Heart’s Choice by Lois Kay

hearts choice

 

Disclaimer: I don’t really need one, since this story and the characters are mine. So, if you ever want to borrow them, just ask, ok?

This is about two women, who fall in love. And they act upon it as well, so, if that is illegal in your neck of the woods, you are warned. I am sorry, I still find it hard to imagine that love can be illegal, but whatever….

This story is situated in The Netherlands, the place where I grew up. If you come across certain places or laws or rules that seem weird to you, or just unfamiliar; they are Dutch <g>.

Enjoy…
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Heart’s Choice
by Lois Kay

 

 

Chapter One

 

“Simon! Would you please hurry? You will be late for school!!”

A little boy, with dark curly hair came running down the stairs, coming to a full stop, just in front of a woman with the same curly dark hair, only hers was long and cascaded down her shoulders and back. The woman smirked and rolled her green eyes, making the boy laugh.

“What kept you?”

“I couldn’t tie my laces, mom,” the boy explained, pointing at his shoes.

His big gray eyes looked at her with such innocence, it made Kyra smile.

“Do you mind if I redo them?” she asked, pointing at the shoelaces that were dangling in a very dangerous way.

The little boy shook his head and rested his hands on is mother’s shoulders, while she carefully tied his shoelaces again, this time with a double knot.

“Okay, big guy. All done. Do you have your backpack? Lunch?”

“Yes, mom,” he obediently answered.

“Great,” Kyra Hartman sighed, grabbing his jacket from a chair and handing it to her son. “Let’s go then. I don’t want your new teacher to think we are always late.”

Simon slipped on his jacket and fumbled with the zipper, sticking out the tip of his tongue in pure concentration, which made his mother smile. He was such a gorgeous little boy. No matter how young he was, he always tried to look out for his mother and sometimes Kyra worried about Simon being too wise for his age.

“Done, mom,” Simon interrupted her thoughts with a look of pride on his face. Again he had been able to zip up his jacket all by himself.

“Great job, honey,” Kyra praised him, ruffling his curly hair. “Let’s hit the road, toad.”

“Let’s hit the track, Mack,” Simon chuckled, always enjoying the same joke every day.

Kyra laughed and slung her laptop case and purse over her shoulder, before opening the front door, letting Simon run past her towards the car that was parked alongside the curb. He impatiently waited for her at the car, jumping from one foot to the other.

“What’s with the nerves?” Kyra inquired, buckling her son up in his seat in the back and closing the door.

“Mom!! The new teacher!!”

“Oh, right, the new teacher,” Kyra chuckled, pushing back her long hair and starting the engine. “We don’t want to miss that, now do we?”

Kyra cast a look in the rear view mirror and smiled when she saw the look of excitement on Simon’s face. He was only five and liked going to school very much. Kyra inwardly smirked and secretly hoped he would always have that same attitude about school. That could make her job as a parent a lot easier.

“So, does this new teacher have a name?”

“Emma,” Simon answered. “She came to say ‘hello’ yesterday. I told you mom!!”

“Yes, you sure did, son,” Kyra sighed. “But your mother is getting old and her brain sometimes takes a vacation without her permission.”

Simon laughed and his gray eyes sparkled, which made Kyra smile in return.

“Grandmother is old,” he said. “Her hair is all white. Johnny says that if people are old they have no more colors in their head, that’s why they have white hair. Is that true, mom? Do I have colors in my head? Where are they then? Will their eyes go white as well then, mom?”

“Oh, boy,” Kyra mumbled, bracing herself to come up with an explanation of the aging process that could be understood by a five year old.

“I am afraid Johnny is wrong, honey,” she answered. “Nobody has…colors in their head, it…is complicated.”

My goodness, aging, pigmentation and genetics. How in the world will I be able to explain that? Sesame Street, where are you when I need you!! How will I get myself out of this one…gracefully?

“Look, mom, there’s Ibrahim,” Simon suddenly shouted enthusiastically. “It’s his birthday today.”

“That’s nice, sweetie,” Kyra answered, relieved about the change of subject.

She pulled over at the parking area opposite the school and quickly stepped out to open the door for Simon, who was bouncing up and down, while his eyes never left his friend, whose mother was carrying a big bag of, hopefully healthy treats.

“Ibra said he would bring Turkish cookies. They are really nice, mom, they have fruit in them,” Simon said, knowing the word ‘fruit’ was always a good one to use when it came to treats.

Kyra unbuckled the seatbelt and laughed while lifting her son from the car.

“And when there’s fruit in a cookie, it’s a healthy one, isn’t it?” she teased, seeing the mischief in her son’s eyes.

“Give me your hand, buddy, we need to cross the street.”

Simon looked up at his mother and showed an adorable little pout.

“Mom! I am big already. Five!!,” he held up the five fingers of his left hand for emphasis. “Jesse is allowed to cross all by himself, and….”

“Simon,” Kyra interrupted her son with a stern glance. “I don’t care what Jesse is and is not allowed to do. I am telling you not to cross this street alone, you understand me? There’s far too much traffic here. Now, if you feel you are too big to hold my hand, fine! But you will not cross this street without me.”

Simon looked at his shoes and fidgeted with one of the straps of his backpack. He adored his mother and whenever she was angry with him, which did not happen often, he got this queasy feeling in his stomach, which made him want to cry. He didn’t like it.

Without looking up, the little boy reached out his hand and grabbed his mother’s larger one, immediately feeling the encouraging squeeze.

“Thank you, honey,” Kyra softly spoke.

Simon finally looked up into a pair of warm, green eyes. Immediately he felt better.

“Sorry, mom,” he mumbled.

“It’s all right, love. I just don’t want anything to happen to you, okay?”

Simon nodded and happily skipped alongside his mother when she crossed the street, holding his hand tightly.

When they had reached the gate, Kyra knelt in front of her son, noticing most kids had already disappeared inside the building. She put her hands on Simon’s slender shoulders and looked at him closely.

“I will be back to pick you up after school. I have a meeting at two o’ clock, but I should be able to be here in time. If not, I…”

“I will wait inside, mom,” Simon interrupted her, knowing the drill.

He glanced towards the big building and Kyra noticed a faint blush on his cheeks. She followed his glance and saw a young woman standing inside the doorway, apparently welcoming the children. She seemed a little taller than Kyra and her short hair was a beautiful auburn color. She was wearing a pair of comfortable looking jeans and a dark green sweater.

“Is that your new teacher?” Kyra asked, finding Simon’s apparent first crush endearing.

The little boy nodded and cast his mother a shy look through impossibly long, dark eyelashes.

Kyra smiled and quickly kissed his cheek.

“Go ahead, “she encouraged him. “Have a good day and I will see you later. Bye, sweetie.”

“Bye, mom,” Simon answered, kissing her back, before running towards the door. He was the last child to enter the building and Kyra let out a sigh of relief, pleased they had made it in time.

She waited until Simon disappeared out of sight and slowly walked back to her car, knowing she had a busy day ahead of her and not looking forward to it at all.

 

Kyra’s day turned out to be a hectic one, with two unscheduled, but important conference calls, a scheduled meeting, numerous phone calls and her regular work, that only seemed to pile up, which made her decide to take some of it home with her. If Simon was asleep, she could try and catch up a little.

Normally Kyra liked her job, working at ‘Heart’s Choice’, a company that was founded by her father, but there were days she despised it and wished she had chosen a different profession. This had turned out to be one of those days.

As President and Chief Operating Officer of one division of the company, she had to make a few difficult decisions about some investments, without much time to consider alternatives and consequences. Hopefully things would not backfire, because that could cost the company a lot of money. Usually she had time to talk things through with her brother Jasper, who was overseeing a different division that made up the other half of Heart’s Choice, but not this time, because her brother had been out of town, having some important meetings with potential clients.

A quick glance on her watch made her groan, when she realized she would be late to pick up Simon. She could only hope his teacher was smart enough to keep an eye on the boy. She knew Simon would be obedient and wait for her inside the gate of the playground, but still, she did not like the idea of her son being out there all by himself. Not even if it was only for five or ten minutes.

“I am out of here,” Kyra called out to Sandra, her secretary. “If there are things that can not wait, just send me an email, okay? I will deal with it from home.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Sandra answered, grinning when she saw Kyra roll her eyes. “I will see you tomorrow.”

“Have a good evening, Sandy. Keep out of trouble”

“Yeah, right,” Sandra snorted, waving at her boss. “Give Simon a hug from me.”

“I will,” Kyra promised, disappearing around the corner. “Bye.”

Of course traffic was hell and Kyra tried not to lose her patience when she was stuck behind a truck that seemed to crawl instead of drive at the allowed speed limit. Finally she arrived at the school building, twenty minutes late. There was no sign of Simon and Kyra knew his teacher must have kept him inside, which meant she had to go in and get him.

“Oh, my, “she mumbled, pushing open the door and stepping inside. “What will that new teacher think of me? I bet she thinks I neglect my kid.”

Quickly Kyra walked towards Simon’s classroom, very aware of the clicking of her heels in the silent hallway.

When she opened the door to the classroom, her eyes immediately fell on her son, who was sitting at a table, coloring in a picture he had drawn.

“Hi, sweetie,” Kyra breathed. “I am so sorry I am late!!”

Simon looked up and sent his mother a sunny smile, holding up the picture he had been drawing.

“Look, mom. This is where granddad lives.”

“It’s very pretty, honey,” Kyra answered, putting down her purse and stroking his cheek affectionately. “Oh, I can see the ocean and the beach!”

“Yes and see this? It’s the shop,” Simon happily explained, pointing towards a small, brown colored square in the middle of the picture.

“It’s very good, Simon. Are you going to send it to granddad?”

“With the pictures you took last week,” Simon answered, concentrating on his art work.

Kyra smiled and turned around when she heard a soft sound. Immediately her eyes fell on the woman she had seen that morning. She had been right, the auburn haired woman was Simon’s new teacher.

Kyra smiled and extended her hand, stepping closer. Her hand was caught in a strong, warm grip and her smile brightened. She hated those weak handshakes that felt like holding a bunch of bones and sweaty skin.

“Hi, I am Kyra Hartman, Simon’s mom,” she introduced herself. “You must be the new teacher.”

“Emma Altena,” the teacher smiled. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Hartman, I…”

“Please, call me Kyra.”

Their eyes met and Emma Altena almost sucked in her breath when she took in the vision in front of her. Kyra Hartman was a beautiful woman and she had to try really hard not to stare.

The curly dark hair that playfully bounced around a face that was a classical beauty, a fine, straight nose, full lips, tanned skin and the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen. Eyes that looked at her with a mixture of genuine kindness, shyness and curiosity.

“Um….only if you call me Emma,” she answered, hoping she had not made a fool of herself.

“That will be my pleasure,” Kyra smiled, mesmerized by the blue eyes of the woman in front of her. They were dark, almost indigo and reminded Kyra of a warm summer’s day. The short hair was thick and healthy and up close Kyra could see the color was a natural one. The little freckles on Emma’s nose seemed to testify to that as well.

Caught staring, Kyra blushed and turned around to cast a look at Simon, who was still engrossed in the drawing of his picture.

“I am sorry I am late,” she excused herself, feeling guilty. “I had a few unexpected meetings and of course they took longer than anticipated.”

“No problem,” Emma’s soft, rich voice answered. “Simon is pleasant company and I had not planned on going home early anyway. There are too many things I need to do first.”

“As long as you don’t think I make a habit of it,” Kyra smiled. “Usually I am a good mom.”

“No doubt,” Emma laughed, appreciating Kyra’s sense of humor.

“Mom, Emma is from all the way up North,” Simon’s voice suddenly sounded. “From the….the ….Wa…Whalesea, or something. That’s why she talks so funny.”

“Wadden Sea, Simon,” Emma calmly corrected him, with a laugh in her voice, while Kyra hid her face behind her hand and wished for the ground to open and swallow her up.

He did not say that. He did not say that.

A hand briefly touched her shoulder and embarrassed Kyra looked up into a pair of twinkling blue eyes.

“It’s all right,” Emma chuckled. “I guess I do have an accent that’s not common for this part of the country. But at least we are able to communicate, so I guess it’s not that bad.”

“At least you have a positive outlook on things,” Kyra appreciated. “Well, I’d better take my little boy home and make sure he will get something to eat tonight.”

After she had already spoken the words, Kyra realized what she had said and she quickly turned around towards Emma to clarify her remark.

“I mean, it’s not like I never feed him, I….” Kyra sighed, wondering why the opinion of Simon’s new teacher meant so much to her. “I am making a habit of embarrassing myself today, just ignore me, okay?”

Emma cast a look at the woman in front of her, who looked like she was ready to bolt.

“Simon looks healthy and well fed so….,” Emma reassured her, with a twinkle in her eyes. “I am not worried.”

Emma sensed Kyra’s insecurity and gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Ready to go home with your mom, Simon?” she asked the small boy.

He nodded and carefully put away his pencils, which caused his mother to chuckle. At home she always had to remind him to clean up after himself. But maybe his good behavior had something to do with the new teacher. And Kyra could not blame her son. Emma Altena was a very charming woman.

Where the heck did that come from?

Kyra frowned and shook her head to clear away the unusual thoughts and handed Simon his jacket.

“Come on, buddy. We need to stop by the grocery store on the way home.”

“Bye, Simon,” Emma smiled. “I will see you tomorrow.”

“Bye Miss Emma,” Simon beamed.

Kyra took her son’s hand and shot a glance at the teacher, who was casually leaning against her desk, her hands stuffed in the pockets of her jeans. A ray of sunlight highlighted the red in her hair and again Kyra’s noticed how beautiful the color was.

“It was nice to meet you, Emma,” she spoke, walking towards the door.

“Likewise,” Emma smiled, waving at Simon who shyly wove back.

“I’ll try to drop Simon off on time tomorrow,” Kyra joked, opening the door to the hallway.

Emma grinned and briefly their eyes met.

“See you in the morning.”

“Bye,” Kyra answered, feeling an awkward sense of loss when the door closed and Emma disappeared out of sight.

Inside the classroom Emma Altena stared at the door for long moments, trying to analyze why one look from Kyra Hartman had made her feel like a schoolgirl again. She breathed in deeply, smelling Kyra’s perfume that still lingered in the air and involuntarily closed her eyes to savor the scent. When she opened them again and turned around to slowly head back towards the bookcase, her eyes fell on Simon’s desk. Next to his chair, on the floor, was Kyra’s purse.

“I bet she’ll need that,” Emma mumbled, picking up the soft leather material and quickly walking towards the door. When she entered the hallway and looked out of the window that overlooked the schoolyard and parking area, she could see a car pull up and drive away.

“Now what?” she sighed, uncomfortably looking at the leather purse in her hands. “I will not go in there and look for an address, “she told herself, while turning around and slowly walking back towards the classroom.

With a heavy sigh Emma sank down in one of the children’s chairs and looked around the colorful decorated room with tired eyes. The first day was always a difficult one, she knew. Her class was pretty large, it actually had twelve more children in it than the last class she taught, back home.

Home.

Emma sighed again and rested her elbows on the small table in front of her, while her hands supported her head. Her sad eyes stared at the drawings that were decorating the wall, without really seeing them. In her mind she visited her parent’s huge farmhouse kitchen, with the enormous oak table that could easily seat ten adults.

If that table could talk, it would tell a lot of stories. Happy ones. Funny ones. And unfortunately also sad ones.

Emma rubbed her tired eyes and took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders and slowly getting up from the tiny chair.

“Stop pitying yourself, Emma,” she scolded. “It was your decision to leave your family and get a job here in the South. No turning back now, so, you’d better make the best of it. Now, get that list with all the kid’s name and see if you can find Simon’s mom’s phone number.”

With deliberate strides Emma walked to her desk and slid open one of the drawers. She pulled out a thick folder and was pleased to see she had chosen the right one. Her eyes scanned the rows of names, addresses and phone numbers, until she reached ‘Hartman’. It listed two numbers. A regular one and a cell phone number.

Remembering hearing Kyra say they had to go to the grocery store, Emma thought it would be best to call her on her cell phone. Especially if Kyra Hartman carried her money around in her purse. Checking out could prove to be an embarrassing situation then.

Taking the list with her, Emma walked to the phone that was mounted on the wall, out of reach from adventurous five year old’s and with more confidence than she was feeling, she punched in the number.

“Kyra Hartman,” a melodious voice sounded after a few seconds and Emma took a deep breath.

“Mrs. Hart…I mean, Kyra, hi, it’s me, Emma Altena. I am sorry to interrupt your shopping,” the background noises told Emma Simon’s mother definitely was walking down a shopping aisle.

“Oh, hi Emma” Kyra hesitantly greeted, obviously still not aware she had forgotten her purse.

“Um…you left your purse in the classroom,” Emma told her, smiling when she heard Kyra muttering under her breath. “I am sorry,” she added, feeling bad for the woman, who had to be tired as well after a long day of work.

“Well,” Kyra answered with a defeated sigh. “This morning I did tell Simon my brains were on a vacation and it seems like they have not returned yet.”

“I..um…if you tell me where you are shopping, I could come over and bring you the purse,” Emma timidly suggested.

“Oh, no, Emma. I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Kyra replied. “Luckily I have a debit card here with me, so at least I can pay for the groceries. That will save me from some embarrassment,” she chuckled. “But thanks for the offer,” she added with warmth. “I guess I will finish up here and come by to pick it up. It could have waited until tomorrow, but I have some documentation in there I will need tonight. I guess I will just have to backtrack.”

“I…couldn’t help notice your address,” Emma said, while an idea was forming in her head. Somehow she wanted to help the woman, not willing to give much thought as to why. “On my way home I can drop off your purse, since I pass your neighborhood anyway.”

“Oh, Emma, I can’t…”

“It’s no trouble, really,” Emma interrupted Kyra’s objections, twirling the telephone cord with her fingers. “I will be leaving here in an hour or so, I hope that is no problem.”

“No, no, of course not,” Kyra quickly answered. “It’s so nice of you to do that, Emma, don’t worry about the time. I need to cook and bathe Simon first anyway. Besides, whenever I work at home, I always wait until Simon is asleep.”

“I guess that is settled then,” Emma smiled. “I will see you later.”

“Yes, thanks. Thank you, Emma,” Kyra replied gratefully.

 

After Emma had finished preparing her classes for the next day, she had left the building and when she crossed the school yard she studied a map of the city. It had been a ‘love’ gift from her eldest sister, Hester, who had a habit of getting lost and thought her sister suffered from the same lack of orientation. Emma could usually find her way around a new place though, but at the moment she was grateful for Hester’s thoughtfulness.

Looking at the map she noticed that Kyra and Simon lived across from a park and she decided it would probably not be hard to find the address.

Tucking the map away in her leather school bag, she opened the door of the car and stepped inside. For some reason her heart fluttered when she thought about Simon’s mother and annoyed at that physical reaction she furrowed her brows.

“Get a grip, Emma,” she told herself while steering her car away from the parking lot across the school. “You are too old and too…seasoned to have crushes like this. Besides, the woman has a child and is most likely married. I am sure Mr. Hartman would not appreciate you ogling his beautiful wife.”

And beautiful she is, a little voice in the back of her mind sounded.

 

With a tired sigh Kyra put the grocery bags in the boot of the car and just as she was about to unlock and open the door to let Simon crawl into the backseat, her son’s enthusiastic voice startled her.

“Grandma!”

Kyra looked up to see a tall, slender woman strolling towards her and she suppressed another sigh.

“Just what I need,” she mumbled.

In spite of her age, Vivian LeJeune still was a strikingly beautiful woman. Her gray hair was always styled according to the latest fashion and at all times her clothes were immaculate and basically screaming ‘haute couture’.

Her face only showed some wrinkles around her eyes, something she was very proud of and she worked hard to keep it like that, using all the appropriate creams and ointments.

She should have been absolutely attractive, except for the expression on her face, which often was cool and distant. Kyra could not remember a time when her mother’s smile had reached her eyes.

“Mother,” she greeted in a tired voice, already trying to come up with an excuse to leave as soon as she could.

“Hello, Kyra,” Vivian addressed her daughter in a cool way. “Isn’t it a little late in the day to go shopping?”

Kyra bit back a snide remark, not wanting to set a bad example for her son, who was looking at his grandmother with a beaming smile. But her mother was forever testing her patience with subtle remarks about the way she raised Simon and the way she looked and dressed.

“No, I don’t think it is,” she quietly answered.

“Grandma, I have a new teacher. Her name is Emma and she is really nice,” Simon chimed in, looking up at the elegant lady with a happy face.

“That’s nice, dear,” his grandmother answered absent-mindedly, glancing down with a cool smile before she turned her attention back to Kyra again.

“Don’t forget to pick up Simon on time Wednesday afternoon. I have an appointment that evening and I need to prepare for that.”

I always pick him up in time, Kyra thought. Don’t worry.

Because Simon had Wednesday afternoons off from school, he usually went to his grandmother once a month. Not because that was more convenient for his mother, but because Vivian LeJeune insisted on spending some time with her grandson. Kyra had decided that even though she could not get along with her mother, it would be wrong for her to keep her son away from the only grandmother he had. Even though lately she had seen subtle changes in her son after he had spent the afternoon with her. He seemed more subdued and less bubbly after a visit to his grandmother. Still, it did not prevent the little boy from trying his hardest to please the older woman. And Kyra loved that about her son.

“Don’t forget to tell Simon’s new teacher I will pick him up from school. I don’t want any hysterical scenes, because she doesn’t know who I am.”

“I will tell her, mother,” Kyra patiently answered. “But if you will excuse us now, we need to go home. I still have a lot to do.”

“Are you working again from home?” Vivian LeJeune said with evident disgust. “How can you be a good mother when you are always working, while your son is at home? You are so much like your father.”

You have no idea.

Kyra did not bother explaining she only worked from home after Simon had been fed, bathed and they had spent some quality time together, sometimes watching television, sometimes playing games or reading stories. She had already explained that numerous times already and could not be bothered anymore.

Opening the door she motioned Simon to climb into the car and take a seat. The little boy gave his grandmother a hug that was not answered and quickly hopped into the car, Kyra made sure her son was securely strapped into his seat belt.

“I will see you Wednesday, mother,” she said, but her mother had already turned around to head back to her own parked car, a pair of tired and sad eyes stared after her.

 

It only took Emma about ten minutes to reach the neighborhood where Kyra and Simon lived and slowly driving through one of the main streets, she noticed it was a nice looking, typical Dutch, middle class area. Houses built with yellow bricks and large windows that would let in a lot of light. The little front yards all neatly raked and mowed and Emma could see the tell tale signs of the upcoming spring season.

Here and there children were playing on the grassy playgrounds and with appreciative eyes she noticed the neighborhood had a nice selection of basketball and soccer fields that were obviously well used.

Rounding another corner, Emma spotted the park she had seen on the map and her eyes scanned the numbers on the houses, looking for number twenty-seven. It was a nice looking house on the corner, with the same large windows as the other buildings had. On the windowsill a variety of potted plants gave the house a cozy appearance. The small front yard was tidy, with a few neatly trimmed rosebushes and a colorful border of tulips.

“Nice,” Emma mumbled.

Emma grew up on a dairy farm and while the land and the cattle were mainly her father’s responsibility, the garden that surrounded the house had been her mother’s pride and joy. Ann Altena had created a beautiful garden and ever since she had been a little girl, Emma had loved helping her mother out.

With a wistful smile Emma looked at Kyra’s front yard, suddenly feeling an enormous sense of loss when she realized she would not be around anymore to help her mother plant bulbs and flowers. Or even do some simple weeding.

Slowly Emma walked up to the narrow path that lead to the front door.

Next to the doorbell, an old roof tile was mounted on the wall with the names of the occupants of the house neatly painted on it in bright colors.

Kyra and Simon Hartman

Emma, who was about to press the doorbell, hesitated for a second, giving herself a moment to ponder over the implications of that little sign.

“Does that mean it’s just Kyra and Simon? Or is Simon named after his father and not added on the sign yet?” Emma mused. “Ah, well, there’s only one way to find out, I guess.”

With determination she rang the bell and almost immediately she heard the sound of little, bare feet running over a wooden floor.

“I’ll get it, I’ll get it,” an excited voice called out and Emma grinned. Simon was a cute kid and very smart, she had already noticed that on her first day at school. And he had a crush on her, that too she had noticed and she found it completely endearing.

The door was opened and Emma looked down in the sparkling gray eyes of Simon. He was clad in his pajamas and his curly hair was still damp from his bath.

“Hi, Miss Emma,” he shyly greeted, stepping aside and opening the door wider. “Won’t you please come in?”

“Well raised and polite,” Emma mused, smiling at the little boy.

“Thank you, Simon,” she greeted him while gently ruffling his hair. “You are a real gentleman.”

“Grandpa always says that good manners are…are…,” his face scrunched up and Emma could almost see the wheels churning.

“Half the profit,” Kyra’s amused voice suddenly sounded. “My father is a businessman,” she explained with a little smile, wrapping her arms around Simon’s body when he pressed himself against his mother’s side.

“Come in, Emma. That is, if I am not keeping you,” Kyra said. “Your first day must have left you drained, so if you’d rather go home…?”

‘Home’ is about two hundred kilometers north of here, Emma thought, feeling an unexpected stab of pain.

“I…um…I don’t want to interrupt anything,” Emma half heartedly objected. “You must be busy yourself and…”

“Mom made spicy chicken and rice,” Simon helpfully provided. “Do you like that? It’s my favorite.”

Innocent gray eyes peered up at her and Emma’s eyes softened when she looked at the little boy, who was still standing in his mother’s embrace.

“It sounds great,” she smiled.

“Would you like to stay for dinner? It’s the least I can do,” Kyra rushed to say, wondering why in the name of everything that was holy it seemed so important that the schoolteacher would stay a little longer. “I have made enough for three,” she added.

Oooh, does that mean there are usually only two people in this house?

“Well, if it’s not inconvenient or anything…”

“No, absolutely not,” Kyra smiled in relief. “You will have to eat anyway and we have enough to share. So, when you go home later, you don’t have to worry about dinner. You can just relax for the evening. It’s the least I can do, since you saved me a trip back to the school.”

“Well, in that case I’d like to accept the invitation” Emma replied.

“Do you want to see my goldfish?” Simon asked with barely contained excitement. “Mom gave him to me and his name is Fred.”

Emma laughed and looked at the animated little boy, who reminded her of her nieces and nephews back home.

“I would like that,” she answered, seeing Kyra’s amused smile.

“Okay.”

Without hesitance Simon grabbed his teacher’s hand and pulled her towards an open door that lead to a large living room, still chattering about his beloved pet.

Entering the living room Emma immediately liked what she saw. The entire wall across from the door had a floor to ceiling bookcase and was literally stuffed with hundreds of books. Colorful pillows littered a big, dark blue couch in the corner that was an invitation to ‘slouch on the couch and don’t forget your book’.

Two big recliners and a light wood coffee table complimented the sitting area, together with a few huge potted plants that gave the place a sense of serenity.

At the other side of the room a sturdy, wooden dining table and four chairs, made out of the same wood as the coffee table, stood near the entrance to the kitchen.

In the corner was a little table with a tiny chair in front of it, a fish bowl was placed next to neatly stacked plastic boxes that were used to store Simon’s toys.

“Look, Miss Emma, this is Fred,” Simon introduced her to the goggle eyed goldfish.

She knelt next to him on the ground and grinned when the fish immediately rose to the surface, obviously hoping to be fed.

“Hi, Fred. Nice to meet you,” she smiled.

“He is hungry Mom,” Simon decided, looking over his shoulder to see his mother standing right behind them.

“He has been fed, honey. I think he just wants to say hello.”

Simon chuckled and softly tapped the glass bowl, cooing at the little fish.

“Maybe he wants dessert,” he spoke wistfully.

“I doubt it, Simon. Besides, you know what that girl at the shop told us. If we give him too much food, he will get sick.”

I don’t want him to get sick,” Simon sighed. “No more, Fred!” he added in a stern voice, making both Kyra and Emma smile.

“It’s a nice fish, Simon,” Emma complimented the little boy who sent her a beaming smile.

“Do you have pets?” he curiously asked, liking the way Emma’s blue eyes looked at him.

“Not anymore,” Emma answered and Kyra could hear the regret in her voice. “I have a dog, but he lives with my parents.”

“Why?” Simon asked, picking up the faint hint of sadness in Emma’s voice and putting his little hand on her knee.

“Because I moved here and I live in an apartment and Ruckus is used to being able to run around, so I thought he would be sad if I would take him.”

“Ruckus?” Kyra chuckled.

“And it suits him well,” Emma answered with sparkling eyes. “I never saw a dog that could get into so much trouble as he does.”

“What did he do?” Simon eagerly asked, always willing to learn about the mischief of others, even if it was a dog.

“Well, when he was just a puppy he managed to get into the barn and chase all the chickens. There were feathers everywhere,” Emma grinned remembering the havoc. “But then the rooster chased Ruckus around and my dad had to separate the two. There were chickens hiding everywhere and we didn’t find eggs for weeks. Of course Ruckus thought it was all great fun. And that is just one example of his mischief.”

“Tell more,” Simon begged, but Kyra gently interrupted her son.

“I think Emma would like a more comfortable seat, honey. And maybe something to drink?” Kyra raised her eyebrows and looked at the schoolteacher who slowly rose to her feet.

“Thanks,” she smiled in answer.

“I had just made some tea,” Kyra explained. “But I also have…”

“A cup of tea would be nice, thanks,” she interrupted. “That is what I usually drink after I get home anyway.”

“Tea it is then,” Kyra said, heading to the kitchen. “You want some as well, Simon?”

“Can I have chocolate milk?” he answered hopefully.

“Not before dinner. You will ruin your appetite,” Kyra replied. “You may have some apple juice.”

“Okay,” the little boy pouted, taking a seat on the couch next to his teacher.

Emma looked around and decided that she really liked the decoration of the room. The combination of light wood furniture and the colorful accessories made the place look cozy and warm.

On one of the shelves of the bookcase she noticed a few framed photos and she looked at them with interest. One picture showed a tanned Kyra in a bathing suit, holding an equally tanned Simon on a white beach, with palm trees in the background. They were both laughing and the resemblance between them was striking.

Another picture showed Simon sitting in the sand, building a castle with two elderly men. One of them was dark skinned and sported a huge grin, while the other one was pulling faces at the camera. His dark, curly hair was graying at the sides and Emma noticed his eyes were the same color as Kyra’s. They were obviously related.

“Probably her father,” Emma mused, studying the man’s handsome features.

“That’s my dad,” a soft voice suddenly sounded, startling Emma out of her reveries.

Feeling caught staring she slightly blushed and when she looked up she saw the gentle amusement in Kyra’s eyes.

“He lives in Aruba,” Kyra explained, ignoring Emma’s discomfort. “That picture was taken two years ago, when Simon and I were visiting.”

Her voice was soft and held a trace of sadness and Emma looked at her with sympathy.

“It sounds like you miss him,” she gently stated, picking up her cup of tea and sending the other woman a grateful smile.

“I do,” Kyra answered, while her eyes traveled back to the picture. “But he is happy there and has been for a long time now. I don’t think he could stand having to live here again. And who could blame him?” she added with a chuckle. “It’s a beautiful island.”

The mesmerizing green eyes traveled back to Emma and looked at her with mild curiosity. Surprisingly enough Emma did not feel awkward or insecure under Kyra’s pensive stare. Her eyes stared back calmly and shone with friendly amusement.

“How was your first day at school?” Kyra finally asked, genuinely interested. “Is it lot different here than you are used to?”

The simple question warmed Emma inside and she realized how nice it was to have somebody inquiring about her first day at a new school.

“Kids are kids,’ she smiled, taking a sip from her tea. “But still, I have to admit there are a lot of differences. The size of the class for instance, I used to teach about twelve to fifteen children, but now I have twenty five. That takes some getting used to,” she grinned. “Another difference is the many ethnic backgrounds here. But I like that, it makes it very interesting.”

“You didn’t have that at your old school?” Kyra curiously asked.

“No not really. That was probably due to the fact that I was teaching in this little village. It’s a farming community and almost everybody there is just plain Dutch.”

They both laughed and appreciated the fact that they were feeling so at ease with each other. Leaning back in the big chair, Kyra curled up her legs underneath her body and contentedly sipped her tea.

“Must be hard, moving to a place you don’t know and leaving your friends and family behind,” she casually remarked, shooting Emma a glance over the rim of her tea cup.

Emma slowly nodded and her eyes looked pensive while she stared at the surface of the coffee table.

“In way it is,” she admitted. “But in life you sometimes arrive at a crossroad and then you have to make a decision. I know I will miss my family, because we are all pretty close knit, but I am sure I will visit them a lot and of course I can always use the phone and I do have an email address,” she smiled.

“Do you have any brothers and sisters?” Kyra asked, sensing Emma was reluctant to say more about the subject, but wanting to get to know the friendly schoolteacher better.

Emma laughed and nodded her head, while her dark blue eyes were sparkling.

“I have a big family! I am the sixth child of a total of eight,” she grinned when she saw Kyra’s eyes widen. “I have four sisters and three brothers. The eldest is thirty seven and the youngest is twenty two.”

“Wow,” Kyra breathed. “That is a big family. I have one brother and that is it.”

“And then we have the additional nieces and nephews,” Emma smiled fondly. “Let me see, the latest count would be…fourteen. Eveline is the latest member of our clan, she is three months old now.”

“Good grief,” Kyra exclaimed, trying to imagine a family get together at the Altena family. “Christmas at your place must be a real event.”

“Oh, it is,” Emma grinned. “It’s a good thing my parents have a huge farm house. If everybody is present there are thirty one of us.”

Kyra quickly did the math and concluded that one of the Altena children would be single.

“And they are all married?” she innocently asked.

“Except me,” Emma calmly answered.

Her blue eyes turned inward and pensive and Kyra just knew there was a sad story to be told. But she hardly knew Emma Altena and did not want to pry. Still, the idea of somebody hurting the kind hearted teacher was making her angry, for reasons she could not understand.

I just met her today, how weird is that? Somehow she kick starts my protective streak. Up until now that has only been Simon’s privilege.

“I hope you are hungry,” she spoke, breaking the silence. “I always make too much when I cook Indonesian.”

“Ooh, I love Indonesian food,” Emma grinned.

“Good,” Kyra smiled, unfolding her frame and getting to her feet. “I’ll be puttering in the kitchen for a little while, but it won’t be long.”

“Can I help?”

“If you don’t mind cutting veggies?” Kyra laughed.

“Are you kidding? With a family like mine, I have cut more veggies than you will see in a lifetime.”
Dinner was a comfortable affair. Both women felt so at ease with each other, like they had been friends for years. Their conversation was relaxed and varied and after a little while both Kyra and Emma felt like they were rapidly getting to know each other better, while Simon chattered away and entertained the adults with the logic of a five year old mind.

Halfway through dessert Simon became quieter and when Kyra glanced at the clock she immediately shot upright.

“Goodness! It’s almost seven already. It’s time for you to go to bed, buddy,” she told her son, lovingly raking her fingers through his curly hair.

“I am not tired, Mom,” Simon answered with a sleepy voice.

“I hope you don’t mind me not believing you, honey,” Kyra grinned. “But you sure look tired to me. And there is school tomorrow.”

Her son’s gray eyes traveled to Emma who was looking at him with sparkling blue eyes that shone with obvious affection. He shot her a shy smile and obediently slid off his chair. He walked to his own little corner in the room, where the fish bowl was and softly tapped the glass.

“Goodnight, Fred,” he mumbled.

At that moment the phone rang and immediately sleep was forgotten. Simon trotted over to the cordless phone that was lying on the coffee table and picked it up.

“Simon Hartman,” he said politely, like his mother had taught him.

“Hey! How is my buddy doing?” a cheerful voice sounded and Simon’s face lit up in a huge smile.

“Uncle Jazz!”

“How are you, Simon? Everything all right?”

“Yes, Mom got me a fish. You have to come over and see it. His name is Fred.”

The voice on the other side laughed heartily and Simon grinned.

“Fred, huh? Well, I can’t wait to meet this Fred, Simon.”

“I have a new teacher,” Simon announced, glancing at Emma through his thick, dark eyelashes.

“Is she nice?”

“Yes, she is really nice and pretty,” Simon answered.

Kyra chuckled when Emma rolled her eyes and her cheeks colored lightly.

“Embarrassed by a five year old,” she sighed, but she was grinning.

“Out of the mouths of babes…” Kyra responded, hearing the words leave her mouth and immediately wondering what made her say a thing like that.

“It’s my brother, Jasper on the phone. Simon adores him,” she told Emma, stacking the plates and playfully swatting away Emma’s hand when she wanted to help.

“You are our guest,” she smiled. “Just relax.”

“No, uncle Jazz,” they heard Simon’s voice again. “No, Emma is here. She stayed for dinner because Mom forgot her purse and Emma brought it back.”

There was a brief silent and then Jasper Hartman’s smug voice sounded in Simon’s ear again.

“Is she? Well, that’s real nice, buddy. Can I talk to Mom for a bit? I will see you Sunday, okay? I will come over and we can play soccer.”

“Yeah! We have new goals on the field, uncle Jazz, with real nets.”

“Hey, that is excellent,” Jasper grinned. “That means I don’t have to go and get the ball all the time after you score a goal, huh?”

“I can kick the ball real hard,” Simon said with a lot of pride in his voice.

“Yes, I have noticed,” Jasper laughed. “See you, Sunday, Simon.”

“Bye uncle Jazz.”

Simon had walked back to the dining room table and handed his smiling mother the cordless phone.

“Uncle Jazz is coming Sunday,” he beamed.

Kyra took the phone from her son and brought it to her ear, hearing her brother’s infectious laugh.

“So, you will be gracing us with your presence this weekend? I am honored,” she teased him, chuckling when she saw Emma taking the plates over to the kitchen with a smug look on her face.

“Well, I am not that bad, am I? I saw you last week, twice.”

“Yeah, one time at a meeting and the other time you came running past my office because you were late for an appointment,” Kyra snorted.

“All right, I am guilty,” her brother chuckled. “I will make it up to you Sunday. Say, what is happening in your neck of the woods, sis? You got company?”

“Yes, you heard that right,” Kyra answered.

“That is kind of…unusual, having your son’s schoolteacher over for dinner…on her first day,” he grinned.

“She is new in town and she did me a huge favor by dropping off the purse I left in the classroom when I picked up Simon,” Kyra explained with a glance at the kitchen, where Emma and Simon were cleaning up the dishes. “It was a spur of the moment kind of thing. She is a very nice person.”

“Good. I am glad. You could need a friend, sis. Life is more than working and raising your son.”

“I know, Jazz,” Kyra sighed. “But you know how things have been.”

“I know you have been working real hard, Kyra, but maybe now it’s time to relax a little. When is the last time you went to the movies? And I am not talking about a kid’s show. I bet you can’t even remember.”

“Must have been before Simon was born,” Kyra admitted with a sigh. “All right, brother, I get the point. I will try and work on it.”

“That’s a good start, sis,” Jasper’s warm voice sounded. “Thank you. Um…of course I did not just call you to give you a hard time. I…um…I…when I come over Sunday, I will bring somebody I want you to meet.”

Kyra suppressed a chuckle when she heard the insecurity in her brother’s normally confident voice. She could picture him sitting on couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him and resting on the coffee table, while his fingers nervously tapped his leg.

“You will?” she asked. “Must be serious.”

“It is,” Jasper sighed. “Very serious. But I need some advice.”

“From me?” Kyra chuckled. “Are you sure?”

“I…mother doesn’t know yet and when she finds out, she’ll have a cow.”

“Why is that?” Kyra frowned. “You fell in love with a serial killer?”

“Not really,” Jasper nervously chuckled. “But she is from Surinam.”

“And the problem with that is, what exactly?”

Jasper let out a deep sigh and Kyra knew he would be sporting a deep frown.

“You know how mother feels about…interracial relationships,” he answered in a bitter voice.

“Jazz, honey, she will get over it,” Kyra answered, with more conviction than she really felt. Their mother had some very old fashioned and prejudiced beliefs about a huge variety of subjects. Equality among the different races happened to be one of them.

“Cross that bridge when you get to it. I know you have always been Mommy’s little boy,” Kyra continues, without a trace of menace. “But I want you happy, Jasper and so does dad. I know he will be absolutely thrilled. Mother’s beliefs are archaic, we all know that. By the way, doesn’t your honey have a name?”

“Elvira,” Jasper answered with a happy sigh and Kyra chuckled.

“I am looking forward to meeting her, Jazz. And don’t worry about mother, all right? Just follow your heart.”

“As always, you are absolutely right, sister. Well, I guess I will see you Sunday then. Have a nice evening, Kyra. Give Simon a hug for me.”

“I will,” Kyra smiled, noticing her son and Emma return from the kitchen. “See you Sunday. Bye.”

With a small frown Kyra put down the phone and breathed in deeply. She fully understood Jasper’s fear about bringing his girlfriend home. Their mother had always been very outspoken about the people her children were allowed to associate with. It had sadly cost both Jasper and Kyra numerous friends. Their mother always seemed to know who they were hanging out with and if she disapproved, she had made life so difficult for either her children, or their friends, that the outcome was in her favor. And when her children were persistent, she had not hesitated to use drastic methods.

Kyra had seriously stood up against her mother once, thinking that if she was persistent enough, she would be able to win the battle. Her mother had turned on her friend, who ended up paying dearly and after that Kyra had decided, that for the sake of her friends, she better keep her distance.

“Mom?” a small voice sounded and a little hand tugged her arm. “Are you sad?”

Kyra’s eyes locked with a pair of concerned gray ones and reached out her arms to pull her son in a warm, heartfelt hug.

“It was just a bad memory, honey,” she honestly said. “But that is in the past now.” Kyra kissed her son’s forehead and playfully squeezed him. “You need to go to bed, son,” she expertly changed the subject. “Say goodbye to Emma and go up to brush your teeth. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Without protest Simon climbed down from his mother’s lap and walked over towards the kitchen door where Emma had been looking at the scene in front of her. She had not meant to eavesdrop, but could not help to have overheard some of the conversation Kyra had with her brother. It sounded to her that their mother would not be a person she would like.

With a smile she looked down at Simon who stood before her and glanced up with a sleepy smile.

“Goodnight, Miss Emma,” he said.

“Goodnight, Simon,” she answered with a warm smile, gently ruffling his hair. “Sweet dreams. I will see you tomorrow.”

“Bye,” he waved, disappearing in the hallway where they could hear him climb the stairs to the second floor.

“Would you like a cup of coffee or tea, Emma?” Kyra asked, looking at the woman in the doorway, aware of the blue eyes that seemed to look straight through her.

“I should be going,” Emma answered. “I don’t want to keep you from your work.”

“Work can wait a little while longer,” Kyra waved the objection away. “I usually don’t start before eight anyway. And since you have cleaned up the kitchen for me, I have some time to spare,” she added with a grin. “So, coffee or tea?”

“In that case, I would like some tea,” Emma smiled.

 

For the next hour the two women enjoyed their hot beverage, their quiet conversation and each other’s company. Both were secretly thrilled by the fact they were so at ease with each other.

The occasional silence was comfortable and while sipping their tea, they shared a smile, both realizing they had started a tentative friendship.

“Oh, before I forget. Wednesday my mother will pick up Simon from school,” Kyra suddenly broke the silence in a voice that almost sounded apologetic.

Emma’s blue eyes studied Kyra’s hooded eyes and wondered what it was about the relationship between her new friend and her mother that was so unsettling to the dark haired woman.

Being the sixth child of a large family Emma was used to confrontations, but she had a feeling that an approach like that could be difficult for Kyra. For a few moments she debated with herself, but then she decided to try and help Simon’s mother to talk about it. It was not just because she wanted to see the shadow of hurt disappear from those expressive green eyes, she told herself. It was meant as a gesture of friendship. Right?

Right.

“I hope you don’t think I am prying or anything, Kyra,” she spoke, carefully choosing her words. “But I can’t help noticing that every time your mother is the subject of conversation, you definitely look sad.”

Kyra’s eyes looked at Emma with a startled expression and for a moment she looked like a little girl that had been caught doing something naughty. But then her face relaxed and while she cast down her eyes, she let out a deep sigh.

“You see a lot,” she replied, but there was no accusation in her voice, just a trace of surprise.

“I am sorry if I make you feel uncomfortable,” Emma gently spoke. “I did not mean to do that.”

“I am not,” Kyra hastened to say, while her eyes traveled back up and locked with Emma’s. “I am not feeling uncomfortable, I am just not really used to talking about my feelings.”

I am not even used to admitting that, she wryly mused, deliberately pushing away the question why Emma Altena seemed to have that effect on her.

“My parents got a divorce when Jasper was ten years old and I was eight. It was…a difficult time and sad. Since it was my dad who wanted the divorce, my mother was the ‘victim’. To make a real long story short, she always stayed in that role. Jazz and I did our best to be good kids and please her, but somehow it was never good enough, because we always had to listen to her complain about our dad.”

Kyra fell silent for a moment and her slender fingers twirled around the silver ring she was wearing.

“That must have been very difficult for you and your brother,” Emma softly spoke, feeling a hurt deep down inside when she thought about a little Kyra and Jasper, trying their best not to disappoint their mother.

“It was,” Kyra sighed. “We adored our dad, we still do. He tried to help us as much as he could, but we lived with mother. The hardest times were when we had to go back home again after spending our vacations with dad.” Kyra’s eyes avoided the empathic blue ones and stared at her fidgeting fingers. “I cried myself to sleep a lot of times,” she shyly admitted.

Emma had to take a sip of tea to swallow away the lump in her throat. As a schoolteacher she often dealt with the nasty fall out of divorces. No matter how legitimate the breaking up of a marriage could seem, the children were always the innocent victims, often suffering in silence because of their loyalty to both parents. Those little heartbreaks that could have huge impacts on the lives of children, often went unnoticed by the usually emotionally drained adults.

“I am sorry you had to go through that,” Emma finally spoke, her voice a little husky because of the emotions she felt.

“So am I,” Kyra answered, mustering up a smile. “But that is all in the past now. Fact is, my relationship with mother is pretty….strained. And I am putting it nicely,” she softly chuckled. “According to her I look wrong, I act wrong, I am not a good mother, it’s a long list. The worst thing of course is me being a single Mom. I don’t think she ever forgave me for that.”

Although, for some reason, Emma was dying to know what happened to Simon’s father, she did not dare to ask such a personal question. If Kyra wanted her to know, she would tell her.

“I have only met you today, but I see how you and Simon interact together. For what it’s worth, I think you are a great Mom,” Emma smiled.

And about the way you look, wow, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

“Thank you,” Kyra returned the smile that was sent her way and Emma was pleased to see the twinkling lights had made their return. “Coming from a professional, I take that as a compliment.”

“You may,” Emma quipped and they both started laughing.

“So, when mother comes to pick up Simon, just be prepared she will inspect you from head to toe. Her grandson can only be taught by the best. I know Simon’s former teacher, the one you are replacing, always dreaded those Wednesdays when mother came to school.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Emma dryly replied. “I’ll make sure to wear my very best clothes that day,” she added jokingly.

You cold wear rags and still look good, Kyra mused. Now, where the heck did that come from? I must be losing my mind.

Getting up from the comfortable couch Emma shot Kyra an apologetic look.

“I need to get going, Kyra,” she announced, seeing her new friend nod and slowly get up from the recliner.

“Bummer,” Kyra grinned. “Now I have no more excuses left to not wade my way through some thick folders of dry material. But I guess I should be doing something, I have a meeting to prepare for tomorrow.”

“And I need to make a few phone calls,” Emma stated, walking towards the hallway. “I promised one of my sisters and my mother to give them a call and tell them about my first day of school.”

“They must care about you a lot,” Kyra smiled, stepping inside the hallway behind Emma.

The slightly taller, auburn haired woman cast a look over her shoulder and nodded.

“They do,” she admitted with evident warmth in her voice, reaching out for the doorknob of the front door.

Kyra was doing the same thing, wanting to open the door to see her guest out and their hands touched. For a moment they stood frozen, but then Emma slowly withdrew her fingers from underneath her friend’s. She swallowed hard and sent Kyra a shy smile, wondering if the curly haired woman would be able to hear the thundering of her heart.

Kyra could not have heard the pounding in Emma’s chest, because her own pulse had quickened to such an extent that her ears were almost buzzing. She took a deep breath, hoping that her friend would not have noticed her state of confusion and answered the smile that was sent her way.

“Thank you for everything,” she spoke, grateful that her voice was not shaking. “I had a real good time.”

“So did I,” Emma answered. “Dinner was great and I enjoyed the company. It made my first day at school a lot better.”

“We…will have to do it again,” Kyra boldly suggested, briefly wondering where the words had come from.

She liked Emma a lot and hoped that she had found a new friend. It certainly seemed that way. She could only hope Emma would feel the same way about her as well.

“I would love to,” Emma replied, much to Kyra’s relief.

“Great,” Kyra smiled, reluctantly opening the door to let Emma step outside. “I will see you tomorrow, when I drop off Simon. Have a good evening, Emma and…thanks.”

“Thank you,” Emma replied. “Good luck with the work, Kyra.”

Kyra pulled a face, making Emma laugh. She looked so much like Simon whenever he did not like something, it was absolutely endearing.

“Bye.”

Emma crossed the narrow street to get to her car and when she opened the door she cast one more look at the house. Kyra was still standing in the doorway, her arms crossed in front of her chest, while she was leaning against the door sill. The soft light in the hall way illuminated her slender form and Emma wondered if Kyra had any idea how beautiful she was.

With a friendly wave she stepped into her car and slowly drove off.
Chapter 2
After she had entered her quiet apartment, Emma had shed her clothes and taken a long, hot shower. With the warm water cascading down her body, she closed her eyes and thought back on a long, but very satisfying day.

“Amazing how fast things can change,” she mused. “This morning I really was the new teacher, at a new school, in a new town, not knowing a single soul and this evening I’ve made a friend. Two,” she added with a smile, thinking about the cute little boy that was Kyra’s son. “It was a good day.”

Involuntarily Emma’s thoughts constantly traveled to Kyra Hartman and ever so often, she had to force herself not to think about a pair of beautiful, deep green eyes, or how the long, thick curly hair danced around a beautiful face, or the gentle smile that created a little dimple in Kyra’s right cheek, which made her look absolutely adorable.

“Get a grip, Altena,” she angrily scolded. “Get your butt out of the shower and call your sister, before she organizes a search party.”

Ten minutes later Emma sat curled up in a comfortable chair, with another cup of hot tea in front of her and a cordless phone in her hand.

She missed her family, especially her eldest sister and her mother, because those two women kept her sane when her life had taken an unexpected one hundred and eighty degree turn. Her whole family had supported her, each and every one in their own, unique way. But her mother and Hester had been the ones who had stayed up for hours and hours, listening to Emma talk, or just sitting around the huge kitchen table, lending silent support and a shoulder to cry on.

With a small sigh Emma decided to call her sister first and after dialing the number the phone only rang once before it was already picked up.

“If that is you, sis, I just want you to know I’ll kick your butt as soon as you get home again. You kept me waiting for hours and I’m dying to know how your first day was. If you’re not my sister: Hi, this is Hester Jansen,” a cheerful voice greeted.

Emma laughed and immediately heard a deep, exaggerated sigh.

“Emma Louise Altena, where have you been, girl? Don’t you know you shouldn’t worry older people like that? It’s bad for their hearts.”

“Yes, you’re ancient,” Emma remarked with a snort. “What are you? Thirty eight? Wow, sis, you’d better sign up for a nursing home.”

“No thanks,” Hester replied. “I already warned the kids that as soon as they have a family of their own, David and I will move in with them.”

“I bet they were pleased,” Emma grinned.

“Christian basically told me I was crazy, Marianne just rolled her eyes and pulled a face, but Peter said: ‘Sure, Mom’ and made my day,” Hester dryly stated. “But, tell me dearest, how was your first day at school?” she added with genuine interest.

“I had a very good day,” Emma answered. “It was nice, really nice. There are a lot of kids in my class, more than I’m used to and a few of them seem to be real rascals, but I’m pretty sure I’ll love it here.”

“Good, I’m pleased to hear that,” Hester’s voice sounded full of affection. “But did they make you stay late on the first day?”

Emma never had kept secrets from her eldest sister. In the past she had tried to keep some things to herself, but somehow her sister possessed the talent to see straight through her, even from a distance, which could be very annoying at times.

So, knowing Hester would find out one way or the other anyway, Emma told her the story about Kyra Hartman forgetting her purse and all the things that happened after that.

“You stayed for dinner? She invited you?”

“Well, yes, I sure didn’t invite myself,” Emma answered dryly.

“Hummm,” was the insinuating answer, followed by silence and Emma could picture her sister’s blue eyes, almost identical to her own, staring in the distance while her brain was processing the information and trying to fill in some blanks.

“That’s interesting, Emma,” she finally spoke again. “Is she…nice?”

“Yes, she is,” was the short, casual answer.

Emma could hear Hester grin and she braced herself for a modern day inquisition.

“So…she is single, huh? Divorced?”

“I don’t know.”

“You didn’t ask?” Hester teased.

“Of course I didn’t ask! Hester, we met this morning and even though it seems like we might become friends, I don’t want to subject her to the investigation you like to bestow on me.”

“Oooh, Emma. I love your protective streak,” Hester laughed. “She must be pretty special. So tell me, is there a potential for more than just friendship?”

Emma had expected her sister to come up with a question like that and even though she knew Hester was only teasing her, the question stirred something deep inside of her that she could not put her finger on. But it left her feeling a little sad and lonely.

“Hester,” she sighed. “Please!”

“I’m just yanking your chain,” Hester’s voice sounded in her ear. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. But seriously Em, it’s about time you start to live again. I want to see you happy, we all do. It’s been five years, sweetie.”

“I want to be happy as well, Hester, of course I want that. But moving here is a first step to get back on track again. I don’t want to rush things.”

“I understand, sis, I guess I’m just impatient to see you happy. You are the only single one left in the family and we are all dying for you to bring someone home one of these days.”

“Things like that can’t be forced,” Emma sighed. “Besides, maybe I am pretty comfortable with my single status. Have you ever considered I could be happy this way?”

“No,” was the blunt, but honest answer. “I’m sorry, Emma, but I know you. You’re definitely not the type of person to spend your life alone.”

“I’m twenty eight, Hester, I’d like to think I have some time left before desperation sets in,” Emma remarked dryly, making her sister chuckle. “But I appreciate all the concerns. So, how are David and the kids?” Emma changed the subject and to her sister it was clear she did not want to talk about it anymore. Hester accepted Emma’s evasiveness, but she was determined to find out more about her sister’s feelings towards Kyra Hartman. One way or the other.

The next few days were quiet and uneventful. With the spring season rapidly setting in, the long winter was soon forgotten when the sun started to gradually get warmer and the tulips and narcissuses bloomed in abundance in the many gardens and parks across the city.

Both Kyra and Emma had been cautious about their developing friendship. They had not visited each other after that first evening together, but in the days after, Kyra always made sure to pick up Simon a tiny bit late, so she could go to his classroom and talk with his teacher. She knew she did it on purpose. Every time she stepped into the school building her heart seemed to skip a beat in anticipation of seeing Emma again.

Kyra also knew that Emma saw straight through her, she could tell by the gentle twinkle in those deep blue eyes, but her friend seemed to ignore her obvious strategy, she just showed a gentle compassion and patience that warmed Kyra’s heart.

In the days that had followed after Emma had returned her purse and she had invited the teacher to dinner, Kyra had spent long hours thinking. Usually at night, when she was in bed. Staring at the ceiling she had just wondered what it was about Emma Altena that made the school teacher so special.

Kyra already had decided it could not be physical attraction. True, Emma would be considered an attractive woman. But that was not something Kyra usually paid any attention to. Was it?

No, of course not.

But Kyra had to admit Emma was a very nice person and she could not remember ever having felt so at ease with anyone else before. Not even with her father. It was utterly confusing and it made her want to spend more time with the auburn haired woman. To talk to her and hear her talk. Or to just relax in comfortable silence. Or maybe even watch a movie together.

It was frightening.

Kyra had always been a very independent person. That had partly been caused by her parent’s divorce, when she was still a little girl. She had to do a lot of growing up in a short period of time. Her pregnancy with Simon and the fact that she was a single mother had also contributed to her independence. At times it had been very hard, especially emotionally, but she had learned to cope and she was proud of the way she provided for herself and her son.

But now, ever since she had met Emma, the school teacher invaded her thoughts at the most unexpected moments. A longing, tucked away for a very long time had made itself known.

Often she caught herself wondering what Emma was doing and she had to force herself to focus on other things. Finally she decided there could only be one solution to silence her rebellious mind. She would ask Emma for dinner again. That way she could see for herself that, even though Emma Altena was a nice person and probably a great friend, it was ridiculous to lose any more sleep over the pretty school teacher.

It was Friday morning, four days after the two women had first met and Kyra had decided to get up early, so she could catch Emma before the class room would be filled by twenty five active, rowdy children.

As soon as she had opened her eyes, Kyra had felt a massive headache coming on and when she looked in the mirror she winced.

“Not good, Kyra Hartman,” she whispered to her tired looking reflection, noticing the dark circles underneath her eyes.

The whispered words painfully reverberated in her head and immediately Kyra felt a nauseous feeling settle in the pit of her stomach.

“Migraine day,” she groaned. “Perfect! I have three meetings and a conference call today. Lousy timing, Kyra. Maybe a shower will help,” she mumbled, dropping the t-shirt she used for sleeping on the bathroom floor and stepping into the shower stall. She shivered when the water hit her bare skin and goose bumps erupted across her entire body. She knew from experience that hot water would make the headache even worse and gritting her teeth she quickly showered, using lukewarm water.

“If I ask Emma for dinner looking like a zombie, she might run screaming.”

Oh, since when do you care about what Emma thinks about the way you look?

“I don’t, so shut up,” Kyra sighed, stopping the flow of water and quickly grabbing a huge, soft towel to briskly dry her skin.

Wrapped in the crimson colored towel, she walked back to her bedroom and grabbed the clothes she had picked out and draped over a chair the evening before. A few minutes later she was dressed in a dark green linen pant suit with a cream colored silk blouse underneath the suit’s jacket. Not in the mood to fiddle around with her hair, she just tied the long curls back into a pony tail, using a dark green leather strip to keep the thick hair neatly together.

“That’ll do,” she tiredly mumbled when she looked into the mirror again. “If they don’t like it, they will just have to look the other way.”

She left her bedroom to cross the hallway and open the door to Simon’s room. Her son was still fast asleep. He was lying on his stomach, with his head almost stuffed underneath his pillow, while his comforter was only partly covering his small body.

Kyra smiled and perched herself on the edge of the bed, lifting up the pillow and putting it aside. Her fingers tenderly brushed away some disheveled curls and she bent down to press her lips against Simon’s temple.

“Wake up, honey,” she softly spoke, seeing the long, dark lashes flutter. “It’s time to get up, Simon.”

The sleepy five year old turned on his back and while his eyes were still half closed, he reached out his arms to his mother, who picked the little boy up and pulled him in her lap. They sat like that for a few moments, both enjoying the other’s close presence.

Simon had his arms wrapped around Kyra’s neck and his face pushed in the crook of her neck, which always seemed to be his favorite thing to do whenever he cuddled his mother.

“You smell nice, Mom,” his voice sounded, still a bit rough from sleep. “You always smell nice.”

“Well, thank you son,” Kyra smiled, squeezing the little boy a bit closer and closing her eyes against the pounding in her head.

“We need to get moving, Simon. What do you want for breakfast?”

“I want oatmeal with an apple and banana,” he decided, after a few moments of quiet deliberation.

“All right, if you get dressed, I’ll make us breakfast, okay?”

“Okay,” Simon mumbled with a yawn, slowly disentangling himself from his mother and walking towards the bathroom, pulling up his Spiderman pajama bottoms.

Kyra neatly folded the comforter at the food of the bed and slowly rose to her feet, fighting the wave of dizziness that made her reach out her hand and lean against the wall for support. She took a few deep breaths and shook her head to get rid of the throbbing pain that had taken possession of the inside of her head.

“Whew,” she softly exclaimed. “This is definitely going to be a very long day.”

An hour later Kyra parked the car in front of the school, wondering why her stomach was roiling uncomfortably. It could not have been something she ate, because the only thing she had been able to stomach was a dry cracker and some tea. And she only forced that meager meal down, because she knew that taking aspirin on an empty stomach was a bad idea.

Quietly she took Simon’s hand and crossed the street to enter the playground. The breeze that blew from an easterly direction, made her shiver and she pulled her jacket closer, trying to keep the cold away.

With a nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach she opened the big door and stepped inside, enjoying the warm air that enveloped her in a welcome embrace.

“I’m the first one at school today, Mom,” Simon happily announced, skipping alongside his mother who was still holding his hand. “Maybe Miss Emma will let me finish the picture I’m making for granddad.”

“He’d like that, honey,” Kyra smiled, glancing down at her son’s joyful expression. “We could go to the post office tomorrow and mail it to him.”

“Yeah!” Simon exclaimed, pulling his hand out of his mother’s and running towards his classroom.

The door was open and as soon as Simon disappeared inside Kyra could hear his little boy’s voice greeting his teacher.

Kyra entered a few moments later and answered Emma’s welcoming smile with one of her own. But as soon as she stepped closer, the teacher’s smile disappeared to be replaced by a worried frown.

“Are you all right?” she asked in a concerned voice, quickly approaching Kyra and forcing herself not to reach out and touch the other woman’s arm.

Kyra rubbed her forehead and did her best to make a casual impression, but she failed miserably.

“Just a bit of a headache,” she sighed, shrugging her shoulders.

“A bit?” Emma echoed in an unbelieving voice. “Kyra, you look sick.”

“Oh, wow, thanks,” Kyra wryly answered, mustering up a tired smile.

“Just being honest,” Emma replied, with a touch of humor in her voice. “Why don’t you sit down for a moment?” she suggested, giving in to her desire to touch the other woman, by grabbing her elbow and leading her to the chair behind the desk.

Kyra did not protest, but she let Emma guide her to the chair and sat down with a heartfelt sigh.

“I took some aspirin,” she explained, wishing the fuzzy edges that blurred her vision would disappear. “I’m sure they will kick in soon.”

“Hummm,” was Emma’s only comment, perching on the edge of the table.

Her blue eyes took in the appearance of the woman who was sitting in her chair and again she frowned.

“It’s none of my business, I know, but why didn’t you call in sick? It looks like you are not in good shape to go to work, Kyra.”

“I can’t, I have a busy day with a few meetings. I need to be there,” Kyra answered. “I’ll be fine, Emma. But thanks for your concern.”

Emma bit her lip to keep herself from a making cynical remark that she knew was on the tip of her tongue. But it was just because she was worried about her friend. However, Kyra seemed determined to go to work and Emma felt she did not know her well enough to make further objections.

“Can I get you something?” she gently asked, stuffing her hands underneath her legs to avoid making a fool of herself by brushing away a reluctant curl that was dancing across Kyra’s forehead.

“No, thanks Emma,” was Kyra’s soft answer. “I came by early to…I wanted…I was wondering…”

Kyra bit her lip and inwardly cursed. What was wrong with her? Had her headache robbed her of her ability to form coherent sentences? Goodness! What would Emma think about her adolescent stuttering?

She took a deep breath and raised her green eyes to meet a pair of blue ones that shone with a mixture of amusement, concern and curiosity.

“I was wondering if you’d like to come over for dinner again,” Kyra hastily asked, blushing lightly after seeing the surprise on Emma’s face.

For a few moments it was silent and casting down her eyes to hide her disappointment, Kyra already decided that Emma probably had other plans. And why wouldn’t she? The teacher might be new in town, but that did not mean that she would be locked up in her apartment during her days off and pine away. It might have been a little presumptuous to think Emma would be free this weekend to….

“I’d love to,” was the unexpected, but warm answer. “When?”

Emma Louise Altena!! This is the mother of one of your pupils! Do you really think this is a good idea?

“Tonight?” Kyra tentatively asked.

“Sure,” Emma smiled. “If you feel up to it,” she hesitantly added, seeing the dark circles underneath Kyra’s eyes.

“I do,” Kyra answered with determination. “I know I look lousy, but believe me, it’s just a headache. I sometimes get them, but a few aspirins usually take care of it.”

“Okay,” Emma smiled, her eyes warm and gentle. “Do you want me to bring something?”

“Just yourself,” Kyra answered, slowly standing up from the chair, grateful to discover the nausea and dizziness had gone away.

“What time?”

“Whenever you feel like it,” Kyra smiled. “Simon and I usually eat around six, but you’re welcome to drop by after school. Just do whatever suits you best. I’ll be home anyway.”

“Good, I’m not sure what time I can leave here, but I’ll make sure to be there before six.”

“Great,” Kyra answered, already looking forward to the evening. “I’ll see you then.”

“You sure will,” was the soft answer.

They exchanged smiles and Kyra walked towards Simon’s little desk, where her son was coloring a picture he had drawn for his grandfather. The tip of his tongue poked from his lips in concentration and he looked adorable.

Kyra bent down and pressed a kiss on his unruly, curly hair.

“Have a nice day, honey,” she said.

“Bye Mom,” Simon answered, looking up at his mother with a beaming smile.

“Bye,” Kyra smiled back.

She cast another glance at Emma, who was standing next to the desk, her denim clad hip resting against the sturdy wood and her hands shoved inside her pockets. The blue eyes were regarding her with an intensity that made her heart skip a beat.

Oh, my goodness, Kyra inwardly sighed. What in the name of everything that is sacred is wrong with me?

She sent another shy smile towards the schoolteacher and quickly headed towards the door.

It was going to be a long day, indeed.

It was raining when Kyra drove home that afternoon. The sun had disappeared behind a fluffy looking blanket of thick, gray clouds and a steady drizzle had coated the roads in a shiny layer of moisture.

Automatically steering her car through the busy Friday afternoon traffic, Kyra felt exhausted. Her day had consisted of continuous meetings that had drained her of all energy. Knowing she would have the next two days off had kept her going and the realization that she had to pick up her son from school in time, had helped her to keep the meetings short and to the point.

With a tired sigh Kyra glanced into the mirror and winced when she saw the reflection of her drawn face looking back at her. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and just hoped that Emma would not object to looking at her for a few hours.

She saw you this morning, goof ball. She didn’t run screaming, but accepted your invitation, so stop being so darn insecure!!

Kyra inwardly chuckled and pushed away the hair from her forehead. As soon as she had left the office, she had given the curls free reign, sighing in relief when she had removed the constricting band around her hair.

I guess I could always have it cut, she mused. That would be so much easier to maintain.

But her mother’s disapproving voice already sounded in the back of her mind and Kyra grimaced. She was not ready to give her mother more ammunition yet. The woman was already convinced her daughter just lived to aggravate her. She did not want to make matters worse. Not yet anyway.

“Maybe I should wait until Jasper introduces his girlfriend,” she considered with wry humor. “I doubt she’d notice a new hair style then.”

Maybe Emma likes your hair the way it is now, the annoying little voice sounded in the back of her mind.

“So?” Kyra replied aloud. “As if I would care.”

Wouldn’t you?

“I don’t know,” was the slightly desperate answer. “I’m confused. She confuses the heck out of me. I don’t know what to think anymore. Listen to me! I am even talking to myself!”

Annoyed with herself, Kyra steered the car into a parking space across the school and killed the engine. Again she glanced in the mirror to see a pair of pensive dark green eyes stare back at her.

“You like her,” she mercilessly stated, feeling a blush creep up her cheeks.

“I do,’ was the whispered answer to her reflection. “And I don’t know what I am getting myself into here.”

Cancel dinner!

“Are you kidding?” she snorted. “We’re only friends.”

She ignored the burst of laughter in the back of her mind and quickly stepped out of the car, glancing at her watch to see that Simon would be walking out of the building in less than two minutes.

Five minutes later mother and son were on their way to the grocery store to pick up a few items Kyra needed to cook the meal she wanted to prepare for Emma. She wondered if Emma would like what she had in mind.

Casting a look in the rearview mirror she smiled at her chattering son, who was telling her all about his day’s adventures.

“And then Brian asked Chris if he could play with his Game boy and Chris said ‘no’ and then Brian tried to take it away from him, and Chris started crying and Miss Emma told Brian to stand outside the classroom and Chris had to put away his toy,” Simon rattled happily. “Is that why I am not allowed to bring my Game boy to school, Mom?”

“Well, I just think it’s an expensive toy, Simon and you need to take care of it. Besides, at school you need to learn, right? And I don’t want you to play with your computer games all day long. You can do that after school.”

“I don’t mind, Mom. When Ibrahim and Jesse come over we play with the Game boy, because Ibrahim doesn’t have one. He says his dad doesn’t have the money to buy one. Can he borrow mine, Mom? Just for a little while?”

“Sure honey,” Kyra smiled, pleased with her son’s willingness to share his toys.

“Is Miss Emma coming to dinner, Mom?”

“Yes, honey, she is. Do you think she likes chicken?”

“I like chicken,” Simon laughed, bouncing up and down in his chair with a delighted smile. “Everybody loves chicken. Will you make spicy chicken, Mom?”

“We had that a few days ago, buddy. What about that stew, Grandpa Albert showed us how to make?’

“Yes, Mom, I think Miss Emma would like that a lot.”

Kyra chuckled and steered her car into a vacant parking spot in front of the grocery store.

“Why do you think that?” she curiously asked.

“Because it tastes like vacation,” Simon explained.

Laughing Kyra killed the engine and turned around in her seat to look at her son. With a raised eyebrow she cast him a curious look.

“Vacation?”

“Yeah,” Simon answered, looking at his mother with innocent gray eyes. “Because Grandpa Albert taught you when we were at Aruba.”

“Well, there’s a logic I can’t argue with,” Kyra smiled, lovingly ruffling Simon’s unruly hair. “Let’s go get that chicken then, huh?”

After the last child had left her classroom, Emma had made quick work of tidying up the place, making sure the cleaning crew would be able to vacuum and mop the floor without risking stumbling or falling over the variety of toys that somehow had ended up on the floor.

“I’m clearly not with it today,” she mumbled, picking up a book and putting it back on the shelf against the wall. “When did I stop telling the kids to clean up after themselves?”

After Kyra Hartman invited you for dinner this morning?

Emma bit her bottom lip and silently acknowledged what the little voice in the back of her mind was telling her. It was true. The effect Kyra Hartman had on her was simply devastating.

She basically just met the woman. Really. They had known each other for a grand total of four whole days!

Wow! Has it only been four days? It feels so much longer…

Emma sighed and carefully sat down on one of the little tables, not aware of the fact it was Simon’s. Her dark blue eyes stared at a colorful painting that decorated the wall. It had been a class’ project and all the children had participated in painting a mural. The theme had been ‘Friendship’ and the children had gone to great lengths to put their thoughts about the subject into something visual.

Emma grinned when her eyes fell on the painfully bright goldfish that she just knew was Simon’s. The little fish sported a bright smile and his goggled eyes were slightly crooked, but held a happy expression just the same.

“Friendship,” Emma sighed, allowing the image of a pair of beautiful green eyes to invade her senses.

“Is that what this is? Then why does it feel so…different? Why can’t I get you out of my head? What is it about you that is holding me captive, Kyra Hartman?”

Well, for starters, she is an incredibly good looking woman. Face it Emma, you have a bad case of raging hormones.

“No,” Emma shook her head vigorously. “I’m not like that! I mean, she is very attractive, but…there’s something else there. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it.”

Slowly getting to her feet again, Emma walked towards the windows to check if they were all properly locked. She leaned her head against the cool glass and stared outside, without seeing the little yard and its colorful spring flowers. Her head was filled with images of a dark curly haired woman and she let out a frustrated breath.

“I’m confused,” she groaned. “What is happening with me?”

Could it be you are falling in…

“No!” Emma almost cried out angrily, turning away from the window and walking towards her desk to grab her purse and head for the exit.

“No,” this time she whispered the word, with a sad expression in her dark blue eyes. “I can’t be. That’s impossible.”

You are so pathetic, Emma, a voice that had haunted her dreams for a long time made its presence known again. Do you really believe in ‘happily ever after?’ Wake up, you dreamer. This is the real life. People take advantage of each other. They use each other. Big deal! I’m sure one day you will see it my way..

Closing the door behind her with a soft click, she quickly left the building, not aware of the lone tear that was sliding down her cheek.

Hardly half an hour later, Emma Altena was sitting in her favorite chair with the phone clenched in her fist, talking to her best friend, who also happened to be her sister.

“I think I’ll cancel.”

“Calm down, sweetie,” Hester’s voice sounded. “Just take a deep breath and tell me why you have to cancel dinner.”

“I…I am afraid I can’t handle this, Hester,” Emma whispered and she sounded so much like a frightened little girl that her sister’s heart clenched.

“Why not, Emmie? I thought you and Kyra were just friends?”

“We…I’d like to think we are, or, at least becoming that, friends I mean,” Emma stammered.

“Then what’s the problem?” Hester gently inquired, hoping she would be able to reason with her sister and help her not ruin a chance to, at least, gain a new friend.

“I don’t know. It’s…it’s something I don’t understand yet. I wish I did though,” Emma honestly answered. “She…it’s…she confuses me…”

Hester had to smile at the childlike tone of her sister’s voice and unseen to Emma she gave her husband a thumbs up.

“Em, can I be honest with you? Completely honest, I mean?”

Emma swallowed hard, knowing that her sister’s honesty was dreaded by a lot of people. For some reason Hester had the uncanny ability to see straight through people and confront them with things, feelings, they never even knew they had.

“All right.”

“Listen to me, Emma. I have known you all your life. Duh, I am almost ten years older than you are,” Hester chuckled. “I know you. I think I know you better than anyone else, except maybe for Mom. We both know you had some very bad experiences in the love department, honey. I’ll be the last one to deny that. But don’t let those things of the past color your future, Emmie. I honestly think that you and Kyra are genuinely attracted to each other. And like you, I don’t know the outcome of that either. But don’t you think it’s worth giving it a chance, Emma? If this Kyra person is as attracted to you as you are to her, would it be fair to shy away from her? Don’t you want to stick around and find out what could develop between the two of you? Even if it would be nothing more than friendship, don’t you think you deserve that chance? Don’t you think Kyra deserves that chance?”

After Hester’s words there was a long silence and the older Altena waited patiently for her younger sibling to reply. She knew Emma would be staring into the distance, with a pensive look in her dark blue eyes, mulling over everything her sister had just told her. But eventually she would answer and Hester just hoped that her sister would grab the chance of friendship. And she prayed she wouldn’t get hurt. Not again.

“Maybe you are right,” finally the soft answer came. “Maybe I should…just see what happens.”

“I have a feeling you won’t regret that, Emma,” Hester replied.

“I hope you’re right,” Emma sighed. “I’ll go to dinner at Kyra’s, but I’ll try to keep a safe distance. I need to know…I don’t want to put my heart on the line, Hester. You understand that, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, honey,” Hester replied with warmth. “Just buy the lady a nice bottle of wine, have some dinner together and enjoy yourself. Just see where this leads to, all right? If things go wrong you can always yell at me later,” she added with a chuckle.

“That might not be necessary,” Emma smiled. “Thanks, Hester.”

“Anytime, sis. So, tell me, what will you be wearing?”
Chapter 3
“Oh, it smells nice in here,” Emma greeted Kyra when she walked into the kitchen after Simon had opened the door and let her in.

Kyra looked up from cutting vegetables and shot her guest a welcoming smile. Emma looked nice, her brain quickly registered. She must have gone home and changed. The teacher was wearing a pair of dark green slacks and a cream colored top. She looked freshly scrubbed and even with the enticing scents wafting up from the stove, Kyra could detect a hint of perfume that reminded her of a warm, summer evening.

“I hope you’ll like it,” she said, turning her attention back to the cutting board. “It’s nothing really special. Just a stew with chicken, potatoes and a lot of different spices.”

“Mmm… I can smell garlic, oregano… curry and, is that cumin?’ Emma sniffed with appreciation.

“Yes, it is,” Kyra laughed delightedly, seeing the genuine interest in her friend’s face. “You have a good nose.”

“That’s what my mom used to say,” Emma grinned. “I could smell her freshly baked apple pie a mile away. Always made me rush home.”

“I’m a sucker for apple pie,” Kyra confessed, expertly slicing some potatoes. “Especially when it comes with vanilla ice cream.”

“Oh, yeah,” Emma groaned and they both laughed.

“Can I help?” the school teacher asked, putting a bottle of wine on the kitchen counter.

“No, I’m about done here, but thanks. You shouldn’t have done that, Emma,” Kyra remarked, eyeing the bottle of wine. “I said you didn’t have to bring anything.”

“But I wanted to,” Emma simply explained.

“Thank you,” Kyra smiled. “In that case, there is an opener in the top drawer on your right. You could open the bottle now. Oh, Italian Chardonnay, a 1999 Bussiador, good choice,” she commented, concentrating on the sharp knife in her hand, missing the startled look from Emma.

“I guess you know your wines,” the teacher dryly remarked, pulling open the drawer and finding the opener.

Kyra chuckled and dumped the sliced potatoes into the fragrant stew, quickly putting the lid back on to keep the moisture inside the pan.

“I guess I haven’t told you yet, but… um… my dad is a chef. Right now he’s not really working in the kitchen anymore, but he did teach Jasper and me a thing or two about cooking and wine.”

“I bet,” Emma answered, uncorking the bottle with a sophisticated plop and looking at Kyra with a raised eyebrow.

“Behind you,” Kyra smirked, understanding the unspoken question.

Emma turned around to find a cupboard that held a variety of glasses, she grabbed two long stemmed wine glasses and started to pour the chilled wine. She offered Kyra one and silently raised her glass.

“To… friendship,” she softly spoke.

For a moment Kyra looked startled, but then her dark green eyes started sparkling and she raised her own glass.

“To friendship,” she repeated in a happy voice, before taking a sip and humming in delight.

“Nice and fruity,” she remarked. “Thank you Emma.”

“You’re most welcome,” Emma graciously replied. “How’s the headache?”

What headache?

“A lot better, thanks. Today was… draining, but knowing the weekend was just around the corner made it a lot better.”

And knowing I would see you tonight made it just great.

“I’m glad to hear that,’ Emma replied, leaning against the kitchen counter and studying her friend’s face. Kyra was still looking tired and pale, but at least the sparkle had returned to those beautiful eyes, making her look a lot more lively than she did that morning.

Involuntarily Emma’s thoughts went back to the conversation she had with her sister and she could still hear Hester’s sincere voice echoing in the back of her mind.

“I know it’s still a few weeks away, but if you want to ask your friend to come to our party, she and her son are most welcome.”

Blue eyes regarded the curly haired woman with a wistful, pensive expression and Emma just wished she knew how to invite her new friend to her sister’s anniversary party, without coming across like she was being too bold or pushy.

She let out a deep sigh and decided to see how their friendship would develop in the hours to come. She could still ask Kyra later. Besides, after getting to know each other better, Kyra might not even be interested in a party hosted by Emma’s sister. Right?

Right.

 

 

 

Like the first time, dinner was comfortable and relaxed. Simon was chattering away, obviously thoroughly enjoying the attention he got from both his mother and his favorite teacher. When it was time for him to finally go to bed, he did pout for a moment, but a stern look from Kyra made him change his mind.

He sheepishly said goodnight and disappeared to his bedroom, after his mother had promised him to come up in a few minutes, tuck him in and read a little story.

Kyra emptied her second glass of wine and shot Emma an apologetic look before pushing back her chair and getting to her feet.

“I usually read him a story,” she smiled ruefully. “I should be back within fifteen minutes or so. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable on the couch or something?”

“Nope,” Emma decided, pushing back her own chair and jumping up. “I’ll clear the table and clean up the kitchen. I could even make you some tea,” she suggested with an impish smile.

“Emma! You don’t have to do that. You’re my guest and I… .”

“You cooked, and I’ll clean up,” Emma interrupted with a look that was close to unyielding and Kyra grinned.

“Okay, okay,” she said, holding up both her hands in surrender. “Knock yourself out and yes, I would like some tea.”

“Great, I’m glad we understand one another,” Emma gently teased. “Now, go read your son a story. By the time you’ll be back, I’ll be done.”

Kyra smiled and walked towards the hallway, not able to resist poking out her tongue at the teacher, who of course noted that rebellious gesture and playfully shook her finger.

“Careful, Kyra Hartman,” she warned with a twinkle in her eye. “Or I’ll have to make you stay after school.”

Kyra shook her head and just laughed, but before she disappeared from the room, Emma’s melodious voice stopped her.

“Kyra?”

“Yeah?” she responded, peering around the door and casting Emma an inquisitive look.

“Thanks for dinner,” Emma smiled. “That was wonderful.”

“Anytime,” Kyra softly answered, feeling her heart skip a beat.

She hid her blush by making a hasty retreat and quickly walked up the stairs to Simon’s bedroom.

 

 

“I’m positively stuffed,” Emma groaned, shifting in the huge couch to make herself more comfortable. “That was one of the best stews I ever had. You will need to write down the recipe, so I can try and make it myself one day… .or have my Mom make it,” she added with a chuckle.

“It’s easy,” Kyra answered, sipping her tea. “But I’ll write it down for you. Do you have an email address?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Emma answered. “My nieces and nephews have been pestering me about that before I left and somehow forced me into opening an email account at Yahoo.”

“Don’t tell me you are a computer illiterate,” Kyra joked. “Somehow you don’t seem to be the type.”

“Oh, I’m not,” Emma answered with a smile. “I know enough about computers to work with them and of course I had an email addy at work, it’s just that… I used to live close to my family and there wasn’t really a need to email each other.” Emma took a swallow of her tea and shrugged her shoulders. “I guess it’s different now.”

Kyra studied the face of the teacher and detected a shadow of hurt in the expressive blue eyes.

“You miss them,” she calmly concluded.

For a split second the blue eyes widened, but then Emma cast down her eyes and sighed.

“I do,” she admitted. “It’s not easy to… start over, far away from my family. But I’m sure I’ll manage and besides, I have found a friend in you… and Simon,” she added with a smile, not wanting to leave the little boy out. “I’m grateful for that.”

“So am I,” Kyra softly answered, catching Emma’s eyes and holding them for a breathless moment, before glancing down at the fragrant steam that was rising up from her mug of tea.

Okay, go for it, Em. It’s now or never.

“Um… I… um… wanted to ask you something,” Emma started, rubbing the back of her neck in nervous gesture. “The day before Easter, my sister, Hester and her husband David will throw a party. It’s their wedding anniversary, twelve and a half years,” she added with a slightly nervous chuckle. “Anyway, it will be Easter, so the school will be closed for two weeks and… um… I was wondering if… if… Hester said I could bring a friend and I think Simon would really like it on my dad’s farm, so… if you want to come… I… um… you know, maybe for a few days or so.”

Emma! Idiot! Can you act any more like an incoherent, stuttering adolescent? Geez, woman, you face rowdy groups of kids for a living, heck, you grew up in a rowdy family. Get a grip and act your age, before Kyra thinks you need speech lessons.

At first Kyra had listened to her friend while a tiny frown creased her forehead, but then a smile had crept up her face and her eyes twinkled when she looked at the obviously uncomfortable Emma.

“So, you’re asking me if you can take Simon with you?” Kyra deadpanned, seeing the startled blue eyes widen.

“No! Yes! I mean… no, not just Simon, the both of you,” Emma hurried to explain, oblivious to the mischievous look in a pair of dark green eyes.

A little vacation, up North, on a farm? With Emma? Kyra determinedly pushed away all the questions and doubts that rang all sorts of warning bells in the back of her mind and decided to take a chance on something potentially good. And interesting. Very interesting.

“We’d love to,” she answered with a warm smile, seeing the insecurity on Emma’s face melt away and be replaced by something that could only described as relief.

“Great! You’ll like it, I’m sure. My parents have this little two bedroom house on their property, just behind the main building, my grandparents used to live there after they retired. And I’ve lived there myself for a while. You and Simon can stay there if you’d like, so you will have your privacy and can retreat when my family becomes too much to handle,” she added with a chuckle.

“Oh, right, the family,” Kyra repeated while her heart suddenly fluttered. “Um… can you tell me a little bit about them? I’d like to come prepared,” she joked.

Emma sipped her tea and stared at her friend over the rim of the tea cup. Kyra’s hair was cascading down her shoulders and now and then she impatiently pushed back some rebellious curls to keep them out of her face. She still looked drained and tired, Emma decided, but there was something else as well, a light in those deep green eyes that lit up her face in a happy glow.

Emma swallowed and quickly cast down her eyes when she realized she was staring and saw the green depths she had been studying looking back at her with barely veiled curiosity.

“Um… Hester is my eldest sister,” she started, her voice a little husky and she quickly cleared her throat. “She’s married to David Jansen and they have three children: Christian, who is eleven, Marianne, who is nine and Peter, who is seven. Everybody always says that Hester and I look so much alike, we could have been twins.” Emma chuckled and her blue eyes sparkled with amusement. “Of course Hester loves it when people say things like that, because she’s ten years my senior. I’ve to admit though, we do look alike, even though Hester’s hair is long and mine is short.”

“She must be a beautiful woman then,” Kyra impulsively spoke, seeing the surprise in Emma’s eyes.

I can’t believe I said that, Kyra inwardly groaned.

“Thank you,” Emma softly answered, looking slightly bewildered, but then her sense of humor kicked back in and she laughed.

“You should have seen your face. You surprised yourself by saying that, didn’t you?”

Kyra shrugged her shoulders and sheepishly grinned.

“I did,” she admitted. “But it’s the truth though. You are very… good-looking and the color of your hair is really gorgeous. So, it’s just an observation I made,” she ended, chuckling when she saw Emma blush.

Emma rubbed her cheeks and had to laugh about her own embarrassment. She never really paid much attention to her appearance. Of course she liked to wear nice clothes and she always made sure she looked as neat as possible, but she never really considered if other people found her attractive. But Kyra’s honest remark about her looks had made her heart skip a few beats and she had to admit to herself she really liked the fact that her friend thought she was good-looking.

“You’re pretty straightforward, aren’t you?” Emma finally replied, when her cheeks had returned to their usual color.

“I can be,” Kyra admitted. “In my line of work I deal with a lot of people who often need a lot of my time, so in order to keep my sanity I usually have to cut the chase and get to the point. Things work out better that way, and a lot faster,” she dryly stated.

“But that’s work,” Emma pensively answered. “I… of course I don’t want to pretend I really know you, but I sometimes detect some… insecurities and I can’t help wondering why a woman like you, who looks so sophisticated and sure of herself, can also be so much like a little girl, afraid of being punished.”

Emma’s words had been spoken gently and with a lot of empathy, but they still hit Kyra unexpectedly and she involuntarily sucked in a breath and tightened the grip around her tea cup.

Her heart hammered in her chest and for a moment she felt like jumping up and running out of the door, away from those kind blue eyes that seemed to look straight into her soul.

But Kyra did not move. She just sat in her big recliner, looking at her hands while a deep crease was edged into her forehead. Finally, after a long silence in which only the ticking of the clock could be heard, she raised her eyes to meet Emma’s, who looked at her with a mixture of sadness, curiosity and… tenderness?

“Maybe because part of me still is that little girl,” Kyra confessed, her voice hoarse with emotion.

“Did your mother hurt you that bad?” Emma softly asked, accurately pinpointing the core of the problem.

The teacher had to control the anger she felt rising within her chest when she saw her friend cringe and slowly nod her head. She did not understand how a parent could hurt a child so much that it inflicted such deep wounds.

