Booyong Mountain part 2 by Lois Kay

part 10

With a groan of pain, Robin tried to open her eyes but it felt like the lids had been glued together. It was hard to move, her whole body felt limp and heavy, making her want to lie down and sleep. Something was nagging in the back of her mind. She could not really remember what, but somehow she knew it was important.

Mustering up all the energy her tired body could provide, Robin opened one eye, expecting to find herself in her own bed, with a magnificent hangover. Some time soon, her mother would be entering her room, giving her grief about going to a late night party .

With a stab of pain, Robin suddenly remembered her mother was not alive anymore and she let out a soft moan. It happened sometimes, the dreams that made everything seem so real. In her dreams, her parents were still alive and she was happy. Until she woke up and realization set in.

With a sigh Robin rubbed her aching head. It was hard to remember what had caused the throbbing pain behind her eyes and in the back of her head. Had she been drinking? She could not imagine she had. But then, what had happened?

“I need to wake up my brain. What happened?” Robin whispered to herself.

Robin’s eyes flew open when she heard a soft moan next to her and slowly she pushed herself up, until she was sitting. With a dazed look, she glanced around the dimly lit, unfamiliar room. She took a deep breath, trying to push away the feeling of nausea that had settled in the pit of her stomach and moistened her dry, cracked lips.

Again, she heard a soft moan and her eyes slowly traveled through the room, until they came to rest on a long, dark-haired figure, curled up on the ground.

Suddenly she remembered.

“Fiona!” Robin breathed, trying to get up, but her legs felt like they were made out of jelly and she slumped back against the hard ground.

With a sob of frustration, Robin crawled towards the photographer, while her body protested, begging her just to lie down and go back to sleep.

Ignoring a few sharp rocks that scraped her knees, Robin determinedly made her way over to Fiona and when she had finally reached her, she gratefully sank down next to her.

With trembling fingers, she brushed the dark hair away from Fiona’s face, immediately noticing how pale the photographer was, even in the low lighting. The color of her skin made her freckles stand out even more and, in spite of her misery, Robin smiled. Not being able to control her desire to touch that skin, her fingers cautiously traced over a dark, shapely eyebrow and slid down a freckle dusted cheek. When, in reaction, the dark eyelashes fluttered, Robin slowly pulled her hand away. She watched as Fiona opened her eyes, to close them again immediately.

“Ouch, that hurts,” her voice croaked. “What happened? Did we get drunk, or something?”

“Or something,” Robin answered with a sigh. “I’m glad you’ re awake, though. How do you feel?”

“I don’t,” Fiona muttered, covering her eyes with her hands. “I hurt.”

“He must have used gas, to knock us out,” Robin explained, coughing . “That’s probably why we feel so sick. I remember us being pushed in the back of that truck and him slamming the door. The last thing I remember is hearing a sort of hissing noise.”

“I thought it was a snake,” Fiona confessed in a hoarse voice. “But I guess it wasn’t, since we’ re both still alive.”

“I wonder where he took us,” Robin mumbled, looking around the small room. The floor was made out of rock, that seemed to be volcanic, just like the walls and the ceiling.

With obvious reluctance, Fiona opened her eyes and studied their surroundings.

“Looks like a cave to me,” she sighed, wincing in pain when she pushed herself upright. Her eyes followed the wire that ran from the weak light to a small hole in the rocky surface.

“Smart,” she mumbled. “I bet that thing is solar powered. We must be in a cave somewhere, Robin.”

“I’m afraid so,” Robin nodded, immediately regretting that motion, because a sharp pain shot through her head. “I wish I knew how long we’ve been unconscious. That way we could figure out how far away from home we are.”

Home.

Fiona felt a lump rise in her throat and swallowed hard to push it down again, which was hard to do, because her mouth and throat felt like they were made out of leather. She did not want to break down. Not now. And certainly not in front of Robin.

“He took my watch,” she heard Robin say and when she looked up she noticed the distress in the other women’s eyes. Robin’s voice, naturally husky, was rasping and Fiona knew that if the biologist was only half as thirsty as she herself was, she had to be in agony.

Looking around the small area, Fiona noticed some items in a dark corner and with a groan of pain, she grabbed the wall and pulled herself up. Immediately she felt her knees buckle, but stubbornly she held her ground, until her legs lost the rubbery feeling and she could take a few tentative steps.

“Careful,” Robin croaked, lacking Fiona’s strength and staying where she was.

Slowly, Fiona walked towards the items that had piqued her interest, every now and then leaning against the wall for support.

When she was able to examine the small pile, she was grateful to see a few bottles of water. Picking up two, she walked back to Robin and let herself slide down the wall, until she was sitting on the hard, cold floor again.

“Here,” she said, handing Robin a bottle, who took it and twirled it around in her hands, studying it from every angle.

“Not thirsty?” Fiona asked with a forced smile.

“Oh, yeah, very,” Robin sighed. “Do you think it’s safe to drink though?”

“The bottles are sealed, so, yes, I think so. Besides, if he’d wanted to kill us, he’d have done it already, don’t you think?” Fiona answered, uncapping the lid and taking a careful swig. She cautiously tasted the water and then swallowed it, letting out a small sigh of relief.

“It tastes good, try it.”

But Robin didn’t need any more encouragement. She opened the bottle and immediately gulped down half of it. She would have drank it all, if Fiona had not grabbed the bottle and pulled it away.

“Slow down, Miss Sponge, I don’t want you to get sick,” she joked faintly. Her face became serious when she cast a quick look in the corner. “Besides, we don’t know how long we’ll be here.”

“What else is there?” Robin asked curiously, knowing Fiona was right.

“About ten bottles of water, some cans of meat and beans and, believe it or not, a chemical toilet.”

“Really? No bathtub or shower?” Robin remarked dryly.

“Sorry, it’s not the Hilton here,” Fiona smiled, happy to see Robin had not lost her sense of humor. “No jacuzzi and no chocolates on the pillow.”

“Well, that’s the last time I book a room in this joint,” Robin answered. “Any chance of a blanket being here somewhere?”

“Sorry,” Fiona mumbled, not looking forward to sitting and sleeping on the hard, uneven surface. “How’s your head? As painful as mine?”

Robin nodded and bit her bottom lip. She really should stop doing that. Every time she moved her head it hurt. Badly.

“Do you want an aspirin?” Fiona asked softly.

Robin’s eyes lit up and she glanced at her companion with expectant eyes.

“Did he leave some?”

“No, he didn’t,” Fiona answered, reaching into the pocket of her shorts. “But I have some. Apparently, he only stripped us of our watches and didn’t bother to check our pockets.”

“Do you always walk around with aspirin in your pocket?” Robin curiously asked, sending Fiona a grateful look when she handed her one of the white tablets.

“Not as a rule, no,” Fiona answered, swallowing down her pill with a sip of water. “I forgot to put them in my bag. Good thing I did, huh?”

“Very good, thank you,” Robin sighed, reaching out and grabbing Fiona’s hand to give it a gentle squeeze. “You’re sweet,” she added softly.

Aware of the hazel eyes studying her expression, Fiona shrugged her shoulders and pulled a face.

“Don’t let that get around,” she joked, feeling a little better after drinking the water. “Besides, I…” she hesitated for a moment before continuing. “I really am not, sweet, that is.”

“Yes, you are,” Robin answered gently. “But you just haven’t discovered that part of yourself yet.”

“And you have?”

Ooops, tricky question, Robin. How are you going to answer that one?. Think! Stall!!

Robin brought the bottle back to her mouth and slowly took a few sips to buy herself some time. She was aware of the curious look in Fiona’s eyes and she knew the photographer was patiently waiting for an answer. She wanted to be honest, without giving up the distance she thought she needed so badly.

“I’ve seen the way you interact with Taryn and Timothy and I noticed how your family, especially Jody, can push all the right buttons and make you seem…human,” Robin answered with a mixture of warmth and humor. It had the desired effect, because Fiona grinned, momentarily forgetting about her headache.

“There’s hope for me still,” she responded with a wink, before leaning back against the wall and studying their surroundings with a critical eye.

“We’ re in trouble, Robin,” she finally said matter-of-factly.

“Yes, we are,” Robin answered with a sigh. She looked at, what appeared to be the entrance; a small opening in the wall that was blocked off with something on the outside.

“Do you think we can push away whatever’s on the other side?” she asked with a hint of hope in her voice, deep down inside knowing that would probably be impossible.

“Did you see that bloke?” Fiona responded with a raised eyebrow, but she walked to the small opening, where she knelt down and curiously examined the entrance. She reached out a hand and pushed against the hardboard that was firmly held in place by something on the outside. It didn’t budge. Not even when she used her legs to try and make it move.

“I guess it’s pretty sturdy.” Robin raked her fingers through her hair, noticing the slight tremble. “We’ re stuck in here, aren’t we?”

Fiona looked down at the older woman, who was still sitting on the cold floor and who was glancing up at her with sad eyes. She nodded and let her tall body slide back on the hard surface, until she was sitting next to Robin. In spite of the cool air inside their makeshift prison, she could feel the warmth radiating off the biologist’s body. It was strangely comforting.

“I suppose ‘stuck’ is the right word,” Fiona agreed. “I guess we won’t immediately starve to death, seeing the boogy man left us some wonderful haute cuisine. All we can do right now is wait for somebody to come looking for us. I’m sure that by now they know we’ re missing.”

“You think so?” Robin sighed, feeling tired and miserable. All she wanted to do was lean against the taller body next to her, in search of some warmth and comfort, because Fiona’s presence made her feel safe and protected. But she knew she could not give into that longing, so Robin leaned back against the wall, wincing when she felt the sharp rock against her back.

“I know so,” Fiona smiled, trying hard to keep her voice light. “Sam’s security system must have recorded our…kidnapping. They know we’re gone, believe me. They’re looking for us right now.”

****

Trishia Waters had just stepped out of the shower and was in the process of toweling herself off, which was not easy, considering Lucy’s roaming hands were very distractive, when the phone rang.

Rolling her eyes in frustration, Lucy stepped back and sent her partner a saucy grin.

“This conversation will be continued later, Senior-Sergeant,” she purred, blowing the police woman a kiss. “Without interruptions.”

Trishia chuckled and eyed the phone that was still ringing. She really didn’t want to answer, but she knew she had to. She was already running late and knew her Inspector expected her to give a briefing in…Trishia cast a glance at the alarm clock…forty-five minutes.

With a frustrated sigh she stepped into the bedroom and picked up the phone.

“Trishia Waters,” she announced, immediately stiffening when she heard the tense voice on the other side. “What?…Sam, are you…? Of course you’re serious. Did you call the station?….Alright, good…What happened?….Damn…you got that on tape? Great. I’ll be right there….How are Jody and Joshua?….Sure…no,no, I’ll bring her with me. Be right there. Call my cell phone if you hear anything.”

Trishia slammed the phone down and turned around, not surprised to see Lucy was already dressed. Her long hair was wet and she was quickly braiding it to keep it out of her face that was pale and withdrawn.

“What happened?” she asked, glancing up at her partner who was quickly buttoning up the shirt of her uniform.

Trishia swallowed hard, dreading having to tell her partner the bad news. Lucy could get very emotional and she hoped and prayed that the shock of what she was about to tell her, would not affect her early pregnancy in a negative way. She knew Lucy expected her to be honest and straightforward. Beating around the bush was not an option.

“Fiona and Robin have been kidnapped,” Trishia answered in a voice that was laced with rage and frustration.

Lucy’s hand froze in mid-motion and her eyes went wide when she looked at her partner, trying to process what she had just heard.

“Kidnapped?” she whispered.

Trishia nodded and stepped closer to Lucy, so she could wrap her arm around the soft, familiar body. Immediately, Lucy’s arms slid around her waist and for a few moments they stood there, close together, strengthening each other with their closeness.

“How?” Lucy’s hoarse voice sounded.

“He waited till they had crossed the bridge, then blocked their path, blew up the bridge and calmly got out of the truck. They had nowhere to go.”

“Is it on tape?”

“Yes, all of it,” Trishia sighed, grateful for Sam’s persistence in keeping their security system upgraded.

“Are we going there now?” Lucy felt Trishia nod and looked up into a pair of pained green-blue eyes. “What about the bridge?”

“Sam’s got a crew over there right now, fixing it,” Trishia answered. “Peter and Carol Wong are on their way as well. We’ ll meet them there.”

“Let’s go then,” Lucy spoke, untangling herself from Trishia’s body, but a pair of strong hands on her shoulders stopped her.

“Are you alright? If this is too much, I…”

“Honey, this is my family. I need to be there and I’ll be fine,” Lucy swallowed hard and tried to ignore the fear that spread through her body and threatened to make her physically ill. The confrontation with the possibility of losing her sister and the toll it could take on her unborn baby, were almost too much to bear. But she didn’t have a choice. Her family needed her. And she needed her family.

“I’ll be fine,” she repeated in a whisper, blinking away the tears when she saw her own fear being reflected in Trishia’s eyes. “I need to be.”

“I’ll find them,” Trishia promised. “And I swear I’ll catch whoever is responsible for this.”

“I know you will,” Lucy smiled through her tears. “I love you, Trishia.”

“I love you too, Lucy,” Trishia whispered back, putting a warm hand over Lucy’s belly in a protective manner. “And I love our baby and I will protect it with all I am.”

“Yes, you will,” Lucy smiled, pulling Trishia’s head down for a quick, but heartfelt kiss.

“Let’s go, honey,” Trishia whispered when they broke apart. “Time is precious.”

****

“When did you find out, Sam?” Trishia asked, pacing the room. She looked like a caged tiger, with a body full of coiled up energy, ready to act in the blink of an eye.

Samantha Stevens cast a look at their kitchen that was filled with people. All of them different, but with one common denominator; they were all angry, frustrated and worried.

Sam’s eyes traveled to Jody, who was sitting next to Lucy, with one arm draped around her sister’s chair. Her face was calm, but anyone who knew her well, could see the emerald green eyes were dark with worry and, occasionally, flashing with anger.

“I heard an unfamiliar sound,” Sam explained, nervously drumming her fingers against her thigh. “At first I didn’t think much of it, but Kurt jumped up and just took off, down the road.” Sam paused for a moment to compose her thoughts. “I told him to stay put, but he didn’t listen. To me that was a sign something was up. I went into my office to have a look at the security system, because that was faster than driving down the road and when I switched on the monitor I…” Sam swallowed hard and took a deep breath to control the anger she could feel rise inside her chest. “I was just in time to see the truck leave. Fiona’s car was in the middle of the road, with the doors wide open, the bridge was collapsed and the girls were nowhere in sight.”

“Do we have a license plate?” Trishia asked Peter Jones, who was busy scribbling something on a small notepad.

“They’ re tracking it right now,” he calmly answered, but the tension in his voice was clearly audible. “Hopefully, we’ ll have a name soon.”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Carol Wong spoke up from her seat on Lucy’s other side. “This looks like it’s been well prepared. The truck is probably stolen. What are our leads, Trishia?”

Carol Wong cast a look at the grim expression on the face of one of the best police officers she had ever worked with. Trishia Waters was conscientious, thorough and reliable. And she had an instinct that had never proven her wrong. Yet.

“I’m fairly certain the kidnapper is the same person that has been roaming the mountain the day before someone fired a shot at Fiona and Robin. He’s the one Fiona took a picture of. The build and height are the same. And he wears the same mask,” she added in something that closely resembled a growl. “That means he’s been hanging around for a while, staking out and waiting for a chance. He knew where to find the girls. He also must have known when to find them. There was no luck on his side. It was too well-planned. He has information about this family. I don’t know where or how he got it, but I’ll find out.”

Trishia’s stormy eyes met a pair of alert clear blue ones and for a brief moment Sam and the tall police woman shared a silent conversation. They knew from the expression on each other’s faces that they were having the same thoughts. And the expression on their faces turned from surprise to anger to determination. If it had not been such a tragic situation, they would both have laughed about it.

“Spill it,” Carol Wong ordered, having seen the exchange of looks. Her intelligent brown eyes darted between Trishia and Sam glinting in her eagerness for answers.

“Ira,” Trishia and Sam spoke at the same time.

“Son of a bitch!” Trishia cursed, slamming her right fist in the her left palm. “That creepy, little slime! I bet he has something to do with all this. I can feel it in my bones.”

“Ira?” Jody echoed. “But how? He’s a friend of Michael and I don’t think that…”

“He’s not a friend, honey,” Sam interrupted, shaking her head. “He practically forced his company on your brother and Mike was just too nice to say ‘no’. He wanted to do the right thing and give this guy somewhere to stay during the weekend.”

“So, you say he’s a spy?” Lucy asked with utter disbelief.

“I bet he is,” Trishia answered with a voice full of self-confidence. “And I bet that Michael can tell us exactly what kind of questions he has been asking him.” Trishia turned to Sam and shot her a questioning look. “Do we have a last name on this bloke?”

“He introduced himself as Ira Kilwins.”

Trishia looked at one of the police officers who were lined up in front of the kitchen counter and, in response, he immediately stood up straight.

“I want you to contact the University in Brisbane and find out anything you can about this bloke.”

“Yes, Senior-Sergeant,” the young officer nodded. He was about to step outside, when Jody’s soft voice made him stop dead in his tracks.

“It’s an anagram,” she said, her voice void of emotion.

Her eyes had a sad expression when she looked up at Sam, who stared at her with disbelieving eyes.

“Honey?”

“It’s an anagram, Sam. Kilwins….Wilkins….Could he be related to Gerry Wilkins?” her soft voice sounded loud in the suddenly silent kitchen.

“Who’s Gerry Wilkins?” Lucy asked, shooting her sister a puzzled look.

Trishia, who had been frozen on the spot after Jody’s words, looked at her Inspector with an expression that was a mixture of hope and excitement. When her eyes traveled back to Jody, they were filled with respect and admiration.

“If he is, we might have found our missing link,” she said, her voice hoarse with emotion.

****

“What time do you think it is?” Robin’s voice penetrated Fiona’s somber thoughts and she slowly opened her eyes.

“I’ve no idea. I don’t know how long we’ve been unconscious. For all I know, it’s Christmas 2008.”

In spite of their misery, Robin chuckled and sent Fiona an amused look.

“In that case, Merry Christmas, Fiona.”

With a grin, Fiona pushed herself up from her slumped position against the wall and gingerly stretched her legs. They were stiff and cold and deep down inside she knew that the cool temperature in the cave would slowly but surely make things worse for them.

“I wish I could tell you the time. Judging by my growling stomach, it’s way past lunch time. It could even be night, I don’t know. Weird how the lack of a watch in a place like this can be so…disconcerting.”

“I know,” Robin nodded, rubbing the cool skin of her bare arms and legs. The pain in her shoulder had returned with a vengeance and she tried hard to ignore the dull, throbbing pain.

“Does your shoulder hurt?” she heard Fiona ask and she nodded.

“How did you know?”

“By the way you move and the way you keep rubbing it,” Fiona answered. “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to notice that, Robin,” she added teasingly.

“That’s obvious,” Robin answered, smiling when she heard Fiona chuckle.

“Come here.”

“What?” Robin looked up at Fiona who was patting the hard surface in front of her.

“Come here,” the photographer repeated. “Scoot over here. I won’t bite.”

“What are you going to do?” Robin frowned.

“Nothing illegal,” Fiona quipped with a wink. “Now, stop questioning my sincere motives and get your behind parked right here.”

That’s very close, Robin. You’d practically be sitting on her lap. Robin swallowed hard and tried to ignore the warning voice in the back of her mind.

Sitting on her lap, huh? And that would be wrong…why, exactly?

“Alright,” she sighed, wondering what Fiona was up to. Whatever it was, she hoped she could handle the close proximity without making a fool of herself.

Obediently, Robin took a seat in front of Fiona, very aware of the warm presence at her back. Slightly nervous, she moistened her lips and she opened her mouth to ask:’What now?’, when all of a sudden she felt a pair of warm, strong hands descend on her painful shoulder, gently rubbing and kneading the painful muscles.

Robin closed her eyes in pure bliss and could not prevent a soft moan from escaping her lips. Behind her Fiona laughed softly, but she didn’t make any remark. Instead, the photographer cautiously worked Robin’s shoulder, hoping she wouldn’t do anything that would make the pain worse.

“I hope I don’t hurt you,” she spoke after a long silence. “I’m not exactly a massage therapist.”

“You could have fooled me,” Robin sighed, letting her head drop forward, ignoring the interesting tingles that Fiona’s touch sent through her body. For a few precious minutes, she was able to forget that she had been kidnapped and had been locked up in a cave with no way to escape.

Fiona bit her lip and stared at the back of Robin’s head and neck, while her fingers did their best to bring the other woman relief. Judging by the small, contented noises Robin made, she guessed she was doing the right thing. Gently pushing away a strand of curly hair, Fiona let her thumb cautiously stroke the soft skin of Robin’s neck. It was logical to think that when the shoulder hurt, the neck would as well. Right?

Fiona briefly closed her eyes, wondering what it would be like to lean forward and let her lips brush across the soft, inviting skin that was so tantalizingly close.

Her eyes snapped open and mentally Fiona slapped herself. Robin was not interested in her and the only thing she could do to save herself from some very embarrassing moments, was to keep her distance.

Inwardly, Fiona chuckled wryly. It was not exactly as if she would know how to proceed anyway, even if Robin would have been interested. All she could do was use her intuition and imagination. The latter one was working overtime already anyway and Fiona realized touching Robin was not helping her any. But it felt so good…

“We need a plan,” Robin’s voice suddenly filled the silence and Fiona let out a small sigh. Back to reality.

“I know,” she answered, without interrupting her gentle massage. “Any ideas?”

“I’ve been thinking, but the only plan I can come up with is to jump on him as soon as he gets back. If ever,” she added softly, with a hint of bitterness in her voice.

“He’s probably armed,” Fiona answered calmly, although Robin’s remark had made her heart pound in her chest. The idea of getting into a physical confrontation with the big man, was not exactly appealing. Nor reassuring.

“All the more reason to take him by surprise,” Robin replied. “If we’d both jump on him, we might have an advantage.”

“My only black belt is part of the suit I wore at my first exhibition,” Fiona answered dryly, making Robin chuckle.

“I love your sense of humor, Fiona,” she said warmly, feeling the kneading fingers still, only for a second before they resumed their blissful work.

“Thank you,” Fiona smiled. “I assume your…brief…police training did leave you with a few tricks?”

“Just a few,” Robin nodded. “But I used to do some martial arts. I even taught a class or two in self-defense. That was one of the ways I paid my way through university.”

“Remind me never to pick a fight with you,” Fiona teased lightly. “But I’ve got to admit it makes me feel a little better. So, Warrior Princess, what’s the plan?”

“Hit him…hard… and then make a run for it.”

“Mmm…that sounds pretty…basic. We don’t know where we are, though.”

“It can’t be worse than being locked up in this…this…”

“Hibernation paradise?” Fiona added helpfully, smiling when Robin laughed.

“Something like that,” Robin agreed. She half-turned to cast a look at Fiona, feeling a rush of blood coarse through her system when she noticed how close the dark-green eyes were. And those soft, pink lips…

Quickly she turned around again, not aware of the faint blush that colored Fiona’s cheeks.

“We’ll have to do it together. If not, we don’t stand a chance.”

“Just tell me what you want me to do,” Fiona replied, her voice a little hoarse. She quickly cleared her throat and hoped that Robin could not feel the trembling of her body.

****

The sun was descending, painting the sky in shades of pink and orange, when Kurt let out a loud, happy bark and bolted down the road. Startled by the unexpected sound, Jody looked up to see a familiar car steadily climb the hill.

A warm feeling flooded through her body when she jumped up and stepped off the veranda in order to greet the visitors, who had become her family.

“Sam! Yarra and Alice are here,” she called over her shoulder, momentarily forgetting the gnawing feelings of fear and worry that had taken up permanent residence in her stomach.

Before the car could even come to a standstill, a door was opened and Alice jumped out. The blonde’s face was pale and withdrawn and when she wrapped her arms around Jody in a tight hug, the smaller woman could hear a soft sob.

“Any news?” Yarra asked, as soon as she had exited the car.

Jody shook her head and willed away her tears. She had promised herself to remain calm and positive. Lucy, Joshua and the rest of her family needed her. Not to mention the twins, who had been extraordinary sweet that day. It was as if the toddlers felt something had happened, because even Taryn had been on her best behavior, constantly seeking Sam’s or Jody’s company and cuddling up to them.

Timothy had quietly watched the nervous and frantic adults pace through the kitchen, living room and veranda and with a serious expression on his face he had studied the constant stream of coming and going people, mainly police officers.

When the little boy had noticed the silent tears on his aunt’s cheeks he had climbed into her lap, gently patting her cheek, before he had wrapped his little arms around Lucy’s neck to give her a sloppy, but well-meant kiss. It had made Lucy smile through her tears and from that moment on Timothy and she were inseparable.

It had warmed Sam’s heart to see the comfort her son was able to bring to his aunt. As young as he was, it was obvious that Timothy had Jody’s character and she was grateful for that. Her family meant the world to her. Now, if they could only find their missing loved ones and bring them home…

****

“I felt something was wrong when I woke up this morning,” Alice sniffed, wiping away the tears that had welled up in her eyes.

“She did,” Yarra nodded. “I told her it was probably nothing.” Yarra bit her lip and Jody could see the guilt and distress in her soulful brown eyes.

“That’s the last time I ignore one of Alice’s premonitions,” she swore. “I should have listened and called Fi to tell her to stay put and…”

“Yarra, honey, don’t do this to yourself,” Jody interrupted softly. “It’s not your fault. This…attack…was well-planned and thought out. He would have found another way.”

“I’m so sorry, Jody,” Yarra spoke, her voice almost breaking. Fiona was one of the best friends she had ever had and the thought that somebody might hurt her drove her insane with worry and anger.

Alice let go of Jody and wrapped her arm around her lover’s waist in a silent gesture of love and support.

“We still don’t know where he could have taken them,” Jody explained softly. “Hopefully they’ll find a clue soon. Or maybe he’ll contact us…” her voice trailed off and Alice saw the emerald eyes darken. Glancing up at Yarra, she caught the look in her lover’s eyes and she nodded.

“Jody, listen,” she began slowly, looking at the woman who once had saved her sanity and life. Jody had given her hope and had helped to restore her faith and rescued her ability to love.

“Last night, I had a dream,” Alice continued, seeing Jody’s intelligent green eyes light up with interest. “It was before all this happened and I couldn’t make any sense of it. But…” Alice hesitated for a moment, but then continued. She was among family and nobody would ridicule her. “As soon as I heard about Fiona and Robin I knew my dream had meaning. Jody, I think I know where they are.”

****

“So, what else did you do when you were a student?”

Robin opened her eyes and shot Fiona a dazed look. She had been dozing and the unexpected question had interrupted some very nice fantasies. The subject of those day-dreams sitting right next to her on the cold, hard floor.

“You mean job-wise?” she asked, seeing Fiona nod.

With a sigh Robin straightened her back and legs, crossing them at the ankles. She knew that Fiona trusted her and she did not want to lose that. She needed to tell her the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that would make her feel. Or both of them, maybe.

“I worked in a bar.”

“You make it sound like that’s a despicable way to make a living,” Fiona responded calmly. Robin’s voice had carried a hint of shame and guilt.

“It wasn’t a regular bar, Fiona,” Robin sighed. “I worked as a top-less waitress.”

Fiona did not immediately respond. She just turned her head, so she could look at the woman next to her and when Robin finally dared to look up, Fiona’s eyes were warm and sympathetic.

“You must have received a lot of tip-money,” she smiled with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

Robin felt a blush creep up her cheeks and with a groan she covered them with her hands, while Fiona laughed softly.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” the photographer chuckled.

It’s just that, if you would have been my waitress, I would have given you a very generous tip.

Yes, and why is that, Fiona McDonnell?

“Thank you, I think,” Robin finally responded, glancing aside at the woman next to her. “It’s just that…it’s not something I’m really proud of. I felt pretty cheap, but I needed the money. My parents did leave us some, but I had Josh to take care of and I wanted to make sure there would be money left if he decided to study. Studying at the university is not exactly cheap.”

“No, it isn’t,” Fiona agreed. She stretched out her hand and covered Robin’s fidgeting fingers, immediately feeling them still. Giving the hand a gentle squeeze, she pulled away slowly, wishing she could have left it there. But, as she had noticed before, touching Robin was not a good idea. It awoke a tidal wave of feelings, she still had difficulty making sense of. Fiona’s biggest concern was the fact that it felt so right. So comforting. Part of her wished there could be some physical distance between them, so she could try to make sense of all the emotions that flooded her senses, while another part of her wanted nothing else but to be close to Robin. As close as possible.

In the meantime, Robin tried to still her racing heart by taking deep, slow breaths. Fiona’s comforting gesture had taken her completely by surprise and even though the warm fingers had only held her hand for a brief moment, she could still feel her skin tingle.

Deny all you want, Robin, but your body’s response doesn’t lie. You’re so attracted to her, you’ re about to explode!

****

Effortlessly, he found his way through the forest, where the darkness had set in early. The canopy of trees, shading the underlying world from the sun, filtered the daylight and provided the early night he craved so much.

While his long, strong legs carried him down the steep slope, his thoughts were occupied with the things he had to do. There were things he wished he had thought of before. Like the note. The man had wanted him to make the girls write a note, as proof he had not hurt them.

He was content with that. Deep down inside he had been afraid the man would have ordered him to cut off a finger, or an ear. He had seen it in the movies and the thought alone made him sick to his stomach. Killing someone was one thing, torturing was something completely different. Unconsciously, his gloved hand went to his masked face. He knew all about torture and pain. And injustice. The only one he wanted to suffer was the one who had been responsible for taking the life of the only person who had been like family to him.

He pushed aside a few branches and eyed the contraption he had made to close the entrance to the little cave. Nobody would be able to find it. Even if somebody would pass it, some lost hiker, it would be invisible. It was hidden behind some bushes and the entrance itself was blocked with a piece of plywood, held in place by a few huge boulders, only he could move.

He nodded and stepped a little closer, ready to move the first of the three huge rocks. He knew the tricky part would be when he would crawl through the small opening. It was the only moment he would be vulnerable. But only for a few seconds, because he was fast. Besides, the girls might still be asleep from the gas he used. They had been when he had carried them up the hill and back down again on the other side. They had not even moved or made a sound. There had been a few moments he had thought that, maybe, he had killed them. But when he had stopped, he had heard their breathing.

The gloved hands grasped another boulder and slowly he pushed the heavy rock aside. He reached out for the plywood and lifted it up, seeing the opening to the cave appear.

Grasping the gun that had been securely held in place by his belt, he stepped closer.

****

“Are you tired?” Robin asked softly, turning so she could see Fiona’s face.

“Bone tired,” the photographer sighed. “How is your headache?”

“Practically gone, thanks,” Robin answered with a small smile. She changed position, wincing when she accidently sat on a sharp piece of rock and wiggled back towards the wall, in search of a comfortable spot. The idea of having to spend the next days like this almost made her scream in frustration. She didn’t even dare to think beyond the next few days. What if it would be longer? A lot longer? What if they would never be able to get out?

Robin closed her eyes and felt hot tears well up behind the closed lids. What would happen to Joshua if she would die? Would Sam and Jody be kind enough to look after him? They would be heartbroken if anything would happen to Fiona.

A wave of nausea traveled through her body. She would be heartbroken as well, if something would happen to the photographer. But then, they were in it together. Whatever would happen, she, Robin, had the chance to be there for Fiona and help her, in any way she could. Even if they would have to face the end of their lives, they would do it together and she…

Robin’s head shot up and her eyes opened wide when an unexpected scraping sound suddenly shattered the silence. Turning towards Fiona she noticed the tall woman had already jumped to her feet and was extending a hand to help her. Robin grasped the offered hand and felt herself being hauled up.

Sharing a nervous look, they both grasped their makeshift weapons and positioned themselves on either side of the entrance. Robin looked up and noticed that, even in the dim light that illuminated the cave, Fiona’s face was pale, making her eyes look even darker. But her expression was one of grim determination and her tall body was coiled in tension. Ready to strike.

The scraping sound became louder and when it stopped, the entrance to the cave suddenly was not as pitch-dark as it had been before. Robin squinted her eyes and peered intently at the only way to freedom. Outside she could detect the dark outline of leaves and branches, while a soft breeze filled the cool, but stuffy cave.

With their hearts pounding in their chests, Fiona and Robin watched breathlessly as a dark, solid form started to crawl through the small opening. He grunted softly, when his shoulders scraped the uneven, sharp rock.

He was moving fast. Faster than Robin had anticipated and with a look that bordered on panic, she clenched the heavy object in her hand, glancing at Fiona who gave her a curt nod.

For a brief moment, their eyes met and in Fiona’s gaze, Robin could see the trust the other woman had in her. There was no time to second-guess herself. No time to hesitate. If they wanted to live, they needed to act.

When the tall, solid frame of what Robin believed had to be their kidnpper, cleared the entrance she sent up a short, heartfelt prayer. It was now or never.

“Now!” she shouted.

Immediately Fiona took a swing, hitting the man on the side of his head. He howled in surprise and in pain. His grip on the gun tightened and he was about to bring up his hand, when a vicious kick against his elbow made him lose his weapon. Another blow landed in his chest, knocking the breath out of him and, through a thick, foggy haze, he could hear some voices, but they sounded far away. Then, all of a sudden, when he was still trying hard not to lose consciousness, his body was jerked forward. He growled in frustration and felt another blow, this time on the back of his head.

Everything turned black.

“Did we kill him?” Fiona asked with a quivering voice, staring at the still body that was lying at her feet.

Robin knelt down and quickly checked for a pulse, letting out a breath of relief when she could feel a rhythmic, strong beat underneath her fingertips.

“No, he’s alive and there’s no telling how long he’ll be out. We’ll have to go.”

She jumped back to her feet and followed Fiona, who had already crawled through the small opening and who was nervously rocking on her heels.

“Did you get the gun?” she asked, as soon as Robin’s head appeared through the opening.

The muttered curse was enough answer and she noticed Robin was about to turn back into the cave, when they both heard an angry, frustrated growl coming from within.

“Forget the gun,” Fiona almost shouted, grabbing Robin’s arm and hauling her to her feet. “We’ve got to go. Now!”

Still holding on firmly to Robin’s arm, Fiona pulled the other woman with her into the darkness. She knew they had to be in the rainforest, but had no clue as to where. It was too dark to see more than a few feet in front of them and she didn’t know if they were heading in the right direction. But at the moment she didn’t care. All she wanted was to put as much distance between themselves and their kidnapper.

“Do you know where we are going?” Robin panted, constantly looking over her shoulder to see if they were being followed, which was useless, she knew, because it was too dark to see anything.

“Away from him,” Fiona answered, cursing when she almost tripped over a thick tree root.

“Good enough for me,” Robin answered, breathing hard. Her ribs and shoulder were still sore and the running did not help to improve the uncomfortable feeling. A small rock made her lose her balance and with a muffled scream, Robin felt herself fall forward, closing her eyes shut and waiting for the impact.

She had not counted on Fiona’s reflexes though. The photographer had felt the woman behind her slip and she quickly turned around, stretching out her arms to steady the biologist. But they had been running and as soon as her hands grasped Robin’s shoulders, the momentum took them both down, sending them crashing into some bushes that were, thankfully, free of thorns and thick enough to prevent serious injury.

Fiona hit the ground first and before she knew what was happening, Robin’s body impacted with her own. To prevent them from sliding down further, Fiona wrapped her arms around Robin’s slightly smaller frame and held her tightly, while she stretched out her legs, digging her heels into the forest ground to stop them from moving. It worked and after a few tense moments they came to a stop; Fiona stretched out on the damp ground, with branches sticking into her back and Robin draped across her front.

“Well, that was fun,” she gasped, breathing in a lung full of fresh air that smelled like earth and wet leaves.

Robin, who was very aware of her position on top of Fiona, could only nod, while she was trying very hard to catch her breath.

“Thanks,” was all she could utter, before slumping down and putting her head against Fiona’s shoulder. She could feel the arms that had been holding her so tightly loosen their grip, but they didn’t leave. Fiona’s hand rested on Robin’s back in an oddly comforting and protective gesture and, in spite of the situation, Robin smiled. She knew she had to move and give Fiona some breathing space, but her body refused to obey the commands her brain tried to send to her muscles.

It took them both a few moments to catch their breaths and when they did, Robin was aware of the silent chuckle that ran through Fiona’s taller body.

“What’s so funny?” she asked, still not moving.

“Us,” Fiona answered. “You’ re a biologist, I’m a wildlife photographer. We both spend a lot of time in forests, but as soon as we’ re together in one, disaster strikes.”

“I know,” Robin sighed. “I don’t know what’s up with that.”

She started to untangle herself from Fiona’s body, but immediately she felt the arms around her tighten again. With a frown she looked up, but the only thing the darkness permitted her to see, was the shape of Fiona’s face.

“What?” she whispered, feeling her mouth go dry. Now the initial shock of their fall was over, she had become aware of how good it felt to be in Fiona’s arms and feel that tall, lean body underneath her.

“It probably sounds really weird,” Fiona’s voice sounded, with a mixture of amusement and wonder. “But in spite of that tumble down the hill, I feel pretty comfortable right now. Better than I’ve felt all day in that cave.”

Robin swallowed hard.

