Written in 40 minutes.
Port Charles, New York, was one of those kinds of cities whose residents thought of themselves as living in a small town with a lot of people.
Located on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario, the city did a great deal of bustling trade and saw tourists passing through into Canada. Nearly fifty thousand people lived inside the city limits proper, and another twenty scattered throughout the suburbs.
And only one highway that ran through the entire city—Highway 51. Whether you were entering east or west, you took 51 in and out. And no one generally came in from the south. In or out, one way.
And now, sitting in her busted and smoking 1996 Dodge Plymouth Breeze with its rusted vomit-green paint, Elizabeth Webber remembered why.
This area was rural, the cell phone towers were almost non existent, and no one apparently drove around here for hours at a time.
She twisted in her seat to find her three-year-old son blearily rubbing his eyes. “Baby?”
“Don’t wanna sit here anymore.”
“I know, Cam.” She sighed and faced forward again, staring at the empty road and the vast swathes and wheat fields on either side. Jesus, you’d think she was somewhere in the middle of Kansas and not upstate New York.
Her cell signal had been dim at best and she’d left a message with the mechanic recommended by a Google Search. An hour ago. Her gas was running low and the air conditioning in her car wasn’t more than a dim breeze at best.
She should have stayed in Ohio. Or Oregon. Or Idaho. Or any of the hundred places she had lived in the last seven years since she’d left home.
“You can’t go home again,” she murmured. “There’s a reason for that.”
His voice was doing that wind up whine that she dreaded. Once Cameron hit that point—once he slid over the edge between cranky and temper, calming him down took more than just hugs and kisses.
And after hours of driving, she wasn’t sure she had the energy.
Though she had hadn’t had a great deal of energy since the week before when she had woken up, washed her hands…
And saw the pentagram on the inside of her palm.
She looked at it now, the small purplish birthmark with which she had been born. All women in her family were born with the mark, and most were lucky if it disappeared in the first five years. Hers had. So had her cousins.
And when it went away, you were allowed to live your life. To breathe. To be free.
If it stayed…well there wasn’t much point in doing any of that.
Her mark had faded by her fifth birthday, but here it was, twenty years later as bright as she had ever remembered it.
So she’d come home to Port Charles.
A blur appeared on the horizon—and then it crystallized into a truck. As it drew closer, she could see the swinging tow hook. The driver pulled to a stop and then spent a good five minutes reversing and arranging his car until he had pulled in front of her.
“I’m going to talk to the tow guy, Cam, k?” She pushed open her door, grimaced as it swung right back at her.
In front of her, a broad-chested man with sandy blond hair cut short stepped out of the truck. He wore a pair of dark blue jeans and a gray uniform shirt, a name patch in white stitched across his left shoulder. She couldn’t read the name from here.
She finally managed to get out of the car. “Hey. From Morgan’s Auto?”
“Yeah. Sorry about the delay.” He approached her, a hand extended. His mouth was unsmiling but his blue eyes were friendly, and something about the lack of a friendly, insincere smile set her at ease. “I don’t normally open on Sundays, but—”
Which meant there’d be extra charges. “Oh. I’m sorry. The web site was—” She managed an irritated laugh. “I didn’t even look at the hours. I’m…” She gestured back at the car where Cameron’s booster seat was visible in the back seat. “With my son.”
“I figured I’d come out and make sure you were okay. Jason Morgan.”
“Elizabeth Webber.” She shook his hand, ignored the tingle, and took her hand back quickly. He was cute—okay, hot, she admitted—but she didn’t have the patience for her…gift to assert itself at the moment.
“We were driving—plenty of gas. And then I couldn’t steer. It started to smoke, so I pulled over.” She pressed the button to open the hood, and he disappeared underneath.
Elizabeth unstrapped Cameron and lifted him out of the car. “Hey, want something from the cooler?”
“No.” He laid his head on her shoulder and looked ahead. “That’s a truck, Mommy.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“It looks like Mater.”
“I like Mater.”
“I know you do.”
“Where’s my Mater truck?”
“Somewhere in your bag, sweetie.” Elizabeth rocked him slowly, relieved that the cranky whine was gone. Trucks always distracted him.
“Alternator belt is busted.” Jason stepped back from under the hood, wiping his hands on a rag he had pulled from his back pocket. “I’m going to need to tow it into town.”
All of the energy slid out of her at that statement. She didn’t want any of this. She didn’t want to be back.
She didn’t want this mark on her palm telling her how little future she had left. She didn’t want to call her cousins. Not like this.
After a moment, Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Okay. I, ah, I don’t—” She tried to think how long it would take for someone to pick her up, but she hadn’t talked to her family in so long. “No one is…it’s a surprise I’m coming, so I don’t know…”
“Okay.” He studied her for a long moment and she looked away, uncomfortable with his direct gaze. “Why don’t I drive you into town? You and your son. I’m downtown, near the hospital.”
The hospital. That was lucky.
And yet..she hesitated.
Cameron lifted his head to peer at Jason. “You a man.”
“Yes, I am,” Jason responded simply as if it weren’t a silly question asked by a tired toddler.
“Don’t like man,” he mumbled. “Man mean.”
Her stomach twisted as she met and then looked away from Jason’s understanding eyes. She didn’t want to be understood.
She wanted to get rid of the mark and get on her with her life.
“I’m sorry,” Jason said, directing his words to the little boy.
Cameron frowned at him, as if confused by the somber tone. “You not mad.”
“Why would I be?”
“I appreciate the offer,” Elizabeth jumped in before Cameron could tell him why exactly kindness from men was such an rarity. “I’m just…I’m not sure how long before my cousins could come get us.”
“I get it.” He waited a moment. “Your car isn’t drivable, Ms. Webber. I can take it into my place. We can wait for your cousins—”
“Can we drive in Mater?” Cameron interrupted.
Jason turned and squinted at his truck before looking back at Cameron. But he didn’t answer the boy—seemed to understand that Elizabeth might still say no and any promise to the little boy would only exacerbate the situation.
“We can drive in Mater,” Elizabeth said. She thought he was a safe, good man, but she’d never been able to read her gift all that well.
Still, maybe it was better now. More accurate now that the mark was better.
Jason helped Elizabeth arrange the booster seat in the backseat of his pickup truck, and then he stowed a few of her bags in the backseat. While Elizabeth was strapping in Cameron, he hooked up her car.
Ten minutes later, they were on their way into Port Charles.
“You said you have family here?” Jason asked.
“Yeah. Um, cousins. Some aunts and uncles.” She glanced at him. “Did you grow up here?”
“Yeah. Port Charles High. Graduated…” He squinted. “Ten years ago.”
“I went to St. Andrews. Seven years since I graduated. Um, how far from the hospital are you? My cousin works there—”
“About two blocks. My sister is a resident there. Emily Morgan, maybe she knows—”
That’s why the name had leapt off the Google results, and relief spread through her. “My cousin is Robin Scorpio. She’s mentioned your sister.”
“Okay, yeah. Robin. That means Nadine is—”
“Also my cousin.” And the bane of her existence. She had never seen eye to eye with the flighty woman. Had been happy to leave her in the dust seven years ago.
“They don’t know you’re coming?”
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Elizabeth murmured.
And then they crossed the city limits, past the “Welcome to Port Charles!” sign.
The blue June skies exploded into dark angry thunderclouds and three quick flashes of lightening.
And then it was gone. The blue skies returned.
Jason slammed on his brakes. “Did you see that?”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “Yeah.”
So much for a surprise.