I’m so blessed with my mom and dad, Emma realized with a feeling of deep gratitude. There has always been so much love, comfort and acceptance in my family and I’ve almost taken it for granted.

“I told you we have a difficult relationship,” Kyra softly spoke, referring to the conversation they had on the first day they had met. “My mother is not a nice person,” she continued with a sigh. “I know that’s not a friendly thing to say, especially about one’s mother, but it’s the truth.”

Kyra leaned forward in her chair to place her empty cup on the coffee table and sent Emma a shy smile.

“I know I’m good at what I do at work,” she continued. “I know my stuff and I feel confident and in total control. But when it comes to… personal relationships and emotions, it’s a totally different ball game. My mother always made sure to wreck any friendships I had, unless she approved of my friends, of course,” she added with a touch of bitterness. “So, in the end I never bothered anymore. I mean, what was the use?”

“I stayed at home a lot and just focused on my school. I lived for the vacations, because Jazz and I visited our dad then. Those were the highlights of my youth, I guess. My dad always made us feel loved and wanted, while mother, well, she never failed to remind us we were a huge burden to her frail emotional state. I look a lot like my dad and that frustrated her as well, I think. Anyway, I could never do anything right. I never got complimented on my academic achievements. She constantly put me down. Nothing I did was right and when I tried to argue with her she immediately made sure to complain about her being the victim of a nasty divorce, always reminding me of how unfair my dad had treated her and how much she had to suffer.”

Emma was silent for a moment and looked at the pensive eyes of her friend. She had briefly met Vivian LeJeune that Wednesday when she had picked up Simon from school and she had to admit her first impression of the woman was not a good one. Kyra’s mother seemed to be very distant, cold and almost arrogant. Her cool gray eyes had studied Emma for a moment or two and with a subtle raise of her eyebrows she had dismissed the teacher.

“I don’t want to pry, Kyra,” Emma carefully worded. “But what was it your dad did that was so terrible that she made you pay for it? Because it sounds to me like she did.”

“My dad’s parents were friends of my mother’s parents, so they practically grew up together,” Kyra answered. “They were good friends and everybody just assumed that when the time was right, they would marry each other. And they did.”

Kyra took the teapot from the holder on the table and filled Emma’s and her cup with the steaming liquid again.

“They were both still young, in their early twenties. My grandfather owned a hotel in Amsterdam and my dad worked in the kitchen as a chef, like his father had done before him. When my mother was pregnant with me, he met Albert Mendez, a young Aruban who came to work in the hotel as a dancer. They became friends. Good friends,” Kyra added with a smile. “Albert was gay and I don’t think he even knew what a closet was, he was so out. Anyway, he confused the heck out of my dad and as the years passed, well, my dad could not longer fight his own orientation and finally, after about seven years of struggling, he admitted to himself he was gay.”

Kyra’s eyes stared at a point at the coffee table and again she relived that moment when she and Jasper had come home from school, to find their father crying, while their mother had stood near the window, staring outside, her shoulders squared and her back rigid. A suitcase had been standing near the door.

As soon as they had entered the room her mother had coolly ordered their father to say goodbye to his children and leave. Kyra had never been so scared in her life. The man who had always been her best friend and hero was crying uncontrollably and holding his son and daughter like it would be the last time ever.

His red rimmed green eyes, so much like Kyra’s had looked at them pleadingly and in a broken voice he had asked his children to be good, to look after their mother and each other. And to forgive him.

Kyra could still remember how badly her father had been shaking. He had hugged them one more time and then he had jumped up, grabbed the suitcase and left the house, leaving two crying children behind.

As soon as he had left, their mother had turned around and ordered them to go up to their room and stay there until they were called.

Kyra had not understood. She had run towards her mother, looking for a pair of comforting arms, but she was briskly pushed aside and told to immediately go to her room.

Kyra let out a shuddering breath and when her eyes slowly traveled to Emma’s face, she saw the teacher looking at her with compassionate, moist eyes.

“What?” she softly asked.

Emma mustered up a small smile and slowly shook her head in disbelief.

“You’re crying and you’re not even aware of that?” she gently asked.

Only then Kyra became conscious of the moist tracks on her cheeks and impatiently she wiped them dry with the back of her hand.

“Duh,” she breathed with a quivering voice. “Sorry.”

Emma could no longer control the urge to comfort the other woman. She stood up from the couch and stepped towards Kyra’s chair, kneeling next to it and putting a comforting hand on the dark haired woman’s knee.

“Please, Kyra, don’t ever apologize for crying. There’s no need to do that.”

“I… I don’t think I have ever cried in front of anyone else anymore, not after dad left that day,” Kyra confessed, instinctively reaching out and grabbing Emma’s hand in a silent request for reassurance, which was wholeheartedly granted when Emma covered the clammy hand with her own and gently squeezed it.

“The pictures I see on the bookshelf tell me he did not disappear out of your life though,” Emma remarked, seeing a tentative smile on Kyra’s face.

“No, he didn’t,” she answered. “Mother filed for a divorce and was given custody. We saw our dad every other weekend and during the school vacations. That kept me sane.”

Emma’s heart went out to the young Kyra, who had already been through so much pain, at such a young age. The professional in her was tempted to coax Kyra into sharing more of her story, because she felt it would be a good thing for her friend to talk about it, while the friend in her just wanted to wrap her arms around Kyra, pull her close and chase the demons away.

“I’ve never had a friend like you,” Kyra timidly confessed, looking down at their clasped hands.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Emma gently teased, nudging Kyra’s arm with her shoulder.

“A good thing,” Kyra immediately smiled, raising her eyes to meet Emma’s, already knowing her heart would skip a beat as soon as she looked into their blue depths.

For a long moment the two women just stared at each other, both lost in the sensation of being granted a look into another person’s soul. Kyra felt like she had been lost in a dark, cold forest for a long time, finally reaching a house and peering inside to see only warmth and kindness being reflected to her. It increased her desire to step inside and be part of the affection and gentleness.

“You didn’t seem shocked to hear about my dad,” she finally whispered, feeling her heart rate pick up again when Emma’s smile lit up the blue depths with sparkling lights.

Time for a little revelation, Emma Altena. What do you think she will do? Gracefully retreat or go forward with what we are developing here? I’d like to put my money on the latter…

Emma moistened her suddenly dry lips and slowly shook her head.

“Because I wasn’t,” she truthfully answered. “Of course I could tell you that in my line of work I meet gay parents as well and I do have some notion about the difficulties they face, especially after they’ve been married before. But that wouldn’t be the main reason why I wasn’t shocked.”

“It wouldn’t?” Kyra whispered, swallowing hard when Emma shook her head and already suspecting what Emma was going to tell her.

“No, Kyra. I wasn’t shocked because I’m gay as well.”

Even though she felt pretty confident that Kyra would not jump up and throw her out of her house, Emma still could not prevent herself from casting down her eyes and practically holding her breath until her friend would respond. The only thing she was aware of was the tightening of Kyra’s fingers around her own, which of course could have been caused by shock.

She missed the startled look in Kyra’s eyes, which was soon replaced by a mixture of quiet wonder and amusement.

“Are you now?” Kyra drawled and if Emma had not been slightly nervous all of a sudden, she would have heard the undertone of gentle teasing. “Look at me, Emma.”

Emma’s eyes slowly traveled from their still clasped hands, up Kyra’s body, towards her face where they finally met a pair of gentle, dark green eyes.

“I don’t care. I like you. A lot. You don’t have to be afraid that I’m one of those women who think every lesbian they meet is trying to make a pass at them. Unless… ” Kyra’s eyes sparkled. “Are you?”

“What? Am I what?” Emma asked confused.

“Are you coming on to me?”

Emma’s eyes widened and she would have pulled away her hands if Kyra would not have held them tight between her own.

“Am I coming on to you?” she repeated.

I just wish…

“No! God, no. I hope I didn’t give that impress… ”

“Does that mean I’m not attractive?” Kyra asked with a little pout and only then Emma noticed the amused sparkle in her friend’s eyes.

“You little sneak,” she breathed, chuckling when Kyra threw back her head and laughed out loud. “I can’t believe I fell into that. Goodness, for a moment I thought you were being serious.”

Emma’s eyes softened when she looked at her friend’s smile and she decided that a little payback would not hurt her. Besides, Kyra had asked for it, right?

“But, to answer your question,” Emma started slowly, enjoying the look of surprise on Kyra’s face. “I personally think that you are… very… attractive,” she said in a low, sexy voice that sent shivers down Kyra’s spine.

“Now you are blushing,” she added with a grin, earning a playful slap across her shoulder.

“You’re mean,” Kyra laughed, feeling the heat almost radiating from her face.

“Oh, I am? And you’re not?” Emma smirked.

“I have to confess I was a little mean, yes,” Kyra grinned, not aware of the fact that the hand she had used to punch Emma’s shoulder was still resting on that very spot. “But that just shows we’re a good match.”

“Yes, we are,” Emma smiled.

Time will tell HOW well exactly…

Again their eyes locked and Kyra’s world stopped for a breathless moment when the deep blue of Emma’s eyes held her captive. They were so close that she could see the different shades of indigo that enveloped her like a warm blanket.

Emma could feel her heart hammering in her chest and her mouth went dry when she noticed the intensity of those dark green eyes that were speckled with little stars of gold and gray. She had to force herself not to let her gaze drift down to a pair of soft looking lips. It would be so easy to lose herself in the moment, to cross the small distance between them and taste those lips in a searing kiss. But even though a little part of her was positive Kyra would not run screaming, common sense held her hormones in check by telling her that risking their budding friendship would be insane. So Emma just sat there, on her knees next to Kyra’s chair, losing herself in the sensual warmth of a pair of dark green eyes, that, to her astonishment seemed to come closer and closer.

Kyra could not help herself. Her world only seemed to exist of a warm, blue gaze that pulled her closer like a magnet. Not able to heed the alarm bells in the back of her mind, her hand on Emma’s shoulder tightened its grip to support her when she leaned closer to those mesmerizing eyes that had taken on a darker shade of blue.

What are you doing, Kyra? Her mind practically yelled at her.

I don’t know, but it feels so good, a rebellious voice answered and she moistened her lips, vaguely noticing the hitch in Emma’s breathing.

I think I am going to ki…

A piercing sound shattered the silence, violently interrupting a moment of perfect magic. Kyra sucked in some much needed air and reached for the phone, hearing Emma letting out a shuddering breath.

“Kyra Hartman,” she breathlessly spoke.

When the person on the other side spoke, Kyra quickly pulled away her hand from Emma’s shoulder, pushing back her hair with slightly trembling fingers.

“Hello, Mother,” she quietly spoke, not able to look at Emma, who was slowly getting back on her feet to resume her place on the couch.

“You sound like you have been running,” Vivian LeJeune’s voice sounded disapprovingly.

“I was just… the phone startled me,” Kyra softly explained, wondering why she suddenly felt like crying. She cast a look at Emma, who was leaning her head against the back of the couch with her eyes closed. Deep down inside Kyra felt like she had just lost something valuable and she swallowed away the lump in her throat.

Suddenly she became aware of her mother’s impatient voice repeating a question she had not heard at all and her grip on the cordless phone tightened.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” she asked, wincing when an aggravated sigh was the answer.

“Are you listening to me at all?”

“I was… pre-occupied,” Kyra sighed, rubbing her temple where she could feel the beginning of a dull throbbing. “You called at an inconvenient time and I’m developing a massive headache, mother.”

“Your brother called me this afternoon,” Vivian LeJeune continued, completely ignoring her daughter’s discomfort. “He wants to introduce another girlfriend. Do you know anything about that?”

“Mother,” Kyra sighed. “You make it sound like he brings… home… girlfriends all the time. This is the first time Jazz… .”

“His name is Jasper,” Vivian LeJeune sharply interrupted. “I don’t understand why you always insist on calling him that… that… awful name.”

“It’s called a nickname, Mother,” Kyra explained, seeing a pair of blue eyes open and look at her with a mixture of regret, shame and sadness.

Oh, boy! I need to get rid of my mother and do some damage control.

“But, to answer your question,” she continued. “I have not met her yet, but Jazz…Jasper sounds positively happy and to me that’s enough.”

“Did Jasper tell you where she works?”

“No, he didn’t,” Kyra sighed. “And frankly, I don’t care. My brother is madly in love and I am happy for him. He’ll visit Sunday and introduce Elvira and I’m sure I’ll get to know her better then.”

“Her name is Elvira Martina and she works as a counselor in a clinic for drug addicts and alcoholics,” Vivian LeJeune spat.

“Mother, you make it sound like she is a chainsaw killer and has little kids for breakfast,” Kyra grunted, doing her utmost to remain patient, which was hard, because Emma looked a little lost and for some reason that tugged on Kyra’s heart. “It sounds to me like she has an interesting job and people who work in that field only deserve the utmost respect and admiration.”

“She is from Surinam,” Vivian LeJeune spat, throwing her trump card on the table.

“So?” Kyra sighed.

“So?! Kyra! She is black!”

“Mother!!” Kyra answered with a raised voice, feeling the anger rise in her chest. “I don’t care if she is black, yellow, green or purple, or even a combination of it all. She is a person. A human being like you and me. I don’t want to be subjected to your petty, prejudiced ideas, so if you have nothing constructive to say, I’d suggest you put down the damn phone and leave me be!!”

“There is no need to talk to me like that. I am still your mother. I thought I taught you to respect your elders.”

“I do. I respect my elders and I respect people who have a different ethnic background than I have. I welcome the diversity. I just wish you would too.”

“You can’t expect me to lower my standards and… ”

“I am hanging up now, Mother,” Kyra snapped. “Goodbye.”

“Kyra Hartman, don’t you dare put down that phone!! I have something to say about that new teacher at school.”
Chapter 4
Kyra was about to press the little red ‘off’ button on the phone, but her mother’s words halted her movements and with a hesitant glance at Emma, she brought the device back to her ear.

“What!?”

“I have talked to different people who are involved with the school board and from a reliable source I have heard that she has…a history.”

“Don’t we all have one?” Kyra snorted. “And I know your reliable sources, Mother. They are lazy, good for nothing, gossiping, sherry sipping busy bodies, with the common sense of a garden rake.”

Emma suddenly clasped her hand in front of her mouth to stifle a laugh and Kyra rolled her eyes at her.

Vivian LeJeune just ignored her daughter’s comments and continued.

“Something happened, Kyra and I am determined to find out what that was. I don’t like the idea of a teacher like that being involved in my grandson’s education.”

You have no idea, Mother!

“Well, good luck, Mother. Spare me the details when you find what you’re looking for, all right? Emma Altena is a qualified teacher who also happens to be good with kids and on top of that she is a very nice person. So, I don’t care what you dig up about her. Bye mother.”

With a trembling finger Kyra pressed the ‘off’ button and threw the phone on the table. With two hands she pushed back her thick, curly hair and let out an explosive breath.

“Arrogant, self righteous…woman,” she almost growled.

For a moment, while Kyra was trying to control her anger, both women temporarily forgot the fact that they had almost kissed a few minutes earlier.

“Like I told you, my mother is not a nice person,” Kyra sighed. “I’m sorry you had to witness this, Emma. I just…whenever she starts about her issues with people of different color, I just explode.”

“I can’t blame you,” Emma gently answered, curious as to what Kyra’s mother had said about her. “Umm…does your mother have a problem with me being Simon’s teacher?” she hesitantly asked.

Kyra looked up and noticed that Emma did not seem to be upset. She slowly nodded and felt ashamed for her mother’s words and actions.

“I’m sorry,” she almost whispered. “She…um…apparently she has been trying to get some information about you and one of her ‘friends’,” Kyra used both hands to make the quotation signs. “Who happens to be on the school board, told her that you have a ‘history’ and she’s determined to find out what that is.”

“So much for my privacy,” Emma cynically remarked, raking her fingers through her hair.

With a nauseous feeling she remembered a time, not all that long ago, when her world was upside down and she seriously wondered if she would ever be able to go back into teaching again. At her new school she had been painfully honest and had told them everything that could ever come back to haunt her, but the principal had told her to try and leave the past behind. A new school and a new town would provide her with a fresh start and he and her fellow teachers had welcomed her on board with genuine kindness.

“If she finds out you are gay she’ll have a coronary,” Kyra said as gentle as she could to take the sting out of those words. “She would try and get you fired.”

“They will not fire me for that,” Emma answered with confidence. “I told them I was gay before they hired me. It…” she took a deep breath and even though she really did want to tell Kyra the whole story, she knew it wasn’t the time or the place…yet. “I had a problem with that at my old school,” she confessed, keeping her eyes fixed on the coffee table. “It’s a long story and it’s not a nice one either. Just…well, I…”

“Don’t tell me if you are not ready for it,” Kyra interrupted softly. “It’s okay, Emma. I am glad it won’t be an issue. You are an excellent teacher and the kids love you, that much is obvious. That’s enough for me.”

“Thank you,” Emma answered with a small smile, raising her head and seeing the warmth in Kyra’s eyes.

“It’s been an…interesting evening,” she added with a touch of humor in her voice.

“It sure has,” Kyra agreed. “Very interesting…and very nice as well.”

Their eyes met and they both smiled at each other. The gentleness in Kyra’s eyes suddenly filled a cold, insecure spot inside Emma’s heart and she cleared her throat.

“Umm..Kyra, listen, about…before, I…”

“Don’t ,” Kyra interrupted with a warm smile, that deepened when Emma looked at her with a puzzled expression.

“You don’t have to apologize,” she explained. “I…it…” Kyra sucked in her bottom lip and a small frown creased her forehead when she tried to come up with the right words.

“It was an unexpected…but nice moment,” she slowly said. “And if the phone had not started ringing, I really don’t know what would have happened.”

You do know. You would have kissed her, Kyra. Don’t deny it.

“I don’t want to apologize for it, I just want to…”

Forget about it and stay friends, Emma mentally finished the sentence and she hoped that Kyra would not notice the disappointment on her face.

“I just need some time to…think things over,” Kyra shyly admitted, feeling a blush creep up her cheeks. “I’m really…confused, but it has nothing to do with you,” she quickly added. “Well, in a way it has, of course, but…you know what I mean!”

“I think I do,” Emma smiled, thinking how adorable Kyra looked when she was flustered. “I just hope you don’t think I tried to…take advantage of the situation.”

“I don’t think that at all,” Kyra replied strongly. “I was…to be honest, I was completely…your eyes, they just dragged me right in,” she added with a nervous chuckle. “I bet you’ve had a lot of people, men and women, already tell you how beautiful your eyes are, huh?”

“Not really,” Emma dryly answered, having regained her composure and looking at her friend with an amused twinkle in her eyes.

“Oh,” Kyra seemed a little taken aback, but then she smiled, secretly pleased with Emma’s answer. “Well, for what it’s worth, you do have beautiful eyes,” she said.

“Thank you,” Emma smiled. “And I would like to return the compliment. Your eyes are captivating as well, but, you probably knew that already.”

“No,” Kyra dead panned and they both laughed, relieved that they apparently felt so at ease with each other that they had been able to discuss what had transpired between them without feeling awkward.

“I’m glad we met, Emma,” Kyra unexpectedly said. “It’s so nice to have a friend. I almost forgot what it was like.”

“In that case I’m pleased to be the one to remind you of that,” Emma stated formally, but her eyes were dancing.

It felt so good to be with Kyra. True, they had only met a few days ago, but still, Emma felt like she had known Kyra a lot longer than five days and she knew by looking at her friend that she was feeling the same strange, but heartwarming thing.

In spite of the serious and personal information they had shared, Kyra’s posture was relaxed and there was no sign of discomfort in her eyes.

It was weird, Emma mused, to have met somebody who had become so close, in such a short period of time. But it was a nice feeling though, it soothed places deep inside her soul that she didn’t even know were raw and painful and it filled her with a warmth that seemed to nurture her soul.

“I’m still taking a risk here,” Emma thought. “A few more hours with her and I know I’m lost and I’m not even sure if she would be able to return the sentiment. What if I am wrong? My gut feeling says she’s not straight, but what if my gaydar is off? It would be the very first time, but still…I don’t want to run straight into heartache, pun not intended.”

“Penny for your thoughts,” a soft voice interrupted and Emma looked up with something that closely resembled fear. Kyra noticed the look in her eyes, even though it had only been there for a split second. She frowned and cast Emma a worried look.

“Are you all right?” she asked, her voice full of concern.

“Just …some bad memories,” Emma replied, not looking at Kyra. “I am okay,” she looked up. “Honest.”

Emma glanced at her watch and shot Kyra an apologetic look. It was not really late yet, but so much had happened she felt like she needed to be alone for a while to bring order to her disorganized thoughts.

“I guess I should go,” she softly said, knowing that leaving would be the best thing to do, before she would make a fool out of herself and create a situation Kyra would probably regret later.

“You don’t have to,” Kyra replied in a subdued voice, suddenly not looking forward to spending the rest of the evening alone, even though she was used to it.

“I…there is a lot I need to think about, Kyra,” Emma honestly answered. “To be honest, I would like to stay, but I need some…I need to clear my head. It’s nothing personal, believe me.

“Well, except that I think I have fallen head over heels in love with you, but surely that’s nothing personal.

Kyra tried to ignore the hurt Emma‘s words had caused. She knew it was irrational to feel that way and she was wondering where that feeling was coming from, but it was hurt just the same. Maybe it would be good to do a little soul searching herself.

Make that a lot of soul-searching. Great! Another sleepless night and you already have a headache the size of Antarctica.

A wave of nausea and dizziness suddenly made her head spin and involuntarily Kyra grabbed the arms of the chairs and dug in her fingers to steady herself. The world was spinning and with a strange feeling of detachment, Kyra told herself it was a good thing she was sitting down, because had she been standing up she would be sprawled across the living room floor by now.

The annoying buzzing in her ears was interrupted by a sound she did not recognize at first and she slowly shook her head to try and clear it. But that only intensified the spinning and she swallowed hard when she felt the bile rise in her throat.

The incoherent sound became more persistent and gradually Kyra came to understand it was Emma’s voice that was trying to penetrate the fog in her head. A hand had been placed on her shoulder and strangely enough the scent of Emma’s perfume suddenly became very clear, while the rest of the world was still hidden in fuzzy clouds.

“Smells nice,” Kyra mumbled with difficulty, feeling like her mouth was filled with cotton wool.

“Kyra,” Emma’s voice became more persistent and Kyra could feel a hand cup her cheek and lift up her face towards the light. “Kyra.”

Slowly, very slowly, a pair of very worried blue eyes became visible through the foggy haze and Kyra exhaled in relief.

“M’okay,” she whispered, glad to feel she could move her lips again and make coherent sounds. “Guess that migraine blindsided me. Sorry about that.”

“Did you have a migraine this morning as well?” Emma asked in a no-nonsense voice.

“Well, a little one,” Kyra answered, not able to look in those concerned blue eyes. “I …I took some aspirin and then things became a bit better.”

“Do you have them often?”

“Thank goodness, no,” Kyra sighed. “Every once in a while. I guess now is ‘every once’ huh?”

Emma ignored the attempt of a joke she was sure Kyra used to try and distract her from the real issue and she shot her friend a stern look.

“What do you usually do when you have a migraine like this?”

Kyra realized Emma could not be sidetracked and she closed her eyes with a sigh. Her head was throbbing so bad she was afraid to move and she still expected her dinner to return with a vengeance.

“I have medication for it,” she softly explained, giving up the nonchalant facade and wordlessly admitting how bad she was feeling. “Normally I don’t let it come this far. I would have taken a decent painkiller and gone to bed.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Emma softly asked, giving in to the temptation to brush away a strand of dark hair from Kyra’s forehead.

“Because I wanted you to come,” Kyra replied in a hoarse voice.

“And I wanted to be here,” Emma confessed. “But not when you are hurting like this, Kyra. Can you walk?”

Kyra opened her eyes and carefully put her feet on the floor. With Emma’s steadying hand on her back she slowly stood up, glad her friend was standing close, because she had to grab Emma with both hands to prevent herself from falling down when suddenly her knees buckled.

“Damn,” she grunted, resting her forehead against Emma’s shoulder and trying to catch her breath, waiting for the pounding in her head to subside.

“I guess you’re not one of those super women who can just scoop me up and carry me to the bedroom, huh?” she faintly joked.

“Sorry,” Emma smiled. “I left my Butch-card at home. I can give you a hand however, that is, if you want me to.”

“Please, I need to lie down and I don’t think I can get upstairs all by myself.” Kyra brought a hand to her forehead and Emma saw her shiver. “I feel like I have a fever, weird.”

“Yes, you do feel hot to the touch. Maybe you are coming down with something” Emma admitted. “Come on, I’ll help you to your bedroom.”

Emma wrapped a strong arm around Kyra’s waist and slowly helped her out of the room, into the hallway. With a look of despair Kyra glanced up at the stairs and softly grunted.

“I wonder if I’ll be able to make it,” she sighed.

“Just think about your nice, soft bed,” Emma encouraged. “I’ll be right behind you, all right? Just take it nice and slow.”

It took them about five minutes to finally reach the second floor and Emma cast a worried look at Kyra whose face was pale, with perspiration coating her forehead and who was breathing hard.

“I feel like I’m going to throw up,” Kyra moaned, feeling another wave of dizziness almost sweeping her off her feet. “You better watch out, Em,” she said.

Emma smiled at the abbreviation of her name and her arm tightened around Kyra’s body.

“I grew up on a farm, remember? I have been covered in things they didn’t even have a name for, so don’t worry about me, okay?”

In spite of everything, Kyra chuckled, immediately grabbing her pounding head and letting out a grunt of pain.

“Don’t make me laugh,” she whispered, pushing open the door to her bedroom and stumbling towards the bed, where she carefully let herself sink on top of the cool comforter, closing her eyes with a soft moan.

“Where are those painkillers, Kyra?” Emma asked, looking around the large, tastefully decorated bedroom.

“Top shelf of my closet, left door,” Kyra answered with difficulty, hoping that if she would lie real still, the painful hammering inside her head would stop.

Emma quickly walked towards the large, four door closet and opened the left door. The scent of freshly laundered fabric mixed with a little touch of perfume, wafted out and Emma breathed it in with appreciation. It smelled like Kyra and that realization immediately quickened her pulse.

She grabbed a little bottle on the top shelf and carefully read the label, before she took out two white tablets and walked towards the adjoining bathroom to retrieve a glass of water.

When she came back she perched herself on the edge of the bed and gently rubbed Kyra’s shoulder.

“I have your painkillers here, Kyra. Can you sit up?”

“If you’ll help me,” was the soft response.

For a moment Emma hesitated, but then her practical mind jumped over all the hurdles of objection and she grabbed Kyra’s shoulders, helping her to sit up and then slid behind her to keep her upright.

“Open your mouth,” she gently said and Kyra obeyed without hesitation.

Emma put the pills in her friend’s mouth and with one hand she took the glass of water from the night stand and brought it to Kyra’s lips, who drank the cool liquid greedily.

“Thanks,” she said in a weak voice when the glass was empty.

Emma put the glass back on the night stand and looked down at the curly head that was tucked against her shoulder. Kyra had slumped against her body, using Emma’s chest as a backrest and the dark haired woman did not seem to be inclined to move any time soon.

“This is comfy,” Kyra whispered sleepily, feeling Emma’s body move when she chuckled.

“I’m glad you like my pillow skills, but I think it will be better for you to lie down.”

“Better for me or better for you?” Kyra sighed, feeling another chuckle and she managed to produce a small smile.

“I’m not the type of person who would take advantage of a defenseless woman,” Emma smiled, leaving the spot behind Kyra and lowering her friend back on the bed.

“Pity,” Kyra muttered so softly that Emma was not sure if she had heard it right.

“I guess I’d better help you take your shoes off,” she mumbled, grabbing one of Kyra’s leather shoes and carefully slipping it off her foot. The other one followed suit and Emma looked down at the woman on the bed, wondering what her next step should be. Kyra was lying on top of the comforter and even though she was still fully dressed, she would eventually get cold.

“Kyra, I will help you to get underneath the cover, all right?” Emma softly spoke, not sure her friend would hear her, since she had her eyes closed and her breathing had become slow and deep.

Grateful for all those years helping out her parents on the farm, which had contributed to her strength, Emma slipped her left arm underneath Kyra’s body and carefully lifted her up, while her other arm quickly pulled back the comforter. She cautiously let her friend sink back into the pillow again and almost jumped when she noticed a pair of half lidded green eyes peek up at her.

“You’re strong,” Kyra’s voice croaked, holding a touch of admiration.

“Farm work,” Emma explained with a smile. “I thought you were asleep already.”

“No, I wish I was,” Kyra sighed, pushing herself upright with a grunt, immediately grabbing her head. “Ouch.”

“Lie down, Kyra, let those painkillers do their work first,” Emma gently scolded.

“They will knock me out,” Kyra explained. “And I don’t want to sleep in my clothes.”

“Oh, I see,” Emma remarked. “Um…I guess I should…I’ll be waiting outside,” she stuttered, turning around to make a hasty retreat, but Kyra’s voice stopped her.

“What’s wrong, Emma? You’re gay, but you have never seen a naked woman before?” she joked, chuckling at her own joke and grabbing her head in pain. “Oh, ouch.”

Emma was grateful to see that Kyra’s eyes were closed, so her friend could not see the deep blush that colored her cheeks. Shaking her head she turned around and walked back to the bed.

“Tsk, tsk, that’s what you get when you tell me not to make you laugh and then break your own rules. Come here, let me help you.”

“Are you sure?” Kyra asked, “I was…just teasing you. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, so I’m sure I can manage to get into my nightie.”

“I have a bunch of sisters and we used to share rooms, on top of that, I have seen naked women in my career as a lesbian, so you’re right, there’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” Emma dryly remarked.

Kyra bit her lip and softly groaned. She cast Emma an accusing look and nudged her with her shoulder.

“Don’t be funny! Tomorrow you can make all the jokes in the world again.” Kyra sighed and started to pull her shirt over her head. “This sucks. Those pills make me fuzzy headed and sleepy, so if I topple over and fall asleep, don’t worry, okay? It happened before.”

“I’ll wait until you are asleep and then I’ll go back down and clean up a bit. If you tell me where your keys are, I can lock up behind me when I leave and put the keys in the mailbox.”

“Okay,” Kyra answered, reaching behind her back to unclasp her bra, while Emma looked the other way, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest. She had to force herself not to sneak a peek and mentally slapped herself for her primal peeping inclinations.

“Okay, what?” she repeated Kyra’s answer with a touch of humor. “Where do you keep your keys, Kyra?”

“Purse,” was the one syllable answer and when Emma heard a soft thud she quickly looked at the bed, where Kyra was lying on her side, obviously completely knocked out.

“Peachy,” Emma sighed, eyeing the dark green satin shirt that was only partly covering Kyra’s torso, exposing her skin from just below her breasts to where the waistband of her jeans started. “I guess I’ll have to finish the job.” She wiped her suddenly clammy palms on her shirt and slowly headed towards the bed. “I can do this. I have undressed countless sleeping nieces and nephews. This is the same right? She is just a bit taller.”

And she is not related. And she is a beautiful woman. And you are so attracted to her. And…do I need to continue?

With quick, but stiff fingers Emma unbuttoned and unzipped Kyra’s jeans and carefully pulled the fabric down, hoping that the jeans would be the only piece of clothing that would slide down. To her utter relief that was the case and softly chuckling about her own nervousness, she completely pulled off the denim, noticing the soft, lightly tanned skin of Kyra’s legs. Her hormones whistled in appreciation, but Emma ignored them and after pulling down Kyra’s night shirt, she gently covered her friend with the comforter.

She reached out a hand and cautiously felt Kyra’s forehead. It was still hot to the touch and frowning Emma wondered if there would be more than a migraine that was making Kyra sick.

“Mmm…nice and cool,” Kyra mumbled, letting out a contented sigh and almost making Emma jump.

“I thought you were asleep,” she softly spoke, brushing away a curl and watching in fascination when it wrapped itself around her finger.

“I was, sort of,” Kyra answered, not moving and keeping her eyes closed. “Thanks for helping me out of my jeans, I didn’t have the energy.”

“My plea…you’re welcome,” Emma answered, hearing a soft chuckle come from her friend and she smiled, feeling Kyra grab her hand and pressing it against her cheek.

“Thank you for taking care of me, Emma.”

“That’s what friends are for,” Emma replied, gently brushing her thumb over the soft skin underneath her fingers.

“You don’t have to go,” Kyra suddenly wistfully said, startling Emma whose eyes went round. “You can stay here if you want.”

It was silent for a long time and finally Kyra carefully opened her eyes, grateful for the dimmed light in the room. Turning her head she looked up at Emma, who sat rooted on the edge of the bed, a pensive expression on her face as she stared down at her friend.

Suddenly feeling a little nervous, Kyra moistened her dry lips and briefly closed her eyes. Was she being honest with Emma? No, she was afraid that was not the case. A few times she had seen a look in her friend’s eyes that had quickened her pulse and made her wonder if it wouldn’t be better to share that part of her past which had been buried so deep, for so many years. She didn’t want to hurt Emma and she knew her friend was attracted to her, she had seen in those beautiful blue eyes. But she had to think about Simon as well. He was only five. True, he was a very smart little boy and sometimes wise beyond his age, but Emma was his teacher. What if she turned his world upside down? How would he cope with that?

Am I being selfish, asking Emma to stay? Kyra wondered. I think I am. I am making it harder for her to keep a distance I know she is trying to maintain. But do I want that? Do I want her to keep that distance?

No! I don’t. I want to be closer to her, but I am afraid. Oh, God…

A tear escaped from underneath Kyra’s closed eyelids and Emma stared at it in wonder. Another tear appeared and followed the moist track and Emma felt a lump in her throat. Her heart went out to the woman in the bed and the thought of standing up and walking away, which would probably be the best thing to do, seemed to get harder by the second. Every heartbeat tied her closer to Kyra Hartman and she was very aware of that.

If I don’t leave now, I will be in so deep, it is going to be impossible to steer away from heartbreak, Emma knew. Or maybe I am in too deep already. I think I was lost the moment she walked into my classroom.

Involuntarily Emma smiled when she remembered the first time she had met Simon’s mother. The elegantly dressed woman with the beautiful face and the warmest, greenest eyes she had ever seen. As soon as they had looked at her she had drowned, willingly.

Emma bit her bottom lip and tenderly brushed away a tear that was rolling down Kyra’s cheek. Seeing Kyra cry hurt. It was a strange sensation that made her tremble inside and awoke a strong need to protect her friend, to keep her from being hurt.

Staying would be like jumping off the deep end, not knowing how to swim, Emma mused.

With my feet in a block of concrete. And my hands tied behind my back. Trouble….

“You got a pair of jammies for me?” she gently smiled.

 

 

 

A tentative ray of sun carefully peeked through a small opening between the curtains, gently kissing Emma’s skin. It highlighted the deep red color of her hair and emphasized the long eyelashes that were a few shades darker and rested on her cheeks, since she was still fast asleep.

Kyra bit her lip and felt her heart rate pick up when she realized she had to control herself not to reach out and stroke the skin of Emma’s face, that looked soft like silk in the early morning light. She could detect a hint of Emma’s perfume that still clung to her skin and breathed in the scent with a decadent pleasure.

When she woke up, she immediately became aware of the warm body that was lying next to her, so close they were almost touching. Kyra’s eyes had shot open and as soon as she had seen Emma’s peacefully sleeping form, her face completely relaxed in her sleep, she had let out a sigh of contentment, glad to know her migraine had disappeared and grateful for Emma’s decision to stay the night

Kyra shifted her body a little, so she was lying on her side, careful not to wake up Emma. With her hand tucked underneath her chin she just stared at the sleeping woman next to her, wondering why waking up with Emma in her bed seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

Kyra smiled when she remembered how Emma had taken charge of things the evening before. Helping her to bed. Locking the doors and cleaning up the living room. Returning to the bedroom, tip toeing around, careful not to wake up Kyra, who had been lying with her eyes closed, but who had not been asleep. Sleep had finally come when Emma had slipped in the bed beside her, clad in a dark blue night shirt, turned off the little light on the night stand and had softly brushed the back of her hand against Kyra’s face. Feeling utterly safe and cared for, Kyra had given in to the pain killers and had let sleep claim her.

“Morning,” Emma’s sleepy voice suddenly sounded and Kyra’s eyes shot open, evoking a soft chuckle from her friend. “How’s the head?”

“As good as new,” Kyra smiled. “It feels a bit…heavy, but I’m sure that will clear up soon. I’m grateful the pain has gone away. That was no fun.”

“I bet,” Emma yawned, turning on her side so she could have a better look at her friend’s face. The serious blue eyes studied Kyra’s face for a long moment and then a radiant smile broke through.

“You do look a whole lot better than you did last night. Your face was so white!”

“I feel better too,” Kyra returned the smile, amazed at how natural it felt to wake up with Emma and chat after having spent the night in the same bed. “Again: thanks, Emma, for looking after me and…”

“No need to thank me, Kyra. I was glad to be here and help you out.”

“Umm…I know you and your family are close,” Kyra started a little hesitant. “I hope you didn’t miss any calls last night, because you were here. I wouldn’t want your family to worry.”

“Well,” Emma drawled. “I’m sure Hester did try to call me, because that is what she’s been doing every evening, so, I guess I am in for a serious scolding session later,” she grinned. “But, that’s not something I can’t handle.”

Emma raised herself up a little and supported her head with her hand. She looked down at Kyra, whose hair was in complete disarray, which she found absolutely endearing.

“I have a good excuse,” she continued and Kyra noticed the twinkling in her dark blue eyes.

“You do?” she asked with a smile.

“Yeah, I couldn’t pass up the chance to spend the night with a beautiful woman, could I?” she laughed, seeing Kyra blush a charming shade of pink.

“You really believe that, don’t you?”

“What? That you are beautiful? Yes, Kyra, I do, because you are.”

Emma’s eyes studied the face in front of her and involuntarily her eyes traveled down to roam over Kyra’s satin clad upper body, to slide back up again and rest on her face.

“You are very beautiful,” she added with a husky voice, feeling the flush of her skin and the quickening of her pulse and suddenly she was very conscious of her friend’s close presence. Kyra’s eyes had become a few shades darker and both women stared at each other for a breathless moment, both aware of the physical reaction they had caused in one another.

Kyra’s eyes were so…inviting and her lips seemed so soft…and they were so close, Emma could feel her friend’s warm breath on her skin.

Emma took a deep breath and shook her head. Quickly rolling onto her back she pushed herself upright.

“I need a shower,” she announced, getting up from the bed and grabbing the towel she had used the evening before when she had washed her face and brushed her teeth. “A cold one,’ she added with a dramatic sigh that broke the tension and made Kyra laugh.

“I’m sorry, Emma,” she apologized a little shy, not used to the effect she had on the other woman. “I didn’t mean to…”

The bedroom door was suddenly thrown open and Simon came barging in, with tousled hair and clad in his favorite pajamas. As soon as he saw Emma he stood stock still and looked at her open mouthed.

“Go shower,” Kyra smiled, sensing her friend’s discomfort. “I’ll explain. Come here, honey,” she told her son, opening her arms in invitation.

Simon jumped on the bed and snuggled into his mother’s arms, while his gray eyes followed Emma until she disappeared in the bathroom, closing the door behind her with a soft click.

“I bet that was a surprise, huh?” she said, pulling Simon closer and kissing his forehead. She could feel his brisk nod and chuckled.

“Well, I was feeling pretty sick last night, Simon and Emma helped me out. I asked her if she wanted to stay and sleep here and she did.”

She allowed her son to process the information and did not need to look at him to know his little face was scrunched up in thought.

“Did you have…like a slumber party?” he asked. “I heard the girls at school talk about that once. It’s a girl thing, huh Mom?”

“Something like that,” Kyra grinned. “But being sick was no party, honey. We were both really tired and just fell asleep.”

“Then maybe you need to have another party,” Simon concluded with the logic of a five year old. “When you are feeling better again.”

Kyra just smiled and enjoyed the cuddle Simon was giving her. That was one things she really loved about her child. He still didn’t feel too big to cuddle his mother and Kyra thoroughly enjoyed those quiet moments with her son. In the bathroom she could hear the sound of running water and involuntarily her thoughts focused on her friend. She made a mental note to talk to Emma about the potential problems she could face, by being so close to one of her pupils’ parents. The last thing she wanted was Emma to get into trouble at school. Her friendship with Emma was quickly developing into something she treasured, but she had no desire to forbid Simon to talk about that at school. Her little boy had always been open and honest about anything and she really wanted him to stay that way. Being secretive about her friendship with Emma would set a wrong example. She also realized it would only be a matter of time before her mother would find out about it and she already knew that it would cause a major catastrophe.

With a sigh Kyra snuggled closer into the pillow, still feeling a little tired after her major headache the evening before. Simon’s warm body was curled up against her and she slowly drifted back to sleep.

 

 

When Emma exited the bathroom she noticed a pair of gray eyes peeking up at her from the bed. Simon brought his finger to his lips in a silent question to be quiet.

A closer look showed her that Kyra was fast asleep again and she nodded to let the little boy know she had noticed.

“Do you want to go downstairs and make your Mom some coffee?” she whispered, seeing an enthusiastic grin in response.

She held out her hand and Simon allowed her to lift him from the bed and put him next to her on the floor. They tip toed out of the bedroom and carefully closed the door behind them, grinning at each other like a pair of conspirators.

“Can we make breakfast too?” Simon asked when they were descending the stairs. “Mommy likes breakfast when she has time to cook it.”

“I suppose I can handle that,” Emma answered with a smile, liking the idea of surprising her friend. “But you need to help me, okay?”

“Okay,’ Simon beamed, skipping ahead of her and opening the door of the kitchen.

Emma looked around the perfectly equipped room that clearly showed its owner must love cooking and she lifted Simon up on one of the high bar stools in the corner.

“Let me see, what do we need…? Coffee. Orange juice?” Simon nodded and pointed towards the refrigerator. “Eggs?” Another nod. “Toast?” A wrinkled nose as response and Emma grinned. “Pancakes?” An enthusiastic nod was the reply and she laughed.

“All right, buddy, pancakes, eggs and orange juice it will be.”

“And bacon,” Simon added with sparkling eyes.

“And bacon, of course,” Emma smiled, secretly pleased to find out her friend shared her fondness for a big breakfast.

 

Kyra slowly awoke from a nice dream that involved a lot of sunshine, a fragrant forest and a huge picnic basket. Languidly stretching her body she softly moaned, wondering if it would be a grave sin to spend a whole day in bed. She yawned and sleepy eyes blinked in surprise when she detected the smell of freshly brewed coffee. She sniffed with appreciation and her eyebrows shot upward when she also smelled bacon and something that suspiciously smelled like pancakes.

“Oh,’ she mouthed, pushing herself up and noticing her son had disappeared from the bed.

Her stomach rumbled and a quick glance at the digital alarm showed her it was close to nine o’clock.

“I guess Simon and Emma were busy when I was lazing around,” she mumbled, throwing back the comforter and stepping out of bed. She padded towards the bathroom and splashed her face with cold water. She grabbed the warm, fluffy bathrobe that was hanging on the inside of the door, quickly slipped it on and headed towards the source of those enticing smells.

As she descended the stairs she could hear the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen and she smiled in reaction. It was such a nice feeling to know that Simon and Emma really liked each other a lot. Her friend was excellent with children and Kyra knew her son adored his teacher.

Emma was just adding a tasty looking pancake to the growing stack when the door opened and a curly head appeared. A pair of twinkling green eyes in a smiling face looked at her with something that could only be described as genuine affection and she swallowed hard.

“Mom!” Simon exclaimed, jumping off the barstool and running towards his mother to give her a hug. “Emma and I made you a surprise.”

“So I see,” Kyra laughed. “And it’s a great surprise, Simon. It smells really great in here.”

“I made the batter,” Simon proudly announced, which his mother already suspected when she saw the white patches of flour on his pajama.

“Great job, honey,” she smiled, pulling the little boy in for another hug. “It smells wonderful.”

“And you are just in time,” Emma stated, adding the last pancake to the pile and turning off the gas. “The table is set, so breakfast can be served, ma’am.”

“Come, Mom,” Simon said, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the dining room table.

“Go ahead, honey,’ Kyra encouraged. “I’ll help Emma bring in the stuff.”

“Thank you,” Emma smiled, deciding that a barefooted, disheveled Kyra, dressed in a yellow bathrobe looked absolutely adorable. “I hope you like pancakes.”

“Are you kidding?” Kyra chuckled. “I love pancakes. Especially with…are those banana pancakes? Oooh…”

“A little bird told me these are you favorites,” Emma shyly admitted, pleased with the beaming smile that was sent her way.

Kyra touched Emma’s arm and lost for words she just stared at the other woman with a grateful look.

I could get used to this.

“Thank you,” she softly repeated.

“If you’ll take the bacon and eggs, I will bring in the coffee and pancakes,” Emma smiled.

 

 

Breakfast was a happy affair, with the two women constantly smiling at Simon’s chatter. The little boy was positively beaming, because he was sharing breakfast with two of his favorite people.

“Can we go to the park later, Mom and feed the ducks? Benjamin said they’re having babies.”

“Who?” Kyra asked in a serious voice, but her eyes were twinkling. “Benjamin’s mother has another baby, I thought…”

“Mom! The ducks!” Sam interrupted with a sigh.

Kyra laughed and affectionately ruffled her son’s already unruly hair. He looked up at her with a radiant smile, while chewing on a piece of pancake.

“I’m just teasing, honey. We can go to the park later, or if you’d like we could even drive over to the lake. I bet there are a lot of ducks there.”

“There’s a lake around here?” Emma asked with evident surprise.

Kyra nodded and put her fork down to grab her mug of coffee. She cast a look across the table and noticed a pair of blue eyes shooting her a puzzled look.

“You don’t think you Northerners are the only ones with lakes, I hope,” she teased. “We have a beautiful lake, in the middle of the forest, with a beach and all.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” Kyra grinned, finding Emma’s surprised look extremely cute. “If you’re good, we might show you. We Southerners are known for our hospitality, you know.”

“I have noticed,” Emma answered in a serious voice.

“I even dare to…”

Kyra halted in mid sentence when she saw a familiar car park in front of the house. Her heart skipped a beat and a wave of nervousness suddenly washed the smile off her face, leaving her pale and anxious.

“What’s wrong?” Emma frowned, following Kyra’s glance but not seeing anything out of the ordinary.

The door bell rang and Simon slid of his chair, yelling: ‘I’ll get it’ and he ran into the hallway.

“My mother,” Kyra suddenly croaked. “Oh, boy. I bet she is on the warpath.”
Chapter 5
“On the warpath?” Emma echoed, her dark blue eyes radiating a mixture of amusement, worry and frustration.

Kyra reached across the table and put her hand on Emma’s, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“She will not be happy to find you here and she’ll most likely be nasty about it. She’s very good at that,” Kyra warned, letting out a small sigh. “I’m sorry, Emma.”

Emma put down her fork and knife and her blue eyes held a hint of sadness when they looked at her friend.

“Shall I…?” her eyes traveled towards the French doors that lead to the back yard and Kyra let out a nervous chuckle.

“Don’t be silly! Just stay where you are. It’s about time my mother grows up, don’t you think? Or maybe it’s time for me to stand up more for myself. Whatever she might throw at me, you are here because I want you to be here. Okay?”

“Thanks,” Emma smiled. “You think she would like a banana pancake?” she added with a wink, almost causing Kyra to snort out her coffee.

The door opened and Simon came running back in, a sour looking Vivian LeJeune following close behind him. Even before she had entered the room, Kyra had already heard her making a remark about Simon still walking around in his pajamas at ten o’clock in the morning and she pulled a face at Emma.

“I cannot understand how you can allow your son to walk around the house, dressed like a vagabond,” Vivian LeJeune’s voice sounded. “I would think that…”

The older woman had entered the room and stopped dead in her tracks when she noticed Emma, who was sitting at the table, enjoying a cup of coffee.

“Good morning,” Emma greeted her with a pleasant smile, seeing Kyra’s eyes dart from her mother to her and back again.

“Morning, Mother,” Kyra said calmly. “As you can see I’m not dressed either, so I guess that makes me a vagabond as well. Is there a special reason for you to drop in so early? Oh, you want some coffee?” she added as an afterthought, hoping her mother would say ‘no’ and leave.

“No, thank you,” Vivian LeJeune answered, regarding Emma with cool, gray eyes.

“What is she doing here?” she asked Kyra, gesturing towards the silent school teacher.

Kyra shot Emma an apologetic look, before she turned back to her mother, mentally girding her loins for the unavoidable battle ahead.

“’She’ has a name, which happens to be Emma. You could call her by her name, or call her ‘Miss Altena’, whichever you prefer. And please don’t insult my guest by ignoring her presence and talking about her in the third person. It’s very impolite, Mother. Not to mention rude.”

“I didn’t know you two were so…close, already,” Vivian LeJeune almost spat. “Especially after what I was trying to tell you last night, over the phone.” She turned towards Emma and shot her an ice cold glance. “If you would excuse us, Miss Altena, I would like to talk to my daughter in private.”

“Oh, boy, this is not good,” Emma thought, already pushing back her chair, but a hand on her arm stopped her. She looked up in a pair of stormy, but determined green eyes and managed to send Kyra a small, encouraging smile.

“Please, stay, Emma,’ Kyra calmly asked, turning back to face her mother and gesturing towards an empty chair.

“You can either remain standing, or sit down, but Emma is not going anywhere,” she announced with barely veiled anger. “And if you came over here to argue, I would rather you leave. I’m not in the mood.”

“All right, have it your way,” Vivian LeJeune answered, ignoring the chair. “Yesterday I told you that this…Miss Altena… has a history. I have not heard all the details yet, but I came here to tell you she is a lesbian,” she said with disgust.

Kyra, who knew her mother very well and already had expected that remark, calmly sipped her coffee and quirked one eyebrow.

“Really?” she replied indifferently. “And your point would be, what exactly?”

“I don’t want a person like that to educate my grandson,” Vivian LeJeune answered with venom.

“First of all that’s not your decision to make and secondly: your grandson’s grandfather is homosexual, Mother. So I repeat: what is your point?”

“It is utterly disgusting! People like…like…her should be banned from schools. They should not be allowed to influence innocent children and corrupt them with their perverted ideas.”

Emma winced and cast down her eyes to hide the pain and anger those words had evoked. She really wanted to jump up and tell Kyra’s mother exactly what she felt about prejudiced, hypocritical people, but again Kyra’s hand grabbed hers in a strong grip and gave it an encouraging squeeze, immediately calming her down.

“Mother, please leave,” Kyra’s voice said with a slight tremble. “Emma is my friend and a guest in my house and you have just crossed a line. Actually, you have crossed a few. I want you to leave and take your archaic, bigoted views with you and discuss them with people who care.”

“I see, she has already influenced you. But then you have always been a lost cause, Kyra. I will tell you this though, young lady, I will make sure to rid the school of the likes of her. I will not sit back and watch them corrupt the system.”

Vivian LeJeune turned around and walked back to the door where she turned around and shot her daughter a cold and disapproving look.

“The day I find out you are following in your fathers footsteps, your life will become a living hell. I will make sure of that.”

After those venomous words, Kyra’s mother marched out of the room. They could hear her high heels click on the tile floor in the hall and a few seconds later they heard the slamming of the front door.

Emma’s eyes stared at the hand that was still covering hers and she took a sip of coffee to wash away the bitter taste Vivian LeJeune’s words had left behind. The room was silent and both women were desperately trying to organize their thoughts.

The hateful words had thrown Emma back in time and for a frightening moment she had relived a part of her past she had worked so hard to overcome and only wanted to forget. Kyra was trying to control her anger and shame and seriously considering if there was anything positive in the relationship she had with her mother. She honestly doubted that.

Casting a look across the table, Kyra felt a painful pull on her heart when she saw the sadness and pain in her friend’s blue eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Emma,” she whispered, ashamed by the actions of the woman who happened to be her mother and who displayed such hate and prejudice, instead of supporting her daughter and being happy for her now she had found a friend.

“It’s not your fault, Kyra,” Emma answered with a weak smile. “You’re not responsible for your mother’s actions.”

“Thank goodness,” Kyra breathed, while rolling her eyes, making Emma chuckle. “If she keeps this…hate campaign going, I’ll just have to tell her that I never want to see…”

“Kyra, she is your mother,” Emma felt compelled to remind her friend, although she understood the dark haired woman’s sentiments. “And you only have one.”

A pair of sad green eyes locked with Emma’s and she had to control herself not to stand up, walk around the table and envelope Kyra in a big hug. She did look like she really needed one.

If I do that, I can never let go.

Instead, the teacher covered Kyra’s fidgeting fingers with her hand and her heart did a double take when her friend immediately entwined their fingers, obviously very comfortable with holding her hand.

“I would understand if you…if you…well, if you decided that being around me is not worth the trouble,” Kyra whispered, not able to look into those captivating blue eyes that were calling to her with such force, she needed all her strength not to look up and lose herself completely.

“Is that what you want?” Emma gently asked, feeling Kyra’s fingers convulsively tighten around her own.

“No,” the dark haired woman looked up, unconsciously stressing her point by the stubborn and determined look in her eyes. “That’s not what I want. But I don’t want you hurt by all of this either.”

I already care so much…

“I’ll be fine,” Emma smiled. “Don’t worry about me.”

For a brief moment, when their eyes were holding each other, Emma allowed her gaze to express the growing affection and tenderness she felt for her friend. When Kyra’s eyes softened and the dark green pools radiated a mixture of gentle confusion and shy happiness, they exchanged a warm smile, before breaking the spell and turning their attention back to their coffee. But their hands refused to let go.

 

During his grandmother’s outburst, Simon had been standing behind his mother’s chair, but now he stepped closer to the table with a puzzled expression on his face. He tentatively put his hand on top of the one Kyra was using to hold Emma’s and his eyes traveled from his mother, to Emma and back again,

“Mom, what is a les…lebs…lebsian?”

“Lesbian, honey,” Kyra automatically corrected her son.

“And is grandpa sick?”

Kyra furrowed her brows and looked into a pair of worried gray eyes,

“No, your grandfather is not sick, why would you think that?”

“Because you said he…is…he is…” Simon frowned and tried to remember the difficult word his mother had been using. “He is hommerestial, or something. Is that bad?”

Startled green met amused blue and after a few moments of silence both Kyra and Emma laughed out loud, while Simon was pulled into his mother’s lap and enveloped in a big hug.

“I guess it’s time for some alternative birds and bees,” she smirked. “Want to provide some moral support?”

“Sure, why not?” Emma smiled, glad that the nervous knot had disappeared from her stomach now the tension had dissipated.

“We will talk later…about what just happened, okay?”

Emma just nodded and contentedly rested her head on her hand, completely absorbed in the scene that was unfolding in front of her eyes.

Kyra pushed back her hair and tucked a curly strand behind her ear, but to Emma’s amused eyes it immediately escaped again and playfully dangled down her cheek. The green eyes were focused on Simon’s face and the little boy looked up at his mother with big, trusting eyes.

“Simon, do you remember when we talked about Grandpa Norbert and Grandpa Al and how much they love each other?” The little boy nodded his head and Kyra continued. “They are a couple, because they have chosen to be together, like for example Paul and Susan next door, they are a couple as well.”

“We went to the wedding,” Simon remembered.

“We sure did,” Kyra smiled. “See, when people have found the person they love so much they always want to be together, they usually will live together. Like your grandfathers. Now, lots of times you see boys liking girls and girls liking boys, right?”

Simon wrinkled his nose and pulled a face, making his mother smile.

“Max’s brother has a girlfriend and Max said they kissed. Yuck.”

Kyra laughed and winked at the grinning Emma, who was listening intently, her dark blue eyes sparkling. She was thoroughly enjoying every single second of the mother-son talk

“But sometimes there are boys who like boys better than girls and girls who like other girls better than boys.”

“Like Grandpa Norbert and Grandpa Al,” Simon stated. “They kiss.”

Kyra suppressed a chuckle and tried to keep a straight face when she looked down at her son and solemnly nodded.

“Yes, they do. They love each other, remember?” she smiled. “Anyway, people always try to understand things better by giving them names. That is where the big, difficult words sometimes come from. When two boys or two girls love each other, they are called ‘homosexuals’. And a ‘lesbian’ is a girl who likes other girls.”

Simon had to think about that for a while and Kyra gave him the time he needed to process the information, hoping her explanation would have been clear enough. With a soft smile she looked at his face and she could almost see the wheels churning inside his head. Finally he leaned his head against her chest and cast a glance at Emma.

“Grandma said Miss Emma is a lebs..leb…lesbian,” he managed the strange word with some difficulty.

“Yes, she is,” Kyra softly answered, wondering what was going on in her son’s little mind.

“She didn’t like that,” Simon pensively stated. “Why not, Mom?”

“I think because she doesn’t really understand, honey,” Kyra answered. “Sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand and they become upset and angry. Grandma just doesn’t understand why some girls like other girls better than boys.”

Simon nibbled his lower lip and glanced up at his mother with inquisitive eyes.

“Is that why grandma is angry at you a lot?” he inquired.

Kyra’s eyes widened and for a moment she was stunned into silence. She did not have to look up to know that Emma’s eyes were glued to her face and her friend was breathlessly waiting for her answer.

Out of the mouths of babes…she wryly thought, while her heart was pounding fast.

“I don’t know, sweetie,” she slowly answered, wondering what Simon’s next question would be and already bracing herself for that.

“Mom, do you like boys or girls?” Simon innocently asked, wiggling on his mother’s lap to get more comfortable.

Unexpectedly a wave of sadness crashed over Kyra’s senses, the intensity of it almost taking her breath away. Memories, banished for years, suddenly re-appeared and for a moment she felt desperately alone again.

“I…I can’t answer that question, honey,” she finally answered in a voice that was hoarse with emotion. “Not because I don’t want to, but I honestly don’t know. I’ve never met anyone I wanted to be with forever.”

Have I…?

“I want to be with you forever,” Simon stated, snuggling closer, playing with the fluffy belt of Kyra’s bathrobe.

“That’s sweet of you, honey,” Kyra smiled, kissing his unruly curls.

Her eyes slowly traveled up and she sucked in a breath when she saw the intensity in Emma’s blue gaze and she realized that her friend knew there was a lot more she had not told her. She wanted to cast down her eyes and escape the indigo look that seemed to see straight through her, but she couldn’t. Emma’s eyes effortlessly held her green ones and she felt the color rise in her cheeks. A soft whimper escaped her throat and she knew she could not jump up and escape, because of her son, who was still comfortably snuggled into her arms. Her heart was pounding so fast she wondered if Emma could hear it from across the table. The heat in her face had spread through her whole body and Kyra knew that if she would reach out and grab her coffee, her trembling fingers would give her away.

Oh, my God, oh my God, she knows. She knows, her mind screamed at her.

Outwardly Emma seemed relaxed, but inwardly her heart was trying to thump its way out of her chest and her blood was rushing through her veins with such a speed her ears were buzzing.

I am in so much trouble, if this is the effect she has on me from across the table, what would happen if she did actually touch me?

Emma’s eyes were staring into dark green pools that seemed to get darker and darker by the minute and with amazement she noticed Kyra’s breathing had become faster and more labored. Emma clenched the coffee mug between her hands, willing them not to shake. She knew with absolute certainty that Kyra had a secret she had not yet shared with her and she was also convinced that her friend knew that she had picked up on that. But they had only been friends for a short time and Emma did not expect her friend to immediately bare her soul. Besides, even though she had told Kyra a lot about herself already, there were things she had not wanted to share yet, because the memories were still too painful to let them surface. Maybe later…some day…

Emma noticed Kyra’s flushed skin and in spite of the darkening of the curly haired woman’s eyes, she could still see the dilated pupils and inwardly she smiled. She did not want to embarrass her friend, but knowing she had such an effect on Kyra was absolutely wonderful for her ego. And to be honest, Emma had to admit that her friend often made her feel the same.

I wonder what the real answer to Simon’s question would be, Emma mused. It is interesting, very interesting that Kyra doesn’t know whether she prefers boys or girls. It makes me wonder how she got pregnant with Simon…And it would explain the way she sometimes looks at me, like she is confused by her attraction.

Oh, Kyra, I am not blind, my friend. I feel it too…

“I guess…I…need to explain a few things,” Kyra finally managed to say, her eyes still hostages of Emma’s.

“Only when you’re ready, Kyra,” Emma’s low voice replied, using her friend’s name like it was a caress. “I can wait.”

After the way I just drowned in your eyes, I think I can wait forever.

The look of genuine affection that was sent her way made Kyra swallow away the sudden lump in her throat and she managed a weak smile, which was immediately answered by Emma.

It’s a good thing I have Simon sitting on my lap and a sturdy table in between us, Kyra self consciously mused. I guess I could have made a huge fool out of myself if I would have been able to reach out and touch her. Although…somehow I don’t think Emma would have minded. But I would have. I don’t want to lead her on and give her false hope. The idea of hurting her is too painful. I couldn’t, I would rather chop off my right arm.

And what does that tell you, Kyra?

I don’t know, Kyra inwardly sighed, feeling tears sting in the back of her eyes. I need to think really hard and long. I need to…

You need to look into the mirror and acknowledge what is in your heart, a little voice insisted.

“Kyra,” Emma’s voice suddenly sounded. “You are looking so…lost. I…don’t want you to force things. Take your time, all right?”

“I think I need to,” Kyra whispered with a quivering voice.

“I know,” Emma smiled warmly. “You have a son to think about as well. I do understand and I meant what I said: whenever you are ready.”

“But what if I need a lot of time?” Kyra asked in a subdued voice, looking like a frightened little girl, which melted Emma’s heart. “Will you..?”

Kyra swallowed hard and did not finish the sentence. It was too difficult. What if Emma would turn her back on her? She did not want to risk their friendship, but she needed to face the turmoil of emotions that were storming through her heart and mind like a devastating hurricane. But she did not want to risk losing something as beautiful as a chance of love either.

“I will wait,” Emma repeated, making it sound like the promise it was.

A lone tear escaped Kyra’s eye, rolled down her cheek and landed in Simon’s curly hair that was tucked underneath her chin. Watery green eyes looked up at Emma and slowly a radiant smile made its way to the surface, practically taking away Emma’s breath.

“Thank you,” Kyra whispered.

 

 

 

It was hard to concentrate. Outside the sun was shining in abundance, its warm rays falling through the huge office windows, painting the little dancing specs of dust in the air with gold and yellow.

Kyra was staring intently at her computer monitor, absent mindedly using her pen to tap a steady rhythm on a stack of folders that were scattered across her desk. She had read the same email three times already and still did not know what it was telling her.

With a frustrated groan she threw down the pen and used both hands to rub her tired eyes. It had been a long day and it would be longer still. There was so much she had to do, before she could leave the office and go home.

Leaning back into her chair she stared at the wall where a framed photo of her family was providing a welcome diversion. She smiled at the happy faces and could vividly remember the day the picture was taken. At the time Simon had been almost three years old and looked like the adorable, chubby toddler he had been. He was sitting on his uncle’s shoulders, his little hands clutched in Jasper’s thick hair and they were both laughing. Kyra and her father were standing on either side of them, their arms wrapped around Jazz’ waist and smiling into the camera. Their faces were tanned and their hair windblown and they all looked relaxed and happy.

“I need a vacation,” Kyra groaned out loud.

“I thought that was the reason why you’ve been working like a maniac those last few days, boss,” Sandra’s voice suddenly sounded and Kyra jumped. “You said you wanted to clear your inbox before you scoot off to the Northern Lands.”

With a grin Kyra’s secretary walked into the office and put a little box on a low table in the corner of the room.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack,” Kyra sighed, but she chuckled. “What’s in the box?”

“Samples from Spain and Portugal,” Sandra announced. “Didn’t you get Leila’s email?”

“Oh, duh, yes, I did,” Kyra answered, pushing back her chair and walking towards the box. “Is it as good as she said it was?”

“That’s your call, boss,” Sandra grinned, her blue eyes sparkling. “But I had a peek inside and I like!!”

Kyra laughed and looked inside the box, softly whistling. Three small wooden statues were resting in a bed of bubble wrap and she carefully took out one to examine it closer. It was a beautifully carved wild tulip. Its delicate pointy leaves seemed to turn towards the sun, giving the small carving a sense of warmth and serenity.

Kyra slowly turned the item in her hands and studied it from different angles. It was gorgeous. It was obvious that its creator had taken the time to lovingly add all the minute details that made the wooden flower almost come to live.

“Is this from that craft shop in Alte?”

“Yup it is,” Sandra answered, carefully tracing the tip of her finger across one of the tulip’s petals. “Leila has done a good job, Kyra. She’s waiting for your decision as we speak. The owner of the shop and his two sons do all the carving and they are interested in a contract with us. So, what do you think?”

“I think it will be an asset to our inventory,” Kyra smiled. “Give Leila a call and tell her I’m impressed with their work. She can contract them.”

“Way to go, boss,” Sandra grinned, turning around and walking back to the door. “My mother will love one of those for her birthday. Oh, Kyra,” Sandra stuck her head back in the room and shot her boss a stern look. “It’s almost three o’clock. You’d better get your stuff done if you want to leave in time. Simon will never forgive you if you’re late,” she added with a smile. “I talked to him on the phone yesterday and he can’t wait to see this farm with all its animals.”

“Have you two been conspiring against me again?” Kyra laughed, knowing her son adored her secretary, which was a mutual feeling.

“Not really. I just promised him I would kick you out in time.”

Sandra disappeared and Kyra carefully put the carving back in the box. She stifled a yawn and walked back to her desk. Her eyes fell on the monitor and with a small smile she sank back in her chair. The screen displayed a picture she had taken with her digital camera when she had taken Simon and Emma out to the lake.

The water had reflected the sunlight and looked like a huge, silver mirror. The sky had been a perfect blue with a few, scattered white clouds. Simon and Emma had been chasing each other across the sandy beach and when they had fallen in the sand, engaged in a serious tickle fight, Kyra had secretly snapped a few shots.

With a wistful smile she looked at the picture she had chosen as a screen saver. Emma was sitting in the sand, her legs stretched out in front her, facing the camera, while Simon was standing behind her, his arms wrapped around her neck, hugging her from behind. Their cheeks were pressed together and they were both looking up, with rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes. Kyra’s finger had pressed the button on the camera at the right moment and captured the image.

With a sigh Kyra leaned back into the chair, her eyes still focused on the screen, wishing she was home already. It was Friday afternoon. In two days time it would be Easter and they would spend the Holiday with Emma’s family. It was a scary thought to finally meet the Altena family. There were so many of them. In the past two weeks Emma had tried to explain to Kyra who was married to whom and how many children each couple had and what their names were.

Kyra chuckled and had to admit that all those names were utterly confusing. She sincerely hoped she would remember them all. She was a little nervous about the upcoming meeting. Emma’s family sounded like a rowdy but happy bunch, but having been raised with just one sibling, she was not used to being around so many family members at the same time.

“What if they think I am Emma’s girlfriend?” she suddenly thought.

You could be a little voice sounded in the back of her mind.

Kyra closed her eyes and exhaled. Emma and she had spent a lot of time together and had grown even closer. Kyra could safely say they had become really good friends. They had spent hours just talking, getting to know each other well, but she realized there were still some things that had not been mentioned. She knew Emma was attracted to her, something that warmed her heart, but scared her out of her wits at the same time. Not because she didn’t trust Emma, but more because she was very aware of the strong pull she felt towards her friend. Still, her friend had never acted upon her attraction, always keeping up that little wall that provided some distance.

Kyra had pondered over that for hours and hours. Usually at night, when Simon was asleep and she was sitting in her favorite chair, with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, staring into the distance, thinking about the unexpected turn her life had taken. She felt like she had reached a crossroad in her life and sooner or later she knew she had to make a decision as to in which direction to proceed. She knew Emma would always be her friend, no matter what she would decide. Her friend had promised her she would wait until Kyra was ready to talk and had never broached the subject again, even though Kyra had secretly hoped she would. But she had learned that Emma was a person who always stuck to a promise and that meant that if Kyra wanted to share her deepest thoughts and wants, she would have to initiate that herself. Emma would never take the initiative. Simply because she had promised she would wait.

I have searched my heart over and over again and I always come to the same conclusion. I guess we need to talk, soon. Maybe this weekend there will be time…

The buzzing of the phone startled Kyra and her eyes snapped open.

“Kyra? I have Emma on line two,” Sandra’s voice sounded through the intercom. “And I’ve just talked to Leila. She is thrilled with your decision and wishes you a Happy Easter.”

“Thanks, Sandy,” Kyra smiled, picking up the phone and punching in the ‘two’ button.

“Hey, how is the packing going?” she gently teased her friend.

“I’m all done,” Emma’s low voice answered. “How are you doing?”

“Wrapping up stuff,” Kyra sighed. “I should be able to leave in about an hour or so. Are you and Simon being good?”

Because of the Holidays the school had closed early that day and Kyra and Emma had decided that it would be best if Emma would take Simon home with her, pack her suitcase and then head over to Kyra’s house to wait until she came home from work. Kyra had packed Simon’s and her stuff the evening before and as soon as she finished work, they would hit the road and drive up North, to Friesland. It would be a three hour drive and they had decided to stop somewhere along the road to eat something. That would get them to the Altena’s farm at a reasonable time.

“We’re always good,” Emma dryly remarked.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Kyra grinned, playfully twirling her chair around. “I remember a day, not that long ago, when the two of you were completely covered in mud after playing an innocent game of soccer.”

“Soccer is never innocent,” Emma’s amused voice sounded. “It has to be taken extremely serious. Besides, it wasn’t our fault it had been raining and the field had turned into a mudslide.”

Kyra let out a happy laugh and was aware of the warmth that Emma’s voice spread throughout her body. She gratefully soaked it up and let it chase away the tiredness.

“Good thing I packed Simon’s old clothes. I have a feeling he’ll love the farm life and will look accordingly.”

“Are you saying we farm people are dirty?” Emma asked in mock hurt.

“Not really,” Kyra answered. “You usually look very clean to me. In fact, I have to admit you always look very good as well,” she added with a blush, grateful that Emma could not see her.

“I do, huh?” Emma’s low voice purred, sending shivers down Kyra’s spine. “At tonight’s party you’ll be surprised to see exactly how nice we clean up.”

“Really?” Kyra breathlessly asked, having been told by Emma that even though her sister’s anniversary party would be quite informal, the dress code was a formal one. “Care to share?”

“Mmm…no,” Emma grinned. “You’ll have to see for yourself.”

“Oooh…a surprise,” Kyra sighed, having visions of Emma in all sorts of different outfits. All of them extremely interesting.

It was silent for a moment and Kyra cleared her throat.

“So, Miss Emma, are you at home or are you at my place already?”

“We are at your place. Simon is currently going through the difficult task to pick out the five CD’s you allowed him to bring along, but he has already brought back the choice to fifteen, so I guess he will soon reach a decision.”

“Five should be enough,” Kyra chuckled. “There’s only so much Sesame street and Bert and Ernie a mother can handle.”

Emma’s rich laugh caressed her ear and Kyra smiled in response. She loved Emma’s laugh that always sounded like music to her ears. Kyra did not need to see her to know that the blue eyes would have taken on a deeper shade of indigo and were sparkling with little lights.

“When will you be home?” Emma’s warm voice asked.

Kyra sucked in her bottom lip and cast a look at the glass clock on the wall. She silently debated with herself, while drumming the fingers of her free hand on the smooth surface of her desk. Tapping her mouse the computer screen displayed her inbox. Her eyes scanned the messages and deftly she clicked a few of the little envelopes, revealing its contents.

“I will have to answer…two…three emails and then I’m out of here,” she decided.

“Are you a fast typist?” Emma teased.

“My fingers will be flying,” Kyra promised with a chuckle. “I’ll see you soon, Emma.”

“I am counting on that,” Emma answered. “Bye, Kyra.”

 

 

 

“Simon, honey, if you keep bouncing up and down like that we will need to stop halfway to check the car’s shock absorbers,” Kyra dryly remarked, casting a look in the rearview mirror to see her son looking back at her with wide eyes.

“Emma? Does your dad have ducks?” Simon asked, completely ignoring his mother’s remark.

Emma had talked to her friend about the way Simon addressed her and they both decided that it would be a good idea for Simon to leave out the ‘miss’ and just call her Emma. All her nieces and nephews called her that and it would probably confuse the boy to be the only one to call her ‘Miss’. Simon had adapted to the new situation without a problem.

“Ducks?” Emma repeated with a smile. “Well, there might be some ducks around but I doubt they are part of my dad’s life stock,” she grinned. “There are a lot of cows, Simon and my dad has a little corner where he keeps some rabbits, sheep and little goats. It’s like a small petting farm.”

“Are there really lambs, Emma? Can I see them? Can I pet them?”

Emma laughed and cast a look at Kyra, whose attention was on the road in front of them. The atmosphere was light and happy and all three of them were looking forward to spending the Holidays on the Altena farm.

“Yes, there should be some lambs around. I talked to my dad a few days ago and he said there were three already.”

“When will we get there?” Simon impatiently asked. “Mom?”

Kyra sighed and with raised eyebrows she glanced at Emma, who smiled at her and half turned to look at Simon.

“Soon, Simon,” she answered, finding the boy’s enthusiasm endearing. “We should be there in about twenty minutes, okay?”

“Okay,” he happily answered, grabbing a book from the backseat and flicking through it.

“Are you all right?” Emma softly asked her friend, noticing the slightly nervous blinking of her eyes.

“I think so,” Kyra answered. “I’m a little…apprehensive though. I mean…”

“They don’t bite, Kyra,” Emma gently teased. “They are a lot like me.”

“Oh, so you don’t bite either huh?” she teased back with a smile.

“Only if you ask me to,” Emma mumbled softly, but Kyra had heard the words anyway and she colored a charming shade of red.

It wasn’t often that Emma playfully flirted with her, but when she did, she always rendered Kyra speechless. Deep down inside she loved the gentle bantering. It usually made her heart skip a few beats, while her palms became sweaty. On those rare occasions, when Emma let down her guard a little, Kyra was allowed a quick look at the woman behind the calm, controlled demeanor and she wondered what Emma would be like if she would let go of her self imposed restraints and show herself completely.

Playful, loving and passionate, Kyra’s little voice answered with confidence. And it will be up to you to lure that part of Emma out and keep it safe, Kyra Hartman. Maybe this evening. Maybe that party will be a good excuse to tempt the real Emma to come out and play…
Chapter 6
As predicted by Emma they arrived at the huge farmhouse about twenty minutes later. Kyra drove her car up to the side of the house where Emma said she could easily park and the first thing she noticed was the row of cars already neatly lined up. Skillfully steering her vehicle in between a huge Jeep and an old, beat up Volkswagen Beetle, Kyra killed the engine and slowly pulled the keys from the ignition.

Breathing in deeply she tried to control the nervous fluttering in her stomach and sent Emma a weak smile. Her friend reached out a hand and gently squeezed her knee.

“Are you okay?”

Blue eyes looked at her with gentle compassion and Kyra briefly closed her eyes to gather her thoughts. It was too late to turn back, she knew. But if Emma’s family was anything like the woman sitting next to her, things would work out.

“I will be,” Kyra nervously laughed.

“They will love you,” Emma promised, giving the knee one last squeeze and pulling back her hand. “I think they are all here already, so it will be a little overwhelming, I’m afraid, but at least you’ll have it done and over with soon.”

“Thanks,” Kyra wryly replied, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the door.

Emma grinned and opened the door on her side, to exit the car and enjoy the feeling of being able to stretch her muscles, after the long ride. She cast a look at Kyra who was lifting Simon from his seat and turned around when she heard an enthusiastic yell behind her.

“Emmie!”

A slender woman with long, auburn hair came running around the corner of the house and threw herself in Emma’s arms, followed by what seemed like an army of people. Kyra’s eyes widened and she cast an insecure look at the approaching group, her eyes nervously darting from Emma’s family to her friend who was hugging the woman who could have been her twin sister.

With a radiant smile Emma turned around, her arm slung over her sister’s shoulders and she motioned Kyra to come closer.

“Kyra, this is Hester, my big sister. Hester, this is Kyra and that handsome little man is Simon.”

“It’s so good to finally meet you,” Hester exclaimed, walking away from Emma to envelope a stunned Kyra into a friendly hug. “Welcome to the Funny Farm.”

“Thank you,” Kyra softly replied, smiling when Hester knelt down in front of Simon, so she could look at him on eye level.

“And you are Simon, Emma’s friend,” she smiled warmly. “It is so nice to meet you, Simon. I am Emma’s sister. She told me a lot about you. Do you like animals?”

The little boy shyly nodded, while he leaned his head against his mother’s hip. Feeling safe with her arm around his shoulders.

“Emma says her dad has cows and there are lambs,” he said with a hopeful look in his gray eyes.

“There sure are,’ Hester smiled. “This morning another pair was born, they are tiny.”

“Can I see them?” Simon immediately asked, forgetting his shyness and looking up to his mother who was looking down at him with a loving smile. “Mom?”

“Sure, honey, if Emma’s dad says it’s okay.”

“Of course it is,” a deep voice sounded and when Kyra looked up she noticed a pair of twinkling eyes in a weathered face.

Dirk Altena was a tall, broad shouldered man, with thick hair that used to be dark, but was now sprinkled with gray. Kyra immediately noticed where Emma got her smile from and she liked the farmer right away.

“Nice to meet you, Kyra,” he welcomed her, grabbing her hand in a warm, strong grip. “And you too, Simon,” he smiled, ruffling the little boy’s curls. “Do you want to come with me and have a look at the lambs?”

Simon nodded and without hesitation he put his little hand in the extended large one, following Emma’s father towards one of the barns.

Emma sent her father a grateful look and shifted her attention back to Kyra, who was looking a little more relaxed, although she was still sporting a slightly shocked expression on her face. Knowing the teacher had a big family was one thing, but meeting them all at once was something completely different. She stepped closer to her friend and took her elbow, leading her towards an elderly woman, who threw her arms around Emma to give her a heartfelt hug.

“You look good, sweetheart,” Ann Altena remarked with a pleased look. “And this must be Kyra.”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Altena,’ Kyra tentatively smiled, already liking the chubby woman with the reddish blond hair and sparkling blue eyes.

“Call me Ann, please,” Emma’s mother said. “Otherwise I feel ancient.”

Emma grinned and gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek. She was so happy to see her family again she felt almost giddy.

“All right, Kyra,” she said, turning to face her friend. “I will introduce you to the rest of the gang now. Remember: they won’t bite and you don’t have to remember all their names at once,” she winked.

Kyra chuckled, feeling a little more relaxed, but she was still grateful for Emma’s hand on her shoulder when she was led to a large group of people, who were all lined up. The first thing she noticed was that all Emma’s siblings either had dark hair, like their father, or reddish blond, like their mother. Emma and Hester were the only auburn haired ones.

After thirteen introductions her mind was spinning and she shot Emma a completely dazed look.

“All right,” she drawled with a touch of humor in her voice. “I remember your parents’ names, and Hester, but the rest is a blur, except for Neville,” she admitted with a grin, pointing at a dark skinned young man, who was the fiancé of Emma’ youngest sister, Imke.

Everybody started laughing and Emma gave Kyra an encouraging one-armed hug.

“Well, he does stand out amidst the rest,” she chuckled, winking at her youngest sister, whose blue eyes were sparkling.

“I picked him for his color,” Imke grinned. “That way I can always spot him easily during our family get togethers. Are you done, Em? Can I finally give you a hug now?”

Emma laughed and let go of Kyra, opening her arms wide to embrace her sister, who did not need any more encouragement and wrapped her arms around her in a bone crushing hug. All the others followed suit and Kyra stood back a little, watching the happy reunion with a smile. It was clear to see that Emma’s family was very close knit. She had never seen her friend radiate so much happiness before and she realized that Emma must have missed them more than she had been willing to show.

A hand on her shoulder startled her and when she looked up she noticed Ann Altena looking at her with a friendly smile.

“Would you like a cup of coffee or tea, Kyra?” she asked. “We have a few hours before this party starts and it might be a good idea to relax a little, after driving all the way up here.”

“I’d love to, thank you,” Kyra smiled, letting Emma’s mother lead her to the back of the house, where the entrance to the huge kitchen was located.

Emma watched her friend disappear around the corner, followed by the rest of her family and she let out a deep sigh.

“She is absolutely stunning, Emma,” Hester spoke, wrapping her arm around Emma’s waist and slowly following their family.

“Yes, she is,” Emma smiled.

“So, any progress in the love department?” her sister teased, laughing when she saw Emma blush.

“Hester!”

“Well, honey, I can’t help it,” Hester defended herself. “I already told you a zillion times I only want you to be happy. It seems to me that Kyra is cut out for the job.”

Emma stopped dead in her tracks and looked at her sister with a deep frown.

“How can you say that, Hes? You have only met her two seconds ago.”

“Well, it has been a bit longer than that, it was at least five minutes,” Hester dead panned. “And I watched her watch you when you were doing the famous Altena group hug.”

“So?” Emma asked with a little trepidation.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see something when it is right under your nose, so I guess I can’t blame you,” Hester continued. “But in those few minutes I have seen the way she looks at you, sister dear and let me tell you, there is a lot more than ‘just friendship’ there.”

Emma cast down her eyes when she felt unexpected tears sting the back of her eyes. If only she had the confidence to walk up to Kyra and tell her how she felt. But she promised her friend to give her all the time she needed and she wanted to keep her promise, no matter what.

“Emmie,” Hester sighed, using her family pet name. “Come here.”

Wrapping her arms around her sister she pulled her in for a hug. One of her hands stroked the back of Emma’s head and she slowly rocked her younger sister like she was a little girl.

“She is not ready for anything that goes beyond friendship,” Emma’s muffled voice sounded. “And I don’t know if she ever will be.”

“Then ask her,” Hester calmly answered.

“I can’t,” Emma sighed with something close to desperation. “I promised her I would wait until she was ready. I don’t want to make her feel like I am forcing her into something she doesn’t really want, or something she is not ready for, Hester. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“Well, maybe this little vacation will nudge her in the right direction,” Hester spoke. With a little help from me and the Altena Love Squad.

 

 

“It’s not real big, but comfortable enough for two adults.”

Emma had opened the door to the little brick building that was close to the big farm house, but far enough to have some privacy and she was leading Kyra and Simon inside. Their bags had already been carried inside by a few of Emma’s helpful nephews and they were neatly placed on the floor, next to the couch.

“You lived here as well?” Kyra curiously asked, looking around the small, but cozy living room with inquisitive eyes.

“Yeah, I did,” Emma answered, leaning her back against wall and watching Kyra with an amused smile.

“It…looks real nice,” Kyra decided. “It looks cozy, with all those warm colors.”

It feels like you.

“I like it,’ she smiled. “Will you…where will you be staying?”

Emma walked to the window and gestured Kyra to follow her, which she obediently did. Standing close to Emma she peered outside, her nose almost touching the glass.

“Do you see that little window over there? It’s just above that door on the left,” she pointed towards the big farmhouse. When Kyra nodded she smiled. “That’s my old room. I will be staying there.”

“Okay,” Kyra softly responded, unconsciously leaning her body closer to Emma’s, until their shoulders were brushing. Neither woman felt compelled to move. They just stood there, enjoying each other’s close presence, the warmth that radiated from their bodies and the comfortable silence between them.

“If there is anything you need, you can always go outside and hit my window with a pebble. Don’t use bricks,” Emma joked, but there was a touch of seriousness in her voice.

“Like when I want pancakes for breakfast?” Kyra answered with a mischievous smile.

Emma laughed and her blue eyes sparkled when she looked at her friend. A little, slumbering devil inside of her woke up, probably because she was home now and happy and feeling a lot more confident than she had been in a long time.

“If you want,” she answered. “Or if you discover any other need I can fulfill.”

Kyra’s green eyes widened and she shot her friend a startled look. This was the side of Emma she longed to see more often and she was immensely pleased it was starting to show itself a little more.

“My needs may be hard to handle,” she answered in a husky voice, forcing herself to not cast down her eyes. She wanted, needed to see Emma’s reaction.

The blue eyes turned a few shades darker and the amused twinkle was replaced by something that could only be described as longing.

“I doubt it,” Emma finally answered, aware of the fluttering in her stomach. “I am sure I can handle anything you want.”

They stood there, in front of the window, gazing in each other’s eyes, while the rest of the world faded out. Kyra’s eyes studied Emma’s face and what she saw made her heart pound faster. She moistened her lips and swallowed hard. Her heart and mind were screaming at her to do something, anything, to reveal what had been cooped up in the deepest part of her soul for so long now, but the little part of her rational mind that was still working, warned her that the party they were supposed to attend, would start in less than an hour. There was not enough time. Not yet. Kyra knew that as soon as she would confront her friend with her deepest secrets, they would need time. And privacy, to be able to talk without being interrupted. Her tale was too painful and intense to allow anything but a quiet atmosphere and her friend’s undivided attention.

Later, it has to be later. Damn. But I should give her a hint, a promise. I’m sure she will understand. If I do nothing now, I will explode.

“We need to talk soon, Emma,” she whispered, reaching out a hand and cupping her friend’s cheek.

The long, dark eyelashes that framed the dark blue eyes fluttered and for a moment the indigo gaze was hidden, while Emma slowly exhaled, trying with all her might to keep her hands where they were, stuffed inside the pockets of her cotton slacks, willing away the almost painful desire to reach out and pull the slightly trembling Kyra close. But she did not want to break her promise. She had given her word.

“Yes, we do,’ she answered in an almost inaudible voice, opening her eyes again and seeing Kyra’s face coming closer.

When a pair of soft lips lightly brushed her own, Emma thought she would faint. The kiss was so light, their lips hardly touched, but the effect was electrifying. Emma could feel her whole body starting to shake and she feared her legs would give out and land her on the floor with a thump. But as unexpected and quick as the kiss had started, it ended again.

Kyra withdrew and smoldering green eyes looked at Emma with concern.

“Are you all right?” Kyra whispered and when Emma nodded, not able to speak yet, a slow smile appeared.

“We’ll talk later,” Kyra promised, stroking Emma’s cheeks with her fingertips, before she withdrew her hand, leaving a trail of fire in its wake.

 

 

 

“Simon, honey, are you ready? Did you tie your shoelaces?” Kyra called from the bedroom, looking in the mirror to apply a touch of lipstick.

“Yes, Mom,” her son answered from the living room, sitting on the couch where his mother had told him to stay put and not get himself dirty again. He was dressed in black corduroy pants and a burgundy shirt and looked incredibly cute with his neatly brushed hair and good clothes.

His head turned towards a soft sound and when his eyes focused on the door, he greeted the entering Emma with a broad smile.

“Simon, can you help me to zip up this …” Kyra came walking out of the bedroom and when she saw Emma she stood stock still. Her green eyes were wide when she took in the vision in front of her.

Emma was wearing a dress that barely reached her knees. It was a black, short sleeved cocktail dress with a v-neck. The lace was hugging her body snugly and gave her a sweet and absolutely feminine look. Her auburn hair almost seemed to glow in the soft light of the ceiling lamp. And to Kyra’s appreciative eyes she looked incredibly attractive and positively sexy.

Emma was not aware of Kyra’s stare. She was too busy appreciating the beautiful woman in front of her. Kyra was wearing a sleeveless emerald green cocktail dress that reached just below her knees. The silk was draped in a classical style with a scooped cowl in the front. She had put her hair up, on both sides of her face a playfully dangling curl hung. A thin golden chain with a small, sparkling emerald and a pair of matching earrings complemented her natural beauty, emphasizing the color of her eyes.

