Chapter Twenty-Six

"Where was she?" Mac asked Felicia later that night after Mariah had gone off to bed. "I'm not buying the business about shopping for several hours in the mall. Hell, she was gone all night and half of today. Where was she?"

"I don't know," Felicia answered, a bit impatiently. "I asked her and you heard what she said. She was shopping and by the time she realized how late it was, she decided to go a hotel instead of calling me."

"And you bought that?"

"Of course not, but I'm not going to call my grandmother a liar to her face." Felicia shrugged. "Still, this isn't like her. She'd know how much I would worry."

"I had someone check the hotel records and she was there," Mac admitted.

"Mac, she's old. Maybe she's getting a know....senile?"

"Anything is possible," Mac commented, wishing that he could believe that explanation. "Just let me know if she starts acting weird or anything."

"Mac!" Felicia chided. "People getting old doesn't mean they're getting weird."

"Maybe not, but people getting weird is definitely getting old."

Luke watched from a distance as Stefan climbed out of his automobile and headed into the Cassadine country home. One of many, Luke was certain. He knew of the Cassadine compound on Spoon Island, and on their island off the coast of Greece, having broken into both of them in the past. This one, however, was relatively new. It had been purchased back when Kat Bell had been ill, though Stefan had acted as though it had been in the family for years. Only careful probing had revealed the actual date of the purchase, and more careful probing had revealed the fact that a few hidden rooms had been built since then. Sadly, it seemed, the workmen who had done the building had perished tragically within weeks of an accident, but not before one had spilled the beans about the rooms to his former girlfriend who had blabbed to someone else before the girlfriend had blacked out behind the wheel of her car and joined her former lover in the grave. Odd how things seemed to happen to people connected to the Cassadines.

Luke adjusted his binoculars and scratched at the white wig on his head. His well worn copies of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers in one pocket of his safari jacket and Roger Tory Peterson's A Field Guide To The Birds, in another, he was ready to answer questions if asked. Thank heavens for used book stores!

Still, he thought as he deliberately limped into Cassadine territory, one had to be prepared for any eventuality. The gun strapped to his lower back might come in handy as might the knife in the sheath at his side.

Luke waited impatiently until Stefan exited the house and pulled away before making his entrance. Fortunately, he decided, it was good that Cassadines were basically paranoid types. At least they were predictable in their efforts to secure their privacy. Their security systems were similar from one estate to another. In moments, he was in.

"Mama?" Lulu smiled, holding out her arms. Laura reached down and picked up her little girl, recalling the times she'd done that with Lucky. For a second, tears came to her eyes, but this time, she blinked them back. Her son was alive, she thought. Stefan knew it and he was manipulating her. She'd turned this idea over in her mind ever since she'd found him on her porch a couple of days ago, twisting the facts this way and that, until she'd come to the conclusion that very little was as it seemed.

And, she was more than likely under continual surveillance. Her house was probably bugged. Any conversation she had with anybody within the confines of this house was probably recorded, monitored. Somebody knew her every word, her every entrance and exit, and her every action within the house.

Turning, Laura looked back at the home she'd bought, furnished and cherished, the home in which she and her small family had once been happy, and saw it with new eyes.

"I'm starting to sound like Luke," she almost whispered to Lulu, but caught herself quickly. Lulu was talking now, repeating word for word things that she heard. Instead, she put the child down, watching as Lulu ran to the swing-set.

For a few minutes, Laura watched as Lulu went back and forth, using her legs to go higher and higher. The child was fearless on the swings, giggling and laughing out loud, much like Lucky had been. So, where was he now? Laura wondered. Where was her son now, and, if her suspicions were correct, whose son had died to maintain the illusion that hers had perished? Whose life had been snuffed out so that a Cassadine plot could be furthered? What was the endgame? What was it that some Cassadine really wanted? That Stefan was involved was no longer in doubt in Laura's mind. She'd seen it in his eyes, heard it in his eager voice.

Thinking back, Laura recalled the time when Stefan had told her that he'd intended to return Lesley Webber to Laura as a wedding present. Was this his plan with Lucky? To demonstrate his good will by 'finding' Lucky and returning him to his mother's arms? Was Stefan so cruel? There was a time when she'd have sworn that Stefan could not be like his mother, when she'd believed that he was the only decent Cassadine in his twisted family, that the entire sum of the Cassadine goodness rested in his heart. Well, maybe it did, but there was precious little there.

"Why didn't I listen to Luke?" she whispered aloud. "Why didn't I see what was happening? Why?"

And then the truth was there. "Because I was afraid. I've been afraid for nearly all of my life. I've accepted all that's happened to me and loved in spite of it because it was easier to give love than demand justice. No, make that easier to give in than demand justice. I do not love Stefan. I do not love a man who would use those dearest to my heart against me."

As truth after truth flooded Laura's mind, a rage began to build within her. She thought of the years she'd spent running, the years she'd spent lying to Luke, a man who had once wronged her but who had spent the rest of his life trying to right that wrong, a man who would have died to save her. She thought of her mother, a woman whom Laura had wronged, who had taken her place in prison until memory and conscience had forced Laura to make the right choices. She thought of Stavros, the son of Helena, both of whom were warped, twisted souls who would have to answer to a higher power. Stavros was dead, but Helena lived, her life an insult to anything that was good.

"It ends now," she swore, looking at her little daughter. "Whatever comes, whatever it takes, the Cassadine hold over me and my family is over."

Lulu smiled at her mother and pumped herself still higher in the swing. The child's infectious laughter freed something in Laura's soul, something that had longed to soar, something that she'd never even known was within her. That something was strength. Courage.

She was going to need it.

"Tom Hardy? Dr. Tom Hardy?"

Robin could hardly believe her eyes.

"Robin Scorpio?" Tom Hardy could scarcely believe his eyes. Anna's lovely daughter was now a stunning young woman, and working for Zandor and the WSB.

"What are you doing here?" Robin asked.

"I summoned him," Zandor answered from behind her. "Tom, good to see you again." They shook hands and Zandor explained. "Tom worked with your mother several years ago when she was battling Faison's mind control influence over her."

"Is this about Felicia?" Robin guessed.

"There's something wrong with her?" Tom asked, suddenly. He recalled her with more than a little fondness, more than a little longing. Their affair had been heated and passionate, but circumstances had pulled them apart, circumstances that Tom had been unable to escape.

"Somebody is playing head games with her. Selective amnesia type games. You know her well, and have experience treating such cases."

"You want me to treat her?"

"Not yet," Zandor answered. "Though it will probably come to that. Right now, I want to know what you know about mind control." He smiled that predatory smile that Robin had come to recognize. "I'm aware that you have been involved in experiments along those lines in the last few years, that you have made great strides in helping people who have fallen afoul of those who would use them against their wills."

Tom nodded warily. "I thought my work was top secret."

"Not any more," Zandor answered. "Though not to go beyond this room at present." He stared into Tom's eyes and said, "I believe that for the last few years, you have been treating one Anna Devane Scorpio."