“Daniel, you understand that I will not sit here and ask you to break any laws on our behalf. All I would like is to have a little information before I decide the best way to proceed,” Governor Haydenshire pulled on his best stern expression.
Dan fought not the smirk. “I understand that it would look particularly bad for all of us if it appears that you went above Iodex to me to avoid getting the two longest standing members of the Governing Board into trouble. Like I said, I won’t let either of you fall on sword for Wilshire’s mistakes. I won’t get caught. I’ll get everything you need and figure out some way for it to have appeared on your desks without my fingerprints ever being on the intel. I can be a ghost. Hell, I was a ghost for years when I was working between here and Paris. This time I’ll just do it right out in the open. It’s always the best place to hide.”
“For my own conscious, I need to pretend you didn’t say that to me.” Bereaved concern etched the lines on the Crown Governor’s face.
“I’m serious, son. Do not cross any lines for me. I was so worried about you last year I let Venton slide. That was unacceptable. And I don’t mind falling on the sword for my own mistakes,” Governor Vindico urged yet again.
Downing the last of his water, Dan refused to respond. His father already knew that crossing lines was his specialty and after all the hell he’d put his dad through he owed him this. He wouldn’t let him down.
“But if you’re unhappy at Venton, maybe we should be discussing another career,” his father sighed, offering him an out.
“I thought you’d taken to it with great finesse. You seemed to enjoy helping Jeff and Becca,” Governor Haydenshire allowed.
“Yeah, but for every Jeff Strenton, there are a dozen smart-mouthed brats that don’t want to work. They just want a passing grade.”
“I think you may have grown accustomed to working with the best of the best, and not everyone works that way. You have to be able to inspire the best out of those that only think they’re mediocre. More days than not, I can’t wait to lock my office door and go home to my beautiful wife and my little ones,” Governor Haydenshire seemed to read Dan’s mind. “But I try to think back. Think about where I came from. What we set out to accomplish when we first started.” He gestured his head to Dan’s father. They’d worked together to change the Realm for the better when they were younger than Dan. “So on the days that you want to choke someone, try to remember just what you hoped to accomplish when you made the decision to start at the academy. Look at where you’re coming from and where you hope to end up when the part in the middle gets mired down in the cesspools of life.”
Yeah. That was great advice. If only Dan could remember exactly why he’d agreed to take this job in the first place. Guilt was the only recognizable emotion he associated with that time. Now, it didn’t matter why he’d taken it, only that it offered him full-on access to the case at hand. Latching onto that made the rest of the school year somewhat more palatable.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he lied. Everyone at that table knew it.
“Sure you will.” Governor Haydenshire rolled his eyes. “If this investigation is what’s going to drive you for a while please remember two things for me. One, you have a wife and two little girls at home that need you not to get consumed again. And two, we cannot legislate another man’s morality. However, being the chancellor of the most prestigious Gifted Academy on the East coast is a job that comes with a great deal of expectations. If the school governing board decides to fire him, that is their call. As despicable as what he’s doing with Mentor Bryant is, the Senate cannot step in unless we discover that he has broken a law,” Governor Haydenshire continued to reinforce his own rules.
“You have every right to fire him now, Dad, and you know it,” Dan challenged his father instead of the Crown. “You’re the Governor of Education.”
“I do, but I’d like a little more information first. Firing Dean could also tip him off to the fact that we’re investigating thoroughly. I’d prefer to watch him for a while.”
After lunch was consumed, Dan followed his father and Governor Haydenshire back to the Senate. Everything he’d been informed of worked through his mind. He needed more pieces to the puzzle before he could complete it, but finding missing pieces was something he was more than qualified to do.
Jeff was trying very hard not to grin when Dan entered the Iodex wing.
“Not bad at all.” Portwood looked extremely impressed. He was holding up a practice shooting target.
“Damn.” Dan slapped Jeff on the back. He’d shot incredibly well for a new trainee.
“Yeah, but I didn’t outshoot Rainer,” he lamented though everyone knew he was pleased with his scores.
Always modest, Rainer Lawson shook his head. “Yeah but Dan-the-Man Vindico taught me to shoot. And you did that all on your own.”
“Let’s see you work out,” Portwood commanded as the Elite team headed to the locker room to change.
Those were the words Dan had wanted to hear for the last two hours. He needed this, needed to vent his frustrations on the heavy bag until he’d sweat enough to figure shit out.
He let his mind work as hard as his body as he executed one of his favorite workouts from his own Iodex days, releasing the world in a sea of endorphins.
When he leapt off of the treadmill after completing his mile cool down, he scanned the gym for Jeff. Portwood was handing him a towel and chuckling.
Jeff was red-faced, soaked in sweat, and gasping for breath.
“What’d you do to him?” He ran a towel over his face trying to keep from joining Portwood’s laughter.
“We did your, ‘I’m pissed at all of you losers’ workout. The one you used to make us do when we screwed something up.”
“That is a good one.”
“If you survived that, you’re golden,” Logan vowed. The rest of the team nodded their agreement.
