Murrook Farm part 2 by Lois Kay

part 11

The phone call came when Trishia was outside on the veranda. She was sitting on the top of the steps, her long legs stretched out in front of her, while she was leaning her head against the side of the railing. Her eyes were closed and she was trying to empty her mind and enjoy the soft breeze and the morning sun kissing her skin.

Inside she could hear soft voices coming from the kitchen, where Jody and Sam were cleaning up the remnants of their breakfast and Lucy and her mother were talking in subdued voices. Fiona was outside, in front of the house, playing with Kurt, who thoroughly loved the attention and happily bounced around the grassy area to fetch the stick that she kept throwing away. Now and then an enthusiastic high pitched bark pierced the silence, making the policewoman smile in response.

Lisa and Alice had not yet returned from Alice’s bedroom and Trishia sincerely hoped that was a good sign. She knew the psychiatrist was famous for the way she could get young people to open up to her, but Alice would be a tough nut to crack. Although Trishia did realize that the events that had taken place that morning, might have given the introverted teenager a push in the right direction. She hoped she had not just imagined the look in Alice’s eyes that had been more relaxed and less guarded. Maybe the McDonnell clan had already worked their magic and made Alice feel safer and more at ease than she had been in a long time.

A soft buzzing from her cell phone startled Trishia from her musings and her eyes shot open. She pulled the small device from the waistband of her shorts and brought it to her ear.

“Peter,” she spoke, having recognized his phone number on the display. “What’s up?”

“Hey, Trish,” Peter’s voice sounded in her ear, the tone of it immediately ringing alarm bells in the back of her mind.

“What’s wrong?” she breathed, not able to hide the tension in her voice. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she was filled with a mixture of hope and fear.

“Something you wouldn’t have dreamed off,” Peter sighed. “There was a nasty surprise here waiting for me when I got back to the office. I think you should come over and check it out.”

“Has there been…?” Trishia asked, swallowing hard. She was almost afraid to ask the question.

“No, there hasn’t been another murder, but my guess is the murderer did pay us a visit.”

“What?” Trishia almost cried out, making Fiona turn around and look at her with wide eyes.

“I locked away the faxes that were sent to me last night, plus my personal notes. I put them all in an envelope and stored them away in my desk drawer. Somehow I thought they would be safe there. Silly me,” Peter answered in a voice full of frustration and sarcasm.

“When I came in, about fifteen minutes ago, my envelope was gone and it was replaced by a doll, with a knife sticking out of her chest. Oh, and of course a picture of Alice attached to it.”

Trishia was grateful she was not standing up, because she didn’t know whether she could have remained in that position, after hearing Peter’s words. The expression of her face was one of pure shock and she frantically tried to regain her composure when she saw Fiona unhurriedly walk back to the house. Her eyes never leaving Trishia’s face.

“Is…what.?” Trishia uncharacteristically stammered.

“Forensic is already dusting, but I doubt they will find anything worthwhile,” Peter sighed. “But one can always hope, of course.”

“How long had you been away from the office?” Trishia asked, welcoming the fact that her brain was finally kicking back into gear.

“Not that long, Trish. I went home to have a nap, so I guess I have been away for no longer than four hours. I left around six and came back fifteen minutes ago. I am so pissed, Trish. How the hell did a stranger manage to walk into the office and pull this number on us?”

After Peter’s words there was a brief silence while both of them processed the words and its meaning. When Peter spoke again, it was just a whisper.

“Sweet Jesus, Trish, I feel like throwing up.”

“You are on your cell phone, right?

“Yeah, can’t get near my desk at the moment. Not with all those people buzzing around.”

“Go outside, Pete,” Trish ordered. “We need to talk in private.”

“I am already on my way,” Peter answered.

With a grim expression on her face, Trishia impatiently waited for Peter to leave the building and find someplace where they could talk without running the risk of being overheard. In the meantime, Fiona had reached the steps of the veranda and cast the policewoman a curious look. Trishia tried to smile and reached out her free hand to grab Fiona’s.

“Want to do something for me?” she asked as calm as possible, knowing the teenager would notice the tension in her voice anyway.

Fiona merely nodded and her face sported a deep frown.

“Would you please go inside and stay there? And call Kurt and have him stay here, on the veranda?”

A pair of dark green eyes, so incredibly similar to Lucy’s widened in surprise and Trishia noticed Fiona scanning her surroundings. There was an unspoken question on her face, when her gaze returned to Trishia.

“I don’t know, sweetie,” Trishia gently answered. “But I don’t want to take any risks, so…”

She gave Fiona’s hand a friendly squeeze before she released it and was pleased to see the teenager nod. A loud whistle pierced the air and immediately Kurt came running back to the house. It was a bummer his playmate had called him, because he had just found an interesting looking ants nest he wanted to investigate, but maybe she would give him a treat. Or even better, find another stick and play his favorite game.

Kurt’s ears slightly drooped when Fiona gave him the command to come up on the veranda and stay. He reluctantly obeyed and looked at the slender dark haired human with pleading eyes. But the next word pulled him out of his puppy behavior and the Sheperd’s ears perked up again, while his eyes immediately shone with keen interest.

“Guard, Kurt,” Fiona commanded, as she had watched Sam do on different training sessions with the dog.

She affectionately petted his massive head and answered the smile that Trishia sent her way.

“Thanks, Fi.”

“No worries,” Fiona answered with a sigh. “Shall I send Sam outside?”

“Yes, please, I need to talk to her.”

Trishia stood up from her seat on the steps and slowly walked away from the house. When she heard the kitchen door close behind Fiona, she returned to her conversation with Peter.

“Are you alone now?” she asked, unconsciously scanning the line of trees with her eyes.

“Yeah, mate,” Peter sighed. “I walked away from the building and there’s no one around. Damn, Trish, we are both thinking the same thing, aren’t we?”

“If that would be suspecting the murderer is someone with undisturbed access to the police station: yeah, we are thinking the same thing,” Trishia answered with controlled anger. “Damn, Peter, somebody is doing a number on us.”

“Do you think it could be a sick joke?” Peter hesitantly asked.

“No, I don’t believe that,” Trishia sighed. “I have got a bad feeling about this, Pete.”

“Me too,” Peter somberly answered. “I will check who was at the station during those hours I was away. I guess we can rule out delivery people, since it was too early, besides, they never come upstairs.”

“Did you notify the boss?” Trishia asked.

“Yes, I called her before I called you. She wasn’t happy and….oh, hell, she just pulled in the parking lot, Trish, she’s fuming. Think she will chew my ass?”

“Don’t worry, mate,” Trishia chuckled, in spite of the situation. “It’s not your fault. Listen Pete, make sure you get the tape from the surveillance camera and ask the boss if you can bring it over to me. I have a bad feeling about leaving this place and leaving Alice unprotected. We could have a look at the tape here, in peace, without possible suspects glancing over our shoulder, okay? And tell the boss I would appreciate some security around here as well, to keep an eye on the road. Oh and Pete, make sure …”

“You talk to her in private,” Peter interrupted. “Sure, Trish. Anything else on your shopping list?” he cynically asked.

“The mongrel we are looking for, preferably in shackles?” Trishia wryly replied.

She could hear Peter snicker and smiled. They had been through some tough times together and knew each other well. One thing they both appreciated about each other was their sense of humor. And though they did not always agree and even ended up in an occasional shouting match, their friendship was strong.

“Right, Senior Sergeant Waters.” Peter quipped. “I wish… Well, keep an eye on the girls and I will be there as soon as I can, with the tape I hope.”

“Watch your tail, Pete,” Trishia warned.

“I will, mate. Don’t worry.”

“I know,” Trishia smiled. “Let’s only use our cell phones from now on, okay?”

“Good idea. I’ll see you soon, partner.”

When Trishia clipped back the phone on her waistband and turned around, she saw Sam standing on the veranda. The tall blonde was leaning against the railing, seemingly relaxed, but Trishia could easily see the tension in her long frame. She motioned her friend to come closer and Sam purposefully strode up towards her, away from the house.

“What is up?” she asked, her blue eyes filled with worry. “He didn’t…?”

“No, he didn’t strike again,” Trishia was quick to reassure her. “Something happened at the station this morning. I don’t know if I should tell you all this, but I will anyway, because it…complicates things. Peter just called me and…”

In her usual calm way, Trishia explained to Sam what had happened and she could see the anger flare up in Sam’s eyes. She could not blame her friend. Trishia felt the same, but she could not permit herself the luxury to give in to that, because it would cloud her judgment. She needed to stay alert and sharp, since too many things depended on her.

“Now what?” Sam asked through gritted teeth.

“Peter will come over here, I asked for an unmarked patrol car, so the road up to the house will be watched. And if it’s up to me, I will have twenty four hour protection around your house. If it’s alright with you and Jody, I will go home, pick up some stuff and bunk in the guesthouse until this is all over.”

“Of course,” Sam immediately responded. “No problem at all, Trish.”

“I want one of our techs to come up here and secure the windows properly. The fact that Yarra had access to Fiona’s bedroom bugs me, Sam. I don’t want any nasty surprises. I am sorry we have to do this, because it will probably add to the stress everybody is already under, but it is the best thing to do.”

“I can do that myself,” Sam replied. “Until proven otherwise, from now on, outside my friends and family, I will only trust you, Peter and Carol Wong. I will pick up stuff in town and fix those windows myself. I don’t want anyone I don’t know, near the house.” Sam raked her fingers through her hair and angrily kicked away a pebble. “This whole situation is insane, Trish. I feel like we are trapped in a nightmare.”

“I know, Sam and I am very sorry about that, believe me.”

Sam sighed and cast a look at the house she and Jody loved so much. When they moved in it was like a dream come true: their own little paradise, where they would live and enjoy each other, their family and friends. It was supposed to be a happy place, not the center of another horrible nightmare.

Trishia noticed the sadness and pain in her friend and she nervously bit her lip.

“Listen, Sam. I feel responsible for bringing this whole damn situation to your doorstep. I could take Alice with me and find another safe place for her to…”

“Absolutely not,” Sam interrupted with determination. “I don’t want you to do that, Trish. We opened our door to her and I am not changing that. I am sure Jody wouldn’t want that to happen either. Alice stays here, with us. And stop blaming yourself. If you hadn’t have taken Alice with you, she might have been dead by now. If we all work together, we can beat this, I am sure.”

Trishia stared in the clear eyes of her friend and she could see the willpower radiating from the blond woman. A smile worked its way to her face and she slowly nodded.

“Alright, Sam. Thanks. You and Jody are pretty special people and so is your family, you know that?”

Sam answered the smile with one of her own and Trishia could see the usual twinkle had returned to her friend’s eyes.

“Don’t forget you are part of that family as well, Trish,” she answered with a grin. “My guess is it’s just a matter of time before you will make an honest woman out of Lucy.”

Trishia chuckled and put her hand on Sam’s shoulder, while they leisurely walked back towards the house.

“You think she will have me?” she joked, but Sam could detect a hint of insecurity in the policewoman’s voice.

“Are you kidding?” Sam responded with a laugh and she looked at her friend. “Don’t be a goofball, Trish. Believe me, I have known Lucy for a long time now. True, I have been away from them all for almost nine years, but she has not changed much. I have never, ever seen her act the way she does around you. She loves you.”

“So you think I should ask her?” Trishia inquired, all of a sudden feeling nervous butterflies dancing around in her stomach.

“Do you want to?” Sam responded.

“Hell, yeah!” Trishia sighed wholeheartedly. “It’s just that I …I am scared witless just thinking about it. What if she says ‘no’.”

“She won’t,” Sam replied full of confidence. “I know how you feel. I was a nervous wreck when I asked Jody, even though I knew how much she loved me. I guess it’s the fear that is sparked by latent insecurity,” she chuckled. “But trust me on this one, Trish. Lucy loves you deeply.”

“I know,” Trishia answered with a smile, remembering the moment they had shared the previous night. They love they shared had almost been palpable and even the memory of that moment caused her heart rate to increase.

“Good,” Sam grinned, giving the policewoman a friendly slap on the back. “Just one word of warning: whenever you ask her, make sure Fiona is not around, or you will never live it down.”

“I don’t care how you do it, as long as it’s done,” Carol Wong almost shouted, before ending the conversation on the phone and slamming down the receiver.

A pair of fire spitting, dark eyes turned towards Peter and he convulsively swallowed, wishing his partner could have been with him to share the heat. Their inspector might be a petite woman, but she had not made it all the way to her current rank by being demure. The woman was sharp, intelligent and a force to be reckoned with.

“Talk,” the inspector commanded, taking a sip from her coffee and wincing at the strong taste. She pushed away the cup and leaned back into her chair.

Peter wiped his damp hands on the fabric of his slacks and took a deep breath. Sticking to the facts as he knew them, he quickly told his inspector what had happened since they had parted the previous evening.

Carol Wong’s face was unreadable, only her dark eyes showed any of the emotions she was feeling. When Peter was relating how he had found the doll in his desk drawer, they flared up in anger.

After finishing his story and repeating Trishia’s requests it was silent for a long time.

“Her name is Melinda Culpepper. She was eighteen years old and she had run away from home only two days ago. Her parents did not approve of her boyfriend, who lives up in Cairns. She was on her way to see him,” Carol Wong’s voice quietly filled the room. “She was an only child.”

Peter’s hand gripped the arm of the chair so tightly, his knuckles were turning white. His eyes were cast down and he desperately fought the anger he was feeling bubbling up inside. He wanted to jump up and vent his anger by pacing around and screaming, but that would not be of any use. So Sergeant Jones remained in his chair and for a moment he gave in to the sadness that washed over him, saying a silent prayer for Melinda and her family.

When he looked up again, his hazel eyes were clear and focused and Carol Wong could see the hard glint that she knew was an indication of Peter Jones’ dog headed determination.

“Tell me what you want and need,” Carol simply said.

“We were thinking about surveillance teams around the clock, handpicked by either Trishia or me. We need permission for me to take the security tape with me to be able to review it with Trishia. We will make a list of anyone who has entered or exited the building during the period I was at home.”

Carol Wong did not answer, but reached inside her desk drawer and pulled out a bulky, yellow envelope that she pushed toward Peter.

“Here’s the tape,” she said. “You have permission on picking the teams, but you do need to realize I cannot have those people work around the clock. I will instruct them myself. They will have to know that anyone who leaks information about their assignment is in breech of violating confidential police information and will be punished accordingly.”

“It’s not a hundred percent water proof,” Peter hesitated and Carol noticed the conflicting emotions on his face.

“It’s the best I can do, Peter,” Carol Wong sighed. “Unless you have another idea.”

“Actually, I do, inspector. It’s just that I haven’t discussed it with Trish yet and…”

“Spill it, Peter. You know you want to,” Carol Wong encouraged him.

“It’s to keep a tight lid on it all, inspector. Only you, Trishia and I would know about it, from our end anyway. Umm…do you know about surveillance cameras? The ones mobile ones…wireless? They are solar powered and if you have a decent one it could even run for about ten hours. We could use on those, inspector. We could set up some cameras alongside the road and keep an eye on anyone that comes up to the house.”

“Excuse my lack of…nerdness,” Carol Wong dryly replied. “But isn’t the purpose of the system to actually put a tape in the VCR or stare at a monitor and keep watch? If you’ll be sitting outside in the bush, we might as well use a surveillance team.”

“That’s the beauty of it, inspector,” Peter grinned. “With a high gain antenna, we can have a view from the camera from at least three hundred meters away. We could set up a surveillance room up at the house, or the guesthouse maybe.”

Carol Wong’s face displayed an unreadable expression, but Peter thought he saw a hint of appreciation in her eyes and inwardly impatient he waited for her response.

“And you know all this…how?” she finally asked in an amused voice. “Do I need to worry about you, sergeant? You have a secret job on the side?”

Peter’s face broke in a wide grin and he shook his head. He could tell by the way his inspector was twirling around a pen in her slender fingers, that she was contemplating his idea.

“Nope, inspector, but my brother has his own business and he sells surveillance equipment. I sometimes give him a hand when he’s got a bigger project than he has time,” he grinned. “I could get the stuff from him and I trust him with my life, so when I ask him to keep quiet, I know he will.”

“Did you consider the costs?” Carol Wong asked, impressed by Peter’s idea. “And wouldn’t it take long to install all that equipment?”

“Installing is easy, inspector. Considering we need to hide the cameras from view it might take a couple of hours, but I am sure it can be done before the end of this day. About the costs,” Peter scratched his chin and looked very confident. “I don’t think the superintendent would approve, so I was thinking of talking to Sam about it. We have discussed some ways to keep an eye on the property before, so I am positive she wouldn’t mind investing in a system like this. I don’t think money will be a problem,” he ended with a laugh.

Carol Wong slowly nodded and shot the man in front of her desk an appreciative glance. She had always respected Peter Jones. He was as honest and straightforward as they came and she valued the input he and Trishia Waters had around the police station. They were both liked and well respected by their fellow officers and often it was their contribution that kept the atmosphere pleasant, even in times of absolute chaos and stress.

“Talk to Sam Stevens and do it as soon as you can,” she decided. “But I want you to keep me informed.”

“I will,” Peter promised.

“Good, now, you can tell Trishia I have already started to do a background check on everybody who came to this station within the last ten months. I want to know where exactly they came from and where they were at the time of the last two murders. If I find anything out of the ordinary, I will let you know.”

“Thanks, inspector,” Peter responded.

“You’d better take the tape and get out of here,” Carol Wong advised him. “And watch your tail,” she added with a raised eyebrow. “You and Trishia are not the only ones with a bad feeling about this. The three of us are the only ones who know where Alice is and I would like to keep it that way.”

More than two hours had passed before Lisa Bailey came walking back into the kitchen, looking slightly pale and tired. She smiled at the expectant faces that immediately turned towards her and slowly sank down in a chair.

“My guess is you would like a cup of coffee,” Joan said, pushing her chair back and starting to get up. But a gentle hand on her shoulder pushed her back in her seat.

“Sit down, mom, I will take care of that,” Lucy’s voice sounded behind her.

“Mom thinks coffee is a cure to almost anything,” Fiona remarked, shooting the psychiatrist a curious look.

“Well, I think she is right,” Lisa smiled at the dark haired teenager. “It’s been a cure for me a lot of times and I am not even talking about trying to wake up in the morning without my much needed dose of caffeine.”

“I can only have one cup a day, mom’s orders,” Fiona complained, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.

“Handling you is difficult enough without you being high on caffeine,” Lucy snorted. “You better stick to something less stimulating, Red.”

“Listen who is talking,” Fiona retorted with a raised eyebrow. “Miss ‘Grumpy-without-tea.”

“Girls,” Joan McDonnell sighed, shooting Fiona a warning look. “Let’s try and be civilized, will you, please?”

Fiona opened her mouth to make another remark, but Trishia, who was seated next to her at the table, put her arm around the slender shoulders and clamped her hand over Fiona’s mouth, which elicited some muffed words, spoken in mock anger.

“You keep forgetting your sister’s girlfriend is a police officer,” Trishia teased. “As soon as you start learning how to, seriously drive a car in, I can make your live miserable.”

Everybody started laughing and Trishia released her hold on Fiona, earning a poke in the ribs.

“Are you threatening me?” Fiona asked, secretly enjoying the bantering. “Because if you are, I will call your boss and tell her about the way you abuse government property and then you will have to go out and buy your own handcuffs.”

“Fiona!” Joan warned.

But Trishia was laughing heartily, unmercifully tickling the teenager, who was squirming in her chair, but refused to give up.

“Mom, tell her to stop,” Fiona gasped, while she was trying to slap away Trishia’s hands.

“Think again, dear,” Joan dead panned. “You are the one who started it.”

“Of course I can always pick you up and put you outside,” Trishia announced, pushing back her chair. She unfolded her tall frame and effortlessly picked up the teenager and draped her over her shoulder.

With a few strides she was at the door that was held open by a helpful Sam, who was laughing out loud when she saw Fiona’s red face.

“You can keep Kurt company,” Trishia grinned.

“Ha! After you told me to go back inside because there is a psycho on the loose?”

Fiona’s words immediately brought back the tension in the room and Trishia’s movements halted. She carefully put the teenager back on her own two feet and cast her a serious look.

“You are right,” she answered. “We need to focus on that.”

“No big deal, Trish,” Fiona said. “We were only goofing around. I know you would not have left me out there.”

“No way! I have to keep you and your friends out of trouble,” Trishia smiled.

“As long as you don’t handcuff me to the kitchen table,” Fiona joked, winking at Yarra, who was sporting a big grin.

“I won’t, as long as you behave yourself,” Trishia promised, giving Fiona a gentle shove towards her chair.

The tall policewoman walked to the kitchen counter, where Lucy was waiting for the coffee pot to finish its important task. She leaned her back against the counter and pulled Lucy in front of her, holding her close. Over the dark hair she cast a look at the group of women who were sitting around the table and again she felt the responsibility weigh heavy on her shoulders.

“So, Lisa, how did it go?” she finally asked, using the warmth and security of Lucy’s presence to center herself again.

“Better than I hoped it would be,” the psychiatrist answered with a smile. “In fact, Alice had no objections to seeing me again.”

“That’s great,” Jody happily smiled. “I am so glad. Thank you, Lisa. Alice needs all the help she can get.”

“She does need help, Jody,” Lisa admitted, the expression on her face suddenly very serious. “Before we had our talk, I told you that I thought that Alice could be suffering from PTSD and our conversation has confirmed that. As I said before, PTSD can cause amnesia and in every case it is different. Alice’s amnesia seems very severe.”

“How did that happen? I mean, the amnesia,” Yarra asked with keen interest, determined to learn as much as she could, in order to be able to help her new friend. “I saw movies when people hit their head or something and after that they didn’t remember anything”

“Well, it is a complicated matter, Yarra,” Lisa replied. “And although there have been numerous studies done about it, a lot of things are still not clear to us. A traumatic event can have so much impact that the traumatic memories and ordinary consciousness are split. It’s called dissociation and it can result in flashbacks and nightmares.”

“Is that what they also call ‘shell shock’?” Sam asked.

“It is,” Lisa nodded. “After the first World War, soldiers, who had gone through traumatic events, did not remember anything about the event itself. But later on they relived their ordeals as flashbacks and nightmares. The frightening things about PTSD is that, while normally the way we remember things sometimes changes and emotions seem less intense as time goes by, people who suffer from PTSD feel like they relive the traumatic event all over again, including all the emotions and sensations that were part of it. That is why Alice could feel the heat of the flames and smell the smoke, when she was having the nightmare. It was like she was reliving the whole event again. Exposure to certain stimuli, like a sound, a scent or an image can trigger that kind of recall.”

“Which happened this morning,” Trishia remarked. “Something we said must have triggered her.”

“Perhaps,” Lisa answered. “Of course I cannot tell you, Trish, you know that. You will have to ask Alice. She gave me permission to tell all of you that she suffers from PTSD, but the rest is up to her. Our talk has left her drained and she is taking a nap. But I can tell you, that is one heck of a courageous girl in there.”

“What are the chances of her recovering from all this?” Lucy asked in a worried tone.

“That is very hard to tell,” Lisa sighed, pushing back her hair. “But given the fact that Alice suddenly does remember her name makes me carefully optimistic. A stable environment, a chance to find some rest and peace and a lot of tender loving care might work miracles. I have the impression that Alice has also blocked out certain things, simply because they are too painful to remember. If she feels a sense of safety, that might help her to finally face her demons and let the memories come, so she can deal with them and move on. But unfortunately there will always be emotional scars.”

“What can we do? I mean, how can we help her?” Joan softly asked.

“Just be there for her. Be patient. Be her friend. And after what I have seen already, that will be no problem,” Lisa smiled, winking at Yarra and Fiona.

“Of course not,” “We’ll be there for her,” they simultaneously spoke.

After Peter had left the police station he had casually driven to one of his favorite sandwich bars to indulge in a fresh roll with spicy chicken, lettuce and tomato. Enjoying the peppery taste he walked back to his car, while his eyes took in his surroundings. To anyone who might be following him, he wanted to appear unhurried, like he did not have any worries at all. Inwardly a feeling of impatience had settled in his chest, he wished he could just drive up to Murrook Farm and talk to Trishia. But both his partner and his inspector had urged him to be careful and he knew they were right. Until they were able to identify the murderer, they needed to be very alert and cautious.

Leaning his back against the side of the car, Peter munched on the tasty sandwich, while his eyes took in the view of the ocean and the beach, where a group of teenage boys and girls were playing beach volley ball. He smiled at their antics and his face sported a grin when one of the boys pumped his fist after scoring a spectacular point.

Peter loved living on the coast. He always had and he could not remember ever being bored when he grew up. Somehow there was always something to do. He just hoped that his children would have the same fond memories of their childhood as he himself had.

That thought brought him back to reality and Peter’s face grew somber when he realized that the parents of the girls who had been murdered might have had the same thought once. But their dreams had been shattered and the future of their daughters taken away by a ruthless psychopath.

With a frown Peter crumpled his napkin and dumped it in a nearby trash can. Casting one last look at the activities on the beach, he stepped into his car. Using his rearview mirror he thoroughly checked for anything that seemed out of the ordinary, but found nothing. Slowly pulling up he steered his car into the traffic and made his way up to Murrook Farm taking a long route.

It had taken him twice as long as usual to finally reach his destination, but when he finally had driven up the road that led to the house, he knew for a certainty that he had not been followed.

Peter parked his car next to Trishia’s and stepped out onto the gravel. When he closed the door and turned around, he suddenly stood eye to eye with a German Sheperd. His face lit up with a smile and Peter reached out his hand to pet the dog on his massive head.

He immediately withdrew his hand when Kurt let out a low, throaty growl and Peter noticed the dog was not wagging his tail.

“Come on, boy. Kurt. Give it a rest. You know me boy, remember? Just stop growling and I am sure mommy will give you a nice juicy leg.”

“One of yours?” an amused voice suddenly sounded from the side of the house.

Afraid to make a wrong move, Peter slowly turned his head, all the while making sure he had the dog in his peripheral vision and noticed a grinning Sam looking at him. The tall blond woman was leaning against the side of the house and was twirling a screwdriver around in her slender fingers.

“Come on, Stevens. What kind of a sick joke is this?” Peter asked, afraid to raise his voice. “Your dog knows me. Hell, I played with him not even a week ago. What is up with this bull?”

“Just training Kurt,” Sam laughed. “I was wondering if he would take the ‘guard’ command serious, even if he would see a familiar face. Or should I say: smell a familiar face?” Sam chuckled.

“Very funny,” Peter snorted. “Well, end the experiment and call back this furry, four-legged descendant of Canis Lupus will you?”

“It’s alright, Kurt. Good boy,” Sam praised the dog who immediately started wagging his tail and stepped closer to Peter to press his nozzle against his legs.

Carefully Peter petted the dog and looked at Sam with hesitant respect. He still did not know whether to be annoyed with her or praise her qualities as a dog trainer.

“Sorry, Pete,” Sam said, giving him a friendly slap on the back. “Can I make it up to you with a cold drink?”

“Sure,” Peter grinned. “By the way, you did have me scared there for a moment. I guess the training works out well.”

“He is a very smart dog,” Sam answered. “And he loves to learn.”

“It’s good to have a dog like that around when you live up here. What’s up with the screwdriver?”

“I was fixing the blinds,” Sam explained. “We had an outbreak this morning,” she added with a grin. “But I will tell you about that later. Come in, out of the sun, before our brains start to leak from our nostrils.”

“Eeew, nasty visual, Sam,” Peter grinned, following the blond woman towards the house.

“I guess you didn’t come over here to bring us some good news in person?” Sam asked over her shoulder, while she stepped up the stairs that led them to the veranda.

“No, I am sorry Sam. I came to see Trishia and also to talk to you about a security system.”

Sam’s eyes lit up with interest and she slowly nodded.

“Sounds like a good idea,” she admitted. “I would feel better if we had one. I have to warn you though, Pete. The house is filled with women.”

“Great,” Peter mumbled. “Somehow I feel I would rather face a pissed off Kurt.”

When they stepped inside, Peter was greeted by six women, who were all sitting around the huge kitchen table, talking quietly.

“Would you like a cold drink, Peter?” Jody asked, already walking towards the refrigerator.

“Thanks, Jody,” Peter answered. “Sam promised me something cold to make up for the fact that she let Kurt scare the heck out of me.”

Trishia grinned and slapped her partner on his back, which made him wince.

“We saw that, mate. You looked a little frightened there.”

“I was,” Peter admitted. “I like dogs, but somehow a growling Sheperd always makes me nervous.”

He smiled at Jody who handed him a tall glass of cold lemonade and gratefully sipped the cold liquid, enjoying the feel of the chilly taste in the back of his throat.

“Have you got the tape?” Trishia curiously asked, looking at the envelope Peter had put on the table in front of him.

“Yup, got it. So, is there anywhere where we can have a look at it?”

Trishia cast a look at Sam who rose from her chair and nodded.

“You can use my office. I have a VCR in there.”

“I need to talk to you as well, Sam,” Peter reminded her.

Sam glanced at Jody who looked up at her with a puzzled expression on her face. She knelt down to the smaller woman’s chair and smiled at her.

“Want to come as well?” she invited. “I don’t want to be seen around here as the one who makes all the decisions.”

Jody answered the smile and looked at Sam with all the love and trust she felt for her partner reflected in the green depths of her eyes. She reached out a hand and traced an imaginary line down the side of Sam’s face. Still smiling she slightly bent forward and gently kissed a pair of soft lips.

“Go ahead, I will stay here. Alice might wake up soon and I want to be here in case she needs anything.”

“Alright, love,” Sam answered, cupping Jody’s face between her hands and kissing her forehead. “I will tell you about it later. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Jody whispered. “Better get going, Sam. I feel Fiona’s stare burn holes in my back.”

Sam gave her partner one last kiss and rose back to her full height. Looking at Fiona and Yarra she noticed both girls were grinning and she chuckled.

“Be good, you two,” she warned.

“Oh,Sam. Ouch. That hurts,” Fiona answered, covering her heart with her hand. “We are always good.”

“Good enough to get into trouble,” Sam teased, giving them a wink. “Alright, let’s go, police people. My office is this way.”

Carol Wong frowned while her glance traveled between the documents in front of her to the computer screen and back again. She twirled the pen she was holding around in her fingers and tried to convert the figures and facts she was seeing, into a plausible story.

When the phone rang again for the sixth time within the last twenty minutes, she let out an aggravated sigh, but quickly picked up the receiver.

“Carol Wong,” she announced.

“Hey, you beach bum. How are you doing?” a cheerful voice sounded on the other side of the connection.

“Who are you calling a beach bum?” Carol laughed, having recognized the voice instantly. “You are the blonde with the great tan, mate.”

“Not anymore,” Claire Philips grinned. “That was a long time ago, when I was young and innocent.”

“That must be a very long time ago, because I cannot remember you ever being innocent,” Carol Wong quipped. “How is life in Sydney, Superintendent Philips?”

“Not bad, Carol. At least they do have a few decent beaches around here.”

They both laughed and Carol Wong did not need to see the face of her friend to know that her blue eyes were twinkling with mischief.

“It’s good to hear your voice,” she said. “How is Karen?”

“Her usual sweet and patient self. Sometimes I wonder how she puts up with all the extreme hours I put in. I mean, it’s Saturday. I should be home with her, or taking her out to lunch.”

“I know what you mean,” Carol Wong sighed. “Greg never complains when I ruin his plans for the weekend, but I still feel bad about it.”

“How is the hubby doing?”

“He is great. He started to work from home recently and that makes a lot of difference for the both of us. We do have more time together now. When are you and Karen coming up, Claire? It’s been too long since we have all seen each other.”

“You are right,” Claire admitted with a sigh. “I promise I will talk to Karen about it this evening. We were planning some time off together soon and I would love to drive up the coast and visit.”

“That would be wonderful” Carol Wong answered, the warmth evident in her voice.

“It’s a deal then. I will let you know when as soon as Karen and I have talked it over. Now, my friend, about that information you requested.”

“Yes?” Carol asked, feeling the tension in her body grow when she looked at her computer screen again.

“He worked here for several years and we never had one single complaint about him. His last day at work was towards the end of February. I think it was the twenty sixth, a Wednesday. His mates wanted to throw him a farewell party, but he had to decline, because he needed to pack and move. He was scheduled to start at your department on March the third.”

“March the third?” Carol Wong asked, echoing the words to make sure she had heard them right.

“Yes, according my file here, it was March the third.”

“That is very interesting,” Carol Wong slowly answered, leaning forward to cast a look at the file on her desk. “According to my file he started on May the fifth. He had requested to delay his move for another month, because his wife was ill and needed treatment in a hospital.”

There was a long silence, when both women processed the information they had just shared. Finally Carol Wong could hear Claire clear her throat. When she spoke again her voice was calm, but Carol, who had known her friend for the better part of her life, could easily detect the tension.

“His wife?”

“Yes, that is what I read here, in a letter he himself wrote, dated February the nineteenth.”

“Carol, he wasn’t married. I remember he once had a relationship with a single mother, who had two children. But they broke up. That is why he moved to Sydney. She stayed in Perth.”

Carol Wong stopped the twirling of the pen and let it drop on her desk. It bounced back from the impact and rolled towards the edge of the desk, where it took a plunge and tumbled to the ground.

“Perth?” Carol Wong repeated in a strained voice. “When was that, Claire, do you know?”

“I am not sure,” Claire answered, realizing the importance of the question. “But it was just after the break up, so that must make it about two and a half years ago, maybe longer. I know he went back once, to try and patch things up, but it never happened.”

“Do you have any idea why? Did he ever talk about it?”

“The whole department knew,” Claire sighed. “It was pretty tragic, really. They all died in a fire, well, forensics showed the mother and little boy did. The girl was never found.”

Carol Wong felt her mouth go dry and while she unconsciously clutched the receiver tighter to her ear, she swallowed hard.

“Do you happen to know their names?”

“The mother’s name was Amy and the little boy’s was Dean. He was only five when he died. The girl must have been about fourteen or fifteen years old. Her name was Victoria Alice Wilson.”
part 12
“Rewind that, Pete. I need to see it again. Damn, this is frustrating,” Trishia said, rubbing her tired eyes.

After talking to Sam and discussing Peter’s ideas concerning a system of solar powered surveillance cameras the blond woman had asked Trishia’s partner to take care of it. Immediately Peter had called his brother, who had promised to load up the equipment and drive over to Murrook Farm at once.

Sam had left the office to inform her lover about the arrangement, leaving Trishia and Peter alone, so they could study the tape the policeman had brought with him. For the last forty minutes they had been intently staring at the black and white images on the security tape. They had been able to note the exact time Peter had left the station, seeing him leave on the tape. A few minutes after he had left Martin Coles had entered the building.

“Funny, I didn’t run into him outside,” Peter mumbled. “He left just after midnight, while Phil stayed with me to make those phone calls. Industrious bloke, huh?”

“Very,” Trishia wryly remarked. “Especially since he left the station again five minutes later. I don’t know Pete, I have a bad feeling about this.”

Peter had rewound the tape and pressed the ‘play’ button again. Staring at the screen they saw the slightly blurred images of the police station’s entrance. After Peter had left the building, the first person to enter the camera’s eye was Martin Coles, who was wearing a dark t-shirt and a pair of dark trousers. There was an undeniable smile on his face and for a moment it seemed he was looking straight into the camera.

“Stop it now,” Trishia ordered and immediately Peter hit the ‘pause’ button.

“Look Pete, see that?” Trishia asked, pointing at Martin Cole’s shirt.

“It’s a t-shirt, Trish,” Peter sighed. “I don’t see anything special about it, I…hot damn!”

Peter Jones squinted his eyes and leaned forward to get a better look at the still image on the screen. What he saw made the blood in his veins run cold and when he looked up at Trishia he shot her a gaze filled with respect.

“You are amazing, Trish! I had missed that,” he confessed.

Without touching the TV screen Trishia’s finger pointed towards the dark clad form of Martin Coles. He was a tall, muscular man with a well toned body, which he did like to flaunt. Not having to wear a uniform, he usually dressed in slacks and shirts that showed off his assets.

The video tape showed him strolling into the police station, one hand in his pocket, while the other one scratched his shoulder. At first glance there was nothing out of the ordinary, but Trishia had noticed that the t-shirt Martin was wearing was bulging in some strange places. It was hardly visible, because he was wearing dark clothes, but Trishia’s sharp eyes had noticed the irregularity.

“Let me write down the exact time,” Trishia said with a grim face. “And then let’s see when exactly Mr. Coles left the premises and more importantly, did he lose some weight while he was in the building?”

Peter rubbed his chin and looked at the screen with a feeling of disgust. Still, it was hard to wrap his mind around the possibility that one of his coworkers could be involved in criminal activities.

“You think it was just a lame joke, Trish? I mean, come on, he has been with the police for ages, surely you don’t think he could be involved in something like this?”

“Stranger things have happened, Pete,” Trishia answered, hitting the ‘play’ button again. “When was that second murder again, the one in Sydney?”

“Seven months ago, in April,” Peter answered, not understanding the change of subject.
“And when did Martin Coles join our happy team?”

“I think that was somewhere in May,” Peter answered.

“That’s right, “Trishia answered. “Knowing he moved up from Sydney around that time makes him a suspect in my eyes. Especially when I look at this tape. It’s fishy, Pete.”

“If he has anything to do with murdering that girl yesterday, I will snap his sorry neck,” Peter mumbled.

“Get in line,” Trishia replied, her eyes were glued to the screen.

They didn’t have to wait long to see Martin Coles leave the building again and this time his t-shirt was neatly tucked into his slacks, showing his trimmed body, without any abnormalities.

“Do you think he hid my notes underneath his shirt?” Peter asked, feeling the anger rise again.

“It’s not hard to hide an envelope, so yeah, I think he could have taken them.”

“What a moron,” Peter snorted. “He knows the camera is there. Does he think we are stupid?”

“I don’t think so. I think he is so full of confidence that he really believes we will never be able to catch him. If our suspicions are right and he is the one we are looking for, he has gotten away with murder twice, at least. In his delusional mind he probably thinks he is infallible.”

Alice had gradually aroused from a deep, dreamless sleep that had made her feel more rested and refreshed than she had felt in a long time. After she had reluctantly opened her eyes, she had stretched her body and stared at the ceiling, reveling in the peaceful feeling that had her wrapped in a warm blanket of contentment.

Her conversation with Lisa Bailey had proven to be very interesting and not half as threatening as she had expected. At first she had been reluctant to answer the questions the psychiatrist had gently asked her, but somehow Lisa had made her feel more at ease and before Alice knew what was happening, she had talked freely, which had pleased the psychiatrist and had been a surprise to herself.

Lisa had treaded lightly, careful not to trigger any more unpleasant memories. That choice of strategy had given the teenager some insight into the way her mind had been dealing with the events she had been trying to forget for a long time. Lisa had made it clear to her that seemingly innocent remarks, scents or other things her brain registered, could bring memories in the form of flashbacks or nightmares.

Alice was glad to learn that she was not mentally ill, something she occasionally had worried about. Instead she now knew that the bad dreams and flashbacks were a result of the way her mind was trying to cope.

“I am not crazy,” she whispered to herself, not aware of the smile that was tugging on the corner of her mouth. “Maybe one day I will even be normal again.” She told herself in a wistful tone.

Alice let her mind go back to the conversation that morning, during breakfast, when all of a sudden her brain had seemed to be on overload and she had gone into a state of shock. Very carefully, as Lisa had taught her, she tried to remember bits and pieces of the discussion that had taken place and especially the words Trishia had spoken.

