an ex-Navy SEAL ... isn't there? Is it that lady you were tellin' me about yesterday?"
Nick stared long and hard into Grace's compassionate, powder blue eyes. He felt lost in them and soon could hear himself pouring out his life's story ... the abuse he and his mother had suffered at his father's hand; the hardship of life in and out of the Navy SEALs; meeting and falling in love with Julia, only to lose her; and finally, about finding someone he thought he could love, only to find out that she wasn't what she seemed.
Grace felt nervous hearing this last part. "Well, Nick," she comforted, "I've got no words fer the things you've said about yer Daddy or the military or losin' Julia ... there's nothin' I could ever say that'd take that kinda pain away! But, you can't be so hard on yerself about this Karen woman. Ya know, none of us are ever what we really are when we're meetin' someone new. I'm sure there's things about me you'd just hate! But that doesn't mean that I'm a bad person ... or that I shouldn't have a right t'be in yer life, now does it?!"
Nick once again gazed into Grace's eyes. He was stunned at the simple truth in her words and wasn't sure how to react. Finally, he said, "I guess it doesn't. It's just ... I ... I have a real hard time trusting people -- opening up to them. And then, when I do ...."
"Well," Grace interrupted, "ya sure as Hell didn't have a problem openin' up with me, Nick!" She watched as the statement seemed to sink in to her handsome companion and she was happy to see a sly grin cross his face. "Now that's better," she exclaimed. "I sure do like yer smile!"
Nick pulled her closer, feeling her breath on his face. "Yeah? Well, I 'sure do like' everything about you, Grace," he said as he pulled her into a passionate kiss. He felt her wrap her arms around him and they stayed locked together for what seemed like hours. Suddenly, he pushed her away, fear entering him at the strength of his feelings for this stranger.
At first confused, Grace quickly realized what had stopped Nick. "It's all right," she said as she saw him lower his head in shame or embarrassment. "Ya wanna take things slow; I know that! It's all right ... honest!"
Nick looked at his watch. It was already 7:15! 'How did it get to be so late already?!' he wondered. 'We're gonna be late and Derek's gonna love that!' He rose and offered Grace a hand up. "Sorry," he explained. "We gotta go now or were gonna be really late for dinner."
She took his face in her hands again as she gave him a quick kiss. "It's really all right, Nick!" she assured him. "Don't be worryin' about anythin' ... ya hear?!"
Rachel paced the floor of the sitting room, holding her drink in her hand. Derek had called earlier in the afternoon and asked if she could make it to dinner; he had wanted her to meet a new friend of Nick's and give him her impression. But, he had stated that dinner would be promptly at 7:30 and it was already going on 7:40 with no sign of Nick or his new companion. She glanced at her watch again and then sat in the chair opposite Derek. "Where did you say he met this ... 'Grace'?" she asked, concern lacing her voice.
"I don't know," Derek answered, trying to control the concern in his own voice. "Nick met her last night in the City. I don't think he knows that much about her."
"Well," Alex said, rising and heading to the phone. "I'm gonna call the boat dock to check and see if they even made it over to the Island this afternoon."
"Excellent idea," Derek concurred. As he watched the young woman's face as she talked to the boat dock manager, he tried to read what she might be hearing. "So," he inquired when she hung up. "Did they arrive on the Island?"
"Yeah," she answered, sounding concerned and perplexed. "At about 2:40. He said that Nick and the young lady took off in the opposite direction of the House."
"Does he have his cell phone?" Philip asked, thinking of that for the first time. "Let's try an' reach 'im ...."
Interrupting Philip was the sound of the front door opening and closing and the happy sound of voices. The Legacy members stared at one another and then hurried around the corner to see Nick standing beside a beautiful blond-haired woman. As he helped her with her coat, Nick hastily said, "Grace, these are the people I told you about -- the people I work with."
Before Nick could continue, Derek stepped forward to take the young woman's hand. Upon touching it, his mind reeled with visions of fire, screams of pain and images of blood-soaked bodies. He released her hand quickly and, recovering his voice, said, "I'm Derek Rayne ... I'm the Head of the Luna Foundation. Welcome to our home!"
