Sands Of Change by J. A. Zollicoffer

sands change

Sands Of Change
by J. A. Zollicoffer

Chapter One

When her head hit the wall for the final time, the young girl gratefully gave in to the darkness, allowing her body to slide down the wall in glorious relief, crumpling to the floor in a motionless heap.

“Now look at what ya went and did, Dave,” The scruffy looking dishwater blonde said to her husband.

Audrey Reynolds got up from her tattered and stained recliner to see what kind of damage her husband had inflicted on their fourteen-year-old daughter.

When she reached the twisted form of the unconscious blonde girl, she nudged her in the side with the toe of her threadbare house slipper.

“Shannon…Shannon, wake up girl.”

The girl didn’t make a move, or utter a sound.

Brian Reynolds sat quietly huddled in the dark corner, where he had taken refuge when the beating started. He had watched in horror while his older sister was being kicked, slapped and punched by their father.

In his eight short years of living, this was a scene that had unfolded in front of him with sickening regularity, and as always, he felt helpless and afraid.

This time Shannon was being beaten because, instead of buying the cigarettes she had been sent to the store to purchase, she had bought a pack of cheap bologna and a few snack packets of saltine crackers. She and her brother had not eaten in two days, and she knew that she had to feed him.

*******

When Shannon returned from the store she stood frozen on the porch, waiting. She was in front of the opened screen door willing her brother to sense her presence, because if she did anything to tip off her parents that she had returned, her punishment would be coming sooner rather than later. When he finally looked in her direction she put her finger up to her lips, signaling him to be quiet, then she motioned for him to come outside.

Brian slowly opened the door to avoid it making the loud creaking sounds that always alerted his parents to his comings and goings. When there was enough room for him to squeeze through the opening he slid out of the house unnoticed.

His sister took him by the hand and quickly pulled him to the side of the shotgun building they lived in. Before she did anything, she took the time to look around to make sure they were well hidden.

Finally feeling that they were securely out of sight, she opened the bag she was carrying, and told her brother to eat the meat and crackers that was inside.

The little boy greedily stuffed his mouth with the small feast. “Shannon, dad is gonna be really mad about this,” he said, letting a few cracker crumbs spray from his mouth.

“I know, Brian.” She rolled up a slice of bologna and placed it on top of a cracker. “But we have to eat.”

She savored the taste of the food in her mouth, and decided to save worrying about her punishment for later. It had been so long since she had eaten anything that she almost bit the tip of her finger in her haste to experience the flavors.

Summers were always the hardest time for them. Without access to the free breakfast and lunch program that the school provided, finding something to eat became a challenge. The family received a food supplement, but the allotment on the food card was usually traded for cash, fifty cents on the dollar, then the cash was used for their parent’s desires. So being in a position to purchase this treat was a rare circumstance.

When Shannon saw her brother reach for another slice of meat she began to chew slower, wanting to take her time. She knew that this might be their last meal for another two days. That, and the fact that there was going to be a lashing waiting for her in the house, made her want to draw out the small respite for as long she could.

Between bites, Brian looked at his older sister. “Shannon, I hate it here.”

“I know, Brian, I do too.”

“I wish we could leave here.”

Shannon just smiled, and thought about the one and only time she had attempted to run off with her brother.

**

It had been late, maybe three in the morning. She’d waited until their parents had passed out from their nightly binge, and when the house was filled with drunken snores she knew it was time to make her move.

She had already packed them a few clothes in a plastic bag, so all she needed to do was grab Brian and head out of the door. They were about four blocks from their house when a still sleepy Brian started with the questions.

“Where we going, Shannon?”

“Do you remember Bill and Sarah?”

The little boy nodded his head.

“Well, Sarah said that we could come and stay with them anytime we wanted.”

“I like Bill and Sarah. They’re like having a grandma and grandpa,” the boy said.

“They sure are,” the distracted twelve-year-old said. She was trying to figure out what direction to go in. She was getting a little turned around and it frustrated her. It was always easier to find her way in the daytime.

“Are they our grandparents, Shannon?”

“No, Brian. I already told you. They were friends with grandma and grandpa Reynolds before they died.”

“Oh, yeah that’s right. Are we almost there yet? I’m getting kinda tired?”

Shannon felt like crying. She didn’t want to tell her brother, but she thought they might be lost. She was trying to decide what direction to go in, when a car pulled up beside them. That’s when the girl’s heart started to pound, but when the dark windows came down, panic set in.

“Hey, kid. You lost?”

“N…no,” she stuttered, and began walking faster.

The car followed slowly beside her.

“Where you headed? Maybe I can give you a ride.”

Before Shannon could say anything, Brian piped in. “We’re gonna see Bill and Sarah,” the six year-old said, happy to have the answer.

“Well, what a coincidence. I know Bill and Sarah. Why don’t you hop in and let me take you to their house?”

When the small boy headed for the car, Shannon yanked him back by the collar of his shirt.

“Ouch, Shannon, that hurt.”

By this time the man had stopped the car and was getting out. Shannon was too busy reprimanding her brother to see the danger approaching.

“You can’t get in the car with that man, Brian. He’s a stranger.”

The boy knew what that was. He had been taught about stranger danger in Miss Wright’s first grade class. He was about to repeat the rules, when he looked over his sister’s shoulder and saw the man coming in their direction. His eyes grew wide and he began to scream at the top of his lungs.

“Stranger danger! Stranger danger! Help! Help!”

The man was so startled by the amount of noise that the small boy was making that he turned and ran back to his car, pulling off, burning rubber with his retreat.

That had been enough of an adventure for the young girl. When she was able to stop shaking long enough to make her brain start working again, she took Brian by the hand and headed back to the hell that they knew.

It had taken her a while, but she had been able to find their way back home. Their parents never knowing that the children had been missing. Shannon made Brian promise not to mention their little escapade, and she never brought it up again.

**

Her brother’s voice brought her back to the present. “Shannon, why can’t we go to the magic beach and wish ourselves away from here?”

Shannon looked at her brother with quiet understanding. For most of their lives they had heard stories about that beach. Mostly from Bill and Sarah. The legend says that on one special night, when the stars are shining their brightest and the planets are aligned just right, a person could speak their heart’s truest wish, and it would come true.

“Brian, that’s just a fairy tale, there is no magic beach, that’s just something that someone made up to give people hope.”

The little boy didn’t understand. “Hope for what?”

Shannon leaned heavily against the house. “Hope that life doesn’t have to always be this hard.”

*******

As she slowly climbed back to consciousness, Shannon realized a few things. Most noticeably, she was lying on a soft bed. Also, there was the steady sound of something beeping in the room. Then she became aware of her body, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her face was throbbing, she could feel the sting on her lips where one of her father’s punches had split it. Her ribs ached from a well place kick, and one of her eyes was swollen shut from a vicious backhand.

When she was able to push some of the pain to the back of her mind, she scanned the room with her uninjured eye, and saw a nurse at the foot of her bed, writing in a chart.

She tried to clear her throat, but found that a dry lump had formed there, making it difficult. The nurse must have heard the effort, because when she looked up from the clipboard in her hand she smiled, and made her way to the side of the bed.

“Welcome back,” was said in a caring tone. “Would you like a drink of water?”

The blonde answered in a rough whisper. “Yes, please.”

Once her scorched throat had been soothed with the cool liquid, she asked the question that was more important to her than how she had gotten to the hospital.

“Where is Brian?”

“I don’t think I know who Brian is, dear.” The nurse answered kindly.

Shannon tried to keep the fear that was crawling into her chest at bay. “Brian is my little brother.”

The nurse took a few minutes and checked the girl’s IV lines, giving herself enough time to answer her patient in a way that would keep her calm.

“First, let me introduce myself. My name is Darlene and I’m your nurse,” she looked down at her watch. “Well, at least I will be for the next three hours,” she said, hoping to interject some humor into a situation that was anything but funny.

“Now, as for your brother, I think you need to speak with the police officer that has been waiting outside. He was hoping that you would wake up soon, so that he could get the necessary information from you. I’m sure that he can answer your question better than I can.”

Darlene started moving away from the bed, intending on searching out the officer, but she stopped when a chilled hand grab her wrist.

“How long have I been here?”

Sympathetic blue eyes looked down at the battered girl. “About two hours.”

Satisfied with the response, Shannon released the nurse’s arm. Within moments of Darlene leaving the room an officer of average height, wearing a crisp blue uniform entered.

“Hello, Miss Reynolds, my name is Officer Blake, and if you feel up to it I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

The officer had a gentle voice that put her at ease, but before she would give in to any comfort, there was one pressing issue that she needed an answer to.

“Officer Blake, where is my brother?” She wasn’t trying to be rude, but Brian was her first priority.

Eric Blake had a look of total understanding on his face. “Your brother is in the custody of social services.”

He saw panic rise in the girl’s uninjured green eye, so he quickly tried to calm her fears. “He’s fine, Shannon, he was placed in the home of one of the states long time foster parents. They are an older couple with a spotless record, so you shouldn’t worry.”

Shannon moved forward without thought to her condition. She wanted to see her brother, but the sudden movement caused a sharp pain to shoot through her head. It forced her to close her eyes and lay back on the pillow.

“I need to talk to him,” she moaned. “He’s going to be afraid if he’s alone in a strange place.”

Eric patted the girl’s arm in hopes of giving her some comfort. “You need to relax. June and Hugh Jensen have been taking in kids for years, they are one of the best foster care homes available to social services.”

He could see from the stiff set to her body that the girl still wasn’t convinced, so he pushed forward, determined to reassure her.

“They have agreed to have you stay with them when you are discharged from the hospital.” He could almost see her body flood with relief. “That’s one of the reasons they are one of the agency’s favorites, because they don’t like to separate siblings.”

Once she had the information that she needed, Shannon relaxed and was ready to answer the officer’s questions.

“Shannon, can you tell me what happened tonight?”

“My parents sent me to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes…”

*******

When Shannon opened her eyes again, the sun was shining bright in her room. To her right she saw a high table with a tray on it, obviously breakfast had been served while she was still sleeping. Feeling hungry, she struggled and grunted, trying to get herself in an upright position.

When she became too winded she had to lay back down to catch her breath. After enough time had passed, she reached out with both hands, deciding this time to use the sidebars to help her sit up. She was shocked when she felt a thick cord wound around the metal. She turned her head so that she could see out of her good eye, and wanted to smack herself in the forehead when she saw the bed control. She started pushing buttons, and was relieved when the head of the bed started a slow trip forward.

When she was in a comfortable position she pulled the tray table over. Lifting the top, she began taking inventory of the contents.

The plate was filled with watery scrambled eggs, stiff hot cereal, a few strips of bacon, a carton of milk and a plastic container of apple juice. Shannon quickly unwrapped the plastic utensils and dug in. It wasn’t the most appetizing meal, but to her it tasted like food from a high-end restaurant.

The night before, Officer Blake told her that it was Brian who had called nine-one-one, but it wasn’t until after the child realized that their parents were going to let his sister lay in a heap on the floor and do nothing.

The police arrived and got the whole horrible story from the frightened eight year-old, and took their parents to jail. Dave had put up a fight and Audrey had yelled about the injustice of being arrested for disciplining their own child in their own home, calling the officers pigs and Nazis. This garnered her a ride downtown as well.

Shannon ate her meal in a contemplative silence, wondering what her future held.
Chapter Two
Four Years Later
Shannon closed her backpack preparing to leave the shelter. It had been two weeks since she had moved out of the children’s home, now she was on her way to visit Brian. She had made it her habit to stop by the place every evening before she went to work, so that she could spend a couple of hours with him.

She hefted the bag onto her shoulder, ready to leave. On her first day in the shelter she had been warned that, if she left her belongings unguarded they would most likely be stolen by one of the other residents. So, now whenever she left the building she would place everything of any importance into her pack and carry it with her.

Tonight she was excited to tell Brian her news, she thought she might have found a solution to their problem. Earlier she had met with a social worker and had been given information on the independent living program for youths. The program would provide a place for her to live, but she would be responsible for the utilities and other bills. She’d also discovered that because, academically, she’d had an excellent high school career, she was eligible for college scholarships and a few grants. After purchasing a post office box, she returned to her room and started filling out applications to as many local schools and organizations as she could.

She knew that if all this assistance came through that it still wasn’t going to be easy, but she was willing to do whatever it took. If she could get a degree in social work, she could not only support her and Brian, she could help the children that came from the same kind of background that she did.

Green eyes scanned the room one last time to make sure she wasn’t forgetting anything, then she left to catch the number twenty bus that would take her the thirty blocks to the house where Brian still lived.

*******

She sat on the bus, riding along, paying no attention to the passing scenery. Her mind was two weeks in the past, remembering the day she had to explain to Brian why she had to leave the children’s home.

“Shannon, why are you acting so weird?”

Brian was only twelve years-old and had no understanding of the torment that was running through his sister’s mind. Shannon was five days away from turning eighteen, and she knew that she was going to be transitioning out of the system. That meant leaving her brother behind in the children’s home.

June and Hugh Jensen had died a year before. Killed when Hugh ran off of a dark road, into a ravine that the older man had forgotten was there. Both Brain and Shannon had been at home when an officer came to the door to deliver the sad news. The children had prepared a meal all by themselves, to thank the generous couple for taking them in and keeping them together, but after they received the news the meal went cold and untouched.

After it was determined that the Reynolds children were foster kids, they were immediately taken out of the home, and once again turned over to social services, before eventually being placed in the children’s home. Shannon had never even considered the possibility of their parents inviting them to come back home. In the years that had passed since they had been taken from the abusive household, Shannon and Brian had not hand any contact with them.

Dave had done six months in jail for the severe beating he had given his daughter, and the last time she had seen him and Audrey had been in court, four years ago. It seemed like once the kids were out of the house, Dave and Audrey never gave them another thought.

The last year in the children’s home had been difficult at best for the Reynolds children. Although Shannon only stood five feet-four, she had been able to fight well enough to gain some respect among the residents, usually giving as good as she got, but there were also the times that she had come out on the losing end of a confrontation.

This aspect of their living situation was what was causing her anxiety, Brian hadn’t gone through his growth spurt yet and she feared that in her absence, because of his small stature, he would be abused by the bigger kids.

Everyday that she didn’t come up with a solution to getting them both out of the home, her panic rose another notch. For the past year she had been working after school as a waitress at a local restaurant, and now that she had graduated they took her on full time, still, she knew that she didn’t make enough money to support the both of them.

When Brian asked her why she was so upset, she sat him down and explained to him why they were going to be separated soon.

“Brian, I’m gonna be turning eighteen soon, and when that happens, I’ll have to leave you here.”

Brown eyes went wide with fear. “But why, Shannon?”

She reached over and ran her fingers through his curly brown hair. “Because I’ll be a grown-up, and the state will no longer take care of me.”

Her brother didn’t understand the problem. “Then I’ll go with you.”

Shannon dropped her head and exhaled. “That’s not the way it works, Brian, they won’t let you come with me unless I can prove that I can provide a stable home for you.”

Brian felt overwhelm by the news and his eyes start to water. “I don’t understand, Shannon, can’t I live wherever you’re gonna live?”

How could she explain to her brother that she was probably going to be living in a women’s shelter until she could think of a way to make more money.

She pulled the small boy into an embrace. “I’m not sure what to do yet, Brian, but I’ll think of something.”

Even as she said the words, she wasn’t positive that she hadn’t just told her brother a lie.

Now, as the bus rolled along she was smiling. Maybe she hadn’t lied to him after all.
Chapter Three
Morgan McCray was impatiently tapping the end of her pencil on her thigh. She was sitting in roll call waiting to start her sixth week as a trainee for the Maryland State Police.

Hurry up, she thought. I’m ready to get on the road.

Morgan had already spent twenty-six weeks in Sykesville, attending the Maryland State Police Training Academy, and was glad that part was over. The military type training she received there was one of the toughest times she had ever endured, but she also felt like the ethics, teamwork and accountability training that were the hallmarks of the program were making her a better person.

She was in the sixth week of an eight-week program, being supervised by an experienced Field Training Trooper (FTT). When she had satisfactorily completed the field training, she would begin her independent patrol activities, and she could hardly wait.

As the duty sergeant droned on about assignments, Morgan was reliving the last couple of years of her life, and couldn’t believe her good fortune.

You should see me now, dad. Your dirty dealings haven’t been able to stop me.

Morgan McCray had come from a family of people that lived on the fringes of society. At one time the twenty year-old trainee had been afraid that she would never be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a state trooper, but here she was.

She attributed being allowed to take this next step to the time she had already put into the organization. Before going to the academy she had spent two years as a trooper cadet. That had to be the reason why she was so easily accepted into the program, because if anyone had ever decided to thoroughly look into her father’s background they might have given second thoughts to letting her join the troopers.

Michael McCray was a less than honest man, that had raised his children to live by a less than honest code, get yours however you can, because no one is going to give it to you. That was his creed, and he had spoon-fed it to them throughout their childhood. Unfortunately, his sons took to the feedings like they were nursing on mother’s milk, and quickly became their father’s reflection.

But, not me, Morgan thought. You didn’t get me, dad.

To the outside world, her family appeared to be successful small business owners, but in reality, the barbershops they owned were fronts for money laundering, and the car repair businesses were really chop shops for stolen vehicles.

The only legitimate business they owned was the local fast food chicken drive-in. The curb service, and late night hours made it a very popular hang out for the young people, and on warm nights the teenagers would sit around for hours, hoping from one car to another, making out, or just visiting.

Morgan laughed to herself. I wonder if dad knows the kids call him two-piece and a biscuit behind his back?

The tall brunette had always felt different from her family. Had always felt a little set apart from her father and brothers. Their mother had left them when she was four and her older brothers, Kevin and Philip were ten and eight. Sometimes she thought that her life would have been very different if she had stayed.

Spilled milk, she thought, trying to clear her head. She wouldn’t allow herself to indulge in self-pity.

Morgan had made the decision years ago that living a dishonest life was the easy road to travel, following the rules was a more difficult challenge…it took more discipline. That was the main reason she had opted for law enforcement as a career, with it’s clear-cut morality code and regimented principles, she thought it was the perfect fit for her.

But, she had to admit that there were times that it would have been nice if it allowed for a little impulsive behavior to sneak in on occasion. Unfortunately for her, she would have to indulge her impulsive urges later on in her life. She was fresh out of the academy and ready to set all of the world’s wrongs to right.

Morgan McCray had no idea that by the end of her shift an implosive act would change her life forever.
Chapter Four
Shannon entered her former residence and did what she always did, she greeted the night attendant and headed for the common area of the house in search of her brother.

When she walked into the large living room she looked over the area trying to pick out her brother among the many youths that lived there.

She finally spotted him sitting in a corner with his knees drawn up and his head resting on top of his crossed arms, as she slowly approached him, she noticed that a group of kids where huddled together off to the side of the room, looking at her snickering.

When she reached Brian, she dropped down to her knees and started speaking to him in a soft voice.

“Hey, buddy, what’s wrong, why are you over here all by yourself?”

Brian never raised his head, instead he chose to answer her with his face still resting on his arms.

“Nothing, I’ve just been waiting for you.”

Shannon was immediately alarmed, Brian never acted this way when she came to see him. Their time together was always the most exciting part of the day for him.

“If nothing is wrong why won’t you look at me?”

Brian’s small shoulders dropped, but he still didn’t lift his head. “No reason, I just don’t feel like it.”

Shannon’s heart started beating faster, it was obvious that something was wrong with her brother. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for whatever Brian was going to tell her.

“Look, Brian, I know something is wrong, so you need to just tell me what it is.”

She softened her voice before she continued. “You know that you can tell me anything, it’s always been you and me, buddy, come on, tell me what’s wrong.”

The curly-haired boy took a deep breath and told his sister what had happened. But it came out muffled because he still refused to lift his head.

“I was in my room getting ready for you to come. After I had got dressed the door opened and Sharla, Connie and Debbie came in.”

Shannon’s anger flared. Those were the three girls that she’d had problems with when she lived in the house. They were sixteen years-old and big. Never missing an opportunity use their size to bully the other kids in the house. Connie was the leader of the group, she was already five-nine and stocky, Sharla and Debbie were her flunkies and did everything that the tall gray-eyed blonde told them to do.

“Debbie closed the door and stood guard, Connie walked up to me and pushed me. She said that because you were gone, I was gonna take your medicine.”

Shannon closed her eyes, not wanting to hear the rest of the story. When Brian continued she heard the tears in his voice.

“She hit me on the side of the head, when she did that I got mad and punched her in the stomach. I think I hurt her because she bent over for a second, then Sharla got behind me and held my arms down to my side.”

Brian’s voice started to hitch. “Then…then Connie started to hit me in my face and stomach. When I couldn’t take anymore, I…I started to cry and fell to the floor.” Brian started crying harder.

“I’m sorry, Shannon, but it hurt so much…I couldn’t be strong anymore.” Then Brian’s tears began to flow unchecked, his shoulders shaking so hard he couldn’t speak any longer.

Shannon pulled her brother closer and tried to calm him down. “It’s okay, Brian, you were very brave, don’t worry, I’ll fix this.”

The little boy was trying as hard as he could to stop crying, but having his sister there to protect him made his feelings of helplessness come to the surface.

“I’ll be stronger next time, Shannon, I know I can.”

Shannon pulled her brother tighter to her and reassured him that she would make it all better.

After Brian calmed down, Shannon pulled away from him and ran her fingers through his brown curls. “Look at me, Brian, I want to talk to you.”

When the small boy finally raised his head, Shannon became furious. Her brother’s face was covered with bruises and the corner of his mouth had dried blood on it.

Shannon sprung from the floor and headed toward the group of girls that were standing together on the other side of the room.

Without saying a word, she launched her body at the tall blonde and forced her to the floor, her small fist pummeling the larger girl’s face with enough force to draw blood.

The commotion that ensued was so loud that the house staff came running into the living room, Beverly, who was one of the larger caregivers pulled Shannon off of Connie’s prone body and held her close. But, Beverly had to fight to keep Shannon in her arms.

“What’s going on in here?!”

Shannon was beyond reason. “That bitch beat up on my brother. What the hell are you people doing here? Didn’t you see the bruises on his face?!”

Beverly held Shannon tighter as she spoke. “Calm down, Shannon, yes, we saw Brian’s bruises, but he refused to tell us how he got them.”

Connie rose from the floor holding her swollen jaw. “The little brat is lying. I never touched him.”

An angry Shannon resumed her struggle to pull away from Beverly. “You are the liar. How do you explain the condition of his face?!”

The tall girl shrugged her shoulders and tried to stop the smirk that wanted to spread across her lips.

“He looks clumsy to me…maybe he fell.” Then she eyed her companions. “Who knows…if he’s not careful he might fall again.”

Green eyes shot daggers at the trio, and Shannon made up her mind. She wouldn’t leave Brian alone in this house another day. Whatever was necessary, she was prepared to do, but first she had to calm down. She pulled in a few deep breaths and forced herself to physically relax.

When Beverly finally released Shannon, she directed her words to the three troublemakers. “Are we going to have anymore problems tonight?”

Connie stretched her arms out to the side in a show of innocence. “Hey, I’m not the one who started it.”

Beverly then turned to Shannon. “If this happens again, Shannon, you will be banned from the house for two weeks.”

Satisfied that the confrontation was over, and Shannon had a clear understanding of the rules, Beverly returned to the front desk.

As Shannon made her way back to the corner that Brian was sitting in, she heard Connie’s taunt.

“You won’t be here to protect him all of the time, green eyes.”

Shannon ignored the bully and joined her brother on the floor. Her mind was made up. Now, more than ever, she knew what she had to do.

“Brian, I want you to go up to your room and put everything that is important to you in your backpack. Then I want you to meet me at the back door.”

The little boy became nervous. This didn’t sound right. “Why, Shannon?”