Alice could feel her heartbeat pick up and her breathing became faster and for a moment she closed her eyes, concentrating on taking a few deep breaths and telling herself over and over again that they were just memories. She was in a safe place, where nobody would hurt her.

Gradually Alice let her mind drift closer and closer to the words that had shocked her system so violently that morning. There was something important about the murdered girls. They had all been killed on a beach.

Somehow Alice knew that it was essential information. The familiar tickling sensation in the back of her mind indicated that there was something about it that, somehow, seemed familiar.

Closing her eyes she concentrated on the words Trishia had been speaking and that were still echoing in the back of her mind.

Runaway teenagers…beach…Sydney…Perth…

Alice’s body jerked and she gripped the sheet she was lying on in both her hands, unconsciously reaching for something tangible to try and center herself. She could feel the panic rise in her chest and with all the strength she could muster, she fought back the anxiety that was about to consume her again.

“Not this time,” Alice hissed through gritted teeth. “Not again.”

They are painful memories, Alice and remembering them will hurt, but try to keep in mind that they cannot harm you now. You are safe here, the echo of Lisa’s voice sounded in the back of her mind.

“I am safe. I am safe,” Alice whispered, forcing her mind to repeat Lisa’s words over and over again, until she could feel herself start to relax.

She let out a shuddering breath and with trembling fingers she wiped her sweaty brow. The fact that she had just won a victorious battle, did not even register with the teenager. Already she was concentrating on her breathing again, trying to remember why Trishia’s words had made such an impact on her.

“I am trying to be strong, mom,” she spoke to the ceiling, not seeing the cream colored panels and dark brown beams, but a pair of eyes that matched her own in color. “I am trying hard to remember who I am.”

Runaway teenagers…beach…Sydney…Perth…

Alice’s body suddenly stilled and her eyes grew wide. All color drained from her face and suddenly she shot up straight, gasping for breath. She ignored the dizziness that made the whole room spin and jumped off the bed. On shaky legs she stumbled to the door, blindly reaching for the knob.

“I need to talk to Trishia.”

When the teenager came staggering into the kitchen, it was Yarra’s excellent reflexes that prevented her from running into the table. The dark skinned girl had seen her friend’s approach from the hallway and had immediately jumped up when she noticed the state she was in.

The moment Alice tripped over her own feet and threatened to fall forward and hit her head against the solid wood of the kitchen table, Yarra had caught her in a pair of strong arms and held her close.

“Alice, what happened?” Jody exclaimed, also jumping to her feet and walking around the table. She pulled out a chair and Yarra carefully helped her distressed friend to sit down.

Alice looked from Yarra to Jody with eyes that were a mixture of fear, wonder and confusion. Her mouth felt dry and she moistened her lips, before swallowing hard.

“I need to talk to Trishia,” she panted, shooting Joan McDonnell, who had also risen to her feet, a pleading look. “Where is she? Is she still here?”

“Take a deep breath, sweetheart,” Joan gently spoke. “Trishia is still here, but try to calm down a little. Do you want something to drink?”

Alice wordlessly nodded and instinctively grabbed Jody’s hand that was resting on her shoulder.

“I didn’t lose it this time, I focused and I…I…I knew there was something, because this morning it triggered a memory and I…just…just.”

“It’s alright, Alice,” Jody soothed the teenager, not really understanding the incoherent sentence. She stroked Alice’s hair and smiled when the girl looked at her with trusting blue eyes.

“And I am so happy you didn’t lose it this time,” Jody complimented.

Alice raked her fingers through her long, disheveled hair. A rueful smile found its way to her face and she slowly shook her head.

“I am not making much sense, am I?” she asked with a touch of humor in her voice.

“Don’t worry about that, mate. They are used to me,” Fiona joked from across the table.

Alice smiled and gratefully accepted the glass of iced tea Joan handed her. She took a deep, calming breath and gulped down half its content, not having realized how thirsty she was until she tasted that first, cool sip.

‘Better?” Yarra asked with a laugh, when she heard the small sigh of contentment after Alice had finished her drink.

“Yes, thanks,” Alice answered, looking up into a pair of warm dark brown eyes. “I was thinking back on this morning and the things Trishia told us, about the girls who were murdered and all that. And I was trying to figure out why that made me…flip. I…I remember something now and I think Trishia needs to hear about it.”

“She and Peter are in Sam’s office,” Jody said. “Come on, I’ll bring you to them.”

“Okay,” Alice breathed, all of a sudden fearing the moments that were lying ahead of her. “Better get this done and over with as soon as I can.”

“I don’t know, Trish. How in the world can we prove this? I mean, nobody actually saw the bloke putting that nasty doll in my drawer. All we have is a fishy smell and a lot of suspicion.”

“Then we need to get some proof,” Trishia calmly answered, relying on her gut feeling that told her Martin Coles was not the person he pretended to be. “We need to show this tape to the inspector and ask for permission to go through his desk, maybe even get a search warrant for his house.”

Peter opened his mouth to respond to the tall policewoman’s remark, but was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Trishia called, pressing the ‘stop’ button on the VCR and watching the screen go black.

The door opened and Jody stepped in, followed by an apprehensive looking Alice. The teenager did not come closer, but just stood next to the door, her back pressed against the wall, looking like she could run off at any given moment.

“Sorry to disturb you,” Jody apologized. “But Alice needs to talk to you, Trish.”

Jody turned around to look at the girl and put a hand on her shoulder, giving it an encouraging squeeze.

“Do you want to talk to Trishia alone? I am sure Peter would not mind,” she stated, remembering the policewoman’s story about Alice’s reaction to Peter the previous day.

“No, it…it’s okay,” Alice whispered, shooting Peter a shy glance.

I am trying to be strong, mom, she silently repeated.

Unexpectedly Jody wrapped her arms around the trembling teenager and pulled her close, wordlessly conveying words of encouragement and strength.

“You are brave, Alice,” she whispered in the startled teenagers ear. “Your mom would be so proud of you.”

Blinking away the tears those kind words invoked, Alice took a deep breath and shot Jody a watery smile.

“Thank you,” she simply said.

Jody smiled and gave Alice one last squeeze before letting her go. Turning back towards Trishia, she smiled and winked at her sister’s lover.

“Be nice to Alice, or I will send Fiona to the guesthouse tonight,” she warned with a twinkle in her eyes.

Peter chuckled and stood up from his chair, offering it to Alice.

“That will do the trick, Jody,” he remarked. “But we would have been nice anyway, so don’t worry. Come, Alice, have a seat,” he encouraged the timid teenager with a smile. “This office chair must be the best one in the house. I secretly think Sam spends a lot of time here, seeing her wife is so strict.”

Jody laughed and winked at Alice, who hesitantly smiled back and moved towards the chair Peter had so gallantly provided.

“Good luck, Alice,” Jody encouraged, before closing the door behind her.

“How are you feeling now, Alice?” Trishia asked with genuine concern.

“Better, thanks,” Alice answered in a small voice. “That talk with Lisa did help me a lot. Thanks.”

“I am glad it did and you are more than welcome,” Trishia smiled, pleasantly surprised by the obvious change in the teenager’s attitude. The former hostility seemed to have disappeared and was replaced by a cautious, but shy cooperation.

Alice’s eyes took in the pictures that abundantly decorated the walls of Sam’s office. The most striking one was a portrait of Sam and Jody together. They were leaning against a white fence, their arms wrapped around each other and they were looking at each other with so much love and devotion, that even the most cynical person in the world would have to acknowledge the obvious love they shared.

“Nice picture, huh?” Trishia’s voice broke the silence. “You’ll never guess who took it.”

“You?” Alice guessed, her eyes traveling between the photograph, the tall policewoman and back again.

“No, unfortunately I am not that talented,” Trishia laughed. “Fiona took it.”

“Fiona?” Alice echoed, unconsciously leaning forward to have a better look. “Really?”

“Yes, Fiona,” Trishia answered. “She has quite the talent. I know her and Yarra often go out in the bush, to shoot some wildlife, with a camera, not a gun,” Trishia added with a smirk.

“Really?” Alice asked again, secretly pleased with the information about one of her new friends.

“Yeah, she once showed me some of her work and I have to say I was quite impressed,” Peter added. “My oldest kid still keeps asking when Fiona will take him on a safari,” he laughed.

“You have kids?” Alice could hear herself ask before she could stop the words from tumbling out. Her voice sounded surprised and wistful.

“I have four kids, one girl and three boys,” Peter answered in a soft voice. “The two youngest are twins, they are just a little over six months old now.”

“Oh,” Alice responded, staring at her hands that were nervously plucking at the fabric of her shorts.

Trishia and Peter exchanged glances and by mutual, silent consent, they decided to wait and see what information Alice was willing to share with them. They did not have to wait too long. After taking a few deep breaths, Alice slowly raised her face and allowed them a look in pain filled blue eyes.

“I had a brother,” she quietly said. “His name was Dean.”

Trishia tried really hard not to show the surprise and compassion she felt for the teenage girl, afraid that it would scare her away again.

“I noticed you talk about Dean in the past tense,” she calmly remarked after a long silence, ignoring the pounding in her chest.

“He died,” Alice whispered. “There was a fire and he…he died. He was just a little boy. I tried to save him, but I couldn’t.”

Trishia swallowed hard and shot a look at her partner who was visibly shocked. Even though Peter Jones had been a police officer for a long time and had seen his share of misery, there were a few things that never failed to touch him in the deepest part of his soul. The suffering of old people, children and animals. The innocent and vulnerable ones of society.

“Do you remember what happened, Alice? Do you want to talk about it?” Trishia gently asked.

“It’s part of what I remember. It’s part of what…,” Alice swallowed convulsively and took a deep breath before continuing. “It’s part of what he did.”

The teenager rubbed her eyes and felt the moisture stain the back of her hand. Surprised she looked at the glistening of her skin, having been unaware of the fact there had been tears in her eyes.

“I can’t remember it all,” she continued in a strained voice. “It is so hard, but Lisa said that even though it hurts to remember, I am safe. Mom told me to be strong.”

“And you are,” Trishia spoke up with admiration in her voice. “Your mom would be proud.”

“Jody said the same thing,” Alice sniffed, wiping her eyes again.

“Because it is true, Alice Wilson,” Trishia urged with warmth.

“My dreams…nightmares,” Alice continued, correcting herself. “They are just images, fragments of sounds and smells and pictures. I remember the dreams, because I have had them so often, but ever since this morning, I can, somehow, fill in some of the blanks. He had left us alone, finally and mom was really happy about that, although she was still scared. She told us, Dean and me, that he had left for Sydney and would not be back again. We believed her. But one evening the doorbell rang and when mom told me to open the door…he was there.”

Involuntarily Alice shivered and she clenched her hands into fists, until her knuckles were white.

“I tried to close the door, but he pushed me inside and I fell.” A lonely tear escaped Alice’s eye and rolled down her cheek, leaving a moist track in its wake. “Mom heard him yell at me and came running into the hall, screaming at him to stop hitting me. Dean was crying. He was so scared,” Alice whispered in a broken voice. “He said he’d leave me alone if mom would just hear him out, so she sent us to our room, I guess so we could be away from him. Mom told me to look after Dean. I tried to read Dean a story, so he wouldn’t have to listen to what was going on, but the voices were so loud.”

Unconsciously Alice brought both her hands to her ears and Trishia and Peter exchanged a worried look, afraid that the memories would be too overwhelming and Alice would go into shock again.

But Alice closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths again, while her mother’s words permeated the pain in her heart.

Be strong, Alice. You are much needed and loved…

“After a while it was quiet again, real quiet and I thought he had left. Then I smelled the smoke. I was scared and opened the door, but when I walked towards the stairs, he was just coming up. I ran back to Dean, but when I opened the door, he caught me. He hit me across the face and I yelled at my brother to go and hide. That’s when…when…he tried to choke me with his hands.” Alice paused for a moment and the silence in the room was almost palpable. “He was really calm and he laughed when he said that he couldn’t have me tell the police. He also said that they wouldn’t believe me anyway. I..I almost fainted, but then I remembered what my teacher once told us to do when somebody would…she said to kick them really hard and call for help, so I did. I kicked him, but I couldn’t scream, because my throat was hurting so much. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to get into the room and get Dean, but I knew he would get us both if I would do that, so I decided to run downstairs and get help. But he caught me again and hit me. That’s when I fell down the stairs and hit my head. When I woke up there were smoke and flames everywhere and I couldn’t breath. I was lying on something soft and now I think….” Alice sobbed and rubbed her eyes, looking very much like a frightened little girl. “I think it was my mom,” her voice hitched.

Looking at the devastated teenager and hearing her horrific story broke Trishia’s heart. Not caring that tears were stinging the back of her own eyes, she took a few steps towards the slender figure in the large chair and knelt in front of her. Grabbing both Alice’s hands in her own she tried to share as much comfort as she possibly could.

“Oh, Alice, I am so, so sorry,” she whispered. “If it’s too hard to go on we’ll understand, believe me.”

“But I need to tell you this, Trishia,” Alice sniffed, rising above herself in the amazing courage she displayed. “You need to know why I remember. It was something you said. You mentioned those poor girls and that they were murdered on the beach, in Sydney and in Perth. Right?”

“Yes, I said that,” Trishia replied, still holding Alice’s hands and rubbing the back of them with her thumbs.

“I lived in Perth,” Alice stated, glancing up and meeting Trishia’s startled eyes. “We lived near the beach. Dean and I went there a lot and that is where I ran to after…after the fire. And I also have been in Sydney, before I went up the coast. I was sure he wouldn’t find me there, because it is such a big place and there are a lot of runaways there. Sometimes it’s safer not to be alone.”

“I hate to ask you this, Alice, because the last thing I want to do is to upset you, but do you have any recollection of the time period? Can you remember when all this happened?”

“I think the fire…must have been three years ago, yes it was. It was somewhere in August 2000. I remember because I went to Sydney with a few other kids. They thought they could make some money with the Olympics being held there. That’s almost three years ago then.”

“When did you leave Sydney, Alice?” Peter asked from the background, the tension in his voice clearly audible.

“At the end of last summer,” Alice answered. “I think it was February.”

“Where did you usually stay?”

“During the winter I mostly slept around railway stations. I could often sneak into a boxcar. I also knew a hospital where I could crawl inside a window and sleep in the cellar. It was warm and dry,” Alice’s voice was shy and filled with shame. “When the weather was better I usually managed to sleep on a beach somewhere.”

“Alice,” Trishia started, contemplating the best way to ask the question that was burning on her tongue. “This…person, who did this to you and your family. Can you remember his name?”

Alice sucked in her bottom lip and slowly shook her head, shooting Trishia and Peter an apologetic look.

“No, I don’t. I am sorry. Maybe I will remember later.”

“That’s okay, Alice,” Trishia answered, successfully keeping the disappointment out her voice. “Do you think you could recognize him?”

“He had cold eyes,” Alice shivered. “And he was always so…neatly dressed, like he was a model or something.”

“But he wasn’t?” Trishia asked.

“No,” Alice shook her head. “He worked with the police.”

Trishia bent her head and for a moment she stared at the floor to recollect her thoughts and wrap her mind around the information Alice had just provided them. Part of her was exhilarated to learn that she and Peter were probably right in their suspicion of Martin Coles, while the other part was filled with worry and sadness about Alice’s ordeal, which might not be over yet.

“Trishia,” Alice’s voice brought her back to the present. “If…those girls who were murdered, it’s like…is he following me?”

For a moment the tall policewoman debated with herself whether she should tell Alice their feelings about the murderer or not, but the frightened, yet steadfast look in those clear blue eyes helped her to reach a decision.

“We think he is Alice,” she truthfully answered. “I am sorry.”

At that moment her cell phone she had put on Sam’s desk started buzzing. With an apologetic smile she let go of Alice’s hands and stood up to answer the call. The display showed it was Carol Wong’s private cell phone number. Trishia gasped in surprise and couldn’t hide the slight trembling of her fingers when she picked up the device. If the inspector called her from her own, private phone, it could only mean one thing: that she had some very sensitive information to share.

“Trishia Waters,” she announced.

“I just received some information that is so upsetting, I don’t know whether to puke or spit fire,” Carol Wong’s voice sounded in her ear. “Damn, Trish, I am absolutely, positively, utterly, unconditionally pissed off.”

“Join the club, inspector,” Trishia dryly remarked. “Alice is here with Peter and me and she just shared some very disturbing news with us.”

“Share,” Carol Wong ordered.

Casting a look at Alice, she smiled and pointed at the phone in her hand.

“The inspector needs to know what you told us, so if it’s okay with you, I will do that.”

Alice just nodded and leaned back in her chair. She rested her head against the cool leather and closed her eyes, while Trishia repeated her tale of terror to Carol Wong. She was emotionally drained and felt like she could easily drift into a deep sleep again. But Alice fought that urge and her thoughts went back to that devastating moment when her family had been taken away from her by a mad man. Goose bumps covered her clammy skin when she tried to remember anything about the murderer of her mother and little brother. In her dreams it was always the hands and eyes that haunted her the most. The rest of the face seemed to be obscured by darkness and smoke, although there was a very vague recollection of an always impeccable shaven face and a perfect styled haircut. But no matter how hard she tried to remember, somehow the details eluded her.

Frustrated Alice opened her eyes again and squinted against the sunlight that came tumbling into the room through all of the three windows in Sam’s office. Her eyes traveled back towards the portrait of Sam and Jody and even though it was just that, a photograph, she could almost feel the warmth and love radiating from it. Pensively Alice stared at the portrait, while Trishia’s voice faded into the background. Sam and Jody looked so happy together. Their love seemed almost palpable and just looking at both women being together could make anyone smile.

The smooth but cold voice from her nightmares sounded in the back of her mind, echoing words full of hate and disgust.

Damn, queers. Should put them all on a ship and sink it.

But this time the words did not scare Alice. Somehow, while looking at the picture, she had expected them to surface again and they just filled her with sadness and anger. She did not understand why people would object to two women, or men, loving each other. Wasn’t real love something everybody wanted in their lives? Wasn’t it something people went through great lengths through, to have that one special person they could share their future with?

Alice was not raised to be a religious person. Truth to be told, when her mother and brother had died and she had been roaming the streets, fighting a daily battle to survive, while society had seemed to have turned its back on her, she had lost the little faith she once might have had. The concept of love had been alien to her. But ever since she had arrived at Murrook Farm, she had experienced something that she thought no longer existed and another memory had gradually surfaced again. Words she had once heard when she had accepted a meal at church in Sydney, where a group of its members tried to provide food and shelter for the homeless.

It is not hard to hate, we just have to let our anger take over and let darkness take control of our soul. But what would we gain by that? Will the bitterness that accompanies hate make us happy? I dare say it will not. It is the easy way out. Real strength is found in love. Why? Because even if times are difficult and even if it seems like the future is dark and desolate: love never fails. And even if it seems you are all alone, you are not. God loves you. He loves all of us, no matter who we are and where we are from. God is love…

At that time Alice had been more interested in a decent meal than the sermon that was being given from the pulpit. She had let the words patiently wash over her and had softly snorted when the minister had spoken about God’s love. She had decided that even if there was a God who loved her, other people never would follow his example and she would always be alone.

But that was before she had met the kind and hospitable McDonnell family and their friends. And now, after having been accepted into their midst, the words she once had discarded as religious small talk, had taken on a completely new meaning and deep down inside her heart, Alice could feel a small flicker of hope, that was being fueled by the friendship and kindness which she was surrounded with.

A small smile tugged on the corner of her mouth and she let out a wistful sigh. Maybe she would be able to find her own special someone one day.

Alice’s musings were interrupted by some expletives Trishia uttered after switching off her phone and stuffing it into her pocket. With startled blue eyes Alice looked up at the tall policewoman who had a grim expression on her face and paced the floor in front of the desk.

“Spill it, Trish, you are killing me here,” Peter urged with a tense voice.

“The inspector just got off the phone with Superintendent Philips, in Sydney. She had some very interesting information and I can tell you we do have one very serious suspect in our fashionable friend. The Superintendent and our inspector had to conclude that our suspect has been providing information that is not entirely in sync with what we know as the truth,” Trishia told him through gritted teeth, while her eyes were blazing with anger. “There is a gap of one month between him leaving Sydney and arriving here. Guess which month that is?”

“April,” Peter immediately answered, feeling his heart rate pick up, while the adrenaline started to flow in abundance.

“Exactly. And can you guess the reason for his delay?”

Peter was about to answer that it probably had something to do with his urge to end another teenage life, but he swallowed down the crude remark to spare Alice’s feelings.

“Enlighten me, please,” he sighed.

“His wife was sick and needed to be admitted to a hospital.”

Peter’s eyebrows disappeared in his hairline and the stunned expression on his face was almost comical.

“Wife? ”

“Right,” Trishia mumbled.

“Well, that makes him the first single married man I have ever met,” Peter cynically remarked. “What an asshole. How in the name of the good Father did he ever think he could get away with that fairy tale?”

“He almost did,” Trishia sighed. “Anyway, the inspector will start pulling as much information as she can, but seeing it is Saturday, that might be a little hard. She told us to stay put and, I quote: ‘Make sure to get those bloody toys of Peter’s brother up in the trees’.”

In spite of the situation, Peter chuckled and he could almost hear their frustrated inspector bark her orders at Trishia.

“Oh, and she will try and get the green light for a search warrant as soon as she can. She was already working on it.”

The sound of an approaching car made them tense and Peter quickly jumped to his feet to look out the window. He smirked when he saw a familiar van and the sturdy figure of his brother, who was frozen in place next to his car, with Kurt standing in front of him.

“Here’s Mike,” he smirked. “He has just met Kurt.”

After Sam, who had been expecting Michael Jones, rescued him from the ever watchful German Shepard, she had introduced him to her family and walked him to her office. She was just about to knock on the door, when it was opened and she looked straight into Peter’s twinkling eyes.

“I’m glad you could make it this quick, mate,” he greeted his brother, slapping him on the back. “We would like the stuff up as fast as we can.”

“I understand that Pete. It’s good thing I had all the equipment you need. Hey, Trish,” he greeted the policewoman with a smile. “How are you doing?”

“Been better, Pete,” Trishia answered with a smile of her own. She had always liked her partner’s older brother and appreciated his honesty and sense of humor. “But I am sure your gadgets will be able to take away some of my worries.”

“That’s the plan, Trish,” Michael said. “It’s a very good system and I will make sure it will be up and running before the end of the day. I need to borrow my little brother though, if you don’t mind.”

“We will all help, Michael,” Sam said, casting a look at Alice’s drained face.

She raised an eyebrow and shot Trishia a quizzical look. The policewoman tried to look relaxed and leaned back against the desk with the TV and VCR. ‘ Later’ she mouthed and Sam nodded in understanding. Turning back to Michael Jones she gestured towards the room.

“Do you think this could be the command center?” she joked.

“I don’t see why not,” Michael answered, taking in the spacious room, with the large windows. “I have installed surveillance equipment in smaller places than this.”

“Great,” Sam replied with relief. “I guess I will let you get on with it then. I’ll be back to give a hand, but it looks like Alice needs something to eat, so, is it alright if she comes with me?”

The teenager looked up at the blond woman and her blue eyes radiated pain and fatigue. Sam’s heart went out to the girl and she gently squeezed a slender shoulder.

“Sure, Sam. I am sorry about this interruption Alice, I hope you…” Trishia apologized, but she was interrupted by the girl.

“I understand,” Alice softly spoke, slowly getting up from the huge chair. “And I do feel a little faint, so maybe it’s better if I eat something first. If…if there’s something else I…I will let you know. Or if you have any questions. I still don’t remember a whole lot, but I’d like to help in any way I can.”

“We appreciate that Alice, thank you,” Peter smiled warmly, patting her shoulder. He turned towards Trishia and rubbed his hands together.

“Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” he suggested.

“Sounds like a plan,” Trishia answered, reaching inside her pocket to extract her cell phone, in order to clip it back on her waistband again. Her elbow accidentally hit the ‘pause’ button of the VCR and immediately the black screen lit up, to show the still image of their main suspect.

The occupants of the room seemed to freeze. Sam’s eyes took in the picture and she immediately realized that this was the person Trishia and Peter suspected of being the murderer. Her eyes turned to slits and anyone who would have looked at her at that moment, would have noticed the hard, cold glint. But nobody did. Everybody was staring at the TV screen and the silence was almost palpable.

Michael cleared his throat and looked at his brother with a look of surprise.

“I know that bloke,” he stated, pointing his finger at the screen.

Peter and Trishia exchanged astonished looks and for a moment they were both speechless. Sam, who was standing close to Alice, could feel the teenager’s hand on her wrist and without looking down at the girl, she could tell she was trembling.

“Then…who do you think that is?” Peter asked his brother, needing to know if Michael was absolutely right.

Before Michael could open his mouth though, to answer the question, another voice broke the silence. It was just a mere whisper, but the impact almost blew the police officers away.

“Martin Coles,” Alice’s hoarse voice sounded.
part 13
From a distance the house, situated on top of the hill and surrounded by tall trees, was a picture of serenity. In the background the Pacific Ocean could be seen, its endless blue body stretching out to the horizon, where it touched the clear blue sky.

The grassy slope in front of the house was bordered by happily blooming flowers and provided a colorful distraction against the trees and bushes with their countless shades of green.

In the grass a dog was lying under a tall tree, using the shadow it provided to stay out of the hot sun. He was panting heavily, his tongue lolling between his impressive strong teeth. Even though he was tired from running around and playing, his eyes never lost their alertness. His tall, blonde human friend had specifically told him to stay under the tree and guard the place. And Kurt knew she had been serious about it, because she had even brought him a big bowl of fresh water and something to nibble on.

Kurt yawned and put his nozzle down on his front paws, a perfect picture of contentment and relaxation. But a closer look showed that his dark brown eyes were not sleepy at all.

Inside the house, the tension was almost palpable.

“Are you sure, Alice? I mean, absolutely positive?” Trishia urged, when she had managed to regain her composure. Her green-blue eyes bore into a pair of clear blue ones and what she saw did not need an answer. The mixture of surprise, horror and fear told her all she needed to know.

Sam had wrapped an arm around Alice’s shoulders and pulled the girl into a one armed hug. She could feel the slender body tremble and she just hoped that the girl wouldn’t fall apart, after unexpectedly being confronted with her nemesis.

“And how do you know this bloke?” Peter asked his brother with a frown.

“Remember my mate Carl Higgins, who moved down south to take over his uncle’s business when the old man got sick?” Michael spoke, seeing his younger brother nod. “Well, Carl has dramatically improved and extended the business, when I was there last year, he showed me around. This guy was in the office,” Michael explained, pointing to the picture on the screen. “Carl introduced him to me as a friend and business partner.”

“What kind of business?” Trishia asked, her eyes darting between the two brothers.

“Carl sells surveillance equipment, like I do. But when the internet became real popular, he invested in something new as well, that is where Martin came into the picture.”

“What new thing?” Trishia asked slowly.

“Web cams,” Michael answered. “Well, especially beach cams, where people can check out the surf and all that. It is supposed to be real popular among the beach bums and surfers. And tourists of course.”

Trishia let the words sink in and settle in her brain, making it possible for her to mentally connect a few dots and when the invisible lines were drawn, her eyes went wide with shock. She cast a look at Sam and could tell by the expression on the blonde’s face that she had come to the same conclusion.

“Sonofabitch,” Sam whispered.

“Amen to that,” Trishia wryly remarked. “That just explains a lot.”

“Am I missing something?” Peter impatiently asked, not able to hide his annoyance. “I don’t think that. . . sonofabitchonaleakingsurfboard. . . Damn!” he exclaimed when reality sank in. “That sneaky mongrel!”

“Again: amen to that,” Trishia replied, already speed dialing the inspector’s cell phone number.

“Inspector? It’s Trishia. Listen. . . ”

Inside, the house was bustling with activity. Michael and Peter Jones, with help from Sam and Lucy, had been busy rearranging Sam’s office in a way that the surveillance equipment could be set up and the tall blonde could still use her office the way she was used to.

In the corner, the VCR and TV were replaced by three different units of the surveillance system that would allow them to keep an eye on the whole property from one single spot. Michael had also brought some night vision cameras that would be mounted in some very strategic places. Sam had asked Peter to tell his brother to bring all the equipment he thought a place like Murrook Farm would need and Michael had complied. The result was impressive and Sam had softly whistled when she had seen Michael unpack the different crates and boxes he had brought with him.

In spite of the necessity of having a whole security system installed, Sam’s eyes had shone with excitement. Jody, who knew her partner loved electronic gadgets, had smiled when Sam tried hard not to touch everything that came out of the boxes. She was very interested in what things were and how they worked, but she knew that if she would examine each and every piece, they would not be finished before the end of the day, even though Michael had reassured her that the whole system was a plug-and-play and could be set up in a few minutes.

The thing that had brought a big grin to her face was Michael’s idea about how to hide the camera’s from view. He and Peter had gone through the different areas where the cameras could be set up and when Sam had asked whether it would be possible to spot them from the road, the two brothers had looked at each other with smug faces.

Peter had crooked his finger at Sam and obediently she had followed him out of the house, to Michael’s van, an equally curious Lucy and Jody in tow.

With a gesture that could only be described as ‘dramatic’ Peter had opened the door of the van and had stepped aside.

Sam’s face had sported a deep frown when she had peeked inside, but soon a slow smile had spread over her face.

“So, and your point is. . . your brother has a job on the side as biology teacher?” Lucy had grinned, peering over Jody’s shoulder.

“I think that is how he will hide the cameras, Freckles,” Jody had chuckled, pointing at the hollow tree trunks, branches and some fake birds that almost looked real, until a closer look revealed the small opening in their bodies where the lens of the camera would peek through.

He really had expected to have more time. Unpleasantly surprised he had realized things had moved faster during his absence than he had anticipated. It was no disaster and it surely would not ruin the plans he had made, but it was annoying just the same. It meant he had made an error in judgment and that was something he was not used to at all. Until now all his plans had always worked out. But when he had pulled over at the parking area next to the building he had spotted a familiar car, one he had not expected to see there. Not yet anyway. It was a Saturday and if the inspector found it necessary to come back on her day off, things had been developing faster than he thought.

A pair of muddy brown eyes looked back at him from the rearview mirror and he wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“Unfortunate situation, but nothing I can’t handle,” he told himself, rubbing his chin and enjoying the feel of the smooth skin underneath his fingertips.

“Besides, I need to improvise now and that can be fun,” he giggled. “Better go home and pack some stuff, before that bitch and her right hand dyke decide to do some serious damage.”

He put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking area, careful not to draw any unwanted attention. Within a few seconds his car was swallowed up by the continuous stream of traffic.

With tired eyes Trishia looked to the side of the house where Peter was saying goodbye to his brother. Michael had been right. It had not taken him long to install the cameras and set up the entire system. In less than two hours they were ‘up and running’ as Michael had put it.

With a small smile Trishia remembered the look on Michael Jones’ face when Sam had written him a check. The tall woman had paid for the expensive equipment without even blinking her eyes and by the look on the technician’s face, she knew that her friend had given him extra money as well. Probably quite a lot, because he had opened his mouth when he had seen the check and it had taken him a while to produce the accompanying sound as well.

Hesitantly he had asked Sam if she was sure and when the blonde had slapped him on the back and reassured him she had not made a mistake, he had grinned and gratefully pumped her hand.

“Are you okay?” a soft voice suddenly sounded and when Trishia turned her head she looked into a pair of worried green eyes.

She smiled and wrapped her arm around Lucy, pulling her close. For a brief moment she closed her eyes and wished the whole situation away. Her body and mind craved some rest and she longed to take her lover home and relax. Or better yet, go on a vacation and indulge in some much needed rest, relaxation and loving attention.

“When this is all over, we will take a vacation,” Trishia sighed, kissing Lucy’s cheek. “How about driving up North and finding a nice, quiet hotel somewhere?”

Lucy raised her head and looked at her lover with evident surprise. When she saw Trishia was serious about it she smiled and nodded in agreement.

“Just you, me, a quiet beach, a blue ocean and no cell phones?”

“That’s right,” Trishia chuckled, tightening her hold on the warm body that was pressed against her side.

“Sounds wonderful,” Lucy sighed, burying her face against Trishia’s shoulder.

“Then that is exactly what we will do as soon as we have sorted out this mess,” the policewoman promised.

“I can’t wait,” Lucy mumbled, feeling Trishia’s other arm slip around her body as well and pull her closer. “That will be our first vacation together. Do you think you will be able to cope being around me twenty four hours a day?”

“I don’t think that will be a struggle,” Trishia smiled, nuzzling the soft skin of her lover’s neck that was temptingly close. She could not resist the urge to kiss the sensitive spot behind Lucy’s ear, even though she knew that Fiona was watching them from just a few meters away. But to her surprise she did not hear the usual cat call or smart remark.

When she looked up, she noticed why Lucy’s sister was so quiet and she chuckled.

Yarra had her strong arm wrapped around Fiona’s neck and her hand was clamped over the teenager’s mouth, while the dark haired girl was trying to pull herself free. But Yarra was taller and stronger than Fiona and while the dark skinned girl winked at Trishia she dragged Fiona with her inside the house.

“What?” Lucy dreamily asked, not inclined to leave her comfortable spot any time soon.

“Your sister just got removed from the porch,” Trishia grinned. “With some bodily force.”

“I don’t have to ask which sister that was,” Lucy sighed. “I am surprised she didn’t make any of those Fiona patented remarks.”

“It’s hard to talk with a hand covering your mouth,” Trishia dryly answered. “Yarra saved us.”

“I hope Fiona doesn’t bite her,” Lucy chuckled. “I’d hate to take her to the hospital to get the poor girl a rabies shot.”

“Oh, ouch,” Trishia laughed. “That was not a nice thing to say, honey.”

“Pay backs,” Lucy mumbled, snuggling closer to the policewoman’s strong body. “Besides, you know we don’t mean half the things we say to each other.”

“Yes, I know,” Trishia answered. “You girls can’t live with and can’t live without each other.”

“Self defense,” Lucy remarked.

“I think it’s more a matter of the two of you being alike so much.”

Lucy raised her head to look into a pair of twinkling eyes and she raised her eyebrows.

“If that is the case, then do I need to be afraid of some competition in. . . oh…let’s say four or five years?”

Trishia brought her face closer to that of her lovers until they were nose to nose. Being so close to Lucy she could clearly see the tiny dark brown and grey specks in a sea of mostly green and for a moment she allowed herself to just gaze into its depths and forget all about where they were and who could be watching.

“You don’t have to worry about that,” she answered in a serious voice. “I don’t give away my heart easily and I am a very loyal person. I don’t think lightly about commitment.”

“Commitment?” Lucy breathed. “I. . . are we. . . I mean. . . ”

The place and time were not the way that Trishia had imagined them to be. In her mind there had been a romantic, candle light dinner, a walk along the beach, a star filled sky and a soft breeze ruffling Lucy’s dark hair. A clear moon should have painted silver sparks into the eyes of the woman in her arms. And in the distance the sound of the endless waves would have provided a soothing background music; a symbol of eternity.

Instead the sun was high in the sky, its heat painting a light coat of moisture on Trishia’s cotton clad back. She was filled with worry about the near future and knew the troubled lines around her eyes merged with the dark circles underneath them.

But the opportunity was a perfect one. . .

“You have my heart, Lucy McDonnell. You captured it the moment I saw you climb out of that window at Sarah and Megan’s house.”

Trishia saw the moisture pool in the dark green eyes that were still so very close, she felt like she was drowning in them.

“I can’t imagine my life without you in it anymore and I don’t want to. Lucy McDonnell, will you do me the honor of sharing the rest of your life with me?” Trishia whispered, suddenly feeling her heart pound in her chest.

For a moment, time stood still. Lucy gazed into Trishia’s eyes and saw all the love she felt for the tall policewoman reflected back to her, with a sincerity and openness that almost took her breath away and left her in awe.

A feeling of complete happiness and love flooded all her senses, leaving a warmth that seemed to fill her whole being.

Lucy reached out a hand and tenderly cupped Trishia’s cheek. Slowly her thumb caressed the soft skin and she could feel the policewoman lean into the touch, while their eyes were still locked together. In Trishia’s eyes she could see the vulnerability that was being fed by growing insecurity about Lucy’s answer.

“I never want to wake up again without you next to me,” Lucy finally answered in a voice that was hoarse with emotion. “Yes, I will share the rest of my life with you, Trishia Waters.”

Trishia closed her eyes and she let out a breath that suspiciously sounded like a mixture of a sigh and a sob. When she opened her eyes again, Lucy could see the tears in her eyes and again she could feel herself falling deeper in love with the tall policewoman.

“Were you afraid I would say ‘no’?” Lucy asked in a whisper, brushing away a strand of short curly hair.

“A little,” Trishia confessed, looking somewhat sheepishly. “I know you love me, but there was this tiny, little bit of insecurity that was nagging me in the back of my mind.”

“I do love you, Trishia,” Lucy stated, wrapping her hands around Trishia’s neck and pulling the taller woman closer. “I love you,” she whispered again, before their lips met and they lost themselves in a kiss that was tender and loving, yet passionate and hungry at the same time.

After Michael had left, Peter Jones had waited a few minutes at the side of the house, because the last thing he wanted to do was interrupt the loving intermezzo on the veranda.

Politely he had looked the other way when his partner and Lucy had started kissing, but Peter’s interest in Sam and Jody’s yard was limited and after a little while the sturdy policeman became a little impatient.

He cleared his throat and quickly glanced aside to see if his subtle signal had the desired effect. Unfortunately for him, both women were so engrossed in each other, that Peter knew he could throw some firecrackers in their direction and they would still not respond.

“And why would they?” he asked himself with a smile. “They produce enough fire and crackers themselves.”

So Peter decided to grasp the ugly bull by its horns and slowly walked towards the two love birds. Unnoticed by the two women he approached them and climbed the few steps up to the veranda.

“Excuse me,” he mumbled, passing them on his way to the door. There was still no response and with a huge grin Peter finally stepped inside the kitchen, where he was greeted by a few similar expressions of amusement.

“That was courageous, Peter,” Jody complimented him with a chuckle. “It’s so funny they didn’t even notice you. They really must be on another planet at the moment.”

“I just hope they keep it decent,” Sam joked, the amusement evident in her clear blue eyes. “Or otherwise I will have to drag these three curious teenagers to the back of the house and lock them up.”

“Yeah, right,” Fiona snorted. “You and which army?”

“Are you challenging me?” Sam asked, lowering her voice to a soft purr. “Ooh, I love a good challenge.”

“Down, honey,” Jody laughed, using one of Kurt’s commands and backhanding Sam in the stomach. “Don’t scare the girls.”

Sam smiled at the smaller woman and quickly grabbed her hand, bringing it to her lips and softly kissing the skin.

“Oh, no, not you two as well. Is this contagious?” Fiona exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air and rolling her eyes.

“If it is we will have to find you somebody, Fiona,” Yarra chuckled, her dark eyes sparkling with mischief.

Fiona cast a look at her friend and grinned when she noticed how close Yarra and Alice were sitting together. For a moment she hesitated, afraid to hurt her new friend’s feelings, but then she decided that if Alice wanted to be a part of their family, she had to be able to take a joke.

“Why find me somebody, C.J.?” she asked with a smirk, wiggling her eyebrows. “Did you find somebody already?”

Yarra threw back her head and laughed out loud. The happy sound made Alice smile and she cast a look aside, to see Yarra wink at her.