You’ ve got no idea how good this feels, Fiona McDonnell. If you only knew what my body was trying so hard to tell me, you’d run screaming.

“I’m squashing you,” Robin replied in a voice that was huskier than usual.

“No, you’ re pretty light,” Fiona answered in a serious voice. She was very aware of all the firing synapses in her body that sent a tingling feeling from the soles of her feet to the top of her head.

She liked it.

Unconsciously her hand had started to gently rub Robin’s back and Fiona could feel the weight of the other woman increase, when Robin’s body relaxed under her soothing touch.

“Fiona,” she heard a whisper, close to her ear. It sounded like a question and breathing suddenly became difficult again.

“Robin,” Fiona answered, equally soft, not aware of how longing her voice was.

She could feel a whisper of a breath caress the side of her face and Fiona closed her eyes, determined to not scare Robin away.

The biologist’s lips were so close to her ear, they were almost touching it and, as if they led a life of their own, Fiona’s arms pulled Robin even closer.

“Fiona…I…,” Robin’s voice sounded and Fiona moistened her dry lips.

Suddenly, the body on top of her stiffened and just when Fiona was about to ask what the matter was, she heard it. The faint, but distinctive sound of breaking twigs and crunching leaves.

What the heck were you thinking anyway, McDonnell? There’s an idiot who’s out to get you and Robin and the two of you are casually having a serious episode of foreplay…or whatever. Move! Move!

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Fiona whispered, the tension back into her voice and she could feel Robin nod.

Quickly getting to their feet, they grabbed each other’s hand as in an unspoken agreement. Losing each other in the dark was not an option.

“Move down the hill, but carefully,” Robin’s voice sounded in her ear and Fiona nodded.

They didn’t speak. All the attention was focused on their practically blind, risky way down the hill, while all the time, they could hear the tell-tale sounds of somebody following them. Someone who was slowly, but surely, moving closer.
part 11
Lucy eyed her partner with a weary glance. Trishia was tired and frustrated. The tense lines around her eyes and the occasional pursing of her lips gave it away. Their week had been full of emotion and tension. And that had just been their private life. Ever since Fiona and Robin were shot at, Trishia had been fueled by an anger that brewed deep inside. Like a smoldering fire, ready to erupt back to life.

Lucy knew Trishia was longing for some time alone with her, so they could relax and talk about the huge change their life together was about to undergo. Make plans. Enjoy each other and their unborn child.

A small smile graced Lucy’s face when she remembered the look of pure joy and wonder on Trishia’s face when they had found out she was pregnant and everything looked perfect. Of course, Trishia had immediately jumped into protecting mode, something Lucy found endearing. Until the tall police woman had been upset because Lucy insisted on carrying a bag of groceries. They had a talk then and Lucy had made sure Trishia knew she was only pregnant, not disabled, which Trishia had accepted with a sheepish grin. It was the excitement, Lucy knew, and the always present protectiveness, which she secretly loved so much.

Lucy sighed and her eyes traveled from her partner, who was making a phone call, to her sister, who was sitting on the armrest of a chair, leaning back against Sam, who had her arms wrapped around her.

Jody looked worried. Her face was withdrawn and her eyes, usually sparkling, were dark with worry.

I bet I don’t look any better.

Raking her fingers through her hair, Lucy cast a look outside the window. It was getting dark. There was not much daylight left and she knew Trishia’ s superior officer would probably not allow them to search the forest during the night. It was simply too dark. Too dangerous. Although, that would probably not stop Yarra and Alice.

Lucy’s eyes fell on the young couple who were seated on the couch and her eyes softened. They were worried, like the rest of them were, but also full of confidence, because of Alice’s dream. It was hard for police officers, who had to go by facts most of the time, to believe in a dream and base a search on that. Still, that was exactly what Trishia was trying to convince her Inspector of; to give her permission for a search.

“Are you alright, honey?” a soft voice sounded next to her and, with a small smile, Lucy turned to face her mother. Joan McDonnell looked as frightened as she felt and Lucy reached out a hand to touch her mother’s arm.

“I’m doing fine,” she reassured her. “I’m scared and angry, like the rest of you but, other than that, I feel good.”

Joan McDonnell nodded and let out a shaky breath. As soon as Jody had called her with the news of Fiona’s kidnapping, she had just dropped what she was doing, called her son Michael and headed to Murrook Farm.

She knew her youngest daughter could look after herself, but the deliberate, cold way in which she and Robin Adams had been taken away, made shivers run down her spine. It was still unclear who was behind the kidnapping, but according to Trishia it was somebody who had been involved in the situation surrounding The Reef, which had only been a few years ago, but was still imprinted in their memories. And right now the fear and worry made it seem like they were thrown back in time.

Trishia ended her conversation on the phone and stuffed her cell phone in her pocket. She was just about to say something, when the door opened and Michael stepped inside, followed by Ira. Shooting Sam, Jody and Joshua a warning look, she hid her own surprise well and even managed to smile at the unsuspecting young man, who had entered the room with a lot of self-confidence.

Just the person I’d like to talk to. He must either be as self-assured as anything, or stupid as can be. Or innocent, although my gut feeling says he isn’t.

A haggard looking Michael had taken a seat next to his mother, while Lucy and Jody quickly explained to their brother what had happened. His face was pale, making his freckles stand out and, again, Trishia was struck by the resemblance between him and his eldest sister.

Her eyes turned a few shades cooler when they landed on Ira, who was standing near the door, hands in his pockets and the shadow of a smug smile on his face. As soon as he felt Sam’s eyes on him, the expression on his face turned into a mixture of sympathy and compassion. But Trishia, who had seen the change on his face, was not fooled. To her, it was a confirmation of her already strong suspicion about the young man. If only the station in Brisbane would call her back with the information she needed. But the fact that the University did not know anyone with the name Ira Kinswil should be enough.

With a raised eyebrow Trishia studied the young man, intrigued when, after a little while, he started to fidget. It wasn’t very obvious, but for someone like Trishia, who was trained to observe, it was clear. She was making Ira nervous.

While his eyes darted between Sam and Jody, Ira wiped his sweaty palms on his immaculate cotton slacks and mustered up a small smile.

“Could I please use your restroom?” he asked politely and Trishia was certain she detected a hint of tension in the smooth, polished voice.

“Sure, Ira,” Jody answered, sending him a smile while she pointed out where to go.

Immediately after he had left the room, Trishia turned to Michael.

“What’s he doing here, Mike?” she asked in a no-nonsense voice.

“He was hanging around when mom called,” Michael explained. “He offered to drive me up here, because he felt sorry for me and he wanted to be a friend.”

“Is he your friend, Mikey?” Sam asked sharply, relieved when Jody’s brother shook his head.

“Not really, Sam. I don’t want to speak bad about him, but, I don’t know. There’s something about him that’s a little strange. I guess I feel sorry for him, because he doesn’t have any friends.”

“Must be the charming personality,” Lucy mumbled cynically and it sounded so much like something Fiona could have said that everybody fell silent.

“I…I really didn’t feel comfortable about the way he kept asking about Fiona,” Michael continued after a brief silence. “I told him she wasn’t interested in him, but he just kept asking stuff.”

“Like what?” Trishia asked, very interested in the answer.

“Like who she hangs out with and if she ever goes to any pubs or clubs in Brisbane. Stuff like that. Like he wanted…” Michael paused and his eyes went wide, while all blood suddenly drained from his face.

“Like what, Mikey?” Jody asked softly, but the tension in her voice was clearly audible.

“Like he wanted to meet her,” he answered in a hoarse voice. “He kept asking me and I ended up telling him about Fi going to Brisbane for the beauty pageant. I knew what time she was leaving, because she e-mailed me. We were supposed to meet at Alice and Yarra’s…”

“Did Ira read your e-mail?” Trishia asked in a low voice, keeping her eye on the door, not wanting Ira to hear their conversation.

“He didn’t have to,” Michael groaned, feeling utterly stupid. “He was there when I received it and since Fi cracked a few jokes, they made me laugh and I told him.”

All the information suddenly became too much for Joshua. He had been quiet all day, nervously pacing the kitchen, veranda or living-room. Every time the phone had rung, his face had been a mixture of hope, fear and anticipation. He had not eaten all day and when Jody finally convinced him to eat half a sandwich, he had only taken a bite. The nervous ball in the pit of his stomach simply made him too sick.

“He’s involved,” Joshua suddenly spoke, his voice was quivering with anger.

“We don’t know that for sure yet, Josh,” Trishia had to remind him. “But it looks that way,” she couldn’t help adding.

Suddenly the door was thrown open and the subject of their conversation came stumbling in the room, closely followed by Peter Jones, who had a grim look on his face.

“Look what I found snooping around in your office, Sam,” he spoke calmly, pressing Ira down in a chair. But the young man jumped up again and faced Peter Jones. His hands were clenched into fists and his face was red with anger.

“You have absolutely no right to treat me like this. This house is unknown to me. I was looking for the restroom.”

“Which is the complete opposite direction,” Peter remarked dryly.

“Wait until my lawyer hears about this,” Ira fumed, not aware of the sudden interest in Trishia’s eyes.

“You have a lawyer?” she asked, deceptively friendly.

“Well, I don’t, not really, but my brother does,” Ira muttered, flinching when he realized what he had just said.

Trishia and Sam exchanged a look and the police woman nodded.

“I guess he needs one,” Sam remarked casually. “Gerry Wilkins is a crook.”

“No, he’s not,” Ira spat. “You’re just jealous that he’s…” Realizing his mistake, Ira fell silent, trying very hard to come up with a way to talk himself out of his predicament.

“Where are Fiona and Robin, Ira?” Trishia asked calmly.

“I don’t know what you’ re talking about,” Ira replied, staring at the ground.

“I think you do,” Trishia answered. “I want some answers and I want them now, Ira. Unless you want to visit your little buddy, Kevin, who we decided to keep around a little while longer, after I had a nice visit with Fred. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have been able to lock him away with the big guys. I guess they’d love your company as well. I heard there’s a shortage of cute blondes. No offense Alice,” Trishia added with a wink.

“You can’t threaten me,” Ira responded, lifting his chin in a defiant gesture.

“Maybe she can’t. But I will,” Joshua suddenly growled, jumping up from his chair and practically leaping on top of Ira, knocking the surprised man to the ground. Straddling his chest, Joshua grabbed Ira’s shirt with both hands and shook him violently.

“Where’s my sister?” he hissed through clenched teeth. “Tell me, you bag of crap!”

“Go to hell,” Ira managed to croak.

Without warning, Joshua slammed his fist on the ground, a hair breadth away from Ira’s face. His eyes shone with venom when he looked down at the squirming man on the floor.

“You tell me, right now, or I swear to God I’ll rip out your throat with my bare hands and feed it to the worms. Tell me!!”

Peter glanced at Trishia, who was looking at the scene in front of her with clinical detachment. There was even a hint of amusement in her eyes when she looked up and raised an eyebrow.

“Help me,” Ira coughed. “Please, help me.”

Reluctantly Trishia nodded at Peter, who grasped Joshua and pulled the teenager off the other man.

“Calm down, son,” he spoke calmly. “Ripping out throats won’t help us to find out what we need to know. It’s kinda hard to talk that way,” he added dryly.

“If anything happens to Robin, anything at all, I know where to find you!” Joshua spat, before he let go of Ira and slowly got back to his feet.

“Drop dead!” Ira shot back, rubbing his neck where Joshua’s hands had left red marks. His eyes were full of hate when he looked at Sam, who, instinctively, draped an arm across Jody’s shoulders in an unconscious gesture of protectiveness.

“I hope you’ll get what you deserve,” he growled. “You filthy dyke.”

“Excuse me?” Yarra suddenly said in a dangerously low voice. She got up from the couch and would have walked over to Ira if Alice’s hand had not stopped her.

“Let it go, Yarra,” Alice’s voice sounded tired. “He doesn’t know any better. Don’t waste your energy on him.”

“Yeah, please don’t,” Ira mimicked her voice. “Save it for your little bitch. I bet she…”

He didn’t get any further, because Michael had jumped up and with a well-aimed blow he knocked Ira back to the floor, where the young man squirmed in pain, looking up at his attacker with frightened eyes.

“Nobody talks to my family like that and nobody talks about my family like that,” he said calmly. “You make me sick, Ira.”

After having said those words, Michael turned around and walked back to take his seat next to his mother, who sent him a small smile and lovingly patted his hand. Joan McDonnell loathed violent behavior, but in this case she was proud of her son for standing up for his friends and family. Besides, the thought that Ira Wilkins had anything to do with Fiona’s disappearance made her tremble with anger and she would have loved to walk over to the man and shake the truth out of him.

“This is your last chance, Ira,” Trishia said coolly, secretly amused by Michael’s action. She would have loved to throttle the arrogant, obnoxious man, but in her position as a police officer she could not allow herself to vent her frustrations like that. But it had been nice to see Michael do it and she shot Lucy’s brother a respectful look.

“You still don’t want to talk? No? Fine. Peter, get him out of here and make sure one of the teams outside accompanies this young man to the place where he obviously belongs.”

Peter Jones nodded and grabbed Ira’s arm to pull him to his feet. Wiping away a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth, Ira shot Trishia a look full of hate, but the tall police woman was not impressed. She answered his stare with a raised eyebrow and an ice-cold look.

“You’ll never find them,” Ira said with a voice full of anger. “You need me and you know it.”

“I’m afraid you’re wrong, Ira,” Trishia replied calmly. “We have a trump-card. I don’t need you. At all.”

“You’re bluffing!” Ira shouted, frightened by Trishia’s cool and calm demeanor. What if she was right? What if they really didn’t need him to find Robin and Fiona. There would be no chance to escape and he would be the laughing stock of his friends. Not to mention his brother.

“You must be bluffing,” he repeated, this time his voice was a few pitches higher.

Leaning forward, Trishia brought her face closer to that of Ira and looked at him intently.

“Try me,” she said in a voice so low it was hardly audible. Straightening back up she looked at Peter and nodded. “Take him away, Pete. He makes me nauseated.”

As soon as the door closed behind them, Trishia turned to Alice and sent her a warm smile.

“It’s up to you now, Alice.”

Alice nodded and grabbed Yarra’s hand for support. Deep down inside, she knew she could trust her intuition, but still, her worry and fear over Fiona’s kidnapping made her doubt herself. What if she was wrong? What if her dream had been just that, a dream?

Alice moistened her dry lips and swallowed hard. What if they would be too late?

“I know it’s dark already,” she spoke in a soft, hoarse voice. “But I feel we should go to Booyong mountain now, Trish. Don’t ask me why, but…” Alice paused and looked up into a pair of warm, understanding emerald eyes. Immediately, she relaxed. Jody had faith in her, she knew.

” Time is important.”

“Then we’ll go now,” Trishia decided. “Let’s get our stuff together. Sam, you think Kurt would…?”

“Yes,” Sam answered full of confidence. “If there’s one dog who can find Fiona, it’s Kurt. I’m definitely taking him.”

****

“Did we lose him?” Robin whispered after what seemed hours.

They had been trying to get away from their kidnapper as fast as they could, but the forest was so dark, they could not see more than a meter in front of them. There was no path, just trees and ferns and bushes. Tree stumps and roots. Rocks and boulders. And somewhere in the distance the familiar sound of a creek.

“I’ve no idea,” Fiona whispered back, tilting her head and listening intently. The only sounds her ears picked up, were Robin’s suppressed panting, the distant sound of running water and the occasional call of a night-bird. And her own heartbeat.

“I can’t hear a thing,” she spoke after listening for a while. “I guess it’s safe to rest for a few minutes. How are you feeling?”

“Like a hunted animal,” Robin sighed, rubbing her ribs and shoulder. “But I feel a lot better than when we were locked up in that cave.”

“I do too,” Fiona answered, swatting at an invisible bug that was flying around her head. “I wish I could see where we’ re going though. For all I know we could tumble down a steep hill or something.”

“Optimist,” Robin replied softly, hearing the photographer chuckle softly. “Any idea where we could be?”

“Not really,” Fiona admitted. “Although I remember Yarra telling me about some caves on Booyong Mountain. Her father used to take her and her brothers there on camping trips. I know she wanted to show Alice and me the area, but for some reason we never got around doing that.” Fiona swallowed. Her throat was dry and she knew they had to get something to drink. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re there right now.”

“Well, at least that would be something,” Robin nodded. “That means we’ re not all that far from a road.”

“But the tricky thing is to find it,” Fiona said. “I don’t want to be a pessimist, but we could be heading in the wrong direction.”

“I know, I’ve been thinking that as well. Daylight would be helpful,” Robin mumbled. “Maybe we should get down to that creek, get some water and wait until first light. The idea of one of us falling and getting seriously injured is not appealing.”

“Not really,” Fiona admitted. “It’s a good idea, but to get to the creek we’ll have to walk downhill. We’ll go slow, alright? I need both hands to hold onto things, so I want you to stay close behind me and hold on to the waistband of my shorts. Don’t pull them down,” she added with a grin. “I had a green ant bite my butt once and that was painful, believe me.”

“I believe you,” Robin smiled.

“Don’t let go of me, Robin,” Fiona’s voice sounded softly and seriously. “I don’t want to lose you in the dark.”

“Don’t worry, Fiona, I’ll be right behind you. Just be careful.”

And I would be a fool to let go…in more than one way…

Tantalizingly, slowly, the women made their way down the hill. Fiona had to use both arms to feel her way around, while her legs carefully took each step at a time, searching for solid ground. It was frightening not being able to see and knowing that a loose rock or a deep gully, carved in the hillside by raging waters during a rain storm, was only a step away.

Trying to concentrate on the treacherous descent, Fiona also kept close attention on the woman behind her, determined to shield Robin from anything that could harm her.

“Ouch,” Fiona mumbled when her face came into collision with a branch. Carefully rubbing the painful spot, she could feel Robin’s right hand gently pat her side.

“Are you alright?” the husky voice sounded and Fiona nodded, mentally slapping herself when she realized Robin could not see her face.

“Just a minor disagreement with part of a tree,” she replied casually. “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Robin sighed, ignoring the trembling of her muscles. It was hard to walk down the steep hill at such a slow speed, straining their legs to keep their balance and she knew she would be sore later. But the main concern was to get away from whoever it was had held them captive. As far away as they could.

“I can hear the creek a lot better now. I think we’ re pretty close,” Fiona whispered. “Are you ready to continue?”

“Lead on,” Robin replied a lot more cheerful than she really felt. She was tired. Bone tired. And she wished she could just sit down somewhere and go to sleep. But she knew that was not an option. In the first place, they had to stay away from their pursuer and, secondly, Robin didn’t want any insects crawling over her body, while sitting on the forest floor. The thought alone made her shiver.

“Are you cold?” Fiona asked immediately.

“No, I was just thinking about all the bugs that could crawl up our faces if we’d sit down here somewhere and go to sleep.”

“Taryn would probably love it,” Fiona replied dryly, hearing Robin chuckle. “I saw her catch a praying mantis once, in mid-flight. Poor bug didn’t know what happened and probably thought one of his engines had failed,” Fiona related, smiling when she remembered the look of delight on her niece’s face. “Jody saved the poor little creature before Taryn could do any damage.”

“She sounds like a handful.”

“Who? Jody?” Fiona asked dryly, which earned her a playful swat on her arm.

“No, goof, Taryn.”

“She is,” Fiona grinned, temporarily forgetting the situation they were in. If it hadn’t been so dark and if they had not been so tired and thirsty, it would have been a nice hike in the forest.

“They’ re both great kids,” Fiona continued and Robin could hear the warmth in her voice when she talked about the twins. “They were born on Christmas Day. Did you know that? Of course, it wasn’t just a standard, normal delivery. It was such a different, but happy day. I think it was also the day Yarra and Alice kissed for the first time. Do you want to hear about it?”

“I’m a sucker for a good story,” Robin smiled. “Go ahead.”

Making sure to keep her voice down, Fiona told Robin about the events that one special Christmas day, when the twins were born and both Yarra and Michael had to face some serious challenges in order to find their way home. Every now and then she had to pause, either to catch her breath or to feel around carefully for a safe place to hold onto and, just when she was wrapping up her story, her feet touched the rocky bank of the creek.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Fiona noticed there was an opening in the canopy of trees, which made it possible for a few soft moonbeams to illuminate the rapidly streaming water.

“We made it,” she said, turning around to Robin. For the first time in hours, she was able to see the other woman’s face and, for a moment, they just stood there, smiling at each other.

“Thirsty?” Robin asked, seeing Fiona nod. “Let’s get a drink of water then.”

“Is it safe?”

“Yes, I think it is. The only bad thing that could happen is to swallow a bug, or something.”

“Yuck. Listen to you,” Fiona chuckled. “Who’s the optimist now?”

Robin, relieved to have made it down the steep hill in one piece, just chuckled and grabbed Fiona’s hand, pulling her towards the creek. Every now and then their feet slipped on some wet stones, but they reached the water without incident. Kneeling down, they cupped their hands and scooped up the cold liquid, drinking it greedily.

“When you’re thirsty, there’s nothing better than cold water,” Robin sighed, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

“And a Foster’s,” Fiona added.

“And a Foster’s,” Robin agreed with a laugh, having seen the familiar blue beer cans in Fiona’s refrigerator.

Looking around, Robin could make out the shapes of some big boulders alongside the creek and she wondered if it would be safe to stay where they were. Maybe, if they could hide behind of those big rocks.

As if Fiona could read her mind, the photographer pointed towards a huge boulder, surrounded by a few smaller ones. It was close to the creek and, behind it, the tree- covered hill rose steeply. It would be a good hiding place.

“How about that spot?” she asked.

“Looks good to me,” Robin answered. “My only concern is that the water will mask any other sound.”

“Which would be his problem as well,” Fiona remarked.

“Yes, you’ re right,” Robin nodded, wishing she could give into her body’s craving to get some rest, maybe even some sleep. “Let’s go.”

They quickly made their way to the hiding place of their choice and after they crawled behind the huge boulder, Fiona and Robin used their feet to move around some twigs and pebbles that had ended up in between the stones.

“Well, I guess it’s a decent backrest,” Fiona mumbled when she lowered her body to the ground and leaned back against the cold, hard stone. “It’s a pity it doesn’t recline, though,” she joked.

“That would have been heaven,” Robin admitted, sinking down next to the photographer. “But this will do me fine. I’m just grateful to be off my feet for a while,” she added, stretching her legs out in front of her and groaning when she could feel the tired muscles pull in the back of her legs.

The cold stone at her back added to the agony in her shoulder and ribs, but Robin gritted her teeth. Anything was better than being in the clutches of a madman.

“So, do you have any idea who he was?” she asked after a brief silence.

“The boogie man? No, I’ve no clue,” Fiona shook her head. “Of course, the mask didn’t help. I’m sure it’s the same bloke I took a picture of, though.”

“Why would he want to kidnap us?”

“Good question. He wasn’t exactly talkative, was he?”

“Not really. But we can’t blame him,” Robin dead panned, seeing, from the corner of her eye, how Fiona turned her head to look at her. Which was hard in the dark.

“We can’t?”

“No. First we fell asleep on him and when he came back for a visit, we knocked him in the head.”

“We sure did,” Fiona chuckled. “I’d never considered the multiple functions of a can of beans, but they pack a mean punch.”

“Depends on the one wielding the can,” Robin said dryly. “You did good.”

“So did you,” Fiona replied softly. “He didn’t stand a chance.”

“I guess we make a great team,” Robin smiled.

“As long as we can avoid rolling down the hill,” Fiona added with a soft laugh.

“That was scary,” Robin sighed. “But your reflexes are great. By the way, thanks for catching me. That was a soft landing. I hope I didn’t hurt you.”

“No, I’m fine,” Fiona shrugged, feeling a tingling warmth travel through her body when she remembered how good it had felt to have Robin in her arms. Soft, warm, safe. Exciting.

Lost in thought, Fiona did not notice how Robin wiggled and squirmed to get comfortable on the uneven, rocky ground. Only when she accidentally nudged Fiona’s side, the photographer looked aside with raised eyebrows.

“Are you alright?”

“No,” Robin groaned in frustration. “I’m sitting on something that is slowly starting to feel like Mount Kilimanjaro and I can’t seem to get rid of it.”

“Want to sit here?” Fiona offered, knowing that was the only option. Their hiding place was barely big enough for the two of them to sit down with their legs extended in front of them.

“That’s sweet of you, but no,” Robin sighed. “I’m sure I’ll be fine…eventually,” she added.

“Come here,” Fiona suddenly said, tugging Robin’s arm. But the other woman tried to pull back.

“I can’t take your place, Fiona. I’ll be fine, really. I’m just whining because I’m tired and cold and sore and I…”

“Come here,” Fiona interrupted her in a gentle, but determined voice. “Sit in front of me. The ground is pretty flat there and you…” she swallowed. “You can lean back against me, so you’ll be warmer.”

Robin suddenly stilled and she felt a rush of blood travel through her body. For the first time since they escaped the cave, she was grateful for the darkness that hid her blush.

Oh, my.

“I’ll be squashing you, Fiona. I can’t do that,” she hesitated.

“Sure you can. I’m fine, really. Now, scoot over and sit down. There’s no need to be embarrassed about it. This is a simple survival technique.”

“Oh, it is?” Robin asked and Fiona was sure she could detect the hint of a smile in the other woman’s voice. “Did Yarra teach you that as well?”

“She sure did,” Fiona nodded.

But she was holding Alice at the time. Still, it worked, because Alice warmed up pretty fast. I guess the little kisses and nibbles had something to do with that as well.

In spite of her aching body and her fatigue, Robin’s body tingled with the prospect of being so close to Fiona. She did like the idea. Too much. When they had ended up on the forest floor, Robin firmly planted on top of Fiona, the biologist had to use all her strength and willpower not to lean over and kiss the photographer senseless. Would she be able to be in Fiona’s arms again and not make a fool of herself?

Ah, well, this time I’ll be facing the other way…

“Alright,” Robin sighed, knowing she was too tired and uncomfortable to fight Fiona. Before she could change her mind, she crawled over one of Fiona’s long legs and took a seat in front of the other woman. The hardest part would be leaning back, she knew, and Robin gave herself a few seconds to muster up some courage. But when she felt two warm hands on her shoulders, she finally gave in and she leaned back, letting out a small sigh when she felt a pair of arms settle around her body, enveloping her with a soft, living, breathing blanket.

“Better?” Fiona’s voice sounded in her ear and Robin could only nod.

I’m in soooo much trouble.

Robin felt Fiona brush away a few wayward curls and she smiled when she heard the other woman chuckle softly.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your hair tickled my face, it’s all over the place,” Fiona explained. “I bet we both look like a pair of scarecrows.”

“I don’t care,” Robin mumbled, relaxing into the body behind her. Fiona was so warm and soft in all the right places. “It’s not like I’m…Oh, Fiona, I completely forgot. Your beauty pageant!”

“I know,” Fiona nodded and she let out a small sigh. “There’ll be some very pissed- off people, but it’s not like I can help it. I didn’t ask to be kidnapped. I’m sure Sam or Jody called and explained the situation.” Fiona paused a moment, fighting the urge to bury her face in the unruly curls in front of her. “You’ re missing out on that exhibition. This was its last weekend.”

“I know, but that’s alright,” Robin replied. “It’s not the end of the world. I am sorry I didn’t get the chance to have dinner with Yarra and Alice. I’d have liked to get to know them better.”

“You’ll get another chance,” Fiona promised, feeling a bubble of happiness in her chest after Robin’s words. Maybe, if the biologist became friends with Yarra and Alice, she would be able to see her on a regular base. Fiona knew Robin wasn’t interested in her, but maybe they could be friends.

“And I haven’t been to a club in ages. I was looking forward to that.”

“They would have taken us to The Other Side of the Fence,” Fiona casually remarked, referring to a very popular gay-bar in Brisbane. “But you’ve been there, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I have,” was the soft reply.

Robin could feel Fiona nod behind her and she patiently waited until the other woman would speak. She couldn’t see the photographer’s face, but she knew there was something brewing. The slight tensing of the body behind her and the suddenly sweaty palms had given it away.

Don’t make this too hard, Fiona, please. I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready…

“Can I ask you a question?” Fiona’s soft voice finally broke the silence. “It’s rather personal.”

“Go ahead,” Robin answered, glad for the darkness that, in combination with Fiona’s arms around her, provided a warm, safe cocoon.

“Who is Abby?”

Of all the questions she could ask me!

“History,” Robin answered immediately. “Ancient history.”

“Like in pre-historic?” Fiona quipped dryly, smiling when she felt a chuckle ripple through the body in her arms.

“Absolutely,” Robin nodded, wondering where Fiona had heard that name when suddenly she remembered. “Have I been dreaming again?”

“Not today,” Fiona smiled. “A few days ago, after you fell down the hill and I had to wake you up every two hours. You mentioned her name in your sleep and I just wondered who she was.” Fiona took a deep breath and decided to grab the bull by the horns. The only thing Robin could do was to bite her head off.

“Did you go to ‘The Other Side of the Fence’ with her?”

“Yes, I did,” Robin answered softly, knowing in which direction Fiona was heading. “I met her just before I went to the university. We were lovers.”

“Oh,”Fiona responded, not surprised by Robin’s admission. Still, the idea of Robin with another woman, or just with another person, was a little unsettling.

“You said you were lovers. What happened?”

“I lost my parents and had to look after Joshua and Abigail practically demanded he be put in foster care.” Robin let out a soft, humorless laugh. “That was the end of it. I don’t understand what I ever saw in her.”

“That must have been hard though.”

“It was,” Robin admitted. “But, those first few months, all my time was invested in Joshua. He needed me. It was only after…a year, or so, it really sank in. That was when I ran into Abigail and her new lover.” Robin sighed and unconsciously snuggled closer to Fiona, seeking some warmth and comfort, which was freely given. “I came home and, for the first time, I cried. I don’t know why, because she certainly wasn’t worth my tears, but that’s what happened. I’ve no idea why I dreamt about her the other day.”

Maybe because Abby killed something inside of you that Fiona is waking up again?

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Fiona’s voice sounded gently and again Robin wondered why the photographer wanted the world to think she was cool and cynical. Self-protection, no doubt. Fiona was sensitive and would probably get hurt easily, although she would most likely die first rather than admit a thing like that.

“Are you familiar with the term ‘quid pro quo’?” she asked after a brief silence.

“Are you joking? I saw ‘Silence of the Lambs’,” Fiona chuckled.

“In that case, can I ask you a personal question?”

“Go ahead,” Fiona answered, suddenly feeling a little nervous.

“Have you ever been in love, Fiona? And I mean in love, not the occasional crush on teachers kind of thing,” Robin took a deep breath before continuing. “The kind of love that takes your breath away, that makes your heart skip a beat and your palms sweaty. The kind…”

“The kind that makes you feel sick and happy at the same time,” Fiona interrupted. “The kind that makes you think you have the flu, or something, because you can’t eat or sleep and only when you’re with the person you’re in love with are you really happy. The kind that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. The kind that makes you want to offer your love the world on a silver platter. The kind that confuses the heck out of you ,” Fiona moistened her lips. “The kind that aches,” she added in a hoarse voice, feeling her heart clench.

Oh, Robin, if only you knew.

“I guess that answers my question,” Robin breathed, surprised by Fiona’s answer and, especially, the intensity of it.

“I guess it does,” Fiona replied, equally soft.

“What happened?” Robin dared, unconsciously holding her breath. She expected Fiona to crack a joke or even to clam up after her question, but to her utter surprise that didn’t happen.

Fiona leaned her head back against the rock and closed her eyes. She could feel the tears sting and the last thing she wanted was to break down and cry. She had to keep a tight grip on her emotions and not let Robin know anything about the turmoil inside.

“Nothing happened,” Fiona finally answered and even though her voice was calm, Robin could hear the sadness. “It’s still unwritten,” she added, barely audible.

Robin had heard the whispered words though and she gasped softly, pressing a hand against her mouth to stifle the sound. Her heart was slamming against her ribs and she wondered if Fiona would be able to hear the fast, rhythmic thumping. A flash flood of memories; words, sounds and images assaulted her senses and suddenly everything became so crystal clear, it was almost painful.

Before she realized what she was doing, Robin grabbed Fiona’s hands and pressed them against her chest, melting her body against the photographer’s taller one. Joy, hope, fear and frustration fought for dominance and for a brief moment, Robin felt like the whirlpool of emotions would drag her down and drown her. But then she became aware of a thumb, gently rubbing the back of her hand, and she took a deep breath, suddenly feeling grounded again.

She wanted to turn around and look at Fiona’s face, but the darkness and the arms that were tightly wrapped around her, prevented that.

“Fiona?” she whispered, with so much emotion in that one, single word, she heard the photographer gasp softly, before she let out a shaky breath.

Robin could not see Fiona bite her bottom lip, to prevent it from trembling, nor the moist track on her cheeks, created by a few silent tears that had escaped against her will. The only thing she was aware of, were the arms around her and the warm body that was pressed against her back.

“Fiona?” she repeated in a strangled voice.

“Not now, Robin, I can’t,” Fiona’s voice sounded so close to her ear, she could feel the warm breath stroke her cheek. “I’m just…I need some time. Could you, please…?”

“I can,” Robin’s answer was warm and gentle. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Thank you,” was the grateful whisper and Robin felt a pair of soft lips fleetingly touch her cheek, before Fiona leaned back further against the rock, never losing her grip on Robin’s body.

They sat like that in total silence, both completely absorbed by their own thoughts, until the sky lost some of its darkness and the forest around them slowly woke up for yet another day.

Still, they did not move, both reluctant to interrupt their closeness, no matter how cold and uncomfortable the ground beneath them had become. The constant sound of running water had been soothing and both Robin and Fiona smiled when they heard the morning song of the birds. Until, all of a sudden, an unfamiliar sound reached their ears and they both jerked upright.

Robin cast a look over her shoulder and was finally able to see Fiona’s face that looked pale in the bleak light of the early morning, with dark circles underneath her eyes.

“What was that?” Robin whispered, her body roughly awoken from its relaxed state in Fiona’s arms.

“I don’t know. Maybe…”

There it was again and this time there was no doubt. Somewhere near the creek, somebody was rushing over the bank, not caring if the loose rocks and pebbles were kicked up, creating a loud noise when they rolled and bounced down the bank, landing in the water.

Someone was in a hurry. And that someone was heading their way.
part 12
They had made their way through the forest in a slow, but steady rhythm, blindly trusting Yarra and Alice. The young blonde occasionally gave her dark-skinned partner some whispered instructions, trusting Yarra, who knew the forest like the back of her hand, to be their eyes in the darkness.

Deeper and deeper into the forest they had hiked, dodging slick rocks and roots and constantly swatting at mosquitos that swarmed around their heads.

“I sure am glad Jody insisted we’d spray ourselves,” Sam muttered. “I hate mozzies.”

Kurt, impatiently pulling his leash, looked up at his tall companion and whined softly.

“I know, boy,” Sam sighed. “But I’m sure we’ll be there soon. You’ll have your chance to track later, I promise.”

“Are you doing alright, Sam?” Trishia’s voice sounded.

“Just talking to my eager dog,” Sam chuckled. “He can’t wait to get off the leash and follow tracks.”

“I’m sure he can do that soon enough,” Trishia answered.

“That’s what I told him,” Sam smiled, reaching down and giving the German Shepherd a scratch behind his ears.

Suddenly the small group halted and Sam could hear Peter Jones, who was walking behind her, mumble a curse when he almost ran into her.

“Sorry, Sam,” he apologized. “I can’t see a thing.”

“I know. But don’t worry about it, Pete, it will be day soon,” Sam answered, looking up and spotting some light grey patches of sky through the dense canopy of trees. “Why did we stop?”

Alice, who had grabbed Yarra’s hand, turned around and cast a look at the tired, but expectant faces behind her, illuminated by the soft beam of one, single flashlight. Trishia had insisted on as little light as possible, not willing to give away their presence.

“It’s here,” Alice spoke in a soft voice. “I saw this in my dream. There’s a cave behind these bushes.” She swallowed hard and immediately felt the encouraging squeeze of Yarra’s hand. “If…in my dream they escaped. I don’t know if…that has already happened, or not. I…I guess we’d better check it out.”

“Yes, we will,” Trishia pointed at Peter Jones and herself. “You, Yarra and Sam stay here. Come on, Pete.”

In total silence, the two police officers carefully made their way through the bushes and within a few moments they had disappeared out of sight, while the others waited, their stomach tied in knots.

****

Trishia and Peter did not waste any time. They knew there was a chance that, if Alice had been right about the location, they would run into Fiona’s and Robin’s kidnapper. But if they did, the element of surprise was on their side.

As soon as they cleared the bushes, the two police officers stood in front of a steep rise in the hillside. Immediately their eyes fell on the makeshift door that was pushed aside, giving them a clear view of the small opening in the rocks.

“A cave,” Peter mumbled. “I guess Alice was spot on. But it seems to me like there’s nobody home, unless….” He paused and cast a look at Trishia whose expression was a grim one.

“Unless he…hurt them,” she added in a hoarse voice. “Cover my back, I’m going in.”

Before Peter could even respond, Trishia was already crawling through the narrow opening, her gun firmly clenched in her fist. Peter did not know he had been holding his breath, until Trishia’s voice called out to him:’No one here’, and he exhaled slowly.

He watched Trishia crawl back through the opening again and quickly jump to her feet.

