Prologue

"Look, John," Amanda Petes told her husband, glancing at him in tired exasperation, "you've got to take Amy to her track practice this week, I've got a presentation on Thursday that I need to give. I took her yesterday, and I also took her to the dance practice on Monday."

John grunted unhappily, but Amanda knew he'd do what was needed. Their daughter, Amy, pretended they weren't in the car, dismissing their presence as only a teenager can do to her parents. She was always more difficult when they brought her back from her father's, and when she gave him attitude, John tended to stop speaking to her, so Amanda was left holding the conversation on her own.

Amanda was about to discuss Amy's weekend plans—like most teenagers, she had a busy schedule and expected her parents to ferry her everywhere she needed to go—but Amanda lost her focus as her mind began to wander.

There was something happening. She didn't know what it was, but something was different. And it wasn't just odd, she felt that it was something that she needed to be aware of, something important. She glanced at the cars beside her, then by the side of the road but couldn't notice anything unusual, but she couldn't shake this feeling she had. Then, somehow, her eyes were drawn to the car ahead of them.

It was a non-descript white 4-door passenger vehicle, definitely several years old though it looked well cared for. There was nothing special about it, but she was drawn to it like a moth to a flame, and she couldn't figure out why. No matter what John or Amy said or asked her, her eyes kept being drawn back to it, checking it out. There was no accounting for why it would captivate her so, but there was just something about it that wouldn't leave her alone.

Amanda wanted to tell her husband to edge closer to the car, but didn't know how to ask him, since it would involve having to explain herself, which she couldn't do at the moment.

As traffic eased John eased their van into the faster left-hand lane, and she could now see a little more of the vehicle in question. It seemed to be a family of four with two adults in the front and two young adults or teenagers in the back.

She was busy trying to pick out every detail of the car, trying to figure out what was so special about it, when she realized it wasn't the car that was so special; it was the young man on the far side, someone she could barely make out. It fact, she wasn't even sure it was a young man; just that he/she seemed to be young. Amanda wondered what it was about the person that kept...

"Are you even paying attention, Mom?" Amy demanded from the back seat, breaking Amanda's train of thought.

"Huh, what?" she asked, shifting her gaze from the car ahead to glance back at her daughter.

"She's got a point," John told her, "your mind is definitely drifting. What's going on?"

"Oh, nothing, I was just thinking about the coming week," she lied, trying hard to keep from glancing forward again, yet knowing it was only a matter of time before she would.

Amy leaned forward, closely watching her mother. Amanda tried to ignore the close scrutiny, but she found it disconcerting, and as much as she tried to resist it, she couldn't help but glace over once again, trying to see where the other car was again.

"She keeps looking at that old car ahead of us," Amy announced, confused why her mother—who'd been busy making arrangements for the coming week—had suddenly disappeared into never-never land.

"Is that it Amanda?" Her husband asked. "Is that what keeps distracting you? You do seem to keep staring off in that direction and losing your train of thought."

She resisted the temptation to look again and instead forced herself to focus on her husband.

"No, everything is fine," she insisted, tugging at her sleeve and picking imaginary lint off her blouse in an attempt to distract herself, all the time knowing it was all in vain. The attraction to that car, and the young man in the back seat, was just too strong to be denied for long. And it wasn't long before she found herself glancing there again, still trying to figure out what it was that held her so captivated.

Amy eased forward, leaning between the seats and glanced through the front windshield. "No, she's watching that car. I can see her eyes from back here and she keeps looking at it for some reason."

"Is it someone you know?" her husband asked, confused by her behavior. If it was, he didn't understand why she wouldn't just comment on it. But she was making too much about it for it to just be idle curiosity. There was something going on here, something she clearly didn't want to reveal.

He had no reason to doubt his wife, though she tended to have a million things on her mind all the time, she was usually pretty good about sharing things with him, but he wanted to get to the bottom of this; for his own peace of mind if nothing else.