She helped him off of the floor. “Because we’re getting out of here.”
Chapter Five
Morgan stood beside the police cruiser waiting for her training officer to come out of the barracks, she took the extra time to double check the items on her utility belt, making sure that everything was in it’s proper place.

When she looked up from her inspection she saw Corporal Jim Driscoll approaching the car. The twenty-year vet was a very tall man and was built like a Mack truck. He wore his reddish-brown hair in a crew cut and his odd colored golden eyes were always alert, surveying his surroundings.

Jim had known Morgan since she was a cadet, and cared for her greatly. Because of what this line of work entailed, he wanted to make sure that she was trained properly, he would make sure that when she left him she would be an exceptional law enforcement officer.

He rounded the car and unlocked the doors. “Okay, McCray, we have been taken off of interstate duty. Tonight we will be patrolling the east side of Skidmore, near the beach.”

Morgan was excited, up until now they had been assigned to driving up and down the Interstate looking for speeders and possible drug carriers. She hopped into the passenger side and belted herself in, excited about the possibility of finding some trouble.

*******

After five hours of patrolling they still hadn’t answered any calls. Jim looked at the dashboard clock and noticed that it was ten p.m., but his trainee hadn’t made any complaints about eating or taking a break. That was one of the things that he liked about the tall brunette, she never griped about missed meals or having to do grunt work. Whatever was asked of her, she did without a negative word.

“Morgan, what do you say we stop for our dinner break?”

The trainee mentally exhaled with relief, her stomach had been screaming for food for the past three hours, but she knew that revealing she was hungry would drop her down a notch on the trooper’s respect post, and she would avoid that at all coast. Having Jim’s respect was very important to her.

She responded to him in a nonchalant tone that belied her true feelings. “Sure, Jim, whenever you think it’s time.”

One corner of the FTT’s mouth raised in humor, he knew she had to be hungry by now, but her easy answer amused him.

“There is a carry-out about a block up, how about we stop there?”

Morgan shrugged her shoulders hoping to project an air of indifference.

*******

When they entered the carry-out, Morgan’s eyes immediately started scanning the menu board. She was hungry, but knew that whatever she ordered needed to be both filling and easy to consume. When her eyes fell upon the egg, green pepper and bacon sub, she knew that her choice had been made.

After their orders had been filled, the officers took their dinner out to the cruiser so that they could eat sitting down.

For Jim, that was one of the problems with patrolling in a bad neighborhood, all of the carry-outs had the employees take your order from behind bulletproof glass and they didn’t provide the public with a place to sit and eat. In these areas the term carry-out was literal.

Just as Morgan took the last bite of her sub, a call came over the radio.

“Unit thirty-six, a call has come in from the Waverly Children’s Home, a former resident has kidnapped her brother from the facility and is now on the run. The suspect is described as Shannon Reynolds, age eighteen. She is a white female, approximately five-feet four inches tall, with long blonde hair, and green eyes.

She was last seen wearing a pair of blue jeans, a black t-shirt and carrying a blue backpack. Her brother, Brian Reynolds is described as a twelve year-old, small male with curly brown hair and eyes. He was last seen wearing green shorts and a t-shirt with the X-Men on the front. Shannon Reynolds was last seen heading west on Cambridge, she is not considered dangerous, repeat, the suspect is not considered dangerous.”

Morgan picked up the mic. “Unit thirty-six responding, we are three blocks away, our ETA is three minutes, unit thirty-six out.” Jim turned on the lights and siren and pulled away from the curb.

*******

Just as the police car turned down Cambridge, Morgan saw a flash of gold out of the corner of her eye.

“Back up, Jim. I think I saw something.”

The FTT stopped the car and put it in reverse. They reached the intersection just in time to see two people, a boy and a girl, run across the street.

“I think that’s them,” Morgan said, feeling her excitement rise.

Jim turned onto the block and started the pursuit.
Chapter Six
Shannon heard the squall of a siren and looked over her shoulder just in time to see the brown police car heading in their direction. She pushed Brian ahead of her and told him to run. She steered them in the direction of the park, hoping to lose their pursuers in the many trees that surrounded the area.

Seeing where the kids were headed, Jim stopped the car, knowing that they had a better chance of catching the suspects on foot.

The siblings had breached the tree line and once they were under it’s dense cover, Shannon felt a little safer, so she slowed them down. She knew they didn’t have much time, but she needed to rest and a few minutes to think.

“Okay, Brian. I think we can stop for a second,” the winded young woman said.

Leaning forward and resting her hands on her knees, she was trying to catch her breath, but Brian was getting anxious. Running away from the children’s home and having the police chasing them was almost more than the adolescent could handle.

He looked at his sister with fearful eyes, seeking answers. “Shannon, what are we gonna do now?”

The girl was trying to think, but everything that came to mind led to both of them being caught. Then it hit her. “There is a drink hut down on the beach that is only open in the daytime. I want you to find it and hide until I come and get you.”

“What are you gonna do, Shannon?”

“I’m gonna lead them in the opposite direction.”

Shannon could see that her brother didn’t want to be separated from her, but it was the best solution for now. She could run faster than Brian and knew she had a better chance of losing the cops without him. Then she could double back and get him.

“Look, Brian, trust me. I’ll come and get you as soon as I can. Now go, I’ll be right behind you.”

The boy didn’t move, so his sister turned him around and pushed him. GO! NOW!”

When he only stumbled a few feet and stopped, she pleaded with him. “Please, Brian. I’ll be right behind you…I promise.”

The boy stared at her for a few long moments until he felt like he could trust and believe what he saw in his sister’s eyes, then he ran for the beach hut.

*******

During the game of cat and mouse that was being played out between the cops and the kids, there was another participant on the board, and he had watched as Shannon ducked in and out of the shadows to avoid capture. He had watched as the police parked their car and started a foot pursuit, and he had watched with interest when he noticed that no matter what, the girl always kept the little boy close to her.

“Hmm, this looks interesting,” he said. “Maybe Goldilocks needs rescuing.” He stood, hidden away beside the panel van he used to transport his packages and continued to watch, thinking about the two youngsters.

“This could be a two for one night,” was said with glee. After several minutes he saw the small blonde go streaking by, but this time she was alone. “Oh, well, so much for a two-for. I think she’s headed for the beach,” he mumbled before quickly moving into action.

He Jumped into the driver’s side of the van, started the engine and drove toward the beach. Once there he parked the van, and waited…he knew it was only a matter of time before he had another package he could deliver.

*******

The two troopers searched the park, looking for the two runaways, but didn’t find anything. That’s when Jim stopped and came up with a new plan.

“Okay, McCray, this is what we’ll do. I’ll search the west side of the park and you’ll check the east. If I see anything I’ll radio you, and you do the same.”

Morgan nodded her head and headed east.

Walking through the woods, she used her flashlight to illuminate the area, sending the beam into the trees, then back to the ground. She was about to change direction when the light caught a glimmer of blonde hair hiding behind a trashcan.

“Police! Don’t move!” she yelled.

Shannon saw the light coming in her direction and remained still, but when she heard the trooper’s warning, that’s when she started running.

“Damn,” Morgan gritted out as she took off behind the girl.

Shannon picked up speed, ignoring the thin branches that were making small cuts across her face. She was running for her and Brian’s life and nothing was going to stop her. She put her arm up for protection and never slowed down.

Morgan’s long legs were eating up the distance between her and the short blonde and it wasn’t long before she was close enough to tackle the suspect.

Just as they cleared the trees and was on the beach, she threw her long body forward and landed on the shorter woman’s back, bringing her down in the sand. They laid there for a minute, both women breathing hard, trying to catch their breath.

Morgan slowly lifted herself off of the other woman’s body and felt her begin to struggle in an effort to get away, so she straddled her hips and leaned over the girl’s shoulder. “Don’t move,” she said as she reached to pull out her handcuffs.

Shannon couldn’t believe that at a time like this the sultry voice so close to her ear made her shudder. God, help me, she thought. ‘cause obviously I’m an idiot.

*******

Jim was getting worried, Morgan should have checked in by now. “McCray…McCray, can you hear me? McCray respond, damn it!”

While the field trooper was trying to get his trainee to answer his call, a dark threat was going completely unnoticed. Soulless eyes watched from the shadows as the scene between the trooper and the blonde played out in front of him.

But when the cop pinned the young blonde in the sand he walked away. This was going to turn out one of two ways, either the girl would be arrested, or she would get away. The man decided to wait near the park entrance, if the girl came running by he would grab her.

*******

Ignoring her FTT’s call, Morgan decided to get the suspect restrained before she responded. She stood the shorter woman up, to get her out of the sand before cuffing her. But, when she got the woman to her feet and shinned the flashlight in her face, she pulled in a sharp breath. The light exposed clear green eyes that paralyzed her. Then she heard a soft voice.

“You’ve got to let me go.”

In the few seconds that passed before Morgan was able to regain her wits, Shannon saw her chance, and took the opportunity. She punched the tall trooper in her stomach and took off running again.

Morgan recovered quickly, and once again was in pursuit of the swiftly moving blonde.

Shannon didn’t dare look behind her. She knew the beautiful trooper was close on her heels. Beautiful? Why am I thinking about how she looks? Damn, I am losing my mind. But, beautiful or not, Shannon had no intentions of letting the woman catch her again, so she ran blindly down the beach.

*******

It’s going to take more effort to catch her this time, Morgan thought as she was gaining on her escapee. To be a short person, this girl sure is fast, but, not fast enough.

They were running down the shoreline, where the wet sand was more packed, and the blonde was putting the firmer surface to good use, kicking up the grainy mud, sending it into the tall cop’s face.

Morgan was spitting out dirt and wiping mud off of her face, but this only pushed her to move faster. You’re not gonna get away from me, so your pretty little ass should prepare to fall.

The brunette nearly stumbled at that thought, but was able to keep moving. She couldn’t deny that the view she was getting of said, ass, was mighty fine. The girl most definitely could fill out a pair of jeans.

Then the inevitable happened. Shannon’s canvas shoes became waterlogged and they began slowing her down. Not having the same problem because she was wearing her academy issued high-gloss leather shoes, Morgan began to overtake the girl.

Shannon felt herself faltering and knew that the end was near. There was no way she could outrun this determined trooper.

What is up with this woman? Is there some kind of special accommodation waiting for her if she catches me? Shit!

When Shannon felt the other woman’s weight on her back, she just went with the momentum and let herself fall to the ground, not putting up a struggle.

Morgan didn’t wait, she put the cuffs on the small woman, but this time when she turned her over she could see the stars shinning bright in the desperate green eyes that peered up at her…imploring her, for what, Morgan didn’t know. Until, for the second time that night, her captive spoke.

“Please…help us.”

*******

The shadowed menace continued watching and waiting, getting antsy because it was taking so long. Then he saw the tall trooper leading the blonde runaway out of the park and start walking her back to where the cruiser was parked. That’s when he knew that this girl was now out of his reach. But instead of getting upset, he shrugged his shoulders at the missed opportunity and set his mind to other things.

“There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” he said before he backed away from the area and disappeared into the darkness.

Procuring young girls for the sex trade was his business, and finding his packages had never been a problem. There always seemed to be an endless supply of lost or discarded parcels. He started the van and drove away, never looking back.

But if the man had waited for just a few more minutes he would have witnessed an odd scene when the young trooper change her mind.

She pull the girl to a stop, remove her handcuffs, took a business card out of her pocket and wrote something on the back, before handing over some cash and a house key.

“Are you sure?” was heard on the night air.

“Yeah. Get your brother, call a cab and have it take you to my place.”

“You…you trust me?”

Shannon had told the trooper her entire life story while she was being escorted out of the park, but she didn’t think the stoic woman had been listening.

The dark head tilted and a crooked smile appeared on the trooper’s face. She scratched her head then rubbed her jaw.

“As crazy as it sounds, yeah I do.” Then her voice dropped to a whisper. “There’s just something about you that makes me believe.” Then she quickly shook off the introspection and pushed the girl back toward the beach. “Now get out of here before my FTT gets back. He’s already gonna rip me a new one for ignoring his calls.”

Morgan watched as the small blonde took off running in the direction of the beach. “I wonder how this is gonna turn out,” she said as she watched the powerful little body disappear into the darkness.

She put the girl and her brother out of her mind, she would deal with them later, now she had to give her FTT a story that he would believe. She pulled her mic off of her shoulder and keyed the radio. “Jim…Jim, it’s Morgan. Do you copy?”
Chapter Seven
Ten Years Later
“Shannon!!! Do you know where I put my gym bag?”

“Did you check the closet floor?”

“Oh, I see it.”

Shannon walked into the bedroom and saw her spouse stuffing a pair of sweats and gym shoes into the canvas bag.

“What would you do without me?” The smiling blonde asked.

Morgan McCray returned her wife’s smile and pulled her in for a hug. “I don’t know. I don’t ever want to know.”

“What do you need the bag for?” the shorter woman mumbled into her mate’s chest.

“Yearly physical fitness test. I gotta run an obstacle course today.”

“Awww…sorry to here that, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, but after all of these years I pretty much know what to expect.”

Shannon patted her wife on the chest and was heading back to the kitchen when she remembered something. “Oh…I almost forgot. I got an e-mail from Brian this morning.”

Morgan had a flashback of coming home that first night and meeting the frightened little boy in the X-Men t-shirt. He was hiding behind his sister, and had a death grip on the back of her shirt that he wasn’t likely to relinquish any time soon. But that was ten years ago, and Brian had grown into a pretty special young man.

“Yeah? How’s the menace doing?”

“He says he has finally gotten around to seeing everything that there is to see, and he can’t wait to come visit next month.”

“Is that right? Well, the next time you speak with him, tell Second Lieutenant Brian Reynolds that I said, he’s in Japan as an integral part of the United States Air Force, not as a tourist,” the detective said with a smile.

Shannon leaned her shoulder against the doorjamb, and looked at Morgan with loving eyes. “Sweetheart, did I ever thank you for putting us through school?”

The question surprised the tall woman. “There was nothing to thank me for. You put yourself through school with grants and a part-time job, and as for Brian, we both helped him, so thanking me is not necessary.”

“Well, thank you for giving us a place to live while all of that was going on.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I still can’t believe you opened your home to two strangers, more specifically, two runaway strangers.”

Morgan zipped up the large bag and set it on the bed before approaching her spouse, then with a gentle hand she caressed the face of the one she loved most in the world.

“No problem. I told you that night, there was something about you that made me believe, besides, I got the best part of that deal,” she looked lovingly at her partner. “I love you, Shannon,” was said in a heartfelt whisper.

“I love you too,” was returned with just as much emotion. Seductive arms reached up and circled the taller woman’s neck. “You’re the best.” Before the detective could counter, her lips were taken in a passionate kiss.

Morgan felt her toes curl in her shoes, and she had to fight the clinching in her gut that demanded she take her wife to bed. Whenever Shannon kissed her like this she always wondered how, after all of these years just one kiss, one touch, or a certain look could make her instantly swollen, wet and wanting. She broke the kiss and took a step back.

“You’re an evil woman, Shannon McCray.”

Shannon turned and walked away. “I just wanted to give you something to look forward to when you get home tonight.”

Morgan watched the sway of the firm backside as her wife walked away from her, and remembered the first time she had admired that particular body part, while chasing her down a moonlit beach.

“God, I love that woman.”

*******

After successfully completing her physical fitness test Morgan showered and got dressed, but before she could return to her office she got word that the Captain wanted to see her.

“Have a seat, McCray.”

Morgan followed the Captain’s direction without uttering a sound.

“A file has come across my desk that I want you to work on.” He pushed the folder in the detective’s direction. “It’s a missing girl case.”

Ignoring the file, Morgan looked at her superior like he was daft. “Sir, am I missing something here? I work on cold cases.”

“I know what unit you work in, McCray. But I need you to look at this.”

Without saying another word she flipping through the pages. Morgan didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. There was the standard troubled youth scenario. Minor stays out past curfew. Underage drinking, and truancy. It was the same complaints that usually filled the pages of this type of case.

“It says here, she’s missing from Montgomery County, why is the State Police involved? It’s their jurisdiction.”

The Captain rested his hands behind his head, and stretched his back out a little. “The chief over there thinks that human trafficking might be involved somehow.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, and since we are a part of The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, we’re gonna work with the other agencies to investigate this case. You will be our representative.”

“Why is this case raising red flags?” the detective asked as she flipped through the files for a second time, looking to see if she had missed something. “Her parents aren’t high-profile, or connected to high places. It doesn’t appear that this kid was an exceptional student, or outstanding athlete. There is nothing in here that suggests this is out of character behavior, or that her parents are involved with special interest.”

“I agree, but the Montgomery County police chief says he is seeing a pattern.”

“And that pattern is?”

“Girls disappearing that don’t have a history of that type of behavior. None of the missing girls have ever stayed away from home. Came home late? Yes. But never stayed out all night.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

“You’re right about that, McCray, but there is something that doesn’t smell right about this. I want you to look at it with a new set of eyes and see if the task force is missing something.”

Morgan gathered the folded. “Okay, Captain.”

She was walking out of his office when he called her back. “Oh, there is something else.”

Morgan waited.

“The girl’s mother is waiting for you in your office.”

Blue eyes rolled. “Thanks, Captain.”

*******

The mother that was waiting for Morgan, was not what she was expecting. She made a mental note to check the file again, because the bleached-blonde sitting in her office didn’t look old enough to have a fifteen year-old daughter.

“I hope you haven’t been waiting too long, Mrs. Edwards. “I’m Detective Sergeant McCray and I’ll be working on your daughter’s case.”

“It’s Miss.”

Morgan gave her an odd look. “Excuse me?”

The woman clarified. “You called me Mrs. I’m not a Mrs. I’m a Miss.”

Morgan realized that she had not read anything about a husband or a father in the file, she had just assumed, and she knew better than to do that.

“My apologies.”

“Not a problem, you are most definitely forgiven,” was said as the mother crossed her legs, exposing an inappropriate amount of skin.

Ignoring the flirtatious behavior, Morgan took a seat behind her desk, and without saying a word, turned a picture of her and Shannon around so that Miss Edwards could see it.

“Oh, so it’s like that?” the woman said as a way to acknowledge the obvious relationship.

“Yes, it’s exactly like that,” Morgan replied while holding the woman’s gaze.

“Okay, okay. There’s no need to get all twisted up. I see that you’re one of those loyal chicks.”

Growing more irritated by the minute, Morgan, tried to get things back on track. “Miss Edwards let’s get to the reason why we are here…your missing daughter.”

As if on cue, the woman’s eyes started tearing up. “My baby, my baby has been missing for five days.”

When she realized that Morgan wasn’t going to offer her a tissue she began searching around in her knockoff purse for one of her own.

“Can you tell me what was going on before your daughter disappeared?”

Just as quickly as the tears started they were replaced with irritation. “I’ve already told the county cops everything I know. Don’t you guys communicate?”

Morgan made a mental note. Mother has an unstable personality.

“I understand your frustration, Miss Edwards, but this is the State Police, and I need to hear what you have to say from your point of view.”

Exhaling a breath, Miss. Edwards repeated her story for what felt like the thousandth time.

“We had an argument.” She started bouncing her crossed leg. “It was over something stupid. She wanted to bum a cigarette off of me, I told her I didn’t have enough. She got pissed and stormed out, and I ain’t seen her since.”

“Do you often share cigarettes with your fifteen year-old daughter, Miss Edwards?”

The woman’s anger soared. “Don’t judge me! Not until you’ve walked in my shoes. I do everything for that kid. Hell, I had her when I was only fifteen. I think I’ve done pretty damn good to have been a kid myself.”

Wow, we’re the same age, Morgan thought.

“I’m doing the best I can,” the woman continued. “I keep a roof over her head, don’t I? I keep her fed, don’t I? I gotta keep her in smokes too? Shit, it ain’t my fault that she’s acting like a brat.”

Then whose fault is it? Morgan asked in her head.

“Miss Edwards, have you checked with any of your daughter’s friends?”

“Yeah, but they ain’t seen her.” Then she remembered something. “I talked to everybody except, Kathy. She’s one of my Ginny’s new friends. I’ve asked around, but nobody’s seen her either.” Then it seemed like a light went on in her head. “Hey, you think they might be together?”

Morgan was taking notes. “What can you tell me about Kathy?”

“Not much. She’s a year or two older than Ginny. She lives with her uncle, and she has a great weed connection…oops. I guess I shouldn’t have said that.”

Morgan mentally rolled her eyes. Like my opinion of you could get any lower.

“Is that all you can tell me about Kathy?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

Morgan finished writing and closed the folder. “Okay, Miss Edwards, that will be all for now. If I have anymore questions I’ll be in touch.” Morgan came from behind her desk to escort the woman out of her office.

When Heidi Edwards reached the door she stopped and looked over her shoulder at the detective. “You don’t have to wait until you have more questions to call. You can do that anytime.”

Morgan held up her left hand and wiggled her ring finger, displaying the gold band. “Married. Remember?”

Heidi laughed. “Yeah. But…”

Morgan cut her off and gently pushed the woman out of her office. “If we find out anything, someone will contact you.”

Morgan closed her office door and went to the phone. She was going to request copies of the other missing girls cases. “What a piece of work,” was said to the empty room.
Chapter Eight
When Morgan got home she told Shannon about the case, and about her interview with the missing girl’s morally challenged mother.

“She was hitting on you?!”

“Calm down, babe. You know I would never give another woman the time of day.”

Shannon rolled her eyes. “I know that. What I’m having a problem with is the mother of a missing child taking the time to flirt before discussing her daughter’s case.”

“Oh,” Morgan said, sounding defeated.

“Stop being a baby. You should be happy that I trust you without question.”

“I am,” the detective pouted.

Seeing how disappointed her spouse was, Shannon took on the persona of a jealous lover. She placed her hands on her hips and put an indignant look on her face. “That bitch. That scanky whore. How dare she put the moves on my woman!”

Blue eyes twinkled with pleasure.

“You feel better now, stud?”

Morgan picked Shannon up and carried her to the bedroom. “Let me show you how good I feel.”

*******

“Please, daddy! Stop. Please stop!

Shannon’s sounds of anguish pulled Morgan out of a sound sleep.

“Shannon, Shannon. Wake up, baby.” Her voice didn’t seem to be penetrating the dream, so she began to gently shake her distressed lover. “Come on, baby, wake up for me.”

Nothing was working. No matter how strongly Morgan shook her, or how loudly she called her name, Shannon would not come out of the dream…

“What have I told you about looking at me like that?”

Dave Reynolds was drunk and angry, and as always, one accompanied the other. That was unfortunate for his daughter, because once Dave was angry he always sought out his favorite target to work out some of his frustrations on.

“I wasn’t looking at you, daddy,” Shannon whimpered.

“You talking back to me, little girl?”

This was a scene that had played out over and over again in her young life, and she knew that once her father’s rage presented itself there would be no stopping him until his need to release the built up violence was sated. Shannon saw the danger moving closer to her, and curled up into a tight ball…waiting.

The first kick connected with her forearms that were protecting her face, and the force of it rocked her small body. When he pulled his leg back for a second blow she squeezed her eyes shut and let the tears flow. She knew that begging or crying out for help would fall on deaf ears. There would be no reprieve, and no one was coming to save her. Her father wasn’t going to stop, and her mother wasn’t going to help. When the third kick was delivered a sharp, stabbing pain radiated through her kidney and she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“Please, daddy! Stop. Please stop!”

Shannon suddenly woke up with a start. She sat up in bed, breathing hard. “Shit.”

Large hands began to slowly rub soothing circles over the frightened woman’s damp back. “You’re okay now. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“It was so real, Morgan. I was lying on the floor, and he was kicking me…over and over, and I couldn’t catch my breath, and then my back began to hurt really badly.”