“I should kick your butt for crawling in there,” Peter scoffed, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. They both knew he would have done the same thing.

****

“You can kick butt when we find this bloke,” Trishia promised, brushing her jeans and long-sleeved t-shirt. “We need Kurt to track the girls. I’ve a feeling they made a run for it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I saw a stack of supplies, so my guess is he wanted to keep them there for a while, but they’ re not there now. Neither Robin nor Fiona are the kind of people to sit around, passively waiting to see what will happen next.”

“I hope you’re right,” Peter sighed. “But he’s a big dude, Trish.”

“I know. We’ve got no time to lose, Pete, let’s go back to the others.”

The others, Sam, Yarra and Alice were impatiently waiting and when Trishia and Peter came back into view, Kurt let out a frustrated, high pitched howl.

“Alright, Kurt,” Trishia said, nodding at Sam. “It’s time for you to find Fiona.”

Hearing the familiar sound that identified one of his favorite humans, Kurt’s ears twitched and he pulled his leash, not wanting to waste any more time. He loved his human pack, but couldn’t they smell it? He could easily detect the tall, dark-haired one and the other human. Their scent was mixed in with another one, one that made him growl deep in his throat. It was a scent of blood, sweat and anger and Kurt wanted to find the source of it, because his canine instinct told him it was the smell of trouble.

Again he pulled his leash, softly whining and this time they listened. His pack made room for him to pass and even though Sam still held him on the leash, at least she was following him.

Kurt pulled hard, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. He wanted to run, to fly down the steep mountain and find his humans. The Sheperd had no time to investigate all the interesting smells the forest had to offer. His nose only followed one distinct scent and, even when a small bird flew up from the ferns just in front of him, Kurt did not allow himself to be sidetracked.

“It’s getting light, thank goodness,” Sam breathed. It was hard to keep up with the anxious dog. The forest floor was uneven and even though the sky was rapidly losing its darkness, it was still hard to see what was right in front of her. But Sam did not want to give her dog free rein, not yet. She knew Kurt would make a run for it as soon as she would unclip his leash, but they needed him to find Fiona and Robin. Without the Sheperd it would be very hard to find the two women in the dense forest.

Yarra’s ears picked up the sound of running water and when Kurt started to lead them straight down the hill, a small smile appeared on her face.

“They went down to the creek,” she spoke.

“You sound so sure,” Sam frowned, hoping and praying the veterinarian would be right.

“It’s what my dad taught us a long time ago. Fiona was with us,” Yarra explained. “He made sure that we knew to find water, whenever we would get lost. Fiona did, look,” Yarra pointed at a small bush with branches that were bent and pushed to the ground.

“Seems to me that someone fell, but dug their heels into the ground,” Yarra explained. “Must have been Fi or Robin. That big bloke would have made deeper tracks.”

“Let’s get going,” Sam spoke. Kurt was getting more and more restless and she knew they were probably very close. She wished she could just call out, but she knew the kidnapper could be within hearing distance.

Kurt was almost impossible to control now. The German Sheperd pulled so hard, Sam had trouble keeping her balance. Whenever she stood still for a few seconds, the dog whined softly, his intelligent brown eyes staring at the bushes in front of him. The smell was so strong it was almost driving him nuts. If only his pack could understand. They were so close…

And then, all of a sudden, they cleared the forest. In front of them was the creek. The bleak light of the early morning turned the water into a stream of living silver, but nobody had eyes for the beauty that was spread out in front of them.

Kurt let out an angry bark and growled, a rumbling sound that came from deep within his chest and when Sam looked down, she saw the dog’s upper lip was pulled back, showing strong, sharp teeth, while his ears were lying flat in his neck and the hair of his back stood upright.

“What the…?”

The sound of two guns being cocked made her look up and then she saw it. Across the creek she saw the tall figure of a man, all dressed in black. His back was turned towards them while he hurried away, but Sam was certain that if he would turn around, they would see a mask covering his face.

****

Robin had grabbed Fiona’s arm to prevent her from jumping up. She knew they were hidden behind the huge boulder, but if their kidnapper would find them anyway, there was no where to go. They would be trapped.

A bark made the birds around them fly up, protesting loudly and when Robin and Fiona looked at each other, they both sported a huge smile.

“Kurt,” Fiona said, knowing that if the Sheperd was close, rescue was near.

They both jumped up at the same time and as soon as they were able to look over the boulder, their breaths were caught in their throats. Running towards them was the tall, broad-shouldered figure of their kidnapper. They spotted each other simultaneously and for a moment they could only stare.

Behind the big man, on the other side of the creek, Fiona could see the distinct figures of her family and friends.

“Shit,” she whispered, when she noticed the gun in their kidnapper’s hand.

“Get down,” she yelled, pushing Robin back to the ground when the hand with the weapon in it was raised and aimed at them.

A loud, crackling sound shattered the silence and both Fiona and Robin could hear a bullet impact against the rock they were hiding behind. They were showered with small shards of rock and Fiona gritted her teeth, wishing there was a way for them to make a run for it.

“Kurt! No!” she suddenly heard Sam’s voice and Fiona, who knew what was about to happen, impulsively jumped up again, her hands clenched into fists, ignoring the muttered curse that was coming from Robin.

With wide eyes all spectators on both sides of the creek watched as the big German Shepherd, who had pulled himself free from Sam’s tight grip, almost flew over the rocks and pebbles, heading straight towards the tall, dark figure, who had just fired a shot at one of his pack.

With a furious growl, Kurt jumped over the rocks that were in his way, not caring that some of the smaller ones cut the soles of his paws.

The tall man had heard his growl and turned around. For a moment his body froze, but then he turned around to face the Shepherd and without hesitation he raised his gun.

With an angry, unearthly howl, Kurt launched himself in the air, crashing into the sturdy frame of the tall man, sending them both to the ground. A shot rang through the forest, followed by Sam’s voice: “Kurt!”

But the dog had no time for his leader. He had sunk his teeth in the man’s shoulder, ignoring the howls of pain, and every time he tried to move, he bit a little harder.

In the meantime Fiona, who had watched it all happen, jumped out of her hiding place and hurried towards the fallen man, intent on kicking the gun, that had tumbled to the ground, out of his way.

“Good boy,” she panted when she reached Kurt. Using her foot, she carefully pushed the gun aside, hoping it wouldn’t fire. It didn’t and she let out a breath of relief when the weapon was out of her kidnapper’s reach.

Taking a step back, she watched Trishia and Peter run towards them, followed by Sam, Yarra and Alice.

“Hey, guys,” she greeted them with a tired smile. “What took you so long?”

“We had to finish dinner first,” Sam quipped, her blue eyes taking in the tired, drawn face of her sister-in-law. “Are you alright?”

Fiona just nodded and took in a deep breath, wondering why, all of a sudden, she felt like crying. Sucking in her bottom lip she stared at her feet, trying to regain her composure, when a hand on her arm forced her to look up.

“It’s okay to let it out,” Alice’s voice was warm and gentle when she hugged her friend close and Fiona smiled through the tears that suddenly rolled down her cheeks.

“It’s the reputation thing,” she sniffed, trying to joke.

“To hell with your rep,” Sam sighed, reaching out and pulling the photographer firmly in her arms. “C’mere, Red.”

Burying her face in Fiona’s messy hair, Sam could feel her own tears sting and she swallowed hard. Words would not be able to describe how scared she had been. From the first moment she had seen the security tape, showing the smart, cold- hearted kidnapping of Fiona and Robin, she had been sick to her stomach, afraid that the two women could not be found. Ever. And knowing what that could have done to Jody.

“We were all so scared, Fi,” Sam whispered, pulling the dark-haired woman closer.

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“Not really,” Fiona answered with a sigh, slowly pulling away from Sam and looking at the big man, who was now lying on his stomach, his hands tied behind his back with a pair of handcuffs. The fabric was torn away from his right shoulder and Kurt’s teeth marks were clearly visible.

“Kurt,” Fiona suddenly spoke, looking at the brave dog, who was still panting heavily. Yarra had turned him onto his side and was examining the dog with careful fingers.

“Is he alright?” Sam asked worriedly, gasping in horror when she noticed the bloodstained fur.

“He’ll be fine, Sam,” Yarra hurried to reassure her friend. “The bullet just grazed him. He only has a superficial wound, nothing major. I’ll wash it out and when we get home I’ll dress it.” Yarra’s brown eyes were warm and shone with respect when she looked up at the tall blonde.

“You taught him well, Sam.”

“He’s a smart dog,” Sam shrugged, but her eyes were twinkling.

She knelt next to Kurt and gave the dog a quick hug, something he allowed with a soft grunt. His eyes, full of trust and loyalty, looked up at her and Sam smiled.

“You are a hero, boy,” she said, grinning when the Shepherd thumped his tail against the ground. “I’m sure your other mommy will spoil you rotten once she hears how you have saved her sister.”

“I’m sure she will,” Trishia agreed, wiping her hands on her shorts. “By the way, that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen you do, Fiona,” she spoke, sending the photographer a look that was a mixture of happiness, annoyance and long-suffering. If Kurt had not been so fast, Fiona could have been shot after she had jumped up again. Trishia sighed and sent the youngest McDonnell a tired, but happy smile. “But I sure am happy to see you.”

“Thanks,” Fiona mumbled, when she disappeared in another pair of long, strong arms.

“I’m so tired, Trish. Can’t you call in a helicopter or something?”

“I’m afraid not, Red,” Trishia smiled, playfully ruffling Fiona’s hair. “We’ll have to walk back up.”

“Figures,” Fiona mumbled, turning to see Alice talking to Robin. She couldn’t understand what was being said, but the teasing look her blond friend sent her almost made her blush.

“Is this family always prone to adventures like this?” Robin asked, which earned her an amused smile from Alice.

“They certainly are,” Alice nodded. “But, until now, all adventures have had a happy ending.”

Robin smiled and raked her fingers through her unruly hair. She felt tired, dirty and hungry. She knew they would have to hike back up the mountain and the thought alone made her muscles ache.

“There’s a perk to all the adventures though,” she heard Alice’s voice and her puzzled eyes met a pair of twinkling blue ones.

“There is?” she asked hesitantly.

“In the end, a McDonnell always get the girl,” she winked, seeing the blush creep up Robin’s face.

Robin was spared an answer, by the kidnapper’s angry yell when Peter Jones reached out to pull the ski-mask away from his face.

“No! Leave it on.”

“In your dreams, mate,” Peter replied, pleased with the knowledge the big man’s hands were tied behind his back. “We need to see whom we’ re dealing with here.”

“No!” the man answered forcefully. “Not…here, not…now.”

Peter sent Trishia a quizzical look, but the police woman just shrugged her shoulders.

“When and why?” she asked with more patience than she felt. The fact that they had found Robin and Fiona in good health had taken a tremendous weight off her shoulders, but she really wanted to hike back to their cars and make sure everybody would return home safely.

“Not here,” the man answered stubbornly.

“I’m afraid you’ve no choice in the matter, mate,” Peter answered and before the kidnapper could react, the police man had reached out and pulled off the ski-mask in one, fluid motion.

Immediately, he took a step back and gasped loudly, a sound that was echoed by the onlookers.

“Good God. What happened to you?” Peter asked in a hoarse voice.

The tall man’s face looked like it had melted. Scars littered the red and swollen skin. One eye was shut, while the other one seemed to be pulled down by the mangled skin of his cheek. The nose was nothing but a small clump of flesh and his upper lip had completely disappeared, just like one of his ears.

“Chemical burns,” Trishia’s voice sounded softly. She had seen it before, knowing things like battery acid were sometimes used as a weapon. She understood the man’s pain and his reluctance to show his face. People could be harsh and unfeeling in the way they treated others who had the misfortune to be disfigured. And even though their suspect obviously was a criminal, there was no reason for them to add to his daily suffering.

“Put his mask back on, Pete,” Trishia ordered calmly. “What’s your name?”

“Who wants to know?” the man’s voice rasped, raw from not having been used for a long time.

“Senior-Sergeant Trishia Waters,” Trishia identified herself, showing him her identification. “What’s your name?”

“Frankenstein,” was the growled answer.

“Fine, have it your way,” Trishia shrugged her shoulders, watching Peter Jones put the man’s ski-mask back into place. “You know we’ll find out anyway, sooner or later. But if you cooperate, your life will be a lot more pleasant.” Trishia stepped closer and searched for the eye, the only thing visible through the mask. “But when my friends and family are kidnapped and shot at, I tend to take it personally,” she warned him in a low voice, before turning on her heels and motioning the rest to follow them.

“Let’s go, people, I’ve had enough hiking for a while.”

“Amen to that,” Robin sighed, willing her tired body to obey. The first few steps were the hardest, she knew. Her muscles were pulling and screaming in agony and a quick glance aside showed her Fiona was in no better shape. The photographers t-shirt was ripped at the side, something that must have happened when she had lost her balance and Fiona had caught her, stopping her from rolling down the hill. Her face was dirty and the dark-green eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep.

If Fiona looks that bad, how do I look? Must be awful.

Robin sighed and automatically put one foot in front of the other, trying not to think of the long, steep climb that was still ahead of them. If she would listen to her body, she would find a grassy spot, lie down and sleep. For hours. Maybe even days. But she knew that was impossible. They needed to keep going. Maybe if she would think positive thoughts it would help her forget about the pain and fatigue.

Robin’s heart jumped in her chest when she remembered how it had felt to rest, snuggled up against Fiona’s taller frame, the photographer’s arms firmly wrapped around her body. Even though she had been scared, tired, cold and hungry, the close contact had provided her with something she thought she would never experience again: a warmth and safety born out of the comforting presence of a person who had captured her heart.

Because that was exactly what had happened; she had fallen for Fiona McDonnell. It had been a swift conquest that had taken her completely by surprise. Ever since they had met, Robin had tried hard to ignore the little voices in the back of her mind, not looking forward to all the complications a one-sided…crush…would bring. Until last night.

Until Fiona’s whispered:’ It’s still unwritten.’

Those few words suddenly had changed…everything. Robin knew Fiona had not said it yet, but she felt in her heart that the photographer had been talking about her feelings for her, Robin Adams. And, suddenly, things had looked totally different.

Her feelings for Fiona McDonnell had not been one-sided at all.

Unconsciously Robin smiled, sensing a warm feeling settle in the pit of her stomach. When she glanced up, it was as if Fiona had been reading her mind, because a pair of tired dark-green eyes looked at her with a mixture of shyness and affection and Robin sent the photographer a warm smile.

She knew they needed to talk, but she had promised to wait until Fiona was ready. And she would. As long as she needed to. And, in the meantime, they could get to know each other better, since they had only met each other the previous week.

Robin shook her head in silent amazement and suppressed a chuckle. Who could have known this would happen to her? She seriously thought she would have been too old to lose her heart so drastically.

Time for a bath, some sleep and some serious reflections, Robbie.

“Amen to that,” Robin sighed, not aware of having spoken those words out loud.

“To what?” Sam asked curiously, walking right behind Robin. She had given Kurt free rein to wonder around, knowing the dog would be close and always would come when she would call him. He apparently had not suffered from his superficial wound, because as soon as Sam had unfastened his leash, he had taken off into the forest with a happy bark.

Robin cast a look over her shoulder and smiled at her boss.

“I must be exhausted. I didn’t even realize I was talking aloud,” she explained with a shrug of her shoulders. “I was thinking how nice it would be to have a shower and a good sleep.”

“Amen to that,” Sam smiled warmly, repeating Robin’s earlier words. “Your brother will be so thrilled to see you. Trishia practically had to order him to stay home, he was so eager to come with us.”

“It’s a good thing he didn’t. Josh is the best brother I could have wished for, but he can be a bit of a hothead, sometimes. I’m afraid he would have been right next to Kurt when he attacked.”

“Trishia told him and Michael to stay home and take care of the women,” Sam pulled a face, which made Robin smile. “Jody can take care of herself and so can Lucy, but I guess it sounded good enough. Trish only wanted a small group to come along, to keep things quiet.”

The next few minutes, they all climbed the steep hill in silence. The only person who seemed to have no trouble at all, was Yarra. It was obvious she was holding back in order to give the rest of them a chance to catch their breath. Making sure to stay close to Alice, she often took the blonde’s arm or hand to help her cross the most difficult areas.

Fiona intercepted a few glances between the couple and she inwardly smiled. Yarra and Alice were so cute together. They always had been, and it seemed that, as they grew more older and mature, their deepening relationship was often reflected in soft touches and knowing glances. In Fiona’s mind, Yarra and Alice belonged together just like Sam and Jody did.

“How are you doing, Fi?” Yarra called out to her friend.

“Just peachy,” Fiona answered, trying not to pant. She was exhausted and wondered if the gas their kidnapper had used, had done some damage to her lungs. Her legs still felt heavy and the headache she had successfully fought before, was threatening to come back full force. “But I’ve had better days though,” she added with a grimace, trying to ignore the throbbing pain behind her eyes.

“It won’t be long now, mate, hang in there,” Yarra called over her shoulder. “Just one last steep bit and after that it will be a walk in the park.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Robin muttered. The biologist had never felt more tired in her entire life. Her legs felt like rubber and her breathing was labored, while her head felt like it was filled with cotton-wool and her eyes were burning, begging to be closed.

With a look that bordered on desperation, Robin looked up at the ‘last steep bit’ as Yarra had called it. Steep it was, she had to agree, but the trees prevented a clear view and it was impossible to tell how long the climb would take.

A hand on her shoulder made Robin look up she smiled weakly at Fiona who looked at her with obvious concern.

“Will you be alright?” the photographer asked.

“Do I have a choice?” Robin replied with a grimace, fighting the urge to rub her cheek against the warm hand on her shoulder.

“I could carry you up,” Fiona suggested with a twinkle in her eyes.

“That would be a sight to see,” Robin chuckled. Not able to resist any longer, she just had to touch Fiona, she covered the hand on her shoulder with her own, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“I’ll be right behind you,” Fiona promised.

“Thank you,” Robin nodded, wishing she could just snuggle up against Fiona and go to sleep. Now she knew how it felt to be held by the photographer, her body seemed to crave the contact with an intensity Robin had never experienced before.

I must either be extremely exhausted or head over heels. Or both…

Fiona glanced at the small group in front of them. Like Yarra and Alice, Trishia and Peter were already out of sight, their prisoner in between them. Fiona didn’t know how they did it, but every now and then, it was like the two police officers hauled the big man up, not willing to take off the handcuffs.

Sam was steadily following, a determined expression on her face, using Kurt’s leash as a rope in her climb back up the hill.

“Come on, Robin, you can do it,” Fiona encouraged, gently pushing the other woman forward.

With a grunt, Robin reached out and grasped a branch, pulling herself up. When her right leg felt like it would slip away from underneath her body, Fiona’s hands were immediately around her waist, steadying her until she had regained her balance.

“You know, if I could, I’d carry you up,” Fiona’s voice sounded close to her ear and Robin smiled. She knew it was impossible, but the sentiment was endearing and she half-turned to give the surprised photographer a quick kiss on the cheek.

“I know you would, thank you.”

“No worries,” Fiona drawled with shining eyes, while her fingers touched the spot Robin had just kissed her.

“You’re so sweet,” Robin added with a smile, before turning her attention back to the climb ahead.

With a happy grin on her face, Fiona followed close behind.

“Taryn, no!” Jody warned her daughter for the second time, quickly grabbing a little hand. “That’s your brother’s toy, not a weapon.”

A pair of innocent green eyes looked up at her from the floor, but Jody wasn’t fooled by the sweet glance she was receiving, so she sent her daughter a stern glare, which had the desired effect, because Taryn’s bottom lip started trembling.

“Mama?”

“Hopefully mama will be home soon, sweetie. In the meantime, you’ll have to put up with me and I don’t want you to hit Tim with his fire truck. No hitting!”

Taryn looked at the red truck in her hands and decided it wasn’t worth the fuss. With a determined gesture, she tossed the toy in a corner and crawled over to Jody’s mother, reaching out both hands.

“Gwamma!”

With a smile, Joan McDonnell lifted the toddler off the floor into her lap, nuzzling the soft hair that smelled like baby-shampoo.

“They’ re a little out of sorts, honey,” Joan spoke to her eldest daughter. “They pick up on the tension.”

“I know,” Jody sighed, casting a look at Lucy who was stretched out on the couch. It had taken her a lot of convincing, but she had finally managed to get her exhausted sister to lie down for a while.

“It’s been daylight for a while now. I just wish we’d hear something. The longer it takes, the more tense I feel. And poor Joshua,” Jody sighed, glancing outside where she could see Robin’s brother pace the veranda, while Michael was quietly sitting on the railing.

“I know, honey,” Joan McDonnell answered softly. “I’m scared, too, but deep down inside, I feel that everything’s going to be alright.”

Jody nodded and looked down when she felt a hand pat her leg. A pair of clear blue eyes looked up at her pleadingly and immediately she smiled.

“Come here, big guy,” she said, lifting Timothy into her arms. The little boy wrapped his arms around his mother’s neck and pressed his cheek against hers in a gesture of silent comfort.

Jody’s thoughts traveled back to the moment she had kissed Sam goodbye, when the small group had set out to find Fiona and Robin. Sam had been filled with quiet determination and Jody knew her partner would not want to come home without the two women.

“We’ll find them,” Sam had promised, her voice full of confidence and Jody hoped and prayed that would be the case.

For a long time it was silent, while both Jody and Joan McDonnell were lost in thought, each of them holding an unusually quiet toddler, while Lucy had drifted off to sleep on the couch.

The first warm rays of morning sun came tumbling into the room, illuminating red lights in Jody’s and Taryn’s hair, something that made Joan McDonnell smile softly. They were so much alike, mother and daughter, while Timothy had all the physical characteristics of the Stevens’. Her grandchildren were the perfect reflection of their parents love for each other and, again, Joan McDonnell said a silent prayer of gratitude for having had the chance to come to accept the relationship between her daughter and Samantha Stevens. She would have missed out on so much if she hadn’t.

The long-awaited, but still unexpected sound of the phone made Jody almost jump out of her seat and with trembling fingers she reached for the device, seeing Lucy shoot up straight and hearing the slamming of the kitchen door when both Michael and Joshua came running in.

“H…hello?” she said, holding her breath.

“Pea? It’s me, we’ re fine,” Fiona’s voice filled her ear and Jody closed her eyes, letting out a shuddering sigh of relief.

“They’ re fine,” she repeated in a hoarse voice, immediately seeing Lucy sink back in the pillows, while Joshua had to hold on to the back of a chair to keep from sinking through his knees that suddenly felt like they were filled with gelatin.

“Where are you?”

“We just climbed Mount Everest, or so it feels,” Fiona’s explained in a tired, but happy voice. “Sam promised we’ll be home in time for breakfast and I have to admit I’m dying for a cup of coffee.”

“I’ll make sure it’s right here waiting for you,” Jody smiled, wiping away a tear from the corner of her eye. “Are you sure you and Robin are alright?”

“Just tired, hungry and in dire need of a shower. We’ re fine. Kurt caught the bad guy and Peter will escort him to jail. I guess it was a pretty productive morning.”

“Kurt caught the bad guy? Honey, what…” Jody sighed and shook her head with a smile. “I’m sure we’ll hear all about it when you’re home.” Glancing at Joshua, Jody smiled. “Fiona, honey, can Joshua talk with Robin for a moment? I’m sure he’ll feel a lot better if he can hear her voice.”

“Sure thing, sis. Here she comes, I’ll see you soon.”

Jody handed the phone to Joshua, who eagerly grabbed it and brought it to his ear.

“Robbie?”

“Hey, Josh. Are you alright?”

“I was worried sick,” Joshua answered with something close to a sob. “Did they catch the bloke?”

“Yes, they did,” Robin’s tired voice answered.

“Are you alright? Did…did he hurt you?”

“No, he didn’t, Josh,” Robin hurried to reassure her brother. “Fiona and I are both alright, just tired, hungry and…” Joshua could hear his sister make a sniffing sound and he chuckled. “…dirty,” she added with a trace of amusement. “We’ re heading to the cars right now and we should be home in about thirty minutes.”

“Great, I’m so happy, Robin. I was so worried about you.”

“I know, honey. I was worried about you as well. But it’s over now, alright? We’re coming home. Can you hand the phone back to Jody. I’m sure she’d like to talk to Sam, since this is Sam’s phone to start with,” Robin chuckled. “I’ll see you in a little bit, big brother.”

Joshua nodded and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, while he handed Jody back the phone.

“Sam?”

“Hey, sweetie,” a tired, but familiar voice sounded, and Jody swallowed hard.

“I guess Alice was right then?”

“Spot on,” Sam answered with a happy sigh and Jody could almost picture the twinkle in her partner’s clear blue eyes. “And Yarra is the best darn tracker I’ve ever seen. Of course I already knew that,” Sam added with a laugh. “But it was nice to see it confirmed again. Oh, and honey? Kurt deserves a big, fat juicy bone.”

“He’ll get one,” Jody promised, looking down when a small, but insistent hand tugged on her arm.

“Mama?” Timothy almost begged, his eyes full of expectation.

“Yes, it’s mama and she’ll be home soon, honey.”

“Is that Tim?”

“Yes and Taryn is wiggling her way down off mom’s lap. They’ve missed you this morning when you weren’t there.”

“I’ve missed them too,” Sam sighed. “I love it when they’re just awake and snuggle with us in bed. Maybe we can do a little snuggling later,” Sam’s voice was hopeful and Jody smiled.

“I’m sure we can, honey,” she promised, already looking forward to it. “Just come home.”

“I’m on my way,” Sam answered. “We’ll be there soon. I love you.”

“I love you too, Sam. See you soon.”

With a smile, Jody put down the phone and got up to walk to the couch, plant Timothy in Lucy’s lap, enveloping them both in a quick, but heartfelt hug and then turned towards her mother, who was silently crying. Kneeling in front of Joan McDonnell Jody wrapped her arms around her and pulled her close, silently rocking her in a comforting gesture that always worked wonders with her twins.

“It’s alright, Mom, it’s alright,” she whispered. “She’s fine and she’s coming home.”

“I know, baby,” Joan McDonnell sniffed, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “It’s just…”

“I understand,” Jody smiled. “We’ve all been under a lot of stress. To be honest, I don’t know what to feel right now. Part of me wants to jump up and dance and the other part wants to sit down and cry.”

“See? I’ve always known you were a nutcase, Jody McDonnell,” Lucy laughed through her tears, making her mother smile.

“Thanks, Luce, coming from you I’ll take that as a compliment,” Jody grinned, patting her mother on the shoulder. “I need some help in the kitchen, Mom. I’m sure everybody is starving.”

“Oh, we’ll help,” Joan McDonnell immediately replied, referring to herself and Lucy, who pulled a face at Jody when her older sister winked at her. “I know exactly what Fiona likes.”

Trishia had left Fiona’s and Robin’s kidnapper in the capable hands of Peter Jones, who, together with a uniformed police officer, would accompany the man to the police station.

Trishia wanted to go with them, so she could be part of the interrogation team, but an even bigger part of her wanted to be with Lucy and her family. To be together and celebrate their fortune in having found Fiona and Robin. Alive and well. How many times had she been part of an investigation when victims of a kidnapping were found dead?

Trishia swallowed hard and tried to focus on steering her car down the hill. Sam’s car with Yarra, Alice, Robin and Fiona was in front of her, while the police car with Peter was somewhere behind her. The road was narrow and trying to overtake a car was treacherous, to say the least. The view was simply breathtaking but there were no sturdy railings shielding the cars from the steep drops on the side of the road, so Trishia concentrated on the road in front of her, occasionally glancing in her rearview mirror.

****

Peter Jones sat half-turned in the passenger seat, so he could keep an eye on his prisoner. The man had been very quiet and Peter did not trust him at all. His instincts, honed by years of working in the police force, told him there was a lot more to Fiona’s and Robin’s kidnapper than met the eye. And Peter knew he had to be alert.

He had not talked to Trishia about his gut-feeling, there had been no need. Her eyes had reflected his emotions and he had mentally patted himself on the shoulder. He respected and admired Trishia and unconsciously being on the same wave-length as his Senior-Sergeant was something he was secretly proud of.

“If you’d tell me your name, it would make conversation a lot easier,” Peter remarked casually.

A low growl was his answer and Peter shrugged his shoulders, not at all impressed. During his career he had been called all the names known to mankind, and then some, so a little growling was hardly intimidating.

“Tell you what,” he continued, almost cheerfully. “Back in the forest you told us your name’s Frankenstein. I can’t call you that, but I’ll call you Frank. How about that, mate?”

“Go to hell,” was the answer, followed by a cough and Peter just shook his head.

“Whatever.”

Another cough followed and Peter and the police officer driving the car exchanged a look when the coughing became deeper and longer.

“Do you need some water?” Peter asked, not unfriendly, but he received no answer, just a dark glance from behind the mask.

“Do you think he’s choking, or something?” Daniel Tiller, the driver, asked a little nervously.

“I wouldn’t know what he could choke on, mate,” Peter answered. “It’s not like he ate something lately.”

“I…can’t…breathe…” the kidnaper’s voice rasped and immediately Daniel Tiller stopped the car, ready to jump out. A strong hand on his arm stopped him.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“You heard what he said, he can’t breathe,” Daniel answered in a voice that was a pitch higher than normal.

“Did you ever consider that can be a trick?” Peter asked patiently, immediately seeing the light blush color the face of the rookie police man. “That’s what I thought. Just let him cough and give him time to catch his breath, alright? We’ll know when he’s really getting in trouble, believe me.”

But the coughing did not stop and Daniel Tiller shot Peter Jones an insecure look. He had heard a lot of stories about Peter Jones and Trishia Waters, both seasoned police officers who were highly respected by their peers. But even an experienced Peter Jones could make a mistake, couldn’t he? What if their suspect was choking and they didn’t do anything to help him?

The sound of wheezing almost made Daniel Tiller jump and casting one last glance at Peter Jones’ calm face, he made a decision. Quickly opening the door, he jumped out and opened the door to the backseat. He leaned forward, intent to slap the big man on his back to help him breathe better, when all of a sudden all air left his lungs with a loud whooshing sound when a pair of strong legs impacted with his chest.

Daniel Tiller literally flew out of the car, backwards, to slam into a tree on the side of the road, where he slowly slid down, gasping for breath.

Before Peter Jones could make it out of the car, ‘Frank’ was standing next to Daniel Tiller with one foot pressing against the incapacitated police officer’s throat.

“Keys,” his raspy voice commanded.

“What?” Peter asked, knowing full well what he meant, but hoping that maybe he could buy some time.

“Throw the keys of the handcuffs, so mister Green here can hand them to me. If not, I’ll crush his windpipe.”

“This is insane, mate,” Peter tried. “You know you won’t get far.”

“The keys,” ‘Frank’ growled, increasing the pressure on Daniel Tiller’s throat.

With a frustrated groan and a muttered curse, Peter pulled a pair of keys out of his pocket and threw them at the two men. They landed just in front of Daniel Tiller’s hand.

“Pick up the keys and open the handcuff,” ‘Frank’ commanded while putting even more pressure on the police man’s throat. With concern Peter noticed that Daniel Tiller was rapidly becoming blue in the face and inwardly he cursed.

With trembling fingers, the rookie managed to open one of the handcuffs and, when he could feel the pressure on his throat disappear, he took a deep, wheezing gulp of air that immediately made him cough violently. In spite of his predicament, Daniel Tiller had not forgotten his training and his hand searched for his gun, only to be slapped away by a larger one.

“Thanks, mate,” a raspy voice sounded close to his ear.

Peter, who had already pulled his gun had quickly jumped behind the police car when he had noticed how ‘Frank’ had positioned himself behind the rookie and had taken possession of Daniel’s gun. He had no clear shot and with utter frustration Peter had to watch how ‘Frank’ whispered something to Daniel, before knocking him out cold with the butt of the gun and disappearing in the thick, green wall of the forest behind him.

“Shit,” Peter exclaimed. “Trish is going to kill me.”
part 13
It was the weirdest color she had ever seen. It was green, but with a bright, almost fluorescent tint to it that made it painful to her eyes. And the few small patches of sky she could see through the dense canopy were almost purple.

Rubbing her eyes, she tried to make sense of it, when all of a sudden the ground beneath her feet seemed to disappear. She opened her mouth to yell a warning at the tall figure who was walking next to her, but no sound came out. And then she felt herself falling. Faster and faster, like she was descending in a bottomless pit. Her arms splayed wildly, searching for something, anything to hold on to, but there was nothing but darkness surrounding her. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself for the painful impact that had to come.

But she landed on something soft and slowly she opened her eyes, blinking against the soft light that illuminated her surroundings that resembled a cave. But the walls were shiny and soft and they seemed to be alive.

Deep breathing sounded behind her and when she turned around she looked straight into a dark, masked face. The owner had his hands stretched out to her in an inviting gesture, wiggling his fingers.

She knew she had to run, as fast as she could, but with unbelieving eyes she looked at her feet that refused to move. It was as if she was glued to the floor. Maybe if she took off her shoes.

Bending down, she reached for the laces of her tennis shoes, but every time she could almost touch them, they disappeared again.

With a sob, she noticed the masked man coming closer and frantically she tried to pull her feet free from whatever was holding on to her.

“Robin. Robin,” a voice sounded close to her ear and she used her arms to swing at the masked man wildly.

“Robin,” it sounded again, but this time it was different. The voice was different. And tilting her head she listened intently. She had heard that voice before, it was familiar.

“Robin.”

“Fiona?” she whispered, not knowing if any sound was forthcoming from her dry mouth. “Fiona!”

Something touched her face and she jerked away from it, almost panicking because her eyes were wide open, but she could not see a thing.

“Robin, please, wake up. Robin.”

Letting out a shuddering breath, Robin opened her eyes, surprised to see the masked man and the strange, gooey walls had disappeared. Instead, she was staring into a pair of familiar, dark-green eyes that looked at her worriedly.

“Robin? It’s me, Fiona. You were having a bad dream.”

“Where am I?” Robin asked, moistening her dry lips.

“Sam’s and Jody’s place, remember? Trishia wanted us to stay here, because that…bloke…escaped. She said she needed everybody to be close together. This is the guestroom.”

“I…I remember,” Robin sighed, pushing her hair away from her clammy forehead with trembling fingers. “We’ re staying in the same room.”

“Yes, we are,” Fiona smiled, fighting the urge to wrap her arms around Robin and cradle her like she would Timothy or Taryn whenever they needed some comfort. Instead, she settled for pushing a curly strand of hair behind Robin’s ear and letting her fingertips linger on the soft cheek for a moment.

“It’s a full house, remember?” Fiona asked, trying to pull Robin away completely from the nightmare she had just experienced.

“Yes, I remember,” Robin sighed. “Alice and Yarra are staying in Alice’s room, Trishia and Lucy are staying in the other guestroom, your Mom is in the kids’ room and the kids are with their parents. And Josh and Michael are in the office. Full house indeed.”

“Good, your dream didn’t fry your brain,” Fiona teased, smiling when Robin sent her an exasperated look.

“Thank goodness for that,” Robin moaned, turning around so she could have a better look at her companion. Only then it dawned on her that she was stretched out on a comfortable bed, clad in a pair of panties and a t-shirt. The bed would easily be big enough for two adults, but Fiona had offered to stretch out on the couch, underneath the window and Robin had been too tired even to register the considerate gesture. Until now.

“That couch is way too small for you,” she frowned.

“I’ll be fine,” Fiona shrugged. “Compared to that cave, it’s the Hilton.”

“Except for the chocolate,” Robin smiled.

“Chocolate is overrated,” Fiona replied with a twinkle in her eyes. “Besides, when I opened my eyes, I found something sweeter than that.”

Robin eyed Fiona with a wary glance, not sure where the conversation was heading. The dark-green eyes held a hint of amusement and a smile tugged at the corner of Fiona’s mouth.

“Alright, McDonnell,” Robin sighed. “You’re either trying to make me believe you’re flirting with me, or…you’ re just trying to confuse me,” she groaned, smiling when she heard the familiar chuckle. “Either way, it’s your warped sense of humor again, isn’t it?”

“Is it that warped?” Fiona asked and Robin thought she could detect the smallest hint of insecurity in her voice.

“No, it’s not,” she answered with a gentle smile. “I like it, actually. What does that say about me, huh?”

“That you’re warped?” Fiona grinned, happy with the playful banter. When she had awakened to some of the distressed sounds Robin was making in her sleep, she had jumped off the couch, wincing when the stiff muscles in her back made their presence known with a vengeance. It had taken some effort to pull Robin from Morpheus’ clutches and Fiona had been relieved when the biologist had finally opened her eyes.

“You did it again,” Robin’s voice pulled her from her musings and Fiona frowned.

“Did what?”

“Used your distraction tactics on me. I was telling you the couch is way too small for you.”

“And I told you I’ll be fine. Honestly, I will.”

“But I feel bad about that arrangement. Maybe I should…”

“No way,” Fiona interrupted with a determined expression on her face. “You were injured less than a week ago. You need a comfortable place to sleep.”

“The bed is big enough for two,” Robin suggested.

“Then bring a friend,” Fiona quipped. “You’ re not sleeping on the couch.”

“A friend?” Robin laughed. “Alright, my friend, would you want to sleep with me?”

Seeing the mixture of amusement and shyness on Fiona’s face, Robin smiled and put her hand on Fiona’s arm.