Sam and Jody exchanged an amused look and they both suppressed a chuckle. It had not escaped their attention that Yarra and Alice seemed to get along really well and to them the way Yarra stole glances of the cute blonde was endearing. Although they both realized that if their young neighbor would seriously fall for Alice, things could become very complicated.

“Why does she call you ‘C.J.’?” Alice curiously asked, not aware of the deeper meaning behind her two new friends’ bantering.

“Well, I am not entirely perfect, Alice,” Yarra started to explain, trying to get a rise out of Fiona, who obliged and made some gagging noises. “I have a soft spot for cookies and unfortunately Fiona once saw me devour a whole batch of chocolate chip cookies and that is why she decided to call me Cookie Jar, or C.J.”

“I swear Alice, don’t ever leave anything that remotely resembles a cookie unsupervised when Yarra is around, or it will disappear forever,” Fiona smirked. “The most amazing thing to me was that, after all those cookies, she wasn’t even sick. She must be an alien or something.”

“You are just jealous,” Yarra grinned, shooting her friend a teasing look.

“She doesn’t have to be,” Jody piped in. “I vaguely remember an occasion when Fiona was. . . I think she was about five years old when mom made us some baked jam rolls and when she had put them on the table to cool off, most of them mysteriously disappeared.”

“How many?” Yarra eagerly asked, grinning at Fiona who did her best to look bored and indifferent.

“Six,” Joan answered with a smile, shooting her youngest daughter an affectionate look. “Fiona accused the cat of eating them, but she was really sick and after throwing up a few times. . . well, let’s just say the evidence was clear.”

“Eeeew, Mom, that is gross,” Fiona mumbled, sending a laughing Yarra a look of feigned hurt. “Don’t laugh, C.J. I was only five and didn’t know better.”

“Oh, suck it up, Fi,” Yarra answered, wiping her eyes. “I guess we need to find you a suitable nick name as well.”

“Oh, great. Like ‘Red’ is not bad enough already.”

“Red?” Alice echoed, sending Yarra a quizzical look.

“When our sweet Fiona here was a little girl, her hair was redder than it was dark, like it is now,” Yarra explained. “So, they called her ‘Red’”

“And who told you that story, if I may ask?” Fiona asked with a raised eyebrow, shooting Jody an accusing look, who immediately held up both hands and shook her head in denial.

“Lucy,” Yarra grinned. “I only had to ask once.”

“Figures,” Fiona grumbled. “I’ll get her for that. After she finishes licking Trishia’s tonsils.”

“Fiona!” Joan McDonnell exclaimed, but her words were practically lost in the howls of laughter that Fiona’s words evoked.

Outside on the veranda Trishia and Lucy were brought back into reality by the sound of laughing coming from the kitchen. They smiled at each other and shared one more, quick kiss.

“Do you think they are laughing at us?” Lucy asked, still aware of the rubbery feeling in her knees that Trishia’s kisses had caused.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it has something to do with us,” Trishia admitted. “I guess we did provide some real live entertainment. I am sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to make a spectacle out of us, it’s just that. . . ”

“Ssshh,” Lucy silenced her lover by pressing her fingers against a pair of soft lips. “I was doing my part as well, wasn’t I?”

“Oh, yes, definitely,” Trishia readily agreed, letting out a deep sigh.

Lucy chuckled and slowly untangled herself from the strong arms that were still holding her close.

“I wish we could continue this, but I am suddenly very aware of the audience we have,” she confessed. “Besides, I know you promised to call Carol Wong back after Michael was done with installing the equipment.”

“Yes, you are right,” Trishia regretfully agreed. “Duty calls. I hope she managed to get a search warrant for Martin Coles’ place. Somehow I feel a look around that place could be very enlightening.”

“Trish?” Lucy’s voice sounded uncharacteristically subdued and the policewoman shot her lover a curious glance.

“Do you mind if I tell my family? About us, I mean? It has been a very tense couple of days and I know they would welcome some good news.”

“Sure, baby,” Trishia smiled. “Whatever you want to do is fine by me.”

“Thanks,” Lucy whispered, standing on her toes to press her lips against Trishia’s, before grabbing the taller woman’s hand and setting course towards the kitchen.

It had not taken him long to sort out his belongings and pack a few boxes and suitcases. Martin Coles did not have much material possessions. The furniture in the house was old and worn and had been in there already when he rented the place. So were the kitchen utensils and the gardening tools, which he never used, since he despised getting muddy clothes and hands.

The only thing he spent a lot of money on, were his clothes and the top notch computer that was sitting on a sturdy table in the corner of the room.

Martin sucked in his bottom lip, trying hard to figure out a way to take the computer with him. It would not be hard to disconnect the different parts and stuff them in some boxes. His car was big enough to transport it all, especially since he had opted for a flat screen monitor that would not take up much room at all.

Martin had always been a careful person, who weighed his options and at all times tried to proceed with caution. He knew that if he would take the computer with him and be caught, he would be in trouble. So the best option would be to delete all his files and to make sure he would not leave a trace of anything that could tie him to illegal activities.

Martin crawled underneath the desk, to disconnect the video from the computer and decided that it would be safe to at least take that piece of equipment with him. He did not know what the future would bring and maybe one day he could use it for his entertainment again, or sell it if he ever needed the money.

When he got back to his feet again he automatically glanced outside and for a moment he thought his heart would stop.

Across the street the familiar car of his partner, Phil Kanides, slowly drove by and he could clearly see the look of tension and anger on the dark man’s face.

“Dammit!” Martin cursed, realizing Phil’s presence could only mean one thing. “I need to get out of here!”

Martin was sure that Phil had not yet seen him, but stepping outside would quickly change that. Martin knew the noose around his neck was tightening, but he had always managed to escape being captured and he was positive this time would be no difference.

There was something there that had not been present before though. It was a feeling of anger, almost hate, towards the person responsible for all his problems. If she had not run away, he would have been home free a long time ago. It was her fault that he had to burn down the house. And it was also her fault that those three beautiful blonde girls lost their lives. But then, she had always been a tough one to discipline.

“Not anymore, though, blondie,” Martin Coles hissed through clenched teeth. “I know where you are and I will punish you for what you did to me. You will pay!”

Hastily he grabbed his police gun from the table and slipped it inside its holster, underneath his jacket. He checked his wallet to see if he was carrying his police identification and opened the backdoor.

Casting one, long look over his shoulder he almost sighed with regret, but then he squared his shoulders and purposefully strode to the back of the yard, where a small gate lead to an overgrown track. He knew that if he followed the track, it would lead him away from the house, towards a busy shopping area, where he could easily blend in with the crowd.

A small giggle escaped his lips when he thought about Phil Kanides’ face as soon as he would discover Martin’s car was still in the driveway, but his partner was long gone.

“Serves him right, dirty Greek,” Martin hummed, looking forward to his final revenge. “Just a little while longer and I can get rid of that dyke as well and then. . . you’ll be mine, Alice. I will make you nice and dead.”

Chuckling about his own sick thoughts, Martin Coles was filled with anticipation, while his eyes shone with a cold madness.

Just as Trishia opened the screen door to the kitchen, her cell phone started buzzing again and with a quick, apologetic glance towards Lucy, she pulled it from her waistband and brought it to her ear.

“Inspector?” she greeted the person on the other side of the connection.

“I got the search warrant and I have a team ready to enter his house,” Carol Wong’s voice sounded. “In the meantime I discovered a few new disturbing facts about Martin Coles. I will fill you in later, but apparently he has a few different bank accounts and as many aliases. I can’t wait to have a nice chat with this angel face.”

“When will they. . . ?” Trishia asked in a tense voice, aware of all the eyes that were glued to her face.

“As we speak,” Carol Wong interrupted. “Phil arrived at the scene about five minutes ago and I just heard that the house is surrounded. They are going in now.”

“Damn,” Trishia muttered under her breath. She had sworn to keep Alice and the McDonnells safe and nothing would make her leave Murrook Farm unprotected, but not being able to be there when they entered Martin Coles’ house stung.

Trishia cast a look at Peter, who was casually leaning against the kitchen counter. His posture seemed relaxed, but Trishia had known her partner for a long time and she knew he was as tense as she was.

“They are going inside Coles’ house right now,” she spoke, seeing Peter purse his lips. She knew he would have loved to have been there as well, but knowing his temper, maybe it was better this way.

Trishia held the cell phone tightly to her ear, afraid to miss anything. In the background she could hear the crackling noise of another connection, possibly a police radio, which Carol Wong used to stay informed.

“They are in,” the inspector announced, translating the crackling noises into something Trishia could understand.

Carol Wong was silent as they both braced themselves for what would happen next. Trishia picked up the unmistaken cries of ‘clear’ that resonated through Carol Wong’s office like a lashing whip and a feeling of dread started to make its presence known in the pit of her stomach.

She nervously rubbed the back of her neck, while her eyes locked with Peter’s. From the look on her face he had an idea of what was going on and he grinded his teeth, pushing back the anger he felt rising in his chest.

“Please, please, please,” he silently pleaded. “Let him be there, for Alice’s sake. For the sake of those poor girls. For their families. For the damn sake of the whole world!”

“He is WHAT?” Carol Wong’s voice suddenly bellowed in her ear and Trishia winced, loosening the grip on her cell phone. “He freakin’ isn’t there? WHAT the HELL?”

Trishia closed her eyes and felt the bile rise in the back of her throat. She did not have the heart to look at Alice, or anyone else that was present in the room. From what she understood of the one side of the conversation she was able to pick up, Martin Coles had not been there when the police had barged into his home.

“Sonofafreakingbitch,” Carol Wong cursed, adding a few more expletives that would make a sailor blush. “Trish, did you get that?”

“I did,” Trishia sighed, opening her eyes and staring at the floor.

“Stay where you are. Is Peter still there as well?”

“Yes, he is,” Trishia answered in a defeated tone.

“The both of you stay there. I don’t have to tell you why.”

“No, you don’t,” Trishia admitted, feeling tired and frustrated.

“I’ll check some things out and I will be back with you as soon as I can. And Trishia? In the name of everything that is sacred: be careful!”

“I will, Inspector,” Trishia promised, letting her gaze travel to Lucy who was staring at her with worried eyes.

“What was that all about?” Sam frowned, when Trishia switched off the cell phone and clipped it back on her belt.

“Our main suspect managed to leave the house just before my fellow police officers arrived,” Trishia answered in all honesty, being painfully straightforward. “Officially he is a fugitive now.”

She vaguely registered the shock on the faces that were all turned towards her, but her eyes focused on Alice. The teenager was sitting on the edge of her seat and stared at her with big blue eyes that were wide in horror. Her face was pale and Trishia could tell by just looking at her, how scared she was.

“He will be coming here,” Alice stated, feeling an arm slip around her shoulders to give her some silent support. Without glancing aside she knew it was Yarra.

“I need to go,” she whispered, gently pushing away Yarra’s arm and getting to her feet. “Because of me you are all in danger. I need to go right away.”
part 14
For a brief moment, the room was blanketed in a tense silence. Jody and Sam exchanged a worried look, while Fiona and Yarra stood up from their chairs, standing on either side of Alice, unconsciously lending some silent support.

“Where will you go, honey?” Joan softly asked, breaking the silence and shooting the teenager a look of gentle concern. She did not want to confront Alice with the fact that the girl had nowhere to run, but she wanted her to be realistic and not do anything that she would regret later.

“You can’t keep me here,” Alice managed to utter in a strangled voice, shooting Trishia a defiant look. “If I want to go then that is my decision.”

“We understand that, Alice,” Jody spoke in a soft voice, walking around the table and stopping in front of the girl.

A pair of frightened blue eyes locked with her concerned green ones and again Jody’s heart went out to the troubled teenager. Alice looked like she could run out of the door at any moment and Jody was aware of that. She knew she had to proceed with caution if she wanted to convince Alice to stay. Both Fiona and Yarra looked at her with pleading eyes, like Jody was be the only one who would be able to stop Alice from doing something foolish.

“If I stay here, you will all be in danger. You don’t know him, Jody,” Alice cried, unaware of the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. “He..he is…he is so cruel, I….”

The teenager paled when all of a sudden she was assaulted by memories that had been carefully locked away for a long time. Shattered images and sounds played like a movie in her head and a heart wrenching sob escaped through trembling lips.

Alice wrapped her arms around her stomach and almost doubled over in physical and emotional pain that the memories brought along with them.

“Oh, God. Oh, God, please,” she breathlessly cried, swaying like she was going to fall over.

Jody stepped forward in order to catch the girl, but Yarra had already sprung into action. The dark skinned girl had firmly wrapped her arms around her new friend and pulled her against her slender, but strong body. She could feel the sobs rake through Alice and when the blonde’s knees buckled, she gently lowered her to the floor, still holding the crying girl close to her.

With tear filled eyes Yarra looked up at Jody, who was kneeling in front of Alice and took the girl’s hands in her own. They were cold and clammy.

“We are here for you, sweetie,” Jody tried to comfort the teenager. “When I said you were welcome to stay as long as you like, I meant it and so did Sam. We don’t want you to be out on the streets by yourself, Alice. We want you here, with us.”

Jody’s words slowly penetrated the pain filled mist that had invaded Alice’s senses and the teenager lifted her head to look at the woman in front of her with an expression in her eyes that bordered panic.

“But you won’t be safe,” she whispered. “If anything happened to you or anyone else, I would never forgive myself.”

“And if you would leave and something would happen to you, we would never forgive ourselves,” Sam spoke, kneeling on the ground next to Jody and putting a hand on Alice’s shoulder. “I know you are scared, Alice. I think we all are. But Peter and Trishia are here and we have the security system installed, so I think this place is the safest place to be. For all of us. Please stay.”

Alice closed her eyes and slumped back against Yarra’s chest, hiding her face in the crook of the dark girl’s neck. Her breathing was fast and shallow and she was desperately trying to regain her composure. Her heart had been pounding so fast it had made her dizzy, but it gradually slowed down and Alice let the strong arms that had provided a warm safety net bring her some much needed comfort. It slowly dawned on her that she was feeling safe and that realization helped her to take a few deep breaths and push away the panic that had constricted her chest just a few minutes before.

“I am sorry,” she finally mumbled. “I never meant to be such a headache.”

Immediately Yarra’s arms gave her a playful squeeze and the dark girl’s voice sounded close to her ear.

“No need to be sorry, Alice,” Yarra spoke, keeping the tone of her voice light in an attempt to ease the tension. “Believe me, these people love headaches.”

And I do too, she silently admitted to herself, avoiding Sam and Jody’s eyes that she could almost feel burn into her skin. At least, I do like this one.

“Do you know the story about the Wallaroo and the Willy-wagtail, Alice?” Yarra asked in a gentle voice. She could feel the girl in her arms shake her head and she smiled.

“One day, a long time ago an old Wallaroo was too sick and hungry to go hunting. When a paddymelon crossed its path, he asked him to go look for his family. They had gone fishing, but never returned. The paddymelon wanted to help the old Wallaroo and he promised him to search for his family. When the paddymelon was at a distance, the Wallaroo called after him to take his boomerang, because he might need it. The paddymelon thought that would be a good idea and told the Wallaroo to throw it after him. And he did. But the boomerang was thrown with so much force, that it killed the paddymelon in an instant. The Wallaroo hopped over to dead paddymelon, skinned him, cooked his meat and ate him.

After a while the paddymelon’s tribe became worried about him and an iguana volunteered to go and search for him. He crossed paths with the Wallaroo and the same thing happened to him. He was killed and the Wallaroo ate him. After the iguana failed to return home, his tribe called a council meeting. They were afraid that both the paddymelon and the iguana were in the Land of Silence and would never return. A Willy-wagtail offered to go look for them and he promised to be very careful. He followed their tracks and came across the old Wallaroo, who asked him to go look for his relatives. The Willy-wagtail offered his assistance, but when the Wallaroo called after him to take his boomerang, he became suspicious. He was prepared when the Wallaroo threw the boomerang at him with all his might and he managed to jump aside. The Wallaroo became very angry at him and threw all the weapons he had at the Willy-wagtail, but he never hit him. Instead the Willy-wagtail took the boomerang and threw it at the Wallaroo, hitting him in the chest and killing him. He skinned the Wallaroo and prepared to eat it, but the flesh was too old and tough to eat. So he took the skin with him and went back home, to his tribe, telling them about the deceptive way the old Wallaroo had killed their friends. Everybody was sad about their loss. And from that day on it was decided by the tribe that nobody should ever travel alone again. As a mark of remembrance, Wallaroos have a strip of white fur on their chest, where the boomerang hit the old one and killed him.”

Yarra paused for a moment and was aware of the silence in the kitchen.

“You don’t have to walk alone, Alice,” she softly continued. “It is safer to stay with your friends, no matter how good your intentions are, of not wanting anyone to be harmed. Friends can rely on each other. They are there to provide comfort and to keep each other safe.”

Alice shifted in Yarra’s arm and unexpectedly a pair of red rimmed blue eyes looked at her from such a close range, Yarra’s heart skipped a beat and she involuntarily sucked in a breath, immediately hoping nobody had noticed.

“Thank you,” Alice whispered, managing a watery smile. “That was a nice story.”

“There is more where that came from,” Fiona spoke, after clearing her throat. “Yarra can tell all the stories and legends of her ancestors. When this is all over, we should camp out one night, make a nice fire and let her tell us some stories, Alice. That is so cool.”

“You should ask my dad,” Yarra grinned, grateful for Fiona’s response which had given her time to regain her composure. “He knows a lot of dances as well and he plays the didgeridoo.”

“Sounds like we will have to organize a party soon, huh?” Jody smiled, patting Alice’s knee and sending Yarra a grateful look. “That is, if we are invited as well?”

“Of course. At least you are not afraid of the creepy crawlers in the bush, like some people we know,” Fiona smirked, casting a look at Lucy who pulled a face and stuck out her tongue.

“You were not the one who was attacked by a legion of green ants,” Lucy replied with feigned hurt. “Those bites are painful, you know.”

“Served you right for not looking down before you parked your butt in the dirt,” Fiona shot back. “Face it Luce, you are a lousy girl’s scout.”

“I never pretended to be one in the first place,” Lucy mumbled. “Besides, I know better places to sleep than a lumpy, rock littered, hard bush floor.”

“I bet you wouldn’t mind if Trishia was there with you,” Fiona teased. “To kiss away all the pain.”

“Okay, girls, that is enough,” Sam called out, rising to her feet and pulling Jody with her. “Put a sock in it, Fi. You two can verbally assault each other later. Right now we need to discuss some serious business first.”

“So, will you stay here, Alice?” Yarra softly asked, before slowly releasing her hold on the blond teenager.

Alice swallowed hard and looked up at Jody through long, damp eyelashes. Part of her wanted to be ashamed of her outburst, but she knew there was no reason to feel that way, since Jody, Sam and their family had once more proven to be her friends. Again a part of the wall that Alice had built around her heart crumbled and fell, leaving her with a sense of safety and quiet happiness.

“I will stay,” she answered in a husky voice.

“Thank you, Alice,” Jody smiled, the relief evident on her face.

Alice answered the smile with one of her own and half turned to look at Yarra. Tentatively she put a hand on Yarra’s muscular arm and gently squeezed.

“Thanks, Yarra,” she whispered.

“No worries, Alice,” was the answer, while a pair of dark eyes shone with a bright, inner light. “Let me help you to your feet.”

In one fluid motion Yarra jumped up and extended her hand to Alice in a silent invitation. Without hesitance Alice grabbed it and let herself being pulled to her feet again, all traces of dizziness gone. When the fingers that were holding her hand relaxed and slipped away, they both felt a sense of loss.

“So, what is the plan?” Sam asked, looking to Trishia and Peter. “You think he will be stupid enough to come here?” she put words to everybody’s concern.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he did,” Peter mumbled, deliberately avoiding the concerned look in Jody’s eyes.

“What can we do?” Jody asked. “If he shows up here, I want to be prepared.”

“That’s my feisty wife,” Sam smiled, wrapping one arm around Jody’s shoulders and kissing her cheek. “But Jody is right, Trish: what can we do? I don’t want to be here and feel like a sitting duck.”

“Isn’t it possible for the girls to go to The Reef?” Lucy asked, looking at Trishia. “He wouldn’t know they’d be there and you could wait for him here. IF he shows up,” Lucy added. “You would only have to worry about yourself and Peter.”

“And me,” Sam added with determination. “I am not leaving.”

“If Sam stays, I’ll stay,” Jody immediately added, slipping her hand in Sam’s larger one and giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Right, this is going to be complicated,” Trishia sighed, shooting her lover a small smile. “I do think Lucy’s idea is a good one though, but there is one thing that worries me about it.”

“There won’t be anyone looking after the girls,” Peter said. “But it does have its advantages, Trish, you have to admit that. If Martin doesn’t know Alice is not here, he will never think about checking out The Reef. I think she would be pretty safe there.”

“There are too many ‘if’s’, Pete,” Trishia answered her partner. “I’d hate to leave anything to chance. If we are not with Alice, we won’t be able to protect her.”

Sam turned to the smaller woman at her side and looked at Jody with questioning eyes. What the redhead read in them was something she didn’t like, but when she opened her mouth to protest, Sam softly put a finger against her lips and sent her an apologetic smile.

“Hear me out, honey,” she pleaded. “I think Lucy’s idea could work. It will only be a matter of time before Martin Coles will find out that Alice is here, if he doesn’t already know. If the girls and your mom are away from here, Trishia and Peter will be able to completely focus on trying to capture him. We have the cameras to use and I know I can help with keeping an eye on them. I will get an extra security guard at the hotel and tell him to not let anyone near the executive floor. We might even give them a picture of Coles so they will know what he looks like and they can keep an eye out for him.” Sam cast a look at Trishia who nodded. “I would feel better if you would go with them, honey.”

“No. No, Sam, please don’t ask me to do that,” Jody whispered, feeling the tears sting in the back of her eyes. “I don’t want to be away from you. I went through hell last year and I don’t want to go through that again. Please!”

Sam bit her lip and wrapped Jody in her arms, pulling her close. She could hear the smaller woman softly cry and she could feel the pain lace through her heart, like a hot knife. She did not want to be away from her partner either, but Lucy’s idea had been a good one and Sam knew that the girls and Joan would be safe at The Reef, because she did not think Martin Coles would even think about trying to find Alice there.

She knew the events from a year ago had been hard on Jody. Those hours that Sam had been gone to meet Megan’s kidnappers and exchange herself for their friend, had been torture on them all. In the months after that drama, Jody had regularly woken up in the middle of the night, bathing in sweat, after having a nightmare about losing Sam.

“Listen to me, baby,” Sam whispered with lips that almost touched Jody’s ear. “Alice seems to really trust you. She listens to you. What if she gets another panic attack and tries to run? I know you could stop her from doing that. We need you to keep her safe, Jody.”

“That’s emotional blackmail, Sam,” Jody sniffed, knowing in her heart that her lover had just made a good point.

“I know and I am sorry,” Sam sighed, pulling her lover even closer. “But I know that you know that I am right.”

Sam could feel Jody nod against her chest and she knew in her heart that the smaller woman already had made the heartbreaking decision to leave Murrook Farm and go to The Reef, for Alice’s sake.

“I am so sorry, love,” Sam whispered again, swallowing away the lump in her throat. “I so wish things were different, but if it’s any consolation, it would make me feel a lot better to know you are at the Reef.”

“I guess I’d better go pack then,” Jody sighed, rubbing her cheek against Sam’s shoulder. “There is one up side to this though,” she unexpectedly added.

“There is?” Sam smiled.

“I am supposed to start work on Monday. I can sleep in now and have breakfast delivered.”

“You might be home again on Monday,” Sam smiled. “And if you are, I will make you breakfast.”

“Oh, I so hope it will be over by then, honey,” Jody grunted, slowly untangling herself from Sam’s arms. Before breaking contact completely, she reached up to give the tall blonde a quick kiss. “I love you.”

“I love you,” Sam smiled, feeling an aching loss when Jody stepped away from her to walk towards their bedroom in order to pack some clothes.

“I know it will probably be for the best,” Lucy mumbled. “But I can’t help wishing I would have kept my mouth shut.”

“It was a good idea,” Joan complimented her daughter, rubbing soothing circles on the tense muscles in her back. “I know it will be hard to be away from Trishia, but hopefully it will only be for a short period of time.”

“Away from Trishia?” Lucy echoed. “But I…”

“You are going with your sister and mom,” Trishia interrupted in a gentle but stern voice. “Peter, Sam and I will remain here.”

“But…” Lucy started to object.

“Honey, please?” Trishia pleaded, feeling guilty when she saw the defeated look on Lucy’s face. “I would feel a lot better if I don’t have to worry about you as well.”

“Me and my big mouth,” Lucy mumbled, only audible to Joan who was sitting closest to her daughter. “Does it occur to you that I might worry about you?”

“It does,” Trishia answered. “And I am sorry, Lucy. I really am.”

“There are worse things than being banished to The Reef,” Fiona helpfully added. “But I see your point, king size beds, Jacuzzi, room service, five star restaurant, yeah, I don’t like it there either,” she smirked, earning a slap from Yarra, who felt sorry for Lucy and Jody.

“I don’t have any clothes,” Lucy objected, knowing it was a lame excuse. “I have been walking around in the same clothes since yesterday morning. I think I should…”

“Borrow some of Jody,” Sam interrupted. “You two are about the same size, so that shouldn’t be a problem. And hopefully this arrangement won’t last long. I guess I’d better call The Reef and make sure the executive’s floor will be ready when you girls arrive.”

Yarra suppressed a yawn and slowly rose to her feet. It had been a very interesting day. Who knew when she was sneaking up to Fiona’s bedroom window she would make a new friend and somehow got involved in a murder mystery at the same time?

“I guess I’d better get home,” she announced, stretching her long limbs. “Or dad will have my hide when he comes back Monday,” she grinned. “I promised I would clean out the shed.”

Sam, who was talking on the phone, turned around and looked at Yarra with a frown.

“Your dad is not home?” she asked.

“Mom and dad are visiting relatives,” Yarra explained. “And the boys are studying hard for some exams they will be having soon, so they stayed up in Brisbane. It’s just me, myself and I.”

“That’s a crowd,” Fiona smirked. “And one of you actually is a handful already.”

“Listen who is talking,” Yarra grinned, giving her friend a friendly punch in the shoulder. “If I would only get into trouble half the time you create chaos, my life would be a constant mess.”

“Hey, it’s one of my talents,” Fiona shot back.

“Yarra,” Sam’s voice interrupted their bantering. “I really want you to come to The Reef as well. I don’t like the idea of you being home, while that…criminal might be roaming our property. He could as easily end up on your doorstep.”

“Oh, wow, thanks Sam,” Yarra sighed. “You just had to remind me of that, didn’t you? I guess I don’t have a choice then, huh? After those encouraging words.”

“Sorry, Yarra,” Trishia apologized with sincerity. “But you are dragged into this and I feel responsible for you as well now.”

“Okay then,” Yarra agreed, thinking there would be worse things than being stuck at a luxury holiday resort, with her best friend and Alice. She cast a glance at the blond teenager and was rewarded with a shy smile.

“Can the three of us share a room, Sam?” Fiona asked, warming up to the idea of making the best of a bad situation. “Hey, Yar, they have this huge entertainment system with a flat screen TV and dozens of cool DVD’s. Do you like movies, Alice?”

“I…um…I haven’t seen many movies lately,” Alice answered. “I can’t even remember what the last one was I saw.”

“We’ll fix that,” Fiona promised, noticing the tension on her friend’s face and trying to get her to relax a little. “We can pick out some movies we want to see, order a huge bowl of popcorn and just enjoy our own, private movie theater.”

Carol Wong cast a look at the policeman who was standing in front of her and unconsciously wrinkled her nose in thought. After her team had secured Martin Coles’ house and had not found him there she had decided to go over and have a look around herself.

The place was scarcely furnished and even the walls were bare, except for one large picture that had probably been up there long before Martin ever rented the place. Faded by time and the harsh sunlight streaming in through the window, the once vibrant colors had turned dull and lifeless.

“He never meant to stay here long,” Carol Wong sighed, pointing towards the picture when Phil Kanides shot her a quizzical look. “You reckon Martin, as we know him, would want a thing like that on the wall?”

In spite of the situation and the enormous stress he was under, Phil softly chuckled and shook his head.

“I think you are right, inspector. He is much too…dandy for that.”

“Then I believe the man was here on a mission,” Carol Wong continued. “He was after Alice, that is clear. But maybe he had some other things up his sleeve as well. I can’t wait to talk to him.”

“I’d like a chance at that as well,” Phil Kanides admitted, switching on the VCR that had been plugged back in and sliding in one of the tapes they had found. “I can’t believe he was my partner and I didn’t suspect a thing.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Phil,” Carol spoke, leaning her back against the doorsill and looking at the TV with anticipation. “He had me fooled as well. Let’s have a quick look at those tapes and see if we can learn more about this loser. We might even find a clue about where to find him.”

“I can’t wait to pull apart his computer,” Phil mumbled, pressing the ‘play’ button. “I bet it will be the mirror of his sick mind.”

The black screen slowly came to life, at first displaying some snow and flickering black stripes, but slowly the images cleared and the contents of the tape became visible.

With a deep frown that creased her forehead Carol Wong leaned forward to get a better view and impatiently drummed her fingers against her thigh. But then she froze in mid motion and squinted her eyes. Slowly she turned to Phil Kanides, who was watching the screen with wide eyes and rising anger.

“Asshole,” he growled.

“Is this what I think it is?” Carol asked, needing to be sure that her imagination was not running away with her normally rational mind.

“If you think that this is a recording of beach cams, then yes, you are thinking the right thing,” Phil answered with a strained voice. “The mongrel must have recorded it through his computer. Talking about invading people’s privacy.”

“Whoa, wait, wait,” Carol exclaimed, pushing herself away from her back rest and walking towards the desk. “You think Coles recorded different beach cams and that is how he tried to find Alice? My God, Phil. I think you could be right. He has a whole stack of tapes here, there must be at least fifty of them.”

“You know, inspector, I bet that on the beaches where those poor girls were murdered, we will find beach cams. The images on those things are not that clear and I bet he was keeping an eye out for teenage girls that resembled Alice.”

“Slender and long blond hair. Damn, Phil, I bet you are right.”

It had not been difficult to blend in with the crowds. Nobody paid attention to the good looking man who was casually strolling past the shopping windows, now and then standing still to admire something that had caught his eye.

Outwardly Martin Coles looked like he was enjoying his stroll alongside the shops. To any bystander, he looked like he was just another man who was enjoying his Saturday off. But behind the dark sunglasses his eyes were restlessly traveling back and forth. Every time he spotted a police car he turned around so he was standing with his back to the street, giving the impression he was checking out the variety of goods in the windows.

Within a period of less than ten minutes he had already seen three different patrol cars and that had made him nervous. He knew they were looking for him and he also realized that by now they must have found out about the web cams, his computer and the tapes. It angered him he had not been given the time to at least take the tapes with him, since they contained the most incriminating evidence.
Martin Coles mentally slapped himself for the umpteenth time since leaving his house, for not erasing some of the video tapes. He wasn’t afraid they would find something anytime soon, but he knew that especially Carol Wong and Trishia Waters, would want to see every second of footage and that would probably be his downfall.

“Bitches, stupid filthy dykes,” he mumbled to himself, feeling the red hot flame of anger burn inside his chest.

Martin Coles noticed an elderly couple park their SUV in a relatively quiet side streets and suddenly his mood lifted.

“I’ll get those bitches. I will kill them dead,” he almost sing- singed, walking straight towards the car, where the couple was exiting the vehicle.

“Excuse me sir,” Martin politely addressed the elderly man with a nice smile. “I am sorry to bother you, but I need to borrow your car for a little while? Police business,” he added, flashing his ID. “I promise you will get it back in one piece. If anything should happen to it, the police department will pay all costs and damages.”

“But…but…” the elderly man stammered, completely taken by surprise by Martin’s request. “I…my wife and I need it to get home again…I…”

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Martin Coles answered, pulling the car keys from the old man’s hand and opening the door. He was losing his patience with them and knew it would be hard for him to control his anger. But the last thing he wanted to do was to pull out his gun and shoot them. There were too many people around and attracting attention would not be a sensible thing to do.

Without saying another word, Martin closed the door, started the engine and drove off. A glance in the rearview mirror showed him the couple was still standing in the middle of the street, staring after him and he chuckled.

“Bye,” he giggled. “There are some women waiting for my attention.”

“No, Fiona, we don’t need a car with darkened windows,” Lucy sighed impatiently. “This is not one of your silly movies. As long as we make sure Alice is out of sight, we could ride a freaking bus!!”

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Fiona shot back, zipping up her bag and unceremoniously dumping it on the floor. “I was just kidding, you know. But if you can’t even tell the difference between a joke and something serious anymore, it may be time for you to go to a mountain retreat, sit with the nuns and meditate!”

“Okay, you two, that is enough,” Trishia called out. “I want you two to stop it, right now. No, I am serious, Lucy,” she added when she saw that her lover was opening her mouth to say something. “I know we are all under a lot of stress, but shouting matches really won’t help anyone. So, please, try to be civilized.”

Trishia raised an eyebrow when Fiona attempted to answer her, but the teenager quickly snapped her mouth shut and swallowed hard.

“That’s it,” Trishia smirked. “I know how the two of you can carry on sometimes and I am asking you, the both of you, to please be nice. Alright?”

“Now,” Trishia continued, ignoring the almost invisible pout from her lover. “As for transportation, Lucy, Joan, Fiona and Yarra will take my car, stop at Yarra’s so she can grab some things and feed the animals and then go to The Reef. Did Sam give you her card for the private parking area, Lucy? Okay, then you are set to go.”

Trishia turned to Jody, who was wrapped in Sam’s arms and did not look like she was planning on letting go anytime soon. The policewoman cleared her throat and shot an annoyed look at Peter, who was grinning at her.

“Sam? Are you ready to take Alice and Jody down to The Reef?”

“Not really, “the tall blonde sighed. “But I guess we should go anyway. I will wait until Lucy and the rest arrives. As soon as they are all at the executive’s floor and I see a security guard in front of their door, I will be heading back,” she repeated the instructions Trishia had given them.

“Make sure all cell phones are on, just in case. Lucy, honey, have you preprogrammed the numbers I gave you?”

“Yes, senior sergeant Waters,” Lucy saluted, which made the girls chuckle, but earned her a slightly hurt look from Trishia.

“I was just…”

She was interrupted by Lucy who had quickly stepped closer and wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s neck

“You were just making sure I have all the right phone numbers,” Lucy whispered. “I know, baby. I am sorry. I know you are worried and so am I. Leaving you here is not something I enjoy doing and it makes me cranky.”

“I am sorry,” Trishia softly replied, pulling the woman in her arms closer, not caring they were in the middle of the room, surrounded by three curious teenagers and a few amused adults, who politely busied themselves with other things to at least give the couple a sense of privacy.

“Promise me one thing,” Lucy softly spoke in a hoarse voice. It was obvious the dark haired woman was fighting with her tears. “Please, look after yourself. Don’t take any risks, okay?”

“I promise,” Trishia answered, using her thumb to brush away a lonely tear that had escaped one of Lucy’s moist eyes and was sliding down her cheek. “You do the same, okay? I will call you every couple of hours. If you and the girls stay where you are, things will work out fine.”

“Okay,” Lucy answered, letting out a shuddering breath. She pressed her face in the crook of Trishia’s neck and tried to calm her nerves. She felt a sense of dread she couldn’t explain and she tried to push away that disturbing feeling. Trishia would not be alone, her partner would be with her and there was the new surveillance system, which would allow them to keep an eye on the property, without even having to leave the house and expose themselves to anyone outside. Trishia would be alright. She simply had to be.

Lucy lifted her face from its comfortable spot and looked up at the woman she loved. She could see the concern in Trishia’s clear eyes and tried to send the tall woman a reassuring smile.

“I will be fine,” she whispered, tracing one of her lover’s dark eyebrows. “I guess we’d better get going, I am not very good at this ‘saying goodbye’ stuff.”

Trishia answered the smile with one of her own and brought her face closer. Without any haste, she leisurely kissed the soft lips that quickly warmed to her intimate touch and kissed her back with a mixture of tenderness and passion.

Slowly the intensity lessened, until only their foreheads touched and they looked at each other while trying to control their breathing.

“I love you,” Trishia whispered.

“I love you too,” Lucy answered. “I will talk to you in a couple of hours. Okay?”

“Okay,” Trishia smiled. “Come, I’ll see you to the car.”

The policewoman wrapped one arm around Lucy’s shoulders, while she used the other one to pick up the weekend bag on the floor and carry it outside to the car. The rest of them followed quietly.

Trishia had parked her car in front of Sam’s in such a way that only from the house it was visible who was entering the car. Alice would crawl in and make herself comfortable on the back seat, lying down. Trishia did not want to risk Martin Coles, if he was around, seeing the teenager leave the property.

Martin Coles did not really know where to go. He knew his house would be swarming with police and it was not unthinkable that his picture would be splattered all over the six o’clock news that evening. The most sensible thing would be to go in hiding, or to change his appearance and do something his opponents would never expect him to do, attack.

It did not take him long to decide. He felt like life had not left him any fair chances and he decided to do something unexpected. A quick trip to the local pharmacy provided him with the tools he needed to change his appearance. And whatever the instructions said, it wasn’t true. It had not taken him twenty minutes to change his dark hair into a vibrant blonde. Blue contacts dramatically changed the way he looked and the wire rimmed glasses, in combination with the faded jeans and t-shirt gave him a look nobody would have expected of Martin Coles.

A quick look in the mirror of the cheap motel room he had rented for a few nights, made him smile.

“I don’t think my own mother would recognize me,” he told the image in the mirror. “That is…if she were still alive,” he added with a giggle.

Squaring his shoulders he glanced at his own image for one last time, before turning around and walking towards the door.

He had a few scores to settle.
part 15
Jody stared out of the window on the passenger’s side of the car, immensely glad that Sam was driving. She did not think she would have been up to the task. Not with the way her mind was constantly wandering, nor with the persistent stinging of tears in the back of her eyes.

The beautiful view of the lush forest was lost to her teary eyes. The only thing her brain registered were the different shades of green, now and then interrupted by grey and black rocks that littered the occasional spot. In ancient times raging waters had dumped them, or in more recent times they had crumbled off the top of the hill to come tumbling down during the rainy season, when the abundant rainfall softened the ground and loosened the heavy boulders from their positions on the steep hill.

Jody sighed, leaned the back of her head against the car seat and closed her eyes. She dreaded the hours and maybe even days that were in front of her. She knew Sam and Trishia only had their safety in mind and deep down inside she knew they were right. But she was not looking forward to saying goodbye to Sam, knowing her partner could very well be in harm’s way. The fact that there were two experienced, well trained police officers with her did not even remotely make her feel better.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Sam’s voice invaded her musings and Jody opened her eyes and turned her head so she could look at the blonde next to her. Sam’s eyes were on the winding road in front of her that was getting a little wider. Soon they would turn onto the highway and then it would only be a short time before they would arrive at The Reef.

“Only a penny?” Jody asked, deliberately keeping her voice light, because of the teenager on the backseat, who looked nervous and drawn.

“Well, I guess that depends on the thought, huh?” Sam teased. “I can only estimate their worth after I hear them.”

“Oh, you are in business mode,” Jody smiled. “I can’t believe you would put a price on my thoughts.”