"Thank you," she said in her polite, Southern drawl. She had noticed the expression of shock on the elder man's face when he had touched her and wondered what that had been about. 'I'll ask Nick about him later,' she thought to herself. 'Best keep m'eye on 'im though!' She smiled broadly as she said, "My name's Grace ... Grace Montgomery. It's a pleasure t'meet ya." She turned to look at the others, waiting for their introductions.
Nick once more took over, as he put his arm around the small of Grace's back. He pointed to a beautiful, young Creole woman and stated, "This is Alex ... Alex Moreau." He turned to the other, slightly older woman and said, "And this is Rachel Corrigan ... she's a psychiatrist."
Nick looked at Philip but, before he could speak, Philip extended his hand saying, "And I'm Father Philip Callaghan. It's a pleasure t'meet you!" He watched as she smiled warmly at him; however, Philip was certain he had seen a sudden shift in her eyes as he introduced himself as a Priest.
"I sure do wanna thank y'all fer havin' me t'dinner this way," Grace said, graciously, as they stepped into the dining room. "I mean, I only just met Nick last night an' here I am at this nice ol' house havin' dinner with some new-found friends. Well, I just wanna thank y'all fer makin' me feel so welcome here in San Francisco!"
Nick smiled at Grace, happy that she seemed at ease with his associates. He had not mistaken the sideways glances they gave one another about Grace and had felt a rush of anger and hurt about it. It was certain that they would all discuss it later; Nick had no doubt about that! But, he was grateful that at least Grace hadn't seemed to notice. Sitting beside her, they enjoyed their dinner in silence.
As Mitchell brought in the tray of coffee, Derek suggested that they take it in the sitting room. Upon sitting down in the cozy room, Derek nonchalantly inquired, "So, Grace, where are you from?"
Nick's eyes glared at Derek, a warning for the Precept not to start an inquisition of his friend, but Grace just smiled warmly and answered, "I'm from Mobile, Alabama. I just came to the City a few weeks ago and just fell in love with it! Now that I've made a new friend," she reached over and squeezed Nick's hand in warm and reassurance, "I sure do like it a whole lot better now!"
"And what did you do in Mobile?" Rachel inquired, innocently. Nick turned a harsh look at Rachel. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "I'm only making conversation," and waited for Grace to reply.
Grace could sense that Nick was becoming agitated and squeezed his hand harder. She looked at the young man and stated, "It's all right, Nick. Yer friends are just curious about me; there's nothin' wrong with that." She turned to the others and said, "Ask away ... I've got nothin' t'hide! I worked in a small dressmaker's shop in Mobile -- the kind that cater t'the 'well-t'do' crowd. But, business was dyin' off an' the shop closed, so I felt like m'life just needed a change. So, I up an' moved clear 'cross country to San Francisco."
"And what do you do now?" Derek continued the inquiry. He knew that Nick was becoming furious with his associates, but Derek felt it was his job to find out all he could about this young woman Nick was so obviously captivated with.
"I'm just doin' odd jobs right now," she answered cordially. "Wherever I can find 'em. I haven't quite settled on what I wanna do here; seems like I've got an endless amount of choices though!" She stared at the faces staring at her and boldly stated, "Look, I think it's real sweet of y'all lookin' out fer yer co-worker like this, but I ain't no serial killer or nothin'. I'm just a stranger from the South, lookin' t'make me a home and some friends here; that's all."
"And that's enough," Nick spat. "You've answered quite enough of their questions for tonight. I'm really sorry about this, Grace; I didn't think this would happen." He rose and took her hand to help her up.
She stared at her companion with gratitude and caring. "Nothin's happened, Nick ... an' there's nothin' t'be apologizin' fer. Yer friends care about ya ... that's all. And ...," she added, stepping closer to the handsome ex-SEAL "... so do I!"
Nick longed to be alone with Grace now and took her by the arm. "Thanks for dinner," he snapped, "but I think it's time we head back to the City." As he wrapped Grace's coat around her shoulders, he said, "Don't wait up for me!" He was gone the next moment with a slam of the door before the others could stop him.
The remaining Legacy members stared at one another across the table, each waiting for the others to speak. Finally, Derek broke the silence asking -- to no one in particular, "What did you think of her?" He glanced around waiting to see who would answer the question.