“When I say ‘sleep’, I do mean just that, sleeping,” she explained. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my hands to myself.”

“I’m not worried about that,” Fiona drawled.

It’s my hands I’m not sure of. I hope they’ll behave.

“You had your chance last night,” she added with a wink.

Robin softly snorted and bumped Fiona with her shoulder. She had to admit she had been tempted to kiss the photographer. Several times. Especially, when she had been stretched out on top of her, after Fiona had broken her fall.

“It didn’t seem to be the best time, you know,” she answered softly.

Fiona, surprised by Robin’s honest answer, looked up into a pair of warm hazel eyes and quickly felt the world around them fade away. Robin’s eyes were open and honest, permitting Fiona a glance at what was normally carefully shielded.

“No, it wasn’t,” Fiona finally answered, her voice so soft it was barely audible. “But we made it and I’m sure there’ll be other chances.”

“Oh, I know there will be,” Robin smiled.

“But I’m glad we have it all settled now,” she said with a smug smile. “You’ll sleep in this bed, with me. I promise I won’t kick.”

“I hope I can say the same,” Fiona hesitated. Although the thought of being so close to Robin was exhilarating, it was also very scary and she hoped that, even in sleep, she would manage to behave.

Robin cast a look at the alarmclock and noticed it was one-thirty in the afternoon. They had only slept for a couple of hours and her body was craving a lot more. The house was still bathed in silence and she suspected everybody was still asleep. The whole family had been exhausted after the events of the previous day and night.

“Do you think you can sleep a few more hours?” she asked Fiona, who still looked tired, with dark circles underneath her eyes.

“Make that a few more days,” the photographer answered with a yawn.

“Great. Get under the sheets then. We can talk later,” Robin replied softly.

Fiona obediently slid under the soft sheet and lay quietly on her back next to Robin, who had turned on her side, her back turned to Fiona, who had closed her eyes, willing her body to relax. True, she had shared beds with Yarra and Alice, but that had been different. This was Robin. The woman who managed constantly to confuse her and make her feel things she had never experienced before.

“Fiona, honey, relax,” Robin’s sleepy voice sounded and Fiona opened her eyes in surprise. How did Robin do that? It was as if she could read her mind.

“I’m trying to,” Fiona answered, not aware of how tense her voice sounded. But Robin had picked up on it and she chuckled softly.

“How do you usually sleep? I mean, what is your most comfortable position?”

“Um…my left side,” Fiona answered.

“Then turn on your left side and relax,” Robin advised, lying on her left side as well.

Behind her, she could feel Fiona shift and a few seconds later her ears picked up a relieved sigh.

“Better?” she smiled, reaching behind her and patting Fiona’s thigh.

“Much,” Fiona sighed, grasping Robin’s hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. “I didn’t know there was a scientific approach to that.”

Robin softly laughed and pulled Fiona’s hand in front of her, resting it on her stomach, so the photographer’s arm was securely draped around her body. She heard the small intake of breath and felt the slight stiffening of Fiona’s body. Just when she thought that maybe she had pushed the photographer too far, she could feel Fiona’s body spoon against her own.

“Much better,” she heard her mumble and, with a smile, Robin closed her eyes.

****

Glancing at the peacefully sleeping Lucy, Trishia leaned back in the chair and stared at the laptop in front of her. It contained all her notes on Joe Michaels, William Jenkins, and Steven Hayes who had all been part of the same criminal organization. Two of the three men were dead. William Jenkins had been killed by Steven Hayes, who, in turn, had been shot by Trishia when he was about to shoot Sam. It had been in the nick of time and even now, years later, Trishia could still feel her heartbeat pick up every time she thought back to that dramatic moment.

With a sigh, Trishia rubbed her sleepy eyes. She was tired, but sleep eluded her because she could not relax. Her brain was constantly working on the puzzle she desperately wanted to solve, if only she could prove a link between Joe Michaels and the kidnapper who had escaped them this morning.

Trishia unconsciously rubbed her throat. It had been sore after she was done yelling at Daniel Tiller. If the rookie had only listened to Peter Jones, nothing would have happened. Peter had gotten an earful as well. He should have stopped the young policeman before he had opened the backdoor of the car. Now their suspect had managed to escape. Of course, they had immediately started a thorough search of the forest, but it had been in vain. The area was so vast and dense, ‘Frank’ had a good lead the moment he jumped off the road into the bushes.

At least now they knew who they were dealing with. Sort of, anyway. Trishia had ordered Peter to try and identify their suspect through the vast police computer network. If the man had a record, he would be in there. The mutilation of his face could make it easier to locate him.

But it had been hours and she still had not heard from Peter. Trishia cast a look at her watch and noticed it was almost two o’clock in the afternoon. Peter had promised he would call her as soon as he found something and her cell phone was on the small table next to her.

Lucy mumbled something in her sleep and turned around on her side, facing Trishia. The police woman’s eyes softened when they took in the sleeping form of her partner. Again, it struck her how beautiful Lucy was; with her dark hair, green eyes and flawless skin, she could easily have become a model. But in spite of what a lot of people thought, Lucy McDonnell was not vain. Still, after all the time they had been together, a look of surprise and wonder radiated from her eyes every time Trishia told her of that beauty.

Exhaling slowly, Trishia’s eyes traveled from Lucy’s face to the soft swell of breasts under the tank top she was wearing. At home, Lucy usually slept in the buff and Trishia had no objections against that. She loved snuggling up to her partner and feeling her soft skin everywhere she touched her. It often was as comforting as it was arousing.

“Why don’t you stop ogling me and come to bed?” Lucy’s sleepy voice interrupted Trishia’s musings and, with a sheepish grin, she rubbed her eyes.

“I can’t seem to get relaxed enough to sleep,” she answered softly.

Lucy pushed herself up and, leaning on one elbow, stared at her partner.

“I’m sure I can find a way to relax you,” she smiled with a wink, making Trishia chuckle.

“I’ve no doubt about that,” she answered, putting her laptop on the table and getting up from the chair. She crossed the small distance to the bed and sank down on the edge, next to Lucy. Immediately, her partner scooted closer and put her head into her lap, closing her eyes in contentment when strong fingers started a gentle massage of her scalp.

“You need to sleep, Luce. You do need your rest.”

“So do you, invincible woman,” Lucy quipped. “You can’t solve mysteries and save the world when you are sleep-deprived, you know.”

“I know,” Trishia smiled. “I guess I’m tense. I’m waiting to hear from Peter. Maybe he’ll find out something about the kidnapper.”

“And I hope he does, honey. But isn’t your phone on?”

“Sure it is,” Trishia answered with a raised eyebrow.

“Then put it on the night stand and get your cute butt back into bed. You’ll hear it ring when Peter calls. I’m sure he’s taking a nap as well. Get some rest, honey. Please.”

Without answering, Trishia reached for the cell phone on the table and obediently put it on the small bedside stand. As soon as she crawled into bed, Lucy turned around and practically pinned the taller woman to the mattress, which made Trishia laugh softly wile her arms settled around Lucy’s body.

“I thought you wanted me to sleep?”

“I do,” Lucy sighed, raising herself up a little so she could bring her face closer to that of her partner. “But I want a kiss first. Do you think you could manage that?”

“I’m sure I can,” Trishia smiled with a twinkle in her green-blue eyes.

“Good,” Lucy sighed happily. “I was afraid I’d have to get hormonal on you.”

Trishia did not get the chance to reply, because a pair of soft lips descended on her own and with a long, deep, passionate kiss Lucy robbed her of both breath and reason. When they finally broke apart, there was a dazed look in her eyes and Lucy let out an amused chuckle.

“That’s my girl,” she whispered, brushing Trishia’s forehead and cheeks with her fingertips. “Now, close those pretty eyes and stay relaxed. Go to sleep, my love.”

Within less than a minute, Trishia Waters had drifted off to sleep and, with a contented smile, Lucy snuggled up to her taller partner, careful not to wake her. Before closing her own eyes again, she eyed the phone on the night stand to make sure it was on.

“I’d be happy if you’d take another few hours or so, Peter,” she whispered. “My honey is not super woman, you know.”

****

With a soft click, the door closed behind the small woman and, with evident self-confidence, she stepped inside the room, knowing the big man she had chosen to accompany her that afternoon, was right behind her.

Her eyes traveled through the room, with the concrete walls and table that was bolted to the floor. There were three wooden chairs around the table and only one was occupied.

“Mister Michaels,” she politely greeted the handcuffed man on the chair, while she took a seat across from him.

“Inspector,” he nodded, while his blue eyes traveled between the small woman and her big companion.

“Mister Michaels, this here is Mac Drummond, he’s a police officer in my department. We have some questions for you,” Carol Wong wasted no time. She knew Joe Michaels was amused by their visit, but she had not come over on a Saturday afternoon to play games. She wanted answers and was determined to get them.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” was the expected response.

“Strange, since you don’t even know what I want to talk about,” Carol Wong replied, while her brown eyes returned the amused look that was sent her way coolly.

“No matter what it is, it’s not one of my concerns,” Joe Michaels shrugged. “I’ve got a lot of years to do in here, Inspector. Why would I help you?”

“Because one phone call from me can make your life a lot better. Or worse,” Carol Wong replied calmly, seeing the amused glance leave the inmate’s eyes immediately. “The choice is yours.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No, Mister Michaels, I am not, I assure you. I can back up my words and I’m willing to do so. I would hardly call that a threat.”

“I can file a complaint against you, you know that, don’t you?”

“You can try,” Carol Wong dead-panned.

“He’s a witness,” Joe Michaels gestured at Mac Drummond who was silently sitting on a chair, staring at the convicted criminal with a calm look in his eyes.

“Mac has a hearing problem,” Carol Wong replied. “I noticed a few more people around here suffer from the same condition,” she added, referring to the police officers who were watching the scene from behind the one-way mirror.

“You can’t do that,” Joe Michaels snarled, shooting the small woman with the Asian features a disgusted look.

“Sure I can,” Carol Wong nodded. “Don’t forget, Mister Michaels that, although you might not have personally pulled the trigger, I do hold you responsible for the death of two of my men. Or had you forgotten about that already? I could refresh your memory. I do believe I have a picture of one of my men’s children. The boy just turned six years old. He has no real memory of his father. I think that…”

“Alright, alright,” Joe Michaels almost shouted, his face red and the veins in his neck distended. Did she really have to add to the nightmares that kept him awake so often? Or contribute to the guilt that always tugged on his heart and had turned him into a somber, bitter man. “What do you want to know?”

****

It was hard to move, Fiona discovered, still half-asleep. There was a weight on her shoulder, pressing her down and she wondered what was holding her hostage.

Hostage!

Fiona’s eyes flew open while her heart suddenly slammed against her rib cage. Only when she saw the familiar room with it’s soft yellow walls, she let out a shaky breath and relaxed. She was in one of her sister’s guest rooms.

Again the eyes widened. But she was not alone.

When her gaze traveled down, to her shoulder, Fiona felt her heart skip a beat when she noticed a disarray of curls that looked very familiar. Robin. Fiona was sure they had not fallen asleep like that and she smiled when she realized that, in her sleep, Robin had apparently sought her close presence.

It was obvious Fiona had not minded either, because her left arm was wrapped around Robin, holding her firmly in place.

Just look at us! Cuddled up like a pair of love birds. Fiona McDonnell, reduced to a puddle of…something…soft.

Inwardly Fiona chuckled, amused by the way things had developed while they had been asleep.

Strange. I ‘d have thought something like this would scare me, but it doesn’t. I actually like it.

“That’s because you’ re in love, goof-ball,” she whispered, feeling a pleasant warmth settle in the pit of her stomach, after uttering those words aloud.

“You’ re what?” Robin’s sleepy voice mumbled and for a split-second, Fiona was ready to jump out of bed and run away as fast and as far as she could. But then her body relaxed and she exhaled slowly.

“I’m in love,” she repeated softly, feeling Robin’s body jerk slightly, before it relaxed again and molded back against her.

Fiona softly chuckled.

“Did that make you want to run like the wind as well?”

Robin nodded and Fiona took a deep breath, staring at the ceiling in an effort to collect her thoughts. She was out on a limb and had absolutely no idea how to proceed next. She had not even planned on making any confessions. It had been spontaneous and thus very unexpected.

“Who are you in love with?” Robin’s muffled voice reached her ears and Fiona looked down at the head against her shoulder. Robin’s face was turned away from her and Fiona swallowed hard, wishing she could look into those warm hazel eyes to muster up some courage for the next step. The hardest one.

“You,” it was barely a whisper, but Fiona knew Robin had heard her, because the curly head turned and she could feel Robin’s warm breath caress the skin of her throat.

“Do you always pick times like these to have this type of conversation?” Robin sighed, with a touch of humor in her voice.

“Not as a rule, no,” Fiona chuckled, appreciating Robin’s sense of humor. “But since we are so snugly…snuggled up, I thought I’d take a chance.”

“It feels safe, doesn’t it?” Robin said, lifting her head so she could look at Fiona’s face. The dark-green eyes stared back at her with a mixture of amusement, wonder and deep affection.

“It does,” she admitted with a small smile.

Robin answered the smile and reached out a hand to stroke Fiona’s face softly. Her fingers traveled from her forehead, across her cheek to her chin, where they stilled before cupping Fiona’s cheek.

“I’m in love with you as well,” she confessed in a soft voice. “Deeply and utterly.”

“I was hoping you were,” Fiona whispered. She had never felt so vulnerable before and Robin saw it in her eyes. She knew how difficult it had been, for the independent person Fiona was, to make a confession like that.

They spent a few precious moments just staring into each other’s eyes, until Robin pushed herself up a little and brushed her lips against Fiona’s in a fleeting kiss.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“What for?” Fiona breathed, wondering if Robin could actually hear her heartbeat. The unexpected, light kiss had left her breathless and in her heart Fiona knew there was no more turning back; she was falling deeper and deeper for the biologist.

“For taking the chance and opening yourself up to me. For having the courage to be vulnerable.”

“It wasn’t a conscious effort,” Fiona confessed. “I just acted, without thinking.”

“Which is so unlike you,” Robin smiled.

“Maybe I should do it more often,” Fiona replied with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Now, don’t go overboard,” Robin softly laughed. “I love your brain and how it works. But sometimes it’s a good thing not to think.”

“Like when?”

“Like right now,” Robin whispered, leaning forward and pressing her lips against Fiona’s.

It was a very soft, very tender kiss in which they both took their time to soak up each other’s closeness. Fiona reveled in the softness of Robin’s lips that were slowly gliding against her own and for a moment she seriously wondered if it was possible to pass out due to an overload of emotions. She could not recall when or how it happened, but, all of a sudden, they were both lying on their side, wrapped in each other’s arms.

They slowly broke apart and Robin smiled when she noticed the look of awe and wonder in Fiona’s eyes.

“Are you alright?”she asked gently, brushing away a strand of dark hair, happy to be able finally to do so. As she had expected, Fiona’s hair was soft and silky when she let it slide through her fingers.

“I’m fine,” Fiona nodded, still a little out of breath. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t standing up though, I might have taken a nose-dive,” she added with a smile.

“I would have caught you,” Robin replied. “Or joined you.”

Fiona laughed and buried her face in the crook of Robin’s neck, inhaling deeply. The shower-gel the biologist had used that morning still lingered on her skin and Fiona decided she liked it. Experimentally she kissed the soft skin, aware of Robin’s sharp intake of breath. With a small smile she repeated her action, showering Robin’s neck and chin with soft kisses, until she reached her lips and remained there for a long time.

“I’ve discovered I love kissing you,” Fiona whispered after they reluctantly broke apart for air.

“That’s good to know,” Robin answered softly, kissing the bridge of Fiona’s nose. “I love kissing you as well. You’re a very good kisser.”

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never kissed myself,” Fiona replied dryly, making Robin laugh.

“But, to be honest,” Fiona continued. “I…You’re the very first person I’ve ever kissed like this.”

Robin’s eyebrows arched and she cast the photographer a surprised look.

“It’s true,” Fiona nodded. “I…I had some…chances, but I never felt like doing it. To me, it seemed a very unhygienic waste of time.” She grinned when Robin laughed. “I suppose it’s all about whom you’ re doing it with, huh?”

“I’d like to think so, yes,” Robin agreed, suddenly feeling years older than the young woman in her arms. She was so much more seasoned than Fiona and she wondered if that would be a problem for the photographer. But, as if Fiona could read her mind, she brought her face closer and gave her a soft kiss.

“You’ re worrying about something,” Fiona stated softly. “Is it the fact that you’re a measly seven years older than I or is it the bad experience with this Abigail person that’s on your mind?”

“Both, really,” Robin sighed.

“I’m not like Abigail.”

“No, you’re not,” Robin smiled, cupping Fiona’s cheek and using her thumb to softly stroke the skin. “But I’m carrying a lot of luggage from the past and I can’t help wondering if it’s fair to subject you to that.”

“If I was the one with the luggage, what would you do?” Fiona asked gently.

“I’d be there for you,” Robin immediately answered.

“Then let me do the same for you,” Fiona replied, seeing the tears well up in Robin’s eyes.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry,” she whispered.

Robin shook her head and pulled Fiona’s head down for a quick kiss.

“You didn’t make me cry. It’s just…they’ re happy tears. I never would have thought I’d ever feel like this again…and so much more. Do you know how special you are, Fiona McDonnell?”

“Sure,” Fiona nodded with a wink, trying to put a smile back on Robin’s face. “That’s why I’ve a bunch of outrageous insurance policies– because I’m so special.”

Her words had the desired effect, because Robin laughed and pulled Fiona down in her arms, needing to feel the younger woman as close as possible. It still puzzled her how Fiona, who was so much younger than herself, could so easily ground her and make her feel safe. But she decided not to worry about that and just accept things the way they were: exhilarating, warm and loving.

“I’m gonna be toast,” Fiona mumbled against her shoulder and Robin lifted up her chin to be able to look into her face.

“What?”

“I’ll be toast,” Fiona repeated, wrinkling her freckled nose. “Once Sam and Yarra find out about us, my life will be over. And I don’t even dare to think about Lucy. They’ve been waiting for years to see me fall in love.”

“I noticed that,” Robin smiled, remembering the banter between Fiona and Sam that morning after they had been shot at on the mountain. “But knowing you, I’m quite sure you did do something to deserve that.”

“What? No sympathy from you?” Fiona asked, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.

“Depends on how badly they’ll treat you,” Robin grinned. “And if they’d involve me.”

“They’ll probably have mercy on you,” Fiona predicted. “Until they figure out how much you can take and then you’re fair game. It happened to Trish.” Fiona pulled a face and sighed. “Maybe we can keep it a secret.”

“Maybe,” Robin drawled. “If I can stop looking at you and if I can keep my hands off you.”

Fiona chuckled and leaned forward to give Robin a long, slow kiss.

“You know, I’m so happy I don’t really care what they’ll say or do,” she confessed softly after a long while.

“That’s the spirit,” Robin nodded, wondering if Fiona had any idea how much she was torturing her with those kisses that made her almost forget her own name. A glance at Fiona’s flushed face gave her an immediate answer and she chuckled softly.

“We’ re heating things up here, Miss McDonnell. And I’m not sure if we’ re ready for that yet,” she said gently.

“Nothing better than a direct approach,” Fiona grinned. “But yes, you’re right. My body is craving things the rest of me is not entirely ready for yet. Besides,” Fiona smiled and kissed the back of Robin’s hand. “This house is full of people I love dearly, but whom I wouldn’t want to be around when I make love to you.”

Robin felt her heart skip a beat after those honest, almost blunt words and she chuckled when she felt a blush creep up her cheeks.

“I thought I was the seasoned one.”

“You are, believe me,” Fiona grinned, pushing herself upright so she could cast a glance at the alarm clock. “Almost four. No wonder I’m starving.” Turning back to look at Robin her eyes softened. “Are you ready to face…whatever?”

“Totally,” Robin sighed, extending her hand in a silent request for Fiona to help her sit up. “As long as I can eat something. This morning I was just too tired.”

“I noticed that,” Fiona nodded. “But knowing my dear sister, she’d have something ready.”

“How do they do that?” Robin wondered, stretching the stiff muscles in her legs and back.

“I’ll show you their freezer,” Fiona grinned. “It’s in the back of the house and, I swear, it holds enough to feed a small army.”

“I don’t know how I can ever repay them,” Robin sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed and staring at a picture on the wall. It was one of the many waterfalls in the rainforest and she could almost hear the water rush through the creek and feel the cool air rise up from the damp forest floor. No doubt it was Fiona’s work.

The mattress next to her dipped and an arm was wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her into the warmth of Fiona’s body.

“They don’t expect you to repay them, Robin. Sam and Jody aren’t like that…at all,” she added with a smile. “You’ll find out for yourself that they are the most generous, loving people who walk the face of the earth.”

“You’re biased,” Robin gently joked, bumping Fiona with her shoulder, but the photographer’s words had been genuine and heartwarming.

“I’m sure I am,” Fiona answered. “But it’s still true. Jody is the best sister I could have ever wished for. So is Sam.”

“Do you have any idea how much love I can hear in your voice every time you talk about them, Fiona?”

“No, I don’t. But I do love them more than I can ever say.”

Robin looked up in a pair of smiling dark-green eyes and she could feel her heart swell with the rapidly blossoming emotions Fiona had awoken in her. The feelings were so intense, they created an almost sweet pain.

“No cynicism?” she smiled.

“I don’t need it when I’m with you,” Fiona replied softly, suddenly finding her arms full of a curly haired conservation biologist who showered her face with kisses.

Fiona gladly accepted the expression of affection and let herself fall back on the bed, Robin securely wrapped in her arms.

****

“Aren’t they up yet?” Michael’s voice sounded when the McDonnell brother came walking in the kitchen.

“Nope, still in La La Land,” Sam answered dryly. “At least, that’s where I think they are,” she added with a wink at Jody who choose to ignore her partner’s suggestive gesture.

“They were exhausted, Mike,” Jody answered instead. “Poor Robin could hardly eat this morning.”

“We just want to hear all the specifics,” Lucy sighed. “Trish told me they escaped by attacking that giant,” she involuntarily shivered. “Fiona hit him with a can of beans.”

“Two,” came a cheerful voice from the hallway and when they looked up it was straight into a pair of smiling dark-green eyes. “And then Robin kicked out his lights. After that, we ran.”

Fiona stepped into the kitchen and bent down to kiss Jody’s cheek and ruffle Taryn’s hair, who was sitting on her mother’s lap, but immediately stretched out her arms when she discovered one of her favorite playmates.

“Hello, T-one,” Fiona grinned, lifting the toddler into her arms. “How’s the bug-collection coming along?”

“Don’t encourage her,” Jody sighed, but her eyes were smiling. “Did you have a good sleep?”

Fiona nodded and playfully nuzzled Taryn’s neck, making the little girl giggle in delight.

“Hunger drove us to the surface, though,” she answered, eying the fruit salad Sam was tossing.

“Really?” the tall blonde asked with innocent eyes. “Jody and I have experienced that on numerous occasions as well. Annoying, huh?”

Jody shot her partner a warning glance, but Sam just shrugged her shoulders and whistled, amused by the confusion on Fiona’s face, especially when realization dawned and her freckled cheeks flushed.

“Yeah, annoying,” she repeated softly, so un-like Fiona that everybody was surprised.

“Is Robin coming as well?” Jody asked, shooting Sam a stern look. She almost laughed when Sam sucked in her bottom lip and created an adorable pout. Jody knew her partner well enough to know the tall blonde was biting back a remark.

“I’m here,” a soft voice sounded behind her and when Jody turned around she sent the biologist a warm smile.

“Hello, Robin. Come here, take a seat. Sam, honey, pour some coffee, will you?”

Robin obediently took a seat between Jody and Lucy, while her eyes took in Fiona who was tossing Taryn up in the air, tickling the little girl every time she caught her in her arms again.

“Fiona, honey, if she gives back the fruit she just gobbled down, I’ll make you clean it up,” Jody warned.

“Oops,” Fiona grinned, immediately stopping the toss-and-catch game her niece loved so much. “We’d better wait till later, T-one, when the goodies are halfway between your mouth and…um…the other end.”

“T-one?” Robin asked, sending Sam a grateful smile when a fresh cup of coffee was placed on the table in front of her.

“Tornado one,” Lucy explained. “Tim is T-two, or Double T. It’s a Fiona thing.”

“It’s cute,” Robin smiled and again Jody sent Sam a warning look. Inwardly though, she was laughing. Her tall partner could be so predictable. No matter how hard she tried, it was almost impossible for her not to tease Fiona and Robin.

Fiona, however, had caught the look Jody had given Sam and a slow smile spread across her face. Sam had been put under restrictions. It was almost too good to be true and, with a happy sigh, Fiona let herself sink down in one of the kitchen chairs. When Sam handed her a cup of coffee she winked at the tall blonde, grinning when she noticed the frustrated sigh.

Michael, after having opened the kitchen door and shouting:’They’re up,” took a seat next to his youngest sister and slapped her on the shoulder.

“We want to hear the whole story,” he said. “Especially the part where the two of you escaped. You hit that bloke with a can of beans?”

“Two,” both Fiona and Robin said and they smiled at each other, which made Sam almost moan in frustration.

The kitchen door was opened and Joshua, Alice and Yarra came in, followed by Joan McDonnell who was holding a sleeping Timothy.

“I love a good reunion,” Fiona grinned, watching how everybody found a seat around the huge table.

“Where’s Trish?”

“In my office,” Sam answered. “The Inspector called and they had to discuss a few things.”

“Have they…have they caught him yet?” Robin asked softly. It suddenly dawned on her that their kidnapper was still out there. It was a very disconcerting idea.

“No, not yet,” Lucy sighed. “But they have the whole mountain sealed off, which is not much of a help I guess, seeing how big the area is.”

“Maybe if they find out who he is, it will be easier to capture him again,” Joan McDonnell said with a hopeful voice.

“Let’s hope so,” Jody sighed, smiling at Joshua who was sitting across from his sister with a happy smile on his face. Even though Robin’s kidnapper had managed to escape he was not afraid. He had faith in Trishia Waters and Sam Stevens and knew they would do anything to keep his sister safe. Besides, he would keep an eye on her as well. Nobody was going to put his sister through an ordeal like that again. Not if he could prevent it.

“So, tell us, Red, what happened?” Lucy asked when everybody was seated around the table and provided with a beverage.

Fiona’s eyes traveled across all the expectant faces and she smiled. It would be so easy to crack a joke and make their ordeal seem like so much less than it had been, but she was with her family and friends and really appreciated that fact. Now more than ever.

“Well, as you all know, Robin and I were on our way to Brisbane…” Fiona started after having taken a deep breath. In a serious tone of voice, she told the listeners what had happened the previous day. Every now and then she looked at Robin for help, giving the other woman the opportunity to tell her side of the story as well, which she did, in her naturally, slightly husky voice that occasionally trembled from the memories.

****

“I still would have liked to question him myself,” Trishia frowned, playing with a pencil. “Although I do appreciate what you did, Inspector.”

“I know, Trishia,” Carol Wong’s voice sounded tired. “But I also know this case is very personal and…”

“Are you taking me off the case?”

“No ! What do you think I am, senile? You’re one of my best people, Trish. I just didn’t want Joe Michaels to play games with you. Besides, there were still a few things I needed to tell him.”

“I hope you took pity on the poor man, Inspector,” Trishia grinned, having heard stories about Carol Wong’s interrogation techniques.

“Of course, I was my own charming self,” Carol Wong answered and Trishia could hear the sarcasm in her voice. “And I did get some answers.”

“Great. Care to share?” Trishia asked, eagerly leaning forward in an unconscious listening posture.

“Mister Michaels told me something very interesting. Does the name Barry Miles ring a bell?”

“Barry Miles…Barry Miles…,” Trishia slowly repeated, as if tasting the name. Somewhere, in the back of her mind something started nagging and deep down inside she knew she had heard that name before. Somewhere…

“Give me a second here, Inspector,” she mumbled, while hundreds of names flew through her head.

Think, Trish, Think! Barry Miles…Barry…Miles…Wait! Six years ago, Burleigh Heads…

“April, about six years ago a man named Barry Miles was attacked by his brother, half-brother really, who, allegedly, threw battery acid in his face. The accusations could never be examined or proven, because both brothers disappeared,” Trish exhaled slowly and leaned back in her chair. “Our masked man is Barry Miles,” she concluded.

“I knew your memory was fabulous, Trish,” Carol Wong complimented the police woman, but Trishia shrugged her shoulders and raked her fingers through her hair in a frustrated gesture.

“It’s not that great, Inspector. If it was that fabulous, I would have remembered the moment I saw this bloke take off his mask.”

“I’m still impressed,” Carol Wong replied and Trishia could hear the smile in the Inspector’s voice. “Now, question number two: do you know the name of the brother?”

Trishia could hear the barely veiled excitement in the other woman’s voice and she felt she only had to connect a few dots to come to an answer.

The memory came crashing back into her conscious mind and unconsciously the police woman flinched. She could still see the gun that was aimed at Sam’s head, the tightening of the finger on the trigger. And then the shot. And the blood, spilled over the dusty ground, cracked by weeks of heat and drought. The knees had given out and as soon as the tall body had slowly sunk to the ground, Trishia had known she had killed the man. She still remembered how strange it had been to hear a bird sing, when she had stood over the dead body.

“Steven Hayes,” she answered in a low voice.

“Steven Hayes,” Carol Wong repeated.
Part 14
It was impossible for Trishia to sit still. The tall police woman just had to pace, it was the only way she could get rid of the excessive energy that was fueled by her frustration.

“Alright,” she sighed, raking her fingers through her hair. “Barry Miles is Steven Hayes’ half-brother. But why did he show up? Why did he kidnap Fiona and Robin? Why did he fire a shot at them when they were up on Booyong Mountain? What is his motive? Joe Michaels told you Barry is being used. By whom? How? Why?”

“If I knew the answers to all that, this case would be a lot easier, Trish,” Carol Wong answered dryly. “What are the facts?”

Trishia let out a sigh and leaned her forehead against the window, while her eyes stared into the distance. Her normally bright green-blue eyes were dull and bloodshot. Trishia Waters was close to exhaustion and she knew it. But there was no time to relax. She had to stay sharp and try to find answers to all the questions that were swimming around in her busy brain. Somebody was trying very hard to hurt her family and she could not let that happen. She couldn’t let them down. They needed her. She had to keep them safe.

“The facts,” Trishia answered slowly. “Barry Miles is the person who kidnapped Fiona and Robin. He escaped us,” she added in a bitter voice. “Ira and his brother Gerry Wilkins are involved. I’m not sure how it all fits together, but I’ll find out.”

“That boy, Kevin Swanson, was he able to tell you who sent him?”

“No, he wasn’t. Somebody paid him to show up and give us that message, as if it was coming from Fred. But if you ask me, I’d say that was a diversion. Something to confuse us and buy time. It put us on the wrong track and gave ‘them’, whoever they might be, time to plan the kidnapping. What’s interesting though, Inspector,” Trishia continued. “Is that Ira knew about the kidnapping. He was the one providing the brain behind this all with a time and place to strike. It makes me suspect his big brother, Gerry, to be the master brain.”

“What motives could he have?”

“Money. Prestige. Don’t forget, Sam bought Booyong Mountain away from under his nose. He probably hates her guts.” Trishia took a deep breath and for a moment debated with herself whether she should tell the Inspector about her other suspicions. Shrugging her shoulders she decided it wouldn’t hurt. “Another thing, Inspector, I can’t it prove it yet, but I bet Gerry Wilkins was the one behind that situation at The Reef.”

Carol Wong was silent while she processed what Trishia had just told her. Was it possible? Trishia never came with a theory without being able to back it up. And even if she could not explain exactly why she had a certain idea, her gut-feeling usually was spot-on.

“What makes you think that?”

“Because the few leads we were able to follow led to people who’d been involved in the Reef. Joe Michaels, Fred, Steven Hayes’ brother. It seems to me somebody has been frustrated with Sam for a while now and is willing to go through great lengths to make sure she suffers, financially and personally.”

“You might be on the right track, Trish,” Carol Wong admitted. “But we need to prove all that. Any ideas?”

“Yes,” Trishia immediately answered and Carol Wong suppressed a chuckle. Leave it up to Trishia Waters to have a plan ready. “We’ll stop hunting and go fishing.”

“Fishing, huh?” Carol Wong drawled. “And what kind of bait will we be using, Senior-Sergeant?”

Robin’s eyes traveled through the huge livingroom and she smiled when she saw everybody’s different stages of relaxation. Yarra and Alice were sitting together in a huge, overstuffed recliner. Yarra’s brown eyes were staring pensively at the ceiling, while Alice had put her head on her lover’s shoulder and was fast asleep.

Michael and Joshua were stretched out on the floor, building an intricate looking contraption with Timothy’s Lego blocks, while the little boy sat on Lucy’s lap, staring at the two young men with big, blue eyes.

Sam was sitting on the corner of the couch, Jody’s head nestled in her lap. Her partner was stretched out on the couch, while cradling Taryn in her arms. Both of them were asleep as well.

“This is worth a picture,” Fiona’s voice suddenly whispered behind her. “I could make it this year’s Christmas Card.”

Robin smiled and half-turned in her chair to be able to look at the photographer.

“What would be the theme?” she asked.

“Don’t worry, be happy,” Fiona quipped with a wink and Robin chuckled. “Or I could make it into a poster and sell it to people with insomnia. Success guaranteed. Looking at all these sleeping beauties makes me yawn.”

“It’s been a rough two days,” Robin sighed, defending her sleeping friends. “Besides, I’m sure that if I closed my eyes, I’d be off to dreamland again.”

“Then take a nap,” Fiona encouraged softly. “Trishia’s been in the office for the last hour and a half, she might never come out again. I’ll wake you up when there’s an interesting development.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Robin yawned behind her hand.

“Oh, but I’d love to,” Fiona smiled, fighting the urge to wrap her arms around the other woman and claim those soft, willing lips in a breathless kiss, like she had done before. It had made her world stop spinning, while, on the other hand, she had never felt more alive.

Good grief, McDonnell, you’ re a goner.

“But, I’ll be good,” she added. “Besides, Sam’s looking at me with those baby blue eyes and I can tell her brain’s working overtime.”

Fiona sent Sam a sweet smile, chuckling when the tall blonde narrowed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh.

“This is so funny,” Fiona whispered. “Sam is dying to tease me, but Jody must have put her on the leash, because she hasn’t said a thing and I know she wants to. I can see it in her face.”

Fiona grinned and her eyes traveled from Sam to Yarra, who was wide awake now and stared at her friend with a mixture of amusement and interest.

“Yarra’s catching on,” Fiona chuckled. “That could mean trouble.”

“Honey, relax. Stop grinding your teeth,” Jody’s soft and sleepy voice broke the silence. She looked up at Sam and smiled, patting her hand in a comforting gesture.

“I promise you can go after her soon enough. Just give them a few moments or so to come up with a plan of defense.”

A pair of green eyes landed on Fiona and Jody winked at her, making her sister blush, which made Sam chuckle in amusement. She leaned over Jody and gave her partner a quick kiss.

“Now, who was teasing?” she whispered.

“I was,” Jody confessed with a smile. “She’s challenging you, which is alright, to a certain level. I just don’t want you to be too frustrated.”

“Does that mean I can get my tickets out of the drawer?” Sam asked, making sure Fiona could hear her and she laughed softly when she noticed the look of concern on the photographer’s face.

“Yes, sweetheart, I guess you can,” Jody yawned.

“Pea!” Fiona protested.

“Don’t ‘Pea’ me, sweetie,” Jody answered. “I’ve tried to protect you, but you’ve been taunting my poor baby all day long. That wasn’t very nice of you. And she has been good. You do have to admit that.”

Fiona grinned and blew her sister a kiss.

“Thanks, sis, I appreciate it.”

“No worries,” Jody answered with a laugh.

“Does that mean I can give Fiona ‘The Talk?” Sam asked, letting a strand of Jody’s hair curl around her finger.

“The Talk?” Fiona echoed. “You’ re joking, right?”

“No, I’m very serious,” Sam frowned. “It’s the same talk Megan and Sarah gave me. And Jody and I passed it on to Trishia and Lucy and Yarra and Alice.”

Fiona cast a look at Robin who just smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

“Alright, alright, I’ll take the bait. What kind of talk?”

“You know, the birds and the bees and all that,” Lucy answered with a serious expression on her face. “This is no joke, Fiona. It’s just a way to make sure you know what you’ re getting yourself into. The responsibilities, the financial and legal consequences, the contributions.”

“Contributions?” Fiona echoed.

“Sure, I’m surprised you didn’t know that, Red,” Yarra sighed, rubbing her forehead. “But then, there’s never been a reason for you to know all this, I guess. Until now.”

Fiona’s eyes traveled from Lucy to Yarra and finally to Sam, who looked at her with innocent blue eyes. Michael and Joshua in the meantime had paused their building activities and were watching the conversation with interest.

“Or we could just give her the book,” Jody’s sleepy voice sounded and Sam coughed, hiding her face behind her hand, while Yarra bit her lip and studied the ceiling.

“That might not be a bad idea, sis,” Lucy nodded. “After all, this is Fiona we’ re talking about and she usually is pretty smart.”

“Usually,” Yarra mumbled.

“A book?” Fiona muttered with a frown. She knew her family was teasing her and she wished she could get a step ahead of them.