“When I got up here from Vegas,” Trenton McCoy sighed, “I’d been in Vegas Iodex for four years so I thought it wouldn’t be that different. Then Vindico worked us out and I thought I’d died and gone to hell.”
Jeff, though exhausted, look thrilled to be chatting with the Elite team as they hit the showers.
Logan offered Jeff a ride to Dan’s house that evening, so Dan headed out to acquire cream cheese rolls and sour gummy worms.
Fighting D.C. traffic most of the way, he arrived home an hour later to discover Garrett Haydenshire sitting on his sofa. Fionna was laying down with her head in his lap.
Panic lit through Dan like a gasoline soaked fuse. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing. I just didn’t want to be here by myself.”
Garrett helped her stand and mouthed the word, “Bleeding.” He gestured to his own crotch to keep from pointing to Fionna’s. Nausea roiled through Dan.
Fionna propelled herself into his arms. “I tried to call you,” she offered hesitantly.
“But I was working out.” Dammit. Would he never learn? He was out taking on new cases and pretending he was still an Iodex officer while his wife was home scared to death.
“It’s okay. Adeline will be here in a little while. She can check everything. I can feel Halia and she feels fine. It wasn’t much. It just scared me.”
“I called Ad. She said lots of water and lots of laying down, so that’s what we did. I kept her casted to keep her calm. Heart rate is normal. She’s tired. Ad also said to tell you not to freak,” Garrett ran through the list of instructions like he was handing out orders.
“Did you get my gummy worms?” Fionna asked hopefully.
Garrett, at least, managed to find humor in that.
“Neon sour,” Dan handed over the candy, “although I should have been here not out on worm acquisition.”
“Come on, man. You two are my best friends. I can sit with her and get her water while you work. Like Ad said, don’t freak.”
“I really am okay, Dan. It stopped. I’m just a little tired and dizzy. Tell me about lunch with Governor Haydenshire.” Fionna tried, but Dan wouldn’t be letting himself off of the hook for this.
“Let me guess,” Garrett stood, popped a kiss on top of Fionna’s head, and shrugged into his leather jacket. “Venton is actually more of a shit-show that it appears on the news. Wilshire bedded a Mentor and now heads are going to roll. And Dan-the-Man Vindico is about to step in and save the day yet again.”
“Something like that. I was just going to try to keep my dad from being one of the rolling heads, but I need to be here more.”
“Dan,” Fionna sighed. “I’m okay. Halia is okay. She just missed you today when I got scared. But she likes Uncle Garrett, too.”
Carefully modulating his own emotions, Dan managed to keep his anger turned only on himself, but being furious with Uncle Garrett for casting his wife and baby was extremely appealing.
“Hey, you know Uncle Garrett is a damned good cop, too, if you should decide you need some help with the freak show that is our alma mater.”
The sheer number of times Dan had found himself needing Garrett to step in and help levied another round of guilt on his shoulders. “I don’t even know what I’m looking at yet. Like I said I need to be here more anyway.”
When Fionna buried her face into his chest, Garrett cocked his jaw to the side. “You ever gonna be okay with this?” he gestured between the three of them.
“I’m fine,” Dan lied.
“Uh huh, sure you are.” With more volume this time, Garrett headed towards the front door. “Call me if you need me. Tell me what Adeline says. I have a date tonight, but I can come back over here anytime.”
“Thanks for coming. I love you.” Fionna left Dan standing in the middle of the living room to hug her best friend. Dan doubled down on his own self-hatred. “I was going to order some pizzas for everyone,” Fionna explained as she closed the front door.
“I’ll order the pizzas. You go upstairs and lay down before everyone gets here,” he urged fully aware it sounded like a command. She raised her eyebrow letting him know that he needed to cool it. “I’m just worried about you, Fi. I love you and I need to know that you’re okay. I had no business working out for two hours after a two-hour lunch. I should have been here.”
“I will go lay down just for a little while, and you will calm down and understand that you cannot always be here, Dan. You have a job. And I’ve gone on a long time not saying anything about this, but please, tell me you know that I love you. You’re my husband. Garrett is my best friend. He is nothing more than that, but he is also nothing less.”
“The only job I care about at all is taking care of you, and I do know that.” Dan tried to shut down the nervous terror that coursed rapidly through his veins.
“You know it in your head. I need you to know it in your heart and in your shield.”
“Still working on that part.”
“He’s riding over with Logan. Where’s Becca?”
“We met Chloe and Emily and Sasha at the mall. She went over to Em’s, but said to tell Jeff she’d be here around six.”
“Are you sure you’re okay, baby?”
“I think I read in one of those pregnancy books that this isn’t all that uncommon. But, no, not really. Kind of completely freaking out.”
“Come here to me.” Drawing her back into his embrace, his shield spun out from his pores surrounding her in his ultimate protection. “I’ve got you. We’ll figure this out.” Halia moved against his abdomen and his breaths steadied.
“After you order the pizzas will you come upstairs and do that?”
“I’ll be right there.”
Knowing that both Jeff and Logan could put away a tremendous amount of food and that they’d worked out hard, Dan placed an order for numerous pizzas.