Rachel cleared her throat and all eyes turned to her, waiting for her opinion. Realizing it, she cleared her throat again and stated, "Well, I thought she was ... nice. She seemed like a friendly, genuine person -- maybe a little too friendly for around here -- but, overall, I'd have to say that I liked her." She studied the others, waiting for their unvoiced opinions and suddenly felt in the minority.
"I liked 'er, too," Philip finally said, slowly. "But, you're right, Rachel. There was something a little too friendly about 'er."
"Wait a minute," Alex said, exasperated. "I thought it was a little weird how friendly she was too; but is being 'friendly' such a bad thing?! We're all acting like that makes her an axe murderer or a serial killer -- myself included! Maybe we need to just step back for once and accept her for what she seems to be ... a stranger looking to make friends."
"Yes," Derek said, very cautiously. "But she 'made friends' with a member of our team -- and a valued member of 'The Legacy'. Unfortunately, Alex, that makes her -- or anyone in that situation -- suspect." They all nodded in silent agreement, wishing that Nick hadn't left angry; and wishing even more that he'd be home soon!
Grace knew Nick was angry as they drove away from the Luna Foundation. It wasn't until they were halfway across the bay when she finally said, "Are ya just gonna let 'em spoil our day t'gether, or are ya gonna talk t'me?!"
Nick turned toward Grace, grateful for her understanding. He didn't know how to apologize for his associate's behavior! He had hoped going back to the House for dinner wouldn't be a mistake, but now he realized that it was. He saw the understanding in Grace's eyes and found himself pouring out his anger at the others. "I just don't get them sometimes!" he spat. "We work together ... they don't own me! They always seem to have an opinion on everything in my life, you know? And I'm just really getting sick and tired of it!"
Grace placed a hand over the one he had that was gripping the steering wheel tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Her touch eased his grip a little and she smiled. "There now. It ain't all that bad, Nick. Like I said, yer friends are just lookin' out fer ya. I think it's sweet." Then a thought occurred to Grace and she pulled her hand tentatively away from Nick's. She looked down and commented, "'Course, I can understand how ya must feel like they're runnin' yer life with 'em wantin' t'be choosin' yer friends and all!"
It was painful for Nick when Grace pulled away. He couldn't explain the emptiness and loneliness it caused him to feel. 'So,' he thought, 'she's understanding to a point.' Then he immediately brushed that suspicion away thinking, 'My God, now I sound like them!' He turned towards her in the car and took her hand in his and gave it gentle, but firm squeeze. "I really am sorry about the way they gave you the third degree. You didn't deserve it."
She turned back toward him and smiled, full and radiant, knowing that she had won. "Like I said, Nick ... it's really all right. I just wanna get t'know you better, that's all. Maybe yer friends don't like or trust me ... but then, yer a big boy -- a mighty big boy, by my guess!" she said, watching him blush ever so slightly. She grinned and continued, "An' yer gonna be makin' up yer own mind about me. So I ain't gonna worry about yer friends none." The smile slipped from her lips as she whispered, "An' I hope ya ain't gonna let 'em influence ya none where yer heart's concerned, Nick. I really don't!"
Nick's eyes searched her face for any signs of dishonesty -- anything that might have validated Derek and the rest of the Legacy member's suspicions -- and could find nothing there that warranted what had happened at dinner. He grinned at her slyly as he replied, "Don't worry, Grace. I won't let them -- or they're opinions -- influence my heart. Not anymore!"
Nick looked around the modest apartment as Grace turned on a few lights and hung up their coats in her closet. He liked the homey feel of the place ... warm and bright with mementos from her life in Alabama scattered around the room. He searched in vain for any pictures of her -- ones that she might have taken alone or with family and friends -- and was disappointed not to find anything. He felt a momentary distrust rise within him that he quickly squashed. 'I'm as bad as they are,' he thought angrily.
He turned to see her standing in the doorway of her bedroom. She had changed from the simple pair of jeans and cream-colored blouse she had been wearing into a colorful kimono that ended in the middle of her well-shaped thigh. She stood there, somewhat seductively and twirled the tie of her robe. She then burst into laughter saying, "Calm down, Nick. I ain't gonna jump yer bones there, Bud. I just thought I'd get outta those confinin' clothes and get comfy -- that's all! Ya looked like you were a little distracted there and so I thought I'd try an' gain yer attention."
