Authors Note: Sorry, for taking so long to post. Hopefully the next chapter won't take as long.
Jack pulled into the service station at one of the roadside gas and food areas that is a mainstay of the European toll road system. He had continually monitored the flow of traffic around them, as they drove from the Italian compound. There was no reason for anyone to tail them, but it never hurt to be careful. After several switchbacks and other counter maneuvers, he was satisfied they hadn't been followed. Their clothes, suitcases, and baby toys had been hit with an energy wave designed to kill any electronic tracking devices, both active and passive. Phones and watches were left in the hotel safe.
Sydney slid out of the back seat she occupied with Isabelle. "Hey, Dad, I'm going to the ladies room to change Isabella's diaper."
"That's a great idea," Nadia said, exiting the front passenger seat. "Do you have any Euro's for the turnstile, Sydney? I only have American dollars."
"I have plenty." Jack reached into the car and pulled several coins from the front console. "I could use a break myself. Why don't you meet me in the café for coffee?"
"Okay, Dad. I like mine black, no cream or sugar."
"If they have it here, I'd love a cappuccino, Jack."
Jack pulled his wallet from the inside of his jacket, and slipped a prepaid card from its sleeve. "I'll see you inside."
Once the car had a full tank of gas, Jack pulled over to the parking area and headed up the stairs. He considered having a shot of whiskey put in his coffee, but abandoned that idea. He would need a clear head for his upcoming conversation with his daughters. After ordering the drinks, he found a table that overlooked the parking area and also provided a pastoral view of the French countryside. It was peaceful and serene, and the exact opposite of what he was currently feeling. Not that anyone would have any idea to look at him. Years of experience had taught him the benefits of appearing bland and stoic despite his inner turmoil. It was his shield to the world and, not unlike JD's favorite blanket, familiar and safe.
Nadia returned first, murmuring her thanks as she sipped her cappuccino. Jack sat opposite of her, and lightly drummed his fingers against his coffee cup, his face expressionless. Jack was a master at hiding what he was thinking, but Sydney once told her that when Jack was really nervous about something his fingers would lightly rap against whatever surface was at hand. It was totally unconscious, and Sydney had discovered his tell several years earlier when he was going to talk to her about something he knew would upset her.
"How are you feeling, Nadia? You aren't too tired from the long trip?"
Nadia shrugged and grinned. Small talk from Jack was not normal. Whatever he had to say, Nadia was sure there would be fireworks. "I'm fine. I rested a lot on the plane trip over."
He nodded. "Was the bathroom busy?"
And explosions she added mentally. Definitely Fireworks and Explosions, with a capital F and a capital E. It was too bad she couldn't share this moment with her sister, but she had a feeling that Sydney would not appreciate the humor of the conversation as much as she was. "Not too busy. They did have a baby changing area, so it shouldn't take Sydney too much longer." Her eyes shifted toward the entrance to the seating area. "There she is now." They both watched as Sydney expertly maneuvered the carrier, diaper bag, and infant through the turnstile.
"Coffee. I need coffee." Sydney placed the baby carrier next her father, before handing Isabelle to him. "She's all yours, Dad." She pulled out a bottle from her bag and handed it to him. "I warmed it up in the microwave at the food counter."
Nadia noticed that Jack was more relaxed as he fed his granddaughter. Sydney and Nadia drank their coffee, bemused by the sight of the man most people thought cold and emotionless smiling tenderly at the baby. When Isabelle finished, he burped her, and rubbed her back until she was comfortable. It didn't take long for the baby to fall asleep as her grandfather gently cradled her in his arms.
Jack looked up from the sleepy innocence of his granddaughter, catching his daughters amused expressions. "You do realize that she isn't the first baby I've ever fed?"
"I know, Dad, but it's just…"
"Weird." Nadia finished her sister's sentence.
"I see." Jack grimaced, as he took a sip of his now lukewarm coffee. Pushing it aside, he decided the time had come to reveal the news about their brother. He looked around to make sure they could talk privately. It was a slow time for the café, and the only other people sitting at the tables were on the other side of the room. "I have something I need to tell you, and there is no easy way to do this."
"I knew it," Nadia exclaimed. "I could tell you had something on your mind!"
Jack's eyes flickered toward his youngest daughter briefly. He was getting soft, if she had read him so easily. He would have to work … no, he shook himself mentally. He had made a promise to himself to be more open to his family. No secrets. "Your mother and I thought it best to tell you before we arrive." He paused; mentally preparing himself for the onslaught he knew was coming.
"What is it, Dad?" Sydney asked, curiously. Her father was behaving a little strangely, but that seemed to be his new normal.
"You have a brother." Inwardly Jack kicked himself for the lack of subtlety. He had rehearsed several different ways to inform them about JD. All of them had more elegance and polish than the bald statement he had just uttered.
"We have a brother?" Sydney repeated, a little dumbfounded. First twin cousins, now a brother. Sydney wondered what other surprises her parents had in store for them.
