By Joan Stephens
Through the mist of his falling tears, Jacob Wells stared with regret at the squirming, howling child he held in his hands. “Forgive me, my son. I tried so hard to save her but her age was against her. Heaven help me, what am I to do? Will I be reminded of my failure every time I look at you? Oh, I hope not but how am I to care for you? There is so much work to be done and we are so few. If only your mother had lived. Ah . . . Maybe Anna can help.”
The child seemed lost in the confines of the cardboard box they had fixed as his crib. He was so small, only slightly larger than the man’s hand. His crying had finally stopped, and exhausted, he slept deeply, his kitten-like face scrunched into a frown. The blankets barely rose and fell with his shallow breathing. Poor, little wee thing, what are you dreaming about? Where on earth did you come from? Father reached a gentle hand to stroke the fuzzy cheek; the child’s eyes snapped open, capturing the gray eyes of the man bending over him and in the process capturing Father’s heart. “My son,” he whispered.
The man’s eyes glittered with the beginnings of madness. Breathing heavily from his violent and disturbing emotions, he gazed intently at the kittenish child asleep in the crib. Jacob thought of this child as his son, but he, John Pater, Paracelsus, would claim him and bring him to his destiny. Cruelly he smiled at the thought of all he could teach this child about the glory of tyranny and fear. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps close by sent him hurrying out of the chamber, but not before he had grabbed the boy’s hand and hissed, “Mine!” The child’s frightened screams followed him as he sped through the tunnels to the dark lair he had chosen as his kingdom. Someday, he thought, someday, I will come for you.
* * ************
“What a miracle you are,” his father sighed as he gently brushed a lock of golden curls from his sleeping son’s forehead. “If only your mother were here.” Vincent’s eyes filled with tears. “How she would love to hold you and kiss your soft cheek. Oh Jacob, I miss her so much. I need her; you need her. What will we do without her?” Jacob’s green eyes opened and locked with those of his father as if he understood what had been said. Vincent was almost certain that he did.
What a beautiful child. The prefect combination of his mother and father. Tentatively she extended a long fingered hand to caress the child’s soft, golden hair. He smiled up at her from the softness of his crib, melting her heart and bringing out maternal feelings that she had never known were there. If only he was her son, then maybe his father could love her as he loves the child’s mother but that was not to be. She could pretend but they would never be hers. Still, she knew that she would love them both forever.
Weeping softly, she murmured, “My son, my son, my beautiful son.” The woman snatched the sleeping child into her hungry arms, startling him awake. “How I’ve hungered to hold you like this.” Cuddling him to her breast, she swayed back and forth, crooning endearments as she traced his features with shaking fingers. Smiling at the captivating woman, Jacob grabbed a manicured finger and stuck it into his mouth, wanting to taste her. Deliriously happy, Catherine glanced up at the man standing protectively beside her and said to both man and child, “I’ll never leave you again. Never!” “And we’ll never let you,” Vincent replied as he gathered his family into his strong, sheltering arms.