Murrook Farm by Lois Kay

Murrook Farm
by Lois Kay

#2 in the Reef Series

 

Prologue

The morning had been warm and lazy. Jody smiled when she remembered waking up to a pair of love filled blue eyes that had looked at her with so much admiration, it had penetrated her sleep-induced haze immediately. Jody had reached out and pulled the tall, blond woman close to her, sighing contentedly when she had felt SamÇs naked skin slide against her own.

They had spent the morning making love, enjoyed a late breakfast in bed and a long cool shower afterwards.

Jody yawned and stretched her body that had a pleasant ache in some very private places. Her green eyes took in her surroundings and again, she was in awe with its beauty.

She was sitting outside on the porch, enjoying the view that was displayed in front of her. The green, tree covered hills on the west side of the property and the blue of the ocean in the east. The house was located near the top of a hill and surrounded by tall trees, producing a wall of green that, even during the hot, summer days, provided a welcome coolness.

The graveled driveway led down the hill to eventually catch up with the main road that, in turn, merged with the highway. Twenty minutes was all it took for her to drive from home to work. But still, it felt like they were living in the middle of a wilderness, surrounded by clean air and nature.

The view of the Pacific Ocean in the East, visible between the trees that lined one of the hills and the fields of rolling green, adorned with acres of rainforest, was breathtaking. It made Jody feel that she and Sam had their own little island of happiness.

Jody ås eyes traveled to the road that leisurely wound alongside the hill and ended in a driveway close to the house. She remembered the first time she had seen it. They had taken a turn off the main road and the car had slowly climbed the hill. On the way up they had crossed a couple of creeks, that were fed by a small waterfall in the nearby forest.

The small road had led them through some parts of the forest, where it was nice and cool and after about ten minutes they had spotted the house. It was on top of a hill, surrounded by dozens of tall trees. Jody had loved the old farmhouse immediately and when she had looked at Sam, she had seen a familiar glint in those clear, blue eyes.

They had both laughed and promised each other not to look too eager about wanting to buy the place.

As a wedding gift, SamÇs father, who was a very successful businessman, had promised his daughter and her partner that, if they would find a house they liked, he would pay for it and give it to them as a wedding gift.

That evening Sam had written her father an email and attached some digital pictures of the house. A few days later Richard Stevens’ Australian lawyer had invited Sam and Jody to come over to his office to sign the papers.

Two weeks later construction workers had arrived at the site, to make some minor alterations and a month later their dream house was finished. A five bedroom house with a double garage and a wrap around verandah, on twenty acres of land, mostly grassy hills and forest, with a perfect view of the Pacific.

On the lower part of the property, there was a self-contained studio, with its own landscaped back yard and driveway. Sam had loved it, knowing her brother Tom and his family would visit regularly and she was pleased to be able to offer her brother and his family all the privacy they could need.

A large pool perfected the picture and whenever Jody’s siblings visited, they always brought their swimming gear.

Inside the house there were tile floors and timber lined ceilings, giving the place a rustic look and providing a necessary coolness during the hot, summer months.

Jody smiled when her thoughts returned to her in-laws. Sam’s father was an impressive man, tall, heavyset, with a deep voice that, if raised, would probably sound like thunder. He was an intimidating sight and at first Jody had been a little apprehensive. But after only spending the afternoon with Richard and his wife and seeing how Sam had her father wrapped around her little finger, Jody had learned that Richard Stevens was a kind and gentle man, who would do anything to make his wife and children happy.

Their wedding had proved that. Sam had already told Jody that her home country was one of the first countries in the world, who had passed a law that made it possible for same sex couples to get married. Legally.

Richard had insisted on paying for the wedding and the couple’s honeymoon in the south of the country. No matter what Sam and Jody said, he was determined.

Tom, Sam’s brother, had just grinned and shrugged his shoulders, reminding his sister of his wedding and the way their parents had organized it to perfection.

” Suck it up, sis,” he had chuckled. ” Just enjoy the ride. Besides, you’ll be disappearing Down Under again. Don’t deny them this pleasure.”

The wedding had been…impressive, Jody recalled. Both Sam and she wanted to keep things small. Grudgingly, Richard Stevens had promised not to invite all of his friends and business relations.

They had both wanted to dress elegant, but simple on their big day and decided to wear pantsuits. Sam wore a raw silk aqua colored suit, that emphasized her tan and blond hair, while Jody had chosen a sea green silk linen suit that brought out the green color of her eyes beautifully.

The service had been held in the city hall of Sam’s hometown, Breda. It had been sunny, that Saturday morning and when the car had pulled up in front of the steps that lead to the huge wooden doors of the old, majestic building people had stopped to watch.

When Sam had opened the door of the car to help her partner out, they had heard a soft, collective gasp of surprise when the onlookers saw the bride and groom were both women. A little insecure Jody had looked up to Sam, who had smiled at her and grabbed her hand.

” You are beautiful,” she had whispered, bending her head to kiss Jody’s forehead.

The onlookers had smiled and when one of them shouted: ” You go, girls!”, everybody had started laughing and applauding.

” Gefeliciteerd,” ( congratulations) another person had called out, in Dutch, which was impossible for Jody to understand.

Sam had turned around with a grin, her eyes searching the fast growing crowd to find their well wisher.

” Bedankt, (thank you),” she had shouted back in her native language. ” But we aren’t married yet. She could still say no.”

The onlookers had laughed again, while Sam had guided Jody up the steps, translating her brief conversation with the stranger.

” Are you afraid I would say ‘No’,?” Jody had teased when they had reached the top of the stairs, ready to enter the building.

” No, I know you love me,” Sam had whispered, her blue eyes moist. ” And this is the most beautiful day in my life. Ten years ago I thought I had lost you forever, but today we will become each other’s wives. It’s my dream come true.”

” Thank you for waiting for me,” Jody had whispered back, pulling Sam’s head down for a kiss.

Only when they had heard shouting and clapping, they had remembered where they were. With a quick wave and slightly embarrassed grin they had entered the City Hall, where an usher was waiting to accompany them to the wedding- room, where their family and friends were already waiting for them.

Jody closed her eyes and smiled. Their wedding day had simply been awesome. Sam had looked so relaxed and happy and Jody had been pleasantly surprised to find that all the guests spoke English. Even the waiters and waitresses at the hotel where they had held their wedding reception, had simply adjusted, which earned them a huge tip from Richard Stevens.

When Jody had made a remark about it, Sam had smiled and grabbed her hand.

” Most people here speak English and they are hospitable enough to just change from Dutch to English to make you feel at home. It’s easier for them to speak English, than it is for you to speak Dutch.”

” I still can’t get my tongue around it,” Jody had chuckled. ” It’s such a hard thing to learn. I am so grateful for all those people that speak my language.”

Jody cast a look at her watch and slowly got up from her comfortable deck chair. Sam had gone down to town, to get a few groceries and she expected her back any time soon. Knowing her partner, she probably was thirsty and Jody decided to make some fresh lemonade.

She realized that soon their long honeymoon would be over and in about a week’s time, Jody would return to The Reef, where she had been promoted to manager, while Sam was still kicking around some ideas to expand the services of her father’s hotel. She had been seriously exploring the idea of a scuba diving school and had already contacted several instructors to see if they would be interested to work for Stevens Inc.

Just when Jody stepped into the kitchen, the phone rang and quickly she picked it up.

Her face lit up when she heard the person on the other side of the connection.

” Hey, Mom. Didn’t change your mind, did you? You are still coming to dinner?…Oh…okay, no, you don’t have to bring anything, just yourself….what? That’s no problem, Mom, just take your time, we will see you when you get here. The school bus will drop off Fiona and I’ll pick her up down the road…Alright…..See ya.”

A little later Jody sipped the cold lemonade, waiting for her lover to come back home from her last minute trip to the local shop. They would have dinner guests that evening and, of course, a few of the most important groceries had been forgotten on their last trip to the store.

Jody grinned when remembering Sam’s face when the tall blonde noticed they had forgotten to buy cream for the Pavlova Sam loved so much. Jody had offered to make something else instead, but Sam had insisted on driving down and getting some cream.

” Oh, my Dutchie and her sweet tooth,” Jody smiled amused, extending her hand to pat their five month old German Shepherd, Kurt on his head.

The dog looked up to her with adoring brown eyes and lazily wagged his tail. Life was good for the canine. He had two humans who looked after his every need and plenty of room to roam around, which he did with abandon.

” Knowing your mommy she will save you some cream,” Jody chuckled. “She spoils you rotten, Kurt.”

The Shepherd had been a gift from Brian and Chris, who had told them they loved their house, but were a bit worried about the isolated location. A good guard dog had made them feel better about it and one day they had showed up with the adorable, clumsy pup.

Jody and Sam had immediately fallen in love with the dog and ever since he had become part of their family, they had laughed about his antics and enjoyed his presence.

The memories never faded. They clung to her soul, like a dense, chilling fog. Filling the holes in her mind with cold images and the gaps in her heart with icy emptiness.

The nights were entirely too long, even around the summer solstice. Sleep had become something alien and even when exhaustion submerged her in welcome darkness, the dreams soon took over.

It was the heat of the flames, threatening to consume her and making her soundlessly scream. She could see herself, in the middle of a room, reaching out to a little child. Their hands almost touched, while the fire closed in around them. She was so close. But then the licking flames reached her bare skin, and she woke up, bathing in sweat. The image that was burned into her mind, was a pair of wide, panic filled eyes.

A slender girl, that didn’t look a day older than fifteen, gazed at the milling crowd with a bored expression on her pale face. She was dressed in a pair of cut off denims and her oversized grey t-shirt hung loosely around her body. The gentle ocean breeze played with her long, blond hair, occasionally whipping a strand into her face. Impatiently she pushed it away, all the time making sure to keep an eye on the entrance of the big hotel.

Cool eyes followed a small group of young girls, who had just left the hotel. They were dressed like they were going to the beach. Short wrap around skirts and bikini tops, bags casually slung over their shoulders. They were walking close together and when they doubled over in laughter, the girl who was watching them softly snorted. One corner of her mouth was lifted in contempt and unconsciously she balled her fists.

” Idiots,” she softly snarled, refusing to listen to a little voice in her head that tried to lure her into a discussion.

Ignoring the voice happened more and more. In the past it had sometimes been a comfort, especially on one of those cold, wet winter nights, when she was rolled up into a ball, behind a shed in a backyard, or safely tucked away behind some dense bushes. The voice had given her hope then, talking about the future and better times. But as time went by, she started to ignore it. Things had not improved. She was still out in the rain and cold, or the blazing summer heat.

“My life will never be like that,” she realized, after which she shrugged her small shoulders and focussed her gaze on the entrance of the hotel again.

She never usually stayed in one place for long, but the weather had been nice. It was summer and it was hot, but the beach, the breeze and the abundance of trees and gullible tourists had made life a little easier. She had met the woman who worked at the hotel a few days ago. She had accidentally bumped into her and a pair of kind, green eyes, set in a gentle, freckled face had smiled at her. And to her own amazement, she had smiled back. For the first time in…a very long time, somebody had actually looked at her. Acknowledging her existence. Making her feel like she was a human being, instead of a nuisance to society.

Apparently the woman had noticed her hanging around the beach and the hotel, but she never asked her any questions. That evening, when she had walked out of the hotel, she had stopped and her eyes had searched the little park in front of the building, until their eyes had met. Silently she had walked up to her and had handed her a bag.

“Here, I thought you might like this,” she had explained, not able to hide her British accent.

After that the woman had turned around and disappeared in the underground-parking garage.

The enticing smell that had wafted up from the bag had made the girl’s mouth water and impatiently she had ripped it open. In that one bag she had found more food than she usually saw in a whole week. Sweet rolls, sandwiches, a few candy bars and fruit.

Something had tickled the back of her mind and for a second she had felt compelled to jump up, to follow the woman and thank her for the gift. But more primal needs had quickly taken over and with abandon she had sunk her teeth in a chicken-salad sandwich, moaning in delight when the different flavors exploded in her mouth.

From that day on, she had faithfully waited in the park, until the woman finished work. And she had never left empty-handed. The girl almost felt guilty and ashamed, to rely on somebody else to give her some food. But reason had won out and the feeling of shame had easily been transported to the back of her mind. Life on the streets had taught her never to pass up an opportunity. One day soon the kind woman would get tired of her and no doubt the gifts would stop. But until then, the girl was determined to stick around until it was time for her to move on.

” If you don’t watch it, the park will be swarming with kids soon, Joan,” Peter Sutton warned the woman who was scavenging his kitchen for leftovers. ” I mean, I appreciate what you do, but you can’t help them all.”

” I know,” Joan McDonnell sighed. ” I wish I could. But Pete, if I can only help one kid, it will be worth it. Besides, there is something about that girl.”

” She’s a runaway, mate,” Pete muttered, slicing off a big chunk of cooked ham, carefully wrapping it in cling foil and handing it to the smaller woman. ” Lots of them are criminals, you know. She might be a juvie.”

” My eldest daughter was a runaway once,” Joan softly answered. ” But somebody helped her and kept her safe. I can never thank them enough, Pete. We are talking about kids here.”

Peter Sutton slowly dried off the knife he had been rinsing and turned to the woman he had began to think of as a friend.

” You are right,” he finally admitted. ” This is somebody’s kid. Her parents might be looking for her. But you can’t take her in, Jo. What will you do?”

Joan collected some scones and added them to the already full bag. With a smile she looked up at The Reef’s chef.

” Gain her trust, I think,” she truthfully answered. “After that…..I don’t know. We’ll see. Like I said, there’s something about that kid. I can’t explain it, but…”

” You will find out,” Peter interrupted her with a grin.

He waved his big hand and shooed his friend out of his domain.

” Go!” he said. ” The kid must be starving. I’ll see you tomorrow, Joan.”

” Alright, Pete. Have a nice evening. And thanks for the ham!”

” Don’t mention it,” Peter answered, quickly turning around to avoid her twinkling eyes. ” And tell that smart kid of yours I could use her help this weekend. If she’s interested.”

” Oh, she will be,” Joan laughed. ” Fiona is saving up for her own horse. She’ll be here.”

” Great! Now, go! I thought you had a dinner to attend. Your girls will be waiting. Bye, Joan.”

” I already called Jody to tell her I will be a little late. Bye, Peter,” Joan McDonnell laughed, leaving the kitchen to walk back to the reception counter to grab her purse from the desk.

” See you in the morning, Brian,” she waved at the assistant manager, who was walking down the hall.

Brian waved back and smiled at his boss’ mother.

” Bye, Joan. Tell your girls ‘hi’ for me.”

” I will,” Joan grinned, knowing that after Brian was shot in the lobby of The Reef, Jody and Sam had become very close friends with Brian and his partner, Chris.

It had been a scary time, in more than one way, Joan mused when she exited the air-conditioned building and stepped out in the heat of the summer afternoon. So many things had happened, in such a short period of time. And still she thanked God every single day, for keeping her family safe.

Outside, Joan McDonnell squinted her eyes against the glaring sun and searched for an already familiar face. She hid a pleased smile, when a slender form emerged from the shadow of a tree. Slowly the girl walked up to her and suddenly Joan compared the young teenager with a wild cat. Scared and cautious, but also curious and hungry. The lithe frame radiated tension and Joan knew that the girl could turn and run in the blink of an eye.

When the girl had come closer Joan eyes locked with a pair of nervous blue ones and smiling she handed over the bag with goodies. For a moment they looked at each other and again, the shadow of a smile crept over the girl’s face.

Joan tried to hide her excitement, but inside she was bubbling with joy. It was the first emotion the girl had ever displayed and in Joan’s eyes that was a step in the right direction.

” I’ll see you tomorrow,” she smiled, wanting to brush away a strand of blond hair from the girl’s face, like she had done thousands of times with her own daughters. But Joan held back, instinctively knowing the girl would not appreciate a gesture like that and would probably make a run for it.

The girl did not respond, even though, deep inside she could feel the stirring of an emotion she thought had been long dead: hope. The fact that the woman cared enough about a total stranger, a homeless runaway, to bring her food every day after work, filled her with gratitude and curiosity. To the girl it was obvious that the woman really cared. Her attitude was so different from the looks of disgust, pity and anger she often received. It was confusing.

When Joan had turned around to walk to the parking garage her ears picked up an unfamiliar sound. A husky , rarely used voice, quietly said: ” Thank you.”

A brilliant smile lit up Joan’s face, but she did not turn around.

” You’re very welcome,” she called over her shoulder, making her way towards her car.

The girl stared at the retreating back of the woman who was so incredibly kind. She had surprised and startled herself, by thanking the woman. When the words had left her mouth, she had instinctively stepped back, expecting the woman to turn around and start talking to her. Like so many people had done in the past. Asking her what a young girl like her was doing on the streets. Inquiring about her parents. Some people almost demanded to know where she spent her nights. As if the gift of a couple of dollars, or some food, gave them the right to pry into her life.

But this woman was so different. She gave and did not expect anything in return. She was just generous and kind. And to the girl’s own amazement, she felt herself smile.

She stepped back into the shadow of the trees and quickly opened the bag. Her eyes widened when she saw the huge, thick slice of ham and immediately her mouth started watering.

She looked up to shoot a grateful look in the direction of the kind woman, who was descending the steps into the parking garage. The girl unwrapped the slice of meat and as she impatiently tore off a big chunk to pop it into her mouth, her eyes fell on two figures standing outside the parking garage.

Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, who seemed little older than she was. They were quickly looking around, as if scanning their surroundings. When the young girl saw them nodding at each other and disappearing into the parking garage, she knew they were nothing but trouble.

Normally she would not have cared much. She had seen her share of crime and violence on the streets and usually she made sure to stay away from that as far as possible. But this time it was different. It was obvious the pair was following the kind woman.

For a moment she hesitated, but then the girl grabbed her precious bag and jumped up, running across the square towards the entrance of the garage. She had no idea what to do once she was there, but a little voice told her she at least owed the woman that concern.

A quick look around shown her there were only a few people in the area and without further thinking she dashed down the stairs. A few seconds later she stood in the cool, dimly lit parking garage. As soon as her eyes had adjusted to the semi darkness, she made out two figures standing over a person who was laying on the floor. The girl was roughly pushing the woman’s face down, while the boy was trying to yank away the purse that had been slung across her shoulder.

” Hey! Leave her alone,” the girl shouted, feeling the anger rise.

She ran towards them and without reducing speed threw herself on the much taller boy. Startled by her action, he toppled over and with a big thud hit his head on the side of a car. It took him a couple of seconds to shake the cobwebs and sudden dizziness the blow to his head had caused.

” Bitch!” he spat.

But the girl knew she had no time to wait until he was on his feet again. With an angry yell she turned towards his friend and punched her square in the face. Blood squirted from the girl’s nose and she stumbled back, grabbing the hurt appendage, while shouting profanities at her young attacker.

” Get the hell out of here and leave her alone,” the girl shouted.

In the meantime the boy had scrambled back to his feet and he was just about to lunge at her, when a sound interrupted him. They all heard running footsteps coming down the stairs and without thinking twice, he ran across the parking garage towards the back entrance, followed by his friend.

The girl shot them another murderous look and bent down to quickly check on the woman, who seemed to be a bit groggy. Even in the dim light she could see a big lump forming on the side of her head and the girl knew she must have taken a hard blow.

Kneeling next to the woman, she put a hand on her shoulder and carefully shook her. To her relief she saw her eyes slowly open, while a soft groan indicated her discomfort.

The girl was just about to get back to her feet, when suddenly a hand grabbed the back of her shirt and roughly pulled her away.

” You little shit!” a male voice angrily sounded. ” What have you done? They should rid the streets of your kind.”

The girl struggled to get away, but found herself in an iron grip. The man pulled her even closer and suddenly the girl panicked. It was like she was flooded by darkness and she felt like she was drowning. Her breathing became irregular and shallow and her heart was pounding. A deep buzz filled her ears. Her eyes registered the woman slowly turning over and getting into a sitting position. She saw her lips move but heard no sound. The only thing she was aware of, was the vice like grip on her body and the man’s breathing in her ear.

A voice in the back of her head kept repeating the same words over and over, like a mantra ” Never again. Never again.”

With strength born out of panic and fuelled with adrenaline, the girl managed to wrestle herself free, not even feeling the burning of her skin where his hands had tried to hold their grip.

Her slender body dove to the ground and disappeared under a parked SUV, where she rolled up into a ball, slowly rocking back and forth.

Joan McDonnell had not heard the approaching footsteps, until it was too late. Before she had been able to turn around, she had felt a heavy blow to the side of her head and immediately her knees had given out. Not being able to break her fall, she had hit the oil stained, concrete floor, fighting not to lose consciousness.

She had felt someone trying to pull the strap of her purse from her shoulder and instinctively she had clutched it closer to her body.

She had only been vaguely aware of a girl screaming. When the hands that were pushing her face down had been lifted, she had been flooded with a sense of relief.

A gentle hand on her shoulder had slowly brought her back to her senses and when she had finally been able to lift her head and turn around, she had been witness to the sheer panic on the face of the girl from the park.

Totally confused Joan had watched the girl escape the grip on her body and dive underneath the car that was parked next to her own.

With fear in her eyes she had looked up to the tall, burly man who was kneeling down next to her and she was about to crawl away from him, when his gentle spoken words finally sunk in.

” The police and ambulance are on their way, ma’am,” he tried to reassure her, seeing the confusion and fear in her eyes. ” You are safe now. That little criminal is hiding underneath the car, but don’t worry, the police will take of her.”

Joan shook her head, trying to rid herself from the fog that still prevented her from thinking clearly, but the only result was a sharp stab of pain at the side of her head.

” Ouch,” she groaned, bringing her hand to her head and feeling the big lump.

Her eyes fell on a paper bag that was lying on the dark, concrete floor. It was ripped open and her eyes detected the slice of ham that Peter Sutton had carefully wrapped in cling wrap not so long ago. Slowly the groggy feeling subsided and the confused look in her eyes was replaced with worry.

” Where did you say the girl is?” she asked, her voice still shaking.

” She is underneath that car,” the stranger pointed out. ” Scared out of her wits. But you don’t need to worry, I am sure the police will lock her up where she belongs. Damn street kid.”

Carefully Joan rubbed her sore head, trying to organize her thoughts.

” Oh….I..but you don’t understand. She..”

The arrival of a police car, followed by an ambulance interrupted her and visibly relieved the man stood up to face the officers that had jumped out of the car. One of them was a tall woman, with short, curly brown hair. Her green- blue eyes took in the sight before her and when she saw the victim on the ground, her tanned face paled visibly.

” Joan,” she exclaimed, kneeling down next to the woman and putting a hand on her shoulder. ” Oh, my God, are you alright?”

” Hey, Trish,” Joan greeted the familiar police officer. ” I…I am not sure. Somebody knocked me over the head.”

” She’s hiding underneath that car,” the stranger pointed out. ” Young girl, pretty skinny, but she fights like a wildcat.”

Immediately Trish’ partner, Peter Jones, knelt down next to the SUV and roughly pulled the girl away from her hiding place. She was still rolled up into a ball, while tears dripped from under her tightly closed eyelids. When he saw her like that he looked up at his partner with a puzzled look.

” Um…Trish?”

Trishia Waters stood up to make room for a paramedic and walked over to her partner. She frowned when her eyes caught sight of the young girl. To her experienced eyes the girl in front of her did not fit any of the usual profiles of juvenile delinquents. Hesitating she looked at her partner, who just looked back at her and shrugged his shoulders, indicating he didn’t really know what to do either.

Joan had finally regained most of her senses and she gently pushed away the hand of the paramedic, who was examining the lump on her head.

” Just a minute, please,” she requested. ” Can you help me up?”

” Are you sure that is what you want to do? You might have…”

” Please,” Joan repeated, extending her hand to the young paramedic.

He nodded and grabbed her hand, while his other hand slid around her shoulder to carefully help her to her feet. Joan gratefully smiled at him and on still unsteady legs she walked towards the two police officers, flanked by the paramedic, who obviously had no faith in her current physical condition.

Joan put her hand on Trishia’s back and looked down at the girl on the ground. Her heart went out to the teenager, who looked so incredibly young and vulnerable. Suddenly she felt tears stinging her eyes.

” It wasn’t her, Trish,” she softly spoke, her eyes never leaving the girl, who still slowly rocked back and forth.

” Did you see who attacked you?” Trishia asked, knowing Joan was a compassionate woman who was capable of feeling sorry for people who were regarded by society as just a nuisance and non-existent.

” No, I didn’t,” Joan truthfully answered. ” But I know she didn’t do it.”

” With all due respect, Mrs. McDonnell, she’s the only one here,” Peter Jones spoke up, looking at his partner with a silent request for support in his eyes.

” But there were two of them,” Joan explained. ” I am sure about that. One hit me in the head, while the other pushed my face down to the ground. They tried to get my purse. And I…I sort of know this girl. After work I always …stop by to give her some food.”

Joan pointed at the ripped paper bag that was lying on the ground. A silent witness of what had happened in the parking garage.

” I don’t believe she would hurt me,” she finished, her voice filled with confidence.

” But you don’t really know her, Mrs. McDonnell,” Peter reasoned. ” Sometimes those kids just hang around, waiting for an opportunity.”

Trishia bit her lip and turned towards the tall man who had called for their help.

” What exactly did you see, sir?” she asked.

” Well, ” the man slowly started, trying to organize his thoughts. ” I was leaving the hotel when I saw this girl running into the parking garage. A few moments later I heard shouting and screaming, so I ran in and saw this girl sitting next to this lady.”

” What was she doing?”

” Um…just sitting, I guess. She had her hand on her shoulder and was sort of shaking her. Um….I…”

” Shaking or hitting?” Peter asked in a no-nonsense voice.

” Well, she wasn’t hitting her,” the man truthfully answered. ” When I came running in, I had the impression she could have been doing just that, but now I come to think of it, I am not sure.”

” You said you heard shouting and screaming,” Trishia repeated. ” Can you tell me if you could make out different voices?”

The man rubbed his face and looked at the friendly face of the policewoman. She looked like a nice, reasonable woman, the kind everybody would love to have as a neighbor. But looks could be deceiving, he knew, because underneath the friendly expression and keen eyes he could detect a sharp intelligence. This woman was probably someone to be reckoned with.

” As a matter of fact, I did,” he finally answered, a hint of surprise in his voice.

” There was a male voice as well. He was shouting ‘Bitch’. And I heard a girl’s voice shouting to ‘leave her alone’.”

Trishia smiled at him and slowly nodded.

” Would you come to the station with us, sir, so we can take your statement?”

” Yes, of course,” the man answered, feeling a little foolish for having obviously jumped to conclusions.

” What do we do with the girl, Trish?” Peter asked.

” If possible she will come with us,” Trishia answered, motioning the paramedic to come closer. ” Can you please make an assessment?”

The paramedic knelt down next to the young girl and put his hand on her shoulder. Immediately her body stiffened and her eyes shot open. When her blue eyes focussed on the stranger, everybody who was present saw the panic rise.

The paramedic was no rookie and years of riding the ambulance had given him a lot of insight into people’s behavior. He responded by slowly but immediately removing his hand and adding a bit more distance between himself and the girl. It was clear to him the girl was frightened by the physical contact and he grimly thought of a few possible causes.

” I won’t hurt you,” he said in a friendly, soothing tone. ” My name is Gary. I am a paramedic and I just want to make sure you are all right. Is that okay?”

The girl didn’t answer, but the panic in her eyes slowly made way for caution. Her gaze involuntarily traveled to Joan McDonnell, who looked at her with a worried expression on her face.

” I am fine,” the girl answered. ” I think she…needs your help more. They hit her on the head.”

Gary smiled and slowly nodded. He noticed the quick recovery and although the girl was still very pale, he decided that she was all right, at least for now. Getting back to his feet he looked from Trishia to Joan and raised an eyebrow.

” Take her to the hospital, Gary, ” Trishia said. ” That lump needs to be checked out.”

Seeing that Joan was about to protest, Trishia raised her hand to silence the older woman.

” Joan, you need to have that looked at, really. I know you want to go home. I know you have plans for this evening, but please, humor me, okay? Have it checked out.”

Joan realized that Trishia’s request was a reasonable one, but still she was reluctant to go to the hospital, thinking that her injury was not that bad.

” What about my car?” she tried, which elicited a smile from the policewoman.

” My shift will end in a couple of hours. I will ask Lucy to come and get me, so we can pick up your car and park it in your driveway. We will give you a ride home from Jody’s tonight. I’ll call Jody and ask her to come to the hospital to pick you up.”

Joan could not find any reason to object Trishia’s proposal and she nodded in agreement, although reluctantly.

” Alright,” she sighed, ” but I don’t like to be fussed over. What will happen to….what is your name, love?” she directed the question to the young girl.

The girl looked up through hooded eyes, but could not detect anything but kindness in Joan’s face. Hesitantly her eyes traveled to Trishia and Peter, who were police officers, which automatically made them her enemy.

” I can’t keep calling the one who saved me ‘girl’, now can I?” Joan gently teased.

” Alice,” the girl whispered.

” I like that name,” Joan smiled. ” My mother’s name was Alice and she was a great lady. I don’t know how to thank you, Alice. I know those police officers will ask you a million questions, but don’t mind them. It’s their job. Basically they are nice people.”

” Wow, thanks Joan,” Trishia mumbled, not knowing whether to be annoyed or to laugh.

Joan McDonnell stepped closer to the girl, knowing not to touch her. But she needed to look the girl into her eyes.

” I mean it when I say I am so grateful, Alice. God knows what would have happened if you had not showed up. If there is anything I can do for you, just let me know, okay? ” A small smile came to her face. ” You know where I work.”

Alice cast down her eyes and looked as uncomfortable as she felt. Emotions had become alien to her and she did not know how to respond to Joan’s kind words.

” Thanks for the tucker,” she finally whispered. ” I mean….the food.”

” You are most welcome, honey,” Joan responded, fighting the urge to hug the girl and chase all her demons away. ” Thank YOU.”

Joan turned around and slowly walked towards the waiting ambulance. When she passed Trishia she put her hand on the taller woman’s arm and looked up to her.

” I know better than to tell you how to do your job,” she softly said. ” I know you deal with runaways all the time, but believe me Trish, there is something about this kid. Please be gentle. And if there’ anything I can do… ”

” I will let you know,” Trishia promised. ” Now, go with Gary, get yourself checked out and I will call Jody. Okay? I will see you this evening.”

” That’s fine, honey,” Joan responded. ” Oh, and Trishia? Please feed the poor thing, I know she must be really hungry.”

Jody lazily stretched her body and shamelessly yawned. Her jaws clamped shut when the phone rang for the second time in an hour and she quickly grabbed the ringing piece of electronics that was lying on the table next to her.

” Hello?”

Her face brightened when she recognized the familiar voice on the other side, but quickly turned to worry when she heard the message.

” What? Is she alright?”

“No! Of course not. Sam is at the store, but I expect her back any moment. Of course we will pick her up. What hospital is it?”

” Sure…yeah…no worries, Trish…..Okay, we will see you later then. Bye.”

Jody pushed back the reddish blond hair that threatened to fall into her green eyes and all traces of sleep were gone. She cast a look at the dog, who was sitting next to her, his alert brown eyes staring at her and obviously completely aware of her distress.

” It’s okay, boy, ” she soothed him, trying to calm her racing heart. ” Somebody tried to mug my mom, but she is all right. We will have to go and pick her up. Where the heck is Sam?”

In answer to her question, Kurt suddenly jumped up and looked at the driveway. Jody could not see a car approaching, nor could she hear anything but the wind rustling through the trees and the clear sound of a whip-bird. But she had come to know their dog and she was aware of the fact that he knew somebody was approaching, long before she or Sam did. The fact that he was not barking told her it was Sam who was coming up the hill and she quickly ran inside to change into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

In the meantime Kurt sat on the verandah, like a statue, staring at the driveway with perked ears and alert eyes.
part 2
” Honey, please try to relax,” Sam urged, extending her left hand to cover the fidgeting fingers of her lover who was sitting next to her in the car. ” We will be at the hospital soon and you need to support your Mom, not drive her up the wall.”

Jody sighed and clasped Sam’s larger hand between her own smaller ones. Her lover was right, she needed to relax. But even though Trishia had assured her that her Mom was all right and the injury did not seem to be serious, Jody needed to see that for herself, before she could relax.

” I am sorry,” she mumbled. ” But Mom has gone through so much already this past year. It’s about time she got a break, don’t you think?”

” I totally agree, love,” Sam answered, trying to keep her attention on the road in front of her. ” But don’t forget your Mom is a spunky lady. She has been through worse.”

” Yeah, ” Jody answered absently, remembering the courage her Mother had displayed when she decided to file a complaint against her husband for domestic violence.

When David McDonnell had been summoned to make an appearance at the police station, all hell had broken lose. He had raved and ranted and accused his wife of turning their children away from him. It had taken three police officers to keep the big man in his chair.

Trishia, who had been there at the moment, had finally lost her patience and had walked up to the red faced man and had stood in front of him looking him straight into his eyes.

In no uncertain terms she had told him that if he did not stop shouting and insulting his wife, she would haul his ass to the lockup and leave him there with the big, bad boys, until her ears had stopped ringing from the abuse.

David had immediately closed his mouth, but had stared at the policewoman with a murderous glare. They immediately, profoundly disliked each other. And the fact that Trishia was a woman filled David McDonnell with even more contempt, which was clearly visible on his still red and puffy face.

During the ordeal Jody and Lucy had been standing beside their Mother, offering the shaking woman all the support they could give her. And when it was finally over and they were allowed to leave, Joan McDonnell had turned around at the door, looking at her husband with a hurt, but determined look.

” Oh, and David? I will file for a divorce.”

Jody’s mouth had fallen open, while Lucy had tried to hide a smirk.

” Woo hoo, way to go, Mom, ” she had whispered. ” That just blew him away completely.”

Jody smiled when she remembered the look on her Mother’s face that day, determined, but scared. Nervous, but confident. She had been so proud of her. Once they had arrived outside, their Mom had broken down, shaking and crying uncontrollably. But even in between sobs, she had managed to reassure her daughters that she had thought a lot about divorcing their father and she would go through with it. And she had.

Lucy’s boss had recommended an attorney who had specialized in divorces and within a few months, the official divorce had been a fact. To Joan it had been a scary time. She and David had been married for over thirty years and all of a sudden she had to stand on her own two feet, which was not easy, because David had always been the one who made the decisions. The fact that her youngest son, Michael had chosen to live with their father had been difficult. But deep down inside Joan was grateful that David would not be alone, since Fiona had been very clear in expressing her desire to live with her mother. Michael made sure to visit his mother every week, while it was almost impossible for Joan to talk Fiona into seeing her father. Of course her ex-husband made sure to blame Joan for setting his daughter up against him. Until one day, Fiona confronted her father with her anger about him disowning Jody. After he had made a few rude comments about Jody and Sam’s relationship, Fiona had become furious. In no uncertain terms she had told him that if she had to take sides, he would always lose, because she would not accept her sister to be treated like a leper. And if he did not recognize true love when it was shoved into his face, he should seriously wonder if he had ever understood the message in his precious bible.

The result of that outburst was David McDonnell dropping off his youngest daughter at her mother’s place only two hours after Fiona had arrived at his’.

When Joan had heard Fiona’s side of the story, she had concluded her youngest daughter had every right to refuse to see her father and ever since that day, she had never again forced the issue of visiting.

” What’s that smile for?” Sam curiously inquired, casting a look aside.

” Mom,” Jody answered. ” She must be the strongest person I know.”

” And I am so grateful that you are just like her,” Sam smiled. ” Strong, kind, smart, compassionate, with a heart so big, the whole world could fit in.”

” Nah, ” Jody sighed. ” Well, yes, that’s my Mom, but I don’t think I am as compassionate as she is, honey.”

” I dare to disagree,” Sam gently objected. ” But that’s okay, as long as I know it’s true.”

Jody laughed and lovingly squeezed Sam’s thigh, resting her hand on the taller woman’s leg to trace small patterns on the cotton covered skin.

” If you are trying to distract me, you are doing good job, ” Sam mumbled, acknowledging her body’s reaction to the soft touches.

” It still amazes me how responsive you are,” Jody mused, her green eyes drinking in the profile of the woman next to her.

” Only to your touch, baby,” Sam answered, after swallowing hard.

” I sure hope so,” Jody chuckled, grabbing Sam’s left hand and bringing it up to quickly press a kiss against the warm skin.

” There’s always only been one for me,” Sam simply stated. ” You know that.”

” I know,” Jody whispered. ” And that is such a humbling thought. I love you, Samantha Stevens.”

” And I love you, Jody McDonnell Stevens,” Sam smiled.

“It still boggles my mind that, according to Dutch law, I am your legally wedded wife,” Jody mused, looking at the gold band around her ring finger on her right hand. ” I wish that could be true for every country.”

” That would be great,”Sam agreed. ” But there is still a long, long way to go, before that happens, if it ever happens.”

” Well, one can always hope,” Jody sighed, while Sam steered the car into a parking spot in front of the hospital.

They looked at each other and smiled, feeling the bond they shared wrap around their souls like a warm blanket.

” I want to kiss you,” Jody whispered.

” I would never say no’ to that, Mrs. Stevens,” Sam answered, while her blue eyes were sparkling.

She leaned towards the smaller woman and captured her soft lips in a warm, slow and tender kiss, immediately feeling a pair of strong hands wrap around her neck. Being in the car was not exactly a comfortable position for the taller woman, but Sam didn’t care. The only thing she was aware of, were Jody’s responsive lips and the intense love her partner radiated.