A slow smile spread across Emma’s face and she stepped a little closer, breathing in the scent of Kyra’s perfume that she had come to identify with her friend.

“You look absolutely stunning,” she whispered. “Do you need help getting zipped up?”

Kyra swallowed hard and could only nod, slowly turning around to give Emma access to the back of her dress. With slightly trembling fingers Emma reached out to pull the tiny looking zipper up, trying to ignore Kyra’s bare back that was hidden from view as soon as she accomplished her task. She was aching to touch the soft looking skin and she had to control herself not to lean forward and kiss the bare skin of Kyra’s shoulders that was so tantalizingly close.

Kyra had closed her eyes when she had felt the soft touch on her back, forcing herself not to think about Emma’s fingers that were almost touching the skin of her back and shoulders. Her friend’s closeness made her body respond in a way she was not used to. Her heartbeat increased when she felt Emma’s breath on the back of her neck and she suppressed a moan.

Does she have any idea what she is doing to me?

“All done,” Emma’s soft voice sounded close to her ear, sending a shiver down Kyra’s spine and this time she softly whimpered.

“Have you any idea how beautiful you are?” Emma asked, her voice full of emotion.

Kyra slowly turned back to face her friend and managed a weak smile.

“Have you looked into the mirror lately?” she replied, her eyes roaming Emma’s body. “You look gorgeous, Emma.”

“Thank you,” Emma smiled, turning to glance at the little boy on the couch and sending him a wink. “Simon looks handsome.”

“For as long as it lasts,” Kyra chuckled, knowing her son despised being dressed up and as soon as he would see his new friends, she knew he would completely forget about the clothes he was wearing.

“Mom, you look like a princess,” he remarked, staring at his mother in awe.

“Thank you, honey,” Kyra smiled. “If I am a princess then you must be my prince!”

Simon laughed and jumped off the coach to walk over to the two women. He grabbed his mother’s hand and gently tugged it.

“Can we go now?” he asked, already fed up with having to sit on the couch and stay clean. “I want to go and play with Steven, Thomas and Jacco.”

“Oh, our terrible trio,” Emma chuckled. “Steven is my brother’s Bart youngest son, he is seven,” Emma explained to Kyra. “And Thomas and Jacco are Robert’s kids, they are seven and five. The three of them always manage to get into all sorts of adventures.”

“Sounds like Simon will have a good time,” Kyra smiled, lovingly stroking her son’s cheek. She took a deep breath and looked at her friend. “Shall we go then?”

 

Hester and David’s anniversary party would take place in the huge barn, across from the farm house. Emma had explained to Kyra that the use of the barn was a family tradition. Every anniversary party and graduation party her family had ever thrown, had been in that same barn. Her father and brothers had transformed the building into a huge party hall. There was a real bar, a stage for a live band, a decent sized dance floor and tables and chairs were set up everywhere, while entertaining music sounded from the speakers that were mounted on the walls. On one side of the hall bales of hay were stacked against the wall, providing an excellent playground for the many children.

As soon as Emma and Kyra walked out of the little guest house, they could already hear the music and Simon enthusiastically tugged Kyra’s hand.

“There’s Jacco,” he called out, spotting his new friend who was standing in the hall’s doorway. “Can I go, Mom?”

“Sure, honey, go ahead,” Kyra answered, immediately feeling Simon’s hand slip out of her own. The little boy ran off and both women laughed when they heard Jacco’s cheerful greeting.

They slowly made their way to the barn, walking so close together that their hands occasionally brushed. Kyra glanced aside and saw Emma shooting her an inquisitive look.

“Are you all right?” her friend asked. “There will be a lot of people there, but at least you’ve already met my family. It’s going to be a great party,’ she promised with a gentle smile.

“I’m fine,” Kyra answered. “A little nervous, maybe. It’s been a while since I have been at a party this big. I guess the last time was way before Simon was born.”

“Just remember, we don’t bite,” Emma smirked, making Kyra laugh.

“I know,” she answered. “Only when I ask, right?”

They had reached the entrance and Kyra took a deep breath, thinking that if the sounds coming from the barn would be any indication, the place would probably be crowded. She was aware of Emma close presence and grateful for her friend’s silent support.

Looking up in a pair of twinkling blue eyes she made a quick decision. Without hesitation she grabbed Emma’s hand and curled her fingers around the slightly longer ones.

“Let’s party,’ she smiled, pulling the surprised auburn haired woman into the warmth of the barn.

 

 

“Ooh, would you look at that?” Hester grinned, nudging her sister Sophia with her shoulder and pointing toward the entrance of the barn where Emma and Kyra just walked in, hand in hand.

Sophia glanced in the designated direction and her blue eyes sparkled when she noticed her sister and her friend.

“That looks really nice,” she smirked. “And don’t they just look gorgeous?”

“Beautiful,” Hester admitted with a pleased smile. “They really make a spectacular couple. And the fact that they are holding hands tells me that there’s a lot of progress in our sister’s love life.”

“Finally,” Sophia sighed. “What do you think, Hester? Will this be the real thing for Emma?”

“Absolutely,” Hester answered without hesitation. “And with a little luck and meddling, this evening will go down into history as a turning point for both Emma Altena and Kyra Hartman.”

Hester grinned and straightened her dark blue cocktail dress, winking at Sophia.

“I’d better get over there to greet our two little love birds.”

“Be nice, Hes,” Sophia chuckled, knowing full well how much Hester loved to tease, having been on the receiving end of her wicked sense of humor enough times already. “Don’t give them a hard time.”

“Who? Me?” Hester pointed at her chest, giving her sister an innocent look. “The only thing I’ll give them is a shove in the right direction. You know Emma. She practically needs to be whacked in the head to wake up and smell the coffee.”

Hester put down her glass of wine on a nearby table and shot Sophia a grin, before she squared her shoulders and made her way towards the entrance.

“Oh, boy,” Sophia mumbled.

 

 

“Are you having a good time, Kyra?” Sharon Altena, who was married to Emma’s brother Willem asked. Her friendly brown eyes looked at the beautiful woman who was standing next to her, noticing the content expression in the dark green eyes.

“Oh, yes,” Kyra answered with a pleased smile. “Your family sure knows how to throw a party.”

“Yes, they do,” Sharon admitted. “They are a happy bunch. I remember the first time Willem brought me home to meet the family. I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous in my life,” she laughed, clearly remembering that day. “It was Christmas. Willem told me the best way to get it over with was when everybody was together and he thought the Holidays would be the best occasion. I’m an only child and I tell you, when I stepped into the room and saw all those faces, I just wanted to turn around and run screaming.”

Kyra laughed and shot the petite woman a curious look.

“What happened?” she asked. “I mean, it’s obvious you didn’t run.”

“Willem was holding my hand so tight, like he knew what I was thinking,” Sharon grinned. “I had no choice.”

“Well, I do admit I was pretty nervous this afternoon,” Kyra said. “But the reception was great and so was Emma,” she added with a smile.

Her eyes scanned the crowd and within a few seconds she had spotted the auburn head she was looking for. Emma was across the barn, talking to an elderly couple, but even from the distance, Kyra noticed the blue eyes occasionally looking into her direction and she smiled.

Sharon followed her gaze and when she saw the look Emma and Kyra exchanged, she inwardly smirked. Their glances were practically crackling with electricity and she secretly wondered who would take the first step to take their friendship further.

“If you keep looking at her like that, she’ll spontaneously combust,” Hester’s voice suddenly sounded behind them, causing Sharon to almost snort out the sip of juice she had just taken.

Kyra’s cheeks turned brick red and she shot Hester a look that was a mixture of amusement, embarrassment and insecurity.

“I’m sorry, Kyra,” she apologized with a laugh. “Me and my big mouth.”

“Hester is the biggest tease on this side of Northern Hemisphere and I am sure she has a doppelganger on the other side as well,” Sharon grinned. “Just ignore her, Kyra. We all do.”

“Oh, ouch!” Hester laughed, putting her hand over her heart in a dramatic gesture. “You might be right, Sharon, but I mean well. Especially in this case.”

Kyra looked puzzled and Hester took pity on her. She wrapped her arm around Kyra’s shoulder and gave her a friendly squeeze.

“Listen, honey,” she started, glancing in the direction of Emma, who was looking at her with raised eyebrows. She winked and turned her attention back to Kyra. “I’m famous for speaking my mind and I suppose that can be annoying, I admit that, but one thing is sure, I am always honest.”

Hester’s face turned serious and she looked into a pair of shy green eyes.

“Kyra, I’m not blind. I see the way the two of you look at each other and God knows I don’t want to cause any trouble, but I want my sister to be happy. She…has gone through some tough times not that long ago and…well, she rose above it all, but she was hurt badly,” Hester paused and let out a small sigh. “I probably shouldn’t tell you all of this anyway, that is Emma’s responsibility.”

“She doesn’t,” Kyra replied sadly. “Talk about it, I mean. I know there’s something, but she…”

“She’s waiting for you to take that first step,” Hester calmly said.

“Yes, I know.”

“She told me,” Hester admitted, seeing the surprise on Kyra’s face. “Frankly, I told her to go for it, but she explained to me she couldn’t, because of a promise she made. She would wait for you forever, you know, even if that would make her miserable. My sister is so darn honorable, I’d like to slap her around a little sometimes.”

Kyra chuckled and from the corner of her eye she noticed Emma making her way over to where they were standing.

“She sees me talking to you and I’m sure she wants to come to your rescue,” Hester grinned, seeing the barely veiled look of affection in Kyra’s eyes.

“Will you do me a favor, Kyra? The air around you two is so thick with sensual sparks that if you don’t act upon it and relieve some of the tension, it might become contagious and we’ll end up with at least another seven nieces and nephews nine months from today.”

This time Sharon did snort out her juice and with a huge grin Hester helpfully patted her sister-in-laws back, sending the blushing Kyra a playful wink.

Kyra was shocked into silence by Hester’s words. Not because of what she said, but because of the accuracy of it. She knew that, after she had kissed Emma that afternoon, the sexual tension between them had steadily grown. And even after Emma had introduced them to several more people and they had mingled in the crowd, they constantly had made sure they were in each other’s line of vision. The glances and occasional soft touches they had exchanged had been filled with promises of things to come. And she wondered if the rest of the Altena family had noticed that as well. Probably.

“Hey,” Emma’s voice sounded and Kyra turned around to face her friend. “Is Hester behaving?”

Kyra smiled and again she melted inside when Emma’s dark blue eyes bore into her own.

“Your sister does have a sensible opinion about certain things,” Kyra slowly answered.

She cast a glance at the surprised looking Hester and handed her the glass of wine she had been sipping from. Turning back to Emma she grabbed the puzzled woman’s hand.

“Do you want to dance with me?” she softly asked, sending her friend a small smile. “According to Hester we need to get rid of some…tension,” she dead panned, hearing Hester almost choke behind her. “If not, your family might rapidly expand.”

Feeling Emma’s fingers intertwine with her own, she pulled her friend with her towards the dance floor in the corner, where the lights had been dimmed and a slow song was playing.

Emma’s heart pounded in her chest and she almost had to pinch herself. Kyra was tugging her towards the dance floor. Within a few moments she would be able to wrap her friend in her arms and dance with her. And it was Kyra who had taken the initiative. The same Kyra who had kissed her that afternoon.

As soon as they stepped onto the dance floor, Emma found her arms full of a beautiful, warm, pleasant smelling woman, who wrapped her arms around Emma’s neck, rested her cheek on her shoulder and let out a sigh of contentment.

Emma’s own arms automatically circled the silk clad body that was pressed up against her own and the feeling of Kyra’s feminine curves brushing her chest and the feel of her soft skin underneath her hands was so good that Emma thought she would faint from the sheer pleasure of it.

Being a little taller than the woman in her arms, Emma was able to rest her cheek against soft curls that smelled of jasmine and herbs. Closing her eyes she breathed in Kyra’s scent and they slowly moved to the music, locked in an embrace that radiated intimacy.

The moment Kyra felt Emma’s arms around her body, wrapping her in a warm cocoon, she closed her eyes and soaked up the affection. All her doubts and insecurities faded away when her body molded against Emma’s. With a happy smile she breathed in Emma’s perfume and for the first time she allowed herself to thoroughly enjoy her body’s reaction to the feel of the other woman.

I have come home, she realized, swallowing away the lump in her throat. This feels so right. This is where I was meant to be.

Leisurely they danced, unaware of the amused looks that were sent their way, or the high five Hester, Sharon and Sophia were sharing. Not seeing the proud look on the faces of Emma’s parents or the relief that was evident in Emma’s brothers. For long moments their world only consisted of the dance floor, the soft, sensual music and each other.

“So, what was that all about just now, with Hester?” Emma’s voice finally sounded, her lips almost brushing Kyra’s ear.

“Relieving tension,” was Kyra’s soft response.

Emma’s tightened her grip around Kyra’s body and pulled her even closer.

“Do I dare ask?” she asked in an amused voice.

“I don’t know, do you?” Kyra dreamily replied, feeling Emma chuckle.

She opened her eyes and peered up into a pair of radiant blue eyes that effortlessly caught her own gaze and held it. Wordlessly the indigo surrounded Kyra like a warm blanket, holding her close, caressing her in silent adoration and for the first time since they had met, Emma’s guard was completely down, allowing Kyra to look straight into her soul. It made her feel powerful, yet humble at the same time and she recognized the other woman’s gift to her for what it was. Trust.

Kyra’s hand left its comfortable spot and gently cupped Emma’s cheek, reveling in the feel of the silky skin her palm was resting against. Still lost in Emma’s eyes she let her fingers trail through the thick, auburn hair, loving the way the soft tresses embraced her fingers.

“You are so beautiful,” she whispered.

As if on cue the already dimmed light above the dance floor became softer still and another song started. Emma recognized Sarah McLachlan’s ‘I love you’ and with Kyra firmly in her arms, helplessly drowning in the deep, dark green pools she softly started to sing along, her eyes never leaving Kyra’s.

 

I have a smile stretched from ear to ear

I see you walking down the road

We meet at the lights, I stare for a while

The world around us disappears.
It’s just you and me on my island of hope

A breath between us could be miles

Let me surround you, a sea to your shore

Let me be the calm you seek
Totally captivated by Emma’s voice and the words of the song, Kyra almost forgot to breathe. They were standing in the middle of the dance floor, wrapped in each other’s arms, unaware of the world around them. Kyra never knew her friend could sing and she was completely blown away by the melodious warm alto that completely filled her senses.

A tear escaped the confines of her moist eyes and rolled down her cheek. But before it could splatter on the silk of her dress, Emma’s thumb had already caught it, lovingly wiping it away.

But every time I’m close to you

There’s too much I can’t say

And you just walk away
And I forgot to tell you

I love you

And night’s too long

And cold here

Without you

I grieve in my condition

For I cannot find the words to say

I need you so
And every time I’m close to you

There’s too much I can’t say

And you just walk away
And I forgot to tell you

I love you

And night’s too long

And cold here

Without you

I grieve in my condition

For I cannot find the words to say

I need you so

 

When the song finally ended Kyra felt as if her heart would burst with the abundance of emotions she was experiencing. There was so much she wanted to say. Needed to say. So many things she had waited to share with the woman in her arms, but it was all too much. Her emotions were on overload and she had an almost aching need to be close to Emma. Closer than they already were. Words would never be enough to tell the auburn haired woman how she felt at that moment. How precious the gift was that Emma had given her. How deeply it had made her feel. So Kyra did the only thing she could do at that moment, encouraged by her heart, cheered on by her mind and invited by the warm indigo that bore into her soul.

Tracing her hand back to Emma’s neck she pulled the other woman closer and with their eyes still locked together, their lips tenderly brushed. Kyra’s eyelashes fluttered close and with an aching need, she increased the contact, feeling one of Emma’s hand slide down to the small of her back, burning her skin through the silky texture of her dress, while the other hand rested between her shoulder blades, increasing the pressure and pulling her impossibly close.

A soft whimper escaped when Kyra took her time to tantalizingly slowly use her lips to gently probe and taste Emma’s. It was all Emma could do to let Kyra set the pace and not ravish the other woman’s mouth with uninhibited passion.

When they finally broke apart their faces were flushed and their eyes were radiating desire, wonder, happiness and love. Kyra’s gaze held a touch of shyness, but after a long look of silent promises a tender smile found its way to her face and her lips returned for another kiss.

“You are absolutely wonderful,” she hoarsely whispered against Emma’s mouth, before retreating and gradually becoming aware of the fact that they were standing in the middle of a dance floor, with countless eyes surrounding them, politely trying to look the other way.

Emma saw the blush creep up Kyra’s cheeks and she softly chuckled when the woman who had just initiated a mind blowing kiss, buried her face against her shoulder, muttering: “Oh, my goodness.”

“Don’t worry, sweetie,’ she tried to reassure her, spontaneously using the term of endearment. “I don’t think anyone noticed.”

But a quick look around showed her a multitude of smiling faces and with trepidation she saw Hester close to them, a huge smile on her face while she was dancing with her husband.

Of course they stopped right next to them and Hester looked at the embarrassed Kyra with a mischievous grin.

“Honey, I advised you to relieve a little tension, not cause a scandal,” she gently teased. “After seeing the two of you kiss like that I’m sure every couple here wants to leave immediately to go home and have a private party.”

Kyra did not answer, she just peeked up from Emma’s shoulder and softly groaned, while her friend let out a happy laugh.

“I am sorry,” she whispered, feeling Emma’s lips brush her temple.

“Don’t be,” Hester answered with a laugh. “Just be happy. I know I am.”

David Jansen just winked and led his wife away, steering her into another direction, leaving Kyra and Emma standing alone, still wrapped in each other’s arms.

“Want to sit out the next one?” Emma softly asked, caressing Kyra’s cheek with the back of her hand.

Kyra just nodded and slowly extracted herself from the warm body that had been enveloping her in such a comforting embrace.

“I could use a glass of…something,’ she mumbled, feeling Emma grab her hand and pulling her towards the bar. “No alcohol though,” she quickly added, thinking about the talk they would have soon. “I need my wits.”
Chapter 7
It was a relative quiet corner Emma had guided Kyra to, both women nursing a glass of white wine. In spite of Kyra’s desire to ‘keep her wits’, she had decided one glass of wine might help her to relax.

In the corner there were a few empty tables and chairs, but in unspoken consent, they remained standing, close to each other, so they could feel the heat that was still radiating from their bodies.

“I didn’t mean to make a spectacle out of us,” Kyra’s voice sounded a little remorseful and she avoided Emma’s eyes. “I’m sorry if you…”

“Kyra,” Emma gently interrupted her. “Look at me, Kyra. Please?”

A pair of dark green eyes hesitantly left the milling crowd and slowly traveled up Emma’s face until they finally met a warm, blue gaze.

“Don’t apologize. It was…,” Emma had to take a deep breath to organize her thoughts. Her eyes were radiating happiness and love. “It was simply amazing.” She lifted a hand to cup Kyra’s cheek and her eyes bore into her friend’s. “You are amazing,” she whispered.

Kyra felt her heart skip a beat and slowly but surely a smile found its way to her face, bringing a light to her eyes that, to Emma, held unspoken promises and emphasized her beauty.

“My timing was a bit off, I guess,” Kyra smiled. “Even though I don’t regret it, I can’t help…thinking…how more…convenient it would have been to not be at a big party, surrounded by a multitude of people. Some time alone, in private would be really welcome.”

Emma’s eyebrows rose into her hairline and she shot Kyra a questioning look. The expression on her face was a serious one, but her dark blue eyes were twinkling.

“And…what would you have…done, had we been in private?” Emma purred, seeing the expected blush color Kyra’s cheeks.

But Kyra stood her ground. She was very aware of the warmth of her cheeks, but her eyes did not leave Emma’s. Instead, she nibbled on her bottom lip and feigned a pensive expression, while her eyes started to roam Emma’s body.

“Well,” she drawled. “Talk of course. What did you think?”

Emma grinned and realized it was true that Kyra would probably have to get used to her always teasing family members, but she was convinced that her friend would be able to dish out as much as she would receive.

“You are a tease,” Emma smiled.

“I know,” Kyra admitted with a grin. “But honestly, Emma. We do need to talk and I’d like some privacy when we do. However, I do admit…” her eyes traveled to Emma’s mouth and the teacher shuddered when the tip of a pink tongue peeked out and Kyra unconsciously moistened her lips. “…I would also love to kiss you some more…and more…and more…”

Emma briefly closed her eyes and felt a wave of desire course through her body, with so much power, it almost left her lightheaded.

I am in so much trouble here…

“Kyra, honey,” her voice croaked and she opened her eyes again. “If you keep looking at me like that I will have to drag you behind those bales of hay…to get a little…privacy.”

“Oh,” Kyra mouthed, secretly pleased with the effect she had on her friend. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time that she could turn Emma into a puddle with just one look. “I guess that would really cause a riot, huh?”

“It would,” Emma vigorously nodded, smiling when she saw the sparkle in Kyra’s eyes.

“I’d better behave then,” Kyra sighed. “But can I have one more kiss? Just a little one?” she asked with a small pout.

Emma chuckled and in answer brought her face closer to capture Kyra’s lips in a warm, white wine tinted kiss, that did not last long enough to lose themselves into, but still left both of them craving more.

“Let’s mingle and be sociable,” Emma smiled, holding her hand out to Kyra and sighing in contentment when the other woman’s fingers entwined with her own.

“I will have to find Simon,” Kyra mumbled. “I need to tell him…something…before…well, before he finds out some other way.”

“He is over there.” Emma helpfully pointed towards a far away corner, where a group of children were herded together by Ann Altena, Hester and Irene, one of Emma’s other sisters.

“I guess it’s almost bedtime,” Emma grinned, watching her sisters distribute glasses of juice and milk among the children.

The Altena’s had asked two teenage girls who lived close by and were known by all the children, to come and baby-sit, while the party would continue. The large living room in the main house had been transformed into a big bedroom, with air beds and sleeping bags scattered around the place. To the kids it would be a huge party to bunk together. Only the little ones would be taken home with their parents, the bigger children were allowed to stay the night and Emma pitied her parents, because she knew they would be awake at the crack of dawn.

As soon as they came within hearing distance, Kyra’s eyes caught Simon’s and they exchanged a happy smile. His face was buried in a glass of milk, a white smudge on his upper lip.

“Hi, Mom,” he greeted her with a beaming smile and Kyra ruffled his hair when she carefully took a seat next to her son, on a huge bale of hay.

“Hey, honey. Did you have fun?” she asked, aware of Emma’s presence at her back.

Simon nodded and took another sip of his milk, his gray eyes looking at his mother over the rim of the glass. Kyra noticed a mixture of confusion and hope in his expressive eyes and she gave him a reassuring smile.

“What is it?” she softly asked, brushing away a curly strand from his forehead, making a mental note that her son needed a haircut soon.

Simon lowered his, almost empty glass and balanced it on his knee, still holding it between his hands. His eyes traveled from Kyra to Emma and back again, its expression suddenly curious.

“You and Emma kissed,” he said. It was not a question or accusation, it was more like he was stating a fact.

So much for privacy, Kyra wryly thought, aware of all the eyes that were looking at her and Simon. Kyra had always been honest with her son, trying to instill that same quality in him as well and she knew the situation called for absolute openness. If her relationship with Emma developed into a permanent one, and she was sure it would, there would be a lot of changes in Simon’s life and it was her responsibility to look out for her son and make sure his life would not be disturbed too much.

Trying to postpone a response to Simon’s statement was out of the question. Her son was looking at her with innocent, confused eyes and she knew she had to deal with it immediately.

“Yes,” she finally answered. “Emma and I kissed.”

Simon’s eyes traveled to Emma again, who was still standing behind her, answering Simon’s inquisitive glance with a calm, friendly look.

“Why?” Simon asked in a clear voice.

“Simon, do you remember we were talking about boys liking boys and girls liking girls? A few weeks ago?”

Simon nodded and he sent Emma a small smile.

“Emma made pancakes then,” he answered.

“That’s right,” Kyra smiled. “Do you remember that you asked me whether I liked boys or girls?”

“You said you didn’t know,” Simon replied, suddenly seeming so much older and wiser than his five years.

“And I didn’t,” Kyra softly spoke. “But after that day we spent a lot of time with Emma and I have discovered I really like her a lot, Simon.”

Simon didn’t immediately answer. He put his empty glass in Hester’s outstretched hand and suddenly crawled into his mother’s lap, feeling Kyra’s arms envelope him in a warm and safe hug. She put her cheek on his curly hair and slowly rocked him in her arms.

“I like Emma too, Mommy,” Simon finally answered. “But grandma will be angry with you.”

Kyra’s arms tightened around his small body and she closed her eyes against the tears that were suddenly threatening to fall. She had never planned on getting pregnant with Simon, but over and over again her young son proved to her he was the biggest, most precious gift she had ever received. Here she was, carefully trying to tell him about her feelings for Emma and her son expressed his worries about her own relationship with her mother.

“Leave grandma to me, sweetie,” she told him in a voice that was thick with emotion. “Don’t worry about it, all right? Are you okay with me liking Emma?” she added in a whisper.

Simon nodded and wrapped his arms around Kyra’s neck, burying his face against her shoulder.

“I love Emma,” he mumbled. “Will she come live with us?”

Kyra could hear a soft chuckle behind her and she suppressed a smile, knowing there would be an amused twinkle in those amazing blue eyes.

“Let’s…take things slowly, okay?” she told her son, kissing his cheek. “I think it’s a good idea if we all get used to it first, what do you think about that?”

“Okay,” Simon sighed, pushing back a little to look his mother in the eye. “Can I have a brother or a sister? Peter said that two moms can have babies as well and I would like a little brother.”

Oh, my God! Here I am, trying to take things slow for Simon’s sake and now I am the one who has trouble keeping up!!!

“Honey,” Kyra’s voice croaked, feeling the heat radiate from her face. “Let’s…take things slow,” she exhaled. “It’s not like babies can be ordered at the corner shop, or something…”

Emma’s eyes had traveled to her eight year old nephew who was answering her glance with innocent blue eyes. She smiled at him and her eyes moved on, looking for his mother.

“What in the name of science are you teaching your children?” she asked Hester with a frown.

Hester shot Emma a look that was as innocent as her son’s and pointed towards her chest with raised eyebrows.

“Me? What do I teach my children?” she echoed. “Why does it always have to be me? You are a teacher, you know the stuff they hear at school…Besides, Peter has a friend whose mothers are having another baby,” she added with a smirk. “My kids are open minded, you should appreciate that.”

“I do,” Emma laughed. “But you have to admit, sis, that some information can lead to embarrassing situations.”

“And isn’t that just funny?” Hester smirked with a wink.

“Okay, kiddos, bedtime,” Irene announced, seeing all the children had finished their drinks.

Immediately Amber and Anne, her six year old twin daughters jumped from their seats and grabbed their mother’s hands.

“Veronica promised us a story,” Anne happily announced, glancing at the lanky teenage baby-sitter who was carrying a tray with empty glasses to the makeshift kitchen. “Come on, Mom, Amber and I will sleep next to Marianne.”

The bunch of children slowly filed out and Simon hesitantly looked up at his mother.

“Is it still okay for me to stay with them?” he asked.

“Yes, honey, it sure is. You have a good time, all right?”

He nodded and pressed his cheek against Kyra’s, while his arms were tightly wrapped around her neck.

“Thomas has a real cool flashlight and Jacco and Peter have rubber spiders that glow in the dark,” he said with excitement.

“All right, sounds interesting” Kyra laughed. “Try not to scare the girls, huh?”

Simon produced a smirk and gave his mother a quick kiss, before releasing her and slipping off her lap.

“Bye mom.”

“Bye, sweetie. Have a good time.”

Simon nodded and glanced at Hester who was patiently waiting for him at the door. He turned to Emma and looked up at her with a shy smile.

“Goodnight, Emma,” he softly said.

“Sleep tight, buddy,” Emma smiled, not able to resist raking her fingers through his curly hair.

Simon grinned, turned around and ran towards Hester, who took his hand and led him out of the door.

“Well, that was…educational,” Kyra chuckled, feeling Emma’s warm body settle on the hay beside her. “And so much easier than I thought it would be.”

“Children are pretty flexible,” Emma answered. “It’s amazing how they adapt sometimes. He is a special, little boy.”

“He is,” Kyra wholeheartedly agreed. “He is such a gift.”

It was comfortable, sitting on the bale of hay, with Emma by her side. The music was loud and happy, but it was still possible to have a quiet conversation. The glass of wine had somewhat relaxed her and Kyra reached out for Emma’s hand, intertwining their fingers and letting their joined hands rest on her thigh.

“I was a student, when I got pregnant with Simon,” she started, glancing aside and seeing the interested look in Emma’s eyes. “I was in my third year at the University. My mother had been trying to hook me up with the son of a couple we had known for years, they played bridge together. Anyway, since the dad was a big shot lawyer and the son would follow daddy’s footsteps, mother thought it would be great if I would marry Rick. Of course I had other plans,” Kyra softly chuckled. “I wanted to be left alone and concentrate on my studies. I was working hard on my business degree, with a minor in Marketing. I usually got out of all the parties, except for this one. Rick was a nice guy and I know our mothers were pressuring him into pursuing me. He asked me to this party at his place and I thought I might get some rest for a while if I would just give in and go. So, I did.”

Kyra paused and stared at the thumb that was tenderly caressing the back of her hand, realizing that if Rick would have made her feel the way Emma did, her mother would probably have had her way.

“I went to the party, deciding to stay a couple of hours and then make a graceful retreat.”

Again Kyra paused and she swallowed hard, again feeling the shame and guilt she had felt six years ago.

“What happened?” Emma softly asked.

“I had some wine, I can’t really remember how much exactly, but it couldn’t have been more than three. I…remember feeling a bit queasy and Rick telling me to have a drink of water, but…what happened afterwards is…I don’t really know. I woke up the next morning, in bed, with Rick. I was horrified. He was still sleeping, so I got dressed and got out of there as soon as I could. Nine months later Simon was born,” she added quietly.

Emma bit her lip and could not help wondering what had happened that evening. Kyra was not the type of person who would drink too much and get herself into trouble, but somehow that was exactly what had happened.

“Did…did he take advantage of you, or…?”

“I can’t remember,” Kyra whispered. “It’s possible that it was consensual. That was Rick’s side of the story anyway. He told his parents we were both drunk and things…got out of hand.”

“How did your mother respond?”

Kyra laughed humorlessly and shook her head, still amazed by her mother’s actions.

“She wanted me to quit my studies, marry Rick and play the happy housewife. She and Rick’s mother even made him propose to me. He was so relieved when I declined,” Kyra chuckled. “I told him that I was capable of raising my child by myself and didn’t need his help. So, he never acknowledged Simon, but that was fine with me. Of course my mother blamed me for that. She said…well, never mind what she said, it was not pretty.”

“Did…were you alone during all this?”

Kyra looked up to see a pained expression in Emma’s face and she reached out a hand to stroke her friend’s cheek.

“Jazz was there for me, all the way,” she smiled. “And my dad and Albert as well, they were living in Amsterdam back then. I had three mother hens looking after me.”

“I am glad,” Emma softly replied, realizing that the past was something that could not be changed, but feeling a stab of pain anyway when she thought about Kyra being pregnant and alone. “They sound like an interesting support system.”

“And they were,” Kyra smiled. “You should have seen the look on the nurses faces when Jazz and my dad were at my side when I was in labor. They were having a ball.”

Kyra exhaled and covered their clasped hands with her free one, enjoying the warmth that Emma’s touch evoked and that seemed to fill all her senses.

“My mother refused to see Simon. He was three years old when they finally met each other. I was hopeful that she could leave the past where it was and be a grandmother for Simon. I guess that is why I put up with her criticism and snide remarks all the time. She is the only grandmother he has and his grandfathers live far away.”

“What do you think will happen when she finds out about you and me?” Emma asked, already knowing the answer.

“She will have a major coronary and will probably do anything in her power to make me change my mind,” Kyra calmly answered, knowing her prediction would be an accurate one.

“What about Simon?”

Kyra cast down her eyes and absent mindedly rubbed the back of Emma’s hand. Emma’s question was a valid one and she had been wondering about that same thing for weeks.

“It’s not relevant,” she finally sighed, looking up into a pair of empathic blue eyes. “I know she would try to influence Simon and set him up against me…us. I will not allow that, so I decided that if she makes things difficult for us, she will not be able to see Simon anymore. I…I hate to do that, take Simon away from the only grandmother he has, but…I need to protect him.”

“She will blame me,” Emma quietly remarked, seeing the acknowledgment in Kyra’s eyes.

“I am sorry,” her friend whispered, blinking away a tear. “I wish it could be different and if you decide it’s not worth it, I will understand. She might try to ruin your career and I hate to be responsible for that.”

Emma swallowed away the lump in her throat and slowly extracted her hand from Kyra’s, who softly whimpered when suddenly she experienced a grave sense of loss.

Better she tells me now she doesn’t want to go through with this than after we would have become involved even more, she reflected with rising insecurity, while the sadness constricted her throat, causing her breath to hitch in her chest.

Emma’s body shifted and for a terrifying moment Kyra felt her heart break, not able to look up to see her friend walk away from her. But then a pair of warm hands was put on her shoulders and when she raised her pain filled eyes, she saw Emma kneeling on the ground in front of her.

“Kyra, honey, look at me,” Emma urged, her voice soft and gentle.

A small ray of hope peeked through the dark clouds that surrounded Kyra’s heart when she saw the look of affection in Emma’s eyes.

“I don’t care what your mother will do. She can try and ruin my career, slander my name and blame me for everything that has gone wrong in her life. I don’t care about that. I do care about you and Simon. The only reason for me to turn my back on you, would be you, looking me in the eye and telling me to go.”

“That will never happen,” Kyra replied hoarsely, with tear filled eyes.

“Then stop worrying,” Emma smiled, lifting a hand to trail her fingertips down Kyra’s cheek.

Kyra caught the strong, yet soft hand, turning it palm up and pressing her lips against the warm skin, in a silent gesture of gratitude and love.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

 

 

It was way past midnight when the party finally wound down and the first guests started to leave. Emma smiled at some friends of Hester’s husband, David, while her eyes searched the crowd for a familiar curly head.

Numerous people had wanted to talk to the teacher and for the last two hours she had been separated from her friend, who had been taken under Hester’s and Irene’s wings and was being introduced to a lot of different people.

Emma had enjoyed herself, talking to old friends and acquaintances, but after Kyra had walked away with her sisters, she had felt a constant sense of loss.

“She’s standing near the door, next to mom and dad,” an amused voice suddenly sounded and Emma felt an arm slip around her waist that gave her a loving squeeze.

When she glanced aside it was straight into a pair of twinkling blue eyes that belonged to her youngest sister, Imke.

“Hey, squirt,” she smiled. “I haven’t seen a lot of you this evening. Where have you been?”

Imke snorted and playfully bumped Emma with her hip.

“Are you kidding? I have been around the whole time and Neville and I were just an arm length away when you and Kyra were ‘dancing’,” she smirked, wiggling her eyebrows. “But, I can’t blame you for not noticing your poor little sister, since you were…otherwise engaged.”

Emma rolled her eyes, but laughed heartily and wrapped an arm around her sister’s shoulders.

“She is beautiful, Emmie, inside and out,” Imke remarked, noticing how her sister’s eyes traveled towards the door where Kyra was engaged in an animated discussion with their eldest brother Bart and their parents. It seemed like the Altena family had taken to Kyra immediately, something Emma had expected anyway, but seeing it actually happen made her happy nonetheless.

“Yes, she is,” Emma dreamily answered, seeing Kyra’s expressive eyes dart to her direction, followed by a radiant smile, which made her heart skip a beat.

“Oh, sister mine, hook, line and sinker,” Imke chuckled, but her blue eyes were showing the affection and joy she felt for seeing her sister happy.

“I’m so glad the two of you have found each other, Emma,” she added with a sigh. “I was worried about you, being so far away from us, but I think moving South was the best thing you could have done.”

“It was,” Emma agreed wholeheartedly. “She is…a wonderful person, Im.”

“She thinks the world of you,” Imke answered, while they slowly strolled towards the exit of the barn. “I talked to her for a while and I think she believes you can walk on water.”

Emma laughed and gave her sister a one armed hug.

“So, I guess I’ll have to talk to her again soon and tell her some of your childhood stories, that will make her change her mind,” Imke teased with a mischievous smile.

“Oh, no! Not the one where I fell into the piggy pen,” Emma groaned, remembering that dreadful event like it had only happened yesterday.

“Well, that is always a good one to start with,” Imke chuckled. “And the one about you trying to single handedly catch that rooster and ending up in the creek.”

“I wasn’t always that clumsy,” Emma defended herself.

“True,” Imke agreed. “But you will have to admit that mud and water always held a special attraction to you.”

They had reached the small group and with a smile Emma slid her arm from Imke’s shoulder and grabbed the hand Kyra was holding out to her.

“Hey,” she greeted her friend with a gentle smile. “Did you have a good time?”

“The best,” Kyra nodded with sparkling green eyes. “It was a great party, but I have to admit I am kind of tired now. It’s been a long day.”

“Can I walk you home?” Emma smiled, aware of four pairs of eyes watching them.

“I’d like that,” Kyra answered, turning to Ann and Dirk Altena to wish them goodnight.

Of course Hester stepped in front of them when they were about to walk outside, into the darkness and she looked at them with an amused smile, which earned a small groan from Emma.

“Are you girls leaving?” she innocently asked.

“Yes, we are,” Emma patiently answered, wondering what her sister would be up to this time.

“Okay,” Hester drawled, shooting Emma a mischievous look. “Don’t forget you promised the kids pancakes in the morning, so you’d better get up early.”

“I will,” Emma calmly answered, hoping she would not blush under the scrutinizing look that was sent her way.

“Good. I know you are a reliable and sensible person who will make sure to set the alarm.”

“I am,” Emma dead panned, hearing Kyra chuckle. “So, move, sis, so I can get out of here and get some rest.”

One of Hester’s eyebrows rose and she looked from Kyra to Emma and back again with a suggestive glance.

“Rest, huh? Well, sweet dreams,” she grinned, stepping aside.

“Thank you,” Emma sighed, smiling when suddenly her sister gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Don’t do things I wouldn’t do,” Hester stage whispered.

Emma grinned and playfully slapped her sister on the back.

“That leaves open a world of possibilities,” she laughed. “Night, Hester.”

Pulling Kyra along, Emma quickly stepped outside, immediately feeling the cold night air touching her skin, making goose bumps erupt all over her body.

“Burrr,” Kyra shivered. “It’s nippy.”

Immediately a warm arm was wrapped around her shoulder and she was pulled against Emma’s side, while they quickly walked towards the little guesthouse.

Silently they continued their walk and when they reached the front door, Kyra quickly opened it and stepped inside, pulling Emma with her.

It was pitch dark and for a moment Kyra was completely disoriented, trying to remember where the light switch was. Her free hand reached out to trace the wall and when she felt the hard plastic under her fingertips she flicked on the light, bathing the small living room in a soft light.

“I want a cup of tea,” she softly announced. “How about you?”

“Sounds great,” Emma answered, already stepping inside the tiny kitchen to get the water started. She opened one of the cabinets and pulled out two cups, which she set on the counter.

“Why don’t you sit down and make yourself comfortable?” she suggested, almost jumping in surprise when a pair of arms slipped around her waist and Kyra rested her cheek against her back.

“I am comfortable,” she mumbled and Emma felt her heart rate pick up when hot breath caressed the skin underneath the thin fabric of her dress.

“Have I told you that you looked absolutely gorgeous tonight?” Kyra sighed, rubbing her cheek against Emma’s shoulder.

“You have,” Emma softly answered, gripping the kitchen counter with two hands, when Kyra pressed her lips against the back of her neck.

Oh, God, I am in trouble now. Sensitive spot, Kyra. Real sensitive spot. Better be careful….

With a moan Emma let her head fall forward, feeling the nerve endings in her neck and shoulder cheerfully stand up, begging for more, while a tingling sensation ran down her back, to settle in her lower belly, spreading exhilarating warmth.

Kyra could feel the skin underneath her lips grow warm and she decided she really liked the effect she had on Emma. It gave her the self confidence she lacked, knowing she had absolutely no experience when it came to the physical aspect of a relationship.

Experimentally she let her lips travel to the side of Emma’s neck, nibbling a soft spot just underneath her ear, while her arms pulled the warm body closer against her own.

“Kyra,’ Emma breathed, feeling the heat spread through her body. “Honey…if you…continue to…do this…I won’t be…able to…stand up anymore.”

Sounds good to me, Kyra thought, while her hands involuntarily started to rub Emma’s waist.

Holding Emma like this was a total new experience, which filled her heart with warmth, but also made her hungry for more. Slowly releasing her hold, she let her hands slide to Emma’s hips.

“Emma, turn around,” she requested in a husky voice, feeling her friend tremble.

Obediently Emma turned around to face her friend and immediately Kyra’s hands slipped around her neck, while a pair of smoldering green eyes met her blazing blue ones.

“I need to kiss you,” Kyra boldly stated, not waiting for a response, but pulling Emma’s face down and sealing their lips together in a passionate kiss.

Emma closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around Kyra’s body so tightly, the only thing that prevented them from toppling over was the solid form of the kitchen counter at her back.

Kyra’s soft lips caressed, nibbled and tasted Emma’s, leisurely taking their time to thoroughly explore and when a tentative tongue touched her upper lip, almost shyly asking for permission, Emma thought her heart would stop. With a soft moan she granted Kyra entrance, letting their tongues speak of love and desire, while her hands slid to the small of Kyra’s back, cupping a pair of firm mounds and pulling her impossibly close.

Kyra felt so right in her arms. Her warm, supple body was molded against her own and Emma was aware of all the soft curves that were pressed against her slightly taller frame, fueling her desire to an almost painful level.

 

When Emma felt her knees starting to tremble and lack of oxygen made her lightheaded, she unhurriedly pulled away, and a deep breath filled her lungs with much needed air.

“Oh, my God,” she panted, pressing her forehead against Kyra’s, aware of the other woman’s labored breathing.

“Amen to that,” Kyra whispered, still trying to catch her breath. “I had no idea.”

“About what?” Emma asked, releasing a shuddering breath.

“That it would feel so good to kiss you. If I’d known I would have done it a lot earlier,” Kyra gently joked, looking up and seeing the blue eyes twinkle.

Emma appreciated the light tone of voice, it eased the coiled up tension in her body and reduced the chance of her ravishing Kyra right then and there in the small kitchen.

“I have to admit I have wanted to do this for a long time,” Emma confessed, brushing away a curl behind Kyra’s ear.

“Really?” Kyra smiled, playfully kissing the tip of Emma’s nose. “Since when exactly?”

“Since I first saw you,” Emma softly answered with a serious expression in her eyes. “The moment you walked into my classroom I was lost.” She smiled and kissed Kyra’s forehead. “Of course I was not pleased by it, because you came to pick up your son and for all I knew, you were married, or at

least…straight,” she hesitantly added and Kyra looked up to see confusion in those eyes she loved so much.

“Let’s pour that tea and get comfortable,” she suggested, realizing she still needed to explain a few things to Emma. “There are a few things you need to know.”

Emma nodded, knowing that no matter what Kyra would tell her, it would answer some questions that had been in the back of her mind ever since they became friends.

A few minutes later both women were seated on the couch, silently sipping their tea. As if by mutual consent they were sitting in the opposite corner to leave a little space in between them, both knowing that sitting closer together would probably provide too much of a distraction.

“I‘ve done a lot of thinking lately,” Kyra suddenly started, staring at her friend with open, honest eyes. “It has been a very confusing few weeks, I can assure you,” she smiled. “I…admired and appreciated your honesty with me, about you being gay, but it brought back a crushing wave of emotions and memories I spent years trying to forget.”

A glance at Emma’s face showed her an intense interest in her story and taking a deep breath, Kyra continued.

“I am gay as well, Emma,” she softly stated, her eyes never leaving the warm blue. “This is not a crush or an experiment. The feelings I have for you are deep and genuine. I was attracted to you the first time I walked into your classroom,” she smiled, seeing the affectionate look in Emma’s eyes. “When I was in high school I had a friend, her name was Kimberley. She was the youngest of nine children. Her parents were very religious people who raised their kids in a pretty…Spartan and harsh way. In all aspects. Only at school Kim seemed to be able to relax a little. Anyway, we became friends and she started to spend some time at my place as well. I thought she was allowed to, but afterwards I learned she did it in secret, because her parents had found out about my dad being gay and told their daughter she was not allowed to associate with ‘the likes of me’ ,” Kyra said with a wry chuckle, taking a much needed sip from her tea.

“We spent a lot of time together and I discovered that I had fallen in love with Kimberley. And she with me. To me that felt as natural as breathing, but since Kim’s parents were more or less religious fanatics, she felt guilty about it and she was scared to death they would find out. Our ‘relationship’, if I can call it that, never extended further than a little kissing and cuddling. We were planning on becoming roomies once we started college and would be away from our parents’ supervision. It never got that far,” Kyra sighed and there was a sad expression in her eyes.

“One day my mother came barging into my bedroom, when Kim and I were lying on my bed. There was nothing going on, we were just lying there, talking and I had my head on Kim’s shoulder. My mother was…furious,” Kyra sighed. “She pulled me away from the bed and told Kim to leave the house and never come back again. She accused the poor girl of corrupting me.”

Kyra put down her empty glass and turned to glance at Emma, who was looking at her with a mixture of empathy and sadness.

“I need a hug,” Kyra whispered, crawling towards Emma, whose arms were already opened in silent invitation.

Emma felt a shiver go through Kyra’s body and she braced herself for the rest of the story. Knowing Vivian LeJeune it would probably not be pretty.

Kyra’s head rested against her shoulder and Emma put a protective hand on the curly hair, using her other hand to tenderly rub Kyra’s back.

“At first we told my mother we were just friends, but she kept accusing Kim until she finally broke down and confessed to her that she was in love with me. I told my mother I was in love with Kim myself, but she didn’t believe me. She said I only came up with that to protect my friend. Her daughter was not gay. Kim was the perverted one. Poor Kim cried her eyes out and begged my mother not to tell her parents,” Kyra said with a trembling voice. “And I begged mother as well. I knew Kim would be in so much trouble if her parents found out. But mother didn’t listen.”

Kyra buried her face deeper into Emma’s shoulder, feeling a pair of strong arms hold her close. Breathing in the scent of Emma’s perfume and skin, she felt safe and cared for.

“Mother called Kim’s parents and told them their daughter had ‘corrupted me with her perverted ways’. Her dad didn’t want to run the risk of Kim running away, so he asked my mother to keep an eye on Kim until he could come over to pick her up. She was so scared, Emma. She begged mother to let her go, but my mother didn’t even flinch. So, I decided to try and help Kim. I went into the kitchen and opened the back door. When Kim’s father arrived and mother went to open the front door, Kim made a run for it and escaped through the yard. That is the last time I ever saw her,” Kyra added quietly.

“Did she go back to her parents’?” Emma softly asked.

“No,” Kyra swallowed hard. “She ran to the railway track and hurled herself in front of a train.”

Emma gasped in horror and closed her eyes against the stab of pain she felt when thinking about that poor teenage girl, who did not see any other solution but ending her own life.

“For years I felt responsible. If I had not opened the kitchen door for her, she would have gone home with her dad and maybe…she would have lived,” Kyra whispered in a strained voice.

“Honey,” Emma answered hoarsely. “That was not your responsibility. How old were you and Kimberley?”

“Sixteen,” Kyra answered softly.

“Oh, my Lord,” Emma sighed, pulling Kyra closer to her body to give her as much warmth, love and support she could. Kyra’s story was heartbreaking and again Emma said a silent prayer of gratitude for her parents and siblings, who had always been supportive and loving. Who had always showed her unconditional love. No matter what.

“I am so, so sorry, Kyra,” she whispered against the curly hair that was still nestled against her shoulder. “It hurts me hearing you had to go through all that. I wish I had known you back then, I…”

“No!” Kyra answered, a little more forceful than she had intended. She lifted her cheek from its comfortable spot and a pair of frightened green eyes peeked up at Emma.

“No, she would have…hurt you,” she whispered, reaching out a trembling hand to touch Emma’s cheek, as if she needed to reassure herself her friend was real and still there, holding her close and providing a warm cocoon of safety and affection. “Like she hurt Kim. She would have made sure to keep us apart. I…I could have used a friend like you back then, but I’m glad I didn’t know you. Having you in my life and then losing you again would have been unbearable.”

A lonely tear escaped Kyra’s eye and slowly left a track of moisture on her cheek when it rolled down, creating a tiny wet spot on Emma’s dress.

“My mother grounded me for months, I was only allowed to go to school. But I didn’t mind. I spent most of my time up in my room anyway, studying or reading. I think that is when the relationship I had with her grew really cold. I was afraid to make new friends, so I spent most of my time alone.”

“Where was your brother during all this?” Emma gently asked, feeling a little anger surface because her friend had to go through that difficult period of her life all by herself.

“Jazz had just started college,” Kyra sighed. “He didn’t live at home anymore. I…I never told him the real story, only that Kim had died in an accident with a train.”

“What about your dad?”

“I was…” Kyra swallowed hard. “I was feeling so guilty about what had happened, I was afraid to tell him. I knew my mother resented me for it and I couldn’t bear to lose my dad’s love as well.”

“Oh, Kyra, honey ! How alone you have been,” Emma whispered. “I am so sorry you had to go through all that. You must have been so lonely.”

“I was,” Kyra simply answered. “School and later college kept me busy and I could focus on that. I liked studying and once I got used to it, I didn’t really miss not having friends anymore.”

Kyra chuckled softly and rubbed her cheek against the soft fabric of Emma’s dress.

“If my mother could see me now she would be spitting nails and breathing fire,” she sighed. “And you know what?” Kyra lifted her head to be able to look at Emma and noticed a pair of intense eyes looking back at her. “I wouldn’t give a damn! I’m ready to break ties with her, Emma. She has been trying to control my life for too long already, it’s about time I start to live my life the way I want to. With the person whom I chose. And if that means that Simon loses his grandmother, I’m really sorry, but I don’t want her to fill his head with bigotry and prejudice as well.”

“Simon will have a grandmother right here, on the farm,” Emma promised, brushing Kyra’s face with her fingertips. “That is, if you would allow that to happen,” she added in a whisper, feeling her heart almost beat out of her chest while she waited for Kyra’s response. Had she been too pushy? Too presumptuous? Oh, God, what if she had read Kyra wrong?

With a wistful smile Kyra leaned back a little and put her hand on Emma’s chest, feeling the warm skin through the fabric of the black dress and noticing the rapid beating of her heart.

“What are you afraid of?” she asked, her eyes boring into the deep blue ones.

“Rejection,” Emma honestly answered.

It was just one word, but it held an ocean of feelings and fears. With her answer she had completely opened up to her friend in a gesture of hope and trust.

“Never,” Kyra calmly promised with a tender smile.

Leaning closer to Emma she captured a pair of soft lips and they unhurriedly shared a kiss that was soft and loving. It was a confirmation of the feelings they had not even discussed yet, but that was just a matter of time, because the intensity of their gentle caresses was evidence to what was in their hearts.

When they finally broke apart they looked at each other and smiled. Kyra let her fingers trail through Emma’s short, thick hair, until she reached the back of the teachers head. Slowly she pulled her closer for another kiss

“Kyra, honey, there are a few things you need to know about me as well,” Emma quickly whispered, before Kyra’s lips would rob her from all coherent thought again.

“Is it about kissing?” Kyra asked, with a little twinkle in her eyes

“No,” Emma smiled. “But…”

“Later,” Kyra promised, covering Emma’s warm lips with her own and sliding her arms around her friend’s neck, purposefully intensifying the contact.

A small moan escaped Emma’s lips when Kyra’s tongue boldly requested entrance and her heart rate picked up for other reasons than before. Kyra’s warm body was pressed against her own and while Emma’s hands stroked her friend’s back she pulled her even closer.

Kyra felt her world spin out of control when Emma’s hands caressed her body through the thin material of her dress. She reveled at the feel of the other woman’s lips and the wet, hot taste of her mouth. She felt her body shift and before she knew what was happening, Kyra was lying on her back on the couch, with Emma’s body covering her like a hot, living, breathing and kissing blanket.

Much better, her mind sighed contentedly when all of a sudden she could use her hands to roam Emma’s body, which she did, first a little shy and insecure, but with rapidly increasing confidence when she heard the soft moans of her friend.

After what seemed like an eternity, but could not have been more than a few minutes, Emma reluctantly pulled back and looked down at Kyra’s face. Her eyes were dark in her flushed face and her lips were moist and parted, beckoning her back, making it hard for Emma to remember why she had broken the contact in the first place.

“Kyra…things are…getting out of control here,” she whispered in a hoarse voice.

A pair of dark green eyes slowly blinked and Emma swallowed hard when her brain registered the longing they radiated.

“Funny,” Kyra whispered, reaching out a hand and tracing an imaginary line across Emma’s cheek, ending at the corner of her mouth where she brushed a pair of soft lips with her thumb. “I thought things were just going great.”

Emma groaned when her body responded to Kyra’s words with a vengeance. The blood surged through her veins. She was throbbing in places that were screaming for attention and she had reached the point where ignoring them would be extremely frustrating and painful. To say the least.

Kyra looked at the emotions that were crossing Emma’s face in rapid succession and with a gentle smile she waited for her friend to response. She felt completely loved and safe and even though she had no experience whatsoever in how to please another woman, she already had gotten a good idea of how to proceed, based on the small sounds and moans Emma had been making. Kyra had to honestly admit to herself that she was a little nervous to take things further, but the desire that had been racing through her body, could no longer be ignored. And it felt so right to hold Emma, kiss and caress her and to feel her so close. She enjoyed the weight that was pressing her down, almost pinning her into place and there was nothing she would rather do than succumb to it, surrendering herself to the intoxicating haze of passion she had enjoyed while they had been kissing.

A slow smile spread across Emma’s face when she saw the twinkle in Kyra’s eyes and she brought her face down to quickly kiss the bridge of her nose.

“You are so beautiful,” she sighed. “I would…love to take things further…and…what the heck,” she mumbled. “Let’s be completely honest here. Kyra, honey, I so want to make love to you, but I want it to be special. Not just some making out session on an old coach that is basically too small to hold the two of us.”

Kyra chuckled at the frustration in Emma’s voice and let her hands slide across the black clad shoulders.

“Just a few steps away from here, there’s a comfortable, big bed,” she whispered, caressing Emma’s sides, neatly avoiding touching her breasts. “Can we make it special in there?”

“Are you sure you want this?” Emma softly asked, already knowing the answer when she saw the green eyes turn even darker with desire.

“I want you,” Kyra whispered. “In all aspects, in every way. And I probably won’t have a clue to what I need to do, but…”

Emma’s fingers pressed against her lips and Kyra could not resist snaking out her tongue and swirling it around a tasty index finger.

“Just follow your heart,” Emma managed to croak, while her body shuddered.
Chapter 8
“This is amazing,” Emma mused in wonderment. “It all seems so…right, so natural, so…well known, familiar even.”
Her eyes gazed at the woman who was standing in the circle of her arms, whose hands were resting against her shoulders, while a pair of dark green eyes looked up at her with genuine, endless trust.
They were standing in the small bedroom, at the foot of the bed, both of them knowing fully what was about to happen, but neither of them being in a hurry. Lacking any experience, Kyra was a little nervous, waiting for Emma to take the lead, but the teacher was thoroughly enjoying the moment, reveling in the erotic haze her body had been enveloped in ever since Kyra had kissed her in the kitchen. She wanted the moment to be special, something they would always remember as one of the highlights in their lives. She knew it would be Kyra’s first time and she wanted to be as tender and loving as she could be.
“Are you all right?” she gently asked, brushing Kyra’s forehead with her lips.
“Yes,” Kyra softly answered. “Are you?”
“Very all right,” Emma smiled, seeing a shadow of insecurity appear in the green depths in front of her.
Immediately her grip on Kyra lessened and she would have stepped back if Kyra had not wrapped her arms around her to hold her in place.
“It’s just that I’m not sure what to do,” Kyra explained with a faint blush, seeing the relief in Emma’s eyes.
Or, to be exact: what to do first. I’m sure once I have taken that first step, my body will just take over.
“Following your heart is always a good idea,” Emma smiled, kissing the soft skin of Kyra’s cheek. “But if there will be a moment you want me to stop, just tell me and I will.”
“I can’t imagine I would want that,” Kyra smiled, bringing her face closer to kiss Emma’s lips. “And if I would follow my heart right now, I’d rip off your clothes, because I am aching to touch your skin,” she added in a heated whisper.
Emma felt a hot surge course through her body and she swallowed hard when she saw the darkening of Kyra’s eyes.
“I thought you just said you didn’t know what to do?” she breathed, feeling a pair of insistent hands roam across her back.
“Well, maybe I do know,” Kyra answered, nipping the skin of Emma’s neck that was conveniently close. “I do have internet.” Her tongue snaked out and tasted the slightly salty skin of Emma’s throat. “And I did do a lot of research lately.”
Emma closed her eyes and moaned softly when Kyra’s industrious hand found the zipper on the back of her dress and slowly started to pull it down.
“I like those fanfic sites I found, especially The Academy of Bards. I learned a lot there. Do you think that is why they call it The Academy?” Kyra teasingly added, pulling the zipper all the way down and finally feeling the warm skin of Emma’s back underneath her fingertips.
“I…have…no idea,” Emma stuttered, feeling Kyra’s hands slide up to her shoulders and push away the fabric of her dress that fell down immediately and pooled around her feet.
Kyra’s breath caught when she looked at her friend, who now was only dressed in a black, lacy bra and a pair of matching panties.
“You are beautiful,” she whispered, letting her hands caress the well developed shoulders and upper arms. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against Emma’s chest, gently kissing and nipping the exposed skin just above the black lace.
“And you are overdressed,” Emma groaned, aware of the increasing need to lose Kyra’s dress and touch the skin it was hiding.
Her hands effortlessly found their way to the hidden zipper and with a sigh of contentment she felt the fabric of Kyra’s dress part when she lowered it.
“This is so much better,” she whispered, pushing down the green silk. “I have wanted to do this all night.”
“You have?” Kyra breathlessly asked when a pair of lips traveled down her neck towards her bare shoulder.
“Mmm…I have.”
“What…else…did you have…in mind?” Kyra asked, closing her eyes against the intensity of feelings when Emma’s lips changed their course and started to slide down to the swell of a breast.
“I’ll show you,” Emma promised with a husky voice, turning Kyra in her arms and gently lowering her on the bed, immediately sinking down next to her on her side.
Supporting her weight on one arm she leaned over Kyra and lowered her mouth to a pair of waiting lips. When Kyra’s arms slid around Emma to pull her closer, they both moaned when their bodies came into full contact. Emma realized she was practically lying on top of Kyra, but when she tried to push herself up a little, to lessen the weight, her lover pulled her back.
“I don’t want to squash you,” she whispered.
“You are not,” Kyra huskily answered, caressing Emma’s calf with the side of her foot, while her hands slid toward the small of Emma’s back. “It feels great. If this means you are squashing me, you’ve my permission do it all the time.”
Emma smiled into a pair of green eyes that looked at her with a mixture of desire, affection and humor and that slowly closed when their lips met again in a kiss that was rapidly increasing in passion. Emma took her time to thoroughly kiss, nibble and taste Kyra’s mouth, leaving her lover gasping for breath when they finally broke apart.
A pair of eyes that were almost violet with desire traveled to Kyra’s chest and when they traveled up again to meet a smoldering green gaze, Emma smirked.
“I love a bra that opens in the front,” she purred, eliciting a small gasp from Kyra when she reached down and deftly unclasped the dark green silk, exposing the soft, but firm mounds to the cooler bedroom air, watching with increasing longing how her own hands cupped the soft skin and her thumbs started to caress the hardened centers.
Kyra’s head fell back into the pillow and a low moan escaped her lips when jolts of electricity shot through her body, setting every nerve ending on fire as soon as Emma’s hands had touched her breasts.
“Oh, my God,” she gasped. “I had no idea. This has to come off,” she breathed, pulling the strap of Emma’s bra and reaching around with both hands to unclasp the garment that stood between her skin and Emma’s.
Emma smiled at her lover’s urgency and released her hold on Kyra’s body to quickly shrug off the lace, hearing her lover suck in a breath when the creamy skin was exposed to her appreciative eyes.
Slowly, but determinately Kyra raised her hands and mimicked the way Emma’s hands had touched her just a few moments before. Emma threw back her head and her body arched into the touch, while she bit her lip to prevent herself from crying her pleasure out loud. Her body was so responsive she had to make a conscious effort to control herself and let Kyra explore, not wanting to scare the other woman away by giving in to her primal urges and ravishing her lover’s body.
“You are so soft,” Kyra’s voice sounded full of wonder and awe. She was inspired by the look of barely contained desire on Emma’s face and increased the pressure by inviting her index fingers to play. Emma’s response was a low, guttural moan and with difficulty the teacher opened her eyes to cast a look at the woman who was inflicting a delicious torture to her already overheated body.
“The Academy, huh?” she croaked.
Kyra smiled and nodded her head. Her green eyes were dark and determined when she lifted up her head.
“I learned a lot more,” she whispered, before replacing a thumb and finger with her mouth, putting her tongue and lips to good use.
Emma’s only answer was the arching of her body and a hissing breath. She closed her eyes and let the increasing desire carry her away.

 
“It’s after three already,” Kyra’s sleepy voice whispered into Emma’s ear, who was lying on her back with her arms wrapped around her lover who was basically resting on top of her. Everywhere their naked bodies touched, the skin was warm and slippery with perspiration as an aftermath of their lovemaking.
“Are you okay?” Emma softly asked, brushing away a strand of curly hair behind Kyra’s ear.
“Mmm…perfect,” Kyra sighed, snuggling even closer, enjoying the feel of Emma’s soft curves. “You were wonderful. You are wonderful,” she added, peeking up into Emma’s eyes, which gazed back at her with tenderness.
“I’m glad you feel that way,” Emma sighed, kissing Kyra’s forehead. “I would never want you to feel anything but safe and loved.”
“And I do,” Kyra smiled. “Very much so. And I have a confession to make. Those stories I told you about, at the Academy? Well, they did give me a pretty good idea, but they are nothing compared to the real thing.”
Emma chuckled and pulled Kyra up a little, so they were nose-to-nose.
“It takes two to make it an experience that is worthwhile,” she smiled, kissing the tip of Kyra’s nose.
Kyra smiled back and used both hands to cup Emma’s face, while her elbows rested on either side of her lover’s head. She studied her face with intense green eyes, from the dark eyebrows, to the pools of dark blue that gazed up at her with a mixture of tenderness, amusement and patience, to the nicely shaped nose and the full lips, that were slightly parted, showing a little of the healthy white teeth.
Kyra ducked her head and captured those lips in a slow, sensual kiss, not aware of the arousing way her hips were grinding against Emma’s.
“I can still taste me,” she whispered huskily when they broke apart, immediately seeing the darkening of Emma’s eyes. She shifted her body a little to allow her thigh to slip in between Emma’s and her lover’s response was a low moan, while her hands slid down to Kyra’s hips to be able to hold her closer.
“I want to try and make you feel as wonderful as you have made me feel,” Kyra whispered, kissing Emma’s lips one more time, before pushing herself up and determinately kissing, nibbling and licking her way down Emma’s chest and belly. When, after a long and leisurely trip down, she had reached the conjuncture between Emma’s hip and thigh and experimentally nibbled the sensitive spot, Emma’s breathing had become fast and labored. Part of her wanted to urge Kyra on and put an end to the delicious torture, but the other part of her wanted to postpone the inevitable as long as possible.
When finally her thighs were gently parted and she felt her lover’s hot breath on a very sensitive spot, Emma’s hands clutched the sheet of the bed, her body arched into the soft but loving touch and she briefly wondered if it would be a real bad thing to choose that moment to faint.

But then, as Kyra’s touch became even more intimate, all coherent thought disappeared from her conscious mind, when her lover took her higher and higher…

 

A hesitant ray of sunlight peeked through the curtain and illuminated two bodies in the middle of the bed. Emma was spooned against Kyra’s back, her one arm firmly wrapped around her lover’s waist, while her other arm was resting underneath Kyra’s pillow, supporting the weight of the other woman’s head.
Emma reluctantly blinked open a pair of sleepy eyes and with a shock her brain registered it was already light outside. Which could only mean one thing: time to get up, since she had promised her nieces and nephews pancakes for breakfast. If she managed to be late, she would never hear the end of it.
With a sigh of regret, Emma carefully tried to pull away the arm that was wrapped around Kyra’s body, but even in her sleep, her lover did not want any of that. With an incoherent mumble Kyra tightened her hold on Emma’s hand and pulled it closer again.
Emma smiled and bent over Kyra’s sleeping form to softly kiss her on the cheek.
“Kyra, honey, I need to go. I promised the kids pancakes, remember?”
The long eyelashes fluttered, but Kyra’s eyes remained shut. Her nose wrinkled though and Emma could see the beginning of a cute, little scowl.
“Do you really have to?” she grumbled sleepily.
“I promised,” Emma simply answered. “Besides, what do you think will happen if I won’t show up?”
“They will have to eat something else?” Kyra tried with a half-smile.
Emma laughed and nuzzled her lover’s neck, regretting the fact they were not able to stay in bed together for the rest of the day.
“Hester will show up here and give us a very, very hard time,” she whispered, grinning when the green eyes flew open and Kyra turned her head to look at her with a mixture of shock and amusement.
“We don’t want that to happen, do we?”
“No,” Emma laughed. “Not really.”
Kyra reluctantly let go of Emma’s hand and turned onto her back to languidly stretch out her body. The sheets had slipped away, exposing her naked torso and with a smile she noticed Emma’s appreciative look.
“Do you like what you see?” she teasingly purred.
“Very much,” Emma smiled, reaching out a hand to trace her fingertips across a naked shoulder. “You are simply breathtaking, in all aspects.”
Kyra saw the honesty in Emma’s eyes and a faint blush colored her cheeks.

“Thank you,” she shyly whispered, casting down her eyes for a brief moment.
Kyra could feel Emma’s body shift and when she looked up again she immediately felt a pair of warm, soft lips covering her own. Closing her eyes she melted in the loving touch, feeling the happiness bubble up inside her chest, while Emma’s lips thoroughly explored hers.
When they finally broke apart Emma’s smile quickly disappeared when she saw the moist eyes of her lover.
“Kyra, honey? What’s wrong?” she softly asked, while her thumb brushed away a lonely tear.
“Nothing, really,” Kyra answered with a smile. “You just make me feel so…much, it’s overwhelming. You make me happy,” she added with a whisper.
Their gazes locked and when Kyra looked into the blue depths that always managed to pull her in and make her feel like she was drowning, the words that had been tickling the back of her tongue came rolling out.
“I love you.”
Emma’s blue eyes slightly widened at the confession, but then the corners creased when she gently smiled at the woman who had held her heart from the first moment they had met.
“I love you,” she answered and in Emma’s eyes Kyra could see it for the truth it was. “I have for a long time now,” she added, caressing Kyra’s cheek with her thumb.
“I know,” Kyra smiled. “And I am sorry I made you wait, but I needed to be sure about my feelings for you. For your sake as well as Simon’s.”
“I would have waited for as long as it would have taken,” Emma confessed.
“I know,” Kyra answered with a smile. “And I am very grateful for that.”
She wrapped her arms around Emma’s neck and pulled her closer, kissing her lover tenderly and without any hurry. It was a kiss that quickly deepened and increased in intensity. It conveyed their love for each other in such a tender, loving way that it seemed to touch the deepest parts of their hearts and souls.
When they broke apart they smiled, both aware of the growing connection between them, which was tying them closer together with every touch, smile, kiss, glance and caress.
“I’m afraid I will have to leave you for now, my beautiful,” Emma smiled. “Before Hester comes running down here and starts embarrassing us.”
Kyra chuckled and took her time to let here eyes roam over the body in front of her. She smirked and quirked a brow when she noticed Emma’s blush.
“Nice shade of pink,” she gently teased, laughing when Emma pulled a face and rolled her eyes. “By the way, my love, what will you be wearing while fixing pancakes for that bunch of hungry kids? Your rumpled cocktail dress?”
Emma grinned and playfully tickled Kyra’s side, laughing out loud when her lover started squirming, trying to get away from her agile fingers.
“Well, I was hoping I could borrow a pair of jeans and a shirt, so I can sneak in the backdoor, have a quick shower and get some clean clothes out of my own room.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kyra said, wrinkling her nose. “Maybe if you ask real nice I will consider lending you something to wear, although I have to admit I was looking forward to sharing a shower with you,” she ended with an adorable pout.
Emma’s eyes looked at the digital alarm clock at the night stand and she frowned.
“I’d love to share a shower with you,” she sighed and her eyes were twinkling. “It’s an excellent way to conserve water, but I did promise the kids and…well, simply stated: I am running out of time.”
“I understand, honey,” Kyra smiled, seeing the hesitant longing in her lover’s eyes. “I’ll get you some clothes you can wear, but they will cost you some pancakes.”
Emma grinned and leaned forward to quickly kiss Kyra’s lips.
“As many as you can eat,” she promised.

 
After putting on a pair of Kyra’s jeans and one of her t-shirts Emma had reluctantly left the little house. It had taken all the willpower she possessed to break free from her lover’s embrace and cross the short distance to the main house, where she had carefully sneaked up the stairs in the back towards her old room. With a smug smile she had taken a fast shower and quickly dressed into a pair of faded jeans and a dark blue t-shirt, before noisily running down the stairs again and throwing open the door to the kitchen with a cheerful: ‘Good morning!”
Ann Altena looked up from the huge kitchen table where she was having a cup of coffee and affectionately smiled at her daughter.
“Good morning, sweetie. Do you want some coffee?”
“Oh, yes, I’d love some,” Emma answered, lovingly squeezing her mother’s shoulder when she walked behind her towards the coffee maker on the counter.
The door to the living room was closed and after pouring herself a cup of much needed coffee, Emma sat down opposite her mother and gestured towards the inner door.
“You declared the kitchen ‘Private Property, trespassers will be prosecuted?” she chuckled, hearing the cheerful noise of her nieces and nephews who were apparently playing some kind of a game.
Ann Altena’s blue eyes wrinkled as she sent her daughter a mischievous smile.
“I love my grandchildren very much, but I can only deal with that rowdy bunch after having some caffeine,” she laughed. “You know how much I value my coffee in the morning.”
Emma chuckled and took a sip from her coffee, enjoying the rich, sweet taste.
“How is Simon? Did he enjoy the sleep over?” she curiously asked.
Emma’s mother nodded her head and smiled when she pictured the little, dark haired boy with his cute smile.
“Together with Peter, Steven, Thomas and Jacco he teased the girls with rubber spiders that glow in the dark,” Ann Altena grinned, remembering the high pitched squeaks that had woken her up that morning. “But he is a sweet boy, Emma, when Amber started crying he apologized and just sat next to her with his little arm wrapped around her shoulders.”
“He is like that in class as well,” Emma smiled. “He is a very sociable boy. Kyra is doing a great job raising him.”
“He looks a lot like his mother,” Ann remarked, casting a look at her daughter and suppressing a smile when she saw the dreamy expression in her expressive blue eyes.
“He does,” Emma answered, sipping her coffee and staring over the rim of the mug, not seeing the beautiful, spring green pastures that were visible through the window. Instead it was a pair of twinkling dark green eyes that filled her mind, causing her heart to skip a beat and her skin to flush a delicate pink.
Ann Altena watched the expression on her daughter’s face and a feeling of happiness and relief flooded her senses. It was obvious to her that Emma loved Kyra and from what she had seen the previous evening, she was convinced the feelings were mutual. Hopefully it was time she could stop worrying about her daughter, who had been through so much heartbreak already.
“You love her,” she quietly stated, seeing the dark blue eyes leave the window and slowly travel back to meet her own.
“I do,” Emma softly answered. “And she loves me too,” she added with a voice that held a touch of wonder.
Ann Altena reached out hand and covered Emma’s, giving it a loving squeeze, while her eyes radiated warmth and love.
“I am so happy for you, sweetheart, for you and Kyra both. She seems to be a very nice person.”
“She’s wonderful,” Emma let out a happy sigh. “And so much more than that, she is amazing. Wait till you get to know her better, I am sure you and dad will love her.”
“I am sure we will,” Ann Altena smiled, looking over her shoulder when a car came driving up the yard and skidded to a halt just in front of the barn. It was an old, beat up Volkswagen, that in its best days had been a bright red little car, but whose appearance over the years had deteriorated to a dull pink.
“Here is Hester,” Ann Altena chuckled, seeing her energetic eldest child exit the car, carrying an overstuffed shopping bag.
Emma’s eyes danced when she saw her sister approach the door, casting a curious look at the little guest house on the corner.
Oh, no, sis, I beat you to it. I am right here, she inwardly smirked.
The kitchen door was thrown open and again Emma was amazed at the sturdy door’s resilience. Years ago, when Hester was still a teenager, Dirk Altena had decided to replace the hinges on the door with the strongest ones he could find, because his offspring had a habit of barging into the kitchen, instead of calmly entering. Hester being the worst of them. But their father had made a good decision, because the poor, abused door had held over all the years. And still did.
As soon as Hester entered the kitchen, Emma jumped up to take over the heavy looking bag and put it on the kitchen counter.
“Is this all for breakfast?” she asked with wide eyes.
Hester shrugged off her jacket and draped it over one of the kitchen chairs and immediately went over to the counter to pour herself a cup of coffee.
“Yup,” she answered, dumping a spoonful of sugar into the steaming liquid. “Why? Do you think it’s too much?”
“Well, there are twelve kids next door, there are you, mom and dad, Kyra and me, I guess that makes seventeen. Lots of pancakes,” she grinned.
Hester’s blue eyes sparkled when she looked at her sister, taking her time to study her, knowing that would often make Emma slightly nervous.
“You look…a little tired,” she casually remarked. “Did you get home late?”
Emma’s eyes narrowed when she returned her sister’s teasing look, but she decided to not take the bait.
“Not really,” she calmly answered, returning Hester’s inquisitive stare with a look of indifference.
Hester knew her sister well and realized Emma would not give her any information at all, so she decided to change tactics.
“Mom, I hope Emma didn’t wake you and dad up when she came home in the wee hours of the night,” she smirked.
“No, she didn’t,” Ann Altena answered, knowing full well Emma had not spent the night in her old room at all. But she also knew that Hester was an incredible tease and even though she normally refused to take sides in her children’s teasing sessions, she felt the relationship between Emma and Kyra was still so new, it deserved some protection.
“She didn’t wake me up. I was awake when she came barging up the stairs,” Emma’s mother added, bending the truth just a tiny little bit, giving her younger daughter the barest of winks and receiving a grateful smile in return.
Hester’s eyes darted between her mother and sister and she loudly snorted, knowing they were hiding something from her and intent of finding out what that was.
Emma and her mother just smiled and exchanged a look of conspiracy, while sipping their coffee.
“I smell a rat,” Hester remarked, but her eyes were sparkling. “But I love a good challenge, so don’t worry, I’ll find out what the two of you are hiding from me…By the way, sis, where is Kyra? ” she casually added, stirring her coffee.
Emma’s heart skipped a beat at the mentioning of her lover’s name and she couldn’t stop the gentle smile from emerging.
“I did invite her for breakfast,” she answered calmly, trying not to blush when she remembered the circumstances in which her lover had traded her pancakes for something to wear. “I guess she will….” Emma’s eyes flew to the door when it was unexpectedly opened and her face flushed when Kyra stepped into the kitchen, neatly closing the door behind her.
She was dressed in a pair of dark blue jeans and a dark red knitted shirt with short sleeves.
“Good morning,” she smiled shyly, while her eyes traveled to Emma’s and the smile deepened in warmth and affection.
“Good morning, Kyra, would you like some coffee?” Ann Altena asked, already standing up to retrieve a mug.
“I’d love some, Mrs. Altena,” she answered, noticing the stern look Emma’s mother sent her. “I mean…Ann.”
“That’s better,” Ann Altena smiled warmly. “Sit down, honey. Milk and sugar?”
“Just milk, thanks,” Kyra answered, taking a seat next to Emma and glancing at her lover through her long lashes.
It had not even been an hour since Emma had left her at the guest house, but it had been the longest minutes in her life. As soon as her lover had disappeared through the door, she had already missed her. She had taken a long, warm shower and had impatiently waited until she could join her Emma in the kitchen of the big farm house.
Emma couldn’t wipe the smile off her face and had to really control herself not to reach out and pull Kyra into her lap to kiss her senseless. Instead she grabbed the hand that had settled on her knee and held it tight, interlacing their fingers.
Hester and her mother exchanged amused smiles, endeared by the way the world suddenly seemed to disappear for Emma and Kyra.
“It’s perfectly alright to kiss each other good morning, girls,” Hester dryly remarked. “Especially since you have not seen each other for such a long time.”
She paused to observe the faint blush on Kyra’s face and grinned. “It must at least have been a whole hour,” she guessed, mentally pumping her fist when she saw the blush on Kyra’s face deepen.
Emma shot her sister a warning look and turned in her chair, so she could face her lover and wrap her in a warm hug.
“Ignore her, honey,” she told Kyra, smiling when her lover’s arms slid around her waist. “We all do.”
She could feel Kyra chuckle and looked up to her sister to stick out her tongue, which of course only made Hester laugh. She turned her attention back to Kyra and brought her mouth close to a shapely ear.
“May I kiss you good morning?” she whispered. “It has been a very long hour and I really would like to kiss you now.”
Kyra peeked up from her hiding place against Emma’s shoulder and her green eyes radiated love and happiness.
“Since we already gave a demonstration on the dance floor last night, I guess I am basically cured from being embarrassed about public displays now,” Kyra remarked with a smile.
Without hesitation she captured Emma’s lips in a warm, loving kiss that was fairly short and left both of them longing for more. Reluctantly they pulled apart, immediately reaching out and grabbing each other’s hand.
“I need to see my son,” Kyra smiled, bringing Emma’s hand to her lips and softly kissing the back of it.
“Of course you do,” Emma agreed. “Just follow the noise. Tell the kids breakfast will be ready in about thirty minutes.”
“Thirty?” Kyra repeated with raised eyebrows.
“Sure, honey,” Ann Altena replied. “See that double stove? It holds four skillets. We do pancakes the Altena way.”
“That’s right,” Hester smirked. “And Emma is a wizard with the spatula.”
“It is all a matter of efficiency,” Emma explained with a twinkle in her eyes. “Of course that is exactly why Hester sucks at it. I believe she only has three children because her limited skills concerning the making of pancakes don’t allow her to prepare a meal for more than five people at the same time.”
For a moment Hester was stunned into silence, looking at her smirking sister with wide eyes, but then her sense of humor kicked in and she laughed.
“Paybacks, little sister,” she warned, shaking a finger at Emma. “Be very careful from now on, because I will get you when you least expect it.”
“Oooh, I am so scared,” Emma grinned.
Kyra chuckled and stood up from her comfortable spot to go and check on her young son, whose laughing voice she could hear from the room next door. She kissed Emma on the top of her head and winked at Hester.
“Be good, you two,” she warned in her most stern voice, the one that usually clued in Simon to take his mother very seriously.
“Yes, mom,” two voices answered at the same time and shaking her head Kyra quickly left the room.

 
Breakfast was an interesting affair. With calm efficiency Emma managed to produce a huge amount of pancakes in less than half an hour, while her mother set the table and Hester cleaned what seemed to Kyra like a bucket of fruit to make a healthy fruit salad for the children.
Kyra had wanted to help, but Ann Altena had made her sit on a chair and relax, telling her she was a guest and there would be enough occasions in the future where she could chip in and help out.
“Like dinner tomorrow night,” Hester had smirked. “It’s our Easter tradition to have the whole family come over in the morning, so the kids can do their egg hunting and in the afternoon we will have a family dinner.”
Kyra had pondered over Hester’s remark and her eyes had taken in the big kitchen table. It was huge, but she could not imagine it would be big enough to seat the whole Altena family.
Emma had cast a look over her shoulder and smiled when she saw her lover’s puzzled look.
“The kids have their own table,” she had explained, expertly flipping a pancake.
As soon as the enthusiastic bunch of nieces and nephews entered the kitchen, Kyra could see why they had their own seating arrangement. With a grin she noticed every child apparently had his or her own chair, where the older kids were each seated next to a younger one to be able to help them out, if needed.
Simon was sitting in between Hester’s son Christian and Kyra and his gray eyes were sparkling when he looked around the table, taking in all the smiling faces and the enormous amounts of pancakes.
“Did Emma make all of them?” he asked in awe.
“Yes, she did,” Kyra answered, raking her fingers through his unruly curls. “She did a great job, huh?”
Simon nodded his head and grinned at Emma who was sitting across from him, with a six year old niece on either side of her.
“Emma makes the best pancakes,” he proudly announced. “She made us banana pancakes once and I helped because Mom was still in bed.”
Emma bit her bottom lip and cast a look at Kyra, who looked at her with amused green eyes and subtly shrugged her shoulders. She just knew Hester had heard Simon’s admission and it would not take her sister long to respond. And even though Emma could almost feel Hester’s eyes burn on her skin, she refused to look at her sister, instead she turned to Amber and helped her niece to open up a jar of jam.
“Did she now?” Hester’s amused voice drawled. “I bet those banana pancakes were really good, weren’t they Simon?”
Simon nodded enthusiastically, unable to talk with his mouth full of syrup covered pancake.
“They taste the best in the morning, don’t you think?” Hester continued with an amused voice. “Did Emma make them for breakfast too?”
“Yes,” Simon answered, stabbing another piece of food on his fork. “She stayed with us and Mommy was still asleep so we sneaked out the bedroom and made her pancakes,” the little boy innocently announced, sending Emma a radiant smile.
Emma just shook her head and smiled, knowing full well that Simon’s innocent remarks had given her sister some new ammunition. With a resigned sigh she finally looked up into the sparkling blue eyes of her sister.
“You are so busted,” Hester mouthed with a huge grin.
Emma shrugged her shoulders and cast a look at Kyra, who was sipping another cup of coffee, while her green eyes curiously traveled between Emma and Hester.
“Kyra, did I ever tell you that story about that one time I walked into the barn? I guess I was about thirteen years old and…”
“Don’t you dare!” Hester’s startled voice suddenly interrupted her and Emma raised one eyebrow when she cast her sister an innocent look.
“What?”
“You know what I am talking about, Emma Louise Altena,” Hester growled in a threatening voice, which made the children burst out in laughter. “Don’t you give me that innocent wide eyed look, sister!! Spill the beans and I will make sure you…you…”
“Yesss?” Emma grinned, thoroughly enjoying the sisterly banter.
Kyra’s eyes danced with merriment as she observed the interaction between Hester and Emma. Ever since they had arrived at the Altena farm, she had seen a completely new side of her lover emerge. And she liked it, a lot. It was a playful side of Emma that she had not seen before and it made her realize how much her lover must have been missing her family after moving away.
“I will make sure you’ll regret it,” Hester finally managed to finish her sentence.
“I will try to remember that, Hester,” Emma seriously stated, but her eyes were twinkling.
“You’d better,” Hester mumbled, but there was a shadow of a smile on her face. “Because if… ”
Hester was interrupted by the muffled sound of a phone and with a puzzled expression she looked up.
Kyra quickly put her coffee on the table and shot Emma an apologetic look when she reached inside her pocket and pulled out a tiny, silver colored cell phone. She cast a look at the display and tried not to pull a face.
“It’s my mother,” she softly explained. “I’ll take it outside.”
She got up from the chair and walked towards the door. Within a few seconds she was standing in the yard with the still buzzing device in her hand. For a brief moment she debated with herself whether to answer or not, but her common sense won and she pressed a little green button.
“Good morning, mother,” she softly greeted, mentally bracing herself for whatever her mother had in mind with her early call.
“Where the heck are you? I drove by your place last night and you weren’t there and I just went by again and you are still not there!” Vivian LeJeune’s voice sounded accusingly.
“Simon and I are enjoying a little Easter vacation,” Kyra answered.
At least, I was enjoying it up until a few minutes ago.
“You never told me you were planning on leaving town! Where are you?”
“With friends, in Friesland,” Kyra explained, keeping her answer vague on purpose.
“You don’t have friends there, I don’t think that….”
There was a moment of silence and Kyra sighed, knowing what would come next.
“You are there with that…teacher,” Vivian LeJeune spat, managing to make Emma’s profession sound like it was the lowest thing to do on earth.
“Actually, I’m staying with Emma’s parents,” Kyra replied with a sigh. “But Emma is here as well, yes.”
“I thought I warned you about that. Didn’t I say…?”
“Mother!” Kyra forcefully interrupted. “Was there another reason for you to call, except your…concerns… about Simon’s and my whereabouts? Because I am not in the mood to listen to another of your bigotry inflamed speeches. I have a breakfast to join.”
Kyra winced when she heard her mother’s heavy breathing, knowing full well that her mother was furious about her leaving town without informing her about her plans.
Ah, well, she would have found out sooner or later anyway, she mentally sighed.
“I received a very interesting phone call yesterday,” Vivian LeJeune continued with a cold voice. “It was Roderick’s mother.”
Kyra rolled her eyes and leaned her head back against the brick wall, closing her eyes and soaking up the pleasant warmth of the early spring’s sun.
“What did Rick’s mother want?” Kyra asked briskly. She didn’t like Margaret Peters at all. The woman was even more obnoxious and arrogant than her own mother, even though at times that seemed impossible.
“Roderick and his wife came over for a visit a couple of days ago. It is all pretty tragic, because apparently they can’t have children of their own.”
Which makes Simon their one and only grandson, Kyra quickly realized.
“So?” she asked, aware of the slightly nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“So Margaret is wondering if you would be willing to reconsider your previous decision about Simon’s guardianship.”
Kyra’s eyes flew wide open and she stared at the barn across the yard, slowly letting the words sink in. She didn’t know whether to cry or become angry. Or maybe to just laugh about the whole issue.
Taking a deep breath she willed her racing heart to calm down and she clenched the phone a little tighter.
“I could answer in a lot of different, mostly rude ways to this…insanity,” she answered in a strained voice. “But I will try and stay civilized. I don’t have to remind you about the fact that Rick denied that Simon was his child and that he explicitly refused to have anything to do with him. Ever!”
“You refused to marry him,” Vivian LeJeune accused.
“You and that…that…awful mother of his made him propose to me,” Kyra answered with a raised voice. “He was utterly grateful when I turned him down.”
“Still, Simon is his son.”
“No, he is not,” Kyra spat. “Simon is my son. Rick gave up his rights to be a father before Simon was even born, so don’t give me that crap mother. Tell Margaret Peters she can go to hell!”
With an angry gesture Kyra turned off the phone and it took all her willpower not to throw the expensive device against the brick wall and trample on the remnants.
Her hands were shaking when she stuffed the phone back in its hiding place and closing her eyes she swallowed away the lump in her throat. Why couldn’t they just leave her and Simon alone? Why did her own mother always try to push her into things she didn’t need or wanted?

