Down the Rabbit Hole

Episode 7 of Relativity

by Michelle and James Lehmann

 

Sara Wolff stared out at the lawn of the Gale Home for Children. The sky was dark and rain drizzled down. It was a dreary day, and it matched her mood perfectly.

She had spent most of the last week in a fog. After learning the revelation of her brother’s secret identity, she had been torn. She struggled to detach herself from the feelings she had developed for Black Torrent—romantic and intimate feelings. She fought to forgive her brother and father for keeping such secrets from her. But most of all, she wrangled with the idea that aside from being part of one of the most powerful families in the country, she was now a member of the most famous crimefighting team ever.

It was almost too much to think about, and she buried her face in her hands.

She had avoided talking to Michael for a few days, but had started to miss him. Her sole call to him during that time had led to more apologies, and finally an invitation to the penthouse “for a tour.” Sara hadn’t seen more than the kitchen and living room during her previous visits, but she suspected a tour meant a bit more than just having a look around the bedrooms.

There was a knock at the front door before it opened. Madge stepped in with Trevor on her hip, a raincoat thrown over both of their heads. “I lost my umbrella.” The boy slid from his mother’s arm and ran over to the corner, pulling out the small box of toys. Madge smiled and sat down next to her friend. “When are you leaving?”

“Michael should be here in about an hour. He wants to drive me, since my dad insists I stay overnight.”

“And you can’t park?”

The redhead shrugged.

“So, what’s this all about? Big family business? Beer and poker night?”

Sara shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. “Oh, just talking, that’s all. Nothing important, really.”

“Right,” Madge said with a raised eyebrow. “C’mon. What is this really about?”

Struggling to come up with something, Sara began to twirl her hair, but remained silent.

Madge regarded her friend for a moment, then rose and moved to her son.

“What’s wrong?” Sara asked.

“Nothing. I mean—” The woman stood shoulders sagged. “You never used to hide things from me; we’ve always told each other everything. Now I feel like there’s this wall between us. We talk and we’re friends, but it’s not the same.” She turned, wiping her fingers under her eye. “Not since you found your family.”

Sara felt her heart sink. She had been so caught up in her own feelings, she’d failed to recognize those of her friend. “Madge, it’s not like that, at all. You’re my family. There’s just all of this stuff happening.”

“Like what?” the secretary pressed.

“Like—” Sara exhaled slowly. She had been debating for days whether to share her family secrets with her friend. Now, she realized that she needed to, for both of their sakes. “Okay, I wanted to tell you, anyway. And, honestly I’m gonna bust if I don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff.”

“Tell me what?”

“Sit down.”

“Why?”

“Believe me, you need to sit down.”

Her friend looked skeptical, but did as told.

Sara smiled crookedly. “Michael’s the Black Torrent.”

Madge’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. “He’s Black Torrent?”

“I know that’s hard to believe.”

“No, it’s not.”

“It’s not?”

Madge shrugged. “Well, it’s not like I ever thought he was, but it makes sense. Sara, your brother is built like a rock. His body is amazing. I could totally see him being Black Torrent.”

“Seriously, am I the only one who never considered he could be a crimefighter?” She grimaced. “I mean, I just thought he was a health nut.”

“Health nut?”

“Oh, totally. He’s so into fitness and health food. I’m afraid to eat a hot dog around him because I worry he’ll give me a lecture about hardening arteries.”

Madge giggled, then her face dropped. “Oh, my God, that’s why he didn’t want you to kiss him.”

Sara felt her face flush hot. “Exactly. And at the rate I was going, it was going to be more than a kiss. Talk about a Greek tragedy.”

Trevor toddled over to the women, raising his arms to be picked up. Sara scooped him into her lap.

“So, what now?” Madge asked.

“I think they want to show me their crimefighting stuff, and tell me about everything. Apparently, there’s a lot about the government and my dad that I don’t know.” She grabbed her friend’s hand. “Please don’t be upset at me. I’ve been having such a hard time with all of this. Part of me doesn’t even want it.”

