"Hey, Laura!"

Laura turned around to find Jean walking toward her, pushing her arms in her red leather jacket. From the looks of it, she knew that Jean would eventually need an outlet. As big as the mansion was, the walls can close in on you if you did not have some form of release; she understood that big time. Laura found herself becoming a permanent fixture here as well as with Emil, and it scared her, though she would never admit that to anyone. She knew that Jean would need to do something different instead of being mentally trapped in her own problems, so Laura obliged the woman of what she needed.

"Hello Jean". She looked at her. "You want to come with me?"

"If you don't mind."

"Not at all," said Laura. Laura took the last bite of her sandwich before waving her free hand in a large circle to create a portal. "Let's go." Jean looked at the port. "You've become a pro at this haven't you?"

"Not quite. There's still some kinks I have to work out, but I'm getting there", Laura replied.

"Where will we end up?"

"In my bedroom, so no one will see".

"Okay", said jean. She lifted her hand, "after you."

Laura gave a chuckle. "Thanks," she said.

The bright light faded behind them as the portal closed then disappeared. Jean followed Laura out the closet and looked around. "This is nice", she said. "It must be wonderful to have your own little sanctuary, with no one to bother you" Laura added.

Laura regarded her for a moment before she looked around. She hadn't thought about it really. It was just a room to her, yet lately it did feel pretty cool to have someone there after a long day of work, practice, or whatever she would be doing at the moment that would keep her away from her "little sanctuary". Emil was quite lovely in that regard, but she still needed to get used to him being in her personal space. She loved it, and she hated too.

She looked at Jean and shrugged her shoulders "It is nice at times." Opening her bedroom door to looked over her shoulder. "You ready to go?"

Sure, said jean. "I'm going to go try the slot machines first. You know, start small."

Laura grinned at her, "okay. Don't go crazy. If you need me I'll be around, just use that thing you do from time to time—what's it called? t-the—"

"You mean my psyche link?" said Jean.

"Yeah that, use that. Oh and by the way, I was advised that Craydon Creed was here with some of his FOH buddies, so stay out of sight and just listen in on things discreetly okay? I want him to be comfortable with talking to me and my staff hoping he'll boast enough to slip up."

"Okay, sounds good" replied jean, and they walked out the bedroom.

Laura made her way through the front lobby of her casino, glancing around at the patrons who were still trying their luck at the various card tables and slot machines. Staff members greeted Laura respectably as she walked by, knowing how meticulous she was when it came to professionalism. She ran a tight ship and didn't put up with anyone's bullshit. She also knew when a person was lacking and was not up to par with the goals she had in mind for any business venture she decided to invest in. The riverboat casino did very well, but she was thinking about becoming more landlocked. Since the idea has yet to come into fruition, she decided to focus on what was in front of her at the moment, and that was trying to figure out her own personal mystery regarding her parents, her new-found powers, her boyfriend, and trying to help the X-men out with this Craydon Creed character. Before she did any of those things, she headed straight to the bar to get a drink.

Laura smiled, when she walked in to find Sonny she noticed one of her favorite bartenders was leaning against the bar, looking up at the flat screen television watching the news channel. Remnants of the mutant massacre were still prevalent, yet the investigation of who was responsible was still not known. Having a massacre happen on a worldwide scale was something that will be known down through the ages. Laura wanted to know who was brilliant enough to commit such a devastating act and if they will strike again with something more astonishing.

"Hey there boss-lady, you want the usual?" asked Sonny.

"You know me so well," she said with a grin.

"One vodka giblet coming up."

He fixed her drink with precision with the theatrical bartending skills he was well known for, which was the reason why she hired him in the first place. People not only flocked to her casino to gamble, but to watch the amenities her establishment had to offer. Therefore, Sonny never disappointed. It also helped that the middle aged man was as smooth as silk and good looking like Cary Grant—old Hollywood. His sleeves rolled up showing a glimpse of his chorded arm muscles, letting anyone with interest know that he's no slouch by any stretch.

He set the drink down on top of a square napkin in front of her. Laura took a sip of the drink and closed her eyes in satisfaction as the cool, strong beverage slide down her throat, awakening her insides like a fire drill that suddenly sounded when a person is in the middle of working on something and has to pull away to adhere to the sound in their ears.

She pulled in a deep breath then sighed "Thanks Sonny."

"Don't mention it, looks like you needed it. Where you been? Haven't seen you in a while."

"Just handling a little personal business, but you know I still keep a pulse check on this place right?"

"Don't I know it?" His eyes widened as if he were trying to remember something.

"Oh by the way, someone named." He frowned down at the counter trying to remember the funny sounding name, and then looked up. "Fanookie, or Fasnook—"

"It's Farouke," said a man's deep voice. Laura and Sonny turned in the direction of the voice

"Yeah, that's it," said Sonny. "Sorry man, it's not like we here a name like that every day."

"No need to apologize, I've been correcting people all my life about my name. I'll just add another botched attempt to the books." He then turned his attention to Laura, letting his eyes travel up and down her body.