Morgan remained silent and dropped her hand to rub her wife’s lower back, trying to easy away the pain of an injury that had healed long ago. Knowing that Shannon needed a calming, soothing type of support right now, she forced down the seething anger that wanted to spew from her core.

“It’s over, baby. I’ll never let him hurt you again.”

Shannon leaned her head against Morgan’s strong shoulder. “Will this ever really be over?”

Morgan kissed her wife’s head. “Yes, baby, it will. I promise.”

“Bet you didn’t know you were taking on a basket case when you asked me to marry you.”

“Shhh,” Morgan whispered. “Don’t say things like that. The day you agreed to marry me was the luckiest day of my life.”

Shannon rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right.”

“What? You don’t believe me?”

“Considering that you’ve spent the last ten years coxing me out of nightmares makes it kinda hard to believe.”

“Stop exaggerating. Your nightmares are not frequent,” Morgan wiggled her eyebrows. “And if I’m not mistaken, it was one of your nightmares that put us in a position to have our first kiss.”

A wide smile spread across Shannon’s face. “Oh, yeah, that is how it happened, isn’t it?”

“Yep, I came running into your room because your yelling woke me up.”

“That’s right, and you held me close, rocking me until I calmed down.”

“Then you lifted your eyes, and looked at me.”

Shannon reached up and traced Morgan’s dark brows. “And that’s when I knew that I wanted you forever,” she whispered.

Morgan leaned down and kissed Shannon the way she had that night so long ago. “And that’s when I knew I wanted to be yours forever.”

“We had been living with you for what? Nine months by then?”

“Are you trying to be funny? It was more like five months.”

Shannon snorted. “That’s right. God, I was such a floozy.”

Morgan barked out a laugh. “A floozy?! It took me another four months to finally get you in bed.”

“Aaand we’re back to nine months.”

“You aren’t making any points with me, Shannon.”

“Okay, okay, but I gotta admit, it took me four months to say yes because I was terrified.”

Morgan was shocked. “What?! Why?!”

“Because, I had never been with anyone before, and I’d heard horror stories of pain, blood, and soreness.”

“Well, it wasn’t like I was an expert.”

“At least you had done something. I had never even been kissed.”

“Yeah, right, I was really skilled. Some kissing, heavy petting, a little dry-humping, that was about it. I certainly had never done anything as intense as what we experienced that first night.”

Shannon snuggled closer to her spouse. “There was no one around to tell me how wonderful it would be to make love to the person that owns your heart.”

“I was out there too. Flopping around like a fish out of water, totally without a clue. I remember this one time my dad sat me down, trying to tell me about the birds and the bees. I thought I would rather go deaf and blind than have to listen to that. Michael McCray telling his twelve year-old daughter about the facts of life was a classic piece of parenting.”

She made her voice deeper, and peppered her language with a lot of slang. “Now listen up, Morgan. One day some wanna be pimp is gonna try and feel you up.” The tall woman laughed. “I slapped my hands over my ears, squeezed my eyes tight, and started to hum, hoping to drown out the sound of his voice. Finally he got the message and stopped, but not before I heard phrases like, “kick him in the balls” and “punch him in the throat”, what a class act.”

“At least he tried. My parents never talked to me about anything. Everything I learned was from my friends, and most of that information was wrong. Do you know that my mother never even talked to me about getting my period? My friends had told me what happened, but they also told me it happened to boys too.”

“What?!”

“You heard me. My bright as a dim-bulb friends told me that boys got periods too. I found out different when I came home from school one day and found a box of sanitary napkins and a book about menstruation on my bed.”

“Well, that was something,” Morgan said, hoping to shine a positive light on the situation.

“I was thirteen years-old! I had been taking care of that problem for a year…on my own, using and reusing old rags that I would stuff in my underwear. My friends had me so afraid and disgusted by the change that my body was going to go through that I was too ashamed to tell my mother. ”

Morgan had to cringe. The thought of washing, drying, and reusing soiled rags was kinda icky, especially at the dawning of the twentieth-first century. The information only reminded Morgan of how cut-off from things her spouse had been while she was growing up.

“There isn’t much I can say about that, babe. My dad didn’t talk to me about “women’s shit” as he called it, but he did get one of his lady friends to have a talk with me and take me to the drug store to show me all the different choices there were.”

Hearing Morgan mention her father again, Shannon had to ask. “Sweetheart, do you ever think about your dad and brothers?”

The question took Morgan by surprise. “Um, no. Not really. I mean, my brothers? No. My dad? On occasion. Especially when I catch a glimpse of him when I’m out, or run into him and we have to carry on some superficial conversation,” she snorted. “I doubt if he knows I’m gay, or that I have a wife. But even though our talks never ventured any deeper than what the weather was like, he would stay on my mind for a day or so.”

“But you never say anything.”

Morgan paused before she answered. She wanted to make sure she said this right. “I didn’t say anything because I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Hurt me? Hurt me how?” Shannon didn’t understand.

“I kinda thought that if I brought up my scumbag father, it might make you think about your dad. I just didn’t want the subject to remind you of bad times.”

“I can see how you would feel that way, but you don’t have to keep your feelings inside. You can talk to me.”

“Thanks, babe.”

“Besides, Michael was just a shitty, amoral father. Dave Reynolds was an abusive, drunken asshole.”

Morgan snorted. “That’s one way to look at it. I mean my dad never hit me or anything. I…I just hated the way he tried to turn us into criminals before we could decide for ourselves.”

“Like I said, amoral.”

Morgan agreed with a sad inflection. “Yeah, amoral.”

Hearing the melancholy in her lover’s voice, Shannon turned to look at her. “Sweetheart, do you wish you had a relationship with him?”

Morgan thought for a moment. “No. It’s more like I wish I had a relationship with who I wish he was…you know what I mean?”

“I know exactly what you mean.” Shannon looked up into the eyes of the only person she had ever loved. Well, except for Brian, but that was different…very different. The love she had for Morgan was almost like a religion to her, and she kneeled at the alter daily. Her devotion sometimes bordering on fanaticism because when it came to Morgan, Shannon was all in. “I love you so much,” was her whispered prayer.

“I love you too, sweetheart,” came her benediction.

Morgan ran her fingers though Shannon’s tangled hair, taking care to remove the knots, wanting to ease into changing the subject. “What do you think brought on the nightmare, baby? You haven’t had one of those dreams in quite some time.”

“I’m not sure.” She paused for a second. “I guess it was talking about that missing girl.”

“Why do you think it was the case I’m working on?”

“I don’t know. I guess…maybe it reminded me of the time I took Brian and tried to run away…anything could have happened to us that night, as a matter of fact, it almost did.”

“You’re talking about the time the man in the car tried to pick you guys up?”

“Yeah.”

Morgan kissed the side of Shannon’s head. “I can just see the little shit now, screaming at the top of his lungs.”

The deep sound coming from Morgan’s chest was very soothing, and Shannon found herself smiling, waving her hands out in front of her. “Stranger danger, stranger danger,” she said in a low voice.

A hardy laugh escaped Morgan’s throat. “He was your personalized “to catch a predator”, wasn’t he?”

“That he was.” She took Morgan’s hand and pulled it around her shoulders so that the taller woman could hold her closer.

“Are you feeling better now?”

Shannon nodded her head.

“Good.”

They remained silent for several long minutes. Morgan holding Shannon close, resting her cheek on top of thick, blonde tresses, letting their love flow around them.

“You think you can go back to sleep?” Morgan asked. “Shannon? Shannon?”

There was no answer, the woman was sound asleep.

Morgan eased Shannon back onto the bed, then wrapped herself around the shorter body. “That’s right, baby, sleep. I’ll be right here when you wake up…I love you, Shannon,” was whispered in the sleeping woman’s ear before Morgan joined her in slumber.

*******

As Morgan McCray was making promises to keep her love safe, several miles to the north, a drugged, beaten, and kidnapped Ginny Edwards was locked in a dank basement, wondering where her friend was. The fifteen-year-old was feeling very sorry about the actions that had led her to this place. She’d had no idea that when she went storming out of the house, angry over being denied a cigarette, that it would lead to this place.

“I wish I could do it all over,” she whispered to the empty room…

“Fuck her and her cigarettes,” Ginny said to her friend.

Kathy pulled another drag on the menthol that was dangling from her lips. “That’s your mom, Gin, you shouldn’t say shit like that.”

The girls had been sitting out in the park for a couple of hours while Ginny complained about her mother being selfish with the smokes.

Ginny snorted. “Some mother she is. She ain’t nothing but a low-life stripper.”

“Damn, girl. That’s harsh. You really should stop saying shit like that about your mother.”

“What do you know about it, Kathy? You live with your uncle.”

“That’s right. My meth-head mother left me to live with a piece of shit perv. At least your mom loved you enough to keep you with her.”

Ginny didn’t say anything. She knew about the things that went on in Kathy’s home. How her mother’s brother always tried to get her to give him blowjobs by offering her money or drugs. That’s why the seventeen year-old stayed out in the streets until all hours of the night.

“You got any weed?” Ginny asked, breaking the silence.

“Nope, I haven’t seen my guy lately.”

Ginny knew what that meant. Although Kathy was averse to giving her uncle BJ’s, she didn’t have the same aversion when it came to Frankie and his weed.

“His girlfriend is sticking to him like glue, huh?”

“Yeah, the bitch is going through one of her possessive stages. I hope she gets over it soon, ‘cause I’m missing being high.”

“Me too.”

Kathy looked at Ginny without saying a word. She liked her, but Ginny had double standards when it came to certain things. Like, she wouldn’t give a BJ for weed, but she would smoke Kathy’s, knowing how it was paid for. Or, how she didn’t want to be left alone at a party if Kathy met a guy she liked, but if she wanted to disappear with somebody, Kathy was supposed to just understand.

Oh, well, Kathy thought. I’ve hung out with worse. Ginny is just a little more spoiled than the others.

They heard a sound, and looked over to the parking lot in time to see two people approaching. It was a guy and a girl, both of them looked to be in their early twenties. When they got close enough, they greeted the girls.

“Hey, what’s up?” the man said.

“Not much,” Kathy responded.

“You girls out here alone?” the woman asked.

“Looks that way.” Kathy answered.

You get high?” The woman wanted to know, thinking she had spotted a couple of fellow weed-heads.

“Hell, yeah,” Ginny answered for both of them. Thinking that it was their lucky night. “You got anything?”

“You ain’t said nothing but a word.”

The man pulled a blunt from his pocket and handed it over to Ginny, before pulling out a second one for him and the woman he was with.

“My name is Paul, and this is my girlfriend Tammy.”

“I’m Ginny, and this is Kathy.”

The introduction came out a little strained because Ginny was holding in the smoke she had just inhaled, trying to stop it from escaping before she was ready to release it.

After a few silent puffs, Tammy offered the girls a drink. “Hey, we got some beer in the car if you girls want something for the cotton-mouth.”

This time Kathy answered for them. Smoking in the park with strangers was one thing. Going back with them to a car was another. “No thanks.”

Tammy shrugged her shoulders. “Suit yourself. “

“You girls hang out here a lot?” Paul asked.

“All the time,” Ginny said with a thick tongue. She was beginning to feel weird. She had never gotten this high, this fast before.

Kathy was beginning to feel really strange too. The high that was washing over her was like nothing she had experienced. She felt like her brain was floating in her skull.

“What the hell did you give us?” she heard herself asking from far away.

“It’s some good shit, ain’t it?” Paul said from underwater.

When she heard a thud, she looked over to see Ginny passed out on the picnic table.

“Oh, shit,” she said, as her eyes rolled up in her head, and the darkness overtook her.
Chapter Nine
Morgan was slowly rising from a deep sleep, then her senses suddenly rushed forward, and she was fully awake…and horny. She looked down, and could see the top of her wife’s blonde head, then she felt a warm tongue teasing her nipple. She smiled from ear to ear.

“Well, hello, morning sex. I didn’t hear you come in,” she said with humor.

Shannon raised her head from her task, and Morgan could see the passion in her eyes.

“She’s been here for a while, but she got tired of waiting for you to wake up, so she asked me for help.”

“Is that right?”

“Mmm, hmm.”

“And being the Good Samaritan that you are, you couldn’t say no?”

Shannon moved up her mate’s body until they were face to face. Then she traced the edges of Morgan’s lips with the tip of her tongue. She didn’t say a word as her hand worked it’s way down Morgan’s tight stomach, and started running her fingers through slick folds.

“Would you rather I did?”

With Shannon’s fingers wreaking havoc between her legs, it was getting hard for Morgan to think.

“Did what?” she almost moaned.

“Say no to morning sex.”

Instead of answering she put her hand behind Shannon’s head and took possession of her mouth, while her free hand began to wander over Shannon’s back until she reached a soft round backside, and started rubbing and squeezing the firm globes with strong fingers.

When Shannon moaned into the kiss they were sharing, she threw her leg over Morgan’s hip, opening herself to the cool morning air in the room. Then she started moving against her lover’s side, making Morgan aware that she wanted more.

So the tall woman moved her hand further down, and circled her wife’s opening from behind. When she felt the warm fluid leaking out over her hand it was almost over.

She moved her kisses from Shannon’s lips to her neck. “I want to be inside you,” she said against Shannon’s throat.

“What are you waiting for?” was the whispered response.

Nothing more needed to be said as two fingers slid into Shannon, and as soon as the warm silk surrounded Morgan’s fingers her heart rate picked up.

“You feel so good, baby.”

“S…so do you,” Shannon stuttered.

Shannon was still half on the bed and half on Morgan, moving her hips to the rhythm her spouse had set, while stroking Morgan’s swollen nub with precision.

She knew Morgan was close when she took possession of her mouth again and started sucking on her tongue, right before slamming her legs closed, holding Shannon’s hand in place so she could pump her hips into the pressure.

Wanting to join her mate in the journey she was about to take, Shannon began rubbing her clit against Morgan’s hip with a purpose.

“Oh, Morgan. Oh, baby,” was said over and over.

Morgan’s only response was, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Their bodies sped up, along with their hands, and then the scent of sex filled the room as the women went over the edge with loud cries of love.

Basking in the afterglow, Morgan whispered.

“I love it when we start our day like this.”

“Me, too, baby. Me, too.”

*******

Thanks to Shannon, the drive to Rockville was made with a big smile on the detective’s face. This was going to be her first meeting with the task force, and she was anxious to see how things got done. When she found a parking space near the front of the building she felt like her good fortune was continuing.

Once she showed her identification, and told the receptionist why she was there, she was directed to the conference room where the task force held their meetings. She made her way down the hallway with a light step, feeling like she was on top of the world.

When she entered the room there was already ten other people sitting around the large table.

“Good morning,” she said in a bright voice.

She received a few scattered, “mornings,” in return.

I’m not going to let these tight-asses ruin my day, it started off too good.

A quick flash of Shannon’s naked, flushed body passed through her mind, and a swirl of heat started in the pit of her stomach, that’s when she knew she needed to redirect her thoughts.

She scanned the mostly silent room and noticed that there were a few people taking advantage of the complimentary coffee and Danish pastry tray that had been put out for them, but for the most part everyone was quietly waiting for the meeting to start.

At nine o’clock on the dot, the director and assistant director entered the room, and after taking their seats at the head of the table, the director didn’t waste any time with salutations, he got down to business.

“We have a new one. A guy up in, Essex was just arrested.” Gary Dugan opened his briefcase and pulled out the file. “So far this is what we know. We obtained this information from one of the Jane Doe’s. He began reading.

Darrel Norris is a twenty-five year old pimp that has been recruiting minors to engage in commercial sex acts. Specifically, Norris obtained “Jane Doe One” and “Jane Doe Two”, each fifteen years-old, and “Jane Doe Three”, seventeen years-old, for commercial sex acts, knowing that they were not eighteen years-old.

Beginning in May of last year, and continuing into March of this year, Norris and a co-conspirator prostituted Jane Doe Three. Norris and the co-conspirator provided, and advertised Jane Doe Three dozens of times during this period for sexual services in Maryland in exchange for a fee, all of which they kept. Norris and others transported Jane Doe Three to hotels, private residences, and required Jane Doe Three to ‘walk’ truck stops and Baltimore City streets known for prostitution.

In that time, Norris directed dozens of customers to Jane Doe Three. According to statements, in May of last year, Norris obtained Jane Doe One, Jane Doe Two and Jane Doe Three for the purpose of advertising them and providing them for commercial sex acts. Norris and his co-conspirator provided transportation, clothing, condoms, marijuana, shelter, hotel rooms, food, and a cellular phone to the minors.

Norris and his co-conspirator instructed the minors on the methods and pricing of prostitution and directed at least two sex customers to each minor at a Maryland hotel, where the minors engaged in sex acts in exchange for money paid to Norris and the co-conspirator. The sex customers had responded to erotic ads from the internet that Norris had posted; Norris and the co-conspirator kept all of the money paid by the sex customers.

In the early morning hours of March first, of this year, Norris and his co-conspirator drove the minors to a Maryland truck stop and directed them to walk the area for additional sex customers. The minors were almost immediately retrieved by law enforcement. Norris got away, but continued to attempt to contact Jane Doe Three.

On March fourteenth, Norris created an internet posting advertising sexual services that contained a photograph of Jane Doe Three. On March seventeenth, Norris created a back-page posting, advertising a “two-girl special” that contained photographs of Jane Doe Three and a photograph of Jane Doe One. Norris was subsequently located and arrested.”

Gary closed the folder and looked around the table. “Norris is being charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor and three counts of sex trafficking of a minor, if he is convicted he is facing a minimum mandatory sentence of ten years in prison and a maximum of life in prison for sex trafficking.”

The director placed the palms of his hands on the table and looked each person in the eye. “Listen, people. We are going to show zero tolerance when it comes to child prostitution, and prosecute these predators to the fullest extent of the law, without a doubt that is our goal.” here he paused. “But what I really want is the lowlife creep that this bastard is fronting for.”

Morgan was a little out of her depth here. She had never worked on a case like this before. Most of her experience was in the cold case unit, where she could shift all the pieces around until she was able to figure out how they fit. But to her, this sounded like the director was talking about making a deal with this Norris dirt bag.

“Are you suggesting some sort of plea agreement with this scum?” she asked.

The director looked at the newcomer and gave her a tolerant smile. “Detective McCray, I’m glad to have you on the committee. Your Captain gave you his highest praise when I spoke with him.”

“Thank you, sir. But are you suggesting giving this guy less time for information?”

Guess this one won’t be sidetracked. “Detective McCray, surely there have been times in your career when concessions needed to be made in order to catch the bigger fish.”

Morgan nodded her head, but she didn’t like the sound of this. Usually when there was talk of catching bigger fish things didn’t turn out well. There would be months and months of surveillance, informant money would be tossed around like it was confetti, and guilty people would go free for rolling over on guiltier people.

But the pisser would come when all was said and done, and none of the big fish were ever caught. More than likely the only people that would get prosecuted would be the lowest faces on the totem pole…the hookers, because their crime would be the only one that could be proven.

These were the thoughts going through Morgan’s mind when, almost like a prophecy being fulfilled the assistant director spoke.

“I’m with you one hundred percent, Gary. Theses animals that prey on the emotional and physical vulnerabilities of young girls must be held accountable for their actions. Not just the street soldiers, but the pigs that are sitting behind closed doors making the biggest profit. I think we need to set up a sting operation at one of the truck stops.”

The director agreed. “That sounds like a great idea, Don, and I want Detective McCray to head the team.”

*******

Morgan was still sitting in the conference room. Everyone was long gone, each person off to start on their assignment, but she was still in her seat, wondering what had just happened. She remembered asking about plea agreements, and the next thing she knew, she was heading up a sting operation. She felt like the director and the assistant had bounced her back and forth like a ping-pong ball.

“Bastards,” she whispered under her breath.

She gathered up her items and made her way out of the room, thinking, did I hear a few snickers when I was assigned this task?

She headed out of the door.

“Bastards.”

*******

Shannon arrived home and walked into a living room scattered with books, reports, and folders. And in the middle of all of the chaos, sitting on the cluttered sofa, was a determined looking Morgan.

She dropped her briefcase, kicked off her shoes and stepped over a few discarded files as she made her way to her mate. Sitting down beside her, Shannon had to pull her skirt up a little to give her legs a little moving around room.

Morgan saw the movement in her periphery and put aside the report she was reading. Turning to face her lover, a lascivious smile pulled at her lips. “Well, well. What do we have here?” She didn’t waste any time running her hand up the smooth thigh that was on display.

Shannon smacked the large hand to stop it from progressing further up her leg. “Stop that, and tell me what this is all about,” she said waving her hand around the room.

“I got a new assignment today.”

“Another one?”

“Yeah. They want me to run a sting operation at a truck stop, but…”

Shannon held up her hand. “Wait. A sting? At a truck stop? What are you looking for, truckers stealing diesel fuel?”

“Ha, ha, very funny. No. Girls are prostituted in the lots.”

Shannon’s eyes went wide. “Right there in the open?”

“You’re full of jokes today. No, not in the open. There appears to be a system to the whole thing.” Morgan picked up one of the sheets of paper she had been reading. “These are the reports from previous arrests. I’m going over them so that I’ll have a better idea of how I can best execute this detail.”

When Morgan donned the military bearing and meticulous habits that she had learned in the academy it always made Shannon smile. Early on Morgan had told her everything about her family, so Shannon understood her need for discipline in her life, especially since the social worker also had intimate knowledge of how a lack of order could affect a person’s surroundings.

“Has a picture formed in your mind yet?” She knew how Morgan worked and enjoyed hearing her process.

Now that her attention had been redirected, Morgan had forgotten about seducing her partner…at least for the moment.

“I think so. It seems that the standard protocol is to send in undercover officers, posing as truckers looking for services.” She wiggled her eyebrows at Shannon. “Sex,” was said conspiratorially.

Shannon smacked Morgan on the shoulder. “I know that. You have anyone in mind?”

Morgan picked up a folder. “This is a list of officers and truck rental companies that are usually used for this type of operation.”

This struck Shannon as odd. “This seems very scripted, sweetheart.”

“That’s what I thought, but after going over it in my mind I figured out that after much trial and error someone must have discovered that this was the most successful approach.”

Shannon got up and headed for the bedroom. “That makes sense.”

“Hey, where are you going? I thought you wanted to hear this.”

“I’m gonna get out of these clothes. I figured we could talk about this over dinner.” She started pulling off garments. “I’m ordering take-out. Are you in the mood for anything in particular?”

Morgan never looked up from the list she had started going over again. “No, whatever you want is fine.”

“Are you sure?” was heard from down the hall.”

“Ye…” Morgan’s answer was cut short when a lacy bra hit her in the face.”

The smile that bloomed put every tooth in her head on display. She dropped the paper that was in her hand, and hopped over the obstacles littering the floor, before taking off down the hallway.

“I changed my mind. I know exactly what I want,” she yelled.
Chapter Eleven
It had been two weeks and she still didn’t know his name, but his face was permanently etched into her memory. This was the enforcer. The one that taught the lessons, but Ginny was being a difficult student. And as soon as he walked in the door, the teenager turned on the waterworks and began screaming and crying.

“I want my mother!”

The enforcer rolled his eyes. “Shut up, bitch,” was ordered in a menacing tone.

Dealing with this girl was becoming increasingly more frustrating by the day. He wanted to strangle Paul and Tammy for bringing this one in. For the last two weeks she would not stop crying, or fighting every John they sent to her room. Even when they shot her up with drugs, she cried through the high. This couldn’t go on. There was money to be made, and no one was going to pay for crying, fighting pussy.

“Let me go. Please, please let me go. I won’t tell anybody about this place. Just let me go home.”

Without warning, the man struck out, punching the girl in the face, breaking cartilage, releasing blood and mucus to flow freely from her nose and mouth. But the bright and garish display didn’t faze him. He had reached his limit.