“Where did you put it, honey?” Jody asked, not daring to look at Sam.

“It’s in the safe,” Sam dead- panned. “I thought it would be a good idea to keep it away from the twins.”

“Like they can read,” Fiona could not help saying, hearing Robin chuckle.

“No, they can’t,” Sam admitted with a nod. “But they can look at the pictures.”

Lucy had to bury her face in Timothy’s hair to hide her laugh. The puzzled expression on Fiona’s face was priceless.

“Alright, I’ll ask,” Fiona sighed after a brief silence. “What kind of book?”

“Cover Tim’s ears, Luce, will you?” Sam winked, making her sister-in-law chuckle, before she turned her attention back to Fiona who was staring at her with increasing trepidation. She raised one eyebrow and had to keep herself from laughing out loud when she heard Fiona sigh.

“You want me to guess, is that it?” Fiona remarked, fighting the urge to fidget.

“Might not be a bad idea,” Lucy smiled sweetly. “That way we can determine if you are really all that smart.”

Fiona glanced at Robin with a silent plea for help in her eyes and the biologist felt her heart go out to the younger woman, but she also knew that Fiona had always teased her friends and family about their love lives. It was obvious it was her family’s turn now to tease her mercilessly, but she also knew Fiona had brought it on herself. It would be interesting to see how the photographer would handle the situation.

Taking a deep breath, Fiona straightened her back and looked around the room. All the expectant faces almost made her chuckle and as her eyes traveled across the room she suddenly realized her family was on a major fishing expedition. True, Sam and Jody knew about her feelings for Robin, but they would not have talked about it with the others. Yarra and Lucy just suspected there was something going on, but there was no way they could know for sure. They were all just trying to see if she would take the bait and give them any first-hand information.

Fiona grinned and stuffed her hands into the pockets of her shorts, while she slowly rocked on her heels. There was a smug smile on her face when she looked at Sam.

“There is no talk and there is no book,” she concluded. “At least, not one I’d be interested in.”

“I must not understand,” Sam replied in a serious tone of voice. “I thought we were all talking about the same thing. What were you talking about Fiona?”

“I was merely responding to what you were saying, Sam,” Fiona answered haughtily and Sam could feel Jody chuckle. Fiona had the habit of always getting in the last word. It would be fun to see if Sam could find a way to win a verbal sparring session.

“You think that’s wise?” Sam asked and there was a twinkle in her eyes.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” Fiona quipped, winking at Yarra who laughed and just shook her head. Fiona always managed to talk her way out of things.

“Really?” Sam smiled, gently squeezing Jody’s hand in a silent reassurance. She was only playing with Fiona. “That’s interesting. Especially since you suggested that Jody change the name of this place not that long ago. So, if you’d really do as the Romans do…” Sam paused and grinned when she saw the blush creep up Fiona’s cheeks.

Jody turned her head so she could look at her youngest sister and she sent her a reassuring wink. She knew that, even if Fiona was embarrassed, she would probably find a way to talk herself out of this tricky situation.

While everybody was waiting for Fiona’s answer, Robin’s eyes traveled to her brother’s face. He was looking at her intently and there was a silent question in his eyes. She knew Joshua had known about her attraction to Fiona and, even though they had not discussed it, she knew he was alright with it. As long as his sister was happy.

Almost imperceptibly Robin nodded, immediately seeing Joshua’s face light up with a radiant smile. She smiled back and cast a look at Fiona who was frantically trying to come up with a reply to Sam’s remark.

“There is an easy solution to all this, you know that, right?” she whispered, almost laughing out loud when she noticed the shock in Fiona’s eyes. “You can end this right now and get the worst over with.”

Fiona’s dark-green eyes blinked in surprise and Robin could tell the photographer was considering her options with the speed of light. An amused smile appeared on her face and Robin swallowed, quickly moistening her lips.

Oh, my God. She’s gonna do it. She’s really going to do it.

A hand lifted her chin and in front of the very surprised audience, Fiona brought her face down and gave Robin a slow and deliberate kiss.

For a long moment the silence was almost deafening, but then Yarra threw her head back and laughed out loud, waking Alice, who looked around with sleepily blinking eyes.

“Way to go, mate,” the dark-skinned woman laughed with sparkling brown eyes. Leave it up to Fiona to have the last…word.

Jody looked up into a pair of indignant blue eyes and softly laughed. Fiona’s gesture had not really surprised her. From the moment she and Robin had entered the kitchen that afternoon, she had noticed something between them had changed. It had been subtle, but to her perceptive eyes it had been clear. The glances they had exchanged had been a mixture of shyness, longing and affection and there had been quite a few touches; Fiona putting a hand on Robin’s shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze before letting go, Robin seeking Fiona’s close presence, every now and then brushing her arm against the photographer’s.

“You’d do anything to get the last word in, wouldn’t you?” Sam remarked with a sigh, but her blue eyes were sparkling when she looked at Fiona and Robin, who slowly broke apart.

“Of course, she’s a McDonnell,” Lucy replied, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Fiona noticed the tears and stepped a little closer, grabbing Robin’s hand to pull her along.

“Are you alright, sis? You’ re not upset with me, are you?” Fiona smiled, kneeling in front of Lucy, who was hiding her face in Timothy’s hair.

“No,” she answered with a quivering voice. “It’s the hormones.”

Lucy looked up into a pair of identical dark-green eyes and laughed through her tears.

“This is insane. The other day I cried over a washing detergent commercial. How sick is that?”

“I don’t know, sis, you tell me,” Fiona grinned, reaching out and brushing away a tear from Lucy’s cheek.

“It sucks, Red,” Lucy sighed. “For years I’ve been looking forward to this day so I could give you a hard time and now I can only melt and cry. I didn’t know getting pregnant would rob me of my wit.”

“Only temporarily, Luce,” Jody’s cheerful voice sounded from the couch.

“I hope you’ re right, Pea. I so wanted to tease the heck out of our baby sister and, now I finally have the chance, words fail me.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” Fiona grinned, wrapping an arm around her sister and enveloping her and Timothy in a one-armed hug. “But as you know, timing is everything.”

“Your timing is immaculate,” Lucy nodded with a laugh. “But don’t forget, I’m not your only victim from the past. I’m sure I’ll have my revenge. Once this temporary insanity ends, that is,” she added with a frustrated sigh.

“That could take a month or nine,” Fiona grinned.

“Seven,” Lucy corrected. “I didn’t exactly get pregnant today, you know.”

“I know,” Fiona winked.

Lucy pulled a face and turned her attention to Robin who was standing right behind Fiona, still holding on to the photographer’s hand.

“Are you sure you want to be involved with this sister of mine? She’s a handful, but I’m sure you’ve already noticed that.”

“I know,” Robin nodded with a smile. “But I do like her the way she is.”

“Good luck,” Lucy sighed, rolling her eyes in mock exasperation. She wanted to add another remark, but Trishia stepped into the room and immediately the expression on her face turned into a serious one.

“Trish, honey, are you alright?” she asked with concern, noticing how pale and tired her partner looked.

“Any news?” Sam asked, eying her friend with a frown. Trishia looked like she hadn’t had a decent sleep in a long time and inwardly Sam cursed. The police woman should be spending time with Lucy, enjoying their pregnancy and not solving mysteries and chasing kidnappers.

“I talked to the Inspector,” Trishia nodded, taking a seat next to her partner, smiling at Timothy who immediately tried to crawl into her lap. She wrapped her arms around the small boy, who tucked his head underneath her chin and let out a contented sigh. Glancing aside, Trishia caught Lucy’s gaze and for a brief moment all worries and fatigue seemed to disappear. Soon they would have their own child and Trishia wondered how that would feel. She loved the twins with all her heart and it seemed impossible that she would love their own child even more. The idea filled her with an emotion that bordered on giddiness and she knew she had a goofy smile on her face, but she didn’t care. In the long, hard hours she had already put into the case, the thought of Lucy and their baby filled her with determination and gave her the energy she needed to do her job.

Lucy’s dark-green eyes shone with warmth and Trishia leaned towards her to give her a quick kiss.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “You always manage to make me feel better.”

“It’s my job,” Lucy smiled, tucking a strand of hair behind Trishia’s ear. “It was in the small print, remember?”

“Was that the same section about me hanging up my wet towels after showering?” Trishia joked gently.

“Two paragraphs down,” Lucy quipped and they both laughed.

Trishia looked around and she felt a heavy responsibility for all her friends and family who were assembled in the living room.

“Where’s your mother?” she asked Lucy.

“She’s taking a nap. She was exhausted after last night.”

“I can’t blame her,” Trishia sighed, feeling bone-tired. “I guess we’ll have to brief her later, there’s not much time.”

“What’s going on, Trish?” Jody asked, alarmed by the tone of urgency in the police woman’s voice.

“I just talked to the Inspector and we do have some new information I’d like to share with you.”

In a low voice Trishia told her intently listening audience what she had learned from Carol Wong and the conclusions the two police women had been able to reach. There were still a lot of questions, but at least they had a few more leads.

“You mean that Fra…Barry Miles is Steven Hayes’ half-brother?” Lucy asked with obvious disbelief.

It was so hard to comprehend. Steven Hayes had tried to hurt them seriously and he had even planned to kill Sam. But during the last few years it had become something of the past, a bad memory that was slowly but surely fading. Until now.

“He is,” Trishia nodded, noticing the brief flash of anger in Sam’s eyes. “According to Joe Michaels, he wants revenge.”

“Revenge?” Yarra frowned. “What kind of revenge?”

“For the death of his brother,” Trishia answered. “But the strange thing is that for some reason he’s after Sam. While…,” Trishia swallowed hard. “While I was the one who shot him.”

Jody had been listening quietly, but after Trishia’s last words, she slowly shook her head, a pensive expression in her eyes.

“No, Trish, I think it’s a little different than that.”

Trishia cast her sister-in-law a questioning look, but she remained silent, although she was curious to hear what Jody had to say.

“You just told us that Barry Miles was disfigured by his brother, who threw acid in his face. That’s horrible, by the way,” she added with a shiver. “I don’t think he wants revenge for Steven’s death.”

“He doesn’t?” Trishia asked with surprise. She wondered how Jody had reached that conclusion. But she knew her partner’s sister was an intelligent woman and she probably had a good explanation for her line of thought. This could be very interesting.

“No, I don’t think he does,” Jody shook her head. “When I was still working at The Reef, as William Jenkins’ assistant, I remember he sometimes talked on the phone with a person named Barry. He was always very secretive about that, but once he told me Barry was a very good friend, who had run into a lot of tragedy, caused by his brother. He never really told me what that was all about, but Trish,” Jody’s eyes were dark when she looked across the room. “What if…somebody, who is out to get Sam, told Barry that Sam is responsible for William Jenkins’ death?”

“That would make sense,” Trishia slowly nodded. “A lot of sense even, Jody. Sam, does Gerry Wilkins have reasons to…hate you?”

Sam frowned and unconsciously rubbed her right calf. The muscles were so sore and stiff after her hike up and down the mountain, she had been tempted to take a serious pain pill. But she decided she wanted to keep a clear head, so she tried to ignore the pain and discomfort and concentrate on the conversation.

“I…maybe, yes,” Sam drawled. “I never gave him any reason to hate me, at least, I don’t think I did, but then, he’s a pompous, arrogant ba…person, who is not held back by business ethics. I know he wanted to buy Booyong Mountain, but I beat him fair and square. Although he might see that a little differently.”

“But…you think he’d organize all this just because you bought the land?” Alice sounded.

“Not if this wasn’t the first time,” Robin’s voice broke the silence. The biologist squeezed Fiona’s hand and turned her attention to Trishia, who looked at her with a mixture of surprise, curiosity and excitement.

“Go on,” the police woman encouraged, the tension in her voice clearly audible.

“In that letter Joe sent Dad, he…there was a name,” Robin explained. “I…maybe it doesn’t mean a thing, but he mentioned a ‘Ger’.” Robin swallowed hard and noticed the eager look in Trishia’s eyes, knowing the police woman had already considered what she was about to say.

“If Gerry Wilkins was the one behind all that happened to The Reef, then he might have a motive.”

“And that would explain why and how this Barry Miles got his information,” Fiona added. “From Gerry Wilkins who wants to hurt Sam, personally and in business, but who wants to keep his hands clean.”

“Again,” Sam added with a grim expression on her face.

Trishia leaned back into her seat, pulling a dozing Timothy with her. Her eyes were smiling when they traveled across the room and her face was almost relaxed for the first time in many days.

“Girls, I believe we have just hit the nail on the head.”

“But how will we know for sure?” Lucy sighed. ” Barry has escaped.”

“Oh, but if Gerry Wilkins is behind all this, he’ll have a very good reason to contact Barry and convince him to finish the job,” Trishia replied calmly. “And when he does, we’ll ask him.”

“You mean…kidnapping Fiona and Robin? Again?” Yarra asked alarmed.

“That’s what I mean,” Trishia nodded.

“But that won’t happen, because the police are after him, right?” Joshua asked from his spot on the floor. His forehead sported a small, worried frown.

“We were,” Trishia agreed. “But the Inspector and I have just decided it’s better to stop the hunt. The forest is too big and widespread. Barry can easily escape us again and again and again.”

“So, you guys are giving up?” Michael asked with surprise.

“We’ re stopping the chase,” Trishia answered. “But we’re not giving up.”

“But, what’s the plan?” Joshua asked.

Trishia cast a look at Fiona and Robin, who were sitting side by side, their fingers still entwined and their shoulders touching. Fiona’s eyes were clear and alert when they stared back at Trishia and the police woman sighed. She could tell Fiona had already caught on and knew what she was about to say. She hated it to be so predictable.

“He’ll try to make his way over here,” Fiona calmly said, feeling Robin jerk beside her. “And you will let him.”

“It’s…it’s the logical choice,” Trishia explained softly. “But nobody will be in danger. We’ll make it look like you and Robin are in the apartment. Once he shows up, we’ll grab him.”

“Sounds easy enough,” Fiona mumbled. “But if he finds out it’s not us, he’ll know you’re on to him and you’ll never find him again.”

“That’s the risk,” Trishia confessed with a sigh. “But we’ll have to take it.”

“Maybe not,” Fiona replied softly.

Lucy and Jody exchanged glances and both women suddenly sat up straight. Jody cradled the still sleeping Taryn against her chest, while she slightly leaned forward, studying her youngest sister with a weary glance,

“You’re not considering what we think you are, are you?” she asked in a voice that was strained with tension.

Fiona looked up and when she met the worried gaze in Jody’s eyes she swallowed hard. It would be hard to convince her family. Very hard.

“Listen, Jody, it’s the logical thing to do, really,” Fiona tried to explain as calm as she good.

“Logical?” Lucy echoed. “Logical? Fiona, putting yourself in danger is not a logical thing to do. This is real life, sweetheart, not a book or a movie.”

“I know that,” Fiona answered, a little miffed. She glanced at Trishia, who was looking at her with pensive eyes and the photographer knew that the police woman was considering what she was about to propose.

“Trish, you know I’m right. If I’m down there, you’ll have a better chance of catching this bloke. Besides, Sam has a top notch security system and you’ll know when and how he’s coming. I’m not afraid, Trish. I know I can do this.”

“We,” Robin added calmly. “We can do this. You’re not going to do this alone.”

Fiona cast a look at the woman beside her and immediately noticed the look of determination that was sent her way. For a split second she hesitated, but then she smiled and grasped Robin’s hand in a tighter grip.

“We can do this, Trish,” she said, turning back to face the police woman, while she felt Robin’s arm slip around her waist. Fiona’s heart skipped a beat and she answered Robin’s loving and supportive gesture, by wrapping her arm around the biologist’s shoulders, pulling her close. It felt so good to be able to hold her like that.

“Trish?” Lucy asked, shooting her partner a worried look. “You’ re not seriously considering this, are you?”

Trishia sighed and rubbed her tired eyes. Timothy stirred and snuggled closer and in spite of everything she smiled when she looked down at the little boy in her arms.

If Barry Miles got away from them, Sam, Jody and their children would still be a target. If Gerry Wilkins really was behind all that had happened, there would be no telling what he would do next. He could send Barry Miles again, or somebody else. And maybe he would succeed, eventually. She could not risk that. Trishia felt the responsibility to keep her family safe weigh heavily on her shoulders and she knew she had to do anything she could to capture the person who was responsible for jeopardizing the safety of her loved ones. So, if that meant using Fiona and Robin as bait, she just had to make sure that nothing happened to them!

Reaching out a hand, she covered Lucy’s fidgeting fingers and they immediately stilled, grasping Trishia’s hand in a tight grip.

“I want the two of you to do exactly what you’re told. And I do mean exactly, Fiona,” Trishia added in a stern voice. “There’s no room for individual adventures and heroism. Not following my orders will mean I’ll have to pull you out of there immediately.”

Fiona nodded but briefly wondered how Trishia would know if she disobeyed her orders. She didn’t have to wait long for an explanation.

“I want the two of you to be wired.”

Fiona’s head shot up and she sent the police woman a shocked stare. Wired?

“No way,” she responded. “Wired? I don’t want half the police force and my entire family to know when, where and how I did what! I’d like to go to the bathroom by myself, thank you very much. I’ve been able to do that myself for a while now” she ended and Robin let out a nervous chuckle.

Before Trishia could respond, Sam had jumped up and started to pace, the limp in her gait more prominent than usual. Her face was pale and the expression was grim, but Jody could tell by the look in those clear blue eyes that her partner was working hard to come up with a solution.

“Trish,” Sam spoke, turning around and looking to her friend from across the room. “I really understand Fiona’s reluctance to be wired. Isn’t there another way?”

Sam knew there would be another way, but she wanted Trishia to think things over before she would give them an answer. The solution was the wireless intercom system Jody and Sam used to keep an eye on the twins. Whenever Taryn and Timothy were asleep, Jody or Sam were carrying around a little receiver that would transmit any sound their twins would make.

“You’re thinking about the intercom, aren’t you?” Trishia replied, casting a look at the small device on the table.

Seeing Sam nod she suppressed a sigh and raked her fingers through her hair. She knew it would probably work. It would not be the same as wiring the girls, but usually the reception was pretty clear.

“What is its reach?” Trishia asked in a tired voice.

“About a kilometer,” Sam answered. “It works in the apartment. I’ve tested it,” she admitted with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Geek,” Fiona teased.

“Nerd,” Sam shot back with a smile. Fiona had been with her that day when she had tested the intercom system. They had both been curious about its possibilities.

“Alright, we’ll use the intercom,” Trishia decided. “Promise me, you’ll do as I tell you, Fiona,” she added with trepidation. Her sister-in-law could be so stubborn sometimes.

“I promise,” Fiona answered. “Thanks, Trish. I’ll be good, I promise. I want you to catch this bloke.”

“I’ll make sure you’re good,” Robin mumbled, giving Fiona’s waist a gentle squeeze.

Robin looked at Trishia and gave the police woman a reassuring smile. She would do anything she could to keep Fiona out of trouble, for more than one reason. The main one being that just the thought of something happening to Fiona tied her stomach into knots.

“But what if this Barry Miles doesn’t show up, Trish?” Alice asked hesitantly.

“He will,” Trishia answered with self-confidence.

“How do you know that, honey? For all we know he could be on the other side of the country already,” Lucy sighed.

“Because his…’boss’ will contact him and urge him to finish the job,” Trishia answered calmly.

“He will?” Lucy frowned with a quizzical look in her eyes.

“Yes, because he’ll think he’s not under suspicion at all.”

“How?” Yarra asked, intrigued by the whole plan.

“Because we’ll be putting some pressure on Ira, telling him we know he’s the brain behind the kidnapping. We’ll make him believe we think he had a friend who kidnapped Robin and Fiona, so Ira could have a part in their rescue, thus becoming a hero in Fiona’s eyes.” Trishia shrugged her shoulders and smiled. “We’ll just play dumb.”

Fiona smiled and her eyes showed respect when she looked at the police woman who looked so calm and confident.

“All the more reason for this Gerry person to tell Barry Miles to finish the job, huh? Since he thinks he’s clean,” she said, seeing the corner of Trishia’s mouth curl up in a small smile.

“Do you really think he’ll go for it?” Sam asked.

“I’m not sure, Sam, but for some reason I feel he will.”

The tall blonde nodded and wrapped her arm around Jody’s shoulder, pulling her close. She needed her partner’s warmth and closeness to chase away the worries and concerns that played in the back of her mind.

It was as if Jody could feel the turmoil of emotions, because she leaned into the contact and rested her head against Sam’s shoulder, smiling when Sam dropped a kiss on top of her head.

“So, what do we do in the meantime, Trish?” Michael asked curiously.

“Nothing, Mike. We wait.”

It was dark again and the only light came from a lantern that was blackened by the soot that had been build up by years of use. It would have been easy to have pulled it apart and cleaned the glass, so the light would shine brightly, but he didn’t mind. He liked the darkness. Light usually meant pain and that was something he had experienced enough.

After dipping a torn cloth into a small bowl of clean water, he used it to wipe off the blood from his shoulder, where the dog had sank his teeth into his flesh. The puncture wounds were not deep and he hoped it would not get infected. But he would put some ointment on it and hope the small amount of antibiotics would clean it out properly.

He knew he didn’t have the luxury to spend time in cleaning and resting his painful arm. The man had called. Again. Just as he had entered his little hideaway, the phone had rung and it had been him. Telling him what to do.

Knowing he had been so close to the person he was looking for, had fueled his anger and his determination. If the dog had not been there, he would have been able to do it. But the German Shepherd had taken him completely by surprise and he had failed. But he would get another chance, he was sure. The man had told him that. It had been a promise. He would have his revenge and after that he would disappear. Probably forever. He knew some places where nobody came. Ever. That’s where he would be heading soon. But first he had to finish his job. As soon as possible.

There was no time to rest. Not yet.

Robin eyed the receiver of the intercom that was put on one of the bookshelves, the little green light indicated it was transmitting. It felt strange, knowing the police officers who were stationed in Sam’s office, would be able to hear every word they’d say. There were so many things she wanted to tell Fiona, and ask. But she knew they would have to wait.

With a small sigh she turned around, halting in her movements when she noticed a pair of dark-green eyes studying her with affectionate curiosity. Fiona’s eyes traveled from Robin’s face to the intercom and back again.

“Annoying, huh?” she smiled, chuckling when Robin nodded and rolled her eyes.

“Yup, we can’t gossip about Trish now, or Sam,” Fiona continued with sparkling eyes, knowing full well both women could hear her. “We’ll have to do it later.”

“Are all the doors locked?” Robin asked, wanting to be sure.

“Yes, they are. I checked and double-checked and if you want me to, I’ll check again.”

“Don’t be silly,” Robin replied with a smile. “I was just…I guess I’m a little nervous.”

“So am I,” Fiona admitted. “But we’ll be fine, Robin. There are a lot of people keeping an eye on us.”

“That’s one of the things that makes me nervous,” Robin joked, making Fiona laugh.

“Just make sure you don’t snore, cause you’d never live it down,” Fiona advised.

“I don’t snore,” Robin immediately replied, glancing up in Fiona’s laughing eyes. “Do I?”

“Do you really want to know?” Fiona asked, suddenly very serious.

Robin glanced up at the photographer with narrowed eyes, while Fiona stared back at her with an innocent glance. Too innocent.

“You’ re teasing,” she concluded.

“How do you know?”

“Easy,” Robin answered, stepping closer. Reaching out a hand she touched Fiona’s mouth and let her thumb caress the photographer’s bottom lip.

“There’s this little…curve here, which is only visible when you’ re teasing. That’s how I can tell.”

“You must have been paying close attention,” Fiona replied in a soft voice, leaning into the hand that was still caressing the side of her face.

“I guess I’ve only had eyes for you for a while now,” Robin whispered, letting her hand slide to the back of Fiona’s neck and pulling down her face. “I’m very interested in you, you know.”

“As I am in you,” Fiona whispered, seeing Robin’s lips come closer. When they met hers in a soft, tender kiss, she involuntarily closed her eyes and let out a small sigh, reveling in the softness that robbed her from her speech and breath. Slowly, unhurriedly, their kisses intensified and Fiona moaned softly when Robin nibbled on her bottom lip.

It seemed as if their hands led a life of their own, when they started to roam, exploring the planes and soft curves of each other’s bodies. Robin’s hands had ended up underneath Fiona’s t-shirt, stroking the bare skin of her back and were sending hot jolts of longing through the dark-haired woman, making her tremble.

“Fiona,” Robin whispered against the photographer’s lips.

“Robin,” was the hoarse reply.

“We need to slow down, Fiona,” Robin sighed, turning away her face and burying it in the crook of Fiona’s neck.

“Yes, we do,” Fiona answered, barely audible. Her legs felt rubbery and she was convinced a few more minutes of kissing Robin would have ended with her on the floor. Her heart was racing and her body’s craving was so intense, she felt like she could hardly breathe.

“You set me on fire,” she whispered in Robin’s ear that was so close she just had to kiss it.

“I’m glad,” Robin responded. “But right now, that’s only utterly frustrating, because…I…”

“Same here,” Fiona answered with a hint of amusement in her voice. “I don’t really like the idea of having an audience.”

“No,” Robin breathed, knowing that letting go of the tall, warm body would be a good thing to do, because she needed some physical distance to regain her composure. She slowly withdrew her hands from underneath the photographer’s shirt and chuckled when Fiona let out a frustrated groan.

“I know, sweetie,” she whispered, giving the other woman a quick kiss on the lips. “Soon, alright?”

“Yes, please. I don’t want to explode,” Fiona sighed. “I hope this bloke doesn’t take his sweet time. The sooner he shows up, the better.”
part 15
Sam looked down at the three people she loved most who were all fast asleep, oblivious to the rest of the world. Taryn was lying on her back, both her arms stretched out over her head. Timothy was curled up against his mother, with his head pillowed on her shoulder and her arms protectively wrapped around the small body. It was a scene Sam had witnessed many times before, but one of which she could never get enough. Watching them always filled her with a sense of peace and gratitude. They were her world and always managed to center her. They were her strength.

Sam smiled and bent down to kiss Jody’s forehead gently , careful not to wake her up. In her sleep, Jody smiled and Sam suppressed a chuckle. Her partner could be so incredibly endearing.

“Goodnight, love,” she whispered, before turning around and tip-toeing out of the room, carefully closing the door.

The house was bathed in silence. The tension and stress of the past few days had taken their toll and everybody was tired. Sam knew the silence did not necessarily mean that all their friends and family were actually asleep, but they had all retired to their rooms, after Trishia had sternly stated noone but Sam and Jody were allowed to be in the office while they were monitoring the apartment.

It was not just Trishia’s concern for Fiona’s and Robin’s privacy, but also the fear that a constant coming and going of people would somehow interfere with their surveillance. She could not afford to miss one sound, or one image. So Trishia had decided only four people were allowed into the office; Sam, Jody, Peter Jones and Trishia herself.

When Sam opened the door to her office, Peter and Trishia glanced up and sent her a tired smile. Sam took a seat next to Trishia and cast a look at one of the monitors in front of her. Everything looked quiet.

The receiver of the intercom made a soft humming noise, an indication that the device was on and Sam hoped it would continue to work.

“Are Fiona and Robin asleep?” she asked softly.

“Fiona’s taking a shower and Robin’s looking at a few of Fi’s portfolio’s,” Trishia answered, before taking a sip of her coffee. “Other than that there’s no activity, not that we expected any already,” she added.

“One can hope,” Peter mumbled. “I hope it will be quick and painless.”

“That would be great,” Sam sighed. “Do you have enough coffee, Pete? I could make some more if…”

“No, no, Sam, I’m peachy, really. I’m trying to be positive and hope to be home with the wife as soon as possible. Any more coffee and I’ll be up for the next three weeks.”

“Can’t have that,” Trishia answered with a smile. “Sharon would have my hide.”

“I get it, no more caffeine,” Sam nodded with a twinkle in her eyes. She cast a look at the intercom and exhaled slowly. She was afraid it was going to be a long night. Part of her wished it would be a quiet one, but she also wished for things to go back to normal as soon as possible and the only way that could happen was to capture Barry Miles. When he showed up.

If he showed up.

Robin looked up when she heard somebody enter the room. She could not help smiling when she saw Fiona step inside. The photographer was clad in a pair of knit shorts and a matching t-shirt. Her wet hair was tucked behind her ears and her cheeks were still rosy from the shower.

Fiona answered the smile when she sank on the couch next to Robin and lightly touched the other woman’s hand in silent greeting.

“See anything you like?” she asked with a twinkle in her eyes, pointing at the photo album, knowing full well her words implied something completely different.

“Oh, yeah,” Robin sighed, tearing her eyes away from the taller woman next to her. With effort, she turned her attention back to the photos she had been studying intently.

“When did you take this one?” she asked curiously, pointing at the picture of a dolphin who was looking up at the camera with something that resembled a smile.

Fiona bent a little closer so she could see what Robin was pointing at and she chuckled.

“That’s my friend, Willy.”

“Willy was an orca,” Robin corrected with a smile.

“Orca, dolphin, guppy,” Fiona shrugged. “They’ re all fish.”

“Mmm, some people would disagree on that,” Robin remarked dryly.

“You’ re the expert,” Fiona grinned. “But, to answer your question: I took this picture a couple of years ago, when Bird took me on one of his expeditions. It was pretty cool. The dolphin just followed us around and it wasn’t hard to take some good shots of him.” Fiona cocked her head and frowned. “Or her,” she added, which earned her a playful swat from Robin.

“Bird? Was…isn’t that your brother, Gerald?”

“The one and only,” Fiona nodded. She leaned back into the pillows, extending her legs on top of the low coffee table. “You’d like him. He’s the marine biologist. I bet the two of you could talk for hours.”

“I’m sure we could,” Robin nodded, putting the photo album down and leaning back as well. Immediately, she felt Fiona’s arm wrap around her shoulders, pulling her into a one armed embrace. With a small sigh, she leaned her head against Fiona’s shoulder, closing her eyes when she tried to relax.

“Hopefully, this will all be over soon. We could take a trip up the coast and visit my big brother.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Robin smiled. “I’d love to do that, but I’m afraid we’ re way behind on renovating the resort. There’s a lot of catching up to do.”

“Sucks,” Fiona sighed and when Robin opened her eyes to cast a look at the photographer’s face, she chuckled when she noticed the expression on her face.

“You’ re pouting.”

“No, I’m not,” Fiona defended herself.

“Yes, you are,” Robin laughed. She brought her face closer to Fiona’s and looked into her eyes.

“But you know what?” she whispered. “It’s pretty cute.”

“Cute?” Fiona mouthed with a raised eyebrow.

“Adorable,” Robin nodded with sparkling eyes.

“Careful what you say, Big Sister is listening,” Fiona mumbled, which earned her another nudge from Robin.

“And we don’t want to ruin your reputation,” Robin concluded.

“Exactly,” Fiona nodded.

Robin smiled and leaned in closer to give the taller woman a quick peck on the cheek.

“Tell me, what happened that made you think you had to be so tough?” she asked gently, but curiously.

“Life happened, I guess,” was the quick answer and Robin pulled a face.

“I’m sure you can be a little more specific.”

“I’m sorry,” Fiona sighed. “Old habit, hard to break and all that good stuff.”

“Yadayadayada,” Robin mumbled and both women laughed.

“Alright, let me try to do some self-analyzing,” Fiona smiled. “What made me think I had to be tough? It goes back quite a few years, I think,” she started, suddenly sounding very serious. “My life was pretty safe, uncomplicated and happy. As the youngest, I had three big brothers who were pretty annoying at times, but also my protectors when I needed them. And I had two big sisters whom I adored,” she confessed softly. “Lucy and I are two peas from the same pod. I think we’ve always understood one another, but she’s ten years older than I am and when I was busy growing up, she’d already done that. These last few years we’ve grown pretty close though and it’s nice to be able to communicate on an adult level.”

Fiona raked her fingers through her drying hair and pulled Robin a little closer. She loved the feeling of Robin’s warm body molding against her own. She realized she had turned a corner and there was no way back. It felt too good to be in love. It was thrilling and frightening at the same time, but also wonderfully warm, safe and exciting, which made talking so much easier.

“Jody…she’s always been my…idol. My big sister who always seemed to have time for me, to read me stories, to help me with my homework, to play with me. I can’t remember one single time Jody lost her patience with me, but maybe I’ve blocked that out,” Fiona joked. “Seriously, she had more patience with me and my constant, annoying questions than anyone else. I always loved to be around her, even when she had her own homework to do. I would just sit on her bed and read or play. All I wanted was to be there where she was.”

“Anyway,” Fiona continued after a brief silence. “When I was six years old, Sam came into my life, our lives,” she corrected herself with a small smile. “And things changed. I could see how much Jody liked her and vice versa. It was…like…magic,” Fiona explained, sounding a little shy. “Mind you, I was six and I believed in fairy tales. There was something special between Jody and Sam and even though I was hurt at times, especially when Jody sometimes went away to stay with Sam, I loved both of them. Whenever Sam came to visit us, they hardly ever ignored me. They took me camping and Sam taught me how to swim and whistle and how to tickle Jody and get away with it,” Fiona chuckled at the memory. “Life was a fairy tale and I was one lucky princess. Until that one evening my dad started yelling at Jody. I was in bed and heard him rave and rant and I didn’t know what was going on. I did understand he was angry because Jody was in love with Sam. Back then, I didn’t really know what that was, but all the stories I’d ever read talked about people falling in love and living happily ever after. Right?”

Fiona paused and cast a look at Robin, who was staring back at her with an intense gaze.

“Right,” she answered softly.

“Wrong,” Fiona replied, equally soft. “Jody was basically kicked out of the house and I was told that Sam had caused an accident in which my brother, Matthew, had broken his leg and she ended up in the hospital. When I asked my dad if we could visit Sam so I could give her the picture I drew for her, he slapped me across the face and told me never, ever to mention that name again.” Fiona swallowed hard and unconsciously rubbed her cheek, a gesture that brought tears to Robin’s eyes. “My first reaction was to run to Jody’s room, but she was gone. So I just sat on her bed and cried. Until Lucy came in. She picked me up, put me onto her lap and held me until I stopped crying. I can’t remember crying after that day, not for a long time anyway. For years I was angry at my father, not just for hitting me, but for taking Jody and Sam away from me. And I guess I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me hurt, so I made sure to toughen up and I pretended I didn’t care. After…after Jody left, my father changed, a lot. He became bitter and a religious fanatic. He forbade us to talk about Jody, but he never passed any opportunity to talk down on her. And I discovered that if I built my walls a little higher, nothing could hurt me anymore,” Fiona sighed and grabbed Robin’s hand, giving it a loving squeeze. “So I did,” she ended simply. “Being cynical was a good way to keep people at a distance and I guess it became a habit.”

“Except for the people you love,” Robin remarked. “I’ve noticed you’ re different around them. You’re…warmer, less guarded. They make you seem more relaxed.”

“More human,” Fiona winked, making Robin smile.

“You’ve always seemed very human to me,” Robin answered.

“Thank you,” Fiona smiled. “I do know I’ve never been able to fool Jody. She’s always been able to see straight through me. But the great thing about my sister is that she never abused that talent.”

“Because it would have caused the opposite to happen. You would have clammed up even more,” Robin stated, which earned her a surprised look from Fiona.

“You see a lot,” she said softly.

Robin smiled and reached out a hand to cup the photographer’s cheek, gently stroking the soft skin with her thumb.

“That’s because, when I look at you, I don’t just look with my eyes,” she whispered.

Fiona’s gaze was captured by a pair of warm, hazel eyes and she swallowed hard when the true meaning of Robin’s words sank in, touching her deeply.

“I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” she whispered back after a long silence. “And now I really have to kiss you.”

Robin chuckled and let her hand slide to the back of Fiona’s neck when their lips met in a slow, unhurried kiss. For a few precious moments the world around them faded away, until Robin broke the kiss and leaned her forehead against Fiona’s.

“I don’t want to get into trouble,” she whispered with evident regret, still aware of the intercom that was tirelessly transmitting.

“No, not this kind of trouble,” Fiona agreed with a soft laugh. “We’d never live it down.”

“Probably. But I also want to keep my ears and eyes open. I don’t want to be caught

off guard when this…”

“Bad Hulk,” Fiona helpfully provided.

“When this bad Hulk shows up again,” Robin finished with a smile. She kissed Fiona’s nose and chuckled when the photographer looked at her cross-eyed.

“But when he’s captured and all has ended, well, you’ re fair game,” she whispered.

“Of course,” Fiona breathed, feeling goose bumps erupt all over her body. Robin’s low voice, so close to her ear, made her body respond in a way she had never experienced before. It was something totally new, but so exhilarating, Fiona could hardly wait to explore all those interesting feelings.

“I won’t run,” she promised.

“Good, because that would be a mindless waste of energy,” Robin answered dryly and they both laughed.

Robin wrapped her arms around Fiona and rested her head against the photographer’s shoulder. Within the warm circle of each other’s arms, they silently waited on the things to come. In spite of their fatigue, neither woman wanted to go to sleep.

It was going to be a long night.

Trishia cast a look at Sam, who stared at the intercom with suspiciously moist eyes, while Peter was busy adjusting one of the monitors. They were all silent and caught up in their own thoughts.

Trishia knew her partner, who had witnessed the conversation between Fiona and Robin, like she and Sam had, was feeling guilty about having overheard such a personal revelation from the youngest McDonnell. But it also showed Fiona’s trust in them, something for which the police woman was grateful.