Laura understood what those eyes were doing, but not understanding what he actually wanted with her made her curious. She guessed that any other woman would melt like butter in their seat if a guy who looked like he just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine looked at them like that. Thank goodness she wasn't like most women. Even though he had gorgeous ink black hair that reached his shoulders; a perfectly trimmed goatee, and the most amazing cerulean blue eyes set between the thickest set of eyelashes she's ever seen on a man, she still felt that he was a little off and he seemed too cocky for his own good. Being the professional she always was when it came to her business, she put on her winning smile and walked over to him. She looked over her shoulder to Sonny.

I'll speak with you later Sonny, if you need me"—she patted her hip pocket where her phone was kept—"call me.

"Will do boss, said Sonny. From the inquisitive look Sonny gave, she figured his flags were up about the guy too.

She reached Farouke with interest. "Do I know you?"

"No," you don't know me, but I understand that you own this casino?"

"I do," she said, waiting for him to come out and say what he wanted her for.

"It appears that my uncle loves this place and wanted to speak with the owner. When he found out that you were a woman I guess it piqued his interests more."

Oh?"

"Yes. You see my uncle has the dual mental concept of being both old fashioned and modern. It's still a marvel to him that a woman can have such a successful business in an industry that is dominated by men—crafty, cutthroat, dangerous men."

"Not all of them are dangerous."

He smiled at her knowing that she left out the other two words purposefully. His interest in her was piqued indeed, making him wonder.

"Of course, he replied back. "I was hoping that you will be so kind as to have dinner with my uncle—here in your establishment of course. He understands that you are a very busy woman.

"Why doesn't he ask me himself?

"Because I wanted to beat him to it, with the hopes of meeting you myself. And plus I'm very protective of my uncle." he placed his hands in his pocket. "You see my uncle is quite the historian, he constantly likes to research and connect and explore things—people—places, and you and your establishment practically has him salivating at the mouth. I'm embarrassed to say that he googled you.

"Me?' Okay, well where is he?"

"In the café upstairs on the third deck." She looked at him sideways.

"But of course you know where the café is since this is your vessel." Laura couldn't do anything but grin at him.

"I'll be honored to meet your uncle." she said.

Farouke held out his arm for her to take and they made their way to the café.

Ahmed stared at his water glass, watching as the water slid down to the bottom and disappeared into the napkin. he wasn't sure about trying to understand the need to know this young woman, but his memories and present thoughts have collided in is brain about who she was and why he could not sleep nights due to the mental pull of recognition needing to be established. He saw that she was the spitting image of his late wife and wanted—needed to know if they were related somehow.

Ahmed shifted in his seat when he noticed Farouke walking towards the café with the young woman. To say she was breathtaking was an understatement.

He slowly began to rise when she and Farouke approached the table. The dazzling smile she gave flashed like the sun itself, warming his skin and old bones. His eyes traveled down to her swanlike neck and noticed the charm hanging off a thin gold chain.

No, it can't be, he thought.

Laura and Farouke picked up on the subtle change. Farouke, slightly concerned, went to his uncle's side. "What's wrong uncle?"

Ahmed quickly recovered by smiling and patting his nephew on the cheek. "I'm fine my boy, just fine. I was just taken aback by this approaching beauty." Both Ahmed and Farouke looked at Laura, as she came closer to the elderly man and placed her hand on his arm.

She smiled politely because she was used to the looks that people gave her. Not that she was conceited in any way, because she certainly had nothing to do with how she looked; it was completely genetic, but over the years she had become accustomed to the stares and the gawking. Some people often wondered what nationality she was, not knowing that she was a blend of many things due to her African-American and Brazilian Father, and Arabian and Ethiopian mother.

"Please have a seat Mr…"

"Hasani. Ahmed Hasani, but please, call me Ahmed."

"Okay, Ahmed" she motioned for him to set back down. "Nice to meet you." she nodded her thanks to Farouke after he pulled her chair out for her and motioned for her to sit down.

Farouke looked down at the both of them and decided to let the old man gawk at this young woman by himself. For him to turn down the chance to come on to the woman in every way had him questioning his own sanity. But for now, he would make it his business to find someone else to do and be entertained by.

"I'll be down at the tables with Craydon watching him lose at the crap table." He nodded his head at them both. "See you both later."

"Okay," Ahmed and Laura said in unison.

"So, Ahmed how can I help you?" Laura noticed the elderly man staring at the half missing emblem attached to her necklace. She traced it lightly with her fingers, forcing Ahmed to break his stare and finally speak.

"I've seen a lot of things in my lifetime dear, and I've come to know a lot of people." he looked around the riverboat in awe. But this river boat has brought back memories of good times I used to have with my wife when we traveled."

"Oh?" asked Laura. Ahmed closed his eyes, sighed and nodded his head.

"Yes," he said with a faint smile.