“I wouldn’t,” Sam confessed with an exaggerated sigh. “Your thoughts are priceless to me, honey.”

Jody smiled at her partner and half turned in her seat to cast a look at Alice. The teenager was lying on her side on the backseat, nervously fidgeting while her eyes darted from Jody to the window and back again.

“Are you okay, Alice?” she gently asked, forgetting her own worries about her upcoming separation from her partner when she looked into a pair of frightened blue eyes.

“I…um…I am a bit scared,” Alice bravely confessed. “I…know what Martin Coles can be like and it’s not pretty. He is really…evil, Jody. I think he killed my family. I am sure he was the one who started the fire.” Alice swallowed hard and was very aware of the shiver that ran down her spine. “He tried to choke me to death.”

“And he will get what he deserves, Alice,” Sam spoke with a grim expression on her face. “It won’t be long now, the police are right behind him.”

“My goodness, woman, are you going on a world tour?” Fiona greeted Yarra when she returned to the waiting car with a bag that was so stuffed, it was a miracle she had managed to zip it up.

“Shut up and give me a hand,” Yarra grunted, hefting the bag and dumping it on the back seat.

Fiona obediently grabbed the handle and pulled the bag towards her, making room for Yarra to climb into the car and close the door.

“Seriously, Yar, what have you got in there?”

“Just some clothes,” Yarra sighed. “And I brought some extra stuff for Alice, if she wants it. I am sure she doesn’t have much.”

“That is sweet of you, Yarra,” Joan smiled at the teenager. “I am sure Alice will appreciate it.”

“Yeah, especially since it’s from you,” Fiona teased, making sure to keep her voice down so her mother and Lucy would not be able to hear her teasing remark.

“Brat,” Yarra scolded under her breath.

“Charmer,” Fiona grinned, thoroughly enjoying the banter.

“I could call you some nasty names, but I suppose I need to be nice to you, since you helped me feed the animals,” Yarra teased.

“Of course,” Fiona quipped. “That’s how it works Cookie Jar. You are supposed to be extremely nice to me for at least two days now.”

“Two days? Wow, you are expensive.”

They both laughed and Fiona playfully slapped her friend on her shoulder. She loved teasing Yarra, because the older girl could take it as much as she dished it out and Fiona appreciated that.

“Well, I guess I will let you off the hook,” she grinned. “You being nice to me for two whole days would be too much to ask. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“Are you okay, honey?” Joan softly asked Lucy, who was skillfully steering the car down the hill and who was unusually quiet.

Lucy glanced at her mother, noticing the worried look and she managed a weak smile.

“It’s just…hard,” she sighed, remembering the look on Trishia’s face when they had said their goodbyes.

“I worry about Trishia. I mean,” Lucy fell silent for a moment and chewed on her bottom lip, trying to organize her thoughts. “I mean, she hardly slept last night and I know how tired she was yesterday when we drove home, before all…this happened. I know she is good at what she does, but even a super policewoman needs a decent sleep,” Lucy faintly joked, not able to hide the slight trembling of her voice.

“I heard Peter and Sam talking about sending Trishia to bed while they kept an eye on the surveillance system,” Joan responded. “Maybe she will be able to sleep for a few hours. And I think you should do the same.”

“I know Trishia,” Lucy smiled. “She won’t take a nap, unless they force her.”

“In that case I hope they will,” Joan sighed, having noticed the dark circles underneath the policewoman’s eyes. She had also seen the way her daughter and the tall police woman interacted. Of course she had seen them together before and she knew the two women meant a lot to each other.

But recently Joan had noticed their relationship had changed, in a good way. She could tell by the looks her daughter and Trishia exchanged, the soft touches and the smiles. And Joan sincerely hoped that Lucy had found in Trishia a partner to settle down with. It had been a surprise to her when Lucy had, uncharacteristically shy, told her she had fallen in love with the police officer who had saved Sam’s and Megan’s life. Afterwards Joan had realized it had not been the fact that the object of Lucy’s affection was a woman, that had surprised her, but the fact that her independent, quick witted daughter had fallen head over heels in love. But the thing that was most pleasing to her, was the knowledge that the two of them were still together and obviously very happy.

Trishia had been Lucy’s first serious relationship and at first Joan had been a little worried about it, hoping her daughter would be happy and not end up with a broken heart. Or break Trishia’s heart, because Joan had really liked the police woman from the very beginning. But that had not happened and Joan could not be happier about that. She respected her daughters’ partners. All the seeds of hate and prejudice her ex-husband had tried to sow in their children and his wife, had fortunately not fallen on fertile ground. Joan had never fought her dominant husband about his opinions and she still felt guilty about that. If only she had tried harder, she might have made things more bearable for her children. The moment she had taken a stand, her ex husband had hit her, marking the end of their marriage of thirty years. She had left David McDonnell, knowing she could never undo the damage he had caused Jody and Lucy, but realizing that at least for Fiona, who was so much like Lucy, things would be better.

“It’s so nice to see how Trishia and you have grown closer together over the past few months,” Joan finally spoke. “You seem so happy, Lucy.”

“Oh, mom, I am,” Lucy sighed, not able to hide a smile. “Trishia is such a wonderful person.”

“Not to mention sexy as hell,” Fiona mumbled from the backseat, which earned her a warning glare from Yarra.

But Lucy’s excellent ears had picked up the remark and through the rear view mirror she sent her youngest sister a quizzical look.

“How would you know?” she calmly asked, refusing to take the bait. “I didn’t know you were an expert in that field, Fi. Care to share?”

“I am not blind, Lucy,” Fiona answered. “I have eyes, you know. Besides, I know half of the women at the police station have the hots for her. I heard them in the break room.”

“You did, huh?” Lucy mumbled, refusing to let jealousy get the better of her.

“Yeah,” Fiona answered, waiting for her sister to break down and ask her exactly what she had heard. But Lucy remembered the look in Trishia’s eyes the night before and the way she had asked her to be her partner for life and she knew that, no matter how much Trishia’s co-workers lusted after her, the tall police woman was hers and hers alone.

“Don’t you want to know what they were saying?” Fiona finally asked, not able to hide the disappointment in her voice.

Lucy glanced in the rear view mirror and softly chuckled.

“Nah, I don’t. I am sure it was all praise and glory and who am I to argue with that, huh?” she winked at her youngest sister.

“Good one, Lucy,” Yarra complimented her and the dark girl cast a teasing look at her friend. “It doesn’t happen too often I have the chance to see Fiona McDonnell lost for words. You surely made my day.”

Lucy grinned and exchanged amused looks with her mother who shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

They must have called in troops from other police stations, he was certain about that. In all those months he had driven around the area he had never seen so many police cars in one day. Not just the regular ones, that already screamed ‘police’ from a distance, but also the unmarked cars, always with two occupants, who were obviously on a stake out. He could see them on every corner.

At first it had scared him and he was about to hit the breaks, turn the car around and drive the opposite way as fast as he could manage to get away with, but he had decided to taunt fate. Squaring his shoulders he had driven past the dark colored car and he had even cast a look at the people inside, who were clearly not paying attention, because the driver looked him square in the face and didn’t even flinch.

It was an officer Martin had not met before. Probably from a different area and called in to help Carol Wong’s pathetic team to locate him. Martin Coles, the smartest one of all.

Martin smiled and cast an appreciative look in the mirror, wondering why he had not dyed his hair before. It looked good on him, he thought. He was convinced the ladies would simply love it. Although he was not allowed to tell them it was dyed of course. That would be his secret.

Martin giggled and turned the car onto the main street, heading North. He drove past a group of teenage girls and for a moment he thought his heart would stop when he saw a familiar blond head.

“Alice,” he whispered huskily, parking the car alongside the road and watching the girls through the back window.

His eyes focused on the blonde and a smile tugged on the corner of his mouth, when he saw the girl throw her long hair back over her shoulder and turn to another girl to say something. They both laughed and Martin gritted his teeth.

“Your laughing will end soon, Alice,” he whispered. “You are a bad girl and you know what happens to bad girls, don’t you?”

Martin Coles licked his lips when he remembered the punishment he had in mind. He could almost see the dilated pupils in a sea of blue, shining with pain and horror. He remembered the warm, thick fluid that, again would coat his hand as a symbol of his purity. To sanctify with blood. A sacrifice to wash himself clean.

Soon he would be free.

It took a lot of self restraint to not exit the car and walk up towards the girl who was challenging him. But even in his delusional state of mind, Martin knew that an action like that would attract unwanted attention. So he clenched his hands into fists and took a deep breath.

Soon, he promised himself. Very soon. But first he had to pay a visit to a nice little farm. There were some loose ends he needed to take care off.

Alice took in the room with wide eyes. In her entire life she had never seen anything like it. Oh, maybe in pictures or on TV, but she had never actually stood in the middle of a hotel room that was so spacious and full of luxury.

Sam had driven her and Jody straight to The Reef and had parked the car in a private section of the underground parking garage. From there she had ushered them to a small elevator, that had brought them to the top floor after Sam had inserted a key card and had punched in a four digit code. In response to Alice’s wide eyed look, Sam had explained to the girl it was a private elevator and only people who had the key card were able to use it.

Alice had nodded, happy to know she would be able to enter The Reef without having to walk through the main entrance.

When she had exited the elevator she noticed they were standing in front of a door with a shiny brass plate on it that said ‘Executive wing’. Curiously she had followed Sam and Jody when they had stepped inside and slack jawed she had looked around.

The room was big. On two sides there were more doors and on the far end was a huge balcony with sliding doors that had been opened to let in the cool breeze from the ocean, making the floor-to-ceiling curtains slowly move back and forth.

A comfortable leather couch and two enormous recliners were situated near the sliding doors, allowing anyone who wanted to sit down and relax with an undisturbed view of the ocean, that stretched out to the horizon. The walls were decorated with a few modern looking paintings, that were full of interesting shapes and colors. An entertainment center set in the corner and a classy desk with a computer, printer and fax machine complimented the room, giving the impression of a friendly, well used office as well as a living room that breathed tranquility and style.

“This will be your bedroom, Alice,” Jody indicated, opening one of the doors in the corner. “You are absolutely free to share it with Yarra and that wacky sister of mine, but if you’d rather not, we can put them up in another room.”

“No, no, that will be fine,” Alice stammered, eagerly looking forward to sharing a room with her two new friends, especially after Fiona’s promises of some nice movies and popcorn. Alice had never enjoyed sharing things like that with friends and she really wanted to experience what it would be like to be part of so much fun.

She followed Jody into the big bedroom and sucked in a breath. In the middle of the room stood the biggest bed she had ever seen. Alice quickly calculated it could easily and comfortably hold four people.

“I know it’s a bit much,” she heard Jody’s voice behind her apologize. “But this wing is usually reserved for people who are willing to pay for abundant luxury and for business relations who need to be softened up. ” Jody chuckled and walked towards the window. “And of course for family,” she added over her shoulder.

“You work here?” Alice asked.

“Yes, I do,” Jody answered, turning around and leaning her back against the window sill.

“What do you do?”

“Oh, nothing earth shattering,” Jody smiled, downplaying her role in the huge resort. “I manage some things. Troubleshooting. Keeping people happy, that sort of thing.”

“What she means to say, Alice, is that she basically runs the place,” Sam added with a grin, stepping up to her lover and giving her a playful, one-armed hug. “Don’t let her fool you. Jody makes it sound like there is nothing to it, but believe me, it’s quite the job.”

Alice looked at the couple near the window and suddenly she felt a surge of warmth travel through her body, warming her heart and soul. Even a blind man could see how much Jody and Sam loved each other. They absolutely radiated happiness when they were together and it struck Alice that, to keep her safe, they were willing to be apart, not knowing for how long. To Alice, who did not have anyone to care about her for a long time, it seemed like a truly unselfish act of friendship and love.

“I..I am sorry about all this,” she stammered, not able to look the two women in the eye, but instead stared at her feet, that were nervously shuffling on the thick carpet. ” I really…appreciate what you are doing for me and…I …I am so sorry that Sam will have to go back to Murrook Farm and you can’t be with her,” she ended in a whisper.

Jody and Sam exchanged a knowing look and Sam slowly let go of Jody so the smaller woman could walk up to Alice and gently put a hand on the teenager’s shoulder.

“I am sorry as well,” Jody admitted. “I will miss Sam a lot, but you know what, Alice? If staying here, at The Reef, until the police can arrest that Martin will be safer for you, then it will be worth it.”

Alice looked up and her eyes nervously darted from Jody to Sam and back again. On their faces she could only see honest concern, warmth and compassion and she knew in her heart that Jody had meant every word she had spoken. It filled her with a gratitude that was almost too much for words.

“I really don’t know how I can ever thank you,” she whispered. “I mean, what I…supposedly did for Mrs. McDonnell is nothing compared to what you are doing for me. I can never repay you for that.”

“Don’t even try,” Jody smiled, squeezing the shoulder underneath her hand. “I will always be grateful for you helping out my mom, but that is not why we are doing this. Look at me, Alice, please?”

Alice raised her eyes to meet Jody’s and they were immediately sucked into a pair of warm emerald green ones.

“We like you, Alice. You are our friend. That is why we are doing this. Not because of some obligation or debt. No, but because you are a special person and we want to be your friends.”

“And you are,” Alice agreed, barely audible.

“Good, I am glad we have that established,” Jody spoke with a twinkle in her eyes. “Why don’t you get acquainted with the place and pick out the best spot to sleep, before Fiona and Yarra come barreling in. And, oh, Alice, a word of warning…” Jody smiled, seeing the apprehensive look in Alice’s eyes. “Whatever you do, don’t sleep near my sister, she kicks in her sleep. If the three of you decide to bunk in that humongous bed together, make sure you put Yarra in the middle. She has dealt with Fi before.”

“I remember that,” Sam smirked. “We were all camping out and they decided to share this tiny little tent. When we woke up in the morning and crawled out of our own shelter, Yarra was sleeping outside of the tent. Apparently Fiona had been kicking her so badly she had decided to rather face the creepy crawlers than wake up bruised and battered.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Alice smiled with a hint of amusement in her voice. “I guess I should stay on the other side of the bed then, huh? Although,” her eyes fell on the huge couch in the corner of the room. “I suppose I can always sleep on the couch.”

In fact, Alice mused, compared to the places she had used for a bed before, the couch would be extremely comfortable. It would make an excellent bed.

“Whatever you feel comfortable with, Alice,” Sam answered, looking at the door where a lot of stumbling could be heard. “Here are the girl scouts,” she announced with a wink.

The door opened and Fiona and Yarra came stumbling into the room, both carrying an overstuffed bag.

“Hey, girls,” Fiona greeted with a big smile. “Here is the entertainment crew.”

“Really?” Sam asked, hiking one eyebrow into her hairline. “What would that be? The two Stooges?”

“No, Dumb and Dumber,” Lucy’s tired voice sounded from behind the teenagers, making her youngest sister turn around and shoot her an insulted look. Yarra just grinned and dumped her bag on a chair in the corner.

“Wow,” the dark skinned girl exclaimed, taking in the room with big, dark eyes. “This is a palace.”

“Hardly,” Sam dryly replied, turning to Jody and extended her hand that was immediately grabbed and held tight. “You princesses make yourselves comfortable. Jody and I will show Lucy and Joan around and then I will head back home. Make sure you behave,” she added, addressing no one in particular, but her eyes were looking at Fiona, who did her best to smile sweetly and look innocent.

“We will, Sam,” Yarra promised.

“Good,” Sam smiled, pulling Jody with her to the door. “I expect all of you to do use your brain and be sensible.”

“We will, Sam,” Fiona promised, noticing the darkening of her sister’s eyes. Her heart went out to Jody, because she knew how hard it would be for her sister to say goodbye to her partner and Fiona silently decided to be on her best behavior and support her sister as much as she could. “Be careful, okay?”

“I will, Fi. I promise,” Sam answered, seeing her youngest sister-in-law slowly nod. Her eyes traveled to Alice who stood near the window with a forlorn look on her face. It was obvious to Sam that the teenager was close to tears. She squeezed Jody’s hand and reluctantly released her hold, so she could walk up to the young blonde, who looked up at her with tired eyes.

“You will be safe, here, Alice,” Sam gently spoke, putting a hand on a slender shoulder, pleased to see Alice accepted the kind gesture without flinching. “I will keep in touch with Jody and if there is something you need…anything, just let me know, okay? I want you to be comfortable here.”

Alice chewed on the inside of her lip and nodded, not knowing what to say. She liked the tall Dutch woman, who usually oozed self confidence and strength. But those same qualities also impressed her to such an extent, that she found it hard not to shy away from Sam’s kindness. If only she could be a little more like Sam.

“Thanks, Sam,” she finally managed to whisper while their eyes briefly met.

“You are welcome, Alice,” Sam responded. She brought her head a little closer and cast a look over her shoulder. “Keep an eye on those two, will you?” she stage whispered with a smile. “They are famous for getting themselves in trouble.”

“I will,” Alice smiled back, appreciating the joke and the look of indignation on Fiona’s face.

“Thanks,” Sam winked, giving her shoulder a last friendly squeeze, before turning around and walking back to a patiently waiting Jody. While walking past Fiona she affectionately ruffled the teenager’s dark hair and quickly stepped aside to avoid being punched in the stomach. Still laughing she wrapped her arm around Jody’s shoulder and guided her out of the room, closing the door behind them.

Half an hour later, Jody followed Sam out of the elevator into the private parking garage underneath The Reef. Sam had postponed her departure as long as she could, but the inevitable moment had finally arrived. During the brief descend into the elevator they had silently stood together, wrapped in each other’s arms, each of them lost in their own worrisome and sad thoughts.

“I really don’t want to leave you here,” Sam had whispered, closing her eyes and reveling in the feel of Jody’s body against her own. “But I know it will be the best option. Please be careful, baby. Stay inside and if you have any doubts or questions about your safety, call me. Gary Larrabee will be outside the door and there is an extra security guard at the entrance.”

“Okay, Sam,” Jody had responded, pressing her face against Sam’s chest, breathing in the familiar scent and soaking up the warmth and love that Sam always gave to her in abundance.

Jody stretched out her hand and used her fingertips to softly stroke Sam’s cheek. She let her hand travel down the tall woman’s shoulder, down her arm, until she reached her hand, where she intertwined her fingers with Sam’s, that were resting on her hip.

The tall blonde glanced down and sent her partner an encouraging smile.

“You look like you are a million miles away, sweetie,” she gently spoke.

“I know,” Jody sighed. “I can’t help it, Sam, I am worried about this whole situation. I can’t help thinking back to what happened a year ago. I don’t want to be separated from you again, Sam. I have been through that once,” Jody managed to choke out, trying to swallow away the lump in her throat. “I nearly lost you a year ago, honey. I don’t think I can go through that again.”

The tears were rolling down Jody’s cheeks now and she used her free hand to wipe them away, while her other hand was clutching Sam’s.

Sam chewed on her bottom lip, feeling her own tears sting her eyes and she rapidly blinked a few times to keep her vision clear and pulled the softly crying woman closer to her body, feeling Jody bury her face in the crook of her neck.

“I wish I could promise you this whole situation will be over soon,” Sam’s voice sounded in Jody’s ear. “But I can’t. I can only hope it will. But I can promise you I will be careful, Jody. I swear that I won’t take any risks and that I will stay close to Trishia and Peter. And I promise to call you every couple of hours. And that is not only to reassure you baby, it’s for my benefit as well.” Sam smiled and used her fingers to lift up Jody’s face. A pair of watery green eyes looked at her, oozing misery, pain and worry.

“You ground me, Jody McDonnell Stevens,” she continued. “You always have. Hearing your voice is not the same as being with you, but it will have to do for a short period of time. I will miss you, so much,” Sam swallowed hard and Jody could see that tears were clouding the clear blue eyes. “I need you as much as you need me, but right now we need to think about Alice first.”

“Yes, we do,” Jody whispered. “She is our main concern, I know that. It’s the bad memories that haunt me, Sam.”

“I know, sweetie,” Sam answered in a tender voice, pressing her lips against Jody’s forehead. “But we will get through this, I promise.”

“Okay,” was the soft answer, before Jody pressed her cheek firmly against Sam’s.

That simple remark contained all the confidence Jody had in her tall partner and Sam smiled wistfully, knowing that as long as she and Jody would be apart, she would be absolutely miserable. But the trust her smaller partner had in her was endearing and somehow it gave the tall blonde the strength to keep going and do her utmost not to disappoint the woman who owned her heart and soul.

“I need to go,” she spoke after a long silence, in which both women soaked up the warmth and love between them. “Lucy can come barreling down the stairs any minute now to get her stuff out of the car and if she or Fiona will find us here, we will never hear the end of it,” Sam gently joked. “They will probably think we desperately needed some privacy to do a bit of hanky panky.”

Jody snorted in response and in spite of the situation she chuckled softly.

“That’s probably how Fiona would describe it, although it would be typically her to come up with some insane expression only she can fabricate.”

“Your sisters are truly a breed apart,” Sam grinned, pleased to see that Jody seemed more relaxed. “And I mean that in a positive way. Just don’t tell them that.”

“My lips are sealed,” Jody smiled.

“They sure are,” Sam agreed, bringing her face closer and catching Jody’s lips in a heartfelt kiss.

Jody softly moaned and pressed her body closer to Sam’s, needing to feel as much of her partner as possible. Sam’s strong arms held her tight, her hands resting on the small of her back, pulling her even closer and for a few undisturbed moments, they were able to completely forget they were standing in a parking garage, underneath The Reef.

“Jody, honey…no matter how much I am enjoying this, and believe me, I do enjoy this, I think we need to get moving. If not I won’t be able to drive anymore. At least for a while,” Sam finally managed to breath.

“Yes…we need to stop,” Jody panted, wondering how on earth her hands had ended up underneath Sam’s t-shirt. “Although…” She smiled and kissed the tip of Sam’s nose, glancing at the vehicle behind her partner. “I have never made love in a car before.”

“I would love to accommodate you, baby,” Sam answered with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. “But I am afraid this car is a little too small for a person of my length. I wouldn’t know where to put my legs.”

“Outside the window?” Jody dead panned.

“Oh, well, yes, that is a possibility,” Sam grinned, brushing away a strand of hair from Jody’s forehead. “But I am afraid we would never, ever live that down if your sisters would catch us. And notice I haven’t even mentioned the security camera’s yet.”

“Ewww, yes, you are right,” Jody wrinkled her nose and after giving Sam one last kiss, she slowly released her hold. “I guess we’d better behave.”

“Unfortunately,” Sam mumbled, turning around to open the door of the car.

“I love you, Samantha Stevens,” Jody’s voice sounded, full of love and tenderness.

Sam glanced aside and shot her partner a brilliant smile, which colored her eyes almost impossibly blue.

“And I love you, Jody McDonnell. I always have and I always will.”

In response Jody stretched out her hand and covered Sam’s, giving it a gentle squeeze. When their eyes met, Sam was pleased to see that there was a confident spark in those emerald depths she loved so much. And she knew that, even when they were apart, the love they shared would always help them through.

“One last kiss, for the road?” she asked, opening her arms in invitation.

Jody didn’t need any more encouragement and literally threw herself in Sam’s arms, clutching the taller woman close as if she would never ever let her go again. Which was not far from the truth.

“Be safe, Sam,” she choked out, squeezing her eyes shut and feeling the hot tears escape. “Please be safe.”

“I will call you as soon as I get home,” Sam’s voice croaked. “I will miss you so much, honey. Hell, I already do and I am not even gone yet.”

Without a word Jody pulled Sam’s face down and caught her lips in a kiss that was hungry, passionate and desperate at the same time. At first it was far from gentle, their emotions were simply too raw and their fear too great, but slowly their lips changed the rhythm of the dance and the intimate embrace became soft and tender. A wordless declaration of love, trust and hope. Until they both breathlessly pulled away, looking each other in the eye and knowing no more words needed to be said.

“Keep your cell phone charged,” Jody whispered when she finally released her hold.

“I will,” Sam promised.

The tall woman stepped into the car, closed the door and started the engine with trembling fingers. Inwardly she was screaming in pain and frustration, but outwardly she looked calm and in total control. She cast one last look towards Jody, who was standing in front of the elevator with her arms wrapped around herself, like she was cold. Their eyes locked and they both managed a watery smile.

“I love you,” Jody mouthed.

Sam’s response was to press her fingers against her lips and blow her partner an imaginary kiss. After that she pulled up and slowly drove away, knowing without looking that Jody’s moist eyes would follow the car until it disappeared out of sight

There was a lot of traffic on the road, which was not uncommon for a Saturday afternoon, when most of the locals would usually do their shopping and tourists swarmed the many restaurants and bars. Nobody noticed the car that had already passed the dirt road up to the house three times within the last fifteen minutes.

The driver’s eyes kept traveling back and forth between the road in front of him and the hardly visible track that would bring him to the top of the hill where he knew revenge would be waiting.

After a few moments of indecision he finally found a parking spot alongside the road and stopped the car. With a quick motion of his wrist and fingers he killed the engine and pulled out the keys, twirling them around in his clammy fingers. Perspiration coated his forehead when he looked in the mirror to check on his appearance one last time. Only the brown eyes in the reflection that greeted him looked familiar. Beacons of recognition in a stranger’s face, that was sporting a goatee and round, metal rimmed glasses.

“Showtime,” he whispered to the image that stared back at him with cold eyes.

He was about to exit the vehicle when an approaching car slowed down and turned into the track that had his undivided attention for the last twenty minutes. He squinted his eyes and a slow smile spread across his face when he recognized the driver.

“The lady of the mansion,” he chuckled. “How convenient. Miss Samantha Stevens in person. Another cockroach to crush. Two dykes for the price of one. And a little girl as my bonus…”
part 16
Peter Jones tensed when he first noticed the car slowly making its way up the road, but when the camera allowed him a clear view of the vehicle he visibly relaxed. It was Sam. He leaned back in the comfortable chair and tapped his fingers on the armrest. He had hoped that sending Alice and the others to The Reef would have lightened his partner’s burden, but Trishia’s restlessness had only become worse. It was clear that the police woman was very much on edge.

Ever since Lucy had left, she had not stopped pacing the office and in spite of the fact that she had to be exhausted, her eyes were still sharp and she remained extremely focused. So much that it made Peter nervous. Trishia’s eyes were almost glued to the images the hidden cameras flawlessly transported to the four different monitors. Every motion was detected by the tall police woman and a few times she had already scared the wits out of Peter, by jumping up because she thought she saw something out of the ordinary.

“Try to relax, Trish,” Peter grunted, shooting her an annoyed look. “You are wearing yourself out. It might be a good idea for you to lie down for a while and try to sleep.”

“No,” was the curt answer. “I am here to do a job, not to sleep the day away.”

“There is not much day left,” Peter remarked, having noticed the sun had already started its descend. “I hope those infrared cameras work. We didn’t exactly have the opportunity to try them out.”

“They’d better work,” Trishia mumbled. “Or we could have a problem.”

“Yeah, that would not be a pleasant thing,” Peter agreed, staring at the screen in front of him with a pensive expression. “Trish, how come you are so sure that Martin will come up here? I mean, for all we know he could be in Darwin already.”

“Cause he is not the type to take defeat well. He killed at least three girls, and everything indicates that he tried to track down Alice for a long time already. He won’t give up now. That doll he put in your drawer was not just a little insight of his depraved brain, it was also a message. He thinks that, again, he can escape being caught. He probably believes he is infallible.”

“What makes you think he would come to Murrook Farm? Wouldn’t that just be a wild guess on his part?”

“Now he asks, after installing that expensive equipment!” Trishia joked, slapping Peter on his back.

“Martin Coles is not just a psychopath, Peter. He is a smart one, like all of them usually are. But he is also a policeman, with a lot of experience. He knows Alice is with me. That is a fact. He knows I would do anything to protect that girl. He knows where I live and I believe he realizes I would not bring Alice there. And although I have not been back to the station he also knows that I am working on the murder case, so I could not have shipped off Alice to a place far from here.”

“Why Murrook Farm?” Peter persisted when Trishia fell silent and stared at the monitor with unseeing eyes.

“Last years’ case, with Michael Jenkins and Steven Hayes, Sam and Jody became well known among our fellow officers. Heck, everybody was involved somehow. They all knew who Sam was and when I got involved with Sam’s sister-in-law, well, the grapevine worked overtime, so my guess is everybody at the station knows of my relationship with Sam and the McDonnells. There has been an article about Murrook Farm in the local paper and I know it circulated through the office, I have seen it. Martin is smart enough to figure out that this would be an excellent place for Alice to be.”

“Aren’t you giving him too much credit?” Peter curiously asked.

“I hope I do, but my instincts tell me I am not,” Trishia simply answered and Peter could hear the confidence in her voice. “He will make his way up here, Pete. It’s just a matter of time.”

“Which he is running out of,” Peter yawned.

“And that makes him ever so much more dangerous.”
The huge bed was occupied with three quiet teenagers, in various positions of comfort, who were staring intently at the big, flat screen TV that was strategically placed so watching from any position on the bed would be comfortable.

Fiona was lying flat on her stomach, a pillow propped up underneath her arms and her chin resting on her hands. She was dressed in a pair of shorts and t-shirt, while her long, dark hair flowed freely around her shoulders.

Yarra was sitting next to her, supporting her head on her hands and her elbows on her knees. Her dark eyes hardly blinked while she stared at the scene on the big screen.

On the other side of her, Alice was very much in the same position as Fiona and one look at her face showed that she was completely engrossed in the movie they were watching. It was one of the DVD’s Fiona had snatched away from Jody’s collection, reassuring her friends her sister would not mind. The bowl of popcorn they had all been looking forward to was hardly touched, it stood forgotten on the floor beside the bed.

“Goodness, Fiona. Will you please pick a happier movie next time?” Yarra sniffed, wiping her eyes while the credits of” The Color Purple” scrolled down the screen.

“You have seen this movie at least twice, Yar,” Fiona sighed, rubbing her eyes. “You knew what was coming.”

“I know,” Yarra grunted, letting herself fall backwards on the bed. She stretched her long frame and cast a look at Alice, who was silently staring at the screen.

“Did you like it?” she gently asked her friend.

Alice slowly nodded and pulled her body into a sitting position, so she could look at Yarra.

“It’s a beautiful movie,” she agreed. “It has some funny bits, but it is pretty sad as well.”

“Yeah, life was no picnic back then and it still isn’t,” Fiona remarked, turning on her side and supporting her head with her hand.

“You sound like my grandmother,” Yarra snorted.

“I bet I don’t look like her,” Fiona quipped with a smirk.

“Not really, no,” Yarra dryly replied. “My granny is a lot prettier than you are.”

Fiona laughed and grabbed the pillow she had been resting on to throw it at her friend. It landed on Yarra’s face and she snickered when she heard the muffled cry of surprise. She had expected Yarra to start a pillow fight, but the older teenager just threw the pillow behind her and stared up at the ceiling, apparently lost in thought.

“What are you thinking about?” Fiona asked, hoisting herself upright.

“Life, death, love…the future,” Yarra answered.

“Oh, my, the heavy stuff,” Fiona joked, but the expression on her face quickly became serious again and she gently nudged her friend in the ribs.

“What about it?” she softly asked.

“Oh, I was just wondering where I will be, say, ten years from now,” Yarra mused. “Where will I live? Will I have made it as a veterinarian? Will I be happy?”

“Whom will you be with,” Fiona helpfully added.

“That too,” Yarra admitted with a smile directed at her friend.

“Well, I bet you will be a great vet, with a flourishing practice. You will live right here at the coast, in a nice house, much like Jody’s and Sam’s, with a zillion animals, a loving partner and a bunch of blue eyed, blond haired kids.”

Yarra laughed a full belly laugh, making Fiona and Alice smile and her dark eyes danced when she looked at the youngest McDonnell child.

“Blue eyes and blond hair, huh?” she asked. “That might be a little hard.”

“Nah, ten years from now we happily manipulate all the genes and we can just order what we want,” Fiona grinned.

“I hope not,” Yarra mumbled. She turned her head and looked at Alice who had quietly followed the conversation. Her eyes were pensive.

“What about you, Alice?” she asked, startling the blond teenager. “What do you want from the future?”

Alice cast down her eyes and fidgeted with the hem of a t-shirt that was at least two sizes too big for her. Her initial response to Yarra’s question was to clam up, but she knew that if she wanted to have friends, she needed to learn to share her feelings.

“I…never gave much thought about the future,” she confessed. “These last few years I just lived from day to day and all that mattered to me was trying to survive. But…before that, when mom and Dean were still…here… and I went to school, I always wanted…I wasn’t sure what exactly it was I wanted to do, but I thought I wanted to become an architect.” Alice shrugged her shoulders and smiled ruefully. “I haven’t been to school in a long time, so I guess I can forget about that, huh?”

“No, I don’t agree,” Yarra gently objected. “When all this is over, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to go back to school, Alice. True, you missed a lot, but you are smart and I am sure you could catch up and follow your dreams.”

“Sam and Jody could help you,” Fiona added. “They are both pretty smart, but don’t tell them I said that.”

“You make it sound like I could stay there,” Alice whispered, not realizing how wistful she sounded.

“You can,” Fiona stated full of confidence. “They asked you to.”

“I know, and…it’s very nice of them, but they have not been together that long. How can they want me to be there?”

“Because they are Jody and Sam,” Yarra simply answered.

“But they are obviously still so much in love. I’d feel like I would be intruding in their privacy,” Alice objected, feeling her heart clench at the idea of leaving Murrook Farm.

“They will always be like that, believe me,” Fiona snorted. “They are soul mates and meant to be together,” she casually added, as if that was as normal as sliced bread. “You will learn to ignore them when they are all lovey-dovey.”

“Ooh, Fiona McDonnell,” Yarra grunted. “I can’t wait for the day I see you fall in love.”

“Get in line,” Fiona grinned. “Sam will sell tickets.”

Yarra chuckled and rolled her dark eyes at her friend.

“It must be wonderful to be in love like that,” Alice mused. “And to be loved like that as well. Sam and Jody seem so…complete.”

“Trishia and Lucy are as well,” Fiona sighed. “We are surrounded by love sick people,” she added dramatically, but her eyes were twinkling.

“I wonder what that would be like,” Yarra mused.

“To be surrounded by love sick people? It’s not my idea of a…..”

“No, not that, you goof ball,” Yarra interrupted her friend, playfully slapping her arm. “No, to be in love like that, I wonder what that would be like.”

“Safe,” Alice answered, staring at the blanket and drawing patterns on the soft fabric.

Fiona and Yarra exchanged a look and smiled. Their new friend was slowly feeling more comfortable around them and they welcomed the change in the introvert teenager. She gradually started to open up a little and hopefully they would be able to make Alice truly feel at home.

“I wonder how they knew?” Alice continued.

“Have you ever been in love, Alice?” Yarra asked, eager to learn more about the cute blonde, but afraid to scare her away at the same time.

Alice shook her head avoiding the inquiring looks of her friends, by staring at her clasped hands. She knew her childhood had been so much different than theirs and she felt a pang of loss, when she realized that there were so many things she did not know anything about. Like having a crush on somebody, or falling in love.

“Have you?” Alice hesitantly returned the question, suddenly feeling very insecure.

Fiona cast a teasing look at her dark friend and was about to make a comment, but the pensive expression in those soulful brown eyes made her change her mind. She stretched her legs in front of her and leaned back on her hands, intently watching the interaction between Alice and Yarra.

“I had a few crushes,” Yarra honestly admitted after a long silence. “But I don’t think those would be classified as being in love.”

For a moment Alice pondered over Yarra’s answer and she slowly raised her head, casting a shy look at her new friend.

“How do you know the difference?” she asked.

“Good question,” Yarra commended, pushing herself back into a sitting position again. “In my opinion a crush is a superficial type of affection. Like when I was twelve and I had a crush on my teacher, because she had the most beautiful blue eyes.” Yarra chuckled softly. “That lasted a week, until she sent me out of the classroom because I was talking too much. That efficiently ended my undying love for her. See Alice, I think a crush has something to do with initial attraction. Those feelings can end as fast as they started, or they develop into something deeper.”

“Like falling in love?” Fiona asked.

“I think so, yes.”

“Have you ever kissed anyone?” Fiona curiously asked and by the serious expression on her face Yarra knew her friend was not trying to make fun of her.

“A couple of times,” Yarra admitted with a grin.

“Who?” Fiona smirked.

“Like I will tell you,” Yarra snorted. “It was pathetic and one of the biggest disappointments in all my sixteen years back then. I had expected it to be romantic and something that would change my world, but instead it was unemotional, I didn’t feel a feel a thing. All I wanted to do was wipe my mouth and run off. And I did,” she added with a laugh, showing her even, white teeth.

“No feelings, huh?” Fiona smiled, appreciating Yarra’s honesty.

“Nope, no positive ones anyway.”

“Jody and Sam kiss without even touching,” Alice mused with something close to awe in her voice. “The way they look at each other is so…loving. I have never seen two people radiate so much love. I…it’s nice to watch them sometimes. And it’s cool they don’t seem to be bothered when other people are around.”

“And why should they?” Yarra asked. “Their attitude is the right one: if people have a problem with it, they shouldn’t watch.”

Both Yarra and Fiona saw Alice tense and the blond teenager nervously plucked the bedding they were sitting on. When she started talking her voice was soft and filled with sadness.

“Martin used to make fun of people like Sam and Jody. He…,” she swallowed hard and felt a blush creep up her cheeks. “He called them ‘sicko’s and said they should throw them in the ocean with the sharks, so nobody would have to be bothered with a funeral. When…when mom once told him not to say things like that in front of Dean and me, he just laughed. But his eyes were cold.” Alice shivered by the memory. “The next day mom had split lip and a black eye. She told us she had bumped her head against the door, but I knew Martin had hit her.”

Alice took a deep breath and raised her head. Her face was pale and she had a faraway look in her eyes.

“He hates gay people. He always said that if Dean or I would end up gay, he would beat the crap out of us and then skin us alive. I had a friend in school whose sister was a lesbian and when he found out he just went…crazy! He told me never to see her again, because he didn’t want her to corrupt me.” Alice let out a short, humorless laugh and shrugged her shoulders. “He threatened to take me downtown in the middle of the night and leave me with some drunken skinheads, so they could…you know, teach me some lessons. I was only eleven then. My mom didn’t know about his threats and I was afraid to tell her, because I knew if she said anything to him, he would beat her up again. But one day he had me cornered in the kitchen, using me as a punching bag because I had told him he was not my father and I didn’t have to listen to him.”

Alice was not aware of the tears that were rolling down her face, she was completely absorbed by the painful memories that slowly started to dawn in the back of her mind. Yarra had put a comforting hand on her arm and without thinking she grabbed it and held it tight, somehow finding strength in the presence of her friend.

“Mom came home from work early that day and she caught him beating me. She jumped in between him and me and pushed him away. He was so angry I was afraid he would kill her, but he turned around and walked away. That night we left the house and we stayed with some friends. From there we moved to Perth. It was nice living there, far away from him. Until he found us again and killed mom and Dean. He tried to choke me as well,” she ended in a whisper. “It scared me to death when I saw him on that tape from the police station. He scares me.”

Alice was visibly shaking now and after exchanging a worried look with Fiona, Yarra did the only thing she could think of to comfort her friend. She scooted closer to Alice and wrapped her free arm around a pair of slender shoulders. Even through the fabric of her t-shirt she could feel how cold Alice was and she pulled her a little closer.

Fiona, clearly remembering the state Alice had been in that morning, jumped off the bed to pull a blanket out of a closet and quickly walked back and draped it around Alice’s body.