“I had no idea,” Sam whispered after a very long silence. “She never talked to us about that.”

“I don’t think anyone knew, Sam,” Trishia answered softly.

“I remember the first time I saw Fiona again, after those eight, long years. I was trying to get rid of Steven Hayes, who’d been following me to a shop, I ran into Fi.” Sam smiled at the memory. “I tried to hide, but she’d seen me. She was just staring at me with those dark-green eyes. She didn’t know what I was up to, but I could tell she’d already decided not to let me get away.”

Sam cast a look at Trishia who was listening intently and sent her friend a small smile.

“Do you know one of the first things she said to me that day?” Sam paused a moment while Trishia shook her head and Peter stopped his fidgeting with the monitor to give the tall blonde all of his attention.

“Are you with Jody now?” Sam repeated Fiona’s question, not able to hide the quivering of her voice. “I had no idea things had been so hard on her for all those years. And the fact that her…father…slapped her across the face, just because she mentioned my name, just makes me sick,” Sam added in a bitter voice. “I’d like to throttle him sometimes.”

“Get in line,” Trishia remarked dryly. “There’s a good chance I’d beat you to it. The man’s insane and I can’t tell you how happy I am that Michael managed to get away from him.”

“Did you know he has a column in one of those church magazines?” Peter asked and he almost grinned when he saw the astonishment on their faces.

“He does,” Peter nodded. “My mother gets those things and I picked one up one day. He has a weekly column called;’ The truth of the matter….’.”

“What does he write about?” Trishia asked with trepidation.

“Oh, mate, you’ll love this,” Peter grinned. “His usual subjects are the value of family life and all that. On occasion he also raves and rants about homosexuals.”

“Figures,” Sam mumbled. “I’d wish he’d ask me to write a little piece, but I guess that will happen when hell freezes over.”

“Yeah, don’t hold your breath,” Trishia grinned, nudging Sam with her shoulder.

“How can a man like David McDonnell have such great children?” Peter mused. “And grandchildren,” he added with a wink.

“They take after their Mom,” Trishia decided. “Thank goodness.”

“They’re all pretty special, aren’t they?” Sam smiled.

“Amen to that,” Trishia smiled, raking her fingers through her hair. “I…”

All of a sudden she shot forward in the chair, her eyes fixed on one of the monitors. Immediately, Peter and Sam turned their attention to the black and white screen and they both sucked in a breath. A tall, dark shadow carefully made its way through the forest, crawling from tree to tree, using the tall, broad giants of the forest to hide behind, to try and stay out of reach of the cameras.

“It must be him,” Trishia said, her voice hoarse with the sudden tension. Unconsciously, she reached for the gun that was strapped to her body, while Peter Jones did the same thing.

“Where is he?”

Peter’s eyes traveled from the monitor to a map in front of him and back again.

“About halfway up the hill.”

“Halfway?” Trishia echoed, raising her voice in disbelief. “How come we haven’t seen him earlier? Damn! We’ re supposed to keep the girls safe! I…”

“Calm down, Trish,” Sam interrupted in a gentle but firm voice. “Apparently he knows what he’s doing, but we’ve got our eyes on him now. We have time. Don’t beat yourself up over it, alright?”

“How much time do you think we have?” Peter asked, never taking his eyes from the monitor.

“Hard to say,” Sam sighed, aware of her stomach being tied in knots. “Twenty minutes, maybe a little more.”

“Time for us to go down,” Trishia decided, standing up and grabbing her cell phone from the table. “Sam, you know what to do.”

“I’ll stay here and keep an eye on the monitor. You and Peter go down and I’ll keep in touch with you through our cell phones. Do you have the headset?”

“Right here,” Trishia mumbled, plugging the device into her phone and adjusting the earpiece, while Sam dialed her number. As soon as the phone rang, Trishia switched it on and nodded.

“We’ll keep this line open. I need you to be our eyes, Sam. I want to know every move he makes. As soon as I walk out of this room, I want you to notify the units down the hill. They have their orders to seal off the roads…just in case,” she added softly.

“Do…do you want me to warn Fiona and Robin?”

Trishia slowly shook her head, while she adjusted the cell phone on her waist band.

“Only when you get the impression they are aware of something. If they hear Peter or me, I don’t want them to be afraid. When I need them to do something, I’ll let you know and you can tell them, alright?”

“Alright,” Sam nodded. “Be careful.”

“We will be,” Trishia promised, squeezing Sam’s shoulder. “Keep your ears and eyes open, Sam. Don’t forget we have an advantage.”

“Just get this idiot so we can live our lives again,” Sam replied.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get him,” Trishia answered with determination. “It will be over soon, Sam, hang in there.”

Peter and Trishia left the room and the door closed with a soft click, leaving Sam alone with her cell phone and monitors. She quickly made the call to the police units that were stationed on the bottom of the hill, urging them to stay alert.

Without taking her eyes off the slowly moving figure, she sat back in her chair, her body coiled in tension. Part of her was glad her partner was asleep, so she didn’t have to go through all the anxiety and stress, but the other part of her desperately longed for the warm, comforting presence of Jody.

Sam was hardly surprised when, after a few minutes, the door opened again and the subject of her thoughts stepped inside. Years ago she had given up wondering about the special bond they shared. She had come to accept it for what it was; something special.

“Every time I need you, you are there,” she smiled when she felt a pair of warm arms hug her from behind.

“And vice versa,” Jody answered, kissing Sam’s cheek. “I met Trish and Pete in the hall way. I’m glad it will be over soon. How are Fi and Robin doing?”

“They’re doing great. You can be proud of your sister.”

“I’ve always been proud of her,” Jody smiled. She slid in a chair next to Sam and eyed the monitors. “Is that him?”

“Yes, that’s him,” Sam answered softly.

“I remember William Jenkins mentioning him every now and then. I know Bill messed up his life, because of his gambling, but he wasn’t really a bad person. I can’t help thinking he must have seen something good in this man. What happened to him to make him so…violent and angry?”

“I don’t know, honey,” Sam sighed. “I’m sure in his own warped reality he must have a reason, but I just want my family to be safe. I want Trishia and Peter to arrest him and take him away. I’m so tired of people trying to hurt my family.”

“Just the thought of somebody trying to hurt you, or the twins, makes my blood boil,” Jody confessed. “I’d do anything to protect you, Tim and Taryn.”

“I know, love,” Sam smiled. “You can be quite the tigress. It’s one of the many reasons I love you so much.”

Sam was aware of the fact that Trishia could hear every word of their conversation, but she didn’t care. It wasn’t like Trishia didn’t know how much they loved each other. Within the circle of their friends and family they had always been very open, never hiding their feelings. Unknowingly, they had provided an environment for others, like Lucy and Trishia and Alice and Yarra, to do the same thing: show their love for each other with pride and joy.

“Is that phone on?” Jody suddenly asked, as if she had been able to read Sam’s mind.

“Yes, I’m Trishia’s and Peter’s eyes.”

“Oh,” was Jody response and then she chuckled. “Ah, well, it’s not like she didn’t know I love you. Tell her to be careful.”

“You heard her, Trish,” Sam smiled when she listened to the police woman’s response and she cast a quick glance at Jody, her clear blue eyes twinkling.

“Trish is wondering if, by any chance, there would be a possibility for you and your Mom to make that delicious apple pie she likes so well.”

“I thought Lucy was the pregnant one,” Jody grinned. “I guess Trish has the cravings, huh? But yes, we can do that. Just make sure you be careful, Trish. We need you in this family.”

Sam nodded to something that was being said into her earpiece and reached out to grab Jody’s hand.

“She loves you too,” she said softly.

His breathing was labored when he made his way up the steep hill. Every now and then he lost his footing and had to grab a bush or a tree to steady himself. His shoulder, where the dog had bit him, was aching and deep down inside he knew the small puncture wounds were probably infected. That knowledge made him angry and he wished he could get his hands on that tall, blond woman. The one who had caused all his recent pain and suffering. She was the one the man was after. She had been making his business suffer and he had lost money. A lot of money. Hurting her would not bring the money back, but it would be justified revenge.

Barry Miles gritted his teeth and felt the anger bubble up inside his chest. He thumped his fist against the trunk of a tree, needing some outlet for his built- up aggression. She had killed his best friend, the only person he had trusted. Her actions had condemned him to live a life of solitude and loneliness. She had taken away the little warmth and joy he had in his life.

But tonight she would pay.

Alice Wilson softly moaned in her sleep, restlessly turning on her side. The soft moonlight that fell into the room, painted her blond hair silver and with a gentle smile Yarra brushed an unruly strand away from her forehead.

Ever since she had fallen asleep, Alice had been restless and Yarra knew her lover was dreaming. The events of the previous day had been pretty unsettling and had made a deep impact on the kind hearted woman. It had taken her hours to fall asleep and Yarra was hesitant to wake her up. Alice had been so tired.

“I’ll give it a little more time,” she whispered, looking down at the face she loved so much. “If you keep thrashing like this, I’ll wake you up, my love, I promise.”

Alice moaned again and this time it sounded different, more desperate. With a worried glance, Yarra looked at Alice, who, even in her sleep, looked frightened.

“That’s it, time to wake up. I don’t think that…”

Before Yarra could finish her sentence, Alice’s eyes flew open and with a groan she shot upright, looking at Yarra with wide eyes. Her hands were blindly reaching for her and the dark-skinned woman quickly wrapped her lover in a tight embrace.

“I’m here,” she whispered, brushing Alice’s forehead with her lips. “I’m here, honey. It’s alright. You were dreaming.”

Alice let out a shuddering breath and tucked her head underneath Yarra’s chin, trying to get as close to her lover as possible.

“It’s alright, honey,” Yarra repeated. “You’ re here, with me, in your old room.”

“He’s here,” Alice whispered in a hoarse voice and Yarra could feel a shiver run down her spine. She swallowed hard and rested her cheek on Alice’s hair, feeling her lover snuggle even closer.

“The man who kidnapped Fi and Robin?”

“Yes, he’s here,” Alice repeated. “He’s coming.”

“Trishia expected that and I’m sure she and Peter are ready for him,” Yarra tried to comfort the woman in her arms, who still seemed to be upset.

“I know,” Alice whispered. “They’ re ready, but…he’s not alone.”

“What?”

Yarra pushed Alice back so she could look into her lover’s eyes. She needed to determine whether Alice was awake, or still dreaming.

“I’m awake, Yar, I really am,” she spoke softly. “I was dreaming that Barry Miles was climbing the hill, to get to the apartment. But there was somebody else as well.”

“With him?” Yarra asked, not aware of the tension in her voice.

“No,” Alice shook her head. She cast a glance at the window and swallowed hard, moistening her dry lips. “He came from the other side. He’s headed for the house.”

Yarra froze, just for a few seconds, but then she disentangled herself from Alice’s warm body and stepped out of bed, followed by her lover who knew what they had to do. They dressed quickly, in total silence and, when they were done, they left the room hand-in-hand.

Fiona cast a look at the clock on the wall and suppressed a yawn. She was stretched out on the couch, her feet dangling off the end, while Robin was curled up on her side, one arm and leg possessively draped across Fiona’s taller body, while her head was resting on her shoulder.

“I’d almost call this comfy,” Fiona mumbled, hearing Robin chuckle.

The biologist raised her head and kissed Fiona’s chin, before resuming her previous position again.

“I do call it comfy,” she said in a muffled voice.

“But that’s only because your feet are not hanging in the air somewhere,” Fiona sighed. “I think I need to buy a bigger couch.”

“Yes, I think you do,” Robin nodded. “So do I, because when we’ re at my place, I’d like us to be comfy like this as well.”

“Of course there’s always the bed,” Fiona mused, grinning when Robin gently pinched her side.

“Don’t tempt me.”

“If we moved to the bedroom, we’d have to take the intercom with us,” Fiona mused. “That would be like inviting my family to have a front row seat to watch my love life. Or, at least, hear my love life,” she corrected herself with a grin.

“That would be embarrassing,” Robin mumbled.

“Extremely,” Fiona agreed with a nod. “So, I guess we’d better stay where we are now. That way, we’ll stay out of…trouble?”

Robin laughed softly and pressed her face in the crook of Fiona’s neck, breathing in the smell of freshly scrubbed skin.

“You smell nice.”

“Thank you,” Fiona smiled, amused by the way Robin seemed to be affected by scents. “You smell nice too, but then, you used my shower gel,” she added with a chuckle. “And your hair is finally drying.”

“I know, it takes forever,” Robin answered lazily. “It’s too thick.”

“It’s beautiful,” Fiona replied softly, stroking the curly hair underneath her hand. An uninvited image suddenly popped into her mind and she softly laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Robin wanted to know.

“I just…it’s weird and it must be all this new being in love stuff, but…I just had an image of a bunch of little freckled kids with dark curly hair.” Fiona took a deep breath and shook her head in disbelief. “I wonder where that came from,” she softly added.

“Little Fiona’s,” Robin said dreamily. “Mmmm, there’s nothing wrong with that image.”

“That’s what you think,” Fiona replied. “I’m sure that one of me is more than enough.”

Robin raised her head and her eyes caught Fiona’s. For a brief moment she thought Fiona would turn away her gaze, but she didn’t and Robin was secretly pleased. She smiled and let her fingers slide through the photographer’s dark hair.

“We’ll have to work on your self-image,” she smiled.

“That could be a long project,” Fiona warned with a twinkle in her eyes.

“That’s alright, I’ve got time,” Robin answered.

“How much time?”

Robin knew that last question was a reflection of Fiona’s insecurity and in her previous relationship with Abigail Patterson she would have hesitated when answering. But this was Fiona and things were so different. Her feelings were so much deeper and stronger. Robin had no doubt about what was in her heart.

“A lifetime,” she answered, immediately seeing the dark-green eyes mist over. Fiona tried to blink away the tears, but it was a battle she could not win and she let out a long, shuddering breath.

“Your words have so much power over me,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. “I feel them all the way here,” she said, tapping on her chest. “It’s like a pain, but it’s a sweet one.”

Fiona wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and let out a soft snort.

“At least Lucy has an excuse to be sniffing and bawling, she’s pregnant.”

“And you’re in love,” Robin smiled, catching a tear with the tip of her finger.

“Imagine being pregnant and in love,” Fiona sighed, rolling her eyes. “That would require a higher intake of fluids and salt.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Robin replied dryly. “Now, stop analyzing and kiss me.”

“Sounds good to me,” Fiona smiled, wrapping her arms around Robin and pulling her on top of her. The hazel eyes widened and for a brief moment Robin’s body stiffened, but then she relaxed, molding her body against the photographer’s taller one, letting out a sigh of contentment.

“This is a very dangerous position, Miss McDonnell,” she whispered.

“I need to be close to you,” Fiona explained, brushing away a strand of curly hair that was dangling across Robin’s cheek. “I…it’s probably very…early and…all that, but…I think I love you.”

Robin’s eyes were captured by Fiona’s dark-green ones and she melted into the beauty of their depths, not aware of the single tear that was rolling down her cheek. The only thing she was aware of was the warm body she pressed into, the eyes that held her captive and the tidal wave of emotions that flooded her senses, turning the woman in her arms into the center of her universe.

“I think I love you, too.”
part 16
“What’s the matter, honey?” Sam asked gently, casting a glance at the woman who was sitting next to her.

Jody’s eyes were still glued to the monitor in front of her, but her head was cocked to the side and Sam had the impression she was listening for something. Intently.

“Is it the twins?” Sam asked, wishing she was not sitting in her office in the middle of the night, watching a monitor that showed a black- clad figure sneaking around on their property, intent on hurting them. She wanted to be in bed, snuggled up to the woman who had held her heart and soul for so long now. Sam wished she didn’t have to worry about her partner, or their children, or any other family member or friend. But the threat was there, a tall, dark figure, slowly but surely making his way to the apartment where Fiona and Robin were quietly talking, their voices too soft and low to be picked up by the intercom.

“No,” Jody finally answered, shaking her head. “I…there’s…something…I can’t put my finger on it, but…”

It feels like a shift in the air. Like a …whisper or a breath..But it’s cold…How can I explain to Sam what I mean? Something’s up…

All of a sudden all blood drained from Jody’s face and she pushed back her chair, jumping to her feet. Startled, Sam looked up, temporarily forgetting about the monitor and the fact that Trishia was able to hear the conversation between her and Jody.

“Honey?” she urged, the concern in her voice evident, while Trishia’s voice sounded through the little piece that was snugly resting in her ear: “Sam. Sam ? What’s going on ? Sam ?”

“Somebody’s in the house,” Jody’s voice was hoarse with emotion. “I need to get the twins.”

“Jody, wait !” Sam responded, jumping to her feet and ignoring Trishia’s voice in her ear.

But before Jody could answer, the door of the office flew open, Yarra and Alice came bursting in. Their faces were drawn and Alice’s eyes looked huge in her pale face.

“Somebody’s trying to get in the house,” Yarra breathed, not able to banish the panic from her voice.

“No, they’re inside,” Jody and Alice simultaneously answered.

Sam’s astonished blue eyes darted between Alice and Jody, but she didn’t have time to ponder over the way the two women’s minds seemed to be linked together. That would have to wait till later. Much later.

“Where ?” she asked, hearing her words echoed by Trishia’s voice.

“Kitchen,” they answered and in her ear Sam could hear Trishia groan in frustration.

“I’m coming back up, Sam,” Trishia’s tense voice sounded and Sam nodded, not registering the fact that the policewoman could not see her.

“Stay here,” the tall blonde urged Alice and Jody, but each woman shook her head, while the fear on their faces was replaced by sheer determination.

“The twins,” Jody croaked, starting to feel sick to her stomach.

“Fiona and Robin,” Sam whispered. “Alice, Yarra, you need to warn them. Be their eyes. He’s so close..”

Alice cast a look at the monitor and she swallowed hard when she saw a, now familiar, broad- shouldered figure clearing the tree line and heading for the apartment where her friends were still oblivious to his presence.

“Sam ! Dammit, listen to me !” Trishia’s voice penetrated Sam’s senses and, involuntarily, she stood still, impressed by the authority in her friend’s voice.

“I’m on my way back up. Peter’s at the apartment. Someone has to warn Fiona and Robin, they might have to make a run for it.”

“But…the twins…” Sam almost whispered, feeling her stomach clutch in fear. What if the intruder would try to hurt their children ? She just had to go to the bedroom and check up on Timothy and Taryn.

“We’ll stay here, Sam,” Yarra decided, moving towards the monitor, pulling Alice with her. “We’ll keep an eye on the girls. You two go, get the twins.”

Sam and Jody didn’t need further encouragement. Trishia, who had heard the exchange in words, mentally sighed, but knew she would have done the exact same thing.

“Be careful, Sam,” she urged her friend. “I’m halfway up the hill. I’m almost there.”

Trishia’s long legs carried her back up the hill as fast as they could. It was hard not to stumble. The night was dark and there was no moon to illuminate her path.

Trishia’s thoughts sped through her mind with the speed of light. The intruder in the house was a complication she had not anticipated. She hated surprises like that and the fact that she had been outsmarted only fueled her anger and frustration. She tried not to think of the twins and how vulnerable they made Sam and Jody. If somebody only threatened to hurt them…she hated to think of what could happen.

Trishia could feel a cold ball settle in the pit of her stomach and she increased her speed, her legs eating up the distance between herself and the house on top of the hill.

Lucy.

Her partner’s name reverberated through her mind with every step she took. If anything would happen to Lucy…

Don’t go there, Trish ! Don’t.

As she almost reached the path that led to the front door, Trishia suddenly came to a full stop when she heard a familiar, angry whine.

Kurt.

Turning her head, the policewoman could see the German Shepherd pulling the chain that confined him to his doghouse underneath a big tree. Reluctantly, Sam had tied up the dog, forcing him to rest after the superficial gunshot wound he had sustained. For a split second, Trishia hesitated. She didn’t want the canine to get hurt again, or worse, but Kurt was a great ally. He would fiercely protect his pack against any danger.

“Alright, boy,” Trishia mumbled, kneeling down next to the dog to grab his collar and unclasp the chain.

Her strong hands dug in the dog’s fur when Kurt immediately tried to run towards the house on the hill.

“No, boy,” Trishia corrected him. “Fiona. Go protect Fiona.”

Trishia knew her command was unfamiliar to the German Shepherd and she wished she knew the commands Sam had taught the dog. But the mentioning of Fiona’s name, made Kurt’s ears stand up straight, while he let out a short, high-pitched bark.

“That’s it, boy. Go find Fiona,” Trishia encouraged him, while she gave him a gentle push towards the little apartment down the hill.

Kurt didn’t need any further encouragement. He turned his muscular body around and, without looking back, he ran down the hill, disappearing in the darkness.

Fiona looked into Robin’s eyes that were so close, she could easily see the golden specks that were mixed in with the green, gray and brown. The colors shifted with Robin’s emotions and the photographer was fascinated by the kaleidoscope of light and shades. She hoped she would never get tired of the spectacle.

“You love me?” she asked in a voice that was so soft, it was hardly audible. But Robin had picked up on the words and slowly nodded.

“Don’t ask me to explain it,” she answered, equally soft. “But within one week, you’ve managed to capture my heart like no one else has ever done before.”

“I take it that’s a good thing,” Fiona joked gently, brushing the back of her hand against Robin’s cheek.

“It’s a very good thing,” Robin smiled, not able to resist Fiona’s soft lips any longer. With a small sigh she leaned forward, claiming the photographer’s lips in a long, tender kiss, inwardly smiling when a soft whimper reached her ears. In an answer to her action, Fiona’s hand slid around her neck, burying her fingers in Robin’s thick, curly hair, increasing the intensity of the kiss until they both felt their self-control slip away rapidly, making room for the increasing need to be even closer.

Only when Robin became aware of a hand that was persistently making its way down her back, into the waistband of her jeans, she noticed their position had shifted and, somehow, her thigh had ended up between a pair of long, strong legs, while she didn’t need to look down to see one of Fiona’s legs had positioned itself in the same way. The sweet, torturous pressure was enough indication.

“Oh, my God,” Robin breathed, reluctantly letting go of the lips that could so easily make her forget her own name. “Fiona, honey, no matter how much I love and appreciate your enthusiasm, I think you should remove your hand from my butt, so I can get up and take a cold shower.”

“I’ll come with you,” Fiona whispered, which made Robin let out a soft chuckle.

“I think that would, somehow, defy the purpose,” she answered softly.

“What purpose?” Fiona asked dreamily, slowly and reluctantly removing her hand from Robin’s backside.

“To cool off,” Robin groaned, pushing herself up to create a distance between herself and the photographer, who was staring at her with a mixture of amusement, frustration and genuine need.

“I’ve never felt this way before,” Fiona confessed with a shy smile. “I like it, though.”

“I’m glad you do,” Robin replied, reaching out a hand and brushing away a strand of dark hair from Fiona’s forehead. “I only wish that…” she exhaled slowly and sent the photographer an apologetic smile.

“I wish that too,” Fiona nodded, deciding it would probably be a good idea to sit up, instead of lying down on the couch. At least while sitting, she wasn’t tempted to pull Robin on top of her and kiss her senseless. Not as much, anyway.

“We’ll have time soon,” Fiona whispered, grabbing Robin’s hand to give it a gentle squeeze. “When all this is over, we’ll take a few days off, just you and me.”

“I’d love to, but…”

“No work,” Fiona interrupted, knowing what Robin was about to say. “I’ll talk to Sam and I’m sure she’ll give you a few days off.”

“Oh, really?” Robin answered, smiling when she cast a look at Fiona’s confident expression.

“Really,” the photographer nodded. “I once took a picture of Sam when she and Jody were having a water fight and…well, let me say this: Sam was wearing a white shirt,” Fiona grinned. “A very wet, white shirt.”

“Does she know you have that picture?” Robin chuckled. “If she didn’t, she does now,” she added, pointing at the intercom.

“She knows,” Fiona shrugged. “I told her I’d hang on to it for reasons of bribery. I guess that time has come.”

“And how exactly would you bribe her, Miss Smarty Pants?”

“A trade,” Fiona nodded, having it all worked out already. “She’ll give you a few days off and I’ll give the picture to Jody. I’m sure my sister would love to have it.”

“I’m sure she would,” Robin laughed. “I don’t think that…”

Robin stopped in mid-sentence when two things happened simultaneously. Outside they could hear the angry bark of a German Shepherd, while inside all of a sudden the intercom came alive with the voice of Yarra.

“Fiona. Robin. He’s coming, stay alert.”

“What the…?” Fiona mumbled, jumping up from the couch and walking to the intercom, as if the small, white device could give her an answer to all the questions that started to pop up in her brain.

“C J? What the heck are you doing there ? Where’s Sam ?”

“Change of plans, Fi,” Yarra’s tense voice filled the silence. “Peter’s outside the apartment, near the verandah. Trishia had to come back up, because someone got into the house.”

“What?” Fiona exclaimed, shocked by Yarra’s explanation. She turned to Robin with eyes that were dark with worry.

“We’ll have to go back up. I…”

“No, we can’t,” Robin answered, pulling Fiona away from the window where she saw the outline of a big shadow. “He’s here.”

“He’s outside your living room window, Fi,” Yarra’s voice sounded at the same time.

“Where’s Peter now?” Robin asked in a voice that was laced with tension.

“Verandah,” was Yarra’s short answer.

“Do you have any form of communication with him?”

“No,” Yarra sighed. “I…crap! The bloke’s going around the house now. He could run into Peter at any time.”

“Where’s Kurt? I heard him,” Fiona asked, part of her was worried about the dog, especially since he had been shot at that morning, but another part was happy to know the brave canine was close by.

“We need to do something,” Robin decided.

Without saying another word she walked back to the couch and reached underneath one of the pillows. Fiona’s eyes grew wide when she saw the revolver that lay comfortably in the biologist’s hand. Swallowing hard, she raked her fingers through her hair.

“I still don’t like weapons, but I’ve got to admit right now that…thing is a comforting sight,” she confessed. “Even though it’s disconcerting to know my butt was parked on it.”

“It really was my butt,” Robin corrected absent mindedly. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going, Charlie’s Angel?” Fiona asked with a worried frown.

“Outside. Peter might need help and since the original plan has fallen to pieces, I don’t want to be standing on the sidelines, while Peter is the only one between us and Barry Miles.”

“Do I need to bring a can of beans?” Fiona joked faintly.

“Just stay close to me,” Robin answered, motioning the photographer to follow her out of the room.

“Don’t worry,” Fiona mumbled.

“Careful!” Yarra’s voice filled the room and both Fiona and Robin nodded, heading for the front door.

Hand-in-hand, Sam and Jody dashed through the hallway towards their bedroom where they had left the twins. Sam’s ears picked up an unfamiliar sound that came from the kitchen, but she didn’t have time to investigate it. All she wanted was to be with her children and protect them from whoever had managed to break into their house.

Jody’s face was set in determination. Like Sam, she was aware of the soft shuffling of feet in the kitchen. Like somebody was trying to find his way in an unfamiliar room, hindered by darkness. No matter how much she wanted to know who the intruder was and what he wanted from them, the urgent need to be with her children was overwhelming. Deep down inside, she knew she would do anything to keep her family safe.

As soon as they entered the bedroom, both Sam and Jody let out a sob of relief when their eyes fell on the bed. Timothy and Taryn were fast asleep. The little boy had turned on his side, facing his sister, one hand tucked underneath his chin, while Taryn was sleeping on her back. The hand of one outstretched arm was touching her brother’s soft blond hair like, even in sleep, she was looking out for him.

“Precious,” Sam whispered, wrapping her arms around Jody, who let out a sigh of relief and closed her eyes, reveling in the contact with the one person she loved more than life itself.

They took a few seconds to regain their composure, but then the reality came crashing back into their conscious minds and, slowly, Sam loosened her grip on her partner.

“Trishia might need help.”

“Sam,” Jody whispered. “We need to do something, but I don’t want you dashing into the kitchen like a madman. God knows what you’ll run into.”

“I know, honey,” Sam sighed. “But we need to do something. We can’t just be sitting ducks. Besides, we need to warn the boys, your mom and Lucy.”

“The police should be on their way. You told Yarra to call them.”

“I know, but I don’t want this to end up in a stand-off, with us, or any of our family as hostages.”

Jody’s eyes traveled from the bed, and the peacefully sleeping forms of their children, to the window and back again.

“Sam,” she whispered. “The window. If we can get out of here, we can walk around the back of the house and warn the others. We could get everybody out of here.”

Sam’s blue eyes widened and for a few seconds they darted between the window and her partner. Then a small smile appeared on her face. Bending down, she gave Jody a quick kiss on the lips.

“I love you,” she said, before grabbing the smaller woman’s hand and pulling her towards the window. She quickly opened it all the way and motioned Jody to climb out.

“I’ll get the kids,” she whispered.

As soon as Jody had climbed through the window, Sam quickly walked back to the bed and carefully lifted Timothy into her arms. The little boy scrunched up his face in a sleepy protest, but he didn’t wake up.

Sam handed Jody the little boy and stepped back to the bed to get her daughter. Taryn mumbled something and, in spite of the situation, Sam suppressed a laugh. The little girl was so much like Jody when she produced those unintelligible, adorable sounds in her sleep.

Putting her long legs to good use Sam climbed out of the window, her daughter safely cradled against her chest.

“Let’s get Yarra and Alice out of the office first,” Sam whispered. “They can help us warn the others a lot faster.”

“But…what about…?”

“I’m afraid all plans have changed,” Sam answered with a grim expression on her face.

A high-pitched bark pierced the silence and Sam cocked her head, listening intently.

“Trish must have taken Kurt off the chain. That bark came from down the hill.”

“Oh, God, the girls,” Jody moaned.

“They got away from him before, honey. Have faith in them. Besides, Peter and Kurt are down there as well and the police are on their way.”

“I know, I know,” Jody nodded, ignoring the wave of nausea that made her want to throw up. “Let’s go.”

Without much preamble, Trishia threw open the kitchen door, cocked gun in hand. It was dark and she resisted the urge to flip the light-switch. Instead, she quickly stepped away from the door, not wanting to be an outlined target against the night sky.

Slowly exhaling, the policewoman tried to control her breathing. She had sprinted up the hill and felt the fatigue of the past few days catch up with her. Her eyes took in the dark kitchen and she knew she had a big advantage; she knew her way around the place, while the intruder was most likely to stumble into things.

The kitchen was empty though, and Trishia felt her stomach clench when she thought about all her defenseless friends and family.

Lucy!

The thought of her pregnant partner almost made her call out her name in warning, but Trishia knew that would not be a sensible thing to do. For all she knew, the intruder had not reached the bedrooms yet and in that case there was still time.

Carefully putting one foot in front of the other, Trishia inched her way towards the hallway. To her left was the huge livingroom, while a right turn would take her to most of the bedrooms and Sam’s office.

For a split second she hesitated, but an almost inaudible sound to her left, made her decide to walk into the livingroom. With her heart pounding in her chest, Trishia clenched the gun more firmly into her fist and pressed her back against the wall, trying to be as invisible as the darkness allowed her to be.

All her senses told her there was somebody lurking in the shadow of one of the huge bookcases that were lined up against the wall. Trishia’s nostrils flared when, all of a sudden, her suspicions were confirmed when a dark figure appeared, carefully making his way towards her.

Trishia suppressed a sigh of relief and carefully took a step aside, so she could block the intruder’s way to the hallway. Suddenly she froze in mid-motion, when her foot collided with something totally unexpected; a toy. The little bell inside the colorful ball shattered the silence like a gunshot, while it rolled across the floor.

A sharp intake of breath reached Trishia’s ears and before she realized what was happening, a forceful blow to the side of her head made her spin and, with a groan of frustration and pain, she could feel her knees buckle.

No. No! Not now. Not like this! Don’t you dare lose consciousness, Trishia Waters!

Gasping for breath, Trishia fought her body’s urge to close her eyes and sink away in darkness. Something warm trickled down the side of her face and the realization she was about to be defeated by an unknown adversary who was capable of hurting her partner and their unborn child made the adrenaline surge through her body. With all the strength she could muster up, Trishia Waters shook her head and took a deep breath, willing the oxygen to chase away the nausea and dizziness.

All of a sudden her head felt clear, but when she turned around to face whoever it was who had hit her, she knew she was alone.

Mumbling a curse, she pushed herself away from the wall and headed towards the bedrooms.

“Fiona! Robin!” Yarra called out, leaning forward towards the intercom, eying the device with a wary glance.

“It’s no use, honey, they’ve left the room,” Alice spoke softly, putting a hand on her lover’s shoulder and giving it a loving squeeze.

“Peter’s so close to this bloke and he doesn’t even know it,” Yarra groaned, pressing her hand against her stomach. She felt sick with worry and frustration. If only there was something she could do to help her friends…

A soft, but persistent tapping on the window made a blond and a dark head jerk up and, with a frown, Alice cautiously stepped closer to the window, closely followed by Yarra.

“Careful, baby, I…” Yarra paused in mid-sentence and let out a sigh of relief when she recognized Sam. Quickly opening the window, she stuck her head outside.

“What the heck?” she mumbled when she noticed the sleeping twins in Sam and Jody’s arms.

“Get out of there, Yarra. You too, Alice,” Sam urged. “The plans have changed.”

“Tell me about it,” Yarra muttered, grabbing Alice’s hand and tugging her towards the window. She gently helped the blonde climb out of the window, quickly following her with an athletic jump that landed her neatly next to Sam.

“What’s the plan now, Sam?” Alice whispered, briefly touching Jody’s hand in a silent greeting.

“We’ll wake the rest and have everybody climb outside. I want them all away from the house. I don’t want to risk anyone being taken as a hostage.”

“Good idea,” Yarra mumbled, grabbing Alice’s hand and pulling her along. She was not planning on letting the blonde get out of her sight. “We’ll start at the other end. Where do we meet?”

“Stable,” Jody whispered, knowing the sturdy building towards the top of the hill would provide a reasonably good protection.

“Stable it is,” Alice nodded, before following her lover towards the other end of the big house.

“How are you holding up, sweetie?” Sam asked with concern, freeing one arm to wrap it around her partner’s shoulders.

“I’m getting more and more…annoyed… with these people,” Jody grumbled. “I so want this to be over, Sam. I’m tired of it.”

“So am I,” Sam sighed. “Hang in there, alright? It might all be over soon. Just stay close to me.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not taking my eyes off of you,” Jody responded, lifting her head to give her taller partner a quick kiss. “Come on, Dutchie, let’s go.”

Fiona felt her heart hammering in her chest when she followed Robin to the front door that led to the verandah. She knew they most likely would run into their kidnapper and that thought alone was enough to make her nauseous. They had been able to escape before, but would they be able to defeat Barry Miles again? And who was the person who had managed to break into the house, forming a threat to the rest of the family?

Wiping her sweaty palms on her thighs, Fiona swallowed hard and moistened her dry lips. If only she could wake up from this nightmare and find herself on the couch with Robin. It would be great to nudge the dozing biologist and say:’Guess what I’ve just dreamt?’

“Fat chance,” Fiona mumbled to herself.

“What?” Robin whispered, half-turning to cast the photographer a quizzical look. She raised an eyebrow and for a brief moment Fiona noticed a sparkle in her eyes. “Were you eying my butt?”

Fiona let out a nervous laugh and shook her head in denial.

“No, I wasn’t, which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to,” she smiled, while the nervous ball in the pit of her stomach seemed to disappear for a few moments. ” And your butt is not fat.”

“Thanks,” Robin smiled, reaching out and grabbing Fiona’s hand. “Are you ready?”

Fiona nodded and her dark-green eyes darted to the door that was the only barrier left between them and Barry Miles.

“I love you,” Robin whispered.

Fiona swallowed hard and mustered up a small smile.

“I love you, too.”

It sounded so right and true. Those three whispered words provided a surge of warmth and energy and, all of a sudden, Fiona’s fear was replaced by grim determination. It was time to make sure they could live their lives without the fear of being kidnapped again or their families being hurt.

“Let’s go.”

“That’s my girl,” Robin smiled, giving Fiona’s hand a loving squeeze before she let go and reached out for the doorknob. At that same moment Kurt’s angry bark and a howl of frustration and pain filled the air, followed by the raised voice of Peter Jones and the sound of bodies hitting the wooden floor of the small verandah.

Without hesitation, Robin yanked open the door and stepped outside, closely followed by Fiona.

Peter Jones had cursed under his breath when Trishia had turned around to run back up the hill. He knew reinforcements would probably be on the way, but, in the meantime, he felt utterly vulnerable in the darkness, knowing his adversary was as strong as he was huge. And armed as well, Peter had no doubt about that.

Thinking back to the moment Barry Miles had escaped him that morning, filled the policeman with determination. He would do anything in his power to make things right and catch Fiona’s and Robin’s kidnapper. He could only hope the girls would stay out of harm’s way, although Trishia had told him Robin had been one of her best students. Peter knew Robin had a gun and knew how to use it. But, hopefully, it would not come that far. All Peter needed was one chance, one opportunity to surprise Barry Miles. And he had one huge advantage; he knew the kidnapper was around, but Barry Miles would have to guess about Peter’s whereabouts.

Unconsciously clenching the butt of his gun tighter in his hand, Peter pressed his back against the wall, inching closer to the verandah. He thought he had heard the dry sound of a snapping twig and, holding his breath, he listened intently.

