After Dan’s first two classes that morning where he’d repeated his commands about attendance, he headed to the Freshman/Sophomore combined Sciences of Defense class.
“Justin,” he drawled as soon as the young man tried to sneak into class hiding behind two of his friends. “Saved you a seat.” He directed Justin to the desk in the front center of the classroom. “Paper ready?”
“Yes, sir,” Justin huffed.
“Good. Fi’s really looking forward to hearing it.”
After Dan finished explaining the semester-long project that would be due on the day of finals, a knock sounded on the classroom door near the end of class. She was right on time.
“Justin, would you let my wife in please?”
Hanging his head, Justin inched slowly towards the door.
“Don’t keep her waiting,” Dan barked.
When Justin opened the door, Fionna gave him a gotcha grin and Dan clenched his jaw to keep from cracking up.
Excited whispers whipped around the room as Fionna Styler, famed Receiver for the Arlington Angels, made her entrance.
“Hey, sweetheart,” Dan drawled.
She was wearing a black front-tie dress that dipped low, showing off her heavily swollen cleavage. It was ruffled slightly and she hardly looked pregnant under the gathered layers of fabric. The dress was relatively short hitting just below her mid-thigh, showing off her long, tanned legs from their summer on the island. The black, high-heeled, knee-high boots she’d paired with the dress made Dan’s mouth water. She’d curled her hair so it hung in loose waves down her back and was wearing more make-up than he’d seen her wear in a while. She looked stunning.
She took his breath away. She always did. Shaking himself, he turned back to his class. “So, I had a picture of her for my other classes, but since she’s here,” he took her hand and led her to the front of the class, making her laugh. “My beautiful wife will be giving birth to our second child,” he narrowed his eyes hatefully at Justin, “sometime in November. Mentor Glen Sullivan will be filling in for me from the time of her birth until I return. If any of you might like an autograph, I’m certain Fi would be happy to do that before we all head to lunch.” The class rushed forward to meet Fionna, which seemed to thrill her.
Several minutes later, they headed to his office. Justin paced several feet behind them.
“Go get your lunch then meet me in my office,” Dan commanded.
“You are just so adorable,” Fionna drawled like she was speaking to a toddler. Dan choked back his laughter as Justin scowled.
As he unlocked his office door, Chancellor Wilshire approached. “Well, Fionna, I didn’t know you would be on campus today, sweetheart. How are you?” He shrank back as Fionna leaned in to give him a hug. Dan’s shield pulsed angrily.
When she grimaced, his heart sank. He saw it in her eyes. Whatever she’d picked up in the Chancellor’s energy had her reeling. He didn’t want to be touched by a Receiver. Dear God, what had he done?
“I…uh…I just came to have lunch with Dan.” She grasped Dan’s arm and drew his energy into her palm. His protective energies traveled through her bloodstream, restoring her quickly.
His wife was the most powerful Receiver of their time. She could even pick up on emotion in Non-Gifted people, which was a skill that was almost unheard of. In one quick action in her presence, Chancellor Wilshire had just admitted his guilt. Dan needed no more proof. He had his wife.
“Well, you’re certainly welcome here anytime. I suppose we want to keep Dan happy, and the whole Realm knows you’re the key to Officer Vindico. I just wanted to make certain that you were okay with handling that extra class, Dan.”
Busy playing judge, jury, and executioner in his own mind, Dan narrowed his eyes. “Actually, I’m not. I have a full plate and a family that needs me. And it was my understanding that I’m no longer Officer, I’m Mentor Vindico.”
“Oh, I think you and I both know that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ll try to find someone who can take over in a few weeks. For now, you’re my choice. Might as well give your father what he wants,” Wilshire commented cryptically.
“I have no idea what any of this has to do with my dad, and you need to choose someone else.”
“Dan!” Fionna hissed under her breath. “Be nice.”
“Difficult not to be the man running the show, isn’t it?” were the Chancellor’s parting words before he headed down the corridor.
Dan glared at his retreating form before he closed his office door and helped Fionna onto the small loveseat. “You okay?”
“What did you feel?”
“Guilt,” she confessed in a choked whisper. “Lots and lots of guilt, and deception. Dark deception and layers of guilt. It’s choking him, and the worst part was the excitement about the deception over the desire. That’s always the worst part.”
Dan’s stomach began to churn.
“How could he do that? He’s been married for like thirty years.” Fionna shook her head.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how anyone does that. How does he look his wife in the eye? How does he look at his sons, and daughters, and his grandkids after that?”
“Dan, he’s the Chancellor of the premiere Gifted academy on the Eastern Seaboard. This is where all of the Governors’ kids and grandkids come. This isn’t going to be something he can just sweep under the rug.”