A loud knock on the window almost made them jump and quickly they broke apart.

” What the….” Jody started, slightly dazed and when she saw who had been interrupting their private moment, she sighed in resignation.

” I should have known, ” she chuckled wryly, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the door.

” Hey, Freckles,” she greeted her sister. ” Trish called you as well, huh?”

” Of course she did,” Lucy McDonnell answered, giving her older sister a quick kiss on the cheek. ” She probably knew that the two of you would end up making out in a public place, getting arrested in the process and forgetting all about Mom.”

Sam grinned and patted her sister-in-law on the back.

” Do they have medication for that yet?” she asked, feigning innocence.

” For what?” Lucy asked, taking the bait.

” Mouth diarrhea?”

” Oh, har har,” Lucy snorted, while Jody laughed. ” It’s only because you are my sister’s wife, otherwise I would turn Trish on you.”

” If you two are done with your declarations of love, I would like to go in and see Mom,” Jody stated, heading for the entrance.

Lucy and Sam exchanged amused looks and quickly followed the smaller redhead inside the hospital.

It didn’t take them long to locate Joan. A very friendly and helpful nurse showed them the room she was in, telling them it was all right to go in and stay with their Mother.

” Mom,” Jody greeted the older woman, carefully wrapping her arms around the slender frame, careful not to hurt her.

” Hi, honey,” Joan smiled, pulling Jody in a hug. ” It’s good to see you girls.”

” What happened, Mom?” Lucy asked, seating herself next to her Mother and grabbing her hand.

” I think the term is mugged’ ,” Joan dryly explained. ” I was mugged in the parking garage.”

” Damn,” Sam cursed under her breath, her blue eyes darkening with anger. ” How many times have I told the idiot who owns that place that he should get a security person in there and some camera’s? Are you hurt badly, Joan?” Sam asked, the concern evident in her voice.

” Just a bump on the head and a bruise on my cheek. I guess I was lucky,” Joan answered, not wanting her daughters to know she had a terrible headache. ” And I still have my purse,” she added with a smile.

” What happened?” Jody asked, who was not fooled by her mother’s cheerful attitude. Her mother’s face was pale and drawn and by the way she squinted her eyes, Jody could tell Joan’s head was hurting.

” I didn’t see much, ” Joan sighed. ” All I know is that I walked into the parking garage and just before I got to the car, somebody hit me in the head. I fell down and tried not to pass out. I felt somebody tugging on my purse, while somebody else pushed my face against the floor. But suddenly they let go of my purse and my head. I can’t really tell what exactly happened, because I was still face down, but my attackers ran off. The next thing I know this girl was sitting next to me, but she was yanked away by a man, who thought she was the one who had attacked me. I guess she panicked, got herself free from his grip and dived under a car to hide.”

” Whoa, Whoa, ” Lucy exclaimed, raising a hand and shaking her hand. ” You gotta run that by me again, Mom. The girl who attacked you was captured? That’s great.”

” No, honey,” Joan tried to explain patiently, her voice soft and tired. ” That girl chased the others away.”

” Then why did she hide under a car?” Lucy asked with a puzzled look.

” Like I said, I didn’t see it all happen, but the man who came running in and called the police, thought she had attacked me. So, he grabbed her, but….” Joan briefly closed her eyes. Even in her foggy state of mind she had noticed the sheer panic in Alice’s eyes when the man had taken a hold of her.

” He must have scared her, I guess,” she continued. ” At that moment even I could tell she was frightened.”

” But you didn’t see your attackers,” Sam reasoned. ” So, how can you be sure this girl was not involved, Joan?”

” Because I….know her,” Joan softly explained, seeing her daughters’ eyes widen, ” I think she is a runaway and over the last few days I have given her some food.”

” Well, being a street kid…” Lucy started, but she was interrupted by her sister.

” Please, Luce, don’t. Don’t judge.”

Jody turned back to her Mother and took both her hands in her own.

” You fed her?” she asked with a warm smile. ” Mom, you are such a…sweetie!”

” There is something about that child, Jody,” Joan mused. ” I can’t explain, but from the first moment I saw her I felt I needed to gain her trust, so maybe I could help her, in some way. She seemed so….lost,” she ended with a whisper.

” Where is she now?” Sam asked, still trying to wrap her mind around Joan’s story.

” Trishia and Peter took her to the police station. I have no idea what will happen to her now.”

” All right….Alice, ” Peter sighed for the umpteenth time. ” I really would like to know your last name. That would make things so much easier….for both of us.”

The blond teenager was sitting in a chair across from his desk and continued to stare at her worn down sneakers. Ever since Peter and Trishia had taken her with them, she had given them the silent treatment.

Peter rolled his eyes and spared a brief moment thinking at his own children. He had six month old twins and he could only hope and pray that they would never be faced with the problems this young teenager must have been through.

” Listen, Alice,” his voice softened. ” Let’s forget about your last name for now, okay? You probably have a very good reason for not liking me and not wanting to talk to me, but I am a police officer and I have to stick to laws and rules. You were at the scene of a crime and I believe Mrs. McDonnell when she says you helped her. That was a very brave and unselfish thing to do. But because a crime was committed, I need to write a report on that. And I can only write that, when you tell me what happened.”

Peter looked at the girl and even though her eyes were cast down and her long hair was obscuring her face, he could see the conflicting emotions warring beneath the surface.

A quick glance at his partner showed him that Trishia was listening to their every word and she smiled at him with an encouraging nod.

Finally, after a long silence, Alice lifted her head and looked at him. The look in her eyes was that of a trapped animal and Peter Jones realized he had to tread very carefully.

” I was in the park,” Alice started, her voice barely audible. ” The lady had given me some food and was walking to her car. I saw a guy and a girl follow her in and knew they were up to no good, so I went after them. They had knocked the lady to the ground and were trying to steal her purse.”

Alice paused for a second and shrugged her shoulders.

” There was no one around so I jumped them,” she dryly related. ” The bloke fell and hit his head against a car. Then I wacked the girl and she was bleeding. When he got back up again, I think he wanted to punch me, but the big guy came in and they ran away. That’s all.”

” What happened after they ran?” Peter asked.

” Nothing,” Alice whispered, hiding her face behind her hair again, but both Peter and Trishia saw the girl shiver.

” The man who grabbed you, what did he do?”

” I guess he thought I did it,” Alice answered, her voice soft and emotionless. ” But he was wrong.”

” Yes, he was,” Peter agreed.

” So, can I go now?” Alice suddenly asked casually.

Trishia who had been observing the girl, had expected this moment. She had dealt with more homeless children and runaways than she could remember, but deep down inside she had to agree with Joan: there was something about Alice….

” How old are you, Alice?” she asked, leaning her hip against Peter’s desk and sipping from her coffee.

Immediately the hooded expression was back in the girl’s eyes and she shot Trishia an angry look.

” I told you, I am eighteen.”

Trishia slowly nodded and took another sip of coffee.

” Yeah, that’s what you told us, but we both know you are not, Alice.” She decided to change tactics. ” Where can we contact you when we need to ask you some more questions?”

” I thought you were done,” Alice said.

” Sure, for now,” Trishia drawled. ” But you never know what will pop up next. Besides, if we find those two who attacked Mrs. McDonnell, we would like you to identify them.”

Alice bit her lip and even though she did not immediately respond, Trishia could see the anger and frustration radiating from the young girl. Inwardly she sighed. She felt sorry for the girl and it was obvious that Alice was enormously tense and scared. The tall police officer did not want to make the girl feel threatened, but Peter and she had to do their job. Besides, it was clear the girl was anything but eighteen and that made them responsible of handing her over to a social worker, even though Trishia knew from experience that the girl would possibly run away again at the first chance she got.

There were a lot of homeless people in Australia and from recent reports, Trishia knew that thirty-seven percent of them where younger than twenty-five years of age. And those were the ones that were registered as clients of the federation of Homelessness organizations. Most likely there were many more unregistered.

With a deep sigh she rubbed her face, realizing she was bone tired, really wanted to go home, have a nice, long shower and rinse away the sticky heat of the day.

She decided to grab the proverbial bull by its horns.

” You know we can’t just let you go, Alice,” she gently spoke. ” You are underage.”

” I did nothing wrong,” Alice responded with a raised voice. When she looked at Trishia her eyes were blazing with anger, but she only met friendly understanding in the police officer’s eyes. ” You can’t lock me up!!!”

” We are not going to lock you up,” Trishia answered. ” But you are too young to be on the streets on your own. We need to contact a social worker and have him or her find a place for you to stay. Unless you tell us your last name and we can contact your family.”

” I will run away,” Alice mumbled.

” I know,” Trishia responded with a sigh.

” If you don’t want to tell us your last name, could you, please, at least tell us where you are from?” Peter tried.

Alice shrugged her shoulders, while her fingers fidgeted with the hem of her t-shirt.

” I don’t know,” she answered.

” You don’t know?” Peter echoed. ” Alice, I….”

” I told you I don’t know!!!” Alice screamed. ” Now, why don’t you leave me the hell alone?!”

Trishia and Peter exchanged glances and they both realised things were so much more complicated than they ever expected them to be.

” Okay, ” Trishia started. ” I believe you when you say you don’t know, but Alice, do you have any idea why you don’t know? You seem like a smart girl and I am sure you will understand that officer Jones here and myself, really want to know more about that.”

Trishia could still vividly recall the way they had found the girl, tucked away under a car, rolled up into a ball, her eyes squeezed shut, slowly rocking back and forth. She started to believe something really traumatic must have happened to the girl.

” I don’t know,”Alice whispered. ” I….I don’t remember.”

Trishia shot her partner a look and he gave her a small nod. Unexpectedly he stood up to pour himself a cup of coffee, but when he came back he did not return to his chair. Instead he stood a few paces behind Alice, closely observing the girl’s reaction.

Alice, who had been quietly sitting in her chair all the time the police officers had been talking to her, visibly stiffened. The fingers that had been twisting the hem of her shirt suddenly stilled and Trishia saw her nervously biting her lip.

She hated having to put the girl through this, but without having had the chance to talk to her partner, she knew they both suspected the same thing.

Peter stepped a little closer, careful to not enter the girl’s private space.

” How come you don’t remember, Alice?” he asked.

As soon as she heard his voice behind her, Alice jumped up, knocking the chair over and stepping away from him. When she turned around to face him, her hands were clenched into fists and her whole body was shaking.

Peter fought hard to control himself. Alice’s reaction had only added to his suspicion and he mentally called himself a bastard for playing a trick on her, cursing at the ones who had damaged the girl so badly.

” How many times do I have to tell you I don’t know?” Alice shouted, close to tears. ” Leave me alone! Please, leave me alone.”

With a sob that seemed to come from the deepest regions of her soul, Alice slowly sank to the floor, burying her face in her hands, while she fought hard to keep herself from breaking down completely.

Why didn’t they understand? Why couldn’t they leave her alone? She had done nothing wrong. All she had done was try to help somebody who had been kind to her. But to what price? She should have listened to the voice of reason and should not have interfered. She should have turned and walked away.

Alice’s breathing hitched and she could feel the darkness creeping up on her. Images flashed before her eyes, like shredded pictures. Torturing her mind with impressions she could not understand. They tumbled through her head and made her want to scream out loud, but the only sound she could utter was a high pitched whimper, that slashed through the police officers souls like a hot, sharp knife.

” Om my God, sweet Jesus,” Peter whispered, feeling the tears well up in his eyes. ” Trishia, what on earth….”

He didn’t finish his sentence, but impatiently wiped his eyes, feeling the urge to run outside and break things. But he knew he had to control himself. This girl needed help, somehow.

Trishia bit her lip and fought the urge to kneel beside the girl to comfort her. That would probably only scare her more. Mentally she quickly ticked off all her options, not liking a single one of them. How could they send a girl like that to a shelter, that was overcrowded and where the girl could not find any peace? She would immediately run again and the last thing Trishia wanted was Alice roaming the streets again.

From the corner of her eye she saw their inspector leaving her office and she decided to take a chance. With a few long strides she walked to the door and motioned Carol Wong over.

” What is going on here?” the petite woman asked curiously, looking at the whimpering girl, who was still sitting on the floor.

Trishia softly told her what had happened and shot the inspector a pleading, but determined look.

” I know it’s against the rules, inspector,” she started. ” But look at her, we can’t hand her over to social like this! She’ll run before they can even blink their eyes.”

” Is there an alternative, Trishia? ” Carol Wong asked calmly. ” I know it’s tough, but we have no option.”

” But you agree that she will probably be out there again in no time, right?”

” I guess so,” the inspector answered, feeling that she would not like what she was about to hear.

” I might have an idea,” Trishia stated. She saw that Carol Wong was about to comment on that and she quickly raised a hand, silencing the smaller woman. ” Please, inspector, hear me out, okay?”

Carol Wong had always liked and respected Trishia Waters and she knew the police officer was a reliable, down to earth person, who usually would never even think about breaking rules or protocols. She was curious about the woman’s plan and gave her a nod.

” Thanks! All right, this is what I have in mind…..”

After she had been thoroughly checked out by one of the emergency physicians and after one of the nurses had carefully cleaned her face, Joan McDonnell had been released from the hospital. She had to promise the nurse to take it easy for a few days and to make sure that, when she was plagued by a persistent headache, to contact her family doctor immediately.

” It’s a good thing there are hospitals and doctors,” Joan had mumbled when she got inside Sam’s car. ” But do they really have to make such a fuss over nothing?”

Sam bit her lip and shot an amused glance in the rearview mirror. She did not like hospitals herself, having spent too much time there herself after her car accident as a teenager.

” I am just happy to know you have no serious injuries, Mom,” Jody replied. ” So stop complaining,” she gently teased.

” Yes, Joan, she’s right, ” Sam added with a smile. ” Besides, now you have the chance to be spoiled for a few days. Better milk that out for all that it’s worth.”

” I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the two of you. But are you sure you want me and Fiona to stay until next week?”

” I am sure about you, not about Fiona,” Sam chuckled. ” The last time she stayed at our place, I had to drag her out of the pool in the middle of the night.”

Jody grinned, remembering how she woke up around midnight, finding her partner missing from their bed. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes she had gotten up in search of Sam, wondering what her lover was doing up.

It had not taken her long to find the answer to her question. When she had entered the kitchen, Sam had stepped inside, dragging a bathing suit clad, dripping wet Fiona with her.

” Look what I found in the pool,” Sam had exclaimed, looking at her sister-in-law as if she was from another planet. ” I thought somebody was snooping around the house and when I went to check it out, your sweet little sister was star gazing from the water.”

” Hey! It’s a beautiful night out,” Fiona had argued, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. ” It’s not a crime to enjoy God’s creations, now is it?”

Joan smiled and slowly shook her head, full well knowing that her youngest daughter was a handful.

” I will tell her to leave her bathing suit home,” she promised with a laugh.

” Oh, no!” Jody responded, turning around to look at her mother. ” If you do that I am sure she will go skinny dipping and then Sam will wake me up in the middle of the night to fish my sister out of the pool. Uhuh, Mom. She can bring her stuff.”

They all laughed, knowing that neither of them could stay angry long at the dark headed, smart teenager.

Jody’s cell phone buzzed and pulling a face at a smirking Sam she retrieved it from her purse.

” Hi, Trishia!” she warmly greeted the person on the other side of the line. ” Yes, we are on our way home and Luce should be there soon to pick you up….”

A little frown creased Jody’s forehead when she intently listened to the other woman. She glanced aside to Sam, her eyes holding a serious expression.

” No, of course not, ” she finally spoke. ” I will ask her, just a moment, Trish.”

Jody held the cell phone away from her ear and looked at Sam, who was manoeuvring the car through the Gold Coast traffic, while trying to listen to her partner at the same time.

” Trish asks if she can bring a guest this evening.”

One of Sam’s eyebrows shot under her curly hairline and she looked surprised.

” Lucy didn’t mention that,” she remarked.

” Because she doesn’t know yet,” Jody dryly answered, making Sam chuckle.

” Um…well, yes…of course, ” Sam said. ” The more the merrier. Anyone we know?”

Jody sucked in her bottom lip for a moment and shook her head.

” Nope, we don’t.” She cast a look at the woman in the backseat, who was looking at her with an expectant smile. ” But Mom does.”
Part 3
Peter Jones was convinced that Trishia’s idea had potential, but he was still a bit wary of his partner’s initiative. It would be crossing the borders between professionalism and personal life. Not with just a little step, but with a huge leap.

He raked his unruly hair and impatiently drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the light to turn. He had known Trishia for a few years now and during that time he had never questioned her actions. He did not plan on doing that now either. The tall policewoman was not only his partner, she had become one of his best friends and Peter just hoped that her unconventional plan would work out.

Slowly Peter steered his car through the afternoon traffic, gradually leaving the city madness behind him. He sighed in relief when he turned into the road that would lead him to his house, halfway up a hill. He was looking forward to seeing his wife and kids again. Dealing with Alice had showed him how much he had changed since he had become a father again, six months ago. His patience and gentleness with the teen had surprised him. Somehow he had not been able to clear his mind from the image of his two infant sons. He knew that most parents, who had runaway kids, at one time had held their children, loved and treasured them. They had probably felt the same way he did whenever he looked at his offspring with pride and a heart full of love.

“Where did things go wrong, huh?”Peter mumbled to himself, not knowing the answer.

What he did know however, was something he had known for a long time, but that was conveniently pushed into the back of his mind. It was something that he tended to forget when he dealt with runaways and homeless people. There was a story behind each and every one of them. And they were never pretty.

After parking her car at the side of the police station, Lucy checked herself in the mirror and playfully wrinkled her nose. Her dark green eyes contrasted nicely with her dark hair, but she realized she would look better, if she didn’t have dark circles underneath her eyes.

“I need some serious sleep,”she mumbled, grabbing her purse from the passenger’s seat and opening the door.”No, I take that back. I need a vacation. A long…lazy….tropical vacation.

Lucy grinned to herself and closed the car door, miraculously feeling better already. Maybe she could talk Trishia into taking a vacation. Heaven knew that the policewoman was over due for one. As long as Lucy had known her, she had never taken a leave for longer than a couple of days.

“Note to self: Nice, long shower, glass of wine and vacation talk,”Lucy promised herself, looking forward to spending the evening at Jody’s and Sam’s place.

She entered the building, wondering why Trishia was not downstairs waiting for her, something she usually did and a heavy feeling settled in Lucy’s stomach.

“Please, God. No working late. Not again. And please, not today.”

Lucy waved to a couple of young police officers she had met when they had given her a ticket for speeding, just a couple of weeks ago. She had accepted the punishment with grace and humor and when they had run into her later, accompanied by Trishia, one of their most respected senior sergeants, their mouths had fallen open.

Lucy grinned at them, before climbing up the stairs to the first floor. Everybody in the building knew who she was and she could walk undisturbed to Trishia’s office.

The door was open and with a smile Lucy stepped inside, immediately spotting her friend, who was leaning against the window sill, sipping on a cup of coffee, while staring outside. Lucy frowned. It didn’t seem like the policewoman was ready to go home yet and with difficulty she swallowed down a snide remark. She had to let Trishia explain first.

“Hey, stranger,”Lucy greeted her with a warm smile. “Are you ready to go?”

Trishia looked up startled and immediately cast a look at the clock.

“Whoa, that time already, huh?”she smiled back, appreciating the sight before her.

“You look tired,”Lucy remarked, stepping closer and putting her purse on Trishia’s desk.

“It was a long day,”Trishia answered, rubbing her eyes. “How is your mom?”

“She’s a bit shaken up, but you know my mom, she is a tough cookie,”Lucy smiled. “They checked her out and found nothing wrong with her head, so that’s good. Thank heavens.”

She took the mug from Trishia’s hands and took a sip.

“Eww, gross. How can you drink this stuff? “she said, pulling a face.”It’s way too strong and there’s no sugar in it.”

“Puts hair on your chest,”Trishia laughed.

“Oooh, I hope not,”Lucy chuckled, wiggling her eyebrows.”So, are you ready to go?”

“Almost, Trishia answered. “But I need to quickly discuss something with you first.”

Lucy’s face fell and numerous possible scenarios immediately crossed her mind.

“You are not doing a double shift again, are you?”she muttered.

Trishia sighed, knowing that she had pulled more than her fair share of double shifts lately and she fully understood Lucy’s frustration about that.

“No, no double shift,”she hurried to explain, seeing Lucy’s face brighten. “But there is something…..unexpected, though. Um…did your mom tell you what happened this afternoon? ”

Lucy moved a stack of files and quietly sat down on the edge of the desk.

“Yes, she did and I can tell you it scared the wits out if me. People get killed in muggings every day and today it could easily have been her. Sam was pissed that the owner of that parking garage still has no security people in there.”She chuckled. “I think she’ll go after him now. Poor guy.”

“Your mom was lucky, I guess, “Trishia agreed. “Did she tell you about the girl?”

“Briefly,”Lucy slowly answered, wondering what Trishia was going to tell her, when she saw the taller woman nervously play with a pen. “What’s up, Trish? Because I can tell by just looking at you, that something is going on.”

Trishia took a deep breath and her eyes traveled up to Lucy’s face. Even though they had known each other for more than a year now, she had no idea how Lucy would respond to what she was about to tell her. And that very thought had startled her. Trishia could only hope and pray that the woman who was sitting in front of her, would understand her enough to accept what she was about to do.

“This is the story…, “Trishia started.

In a short, but clear summary, she told Lucy all that had happened during the afternoon, emphasizing the way Alice had responded to Peter’s presence.

She could see the emotions on Lucy’s expressive face and she knew by just looking at her, the other woman was listening intently. After Trishia had finished her story, there was a long silence.

Lucy stared at the worn out carpet on the floor and tried to organize her thoughts. Her first reaction was a simple “No, way! You are crazy”, but she swallowed the words, not wanting to hurt Trishia’s feelings. Finally, after a long time, she looked up, to see Trishia’s worried eyes glued to her face. She managed a weak smile and pushed back the hair that was falling down her forehead.

“Are you sure that you and my mom are not related?”she sighed.

Trishia chuckled and put her hands in the pockets of her slacks.

“That would be a little….awkward, don’t you think?”

“Yes, it would be,”Lucy muttered. “Trishia, listen. I…believe it or not, but I do understand why you want to do this. I do. I know how compassionate and kind you can be. But have you thought about the consequences? Not just for yourself, but your job. You love your job, T., don’t deny it. What if all of this has a….negative impact? And what about….us?”Lucy finished, her voice hardly audible. “I am no fool, Trish. We have both been so busy with everything but each other lately. What is this going to do to us?”

Trishia bit her lip and tried to calm her racing heart. The fact that Lucy had brought up their relationship had, somehow surprised her. She had no idea the younger woman had been giving their relationship much thought lately. But Trishia knew what she herself felt, deep down inside. And she was willing to work hard and fight, to keep Lucy McDonnell in her life.

“I don’t deny there will be a lot of…stress, “Trishia answered honestly. “And I don’t know the ‘what ifs’ and ‘ how to’seither, but I do know one thing, Luce. For some reason, I cannot let this go. If I do, I would never forget, or forgive myself. Especially not when, some time in the future, I get a call to go to one of our many parks or beaches, to investigate another rape and murder of a young girl. ”

“I…Your attitude is commendable and I so admire you for it, but you cannot save them all, honey”Lucy answered.

The term of endearment had been spontaneous and Lucy didn’t even realized she had said it, but Trishia felt a much welcome warmth flood through her body and a small smile spread across her face.

“I know I can’t, “Trishia softly answered, covering Lucy’s hand with her own. “But in this case I need to try. ”

“Why don’t you ask Jody and Sam for help?”Lucy suddenly asked.

“W..what? ”

“Ask Jody and Sam for help. You don’t have to carry this burden by yourself, you know. Besides, where would she stay? ”

“I was thinking…I thought….well, at my place, until we found something more suitable.”

“Your place?”Lucy snorted. “With all due respect, senior sergeant, your ‘place’ as you call it, is just a little bit bigger than a folded up newspaper, with curly edges. For a police person, you are not very practical, love,”Lucy grinned.

There was an idea forming in her head and every passing second, it seemed to get better and better. Trishia watched the expression on Lucy’s face and could not help but smile. What she had been afraid of, a rejection of her idea, had not happened. Instead, Lucy was apparently coming up with a plan to help her reach her goal.

“You are amazing, Lucy,”she softly remarked, earning a sweet smile.

“No, I am not. I respect and…care for you, Trishia. A lot. If I can, I want to help you out. Besides, this girl saved my mother. Where is she anyway?”

“Down in the break room, “Trishia answered. “The girl was starving, so I sent one of the uniforms down with her, to get her something to eat. That bag of food your mother gave her, was trashed on the floor of that parking garage.”

Trishia squeezed Lucy’s hand and playfully bumped her.

“So, what is this plan of yours I see forming inside that pretty head ?”

“I hope it’s a good one,”Lucy answered. “But I need to talk to Jody first. So, do you trust me?”

A pair of dark-green eyes looked up at Trishia with such an intense look, that Trishia understood there was a lot more to the question, than just faith in Lucy’s ability to work out a plan.

“Always,”Trishia simply answered.

If they had not been at the police station, where there was a constant coming and going of people, Lucy would have wrapped her arms around the taller woman and kissed her senseless.

Trishia read the desire on Lucy’s face and saw the green eyes travel down to her lips. A small smile tugged on the corner of her mouth, while little, dancing lights appeared in her eyes. She brought her head closer to Lucy’s and saw that the smaller woman held her breath.

“I will make sure that, somehow, we can give into that today,”she whispered in a husky voice, seeing the goose bumps rise on Lucy’s bare arms. “It’s been too long since we had a full night of passion, don’t you think? ”

“Way too long,”Lucy answered, swallowing hard and moistening her suddenly dry lips. “And you are wicked.”

Trishia laughed and jumped up from her desk, reaching out a hand to grab Lucy’s and pull her along.

“Let’s go, “she suggested. “I think Alice has had time enough to eat something decent. Besides, knowing Sam and Jody, there will be good food in abundance this evening. Oh and Lucyð?”

Lucy grabbed her purse and looked up to the tall woman who was standing so close to her, she could feel her body heat.

“Thank you, “Trishia whispered, bending her head and giving Lucy a quick kiss, playfully running her tongue over the other woman’s lips.

Lucy softly whimpered when she felt her libido wake up and demand attention. Her appreciative eyes drank in the sight of the woman who stood before her. The tall, muscular body, with the healthy tan. Trishia was in great shape and looked so strong, yet soft.

Breathing in deeply, Lucy shook her head and silently wished there was a cold shower around, so she could jump in and cool off.

“Heck, a bucket would do,”she mumbled, following Trishia out of the door and promising herself that, as soon as they were at Jody’s and Sam’s, she would corner the woman first chance she got and have her way with her.

“Honey? Do you think we have enough? I ‘d hate to think our guests will go hungry,”Jody asked Sam, while they were in the kitchen, cutting up vegetables and fruit that would go into the salad.

Alarmed Sam looked up from skinning a pineapple and when she saw the mischievous smile on her partner’s face, she let out a breath of relief.

“You little….troublemaker,”she playfully grunted. “You had me worried there for a moment.”

Jody laughed and tossed some pieces of grapefruit in a big bowl. Whenever they had guests, Sam often was the centre of jokes, because the blonde always prepared way too much food.

“You are so adorable when you are cooking,”Jody confessed, stepping closer to her lover’s tall frame and pressing her cheeks against a muscular arm.

“Only when I am cooking?”Sam asked with a pout.

“Mmmm…let me think about that for a minute,”Jody teased, while one of her hands started to rub the taller woman’s back in slow, lazy circles. “Nope, not only when you are cooking, “she finally concluded with a wink.

She motioned Sam to bring her head close to her own and positioned her mouth close to a shapely ear.

“You are also very adorable when you are….hot, “Jody whispered, letting her hand travel down to Sam’s backside and squeezing the firm flesh.

Sam almost jumped and with a loud clatter dropped the knife she had been holding.

“Are you girls all right?”Joan McDonnells voice immediately sounded from the verandah, where Jody had made her lay down in a big chair.

“Yes, mom!”Jody shouted back, not able to hide the amusement in her voice.

Sam’s blue eyes sparkled when she turned to her partner and quickly pinned her against the kitchen counter.

“You are a very, very evil person, “she growled in a low voice, holding the squirming woman in a tight grip. “And if it wasn’t for your mom, sitting…oh….five meters away from here, I would….I would…. ”

“Yeeessss?”Jody chuckled, taking advantage of Sam’s lack of words to lean forward and press her lips against a soft cheek.

“I would throw you over my shoulder,”Sam whispered, nuzzling Jody’s neck and feeling the other woman’s breathing increase. “Take you into our bedroom…Rip off your clothes….and……leave you there, so I could eat your piece of banana cake!”

Jody groaned and let her head fall against Sam’s shoulder, while the taller woman wrapped her arms around her and pulled her close.

“Paybacks, my love,”Sam laughed.

“I guess I deserved that,”Jody smiled. “Although I do like the idea, except for you leaving me there and eating my cake.”

“You are unsatiable,”Sam accused, but her voice sounded warm and loving.

“Listen who’s talking,”Jody snorted, pushing Sam’s body back so she could look the tall woman in the eyes. “If I remember correctly, you were the one who woke me up this morning, hours before the alarm went off, almost begging me to… ”

Sam shot a look towards the verandah and quickly clamped her hand over Jody’s mouth, who immediately responded by nibbling the palm of her hand.

“Sshh! I don’t want your mom to know all about our love life,”she said, feeling herself blush. “Besides, Fiona is around as well and you know we would never hear the end of it if she… ”

“Hear the end of what? “a youthful voice suddenly sounded behind them and Sam groaned in frustration, feeling her blush deepen, while Jody threw her head back and laughed out loud.

“Don’t you two ever get enough?”Fiona asked, walking into the kitchen and snatching a piece of pineapple from the cutting board. “I should do some research on that. See what it is you two eat that makes you so….horny. I could sell it and become rich.”

“Fiona McDonnell!!!”Joan’s voice sounded from outside and for a moment Sam wished the ground would open up and swallow her whole.

The expression on Sam’s face made Jody even laugh louder and even though she felt sorry for her partner she couldn’t help herself, it was just too funny.

“Jody, stop laughing, “Joan’s voice sounded again. “Don’t encourage that sister of yours.”

“Oh, mom, don’t worry,”Jody called back, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. “She’ll get what she deserves soon enough. Just wait till the brat falls in love herself. I am sure we will all thoroughly enjoy that. ”

Fiona threw back her long, dark hair and wrinkled her freckled nose. Her green eyes took in the scene in front of her, where Jody was still pinned against the kitchen counter with Sam’s arms firmly wrapped around the smaller body.

She loved seeing her sister so happy and everybody knew she simply adored Sam, but even though she enjoyed the loving interaction between the two, she’d rather die than admit that.

“I will never fall in love,”she stated, chewing on the snatched piece of fruit. “I am too smart for that.”

“So, I am not?”Jody countered, her eyes sparkling.

“You are smart, “Fiona answered with a smirk. “Just not smart enough.”

“Your time will come, baby sister, “Jody good-naturedly warned her. “And then it’s our turn to have some fun. And you know what? I will have a front row seat. ”

“And I will sell the tickets,”Sam promised.

Fiona grinned and popped a strawberry in her mouth, contentedly chewing on it.

“Sounds like I will need to copyright my future love life,”she remarked.

Entering the break room, Lucy’s eyes immediately picked out a slender form, sitting at the far end of the room, away from anybody else. She cast a look at Trishia, who wordlessly nodded and with purposeful strides she crossed the room, until she had reached the teenager.

“Hi,”she greeted the startled girl, extending her right hand. “I am Lucy McDonnell. ”

The girl clearly hesitated. Her blue eyes travelling from Lucy’s face to her hand and back again. After a moment of silence, she reached out her hand as well and felt the warm, friendly grip of Lucy’s fingers.

“Alice,”she softly introduced herself.

“Do you mind if I sit down?”Lucy asked, showing the girl that she respected her boundaries.

A little overwhelmed by the action of the beautiful woman in front of her, Alice shook her head. Lucy sent her a smile and let herself fall down into a chair.

“I am Joan McDonnells daughter,”Lucy explained. “And both Trish and my mom have told me what you did today. That was a brave thing to do.”

Alice’s eyes traveled to the tall policewoman who was talking to one of her co-workers, before fixing her gaze on Lucy again. She shrugged her small shoulders, while her fingers nervously played with a paper napkin.

“I want to thank you, “Lucy continued with a genuine smile. “My mom means a lot to me and my sisters and brothers. I am grateful that she is all right.”

“Is she?”Alice mumbled, clearly not used to talking much at all. “I mean, all right? ”

“Yes, she sure is. They checked her out at the hospital and it’s just a painful swelling, but nothing serious. My sister took her home with her. ”

Lucy’s keen eyes noticed the teenager slightly relax, although her slender fingers were still twisting the napkin into something unrecognizable.

She also noticed the empty plate and half full glass of milk on the table.

“Did you have enough to eat?”she casually asked, not wanting the girl to think she was fussing over her. Somehow Lucy felt that Alice would not appreciate that. “It’s only a police station, but they make a great sandwich. My favourite is the ham and cheese. ”

A pair of blue eyes were raised to meet her dark-green ones and were almost cast down again immediately, but Lucy was convinced she had seen a hint of amusement in that cautious stare.

“It was nice,”Alice answered, barely audible, not used to the attention Joan McDonnells daughter was giving her.

She stared at her fidgeting fingers and wished she would be able to carry herself with the same confidence Lucy showed. But deep down inside Alice knew that was impossible. She knew she had no reason to be confident, her life was too full of insecurities. Most of the time she did not know when her next meal would be, or where or if she would be able to find a place to sleep. And whether it would be warm enough and safe. There had been nights she did not even know whether she would see another day.

An involuntary shiver ran down her spine and Alice’s body tensed. The kindness of the people she had met today, made her realize how much she was missing out in life. And how incredibility alone she was.

Sometimes, very rarely, she allowed herself to imagine what her life would have been if….Or how it could be, if…..But she never found the answers. She had watched other teenagers go to school, a lot of them dressed up in their school uniforms, backpacks slung over their shoulders. Talking to each other, laughing. On those occasions the cold numbness was briefly penetrated by envy. How she wished she could go to school herself and to have a place to return to at the end of the day.

But as soon as those feelings surfaced, she pushed them away again, knowing that she would never be so lucky to have that. Her priority in life was to survive, one way or the other. The kindness those people showed, would probably not last long. It would make them feel better to help her out for a little while, until they felt they had repaid her. After that, she would be on her own again.

“Did Trishia tell you that you can come with us?”Lucy’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

“It was either that or the shelter,”Alice gruffly answered. “It’s not like they left me much choice.”

“I have never been in a shelter,”Lucy confessed, keeping her voice neutral. “But Trish has a nice place, you might like it there.”

Alice mumbled something unintelligible and Lucy bit back a smile sensing the girl’s discomfort. A familiar presence made her aware of Trishia, who was standing behind her.

“Are you girls ready to go?”Trishia asked.

“I am,”Lucy said, jumping up.

Alice didn’t show any sign of following her. She just looked at Trishia, with hooded eyes. A picture of caution and distrust.

“Do you always take in strays?”she finally asked, not able to hide the hostility in her voice.

Lucy held her breath and looked from Alice to Trishia, wondering what the tall woman’s response would be.

“Not really, “Trishia calmly answered. “Only when I think they are worth it.”

Alice cast down her eyes and felt her cheeks grow warm, not able to fight the rising blush that covered her pale features. Though a nagging little voice in the back of her head reminded Alice that the tall policewoman did not even know her, a tiny little spark flamed up in the depths of her soul, spreading a warmth that was pleasant, but alien to her.

Not knowing what to say or do, the blond teenager stared at the table, feeling very uncomfortable. Slowly she pushed back her chair and stood up, shooting the two women a shy glance.

“Let’s go!”Lucy beamed. “I can hear a banana cake calling my name.”

“You and food,”Trishia teased, well aware of the fact that Alice was taking in their every word, even though she still displayed an indifferent attitude.

“You are just jealous that my sister makes a better cake than you do,”Lucy smirked.

“Hey!”Trishia responded, holding the door for Alice to walk out. “Anyone makes better cake than I do and I will be the first one to admit that.”

“Just remember that, Alice,”Lucy called over shoulder, while opening the door of the car. “Whenever Trishia cooks or bakes anything, and I mean anything, make sure she is the one who tastes it first! ”

Alice cast a nervous look at the policewoman, noticing a relaxed smile on her tanned face. Trishia winked at her and motioned Alice to get into the car.

“Just ignore Lucy,”she advised. “She’s insane! ”

Trishia’s eyes noticed the shadow of a smile on the young girl’s face, but decided to ignore it. She did not want Alice to know that she was being observed, but she didn’t want the girl to feel ignored either and that’s why Trishia was pleased with the way Lucy had been approaching the teenager. Which had been with a sense of equality and kindness, laced with Lucy’s typical sense of humor.

“Try not to get a speeding ticket today, will you?”she asked Lucy, while buckling her seatbelt. “I am off duty and can’t bail you out this time.”

“Ha! Like you have ever done that in the past,”Lucy answered, with feigned hurt. “Sometimes I think you sic your friends on me on purpose. Ever since I met you, I get pulled over at least once a week.”

Trishia chuckled and shook her head in denial, glancing aside to see a pair of sparkling green eyes.

“I would never do that, “she grinned. “I think my coworkers just want to meet you in person, to see for themselves if all the stories they hear from Peter are true.”