“You can choose your friends, you can’t choose your family,” Madge reminded. “I’m sorry to be so sensitive. You’re just my best friend in the world. I want to know everything.”

“My dad was the original Black Torrent,” Sara blurted.

“What?” Madge gasped.

“I’m trying to tell you everything. Well, everything that I know.”

The women spent the next half hour talking, and Sara shared the details of what she had learned over the past few weeks. Though she was nervous about breaking her family’s confidence, she felt a great deal of relief finally getting it off her shoulders.

“You can’t tell a soul about any of this, Madge. Not even Johnny.”

“I swear, Sara. Honest.” The secretary let out a long sigh. “The only good thing is that maybe I’ll worry a little less knowing your brother’s out there to protect you.”

Black Torrent is my brother. The thought made Sara smile.

A knock came at the door. The knob turned and Michael peeked his head in.

“Oops, I’m sorry. It was open.” He stepped inside, shaking the rain water off his overcoat. “I think I’m early.”

Madge rose and pulled her son back onto her hip. “It’s okay. I was just leaving.” As she walked past him, she stopped briefly, studying his face. “Have a good time, Sara,” she called back to her friend. “Bye, Michael.”

As the door shut, the man raised an eyebrow. “What was that about?”

“Nothing,” Sara answered, careful to avoid his eyes. She gathered her overnight bag and purse.

Michael stopped his sister, forcing her to look at him. “You told her I’m Black Torrent, didn’t you?”

“Well—”

Her brother rolled his eyes. “See, this is why we didn’t tell you right away.”

“Oh, no, don’t make excuses. It wasn’t fair keeping it from me this long. Besides, I only told Madge because she’s like my sister. She’s known about Dark Flame from the beginning, and has helped me all of these months with my crimefighting. There are times I’d be dead if it wasn’t for her. I trust her more than I trust you.” Sara poked him in the chest. “And I trust you with my life.”

Grabbing her bags, Michael sighed and headed out the door. “Dad’s gonna kill us both.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael Bruce owned twelve cars, from small energy-efficient models to large SUVs. His top-pick was the Maserati, or “Torrent-Mobile” as Melody referred to it. For casual driving, however, he preferred his silver Lexus sedan, the car he had taken to pick up his sister.

Sara sat in the passenger’s seat, fiddling with a loose thread on her coat.

“You don’t have to be nervous,” he said. “It’s just going to be Dad, Ray, and Mel.”

“I know, but it’s all different now. I still feel stupid for not realizing it was you guys.”

“Nobody thinks you’re stupid. And honestly, despite how awkward it is, everyone’s happy we don’t need to pretend anymore.”

Michael took the outer drive. It added ten minutes to the trip, but he wanted the extra time alone with his sister. There was something he had been meaning to ask her.

“Why did you become the Dark Flame?”

Sara shifted in her seat, turning to face him a bit. “Well, I always loved superheroes, from the time I was a little girl. It’s kinda ironic that the Black Torrent was my favorite, all considering. Though, I guess he was a lot of kids’ hero.

“Anyhow, about a year ago, we took a young girl into the Home. There was an ugly court battle and social services wanted to place her somewhere safe until it was decided who she would live with. The mother eventually won custody. A few months later, the father kidnapped the daughter—pulled her out of school in the middle of the day without telling anyone. He had family in Pakistan and planned to leave with the girl for good. The mother had all of the evidence, but the police wouldn’t do anything. There were injunctions that were needed, court orders and all this legal wrangling. I was making calls, trying to get someone to help, but nobody would. The mother was distraught and knew she would never see her daughter again if he made it out of the country. I knew I had to do something. I really considered just going there and trying to talk to the guy, but I realized that would be too dangerous. So, I decided I would do it as a superhero. I got a black workout suit, and Madge drew flames on the chest with fabric paint. Back in college I dressed up as a punk rock girl for Halloween one year, so I had this funky red and pink wig. I put it all together and went out.”