“I said, SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

The girl didn’t need to be told again. Although this wasn’t the first time she’d been hit, it was the first time she’d been hit with a closed fist…and it hurt like hell.

She now had a better understanding of things. That one, violent punch to the face brought it all home for her. If she didn’t get with the program soon, the lessons would become harsher. In addition to the rapes, the drugs, and the loss of dignity she suffered every time she was forced to relieve herself in front of a guard, daily beatings could be added to the list of her many humiliations.

The defeat was heart wrenching, her cries were reduced to whimpers and she curled up on her cot, turning away from her tormentor.

The man stared at the girls back and smiled carnivorously. Good, lesson number one, learned…finally.

When Ginny heard the door close and lock behind her, she began crying again, but this time she turned her bruised and batter face into the pillow to muffle the sound.

*******

The enforcer left the basement, and had to shake the soreness out of his hand. “Damn, that bitch has a hard head.”

He went looking for his second. “Where’s her friend? I want Tammy to take her to the truck stop.”

“She’s upstairs with the other lot-rats.”

Kathy was brought downstairs and given a row of condoms and four joints.

“Go out to the car and wait for Tammy.”

Kathy had learned that Tammy was the bottom girl, the girl in charge of the others. At first she had wanted to attack the woman that had played a part in her being there, but she knew better. So now, instead of acting on her impulses, Kathy just nodded her head and went out to the car, never uttering a word or putting up a fight.

The more worldly seventeen-year-old had learned her lessons much faster than Ginny, and was given her freedom soon after her arrival. Being more street savvy, she knew the rules of this game, and she would go along to get along, biding her time until an opportunity presented itself to escape.
Chapter Twelve
Shannon’s shoes were off, and her toes were wiggling under her desk to loosen the cramps that had settled in, while confined in her shoes. The morning had been long, and the afternoon promised to be even longer.

The case she was working on was a difficult one. The parents were both addicts. The mother was completely apathetic to her two daughter’s struggles, and the father had a temper that showed itself whenever his drugs ran out.

Social services had become involved when one of the twelve-year-old twins told a teacher that their father was sexually abusing them. Finding placement for them was what had been taking up most of Shannon’s morning. Temporary housing would be necessary until the parents, and the home had been thoroughly investigated.

“Pig.” Shannon said out loud, thinking about the beast of a father. “Somebody needs to show him what it’s like to have someone force themselves on you, being helpless without any choices, too weak to protect yourself.” Then another thought entered her mind. “The mother isn’t much better. Not protecting her daughters is unforgivable. She’s probably some lazy do-nothing.”

While she was still deep in thought, one of her coworkers came in, and without invitation, took a seat across from Shannon. “You look beat, and it’s only eleven-thirty in the morning.”

“It’s this case, Vicky,” Shannon said, tilting her head in the direction of the folder on her desk.

Without saying anything, Vicky reached across the desk and pulled the file to her. She read the circumstances surrounding the twins being removed from the home, and was disgusted. When she finished reading, she pushed the folder back across the desk.

“Pig.”

“My sentiments exactly.”

Vicky sensed that there was something going on with her friend. “You’ve had cases like this before, Shannon. Why is this one getting to you?”

“I…I’m not sure, Vicky. There is something about these little girls that makes me want to go the extra mile for them.” She began telling her friend about the fraternal twins. “Lindsey, she’s the blonde one, and it appears the stronger of the two. She’s a feisty little thing, all piss and vinegar. Brandy, she’s a little smaller than her sister, with dark hair and has a timid personality.

When I interviewed them, Lindsey did all of the talking, and Brandy would sit beside her with a bowed head, nodding when her sister said something she agreed with. It was heartbreaking, Vicky. I just want to put them in a place where they can stay together, and be safe.”

Vicky listened without interruption, until Shannon was finished talking. Then she gave her friend a patient smile. “Shannon? Do they remind you of anyone?”

Shannon thought for a moment. “No, not that I can recall.”

“Really? They don’t remind you of a couple of kids from your past?”

“I don’t think so. I can’t remember any kids from my past that…” she stopped speaking when a picture of two displaced children formed in her head. And then she spoke in a choked whisper, saying the names out loud. “Me and Brian.”

Vicky waited for Shannon to work through whatever was going on in her head. Victoria Davenport had been friends with Shannon since their college days. She had stood with Shannon when she married Morgan during their sophomore year. She was the only person in their circle of college friends that knew anything about how she had lived before meeting Morgan, and she loved her like a sister.

“I never saw the correlation.” Shannon said with wonder. “I guess…maybe because they were girls of the same age…I…I.” Shannon stopped talking. The sisters were exactly like her and Brian. In looks, in temperament, even down to the addicted, abusive parents. The only real difference being the sexual abuse. That was a line Dave Reynolds had never crossed.

Vicky reached across the desk and grabbed Shannon’s hand. “Hey, don’t you do it. Don’t you dare take a trip down memory lane.” Vicky could already see the glazed look in Shannon’s eyes, and knew where she was going. “Because if you do, I’ll have to call Morgan the Mighty to come and bring you back.”

This seemed to pull Shannon back. Exactly like Vicky knew it would. The green eyes cleared and the blonde woman laughed a little. “She would, you know.” It was a statement, not a question.

“I know.” Time to shift gears. “What are you guys up to this weekend?”

Jim and Maureen invited us over.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s that old bull-wrestler been up to lately?”

“I’ll be sure to tell him you called him that.”

“You do, and I’ll tell Morgan about the guy down in human resources that thinks you can do no wrong.”

“That’s low, Vicky…even for you. And you’re too late, Morgan already knows.”

Vicky stood up and stretched. “Why am I not surprised? Come on, let’s go downstairs, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”

Shannon slipped her shoes back on and followed her friend out of the office.

*******

Coffee turned into a full, sit-down meal. The friends were relaxing at one of the cafeteria tables enjoying a quiet conversation, when Vicky looked up just in time to see Raymond, from human resources headed their way. “Don’t look now, but here comes your not so secret admirer.”

The blonde head dropped. “What am I going to do, Vicky? I have told him repeatedly that I am a happily married woman.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, sexy. You’ve got “IT” and he want’s it.”

“You are such an ass sometimes.”

“Thank you, I try.”

Shannon was about to say something, when a voice coming from her left stopped her.

“Hey, Shannon. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Vicky mumbled under her breath. “Bullshit, he probably trolls the halls, waiting until he sees you make an appearance.”

Shannon kicked her under the table.

“How have you been, Raymond?”

“Pretty good. Hey, um…did you get the e-mail about the tax form copies?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Oh, okay. Because if you didn’t, I could print a copy for you.”

Shannon didn’t respond. She didn’t feel like it was necessary, she didn’t need any copies. She just looked at him for several moments, waiting for him to get the hint to leave.

Over the years she had learned that if you were too nice to a man that you had no interest in, it could be confusing for him, that is, if he had an interest in you. But, Raymond seemed confused anyway. He was completely ignoring Vicky, and just stood there, silently hoping that he would be invited to join Shannon at the table.

Finally, Shannon cleared her throat. “Don’t let us stop you from getting your lunch, Raymond.”

“Oh…right. Well, enjoy your meal,” Raymond said as he left.

The women sat, quietly eating their food. Shannon hoping that Vicky wouldn’t say anything about Raymond, but at the same time knowing that she couldn’t stop herself.

“You’re gonna have to start bringing doggie treats to work,” Vicky teased. “Cause that puppy has got it bad.”

A paper napkin hit Vicky in the forehead.

“Hey, what was that for.”

“You’re a smart girl, figure it out.”

*******

Shannon was at home going over the histories of the facilitating parents in the foster care system. She wanted to move the twins from the children’s home as soon as possible, so she had narrowed her choice down to four, when Morgan can home.

“Hey, sweet cheeks, how was your day?” Morgan asked with a kiss to Shannon’s aforementioned sweet cheek.

“It wasn’t too bad. I’ve spent most of it looking for the right home for one of my cases, but I did find the time to have lunch with Vicky, oh, and Raymond is still trying to start a conversation with me.”

After divesting herself of her work gear, Morgan headed to the kitchen to scan the refrigerator for leftovers. “Well, I must say, he’s got great taste.” She pulled out a pan of cold meatloaf and grabbed the bread. “But if he doesn’t find a new crush, I’ll have to crush him.”

“Aww, aren’t you sweet? My own personal restraining order.”

“You better believe it.” She held up the bag of bread. “You want one of these.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Shannon took a seat at the kitchen counter and watched her wife make two sandwiches. “What was your day like?”

“It wasn’t too bad. I spent most of it going over the missing girls files that were sent over from Rockville.”

“Anything interesting?”

Morgan put one of the sandwiches on a plate and slid it to Shannon. “Not really, I can’t find a pattern. All of the girls come from different backgrounds. They are all socially, economically, and ethnically diverse. I can’t find any commonality, except that they’re all girls under eighteen.”

Shannon took a bite of her sandwich and began to chew. “Mmm, this is pretty good. I know you’ll figure it out. You always do. ”

Morgan was pulling a bag of chips off of the top of the refrigerator. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I’m not so sure this time.”

She leaned over the counter and dumped a few chips on Shannon’s plate, then her own. “I’m getting a bottle of juice, you want one?”

“Yeah, apple, please.”

“Not to change the subject, but has Brian let you know when he’s coming?”

Oh, sorry. I heard from him this morning. He’s gonna be coming into Boling Air Force Base in three weeks. He wants us to meet him outside of the gates. He’ll let me know the exact date and time when knows.”

“He’s not traveling commercial?”

“Nope, he says he’s gonna catch a hop and save the airfare.”

“Lucky little shit.”

“Yeah, the air force does have its perks.”

“You ready to head out to Silver Springs tomorrow?”

“Yep, can’t wait. We haven’t seen Jim and Maureen for a couple of months. It will be fun to catch up.”

“Do you realize that Jim, Maureen and Vicky are the only people that we have consistently kept in touch with over the years?”

“Hmm. I’ve never really thought about it. Do you think that’s weird?”

Morgan was chewing the chips she had stuffed in her mouth. So before she could answer she had to take a swig of juice to help them down her throat.

“No, I don’t. The way we grew up kinda made us loners.”

“I never thought about it like that, but I guess you’re right. And if we take that a step further, our upbringing is probably why we look at Jim and Maureen as kinda like parental figures.”

Morgan almost snorted juice through her nose. “You’d better not let Jim hear you say that.”

Shannon started batting her eyes. “No. You’d better not let him hear you saying that…me he likes.”

Morgan laughed from her belly. It was true. Jim Driscoll had treated Shannon like a daughter from the first day he’d laid eyes on her…well that wasn’t exactly true…it was more like the first second.

Once the field-training trooper had been told what Morgan had done by letting the blonde girl and her runaway brother into her home, he was furious…

“Have you lost your damn mind?! You let a kidnapper into your home?!”

“She’s not a kidnapper, Jim.”

“The hell she ain’t!”

Morgan pulled in deep, slow breaths. If she didn’t remain calm she would never get Jim to help them.

“Jim, she’s just a kid that’s had a hard time.”

The FTT interrupted her. “You’re a kid too. How old is this kid?” he asked with accusation.

“Eighteen. And her brother is twelve.”

The big man ran his hands through his short hair. “Damn.”

Morgan saw her opening and continued talking. “Up until two weeks ago she had been in the children’s home with her brother, but she turned eighteen, and had to leave.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah, it does. They came from a physically abusive home, so when she went to visit her brother and saw that some of the kids had beaten him pretty badly, she snapped, and took him out of there.”

“Poor kid.”

Morgan was mentally rubbing her hands together. Now it was time to move in for the kill.

“I have a huge favor to ask you, Jim.”

“I don’t like the sound of that, McCray.”

“Just hear me out.”

“Continue.”

“If we…”

She saw Jim’s eyes go wide. “We?”

“Yes, Jim, we.”

It had only been three days since she began hiding Shannon and Brian in her home, and she already felt like they were we.

“If we can get a responsible older adult to act as a…sponsor of sorts for Brian…they can stay here.”

“And what would this sponsor have to do?”

“Um, just check in on occasion to make sure things are running smoothly. You know? Stuff like making sure we are sending Brian to school, checking to see if we are having wild parties…that sort of stuff.”

Jim was deep in thought. Although she was only twenty years-old, Morgan McCray was a very responsible young woman, very disciplined. He knew that if he took this on there wouldn’t be any problems, the problem would be in talking Maureen into it.”

“I’m not sure, Morgan. That’s a lot of responsibility. I’ll need to talk to Maureen. There will be interviews. I will need…”

His little speech was interrupted when Morgan called Shannon into the room.

“Hey, Shannon! Come on out here for a second!”

The sound of one of the back bedroom doors was heard being opened, and the next thing Jim knew, the cutest little green-eyed blonde he had ever seen walked in, and he was flooded with paternal feelings. But when a shy little dark-haired boy peeked around her back, he knew it would be a long night of talking Maureen into being a Guardian ad Litem.

“Aw, hell. Make the appointment.”

The women were looking at one another across the counter.

“I’ll love Jim and Maureen forever for what they did for me and Brian.”

Morgan reached over and caught the lone tear that had escaped her lover’s eye.

“And I’ll be forever grateful.”

They were silent for a moment, then Morgan pulled a big grin.

“And the little shit will always remember his first boxing lesson.”

“Oh my god, I thought Jim was going to stroke-out from laughter the first time he tied those gloves on my tiny little brother.”

“The weight of them alone nearly tipped him over,” Morgan added.

Shannon got a faraway look in her eyes. “I miss him so much, Morgan. I can’t wait to see him.

Morgan leaned forward and kissed her wife’s lips.

“Me either, love. Me either.”
Chapter Thirteen
While Morgan was dressing for Jim and Maureen’s barbeque. Shannon was out in the kitchen preparing a side dish.

“Are you almost ready?” Shannon yelled down the hall.

“Yep,” Morgan said as she walked in, tucking her shirt into her pants.

Shannon looked over her shoulder and smiled at her wife. “You look nice.”

Morgan came up behind the shorter woman and rested her chin on her shoulder. “You would say that, since you laid this out for me.”

Innocent green eyes held cheerful blue. “I did that?”

A soft pat on Shannon’s bottom was Morgan’s response. “What are you mixing?”

“Potato salad.”

Morgan swiped her finger through the creamy mixture before tasting it. “Mmm, that’s good.”

Shannon slapped the finger that was attempting to make a second pass. “Stop that. No one wants to eat food that your stinky finger has played in.”

Morgan lifted her fingers under her nose and sniffed. “My fingers don’t stink, Shannon.”

“They did last night,” the little blonde teased.

“That’s because last night they were in your…”

A firm hand was placed over Morgan’s mouth. “If you ever want to get close to any of my orifices again, don’t finish that sentence.”

Morgan made a move like she was zipping her lips.

“That’s better. Now go get the cooler so we can get out of here.

*******

When the couple walked into Jim Driscoll’s backyard, one of Morgan’s hands was carrying the cooler, the other was wrapped around Shannon’s trim waist.

When Jim heard his wife greet the young couple he looked up from the grill and smiled. His former trainee had come a long way, and he was proud of her.

“Hey, hey it’s the McCray’s, glad you guys could make it.” The big man made his way over to the couple and embraced them both in one huge bear hug.

“Let…us…go, you big ox,” Morgan squeaked out.

“Jim, let them go so that they can come over here and say hello,” Maureen scolded.

“Sorry, hon.” Jim’s hardy laugh echoed around the yard, before he gave the women one more squeeze, then returned to the grill.

Morgan put the cooler down, and they made they’re way over to Maureen. She was sitting at a glass patio table, under an umbrella, and she had company.

“Shannon, Morgan, this is Rita Shaw, she just moved into the old Anderson house, four doors down. Rita, these are our surrogate daughters. Shannon and Morgan McCray.”

Shannon smiled and greeted the older woman. She looked to be close to Jim and Maureen’s age, maybe in her mid-fifties. Her brown hair was styled in a flattering short cut, and there was a youthful glow in her gray eyes. Shannon had to admit…overall, Rita Shaw was a very attractive woman.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rita.”

Morgan came up behind her wife. “Nice to meet you,” she greeted the woman.

The woman looked at the young women with curiosity. “It’s nice to meet you both,” Rita said. “Forgive my staring, but are you girls sisters?”

Maureen laughed, and answered for them. “Heavens no. That would be awkward. They are married.”

Gray eyes twinkled with amusement. “Well, that explains the lack of resemblance. How long have you two been married?”

Shannon beamed with pride. “Nine years.”

Rita was a little shocked. “Really? You don’t look a day over twenty.”

Shannon blushed. “Add eight to that.”

Rita focused on the taller of the two. “And what about, stretch. How old are you?”

At first Morgan was a little annoyed. Who was this woman to tease her? But when she saw the humor dancing around in the youthful gray eyes, and the easy smile, she smiled in reflex. I like her.

“I’m thirty,” she answered.

“That’s a nice age. I remember when I was thirty, life was so full of…” Rita stopped speaking and cleared her throat. “Forgive me, I tend to ramble.”

Morgan smiled. “Not a problem.”

Rita gave the tall woman a grateful nod. “Wow, you two got hitched at a very young age.” she observed.

Shannon blushed. “I guess you could say it was a whirlwind romance. I swear sometimes it feels like I fell in love with her the day I met her, and married her the next.”

Morgan ran her finger down Shannon’s pink cheek. “And it never gets old…does it?”

Shannon closed her eyes and whispered. “Never.”

The moment was broken when Jim called out. “Hey, Morgan. Come over here and help me with this food.”

A brilliant smile lit up her face. “Ladies, if you will excuse me…duty calls.” She gave Shannon a quick kiss and ran off to help Jim man the grill.

Witnessing such a special moment, Rita had to ask. “You love her very much, don’t you?”

“More than there are ways to express it,” Shannon confessed.

“Then it is as it should be,” Rita said with odd tone of approval.

*******

“So, how are things going now that you’re working outside of the cold case unit?” Jim asked. “We haven’t had a chance to get together and talk about it.”

“It’s going okay, Jim, but I gotta tell you, since I’ve been on this task force I have discovered a lot of disturbing information about the sex industry.”

“Oh, yeah? Like what?”

“First, let me say this. I’m not a prude or anything, so it’s not the exchange of money for services that bother me, because if I were to be honest with myself, what consenting adults do between themselves is of no concern to me. What repulses me is the buying and selling of young girls, and it really makes me feel stupid that I didn’t know what was going on in my own backyard.”

“What have you found out?”

“Well, I’ve discovered that human trafficking isn’t something that is done in some far off foreign country. Young girls are taken from the streets of Anywhere, USA, and forced into prostitution right in front of our faces. Every young woman that is seen walking the streets selling herself is not always doing it of her own free will.”

“That is the sad truth of it, Morgan.”

“Sometimes the girls are even taken to other states and kept in a conversion house. Conversion houses that, in a few cases are located in nice middle-class neighborhoods. The girls are beaten, raped and most times drugged, until their defenses and self-esteem are broken down, then they are forced onto the streets or truck stops with no money.”

“All of that is true, Morgan, but I hear you and I know how you are.” He allowed a little concern to color his tone. “I know how you can get when you think there is a cause to champion. I don’t want you going out there thinking that you can save them all. Because if you open yourself up to those kinds of emotions, it will consume your life and drive you crazy.” He looked over at Shannon. “Not to mention ruin your marriage.”

Morgan turned to watch her partner talking with Maureen and Rita, and her heart swelled with love. “I don’t have to worry about that happening, Jim. She will always be my priority. I will never let anything come between me and Shannon.”

“Now, that…I know. So, tell me what you’ve been up to on this task force.”

She was actually excited to tell Jim about the sting operation. It had taken a day or two, but Morgan had finally started to see the up side of the assignment, and knowing the good that she could do, she had every intention of doing the best job that she could.

“I must have impressed the director,” she said with pride. “Because my first day in, he assigned me to head up a sting operation at one of the truck stops on the interstate.”

Thick brows went into a graying hairline. “That happened on your first day?”

Morgan gave a smug smile. “Yep.”

“What happened at that meeting?” Jim asked with a little skepticism.

“Let’s see. We all sat around waiting for the director. When he finally came in with his assistant he didn’t waste any time. He filled us in on a recent arrest, then hinted around about possibly making a plea agreement to try and reach the next man in line. That’s when I questioned him about his intentions.”

Jim shook his head back and fourth. Sometimes Morgan was a little too vocal for her own good. “Let me guess what happened next.”

Morgan nodded her head, signaling her friend he was welcome to try.

“It was right after you questioned the director that you were assigned to head up this sting operation.”

“Yeees,” Morgan said with suspicion.

Jim started laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“They gave you busy work, Morgan.”

A dark brow rose in question. “Busy work?”

“I swear, Morgan, to be so smart you can be real dense sometimes. You’ve been working cold cases too long. You were asking the wrong questions, so they gave you something to do to keep you out of the way.”

Morgan felt her temper rising. “They don’t think anything is going to come of my sting?”

“Nope. Not a damn thing. Nothing. Zilch.”

“Son of a bitch.”

“Welcome to politics.”

“I’ll show them busy work.”

Jim looked at his former trainee and shivered. “I know that look. You think you have something to prove.”

“I do have something to prove. I’m not a trainee anymore, Jim. I should be respected. I have worked hard to be where I am. Nobody gave me those sergeant stripes, I earned them!”

Realizing that the tall woman was about to go ballistic, Jim pulled her back in the most efficient way he could. “Calm down, Morgan. The last thing we need is Shannon running over here trying to kiss away your boo-boo.”

This made the detective laugh, and the tension drained from her. “Sorry. I guess I got a little heated.”

Jim held up his thumb and index finger, holding them very close together. “Just a little.”

Morgan shook off the annoyance and changed the subject to something a little more pleasant. “Brain is coming to visit in about three weeks.”

This made Jim smile from ear to ear. “That’s great news. I haven’t seen him in six months.”

“Neither have we. Shannon is about to explode, she is so excited.”

“I really miss the little guy.” Then Jim had to correct himself. “Well, he’s not so little anymore, is he?”

“You really have to put it into perspective, Jim. No, he’s no longer shorter than Shannon, but at five-seven, he’s still a shrimp to me,” she said with a bit of arrogance.

That’s when Jim swelled up to his full height and towered over Morgan. “And at six feet, you’re still a shrimp to me.”

“That’s just not fair, Jim,” Morgan whined. “You don’t have to have his back when he’s on the other side of the world.”

“Now, that’s where you’re wrong. Brain is like another son to me. That means I’ll always have his back.”

Morgan’s smile was melancholy. “You were always great with him.”

“He was a good kid, just a little nervous.”

“And he had trust issues,” Morgan added.

Jim looked over at Shannon. “They both did.”

He flipped a few burgers and nodded in Shannon’s direction. “I remember the first night we saw that little imp.” He corrected himself. “I caught a glimpse of her. I didn’t actually get to see her until three days later.”

A smile pulled at the corner of Morgan’s lips. “It’s a night I’ll never forget. When I caught up with her in the sand…everything changed for me. In that moment I was reborn.”

It always warmed Jim’s heart to hear the way Morgan spoke about Shannon. Seeing how happy they were was a constant reassurance that he had made the right decision all those years ago to help the young runaway and her little brother stay together.

Jim snorted. “In that moment you almost lost your career.”

“There was that too, but it would have been worth it.”

“Is Shannon the reason why you are so head-strong about these missing girls?”

“No, well at least not at first, but she’s been having trouble sleeping,” she looked into Jim’s eyes. “This case has brought back a few bad memories for her, and that has made me realize that anything could have happened to her, Jim. I…I can’t stand the thought of her being forced into prostitution, and Brian out on the chicken circuit.”