“Thanks, Fi,” Yarra smiled at her friend, who had taken a seat on the other side of Alice, gently rubbing the blonde’s back.

“We won’t let him near you again, Alice,” Fiona promised in a soothing tone. “Sam and Trishia will make sure of that.”

The combined warmth of the blanket, Fiona’s hand on her back and Yarra’s close presence gradually helped Alice relax and after taking a few deep breaths she felt her self control slip back into place. But the cocoon of warmth she was enveloped in was too comforting to let go off and with a sigh she slowly raised her head, noticing a pair of concerned brown eyes observing her closely.

“Are you okay?” Yarra asked.

Alice nodded and squeezed the hand that was still holding hers.

“Yes, I feel better now, thanks. I…it’s all those memories coming back, I…it’s hard. I almost lost it again. Sorry,” she apologized.

“No need for that,” Yarra gently rebuked her. “We understand. Don’t we Fi?”

“Yup, we sure do. Besides, we are your friends, Alice. You don’t have to feel embarrassed or apologize.” Fiona gently shook Alice and winked at Yarra. “If you do, that means I will have to do that too and that would be a full day’s work for me.”

Alice smiled through her tears, grateful for Fiona’s silly comments. She already knew she could always count on the youngest McDonnell sister to lighten the mood when things became too intense.

“I think the day I met your mom has been one of the luckiest days in my life,” Alice confessed, using the back of her hand to wipe away the moist tracks on her cheeks.

“Of course,” Fiona answered with audible pride. “She is my mom, she’s the best.”

“Excuse me, I think that would be mine,” Yarra teased, happy to see the spark return in Alice’s eyes.

“Sorry, C.J., but Alice has not met your mom yet, so she can’t compare. However, I have to admit that your mom is a great lady as well, she has to be, seeing she puts up with you, so I guess we should call it a tie.”

“Very generous of you, Fiona,” Yarra chuckled. “Thank you.”

“You are most welcome. I aim to please,” Fiona answered, making Yarra and Alice laugh. “Alright, lovely ladies, what shall we do next? We have a few hours to kill before we can stuff ourselves with the delicious creations the Reef’s kitchen is famous for, so…we could watch another movie, or play some games, or just sit and talk or drive Lucy nuts. Or something else. I am open to suggestions.”

Yarra cast a look at the sparkling green eyes of her friend and rolled her eyes at her.

“You do behave like tonight’s entertainment,” she snorted. “I don’t care what we will do, as long as I don’t have to paint your nails or dye your hair.”

“No chance of that,” Fiona grinned. “I bite my nails and I like my hair the way it is, thank you very much. What about you, Alice?”

“I could use a haircut,” Alice mumbled. “And maybe even a different color.”

Yarra saw Fiona’s eyes lit up and she let out a groan. She could tell by the expression on her friend’s face that she had come up with something to do.

“Did you two girls know that this respected establishment has a beauty salon?”

Yarra looked up at Fiona and frowned.

“We are not supposed to leave this floor, Fi, in case you have forgotten that insignificant piece of information.”

“I know,” Fiona cheerfully answered. “But it’s just a matter of Mohammed and the mountain. Right? I am sure Jody wouldn’t have a problem to convince Jane to bring her stuff up here and give Alice a make over.”

“I don’t need a make over,” Alice quickly answered, jerking upright.

“No, but you do need a haircut,” Fiona relentlessly replied, walking towards the door. “And I think that’s an excellent activity to work up an appetite. I will ask Jody.”

Before opening the door she cast a look over her shoulder and noticed that Yarra and Alice were still sitting close together, obviously not aware they were still holding hands. With a huge grin and a little wave she stepped out of the room, leaving an amused Yarra and worried looking Alice behind.
“Well, that was interesting,” Trishia sighed, putting down the phone and turning to face Sam and Peter, who were both keeping an eye on the monitors on the desk. She leaned her hip against the desk and rubbed her tired eyes. She felt like she could easily sleep for a week, but she knew she could not give into the rest her body was craving. She needed to be alert. Thankfully the conversation she just had with Carol Wong had her adrenaline pumping again, but Trishia knew that once its effect wears off, she would feel even more drained.

“They took Martin’s stuff to the station and Phil had a look at his computer. Phil Kanides is one of our police officers and he has a degree in computer forensics,” she explained to Sam. “It appears that our dear ex- coworker, soon to be inmate, was a frequent visitor of a lot of our country’s beach cams. Especially the ones with a close look at the beach itself and its visitors. He recorded the images on his VCR, no doubt to be able to carefully study them after he came home from work. I bet that was his sneaky way of trying to find Alice. Carol and Phil came across a tape with images of a girl who closely resembles one of the victims. They studied it closely and guess what? Martin forgot to erase the part where he himself visits that same beach and he can be seen chatting to the girl. It wouldn’t surprise me if they would find even more compromising evidence of his involvement.”

“Damn, Trish! You don’t think he would have been holding on to those tapes like they were trophies?” Peter asked with evident disgust.

“That is what serial killers often do, Pete,” Trishia sighed. “Although I have never heard of anything like this before.”

Sam shook her head and tried to ignore the feeling of nausea that Trishia’s words had evoked. It was hard to imagine that there were people like Martin Coles around.

“It’s hard to understand that this bastard worked as a police officer,” she said. “It amazes me that he was able to do his job and nobody noticed what a nutcase he is.”

“I have been telling myself that a thousand times already, Sam,” Trishia somberly answered. “I can’t believe he got away with what he did and we didn’t know.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Trish,” Peter remarked. “You said yourself that he is very smart. He knows how things work and obviously he knew exactly how to cover his tracks. He had all of us fooled.”

“I guess you are right. But that only makes me want to nail his ass even more,” Trishia almost spat, inwardly furious about the fact that a person who was supposed to uphold the law and help people feel safe, would abuse his position in such a horrible way.

“Make sure we catch him alive, Trish,” Peter growled. “I want to see him suffer.”

“Amen to that,” Sam agreed, suddenly jerking upright when, from the corner of her eye she noticed a movement on one of the monitors. “There is someone coming up the road,” she announced in a tense voice.

Immediately Trishia and Peter were standing behind her, their eyes glued to the screen in front of them, where they could see a car slowly make its way up the hill.

“Anyone you know, Sam?” Trishia calmly asked.

Sam squinted her eyes and focused on the approaching vehicle. Slowly she shook her head, feeling the adrenaline surge through her body.

“No,” she answered. “It’s an unfamiliar car.”

Three heads simultaneously moved to the next monitor when the car had turned a corner and would be caught by the next camera. The images were remarkably clear, but no matter how hard they tried, the face of its driver was not recognizable, due to the reflection of the clear sky on the windshield.

Trishia grabbed her cell phone and speed dialed a number. She brought the phone to her ear, never once taking her eyes off the monitor.

“Trishia Waters,” she made herself known to the person who answered her call. “I need an ID on a car. It’s a New South Wales plate, LNT 264… Yes, I’ll hold.”

Trishia unconsciously fingered the gun that was resting against her hip, while the unwelcome memories of a banana plantation on a hot summer’s day forced their way into her conscious mind. She winced when she could almost hear the loud bang of her gun again and remembered how the body of Steven Hayes had lifelessly crashed onto the ground, where his blood had seeped into the earth.

Trishia swallowed hard and tried to focus on the car that was slowly, but surely making its way towards the house. When the person on the other side of the connection suddenly started talking, she quickly jotted down some information on a piece of paper.

“Okay, got it. Thanks Allen.”

She broke the connection and clipped the cell phone back on her waistband. With a steady hand she pulled her gun out of its leather confinement and released the safety hatch. When he heard the familiar click Peter looked up and one glance at his partner’s grim face told him everything he needed to know. He copied her actions and drew his weapon.

“That car belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, an elderly couple. This morning a police officer confiscated the car with the promise to return it as soon as possible. But he never did. It is reported stolen now and the description of the police officer who took their car fits Martin Coles. They said his hair was blond, but the rest of it fits. He must have dyed it.”

Trishia glanced aside and noticed Sam’s tense features.

“You might want to call Kurt inside the house, Sam,” she warned. “I hope to do this without bloodshed and I wouldn’t want to see him hurt.”

Without saying a word Sam got to her feet and quickly walked towards the kitchen, where she knew her dog would be lying outside the door, on the veranda. She opened the door and softly whistled, making the German Shepard immediately jump up and walk towards her.

“Come here, boy,” she said, hearing the slight tremble in her own voice. “Good boy, come inside, Kurt.”

The dog obediently followed her into the kitchen and Sam took him to the living room where she directed him to the most far away corner.

“Stay, Kurt,” she commanded, pleased to see the dog obey.

She knelt in front of him and lovingly scratched him behind his ears, feeling a mixture of fear and relief. Alice, Jody and the rest of her family were safely at The Reef. Martin Coles was on his way up to the house, but very soon he would no longer be a threat to anyone ever again.

“Please, God, let no one be hurt,” Sam softly whispered, before rising up to her full height again and purposefully striding back to her office, where Trishia and Peter were standing close to the door, still looking at the images on the monitor.

“I called the station,” Trishia announced, without taking her eyes off the screen. “There are three units on their way now.”

Sam nodded and nervously moistened her dry lips. The sight of the two police officers with their guns drawn reminded her of her close call with death, when Steven Hayes was about to end her life with a bullet. Trishia had saved her life with a single, well aimed shot and she knew the tall police woman, who had become one of her best friends, would not hesitate to do anything she was capable of, to keep Sam safe.

“Be careful, Trish,” she softly spoke. “I want to dance at your wedding.”

A small smile relaxed Trishia’s face and she cast a quick glance at her equally tall friend, who looked at her with a mixture of worry and trust.

“And you shall,” she answered with confidence. “There have been some delightful developments in that department and I will tell you all about that later,” she promised.

“I will hold you to that, my friend,” Sam smiled.

Trishia winked and smiled back before focusing on the monitor again. The car had stopped in front of the house and was not entirely visible on the monitor. But they could see a door being opened and somebody stepping outside. It was a man, wearing glasses and a dark cap that concealed his face.

He walked towards the veranda and they could hear heavy footsteps on the floorboards. For a moment it was dead silent. The tension in the room was so thick, it was almost palpable.

A loud knock on the door suddenly shattered the silence and both Trishia and Peter tightened their grip on their guns.

“Okay, Peter,” Trishia whispered. “Showtime.”
part 17
Sam felt her heart pounding in her chest so loudly her ears were buzzing. The knock on the door had made her jump and with pursed lips she wiped her sweaty palms on the fabric of her shorts.

Trishia had ordered her to stay inside the office and Sam cursed under her breath. Peter and Trishia were well trained and experienced, they knew what they were doing, but Sam felt frustrated and helpless. She knew she could be an easy target for anyone with a gun and bad intentions. Trishia only wanted her to be safe and out of harm’s way, but still, Sam felt like there had to be something she could do to help.

Her ears picked up the sound of a growling Kurt and she desperately hoped that the young dog would heed all the hours of training and remain where he was, safely out of sight in the living room.

Sam stepped closer to the door and wished she could look around the corner, but there was nothing she could see. She would have to rely on her ears to find out what was going on in the kitchen.

Trishia and Peter were both standing behind the closed door and as a senior officer, Trishia would be in charge of the situation. Peter gritted his teeth when he saw that she was going to do exactly what he had been afraid of. She motioned for him to yank open the door, in the hope that the element of surprise would be enough to throw Martin Coles off balance for a few seconds, so they could have the upper hand. But as soon as he would open the door, Peter knew he had to take a few steps back and that would bring his partner in the possible line of fire.

Another problem would be the screen door that could provide an obstacle once the kitchen door had been opened, but Trishia was confident she could still surprise the expected visitor.

Swallowing hard Trishia motioned for Peter to open the door on the count of three. He nodded and she held up her left hand silently counting down. Three, two, one…

While the blood pumped through their bodies with amazing speed, Peter jumped back, yanking the door open and immediately releasing the knob and stepping closer again.

In the meantime Trishia had used one of her long and powerful legs to violently kick open the screen door that gave away with a loud crack and immediately lost two of its hinges.

“Show me your hands!” Peter bellowed, while Trishia took two steps forward, grabbed a muscular arm and twisted it behind the man’s back, making him howl in pain. Standing behind him she kicked his legs apart and forced him to the ground, placing her knee against his back.

It was over in a few seconds. Taking a few deep breaths Trishia tried to calm her racing heart and sent her partner a questioning look. Peter nodded, letting her know he was fine and they both looked down at the man on the veranda, who was softly whimpering

“Don’t hurt me, please,” he pleaded and Trishia and Peter exchanged a stunned look.

“What the hell?” the tall policewoman exclaimed, easing the pressure on the man’s back and rolling him over.

“Hot damn,” Peter groaned in frustration.

Staring down they were looking at the frightened face of a young man who could not be older than twenty, at the most.

“Who the hell are you and where did you get that car?” Trishia snapped, feeling the anger rise in her chest.

The stranger trembled and behind the glasses his eyes nervously darted between Trishia and Peter. His face was extremely pale and small beads of perspiration had formed on his forehead. He opened his mouth a few times, but no sound came forth. It was clear the young man was petrified.

In the distance they could hear the sound of rapidly approaching police cars and Trishia briefly closed her eyes, swallowing away the bile that was rising in her throat.

“Damn, Peter, we have been set up,” she whispered hoarsely.

She carefully tucked her gun away and extended her hand to help the still shaking youth back on his feet.

“I am sorry about that, mate,” she mumbled, showing him her police ID. “We were expecting someone else. Where did you get that car?”

“I…I…down the road, I…there was this bloke who…who asked me if I could do him a small favor. He said he…he lived here and he was on his way up, but he had a real bad stomach ache and he said he was afraid he had a bleeding ulcer or something. He asked me if I could go and get his wife, while he was waiting down the road. He said he wouldn’t be able to drive up, because of the pain. I…I am really sorry, I thought….I…”

“Don’t worry, mate,” Peter sighed, patting the young man on his back, while two police cars came racing up the driveway, kicking up pebbles and dust. “You only thought you were helping somebody, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“I..I thought it would be okay, cause he said I could take up his car.”

“Were you walking along the road?” Trishia asked, feeling a presence at her back and knowing Sam was standing right behind her.

“No, I was on my bike.”

“What kind of bike?”

“An all terrain bike, a red one.”

Trishia cast a look at Peter, who understood the silent question and sprinted towards one of the police cars. He exchanged a few words with the uniformed occupants and grabbed the police radio. When he was finished talking he stepped back, while the two cars turned around and left the driveway in the same way they had arrived; in a cloud of dust.

Martin Coles was simply gloating when he heard the police cars approaching. Casually leaning against a tree, his hands stuffed in his pockets he watched the cars turn unto the track where a small sign said; ‘Murrook Farm’.

“I knew it,” he mumbled with a grin. “They were expecting me. What a shame, I missed the party.”

He pushed himself away from the tree and quickly walked towards a little house on the side of the road. There was an old truck in the driveway and Martin knew that if he was able to get inside, he would have no trouble hot wiring it.

As he approached the car he noticed the windows were rolled down and he softly chuckled. This would be easier than taking candy from a baby. He tried the door and to his utter delight it was not even locked.

The keys were absent, but Martin reached underneath the dashboard and yanked at the wires. He made quick work of hot wiring and starting the engine and whistling he backed it out of the driveway.

“Good job, Marty,” he complimented himself. “You haven’t been able to kill that bitchy piece of trash yet, but that could be dessert! Maybe I should visit a little blond girl first, especially since the bad police lady won’t be by her side,” he chuckled. “Now, if I were a little girl with a big protector like Senior Sergeant Dyke who has friends with the name Stevens Inc., where would I hide?”

Martin made a show of furrowing his brows as if he was deep in thought. He checked his appearance in the mirror and laughed at his scrunched up face. Humming he steered his truck through the early evening traffic, feeling utterly content and invincible.

“I know where you are hiding. I know where you are hiding,” he chanted in a sing-song voice. “Martin is going to get you!”

Suddenly his whole demeanor changed and he gripped the steering wheel so tightly, his knuckles were turning white. With narrowed eyes he stared at the road in front of him.

“This will be the last time you have ruined my plans, you pervert,’ he growled. “I am going to end this now, for once and for all.”

Alice looked at the smiling faces surrounding her and tried very hard not to be nervous, but she failed miserably. After Fiona had left the room it had only taken ten minutes for Jane to arrive. She was a petite brunette with a bubbly personality and when she had briefly studied Alice’s features her hazel eyes had shone with warmth.

Before Alice had the chance to change her mind, she was seated in a chair, with a big towel draped around her shoulders, while Jane’s skillful hands were using a pair of sharp scissors to radically cut off her long hair. When the first long strands had fallen on the sheet that was covering the floor, she had tried not to wince. There had been no way back anymore and she had closed her eyes, hoping that she would not regret her decision when she would look into the mirror.

When Jane was almost done, Jody, Lucy and Joan had entered the room. Joan had just smiled. Lucy had sported a big grin and had perched herself on the bed, while Jody gave Alice an encouraging nod.

“Looks good, Alice,” she smiled.

Alice grunted as an answer and the look on the teenager’s face told Jody that she was not convinced her new look would be an improvement.

“Are you going to put some color in there too, Jane?” Lucy casually asked.

“No, way,” Yarra exclaimed, wishing she would have kept quiet when Lucy and Fiona both cast her an identical amused look. “I mean, it’s a nice color already, right?” Yarra uncomfortably tried to explain her protest.

“Sure,” Fiona drawled with sparkling eyes. Normally she would have loved to tease Yarra about her apparent preference for blonde, but a look at Alice’s tense features made her change her mind. She made a mental note to grill her friend later.

“I don’t want to dye it,” Alice spoke up. “Cutting it is pretty drastic already.”

“But it looks great, Alice,” Fiona smiled, tilting her head and studying her friend. “You look like Renee O’Conner.”

“Who?” Alice asked with a puzzled expression.

“Renee O’Conner, “Yarra snorted. “I hardly think so. Alice’s are eyes are really blue, while hers are, I don’t know, greenish blue? Green? Besides, who knows what color her hair is right now? Last time I saw her on TV, her hair was red.”

“Okay, “Fiona laughed, amused by her friends fierce defense of Alice. “But her hair looks like Renee’s in that last episode we saw.”

“You watch Xena Warrior Princess?” Lucy asked, casting her youngest sister a surprised look. “My, my, little sister. You are full of surprises. I can remember you raving about how that show crippled Greek mythology. That was you, wasn’t it?”

Fiona shrugged her shoulders and tried to look indifferent.

“It was a school project,” she mumbled, trying hard not to look too embarrassed, while shooting a grinning Yarra an annoyed look. She was not about to confess that ever since Yarra had introduced her to the show and she had actually sit down and watched a whole episode, she had been hooked. That knowledge would make Lucy’s day and she did not want to contribute to that. Not when it would be at her own expense anyway.

Jane stepped back and slowly walked around Alice, scrutinizing her work. With a pleased smile she took the towel off Alice’s shoulders and motioned her to follow her to the bathroom, where a huge mirror adorned the wall.

“Have a look, Alice,” Jane encouraged, instinctively understanding Alice’s need to watch her new looks in private and not surrounded by a group of admiring women.

Nervously Alice turned to the mirror where a stranger was looking back at her. Her first reaction was to hastily step back, but she squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. Bringing her face closer to the shiny surface she stared at her own image with unbelieving eyes. Tentatively she fingered her now short locks, slowly turning her head from side to side. Her hooded blue eyes gradually lost their cautious expression and with relief Jane saw them look at her in awe.

“That is amazing,” Alice whispered. “It…it looks real nice. I…I don’t know what to say. Thanks, Jane,” she stammered with moist eyes.

Jane patted Alice’s shoulder with a warm smile and walked back towards the door, wanting to give the teenager some moments alone.

“It was entirely my pleasure, Alice. You look gorgeous, but you already did. I had nothing to do with that. I just styled your hair and made sure we can see your pretty face better,” she said with a wink before leaving the bathroom.

“That is one happy teenager,” Jane announced when she came walking back into the room. “It’s almost a real make over.”

“Almost?” Lucy mumbled. “I’d say she looks like a totally different person.”

“I think I know what Jane is trying to say,” Fiona said with a smirk, turning to her eldest sister and sending her a sweet smile. “Why don’t we go all the way, Pea? Get her a new wardrobe?”

Jody’s green eyes widened in surprise and after a few moments she shot Fiona an appreciative glance.

“I think I can contribute to that,” she answered. “Isn’t it a coincidence that only two weeks ago our new fashion shop has opened, here in The Reef?” she grinned walking towards the phone. “I think Sandy wouldn’t mind bringing up some clothes, so Alice can have a look and see if she likes them.”

“Good thinking, sis,” Fiona commended with a huge grin. “We truly share the same blood.”

“A clothing store? Here?” Yarra asked with a frown. “I don’t want to be rude or anything, but most of the shops in the hotels I have stayed at were…stuffy and boring. I mean, they are nice clothes for older people, but just not for teens.”

“That’s the beauty of this place, mate,” Fiona laughed. “Sam wants to attract a younger crowd, as well as a diving school, so they opened up a real cool shop downstairs.”

Jody had dialed a number and her face lit up when the call was answered.

“Sandy, it’s me Jody. How are you?….Wow, that’s good, I am pleased to hear that…Oh, yes, Sam and I are doing great. Listen, I have a request, can you bring up some clothes from the store? They are for a teenage girl. Blond hair, blue eyes…size?” Jody raised her eyebrows and shot a quizzical look at Fiona and Yarra.

“Do you know my sister, Fiona?” she continued with an impish smile. “Something like that…Alright, thanks Sandy. See you in a bit.”

She put down the phone and cast a pleased look at the bathroom where Alice emerged. The teenager did look gorgeous, Jane had not been exaggerating, but the clothes she was wearing were a little on the big side and Jody hoped that Alice would feel better if she could wear clothes that would fit and would be her own.

While Fiona and Yarra enthusiastically told their friend about the fact that she would be getting a new wardrobe soon, Jody cast a look at Lucy, who was sitting on the other end of the room with a forlorn look on her face. She exchanged a look with her mother and a wordless conversation took place. Joan smiled and nodded and walked towards the three girls, while Jody headed to her sister.

She let herself fall down on the couch beside Lucy and stretched her legs with a soft groan.

“Tired?” Lucy asked with sympathy.

“Very,” Jody sighed. “But maybe not as worn-out as you are. You look exhausted, sis.”

“Thanks,” Lucy dryly replied, shooting her sister an amused look.

“You are welcome,” Jody grinned, patting Lucy’s knee. “How are you holding up, Luce?”

Lucy’s eyes reflected something close to pain and Jody scooted a little closer, covering Lucy’s hand with her own and squeezing it gently.

“I am having trouble dealing with all this,” Lucy confessed in a husky voice and Jody could tell her normally composed sister was on the verge of tears. “I know we are safer here, well Alice is anyway and at the moment that is all that counts. But I worry about Trish. She was already tired when this whole situation began and…there is so much pressure. I…I know you suffer because Sam is there as well, but Jody, I am glad. I know Sam will keep an eye on Trishia.”

“And I am happy that Trishia will keep an eye on my stubborn Dutchie,” Jody answered with a sad smile. “I so miss her,” she added with a sigh. “Just sitting here and waiting drives me nuts.”

“I know what you mean,” Lucy smiled. “I just…I am here, Trishia is at Murrook Farm and I don’t know when we will see each other again. And that after I just swore I never wanted to wake up alone anymore,” she ended in a whisper.

“You did?” Jody inquired with a smile. “Don’t get me wrong, I am happy you feel that way, but what brought that on?”

Lucy bit her bottom lip, debating with herself whether to tell her sister about Trishia’s proposal, or to remain quiet until things would be back to normal again. But a pair of warm, green eyes won her over.

“Don’t tell anyone else yet, because I feel Trishia should be with me when we announce it to the world, but this morning she proposed to me,” Lucy said, casting down her eyes and taking a deep breath when she felt a blush creep up her cheeks.

Jody’s grip on her hand tightened and when Lucy looked up again she could see the happiness radiate from her sister’s face.

“Oh, Lucy, that is wonderful. You did say ‘yes’, didn’t you?”

“Of course,” Lucy laughed. “I would be a fool to let her get away. I love her, Jody. I really do.”

“So, does that mean I can stop worrying about you?” Jody joked.

“You worried about me?”

“I did,” Jody confessed. “I know that when you and Trish got involved it was….stormy, to say the least. I couldn’t help holding my breath and see what would happen. But when I saw the two of you grow closer I was so happy, Lucy. I was hoping Trishia and you would make a commitment.”

“Oh, so because you are a married woman, you want the whole world to be happy, huh?” Lucy gently teased.

“Something like that,” Jody confessed. “And the fact that I love you and want you to be as happy as I am. You are very special to me, sis. Don’t ever forget that. You were the one who kept me sane when I fell in love with Sam. Heck, you were the one who pointed out that very fact to me,” Jody remembered with a smile. “You kept dad off my back as long as you could. Don’t think I will ever forget that. You called Sam to come and get me.”

“Which got her in a car wreck,” Lucy sighed, her eyes dark with sadness. “Every time Sam is in pain and I see her limp, I remind myself of that.”

“Are you crazy?” Jody choked out, turning so she could have a better look at her sister. “That was hardly your fault. It was Michael who drove her off the road. You only had my best interest at heart. Lucy. If Michael had not have pulled that stupid stunt, Sam and I would have run off together.”

They were both silent for a moment, lost in their own thoughts and memories.

“You think that…if Sam and you would have run off, do you think you would still be together now? I mean, you were both so young.”

“We would have managed,” Jody answered, not having to think hard about her sister’s question. “I know we were young, but we had this connection that was amazing. When she disappeared and I thought she had just left me I was in pieces. I was hurting so much, I thought I would die. So, to answer your question: yes, I think we would still be together.”

“I always wanted what you and Sam had,” Lucy smiled. “That unconditional love, that deep…connection. The way Sam looks at you…I thought I was asking for too much, but…”

“You found that in Trishia,” Jody added quietly.

“Yes,” Lucy answered with slightly flushed cheeks. “I know that some people who don’t really know Trish think she’s…cool and distant. But she is not. She has such a warm personality. She is sweet and loving. Her sense of humor is amazing and so is her patience, especially when it concerns me,” Lucy grinned. “She is also an incredible romantic,” Lucy added in a low voice and she sighed dreamily, not noticing the amused smile on her sister’s face. “I know we started our relationship very fast and maybe even a little impulsive, but I swear Jody, from the very beginning she has always made me feel so special.”

“Good, I’d hate having to beat her up,” Jody dead panned, which made Lucy chuckle. Trishia was as tall as Sam and very strong. The idea of her small sister trying to beat the daylights out of her lover was too funny.

“You’d need something to stand on then,” Lucy quipped. “Unless you want to just kick her in the shins.”

They both laughed and Jody was happy to notice that the most of the tension had disappeared from her sister’s face.

“So, Trishia is a closeted romantic,” Jody mused with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Oh yeah,” Lucy sighed again, leaning her head against the back of the couch and staring at the ceiling.

“I will never forget our first night together.”

“Um…do I want to hear about that?” Jody gently teased. “Because if your idea is to swap ‘first time’ stories, I am not sharing.”

“No, that is not the intention,” Lucy softly chuckled. She turned her head a little and glanced sideways. “Unless you just want to tell me.”

“I’d like to keep some things private,” Jody replied, nudging her sister in the ribs.

“I understand. I just want to ask one thing, call it curiosity. Was the first time the way you had expected it to be?”

“The very first time or the first time with Sam?” Jody calmly asked.

Lucy’s head shot up and she stared at her sister with wide eyes. Jody raised her eyebrows and stared back into a pair of stunned green orbs.

“Yessss?”

“You mean, Sam was not your first? You and Sam…you didn’t…? Really? Wow, I thought the two of you would have consumed your love way before the accident happened.”

“No,” Jody sighed, with something that suspiciously sounded like regret. “We didn’t. We never got passed kissing, really good kissing I might add and some heavy petting sessions. I think we both thought that we would have all the time in the world. And then the accident happened and Sam disappeared for eight years.”

Jody rubbed her tired eyes and remembered the deep pain and sadness she had experienced after Sam had left, all those years ago. The memories were still a little unsettling. Especially now, with Sam staying at the farm and Jody safely tucked away at The Reef. What if…?

Vigorously Jody shook her head, clearing her mind from negative thoughts. Her conversation with Lucy proved to be interesting and, more importantly, it provided both women with some much needed distraction.

“So, since you really seem eager to know, I will answer both questions,” Jody continued with a touch of humor in her voice. “My very first time was not completely what I had imagined it to be, but Megan was gentle and loving and I did enjoy it. My first time with Sam however, was what I had expected from the very first time, and more. It was…intense, powerful. It was overwhelming. It rocked my world,” she smiled.

Lucy pushed back her dark hair and leaned back against the couch again, her hands clasped behind her head.

“Sounds satisfying,” she remarked dreamily.

“Oh, it was,’ Jody smiled knowingly. “But.. um…sister mine…quid pro quo.”

“Like you, my dear, I will not go into details,” Lucy smiled mischievously. “But I can tell you my first time was something I will never ever forget. It was amazing.”

“Was that the first time with Trish, or the very first time, or both?” Jody casually asked, thinking she already knew the answer to that question.

“My first time with Trish was my very first time,” Lucy softly replied.

“Good for you, Luce,” Jody smiled.

“Yeah, considering dad always accused me of sleeping with the whole town,” Lucy sighed, not able to hide the bitterness in her voice.

“I never believed that anyway,” Jody said. “I knew that deep down inside you were not like that at all. You might have joked and mocked a lot about love, much like Fiona does, but I knew you would never just sleep with anyone just for the heck of it.”

“Trishia and I kissed on the very first day we met,” Lucy grinned, remembering the moment so clearly she could almost taste the salt in the air and feel the ocean breeze brush against her skin. “But we didn’t sleep with each other for weeks. I needed to be sure that was what I wanted. And it was,” she added with an impish smile.

“So, I guess I can safely conclude that you and I have both found our partners for life?” Jody remarked.

“Absolutely,” Lucy answered. “Trishia really is the one for me.”

“And when will be the big day?”

“We haven’t even discussed that yet,” Lucy admitted with a chuckle. “This morning, after she asked me, we came into the house and…”

“Do I understand correctly that the shameless kissing session out on the veranda had something to do with Trishia’s proposal?” Jody interrupted gleefully.

“Oh, yeah,” Lucy grinned. “It had. But then we came in and a lot of other things happened and we haven’t even set a date yet. But I don’t care. After all this is over, we will go on a vacation. And it will be just Trishia, me and a lot of privacy.”

“Sounds excellent, Lucy,” Jody remarked, looking at the door when she heard a polite knock.

She blew up out a breath and pushed herself up from her comfortable seat.

“I guess that will be Sandy. Let’s get this fashion show started, huh?”

“So what will happen now Trish? What is the meaning of all this?” Sam asked, while she was pacing the kitchen, nervously drumming her fingers against her thigh.

Trishia leaned her back against the kitchen counter. Her hands were tucked into her pockets and there was a brooding expression in her eyes. She did not look happy at all. In fact, Sam was convinced that if anyone would rub the tall woman the wrong way, she would simply explode.

“I am not sure, Sam,” Trishia finally answered. “I can only guess. But it seems like Martin came up with a smart plan to see how well guarded this place is. He sent up that kid in the stolen car and waited to see what would happen. When I called for back up the car was only halfway up the hill and if he did hang around to see the outcome, he would have seen the police cars arrive. He is smart, Sam, he figured out we must have a security system up here, otherwise the police cars could not have been here so fast.” Trishia raked her fingers through her unruly hair and let out a deep sigh. “I am sorry, Sam. I screwed up.”

“Don’t be silly, Trish,” Sam immediately answered. “You could not have known he would do something like this. Heck woman, if you could anticipate moves like that, I want you to come work for me,” Sam sighed with a crooked smile.

Her remark had the desired effect, because Trishia looked up and Sam noticed a fleeting smile cross her face.

“Thing is, what do we do now?” Sam asked. “Better yet: what will he do?”

“Let me think for a moment, Sam,” Trishia sighed. “I am so tired, my whole head seems to be fogged up.”

“Want me to make us some coffee?” Sam asked. “I could even whip up something to eat. It’s almost six thirty. It will be getting dark soon as well.”

“Coffee would be excellent, Sam,” Peter grunted, while trying to lift the screen door out of its last hinge. The metal frame was completely bent out of shape and both Peter and Sam had immediately concluded the door was a lost cause.

“Okay, I’ll make us some coffee and some sandwiches.”

“Yeah, fine,” Trishia answered absentmindedly. The tall policewoman stared at a point on the kitchen floor and desperately tried to organize her thoughts. That was not an easy task. Lack of sleep and the huge amount of stress she was under made it hard for her to think clear. Especially when her thoughts were regularly interrupted by the image of a pair of dark green eyes.

Some nagging thought in the back of her mind alerted her to think hard and deep. Her gut feeling told her she was overlooking something. There was a piece of information in the back of her mind that was screaming for attention. But the tired haze that threatened to overtake her senses made it impossible for her to focus and the knowledge of not realizing something she had to know, was extremely frustrating.

“Sometimes it helps to think aloud,” Sam’s voice suddenly sounded next to her.

When Trishia looked up she noticed Sam was leaning next to her against the counter, with a pensive expression in her clear blue eyes. Trishia shot her a weary smile and took a deep breath.

“Alright, Sam. Here goes. According to Carol, Martin Coles was interrupted packing his stuff. Apparently he wanted to run off. He fled the house through the backyard when he was not yet surrounded and walked towards the business area close to his place. He disappears in the crowd and eventually he managed to con an elderly couple out of their car. About an hour later, the couple notified the police. That was around one thirty. Martin could have put that time to good use by getting the heck out of town, but he didn’t. He stayed. So, he either is too stupid for words, extremely arrogant and sure of himself, or very smart and dangerous.” Trishia paused for a moment and noticed the tense looks on Sam’s and Peter’s faces.

“Around four thirty this stolen car shows up on the driveway. That means Martin must have been driving around for about three hours. The kid who drove up here told us the man who gave him the car, was dressed in a pair of jeans and black t-shirt. He was wearing glasses, had a moustache and blonde hair. So, Martin either visited a beauty salon and dyed his hair, or he has another place we don’t know about and changed his appearance there.”

“He could have gotten a motel room,” Peter suggested. “Those cheap, sleazy ones never ask for an ID anyway. As long as you pay cash they don’t care whether you are mother Theresa or Jack the Ripper.”

“Being in the middle of the coastal tourist industry, it would be impossible to find him,” Sam sighed, wording what both Peter and Trishia were thinking.

“Anyway, Martin sends the kid up here, a few minutes later two police cars come racing up the hill and he knows for sure we have some sort of security system up here.” Trishia continued. “So, what would be his next step?”

“We have to take a step back first,” Sam spoke up, chewing on her bottom lip. “Nobody, except for Carol Wong, knows where Alice is. Why would Martin come over here? How did he know?”

“He knows about my connection with you,” Trishia answered. “He probably also knows that Jody and Lucy are sisters. God knows there has been enough gossip about it at the station.”

“Yeah and Martin always hung around those human newspapers, so I bet he heard about that as well,” Peter helpfully added.

“He probably kept an eye on my place. He knew Alice was with me last night. He only had to drive past my place to see the car wasn’t there.”

In spite of the heat outside, Sam’s hands were cold and she briskly rubbed them together to make them feel a little warmer. Talking about Martin Coles was extremely disturbing. Deep down inside she did not want to talk about the man at all, but keeping her friends and family safe was her main concern and if that meant trying to crawl inside his head, she was willing to do so.

“If he knows about me, he also knows about The Reef,” Sam stated matter-of-factly, but inside her heart was pounding in her chest. She quickly looked at her wrist watch and noticed that she was supposed to call Jody within the next fifteen minutes.

Nervousness settled in the pit of her stomach and when she looked at Trishia her eyes were almost pleading. She didn’t want to speak the next words, but looking into Trishia’s eyes she just knew that her friend had already contemplated the same thought.

“He could be on his way to The Reef,” Sam managed to say, while the tension painfully constricted her throat.

Trishia did not cast down her eyes to avoid Sam’s piercing blue eyes. Instead she calmly looked at her friend, seemingly deep in thought. Without taking her eyes away from Sam’s face, she took her cell phone and dialed a number by memory.

“Inspector? Can you send two cars up to Murrook Farm? We will be leaving, but we need a team here just in case Martin decides to show up again. We’ll be going to The Reef.”

It was not unusual to see an old person slowly stroll through the parking garage of The Reef. In fact, it happened a lot, since the resort was very popular among retired people from all over the continent. They even had their annual visitors from Japan, New Zealand and Europe. So nobody looked twice when an elderly man stiffly walked through The Reef’s main entrance. He was leaning heavily on his cane and when he passed the security guard he politely greeted him by tapping his orange and green cap.

The guard smiled at the man and held open the inner door, so he could easily pass through.

“Thank you, son,” a raspy voice sounded, while the man shuffled past the guard. “It’s mighty fine to see that there still are responsible young people around.”

“No worries, sir,” the guard smiled. “Have a nice evening.”

“Same to you, boy,” was the answer.

The guard closed the door behind the old man and walked back to his place near the main entrance, while the old man slowly continued his way to the elevators. Nobody gave him a second look.
part 18
Jody could not hide her smile every time she looked at Alice. The teenager was clad in a pair of dark blue shorts and a light blue top that brought out the radiant sapphire hue of her eyes.

Alice kept looking down at her slender frame, tentatively touching the fabric of her clothes with a soft smile. It was obvious she was trying to get used to the idea that she was wearing a brand new outfit and that it was hers to keep, together with a few more outfits that were neatly hung in the closet.

The new hairstyle and outfit, combined with the constant shy smile reflected in her eyes, truly made her a sight to see and Jody could not blame Yarra for not being able to keep her eyes off her friend.

Jody smiled knowingly and exchanged glances with Lucy who sent her an amused smirk. They were both completely endeared by the way Yarra and Alice interacted with each other, because the dark girl was not the only one who kept stealing glances at her friend. The bashful looks Alice shot at Yarra through long, thick lashes had not escaped the McDonnell sisters’ attention.

Even though it provided a cute picture, Jody could not help worrying about the things that could eventually develop between the two girls. She knew Yarra was reliable and as honest as they came, but the things Alice had been through already and the issues she still needed to deal with in the future, would make her extremely vulnerable. Jody knew Yarra would tread lightly and be sensible, but from her own experience Jody knew that falling in love could make even the most down to earth person blind for pitfalls and obstacles.

Jody’s tiny cell phone suddenly disturbed her musings and her heart skipped a beat.

“Sam, ” she happily smiled, seeing the number on the display.

“Hey, honey,” she warmly greeted her partner when she answered the call.

“Hi, baby,” Sam answered and Jody could hear the smile in her voice. “Are you okay?”

“Not really,” Jody answered in all honesty. “But talking to you makes me feel a lot better already.”

“Good, I am glad,” Sam answered. “Listen, sweetie, are you alone?”

Jody cast a look around the room where her mother and Lucy were softly chatting on the couch and three teenagers were lazing around on the floor, playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. She lightly furrowed her brows and shook her head.

“Not really. Why?”

“Could you, please, go someplace private?”

Normally Jody would have teased Sam about a request like that, but the serious tone of her lover’s voice made her realize that Sam would have a good reason to ask her something odd like that.