"Well, you got it," Nick replied with a smile. He crossed over to the couch and sat down, trying to relax his body. She walked past him -- making sure her thigh brushed against his knees -- and went into the kitchen. He watched as she poured two drinks and came back out to join him on the couch.
"It looks like ya could use a good, stiff drink there, Nick!" she exclaimed, her voice and tone still filled with the hint of laughter. "I swear, you've gotta be the most uptight man I've ever met! Relax, Honey ... I ain't gonna hurt ya. I just wanna be friends; and, if we end up more'n that, well, I'd be lyin' if I said that wouldn't make me a happy girl. But only when yer ready, Nick. If somethin's gonna happen between us, I want it t'last a while ... like more'n a few hours, if ya get my drift."
He smiled at her and nodded, "Yeah, I 'get your drift'. And," he added cautiously, "I feel the same way -- if something's going to happen between us, I do want it to last for as long as it could." He took a sip of his drink and stared into her eyes. He was amazed at how warm, soft and inviting they looked. He continued, "I just ... I like to take things ... slow. I ..."
"Ya don't gotta explain nothin' t'me, Nick," Grace said, rubbing his arm with her hand. "I done told ya that already. I'm willin' t'take it as slow as ya want. Don't keep beatin' yerself up about, ok?! Jesus, what'd those people ya work with do t'ya anyway?! They got ya actin' all jumpy an' unsure o'yerself." She took her hand off his arm and looked down into her drink. "T'be honest, Nick; I'm not too sure I like those people. They seemed like ... snobs t'me. I don't even know why yer with 'em!"
Nick wondered why too for a moment and then thought about what The Legacy stood for -- for justice, for purity, for righteousness and for defending innocent people like Grace! He started to answer and was quickly stopped by a quick and sudden kiss by the woman beside him. As she backed away, the shock of the abrupt expression of passion showed on Nick's face.
"I'm sorry about that," she explained quickly. "I just felt like I was loosin' ya there fer a minute and wanted t'get ya back. I had no right t'be criticizin' yer friends or yer job. Hell, I don't even know what yer job is! But I didn't mean nothin' by it, Nick. I like ya ... that's all!"
Nick finished his drink, placing the empty glass on the table in front of them. He placed his arm around Grace and drew her against his shoulder. "I like you too, Grace," he whispered into her hair and ear. "I really do."
Derek was about to head into the kitchen and make himself a cup of coffee. He didn't believe he would get much sleep tonight ... at least not until he knew that Nick was back. 'I'm probably worried about nothing,' he told himself. But that didn't shake the feeling. On a hunch, he turned and went into the Control Room instead. There, seated at one of the computer terminals, was Philip. He approached quietly and laid a gentle hand on the Priest's shoulder. "Couldn't sleep?" he observed.
Philip jumped slightly at the touch and sound. He turned and looked up at the Precept, slightly embarrassed at having gotten caught. "No," he responded. "I kept thinkin' about Nick and this lady he just met. I thought I'd run her name through the computer and see if anythin' came up."
"And?" Derek inquired, leaning over to see what was on the screen.
"And, I can't find anything on her?" Philip responded. Noting the concerned look that spread across Derek's face, he recanted stating, "No, I mean, I can't find anything ... strange ... on her. I was able to locate her name, birth place, the dress shop where she worked in Mobile, etc., but I couldn't find any other information on her."
"No family, friends, hobbies ... nothing?" Derek continued, still feeling a sense of unease.
"No," Philip replied. "She either has led a very borin', clean life, or she's covered her tracks verra well." He swung the chair around and looked at Derek. "I don't get it. We're both acting like she's some kind a demon sent by Hell to hurt Nick and there's no real reason for our behavior, Derek. What's wrong with us? I think maybe we should just stop all this an' trust this woman ... and Nick."