“And what stories might that be? ”

“You know Peter,”Trishia shrugged. “He likes teasing you. And I never hear what he tells the others, I swear.”

“Sounds like I need to have a word with him soon,”Lucy answered. “Although I have to admit it’s nice to have….”, she smirked and shot a glance at Trishia. “..friends …in the police force.”

Alice was staring out of the window, creating the impression that she was not aware of the gentle bantering that was going on between the two women in the front of the car, but that was far from the truth. Her ears followed the teasing with keen interest and rising curiosity.

She wondered what the exact nature of their relationship was. It was clear to her that they were good friends, but Alice sensed something more, something she could not put her finger on yet, but she was determined to find out by keeping a close eye on Trishia and Lucy.

Joan McDonnell was dozing off, enjoying the breeze that gently ruffled her hair and provided some relief from the afternoon heat.

On the table next to her was a big glass, full of freshly made lemonade with happily floating ice cubes. Jody had made sure that her mom’s glass was never empty.

The sight of the green hills, now rapidly acquiring a brownish tint because of the hot sun and dry weather and the forest that seemed to stretch out on the horizon, had made Joan sleepy and with a sigh of contentment she had finally given up the fight to stay awake.

The sounds from the kitchen had slowly faded out and softly snoring Joan lost all awareness of her surroundings. She did not hear nor see the slowly approaching car and even the sound of a car door being slammed shut did not wake her up.

Only when somebody kissed her softly on her cheek, Joan’s eyelashes fluttered and she sleepily opened her eyes.

“Lucy!”she croaked. “I…What…My goodness, I must have fallen asleep. What time is it?”

Joan shot upright, immediately regretting that move, because it made her aware of the heavy, pounding in her head. With a groan she rubbed her still painful skull.

“Hi, mom,”Lucy softly greeted, her eyes uncharacteristically soft and gentle. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m sorry. How are you feeling?”

“Pretty good,”Joan answered, feeling the pounding slowly subside. “I must have dozed off.”

“You must have needed the nap,”Lucy concluded. “We brought a guest.”

“So I heard,”Joan smiled, looking at the blonde teenager who seemed reluctant to climb up the verandah. “Hello, Alice, it’s nice to see you. I am glad you could make it.”

Alice nodded, just in time remembering whom she was talking to and quickly swallowing the remark:”Like I had a choice.”Instead she stared at her shoes, uncomfortably shuffling her feet.

The door to the kitchen opened and Jody appeared, followed by Sam and a curious Fiona.

“Girls, this is Alice,”Trishia introduced the young girl, who was still standing at the bottom of the steps and did not show any intention of coming up on the verandah.

“Alice, this freckled redhead is Jody, the tall blonde is Sam and that copy of Lucy is called Fiona.”

Alice eyes had widened at the sight of the three women and Jody could tell the girl was on the verge of panic. Quickly she stepped off the verandah and grabbed Alice’s hand in a warm grip.

“Hi, Alice, nice to meet you,”she smiled, her green eyes holding the frightened blue ones. “And thank you so much for helping our Mom this afternoon. Are you thirsty? ”

Alice took a deep breath and decided to concentrate on one thing and one person at the time. She could not remember ever being in the company of so many people at the same time and it scared her. But a part of her craved some company and kindness and when she looked into the red haired woman’s eyes, she detected nothing but gentleness.

“A glass of water would be nice,”she softly answered, casting down her eyes and feeling a blush coloring her cheeks.

“Sure,”Jody smiled, sensing the girl’s discomfort. “I’ll get you some water. Unless you are game to try Sam’s home made lemonade. It’s pretty good,”Jody finished with a smirk.

“Of course it is,”Sam remarked, having joined her partner.

She extended her hand and grabbed Alice’s.

“Nice to meet you, Alice. It’s good to have you here. And just for the record, I make the best lemonade ever. Want to try some?”

Alice looked up at the tall woman and could not help but answer the genuine smile that was directed to her.

“Yes, please,”she whispered.

“Great, Sam smiled. “I will get you some. Just grab a chair and relax, all right?”

Sam jumped up on the verandah and disappeared in the kitchen, leaving Alice and Jody alone again.

Alice was aware of the scrutinizing look the dark haired teenager gave her and suddenly she wished she would be somewhere else. Anything would be better than the judgmental looks she was too familiar with.

Fiona slowly descended from the verandah and stopped in front of Alice. The two teenagers looked at each other wearily and just when Alice decided that nothing would be lost if she would turn around and run off, her hand was grabbed in a firm grip.

“Hi, I am Fiona, Jody’s and Lucy’s sister,”she introduced herself. “They refer to me as their ‘baby sister’, but you will soon find out I am the most sensible one around. Oh, and thanks for helping Mom,”Fiona casually added. “I really appreciate it. That was a cool thing you did.”

“No worries,”Alice answered, while she cast a look at the young girl in front of her.

“And I really have to warn you,”Fiona continued with sparkling eyes. “My family is a bit….different. But they are okay. You just need to get used to them.”

“Oh, well, thank you,”Lucy’s voice sounded in response to Fiona’s remark. “You are a treasure, Fi!”

Alice couldn’t help but smile, hearing the bantering between the sisters and for the first time she felt herself relax a little. Her head was still spinning with the things that had happened that day and she was still trying to come to terms with the past events. But a little voice in the back of her mind, told her it was alright to let down her guard. Just a little. Enough to try and enjoy herself. Tomorrow would be another day.
part 4
” So, my friend, what’s the story? ” Jody asked Trishia when they found themselves alone in the kitchen, tossing a salad and slicing freshly baked Italian bread.

” You want the long version or the short one?”Trishia joked, but Jody could hear the tension in her voice.

” Short one, for now. The long one will come later, I guess.”

” What did your mom tell you about Alice? ”

Jody finished arranging the slices of bread in a cane basket, before turning around and looking at Trishia. There was a pensive look in her clear green eyes and the expression on her face was a serious one.

” Mom told me she gave Alice some food every day, after she left work. She said she had the impression that the girl is homeless, probably a runaway. When I asked why she wanted to help this girl, since there are so many, she said that there is something about Alice. She can’t explain what, but she reckons she will find out, eventually,” Jody chuckled. ” And she told me what Alice did, when mom got mugged.”

” Alice seems to suffer from….amnesia,”Trishia told Jody in a subdued voice. ” Apparently she can’t even remember her last name. Peter and I pushed her on a few things and we both had the strong impression that she really doesn’t remember. Something has caused her to lose her memory, most likely a traumatic event.”

” Like what?”Jody softly asked.

” We can’t prove anything yet,”Trishia answered, a grim expression on her face. ” But we think she’s been abused. Physically and emotionally. We don’t even want to think about other forms of abuse as well, at this point.”

” Oh, my God,”Jody whispered, feeling a chill travel down her spine. ” Poor kid. Is there anything we can do to help her, Trish? ”

Trishia smiled and felt her heart warm by the use of the word ‘we’. She had not underestimated the McDonnell family.

” I hope that a peaceful, quiet environment will help her to regain her balance. With a little luck, that might trigger some memories. But most of all she seems to really need a place where she can feel safe and get some rest.”

” Are there any…homes…or shelters that can provide that?” Jody hesitantly asked, already picturing the blond teenager like a trapped animal in a crowded room, with no chance to escape. ” I mean…there must be some place…. ”

” Probably not, sis, ” Lucy’s voice suddenly sounded behind Jody.

She had heard part of Trishia’s explanation and Jody’s response to that, but the two women had been so engrossed in their conversation, they had not noticed her presence.

Lucy stepped closer to her smaller sister and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, giving her a friendly squeeze.

” Trish has offered to take her in for a while, until we find another solution,”Lucy explained, winking at her friend. She suppressed a smile when her sister’s response was exactly the way she had predicted.

Jody whirled around, her green eyes wide in unbelief, almost shock, when she looked from Lucy to Trishia.

” But…that’s very sweet and honourable of you Trishia, but your apartment is so tiny! It’s hardly big enough for one.”

Lucy took a deep breath and for a moment her gaze was caught by Trishia’s, who raised an eyebrow and almost imperceptibly nodded. Taking courage from the look of trust Trishia gave her, Lucy turned to her sister, putting her hands on both her shoulders and looked down on her with a small smile.

” I have been thinking about that, Pea,”she started, using Jody’s nickname, which made her sister smile. ” And I came up with an idea. I….”

” I need to talk it over with Sam,”Jody interrupted, her words taking Lucy by surprise.

” But….how…? ” Lucy stammered, seeing the smirk on Trishia’s face.

” I know you, sis,” Jody chuckled. ” And I don’t mind the idea, but it’s not only my decision to make.”

” I know, Jody,” Lucy answered. “And I do understand it’s a bit awkward. I mean, I don’t blame you for thinking we are trying to dump ‘our problem’ on you, it’s just that…. ”

” It seems the best solution,” Jody said. ” And I agree. Besides, mom will be here the next few days as well. Alice seems to like her, so.. I will talk to Sam after dinner. Okay?”

” You are the best, Jody,” Trishia sighed, bending closer to the smaller woman and kissing her on the cheek. “Thank you. ”

” No worries, ” Jody smiled, grabbing a bowl full of salad and heading towards the door. ” Bring out the bread, Luce, will you? ”

” Um…yeah…sure…,”Lucy stammered, still at loss for words by her sister’s response.

Only when strong fingers teasingly tickled her neck, she was able to kick her brain back in gear.

” Wow, that went well,” she sighed. ” I already had a high opinion of my big sister, but it just jumped a few notches. ”

Trishia smiled and wrapped her arms around the smaller body in front of her. She buried her face in Lucy’s hair and sighed contentedly when she felt the dark haired woman lean into the contact.

” You are quite amazing yourself,”Trishia softly spoke. ” In fact, your whole family is just amazing.”

Lucy lifted up her face to be able to look at her friend’s face. Their gazes locked and a small smile tugged on the corner of Lucy’s mouth. Her eyes were inviting and with a smile of her own, Trishia brought her face closer, capturing a pair of warm, soft lips with a tender, but insistent touch. Immediately, Lucy responded by sliding her arms around Trishia and pulling her closer.

The kiss rapidly intensified and became deep and passionate. Reluctantly Trishia slowly withdrew, until her forehead touched Lucy’s and they looked at each other with a smile.

” The bread,” Trishia gently reminded Lucy.

” Bread? Oh, yes, the bread,”Lucy grinned. ” I guess we’d better join the girls, before they start to give us grief. ”

” Yes, since Fiona is around.”

Wide eyed Alice stared at the abundance of food in front of her. In spite of the fact that she had a sandwich at the police station, she could feel her stomach rumble.

There were different types of salads, fruit, fresh bread and juicy steaks that came just off the grill.

She could not remember the last time she had a meal like that, if ever. Nervously she looked at her companions, who were happily chattering and not in a hurry to start eating any time soon. If only she knew how to compose herself. She did not want everyone to know she was starving, but she did not know how long she could resist the delicious meal in front of her. The best thing to do was to simply wait and see what the others would do.

Alice nervously played with the hem of her shirt and desperately tried not to look too hungry. When she finally looked up, it was straight into a pair of clear blue eyes, that looked at her with understanding.

Sam winked at Alice and cleared her throat.

” Ladies! I don’t know about you all, but I could eat a horse…or two,”she grinned, seeing Fiona’s indignant look. ” And we have to go through dinner to get to that delicious banana cake I produced, soooo…..let’s say grace and dig in, okay?”

” Of course, honey,”Jody cheerfully answered, not missing Alice’s wide eyes reaction to her term of endearment.

Everybody reached out to grab the hand of the person next to them and Alice hesitantly put her hand in Jody’s and Joan’s.

” Jody, will you do us the honour?” Sam smiled.

Jody bend her head in respect and her soft, but clear voice filled the air.

” Dear Father in heaven. We’d like to thank you for the abundance of food in front of us. We know we are blessed by these riches and realize there are many people who suffer from hunger every day. We also want to thank you for Alice, who made sure mom was able to return to us safely today. ”

Alice almost jumped up after hearing those words and felt her face grow warm. With growing confusion she realized this was the first time in her life, anyone had thanked God for her and it brought tears to her eyes. Squeezing her eyes shut, she willed them away.

” …..and we offer you this prayer through Jesus, your son, amen.”She suddenly heard Jody finish and with a simultaneous, friendly squeeze, both her hands were freed.

“Enjoy, everyone,” Sam spoke. ” There is enough for everybody, so, don’t be shy!”

” As if,”Fiona snorted, digging her fork in a big piece of meat and putting it on her plate. ” This looks good, Sam. I might come and live here. ”

Jody laughed and handed Alice a bowl with potato salad, giving the girl an encouraging nod.

” Try this, ” she smiled. ” Sam made it. She says it’s a secret Dutch recipe, so, we don’t know what she put in it, but it does taste great.”

” Dutch? ” Alice asked, hearing the word leave her mouth and immediately feeling awkward about her response.

” Sam is from The Netherlands,”Fiona helpfully explained. ” She came here because she’s afraid the melting of the ice caps will drown her country and she can’t swim. ”

” Very funny, Fi,”Sam replied, winking at Alice. ” Don’t believe anything she says, Alice. She is the Family Nut. ”

Alice’s blue eyes looked at Sam with interest and for a moment she forgot her reservations.

” You don’t have an accent. Well, you do, but I thought you were a pom…I mean, British ”

” My dad is,”Sam explained, with a twinkle in her eye. ” My mom is Dutch and I grew up in The Netherlands. But I was raised bilingual. I guess my dad rubbed off on me.”

Alice slowly put down the bowl of potato salad and wrecked her brain to come up with…something she once heard or read about Sam’s country. It was so hard, because the few memories she did have, were safely locked away in a dark corner of her mind and she consciously kept them there.

But suddenly she knew. It had been in a magazine she had found a few months before, in one of the trash cans in a park. There had been an article in there about Europe and she remembered reading something about The Netherlands as well.

She still felt very vulnerable and uneasy. For a moment she battled with herself, but her curiosity won.

” I…that’s where the Deltaworks are, right?”

Surprised Sam looked up and a big smile covered her face.

” Yes! Wow, Alice, I am impressed. Most people have never heard about that wonder of engineering.”

” I…I read it in a magazine,”Alice mumbled, staring at her plate. ” It was built because of that flood.”

” You are right,”Sam nodded. ” In 1953 a large part of the Lowlands was flooded and a lot of people drowned. Because twenty-six percent of the country is below sea level, they built a big dam that would keep the sea out. It has huge gates and when there is a big storm and a chance of flooding, they lower the gates and keep the sea out.”

” Really?”Trishia asked with interest. ” Twenty-six percent is below sea level?”

” Yes, it is,”Sam answered. ” And we have a dense population. When another flood would occur, there could be an enormous amount of casualties.”

Sam turned her attention back to Alice and smiled.

” I have a book about it. If you are interested I will show it to you after dinner. ”

” Umm…well…thank you,”Alice stammered. ” I am….interested, that is. ”

” Great,”Sam exclaimed, genuinely pleased to have found someone to share one of her interests with. ” I will get you the book. You can have a look at it and tell me what you think later.”

” Do you have an interest in water management, Alice ?” Joan asked, full of interest and eager to get to know the young girl better.

Feeling all eyes on her, Alice nervously fidgeted with the hem of her T-shirt. She felt a blush creep up and quickly cast down her eyes.

At first she didn’t know what to answer, but a tickling sensation in the back of her brain became more and more insistent and finally she looked up, a shy smile on her face.

” Yes,”she answered, somehow knowing it to be the truth. ” I have always been interested in dams and things to control water with. It’s…interesting.”

Trishia’s eyes searched for Lucy’s and they exchanged a look of pleasure. Things were going better than expected. True, Alice was still skittish and withdrawn, but Jody, Sam and Joan seemed to be able to involve the teenager in their conversation and Alice’s responses were soft spoken and shy. The teenager had seemed to relax a little, while she cleaned her plate in record time.

” If you want some more, just dig in, Alice, ” Sam encouraged the girl with a smile. ” As long as you keep a spot for the cake. ”

” Sam’s famous banana cake,”Fiona mumbled with a chuckle. ” I have to admit it hasn’t killed me yet.”

” If that had been the case, you would be a talking corpse, little sister,”Lucy dryly remarked. ” And probably not in need of any food at all, which would leave more for us. My goodness, girl, where do you put it? ”

Fiona smirked, while she piled another helping of potato salad and meat on her plate. Apparently not impressed with her sister’s remark.

” I am a growing girl,”she simply stated. ” Research shows that teenagers with a growth spurt need extra nutrition. ”

” And does that ‘nutrition’ also reach their brain?”Lucy asked with an innocent face. ” Or is that just needed to fill up those hollow arms and legs?”

” I am not answering that question,”Fiona replied with a raised eyebrow. ” My report card speaks for itself. ”

” I take that as a ‘no’,” Lucy grinned, never one to pass up on a chance to tease any of her siblings.

Fiona rested her fork on her plate and shot a look at her older sister.

” When you ever….no, I will rephrase that, IF you ever get some common sense, I will be going mad with happiness. But until that time comes, I will just suffer your discriminating remarks with my usual dignity.”

After those words, Lucy just laughed heartily and playfully slapped her younger sister on the back, almost causing her to spit out the mouthful of food she was chewing on.

” Never lose that sharpness, Fi, you will need it when you grow up. ”

Fiona snorted and feigned a long-suffering look, but everybody could see the twinkle in her eyes. She always enjoyed the bantering with her sisters and even though her words could be sharp at times, her family knew they were never meant to hurt anyone. Fiona loved and admired her older sisters, she basically worshipped the ground they walked on, even though she would never, ever admit that.

Alice had listened to the conversation between the sisters, secretly pleased the attention had been drawn away from her. It had felt good not to feel invisible anymore, although it all had been overwhelming.

Inwardly she had cringed at the sharp words and her muscles had tensed while she expected a fight to break out among them. But a nervous look across the table had showed a relaxed grin on Sam’s face and slowly Alice had let out the breath she unconsciously had been holding.

A hand gently squeezed her shoulder and when Alice looked up she saw quiet compassion in a pair of green eyes.

” Don’t mind them,”Jody advised with a soft smile. ” They are like that all the time, but basically they really miss each other if they are apart for very long.”

The gentle eyes held her captive and when Alice felt herself smile back, she shyly cast down her eyes, annoyed by the blush she felt creeping up her cheeks.

She was assaulted by a whirlwind of emotions and briefly she closed her eyes, willing away the dark panic that was trying to get a hold of her. It’s claws were scratching at her heart, desperately trying to block out any emotion that tried to surface, because experience had taught her that the ability to feel, meant the risk of getting hurt. And she had only survived by suppressing anything that could make her vulnerable.

Jody saw the slender fingers tremble, when Alice pushed back her hair and she caught the worried lookTrishia cast her.With a quick smile and an imperceptible nod she reassured the policewoman that everything was all right.

After a nice dinner, filled with bantering and laughter, everybody helped out with clearing the table and loading up the dishwasher. And while Joan started to make some fresh coffee and hot tea, Jody managed to corner Sam and drag her into the utility room.

” What’s up, honey?”Sam asked, pulling Jody into her arms. ” You don’twant to have your way with me now, do you? I mean, your mom is in the other room and..”

” Sam!”Jody whispered, with a laugh. ” Although I find the idea very appealing, that is not the reason why I wanted to see you in private.”

She snuggled deeper into Sam’s arms and put her head against a strong shoulder, sighing in contentment. No matter how much she loved their house and property, whenever she was in Sam’s arms, she felt really at home.

The arms around her tightened and she could feel Sam resting her cheek on the top of her head.

” Okay, sweetie,”Sam’s voice rumbled in her ear. ” If you didn’t drag me away from our guests to have a little roll in the hay, there must be something else. What is thou scheme, Oh, Lady? ”

Jody chuckled and kissed the cotton underneath her head.

” Always seeing through me, aren’t you? ”

“Always,” Sam answered, loosening her grip around Jody’s body.

” It’s about Alice, ” Jody began, raising her head from it’s comfortable position to be able to look Sam in the eyes.

” Tell me,”Sam encouraged, tenderly brushing a strand of hair away from Jody’s forehead. “What’s up?”

Quickly Jody told her lover about Alice’s story and the way Trishia and Lucy had decided to try and help the girl.

Sam never interrupted Jody and her blue eyes shone with pride when the smaller woman ended with the question Sam had already expected. She brought her face closer and softly kissed Jody on the lips.

” You are a remarkable woman, Jody McDonnell Stevens, and I love you more each and every day. Of course Alice is welcome here. She can stay in the house with us, it’s not like we don’t have any spare bedrooms.”

” Thank you, Sam,”Jody sighed, standing on her toes to give the tall, blond woman a heartfelt kiss. ” Of course we need to talk things through with Trishia, I mean, I suppose she must have some sort of plan, but I am just glad we can help them out.”

” You do realize that Alice is a troubled kid, honey. It might be very difficult for her to accept any kind of help.”

” I know, Sam. But there was a time I was homeless and who knows what would have happened to me if Megan’s mother had not helped me out. She saved my life and sanity. I owe it to her to try and help another girl in need.”

” And I love you for it,”Sam smiled.

” Why don’t you show Alice a bit of the place, Fiona?”Jody suggested some time later, after they all had been enjoying Sam’s precious banana cake. “I know you are dying to have a look at the horses.”

A big grin split Fiona’s face and her dark green eyes sparkled with anticipation.

” Good idea, sis,”she answered, pushing back her chair and looking at Alice. “Come on, Alice. Let’s go to the stables. Sam and Jody have got a couple of horses. They are really cool, can you ride? ”

Before Alice could answer Sam shot Fiona a stern look.

” No riding, Fiona,”she warned. ” Even if Alice knows how to ride a horse, I want to be there the first time she does. I don’t want any accidents, you know how skittish Azrel can be!”

Fiona let out a deep sigh and slowly shook her head.

” I am hurt, Sam. I thought you trusted me,”she complained, but there was a mischievous glint in her eyes.

Lucy just snorted and opened her mouth to respond to her sister’s remark, but Trishia’s hand squeezed her arm and uncharacteristically she remained silent.

” I do trust you,”Sam grinned. ” I trust you to do as I tell you. Last time you and Yarrah went for a ride, Norah threw her off three times. ”

” She wasn’t hurt, ” Fiona defended herself. ” Besides, it was Yarrah’s own fault, she was mocking around, ”

” As I recall, Yarrah’s mother told me she had only been riding twice before,”Jody spoke.

” As if I knew that,”Fiona answered with a shrug. ” Yarrah told me that her people have always been one with the land and animals and she said riding Norah wouldn’t be a big deal.”

” She probably forgot horses are not native to this country,”Sam dryly remarked, making Lucy chuckle.

” Whatever,”Fiona said, ignoring the steps and jumping off the verandah. “Come on, Alice, let’s go, before they tie me down and put me in a cage.”

” Great idea, ” Lucy grinned. ” I think Trishia has some handcuffs in the car.”

Fiona stopped dead in her tracks and when she turned around, Lucy knew she was in trouble. Without looking she knew that Trishia, who was sitting next to her, was trying to hide a smile.

” Has she now?”Fiona drawled, raising one eyebrow. ” Using the cities’ resources for your own pleasure, huh? Wow, sis, I didn’t know you had it in you! Kinky! ”

” Fiona! ” Joan McDonnell warned, but Trishia, Jody and Sam burst out laughing, while Lucy bit her lip and desperately tried to stop blushing.

Fiona grinned, blew Lucy a kiss and turned around to casually walk towards the back of the house, where the stables could be found.

Lucy hid her heated face in her hands and softly groaned, not able to look her mother in the eyes yet. When she felt Trishia’s hand gently rub her back in slow, lazy circles, she turned around and buried her face against the taller woman’s shoulder.

” Help,”she mumbled. ” My little sister is growing up.”

Jody chuckled, seeing Fiona and Alice disappear around the corner.

” You know, Lucy, this is just a taste of your own medicine,”she said, not feeling sorry for her sister at all. ” Fiona is just like you, so, you haven’t seen anything yet! Remember how you teased Sam and me after you saw us kissing behind dad’s shed?”

” That is a hundred years ago,”Lucy objected with a sigh. ” That doesn’t count anymore. ”

” Kissing behind the shed?”Joan echoed. ” When was that? ”

Jody and Sam looked at each other and they smiled, remembering that summer’s day, almost a decade ago, like it was yesterday.

” Well, that was one of those holidays Sam came to visit, when she was staying with her uncle and aunt”, Jody explained. ” I guess I must have been…what? Eighteen, which would have made Sam nineteen.”

” Puppy love,”Lucy joked, raising her head from it’s resting place and snuggling closer in Trishia’s arms.

Joan looked at her eldest daughter and smiled with affection. Once she had been able to stand up against her religiously fanatic and dictatorial husband, she had quickly grown accustomed to the relationship between Jody and Sam. In her view love was a beautiful thing. And if her children found that love with someone of the same gender, it did not make any difference. She had accepted Jody’s choice completely and secretly hoped that Lucy would settle down as well, some day soon. Trishia was good for her quick witted, sometimes rebel daughter. But even though they spent a lot of time together, Lucy did not give the impression of wanting to take their relationship into something more permanent. And Joan sometimes worried if the dysfunctional relationship she and her ex-husband used to have, would scare her children away from committing to a partner. After all, the example had not been a good one.

” What’s that serious look for, Mom?” Jody softly asked.

Joan looked up into a pair of concerned green eyes and smiled, ignoring the throbbing of her bruised face.

” I was just thinking how happy you are, which makes me happy in return,” she answered, affectionately patting Jody’s hand. ” And how appropriate to name this place Murrook Farm.”

Alice quietly walked next to Fiona, curiously taking in her surroundings. The stables were supposed to be behind the house, but when they arrived there, Alice couldn’t detect any building. With a frown she looked around.

” I know, they say it’s behind the house, which basically is true,” Fiona explained, seeing the unasked question in the other girl’s eyes. ” See those trees?”

Alice followed Fiona’s outstretched finger and nodded when she saw a group of huge trees, about fifty meters behind the house.

” It’s behind those trees. Pretty neat, cause in the summer it’s nice and cool in the stables.”

Fiona looked aside and pulled a face, which made Alice smile.

” Those stables justify the name of the place,” she grinned. ” I mean, what is a farm without animals, right?”

Alice nodded and sucked in her bottom lip. Fiona clearly did her best to make her feel comfortable and even though Alice appreciated the gesture, she was still not very at ease with the whole situation. But Fiona was no adult, she was about her own age and even though Alice’s experiences with peers had mostly been painful and embarrassing, she felt that somehow, Fiona was different from the girls she sometimes encountered on the beach, or in the streets. The ones who pointed at her and laughed, or called her names. Or the small groups who followed her around, shouting at her. Who sometimes even threw rocks at her.

” What does Murrook mean?” she suddenly and hesitantly asked.

” Happy,” Fiona answered. ” It’s an Aboriginal word, which means ‘ Happy’. And I guess it is a happy place. I mean, my sister married the love of her life, eventually, after being separated for a lot of years. Sam and Jody loved each other ever since I was just a little kid. But something happened and they didn’t see each other for years. Then, accidentally, they ran into each other again and…wham! Now they are married.”

Alice stood still and looked at Fiona. Her blue eyes wide with surprise.

” They are married?”

Fiona, not aware her companion had halted, turned around and looked at the blond girl with a frown.

” Yes, they are. In Sam’s home country it’s legal for same sex couples to get married. So they did. Of course here things are a bit different, but they did marry each other including all the official mumbo jumbo everybody is always raving about.”

Alice didn’t immediately answer. The thoughts were racing through her mind and she nervously bit her lip, trying to bring order into the chaos inside her head. She already knew that things at Murrook Farm were different, the occasional term of endearment and the soft touches between Jody and Sam had clued her in.

“Gotta shoot them all. Damn queers!” a rough voice suddenly sounded in her head, almost making Alice jump.

The blood drained from her face and Fiona cautiously stretched out a hand to touch the blond girls arm. She looked sick and Fiona wondered if it had just been her remark about Sam and Jody being married.

” Um..listen, Alice,”she stammered. ” It’s no big deal, okay? I know a lot of people find it strange, or maybe even offensive, but Jody is my sister and she is one of the most gentle people I know. I love her and the first one who says anything bad about her…well, they will have to deal with me. So, if you have any problems with their relationship…”

” No,” Alice’s husky voice interrupted Fiona’s awkward speech. ” It’s not that.”

Fiona stuffed her clenched fists in the pockets of her shorts and desperately tried not to lose her patience. Bigotry was something she did not tolerate and just the idea of somebody making one of her sisters a target of ignorance and discrimination, made her blood boil.

” You look like you have seen a ghost,”she mumbled, eyeing the pale blonde wearily.

” I think I heard one,”Alice whispered with trembling lips.

Seeing the confusion on Fiona’s face she swallowed hard and took a deep breath.

” I….I think I had some sort of flash back, she explained.I..it’s…it scared me.”

Alice knew it was a lame explanation, but how could she tell Fiona about her long hard fight to not remember. To forget. That survival of her sanity depended on her ability to lock away her memories and numb her emotions. That there was safety in not being able to feel.

The memory of the voice had shaken her to her core. In a split second, all she had been trying to forget had threatened to come rushing back to her. Her heart had been caught in the cold grip of fear and Alice had almost panicked. Again. Like in the parking garage.

” Twice,in one day,”she mumbled, almost inaudible.

” Sorry?”Fiona asked.

” Nothing,”Alice sighed. ” I am sorry if I gave the impression I did not accept your sister’s relationship. I do. I really do. ”

” Okay, I am glad,” Fiona simply stated, hesitantly putting a hand on Alice’s shoulder. ” But what happened? I thought you were gonna faint.”

Alice stared at her worn out tennis shoes and shrugged her shoulders, not wanting Fiona to see the fear in her eyes. Part of her wanted to shake of the gentle hand that touched her, because it made her feel. The other part craved the touch of another human being, to acknowledge her existence and make her feel alive.

As if Fiona could sense the inner conflict of the other girl, she slowly removed her hand and stuffed it back into her pocket.

” I don’t know much about, you know, the things that…haunt you,” she off-handedly remarked. ” I know what Mom told me, about you having no home and all, so I guess you have been through a lot of crap. Must have been awful. And if you don’t want to, you don’t have to talk about it, that’s cool with me. Just..if you do want to, well….I might be a brat, but I am a good listener.”

Alice moistened her dry lips and nodded, still too off balance and shy to look up into Fiona’s face. Instead she looked down at her feet, softly kicking the ground and creating tiny clouds of red dust.

” Thanks,” she finally answered, knowing that talking about her demons would be impossible, since she did not even know what exactly they were and where they came from. But she appreciated Fiona’s offer and a small ray of hope suddenly pierced through the thick, dark wall that had been surrounding her heart for such a long time already. Like a hesitant ray of sunlight, after a heavy summer’s storm. The warmth that suddenly invaded her senses, almost took her breath away and with fear and wonder she realised that for the first time, in what seemed like forever, she did not want to raise her defences.

” Let’s have a look at those horses, ” Fiona smiled, relieved to see that the color had returned to Alice’s cheeks. ” You know how to ride?”

Alice shook her head and tried not to shiver. She didn’t want to risk the tentative friendship with Fiona, by declaring she was afraid of horses. Especially not since the other girl seemed totally smitten by the animals.

” They are real cool horses, ” Fiona continued. ” Azrel is Sam’s, he is a bit wild, but Sam is a great rider. Norah is Jody’s and meek as a lamb. They want to see if those two will breed. That would be so great, having a foal around.”

Fiona pushed open the stable door and motioned Alice to follow her.

” I bet Jody will teach you how to ride Norah. She’s a good horse when you first start. You could ride every day, cool. Maybe Sam would even let us ride together in a while, once you get the nack of it. I…”

” Wait a minute,” Alice interrupted, her blue eyes wide in shock. ” What did you just say? About me riding every day?”

” Of course,” Fiona answered. ” Oh, they haven’t told you yet, have they?”

She sighed deeply and shook her head.

” Figures. I mean, they think they are adults, but sometimes they have the common sense of a wombat. From what I picked up today, they will ask you to stay here.”

Alice’s heart started pounding so fast that she was convinced Fiona could hear it. Her breathing hitched and she had to close her eyes and concentrate not to turn around and bolt out of the stable.

Suddenly feeling weak she stretched out her hand and leaned against the wall for support.

” I..How…?”

” I don’t know the details, yet!” Fiona spoke. ” But hey, it’s a good deal. My sister is a great person and Sam is just, well, she is just fantastic. You will be safe here.”

Those last words were softly spoken and Alice knew that Fiona had been able to read the fear in her eyes.

” But…I…,” Alice swallowed hard and took a deep breath. ” I can’t. They don’t even know me.”

” I am sure time will fix that,” Fiona smirked, leaning her shoulder against the wall and twirling a piece of hay between her slender fingers.

” I could be a criminal,” Alice objected, not able to hide the bitterness in her voice. ” A junkie, a thief or a murderer.”

Fiona stuck the piece of hay between her healthy looking teeth and started chewing on it, studying Alice with clear eyes. Slowly she shook her head.

” Nah! You look too honest. Besides, you rescued my Mom from those thugs. I don’t think a criminal would have bothered.”

” B..but why would they want to?” Alice wondered out aloud.

” Because they are good people. And my sister knows what it’s like to be on the streets.”

Alice’s blond head jerked up and she looked at Fiona with big, unbelieving eyes. That gentle, beautiful woman had been homeless once?

” It’s a long story,” Fiona explained, seeing the question in Alice’s eyes. ” Maybe Jody will tell you about it one day. But somebody helped her back then and that probably saved her life. She would not turn down an opportunity to help someone else in return. I know my sister.”

Alice pushed back her long hair and tried to determine whether she was living a nightmare and needed to wake up, or if it was a dream she wanted to prolong for as long as she could. It was all so confusing. Only yesterday her life had been so predictable. She slept wherever she could find a safe spot for the night. She ate whenever she could find some food, or whenever she managed to find some money on the street. Or whenever she was given something by kind people, like Joan.

Once she had become used to it, she had embraced the safety of being invisible, except for those who refused to close their eyes to the misery and pain of others. But those people were outnumbered by the ones who passed her by on the street, seemingly looking straight through her, or turning their heads so they did not have to look her in the eye. Doing that would acknowledge her existence and might make them feel compelled to help. Numerous times Alice had seen guilt in the hastily averted eyes. At first it had made her angry and after a while she had felt contempt for those blinded by their own fortune. But in the end she had learned to ignore them and block out the feelings they originally invoked in her. Until she had become a shadow of society. A non-existent.

” So, what do you think? ” Fiona’s voice suddenly filled the silence. ” You think you’d like to stay here for a while?”

Alice had to think about that question. Fiona could tell by the furrowed brow and the pensive expression on her face. She had to weigh her options and mentally made a quick list of possibilities. It was a short list. She knew, from previous experiences, that if she refused to stay at Jody’s and Sam, Trishia would be forced to place her in a shelter, until they had found out who she was and where she came from. Alice could not remember. The only thing she knew was the feeling of dread and panic whenever she tried to remember where she belonged.

Of course she could always run away from the shelter, like she had done before, it’s not like there would be a search party send out to look for her. Nobody ever bothered before. But deep down inside, Alice knew this time it would be different. So, if she would be sensible, she’d accept the hospitality that was offered, without questioning it. Just go with the flow and see where she would end up.

“Trish, don’t you think that would be a little…harsh?”Lucy asked, her dark eyebrows furrowed in a frown. ” I mean, I am all for honesty and clarity, but would it be wise to confront her like that? It might put her off.”

” You think?”Sam wondered. ” I don’t know, Luce. It seems pretty straightforward to me. Alice does look to be quite intelligent. I don’t think she’d appreciate Trishia beating around the bush. Just telling her what the options are seems fair enough. She does have a choice, you know.”

The five of them had been discussing Alice’s situation and the way it would be handled best.

Lucy and Trishia were grateful that Jody and Sam were willing to take the homeless girl into their house and to try and help her as best as they could. But Trishia didn’t want the newly wed couple to think she was dumping the girl on them and she promised to work hard to find a better solution and to be around as much as she could to try and help out.

She had cautiously warned Sam and Jody about the suspicion she and Peter had concerning the girl’s past. When she had mentioned the fact that it was very likely that Alice had been a victim to abuse, Sam’s face had paled and she had grabbed Jody’s hand for support.

” I had a friend once…in college, ” Sam explained with difficulty, seeing the questioning gaze in her partner’s worried eyes. ” She…was abused as a child, in fact, it lasted until she was about seventeen. She…couldn’t handle it and eventually she..took her own life. ”

Sam swallowed hard and wondered why it took the confrontation with a situation like Alice’s, to remember Wanda. After all those years.

” Alice doesn’t remember,”Trishia emphasised. ” We are not sure, but we have a strong feeling about this. Unfortunately we base this on experience. But Sam, if you think this might be too much, I will understand. ”

Sam glanced at Jody and found comfort in the look of love and understanding that was being sent her way.

” It’s not too much,”she finally promised, her voice strong and confident. ” The memory just hit me by surprise. Jody and I will try and make Alice feel at home, that is, if she wants to stay here.”

” And if she does, we will just take it from there,”Jody added. ” Just take it day by day and see how things develop.”

Lucy smiled warmly at her sister and her hand searched for Trishia’s larger one.

” I think that would be a great start, ” the police woman remarked, squeezing the fingers that had wrapped itself around hers. ” If Alice has a place where she can feel safe and find some rest, she actually might remember who she really is and where she comes from.”