“I’ll go outside, on the balcony,” Jody announced, rising to her feet and walking to the huge sliding doors that had been opened to let in the cool, evening breeze.

“No!” Sam almost shouted all of sudden, practically making Jody jump. “Not the balcony, honey. Stay inside, okay?”

“What is going on, Sam?” Jody softly asked, feeling her anxiety rapidly rising.

“I’ll…just get some place private, honey. We need to talk,” Sam answered and Jody could hear how tired and worried her lover was.

“Okay, baby, I am in the bedroom now. What is going on?” she worriedly repeated.

Sam took a deep breath and quickly related the events from that afternoon. She could hear her partner gasp and wished she would have had better news to share.

“We think he might be heading to The Reef,” Sam added to the bad news. “For all we know he could be there already. We are on our way now, Jody and we will be there in about fifteen minutes. We don’t want to scare the girls, so, maybe it’s better not to tell them anything yet. We can explain once we have arrived. Trishia urged me to tell you to stay inside and don’t go out. Not even on the balcony. We are dealing with a psychopath here and there is no knowing what he could do.”

“My God. You think he could be outside on the beach, watching?”

“I don’t know, honey,” Sam sighed. “But Trishia won’t take any chances and I have to agree with her.”

Jody swallowed hard and cast a look at the huge window where she could see the darkening sky. In the distance a few twinkling stars already made a hesitant appearance. She knew that the darkness would cover anyone’s presence on the beach, making it easy to get a good view of the well lit rooms.

“Alright, Sam,” Jody whispered, well aware of the nervousness that had settled in the pit of her stomach. “Just hurry, okay?”

“We are on our way now, sweetie,” Sam tried to reassure her lover. “We won’t be long.”

“So I can’t tell the girls anything?”

“No, we will tell them when we arrive. I don’t want to frighten them, baby.”

“Okay, Sam. I won’t say anything then. But I guess I’d better go back, and keep them away from the windows.”

“Will you be alright?”

“No, but I don’t have a choice,” Jody answered. “Be careful, Sam. I will see you soon. I love you.”

“I love you too, honey. Bye.”

Jody broke the connection and slowly rose from the edge of the bed she had been perched on. Her heart was hammering in her chest and the palms of her hands were sweaty. She knew they would be safe where they were, especially with the guard stationed outside the entrance, but she still worried. Martin Coles had escaped the police again and Jody knew the man was as smart as he was deranged. With legs that almost felt numb she walked back towards the living room.
Softly humming, one of The Reef’s guests exited the elevator on the third floor. Nodding a greeting to an elderly couple he headed towards the back of the hallway where he could find an emergency exit and a map of the floor he was on.

The same map was visible at the wall next to the elevator doors, but he wanted to be able to study it in privacy.

With a glint in his eyes he took in the details of the floor plan. He softly chuckled when he realized things were so much easier than he had imagined them to be.

He had worked his way down from the fourth floor, where the maps had showed the hallways and equally sized rooms. But he was not looking for those. He was more interested in the top floor that was off limits to the regular guests.

The only reason he was interested in the floor plans was that he needed an escape route. The Reef turned out to be a building that complied with all the safety instructions for public places and every hallway had its own elevator and three emergency stair cases on every floor.

The only puzzle he still had to solve was how to get to the top floor, since the elevator could only be operated with a special key card. Of course he did not have one, but he did have a pretty good idea where he could find his ticket to the penthouse. He would just have to be a little patient and wait for the right time. But it would be worth it, that much he knew.

With a sly smile he turned around and casually strolled back towards the elevator. He softly whistled, happy to know that soon his quest would come to an end.

With nervous fingers Sam slid the key card through the slot, very aware of an equally tense Trishia who was standing right behind her, impatiently shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

With a soft hissing sound the door slid open and both women quickly stepped inside, followed by a worried looking Peter. The ride up to the fifth floor passed in complete silence. Only the sound of the tick, steel cables pulling up the car could be heard. The elevator stopped with a soft thump and even before the door had completely slid open again, Sam and Trishia had already stepped out.

The guard in front of the door had already jumped up, his hand on his belt where he was carrying a can of pepper spray. When he recognized Sam his face relaxed and he sent the tall woman a welcoming smile.

“Ah, it’s you Miss Stevens,” he spoke with evident relief. “Everything has been quiet around here.”

“Good, I am glad to hear that Gary,” Sam answered with a pleased smile. “The situation has changed somewhat though and we need to talk.”

“I will fill Gary in, Sam,” Peter offered. “You two can go inside and talk to the girls.”

“Thanks, Pete,” Trishia mumbled, squeezing his shoulder affectionately.

“No worries, Trish,” Peter answered. “I will fill in Gary, check out a few things and join you later, okay?”

“Great,” Trishia smiled, following Sam inside the executive suite.

As soon as the two women stepped inside the room, they were greeted by a gentle smile from Jody and a mixture of stunned and surprised looks from the others.

“Wow, you are back,” Fiona exclaimed. “Cool. Did you get him?”

She excitedly jumped up and rushed over to Sam and Trishia, eager to hear the latest news, which should be good, seeing the two women had come to The Reef together.

But neither Sam nor Trishia shared her excitement and when Fiona noticed the pained look the tall policewoman shot Alice, her stomach dropped.

“Did he escape?” she asked, feeling the blood drain from her face.

Alice’s gasp was audible to everyone and Jody cast Sam a worried look. The teenager’s legs were unable to carry her any longer and she sat down on the bed with a big thump.

“He escaped?” she repeated Fiona’s question, nervously clutching her hands.

“Sort of,” Trishia honestly answered, feeling Lucy wrap an arm around her waist and press herself up against the police woman’s side. “Why don’t we all sit down, so we can talk about it?”

Without waiting for an answer, Trishia grabbed Lucy’s hand and pulled her towards the huge couch where she sat down, while her lover took a place beside her.

Silently the others followed suit and within a few moment everybody was seated and staring at Trishia with anxious eyes.

The tall woman raked her fingers through her unruly hair and let out a deep sigh. No matter how hard Sam had tried to make her feel better, Trishia still felt that she should have anticipated Martin Coles’ move. In her own eyes she had failed miserably and the feeling of guilt made her stomach churn.

“This is what happened,” she started in a calm voice, although her thoughts were in turmoil.

In a clear and simple way, Trishia related what had happened and how Martin Coles had been able to find out there was a surveillance system at Murrook Farm without even entering the driveway.

“And on our way over here, I received the news that the neighbors across the street had their car stolen about the same time. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out who took it,” Trishia ended with bitterness in her voice. “We now think he might be trying to make his way over here. He was smart enough to realize Alice could be at Murrook Farm, so I am afraid he will also figure out she could be here as well.”

Her eyes traveled to Alice, who was still sitting on the bed, with Yarra and Fiona on either side of her.

“I am sorry, Alice,” she sadly apologized. “I wish I would have had better news.”

“We…we are safe here, aren’t we?” Alice quietly asked, her blue eyes dark in her pale face.

“We are on the top floor, the only access is the elevator and a private emergency exit that can only be opened from here, or downstairs with a special key from the fire department,” Sam explained. “Nobody who is unauthorized will be able to enter this floor.”

Alice slowly nodded and cast down her eyes. She felt nauseous and cold. She had hoped Trishia would have been able to arrest Martin Coles and lock him away, but again he had managed to escape the clutches of the law.

It only took one look at the police woman’s face to know how bad she felt about the whole situation and Alice knew that Trishia was the type of person to blame herself for the failure of capturing her mother’s murderer.

“You couldn’t help it, Trishia,” her soft voice broke the silence and she raised her head to look at the tall woman on the couch. “Martin…he is really smart and cunning.”

“Can you tell me more about him, Alice?” Trishia asked with pleading eyes, hopeful that the teenager would be able to provide some information that would give her more insight into Martin Coles’ way of thinking.

Alice just wished she didn’t have to let the memories surface. She wanted to keep them where they had been for years, because it would make her feel so much safer not to know the things Martin Coles was capable of doing. But the look in Trishia’s eyes had pulled at her heart and she knew that maybe she could provide the police woman with some information that could help her case.

Alice closed her eyes and cautiously reached out invisible hands to push aside the imaginary curtains that formed a barrier between her conscious mind and her buried memories.

Like Lisa Bailey had instructed her she breathed in deeply, while part of her brain reached out for something to ground her.

It was as if Yarra had been reading her mind, because her left hand was covered by a warm larger one and without opening her eyes Alice knew whose hand it was. She turned her hand palm up and intertwined her fingers with Yarra’s longer ones, earning a gentle squeeze.

Taking one more deep breath, Alice tentatively let the memories come, concentrating on anything that could link the shattered images to Martin Coles.

It was frightening. The echoes of long lost sounds and fragments of pictures came rushing at her like a freight train out of control. And Alice was standing in the middle of the track. Holding her breath and bracing herself for the inevitable impact.

“Ssshh, take it easy, Alice, keep breathing. Take a deep breath, that’s it…in…out. You are safe here, I have got you,” Yarra’s voice sounded close to her ear, chasing away the tight band that had started to constrict her chest, making breathing hard.

Alice gradually relaxed a little, not aware of her nails digging into the dark skin of Yarra’s hand. Her friend did not utter a sound, nor did she try to pull away her hand, ignoring the painful pressure.

Alice’s breathing that had become labored and shallow, rapidly returned to normal when she realized the blow she had expected never came. Instead the onslaught of memories receded and she was able to scan them with her mind’s eye and pick out the ones she needed. Like flipping through a photo album.

When she finally opened her eyes again and slowly lifted her head, the expression on her face was a mixture of grief and wonder. The vice like grip on Yarra’s hand relaxed and Alice shot her friend an apologetic look, which was returned by a gentle smile and a shrug of slender shoulders.

“When Martin started dating my mom, he was always charming and friendly and he used to take the three of us to do family things together,” Alice started in a voice that was rough with emotion. She cleared her throat and softly continued. “That didn’t last very long, but I remember when he took us all to a play at the Theater. We were allowed to go backstage, because he knew the director. They had been in school together and Martin used to be a member of that amateur group as well. His friend told us what a good actor he was.”

Alice bit her lip and her eyes searched Trishia’s.

“He has always been real good at impersonating other people and dressing up and acting like different characters. When my mom broke up with him he did stalk her for a while, but we didn’t know that at the time. Later on we discovered that he had been the old man walking down the street, calling at our door to ask if he could use the phone. He can transform into a ragged drifter as easy as he can change into a distinguished looking grey haired old man.”

Sam and Trishia exchanged a look of understanding and the police woman cursed under her breath. Martin Coles’ acting skills in combination with his psychopathic mind could provide them with a lot of complications.

“Alice, do you think he would be bold enough to try and make his way into The Reef?” Trishia gently asked, feeling Lucy’s grip on her hand tightening.

“Yes, he would be,” Alice immediately answered without hesitation. “He would probably think it’s a great challenge as well. He’s evil, Trishia,” the teenager added, not able to suppress the shiver that ran down her spine. “He has no conscience.”

An idea started to form inside Trishia’s mind and she pensively stared at the floor, mentally calculating the possibilities and risks. She exchanged a glance with Sam and slowly rose from her comfortable seat on the couch, reluctantly letting go of Lucy’s hand.

“I have an idea, but I need to talk to Peter first,” she explained. “But I will only be outside this door,” she promised, pointing towards the entrance. “I will be back soon. And Alice?”

Alice’s eyes locked with Trishia’s and in the police woman’s eyes she could see genuine respect and admiration.

“Thank you,” Trishia smiled. “And I love your hair. You look like Renee O’Connor.”

Yarra rolled her eyes, while Fiona and Lucy chuckled, grateful for the playful remark that somehow eased the tension in the room.

“What?” Trishia asked with raised eyebrows.

“Nothing, sweetie,” Lucy answered with a smile. “I will tell you about it later.”

“Please, do,” Trishia mumbled, bending down to kiss Lucy’s cheek before she headed to the door. It was closed with a soft click, leaving the occupants in the room staring at each other.

“I hope it will be a good idea,” Lucy groaned. “This guy gives me the creeps.”

Sam noticed the somber faces of the three girls who were still sitting on the bed, side by side and she decided to try and lighten the mood a little. She firmly believed they would be absolutely safe at the moment and it would only be a matter of time before Martin Coles was arrested.

Reaching out a long arm, Sam pulled Jody close to her body, until the smaller woman was practically sitting in her lap. But the happy smile on her partner’s face showed that she thoroughly enjoyed the attention.

Wrapping her arms around Jody’s torso, Sam pulled her even closer and rested her cheek on the top of Jody’s head, letting out a sigh of contentment.

Her clear blue eyes traveled through the room, until they came to rest upon another blond head and she met eyes that rivaled her own in color and brilliance.

“Trishia is right, Alice. Your hair looks really good. Did Jane come up and do that for you?” she asked with a pleased smile. “And I love your outfit as well. It looks good on you.”

Alice felt a blush creep up her cheeks and quickly cast down her eyes. She was not used to being the center of attention, especially not when she was complimented on her looks.

“Thanks, ” she managed the reply. “Jody arranged for it,” she explained with a little smile.

“But it was Fiona’s idea,” Jody was quick to make sure her sister received the credit for her plans. “I merely acted as mediator.”

“And bankroll,” Fiona grinned, rolling her eyes when she saw Sam nuzzle Jody’s neck. With a deep sigh she shook her head and glanced at her mother with feigned disgust.

“Mom, can you tell them to stop being so publicly affectionate? Or maybe they should get a room.”

“Fiona,” Joan McDonnell sighed. “If it bothers you so much, you could close your eyes and go to sleep.”

“And miss out on all the fun?” Fiona quipped. “No way!”

“Oh, that reminds me, Sam,” Yarra spoke up, casting a teasing look at her friend. “Fi here told me you will be selling tickets when she finally falls in love. I’d like to make a reservation already. I’d hate to miss the show.”

Fiona stuck out her tongue and tried to playfully swat her friend across the stomach, but Yarra caught her hand and started tickling Fiona’s ribs. The dark haired teenager tried to pull herself free from Yarra’s tight grip, but the older girl was just too strong for her. Squirming she tried to wiggle herself away, but with a mischievous grin, Yarra used her other hand to pin Fiona down so she could keep torturing her.

“Alice! Help!” Fiona gasped in between fits of laughter and high pitched squeaks.

Alice’s blue eyes were dancing and she had scooted away from her friends, to put a safe distance between herself and their flailing arms and legs. She thoroughly enjoyed the interaction between her two friends and she knew that even though they were always teasing each other, it was never done out of spite. It was just a way the two girls showed their affection for each other.

“No, thanks,” Alice answered with a laugh. “You started it, Fi.”

“Oh, no, she already has taken your side,” Fiona groaned, squealing when Yarra managed to tickle her behind her knee.

“Jody!” Fiona cried, trying a different tactic. “Help!”

But Jody did not answer. She wouldn’t have been able to even if she had wanted it, because Sam had been using the girls’ play fight to her own advantage, using the distraction to pull down Jody’s face and claim her lips in a deep kiss. Sam’s probing, teasing and tasting lips had robbed of her any coherent thought and the only thing she was aware of, was the woman who was holding her so close to her tall frame that she could hear her rapidly beating heart.

“You are on your own, kiddo,” Lucy smirked, extending her legs in front of her, crossing them at the ankles and looking at her suffering youngest sister with amusement. “Jody is…engaged in other activities.”

Yarra heard Lucy’s comment and with a frown she looked over her shoulder, curious as to what activities Lucy had been referring to. When she noticed the kissing couple on the couch, she grinned and for a second her grip on Fiona lessened. The dark haired girl immediately pushed away Yarra’s strong hands and managed to roll away from the taller girl. Her movements were a little too fast though and with a big thud she landed on the floor.

“Ouch,” she mumbled, rubbing her elbow that had connected with thick carpet on the floor. When she looked up she noticed a pair of warm brown eyes peering over the edge of the bed, looking down at her. She grinned at her friend and slowly shook her head.

“You are a sucker for romance, Yarra,” she teased her friend, who just laughed and shrugged her shoulders. “And I guess it’s thanks to Jody I got free after all, even though she doesn’t even realize that,” Fiona added with a soft snort.

A strong, dark skinned hand appeared and Fiona gratefully grabbed it to be hauled back to her feet again.

“Did you hurt yourself?” Yarra asked, her eyes scanning Fiona for injuries.

“Just my ego,” Fiona answered with a smirk, before turning to look at Jody and Sam again, who had just come up for air and were looking at each other with a smile.

“Are you two done already? Jeez, the world would come to an end, leaving the two of you wondering what the heck happened,” she teased her eldest sister, who slowly raised her head and tried to look calm and dignified, instead of flushed and disheveled.

“We are done…for now,” Sam smirked, tenderly brushing away a reddish-blond strand of hair that threatened to fall in Jody’s eyes.

Lucy rested her head against the back of the couch and closed her eyes with a sigh. She was bone tired and even though she scolded herself for being selfish, the only thing she really wanted to do was to have a long, long shower with her lover, crawl into bed, wrap herself around Trishia’s naked body and go to sleep.

To sleep, huh? A little voice in the back of her mind mocked. A naked Trishia within reach and you want to go to sleep. Who are you kidding?

A little smile tugged on the corner of Lucy’s mouth and she let out a longing sigh, remembering clearly how Trishia’s skin felt underneath her hands. Soft in all the right places and stretched tautly across her nicely developed muscles.

Lucy’s mind traveled back to the first time they had slept together and just the memory alone made her heart rate increase. What she had told Jody before had been so true. Trishia had proven to be very loving and gentle, she had provided Lucy with a gift she would never forget.

Her memories were so vivid that Lucy could almost feel Trishia’s warm breath caressing her overheated skin, while the large hands had tenderly explored every inch of her body. Trishia had taken her time, with soft touches, warm kisses and little nibbles, until Lucy’s desire had been so great, it had almost been painful. She had thrown back her head and practically begged Trishia to take care of her aching need.

Holding her close with one arm, Trishia had passionately kissed Lucy’s lips and when the dark haired woman had arched her body, Trishia had finally made Lucy hers, melting their bodies together and making her lover’s world explode in a kaleidoscope of colors, leaving her gasping for breath.

Lucy remembered how Trishia had lovingly kissed away the salty tears that had stained her cheeks, whispering words of love and comfort in her ear and holding her close until her breathing had returned to normal and her racing heart had calmed down again.

Lucy pushed back her hair and opening her eyes she let out a deep sigh. The memories had been so vivid, her body had responded eagerly and for a moment Lucy wondered if she had developed a one track mind. Not aware of Sam’s and Jody’s curious stares, she shook her head and softly laughed.

“What?” she asked when she raised her head and her eyes met her sister’s.

“That is what I wanted to ask you,” Jody dryly replied, but her eyes were twinkling when she noticed Lucy’s slightly flushed state. “What was that smirk for?”

“Oh, nothing,” Lucy shrugged, trying her hardest to look indifferent. “Just…some…memories, that’s all,” she ended with a mumble.

“Must have been nice memories,” Sam remarked with a saucy grin.

“The best,” Lucy answered with a wink, determined not to blush under her sister-in-laws inquisitive stare.

Jody smiled knowingly and brought her face closer to Sam’s to whisper something in her ear. The tall blonde’s eyes shot wide open and a smile slowly crossed her features.

“It’s not polite to whisper in company,” Lucy warned, playfully raising her finger.

“I know, but somehow I don’t think you would appreciate me making this remark out loud,” Jody whispered teasingly.

Lucy sighed and rubbed her face where a blush made his way up her cheeks after all, thanks to her sister’s whispered comments.

“Pay backs, Pea,” she warned the grinning Jody. “You just wait. The next time I can make you blush, I won’t hesitate.”

As soon as Trishia had walked out the door and entered the hallway, Peter had noticed the barely hidden excitement in his tall partner’s eyes. He had looked at her curiously and when Trishia had taken his elbow to steer him to the other side of the hall way he had obediently followed, sending Gary an apologetic smile.

“What is going on, Trish? I can tell you have something up your sleeve.”

“How is your acting, Pete?” Trishia casually asked, suppressing a grin when Peter looked at her with a frown.

“My what?” he finally asked.

“Your acting,” Trishia repeated, raising her eyebrows. “Didn’t your school have those annual plays? You know, where mom, dad, granny, grandpa, all the siblings and kids from the neighborhood showed up?”

“Don’t remind me,” Peter groaned. “Yes, we had them and I am still traumatized. They made me a lamppost one year. But my best performance was when I had to be baby Jesus. I didn’t have to talk, so that was easy.”

“So, the lamppost did talk?” Trishia asked with a grin.

“No, it didn’t, ” Peter sighed. “But I was eight and I really needed to pee, so standing still was kinda hard.”

Trishia laughed out loud and playfully slapped her partner’s back, making him cough in exaggeration.

“I can’t wait to tell your kids this story,” she smirked.

“Yes, please do,” Peter mumbled, but his eyes were laughing. “It will make me lose their respect even before they hit their teens. But tell me, what is on your mind? You have that brooding look in your eyes.”

Trishia’s face lost all playfulness and when she looked at Peter again she was deadly serious.

“I have a plan,” she admitted. “But I need your cooperation and when I have that, I need the inspector’s permission. There might be some risks involved.”

Peter leaned back against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes were glued to Trishia’s face and he slowly nodded.

“Spill it.”

Trishia stretched her long frame and felt the tired pull of her muscles. She knew she desperately needed some sleep, but she did not have the time yet. First she needed to talk to Peter about her plan and after that, discuss the details with Carol Wong. But maybe, after she would be finished doing that, she could afford the luxury of a hot shower and a few hours of undisturbed sleep. She would definitely need that, to make the plan work.

“If Martin Coles has already made his way inside The Reef, unrecognizable to us and pretending to be somebody else, what would you think his next step would be?”

“Trying to make his way up to the fifth floor and try to get to Alice.” Peter immediately answered.

Trishia nodded and stuffed her hands in the pocket of her jeans, slowly rocking back and forth.

“What would he expect us to do?”

“Stay put and wait for him to show up, so we can haul his sorry carcass to jail where he belongs.”

“And what would he not expect from us?”

“I don’t think he would expect us to let the girls wonder around this place all by themselves. I don’t think that…holy crap, Trish! You must be kidding! You are not trying to use Alice as bait, are you?”

“Of course not,” Trishia snorted. “I would never do a thing like that. But I know he hates me, because I am gay. And on top of that, I am a huge obstacle between him and Alice. So, I was thinking of using myself as bait.”

“So, what is this plan of yours?” Sam yawned when Trishia finally made it back into the sitting room. She cast her friend a curious look and could not help noticing the fine lines of tension around the policewoman’s eyes.

“I am sorry, Sam, but I can’t tell you yet. Tomorrow morning I will know more. The inspector needs to go over a few details first, before she is willing to give permission. As soon as she will contact me in the morning, I will tell you all about it, especially since I will need your help as well.”

“Fair enough,” Sam answered. “But what will we do in the meantime?”

“I don’t know about you,” Trishia smiled, walking towards Lucy and grabbing her hand in order to pull her to her feet. “But I can hear a cool shower and a comfy bed calling my name.”

Lucy’s eyes lit up for a moment, but quickly the worried frown returned to her face.

“But, Trish, what about…? Will there be anyone else besides that guard outside? What if…?”

“Ssssh, it’s okay honey,” Trishia reassured her lover. “Everything is taken care of. Right, Sam?” she asked her friend with a smile.

“Absolutely,” Sam nodded, appreciating Trishia’s idea for that evening and unfolding her tall frame from the couch, pulling Jody to her feet and wrapping her arm around her partner’s shoulder. “No need to worry, Lucy, we will be fine here tonight.”

Sam walked towards a door at the far end of the huge sitting room, with a quiet Jody at her side. She opened the door and let Jody step inside. With a friendly wave at her family and friends she closed the door behind her, looking forward to sharing a shower with her smaller partner and afterwards taking her to the big bed in the middle of the room.

“What was that all about?” Jody asked, suppressing a yawn behind the back of her hand.

“On our way up here, Trishia, Peter and I discussed potential scenarios about what could happen if Martin Coles wiggles his way into The Reef. One of the things we came up with is that it’s very likely he will try and get his hands on one of the keycards to this floor. The only thing he would have to do is get the night clerk away from the front desk and look for the right keycard, ” Sam explained pulling off her shoes and wriggling her toes with a content sigh.

“Anyway,” she continued, unbuttoning her shirt, “If he tries that trick, he will be surprised. I contacted Brian and had him make some… arrangements.”

“Like what?” Jody curiously inquired while she sat herself on the bed next to Sam and looked at her lover who was sporting a smug smile on her face.

“Well,” Sam drawled. “Like the fact that the key cards to this floor will not exactly be what Mr. Coles will expect them to be, so they will be of no use for him. That means his plans to get up here tonight will be ruined and we will have a good nights sleep.”

“Did you have Brian swap the cards?” Jody asked wondering why that would be so special. It was something anybody could have come up with.

“Yes, but I had them fixed as well,” Sam grinned. “You know they can be altered through this certain computer program, right? Well, I could not help wondering if we could somehow turn the tables on Mr. Coles as soon as he would try to use the key card. Now, according to our smart assistant manager that is possible, so, Brian fixed them for us.”

“How?” Jody asked, curious to find out why Sam was so excited, but too tired to really try to understand the technical side of it all.

“If Martin Coles gets a key card and tries to use it to get to this floor, the elevator won’t move. It will just sit there and do nothing.”

Jody looked at Sam with tired eyes and tried to comprehend what her lover had just told her. It was not exactly what she had been expecting, which gave her face a blank expression.

“Okay, honey,” she finally said, lightly shaking her head as if she was chasing away an annoying fly. “I am glad he won’t be able to come up here, even if he’s able to get his hands on a key card, but I had expected something more…dramatic.”

“Like what?” Sam asked, shrugging her shirt and jumping up to remove her shorts and panties.

Jody’s mouth was suddenly dry and she swallowed hard, moistening her lips when her eyes seemed to be glued to Sam’s shapely behind.

“Umm…well…like…I don’t know,” she stammered. She blinked her eyes a few times and let out a deep sigh, pulling her eyes away from her lover’s naked skin and focusing on removing her own clothes. “Maybe something like alarm bells going off, or the door refusing to open again. That would have solved the problem then and there. The only thing the police would have needed to do then, would be open the door, cuff him and drag him out.”

Sam’s blue eyes looked at Jody with a wistful expression. At that moment she reminded Jody of a little girl who had just discovered that it would be impossible to fly.

“That would have been great,” she admitted with a sigh. “I thought about something like that, but Brian said it would be against the safety regulations. We could get into trouble with the fire department if we did that.”

“Samantha Stevens, you are and always will be a big kid,” Jody smiled.

Sam laughed and stepped closer to her lover, aware of the effect her nakedness had on Jody. The smaller woman’s eyes grew slightly wider and even with the dim light in the room, she noticed the slightly dazed expression in those green orbs she loved so much.

“I am a kid,” Sam said, putting her hands on the bed, on either side of Jody and slowly bringing her body closer. “But that is why you love me, isn’t it?” she purred, tenderly kissing the soft skin of Jody’s neck.

“Among other things,” Jody croaked, feeling the goose bumps explode all over her body. She felt Sam’s smile against her skin and tried to ignore the soft, teasing lips that were softly nibbling her neck.

Two can play this game, she decided, lifting up her hands to unexpectedly cup Sam’s breasts, using her thumbs to stimulate the already hardened nipples.

When Sam’s body jerked and the tall woman let out an uncharacteristically squeak, Jody chuckled and playfully pinched the sensitive skin.

“You are a tease, Sam,” she accused her lover, but her voice was full of love and warmth. “But I think that’s another reason why I love you so much. By the way, honey,” Jody spoke, leaning her head back so she could get a good look of Sam’s face. “I thought you wanted a shower?”

“Only if you will come with me,” Sam answered, suggestively wiggling her eyebrows.

“Don’t I always?” Jody chuckled.

“Yes, you do,” Sam answered in a serious voice. “I don’t know anyone else who is so responsive to my touch.”

Jody’s eyebrows shot up, before she frowned and looked at her lover with narrowed eyes.

“There better not be anyone else,” she growled, making Sam chuckle.

“No, only you, baby,” Sam promised with eyes that radiated love and devotion.

“I knew you were a good catch,” Jody dead panned, kicking away her shorts and panties, which left her as naked as her lover. “How about that shower now, lover-girl.”

Sam extended her hand and grabbed Jody’s, pulling her to her feet and quickly kissing her lips.

“Can I wash your back?” she asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“You sure can, but remember, honey, my back is that part of my torso without breasts,” Jody chuckled. “I seem to remember you were confused by that the last time we showered together.”

“Maybe I need some more lessons,” Sam whispered hotly in her ear, while her fingers trailed down on her lover’s naked back and Jody softly moaned.

They stepped inside the huge bathroom and Sam made quick work of pulling Jody with her in the separate shower area. She pulled her lover close and buried her face in the soft skin of her neck, while her hands stroked Jody’s back and slowly slid down, until they cupped her behind and pulled her even closer.

“Lesson number one…” Sam whispered, capturing Jody’s lips in a searing kiss. She softly nibbled and sucked Jody’s bottom lip and put her tongue to good use by tracing the outline of the smaller woman’s lips, before gently sliding inside and caressing Jody’s tongue with her own in an erotic dance of promises.

Jody moaned and pressed her body even closer, reveling in the feel of Sam’s wet skin sliding against her own. That was something she would never get tired of feeling. The intimate contact was as intense and electrifying as the first time they had made love.

While Sam’s larger hands kept her in place and Jody’s arms were wrapped tightly around her lover’s body, their hips started a grinding motion, causing both of them to experience a throbbing feeling in the lower part of their abdomen.

Their movements increased in speed and pressure and with a soft groan Sam pressed Jody back against the shower wall. Her lovers’ knees buckled and she would have slid down on the floor of the cabin, if Sam’s strong legs had not kept her pinned against the wall.

“Honey, please,” Jody panted, feeling like her skin was on fire. Her green eyes, with the dilated pupils were dark with arousal and stared at Sam pleadingly.

The tall woman kissed her passionately and while her hands and arms supported Jody to help her to remain upright, her lips had already started to nibble and taste their way down. Jody knew exactly where her lover was heading and she threw back her head and bit her lip to prevent herself from screaming out loud, when Sam kneeled in front of her and gently draped one of Jody’s legs over her shoulder.

A pair of magnetic blue eyes that were filled with fire looked up and caught the need in her lover’s eyes. Sam smiled lovingly and brought her lips closer to Jody’s skin. Her lover’s body jerked and in spite of the water that cascaded down her face and the rest of her body, she could hear Jody’s moans of pleasure and encouragement.

The soap lay forgotten on the dish.

He had counted at least twelve security cameras in the parking garage. He knew it didn’t take a genius to conclude that the area that was separated from the rest of the underground parking by a wall, would be the area for private parking. There was a sign on the wall that read ” Private”. He knew that behind that barrier he would find the private elevator that only had three floors it could stop at: the parking garage, the first floor, where the reception desk was and the fifth floor, all the way on top of the building.

He rubbed his eyes that started to feel tired now and wondered if he could be fast enough to steal a key card and use it to board the elevator on the first floor. If he could lure the night clerk away with a very good story, he might be able to pull it off. But he needed some luck.

He chuckled softly and shifted around, not comfortable at all on the cold floor. Deciding he had seen enough, he crawled underneath the car that was parked next to the one he was using as a shield to stay away from the cameras’ reach. He had no intention of being filmed. He knew the police were looking for him and up until now he had managed to stay one step ahead of them.

“Idiots,” he giggled, wrinkling his nose when his arm brushed an oil stain on the concrete floor. “That will sufficiently ruin this coverall,” he smirked. “I better not tell that to the nice man who gave it to me.”

He crawled his way back to a dark corner, where he knew the camera would not be able to capture him clearly. He pulled himself up and quickly took off the dark blue coverall he had found underneath the tarp of the truck he was hiding behind.

With a look of disgust he lifted the tarp a little and threw the stained fabric inside, glad to be able to get rid of it. Reaching inside he pulled out a leather wallet, smiling when he saw the stack of dollar bills greeting him when he flipped it open.

He squinted his eyes to be able to read the name on the driver’s license and let out an amused chuckle.

“James L. Ferguson. Sales manager for McNamarra Pharmaceutical.”

His fingers pulled out some pieces of paper and photographs. The latter were immediately tossed back under the tarp, but the neatly folded sheet of paper had his interest.

“My, my, look at this,” he smiled. “Reservations for The Reef. One room, one person, non smoking. Paid in advance by credit card.”

He licked his lips, neatly put the reservation back in the wallet and slid it in his pocket. Lifting the tarp up a little higher he pulled out a suitcase.

“Thanks, Jim, ” he giggled, sticking his hand under the tarp again and patting a shoulder. “Burrr, you need to dress warmer, mate. You are cold,” he remarked, laughing at his own joke.

He picked up the suitcase and casually walked towards the elevator that would bring him to the reception desk at the first floor.

“Time for Martin to check in, Alice,” he smiled, but his eyes were cold and completely void of emotion.
part 19
The long hallway with the thick, luxurious carpet was really quiet. The floor covering absorbed the careful footsteps that drew closer to the door. There was no sound, except a soft buzzing of the light inside the emergency exit sign. The rest of the world seemed eerily quiet.

A small ray of light fell into the room when the door gradually cracked open, the beam painting a soft yellow trace on the bed covering. Backlit by the small source of light a shadow approached the bed with slow, deliberate movements. While it came closer the sound of heavy breathing filled the room, a mixture of fear and excitement.

Two hands were stretched out, its fingers spread and wiggling. Slowly they came closer, until the fabric that covered the hands finally touched the soft skin of a neck.

“Alice,” a whisper shattered the silence in the room. “I have finally found you.”

“No!” Alice breathed, shooting upright and staring into the darkness with fear filled eyes. She had brought up her arms in a defense posture and her whole body was shaking.

“Alice?” a sleepy but worried voice next to her sounded. “Are you alright?”

Alice looked around the darkened room, her eyes searching for the shadow who had wanted to kill her. Her heart was hammering in her chest and her hands were shaking.

“Alice?”

Yarra pushed herself upright and peered at her friend’s face and posture, immediately realizing the girl must have had a nightmare. She softly whispered words of comfort, while tentatively stretching out a hand and touching Alice’s shoulder. Immediately the girl’s body stiffened.

“It’s me, Alice,” Yarra whispered soothingly. “You had a bad dream. You are safe here, Alice. It’s alright now.”

Yarra’s hand gently touched Alice’s shoulder, slowly traveling to her back, where she started a slow rubbing in order to help her friend calm down. After a few moments she could hear Alice let out a shuddering breath and the body underneath her hand started to relax.

“Oh, God,” Alice moaned with a husky voice, burying her face in her hands and breathing in deeply. “It was so real.”

“What was?” Yarra asked. “Do you want to talk about it, Alice?”

Alice rubbed her face with both hands and felt a shiver travel down her spine.

“He was here,” she whispered. “In the bedroom and he was trying to kill me. His hands…,” she swallowed hard and shivered again. “It was so real…”

“I am sorry, Alice,” Yarra softly spoke, feeling a deep sadness settle inside her chest, because her already traumatized friend even suffered in her sleep. “I know how real nightmares can be, but you are safe here. Sam and Trishia are close by and Peter is sleeping on the couch in the sitting room. Nobody can harm you here.”

“I…I know,” Alice stammered. “I just wished he would not invade my dreams like that. I am scared of him, Yarra.”

With a sigh Yarra wrapped her arm around Alice’s shoulders and gently squeezed.

“I know, although I have never met him, he scares me as well. But there are a lot of people looking out for you, Alice and don’t ask me how I know, but I feel that everything will be alright.”

“You do?” Alice whispered, turning her head so she could look at Yarra. Unconsciously she leaned in closer to the contact, which made Yarra smile.

“I do,” the dark girl nodded. “And I realize it might be hard to believe right now, but I have faith in the outcome.”

“I wish I had too,” Alice mumbled with a small cough.

“Thirsty?” Yarra asked. “I’ll get you a glass of water.”

The dark skinned girl already started to crawl towards the foot of the bed, but a hand on her arm stopped her.

“I’ll be fine,” Alice whispered, glancing at Fiona’s sleeping form. “I don’t want us to wake Fiona.”

Yarra’s face split in a wide grin and if it had not been that dark, Alice would have been able to see the dancing lights in her dark brown eyes.

“Don’t worry about Fiona. Once she is asleep, she needs to be resurrected, instead of woken up. She has the capability to sleep through almost anything.”

Yarra hopped off the bed and headed for the bathroom where she retrieved a glass of water. She left a little light on and did not completely close to door, when she came back again.

“Thank you, Yarra,” Alice sighed while taking the glass and emptying it in one, big gulp.

“Are you ready to go back to sleep again?” Yarra gently asked when the blonde put the empty glass on the night stand.

“I think so,” Alice answered, but Yarra could hear the hesitation in her voice.

“Just lie down and make yourself comfortable. I will tell you a story, okay? That might help you relax.”

Alice did not answer, but she obediently sank back into the pillow. She tucked her left arm underneath her head, while her right arm rested on her stomach. Slightly turning her head she glanced at Yarra, who was lying on her left side, looking at her closely.

Alice swallowed hard and was wondering if her friend thought she was crazy if she would ask her if it was alright for her to hold Yarra’s hand. Physical contact had been something alien to Alice after her mother and brother died and in her years on the street she always shunned away from touching other people or being touched by them. But somehow Jody had efficiently broken down that barrier the night before, when the kindhearted woman had ignored Alice’s carefully erected wall, recognizing it for what it was; self defense.

Alice nervously plucked the fabric of her sleeping shirt and suddenly felt her heart skip a beat, when the fidgeting digits were covered by a warm hand.

“Is this okay?” Yarra whispered.

Alice swallowed away the lump in her throat and could only nod. How did Yarra do that? It was like the dark girl had the uncanny ability to read Alice’s mind. In spite of the situation Alice softly laughed.

“What?” Yarra curiously asked, immensely pleased to see Alice relax and smile again.

“Are you a mind reader?” Alice asked, turning her head and looking into a pair of soulful brown eyes.

“I don’t think so,” Yarra grinned. “But I am a person who often acts on intuition, like…like I feel people.”

Alice took a few moments to ponder over those words, while her eyes still studied Yarra’s face. The older girl patiently waited for her friend to work out whatever it was that was occupying her thoughts.

“Do you…feel… me?” Alice finally asked in a soft voice, glad for the darkness that was hiding her blush.

“I do,” Yarra admitted in a gentle voice.

“I am glad,” Alice unexpectedly answered and this time it was Yarra who could feel a blush creep up her cheeks.

“So, are you ready for that story?” she asked in a voice that was slightly strained.

“Yes, I am,” Alice smiled, wiggling around a little to make herself more comfortable.

“Good,” Yarra chuckled. “It’s a story about how the tortoise lost its tail…”

Yarra’s soft and captivating voice filled the silence in the room and from the very beginning of the story Alice was entranced, letting her friend weave the words and sentences together to create an enchanting tale.

The third occupant of the bed was lying on her side, facing away from her friends. Her breathing was deep and regular and her eyes were closed. But had Yarra or Alice taken a closer look, they would have seen the smile on Fiona’s face.

After Sam and Jody had made their exit the previous evening, Trishia and Lucy had followed suit. Not only were they in desperate need of some privacy, but Trishia knew she really needed a few hours of undisturbed sleep.