Michael smiled to himself. When he had first encountered Dark Flame, she told him she was investigating a child-napping. Even from the beginning, Sara had been honest with him. “Did you get the girl?”

“Yes. It wasn’t easy, and I nearly got shot, but... yeah, I did.” She blushed. “After that, I never planned to do the superhero thing again, but every now and then, there would be other kids who needed help and everything was tied-up in red tape. So, I started going on out occasion, and it just kinda went from there.”

“Defender of the Children,” he said with admiration.

Sara waved her hand. “Oh, gosh. Some reporter gave me that name. It’s silly.”

“I dunno. I think it fits you well.”

Turning onto Jupiter Avenue, Michael slowed as he approached Crystal Towers. He turned into the back alley and onto the ramp that led below street level. The guard at the gate waved. “Hello, Mr. Bruce. Good afternoon, Miss Wolff.”

“Do I know him?” Sara asked once they had cleared the check-in.

“I don’t think so. But Dad already told all the staff about you. You have full access rights to either of the Towers now.”

“Really?” Her voice softened. “He trusts me with that?”

“We both do.” Turning the far corner, Michael headed for a large roll-up type door at the rear of the garage. It opened to reveal a secluded parking area filled with the various vehicles owned by him and his father.

“Private parking?” she asked.

“Semi-private. You’ll get to see the real private parking later.”

The siblings took the elevator to the 27th floor. Sara still appeared nervous, but she also started to look excited. Michael was happy. He had long waited for the day he could share the other side of his world with her.

As they exited the lift, Michael stopped just outside the penthouse door. “Oh, there was one other thing I wanted to ask you.”

“What’s that?”

He rubbed his jaw. “Where’d you learn to punch like that?”

The door to the penthouse opened, Yule standing right behind. “Sorry, I heard you guys outside. C’mon in.”

Michael grabbed his sister’s coat and headed to the hall closet, while Yule led her into the front room. Ravenswood and Melody were there, standing and smiling.

Sara shuffled her feet, avoiding the couple’s gaze. “I don’t know what to say.”

Walking up to the redhead, Melody hugged her. “It’s all pretty overwhelming, I’m sure.”

Michael returned to his sister’s side. “Dad thought it would be nice if we all had dinner first, just talk and relax. Then we can start the tour.”

“You’re lucky. Yule even cooked for you.”

“You cook, Dad?”

“He does everything,“ Melody droned.

Rolling his eyes, the patriarch of the clan grabbed his daughter’s arm. “I love to cook, actually. I hope you like Middle Eastern cuisine.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Sara pushed her plate away, wiping the corners of her mouth with the napkin. She hadn’t planned to eat so much, but her father’s food was amazing. She’d never heard of half the dishes, but that didn’t matter. There were both sweet and spicy creations, meat and vegetables, and an impressive array of decadent desserts. Each dish was more delicious than the next, and she found herself taking seconds of everything.

During dinner, Sara had asked the group to tell her the real story behind how they had discovered who she was. Ravenswood explained that he had been doing research for Michael years earlier and had stumbled upon her name. Later, during the Martin Bling and Rufus Thorn case, her name had come up again, and they had started to investigate her as a possible suspect. They didn’t expect to find a family connection, but when they did, it opened a Pandora’s box for all of them.

That story segued into the tale of how Michael and Ravenswood had met and become friends. The private eye recounted how he had been an alcoholic, and how Michael had helped him turn his life around.

“I spent six weeks in a recovery program. People ask me if I believe in hell, and I say, ‘yes, I went to rehab.’ It was the hardest thing I ever did, but Michael was always there for me, even when I wasn’t there for myself. Once I was clean, he farmed more work out my way. I started to get more familiar with the workings of the company, and realized how poor his security team was. I started coming in, helping them sort things out, and after a while he hired me on as head of the department. We’ve been working together ever since.”

Sara leaned heavily on her hand and smiled. “That’s so incredible. What started out as a simple case turned into a lifelong friendship. So, now you live in the building?”