“No, it isn’t. And according to Governess Martin and what we saw in that tabloid the media has a few pictures.”
“Yeah, but those pictures in that magazine were Photoshopped. There must be more to it than just those.”
“Still, it looks like the rubber just met the road.”
“What are you going to do?” Fionna rubbed her hands over her belly. Halia was kicking. Dan recognized the contented smile that formed on her face as she caressed their baby girl. “She felt you when I drew from you.”
Nodding, Dan longed to lay beside her. To rub his hands over her swell and lock on to her energy and then onto Halia’s. Desperation coursed through him. He needed to assure Fionna that he would never do something like that. He would never break them. He would never cheat. He needed to make certain his wife and his baby girls knew he would always be there for them.
“I don’t know what there is for me to do, honey. Besides, this school sure as hell isn’t where my loyalties lie.”
“I know, but the kids here need you.”
“Yeah, well, I did talk with that kid Strenton, the one I told you about. He’s one of the ones Portwood was most interested in. This morning he confessed that his girlfriend is pregnant.”
“Oh, bless his heart. Are they okay?”
“Wait, it gets worse. Wait ‘til I tell you who his girlfriend is.”
Before he could complete the grim picture, a hesitant knock sounded on the door.
“Always ready to put egotistical little pricks in their place.” Fionna stood using the desk to guide her.
“In,” Dan growled furiously while winking at his wife.
Fionna grinned at Justin sweetly as she began eating the Hawaiian chicken sandwiches she’d prepared.
“Have a seat, stud,” Dan sneered.
He seated himself beside Fionna and wrapped his arm over her as Justin sank down in the other seat in the office trying to balance his lunch tray in his lap.
“Oh, you know, I think I do remember your parents now,” Fionna drawled. “You look just like your Daddy.”
“Yeah, baby, they were at our wedding reception, remember?” Dan played along. She laid her hand on Dan’s thigh as he kissed the side of her head. Justin was painfully uncomfortable much to their delight.
“So, do you have a little girlfriend, Jarred?” She delicately picked up a sweet pickle and sank her teeth in with a pop.
“Uh, no, ma’am,” Justin choked.
“That would’ve gotten in the way of his little bet,” Dan huffed.
“Oh, right,” Fionna chuckled as Justin turned the color of the apple on his tray.
They continued to eat with Fionna making quite a show of snuggling into Dan. She finished her sandwich and he cleared away her trash.
“Need anything else, sweetheart?”
“Just you.” She turned back to their webbed fly. “So, Justin, I believe I was supposed to listen to a paper you’d written.”
Choking down a bite of his overly processed hamburger, he nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
Justin proceeded to read a poorly written essay which listed the dates that women in the Realm were given the right to vote. He added in the formation of the Angels and then proceeded on to lamely explain his feelings that women were confusing and didn’t know what they wanted. His concluding paragraph included the line. “If women don’t know what they want, how are we supposed to know?”
Dan shook his head morosely as Fionna narrowed her eyes and leaned in for the kill.
“Sit down, Justin,” she commanded. “Let’s go over just a few things, shall we?” She jerked the paper out of his hands. “First of all, let me tell you just a little bit about what women want.”
“You might want to take notes,” Dan urged.
“Women, who, by the way, are the reason you are even here,” she pointed to her stomach, “want a real man.” She held her hand out to Dan, who gave Justin a cocky grin. “And let me go ahead and attempt to explain to you what a real man is and why your ridiculous little bet is so disgusting and offensive. My husband is the love of my life. He is the only person that I share myself with because when I looked my husband in the eye and I vowed to love him and only him for the rest of my life, I meant that. He respects me, adores me, appreciates me, and takes care of me and our children. Your little essay there showed no respect and no appreciation for women in any way, and you are nothing more than a spoiled brat.
“Dan isn’t just a real man because he’s has bulging biceps and can outshoot any man in the Realm. His heart makes him a real man. I’ve seen my husband do some terrifying things. I’ve seen him stare down the barrels of pistols for one, but the things that he does that mean the most to me are when he reads our little girl to sleep each night, or when he gets up on Saturday morning and brings me coffee in bed. When I’m sick and he does everything in his power to make me feel better. When he gets up every morning and goes to work and then comes home and helps me make dinner and helps our baby girl with her homework. He protects me, he’s patient and sweet, giving, loving, and kind. He is a real man, and you are a cocky egotistical child who needs to learn some respect.
“He keeps his vows to me, to his children, to his family, and to the Realm. That essay proves that you not only have no idea how to behave like a real man, but that you have no idea how to even begin to treat women,” she fumed. “Real men know women can do everything they can do, often times better, but real men don’t want them to have to. They want to help shoulder all that life offers, both good and bad. They want to make her world a better place because when you do that,” she vowed, “when you give a woman your very best, then you’ll get the very best out of her, and that is better than anything you’re even capable of imagining.