Derek shook his head. "I don't know what's wrong, Philip. Maybe we've both been doing this job too long and have grown too skeptical." He sat as he searched his own mind and heart. He knew that he was always looking out for Nick -- he had made a promise to Nick's mother that he would not break many, many years ago. But this seemed to be going too far and he had to admit it to himself. "But," he said as he rose and headed out of the Control Room. "I think you're right. We need to stop investigating Grace and concentrate our efforts tomorrow on researching the 48 serious Satanic cults as well as finish preparations for the art auction. Gott knows we've got enough real work to do without inventing any."
As he exited the Control Room and headed for his bedroom to try to get some sleep, Derek's mind again raced back to it's earlier thought; he didn't think he'd get much sleep until Nick got home. He just hoped and prayed that that would happen ... soon.
Nick noticed the clock on the wall opposite the couch where he and Grace were sitting. He knew that he should probably head back to Angel Island and get some rest; he had no doubt that he and Derek would be "having words" about tonight's dinner and Nick's attitude. He gently started to remove his arm from around Grace's neck and shoulder. "Well, unfortunately, it's getting pretty late -- or should I say, early?! -- and I should get going."
"Why?" Grace asked, innocently enough as she rose and stood beside the young man. "I mean, if ya don't wanna stay an' be with me tonight, Nick, yer certainly free t'go. But, ya know, yer also welcome to bunk on the couch tonight if ya prefer."
He looked long and hard at Grace, weighing over the tempting offer. But Nick knew himself. If he stayed at her place tonight, it wouldn't be on her sofa!
Grace could see the hesitation in Nick and continued, "Listen, I don't wanna get in the middle of anythin' but ya did tell those friends of yers not to wait up fer ya. How would it look to 'em if ya went back tonight after all?! Shoot, they'd think they had the right t'tell ya anythin' they damned well pleased after that!" She stood closer to Nick and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Yer welcome t'stay, Nick ... if ya want."
Suddenly, Nick felt the nails of Grace's tender and gentle hands dig into his flesh as she abruptly and swiftly threw herself against him in a deep, sensuous and passionate kiss. The pain of her nails was excruciating and exhilarating; inwardly, he fought her -- and himself -- to pull away from the embrace. It was a battle he lost; Nick slowly pulled away from Grace, but it was too late -- he knew he couldn't leave now!
Knowing that Derek was right in his statement, Philip began to shut off the computer equipment. He wished he could shake the overwhelming feeling that Nick was somehow in over his head. He dismissed these growing thoughts as his normal "over-protection" of his chosen brother and decided that -- for once -- maybe he should let Nick decide what was really best for himself. But just as swiftly, Philip knew that Grace wasn't it!
Slowly, the two strangers came together in a passionate embrace; soft and tender at the start, but with the mood and emotions quickly building as their hot breath washed over each other. Nick stepped back once more, looking deep into Grace's eyes. 'How can this be?' he wondered as he stood, mesmerized by this beautiful stranger. 'I just met her yesterday ... how I could I be feeling so comfortable -- like I've known her all my life.' He saw the eager, searching look in her eyes and once again pushed his lips against hers -- tender at first and then with more urgency.
Grace felt the young man start to pull back one more time. "No," she breathed. "Don't end this; we don't wanna be endin' this, Nick ... not just yet ... not just now!" The truth in the words drove him into her arms, deeper and deeper until his body's natural urges began to match her own. Suddenly and without warning, in one fluid movement, the ex-SEAL scooped Grace off her feet and headed to the bedroom. Placing her gently on the bed, he continued kissing her with all the compassion, all the emotion and all the heat within him.
She could stand it no longer! She pulled away from Nick and gazed at him hungrily. She then ripped at his shirt, snapping off two buttons before he realized what had happened. Following her example, Nick quickly shed his clothing and began helping her tug and pull at her own. He marveled at the look she held in her eyes the entire time ... the look of wanting -- the look of desire -- the look of hunger. And he was amazed at how strongly he felt it too!
They came together impulsively and furiously -- with the animalistic urges two lovers often encounter. The heat from each others bodies only enhanced their arousal and their lovemaking continued for what seemed like hours. Finally, exhausted and exhilarated, the two one-time strangers laid side by side, breathing air into their anxious lungs. The sweat poured off of them as if they had been in a 120-degree sauna and the muscles on their bodies ached from the experience they had just been through.