“Uh-huh. Downstairs. When the Tower renovation project started, Michael wanted me to head security development. I moved on-site to supervise operations and to be close to the office. Of course, it also made our crimefighting work easier.”

“Is that when you became Overcast?”

Tossing his napkin on his empty plate, Yule shook his head. “I think that’s a story for another time. We really should start with the tour.” The elder man stood and extended his hand.

“What are we going to see?” she asked as he helped her up.

Everything.“ Michael motioned to the kitchen. “Through here.”

The group passed the main cooking area to a hallway that fed into a small room. It was filled with computer equipment and a phone. “This is the panic room,” Michael explained. “It allows full surveillance of the penthouse in the case of an intruder.”

“Or you want to spy on someone you think may be your sister,” Sara teased.

“The security for the whole tower can be operated from here if need be,” Ravenswood added. To illustrate, he flipped a few switches. Views of the downstairs lobby and elevator areas filled the screens.

Her brother led the group across the hall. Next to a small laundry area, was a narrow stairway to the second level.

“This is technically the servant’s corridor,” Yule explained. “But we don’t have any staff. Only a cleaning lady who comes in twice a week.”

“Aren’t you afraid the maid will stumble onto something?” Sara asked.

“That’s always a risk. Certain areas are always off-limits. We did catch a woman on tape trying to pick one of the locked doors; she was fired immediately. To discourage that from happening again, we pay a premium—about double what someone would normally make for doing this kind of work. The idea of losing such a high-paying job has been a good deterrent.”

The second level looked like an ordinary home, with five bedrooms, Michael’s private office, and an entertainment room. Each of the men’s bedrooms sported a computer area that could access the home-network, building security, as well as a special crime-fighting database. They could coordinate with each other, as well as a special network they had established with the police force. Sara was more than impressed.

“This is your room,” Michael said, opening a door across the hall from his. He quickly added, “I mean, tonight, when you stay over. Or if you ever need a place to stay.”

Sara peeked in. The room was decorated in cool teal and mint green—two of her favorite colors. There was a floral bedspread and window coverings, and snow white furniture. It was quite lovely, far different in styling from the other rooms. There was also the faintest smell of new paint in the air.

They set this up for me, she thought, not quite sure how she felt about it. She smiled and pushed on, heading for the staircase that led back down to the main level.

The tour of the lower level was a little less dramatic, but impressive nonetheless. There was a stop at the small sauna and workout area, then an array of other rooms and closets. Sara started to lose track of it all.

“This is really a mansion in the sky,” she commented to Melody.

The last stop was Yule’s study. It was a large library with dark oak walls and built-in bookshelves on all sides. A grand fireplace was centered on the main wall. There was a desk and office area, as well as separate seating in the center. For some reason this room struck her the most. As a child she had dreamt of her biological father being in such a room, smoking a pipe. Even though the study, and her father for that matter, were far different than what she had imagined, it still felt like stepping into a fairy tale.

Sinking down onto the brown leather couch, Sara shook her head in amazement. “I honestly don’t know what to say. There’s just so much to see, and you have everything tied-in to your crimefighting. No wonder you’re so good at it.”

The members of the team exchanged glances. Michael then held out his hand. “This isn’t everything.” He helped her out of her seat again. “We’re just getting to the good stuff.”

The group led her back to the living room and towards the large picture window at the rear. Michael motioned to the last bookcase off to the right. “Point your finger.”

“Why?”

Melody giggled.

Doing as told, Michael grabbed Sara’s wrist and pulled it inside the open section of the middle shelf. She could see a small metal pad on the back, and as her brother pressed her finger onto it, a small green light flashed and the whole bookcase swivellied inward. Beyond was an elevator and a stairwell.

“How did you—?”

“It’s fingerprint activated,” he said with pride. “I pulled one of your prints off of a glass last week and programmed it in.”

“Michael!” she cried.