” I hope so, ” Joan remarked, carefully touching the purple bruise on the side of her face. ” She seems to be a very nice girl.”

Alice had quietly followed Fiona into the stables and had kept a safe distance from the horses who seemed like giants to her. Azrel was a black stallion, who nickered softly when he caught sight of Fiona, while Norah was a light brown mare, who thoroughly enjoyed Fiona’s hand rubbing her nose.

In spite of Fiona’s, almost sworn statement that the horses were ‘absolute angels’ and were just ‘big horse looking teddy bears’, Alice hadkept her distance. She had shivered when Fiona opened the door to Azrel’s stable and stepped into the box with the big animal.

” See?”Fiona had called out with a smirk. ” He’s a sweetie. ”

But the dark haired girl had felt sorry for Alice and after giving Azrel and Norah a good scratch, she had taken Alice back outside.

They slowly walked back towards the house, enjoying the cool ocean breeze that brought some relief after a hot day.

” I have never met someone who is terrified of horses, are you sure you are an Aussie?”Fiona gently teased.

” I don’t know,”Alice heard herself answer, to her own surprise.

She usually kept to herself, not willing to share information about herself with strangers. And in her world, everybody met that qualification.

” Really?”Fiona asked, glancing at the girl next to her. ” Must be weird, not to know who you really are. So, how do you know your name is Alice? ” she bluntly asked in the straightforward Fiona way.

Alice sighed and shrugged her shoulders. She was bone tired. Her day had been long and difficult. And most of all very frightening.

Fiona’s question was an honest one and logical and somehow Alice didn’t mind the dark haired girl asking her questions.

” I don’t know,”Alice had to answer. ” It seemed…familiar to me, so I just thought that could be my name.”

They had arrived at the verandah and slowly climbed the stairs. The adults were enjoying the view and the chattering of birds in the distance, where there was a waterhole.

Jody and Sam were snuggled up on the bench. The smaller woman leaning against the tall ones chest, with Sam’s long arms safely wrapped around her body. They didn’t move when the teenagers arrived, having decided that, if Alice did want to stay with them for a while, she had to know what kind of relationship they had.

” Azrel and Norah say ‘hi’,”Fiona grinned, falling down in a chair and motioning Alice to do the same. ” Azrel didn’t understand why I couldn’t take him out for a nice ride. I told him you didn’t trust me.”

Sam who knew her sister in law like the back of her hand, just grinned and refused to take the bait.

” Brat,”she grumbled, which made Jody chuckle.

“Do you like horses, Alice?”Jody asked the blond teenager who was sitting in one of the chairs, staring at her fidgeting fingers.

Alice looked up with something close to panic in her blue eyes. It was obvious Sam and Jody loved their horses. How would they respond when she told them she was afraid of them? Would they laugh?

” I..um..they look beautiful, but…I…”she stammered, feeling really embarrassed and wishing the earth would open to swallow her up.

” I used to be afraid of horses,”Jody explained, guessing what Alice’s problem was. “I thought they were so big and scary, I always made sure to stay away from them. ”

” What changed that?” Fiona asked, surprised by her sister’s confession.

” Megan,”was the simple answer.

Jody turned her head and peeked up, seeing her lover’s blue eyes looking down at her with an expression of pure love and devotion.

Alice saw the interaction between the two women and suddenly experienced a feeling of loss. One only had to look at Sam and Jody to see the love that flowed between them. The expression on their faces when they looked at each other did not need any explaining. And again Alice realized how completely alone she was. She cast down her gaze and swallowed hard, feeling the tears stinging in the back of her eyes.

” How?”Fiona’s voice penetrated her painful thoughts.

” Well, Megan had been riding ever since she was a kid. When we became…friends, she wanted to share that passion with me, ” Jody explained, feeling Sam chuckle because of her choice of words. She playfully pinched the taller woman in the arm and continued her story. ” I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I decided to give it a try. After a little while my fear was gone and I even started to like them.”

” Good on ya, sis,”Fiona grinned. ” You are a credit to the McDonnell clan. ”

Jody looked at her youngest sister and pulled a face. A quick look at Trishia and Lucy told her it was time to have a talk with Alice.

Fiona immediately noticed the silence and the eye contact between the adults and when she looked at Alice she winked and rolled her eyes, making the blond girl smile.

” We already talked about it,”she calmly explained.

” Talked about what?”Lucy carefully asked.

” The fact that you girls will ask Alice to stay here, because Trishia’s place is the size of shoebox,” Fiona answered matter-of-factly. ” And it’s not like she has a choice, you know. But I think it’s cool she will stay here. Murrook Farm is a great place. ”

Lucy stared at her sister with murderous eyes, not knowing whether to be angry or amused. When she looked at Trishia she saw the twinkle in her eyes and Sam was biting her lip in order not to laugh.

The expressions on Jody’s and Joan’s faces were almost identical. They both looked at Fiona with a mixture of dismay, admiration and surprise.

” Well,”Trishia’s calm voice finally broke the silence. ” Thank you for the update, Fiona. But I would like to hear this from Alice as well. ”

She focussed on the blond teenager who looked very uncomfortable, like she wanted to jump up and run.

” Alice? ” Trishia asked. ” I will leave it up to you. It’s your choice.”

From the corner of her eye, Trishia saw Fiona open her mouth to say something, but with a look of warning she silenced the dark haired girl. Fiona’s mouth snapped shut and inwardly Trishia rejoiced. The look she had given her, always had the same effect on Lucy as well.

Alice twisted the hem of her T-shirt in a knot to hide the trembling of her fingers. A voice in the back of her mind kept yelling at her to take the chance she was being offered. But a feeling of dread and fear threatened to take over.

” I..if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to stay here,”she whispered, barely audible and afraid to look up.

” It’s no trouble at all, Alice, ” Jody’s voice assured her with warmth. ” We’re happy to have you here.”

” Welcome to Murrook Farm,”Sam added with a smile.
Part 5
Lucy yawned and stared out of the window, while Trishia concentrated on steering her car safely through the busy streets. Friday evenings always seemed to bring out every tourist who stayed at one of the many hotels, motels and bed and breakfast at the coast. The intense heat of the day had disappeared when the sun had set and the cool ocean breeze had brought some much needed relief. The evening air was still warm, but not uncomfortable.

“Idiot,” Trishia mumbled, barely able to avoid hitting the car in front of her, when its driver suddenly turned lanes without using his indicator light.

“Yeah, where are the police when you need them?” Lucy joked, trying to lighten the mood.

She cast a look aside and noticed Trishia’s frown. Immediately she reached out a hand and softly rubbed the tall woman’s thigh.

“What’s up, Trish?” she asked, suddenly sounding very serious, knowing the far away look in those clear, intelligent eyes.

” I am worried about that whole situation with Alice, ” Trishia confessed, not taking her eyes off the busy traffic in front of them. ” I can’t help wondering if I did the right thing. What if… ?”

“What if she is not what she seems to be?” Lucy helpfully added. “It’s a risk we take Trishia and do you notice how I said ‘we’? You are not alone in this. I am right behind you and so are Sam, Jody and mom. We all have the same feeling about this girl and I can’t imagine we are all dead wrong.”

“What feeling is that?” Trishia asked, knowing the answer, but still in need of reassurance.

“That there is a lot more than meets the eye, positive things,” Lucy answered, gently squeezing the warm skin underneath her hand. “I think we all believe that Alice is a victim of circumstances that are still unknown to us, but believe me, if somebody has a chance of revealing them, it will be my family.”

That last remark made Trishia smile.

“Between you and Fiona, the poor kid doesn’t stand a chance,” she remarked dryly.

“But we will be gentle about it,” Lucy promised, with a twinkle in her eyes. “Besides, I believe she really does not remember a thing.”

“I do too. But she hides it really well underneath that indifferent attitude. Did you see the look on her face when Sam was telling her about that… .that… dam thing in her home country? She positively glowed. And when your mom and Jody grabbed her hand when we were saying grace? At first she looked like she wanted to jump up and run, but then something changed and I bet she was just soaking up the kindness.”

“You are a good observer, Trishia Waters.”

“I am a police officer, Lucy McDonnell. It’s what I do.”

Lucy grinned and leaned in to give Trishia a quick kiss on the cheek, which made the police woman smile.

“Careful now, honey. You don’t want us to crash?” she teased.

“Not in a car, no,” Lucy admitted, wrinkling her nose at the thought. “But, crashing in bed, in an air-conditioned room, together with you… naked… now that sounds like something I would like to do.”

“Is that an invitation?” Trishia asked, trying to concentrate on traffic and not on the visions of a naked Lucy that threatened to overtake her thoughts. She swallowed hard when she remembered the feel of Lucy’s skin against her own, the silky texture of the long, dark hair brushing against her skin, teasing fingers and lips driving all coherent thought out of her mind…

“You bet,” Lucy voice softly purred, letting her hand wander up Trishia’s leg and disappear underneath the blue cotton of a pair of shorts, approaching dangerously close towards a very sensitive area.

“Lucy!!” Trishia almost squeaked. ” Please!”

Laughing Lucy withdrew her hand and put it back on Trishia’s leg.

“Sorry, “she grinned, not at all sounding repentant.” I just wanted you to have something to look forward to.”

“Right,” Trishia snorted. “Just be careful, because you know what pay backs are.”

“Mmmmm… yes,” Lucy answered. “Up until now I have always loved your pay backs.”

“That is only because I haven’t used those handcuffs yet,” Trishia quipped, glancing aside and seeing the dark blush creep up Lucy’s face.

“I am going to kill Fiona for that one,” Lucy groaned.

“I thought it was funny,” Trishia laughed. “You should have seen your face, it was priceless.”

Lucy shook her head and stared out of the window. She loved her younger sister dearly, but sometimes she could just shake the teenager until her teeth rattled. That evening, when she had made the handcuffs remark, had been one of those moments. If it had just been in the presence of Sam and Jody she would have been embarrassed enough, but with her mother there as well the damage had been double.

“Are you upset by it?” Trishia’s concerned voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Not really,” Lucy sighed. “I just wish Fiona wouldn’t be able to embarrass me to death on occasion. That kid is just something else. Did you see my mom’s face? Oh, crap!”

Trishia laughed out loud and lovingly patted the hand that was still resting on her thigh.

“Try not to worry about, love. I think your mother is pretty open minded.”

“Yeah, but I bet she doesn’t like to be confronted with the things her daughters do in their bedrooms, right?”

“I guess not,” Trishia chuckled. “And vice versa, of course.”

“Of course,” Lucy grinned. “There are certain rules and one of them is that parents don’t have sex.”

“Which makes it hard to explain why we are here though,” Trishia smiled.

“They just did the deed a few times when they were young and that’s it,” Lucy chuckled. “No more after that.”

“Well, I guess I need to ask my grandmother to have a talk to you,” Trishia teased. “She might be in her eighties, but she still enjoys a nice roll in the hay, as she puts it.”

“Your granny is really something. Just remind me to never have her and Fiona in the same room at the same time. I have a feeling those two would get along a little too fine for my liking.”

Just as Trishia wanted to respond, the cell phone that was clipped to her belt was starting to buzz. She quickly snapped it loose and handed it to Lucy.

“Would you answer that for me, please?”

Lucy flipped open the cover and pressed a button.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Peter. No, it’s Lucy. Trishia is driving at the moment, so … … ..you want me to ask her to pull over? Oh… ok. What? … ..Where?… … Now?… … Right… yes, I will tell her. Alright, see you there.”

“What was that all about?” Trishia asked as soon as Lucy had pressed the ‘off’ button. “Is there a problem? What is it? ”

“That was Peter. Some hikers have found a body and he wants you to come and have a look at it,” Lucy said, not able to suppress the shiver that ran down her spine.

“Me?” Trishia frowned. “Why? I am off duty at the moment, Martin and Phil are on call. He didn’t say anything else?”

“Nope, just to meet him at the beach in front of Ocean View Gardens.”

“Ocean View? They found a body there? That’s one of the busiest places around.”

“Maybe it is a natural cause of death?” Lucy carefully suggested, knowing full well that they would not have called Trishia if that had been the case.

“I am afraid that won’t be the case, honey,” Trishia answered absentmindedly. “Do you want me to drop you off at home? I don’t know how long I will be there and it might not be a pretty sight to see.”

” No, I will come with you,” Lucy decided, knowing that if she would be there, Trishia would most likely get home a lot earlier than she usually would. “I’ll keep my distance though. I don’t find the thought of looking at dead people very appealing.”

“It isn’t, Trishia answered with a grim look on her face. ” But somebody needs to do it.”

Even from a distance it became clear that the whole area around Ocean View Gardens had been sealed off. There were a few road blocks to stop the traffic and police officers were standing guard to keep curious onlookers away.

Trishia was recognized almost immediately and with a nod one of the officers motioned her to keep driving, which she did, slowly, to finally stop the car in the parking lot overlooking the beach.

Her eyes quickly took in all the activity that surrounded them and with a sad smile she finally turned to Lucy.

“I hate to ask this from you, but maybe it’s best to stay in the car. Or I can ask one of the uniforms to drive you home.”

Lucy’s green eyes took on a darker shade and she frowned when she looked at the tall police woman.

“Why?”

“Because this is not going to be pleasant and I don’t want you to see and hear things that might upset you.”

A soft smile turned Lucy’s eyes yet in another shade of green and she reached out her hand to grab Trishia’s. Immediately it was engulfed in a warm, firm grip.

“You are so sweet, Trish. Thank you. Okay, I will stay in the car, but if it takes too long, I might want to get out and stretch my legs. But if I do, I will walk away from the scene. So don’t worry, I really don’t want to see all the gruesome details,” Lucy joked.

“Good,” Trishia nodded, spotting a rapidly approaching Peter. “I’ll make it as quick as I can.”

“Please do,” Lucy said, leaning towards Trishia to kiss her. “I do have some nice plans for the rest of the evening, remember?” she whispered, before leaning back in her seat.

“How could I forget?” Trishia smiled. “If you need me, just shout. I won’t be far away.”

Lucy nodded and pointed at Peter, who was standing next to the car, impatiently rocking back and forth on his heels.

“Go.”

A last encouraging smile and Trishia opened the door and unfolded her tall frame. Before she had even closed the door, Lucy could hear Peter’s low voice informing Trishia about the situation.

Trishia grabbed Peter’s elbow and steered him away from the car, very aware of the fact that Lucy had extremely sharp ears.

“It’s a kid, isn’t it?” she asked, her voice strained with emotion.

Peter nodded and rubbed his chin, his eyes staring at his partner with a genuine, profound sadness.

“How did you know?”

Trishia pointed at the beach where a group of people were busy taking pictures and combing the sand for clues and evidence.

“Cause the boss never gets called at a regular homicide. I have only seen her come out twice before. In both cases there were kids murdered.”

“You are right,” Peter sighed. “It’s a kid, a teenage girl. She died of an unnatural cause. A knife, straight into her heart.”

Trishia swallowed hard and tried to block out any emotion, to be able to think clearly and analyze the situation.

“Why did they call us?”

Peter bit his lip and nodded towards Martin Coles and Phil Kanides, fellow officers who were talking to Carol Wong.

“Remember that Phil was at the office this afternoon, while we were there, talking to Alice? Well, he recognized her and gave me a call.”

“Recognized who?” Trishia asked, puzzled, looking from the scene at the beach to Peter and back again.

“Alice,” Peter answered.

“Alice?” Trishia repeated, still not understanding. “Alice is at Sam and Jody’s. I left her there about thirty minutes ago. I don’t know who that girl on the beach is, but it’s not Alice.”

“She seems to be about seventeen years old, long blond hair, slender. And you are right, she is not Alice,” Peter explained. “But this is.”

He handed Trishia a picture that was carefully wrapped in plastic and with wide eyes she studied it, slowly feeling an icy chill settling in the pit of her stomach.

It was obviously a photocopy of its original, but it was still very clear. A picture of a younger Alice, who was sitting on a simple, wooden chair in a room that was mostly dark and could, easily be an anonymous motel room.

But, the most chilling sight, were Alice’s eyes, they were wide and full of fear. These were the eyes of a tortured soul and Trishia felt herself become sick when she realized that their initial suspicions could be right.

“Where did this picture show up?” she asked, her voice soft and low.

Peter swallowed and closed his eyes for a second, remembering what it had been like when he had arrived at the scene.

“The photo was neatly packed in plastic and was attached to the girl’s shirt, with a safety pin. Over her heart, so, it was done after she was murdered.”

“Do we know of any other cases like this?”

“Not yet,” Peter answered, his face set in a grim mask. “But the boss sent the word out, so if there are, we will hear about it soon.”

“Anyone who has seen anything?”

“Nope.”

“Nothing? This is one of the busiest places around!! When was she found?”

“The call came in around six, when most people had left the beach, although there were still quite a few tourists around and shoppers who were sitting up there, on the benches enjoying the view. We are still interviewing people, but nobody saw a thing. And I have to admit, when I arrived and looked at the scene, it was just like the kid was napping. The killer must have turned her on the stomach and put her head on her arms. I swear, Trish, it was like she was sleeping.”

“Then who found out she had died?”

Peter pointed towards one of the balconies of Ocean View Gardens, that overlooked the beach and the ocean.

“There’s an elderly lady who lives up there. She said the kid had been lying in the same position all afternoon. She noticed the girl because she wasn’t wearing a bathing suit or something, but she didn’t think much of it. Later, when people left the beach, she saw the girl was still there and had still not moved. She started to worry and thought maybe she was ill, or something, so she asked the janitor if he would please go and check on the girl.”

Peter noticed Trishia’s raised eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders.

“She has a bad hip and walking in the sand is very difficult for her,” he explained. “Anyway, the bloke did just that and when he reached the girl he tapped her shoulder, but there was no response. Then he noticed the paleness of her arms and legs and when he touched her shoulder again, he felt she was really cold. That’s when he used his cell phone and called us.”

“God, what a mess,” Trishia sighed, raking her hand through her curly hair. She looked up when Martin, Phil and Carol Wong approached them and answered her boss’ tired smile with one of her own.

“I am sorry you had to come back, Trishia,” the inspector sighed. “But considering the circumstances I thought it would be best to let you know as soon as possible. Where is Alice?”

Trishia and Peter exchanged glances and he gave her an imperceptible nod.

“She is in a safe place, inspector. But maybe we should consider something safer.”

Carol Wong slowly nodded and used one of her feared cold stares to discourage Martin Coles from speaking. She had noticed the irritated look on his face when Trishia had given them a vague answer about Alice’s whereabouts.

“No, Martin,” she spoke. “Trishia is right. The less people who know where the girl is, the better it is. For the moment anyway. Besides,” she paused and took the time to scan the environment, noticing the people who were lined up behind a yellow tape. Some of them were carrying cameras, no doubt using zoom lenses to bring the gruesome scene as close as possible.

“I am no brain picker,” she continued. “But I have read enough files and met enough murderers to be aware of the fact that this is not just another violent crime. Somebody has a message and that same person could very well still be around to make sure we pick that up. And before we receive any more information, I don’t want one single word leaking to the press. Is that clear?”

“Sure, inspector,” Phil voiced their mutual feelings. “We should get some information pretty soon. If there have been any other murders like this before, anywhere, we will hear about them. It’s not something you’d come across every day.”

“Thank God,” Martin added his voice rough with emotion. “Bastard.”

Trishia cast a look over her shoulder and was pleased to see that Lucy was still sitting in the car, apparently totally engrossed in some reading material she had found in Trishia’s car.

“So, what’s the plan, inspector?”

“Martin and Phil will stay here and see whatever they can find out. I want to speak with the two of you in private for a minute. Nothing personal, boys,” she spoke to the two police officers. “But I don’t want to be over heard by one of those modern spy gadgets. There are too many people around here for my liking. We will have a little talk in my car and Martin?”

The muscular blond man turned around and looked at his inspector.

“Keep an eye on the public. Especially for any man who shows more than the usual morbid interest. I am no profiler, but I am pretty sure we are dealing with a bloke in his thirties or forties, white, probably a neat freak who looks like the nice guy next door. And who is pretty full of himself right now, for being able to put his victim on display on a busy beach, while nobody noticed a damn thing.”

After these words, Carol Wong turned around and quickly walked towards her car that was parked behind the coroners van. She motioned Trishia and Peter to get in and closed the door behind them. When she was seated herself, she started the engine to run the air-conditioning.

“Thanks, boss,” Peter mumbled, wiping some thick drops off his forehead.

“Alright Trishia, Alice is in a safe place, I believe you. I know which place that is and I am pretty confident she will be safe there for the time being as well. But, we have a killer on the loose, apparently looking for her. Maybe it is pure coincidence that he murdered this poor girl here, but on the other hand, he might know that Alice is around and he might be actively looking for her. Our job is to find the killer and keep Alice safe. In the meantime, the less people know about it the better it is. I don’t want any information leaking out to anyone. That includes your fellow officers. I know Phil is one of the most reliable people I know and although Martin has only been with us for a short time, I trust him as well. So, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t want to take any risks right now.”

“I understand, Inspector,” Trishia answered. “But I will need to inform certain individuals. I cannot tell them what to do and what not to do, without explaining the situation.”

“I know,” Carol Wong sighed. “You should tell them, they have a right to know. God knows what they will be getting themselves into again. Tomorrow I want you to go and talk to one of our psychiatrists. Alice suffers from amnesia and I believe she has a damn good reason not to want to remember, but she is the key, Trishia. Chances are that Alice is the one who can identify our murderer.”

“IF she remembers,” Peter spoke.

“Yes, if she remembers,” Carol Wong admitted.

Sam yawned and stretched her tall frame, groaning in satisfaction when she felt one of her vertebrae pop back into place. It had been a long day and she was tired, feeling the beginning of a familiar ache in her right leg. She winced when she cautiously stretched the muscles in her calf.

“Are you Alright, honey?” Jody asked with a worried frown.

She had just walked into their bedroom and carefully closed the door behind her. The tired and pained look on Sam’s face told her enough. Without saying another word she walked towards the bathroom, to reappear with a large bottle of massage oil and a towel.

“Oh, sweetie, you don’t have to that,” Sam protested. “I am sure my leg will feel a lot better in the morning. You are tired and you need to go to sleep.”

“No, Sam,” Jody answered calmly. “I know you will sleep better without those cramps. And when you feel better, I feel better, so don’t even think about arguing with me, because… .whoa..” Jody yelped, when unexpectedly a pair of strong arms suddenly pulled her down on the bed. A pair of twinkling eyes looked at her from only a few inches away and immediately Jody got lost in the clear blue that radiated warmth and love and mischief.

“If you are trying to distract me, it’s working,” Jody whispered, completely fascinated by a pair of soft lips, that were tantalizing close.

“Is it now?” Sam smiled, her voice reduced to a soft purr. “Are you that easy, my love?”

“Only around you,” Jody answered, letting go of the towel and bottle of lotion and wrapping her arms around Sam’s neck, impatiently pulling her closer.

“I am glad to hear that, I… .”

“Sam!” Jody interrupted, her green eyes dark in the soft light of the lamp on the night stand. “Shut up and kiss me.”

Sam ran her hands through Jody’s hair, while her eyes leisurely took in the smaller body that was almost resting on top of her. With a slow smile her hands slid down Jody’s shoulders and down her back, until they came to rest on her hips. With negligent ease, Sam lifted the smaller woman up a little to settle her comfortably on her own taller frame.

Jody’s sigh of pleasure had not escaped her attention and with rapidly increasing desire, she run her hands over Jody’s back, but this time underneath the oversized t-shirt.

“Did I ever tell you how beautiful you are?” she whispered, feeling a familiar warmth spread through her body, when Jody wiggled around a little to get more comfortable and slid a smooth, strong leg between her thighs.

“Several times,” Jody answered. “And I am glad you feel that way.”

“How can I not?” Sam asked, lightly brushing Jody’s lips with her own. “You are getting more beautiful every day.”

“Oh, Sam,” Jody sighed, before a pair of insistent lips robbed her of any desire to speak.

They exchanged soft touches and caresses that were loving, gradually building up the desire until they were both breathing hard and needed unhindered contact.

“I want… .this… out,” Jody moaned, tugging at Sam’s t-shirt, craving to feel the soft skin she knew was waiting for her underneath.

“Yes, we are clearly overdressed,” Sam breathed, pulling her shirt over her head when Jody had lifted her upper body to get rid of her own.

As soon as their, now naked bodies came into contact again, they both sighed in pleasure, while their hands traveled to familiar sensitive areas, increasing their desire to an almost painful level.

“I need to feel all of you, honey,” Jody panted, when Sam’s hands had traveled down the small of her back and pressed their bodies even closer.

Without a word, Sam flipped herself over, and Jody found herself on her back, staring into a pair of almost dark blue eyes filled with love and desire.

Sam’s lips and hands caressed Jody’s almost overheated skin and slowly but surely found their way down the smaller body that had started to tremble while Jody desperately whispered for release.

Even if any of them had heard Sam’s cell phone ring, they would not have answered it. So, after softly buzzing a few times, a soft beep announced a message and a tiny envelope appeared in the center of the dimly lit display. Like a silent request for attention. But after a few seconds, the display went dark and the little, silver colored phone remained where it had been, ever since its owner had put it there, on the night stand.

“No luck, huh?” Trishia sighed, pulling over the car and staring at Lucy whose face mirrored her own, drawn and tired.

“I won’t call again, Trish. I know it’s not that late yet, but… invading their privacy is not a real good idea. I hate it when the phone rings, when I am… .engaged in… .certain activities… .”

Despite the situation and her worries about Alice’s safely, Trishia smiled, brushing Lucy’s cheek with the back of her hand.

“Well, yes,” she admitted. “Good thing that doesn’t happen often.”

“Because you switch off the phone,” Lucy chuckled. “So everybody who calls us will know what we probably are… .engaged in.”

“Why do so many people have a dirty mind?” Trishia complained, feigning a hurt look. “We could be… ..in the shower, or… .watching a movie… .or… just wanting to have some peace and quiet. Right?”

“Sure, baby,” Lucy smiled. “You just keep hanging onto that thought and you will never be embarrassed.”

She grabbed Trishia’s hand and pressed it against her cheek, aware of the fine lines around the other woman’s eyes that all of a sudden seemed to be so much deeper than before.

“Talk to me, Trish,” Lucy urged. “What happened on that beach, except for the fact that there was a body there?”

After she and Peter had talked to their Inspector, Peter had headed off towards the police station to see if he could find any information to help their case, while Trishia had set off with the assignment to keep Alice safe.

As soon as the tall police woman had walked towards her car, Lucy had noticed the deep frown in her forehead and the distant look in her eyes, which Lucy knew meant that Trishia was deep in thought. She knew that look from the times when Trishia had been working on difficult cases, or had come home after assisting at the site of a serious accident. Or that time when she and almost all the other members of her team had been involved in the search for a lost child, a little boy. After hours of frantic searching, Trishia had found the boy in the pool of one of the neighbors. He had drowned.

The first thing that had come to mind had been that poor little boy and with a chilling feeling of foreboding, Lucy had known the body on the beach was that of a young person. The pained expression on Trishia’s face had confirmed that.

When Trishia had stepped back into the car and had silently started the engine, Lucy had given her friend the space she obviously needed, but when she noticed they were not driving home, but in the direction of her sister’s place, Lucy had softly asked Trishia if she wanted to talk about it.

The tall woman had just shaken her head and had shot Lucy a sad, apologetic smile.

“Not yet,” her voice had sounded hoarse. “But soon.”

That was more than fifteen minutes ago and Lucy stared at the phone in her hand with a worried frown. She wanted to gather up the courage to ask Trishia what had happened on the beach, what she had talked about with Peter and Carol Wong and why they where driving back to Murrook Farm. But every time the words that had formed in her head seemed sensible and logical to voice, she hesitated and did not speak. With a sense of clear self knowledge, Lucy admitted to herself that she would not want to hear the answer. And another look at the haunted look in Trishia’s eyes filled her with fear. It had not happened a lot to her in life, but this time Lucy McDonnell was scared.

“I know it’s after ten already and I know Sam and Jody won’t be happy, but I need to talk to them as soon as possible, Luce,” Trishia finally spoke, while her fingers were nervously drumming on the steering wheel.

The unexpected sound of Trishia’s voice had startled Lucy from her own thought and with a quick glance aside she noticed a pair of green blue eyes staring at her. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath to try and settle her racing heart.

“Why?” she whispered.

“It’s… complicated and I want to spare you the details, but… it comes down to the fact that we have every reason to believe that Alice could be in danger.”

Lucy’s head jerked up and with wide eyes she stared at Trishia.

“In danger? As in… ..?” she didn’t finish her sentence, but the expression on Trishia’s face told her all she needed to know.

“Somebody wants to… ..kill Alice?”

“We are not sure yet,” Trishia sighed. “But we have every reason to believe that is the case, yes.”

” Oh, no, not again,” Lucy almost cried, vividly remembering a time, not that long ago, when a criminal organization had almost killed Sam and one of their friends, Megan. It had been a bullet, fired from Trishia’s gun that had saved their lives. “Trishia, please, tell me… .”

“I can’t,” Trishia interrupted, sounding gruffer than she meant to. “I wish I could, honest to God, Lucy, I wish I could tell you something different. I know what your family has been through last year and if I had it in my power to change the current situation, I swear I would. But honey,” Trishia half turned and took Lucy’s hands in her own, looking at her lover with moist eyes. “Without going into any details, there was a picture on that… person… on the beach and it was a picture of Alice. Somebody with very bad intentions is sending us a message and we have to take that bloody seriously.”

Trishia could feel Lucy’s hands tremble inside her own and she silently cursed the confinement of the car, which made it impossible to take the woman she loved more than anything else in the world, into her arms properly and give her the support she needed.

“I know this will bring back bad memories and I am so sorry about that,” she continued, tenderly brushing away a strand of hair from Lucy’s forehead. “But I have come to know your family very well and one thing is for sure: Alice could not be in a better place.”

Peter Jones impatiently waited near the fax machine, pacing up and down and eyeing the package of technology with a look that would make most people want to crawl away and hide.

It had been ten minutes since he had spoken to a police officer from Sydney, who might have valuable information regarding an unsolved murder that had occurred two years ago. A young teenage girl, with long blond hair had been found stabbed to death, at Watson’s Bay, north from Bondi Beach. Pinned to the body they had found a picture of a young, blond girl.

Peter had almost been beside himself when he had heard the news and he had requested a copy of the file and, most importantly, a copy of the picture. A little voice in the back of his mind told him it would be the same picture, but he wanted to see it for himself.

He was grateful for the information, but the fact that they were probably dealing with someone who had killed before, in the same, cold heartless way, was sending chills down his spine.

Finally, after what had seemed like hours, the soft beeping of the fax machine indicated that something was coming through.

With two big steps, Peter stood next to the machine and his eyes were glued to the slowly appearing page. When it was finished printing, he reached out his hand and carefully picked up the sheet of paper between trembling fingers.

Unconsciously holding his breath he flipped the page over, to stare into the pale face of a terrified Alice. It was exactly the same picture he had shown Trishia earlier that evening.

Peter let out a shaky breath and cast a look at the clock on the wall. It was after ten already. He knew Trishia would be on her way to Sam and Jody’s and he decided to give her some time to break the news. He could always call her later. He knew Trishia would not sleep much that coming night.

He slowly walked back to his desk, when somebody called out his name.

“Pete? Phone call!! Shall I put it through to your desk?”

“Yeah, sure,” Peter called back, looking at his coworker with raised eyebrows. “Who is it?”

“Perth. Something about an unsolved murder on Cottesloe Beach,” was the chilling answer.

With a curt nod Peter sank down in his chair and waited for his desk phone to start ringing. When it did, he took a deep breath and tried to push down the bile that was rising in the back of his throat.

Jody stretched her tired, but sated body, enjoying the feel of the soft cotton sheets against her naked skin. With a smile she looked at the sleepy woman who was practically wrapped around her and Jody softly chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” Sam mumbled, without opening her eyes.

“You look adorable. So sleepy and comfy, ” Jody answered, kissing Sam’s chin and snuggling deeper into the loving embrace.

“I am comfy,” Sam admitted with her eyes still closed. “I love to feel you so close. And no barriers too,” she added, referring to their naked state.

“You are a hedonist, Samantha Stevens,” Jody whispered, raking her fingers through Sam’s blond hair.

“Guilty,” Sam mumbled.

She shifted her tall body, so she would be able to look at her lover without having to release her hold. Her eyes opened and immediately found Jody’s. Their gazes locked and for a long moment they just stared at each other.

“I love this warm, soft, loving cocoon I am in,” Sam admitted. “It’s my most favorite place to be.”

“I can’t argue about that,” Jody smiled. “I love it as well. But then, I don’t think there’s anything about you I don’t love.”

“Wait until we celebrate our five year anniversary,” Sam predicted with twinkling eyes. “You will be complaining about me always walking into the kitchen without leaving my muddy shoes outside. Or you will be fed up about me never hanging my towel on the rack to dry. Or you will be sick and tired of being the one who does most of the cooking.”

Jody smiled and raised one eyebrow, aware of the teasing tone of Sam’s voice.

“You are giving me too much credit!”

“I am?” Sam chuckled.

“Yes, you think it will take me five years to start getting ticked off by all those things? Honey!”

Sam laughed and tried to avoid Jody’s hands who were trying to tickle her. She was a lot taller and stronger than her partner, but sometimes it was fun to wrestle Jody and let her win. Especially since Jody had a habit of emphasizing her victory by draping her body firmly over Sam’s. Something Sam always thoroughly enjoyed. Losing a tickle match was a small price to pay.

Jody’s busy hands found a very sensitive spot behind Sam’s knee and the taller woman jerked up and would have fallen off the bed, if Jody had not wrapped her arms around Sam’s upper body and held on for dear life.

Sam’s long arm had managed to knock over the night stand and grinning she rubbed her wrist, which had collided with the small table.

“It’s true what they say about redheads,” she panted with a grin.

“What is that?” Jody asked.

“That they are little spitfires,” Sam answered with a grin.

“As long as you remember that,” Jody replied, resting her chin on Sam’s shoulder.

Sam chuckled and started to bend over to put the night stand back on its four legs and collect the bottle of massage oil and her cell phone that had ended up on the ground.

“Is it still in one piece?” Jody informed.

Sam grabbed her cell phone and inspected it in the light of the lamp.

“Yup, no harm done,” she answered. “It’s still….hey, I have a message. Did you hear the phone ring?”

Jody wrinkled her nose and playfully bit Sam’s shoulder.

“Sweetheart, with the things you were doing to me before, I wouldn’t have noticed if the house had fallen apart,” Jody smiled, her voice soft and loving.

“Same here,” Sam admitted with a grin, turning her head to look into a pair of emerald green eyes. “But since I am holding the phone, I’d better check it out.”

“Why don’t you?” Jody answered, untangling her body from Sam’s. “In the meantime I will go to the bathroom. When I come back I will massage your leg, Sam.”

“Aw, honey, you don’t have to do that,” Sam objected. “I am pretty relaxed at the moment and the cramps have disappeared, so….”

“I’ll have a look at it, stubborn Dutchie, whether you like it or not,” Jody spoke, heading for the bathroom and very aware of a pair of blue eyes that were taking in her nude form with interest.

Only after Jody had shut the door behind her, Sam’s eyes slowly traveled back to the phone.

“I hope it’s no business emergency,” she mumbled, while pressing a button and bringing the small device to her ear.

Sam’s eyebrows rose into her hairline when she heard Lucy’s voice and involuntarily she looked at the clock, noticing the call had not been made all that long ago.

“Important, call Trish back,” Sam mumbled to herself, after listening to the short message.

With a sigh she went to the phone book menu to look up Trishia’s cell phone number. Just when she was about to dial the number, her phone started buzzing. Startled by the unexpected sound, Sam almost dropped the phone.

“What the….? Hello?”

“Oh, yeah, I just heard your message, Trish. What’s up?”

A deep frown appeared in Sam’s forehead when she listened to Trishia talk and after the police woman had finished, she was silent for a few seconds.

“Sure, come on up. Jody and I weren’t ….sleeping yet, so we are still up. Um…do I need to wake anybody else?…..Okay, Trish. We will see you in a little while.”

“Trish?” Jody’s voice suddenly asked.

Sam looked up, not having noticed Jody’s return from the bathroom.

“What is going on, Sam?”

“I don’t know, baby,” Sam answered, stretching her long legs and slowly getting up from the bed. “I do know Trishia and Lucy are on the way up here.”

“Why?”

“Trishia didn’t want to tell me over the phone. But she sounded pretty upset.”
Part 6
“I guess I’ll put the kettle on,” Jody yawned. “Since I am up anyway, I might as will drink a cuppa.”

“Good idea, honey,” Sam replied. She wrapped her arms around Jody and pulled her close, resting her chin on the unruly, reddish hair.

Jody leaned back and closed her eyes, reveling in the feeling of Sam’s arms enveloping her warmth and love.

“If we keep this up, there will be no tea,” she mumbled. “But I guess I can live without that…if I really have to.”

“You might, but Lucy can’t, your sister is a tea-addict.” Sam sighed, noticing the headlights of an approaching car shining through the trees. “Here they come.”

Jody slowly stepped away from Sam’s body and filled up the kettle with fresh water, then she lit the stove and placed it on top.

“They are fast! They must have been at the bottom of the hill,” she frowned, her eyes following the slow progress of the vehicle.