It took several minutes before Nick realized where he was and who he was with. It had been a long time -- a very long time! -- since the ex-SEAL had felt such heat and passion while having sex; not since Karen ... not since Julia! He was only vaguely aware that he was still tightly clutching Grace's hand in his own. Finally, she stirred beside him, turning to face the man she had just been with. He looked deep in her eyes, expecting to see regret, embarrassment or anger; he was shocked to see only compassion and warmth.
"My oh my," she sighed. "Now that was really somethin', Mr. Boyle!" To Nick's amazement, it was he who was blushing and not Grace. "Why, Sir," Grace cooed, noticing the slight reddish tint entering Nick's cheeks. "I do believe yer blushin'!" They laughed together, soft and gently as Nick placed his arms around her, pulling her head to rest against his chest. "I surely could get use t'this," Grace whispered as she held tightly to her new-found lover, drifting into sleep. "I surely could!"
Nick had rose early -- still part of that SEAL training he could never overcome -- and quietly dressed. He felt bad leaving Grace still asleep, but knew that he should get back to the Legacy House ... and to work. He wrote her a note stating:
Sorry I left in such a hurry this morning, but I do have a job to get to! I wrote down your phone number and will call you later. Last night was ... amazing, Grace and I'd really like to see you again ... soon! Nick
With that, he left her apartment quietly and headed back to Angel Island. Throughout the entire trip across the bay, he reminisced about the events of that night -- the way she moved, the way she looked at him, the way she wanted him -- and he had to fight the urge to turn around, return to her apartment and crawl back in bed with her. 'I can't believe this,' he thought to himself. 'I'm falling in love with her. I'm really falling in love.' Then he smiled at the thought, happy for one of the few times in his life.
Derek was in a foul mood all morning and Alex, Philip, Rachel and even Mitchell tried to stay out of the Precept's way when he was like this. Only Nick seemed oblivious to Derek's mood, instead taking his run, his shower and his breakfast in silence. The others guessed -- and rightly so! -- that Derek's ill temper was due to the fact that Nick had failed to return home last night. They all waited for the inevitable explosion.
It finally came in the later part of the morning when Derek questioned Nick about his progress on researching the newest Satanic cults that Philip had updated the previous day. "All I've really had time to do is read over the 48 cases that we think are the hottest," Nick replied, unaware how close Derek was to exploding. "I mean, I just got started doing it after breakfast ... and there are 48 of them to read over and research."
"Well," Derek started, anger lacing his voice, "perhaps if you had started your research last night instead of waiting until so late this morning ..."
"Hold it," Nick snapped, his voice taunt and threatening. "I've had just about enough of being told what to do and when to do it! The Legacy is my job, Derek ... not my life! If I want to do something personal from time to time, I'm not going to have you -- or anyone -- make me feel as though I've done something wrong!"
Derek could barely contain his anger. He realized, however, that much of his own anger stemmed from an unexplainable concern he had for Nick's welfare; therefore, he decided to let the matter drop ... for now. "Fine," he stated, leaving Nick to his work. "Then do your job and let me know when you're ready to report on your findings." With that, the Precept exited the room, taking with him any good mood Nick had previously been in.
Grace hadn't been too concerned when she had awakened alone that morning; she knew that Nick would have to leave and go to work. She herself had work to do that day and couldn't wait to get to it! She was excited to see Ariel and tell her of her fantastic evening with Nick; she knew that Ariel would be excited for her. She also couldn't wait to go and hold a meeting with her new loyal followers. After all, the sooner her and her people could help Lucifer reign in San Francisco, the sooner she would be rid of Nick's pesky friends and associates!
She rushed across the street to the little temple where she held her meetings. Grace knew it was far to early to prepare for the ceremony that she would be holding that day, but she just couldn't wait any longer to talk with Ariel.
Standing in front of the beautiful antique mirror, she recalled the first time -- when she was only a little girl back in Mobile -- that she had first seen and met Ariel. All these years, the spirit-guide and proven to be her best friend, only true ally and her one and only confidante. Men had come and gone in Grace's life ... none of which measured up to Ariel's standards for her human friend! ... but there had never been anyone like Nick Boyle. Grace could only hope that Ariel would agree -- this time!