“So, why don’t you try thinking with the head above your waist, the one that actually contains a brain, and see if you can’t rewrite that paper. Show a little appreciation for the women in your life. And if you don’t think you can come up with something better than this,” she held up the paper, “forty percent of your grade for this semester will be an F.
“And I for one am thrilled that Dan is going to be your mentor because you clearly need to learn more than the energy of defense. You need to learn to be a gentleman and to respect and appreciate the opposite sex.”
Dan raised his eyebrows awaiting Justin’s response. He nodded morosely.
“Put some thought and some time in it,” Dan’s voice, low but fervent. “Women deserve both. You need to listen to her mind and her heart before you try to unzip her jeans. And you sure as hell don’t need to be making bets on having sex with married women. Words have power. Remember that.”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, Mrs. Vindico,” he offered quite sincerely.
“You should be.”
He slunk out of the office with his tail between his legs.
Dan grinned. “And that’s my girl.”
Shaking her head, Fionna tossed the original essay in the trash can.
“Let’s wait on that.” Dan retrieved it. “I want to keep this in case I do end up calling his father.”
“You still have half an hour ‘til your next class.”
“I can think of so many good ways to spend that time.” Dan waggled his eyebrows.
Fionna gave him his smile but shook her head. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be making out in a mentor’s office, and I’m rather repulsed by men in general right now.”
“Yeah, well, I’m particularly disgusted with my sex today as well, but one day soon we’re gonna do a whole lot more than make out in here.”
“Definitely, Mrs. Vindico, and I will be decidedly ungentlemanly, all while completely respecting you, and you know, I will always be unabashedly feminist.”
“And that, Mr. Vindico, is why you get to do such un-gentlemanly things with me.” She wrapped her arms over his shoulders and he drew her in.
“If I’m not mistaken I do believe you rather like my less-than-civilized side.”
“It’s one of my very favorite things about you. But you were telling me about Jeff Strenton and his girlfriend, and I’m still not okay with what’s going on with Chancellor Wilshire.”
“I’m right here, sweetheart. We’ll talk about Strenton later. Tell me what you felt from Wilshire.” Dan settled back on in the chair and tried to tug her into his lap.
“I’m huge and we would break that chair.” She sat on the couch, much to his chagrin. “Dan, there’s more to all of this than just Chancellor Wilshire cheating on his wife. This is much darker. It’s everywhere in the school, like a cloud.”
“I know, baby doll. What I don’t know is what that means for me, and for us, and for the students. I have no idea how long it’s been going on. If this is all about the school governing board being angry that it leaked to the press, Governess Martin reacted rather strongly. Seemed like there was more to it that she is already aware of.”
“There is more to it, and it’s headed our way. Like dark ink spilled on white paper, I can feel it coming.”
“No.” Dan shook his head. “I won’t let it. Not this time. This job is about me helping Portwood train officers and me bringing home a paycheck. I will not let my job overtake our lives again.”
Her consolatory gaze met his, and he knew the energy had already been set into motion. He wasn’t going to get to push this away. Whatever had happened was going to attempt to consume him again. Well, he was one damn strong shield. In that moment, he vowed to himself that he would push the energy back away from his family.
“Tell me what you were going to say about Jeff Strenton’s girlfriend.”
“Fi, I won’t let it happen again.”
“I know you won’t. Not the way it was last time, anyway, but Dan, change is coming our way. By the end of this year, I’m not sure we’ll even recognize ourselves.”
“We’re having a baby. Things are going to change.” He knew better than to argue but this wasn’t what was supposed to happen.
“It’s more than that. There’s more to all of this. Things I don’t even know yet. They’re hovering just on the periphery. I can’t sense them yet. We’re going to have to help the people affected and try to keep it from consuming us again.”
“I will not put you in danger ever again.”
“It’s not me that’s going to be danger I don’t think. It’s someone else. I can’t quite figure out who.”
“But when you do?”
“As soon as I know, you’ll know.” Suddenly, she placed her hand on her forehead. “Dan, where is Jeff?”
“He’s somewhere on campus I imagine.”
“And he was here in your office today?”
“This morning.” Dan studied her.
“He feels lost and hopeless,” she supplied.
“I swear this pregnancy has made you even stronger, Fi, and yeah, I’m sure he does.”
“I’m not necessarily stronger. It’s just those are such strong emotions the waves of energy linger for a long time, especially if you had the door closed.”
“I did, and I’m beyond certain he was feeling hopeless before I got him an interview for the Iodex internship.”
“Do you think maybe he’s the one in danger?”