Why couldn’t her mother be like Ann Altena, who loved her children and grandchildren with an unconditional love?
Kyra had not heard the kitchen door open and she almost jumped when a warm hand was suddenly put on her shoulder. She immediately knew who was standing behind her and with a sob she turned around and threw herself in Emma’s arms that securely wrapped around her and pulled her close.
“What is wrong?” Emma’s concerned voice sounded close to her ear.
“That was my mother,” Kyra explained in a muffled voice.
“Oh,” Emma breathed. “I guess she didn’t take it well that you are here with me?”
“No,” Kyra sniffed. “But I don’t care about that.”
“Then what is it?” Emma frowned, pulling back a little so she could lift up Kyra’s chin. A pair of watery green eyes looked at her with profound sadness.
“She and Rick’s mother have suddenly decided that I should let Simon’s…’father’ play a role in his life, since he and his wife can’t have any children.”
Chapter 9
Emma exhaled slowly to push away the anger she felt bubbling up inside her chest and pulled the woman in her arms a little closer. Resting her cheek on top of Kyra’s head she closed her eyes for a moment and tried to organize her thoughts.

“I don’t think they can pressure you into this, honey,” she finally spoke in a soft, empathic voice. “Rick never signed anything that officially states he acknowledged Simon as his son, did he?”

“No,” was the muffled response. “But according to the law he can still do that.”

“But he would need your written permission to do so, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then,” Emma sighed with a small smile. “It sounds like your mother and his mother are just trying to give you a hard time. I can imagine you are upset by their meddling, but try not to let it get to you, honey. They have no leverage.”

“I know,” Kyra sighed, raising her head from its comfortable resting place and glancing up at Emma with a stormy look in her eyes. “Pisses me off though.”

Emma chuckled and lovingly squeezed the body in her arms.

“Don’t let it ruin your vacation,” she said, kissing Kyra’s forehead.

“I won’t,” Kyra promised, snuggling closer. “Besides, I honestly can’t imagine that Rick agrees with all this, unless he and his wife are truly desperate.”

Emma nodded and stared into the distance, while her mind was pondering over the situation her lover was in. She didn’t know a lot about Civil Law, but she knew that Simon’s biological father could do nothing to claim the boy as his son, without Kyra’s permission. Still, Emma did not underestimate Vivian LeJeune’s motivations and she realized it was possible that Kyra’s mother would try anything to pressure her daughter into cooperation.

“Does Simon know about his father?” she softly asked.

“Little bits and pieces,” Kyra admitted. “Of course he has moments when he wonders why his friends have a father and he doesn’t. Up until now he has been satisfied knowing his father and I were not married. But I’m sure he wants to know more as he gets older and I won’t lie to him, but I decided to let him set the pace. If he asks me a question, I will truthfully answer. I just don’t want to tell him things he is not ready to hear yet.”

“That’s sensible,” Emma agreed.

“Of course right now I might have to,” Kyra mumbled disappointedly. “Knowing my mother she will start working on Simon to get her way.”

“Would she do that?” Emma asked, deep down inside knowing the answer to that question already, but still hoping Vivian LeJeune would spare the little boy’s feelings.

“Oh, yeah,” Kyra snorted. “She would, believe me.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Emma sighed. “I wish you didn’t have to go through this. And I ,” she paused a moment to gather her thoughts and then hesitantly continued. “It’s none of my business, of course, but if there is anything I can do to help, I am here for you. Always.”

In spite of the situation Kyra smiled and she reached out a hand to cup Emma’s cheek, lovingly tracing the soft skin with her thumb.

“I disagree,” she gently smiled. “I love you and I want you to be a part of my life and that of Simon. So, as far as I am concerned, this whole situation involves you as well. Especially after I tell my mother I love you and want to share my life with you.”

Kyra held her breath after that last admission and slightly nervous she glanced up into a pair of deep blue eyes that looked at her with a mixture of love, surprise and confusion.

“I it’s not like I didn’t mean that we’ll have to get the U-haul already, it’s just that it’s how I feel and I ,” she rambled, while her fingers fidgeted with the hem of Emma’s shirt. “Maybe I I don’t want to overwhelm you or I mean, it’s not that I am trying to put a claim on you, just because you know, after last night ”

“I feel that too,” Emma interrupted her, grabbing the fiddling fingers and bringing them to her lips, tenderly kissing them. “I want to share my life with you as well. And to me, last night was a confirmation of that.”

Kyra let out a shaky breath and hid her face against a conveniently close shoulder.

“I’m a babbling idiot,” she groaned, making Emma laugh out loud.

“No, you are not,” Emma disagreed with sparkling eyes. “You are absolutely adorable when you babble, believe me.”

“I don’t want to rush things,” Kyra softly confessed. “I mean, I love you and I want to be with you badly and even thinking about leaving again Tuesday is driving me nuts, but I don’t want you to feel I am pressuring you into anything. I so don’t want to sound like my mother,” she ended with a touch of bitterness in her voice.

“Don’t worry, you are not,” Emma smiled. “And just for the record: my stomach is doing flip-flops and my heart aches when I realize you will be heading back home in a couple of days. I wish you could stay here, with me. I’ll miss you when you leave,” she added in a whisper.

“Then I guess we will have to make the most of this vacation,” Kyra said with a watery smile, knowing she couldn’t play hooky from work for too long. “So, what’s on today’s schedule?”

Emma answered the smile and brought her face closer to capture Kyra’s lips in a warm, tender kiss, aware of the fact that they were basically standing in front of the kitchen window and would provide an interesting sight to see for anyone inside. But she didn’t care. All that mattered was the woman in her arms and the bond they were sharing and that was rapidly deepening, wrapping itself around their hearts as a comfortable, warm blanket.

They were interrupted by an amused, deep voice that suddenly sounded behind them.

“Excuse me girls,” Dirk Altena smiled. “But you two are blocking the entrance.”

His gray eyes were twinkling when he looked at his daughter and saw the blush creep up her cheeks.

“Dad! I didn’t hear you,” Emma bashfully admitted.

“That’s obvious,” he winked. “And I’m sorry to have interrupted, but you two are between me and a plate of pancakes.”

His eyes traveled to Kyra’s face and he smiled warmly. He had been tending to the animals in the barn and had overheard Kyra’s conversation with her mother and after that the one between his daughter and her friend. He managed to hide the anger he felt for Kyra’s mother, wondering why some parents made life so difficult for their children sometimes. But he admired Kyra’s attitude and he knew that the two women would be able to deal with any problem they would encounter, because he could see how much they loved each other.

But as a father he also worried about the well-being of his children, especially since his daughter had just gone through so much already and he decided to have a word with Emma later, just to make sure she knew that he and his wife would always be there for them.

“Please, let us not keep you,” Emma grinned, stepping aside and pulling Kyra with her.

Dirk Altena chuckled and stepped out of his wooden shoes, before opening the kitchen door and stepping inside.

“Ooops,” Kyra moaned when he had closed the door behind him. “That was embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry about it, honey,” Emma smiled reassuringly. “My parents have seen their share of .romantic intermezzos. If they would use all they knew against us, we would all be in big trouble.”

Kyra laughed and wrapped her arm around Emma’s waist, having the almost uncontrollable need to constantly touch her lover.

“That barn story, about Hester, was that a romantic intermezzo as well?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Emma grinned mischievously. “It’s my secret weapon to shut her up.”

“Care to share?” Kyra curiously asked, smiling when she saw the amused sparkle in Emma’s eyes.

“I was thirteen and I think it was spring time, like now,” Emma started. “At the time Hester was twenty three and she had just gotten involved with David. He was doing his last year at the university and was only around during the weekends, so they didn’t see each other much. Anyway, that weekend he came for a visit and as usual he was supposed to share a room with Bart and Robert. Hester and David had been visiting friends and my guess is they came home way too late. My parents had this rule that if we weren’t home at a certain time, the door would be locked and getting inside would be impossible,” Emma grinned. “So, they were late and decided to spent the night in the barn, in the hay,” she added with a smirk. “That all sounds innocent enough, of course, but when I walked into the barn the next morning to get hay for my pet rabbit, I heard some unusual noises coming from the loft.”

Kyra chuckled and her eyes danced when she pictured a teenage Emma walking into the barn to catch her big sister in a compromising situation.

“At first I didn’t know what it was and I was ready to bolt and call for dad, but when I looked up I noticed some very familiar clothes, scattered all over the place. Then I knew Hester and David were up there.”

“So, what did you do?” Kyra laughed.

Emma chuckled and pulled Kyra with her towards the big barn across the yard. The huge door was open and she stepped inside, wrapping an arm around a pair of slender shoulders and pointing towards one of the walls.

“What do you see?” she asked grinning.

Kyra looked at the wall with a frown and was just about to answer her lover that she didn’t see anything particular, when her eyes lit up and she started laughing.

“Oh, no! You used the hose?”

Emma threw her head back and laughed out loud, remembering her sister’s angry eyes peeking over a bale of hay.

“Yup, I took the hose and doused them with a nice cold shower,” she smirked. “You should have seen Hester’s face, it was priceless. First I heard this enormous squeak that almost rattled my teeth and then Hester wanted to jump up, but of course she wasn’t really dressed for the occasion. So the only thing I saw was her head, as red as a tomato and a pair of eyes that was shooting daggers at me.”

“You were a little brat!” Kyra laughed, hugging her lover affectionately, thoroughly enjoying the funny story. “Did she ever get you back for it?”

“She wanted to,” Emma grinned. “But I could blackmail her perfectly, because my parents were not supposed to know. I know my parents knew that their children were no saints and they never made an issue out of that. They just made sure we would all be responsible enough to use protection. But Hester was the oldest and at the time Richard was sixteen, I was thirteen, Willem was eleven and Imke was only seven years old and my parents would not have agreed with any of the older kids having sex in the barn. Especially not when there were small brats around.”

“Sounds like your parents have always been very accepting,” Kyra smiled.

“They were,” Emma agreed. “And they still are.”

Kyra nodded and pondered over what Emma had just told her. A question was forming in the back of her mind and she shot her lover a slightly insecure glance.

“You can ask me anything you want to know, Kyra,” Emma softly stated, seeing the question in those dark green orbs. “I have no secrets for you.”

“Did you Have you had ?” Kyra stammered, not comfortable about asking what was on her mind. Not because she didn’t want to broach the subject, but more because she didn’t want to hurt Emma’s feelings.

“Did I have many girlfriends?” Emma calmly finished the sentence.

With her eyes cast down Kyra slowly nodded. She felt silly for wanting to know a thing like that, especially since she knew that Emma loved her, so the past would be just that, history.

Strong fingers lifted her chin and she was forced to look up into a pair of warm, understanding blue eyes.

“You are number two,” she smiled, seeing the relief in Kyra’s green eyes. “And if I would have known you existed, I would have waited for you. Come honey, let’s sit down. I need to tell you something.”

Grabbing Kyra’s hand Emma tugged her towards a bale of hay where she sat down, pulling Kyra next to her but never letting go of her hand.

“I was still pretty young when I figured out I was gay,” she said. “Thankfully I have a pair of loving, understanding parents and a bunch of accepting brothers and sisters, so it never really was an issue for me. I never felt the need to experiment or prove myself. So I guess my puberty was pretty boring,” she smiled. “I was a very romantic girl and I had decided I wanted to be swept off my feet by Princess Charming. I waited for that. And it happened, during my first year in teacher’s college.”

Emma exhaled and a sad smile crossed her face.

“Jessica came, saw and conquered. She was charming, witty, intelligent and, in my inexperienced eyes, loving and devoted. It didn’t take long for us to get involved and after a few months I even moved in with her, because she had her own little apartment and I was still living at home. During our college years we made plans for the future and life looked wonderful to me. We both graduated at the same time and my family threw a huge party for us. It was great. Jessica and I had decided to go on a well deserved vacation to Greece and when we came back we would both start working at the same school. We had already started to look into buying a house and the world was ours to conquer.”

Emma paused, involuntarily thinking back to that period of her life when the world was a great place to live in and the future was bright and full of promises. She had been so terribly naive.

“What happened?” Kyra softly asked, gently running her thumb over the back of Emma’s hand.

“We did have our vacation in Greece. But two days after we had come back, which was a week before we had to start our new jobs I came home from visiting my parents, to find the apartment empty, except for my personal belongings. There was a note stuck to the door that thanked me for the great years, but Jessica had decided that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life cooped up in a dull city. She wanted adventure, so she had packed up and left to join some missionary group that taught children in third world countries.”

Emma laughed humorlessly and slowly shook her head.

“What a fool I was. She must have been planning for months and I didn’t have a clue.”

“Or maybe she was just a sneaky, devious bitch,” Kyra spat. “She took advantage of you.”

“Yes, she did,” Emma admitted. “I was convenient to have around. Not to mention the fact I worshiped the ground she walked on. Afterwards I learned she had not been very faithful either. When I was working during the evenings, or weekends she often’entertained’ other women. Of course naive little Emma had no clue about that either.”
“Where is she now? Do you know?” Kyra asked in a strained voice.

“I don’t know, honey and frankly, I don’t care. I think she might still be somewhere in Africa or South America.”

“Good, and she’d better stay there, because if I ever see her, I will kick her in the shins.”

Emma’s blue eyes warmed with love when she looked at the woman next to her. Kyra’s face was flushed and her dark green eyes were shooting fire.

“My little protector,” she tenderly whispered, brushing away a rebellious curl from Kyra’s forehead.

“She hurt you,” Kyra grumbled.

“Yes, she did,” Emma admitted. “She hurt me deeply and she made sure it was hard for me to trust other people ever again. But there is more to this story.”

“Okay,” Kyra whispered, tightening her hold on Emma’s hand.

“After Jessica left me I started my new job anyway, which was hard, because every day countless things reminded me of her and the way she had treated me. So, I got rid of the apartment and moved back home, where at least I had the safety net of my family to help me through. A year after I graduated I applied for a job at a small school in a little village near the German border. It was one of those typical farming communities. But I grew up in one and I felt right at home. It was a tiny school, with only four classes, so I had to deal with different age groups in one setting, but that was a nice challenge. The only downside was that I had to move to be closer to work, but on the other hand I thought that could only benefit me. My family was only an hour’s drive away from me and since I was twenty five at the time I decided I needed to be able to be on my own. So, I did. With no regrets, because my coworkers were nice, the children were great and I love the small town life. I felt that finally I had managed to get my life back on the track again.”

“But something happened, right?” Kyra sighed, wincing when she saw Emma nod.

“Halfway through my second year the school was celebrating the fact it existed for one hundred years and there was a reunion. A lot of people showed up and it was a great week, with a lot of festivities. On the last day, when there was a big party I ran into a person who had attended teacher’s college with me and Jessica and who knew about our relationship. I know she was one of Jessica’s conquests, but I didn’t know Jessica had dumped her for me. No need to say she didn’t really like me,” Emma chuckled. “Anyway, before I knew what was happening she had spread a rumor about me being expelled from my former school because I couldn’t keep my hands off the girls.”

“What?” Kyra exclaimed.

“Yes,” Emma smiled sadly. “It shocked me as well. Of course the community being as small at it is, was completely upset. And as you know, rumors usually get worse as time goes by, so before I knew it I was summoned by the parent’s committee to explain what the deal was. The local minister preached hell and damnation and basically forced the committee to send me on a leave. A permanent one. My coworkers didn’t want to hear any of that and thank goodness they stood by me. The principal contacted my former school and learned that all the accusations were false, but still, the damage was already done. The minister was forced to publicly apologize, which he did, but I didn’t want to stay on there. I had to leave. No matter how many times people told me that my sexual orientation didn’t matter and that I was a good teacher, I was still devastated. I resigned and again I went back home. It took me the rest of the year to come to terms with what happened. At first I wanted to quit teaching, but my family, especially my mom and Hester helped me to change my mind. I love teaching,” Emma smiled wistfully. “So, when I came across a job offer in the south, I decided to go for it. I told them everything that had happened. They were genuinely upset by it and told me they would do anything in their power to protect me from gossip and rumors like that. The job was mine for the taking and I took it.”

“I am glad you did,” Kyra whispered.

“So am I,” Emma smiled. “It brought me to you.”

They sat in comfortable silence, Kyra leaning against Emma, who had her arm wrapped around her lover and was idly playing with a strand of long, curly hair. Her blue eyes were fascinated by the way the lock curled around her finger and carefully she untangled it, to let it curl around her finger again.

“Having fun?” Kyra’s amused voice sounded after a while and Emma let out a deep sigh.

“I love your hair,” she confessed.

“You do, huh? Well, there have been times I was ready to cut it all off. I still have those moments as a matter of fact.”

“That would be a waste.”

Kyra snorted and half turned to look up into a pair of soft blue eyes.

“Try and untangle it every morning,” she grunted. “Especially when in a hurry. That would sufficiently change your mind.”

“You’ll just have to get up a little earlier then,” Emma teased, not able to resist kissing Kyra’s nose.

“Oh, I see. So you would be comfortably snuggled up in bed, while I would be trying hard to not look like I spent the night with my fingers in an electrical outlet?”

“Something like that,” Emma grinned. “But you do look adorable with your hair all messed up, honey.”

“Mmm I don’t know. I still haven’t decided about leaving it the way it is now.”

Emma smiled and cautiously raked her fingers through Kyra’s hair, enjoying the way the soft hair tangled around her hand.

“Last night, in bed, when I was holding you, the sight of you lying there naked, with those beautiful curls surrounding your face and falling down your shoulders, took my breath away,” Emma confessed in a husky voice. “It was one of the most spectacular, erotic things I’d ever seen.”

A pair of dark green eyes looked up at her in surprise and with a sigh of resignation Kyra pressed her forehead against Emma’s shoulder.

“You fight dirty,” she accused.

“Sorry.”

“No, you are not,” Kyra grinned. “But that’s okay. I am glad you feel that way.”

“So, no trips to a hair salon any time soon?”

“Nope,” Kyra promised with a laugh. “I want to keep you interested.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Emma responded seriously. “Honey, even if you were bald, I would still love you. I love your hair, but I don’t want to tell you what to do with it. If you decide you want it cut, then who am I to tell you not to do it?”

“Bald, huh?” Kyra repeated with twinkling eyes. “Now there’s a thought.”

Emma chuckled and pulled Kyra closer, precariously balancing on the bale of hay.

“If we fall off this lump of dried grass, we’ll be in trouble,” Kyra mumbled, slipping her hands underneath Emma’s shirt and letting them slide up her sides.

“Why is that?” Emma gasped, feeling the electrifying jolts that her lover’s touch invoked, making it hard to think clearly.

“Because, Miss Altena,” Kyra kissed Emma’s neck and took some experimental licks, almost humming in pleasure. “If we would end up horizontally right now ” She pressed her lips against a wildly beating pulse point. ” I could not be held responsible for ravishing you ,” she ended in a heated whisper, hearing Emma whimper in response, before she claimed her lips in a searing kiss.

At some level of her sub consciousness, Emma knew they were walking a very fine line between behaving like responsible adults and love struck teenagers. It would not take much to push her over the edge and let Kyra have her way with her. But somewhere, in the back of her mind, she realized that if any member of her family would walk in on them, they would never live it down. Besides, what if Simon would come running in?

“Kyra, honey,” she moaned, gasping for breath. “We need to stop this. We really do.”

“I know,” Kyra responded breathlessly, slowly untangling herself from Emma’s arms.

She pushed back her hair with trembling fingers and took a few deep breaths to try and calm down her racing heart.

“I’m sorry, Emma. I don’t know what came over me.”

“Don’t be sorry, Kyra,” Emma sighed. “I told you before not to apologize for being passionate. If we weren’t running the risk of being discovered by the family, I’d have let you have your way with me,” she admitted with a rakish grin, seeing the faint blush on her lover’s cheeks.

“My hands are itching,” Kyra confessed with a mumble.

Emma smiled and brought her face closer to Kyra’s.

“Then hold that thought,” she whispered in her ear, chuckling when she saw the goose bumps erupt on the dark haired woman’s skin.

“Oh, don’t worry, I will,” Kyra promised with a sigh. Extending her hand, she felt her lover grab it and she pulled her to her feet. “I don’t know about you, but I need some breakfast before I keel over.” She cast a look at her lover’s still slightly dazed face and let out a soft laugh. “Emma, sweetie, do you need to go for a walk first? Or maybe a cold shower?” she teased, seeing the remnants of desire and confusion disappear out of the dark blue eyes, that now pinned her with a mock angry stare.

“Are you making fun of me?” Emma playfully growled, stepping closer and using her slightly taller frame to good advantage by looking down at Kyra.

A pair of sparkling green eyes looked up at her with nothing but innocence and Kyra smiled sweetly.

“Would I do that?” she softly asked, barely able to keep the amusement out of her voice.

Emma narrowed her eyes and pretended to think long and hard. Then very slowly she nodded her head and glanced at her lover with an accusing look.

“I believe you would,” she drawled, stepping closer, which made Kyra back up a little. “We, on this farm, have rules about that,” she added in a conspiracy laced voice.

“You do, huh?” Kyra swallowed, taking another step backwards towards the huge barn door.

“Oh, yes. We do. And you know what?” she whispered, almost chuckling when she saw Kyra vigorously shake her head. “I think it’s about time you become familiar with the rules and regulations. Number one ” She took another step closer to Kyra, who cast a look over her shoulder to estimate the distance to the door and quickly stepped back. “Whoever makes fun of Emma Altena, ends up there where is water ”

Kyra nervously chuckled and held up two hands in defense when Emma took another step closer.

“You wouldn’t”

“You think?”

Kyra’s dark green eyes quickly surveyed the barn and to her utter relief she didn’t see anything that Emma could use as a weapon in a water fight. Except for the hose that was neatly rolled up and hanging on the opposite wall. Kyra knew that before Emma would have reached the hose, she would have already reached the safety of the kitchen.

“Well, sweet pea, there is no water here,” Kyra grinned, relaxing a little. For a brief moment she had been afraid that Emma would pounce on her and dump her in some muck filled trough somewhere.

“Mm you are right,” Emma calmly answered, but there was a mischievous glint in her eyes.

She half turned and pretended to search the barn for something, but in the meantime she kept a close watch on Kyra. From the corer of her eye she saw her lover let out a relieved breath, while her body relaxed. Emma grinned and whirled around, jumping towards her lover. Before Kyra knew what was happening, Emma had knelt down before her, with her strong arms securely wrapped around the back of Kyra’s knees and had thrown the smaller woman over her shoulder like she didn’t weigh more than a child.

“Emma!” Kyra squealed. “Put me down, you goof, before you hurt yourself.”

“Nah!” Emma grinned, jumping a little to prove her point and settle the other woman firmly over her shoulder. She laughed out loud when that elicited a muttered: ÔUh oh.”

Playfully patting Kyra’s denim clad behind she confidently strolled towards the door, whistling cheerfully.

“Let’s find some water, love,” she grinned.

“Emma! Don’t you dare!” Kyra cried, grabbing the waistband of Emma’s jeans and holding on tight.

“I told you, Kyra, we have rules here,” Emma teased.

“Remember the pay backs, Emmie,” Kyra laughed nervously, wondering if Emma would be able to really dump her in a puddle of water somewhere.

“Oh, pay backs, now you scared me.”

They entered the yard and without slowing down Emma purposefully walked towards the side of the house where Kyra knew there was a little creek. When they passed the kitchen, they could hear surprised and excited children’s voices encouraging their aunt and within seconds the door almost flew out of its hinges when a horde of nieces and nephews came running out.

“Emma! Are you going to dump Kyra in the creek?” Christian laughed with delight.

“I might, Chris,” Emma laughed, feeling Kyra furiously trying to break free.

“Why?” seven year old Jacco inquired, running along next to his aunt and looking up at her with his big blue eyes.

“It’s the Altena rules,” twelve year old Frank laughed out loud, having witnessed his uncles dumping each other in the water on numerous occasions.

“That’s right, Frankie,” Emma grinned, tickling the back of Kyra’s knees, which made her wiggle even more. “Ooh, a ticklish spot,” she laughed.

“Emma Altena, if you don’t put me down right now, I I I ”

“Yes?” Emma almost purred, having reached the bank of the creek and turning around so Kyra could have a good look at the cold water.

She noticed Simon standing back a little, with a mixture of confusion and worry on his serious looking face. Their eyes locked and Emma smiled at the little boy, giving him a wink and quickly shaking her head, mouthing: “Don’t worry, I won’t.”

He visibly relaxed and stepped a little closer, so he could have a good look at his mother. Her green eyes peeked up at him from her upside down position and she briefly wondered what his reaction would be if her lover would indeed toss her in the creek.

Simon smiled at his mother and reached out to touch her hand.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “She won’t do it.”

Kyra chuckled and blew her son a quick kiss, before she mercilessly pinched Emma on the back of her thigh, making her lover jump in surprise.

“Ouch!”

“Serves you right, you bully,” Kyra laughed. “Now, put me down!”

“I don’t know about that,” Emma said in a mock insulted voice. “I was going to, but now I’m not so sure anymore. You hurt me.”

“She’ll kiss it better, I’m sure, sis,” Hester’s amused voice sounded and Kyra was glad to be upside down, so the blush covering her face would go unnoticed.

“Make up your mind, Emma,” Kyra let out an aggravated sigh. “Toss me in or put me down. This is not exactly comfortable, you know.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Emma chuckled, turning her head and looking at Kyra’s backside. “I have a great view.”

“Brat.”

“But all right. I guess I can be persuaded to put you down. What’s in it for me?” she inquired with a laugh.

Kyra snorted but Emma could feel the body that was draped over her shoulder shake with silent laughter.

“I might consider getting you a toothbrush,” Kyra cryptically answered, but of course Hester immediately understood and was laughing heartily.

With a smile Emma knelt and carefully put her lover down. As soon as she straightened up a pair of warm green eyes looked at her with a mixture of amusement and affection.

“I knew you wouldn’t do that to me,” Kyra smirked, pushing back her hair that had escaped its lose confines and was a wild array of bouncing curls.

“A toothbrush, huh?” Emma gently smiled, reaching out a hand and pushing a strand of hair behind Kyra’s ear. “I think I’d like that.”

“Me too,” was the soft reply.

“Oh, no, they’re going to kiss,” a youthful voice that Emma recognized as Hester’s son Peter cried out with disgust, making them both chuckle.

“Good idea, Peter,” Emma complimented him and she captured Kyra’s lips in a quick kiss.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” she asked when she released her lover and pulled her in for a warm hug.

“No, although I can’t say it was comfy,” Kyra replied. “But I didn’t know you were that strong. Remind me never to wrestle with you,” she chuckled, patting Emma’s shoulder.

“Never? What a pity. I like getting physical with you” Emma whispered suggestively in a shapely ear, immediately seeing the expected blush creep up her lover’s cheeks.

Emma’s whispered words had an unexpected, but profound effect on Kyra and she softly moaned when she felt a hot surge of desire flow through her body. Burying her face against Emma’s chest she took in a deep breath and let out a soft laugh.

“Oh, boy, am I in trouble!”
“I don’t know yet, Margaret,” Vivian LeJeune sighed. “But I’ll see what I can find out. Have you talked to Roderick about it yet?”

“I’ve tried to but every time I bring up the subject he just he doesn’t want to talk about it, Vivian.”

“But surely he realizes it would be for the best,” Vivian LeJeune replied with pursed lips. “You should make that absolutely clear to him, my dear.”

“Oh, but I will, don’t worry. I guess I should talk to poor Bridget first. Of course, right now she’s just simply heartbroken, but I’m fairly sure that, with the right arguments, she can be persuaded to agree with us.”

“And then Bridget can convince Roderick about the absolute necessity of it.”

“That’s right, Vivian. I think we need to be patient a little while longer, but I’m positive this will all work out. I know those two would make great parents, but even if they would adopt, it wouldn’t be the same thing. You do understand that, don’t you? I mean, I have nothing against people adopting children, but it’s just different.”

“Of course it is,” Vivian LeJeune agreed with her friend. “Just talk to poor Bridget and let me know what her response is.”

“I will certainly do that. Did you find out anything yet about that peasant teacher?”

“I’m working on it,” Kyra’s mother sighed. “Can you believe my daughter is staying with that that Emma’s family? On their farm? And she took Simon with her. Sometimes I seriously wonder about my daughter, Margaret. How can she subject her son to such a lifestyle!”

“And she had not informed you before she left?”

“Are you kidding?” Vivian LeJeune almost snorted. “She knows that what she’s doing is wrong and if she doesn’t want to listen to my advice, I will simply have to show her.”

“Did you talk to Emily about it? She’s a member of the school’s committee.”

“I did, but she said there’s little she can do. What Kyra and Emma are doing in their free time has nothing to do with the school, she said.”

“Oh, that’s just absolutely dreadful!”

“But I will come up with something Margaret. Don’t worry. I have some acquaintances in Friesland and I’m sure they will be able to tell me more about this teacher. And I can assure you, it won’t be pretty!”
Chapter 10
The weather had turned out to be beautiful. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and crisp. The fields were basking in the warm light, their fresh, green grass standing proud and colorful after the long, dark days of winter. The temperature was very comfortable and sitting in the sun, out of reach from the still thin, somewhat chilly wind, was a luxurious treat.

The black and white Frisian cows were happily munching on the young grass, contented to be out of the confinement of the stables. No matter how big they were, there was nothing better than being outside and grazing green fields.

With a happy sigh Kyra stretched her denim clad legs in front of her and cast a look aside. She smiled when she noticed Emma was leaning her head back against the outer kitchen wall. Her eyes were closed and there was a content smile on her face as she soaked up the warmth she had missed so much during the winter months. She seemed so utterly relaxed that Kyra silently wondered whether her lover had fallen asleep on the little patch of soft grass underneath the kitchen window.

A ray of sun highlighted the red in her hair and Kyra had to seriously restrain herself from reaching out and raking her fingers through the thick, soft tresses. With a small sigh she shifted a little closer to her dozing companion and she was just wondering if Emma would wake up if she’d carefully rested her head against her shoulder, when a pair of sleepy blue eyes blinked and gazed up at her affectionately.

“Hey,” the teacher smiled. “Did I just catch you staring at me?”

“What if I did?” Kyra quipped, grabbing Emma’s right hand and lacing her fingers through the slightly longer ones.

“Mm…I don’t know. I’d say you’d have to be careful.”

Kyra let out a small chuckle and involuntarily her eyes darted towards the creek and back.

“Is this another rule I need to know about?”

“Not the last time I looked, unless my family made a few amendments I don’t know anything about,” Emma grinned. “I was just a little worried about my looks. That’s all.”

A pair of dark eyebrows rose into Kyra’s hairline and she cast her lover a puzzled look.

“Why on earth would you worry about that? There’s nothing wrong with the way you look.”

“Not yet, but if you keep staring at me like that my looks will wear off pretty quick.”

“Oh, you…brat,” Kyra laughed, playfully swatting Emma’s arm when she realized her lover was just teasing her. “I was just debating whether I should snuggle up, but you can just forget…whoa!”

A strong arm snaked out and quickly pulled her closer and in spite of her words, Kyra immediately wrapped her arm around Emma’s waist and let out a happy sigh when she rested her head against Emma’s shoulder and a strong hand started to

gently rub her back.

“I love this,” she softly confessed. “I love it when you hold me. Do you think I’m addicted to you already?”

Emma lovingly squeezed the body in her arms and kissed the top of Kyra’s head.

“I know I am,” she quietly admitted. “Do you know how many times I wanted to touch you so badly I had to sit on my hands or just shove them in my pockets, because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself? Or embarrass you?”

“You did?”

“From day one,” Emma sighed.

“I must say you showed remarkable restraint then,” Kyra mumbled, pressing her face in the crook of Emma’s neck and breathing in her lover’s scent.

“I didn’t want to scare you away. Besides, I made you a promise: I’d wait.”

Kyra lifted her head a little from its comfortable spot and peeked up into a pair of warm blue eyes.

“You’re a very honorable woman, Emma Louise Altena,” she smiled. “Remember the evening when I had that migraine? I was about to kiss you when the phone rang. I didn’t know whether to be happy about that interruption or not. Of course, after that talk with Mother I had such a splitting headache it didn’t matter anymore.”

“That was an interesting night,” Emma chuckled. “You basically gave me permission to help you get undressed and I was shaking like a leaf. And then when you were asleep and I was just…lying there, looking at you…I just…” she exhaled and laughed softly. “My hormones were not happy! Well, maybe my hormones were, but the rest of me wasn’t.”

“Poor baby,” Kyra grinned, reaching out a hand and cupping Emma’s cheek. “But I’m glad you got over that.”

Eyes that reflected the clear spring sky turned an interesting shade of blue.

“Over what?”

“Shaking like a leaf when you undress me,” Kyra grinned. “It didn’t seem to bother you at all last night.”

Emma chuckled and turned her head sideways so she could kiss the palm of Kyra’s hand that was still resting against her cheek.

“It was like magic. I was so captivated by you, I didn’t have the time to be nervous,” Emma replied in a serious voice. “All I wanted was to make you feel desired and loved.”

“And you did,” Kyra breathed, leaning in to capture Emma’s lips that were so close she couldn’t resist the temptation. She didn’t care if anyone could see them. She needed the contact and closeness with her lover, knowing that in a few days time, she would have to go back home and she wouldn’t be able to see Emma for at least a whole week.

“Oh, My goodness! Would you look at that?” an amused voice sounded and Emma didn’t need to look up to see it was her youngest sister, Imke. “Looks like you two continued where you left off last night, at the party.”

“That’s what you think,” Hester’s voice came from the kitchen. “I think they’ve been at it ever since.”

Kyra hid her furiously blushing face against Emma’s chest, feeling her lover’s arms settle around her in a protective gesture.

“Imke, did I ever tell you that story when I was thirteen and I walked inside the barn and…”

“Emma!” Hester cried, rushing outside and casting her sister a warning glance, waving a spoon into her direction. “Don’t you dare.”

Emma just laughed and shifted to a more upright position, taking Kyra with her.

“See, honey? It works every time,” she cheerfully told her still blushing lover.

Imke decided that Emma and Kyra looked really comfortable and with a happy sigh she let herself down on the field next to her sister. Using Emma’s leg as a pillow she stretched her legs, crossing them at the ankles and closed her eyes.

“Tell me if you’re not comfortable,” Emma chuckled, affectionately ruffling the short, dark hair.

“Oh, don’t worry, I will,” Imke dryly replied.

“Where’s Neville?” Emma inquired, burying her face in Kyra’s curly hair with almost sensual abandon.

“He’ll be by later,” Imke yawned, not moving. “He and Willem had to do some last minute…something,” she added with a soft snort. “It had something to do with tomorrow’s cookout.”

“Cookout?” Kyra’s had lost its sleepiness and she glanced up at the smirking face of her lover.

“Another Altena tradition, Kyra,” Imke explained. “Each Easter day we have a cookout, rain or shine. If the weather’s bad, Dad and the guys put the stuff inside the big barn and we cook there. It’s great to live on a farm,” she added with a chuckle.

“How many grills do you need?” Kyra asked, mentally counting what would be required to feed such a large family.

“We don’t,” Emma dead panned.

Kyra frowned and looked at the teacher’s face that stared back at her in all its seriousness.

“You don’t?”

“No, dad has this old truck. We drive it where we want it, fill the flatbed with coals and stuff, cover it up with a gate and that’s it. Ready.”

“Yeah, right,” Kyra snorted.

“It’s great for family picnics,” Emma continued in a serious voice. “We can take it just about anywhere.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Ask Imke.”

Kyra looked at Emma’s youngest sister, who had her hands clasped over her stomach and was shaking with silent laughter.

“You…you…what do I do with you?” Kyra laughed, slapping Emma’s thigh. “I ask you a serious question and you just give me a goofy answer. I’ve never seen you like this.” Kyra leaned in closer and playfully nibbled a tasty earlobe. “But I like it,” she whispered in a husky voice.

“Girls, girls, you’re in public, put a lid on it,” Imke teased. “Besides, I’m only twenty two and that still is a very impressionable age, so cool it huh?”

“You’re just jealous,” Emma replied, tickling Imke behind her ear.

A blue eye popped open and regarded her older sister with a pensive expression.

“You know, sis, I’m glad you brought that up. Kyra looks positively radiant today, so, I was thinking, maybe you can give Neville some pointers, huh?”

For the second time in a few minutes Kyra’s face turned beet red and while she hid the blush behind her hands, she softly groaned. Chuckling Emma securely wrapped her arms around Kyra and pulled her closer, casting her sister a look that was part amusement and part warning. Imke immediately understood and she turned around to put a hand on Kyra’s knee, giving it a friendly squeeze.

“Sorry, Kyra, that was probably a little too much. You might have noticed we do tease each other a lot here, but I should have cut you some slack, because to you that’s all new.”

Kyra exhaled and turned in Emma’s arms so she could glance at the younger woman who was looking at her with an apologetic smile.

“Is that covered in that famous Altena rule book as well?” she asked, immediately seeing the twinkle in a pair of eyes that were similar in color to her lover’s.

“Yup, no heavy teasing during the first six months,” Imke nodded. “After that, you’re fair game.”

“That’s very generous,” Kyra grinned. “Good, that will give me enough time to prepare.”

“You better watch it, sis,” Emma warned Imke. “Kyra might not have had a lot of practice yet, but she’s a natural.”

Seeing Imke bite her lip and hearing Kyra grumble something unintelligible, Emma’s blue eyes flew open wide when she realized what she had just said.

“I meant, the teasing,” she defended herself with a groan. “Honest!”

Imke laughed and patted Emma’s leg, before jumping back to her feet and brushing off her clothes.

“You got yourself into this one, Emmie. Good luck,” she grinned stepping inside the kitchen.

“I was not talking about sex,” Emma emphasized. “I would never put you on the spot like that, honey. I’m not like that. It just slipped out and…”

“You’re cute when you’re flustered,” Kyra interrupted, her green eyes sparkling with warmth and affection.

“Mommy!”

Kyra turned her head towards the sound of Simon’s voice and smiled when she noticed her son running out of the big barn. His clothes were covered in sand and there were bits of hay sticking out of his hair.

“Talking about cute,” Emma smiled. “He fits right in with the rest of the rascals.”

“I need to talk to him,” Kyra softly spoke, turning her attention back to her lover, who gave her an understanding nod.

“I think you should. I’ll join the girls in the kitchen and see if I can cause some trouble there. Besides, Mom has been asking me to write down the recipe for that stew you made me a few weeks ago. I guess now is a good time to do that.”

Kyra nodded in agreement and jumped to her feet, extending her hand and helping Emma to get up.

“Simon and I will take a little walk. We won’t go far.”

“Take your time, sweetie,” Emma replied, tucking a curl behind Kyra’s ear and grinning when it immediately bounced back again. “I’ll see you later.”

“All right. I love you.”

“I love you,” Emma smiled, letting her eyes convey her feelings and seeing the emotions reflected back to her from the green depths of Kyra’s.

Kyra exhaled slowly and turned around towards Simon, who hadn’t slowed down and jumped into his mother’s arms with a cheerful yell.

“Whoa, monkey man,” she laughed.

“Mom, did you know that behind this big barn there’s a little one as well and we can play there? We built a hut inside and you can only come in if you have the secret password.”

“A secret password, huh?” Kyra repeated with a smile. “I guess I’ll have to check that out later.”

“It’s for kids only,” was Simon’s serious reply and Kyra laughed, before putting her son back on his own two feet again. She looked at him and raked her fingers through his hair to get rid of some bits and pieces of hay and grass.

“Do you want to take a little walk with me, Simon? I need to talk to you about something.”

Tucking his hand in her larger one he solemnly nodded and quietly walked alongside his mother towards the side of the house, where they sat down on the bank of the creek, overlooking the fields that stretched out towards the horizon. In the distance they could see the outline of another couple of farms, but other than that they only saw green pastures, cow filled fields and blue skies.

“Do you like it here, Simon?” Kyra softly asked, noticing how her son’s serious expression was replaced by a sunny smile.

“I made a lot of friends,” he enthusiastically replied.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Kyra smiled, pulling Simon in her lap and holding him close, feeling his small body go limp against her chest.

“I need to talk to you about Emma,” her voice was soft and wistful. “There have been some…changes,” she added with a sigh, pondering over the best way to inform her young son about her relationship with his teacher.

“You kissed,” Simon stated, while his small hands played with the ones that were resting on his stomach.

“We kissed,” Kyra simply acknowledged. “But do you know why?”

Simon raised his gray eyes to meet his mother’s deep green ones and a small frown creased his brow.

“Because you like her?”

“Yes, I do like her, a lot,” Kyra smiled. “Simon, do you remember when uncle Jazz came to visit us a few weeks ago?” When the curly head nodded she continued. “And he brought Elvira with him, so we could meet her?”

“She’s his girlfriend,” Simon stated.

“Yes, she is,” Kyra smiled, pulling Simon closer and resting her cheek on the top of his head. “Do you understand what a girlfriend is, Simon?”

“Uncle Jazz said he always wants to be with her.”

“He does, doesn’t he?” Kyra smiled warmly, remembering the happy glow on her brother’s face.

“Simon, honey, Emma and I…we…”

“Are you girlfriends?” Simon curiously asked. “Peter said you were, because you kissed and all that.”

Thank you, Peter.

“Yes, we are,” Kyra quietly admitted. “How does that make you feel?”

Simon shrugged his shoulders and snuggled a little closer, wrapping an arm around his mother’s neck and pressing his face against her shoulder.

“Do you always want to be with her?”

Kyra felt her heart skip a beat and she took a moment to seriously ponder over her son’s question. Did she want to build a life with Emma? Was she ready to come out? Would their very young relationship be strong enough to withstand the pressure from the outside world? Her mother would try anything to put as much strain on their relationship as she possibly could, Kyra realized that. No doubt she would not even hesitate to use Simon or Emma’s past to accomplish that. Would it be worth it?

Slowly exhaling Kyra felt a weight lift off her shoulders and she nodded.

“I do,” she calmly answered, knowing in her heart that the bond she and Emma shared was worth fighting for. “I really want to be with Emma forever.”

“Are you going to marry her?” Simon asked with a hint of excitement in his voice.

Kyra let out a soft laugh and playfully nuzzled her son’s neck, making him giggle.

“It’s a bit early for that, sweetie. Emma and I want to take things slow and I think it’s a good idea for us all to get used to each other first. What do you think?”

“I like Emma,” Simon sighed.

“I know you do,” Kyra smiled. “And she likes you a lot as well. But a lot of things will change, honey. We’ll need to get used to that.”

“When will Emma come to live with us then?”

“I don’t know, Simon, Emma and I haven’t talked about that yet. But I suppose it will happen when we are all ready for that.”

“Okay,” he drawled, sounding a little disappointed

“Hey, what’s up?” Kyra asked, pulling back a little so she could look at her son’s face that sported a little pout.

“I like it when Emma is with us,” he whispered, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. “You laugh a lot then and…” his eyes traveled up to Kyra’s face and locked with her intense green ones that gazed at him a little startled. “It feels like…like being here, even if we’re not,” Simon ended, not knowing how to really explain his mother what he felt inside. It was happiness, longing and pain all wrapped up in one.

“Like being here with Emma’s family?” Kyra slowly asked, seeing Simon nod and she suddenly understood what Simon meant. She felt it too. The warmth that came from being a part of a loving family. To be accepted for whom she was and what she was, without having to weigh her words on a golden scale. To be able to just be herself, without having to live up to expectations and not being judged.

Kyra felt a lump in her throat and she swallowed hard, not able to avoid the tears that stung the back of her eyes.

“It’s like being a family, isn’t it, honey?” she quietly asked, feeling a stab of pain when Simon nodded.

Again Kyra was confronted by her own desires that had made themselves known after she had met Emma. Before the teacher had come into her life, she had been content, believing she was happy and didn’t need anyone else but her son. And even though she had often wondered if Simon would ever miss having a second parent in his life, the answer had never been as clear as it was now. He had missed it. Or maybe he only started missing it after Emma had become a regular guest in their house. No matter how much time Emma spent with Kyra, she had always gone to great lengths to make sure Simon never felt left out.

A smile crept up her face when she realized that Simon wanted the same thing she did: to have Emma as a part of their lives. Kyra realized she didn’t have to worry about her son’s acceptance of her relationship with the teacher and with a grateful sigh she hugged Simon close.

“I want that too, honey, the three of us being a family. And we will.”

“Promise?”

“I promise,” Kyra whispered, feeling a second arm slid around her neck. Simon hugged her close and a feeling of profound happiness bubbled up inside her chest.

From his cozy place in the warm circle of his mother’s arms, Simon looked over her shoulder to see Emma standing outside the kitchen. She was leaning her shoulder against the wall, sipping from a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee, while her other hand was shoved inside her pocket. Even from the distance Simon could see the radiant flash of blue when she smiled at him and he grinned back, raising a hand to give her a little wave.

“Emma’s watching,” he announced cheerfully, hearing his mother’s soft laugh.

“Is she now? Do you want to go over and give her a hug as well?”

“Yeah,” he laughed, untangling himself from his mother’s loving grip.

With a smile Kyra turned around and watched her son run back to the farm house. Emma saw him coming and quickly put her mug on the windowsill, bending down on one knee and opening her arms wide when the small boy hurled himself against her. She effortlessly picked him up and when his small arms clasped around her neck in a tight grip she closed her eyes and silently sent up a prayer of thanks, realizing she had been blessed with a chance of something she never thought would be hers. A family of her own.

“Hey there, buddy,” her warm voice greeted him. “This is one of the best hugs I’ve ever had.”

“Mom gives good hugs too,” Simon innocently replied. “All nice and warm.”

“Yes, she does, doesn’t she?” Emma smiled, opening her eyes to see her lover slowly stroll back towards them.

“Mom said we will be a family. She promised,” he quickly added, just to make sure that Emma understood the seriousness of the situation.

“And you like that, huh?”

“Yes, a lot.” The little boy pulled back a little. “Do you?”

“Yes, Simon,” Emma answered in a hoarse voice. “I really like that a lot as well.”

“Can I tell the others?” he eagerly asked.

“You sure can, buddy,” Emma laughed, putting him down and ruffling his dark hair. “But why don’t you go inside the kitchen first and have some milk and cookies? They are freshly baked,” she winked. “Come on, I’ll get you some.”

With Simon’s hand tucked inside her larger one Emma stepped inside the kitchen and walked up to her mother who was preparing another batch of delicious looking treats.

“Do we have a cookie for this handsome little fellow, Mom?” Emma asked with a smile.

Ann Altena looked up and sent Simon a warm smile.

“Of course I do. Come here, Simon,” she encouraged, holding out an enticing looking cookie.

Simon took the treat with a smile and his mouth watered when the scent of cinnamon wafted up into his nose.

“Thank you…Em…Mrs. Altena,” he politely thanked her, still a little confused about how to address Emma’s mother properly. All his new friends called her Ôgrandma’.

Ann Altena flawlessly picked up on his insecurity and shot her daughter a questioning look. Emma shrugged her shoulders and smiled while her mother knelt down in front of Simon, gently putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Listen, Simon. All the children here call me Ôgrandma’. You can do that too, if you’d like. Would you?”

He silently nodded, but Ann Altena saw the mixture of relief and happiness in his gray eyes and she lovingly patted his shoulder.

“Good, that’s settled then,” she smiled.

“Now I have two grandmas,” Simon announced in a serious voice.

“That’s good. I’m happy about that,” Ann Altena replied, equally serious. She eyed the boy who still stood before her and was chewing on his cookie with a pensive expression on his face. Except for his eyes, he was the spitting image of his mother and Ann Altena thought he was just adorable. From the first moment, when the little boy had politely introduced himself to her, she had opened her heart to him. And she knew her daughter would love Kyra’s son like he was her own.

“My other grandma never makes cookies and she doesn’t know how to make pancakes,” he stated. “How come?”

“Well, Simon, even though baking cookies is not real hard, some people just…don’t have the patience for it,” she explained, carefully choosing her words. “Or the time.”

“I guess my other grandma is busy a lot,” he nodded. “I always have to take off my shoes and I can’t get dirty. She says Maria only comes in on Thursdays and I have to keep things tidy. She sometimes picks me up from school on Wednesdays.”

“That’s nice of her,” Ann Altena smiled.

“She tries to be, but it’s hard for her” Simon replied with a wisdom that went way beyond his age. “Can I tell the others there are cookies?”

“You sure can, sweetie,” Emma’s mother laughed, getting back to her feet again and noticing Kyra, who was standing in the doorway with a pained expression on her face.

“Here, Mom, taste this,” Simon enthusiastically encouraged handing his mother a piece of his treat, not aware of the sadness in her eyes. “They’re almost as good as yours.”

Kyra nibbled on the offered piece and bent down to give her son a quick hug.

“They are great,” she admitted. “Go tell your friends about it.”

“I will,” he cried over his shoulder, already running towards the side of the big barn, where the little shed proved to be an excellent playground.

Kyra’s eyes met Ann Altena’s blue ones that looked at her with quiet compassion and she swallowed away the lump in her throat.

“Thank you,” she simply stated, reaching out a hand to her lover and immediately feeling it enveloped by warm, strong fingers.

“Out of the mouth of babes,” she wryly chuckled, thinking back at Simon’s admission about her mother.

“You look like you could use some cookies and milk as well, Kyra,” Hester softly remarked. “Come, sit down.”

“Can I have coffee with that milk?” Kyra smiled, appreciatively sniffing the scent of freshly brewed coffee.

“Just what this family needed, another coffeeholic,” Imke said, rolling her eyes. “Am I the only one who prefers tea?”

“You must be adopted,” Hester teased, tossing a cookie towards her youngest sister, who snatched it out of mid air and immediately stuffed it in her mouth. “On second thought, I guess not,” she added with a chuckle.

Kyra took a seat next to Emma, sending her lover a reassuring smile, but still needing the contact. She leaned against Emma’s shoulder and exhaled slowly when a strong arm was immediately wrapped around her shoulders.

“Are you all right?” a soft voice tickled her ear and Kyra just had to turn her head a little and give the surprised Emma a quick kiss.

“I’m great,” she sighed, lovingly stroking her lover’s cheek. “I even think that…”

Familiar running footsteps made her look at the door and with a raised eyebrow she saw Simon entering the kitchen. From the look on his face she knew there was something wrong and with an inviting gesture she motioned him over.

“What’s up, honey?”

Simon nibbled on his bottom lip and looked up at his mother with a mixture of insecurity and worry. She knew he was working hard to make a decision that apparently was a hard one. She could tell by the burrowing of his dark brows.

“Mom, you always say it’s not nice to tell on your friends, huh?” he hesitantly started, staring at his feet.

Kyra untangled herself from Emma’s arm and turned in her chair, so she could put her hands on Simon’s shoulders.

“That’s right, honey, I did tell you that, but there’s something else I always say about that as well, isn’t there?”

“If my friends are doing something really bad or dangerous, it’s okay to tell a grown up,” he almost whispered.

“That’s right,” Kyra nodded, using her thumb to brush away some sand that was clinging to his skin.

Simon looked up and his eyes darted from his mother’s to Emma’s and back again. He still didn’t really know what to do. It was so hard sometimes to do the right thing. He was happy with his new friends and he didn’t want to be a spoilsport and tell on them, but his mother’s lessons were tugging on his heart.

“We made this hut, in the shed, behind the barn” he softly continued. “And it’s really neat, Mom and we can all sit in it and it’s like a fort. But you always say it’s dangerous to play with fire.”

Kyra’s eyes went wide and behind her she could feel Emma’s body stiffen, before her lover quickly pushed back her chair and started towards the kitchen door.

“Peter has matches and he…he was playing with them,” Simon swallowed, feeling really bad about it, knowing he had probably just lost a new friend.

“Sonofa…,” Emma cursed, stepping out of the kitchen into the yard. Her intention was to walk over to the shed and give her nephew a piece of her mind, but as soon as she came outside, she stopped dead in her tracks. For a moment the world stopped spinning and she could feel the blood freeze in her veins, before the adrenaline kicked in and cleared her mind so quickly, she almost felt dizzy.

“Mom, call 112, we have a fire,” she shouted, taking off on a dead run towards the side of the barn, where the shed was. She knew the small wooden structure was usually packed with hay and she could only pray her father had already emptied the little building.

It was only a short distance between the farm house and the shed, maybe two hundred meters, but to Emma it seemed much more than that. As soon as she rounded the corner, she noticed her crying nephews and nieces standing outside the door of the shed where thick smoke came billowing out.

Grabbing the crying seven year old Steven by his arm she twirled him around.

“Get back to the house, Steve,” she yelled at him. “Take the others with you,” she pointed at the rest of the children.

“Anne is still in there,” Steven howled in panic, pointing at the door, where eight year old Peter was trying to run back inside.

With a huge leap she jumped forward and grabbed her nephew by his arm, pulling him backwards and shoving him towards Steven.

“Go!” she yelled. “Get out of here. Now!”

A quick look over her shoulder showed her the children obediently started to run away from the fire. Imke and Kyra came skidding around the corner and for an endless moment Emma’s eyes were caught in a terror filled green gaze. But then she took a deep gulp of fresh air, turned around and protecting her head with her arms she ran inside the building, disappearing into the smoke.

“Emma! No!” Kyra yelled, moving forward to follow her lover, but a strong grip on her arms hauled her back.

“No, Kyra,” Imke cried out while the tears were running down her face. “Don’t you dare go in there as well.”

“I have to go. She needs me,” Kyra sobbed, feeling her knees buckle underneath her body. Only Imke’s strong arms prevented her from falling and clutching to each other they saw the rapidly increasing smoke, while the sound of a crackling fire filled them with horrific images.

Emma knew that what she was doing was extremely dangerous and utterly stupid. She had always been taught never to run into a burning building and she knew she only had a few minutes before the smoke would fill her lungs and carry her to a certain death. But all the fire drills she had ever had, never touched the subject of having a loved one inside a burning house. She couldn’t just leave six year old Anne inside the shed to die. She had to try something. Anything.

“Anne! Anne!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, feeling the smoke sting her eyes and causing the tears to streak her already soot stained face.

Emma could feel the heat of the flames reflect off the skin of her bare arms and she tried not to look at the inferno that was rapidly consuming the inside of the shed. Instead she concentrated on the sounds around her.

Through the crackling noise of the fire she heard a faint sound in a corner and turning her head towards the source she tried to shout out her nieces name again, but she could only violently cough.

“Anne,” her voice rasped.

A soft coughing and crying reached her ears and with a sense of profound relief Emma blindly hurried towards it. It was impossible to see anything and when her foot tangled in a piece of rope she instinctively stretched her hands out in front of her to brace for the expected impact. As soon as she hit the floor, she knew she had landed in a layer of soft, fragrant hay, but the side of her head collided with something hard and unyielding and she gasped in pain. Immediately she felt a steady trickle of blood make its way down her face. Sheer willpower helped her to fight the dizziness and Emma barely managed to not pass out.

“Anne,” she coughed, realizing with a rapid feeling of panic that breathing was becoming harder by the second.

Pressing her face against the floor she tried to suck in the little oxygen that was left and crawled on hands and knees towards the corner where she knew there was an old workbench. Reaching out she felt around and when her hands touched a small body she sobbed in relief.

“Anne. Come here.”

Tugging the shivering child against her body, Emma slowly stood up, fighting the

nausea that made her want to throw up. She swallowed hard and briefly wondered if the raspy, irregular breathing she could hear really was hers.

“We have to get out of here, honey,” she coughed. “Hang on.”

Only because, as a child, she had spent countless hours in the little shed, she knew where the exit was. She couldn’t rely on her vision, because the smoke was so thick now that opening her eyes was just agony.

“Emma,” a weak voice whispered. “I can’t…breath”

Pushing Anne’s face against her chest to protect her from the smoke as much as she could, Emma felt her legs go weak and she knew time was running out.

One chance. We only have one chance.

Mustering up courage from remembering the look in a pair of green eyes, she stumbled towards the place where she knew the door had to be.

Oh, God. I am so tired. I can’t rest. I need to go. Need to get out. Kyra!

Pushing herself way beyond her physical limits, Emma concentrated on her legs and counted the steps that would lead them outside, away from the fire and the smoke.

Kyra had closed her eyes and her thoughts focused on her lover, who was still inside the shed that was fully ablaze now. Imke was still holding her arm in a vice like grip and Kyra knew that if Emma’s sister wouldn’t have grabbed her, she would have followed Emma into the inferno without thinking twice.

The sound of sirens came closer and Kyra prayed for the fire trucks to be in time, but one look at the shed threatened to shatter her dreams and future. If Emma couldn’t manage to come out of the building by herself, it would be too late. Her lover was completely on her own.

“No. No,” Kyra softly cried, staring at the door and willing her lover to appear, together with the little girl.

Emma’s father had come running home from the field where he had been checking on his life stock and he was standing as close to the door as was possible. His large hands were clenched into fists and his body was rigid. Kyra didn’t need to see his face to know that the tears were running down his cheeks.

After a few minutes, that seemed to last several lifetimes, Dirk Altena suddenly jumped forward, into the thick smoke, to almost immediately reappear, with a slumped Emma in his arms, who was still holding on to the limp form of her niece.

“Emma,” Kyra cried out, pulling free from Imke’s grip and surging forward. She practically flew while she covered the distance between herself and her lover and grabbing her Emma’s other arm, she helped Dirk Altena to carry his daughter away from the fire. Only when they were out of reach from the smoke, the dairy farmer carefully lowered his daughter and granddaughter to the ground.

Warily loosening Emma’s grip on the little girl, Dirk Altena lowered the six year old next to her aunt and quickly felt for a pulse. Little Anne was extremely pale, but her pulse was regular although a little weak. She was breathing on her own and Dirk Altena’s attention shifted to Emma, where Kyra was feeling her lover’s pulse and sobbing in relief when she found one.

“Is she breathing?” Dirk Altena rasped, not able to keep the panic out of his voice.

Kyra just nodded and soundlessly crying she brushed away Emma’s hair from her forehead, frowning at the deep gash that had busted one of her eyebrows. It was surrounded by a big, dark spot and at first Kyra thought it was dirt, or soot, but then she realized it was a bruise.

Dark eyelashes fluttered and painfully red eyes blinked against the harsh light of the sun.

“Ouch,” Emma breathed, immediately closing her eyes again. “It hurts,” her voice croaked.

“Ssh, don’t talk, honey,” Kyra sniffed, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand. “Just lay still. The ambulance is on its way.”

“Anne,” Emma whispered, barely audible above the sound of the fire that was now seriously raging and the sirens that were so close, Kyra knew the fire truck and ambulance were just around the corner.

“Anne is all right, sweetie,” Kyra reassured her lover. “Just lay still.”

“Okay,” Emma whispered, trying to moisten her dry lips and wincing when a halfhearted swallow seemed to set her raw throat on fire. “Thirsty.”

“You can’t drink now, love, I’m sorry. Just hang in there.” Kyra looked up when from the corner of her eye she noticed the flashing lights of both the fire truck and at least two ambulances.

Then everything happened in a blur. She was gently pushed aside by a pair of ambulance nurses, who did a quick, but thorough check on Emma, while their coworkers were busy with little Anne.

“Let’s get them to the emergency unit,” one of the nurses, a tall, blond man urged, strapping Emma down onto a stretcher. Her nose and mouth were covered by an oxygen mask and the gash in her head had been covered by sterile gauze, the white fabric painfully contrasting with Emma’s blood covered and soot stained face.

“Will she be all right?” Kyra asked in a strangled voice, while her eyes never left her lover’s face.

A pair of friendly blue eyes met her anxious green ones and the male nurse sent her a reassuring smile.

“I’m sure she will be fine, ma’am. Right now it looks worse than it is. But she never stopped breathing and she’s conscious and that’s just what we need.” He cast a look at his coworker and they exchanged glances. “You can ride with us if you’d like,” he smiled.

Kyra turned around to cast a helpless look at Imke and Hester, who were looking pale and whose eyes were red and puffy from crying. She felt caught between the desire to be with her lover and the knowledge that her son needed her as well. The indecision on her face was painfully obvious, until Hester stepped forward and gently guided Kyra towards the waiting ambulance.

“Go with Emma, she needs you. We’ll follow and bring Simon. All right?”

Kyra could only nod and she gave Hester a quick hug, before a strong hand helped her into the ambulance. The door was closed and within seconds they were on their way to the hospital.
Chapter 11
Kyra stared at her clasped hands and swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the nauseous feeling that had settled in the pit of her stomach and just refused to go away. The nurses might have assured her that everything would be all right, but until she could actually see Emma, touch her and look into her eyes, nothing could convince her that her lover would be fine. She needed the reassurance of Emma’s voice to chase away the fear and doubts that wreaked havoc on her vivid imagination.

The long hallway at the ER was remarkably quiet and nervously Kyra’s eyes darted from the entrance towards the pale yellow door that was hiding her lover from view.

Anne was in the next room and Kyra had seen her parents, Emma’s sister Irene and her husband John Ariens come running in, their faces drawn and pale. Irene’s worried gray eyes had briefly met Kyra’s, before Anne’s mother had stepped inside the room where they could hear the silent crying of their little girl.

“Kyra!”

Looking towards the entrance at the end of the long hallway, Kyra saw Hester, Imke and Neville rushing in, followed by Emma’s parents. Simon was holding Ann Altena’s hand, but when he noticed his mother, he pulled himself free and started running towards her.

Opening her arms wide she caught her son and pulled him into her lap, feeling his arms slip around her neck, while he pressed his trembling body closer.

“I’m scared, Mommy” Simon whispered sobbing.

Feeling her own tears roll down her cheeks, Kyra hid her face in Simon’s curly hair, breathing in deeply and desperately trying to regain her composure. Her son needed her now. So did Emma, as soon as she was allowed to go see her lover. She couldn’t afford to fall into pieces. Maybe later. Not now.

“I’m scared too, honey,” she answered in a hoarse voice. “But the doctor said that Emma and Anne both will be all right. Right now they are trying to make them feel better and as soon as they do, we can go in and see them. Okay?”

Simon nodded and let out a shuddering breath. He had been so afraid when Emma had ran out of the kitchen and his mother had followed her a few seconds later, after telling him to stay where he was. He had crawled onto a kitchen chair and with wide, terrified eyes he had seen his friends return from the shed, all in a near state of panic. His new grandmother had tried to comfort all of them, but Simon had seen the tears and worry in her eyes and he knew she was just as afraid as he was.

The fire truck and ambulances had made him tremble and afraid to look out of the window. The ambulances had only been there a few minutes and when they had taken off again Simon just knew that somebody must have been hurt.

Then a lot of people had arrived, the first ones Neville, whom he liked a lot because the Aruban reminded him of his grandfather Albert and Willem, Emma’s younger brother.

And then David Jansen had arrived and Simon had involuntarily cringed when he had seen the pain and anger in Peter’s father’s face. He knew his friend was in big trouble for playing with fire, but Peter had been crying a lot and Simon had even seen him throw up. He felt sorry for him. He just hoped that Peter would still be his friend, since he had been the one to tell on him.

Neville had picked him up and securely strapped him in the backseat of his car and then they drove to the hospital, together with Emma’s family. And everybody had been either real quiet, or they were crying, which had scared Simon even more.

“Kyra,” Hester’s voice sounded and when both Simon and his mother looked up, it was in the pain filled eyes of Emma’s eldest sister, who had taken a seat next to them.

“They’ll be all right, Hester,” Kyra whispered. “Irene and John are with Anne right now. They came in just after we did.”

“Good,” Hester sighed, rubbing her stinging eyes. “I called them. Oh, God, I hated doing that. I scared the living daylights out of Irene. But they’ll be okay, right?”

Kyra nodded and sent a tired smile to Ann Altena, who had taken a seat on her other side.

“The doctor said they were a little banged up, but they should be fine.”

Emma’s mother nodded and slid an arm around Kyra’s shoulders to give her a loving squeeze, using her other hand to rub Simon’s back.

“This little boy saved Anne’s life,” she quietly remarked. “He and Emma did. You taught him well, Kyra. I’m so grateful for that. Thank you.”

Kyra’s eyes widened and for the first time she realized that if Simon had not warned them about his friend playing with matches, precious minutes would have been lost before the fire would have been detected and six year old Anne Ariens would have surely lost her life.

“I guess he did,” she whispered, feeling a shiver run down her spine when she thought of all the things that could have happened if there had been no warning at all. Or if she hadn’t taught her son about the danger there was in playing with fire.

Kyra raised her head when she heard one of the doors being opened and when she noticed the doctor who had been treating Emma walk up to them, the anxiety suddenly constricted her throat.

“Are you all family of Emma Altena?” he inquired in a friendly voice, while his light brown eyes took in the worried faces that were all turned his way.

“We are. How’s she doing, doctor?” Hester asked in a voice that was rough with emotion.

“She’s fine,” the doctor answered with a smile. “Emma does suffer from some mild smoke inhalation, but there are no signs of heat damage. We put her on pure oxygen, because her carbon monoxide levels were a little too high, but her oxygen level is rapidly rising now, so that is an excellent sign. We had to suture that gash in her eyebrow, but other than a headache and a small scar, she’ll recover from that as well. I understand she’s been quite the hero.”

Imke, who had been holding Neville’s hand in a painfully tight grip exhaled slowly and ran trembling fingers through her short, disheveled hair.

“She ran into a burning shed to get our niece out,” she explained with a shaky voice. “Can you tell us how Anne is doing? Please?”

The doctor nodded and sent her a warm smile.

“I’ll have a look. I’ll be right back”

“Doctor,” Kyra’s voice stopped him and he turned around to cast a look at the visibly upset young woman. “CanÉMay we go and see Emma?”

“Sure,” he smiled. “The nurse is trying to find a bed for her, because we want to keep her a little while, just precaution,” he quickly added when he saw the green eyes widen. “It will probably take a little while, so, go right ahead. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see you.”

“Thank you,” Kyra breathed.

As soon as the friendly emergency physician had stepped into the room next to Emma’s, Kyra looked at Emma’s parents and sent them a tired smile.

“Why don’t you go in first to see her? I’ll wait here,” she suggested. “If we all come barging in, it might be a little too much.”

But Ann Altena shook her head and grabbed her husband’s hand, feeling his other arm settle around her shoulders.

“No, honey. You go ahead, we’ll wait. Go. I’m sure our daughter needs you more than she does us right now. Besides, we need to know how little Anne is doing.”

“Let me know as soon as you find out,” Kyra softly spoke. “I’m sure Emma will be very anxious.”

“We will. Give Emma our love and tell her we’re here, all right?”

“I will,” Kyra smiled, standing up, still holding her son and quickly walking towards the door where she knew her lover was being treated. Opening the door she was immediately aware of the bright light and the typical scent of antiseptics.

Her eyes flew towards the bed in the middle of the room and the supine form of her lover, who was propped up on a couple of pillows, with an oxygen mask still firmly covering her nose and mouth. Her eyes were closed and Kyra could see she was breathing regularly. Emma’s hands were resting on the blanket. A pulse oxymeter was taped to one of the fingers on her left hand, while her right hand was nervously twitching, indicating that in spite of her relaxed posture, she was wide awake.

Walking closer to the bed, Kyra shifted Simon in her arms and rested him on her left hip, so they could both look down at her lover. Reaching out a hand Kyra’s fingertips cautiously touched Emma’s cheek and immediately the dark eyelashes fluttered open.

“Hey,” Kyra greeted, pouring all she felt for the auburn haired woman in a loving smile. “How are you doing, baby?”

“Ugh,” Emma managed a weak smile and waggled her free hand. “I have definitely felt better,” she answered in a tired, raspy voice. Her eyes shifted to Simon and the corners wrinkled in another smile. “Hey buddy.”

“Hi, Emma,” Simon shyly answered, clearly impressed with the clinical environment and the stark white bandage that covered the right side of Emma’s face.

“Does it hurt a lot?” he inquired in a whisper.

“A little,” was the muffled response.

With an annoyed frown Emma brought her hand up to remove the oxygen mask, but it was caught in a warm grip and when she glanced up Kyra sent her a stern look.

“Leave it where it is, Emma. You need it.”

“Hard to talk this way,” Emma’s objected with a scowl.

“We’ll talk later,” Kyra promised, bending down to kiss her lover’s forehead. “You just do what they tell you to do, all right? I need you to be well.” She cast a look at Simon’s serious face and smiled. “We need you to be well.”

Emma reached out her right arm and touched one of Simon’s legs. When the little boy looked down at her she smiled at him and sent him a wink.

“Put him on the bed, honey,” she suggested.

Kyra looked at a nurse who was jotting down notes and raised her eyebrows in question. The blond haired nurse smiled warmly and gave her a nod.

“All right,” Kyra relented, putting Simon on the bed next to Emma. He immediately scooted closer to his mother’s lover and Emma’s arms pulled him in for a hug. Resting his head on her shoulder and wrapping his arm around her waist he let out a tiny sigh, feeling a lot better already.

“Here, sit down,” the nurses voice suddenly sounded behind her and when Kyra turned around she saw that a chair had been pulled up next to bed. “We’re trying to find a bed for Emma and it might take a while. I bet she doesn’t mind the company,” she winked.

“Thank you,” Kyra smiled, slowly sinking down on the chair, which brought her to eye level with her lover. She reached out and grabbed Emma’s hand, bringing it up and softly kissing the warm skin.

“Your parents, Hester, Imke and Neville are waiting outside. They send their love. Irene and John are with Anne, she’s in the room next door.” Kyra exhaled slowly. “They are waiting for an update.” Emma’s eyes widened in fear and Kyra quickly continued. “The ambulance nurse said she’d be all right, honey. Just like you she hasn’t been unconscious and she was breathing on her own. Those are good signs.”

“Thank God,” Emma whispered, feeling her eyes sting with tears.

“And you,” Kyra softly added. “You saved Anne’s life today, Emma. And you scared me to death,” she let out with a shuddering breath.

“Sorry,” was the mumbled reply and Emma’s red rimmed blue eyes glanced up at her with a pain filled look. “I knew I was taking a riskÉ,” her husky voice murmured. “But IÉ,” a deep breath, “I just had to tryÉ”

“Ssh,” Kyra smiled, pressing Emma’s hand against her cheek. “Nothing bad happened. You did it and I’m so grateful about that. Just the thought ofÉofÉlosing youÉIÉ”

“I’m here and I am okay, so don’t even go there, all right?” Emma sighed, cupping Kyra’s cheek and tenderly stroking the soft skin with her thumb.

The curly haired woman mustered up a tiny smile and nodded, turning her head so she could kiss the palm of the hand that was still resting against her cheek.

Their eyes locked and for a moment they gave free reign to the turmoil of emotions the last twenty four hours had brought them.

“I love you,” Emma’s words were barely audible, but to Kyra they were as loud as if she would have yelled them from the top of her lungs. Her green eyes deepened in color and radiated so much warmth and affection it almost took Emma’s breath away.

“As I love you,” was the quiet response.

“I love you too,” Simon chimed in, tightening his hold on the teacher and both women had to swallow away a lump in their throats, before they softly started chuckling.

“And we love you, buddy,” Emma smiled, smoothing down the unruly curls against her shoulder.

With a rebellious glint in her eyes, Emma lifted the oxygen mask and gave Simon a quick kiss on his cheek, before slipping the device back in place again.

“Hey, no fair,” Kyra gently teased, watching the mask being pushed aside again and feeling Emma pull her closer.

“Emma!” she softly scolded.

“Just one,” Emma smiled, before fleetingly brushing her lips against her lover’s.

“Make that two,” Kyra whispered, ducking her head to claim Emma’s lips in a gentle kiss.

“Well, well, would you look at that?” Hester’s voice suddenly filled the room. “I guess the oxygen they are administering you isn’t enough, huh, sis? Resuscitation taken to a higher level.”

In spite of the blush coloring her cheeks, Kyra chuckled and slowly pulled back, helping Emma to put the mask back in place, before sitting back down on her chair.

Hester smiled and even though her dark blue eyes still showed the shadows of fear and horror, for a moment their usual sparkle had returned as she looked at the supine figure of her younger sister.

“Anne will be fine,” she announced, feeling Emma’s eyes bore into her own. “The doctors are amazed she’s doing so well. It seems she hardly breathed in the smoke.”

“She was under the workbench, in the corner,” Emma explained, briefly closing her eyes against the horrific memories. She swallowed hard before continuing. “There’s a hole in the wall there, so I guess she had some fresh air.”

A silence fell and Emma stared at Simon, who was dozing in her arms, feeling her sister’s eyes on her, but not having the courage to look up, because she knew what she would find there.

Kyra’s eyes darted between her lover and Hester and she almost winced when she saw the pain that was etched on the older woman’s face. The sparkle had disappeared again, leaving her eyes dark and filled with profound sadness.

“Listen, Emmie, IÉ”

“It’s not your fault,” Emma softly interrupted, finally glancing up to see the tears pool in Hester’s eyes.

“I taught them about all the risks and dangers, over and over again. He’s my son. He’s my responsibility, Emma.”

“He’s an eight year old boy who made a terrible mistake,” Emma replied in a tired voice. “He was showing off in front of his friends.”

“And he could have killed his cousin and you.”

“It didn’t happen, Hester. I’m notÉdownplaying his role, but he made a mistake and I’m sure he feels terrible about it.”

“If he doesn’t yet, he will later,” Hester promised with a sigh. “David wasÉfurious. And Willem had to keep Frank from pouncing on him.”

“Frank’s upset, Anne is his little sister,” Emma answered. “Of course he’s angry. But he’ll be fine, Hester. We all will be.”

Hester pushed back her long, auburn hair and perched herself on the edge of the bed.

“What a mess.”

“Nothing we can’t fix,” Emma assured, looking at the quiet nurse who was checking the pulse oxymeter and receiving a sympathetic look. “I really want to go home,” she softly spoke, her blue eyes pleading.

“Well, I’ll have to say you are doing remarkably well,” was the surprising answer. “Let me talk to the doctor about it, all right?”

“Thanks,” Emma smiled, having seen Kyra’s eye lit up after the nurse’s admission.

“All right, Miss Emma, here’s is the deal,” the doctor sighed, leaning his hip against the side of the bed and giving her a stern look. “You’ll stay here for another hour, on oxygen. Then another hour without oxygen. If your oxygen levels remain the same, I’ll let you go home. But, you’ll be back here immediately if” he raised his hand and started to tick off his fingers. “You start wheezing, you cough up discolored mucus, you develop a fever, you feel tight chested, you have dizzy spells or you start vomiting. Or show any signs of confusion. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Emma meekly answered, feeling like a schoolgirl again.

“Don’t worry, doctor,” Kyra reassured the physician. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“I know,” the doctor smiled and patted her shoulder in a friendly gesture. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call, all right? I’ll be back to check up on you before you leave.”

“Oh, it feels good to get rid of this mask,” Emma sighed in relief, looking at the nurse who was disconnecting the flow of oxygen.

“It could have been worse. We could have stuck a tube up your nose,” the nurse joked, making Emma chuckle.

“Okay, you made your point,” she smiled. “Can you take this thing off as well?” she asked, pointing at the high tech device that was still taped to her finger.

“Nope, Miss Impatient. We’ll be monitoring your oxygen levels for another hour, so I’ll leave it right where it is.”

“Guess I’m stuck to the bed then, huh?” Emma sighed, looking at Kyra with a little pout.

“Don’t give me that look, Emma!” Kyra calmly said. “You’re lucky as it is they’ll let you out. The original plan was a little different, remember?”

“Everyone’s a critic,” Emma mumbled, obediently leaning back into the pillows. “I just want to see Anne, that’s all.”

“You can see her soon, honey. You know she’s doing fine.”

“I know, but I’d like to see that for myself,” Emma sighed, trying to push away the images that were etched into her mind. The smoke, the flames, the feeling of sheer panic and desperation. The memory of the fear and horror in Kyra’s eyes just before she dashed into the burning shed. The feeling of relief that was so profound she almost passed out when she pulled her niece out from under the workbench, knowing the little girl was still very much alive.

“How long was I in there?” her soft voice asked.

“I’m not sure, honey,” Kyra swallowed. “To me it seemed so incredibly long, but I suppose it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. Less than five, I think.”

A lifetimeÉ

Emma cast down her eyes and looked at the peacefully sleeping Simon, who was curled up at her side. The little boy had to be completely worn out by the day’s events.

“Look at him,” she almost whispered, afraid to wake him up. “He’s such a sweet, little boy, Kyra. I’m so incredibly grateful that he came to warn us. If he hadn’t done that, IÉ,” her voice trembled.

All right, that does it! She’s falling to pieces.

Kyra got up from her chair and walked towards the other side of the bed, perching herself on the edge and wrapping both arms around Emma to pull her into a warm hug.

“Now, stop being so darn brave and just let out those tears, sweetie,” she softly encouraged. “It will make you feel better.” A gentle smile and kiss. “God knows it helped me.”

Burying her face against Kyra’s chest, Emma surrendered to the overload of emotions and gave her tears free reign. It was the first time ever Kyra had witnessed her lover cry and even though the soft sobs painfully ripped through her heart, she welcomed each and every tear, knowing it would make her lover feel so much better in the end.

Gently stroking Emma’s hair she pressed her lips against her lover’s forehead, rocking her slowly and whispering words of comfort. When she heard a soft sound behind her, she looked up into the worried eyes of Ann Altena and sent the older woman a sad smile.

Emma’s mother didn’t know whether to smile or cry when she saw the intimate scene after she entered the room. Her daughter was crying in the arms of the woman who, Ann Altena knew, was the love of Emma’s life. Simon who she already considered to be their son was curled up at her daughter’s side, his arm protectively wrapped around Emma’s waist. It was something she had dreamed about for a long time, for her daughter to have a family of her own and she knew that in Kyra and Simon Emma had found that dream.

Knowing her daughter and granddaughter had survived their ordeal was something she was immensely grateful for. It was a gift so many people did not receive, when their loved ones were torn away from them by disaster. And even though Emma and Kyra had faced the terror of losing a love they had just found, she knew that together they would be able to fight and conquer the horrific memories, intensifying and strengthening the bond between them.

“I’ll come back later,” she mouthed to Kyra, who decisively shook her head and motioned her to come closer. Kyra knew Emma and her mother had a relationship that was very strong and she realized her lover could only benefit from Ann Altena’s presence.

Emma’s mother stepped closer, grateful for Kyra’s gesture and wrapping one arm around the curly haired woman’s shoulder, she used her other arm to tenderly stroke the side of her daughter’s face.

“I’m so proud of you,” she whispered, kissing Emma on the top of her head.

Emma lifted her head. Her eyes were red and puffy, but she managed a little smile and exhaled slowly.

“I was just glad to be there,” she simply stated, wiping her tear stained face on Kyra’s shoulder which made her lover chuckle.

“Now you’re acting like a five year old,” she gently teased.

“I feel like a ninety year old,” Emma confessed, feeling her eyes burn. In spite of the drops they had given her, they were still a little painful and crying had only made that worse.

“Then lie down and go to sleep for a while,” Kyra encouraged, gently pushing her lover back into the pillows. She brushed away an auburn tress from her forehead and bent down to kiss a tear stained cheek. “I won’t be going anywhere. Take a nap, honey.”

Vivian LeJeune stood in front of the window and stared outside, without seeing much of the beautiful park her luxurious apartment over looked. As usual her clothes were a perfect combination of colors and fabric and her hair was impeccable. In spite of her age, she would have been a beautiful woman, if it had not been for the cold, dissatisfied expression on her face.

The conversation she had with her daughter that morning had left her feeling unsettled. Kyra had always been a quiet child. Subdued and obedient. Except for that brief period of time when that dreadful teenage friend had tried to corrupt her. Vivian never regretted interfering when she had found Kyra and Kimberley in such a compromising situation. The fact that her daughter’s friend panicked and impulsively ended her own life was not something Vivian felt guilty about. In fact, she had been the one who tried to make the girl stay, so her father could pick her up and bring her home.

She had never understood Kyra’s rage about Kimberley’s death. Luckily that had only lasted for a few weeks. It had not taken Kyra long to settle down again and focus on her schoolwork. To Vivian that was a sign that she had done the right thing. It was obvious that Kyra’s friend had only been a distraction.

Vivian LeJeune let out a small sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose. She could tell that there was trouble coming. And the one to blame would be that schoolteacher. She was sure of it. For some reason, she had been able to already influence Kyra in a very negative way.

Of course she had not expected her daughter to immediately agree with her plans concerning Simon’s biological father. But still, she had hoped Kyra would have listened to reason. Especially since the whole issue was in Simon’s best interest as well. Like his father, Roderick Peters was a successful lawyer. The Peters family was well known and respected and it would be important for Simon to have the chance to be a member of such a distinguished family. Why didn’t Kyra see that?

“And now she drags my grandson to a farm to spend his vacation. A farm!” she softly snorted, turning around when suddenly the phone started ringing and walked towards her antique desk on the opposite site of the room to answer it.

Unexpectedly she was greeted by a deep masculine voice and her cool gray eyes lit up in a rare smile.

“Roderick! It’s so nice to hear your voice. How are you and your lovely wife doing?”

“We’re doing all right, Vivian, thank you. We have a few things to come to terms with at the moment, but I’m sure things will work out fine.”

“Of course they will, honey, don’t you worry about that. I have talked things through with your mother and we both feel there are some real good possibilities to help things along.”

“That’s what I wanted to discuss with you, Vivian. Bridget told me my mother had a talk with her andÉ”

“Oh, she did already?” Vivian LeJeune interrupted with delight. “I am so pleased to hear that.”

“Vivian, IÉappreciate my mother’s and your concerns about ourÉhappiness, but I’d have to say I do have some doubts about all this,” Roderick Peter’s voice sounded hesitantly. “Kyra is the only one who couldÉ”

“Leave Kyra to me,” Vivian LeJeune interrupted again, this time her voice was filled with determination. “I’m working on that, Roderick, don’t you worry. ListenÉ”

“You have no idea how great it is to be home,” Emma groaned, leaning her head against the back of the couch and closing her eyes with a smile.

“Well, since it’s already the fifth time you’ve told me that, I believe you,” Kyra teased, putting down two cups of hot tea on the coffee table and taking a seat next to her lover.

One blue eye opened and regarded her with deep affection.

“Is Simon asleep?”

“Out like a light,” Kyra nodded, folding her legs underneath her body. “The poor thing was absolutely drained.”

“I think we all are,” Emma sighed. “Come here.”

She opened her arms in invitation and let out a happy chuckle when Kyra, who didn’t need further encouragement, immediately crawled into them and put her head against her shoulder.

“How’s the head?” she mumbled, closing her eyes and reveling in the feel of Emma’s hands that were gently rubbing her back.

“Not too bad,” Emma honestly answered. “But then, I’ve a hard head and it’s just a scratch.”

“A scratch that needed six stitches,” Kyra softly snorted, slipping her hand underneath Emma’s shirt and gently scratching the bare skin of her belly. “Tough chick.”

“MmÉkeep that up and you’ll find out exactly how tough I am,” Emma muttered, feeling the sensual jolts travel up and down her spine in a very appealing way.

“Really?”

“Oh, yes,” she sighed, tightening her hold on her lover.

“So, what about ‘Not tonight, honey, I have a headache’?” Kyra joked, smiling when she heard Emma’s soft laugh.

“I can’t remember telling you that.”

“Because you didn’t,” Kyra admitted. “But I’m not taking any risks with you, honey. I don’t want to rush you back to the hospital.”

“I guess you’ll have to nurse me then and make sure I’ll stay out of trouble.”

“You might not have noticed, but I was working on that already,” Kyra replied with an amused voice, thoroughly enjoying the light banter between them.

“You’d make a good nurse,” Emma smiled.

“Oh, no, honey, I don’t think so,” Kyra grinned, not aware of the fact that her roaming hand was practically cupping Emma’s breast, making the teacher’s heart thump in her chest. “I’ve a problem with the way certainÉbodily fluids exit one’s body and end up inÉsome unwanted places. IÉwhat’s up, baby,” Kyra raised her head and cast her lover a quizzical look. “Your heart is racing and IÉoh..”

Quickly retracting her hand from its soft, warm spot Kyra’s face was a mixture of embarrassment and amusement.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“Don’t be,” Emma sighed, aware of her body’s reaction to Kyra’s innocent touch. “I really liked that, but even though you think I’m a tough chick, I don’t think I feel up to more than snuggling tonight. But just to make sure I understood what you just said: are you talking about all bodily fluids?”

The expected blush crept up Kyra’s cheeks and Emma grinned when her lover hid her face against her chest with a soft groan.

“You are bad,” she accused in a muffled voice.

“I couldn’t resist,” Emma chuckled. “I’m sorry, sweetie.”

“No, you’re not,” Kyra laughed. “But that’s okay. It’s just another pay back to jot down on my list of things to do.” She untangled herself from Emma’s arms and picked up a cup from the table, handing it to her lover. “Here, drink this while it’s still hot.”

Emma obediently took the cup and sipped from the sweet, fragrant tea, enjoying its warmth and richness.

“It’s been quite a day,” she reflected with a pensive expression in her eyes

“Yes, it has,” Kyra agreed, staring at the cup in her hands and trying to come up with a way to broach the subject that had been on her mind for the better part of the day.

“What is it?” Emma softly asked.

Kyra’s green eyes held a hint of surprise when she looked up at her lover and she smiled warmly.

“How do you know there is something?” she curiously asked.

“Because, my love, whenever you are pondering over something, you have this cute little frown, right here,” Emma smiled, touching the skin just above the bridge of Kyra’s nose. “So, tell me, what’s on your mind?”

“Remember my mother’s phone call this morning?” Kyra softly asked, seeing Emma nod. “It made me think about a few things. And thenÉ,” she exhaled and took a deep breath. “The fire happened and while I was sitting in that awful hospital hallway I realized something.”

Reaching out a hand Kyra intertwined her fingers with Emma’s and lovingly squeezed them.

“If anything would ever happen toÉme,” she saw Emma flinch and caressed the back of her lover’s hand with her thumb. “I want Simon to be with people who really care about him and who can give him the love he needs. Who can give him a home.” Kyra fell silent for a minute and looked up into a pair of empathic blue eyes. “Emma. If anything would ever happen to me, I don’t want to run the risk of Simon being raised by my mother. I would want him to stay with you.”

There was a long silence in which both women were looking at each other with grave intensity. Kyra’s eyes had taken on a darker shade of green and were locked and grounded by Emma’s deep blue ones. It was obvious that the teacher was pondering over Kyra’s words and Simon’s mother let her. She wanted her lover to take her time to let the words sink in. She wanted Emma to know she was very serious.

Finally, after both women had finished their tea and the two empty cups were placed back on the small table, side by side, Emma cleared her throat and sent Kyra a small smile.

“That’s an amazing display of trust,” she spoke in a gentle voice. “Thank you.” She reached out a hand and touched Kyra’s cheek. “But can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” Kyra nodded. “You can ask me anything you like.”

“Your brother, Jasper is your blood relative. You and he have a good relationship. Why don’t you want to make him guardian ifÉifÉ?”

“Right now he would be,” Kyra honestly answered. “I love Jazz and I trust him completely. I know he’d be able to provide a home for Simon. But I want a life with you. You already are a big part of our life, Emma and I know Simon loves you. He’s gotten used to you already and I know that will only intensify in the months and years to come. If something happens to me, he should be able to stay with you.” Pushing back her hair Kyra let out a small sigh. “You don’t have to give me an answer right away. Just take your time and think about it, all right?”

“I don’t need to think about this, honey,” Emma cupped Kyra’s cheek and leaned in for a gentle kiss. “I’d be honored toÉ” she swallowed. “To look after Simon in case anything would happen to you. God forbid,” she sighed.

“Thank you,” Kyra smiled. “That means a lot to me, Emma. As soon as I’m home again, I’ll contact my lawyer and have him change my will.”

“Would that be sufficient?”

“It should be, since Roderick refused to acknowledge Simon, he legally has only one parent. I can appoint a guardian, in case anything happens to me. If Rick wants to have custody, he’ll need my permission. And he’ll never get it. I’m not worried about Rick though, I’m more concerned with my mother. She won’t just give up, Emma. I know her. I bet she’s got something up her sleeve right now and I’ll have to warn you, honey, Vivian LeJeune plays dirty,” she said in a bitter voice.