"My, don't you look ... happy ... today," the voice of Ariel stated as her presence began to appear in the mirror before Grace. "You look completely aglow, my Dear."
"I think the word yer lookin' fer is 'satisfied', Ariel," Grace cooed. "An' am I ever!"
Ariel smiled at her human counterpart. Grace was so naive sometimes, but she was also a faithful and worthy servant of Satan's; Ariel truly did long to see her soulmate happy and content. But she was also concerned. Why did the man Grace had fallen for have to work for The Legacy?! Was this all part of their Master's plan?! "So," she replied, "tell me all about it. Don't leave out one single detail!"
Grace smiled as she sat before the mirror and poured out her heart to her dearest friend and companion. She told her about how cold and unfeeling the others had been -- almost as though they were already suspicious of her without any good reason! This upset Ariel tremendously!! Then, Grace proceeded to tell her about how Nick had stood up for her against them, how he had escorted her home and how they had spent much of the night making mad, passionate love. "It was the greatest sexual experience o'my entire life, Ariel," she exclaimed. "It truly was!"
A malicious and evil smile came over Ariel's face as she commented, "Well, it certainly sounds as though you might succeed in getting Nick away from The Legacy. But, Grace, if you don't, he will have to be destroyed along with the rest of them." She watched as a look of profound sadness crossed over Grace's face. She continued, "However, I see no reason why you won't be able to pry him from their grip and turn him to our side ... do you?!"
Grace once again smiled ... this time as cold and maliciously as Ariel had. "No," she answered, "I don't expect t'have no trouble handlin' m'Nick. None at all!"
Alex entered the Control Room, carrying with her a peace offering -- a sandwich and some fresh fruit that Mitchell had prepared for Nick's lunch. Everyone had noticed his absence at the table and Alex had been concerned about Nick's earlier attitude. Quietly, she approached the young man seated at the computer terminal. She could tell that he was deep in thought. She gently placed the tray down and walked over to her junior partner. "I brought you something to eat," she stated quietly, "just in case you get hungry."
Nick knew that Alex was only trying to be friendly, but the happy, joyous mood he had felt earlier today had been spoiled several hours earlier by Derek and his mood. Not wishing to take it out on Alex, he turned to her and simply said, "Thanks. I'll eat it later ... when I get all this research done for Derek."
Knowing that Nick was obviously not in a talkative mood, Alex proceeded to do the talking for him. "Ya know, Derek's only reacting this way because he's concerned about you, Nick. He's always looking out for us; it's just a ... habit ... he's gotten into and I don't think he'll ever change."
"But that's the point," snapped Nick. "He's prying into my life for no reason, Alex! There's not one thing about Grace that could possibly make Derek that I'm in some kinda danger. And yet, there he is, judging and condemning her for nothing!"
"Now who's over-reacting," Alex pointed out. Seeing that Nick was becoming frustrated, she tried another tactic. "I know that there's nothing ... outwardly ... different about Grace that looks or appears like she's 'dangerous', but Derek does have abilities that you don't have -- remember?! I'm not saying that he's right, I'm only trying to point out to you that he's behaving a little harsher than necessary because he cares about you, Nick."
"I know," Nick responded quietly. "But, honestly, Alex, do you get the sense that there's anything wrong with Grace? You're a psychic too -- do you get any ... bad vibes off of her?"
"Well, no ....."
"Exactly!" Nick stated. "Because there's nothing to get. Derek's just trying to run my life like he's been trying to do since the moment I joined The Legacy; and I'm getting pretty sick of it, Alex. Really sick of it! My father tried to control my life for years -- I'm not about to let anyone else do it!"
Knowing that there was nothing further she could say to change Nick's mind, Alex left the Control Room feeling completely dejected. She had attempted to smooth matters over between Nick and Derek; and now, she realized that they were worse than she imagined. She could only hope that things would blow over the way they did after Julia's death; otherwise, she had a feeling things would be far worse this time around!