Kurt, who had been laying on the verandah had jumped up as soon as he had heard the rumbling sound of an engine and had been standing stock still, His ears were perked up and his eyes were glued to the car that was climbing the hill to the house. He sniffed the air and a low sound escaped his throat. He knew that scent. It was the tall, curly haired human, who liked to play with him. Kurt yawned and sat back on his haunches, while his slowly wagging tail brushed the floor.
——————————————————————————–

Behind him the door opened and Sam stepped into the darkness, deliberately leaving off the lights, so not to attract mosquitoes. Quietly she stood next to their young dog, scratching his already massive head.

As soon as Lucy and Trishia left the car and walked towards the house, Sam noticed that their faces were pale and drawn. Lucy seemed uncharacteristically quiet and had slipped her hand in Trishia’s larger one.

“Hi, Sam,” Trishia greeted the tall blond woman in a subdued voice. “I am sorry about keeping you up.”

“I am sure you have a good reason,” Sam answered, opening the door for the couple to let them step inside the spacious kitchen.

Jody welcomed their unexpected guests with a warm smile and gave her sister a quick hug.

“You look like you have seen a ghost,” she said with a worried look, putting her hands on Lucy’s shoulders. “Are you alright?”

Lucy’s green eyes showed a mixture of pain and sadness and Jody also detected something else, fear. With a rapidly growing feeling that something was seriously wrong, Jody blindly reached out for Sam and grabbed her hand. The strong grip somehow centered her and with a shaky voice Jody asked Trishia and Lucy to sit down.

“Alright, no beating around the bush,” Sam started, once they all had a cup of hot tea in front of them. “What is going on?”

Trishia cleared her throat and took a sip of tea, to gain a few extra seconds and organize her thoughts. She glanced aside and covered Lucy’s hand, whose fingers were nervously drumming on the table.

“To make a long story short, there has been a murder, down at the beach, near Ocean View Gardens. The victim was a teenage girl, with long blond hair. On her body they found a picture of a girl whom she resembled. That girl is Alice.”
——————————————————————————–

Trishia rubbed her tired eyes with her free hand and let out a shaky breath.

“We don’t know a lot at this point, but we are on top of it. We think somebody is after Alice and this….murderous display is either a real sick game, or a warning. Maybe even both. We don’t know that yet. But hopefully we will find out soon.”

Jody had scooted her chair closer to Sam and was relieved when the taller woman protectively wrapped an arm around her shoulders. No need to say that Trishia’s announcement had shocked her to the core. It had left her feeling cold and nauseous. And before she even realized what happened, some frightening images had invaded her memory and Jody looked at Sam with eyes that had gone wide in shock.

Sam’s face was set in a grim mask. Trishia’s words had scared her at first, but quickly her brain had jump started, processing the information, analyzing the situation and planning a course of action.

“What is your plan?” she asked Trishia in a calm voice, while her hand softly rubbed Jody’s back.

“The inspector ordered me to provide protection and I will do exactly that. But I want to discuss the details with the two of you first. I don’t want to go into particulars about the….murder, since that would not be of any advantage to you.” Trishia sighed and took another sip of tea. “We have every reason to believe that Alice is in danger. Somebody is looking for her. Why, we don’t know. Fact is that Alice is suffering from amnesia. Whether that is caused by a physical blow to the head or the blocking of memories, we don’t know. But, somehow, Alice and the murderer know each other. My guess is that as soon as Alice does start remembering things, she will be able to identify the person who is after her.”

Trishia looked up at Sam and Jody and managed to produce a weak smile.

“A miracle would be nice, right now. Like, Alice waking up in the morning, knowing exactly who she really is and who is interested in seeing her suffer. But, that won’t happen. So it’s up to us to keep her safe and do our best to, hopefully trigger her memories, so we can catch this…monster as soon as possible.”

“What do we tell Alice?” Jody softly asked.

“I wish I had a good answer to that,” Trishia answered. “If we tell her what is going on, she might run away. I believe that, for the time being anyway, she is perfectly safe here. So maybe we should try and keep her here as long as we can, until we have a lead on this killer.”

“Somehow Alice doesn’t strike me as a kid you can easily keep within the boundaries of Murrook Farm,” Lucy spoke.

“But it might be more interesting for her if Fiona was here as well,” Jody added. “I had the impression they got along fine.”

“Thing is to keep those two out of trouble ,” Sam smiled, knowing from experience Fiona’s talent of getting into messes. “And since the stables need painting, I think I have just found a way to keep them busy for a few days and in the meantime keep an eye on them as well.”

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Jody chuckled and snuggled even closer to the tall body that was already practically wrapped around her.

“That’s sneaky, honey. But very smart, I like it.”

“I aim to please,” Sam whispered in Jody’s ear, quickly kissing the skin that was so tantalizing close she could not resist.

“So, Trish,” Sam continued. “Will there be any…protection around?”

“I will be here,” Trishia immediately answered, seeing Lucy’s surprised reaction from the corner of her eye.

“Camping out on the verandah?” Sam teased.

“No, down at the guest house, if that is alright with you. If you have other plans, I could just pitch a tent in the bush.”
——————————————————————————–

“Don’t be silly,” Jody immediately responded. “We have enough room. Of course you can have the guest house.”

Jody cast a look at her sister who did not seem to be very pleased and she suppressed a smile.

“I guess you will be staying there as well?” she innocently asked.

“Depends,” Lucy answered, not able to hide the hurt in her voice. She realized Trishia had been planning to stay at Murrook Farm from the very first moment, but had not mentioned a single word about it. She knew it was childish of her, but Lucy felt left out. “I don’t know if I am invited.”

Sam and Jody exchanged a glance, when Trishia’s head jerked up and the policewoman shot her lover an irritated glance.

“It was something I just came up with,” she explained, the tension in her voice clearly audible. “It’s not like we had time to discuss this before now, Lucy.”

Lucy knew that Trishia was right. Besides, the police woman was frantically trying to come up with a plan to, not only keep Alice safe, but also Lucy’s family.

“I know,” Lucy sighed, resting her head on her hands. “I am sorry. I am just tired and all this…these….this….the murder and the picture and the fact that somebody might be a threat to my family again, it’s just….”

Trishia anger melted and she left her chair to kneel down next to Lucy, wrapping her arms around the dark haired woman and pulling her close to her body.

“I understand,” she softly spoke, stroking the soft hair underneath her hand. “I am sorry as well. I am sorry you and your family will have to go through this whole situation. But just for the record, Luce…” Trishia put her fingers under Lucy’s chin and lifted up her face, so she could look her in the eyes. “I do want you here with me.”
——————————————————————————–

Lucy saw nothing but pure honesty in Trishia’s eyes and she produced a watery smile.

“You just want to keep an eye on me,” she sniffed jokingly.

“Of course,” Trishia smiled, bringing her face closer to Lucy’s and lightly brushing her lips with her own. “You are so beautiful…”

“Ooookaaaay, Sam,” Jody rose to her feet.” Time for us to gather up some stuff for these lovebirds, so we can send them down to the apartment. Are you coming?”

“Are you kidding?” Sam smirked. “It’s getting real interesting right now.”

“Sam Stevens, where are your manners?” Jody playfully scolded her lover, thankful for the gentle jokes and teasing that eased the tension.

“I didn’t know I had any,” Sam quipped, grinning when Jody grabbed her hand and pulled her off her chair. “Alright, alright, I am coming. But seriously, love, we could have learned something from them.”

Jody closed the door behind them and looked up at her taller lover. She smiled and reached up to cup Sam’s face between her hands.

“I love you, Samantha Stevens,” she whispered, before kissing Sam firmly on the lips.

“And I love you, Jody McDonnell,” Sam whispered back, returning the kiss with so much enthusiasm, it made her lover smile.

“Come on, Dutchie, let’s get those pillows and bed sheets,” she finally managed to bring out. “I want to set those two up and go back to bed. I am exhausted.”
——————————————————————————–

The moon was high in the sky, bathing the tall trees in a silvery light. Twinkling stars, scattered like diamonds, completed the perfect picture countless lovers had been enjoying ever since the beginning of time. The typical chirring sound of the Nightjar, hunting for insects, occasionally filled the air, while a close-by frog mouth sat perched on the branch of a tree, motionless waiting for unsuspecting prey.

Trishia sat in front of the bedroom window, staring outside without seeing much. The beauty of the night had not caught her eye. Instead she relived the scene on the beach. It was hard not to think of the young girl whose life had ended so violently and abruptly. A flower, broken and trampled on before it had fully bloomed.

With an inaudible sigh Trishia leaned her head back against the wall and briefly closed her eyes. There were things she would never get used to and sometimes she wondered if being a police officer was worth it all. Deep down inside she knew the answer. To her it was. Sometimes she was able to make a difference and actually made sure justice was done. Like when they had been chasing Megan’s kidnappers, who wanted to trade Jody’s friend for Sam. Had she not been there, both Sam and Megan probably would have been killed.

As always when remembering that moment, a shiver ran down Trishia’s spine and her eyes opened, immediately traveling to the sleeping woman in the bed. A soft smile spread across her face, when she saw the way Lucy was hugging a pillow.

That should be me.

Trishia slowly shook her head and regretfully confessed to herself that sleeping would not be an option that night. Her brain had kicked into full gear hours ago and she knew that if she would crawl into bed next to Lucy, her tossing and turning would only keep her lover awake.
——————————————————————————–

Casting a look out of the window, Trishia noticed that the guest house was situated in a perfect location to keep an eye on the property. The main house was about two hundred meters away, towards the top of the hill, while the only track that lead to the house passed the small apartment. Nobody would be able to drive up, without being noticed, unless they would choose to hike through the dense bush that surrounded the property. That would be hard to do, but not impossible and Trishia made a mental note to talk to Carol Wong about that in the morning.

A look at the illuminated display of her cell phone told Trishia it was almost three o’ clock in the morning. Suddenly she realized she had not heard from Peter yet and she wondered if that would mean their inquiries had not resulted in anything they could use. Trishia frowned and thought about that possibility. Every shred of experience and instinct told her that whoever murdered that poor girl on the beach, must have done something similar before. But surely Peter would have called her if that had been the case.

With a frown Trishia looked at her cell phone, almost willing it to give her an answer to all the questions that were racing through her mind. Her slender fingers tapped the leather cover and Trishia sucked in her bottom lip, not sure what to do. After a few moments of indecision she got up from the chair and silently walked out of the bedroom, soundlessly closing the door behind her.

“What the heck,” she mumbled, speed dialing Peter’s cell phone number, crossing her fingers and hoping he wouldn’t be at home, snuggled up with his wife. Angela Jones would have her hide.

The phone only rang once before it was answered and Trishia let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding.

“Trish!” Peter greeted, recognizing the number that had popped up on his display. “I was just wondering whether to call you or not. Can’t sleep, huh? Where are you anyway?”

“Sam and Jody’s,” Trishia answered, seating herself on the arm of the couch and deliberately keeping her voice down, afraid of waking up Lucy. “We are staying in the guest house.”

“Good idea,” Peter complimented his partner. “It’s a great spot to keep an eye on things. Listen Trish, I have been on the phone for hours.”

The knot in Trishia’s stomach tightened and she nervously wiped her hand on her shorts. Her mouth went dry and her heartbeat picked up. To calm herself down she took a deep breath and tried to focus on what Peter was going to tell her. She wanted to hear the details, she already knew the big picture.

“There are similar, unsolved murders like this in Sydney and Perth. Two years ago they found a girl stabbed to death on Watson’s beach and seven months ago there was a similar murder in Perth, on Cottesloe beach.”

“Both on a beach, huh?” Trishia voice sounded hoarse. “Were there…?”

“Pictures? Yes. In both cases. Same pic as we found today.”

“Damn!”

“That’s civil, Trish,” Peter tried to joke. “I vaguely remember I said something completely different. Something I would punish my kids for.”

“Does the boss know?”

“Yeah, I just got off the phone with her. We could have a serial killer on our hands, Trish. But do you want to know what really bugs me?”

“What?” Trishia sighed, raking her hand through her hair.

“Sydney and Perth never communicated with each other about this. You’d think they would put the word out, huh?”

“It’s not the first time things like this happened, Peter. I am sure we have done our share of screwing things up as well. I hope you didn’t call them any name in the ‘ Vocabulary of a pissed off law enforcement officer’ book,” Trishia joked, knowing her partner very well.

“Who? Me?” Peter’s voice was too innocent and Trishia chuckled. “Trishia! I am hurt. Of course I did not do such a thing. You know me, I kissed their lily white….”

“Alright, alright,” Trishia interrupted with a laugh. “I get the picture.”
——————————————————————————–

“Anyway,” Peter continued, this time his voice completely serious. ” We have a huge problem here, Trish. ”

“I know, ” Trishia answered, rolling her neck to get rid of some of the tension. ” I guess we need to find out if Alice has ever been to Sydney and Perth, huh?”

“Might be a good idea,” Peter admitted. “I got this spooky feeling that somebody is following her around, Trish. Like some sort of predator. No wonder the poor kid was scared to death when we found her.”

“She might not know about this, Pete. But I bet a year’s pay that her loss of memory has everything to do with all this.”

Trishia could hear Peter suck in a breath and after a few tense moments slowly release it.

“You think Alice was supposed to be the first victim? Damn it, Trish! I think you might be right. And do you know what scares the living daylights out of me? There were seventeen months between the first murder in Sydney and the one in Perth. But there’s only seven months between the one in Perth and the one here.”

Darkness surrounded her everywhere. Frantically she blindly reached around to try and find a way out of the blackness. Her heart pounded in her chest and her breathing came in shallow rasps, while she could feel her body tremble.

Unseeing she stumbled through the shadows, until her feet got caught in something and with a muffled scream she fell. She did not hurt herself, since she had landed on something soft and fearful her hands tried to determine the identity of the object that had broken her fall.

Her fingers touched something sticky and immediately she pulled them away, instinctively knowing that, whatever it was, she had to get away from it. The smell of blood and soot invaded her senses and a feeling of panic washed through her whole being.

She tried to get back on her feet again, but suddenly she could not move. Something was holding on to her legs and with all the power she could muster, she tried to kick herself free. The sickening sound of crunching bones almost made her throw up, but the grip on her legs did not lessen. Instead, it slowly crawled up her body, until she could not move at all. Something invisible held her prisoner and a wrecking sob escaped her body. Breathing became more difficult and the smell of smoke and soot were making her nauseous.

Suddenly there was a small light in the darkness and with hopeful eyes she turned her head to look at it. Tantalizingly slowly it came near. It was like a ray of sun and the feeling of total desolation and despair somehow dissipated.

Afraid to chase it away again, she tried to hold her breath. The light came closer and when it had almost reached her, it changed. With horror the friendly light turned into the shape of eyes that looked at her coldly.

No matter where you will run, I will always find you, a voice echoed in her mind.

Suddenly a hand materialized, just a hand. With wiggling fingers it came closer.

She tried to free herself from the invisible bonds that held her, but she found she could hardly move. She softly whimpered when the hand stroked her face. When it slid down to her throat, she sucked in a lung full of air and from deep within her chest a sound formed.

While her eyes never left the soulless ones in front of her, she finally managed to scream.

” Noooooooo!!!!!”

Alice’s breathing was ragged and her heart was beating in her throat. The t-shirt she was wearing was stuck to her body and her hair was damp with perspiration.
——————————————————————————–

With wide eyes she tried to pierce the darkness that surrounded her. Moonlight was streaming into the window, painting the interior of the room with a soft hue and slowly, very slowly realization sank in and while letting out a shaky breath, she fell back into the pillows.

It had been a dream. A very familiar one that had not made an appearance for a while. Until now.

With trembling fingers, Alice pushed back her long hair, wondering if she had been screaming out aloud. And if she did, whether she woke up any of the other occupants of the house.

Alice turned onto her side and pulled her knees up in the characteristic fetal position. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing back the tears that threatened to come. Her throat felt thick and painful, convulsively she swallowed. But no matter how hard she tried, the tears came anyway and leaked from under her closed eyelids. They dripped down her face to be absorbed by the sheets on the bed, leaving a steadily growing wet patch on the light blue cotton.

Alice told herself to think about something else, anything else but the dream she just had. But that would require pleasant thoughts and again the young girl realized there was not much happiness in her life. Certainly not enough to chase the demons away.

Sobs wrecked the slender body and Alice pressed her face into the pillow, to stifle the sound, feeling tired, hurt and lonely.

Fiona had woke up to an unfamiliar sound and for a few minutes she was wondering if she had been dreaming. Everything seemed to be quiet, her ears only picked up the usual sounds of the night. The call of a night bird, the rustling leaves of the trees, the soft humming of the air conditioner. Nothing out of the ordinary. Deciding it had been a dream that had roused her from sleep, the dark haired teenager turned on her other side and happily snuggled back into the sheets, determined to sleep a few more hours.
——————————————————————————–

Just as she started to doze off again, Fiona heard a muffled sound coming from the room next to her, where Alice had been put up. She raised her head and listened carefully. There it was again. To Fiona it clearly sounded like crying and immediately she sat up straight, debating with herself about what to do. She knew Alice was in a difficult situation and no matter how much Fiona wanted to help the other girl, she knew she ran the risk of scaring the girl into a stupor. She had seen the look on Alice’s face, when she had made a few jokes before. Alice had looked like she was about to run and Fiona had decided to back off and give the girl her space and some time to adjust.

Waking up her mother to see what was going on was no option. Fiona had seen how tired her mother had been and the last thing she wanted to do was interrupt her sleep. Besides, her mom had been given some pain pills and Fiona knew how strongly her mother usually responded to medication like that. She would be zonked out.

With a deep sigh, Fiona stepped out of bed and headed towards the door. There was only one other option left to her and she just hoped Jody wouldn’t bite her head off.

Fiona walked through the dark hallway towards the other side of the house, deftly avoiding crashing into the furniture she passed. It was in the middle of the night and pretty dark, but the light of the moon that floated through the windows, was enough to help her find her way without any accidents.

Since knocking would alarm the whole household, Fiona just opened the door and walked into the master bedroom. She knew Jody and Sam had been tired as well, so she was not afraid to interrupt anything that would have been considered a very private matter. She did hope however, that her sister would not be one of those people that preferred sleeping in the nude.

Fiona quickly shook her head to chase away the visions that were starting to form in her head and softly chuckled. Wow, that would be something to remember…
——————————————————————————–

Tip-toeing to the bed, Fiona peered at its occupants and could not help smiling when she saw the cozy scene in front of her.

Sam was fast asleep, lying on her back, one leg under the covers, the other one sticking out. Her left hand was resting on her stomach, while her right arm was wrapped around Jody, who was snuggled up against Sam’s side, with her head resting on Sam’s shoulder and her right arm draped over the tall woman’s stomach.

To her utter relief Fiona noticed that both women were at least wearing t-shirts, which made her feel a lot better.

Fiona stepped a little closer and knelt down next to her sister. Carefully she put her hand on Jody’s shoulder and softly squeezed. Her sister was notorious for being close to impossible to wake and Fiona had already prepared herself for a persistent, relentless mission.

When Jody immediately turned her head and looked at her with startled eyes, Fiona lost her balance and landed on her rear.

“Jeez,” she whispered indignantly. “You scared the heck out of me.”

“Fiona?” Jody’s sleepy voice asked. “What are you doing here? Are you alright?”

Jody untangled herself from Sam’s loving grip, careful not to wake her lover and turned around to face Fiona, whose face was white in the light of the moon.

“What’s going on?” she repeated, a little more urgent this time, because suddenly she remembered the events from the previous night.

“It’s Alice,” Fiona whispered, crawling back to her original position. “I woke up because I thought I heard somebody scream, but then I thought it was a dream or something. But she is crying now, so…”

Jody stared at her younger sister, trying to let the words penetrate the sleep induced fog that was still drifting around in her brain.
——————————————————————————–

“Okay,” she drawled, pushing herself up to a sitting position. “And now you want me to check it out. Right?”

“She sounds really pitiful, Jody,” Fiona related in a subdued voice.

“Alright, let’s go then,” Jody whispered. “Just wait for me outside, I need to put something on.”

Fiona frowned and was about to make a reply, but Jody’s raised eyebrows silenced her and the teenager felt a blush creep up her face.

“Oh,” was the only thing she could utter, mentally kicking herself for thinking a t- shirt meant being completely dressed. She quickly turned around and headed for the door, grateful for the darkness that was covering up her embarrassment.

A few moments later Jody appeared in the hallway, pushing back her sleep tousled hair and yawning. She was dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of knit shorts.

In spite of the situation Fiona chuckled softly, which earned her a playful, but painful pinch from her sister.

“Not a word,” Jody hissed. “Or I will come barging into your bedroom in the middle of the night in, let’s say, ten years from now or so.”

Fiona grabbed Jody’s hand and gave it a loving squeeze.

“Sorry, sis. But thanks for doing this. I…I didn’t know what to do and I really think she is very sad. It sounds like she has her face buried in a pillow or something. Maybe she had a bad dream.”

“Sounds like it,” Jody admitted. “Well, you hop back in your own bunk and I will check in with you afterwards, alright?”

“Sure,” Fiona smiled, aware of the warm, fuzzy feeling inside her chest. She gave her sister a quick one-arm hug and a peck on the cheek.

“Thanks, Pea.”
——————————————————————————–

“No worries, Red,” Jody smiled, using Fiona’s childhood’s nickname, that originated from the time her hair had been a dark red during the summers.

Jody waited until Fiona had closed the door of the bedroom behind her, before approaching the entrance to Alice’s room. Fiona had been right. Even through the thick, sturdy wood of the door, she could hear the sobs that seemed to come from the depths of Alice’s body. And it was obvious that the girl was trying to muffle the sound.

Jody softly knocked on the door and listened for a few seconds, but there was no response.

Taking a deep breath she decided to take the proverbial bull by its horns and entered the room, closing the door with an almost inaudible click. It was obvious that Alice had not heard the knock on the door and the last thing she wanted was to scare the already upset girl.

Clearing her throat Jody’s eyes never left the huddled form on the bed.

“Alice?” she called out softly, hoping the teenager would hear her. And she did.

Alice’s head jerked up and with fearful eyes she looked towards where Jody was standing. She was about to jump from the bed, when Jody quickly stepped closer, a worried frown etched in her forehead.

“Alice, honey, it’s me, Jody. You don’t have to be afraid.”

Slowly Alice’s eyes lost their haunted expression and when she finally recognized her nightly visitor, her shoulders slumped. She drew up her knees against her chest and slowly rocked back and forth.

“I am sorry,” she mumbled, avoiding Jody’s inquisitive look.

“Sorry for what?” Jody asked, setting herself on the edge of the bed. Close enough to be able to look at Alice, but with enough distance to give the girl the space she needed.
——————————————————————————–

“I woke you up,” Alice answered with a voice that was hoarse from crying. She sniffed and used the back of her hand to wipe the moisture from her cheeks and rub her tear filled eyes.

She instantly looked like a vulnerable, little girl and Jody’s heart went out to her. She reached out a hand and covered nervously fidgeting fingers.

“It’s alright, Alice,” she tried to comfort the upset teenager. “My guess is you had a bad dream. Want to talk about it?”

Jody could feel Alice’s body jerk and she expected the girl to pull away her hand. She could almost feel the hesitation, but after a few moments of inner debate, Alice apparently decided to leave her hand where it was and slightly relaxed.

Alice did not know what caused it. Maybe the soft, soothing sound of Jody’s voice. Or the human touch of the warm hand, that felt so safe. Maybe the darkness that suddenly provided a sense of security. But Alice went against one of the most important rules she had once set out for herself. She talked.

“I…I had a dream,” she swallowed. “But this was the first one in a long time. I usually can keep them away….cause I…I pretend they are not there.”

Jody bit her lip, not wanting to interrupt the young girl now she had reached out and grabbed the literal and figurative hand. But Alice’s simple words and the defeated tone they were spoken in, filled her with an immense sadness.

Alice was almost the same age as Fiona. Teenage girls should go to school, hang out with their friends, enjoy their freedom and youth, not fighting demons and bad dreams. Not running away from something in their past.

“It’s….dark,” Alice continued. “And I am…alone in this…place. I don’t know what place it is, but…it’s dark. Then I try to get away and I fall on something soft and I smell blood and smoke, like there is a fire or something.”

Alice looked up and shot Jody an apologetic glance.
——————————————————————————–

“I think that…it’s a….body, I fall on,” she stammered, struggling to get the words out.

Jody’s hand gave hers an encouraging squeeze and after taking a deep breath, Alice bravely continued.

“The scariest parts are the…eyes and the hand,” she whispered and Jody could feel the slender hand beginning to tremble.

Knowing she is taking the risk of scaring Alice away again, Jody scooted closer and wrapped her free arm around Alice’s shoulder, trying to give the frightened girl some much needed support.

She could feel Alice’s body stiffen and for an endless moment, Jody was afraid she had gone too fast, too soon. But then Alice relaxed and Jody let out a relieved sigh.

“It’s…the eyes are so….dead almost, so without anything. And they look at me and no matter what I try I can’t get away and…” Alice’s voice rose a few octaves and Jody pulled the girl a little closer, mumbling words of comfort.

“And then the hand comes…..out of nothing, all of a sudden it’s just…there and it…it tries to choke me,” Alice sniffed, unconsciously tightening her grip on Jody’s hand. “First it….touches my cheek….real soft, but….then it just tries to settle around my throat and….I ….usually I scream then and wake up.”

Alice let out a shuddering breath and hung her head. It had been a very long time since she had a conversation with anyone about anything and now all the energy had drained away from her body, leaving her cold, tired, sad, and feeling very lonely.

Again the tears threatened to fall and Alice did not understand why she did not seem to have control over her emotions. That was something she was absolutely not used to. Her almost Spartan way of dealing with her feelings had kept her alive and sane for a long time.

Having heard the story, Jody decided to try and find out more about the teenage girl.
——————————————————————————–

“How long have you been having this dream, Alice?” she softly asked.

“You mean, when did it start?” Alice soft voice sounded close to her shoulder.

“Yes, that is what I mean,” Jody answered, her voice equally soft.

Alice really wanted to shrug her shoulders and say she honestly could not remember when the dreams had started to invade her nights, but suddenly she realized the answer to Jody’s question could matter a lot.

“I…am…not sure,” Alice stammered, feeling awkward and inept for not being able to answer a simple question.

It was like Jody could feel her distress and she gently rubbed Alice’s back. Unconsciously the teenager leaned into the touch, producing a knowing smile on Jody’s face. The red haired woman did not say anything about it though, not wanting to embarrass the sensitive teenager. Instead, she kept up the soothing circular motion.

Alice sensed the genuine kindness that radiated from Jody and for the first time in …years, she felt like she could let her guard down a little. And she did.

Suddenly Jody could feel the tension in Alice’s muscles, when the young girl shot up straight and looked at her with eyes, full of wonder. Their eyes locked and Jody could see the surprise, hope and pain radiating from Alice’s clear eyes, that seemed colorless in the light of the moon.

Alice was stunned. She could almost taste the words that were lying on the tip of her tongue. She could hear the faint echoes of a memory in the back of her mind and for a moment it was within her grasp.
——————————————————————————–

“After I…had the…accident,” her voice sounded, almost dreamlike and Jody held her breath. “I fell, during the night. There was a fire…and. smoke and I fell. I….” Her eyes went wide with horror and she grabbed Jody’s hand between her own, not realizing how painful her vice like grip was. Her lips started to tremble and Jody saw the tears roll down her face, which had lost all color.

“The hands….he tried to choke me and…I fell….and…I hit my head.”

Alice’s whole body started to shake violently and Jody wrapped both arms around the girl, to provide all the support she could, hoping she had not gone too far and triggered a memory Alice had not been ready for yet.

The blond girl hid her face against Jody’s shoulder and held on for dear life.

“He tried to kill me,” she gasped, before her body collapsed and went limp.

“Oh, my God,” Jody exclaimed.

She lowered Alice down on the bed and ran towards the door, yanking it open, to push open the door to Fiona’s room.

“Fi, get Sam,” she urged, knowing her sister was not asleep yet. “There’s something wrong with Alice.”
part 7
It was such a pleasant dream. Jody was holding her hand and they were both running down a hill. The sweet smell of sun warmed grass filled her nose and the cool breeze ruffled her hair.

In the distance she could see the creek that was crawling through the valley. Its clear, cold water looked very inviting and she started to run faster. Jody’s hand slipped away from hers and she tried to turn her head to look around, but her speed increased and she practically flew down the hill.

Without Jody’s hand in her own, she felt lost and she wanted to stop, but she was going to fast. Her right leg started to ache and when she glanced down, she saw mangled bones and blood.

The need to stop running became very urgent, but still, it was like an invisible force was pushing her forward, closer to the water.

Her mouth formed her lover’s name, but no matter how hard she tried, no sound was forthcoming. Knowing she was leaving Jody behind, she bolted down the hill, while her ears picked up a sound.

“Sam! Sam!”

With a grunt of pain she tried to move her head, but again she failed. With growing frustration she decided to just let herself fall, when she heard the voice again.

“Sam! Wake up, Sam!!”

Taking in a lung full of air, Sam shot up straight to look straight into the worried face of Fiona. Immediately her hand reached out to touch the familiar body next to her, but with horror she realized Jody was not there. Instantly Sam remembered the previous evening and she could feel the panic constrict her chest.

“Where’s Jody?” she breathed.

“Sam, there’s something wrong with Alice,” Fiona hurried to explain. “Jody sent me to get you.”

For a moment Sam was so profoundly relieved, that she felt dizzy. But when she saw the distress on Fiona’s face, she quickly threw her long legs out of bed and jumped up. Immediately she grabbed her right leg and moaned in pain.

“Are you all right?” Fiona asked, reaching out a hand to grab Sam’s arm and prevent the tall woman from toppling over.

“I will be, Fi, thanks,” Sam answered. “My leg has been bothering me all day, I guess it’s just stiff now. If you could hand me my shorts I will come with you.”

For the second time that evening Fiona felt a blush creep up her cheeks when she realized how happy she was that her sister and Sam had decided to at least wear a t-shirt. If she had found them in bed naked, she would have died on the spot. Knowing her sister had a sex life was one thing. Being confronted with it was something totally different.

“Of course you understand we usually sleep in the buff,” Sam could not help teasing the embarrassed teenager. “But since we have guests….”

“Um…I will wait for you outside,” Fiona mumbled, handing Sam the requested shorts and making a beeline for the door.

With a soft chuckle Sam stepped inside her shorts and pulled them up. She followed Fiona out the door and as fast as her leg would allow, she walked towards Alice’s bedroom, Fiona in tow.

As soon as she stepped inside the room, Sam’s eyes fell on Jody, who looked at her with worried green eyes. The limp body of Alice was lying on the bed. The girl’s face was unnaturally pale and even in the dim light Sam noticed the perspiration on her forehead.

“What happened?” she asked, ignoring the pain in her leg and stepping closer to the bed.

“Fiona woke me up because Alice was crying. I got up to see if I could do anything for her and we talked for a while. She told me she had a bad dream and when I asked her if she could remember when that dream first started, she remembered something. She told me about it and it was pretty…intense, but then she….I don’t know, I think she fainted,” Jody told Sam with a slightly trembling voice.

Sam put her hand on Jody’s shoulder and softly squeezed. It was obvious her partner was at a loss what to do and Sam wanted to provide all the support she could.

She cast a look at the digital alarm clock on the night stand and saw that it was four thirty in the morning. Too early to call a doctor, unless it was a real emergency, which it did not appear to be.

“Maybe we should ask Trish what to do,” Sam suggested. “I have no experience with a situation like this, honey. I don’t want to run the risk of making matters worse.”

“Oh, Sam, I feel so bad about it,” Jody almost sobbed. “I wish I had not asked her about it. Maybe it was too much.”

“But she told you about it, didn’t she?” Sam gently asked, pulling Jody in for a one armed hug.

Jody nodded and rested her head against Sam’s stomach, immediately feeling better.

“I am no psychiatrist, but I think that’s a good sign,” Sam continued. “Let’s get Trishia and see what she says.I’ll put on some shoes and get her.”

“Thanks, baby,” Jody whispered, gently pushing away a strand of damp hair from Alice’s forehead.

“I’ll be right back,” Sam promised, brushing past Fiona who was standing in the doorway.

The teenager looked from her sister to the disappearing Sam and back again. Confusion was written all over her face.

“Sam is going to do what?” she asked.

“Get Trishia,” Jody answered absent-mindedly.

“Okay,” Fiona drawled. “Did I miss something here? Did the aliens finally come to take over your bodies? Or is there something going on I don’t know about? Why does Sam need shoes to call Trishia? Do we have a payphone outside?”

Jody’s eyes widened in shock and mentally she kicked herself. They had all agreed not to tell Fiona and Alice about the murder on the beach and how it could affect them all. Her youngest sister did not know yet that Trishia and Lucy were staying at the guesthouse and she was not supposed to find out the reason why they were there.

“Um….Trishia and Lucy are staying at the guesthouse,” Jody answered, wrecking her brain to come up with a good explanation.

“Why?” Fiona asked. “I saw them leave last night. What’s up, Jo?”

“Well,” Jody started, talking slow to buy herself some time. “They ran into some trouble and…”

“What kind of trouble?” Fiona asked, stepping closer and kneeling down next to her sister. She knew Jody was the worst liar of the entire universe and if she was not telling the truth, Fiona would know.

“Oh, my goodness,” Jody inwardly sighed, determined not to look at Fiona, whose eyes were glued to her face.

“They were supposed to go to Trishia’s place, but…um…I..um…there was a leak, I think.”

“What kind of leak?” Fiona inquired with a frown.

“Water!” Jody blurted out. “The apartment on the top floor, one of its water pipes busted and everything flooded.”

“Why didn’t they go to Lucy’s?”

Jody bit her lip and let out a heartfelt sigh. Why did her sister have to be so smart and determined?

“I don’t know, Fi, maybe you should ask them that yourself. It was late and I was tired and right now I have other things on my mind,” Jody answered impatiently, her voice reflecting her fatigue.

“I am sorry, Jo,” Fiona mumbled.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Jody answered, wrapping an arm around Fiona’s shoulders and pulling her close.”I am sorry as well. I am tired and worried about Alice.”

Fiona nodded in understanding and rested her head against Jody’s shoulder, something she would never do if any of her other siblings were around. She had a reputation to live up to as an independent, opinionated teenager. But every now and then, when her eldest sister pulled her in for a hug, Fiona did not ridicule it. She simply closed her eyes and enjoyed the warmth and love that was coming her way.

In spite of her worries, Jody smiled when she looked down at the dark head that was resting on her shoulder. She softly kissed Fiona’s temple and gave her a playful squeeze.

“Are you all right, Red?” she asked.

A pair of green eyes that were so much like Lucy’s looked up at her and Fiona silently nodded.

“Would you do me a favour? Trishia and Sam will be back soon, would you please put the kettle on? I am sure everybody could use a cup of tea. ”

Fiona nodded again and slowly got back to her feet, casting a look at Alice who had still not opened her eyes. She knew Jody had not been telling her the truth about Trishia’s presence, but she realised her sister would have a very good reason for that. Jody was normally a person who always told the truth. But Fiona decided to keep her ears and eyes open to find out what exactly was going on.

When she had almost left the room, Jody’s voice stopped her.

“I know you saw straight through that busted pipe story, Fi. I…don’t want to lie to you, so I’ll just tell you that there is a perfectly good reason for Trishia to be here. I will tell you the reason as soon as I can, all right?”

“Thanks, Jo,” Fiona softly answered. “Does that mean I am not allowed to eavesdrop?” she added with a smile.

“Yes, young lady, that’s exactly right,” Jody smiled back.

Sam hurried down the dark path that lead to the guest house, closely followed by an enthusiastic dog, who was running around her in a wide circle, hoping his favourite blonde human would decide to play with him.

“Not now, boy,” Sam told Kurt, scratching behind his ear, which made him grunt in pleasure. “We can play later today.”

She had reached the guest house that was completely dark and turned to the German Shepard.

“Down Kurt,” she pointed towards the ground.

The dog obediently sat down and looked up at his human with dark, trusting eyes.

“Good boy,” Sam praised him, glad the training she had been giving him had not fallen on deaf ears. “Guard Kurt.”

Immediately his ears perked up and he sniffed the air, panting from the excitement of the important command. His intelligent eyes stared down the road and Sam knew that not even a mouse would escape his attention.

“Good boy,” she praised him again, opening the screen door and softly knocking on the door.

She almost jumped when the door was immediately yanked open and she looked into another pair of intelligent, alert eyes. But this time they were of the human kind.

“My God, woman. You scared the heck out of me,” she accused Trishia while she put her hand over her wildly beating heart.

“Sorry,” Trishia sheepishly mumbled. “But I saw you when you passed the window and I didn’t want Lucy to wake up. What’s up?”

“It’s Alice,” Sam told her. “Apparently she had a bad dream and Jody went to see her. They talked and Alice remembered something. According to Jody it was pretty intense and she passed out. We were wondering what to do about it.”

“She told Jody what she remembered?” Trishia eagerly repeated. “Really?”

“Yes,” Sam sighed. “So, what do we do now? Call a doctor? Bring her to emergency room? Get a psychiatrist up here? What?I’d love to help the poor girl, Trish, but it’s not like we have any experience with something like this.”

“I know and I will come up to the house with you to have a look. If needed there is a psychologist I could give a call, but I’d better check it out first.”

Trishia wanted to close the door behind her and follow Sam, but suddenly she hesitated.

“What?” Sam asked impatiently. She was filled with nervous energy and wanted to return to Jody as fast as she could.

“Lucy is asleep, but I don’t want her to wake up and be alone here.”