"No, it's ... damn it, I don't really know what it is. I just can't keep my eyes off of it," she confessed, still feeling the desire to glance up like the call of an old friend, or the desire for one last drag on a cigarette she had hadn't tasted for the last five years. But, just like the cigarette, she knew that as soon as she gave in and took a look, she'd be sucked in and she'd have to quit it all over again, the temptation was just as strong.

"Hey, do I need to be worried about someone else?" John teased, fully confident in the strength of their relationship. When she didn't respond, alarm bells started ringing in his head. Taking his eyes off the road, he glanced over and and saw an anxious look in her eyes, and a clearly guilty look about her.

"No, it's nothing like that," Amanda assured him. "I can't really explain it, but there's something about one of the people in the car that just keeps attracting me to it; like it has my attention on a string and they keep pulling it, teasing me with it."

"Really, I can't possibly see why," Amy responded dismissively, glancing out the front window at the unimpressive car. It wasn't worth much, the people inside weren't very well dressed or refined, and they clearly weren't famous, because face it, no one who could afford it would drive a depressing vehicle like that! It was just some ordinary family driving somewhere, certainly no one she'd ever be concerned with, she concluded with a disapproving roll of her eyes.

"Do you want me to get closer so you can have a look?" John asked, honestly curious what this fascination was. She didn't seem like she lying about anything, so he still didn't suspect a secret boyfriend, but the occupants of the car held some fascination for her, and he wouldn't know if it was something to be concerned with until he could determine what it was.

Amanda thought that offer was particularly understanding of him, since she couldn't even tell him why she was interested. She glanced out her window one more time, still unable to identify what it was that kept pulling her, but now sure it was that figure in the back seat.

"Could you? I don't have any idea why it seems important, but I just want to see whoever it is," she struggled to explain. So John maneuvered the car around and pulled even with the car on their right, giving Amanda a perfect view of the young girl and her mother, but only a partial view of the young man in the back. However, it was the closest they could manage. They were at least close enough that Amanda could finally identify the figure as a young man. The young girl turned, saw them looking and awkwardly waved. Amanda felt her face flush in embarrassment. Amy waved back, although Amanda had no idea how to respond, feeling like an idiot, staring at a bunch of strangers for no discernable reason.

Seeing they'd been caught, John pulled away, figuring the game was up. "Well, does that help explain anything?" he asked.

"Nope, all I know is that he's worth noting for some reason, but I have no clue why."

"Well, I'm sorry, but this is our exit, so we can't stay and investigate any more," John informed her as he began moving into the exit lane. He watched his wife turn, tracing the motions of the other car even when she had to twist her body to see around obstructions. They'd have to talk about this, as now his curiosity was piqued, and he was dying to know what was going on.

But as they exited the highway, Amanda watched the car speed past them, the object of her interest never once even looking up. She knew she'd never see either the car or the strange man again, and she wondered just what she was missing. But she knew, even without an explanation, she'd remember this little non-event for a long, long time, always feeling regret at what she'd missed, whatever it might have been.


Susan Baker was way behind schedule. She'd allotted herself so many miles per day and felt she had to get them in, whether that meant driving later than she should or not. It was a peculiarity of hers that once she set herself a goal, she wanted to meet it, even when circumstances didn't necessarily justify it. But this was important to her, and she thought it was worth the extra effort.

She had been pushing hard on the Interstate and wanted to be done, but she knew she still had a ways to go before she could quit for the day. Still, she'd been driving for too long and knew she needed a break, so started looking for the next exit, wanting a chance to get out, stretch and unwind. She'd been in the car for hours now, and she was tired, her eyes were getting blurry, her butt was falling asleep, and she really needed to pee.