His face flushed red. “I’m sorry. I knew you’d be here, and—”

Yule placed his hand gently on her back. “You’re a part of the family, now, Sara. C’mon, go in.”

The patriarch pressed the button on the elevator and motioned for her to wait. Melody stood with them. Ravenswood and Michael took the stairs down.

“Where are we going?” she whispered to the blonde-headed woman.

“The Control Center.”

 

Michael hurried ahead. It was silly, but he wanted to see his sister’s reaction when she entered the room. Ravenswood had been a part of the creation of the Control Center, so until then, the only person who had ever been brought who wasn’t “in the know” had been Melody. But Ravenswood had already given her some of the details about it, and her reaction had been low-key. Michael wanted to see what Sara would think, un-aware of what she was getting into.

The elevator bell sounded and the doors opened. Yule stepped in first. Sara eyes widened as she scanned the expansive room, her mouth gaping in awe.

“Welcome to Wonderland, Alice.”

“This is the Control Center?”

Michael nodded. “This is where we head our superhero operations. It’s basically the penthouse basement. We keep most of it open deliberately, since Dad didn’t want there to be a situation where someone could come in and spy on us. We use simple office cubicle walls to segregate the areas.”

He took a few steps towards the collection of monitors, processors, and keyboards. “Over here is the computer center. We can have a dozen computers running different operations. We can access most major networks, monitor television and radio frequencies, surf the internet, as well as tap into our own internal crime databases.” He pointed to the large conference table a few feet away. “There is where we meet and discuss cases. We have a projection system, as well as hook-ups so that our personal computers can tap into the network.”

Nearby, several curtain-covered privacy screens surrounded a medical table, cabinet, and small hospital bed. “This is our clinic,” Ravenswood explained. “Your dad is skilled in military medicine and can do minor battlefield operations. In case of a critical injury, we’d most likely have to utilize a hospital, but we’ve been lucky not to have had that happen yet.”

Sara strolled over to a nearby wall, peeking behind to see a series of scientific equipment. “A lab?”

Yule nodded. “We can do most simple analysis here. Blood typing, fingerprinting, initial DNA stringing. Stuff like that.” He placed his hand on his daughter’s arm. “Are we going too fast? Is it too much?”

“Honestly? Yes. But I want to see it all.”

“Okay.” The elder man pointed to an open area with an array of exercise and body-building equipment, beyond that she could see a hot tub. “Over there is our work-out facility. Since we’re a little cramped here, any combat and martial arts training is done at my studio.”

“I thought you’d have the jacuzzi upstairs,” Sara asked Michael, giving him a small nudge with her elbow.

He blushed. “It’s therapeutic. It’s for nursing sore muscles and relaxing after raids.”

The group moved on to the small armory filled with a variety of weaponry and tools. There was also a workshop where Yule created the team’s gizmos and gadgets, a skill he had developed during his years alone in the desert.

Back near the entrance, there was a room filled were a series of pressurized glass tubes and various clothing racks. “This is our uniform storage area. It’s climate controlled to provide maximum protection.”

Sara peered into the chamber that held the Torrent outfits. “Three, four, five, six, seven. You have seven copies of your uniform?”

Michael opened the door, pulling out two of the suits. “We have a range of costumes. There’s heavy and lightweight versions for warm and colder weather. We have ones with body armor for high-risk situations. We also have uniforms constructed with various materials to provide different levels of support and safety.”

Heading back to the elevator, the group travelled to the lower level garage which housed nearly twenty vehicles for use in their crimefighting.

“This is my car,” Ravenswood said with a proud grin. “It’s an American Rambler. I’ve had it since I was in college. It was broken down and barely worked when I met Michael, but I loved it too much to get rid of it. A few years ago, he had it totally re-fitted and super-charged. It’s probably as powerful as the Maserati now. I used to use it as my regular car, but we decided it would be more helpful as a crimefighting vehicle. I drive a sedan now, but my heart is still with my Rambler.”

“What do you drive?” Sara asked Melody.