Trishia bit her bottom lip and suddenly stepped back into the house.

“Go ahead, Sam. I will be coming up in a few minutes. I will wake up Lucy and tell her where I will be going.”

“I can leave Kurt here,” Sam offered.

“Thanks, Sam,” Trishia smiled. “If Lucy decides to come along I will take him back up.”

“Great, see you soon, Trish.”

Sam hurried back towards the house, after repeating the command to Kurt. The dog softly whimpered, but he obediently stayed where he was, staring after his human with sad, brown eyes.

Trishia felt she did not have the time to wake Lucy in a gentle way. She flipped the light switch on and immediately the bedroom was basked in a sea of light. Kneeling next to the bed she brushed away some dark hair that had fallen across Lucy’s face and softly smiled when she saw dark eyelashes flutter.

Positioning herself between the source of light and her lover, Trishia bent down to kiss a soft cheek and slowly a pair of sleepy eyes appeared.

“Morning, beautiful,” Trishia whispered.

“Morning?” Lucy mumbled, casting a look in the direction of the window. “Are you sure about that? Looks pretty dark to me.”

“I know and I am sorry,” Trishia sighed. “But Sam just came down to tell me there’s something wrong with Alice and I need to go and check it out. I would really like you to come with me.”

“Alright,” Lucy yawned, throwing back the sheets and revealing a scarcely clad body. In fact, she was only wearing a tank top and a pair of lacy looking panties.

Trishia swallowed hard and tried very hard not to touch the healthy looking skin that was so close to her itching hands.

“Is this whole…situation…going to affect our love life in a very negative way?” Lucy asked, noticing the barely hidden desire in her lover’s eyes. “Cause if it is, I will not be pleased. I had such great plans for us last night and look what happened!I slept alone and you sat watch in that chair all night. Don’t deny it, Trish,” Lucy said, raising a hand to stop Trishia from talking. “You didn’t sleep a wink. If you keep that up, you will get sick.”

“It’s not the first time I have stayed up a whole night and day,” Trishia answered, feeling guilty for having dragged her lover into a potentially bad situation. “I will be okay, I…”

“I worry,” Lucy interrupted the policewoman.

She reached out a hand and cupped Trishia’s cheek, while her thumb gently stroked the tanned skin.

“I worry about you,” Lucy repeated. “I trust you, Trishia. I have faith in you and if anyone can keep my family safe, I know it’s you. But when will you think about yourself for a change? No! Don’t tell me you will start doing that when this is over. I have known you for over a year now and I have seen how hard you work. The hours you put in and the energy it costs you. I know your work means a lot to you and I am the last one who would stand between you and your job.” Lucy laughed without any humour.”Don’t think I have never considered that,” she confessed. “I have, but that would mean either losing you on the spot, or losing you later,because you would resent me for it.”

Lucy bent forward until they touched foreheads. She smiled and gently kissed Trishia’s nose.

“I know you are determined to keep the McDonnell clan and Alice safe, but promise me one thing, Trish.”

“What?” Trishia whispered.

“Promise me you will ask Carol Wong to provide a few more police officers who can keep an eye on the place. Please?”

“I will,” Trishia answered in a husky voice.

Lucy McDonnell never ceased to amaze her. The start of their relationship had been very sudden, very fast and very intense and sometimes Trishia could not help wondering if they would ever develop the kind of bond that Jody and Sam had, or Megan and Sarah.

For as long as their relationship existed, they had both taken it day by day and in the beginning Trishia had expected the attraction to subside, until there would be nothing left but friendship.She would have welcomed that as well. But lately Trishia had noticed some changes. Nothing quite spectacular, but more like a slow growing bond between them. The passion was still there, but there also seemed to be more warmth, tenderness and affection. They were completely at ease with each other and after a day’s work she didn’t look forward to see Lucy just for the physical attraction. She wanted to be with her because the dark haired woman made her feel complete.

Lucy’s revelation about Trishia’s work had been an eye opener and for the first time Trishia knew for a certainty that Lucy must be feeling the same. That realisation filled her with so much joy and gratitude it pushed away the darkness that had crept inside her soul ever since she had seen the body on the beach.

Suddenly Trishia could feel unexpected tears sting the back of her eyes and sucked in a deep breath.

“I promise,” she repeated. “And I think we need to talk soon. Real soon.”

“We will,” Lucy smiled, brushing away a lonely tear that threatened to roll down Trishia’s cheek. “I hope that talk also involves a bottle of chilled white wine, a comfy bed and lots of privacy.”

“Of course,” Trishia assured her lover.

“Good,” Lucy sighed happily. “Let’s get up to the house and see what is going on.I guess I need to dress appropriately. I don’t want Jody to think I am after her woman.”

“You’d better not,” Trishia growled playfully.

She pulled Lucy into her arms and for a brief moment she closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of the warm body against her own and the smell of Lucy’s perfume that still faintly clung to her skin.

“Don’t worry,” Lucy chuckled, pulling Trishia’s face down for a quick kiss. “I like Sam, but she is not my type.”

“Oh, and who is?” Trishia grinned, while Lucy threw back her head, squinted her eyes and pretended to think really hard.

“Well, I always had a soft spot for that cute redhead, you know, the one who works at the Anzac bank? The one YOU gave a ride home after some punk stole her bike.”

“Oh, please,” Trishia laughed. “I will never live that down, will I? But if it’s any comfort to you, she was so not twenty one years old yet and as a police officer I can not be associated with cradle robbers.”

“She had the hots for you though,” Lucy accused, but her dark green eyes sparkled.

“Until she laid eyes on you,” Trishia chuckled. “I think she literally drooled.”

“Poor kid,” Lucy chuckled, freeing herself from Trishia’s arms and grabbing a pair of shorts.

“Talking about kids, we’d better get up to the house.”

“Yes,” Trishia agreed, suddenly reminded of the responsibility that was weighing heavy on her shoulders. “Let’s check out how Alice is doing.”

Making sure to stay off the main track, a dark clad figure slowly searched a way through the dense bushes, bypassing as many dead branches as possible. The house should still be far away, enough not to be heard when the wood snapped while stepping on it. Still, taking risks was not allowed. Being careful was the key to survival. It had always been that way. Tidiness, being careful and thinking ahead. Analysing and planning.

A night bird suddenly flew up, protesting loudly at being disturbed by an intruder just when it was about to snatch a juicy insect from the air. It flew towards a tree and settled itself on one of the lower branches. Its little beady eyes looked down with curiosity, following the dark figure that had brutally interrupted such a nice meal.

The figure looked up at the bird with appreciating eyes. Nature was beautiful. The bush was something that always managed to settle nerves and bring peace to a torn soul.

Slowly the intruder advanced towards the clearing, where there would be a clear view of the house on top of the hill. Careful not to make a sound the figure kneeled down and gently brushed away a few leaves that obscured the view.

There it was. The house he had already heard so much about. It did exist. It had not been just another story.

A smile warmed a pair of eyes that seemed colourless in the hours before dawn, when the moon was slowly losing its power.

This was good. This was more than good, it was excellent. It was such a blessing to have found it so easily. Now the rest of the plan could be outlined and maybe, with a little luck, the quest that had started such a long time ago could finally come to an end.

Slowly crawling back into the bushes, the figure leaned onto a small twig that snapped with a dry crack. Immediately the adrenaline pumped and for a timeless moment, the world seemed to hold its breath.

On the veranda Kurt raised his head and immediately his eyes focussed on the exact spot where the sound had come from. He raised himself up and sniffed the air, detecting something vaguely unfamiliar. He was about to leave his comfortable spot, when the words of his human echoed in his ears.

“Stay boy. Guard.”

Casting a look at the kitchen door he almost willed his human to appear. Had she not heard that sound? How could they have missed it?

Kurt nervously paced towards the door and back again, not sure what to do. But eventually the need to please his human was so much stronger than going off on his own.

Softly whimpering he went back to his usual spot, where he laid down again. He rested his muzzle on his outstretched legs, while his intelligent brown eyes stared towards the bushes.
part 8
The bed was soft and comfortable and a gentle hand brushed away the sweat soaked hair from her forehead. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but it was nice and it helped her to almost drift back to sleep. Until suddenly the memories of the recent events came crashing back into her head and Alice jerked her body up in a sitting position, her fear filled eyes wide open.

The teenager’s unexpected movement almost made Jody jump and she barely kept herself from tumbling off the edge of the bed, where she had been sitting to keep a close eye on the girl.

“What happened?” Alice sounded confused. She brought a hand to her head, aware of a rapidly growing headache.

“You fainted,” Jody sighed, taking a deep breath to calm her racing heart.

“I did?” Alice asked with a groan, wondering if she could have made an even bigger fool of herself. Seeing the distress in Jody’s face she suddenly felt the urge to apologize. She really wanted that worried expression to leave those beautiful green eyes.

“I am sorry,” she whispered. “I did not mean to do that.” Alice paused for a moment and cast down her eyes. “I don’t want to be a burden, so it might be better for me to… ”

“You are not a burden, Alice ,” Jody interrupted a little more forcefully than she had intended.

Seeing the startled blue eyes, she grabbed Alice ‘s hand and gave it a short, but friendly squeeze.

“So don’t even think about it, okay? You are welcome here. I don’t know what happened in your past and frankly; whatever it was, it will not change the way we feel about you. I want to be your friend, we want to be your friends. And there’s one rule about friendship my family really values.”

Jody paused and looked into a pair of hooded blue eyes.

“Here it comes,” Alice thought. “The conditions.”

The combination of disappointment and the pounding headache made her feel nauseous and for a moment she just wished to be back on the streets again. At least it was a life she had grown accustomed to and it was predictable. And people would leave her alone, because only few had the courage to interact with social lepers, as Alice had cynically labelled herself.

“We stick by our friends, no matter what,” Jody softly told the teenager, seeing the cold glint in those blue eyes slowly melt away, until it was replaced by utter relief.
——————————————————————————–

“Oh… okay,” Alice stammered, feeling slightly embarrassed by her previous negative thoughts.

“We would never turn away from you because you have some… issues, Alice,” Jody continued her reassurance. “Now, if you were a chainsaw murderer, it might be different,” she gently joked, happy to see a smile on the girl’s face.

But the smile was quickly replaced by a worried expression and a pair of troubled blue eyes was cast down, clearly avoiding Jody’s friendly gaze.

“What… ” Alice moistened her suddenly dry lips, while her heart hammered in her chest. Images from her dreams floated back into her memory. The smell of soot and fire, the feeling of a body underneath her hands, the pleading eyes of… somebody she once knew, she was sure of that. But who?

“What if… I did… ,” she swallowed hard and Jody saw the slender body shiver in horror. ” … kill somebody? Maybe that’s why I don’t remember. Maybe I blocked it out,” she whispered in despair.

Their conversation had taken an unexpected turn and Jody fell silent for a moment, pondering over Alice ‘s words. What if Alice was right? What if the girl had… No!

Jody mentally slapped herself for her thoughts and slowly shook her head. That was impossible. True, she had only known Alice for a very short time, but there was nothing about the shy teenager that indicated she would have a criminal past. Of course, she could be badly mistaken, but Jody was a person who usually followed her instincts. And they had never guided her wrong before, so she decided to go with her feelings and see where they would lead her.

” Alice , I understand you worry about the meaning of your dreams, because you have no recollection of the past, but hear me out, okay?” Jody spoke in a quiet, but determined voice.

“I have only known you for a short time, but I already know a few things about you. For starters, you rescued my mom from those two thieves. That was a courageous and utterly unselfish thing to do. To me that means that you are a good, honest person. You could have turned around and walked away, but you didn’t. You cared about what happened to my mom. And that tells me a lot about who you are, Alice . Somehow I don’t think a murderer would have done the same thing. Do you?”

Jody looked at Alice ‘s bowed head and after a few moments saw the girl slowly shake her head.

“Another thing I have learned about you is that you seem to be very modest. You were the one with the bad dream and then you worry about whether you are a burden to us. I don’t think bad people would be so modest and considerate, Alice . So, if you would ask me if I would think you could be responsible for somebody else’s death, I’d say åNo’. I don’t believe that.”
——————————————————————————–

Jody’s gently spoken words seemed to touch a place inside of Alice that had been empty and cold for a very long time. It was a hidden part of herself that had been filled with insecurity, despair, guilt and shame. A gathering of feelings that she had tried to ignore, but that had managed to creep into her dreams in the middle of the night. Usually when she was too exhausted to fight her dark thoughts and shattered memories. When there was no defence against the demons of her nightmares.

Jody’s heartfelt words had brought a ray of hope and Alice could feel the warmth they radiated. Like gentle hands, tentatively reaching out to bring a healing touch. Careful not to scare her away, or frighten her. It was a sensation she was not used to and the hope it brought along, filled her with wonder.

Somebody believed in her. But it also brought back the pain she had been trying to push away for such a long time. Like a huge wave it came rolling towards her and no matter what she would do, there was no way for Alice to avoid the impact. Instinctively reaching out for Jody, she squeezed her eyes shut and let the emotions hit her with breath taking force.

Jody grabbed the seeking hands and felt Alice ‘s fingers close around her own with a painful grip. She winced but managed to suppress a moan, not wanting to make Alice feel any worse than the girl already did.

She could feel Alice ‘s hot tears fall on the back of her hands and for a moment Jody closed her eyes, her empathy causing her to share some of the pain the teenager was going through. During a few moments of insecurity she seriously wondered if they would be able to actually help the troubled teenager. But then Jody remembered something her father-in-law had said during his speech on their wedding:

” Girls, I could be a bore and ruin this perfectly happy day with a long speech about how to make a relationship work. But I won’t, since it’s really very simple. Let love be your guide. Love will help you to overcome things like pride, mistakes and insecurities. Love is a force to be reckoned with. It’s the most powerful thing there is, don’t ever doubt that.”

Jody felt a warm feeling settle around her heart and she smiled.

“Thanks, dad.”

Her sharp ears picked up the sound of a door closing and with relief Jody realized Sam was back, hopefully bringing Trishia along, who might know what to do. Although her initial feelings of panic and worry had been replaced by a feeling of gentle determination to, somehow, be there for Alice and support the girl by providing a home and friendship. Still Alice would probably need the help from a professional, who would hopefully know how to trigger her memories and be a guide to the girl and help her deal with her nightmares and complicated emotions.
——————————————————————————–

Soft voices in the kitchen told her Sam was talking to Fiona and Jody wondered if she should leave Alice alone for a moment and hear from Sam what Trishia had said. But one look at Alice ‘s, still bent head, made her decide against that. It was obvious the girl was in distress and after having confided in her, Jody did not want to leave her. Not while she was still upset. So, instead of leaving Alice , she scooted a little closer. Without letting go of her hands, she put her cheek against a patch of soft, blond hair and softly smiled when the girl rested her head against her shoulder, steadily staining Jody’s t-shirt with the still flowing tears.

“Great idea, Fiona, thanks,” Sam praised the girl when she came back into the kitchen and saw the steeping tea. “I need a nice cup of that.”

“Are Trishia and Lucy coming as well?” Fiona asked, putting some cups on the kitchen table. She cast a look at Sam and saw the slightly confused look on the tall woman’s face.

“Don’t worry, I know everything about the busted water pipe,” Fiona deadpanned, seeing Sam’s confusion increase. “Jody told me.”

“Oh… um… she did, did she? Well… yeah. Good,” Sam stuttered, not really knowing how to respond to the teenager’s inquisitive eyes.

Inwardly she winced, knowing how hard it must have been for Jody to come up with a reasonable explanation for Trishia’s and Lucy’s presence in the guest house. Although her partner had a very vivid imagination, Sam knew she was a terrible liar.

But it didn’t take the blond woman long to regain her composure. She accepted the mug of steaming tea from Fiona with a grateful smile and casually leaned against the counter top, answering Fiona’s piercing stare with a raised eyebrow.

“Must be really awful, to come home and find your apartment flooded,” she dryly remarked, sipping her tea.

“I bet,” Fiona answered, thoroughly enjoying the game. “They must have been really upset.”

“Well, you know Trishia, she’s pretty down to earth, so… .”

“Yeah, I guess she is,” Fiona agreed, pouring a cup of tea for herself. “I feel sorry for them. I know they were tired when they left here and they must have really wanted to go to bed.”

Fiona couldn’t hide the amusement in her voice and from the corner of her eye she saw Sam’s clear blue eyes looking at her with an expression of total distrust. It almost made her chuckle, but she decided to play the game as long as she could.

“Coming home to a mess like that and then having to drive all the way back here… ” Fiona paused and waited for Sam’s reaction, which was one of a cool indifference. But Fiona knew Sam better than that and she knew her sister-in-law had caught on to the game, when she saw the twinkle in her eyes.
——————————————————————————–

“Such a trouble to go through, Lucy’s place would have been so much closer and convenient,” she managed to get out without laughing.

Sam took another sip of her tea, while her blue eyes took in the dark haired teenager, who was sitting at the kitchen table, trying hard to present an innocent picture.

Slowly nodding Sam stepped closer and put her mug down on the table, resting her hands on the smooth wooden surface and leaning close towards Fiona, who did not show any sign of discomfort. Instead her dark green eyes reflected the amusement that was starting to show in Sam’s.

“You, Fiona McDonnell, are way too smart for your own good, you know that? I hope you didn’t make Jody squirm, because she doesn’t deserve that and you know it.”

“No, I didn’t,” Fiona answered. “You know she’s a lousy liar, I saw straight through her little story. But Jody promised to tell me why Trishia and Lucy are here as soon as she can. In the meantime, I just keep my ears and eyes open. I guess that won’t hurt, huh?”

“I guess not,” Sam mumbled, not knowing whether to be amused or annoyed by Fiona’s attitude. But then she realized that although Fiona was only a fifteen year old teenager, at times she had proven to be very mature. The way she had handled their captivity when they were taken hostage at Sarah’s and Megan’s house, just a year ago when she was only fourteen, had been very impressive.

And Sam knew the girl well enough to realize that Fiona could be very reliable and dependable, as long as she was treated with honesty. So she decided to discuss the situation with Trishia and ask the policewoman to inform Fiona about what was going on. After knowing the truth, the teenager could be a great ally in their efforts to keep Alice safe.

“Listen, Fi. I will talk to Trish about it, all right? Personally I think it’s a good idea to keep you informed, but… ”

“It’s probably a police case and you need permission,” Fiona added with an insight that never ceased to amaze Sam.

“Exactly,” the tall woman grinned, when she saw Fiona’s mischievous smirk. “You are such a smart ass! I promise I will do my best, okay? But I have one request. In the meantime, please, do as you’re told?”

Fiona wanted to make a smart remark, but when her eyes met Sam’s she saw the serious look in those clear blue eyes, she swallowed down her words and silently nodded.

Unexpectedly Sam bent over and quickly kissed her cheek.
——————————————————————————–

“Thanks, Fi,” she sighed, knowing that Jody’s sister would keep her promise. The teenager might be annoying and opinionated at times and often so self assured she was almost arrogant, but Sam knew she was also a caring person, who would rather chew off her right arm than to hurt or disappoint her family. Especially her eldest sister.

Fiona was spared an answer, because the door was opened and a tired looking Trishia and a sleepy looking Lucy entered the kitchen. Lucy’s long, dark hair was in unusual disarray and she was wearing her t-shirt inside out. It was perfect ammunition for a great teasing session, but Fiona pursed her lips and courageously decided to let it go. Instead she silently filled two more mugs with steaming hot tea. When she put one in front of Lucy and handed the other one to the still standing Trishia, Sam sent her a grateful wink. In answer Fiona smiled and quickly sat back in her chair, deciding to become invisible and try to find out as much as she could.

“Thanks, Fi, I needed that,” Lucy mumbled, burying her nose in her mug and inhaling the scent with a groan of pleasure.

Trishia smiled at the dark haired teenager and even though she was very tired, her brain was working full speed and she was wondering how much Fiona had learned already and how much more they should give away.

Again, the responsibility to keep Lucy’s family safe weighed heavy on her shoulders and Trishia knew she could not afford to make any mistakes. She had come through for them before. But could she do it again?

It was as if Sam could read her thoughts, because suddenly she felt a strong hand briefly touch her shoulder to give her an encouraging squeeze. When she looked up, it was straight into a pair of knowing blue eyes that looked at her with a sense of trust and compassion. And even though Sam was not a police officer, Trishia knew she could rely on the woman to keep a watchful eye on their loved ones. Sam had proven before to be smart, strong and courageous.

And suddenly Trishia felt part of the load being lifted from her shoulders. She had the support of a whole police team, her partner Peter, whom she knew would go through hell and back for her. And she had Sam, who had become one of her best friends and who was reliable and solid as a rock.

Trishia took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, shooting Sam a grateful smile. They could do it. No matter what or how, together they could keep their family safe.

“Why don’t I bring Jody and Alice a cup of tea as well?” she suggested. “I am sure they can use one.”

Sam nodded and poured the fragrant liquid into two more cups, handing them to Trishia on a small tray.

“I’ll be here. I don’t think invading Alice would be a good idea.”

“Thanks, Sam,” Trishia smiled, taking the tray and placing her own mug on it as well.

She was about to leave the kitchen when Fiona’s voice stopped her.
——————————————————————————–

“Last door on the left,” the teenager helpfully provided. “Unless you want to scare the living daylights out of mom.”

“Thanks, Fi,” Trishia chuckled, leaving the kitchen and disappearing in the hall.

“Mom is still asleep?” Lucy asked. “Amazing.”

“She had a rough day,” Fiona yawned. “She could hardly keep her eyes open after dinner, didn’t you notice?”

Lucy mumbled something unintelligent and took another sip of her tea. She did not want to admit it to her younger sister, but she had not noticed their mother being so tired. It made her feel guilty, but admitting that to Fiona, of all people, would not be a smart thing to do. Her youngest sister was capable of reminding her about that until the end of time.

Fiona cast a curious look at Lucy and shrugged her shoulders. Some things never changed and Lucy had always been the one who had difficulty waking up.

Trishia opened the door, careful not to spill any of the hot tea. She smiled at Jody and looked around for a place to put down her tray. Jody pointed at the night stand and let out a content sigh.

“Thanks, Trish, you are a life saver,” she smiled.

“Don’t thank me,” Trishia objected. “Thank your sister, she made it. I am just the delivery person.”

From the corner of her eye, Trishia had noticed that as soon she had set foot into the room, the girl had tensed. Her blue eyes had quickly travelled between Trishia and Jody and the expression on her face had become one of caution.

Jody had noticed the change in Alice as well. The moment Trishia had stepped into the room, she had felt Alice ‘s hand painfully squeeze her own. And the body that had finally relaxed a little immediately went rigid again. Jody had felt it in the shifting of the muscles in Alice ‘s arm.

She wondered why the tall policewoman had that effect on the teenager. Jody had only noticed Trishia being kind to Alice . As far as she knew, there was no reason for Alice to fear Trishia. Maybe it was something that had happened in the past. It was possible that Alice ‘s previous experiences with law enforcement had not been friendly at all.

Alice became aware of the fact that she was still squeezing Jody’s hand and although the green eyed woman did not show any signs of discomfort, Alice knew that the vice like grip had to hurt. Quickly she let go, shooting Jody an apologetic look. But Jody smiled and gently patted Alice ‘s back.

“She knows,” Alice thought to herself, feeling sadness well up from deep within her soul. “Jody knows that Trishia scares me. Damn. Why do I always have to make a mess of things?”

Alice cast down her eyes, so she wouldn’t have to look at either Jody or Trishia. Her fingers nervously drew circles on the cotton sheet.
——————————————————————————–

“Here, Alice , have some tea,” Jody’s soft voice suddenly sounded.

Alice took the mug that Jody was holding in front of her and only then she noticed how badly her hands were shaking. Jody’s quick reflexes prevented the hot tea from spilling and burning her bare legs underneath the thin cotton sheets.

Ashamed Alice bent her head and Trishia and Jody could hear a soft, but heart wrenching sob coming from the slender body. For a brief moment Jody closed her eyes and swallowed hard. It would do Alice no good to see her cry, but her heart ached for the young girl who had been so badly damaged in life already. She shot Trishia a questioning look, which the tall woman answered with an attempt to smile.

Trishia debated with herself on how to proceed. She felt responsible for Alice and for a moment she wondered if it had been such a good idea after all, to take the girl with her to Murrook Farm. But the thought of a murderer on the loose who was possibly looking for Alice , quickly convinced her that her decisions had been right.

It was obvious that, for some reason, Alice did not trust her. Every time Trishia came near the girl, her whole demeanor changed. She visibly tensed, clammed up or became gruff and defensive. Still, Trishia knew she was responsible for the girl and she really wanted to help her. But it was clear she first had to gain the teenager’s trust. Until would happened, Trishia knew she had to rely on Sam and, especially Jody, since she seemed to be the only one who could reach the girl.

Having made a decision, Trishia looked at Alice ‘s bent head with a look of calm determination. No matter how many times the girl would push her away, she would do her utmost to keep the girl safe.

“I know you don’t trust me, Alice,” her low voice calmly broke the silence. “I don’t know if that’s because I am cop or for some other reason. I am here to help you and… ”

“You just want to send me back,” Alice interrupted. Her voice was a mixture of anger, sadness and despair. “You are all alike.”

“Send you back where, Alice ?” Trishia asked.

Alice clenched her hands into fists. She could feel the anger rise inside her body. It was intense and hot and it made her feel like she could erupt at any moment. Part of her wanted to do that. It would be such a relief to jump up and scream at the policewoman to leave her alone. To mind her own business and pretend to be the good cop to other people, who might believe it.

Another part of Alice tried to calm her racing heart, while a soft, soothing voice in the back of her mind kept telling her over and over again that it was not Trishia’s fault. The woman only wanted to help. Like Jody. And Sam. And Joan and Fiona.
——————————————————————————–

Slowly Alice could feel the surge of negative energy subside and unconsciously her body relaxed. It was not Trishia’s fault, she knew that. But somehow, being around the tall policewoman was hard and Alice did not know why. If only she could explain why Trishia had that effect on her.

“You don’t like me much, do you, Alice ?” Trishia said, interrupting Alice ‘s musings.

It was more a statement than it was a question. And Trishia’s voice held no accusation or anger, just a friendly calmness. It had the desired effect, because the teenager’s shoulders slumped and Alice could feel a blush creep up her cheeks.

“No,” the girl finally answered and then added, almost inaudible: “Sorry.”

“No worries,” Trishia responded. “You don’t have to like me. I understand you are pissed at me, because I make you do things you don’t want to do. And I know it sounds tacky, but I am concerned about you. A girl your age shouldn’t roam the streets, with no place to stay. It’s not safe.”

Trishia took a sip of her tea and studied Alice ‘s, still bent head. It was hard to tell what the impact of her words were, but the teenager’s body language showed Trishia that at least she was listening.

“I didn’t get up this morning with the idea to get a kid off the streets and annoy them to death. Because of the mugging our paths crossed and now I am responsible for your well being, Alice . I know you don’t like it, but it can’t be changed. All I ask of you is to try and answer my questions to the best of your ability. We don’t have to become friends, but a civil working relationship would be nice.”

Trishia took another sip of tea and gave Alice a few moments to digest her words.

“I don’t remember much,” Alice finally answered. This time her voice held no trace of hostility.

“I know,” Trishia responded. “We will work with the things you do remember and just take it from there. And it’s amazing how much dreams sometimes tell us.”

Alice shot Trishia a quick look and for a moment their eyes locked. There was only honest concern in the policewoman’s glance and immediately Alice felt a sense of relief. Somehow she knew that Trishia would not push her.

“I guess it’s hard for you to tell me about your nightmares,” Trishia said, sending Jody a quick smile. “But if it is alright with you, maybe Jody can tell me about it later.”

Trishia knew she didn’t need Alice ‘s permission. But she wanted the girl to feel her opinion was important and realize that Trishia would not treat her unfairly.

Alice softly snorted and when she looked up again, both Trishia and Jody could see a hint of amusement in her eyes.

“You would make her tell you anyway.”
——————————————————————————–

Trishia smiled and was pleased with Alice ‘s unexpected display of humor. It was obvious the girl was intelligent and could be quick witted as well.

“I could,” Trishia admitted with a grin. Glad to see some of the former tension had dissipated. “But your cooperation matters a lot to me.”

“I… it’s just that… it’s hard,” Alice stammered. “My dreams are not exactly… normal, you know.”

“I understand if it’s hard for you to talk about it. Is it okay for Jody to tell me about them later?”

Alice did not look up, but Trishia saw the blond head nod and she silently congratulated herself with this tiny victory.

“Good. Is there anything I can do for you right now, Alice ? You need to know I will call our psychologist in the morning and set up an appointment. I think it’s a good idea to talk to her.”

“I don’t need a… psychologist,” Alice mumbled, but she didn’t sound convinced.

“I know I cannot make you, all I ask is to see her once. Then you can decide for yourself. Alright?”

Alice shrugged her shoulders and bit her lip. She wanted to refuse. The idea of letting a stranger inside of her head frightened her. But Trishia had promised she only had to see her once. So maybe she should go with the flow and do just that. Once.

“Okay,” she finally mumbled.

“Thank you,” Trishia softly said, before smiling at Jody and leaving the room again.

Jody stared at the empty space where, just a moment before Trishia had been standing. Her head was spinning. Lack of sleep, combined with stress, worry and a million different thoughts, made it hard to think. So she decided to not even bother. The first priority was to get Alice settled in and then get some much needed sleep herself.

Jody’s thoughts drifted to Sam and involuntarily she smiled when she felt a familiar warmth spread through her body. Even though they were not in the same room, Jody could almost feel her presence. If she closed her eyes she could feel Sam’s arms wrapping themselves around her and pulling her close. Always giving her love and support and a sense of belonging. She was safe in Sam’s arms.

With a sudden crystal clear insight, Jody realized that Alice did not have that. There was nobody who could give her comfort. Who would listen to her talk. Nobody who could offer a shoulder to lean on, or lend a hand for support. Nobody. At all.

Looking down at the blond head Jody felt the tears sting the back of her eyes when she realized how lonely the girl must have been. And probably still was.
——————————————————————————–

Her thoughts went back to Trishia’s story about the murder and how somebody was probably trying to hurt Alice . She could not help thinking about the å what if’ s’ . What if her mom had not tried to help out the girl? Alice would not have been in the park in front of The Reef when her mother was being mugged. Their paths would not have crossed and maybe the killer would have been able to hurt Alice . Or worse.

Jody felt a shiver run down her spine and reached out to gently rub Alice ‘s back. It was like she needed that contact to reassure herself that the teenager was safe. Nothing had happened to her. But what if it had? Would somebody have cried over Alice ?

The slow rubbing of her back had a soothing effect on Alice and she could feel her eyes grow heavy. The day had left her tired, the nightmare and the outburst of emotions had left her exhausted. Alice tried to suppress a yawn, but failed miserably, which made Jody smile.

“Are you ready to try and go back to sleep?” she softly asked, brushing away a strand of hair from Alice ‘s forehead, without even realizing she was doing so.

The kind gesture almost brought back the tears to Alice ‘s eyes, but the teenager was able to will them away. She mentally slapped herself for almost losing it again and wondered what was wrong with her. Normally Alice would try to analyze her lack of control, but now she was just too worn out. Her body felt heavy and all she wanted to do was sleep.

“Go to sleep, Alice ,” Jody smiled, watching the teenager sink back in the pillow.

Dark eyelashes fluttered when Alice still tried to keep her eyes open, but it was a lost fight. With a deep sigh she finally closed her eyes and Jody watched the girl fall into a deep sleep. Within moments Alice ‘s breathing was deep and regular and when Jody got up from her position on the edge of the bed, Alice did not even move.

Careful not to make any noise, Jody collected the mugs and tray and turned off the lamp on the night stand. Quietly she made her way to the door, not needing a light to guide her way. Before closing the door of the bedroom behind her, she cast one last look on the peacefully sleeping girl.

“Sleep well, sweetie,” she whispered. “I promise we will do anything to keep you safe.”

“I am getting old,” Lucy mumbled when she and Trishia made their way back to the little guest house. “There were times when I came home when the sun was rising, after partying all night and I still had some energy left. Right now I feel like a wet tea towel.”

Trishia cast a look aside and smiled. The darkness of the night was fading and the blackness of the sky had turned into a dark grey, while the horizon heralded the rising of the sun, by painting it a soft pink. Soon it would be daylight.
——————————————————————————–

“Well, I can reassure you,” Trishia’s low voice rumbled. “You don’t look like one.”

“Goodie,” Lucy sighed, reaching out and grabbing Trishia’s hand.

She looked up at the tall woman and answered the smile that was sent her way.

“You know, senior sergeant Waters, we should walk up that hill and watch the sunrise.”

“Oh, my, Miss McDonnell,” Trishia feigned shock. “Are you a closeted romantic?”

“You know I am,” Lucy snorted, standing still and wrapping her arms around Trishia’s waist and burying her face against a muscular shoulder. “Don’t you remember our first kiss?”

“Oh, yes, I do,” Trishia answered with a husky voice, all traces of her teasing had disappeared. “How could I ever forget?”

“It was so nice,” Lucy mumbled dreamily. “On the beach, with the sound of the waves, the feel of a nice breeze and the soft sand.”

Trishia’s arms slid around Lucy’s body to pull her closer. She rested her cheek on soft, dark hair and closed her eyes.

“It was amazing,” she mused, feeling her heart rate pick up just remembering. “You are amazing.”

Lucy raised her head from its comfortable spot and looked up at Trishia. Their eyes locked and for a moment time seemed to stand still. Without breaking their gaze, Lucy reached up to let her hand lovingly trace Trishia’s face. There was enough light to see the passion and desire in the policewoman’s eyes grow and Lucy swallowed hard, feeling her body responding to the look of want that was directed her way.

It would have been so easy to give in to the feeling, to capture Trishia’s lips and kiss her senseless. But Lucy and Trishia could feel that something was happening between them and both were reluctant to break the magic spell that allowed them to look into each other’s souls.

It was a timeless, breathtaking moment that touched the deepest parts of their hearts. The feeling was so profound it brought tears to Lucy’s eyes.

“I am falling deeper and deeper,” she finally whispered, feeling a tear roll down her cheek.

Trishia’s eyes followed the moist track with a look of wonder and she raised her hand to brush away the lonely, salty drop.

She could not explain what just had happened, but she did know it was something unexpected and beautiful. Her heart was pounding in her chest and ready to explode from the abundance of love and happiness she felt. There were so many things she wanted to tell the woman in her arms. She wanted to pour out her soul and tell her about her deepest feelings, her biggest fears and most secret dreams. But when she finally spoke, it was short, but from the deepest part of her heart.

“I love you,” she whispered, feeling the words deep down in the essence of her being.
——————————————————————————–

“And I love you,” Lucy answered, knowing she had said it before, but somehow this time it was different. It was deeper, stronger and all compassing.

They both smiled and without breaking their gaze, Lucy pulled Trishia’s face down. Only when their lips touched, they closed their eyes and let themselves drift away on a wave of tenderness and quiet passion that gradually increased in intensity, until they were both softly moaning, while their bodies were pressed so close, only Trishia’s muscular arms and legs prevented them from falling over.

After what seemed like an eternity, they breathlessly broke apart and looked at each other with unveiled desire.

“If we don’t get back to the guesthouse right now, I will scandalize my family,” Lucy warned in a voice that was rough with emotion.

Trishia swallowed hard and tried to clear her mind, which was hard, because the idea of lowering Lucy down in the fragrant, cool grass and ravishing her right there and then was very appealing to her, although not wise.

“Or I will,” she croaked, which made Lucy smile.

Lucy untangled herself from Trishia’s strong arms and grabbed her hand, pulling her with her.

“Come,” she simply said.

“Definitely,” Trishia joked, having regained some of her composure.

Lucy chuckled and took in a deep breath of fresh morning air. The tall policewoman obediently followed her to the guest house and as soon as the door closed behind them, she lifted Lucy into her arms and carried her to the bedroom.

A pair of trusting dark green eyes looked up at her with so much love and desire, it took her breath away. All fatigue and lack of sleep forgotten, Trishia lowered Lucy down on the bed and immediately felt a pair of impatient hands slip underneath her shirt.

“I thought you wanted to sleep,” Trishia gently teased, feeling her desire grow when Lucy’s hands cupped her breasts.

“I do,” Lucy breathed. “Later…much later.”

When Lucy and Trishia had gone back to the guesthouse, Sam and Jody had finished another cup of tea. And after sending Fiona back to bed, they were finally able to crawl back into their comfortable bed themselves.

“Oh, this feels so good,” Jody sighed closing her eyes and feeling her body relax. “What an incredible night this has been.”

“Yes,” Sam admitted with a yawn. “And I am afraid it’s only the beginning. I don’t want to preach doom and gloom, but I really think this is a very serious situation we are in, honey.”
——————————————————————————–

“Poor Alice ,” Jody whispered sadly. “You know, Sam, that girl has seen a lot of bad things, I am sure of it.”

Sam scooted closer to the smaller body next to her and wrapped Jody in her arms, trying to give her partner the comfort she obviously needed.

“Does it bother you that Trishia suggested to talk about it in the morning? I mean, if you want to talk about it now, you can. You know that, don’t you?”

“I do,” Jody smiled, softly kissing Sam’s shoulder her head was resting against. “And Trishia’s suggestion didn’t bother me, at all. In fact, I welcomed it. I need to digest the things Alice has been telling me. I want to have a clear head when I repeat the things she told me. Besides, Fiona was present.”