Of course, sharing a shower with Lucy had lead to some very intense, very intimate but extremely satisfying activities that had left them both satiated and so utterly relaxed, they had both fallen asleep, still wrapped in each others arms.

It was in that same position Trishia woke up after at least six hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep. Her blue-green eyes blinked sleepily and it took her a few moments to realize she was in The Reef and not on some tropical location for a well deserved vacation with her lover.

“Why the heck I am awake?” she softly mumbled, afraid to wake Lucy, who was wrapped around her body with her head resting on Trishia’s shoulder.

A soft buzz coming from the night stand was the answer to that question and inwardly cursing Trishia reached out a hand to grab her cell phone.

“Hello,” she curtly greeted.

“Trish, it’s me Pete. I think you’d better get out here. The night guard has found a dead body in the back of a truck down at the parking garage.”

Trishia was silent for a few seconds to let Peter’s words sink in and give her brain the opportunity to jump start.

“Damn,” she softly muttered. “I will be on my way down in a few minutes, Pete. Where are you?”

“Outside your door,” Peter answered and Trishia could hear a trace of humor in his voice. “I didn’t want to come barging in, because somehow I believe you and Lucy are not exactly…dressed for the occasion.”

Trishia softly chuckled and appreciated her partner’s thoughtfulness. Trishia would not have been bothered if Peter would have found her in bed naked, with Lucy. But she knew her partner would have been mortally embarrassed.

“Thanks, mate. I’ll be out in a few minutes. You don’t have any coffee, do you?”

“Brewing as we speak,” Peter grinned. “Your mother-in-law is up and taking care of business. She sure is putting that coffee maker to good use.”

“Bless her,” Trishia breathed. “See you in a few.”

The policewoman put down the phone and looked at the still peacefully sleeping Lucy. With a pang of regret she carefully untangled herself from her lover’s loving grip and cautiously climbed out of the bed. She went over to the bathroom to splash her face with cold water and quickly she got dressed.

On her way over to the door, she stopped by the bed and looked down at the sleeping woman. The sheets were only partially covering Lucy and Trishia’s eyes roamed over her lover’s lightly tanned skin, drinking in the beautiful face and slowly sliding down to where the sheet was covering her body, but still allowing her to see the swell of a soft breast.

With a deep sigh Trishia bent over and softly kissed the sleeping woman’s temple.

“I love you, Lucy,” she whispered, brushing away a long strand of dark hair.

Lucy stirred and mumbled something incoherent and Trishia smiled when she watched her lover snuggle deeper into the pillows, hugging the one Trishia had been resting on to her chest.

After one more, last look, the tall police woman headed towards the door and soundlessly left the room.

“No, senior sergeant Waters!”

Trishia winced at her inspector’s use of her full title and shot Peter an exasperated look. The last five minutes she had been trying to convince her inspector to give her permission to go down to the parking garage and check out the murder scene in the hope of finding any clues that could lead them to Martin Coles’ whereabouts.

“There is nothing you can do down here that can’t be done by someone else from the station,” Carol Wong forcefully stated. “I want you and Peter to stay where you are and work on your plan to lure that…that shark to the surface and reel him in. Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Coles is expecting you in that parking garage. He is sick, Trish and full of hatred. On his computer Phil discovered a lot of nasty things. Not only about those murdered girls, but apparently Martin Coles had frequent contacts with some Neo Nazi groups and we did find some emails in which he gave them directions to the addresses of gay people. Suffice to say those people mysteriously lost their pets, got the tires of their cars slashed and in some cases, they even got bashed up by those sorry excuses for human beings.”

Trishia could hear her inspector let out a deep breath before she continued to speak again.

“I am sorry I have to be blunt,” she apologized. “But this bloke hates your guts, Trish. I want you to be careful.”

“I will be,” Trishia promised, feeling sick to her stomach when she realized a former police officer was most likely responsible for killing at least three people, Alice’s family not included. On top of that he encouraged prejudice and violent hatred.

“We need to flush him out, inspector. I know he is around here somewhere and I want my hands on him before we find any more victims. I am positive he is no longer in the room that poor James Ferguson had made reservations for and I also know that he is expecting me to show up in that same room.”

“All the more reason not to go there,” Carol Wong wryly replied. “Maybe that will piss him off enough for him to make a mistake.”

“Hopefully,” Trishia mumbled. “Maybe we should seal the hotel and check everybody who happens to be inside.”

“And create chaos and panic? I don’t know, Trish. Somehow I feel that would drive Martin completely over the edge and there is no telling what he would do then. I don’t want to see any more dead bodies.”

“I guess you are right, inspector,” Trishia sighed. “Peter and I will stick to our original plan to walk around this hotel and see if we run into Martin somewhere. I just know he is here somewhere, the bastard.”

“Good. That stuff you requested is on its way and Shirley Crabb should be arriving at The Reef soon. If it’s not Shirley who shows up, arrest the one who does. My instructions have been quite specific. I will head for room 297 myself and I will let you know what I find. You and Peter go ahead with your preparations. I’ll call you as soon as I can.”

It had been a long night. Again there had been little or no sleep at all and he gradually started to feel he needed some rest. He had hoped that his quest would have come to an end when the sun rose that morning, but his nemesis had thrown up another barrier between him and his goal.

He had spent some hours in the lobby of the hotel, sitting on a couch with a newspaper, pretending to read while he drank coffee. Instead of reading he had put his eyes and ears to good use and memorized a few room numbers and the guests who resided there.

Hours later, when most guests of The Reef had retired for the night he had used one of the phones in the empty and dark restaurant to call the night clerk and ask for assistance in a room which he knew housed an elderly couple. He had told the clerk in a voice close to panic, that his wife had slipped and fell in the bathroom and he could not help her back on her feet again by himself. As expected the clerk had immediately grabbed a cell phone and headed towards the room on the second floor.

As soon as the young man had disappeared out of sight, Martin had rushed towards the reception desk in search of the key card to the top floor. With a huge grin he had noticed it was not even locked away and quickly grabbing the card he had headed for the private elevator. The doors had slid open with a quiet hiss and Martin had stepped inside, his heart pounding in his chest. The excitement had made his fingers tremble and he had to take a few deep breaths in order to calm down.

As soon as the doors had closed again he had run the key card through the slot and waited for the elevator to start moving. But nothing had happened. Again he had slid the card through the slot, this time a little slower, but there was no response.

Martin had known that the night clerk would return shortly, once he had discovered the call had been a hoax and he had only time to try it once more.

He had wiped the key card on his shirt, hoping it would have been some dirt that had prevented the machine from reading the card and again he had slid the card through the magnetic lock.

Cursing he had hit the button that would open the door and he had practically bolted from the elevator, towards the stair case. The moment the door had shut behind him, the night clerk had returned to his desk.

Martin had not bothered trying to return the key card. He knew Trishia had correctly anticipated his next move and she had made sure he would not be able to act on his plan. The rage that had risen inside his chest had been overwhelming and for a few minutes Martin had felt dizzy with hate. When he had finally calmed down a little he had slowly climbed the steps up to the floor where he would find room 297.

He realized he needed to revise his plans and while he had taken a long, cool shower Martin Coles had decided that Trishia Waters would be crushed like a fly. That thought had made him feel better and chuckling he had contemplated his next move. There was no time to waste and Martin had opened his bag, pulling out a small toolbox and a few other items. Giggling he had started to sort out the things he needed.

“I guess my Boy Scout years are starting to pay off after all,” he chuckled. “And curiosity killed the cat.”

Carol Wong and a team of five policemen had taken the stairs up to the second floor and within five minutes after leaving the gruesome scene at the parking garage, they were standing in front of room 297.

While there were armed policemen on either side of the door, Carol Wong took a deep breath and knocked. She knew that being an Inspector she should have stayed down at the lobby until a team would have had the chance to search the room and waited for their ‘all clear’ sign. But Carol Wong took it as a personal insult that one of ‘her’ officers turned out to be a psychopathic murderer and she was determined to bring down Martin Coles.

After the knock on the door it remained very quiet and Carol Wong decided to knock again. With a deep sight she realized her suspicions would be true, the room would be empty.

“Here goes,” she mumbled, tightening her hold on the gun she was holding, while her other hand slid the key card through the magnetic lock. A little green light indicated that the door could be opened and flanked by two of her officers she pushed open the door, immediately holding her gun steady with both hands and aiming at the space in front of her.

The room had obviously been used and her heart rate picked up, Carol Wong prepared to step inside, her eyes darted through the room. Once she stood inside the doorway, her foot collided with something and then everything happened in a blur.

In a split second Carol Wong realized that Martin Coles had left them a nasty surprise. As soon as Carol Wong’s foot had touched the wire on the floor, she had yelled a warning.

“Get back!”

At the same moment she twisted her body around and threw herself towards the wall. The two razor sharp knives that had been mounted on a cleverly designed catapult and aimed at the door came flying at her and it was only thanks to her quick thinking and excellent reflexes that the metal embedded itself in her left shoulder and upper arm, instead of her chest. Had she not throw herself against the wall, Carol Wong knew she probably would have ended up as Martin Coles’ next victim.

That realization made her so angry that initially she did not even feel any pain. Phil Kanides, who had been standing right behind his inspector had caught her in his arms and dragged her backwards, out of the room, into the hallway, while the rest of the team entered the room, carefully scanning the floor and walls for more traps.

“Inspector, are you alright?” Phil asked with a pale face. “I’ll call an ambulance,” he quickly added, seeing the blood pour out of the knife wounds in his inspector’s arm and shoulder.

Carol Wong nodded and tried to block out the pain that gradually became worse now her adrenaline level was slowly getting back to normal again. She inhaled deeply to fight the feeling of nausea she felt rising in her chest.

“Son of a bitch,” she spat.

With every breath she took she could feel the sharp metal move inside her arm and shoulder and she briefly closed her eyes to fight a wave of dizziness. She really wanted to grab those knives and pull them out, but she knew the bleeding could become worse if she did that. And Carol Wong had no intention of giving Martin Coles what he wanted by dying.

“I need my cell phone, Phil,” she breathed when the officer had made his emergency call. “It’s in my pocket.”

Phil Kanides stuck his hand in the pocket of Carol Wong’s jacket and pulled out her cell phone, which he handed to his inspector.

Not caring that her blood covered fingers stained the device, she quickly dialed Trishia’s number.

“Trish? You are in charge of this operation now. Our friend has been very kind and had left us a nice surprise in his room. I got hit by two knives and I will be on my way to the hospital soon. Here’s Phil, he can fill you in,” she ended in a pain filled voice.

Phil Kanides took over and quickly informed a shocked Trishia what had happened.

“Tell her to stay up there, Phil,” Carol Wong mumbled. “You can take over here, I need Trishia to go ahead with her plan. If she comes down now, she might do exactly what that creep wants her to do.”

Phil repeated the words to Trishia who reluctantly admitted that their inspector was probably right.

“Keep me informed, Phil,” she grimly ordered. “We are almost done here. It’s time we go out and capture that bastard.”

A loud knock on the door aroused Sam and Jody from a deep sleep. The blond woman immediately sat up straight, her heart hammering in her chest.

“Darn,” she muttered under her breath, raking her fingers through her unruly hair. “I am having way too much stress these days.”

The knock sounded again, this time louder and Sam glanced at the door with a look of disgust in her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah,” she called out, not able to hide the annoyance in her voice. “I am on my way.”

She slipped from her comfortable, warm spot next to Jody and started to walk towards the door. But Jody’s voice stopped her dead in her tracks.

“Honey?”

“Mmm?” Sam turned around and looked at her lover, smiling when she noticed the disheveled, sleepy and utterly naked state her lover was in.

“Are you going to open the door?” Jody asked with a chuckle.

“Well, there’s somebody knocking, isn’t there?” Sam replied with a sigh.

“I don’t care if the whole world knows I love you, but I refuse to let you go out like that,” Jody stated with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “I don’t want you to become the leading lady in anyone else’s wet dreams but mine.”

Only then Sam realized she was as naked as the moment she was born and grinning she walked towards a chair where she had dumped her clothes the previous evening, very aware of Jody’s appreciative eyes.

“Thanks, sweetie,” Sam smiled. “You saved me from embarrassment and most likely from a life time of teasing.”

“I aim to please,” was the playful answer.

“Oh, and you do, believe me,” Sam smiled, winking at her lover who blushed lightly.

Rising to her feet again, now dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, Sam crossed the room to open the door, chuckling when Jody quickly dived underneath the sheets until the only thing that was visible were her eyes and hair.

“Hey, Trish,” Sam greeted her friend when she had opened the door. “What’s up?”

“I need to talk to you,” Trishia answered and Sam could read the tension on her face.

“Come in,” she invited, stepping aside to make room for Trishia to pass.

When the tall policewoman noticed that Jody was still in bed, she averted her eyes and mumbled an apology.

“Don’t worry,” Jody cheerfully answered. “If you would be so kind to turn around for a minute and if Sam would hand me my clothes, I will get decent and nobody will have to feel embarrassed.”

With an affectionate smile Sam handed her lover the requested items and watched her lover get dressed, while Trishia was obediently studying one of the colorful paintings on the wall.

“Alright, Trish, what is going on?” Sam repeated her question, while she sank down on the edge of the bed in order to put on her shoes.

Trishia quickly told the couple what had happened while they had been asleep, seeing their faces reflect the frustration and anger that had been her first reaction as well.

“Is Carol alright?” Jody asked, blindly grabbing Sam’s hand for support. The idea that the inspector was injured and on her way to the hospital was very upsetting and immediately Jody started to figure out a way to keep down the commotion inside The Reef. Causing panic among the guests was the last thing she wanted to happen. Although she suspected most of the guests would have been in their rooms, since it was still very early.

“I hope so,” Trishia sighed. “She is on her way to the hospital now. Those knives were meant for me,” she grunted in frustration, seeing Jody pale.

“Does Lucy know?” she quickly asked.

Trishia bit her bottom lip and shook her head.

“No, this has all happened in the last twenty minutes and she was still fast asleep when I got up. Don’t tell her, Jody, please. I don’t want her to worry.”

“She’ll worry anyway, mate,” Sam somberly stated. “I figure you have a plan and I just know Lucy is not going to like it.”

Trishia looked slightly guilty and she walked towards the huge window to stare outside. Below the beach was still covered in darkness and the policewoman wondered if Martin Coles would have left The Reef and maybe was looking up from the outside, his presence covered by the night sky.

“I need your help, Sam,” the tall policewoman sighed without turning around. She knew she would not be able to stand the horrified and pleading look from a pair of green eyes that, without a doubt, were staring at her at that same moment.

“I need you to instruct your staff about a few things and I need to know every little nook and cranny in this building where Martin could hide. I don’t care how absurd it sounds, if you think it’s a possible place to hide, I want to know about it.”

“What is the plan?” Sam calmly asked, while her mind was already scanning the building, mentally taking notes of places where a person could try to hide.

“I know he must be angry and frustrated because we prevented him from using that key card. And because it was the inspector who showed up at the door of that room and not me.” Trishia answered with barely veiled anger. “Hopefully his madness will make him less careful.”

Trishia turned around and shot the women at the bed a determined look.

“I am going to turn the tables on Martin Coles. I will make sure the hunter becomes the prey.”

Fiona woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and even before she had opened her eyes, her nostril already flared, taking in as much of the delicious scent as possible. Her mother only allowed her a few cups a day and the one she usually had right after she woke up, was the best of them all.

Yawning and stretching Fiona turned onto her other side to cast a look at her friends. Her eyes twinkled when she noticed that apparently Yarra and Alice had gravitated towards each other during the night and were now almost cuddling. They were laying side by side, with Alice almost spooned against Yarra while the dark girl’s hand rested on Alice’s arm.

Fiona grinned and pushed herself upright, softly whistling the tune of ‘Love is in the air’. It only took a few moments for Yarra to stir and when the dark skinned girl opened her eyes, they visibly widened when she noticed how close she and Alice had been sleeping.

Fiona’s persistent whistling penetrated her fog filled mind and slowly she turned onto her other side, bracing herself for what would come.

“Morning,” Fiona greeted her with a cheerful smile.

“M’ng,” Yarra mumbled, still feeling dazed and anything but awake.

“Did you have a good sleep?” Fiona inquired.

“Yes, I did, thank you,” Yarra managed to croak in a coherent sentence.

“I thought you would have,” Fiona stated, sounding so cheerful and awake that Yarra would have liked to choke her. “You and Alice looked so…cozy together.”

Yarra groaned and rolled her eyes, regretting the fact that Fiona had woke up before she had, something that rarely happened.

“Give it a rest, Fi, Alice and I are just friends,” Yarra replied, not awake enough to be quick witted.

“That is what Jody kept saying, until Lucy caught her kissing Sam behind the shed,” Fiona chuckled, enjoying the teasing. It wasn’t often she had the opportunity to make her friend squirm.

“Smart ass,” Yarra sighed. “Do me a favor, Fi, don’t involve Alice in this pathetic theory of yours. She is too vulnerable, alright?”

“As if I would do that,” Fiona snorted, looking slightly insulted.

She let herself fall back onto the bed again and turned on her side so she could have a good look at her friend’s face.

“I won’t tease her,” she promised, seeing a pair of dark brown eyes soften. “You like her, don’t you, C.J.?” she softly asked, all traces of teasing had vanished.

Yarra could only nod and swallowed away a big lump in her throat. Fiona was right; she did like Alice. A lot. She was very much attracted to the cute blonde, but realized that Alice still had a long and difficult journey ahead of her on the road to healing.

“She’s going through a tough time, Fi. All I can do right now is to try and be her friend. Maybe I will get over it,” she added with a humorless laugh, deep down inside recognizing the pull she felt towards Alice for what it was.

“Maybe not,” Fiona mused. “You two do make a cute couple. I hope something beautiful will come out of this, Yarra. You both deserve that.”

“As long as I can be her friend, I will be happy, Fi” Yarra wistfully smiled.

Fiona opened her mouth to reply, but a loud knock on the door interrupted.

“Rise and shine, beauties,” Joan McDonnell came walking into the room, heading for the curtains and mercilessly yanking them open to let in the bright sunny glare.

“Mom!” Fiona cried out, covering her eyes against the harsh light. “Yesterday I told Yarra and Alice you were the best mom in the world, don’t ruin that image, alright?”

“Breakfast is waiting, love,” Joan continued, smiling when Alice carefully opened her eyes and groaned when she noticed the sunlight streaming in.

“Breakfast?” Alice sleepily echoed, making both Yarra and Fiona chuckle. They had only known Alice for a short time, but already her appetite had become legendary.

“Yes, girls, breakfast. I have seen freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, tea, toast, crumpets, bacon, eggs in all sizes and shapes, pancakes, oatmeal and a lot more. It seems like The Reef’s staff is intend on spoiling us.”

“They won’t hear me object,” Fiona laughed, jumping off the bed and racing towards the bathroom, while Joan stared at her retreating back with a soft smile. When Fiona had closed the door behind her she perched herself on the edge of the bed and looked at the two sleepy teenagers.

“Did you girls have a good sleep?” she asked.

“The best I had in ages, except for that nightmare,” Alice answered with a frown. “That was…really frightening, but Yarra told me a real nice story and I fell asleep again.”

Joan McDonnell gratefully smiled at the dark girl and patted her knee. From the moment they had first met, she had always liked Yarra. The girl was intelligent and mature and she had proven to be a great friend to Fiona and now also to Alice. Joan remembered the words of Lisa Bailey and had to agree with the psychiatrist: she too believed that the three teenagers shared a very special bond and she hoped they would always remain that close.

“Yarra is a sweetie,” she told Alice, seeing Yarra roll her eyes. “Of course, Yarra will never admit that, but believe me, I am telling the truth.”

With a smile and a wink Joan got back to her feet again and walked back towards the open door that let in some very enticing scents, making Yarra sniff the air with an appreciating grunt, while Alice could hear her stomach rumble. She pressed her hands against the offending organ and grinned sheepishly when Yarra looked at her with raised eyebrows.

“What can I say?” she mumbled. “I am a growing girl?”

Yarra’s dark face split in a big grin and she playfully nudged Alice’s shoulder, glad to hear her friend make a joke.

“By the sound of it we really do need to feed you,” Yarra gently joked. “Just make sure you will leave something for us, okay?”

“Oh, ha ha,” Alice snorted, but her blue eyes were twinkling.

When the girls entered the sitting room, they noticed a disheveled Jody sipping coffee and staring at Sam, Trishia and Peter who were sitting around the coffee table with something that resembled a map spread out in front of them. They were talking softly among themselves and every now and then, Peter scribbled something down on the notepad he was holding.

With a sleepy smile Jody waved at the teenagers and motioned them to come closer to the huge table that was transformed into a breakfast buffet. Fiona gave her sister a quick hug, before turning around and looking at the table with big eyes.

“Wow,” she said. “Who ordered all this?”

“I did,” Jody answered. “I don’t know what everybody likes, so I told them to bring up a few different things.”

“And they did,” Fiona grinned, snatching a piece of crispy bacon from a plate and propping it in her mouth.

“Pig,” Yarra mumbled, making Alice grin.

“Sit down girls and help yourself before it gets cold,” Joan encouraged the teenagers, setting a good example by grabbing a plate, filling it with toast and eggs.

“Jody, what are they doing?” Alice softly asked nodding her head in the direction of the small group around the coffee table.

“Trishia wants to know some things about this building,” Jody explained while she tried to sound unconcerned. “Sam is showing her a blueprint.”

“Because Martin is hiding inside the building?” Alice continued, knowing deep down inside that something must have happened that night.

Jody’s green eyes looked at the solemn face of the girl who had taken a seat next to her, on the couch. All traces of sleep had vanished and Alice’s blue eyes were dark with concern.

Jody sighed and reached out a hand to gently pat Alice’s knee. To the teenager that was the answer she needed and Jody could see the girl turn pale and shiver.

“What did he do?” she whispered while her eyes stared at the carpet where her bare toes were digging themselves into the soft material.

“I…I can’t tell you, Alice, I am sorry. That is Trishia’s call.” Jody honestly replied.

Trishia, whose sharp ears had picked up the use of her name, raised her head and cast a look over her shoulder. She smiled at Fiona and Yarra, who were playfully discussing their choice of eggs and let her eyes travel to Alice’s bent head. Trishia raised her brows in a silent question and Jody simply nodded.

The tall policewoman gestured her friend that she would be with them in a few minutes and Jody gratefully smiled.

“I am sure Trishia will tell you about it, Alice,” she softly spoke. “They are almost done with studying that plan. Why don’t you get a plate and eat something?”

“I feel sick,” Alice mumbled reluctantly, all of a sudden feeling very nervous. “I don’t think I will be able to eat.”

“I am sorry, honey,” Jody softly spoke, covering Alice’s fidgeting fingers with her hand. “Just try to keep in mind that, no matter what Martin Coles has done or will do, you have absolutely nothing to do with that.”

“He killed those girls because they looked like me,” Alice whispered in a barely audible voice. “If I would have died when mom and Dean did, those girls would still be alive.”

For a brief moment Jody closed her eyes, feeling the pain like a tidal wave crashing over her. She felt the tears sting her eyes when again she was confronted with the enormous amount of pain and guilt Alice obviously was carrying around. In spite of the difficult situation they were all in, she said a silent prayer of thanks for Alice having come into their lives.

Jody put down her now empty coffee cup and turned a little so she could face Alice.

“Come here,” she invited, opening her arms.

Without hesitation Alice crawled into Jody’s arms and immediately felt better when the deceptively strong arms wrapped her in a warm hug. Gently rocking back and forth, Jody rested her cheek on Alice’s head and softy talked to her.

“You are not responsible for Martin Coles’ actions, Alice. From what I understand he was already abusive when he and your mom dated. He has a sick mind, sweetie. He is a sick person. What he does has nothing to do with you. Those girls probably died because they looked like you, but that was something Martin Coles did, Alice. He was the one who took their lives, not you. You are as much a victim of him as the others are.”

“But they are dead and I am not,” Alice mumbled.

“Their deaths are very tragic and I can only imagine what their families will go through, but you are alive Alice. And I am so grateful you are. I am so thankful that you came into our lives.”

“You are?” Alice sniffed.

Jody slightly pulled away from the teenager and used her hand to lift up Alice’s chin, so she could look her in the eye.

“Yes, Alice,” she reaffirmed when their eyes met. “I am. Never doubt that. I know we can never replace the family you lost, but know that you are always welcome to stay with Sam and me at Murrook Farm. For as long as you like.”

Alice knew Jody had spoken those same words before but again she could see nothing but affection and honesty in those beautiful emerald eyes.

“As long as I don’t have to ride those big horses,” she replied with a sniff.

Jody’s face relaxed and she laughed, pulling Alice in for another hug.

“Only if you want to, Alice. So, what about breakfast?”

Alice realized the brief talk with Jody had indeed helped her to feel better. Her nerves seemed to have settled and the nausea she had felt before had disappeared. Slowly she pulled away from Jody and sent the smiling woman a grateful look.

“I think I can eat now,” she shyly admitted.

“Then go ahead and dig in, before Yarra and Fiona eat all the good stuff first,” Jody encouraged.

“Thanks, Jody,” Alice softly whispered.

“No worries, Alice. Go ahead, eat something.”

With a soft glance she watched Alice jump up and join her friends at the big table. Jody’s eyes traveled to the coffee table and she was not surprised when she caught Sam’s eyes that shone with so much love and pride, it made Jody all warm inside. Her own eyes mirrored the same sentiment and for a moment the room faded away and there was only the radiant blue of Sam’s eyes and the deep feelings they conveyed.

Only when Trishia’s cell phone buzzed, they both returned to reality and with a last smile in Sam’s direction, Jody stood up to get some more coffee, while the rest of the room’s occupants listened to Trishia’s one sided conversation.

“Phil, do you have news?…That fast? Great…So nothing vital has been damaged…yeah, I guess in a way she was very lucky, but don’t underestimate our inspector’s reflexes. She might have a desk job, well, most of the time anyway, but I know she still holds a black belt in karate and she is an excellent kick boxer. I have seen her in action and it was quite impressive…” Trishia had walked towards the table and snagged away a grape that she quickly popped into her mouth, enjoying the juice that exploded against her palate. “Try to find a clue as to what his next move might be, Phil…We are going over a blueprint of the building and I guess we will be coming downstairs within the next hour…Plan?…I want to piss him off and smoke him out. I want Martin Coles to feel our hot breath in his neck, so he will make a mistake…I want two experienced uniforms at every entrance of this building…no, I want them to be in uniform. Our friend needs to know that the noose around his neck is tightening…Great, Phil, thanks…Yeah, I’ll give you a call as soon as we are headed for the lobby.”

A pair of muddy brown eyes carefully peeked around the door of the emergency exit on the second floor. Although he had not seen what had happened, he had heard enough to know that Trishia Waters had not fallen into his trap, but the inspector had. At first that had invoked another fit of rage, until he realized that the inspector had been a good target as well.

His ex-coworkers had left the room and Martin Coles noticed that a team of two people were already working to get the blood stains removed from the carpet.

With a soft chuckle he shut the door and quickly made his way to the first floor. Again he first peeked around the corner before stepping into the quiet lobby. It was Sunday morning and still early. From the restaurant he could hear the clattering of silverware and the faraway sound of subdued voices.

Taking a deep breath he stiffly made his way across the lobby, looking like an elderly man again, with a grey moustache and the same color hair. It was time to leave The Reef and do some shopping. But when he saw the police car outside the door he stopped dead in his tracks. Two uniformed policemen were casually leaning against the vehicle, obviously keeping an eye on the entrance. The same guard who had opened the door for him the previous evening was softly talking to a couple of guests who were about to leave the building. He noticed the couple showing the guard their key card and some identification. The guard friendly nodded and opened the door.

Martin Coles turned around and he was so angry, he almost forgot to pretend to be somebody else. He realized it was impossible for him to leave The Reef through the main entrance, since Trishia had obviously come up with the idea to check people’s identification and key cards. The only cards Martin Coles had in his possession were the useless card to the top floor and the key card to room 297. He could not use either of them.

Rubbing his sleepy eyes, careful not to touch his grey eyebrows Martin casually walked back towards the hallway that lead to the indoor pool and sauna. He knew there was an exit there as well. But when he turned the corner and had an unobstructed view of the emergency exit, he could see another police car with two uniformed officers standing guard.

“You filthy dyke,” he spat feeling the rage bubble up inside his chest. The intensity of his anger in combination with the lack of sleep made him dizzy and for a moment he had to grab the wall for support.

“If you think I won’t be able to get out of here, you have another thing coming,” he growled, shaking his head vigorously to get rid of the annoying dizziness. “Nobody will stop me when I want something.”

Quickly turning around he walked away on unsteady legs, not needing to pretend his legs had difficulty carrying him.

“I need a phone,” he mumbled.

Lucy woke up because something annoying was tickling her face and she had no idea what. Sleepy green eyes blinked against the dim light in the bedroom and noticed a tall figure sitting on the bed, staring at her with a loving smile.

“Morning, sunshine,” Trishia greeted her lover.

“Is it?” Lucy responded with a croaky voice. “Morning I mean?”

“I am afraid so,” Trishia answered, bending down to kiss a pair of soft lips.

Lucy immediately wrapped her arms around Trishia’s neck and pulled the tall woman closer to deepen the kiss, not caring that the sheet slid down, revealing her naked body.

“Oh, my goodness,” Trishia mumbled against her lover’s lips, feeling her libido kick in full force. “Honey, we have no time for this,” she regretfully sighed. “I have a nutcase to capture.”

That last remark brought Lucy back to reality and with a deep sigh she loosened the grip on her lover, kissing her nose before letting her go again.

“You are right,” she admitted. “Besides, I can hear the girls are up and I really don’t want to embarrass myself.”

Trishia smiled and cupped Lucy’s cheek, staring deeply into her dark green eyes, realizing how lucky she was for having Lucy McDonnell in her life.

“Never apologize for being passionate,” she gently teased, stroking a silky cheek with her thumb.

“I didn’t intend to, but I’d rather be passionate with my family at a safe distance,” Lucy grinned.

Trishia laughed and quickly stole another kiss.

“I love you, Ms McDonnell.”

“Good,” Lucy smiled. “Cause I love you, Ms Waters, or should I call you senior sergeant?”

Trishia rolled her eyes and chuckled, wrapping her arms around her lover and pulling her in for a hug.

“Breakfast is ready and I was wondering if…”

A loud knock sounded on the door and with a frown Trishia looked up. Her friends and partner knew she was waking Lucy up and wanted a few moments of privacy with her dark haired lover.

“This should better be good,” she grunted, standing up from the bed and walking towards the door, to yank it open and growl: ‘What?”

Sam could perfectly understand Trishia’s reaction and she did not blame her friend for snapping at her. She would probably have done the same thing. But Sam did have a good reason to disturb her friend’s tender intermezzo with Lucy.

Holding up a phone Sam’s blue eyes looked straight into Trishia’s and the policewoman could see the anger, frustration and worry brew beneath the surface.

“Mary from the reception desk just called. She had an anonymous phone call. Somebody claims there is a bomb hidden inside the building.”
part 20
Pacing the floor with long, aggressive strides, Trishia tried to walk off some of the restlessness and frustration she was feeling. She was so angry she had to control herself not to snap at anyone who was in the room. It was not their fault that Martin Coles had come up with a clever plan to escape The Reef.

“He is bluffing,” she growled. “I can hardly believe he has planted a bomb somewhere. He saw the police outside and he is trying to come up with a way to get the hell out of here. There is no way he had time to pull off a stunt like this.”

“What if he isn’t bluffing?” Sam calmly asked. “What if there is a bomb? I can’t take the risk, Trish. I will need to evacuate the building.”

Trishia groaned and pressed her hand against her temple, where a dull, throbbing pain announced the upcoming arrival of a massive headache.

“He is bluffing,” she almost yelled. “That sick son of a bitch is bluffing, Sam. He has to be.”

Sam’s blue eyes were full of sympathy when she looked at her friend, but also shone with determination when she walked towards a phone on the desk.

“I’ll make the call,” she calmly announced. “I am sorry, Trish, but the well being of our guests is my responsibility. Safety procedures require me to call in a bomb squad and evacuate the premises. In case Martin Coles is not lying I don’t want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt, or worse. Besides,” she added with a sigh. “We are not a hundred percent sure the call did come from him. For all I know it could have been someone else.”

“You don’t believe that, Sam,” Trishia answered in a defeated tone.

“There is a difference between faith and facts, Trishia. I hope you understand I have no choice in the matter.”

Trishia shot her resolute friend a glance and sent her an apologetic smile.

“I know, Sam. And I am sorry for snapping at you.”

“No worries, my friend, I share your frustration and anger, believe me.”

“Why don’t you call the fire department, while I call the guys from the bomb response unit?” Trishia suggested, already pulling out her cell phone and dialing a number.

Jody pushed back her hair with trembling fingers and cast a look at the three teenagers who were quietly sitting on the couch, looking at Sam and Trishia with wide eyes. She knew they had to get ready to leave as soon as possible.

“Come on girls,” she softly spoke. “Quickly get your stuff together, we will be leaving as soon as possible. Just take the bare necessities. We will get the rest after this is all over. I will need to make a few quick phone calls as well,” Jody instructed, grabbing her cell phone from the table.

While the teenagers headed for the bedroom, Jody dialed the number of the reception desk, while her mind was already busy contemplating all the things that needed to be done.

“Mary? It’s Jody. Listen, we will evacuate the building immediately. I want you to call any of the staff who is working in the restaurant and instruct them to follow our emergency protocol. You can start calling the rooms as well to wake people up. Ask guests who are able to do so to take the stairs, instead of the elevators. If there are any guests in the restaurant, already having breakfast, ask them to calmly leave the building and wait for further instructions from the police and fire department across the street. All right?”

“Yes, Jody,” the reception desk clerk quietly answered. “I’ll start right away.”

“I’ll be back in touch again soon, Mary. Good luck.”

“No, I want those cars to stay where they are,” Trishia sighed, bringing the phone to her other ear. “I still think this is nothing but a bomb scare and it wouldn’t surprise me if Martin Coles will try and leave the building through one of those emergency exits. So, stay put. Reinforcements are on the way.”

The tall policewoman had hardly finished speaking those words when in the distant she heard the sirens of rapidly approaching fire trucks. She tucked the phone away and opened the door to call in Gary and Peter who were quietly discussing the situation in the hallway. They both sported worried frowns.

“Peter, forget about the disguise we planned. I want you and Gary to go down to the lobby and see how things are developing. I will take the girls down to the car and see to it that they will be able to safely leave. After that I will join you and we will search every nook and cranny of this building until we find that bastard.”

“On my way,” Peter answered, already heading for the elevator, with a worried looking security guard in tow.

“Trish?” Lucy’s shaky voice sounded right behind her and Trishia turned around to look into the moist eyes of her lover. “Are you staying inside? What if…?” Lucy swallowed hard and had to take a deep breath to prevent breaking down completely.

“I am convinced there is no bomb,” Trishia tried to reassure her with all the conviction she could muster up.

She pulled Lucy into her arms and held the trembling woman close, while her anger with the man who was responsible for her partner’s sadness and worry grew every passing minute.

“Where will we go?” Lucy softly asked.

Trishia’s eyes caught Sam’s and the two women exchanged a look of understanding.

“Back to Murrook Farm.”

Trishia could feel the woman in her arms stiffen and she lifted up Lucy’s face to be able to look her in the eyes.

“You won’t be going alone,” she promised. “I will send at least four officers with you. Sam and Jody have a top notch security system now, honey. It would be foolish not to use that right now.”

“What about Alice’s protection?” Lucy muttered. “It’s obvious that…that… psychopath is trying anything he can to get his hands on her.”

“We won’t let him,” Trishia promised, softly kissing Lucy’s lips. “We will get him before he can even try to harm her. Go on, love, get your stuff together, we need to go.”

Trishia did not want to take any risks with the safety of her family and friends and herded all of them into the elevator. It was a bit cramped with eight people in the small car, but she knew it would only be for a minute or two.

The ride down happened in complete silence and all eyes were on Trishia when the elevator came to a stop with a soft, barely noticeable thud.

When the door slid open, Trishia was holding her gun in clammy, but steady hands. Her eyes quickly scanned the small private parking area and when she did not see anything out of the ordinary, she motioned the other women to step out, which they quietly did.

Jody unlocked the doors of her car with the remote control on her key chain and the soft click echoed through the unnaturally quiet parking area. The three teenagers hopped in immediately, as they had been instructed by Trishia, helping Alice to sit on the floor of the car, so she would be completely out of sight. Lucy took her place next to the girls on the backseat, while Joan McDonnell crawled into the front.

Jody shot Sam a desperate last look, knowing her partner could not be talked into leaving The Reef. Just before they had left the top floor, she had tried to convince her lover to leave as well, but Sam had calmly answered that she had to stay and help.

“I own this place, sweetheart. I can’t leave our staff to handle a crisis like this on their own. They need me here.”

Jody knew her lover was right, but that had not helped her to ease the sadness, worry and frustration she felt.

“Be careful, Sam,” she whispered, before stepping inside the car.

“I will be. I promise,” Sam softly answered. “Remember what Trish told you, if you reach the track up to the house and you are not escorted by two police cars yet, then keep driving.”

“I will,” Jody nodded. “I love you, Sam.”

“I love you, honey. Be safe.”

In the back of the car Lucy had rolled down the window, so she could grab Trishia’s hand one more time and pull the tall woman closer for a quick kiss.

“Be careful. If you’ll get hurt, I will kick your butt.”

Trishia smiled and kissed the back of Lucy’s hand before releasing it and stepping back.

“I’d better be careful then,” she gently joked, glancing at her lover one more time, before she turned to Jody to give her a nod. “Go ahead, Jody. We will see you all later.”

Jody obediently started the engine and slowly backed out of the spacious parking area. She nervously licked her lips when the barrier that divided the private parking from the rest of the underground garage slowly lifted and she was forced to stop for a second, nervously drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.

In the rearview mirror she could see Trishia and Sam walking right behind the car, while their eyes darted through the dimly lit area. Their faces were pale, but shone with determination, while their eyes were alert and clear.

As soon as the red striped barrier was all the way up, Jody continued her slow drive and turned a corner, which brought her on a straight path that lead towards the exit. In the distance she could see the daylight pouring through the doors that were open wide and she slowly exhaled.

Only fifty meters to go and they would be outside.

A pair of cold, menacing eyes followed the car’s progress from underneath a parked SUV. Martin Coles had shed his disguise, knowing that Trishia would have expected him to leave the building in the midst of the guests who were already hurrying through the lobby and heading for the street.

He suppressed a giggle when he realized his ex-coworker would not have anticipated his next move. It would be a glorious surprise.

With barely contained excitement he shuffled backwards, until he could crawl away from the car he had been hiding under and he quickly grabbed one of the items he had set on the floor in preparation for his final move. His eyes never left the approaching car, when his hand touched the cold, smooth surface of a bottle. He grabbed the item firmly in his hand and smiled when he thought about the effect his actions would have. It had been so easy to pry open the lids of some fuel tanks and stuff some cotton strips in them. He surely had put the shredded sheets to good use.

Holding the bottle in his right hand, he used the lighter in his left hand to set fire to the makeshift cotton wick that he had stuffed inside the bottle and that was now drenched with gasoline. He knew that anyone who paid attention would be able to see the flickering light in the semi darkness of the parking garage. But Martin Coles did not care. The time of his revenge had come.

