Shadow finds herself a single mother, although not by choice, due to Ghost’s absence. Walking the thin line between love and hate, Shadow vows that if—or when—Ghost returns, she will make him pay for disappearing in the first place.
Shadow fears for the future. The world’s climate is unexpectedly changing. Raz is educating her in the ways of magic. The more she knows, the greater her healing abilities will become—she hopes.
On top of all of that, Shadow’s misplaced trust in a man she considers a friend may just shatter her. Will she be able to pick up the pieces, handle being a single mother, and heal the world?
The sensors relayed a weight change. 001 enabled the shaft, and the pulleys slowly dropped the small lift to the bottom chamber. The once sealed doors squealed against their locks and opened. The computer extended a sensory probe through the doors. It detected soft flesh and withdrew.
Then a mechanical arm firmly, but gently, grasped the body on the floor. 001 lowered the hospital table from the ceiling and placed the body on it. The arm receded as a medical cover slid into place, diagnosed the situation, and informed 001. The computer guided a laser into place and set the pitch to shatter the first tiny metal cylinder embedded in the body. The magnetic device moved into position and removed the tiny fragments.
After mimicking the procedure with the second cylinder, 001 reactivated the medical cover and programmed an intravenous line.
Its system replicated an identical blood type, began a slow transfusion, and activated a thermal identification scan. After running a comparison of all known data and finding a match, 001 flashed the information it found on a monitor. The medical cover alerted the computer that the body was near maximum blood capacity. 001 ended the transfusion, induced a medical coma, and continuously monitored it.
* * * *
Raz took Shadow’s other hand. I wish I could do something for the pain, but it’ll only interfere with the birthing process.
Cowboy shifted her legs. “Push.”
Shadow bore down, a groan escaping her tightened throat. She clenched her teeth and, not waiting for any instruction, pushed again. Seemingly trusting an age-old instinct, she relaxed and, within seconds, bore down again.
Cowboy placed his hand under the tiny head as it crowned, and the baby was delivered quickly into his waiting hands. He grabbed the sterile linen beside her leg and wrapped the tiny infant. “Welcome to the world, little man.”
Before Shadow could greet her son, she gripped Raz’s and Dodger’s hands and bore down again.
Clearly startled, Cowboy quickly but gently laid the infant on the bed beside her and slipped his hand under the second tiny head emerging unannounced into the world.
Shadow lay back on the pillow and closed her eyes.
Cowboy wrapped the second baby in another sterile linen and looked around, surprise written on his face. “Care to welcome this little lady, too?”
Filled with a mix of pride and sorrow, Raz gently stroked her head. “You’re the mother of December twins.”
Shadow whispered, “I wish Ghost were here.”
“We’ll talk about that later.” He smiled warmly. “Right now, you have two nurslings to take care of.”
Dodger and Cowboy cleaned and swaddled the infants, then placed them next to her. Then they started cleaning up the birthing room and placed fresh sheets on the bed.
Shadow shifted to her side and lightly caressed each infant cheek. “Daddy will be home soon. Wait until he sees you.”
Dodger touched her shoulder. “If you need anything, call. We’ll be in the living room.”
The men briefly watched her coddle her daughter and press her son to her breast, then left her alone with the newborns as they went to the living room.
“We can’t hide it forever.” Dodger frowned.
“Who’s going to break the news to her?” Raz asked.
Cowboy eyed them. “Am I’m missing something?”
“When Raz left to answer the computer, it was from a contact in town who saw Ghost get shot. He followed the hitter until he lost the trail. After he gave up, our contact returned to the scene and followed Ghost’s blood trail but didn’t find a body.” Dodger shook his head. “How do we tell her?”
“Are you sure he’s dead?”
Raz hated to admit it. “Even if he wasn’t, he might not be able to get help. She’ll worry herself sick when he doesn’t come back.”
“He was supposed to be back within two hours.” Dodger glanced at his watch. “That was eight hours ago.”
“Either we tell her, or I change into his form, and we pretend for the next century or so. It means casting every eight hours, and that’s exhausting. Besides, she deserves the truth. I don’t like being dishonest.”
“I’m not saying lie to her. I’m saying we should wait awhile before breaking the news.”
* * * *
Their voices were rising. Shadow pulled on her robe, secured the babies, and headed for the living room. She stepped into the room after overhearing the end of their conversation. “What news?” She moved to stand before them. “Tell me.”
“Where are the babies?” Cowboy asked.
“I placed them in the middle of the bed and surrounded them with the comforter and pillows. No harm will come to them. I’m waiting.”
Raz dropped his face into his hands and sighed heavily.
“Come here.” Dodger patted the cushion beside him on the couch.
Shadow searched his face as she sat down and slowly shook her head. “I know you’re not going to tell me what I’m reading in your eyes.” She closed her eyes. “Don’t say—”
He pulled her close. “I’m sorry.”
She clutched him desperately. “You’re wrong. It can’t be.” She burst into tears and buried her face against his chest.
Dodger pulled her into his lap and cuddled her. “He wasn’t found, and we can only presume the worst.”
Shadow pulled back and pounded his chest, the blows gradually weakening. “No. I refuse to believe you. You’re lying to me.”
He gently grabbed her flailing wrists. “Shadow.”
She froze, startled by his commanding tone, and searched his face, his eyes, for anything that would contradict his words. She found nothing. Darkness embraced her.
* * * *
Dodger cursed under his breath as she crumpled against him. He shifted her in his arms, carried her to the bed, and laid her at the foot of it, away from the newborns.
Raz joined them in her bedroom. “It was more than she could take, and she’s exhausted from the birth process.”
Cowboy checked on her. “She’ll be okay, but I recommend we find a surrogate nurse to help her with the twins.”
“I’m on it.” Raz headed to the computer. Minutes later, he poked his head in the door. “Fixer will be here soon, and he’s bringing the black bike and gear for us.” He left.
Cowboy nodded as Raz left the room. “She’s a strong woman. She’ll be fine.”
Dodger looked at him. “I should have gone with him.”
“And you’d be missing, too. What then?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered, his voice straining.
“All we can do is be here for her and help her through this.” Cowboy left the new mother and her infants.
Dodger stroked her forehead. “I’m sorry, Shadow. So sorry.” He watched her sleep for over an hour, looking up only as Fixer peeked through the open door.