The blonde pointed to a small red sports car in the corner. “That one.”

Sara’s eyes moved to the opposite corner, and Michael had to keep from smiling as her gaze fell upon the motorcycle.

“Who drives that?” she asked.

“You do.” It was a three-wheel, fully enclosed motorcycle. Michael had seen similar models years earlier at an auto show, and noted them for possible future use in his crimefighting. After learning the Dark Flame was his sister, he had commissioned a special model from the manufacturer. He had been waiting for the day when all the secrets were revealed in order to give it to her.

Sara ran her finger along the lines of the motorcycle, then burst into tears.

Yule moved to her side, pulling her close. “C’mon, everyone. I think we’re finished.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Team Torrent led Sara back up to the Control Center. Once everyone was seated at the conference table, she closed her eyes and tried to compose herself. “I just feel so unworthy,” she explained. “I feel like this little girl who plays dress-up as a superhero, then suddenly she’s with real heroes and afraid they’re all going to discover what a fraud she is.” She pointed to Yule. “I mean, you’re Matthew Bruce, this decorated soldier, this amazing business-man. And you’re Michael Bruce, this rich, powerful, real estate tycoon.”

“And I’m Ravenswood Cadavre, an ex-alcoholic detective.”

“And I’m Melody Krol, a waitress at my father’s coffee house.”

Yule smiled at his daughter. “Being a superhero isn’t about social status or bank account size. It’s about wanting to help others.”

Her fingers began to tremble. “But, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you all.”

Michael knelt down next to his sister. “You’re always telling me how amazing you think I am, and about how awed you are of everything I’ve done. What you don’t realize is that I... we... feel the same way about you.”

Before Sara could respond, there was a buzzing and Michael pulled out his cell phone.

“Another inopportune cellphone call,” Sara said with a roll of her eyes.

Turning the device to face her, Michael revealed the lines of information scrolling across the screen. Several feet away on the control console, the same information flashed on one of the monitors. “We have a tie-in to the Gale City Dispatch Center. Filters in news of current crime situations.”

“Plus, the police have a special text channel they can use to get messages to us,” Yule added. “We instituted it when the light at the top of The Gale Insurance Building just wasn’t cutting it.”

“But they still use the light,” Melody added. “Because sometimes we have to be away from technology.”

“Ohhh. That explains a lot.”

Yule walked over to the terminal. “Looks like a hostage situation at a bar. They’re saying it started out as a domestic dispute, but four people are trapped inside.”

“I’m suiting up,” Melody said with an excited smile. She darted to the costume area. Ravenswood gave a small nod to Sara and followed his girlfriend.

“You wanna come?” Michael asked softly.

“I don’t have my costume,” she said. “And besides, I’m sure you guys can handle it. I think I just want a little more time to let this all sink in.”

Squeezing her hand, Michael dashed back to the suiting area. Yule followed.

Sitting alone for a few minute, Sara then headed back up the main penthouse. Melody was there, dressed as Zephyra. Her long blonde wig was gone, revealing her natural golden bob. She fiddled inside her purse. “Can’t forget my keys.”

Sara pointed to the door next to the secret bookcase. “What’s in there?”

“Oh, that leads up to the rooftop garden. It’s probably a bit cold, but you should go and have a look. It’s really pretty. See you later.”

“Be safe,” she called as the woman disappeared into the elevator. Tip-toeing up to the door, she slowly ascended the two flights of stairs. A gust of wind hit her as she stepped onto the soft padding of the roof. It was a synthetic material, but was colored to look like real grass. A variety of trees and plants were scattered around in pots and boxes.

“Oh, my gosh,” she whispered, staring out at the skyline beyond.

A sound came from behind and she turned to see her father. Their sizes were so unequal, and she looked like a little girl when she was stood next to him. It was okay, though, because she felt like a little girl in many ways.

“The view is incredible,” she said, turning back towards the city. “Did you always live here?”