In his thirty years on the job, Jim had seen some terrible things, but young girls and boys strolling the avenue, selling their bodies for someone else’s profit wasn’t the worst of it. And not for the first time, he was happy that it had been him and Morgan that answered the call that night and not some other unit. Because after spending a decade getting to know Shannon and Brian, he knew that life on the corner would have been a torturous existence for the softhearted siblings.

“Well, thanks to you, super woman, that wasn’t their fate,” Jim said, wanting to lighten the mood.

“Yeah, with your help. I can’t thank you and Maureen enough for stepping in and volunteering to supervise Brian’s care.”

Jim smacked her on the shoulder, nearly pitching her into the grass. “The three of you have thanked us plenty.”

*******

Maureen could feel that Shannon’s energy was a little low, and wondered if she was okay. “How have you been, Shannon?”

“I…okay, I guess.”

The way she answered let Maureen know there was something wrong, and she could tell that Shannon wanted to talk. She looked over at Rita, and wondered if she should have invited her new neighbor over today.

Rita, for her part, picked up on Maureen’s concern. She could see that the women needed to have a private conversation, so she stood up to excuse herself.

“Well, Maureen. I think I’ll be getting home. Thank you for inviting me over.” She looked to Shannon. “It was nice to meet you, Shannon…you and Morgan.”

Shannon felt a strange twinge run down her spine when the older woman said Morgan’s name. The way she pronounced it was almost like a caress.

“Rita, please stay. You don’t need to leave.”

Gray-colored eyes held a hint of concern. “It seems like there is something you need to discuss with Maureen, I don’t want to get in the way of that.”

Shannon wasn’t ashamed of her past. She felt like it had made her a stronger person, but she didn’t make it a habit to tell everyone she met what her childhood had been like. But there was something about Rita Shaw that put her at ease.

“No. I mean, yes. I want to talk to Maureen, but it’s nothing you can’t hear.”

The older woman sat back down, and poured herself another glass of tea, hoping to make Shannon more comfortable by somehow blending in with her surroundings.

Now that her guest was resettled, Maureen addressed Shannon. “Tell me what’s on your mind?”

“It’s silly really. Morgan has been working on a missing girl’s case, and I just started on an abuse case that involve two little girls, and…and I think it has triggered something, because lately, I’ve had a few bad dreams.”

Maureen looked concerned. “What are the particulars of your case.”

“Well, there are two sisters…”

When Shannon finished the story, both of the older women were appalled.

“Pig,” Rita said.

This made Shannon smile. I think I like this lady.

“Shannon, if you don’t mind my asking…if these type of cases disturb you so much why don’t you transfer to another department?”

“That’s a good question, Rita, but I won’t do that. Child Protective Services is my passion.” She held Rita’s gaze. “When I was younger the Department of Social Services played a huge part in the lives of me and my brother.”

Shannon went on to tell Rita about her childhood, and the day she met Morgan. When she stopped talking, Rita Shaw was thoroughly impressed with the actions of both of the young women. “And how is your brother?”

Shannon’s face began to glow. “Brian is great. He is an officer in the air force, stationed in Japan.” At this point her smile became even brighter. “And he will be home for a visit in a few weeks.”

“Now, that’s fantastic! I can’t wait to see Brian.” Maureen felt like one of her children was coming home.

By the time Shannon and Brian came into their lives, Jim and Maureen’s children were out of the house. Their twenty-three year old son had graduated from the University of Southern California, and had loved the area so much, he stayed on the west coast. Their twenty-one year old daughter had followed her brother across the country, and had informed her parents that, like her brother, she would make California her home.

So, Maureen had the time, and the desire to drop-in on Morgan and Shannon to check up on the twelve year-old boy. And just like her husband, on their first meeting, she felt a maternal pull toward the two children. It wasn’t too long after, that the Reynolds siblings became a part of the Driscoll family.

“And I’m sure he can’t wait to see you, Maureen. You spoiled him rotten.” Shannon teased.

Two strong hands settled on Shannon’s shoulders, before she felt a whisper of a kiss on the top of her head.

“If I remember correctly, you got your fair share of spoiling too.”

Shannon looked over her shoulder into teasing blue eyes. “Yeah, and most of it came from you.”

Rita sat and silently watched the interaction between the young couple and realized. I like them.
Chapter Fourteen
“I’ll show those buttheads, busy work,” Morgan said as she walked into the Boy Toy. Jim’s comments over the weekend had lit a fire under her, and it was blazing. She would show them why they should never underestimate Morgan McCray.

She was in one of the city’s only male strip clubs…and hating it, but she had made arrangements to meet with one of her informants, and this was the location the woman had chosen. It was only because Peggy usually had good information that she had agreed to walk into the place.

It took her eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dim lighting, and once they did, it was easy to spot Peggy. The redhead looked a bit haggard in his light. She was well pass her prime, a little too old to still be out on the stroll, but as long as she thought she could make a buck, that’s where she would stay.

The closer the detective got to the table, she noticed small changes in the hooker. The red hair was styled in an outdated up do, her blue eyes had lost their sparkle, and her skin didn’t hold the glow of rejuvenation that it had just a few years before. But she was a good lady. She’d been a big help to Morgan when she was investigating her very first cold case, and the detective would always appreciate and respect her for the time she had sacrificed to do it. When she reached the table, Morgan greeted Peggy with a warm smile.

“Thanks for meeting me, Peg.”

“Hey, we go way back, Morgan, it ain’t no problem.”

The detective looked around the place, and scrunched up her nose like she smelled something bad. “Why are we meeting here?”

Peggy didn’t answer right away, instead she took a moment to admire one of the young men dancing on the stage, then she took a sip of her drink. “I’m a little ashamed to admit that there are times when I enjoy watching men debase themselves for a dollar.”

Silently observing, as the man thrust his hips and rubbed his hands over his chest, Morgan turned her nose up again. “I don’t get these places,” she said with a bit of disgust.

“That’s ‘cause you’re a dyke, honey pot.”

Morgan rolled her eyes. “I don’t think being gay has anything to do with it.”

“You trying to tell me if it was a pair of perky tits up there swinging around, instead of a crotch full of man meat you wouldn’t be just a little less judgmental?”

Morgan gave the question honest consideration. “No, I would still be offended.” Then her blue eyes twinkled. “But not as much.”

After Morgan paid for Peggy’s second drink, the detective got down to business. “Over the last several months a few girls have gone missing. I’m not sure what has happened to them, but we suspect human trafficking. I was hoping that you could tell me something, maybe give me a lead.”

Peggy stared sideways at the good-looking detective. “Since when do you look for the living?”

“Since a week ago. I got temporarily reassigned,” was said with irritation.

“Who did you piss off?”

“Nobody. Believe it or not, my Captain put me on this because he thinks I can help.”

Peggy gave the detective a genuine smile. “I’m not surprised, Morgan. You’re a bright girl.”

For some inexplicable reason, the compliment brought pinpricks to the back of Morgan’s eyes. It almost felt like she was being praised by her mother. Morgan looked at Peggy, and had to concentrate on regaining her composure. This was not her mother, and to her knowledge, Peggy wasn’t anyone’s mother. Morgan knew she needed to get her head back to the business at hand. I guess Shannon isn’t the only one being affected by this case.

“Peggy, have you heard anything about girls going missing?”

The redhead sipped her drink, thinking about the rumors she’d heard on the street. “Well, not about missing girls specifically, but there is something. Do you remember that couple up in Baltimore that was hooking out those little girls back in oh-six?”

“No.” she made a mental note to look up that case. “What about them?”

“Word has it they’re back, and in need of a full house. But this time they ain’t offering weed and condoms as incentive.”

“What’s the pull this time?”

“Ain’t no pull, Morgan.” Peggy became sad. “Those bastards are just taking girls off the street, drugging them up, and putting them to work in their house. Or throwing them on a boat in the harbor, sending them up north.”

“Nobody is reporting them missing?”

“Well, some of them was already hooking, so, they ain’t really missing, just had a forced change of location.”

Morgan wasn’t sure if there was a delicate way to ask her question, so she just came out with it. “Peggy, if the girls are hooking on the streets, isn’t working out of a house a lot better?”

“You are too cute for words, Morgan, but no. We ain’t talking about the Bunny Ranch, where everything is a nice clean partnership. We’re talking about girls doing as many Johns, in as many different ways as he paid for, until the pieces of shit that run the house says she can take a break.”

“Damn.”

“Damn, is right.”

“Do you know where they are keeping these girls, Peggy?”

“No, but if I was you I’d try the truck stop up on exit thirty-four. It’s always crawling with lot-jockeys in training. If you can figure out a way to get one of them away from their watcher long enough to talk to her, you might get lucky.”

This was encouraging news, and it fell right into Morgan’s plans. I guess it’s a good thing I’m about to start a sting. Now I know which truck stop to use to set up camp, Morgan thought.

“Thanks, Peggy. I owe you one.” Morgan put a ten-dollar bill on the table, in case Peggy wanted another drink, then she got up to leave.

“You wouldn’t owe me anything if you’d let me give you a freebie, Morgan.” She held up her hand to stop the response that was almost a mantra for the dark woman. “I know, I know. You’re a happily married woman.”

“That’s right,” was said with a loving smile.

Peggy sat and watched the striking woman leave, and sighed. “Wish I was somebody’s happily married.”

*******

Morgan drove to Smokey’s Truck Stop, off of exit thirty-four, and after pulling into a parking space, she saw why this location was used for training. Three sides of the lot had a huge white wall around it, forming a barrier. The only way in or out was to either climb over the twenty-foot high retaining wall, or walk out of the front entrance, which was impossible to do without being noticed. It was an easy place to keep watch on your girls, and ensure they couldn’t escape.

Morgan was about to get out and take a look around, but when she took inventory of her clothes, she realized that the dark, two-piece suit and black leather loafers would be a dead giveaway, announcing to everyone in the place that she was a cop. So she opted to sit in her car and observe the habits of the drivers.

There were several trucks parked along the back and side walls of the truck stop, some with the engines still in idle gear, others sitting silent and dark. After a couple of hours of observation, a pattern became obvious to Morgan. She began to notice the driver’s habits. A few of them would eat in the restaurant before leaving, others would pull into the lot, buy gas and a cup of coffee, then leave, then there were the drivers Morgan found the most interesting. The men that would park for a few hours, or the entire night. Some would use the time to rest, others would use the time for more lustful reasons. These were the drivers she paid the most attention to.

*******

“Shannon!”

Morgan knew she was getting home later than usual, but the time she had spent at the truck stop was worth it. Now she had a better understanding of what she needed to do. She smiled to herself. Being out there was so much more informative than reading a report.

“Shannon!”

The annoyed blonde appeared with a towel wrapped around her damp head, and a thick robe covering her body. Seeing the state of undress her wife was in, Morgan realized she had been in the shower.

“I’m right here! What are you bellowing about?”

Morgan moved into Shannon’s personal space, and kissed her soundly, hoping intimate act would get her out of hot water. When she felt fleece covered arms wrap themselves around her neck, she knew that she was forgiven.

“Mmm…you taste good,” Shannon moaned.

Morgan nipped at the pink lips. “So do you.”

Shannon stepped out of the embrace and tilted her head. “What’s up? And why are you late?”

The haze of desire immediately gave way to excitement. “Shannon, I’ve found the spot that I’m going to use to set up my operation.”

The huge smile and shinning eyes made Morgan look like a little girl, and it caused Shannon to smile in reflex. “That’s great news, sweetheart.”

“It sure is.”

“Is that why you’re late.”

“Yep, I went out there to check the place out.”

“So I’m guessing you liked what you saw?”

“I did. I watched long enough to see the trucker’s routine, and I think I’m going to set the operation to start next week.”

The dark woman’s enthusiasm was becoming contagious. “I’m so proud of you, sweetheart. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”

“Shannon, it was pretty amazing, I mean, once you know what you’re looking for it’s all very obvious, but until you see it for what it is, it looks like the drivers and their ride-along passengers are doing nothing more than settling in for a few hours rest.”

“So, what you saw makes you confident enough to start next week?”

“Yes, the things I witnessed gave me a better understand of what I’ve been reading.”

“If you’re going to start next week, I guess that means you have decided who you want on your team?”

Morgan blushed a little. “Yeah, it came to me today while I watched those guys. I’m going to ask the Captain to let be borrow Jim for a few weeks.

When Shannon looked like she was about to protest, Morgan held up her hand. “Hear me out.”

Shannon made herself comfortable on the sofa, and pulled Morgan down beside her. “I’m listening.

“Okay, I want you to get a mental picture of Jim.”

Shannon closed her eyes, and once the picture was formed, she nodded her head.

“Now, slap a John Deer cap on his head, and a flannel shirt and blue jeans on his body. You can’t tell me that big ol’ lumberjack couldn’t pass for a trucker.”

Shannon’s eyes flew open, and the next several minutes were spent with both women trying to recover from several bouts of laughter. Once the tears had been wiped away, and the stomach cramps had eased, Shannon agreed with her wife.

“I can see your point, but if you ever tell Jim I agreed with you, you and your right hand will become very intimate friends, for a long, long time.”

“You would hold out on me?”

“In a heartbeat.”

“Fine, my lips are sealed.”

Shannon kissed Morgan on the lips, and ran her tongue across the seam. “Don’t seal them too tight. I might need them to report for duty later.”

“Why wait for later? Now is really good time,” Morgan murmured into the warm neck she had buried her face in. She started running her hands up Shannon’s sides, with every intention of loosening the belt that was holding her robe closed, and making contact with the smooth, silky skin she knew was waiting there.

“Because, I have things to do,” Shannon said in a breathless voice.

Morgan’s hand eventually found it’s way into Shannon’s robe, and the way the large hand was caressing the soft skin of her belly was reeking havoc with her senses.

“You don’t sound like there is something you’d rather be doing,” was whispered into a rapidly blushing ear.

When no other protests were made, Morgan let her hand slip further down Shannon’s body until she reached blonde curls that were damp from a reason not related to bathing.

“Open your legs for me, baby.”

Shannon’s thighs parted so quickly that Morgan almost laughed.

Long fingers moved in and slowly separated the moist lips they encountered. When she felt the hardness of Shannon’s swollen nub, she began to circle it. That’s when Shannon turned her face into Morgan’s throat and started rocking her hips.

“You like that, don’t you, baby?”

Shannon just nodded her head, and began to pant.

“You want me to go inside?”

There was no answer, but Shannon’s legs did spread wider apart.

Morgan wasn’t interested in teasing her spouse, she was still fully dressed, and they were making out on the sofa. This was what she considered a quickie, so she didn’t waste any time. Her long fingers slipped inside the waiting entrance, and her thumb pressed down on the engorged clit, sending Shannon’s hips off of the sofa.

A strong grip was felt on Morgan’s wrist, holding her in place, as Shannon attached her lips to Morgan’s neck, sucking so hard she knew she was leaving a mark. When the rhythm picked up Morgan knew that it wouldn’t be long.

“Come for me, baby.”

Almost immediately Morgan felt the muscles surrounding her fingers tighten, and guttural noises began coming from Shannon’s throat as she pumped harder on the long fingers imbedded inside of her.

When Morgan’s hand filled with her wife’s passion, she experience a mini orgasm of her own. Finally, when she felt the hold on her wrist loosen, she slowly removed her fingers and raised them to her mouth, and began to slowly lick them clean. She felt great satisfaction as Shannon’s eyes began to darken while she watched.

“You’re an evil woman,” Shannon choked out.

“But you love me any way,” was whispered back.

Without saying anything, Shannon stood up, and pulled Morgan with her.

“Where are we going,” the bewildered detective asked.

“I need another shower. I was hoping you would wash my back.”

Clothes started flying in every direction as the eager to accommodate detective followed her wife down the hallway.

“Just call me Sponge Bob,” was said as long fingers wiggled, and a lascivious grin appeared.
Chapter Fifteen
Kathy remained silent as she watched her friend being led into the living room. Ginny looked thin, haggard, and slightly bruised, but on the up side, she was wearing clean clothes and appeared to be freshly bathed. When Ginny saw her friend she almost voiced her excitement, but Kathy gave a slight shake of the head, signaling Ginny to stay quiet.

Now I can’t even say hello to my friend? This is like being in jail, she mentally complained.

She had finally stopped crying and whining for her freedom and her mother, but the girl still needed discipline in other areas. Today she was going to be sent to the truck stop, and there, maybe she would learn that there could be an easier side to things. A side where she didn’t have to be forced to submit. A side where, if she just did her job without complaints she would have more freedom.

Tammy entered the room and Ginny’s anger began to boil at the sight of the woman who had played a part in her abduction. She opened her mouth, prepared to verbally rip the woman a new one, when she felt a tug on her arm.

“Will you calm the fuck down,” Kathy whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

“But it’s her fault we’re here.” The girl hadn’t been out of the basement for five minutes, and was already falling back into her annoying habit of whining.

“It you want to see the sun you’d better shut up until we get to where we’re going,” Kathy warned.

Ginny craved the outdoors. The days she had spent in the dark had been a nightmare, so the promise of daylight was enough incentive to make her keep her mouth shut…for now

*******

Tammy was passing out condoms and giving instructions. Now that she was at the truck stop Ginny was getting anxious about what she was expected to do. When their watcher was out of earshot Ginny turned to her friend.

“I don’t think I can do this, Kathy.”

Kathy gritted her teeth and spoke harshly. “I don’t have time for this shit, Ginny.” Kathy lit up a joint and pulled in a lung full of smoke. “Now, you can either take a few hits of this, and do what we have to do, or you can take your ass back to the basement.”

Her limit had been reached. As far as Kathy was concerned Ginny’s head was as thick as a brick, and her memory as short as a goldfish. If the way she was acting was any indication, no one would think she had spent the last few of weeks locked away in the dark being brutalized.

“What did I do to you?” Ginny whined, hurt that her friend was being so hard with her.

“Look around you, Ginny. This ain’t Disneyworld. We are in some serious shit here, I don’t have the energy to baby you. It’s hard enough for me to hold myself up, I can’t carry you too. ”

The anger soared, and Ginny was practically spitting. “You don’t think I fucking know that?! I’m not asking you to carry me, all I was looking for was a little understanding.”

“What do you want me to understand, Ginny? Do you want me to rub your back and tell you how hard this must be for you? Well, fuck that. It’s hard for everybody.”

Ginny was becoming more irritated. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?!” she yelled.

Kathy just stared at the screaming girl. There was still a faint bruise on her face from the punch she had received three weeks before, so the older girl had a very good idea of what Kathy had been through, but she felt like the girl had brought most of it on herself. All that attitude she was giving, she got back in spades.

“Yeah, I know what you’ve been through, Ginny, and if you don’t get your ass in gear you’re gonna go through it again.”

“Bitch,” Ginny sneered.

“Cunt,” Kathy returned.

The standoff was broken when Tammy ordered them into the tractor trailer that was used for communication. “Come on, you tricks, get your asses in the truck. There’s money to be made.”

The teenage girls glared at each other, but followed the older woman’s order.

*******
After two hours of going out on dates everyone heard a piercing scream echoing through the truck stop, and Kathy’s heart began to pound. Something inside of her was saying that the sound of agony had something to do with Ginny.

If any of that stupid bitch’s stink rubs off on me I’ll black her other eye, was Kathy’s thought as she joined the others running toward the truck that Ginny had been sent to.

When they got close enough to see one of the drivers stagger out of his truck holding his crotch. Tammy didn’t waste any time. Trying to figure out who did what and why would have to wait until later. All she knew was that someone from her house had caused injury, and they had to get out of there. She quickly rounded up her girls, and headed back to the house.

When she had her hands on Ginny she cuffed the girl in the back of the head. Whatever she had done was going to force them to change locations, and not only that, it was going to cut into profits for a while. Word would get around that there was a crazy lot-jockey on the loose, and the truckers would become a little more cautious, and spending a lot less cash.

The girl would pay…she would pay dearly.
Chapter Sixteen
“So, this one begs me to leave the safe clean environment of my office to come out and suffer through weeks of sitting in a hot musty truck, picking up hot musty women.”

The women at the table laughed.

Maureen had prepared a light supper of cold cuts and crudités, and invited the girls over to help her and Jim eat the platters of food. Shannon and Morgan had readily accepted the invite, relieved that they wouldn’t need to figure a dinner menu for themselves.

At the last minute Maureen decided to included Rita in the gathering. There was a veil loneliness that surrounded the woman. Not a full-on dark cloud of misery, but there was enough grayness floating around her to cause Maureen to want to include her. Looking at her now, the joy radiating from her gray eyes, she knew she had made the right decision.

“Now, we’re three weeks into it, and this one,” Jim points to Morgan. “Hasn’t made one arrest.”

“It hasn’t felt right yet,” Morgan defended.

“Well, it better feel right soon, ‘cause if girls keep coming to that truck and getting turned down, our cover is gonna be blown.”

“I know, I know, but you saw it just like I did. None of the girls were going to give up any information…they were too afraid.”

“I agree, but we need to make an arrest soon, or move to a different location. We’ve already rotated through four different trucks…twice. And how many times can I say the girl isn’t my type? Come on, Morgan, I’m supposed to be a trucker. They could be toothless and still be my type.”

Again, the women seated around the table laughed.

Rita looked at Morgan, and got her attention. “Do you enjoy your job, Morgan?”

“Yes. Yes I do, but I must admit, this is new for me.”

A raised brow. “Oh? I thought you had been in law enforcement for a number of years.”

“I have. What I mean is, working this kind of case is new for me.”

“Really? What is it that you usually do?”

Jim sat silently watching the exchange between his neighbor and Morgan. Each word that came out of Morgan’s mouth, the woman practically ate with a spoon. Strange, he thought.

“I work in the cold case unit.”

“And you like that better?”

“I thought I did,” she answered with a question hanging on the end.

Jim was amazed. Morgan loved the puzzling together of the cold cases she worked on. “You thinking about a change, Morgan?”

A shrugged shoulder. “I don’t know…maybe.”

“What makes the type of investigating you’re doing now, interesting to you?” Rita asked.

“I…I guess it’s the humanity of it…or, should I say the inhumanity of it.” She looked Rita in the eyes, and held the older woman there for a few long beats. “I wasn’t happy when my Captain gave me that missing girl’s case. I was even less happy when I had to work with the task force,” she rolled her eyes. “And when I was told I had to head up a sting, you could have fried an egg on top of my head, I was so angry. But the last three weeks that I’ve spent doing this, it’s been eye-opening and very painful. The way these girls have been thrown away, it’s awful…and I think I want to do something about it.”

Rita looked like she was about to say something, but Shannon spoke up before she could voice her opinion.

“It makes you wonder what kind of mother these poor girls had. I mean, where were they when their daughter’s needed them?”

Feeling defensive, Rita addressed Shannon. “Didn’t you say that your mother was an alcoholic, and unavailable to you and your brother? But, I don’t see you out on the streets prostituting yourself because mommy wasn’t there…mothers aren’t always the blame for a child’s shortcomings, or the reason for their successes.”

Shannon looked as if she had been slapped in the face. The comment was totally unexpected, catching her off guard and sending a sharp pain through her chest.

Morgan saw the subtle changes in her spouse’s face and knew Rita had hit a sore spot. “You just crossed a line, Rita,” she said in a tight voice.

Rita flinched from the look in ice blue eyes. “I…I’m sorry. I meant no harm.”

Shannon reached over and squeezed Morgan’s hand, hoping the contact would calm her down, but the gentle touch only served to make the woman more determined to defend her mate.

“Where do you get off throwing Shannon’s mother in her face. You have no idea what that harpy’s lack of participation did to her. You don’t think mothers should be held responsible when they do crappy things to their children?”

“I…I didn’t say that, Morgan.”

The detective couldn’t hear the regretful woman over the sound of her pounding heartbeat.