Susan had a new job waiting for her in Texas and she was relocating there from Georgia. It was a long drive for her, made even longer by the car full of shit she had to carry. All her earthly possessions, as few as they were, were tightly packed behind her with nary an empty space to hide the trash accumulating on the floor beside her. Still, she knew she'd appreciate having some familiar things from her past as she began a new life, so she couldn't complain too much. It would have been easier if she hadn't attempted to complete the trip all at once, but she didn't have the extra funds to waste staying overnight if she could avoid it. But there were still a lot of hours of daylight left, a fact which was helped by the early spring afternoon. Everything seemed brighter, greener and fuller of life than it had for a while. Even as far south as she lived, it was always nice when spring came and the trees came into bloom. It always felt magical to her, especially now when she could stand a little magic in her life. Her life hadn't been going well lately, and she was hoping she could change her luck with this new job, especially since she was leaving so much of what hadn't been working behind her.

She finally saw a sign announcing an exit three miles ahead. She was trying to move over when she felt the oddest sensation. Tilting her head, she considered it. There was something pulling her, something that riveted her attention and compelled her to investigate it. She'd never felt a compulsion like that, especially when there was no sign of anything of interest ahead, but she paid attention to it. Somehow it just felt right, like it was essential she follow her intuition.

Nearing the exit, she somehow knew there was something very important here at this insignificant stop that dwarfed her need to fill up or pee. There was something here that could clearly change her life, and not only that, she could feel a presence that was so important it was likely to affect a great many others as well. There was this impression of 'immenseness', like there was something so major it was like a heavenly body, drawing people and things into it, sucking her into its spinning vortex. She had no idea how she could possibly know this, it made no logical sense of any kind. She just knew that it was true, even without any evidence to support it.

She'd always been good at reading people. Unlike her sister who went after one sweet talking bad boy after another, Susan always managed to find the good, kind men who also proved to be dedicated workers. She'd always told her sister she simply had to watch the person to know what they were really like, but her sister just never got it. Susan herself wasn't sure exactly how she figured it out, as she could never identify what it was about their appearance which told her how they'd behave, but she'd just know by being near someone and watching them whether they were a decent person or a troubled soul or, like most people, they were simply plagued by so much doubt and insecurity that they'd always waffle between the two extremes, never measuring up to much. Her girlfriends teased that if she could only bottle what she seemed to be able to pick up so easily, she could easily retire on the proceeds; selling it to the many desperate women trying to manage the dating scene.

This feeling she was now experiencing was different, however. In judging people, she never knew what it was that was affecting her decision. Now she could feel it, and she felt it in such a way that there was absolutely no doubt about it being a purely physical presence, inasmuch as a feeling can ever be physical, she reminded herself.

As she pulled off at the exit and merged into the local traffic, she ignored the gas stations situated ahead of her, instead trying to identify where this feeling was directing her. She knew it was purely accidental that she'd pulled into this stop, on this route, and at this time. She couldn't risk this odd confluence of odd events would continue working for her. She, like everyone else, liked to believe that God arranged things in her life, except she had to admit that most of the time the good things that happened to you had much more to do with your role in life. Rich white people tended to favor other well-educated Caucasians. She had no illusions that she was any more favored by God than the poor black and Hispanic people around her, but she found herself in a position to be favored more than they ever did, and she also knew it wasn't entirely due to God's individual selections either.

Abandoning that distracting thought, she found it strange, but she knew just where to find the source of the feeling she was following. She wasn't used to following her 'feelings'. In the past, she'd always told herself that her ability to judge people was due to her capacity to somehow read their body language, and that's what she'd always told others. Now she knew better. All she'd had before was a vague feeling and it now had a very real physical presence, one that she could locate and follow. She knew to take the next right and, even as she did, she knew the unknown thing she was following was located in the McDonald's on the corner. She almost felt like she should simply drive over the embankment to get to it, but she knew she'd never be able to do that. She'd have no way to explain what the hell had motivated her if she got caught, but she felt taking the time to make all the appropriate turns was taking way too much time.