After a few seconds he exhaled slowly and willed his muscles to relax. Just when he was about to take another step something large flew by him, letting out a low, deep growl and for a moment Peter thought his heart would stop.

“Dammit, Trish ! You scared the heck out of me,” he sighed. “Good idea, though.”

Pushing away from the wall, Peter was about to follow Kurt when the dog let out an angry bark, which was immediately followed by a howl of pain.

“That’s it, boy. Sink your teeth in his hurt shoulder,” Peter mumbled, leaving his hiding place against the wall and stepping closer to the verandah.

“That’s it, Barry. Police ! Put your hands in the air and…,” Peter could not finish his sentence, because something heavy hit him in the chest, taking his breath away and making him lose his balance. Only when he was sprawled out on the damp grass in front of the verandah, he realized Barry Miles must have managed to, somehow, pick up Kurt and throw the dog at him.

While Peter was still gasping for breath, Kurt was already on his way back to Barry Miles, his ears flat against his head and his teeth bared. The deep growl in his chest intensified and for a brief moment Peter realized he was happy to have the German Shepherd on his side.

Barry Miles on the other hand was filled with rage when Kurt had sunk his teeth in his already painful shoulder. A hot surge had shot through his arm, straight to his hand and he had trouble holding on to his gun. He knew the dog must have hit a nerve and that knowledge filled him with even more rage.

“Die, you mongrel,” he growled, seeing the dog approach him; head low, hair on his back standing upright and his snout pulled into a snarl, baring impressive, healthy teeth.

Raising his gun, he willed away the pain in his arm and aimed for the dog’s head. One shot was all he needed and he knew it had better be a good one. From the corner of his eye, he could see Peter Jones scrambling back to his feet and he almost laughed. This was going to be too easy. Two bullets; one for the dog, one for the policeman.

“Say ‘hi’ to Lassie,” Barry Miles mumbled, tightening his finger on the trigger.

At that moment the door behind him was thrown open, crashing against his injured shoulder. The pain that surged through his arm paralyzed his fingers and, with a howl of frustration, he could feel the solid gun slip from his fingers. The moment it clattered on the verandah his legs were kicked away from underneath his body, while the dog jumped on his chest, sinking his teeth in his other shoulder.

“Wow, thanks, good one, Robin,” Peter gasped, still out of breath. He stepped on the verandah and looked down at the masked man at his feet.

“Game over, Miles,” he said, pushing the gun away from the man on the verandah. “It’s alright, Kurt, you can let go now.”

“Kurt, let go. Guard,” Fiona’s voice sounded from behind Robin and, immediately, the German Shepherd let go of Barry Miles, sitting on his haunches next to the big man while his intelligent brown eyes never left the form of the man who had tried to shoot him.

“Good boy,” Fiona complimented the dog with a smile.

In the distance, they could hear the sound of sirens and Peter let out a sigh of relief. Somebody had managed to call the units that had been on stand- by and he knew the much- needed reinforcements were on the way.

“They’ll be too late,” the smug smile was audible in Barry Miles’ voice. “They’ll all be dead.”

Behind her, Robin could hear Fiona gasp and she immediately reached out to grab a hand that felt clammy and cold.

“It’s not true, Fiona,” she responded with more self-control than she felt. Inwardly, the fear and fury fought for dominance, but she was determined not to let either of them win. “He’s bluffing and he doesn’t know we all know what their plan was.”

This time it was Robin who was bluffing, but Barry Miles didn’t immediately answer. He stayed very still, because every time he did as much as twitch, Kurt let out a warning growl.

“Sam Stevens will get what she’s asked for,” his voice, filled with menace, sounded after a brief silence.

“And what would that be?” Peter Jones asked dryly.

“She’s a murderer,” Barry Miles spat. “She’ll get what she deserves.”

“You’ re delusional, mate,” Fiona’s answered angrily. “Sam wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

“Liar ! She killed Bill. She shot him in cold blood !”

“Now, listen to me, idiot,” Fiona fumed, ignoring Robin’s muttered warning and stepping closer. “I don’t know which planet you come from, but your thought process is definitely un-earthly. Sam did not kill William Jenkins.”

“You’ re a liar!” Barry Miles shot back, trying to sit up, which earned him another growl from Kurt. He sank back to the ground and slid his hand underneath his black jacket to rub his injured shoulder.

Both Peter and Robin noticed the smooth move a fraction of a second too late. A simultaneous shouted ‘Watch out’, rang through the night and while Robin grabbed Fiona to pull her away from the bulky figure of Barry Miles, Peter’s hand dug into Kurt’s fur, pulling the surprised dog backwards, while stepping in front of him.

Before Peter could raise his gun, a loud gunshot shattered the silence and a hot, searing pain made the policeman sink to his knees, clutching his side with both hands, while his gun tumbled down, hitting the verandah with a thud, before sliding towards the edge, rolling off the side into a rosebush.

Robin did not have much time to think. With Fiona tucked behind her back, the biologist saw Peter Jones fall down while the gun Barry Miles was holding changed direction. With a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach Robin realized she would not be left a choice. Swallowing down the bile that was rising in the back of her throat, she raised her hand, while Fiona’s hoarse voice shouted:’Kurt, attack.’

But Barry Miles had expected the dog to attack again and this time he used his long, powerful legs to fend off the canine. With a well- aimed thrust, he kicked the dog off the verandah and Kurt howled in pain and surprise when he landed in the same thorny bush as Peter Jones’ gun.

The weapon in his hand had strayed from its aim and Robin knew it would be now or never. Barry Miles’ hand moved back into her direction and Robin held her breath. Knowing the next few seconds would probably change the rest of her life, her finger tightened. She fought the urge to close her eyes, willing them to stay focused on the man who would not hesitate to hurt either her or Fiona.

Fiona saw the gun in Robin’s hand take aim and inwardly she screamed. She knew Trishia still had the occasional nightmare about shooting Steven Hayes and she wished Robin would not have to go through the same ordeal.

I’ve got to do something! I’ve got to do something!

Unexpectedly, a gentle, but firm pressure pushed down Robin’s arm, while Fiona reached around her and used her leg to forcefully kick the gun out of Barry Miles’ hands, sending it skidding down the verandah.

“Fiona!” Robin whispered, all of a sudden feeling the tension drain out of her body, leaving her tired and feeling weak.

“I’m sorry, Robbie,” Fiona breathed. “You have a gun, but I’ve got longer legs. Are you alright?”

“I am now,” Robin sighed, wishing she could drop the gun and wrap her arms around Fiona’s taller body, reveling in her warmth and softness. “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Fiona smiled after letting out a shuddering breath. “Now, keep an eye on him while I check out Peter.”

The photographer knelt down next to the body of Peter Jones that lay curled up in the corner of the verandah. Even in the dim light of the softly glowing security lamp next to the front door she could see the slowly growing puddle of blood that surrounded Peter’s body.

Without hesitancy Fiona reached into her pocket to pull out her cell phone. While her right hand sought Peter’s neck for a pulse, her other hand speed dialed the number Jody had urged her to program into her phone.

“Are you calling triple zero?” Robin asked, referring to the national emergency phone number.

“Yes. I…He has a pulse,” Fiona sighed in relief. “I…Hello? Yes, this is Fiona McDonnell. A police officer has been shot.”

Fiona quickly gave the dispatcher the address and promised to stay on the phone until the rapidly approaching police cars would have arrived. The sound of the sirens grew louder and when she looked up she could see the flashing of the lights disrupting the serene picture of the forest during the night.

“I don’t know,” she answered a question from the dispatcher. “He’s breathing and he has a pulse, but he’s unconscious. I don’t have much light, but there’s a lot of blood…What? Yes, I will, but I’ll have to put the phone down…No, well, yes, Robin’s here but she’s busy keeping a gun on this bloke….Just a sec…”

Fiona handed the phone to Robin and sank back onto her knees next to Peter Jones, carefully rolling the injured policeman on his side. With trembling fingers she pulled up his shirt and she gasped in horror when her eyes took in the wound where the bullet had entered his body. Blood was steadily flowing from his side and Fiona could only hope and pray Trishia’s partner would get the medical attention he needed as soon as possible.

“I’ve got to apply pressure,” Fiona mumbled. Without hesitance the photographer pulled her t-shirt over her head, bundled up the fabric and pressed it against the hole in Peter’s side.

“Hang in there, mate, help is on the way,” she spoke, brushing the hair away from the policeman’s forehead. “You can’t leave Sharon and the little Jones’ all by themselves, Pete, they’d have a fit and no matter what or how, Sharon would find you and kick your butt.”

Fiona thought she saw Peter Jones’ face twitch and she decided to keep talking to him.

“And think about Trish. You’re the only one we all trust to watch her back. If you’d give up, I’m sure Lucy will join Sharon in the butt-kicking quest. That could be nasty, mate.”

This time Fiona heard a soft snort coming from Peter and, to her utter relief, she noticed the policeman had opened his eyes and was looking at her.

“Under…normal circumstances, I’d…enjoy the…view,” he spoke with difficulty, gritting his teeth against the pain. “Does Robin…know…you’ re half-naked?”

“It’s just a bra, Pete and of course she does,” Fiona responded. “She’s standing right there, holding a gun at our friend.”

“Good,” Peter breathed. “Don’t…let him…get away…again.”

“No chance of that, Peter,” Robin answered, not taking her eyes off Barry Miles.

A soft whine alerted them to the presence of Kurt, who had freed himself from the rosebush he had landed in. The dog limped back to the verandah and pressed his nose against Peter’s neck before sitting himself next to Robin, a deep, rumbling growl coming from his chest when he looked at Barry Miles.

“He just thanked you for saving his life,” Fiona smiled.

“I had…to,” Peter answered with a small smile. “He’s part… of the… family.” He paused and exhaled slowly. “Great, here are the troops,” he said, referring to the flashing lights that were reflected in the windows. “Finally.”

Trishia had heard some faint sounds coming from Sam’s office and she hoped her friends would keep a low profile. One of a police officer’s deepest fears was to be involved in a shoot-out while innocent people were caught in the middle. And Trishia was no exception. Just the thought of Lucy being in the same house as the intruder made her tremble with fear. She tried not to think about all the things that could happen. Instead, she focused on the sounds and shadows surrounding her.

The policewoman’s head throbbed and she could still feel the blood steadily trickle down the side of her face. She could not help wondering what she had been hit with. Probably the butt of a gun. But no matter what it had been, it had given her a terrible headache.

Making her way down the hallway, Trishia concentrated on her breathing, which became increasing difficult when the sound of a gunshot broke the night silence. Her whole body froze and she had to fight the urge to turn around and run outside to see if Fiona, Robin and Peter were alright.

Damn ! What’s going on ? Oh, God, please, let it be alright. I’ve got to get everybody out of the house. I need to get to Lucy…

The door to the bedroom where Lucy was supposed to be asleep was only a few steps away and Trishia threw all caution in the wind. She took three long strides, making sure to keep her eyes and ears wide open and opened the door.

Everything seemed to be quiet and Trishia’s eyes flew to the bed where she had left her exhausted partner earlier that evening. But then her breathing hitched and she had to reach out to steady herself against the wall, fighting the sudden dizziness that almost made her lose her balance.

The bed was empty.
part 17
After Trishia had tucked her in, Lucy had almost immediately gone to sleep. The only thing she could remember was her partner kissing her on the forehead while, at the same time, her warm hand rested on her belly.

She had been very tired. The stressful events in combination with her pregnancy had left Lucy completely drained and the moment she had crawled into bed she only had one wish: that Trishia could join her. But her partner had a job to do and although Lucy was worried about what could happen during the night, her body almost screamed for some rest. Even if it would only be for a few hours…

But Lucy’s sleep was restless. The concern about Trishia, Fiona and Robin constantly broke through the peaceful, unconscious state of sleep and every so often Lucy awoke with a start.

Eying the alarmclock, she let out a frustrated sigh, wondering if Sam, who, according to the plan, was in her office, had any news. She had promised Trishia to try and sleep as much as she could, but not knowing what was going on was robbing her of any rest.

Lucy’s mind traveled to her partner and she could feel her heart skip a beat when, all of a sudden, she remembered that dreadful moment, a few years ago, when Trishia had been shot. The memory was vivid and very disconcerting.

“That does it,” she mumbled, pushing herself up. “I need to know.”

Just as she swung her legs out of the bed, a soft tapping on the window almost made her jump in surprise. Pressing her hand against her chest where she could feel her heart beat wildly, Lucy took a deep breath, trying to regain her composure.

Her eyes darted between the window and the door and she wondered how long it would take her to dash out of the bedroom and run to the office. The calm presence of Sam would make her feel better, she knew. Of course the tall Dutch woman was not Trishia, but she would still make a good protector.

“Luce,” a voice hissed outside the window and again somebody tapped against the window.

With a frown, Lucy stood up. The voice had been a familiar one and with a few quick strides she covered the distance to the window. Pushing aside the curtain, Lucy’s eyes went wide when she noticed her sister and Sam, both holding a sleeping child in their arms.

“You need to get out of there, Luce,” Jody whispered.

“Through the window?” Lucy whispered back, although she had no idea why they had to be so secretive. “What’s going on?”

“Intruder,” Sam answered calmly. “Get some shoes and climb out the window. I’ll help you.”

Sam’s voice had been calm, but the urgent undertone had not escaped Lucy and without wasting any more time, she stepped back into the room to put on her sandals and made it back to the window within a few seconds.

It wasn’t high, but Lucy was still grateful for Sam’s hand around her arm, steadying her as she climbed out of the window.

“I haven’t done this since I was a teenager,” she mumbled. “Where are we going?”

“Stable,” Jody answered, squeezing her sister’s hand.

“Where’s Trish?” Lucy asked, obediently following Jody and Sam in the darkness.

“She’s in the house.”

“What?”

Lucy suddenly stopped dead in her tracks and she would have turned around and walked back if Sam had not grabbed her arm.

“There’s nothing you can do, Lucy,” Jody said in a soft voice.

“What happened?”

“Trish and Peter were on their way down to the apartment, when we found out there was an intruder in the house, so Trish came back up,” Sam answered, knowing the long version of the story could be told later. “The police are on their way up and I don’t want anyone in the house.”

“Is…is it that Barry Miles?”

“No, he’s down at the apartment,” Jody answered. “I…”

Jody’s words were interrupted by the sound of a gunshot and all three women gasped in horror, knowing full well what that sound could imply.

“Oh, God,” Lucy moaned, suddenly feeling sick to her stomach. “What’s going on?”

Trishia took a few deep breaths to try and calm her racing heart. Her eyes were still glued to the empty bed and with a conscious effort she tore them away to scan the room. The darkness made it hard to look for clues about her lover’s disappearance and, muttering under her breath, Trishia quickly stepped towards the bed. Sliding her hand underneath the sheets her heart skipped a beat when she could feel the lingering warmth of Lucy’s body.

Lucy could not be far away, the policewoman realized and, with a grim expression on her face, she turned around to enter the hallway, so she could continue her search for the intruder. All of a sudden, she halted in her movements.

Wait a minute. If the sheets are still warm, Lucy must have left only minutes ago. Why didn’t I hear or see anything in the hallway?

Quickly turning around again Trishia scanned the room once more. This time her eyes noticed the gentle swaying of the curtains, moved by the nightly breeze.

“I’ll be damned,” she mumbled, almost running to the window. When she pushed away the fabric she was able to look outside. What she saw almost made her knees give out from pure relief.

Hidden by the shadows of the trees, the policewoman noticed the familiar figures of Sam, Jody and Lucy make their way to the stable. Pressing her forehead against the cool glass of the window, Trishia let out a shuddering breath. It took her a few moments to regain her composure and, when she finally did, she slowly turned around, fighting the urge to jump out of the window and run after her lover.

“Good thinking, girls,” she mumbled to herself. “The only thing I need to worry about now is our intruding friend.”

Trishia pressed her ear against the door and listened intently. At first, the only thing she was able to hear was the beating of her own heart but, after a little while, her ears picked up another sound. With a frown, she pressed even closer to the smooth, cool wood and unconsciously Trishia held her breath. There it was again, the soft, almost whispering sound of a doorknob being turned.

Judging from its direction, Trishia concluded somebody was trying to sneak into the adjacent room, which was the children’s bedroom. With a smug smile, she tried to imagine the expression on the intruder’s face when he would find the room empty.

Using the back of her hand to wipe away the blood on the side of her face, Trishia squared her shoulders and, after taking a deep breath, her fingers grabbed the doorknob.

****

After what had seemed hours, but only had been less than five minutes, the first police car came to a full stop in front of the verandah.

“Miss McDonnell?” a vaguely familiar voice called out, making Fiona look up.

“Mac ! We’ re here. Peter got shot and he’s losing a lot of blood.”

Robin winced at the small quiver in Fiona’s voice, knowing Peter Jones’ situation was not a good one.

“Hang on, sweetie, help is on the way,” Jennifer Diaz’ tense voice suddenly sounded behind her and when Fiona glanced aside, she noticed the policewoman kneeling next to Peter Jones. “Hey, Pete, hang in there, mate. We’ll get you to a hospital in no time. Help is on the way.”

Peter Jones cracked open one eye and tried to smile.

“I’m hanging,” he whispered. “Make sure to…shackle…”

“Ssshh, don’t speak,” Jennifer Diaz urged. “Mac’s on it. He’s got the bloke handcuffed and ready to haul his ass away.”

“G…good,” Peter whispered, closing his eyes.

“Stay with us, mate,” Jennifer said, the worry and fear clearly audible in her voice. “You can’t go to sleep, not now. You gotta stay with us.”

“I’m so…tired,” Peter whispered in a voice that became weaker by the minute.”So…cold.”

“Tough luck,” Fiona spoke with gritted teeth. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and she angrily wiped them away. “If…if…if you give up, I’ll…I’ll tell Sharon about that blonde, who was chasing you. Remember that secretary? She had the hots for you.”

Peter Jones managed a weak smile and, with tired eyes, he looked up at Fiona, noticing the tears. His eyes widened.

“You’ re… crying,” he whispered.

“Allergies,” Fiona sniffed, which made Peter chuckle. He winced in pain and shot the photographer an accusing look.

“I’m…allergic…to bullets…as…well,” he breathed with a grin.

“I think we all are,” Robin remarked, sinking on her knees next to Fiona. Mac and another police officer had handcuffed Barry Miles and, without speaking one word, they had hauled the big man to his feet and had unceremoniously dumped him in the back of one of the police cars, slamming the door shut.

“It’ s good…to…see…the two of…you together,” Peter said with difficulty. “You make…a cute…couple. Love…becomes you…Fi.”

“Thank you,” Fiona answered with a quivering bottom lip. She could feel Robin’s arm settle around her waist and immediately she leaned in closer, needing the contact as much as she needed the air she was breathing.

“Don’t give up, Pete, please, don’t give up,” she begged. “Don’t let that moron win.”

“I’m…try…ing,” was the whispered answer.

“Jenn !” Mac suddenly shouted from the police car. “They’ re sending a chopper and need all the light they can get.”

“They’ll have it,” she shouted back, jumping to her feet, glad she could at least do something. She knew the life was slowly trickling out of Peter Jones’ body and time had become their biggest enemy. She knew Trishia’s partner would never make it down the hill in an ambulance.

“Turn the cars around,” she shouted, jumping off the verandah. “We need to make a big circle.”

Jody carefully sat down on a bale of hay, still holding a sleeping child in her arms. Sam had taken a seat next to her and, impatiently, they were waiting for the rest of the family to show up.

“Maybe I should go down and see what’s up,” Sam suggested.

“No, wait, honey, give them some time,” Jody objected in a soft voice. “Maybe the boys were hard to wake up.”

“And we know Mom can sleep through almost anything,” Lucy sighed.

“I just want everybody out of there,” Sam mumbled.

“I know, honey,” Jody replied, putting a hand on Sam’s knee. “Just a few more minutes, I…here they come,” she sighed in relief.

“Thank goodness,” Sam exhaled slowly. “I…here’s the police as well,” she continued in a tense voice. “I can see the lights.”

Jody could only nod. Her insides felt like they were twisted in knots and she constantly had to fight the urge to sink to her knees and throw up. She knew Fiona and Robin were down at the apartment and, after hearing the gunshots and seeing the flashing lights of the police cars, her worry and fear had increased tenfold.

“I’m scared, Pea,” Lucy’s quivering voice sounded next to her and Jody nodded.

“So am I,” she whispered, while her eyes took in the dark forms who were quickly coming their way. She clearly recognized the tall, slender form of Yarra and the smaller outline of Alice. The two women were walking hand-in-hand and, in spite of everything, Jody smiled. Alice had come such a long way and Yarra had been so patient, even though the dark-skinned girl had fallen for the blonde the first time she had laid eyes on her. She had waited, giving Alice the time she needed to recover and fight all the demons from her past: lending a shoulder to cry on every time the blonde needed one, never requesting anything in return.

You know, Jody, even though she might never return my feelings, I’d still feel blessed to have her as my friend, Yarra’s words echoed through Jody’s mind and again she smiled. Alice had returned Yarra’s feelings and Jody and Sam could not have been happier.

****

The small group entered the stable and took seats on the bales of hay that were lined up against the wall. Their faces were withdrawn and tense. They were quiet. Everyone was in different stages of worry and fear.

“I hope it will be over soon,” Michael mumbled, his voice hoarse. “You think the police will come up to the house, Sam? It seems to me that they’re taking their time.”

“I’m sure they will, Mike, as soon as they’ve secured that bloke,” Joshua spoke up, forcing himself to believe his sister was alright. Michael and he both had heard the gunshots and if Michael had not stopped him, Joshua would have pelted down the hill, looking for Robin.

“My sister’s down there too, mate,” Michael had urged. “But we can’t run down the hill like a couple of idiots and be in the way. I know it’s hard, but we’ve got to wait.”

Jody’s tired eyes scanned the stable, taking in all the tired faces, but, all of a sudden, she sat upright, her eyes wide with shock.

“Sam ! Where’s Mom?”

“Yarra?” Sam asked, rising to her feet.

“Oh, God,” the dark-skinned girl responded in horror. “The window was open and I thought she was with you.”

“Mom always sleeps with the window open,” Michael whispered.

“Oh, no, we’ll have to go back and get her,” Alice whispered, already on her feet.

“No, I’ll go,” Sam decided, handing her sleeping daughter to Lucy, who immediately cradled the little girl against her chest. “Nobody leaves this barn. Please,” Sam added with a plea.

“Be careful, Sam,” Jody urged in a strangled voice.

“I will be,” Sam promised, bending down to give her partner a quick but heartfelt kiss. “I’ll be right back,” she whispered against Jody’s lips, before turning around and leaving the stable.

****

Joan McDonnell had not been able to sleep, at all. She was worried sick, afraid for her daughter’s safety and well-being. Even though she had faith in Trishia and could think of no one else who would be more suitable for the job of keeping her children out of harm’s way, she still could not relax.

Her mind had drifted back to the time when all her children were still living at home. At times they had been a rowdy bunch, but, all in all, they had always been good children. It was such a shame her ex-husband never really could see it that way. He wanted his children to grow up into people he wanted them to be, not into the individuals they strived to become. He never saw the beauty of their characters, just their flaws.

Staring at the ceiling, Joan McDonnell’s eyes took in the display of shadows and she smiled. Jody would be able to come up with a story, based on the shadowy figures on the ceiling. It was a playful past-time she and Fiona had indulged in many times, when they were children. Fiona had loved all the stories her big sister had managed to come up with and she had the uncanny ability to remember them all. Jody could never get away with telling the same story twice, because young Fiona would not have any of that.

Fiona.

Joan McDonnell sighed and turned on her side, staring at the window. She had grown up so fast. Even as a child, Fiona had been so much older than her peers. Not in years, but in wisdom and experience. Many times Joan McDonnell had worried about her youngest child, hoping her smart, quick- witted daughter would one day find somebody she could be herself with. Completely. Without feeling the need to hide her charming and warm personality behind a huge, brick wall.

“I guess the time has come,” Joan McDonnell whispered to herself and again she smiled. She had never expected Fiona to fall so fast, so deeply and so completely. But it pleased her, especially when she noticed her youngest daughter had not tried to outrun her feelings for Robin. Instead, it seemed like she had embraced and welcomed them.

“I’m so proud of you, my little Red,” Joan McDonnell whispered.

With a sigh she pushed herself up in the bed and swung her legs over the side.

“How can I sleep at a time like this?” she muttered. “Maybe some hot tea may help me relax.”

Just when she stood up the sound of a gunshot shattered the silence and immediately Joan McDonnell let herself sink down on the bed, her hand pressed against her chest, her heart pounding wildly.

“Oh, my God,” she whispered. Please, protect the girls. Don’t let them be…hurt,” she ended breathlessly.

Joan McDonnell strained her ears, trying to catch a sound, any sound, that could give her a clue as to what was going on. But there was nothing but silence. Remembering Trishia’s strict orders to them all, to stay away from the office, made Joan McDonnell hesitate. She wished she could go to the office and ask Sam, or Trishia if she was still there, what had happened. But Joan McDonnell did not want to be in the way. Trishia had been very clear on the subject. Only Sam, Jody, Trishia and Peter were allowed in. They needed to be able to focus completely on the task at hand.

Nibbling her bottom lip Joan McDonnell tried to come up with the best plan of action.

“This is ridiculous,” she decided after a few moments. “For heaven’s sake, it’s my daughter down there. I need to know.”

Grabbing her robe Joan McDonnell quickly donned it and headed for the door.

“A mother shouldn’t need an excuse,” she muttered.

****

Cautiously closing the bedroom door behind her, Trishia stepped in the hallway and, holding her breath, listened to the sounds surrounding her. In the distance she could hear the call of a night bird and she thought she also heard the slamming of a door down at the apartment. She knew that could mean a few things, one of them being Peter having been able to subdue Barry Miles. Trishia did not allow herself to think anything else. Not yet. She had no time to worry. She needed to catch the intruder and lock him up, so her family could get their lives back again and she and Lucy could enjoy their pregnancy and prepare for the birth of their child.

Trishia cocked her head and listened intently. She thought she had heard a sound from one of the rooms across the hall, but she wasn’t sure. All her attention was focused on the bedroom next to the twins’ room.

Breathing in deeply, Trishia detected a trace of something that resembled a man’s cologne and mentally she shook her head. What an idiot.

Returning her focus on the twins’ room, Trishia half turned, ready to surge forward as soon as the door was opened. This time she would have the element of surprise.

The police woman did not have to wait long. Her whole body stiffened when, unexpectedly, the door across the hall was opened and before she could even turn around, she felt the barrel of a gun press against her neck.

“Drop the gun,” a male voice hissed.

Trishia’s mind came to a screeching halt when the gun was pressed into the vulnerable skin of her neck and she swallowed hard. She had no choice. With a soft thud the gun hit the carpeted floor and, immediately, Trishia felt herself being pushed from behind.

“Turn around, bitch,” the voice instructed and, slowly, Trishia obeyed, while her mind was frantically working on a solution for her predicament.

“We finally meet in person,” the voice continued. “Senior-Sergeant Waters, am I correct?”

“And you are?” Trishia replied coldly.

“Your worst nightmare,” the man whispered, chuckling at his own joke.

“Gerry Wilkins,” Trishia continued, as calm as she could. “Fancy meeting you here. Did you run out of dogs to do your dirty work for you?”

“Oh, no,” Gerry Wilkins smiled, waving one hand as if chasing away a fly. “There are plenty of dogs around. You’ve no idea what people will do for money,” he chuckled again. “But I wanted it done right, this time. So, I had to come here myself,” he ended cheerfully.

“While Barry Miles serves as a distraction?” Trishia casually remarked, hoping she could keep the man talking. Maybe, if she could buy herself some time, she would be able to turn the tables on him. All she needed was one moment of inattentiveness. Two seconds would be enough to reach behind her back and pull out her back-up gun that was stuck in the waistband of her jeans.

“Wow, you found out his name,” Gerry Wilkins chuckled. “I knew you were smart. It’s such a pity I’ll have to put a bullet through the center of your intelligence.”

“Why Sam, Gerry? What has she done to you?”

“Why not?” Gerry Wilkins spat, suddenly sounding furious. “She ruined my life.”

“How?” Trishia asked, inching away from the wall. She knew the livingroom was close by and maybe, if she was lucky, she could dive out of the way, before Gerry Wilkins could pull the trigger. All she had to do was to keep him talking.

“How? I want to understand, Gerry. I’ve invested a lot of time on this case.”

“Oh, that’s right,” he smiled, scratching his chin. “You’ve been trying to nail me ever since my plan to ruin The Reef fell apart. I should have known better than to trust William Jenkins and Joe Michaels. What a pair of idiots.”

“So they did work for you?”

“Joe did,” Gerry Wilkins shrugged. “Bill was just one of those fools who gambled and lost. Literally,” he giggled.

“Why did you want The Reef?”

“Why?” Gerry Wilkins echoed. “Why? You’ re definitely not a business-woman, are you? There’s a lot of money in that place. I tried to buy it, years ago, but the old fool Stevens didn’t want to go for it. I offered him millions. Millions,” Gerry Wilkins repeated while his voice rose. “When William Jenkins came into the picture I had it withing my reach,” he hissed. “I almost had it and then…poof! Samantha Stevens appeared. The bitch. She ruined my plans.”

Trishia tried to sound casual, while inching back towards the living room. She could not turn around and look, but instinctively she knew she was almost out of the hallway.

“But that was years ago,” she replied softly, keeping her eyes on the man in front of her.

“Revenge is better served cold,” Gerry Wilkins whispered. “Besides, I wanted to buy that mountain resort. It would have been an investment that could have brought me millions of dollars. She stole it away from me.”

“She bought it,” Trishia calmly corrected the man who seemed less balanced and lucid by the moment.

“She ruined me,” he repeated, his voice full of menace. “And you know the irony of it all? She doesn’t even care about money. All she cares about is her precious little lover and her brats.” Gerry Wilkins took a step closer to Trishia and she tried not to wince when he poked his gun in her chest.

“I’m gonna take away what she values most, that will be my revenge,” he giggled. “First, I’ll do away with the brats and then…I’ll let her watch when I send that cute redhead to Tartarus. That will surely break her,” he ended with a growl.

“But now, I’ll have to deal with you,” Gerry Wilkins continued. “I really didn’t want to kill you, but you leave me no choice.”

He raised his gun and, despite the darkness, Trishia could see the man smile sweetly.

“Any last requests?”

“None you would honor,” Trishia mumbled, slowly reaching behind her back, hoping the madman in front of her would not be able to notice the subtle move.

“In that case, say a prayer,” he cheerfully announced. “Goodbye, Senior-Sergeant Waters, it sure was a pleasure to…”

All of a sudden a few things happened at the same time. Trishia threw her body to the side, while simultaneously the light in the hallway was switched on, temporarily blinding both the police woman and Gerry Wilkins. In a reflex, he pulled the trigger, but the bullet missed its victim, because Trishia, who had been able to see the shadowy figure in the hallway behind Gerry Wilkins, had responded a fraction of a second faster.

Before Trishia could pull her gun and get back to her feet, another gunshot reverberated from the walls. Gerry Wilkins let out a howl of pain and sank to his knees, clutching his thigh where a bullet had gone straight through.

“Nobody hurts my family,” Joan McDonnell’s voice sounded and, with renewed respect, Trishia looked at her mother-in-law while she scrambled to her feet.

She quickly picked up the gun Gerry Wilkins had dropped and stepped back towards Joan McDonnell, never taking her eyes off the squirming Gerry Wilkins.

“Are you alright?” she asked softly, using her free hand to rub the older woman’s back. It was obvious Joan McDonnell was upset. Her face was pale and she was visibly trembling.

“I think so,” she whispered. “I didn’t kill him, did I?”

“No, it’s just a flesh wound,” Trishia reassured her. “He’ll live. Nice shot, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Joan McDonnell whispered. “I heard you two talking and I heard his threats. When I opened the door, I stepped on a gun, so I picked it up.”

“I didn’t know you could use a gun.”

“I didn’t, either,” Joan McDonnell sighed. “My dad taught me when I was a teenager. He took me to the shooting range. I guess I remembered his lessons.”

“You sure did,” Trishia smiled. “Remind me to stay on your good side.”

Joanne McDonnell mustered up a small smile and leaned back against the wall, needing the support.

“How can somebody hate that much?” she whispered.

“He’s insane,” Trishia answered, equally soft. “And jealous of Sam’s success.”

The subject of her thoughts suddenly came flying out of one the bedrooms and stared at the scene in front of her with a bewildered look.

“Trish. Mom, are you alright? Trish, you’re bleeding,” Sam panted.

“It’s nothing,” Trishia shrugged. “And yes, we’ re fine. Sam, meet Gerry Wilkins.”

“I know him,” Sam responded, shooting the man on the floor an ice-cold stare. “I should have known you were behind this, Gerry. Especially after the visit of your stupid, little brother.”

“Ira’s an idiot,” Gerry Wilkins answered with a hiss. “But you’re the bitch, Sam. You took away all I had.”

“You’ re insane,” Sam sighed, shaking her head. “I never took anything that belonged to you. Just because you wanted the mountain resort didn’t make it yours. My bid was higher, so I got it. It’s that simple, Gerry.”

“I needed that resort,” Gerry Wilkins spat, temporarily forgetting about the pain in his leg. “I needed The Reef. You Stevens’ have it all. Why can’t you let me have mine? The resort was my only chance to get out of debt.”

“Your debt,” Trishia replied calmly. “It’s time you take responsibility for your own actions, Mr.Wilkins, and stopped blaming everybody else.”

“At least Miles will have offed your precious little sister-in-law,” Gerry Wilkins used his trump card. “Don’t think for a moment they could have escaped him again. Didn’t you hear that helicopter? I’m sure they are bringing the body-bag. Barry thinks you killed William Jenkins. I told him,” Gerry Wilkins giggled. “All he wanted to do was hurt you and I bet he did.”

“Bet again,” an angry voice sounded from the doorway.

****

The police officers hardly had time to turn their vehicles in a big circle, illuminating a clearing near the house that was big enough for a helicopter to land, when the med-flight arrived. Carefully, but without hesitancy, the pilot landed his machine and immediately three people jumped out of the helicopter.

They ran towards the verandah and before Fiona and Robin knew what was happening, they were gently pushed aside, the flight nurse and a doctor started to work on Peter. Within a couple of minutes the policeman was hooked up to two IV’s, a portable ECG and oxygen.

“Will…will he be alright?” Fiona asked, the fear evident in her voice.

“I don’t know, love,” the elderly nurse responded. “We need to get him to the OR as soon as possible.”

Fiona nodded and felt Robin’s arms pull her into a hug as Peter Jones was strapped to the board they would use to carry him to the helicopter.

“Don’t give up, Pete,” she shouted when the medical team left the verandah. “Fight!”

Peter weakly raised his hand and Fiona let out a sob, pressing her face in the crook of Robin’s neck.

“This is a nightmare,” she whispered.

Robin could not answer. Her throat was constricted with unshed tears and she swallowed hard to get rid of the lump that prevented her from speaking.

“I need to get back up to the house,” Fiona decided, slowly pulling away from Robin’s embrace. “I don’t think…”

Her head jerked up and with wide eyes she looked at an equally shocked Robin.

“That was a gunshot,” she whispered, feeling as if her world had come to a stop.

“I need to go back up there,” she repeated, flinching when a second shot pierced the air. “I need to go.”

Fiona slipped away from Robin, who had tried to increase her grip, but the photographer was taller and stronger.

“Fiona! You can’t. Wait till the police…Oh, crap.”

Fiona didn’t wait for Robin to finish. She had already jumped off the verandah and was running back up the hill, followed by a determined Kurt who was, thankfully, not seriously injured after his landing in the rosebush.

Without giving herself time to think things over, Robin leaped over the railing of the verandah and sprinted after the photographer who had already disappeared into the night.

All heads turned to the source of the voice and three pair of eyes went wide at the sight of an angry, half-clad Fiona. The tall woman was only wearing a pair of shorts and a dark-green bra which, Trishia could not help noticing, matched the color of her eyes perfectly.

“Fiona! Are you alright?” Joan McDonnell exclaimed, stepping closer to her daughter. “Are you hurt? There’s blood…”

“It’s not mine,” Fiona answered in a tired voice.

“Robin?” Sam gasped.

“I’m fine, Sam,” Robin panted when she came skidding into the hall, almost bumping into Fiona, who had to wrap her arms around the other woman to keep them both from toppling over.

A frustrated bark sounded from outside and Sam shot Fiona a questioning look.

“Kurt’s fine,” she hastily replied. “Just a few scratches.”

“Whose blood is it, Fi?” Trishia asked, aware of the nervous ball in the pit of her stomach. Fiona had, uncharacteristically avoided her eyes and the police woman was rapidly becoming worried.

“It’s…” Fiona swallowed hard, casting down her eyes and blindly grabbing Robin’s hand for support. “It’s Peter’s,” she whispered. “Barry Miles shot him. The med-flight just picked him up.” Fiona took a deep breath and raised her eyes, meeting a pair of shocked green-blue ones.

“It doesn’t look good, Trish,” she whispered, feeling tears roll down her cheeks.

Breathing suddenly became a lot harder and, with trembling fingers, Trishia pushed a strand of hair away from her forehead, while images of a laughing Peter and his family filled her mind.