“You should be there on the nights that Shannon can’t sleep because the nightmares are too vivid…she doesn’t deserve that. You should get a look inside my head on the days when I’m tormented, wondering why my mother left me with a father who’s love for me was both, precious and revolting at the same time. It was very confusing trying to decide whether to love him or hate him, so, in the end I chose to stay away from him. You know what else, Rita? I have two brothers that I never ever speak to. You know why?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Because they are poison. As uncouth as my father is, my brothers are worse. At least my dad has an idea of what love is. But Kevin and Philip? I wouldn’t let them near a puppy, I would be too afraid they would kick it for fun.”

Rita was cringing now. She had no idea she had stumbled into an emotional minefield this littered with debris.

“So, please don’t talk to me about when a mother should or shouldn’t be held accountable for what goes wrong in a child’s life, because sometimes, it doesn’t manifest itself in drug addiction or prostitution. Sometimes the scars are emotional…and they run deep.”

Everyone at the table sat frozen. Rita’s eyes glistening with unshed tears. The speech had been totally unexpected and shocking to everyone, especially to Morgan.

“I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” Rita stopped talking, too choked up to continue. She quickly jumped up from her seat, and went running out of the front door before anyone could stop her.

“That went well,” Jim deadpanned.

“I’m sorry, Maureen. I didn’t mean to run your guest away,” Morgan apologized.

Maureen waved her hand in the air. “It’ll be fine.” She looked at the two young women that she loved like they were her own daughters. “How are the two of you doing?”

“I’m fine,” Shannon answered. “My hero jumped in.” She ran her hand over Morgan’s warm, red cheek. “How are you?”

“I…I’m okay.” She took Shannon’s hand and pulled it to her lips for a soft kiss. “I don’t know what came over me, but I think I owe Rita an apology.”

Jim piped in. “I wouldn’t worry about it. She looks like a tough old bird, I’m sure she can handle it.”

Maureen gave her husband a reprimanding look. Jim held up two big hands. “Hey, I’m just saying.”

Shannon was still concentrating on her spouse. “I didn’t know you felt that strongly about your family. You’ve got to stop keeping it all. You know I’m here for you.”

“I know, sweetheart, but you’ve got your own stuff to deal with.” Morgan got a curious look on her face. “Besides, I don’t usually keep stuff in. What I’m saying is, the issues with my family are not constantly on my mind, but there was something about the way she said mothers aren’t responsible for things, well…it kinda rubbed me the wrong way.”

Maureen stood up and went to the refrigerator. She pulled out four beers and four glasses. After setting them down on the table she bent her head in Shannon and Morgan’s direction.

“I know you girls don’t usually drink, but the recent display of high emotions has left me in need of something a little stronger than papaya juice.

“You’re getting no complaints from me,” Morgan said as she twisted the cap off the bottle she was given and poured the beer into a glass.

“Me either,” Shannon echoed.

Jim bypassed the glass and drank his beer straight from the bottle. Enjoying the crisp cold flavor.

“I’ll be glad when Brian gets here,” he said, rolling the bottle across his forehead. “Because hanging out with women all of the time is starting to make me feel peri-menopausal.”

The three women stared at him for a beat, then they broke out in laughter.

“Maureen, did you teach him that term?” Shannon asked through tears.

The older woman was wiping her eyes. “I don’t know where he picks this stuff up from. Maybe he’s been watching Oprah reruns.”

“What?” Jim asked. “It’s true. I get hot flashes and everything.”

The laughter continued.

Jim ignored them, and stood up to get another beer.

“Women,” he said under his breath.
Chapter Seventeen
Morgan was getting dressed for her weekly task force meeting, mumbling under her breath as she slipped on her black leather loafers. Practicing her opening speech was turning into a pain in the butt.

Shannon walked in and sat on the bed beside her spouse. “What are you in here fussing about?” she asked as she reached over to straighten the detective’s collar.

Morgan tilted her head back giving Shannon the room she needed to finish the job. “Oh, I’m just trying to decide if I’m gonna open with, good morning, buttheads, or kiss my ass, dip-sticks. Considering they think this entire operation is a waste of time, and have sent me out to run around in circles chasing my tail, I think one or the other would be appropriate.”

“I wouldn’t go with either one of those, sweetheart.” Shannon brushed imaginary dust from the shoulder of her wife’s dark suit and stood between her legs. “How about, good morning, I’m only going to take up a few minutes of your time…yada, yada, yada.”

Morgan rested her hands on Shannon’s hips, and softened her features. “What about…good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about the love of my life.”

Shannon leaned down and gave Morgan a deep kiss. “You’re a real sweet talker, Morgan McCray.”

Morgan pulled Shannon closer and rested her head on the standing woman’s breast. “Sweet has nothing to do with it. I love you, and those words aren’t big enough to express how feel about you, Shannon.”

Morgan seemed unusually vulnerable, and Shannon wanted to know why. Soft hands ran through dark locks, offering comfort. “This isn’t about the task force meeting is it?”

The dark head shook in the negative.

“Is this is about the phone call last night?”

The dark head nodded.

“You can change your mind, love. You don’t have to go and see your father if you don’t want to.”

“I know,” came the muffled response.

“Are you sure about this, sweetheart?” Shannon was feeling her lover’s unease, and it was making her feel a little anxious too.

Morgan raised her head and ran her fingers down Shannon’s cheek. “Yes, love.”

“But…are you going to be okay? He won’t hurt you will he?”

Morgan chuckled good-naturedly, realizing she had transferred her feelings of uncertainty. “I know I’m acting like a big baby, but he is my father, so, no, he is not going to hurt me.” At least not physically, she thought.

“I could come with you.”

“I’ll be fine, baby. I promise.”

“Well, if you’re sure…but if you need me, call me. I’ll be there before you can hang up the phone.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“I know I’m being silly, but in the ten years that I’ve known you your father has never called, come over for a visit, or sent you a card or a letter. It just makes me wonder what he has up his sleeve?”

“Me too. That’s why I’m going. Something made him want to see me. I have to find out what it is.”

“You be extra careful, sweetheart. You know the saying, curiosity killed the cat. Don’t get too inquisitive.”

“That is true, but remember the rest of it. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.”

Shannon laughed and checked the time. “Well, it’s almost eight-thirty and I need to get out of here.” She kissed Morgan one last time. “You call me if you need me, baby, and I’ll drop whatever it is I’m doing and come running.”

Morgan looked deep into Shannon’s eyes and swam there for a few precious moments. “I know she whispered.”

*******

Her meeting was over, and now, she was headed for her father’s house to meet with a man she felt like she no longer knew. As she drove along her mind flooded with memories. Memories of better days…

“Higher, daddy, push me higher,” the little dark-haired girl requested as her glossy braids blew back behind her, caught in the wind, while her two front missing teeth let the breeze enter her mouth as her father pushed her higher in the park swings.

“I can’t push you too high, Morgan, I don’t want you to fall out of the swing.”

“I won’t, daddy. I’ll be real careful and hold on tight,” the six-year-old reassured her father.

“My girl is tough, huh?”

The swing flew higher, and the little girl giggled. “Yep, I’m tough, just like you, daddy,” she yelled as she swung back waiting for the tall man to push her again.

“So, you want to be like your dad?”

“Yep, just like you, daddy,” the conversation continued as the swing soared. “I even look like you,” she beamed as she flew by.

The dark-haired man smiled wide. “That’s right, Morgan. You’re my tough little twin.”

“Yeah, that’s me,” Morgan said back in the present. “Michael McCray’s tough twin.”

She pulled her car in front of a house she hadn’t visited for twelve years, and sat there. She wasn’t ready to see him…not yet. Old memories were still fresh in her head, and she was chasing them around. When did it happen? She wondered. When did he stop being my daddy? Another memory came to her, one that took place years after the park swing.

“I’m not gonna do it, dad, so stop asking.”

“Come on, Morgan. Why not?”

The sixteen-year-old looked at her father like he was crazy. “Duh, because it’s illegal?”

The tall man shrugged his shoulders. “So what. Anybody that’s ever gotten anywhere in this would did something crooked to get there.”

Morgan rolled her eyes. “You’re pathetic if you believe that.”

“Then I guess I’m pathetic…and so are your brothers.”

Morgan threw her hands into the air. “Don’t bring those degenerates up to me.”

“Fine,” Michael McCray said. “But I still need you to do that thing for me.”

She looked at the man for long moments, trying to figure him out. “You seriously want me to break into the high school and steal the computers?”

“Yeah, it would be a nice little job to break you in on. I’ll even let you keep the money we make off of the sale.”

Morgan turned her nose up in a sneer. “You disgust me.”

She turned and walked away, deciding then and there that as soon as she was old enough she would leave to be on her own. She walked away from her father with determined steps, and never looked back.

“Oh, yeah, now I remember when he stopped being daddy.” Morgan said. “It was when he tried to become my crime boss.”

It wasn’t the first time he had tried to talk her into doing something illegal, and it wasn’t the last, but it was the day she decided to separate herself from her father, and become her own person.

Morgan eventually got out of the parked car and started a slow trail up the sidewalk. She looked around at the freshly cut lawn, the colorful flowerbed, and the shiny new car in the driveway. To the outside world it all looked so…normal.

“What a croc,” she said under her breath, before climbing the steps onto the porch, before slamming down the doorknocker with enough force to be heard all the way in the backyard.

When the door opened, there in front of her stood her father, and much to her disappointment the old thug looked just as handsome as ever. A few gray hairs were liberally sprinkled in his formally dark head, a little more than there were when she saw him a year and a half ago. His body was in great shape, all muscular and broad and he still sported what she referred to as his porno mustache, but other than the mustache, Michael McCray still struck an impressive figure.

She saw him move to pull her into an embrace, but when her body visibly stiffened he changed direction and stepped aside inviting her in instead.

“Well, the prodigal daughter returns, come on in.”

“I’m not returning, I’m here at your request,” she said with a clip to her voice.

“Damn, Morgan don’t it make your head hurt to stay so pissed for so long. Shit you ain’t been home in twelve years, don’t you feel nothing being here?”

Blue eyes scanned the room she walked into and was shocked to see a few things from her childhood still on display on the bookshelf. A medal won for track and field, a woodcarving made in art class. Michael watched as his daughter made her way over to the huge wall unit and picked up a gold frame that held the first award she’d ever received. It was a science award that she’d been given when she was seven years-old, and logged the progress of a potato taking root in a cup. She ran the tip of her finger across the top of it and then traced her name.

Seeing how she responded to the aged prize he smiled behind her back. Kevin was right, that old piece of crap was a sweet touch, he thought. That boy is a chip off the old block, he beamed.

“See? We still think about you around here. We miss seeing you, you should come over for a visit sometime.”

Morgan returned the frame to the shelf, but didn’t face the man. “It’s not like I haven’t seen you guys in twelve years. I just haven’t been in this house for twelve years.”

Michael shrugged his shoulders. “That’s out in the street, it ain’t the same thing.”

Morgan felt her hackles begin to rise, this smelled like a setup. Morgan turned to face her father. “What’s the game, dad? Why am I here?”

The tall man placed his hands over his heart. “Now I’m hurt. Maybe I just wanted to see my baby girl.” Even as he said it Michael knew that Morgan wasn’t going to fall for the we are family act. His other son, Philip, had warned him about that tactic.

“Dad, Morgan’s been working with the State Police for the past twelve years. She ain’t gonna fall for that sappy shit. Especially from you, you always lay it on too thick. A blind man could see the scam coming.”

I guess the boy was right, so Michael decided to cut to the chase. “Okay, here goes. I here you’ve moved up in the world, that you’re now on the human trafficking task force.”

“Aaand.” Morgan stretched it out, sounding impatient.” She didn’t want him to see how much the question bothered her. The fact that he knew anything about her job raised her defenses.

“And I was wondering how that was working out for you. You know, what kinda stuff they got you working on.”

Blue eyes closed in despair. None of their past conversations had ever revolved around her job, why now? And why this particular aspect of it? She knew her father was a crook, but his endeavors had always been somewhat petty. She was hoping beyond hope that he wasn’t involved in something as seedy as the flesh trade.

When she opened her eyes again she pinned irises that were just as blue as her own. “Why are you asking, dad? Are you involved with kidnapping little girls and forcing them to sell their bodies out on the street?” she asked in a light, teasing manner, trying to make it sound like she knew that it was furthest thing from the truth.

Michael gave a nervous laugh and held his hands up in front of him as he took a step back. “Hey, don’t even joke about shit like that. No, I ain’t into whores. I’m just asking for an associate of mine, kinda as a favor.”

“Who are you to be doing favors? Especially favors that I have to deliver on. I don’t owe you that.”

“Is that what you think, Miss High and Mighty?” His daughter’s superior attitude was really starting to bug him. “You think you did this all by yourself, Morgan?” her sneered.

“Yes I do,” she answered with conviction, but deep down inside she wasn’t so sure. Her father never used that tone unless he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Michael let out a short barking laugh. “Really? Are you telling me you never wondered how the daughter of a known criminal could so easily become a member of the police force? Not just any police force, but the State Police Troopers.”

Morgan’s face paled, and a knot formed in her gut. “No. I never wondered. ”

She knew she was lying. Over the years there had been a few occasions when she had wondered how she’d slipped through the cracks.

“You’re lying, I can see it in your eyes,” he shook his head back and forth. “Always those eyes.” Now he stared at her. “It was the honesty in those eyes that told me you could never be a part of the family business,” he snorted. “You’ve always been a terrible bluffer. I remember when you were eighteen, and stormed in here all defiant about becoming a State Police Cadet. I admit, my first instinct was to put my foot down and tell you that wasn’t going to happen, that you were going to open a hair salon, or a nail shop. But I knew you would never let me run money through one of your businesses, so I just brushed it off as a passing faze and didn’t give you any grief. But when, two years later, you signed up to become a trooper, I knew you were serious. I mean it’s one thing to be a cadet working at truck inspection stations, it’s a whole other thing to be a trooper out in the field. I knew you would need some help”

Morgan’s mind was in a windstorm. She remembered with vivid clarity the day she had come home all full of anger and attitude, announcing her plans to become a cadet. She had applied the year before, and when she became of age she was accepted. The starting salary, although minimal, was enough for her to get a cheap apartment, and claim her independence from her father and his dirty deals. But, how did he know when she changed over to trooper training?

Michael watched his daughter, and could see the wheels turning as every thought passed through her eyes. He knew she could be naïve, but to think that just because she had left his home meant that he wouldn’t keep tabs on what was happening in her life was just…stupid.

Now he could see the next part of her process taking hold. The part of her mind that had always been extremely adept at solving puzzles, it was now doing some serious work. That thing inside of her that had always compelled her to figure things out was one of the reasons she was so successful as a cold case detective. The woman wouldn’t let things go until she had explored every angle of it. But, Michael didn’t have the time it would take to see the mental process through to it’s completion, so he interrupted her train of thought, and finished his story.

“When I realized that this was really going to be your career path I knew I needed to do something before you took that next step.” He looked at his daughter with a bit of mischief in his eyes. “You see, by then our interests had expanded into other areas, and I knew another background check would create a few problems for you. So, I went down to the cop shop to pay the Major a little visit…and a lot of money.”

Morgan couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Major Daniels had long since retired, but she’d always thought the old man to be an honest cop. She looked at her father with disbelief.

Misreading the look as stunned gratitude, Michael held up a hand. “Now, don’t get all sentimental on me. What I did, I did mostly for me. I figured one day it would benefit me to have my kid in a position to give me a little help when I needed it…today is that day, Morgan.”

What a putz, she thought. Only my idiot father would think that was a look of appreciation. She was done with this. It was a mistake to come in the first place. She turned away with every intention of leaving the house and never returning. “I don’t owe you a thing.”

Her progress was stopped when her father reached out and grabbed her by the arm. “You’re gonna help me, Morgan.”

She snatched her arm away from the man. “No I’m not, and there’s nothing you can say, or do to make me change my mind.”

Before the words were fully out of her mouth the image of golden sunshine and spring grass beat through her heart and carried to her eyes, causing a quick shifting of her blue orbs, and that told him another story, there was something he could do.

“Ah, ah, ah, Morgan,” he wagged his finger in front of her face. “You’re lying. There is something I can do. It’s something that you fear so deeply that it reveals itself every time you think about it.” He cocked his head to the side. “You’re thinking about it right now…aren’t you?”

Morgan just stared at him until she realized who she had just been thinking about. The person she swore she would never let anything happen to. The person she loved above all others. “Are you threatening my wife?”

Michael snorted. “Wife? Give me a break. At best you have a bed-warmer.” He waved his hands over his head indicating the nonsense of it all. “Yeah, yeah. I know the laws have changed, but people’s minds haven’t. Trust me. You have a bed-warmer. A nicely packaged bed-warmer, but a bed-warmer just the same.
Listen to me, Morgan, short blondes are a dime a dozen. You wouldn’t even miss her once she’s gone.

Hell, I’ll get you one custom picked, or maybe you’d prefer one who has had enough of men. You know the type of woman I’m talking about. The kind that can’t handle what a real man has to offer. The kind that only wants to spend her nights cuddling, and talking about her feelings instead of doing what she was built to do. If that is the case I can get you one of your brother’s castoffs.”

Morgan didn’t know how, or when it happened. All she knew was that one second her father was threatening Shannon, and the next she had pushed him against the wall, and had the barrel of her gun pressed into the soft pallet of his chin. How he knew about Shannon didn’t matter. It was obvious that the man had his sources. All that mattered to her was the veiled threat.

“You go anywhere near her, dad, and I’ll fucking end you.” Here, she didn’t mince words. “I will kill every last one of you. I’ll start with Kevin, then Philip. And after you’ve watched your precious sons die…I’ll come for you. And when I have you, dad, I’ll take my time and make it last. Then I’ll take your bodies to some way-off remote place, and dig a grave so deep in the ground that it will take a construction project to find you.” She moved in closer and pressed the muzzle of the gun a little tighter to that soft spot behind his chin. She wanted to make sure that when he swallowed he had to do it around a lump of metal. “Look into my eyes, dad…am I lying?”

The truth of her threat shone bright in her eyes. He could almost see each detail as she carried out her plan. It was as plain as the gun in his throat. She would in deed kill them if anything happened to the blonde.

“No, no, I don’t think you are lying. I can see that you are very serious.” When the gun didn’t move, Michael tried to lighten the mood. “Hey, come on now, calm down, kiddo. You called my bluff, now put the gun away.”

The weapon was slowly returned to it’s holster, and Morgan didn’t speak another word. And this time when she turned to leave, her father didn’t try to stop her.

When he was sure his daughter was gone, Michael slumped against the door and rubbed the sore spot in his throat. “I guess Blondie is more than a bed-warmer.” He shrugged his shoulders. “So much for using her as leverage. Guess I’ll have to think of something else.”

He quickly straightened himself out and headed for the back of the house, whistling a peppy little tune as he moved along.

“Damn, that girl’s a badass. I guess she’s got more of me in her than she wants to admit,” he said with pride.

*******

Morgan got as far away from her father’s house as she could, before giving in to the need to pull over. She stopped her car and turned it off, then she sat, watching as the tremors in her hands rattled the steering wheel. But, it wasn’t the shakes that were bothering her. She was having a problem with how she was feeling, and she was feeling frighteningly justified in her treatment of her father.

When she realized that his intentions were to harm Shannon if he found it necessary, she saw red. The thought of her family harming her tender spouse in any way filled her with such fury that she knew if they were to ever harm a hair on Shannon’s head the revenge she sought would be all wrath. Blood lust driven, murderous, life ending wrath. Just thinking about it now made a ball of anger form in her gut.

“Get yourself together, Morgan. You don’t want Shannon to see you like this,” she had to tell herself.

She pulled in a few deep breaths, and slowly released them. With each exhale she could feel the rage losing it’s hold on her, and the knot in her belly began to unwind.

When she was sure she could face her spouse without bringing her anger into the conversation, she started the car and pulled back onto the road. After a few miles she began to feel better and started to whistle a peppy little tune.

“Boy, when I get home I have a story to tell you, babe.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I can hear it now. Morgan, how did it go?” she mimicked Shannon’s voice.

“Oh, just peachy, Shannon, except for the part where I threatened to murder my father and brothers.”

She made a left turn through the intersection. “Yep…just peachy.”
Chapter Eighteen
Ever since the day she had run out of Maureen’s house, Rita Shaw wanted desperately to lift the burdens of her life off of her shoulders. She’d called Maureen and asked if she could come over and talk, now she was sitting on the sofa in her living room, dressed, but unable to make herself get up and go.

The step she was about to take could create ripples that would be far-reaching, but she felt like it was something that she needed to do. She wanted Maureen to be a friend, a true friend, and in order for that to happen Rita would have to reveal a few hidden truths and stop acting like some kind of lunatic.

She sat for a few more moments before finally standing up and exhaling, preparing herself to go and meet her destiny. She opened the front door and headed out into the sunshine.

“Get a move on, old girl, it’s time to pay the piper.”

*******

When the knock sounded, Maureen opened the door to a nervous and timid looking Rita. “Come on in. I’ve set out some tea and cake for us.”

Rita followed Maureen into the kitchen, and took a seat at the table while Maureen brought over the teapot and cake plate. Cups and plates were distributed, and once the women were settled in, Maureen spoke.

“What’s on your mind, Rita?” She still wasn’t sure how she felt about the woman after she’d hurt Shannon’s feelings.

“First off, I want to apologize for causing a scene the other day. That behavior is out of character for me. I…I’m not usually that volatile.”

Maureen watched the woman and she could tell from her body language that she was genuinely sorry. “What happened, Rita? Why did you bring up Shannon’s mother? Especially after you heard about how the woman had treated the child?”

Instead of answering right a way, gray eyes looked at Maureen, pleading. “I need to get something off of my chest, Maureen. It’s a secret I’ve carried around for a very long time, and it might help you to understand my reaction. I didn’t mean to…to…”

Maureen could see that the woman was about to rattle apart, so she reached across the table and place a comforting hand over the one that had a slight tremor.

“You can talk to me, Rita. You can trust me.” She didn’t know why she had said that, but it seemed like it was what Rita needed to hear.

“I…I don’t know, Maureen, Jim being in law enforcement…I just don’t know.”

That was unexpected. “Have you done something illegal?”

“No, nothing illegal, just something immoral.”

“Okay, you’ve got to explain that. Last time I checked immorality wasn’t punishable by law, so Jim shouldn’t scare you.”

This made Rita smile. “No it isn’t, but in my case, maybe it should be.”

“Talk to me, Rita. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got time.”

Seeing that Maureen was ready to listen, Rita Shaw settled in with her teacup and cake plate, and began to tell her story.

“When I was seventeen years-old I met this fast talking, eighteen year-old, menace to society. And from the first moment I laid eyes on him I knew that I was going to have to think of a way to convince my parents he wasn’t bad news…because I wanted him.

For our first date, he came to pick me up in a brand new, cherry red, nineteen-seventy-two GTO hardtop with honeycomb wheels, and Strato bucket seats.” The slight twitching of Maureen’s lip made Rita smile. “Don’t laugh, Maureen. I learned to really love that car. We had quite a few adventures in it. Anyway, he pulled up in front of my parent’s house and I was waiting for him on the porch. I watched in silent awe as his long body unfolded from the sports car, and I thought, this dark, mysterious creature was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and in that moment I lost my heart.

For months he courted me in the sweetest of ways. He would buy me bouquets of flowers, and boxes of candy, and even though he wasn’t the most educated young man, he would write romantic love poems in the cards he would give me. It was all so magical. He would pick me up, and we would go to the drive-in movie, or hang out with a few of his friends and their girls.