How long does it take to make a pit stop in a McDonald's? With luck, whoever or whatever she was following wouldn't be making a quick break. If they had stopped for lunch they wouldn't be likely to stop for more than ten or fifteen minutes. If they stopped for a cup of coffee it would be even less than that. She knew this was such a small opportunity she had been blessed with that she had to ensure she made the best of it.

Driving all the way around the restaurant, she cursed whoever had designed the intersection. She had to move completely around the building, then ease past the various cars farther from the restaurant until she could approach the storefront itself. As she did, she noticed there weren't any spots immediately available and started looking for any nearby. She spotted one a row back that she quickly headed for.

She parked, tore off her seatbelt and ripped the keys from the ignition as she jumped out at a run heading into the McDonald's. It looked just like every other McDonald's at every other highway off-ramp across the country. How she'd ever found this one she had no idea but ... No, she didn't want to jinx herself by thinking negative thoughts. She'd been brought here by something; she'd have to trust in its benevolence.

Shoving her way through the door, trying to avoid smashing into people, she somehow knew that whatever she was following wouldn't be impressed by her harming or inconveniencing other people. But that might have been her own guilt working through her, and since she had no idea what was calling her, she had no way of knowing what it would be impressed by.

Once inside, she immediately began casting about, both trying to feel the mysterious presence as much as looking for whoever might be important in the crowd. Not that she expected some prince. She imagined whoever it was would look as much like an eastern mystic in a white robe as it would a successful western businessman. After looking wildly about she finally stopped and took a deep calming breath. She could again feel the essence, but this time she felt it moving away from her. Hurrying on, she ran through the restaurant seeking it. She could feel it outside at the far end of the restaurant and she knew she had a very limited window to catch whatever it was.

Just as she reached the outer door, she isolated the car it resided in. It was backing up already clear of its former parking spot. Again, she could isolate just where it was coming from and realized what she was feeling was coming from the person sitting in the back seat on the far side. She pushed through the doors and exited, running into the street just in time to see it pulling out of the exit, the one now conveniently placed, unlike the entrance she'd needed access to earlier.

She was crushed, knowing there was no way she could possibly catch it, no way to reach her car quickly enough, even if there was some way to know where it might be headed. By the time she returned to her car and drove to the exit, she could no longer sense his presence. What the fates, God or whatever else had put in her hands they'd just ripped out again. She knew there was no way she could have hurried any more or skipped any corners, short of driving over that embankment like she'd wanted to. But she also knew she'd always regret that she couldn't have been just a little faster. She only hoped that she'd be granted yet another opportunity like this to learn what it was that she'd just missed.


Amber Blossom's head jerked up in surprise, taking her away from her job. Here she was, with a wealthy well-kept attractive client who'd shown her many favors in the past. But suddenly her attention was sidetracked like a toy train yanked away from a toddler by a spiteful sibling. One second she was completely focused on doing her job well and pleasing her client, the next she couldn't even consider him anymore.

Something had happened, something significant. She had no idea what it might be, but she could feel a presence nearby; an insistent presence which called out to her and demanded her attention. Without knowing what it was, she immediately realized it was both important and powerful. In her professional duties she'd been around many important rich and influential people. Yet she'd never felt herself in the presence of anything as powerful as the feelings coursing through her just then. Whoever or whatever it was, she knew it demanded her presence immediately!

"I'm sorry, baby," she apologized as she unceremoniously climbed off of her client's reclining figure, quickly searching for her scattered clothing, no longer concerned with her performance or her appearance, something which she was normally very conscious of. "Something has come up, we'll have to finish this another time."

"What the fuck?" demanded her client, sitting up with an outraged look at being left high and dry. "What's going on? What do you think you're doing?" He clearly didn't like the idea of her leaving, especially at that particular moment, just when he was reaching the point of no return.