“C’mere,” Emma replied, pulling the sad looking Kyra into her arms, who wrapped both her arms around Emma’s waist and snuggled as close as she could get without squashing her lover, which made the teacher smile. “I can handle your mother, as long as you’re on my side. So, don’t worry about me. All right?”

“I can’t promise I won’t,” Kyra mumbled with a healthy dose of self knowledge. “But I can promise I’ll try.”

“That’s good enough for me,” Emma smiled, burying her face against Kyra’s neck and playfully nibbling the skin. “So, are you ready for bed?”

“Oh, yeah,” Kyra sighed, feeling Emma chuckle and she softly pinched a conveniently close patch of skin. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded, you brat. I’m just really tired and I know you are too. Lying down, snuggled up with you is just very appealing right now. You still need to take it easy, soÉ”

“So, what?” Emma inquired with an innocent look.

“So, we’ll just sleep,” Kyra determinately replied, but there were sparkles in here eyes. “First, I’ll need to check on Simon though.”

“Go ahead, I’ll go wash up a bit and brush my teeth,” Emma smiled, watching her lover get up from the couch and walking towards the little backroom were Simon was sleeping. Her eyes took in her attractive form, with the curly hair bouncing across the knitted red shirt and the deceptively strong denim clad legs. Emma’s body responded when suddenly a memory of those same legs flashed through her mind. They had been naked, soft but strong and had been put to good use when Kyra hadÉ.

“All right, that does it,” Emma mumbled, pushing herself upright and groaning in frustration. “I definitely need some cold water and I need it now.”

It was way past midnight. The moon was high in the sky and soft beams of silvery light tumbled through the two small, high placed windows, illuminating the bed and its occupants.

Kyra’s curly head was tucked against Emma’s shoulder and one arm was possessively draped around a slender waist. Her breathing was deep and regular and it was obvious she was fast asleep.

Enjoying the warmth and feel of the body that was pressed against her side, Emma’s dark blue eyes, colorless in the light of the moon, stared at the ceiling where the shadows of the tree branches of the old oak outside, constantly shifted because of a light breeze.

Involuntarily her mind kept returning to the events of that morning. She was bone tired and desperately wanted to go to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes and dozed off, images of smoke and flames woke her up.

Emma tried to focus on more positive things and she smiled when Kyra mumbled something in her sleep and tightened her hold on her waist. She softly kissed the curly hair and let out a happy sight. There were worse things than not being able to sleep and reveling in the feel of her lover resting in her arms. She could have been alone.

Emma’s eyes widened when a soft sound startled her and when she looked at the bedroom door, she noticed it was slowly being pushed open. In the light of the moon she saw Simon hesitantly approach the bed.

“Hey,” she whispered, encouraging the boy to come closer. “What’s up, buddy?”

Simon walked around the bed towards the sound of Emma’s voice and he rubbed his sleepy eyes.

“I had a bad dream,” the little boy answered in a slightly trembling, sleepy voice.

Turning down the comforter Emma motioned him to crawl into the bed, which he immediately did. Tucking the covers around his little body she wrapped her arm around him and smiled when Simon scooted closer to put his head against her shoulder.

“Is this better?” she quietly asked, chuckling when he nodded and slipped his arm around her waist, just above Kyra’s.

Like mother, like son.

Within moments Simon was asleep and with an amused smile Emma looked at the two, almost identical curly heads that were pillowed on her chest. A happy feeling flooded through her senses, leaving comfortable warmth behind.

“My family,” she whispered in the dark, before closing her eyes. This time the images that had been haunting her before stayed away and she drifted off into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Chapter 12
Morning found the three of them snuggled up together, with Simon’s little arm still tightly wrapped around Emma’s waist, while Kyra’s head was resting on the teacher’s shoulder and her left hand was resting against her son’s back, with Emma’s hand covering her smaller one.

The first one to wake was Emma. Blinking against the bright morning light, she briefly wondered why her arms were feeling so heavy, like something was pinning them down. Then she remembered how her lover had fallen asleep, practically sprawled across her body and how Simon later had joined the group hug, after the little boy had a bad dream.

Closing her eyes again, Emma smiled and let out a happy sigh. What an endearing way to wake up. It was amazing how much her life had changed over the course of a few days.

Kyra stirred and Emma could feel a little puff of warm breath against her throat, followed by a tiny lick and nibble.

“I see I have competition,” a sleepy voice sounded close to her ear.

“I guess the word’s out that I am an excellent pillow,” Emma whispered back, feeling Kyra chuckle.

“Well, you are soft in all the right places,” was the smiled reply.

Kyra lifted her head a little so she would have a better view of Emma’s face and immediately felt her lover’s hand slide to the back of her head to pull her in closer for a kiss. For a very brief moment, they both allowed themselves to give in to their passion and desire, but before the kiss could get any more intense, Kyra pulled away with a soft moan.

“Oh, my goodness,” she breathed, resting her cheek against Emma’s chest and hearing a thundering heartbeat underneath her ear. “What you do to me.”

“Is what you do to me,” Emma quipped, exhaling slowly and rubbing her hand in soothing circles across her lover’s back. “I love you,” she added in a whisper, gently kissing the top of Kyra’s head and blinking away tears of happiness when her admission was softy echoed.

They lay like that for a few precious minutes. Enjoying each other’s closeness and warmth, reveling in the sensation of truly belonging somewhere for the first time in their lives. It was a feeling of utter contentment and peace that wrapped itself around their hearts, creating a perfect memory.

The serene picture was shattered when suddenly the air was filled with the sound of a rooster crowing, just outside the window. Kyra almost jumped, feeling Emma’s arm tighten around her body while her lover softly chuckled.

“Good grief! What a noise,” she muttered with a sigh, putting her head back on Emma’s shoulder.

“I can’t believe that nasty bird is still alive,” Emma chuckled. “He’s such a pompous piece of work. I call him Windbag.”

Emma could feel Kyra shake with laughter and involuntarily she smiled.

“He must be around ten years old now,” Emma continued. “I don’t think Dad ever had a rooster that has lived to that ripe old age.”

“The others ended up in the soup?” Kyra chuckled.

“One did, after he attacked my mom without any reason. Dad said he had to be crazy and wrung his little neck. I can’t say he tasted good,” Emma grinned. “But maybe that was because I knew him.”

“So, what’s the story with Windbag?” Kyra smiled, gently rubbing Emma’s chest, not even aware she was doing so.

“Well, the two of us don’t really see eye to eye after he craftily stole my peanut butter sandwich one day. It was on a Saturday morning, in the middle of summer. I got up, had some coffee and made myself a sandwich. Because the weather was gorgeous I decided to sit outside for a while. The moment I stepped outside, this mad bird came…propelling past me, snatched away my sandwich and made a run for it.” Emma grinned, feeling Kyra press her face against her shoulder to silence her laughter. “Of course I went after him, until I realized that really made me look like a fool, so I gave up. I swear, baby, that bird had been waiting for me. Little thief.” Emma felt the weight on her right arm shift and she cast down a look at Simon, seeing a pair of sleepy, gray eyes blink back at her.

“Good morning, buddy,” she smiled warmly, watching Simon rub his eyes.

The little boy nodded and his eyes traveled to his mother, who opened her arms in invitation. With a small smile he pushed himself up and crawled over Emma’s body to wrap his arms around his mother’s neck and disappear into her arms.

“Morning, Mom,” his husky voice mumbled against the skin of her neck.

“Morning, honey,” Kyra smiled. “Did you have a good sleep?”

“I had a bad dream,” Simon sighed. “It made me sad, but I can’t remember it anymore.”

Emma and Kyra exchanged a look and they both knew that the events of the previous day probably had something to do with Simon’s nightmare.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Kyra whispered, rocking her son in her arms and kissing his soft cheek.

“I wasn’t sad anymore when I came into your bed,” he explained. “You were asleep, but Emma gives good hugs too.”

“She does, doesn’t she?” Kyra smiled, locking eyes with her lover and swallowing hard when she saw the love that was sent her way. “And don’t you think she makes a great pillow?” she added.

Simon lifted his head from his mother’s shoulder and glanced at Emma, who was lying with her arms behind her head, looking at them while her blue eyes shone with amusement and affection. She winked at him and Simon chuckled.

“Is it Easter today?” he suddenly asked, scrunching up his face in thought.

“Yes, sir, it sure is,” Emma smiled. “It’s egg-hunting day.”

“Real ones?” Simon asked.

“Yes, real ones, but also chocolate ones,” Emma explained, seeing the little boy’s eyes light up.

“Can I keep the ones I find?”

“You may,” Emma grinned, knowing there would be more than enough eggs to go around. “But don’t try to eat them all at once, because you’ll be sick.” She warned him, playfully tapping his nose with the tip of her finger. Her eyes traveled to Kyra and she sent her lover a mock, stern look. “The same applies to you.”

“Yes, mom,” Kyra grinned, sticking out her tongue and making Simon laugh.

“Mom!”

“Sorry, honey, I just couldn’t resist,” Kyra replied. “We need to keep an eye on Emma today. Chocolate is really bad for people with stitched-up eyebrows.”

“That’s okay,” Emma calmly answered with a twinkle in her eye. “I don’t like chocolate anyway.”

Kyra’s green eyes widened in surprise and she brought her face closer to peer into the sparkling indigo gaze.

“You don’t?”

“Nope. I don’t. Maybe that’s why I never understood the fuss about it.”

“Well, you must be the first woman I met who doesn’t like chocolate,” Kyra answered, still looking at Emma to see if her lover was pulling her leg. “Every woman likes chocolate,” she teasingly added.

“So, does that mean I’m not a woman?” Emma drawled in a low purr, biting back a grin when she noticed the effect the sound had on her lover.

Kyra swallowed hard and pushed back her hair, letting out a frustrated breath.

“No,” she croaked, quickly clearing her throat and feeling a warmth spread deep down in her belly when she saw the darkening of Emma’s eyes. “No, you’re absolutely a woman. No question about it.”

To avoid further embarrassment, she turned to Simon and ruffled his curly hair.

“Let’s get Emma a cup of tea and something to nibble on, all right?” she suggested, hearing her lover’s amused chuckle and blushing when she realized what she had said. Rolling her eyes, she gave Emma a playful swat across the stomach and quickly jumped off the bed, followed by her son.

“Your head must not be bothering you much,” she remarked, casting a look over her shoulder, willing herself to walk towards the door and not give in to the desire to rush back to the bed and pounce on her lover.

Emma grinned and experimentally wiggled her eyebrows, looking pleased when all she felt was the slight pulling of the stitches.

“My head feels great,” she sighed, happily, allowing her eyes to roam across Kyra’s body that was covered by a cotton shirt that barely reached her knees. “And I have remarkable vision,” she nearly hummed in pleasure, laughing when her lover sent her a puzzled look.

“You’re standing in the doorway,” she explained.

A pair of eyebrows rose into a curly hairline and dark green eyes looked at her with confusion.

“The light that comes in through those big windows in the living room? It sort of makes your nightie a see-through. It’s real pretty. I like it,” she ended with a purr.

A slow smile spread across Kyra’s face and she deliberately moved to stand in the middle of the doorway, catching as much light as she could. Putting one hand on her hip, she brought the other up to push back her long hair and cast Emma a look that was so intense, it made her lover gasp.

“Hold that thought,” Kyra smirked, blowing Emma a kiss and quickly turned around to head for the kitchen.

“I sure will,” Emma whispered, closing her eyes and taking in a few deep breaths, trying to calm her racing heart.

Easter Day had its own Altena family traditions, much to Kyra’s amusement, who had decided to relax and enjoy the day and not to worry about the fact she would have to leave again soon.

The whole family would gather together for the Altena egg hunt, which had its own hilarious rules, Emma had already warned her about that during breakfast, explaining that her parents were considered the ‘Top eggs’, which had almost caused Kyra to snort out her milk. The Top eggs were responsible for hiding all the eggs and the whole family knew that neither Dirk Altena, nor his wife, Ann, would ever give away the location of as much as one single egg. Asking and prodding for information was against the rules. The punishment for breaking any rule was eating a handful of dry toast and whistling, which was practically impossible. Only after producing a whistle, the convict was allowed to continue his or her egg hunt. Usually, that took a few minutes.

Emma’s story had Kyra laughing so hard she had to wipe away the tears from her eyes and she was already looking forward to the antics of the Altena family.

“What if a person breaks the rules more than once?” she had asked and the twinkle in Emma’s eyes had given her all the information she needed. “Oh, let me guess: a dump in the creek, right?”

“You’re such a fast learner,” Emma had grinned, leaning closer and giving her lover a quick kiss.

“Are there any more rules I need to be aware of?” she had asked with a smile.

“Nah, you’ll find out in the process,” Emma had shrugged, but her blue eyes had been dancing with mischief.

“Sounds like I’m fair game,” Kyra had mumbled.

Now, it was a few hours later and the whole Altena clan was outside in the yard. The adults were enjoying the early spring sun, while the children were running around, each of them carrying a little box that could hold up to six eggs. The first one who was able to find six eggs, was the Annual Easter Egghead and would bring home a trophy that consisted of a pair of green bunny ears.

Kyra was leaning her back against the wall, thoroughly enjoying the sight of all those happy children and the almost continuous sound of laughter. Occasionally, Simon came flying past, only stopping to update his mother on the latest count and then he was off again.

“How many does he have already?” an amused voice sounded and, when Kyra looked up, it was to the friendly brown eyes of Sharon Altena, who was married to Emma’s youngest brother, Willem.

“Four,” Kyra smirked, looking at the little bundle Sharon was holding. “Is that your daughter?” she asked with a smile. Sharon nodded and knelt down to allow Kyra to have a look at the three month old infant, who was making happy gurgling noises and waving her little fists around.

“Do you want to hold Evelyn for a while?” Sharon offered, seeing the look of adoration in Kyra’s eyes.

“Oh, yes,” Kyra replied so eagerly, it made Sharon chuckle.

As soon as Sharon put the little baby in her arms, Kyra let out a soft sigh, enjoying the feel of the tiny human in her arms, remembering what it was like when Simon was that small. A pair of dark eyes looked up at her and when Kyra’s finger touched a little fist, the miniature fingers immediately closed around it with amazing strength.

“She’s beautiful, Sharon,” Kyra admired the baby girl.

“Thank you,” the young mother smiled, taking a seat next to Kyra and stretching out her legs in front of her, almost tripping Hester who had chosen that moment to walk by. With a yelp she jumped up, managing to avoid a fall, while Sharon quickly pulled back her legs, sending her sister-in-law an amused look.

“Sorry about that,” she grinned. “I didn’t see you.”

“This place is a madhouse,” Hester grumbled, taking a seat on the grass as well. “I don’t know how mom and dad do it.”

“You say that every year, sis,” Robert Altena remarked from his comfortable spot on the bench. His eyes sparkled when he looked at his sister and he laughed when she scowled at him. “It’s all about organizing.”

“You sound just like Emma,” she chuckled, turning her attention to Kyra who was totally absorbed by the little girl she was holding. “Talking about Emma: a baby looks good on you, Kyra,” she smiled.

Kyra’s dark green eyes traveled to Hester’s face, feigning innocence.

“Thank you. But what does Emma have to do with that?” she seriously asked, casting down her eyes before Hester could catch the twinkle. She bit back a grin when she heard Sharon chuckle.

“You’re a fast learner, aren’t you?” Hester laughed with appreciation.

“That’s what Emma said,” Kyra blurted out, immediately feeling a blush creep up her cheeks when she realized how that remark could be interpreted. Hester’s full-out laugh taught her enough and she softly groaned.

A familiar presence suddenly appeared and without looking up, Kyra knew it was her lover who was taking a seat next to her. A comforting arm was wrapped around her shoulder and Emma’s lips gently brushed her cheek.

“Ignore my sister, she’s insane,” she smiled, leaning over to kiss her little niece’s head tenderly. “Hello, Evelyn, you look very comfy sitting with Aunt Kyra,” she cooed, not aware of the wistful smile on her lover’s face.

“Yeah, you should know,” Hester mumbled, winking at Sharon who just shook her head with a grin and leaned back against the wall, closing her eyes and soaking up the sun.

Hester took in the picture in front of her and couldn’t help the soft smile that crept up her face. Emma had one arm wrapped around Kyra, while the curly-haired woman leaned into her shoulder and both their faces shone with tenderness while they were looking at the baby in Kyra’s arms. It was something that Hester wished for her sister as well: a family of her own. Of course Kyra already had Simon and the way the little boy and his mother’s lover interacted showed their mutual affection and it was clear to see how much they had bonded. But Hester had wondered if Kyra would share Emma’s dream of a big family. Looking at the way her sister’s lover was holding the baby and the wistful smile that covered her beautiful face, made Hester smile. But she decided to keep quiet and just enjoye the quiet happiness the couple radiated.

By the end of the day, the youngest members of the Altena family were exhausted from their egg hunting and playing. The steaks, salads and freshly baked rolls had filled their stomachs and the smallest members of the clan had trouble keeping their eyes open; most of them had sought out their parents and rested in the loving embrace of their mom or dad. Or, uncles and aunts, even little Anne had snuggled up in Emma’s arms. The six year old girl suffered no visible side effects from her ordeal in the burning shed, but Irene had told Emma and Kyra she had been up most of the night, trying to comfort her daughter, who had been plagued by nightmares.

Emma looked down at the little girl who had her arms wrapped around her waist and she smiled lovingly. She was aware of the hovering presence of little Anne’s twelve year old brother Frank, who could not seem to bring himself to let his sister out of his sight.

“Are you comfy, sweetie?” Emma asked with a smile, kissing the dark hair against her shoulder.

Anne just nodded and snuggled a little closer, not planning on letting her favorite aunt go any time soon.

“Were you scared?” a little voice suddenly asked and Emma shot her niece a startled look. “I was,” Anne confessed, not waiting for her aunt to answer. “Daddy says you’re a hero, but Mommy just cried.”

Emma didn’t respond to her niece’s quiet admission, she just pulled her a little closer and, for a brief moment, she closed her eyes against the fierce memory of intense fear and panic. Slowly exhaling, she felt herself calm down again and she realized it would probably take some time before she could deal with the emotional aftermath of that horrible fire. Their ordeal had only lasted a few minutes, but the impact had been enormous.

Emma’s thoughts traveled back to that moment when her sister, Irene, and her husband, John, had entered the little hospital room at the emergency unit. Emma had been allowed to sit on the edge of the bed and dangle her legs to see if she would encounter any problems standing up.

Irene had not said anything. Her blue eyes had been red and puffy from crying and when her eyes had fallen on Emma’s face, the tears had flowed again. John’s face had been pale, the remnants of stress still clearly visible, but his hazel eyes had looked at her with so much gratitude, words had not been needed.

Emma had just opened her arms and Irene had practically fallen into them, hugging her younger sister closely. Through her tears, the only words she had been able to utter were a sobbed, constantly repeated: “Thank you.”

Emma smiled and buried her face in Anne’s dark hair, playfully tickling the little girl ribs, which made her giggle and squirm. Her eyes caught Frank’s and she winked at him, motioning him with her head to come closer. The twelve year old put up an air of indifference when he slowly walked towards her, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans, but Emma knew her eldest nephew well and realized he was still struggling with his sister’s near brush with death.

“Hey, Frank,” she greeted him when he let his lanky body fall down on the chair next to hers. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” the teenager answered, shrugging his shoulders and looking at the worn sneakers on his feet.

“Did you have fun today?”

Again, her nephew just shrugged his shoulders and when Emma cast him an inquisitive look, she noticed his attention was elsewhere. She followed his gaze and wasn’t surprised when it landed on eight year old Peter, Hester’s youngest son. She knew David, his father had a very long, serious talk with his son the previous day and Hester had told her that a lot of the boy’s privileges had been taken away. Deep down in her heart, she felt sorry for the boy, but she also realized his reckless behavior could have been disastrous and he needed to be disciplined.

“Still want to beat the crap out of him?” Emma casually asked, but her eyes scanned Frank’s expressive face intently. He softly chuckled at her choice of words and shot her an appreciative look. Emma just grinned back at him and wrinkled her nose.

“I might be old, but I do know how you young ones talk,” she explained with exaggerated arrogance, making Frank laugh. “After all, I am a schoolteacher,” she winked.

Frank’s posture had become more relaxed and Emma decided to try again.

“Are you still angry with Peter?”

“Yeah,” Frank nodded, staring at his fidgeting fingers. “I don’t really want to hit him anymore, I think Uncle David has punished him enough. But what he did was so stupid, Emma”

“I know it was, honey, but believe me, he learned his lesson.”

Frank silently nodded and Emma was just beginning to wonder if there was more on the boy’s mind when his husky voice interrupted her thoughts.

“So, you really like Kyra, huh?” he asked, sounding a lot more mature than his twelve years and Emma just nodded, curious to see in which direction her nephew was headed. “And the kid, Simon, you like him too.”

“I do,” Emma simply answered.

Frank used his tennis shoes to draw patterns in the dirt and Emma knew the teenager well enough to know he was struggling with something that was hard for him to express.

“Do you like them better than us?” Frank asked so softly Emma had almost missed the whispered words. “Do you like them so much you’ll stay down there and not move back again?”

Aha..!

Emma nibbled her lower lip for a moment, trying to come up with the right words to explain to her troubled, sensitive nephew that having Kyra and Simon in her life was not a matter of choosing between them and her family. It was an addition. For everyone.

“I remember the day you were born,” she calmly started, smiling when she recalled that cold winter’s day twelve years ago. “You were my very first nephew and I was so excited when Irene told me she was having a baby. I’ll tell you, Frank, I was counting the days until I could meet you.”

Frank looked up into a pair of warm blue eyes and he only found genuine affection there. He smiled back and scooted a little closer, which only deepened Emma’s smile. Holding the sleepy Anne with one arm, she wrapped her other arm around Frank’s shoulders and gave him a friendly squeeze.

“You were one of the cutest babies I’d ever seen,” she continued with a smile. “And then, almost six months later Christian was born and then Marianne and Cyndi and before I knew it, our family was getting bigger and bigger all the time.” Emma paused and cast a look at her nephew’s face which held a pensive expression. “And it’s still growing,” she quietly added.

They were quiet for a moment. Around them family members were talking and laughing, enjoying their time together. Emma could almost feel the intense gaze of her lover and when she looked up, she effortlessly caught a pair of dark green eyes from across the barn. One dark eyebrow was slightly raised in a silent question and Emma sent Kyra a reassuring smile. Her lover smiled back and even from the distance the warmth and love was clearly visible, warming Emma to her core. She tried to suppress a goofy grin and turned her attention back to the teenager, who was leaning heavily against her.

“I think I know what you mean,” Frank’s voice surprised her. “You’re trying to tell me that Kyra and Simon are an addition to the family.” He looked up and shot her a small grin. “They are your family now as well, right?”

“And yours too,” Emma added gently.

“I know,” Frank admitted with a touch of reluctance in his voice. “And it’s not that I don’t like them, I do. But…you live so far away. When you were here I could just take my bike and come over, I can’t do that anymore now. Sucks.”

“I know, Frank,” Emma sighed. “I miss you too, I really do. But maybe you and Cyndi can come for a visit soon, spend the weekend. I’m sure I can talk your mom and dad into that,” she chuckled, knowing Irene and John wouldn’t mind dropping off their two eldest, so they could have a relatively quiet weekend themselves.

“Can we?” Frank asked with shining eyes. “That would be cool. How far away is the Efteling from where you live?”

Emma grinned and playfully ruffled the teenager’s hair, glad to see the sparkle had returned to his eyes.

“Oh, I see how you are,” she laughed. “You only want to come and visit so you can go the amusement park! But, to answer your question: it’s not far, so I’ll give it some thought. I haven’t been there in ages. Maybe I can talk Kyra into coming as well, huh?”

“That would be cool,” Frank beamed. “Thanks, Emma.”

He reached up and gave his aunt a quick kiss on the cheek, before jumping up and heading towards his parents to tell them he would be going to the Efteling soon. Emma just grinned when she watched her nephew cross the barn, content to notice the boy seemed to be a lot happier now.It was close to midnight; all family members had pitched in to clean up the barn and after another relaxed hour of sipping coffee and quiet conversation, everybody had headed home. Most of Emma’s brothers and sisters carrying children in different stages of sleepiness.

Emma had put a sleeping Anne in the backseat of her father’s car and, in a hushed voice, she had said goodbye to her sister and her husband. They had been the last ones to leave and only when the red taillights had disappeared out of view, had she turned around to make her way back to the barn slowly. The place had been efficiently tidied up and the only thing left to do was switch off the lights and lock the door.

The night air was cool and Emma shivered when she quickly walked towards the cozy guesthouse. Kyra had left a little earlier to put a sleeping Simon to bed and Emma was looking forward to spending some time alone with her lover, even though it was already late and she was more tired than she would ever want to admit.

As soon as she stepped inside the tiny, dimly lit hallway and cast a look into the living room, she was greeted by the sight of Kyra, who had changed into a comfortable pair of sweats and was sipping fresh, hot tea. A second cup was placed on the table and Emma shot her lover a grateful smile.

“Oh, that’s just what I want,” she sighed, taking a seat next to Kyra and wrapping her arm around her lover’s shoulders, careful not to jostle the cup of hot tea.

“Really?” Kyra asked, glancing at Emma over the rim of her cup. “You’re easy to please then.”

Emma kissed a soft cheek and chuckled, having noticed the mischievous spark in Kyra’s eyes.

“Don’t worry, my love. I didn’t forget what happened this morning,” she whispered. “Or, rather, I didn’t forget what didn’t happen.”

“Mm…sounds like you are in a frisky mood,” Kyra smiled, stroking Emma’s cheek with her fingertips. Immediately, her hand was caught in a firm, but loving grip, while Emma used her other hand to take the cup out of Kyra’s fingers and place it on the coffee table.

“I don’t know if you’d call it frisky,” she said, turning back to her lover and sliding her free hand to the back of Kyra’s neck. “But I have this irresistible desire just to kiss you senseless.”

Kyra smiled and was only able to whisper an encouraging: ‘By all means’, before she was silenced by a pair of very soft, very warm and very insistent lips. Letting out a soft moan, she willingly surrendered to the seductive probing mouth that was covering her own, kissing, nibbling and tasting until all coherent thought had fled her mind and the only thing she was aware of were Emma’s lips, the warm body that was pressing her close and the need inside her that was rapidly rising, sending hot surges through her veins that seemed to settle in her lower belly, begging for release.

Leaning back a little, Kyra reluctantly broke their kiss for some much needed oxygen, but she made sure to keep a firm hold on her lover. Her darkened eyes locked with Emma’s smoldering indigo gaze and what she read in that desire-filled look made her heart skip a beat.

Reaching out a hand, she softly stroked the teacher’s cheek and brought her face closer, until they were breathing in the same air and Kyra was sure Emma had to be able to hear the pounding of her heart. Without breaking their gaze, her lips brushed Emma’s and she could feel her lover tighten her hold.

“Emma, please take me to bed and make love with me,” she whispered hoarsely.

Without answering, Emma stood, taking Kyra with her and wordlessly they walked towards the bedroom, switching off the light as they passed the tall, elegant lamp in the corner.

One full and one half-full cup of tea stood lonely on the coffee table.

“I’m sure I won’t be able to walk again for a while,” Kyra contentedly sighed, snuggling closer to Emma’s naked body and pressing her face in the crook of her lover’s neck. She smiled when she felt the chuckle and tenderly kissed the skin that was underneath her lips.

“I don’t think I could even stand up right now,” Emma confessed. “My legs feel so heavy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed.”

A pair of dark green eyes peeked up from her shoulder and shot her a surprised look.

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” Emma smiled, pleased with the happy look in her lover’s eyes.

“I guess I did well then, huh?” Kyra replied with a touch of hesitance.

Emma didn’t immediately answer. She merely pulled Kyra up until they were almost nose to nose and quickly kissed her warm, soft lips.

“Honey, you are wonderful,” she said with so much honesty and genuine happiness that Kyra couldn’t do anything but believe her. “You will have to show me those internet sites you’ve been studying,” she added with a twinkle in her dark blue eyes.

Predictably, Kyra blushed and she let out a playful growl when she clamped her teeth around Emma’s bottom lip, making the other woman laugh.

“Are you making fun of me?” she asked, pleased with Emma’s compliments, but still a little insecure about her skills as a lover.

“I’d never do that, Kyra,” Emma answered in a serious voice. “I think it’s so…cute and endearing that you…did some research.”

Kyra nodded and used her index finger to trace imaginary patterns on Emma’s cheek. She replaced her finger with her lips when Emma smiled and let out a happy sigh.

“Whenever you smile, you have this little…dimple, right here,” she said, pressing her lips against the indicated spot. “It’s so sexy, I love it.”

“I don’t have a dimple,” Emma protested.

“Yes, you do,” Kyra stubbornly answered. “Well, it’s not a real dimple, it’s more like a tiny little…dent.”

“A dent?” Emma laughed. “All right, honey, if you say so.”

“I do,” Kyra nodded. “So, you’d better believe it.”

Emma chuckled and kissed Kyra’s forehead, before using her hand to press her lover’s face down to her shoulder again, hugging her close.

“I love you,” she sighed. “I love making love with you. It’s so intense and…fun at the same time. I love that playful side of yours. You make me so happy.”

Kyra smiled against Emma’s skin and closed her eyes. It was so hard to describe how Emma made her feel. Maybe if she had been a poet, she would have been able to come up with the explanation, but right now she was at loss for words. She could only feel. With an intensity that surpassed anything she had ever felt before, except the birth of her son and holding him for the very first time.

“I love you,” she softly whispered, knowing by the tightening of Emma’s arms around her that her lover had heard the quiet declaration. “So much,” she added, barely audible.

They were lying like that for a long time, exchanging touches and soft kisses, enjoying the feel of each other and the intimacy that had bound them closer with each breath, each heartbeat, with every smile and touch. They were both tired but unwilling to go to sleep yet. The moment was just too precious for them to close their eyes and drift off.

But no matter how close to perfection the moment was, reality slowly, mercilessly set in and Kyra let out a frustrated breath when she realized that soon she would have to go back home.

“What’s wrong?” Emma’s low voice burred close to her ear.

“It just dawned on me I’ll be leaving soon. Either tomorrow evening or Tuesday morning. Early,” she sighed. “Very early, because there’s a meeting at nine and I’m expected to make an appearance.”

“Can’t you play hooky?” was Emma’s hopeful response.

“I’m afraid not, honey,” Kyra sighed. “Since I’m supposed to be presiding. Sometimes it just sucks being the VP, well, one of the two anyway,” she added, wondering if maybe, just maybe she could bribe her brother into taking her place. Another sigh. No, she couldn’t, her division was so different from his’, besides, he didn’t know everything about the new contracts and it was too late to bring him up to date. Other than that, it was way past midnight, she couldn’t call him now.

Kyra’s head jerked up and all traces of sleep had suddenly vanished. She shot a glance at Emma, who quirked a brow and looked genuinely puzzled.

“What’s wrong?” she asked for the second time during the last few minutes.

“I just…I was wondering…did I turn my cell phone back on after we left the hospital yesterday?”

“I don’t know, baby,” Emma answered. “I didn’t pay attention to that.”

“No, of course not, you had different things on your mind. And I did as well, otherwise I would know if I did or not.”

“Is it important?” Emma inquired, seeing the pensive look in her lover’s eyes.

“Before I left I promised Jazz to leave it on, in case he needed me. I…I didn’t…if something would happen he only has my cell phone number. I left the silly thing off for two solid days,” Kyra groaned, pushing herself upright and looking around the bedroom to locate the pair of jeans she had been wearing the previous day. “If Jazz called me for something, I’ll never live it down.”

“They’re on the chair,” Emma helpfully provided, feeling a cold chill when Kyra slid away from her comfortable spot and got out of bed quickly to pull the cell phone out of her pocket, immediately getting back in again and resuming her place in Emma’s arms.

“As soon as it starts beeping, I’m in trouble,” Kyra announced, switching the pone back on. It took a few seconds for the phone to adjust its settings, but then, as predicted and feared, a soft beeping noise alerted them to a message.

“I hope it was just mother,” Kyra mumbled, quickly pressing some buttons to pull up the call history and, more specifically missed calls.

“Oh, boy, six calls and they’re all from Jazz,” she whispered, hoping he had just called to razz her a little, knowing she was staying with Emma’s family. “I hope nothing happened.”

“When’s the last time he called”? Can you see that?”

“About an hour ago,” Kyra softly answered, aware of the feeling of dread that started to settle in the pit of her stomach.

“I guess I’d better listen to them in order,” she sighed, selecting the first message that had come in. Bringing the phone to her ear she rolled her eyes when an overly polite voice announced she had a voice mail message.

“Yeah, yeah, go on already,” she impatiently responded, wishing there was a way to skip that part. She knew she had a message, which was the reason she was calling. She never did understand why that always had to be repeated.

Emma saw Kyra’s face change when she intently listened to her brother’s voice and with relief she saw the green eyes light up and cast her a cheerful look.

“My dad and Albert came for a surprise visit,” she smiled happily. “They’ll be in the country for a few weeks. Wow, Simon will be over the moon,” she laughed, selecting the second message, all traces of anxiety gone.

“Sis, it’s me again. Elvira and I just arrived at dad’s apartment in Amsterdam. They’ll be staying there for a few weeks, at least, that’s what they say, but you know how they are,” Jasper laughed. ‘It would be great if you and Simon could join us. Bring your girl…bring your friend.”

Kyra snorted while she deleted the message and went to the next one.

“I know I didn’t make it, Jazzy, but next time tell me where you want to meet. It’s not like Amsterdam is a little one street village, you know.”

“Oops, I suppose you want to know where, huh? Dad’s favorite place, at the Dam, all right?”

Kyra just shook her head and chuckled., suddenly aware of a pair of amused, blue eyes.

“What?” she asked with a grin.

“I like it when you look happy,” Emma smiled. “It makes you even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she answered, reaching up and giving her lover a quick kiss. “This is so great, honey. Now you can meet my two dads. I can’t wait to introduce you, I just know they’ll love you,” she enthusiastically related, selecting the new message and pressing the phone to her ear.

“Message received, Sunday, April 12th, at 10.45 pm,” the mechanical voice related.

“Kyra, it’s me. I..um…” Kyra could hear the distress in her brother’s voice and immediately she shot up straight, knowing something had happened. “Listen, I know you’re somewhere in Friesland, at Emma’s place, but I don’t know where. You never told me and I forgot to ask, I guess that was really stupid. You haven’t had your phone on since yesterday and I’m starting to get worried about you. Um..listen…I…I hate to leave this message on your voice mail, but you have to call me, okay? Please.”

The feeling of dread came back full force and Kyra felt her whole body going cold. She just knew something had happened and she swallowed hard when she selected the second last message, grabbing Emma’s strong hand for support.

“Kyra, honey, Elvira and I are back in Amsterdam. Dad and Albert had been visiting friends tonight and…and as they walked back to their apartment…I…they were…assaulted and robbed and dad…” she could hear her brother take a deep breath and Kyra closed her eyes, while her whole body started to tremble. “Dad was stabbed in the chest…we’re in the hospital…they might need to do surgery. Albert took a blow on the head, but seems to be okay. They’re bringing him to the OR now. I need to go back inside and my phone will be off, but as soon as I know more I’ll call you. I…what?” Kyra could hear Elvira’s voice in the background and she leaned heavily against Emma in search for support. “Oh, yeah, sure, good idea. Kyra? Here’s the phone number of the medical surgery unit, you could call them in case you get this message and I’m not back yet. The number is…” Jasper slowly read the whole number and let out a deep breath. “I’ll keep in touch, sis. I love you,” his voice broke and Kyra knew her brother had started crying.

Emma’s worry grew when she saw the display of emotions cross her lover’s face. Right now the deep, green eyes were dark when they looked at Emma with a mixture of naked fear, pain, confusion and horror.

“What happened, sweetie?” Emma softly asked, cupping Kyra’s cheeks and gently forcing the other woman to look at her. “You look so incredibly lost. Tell me, Kyra.”

“Dad…he and Albert were mugged tonight and…and…dad was stabbed in the chest. They might need to do surgery.”

“Was that the last message?” Emma asked, focusing on the woman in her arms who was about to fall apart. “Kyra,” she said with a little more force. “Honey, look at me.” A pair of incredibly sad eyes made her swallow hard and Emma took a deep breath, knowing that she needed to keep it together, for her lover’s sake.

“Kyra, was that the last message?”

“No,” Kyra finally answered, slowly shaking her head. Her eyes traveled to the phone she was still clutching in her hand. Reaching out she handed it to Emma and her eyes were pleading. “Please, I can’t. I’m so afraid that…can you please listen to it?”

“Sure,” Emma softly replied, feeling her heart starting to pound. She took the phone from Kyra and selected the message that was last received. Kyra’s eyes were glued to her face when she played the voice mail.

“Message received, Monday, April 13th, at 01.04 am.” Emma cast a look at the clock and noticed the call had come in less than thirty minutes ago.

“Kyra, it’s me again. Dad’s out of surgery and the doctor said everything went all right. Apparently things looked worse than they were and there was no damage to vital organs. Thank heaven! Dad will need some time to heal and all that, but he should make a complete recovery. Call me sis, I’m worried sick about you. Please.”

Emma let out a shaky breath and pulled Kyra into a warm hug.

“He’s going to be fine, honey,” she sighed, the relief evident in her voice. “Your dad is going to be all right. Jasper’s worried about you and he wants you to call him.”

“I will,” Kyra mumbled, needing Emma’s close presence and tightening her hold on her lover. “Is he really going to be all right?” she asked in a quivering voice.

“Yes, he will,” Emma smiled, holding Kyra close and slowly rocking her like she would do a distressed child, whispering words of love and comfort when she felt Kyra’s body rack with sobs.

“I feel so bad about this, Emma,” she sniffed. “I should have had my phone on. Why didn’t I? I always have the stupid thing on and now…I…”

“Kyra, honey, listen to me,” Emma interrupted in a calm voice, pushing her lover back a little so she could look her in the eye, but still holding her in the circle of her arms. “Don’t do this to yourself, all right? You didn’t do it on purpose. You forgot. It’s done and you can’t change it. Besides, it’s completely understandable why you forgot to switch your phone back on. We had a…long, tough day Saturday. No one will blame you. I’m sure Jasper will understand when you explain to him what happened. He’s worried about you. Why don’t you give him a call?”

Kyra just nodded and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, giving Emma a good idea of how she would have looked when she was a little girl. The auburn-haired woman smiled and pulled her lover closer again.

“Are you all right?” she softly asked, kissing Kyra’s temple.

“Yes, thanks, Emma. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Emma smiled. “Now, why don’t you call your brother, so he’ll know you are all right and I’ll make us a cup of tea, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyra sighed, managing a watery smile when she looked into a pair of compassionate blue eyes. She leaned forward and captured Emma’s lips in a soft kiss. “I’m so lucky to have found you,” she whispered.

“Funny, I feel the same way about you,” Emma replied with a smile.
Chapter 13
Emma stared into the darkness outside, not really noticing the beautiful night sky with the clear stars that looked like a huge hand had lovingly scattered a handful of little diamonds on black velvet. While she slowly sipped her hot tea, her thoughts were with the woman in the bedroom, who had been talking to her brother for more than half an hour now.

Emma had left Kyra alone, carefully closing the door behind her to give her lover some privacy. She had made some fresh tea, waiting for Kyra to come out and join her. It was the middle of the night, but somehow Emma knew that they probably wouldn’t get much sleep anyway. Too many things had happened in such a short period of time.

“And here I was hoping I could offer Kyra a nice, relaxed little vacation,” she softly snorted. “What was I thinking?”

The look on Kyra’s face, when she had listened to her brother’s message about their father being stabbed in the chest during a robbery, sliced through Emma’s heart, making her wince in emotional pain. Her lover had looked so lost and hurt. Her fear had almost been palpable. But what had upset Emma the most, had been the wounded look in a pair of frightened green eyes. And, briefly, she had to wonder if she could be strong enough to withstand the intensity of Kyra’s feelings and be there for her lover without falling apart herself.

She had been able to keep her fingers from trembling when she had taken the phone from Kyra to listen to the last voice mail message, but her heart had been pounding in her chest and her stomach had been tied in knots. Thank goodness, Norbert Hartman would recover from his ordeal. She knew her lover would probably want to go see her father first thing in the morning and she understood that. She’d want the same if it had been her father. Having seen the look in Kyra’s eyes, she also knew her lover needed to be physically with her father to assure herself he would be all right.

Emma knew it had been an emotional evening for her lover, but they had both been able to keep things together and be there for each other. Emma knew another thread had been woven to bond their hearts together. She smiled when she felt a warm feeling settle around her heart, knowing it was their mutual love that ignited this steadily burning flame. Meeting Kyra and Simon had been the best thing that ever happened to her. It had made her happy and complete.

But then, of course, there was Vivian LeJeune. Emma exhaled slowly and rolled her eyes. Being with her family had put the comfortable distance of an almost three hour drive between themselves and Kyra’s mother. But that would change. Kyra would have to go back home soon and Emma realized that, as soon as Vivian LeJeune found out about their relationship, there would be a major clash.

Wincing, Emma remembered that one Saturday morning when Kyra’s mother had unexpectedly dropped by. It had been unsettling for her to see the cold way Kyra’s mother treated her daughter. It had hurt her to be confronted with the fact that it was impossible for Kyra to turn to her mother for support or advice. There had been no love, no warmth, just a demeanor of cold judgment that almost made Emma shiver when she remembered. Kyra had handled the situation with a steely determination, but through the anger and frustration, Emma had seen the pain in her eyes. Letting out a deep sigh, she wondered how Kyra would handle a frontal assault by her mother.

What if that happens some time next week and I’m not around to support her?

“Maybe we need to discuss that possibility before she leaves,” Emma mumbled, hoping that one day Kyra’s mother would come to accept her daughter for whom and what she was. “Although I do have my doubts about that relationship.”Kyra, who had ended her conversation with a very relieved Jasper, had quietly entered the living room. After hearing Emma’s soft remark, she stopped dead in her tracks; her heart did a double take. A lifetime of insecurities came crashing down on her and a sudden wave of nausea made her feel sick to her stomach, an invisible cold hand painfully clenched around her heart.

Is she having second thoughts?

Alarmed by a soft gasp behind her, Emma whirled around on the couch and when she noticed Kyra almost doubling over, with her hands pressed against her stomach, she quickly put her empty tea cup on the table and jumped up to gather her lover in her arms.

“Kyra? Honey? What’s wrong?” Emma urged in a very worried voice. “Your dad, is he…?”

Kyra just shook her head and was grateful for the warm, strong arms that held her close to the one person who could devastatingly easily shatter her in a million pieces.

Emma, who could feel Kyra’s body shake, swallowed hard and wracked her brain for the possible reason for her lover’s distressed appearance.

“Come, sit down,” she gently suggested, pulling Kyra with her towards the couch, still holding her close. She took a seat and pulled her lover in her lap, somehow knowing Kyra needed the closeness and warmth. Confirmation of that assessment came when Kyra put her head against her shoulder and let out a long, shuddering breath.

“Can you tell me what is wrong, Kyra?” Emma softly asked, glad to notice her lover had stopped shaking.

“It’s stupid, really,” Kyra mumbled, feeling embarrassed by her reaction to the words she had overheard. “You’ll probably think I’m silly.”

“Try me,” Emma’s warm voice sounded close to her ear and Kyra could feel a pair of soft lips brush her cheek. “I’ll never think anything but good things about you, sweetheart.”

Encouraged by Emma’s words, Kyra lifted her head and looked into a pair of gentle blue eyes that didn’t hold back anything and radiated so much love it was humbling.

“You love me,” Kyra whispered, lifting a hand and carefully tracing a finger around Emma’s damaged eyebrow. Those words intensified the blue even more and Emma nodded.

“Yes, I do.”

Patiently waiting for a response, Emma’s eyes took in the woman who was a mixture of strength and steely resolve, but who could also be so painfully insecure it was almost heartbreaking.

“When I came into the room, I heard you talking to yourself and…for a moment I thought that maybe you were having second thoughts…about us,” Kyra finally answered in a whisper and Emma could see the flash of pain in those dark green pools.

“I know that’s not true,” Kyra quickly continued. “I know you love me. It’s those…those awful…sometimes I can be really insecure,” she sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“I am too,” Emma answered. “But I’m sorry because you sometimes feel that way. And when you do, it hurts you. And when you hurt, I hurt,” she gently said, tightening her hold on Kyra’s body and nuzzling her neck.

And I could really slap your mother for all those years she only contributed to your self-doubt.

“I was thinking about your relationship with your mother,” she gently explained. “I’ll worry about you, when you go home and I’ll be here. I know your mother will give you a hard time.”

“I can handle my mother,” Kyra sighed, rubbing her cheek against Emma’s. “But it would be nice to have you around for moral support.” Pressing a soft kiss against Emma’s lips, Kyra smiled. “It’s a wonderfully strange sensation to know I’m not alone anymore,” she confessed. “After all those years of just me and Simon…”

“I’ll always be there for you,” Emma promised. “I could…come back with you, I…”

“No,” Kyra softly interrupted, pressing her finger against Emma’s lips. “It’s so sweet of you to make an offer like that, but you need your family, honey. I’ve seen how much you’ve missed them and how much they have missed you. Don’t cut your time short because my mother might go off the deep end. It’s not worth it.”

“But you are worth everything to me,” Emma whispered.

“Like you are to me,” Kyra smiled, placing tiny kisses all over Emma’s face. “And no matter how much I’d want you there with me, this is a war I’ll have to fight myself.”

“But…”

“No, buts,” Kyra whispered, covering Emma’s lips with her own and rapidly losing herself in a passionate kiss that was answered with equal enthusiasm.

It was silent, while the two women leisurely kissed, exploring and tasting each other’s lips, reveling in the connection they shared. They took their time and both realized their kiss had nothing to do with quenching a physical longing, but more with confirming the feelings they shared.

Finally, after a long while, Kyra pulled back a little and let out a shuddering breath, while her fingers traced the outline of Emma’s warm, moist lips.

“Your kisses are fabulous,” she smiled with a husky voice, making Emma chuckle.

“I’m glad you feel that way,” she responded, playfully nibbling Kyra’s collarbone. “But tell me about your dad, sweetie. What happened?”

Kyra leaned closer to her lover’s body and felt a pair of warm, strong arms encircle her and pull her closer. Being that close to Emma provided her with all the warmth and security she needed, and she sighed contentedly.

“Albert and dad had been visiting friends, who live pretty close to their apartment, so, they walked. On their way home, they were mugged by three…guys. My dad’s a pretty big man and he tried to fight them off, but then Albert got hit in the head with an empty beer bottle, and when my dad turned to him, he was stabbed with a knife. In the chest,” Kyra softly related, feeling a shiver run down her spine. “They missed his heart and lung, thank heavens, but it’s a deep stab wound, and he lost a lot of blood. The doctor said he will be all right. It will just take some time.”

Kyra felt Emma pull her even closer and she tucked her head under her lover’s skin, grateful for the warm hand that rubbed soothing circles on her back.

“Albert has a slight concussion and they’ll keep him overnight for observation. Jazz said they are both taken care off and asleep, so there is no reason to go to Amsterdam right now. I’ll go there tomorrow,” Kyra added, feeling the tears sting her eyes.

She wanted to see her two fathers and make sure they were all right. Jasper had told her they had asked for her several times, and she knew they had worried about her when her brother couldn’t get hold of her. But she also needed Emma, and knowing she would have to leave the Altena family and farm the next day left her feeling uncharacteristically unsettled.

“I’ll come with you,” Emma calmly decided, glancing at Kyra’s moist eyes. “That is…if you want me to,” she softly added.

“I…I…didn’t we just discuss that…?”

“This situation is nothing like what’s going on between your mother and you,” Emma objected. “Unless…you don’t want me to…”

“Are you crazy?” Kyra said forcefully, pulling back so she could look her lover in the eyes. “I do want you there with me. I do need you. I’ll always need you. I just don’t want to…take you away from your family and…”

“You and Simon are my family as well,” Emma gently interrupted. “And no matter how much I love my family, you and Simon come first.”

Blue and green eyes met, and for a breathless moment Emma and Kyra looked at each other with an intensity that seemed to stop the world from spinning. It was so quiet they could hear each other’s soft breaths that slowly became deeper, until Kyra let out a shuddering breath, breaking the spell by kissing the tip of Emma’s nose and resting her forehead against her lover’s.

“I guess I’m in the process of getting used to that,” she admitted with a gentle smile. “And it’s wonderful.”

Emma just smiled and gave the woman, who was comfortably snuggled on her lap, a quick kiss.

“Amen to that,” she answered. “So why don’t you drink your tea, before it gets cold again? And when you’re done, we might be able to sleep for a few hours, since I have the feeling you’ll want us to leave for Amsterdam early in the morning.”

With an impatient gesture, the tall, dark-haired man raked his fingers through his short, but thick hair. His hazel eyes held a mixture of impatience and frustration when he cast a look at the two elderly women, who were seated on the couch. Involuntarily, he recalled he had seen them sitting like that many times before, and he wasn’t fond of most of those memories.

Margaret Peters and Vivian LeJeune probably had no idea how much they resembled each other, with their perfectly styled hair, expensive clothes that were always the latest fashion. and the cool, dissatisfied look that seemed to be a permanent aspect of their facial expressions.

Empty, he thought. Never satisfied and without any form of depth or warmth that would have made them more attractive.

His eyes traveled to the petite blond who was standing close to the window, her slender figure backlit by the early morning sun, and his expression softened. He wanted to take away the shadows of pain that had been almost permanently present in the pale blue eyes he knew so well. But he knew deep down inside, that nothing he would do, could ever be completely successful.

His past weighed heavy on his shoulders and again, when looking at her, he was filled with profound sadness and shame. But the small smile she sent him gave him courage and filled him with warmth. He knew what he had to do. He would do the right thing.

“I told you before, Mother, I don’t think this is a good idea,” his deep voice broke the lengthy silence.

“Of course it is, dear,” Margaret Peters calmly answered. “I know you and Bridget are very disappointed right now, but in time you both will learn to adapt. The main issue here is to stay focused on the goal.”

“And, what exactly would that goal be, Mother?” Roderick Peters asked in a tired voice.

Margaret Peters shot her son a surprised look, and her eyes traveled to Vivian LeJeune who was seated next to her. Both women exchanged a knowing glance, before Margaret turned her attention back to her tall son.

“Well, honey, for you to get your son back, of course,” she said, almost sounding cheerfully.

Roderick exhaled slowly and shot his wife an exasperated look. Bridget looked at him with a pained expression, and he knew she trusted him to handle the situation in a calm, mature way. She gave him an almost imperceptible nod, which helped him to get a grip on his growing frustration. He needed to stay calm and focused, before the situation got completely out of hand.

“Mother, I have no son,” he finally answered in a voice that was laced with pain and regret. “I gave up that right. I never wanted that, don’t you remember? It was you who cheered me on at the time. And I gladly complied,” he added in a bitter voice.

“I remember, dear. But we can correct things,” Margaret Peters urged, not even noticing the emotions in her son’s voice. “The only thing we need to do is convince Kyra to give permission. I’m sure the court will draw up the custody papers in no time, since both you and your father are well respected lawyers.”

“Kyra will never give permission,” Roderick sighed. And why should she? After the way I treated her_

“I’ll handle Kyra,” Vivian LeJeune suddenly announced in a cool, confident voice.

Roderick’s eyes took in her almost indifferent demeanor and he slowly shook his head. He experienced an uncomfortable rush of nausea, and if it hadn’t been for the promise he made his wife, he would have turned around and left. But he had told Bridget he would handle it, so he clenched his fists and tried not to grit his teeth. He silently wondered how a woman who was so cold and deliberate could have a daughter who was as wonderful as Kyra Hartman.

Vivian LeJeune interpreted the shaking of Roderick’s head as a sign of doubt and she coolly continued to lay out her plan.

“My daughter seems to be…attached… to this new…friend… she has, this teacher,” she continued, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “It has come to my attention that this person, Emma, is a lesbian. No doubt she already poisoned Kyra’s way of thinking. But I am positive that if we put some pressure on their so- called, friendship, Kyra will eventually relent and give in. I’m sure my daughter is not interested in a scandal of any kind. As soon as she is back from her little vacation, I will talk to her and make her see reason. I simply can not allow my grandson, your son, to be influenced by such perverted ways.”

To Roderick, it sounded like Vivian LeJeune was casually telling them what she would have for dinner that evening and something inside the tall lawyer snapped. His wife could see it in the way he squared his shoulders and the bunching muscles in his jaw. But before she could step up to him to put a soothing hand on his back, he already started speaking.

“Perverted ways?” he asked, letting the anger seep through in his voice. “There’s nothing perverted about two people who love each other, no matter what gender they are. Do I need to remind you that those ‘perverted ways’, as you like to call it, are only the bigoted brain-waves of prejudiced people?”

Margaret Peters brought a hand to her chest and gasped loudly after hearing her son’s venomous words. For the first time, she showed something that resembled emotion.

“Roderick _ How can you speak like that?” she scolded him. “It’s unnatural.”

“Unnatural?” he hissed, his hazel eyes bright with furious sparks. “I’ll tell you about unnatural. How natural is it to try and claim an innocent five year old child, who has never seen his father, because that man was too much of a coward to take full responsibility for his actions?”

“But you proposed to her _” Margaret Peters exclaimed, almost whining.

“I proposed to Kyra, because that was what the two of you wanted me to do. That was what the two of you had planned all along. You and Vivian had been planning to get me and Kyra together ever since we were teenagers and you tried every trick in the book,” Roderick almost shouted. “The pregnancy was all part of that, because Kyra never even looked at me twice,” he added bitterly.

“How can you say that?” Margaret Peters asked with a raised voice, while her cheeks went slightly red. “You and Kyra…slept together.”

Roderick cast a look at his petite wife, he swallowed away a lump in his throat when he saw the pain in her eyes, and the way she courageously tried to keep the tears from falling. He had told her. She knew everything, but he knew it was still very hard on her to be confronted with that part of his past. He slept with Kyra once, which had resulted in a pregnancy, while Bridget had only learned a few days ago that she would never be able to have a child of her own.

In spite of the hurt, she quickly walked over to him to wrap her arms around his waist in a gesture of trust and comfort. Biting his lower lip to keep it from trembling, he draped a long arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. He needed her close presence to help him through the next difficult moments.

“I slept with Kyra,” Roderick stated in a hoarse voice. “She didn’t sleep with me.”

Vivian LeJeune’s face went still and cold gray eyes cast the lawyer a look that radiated anger and at the same time held a hint of warning.

“What do you mean?” Margaret Peters echoed confused. “She was there with you, wasn’t she?”

There was a long silence in which only the soft, rhythmic ticking of the clock could be heard. A pair of cool gray eyes fought a soundless duel with a pair of turbulent hazel ones, while Bridget Peters cast her mother-in-law a sad and worried look. She knew what was going to happen. But that wouldn’t make the situation any easier. It would still hurt to hear the words aloud, no matter how much she loved her husband.

“I took advantage of Kyra,” Roderick finally confessed in a voice that was full of guilt and shame. “It wasn’t consensual.”

Margaret Peters, who had been perched on the edge of the couch went completely still and looked at her tall son as if he had sprouted a second head. Her mouth opened and closed again and her eyes blinked rapidly while she let the words slowly sink in.

“She was…drunk?” she rasped with a hint of hope in her voice.

“No, she wasn’t drunk,” Roderick answered. “She only had one or two glasses of wine.”

“But then…Roderick _” Margaret Peters moaned, pressing two hands against her chest, feeling her body grow cold.

“I put a drug in her wine. GHB, Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate. It’s also called the rape drug.”

Roderick could feel the sobs rack through his wife’s body and he pulled her close, feeling a heavy pain in his chest that made it difficult to breathe. He thought he wouldn’t have any tears left, not after he had told his wife the whole story and had accepted her forgiveness and comfort. He didn’t deserve her goodness and love, but still shamelessly reveled in it. Because he needed it. He needed her.

“Oh, God. Oh, no,” Margaret Peters softly sobbed. “But…why…how…where did you..?

She noticed the pain-filled look her son shot Vivian LeJeune, and slowly understanding dawned. She knew her friend used to work at a pharmaceutical company. If anyone had a lot of knowledge about drugs, it was Vivian LeJeune.

“You gave it to him,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but a statement.

“It was only a little bit,” Kyra’s mother immediately started her defense. “My goodness, it was just enough for her to loosen up a little and be more…approachable. And I didn’t anticipate her getting pregnant. Kyra was always so…buried in her books. She needed to get out and meet people. I’m sure she does remember the event, even though she claims the contrary. I just…”

“She passed out,” Roderick softly interrupted. “She didn’t know.” He took a deep breath and tightened the hold he had on his wife, clearly remembering the promise he made. “But she will now.”

“What ?_” Vivian LeJeune almost barked, feeling the blood drain from her face.

“Kyra will know,” Roderick repeated. “Because I will tell her everything.”

“But…I…you can’t…it’s…”

“That’s right, I can’t,” he answered in a tired voice. “I can’t look in the mirror and be content with what I see. I can’t think back and be proud of what I’ve done. I can’t look at Bridget and hope that what we have is honest and pure. I can’t do all of that. Not until I tell Kyra the truth.”

The drive to Amsterdam had been uneventful. Emma had decided to leave early, having noticed her lover was uncharacteristically tense. She understood Kyra’s anxiety. If it had been her father who had been assaulted and ended up in a hospital after being stabbed in the chest, she would have felt the same.

They had taken the fastest route available, driving across the famous Dutch ‘Afsluitdijk’ that separated the North Sea from the hinterland, providing a defense against the sea and making it possible to pump away the waters and claim the land.

Simon had been bouncing in his seat when they were crossing the 30 kilometer long, 90 meters wide dike that connected Friesland to the province of North Holland. For a while the little boy had been able to forget his worries about his grandfathers, and he had practically bombarded Emma and Kyra with questions.

It had been a welcome distraction, and, with a small smile, Kyra had listened to Emma explaining to Simon how and why the dike was built. She thoroughly enjoyed the teacher in her lover and admired the way Emma was able to relate some intricate details in such a way, that the five year old boy understood completely.

After driving for almost two hours they had reached Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center and, as soon as Emma killed the engine, she could hear Kyra let out a deep, shuddering breath.

“Are you all right?” she immediately asked, casting her lover a look full of concern.

“I think so,” Kyra answered, not real convincingly. Her eyes had taken on a deeper shade of green when they locked with Emma’s blue ones. “I don’t like hospitals,” she finally admitted with a wry chuckle. “Especially not when I’m about to visit somebody I love.” She took in a deep breath and smiled, reaching out and grabbing Emma’s hand, giving it a loving squeeze. “But I’ll be all right.”

“Mom, we need to buy Grandpa Norbert and Albert a present,” Simon stated from the backseat. “You always buy me a present when I’m sick.”

“Of course, sweetie,” Kyra smiled, reluctantly letting go of Emma’s hand and unbuckling her seatbelt. “They have a gift shop here and you can pick out something that will make them feel better. All right?”

“Yes, Mom,” Simon answered cheerfully. He knew his grandfathers had been hurt and he felt really bad for them. But, on the other hand he was excited to see them again.

“Let’s go then,” Emma decided with more confidence than she felt. She was feeling nervous about the upcoming meeting with Kyra’s family. She did want to meet Kyra’s father and brother, but the circumstances were not exactly ideal and she would have preferred a less dramatic and clinical setting.Fifteen minutes later, they entered a brightly lit, long hallway and as soon as the double doors closed behind them, Emma noticed a man jumping up from a low bench and hurrying towards them. He was tall, with dark curly hair and even if Simon wouldn’t have happily exclaimed: ‘Uncle Jazz’, she would have recognized the man as Kyra’s brother.

Her lover was engulfed by a pair of long arms that almost lifted her off the floor, and in spite of the situation Emma chuckled. Simon was embracing a long leg, with a happy look on his expressive face. Jasper let go of his sister and scooped his nephew up in his arms, playfully throwing him in the air and catching him again.

Kyra just smiled and stepped a little closer to Emma, purposefully grabbing her hand and holding it tight.

Jasper shifted Simon to his left arm and turned to face his sister. As soon as he looked at Emma, the teacher noticed with a lot of satisfaction that Jasper’s eyes were the same color as Simon’s. Not the cool gray she had seen in Vivian LeJeune, but a darker shade with a touch of green.

“Jazz, this is Emma,” Kyra introduced her lover, and her brother chuckled softly when he saw the faint blush on her face. The previous evening they had spent more than half an hour on the phone, and his sister had already told him bits and pieces about her relationship with Emma. He had been absolutely thrilled to hear Kyra had found somebody to share her life with and he couldn’t be happier for her.

“Hello, Emma, it’s really nice to meet you,” Jasper smiled, reaching out his hand and grabbing Emma’s extended one.

“Emma’s Mom’s girlfriend,” Simon helpfully provided. “And she’s my teacher.”

Emma grinned and shot her lover an amused look, giving the warm hand that was comfortably nestled in her own a loving squeeze.

“That sums it up nicely, I guess,” she wryly chuckled, knowing that Simon’s last comment reminded her of the implications of her relationship with the mother of one of her pupils.

“Come, I’ll introduce you to Elvira,” Kyra’s voice interrupted her thoughts, tugging on her hand and leading her toward a little bench against the wall. The woman, who had been sitting on the uncomfortable looking seat, stood up when the couple walked up to her and graced them with a beautiful smile.

“Hey, Kyra,” her low voice welcomed and Emma felt her lover let go of her hand to give the dark skinned woman a heartfelt hug. She knew Kyra liked Jasper’s girlfriend, and from the first moment they met, they had rapidly become friends.

“Elvira, this is Emma,” Kyra introduced her, turning to Emma and sending her an affectionate smile.

“Hello, Emma,” Elvira said with a broad smile. “It’s nice to meet you. I just wish the location would have been different.”

“That’s exactly how I feel as well,” Emma answered, looking into a pair of soulful brown eyes and feeling all her nervousness disappear. If Jasper and Elvira were any indication, Emma expected to like Norbert Hartman and Albert Mendez as well.

“Is Albert with dad?” Kyra asked Jasper who had walked closer, Simon still firmly wrapped around his tall frame.

Jasper nodded and with his head he gestured toward a door on the left.

“They’re both in there. The staff didn’t want to separate them, so they put up Albert in here as well.”

“Can we see them?” Kyra asked, her hand reached for Emma’s again, needing the contact. Somehow the feel of Emma’s fingers curled around her own gave her a sense of safety… helped her to focus and stay calm. She knew her father had been lucky, in a way, and that he would make a full recovery, but she also realized that as soon as she walked into that hospital room and saw her father, the tears would come.

“Go ahead,” Jasper encouraged. “The nurses said it’s all right. I’ll see if I can get us something to drink. Would coffee be good enough?”

“That would be great, Jazz,” Kyra sighed. “We had an early breakfast this morning and I really could use some caffeine. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

Jasper cast a look at his sister and she noticed the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“Is that why you didn’t have the phone on?” he asked with feigned innocence.

Predictably, Kyra blushed, Emma softly chuckled and Elvira gave the tall man a playful swat on his behind.

“Behave,” she warned with a smile. “Let’s go and get some coffee. I’ll help.”

Jasper put Simon down on the ground and winked at his sister, before he leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on her glowing cheek.

“I want some juicy details later,” he whispered, teasingly, before Elvira took charge of the situation and dragged him along with her.

Kyra let out a deep breath and slowly shook her head when she watched her brother being led away by his girlfriend.

“I have one brother for sale,” she muttered, casting Emma an exasperated look. “Are you interested? I’ll give you a discount.”

“Don’t worry about it, honey,” Emma smiled, bringing their entwined fingers to her lips and softly kissing the back of Kyra’s hand. “Just remember you can always rely on paybacks. Besides,” she paused and her eyes caught Kyra’s. “You are beautiful when you blush.”

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” Kyra quipped, but there was a small grin tugging on the corner of her mouth. The friendly bantering had lightened the mood, and she realized the tight knot that had been present in her stomach, ever since she received her brother’s message, had slowly started to dissolve.

“Let’s go see my dads,” she softly said, turning around and walking towards the pale yellow door.Emma and Simon quietly followed Kyra when she soundlessly opened the heavy door and stepped into the reasonably large hospital room. There were two beds that would normally be separated by a curtain, but in this case they weren’t. The curtain was pushed back against the wall, so the occupants of the bed could have an unhindered view of each other.

Kyra slowly let go of Emma’s hand and stepped closer until she was standing between the two beds. Tears were streaming down her face when she looked from the still form of her father to the dark man in the next bed and back again. They were both asleep.

Emma could see the shaking of her shoulders and quickly stepped closer, wrapping her arm around Kyra, who immediately half turned and buried her face in the crook of Emma’s neck.

Emma’s eyes sought the small form of Simon, who was standing close to the door, looking at his grandfathers and mother with wide eyes, filled with apprehension. She sent him a reassuring smile and reached out a hand to him in silent invitation. He immediately stepped closer and grabbed the offered hand tightly, pressing his small form against Emma’s side.

“Mom? Granddad?” his husky voice tentatively filled the silence.

Simon’s voice instantly brought Kyra back to reality and helped her to get a grip on her emotions. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she sent her son a watery smile and reached out to pull him in a hug.

“ Your granddads will be all right, honey,” she softly said, clearing her throat to get rid of the constricting feeling and hoarseness. “They’re just asleep and…”

“No, I’m not,” a low, deep voice suddenly sounded from one of the beds, startling both women. “Are my ears deceiving me or do I really hear my favorite grandson?”

“Grandpa _” Simon exclaimed, pulling away from his mother’s embrace and rushing towards the bed. “I’m your only grandson, grandpa,” Simon added with a happy laugh, knowing that, if his grandfather was using the old joke between them, he probably wasn’t as sick as Simon had thought. .

“Simon,” Kyra gently warned, stepping close to her son and putting her hand on his shoulder to keep him from climbing on the bed. “Careful, honey. Granddad is still hurting,” she said, eying the IV that was hooked up to her father’s arm and the drain that was attached to the side rail of the bed.

“Lift him up on the left side, honey,” Norbert Hartman smiled at his daughter. “So I can give him a hug.”

Kyra obediently lifted Simon up on the bed and the little boy cautiously snuggled up to his grandfather, carefully wrapping his arm around his neck and kissing his cheek.

“Hi, grandpa,” he whispered, his small hand lovingly patting Norbert Hartman’s cheek.

A pair of dark green eyes that were so much like Kyra’s it almost took Emma’s breath away, shone with unshed tears, when Norbert Hartman’s gaze settled on his daughter. Kyra suppressed a sob and leaned forward to carefully wrap her arms around both her son and father.

“Oh, daddy, I’m so sorry,” she whispered, feeling the tears escape her eyes. “I should have been here and…and…I wasn’t.”

“Aw, baby, don’t say that,” Norbert Hartman answered in a gentle voice, putting his hand on the back of Kyra’s head. “Besides, Jazz told me you were having a good time. It’s not your fault Albert and I wanted to surprise you with a visit. You had no way of knowing we flew in from Aruba.”

“Did I hear my name?” a sleepy voice sounded from the other bed, making Kyra chuckle through her tears, before she pulled back from her father and closed the distance to the other bed, wrapping the dark-skinned man in a hug.

“Albert,” she sighed happily, feeling his arms settle around her body.

“It’s so good to see you, little one,” Albert Mendez spoke, ignoring the persistent throbbing in his head and lovingly patting his step-daughter on her back.

“Are you all right? How’s your head? Jazz said that…”

“I’m fine Kyra, well, as good as anyone could be after running into an empty beer bottle,” he said with a wry grin, happy to see the smile on her face chase away the lines of worry around her eyes.

“If you two are done cuddling, maybe Kyra can introduce her friend,” Norbert’s voice suddenly sounded, while his eyes rested on the patiently waiting Emma. Their eyes met and Kyra’s father smiled, having recognized the way her eyes followed Kyra’s every move and inwardly he cheered, knowing love when he saw it.

“Dad, Albert,” Kyra obediently said, stepping closer to Emma and sliding an arm around her lover’s waist. “This is Emma.” The love and pride in her voice was clearly audible and Norbert exchanged a knowing glance with his partner.

“Emma is Mom’s girlfriend,” Simon helpfully contributed with a beaming smile towards Albert Mendez, making his mother blush. Emma just chuckled and wrapped her arm around Kyra’s shoulders to give her a gentle squeeze.

“Sounds like Simon fits right in with my family,” she grinned.

“Looks like he picked up some scary habits those last few days,” Kyra muttered in answer, before turning her attention back to her father, who was looking at her with an expression on his face she could only describe as ‘smug’.

Furrowing her brows, she cast him a puzzled look that only intensified when she heard Albert’s soft chuckle.

“What?” she asked, suddenly feeling very self conscious.

“Nothing, sweetie,” Norbert smiled. “I…it’s just that it’s wonderful to see you. You’re positively glowing. Love suits you.”

“Is it that obvious?” Kyra asked with a smile, feeling her cheeks grow warm again when both her father and his partner vigorously nodded. But she chuckled, turned to Emma and wrapped both arms around her lover.

“So, you approve?” she asked her father with a mischievous smile.

“Emma must be very special, for you to have fallen in love with her, little one,” Albert declared. “But then, you are very special as well.”

“She sure is,” Emma smiled.

“Come on, girls, sit down,” Albert motioned towards a couple of chairs that were lined up against the wall. “Grab those chairs and tell us all about it.”

Kyra rolled her eyes but obediently pulled two chairs closer and motioned Emma to take a seat.

“Have a seat, honey, I think they mean business,” she joked. “Unless you want to call your mother first.”

“I think I do,” Emma responded, remembering the promise she made when they had left the farm that morning. “I’ll hunt down a pay phone and give her a call.”

“No, use mine,” Kyra replied, pulling her cell phone from her purse and handing it to her lover. “I think they allow you to use it in that area near the elevator.”

“All right,” Emma complied with a smile. “I’ll be right back.”

After a loving glance, she turned around and left the room, quickly walking towards the double doors that led to a sitting area near the elevator. Looking around she noticed signs that indicated the use of cell phones was allowed, and she switched the little device back on. After a few seconds, the display showed her she could dial the requested number and just when she was about to punch in the first digit, the cell phone started ringing. She was so startled she almost dropped it, and with a frown she looked at the display, debating with herself whether to answer or not. She knew Kyra had left a note with her phone number on it on the kitchen table, and it was a real possibility that one of her family members was calling to check in with them. Deciding to take the risk she pressed the little green button, fervently hoping it would not be Vivian LeJeune trying to get in touch with her daughter.

“Hello?” she hesitantly spoke, pressing the device against her ear.

She was greeted by silence and was just about to repeat her greeting, when an unknown male voice sounded in her ear.

“Kyra?”

“Um…no, this is Kyra’s phone, though. My name is Emma Altena. Kyra is…busy at the moment. Can I take a message?”

“Kyra’s friend,” the voice stated and Emma frowned, wondering who was calling her lover.

“Yes,” she slowly answered. “Kyra’s friend.”

“Hello, Emma,” the voice sounded, not unfriendly. “My name is Roderick Peters.”
Chapter 14
Emma’s eyes widened in surprise and shock and involuntarily she clutched the phone so tight the knuckles of her hand were turning white. If the synapses in her brain were able to make a noise, the sound of firecrackers would have immediately filled the silence when Emma frantically tried to come up with a reason why Roderick Peters would be calling her lover. In the end, there was only one explanation and Emma’s eyes darkened in anger.

“May I take a message?” she asked coolly, her voice slightly hoarse from emotion.

“I…I don’t really know, Emma,” Roderick Peters’ voice sounded and the insecurity was audible. “It took me hours to wrestle up the courage I needed to call Kyra and right now I’m partly relieved I’m not talking to her, but also partly disappointed, because I finally managed to make the call.”

“What do you want, Mr. Peters?” Emma asked with a sigh, wishing she had never answered the call in the first place.

“Please, call me Rick. You’re angry with me,” Rick Peters softly concluded. “I can’t blame you, Emma. But please, believe me when I say I would never take Simon away from Kyra. I am a jerk, Emma. I treated Kyra pretty badly in the past. But I’m not heartless. How could I do such a thing to Kyra? And to Simon? It’s something our mothers came up with, but you’ll have to believe me when I say that Bridget, my wife, and I don’t want to have anything to do with that. In fact,” a soft, humorless chuckle. “We spent this morning trying to explain that to them.”

“You will not try to take Simon away from Kyra?” Emma tentatively asked, slowly exhaling.

“Never,” his low voice pledged.

 

Emma’s eyes stared outside the window and followed a small, white cloud, clearly visible against the clean blue sky. She felt her body relax and only then did she realize how tense she had been those last few minutes.

“I…I don’t want to sound rude, or anything,” she started after a brief silence. “But can I ask you why you’re trying to contact Kyra? Why now?”

“That’s a valid question, Emma,” Rick answered. “And I’ll try to answer it honestly. It’s just that…I don’t know where to start. I told you, I was a jerk and even though at the time there was nothing between Kyra and me, except for friendship, I abandoned her. I turned my back on her and didn’t take responsibility for my actions. It’s not something I am proud of,” he added softly.

“I think you should tell Kyra that,” Emma responded, not unfriendly, but still hesitant. She didn’t know where the conversation with Roderick Peters was heading, but her instincts told her there was something he was not telling her… something more serious and painful than the initial fear of Simon’s father wanting custody.

“I will,” he softly replied. “And there’s so much more for which I need to apologize. I just wish I knew where to start. I haven’t seen Kyra ever since…well, since she was pregnant. I honestly don’t know how she would…react. She must have changed. I know I did.”

Emma leaned against the wall and stared at the elevator door. The hall was pretty quiet. It was around noon and she knew most of the patients would be having lunch. Visiting hour was still a couple of hours away and there was no traffic of importance.

There was a question burning on the tip of Emma’s tongue and she debated with herself whether to go ahead and ask Roderick Peters, or just tuck her suspicions away, locking them in the deepest recesses of her being. Because, if the answer to her question would be an affirmation, she honestly didn’t know how she would respond.

Emma let out a shuddering sigh and squared her shoulders. She needed to know… for Kyra’s sake.

“Can I ask you a question?” she quietly asked. “And will you answer me in all honesty?”

 

“Sure,” Rick Peters immediately answered.

Emma swallowed hard and moistened her suddenly dry lips. She wondered if she should be subtle, or just throw it out in the open and see what would happen. Being from a family where directness was a common practice, she decided to do the latter.

“Rick, I know Kyra isn’t the kind of person who would indulge in alcohol and get so drunk she wouldn’t know what she’s doing. I’ve been thinking about that ever since she told me she only had a couple of glasses of wine at that party. I know something must have happened for her to lose control like that and not even remember.” She paused a moment and took a deep breath. “Did you drug her?”

There. It was out in the open and Emma closed her eyes, feeling her heart slam against her chest in fearful anticipation of Roderick’s answer. A nauseous feeling settled in the pit of her stomach and she leaned heavily against the wall, eying a little bench across the hall and wondering whether she should cross the distance and sit down, before her question was answered. But before she could push away from the solid wall, she was pinned in place by Roderick Peters’ soft answer.

“Yes.”

Closing her eyes Emma felt like the ground underneath her feet was suddenly washed away, leaving her hovering in deep, dark void, before tumbling down in a free fall towards nothing. She didn’t realize she let out a soft whimper and Roderick’s voice pulled her back to reality.

“Emma?”

“You raped her,” Emma whispered and there was no hint of accusation in her voice, just a cold stating of facts.

“Yes,” Rick Peters answered in a strangled voice and if Emma could have seen his face, she would have noticed the tears rolling down his cheeks.

There were so many emotions racing through Emma, she was numb, not knowing what to feel or how to feel. A cold haze had settled itself around her heart and she had to swallow hard to force back the bile that was rising in the back of her throat. Her stomach was tied in knots and slowly she sank to the ground, supported by the wall against her back.

 

“Right now, I honestly don’t know how to respond,” she croaked, raking her free hand through her hair. “You will have to give me some time to process all this. But I want you to tell Kyra. Personally. And I want to be there when you do.”

“I…I think that’s a reasonable request,” Rick Peters answered. “Have you…what do you think Kyra…?” he couldn’t finish his question and Emma could hear him sigh.

“I have no idea how Kyra will respond,” Emma answered. “Right now we are in Amsterdam and it’s not a good time. I’m not sure when we will be heading back home again.”

“I understand,” was the soft response. “I’m…I am so, so sorry, Emma. If I could change the past, I would.”

But then there would be no Simon and Kyra and I would have never met, Emma suddenly realized and she lowly shook her head, amazed at how the emotions still raged through her system like a violent torrent.

“Does Kyra’s mother know about this phone call?” she suddenly asked, hoping against hope she would be able to postpone the inevitable conversation with her lover about Roderick’s phone call.

“Yes, I’m afraid she does. I…um…I talked to her this morning and…it wasn’t pretty.”

“I bet,” Emma immediately answered, wincing as she tried to imagine Kyra’s next conversation with her mother. Then a thought struck her and her eyes flew wide open.

“Rick,” she almost breathed. “Did Vivian LeJeune know?”

There was an audible intake of air followed by a brief silence and Emma hugged her body with her free arm, breathlessly waiting for an answer.

“She gave me the stuff,” Rick finally answered with a shame-filled voice. “It was GHB and she told me how to use it. But Kyra must have been very sensitive to it, because she passed out.”

 

It was as if somebody had hit Emma in the stomach, with a sledgehammer. She gasped in pain and hugged her body tighter. Her eyes were dark in her suddenly pale face. The coldness was suddenly blown out of her system by an intense rage that left a trail of fire in its wake, making her hands tremble and her eyes blaze. A little voice in the back of her head kept telling her to calm down and get a grip, while Emma fought the urge to jump up and kick something.

That’s it, take a deep breath. And another one. And another. Calm down, Emma, Kyra needs you. Don’t lose it. Take a deep breath.

“Rick, I’m hanging up now. I need to calm down and think of a way to tell Kyra this as soon as possible, before her…mother…tries to contact her again,” she spoke with difficulty. “I appreciate your honesty, but you do understand I’m so angry right now it’s hard to control myself. It’s better not to continue this conversation.”

“I understand, Emma. Thank you.”

“Kyra will probably contact you when she’s ready. I don’t know when that will be though.”

“I understand.”

“Bye, Rick.”

“Bye, Emma.”

Emma switched off the phone and buried her face in her hands, fighting to regain some of her composure. She had never been so angry before and she desperately needed to calm down, before she headed back towards her lover. And she needed to call her mother, like she had promised.

Suddenly Emma realized she needed to hear her mother’s voice to help her calm down and bring some sort of order to the turmoil of emotions that had almost left her paralyzed. Talking to her mother would help her focus and it would chase away the chill that coursed through her body every time she thought about Vivian LeJeune. She desperately needed to feel the love that always laced her mother’s voice whenever they talked. It had been her refuge and strength for as long as she could remember and she knew that if she could talk to her mother, she would be able to be there for Kyra.

With trembling fingers, Emma dialed the number and impatiently she waited for her call to be answered.

 

“Mom?” her voice rasped as soon as the call was answered. “We’re at the hospital right now and Kyra’s dads are doing fine.”

“Then why do you sound like you’re about to burst into tears, honey?” Ann Altena’s voice sounded gently. “Did you and Kyra have an argument?”

“No,” Emma whispered. “I just…right before I started to call you, Kyra’s phone rang and I answered the call…”

In a strained voice, Emma softly told her mother about the conversation she had with Roderick Peters and even though she sounded reasonably calm, Ann Altena knew how upset her daughter was. She could hear it in the almost inaudible quiver in Emma’s voice and her heart went out to her daughter and Kyra. They had been so happy together for the past few days and all of a sudden the new lovers had to deal with one disaster after another.

“I don’t know what to do, mom,” Emma ended her story with a sigh.

“Oh, but I think you do, sweetheart,” was the gentle reply. “You can’t keep this from Kyra, no matter how hard it will be to tell her.”

“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Emma muttered. “I want to be there for her and give her all the support she needs, but I’m so angry right now, I’m afraid I’ll only upset her more.”

“Then you’ll have to calm down first,” Emma’s mother answered in a reasonable voice. “I have faith in you, Emma. If there’s one person who can bring this news to Kyra in a gentle way, it’s you. Just tell her what you told me and be there for her. She is the one that has to work through it, but you’re the one she leans on. She loves you, she trusts you, and, honey? Don’t underestimate Kyra. There’s a strong willed, tough person underneath that soft exterior.”

In spite of her anger and sadness Emma chuckled after hearing those last words.

“Yes, there is,” she admitted. “You have her figured out already, huh, Mom?”

“Honey, I have eight children,” Ann Altena smiled. “I might be a simple mother and housewife, but dealing with the lot of you taught me a thing or two.”

 

“You’re not simple, Mom,” Emma objected. “You are the most sensible, loving and wise person I know. And you’re better at dealing with people than any psychologist I’ve ever met.”

“Hands-on experience, sweetheart,” Ann Altena chuckled mischievously, making Emma smile.

“I feel better now, Mom. Thanks,” Emma sighed, looking at the clock on the opposite wall to see she had only left Kyra to make a phone call fifteen minutes ago. It had felt like an eternity.

“I’m glad you do, Emmie. Now, don’t worry too much, all right? Tell Kyra about the phone call and be there for her. Let her feel your love for her. Then take it from there. I don’t have to remind you that your father and I are here for the both of you. We’re only a call away, sweetie.”

“I know. Thanks, Mom,” Emma answered in a voice that was hoarse with emotion. “I guess I’d better go back, before Kyra starts wondering where I am. I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, honey. I’m proud of you.”

Emma swallowed hard and quickly wiped away a tear that slowly trickled down her cheek.

“Thanks. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”

“Bye, sweetie.”

With an amused twinkle in his eyes, Norbert Hartman watched his daughter looking at the door through which Emma had just left the room. Kyra’s eyes held a dreamy expression when she let out a soft sigh and focused her attention back on her parents. As soon as she noticed the look in her father’s eyes, she blushed.

“What?” she asked, her eyes traveled between her two fathers. “You two both look like those cats that eat canaries. Aren’t you supposed to be too miserable to give me those looks?”

 

Albert Mendez grinned and winked at his partner, who smiled in return and then looked up at his daughter again.

“Our girl is growing up, Albert,” he sighed, but there was pride in his voice.

Albert Mendez’ dark brown eyes shone with love and delight when he saw his step-daughter blush a charming shade of pink.

“Dad,” Kyra sighed, feeling like a ten year old again. “You two make me feel like a kid. I’m twenty-six years old and have been a parent for five years!”

“You’ll always be our little girl, Kyra,” Albert smiled. “In fact, it seems like it was only yesterday when you and Jazz came running into the house, crying and covered in…heavens know what that was,” he chuckled.

“I was eleven at the time and Jazz had just dumped me in a ditch that was full of…” Kyra chuckled and shivered when she remembered the horrible smell that had clung to her body like a second skin. “I don’t know what was in there, but it was awful.”

“I had to scrub you down at least four times,” Albert smirked.

“And she still smelled like she had been rolling around in a piggy pen,” Norbert softly chuckled. “We’ll have to tell Emma that story, Albert. She’ll love it.”

“Very funny, dad,” Kyra smiled. “But you’re right, she’ll love that.”

Norbert Hartman’s dark green eyes twinkled and he reached out a hand to touch Kyra’s arm.

“Honey, I only have to look at you to see how happy you are. You look positively…radiant. And you know the only thing I want is for you to be happy. So we won’t give you a hard time about not telling us about Emma.”

“I e-mailed you about her,” Kyra muttered softly.

Albert laughed out loud, immediately grabbing his head and hissing ‘Ouch’, when his concussion made itself known and Kyra couldn’t hide the smirk on her face when she shot him a look.

 

“You e-mailed us about…’a friend’,” Norbert gently rebuked. “Of course we already knew there was a potential for a lot more, but we wanted you to figure that out for yourself. We only hoped that if you would run into serious…doubts, you would feel safe enough to confide in us.”

“I didn’t have a lot of doubts,” Kyra softly smiled. “I think I fell for Emma the first moment I saw her.”

“Love at first sight,” Norbert Hartman smiled.

“You do realize that a couple of old queers like us completely melt when we hear love stories like that,” Albert sighed with a dreamy expression in his dark eyes, making both Kyra and Norbert laugh.

At that moment, the door was pushed open and Jasper and Elvira returned with a tray that held a coffee pot, several cups and a small bottle of fruit juice for Simon.

“The nurse warned us to behave. We are not allowed to tire you out,” Jasper announced, carefully putting the tray on a small table in the corner. “And even if we do behave, we have to be out of here in thirty minutes, so you two can get some rest. She said we’re not allowed to come back before two o’clock.”

“Cranky old wench,” Albert muttered, earning a warning glance from Kyra, who had noticed the look of interest those words had invoked in her son.

“Be quiet, daddy,” Jazz playfully whispered, glancing at his sister. “Kyra is a very serious parent and you really don’t want to teach Simon bad language.”

“Where’s Emma, Kyra?” Elvira softly asked, taking a seat on the empty chair next to her.

“She promised her mother to call as soon as we arrived here. I guess she’ll be back soon.”

“She seems real nice, sis,” Jazz spoke up from the edge of Albert’s bed, sending his sister a warm smile.

“Emma is nice,” Simon suddenly sounded, still tucked against his grandfather’s side. “Mom and Emma kissed and when they get married I will get a brother or sister. I think I’d like a little brother the best, because they play soccer.”

 

Kyra could only gasp, pressing her hands against her cheeks to try and cool them down a little, while her father and Albert hid their faces behind their hands and Jasper almost howled with laughter.

Unexpectedly, Kyra felt an arm wrap around her shoulder and Elvira gave her a friendly squeeze.

“Have faith, Kyra,” her amused voice sounded. “By the time Simon brings home his first love, you can have your revenge and embarrass him. I promise.”

“I hope you’re right,” Kyra mumbled with a wry chuckle, wishing Emma was back to give her some mental and emotional support.

As if on cue, the door opened and Emma stepped inside, her blue eyes immediately looking for Kyra. Even though her lover smiled reassuringly, Kyra was not fooled. There was a tension in Emma’s face that had not been there before and with a frown Kyra shot her lover a questioning look.

Emma stepped closer and knelt next to Kyra’s chair, grabbing her hand and giving it a loving squeeze. She had known the moment she stepped inside the room that she could never fool Kyra. The inquisitive look in those expressive green eyes had been clear enough. Her lover knew something had happened.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Kyra softly asked, entwining her fingers with Emma’s. “Did anything happen at home?”

“No, everything is fine at the farm,” Emma quickly answered, not wanting to worry her lover. “We’ll talk about it later, all right?”

Immediately, she noticed the brief flash of insecurity and she mentally slapped herself. The last thing she wanted was Kyra worrying about their relationship, which was still so new.

“It has nothing to do with us, sweetheart, don’t worry,” she whispered, wishing she had the courage to take Kyra into her arms and kiss away the small lines of worry that had appeared around her eyes.

“Did my mother call again?” Kyra guessed, seeing Emma wince. “She didn’t, did she?”

 

“No, she didn’t,” Emma truthfully answered, casting down her eyes and swallowing hard under the scrutinizing stare her lover was subjecting towards her.