Jack nodded, not trusting himself to say any more.
Nadia, unlike Sydney, couldn't contain her excitement. "A brother! How old is he? What is his name?" she asked, eagerly.
Jack was relieved that at least one of his daughters was taking the news in stride. "He will be three in a week. Your mother has planned a birthday party for him."
Sydney did the math in her head. Her calculations put her brother's birth sometime during her father's incarceration. His conception would have taken place during her missing two years, when her parents had worked together to find the people responsible for her assumed death. When her father had said he had been working closely with her mother, it had not occurred to her that they would have been that close. "Dad, are you sure he is yours? Have you checked his DNA?"
"What makes you think he is mine?" he teased his elder daughter, finally getting his equilibrium back.
Nadia watched in fascination, as a smile curved on Jack's lips. She hadn't known that he even knew how to smile.
"You are right, I don't. And neither do you!" Sydney shook her head. "Dad, you know that where Mom is concerned you are not rational."
"In any case, Irina insisted on having the DNA test done, but I have no doubts."
"Have you checked the results?"
"No, but you may do so if you want to be sure."
"Dad! This is Mom we are talking about." Sydney cautioned him. "How many times has she lied to you, tried to manipulate you, betrayed you whenever it was convenient. She didn't even tell you about him, and she had plenty of time after we rescued her from Elena. Don't tell me you already knew about him, because I know you better than that. You would have moved heaven and earth to find him." She gave her father a hard look. "Why are you suddenly so trusting?"
"I've decided to turn over a new leaf," he responded, mildly.
At this, Nadia let out a loud guffaw. She had barely been able to contain her laughter, but Jack's deadpan delivery of what was clearly a ludicrous statement had broken the dam.
Sydney glared at her sister. "Nadia, this is serious!" Turning back to her father, she let out a sharp sigh. "You are not going to put me off with that. Are there any other things you need to tell us, other children you may be hiding away for future disclosure?"
"I think we will have to leave any other surprises for another time. I have JD's DNA results in the car for you, Sydney. I am sure you are anxious to see it, and we need to get back on the road."
"Jaydee?" Nadia pronounced the name as one word. "That is a bit unusual, isn't it? Is it Russian?"
"J period D period" Sydney pronounced the space between the initials for Nadia. "As in Jonathan Donahue. She named him after you? Dad, you know this has to be more of her manipulations."
"As in Jonathan Derevko," Jack corrected her. "She named him after both of us."
"J. D." Nadia mused. "I like it." She picked up her cup and placed it on the tray near the trash container. "I can't wait to meet him."
"We are about an hour away. He is an amazing boy. A lot like you, Sydney, when you were that age." Jack deftly picked up the car keys, still holding Isabelle steady in his arms and headed out to the car.
As they followed him out, Sydney shook her head at Nadia. "You know I'm right."
"We are here for two weeks, Sydney. That should give you plenty of time to decide if Mom is sincere. Besides, your Dad looks happy."
"I don't want him to get hurt again."
"I understand. If it does happen, at least this time you can be there for him."
"Okay. I'll let it go for now." Sydney walked around to the driver's side the car. Her father had unlocked the car, and had just placed Isabelle in the car seat. "I'll put her in Dad." Jack handed the still sleeping baby to his daughter
"Does he know about us?" Nadia asked as she slid into the front.
"Yes. He can't wait to meet his sisters."
"So we are his birthday presents." Eyes glowing with delight, Nadia turned to look at her sister who was busy strapping Isabelle into the car seat. "And a gift for us, too. Three years ago, I had no one. Now, I have a sister and a brother."
"Dad?" Sydney looked at him uncertainly.
"It will be fine, sweetheart. Now, we need to go. Your mother and brother are waiting for us, and you have a letter to open."
(An hour later)
The driveway to the house had a gated entry point that required a code. Jack keyed a complicated series of numbers into the box, and waited as the gate slid open. The system sent a simultaneous signal to the house, alerting the current occupants that someone had entered the property.
Irina met them at the door, greeting her daughters with a warm embrace. "Nadia, Sydney. Sweethearts, come in. You must be tired from your journey. Are you hungry? I've made lunch." She ushered them into the main living area of the house. "Jack, will you bring their bags in?"
Jack nodded. "Is JD still taking his nap?"
"He should be waking up soon."
"I don't know about Sydney, but I'm famished." Nadia looked around the room. There was a large dark brown leather couch in an 'L' shape hugging one corner of the room and two matching recliners in a softer brown that coordinated with the couch. There were touches of green and gold in the pillows and artwork that graced the room, but the real showcase was the windows that completely occupied the one side of the room. The view was spectacular. A sweep of craggy mountains encircled the inlet below, revealing a sandy beach that glistened in the afternoon sun. Off to one side of the room, Nadia saw a small nook with a round table and chairs. While not visible from where she stood, she guessed that the kitchen was just around the corner.