"It's something important, Tony," Amber tried to explain but was unable to. She knew there was no way he was going to take it well, but also knew that what she had to do was more important than whatever impressive tip he might leave her. Sure, she might be able to buy something nice with whatever he might give her, but she could also tell that what she felt would influence her life on a much more personal, significant and life altering manner.

"I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you, but I've really got to go! There's no charge for this evening, and the next one is on me, but I just can't stay any longer," she tried to reassure him as she hurried into her few clothes and grabbed her purse. She ran for the door and was closing it before any of his curses could reach her.

She considered her situation as she was standing by the elevator, one blood-red manicured nail repeatedly punching the call button. "Come on," she complained impatiently, tapping her foot and glancing at her watch as the elevator slowly ascended to her floor. She glanced back, nervously expecting to see Anthony coming after her. If she wanted to get away, she couldn't afford to be caught in an unpleasant scene in a hotel hallway right now. However, the more important consideration was how she could locate and find this presence she felt nearby.

Amber Blossom (or the simpler Allison Livermore that only her few friends and family knew her by) was no stranger to acting on her feelings about people. She spent a long time refining her ability to read feelings about people. It had helped her win over reluctant professors in college. It had served her well when she finally took to hooking to pay for those selfsame university fees. It was also what finally allowed her to go into business for herself, dating and sleeping with only the most influential people in New Orleans, her home for the last seven years. Somehow she was always able to feel their needs, their wants and also their basic character. It helped her avoid the demanding pimps who would break her to their own will, while it directed her towards those who could help and reward her personal ambitions.

She had never been afraid of hard work; in fact she had struggled to earn her parent's love, although it never came easily. She slaved away at college but soon found she could accomplish more by trusting her instincts about what the professors needed than she ever could by doing the difficult and tedious work they'd assign. In fact, she put her all into each and every client she had, working to touch all their nerves and serve all their needs, even the ones they never knew they had. That was what allowed her to succeed so well. It paid her way through university, it paid for that nice townhouse nearby, and it helped take care of her ungrateful parents.

Yet this time her feelings were different. In the past she'd gotten vague feelings about people that she'd only slowly learned to trust over time. Now, as the elevator door slowly opened and she quickly ran in, pushing the button before Anthony exited his room, she could feel a very distinct and physical presence out on the street, many floors below. It was a presence that she just knew she had to find and meet somehow, and that it'd make more of an influence on her life than all the cheap dates, self-important professors, rich playboys and senators that she 'dated' up till now.

She caught sight of her reflection in the doors of the elevator as it began descending, and almost instinctively ran her long supple fingers through her flaming red hair in a vague, doomed-to-fail attempt to reestablish some sort of order. 'I'm a mess!' she thought with a flash of embarrassment as she fished in her purse for her pocket compact. She certainly didn't want to face whoever she was searching for looking like she'd just climbed out of bed. She was very conscious of how much presentation mattered. Her white alabaster skin, complementing her rich red hair and clear complexion and her exquisite sense of the appropriate clothing had done more to win her clients than she'd have otherwise, so she was afraid she'd be rejected if she didn't look 'respectable' for this initial meeting. She could imagine his/her or its reaction when she showed up disheveled and probably still reeking of sex and alcohol.

True, she never took more than a few sips of a well-watered drink, and she had not gotten far enough with Anthony to actually ruin her carefully applied makeup. She never let herself get carried away during these encounters, as they left her unable to anticipate what her clients required of her ... namely the emotional support they needed, and not the raw sex they all demanded. They called her for sex, but they always came back for what she could do to temporarily fill the holes in their souls. But whether the smells were her own or someone else's wouldn't matter. Whoever it was that she felt nearby certainly wouldn't be impressed to encounter a wanton whore, no matter how high class.

'Shit', she swore to herself, she couldn't show up in front of someone in her present state. 'Damn, I'll have to run home and change, and just hope I can get back in time before I lose this one opportunity.' She realized the risk she was running by risking a delay, but she still felt it was necessary. Hopefully they were staying at the hotel and not just stopping nearby for a brief visit. If only she had some idea of whom or what she felt calling her from outside the hotel, she reflected as the elevator doors finally opened, and she ran out into the lobby.