Joining the very reason for his existence on the bed, Dan cradled her against him, locking onto her energy by placing his hands on her back. Her rhythms were exhausted and tensed. Fear played cruelly in her strains.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here. I left my phone in the locker room like an idiot.”
“It really is okay. I knew where you were. I just kind of have a bad feeling about the stuff you’re going to be doing at the academy, and I really miss having you and Aida with me during the days, and I’m just tired.”
“I didn’t even tell you what I’m supposed to be doing at the Academy.” He combed his fingers through her long brown hair.
“I know, but Garrett said his dad was worried your dad was going to end up losing his job over this. I know you’re going to keep that from happening. I want you to keep it from happening.”
“I’m telling Wilshire he can find someone else to teach Mentor Bryant’s classes. He made his bed he can lie in it.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I need the extra time to investigate whatever is going on out there, and I’m not taking time away from you so I can clean up somebody else’s mess.”
“The only thing I need you to promise me is that this won’t be like when you were the Chief of Iodex. Just promise you won’t be in danger.”
“I’m not certain yet what we may be dealing with at Venton,” he soothed. “But I promise you that I am by far the best trained person at the entire school, and if I feel like I’m putting myself, or you, or my baby girls at risk in anyway, I’ll quit. I’ll turn the case over to Iodex. I won’t put myself or anyone I love at risk.”
“Halia hears you,” she rubbed the spot where Halia’s tiny foot had just nudged her.
“Halia knows her mommy is upset and tired. And Halia’s mommy needs to stay up here and rest and let me send Adeline up to check you. I’ll get Jeff and Becca squared away and then I’ll come back and give you your bath and put you to bed.”
“No,” Fionna huffed. “I’m not staying up here while we have guests.”
“How about we see what Adeline says?”
The knock on the front door offered him the escape he needed. He pulled away before she could pick up on his desperate trepidation.
He forced a smile as Logan and Adeline entered followed by Becca and Jeff.
“Come on in,” Dan gestured into the living room. “I ordered pizzas. They should be here soon. There’s beer and Dr. Pepper in the fridge.”
“Where’s Fionna?” Adeline quizzed.
“Lying down upstairs,” he choked and Logan joined his wife’s concerned stare. “Would you mind doing her exam before dinner?”
“Of course.” Clutching her bag, Adeline followed Dan into the master bedroom.
“Just say this is normal or at least not that odd,” Fionna pled as soon as Adeline entered the room.
“Why don’t we just see what’s going on, then we’ll know for sure.”
Having the routine down by now, Fionna pulled her shirt up over her belly and her stretch pants down below her mound. Dan’s heart hammered in his chest. He wondered momentarily if the sight of his wife’s gorgeous curves would ever lessen its impact.
Adeline scrubbed her hands in Dan and Fionna’s bathroom and then summoned a light heat cast before touching Fionna. She measured Fionna’s stomach, a process Fionna abhorred.
“She’s still measuring right on schedule.” After plugging in her laptop, Adeline casted Fionna’s womb, sending the sound waves onto the monitor until they could see their baby girl on the screen in black and white.
Giving them a reassuring grin, Adeline gestured to the screen with her free hand. “She’s sucking her thumb.”
Fionna swooned and Dan was unable to halt his broad grin.
Moving her hand slowly over Fionna’s stomach, Adeline grimaced a moment later.
“What?” Fionna demanded on the verge of tears.
Dan moved beside her on the bed taking her hand his heart pounding in his throat.
“Your previous wound is agitated. The scar tissue appears to be swollen. That’s where the blood is coming from.”
“I’ve had pretty intense Braxton Hicks contractions. Could that be what’s causing this?” Fionna managed in a terror filled choke.
“Halia is perfectly fine. Everything looks healthy,” Adeline immediately vowed. “But I think your body is reacting to everything changing and your rhythms are reading erratically. I’d say you’re under more stress than you need to be under, and you aren’t resting enough,” Adeline commanded with more force than Dan had ever heard her use. “Your hormones are changing rapidly because you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy. She’s growing rapidly. It’s really too early for you to be experiencing contractions bad enough to need to be casted.”
“I casted her last night,” Dan immediately informed Adeline.
“I’m sorry, Fionna, but you had a near fatal gunshot wound just a few weeks before you and Dan conceived again. You’re going to have to take it easy. Let your body relax and complete the pregnancy fully.”
Dan held Fionna’s hand and brushed her hair tenderly away from her face. This was all his fault as well.
“If it makes you feel better, I did expect this, and there is a solution if we need to take it,” Adeline offered them a comforting smile.
“What’s the solution?” Dan demanded.
“Kauai regulated both your and Halia’s rhythms easily because that’s where both of you were conceived. The volcanic energy of the Hawaiian islands affect all of its Gifted people immensely. You know this.”
“Keiki hanau o ka ‘aina” Dan repeated just a fraction of what he’d learned from spending time on Kauai with Fionna.
Adeline smiled and nodded. “A child of the land. And if we can’t get the wound to give you a break, you might have to return to Kauai for a few weeks to heal. If that doesn’t work, you may have to stay there until Halia is born.”