When my father finally took notice of the fancy car and flashy clothes, he asked me what a teenage boy could be doing for a living to be paid so well. I told him he was a union carpenter apprentice. But that was a lie. The young man I had fallen in love with was a petty criminal. He stole cars, broke into stores and stole electronics, you name it, if it wasn’t nailed down, he stole it.

“Why did you continue to see him?”

Rita looked at Maureen like the answer should be obvious. “Because I loved him, and I justified his actions by telling myself the things he did wasn’t really hurting anyone. Eventually, after we’d been dating for a couple of years, he asked me to marry him…naturally I said yes.”

“Naturally,” Maureen echoed.

Things were going pretty good, he was a great provider, and after our first year of marriage I found out I was pregnant. As the years went by our family grew, and by the time I was thirty, I lived in a big house, drove a new car and had three beautiful children. My oldest boy was ten, my youngest son was eight, and my baby girl was four.

I loved them with everything that was in me, but I was losing control of my sons. Their father wanted them to be just like him, and I knew I couldn’t let that happen. For a solid year I had begged and pleaded with him to let the children be…but he refused.”

Rita became introspective. “It was the oddest thing to witness. He loved his children very much, but he didn’t seem to have any concept of how he was corrupting their lives…but I did, so, I told him if he continued to try and turn my children into criminals I would turn him in, and disappear with the kids.”

Maureen made a sound in her throat like a person would make when they wanted to warn the person on the movie screen not to look behind the door.

“I guess you see my error?” Rita asked with remorse.

Maureen nodded her head. “Oh, yeah.”

“Well, I was too stupid to see it for myself. He grabbed me around my throat and slammed me against the wall. Up until that day, he had never laid a hand on me. He held me there, eyes blazing, and he told me if I ever turned him in to the police, or tried to take his children for him he would kill me.”

“Did you believe him?”

“Most definitely. All you ever had to do was look in his eyes, they always verified the truth of his words. He most definitely would have killed me, but just as another threat was about to be delivered, our daughter came in, dragging behind her this fat little stuffed bear that I had bought for her, and my husband released me. As unpredictable as he was, for reasons known only to him, his entire demeanor always soften when our daughter was near. He picked her up, and she wrapped her little arms around his neck, peppering his face with kisses.”

“It sounds like he loved her very much.’

“He did, and so did I, and as I watched them, I think he saw in my eyes what I would do if I ever got the chance. And in an instant, he made a decision that changed all of our lives.”

“What did he do?” Maureen was intrigued, never did she suspect that her neighbor had such a cloak-and-dagger past. Rita Shaw presented herself as an elegant, bridge-playing, tea drinking, widow, but the things that she was telling Maureen didn’t fit that picture.

“He changed his mind.”

“Oh, my god. He tried to kill you?”

“No, but he promised that he would if I didn’t leave, and never come back.”

“What did you do?”

Rita laughed without humor. “I left and never went back.”

“B…but what about your children?”

“And that is where the immoral act comes in. I knew he would kill me. When he was holding our daughter, he saw the truth of what I would do, given the opportunity…he knew that I would take her. And when our eyes met I knew I would be a dead woman if I stayed. There was absolutely no way he was going to keep a constant eye on me when it would be much easier just to get me out of the way. So, I left and tried to think of ways to get to my children. But when a man lives the kind of life that my husband did, there were eyes everywhere. I remember once, going to the school to see my youngest son on the playground, but before I could get close to the fence, I was approach by a crony and warned off.”

“My, god, Rita. What have you been doing for all of these years? How did you support yourself?”

Rita’s entire face burned with shame. “I’ve never had to work, Maureen. My husband has always made sure that I had a substantial balance in my bank account.”

“H…he pays you an allowance, an…and you take it?”

Rita shook her head in disgrace. “Again…immoral acts.”

“How could you, Rita?”

“Oh, there’s more.” Rita thought Maureen’s eyes were going to pop out of her head, but she needed to cleanse her soul. “In order to keep my life…and my allowance. I had to change my name, so that my children could never find me.”

“You didn’t?”

“Yes, I did. You see, Maureen. My name wasn’t always Rita Shaw, twenty-six years ago my name was Sharon McCray.”

Rita waited. She knew it was going to take a moment. First, Maureen was going to wonder why that name sounded familiar, then she would go through a list of the people she knew, and finally the answer would come to her…right about…

“OH, MY GOD IN HEAVEN!”

Now.

“You are Morgan’s mother!”

“Yes, I am.”

“So, Michael McCray is your husband? No wonder you don’t want Jim involved.” she added as an afterthought.

“Right again.”

“Does she know? Wait, that’s a silly question. Of course she doesn’t know.”

“You need to calm down, Maureen, you’re going to give yourself a stroke.”

Then something dawned on Maureen. “Did you move her on purpose, or was it a coincidence?”

Rita hated to have to admit the truth, but she didn’t want to lie to Maureen. “I knew that you and Jim were close to Morgan, so when a house came up for sell on your block, I purchased it.”

Maureen was feeling a little betrayed…and a lot spied on. So she let some venom color her response. “You mean Michael purchased the house.”

Rita understood Maureen’s anger, so she didn’t react to the obvious dig. “Well, yes it was purchased with his money, but I haven’t seen, or heard from Michael in over twenty years, so he had nothing to do with the actual finding, or buying of the house.”

“How did you know that we were close to Morgan?”

“I’ve kept tabs on her over the years, from a distance of course, but I did notice how often she visited this address. The opportunities I had to see her were sporadic, but I’ve been able to watch my daughter grow into a wonderful young woman…my sons on the other hand are soulless heathens.”

“Do you wish you had stayed?”

Rita thought about that question for a good long time before answering. “Yes and no.” She wasn’t surprised when Maureen pulled a face, she expected it. “Yes, because I missed all of those years watching my children grow up. No, because if I had stayed I would have watched helplessly as Michael turned them into what they are anyway.”

“That’s a coward’s answer.”

“And isn’t that what it takes for a mother to leave her children…cowardice?”

Hearing the self-deprecation, Maureen couldn’t find it in her heart to condemn the woman anymore than she was already condemning herself.

“Are you going to tell Morgan?”

Rita snorted. “Not if I want to keep my life.”

“So, what are you going to do, lurk around in the shadows of her life like some kind of ominous mist?”

Rita had to laugh. “Forgive me, but your imagery is very…Hitchcockian.”

Maureen waited for an answer.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, Maureen. This is the first time in more than two decades that I’ve been this close to my child, and it’s like nothing I could have ever dreamed of.”

“This casual contact is enough for you?”

“I…I… how can I put this so that you will understand it? I can live with this casual relationship, because I know that she can like me as a new acquaintance, but I’m terrified to find out that she would hate me as a mother.”

Maureen opened her mouth to reprimand the woman, but thought better of it. Who was she to judge this woman’s situation? How can you blame a seventeen-year-old girl for the choices her heart made, or a thirty-year-old woman for not wanting her life to end?

“If you’re not going to tell Morgan who you are, why did you tell me?”

“Because…because you’re the first person I’ve met in years that seemed like I could be a true friend with, and after the way I ran out the other day, I felt like I owed you an explanation.”

Maureen was skeptical. “So, this “friendship” has nothing to do with me being close with your daughter and her wife?”

“I would be lying if I said that didn’t have something to do with it,” she held her hand up to stop Maureen from protesting. “But, once I got to know you, I really liked you, Maureen.”

“What is it that you want, Rita?” Maureen asked in a tired voice.

“Ju…just someone to talk to. Someone I can tell the truth to.”

Maureen wasn’t sure she wanted to be someone’s sounding board, that’s what a therapist was for, and she was about to say that to Rita, but when she looked into sad gray eyes, the words wouldn’t come. Instead, she reached across and held the other woman’s hand.

“What do you say we start off slow? Things like telling me about your childhood…we can save your later years for another time.”

Gray eyes filled with relief, and Rita smiled. “I had a really great childhood. My dad…”

Maureen listened, and found that Rita was really a very nice woman, with a degree of charm that reminded her of a certain detective sergeant.

As Maureen listened, she allowed a part of her mind to wander, and she realized that if Rita was going to become a part of their circle her subterfuge wouldn’t last long, because eventually a certain little social worker she knew was going to pick up on the slight similarities between this woman and her spouse. And when that happened…all hell was going to break loose.
Chapter Nineteen
“Is that him?”

“No, babe.”

They were leaning against the side of the car watching each vehicle that exited through the base gates, but so far, no Brian.

“Oh, look. Here comes another car.”

Morgan held her breath, crossed her fingers, and began counting, because if Brian didn’t get out of this next vehicle she was going to have to hog-tie Shannon in the backseat of the car. It only took a count of five before she heard a loud squeal pealing through the air…Brian had arrived.

The short woman took off running in her brother’s direction, and it reminded Morgan of the night the little blonde went running toward the beach to retrieve her brother, after the trooper trainee had let her go.

“Briaaan!” she yelled just before jumping into her brother’s outstretched arms.

“Shannon!” was said with just as much enthusiasm.

Morgan slowly walked toward the siblings and took a visual inventory of her brother-in-law. She had to admit he made a dashing figure in his dress blues. Ribbons were spread out across his chest, and his highly polished lieutenant’s bars sat proudly on his shoulders. His curly brown hair was cut short, forming deep waves all over his head, and the smile on his face was infectious.

“Well, if it isn’t, Lieutenant Brian Reynolds,” Morgan said before pulling the shorter man into a hug.

“How have you been, Morgan?” he asked with a deep measure of warmth in his voice.

“I’m great,” then a crooked smile pulled at her lips. “You little shit.”

The guards at the gate looked out on the street when they heard the young lieutenant’s laughter fill the area.

“You big bully,” Brian teased back.

“Pick up your gear, soldier-boy, we’re taking you home.”

*******

Brian was headed for his old room with his duffle bag slung over his shoulder, but stopped when a thought came to him. “You haven’t turned it into a sewing room since I’ve been gone, have you?”

“What am I, sixty? You know I don’t sew. But you might find a bar and strobe lights in there,” Shannon yelled to his back. “You haven’t lived here in three years.”

When they were left alone Shannon was practically bouncing on her toes. “He looks good, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he does, love.”

Morgan followed her into the kitchen, where the little social worker was busy reheating dinner for Brian.

“Shouldn’t you ask him if he’s hungry before you go piling all of that food on a plate?”

Shannon ignored her spouse and sat the plate on the table before grabbing a cold drink from the refrigerator. “He looks a little thin.”

“But, you just said he looks good.” Morgan said in a teasing voice.

“Forget what I said, and listen to what I’m saying.”

“Is this a new rule, one where you only mean what you say when you say it?”

Shannon turned and placed her hands on her hips. “No.”

Morgan tilted her head. “Is that no gonna turn into a yes later?”

Shannon reached up and pulled Morgan down by two fistfuls of hair. “Maybe.” The kiss she initiated was so intense that the tall woman’s knees began to buckle.

Brian’s clearing of his throat broke them apart. “Excuse me, but there is another person in the room.”

The kiss ended, and Morgan turned them around so that they were facing him. Her arms were wrapped around the shorter woman’s waist holding Shannon close. “I hope you’re hungry, ‘cause your sister has prepared a plate for you that’s big enough to feed the three of us.”

They sat around the kitchen table, talking, laughing, and sharing, while Brian dug into his much appreciated meal.”

“I’m happy to see that you still have a healthy appetite,” Shannon said.

“I miss this kind of food, Shannon. Don’t get me wrong, the food over there is delicious, it just isn’t this.”

“You should have said something. I would have sent you a care package.”

“I could have used one back in March, after the earthquake. Although there was only minor structural damage to the base, the power went out, so we were forced to eat canned, or cold food.”

Shannon’s stomach churned at the reminder. When the reports of the devastating earthquake hit the news Morgan thought she was going to have to tranquilize Shannon to stop her from booking a flight to Japan. But, thankfully, Brian called to let his sister know that the area near, Misawa Air Base was only mildly affected by the tragedy, and he was fine.

“It must have been horrible to witness such destruction.”

“It was, Shannon, but you know what? The Japanese people are some of the most resilient people I’ve ever seen. They have joined together and are rebuilding, determined to make all as it once was…maybe even better”

“Well, since the quake, what have you been up to?” Morgan asked, to lighten the mood.

“After I got myself thoroughly familiarized with the Thirty-Fifth Communications Squadron, I was very curious as to the sights of Japan, so, every day that I had off I went sightseeing.”

“Have you seen anything interesting?” Shannon wanted to know.

“Plenty. The air base is close to Towada, Aomori City, and it’s a beautiful place to experience. I have visited The Aomori Museum of Art, Mount Hakkoda, and Lake Towada. But what I’m most looking forward to is attending the Aomori Nebuta Festival in August.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s that about?” Morgan wanted to know.

“Nebuta is a summer festival that is famous throughout Japan. About twenty Nebuta.” He translated after Shannon gave him an odd look. “Giant human-shaped floats.”

“Thanks, continue,” Shannon offered.

“Anyway, the Nebuta are paraded down the streets to the stirring music of taiko drums, flutes, and haneto dancers, shouting the traditional cry of “rassera”. Before he was asked, he added. “It doesn’t really mean anything, but shouting it is supposed to shake away the sleepiness of summer.”

Now, Shannon was really interested. “How did the festival start?”

“One of the theories is that the Nebuta festival is the offspring of the Tanabata Festival in China. One of the customs during this festival was, Toro floating. A toro is a wooden frame box wrapped with Japanese paper.

A candle would be lit inside the toro and put out to float on the river or the sea. The purpose for doing this was to purify themselves and send the evil spirits out to sea. Toro floating is still one of the most impressive and beautiful sights during the summer nights of the Japanese festivals. But in the beginning, it was on the final night of the festival when Toro floating would be accompanied by a large display of colorful fireworks.

This is said to be the origin of the Nebuta Festival, and gradually the floats grew in size, as did the festivities, until they are the large size they are now.”

“Wow, Brian, it sounds like you are living a very full life,” Shannon beamed.

Brown eyes went soft, and the young man smiled at his sister. “Yes, I am, and it’s all because of you,” He then looked up into startled blue eyes. “Both of you.”

“Don’t get all mushy on me, Brain.”

The officer understood. Morgan was never overly emotional with anyone…except Shannon, but he wasn’t going to let the opportunity to tease her pass him by. “What? You afraid I’m gonna make you cry, Morgan?”

Shannon intervened, and changed the subject before this turned into a tit for tat match, and knowing her spouse, and her brother, it could last all night. “Brian, make sure you give Jim a call. He’s looking forward to seeing you.”

“I can’t wait to see him either. Since I’ve been gone I’ve thought about Jim a lot.” He looked at his sister with reminiscent eyes. “Do you remember the boxing lessons?”

Shannon laughed. “Oh, yeah. We were just talking about that the other night.”

Brian’s focus turned inward. “I remember him putting me in little league and the boy scouts. The long talks and the way he tried to build up my confidence,” Brain was silent for a moment. “He was the best dad a kid could have.”

When nothing more was said, Morgan took notice of the contemplative look on Brian’s face, and she got the sense that the young man needed some alone time with his sister, so she decided to make herself scarce. She stood up and stretched her arms to the ceiling.

“Well, it’s getting late, and I’m getting tired.” She leaned over kissed Shannon, then waved in Brian’s general direction. “I’ll see you guys later.”

Shannon knew that Morgan was leaving so that she and Brian could talk. She mouthed a “thank you” and lovingly smiled at her spouse. “I’ll be in, in a little while.”

Before she was out of the room, Brian called out to her. “Hey, Morgan?”

The tall stopped and turned around.

“Thanks for taking us on as a responsibility.”

A half smile tugged at Morgan’s lips. “You’re gonna think this is crazy, Brian, but I think Shannon has always been my responsibility, so it felt very natural to offer help to the two of you.” She didn’t say anything else, or wait for a response.

Once Morgan was out of the room, Shannon turned to her brother. “So, what’s on your mind, Brian?”

“What makes you think there is something on my mind?”

“Don’t play innocent, little brother. I know you too well. That sudden trip down memory lane wasn’t some random journey.”

Brain didn’t stutter, or pause for effect. He just told Shannon what was on his mind. “I want to find them.”

She felt like she had been dosed in the face with ice water. She didn’t have to ask who, she knew. Brian wanted to find their parents.

Well, I don’t, Brian,” she said with barely controlled anger.

Never recognizing the volatile energy in the room, Brian dismissed his sister’s first reaction, he had expected it. “Come on, Shannon. It’s been fourteen years.”

Green eyes blazed. “And it can be a lot longer than that as far as I’m concerned.” What is going on? First Michael calls and ruins Morgan day, now this. Suddenly it’s raining parents.

“Things are different now, Shannon. All of that stuff happened in the past. I think we should forgive and forget. That was another lifetime.”

Shannon couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Why did Brian want to have this discussion on his first night home? And why didn’t the hell she when through seem to matter to him? The hell she still went through on occasion. It was almost like he had forgotten. That was the thought that made her speak without thought, letting her hurt feelings and sense of betrayal guide her vicious tongue.

“That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it?!”

Brian stepped back, his sister had never focused her anger on him, and he wasn’t sure why she was doing it now…he didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“I’m the one that had to find us food when there was none!” she yelled while pointing to herself. “I’m the one that had to figure out how to keep us warm when money went for beer and cigarettes instead of the heating bill! And damn it! I’m the one that got her ass beat every fucking time those drunken idiots got it in their liquor-soaked minds that it was time to play kick the kid.” She was breathing hard, and her chest was heaving, but she wasn’t done. “It was me, Brian. Not you…me.”

Morgan heard the raised voices, and bolted from the bed, but before she went rushing into the living room to save the day, a thought hit her. She needs this. She needs to get this out…and Brian needs to know how she feels. Morgan left the door open and sat on the bed. She wasn’t eavesdropping, she just wanted to be ready if things got out of hand.

Shannon’s eyes narrowed, and she leaned in. “And what did you do, Brian? Huh? What did you do? I’ll tell you what you did. Absolutely nothing. No. Wait. You did do something. You hid in the corner and watched until it was over. That’s what you did!”

“I…I…I was a kid, Shannon. There was nothing I could do,” he stammered.

“What about me, Brian? I was a kid too,” she sobbed. “What about me?”

The young air force officer looked like he’d been punched in the gut. And when silent tears started making tracks down his stricken face, Shannon came back to herself and ran to him.

“Oh, God. Brian I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I…I didn’t mean that.”

“Yes you did. But that’s okay. You’re right. You were a kid. Sometimes I forget that. It wasn’t fair of me to ask you to help me find them. I’m the one that should be sorry, Shannon, not you.”

He wrapped his arms around his sister, a sister that was now shorter than he was, and cried in her hair. This was the person who had always put his safety and wellbeing above her own, and he wanted to kick himself for hurting her.

“You’ve done so much for me, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really thanked you for it.” Here he barked out a laugh. “Heck, you even found me the greatest stepparent a kid could ever have.”

Shannon looked up into her brother’s handsome face, and her heart clenched with emotion when he returned her gaze with the same love-filled, little-boy eyes that he had always looked at her with. The devotion she saw in them made the decision for her. She was an adult now. Their parents couldn’t hurt her anymore.

“I’ve changed my mind. Let’s look for them.”

Brian didn’t know how to react to the sudden change in attitude. “Are you sure?”

A vision of unfaltering, always supportive blue eyes, and a set of broad shoulders to lean on, passed through her mind, and she knew there was enough power and love in her life to face down her past.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Let’s get a phonebook.”

*******

The next morning, while still in bed, Shannon snuggled close to Morgan’s side and started caressing the skin between her breast. Morgan grabbed the wondering hand and pulled it to her lips for a kiss.

“What’s on your mind, babe?”

“What makes you think there is something on my mind?”

“Because that was your, how do I ask Morgan a question she may not want to answer, approach.”

“I do that?”

“Every time.”

“You know me so well.”

“Stop stalling. What’s on your mind?”

After coming to bed, Shannon had only shared a few tense moments of her conversation with Brian, before going to sleep, so Morgan knew there would be more to talk about this morning.

“Do…do you miss your mom?” When Shannon felt the hitch in Morgan’s breathing she wanted to take it back. “You don’t have to answer. I know you miss her.”

“No, no. It’s okay. I’ll answer. I…I miss having a mom. It would have been nice to have a woman in the house, someone I could identify with. I don’t really remember her that much. Kevin and Philip have more memories of her than I do, but they never talked about her. I’m not even sure of what she looks like. After she left, dad destroyed every picture there was of her in the house, at least that’s what he told me when I asked if I could see what she looked like, and her parents were long dead by the time I got old enough to ask them about her”

“I know you tried once, but why don’t you try looking for her again.”

The wide shoulder Shannon was resting on shrugged with indifference. “It’s been twenty-six years, if she wanted to find me she could. It’s not like dad has moved away.”

“That’s true,” Shannon said, but she sounded like her mind was someplace else.

Morgan looked down at her over the bridge of her nose. “You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just that after everything that went on between me and Brian last night it got me wondering.”

Morgan waited. Shannon would get to it when she had it fully formed in her head.

“I…I know I could never have a relationship with my father…there’s just too much shit to forgive, but my mother…I don’t know, maybe I could work through her never stepping in to help.”

“You have a big heart, baby. I can see you letting your mom in.”

“You know, there were times when I hated her more than I hated him. I mean…how do you sit there and watch your husband beat the crap out of your kid?”

“She was sick…they both were.”

Green fire turned in Morgan’s direction. Was Morgan trying to justify their behavior?

“Hey, douse the flame, fire starter. You know I’m on your side.”

Shannon relaxed and kissed the smooth skin close to her lips. “I know. It’s just, after last night, with Brian wanting to join hands and sing kumbaya, I thought that maybe you were feeling the same way.”

Morgan snorted. “Not likely. I think they are both deplorable human beings, but… I also want you to know that if you ever decided you wanted to try and have a relationship with one or both of them, I’m with you.”

“And that is just one of the many reasons why I love you.”

Morgan pulled Shannon closer. “Oh, yeah? What are some of the others?”

A wicked smile formed on Shannon’s lips as she started a descent down her lover’s long body.

“Well, there’s this,” she said as she kissed a perky nipple. “And this,” she kissed the other. She moved down to a quivering stomach, where she kissed and licked each muscle. “And these.”

As she moved lower, Morgan reminded her that they were not alone in the house. “Shannon if you keep going, Brian is going to hear us.”

“Then I guess you’d better put a pillow over your head, because I’m not done counting.”

*******

Sitting at the breakfast table, the three adults ate in silence, until Brian cleared his throat.

“I see some things never change.”

Curious blue eyes looked at the young man. “Like what?”

Brian cleared his throat. “Let me see if I can get this right.” He cleared his throat, and started to do an imitation using a deep throaty voice. “Oh, oh, Shannon. Right there. Yes, yes, yes!”

Shannon’s face turned beet red, and Morgan spewed coffee across the table. While Brian broke out into hysterical laughter.

Morgan wiped the liquid from her chin, and glared at her brother-in-law. Then she smirked.

“You, little shit.”

“Hey, is it my fault you can’t keep it quiet?”

Seeing that Shannon was about to spontaneously combust, Morgan changed the subject to something less erotic. “I understand you guys are gonna look for your parents.”

Brian was a little skittish about answering, considering his sister’s initial reaction the night before, but when he looked across the table and saw encouragement in her eyes, he embraced the subject.

“Yep, that’s the plan, but they aren’t listed in phonebook, so we were thinking about hiring a private investigator.”

Morgan gave him an odd look.

“What?” Brian asked, feeling like he’d left his fly open.

“Before you go spending a boatload of money on a P.I., did you ever consider taking a trip to the old neighborhood, walking up to your old house and knocking on the door?”

The siblings pointed at each other, and spoke the same accusation.

“Why didn’t you think of that?”