"We must continue to reach out to the homeless, to the runaways and to the drug addicts. We must increase our numbers if we wish to allow Satan's power to reign in this City. And we can do it, my Children! We can bring his glorious power to this fair City and crush the goodness and righteousness that surrounds it! But we must be diligent in our efforts. We must seek out our victims ... and report their activities at our meetings; we must have volunteers to do Satan's bidding on Earth; and we must not fail!"
"Glory be to Satan ..." the congregation moaned as their Leader continued her instruction. "Glory be!"
"But, most important, we must not reveal ourselves to anyone! Our temple and our meetings must remain secret until He says it is time to announce our presence to the City ... and to the World! Until then, we must continue our efforts quietly and efficiently; and He will continue to bless our lives for it! Now go -- and bring forth more followers for our next meeting!!"
"GLORY BE TO SATAN ..." they screamed in agreement. "GLORY BE!"
As Grace stood in front of her beautiful mirror, she watched the reddish glow exit her eyes and felt Ariel return to the world within the mirror. She always felt a little sad when Ariel left her and stood watching the two images before her. "What is it?" Ariel inquired, already knowing the answer.
"I miss ya when ya leave me," Grace replied. "I always have."
"I know," Ariel stated, relishing the fact that she was the more powerful spirit of the two spirits. "But, I'm never really gone, Grace; you know that. I'm always here for you. The only one you can ever really count on."
With that said, Grace's thoughts turned to Nick. She had been disappointed not to have heard from him all day. She had brought her cellular phone with her to the temple just in case he had called. Now she sat in the chair in front of the mirror feeling dejected. "It's not gonna be an easy battle," Ariel commented, interrupting Grace's thoughts. "He's been fighting for The Legacy a long time. You have to be patient or you'll never tear him away."
"I know," Grace answered, knowing that Ariel was right -- she was always right! "But ... well ... he's the one, Ariel. I just know that he's m'promised one and I just hate t'be waitin' on 'im -- that's all!"
"Patience," Ariel cooed. "Soon, we'll have everything we've ever wanted. It will work for us this time, Grace. It will be different than it was in Mobile ... and New Orleans! ... I promise you that!"
Nick slipped away from the Control Room to get a cup of coffee. While in the kitchen, he decided to call Grace on his cellular. He could hear the disappointment in her voice when he said that he wouldn't be able to get away that evening but that he'd like to plan dinner with her for tomorrow night. Although she sounded disappointed, she was also understanding and told him that she would be ready and willing to go out anytime that was convenient for him.
Hanging up, Nick felt a sense of guilt overwhelm him. There was Grace being so understanding and here he was stuck doing a job that Philip could've easily handled. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, it occurred to him that he hadn't been thinking rationally the past few days -- that he had been ill tempered and out of sorts for no good reason -- but he couldn't shake the mood that had come over him and quickly dismissed these thoughts.
He poured himself the coffee and headed back to the Control Room and the cult files. Nick found he was beginning to resent this job more and more; that perhaps becoming a member of The Legacy all those years ago had been a mistake somehow. As he sat in front of the terminal, his mind raced with conflicting thoughts ... 'What am I doing here?' followed by 'What's wrong with me? Why am I acting this way?' as well as 'I can't believe how fast I'm falling in love with Grace! Is this normal?' then 'Why wouldn't it be?!'
Nick continued to read and research the new records in the database, all the while wishing he could be with Grace tonight ... just for one more night ... to find out what he really felt for her.
Derek looked up as Nick entered his office. He was pleasantly surprised to see that scowl that had been on Nick's face earlier was no longer present. He nodded for Nick to sit down and then asked, "So, what did you learn about the newest 48 cults recorded."
Nick was likewise relieved to see that Derek wasn't going to press him about his whereabouts the previous night; he was sure that Derek knew where he had been! He placed the file in front of him and opened it so that both he and the Precept could look over the material. "Actually, it's more like 44 cults that are still in existence and not 48 like we thought yesterday."
"Really?" Derek inquired, now totally engrossed in the business at hand. "Why's that?"
"Well, doing further research, it seems that four of the cults either were disbanded by other Legacy Houses that hadn't updated their records or have simply ... vanished. For example, there was one in Nigeria that simply disappeared. It's possible it's moved it's base of operations, but the majority of it's members still live in the tribes in the area. Therefore, it seems as though they've given up Satanic worship."