“Not here, Kyra,” she whispered. “Please.”

“Something happened,” Kyra insisted. “I can see it. Don’t…keep me in the dark, Emma. You are upset and that worries me.”

Emma sighed and rubbed her face.

So much for my poker face, or rather, lack thereof.

 

“We can go for a walk,” Kyra suggested, not able to ignore the gnawing nervousness in the pit of her stomach.

For a brief moment Emma debated with herself, not knowing what to do. She had recognized the urgency in her lover’s voice and knew Kyra was worried. She also knew that no matter how gently she told Kyra about her conversation with Roderick Peters, the impact would be profound, no matter where they were… although Emma personally would have preferred the comfort and privacy of Kyra’s or her own home.

But the worry in Kyra’s eyes and the tension in her voice made her realize postponing would only make her lover more anxious.

Emma slowly stood up and reached out to grab Kyra’s hand. She shot an apologetic look at Norbert Hartman, who nodded his head and sent her a reassuring smile.

“Go on, Kyra, we’ll keep an eye on Simon,” Jasper smiled. “If the nurse kicks us out before you two are back, we’ll just be downstairs.”

“No,” Norbert Hartman interrupted, somehow feeling the talk Emma and Kyra would have could take longer than thirty minutes. “Go to our apartment, Jazz. Kyra and Emma can meet up with you there. Let them take their time.”

Emma shot Kyra’s father a grateful look and he smiled.

“Just make sure you girls come back to see us sometime today.”

“Don’t worry, dad,” Kyra smiled. “We’ll be back later.”

 

Hand in hand, they left the room and slowly made their way towards the elevators. Emma was frantically trying to come up with a suggestion for a quiet location, when Kyra’s soft voice broke her train of thought.

“Emma, I…I have a bad feeling about this. Am I right?” she softly asked, looking up into a pair of troubled, blue eyes.

“It is quite serious, yes,” Emma admitted, reaching out a hand and tenderly cupping Kyra’s cheek. “I’d like to find a spot where we can talk in private.”

“We can go to my dad’s apartment. It’s not far from here and even if Jazz and Elvira show up, it’s big enough to have some privacy.”

“All right, let’s do that,” Emma nodded, wrapping her arm around Kyra’s shoulders and guiding her towards the exit.

In silence, the two women had walked to the parking area and without a word, Emma had handed the car keys to Kyra, who had opened the door and sent her lover a tired smile.

Content not having to focus on the always busy roads that led into the city of Amsterdam, Emma rested the back of her head against the seat and closed her eyes, trying to mentally string together the words and sentences that would soon break her lover’s heart. Swallowing away the lump in her throat, she carefully took a deep breath, not wanting to worry Kyra even more. Part of her was angry for having answered that dreadful call that could possibly change their lives, and another part of her was grateful for the fact that, as Kyra’s lover, at least she could try and soften the blow.

Part of her wanted to talk to Kyra as soon as possible, while another part of her dreaded to be the one to inform her lover about Roderick Peters’ actions…and Vivian LeJeune’s betrayal. Every time Emma thought about the way Kyra’s mother had basically set up her own daughter, her heart was grabbed in a cold fist and she could feel the bile rise in the back of her throat.

How could a person, a mother, who was supposed to love and support her child unconditionally, treat her the way Vivian LeJeune had? It was something Emma could not comprehend and she was certain she never would.

 

Almost unconsciously, her left arm reached out and she gently placed her hand on Kyra’s right thigh, giving it a loving squeeze, before resting it on the thin fabric of her cotton slacks.

“Thank you,” Kyra’s soft voice filled the silence and Emma’s eyes flew open as she cast her lover a questioning look.

“Your touch…centers me,” Kyra explained, without taking her eyes off the traffic in front of her. “It reassures me when you touch me. If we weren’t in the car, I’d be in your lap,” she admitted softly, quirking a small smile.

“You will be soon,” Emma promised. “I’d love that. I have a desperate need to hold you close. You’ve become my safe haven, Kyra.”

“As you are mine,” Kyra answered, all of a sudden feeling a little better. Her stomach had been in knots ever since she had seen the look in Emma’s eyes after entering the hospital room. At first, her insecurities had reared their ugly heads, but she immediately remembered the evening before and knew there was no need to fear their relationship was in jeopardy. Emma’s reassurance about her family had taken care of that trepidation and the only reason for the anger, pain and sadness in Emma’s eyes she could come up with, was her mother. Even though her lover had explained that her mother had not called, Kyra could not ignore that little voice in the back of her head that was constantly trying to convince her otherwise. Or that hard to define feeling of confidence, deep within her body, that was called intuition.

Exhaling slowly, Kyra expertly steered her car through the crowded streets, until they finally reached a reasonably quiet side street. Both sides of the street were split in half by a narrow canal and were lined with trees that were showing signs of spring, with the eruption of small, bright green leaves scattering the branches.

Little sparrows were hopping around on the sidewalk, looking for small insects and breadcrumbs, their happy chirping filling the air. Emma couldn’t help but smile when she noticed the industrious little birds. Her eyes traveled to the houses that lined the street and a small frown appeared on her forehead.

She had visited Amsterdam before and she was familiar with the majestic seventeenth century mansions that attracted visitors from all over the world, but she had never suspected Norbert Hartman lived in one of those beautiful places.

 

“I thought your dad had an apartment around here?” she hesitantly asked Kyra, who was looking at her with a bemused expression on her face.

“He does,” Kyra answered with a smile. “See the house on the corner?”

Emma glanced over her shoulder and noticed the beautiful mansion that was built of reddish bricks. It was four stories high and huge windows lined every floor, giving the structure a very open and light appearance.

“It used to belong to my grandfather. My dad inherited it and he used to live there. When he and Albert decided to move to Aruba, dad had the place remodeled and now there are four different apartments. My dad’s apartment is on the first floor. The other three apartments are rented out.”

Emma moistened her dry lips, while her brain tried to process what Kyra had just told her. She had honestly expected that Kyra’s father would have a simple apartment in one of the suburbs of Amsterdam…not a mansion in the city’s cultural and historical area.

“Oh,” was the only response she was capable of, making Kyra chuckle.

A pair of dark green eyes looked at her with a mixture of amusement and guilt and Emma noticed Kyra nibbling her lower lip in a gesture of shyness and insecurity.

“I guess we’ve never really talked about the…family assets, have we?”

“I can’t remember,” Emma muttered, wondering how many more surprises Kyra would have in store for her. “I guess it never really came up,” she added. “But it’s a beautiful house. I love old buildings.”

“Then you’ll love the inside even more,” Kyra smiled, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the car door. “Come on.”

Emma silently followed Kyra towards the corner of the street and she watched her lover pull out a key and open the front door, stepping aside and motioning her lover to step inside. As soon as Kyra closed the door behind her, she stepped towards a little panel that was mounted on the wall and used a small key to open the little door. It revealed a state of the art security system and she quickly entered a code.

 

” Don’t want the alarm to go off,” she mumbled, closing the panel again and turning to Emma, who was staring at her with wide eyes.

“This place is gorgeous.”

Kyra smiled and grabbed Emma’s hand, pulling her towards a cream- colored door.

“This is just the hallway, honey. Let’s get inside.”

Emma obediently followed, while her eyes took in the high ceilings with the classical decoration that made her feel like she had stepped back in time. A hand tugged her inside another room and quietly Emma walked inside. Her blue eyes widened and for a moment she was speechless.

They were standing in a huge living room with a light-colored wooden floor that was sturdy and old, but perfectly maintained. The walls of the room were off-white and seamlessly embraced the high ceiling, giving the room a sense of incredible tranquility and space. One of the walls held an enormous fire place and Emma could tell it had been well used.

One part of the room was used as a sitting area. A massive couch and a couple of comfortable looking chairs were placed close to one of the big windows and Emma could understand why. It would be absolutely wonderful to curl up on the couch with a book and relax.

The walls were adorned with colorful pieces of art. They were eye-catching, but not in a disturbing way. They basically added to the quiet, peaceful atmosphere.

“Wow,” Emma finally breathed. “This place is just gorgeous, Kyra. Did your dads do all of this themselves?”

“The decorating? Yes, they did,” Kyra answered from another room and Emma suspected her lover was in the kitchen.

She walked towards the source of the sound and softly whistled when she entered the kitchen area. With a smile she accepted a glass of juice that Kyra handed her and she took a small sip of the cool, sweet liquid, grateful for the way it soothed her dry throat.

 

“I bet you this is your favorite room,” she gently teased, looking at the rows of copper pans that lined the wall.

“Of course,” Kyra smiled, sipping from her drink. “You know me and cooking.” Her eyes suddenly lost their twinkle and she shot her lover an insecure look.

“Shall we go inside?”

Emma didn’t answer, but she reached out and grabbed Kyra’s hand, guiding her lover back towards the sitting area. She wanted to be as close as possible and carefully placed her glass on the low coffee table. Kyra did the same and, without losing contact, both women slowly sank down on the soft couch.

Emma scooted back into the corner and pulled Kyra towards her. Her lover quickly kicked off her shoes and practically crawled in Emma’s lap, wrapping both her arms around her waist and burying her face in the crook of her neck. Emma’s arms pulled her closer and with a sigh she closed her eyes, resting her cheek on Kyra’s curly hair.

“Are you all right?” she softly asked.

“Not really,” was the muffled response. “I know you’re about to tell me something I’m sure I don’t want to hear. It scares me.”

“I’m so sorry, honey,” Emma breathed, wishing she could protect the woman in her arms from all the pain that undoubtedly would be caused by what she was about to tell her.

For a brief moment Kyra closed her eyes, mustering up the courage to help her lover break the bad news, trying to ignore the nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She only had to look into Emma’s eyes to see the distress and she wished she could take away the shadows of pain in the deep blue depths she loved so much. Whatever it was Emma was going to tell her, she wanted to be strong and be there for her lover. No matter what.

After taking a deep, cleansing breath Kyra lifted her head from its comfortable hiding place and looked up into the face she had loved from the first moment she had seen Emma.

“Talk to me, Emma,” she encouraged, sounding a lot calmer than she really felt.

The arms around Kyra’s body tightened and she could hear her lover sigh.

 

“It’s hard to…I don’t really know where to begin,” Emma softly answered.

“The beginning sounds good,” Kyra gently replied, reaching out and cupping Emma’s cheek, brushing the soft skin with her thumb. “You left the hospital room to call your mother. What happened?”

“All right, I guess that’s a good start,” Emma said, nervously moistening her dry lips. “I walked towards that little hall, where the elevators are, because I knew I could use the cell phone there. Anyway,” she exhaled slowly and tried to organize her thoughts. Kyra didn’t need her to be stuttering and stammering. “I was about to dial mom and dad’s number, when your phone buzzed. The display didn’t show a name or number, so I really didn’t know who was calling. I thought you probably wouldn’t mind if I answered the call, so I did.”

Emma paused a brief moment and stared into Kyra’s dark green eyes that looked at her with a mixture of anxiety and curiosity, inwardly she groaned.

“It was Roderick Peters,” she finally said, immediately seeing the anger flare up in Kyra’s eyes and she could feel her lover’s body go rigid.

“He doesn’t want to take Simon away from you,” she quickly explained, her eyes never left Kyra’s. “He said it was an idea of your mother and his mother. It’s not something he and his wife are pursuing or even encouraging. They basically don’t want anything to do with it.”

Kyra let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding and Emma could feel the body in her arms relax a little. But that didn’t last long, because Kyra’s quick mind had already processed the information and she looked at Emma with a frown.

“That is good news,” she stated, a little more coolly than she had intended and Emma flinched. “What’s the catch? Emma?”

“He…Roderick…he wanted to talk to you about…something that…I asked him if I could take a message,” Emma swallowed hard. “He told me he had acted like a jerk and he felt really bad about that.”

“That’s about time,” Kyra mumbled. “But that’s not the issue here, is it?”

“No,” Emma answered. “I…asked him something that has been on my mind and…he answered.”

 

“What was it?” Kyra softly asked.

“Ever since you told me about…the circumstances that led to your pregnancy, I had a feeling something wasn’t right.”

Kyra took a breath to interrupt her lover and ask a question, but the pleading look in those indigo eyes made her change her mind and she slowly nodded, encouraging Emma to continue.

“You told me that you probably drank too much and ended up with Rick, without remembering anything. I thought that was…odd. I mean, I have spent many evenings at your place and you often have a glass or two of wine and I’ve never ever noticed you being affected in that way. For you to lose control like that…I…it just seemed strange. So I asked Rick…if…he drugged you.”

Kyra’s body went completely still and rigid, with pain in her heart Emma saw all the blood drain from her lover’s face, while the expressive green eyes were suddenly filled with fear.

“What was his answer?” was the hardly audible question, Kyra’s eyes never left Emma’s.

There was no gesture, no word, no syllable that could soften the blow and Emma exhaled slowly.

“Yes,” she simply replied, her voice thick with emotion. “He drugged you.”

Kyra felt her whole body grow cold. Whatever she had expected Emma to tell her, this had not been it. Her eyes stared into Emma’s, without seeing her lover. They were dark and empty and for a long moment Kyra felt like she was hovering on the brink of a deep abyss. It was like the solid ground had disappeared from underneath her feet and right now she was hovering in the cold void of numbness. Still, her brain kept sending signals and after a long moment, the elusive shadow of a memory tickled her awareness.

“I don’t care, mother. I am not interested in Rick. I am not interested in anyone. All I want is to be left alone.”

 

 

“But you don’t realize what a good…he will be a lawyer, like his father. He comes from a good family, Kyra. The two of you would make a stunning couple. Can’t you see how fortunate it would be if the Peters’ and the Hartman’s were connected?”

 

“Then go ahead, you can marry him. You certainly have my blessing.”

 

“Do not speak to your mother like that, young lady! Are you really that ungrateful? I didn’t raise you to be this selfish, Kyra. I want you to go to that party. I demand it. Besides, I have already made arrangements with Roderick. He is expecting you.”

 

“I don’t feel like going, mother. Don’t you understand?”

 

“It’s only this once, Kyra. You need to forget about your studies for a while and relax. Roderick will pick you up around eight thirty.”

 

Kyra swallowed hard and slowly her eyes lost their haunted expression, much to Emma’s relief, who was comfortingly rubbing Kyra’s arm, desperately trying to make her lover feel their connection, while she dealt with the first bombshell Emma had dropped.

“Emma,” Kyra’s voice rasped and a cold hand grabbed Emma’s wrist in a painful grip. “How…? Did he…? Was it my mother, who…?”

Emma had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep herself from crying out in pain and frustration when she saw the look of anguish in her lover’s eyes. And again the anger raced through her body when she thought about Kyra’s mother, but she took a deep breath and tried to push it back down. Kyra needed her.

“It was GHB. Your mother gave it to him. She wanted you to ‘relax’. But, either Rick gave you too much or you had a strong reaction to it.”

Again, Kyra went absolutely still and Emma looked at her lover with worried eyes. She wanted to be there for Kyra, but her lover looked so small, cold and lost, even within the circle of Emma’s arms.

 

“I…I…I need to,” Kyra stammered, taking Emma by surprise by suddenly jumping up from the couch and running towards the door that led to the hallway. It only took Emma two heartbeats to respond and quick as lighting she jumped up to follow her lover. As soon as she entered the long hallway she noticed that the door of the bathroom was open and from inside a retching sound echoed off the cream- colored ceramic tiles.

With a few long strides Emma entered the bathroom and her heart broke when she noticed her lover was bent over the porcelain stool, emptying the contents of her stomach. She didn’t notice the tears that were rolling down her cheeks when she knelt next to Kyra’s trembling body and gently pulled the long curls away from her face.

“Oh God, oh God,” Kyra softly sobbed, pressing her hands against her stomach and doubling over again.

Emma felt utterly helpless when Kyra started retching again, her body shaking violently and the only thing she could do was to rub soothing circles on her lover’s back, trying to provide as much support as she could, while in the meantime her own body ached out of empathy.

After a few minutes, Kyra stopped heaving and Emma quickly stood up to grab a towel and a wet washcloth. Kneeling back down again she tenderly cleaned Kyra’s face, like she had done countless times before with her many nieces and nephews.

“Thank you,” Kyra finally croaked in a tired voice, before she broke down in sobs. She turned towards Emma and let herself fall in her lover’s arms, knowing that her lover would never let her fall. And Emma didn’t. She securely wrapped her arms around her and just held her close. Only when she noticed that her lover started shivering, no doubt from sitting on the cold floor, she slowly stood up, pulling Kyra with her. She guided her back to the sitting area, where she stepped out of her shoes and positioned herself sideways on the couch, with her back against the armrest. She pulled Kyra down and tucked her lover’s head against her shoulder, making sure she was lying down comfortably.

Kyra let out a shuddering breath and snuggled closer into the arms that provided such a warm, loving cocoon. For a very long time they were both silent. Now and then, Kyra sniffed and the telltale wet patches on Emma’s shirt were another indication that her lover was still crying. But she let her…knowing Kyra needed to release the emotional tension that had held her body in such a rigid grip.

 

“Do you want to drink a bit of juice?” Emma finally asked softly, brushing her fingertip against Kyra’s moist cheek. When her lover nodded, she reached out a hand and picked up one of the glasses that had been placed on the coffee table.

“Here, sweetie,” she encouraged, holding up the glass.

Without pausing Kyra emptied the glass and silently handed it to Emma, who put it back on the table.

“Do you want another one?” she gently asked, brushing her lips against her lover’s forehead.

“No,” was the hoarse reply. “Thanks, Emma. I think I’m ready to talk now. But I don’t want to move.”

“Then you can stay right where you are,” Emma promised, pulling her lover closer and smiling when Kyra let out a small sigh of contentment. “How do you feel now?”

“Empty. I feel cold inside,” Kyra answered in a small voice that was laced with pain. “I feel betrayed and…I feel violated.” She swallowed hard. “I hurt.”

“I am so, so very sorry, Kyra. I don’t think that…”

A pair of fingers were pressed against her lips and Kyra looked up at her, slowly shaking her head.

“Don’t. It’s not your fault. No matter how miserable I am right now, I’m glad you told me. I feel bad that you were the one who had to deal with that phone call.”

“I’m not,” Emma answered in a determined voice. “I know that, basically the news is the same and nobody can change the horror of it, but at least I can be here for you. I have at least that much control.”

Kyra quietly nodded and pressed her face against Emma’s neck, finding comfort in the familiar softness of her lover’s skin and scent. Her presence provided her with an anchor she held onto when her world starting spinning out of control.

“No matter how…hurt and angry I am right now, I want you to know one thing,” she spoke with a slightly quivering voice. “I have never regretted being Simon’s mother. And I never will. No matter the circumstances when he was conceived, he’s the most precious gift I have ever received.”

 

“I know that,” Emma smiled, tightening her hold on the body that was practically draped across her own.

“But I do feel…violated. Which is really strange, because I can’t even remember that night. But all those years I thought it had been my own doing, because I drank too much. And now…now I find out that it was basically a set- up.” Kyra’s hands clutched the fabric of Emma’s shirt and held on tight. “I guess the correct term would be ‘raped’,” she added in a strangled voice, feeling the tears well up again. “And knowing it was my own…mother,” she practically spat. “It makes all this seem like a really, really bad dream.”

Kyra let out a soft whimper and pressed her face closer in the crook of Emma’s neck.

“Why did she do that, Emma? Did she hate me that much? Why couldn’t she just love me? I always tried my best to please her. Why?”

Kyra’s voice broke and Emma held her lover close as she cried, rubbing her back and arms, occasionally kissing the top of her head or the side of her face, slowly rocking her in her arms, patiently waiting for the tears to subside, while every sob laced through her heart with a pain that was almost physical.

“I’m going to ask her that,” Kyra sniffed after a long time. “I want to know why she did that. And that will probably be the last time she’ll ever see me, because I do not want that woman in my life any longer.”
Chapter 15
The clock ticked away the seconds rhythmically. It was a peaceful sound that permeated the silence and lent an almost solemn kind of cheerfulness to the stillness of the room.

A single ray of light fell through the window, spreading a soft glow, touching mingled tresses of auburn and dark hair, like a the loving hand of a parent stroking a child’s head.

It had taken a long time for Kyra, to calm down enough finally for the constant stream of tears to subside. Feeling completely empty and worn, she was resting against her lover’s body, Emma’s arms securely wrapped around her body and holding her close..silently conveying her support and love for the woman who held her heart.

While Kyra had cried with an intensity, that had cut through her soul, Emma’s eyes had stared into the distance, darkened with pain and sadness. Her parents had always tried to teach their children that anger and resentment were emotions that should be dealt with swiftly, to prevent being touched by its always accompanying bitterness that could eat a person’s heart away. But nothing they had ever taught their children could have prepared her for the all consuming, fiery rage that bordered on blind hate she felt for Vivian LeJeune. Even though Emma realized she felt a deep, intense anger towards Roderick Peters, the feelings towards Kyra’s mother were almost frightening in their forcefulness.

Indigo eyes stared at a colorful picture on the wall and Emma slowly exhaled.

If she was experiencing emotions that ran so deep, how did Kyra feel then?

With deep concern, but also an infinite tenderness, Emma stared down at the face of her lover. Kyra’s head was resting against her chest. Her puffy, red eyes were closed and she was breathing deeply and regularly. The wrecking sobs had taken their toll and she looked completely worn out.

Brushing her lips against a warm forehead, Emma couldn’t help but feel content to have been able to be there for her lover when she needed her most..even though she wholeheartedly wished she could take away the pain and sadness that was visible on Kyra’s face, even in slumber.

“Emma, I want to go home,” Kyra’s hoarse voice startled Emma and she let out a surprised breath.

“If you want to go home, we’ll do just that,” Emma promised, understanding her lover’s request. Dealing with emotional trauma was hard enough already and she realized that Kyra would probably feel more in control when she would be in her own, familiar surroundings.

“Thank you,” Kyra whispered, rubbing her cheek against Emma’s chest and snuggling a little closer. “Do you think we’ll have to let them know?”

With a small frown Emma looked down, trying to figure out what Kyra was talking about. Surely she didn’t want to notify her mother about her returning home?

“Letting who know, honey?” she carefully asked.

“Your mom,” was the mumbled answer.

“I guess I’ll call her when we’re home, so she doesn’t have to worry,” Emma gently answered.

Suddenly Kyra stirred and a pair of puzzled green eyes looked up at Emma with genuine confusion.

“Why? Are they going out tonight?”

Emma opened her mouth to answer, but then took a deep breath and closed it again. For a moment she worried if Kyra’s emotional turmoil would have temporarily affected her mental capacities, but she quickly discarded that thought.

“Sweetheart, I have a feeling we’ re talking about different things here,” she finally responded, tucking a strand of curly hair behind Kyra’s ear. “Let me get this straight; you want to call my parents when we’re home. Right?”

For a fleeting moment there was a familiar sparkle in Kyra’s eyes and the sight made Emma’s heart skip a beat, filling her with a strong feeling of hope, reassuring her about her partner’s state of mind that mere words never could.

“I want you to call your parents, to tell them we are coming home, to them, to your home,” Kyra softly explained, immediately seeing Emma’s eyes mist over. She reached out a hand and cupped the schoolteacher’s cheek. “I want to come home with you. I need you, now more than ever. I need some distance. I need to be away from my mother, from Rick, to get through this. Unless,” Kyra’s voice slightly trembled. “Unless you think they won’t¼ ”

“No,” Emma exclaimed, a little more forceful than she intended. Immediately she softened her voice. “No. You are welcome. You’ll always be welcome. You and Simon are family now, honey, and if you want to go to Friesland then we will. My home is your home now as well, don’t ever doubt that.”

Kyra’s face was only a breath away and quietly Emma took in the vision in front of her. Kyra’s eyes were darker than she had ever seen them before and red- rimmed. Her cheeks were tear-stained and her nose had a pink glow. There were dark shadows underneath her eyes, a testimony to her pain, but in the deep green orbs Emma suddenly noticed a glint of resilience. She realized Kyra’s spirit might have taken an enormous, bruising blow, but was by no means broken.

A small smile tugged on the corner of Emma’s mouth and her eyes radiated the love she felt for the woman in her arms, and those feelings were mirrored in Kyra’s, softening the lines of tension around her eyes.

“I love you,” Emma softly spoke.

“I know. I love you too,” Kyra quietly answered. “We’ll get through this, Emma,” she added, surprising her lover.

“That’s my line,” Emma gently joked, with a small smile, brushing her fingers against Kyra’s cheek. “But yes, we’ll get through this. I will be beside you, all the time, every step of the way.”

“Then you are all I need,” Kyra simply answered, brushing her lips against Emma’s in a fleeting kiss.

At that moment, Emma suddenly became aware of the fact that a person’s heart could literally swell with pride. A warm feeling settled around her heart, when she realized how lucky she was to have Kyra in her life. Her lover and best friend was a compassionate, intelligent, loving and incredibly courageous woman, who made Emma fall in love with her over and over again.

“Kyra¼ I¼ ”

“Shh,” was the whispered response. “I know.”

Emma swallowed hard and blinked away the moisture in her eyes, before casting an inquisitive look at her lover.

“You do?” she answered hoarsely. “Have you any idea how much your courage is affecting me? How humbling it is to have you in my arms and look at the strength that¼ somehow¼ pours out of your whole being¼ in a situation as difficult as this?”

“No,” Kyra truthfully responded after a few moments that were heavy with silence. “I¼ had no idea about that. I…just¼ I’m just grateful to have you here, by my side. If I¼ display strength, it’s because of you. Because you are here with me. You center me, Emma. In the relatively short time we have known each other you have become my stronghold… the core of my existence. I need you. I don’t think I could ever live without you. Not anymore,” she added in a passionate whisper, burying her face against Emma’s chest and inhaling deeply, aware of the lingering scent of Emma’s perfume. “I need you, to get through this. I need you to be there for Simon as well, for the both of us whenever it all gets too much. I’ ll have a few intense, probably ugly fights at hand, and even though I don’t want to include you in those, I do need you to be there and be my safety net, Emma. I’ m so sorry to have to¼ ask you to share this ugliness with me. I wish I could shelter you from all the hate and prejudice that will cone our way. I¼ ”

“Kyra,” Emma suddenly interrupted, gently yet forceful. “Don’t be sorry. Please, don’t. I’m here for you, I always will be. All I want you to do is talk to me and tell me how I can help…how I can be there for you and Simon, other than loving the two of you with all that I am. Never doubt my love or dedication towards you, or Simon.”

Kyra’s bottom lip suspiciously trembled and tears pooled in her eyes when she looked at the auburn haired woman’s eyes that were passionate and honest. Even the love of her own father had never manifested itself in such a profound way, rocking her world and steadying it at the same time…like a giant hand, cradling a fragile gem, admiring it, loving it and keeping it safe at the same time.

A tear slid down her cheek, but when one of Emma’s fingers carefully brushed it away, a radiant smile had manifested itself, momentarily evaporating all the pain and insecurities, leaving only love in its way.

“One day, Emma Louise Altena,” Kyra sniffed between smiles. “One day soon, when all of this has blown over, I will go down on my knees and beg you to marry me.”

Time seemed to stand still when Emma’s eyes locked with her lover’s and a thrill of anticipation traveled down her spine, eliciting a pleasant shiver. The dark green eyes were holding nothing back, and if Emma thought she had been able to look into Kyra’s soul before, she now realized she had been dead wrong. The view she was granted was breathtaking and all- consuming, pulling her in like an uncontrollable fire. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time…scorching and purifying, leaving her with a sense like the past and present had melted together, creating an overwhelming sense of eternity.

It was kind of strange, really, that a moment so profound and intense only lasted a moment… a few seconds, not even specks in the eternal fabric of time. It left Emma feeling breathless, but full of hopes and promises. Every fiber of her being seemed to be alive and her heart was thumping wildly inside her chest.

She was a teacher, schooled in many different subjects and familiar with national and international literature, poetry and prose. Still, words eluded her when she stared into the eyes of the woman she loved more than anything else in her life.

“On your knees?” she finally croaked, internally wincing because of her choice of words.

But Kyra smiled, a mixture of amusement, affection and unspoken promises in her eyes. For a moment, she was able to forget her pain and sorrow, having being able to catch a glimpse of her future in Emma’s eyes.

“I could rent one of those planes that can write things in the sky,” she said with an impish smile. “But I bet it would be cloudy that day. So, I think I would rather opt for the¼ old-fashioned way, involving¼ knees and roses and rings, and all that.”

Realizing Kyra’s words were genuine and spoken from her heart, Emma instinctively knew that her lover needed some kind of reassurance, even though it had not been a proposal. Not yet. But she knew that was only a matter of time, and she was wholeheartedly prepared to leave the initiative to Kyra, knowing her lover would make the moment worthwhile.

“I think I could live with that,” Emma smiled. “To tell you the truth, I think I’m a little old fashioned myself.”

“Are you now?” Kyra playfully asked, nibbling her lower lip. “Does that mean we need a chaperone from now on? No serious kissing and¼ fondling before we take the big step?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Emma muttered, feeling happiness flood all her senses when she heard Kyra’s soft laugh.

“I’m glad,” was the breathless answer. “I need you to kiss me, Emma. Please.”

Emma did not need any more encouragement. She crossed the tiny distance between them and captured Kyra’s lips in a slow and deep kiss, that soon had her lover moaning. When she parted her lips, seeking the hot intimacy of Kyra’s mouth, she felt a pair of arms slid around her neck, pulling her impossibly close. The slow dance of their lips and tongues was strong and passionate. The intensity was enormous, but still neither woman allowed herself to get completely lost in the sweet caresses. Deliberately pulling back a little, Emma lightly nibbled Kyra’s mouth, traveling to her throat and cheeks, until she felt her lover slump against her with a deep sigh. Once again burying her face against the teacher’s shoulder.

“Thank you, my love. I needed that,” Kyra whispered.

“No need to thank me,” Emma answered, pressing her lips against a warm temple, not entirely ready to give up the intimate contact yet. “I want you to feel loved and safe.”

“I do,” Kyra admitted with a sigh. “I really do.”

“Good. That’s my goal.”

“I’m so rich,” Kyra mumbled dreamily. “I have a fantastic son and the most wonderful woman in the world for a lover and friend.” Exhaling slowly, Kyra let out a rueful chuckle. “It balances the fact that my son’s father is a rapist and his grandmother is a conniving bitch.”

Emma stiffened, but could not say anything to counteract her lover’s words, since Kyra was absolutely right.

“Sweetie, forgive me for asking such a…practical question, but have you thought about work? I mean, it’s not like I want or expect you to go to work tomorrow, but I thought some important meeting was the reason you would have returned this evening.”

“I know, but some things are more important than our family Empire. I¼ I don’t want my dad or Jazz to know¼ not yet¼ ” Kyra looked at Emma with pleading eyes. “I might seem pretty calm and composed at the moment, but all I want to do is go back home with you, have a shower and crawl in bed with your arms around me. I need a safe cocoon to¼ to¼ ” Kyra swallowed. “To¼ deal with all this and come up with some sort of plan. If I’d follow my heart I’d drive home and throttle my mother, but I realize that won’t be an answer.”

Sucking in her bottom lip, Kyra peeked up at Emma’s face, which held a calm and understanding expression.

“I want to hit her where it really hurts,” Kyra quietly answered, before wrapping her arms around the warm body she was heavily leaning against, desperately needing the closeness and warmth.

Instinctively, Emma knew Kyra did not want to say much more about it, and she decided to let it go, expecting her lover to talk about it whenever she was ready.

“Honey, when would you like to drive back up to the farm?” she quietly asked after a few minutes of silence.

Kyra let out a deep sigh and gave her lover a loving squeeze.

“If it’s all right with you, I’d like to visit dad and Albert again and drive back up. Maybe we can grab something to eat on the way. I¼ ” her soft voice halted and Kyra swallowed hard. “I am so tired, Emma. I really need to sit down and think about things, but not here. As soon as Jazz and Elvira come back with Simon, I’ll ask him to cancel the meeting tomorrow. Or maybe he wants to sit in for me. I’ll leave that up to him. But I don’t really want anyone to know what happened,” her voice softly pleaded. “Not yet. Jazz would just¼ explode and my dad¼ well, he’s in no condition right now to hear things like that.”

“I respect that, honey,” Emma answered. “I’m sure they will as well.”

“They will,” Kyra whispered. “I’ll explain¼ later¼ when I¼ I¼ when it stops hurting so much.”

Emma bit her lip and blinked away the tears she could feel stinging her eyes. Kyra had sounded so profoundly sad, it hurt. She wanted to wipe away that pain, throw her arms around her lover and protect her against anything that could ever be a threat, but she knew she couldn’t. All she could do was being a friend… a stronghold in an ocean of insecurities and sadness. Someone to lean on. And she was determined to be just that.

 

 

 

For the umpteenth time Emma cast a look at the passenger seat, where Kyra, safely ensconced in the restricting seatbelt, had managed to curl up and fall asleep. Her face was pale and even in her sleep, she now and then let out a soft whimper, no doubt fighting with all the demons that had come to hunt her with such vengeance.

In his safety chair on the backseat, Simon was also asleep. His curly head was resting against the back of the chair and the expression on his face was content and peaceful. Emma wondered how much it had cost her lover to keep up a cheerful front, when her son had returned from the hospital, together with his uncle and Elvira. Of course, Jasper had immediately noticed something was terribly wrong, and, leaving Simon in the loving care of Emma and Elvira, the siblings had retreated to one of the bedrooms, where they had a long talk.

Kyra had not wanted to tell her brother about their mother’s betrayal, but after they had returned, one look at Jasper’s pale face and pain-filled eyes had taught Emma he had probably forced the truth out of his sister.

Her suspicion became stronger when Jasper had walked up to Simon and engulfed the little boy in a big hug, the tears in his eyes clearly visible. She had shot Kyra a questioning look, but her lover had wrapped her arms around her waist and buried her face against her chest.

Elvira had more or less taken charge and had disappeared into the kitchen, making soup and sandwiches, soon assisted by her fiancé.

After a quick meal, Emma, Kyra and Simon had returned to the hospital and Kyra had softly explained to her father she was going to return to Friesland. He had simply nodded, his eyes full of concern, but he had not asked any questions, knowing his daughter would tell him whenever she felt the time was right.

After a tearful goodbye they had left, promising to come by and visit again in two days time. When Emma’s eyes had locked with Norbert Hartman’s, she had read the silent question and had simply nodded. Of course, she would look after Kyra and Simon. She would always do that, no matter how trying the circumstances would be.

With a small sigh of relief, Emma turned her car into the familiar road that led to her parents’ farm. Even from the distance she could see the lights were still on, even though it was close to midnight. She had called her mother just before they had left the hospital and Ann Altena had not asked any questions. She had just promised Emma that the little guesthouse would be ready and that they would stay up until they had made it safely home.

Carefully avoiding a few familiar irregularities in the driveway, Emma steered the car all the way up the yard until she stopped in front of the little house, killing the engine and rubbing her eyes with a gesture that betrayed her fatigue.

Kyra and Simon were still asleep and, with a slightly bemused smile Emma wondered what the best way would be to get both of them inside without waking them.

As soon as she stepped out of the car, she noticed the familiar forms of her parents making their way towards them, and even before Emma could greet them, she was engulfed in her fathers’ strong arms.

“I’m glad the three of you are home safe,” he softly said, slowly letting go and holding her at arms length so he could see her face. “You look so tired. Let’s get these two inside, so you can all get some sleep. All right?”

Emma could only nod, feeling the tears sting the back of her eyes. But, when she was pulled into her mother’s arms, she let out a soft sob and it took all her willpower not to give in to the desire, to relieve the tension in her chest by crying until she would have no tears left.

“We’re here if you want to talk. The same applies to Kyra,” Ann Altena whispered, brushing Emma’s hair away from her forehead. “I’m glad you came home, sweetheart.”

“Kyra wanted to come home,” Emma sighed, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’m just grateful she’s already started to feel like this is her home as well.”

“So am I,” Ann Altena smiled. “Go on, go inside. We’ll see you tomorrow. Try and get some sleep.”

“Thanks, mom,” Emma whispered, kissing her mother’s cheek, before turning around and walking around the car, opening the door on the passenger side and carefully unbuckling Simon from his seat.

Gently shoving her aside, Dirk Altena squeezed his tall and burly frame inside the back of the car, picking up the little boy and cradling him in his arms. With a small smile, he strode towards the front door of the little house and disappeared inside.

Emma softly closed the door and turned her attention to Kyra, who was still deeply asleep, oblivious to anything that was going on around her. Nibbling her lower lip, Emma wondered if it would be a good idea to let her father carry Kyra inside. Probably not. What if her lover woke up in the process? After all the traumatic events of the past day, she could easily panic and Emma didn’t want her lover, or father, to go through a possible scenario like that.

“Guess hauling around sacks of potatoes and bales of hays for years had to pay off one day, huh?” she smiled at her mother, crouching next to Kyra’s seat and unbuckling the seatbelt. Her lover didn’t even stir and Emma knew she must have been exhausted. Slipping one arm around her shoulders and one underneath her knees, Emma pulled Kyra’s body close and lifted her in her arms. With a small grunt she straightened, feeling her tired muscles protest.

With a small smile towards her mother, she moved towards the front door and quickly made her way towards the bedroom, making a mental note to thank her father for switching on a few lights. Entering the bedroom, she noticed the little lamp on the night stand was spreading a soft light.

Carefully, she lowered her precious burden on the bed hearing Kyra softly whimper. Brushing away a stray curl, she softly kissed Kyra’s forehead. Even in her sleep, that gesture had a calming effect on her lover, and letting out a small sigh, Kyra snuggled closer in the pillows without waking up.

“Emmie.”

Emma turned around to see her father’s face poking in through the door. She soundlessly walked towards him and gave him a quick kiss.

“Thanks, dad,” she whispered, careful not to disturb Kyra’s sleep.

“Simon is still asleep,” he whispered back. “I put him in some of Peter’s pajama’s Hester had dropped off. Your mother has left some clean towels in the bathroom as well. Go to bed, honey, and get some sleep. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, dad,” Emma repeated, feeling the familiar warmth of love settle around her heart as a healing blanket.

Dirk Altena left the little house and carefully closed the door behind him. Emma could hear his footsteps disappear in the darkness and she slowly turned around, making her way back to the bedroom. Kyra’s and Simon’s overnight bags were still in the car and she decided to just help Kyra out of her clothes and tuck her in. She knew her lover wouldn’t object to sleeping in her underwear. But when Emma sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing her forehead where she could feel the building of a massive headache, her eyes fell on the chair and she noticed two pairs of old t-shirts she used as sleep wear.

“Oh, Mom, you’re the best,” she softly whispered, realizing her mother had brought down some of her clothes and probably neatly stacked them in one of the closets.

Deciding to ignore her headache for the next few minutes, Emma took a deep breath and got back to her feet. She picked up a shirt and went back to the bed. She carefully relieved Kyra from her shoes and socks and unbuttoned the jeans, inching them down her lover’s body, trying not to wake her. It worked, and, releasing a breath, she didn’t know she had been holding, Emma folded up the jeans and tossed them on the chair. Eying her lover, she wondered if she should help Kyra into another shirt. That would probably wake her up, so Emma decided that removing her bra would be enough.

Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, she carefully rolled Kyra on her side, lifting her shirt and sliding her hands underneath, blindly reaching for the clasp. With nimble fingers, she unfastened it and she was just about to slide a strap down a slender shoulder, when Kyra stirred.

“Taking advantage of a sleeping woman?” her sleepy voice mumbled.

Startled Emma let out a nervous chuckle and she gently rolled Kyra onto her back.

“Sorry, sweetie, I didn’t mean to wake you up. If you just let me take off your bra, you can go back to sleep.”

A pair of drowsy green eyes blinked against the soft light and with a small frown Kyra took in her surroundings. When her eyes caught Emma’s she smiled and reached out a hand to touch her lover’s arm.

“We’re home,” she sighed with relief. “I’m sorry I fell asleep on you, Emmie.”

“You were exhausted,” Emma smiled at the way her lover used her family’s pet name for her. She cradled Kyra’s hand between her own and brought it to her lips.

“Has Simon been asleep all the time as well?”

“Yes, he must have been tired as well. My dad carried him in and put him to bed.”

“That was sweet of him,” Kyra yawned, before her eyes shot wide open and she cast an insecure look at her lover. “Did he¼ ?”

“No, I did,” Emma answered, not able to hide the little smirk on her face.

“Oh, you did? And I slept right through it,” Kyra sighed with a sleepy smile. “I might ask you to do that again, one day. I bet I’ll like that.”

“If you promise to give me a massage in return,” Emma quipped, flexing the tired muscles in her back.

“Deal,” Kyra groaned, pushing herself upright and swinging her legs over the edge of the bed.

“Where are you going?” Emma frowned.

“No matter how much I love you undressing me, you look absolutely beat, so I just wanted to change into that nice green shirt over there, and then make us a cup of tea, because I’m very thirsty. Then I want to brush my teeth, check up on Simon, get back into bed and snuggle up with you.” Kyra leaned in to give Emma a quick kiss, all traces of sleep vanished, although the little lines around her eyes showed Emma how tired she still was. Patting her lover’s denim clad thigh, she pushed herself up with a groan, aware of the aching muscles in her lower back that were a result of her awkward sleeping position in the car.

Picking up a dark-colored shirt she handed it to Emma with a tired smile.

“I like you in black,” she confessed, unsuccessfully suppressing another yawn. “It looks so darn sexy on you.”

In spite of her headache and weariness, Emma grinned and gracefully dipped her head in acknowledgment of the unexpected compliment. It was nice that Kyra seemed to be more relaxed. True, she still looked drained, and the usual sparkle was still missing from her eyes, but her body seemed less rigid and tense.

As if Kyra could read her mind, she turned to Emma and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.

“It’s amazing how much better I feel just by being back here,” she said wistfully. “Thank you, love. Do you want some chamomile tea?”

“Sure,” Emma smiled, a little absentmindedly. If Kyra would have suggested having a cup of hot water, she would probably have agreed as well. Her lover was showing an impressive amount of strength, and Emma’s respect and love for Kyra grew with leaps and bounds.

Pondering over the events of the day, Emma realized that Kyra had not once showed reluctance to show her pain and vulnerability completely. She had opened up without hesitancy, granting her lover the possibility to be there for her really. It was such a tremendous change from the woman Kyra had been when they had first met. She had been cautious, unwilling to let her guard down completely, afraid of being hurt.

If you ever needed more proof of her love for you¼ or trust¼

Emma smiled and donned the black shirt Kyra had pressed in her hands before leaving the bedroom. She knew there were tough times ahead, for all three of them, but Emma was absolutely sure they would be able to overcome anything Vivian LeJeune would throw in their paths.

 

 

 

The soft light that was filtered by the early morning fog made its way through the small window, illuminating a pair of sleepy, but pensive eyes that stared at the opposite wall, not seeing the antique dresser and mirror, nor the small painting of a peacefully grazing herd of cows.

The turmoil inside was clearly visible in the dark green orbs. The happy twinkle, that had only been there twenty four hours before, had been clouded over by sorrow and pain. But every now and then, a sharp look of contemplation chased away the dullness, and anybody who had ever seen Kyra Hartman conducting an intricate business meeting, knew that gaze. It meant she was working on solving a delicate or complicated problem. However, the accompanying bright flashes of anger and occasional narrowing of the eyes promised trouble. It rarely happened for a person was to be on the receiving end of Kyra’s fury, but when it did, it wasn’t pretty. Her staff had only experienced that once or twice, although each and every one of them immediately would admit their boss had been absolutely right in her actions. Kyra Hartman was very tolerant and it was hard to get on her bad side.

With a soft sigh Kyra closed her eyes, and tried to force her brain to focus on other things than what her mother had done to her, and what would be the best course of action to deal with her.

“Hitting her where it really hurts,” Kyra had told Emma. But exactly what would that mean?

I don’t want to think about that now. I need to relax and heal, before lashing out and doing something I might regret later. But that’s so incredibly hard. I so wish to¼ to¼ I want to hurt her as much as she has hurt me, Kyra admitted to herself, immediately feeling a shiver run down her spine. Can I be like her? Am I like her? I don’t want to hurt people, I don’t believe in that. But how can I ever deal with this in a normal, rational way? That’s impossible.

Emma’s body, that was spooned against her back in the most delicious way, pressed even closer, and a warm hand that, during the night had strayed underneath her shirt, started rubbing her stomach in slow, soothing circles.

Another hand came up and brushed Kyra’s unruly curls away from her face, making way for Emma’s lips, that softly kissed the side of Kyra’s neck.

“You are so tense,” Emma’s voice gently sounded. “I don’t have to ask what you were thinking about. Have you been awake long, honey?”

“I don’t know,” Kyra truthfully answered, covering Emma’s hand with her own. “I don’t think I’ve been awake all that long though.” She turned without breaking contact and looked up into a pair of loving blue eyes. Reaching out her other hand she drew Emma’s face closer and captured her lips in a soft kiss.

“Morning,” she mumbled against a soft mouth, feeling the muscles underneath her lips twitch, knowing Emma’s was smiling.

“Morning,” was the almost inaudible reply, since Emma was trying very hard to not lose herself in the loving contact. It was obvious Kyra had been pondering over the situation she was in, and she wanted to give her the space she needed to work things out.

Kyra didn’t make matters easier, when she pulled herself up and practically pinned Emma down to the bed with her warm, yielding body, while her lips never left Emma’s and a smooth thigh slid between her legs. A small whimper escaped from Emma’s throat and Kyra slowly lifted her head, her dark green eyes seeking a pair of indigo ones.

“Am I hurting you?” she whispered with a worried frown.

“Only in the most delicious way,” Emma croaked, wondering if Kyra would be able to actually hear her heartbeat.

Realization dawned and Kyra’s face flushed, but she didn’t move. She just brought her face closer and gently nipped Emma’s nose, letting her lips slide to a soft cheek, before placing small kisses on Emma’s chin, finally reaching the soft lips again and thoroughly exploring them.

Emma’s hands started a deliberate descent down Kyra’s back, slipping underneath her shirt and caressing the soft skin of her back, making her lover unconsciously press closer into the body underneath her, encouraged by the increasing pressure of Emma’s hands.

Their bodies began a slow dance that made their skin flush and increased their breathing, although neither woman was willing to break the loving caresses of their lips and tongues. Determined to kiss and breathe at the same time, their mouths occasionally lessened the pressure, allowing them to take in some much needed air without having to break the contact.

When the tantalizing movement of Kyra’s hips pushed Emma into a blissful moment of complete and utter pleasure, she softly cried out against Kyra’s lips. It didn’t take long for the body in her arms to stiffen as well, before slumping back down on top of her..temporarily, completely spent.

Emma’s arms tightened around Kyra’s body, while her lover nuzzled her neck with a contented sigh.

“I love you, Emma, especially since it was your idea to sleep in a t-shirt only. That leaves some real interesting possibilities.”

“So I noticed,” Emma smiled, kissing the side of Kyra’s head. “That was an unexpected, but absolutely wonderful way to start the day. Thank you, Kyra.”

Kyra softly snorted and playfully nipped Emma’s earlobe, making her lover chuckle, before pressing her face against the teacher’s neck, exhaling slowly.

“I think I¼ needed that,” she softly admitted and let out small chuckle. “It’s a great way to clear your head.”

“Mm, you’re right,” Emma smiled, patting her lover’s bare hip. “So it¼ cleared your head? Or did you already work through a whole list of things lying here awake in the dark?”

With a deep sigh, Kyra released her grip on Emma and slowly rolled off the warm body she had been resting on, immediately feeling the loss of her lover’s closeness. Propping up on her elbow, she studied Emma’s face, noticing the patient interest in the soft blue eyes that were locked with her inquisitive green ones.

“You know, I’m really happy to be back here,” Kyra started with a gentle smile, using her free hand to rub Emma’s stomach lovingly . “Yesterday I told you I needed some distance between myself and¼ my¼ mother,” she added with a wrinkled nose. “Yesterday I would have really¼ lashed out and probably made things worse. I can think¼ more clearly today. When I think about Rick’s confession to you, it still angers me, but I don’t think I’m as deeply hurt or infuriated as I was yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I’ll be able to put behind me in less than a day, but when I woke up a few hours ago, I started thinking about a lot of things and I came to an interesting conclusion.”

Kyra paused and sent Emma a wry smile, before scooting closer and resting her head on a conveniently close shoulder. Emma silently wrapped her arm around Kyra and rested her cheek on the unruly curls, patiently waiting until her lover would continue.

“For years, I have been fooling myself,” Kyra finally continued with a soft, but calm voice, testimony to the fact she had been doing a lot of thinking indeed. “I wanted Simon to have a grandmother, at least, that’s what I convinced myself of. Of course that was true, to a certain extent anyway. What I did though, on a subconscious level, was constantly seek my mother’s approval, while I knew it would be in vain, because she would only accept me on her terms, not mine. I guess that all those years of participating in maintaining an unhealthy relationship show I didn’t really like myself.” Kyra softly snorted and wrapped an arm around Emma’s chest, snuggling closer. “I think I figured out why I let that happen. Yesterday’s newsflash brought that home pretty clearly. I never regretted having Simon, not one nanosecond. From the first moment I found out I was pregnant, I wanted that baby. Terminating the pregnancy never even occurred to me. Of course, I was a little shocked at first,” she softly chuckled. “But when the dust settled, I knew I was in love with this little human who was growing inside of me. However, a little part of me realized my actions had been pretty irresponsible and my mother kept feeding those feelings, sometimes very blatantly, but mostly with her patented, snide remarks. After having been¼ emotionally ignored for years, I guess I wanted to prove to her I would be a good mother. So, that’s basically why I put up with all the crap she threw in my path. And maybe I was even hoping against hope that one day things would change. That was pretty ignorant on my part, because I behaved exactly like she wanted me to. I let her have all the power, foregoing my own feelings.”

Kyra moistened her dry lips and swallowed, realizing she was a little thirsty. Peering up she noticed the deep blue of Emma’s eyes enveloping her in a warm haze. It felt like a tender caress and she smiled.

“That was pretty¼ profound,” Emma finally responded after a long silence. “But your analysis sounds very solid and¼ true. I think you just hit the nail on its head, sweetie,” she gently complimented her lover.

Kyra pulled a face and stole a quick kiss, before resuming her position with her head pillowed on Emma’s shoulder.

“It was time for a little self dissecting, don’t you think?” she chuckled softly. “I can’t believe it took me so long to finally see that though.”

“I think I can answer that question,” Emma calmly stated. “It’s the kind of person you are, Kyra. You are a very compassionate, gentle woman and you’d forget about your own wants and needs in a heartbeat, in order to help somebody else. Your mother knows that and has been taking advantage of it for years. She’s probably so lost in her own little, perfect world that manipulating others is her only way to maintain that¼ self-created image. She has to hold on to it, because if she loses it, there will be nothing left for her. Your mother is the director of her own play. She needs to be in control, in order to hold on to the only safety she knows. Pretty pathetic if you ask me. And incredibly sad.”

“Wow, you just pictured my mother like she really is,” Kyra replied in awe. “Are you sure you’re a schoolteacher and not a psychologist?”

“What’s the difference?” Emma joked, making Kyra laugh, before she leaned in, kissing the corner of Emma’s mouth.

“You know, Emma, that first kiss we shared, last Friday, sure rocked my world. Do you realize that ever since that night our lives have been in turmoil? First we had the fire, then my dad and Albert ended up in the hospital, and then came the phone call from Rick¼ ”

Emma turned her head and shot her lover a lazy smile, while her eyes took in the familiar twinkle in Kyra’s eyes. She was relieved and happy to notice its return.

“So, do you think there’s something wrong with our kissing technique then?” Emma asked. “I mean, I like rocking your world,” she chuckled, wiggling her eyebrows. “But not like this, though.”

“Maybe we just need some more practice,” Kyra suggested with a sly grin.

Emma pretended to consider that remark seriously and she frowned, sucking in her bottom lip like she was deep in thought.

“Or maybe we shouldn’t kiss anymore,” she finally dead-panned.

Kyra’s eyes only widened for a split second, but then she mimicked Emma’s serious expression and she slowly nodded.

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” she answered in a serious voice. “I guess we could stop kissing for¼ well, I’d suggest at least a week, to see if there are any positive changes in our lives, instead of disasters.” She brought her face closer to Emma’s and their lips were almost touching. “Of course, if we want to approach this research in a scientific way, we might need more time and variables. So maybe we should quit¼ touching as well. What do you think?”

Emma’s face had not lost its serious expression, but Kyra could see a twinkle of amusement in her deep blue eyes, and inwardly she smiled. She was getting better at teasing and she thoroughly enjoyed the playful banter between them.

“I think that’s a great idea, Kyra. It will be very interesting to see what the outcome of temporary celibacy will be. I mean, just imagine the positive effects of not giving into primal urges. It will be a great way to do some serious character building. Feeling the warmth radiating off your body, being aware of the softness of your skin and how you taste and not touching¼ well, that will help me overcome my basic needs.” Emma calmly stated, suppressing the urge to laugh when she saw the darkening of Kyra’s eyes. “Of course I have my memories to help me through. I know how your lips feel on mine and I’ll never forget the sweetness of your mouth, especially when your tongue starts that sensual dance with mine. And I haven’t even¼ mph¼ ” Emma was interrupted by a pair of lips that captured hers in a determined and passionate kiss and she would have laughed, if she would have had the air to do so, but Kyra was ravishing her lips and very quickly all coherent thought disappeared, until only the feel of her lover’s lips remained.

Their kiss lasted long moments and when they finally had to come up for air, their faces were flushed, their pupils dilated and they were both breathing hard.

“You were saying?” Kyra asked with a faint chuckle, still trying to catch her breath.

“Nothing. Nothing at all,” Emma breathed.

“Good,” Kyra smiled. “Because I didn’t really like your suggestion.”

“Neither did I,” Emma grinned. “I love your kisses. They positively render me speechless.”

“That’s the intention,” Kyra smiled, gently pressing her lips against the band-aid that was covering the sutures in Emma’s eyebrow. “I’m so looking forward to the rest of our lives.” A mixture of anger and hurt suddenly crossed her face and with a deep sigh she rested her forehead against Emma’s. “First, I need to deal with my¼ mother. And Rick, of course.”

“Yes, you do,” Emma gently agreed, giving her lover a quick kiss. “But not on an empty stomach. What about breakfast?”

“It didn’t take you long to figure me out, did it?” Kyra smiled. “I have to admit I am hungry.”

“You didn’t eat much yesterday,” Emma replied, her eyes soft and warm. “So, why don’t you have a nice shower, while I make us some coffee? After we’re all dressed, we can either have breakfast here, or at the house. Your choice.”

Kyra looked at her lover and with a smile she raked her fingers through the soft, auburn hair.

“I was thinking that Simon might want to play with your nephews today. If he does, I’d like to take a long walk and talk things through. If that’s all right with you,” Kyra shyly suggested. “It’s not that I want to get rid of Simon, but I want him to have fun and I don’t want to subject him to¼ everything that is going on.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Emma smiled. “I know Hester and Irene were thinking about taking the kids to the ‘Dolfinarium’, to see the new dolphin show. I know they wouldn’t mind Simon’s company.”

“Simon would love that,” Kyra smiled. “Dolphins are his favorite animals. And goldfish, of course,” she added with a chuckle, thinking about her son’s pet fish, Fred.

Emma cast a look at the alarm clock at the night stand and suppressed a yawn.

“Well, it’s almost seven, so I’d better give my dear sister a call. I know they wanted to leave early.”

“Use my cell phone,” Kyra mumbled, rubbing her cheek against Emma’s shoulder, totally relaxed in her sprawled position on top of her lover. She could feel Emma chuckle and lifted her head to cast the teacher a quizzical look.

“If I want to use your phone, you’ll have to move, sweetie. I’m practically a captive here.”

“Mmm, you have a point,” Kyra answered, slowly rolling off Emma’s body. “But I want it to be noted that I don’t like it.”

“So noted,” Emma grinned, swinging her legs out of the bed and getting to her feet. She lazily stretched, not aware of the appreciative glance in a pair of green eyes, that twinkled with delight when her t-shirt rode up, giving Kyra an unhindered view of the back of her thighs and part of her bare bottom.

With a soft groan, Kyra pressed her face against her pillow, aware of her acute physical response to her lover’s half-clad body. She had to restrain herself from grabbing the back of Emma’s shirt, pulling her back in bed and ripping away the black fabric that was in between her hands and Emma’s skin.

Talking about primal urges, Kyra, a little voice in the back of her mind scolded. But Kyra couldn’t get rid of the delightful images that flooded her mind, and even though she was aware of Emma’s soft voice in the background, she didn’t hear a single word of her lover’s conversation with her sister. Only when a strong hand playfully tickled the back of her knee, she lifted her head and turned around.

“Hester will pick up Simon around eight o’clock,” Emma said. She cast her lover a puzzled look and a slow smile spread across her face when she noticed the dazed, unfocused expression in Kyra’s eyes.

“Oh, my, somebody is definitely aroused,” she gently teased, laughing when Kyra hid her face behind a pillow and let out a frustrated grunt. Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, Emma reached out a hand and lovingly patted Kyra’s leg. “I am truly flattered,” she said with genuine honesty. “And I do wish we had the time, but¼ I’m sorry, sweetie.”

Kyra pushed away the pillow and blew a curly strand of hair out of her eyes. With a rueful smile, she grabbed Emma’s hand and brought it to her lips, gently kissing the knuckles.

“Maybe later,” she sighed, squeezing the hand before letting it go and pushing herself upright. “We’ll stick to the plan. You’ll make coffee and I’ll have a shower.” She graciously rolled out of bed and shot her lover a sheepish smile. “A cold shower,” she added. “A very cold shower.”

 

 

Thanks to Kyra’s and Emma’s organizational talents, an hour later Simon was dressed, fed and on his way to the Marine Animal Park with Hester, Irene and their children. The little boy had been chattering non-stop, and Kyra had to remind him sternly to actually eat his food and not play with it, before he quickly wolfed it down, too enthusiastic to chew properly. After he had finished, Kyra had to drag him to the bathroom, so he could brush his teeth and when he had finally left with Hester and her children, Kyra had let out a deep breath, closing her eyes and slowly shaking her head.

“Tornado Hartman,” she mumbled, sipping her coffee, making Emma laugh. She shot her lover a wry smile. “How do you do it, Emma?” she asked, seeing the twinkling blue eyes.

“How do I do what?”

“Be a schoolteacher? Having twenty plus tornadoes in your classroom?”

“I stuff my ears with cotton wool whenever we have a school outing,” Emma grinned, with a wink in the direction of her mother, who was sitting across from them on the table. “It’s either that or drug the kids and I don’t think their parents would appreciate that.”

Kyra almost snorted out her coffee and coughed when a few drops took a wrong turn in her windpipe. Emma helpfully patted her back and looked at her with concerned eyes.

“That was your fault,” Kyra wheezed when she finally could talk again, wiping away the tears that had been rolling down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, honey,” Emma responded, quickly kissing Kyra’s cheek.

“Don’t be,” Kyra answered, taking a deep breath. “I love the way you make me laugh. It’s good for me,” she added with self-knowledge.

“All right, I appreciate that,” Emma smiled. “But next time, I’ll first make sure if you are sipping or chewing something, before I crack a joke.”

“That would be very considerate of you. Thank you,” Kyra smiled, taking another sip of coffee. Looking out the window she noticed that the fog had lifted and the sun was tentatively trying to peek through the remaining clouds.

“Is there a place around here where we could take a nice, long walk?” she asked, turning her head to look at Emma, who was sitting in the chair next to her.

“Are you kidding? This is Friesland,” Emma grinned. “You could walk your little heart out if you wanted.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Kyra mumbled, hearing Ann Altena chuckle.

“Do you like the sea, Kyra?” Emma’s mother asked.

“Oh, I love the sea,” Kyra responded with a sigh. “Can we go there, Emma?”

“Sure, honey, if that’s what you want,” Emma smiled. “I know a few quiet areas where we could walk for hours on end. It will take us about thirty to forty minutes to get there by car. If we leave within the next hour, we can have a nice stroll along the beach, and afterwards I’ll buy you lunch. How does that sound?”

“Absolutely divine,” Kyra smiled, reaching out a hand and grabbing Emma’s.

“Sounds just like something the doctor ordered.” She cast a look at her watch and exhaled. “First I need to call Sandy, though, to let her know I won’t be in this week.”

Kyra gave Emma a quick kiss and pulled her cell phone from her pocket. She speed dialed a number and leaned back in her chair, sipping her coffee.

“Hey, Sandy, it’s me, Kyra.”

“Hey, I was wondering where you were. You’re never late,” her secretary’s voice greeted her. “You’re not sick, are you?”

“Well, to be honest, I just wanted to let you know I’m taking the rest of the week off. But no, I’m not sick.”

There was a brief silence, and Kyra could almost picture the frown on Sandy’s face. Her secretary knew Kyra would never skip an important meeting without having a real good reason to do so.

Kyra heard the clicking of Sandy’s heels on the tile floor and the telltale sound of a door being opened and closed again. With a small frown she wondered why her secretary was walking around.

“All right, Kyra. Do you want me to cancel the meeting? If I start making phone calls now, I can probably stop a lot of people driving over here. And maybe¼ ”

“Don’t worry, Sandy,” Kyra interrupted. “Jazz is filling in for me.”

Another tense silence and Kyra heard the shuffling of paper.

“What are¼ ? She started, but this time it was Sandy’s turn to interrupt.

“Listen, Kyra. I know that you’ll have a good reason to take the rest of the week off, and even though I’m dying of curiosity here, I won’t ask,” she chuckled. “But I think you should know you had an unexpected visitor this morning.”

“That early?” Kyra dryly replied.

“Yes, she was already waiting here when I walked in. And she didn’t look happy.”

“Let me guess,” Kyra groaned, pushing her hair back from her forehead. “My mother.”

“Good guess, boss. That’s why I escaped into your office, so I can talk in privacy. I don’t think she knows I’m talking to you right now, although her eyes are shooting daggers at me.”

“I’m sorry, Sandy,” Kyra replied, genuinely feeling sorry for her secretary. She knew how her mother treated her staff. It had always been a constant source of friction between them.

“Don’t worry, boss,” Sandy cheerfully objected. “I’d love giving her the bad news about you not coming back this week.”

In spite of everything, Kyra chuckled and she could almost picture the smug look on her secretary’s face when she would tell her mother she had stopped by the office for nothing.

“All right, Sandy, I’ll leave that in your capable hands,” she smiled. “Don’t let her boss you around. You can reach me on my cell phone. I want all important things to be directed to Jazz, but if you think there’s something only I can handle you can give me a call and we can talk about it. Other than that, I am not available.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Sandy answered and Kyra could hear the smile in her voice. “Make sure you’ll get some rest, okay? Give Simon a hug from me and tell Emma I said ‘hi’.”

“I will, Sandy, thanks.”

“No worries, Kyra. And don’t worry about your mother. I can handle her.”

“See you next week then, Sandy.”

“Have a good week, Kyra.”

Sandy broke the connection and took a deep breath. Rummaging through the files on Kyra’s desk, she wanted to give the impression of looking for something, while she organized her thoughts.

She had witnessed the way Kyra had rapidly changed over the last few months, and even though she had never asked her about it, she knew her boss had fallen in love. And she knew exactly who the object of her affection was.

Involuntarily, Sandy’s eyes traveled to a framed picture on Kyra’s desk. It was a printout of the screen saver on her computer. Sandy smiled and hoped that Kyra and Emma had finally acted on the feelings they had for each other. She knew Vivian LeJeune would do everything she could to stop her daughter. Her early visit was testimony to that. But Sandy would do anything in her power to shield Kyra from the wrath of her mother.

Taking a deep breath, Sandy squared her shoulders and slowly walked back to her own little office, where Kyra’s mother was sitting on one of the chairs…immaculately dressed and looking as cold as ever.

“All right, let’s face Cruella,” Sandy softly muttered.
Chapter 16
There was hardly any wind, just a gentle breeze ,that was a nice addition to the unusually warm spring weather. Still, even the soft touches of the wind pushed the waves of the sea a little higher, rolling in and colliding with the barrier that separated the main land from the sea. The hinterland was flat with green, lush fields that had been protected by man against the raging waters for centuries. One hundred and twenty-six kilometers of dike snaked through the flat landscape, meticulously maintained to keep the inhabitants of the land safe.

Emma had taken Kyra to a quiet area where they could walk on top of the dike. The view to the south provided a beautiful sea of green pastures and scattered little villages, some of them located on man-made hills, an ancient protection against the sea. The north view was one of the Wadden Sea ,and now and then Emma pointed out some interesting views, happy to be able to share her love for the land with her lover.

The wind played with their hair and Kyra had to tighten the knot in the leather strip around her long curls, to prevent them from being loosened from their constricting confines.

Emma had wrapped her arm around Kyra’s shoulder and tried to shield her from the wind, but Kyra didn’t want any of that. She loved the feel of the salty air on her face. It gave her a tingling feeling of freedom, and with shining eyes she stared in the distance, where she could see the outline of one of the Wadden Islands.

“It’s beautiful up here, Emma,” Kyra spoke after a long, peaceful silence in which they both strolled over the dike, soaking up the peaceful beauty that surrounded them. “Thank you for taking me here. It’s really amazing, we live in such a tiny country and even though I have done quite some traveling, I’ve never been here before.”

“I know what you mean,” Emma mused, shooting her lover an affectionate look. “We tend to reach out for things that are far away, thinking that the distance we have to travel will make it all the more worth while, but, in the meantime, we miss all the beauty that is right underneath our noses.”

A pair of twinkling green eyes in a rosy face looked up at her with a small grin, and Kyra lovingly squeezed the waist she had her arm wrapped around.

“That is absolutely true, my sweet philosopher,” she replied. “Point taken. I guess I’ll need to readjust my future plans. Instead of taking you to Aruba to spend a few weeks during the summer vacation, we can just spend it here,” she teased in a light voice.

Emma laughed out loud, a sound that created interesting tingles in Kyra’s body and she dropped a quick kiss on the top of a dark, curly head.

“I’d love to go to Aruba,” she admitted. “But the truth is, I’ll be happy wherever we are. As long as you and Simon are with me.”

Kyra just smiled and stared at the sea, her eyes following two seagulls, gliding on the wind that carried their piercing cries inland. Her eyes watered a little when she stared at the horizon, trying to discern where the body of water met the endless sky. When she was a child, she had been fascinated by the phenomenon that it would be impossible to reach the horizon. No matter how close it sometimes seemed, it was always out of reach.

“I love the way you always include Simon,” she finally spoke in a soft voice, not aware of how wistful she sounded. “No wonder he loves you so much.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Emma answered, equally soft. “I love him, I really do.”

“I know you do. I am so lucky to have found you.”

“Funny that,” Emma smiled. “Here I am, thinking I was the lucky one.”

“You’ll make a great parent,” Kyra said, resting her head against Emma’s shoulder. “I’ ve never had any doubts about that.”

“I have the best roll models,” Emma smiled.

“I guess I don’t,” Kyra sighed with a sad expression in her eyes. “I mean, my dad and Albert are wonderful, but they have always been so far away. First they lived in Amsterdam and after that they moved to Aruba. I know they love us unconditionally, but the distance made things a little harder sometimes. And then of course there’s my¼ mother,” Kyra said, pulling a face. “It’s weird to call her that, you know. In my opinion, a mother doesn’t only give birth to a child, but also raises and nurtures it. She did give birth to me, but I can’t honestly say I feel nurtured by her. Not even remotely. When I see the way your parents love you, and your brothers and sisters and all those grandchildren, I just can’t help wondering why my mother could never do that.”

Emma didn’t immediately reply to Kyra’s comment. She could hear the sadness in her lover’s voice and thought it might be best to just let Kyra talk. She tightened her hold, and brushed her lips against her lover’s forehead in a gesture of silent support.

“When I was about ten years old, just after my parents’ divorce, I saved up all my allowance and put it away in a little box, that was hidden behind some books on the shelf. I wanted to save up, so I could run away. I wanted to find a family that would love me.” Kyra softly snorted and exhaled slowly. “That was probably very selfish. I know my dad, Albert and Jazz loved me.”

Emma lifted the hand that was tucked around Kyra’s shoulder and used her fingertips to lightly brush her cheek, immediately feeling Kyra lean into the contact.

“It wasn’t selfish,” she gently rebuked. “It sounds to me you were very lonely. You are a compassionate person, honey, I told you that before. You are very sociable and love to be around people. I have watched the way you interact with my family and even though, at first, you were a little overwhelmed, you handle them all in a very friendly, natural way. It makes me sad to think you were so lonely as a child. You should have been born into a large family, like mine.”

With a small smile, Kyra turned in Emma’s one armed embrace and gave her a quick hug, quickly pressing her lips against the surprised teacher’s cheek. When she pulled back she was rewarded with a happy grin.

“I’m not complaining, mind you, but what was that for?”

“Because I love you,” Kyra answered, stepping back to Emma’s side and wrapping her arm snugly around her waist again. “I would have loved to be a part of your family.”

“You are now,” Emma simply replied. “They have practically adopted you. This morning, Hester told me that if I didn’t look after you properly, she’d hunt me down, skin me and hang my hide over the fireplace.”

“Ouch,” Kyra winced. “I appreciate the sentiment, but she’d have to get through me first, though.”

“That’s the spirit!” Emma chuckled.

They continued their walk in silence and Emma mused how she had managed all those years without Kyra. Love was such a strange, but powerful force. It had altered her life in less than a day. The very first time she and Kyra had met, their future entwined, like strands on a loom, intricately woven until there was just one thread, seamlessly fused together.

“Of course, I never ran away,” Kyra continued her story. “I think I knew it wouldn’t work, so, as soon as I had saved up enough money, I bought a book and lost myself in heroic adventures. When I was reading, I was never alone.” Kyra let out a soft humorless laugh. “Of course my mother complained all the time about me sitting in my room, reading one book after another. But she never, ever asked me the reason why. It was always about her. What she thought, what she wanted, what her expectations were.”

Emma exhaled slowly and pushed back a snide remark about Kyra’s mother. It would not serve any purpose to show her feelings about her lover’s family. Kyra needed her to listen and support her, not vent her own frustrations.

“If she would have asked you why you were always in your room, reading, what would you have told her?” she gently asked.

“That I could create a world of my own when I was reading. That I could escape the real world and feel the love and warmth I craved so much,” Kyra immediately answered. “Even if it lasted only as long as the length of the story.”

Emma’s remarkable eyes turned another shade of blue when she glanced aside to Kyra’s pensive face. Even though her lover’s words had been calm, she could still sense the world of hurt Kyra had gone through when she was growing up.

“What were your favorite books?” she asked with a small smile, already suspecting the answer.

“Books about big families, with lots of children,” Kyra smiled, her green eyes soft and shiny. “And stories about orphans and runaways who found a new, loving family.”

“Somehow I knew you were going to say that,” Emma smiled, giving Kyra’s shoulder another squeeze. “Big families and lots of children, huh?”

“I always wanted a big family,” Kyra confessed with a shy glance at her lover, who didn’t look surprised, but just sent her a loving, gentle smile.

“How many?”

“Oh, my goodness,” Kyra chuckled with a faint blush. “About six.”

Emma didn’t answer, but when Kyra gazed up she noticed a raised eyebrow and a pair of twinkling blue eyes.

“Six, huh? Well, that means we’ll have five more to go,” Emma gently teased. “Of course we’d need to discuss suitable housing then as well. I mean, I really like your house and it would be big enough for a family of five, but I don’t think it be big enough for six rascals.”

Kyra grinned and felt almost giddy with happiness. Emma hadn’t brushed aside her desire to have a large family. Not that she had expected that to happen, since Emma was from a family with eight children. But it was good actually to have heard her say the words.

“How many did you want?” she asked, nibbling her bottom lip when she looked up at her lover’s relaxed expression.

“I always said I didn’t care, as long as there were more than three. So, I think six is acceptable,” Emma calmly answered.

“Good,” Kyra grinned. “I’m glad we got that settled.”

Looking at each other they both started laughing and they shared another warm hug, not caring if anyone could see them. But the dike was empty, except for the couple and, for a brief moment in time, they could pretend to be alone in the world.

Kyra wrapped her arms around Emma’s neck and pressed her lips against her lover’s in a slow, deep kiss that left the teacher breathing irregularly when she was finally released. With slightly dazed blue eyes, she looked into a pair of loving green ones and a slow smile spread across her face.

“I never really understood the concept of being ‘kissed senseless’ until you kissed me,” she confessed, moistening her lips and suppressing a grin when she saw Kyra’s eyes darken when she noticed the tip of her tongue. “Did you want to do that again?” she whispered suggestively.

Kyra swallowed hard and cast a look around. There was no one in sight. Not that she really did care if anyone would see her kissing Emma, but she didn’t feel the need to make a spectacle of themselves either.

“Oh, yes, I want to do that again,” she answered huskily, not waiting for Emma’s response, but immediately capturing those soft, warm lips again, losing herself in the enticing, loving caresses, that enveloped her in a warm, sensual haze.

It was a long time later, when they finally broke their embrace and shared a look of silent wonder.

“What you do to me,” Kyra sighed, pressing her forehead against Emma’s, willing her racing heart to calm down.

“I completely lose myself in you,” Emma replied with a shuddering sigh. “I think I am addicted to your kisses.”

“Good,” Kyra smiled. “Because there are a lot more where those came from. And they are all yours.”

“Oh, I really like that,” Emma smiled, still a little out of breath. “But since I possibly can’t just have my way with you on top of this seawall, we’d better take it easy. One more of those kisses right now and I’ll spontaneously combust.”

“Mmm…can’t have that happening,” Kyra answered in a teasing voice. “I’m sure there are environmental rules about that. We’d be polluting the Wadden Sea.”

“And create an ecological disaster,” Emma nodded, with a sly grin.

They both laughed and, wrapping their arms around each other again, they continued their slow walk, enjoying each other’s closeness and the quiet beauty of the nature that surrounded them.

They didn’t speak for a long time, content to soak up the sound of the rolling waves and the occasional seagull overhead. It was Kyra who eventually broke the silence.

“Honey, what would you say if I told you I’d like to call Rick?”

Emma shot a quick glance aside and took her time to ponder over her lover’s question.

“If that’s what you feel you should do, then I think it’s a good idea. May I ask you why you want to call him?” she gently asked.

Kyra bit her bottom lip, staring into the distance and trying to organize her thoughts.

“There are a few things I¼ need to ask him. Things I feel I need to hear from him. I¼ I really want to know more about those drugs my mother gave him. I want to know what she¼ told him about it.” Kyra glanced up at Emma and there was a mixture of shyness and anxiety in her eyes. “This might sound strange, coming from me, but Rick¼ he was never really more to me than someone I knew, an acquaintance, but I¼ I don’t think he’s the kind of person to come up with the idea of putting some GHB in a girl’s drink. I know he¼ took advantage of me and it’s not like I’m not angry at him for doing that, but Emma,” Kyra looked up again and her eyes were brimming with tears. “Involuntarily or not, he did give me Simon.”

Emma slowly nodded and reached out a hand, to brush away a tear tenderly that threatened to roll down Kyra’s cheek. For a long moment they just looked at each other, until Emma smiled a little sadly.

“I do understand that,” she softly responded. “I¼ don’t get me wrong, Kyra, what happened to you was simply horrible, but¼ I’m so glad we have Simon in our lives.”

Those words broke Kyra’s last resolve and, pressing her face against Emma’s shoulder, she silently cried. They weren’t just tears of hurt and sadness, but also tears of gratitude and relief, because of Emma’s readily given and unconditional love, support and understanding.

“All those feelings are so ambivalent,” Kyra sniffed after a while, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “Part of me is angry at Rick, for taking advantage of me like that, but the other part is¼ almost¼ grateful, because if it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have Simon. Does that sound sick?”

“No,” Emma immediately answered with determination. “It’s not sick. It’s absolutely understandable, honey, believe me.”

“Part of me even feels sorry for him,” Kyra softly admitted. “As far as I understand he and his wife can’t have any children. Rick will never know what it’s like to have a child of his own. He’ll never have a son of his own, like Simon.”

“When did you want to call him?” Emma gently asked, pressing a soft kiss against a damp, salty cheek.

“As soon as I can, I guess. I think the sooner the better.”

Emma nodded and pointed at Kyra’s pockets with a raised eyebrow, making her lover chuckle.

“Yes, I do have my cell phone with me. And yes, it’s fully charged,” she smiled, basking in the warmth that radiated from Emma’s eyes.

“No time like the present,” Emma replied. “Why don’t we sit down on that grassy slope over there? We’ll be in the sun and out of the wind.”

Kyra eyes followed Emma’s outstretched finger and she nodded in approval.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Sweetheart, of course I don’t mind. I am in awe with the way you’re dealing with all of this. All I want is to love and support you. I love you. There’s nothing more important in this world than the well-being of you and Simon. And my family’s, of course,” she added with a chuckle, making Kyra smile. “Come on, let’s sit down there. You can talk to Rick, while I hold you and study those beautiful cows over there.”

Kyra smiled through her tears and for the umpteenth time she sent up a silent prayer of gratitude. Having Emma in her life was such a blessing. She truly didn’t know what it was she had done to deserve such a loving, understanding and compassionate lover, but she was grateful just the same.

 

 

Bridget Peters cast a look at her husband and suppressed a sigh. Her eyes were filled with pain and sadness when she looked at the bent head. Ever since he had talked to Kyra’s partner, he had been quiet and withdrawn. Bridget knew that deep down inside he had been relieved at not having been able to talk to Kyra, but she knew he also realized that someday soon, he would not have a choice. Kyra would contact him and confront him with the past. And according to Bridget, she had every right to do so. No matter how much she loved Rick, knowing there was a world of difference between the man he was and the brash student he used to be, what he had done to Kyra was despicable. No woman should have to go through that. Ever.

But Bridget had let him talk. She had given him the opportunity to tell her his side of the story, realizing she owed their love and shared past at least that much, even though, at the time, she had not been convinced their relationship could be salvaged. But his heartache and grief had been real. Just like his feelings of deep self-loathing and guilt had been genuine. And when she had held her husband in her arms, rubbing his back while his tears soaked through the fabric of her cotton shirt, she had been able to reach down into that special place deep inside her soul, reserved only for him and she had forgiven him.

She had been right next to him on the couch, when his trembling fingers had dialed Kyra’s phone number, and it was her hand on his knee, that provided the anchor he needed to get through the conversation he had with Emma Altena, Kyra’s lover. Her arms had held him when the call had ended and Rick had collapsed, crying until there were no tears left and he had started dry-heaving violently.

He had been awfully quiet ever since. It had only been a day and Rick had not slept and could hardly eat. His guilt and shame were eating him up inside, while he restlessly waited for a call from Kyra. And Bridget hoped that Simon’s mother would not wait too long, not that she would blame Kyra if she did, but she feared for her husband’s health and knew he could not pick up his shattered soul and try to get on with his life, without having talked to Kyra first.

With a sigh that was close to a sob, Bridget cast a look at the plate on the coffee table. The sandwich she had made hours ago, was still untouched,

as was the tall glass of milk, usually Rick’s beverage of choice.

“Honey,” her soft voice broke the heavy silence. “Can I get you anything else?”

A pair of tired, hazel eyes looked up and Rick Peters slowly shook his head, only managing to muster up the faint shadow of a smile. He wanted to reassure his wife, but at the moment he didn’t know how. He felt like he was engulfed in pain and guilt, knowing it had been his own doing and the only ray of light was his wife, his courageous, beautiful Bridget, who had defied all logic and had chosen to stay at his side. Over and over again, she had proven to be his strength.

“No, thanks, Bridget. I’m fine,” his voice croaked and he quickly gazed away, so she didn’t have to see the tears in her eyes.

Lost in thought, Rick Peters stared at the phone that was lying on the table. It was still silent, and he knew it would most likely stay that way for a long time. Maybe Kyra would never call him. Maybe Emma had not even told her about their conversation and he honestly couldn’t blame her. If somebody had done to Bridget, what he had done to Kyra, he didn’t think he would be able ever to forgive that person.

Leaning the back of his head against the soft pillow of the couch he closed his eyes, wishing he could turn off the tormenting thoughts inside his head and have a rest… if only for a little while. But sleep was something that had been eluding him for a while now. It had become a luxury he could not enjoy. He had to live with his dark thoughts for days and nights on end.

Suddenly the piercing sound of the phone shattered the silence and Rick shot upright, staring at the device with wide eyes, filled with a mixture of hope and horror. His heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest and he clenched his hands into fists, willing them not to shake.

Oh, my God. What if¼ ? What if it’s her, Kyra? What do I say? What can I say?

Witnessing the near panic of her husband, Bridget quickly walked towards the table and picked up the phone to answer it. Hazel eyes, dark with fear, never left her.

“Bridget Peters,” her soft voice greeted.

There was a brief silence and listening intently, Bridget was certain she could hear the faint sound of breathing, while in the distance she thought she detected the far away cry of a seagull.

A voice was cleared and the intake of breath was audible now.

“Um¼ Hi, this is¼ Kyra Hartman. Could I¼ Is Rick there, please?” a warm, but hesitant voice sounded and Bridget let out a relieved breath.

“Yes, he is¼ Kyra. I’ll hand the phone to him. Just a moment.”

“Thank you,” was the soft, polite reply and Bridget was overwhelmed by the strong wave of sympathy she felt for the woman on the other side of the connection.

“Rick, it’s Kyra,” she said, settling on the couch next to him and handing him the phone.

Rick Peters took the device with both hands and he shook almost uncontrollably when he brought the phone to his ears.

“Kyra?” he rasped.

“Hello, Rick,” a tentative voice filled his ears and he bit back a sob, taking a deep breath to frantically try and calm himself.

There was a brief moment of silence, in which both Kyra and Rick were taking steadying breaths, supported by their respective partners, who were physically connected to them, to help them get through the next few minutes.

“Kyra¼ I¼ I don’t know what to say,” Rick finally managed to croak. “I’m so, so sorry. I¼ I can never¼ ever¼ put into words how badly I feel about it.”

“You drugged me and took advantage of me, Rick,” Kyra’s voice sounded. There was no hint of accusation, no anger, just a profound sadness and lack of understanding. “Why?”

Kyra’s voice was calm and controlled, but only Emma, who was sitting behind her, with her arms wrapped around her trembling body, knew how much trouble her lover had not to raise her voice in anger. Kyra really did want to understand and even Emma could hear how distressed Rick Peters sounded. The lawyer sounded like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“I wish I had a clear answer for you, Kyra,” Rick cried. “I¼ I was a coward. I should have¼ should have¼ stood up against her, I should have just¼ I wish I had told my dad, Kyra¼ I was¼ so¼ scared. I was a coward. But she had seen me and¼ Oh, God.”

This time Rick seriously started crying and with a helpless glance over her shoulder, Kyra turned into Emma’s arms, putting her head against her shoulder, with the phone still firmly pressed against her ear.

“He’s crying,” she whispered and Emma nodded, pulling the woman in her arms even closer and falling in love with her all over again, when a pair of green eyes looked up to her and a little voice said: “It sounds like he was one of my mother’s victims as well.”

Emma swallowed away the lump in her throat and for a moment she had to bury her face in Kyra’s curly hair to hide the tears that threatened to fall. The situation was emotional enough without her falling apart.

Kyra clamped down on her quivering bottom lip and pressed her face against the crook of Emma’s neck, while Rick’s uncontrolled crying still filled her ear.

“Emma,” she whispered. “This is not going to work. He’s just too upset.”

Emma raised her face from its hiding place and cautiously sniffed, not wanting to alarm her lover. Her watery blue eyes were caught by a pair of sad green ones and she reached out a hand to cup Kyra’s cheek.

“What do you want to do, honey?” she gently asked, noticing the wheels were already churning inside Kyra’s head.

“Maybe we should just¼ meet,” Kyra softly spoke, while a small frown creased her forehead. “Somewhere around here. Today. I want this done and over with as soon as I can. What do you think?”

Emma took a moment to think about Kyra’s suggestion and she had to admit it was a good one. Maybe if they could meet somewhere and have a talk, eye to eye, it would help both Kyra and Rick to deal with the situation better.

“It’s a good idea, sweetie,” she complimented her lover with a smile. “You might want to ask him.”

Kyra nodded and turned her attention back to her cell phone again. She could tell Rick was still completely lost and after a moment of debating with herself she cleared her throat.

“Rick. Rick, listen to me. I know this is hard and¼ You are very upset. Why don’t you hand the phone to your wife? I need to ask something.”

The background sounds indicated that the phone was handed over to someone else and after a few seconds Bridget Peters’ voice could be heard. It was thick with emotion and it was clear Rick’s wife was upset as well, but at least she was able to talk.

“Yes, Kyra?” I mean, if it’s all right for me to call you Kyra,” Bridget quickly added.

“Oh, yes, please, don’t call me Mrs., that reminds me of my mother,” Kyra spontaneously responded, with so much distaste on the last part it made Bridget smile.

“Listen¼ ” a little hesitation. “Bridget, this is not going to work. But I do need to talk to Rick. I’d like to meet him. As soon as possible. Do you think we can arrange that today?”

“Sure, no problem,” Bridget answered, reaching out a hand and putting it on top of Rick’s fidgeting fingers. “Tell me where and I’ll make sure he’ll be there.”

“We are back in Friesland. I know it’s a bit of a drive, but¼ .”

“That’s all right, Kyra. Don’t worry about it. Just tell me where and when.”

“I’ll ask Emma, since she’s a native,” Kyra gently joked and Bridget could hear the sudden warmth in her voice.

There was a brief, muffled conversation and when Kyra started speaking again, she sounded a little nervous.

“Umm¼ Emma suggested that a public place, like a restaurant or something, is probably not a good idea, since¼ well, since it’s going to be pretty emotional. Um¼ we can meet at the farm, where Emma’s parents live. There’s a little house behind it where¼ we’re staying there. We could talk there and we wouldn’t be disturbed. I’ll ask Emma’s sister if Simon can stay with them. I can pick him up later. I don’t want him to meet Rick. I hope you understand that.”

“Completely,” Bridget answered firmly, admiring the strength and courage Kyra Hartman was showing.

“Good,” Kyra responded with a hint of relief in her voice. “I’ll give you the address. If you can’t find it, just call my cell phone. I won’t hold it against you, because it’s a maze of farms out there.”

Kyra gave Bridget the address, having faith in the fact that Rick Peters’ wife would be capable of making sure her husband would show up at the arranged time.

“All right,” Kyra finally sighed, all of a sudden sounding very tired. “We’ll see you later then, Bridget.”

“Yes, you will¼ and Kyra? Thank you!”

 

With a deep sigh, Kyra switched off her cell phone and carelessly dropped it in the grass next to her. She was emotionally drained, and the obvious distress Rick had been in had not helped her to feel better.

“I feel sorry for him,” she softly spoke, leaning back against Emma’s chest, while stretching her legs in front of her. “How weird is that? Yesterday I wanted to just¼ hurt him as much as I could, but now¼ I don’t know, Emmie.”

“Want me to hurt him for you?” Emma asked with a touch of humor in her voice and Kyra chuckled.

“Would you?”

“I don’t think so,” Emma exhaled. “I’m not exactly the violent type. I resent him for what he did, but on the other hand, I can’t ignore the fact that without him there wouldn’t have been a beautiful, little boy called Simon.”

“I know what you mean,” Kyra admitted. “Talking about ambivalent feelings. I suppose there are no rules about this in that famous family rulebook of yours,” she added with a grin, surprising Emma with the unexpected gentle joke.