Irina led them into the sitting area, and motioned for them to sit down. Nadia chose a recliner and watched as her mother and Sydney sat on the couch. Isabella started making baby noises as she slowly began to wake in her mothers' arms. It was clear to Nadia that Irina was longing to hold her granddaughter, but was allowing Sydney to make the first move. It didn't take long, before Isabelle was in Irina's arms. Nadia relaxed into the recliner, hoping that this meant her sister was beginning to let go of her concerns about the woman sitting next to her.
"She is beautiful, Sydney." Irina looked up at her daughter with happy tears. "She looks like you."
Nadia saw that a little boy with tousled curls stood at an entryway just opposite of where she sat. He stared a little uncertainly at his mother. Nadia remembered the photo's she had seen of Jack as a boy, and the child bore a strong resemblance to those pictures. No wonder Jack had been so certain, Nadia thought. His DNA was written all over the little boys' face. Her brother. A lump formed in the back of her throat. She had a family. Jack may not be her biological father, but already she felt more like his daughter than she ever had with Arvin Sloane. She had a mother, a sister, cousins, a niece, and now, this little boy was her brother.
"JD, your sisters are here. Look, it's Nadia and Sydney."
But JD was completely focused on the baby in his mother's arms. Nadia saw a hint of jealousy begin to form, when Jack appeared behind him and scooped him into his arms.
"Looks like we are outnumbered by the women, JD. We men will have to stick together."
"Daddy!" he squealed. Then he looked at his mother again. He still looked unsure about the baby in her arms.
"Remember, we told you that Sydney had a little girl? The baby your mother is holding is Isabella. Do you want to meet her?" The little boy nodded, and Jack carried him over to look at his niece. "We need to keep her safe, like your mother and I keep you safe."
"Mama?" JD whispered, still a little hesitant.
"JD, come sit on my lap. We can hold her together."
Jack put JD down next to his wife, and watched as his son worked through a myriad of emotions before deciding to embrace the child in his mother's arms. Jack was relieved that all the groundwork he and Irina had laid before this meeting was working.
"Irina, did you say you had prepared lunch?" Jack headed toward the kitchen.
"It's on the stove. Beef Stroganoff. Sydney, it was one of your favorite meals when you were a child." She turned to her other daughter. "Nadia, I am sorry I never had the chance to get to know you as you grew up, but I would love to make your favorite meal while you are here."
Nadia worked past the lump still in her throat. "When I was in the orphanage, one of the local farms would supply beef once a week. Sophia would always make Beef Stroganoff. It's my favorite, too!"
"I'm not surprised, Nadia. It was always a special meal when we were growing up. Our family was wealthy by Russian standards, but meat was still scarce. Having beef was a luxury not afforded to most of our people."
Irina reluctantly rose from the couch and handed the baby back to Sydney. "Your father is hopeless in the kitchen. I need to stop him before he tries to finish getting it ready or lunch will be inedible." She stroked the baby's fine hair back from her face. "Jack, why don't you show the girls their rooms while I get everything ready."
Jack came out of the kitchen, and headed toward the stairs. "Your mother and I bought new furniture for all the bedrooms," he informed them as they walked up the stairs. "There is a crib for Isabelle in your room, Sydney, and one downstairs in the small office off of the den. JD has a cot in there, too. His room is off of our bedroom, but the den is closer to the main area of the house." He led them down the hallway to two rooms with doors opposite of each other. "Sydney, you are on the right and Nadia, yours is the one on the left. There is a small private bath in each room."
"What's down the other hall?" Nadia had glanced briefly at the doors at the end of the other passageway.
"Three more rooms. There are five in all on this level. Most of the rooms had the original furniture in it. Since your mother didn't use those rooms, they were in pretty bad shape when we arrived. The rooms are much more comfortable now. Katya, Anya, and Anatoly are coming for the birthday party. They will be in the rooms on the other side." Jack scowled. "Katya enjoys wreaking havoc, so you want to be on your toes."
"We met the twins on our way over here." Nadia smiled happily. "Anya said she recently moved to Canada, but Anatoly lives in LA. They want to take us to a Dodgers game when we get back home."
"Nadia has never been to a baseball game, Dad."
"You will have to let me know what you think after you've gone, Nadia. Anatoly has box seats, which will make watching very comfortable. He and Anya are quite the experts on baseball, but there is something about the cheap seats that really give you the flavor of the game. When I get back to LA, we can all go and sit a little closer to the action."
"That sounds great, Jack. I'll look forward to it, and I know Sydney will, too."
"Your mother should have lunch ready in about 10 minutes. If you don't want to unpack yet, Irina took the liberty of purchasing all three of you some suitable clothes for this area." Jack quickly turned away and headed down the stairs before they could ask any more questions.
Sydney laughed, and shrugged. "I wonder how Mom knew our sizes?"
"Jack told her?"
"No way. Dad is clueless about women's clothes. There is only one answer. It had to be …"
"Katya!" they both blurted out in unison. Grinning, they each entered their rooms, eagerly anticipating their new wardrobes.