“No. When I first came back, I lived at the karate studio. Michael was renting an apartment down on Janus Avenue. He didn’t believe in living in his own properties back then. Eventually, it just became more practical for both of us to be here. Because of the renovation, we were able to retrofit the top floors into our home and crimefighting areas.”

“And this?” she said with a motion of her hand.

“Michael insisted on putting in this garden. Cost an arm and a leg, but he thought it was important. As much as I was skeptical about it at first, I have to admit that both of us like having this little refuge.” He glanced at his daughter, noticing the goosebumps on her arms. “But not when it’s thirty degrees. C’mon, let’s go back in. I don’t want you getting pneumonia.”

Sara stood firm, her eyes locking on her father’s. “What was my mother like?”

Yule glanced down and Sara could see pain flash across his features. “She was the most incredible woman I have ever known. You’re like her in so many ways. Brave, kind, compassionate, and strong.”

“I’m not strong. I just pretend to be.” Sara squared her shoulders. “I want you to tell me how you became the Black Torrent. I want you to tell me about my mother, about your relationship, and about what happened in Switzerland. I want... I need... to know everything.”

The man closed his eyes and nodded. “You deserve that.” Taking her hand, he motioned his head towards the door. “Why don’t we go back down to my study. I think we’re both going to need a drink.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It was nearly 2 a.m. when Michael made it back to the penthouse. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. He could see Sara curled up in a ball on the couch. Her arms were wrapped around herself and she shivered slightly.

Moving to the front hallway, he pulled a couple of flannel blankets from the shelf and draped them over her.

“How’d it go?” a voice asked from across the room.

Michael looked up to see his father enter from his study. “It got ugly at the end, but we managed to get the hostages out unharmed.”

“Good.” Yule approached and regarded his daughter. “I still can’t get over how much she looks like Maggie. I told her about the chateau tonight, about how everything started.”

“How’d she take it?”

“Better than I expected. She was obviously upset, but I think it helped her to know the truth.” He rubbed his chin. “You know, I think we overdid it tonight. Here I was, all upset that you were pushing me too fast to connect with her, and then we go and do the same thing. I think it was too much, too soon.”

Michael had been so excited to introduce Sara to his world, he didn’t consider that it might be better if she eased into it. “I guess you’re right. The motorcycle and the bedroom—”

“I don’t think the fingerprint pad helped matters, either.”

Michael scratched at the back of his neck. “Yeah, that was a bit of overkill.”

“Just a little.” Sara’s eyes fluttered open and she smiled.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s okay. I was trying to wait up for you.” Sara sat up, pulling her legs to her chest. The men sat down next to her. “I think we’re all going to need some time to get used to this.” The redhead took each of the men’s hands within her own. “But I’m glad we’re together now, so that we can start trying.”

“I’m just happy we don’t have to worry about all of those secrets anymore.”

Yule nodded. “And as long as no one else is brought into the circle, we shouldn’t have any problems.”

Michael glanced at his sister and could see her flinch. He averted his eyes, knowing Yule might catch his gaze and read something into it. But it was too late, he had already caught her reaction.

“You told somebody?”

Sara looked scared, but forced a smile. “Um, well, not really, but...”

Yule took a deep breath, and Michael could tell he was struggling to remain calm. “Who did you tell?” he asked.

“My sister,” she squeaked.

“You have a sister?”

“No, my friend, Madge. But she’s like my sister.” Sara clenched her hands. “I swear, she won’t tell anyone about anything. She’s totally trustworthy.”

Taking another deep breath, this time Yule held it for a few seconds before he exhaled slowly. “What did you tell her?”

“Well, um...”

The man rose, flipped on the light, and headed to the kitchen. “I’m going to put on a pot of coffee. I think we’re going to be up for a while.”

As their father disappeared into the other room, Sara hid her face in her hands.

“Told you,” Michael whispered.

“I’m dead, aren’t I?”

“Just a little,” he answered, then added, “Welcome to the family.”

Peeking through her fingers, Sara groaned. “Thanks a lot.”