“Not yet, but after today we might add an amendment,” Emma quipped with slow smile.

Kyra laughed and snuggled a little closer to the warm body, that was practically wrapped around her. She felt happy and content in Emma’s arms and just wished they could stay where they were for the rest of the day, on the grassy slope of a long, quiet dike, facing the fresh green country laid out in front of them, with the sound of the sea in the background and the soft spring sun overhead.

Emma nuzzled her neck, placing soft kisses against her sensitive skin and Kyra closed her eyes, leaning back and resting her head on her lover’s shoulder. The pain and sadness of betrayal that had been so overwhelming the previous day, seemed to be reduced to almost nothing now, and Kyra smiled when she realized it was true what was being said about love: it was the most powerful emotion known to mankind. It could move mountains. Emma’s love for her was like a healing balm, liberally applied to the cuts and bruises on her soul and creating soft layers of protection against the pain and anger.

“I must be the luckiest person in the world,” she suddenly sighed and looked up at Emma with a happy smile. “I have Simon, I have you. Your family is just fantastic. I feel¼ I feel like a little balloon that has been almost empty for a long time, until all of a sudden it was completely filled with air and now it can just¼ soar up to the highest places.” Kyra chuckled and shook her head. “That must have been the tackiest thing I’ve ever said. But I meant it, anyway.”

Emma smiled and gave the woman in her arms a quick kiss on her lips, before pulling back and looking at her with a radiant smile.

“I think it was an original analogy and not tacky at all. In fact,” Emma tucked a lose curl behind Kyra’s ear. “I think it was very cute. And I’m very grateful you feel that way. All I want is to see you happy.”

“I am happy,” Kyra answered. “I’ve never been happier in my life and I think I’ve just come up with a way to deal with my mother.” She glanced up in Emma’s calm, gentle eyes and couldn’t resist placing a kiss on the tip of her lover’s nose. “I know she expects me to fly off the handle completely, be furious and in tears. She’ll expect me to be devastated and guess what?”

With an impish smile Kyra turned around in Emma’s arms and straddled her lover’s thighs, while the teacher’s arms automatically circled her waist.

“What?” Emma obediently asked with a smile.

“I’m not. Devastated, that is. Like I said, I’m happy. I’m not happy about her or about what she did to me, but if she expects me to behave like some¼ fire breathing wench, she’ll be disappointed. The best way to deal with Vivian LeJeune is to not give her what she wants. And I can do that,” Kyra calmly stated. “In more ways than even she can imagine.”

Emma looked into Kyra’s calm, but determined green eyes and slowly nodded, while she pondered over her lover’s words.

“It sounds like you have it all worked out,” she finally spoke with more than a hint of pride in her voice.

“Must have been the fresh air,” Kyra grinned, leaning forward to steal a quick kiss. “But I’m very serious about it, Emma. For years I’ve given my mother what she wanted, which gave her control over me. Those days are over.”

“Good,” Emma smiled. “I’m happy to hear that.”

“I’m still working on some¼ practical specifics, but as soon as I’ve figured those out as well, I’ll let you know,” Kyra promised. “It has to do with the business,” she added and Emma nodded.

“Fair enough, honey. Whenever you are ready.”

Emma cast a look at the sun to estimate the time, before glancing back into a pair of mischievous green eyes.

“What?”

“Don’t tell me you can tell the time by looking at the sun,” Kyra playfully teased.

“Sure I can,” Emma answered with raised eyebrows. “You mean, you can’t do that?”

“I’m a city girl, remember?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Emma nodded. “I almost forgot. But it’s not too late, there’s still hope for you, if you’ll let me teach you.”

Kyra nibbled her lower lip and clasped her hands around Emma’s neck, leaning forward and bringing their faces close together.

“Well, you are a qualified teacher,” she drawled, using her thumb to rub the back of Emma’s neck. “And I do have to admit that, up until now, the lessons you’ve been teaching me have been¼ very¼ valuable and absolutely intriguing. And let’s not forget to add¼ stimulating to that list,” she added in a suggestive voice, while her green eyes visibly darkened.

“Stimulating?” Emma repeated, very aware of her body’s response to Kyra’s words and closeness.

“Oh, yeah,” Kyra breathed, crossing the small distance and lightly touching Emma’s lips with her own. “Stimulating, exciting, arousing, sensual, seductive¼ do I need to go on?” she whispered against Emma’s lips, letting out a small chuckle when her lover softly moaned and quickly shook her head.

“Good, then kiss me.”

And Emma did just that, capturing Kyra’s lips in a passionate kiss and feeling her lover slowly press her down against the grassy slope, until she was lying on her back with Kyra firmly sprawled across her body and for a few precious moments the world stopped spinning.

 

 

 

 

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Vivian LeJeune’s cool voice sounded uncharacteristically agitated. “I just told you where to go and what to do. How complicated is that?”

Pacing back and forth between the window and her antique desk she raked her fingers through her hair, creating a disheveled appearance that was very different from her usual impeccable looks.

“Listen to me and listen carefully. I could turn you in with just one phone call and don’t think I wouldn’t do it. Your ticket to freedom is to do as your told and don’t ask any questions. Do you understand that?”

Walking towards the huge window, Vivian LeJeune glanced outside and frowned. She was desperate. There wasn’t much time left and, if she wanted to act, she’d have to do it as soon as possible. Especially since Roderick and Bridget refused to cooperate. She couldn’t believe them. How could they be so¼ naïve? Didn’t they know the kid could have been theirs, if only if they had listened to her?

“I’m only going to say this one more time, Goran, so you’d better pay attention. I gave you the address and yes, there’s no one home and there won’t be for at least another week. I want you to get inside and comb through everything. I repeat, everything, until you’ll have found something that I can use. An address, phone number, letter, a photograph¼ anything that will help me build this case. What?….No, that is the right address and the name is correct as well¼ Altena¼ Yes¼ I want you to get on it right away… and Goran? Don’t disappoint me!”

With a swift gesture of her finger Vivian LeJeune switched off the phone and, outwardly calm, deposited the cordless device on top of the coffee table. Her gray eyes were cold and determined when she stared outside.

She would make sure that the relationship between Kyra and that teacher wouldn’t last long. Even if it would take everything she had, she would stop them. She was convinced that, as soon as she had found something ugly about Emma’s past, she could convince her daughter to walk away from the teacher. It was all just a matter of time. She was sure about that.
Chapter 17
It was quiet in the little house. The coffee maker softly spluttered, fusing together fresh water and ground coffee beans into a fragrant, caffeine-rich drink. A freshly steeped pot of tea was kept warm on an electrical plate. It would have been a very homey scene, if not for the curly-haired woman nervously pacing the floor.

A pair of pensive blue eyes followed every little move, unbeknownst to the dark-haired woman, who felt like her stomach was tied up in ice cold knots.

“Kyra, honey, why don’t you come sit down for a moment,” Emma softly asked, reaching out a hand towards her anxious lover.

A pair of dark green eyes looked up and for a moment there was defiance in the dark colored orbs, but it was merely a flash that only lasted a brief moment. With a resigned sigh, Kyra nodded and walked towards the small, but comfortable couch, letting herself fall next to her lover, who immediately wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

“If I could take all this away from you, prevent you from having to go through it, I would. You know that, don’t you?” Emma softly asked, nuzzling Kyra’s neck.

“I do,” Kyra answered with a small smile. “And right now, I think I would let you. I don’t feel as tough anymore.”

“I’ll be here for you, sweetheart. I always will be. If things get to be too much, just let me know and I will end it, one way or the other.”

“You or your dad,” Kyra chuckled, remembering the look on Dirk Altena’s face when he had learned about the impending visit of Roderick Peters. “Your dad looked like he wanted a talk with Rick behind the barn. Or in a dark alley.”

“He’s very protective of you,” Emma smiled. “So is the rest of the family. I don’t know if you noticed, but all my brothers are currently visiting my parents.”

“Are they?” Kyra asked with wide eyes.

Emma nodded and pulled Kyra from the couch, walking to the window and pointing to the cars that were neatly parked in the yard, near the big barn.

“See that? They’re all here; Bart, Robert and Willem. And I know Imke and Neville are here as well, they hitched a ride with Willem and Sharon.”

Kyra swallowed hard and blinked a few times to get rid of the unexpected tears that were stinging her eyes. Of course, Jasper had been there whenever she had needed him, but the blatant affection and support from the Altenas was something completely new to her and it was almost overwhelming.

“But. . . they don’t know exactly what. . . ?”

“No, they don’t,” Emma reassured her lover in a gentle voice. “They don’t know what happened to you, only my parents do. But my brothers and sisters do know something happened and they also know Rick’s visit is both difficult and painful for you. So, they want to be around, just in case you need them.”

“You mean, they would be willing to pick up Rick and throw him in the ditch?”

“Yup,” Emma nodded with a smile.

“Oh, God,” Kyra whispered, not knowing whether she should laugh or cry. “How can I ever leave this place and go home again?”

Oh, honey, if I could stay here, I would. I really would. In a heartbeat. . .

Emma didn’t answer that question. Not because she didn’t want to, but more because she didn’t know how. She had moved away from her family to start a new life and that move had paid off, because she had met Kyra and wherever her lover was, that was home. Of course, deep down inside, she would love to move back to Friesland again, get a teaching position and live close to her family. But she wasn’t alone anymore. She had a partner and a child to take into consideration. That alone made up for being away from her family. It was more than she had ever dared to hope for.

“What time is it?”

Emma glanced at her watch and was about to answer her lover when a dark colored BMW came driving up the yard and stopped outside the barn. The barely audible whimper from her lover was indication enough as to who had just pulled up in front of the little house and Emma quickly wrapped an arm around Kyra’s waist, pulling her close and softly kissing her forehead.

“Want me to go outside and. . . .?”

“No, I’ll go,” Kyra softly interrupted, pressing her lips against Emma’s in a quick kiss, but lingering a little while as if seeking some more strength and courage. “I can do this,” she added in a firmer voice, cupping Emma’s cheek and shooting her lover a loving glance.

Before she could change her mind, Kyra had turned around and purposefully strode towards the front door, which she opened with a gesture that revealed more self-confidence than she felt.

Her eyes settled on the sleek car and, taking in a deep breath, she waited for the doors to open. She didn’t have to wait too long. The door on the driver’s side was opened and a petite, blonde stepped out of the car. When her eyes fell on Kyra she hesitated for a brief moment, before walking around the car and opening the door on the passenger side.

Kyra nervously glanced at the farmhouse and she almost started giggling when she noticed Emma’s brothers and Neville stand in front of the kitchen window. She knew it only would take one gesture from her to make them rush out and, even though she knew she did not have to do that, it still filled her with warmth and affection. Her eyes caught Neville’s and with a slight smile she dipped her head, letting him know she had seen them and appreciated their presence. Her reward was a blinding smile and she softly chuckled, all of a sudden feeling a lot better already.

Bridget Peters had opened the door on the passenger side and Kyra watched Rick’s tall frame enfold. With a calm detachment she noticed he hadn’t changed much over the years. He had filled out his tall, slender frame a little, but she decided that looked good on him. His thick hair was still cropped short, which gave him a boyish look and his face would have been handsome if it had not been for the dark circles underneath his eyes that made them look hollow and a lot older than he really was.

I wonder if Simon will look like that twenty five years from now. . . Mmm. . . I guess he could do worse. . .

A warm presence made itself known at Kyra’s shoulder and gratefully she leaned back, feeling Emma’s hands settle on her hips, giving her an encouraging squeeze, while a pair of soft lips grazed the top of her head.

She is staking her claim! How adorable. . . Kyra thought, almost feeling giddy with the flush of happiness that invaded her senses.

Closely observing the tall man and blond woman who were slowly making their way towards them, Kyra noticed Rick Peters was incredibly nervous and even though a part of her felt slightly vindicated by that knowledge, another part couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.

The couple stopped a few paces in front of them and there was a brief silence, before Kyra stepped forward, her hand extended towards Bridget Peters.

“Hi, you must be Bridget. I am Kyra and this is Emma,” she introduced her silent lover, who was still standing close behind her.

A pair of pale blue eyes lost their skittish, almost haunted look and were suddenly filled with warmth, when Bridget looked at the striking couple in front of her.

“It’s nice to meet you, Kyra. And you too, Emma,” she said and they could hear she genuinely meant it.

Reaching past Kyra, Emma extended her hand and greeted the blonde with warmth. When her dark blue eyes traveled to Rick Peters, they visibly cooled and the tall man flinched when he saw the glance that was sent his way.

As if feeling what was happening, Kyra reached behind her and grabbed Emma’s left hand, gently squeezing it before settling it back on her hip.

Take it easy, love. . .

“Hello,Rick,” she greeted the man she had seen last when he had been forced to propose to her, almost six years ago.

“Hi, Kyra,” Rick nervously greeted, his eyes darting from Kyra to Emma and back again.

“Come in,” Kyra invited, gesturing towards the door and stepping aside, pulling Emma with her. “Take a seat. Do you want some coffee? Or maybe tea?”

Bridget Peters softly answered and Kyra turned to Emma, giving her hand another squeeze.

“Would you please help me to take care of that, honey?” she gently asked, with an amused sparkle in her eyes. “Coffee for Rick and you, tea for Bridget and me?”

Emma managed to smile and she nodded, almost grinning when she saw the tiny wink Kyra sent her. If she had been worried about her lover, she now knew it was not needed. Her lover could really look after herself and Kyra looked like the calm, business woman she usually was during office hours.

As soon as the hot beverages were distributed, Kyra leaned back into her seat and studied the tall man who was seated across from her. Rick was sitting next to his wife and Kyra’s keen eyes had noticed he needed her close presence, because she had never seen him as nervous and anxious before. Of course that had forced Emma and her to sit apart, something she didn’t welcome, but somehow she didn’t think it would be appropriate to squeeze into the same chair with her lover, snuggling up together…not yet anyway.

Involuntarily, her eyes traveled towards the woman who was currently occupying her thoughts and she was immediately swept up in the warm blue shades. Kyra couldn’t help but smile when she noticed Emma’s glance. Even though her lover was sitting at least three meters away, out of reach, she still managed to make Kyra feel warm and so loved. . .

After Kyra had taken a few sips of fragrant tea, her eyes slowly traveled towards Rick and she gently cleared her throat. Not known for pulling punches in business meetings, she directly addressed him.

“What happened, Rick?”

Rick Peters had known Kyra for quite a few years and even though in private meetings she had always been a little quiet, almost subdued, he knew she could also be brutally honest and direct if she needed. He knew she was referring to that party, almost six years ago and for a moment he cast down his eyes to get away from her firm stare.

Rick Peters took a deep breath and was aware of Emma’s eyes that were focused on him with an intensity that almost made him squirm in his seat. He took another sip of coffee, before putting the mug on the coffee table and clasping his hands together. Slowly he lifted his head and finally met Kyra’s eyes. He could almost feel his wife hold her breath.

“I take it you want to hear the whole story?” he asked, surprised at how steady his voice sounded.

“Please,” Kyra answered calmly, her dark green eyes never leaving his face.

“A couple of weeks before that. . . party, your mother was visiting my parents and she asked me if I had asked you to come as my date.” Rick took a deep breath and swallowed hard. “I told her ‘no’. I mean, I liked you, you were always a nice girl, although. . . a little quiet maybe, but. . . um. . . well, you were real pretty and I know a lot of guys wanted to take you out,” he quickly added, shooting a nervous glance at Emma, who glared back at him with a frosty look.

“Anyway, like I said, I told her I didn’t ask you, because, well, I knew you weren’t the partying type and you weren’t exactly interested in me anyway. She didn’t push, which afterwards must have been a clear warning. A few days later, she called me and told me I should take you to the party. I was really. . . surprised. . . I mean, what was it to her if you and I went to some silly party? I was. . . um. . . I guess I was a little annoyed. I know my mother and your mother wanted us to. . . well. . . hook up together, but I didn’t see that happening.” Rick cleared his throat again and sent a quick look aside, to where his wife was quietly sipping her tea. Her blue eyes looked calm, but he knew about the turmoil inside. She knew what he was going to tell, but that didn’t make it easier for her to hear his pathetic story.

“Like I said, I was annoyed with your mom and I guess she picked up on that. She started making. . . threats, I guess. Um. . . ” Rick raked his fingers through his short hair and looked as uncomfortable as he felt. “She. . . she knew I. . . I. . . had been doing drugs, nothing major, but I did smoke the occasional joint and. . . and. . . I did try something stronger as well. Somehow she knew that,” he added somberly. “She threatened to tell my dad. But. . . that. . . my dad didn’t know and I wanted to keep it that way. If he’d known his only son was using drugs, it. . . it could have affected his career and. . . and. . . I just felt trapped. So, I told your mother that even if I’d ask you, you’d say ‘no’ anyway, but then she said she’d take care of it.”

Rick’s eyes caught Kyra’s and she could see the pain in its depths.

“I was a coward, Kyra. I was afraid and took the easy way out. So I said I’d take you to the party, if you’d come. Then she. . . she. . . she. . . told me to make sure you would relax. She would give me some. . . stuff. . . to help you relax and have a good time and she told me I was welcome to take some as well. I was curious and I did. I also put some in your drink, because it was supposed to work really well like that. You wouldn’t notice and I thought. . . well. . . I didn’t expect there to be any problems. But there were,” he added in a soft voice, filled with shame. “You passed out. I guess I gave you too much, or maybe you just had a strong reaction to it. It’s not like I remember,” he said in a bitter voice, full of self reproach. “I did drink too much and I took that. . . stuff. When you passed out, you scared me and I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable, so. . . I carried you to. . . I carried you upstairs. I. . . I didn’t mean to. . . I don’t know what happened. . . Oh, God, Kyra, I am so, so sorry.” Rick groaned, covering his face with his hands. “Later I found out that taking GHB can cause. . . uninhibited actions. Don’t get me wrong, I was responsible for taking the stuff and it was me who gave it to you. It was I.”

Kyra took a deep breath and tried to focus on one thought at the time, which wasn’t easy, because of the turmoil inside. After her brief conversation on the phone, she had suspected that her mother had been involved in more ways than she had initially thought and Rick’s story had just proven that to her. The fact that her mother had basically blackmailed Rick didn’t sound alien to her at all. She knew what her mother was capable of. But instead of filling her with hurt and rage, like the previous day, it now provided her with a cold determination to make sure, once and for all, her mother would find out she had gone too far.

“So, my. . . mother basically blackmailed you. You had to do as you were told, or she’d tell your dad about your drug abuse?”

Rick flinched visibly, but he nodded slowly. He felt sick, knowing his past behavior had been despicable and absolutely irresponsible.

Bridget cast a look at Kyra and was amazed at her calm demeanor. If it had been her, she knew she would have thrown a tantrum that, at least would have caused a major fall out. Her respect for Kyra just kept growing and a quick look at Emma taught her the auburn woman was in awe of the young VP as well.

There was a long silence in which Kyra slowly sipped her lukewarm tea, while her eyes held a pensive expression. They finally traveled to Emma and were caught in a warm embrace of blue. Her green eyes warmed and for a moment the rest of the world faded out. Emma knew her lover was pondering over something and she was curious about the direction Kyra’s thoughts had taken. Losing herself in the dark green stare, they shared a wordless conversation. With a small smile Emma nodded, indicating her lover she had full confidence in her ability to handle the situation and Kyra answered her with a loving smile, before focusing her attention back on Rick again.

“I know you are sorry, Rick,” she finally broke the silence, slowly exhaling. “I can just. . . see it and hear it. I believe you’re telling the truth about my mother’s involvement. . . ” she softly snorted. “It sounds like her all right. It’s. . . hard for me to. . . accept the fact that you took advantage of me, though. I know you were under the influence of drugs, which probably explains a lot in itself, but you were the one taking the drugs. And you were the one slipping them into my drink. I believe you knew exactly what you were doing, since you used drugs before. You were aware of the dangers. You could have killed me, Rick,” Kyra added in a soft voice, with just a hint of anger. “I know you didn’t want your dad to know about your. . . bad habits, because it could have damaged his career, but it pains me to hear I was just a. . . means to an end. It’s a lonely feeling, Rick, to hear I was worth nothing, nothing at all.”

Pushing back her long, curly hair, Kyra took a deep breath and leaned forward to place her empty glass on the table. She cast another glance at Emma and mustered up a small smile.

“There’s one good thing about this whole. . . sad history,” Kyra continued. “To me it proves that every negative thing has a positive side as well. Your irresponsible behavior gave me Simon and he is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I was so angry with you yesterday, Rick,” Kyra said with honestly, while her voice slightly quivered. “I was furious and had I talked to you on the phone yesterday. . . well, just be glad it was Emma who answered the call. But no matter how upset I was, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I have Simon and, amazingly enough, the thought of my son constantly deflates my anger. I will never thank you for him, because you don’t deserve that. But I am grateful he’s in Emma’s and my lives. I’m sure you can understand that.”

Rick slowly nodded his head and again he raked his fingers through his short-cropped hair. When he looked up, his face had lost its sickly paleness and even his eyes looked a little livelier. Finally getting rid of the burden that had weighed him down for such a long time had given him much needed relief.

“I’m sorry, Kyra,” he croaked again.

“I know,” Kyra nodded. “And that’s why I’ll ask you to do something for me.”

His hazel eyes looked up in surprise and Kyra suppressed a grin. Rick looked positively astounded.

“You’re one of those hotshot lawyers, aren’t you?” she asked with a small grin, seeing the hint of a smile appear in his eyes, instantly making him look younger and less troubled. He nodded.

“Good, I need some advice on how to deal with Vivian LeJeune,” Kyra calmly announced. “In a business way, of course. I want to see how much I can cut her loose from Heart’s Choice. Cutting her loose from my personal life is something I can handle myself. But I need some watertight legal advice. I want to hit her where it hurts most, in her bank account. And I need a written statement from you, signed and notarized about what happened at that party. Including my mother’s clear role in it all. It’s about time she finds out she can’t keep her hands clean all the time.”

Rick’s eyes had widened a little, but when Kyra’s words sank in, his well-trained brain kicked back in gear and he slowly nodded. He understood what Kyra wanted and in his mind he already considered her request from different angles, glad he was being distracted from his pain and guilt, if only for a little while.

“Do you think you can get access to your parents’ divorce papers? I mean, I know your dad had a business when they divorced and I’m sure he provided a nice arrangement for your mother, but when did he start his current business, Heart’s Choice?”

“A few years after he and. . . after they split up,” Kyra answered. “I think I was. . . twelve years old.”

Rick slowly nodded and rubbed his eyes in a tired gesture.

“Your dad used to own a hotel in Amsterdam, right?”

“Yes, he inherited it from my grandparents, but he sold it when he started Heart’s Choice.”

A pair of dark green and hazel eyes locked and two keen business minds connected. In spite of the situation, Rick felt a laugh bubble up inside, but he didn’t know whether it was just Kyra’s sharp intellect, or an outlet for the stress he had been under lately. He didn’t dare to let it out though, but Kyra noticed the sudden twinkle in his eyes and she smiled.

“So, do you think what I think? Can it be that simple?” she asked with barely veiled excitement.

“I’ll need to see the official documents, but yes, I think what you are thinking: there’s a possibility your dad paid your mother a lump sum after the hotel had been sold. But even if he didn’t, and even if he paid her a monthly or annual amount, I don’t think your mother has any rights when it comes to Heart’s Choice.”

“Knowing dad, he might have just kept paying her because business was going great and he felt he owed her. Knowing my mother, she would have preyed on that, because it would have increased her bank account considerably, especially after dad could stop paying child support for Jazz and me.”

“Don’t you think that if. . . you’d tell your dad about. . . about. . . what I did and your mother did to you, he’d stop any payment that goes her way?” Rick hesitantly asked, knowing that if Kyra would go through with her plan, Vivian LeJeune would most likely be absolutely enraged. The thought alone made him shiver.

“I really don’t want to involve my dad,” Kyra calmly answered. “I mean, I know that eventually I’ll have to tell him, but not now. First, I want to find out what the possibilities are. If our. . . hunch appears to be true, I’ll ask him to stop the payments.”

“Maybe she blackmailed him as well,” Bridget’s soft voice suddenly sounded unexpectedly.

Kyra’s head shot up and, with startled eyes, she watched the petite woman on the couch squirm a little under her scrutinizing glance.

“Is there a reason for you to think that, Bridget?” Emma gently asked, seeing the wheels churn almost painfully inside her lover’s head.

“Well, actually. . . ” Bridget took a deep breath and shot Kyra an almost apologetic look. “I’ve spend quite some time with my mother-in-law and since she and Vivian are friends, I’ve seen them together lots of times. They talk a lot about. . . everything that has to do with money and. . . status. It always kind of bothered me when they talked about Vivian’s ex-husband, because. . . .” Another hesitant glance at an intently listening Kyra. ” Because they always sound so. . . condescending and. . . smug whenever they discussed Norbert Hartman and his partner. I. . . I never gave it much thought, until now, but. . . ” Bridget raised her eyes and Kyra could see the compassion in her pale blue orbs. “I remember Vivian telling Margaret that she had the power to ruin her ‘ex’s little family empire.’ She’d only have to make a few phone calls to the Middle East and South America and Heart’s Choice would be in a world of trouble.”

There was a brief silence and Rick wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulders and gave her a loving squeeze.

“Although a remark like that is absolutely nasty, it doesn’t prove a thing, honey,” he gently said.

“I know,” Bridget sighed, leaning into the one armed hug. “But she also said she made sure to remind Norbert regularly of that little fact.”

That made Kyra suddenly jump up and walk towards the tiny kitchen, where she rested her hands on the counter, leaning the top of her head against the door of one the cabinets, taking deep breaths to push away the anger that had just taken over. Bridget’s words had caused an internal explosion of rage and Kyra desperately fought for control, not willing to give in to fury she could feel burning inside.

How dare she? How DARE she?

Kyra didn’t question Bridget’s words, because deep down inside she knew they were true. She had seen the cold, calculated things her mother had been capable of in the past and she didn’t put threatening her father past her, either.

With a sickening clarity, a few things clicked in place and Kyra pressed her hand against her mouth when she was assaulted by a wave of nausea. A small whimper escaped her throat and Emma, who had forced herself to give her lover some space to regain her composure, suddenly stood up and with a few long strides was standing behind Kyra. She didn’t care if they had an audience, Kyra needed her and she would be there for her.

Wordlessly she wrapped her arms around Kyra’s rigid body and pulled her backwards, against her chest. For a brief moment she could feel her lover stiffen, but then Kyra relaxed and let out a shuddering breath, while she rested the back of her head against Emma’s shoulder. They stood like that for a few minutes and gradually Kyra’s heartbeat slowed down, while the hot tendrils of fury burnt down to glowing embers.

“Thank you,” Kyra finally whispered.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for grounding me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being my rock and anchor. Thank you for being my Emma.

“Anytime,” was the equally soft reply. “Is there anything else I can do right now?”

“Except for helping me to commit a murder? No, I don’t think so,” Kyra sighed, slowly turning around in Emma’s arms, to pull strength from the love-filled eyes that held so much compassion. “Just love me,” she added, barely audible.

“Always,” Emma promised, reaching out a hand and brushing her fingertips over a warm, soft cheek.

“I have two best days in my life. The first one was when Simon was born, and the second one when I walked into your classroom,” Kyra smiled, feeling the last remnants of anger dissipate in the loving blue that was sent her way in abundance. “Come, let’s go back inside.”

Hand-in-hand they walked back inside, and Kyra shot Rick and Bridget an apologetic smile when she sat back down into her chair. To her delighted surprise, Emma didn’t return to her own seat, but perched on the armrest of Kyra’s chair, with her arm still settled around her lover’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Kyra. I didn’t mean to upset you,” Bridget said with a slightly troubled look.

“No need to feel sorry, Bridget. I’m glad you told me, because it will make things a lot easier, won’t it Rick?” Kyra directed her attention back to the lawyer.

Rick Peters nodded and hesitantly smiled, reaching out a hand and covering his wife’s fidgeting fingers with his own.

“Yes, it will. It sounds to me like you should try to get your dad to write down a statement as well, Kyra,” his deep voice suggested, while Kyra nodded. He knew she had already figured that out. “Between my statement and Norbert Hartman’s, your mo. . . Vivian won’t know what hit her.”

Emma unconsciously rubbed soothing circles on Kyra’s back, aware of her lover leaning into the touch and putting her head against her shoulder. They formed a striking couple and Bridget and Rick exchanged a small smile. It was obvious the two women were deeply in love with each other, and a person had to be blind not to see that, and smile.

For a brief moment, Kyra closed her eyes and soaked up the love and warmth that were radiating from Emma. With a small smile she realized that, no matter how bad she felt, whenever Emma was physically close, it was like her presence filled her with an energy that seemed to chase away all negative thoughts and feelings, and leave only warmth and peace.

That must be what real love is like, this feeling of. . . belonging, of being home, no matter where we are. . . the three of us. . .

Kyra slowly blinked and cast a look at Bridget Peters, who was sipping her now lukewarm tea, and staring at the table with a pensive expression. The expression on her face was a mixture of sadness and longing, and Kyra knew for a certainty what was on the petite blonde’s mind.

How horrible it must be for Rick’s wife to know she would never be able to have a child of her own, while realizing her husband had a child with another woman, but had refused to acknowledge it as his own, thus losing his parental rights. And still Bridget supported Rick for a hundred percent. The love she felt for the tall man was obvious, bur Kyra realized she had to be a very strong person, yet gentle and forgiving, to be able to stand by his side after learning what he had done in the past.

Her respect and admiration for Bridget Peters skyrocketed and she felt a stab of pain when she understood that, in a drug hazed moment, Rick Peters had given her something, he could never share with his wife, whom he obviously loved deeply…a child.

What bitter punishment.

As if she could feel the intensity of Kyra’s stare, Bridget suddenly looked up and her pale blue eyes met a pair of troubled green ones. For a long moment, the two women stared at each other, until Bridget Peters cast down her eyes. But Kyra had noticed the hesitancy and patiently waited for the other woman to speak.

Clearing her throat, Bridget cast another look at Kyra and then glanced aside at her husband. She took in a deep breath and turned her gaze back to Kyra, and this time there was a clear, almost shy longing in her friendly eyes.

” Kyra, I…do you think it’s…Rick and I would like to see a picture of Simon,” she softly spoke, while her eyes never left Kyra’s. ” I understand if you don’t feel comfortable with that, I really do. It’s just that…maybe one day…”

For a brief momen,t Kyra debated with herself. If she would do what her heart and compassion told her to do, would she hurt Rick and Bridget even more? Especially Bridget, would she be able to handle it? Life could be so cruel sometimes and Kyra realized that, in spite of the way things had gone in her life, she had been blessed. She had seen the barely veiled pain and disappointment on both their faces when she had mentioned Simon before, and told them she would never thank Rick for giving her a child.

Glancing up at Emma, she effortlessly caught her eyes and she smiled when her lover’s finger traced the curve of her eyebrow in a playful, but loving gesture.

What would Emma advice?

Kyra’s smile deepened and she slowly nodded when a little voice in the back of her mind immediately answered the unspoken question. And it felt right, and just.

Follow your heart. . .

Grabbing Emma’s hand and firmly entwining their fingers, Kyra leaned a little closer against her lover, before glancing at Rick and Bridget, who both seemed to be deep in thought.

” I hope it…I hope it won’t add to your pain, but yes, I’d like to show you a picture of Simon,” Kyra answered with a warm smile.

Kyra could hear Emma’s soft intake of breath and a gentle hand lovingly squeezed her shoulder.

Rick’s head jerked up and his eyes flew open, while Bridget pressed her hand against her mouth, suppressing a sob.

“You don’t want to add to our pain?” his voice was hoarse with emotion. “Kyra, how. . . how can you. . . treat me like this, after what I’ve done to you? I. . . I don’t understand. . . I don’t deserve that,” he added in a whisper.

Kyra noticed the tears in Bridget’s eyes and her heart went out to Rick’s wife. No woman should have to go through the pain that had been cast her way. Oh, the cruelty of life. And yet, Bridget seemed to bear it all with dignity and grace and, with a wistful smile, Kyra realized that one day, Bridget would make a great parent.

“I’m not the vindictive type, Rick,” Kyra answered. “Besides, my mo. . . Vivian LeJeune spews enough hatred and anger around, without me adding to it,” she added with a hint of wry amusement in her voice.

Rick and Bridget exchanged a look, before simultaneously turning their gazes back to Kyra.

“We’d love to see a picture of Simon,” Bridget smiled wistfully.

“There are some pictures in my purse, I’ ll get them,” Kyra smiled back, reluctantly leaving the warmth of Emma’s closeness and stood up to retrieve the purse, she had left in the bedroom.

As soon as she had gone, Emma practically jumped up, hastily mumbled an excuse and followed her lover into the bedroom.

Kyra didn’t know Emma was right behind her. Deep in thought she had opened her purse and pulled out a leather wallet that held a few, recently taken pictures of her son. When she turned around to walk back to the living room again, she was unexpectedly scooped up into a pair of strong arms. Before she could even make one sound of surprise or protest, a pair of warm lips descended to rob her from all speech.

Kyra quickly recovered from her initial surprise. Her arms slid around Emma’s neck and she enthusiastically deepened the kiss, aware of the pounding of her heart and the rush of blood through her body.

When they finally came up for air, Kyra stifled a giddy chuckle and used her thumb to trace Emma’s moist lips, while she looked up at her with shining eyes.

“What was that for?” she breathlessly asked.

“Because you are the most amazing person I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Because you must be the most compassionate, strong woman I know. And because I love you,” Emma panted.

“Well, if all those things earn me kisses like this, who am I to argue with you then, huh?” Kyra smiled. “But, no matter how much I’d love to continue this. . . um. . . conversation,” Kyra winked, making Emma smile. “I guess we’d better go back to our guests, before I give in to my, what did you call them this morning? Primal urges?”

Emma laughed and released her hold on Kyra’s body, not able to resist stealing another quick kiss.

“I think you have a point there, my love. One more kiss like that and I can’t possibly be held responsible for my actions.” Emma smiled and turned around to head back to the living room, but a hand on her arm stopped her.

“If those actions would involve me and you, naked, first in the shower and then in that comfortable bed. . . kissing, touching, making love for hours on end. . . then hold that thought, will you?” Kyra’s voice purred in her ear and Emma softly whimpered.

Gently patting her behind, Kyra walked past her lover and sent her another wink, before leaving the bedroom. Emma could only stare at the spot her lover had just vacated and patiently waited until a sufficient amount of blood had returned to her brain. Only then was she able to put her right foot in front of her left one and make her way back to the living room.

 

The apartment complex was quite small and fairly new. The four story building had only one entrance and the large, heavy door could only be opened with a special key that could not be reproduced. Only the residents were in possession of a key like that and it made most of them feel safe and secure in their home.

The building was surrounded by large tree that provided welcome shade in the summer and also formed a natural barrier between the building and the residential area it bordered. Most balconies were hidden from view, thus ensuring a welcome sense of privacy.

Even though the building was equipped with modern security, the architect had overlooked one, major detail; anyone who was determined and strong enough to climb one of the tall trees could easily jump on one of the balconies. It only took limited skill to force open one of the windows and enter the apartment unseen.

One slender figure, completely dressed in black, carefully made his way through the quiet livingroom. The carpet silenced the footsteps and without making one, single noise, the burglar quickly went through the two bedroom apartment, letting out a small breath of relief when he was sure he was alone. The lady had been right; it seemed like the resident of the place had not been home for a few days.

Dark brown eyes scanned the living room and took in the light wood furniture, the overstuffed couch that seemed well used and the massive bookcase that was almost overflowing with books.

Curiously he stepped closer and scanned the titles on the back of the books. His eyebrows rose when he noticed its owner had an interest in a lot of different subjects. With a sigh of regret. he realized how unfortunate it was he had to go through all those books in order to fulfill his obligation. What a waste. He loved reading and could identify himself with anyone who shared his passion for the written word.

” Well, best get to work,” he softly told himself, making sure his gloves were properly in place.

Reaching up to the top shelf he pulled out a book, held it upside down and vigorously shook it, to see if anything would fall out. Nothing. With a mumbled apology, he dumped the book on the floor and reached for another one…

 

After more than two hours, the livingroom was unrecognizable; there were books strewn all over the floor, the drawers of the desk and cupboards were emptied, its contents spread out over the table, the floor and the couch. Potted plants were uprooted and carelessly thrown in the growing pile on the floor, while CD’s were taken out of their covers and haphazardly thrown through the room.

With a hint of sadness, tired brown eyes looked at the willfully created mess, before its owner turned around and headed for the kitchen, to empty out all drawers and cabinets, looking for…something, anything, she had said. And he had promised to try.

It was way past midnight when he entered the only room that was still untouched. The heavy curtains were closed and because the bedroom was situated on the back side of the building, he decided to take the risk and switch on the light. It was not like anyone would see him…not with those trees just outside the balcony.

As soon as the light came on, he squinted his eyes against the sudden brightness, even though the illumination was soft and peaceful. After a moment of adjusting, his eyes traveled trough the room and came to rest on a picture on the night stand. He had seen a lot of pictures that evening, most of them had appeared to be family shots and with a faint feeling of guilt he had separated them from their frames to add them to the trail of debris he slowly, but surely left behind.

With a few strides, he walked around the bed, towards the little night stand and he reached out a hand to grab the framed photograph. He was about to turn it over to rip the back off, when his eyes fell on the picture itself. With a gasp he dropped the frame on the bed, as if he had burned his hands.

A beautiful, curly-haired woman stared at him with laughing, green eyes, but she was not the cause of his distress. The woman had her arms wrapped around a little boy, who was clearly her son, judging by the dark curls and facial features. The boy’s gray eyes twinkled with mischief, while he leaned back into his mother’s embrace.

“What the…?Simon?!”

 

The door was closed with a soft click and exhaling slowly, Kyra leaned against the wall, closing her eyes for a brief moment, realizing the evening had left her emotionally drained.

Seeing Rick again, after having learned what had happened six years ago, had been easier than she had expected it to be. No doubt Emma had a lot to do with that.

Kyra smiled and opened her eyes to see the object of her thoughts standing only a few meters away. With her hands stuffed in her pockets, Emma was leaning her shoulder against the wall, while her blue eyes were looking at Kyra with a mixture of worry and pride.

“Are you all right?” she asked softly.

“Yes, I am,” Kyra smiled, taking the few steps needed to wrap her arms around her lover’s waist and bury her face against her shoulder.

Immediately, Emma’s hands left the pockets of her jeans and a pair of strong arms pulled Kyra closer. Letting out a small sigh of contentment, Emma nuzzled Kyra’s neck and closed her eyes. Holding Kyra was something she would never get tired of, she knew that for certain. Her warmth, her scent, the way her body seemed to melt into her own…it was something that filled Emma with a sense of belonging that was so strong, it almost took her breath away. Whenever she was holding her lover, all was right with the world.

” Mmm…this is so nice,” Kyra almost purred. ” I could stay like this forever.”

” I know what you mean,” Emma sighed. ” But eventually we’ d fall over from exhaustion, or hunger, or thirst, or…”

” Yeah, yeah, point taken,” Kyra interrupted with a chuckle. “We can’t stay like this forever. Pity.”

Emma smiled and turned her head sideways, so she could kiss a conveniently close cheek.

” I love you. And I’m so proud of you, Kyra. You are an amazing woman and I’m so grateful to have you in my life. The way you handled this whole…situation is just…incredible.”

“Thank you,” Kyra whispered, sounding a little bashful under all the praise. ” I just…well, I just did what I thought was right.” She lifted her head from its warm, comfortable spot and looked up into Emma’s eyes. ” Don’t get me wrong though, there’s a part of me that really wants to lash out at my…my…mother, but that would make me as bad as she is and I don’t want that. Lowering my standards to her level is not something I’d want to do. And I do have to admit; I love to see her face when she’ ll be confronted with those statements.”

” Rick’s statement and your dad’s?”

“Yes. I don’t think she’s expecting anything like it. She probably thinks I’ ll back down again, like I always used to do. Not this time though and that will surprise…and annoy, the heck out of her.”

“She deserved it,” Emma answered with determination.

“Oh, yes, she does. She sure does.”

There was a brief silence and Kyra snuggled back into Emma’s arms again, feeling warm and protected.

” I don’t think I’ ll ever forget the expression on Rick’s face, when he looked at Simon’s picture,” Emma mused softly. ” He looked so…vulnerable, but humble and happy as well. You did good, honey, by granting Bridget’s request. It was a great gift to them.”

” It felt like the right thing to do,” Kyra replied, her face still pressed against Emma’s chest. ” I can’t believe my…mother never shower them any pictures. Especially, since it was her plan to get Rick involved in Simon’s life. You’d think she would have showed them at least a picture.”

“That is a little odd, yes,” Emma agreed.

“A little?” Kyra snorted. ” Framed pictures are a nuisance to her. Her house and interior are as cold as she is, so there’s no room for indulgences like photographs of grandchildren, I guess.”

“Pity,” Emma sighed. ” I’m glad my mom isn’t like that. In fact, there are so many pictures on the wall in my parents’ livingroom, you can’t even see what wallpaper is behind them.”

“That’s not true,” Kyra chuckled, playfully swatting Emma’s behind. ” I love that ‘Family Wall of Fame’… it’s so cute.”

“That reminds me. Mom asked me for a picture of you and Simon. I guess to add the two of you to the always growing rows of portraits.”

” That’s sweet of her,” Kyra smiled.

“She tried to con me out of my personal pictures of the two of you, but I was able to make a deal with her. She’ ll get them, when I go back. Not a day sooner.”

“But honey, we’ re both here,” Kyra teased with an impish smile. “Why settle for surrogate when you can have the real deal?”

” Because…” Emma answered with a small pout. “I…I just like looking at them, that’s all.”

“Oh, you’re such a mush ball,” Kyra laughed, reaching out a hand and cupping her lover’s cheek. ” But I love that about you. Come here.”

She pulled Emma’s face down for a warm, slow kiss. For a few long minutes they kissed, enjoying the feel and taste of each other’s lips. After a while, Kyra reluctantly pulled away.

“Keep that thought, will you?” she whispered, raking her fingers through Emma’s auburn tresses.

“I will,” Emma answered with a small smile.

“We can continue this…’ conversation’ later, after Simon is asleep, but right now we’d better go and pick up our son.”

Emma’s eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat, after hearing her lover referring to Simon as their son. It was an acknowledgment of the way she felt deep down inside and Kyra’s words filled her with a profound happiness.

Kyra had watched the display of emotions on Emma’s face and her green eyes shone with love, when she saw the radiant smile that was sent her way. She slowly untangled herself from Emma’s arms and grabbed her lover’s hand.

“Come on, Miss Emma,” she winked.

Emma silently followed her lover out of the house, carefully closing the door behind her…the smile still firmly plastered on her face.
Chapter 18
With trembling fingers, Goran Markovic tried to open the backdoor, using his house key that was attached to a brass ring. When his unsteady hands dropped the heavy key ring for the second time, he cursed softly. He didn’t want his parents to know he had come home way after midnight. If his father found out, he would probably be grounded for at least a week. Goran didn’t mind if he couldn’t hang out with his friends in the evening, but missing his baby brother’s weekly soccer match was something he dreaded. Jarek would never forgive him if he missed the annual Easter soccer tournament.

With a sigh, Goran picked up the brass ring and this time he managed to open the backdoor without any problem. He winced when the old door produced a squeaking sound and he quickly closed it, hoping his father had not noticed.

After he locked the door, Goran turned around and he let out a small gasp, when the light from the streetlights outlined the small, sturdy figure of his mother.

” You’ re home late, sweetie,” her voice sounded tired, but not unfriendly and Goran noticed the use of the term of endearment, which made him hope his mother would not be too upset with him.

“I’m sorry, mother. I…I forgot about the time, and…”

“Don’t lie to me, Goran,” Natasha Markovic interrupted her son. “Please, don’t underestimate my intelligence by lying to me. Don’t betray me like that. Haven’t we suffered enough in our lives already?”

Goran sucked in his bottom lip and hung his head in shame. His mother was right, as always. In 1992, when he was six years old, his parents had fled Croatia, managing to save their own lives, as well as that of their son. But not before they had witnessed the cruel and violent death of many family members and friends. And even though the fighting had been over for years already, the war was still inside of them, gnawing at Goran’s father and causing sleepless nights for his mother. His parents had shielded him against the violent bloodshed as much as they had been able to, but Goran still sometimes woke up in the middle of the night, bathing in sweat, because the horrific scenes he had been witness to invaded his dreams… filling him with fear.

He knew his parents suffered even more.

“I’m sorry, mom, I really am,” he whispered.

Natasha Markovic switched on the light and pointed towards the kitchen table, wordlessly requesting her son to sit down, which he obediently did.

” Where have you been, Goran?” she asked when she took a seat across from him.

His dark eyes didn’t look up, but studied the checkered pattern of the table cloth, until they started to water.

“I had a debt to pay,” he finally answered.

Deep lines surrounded a pair of soulful brown eyes and Natasha Markovic exhaled slowly, while she clenched her hands into fists. Her blunt nails dug into her skin, but she welcomed the slight sting of pain, because it helped her to focus.

“Are you involved with those drugs runners again?” she asked, her voice thick with emotion. She couldn’t hide the fear in her eyes when she looked at her eldest son. He had always been such a good boy… obedient and respectful. He worked hard in school and his grades were impressive. But then he had started to hang around with the wrong crowd and the problems had started. He had become aggressive and disrespectful. He had come home late almost every night and his grades had gone down rapidly. His parents had tried to talk to him, his mother had pleaded tearfully, but to no avail. Until, one afternoon, Goran had come home to find his five year old brother in his bedroom, playing with a few bags of marihuana and ecstasy pills. The little boy was just about to taste one of the small, white pills, thinking it had to be candy, when Goran had grabbed his little hand and had stopped him, realizing that if he had come home a little later, he could have found his brother’s lifeless body.

It had been an eye opening experience and the teenager had immediately picked up his little brother and carried him downstairs, while the tears had been streaming down his face.

Heartbroken, he had confessed to his mother that he had not been using marihuana, but that he played a role in distributing the soft drug and the ecstasy pills. He had not been able to withstand the pressure of his friends and had caved in, becoming a member of their little, criminal circuit.

The feelings of guilt and shame, combined with the pain in the eyes of his parents and the danger he had put his younger brother in, had been enough for him to turn his back on his comrades. His father had taken him to the police station, where he had turned himself in. There, he had learned that his group of friends had been under scrutiny from the law already, but because he had showed the courage to turn himself in, and because he was still a minor, the police had let him off the hook with a stern warning.

Two months later, his former, so called ‘ friends’, were arrested and charged with possession and distributing drugs.

“What debt did you have to pay? Goran, did it involve drugs?”

“No, mom, it didn’t. I…,” Goran’s dark brown eyes lifted and he finally looked at his mother. “When…I was involved with that…drug trafficking…I once…helped, when two others broke into a car. I was the lookout and…and, I was just as guilty as they were,” he stammered in a sad voice. “Just as Mike and Carl finished and got out of the car, I…ran into this… lady, who already had her cell phone in her hand to call the police. She…she recognized me from my job at the gas station. I…I was afraid she’d tell my boss and he would tell you and dad, so…I begged her not to say anything.”

Natasha Markovic let out a deep sigh and slowly shook her head. She had hoped her son’s recent past was just that, history. She had never expected him to be confronted again with the poor choices he had made a few years ago.

“Your debt was with her,” she concluded.

Goran nodded and nervously nibbled on his bottom lip. He was so ashamed of himself and dreaded telling his mother the rest of the story, but he had to. It was the only way to come clean.

“Back then, she told me I wouldn’t get into trouble, if I would give her my name, address and phone number. She said that as soon as she would see me being involved with…anything criminal again, she’d tell the police, and you and dad. She said they would surely send me to a reform school, or something.”

“What was the debt?” Natasha sighed. Seeing the way her son clenched his hands into fists, suddenly made her nauseous and she closed her eyes while she softly moaned.

“Goran! She didn’t…did she force you to…have…did she make you sleep with her?” she croaked, hardly capable of uttering the words.

Goran’s eyes widened and he quickly shook his head.

“No! No, mom! She didn’t,” he answered and he heard the loud sigh of relief.

“Then what did she want you to do in the middle of the night?”

In a soft voice, Goran told his mother about the burglary, not leaving out one, single detail. He knew it was another blow for his parents, but telling his mother what he had done made him feel a lot better.

After he had related his story, there was a long silence.

“Did you take anything out of that place?” Natasha finally asked, with a hoarse voice.

“I…I…No. She wanted me to find pictures, letters or anything else that could be used to compromise this person. She especially wanted me to look for something that would show she is in debt, or letters from lawyers and stuff that had to do with her being fired from a former job.”

“Did you? Find anything like that?”

“No,” Goran simply answered.

“Good,” Natasha sighed, rubbing her tired eyes and trying to figure out the best way to deal with the situation. “What made you decide not to go through with her…request?”

” A picture in the bedroom,” Goran softly answered. “It was a picture of Simon Hartman and his mom.”

Natasha’s eyebrows rose into her hairline when she cast her son an astonished look.

“Simon, Jarek’s friend? That cute, little boy with the dark curls?”

“Yes, him. I saw the photo and it just…I felt so ashamed. I…suddenly things just fell into place, mom. I mean, Jarek often talks about his teacher; Miss Emma, but I’d never heard her last name. I knew from Simon, that his mom and his teacher were…good friends…and when I saw that picture, I just knew whose house it was I was in and I just had to leave. I couldn’t do it. So, I left,” he finished in a whisper.

“You need to tell her, Goran. You know that, don’t you?”

“Emma Altena?”

“Yes, Emma Altena. You need to contact her, tell her what you did and why and leave it up to her to see if she wants to press charges. You do realize this was a serious crime, Goran. You broke into a house.”

“I know, mom,” Goran answered, swallowing hard. He knew he had made a mess of things. It had been his fear and misplaced sense of honor, that had made him agree to break into the apartment. But he was realistic enough to know he couldn’t change what he had done, he could only take responsibility and accept the consequences of his actions, whatever they might be.

“She’s away on vacation, but I did see some letters with the addresses of family members. I…maybe they know where she is. Maybe I should…call them,” he said with obvious hesitancy.

“No, not maybe. You will call them, Goran. First thing in the morning.”
“So, we’ ll drive down to Amsterdam, visit with your dads, then take a detour through Breda, so you can pick up some clothes and check in with Sandy at the office, we’ ll stay the night at your place and drive back up to Friesland tomorrow morning. Wow, honey, those are two busy days. Are you sure you’re up to that?” Emma asked with concern, glancing at her lover over the rim of her coffee cup.

Kyra nodded and took a sip of her coffee, enjoying the rich taste of the hot beverage. Her green eyes were full of affection when they focused on the auburn-haired woman, who was sitting next to her.

“I’m up to it, but if you don’t want to….”

“No, no, no, I want,” Emma interrupted with a smile. “As long as I’m with you, I’m happy. Even if that means running all over the place,” she added with a wink.

Kyra chuckled and playfully nudged Emma with her shoulder.

“You’re so easy to please,” she teased.

“Don’t let Hester hear that,” Emma mumbled, with a warning glance at her sister, who was standing in the doorway, chatting to her mother.

“If she starts giving you a hard time, you can always use the barn story,” Kyra grinned. “She really seems to appreciate that.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that either,” Emma chuckled. “Or she’ll be giving you a hard time.”

Emma shot a look at her mother and sister and smiled when they both turned their heads and returned the glance, then the phone started ringing.

“Oh, sweetheart, will you get that please?” Ann Altena asked her daughter, holding up her flour-stained hands to Emma.

“Sure, mom,” Emma answered, immediately jumping up and walking to the phone that was mounted on the wall.

“Altena residence.”

“Um…g…good morning,”a slightly accented voice stammered and Emma frowned, trying to remember where she had heard that voice before. It did sound vaguely familiar.

“I…um…can I speak to…to…Miss Emma…please?”

Emma bit her lip and the frown in her forehead deepened. Except for the children in her class, and the occasional nervous parent, nobody called her ‘ Miss Emma’. Ever.

“You’ re speaking with her,” she answered. “May I help you?”

“Miss Emma, it’s…I’m Goran. Goran Markovic. Jarek, my brother, is in your class.”

Emma nodded and she let out a small sigh of relief. Now she remembered where she had heard that voice before. Goran was Jarek’s brother. She had met him on different occasions when he came to pick up his little brother. But why would he be calling her at her parents’ home? During her vacation? Her blue eyes widened in alarm and unconsciously she tightened her grip on the phone.

“Goran, yes, I remember you. Is…is everything all right? Jarek, is he…?”

“Jarek is fine, Miss Emma,” Goran hastened to reassure the teacher. “But there’s something you should know. I…I…this is very hard to do on the phone. I’m sorry to call you during your vacation, but I felt it couldn’t wait.”

“What is it, Goran?” Emma asked, trying not to lose her patience. The unexpected phone call had made her a little nervous and for some reason, she knew Goran was trying to tell her something important.

“I broke into your apartment,” Goran suddenly blurted out the words and Emma’s body went rigid. For a brief moment she was stunned, but then her brain kicked back into gear, going through dozens of different scenarios with the speed of light, only to add to the confusion.

“What?” She asked, stunned.

“Last night… I broke into your apartment,” Goran repeated and in spite of being completely astonished, Emma let out a soft chuckle. Why would a burglar call her the next day to confess his crime? It didn’t make any sense and Emma knew there just had to be a logical explanation.

“All right, Goran. This doesn’t make any sense. Why don’t you start at the beginning, okay?”

Emma shot a look at Kyra, whose eyes were full of questions and she shrugged her shoulders, letting her lover know she didn’t understand the purpose of the call either.

Emma leaned against the wall, one hand stuffed into the pocket of her jeans, while she listened to the soft-spoken words of Goran Markovic. Her eyes went wide when he related his story and she had to restrain herself not to interrupt him on a few different occasions. He briefly told her about his past and how he came to be in debt to this ‘lady’, who had the power to take away his life, or, so he thought. He told her about the way he had gained access to her apartment and Emma made a mental note to have better locks installed on her balcony door. Who knew it was so easy to get inside?

“And then I saw this picture of Simon and his mother and I knew whose apartment it was. I’m so sorry, Miss Emma. Your place is a mess, but I didn’t break anything or steal anything. I can clean it all up for you, before…before…you call the police,” Goran added in a whisper.

Emma took a deep breath, while her eyes traveled between the concerned faces of Kyra, Hester and her mother. The three women were all seated at the huge kitchen table now, staring at her in silence.

“Whoa, hold on, Goran,” Emma replied. “I want some more information first. This lady you told me about, who is she?”

“She never told me her name,” Goran answered. “But she’s a regular client at the gas station I work for. I…I…once she paid with a check and I looked up her name. I just needed to know.”

“I can’t blame you,” Emma mumbled. “What was her name?” she repeated with a strong feeling of foreboding.

“LeJeune. Vivian LeJeune,” Goran softly answered. “Do you know her, Miss Emma? Why would she want to hurt you?”

“Oh, boy,” Emma muttered, casting down her eyes to avoid the inquisitive look of her lover. Another blow for Kyra; her mother blackmailed a teenager to break into Emma’s house, trying to find something, anything, she could use against her.

“I do have some ideas about that, Goran,” Emma softly answered. “Can you hang on for a minute? Thanks.”

Emma covered the mouthpiece with her hand and turned to face the curious trio at the kitchen table.

“All right, I can see you’ re all dying to know what is going on and I will tell you as soon as I can, but I have a question first. Kyra, honey, I…um…there’s this boy I know, a teenager, who is in a bit of trouble at the moment. Um…somebody, an adult, sort of forced him to do something illegal. He needs some help here, I guess. Do you think that….? I know it’s quite bold on my part, but do you think Rick could help him to write down a statement?”

Kyra’s eyes flew open and bore into Emma’s with an intensity that almost made the teacher gasp in surprise.

“Busted,” she knew, mentally kicking herself for being so transparent.

“What did my mother do this time?” Kyra asked, calm on the outside, but inside she could feel the anger bubble up in her chest.

Letting out a shuddering breath, Emma closed her eyes for a brief moment, wishing she could spare her lover Goran’s story. But she knew she couldn’t. Kyra had a right to know. Besides, Emma was a bad liar and she knew Kyra would immediately see straight through her if she would try to hide the truth.

“Your mother blackmailed a teenager to break into my apartment.”

“What?” sounded from three different mouths. Their simultaneous reaction was almost funny and Emma would have laughed if Kyra’s eyes had not been so full of pain and shock.

“She did what?!” Kyra exclaimed, pushing back her chair and jumping up. She stood in the middle of the kitchen, her hands clenched to fists and her curly hair dancing around her suddenly pale face.

Emma wished she could walk up to her lover, take her into her arms and cuddle away the pain and the worry that was clearly visible on Kyra’s expressive face. But she had not finished her conversation with Goran yet and she needed Kyra to focus.

“Kyra, honey, listen,” Emma softly started, her dark-blue eyes boring into a pair of stormy, green ones. “I’ll tell you all the details in a minute, just hang in there, all right? We knew this could happen. We talked about it before. Right now I need to know if I can send Goran to Rick, to help him with a statement.” Emma paused and watched in fascination how the anger in Kyra’s eyes slowly disappeared, making way for a mixture of hope, shrewdness and amusement.
Wow, she must be a sight to see in any tense board meeting. I think I just witnessed how my honey’s business mind kicks in.
“If my mother set this boy up to commit a crime, she just hammered another nail in her coffin,” Kyra replied without emotion. “Yes, send him to Rick. I’ ll call him and let him know he can expect Goran.”

Suddenly realization dawned and Kyra’s eyes went wide in surprise.

“Goran Markovic?” she asked, seeing Emma nod. “Jarek’s brother?”

Emma nodded again and removed her hand from the phone’s mouthpiece.

“Goran? Are you willing to write down a statement about how and why Vivian LeJeune forced you to break into my apartment?”

“Um…yes, sure, Miss Emma,” Goran stammered, wondering why his brother’s teacher was not furious about what he had done. He had expected her to, at least, be angry, but instead she was calm and friendly. “But I thought the police would take my statement, don’t they always…”

“I don’t want you to go to the police, Goran. Not without legal aid anyway. Listen, you need to trust me on this one. I do know Vivian LeJeune and it does sound like she was using you to try and hurt Simon’s mother and me. If you write down a statement, it will help us to stop her from trying anything like this in the future.”

“I’ ll do anything you ask me to do, Miss Emma,” Goran hastened to say, glad there was something he could do to try and make up for his criminal actions. “But I’ve never written a statement like that. I hope I’ll do it right.”

“Don’t worry about that, Goran, I know somebody who will be willing to help you, a lawyer. His name is Roderick Peters. We’ ll call him and explain the situation. After I’ve talked to him, I’ ll call you back. Is that all right?”

“Sure, no problem, Miss Emma,” Goran answered with increasing relief. “Do you have my phone number?”

“I don’t have it with me, Goran. I’m still on vacation,” Emma smiled, motioning Hester to hand her a pen and a piece of paper, which her sister obediently did. She quickly jotted down the numbers Goran provided and handed the note to Kyra, who had already taken her cell phone out of her pocket.

“We’ ll call you back as soon as possible,” Emma promised the teenager.

“Thank you. But, Miss Emma, what about your apartment? I…I…it’s pretty messy. I’m so sorry, I really am. If you want me to, I can go back and…”

“No, Goran,” Emma interrupted the boy. “We’ ll discuss that later, all right? I know you committed a crime by breaking into my place. And you realize that as well, I know you do. And I guess I’ve every right to be angry with you, but you did the right thing by calling me. And I appreciate that, Goran. That must have been difficult for you.”

“It was the least I could do, Miss Emma,” Goran softly answered and Emma could clearly hear the shame and guilt in his voice. “I wish I would have had the courage to say ‘no’. I should have gone to the police, when she started to blackmail me. I’m so sorry I didn’t.”

“We’ ll talk about it later, Goran,” Emma promised. “Just believe me when I say that you probably did us a huge favor today. All right? So, stop worrying and stay close to the phone. We’ ll be calling you back as soon as we can.”

Emma ended the conversation and with a deep sigh she put down the phone and looked up to three pairs of questioning eyes.

“I swear, sis, this gets weirder and weirder,” Hester sighed. “You just had a friendly conversation with a punk who broke into your apartment?”

“I did,” Emma calmly answered. “But Goran isn’t a punk. He’s the brother of one of my little students. He’s not a bad boy, really.”

“How did my mother put him up to it?” Kyra asked with a frown.

Emma motioned for everybody to sit down and in a clear voice she repeated what Goran had told her. After she was finished, there was a brief silence. Outside, Hester’s children and Simon could be heard playing soccer. It was a familiar, reassuring sound and Kyra closed her eyes, while her keen ears picked up Simon’s enthusiastic voice. It made her smile and with a feeling of contentment she felt the last remnants of anger disappear. She knew that, whatever her mother had tried to do to Emma, it would probably be her last attempt to make her daughter’s life difficult.

“Do you think that…Rick Peters will help the boy?” Ann Altena finally asked, with obvious worry. She didn’t know this Goran Emma had told them about, but she felt sorry for the boy and for his parents, who, without a doubt, were going through some troubled times at the moment.

“I’m sure Rick will help him,” Kyra answered with determination. “In fact, I’ ll call him right now and ask him.”

 

Impatiently tapping her manicured nails against the polished surface of the antique table, Vivian LeJeune waited for her friend to pick up the phone. It took longer than usual and with a frown, she wondered if Margaret had forgotten their appointment. True, they had agreed to do some shopping a few weeks before Easter, but Margaret never forgot an appointment. Maybe something had happened.

Vivian LeJeune was just about to put down the phone, determined to try to get a hold of her friend again later, when the call was finally answered.

“Good morning, Margaret,” she greeted her friend with a cheerful voice. “I wondered if you’ d have gone without me. We were supposed to do some shopping today, remember? That new boutique has its grand opening today and I’m sure they’ ll have those Armani pantsuits we saw in that magazine the other week.”

“Oh, good morning, Vivian,” Margaret Peters greeted in a soft, hesitant voice. “I’m sorry, but I do think I forgot. I…um…my migraine is really bothering me today and, to be honest, I’m not even dressed yet. I don’t feel like going out today, Vivian. I do feel somewhat faint.”

Unseen to Margaret Peters’ eyes, Vivian LeJeune raised an eyebrow, while a small frown appeared in her forehead. Her friend never ever passed up an opportunity to shop. Even a migraine had never really stopped her in the past. Vivian LeJeune was sure that something else was bothering her friend.

“Are Roderick and his wife all right?” she asked in a cool voice. Rick Peters’ threat to contact Kyra still lingered in the back of her mind. But she had known the young lawyer for a very long time now and she knew he would never have the courage to put his words into actions. When push came to shove, he was as guilty as she was. Contacting Kyra and telling her what had happened all those years ago, would be a foolish stunt on his part and Vivian LeJeune did not think Roderick Peters was a fool. On the contrary.

“Rick and Bridget are doing fine,” Margaret Peters answered. “I haven’t seen them since they…since yesterday morning, but I talked to Bridget on the phone and everything seemed to be all right.”

“Good. I hope they’ll reconsider their decision. I’m sure we can come up with a solid plan that will give Roderick access to his son. Imagine, Margaret, you do have a grandson and, in spite of my daughter’s poor choices in life, Simon is a very nice, well-behaved boy. Roderick won’t regret it.”

“That’s their decision, Vivian,” Margaret Peters answered in a tired voice. At first, she had welcomed the idea of her son and daughter-in-law becoming involved in Simon Hartman’s life. Personally, she did look forward to having a grandchild as well. Vivian LeJeune’s idea had sound logical and simple. But Roderick’s confession about the drugs and the way he had taken advantage of Kyra, had put things in a completely different perspective. Margaret could still not believe how a mother was able to set up her own child, like her friend had done to Kyra. Of course she knew Vivian was often cold and distant. She knew the things her friend had done to her ex-husband to get her way and secure a comfortable life for herself, but in Margaret Peters’ eyes, that was just one of those things that happened when a couple got divorced. But after learning that her friend had supplied her son with drugs, Vivian LeJeune suddenly became a totally different person, and Margaret Peters really did not want to have anything to do with her anymore. Of course she wouldn’t outright tell her friend that… she knew Vivian could be painfully vicious and she really didn’t want to be on the receiving end of the other woman’s anger. The best way would be gradually to increase some much needed distance. Maybe, after a while, Vivian would lose patience with her and terminate their friendship. If that would happen, Margaret would be relieved. To her, it would be a graceful way out.

“Ah, well, take it easy today, Margaret,” Vivian LeJeune’s voice interrupted her musings. “I guess I’d better get going, since I have another appointment this afternoon.”

With a teenage burglar, who will hopefully provide me with some much needed ammunition, so I can blow that Emma teacher out of the water, and out of my daughter’s and grandson’s lives.

 

“Honey, if I ever complain about life being boring, please remind me of these last few days,” Kyra sighed, casting a glance at Emma, who was skillfully maneuvering the dark-haired woman’s car through the always busy streets of Amsterdam.

Emma softly chuckled and nodded in agreement.

“Don’t worry, I will,” she promised. “Please do the same for me,” she added with a laugh. “Until a few days ago, my life was like a peaceful, little creek. Right now it’s like a raging river.”

“I’m sorry,” Kyra mumbled, casting down her eyes and staring at her clasped hands.

“Don’t be,” Emma quickly responded, shooting a quick glance aside. When she had to stop in front of a traffic light, she reached out and covered Kyra’s hands with her own. “You have nothing to do with all the bad things happening, sweetie. You’re only responsible for the good things. And believe me, those good things are excellent.”

That last remark made Kyra smile and she sent her lover a grateful smile.

“They are, aren’t they?”

“Oh, yes, absolutely,” Emma smiled. “I know we’ re going through some unexpected and…unwanted events, but still, life has never been so good as it is now.”

“Then it can only get better, once these…events…will disappear,” Kyra concluded with a happy sigh.

“They will,” Emma responded, full of confidence. “And I already know what not to take, on our next vacation.”

“What?” Kyra asked with a soft laugh.

“A cell phone,” Emma grinned, putting the car back in gear and cautiously crossing the busy intersection, mindful of the many unpredictable pedestrians and cyclists.

The mischievous twinkle in Emma’s eyes filled Kyra with warmth and made her want to reach out and hug her lover close, losing herself in the softness of Emma’s skin, breathing in the faint scent of sun-kissed flowers, she had come to associate with the auburn-haired teacher.

“What’s that smile for? What’s on your mind?” Emma asked curiously.

“You,” Kyra softly replied. “I was just thinking about the way you smell.”

“I smell?” Emma quickly asked, feigning horror. She cast a look in the rearview mirror and winked at Simon, who had been playing with an action figure Peter had let him borrow, but Emma’s playful question had piqued his interest and his gray eyes danced when he looked from his mother to Emma and back again.

“Does Emma smell?” he cheerfully asked.

“Simon!” Kyra sighed, but there was a laugh in her voice. “Of course she doesn’t smell. I mean, she doesn’t smell bad. When I said she smelled, I meant it in a nice way.”

“Are you sure?” Emma asked with a frown, sharing a smile with Simon. “I come from a farm, you know. Maybe you do smell…something…”

“Pigs,” Simon helpfully answered, almost making Emma snort with laughter.

“We don’t have pigs at the farm,” she defended herself with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Okay,” Simon relented. “Sheep then. They don’t really smell nice, Emma.”

“I know,” Emma grinned, happy with the light banter, that took their minds off the difficult hours ahead.

“I thought one of your sisters told me you once fell in the piggy pen,” Kyra remarked with an innocent look.

“That was ages ago,” Emma replied with a grin. “That smell has worn off…hasn’t it?”

With a bright smile on his face, Simon leaned forward as far as his seatbelt would allow him to go and took a loud, exaggerated sniff, which made Emma bite her lower lip to stop herself from laughing. Simon was such a cute kid and for a five year old child, he had an amazing sense of humor.

With a deep frown between his dark eyebrows, Simon leaned back into his chair, pretending to be deep in thought.

“What’s the verdict, Professor Nose?” Kyra smiled, glancing over her shoulder.

“No pigs,” Simon decided. “Emma, you smell like sunshine,” he added with endearing openness.

“Sunshine, huh?” Kyra’s smile deepened. Wasn’t that what she had been thinking herself, only minutes before? “Mmm…I think you’ re right, honey. That’s exactly how Emma smells.”

“And what does your mom smell like?” Emma asked the little boy, curious to hear what he would come up with. But Simon didn’t have to think about the answer long.

“Home,” he answered, not seeing the sudden moisture in his mother’s eyes.

But Emma had noticed Kyra’s reaction and again, she reached out to cover her lover’s hands briefly with her own, giving them a loving squeeze.

“You think he’ ll be a poet one day?” Kyra smiled, quickly wiping her eyes.

“I think he already is one,” Emma replied.

 

Before they had left that morning, Emma and Kyra had discussed the way they wanted to protect Simon from all that was going on, as best as they could. Kyra would talk to her father, while Emma would take Simon to the hospital restaurant, where there was a little indoor playground for children. That would give Kyra and her father the chance to talk openly and undisturbed. It would probably be confusing enough for Simon, when he found out he would not see his grandmother anymore, and Kyra didn’t want to add to that by having him overhear her conversation with her father.

After leaving Emma and Simon at the playground, Kyra headed for the floor where her father and Albert still shared a room. When she had called them, the previous evening, her father had told her he and Albert would be released on Wednesday. Since Norbert had lost quite a lot of blood, his doctor had wanted to keep him a little longer.

As soon as she stepped into the room, Kyra noticed her father sitting in a chair near the window, fully dressed and looking a whole lot better than when she had seen him the day after he was stabbed.

“Dad, you look good,” Kyra smiled, bending down to kiss her father on his cheek. “Where is Albert?”

“He said he needed some fresh air,” Norbert answered with a smile of his own. “You know him; he can’t sit still for more than five minutes. It’s a miracle they were able to keep him in bed for a full day.”

“Still as energetic as ever, huh,” Kyra remarked with fondness.

She pulled up a chair and took a seat next to her father, her dark-green eyes studying his face intently.

“You look so much better than you did a couple of days ago, dad. I’m so happy about that. You scared the living daylights out of me. Please, don’t stroll along the canals in the middle of the night anymore, all right? It’s not like you don’t have the money to pay for a taxi.”

Norbert grinned and reached out a hand to squeeze his daughter’s shoulder lovingly.

“Money wasn’t the issue,” he agreed with a wry grin. “Albert and I just wanted to take a nice walk, enjoy Amsterdam by night. It never crossed our minds it was a hazardous idea. But, we know better now, sweetheart, so you don’t have to worry about your poor, old dads anymore. We decided not to do anything like that anymore. Ever.”

“Good. Thanks, dad,” Kyra smiled. “That really does make me feel better. Besides, if you are so determined to enjoy Amsterdam by night, you and Albert can hop on one of those boats that take people on a nightly canal tour.”

“Now, there’s an idea,” Norbert grinned, appreciating his daughter’s sense of humor. “But tell me, Kyra, how have you, Simon and Emma been?”

As soon as she had entered the room, he had noticed the small lines of strain around Kyra’s eyes and he knew something was troubling her. Kyra had always been a lot more introverted than her brother and Norbert knew pushing her for information would only result in her pulling away, so he always waited patiently, until she was ready to talk to him. It was a strategy that, through the years, had proven to be very successful.

“Simon and Emma are their wonderful selves,” Kyra answered, not aware of the fact that her lover’s name caused her face to light up with an intense, warm glow. “I’m so grateful for having them in my life, dad, I really am. I wouldn’t know what to do without them.”

Norbert Hartman smiled and he felt the happiness bubble up inside his chest. He and Albert had secretly hoped that one day, Kyra would meet someone, who would capture her heart. And Simon’s. It had finally happened and he supported his daughter’s choice of partner wholeheartedly. From the moment he had laid eyes on Emma Altena, he had liked the woman. The way she interacted with Kyra and Simon, made him feel he could trust her to love and support his daughter and grandson, and always be there for them.

“I’m glad she’s interested in you, and not your money,” he gently joked, nudging her with his shoulder.

Kyra cast down her eyes and to his surprise, Norbert noticed a faint blush creeping up her cheeks. Reaching out a hand, he cupped her face and gently forced her to look him in the eyes. The expression on Kyra’s face was almost bashful and Norbert let out a soft chuckle.

“You never told her,” he concluded, while his eyes were twinkling.

“Umm…it never really came up,” Kyra admitted, nibbling on her bottom lip. “You know I don’t care about talking business, not after office hours anyway,” she added with a rueful smile.

“Since the two of you are seriously in love, I guess, at one point, you’ ll have to tell her, honey. Especially if, one day, you decide you want to live together.”

“I know, dad. And I want more than just living together. I…” Kyra took a deep breath and looked up, with eyes full of happiness. “I want to marry her.”

Norbert Hartman slowly nodded and he could feel the moisture pool in his eyes. Kyra’s happiness was so profound, it was touching.

“You two belong together,” he softly spoke, gently brushing Kyra’s cheek with his fingertips. “I’m so happy for you, honey.”

“I haven’t asked her yet though,” Kyra sighed, sounding a little nervous.

“Having seen the way she looks at you, I don’t think she’ll say ‘no’,” Norbert grinned. “Will Emma adopt Simon?”

“We didn’t talk about that yet. I did ask her if she wants to be Simon’s guardian, in case something would happen to me, and she immediately said ‘yes’. I know she’ d want to adopt Simon. Especially since we both would like to…we’ d like to have more children.”

“Honey! You two have already talked about expanding the family and you haven’t asked her to marry you yet? Shame on you,” Norbert teased his daughter.

“Dad!”

Kyra playfully slapped her father on his leg and immediately he reached out his arms to pull her in for a hug.

“Oh, sweetheart. I’m so happy for you! It does my old heart good, to see you and Simon happy. Can I tell Albert you’ re going to propose soon?”

Kyra chuckled and rubbed her cheek against her fathers shoulder, breathing in his familiar scent, which, for a moment, transported her back in time. Making her feel like the little girl again, who had always loved to snuggle up against her father, while he talked to her, or read her stories.

“I’m waiting for the right moment,” she confessed. “Things have been a little hectic lately. Besides, don’t I need a ring?”

“And roses and champagne,” Norbert nodded with a smile. “Wait till Albert finds out! I bet he wants to see the both of you in white dresses, in a carriage with six horses and a violin quartet on the roof.”

Kyra laughed and gave her father a quick peck on the cheek, before releasing him again.

“Somehow that sounds a little too sweet to my taste. Besides, I hardly think Emma would go along with that.”

“I can’t blame her,” Norbert smiled. “And I was just teasing, but you know your other dad, he’ ll be jumping with joy. You know he’s a sucker for weddings.”

Suddenly a serious expression crossed Norbert’s face and he cast his daughter an inquisitive look.

“How do you think your mother will react?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Kyra answered with a wry smile. “I wanted to talk to you about her, dad. There are some things you need to know, and it’s not going to be pretty.”

“Your mother has changed into a bitter woman,” Norbert sighed, with a mixture of sadness and guilt in his eyes. “I can’t help thinking I had something to do with that, Kyra.”

“You’ re wrong, dad,” Kyra immediately answered with determination. “Nobody gets through life unscarred. And whenever something bad happens, it’s up to the affected individual to decide what to do with it. Mother is bitter because she let herself become that way. She constantly fed her own negative emotions, dad, and worst of all, she projected them onto other people. It’s always about her. What she feels. What she wants. She doesn’t care about other people, only about herself. And to be honest with you, I’m tired of it.”

Norbert Hartman’s gray eyes became dark with sorrow when he heard his daughter talk. If only he had been around more. If only he had been able to protect his sensitive daughter against her overbearing mother. If only…

“I should have been around more, honey. Maybe, if I had tried harder, I would have been able to see you and Jazz every weekend, instead of every other weekend. I should have put up a fight, maybe…”

“Should have, would have, could have, daddy,” Kyra gently interrupted. “It’s all hindsight and beating yourself up over things that could have been handled differently doesn’t serve any purpose. We all make mistakes, dad. I too wish we could have spent more time with you, but at least you and Albert made us feel special. And loved.”

“And your mother didn’t?” Norbert asked, deep down inside knowing the answer already. It hurt.

“I can only speak for myself, not for Jazz,” Kyra answered. “I do know that, for some reason, Jazz has always been her favorite, so maybe he experienced more affection than I did. But to answer your question: no, mother never did make me feel loved.”

Norbert sighed and raked his fingers through his thick, unruly hair. It hurt him to hear his daughter tell him this, but no matter how much he wanted things to be different, he knew Kyra was probably right. Still, as a parent, it was hard for him to imagine that his ex-wife could be so cold and uncaring. Once he had loved her enough to marry her. Or, at least, at the time he thought he did. How things had changed…

“Your mother is a…complicated person, but I’m sure she does love you, honey. In her own way,” he said, knowing how lame he sounded.

“No, dad, she doesn’t. And I can give you a long list of examples that will prove that to you, but I won’t. I’ ll give you two examples. Recent ones. But first I need you to tell me something, daddy.”

Kyra’s eyes searched her father’s face and in its expression, she could see he knew what it was she was going to ask him. And she also knew he would give her an honest answer. His eyes showed a mixture of regret, determination and surrender. The only thing she had to do was ask him.

“Dad, why and how is mother blackmailing you?”
Chapter 19
It was quiet. The only sound penetrating the hospital room were muffled voices coming from the hallway. That was the only indication Kyra and Norbert Hartman were surrounded by many people.

After Norbert had given Kyra an answer to her question, there had been a long silence, in which both father and daughter had been lost in their own deep thoughts. Kyra had needed the time to process the new information and wrap her mind around it. While Norbert needed a few moments to compose himself and fight the feelings of sadness, anger and shame that had assaulted him when he relived memories of which he was not proud… Kyra had shown a compassion that astounded him and he silently said a prayer of thanks, grateful for being a part of her life.

Kyra’s hand crept into Norbert’s larger one and gently she squeezed it, seeing the inner turmoil in her father’s eyes.

“Thanks for telling me, dad. I know that can’t have been easy for you,” she softly spoke.

Norbert Hartman cleared his throat and nodded in agreement.

“It was hard,” he admitted. “But I’m glad I told you. I think I need to tell your brother as well, he has a right to know. I should have told you this years ago.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I was afraid to come between your mother and you children.”

“Was that all?” Kyra gently asked.

Norbert let out a soft chuckle and shot his daughter a look of appreciation.

“There’s not much that escapes you, is there?”

“You taught me how to read people, dad,” Kyra smiled. “Of course I should have read mother a little better, but I guess I was afraid of the truth. Anyway, that’s not the issue at the moment.”

“For years I’ve felt guilty for breaking up our family. I blame myself for divorcing your mother and I felt responsible for all the pain and sorrow I caused.”

“And that’s why you let her blackmail you?”

“Basically,” Norbert truthfully answered.

Kyra sighed and rested her head against her father’s shoulder, staring outside the window with eyes that were dark with sadness.

“I think she blatantly abused and exploited your feelings of guilt, daddy. If she had really loved you, she wouldn’t have done all those things to you. Tell me, if she would have just asked you for more money, would you have given her that?”

“Yes, I guess I would have.”

“And she knew that too,” Kyra muttered. “She just loved the fact that she had something to hold over your head. She’s a control freak, dad. She loves power.”

Norbert Hartman turned his head to look at his daughter and there was a deep frown in his forehead.

“Honey, I…I never heard you talk about your mother like that. I must say it’s a little…disconcerting.”

“Believe me, daddy, I have my reasons,” Kyra answered with a trace of bitterness in her voice. “I’ve something to tell you as well.”

 

xxxxxxxxx

“Look, Emma, if I put this block on top of this red one, it looks like the tower of Pisa,” Simon exclaimed with a bright smile.

“It sure does,” Emma nodded with a smile, thoroughly enjoying Simon’s bubbling companionship. It helped her not to worry too much about her lover. The five-year old boy was a delightful distraction. They were both in the hospital’s indoor playground and Simon had discovered a corner where he could play with Lego blocks, which he did with unbridled enthusiasm. So far, he already had built a bridge, a huge crane with two arms, and now he was making sure the building was the tallest building the world had ever seen.

“Why did mommy have to talk to granddad alone?” Simon suddenly asked, without interrupting his constructing activities.

Emma’s hands, that had been playing with a little Lego car, suddenly stilled and her blue eyes widened in alarm when she looked at the little boy.

“They needed to talk about some business,” she softly replied, hoping that Simon would be satisfied with the answer and leave the subject alone. Of course, she should have known better…

“They never talk business alone,” he insisted. “Mommy says she doesn’t have to. She says she only talks about business when she’s at the office.”

“What do you mean?” Emma asked with a puzzled look.

Simon looked up from his colorful blocks and his gray eyes showed his surprise about Emma’s ignorance.

“Because mommy is the boss. Granddad is only the boss of the shops in Aruba. He and Albert are re…re…retried…or something.”

“Retired,” Emma corrected automatically.

“Yeah, retired,” Simon nodded. “Uncle Jazz says that granddad is only the boss on paper, but mom and uncle Jazz are the real bosses.”

“Really?” Emma asked absentmindedly.

For the first time since she had met Kyra, she realized they had never really talked about Kyra’s work. Emma knew her lover worked in the family business, but she had never given much thought about Kyra’s position.

“Yes,” Simon continued, proud to be able to tell Emma something she didn’t know yet. “Sometimes, grandma is angry with mommy, because she doesn’t want to move. But I like where we live. All my friends live there and we have the best soccer field. Even Jarek and Mark told me so and they live somewhere else.”

“Really?” Emma said again, fighting the temptation to ask Simon a few more questions to find out more about the things she and Kyra never discussed before. She didn’t have to ask, because Simon was a willing source of information, voluntarily sharing a lot of information.

“Grandma wanted mommy and me to move to where she lives, because it’s richer, grandma says. But mommy doesn’t want to move. She told grandma she wanted me to have friends and then she said something about a silver spoon. What did she mean about that, Emma?”

Oh, boy! What did she mean? Did she mean what I think she did? Simon was born with a silver spoon? How well off is my lover anyway? She never did strike me as being very rich. Maybe I should try and find out a bit more about this ‘ Heart’s Choice’ business.

“Um…it’s an expression, honey,” she slowly answered, carefully choosing her words. “It means that a person is…lucky to be born in a certain family.”

Simon looked up and Emma could almost see the wheels churn inside his head. He nibbled on his bottom lip and his gray eyes were pensive.

“I’m lucky with my mom,” he concluded, making Emma smile. “But, I don’t have a dad, like some of my friends do. Does that still count then? That spoon thing, I mean?”

“Yes, it does, Simon,” Emma smiled. “I know for a fact that your mom feels very lucky to have you.”

“I know,” Simon replied casually. “Mark has no dad either. Mark said he left after he and his mom had a fight. He never sees him,” Simon paused for a moment and shot Emma a sad glance. “He says he doesn’t care, but when David was teasing him about it, he hit him.”

Aha, that’s what that fight at the playground a few weeks ago was about. I have been wondering about that.

“Mark was crying,” Simon softly added. “I think he was sad.”

Simon looked at Emma through his thick, long lashes and slowly scooted closer, until he was seated next to her on the ground, with his back against the wall and his legs stretched out in front of him, mimicking Emma’s pose.

“Emma?” he started, sounding a little shy.

“Yes, honey?” the teacher replied in a gentle voice. The look on the little boy’s face made her think there was something he wanted to talk to her about.

“I don’t have a dad,” he repeated, sounding very matter-of-factly.

“I know,” Emma answered, deciding to let Simon talk and not distract him with any technicalities about the birds and the bees. Besides, Emma didn’t know how well- educated the five- year old boy actually was, when it came to the facts about reproducing. His next remark however, provided her with little more insight.

“Well, of course I have a dad,” Simon continued in a serious voice. “But he and my mom didn’t get married. Why didn’t he love her, Emma?”

Because he was a fool? Wow, Simon, you do ask hard questions, buddy.

“I don’t think I have an answer to that question, honey,” she gently replied. “Sometimes it’s hard to explain why people do love each other, or don’t love each other. It all has to do with emotions and those are hard to put into words.”

For a brief moment Simon pondered over Emma’s explanation, or lack thereof, and he looked up at her with big, trusting eyes.

“You love my mom.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes, I do. I love your mom. I love her very much.”

He nodded his curly head and sent Emma a small smile. But the teacher noticed there was still a pensive expression in his eyes.

“What if you’ll stop loving her? What will happen then?”

Like Mark’s dad stopped loving his mom? And disappeared out of his life? Simon, honey, you are such a smart little worry-wart sometimes.

Emma took a deep breath and reached out her arm, to wrap it around Simon’s slender shoulders and pull him against her, in a one-armed hug. When she pressed her lips against his unruly hair, she felt his arms slip around her waist and she hugged him closer.

“You know, Simon, nobody knows what will happen in the future, but I do love your mother with my whole heart and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop loving her. The two of you are my family now and I promise you, I’ ll do anything to make you and your mom happy. Because the two of you make me happy. Very happy,” Emma added softly. “And I want us to be a family always.”

“With brothers and sisters?” came the mumbled question, that somehow did not surprise Emma.

“Your mom and I would like that,” she answered in all honesty. “But wanting something and actually getting it are two different things, Simon,” she added gently. “It’s not like babies are bought at the grocery store, you know.”

“I know,” Simon giggled. “If two girls want a baby, they need to go to the hospital and they will have…they will have…arte…arte…well, something,” he replied, deciding to avoid the difficult word that his friend Kim had taught him, after her mother’s partner had become pregnant.

” Artificial insemination,” Emma grinned, playfully ruffling Simon’s hair. “So, Kim told you all about that, huh? Wise guy!”

Simon laughed and threw himself against Emma’s taller body, trying to wrestle her to the floor.

“I’m not a wise guy,” he protested half-heartedly, squealing and wiggling when Emma tickled his ribs.

“Oh, yes, you are,” Emma teased. “You are a smart cookie! A smart chocolate cookie.”

“You don’t like chocolate,” Simon immediately quipped.

“That’s right, I don’t,” Emma laughed. “But I do like you. And since we’ re talking about cookies: I’m in the mood for a glass of milk and cookies. What about you?”

Simon immediately jumped to his feet, reached out to grab Emma’s hand and tried to pull her up.

“I like milk and cookies. Come on, Emma,” he encouraged. “Can we buy some for mom, too? She likes the chocolate ones.”

“Sure, buddy,” Emma chuckled, brushing off her jeans, before grabbing Simon’s hand. “Let’s invade the restaurant and see what kind of goodies they have.”

 

“Honey, are you trying to tell me that…” Norbert Hartman swallowed hard and looked at his daughter with wide, unbelieving eyes.

“Yes, dad. I was drugged, so was Rick by the way, but I passed out, while he was still capable of…well, you know, ‘ performing’,” Kyra added, while pulling a face. “Which resulted in me having Simon.”

“I take it you went to the police with this information?” Norbert continued, visibly upset with the story his daughter had just told him. “I’m not sure if he can still be prosecuted, but we should give it a try anyway. I mean, no matter from which angle you look at the circumstances, it is and always will be rape, honey. This was anything but a case of consensual intercourse.”

“I know, dad,” Kyra sighed. “And believe me, I’ve thought about it, but I won’t press any charges.” Seeing her father was about to object, she raised her hand to stop him from speaking.

“Hear me out, dad. I do have my reasons.”