“Yes, we need to talk to Trishia about that as well,” Sam sighed. She snuggled closer and let out a small chuckle. “She didn’t believe your story about the flooded apartment.”

“I know,” Jody groaned. “I felt so stupid. I hate lying.”

“Don’t worry about it, sweetie,” Sam comforted her. “In the morning we will talk to Trishia and come up with a way to tell the girls something.”

“Okay,” was the sleepy answer and Sam smiled when she saw that Jody was fighting to keep her eyes open. “I still wanted to massage your leg.”

She brought her face closer and softly kissed first one eyelid and then the other.

“Don’t worry about my leg. Go to sleep, love.”

“Night, honey,” Jody whispered barely audible.

“Sleep well, sweetie,” was Sam’s answer.

Jody let out a deep sigh, snuggled even closer to Sam’s taller body and was asleep within seconds. Sam smiled when she looked down at the sleeping woman in her arms and again she felt her heart swell with love and tenderness. It still filled her with wonder every time she looked at her wife and realized that they were together. Every morning when she woke up and looked at the woman next to her, she said a silent prayer of gratitude for having Jody in her life.

Trishia’s words suddenly echoed in her mind and Sam involuntarily shivered.

“We have every reason to believe that Alice is in danger. Somebody is looking for her. Why, we don’t know. ……..But, somehow, Alice and the murderer know each other… ..”

Sam realized that if Trishia would be right, they would probably become personally involved, since Alice was their guest.

“Who am I kidding?” Sam scolded herself. “We are involved already. There is a nutcase out there, looking for the girl, for heaven knows what kind of sick reasons. If the police don’t catch him soon, he will end up here and we will be in the middle of it. Damn!”
——————————————————————————–

The panic Sam felt rising constricted her chest and for a few fearful moments robbed her of her breath. Her heart was beating so fast, she could hear the blood humming in her ears.

“Don’t lose it, Sam,” a calm voice sounded in the back of her mind. “You have been through worse, remember? Most likely, this is just one person. Just be careful. Work with the police and you will all be safe. Trishia told you they have a head start. With a little luck they can stay one step ahead of this… person and it will be over before you know it.”

Again Sam cast a look at the sleeping woman in her arms and all of a sudden her racing heart calmed and she was able to breathe again. Her fear melted away and was replaced by a feeling of calm determination.

“Focus, Sam,” she whispered to herself.

The most important person in her life was Jody. And if necessary Sam would move heaven and earth to keep her safe. And she would do the same for her family and friends. And for Alice .

Sam pulled Jody even closer into her arms and smiled when the sleeping woman unconsciously nuzzled her neck. Her blue eyes stared at the window where, through a crack in the blinds, she could see the darkness was shifting and the dawn had arrived.

“Nobody touches my family,” Sam whispered to herself. “Nobody.”

She lay there, not moving, because she did not want to wake her sleeping lover. Only the occasional blinking of her eyes indicated that Sam was very much awake. She was aware of the danger they all could be in and, practical as she was, she did not want to solely rely on the police to keep them safe.

So Sam started to weigh her options and with an ease born from experience in the business world, she started to look at the situation they were in from every possible angle. Now and then she made a mental note to ask Trishia for clarification about certain things. She would need a heart-to-heart talk with the policewoman anyway, because Sam had no intention of sitting on the sidelines, just watching and waiting.

When the first rays of the sun tentatively touched the windowsill, Sam’s eyes watched the shifting shadows in their bedroom and sighed.

It would be an interesting day.

Peter Jones had been up all night, pacing the office, reading old reports and keeping himself pumped up with mugs of black coffee, so strong it could easily be used for road construction.

After his phone conversation with Trishia, he had sunk down in his chair, feeling the anger well up in his chest. He had been a police officer for years and had seen his share of misery. But the suffering of young people and children, always hit him with a painful intensity.
——————————————————————————–

Peter did not have the calm control his partner Trishia had, He was the hot head of the two and often Trishia had to jump in and keep him from doing something stupid. He had gotten better over the years, but still his temper sometimes got the better of him.

After receiving the fax messages from Perth and Sydney he and Phil Kanides had been on the phone for a long time, trying to gather as much information as they could. When there was nothing left to do that night, Peter had sent Phil home and had walked outside into the parking lot himself, to stretch his legs and get some fresh air. He had been breathing in the cool night air that was surprisingly fresh, with just a hint of salt in it.

For the first time since he quit smoking, Peter really craved a cigarette, but he knew that if he would give into it, he would be hooked again and he didn’t want that. Just the image of the disappointment on his wife’s face was enough to prevent him from jumping in his car and looking for a place where he could buy a pack of cigarettes.

A small smile tugged on the corner of his mouth when he pictured his wife, who would be fast asleep, since it was still early in the morning. He had called her before she went to bed. He had no specific reason, since he had already told her he would not be home for a while. He had just wanted to tell her that he loved her.

Her reaction had been one of pleasant surprise and Peter had noticed her tears were close to falling when she had told him to be careful. He had promised her he would and asked her to make sure all the doors and windows were shut and the alarm switched on.

If somebody would harm his family… .Peter shivered and felt the anger rise up again. The girl on the beach had barely been seventeen. The girl in Perth had been fifteen and the girl from Sydney had just turned eighteen the day before she was murdered. They had just been kids and Peter could not help wondering where their parents had been. Where were their fathers? Peter knew for a certainty that if he had a teenage daughter, he would protect her. She would not be roaming the streets at night and end up stabbed to death on a beach.

“Who are you kidding, Jones?” he snorted. “Those girls were all runaways, well the ones in Sydney and Perth were anyway. They must have had a reason to run. You know what reasons that could have been. For some kids, running away from home and living on the streets sometimes is better than staying at home. How sick and sad is that, huh? While parents are supposed to provide a safe and loving home, some kids have a damn good reason to not want to be around.”
——————————————————————————–

With a deep sigh, Peter stuffed his hands in the pockets of his cotton slacks and slowly turned around. He wanted to go over the information again, to see if he had missed anything. As soon as it would be a decent time to call her, he would update Trishia on the little information he had gathered. It was not much yet, just some facts about the murder scenes. The names of the girls and where they had been from. The murder weapon. Some pictures of the crime scene and a few reports. It wasn’t much to go on, but at least it was better than nothing, Peter had reasoned.

A quick glance at his watch told him it was almost seven o’clock . Peter slowly walked back towards the building and dragged himself up the stairs to the first floor. He wanted to call Trishia, file away his notes and go home for a few hours of sleep.

With a big yawn he heavily sat down in his chair and looked at the paperwork on his desk. He decided to put it all together in a big envelope and lock it away in his desk drawer. He would go over it again later, with Trishia. Two could see more than one and a little rest would probably lift the fog that had seemed to have settled in his brain.

“What the heck,” he mumbled to himself. “I will have some sleep first and then call Trishia. I can leave a message for her at the front desk.”

Peter neatly stacked his notes and other paperwork and slipped it into an envelope, which was securely locked away in one of the drawers of his desk.

Pushing back his chair he stood up and purposefully strode out of the office, down the stairs, straight to his car. He made sure to roll down the window, so the cool morning air would hopefully keep him awake. Without looking back he pulled out and left the parking area, mingling with the traffic of the morning rush.

A pair of muddy brown eyes in a clean shaven face watched him leave. Only when he had completely disappeared out of sight, the figure stepped out of his vehicle and walked towards the entrance of the police station.
part 9
The grass was still damp from the cool night air, when a slender figure quietly made its way up the hill. Hidden from view strong legs slowly, but determinedly carried a muscular body closer to the house on top of the hill. It was unusually quiet and it was obvious that the occupants of the house were still asleep. The blinds that covered the bedroom windows were closed and there were no signs of life on the veranda or in the adjacent kitchen area.

Eyes that shone with anticipation scanned the area in search of the dog and located the canine fast asleep in his usual spot close to the door.

The figure knew the dog could wake up at any moment and sound the alarm, so the front of the house was given a wide berth. There was no sound when the feet of the intruder carried its body to the back of the house, making soft imprints in the grass.

With unerring accuracy the prowler approached the bedroom window. Carefully looking around, the coast still appeared to be clear.

A hand reached out and touched the wood of the blinds that had already started to feel warm due to the steadily rising early morning sun.

A contended grin showed a flash of white teeth when slender fingers reached underneath the blind to slowly pull it open.

It was time for some action.

For the sixth time in ten minutes Joan McDonnell cast a look at the clock that adorned the kitchen wall and that was providing a steady, rhythmically background sound of soft ticking. It was the only sound she heard, since the house was still bathed in silence.

With a frown Joan looked at the coffee that had been fresh almost an hour ago, but that slowly started to look like it was getting stronger and darker by the minute. Maybe she should pour it in the sink and make a fresh pot. She knew Sam appreciated a fresh cup of coffee in the morning.

With a sigh Joan decided to wait until she heard some signs of life. What if she did make a fresh pot and the girls did not show up for another hour? That would be a waste. No, she would wait for the girls to get up.

Joan carefully rubbed the side of her face where a big, purple bruise had left a painful mark. It was a visible reminder of her ordeal the previous day. She shivered when, again, she realized what could have happened if Alice had not shown up. She could have become a little newspaper article in The Gold Coast Bulletin.

Woman mugged and stabbed to Death in parking garage.

“Thank God for Alice,” Joan whispered from the bottom of her heart.

Sipping her third cup of coffee, Joan opened the kitchen door and stepped outside on the veranda. It was a little after nine o’clock and still early, but the earth was already warming up. Joan cast a look at the clear, blue sky and did not need to hear a meteorological forecast to know that it would be another hot day.

And the girls were sleeping the morning away, she realized. It was not something they did on a regular base. She knew Jody and Sam usually got up early.

“Well, maybe they like sleeping in this Saturday. What do you think, boy?” she mused, scratching a happy Kurt behind his ears.

The dog cheerfully wagged his tail and jumped off the veranda, looking for a stick. Maybe the soft smelling human would play with him, since his favorite one was still not around.

Joan smiled when the Shepard tried to scramble back up the stairs, with a stick that was so big, he almost toppled over by the sheer weight of it.

“I am afraid I won’t be able to throw this one, Kurt,” she chuckled. “Let’s find another one, alright?”

Joan set down her cup on the table and walked down the stairs, followed by an enthusiastic dog, who was thrilled to have finally found somebody who would play with him. It was not hard to find a stick that was more suitable for the pup and with an experienced move, Joan threw the stick away. Not able to contain his happiness, Kurt ran after it and got hold of the wood as soon as it touched the ground. While the stick was firmly clenched between his healthy teeth he started to vigorously shake his head, which made Joan laugh out loud.

“Make sure it’s dead, before you return it, boy,” she grinned.

‘”Are you teaching the dog bad manners, mom?” a youthful voice suddenly called out and startled Joan turned around.

“Good morning, honey,” she greeted Jody with a warm smile. “I didn’t hear you come out. Want some coffee?”

“Sure,” Jody returned the smile and watched her mother climb back on the veranda, while Kurt looked at her retreating back with a sad expression in his brown eyes. That was a short game.

“Morning, mom,” Jody greeted her mother with a hug. “How is your face? Did you have a good sleep?”

“I slept like a log, thanks, honey,” Joan answered, giving Jody’s shoulders a loving squeeze. “I was completely knocked out and I am glad, because I feel a lot better already. No headache.”

Together they walked back into the kitchen and Jody gestured for her mother to sit down.

“You might want to make a fresh pot, Jody. That one has been sitting there for more than an hour already.”

Jody pulled a face and poured the steaming liquid down the sink.

“Yes, we are late today,” she casually remarked, trying to come up with a way to tell her mother about everything that had happened during the night. She knew they would have to tell her something, since Lucy and Trishia were at the guesthouse and could make an appearance any time soon.

Jody quickly started a fresh pot of coffee and after pouring herself a glass of orange juice, she sat down at the kitchen table, across from her mother.

“What’s up?” Joan calmly asked.

A pair of startled green eyes immediately looked up and Joan smiled when she saw Jody’s look of surprise. She reached out her arm and covered Jody’s hand with her own.

“I know you, daughter-mine. To me your face often is an open book. I know you want to tell me something and I have the feeling I am not going to like it.”

Jody sighed and shook her head, seeing the growing worry on her mother’s face.

“Is it about Alice?” Joan quickly asked, aware of the feeling of dread that slowly started to creep into the pit of her stomach.

“Yes, it is,” Jody truthfully answered. “The poor kid.”

Those last three words took away a little of Joan’s concern. At least it did not sound like Alice had done something drastic, like running off in the middle of the night.

“What is it?” Joan quietly asked.

In a soft, but controlled voice, Jody told her mother about Trishia’s and Lucy’s presence in the guest house and the reason they were there. When she informed Joan about the girl that had been murdered and the picture they had found on the body, Jody could see her mother’s face turn pale.

Joan swallowed hard and tried to push away the image of Alice’s body, lying in the sand, with a fatal stab wound to the chest. Tears stung the back of her eyes when she realized that Trishia’s gut feeling and concern for the teenager might have very well saved Alice’s life. If the tall policewoman had not decided to do something controversial and take Alice with her…

Involuntarily Joan shivered when she slowly became aware of the seriousness of the situation. Her fingers nervously tried to find something to do. In the past she had the habit of turning around her wedding ring when she was nervous, but that piece of jewelry had been removed when she had left David McDonnell and the ring finger on her right hand had been bare ever since.

Jody’s warm hands covered the fidgeting fingers and when Joan looked up she saw the determination in her daughter’s green eyes.

“We will all do our utmost to keep her safe,” she promised. “But until we all can sit down and talk about how we are going to accomplish that, the girls are not supposed to know. We don’t want to scare them.”

Jody pulled a face and couldn’t help smiling.

“Of course Fiona saw straight through me last night,” she told her mother. “She can be such a brat sometimes.”

“And you are not exactly a good liar, honey,” Joan answered. “Which, of course, is to your credit.”

“Thanks,” Jody dryly replied.

She looked up when she heard a sound behind her and two large, warm hands were placed on her shoulders.

“Hey, sweetie,” Sam’s voice rumbled in her ear and a soft kiss was placed on her cheek. “Good morning, Joan,” Sam greeted her mother-in-law, while her clear blue eyes quickly studied the older woman’s face.

Sam noticed the lines of worry that were etched around her eyes, but she also saw that the swelling on the side of her face had gone down and that pleased her immensely.

“Your face looks a lot better, Joan,” Sam smiled, pulling out a chair and sitting down next to Jody. “The bruise is still there of course, but it doesn’t look as swollen as it did yesterday.”

Joan carefully touched her face and smiled at the tall blond woman.

“I am glad,” she sighed. “I had a good rest last night, but it seems to me that I was the only one. Jody just told me we have other worries at the moment.”

Sam nodded and put one arm around the back of Jody’s chair, so her fingers could lightly graze the red-haired woman’s shoulder.

“I am afraid so,” Sam confessed. “It’s still hard to believe how quick we went from living our happy lives, to having to be on the look out for a murderer. It boggles my mind and to be honest, it pisses me off as well.”

Jody cast a look at Sam and reached over to softly stroke her face.

“I understand, baby. Just be careful around Alice, she… I noticed last night she is very insecure and if she would pick up on your anger, she might think it’s directed to her.”

“I will be careful, honey, thanks for the warning,” Sam smiled and quickly stole a kiss. “Talking about teenagers, where are ours?”

“Still asleep I guess,” Jody answered, she stood up to pour them a fresh cup of coffee. “It was a short night for them as well.”

The look in Sam’s eyes made her stand still immediately though and a feeling of dread settled in the pit of her stomach.

“Sam?” she whispered, seeing her lover’s face gone pale.

“I… just walked passed their rooms and the doors were open, but the girls were not inside,” Sam breathed. Then the reality of her words sank in and she jumped up, knocking over the kitchen chair in the process.

“When did you get up, mom?” Jody asked a shocked Joan.

“A little over an hour ago,” Joan answered with a trembling voice. “I haven’t seen or heard… .oh, my God!”

Sam’s face was a grim mask when she slid her cell phone out of her pocket and speed dialed Trishia’s number.

“I’ll call Trish and then I will go out to look for them. I will take Kurt with me,” she announced, waiting for the policewoman to answer the phone. “Honey, I want you and your mom to stay inside and lock the doors. Don’t open them for anyone, unless Trishia or I are here.”

Jody opened her mouth to protest because she did not want her partner to go out by herself but before she could say anything, she realized Sam was right. Somebody had to stay with Joan at the house. So Jody merely nodded while her thoughts went back to that horrible day when Sam had gone out, by herself, to meet Megan’s kidnappers. Never in her life had Jody been more scared. Sam had kept contact through a cell phone, but in the end, while meeting the criminals, she had to leave the thing in the car, breaking off all contact. The hour that had followed had been the longest one in her life and she had hoped never to go through a situation like that again. Unfortunately her family seemed to have a talent of attracting trouble and here they were again, faced with a dangerous situation that could turn disastrous at any moment.

Jody let out a deep sigh and ran her fingers through her unruly hair. Where in the name of everything that was sacred were Fiona and Alice?

“No, Sam, wait for me,” Trishia urged, rubbing her eyes and trying to wake up. “I will be up there in a minute. Stay where you are. If there are any tracks or clues, I don’t want them to be trampled on. I am on my way now!”

Trishia pressed the ‘off’ button on her phone and jumped out of bed, blindly reaching for the clothes that had ended up in different places when she… when Lucy had taken them off a few hours ago.

“What is going on?” Lucy sleepily asked, seeing the grim expression on Trishia’s face.

She had started to get dressed herself, knowing that something serious had happened at the house and she wanted go to her family as soon as she could.

“Trish?” she asked again, the worry evident in her voice.

The policewoman turned around to look at her lover and a sad expression crossed her face.

“Fiona and Alice are missing from the house,” she answered, knowing that sugarcoating the news was not an option at the moment.

“Oh, God,” Lucy breathed, bringing her hand to her throat. Her dark green eyes looked at Trishia in shock. “How long?”

“They just found out,” Trishia said, quickly tying her shoelaces. “They have been gone for more than an hour, at least. Are you ready?”

Lucy nodded and tried to push down the feeling of nausea that threatened to overtake her. There was a murderer around and now her sister and Alice were missing. Her eyes nervously darted from Trishia’s pale face to the strong hands that were quickly and expertly checking her gun.

Lucy swallowed hard. She knew that in Trishia’s line of work, fire arms were sometimes needed, but it was something she was still not used to. The idea that the relatively small device could end a person’s life in less than a few seconds filled her with fear. Lucy could only hope and pray that Trishia would not have to use the weapon.

A year ago, her lover had shot one of Megan’s kidnappers and Trishia had been devastated by it. She knew there had not been a choice, since Steven Hayes was about to take Sam’s life, but still, it had been very hard on the policewoman and Lucy hoped they would never have to go through something like that again.

The subject of her thoughts looked at her and managed a weak smile.

“Are you ready?” Trishia asked, reaching out a hand that was gratefully accepted.

“Yes, let’s go up,” Lucy encouraged in a subdued voice.

“Stay close to me,” Trishia ordered, putting her body between her lover and the line of dense trees across the clearing.

Her eyes scanned the environment, looking for anything that was out of the ordinary, but to Trishia everything looked normal. When they were halfway up the driveway a happily bouncing dog greeted them and Trishia could not help smiling. She petted the dog on its head and briefly wondered why Kurt had not raised the alarm. She had no time to ponder about that, because the door was opened and Sam emerged. The two women looked at each other and a silent message passed.

“Go inside, Lucy,” Trishia softly said. “Lock the door behind you, okay?”

Lucy did not answer immediately, but she nodded and squeezed the warm hand that was still holding her own.

“Be careful,” she whispered, feeling the wetness pool in her eyes.

“Always,” Trishia answered with a smile, bending her head to give her lover a quick kiss.

As soon as the dark haired woman had closed and locked the door behind her, Trishia looked at Sam and gave her a curt nod.

“I take it you checked out the bedrooms?”

“I did,” Sam answered. “Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. The girls are just not there and it seems like they have left the house through Fiona’s bedroom window.”

Trishia took a moment to digest the information, which only increased her anxiousness. They had assumed that the murderer worked alone. But what if he didn’t? How could two teenage girls disappear from the house, without making a sound? The only explanation Trishia could come up with was that there must have been more than one intruder. Or, the girls had known the person and had left voluntarily.

With a gesture that showed her frustration, Trishia rubbed the back of her neck. Part of her wanted to call the police station and ask for assistance, but deep down inside a nagging feeling of doubt made itself known. She could not put her finger on it yet, but hopefully a look around the place would help her. She needed more information, before she could call for help.

“Let’s have a look at the outside of that window,” she suggested. “Are we taking Kurt?” she asked, pointing to the leash Sam was holding.

“Yes, I am sure he will be able to pick up a scent and track,” Sam answered with confidence. She whistled and immediately Kurt came bouncing off the veranda.

Sam scratched his ears and attached the leash to his collar.

“Come on boy,” she said, walking towards the back of the house where Fiona’s and Alice’s bedrooms were located.

Trishia’s experienced eyes looked at the ground, searching for visible tracks or footprints. It was obvious that Sam was right, the girls had left the house through Fiona’s bedroom window. The blinds and the window itself were open and the grass underneath the window was trampled on. But there were no signs of a struggle or other proof of violence.

With her face set in a grim mask, Sam looked down at her dog that had picked up on the tension and patiently sat down next to his human, waiting for a command. She cast a look at Trishia, who had sucked in her bottom lip and nodded.

“Kurt, track,” Sam ordered, immediately seeing the ears perk up. “Track Fiona, Kurt.”

With a high pitched whimper, the dog pulled the leash, almost making Sam lose her balance. His nose had already picked up Fiona’s scent, along with two other fragrances and immediately he started to guide the two women away from the house, down the gradual slope at the back of the house, towards the dense vegetation that was located at the bottom of the hill.

Sam and Trishia did not speak. They were both absorbed in their own thoughts, but in the meantime, all their senses were on heightened alert. They were very aware of their surroundings and Trishia could not ignore the cold steel that was pressing against the skin of her back.

The policewoman was mentally kicking herself for not being able to protect the family that she had come to look upon as her own. What if something had happened to Alice and Fiona? She knew she would never be able to look into Lucy’s eyes again if something had happened to her youngest sister.

And what would she tell Carol Wong? How could she explain that the girl she had been assigned to protect had disappeared? If anything happened to the girls, Trishia knew she would never be able to forgive herself.

The two women had reached the tree line and silently followed the dog that exactly seemed to know where he was going. He kept on a steady pace and did not hesitate or falter, not even for a second.

They were still walking downhill and slowly but surely, the track became more difficult to follow. The hillside became steeper and the forest floor was littered with rocks and broken tree limbs. The undergrowth was dense and sometimes hard to walk through and both Trishia and Sam let out an occasional gasp of pain, when branches or sharp thorns scratched their bare legs.

In the distance they could hear the sound of running water and Sam knew they were approaching one of the creeks that ran through their property.

Suddenly Kurt started to whimper and pull his leash, trying to free himself from the restraints that kept him close to his leader.

Trishia and Sam exchanged a look and with growing nervousness, Sam noticed that Trishia had pulled out her gun. The policewoman shrugged her shoulders and sent her friend an apologetic look. She knew the sight of the weapon would bring back bad memories to the blond woman, but Trishia did not want to take any risks. She had no idea who and what they would encounter and she wanted to be prepared.

She signaled to Sam to follow her and carefully made her way through the bush. Their view was obscured by trees and shrubs, but she knew they were close to the creek now. She could hear the water dance across the rocks and in the distance she heard the distinct sound of a small waterfall.

Trishia cast a look over her shoulder and saw that Sam was right behind her. She gestured for the tall woman to get down and they both crawled towards some huge ferns that were the only barrier left between them and the creek.

Sam silently cursed when a sharp rock embedded itself in her right leg and a sharp pain shot through her knee. Without looking down at the affected limb, she knew she had a cut that was bleeding. She could feel the warm, thick liquid slowly slide across her skin.

She lowered herself flat to the ground, next to Trishia who was carefully pushing aside the fern, to get an unobstructed view of the creek. The only sound was that of the water in the stream and the rustling leaves overhead.

When they were finally able to see what had excited and alarmed Kurt, they were both stunned. A few meters away from them, they saw the familiar bodies of Fiona and Alice, stretched out on the forest floor next to the creek. They were lying on their stomachs with their heads resting on their arms and looked like they were asleep. The only indication they weren’t, was Fiona’s left foot that was rhythmically moving from left to right and back again.

Sam was about to jump up and ran towards them, but Trishia’s hand on her arm stopped her. When Sam glanced aside, she saw the relief on the policewoman’s face and a twinkle of amusement in her green-blue eyes.

“Look,” Trishia whispered, pointing to the bank of the creek.

Sam’s eyes obediently traveled into the direction Trishia was pointing out to her and when her brain registered the scene that was unfolding she was so relieved, she almost felt dizzy.

“Yarra,” she whispered.

A tall, dark skinned girl, clad in shorts and a tank top was sitting cross legged on the bank of the creek. Her big, dark eyes were focused on a small animal that was sitting close to her. Yarra was holding something in her hand, patiently waiting for the small animal to come over and grab it. Sam’s eyes widened when she saw the little wallaby that was sitting so close to the girl, she could almost touch it.

“I don’t know whether to be angry or happy,” Sam whispered, seeing a flash of white when Trishia grinned.

“I am extremely happy, Sam,” the policewoman admitted. “But I will not show them that. They scared the crap out of me!”

Sam chuckled and watched in amazement when the small animal hopped closer to Yarra, grabbed the treat she was holding in her outstretched hand and quickly hopped away with it again.

Yarra’s dark skinned face was split by a huge smile and even from the distance they could see the sparkle in her eyes.

“Wow, that was cool, Yar,” Fiona’s voice broke the silence while the teenager scrambled to her feet, followed by Alice who seemed very impressed. “Don’t you think so, Alice?”

The blond teenager nodded and when she spoke, Sam and Trishia could hear the wonder in the soft voice.

“Thanks for showing me that, Yarra,” she said. “That was awesome. I never saw a wallaby that close.”

“I know something else that will be awesome,” Sam mumbled. “Let’s get those girls home, Trish. There are three frantic women waiting for them.”

Before Trishia could respond, Sam rose to her feet and unfolded her tall frame. The three teenage girls, who had no clue they were being watched jumped when all of sudden Sam appeared and Alice’s first reaction was to run.

Trishia had anticipated a move like that and with a few long strides she was behind the girl and caught her in a pair of strong arms.

“It’s okay, Alice,” she tried to reassure the girl. “It’s just Sam and me.”

Trishia could feel the girl tremble and a pair of fearful eyes looked up at her. When Alice finally realized who was holding her, she let out a shaky breath. At the same time her legs seemed no longer able to carry her and slowly Trishia lowered the girl to the ground.

“Damn!” Trishia mumbled.

“I am sorry, Alice,” Sam apologized, kneeling next to the girl. “I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

“Yeah, well, that was a nasty thing to do,” Fiona admitted, kneeling on the other side of Alice and shooting Sam an annoyed look.

“Listen to me, young lady,” Sam answered with barely controlled anger. “Do you have any idea how worried everybody is about the two of you? What the hell were you thinking sneaking out of the house like that, without telling anyone where you were going? I thought you were more responsible.”

Fiona had never seen the usual calm Sam, that angry and she visibly paled. Anger blazed in Sam’s eyes and unconsciously Fiona moved closer to Trishia. She swallowed hard and with confusion written all over her face she looked from the policewoman to Sam and back again.

“I..I..It was… everybody was still asleep and since it had been such a weird night, we didn’t want to wake anybody up. Yarra came by to ask me if I wanted to see the wallaby and… I thought Alice would like to see it as well, so… I didn’t mean to worry anyone. I am sorry,” she ended in a whisper and Trishia could see the tears in the dark green eyes.

Sam let out a shaky breath and cast a look at the slender girl, who was standing close, watching her with big, dark eyes.

“Is this about that murderer?” the dark girl asked in innocence.

Yarra had met Trishia on different occasions and knew she was a police officer. When she had seen Sam and Trishia appear and had noticed their anxiousness and anger, she had put two and two together.

“What murderer?” Fiona slowly asked. Suddenly the events of the previous night started to make sense and her eyes widened in shock.

“It was on the news this morning,” Yarra explained, her intelligent eyes scanning Trishia’s face for clues. “A girl was murdered on the beach yesterday.”

Trishia and Sam exchanged glances and the tall blonde could feel the anger drain from her body, leaving her sore and tired.

“I guess we’d better go back to the house, so we can talk about it. Alright?” Trishia suggested, taking the lead.

Sam silently nodded and rose to her feet, wincing when she felt a cramp in her right calf. She looked at Fiona’s bent head and suddenly felt bad for having snapped at the teenager before.

“Come here,” she said, pulling the teenager in a hug.

Fiona accepted the loving gesture and buried her face against Sam’s chest, while she wrapped her arms around the blonde’s waist.

“I am sorry, Sam” she sniffed, feeling guilty for worrying the woman whom she adored.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Sam sighed. “I am just happy you and Alice are alright. Let’s go home, okay?”

“I will call the girls,” Trishia said, pulling out her cell phone. “Let them know that everybody is okay.”

It had been a tense thirty minutes. Neither Joan nor Jody or Lucy talked much. They were all lost in thought and knew they all shared the same kind of anxiety. They sat around the kitchen table, nervously sipping coffee, which did not help to eliminate their anxiety.

When the sound of a ringing telephone shattered the silence, they all jumped and both Joan and Lucy looked at Jody with a mixture of dread and hope.

Jody quickly picked up the phone and almost breathlessly said her name.

“Hey, Jody,” Trishia voice sounded. “We are on our way back, with the girls. Apparently Yarra stopped by this morning to pick them up for some wallaby watching.”

“Oh, thank God,” Jody exclaimed, while she let herself sink back in her chair. “I… wow, I am so relieved. I guess we’ll see you soon, huh?”

“Yup,” Trishia’s voice answered and Jody could hear the amusement. “The girls are dragging their feet, but we will chase them back up the hill. See you in a few.”

“Thanks, Trishia.”

Jody’s reaction had been clear enough to let the other women know that Fiona and Alice were alright and when she put down the phone, she could see tears in her mother’s eyes, while Lucy’s face was a mixture of relief and annoyance.

“What happened?” the dark haired woman asked.

Jody leaned over towards her mother and grabbed her hand, giving it a loving squeeze.

“I don’t know the details, but as I understood, Yarra stopped by this morning to pick up the girls so they could watch wallabies, or something.”

“They what?” Lucy shouted, rising from her chair and pacing the kitchen floor. “Are they insane? My goodness, I really thought Fiona would have more sense than that!”

“Calm down, Luce,” Jody said, sending her mother a watery smile. “Don’t forget the girls don’t know anything about what is going on. If Fiona would have known why we are all so worried, she would not have left the house, I am sure.”

“She could at least have left a note, or something,” Lucy mumbled, recognizing the truth for what it was, but still a little miffed at her youngest sister. “She scared the bejeezus out of me.”

“Actually,” Jody responded, trying very hard to keep a straight face. “When you think about it, it’s pretty funny.”

“Funny my a… ,” Lucy cast a look at her mother and swallowed hard. “My butt! I hardly slept last night and I really wanted to casually wake up and… well, you know, not have stress.”

Jody, who could guess what was on Lucy’s mind just laughed when she saw the frustration on her sister’s face. She knew that her sister and Trishia treasured their time together and she knew it often happen that the policewoman had to sacrifice her time off. Sensitive as she was, Jody had felt the subtle changes in the way Trishia and Lucy treated each other and she just knew that Lucy’s plans for that morning had not involved spending time with her family. But since their mother was present, Jody decided not to tease her sister about it. That is why Joan McDonnell’s remark came as a shock.

“You and Trishia can have a roll in the hay, later, honey,” she said. “I will make sure everybody will leave you two alone. I am just grateful that your sister and Alice are unharmed.”

Lucy was shocked into silence and looked at her mother with big, green eyes. It did not happen often, but she could not think of a thing to say and when her gaze traveled to Jody, her sister lost all control. Jody hid her face behind her hands and her body shook with laughter. It was just too funny. The look on Lucy’s face was priceless.

Of course Jody’s outburst of laughing was also a way to get rid of the tension. The sense of relief had left her giddy and her mother’s remark towards Lucy had just been what she needed to get a good laugh and get rid of some of the tension that had been building up inside since the previous night.
It took her a few minutes, but eventually Lucy regained her composure and her own sense of humor kicked back in.

“Well, mom, you are full of surprises,” she sighed. “Here I am trying to hide the fact that I have a love life and then you come around, saying things like that.”

“I am not blind, dear,” Joan calmly replied. “Love and sex are a part of life. I am just really grateful that you met Trishia. She is good for you. You seem happy.”

“Um… well… I am,” Lucy uncharacteristically stammered.

Joan smiled and stood up from her chair to walk to the kitchen counter.

“I’d better make some tea, I am sure the girls will need some.”

“You are right, mom,” Jody responded, winking at her sister. “I guess I will set the table. I don’t know about you, but I am hungry and a big breakfast sounds really great at the moment. How about eggs and crumpets?”

It had taken the small group not long to find their way through the dense forest. Silently Trishia lead the way, with Sam forming the rear. She had freed Kurt from his leash and the dog was having a great time chasing birds and lizards. His antics made the girls giggle and Yarra had given in and played Kurt’s favorite game: fetch. She threw a stick as far as the shrubs and trees would allow and every time the Shepard returned the object within a matter of seconds.

Yarra loved animals and her biggest dream was to, one day, become a veterinarian. Her father, George Kirby was a descendent of Australia’s original inhabitants and he had instilled his children with love and respect for nature. From the moment they could walk, he used to take Yarra and her siblings on camping trips and taught them everything his own father had taught him and his brothers.

Her mother, Susan Kirby was a nurse at the local hospital and a woman who adored her husband and children. Together George and Susan had fought their share of battles against the discrimination and prejudice that was still a part of society. Her own parents had disowned Susan when she decided that George was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. It had left its scars, but both Susan and George were proud of what they had accomplished: a long, committed relationship, in which they had raised three children, who treated all people they encountered with respect and dignity.

As soon as the Kirby’s had learned they had new neighbors, the whole family had showed up to welcome Jody and Sam and from that first moment on, a strong friendship had started to develop.

To Sam and Jody it was no secret that the Kirby children roamed their property, but they did not mind. In fact, they welcomed it. The Kirby’s, who owned a large plot of land adjacent to their own property, showed respect for all creatures and on more than one occasion, Yarra had brought home a wounded animal to nurse it back to health again.

Yarra glanced over her shoulder and saw the scratches and cuts on Sam’s legs. Also she noticed the way Sam was limping, a painful expression on the tall blonde’s face every time she stepped onto an uneven surface.

“Are you okay, Sam?” she gently asked, feeling pity for her friendly neighbor.

“Never been better,” Sam grunted, not without a trace of humor. “But I’ll tell you, Yarra, I will be ecstatic after I will have had a shower, breakfast and some loving attention from my wife.”

Yarra chuckled and held back, until she and Sam were walking side by side.

“I am sorry, Sam,” she apologized with genuine regret. “I had no idea. I have sneaked up to Fi’s window before. It’s like a game for us. But if I had known there were… things going on, I would have used the front door.”

“We don’t have a front door,” Sam grumbled good-naturedly.

“Well, the kitchen door,” Yarra giggled with a mischievous sparkle in her dark brown eyes.

Sam smiled at the girl who was now walking alongside her and again appreciated the teenager’s beautiful features. One day Yarra Kirby would be a real head turner, of that she was convinced. The girl had just turned eighteen, but despite a two year age difference, she and Fiona were best friends. They were both exceptionally bright and together they were a force to be reckoned with. Especially when it came to getting themselves in trouble.

Sam could not help but notice the casual glances Yarra sent to Alice and inwardly she smiled when the dark girl looked like she was going to ask Sam a question.

“What?” Sam softly asked, making sure to keep her voice down.

“Um… ,” Yarra cleared her throat and stared at a point in the sky. “Well, I was just wondering… where does Alice come from? I mean, it’s obvious she’s no local. She seems kind of… frightened and lonely.”

“You have sharp eyes, CJ,” Sam complimented the girl, using the nickname Fiona had bestowed on her. “But I am afraid I can’t tell you much about it. Maybe you could ask her yourself, huh?”

“Well, I might do that,” Yarra mused, intrigued by sadness in the young blonde’s eyes.

“Good, she needs a few friends,’ Sam smiled, relieved to see the house appear on top of the hill. “Now, if I can only make this climb.”

“Here they come,” Lucy announced, staring out of the window. “I guess it’s safe to unlock the door now, huh?”

“Well, yeah,” Jody responded. “I want them all inside. I am starving and I can only imagine what Sam must feel like. Look at that limp and oh… .honey,” Jody sighed, seeing the scratches on the long legs.

When the small group had reached the veranda, the door flew open and before Fiona knew what happened, she was engulfed in a bear hug from her eldest sister.

“I am so glad you are alright, Fi,” Jody whispered in her ear. “We were so worried.”

“I am sorry, Jo,” Fiona mumbled in a subdued voice. “We… I didn’t know… I just didn’t want to wake up anyone and..”

“Shh, ” Jody shushed her. “You and Alice are here and you are safe. That is all that matters. Go inside and wash up, I bet you could use something to eat. We can all talk later.”

“Oh, yeah,” Fiona groaned, while the scent of freshly baked crumpets, bacon and eggs wafted from the kitchen door. “Food!!”