With a rapidly growing feeling of dread Trishia followed the car Jody was driving and kept her eyes wide open. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end and a quick glance towards Sam showed her that her friend was obviously experiencing the same thing. The tall blonde’s pale face made her blue eyes stand out vividly. Her eyes nervously flicked from side to side, while her hands were clenched into fists.

Suddenly Sam’s nostrils flared when she picked up a scent that was unusual. The parking garage always had a distinct smell of exhaust fumes and oil, but this time she smelled something else as well and the closer they came towards the exit, the stronger her perception of the scent became.

“Trish!” she warned huskily.

“I smell it,” Trishia answered while the adrenaline suddenly surged through her body, increasing her heart rate and breathing. For a brief moment her eyes caught the reflection of Jody’s in the rearview mirror and with horrifying clarity Trishia knew she had to make a quick and difficult decision.

“JODY, GO!!!” she suddenly shouted, feeling the panic rise in her chest.

While the echo of her words still bounced off the concrete walls she noticed a movement to her left and her eyes caught a flicker of light.

Then, for a moment the world stood still.

From the corner of her eye she could see a burning object being thrown in the direct path of the car, shattering the silence with the noise of broken glass and the whooshing sound of erupting flames, that in a matter of second covered the floor when the gasoline quickly spread out.

A second and a third object followed, creating a blazing inferno in front of the car and Jody reacted instinctively. She hit the brakes.

Trishia had pushed Sam behind a concrete pillar and aimed her gun at the spot where Martin Coles had to be hiding. The car was in the line of fire and she prayed nobody would choose that moment to step out of it. But before she could fire only one single shot a burning object flew through the parking garage, hitting the roof of a parked truck on the right hand side of Jody’s car. The fire started immediately and flames licked the smooth surface of metal, when the gasoline gushed down.

Trishia realized with horror that Martin Coles had not just aimed at that car without a reason.

“Oh, my God, no,” she moaned, opening her mouth to yell a warning.

But Jody, who at first had looked at the erupting flames in front of the car with horrified eyes, had quickly recovered from her initial shock. When the parked car on her right had been hit and the flames had started to shoot skyward, she had noticed the white strip of fabric sticking out from the fuel tank. Immediately she had put the car in reverse and floored the accelerator. While the screeching tires created a small cloud of stinking rubber she backed up the car, praying that she would be fast enough.

“SAM. GET DOWN!!” Trishia yelled, jumping out of the cars path and hitting the floor with a painful thud, when her elbow collided with the cold concrete.

From the corner of her eye she noticed that Sam had heeded her advice and the tall blonde was already crawling backwards as fast as she could.

Protecting her head with her arms Trishia braced herself for the upcoming explosion and the accompanying change in air pressure.

As soon as the flames approached the opening of the fuel tank, the makeshift wick caught fire and within a few seconds a thunderous explosion lifted the truck up in the air, slamming the vehicle into the next car, while the flames already started to consume it in a blazing fire, creating an inferno of heat and thick, black smoke.

Jody had backed up the car as far away from the fire as possible and when the fuel tank of the truck in front of her exploded, she felt her own car shake violently.

In the back of the car she could hear the frightened screams of the girls, but a quick look over her shoulder showed her no one was hurt, thanks to the safety glass Sam had insisted to get installed in the car.

“Trishia,” she heard Lucy shout in panic and Jody’s eyes frantically searched for her partner and her sister’s lover. She found them both huddled behind a concrete pillar and relief flooded through her body when she saw them move. Her knees were feeling weak and for a moment Jody feared she would be losing the contents of her stomach.

But another burning object suddenly flew through the air and Jody desperately wondered how many of those deadly cocktails Martin Coles had fabricated. With a loud, clattering noise, immediately followed by an eruption of flames, the bottle landed on the concrete floor in front of her car and she could see the burning gasoline would reach the vehicle in moments.

“Everybody out,” she ordered, quickly unbuckling her seat belt. “Stay low, keep your head down. Try to go towards the corner, where the stairs are.”

Lucy had already opened her door and was sprinting around the rear of the car to get to the other side. She yanked the door open, grabbed her mother by the arm and pulled her out of the car.

“Run!” she screamed, already focusing on the other door.

It was thrown open and Yarra came jumping out, pulling a terrified looking Fiona with her. Lucy pushed her sister in the direction her mother was going and expected Yarra to do the same. But the dark skinned girl turned around, extended her hand and while tears were running down her cheeks she looked pleadingly at a terrified Alice, who seemed to be frozen in place. Her face was unnaturally pale and her bright, blue eyes radiated horror.

“Take my hand, Alice,” she begged, noticing from the corner of her eye that the flames were already coming closer. “Please!”

The blond teenager sat huddled on the floor of the car and her eyes stared at a point in the distance. Her heart was hammering in her chest while the sound of flames and soot brought her back in time again. She did not have to close her eyes to remember her brothers’, when he was pushed back into his room. His big blue eyes wide with fear. Or the way her mother ‘s body had felt when she had landed on top of her, realizing in the back of her mind that the woman who had given her birth and who had proven to be her best friend, had lifelessly laid on the ground.

Again her memories went back to the eyes and hands of the person who had tried to kill her. The one who had mercilessly taken innocent lives and who had made her life a living hell.

Looking up into Jody’s pleading eyes and seeing Yarra’s outstretched hand, something inside Alice snapped. For the first time since her mother and brother were killed she felt a rage that was so intense, it threatened to consume her whole.

“NOOOOOO!” her voice sounded through the parking garage, reverberating against the concrete walls and chilling the ones who heard her desperate cry.

“YOU KILLED THEM, YOU BASTARD !! STAY AWAY FROM MY FRIENDS !!”

Before Yarra even had the chance to stop her, Alice had jumped out of the car and was running towards the place where Martin Coles was hiding behind a big, black truck.

“Alice ! No !” she shouted, intending to run after her friend, but she was being stopped by Lucy’s hands on her shoulders, desperately looking at the blonde who was already on her way.

Trishia was frantically trying to clear her eyes from the blood that was pouring from a deep gash in her eyebrow. She had been lucky though. Her ears were still ringing from the sound of the explosion, but her body was still functioning and there seemed to be no serious damage.

“Are you all right, Sam?” she asked the blonde next to her, who was rubbing her face and looking around with a dazed expression in her clear blue eyes.

They were both lying on the floor, covered in glass, soot and debris, while they could feel the heat of the burning car that had exploded close to them. Too close.

“I think so,” Sam answered, turning her head to see her lover evacuate the car.

“Jody!” she whispered.

At that same moment a blond fury came running down the parking garage and Trishia and Sam recognized her as Alice.

“Sam,” Trishia croaked a warning and immediately the tall woman jumped back to her feet, ignoring the muscles in her right leg that were screaming at her in agony. She tackled the teenager, whose fall was broken by a pair of strong arms that dragged her behind the relatively safe structure of the concrete pillar.

“We need to be quick, Sam,” Trishia coughed. “Before more cars will go up in flames.”

“Alice!” a chilling voice suddenly sounded, eerily cheerful amidst the havoc and destruction. “I know where you are Alice. You need to DIE!”

Trishia pushed back the pain her bruised body was experiencing and shot Sam a warning look. Sam nodded and used her whole body to pin the squirming Alice to the ground, wincing when she became aware of the many cuts and small burns that were covering her body. She already heard the sound of a fire truck stopping outside The Reef’s underground parking area and she knew the fire men were about to come rushing in to start killing the flames.

“Trishia!!” the police woman heard Peter’s voice outside, knowing her frantic partner would have been stopped by the fire department, because entering the hot, smoke filled parking garage would be a hazardous thing to do.

Trishia knew she didn’t have much time left. A look over her shoulder showed her that Lucy, Jody, Joan and the girls were huddled in a corner, behind a car, protecting their heads with their arms.

“It’s now or never, Sam,” she calmly spoke, checking her gun for the last time. “Let’s get this bastard.”

Trishia Waters rose to her feet, ignoring the horrified cries she knew were from her lover and looked towards Martin Coles’ place of hiding.

“Give it up, Martin,” she shouted. “For once in your life do something sensible. Surrender, Mr. Coles.”

“Why should I, dyke?” was the spiteful answer.

“Because you have done enough damage already and there is no way you will be able to leave this building as a free man again,” Trishia simply stated, while her heart was racing. “Are you a coward, Martin?” she added, her voice almost purring. “I think you are. Chasing girls around, preying on the defenseless. Coward.”

“Like hell I am,” a voice spat and behind a black truck, Trishia saw Martin Coles’ figure jump up and running towards her, his gun aimed at her chest.

“If I have to die, I will take you with me, bitch!”

The next few moments happened in a blur. Trishia aimed her own gun and pulled the trigger, feeling her arm jerk by the sheer power of its blast.

A searing pain shot through her shoulder and biting her lips she fired again, vaguely registering a body crashing down to the floor. Then it was silent. Only the crackling noise of flames could be heard and Trishia slowly sank to her knees, still holding the gun, while from a distance Sam’s worried voice tried to penetrate her fog filled mind.

She took a few deep breaths, hearing running footsteps, but not knowing where they came from. Her eyes misted and she was aware of the warm, sticky fluid that was slowly but surely saturating her shirt. She was pushed down on her back, wanting to fight the one who was making her to lie down, but surprisingly lacking the strength to get up by herself. Her greenish-blue eyes looked up at the concrete ceiling in surprise and she could feel somebody lifting up her head and putting something soft underneath it.

“We…need…to get…out of here…those other cars could blow,” she breathed, before an excruciating pain shot through her shoulder and upper arm and she groaned.

“Lay still Trish,” a familiar voice penetrated the pain filled haze. “You’ll be okay. The ambulance is on its way.”

Seeing her friend’s pale face, the blood that liberally seeped through her shirt and the pain filled green-blue eyes Sam pushed her hand against Trishia’s shoulder to try and slow down the bleeding, immediately feeling the warm blood seep through her fingers. She frantically yelled towards the exit where she knew an ambulance was waiting.

“GET THOSE MEDICS DOWN HERE.”

“Lucy? Is…she..?”

“Lucy is all right, “Sam quickly replied. “So are Alice and the rest. Don’t talk Trish, help is on the way.’

Sam heard running footsteps and did not have to look up to know that Jody would not have been able to restrain her sister any longer. Lucy fell on her knees next to Trishia and looked at her lover with panic filled eyes. Tears were streaming down her soot stained cheeks.

Through a thick, foggy haze Trishia noticed a pair of teary dark green eyes looking at her, while a familiar hand brushed away her hair from a sweaty forehead.

“Looks like I need to kick your butt,” Lucy sniffed.

“I am sorry, honey,” Trishia whispered with difficulty, wondering why breathing was causing her so much trouble all of a sudden. “Did I get him?” Her pleading eyes slowly traveled to Sam, who was flanked by a sobbing Alice and she repeated her question in a barely audible voice “Sam, did I get him?”

Sam looked over her shoulder and noticed a lifeless body lying close to one of the burning cars. He was lying on his back, with one hand clutched across his chest and Sam did not know if her stinging eyes were playing tricks with her, or that Martin Coles was still breathing.

Gently letting go of Trishia, while Lucy took over, she stood up, not aware of the fact that most of her clothes were shredded and her body was covered in small cuts, bruises and burns.

“I want to come,” Alice persisted, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “Please? I need to see…”

Still shocked by all that had happened Sam’s brain hardly registered the fire men rushing into the parking garage, closely followed by a medical team. Their trained eyes immediately spotted Trishia and a few moments after arriving into the underground parking area, they were already kneeling down next to her, trying to stop the bleeding, monitoring her vital signs and hooking her up to an IV line, all the time calmly talking to the police woman and her frantic lover.

Wrapping her arm around Alice’s trembling body, Sam and the teenager warily walked over to Martin Coles, who was laying in a puddle of blood. They stopped close to his feet and looked down on the man who had managed to bring so much pain and devastation into the world.

His hand was still clutched around his gun, but his lifeless eyes were staring at the ceiling. One of Trishia’s bullets had hit him in the chest, where his once neatly pressed shirt was crumpled and covered in blood. The other bullet had hit him square between the eyes, where a small trickle of blood seeped out of the little hole.

Sam heard a gasping sound next to her and quickly she grasped Alice’s shoulders and turned the teenager around, facing away from the dead man at their feet. Pulling her closer to her battered body Sam winced, feeling the shifting of little pieces of glass that were embedded in her skin.

“Come on you two,” Jody’s strained voice sounded behind them. “We need to get out of here, before anything else blows. They are taking Trishia to the hospital and I want them to take care of you as well, Sam. You are hurt.”

“Trishia and Alice first,” Sam answered absent mindedly. “I am fine.”

“Let the doctors and nurses decide that, honey,” Jody softly replied, worrying about the controlled behavior of her lover. She knew the real shock of what had happened would probably hit the tall woman later.

Two fire men suddenly loomed up in front of them and quickly ushered them away from the source of the fire.

“Come on, Ladies, you need to get up top, away from this inferno,” one said, but quickening the pace to get the women out of the underground parking as soon as they could.

In the meantime Trishia had been carefully strapped onto a stretcher, with two IV tubes hooked up to her arms, an oxygen mask covering her mouth and nose and all sorts of high tech monitoring devices that kept an eye on her blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen level. The constant beeping noise was utterly distracting, as was the oxygen mask, because she wanted to tell the crying Lucy how much she loved her and that she would be all right, but she couldn’t. The only thing she was capable of was blinking her eyes.

To her utter relief she noticed Joan McDonnell grabbing her lover’s arm and pulling her along.

“Come with me, honey, we will follow them to the hospital. Peter says there’s a police car waiting for us. Let those people do their job. Trishia is in good hands.”

Feeling cold and numb and not aware of the tears that were still flowing, Lucy followed her mother to the stairs that were leading to The Reef’s lobby. Right outside the main entrance an ambulance with its lights flashing was waiting and as soon as they had rushed Trishia through the lobby and had wheeled her in the back of the ambulance, they took off with breakneck speed.

Joan and Lucy were gently placed in the back of a waiting police van, together with Jody, Sam and Alice. A pale, upset looking Fiona and Yarra were already seated and buckled up in their seat belts, holding each other’s hands for support. As soon as Alice took a seat, Fiona scooted over and motioned her friend to sit in between Yarra and herself and the blond teenager quietly obliged, desperately needing the warm contact of her friends, who both grabbed one of her hands in a tight grip.

“Are you all right, Miss Stevens?” the female driver asked with concern, having noticed the many small cuts on Sam’s hands and arms that were oozing blood.

“I will be soon,” Sam answered in a tired voice. “My brain is just trying to catch up with everything that has happened. It’s not every day somebody tries to blow up my family and friends.”

The tall woman turned her head and looked at Jody’s pale face.

“How are you, honey?” she asked concerned. “You did a great job, Jody. I am so proud of you.”

Jody swallowed hard, reliving the moment that the world had seemed to erupt in flames and smoke. She had been so scared, not only for herself, but especially for her family and friends. For Sam and Trishia who did not have the protection of a car that could keep the flames off their body. For Alice who had rushed towards their nemesis. For Lucy, who had witnessed her lover getting shot, not knowing whether she would live or die.

Jody cast a look at Lucy who was nervously fidgeting and looked like a scared, little girl. Jody’s eyes filled with tears and she silently prayed that Trishia’s injuries would not be serious. If anything would happen to the tall policewoman…

Jody let out a shuddering breath and could no longer control the tears. With a soft sob she closed her eyes and tried to swallow away the painful lump in her throat.

A familiar arm slid around her shoulders and carefully pulled her closer.

“Sam, you are hurt,” she half heartedly objected.

“So are you,” Sam simply answered. “I am sure Trish will be okay, she is strong and she is a fighter.”

“There was so much blood,” Lucy’s quivering voice sounded from behind them. “I can’t lose her, Sam. I can’t,” she added in a whisper.

Joan pulled her distressed daughter in her arms, trying to comfort her as best as she could. She sent Fiona a sad smile when the teenager scooted closer to her sister and threw her arms around her as well.

The policewoman who was driving the van cast a look at the officer who was sitting in the passenger’s seat. They exchanged an understanding glance and without saying a word, she reached out her hand and switched on the flashing lights and siren. They needed to get to the hospital as soon as they could. Trishia Waters was one of their own.

It was already halfway through the morning when Sam finally emerged from the room where a nurse had been cleaning and bandaging the many cuts that had been caused by the shattered glass the violent explosion had blown against her body with full force.

With a pair of tweezers every little piece of glass had been carefully removed, the cuts treated with an antiseptic ointment and, if necessary covered with a small gauze or band-aid. It had been a slow and painstaking job and Sam had finally managed to convince her lover to go back to the waiting room and be with her family, knowing that Jody was about to collapse from sheer exhaustion and worry.

The nurse had also given Sam a mild pain killer, which the tall woman had accepted with gratitude. Her body felt stiff and the burning sensation of her skin was extremely uncomfortable.

As soon as she stepped into the waiting area her eyes traveled to the small group that sat quietly in a corner. On the table in front of them she noticed a few cups and a coffee pot. Four uniformed police officers were standing together and drinking coffee while they were quietly talking. Their faces were drawn and worried.

Seeing her lover approach, Jody jumped up and grabbed her hand, leading Sam to an uncomfortable looking chair and handing her a cup of coffee.

“Drink this, honey,” she softly spoke, her green eyes dark and full of sadness. When she saw the question in Sam’s blue eyes she slowly shook her head. “No, they are still working on her,” she answered.

“How is Lucy holding up?” Sam asked, casting a look at her sister-in-law who was sitting in between her mother and youngest sister, her eyes extremely dark in her pale face.

“Hanging in there,” Jody sighed. “But I pray we will hear some good news soon.”

She felt Sam’s arm slip around her shoulders and leaned her head against a strong shoulder. Sam tightened the grip and for a moment she rested her cheek on Jody’s hair, briefly closing her eyes. Her partners’ hair smelled like smoke and for a moment Sam was thrown back in time, again reliving the fearful moment when the car had exploded and for a moment she had been terrified that they all would die.

Sam swallowed hard and felt the tears sting the back of here eyes, but taking a few deep breaths, she willed them away. Now was not the time to break down. Jody needed her and so did Lucy and Alice.

Alice.

Sam’s eyes snapped open and traveled to a small couch in the corner of the waiting room, next to one of the vending machines. Alice was lying down in a fetal position, with one hand tucked underneath her chin and the other one holding Yarra’s, whose lap her head was resting on. The teenager’s eyes were closed and her breathing regular, she seemed to be fast asleep.

But behind those closed eyes Alice’s mind was in turmoil. Again and again she heard the explosion of the car, and saw Martin Coles emerge from behind that black truck. The orange flames had lit up his face and she had seen the madness in his eyes. It had been the personification of her nightmares.

Trishia had saved them, Alice knew that and it made her feel guilty and sad that because of her, a team of surgeons and nurses were now fighting for the brave policewoman’s life in the operating room. She knew that if Trishia would die, she would never forgive herself.

Hot tears slid down Alice’s cheek and created a growing wet patch on Yarra’s shorts. When the dark girl heard Alice make a noise that suspiciously sounded like sniffing, she could feel her heart clench. Rubbing the back of Alice’s hand with her thumb, she silently tried to bring her friend some comfort.

Running footsteps suddenly sounded through the long hallway and everybody looked up when Peter Jones slid to a halt in the waiting room. His face and clothes were stained with soot and his eyes were wide and pleading.

“How’s Trish?” he panted.

“She is still in the OR,” Jody softly answered, patting the chair next to her in an invitation for him to sit down.

Peter gratefully accepted and sank down in the chair, noticing one of the uniformed officers walking up to him with a cup of steaming coffee.

“Thanks, Bert,” Peter sighed deeply. “I need that.”

He slowly sipped the hot coffee, clenching the mug in slightly trembling fingers, while he softly told Sam and Jody what the situation at The Reef was at the moment.

“They were able to kill the fire pretty quick,” he said, feeling dirty and drained. “The evacuation went perfect, although there was a bit of a panic when that car exploded. God knows it almost gave me a heart attack, knowing you were all down there.” Peter swallowed hard and had to take a deep breath before he was able to continue. “Anyway, the building has been thoroughly searched by the bomb squad, but they haven’t found anything, so when the guests were able to return to their rooms I left. I just…needed to be here,” he added with tears in his eyes. “What exactly happened, Sam? How did she get hit?”

“She challenged him, “Sam answered in a strained voice, still hearing the echo of Trishia’s defying words to Martin Coles. “That made him angry, so he stepped away from the car he was hiding behind, I guess. I couldn’t see, because I was lying on the ground. I heard three shots though and when I looked at Martin Coles’ body later, I could tell he had been hit twice.”

“We need statements and stuff later, Sam,” Peter said, rubbing his tired eyes. “But I don’t want anyone to even think about that now, while….”

Deliberate footsteps echoing off the walls in the quiet hallway interrupted Peter’s words. His head jerked up and suddenly all eyes were glued to the entrance of the waiting room where a woman clad in green scrubs filled the doorway.

Her intelligent grey eyes swept through the waiting room and a tired smile appeared when they came to rest on Lucy.

“You must be Lucy McDonnell. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Elisabeth Cook. Trishia told me I needed to be on the lookout for a beautiful, dark haired, green eyed woman.”

“She did?” Lucy whispered with trembling lips, grabbing her mother’s hand in a painful grip. Across the room she could see the relieved smiles of Jody, Sam and Peter, while the uniformed police officers hugged each other and slapped each other on the back.

“You mean..?” Lucy carefully asked with wide eyes.

“Your Trishia is going to recover completely,” the friendly surgeon promised, taking a seat on the coffee table and patting Lucy’s knee in a comforting gesture.

“What…?”

“The bullet entered her shoulder and hit the bone. Instead of getting stuck there, its direction was altered and it punctured the top of her left lung, exiting her body through the back. Except for the lung, which we were able to repair, no vital organs were damaged and before you know it, she will be as good as new. The more TLC, the faster she will recover,” Elisabeth Cook smiled, glad to be able to bring some good news.

“Can I see her? Please?” Lucy begged while the tears were rolling down her cheeks again.

“Since I promised her I would bring you back, I don’t have a choice,” the surgeon laughed. “Don’t let all the tubes scare you, all right? It all looks a lot worse than it is.”

Elisabeth Cook stood up from the table and lead Lucy out of the room, towards the ICU. As soon as the two women had disappeared out of sight a collective sigh of relief penetrated the silence, making everybody laugh nervously.

“Thank you, God,” Jody softly sighed, closing her eyes for a moment to enjoy the relief that was flooding through her body, relaxing muscles that had been tight with tension for hours. When she opened them again her gaze traveled to Alice, who had her face buried in her hands and whose body was racked with sobs.

“Oh, kiddo,” Jody sighed in sympathy, kissing the knuckles of Sam’s hand when she removed the taller woman’s arm from her shoulders and slowly stood up. A few strides brought her closer to the crying girl and she sank on her knees in front of the small couch. Yarra looked at her with soulful, moist eyes and Jody smiled encouragingly.

Rubbing the teenager’s back she just sat there for a few moments, trying to comfort Alice while the girl cried away the pain and sorrow.

After a while the sobbing eased off and Alice’s eyes opened to be captured by a pair of emerald green ones that looked at her with genuine affection and empathy.

“Feel better now?” Jody asked, brushing Alice’s hair away from her forehead.

A pair of puffy, red rimmed eyes shyly looked up and Alice nodded.

“Thanks,” her voice croaked. “I was so scared. If I had not tried to run towards Martin, I…maybe she would not have been shot.”

“That’s not true, Alice,” Jody gently but determinedly rebuked the girl. “Sam had already stopped you. Trishia challenged Martin, but my guess is she would have done that anyway.”

“He is dead now,” Alice stated, in a voice that was void of emotion. “He is really dead.”

Jody and Yarra exchanged a look and Jody knew it was important for them all to help the blond teenager deal with all the things that had happened.

“Yes, he is dead,” she nodded. “How does that make you feel, Alice?”

“I…,” Alice bit her lip for a moment and her eyes were pensive. “I thought I would be happy, but…I am not. I mean…he scared me and I know he hurt a lot of people. He killed my mom and Dean…but when I saw him there on the ground…I…I was just sad that he killed so many people…it made me feel…empty.”

Alice paused for a moment to take in a deep breath before she continued.

“I am glad it is all over now. He won’t…hurt anyone anymore and maybe I can…maybe now I can try and…and…try to get a normal…life… again,” she ended in a whisper.

“And we will help you with that, Alice,” Jody vowed, leaning forward to kiss Alice’s forehead. “We will wait for Lucy to come back and then we will all go home. How does that sound?”

“Wonderful,” Alice smiled. “Kurt must be lonely.”

Jody laughed and with a groan she pushed herself to her feet again. Leave it to a gentle soul like Alice to worry about the dog after their days of horror and close encounter with death. She knew Alice still had a long, difficult road ahead of her before she would have dealt with the traumas that Martin Coles had inflicted on her. But Jody had already learned that Alice had remarkable strength and deep down inside she knew their young friend would recover from her suffering and somehow learn to live with the scars.

Walking back to where Sam was sitting Jody passed Fiona and quickly bent her head to give her youngest sister a kiss on her cheek. A pair of surprised green eyes looked up at her and shone with all the love and admiration Fiona felt for her sister.

“Try not to look too meek, Fiona,” Jody gently teased in a soft voice. “You have a reputation to uphold.”

“Not today, sis,” was the unexpected answer. “I’ll be my bratty self again tomorrow. Right now I just want to enjoy the fact that we are all alive and together.”

Fiona’s eyes caught Jody’s again and they looked at each other with a feeling of profound understanding.

“Thanks for using your brain and getting us out of there,” she simply stated.

Jody simply smiled and took her seat next to Sam, who immediately wrapped her arm around Jody’s shoulders and pulled her close.

“Let’s go home soon,” she mumbled, leaning in to kiss a pair of soft lips.

“Yeah, let’s,” Jody smiled a few moments later.

Epilogue

The sun had started its decent, painting the world in yellow and orange, while a soft Ocean breeze gently rustled the leaves on the trees and brought a welcome, refreshing draft.

Both sides of the driveway were adorned with torches that had been securely stuck into the ground, the soft puffs of air gently encouraging the flames to happily dance. The veranda was decorated with a variety of lanterns in all different shapes and sizes and in front of the house tables were covering the grass, all decorated with flowers and candles, which only enhanced the already festive atmosphere.

With sparkling eyes Jody leaned back against Sam’s chest. The taller woman was standing behind her and had her strong arms securely wrapped around her partner’s body that playfully wiggled against Sam’s tall frame, knowing full well the effect that would have on the blonde.

“Are you torturing me?” a voice purred in Jody’s ear.

Chuckling Jody looked up at her lover and wrinkled her nose.

“Would I do that?” she innocently asked.

“Yes,” Sam nodded with a smirk. She brought her lips closer to Jody’s ear and teasingly nipped the sensitive skin.

“I…I was just trying to…wet your appetite,” Jody laughed, trying not to close her eyes and moan, when Sam did not stop her tender ministrations. “Oh, Sam,” she breathed.

With a smug smile Sam took pity on her partner and lovingly placed her cheek against Jody’s.

“I was just wetting your appetite,” she repeated her lover’s words with a laugh.

“And you did,” Jody sighed. “It’s going to be a long night.”

“Mmm…but what a great night it will be. Did you see the terrible three?”

Jody playfully slapped Sam’s arm and then turned around to give her a hug, immediately feeling the grip of Sam’s arms tightening again when her partner pulled her closer.

“The girls were oohing and aahing over Peter and Cynthia’s twins,” Jody explained. “Knowing Peter he will have arranged a few nights out with his wife before this evening is over, since he suddenly has three baby sitters.”

Sam’s laugh rumbled underneath her ear and Jody smiled.

“I can’t blame him,” she said. “That is too good a deal to let go.”

“I can’t blame the girls either,” Jody mumbled against Sam’s chest. “Those twins are adorable.”

With a wistful smile Sam pulled Jody even closer, basking in the love her partner always gave so freely. Her eyes met Trishia’s, who winked at her and dragged Lucy to the small dance floor they had created, just for the occasion.

“You will be a great mom one day, sweetie,” Sam softly spoke with all the warmth and love she felt for the woman in her arms.

“So will you,” Jody answered. “I love the way you interact with kids. Peter’s eldest boy adores you.”

“Only because I can beat up his father,” Sam joked, remembering an afternoon, not that long ago when Peter and his family had visited Murrook Farm and she and Peter had ended up in a mud fight, which she had won.

Jody snorted and squeezed Sam’s waist, looking up at the taller woman with twinkling eyes.

“You can deny it as much as you like, Samantha Stevens, but I know better than that,” Jody smiled. “I have seen you play soccer with the little tyke and you always lift him up your shoulders and give him rides. And I do remember some tall, cute and sexy blonde reading the kids a story. Could that have been you?”

“Must have been Alice,” Sam dead panned, making Jody laugh.

Jody untangled herself from Sam’s loving grip and turned around to look at all the guests, who were scattered around the place, chatting and laughing. Everybody seemed to be having a good time. Her eyes traveled to the dance floor where her sister and Trishia were doing a slow dance, while three smug looking teenagers were standing on a safe distance, making teasing remarks.

Even from the distance Jody could see the sparkle in Alice’s eyes and involuntarily she smiled.

“I am so grateful that Alice is doing so well,” she sighed, grinning when Fiona started to push Yarra and Alice towards the floor, obviously telling them to go and dance. The two girls dug in their heals though, until a smirking Trishia jumped from the raised platform and pulled them back up with her.

“Oh, boy,” Sam chuckled. “Poor girls.”

“Nah, they won’t mind,” Jody grinned, seeing the partly embarrassed, partly shy glances the girls were shooting each other.

Of course Yarra’s two brothers noticed the situation their sister and her friend were in and they produced a few loud cat calls, immediately making Alice blush and hiding her face against the shoulder of a grinning Yarra.

“Lisa Bailey has done an amazing job with her,” Sam mused. “But then, Alice is a strong willed person and she really wanted to leave the past behind and move on. Lisa told me Alice is her most determined client.”

“I am so proud of her,” Jody sighed, the affection in her voice evident.

“So am I,” Sam agreed. “I am glad social services were easy going about the whole thing. Most wardens of the State end up in a home somewhere.”

“Or with foster parents,” Jody added. “That’s what we are anyway, honey.”

“I know,” Sam answered. “But she was allowed to choose.”

“Somehow I think Carol had something to do with that as well,” Sam smiled, seeing the petite police woman jump up and dragging her tall husband with her to the dance floor, while the onlookers enthusiastically applauded.

“What about us, honey?” Jody asked with a mischievous smile. “I want to dance as well.”

“You will have to ask me…real friendly,” Sam gently teased.

“Ooohh, I can do friendly,” Jody smirked, wrapping her arms around Sam’s neck and pulling the tall woman down to claim her lips in a long, deep and passionate kiss. When she finally released her hold and opened her eyes, she noticed the dazed look in her lover’s clear blue eyes.

“Will you, please, dance with me?”

Sam swallowed hard and fought the urge to grab Jody’s hand and pull her into the house, away from all the amused faces of the people that surrounded them, so she could continue what her lover had started the moment she had zealously kissed her.

“Sure,” she breathed, feeling Jody grab her hand and tugging her along.

By the time they had reached the dance floor Sam heart was beating normally again and thankfully her face felt less flushed as well. She winked at a grinning Alice and cast a look at Gerald ‘Bird’ McDonnell who had volunteered to be the evening’s DJ, together with one of his friends.

Gerald gave his sister-in-law a friendly wave and raised his eyebrows in a silent question, holding up two different CD covers, apparently wanting Sam to make a choice. Sam’s eyes sparkled when she motioned for him to play the left one and Gerald grinned with appreciation. She loved slow dancing with Jody, not caring who might be looking at them. But she knew Trishia and Lucy were still trying to get used to all the attention they received as a couple. And she loved teasing Yarra and Alice as well.

Before the last notes of the tune had faded away and the dancers on the floor had the chance to step down from the platform, Gerald had made sure that the next song already began.

With a smirk Sam noticed Lucy snuggle closer into Trishia’s arms, while a stubborn Alice was vigorously shaking her head and was telling Fiona to take her place, making the dark haired teenager throw her head back and laugh out loud. Yarra was just grinning, obviously very pleased with the first dance Alice had granted her.

“Where did you say Trish and Lucy were going on their honeymoon?” Jody dreamily asked when Sam was leading her around the dance floor.

“Nice try, Sherlock,” Sam chuckled. “I promised Trish not to tell a thing. Even Lucy doesn’t know.”

“I hope it’s someplace decent,” Jody mumbled, inwardly smirking when Sam took the bait.

“Of course it is,” was the indignant answer. “I thought that you, of all people…oh, wait a minute,” Sam grinned. “You little devil!”

Jody smiled and pressed her cheek closer to Sam’s silk clad shoulder, enjoying the feel of her lover’s arms around her. Being held by Sam always gave her a sense of peace and safety.

It’s okay, honey,” she mumbled. “I was just yanking your chain. I know Trishia asked your help in booking something because she wants to make sure it will be something unforgettable. And I am sure Lucy will love it.”

“Oh, yes,” Sam sighed, thinking about the luxurious cabin on the private beach, surrounded by nothing but palm trees, white sand and blue Ocean. Maybe she should take Jody up there one day soon. For a second honeymoon…

They danced in silence and the tall blonde smiled when a pair of soft lips nibbled on the sensitive skin of her neck.

“So, when will they cut the cake?” Sam asked, secretly looking forward to the sweet treats and the accompanying coffee that were awaiting them.

“As soon as they are finished dancing, I suppose, Miss Sweet Tooth.”

“Good, I’ll just switch the power off and they won’t have any more music,” Sam said out loud, knowing Trishia had heard her.

The tall policewoman looked up and grinned when she saw Sam’s innocent face.

“Honey, we need to feed Sam,” she stage whispered to Lucy, who lifted her head from Trishia’s shoulder and looked around with a dreamy expression in her eyes.

“Oh, ha ha,” Sam smirked, always enjoying the easy banter. “You better watch it, senior sergeant Waters, or I’ll slow dance with your honey.”

“Oh, that’s a scary thought,” Lucy laughed, with sparkling eyes. “Does that mean Trish gets to dance with my sister?”

“Why not?” Sam shrugged. “But I doubt Fiona would want to.”

They all laughed and Fiona, who had heard the exchange, pulled a face and stuck out her tongue.

Trishia playfully swung Lucy around and lead her away from the dance floor, towards a big table in the center of the front yard.

Sam motioned two of The Reef’s pastry chef assistants to bring out the cake and when the door was opened everybody was impressed with the huge, beautifully decorated cake that emerged. Without accidents the creation was carefully placed on the sturdy table.

“Thanks mate,” Sam said, patting one of the young boys on his back. “You two have really outdone yourselves.”

She collected the big knife that the other assistant was holding and turned around to look at the guests.

“All right, people, gather around please,” she called, smiling when she saw all the happy faces.

As soon as everybody was standing around the table, Sam started to speak again.

“I usually don’t do speeches very well,” she stated, pulling a face at Jody who was standing next to her. “But, for this occasion I really wanted to make an exception. Especially since I have known Lucy ever since she was a little brat, much like someone else we know,” she winked at Fiona who took the teasing good naturedly and just laughed. “Trishia and Lucy met during…most interesting circumstances and as family and friends we slowly but surely saw their relationship deepening. But, it took another crisis for Trishia and Lucy to finally tie the knot,” Sam smiled with a wink.

“It is true, they have only known each other for a year and a half and they went through a lot together already,” Sam continued, her face serious when she thought back at the time Trishia had spent in the hospital and her rehabilitation afterwards. “But we all see how much they love each other, what a cute couple they make and how devoted they are to each other. So, I will cut to the chase so they can cut the cake,” Sam joked handing the knife to Trishia with a little bow of her head.

The couple stepped closer to the table and smiled at their friends and family who had been there to share their commitment ceremony as witnesses to their love.

When Trishia looked into a pair of loving green eyes she felt a warm feeling settle in her chest, quickly spreading throughout her whole body. And again the words Lucy had spoken during the ceremony echoed in her mind.

You are my best friend and a rock I can lean on. I respect you for who you are and what you do. I admire your strength and wisdom. I cherish the warmth you give so freely. And I love you for all the things that you are. With you by my side there is nothing I can’t do. One lifetime is hardly enough to spend with you and on this moment I promise you, Trishia Waters, that I will always respect, admire, cherish and love you. Heart, body and soul.

“I don’t really want to make a speech,” her voice sounded emotional and her eyes were suspiciously moist. “I do want to thank you all for sharing this day with us, it means a lot to us to have so many caring family members and friends. I also want to thank all of you, for your love and support after…after I was shot. I will always be grateful for the support we both received. And that also includes the help we got while painting our new house,” she dryly added, which earned a round of laughter. “Let’s cut the cake, honey,” she said, covering Lucy’s hand with her own larger one and pressing the shiny metal through the layers of cream and cake.

When the first piece was cut, one of the assistants took over the knife with a friendly smile and expertly cut the cake, while his co-worker distributed the plates and forks.

Three teenagers shared a little bench and were contentedly munching on the sweet pastry, while their eyes occasionally swept over the guests, who all seemed to have a good time.

“I am stuffed,” Alice sighed, placing her empty plate on a nearby table, lovingly scratching Kurt’s ears, who was lying at her feet, before leaning back again.

“You?” Fiona smirked. “That’s a novelty.”

Alice did not answer, she just firmly squeezed Fiona’s knee joint, making the other girl jump.

“Yikes! Did Sam teach you how to do that?” she asked, rubbing the offended knee.

“Yup, she did,” Alice grinned. “She told me you can’t stand that, so…I wanted to learn.”

“You are a real nice person, Alice,” Fiona replied, but she could not hide the warmth in her voice.

“Coming from you, I take that as a compliment,” Alice grinned, unconsciously leaning closer to the dark girl who was sitting on her other side.

Yarra just smiled and had to fight the urge to wrap her arm around Alice’s shoulders. Like Sam and Jody she was amazed at the progress her friend had made on her way to recovery. The haunted look in those beautiful, blue eyes had been gone for a while now and with the help of Lisa Bailey Alice had been able to remember all the things that had been locked away for so long.

Since Yarra and Alice were neighbors, the girls often met and took long walks through the forest, where Yarra showed her friend all her favorite spots and animals. They had often sat on the bank of a creek, with their backs against a rock and talked for hours on end, their friendship getting stronger and deeper all the time. Sometimes Fiona accompanied them on their trips, but even though it was clear that Alice and Yarra had a special bond, they made sure their friend never felt left out. And she didn’t. Fiona secretly enjoyed the fact that her two best friends had grown so much closer.

“Earth to Yarra,” Fiona’s voice suddenly sounded, interrupting her musings. “What was that smile all about?”

“What smile?” Yarra asked with feigned innocence, not insensitive to the sparkle in Alice’s eyes and struggling to keep a straight face.

” We could have used that smile to solve our future’s lack of energy sources,” Fiona snorted. “Come on C.J.,that was a ten thousand watt smile!”

“You are seeing things,” Yarra replied with a grin. “I am just happy. It’s been a great day, we are surrounded by great people, I just had a piece of great cake. Life is good.”

Fiona’s eyes traveled to her two sisters, who were happily chatting with each other, while they were practically wrapped around their respective partners. Jody caught her staring and winked at her, blowing her a kiss.

Fiona laughed and mimicked the gesture with sparkling green eyes.

“Yes, it’s a happy farm,” she sighed.

 

 

The end
Continued in Christmas Special Delivery

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