Letting out a shuddering breath, Norbert Hartman slowly nodded and tried not to wince, when the sutures in the healing stab wound in his chest were slightly pulled by the sudden movement. He really wanted to jump up and shout in anger, maybe get into his car and pay Roderick Peters a visit, to tell the man exactly what he thought about him.

While Kyra gave him a few minutes to compose himself, he managed to get a grip on his anger. With clenched fists, he nodded at his daughter, encouraging her to continue her story. No matter how hard it was, he would let her finish, without flying off the handle.
“Yesterday, I talked to Rick,” Kyra continued in a calm voice, seeing the surprise in her father’s eyes. “I called him and told him I needed to talk. He and his wife agreed to drive up to Friesland. It was…not as hard as I thought it would be,” Kyra confessed with a small smile. “Dad, I think there will always be a part of me that will be angry with him, for what he did to me, for betraying me. But his actions resulted in me being Simon’s mother,” she added calmly. “And yesterday, when we met, I could see how much all this has affected him over the years. He was torn apart by it. Imagine dad, having to tell your wife you have a child with another woman because you practically…took advantage of the situation and basically raped her. He and his wife recently discovered they can’t conceive a child of their own.”

“I guess that serves him right,” Norbert mumbled.

“Maybe it does,” Kyra softly admitted. “I don’t know, daddy, but I feel sorry for Bridget, his wife. And I do feel sorry for him as well, I really do. You might, too, when you hear the whole story.”

“You mean, there is more?” Norbert Hartman frowned.

“Yes, there is,” Kyra sighed. “Mother was involved in all of this.”

“What? Your mother? How?”

“It’s hard to…comprehend, but mother knew that Rick had been experimenting with drugs and she had threatened to tell his father and make his drug abuse public. Unless Rick took me to that party and helped me to…’ loosen up a little’,” Kyra softly snorted in disgust. “And it gets better,” she quickly added, noticing her father was about to speak. “It was mother who supplied Rick with the GHB.”

“GHB?” Norbert breathed, feeling the anger in his chest build up again. “She gave him that…that… poison?” he spat. “For heaven’s sake, Kyra! That could have killed you! She knows how sensitive you are to drugs! What in the name of…What the hell was she thinking?”

Norbert Hartman was really furious now, Kyra could tell by the darkening of his eyes and the flaring of his nostrils. It was a rare sight to see, since her father was one of the kindest, even-tempered people she knew and he hardly ever lost his temper.

If he had felt better, Norbert would have jumped off his chair to pace the room. It was a habit that usually helped him to organize his thoughts and clear his mind. But this time, the wound in his chest forced him to stay down, and, frustrated Norbert Hartman drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair.

“Take a deep breath, dad,” Kyra worriedly replied. “You look a little too flushed. Maybe I shouldn’t…”

“Yes, you should have,” Norbert interrupted his daughter with a determined glint in his eyes. “I’m glad I know, honey, I really am. It’s time for your mother and me to have a serious chat!”

Frowning, Kyra nibbled on her bottom lip. Her father was in no condition to confront her mother with her devious actions. Besides, even though her father was another victim of her mother’s actions, she wanted to proceed with her plan. No matter how tempting the idea was of having her father by her side when she confronted her mother, it was something she had to do alone.

“I can understand that, dad,” Kyra sighed, patting her father on his hand. “But…I need to do this on my own. If I don’t, I know she’ll never take me seriously. Her recent…’actions’, were meant to cause problems between Emma and me. I want to put a stop to that. Once and for all.”

Norbert Hartman let out a shuddering breath and cast a look of admiration at his daughter who stared at him with serious, dark greens. She looked a little pale, but very calm and determined. In spite of everything, he felt a stab of pain and regret when he realized what Kyra intended to do.

“It’s a very…definite step,” he said in a hoarse voice. “Are you absolutely certain about it? I’m not asking this for…her sake, honey, but for yours.”

“I know, dad,” Kyra nodded. “And yes, I’m absolutely sure. This must end. Now.”

“What can I do to help you?” Norbert simply asked, accepting his daughter’s decision without hesitance.

“Can you provide me with a written statement, preferably notarized, in which you declare how mother had a hold on you and how much you paid her through the years?”

“No problem,” Norbert answered. “I’ll only have to give one of my old buddies here in Amsterdam a call and that will take care of everything. How soon do you need it? Today? Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow will be fine,” Kyra smiled. “Thanks, dad.”

Kyra stood up from her chair to give her father a hug and when she buried her face against his neck, breathing in his familiar scent, she smiled.

“By the way, how much did you pay her over the years?”

Norbert Hartman let out a soft chuckle and playfully tugged at one of Kyra’s curls.

“Do you really want to know?”

“I’ ll find out anyway,” Kyra grinned. “It will be in your statement.”

“True,” Norbert laughed. “Ah, well, do you want it in Dutch guilders or Euro’s?”

“Euro’s will be fine,” Kyra winked, glad to see most of the anger had left her father’s face. It was amazing how they were always able to turn a serious matter into something a lot more lighthearted. But she didn’t mind. She welcomed it.

Norbert Hartman smiled and a little frown appeared in his forehead when he made a quick calculation in his mind.

“Wow, it seems to be so much more when you add it all up,” he faintly joked, wishing he would have stood up against his ex-wife and given the money to charity instead.

“Close to a million,” he finally answered, hearing Kyra’s gasp of surprise.

“You’re kidding!”

“Not really,” Norbert sighed, pulling a face. “What was I thinking, huh?”

“Wow, dad, that’s a lot of money. I wonder what she did with it.”

“Hired a hitman?” Norbert joked. “Knowing your mother, well, I wonder if I ever knew her at all… anyway, my guess is she invested most of it.”

“Is that what she did with that lump sum you paid her when you divorced her? After you sold granddad’s hotel?”

“Yes, she invested most of that,” Norbert nodded. “I remember I even advised her on that. Duh!”

Kyra smiled and sank back in her chair.

“If everything goes according to plan, she won’t harass you anymore, dad, I promise.”

“I know, sweetie, but I’m not worried about the money. It’s not like I needed it all, although I can think of a lot of destinations for it, that would have been better than your mother’s bank account. Maybe that’s why I never really fought her. It wasn’t like she was bleeding me dry.”

“And she was aware of it, dad, that’s why she did it. Of course there’s a slight chance she’ ll go completely …nuts and do exactly what she’s been threatening to do for years. Could you handle that?”

“Could you?”

“No problem,” Kyra smiled. “I have faith in our company, our employees and in myself. I know most of our business contacts in the Middle East personally and I don’t think they’d care. If they have to choose between selling to a gay VP, who lives thousands of kilometers away, or not selling at all, I bet most of them will just sell.”

“You might be right,” Norbert sighed. “And I hope that’s the case. Looking back I think I could have done a lot of things differently, but…”

“But you were trying to protect me,” Kyra interrupted. “And you did a good job, dad. But it’s time for me to show mother that two can play that game.”

 

For the tenth time in five minutes, Vivian LeJeune glanced at her watch, wondering why the boy kept her waiting all this time. He was more than fifteen minutes late and, if there was something she really hated, it was tardiness.

With an angry frown. she stared at the entrance of the park, where a young couple entered. Their arms were wrapped around each other’s waists and they both sported a smile. They seemed totally absorbed in each other, radiating happiness and love.

Vivian LeJeune wrinkled her nose in disapproval. She had never understood the need for public affection. It was so…cheap, to flaunt feelings. She had always tried to instill that same attitude in her children. Jasper, of course, went his own way and had never brought home a girlfriend, anyway. Until recently.

Vivian LeJeune’s cool eyes went dark with annoyance when her thoughts returned to that fateful evening, when her son had called her to tell her he had a girlfriend. Her first reaction had been one of polite joy, until further probing on her part revealed the fact that Jasper’s object of affection was from Surinam. She could still not understand how her son could do that to her and she was determined to set his mind straight about his so-called, ‘ love of his life’, as he had called Elvira. But first, she had to deal with her other rebellious child. As soon as Kyra admitted that her friendship with that teacher was a mistake, she could concentrate on her son. Hopefully Goran had gathered up enough for her to work with. But, if he would fail, she’d still have her contacts in Friesland. Maybe they could provide her with some useful information.

Another glance at her watch made Vivian LeJeune sigh in frustration. Goran had still not showed up and she knew he must have run into some sort of trouble. That was the only, logical explanation anyway. He knew she could get him into a lot of trouble and she knew the boy was scared. She knew that, if he had been caught breaking in, he would not be able to drag her down with him. He didn’t know her name or where she lived. He didn’t even know her phone number. She would be able to keep her nose clean. It would be a pity, because it meant a set back, but Vivian LeJeune was convinced of her victory.

The growing friendship between Kyra and Emma had to be put to a stop and she, Vivian LeJeune was exactly the right person to do that.

Without a last glance at the entrance, she turned around and walked back to the opposite side of the park, where she had parked her car.

Pity Goran had not showed up, but she would call his house to find out what was going on. A few phone calls would put her back on track again.

 

“It’s really strange to be home again. I’ve only been away a few days, but it seems like it has been forever,” Kyra sighed, gracefully dropping herself on the couch, next to Emma, who looked at her with an affectionate smile.

“I like your place. It’s cozy,” she said, reaching out and pulling her willing lover into her arms.

“I like it too,” Kyra answered, politely hiding a yawn behind her hand. “But I love that little house behind the farm. It holds a lot of special memories.”

“Yes, it does,” Emma admitted, bending her head to kiss Kyra’s cheek. “And I’m sure there are a lot more to come.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kyra smiled, turning her head, so she could peer up into her most favorite pair of blue eyes. “It’s a pity it’s too small to house six children, otherwise I’d consider moving in there,” she said with sparkle in her eyes.

“We could ask mom and dad to move in there and we’ ll take the farmhouse,” Emma grinned.

Kyra laughed and snuggled closer in the arms that were protectively wrapped around her. She enjoyed crawling away into her lover’s arms. It made her feel safe and loved. Somehow the combination of Emma’s warmth and scent always managed to calm her down. It made her feel like she could take on the world; as long as she had those two arms to return to at the end of the day.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Emma’s warm voice rumbled in her ear.

“Mmm…you,” Kyra answered with a contended sigh.

“May I conclude from that…fairly short answer, that your mind was occupied with me?” Emma teased in a light tone.

“You may,” Kyra mumbled, resting her cheek against Emma’s chest, letting out a moan of pleasure.

“Dare I ask what you were thinking?”

“I don’t know, honey. You do seem fairly fearless and courageous to me. Pulling Anne out of that fire is just an example of that.” Kyra opened her eyes and peered up. “Don’t tell me my thoughts can scare you off.”

“They don’t, actually,” Emma smiled, quickly kissing the tip of Kyra’s nose. “I think your thoughts were about how great it feels to be snuggled up together. And I hope you were also thinking about new ways to kiss me senseless.”

“You were partly right,” Kyra smiled.

“I was right about the kissing part?” Emma eagerly asked and Kyra could see the mischievous twinkle in her lover’s eyes.

“Nope, sorry. It was the snuggle up part that was dead on,” Kyra answered, turning around so she could face the teacher. Emma saw the green eyes darken when Kyra moistened her lips. “But we can fix the other part,” she whispered huskily, slipping a hand behind Emma’s neck and pulling her closer. “If you want ‘ senseless’, I’m just happy to give that to you,” were Kyra’s last words, before their lips met in a kiss that was a mixture of passion, tenderness and deep desire, lasting several minutes and leaving Emma breathless.

Swallowing hard, Emma tried to calm her racing heart, vaguely remembering there was something she had wanted to discuss with Kyra, but not able to remember exactly what that was.

“You turn my brain to mush,” she half-heartedly complained, making Kyra chuckle.

“I thought you wanted to be kissed senseless?”

“I did,” Emma smiled, burying her face in the crook of her lover’s neck, while letting out a contented sigh. “You are very good at it.”

“Thank you,” Kyra replied with an amused look, reaching up and gently caressing Emma’s sutured eyebrow. For a brief moment, her thoughts traveled back a few days and she relived the frightened moments when Emma had run into the burning shed to try and rescue her niece. Watching the burning building, knowing her lover was inside and not knowing if she would ever see her again, had been terrifying. Kyra had known she loved Emma. But after seeing her lover disappear in the smoke and flames and fearing the worst outcome possible, Kyra had realized Emma had become such an important part of her life, she couldn’t live without her anymore…ever.

With a small smile, Kyra rested her head against Emma’s shoulder, feeling the arms that held her, pull her ever closer.

If my mother thinks she can force me into giving this up, she’s really wrong. She has no idea how strong we are together…how much courage and strength Emma gives me by just being there. No, mother…you have no idea…

“Oh, I remember,” Emma soft voice suddenly sounded and Kyra lifted her head lazily, to look up into her lover’s face.

“What?”

“There was something I needed to talk to you about.”

“Does it require me to sit up properly?” Kyra mumbled, feeling Emma chuckle.

“No, it doesn’t. You can just stay where you are. In fact, I like having you right here in my arms, so, by all means, don’t move.”

“Thank you, honey,” Kyra smiled, using her thumb to rub the back of Emma’s hand in slow, lazy circles.

“It was something Simon told me this morning, when we were at the hospital playground, building all sorts of interesting stuff with Lego blocks.”

Kyra smiled. It was not hard to picture her lover and son together, sitting on the floor amidst the colorful building blocks, happily chattering, while creating crafty constructions.

“You want some Legos for your birthday?” Kyra joked. “Of course, sweetheart, no problem.”

“Oh, you’re so funny,” Emma replied with a laugh, playfully swatting Kyra’s behind. “No, I don’t want Legos for my birthday. Simon promised me I’m allowed to play with his Legos if I wanted to. So there!”

“Good,” Kyra chuckled. “Because, frankly, I have something else in mind for your birthday.”

“You do, huh? Well, that’s interesting. Especially since I had my birthday just before we met, which means you’ ll have to wait about ten months before the happy occasion presents itself again.”

“No worries,” Kyra answered. “There are always anniversaries and ‘just because I love you’ events. I’m sure I can think of something, because I sure don’t want to wait ten months to share the surprise I have in mind for you.” Lifting her head, Kyra gave Emma a quick kiss, before snuggling back into her comfortable spot. “But, you wanted to talk to me about something,” she encouraged.

“Yes, I do. Simon told me that once he had overheard your mother and you talking about moving. Your mother wanted you to move to a ‘richer’ neighborhood. You told your mother you wanted Simon to have friends and then you apparently mentioned Simon being born with a silver spoon. He asked me what that meant.”

Emma could feel Kyra exhaling and a few moments long, there was silence.

“Funny,” Kyra finally said. “This morning my dad actually encouraged me to tell you a few things I haven’t mentioned yet.” Kyra looked up and Emma noticed the expression in her eyes was a mixture of guilt, apprehension and amusement. “But it never really came up and I…well, I guess it didn’t even cross my mind,” she added softly.

“So, the silver spoon thing is true?” Emma asked, with a hint of amusement in her voice.

“Umm, yes, it is,” Kyra confessed. “My dad was very surprised that I had asked you to be Simon’s guardian, without telling you that, at the moment, he’s heir to a…substantial fortune. Of course that will all change when he’ ll have his five siblings. They’ ll have to share.”

Emma had the distinctive feeling that Kyra was still doing her best to avoid the actual subject, and to her amusement, she noticed her lover was slightly embarrassed as well.

“Of course,” she answered and if Kyra had looked up, she would have seen the twinkle in Emma’s eyes. “But, just to give me an idea about the…substantial…part of the fortune; if the booty would be divided by six, would the spoons still be silver?”

“Yes,” Kyra mumbled, not daring to look up.

Emma softly chuckled and dropped a kiss on the top of Kyra’s head.

“Does that mean I hit the jackpot when I seduced you?” she joked in an attempt to lighten her lover’s mood.

It worked. Kyra’s head shot up and her dark-green eyes narrowed when she looked up at Emma.

“Hold on a second here, Emma Louise Altena! I might be rich, but I’m not stupid. If you care to remember, I seduced you, well, sort of anyway.”

“You sure did,” Emma smiled. “Once you had me alone after that party, there was no stopping you.”

Remembering that exciting and scary, but love-filled night, Kyra smiled and her eyes locked with Emma’s. There was no doubt or apprehension in those dark-blue depths, just love and acceptance, filling Kyra with warmth and happiness.

“So, you don’t mind?” she asked.

“No, I don’t. I loved the way you seduced me,” Emma answered, deliberately misunderstanding her lover, who laughed and gave her a quick kiss.

“Thank you,” Kyra replied. “But that was not what I meant.”

“I know,” Emma smiled. “And I don’t mind. I’m glad the subject came up though, because it would have been awkward to find out by reading some business magazine and seeing your name in the list of richest people in the country.”

“It’s not that bad,” Kyra responded, pulling her face. “Besides, I wouldn’t want my name on any list. I’d be worried for Simon, if that would ever happen.”

“So you keep a low profile,” Emma concluded.

“Yes, that’s the main reason,” Kyra admitted. “But I would have done that anyway, even if I hadn’t had Simon. My dad always made sure to tell Jazz and me that money is just a means to an end. It’s not the amount of money one has, that is important, but the way a person is. He always taught us that we have a great responsibility, because the people who work for our company, and their families, depend on us for their income. Wasting a lot of money that they helped earn, would be disrespectful for their hard work.”

“That’s a philosophy you don’t see too often,” Emma smiled, brushing away a strand of hair from Kyra’s forehead. “I admire that.”

“Thank you.”

“And I’m sure your mother has other ideas?”

Kyra let out a short laugh and nodded her head.

“Oh, yes. That’s why she’s going to be absolutely furious tomorrow. She sure won’t like what I have in mind for her.” A flash of anger crossed Kyra’s face and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Her blackmailing antics have cost my dad about a million.”

“Euro’s?” Emma gasped and Kyra nodded.

“Wow, that’s a lot of money.”

“It sure is, although he joked about it. But that’s my dad,” Kyra added with a mixture of amusement and pride.

“So, she did blackmail him,” Emma concluded. “And he will have a statement drawn up tomorrow? Isn’t he afraid your mother will act on her threats, now that she’ ll be exposed?”

“He’s not worried about himself. He’s worried about me,” Kyra softly answered.

“You? But, what…wait a minute.” Emma pulled back a little, so she could look at her lover’s face, but Kyra avoided her eyes and stared at her hand, that was playing with the hem of Emma’s shirt. “Honey, look at me, please.”

Kyra sighed and slowly her eyes traveled up, until they met a concerned, blue stare. She knew she had not fallen in love with Emma just for her looks. The teacher was intelligent as well, and a quick thinker.

And sweet and kind and a heck of a kisser, a little voice in the back of her mind added, almost making Kyra chuckle.

“I have a feeling you’ re leaving out some information,” Emma gently rebuked her. “Is there a particular reason for that? I mean, the fact that we’ re lovers, doesn’t mean you’ ll have to tell me all the family secrets. I just…”

“No, no,” Kyra interrupted hastily. “It’s not that I didn’t want to tell you, it’s just that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it and I didn’t really know how to tell you.”

“Then maybe we should start at the beginning,” Emma suggested. “Your mother has been blackmailing your father for years. My guess is, she had information about him, that he didn’t want the world to know. Am I right?”

“Well, yes, sort of,” Kyra sighed. “The blackmailing began when I was seventeen, but it was nothing that concerned my dad. Not directly anyway.”

“It concerned you,” Emma concluded, feeling the anger bubble up inside her chest when Kyra slowly nodded.

“Your alleged ‘affair’ with Kimberly?”

“Spot on. You’d make a great detective, honey,” Kyra smiled, hoping the joke would chase away the smothering anger in Emma’s eyes. Cupping Emma’s cheeks with both her hands, she looked at her lover with an intense stare.

“But you were seventeen! A minor!” Emma exclaimed, the anger blazing in her blue eyes. “What on earth…? You and Kimberley didn’t have an affair and when the poor girl died, all reason to think you were a lesbian were over. What in the heck…?”

“Honey, honey, calm down,” Kyra gently interrupted. “I don’t think she had an idea…or maybe she did, but that was not the point. At that time, my dad had become a bit of a…celebrity. He had recently opened the shop and restaurant in Aruba and every famous and semi-famous person felt the need to visit the place and make a big deal out of it. My dad was afraid that if my mother would act on her threats, my name and picture would be wallpapered all over every national and even some international gossip magazines. He didn’t want to do that to me, so he complied and paid my mother to keep quiet.”

“But your dad kept paying her, even after you were of age and even after you had Simon. Until this day, he has been paying her all the time.”

“I know and I asked him about that this morning. He told me my mother adjusted her threats over the years. First, it was all about me, but later on she did tell him it was easy for her to tell the Middle-Eastern business relations that the company they were doing business with, was lead by a gay man and his probably equally gay daughter.” Kyra let out a deep sigh and shook her head. “If I’d known, I would have stopped him from doing it, but my dad didn’t want to put me through all the turmoil. Especially not after I had Simon. He said I deserved some peace of mind and he didn’t care about the money anyway.”

“She’s such a…How could she even think of doing a thing like that to you, or your dad?”

“Sweetheart, try to relax. I love your protective streak, I really do, but tomorrow she’ ll get what she deserves, all right? We have the statements from Rick and Goran. Tomorrow we’ll add the one from my dad and I will slap her with them…figuratively speaking, of course. Yes, she blackmailed my dad, threatening to ‘expose’ me as a lesbian. Dad only tried to protect me and he succeeded, for years. But I am a lesbian and I don‘t care if the whole world knows. Besides, we live in a country where we have equal rights. I’d be surprised if anyone would care, besides my mother, that is.”

“She’s your mother, she should love you,” Emma replied in a sad voice. “Why can’t she see what a beautiful person you are? You are such a wonderful, compassionate woman and such a loving mother. If our children turn out to be like you, I’d be perfectly happy, not to mention proud!”

“You’ re so sweet,” Kyra whispered, feeling unexpected tears sting the back of her eyes. “I know I told you this before, but I’m so lucky and blessed to have you in my life.”

“Funny, I feel the same about you,” Emma smiled, sliding her hand to the back of Kyra’s neck and pulling her closer. “Such a loving declaration can only be sealed with a kiss.”

“Amen to that,” Kyra managed to whisper, before Emma’s lips descended on her own, chasing away all worries and problems.

The day had been a tough one, starting with her conversation with her father in addition to her visit to Goran, whose mother had profusely thanked Emma and her for their goodness in not pressing charges. Although, she had admitted, her son did deserve the punishment. But Emma had decided that, in the grand scheme of things, Goran had probably done them a favor and the teenager had been punished enough already. She had given him the key to her apartment, so he could return and clean up the mess he had made. Natasha Markovic had sworn she would accompany her son to make sure he would leave the apartment spotless.

But, with Emma’s loving mouth on her lips and her own hands traveling up underneath her lover’s shirt, Kyra’s mind was emptied from the memories of that day’s conversations and the complications they had brought along. Right now all that mattered was the woman in her arms, who slowly, but surely, drove her to complete distraction, until there was nothing but warm skin and heated kisses.

Tomorrow would be another day….
Chapter 20
Sandra van Dijk stifled a yawn and cast a look at the little clock on her desktop. It was still too early to call Kyra and ask her advice. Her boss would probably still be snuggled up in bed. Hopefully not alone.

Sandy smiled and took a sip from her hot, freshly-brewed coffee. Her thoughts traveled back to Vivian LeJeune’s visit the other day and her smile turned into a full-fledged grin. She knew she had angered and frustrated the older woman immensely and she had loved every second of it. She had never liked Kyra’s mother and had always respected her boss for the way she had put up with her dominant, arrogant, overbearing parent.

Sandy wrinkled her nose in disgust and felt a flush of warmth when she thought about her own mother. What a difference She knew she had been blessed with her parents and she made sure to remind herself, and them, of that fact regularly.

A smug smile spread across Sandy’s face when she remembered the way Vivian LeJeune had left the office after she had been told Kyra had taken the whole week off, even skipping an important business meeting. The woman had been furious and when she had turned around to leave, Sandy had secretly wished she would trip over the threshold and land flat on her face. Of course, that had not happened. But it had been a nice fantasy.

“What’s that look for? Did you have a canary for breakfast?” a familiar, but unexpected voice suddenly sounded.

Sandy shot upright in her chair and stared at the person who had just entered the office.

“Are you insinuating I look like a cat?” she quipped, jumping up from her chair with a huge smile on her face. “Don’t get me wrong, boss, I know this is your office, but what the heck are you doing here? I thought you were high and dry in Friesland? Don’t tell me the dikes broke through and you had to head for higher ground.”

Kyra shrugged off her light coat and shook her head, smiling at her secretary.

“No, last time I saw them, the sea walls were still firmly standing, thank goodness. I’m still on vacation, don’t worry. I’m here to take care of some personal business.”

Sandy nodded. She understood something must have happened after Vivian LeJeune had left the office. She had seen the unveiled anger in those usually cool gray eyes and, at the time, she had been grateful there had been a fair distance between her boss and her mother.

“Do you want some coffee?” Sandy asked, already moving towards the small kitchen, knowing how much Kyra appreciated the caffeine in the morning.

“Yes, please, thanks, Sandy. You’ re an angel,” Kyra sighed, rubbing her forehead. She could feel the beginning of a massive headache and she hoped it would not turn into a migraine. She needed a clear head. Having coffee would probably not be the best idea, but she promised herself to take some aspirin as soon as possible.

Kyra had followed her secretary into the tiny kitchen and leaned against the doorpost, while her nose sniffed the scent of freshly-brewed coffee appreciatively.

“Would you be so kind to make a fresh pot around ten this morning?” she gently asked. “And also some tea?”

“Sure, Kyra, no problem,” Sandy answered, handing her boss her favorite mug with a smile. “How has your vacation been so far?”

The tired look in Kyra’s eyes immediately disappeared and was replaced by warmth and happiness.

“It has been fantastic,” she admitted in a voice that was laced with joy.

“Good, I’m glad,” Sandy answered, giving her boss a friendly pat on her shoulder. “You were due for some relaxation and fun. How was the party that Friday night? Did you blow them all away with your silk green dress?”

Kyra laughed and shot her secretary an appreciative glance.

“It blew Emma away,” she confessed, blushing slightly.

“Good, it should have,” Sandy grinned. “It was about time.”

Kyra eyes grew wide and she looked at the other woman in astonishment. She had no idea Sandy knew about her feelings for Emma. She had never talked to her secretary about Emma, had she? Not in that way, anyway.

“Don’t look like you’ ve just been caught with your hand in the cookie jar, Kyra,” Sandy laughed. “I’m sure most people had no idea, but I’ve known you for quite a few years now and every time you mentioned Emma’s name, your face lit up like a Christmas tree.”

“Oh,” was all Kyra could reply and her secretary grinned. It wasn’t often she had the chance to see her boss speechless.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sandy continued. “I’m happy for you, I really am. I just hope Emma realizes what a wonderful person you are.”

Kyra smiled and there was a twinkle in her eyes when she looked at the other woman.

“She does. But don’t worry, I won’t let her forget that,” she winked.

“That’s the spirit_ ” Sandy laughed. “All right, boss, coffee and tea around ten. Anything else I can do for you?”

“No, thanks, Sandy. I just…a fair warning is in place here, I guess,” Kyra grimaced. “My mother will be here shortly and things could get…nasty. I hope we can keep the decibel level down, but if there will be a moment you’ ll feel uneasy, feel free to leave. All right?”

“Sure,” Sandy answered, shooting her boss an inquisitive look. “Thanks for the warning, Kyra, but if anything like that will happen, it will be all the more reason for me to stay. I’m not leaving you here all by yourself and a raging Crue…mother,” she quickly corrected herself.

“Another protector,” Kyra chuckled. “This morning, I had to use all my negotiating skills to convince Emma that I would be all right. My mother might be a…she might be difficult, but she’s not the violent type. I’ll be fine, Sandy, but thanks anyway.”

“I’ ll stick around anyway, just to make sure,” Sandy mumbled, before turning around and walking back to her desk, missing the smile on Kyra’s face.

 

Since she had to wait for her mother to show up anyway, Kyra decided she could use her time wisely by answering one of the many e-mails that had been piling up in her inbox. Soon she was completely engrossed in her work and with a startled look she glanced at the door when there was a polite knock.

“Never mind,” she could hear her mother’s cool voice. “She’s expecting me and besides, for heaven’s sake, I am her mother.”

Kyra leaned back in her chair casually, twirling a pen between her fingers, while her dark-green eyes turned a shade darker when the door opened and she saw how her mother pushed aside Sandy, before stepping inside her office.

Kyra bit back an annoyed remark and shot Sandy an apologetic look.

“Was that necessary?” she asked in a deceptively calm voice.

“For crying out loud, Kyra. I am your mother.”

Kyra put down the pen she had been holding and leaned forward, her arms resting on the surface of her desk, her hands clasped together. She looked every inch the sophisticated business woman she was at that moment and Vivian LeJeune unconsciously send her a look of polite approval. No matter what, at least her daughter always looked presentable. Thank heavens.

“Define that,” Kyra’s voice broke the brief silence.

“What?” Vivian LeJeune asked, taking a seat in one of the modern-looking, comfortable chairs that were placed in front of Kyra’s desk.

“Define ‘ mother’”, Kyra calmly repeated, almost sounding a little bored.

“A mother is a parent,” Vivian LeJeune answered, sounding very impatient. “Why?”

“What do you think of when you hear that word:’mother’? I’m curious to find out what associations that brings to your mind.”

“Is this some sort of psychological game? Because if it is, Kyra, I swear…”

“Please, answer me, mother,” Kyra insisted, not unfriendly.

“I don’t see the point. I just…”

“Answer me_ ” Kyra repeated, suddenly raising her voice, something she hardly ever did.

It had the desired effect, because Vivian LeJeune, who had opened her mouth to voice her next objection, looked completely stunned and she closed her mouth with an audible click.

“I’d like to know what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘mother’,” Kyra repeated again.

“Well, like I said, a mother is a parent. A care giver,” Vivian LeJeune answered, wracking her brain to figure out what Kyra’s motivation could be to ask her a silly question like that.

“A care giver,” Kyra slowly repeated, as if tasting each and every syllable on her tongue. “Interesting how you use the word ‘care’ here.” She paused and shot her mother a look Vivian LeJeune had never seen before and it made her slightly nervous. “Especially, since I associate the word ‘care’ with warm feelings, with nurturing and protecting. I even associate it with love.”

Vivian LeJeune squared her shoulders and her eyes were cool when they met Kyra’s.

“I take it you didn’t call me with the request to meet me here, just to discuss words and their meanings?”

“Not really, no,” Kyra. “I was just curious. Do you want to know why?”

Kyra knew her mother was not in the least interested and she almost chuckled when she saw the curt nod. Vivian LeJeune was not feeling in control of the situation and Kyra shamelessly enjoyed that fact.

“I spent the holidays in Friesland,” she began, seeing the flash of anger in her mother’s eyes, but Vivian LeJeune did not interrupt and Kyra continued. “Simon and I had a great time, thanks for asking,” she added sarcastically. “Emma has a lot of brothers and sisters and her parents are…amazing. They love each and every child and grandchild with their whole heart, accepting them for who and what they are. Her mother is a real care giver,” Kyra softly added. Her eyes were calm and didn’t reveal anything about what she was feeling at that moment, but they took in every gesture Vivian LeJeune made.

“And she is a peasant,” Vivian LeJeune almost spat. “A farm_ For crying out loud, Kyra, how could you subject your son to an environment like that?”

Kyra took a deep breath, fighting back the rising anger and she managed to sound calm when she finally answered.

“Have you heard any word of what I just said?” she asked with a hint of sadness in her voice.

“You took Simon to a farm for the holidays.”

“Yes, I did. A farm where he met a lot of genuinely loving people. A farm where he made a lot of new friends. A farm where he had the time of his life. Did you get any of that?”

Kyra could see her mother was trying to not lose her patience and inwardly she sighed. She sincerely hoped she would be able to get her points across, without her mother completely flying off the handle. Things were hard enough as they were already.

Kyra’s eyes traveled to the framed picture on her desk and her eyes softened, while a feeling of profound happiness spread through her body. Emma’s twinkling eyes made her heart skip a beat and Kyra smiled. Even from a picture, her lover managed to make her feel safe and loved.

Vivian LeJeune’s eyes followed Kyra’s look and with furrowed brows she reached out a hand to unceremoniously turn around the frame, so she could look at the picture that had brought that delighted smile to her daughter’s face.

As soon as she saw the image of Emma, she let go of the frame as if she had burnt her fingers.

“Her,” she spat venomously. “Do you really need a picture of your son’s teacher on your desk? What will your business relations say about that? You know how important a first impression is, Kyra. How many times have I…”

“She’s my lover,” Kyra interrupted her mother’s flow of words, dropping the bomb and waiting for the fall-out. She didn’t have to wait too long.

All color had left Vivian LeJeune’s face and for a moment she gasped for breath.

“No_ ”

“Yes,” Kyra calmly answered, reaching out a hand and returning the framed picture to its original place. “Emma and I are lovers, in every sense of the word,” she added, emphasizing every single word.

“She sucked you right in, didn’t she? And you went willingly, like a lamb to the slaughter _ I have always known there was something seriously wrong with you, but in spite of all the pain, sorrow and shame you caused me, I always tried to protect you. Is this the thanks I get? She’s after your money, Kyra. Can’t you see that?”

Kyra took a moment to compose herself. Even though she had expected her mother to respond this way, it still hurt to hear her say the vicious words. But she was determined to stay calm and focused. Losing her self-control would give her mother the advantage she was looking for and Kyra wanted to be the one who was in control of the situation.

“You have always known there was something ‘seriously wrong’ with me,” she repeated softly. Raising her eyes to meet her mother’s she tilted her head, shooting the older woman a questioning glance. “What exactly was wrong with me?”

Vivian LeJeune’s eyes narrowed and Kyra noticed she was clenching her hands into fists.

“You have always been just like your father.”

“And that was wrong, how?” Kyra asked in a low voice, for the first time allowing her anger to show a little.

“He’s…he’s…don’t you see? He broke up our family_ I…”

“Don’t change the subject, mother,” Kyra interrupted. “Why was it wrong to be like dad?”

“He’s gay,” Vivian LeJeune finally answered with evident disgust.

“And you and dad divorced when I was still very young, so, I ask you again, what was wrong with me?”

Not waiting for an answer, Kyra pushed back her chair and slammed her hand on top of her desk, making her mother jump in surprise.

“I’ ll tell you what was wrong with me,” she continued. “Nothing, absolutely nothing. Do you want to know what I think?” She paused for a moment and let out a humorless laugh. “I guess you don’t want to know, but I’m going to tell you anyway. You,” she pointed at her mother, who stared back at her with a look of barely concealed contempt. “You always want things to go your way. There’s only one person important to you and that’s Vivian LeJeune. You are a cold-hearted, manipulative, bitter woman_ You used your divorce as an excuse to play your sick little games. You never cared about me. You have never cared about me. You don’t love me, mother,” Kyra almost whispered. “You never have.”

After those words it took Vivian LeJeune a few precious moments to compose herself. Kyra’s words had been so unexpected and unsettling. Her daughter had never spoken to her like that. It really was disconcerting.

“Of course I…love you,” she finally objected, her anger rising when Kyra laughed.

“Mother, don’t make it any worse than it already is. Time and time again, you have blatantly shown that you don’t give a damn about me, so stop pretending.”

“But,” Vivian LeJeune started, wondering when she had lost control of the situation.

“No, mother. Please, don’t.”

“But I am your mother,” Vivian LeJeune cried out, feeling all control she had ever had over her daughter was rapidly slipping away.

“You might be the woman who gave birth to me, but you don’t act like a mother, therefore my sad conclusion is that you are not my mother.”

Angry Vivian LeJeune pushed back her chair and jumped up. Her face was red and her gray eyes were dark with fury. She was losing the battle and very aware of that.

“She has poisoned your mind,” she cried out, referring to Emma.

“No, she hasn’t,” Kyra calmly answered. “If anything, Emma has opened my eyes. She loves me for who I am, not for what she thinks I should be.”

“She loves your money.”

“Until last night, she didn’t even know about my money,” Kyra smiled, remembering the surprised amusement in her lover’s eyes when she had shyly told her about her fortune. “Emma thought I was just another hardworking, single mother.”

“She will bleed you dry, until she has every single penny squeezed out of you and then she’ ll dump you as fast as you can say ‘Euro’,” Vivian LeJeune spat.

“Like you tried to squeeze the money out of dad?” Kyra calmly asked, raising an eyebrow and shooting her mother an inquisitive look.

All color drained from Vivian LeJeune’s face and she had to grasp the table to steady herself. Slowly she sank back in her chair, desperately trying to calm her racing heart.

“What do you mean?” she asked after a long silence.

“Don’t play games with me, mother,” Kyra replied. “You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t,” was the weak reply.

“In that case I’ ll refresh your memory,” Kyra answered with infinite patience, reaching into one of her desk drawers and pulling out a dark folder. She put it on the desk and flipped it open, glancing at the neatly printed page on top of the small stack.

“Let me see…oh, here it is, I’ve found it. I won’t bore you with the details, unless you insist of course, but, according to this statement, over the last nine years, dad paid you a total of nine-hundred eighty thousand five hundred and ten Euro’s, which is a little over nine thousand Euro’s a month,” Kyra’s index finger tapped the page that was in front of her and glanced up to look at her mother. “We both know you weren’t bleeding him dry at all,” she stated with a smile that never reached her eyes. “Still, nine-thousand a month is a fair squeeze, don’t you think?”

“Whatever he told you, it’s not true,” Vivian LeJeune croaked.

“Do you want to see a copy of his bank statements? I have each and every one and I’d be happy to go through them with you,” Kyra suggested. “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Um…those monthly payments will stop. You’ ve had your last one. And if you think dad cares if he’s exposed as an openly gay man, think again. He’s been open about it from the start.”

“Then what is your point?” Vivian LeJeune spat, seeing an opportunity to turn the tables. “It’s not like I was holding something over his head.”

“Oh, but you were,” Kyra answered, flipping over the top page and glancing at the second one. “And I can tell you exactly what it was you were using against him. Let me see…” she mumbled, letting her fingers slide over the sentences. “Oh, here it is. It was…me_ ” she said, looking up and shooting her mother a dark glare. “You threatened to expose me to the world as an active lesbian, when I was only seventeen…a minor. Daddy wanted to protect me and so he paid you.” Kyra paused and folded her hands over the statement Norbert had delivered to her house that morning. “But, like I said, those days are over. He’s not paying you one more cent and if you want to expose us to our Middle-Eastern business relations then, please, go ahead, don’t let me stop you.”

“You…You are dreaming,” Vivian LeJeune stammered. “I never did such a thing. I…”

“Mother, stop pretending nothing happened.”

“But…I’ ve always had your best interest at heart, I…”

“Does that mean you accept my relationship with Emma?” Kyra asked with feigned enthusiasm.

“Of course not,” Vivian LeJeune immediately answered. “That teacher is nothing but a gold digger and…”

“But you have my best interest at heart,” Kyra confronted her mother with her own words. “Surely you would want me to be happy.”

“She’s..a…she’s…”

“Say the word, mother,” Kyra encouraged. “The word is ‘lesbian’. I’m sure you can say it. Simon can and he’s only five years old_ ”

“Yes, she’s a lesbian and you have no idea what she has done in the past. Do you know what happened at that school in Friesland? They fired her_ Do you know why?”

“Oh, yes, I do, she told me,” Kyra answered, seeing the surprise in her mother’s eyes. “But apparently you don’t. Is that why you had her apartment broken into? What did you hope to accomplish, mother? Did you hope to find some evidence of some sort? Or maybe something…anything you could use to blackmail her? Anything to run her off and away from me.”

“I never broke into anyone’s apartment,” Vivian LeJeune gasped. “I have no idea what you are talking about_ ”

“Let me see,” Kyra mumbled, flipping over another page and staring at yet another signed document. “Does the name…and I do hope I pronounce it correctly…Goran Markovic ring a bell?”

Kyra sent her mother an innocent look and raised both eyebrows.

“Well, does it? Or maybe you only knew him as Goran, that friendly teenager from the gas station?”

Kyra had never seen her mother so lost for words and if she had not been so angry, she might have felt some compassion for the older woman. But her mother’s denial of her actions had infuriated her and she only had to remind herself of the venom her mother had spread through the years to stay focused and determined.

“I…I…”

“I don’t know what you’ re talking about,” Kyra finished the expected sentence. “I think you do. Goran used to be part of a gang and you once saw him being lookout while his buddies broke into a car. You used that against him and forced him to break into Emma’s apartment.”

Vivian LeJeune jumped up again and started to pace the floor, frantically trying to come up with something….anything, that she could use to talk herself out of the predicament she was in. But somehow her brain refused to cooperate and all she could do was listen to her daughter who, with almost clinically detachment dissected every argument she came up with.

“He’s a juvenile delinquent,” she finally managed to croak. “Nobody will believe him.”

“I do,” Kyra immediately answered, carefully studying her mother’s body language. Vivian LeJeune was standing in front of the huge window, staring into the distance. She stood ramrod straight and Kyra could almost feel the cold that was emanating from the older woman.

“Goran went to a lawyer and had a statement drawn up. His lawyer believed him as well.”

“Lawyers believe anything, as long as you pay them,” Vivian LeJeune snarled.

“I’ ll make sure and tell Rick that,” Kyra dead-panned, watching her mother for a reaction. She wasn’t disappointed.

If Kyra’s confession about her relationship with Emma had been a bomb, then her last remark practically caused a melt-down. Vivian LeJeune was still looking out the window and Kyra couldn’t see her mother’s face, but she did hear the audible gasp and she did see the slender, elegantly dressed body go completely still.

“Rick?” Vivian LeJeune replied in a hoarse voice.

“Yes, Rick,” Kyra calmly repeated, grabbing the folder on her desk, pushing back her chair and standing up. “I’m sure you’ ll remember Roderick Peters? He’s your friend’s son.”

“Oh, that Roderick,” Vivian LeJeune almost whispered. “What does he have to do with anything?”

Kyra stepped away from her desk and walked towards the rigid body of her mother. She stopped a few paces behind her, clasping the folder with both hands. Her dark-green eyes were almost black in her suddenly drawn face.

“Last night, Rick and I had a very…enlightening talk. He wrote a statement as well. Do you want to know what’s in it?”

Kyra glanced at her mother and inwardly sighed. If only there had been more love and warmth, maybe they would have been able to settle their differences and come to an understanding. But she didn’t fool herself any longer; her mother had never loved her and had only tried to manipulate her life. Kyra felt a little sad, not because she was about to lose the mother she never had, but because her son would lose his grandmother. She knew how hard Simon had tried to win her mother’s affection.

 

“It’s probably a lie,” Vivian LeJeune’s voice filled the silence.

“You blackmailed him into taking me to that party. You threatened to tell his father he had been doing drugs. And then, on top of that, you did provide him with gamma hydroxy butyrate, the so called ‘ rape drug’ , instructing him to give it to me, because I needed to loosen up a little. He gave me an overdose and I passed out. At first, Rick was shocked and worried and he even made sure to carry me to a bedroom, so I could lie down. But since you made sure to tell him to take some of the stuff as well, he was not very…inhibited. Do you want to know what happened?”

Kyra saw her mother shake her head, but, relentlessly, she continued. “I’ ll tell you anyway. While he was not in control of his faculties and while I was passed out, he raped me. Is that what you wanted?”

Vivian LeJeune suddenly turned around and her gray eyes were dark with anger when they focused on Kyra, who returned the furious stare calmly.

“You will never be able to prove that,” she spat, not showing any trace of remorse. “How do I know those precious statements you are holding are real?”

Kyra slowly shook her head and sighed. With a sad nod she turned around and walked to the door of an adjoining office. Without uttering one word, she opened the door and stepped aside.

“Come in,” she said with a tired voice.

To Vivian LeJeune’s unmeasurable horror, Goran Markovic and Roderick Peters entered the room, followed by Emma Altena, who shot her lover a worried glance. But Kyra send her a tired smile and grabbed her hand to give it a loving squeeze.

“I’m all right,” she reassured her lover in a soft voice. “I’m just tired of it all and I want to get it done and over with as soon as possible.”

Emma nodded and sent Kyra an encouraging smile, which made her lover feel a lot better.

Turning back to face her mother, Kyra smiled at Goran and Rick, who both sported the same nervous, but yet determined expression.

“Daddy couldn’t make it today,” Kyra addressed her mother. “But he wanted me to let you know that if you have any questions, you can always give him a call.”

Vivian LeJeune knew that she was defeated. No matter how hard she had tried to cover up all her tracks, her past had still caught up with her. With pursed lips she shot Emma an icy cold stare, before turning her attention to Kyra, who was leaning her hip against her desk, staring at her mother with expressionless eyes. It was her lack of emotion that worried Vivian LeJeune the most. In the past, she had always been able to count on Kyra bursting out in tears, or retreating into herself, not strong enough to put up a real fight. This time was different and she could not help wondering what had happened to change her daughter so completely.

“You have changed,” she accused in a bitter voice. “I never imagined you could be so ungrateful and mean.”

Kyra cocked her head and shot her mother an astonished look. It took her a few moments to register what her mother had said and when the words finally sank in she snorted softly and chuckled.

“I am mean? I’m sorry, mother, but I do believe you don’t have all your facts in order. And have I changed? I guess I have. I’ve something worth fighting for: a family. And I don’t let anyone mess with them.”

Emma, who was standing a few paces behind her lover, felt her heart swell with pride and her dark-blue eyes shone with love, when they focused on Kyra, who was still facing her mother, not aware of the admiration on her lover’s face. But Vivian LeJeune saw the look and immediately she was filled with an almost uncontrollable rage.

“It’s all your fault,” she spat, pointing at Emma, who raised an eyebrow and looked surprised. “If you wouldn’t have wiggled your way into my daughter’s life, nothing of this would have happened. I had a perfectly good relationship with my daughter before you came along. But I can assure you that I won’t rest until I have completely destroyed you . There will not be one school that will hire you when I’m done with you.”

Kyra half-turned and looked at Emma, who seemed not fazed at all. She just stood there, calmly staring at the raging Vivian LeJeune and when she caught Kyra’s glance, she sent her lover a small smile and shrugged her shoulders, indicating that she was all right, Vivian LeJeune’s words did not unsettle her. She had expected them. That morning, over breakfast, Kyra and Emma had discussed the possibility of Vivian LeJeune turning on Emma and threatening her. Kyra’s mother had done exactly what Kyra had predicted she would do.

“You’re not exactly in a position to make threats, mother,” Kyra spoke, returning her gaze back to her mother. “But I’m glad you brought up the subject, because you need to know that if you ever try anything to hurt Emma, Dad, Rick and Goran, or any of their families or friends, these statements,” Kyra held up the folder in her hand for emphasis, “will immediately be sent to the closest police station and to all the big newspapers in the country. Do you understand that?” Kyra paused and sent her mother a questioning look. “From now on you are on your own, mother. Since you can’t seem to have any positive input in my life, or Simon’s, I think it’s better not to have any contact at all. If Simon will ever decide he wants a relationship with you, I won’t stop him. But right now he’s too young, so I decide for him.”

“Fine mother you are,” Vivian Lejeune snapped, deliberately trying to hurt Kyra. “If you would have listened to me in the past, all of this would never have happened.”

“It’s time to stop blaming other people for the mistakes you are responsible for, mother,” Kyra answered in a tired voice.

“You just blamed me for the fact you ended up with a kid_ If you’d have taken me up on my offer back then to pay for the abortion, you wouldn’t have to…”

“That’s more than enough, Vivian_ ” Rick’s voice suddenly thundered. “I do think it’s time for you to leave.”

“You have nothing to…”

“You need to go,” Rick Peters repeated, almost trembling with anger. “And you need to leave right now.”

“Wait till I tell your mother how disrespectful you are,” Vivian LeJeune spoke.

“I don’t think my mother wants anything to do with you anymore,” Rick replied.

 

“Goodbye, Vivian.”

With an indignant expression on her face, Vivian LeJeune turned to her daughter and opened her mouth to speak, but Kyra beat her to it.

“Goodbye, mother.”

“Kyra_ You can’t do this. I…”

“Goodbye, mother,” Kyra repeated, turning around and walking back to her desk.

“Rick, would you please be so kind to see mother to the elevator?” she asked calmly.

Without looking up, totally disregarding her mother’s presence, Kyra pressed the buzzer on her desk and immediately Sandy’s clear voice broke the silence.

“Kyra?”

“Sandy, could you please send us some coffee and tea? I think we all need a dose of caffeine.”

“Need some whiskey with that?” Sandy joked and in spite of the situation, Kyra laughed.

“No, thank you. Just coffee and tea will do.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Sandy cheerfully replied and Kyra could almost see the smug smile on her secretary’s face. “Coffee and tea coming up.”

“Thanks.”

Kyra looked up and saw her mother slowly walking towards the door with Rick Peters right behind her. For a split-second she wondered if she had done the right thing, but when she remembered her mother’s lack of remorse, all doubt vanished.

“Take a seat, Goran,” she encouraged the lanky teenager, who was a bit more relaxed, now that his nemesis had left the room.

He obediently sank down in one of the overstuffed chairs and let out a sigh of contentment.

“This is a nice office, Kyra,” he shyly complimented. “I like those little sculptures on the table. Are they made out of soapstone?”

“Yes, they are,” Kyra responded with a smile. “They are made by an Inuit artist in Canada.”

“I thought so,” he nodded. “My dad used to be an artist. He used marble a lot, but also wood and soapstone.” Goran paused and for a moment there was profound sadness in his eyes. “That was before the war,” he explained softly.

Goran was still very young, but he understood about loss and, when his eyes caught Kyra’s, his gaze was full of compassion.

“I’m sorry about your mother, Kyra.”

“So am I, Goran,” Kyra sighed, walking over to Emma and wrapping her arm around her lover’s waist. She needed the closeness and sighed happily when Emma’s arm slid around her shoulder, pulling her a little closer.

“Are you all right?” Emma softly asked, capturing Kyra’s eyes with her own.

“I’m fine,” Kyra nodded. “It wasn’t easy, of course, but I’m glad it’s over. Maybe we all can finally start to live our lives the way we want to. I’m sure mother got the message. She might be dense, but she’s not stupid. I think she…”

Kyra’s sentence was interrupted by a loud, crashing noise outside the office, followed by Sandy’s loud and angry voice. Both Kyra and Emma practically ran towards the door and just when the teacher was about to grab the handle, the door flew open, almost hitting her square in the face. She was able to jump back in time and with a stunned look she suddenly stared at a red-faced, furious Vivian LeJeune. Roderick Peters was limping towards them through the hallway, his face scrunched up in pain.

“I’m sorry, Kyra,” he gasped, eyeing the scene in front of him with growing anxiety.

Sandy, who had been carrying a tray with the requested hot beverages was standing amidst the shattered remains of what used to be teacups and coffee mugs. The hot coffee and tea was mingled together in a big puddle on the floor and was also dripping down the wall that once had been immaculately white.

Sandy’s face was as red as Vivian LeJeune’s and the two women were facing each other with blazing eyes, seemingly ready to pounce on each other. Emma immediately recognized the situation as an explosive one and without second thought she grabbed Sandy’s arm and dragged her back into the office, escorting her to the far corner, where she pushed the secretary down in a chair with her hand resting on the trembling woman’s shoulder.

“Take a deep breath,” she encouraged in a soft voice, while her eyes were transfixed on the figure of her lover, who was still standing in the doorway, facing her mother.

“Is it really necessary to create a scene, mother?” Kyra asked and Emma could hear the slight tremble in her voice…her lover was angry.

“I demand an explanation,” Vivian LeJeune spat. “I am your mother and you treat me like….like…”

“Like you don’t matter?” Kyra helpfully finished the sentence, while her voice was almost dripping with sarcasm. “Like you’ re not worth anything? Like dirt? Like you can’t think for yourself?” she added with a steadily rising voice. “Well, I have news for you, mother. That’s exactly how you’ ve been treating me for years. It’s a sucky feeling, isn’t it?”

“I have never…”

“Yes, you have. Time and time again,” Kyra interrupted. “And I’m fed up with it and I’m fed up with your hypocritical attitude, your bigotry and prejudices. I’ve had enough of your sneaky meddling in affairs that don’t concern you and I’m sick of the way you try to manipulate people. And I’m totally disgusted with the way you’re still trying to deny any wrongdoing. It really is time for you to take responsibility for your own actions, mother.” Kyra took a deep breath and even though her eyes were still glowing with anger, her voice suddenly became calm and steady. “I want you to leave this building, mother. You’ re no longer welcome here. You can leave now, on your own. Or I’ ll call security and have you removed. The choice is yours.”

“You wouldn’t,” Vivian Lejeune gasped.

“Try me,” Kyra challenged. Her eyes traveled to Roderick, who was leaning against the wall, rubbing his left knee.

“Do you want to press charges, Rick?” she asked in a tired voice “Mother evidently kicked you, didn’t she?”

Rick Peters nodded and bit his lip to stifle a chuckle, when the absurdity of it all suddenly hit him.

“I won’t press charges if she leaves right now,” he answered in a strained voice, trying not to lose his composure.

“I…I…,” Vivian LeJeune stammered, pressing her hand against her chest. “I don’t feel too well. If I get a heart attack right now, it will be your fault,” she snarled at Kyra who shrugged her shoulders and didn’t look worried at all.

“Mother, stop the acting. We both know you recently had your annual check-up and your doctor was very pleased with your healthy heart. You’ re doing the martyr routine, but I really don’t feel guilty, so you’d better give it up. Please leave now, before things become really ugly. You should be grateful you’re being given a chance and a choice about the matter and not read about the statements in the edition of tomorrow’s newspaper. And, please, don’t forget it could still happen that way.”

“Why would I believe you?” was the bitter reply and Kyra sighed. She desperately wanted things to be different, but she honestly did not think her mother would ever change. Still, it stung to realize there was absolutely nothing loving about their relationship. If only her mother could have been a little more like Anne Altena. Just a little would have made such a world of difference…

“You have my word, mother,” she answered sadly.

For a brief moment, dark-green eyes met a pair of gray ones and Kyra’s heart skipped a beat when she noticed a flash of something that resembled sadness in her mother’s eyes. She unconsciously held her breath, while her mind did a double-take, trying to figure out whether she had been imagining things. But before she could respond, the gray eyes had regained their usual cool expression and Vivian Lejeune sent her a look full of contempt.

“Have it your way. Don’t come running back to me though, when your precious pet-teacher dumps you as soon as she has emptied out your bank account. Goodbye, Kyra,” and with those words Vivian LeJeune turned around and headed towards the elevator and out of her daughter’s life, without looking back.

Kyra watched her mother walk away and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was such a surreal situation. She never would have thought the day would come when she’d ban her mother from her life, and yet, deep down inside, there was more relief than pain and she knew she’d done the right thing. Heaven knows what could have happened if she had not tried to stop her mother.

Slowly exhaling, Kyra turned to Rick and her eyes were full of concern when she saw him rubbing his knee.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, I am. My ego got bruised a little, but I’ ll live. Your mother packs a mean kick.”

“I’m not surprised. Did you see those pointy shoes?” Kyra replied dryly, making Rick chuckle. “What happened?”

Rick Peters raked his fingers through his short-cropped hair and sent her a bashful smile.

“She surprised me,” he confessed. “I was opening the door for her, when she suddenly turned and kicked me. And here I was, thinking Vivian LeJeune was a real lady.”

“It’s a good thing she didn’t use pepper-spray,” Kyra remarked with a wry smile.

“Ouch,” Rick grimaced. “Are you all right, Kyra?”

“I’ll live,” was the answer and they both smiled.

“You were great, Kyra, I don’t think I could have handled a situation like that with the same grace and self-control,” he confessed. “You were very impressive.”

“Thank you,” Kyra nodded. “I’m just glad I managed not to lose control. If that would have happened, I’d have given her the upperhand.”

“Well, you did great,” Rick complimented her again and he kneeled down to pick up the broken glasses and mugs, but Kyra put her hand on his shoulder and shook her head.

“I’ll get somebody to clean that up, Rick. I guess the carpet needs to be shampooed as well, so don’t worry about it.”

“It’s the least I can do,” Rick mumbled, but Kyra’s ears had picked up the soft-spoken words and she cocked her head, shooting him a quizzical look.

“You’ ve helped me tremendously with your statement and Goran’s,” she said. “I’m very grateful for that.”

“I can never make up what I’ve done to you, Kyra,” Rick softly answered, staring at the mess that littered the floor.

“Then stop trying,” Kyra answered, equally soft. “Yes, what you’ ve done was wrong. But I do understand the pressure you were under and I also realize people who are under the influence of drugs don’t exactly use their brain like they should. But Rick, even though I…detest what happened, something beautiful came out of it as well. I have received two wonderful gifts in my life, and Simon is one of them.”

“And the other one is Emma,” Rick smiled, slowly straightening up, careful not to jerk his painful knee.

“Yes, she is,” Kyra replied. “A soon to be very cranky Emma, if she doesn’t get a cup of coffee,” she added, aware of the fact her lover was able to hear her.

“That’s right,” Emma nodded. “I was lured to the office with the promise of fresh coffee, but I haven’t seen anything yet. Unless that stain on the carpet counts. In that case, forget what I just said.”

“Poor baby,” Kyra smiled, casting a look at her secretary and raising one brow. “Are you all right, Sandy?”

“I am now,” the other woman answered, slowly getting up from her chair. “I was ready to throttle her, when she just knocked that tray out of my hands. She did it on purpose, you know. I’m sorry about the carpet and wall, Kyra, I can…”

“Don’t worry about the carpet and wall,” Kyra interrupted. “I’ll get somebody to clean that. I’m just glad that hot tea and coffee ended up the floor, instead of on you. That could have been painful.”

“Very,” Sandy admitted, pulling a face. “Do you want me to make some fresh coffee? I can run down to the cafeteria and see if they’ ll have a thermos I can use.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” Kyra answered. “Let’s all get out of here. There’s a place around the corner that has the best coffee in town. My treat.”

“Does that include apple pie?” Emma asked with feigned innocence, while her blue eyes were dancing with amusement.

“Sure, honey,” Kyra answered with a smile, hooking her arm through her lover’s.

“With whipped cream?”

“Don’t push your luck,” Kyra playfully growled, grateful for the light banter, that relieved some of the stress she had been under. She could always rely on Emma for love and support and for jokes and remarks that would ease any form of tension. It was a precious gift and she treasured it.

“Thank you,” she whispered, giving Emma’s arm a loving squeeze, knowing her lover would know exactly what she meant by that.

“Anytime, my love,” was the soft response, filling Kyra with warmth.

 

The car sped down the highway, overtaking other vehicles like they were standing still. Most drivers shot an annoyed look at the silver colored BMW, wondering which maniac was behind the wheel. Driving at a speed like that, in the dark, could only be described as suicide.

The driver of the luxurious car was not aware of the angry looks. Even if Vivian LeJeune would have noticed the annoyed stares, she would not have cared. Most men were just jealous of her sleek, powerful car. One time she had debated with herself whether she should hire a chauffeur or not, but driving the muscular car had always given her such a sense of strength and power, she had decided against it.

It had almost been a week since Kyra had banned her from her life and Vivian LeJeune had noticed that her friendship with Margaret Peters had taken a big blow as well. After leaving numerous messages, Margaret had finally returned her calls and flat out told her she did not want to see her anymore.

Vivian LeJeune softly snorted when she remembered the last conversation she had with her former friend. Margaret had told her she didn’t posses Kyra’s grace and ability to forgive; she could not forgive Vivian for blackmailing her son into drugging Kyra and himself.

All their mutual friends and acquaintances had somehow picked up on the fact that Margaret had refused to be her friend any longer and, strangely enough, more and more people had given her the cold shoulder.

Vivian had decided to leave the country for a while. Surely, if she’d been away for a few months, people would start acting normal again, wouldn’t they? Besides, it was a good enough reason to visit with her friends in Lausanne, where she had bought a luxurious apartment a few years ago. Staying in Switzerland for a while would also give her the opportunity to discuss her investments with the bank that had been handling her affairs for years. They had done a good job with the investments and Vivian knew that, even without the monthly sum Norbert had paid her, she would be able to live a very comfortable life.

With a small smile, Vivian wondered if Kyra and Norbert had known about her steadily accumulating Swiss bank account. Probably not. It wasn’t something she wanted to be known. As soon as people knew you were rich, they all wanted a part of it. She would make sure that nobody would profit from her. Ever.

Gloating in the knowledge she had been smarter than her ex-husband and daughter, Vivian LeJeune forgot her fatigue. She had been driving for hours and her eyes had felt tired and heavy. Maybe it would be a good idea to rest for a while. Maybe even find a decent hotel and have a shower, a good meal and some sleep.

Nodding to herself, Vivian LeJeune decided she would do exactly that and she squinted her eyes to try and read the traffic sign that was looming in the distance, without taking her foot off the pedal.

 

The road construction workers, who had been working for hours and were just enjoying a well- deserved cup of coffee, looked up when the screeching sound of brakes pierced the night. To their horror, they saw a pair of bright headlights speeding their way and, thanks to their youth and firm bodies, they managed to hurl themselves out of the way, seeing a silver flash of metal when the BMW, that was now spinning out of control, collided with the back of their truck, sending both cars careering down the side of the road, until they both were stopped in their deadly dance by a group of trees, leaving nothing behind but slowly settling dust, blinking taillights and an eerie silence.

 

Anne Altena smiled when she glanced outside the kitchen window. Simon was chasing the twins, Anne and Amber, with a water pistol, while the two girls screamed like banshees and Hester’s son, Peter, was rolling on the grass, laughing until the tears were streaming down his face.

Simon had fit in since the first day he had met Emma’s nieces and nephews and, especially Peter, Anne and Amber had been his best friends. Somehow, the aftermath of the fire in the shed had forged a bond between the four of them, which was wholeheartedly welcomed by their grandmother, who looked on with an indulgent smile, when Anne managed to grab a small bucket of water, dumping its contents on Simon’s head. The curly-haired boy whooped and jumped up and down in the puddle on the ground, making his friends laugh even louder. There was no question about it: Simon Hartman was a clown, who could take practical jokes as easily as dish them out.

“What’s that smile for?” a voice suddenly sounded and Anne Altena looked up into Emma’s laughing eyes.

“Your son,” her mother smiled, pointing at the dripping boy. “He’s really something else. He has a great talent for teasing.”

“I know,” Emma grinned. “He has that from his mother, believe me. It’s amazing how both Kyra and Simon fit into this crazy family. I’m lucky,” she added with a smile.

“What time will Kyra be here?”

“Hopefully in time for dinner,” Emma answered with a sigh. “It’s been real busy at work lately. I’m glad she managed to take three whole weeks off. This is going to be the best summer vacation ever.”

Anne Altena glanced at her daughter’s face and smiled when she saw the dreamy expression on her face.

“You still look like a love-struck teenager,” Hester’s voice unexpectedly sounded from the doorway.

“And I hope I’ ll never lose that,” Emma quipped, winking at her mother. “What brings your inspiring presence here, sis? I thought you said you wouldn’t show yourself until the food was on the table.”

Hester pulled a face and gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek, before turning towards her sister and slapping her on the shoulder.

“I don’t think I could live with myself if I wouldn’t share my culinary talents with the rest of you,” she dead-panned.

“Sounds to me you’ re just hungry and can’t wait to taste the goodies,” Emma mumbled, making her mother laugh. “I’ ll have to tell David to take you out more often.”

“Yes, please, do,” Hester grinned. “I wouldn’t mind at all. And I do admit, I’m curious. It’s not often a famous chef stops by and makes me dinner, you know.”

“I’ll make sure to tell Norbert that,” Emma laughed. “Who knows? Maybe he will even teach you a thing or two. Like: how much salt do potatoes really need?”

“As long as you girls don’t harass the poor man,” their mother suddenly spoke up, knowing her off-spring very well. “It was very sweet of him to offer to make a buffet for the whole family. I just wonder how in earth he’s going to do it all. He told me I wasn’t allowed to touch a single spoon, unless it was to eat.”

Emma laughed and gave her mother a hug.

“Don’t worry, mom, it will all work out. If not, well, we can always drive down to the nearest McDonalds.” Emma grinned. “But I have faith. When Kyra called me a few hours ago, she said that her dad and Albert were driving this small catering truck over here. I bet he’s got it all prepared in advance.”

“You think?” Anne Altena asked, clearly doubting Emma’s words.

“I’m sure,” Hester added. “And if those chicken wings Kyra made a few weeks ago are any indication of her dad’s talents, we’ ll be in heaven tonight,” she added, licking her lips in anticipation.

“You and your stomach,” Emma shook her head. “It’s a miracle you can still move, you little piglet.”

“Oh, ouch,” Hester laughed. “It might be my stomach that…guides me a lot of times, but with you it’s…well, other body parts,” she added in a mumble, glancing over at her mother, who had sent her a warning glance.

Emma just laughed and was just about to answer her sister, when she heard Simon’s happy cry.

“Mom_ Mom_ ”

A smile lit up her face and she rushed outside, just in time to see Simon hurl himself into his mother’s waiting arms.

“Hello, sweetie,” Kyra greeted her son, lifting him up, while he wrapped his arms around her neck and his legs around her waist. She chuckled and kissed a damp cheek.

“What have you been doing, Mr. Octopus? You’ re all wet.”

“Water fight,” Simon explained. “It’s really fun, mom.”

“I bet,” Kyra laughed, ruffling Simon’s wet curls. “But I suppose it’s a great way to cool off. It’s been hot today.”

“Emma will take us for a swim tomorrow,” he announced. “Do you have your vacation now?”

“Yes, sir. Three whole weeks. How about that, huh?”

“Great_ ” Simon exclaimed, hugging his mother tight. “We can do all sorts of fun things.”

“And we will,” Kyra promised, glancing over Simon’s curls, to see the warm blue of her lover’s eyes.

“Hi,” she mouthed with a smile.

Emma dipped her head, before blowing her a kiss and Kyra grinned. It had only been two days ago since Emma and Simon had headed to Friesland, but it had felt like two weeks. And now they would have three glorious weeks together, just the three of them. Life was good.

“Okay, you can say ‘ hi’ to Emma now,” Simon said, using his mother’s body as a slide to descend to the ground again.

“Why, thank you,” Kyra laughed, giving him a last quick kiss. “That’s mighty kind of you.”

Simon just laughed and shrugged his slender shoulders.

“Peter said his mom and dad smooch a lot as well, so we think it’s normal,” he surprised them with his answer. “I’ll go back and dump a bucket of water on Peter. Is grandad coming soon as well?”

“Um…yes, yes, he is,” Kyra stammered, very aware of Emma’s laughing eyes. “He’ ll be here soon.”

“Great_ I told Peter and the girls granddad makes the best potato salad.”

After those words, Simon turned around and ran back to his patiently waiting friends, who greeted him with another bucket full of water, which induced a new, enthusiastic water fight.

Kyra’s eyes found Emma’s and she smiled when she walked towards her lover, who reached out her arms and pulled her into a firm hug.

“I’m glad we’ re normal,” she mumbled against Emma’s shoulder, feeling her lover chuckle. “I suppose we just received some seal of approval, don’t you think?”

“Absolutely,” Emma grinned, nuzzling her lover’s neck and breathing in the familiar scent she had missed so much those last two days. “I’m so glad you’ re here. I think those two days were the longest in my life.”

“I know what you mean,” Kyra sighed, lifting up her head and almost drowning in her favorite pair of blue eyes. “So, how about a kiss?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Emma smiled, bending her head and covering Kyra’s lips with her own, aware of four giggling kids, but not caring about the fact they had an audience. Until, after a few delicious moments, she gasped in surprise when a daring, little soul suddenly dumped ice-cold water on her back.

Without looking back, she raised her eyes and caught Kyra’s, that were filled with a mixture of compassion and amusement and who tried very hard not to laugh out loud.

“Let me guess,” Emma whispered. “Simon?”

Kyra peeked over Emma’s shoulder and her eyes fell on her son who was dragging an empty bucket behind him, trying to get away from Emma as fast as he could, while the rest of the kids were sitting on the ground, laughing.

“Yup,” Kyra answered, biting her lip. But her eyes were dancing and she knew she couldn’t keep from laughing any longer.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she snorted with laughter. “But you’ve should have seen your face.”

“You’ re lucky I didn’t bite your lip when he chucked that water on me,” Emma growled, but Kyra saw the twinkle in her eyes and she lovingly patted her lover on the back.

“Pity he didn’t hit the front,” she purred, before giving Emma another quick kiss. “Go get him, champ. You know you want to.”

Emma laughed and cupped Kyra’s face between both her hands, kissing her soundly, before releasing her again. Turning around, she let out a blood-curdling scream and started running towards the shed where she knew Simon was hiding.

 

“You outdid yourself, dad, that was simply amazing,” Kyra sighed in contentment, wiping her hands on a paper napkin, before dumping it in the big trash can.

“Thank you, honey,” Norbert smiled, eyeing his daughter with affection. “This family sure knows how to appreciate good food,” he added with a wink, making his daughter chuckle. “And dancing,” he smiled, nodding his head in the direction of his partner, who was teaching Hester, Irene and Imke some intricate dance-steps.

“They are a fun bunch,” Kyra replied, feeling her lover’s eyes on her and scanning the yard until she had found Emma, who was casually leaning against the wall of the shed, talking to one of her brothers, while her eyes regularly flashed into Kyra’s direction. When she smiled at her, Kyra could feel her heart rate pick up and she let out a deep sigh.

“So, have you asked her yet?”

“Dad_ ” Kyra gently elbowed him and Norbert just laughed.

“I’m an old man, honey. I’d love to dance at your wedding before I can’t move anymore.”

Kyra glanced aside and Norbert noticed the blush that was creeping up her face. He grinned and nudged her with his shoulder.

“What are you hiding from me, daughter?”

“I was going to…I want to ask her tonight,” Kyra shyly answered, suddenly feeling very self-conscious and nervous.

“Then what are you waiting for?” Norbert gently encouraged. “Unless you ordered those violinists we once talked about and they are stuck in traffic?”

“No_ ” Kyra laughed. “I’m…I’m nervous, dad. How silly is that? I love her and I know she loves me. I don’t think she’ ll say no, but still…”

“Then go for it,” Norbert answered. “It’s a beautiful summer evening. I saw the roses bloom in that gorgeous garden next to the house and I can smell the jasmine in the air. It will never be more perfect than tonight,” he chuckled.

“You’ ve always been a sucker for romance, dad,” Kyra accused, but she was smiling.

“I know,” he replied, giving his daughter a quick, one-armed hug. “Do you have the ring?”

Kyra felt in her pocket, something she had been doing all evening to assure herself the ring she had bought for her lover was still securely in there.

“Yes, I do,” she answered, taking a deep breath and straightening herself.

“Great,” Norbert smiled. “I don’t have to wish you ‘ good luck’, because I know the outcome. Just don’t stay away too long,” he winked and he laughed when Kyra stuck out her tongue, before slowly heading towards her lover.

 

Emma nodded at something her brother said, but when she remained silent, he followed her gaze and softly laughed when he saw Kyra approaching.

“I guess I’ve lost your attention,” Frank gently teased, nudging his sister with his shoulder.

“Huh?” Emma responded, a little dazed, which made him laugh even louder.

“It’s funny. As soon as Kyra hits your line of sight, the rest of us mortals cease to exist, but that’s all right,” he quickly added, seeing the guilt in Emma’s face. “We have all been young and in love, besides,” he bent his head closer and whispered:”What’s not to love, sis? She’s not only beautiful, but also brainy.”

“She’s wonderful,” Emma sighed, not aware of the soft expression in her brother’s eyes.

“Like my Karen,” Frank admitted, his eyes twinkling.

“Yes, like your Karen,” Emma replied with a sunny smile, knowing her brother practically worshiped his wife.

“I’m happy for you, Emmie. For the both of you.”

“Thank you, big brother,” Emma smiled, giving the tall man a quick hug. “I’ll go and see if maybe my honey wants to dance with me.”

Turning around, she effortlessly caught Kyra’s gaze and with a warm smile she watched her lover approach. When she was close enough, Kyra reached out a hand in silent invitation which was immediately grabbed by Emma.

“Follow me,” Kyra encouraged in a low voice, turning around and pulling Emma with her.

Thinking Kyra would lead her to the improvised dance floor where Albert was practicing steps with a laughing Hester, Emma’s brows rose when she noticed she was being lead away from the crowd, to the small, beautiful flower garden at the side of the house…her mother’s sanctuary.

Oooh, romance…

With a huge smile she obediently followed her lover until they were both standing in the middle of the small, but beautiful garden, surrounded by rosebushes and other flowers.

Emma breathed in deeply and was instantly reminded of all the hours she had spent weeding and planting flowers, helping her mother as often as she could. It was in that same garden she had first told her mother she was a lesbian.

Emma smiled at the memory. Her mother had just wrapped her in a big hug and thanked her for the display of trust by confiding in her. Her sexual orientation had never been an issue for her parents or her siblings. It was easily accepted by everybody.

“Want to sit down for a little while?” Kyra’s voice broke her musings and she nodded, sitting down on the little bench her father had installed for her mother, so she could sit down and enjoy her private, peaceful oasis.

“I love this place. Your mom has created her own little paradise. It’s beautiful,” Kyra sighed, putting her head on Emma’s shoulder and immediately feeling her lover’s arm slip around her waist.

“It took her years to get it like this,” Emma low voice answered. “But yes, it’s gorgeous.”

“It’s so peaceful, I could easily fall asleep here,” Kyra confessed, suppressing a yawn.

“This bench is a little hard, though,” Emma chuckled. “Maybe the grass would be better. But you might wake up wet and covered in cobwebs.”

“Mmm, I don’t think I’d like that,” Kyra replied, wrinkling her nose. “I guess I’ll just be conventional and sleep in bed then.”

“Thank you,” Emma grinned. “I missed you last night. I thought I would never go to sleep.”

“Even after my goodnight call?” Kyra gently teased, knowing exactly what Emma meant. She too had experienced trouble sleeping. Numerous times, she had sleepily reached out for her lover, only to find cold sheets.

“Especially after your goodnight call,” Emma smiled, pressing her cheek against Kyra’s. “It made me miss you even more. Hearing your voice and not being able to touch you was torture.”

“I know what you mean,” Kyra sighed. “Thank goodness I’m here now. And we’ ll have three weeks together, just you, Simon and me. I need that time. Work has been so busy lately.”

“So Goran’s dad’s work is selling?”

“It sells like crazy,” Kyra smiled. “I talked to him on the phone this afternoon and he was just flabbergasted by all the attention he’s been receiving lately. The Breda Museum wants him to do an exhibition this Fall and he’s been asked by the city council to do a sculpture for the new city hall.”

“That’s great,” Emma laughed. “I guess I’ll hang on to that little horse sculpture he gave me. Sounds like it’s a good investment.”

“Most likely,” Kyra replied, half-turning so she could wrap her arms around Emma’s neck and pull her in for a kiss that lasted deliciously long. When they finally broke apart, Kyra moistened her lips and looked up at Emma with a small smile.

“You’re the world’s best kisser,” she sighed, making her lover chuckle.

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” Emma gently joked, tucking a curly strand of hair behind Kyra’s ear.

“No, just to you. Only you,” Kyra answered seriously. “You’ re all I need and all I want. Just you.”

Before Emma knew what was happening, Kyra had slid out of her embrace and off the bench and was kneeling in front of her, grasping one of her hands and kissing the knuckles. Emma’s breath hitched when she saw Kyra slip a beautiful ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit and with a smile Kyra bent over Emma’s hand and pressed her lips against the gold band that was adorned with three sparkling diamonds.

The words of something Kyra had once told her echoed in Emma’s ears and she swallowed hard, blinking against the tears that suddenly filled her eyes.

One day, Emma Louise Altena . One day soon, when all of this has blown over, I will go down on my knees and beg you to marry me.

“I can’t imagine my life without you anymore, Emma. You’ re the only one who touches the very essence of me; my soul.” Kyra’s voice was hoarse with emotion. “You’re not just my lover, but you’re my partner in every sense of the word. You have my heart and I know you’ ll always keep it safe.” Kyra paused and took a deep breath. “Simon loves you. I love you, with all I am and all I can ever hope to be.” Kyra smiled and there were lights dancing in her eyes. ” We are surrounded by roses. I am down on my knees and I have the ring…Emma Louise Altena, will you marry me?”

Emma wiped away a tear that was rolling down her cheek and she didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Looking down from their joined hands to Kyra’s face, she noticed a mixture of love, amusement and anxiety in her lover’s eyes and she smiled.

“Yes, I’ll marry you,” she answered, her voice thick with emotion. “I’d be honored.”

Kyra let out a shuddering breath and suddenly she became aware of her wildly beating heart. With a soft chuckle she pressed a hand against her chest and shook her head in disbelief.

“Were you afraid I’d say ‘no’?” Emma asked, grabbing both Kyra’s hands and pulling her up.

“Not really,” Kyra replied, wrapping her arms around Emma’s neck and straddling her lover’s lap. “But I was a little nervous. It’s not like I do this kind of thing every day, you know,” she added with a chuckle.

“I hope not,” Emma smiled. “But if you would, just make sure it’s me you’ re asking over and over again.”

“You’d get sick and tired of me after a while,” Kyra replied, bringing her face close to Emma’s and looking into her lover’s smiling eyes.

“I doubt it,” Emma whispered. “No matter how many times you’d ask me; I would always say ‘yes’,” she added, before their lips met and they lost themselves in a long, deep kiss, that robbed them both of their breath.

When, after a very long time, they finally came up for air they were both breathing hard and Kyra softly moaned, burying her face in Emma’s neck.

“You set me on fire,” she whispered hoarsely.

“I think we do that to each other,” Emma croaked, fighting the urge to throw Kyra over her shoulder and disappear into the rapidly darkening night. “I love you, Kyra.”

“I love you too,” Kyra answered and Emma could hear the smile in her voice.

Emma pulled Kyra closer and laughed softly when Kyra shifted, so she was able to wrap her legs around Emma’s waist as well. It reminded her of the hug she had witnessed Simon give his mother that afternoon.

“Like mother, like son,” she softly teased, closing her eyes and absorbing the wonderful feeling of having Kyra in her arms. “The two of you have a talent for giving the best hugs.”

“Thank you,” Kyra mumbled, wondering if it was possible to fall asleep like that, draped all over Emma, who was sitting on a wooden bench. It was probably not really comfortable for her lover.

“Are you going to fall asleep on me, honey?” Emma asked, kissing Kyra’s cheek.

“No,” Kyra sighed. “Although I’d like to. But if we stay away too long, I’m sure somebody will come up with the idea to come looking for us.”

“I guess you’ re right,” Emma chuckled. “Although they would run the risk of finding us in a very compromising situation.”

Kyra lifted up her head and shot her lover an impish smile.

“Is that a proposition?”

“No,” Emma laughed. “No matter how much I love you and no matter how much I want to make love to you right now, right here. I’d never take the risk of being stumbled on by one of my dear family members. We’ d never live it down_ ” She gave Kyra a quick kiss on the bridge of her nose. “Besides, there are a lot of impressionable kids walking around here, I don’t think…”

“I get it, I get it,” Kyra chuckled. “And you’re absolutely right, my love. Just hold those thoughts for later, all right?”

“Absolutely,” Emma grinned.

“Good,” Kyra nodded, untangling herself from Emma’s body and slowly getting to her feet. She reached out and grabbed Emma’s hand, pulling her lover to her feet as well. “Let’s go back and find Simon. Maybe he’s willing to take the heat and do the announcement.”

“While we make a quick exit?” Emma laughed. “Now, there’s a thought.”

“Somehow I think we’d miss a great party if we did that,” Kyra contemplated.

“You know my family,” Emma smiled. “Every excuse to party is embraced with enthusiasm.”

 

Emma was right. After they had joined the rest of the family, they had taken Simon aside to tell him the news and the boy had immediately jumped up and down with joy, shouting: “Mom and Emma are getting married. Mom and Emma are getting married_ ”

Before Emma and Kyra could even utter another word to each other, they were surrounded by family members and ten minutes later the expected party was in full swing.

“Remember our first kiss?” Kyra dreamily asked, securely wrapped in Emma’s arms, dancing to a slow song.

“How could I ever forget?” Emma’s voice sounded next to her ear. “It was…amazing. Very…public, but amazing,” she laughed softly.

“It was like magic,” Kyra continued, after playfully swatting her lover on the behind. “I love dancing with you, especially if I can combine it with kissing.”

“Hedonist,” Emma whispered, nibbling Kyra’s ear, before kissing her cheeks, her chin and finally her lover’s lips.

Of course their kiss did not go unnoticed, but they studiously ignored the teasing remarks, only having eyes for each other. To everybody’s amusement, they didn’t even notice the end of the song, but steadily swayed to the music, that still echoed in their ears.

Neville, who had been assigned as the impromptu diskjockey, took pity on the couple and quickly started another CD, which earned him a wink from Norbert Hartman. Kyra’s fathers had fallen in love with the Altena family the very first time they had been invited for a visit. It had been a week after his release from the hospital and both he , Albert , Jazz and Elvira had been impressed with the warmth and hospitality they had received. He had immediately understood why Kyra and Simon felt so at home at the Friesian farm.

While looking at the dancing couple, his thoughts traveled back to that visit and the phone call he had received from his ex-wife’s Swiss lawyer. Although he had only feelings of anger left for Vivian LeJeune, he had been shocked to find out she had been in a car accident. According to the police her sturdy car had saved her life, but she had broken both her legs and rehabilitation would be long and tough.

Through her lawyer, Vivian LeJeune had made it clear she didn’t want any form of contact, not even with Jasper. In no uncertain terms, she had told her lawyer that as long as her son planned on maintaining a relationship with Elvira, he was not welcome. To Jasper, it had been an easy choice; he loved Elvira deeply and if that meant being disowned by his mother; so be it. Counting his blessings, he knew he had the best girlfriend he could have ever asked for, he had two loving fathers, a sister who had become his hero, a nephew he was crazy about and a sister-in-law he had taken an instant liking to . He was very fortunate.

Norbert let out a sigh and turned his head when he felt a familiar hand on his shoulder. Looking into the dark eyes of his partner, he smiled and covered Albert’s hand with his own, giving it a loving squeeze.

“Our little girl has found her destiny,” Albert said in a husky voice. Seeing Kyra and Simon so happy filled him with gratitude and great joy.

“Yes, she has,” Norbert answered. “And I do believe those two girls are a perfect match.”

“I do believe you are right,” Albert smiled. “Their wedding will be spectacular_ Two gorgeous women like that will make absolutely amazing brides. I know I’ll be crying my eyes out all day long.”

Norbert just laughed and watched how Kyra and Emma both lifted up a giggling Simon and continued to dance with the boy’s arms firmly wrapped around their shoulders.

“Do you think we’ ll have more grandchildren?” Albert asked with a mischievous smile.

“Oh, yes, I’m absolutely sure we will,” Norbert grinned. “Kyra always wanted a lot of kids and I’m sure Emma wants that as well.”

Albert’s dark-brown eyes followed his daughter and grandson and for a brief moment he felt sad.

“I hope they’ ll come and visit us at least once a year. I’ll miss them.” His eyes traveled across the dance floor, taking in all the happy, laughing faces. “I’ll miss all of them. I feel like I’m part of this family.”

“I know what you mean,” Norbert sighed. “We’ ll just have to come and visit more often, but, I do have a plan of my own,” he added with a smug smile.

 

The ocean was a perfect blue, stretched out to the horizon, where a few white, fluffy clouds seemed to hover over the shiny surface, like a creative hand had playfully painted them on the light-blue sky.

The white powder sand of the beach was soft and warm to the touch and was bordered by a line of sturdy looking palm trees, providing some much needed shade.

It was quiet, only the rustling of the big palm leaves and the melodious rolling sound of the waves could be heard. It was a perfect picture of serenity and Emma let out a deep sigh of contentment, when her eyes took in all the beauty that surrounded her. They finally came to rest on Kyra, who was dozing in the beach chair next to her, apparently totally relaxed.

Emma’s eyes softened and she smiled when her eyes fell on the golden wedding ring on Kyra’s right hand.

“This place is…so beautiful. Are you sure that school we saw yesterday doesn’t need any teachers?” she asked with a sigh, but her dark-blue eyes were twinkling.

Kyra opened one dark-green eye and shot her partner an indulgent look.

“We can ask,” she answered lazily.

“I was kidding,” Emma grinned. “I love Aruba, I really do. This island is amazing, but I’d miss my family too much.”

“We can ship them all over,” Kyra suggested with a chuckle.

“And over-populate the island? I don’t think so,” Emma replied with a laugh. “Besides, I suppose living here would cause some of the magic to disappear. I wouldn’t want that to happen.”

“Any place I’d live would be magical, as long as you’re there,” Kyra responded.

“Oh, you sweet talker, you,” Emma smiled, reaching out a hand and running it down Kyra’s bare stomach. “I love you, you know.”

Kyra smiled and opened both her eyes, eying her blue bikini-clad partner with evident admiration.

“I love you too, Emmie. This is the best honeymoon I’ve ever had,” she added with a wink, making Emma laugh.

“And the only one, I hope,” Emma replied, tickling Kyra’s ribs, making her squirm in her chair. “Unless, of course, we’ ll decide to have a second honeymoon and a third one…”

“Sounds good to me,” Kyra chuckled, unexpectedly grabbing Emma’s hand and pulling her out of her chair, straight into her arms.

“You were way too far away,” she complained, reveling in the feel of Emma’s bare skin against her own.

“Aren’t you afraid to cause a bit of a spectacle?” Emma asked with feigned worry, but Kyra shook her head and kissed her soundly on the lips.

“This is a private beach, my love,” she said after a while, grinning at the dazed look in Emma’s eyes. “Leave it up to dad to pick out the perfect location.”

“I nearly fainted when he gave us that envelope with the photo of the beach house,” Emma confessed. “At first I didn’t know what to think of it. I thought it was an odd wedding gift.”

Kyra laughed and let her hands slide down Emma’s back, making the other woman moan softly.

“Until I found out he was giving us a beach house in Aruba,” Emma continued, very aware of the hands that were rubbing circles in the small of her back, which was very distracting. “Then I was just speechless.”

“It was very sweet of him, not to mention generous,” Kyra softly admitted. “And it’s big enough for a whole family.”

“Do you think he was hinting at something?” Emma chuckled, nibbling Kyra’s collarbone, enjoying the slightly salty taste.

“I’m sure he was,” Kyra gasped when she felt an insistent hand slide down the strap of her bikini top. “He wants a lot of grandchildren.”

“Good, so do we,” Emma whispered. “Talking about grandchildren, what time will our son be back?”

“Dad and Albert… took him to visit …Albert’s cousins on the other side… of the island. He won’t… be back before… dark,” Kyra stammered, feeling Emma’s lips slide down the curve of a breast.

“Perfect,” Emma whispered. “That will give me hours and hours to show my wife how very much I love and adore her.”

“By all means,” Kyra sighed, burying her fingers in Emma’s thick hair in an effort to steady herself against the assault of emotions that invaded her body, making her world spin out of control.

A smile spread across her face, when she realized that even though her mind had not understood it at the time, her heart had already made its choice after that first evening she and Emma had spent together.

As their bodies met, a ray of sun was caught in the gold on Kyra’s finger, reflecting the light and painting highlights in Emma’s auburn hair. Throwing back her head, Kyra closed her eyes and gave herself up to the tender, loving touches that made her heart beat wildly and her blood race through her veins, knowing that, no matter how high Emma would take her, she’d always be safe in the arms that held her so close.

Always.

 

The end

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