Jody smiled and pushed her youngest sister inside the door. She motioned Yarra to follow Fiona in and then found herself facing Alice. The teenager obviously did not know how to handle the situation. She could feel Jody’s eyes resting on her, but did not dare to look up. Until she heard that gentle voice.

“Alice?”

Alice swallowed and nervously moistened her dry lips. Her heart was beating fast and even though she knew Jody would never sent her away, the fear of rejection was impossible to suppress.

Slowly she lifted her head to look at the red haired woman and when she saw the honest compassion in those deep green eyes, she could feel her insecurities crumble.

“Are you alright?” Jody gently asked, reaching out a hand and brushing away a strand of long blond hair from Alice’s forehead.

Alice just nodded and swallowed again.

“I… We didn’t mean to worry anyone,” she mumbled off handedly.

“I know, “Jody answered, shooting a glance at Sam, who was standing behind Alice with an affectionate smile on her face. “You and Fiona didn’t know we had reasons to worry. We will tell you about that later, okay? Go inside and wash up a bit, we will have breakfast first. Unless you are not hungry,” Jody teased, remembering full well how Alice had devoured the food on her plate the previous evening.

A shy smile was the answer and the girl had disappeared inside the house, Jody stepped towards Sam and wrapped her arms around her tall partner. She lifted her face and captured Sam’s lips in a heartfelt kiss.

“Oh, baby, I am not complaining,” Sam sighed when they broke apart. “But may I remind you there are three impressionable teenagers inside, who are probably looking at us right now with bulging eyes.”

“I know Fiona couldn’t care less,” Jody answered, snuggling closer to Sam’s warm body. “Yarra will just love it and will take the opportunity to… learn at a distance.” Jody could feel Sam chuckle and she smiled. “And Alice… well, somehow I think Alice will not make a big deal out of it either.”

“Does that mean I can take you to our veranda love seat and make out?” Sam whispered in her ear.

“No, “Jody laughed, untangling herself from Sam’s arms. “At least, not now,” she added with a wink. “First we will have breakfast.”

“That’s a pity,’ Sam sighed, but there was a twinkle in her eyes. “But you are right, as usual. I sure need to eat, before I fall down.”

Breakfast was a quiet, but not unpleasant affair. The three girls cleaned off their plates in record time and when Sam made a teasing remark about that, Fiona replied by saying that she always worked up an appetite after a bushwalk and that watching wallabies was hard work.

When everybody was finished eating Trishia and Sam exchanged glances and the blonde nodded. The policewoman took that as a cue and cleared her throat. Immediately the tension rose and three pairs of eyes looked at Trishia with a mixture of curiosity, fear and anticipation.

“I think we owe you three an explanation,” Trishia started, feeling Lucy’s hand squeezing her knee in encouragement.

“Yes, you do,” Fiona bluntly answered, which earned her an annoyed look from Lucy. At the same time Yarra elbowed her friend in the side and gestured for her to be quiet. But Fiona was not easily discouraged.

“What is all this… stuff about a murderer? And is that why you and Lucy stayed at the guesthouse? I mean, it’s terrible, but it’s not the first murder around here, so why does everybody jump in protection mode all of a sudden?”

“I will tell you as much as I can, Fiona,” Trishia patiently started to explain. “But there might be a few things I can’t disclose, alright?”

Fiona nodded and cast a look at Jody and Sam, who were sitting close together with a very serious expression on their faces.

“Is dad running rampant?” Fiona joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Yarra, who was just sipping her tea, almost snorted out the liquid and started coughing. Fiona helpfully patted her on the back, not able to hide the twinkle in her dark green eyes.

“Fiona McDonnell,” Joan sighed, looking at her youngest daughter with tired eyes. “Would you please keep quiet and let Trishia talk? This situation is not something to joke about.”

“Sorry,” Fiona mumbled, casting down her eyes and all of a sudden feeling like a little girl.

Trishia looked at the bent head across from her and bit back a smile. She was still amazed at the similarities between her lover and Fiona. Two peas out of the same pod. Or pot, as Fiona always said.

“Okay, here is what’s going on,” Trishia started. “Last night, on my way home, I was called to the scene of a crime. Yarra told me it has been on the news already this morning, so I can safely tell you a young girl, probably around seventeen years of age, had been found stabbed to death on the beach in front of the Ocean View Gardens.”

Trishia sighed deeply and took a sip of her coffee. She was well aware of the tension in the kitchen and of all the eyes that were glued to her face.

“Her identity is still not known and we believe she could have been a homeless girl.”

“We have nothing to worry about then, so I guess you are keeping an eye on Alice,” Fiona blurted out, but as soon as the words had left her mouth, she wished she could take them back. Again an elbow collided with her ribs and when she looked at Alice, she could see the girl was extremely pale, her blue eyes dark in her normally tanned face.

“Fiona, for once in your life, shut up!” Lucy snapped.

Trishia closed her eyes for a brief moment and gathered her thoughts. She was afraid that Fiona’s sharp mind and tongue would make it hard not to tell the girls all the information she had. And deep down inside she really did not want to do that. Alice was very vulnerable already. The skittish teenager could very well run away if she found out somebody with bad intentions was trying to find and harm her.

“I am sorry, Alice,” Trishia could hear Fiona apologize. “I did not mean to be rude, I am really sorry.”

Alice slowly nodded and swallowed the lump in her throat. She liked Fiona and appreciated the girl’s honesty and sense of humor. But her words had hurt her deeply. Not because they were not true, because Alice knew she fitted into the ‘homeless’ or ‘runaway’s” category, but Fiona’s words had brought her down to reality with a big thump. After all the kindness and warmth she had experienced while being on Murrook Farm, she knew there would be a day she would be on her own again. And she was not sure whether she would be able to cope with that, not after her new friends had made her feel again.

Jody saw the emotions on Alice’s face and, empathetic as she was, she could almost feel the pain radiating from the slender form. She cast a look at Sam and when her partner sent her a warm, encouraging smile, Jody knew she had her support. She scooted closer to Alice and gently put a hand on one of the slumped shoulders.

“I promise you, Alice, if you decide you like this place, you are welcome to stay as long as you would like. As far as Sam and I are concerned, you are no longer homeless,” she softly spoke, feeling the girl’s body tense for a moment and then relax.

Alice let Jody’s words sink in and again she was startled by the warmth the small woman was able to instill in her. It was something unknown to Alice, but her soul welcomed it, because it tentatively soothed many of the painful scars on Alice’s heart. Secretly she basked in the affection that Jody seemed so eager to share.

Alice had roamed the streets for longer than she cared to remember. She had slept in sheds, parks, abandoned railway cars and many other places that were dark, cold, lonely and often dangerous. She had gone days without a decent meal and had bravely withstood the mockery from others. All that time, she had hardly shed a tear.

But from the moment she had arrived on Murrook Farm, something had changed and the blonde teenager had not figured out yet what it was that had so quickly crawled under her skin. But Jody had the power to make her cry with just a few kind words, or friendly gesture.

Again Alice could feel the tears burn and she did not dare to raise her head, afraid the others would see her weakness. So she simply nodded and her body involuntarily leaned a little closer to the red haired woman next to her.

“I’ll think about it,” she whispered, while her heart screamed ‘Yes!”.

“Fair enough,” Jody smiled, shooting Sam a loving glance. “Shall we let Trishia finally talk? Fi?”

Fiona felt a blush creep up her cheeks and she desperately tried to avoid Jody’s eyes. She knew there would be no anger in them and that was exactly what made her feel guiltier. At least Lucy or Sam would be angry and show it, but the way her eldest sister and mother dealt with her stupidities was far worse. They usually looked at her with a mixture of sadness, hurt and disappointment and always made Fiona feel like the worst daughter and sister in the universe. Not that she would ever admit that though.

“I will be as quiet as a mouse,” she promised with a sigh, finally looking up to see the affection in a pair of eyes that were just a few shades lighter than her own.

She answered the smile that was sent her way and cast a look at the tall policewoman who had been patiently waiting and was glancing at her with a long-suffering look.

“Sorry,” Fiona mouthed, feeling bad for having to apologize so many times during the last few minutes.

“As I was saying,” Trishia dryly continued. “The girl that was found last night is probably homeless. We came to that conclusion because… ” Trishia paused and hesitated for a moment. But then she decided that, at the moment honesty seemed to be the best policy and after taking another deep breath, she finished her sentence.”… because there have been two similar murders in the last two years and both girls were runaway teenagers.”

Yarra, who had been listening to the news that morning, had not heard about the other victims yet and her intelligent eyes met Trishia’s, who looked at her and nodded.

“If… the other girls were homeless as well, does… does… the murderer prey on them?” she hesitantly asked, casting a worried look at Alice. “It sounds like he… chooses them.”

“We don’t know yet,” Trishia truthfully answered. “But you might have a point, Yarra. Maybe he does.”

Alice nervously licked her lips and she remembered all the girls she had encountered during her years on the streets. She always moved from place to place, never staying around long and that had always prevented her from getting too close to other people. She had never made any friends, but she did remember a few girls, older than she was who had been kind to her and had selflessly shared their food or sleeping place. She hoped they would be alright.

“Were those murders committed around here as well?” Fiona asked with wide eyes, apparently forgetting that she had promised to be quiet. But her question was a valid one and again Trishia hesitated.

“No,” she finally answered. “They were not committed around here.”

Looking into the curious faces of Fiona and Yarra, Trishia felt she needed to give them a little bit more information.

“Sydney and Perth,” she simply stated, deciding that was as much as she would give away.

She had not anticipated a reaction from Alice. The blonde teenager almost jumped out of her chair and clenched her hands into fists. Her eyes stared at a place in the distance and everybody could plainly see the horror in those clear blue depths. She was sitting completely still now. The only movement was the irregular heaving of her chest, caused by her labored breathing and the visible pulse point in her neck, which indicated her heart was racing.

The tanned skin of her face had lost all its color and the girl looked sickly pale. Perspiration formed small drops on her forehead and upper lip and it was like Alice was suffering from a bad fever, especially when she started shivering, which made Fiona jump up and yell at her sisters to do something.

Jody, who was still sitting close to the girl, carefully wrapped an arm around the trembling body, immediately feeling the tense muscles and clammy skin.

Without turning she knew Sam had also jumped up and was standing right behind her.

“Honey, could you please get a quilt or blanket?” she asked in a tense voice, immediately feeling Sam’s warmth disappear from her back. Running footsteps indicated that her partner was already on her way to the bedroom.

“What is happening, Trish?” Fiona almost cried.

“She is in a shock,” Yarra answered, pushing back her chair and quickly walking towards Alice where she knelt down beside her, her fingers feeling the irregular pulse in Alice’s wrist. “If possible we should get her to the couch and put her feet up.”

Trishia was already on her feet and quickly scooped up Alice into her strong arms, cradling the girl close to her chest like she was a baby. With a few strides of her long legs she walked into the living room, carefully lowering the girl down on the coach. She took the blanket from the startled Sam and covered the still trembling body, while Yarra had collected a few pillows and was busy stuffing them underneath Alice’s legs, so they would be elevated.

“I will call Lisa,” Trishia announced, pulling her cell phone from her pocket and walking back to the kitchen.

“Who is Lisa?” Joan asked with a shaky voice, while her eyes never left Alice.

“A psychiatrist,” Lucy answered in a subdued voice. “Who also happens to be Trishia’s ex.”
part 10
After a short conversation on her cell phone, Trishia walked back into the living room and motioned Jody to follow her.

The smaller woman obediently stood up from her kneeling position next to Alice and sent Sam a questioning look, wordlessly asking her partner to keep an eye on the distressed teenager. Sam nodded and lovingly caressed Jody’s cheek when she walked past her, towards the kitchen area.

Trishia was standing in front of the door, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her shorts and was staring at the peaceful scene the property provided. The quiet beauty helped her to somewhat organise her thoughts. When she heard a soft sound behind her, she looked around and smiled when she saw Jody sit down in one of the kitchen chairs.

“There’s a psychiatrist on the way,” Trishia explained. “It’s not one who is associated with the police station, but…” she paused and shrugged her shoulders in a silent apology. “Lisa is good at what she does and she has a lot of experience with kids, especially…abused ones. Um…we…Lisa and I, we …um…we have a long history together.”

Jody nodded in understanding and her kind eyes took in the tall woman in front of her. Trishia looked tired and pale, with dark circles underneath her eyes. Her face reflected the responsibility she bore and Jody could almost feel the woman’s anxiety.

“Come, sit down, Trish,” she invited, gesturing at a chair. “You look dead on your feet.”

The tall woman obliged and gratefully accepted another cup of coffee that Jody poured into her cup.

“What is going to happen now, Trish? They are not going to take Alice to some psych ward at the hospital, are they?”

“I don’t know, Jody,” Trishia sighed. “I feel like this is going way over my head. I have dealt with traumatized kids before, but not like this. Alice just scared the daylights out of me.”

Trishia rubbed her tired eyes and for a moment allowed herself to feel the fatigue. Her body felt very heavy and the muscles in her legs still ached from climbing the hill. A headache had started and the dull, continuous throbbing behind her eyes prevented her from thinking clearly.

“Lisa is on her way up,” Trishia continued. “She will assess the situation and give us some advice…or just tell us what to do,” the policewoman wryly added.Ý “Like I said, she has a lot of experience in this field and I know she is not keen on sending people to the hospital, but you need to understand that Alice is in a bad place right now. The mentioning of Sydney or Perth must have triggered some kind of memory.”

“I guess so,” Jody softly admitted.

“Before Lisa arrives here, I need to know what happened yesterday, Jody. You and Alice talked, after she had that nightmare. The information could be important for the case and it’s vital for Alice’s well being.”

“I know,” Jody answered with a sigh. “Alright, this is what she told me…”

In her characteristically soft spoken way, Jody related the events of the previous evening. She clearly remembered every detail and made sure to tell Trishia each and every one of them. The policewoman listened intently and now and then she scribbled down some notes. She never once interrupted Jody, but let the woman continue her story.

The part of Alice’s nightmare where the hands had tried to choke her and when the girl afterwards had realized that somebody really had tried to kill her, were difficult and a few times Jody stopped speaking to clear her throat, or swallow away a lump that made her voice sound hoarse.

Trishia’s eyes were gentle and full of sympathy for the smaller woman. From experience she knew that listening to traumatic events from another person, could have a huge impact. Especially if it was someone you cared about.

“Do I understand correctly that, in her dreams anyway, there is a fire?” Trishia asked in a soft voice, after Jody had finished her story and had wiped away a tear that had slowly slid down her cheek.

“Yes. Alice told me she could feel the heat of the flames and smell the soot,” Jody answered. She bit her lip and a deep frown creased her forehead.

“Trish, do you…think it’s possible that,” Jody swallowed hard. “This…if these images are no imagination, but real memories…do you think that..?”

“Alice knows the murderer of those girls on the beach?” Trishia finished Jody’s sentence with a grim expression on her face. “And he might be after her, because she can identify him?”

Trishia’s eyes locked with Jody’s and the smaller woman could clearly see the silent answer.

“Oh, my God, Trishia, poor Alice,” Jody whispered.

Hardly twenty minutes had passed since Trishia had called the psychiatrist, when a light blue Toyota Highlander appeared on the driveway, kicking up dust and gravel when it came to sudden stop.

“She has always been a lousy driver,” Trishia explained with a hint of amusement in her voice, after which she opened the screened door and stepped out on the veranda to greet the psychiatrist.

Lucy, who had walked into the kitchen when she had heard the car pull up looked outside the window with a growing feeling of trepidation. Trishia had always been honest with her and she knew her tall lover and the psychiatrist had known each other for the better part of their lives. Their friendship as teenagers had developed into a more intimate one when they had reached adulthood and for more than six years they had lived together. Their break up had been consensual and they had tried to remain friends, much like Jody and Megan had been doing, although Trishia and Lisa did not see each other often.Ý In fact, this would be the first time Lucy would meet the psychiatrist.

Lucy knew that Trishia loved her and the relationship they shared was very important to the policewoman, but now a large part of Trishia’s past was about to exit her car and walk into their lives and that knowledge filled her with a sense of insecurity.

Seeing a tall, beautiful, auburn haired woman get out of the car and warmly hug her girlfriend, did not help to ease her mind. The nasty tentacles of jealousy suddenly touched her heart and Lucy had to swallow hard when she witnessed the obvious affection Trishia and her ex-lover still shared.

Jody sensed her sister’s distress and gave Lucy a quick, one armed hug.

“You should see the way Trishia looks at you, when she thinks nobody is looking, Luce. She worships the ground you walk on,” Jody stated.

“She’d better,” Lucy grumbled, which made Jody smile.

“Believe me, sis, she does,” Jody assured her, before she opened the door to let in their guest.

Trishia and Lisa stepped inside and when Jody extended her hand to introduce herself to the psychiatrist, it was caught in a firm, but pleasant grip. A pair of intelligent grey eyes looked at her with genuine warmth and kindness and Jody could not help smiling.

“Lisa Bailey,” the psychiatrist introduced herself.

“Jody McDonnell,” Jody answered. “It’s nice to meet you, Lisa and thanks for coming over so quickly.”

A smile that put dimples in the taller woman’s cheeks was her answer and Lisa’s eyes travelled to Lucy, who was standing a few steps behind Jody, quietly observing the scene in front of her.

“You must be Lucy,” Lisa said, stepping closer and extending her hand. “Trishia has told me about you and I have been looking forward to meeting you.”

The room was small, nothing more like a closet really. An enclosure of sturdy walls that were closing in more and more after each breath she took. And it was dark. The inky blackness was draped around her like a suffocating haze, while the absolute silence relentlessly pounded in her ears. Each heartbeat emphasized the eerie stillness.

The intense fear had gripped her soul, like a cold hand, slowly but surely squeezing the life out of it. The air became stale and thick and she had to work hard to bring oxygen into her deprived lungs. Her eyes were wide with fear and she could feel the drops of perspiration slowly coat her clammy skin.

She wanted to lift up her arms and use the stiff fingers of her hands to feel around for something, anything that could help her to escape the entrapment, but she could not move. It was like the fear had paralysed her body, leaving her limp and helpless. Vulnerable to the predators in her mind, who were already lurking beneath the surface, while their sharp nails of terror painfully clawed at her heart. She could feel their shadowy presence steadily approaching and she wanted to scream out in pain and horror, but when she opened her mouth, not even a single sound escaped. The only thing that remained was the silence, which only allowed for the beating of her heart.

It had seemed a lost battle from the beginning and slowly but surely, thoughts of closing her eyes for the last time came into mind. How welcome the ceasing of the pain would be. It would take her to a state of peace and tranquillity, where shredded emotions and fragmented memories would be forgotten for eternity. Where horrendous images would no longer flash up in her mind like the lightning of an electrical storm.Ý

Her eyes widened when unexpectedly a soft, glowing light split the darkness and came into her line of sight. It was a soft yellow, with clear, blue sparks, like fragments of ice. The light quickly grew in size, until her whole prison was illuminated by its clarity and with growing trepidation she saw the outline of a woman. And when her eyes had adjusted to the brightness, she noticed a smaller form, holding the woman’s hand, partly hidden behind her body, as if it was shy.

“Don’t give up, my precious,” a warm, familiar voice suddenly broke the silence, effectively silencing the drumming in her ears. “You are much needed and loved.”

Her lips moved but no sound came forth, still she could hear her own voice echo in her ears.

“Mom?”

“Yes, it’s me, baby. My precious and courageous daughter. Go back, my child. Please, go back.”

Tears were streaming down her face when she tried to reach out her hand and touch the vision in front her. But she could still not move.

“Mom!” she cried out again, her voice breaking. “Mom, take me with you! Please, take me with you.”

“Your time is not yet come, my darling. You need to go back. You are much needed and loved.”

A sob that seemed to come from the deepest part of her soul suddenly escaped and her body violently shook with silent crying.

“I miss you so much,” she cried, while her lips still refused to move. “I feel so lost.”

“I will always be with you. Go back, my precious… and live.”

Gradually the light pulled back and again she tried to reach out, this time to stop the brightness from leaving her confined space. But she was powerless and could do nothing to stop the darkness from emerging again.

“Mom!” she desperately cried out again. “Mom! Don’t leave me, please, don’t leave me.”

“Be strong,” the feint echo of a voice resonated in her ears. “Have courage and live, my precious and never forget who you are, Victoria Alice …” the last words were no more than a fading whisper.

“Nooooo!!” she cried out when the last rays of light disappeared, leaving her behind with an ache, so profound, that even breathing in was hurting her in a physical way.

Frantically her eyes searched her immediate surrounding and tantalizing slow, she noticed that her dark confinement had disappeared. The light had returned and with a look of wonder, she noticed a ray of sunlight peeking through a window.

Gradually she became aware of where she was and slowly she turned to the direction of a sound that suspiciously sounded like sniffing.

Blinking against the light, her eyes were caught by a pair of dark ones that were moist with unshed tears. The look of sheer happiness when their eyes met touched Alice deeply.

“My name is Victoria Alice Wilson,” she whispered, blindly reaching out until her hand touched warm skin and her fingers wrapped around a strong hand.

With her free hand, Yarra wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and cast a look at the two women who had just entered the room.

Jody and Lisa had heard Alice’s desperate cry and had come running into the room, finding Yarra close to Alice’s side, softly whispering words of comfort. Then the blond teenager had regained consciousness and when her dazed blue eyes had slowly become more focussed, Jody had to wipe away her own tears that were steadily streaming down her cheeks.

“My name is Victoria Alice Wilson,” Alice repeated with a look of quiet wonder, extending her free hand to Jody. “I remember, Jody, I remember my name.”

“Oh, honey,” Jody sobbed, grabbing the hand and kneeling down next to the girl.

The tears of the woman she had rapidly come to love did Alice in. She let out a shaky breath and finally the restrictive band around her emotions snapped. Her slender body shuddered and the almost animal howl which heralded her grief tore through the hearts of everybody who was present in the house. For the first time in years, Victoria Alice Wilson allowed herself the grief she had been pushing away for too long.

She could feel a pair of strong arms gathering her close and without being afraid of what other people might think, she buried her face against Jody’s shoulder and cried, while her hand was still clutching on to Yarra’s for dear life. The older girl did not dare to let go and had no desire to even do so. She just sat there in an uncomfortable position, sending a silent thanksgiving to the power that had created the universe, for not giving up on her new friend.

Lisa sank down in a chair and with a professional, clinical distance, but with keen interest observed the scene in front of her. She had been worried when Trishia had called her, not really knowing what she would expect upon arrival. But the sight of Alice, who had been strong enough to climb out of the pit a sudden, shocking memory had thrown her in, filled her with hope of promising possibilities.

It took a long time for Alice to finally stop crying and when she did, her eyes were red and puffy, her nose was completely stopped up and her throat felt raw and tender. But she had not felt so light in years. The grief was still present. It manifested itself as a dull, throbbing ache in the pit of her stomach, but the anxiety and tension that had held her in their clutches for such a long time, somehow seemed less heavy.

When she raised her head to look at Jody, she squinted against the light and quickly closed her eyes.

“Do you have a headache?” Jody gently asked, still rubbing the teenagers back.

Alice could only nod, but before she could even utter a word, a voice sounded from the kitchen area.

“I’ll get some aspirin and a glass of water.”

“Thanks, Fi,” Jody called out, seeing the expression on Alice’s face change to embarrassment. Nervously the girl cast down her eyes, while a faint blush colored her still pale features.

“Oh, God, I completely lost it,” she breathed, only audible for Jody and Yarra.

“Seems like you were long over due,” Jody softly remarked. “Don’t worry about it…” and with a smile “Victoria Alice Wilson.”

“We were so worried about you, Alice,” Yarra explained, pleasantly surprised that Alice was still holding on to her hand. “I am glad you…woke up from that.”

“Me too,” Alice whispered, shooting Yarra a shy glance.

From the corner of her eye she noticed a third person in the room and with a mixture between a scowl and a frown, Alice cast Jody a questioning look.

“That is Lisa Bailey,” Jody introduced the psychiatrist, who took her cue and gracefully rose from the chair. “She is here to talk to you.”

“A shrink…what we discussed last night?” Alice asked, remembering the promise she had made Trishia to at least have one talk with a counsellor. “Is…is she a doctor?”

“As a matter of fact I am, Alice,” Lisa answered with a pleasant smile. “But I am not all that hung up about titles, so I’d like you to call me Lisa.”

“I am Alice Wilson,” the teenager replied with a hint of pride in her voice.

“It’s nice to meet you, Alice,” Lisa answered, setting herself on the arm of the couch, furthest away from Alice. “The circumstances aren’t all that wonderful, but I am here to talk to you about that.”

“Trishia said I only have to do that once,” Alice murmured in a tired and defiant tone.

“I guess that’s fair enough,” Lisa responded. “We will have a talk and when you decide you don’t want to see me anymore, I will accept that. Can you live with that arrangement?”

“I guess,” Alice said, shrugging her shoulders.

“Take your aspirin and water,” Lisa encouraged, when she saw Fiona enter the room. “I will have a cup of coffee in the kitchen and when you are ready, we will sit down somewhere and have that talk. Alright?”

“Okay,” Alice reluctantly agreed, gratefully accepting a big glass of cold water and two white tablets from a worried looking Fiona.

“We’ll be in the kitchen, Alice,” Jody said, pushing a strand of damp hair behind Alice’s ear. “Take your time, okay? There is no need to hurry.”

Alice nodded and sent Jody a look of gratitude, which was answered with a warm smile.

Fiona took her sister’s place on the edge of the couch and awkwardly patted Alice’s knee.

“Are you …feeling better now?” she hesitantly asked. “You scared the wits out of me.”

For a moment Alice closed her eyes and the words of her mother echoed in her mind. You are much needed and loved. A small smile found its way to her face and when she opened her eyes, she slowly nodded.

“I feel better now,” she admitted. “But I do feel like an idiot as well. I mean,” she bit the inside of her lip and frowned. “I know I am pretty screwed up,” she admitted with brutally honest insight. “But…usually I manage to keep it all together.”

“Did you remember anything?” Fiona carefully asked, afraid to trigger any more bad memories now she had witnessed what they had done to her friend’s state of mind.

“I remember my name,” Alice answered.

She cast a look at the serious expression on Fiona’s face and let her eyes travel to Yarra, whose hand she was still holding. She stared at their interlaced fingers and wondered if she should let go and what her new friend would be thinking about her for holding on to her like that. But the soft glance in those dark eyes gave her all the reassurance she needed and when Yarra gave her hand a friendly squeeze, Alice involuntarily let out a small sigh of contentment. It also gave her the courage to speak the next words.

“I saw my mother,” she whispered.

There was no immediate reaction from her friends. Fiona looked at her with unveiled curiosity and genuine interest, while Yarra’s smile had broadened and the grip around her fingers tightened.

“I…there was place I was trapped in and it was so…dark and quiet and I couldn’t see or hear anything,” she related with a shudder. “I thought I was going to die, because I could hardly breathe and in the end I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to give up, but then I saw her. I mean, it was all light and I couldn’t see her face or anything, but I knew it was her. I recognized her voice. She talked to me and told me to go back and have courage and to never forget who I am. I wanted to come with her, but she told me to go back.”

Alice swallowed hard and took a deep breath, not aware of the tears that were rolling down her cheeks.

“Do you think I just dreamed that?” she asked in a whispering voice. “It looked so real.”

“I think it was real,” Yarra answered with confidence and Fiona nodded. “I was here sitting next to you and for a few moments I thought you would stop breathing. But you didn’t.”

“No,” Fiona added in a voice filled with awe. “You came back to us.”

“So, you don’t think…I am completely crazy, or anything?” Alice asked feeling her insecurities coming back full force.

“My grandfather claimed he could contact the spirits. He said he performed rituals to ask them to fertilize the land and according to him, they did,” Yarra seriously answered. “And my dad and brothers sometimes go walkabout just to meditate and become one with nature. There’s a lot out there we don’t understand. But I do believe your mother saved your life today, Alice. There’s nothing crazy about that.”

“No, it’s pretty special actually,” Fiona agreed.

In the adjacent kitchen, the adults were silently drinking their coffee. They did not mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help being fascinated by the conversation that was taking place between the three teenagers.

When Joan heard Fiona’s encouraging and accepting remarks, she could not help smiling. In spite of the difficulties her daughters had encountered during their youth, being raised by a religiously fanatic, narrow minded father, they had all turned out to be women with a broad outlook on the world, accepting and respecting the differences in all people.

“Those two are really special,” Trishia smiled, putting her arm around Lucy’s chair and absent mindedly playing with the long, dark hair.

“All three are,” Sam gently corrected her friend, unconsciously mimicking Trishia’s actions and wrapping her arm around Jody’s shoulders.

“Have they known each other long?” Lisa curiously asked.

“Fiona and Yarra have been friends for years,” Joan responded. “But Fi and Alice have only met yesterday and Yarra and Alice had not seen each other ever before this morning.”

“That is amazing,” Lisa exclaimed. “When I saw them in there, I would have sworn they had all been friends for quite a while. There must be a very strong pull between the three of them.”

“So, what is your first impression about Alice, Lisa?” Trishia curiously asked.

The policewoman cared for Alice as well, just like the rest of them, but in the back of her mind there was this constant nagging need for more information. The more they had to go on, the sooner they might be able to get a lead on the murderer, before he could strike again.

“You know I can’t tell you much yet, Trish,” Lisa smiled, knowing full well the impatient look on her ex-lover’s face. “I need to talk to her first, but from what you have told me and from what I just have seen, my guess would be PTSD.”

“Which is…?” Sam asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Nightmares and flashbacks are characteristic for PTSD and memory loss is not uncommon. But I really need to talk to Alice first. Of course you know there is also the matter of patient confidentiality,” she warned, casting Trishia a stern look. “I can only tell you what Alice allows me to tell you.”

“I know,” Trishia sighed. “But the girl is gradually opening up, so hopefully she will come up with something we can work with. I have a killer to catch, Lisa and no time to lose.”

After the pounding in her head had somewhat subsided, Alice had finally gotten up from her comfortable position on the coach, impatient to get the talk with the psychiatrist over and done with. She was still very reluctant to talk to a stranger about herself, but the encouraging pat on her shoulder from Fiona and the warm, reassuring smile from Yarra gave her the courage to walk into the kitchen and grumble she was ready for her talk.

Lisa had given Alice the choice as to where she would feel most comfortable and the girl had picked the bedroom. There was a comfortable chair in there for Lisa and Alice knew she could sit on the bed, close to the door. If things would get too much, she wanted a way to escape.

“We might be a short while, or really long,” Lisa warned Jody when she followed Alice out of the kitchen. “It all depends on how things go.”

“Nobody will disturb you,” Jody promised.

“Thanks,” Lisa smiled. “It is possible I will need your help, so, stick around, okay?”

“My help?” Jody echoed with a frown.

“She trusts you,” Lisa started to explain. “I will do my best to avoid it, but if she collapses again, I will need you in there.”

“I’ll be around,” Jody promised.

“Thanks.”

When Lisa disappeared in the hallway, she left a quiet group of women behind. They all felt for Alice and each and every one of them hoped the psychiatrist would be able to help her. They had seen Alice’s reluctance about having to talk to her and they hoped the teenager would open up enough to take that first step on the long road of healing.

“She…um…she is pretty nice,” Lucy admitted, while stacking a few plates and carrying them to the dishwasher.

“Yeah, she sure is and beautiful too,” Fiona innocently added, which made the others wince and cast sympathetic looks in Lucy’s direction.

Lucy’s shoulders stiffened, but she quickly regained control and she had to agree with her sister; Lisa Bailey was not the person she had hoped she would be. She was a kind, beautiful woman who was very hard to resent and not the cold-hearted, distant, obnoxious woman Lucy had secretly hoped she would be. Darn!

A pair of strong arms suddenly slipped around from behind her and she could feel Trishia pull her into a warm hug. A pair of familiar lips kissed her cheek and a soft voice rumbled in her ear.

“She is, but I love you.”

That simple statement filled Lucy with warmth and the reassurance it brought flushed out all feelings of insecurity and jealousy. She put down the plates and turned around in Trishia’s arms to be able to look into her face. Her dark green eyes sparkled and shone with quiet happiness.

“I love you,” she whispered, lightly kissing Trishia’s lips.

“Stop the mushy stuff,” Fiona’s teasing voice interrupted. “Besides, you haven’t told us everything yet, Trishia. Don’t think we forgot.”

Trishia bit back a grin and winked at the woman in her arms, before she slowly released her and turned back around to look at the dark haired teenager.

“I think I did,” she objected. “I told you most of what I know.”

“No you didn’t,” Fiona disagreed. “You only told us about that girl that was murdered yesterday and that two other girls had been killed in Sydney and Perth. Where does Alice come in? And us?” she asked, pointing at herself and Yarra. “You and Sam came down to the creek like the cavalry this morning and don’t think I didn’t see that gun of yours. You looked ready to use it.”

Trishia knew it had been idle hope to think she would have been able to slip anything past Fiona’s sharp mind and she cast an insecure look at Sam, who looked up with a serious expression in her clear blue eyes. The two women had a brief, wordless conversation and when Sam raised an eyebrow and, almost imperceptibly shrugged her shoulders, Trishia let out a deep sigh and hung her head in defeat.

“What I am about to tell you, will not leave this room,” she said, casting a stern look at Fiona and Yarra, who simultaneously nodded. “The only reason I will tell you this, is because of your own safety and that of Alice. Am I making myself clear?”

Again the girls nodded and Trishia could see the tension on their faces. Her words had made an impression and she just hoped that she was not making a mistake.

A warm hand slipped inside her larger one and she could feel Lucy leaning her head against her shoulder, providing silent support, which was much needed and very welcome.

“We have every reason to believe that Alice is in danger, because on all three occasions a…piece of evidence was found near the body, which pointed to Alice. All three victims were young teenage girls, with long blond hair and blue eyes.”

“What kind of evidence?” Fiona asked in a whisper while clenching her hands into fist.

“A photograph of Alice.”

The silence after those words was almost deafening and Trishia studied the faces of the girls to see how much impact her words were having.Ý Yarra sat across the table from Trishia, staring at the policewoman with eyes that were wide with shock and grief, while Fiona stared at a point on the table. Her face was pale, making the freckles stand out vividly and her lips were pursed. After a while she let out a shuddering breath and slowly raised her head to cast a look at her sister’s lover.

“Son of a bitch,’ she breathed. “I can hardly believe it. Why would anyone want to hurt Alice?”

“That is what we are trying to find out, Fiona,” Trishia gently answered. “We think Alice has been through something that has been so traumatic, she lost her memory. What, we don’t know, but we do have a few ideas. Of course, I cannot disclose them.”

“I understand,” Fiona mumbled. “Damn! Now I know why all of you were so frantic this morning. You thought we both had been kidnapped and killed, didn’t you?”

Jody cast a look at her mother and saw the anxiety on her face. Fiona had a way with words and had just bluntly, but accurately put her finger on a very tender spot.

“That possibility did cross our minds, yes,” Sam calmly answered.

“I am sorry, Sam,” Yarra apologized. “I had no idea. If I had known, I wouldn’t have sneaked up to the house, but…”

“Don’t worry about it, Yarra,” Jody interrupted. “We know that it’s a game between you and Fiona. This morning it…well, let’s just say the timing was a bit off.”

“So, what are we going to do now?” Fiona asked. “We need to catch that idiot.”

“You will be doing nothing, young lady,” Joan scolded. “All you will be doing is to listen to Trishia and do as you are told. Let the police do the catching, alright?”

“Yes, Fi, this is not an episode of Charlie’s Angels, you know,” Yarra sighed. “This is for real.”

Peter Jones’ hope that a few hours of sleep would be refreshing enough to get him through the day had not been idle. True, he was still tired, but at least the undisturbed rest had helped him to regain some energy and he felt like he was able to think again.

After a quick breakfast and a cup of homemade coffee he had kissed his wife Angela and his two baby boys and headed back to the police station again. Softly whistling a tune he had steered his car through the many obstacles in traffic and when he had reached his destination, he had parked his car in the shade of a big tree, happy to know that it would not be turned into a big, motorized oven by the time he would have to use the vehicle again.

The first thing he did after entering the building was walk up to the front desk and checking if any messages had come in for him. Nothing had and with a frown he cast a look at his watch. It was almost ten thirty in the morning and he had expected to hear from Trishia by now. Her car was not in the parking lot and Peter hoped she had not run into any trouble.

He quickly climbed the steps to the first floor and absentmindedly waved at a few fellow officers who cheerfully greeted him.

He sank down at his desk and stared at the phone, debating with himself if he should call his partner or just drive up to Sam and Jody’s place. He decided against that last option, afraid that Trishia could be on her way in and they would miss each other. Maybe he should give her a little longer. It was Saturday and Lucy would be off, so maybe she was enjoying a bit of a sleep in.

“I’ll just go through my notes again,” Peter mumbled to himself. “Maybe I missed something.”

He pulled out a little key and used it to unlock the drawer. He pulled it open and automatically reached inside to take out the envelope he had put in there only a few hours ago. When his fingers touched something cold and unfamiliar, he immediately withdrew and in a first reaction pushed back his chair and jumped up.

When he cautiously opened the drawer all the way, his eyes went wide with shock and he could feel the blood drain from his face, while the bile rose in the back of his throat.

The envelope with the faxes and his notes had disappeared. It had been replaced by something that made him feel cold inside and sent shivers down his spine.

Inside the drawer was a doll with blond hair. She was lying on her back, her lifeless blue eyes staring directly at him. A small pocketknife was embedded in the plastic chest, securely pinning down the already familiar picture of Alice.

Continued in part 11

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s