“Somebody needs to be with Sharon,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. “I will go there. If…,” she swallowed hard. “Peter would want me to be there.”

Sam made a conscious effort to push her anxiety and fear about Peter’s condition to the background. It was clear that Trishia was shocked to the core. The tall policewoman was exhausted and looked like she could pass out at any given time.

“Mom,” Sam addressed Joan McDonnell. “Could you please take Trishia into the kitchen and give her something to drink, before she keels over? No, Trish,” Sam continued, seeing her friend was about to object. “You’re in no condition to do anything right now. You need to sit down, rest for a little while and then we’ll find a way to get you to Sharon. “

“But…Gerry Wilkins…” Trish argued in a tired voice.

“We’ll keep an eye on him, don’t worry,” Robin promised with a grim expression on her face. “He won’t go anywhere.”

“We’ll make sure of that,” Fiona added, her dark-green eyes flashing when she looked at the bleeding man on the ground. “If he moves, I’ll step on his leg.”

“Fiona!” Joan McDonnell warned her youngest daughter, giving her a stern look, while Sam and Robin had to turn away to hide their smiles.

“Come on, Trishia,” Joan McDonnell continued, grabbing the tall woman’s arm. “Let’s get you fixed up with some fresh coffee,” she suggested, knowing her daughter-in-law still had a long night ahead of her. “And I need to look at that cut on your head.”

“I need to see Lucy,” Trishia responded, but she let herself be led to the kitchen.

As soon as she sat down at the huge table, the policewoman grabbed her cell phone and speed-dialed a number. Within a couple of seconds, she had a response.

“Inspector, we’ve got both of them, Barry Miles and Gerry Wilkins. Pete got shot though, he’s on his way to the hospital,” Trishia swallowed hard and rubbed her tired eyes. “It doesn’t look good…What?…Alright, yes, of course. I’m sorry, I’m a little tired right now. Oh, by the way, I need an ambulance for Wilkins….got shot in the leg…,” Trishia listened to the woman on the other side of the line and involuntarily her eyes traveled to Joan McDonnell who was busying herself making a huge pot of coffee.

“No, it wasn’t I, Inspector,” Trishia answered with a small smile. “It’s a long story…I’ll give you a full report later….Alright….No, I’ll be there as soon as I can. I need to be there, Pete would expect nothing less from me. Sure…thank you…”

Trishia shut off the phone and looked at the door when there was a polite knock.

“Come in.”

The door opened and Mac Drummond and Jennifer Diaz stepped inside the kitchen, both police officers looking extremely uncomfortable.

“It’s good to see you, Mac, Jennifer,” Trishia greeted them. “Any news on Pete?”

“Not yet, Senior-Sergeant,” Mac answered in his deep voice.

“He was still conscious when they flew off,” Jennifer related, the worry clearly audible in her voice. “I take that as a good sign. I know it’s gonna be a tough one for Pete, but I’ve…I’ve,” she swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “I need something to hold on to.”

Trishia nodded in understanding and pointed towards the hall, where Mac and Jennifer could see Sam leaning against the wall, while she was softly talking to somebody they could not see.

“There’s some trash that needs to be picked up and hauled away,” Trishia said, not able to hide the anger and disgust in her voice. “His name is Gerry Wilkins and he will be a protege of the state for a very long time.”

Jennifer Diaz’ eyes widened and she looked at Trishia with unbelieving eyes.

“Gerry Wilkins, the banker?” she asked.

“The one and only,” Trishia nodded. “But he’s more than just a banker. You can add burglary, assault with deadly intent and conspiracy for murder to his resume. He’s a sweetheart,” she ended in a sarcastic voice.

“We’ll take the trash out for you, Senior-Sergeant,” Mac responded dryly, which earned him a grateful look from Trishia.

“Thanks, guys.”

The tall policewoman pushed her chair back and sent Joan McDonnell an apologetic look.

“I will have the coffee and I will have my head examined, ” she promised with a smile. “But I really need to see Lucy. I’ll bring them down from the stable. It’s safe now.”

“We’ll make sure he’ll be gone by the time you get back,” Jennifer Diaz promised, slapping handcuffs around Gerry Wilkins’ wrists with obvious delight.

“I’ll come with you, Trish,” Sam said, pushing herself away from the wall. With the arrival of the two police officers, she didn’t need to keep an eye on the intruder any longer. “I want my family back in the house,” she added with a smile, putting a hand on Trishia’s shoulder to give it a friendly squeeze.

The two women walked towards the backdoor but, before they stepped outside, Sam looked over her shoulder.

“Fi, you’re welcome to put on one of my shirts,” she suggested with a wink, grinning when Fiona raised an eyebrow and flashed her a tired smile.

“I don’t know, Sam,” the photographer answered. “Walking around in my bra gives me a sense of freedom. I’m starting to like it.”

Sam just shook her head and followed Trishia outside, chuckling when she could hear Joan McDonnell urging her daughter to ‘clean up and get some clothes on’.

“Alright, alright,” Fiona sighed, feeling dead tired. “I’ll wash up and get one of Sam’s shirts to put on.”

“Do you mind some company?” Robin asked softly, not willing to let Fiona out of her sight yet. The night’s events had been traumatic and she knew Fiona was trying to put up her familiar aloof front, but Robin was determined to break through the layer of feigned indifference as soon as she could.

Their eyes met and for a split second Robin expected Fiona to decline her offer politely, but then the almost cool expression in the dark-green eyes was replaced by one of anguish and pain and Fiona slowly nodded.

“I’d love some company,” she answered in a hoarse voice.

“Thank you,” Robin answered softly and Fiona sent her a small smile.

“We’ll be right back, Mom,” Fiona promised, grabbing Robin’s hand and pulling her in the direction of Sam and Jody’s bedroom.

“Take your time, girls,” Joan McDonnell answered, grateful she could keep busy with preparing coffee and snacks for her family. It prevented her from thinking too much about what had happened. It had been years and years since she had held a weapon, let alone fired one. Inwardly, she shivered when she realized that, if she had aimed wrong, she could have killed Gerry Wilkins. Or even Trishia.

With a soft moan, Joan McDonnell pressed her hand against her stomach, willing herself not to throw up.

It didn’t happen, Joan. It didn’t happen. Trishia is alright and Gerry Wilkins only has a flesh wound. Forget about ‘what if’…it didn’t happen…God, please, let this nightmare be over now, please!

****

“I guess I should wash up first,” Fiona spoke softly, eying the streaks of blood across her arms and torso.

“Yes, I guess that’s a good idea,” Robin answered, equally soft. “Is this the bathroom?” she asked, pointing at a door and Fiona nodded.

“Good, I’ll run some warm water for you,” she said opening the door and switching on the light. She walked towards the sink and adjusted the temperature of the water, so it would be nice and warm. Her eyes stared at the clear liquid, while her mind traveled back to the frightening moment Peter Jones had been shot and Robin had thought she would have no other choice than touse her weapon against Barry Miles. Fiona’s desperate but well-aimed kick had saved her from having to do that.

With a sigh, Robin stretched the tired muscles in her back and shoulders and, in the reflection of the mirror that was hanging over the sink, she saw the motionless figure of Fiona, leaning against the doorsill with a pained expression on her face.

“Come here, honey,” Robin spoke gently, extending her hand in invitation.

Fiona looked up and grabbed the offered hand, intertwining her fingers with Robin’s. She let herself bepulled toward the sink and without a word, Robin grabbed a washcloth and soap. Gently she washed away the bloodstains from Fiona’s skin, while the photographer stood in silence.

“I”m having a dejavu,” Fiona spoke after a long silence, referring to the first day they had met and Robin had to clean the cuts in Fiona’s face. “This time it’s not my blood, although it’s on my hands,” she ended in a whisper.

Robin’s hands stilled and the biologist looked up into a pair of dark-green eyes that were filled with pain, anguish and guilt.

“It’s not your fault,” she spoke gently, but forcefully.

“Oh, but it is,” Fiona replied in a hoarse voice. “If I hadn’t stepped closer, he wouldn’t have been able to pull that second gun. It is my fault.”

Robin dropped the washcloth in the sink and pulled Fiona towards a chair in the corner.

“Sit down,” she urged, pressing Fiona into the seat.

The photographer sank down without a protest and stared at the ground, not able to meet Robin’s eyes.

“Alright, now you listen to me and listen carefully,” Robin continued in a clear, no-nonsense voice, while she knelt in front of Fiona so she could look her into the eyes. “Look at me, Fiona.”

“I can’t,” Fiona whispered.

“But I want you to,” Robin answered warmly.”Please?”

Slowly the dark-green eyes Robin loved so much traveled up and finally met the biologist’s gaze.

“He would have pulled that gun anyway, no matter what,” Robin stated. “It was his last resort and he must have been pretty desperate, because he knew he had been beaten. Because you stepped closer we saw him pull it,” Robin grabbed Fiona’s hand in between her own and tenderly kissed the knuckles. “If you hadn’t done that, things could have been so much worse. So, at least now we had a chance to step aside. Besides, it was Peter’s reaction to pull Kurt awayand step in front of him. I’m sure he will tell you it was a risk he took.”

“If he survives,” Fiona answered with a trembling bottom lip. Her eyes filled with tears and, in spite of the photographer’s grief, Robin was grateful Fiona did not push her away, but let her be part of her pain.

“Come here,” the biologist sighed, pulling Fiona into the circle of her arms. She gently stroked the dark hair that cascaded over her shoulder, while her other arm was wrapped around Fiona’s back, holding her close.

The photographer cried soundlessly, staining Robin’s shirt with her tears and the biologist let her. She just sat on her knees, ignoring the cramping pain in her back. Instead, all her focus went to the woman in her arms, whom she had met such a short time ago and yet, to Robin, it felt like she had known her forever.

Finally, after a longtime, Fiona raised her head from Robin’s shoulder and looked at the other woman with red, puffy eyes.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Cupping Fiona’s face between her hands, Robin tenderly kissed her forehead, her cheeks, the tip of her nose and finally her lips.

“I’ll always be there for you,” she promised.

“I know,” Fiona smiled and Robin was pleased the haunted expression had disappeared from the dark-green depths. “I love you.”

Robin swallowed hard and felt the tears sting the back of her eyes.

“I love you, too,” she whispered.

****

“If Sam is not here in five minutes, I’m going back down,” Yarra decided, jumping up from her seat next to Alice. “I can’t stand this any longer. The waiting is driving me nuts.”

“Wait till you and Alice are ready to start a family. That will be nine months of waiting,” Lucy joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Alice chuckled and reached out to grab her lover’s hand.

“Sit down, Yar, please, your pacing is making me seasick.”

Reluctantly, the dark-skinned woman sank back down in her seat, immediately feeling Alice’s arm slip around her waist, giving her a loving squeeze.

“I’m sure Sam will be back up as soon as she can,” Michael spoke from his spot on the floor. He was sitting in front of Jody, using her legs as a backrest. “I’m not worried about that.” He swallowed hard and let out a shuddering breath. “I’m more worried about Fiona and Robin.”

“Me too,” Joshua mumbled next to him. “I don’t like all those flashing lights and the fact that there’s a helicopter down there…” Robin’s brother didn’t finish his sentence, but everybody was mulling over the same question:’Who had been hurt?’

“I hope Mom sleeps through all this,” Lucy spoke softly, not able to hide the worry in her voice. “I don’t believe that…”

She paused in mid-sentence and Jody, who was sitting next to her, could hear her breathing hitch.

“It’s Trish and Sam,” Lucy almost sobbed in relief. “They’ re coming this way.”

Jody stood up, almost making her brother lose his balance, but Michael just grinned and quickly scrambled to his feet.

“It is them,” he smiled, recognizing the two tall figures who were rapidly approaching the stable. Even in the darkness, Sam’s slight limp was prominent.

As soon as the two women entered the stable, they were bombarded with questions but both Trishia and Sam needed one thing first; the close presence of their partners.

“Everybody is alright,” Sam spoke when she wrapped her arms around Jody and Timothy. “Fiona, Robin and Joan are all back in the house. They’re all safe.”

Trishia let out a deep sigh when she took Lucy in her arms, burying her face in the crook of her neck.

“I’ve been so worried about you,” she whispered. “But it’s all over now. We’ve got them, both of them.”

“Thank goodness,” Lucy sighed, turning her face so she could press her lips against Trishia’s cheek. Immediately, she could feel her lover flinch and with a determined gesture, Lucy pushed Trishia back so she could look at her face.

“You’re hurt,” she stated.

“Just a scratch,” Trishia shrugged.”You should see the other guy,” she added jokingly.

“Did…did you have to…?

“No, not me,” Trishia sighed. “I’ll tell the whole story later, alright? But it was your mother who saved the day.”

“Mom?” Lucy and Jody echoed simultaneously.

“Really?” Michael asked.

“Really,” Trishia smiled, wrapping her arm around Lucy’s shoulder in a one-armed hug. “But right now she’s making some coffee, so if we’d all go back to the house, we can swap stories.”

Immediately, Joshua and Michael bolted out of the stable. With a smile, Trishia took Taryn over from Lucy and handed the sleeping girl to Sam, exchanging a look of understanding with the tall blonde.

“We need to talk for a moment,” Trishia spoke softly, pulling Lucy closer.

“What happened?” her partner immediately asked, looking up at her lover with a worried glance.

“Peter got hurt,” Trishia explained in a voice that was hoarse with emotion. “Barry Miles shot him.”

“What?” Lucy whispered, feeling all blood drain from her face. “Is he doing…? Is he…?”

“I don’t know how he’s doing,” Trishia answered truthfully. “I haven’t seen him. Fiona said it doesn’t look good.”

“She was there?”

Trishia nodded and brushed her lips against Lucy’s cheek.

“She and Robin were both there. So was Kurt, I sent him down. I guess they can tell us the rest of the story. I’ve no idea what happened.”

“You’ re going to the hospital.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement.

“I have to,” Trishia answered.

“I know, Peter expects you to be there for Sharon, like he was there for me.”

“Exactly,” Trishia whispered.

“I’ll come with you,” Lucy decided.

“But…”

“I’ll come with you. I’m fine, the baby’s doing fine. I need to be there with you, Trish, unless…” Lucy took a deep breath and looked up at the woman she loved more than anything else in the world. “Unless you don’t…”

“I need you,” Trishia quickly responded. “I’ll always need you. Now more than ever.”

“Then I’ll come with you,” Lucy decided, cupping Trishia’s cheek and stroking the skin with her thumb. The policewoman leaned into the touch and kissed Lucy’s palm.

“Thank you,” was the whispered answer.

It was hours later. After drinking a freshly brewed cup of coffee and getting answers to a lot of questions, Trishia and Lucy had left for the hospital, anxious to hear about Peter’s condition and feeling the burning need to be with the policeman’s loved ones.

Fiona and Robin had followed suit, waving away all the objections the rest of the family had raised about their near-exhausted state. Fiona had told her family she needed to be in the hospital. Staying at home, near the phone, was a bigger torture than being able to pace in the hospital’s waiting room.

And so they had left, leaving the rest of their friends and family in the company of a handful of police officers who were busy writing down all the statements.

“Time crawls,” Fiona muttered, casting an angry glare at the clock on the wall. “It feels like we’ve been here for days.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?” Robin suggested in a soft voice.

Fiona looked across the room, where Sharon Jones was quietly waiting for news, her face pale and the fear and pain etched in the lines around her eyes.

Trishia and Lucy were sitting close to her, lending much needed support.

“No, let’s wait a little longer,” Fiona decided with a sigh. “It’s been almost four hours. I’m sure it won’t be much longer.”

Inside, her stomach was tied in knots and the huge amount of coffee she had been drinking had not helped her condition. Fiona was feeling sick and deep down inside she was afraid that, no matter what the news would be, it would make her give back the contents of her stomach.

“I’m glad you’ re here,” she confessed, glancing aside at Robin, who was leaning against the wall, staring at a faded picture on the opposite wall. It was a photo of an iceberg, the once bright white in stark contrast with the blue of the ocean and gray sky and she was trying to come up with the symbolism of hanging a picture like that in a room that was usually filled with anxious, nervous people, awaiting news about their loved ones.

I’m sure Fiona could come up with a better picture, she mused.

“I want to be with you,” she answered, turning her head and looking at the woman next to her, who sent her a small smile and grabbed her hand, needing the comforting, warm contact.

“I’m glad you decided not to join the police,” Fiona softly continued. “Being a conservation biologist is a lot safer. I’d be worried sick all the time if you were a police officer. I don’t know how Lucy does it.”

As if she could feel Fiona was talking about her, Lucy raised her head and sent her sister a questioning look.

“Are you alright?” she mouthed and Fiona nodded, raising an eyebrow in a silent question.

“I’m fine,” Lucy’s smile answered and Fiona smiled back.

“I can’t wait to meet their baby,” she sighed, leaning her head against Robin’s shoulder. “I just know that kid is going to be a handful, but he or she is going to be so special.”

“Boy or girl?” Robin asked with a smile.

“Girl,” Fiona answered without hesitation.

“Well, it’s a fifty percent chance. I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Robin replied, amused by Fiona’s self-confidence. “It’s not…”

Robin paused when the door to the waiting room was opened and a tired-looking surgeon, still clad in scrubs, appeared. Her heart skipped a beat and she could feel Fiona’s fingers grabbing her hand in a vice- like grip.

“Mrs. Jones?” the surgeon asked, a little unsure whom to address.

“Yes?” Sharon Jones answered in a quivering voice. Peter’s wife stood, supported by Trishia’s strong arm around her shoulders and looked at the surgeon with fear-filled eyes.

Doctor Walker mustered up a tired smile and gave Sharon a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Your husband is in the ICU. He lost a lot of blood, but we’ve been able to repair the damage. He’s very fit and healthy and I’m positive he’ll make a full recovery.”

“Oh, God,” Sharon Jones almost cried, pressing her hand against her mouth, her knees buckled and only Trishia’s strong grip prevented her from falling. The policewoman quickly sat the emotional woman back in her seat, while the surgeon kneeled in front of her, rubbing her cold hands.

“I’m sorry,” Sharon Jones stammered. “I…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Doctor Walker smiled. “Believe it or not, but I know what it’s like to sit and wait. I’ve been there and done that. Would you like to see Peter?”

“Oh, yes,” Sharon Jones sighed, wiping away the tears with the back of her hand.

“I’ll take you to him,” the surgeon promised, getting back to his feet.

“Thank you, doctor,” Trishia spoke.

“You’ re very welcome,” Doctor Walker smiled, before taking Sharon Jones’ arm and leading her from the waiting room to the ICU.

“If I wasn’t so darn tired, I’d suggest we’d go out and party,” Fiona sighed, having drawn some energy from the good news. “I’m so relieved I don’t know what to do!”

“Hug your girlfriend,” Lucy suggested, getting to her feet and demonstrating to her youngest sister exactly what she meant.

“Oh, yes,” Fiona replied, jumping up and pulling a smiling Robin into her arms. She buried her face in the curly hair and let out a contented sigh, feeling Robin’s arms settle around her back, pulling her even closer.

“I’m feeling the urgent need to kiss you,” she whispered in a shapely ear.

Robin chuckled and pulled her face away from Fiona’s shoulder, so she could look up at the taller woman.

“By all means, don’t let me stop you,” she smiled.

Fiona didn’t need any more encouragement. She ducked her head and claimed Robin’s lips in a sweet but solid kiss that left the other woman breathless. Robin softly moaned and briefly wondered if it would be a bad thing to make a spectacle of herself in the middle of a hospital.

“I said a hug, not an earthshattering kiss,” Lucy’s teasing voice penetrated Fiona’s warm, sensual haze. “Besides, who taught you to kiss like that? Robin looks like she will pass out if you keep that up.”

Reluctantly, Fiona pulled her lips away from Robin’s and kissed her playfully on the nose, before turning her attention to her sister.

“It’s a talent,” she answered calmly, hearing Robin chuckle.

She wrapped her arm around the biologist’s shoulders and pulled her close.

“And it takes two gifted kissers to create something earthshattering,” Fiona stated with a smug smile.

“I know,” Lucy laughed.

“Two peas from the same pod,” Trishia sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Just make sure junior won’t be pea number three or this planet is lost,” Fiona joked, pointing at Lucy’s belly.

She let go of Robin and stepped towards her sister to give her and Trishia a heartfelt hug.

“I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am Peter will be alright. I just…” Fiona shook her head and smiled. “Let’s all agree not to do this again. I’ve had enough of surgery waiting rooms.”

“Amen to that,” Trishia answered, playfully ruffling Fiona’s hair. “I’ll give Sam a call. You’d better go home and tuck yourself and Robin in, the two of you look exhausted.”

“We are,” Robin admitted. “Sleeping sounds really good to me.”

She sent Fiona a questioning look and the photographer nodded.

“We’ re going. If you happen to talk to Peter while you’re here, tell him to hurry up and get well.” Fiona turned around, grabbed Robin’s hand and pulled her towards the door. Before she walked out, she looked over her shoulder. “Tell him I don’t take my shirt off for just anyone,” she added with a grin, closing the door behind her.

Lucy looked up at Trishia with a puzzled expression on her face. The policewoman chuckled and grabbed her cell phone, dialing Sam and Jody’s number.

“I’ll explain in a minute,” she promised.

****

The sun was already high in the sky, a couple of its rays playfully peeking through a crack in the blinds. Little specs of dust danced in the light, creating a beam that seemed to be alive.

Robin stirred in her sleep and snuggled closer to the body she was wrapped around, her legs entangled with a pair of longer ones.

A soft, amused chuckled penetrated her sleep-filled mind and slowly she cracked open her eyes, squinting against the light.

“Good morning, sleepy head,” a warm voice greeted and Robin mumbled something unintelligible, rubbing her cheek against a cotton- clad shoulder.

“M’ing,” was her mumbled response.

Soft kisses rained on her cheeks and forehead and Robin smiled, letting out a happy smile.

“That’s a nice way to wake up. I could get used to that,” she sighed, opening her eyes once more, but this time her gaze was caught by a pair of gentle dark-green ones.

“Do you want to?” Fiona asked. “Getting used to it, I mean?”

“Very much so,” she truthfully answered.

“Maybe we should work on that,” Fiona suggested with a smile.

“I think we should,” Robin replied with a smile of her own.

“Do you know you look adorable in the morning?”

Robin laughed and pressed her face against Fiona’s chest, feeling the other woman’s arms settle around her.

“You must be in love,” she stated with a chuckle.

“I am,” Fiona answered happily. “And you still are adorable.”

Robin raised her head from her soft and comfortable position and her eyes locked with Fiona’s, while her fingers traced the dark-haired woman’s face.

“You’re beautiful,” she whispered after a brief silence in which both women stared at each other intently.

Fiona swallowed hard when she noticed the darkening of the hazel eyes in front of her and the way Robin moistened her lips.

“Would you think I have a one track mind if I’d say I really want to kiss you senseless?” she whispered.

“That would be hypocritical,” Robin whispered back. “Because that’s exactly what I want to do.”

They moved closer at the same time, bridging the tiny distance between them and their lips met in a kiss that was warm, soft and sweet, but slowly increased in intensity. Fiona softly moaned when the tip of Robin’s tongue gently teased her bottom lip, causing her heart to pound wildly in her chest.

“Can you hear my heartbeat?” she whispered, when Robin’s lips slid to her neck, where they kissed and nibbled the sensitive skin.

“No, but I can feel it,” Robin smiled against Fiona’s skin, pressing her lips against the pulse point in her neck. “You do the same to me,” she whispered. “Here, feel.”

Robin grabbed Fiona’s hand and pressed it against her chest, smiling when she saw the photographer’s eyes widen.

“Fiona, if we continue this, I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop anymore,” Robin whispered.

“I don’t want you to stop,” Fiona answered in a husky voice.

Robin swallowed hard, looking down in eyes that were rapidly becoming darker.

“Are you sure?” Robin asked, feeling herself drown in Fiona’s dark-green gaze.

“Yes, oh, yes, I’m sure,” the dark-haired woman whispered, reaching out and pulling Robin closer. She kissed her forehead, cheeks and chin, before claiming her lips in a passionate kiss. Robin could feel her heart swell with emotion, soaring inside her chest and she wasn’t aware of the single tear that escaped her eye and slowly rolled down her cheek, until Fiona’s thumb scooped it up and tenderly wiped the moist track away.

Dark-green eyes that looked up at her bearing Fiona’s soul made Robin swallow hard and she managed a watery smile.

“It’s a happy tear,” she explained in a soft, husky voice. “You make me feel so…deeply and so incredibly much, I…it feels so good, it almost hurts.”

“I know,” Fiona answered in a whisper. “I feel it too.”

“I know,” Robin nodded with a smile, pressing her forehead against Fiona’s.

A pair of gentle, but insistent hands slid underneath her shirt, caressing the bare skin of her back and with raised eyebrows Robin looked at Fiona, who sent her an innocent look. There was a sparkle in her eyes though and after a few moments both women chuckled.

“What are you doing?” Robin asked, playfully nipping at Fiona’s nose.

“I’ve no idea,” Fiona confessed. “But it feels good. I…I want to feel your skin. It’s so soft, it makes me want to…,” she swallowed hard and sent Robin a shy smile. “I want to touch you,” she ended in a whisper.

“Then thouch me,” was the husky reply and Fiona took a deep breath, willing her racing heart to slow down. She wanted her first time with Robin to be memorable for something more than passing out on her.

Robin stared in fascination at the rapidly changing expressions on Fiona’s face. Within seconds they went from desire and amusement to shyness and insecurity. The photographer had never looked more open and vulnerable and it filled Robin with gratitude to know Fiona trusted her that much.

“I’m not really sure what to do,” Fiona breathed with a shy smile.

Robin brought her face down and captured Fiona’s lips in a slow, passionate kiss that elicited a soft whimper from the dark-haired woman. When she finally pulled away, Fiona’s eyes were dark with need and Robin smiled.

“Do you trust me?” she asked gently.

“Completely,” was the immediate answer.

Robin pushed herself up to a sitting position and, while her eyes never left Fiona’s she slowly, deliberately pulled her t-shirt over her head, immediately feeling the cool air caress her already heated skin. Her ears registered Fiona’s sharp intake of breath and she smiled, pleased with the photographer’s reaction.

“I guess, since you always seem to take your shirt off, it’s my turn now,” she gently joked, crawling over Fiona’s legs so she could straddle the other woman.

“Well, at least I was wearing a bra,” Fiona breathed, while her hands slid up Robin’s side, caressing her skin with gentle touches.

Robin laughed and leaned in closer to kiss Fiona’s forehead.

“Remember that Saturday morning, when I tumbled down the hill and you took your shirt off to make a sling for my arm?” Fiona nodded, with wide eyes and flushed cheeks and Robin chuckled. She brought her mouth to Fiona’s ears and lowered her voice. “Remember when you put the sling on my arm? Even though I was in pain at the time, I couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to touch you.” Robin kissed Fiona’s ear and felt the other woman tremble. “I wanted to touch you then and I so want to touch you now.”

Fiona had closed her eyes, feeling the blood surge through her veins and she took a few slow breaths to try and regain control over her overheated body.

“Are you alright?” Robin’s husky voice sounded close to her ear and Fiona nodded, feeling the goose bumps erupt all over her body. “Look at me, please?”

Slowly, Fiona opened her eyes and she held her breath when she saw the unveiled desire in Robin’s gaze.

“I love you, Fiona McDonnell,” Robin whispered, gently brushing her fingertips across Fiona’s cheek.

“I love you, too, Robin Adams,” she answered softly. “And somehow I think I’m overdressed.”

Robin chuckled and let her gaze slowly travel down Fiona’s body and up again, suppressing a smile when she noticed the photographer’s faint blush.

“I guess you are,” she finally answered.

Fiona smiled and, with her hands on Robin’s hips, she came to a sitting position, never letting go of the other woman, who shot her a respectful glance.

“Do you want to help me with my shirt?” Fiona suggested with a wink and immediately she felt Robin’s hand peel the fabric away from her skin. It only took her a few seconds to relieve Fiona from her t-shirt and this time it was Robin who softly gasped.

“You’ re beautiful,” she whispered, reaching out a hand and gently tracing the swell of a breast.

Fiona swallowed hard, once more feeling a surge of hot blood race through her body, heating her skin, filling her with the desire to be as close to Robin as possible.

Without saying a word, her hands slid to Robin’s back and slowly she let herself sink back, pulling the other woman on top of her.

“Now, where were we?” she whispered before their lips met and all thought fled her conscious mind. All that mattered was the woman in her arms, who was so warm and soft and loving. And whose lips and gentle caresses touched her very soul, creating a world of their own in which nothing else existed but their love.

Trishia wrinkled her nose, feeling a soft touch tickle her cheek and slowly she cracked open her eyes. With a smile she reached out a hand and cupped Lucy’s cheek. Her partner was lying on her side, her head supported by her hand, staring at the policewoman with loving gaze.

“Now, that’s a sight for sore eyes,” Trishia greeted, her voice hoarse from sleep.

“Have you been watching Fiona’s Xena DVD’s again?” Lucy smiled.

Trishia laughed and pulled her partner into the circle of her arms, sighing happily when Lucy snuggled closer.

“Somehow I knew I’d heard that line before,” she confessed with a chuckle. “But it’s true, every morning I wake up with you makes me feel like the luckiest woman in the universe.”

“Good,” Lucy answered, kissing a sensitive spot on Trishia’s neck. “I hope you’ll still be feeling that way when I’m as big as a whale, waddling around like a duck.”

“I will,” Trishia promised in a serious voice and Lucy smiled.

“I know,” she answered. “I’m actually looking forward to that time.” Lucy’s hand slid down her belly. “I so want to meet this baby.”

“So do I,” Trishia sighed, putting her larger hand on Lucy’s, gently caressing her skin. “I know another seven months seem like a long time, but there’s a lot of things we need to do. I…” she cast a look at her partner and hesitated.

Ever since the first two miscarriages, Lucy had been reluctant to talk about preparations for their child. Somehow she felt she could not discuss names, furniture and the color of paint for the nursery as long as she wasn’t one hundred percent certain everything was alright.

Lucy saw the insecurity in Trishia’s eyes and she sent her partner a sad smile, knowing Trishia was, once again, looking out for her.

“We need to pick a few names and fight over the furniture of the nursery,” she said softly, immediately seeing the policewoman’s eyes lit up. “No pink,” she quickly added with a grimace.

Trishia laughed and pulled Lucy closer, kissing the top of her head before she sighed happily.

“No pink,” she promised.

“Thank you,” Lucy answered, patting Trishia’s stomach, a touch that subtly turned into a tickle.

“Hey,” Trishia protested, grabbing the offended hand. “Better be careful there, Lady.”

“Oooh, now you’ re scaring me,” Lucy answered with a laugh. Her eyes were twinkling and mentally she cheered for her partner’s relaxed state. Trishia had finally been able to sleep a full eight hours, not burdened or worried by the safety of her family, or Peter Jones’ recovery.

They had stayed with Sharon until the early hours of the day and had left only after Trishia had been able to visit her partner. It had only been a few minutes, but Peter had been awake. The two police partners had just stared at each other for a few moments, until Trishia had bent down to kiss his cheek. A gesture that was followed by a whispered, but heartfelt:’Thank you’.

Trishia turned on her side and glanced at the dark-haired woman next to her. Lucy was beautiful as ever and Trishia just knew she would be as radiant during her pregnancy as Jody had been.

“Yesss?” Lucy drawled, noticing the look.

“I just…I can’t believe this is all over and it has a happy ending. Last night, I…I was so scared for Peter. When I heard he had been shot, I…” Trishia let out a shuddering breath. “I’m so grateful he’s going to bealright.”

“We all are,” Lucy smiled, carefully tracing one of Trishia’s eyebrows with the tip of her finger. There was a lump where she had been hit by Gerry Wilkins and the surrounding skin was bruised. “Peter and Sharon have become a part of the family.”

“The ever-growing family,” Trishia chuckled. “We’ve acquired two more members.”

“Robin and Joshua,” Lucy nodded. She yawned behind her hand and laughed.

“I can’t wait to give Fiona a hard time.”

“That’s mean,” Trishia said, but she was laughing, always enjoying the bantering between the sisters.

“No, it’s not,” Lucy answered. “Have you forgotten how merciless she was when we were first dating?”

“I know, I was weary of her camera. I really didn’t want to be caught in a compromising situation,” Trishia grinned. “Maybe now she’s fallen for Robin she’ll realize her past transgressions and temper down.”

“One can only hope,” Lucy chuckled, pulling herself up so she could kiss her taller partner. “One thing is sure; she’s very much in love and, don’t tell her I said this, but it becomes her and I’m very happy for her. For both of them.”

Lucy snuggled closer to the warm body that was pressed against her side and let her hand travel across bare skin, until she reached her goal and cupped Trishia’s breast. Her lips slid up Trishia’s neck until they reached her mouth.

“I love you,” she whispered, not giving her partner a chance to respond. She claimed the policewoman’s lips in a long, deep kiss, sliding her body on top of Trishia, determined to spend the rest of the day in bed. Sleeping was just one of the available options.

****

Jody leaned her head back against the back of the chair and let out a contented smile. The sun was setting and a nice breeze from the ocean stirred the air just enough to make sitting on the verandah very comfortable. Her green eyes settled on Kurt, who was chewing on a big, juicy bone Fiona and Robin had treated him to and, involuntarily, she smiled.

Fiona and Robin were so in love and so cute together. Jody was incredibly happy her sister had found somebody to fall completely in love with. The photographer had simply been glowing with happiness when she and Robin had left for Brisbane to visit Alice and Yarra, before traveling further north to spend a week- long vacation in one of the many beach resorts.

Jody softly snorted. She didn’t think her sister and Robin would spend much time on the beach. But at least they were together, enjoying each other’s company.

A hand on her shoulder made Jody look up and she smiled when Sam bent down to give her a slow kiss, before taking a seat next to her.

“Twins asleep?” she asked.

“Like little angels,” Sam answered, stretching her long legs in front of her, crossing them at the ankles. “What were you thinking about? You were smiling.”

“Fiona and Robin,” Jody answered, reaching out a hand to grab Sam’s larger one. “It was sweet of you to send them to that resort.”

“They deserved it,” Sam answered. “I can keep an eye on the contractors for a few days. Besides, we were so behind on Booyong Mountain, a few more days won’t matter.”

“That’s true,” Jody nodded, lifting Sam’s hand to her lips and kissing the back of it.

“Did you hear from Trish?”

Sam nodded and let out a deep sigh.

“Gerry Wilkins has been evaluated by a psychiatrist and his report is not exactly positive. He really is insane.”

“I keep wondering why he picked on you, though?” Jody mused. “It’s not like The Reef was his to start with. I know now he used William to try and get his hands on The Reef, but if he’d done his homework, he’d have known it was part of Stevens, Inc.”

“Apparently, the man has quite a few obsessions,” Sam answered. “I was just one of them. He thought that if he told Barry Miles that I was the one who had killed his best friend, that would be enough to make him a pawn in his crazy game.”

“It was,” Jody softly remarked.

“By kidnapping the girls, Gerry Wilkins thought he could make me pay a hefty ransom, hurting me financially and his plan was, eventually, to leave the girls in the cave to die, so he would also hurt me, personally.”

“He’s sick,” Jody shivered. “I’m glad he’s locked away. You think you buying Booyong Mountain made him snap?”

Sam glanced aside to her pensive looking partner and she shrugged, scooting closer so she could wrap her arm around Jody and pull her against her.

“I’m sure it contributed,” Sam nodded. “Trishia was so right about him. She knew there had been some connection between him and Joe Michaels and Steven Hayes.”

“She just couldn’t prove it,” Jody mused.

“That’s why I had to buy Booyong Mountain. We knew it was a chance to smoke him out, we just didn’t expect him to go completely berserk. If he would have hurt the girls, I…”

“Sam, stop,” Jody urged, half-turning so she could look her partner in the eyes. “Nobody could foresee this. We discussed the consequences before the deal closed, but nobody considered he’d get that personal. We all thought he would try some dirty business tricks.”

“I’m just happy Fiona and Robin didn’t seem to care when we told them about it,” Sam sighed.

“What do you expect?” Jody softly laughed. “They met on that mountain and they are madly in love.”

“Not as madly in love as I am with you,” Sam smiled, pulling Jody out of her seat, straight into her lap.

Her partner chuckled and wrapped her arms Sam’s neck, leaning closer to kiss Sam’s lips that were too close to ignore. For a long time, they were completely absorbed by each other and, when Jody finally pulled away, she lovingly raked her fingers through Sam’s unruly hair.

“Do you think this adventure has truly ended?” she mused.

“I sure hope so,” Sam answered with grimace. “I’ve seen enough raving lunatics to last me a lifetime. I want some peace and quiet.”

“Are you kidding?” Jody laughed. “Peace and quiet with our twins? And don’t forget Lucy’s pregnancy. That will be an adventure on its own. Not to mention the miracle of my baby sister being in love. If you want peace and quiet, you’ re in the wrong place, sweetheart.”

Sam laughed and her clear blue eyes twinkled in amusement.

“Alright, alright, you win. We’ll be facing a lot of adventures. I have one request though.”

“Which is?” Jody asked, kissing the tip of Sam’s nose.

“Protect me?”

A pair of emerald green eyes met a pair of amused blue ones and Jody smiled.

“Always,” she promised.

 

The End
Go to The Grand Old Lady

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