Epilogue

Melissa watched President Hanson make his way over to her and Scott, whom had been given seats of honor at the first lady's memorial for what they'd been through. Tears stained his cheeks, and his head was bowed in sadness. He'd been crying silently throughout the entire service.

"I am so sorry," she said, hesitantly giving him a short hug. She knew he must love his wife very much.

He buried his head in his hands. "As you two know the whole story and were involved in it until the end—I should tell you that she hadn't been the one to kill him. I don't want you thinking that."

"Even if it was, she would have no choice," Melissa covered his hand with hers in a compassionate gesture. "He was a rapist. I would have killed him, too. You saved her life, and she was innocent. The guilty one deserved to die, and he was Keith Powell. You both dealt with it well."

"I—I wanted to thank both of you for doing what you did. And I want to apologize for all that you've been through," he said suddenly, as if not wanting to talk about it any longer. They understood.

Scott nodded and smiled, and Melissa joined in with him. A 'you're welcome' or 'anytime' did not suit the moment or the situation, and neither were unable to conjure up something to reply with.

She took Scott's hand in her own, and they found their way out of the crowd. It was hard to find a place of seclusion, but as it was, they needed peace and quiet and a nice spot in which to think. When they finally found a silent part of the garden, they sat on a bench and took that moment to digest all that had happened in the last few weeks.

After a careful sweep of the ghost town above Pinewood Falls, they found more than just Shawn Powell's manila envelope full of money— wads of cash which had already been returned to their respective owners.

They found a toxic brown powder made of a mix of bat guano, tree bark, and a strange form of infection-causing bacteria that had been immediately given to scientists for studying.

But the most stunning discovery was this: Braiden Powell cowering in a corner. After extensive questioning, he admitted he knew where the antidote to the brown powder was located, and the stuff was being distributed all across the country at that very moment.

Now the younger Powell brother was in captivity, sentenced to a life in prison, just as he deserved.

As for the men that Shawn Powell—also known as Levi—had hired to help his operation, they never showed their faces anywhere the law was located, and probably had plans to immediately move out of the country.

"So Levi planted the brown powder everywhere, did he?" asked Melissa on a sudden thought, considering that the man had access to everything just as Scott did.

He nodded. "I suppose so."

"But how could it have spread so fast, and all across the country?"

"I'm sure Levi had people at every main hotel in the United States planting brown powder. He had this planned out terribly well. He even had his brother stalk you, Melissa. I'm glad he's dead," Scott answered.

Melissa touched a finger each to his bandaged nose, swollen eyelids, and painful-looking lip. Even his fingers were bruised, and his torso had taken several punches. "You were incredibly brave, Scott. It wouldn't have turned out the way it did if you hadn't done what you did."

He smiled. "Yes, well, you did—"

"Nothing. I did nothing. I picked up a gun and pointed it at him, but I did not shoot Shawn Powell," she said the words with pride.

"I heard that Shawn got a very high degree in science, and that was how he was able to get a vaccine for the disease. It took him years to do so. I suppose this was more news that Braiden spilled."

"And Paige and Ryan have been given the antidote?" Melissa asked wearily; she was still worried about her friends. She was still planning on asking her parents for money in order to pay their hospital bills, which were bound to be higher than high.

Scott nodded. "I called and made sure that the very first doses were given to them. Several large cases were sent specifically to the Pinewood Falls area and all the towns and cities surrounding it. And now they're working hard to contain the disease and get rid of all remnants of the powder."

"So this powder would have had to occur naturally, right?" Melissa asked, unable to disguise her curiosity.

He smiled. "I would think so, since the epidemic emptied the entire original Pinewood Falls without anybody conjuring it." They were silent for a few moments, and then he added, "And for the moment, I think we should just forget everything that has happened. At least for a few seconds, or minutes… no, hours."

With that said she pressed a soft kiss to his cheek and wrapped an arm around his waist.

Michelle joined them shortly later, and the sisters exchanged hugs. "Melissa, there's someone here to see you. She saw the funeral, but we couldn't catch up with you when you and Scott disappeared to the garden out here."

Frowning, Melissa turned to see her father pushing a wheelchair into their garden cubicle. "Mom!" she gasped, running to the woman that sat in the wheelchair with a weak smile on her face.

"Melissa," Lilly Manchelli whispered softly, reaching up a hand to her daughter's face.

Kneeling by her mother's feet, she looked at her father. "Does she—"

"I remember," she interrupted softly, knowing exactly what her daughter was going to inquire. "And I'm doing well."

"It's only been a couple of weeks!" Melissa exclaimed, wondering what on earth her mother was doing out of the hospital, and so many hundreds of miles away from home.

"Yes, well, we got special permission from the doctor to come. We're going immediately back to the hospital tonight."

Melissa kissed her mother's cheek softly and smiled, taking hold of her hand. "I'm so glad you're okay, Mom, and that you remember everything."

A large hand warmed her back, and she stood silently to receive Scott's embrace.

"So what are you planning on doing after this?" Michelle asked, somewhat impatiently.

"Well," Melissa started. "I'm definitely going back home until Mom is out of the hospital. Although I doubt this little trip was any good for her healing," she sent a sharp but playful look in her mother's direction. "And then I'm thinking that I'll spend a little while longer at a certain cabin rental in Pinewood Falls, Colorado."

Scott smiled down at her and looked over to Michelle, Lilly, and Brian, saying sarcastically, "We're actually planning on unwittingly becoming pawns in a complex terrorist plot to get revenge on the president. It should be fun."