Laura could tell that he was overcome with memories of his past. She continued to sit quietly and let the man reminisce in his own mind before speaking again.

"I wanted to let you know how wonderful this place is."

"Thank-you," said Laura.

The waitress walked to their table with two menus and a water pitcher. She carefully refilled Ahmed's glass before placing both of the menus down in front of them.

"Can I get you something to drink Ms. Laura? The waitress asked. She looked over at Ahmed's glass. "Would you like more water Sir, or something else to drink?"

"Yes Patty, Sonny fixed me a vodka giblet. I'd like another one and a glass of water please."

"And you sir? Would you like me to refill your glass?"

"Yes please and thank you my dear."

The waitress filled Laura and Ahmed's water glass then stood up to her full 5'8" height. "I'll be back with your drink," she replied.

Laura nodded her head and then turned her attention back to Ahmed. She could tell that he was a knockout in his younger years. He had the softest hazel brown eyes she'd ever seen. They sat behind thick black and grey lashes. Time was kind to him as she assessed the deep olive tone of his skin, noticing deep lines across his forehead and around his mouth. She wondered how old he was because most elderly men she came across were bald, but he had a full head of salt and pepper hair and a thin goatee that connected to his sideburns. She wasn't ashamed to think that if she was around his age, she would try and seduce him, because the man was just that good looking.

Laura grew sheepish when Ahmed smiled at her, somehow knowing what she must have been thinking. Laura blinked twice while clearing her throat.

"If you don't mind me asking, how did you come about owning a place like this? The casino business is dominated by men, yet you've managed to carve a piece out for yourself successfully. Most riverboat casinos don't have nearly as many amenities as this one, and nowhere near this large."

Laura thought about his inquiry.

I did a lot of back door dealing and gambling, mixed in with a lot of shrewd business practices in order to get this casino the way that I wanted it."

Ahmed stared at her. He was both shocked and impressed, but noticed her grin. "Are you kidding with this old man?

"Yes," she said then she laughed.

Beautiful, the thought. He watched as her laugh faded to a small grin.

"Well, some of it is true. I won this boat in a high stakes poker game. I did the usual things a prospective business owner does, like have a good business plan, get a loan and some investors on board and the rest is history."

Ahmed regarded her every word as they talked about pleasantries. He noticed how guarded she was about certain topics about her past and how she would touch her necklace when she talked.

Laura was aware of Ahmed interest in her necklace and decided to take it off and let him take a look.

He put his glasses on and examined the piece and looked on with certainty that this was the other half of his charm that he gave his wife years ago. He flipped the piece on the opposite side and found half of the words he had engraved present on the delicate jewelry.

إلى حبي

Laura studied the elderly man in front of her. The feeling in the pit of her stomach grew stronger as she watched him examine the charm. she was starting to sense that he knew this piece of jewelry from the way he would squint his eyes as if he were remembering something that happened in his past.

"what does it say?"

"It reads to my love in Arabic. How did you come to have this?"

"It was given to me by my father. He said it belonged to my mother." Laura shifted a little in her seat. The feeling in her stomach grew even stronger. "Do you know about this? Because since I've sat down here, you've seem to be interested in my locket." She extended her hand palm-side up wanting him to return her necklace. That was one of the fewer things she had left of her mother.

Ahmed was certain that this young woman was related to him. He gave Laura back her locket and watched as she drank from her water glass. She seemed nervous. Shit, so was he.

He wanted to ask more questions but did not get the chance. Concern crawled over his skin as he watched Laura drop her glass. It didn't shatter but fell on its side, spilling water onto the table.

Laura pinched the bridge of her nose every time she felt suddenly overwhelmed. She also did it when the psyche link was connected. I don't think I'll ever get used to that, she thought.

"Hey Jean what's up?"

"You should get down here at the crap table.

"Why, what's going on?"

"Craydon just spotted me, and from his thoughts, he's revving up to start a scene with me. He and the rest of his FOH brothers are getting ridiculous."

"I'm on my way."

Ahmed watched her carefully, not understanding the sudden change of her behavior.

"You seem anxious my dear. Is something wrong?"

Laura blinked several times and squinted as if the sun was in her face.

Oh uhm, n-no, not at all. Everything's fine. In fact"—she finished her drink and then stood up—"Something's come up downstairs that I have to straighten out."

Ahmed stood up as well. He knew what urgency in a person looked like. "I see. Well, it was nice meeting you Laura. I hope everything is okay."

Laura smiled as she walked around the table. She shook his hand as she leaned in to kiss his cheek. She pulled back and looked him in his eyes.

"I'm sure it will, and it was nice meeting you as well."

She walked towards the entrance in a smooth hasty stride, not understanding the magnitude of the situation that would await her down in the casino. Ahmed's eyes looked down at the cup she was drinking. He pulled a handkerchief out of his inside pocket and meticulously picked up Laura's glass and put it back inside his inside pocket.

His instincts were on fire with the need to know. The need to be certain that the beautiful woman that graced his presence just seconds ago is his family.