She got another insight as the warm moist New Orleans air that seeped into the lobby washed over her body. Just as she had intuitively known that this presence she felt would affect her life, she suddenly realized she knew that it was a person. She'd been picking up on the wants and needs of people for long enough to realize that what she was feeling could only come from an actual person, either male or female. She also knew that, although it was powerful and strong, it might not present itself as such. She'd dealt with many powerful men in the past. The power they wielded was usually other people's they claimed as their own. Somehow, this one felt different. She surmised that he wasn't so much powerful in what he did or might do as he was a source of a great deal of power, and that the sensations she felt were the outpouring of that source of psychic power.

She stopped, glancing at the front desk as she considered leaving a message of some sort, a decision that delayed her even more. But then she realized there was nothing she could tell them. She had no idea who she was looking for or what they might look like, and thus had no clue how to describe them. Henry might be understanding, an understanding bolstered by the constant tips and bribes she fed him, but even he wouldn't be able to figure out what to do about this. No, only she could physically feel this presence. Only she would be able to find whoever this was. She just had to be damn fast about it. She had to rush home, shower, change, and hurry back in order to find this mysterious person before they left. She was certainly no stranger to knocking on strange doors and talking her way past security guards, so she wasn't worried about wherever she might find him. No, she was worried that when she returned, scrubbed clean of all her sins, that he would simply be gone. 'Please, God, don't let that happen' she said in silent supplication as the very idea caused fear to well up in her chest. If she missed this golden opportunity, she knew she'd always blame her present occupation because, despite everything it offered her, it would have impeded her reaching someone who could change her life in some unimaginable way.

These thoughts and many more, each more dread-filled, flipped through her mind as she ran off to a nearby cab that would carry her off, away from her ultimate destination. She could only hope who she sought would be here when she returned.


Donna noticed the young man almost as soon as he wandered onto the street where she and her friends were hanging out. They were all enjoying spring break and having a great time, each imbibing and teasing each other and the many available guys, but for some strange reason Donna felt her attention drawn to the young man. He certainly wasn't her type at all. He was way too young, he wasn't built and wasn't athletic. He also didn't have that strong he-man persona she usually went for. Heck, he wasn't even all that attractive. Still, she couldn't seem to take her eyes off of him for some strange reason. When Donna pointed him out to her friends they scoffed at her.

"Him?" they responded with derision. "You've got to be kidding."

She thought about the attraction then and acknowledged that it was odd. Although she felt like he must be famous, recognizable from somewhere, but that was definitely not the case. Famous people are surrounded by their people, their handlers, even when they're disguised. They're busy doing fabulous things in terrific places. This young man was clearly just a kid out visiting with his family, yet she still couldn't tear her eyes away from him.

He seemed to carry himself like someone who had no idea how interesting he was. He walked slouched over, as if he didn't expect anyone to notice him. She wished he'd just stand up straight so she could get a good look at him. There was also a girl that just kept hanging around him all the time too. Donna quickly discounted her. She must be a sister or something. They looked enough alike to assume that much, but she kept blocking Donna's view of him.

It didn't take long before her friends were pulling her away, trying to get her to follow them on their own adventures. As much as she didn't want to, as much as she really just wanted to stay and watch this unique young man, she really had no reason to. She had no justification for her fascination, so she let herself be drawn aside. However, she managed one good long last look back. Although she promised she'd remember him for some time, she also knew that she'd soon transform him in her dreams into a hunkier, more universally attractive figure. At the very least, she'd try to imbue her usual litany of movie stars and football players with whatever he had that made him so unique. In any case, she'd be featuring either him—or a stand in for him—in her dreams for a good while.

In minutes he was gone again, probably never to be seen again. Yet, Donna knew some form of him would stay with her for a long while.

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