Morgan just shook her head in pity. “That’s just sad.”
Chapter Twenty
The weeks that Morgan and Jim were spending together on the undercover operation reminded her of their early years together, when most of their days were filled with hours of unexpected downtime instead of the often fantasized high-speed chases she thought the job would be. Those times had been special to Morgan. She and Jim had talked and bonded with each other in a way that would have never been possible if they had been surrounded by constant chaos. Their conversations were at times, humorous, insightful, and personal. And now, today, for Morgan she needed this to be one of those personal times.

“Hey, Jim?”

“Yeess?”

“I…um…I want to talk to you about something.”

The hesitation in the usually confident woman’s voice, made Jim give her his full attention. “What’s on your mind?”

Morgan was debating with herself. She wanted to talk to Jim about Shannon going to see her parents, but she didn’t want to betray her lover’s trust. She really needed to let this decision marinate in her mind for a moment.

The woman remained quiet for so long, Jim was getting worried. “Hey, Morgan. Is everything okay?”

Finally, she smiled. Shannon loved Jim. Morgan was sure her partner wouldn’t mind if she talked to him about her concerns.

“Last night Brain and Shannon talked about finding their parents.”

Jim wasn’t expecting that. “Damn, he just got here. They sure didn’t waste any time.”

“There was no “they” to it, it wasn’t Shannon’s idea, this was all Brian.”

Knowing how much Shannon had suffered at the hands of her father, Jim whistled and ran his hand through his hair. “How is she taking it?”

The memories of what happened earlier that morning made Morgan blush. She found herself getting caught up in the memories of lips and teeth and tongues and… “She’s doing remarkably well.”

Either he didn’t notice the sudden reddening of her skin, or he wasn’t in the mood to tease her, but Jim didn’t mention her heated face. “Are they sure about doing this? Do they have a plan?”

Morgan rubbed her chin. “Yeah, they seem pretty sure about it, and as of this morning, they plan on going to the old house, knocking on the door, and see who answers.”

Jim mimicked Morgan’s action, and rubbed his chin. “Are you worried?”

“Are you serious? Of course I’m worried, but I have faith in how strong Shannon has gotten over the years. I know she can make it through a visit with those reptiles.”

“True, but what about Brian?”

Morgan looked at him with question. “Brian?”

“If this doesn’t go well Shannon has you to lean on. Who does Brian have?”

Morgan’s temper was making a slow rise. What was Jim saying? She loved Brian, and she would always be there for him. “Brian has me too.”

It was almost like Jim wasn’t listening. “If there is a problem, if this thing goes bad, you send him to me…on second thought, I’ll give him a call later.”

“Jim, did you hear me?”

Still no response. The man was deep in thought.

Morgan decided to let him be. Maybe Jim was right. If things didn’t go well, how much of herself could she really give to Brian when the majority of her focus would most likely be on Shannon.

They sat in silence, each in their own head. One thinking about the woman she had vowed to love, cherish and protect, the other worrying about the young man who he loved in his heart like a son. Then the quiet was broken by the crackling of the CB radio.

“Anybody out there interested in having dinner?” the feminine voice asked.

Morgan got a curious look on her face. There was something in the voice that pulled at her. So she signaled for Jim to respond.

“Yeah, I’m looking. It’s been a long week and I sure could use some dinner…and a movie.”

“Dinner and a Movie?” the voice sounded unsure.

“Yep, I’m real hungry and in need of some quality entertainment.”

Morgan listened, fascinated by how quickly Jim had learned the lingo, and how seamlessly he could carry on the clandestine conversations.

“Can you afford a meal and a show?” the voice asked.

“You bet I can. I just got paid, and my money is burning a whole in my pocket.”

“Okay, but I can’t stay out too late.”

“Not a problem. I’ll get you back home early. So, um…what do you look like?”

They heard the slight clearing of a throat. “I’m about five-three, with blonde hair and blue eyes.

“Oh…nice. You should come by so that we can visit a little before going out.”

“If you tell me what color your house is I’ll be right over.”

“My house is red, and I’m number four on my block.”

With Jim set up on a “date”, everyone got into place. Jim was in the driver’s seat, the officers stationed around the lot moved into position, and Morgan hid behind the door separating the sleeping compartment from the main cab.

After checking the recording equipment Morgan focused on Jim. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” he answered. “I hope this ends soon because I gotta tell you, Morgan, it’s getting depressing watching these girls walk around selling themselves, and not being able to do anything about…it kinda eats away at your soul.”

“Don’t worry, Jim. It’s gonna end today…I have a feeling.” She paused in thought. “There was something about her voice, it sounded strong and confident, but I think I heard something like a plea in there.”

Jim exhaled a long breath. “Women and their feelings.”

“Morgan snorted. “Really, Jim? Are you really saying that? Wasn’t it just the other night that you claimed to be half a woman yourself? With hot flashes and all,” she teased.

Before Jim could say anything, a knock sounded on the side of the truck door.

Morgan, whispered into her mic. “Everybody, hold your positions.” She nodded her head, and slipped back behind the panel. Once Morgan was out of sight Jim leaned over to open the door.

When the girl stepped up into the truck, she wanted to turn and run. This man was humongous, and she wasn’t sure that she could handle his appetites. But just as she was about to back out of the cab she looked out of the windshield and saw Tammy drive by. Shit, she thought, and climbed all the way in. She sat in the passenger seat and waited.

“There’s no need to look so scared,” Jim reassured. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

When the girl finally looked up at the man, she saw the truth in his kind golden-colored eyes. That’s when she made a decision. It was a chance she had taken before, and it had failed every time. She could only hope that this time would be different.

“Look, mister. I know you probably don’t care nothing about some kid hookin’, but I really need your help.”

Jim’s heart rate picked up. Morgan had been right. This girl was about to say something very important. “I might surprise you. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

The girl couldn’t believe what she was hearing, could this be the chance she had been praying for? She quickly reined in her feelings, there was no time to be chasing around fleeting thoughts, Tammy would be driving around again…soon.

“My name is Kathy Simpson,” she said hurriedly, “and I need your help. These assholes snatched me and my friend out of the park a little more than a month ago, and they have been holding us like slaves ever since.”

When Jim didn’t say anything, she talked faster. “They have been making me hook in these crappie ass lots for weeks, and I need to get away. If you drive me out of here, I’ll do anything you want.” Then as an extra-added incentive she threw in. “Free of charge.”

“Did you get all of that?” Jim said out loud.

Morgan came from behind the door, startling the girl. “Yeah, I got it.” She looked at Kathy and gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t be frightened. You’re safe now. “I’m Detective Sergeant McCray, and this is First Sergeant Driscoll, and we are going to take you out of here.”

Kathy couldn’t believe it, this nightmare was finally over. Then the pretty detective smiled at her, and held her in a blue haze of compassion…that’s when she lost it. She cried, for the first time since she had been drugged and taken from the park. She let her feelings surface, and allowed herself to experience them honestly. Everything that she had been through. Every humiliation that she had suffered was acknowledged and mourned, because now, she could let go, knowing that when the tears dried and she opened her eyes she wouldn’t have to look for the strength it would take to go through it all over again…she was free.

Jim patted her on the shoulder. “It’s gonna be alright, kid. We’re gonna take you home.”

A fresh round of tears started. Kathy couldn’t believe how wonderful those words sounded to her. I’ve gone insane, she decided. Strange thoughts were swirling through her mind, and she was amazed when she realized that after everything she had been through her uncle seemed fairly harmless. At least he never made her do anything, he only asked. And when she refused he left her alone until he got high enough to ask again.

Yeah, home, she liked the sound of that…she was going home.

*******

Morgan was sitting behind her desk, tapping the end of a pencil on her ink blotter. “We’ve got Tammy in lock up, and the other girls are in an interrogation room. But, so far no one is telling us anything. So, it looks like it’s all up to you, Kathy.”

It aggravated Morgan that the other girls were unwilling, or too afraid to talk. From what she could tell it was all a part of their training. All any of them would say was that they were doing nothing wrong, they were just out hitchhiking, and there was no law against hitchhiking. But as frustrating as that was for her to hear, Morgan knew they didn’t have the time for long drawn-out interrogations, it wouldn’t be just a matter of hours before the people in charge found out that everyone had been arrested, and when that happened they would disappear and setup shop somewhere else. She couldn’t let that happen.

“None of the other girls will admit that they are being forced to prostitute, and Tammy refuses to answer any questions at all.” She tried to convey the seriousness of the situation. “Without your cooperation these people could walk free.”

Every face, and every action that she had seen of the last month paraded through her mind, and the thought of any of those people left to run loose, grabbing unsuspecting girls was all Kathy needed to envision, she was more than willing to cooperate.

“I’ll tell you everything I know, detective.” Kathy took a deep breath and gave up the information. “From what I could tell, there is a woman in charge, her name is Angela Delmar. She’s the bitch that sent Paul and Tammy out to troll the parks and beaches for girls.” Kathy stopped talking and started bouncing her leg. You got a cigarette?”

“I’m sorry, no I don’t” Morgan was shocked when she realized that she really was sorry she couldn’t give the girl a smoke to calm her nerves. After the things Kathy had been through, Morgan knew she needed something.

“That’s okay. Anyway, this Delmar twat.” She looked up at Morgan. “Sorry, but she is.”

Morgan mentally agreed. “Go on.”

“Well, this twa…I mean, bitch.”

Okay, that’s a better name. Morgan continued to silently take notes.

“She has like three houses that she sells pussy out of. I mean prostitutes.”

Morgan secretly smiled. This was the toughest, crudest, foul-mouthed kid she had ever met, but as rough around the edges as Kathy was, the girl still wanted to show respect, and that made the detective like her even more.

“Do you know where she gets the girls from? Are they all kidnapped?”

“I don’t think so. Once I was with Tammy when she went to the bus station to pick up a few girls. It looked to me like they knew what they was there for.”

“Did you work in the houses, Kathy?”

She didn’t answer right a way. “No, not me. I worked the truck stops, but…but Ginny did. She…um…she couldn’t be trusted to leave the house. She wouldn’t relax and wait for the right time. You know what I mean?”

“Ginny? Are you talking about Ginny Edwards?”

“Yeah, you know her?”

“No, but her mother has been looking for her.”

“I told her that her mom cared about her,” Kathy said in a sad voice.

“Where is she, Kathy? Where is Ginny?”

“I…I kept telling her, you know, keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, But Ginny…she’s kinda one of those spoiled kids.”

This got a raised eyebrow, and it made Kathy laugh. Morgan liked the girl’s laugh. It sounded carefree and innocent.

“Hey, us hardheads come in every variety, detective.”

“I can see that,” Morgan smiled back.

“Um, you know Ginny’s mom is a stripper, right?”

Morgan started writing faster. “No, Miss Edwards never divulged that to me.”

“Well, she is,” Kathy shrugged her shoulders. “But, hey, it’s a livin’ ain’t it?”

“That it is,” Morgan said without judgment. She didn’t want to make Kathy feel uncomfortable or rushed, she wanted the girl to take all of the time she needed to get the whole story out.

“So, because her mom always had spare cash on her, Ginny thought that she should get whatever she asked for…you know?…spoiled.”

“Ah, I see.” Morgan said.

So when the people that took us told us what we were gonna be doing, Ginny freaked out and told them that she wasn’t gonna sell her ass to nobody. Well, she shouldn’t have said that. They took her to the basement and kept her there for a couple of weeks. They let her out a few days ago, and sent her out to the truck stop with me.” Here, Kathy just shook her head. “Do you know what that stupid, spoiled, little bitch did?”

“No, but feel free to tell me.”

“The first trucker she hooked up with wanted a BJ, and as soon as he got her in position…she nearly bit the tip of his dick off.”

Morgan’s eyes grew wide. “You’re kidding?”

“Nope. It’s the truth. Ginny has a big problem with giving BJ’s. Needless to say, they took her simple ass back to the basement, and I ain’t seen her since.”

*******

Kathy had given Morgan an address and directions to the house where she was held. The local police had been informed, and they would be a part of the bust. Before leaving for the house, Morgan called Shannon and asked if she could meet her at the address. “I’m sure there are a few girls there that will need the help of a social worker,” she had said to her wife, and wasn’t disappointed when Shannon agreed to be there.
Chapter Twenty-One
The house was located in a fairly nice neighborhood. The streets were tree lined. The lawns were mowed, and there were even a few yards with children’s toys in the driveway. Morgan just shook her head. These days people have no idea or interest in who their neighbors are, she thought. She checked her weapon and gave the signal. After today they will probably form a neighborhood watch.

When the signal came the officers that were surrounding the perimeter swarmed the premises from every direction, ensuring that no one escaped through a back exit or an open window. The front door was rammed open without warning, and a sea of law enforcement officers flooded the house, there was immediate chaos.

People were yelling, weapons were drawn, handcuffs were pulled out, and even a few suspects had to be chased down before they could jump out of a window. Screams of, get on the floor, put your hands up, or you’re under arrest, filled the area. Girls crying, men cursing, and few pitiful pleas of, please don’t tell my wife, wafted through the air.

And in the middle of all of the pandemonium, Morgan made her way through the kitchen, in search of the door leading down into the basement. She smiled to herself when she saw it located exactly where Kathy said it would be. She slowly opened the door, and flipped the light switch, illuminating the stairs. Cautiously she made her way down, stopping every few steps to listen, and when she was certain there was no one waiting to ambush her, she moved more swiftly toward the room across the concrete floor.

She stood and looked at the out of place room that was no more than an eight-by-eight area where someone had erected four walls and a door. She stared at the enclosure for a moment before walking around it to see if there was another way in. There were no other doors or windows, just a couple of small air vents high on the sides. Morgan returned to the closed door and tried turning the knob, it wouldn’t budge, obviously locked. She put her ear to the door.

“Is anyone in there?”

She wasn’t positive, but she thought she heard a whimper.

“I…I can hear you. If you can hear me, I am Detective Sergeant McCray, and we’ve come to rescue you.”

Morgan was sure this time, someone was on the other side, and it sounded like they were crying. She looked around the area for something she could use to open the door, but all she could find was a hammer. She turned the tool over in her hands, observing the claw on one end, and the round tip on the other. She thought maybe she could pound the wood until it began to splinter enough for her to slip her hand in and unlock the door, then she remembered the hinges and started working on knocking out the pins.

When the back end of the door was free she kicked the edges until it was hanging open from the wrong end. As the air began to circulate through the wide opening she was met by a stench that was a mixture of vomit, waste and blood. The room was still dark so she felt around the wall for a light switch, but didn’t feel one. So she moved further in and waved her hand through the air until she felt a string hit her on the wrist. She pulled, and the room came aglow. And almost immediately she wished it hadn’t.

Lying on the bed, tied face down was the body of a girl. Morgan felt ill when she saw that the girl was naked, gagged, and whipped. Her back was covered with bloody stripes, some dried over, others still oozing.

“Jesus,” she hissed.

The girl began to twist and turn, trying to get free. Morgan was thrilled to see that she was closer to life than death, and quickly set about freeing her.

*******

When Morgan got the girl untied and found a blanket to wrap her in, she led, who she had discovered was Ginny Edwards, up the stairs. The atmosphere was now much calmer, people had been subdued, rights were being read, and names were being recorded. In the midst of this sat Angela Delmar. As Morgan made her way across the room someone pointed out to her who the woman was, and it pissed the detective off that she was sitting quietly in a wing backed chair looking like everything that was going on around her didn’t involve her.

She felt the top of her head begin to steam, and she handed Ginny off to one of the paramedics before heading in the woman’s direction. But before she could reach her target a firm hand grabbed her by the arm, stopping her progress. She was about to pull away and rip the offender a new one until she saw who it was.

“You need to put that fire out, love,” Shannon whispered to her in a soothing voice.

The tension drained so quickly from Morgan’s body, she felt weak in the knees. “When did you get here?” she asked as she pulled her spouse in for much needed contact.

“About half an hour ago. I had decided that if I didn’t see you soon I was going to form a search party.”

“Well, there’s no need for that now.” She looked over at the house madam and started to grit her teeth. “Look at her, sitting there all innocent like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.”

“She’s most likely a sociopath, sweetheart. Whether the butter would melt or not would mean nothing to her.”

“I’m gonna talk to her.” Once again, Morgan headed in the woman’s direction.

“I’m coming with you,” Shannon said, close on her heels.

*******

They were in the same room Morgan had just pulled Ginny out of. With the door now fully off of the hinges the room smelled better, but not by much, but it was the most private space in the house right now, and Morgan wanted to talk to this abomination alone.

All three women were silent for long moments, Morgan just staring at the woman that was sitting on the stained bed, acting unaffected by the smell or condition of the room. She couldn’t have been any taller than Shannon, with dark hair and even darker eyes. She looked to be in her late thirties, and by all accounts, very normal. At least that’s what Morgan thought, until she began to question her.

“Are you Angela Delmar?”

The woman said nothing.

“Okay, let’s try this a different way. “I know you’re Angela Delmar.”

The woman shrugged her shoulders in an arrogant manner.

This motion ignited Morgan’s temper again. “Are you the sadist that beat that girl like she was a farm animal?”

“To my knowledge no one here has ever been mistreated,” Angela demurred.

“Yeah, you run a nice little home for runaway girls,” Morgan stated sarcastically.

“Exactly.”

The offhanded way that the woman answered sparked Morgan’s already short fuse. “I’m not gonna waste my time by trying to get you to tell me the truth, I know it would be a useless effort, but I’ll tell you this. You’re gonna pay for everything you’ve done to these girls. It’s gonna be my personal mission to see that you do the maximum time.”

Dark eyes swiveled up, and Morgan wanted to take a step back from the darkness that bore into her, but she held herself steady. Then Angela Delmar said something totally unexpected.

“I saw the way you greeted the blonde woman. I think you love her very much.” She turned to Shannon. “And I think others would love you too. How would you like to work for me?”

Shannon was shocked. Is this woman saying what I think she is saying? Was that really a job offer?

“You could make a lot of money. A fair-haired beauty like you could set her own price.” A sinister smile broke across her face. “You’re a little older than my clients usually request, but with that nice round ass and those sweet rosy lips, you could bring in…”

Her words stopped abruptly as a gun was forcefully pressed into her forehead. “You don’t talk to her. You don’t even look at her, and if you say another word to her I’ll splatter your brains all over the walls.”

“Ah, now we see why you chose this secluded location for your questioning. How very…street of you, detective.”

“You don’t know me, lady.”

“And you don’t know me. I was only offering her a job as a freelance youth counselor,” Angela said as if a gun wasn’t being pointed at her head.

“Liar,” Morgan accused.

“Thug,” was the return.

Shannon could see that this situation was quickly deteriorating, and soon it would be out of her control. “Put the gun down, baby,” Shannon said with a nervous shake to her voice. It was plain to see…Morgan was on the edge.

“No. I can’t,” Morgan responded, her voice just as unsteady as her mate’s, but for a whole different reason.

“Yes you can.”

Blue eyes never strayed from their target. “Then let me rephrase that. I won’t.”

“You can’t do this, love. You can’t play god.”

The gun was moved to a better position. “Why?! Why can’t I, Shannon? People like this play god everyday. They ruin lives without a second thought. Why can’t I give her a taste of her own medicine?”

“Because you’re better than that.”

The gun began to shake with Morgan’s effort not to give in to the calling. She wanted to pull the trigger and erase the smug look off of this arrogant woman’s face. Heart wrenching faces started floating through her vision. All of the young girls at the truck stop, Kathy, trying to stay strong, Ginny Edwards, beaten bloody for resisting. It was a horrible picture show, and she wanted it to end.

“I am so tired of people like this being arrested, just to have some scumbag lawyer put them back on the streets. I am so tired of watching the dirty money buy these people’s freedom. I am so tired of feeling helpless, only able to stand on the sidelines and do nothing while young women are losing their lives and their freedom because of people like this.” Sad eyes tracked to her spouse. “I’m so tired, Shannon.”

The short woman moved closer and put her hand over the gun. “I know, love. But this isn’t the way to fix it.”

Morgan’s dark head bowed and the gun dropped to her side. “I know you’re right, but it’s hard to be this close to evil and not wipe it from the earth.”

She shook her head back and fourth. My father’s genes must be running strong, she mentally chided herself. This makes twice in less than a week that I’ve shoved my gun in someone’s face. I swear, cold case was never like this. I don’t think I’ve ever had to pull my weapon since I’ve been in the unit…not once.

Exhaling to pull her emotions together, she still couldn’t stop herself from yanking Angela Delmar from her seat. “You’re lucky she was here,” Morgan gritted out.

The woman was about to deliver some smart aleck retort, but changed her mind. Waving a red flag in front of a charging bull wouldn’t be a wise or healthy maneuver.

*******

Morgan stood near the parked cars and watched her partner talk to the battered Ginny Edwards. Soothing her in the same manner a wrangler would a wild horse, with gentle pats, and soft words. A cotton gown had replaced the old blanket, but the worn cover was still draped over her shoulders like a cape.

After a while, a fast approaching red car stopped at the curb near the social worker, and since Morgan didn’t know what kind of a maniac would be brazen enough to recklessly speed onto a crime location, she swiftly moved forward, knowing that she didn’t want the person anywhere near Shannon.

But when she saw Heidi Edwards jump out of the car and run to her daughter, she slowed her steps, giving mother and daughter the opportunity to reunite without judicial interference.

When the stunned mother pulled her daughter to her and held her tight, rocking her back and forth, Shannon wiped her eyes as she stood off to the side witnessing the tearful reunion. But the link was broken when Heidi Edwards saw Morgan approaching. She released her daughter and flung herself into the tall detective’s arms.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I knew you would find her,” the young mother said with gratitude.

“You’re welcome, Miss Edwards, but I didn’t do it alone,” Morgan reminded her as she gently pulled out of the woman’s grasp.

“As far as I’m concerned you did. Please, let me cook something for you, as a way to say thank you,” Heidi begged as she stepped closer.

Shannon stood silently listening, and watching the woman’s actions, and was quickly reminded of who this woman was.

“You’ve already thanked me, Miss Edwards. Nothing more is necessary.”

“Stop with the Miss Edwards shit, call me Heidi. At least let me buy you dinner.”

They were now almost breathing the same air, the woman was so close.

“I’ve told you, Miss Edwards, I’m married.” Was this woman really trying to rope her into a date at a time like this?

“Hell, we all know what the little woman doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” Heidi pushed.

It was the sound of the short blonde behind them, clearing her throat that got Heidi’s attention. “Yes?” she asked, annoyed by the interruption.

Shannon extended her hand. “Let me introduce myself. I’m the little woman.”

Heidi’s hand instantly went limp in Shannon’s firm hold. Then her head began to whip back and forth between the tall brunette and the short blonde, then the photograph on the detective’s desk presented itself to her memory.

“Oh, shit.”

Shannon smiled sweetly, remaining professional. “Everything is fine,” she said, maintaining her composure. Then she leaned in close so that the traumatized girl wouldn’t hear the exchange that was about to take place. “But if you continue to hit on my wife I won’t be responsible for my actions.” She squeezed the hand she held just a bit tighter. “Do we understand one another, Miss Edwards?”

Heidi pulled away and was held in place by unflinching green eyes that left no room for games. This one doesn’t share. “Um…yeah. I understand you perfectly…Mrs. McCray.”

“Good. Now go over there and help your daughter. She needs you more than you need a date.”

Morgan had quietly watched the intense exchange, and confessed that it was taking all of her self-discipline not to laugh at the scene unfolding in front of her. Heidi Edwards stood a good three inches taller than her wife, but when it came to Morgan, the little social worker loomed like a giant. She smiled as her spouse came over and joined her. “I thought women flirting with me didn’t bother you.”

“It doesn’t,” Shannon said, hooking her arm through her lover’s. “But when it’s done in my face I’m obligated to mark my territory.”

The couple walked away, toward their cars. “So, I’m your territory?”

“Every beautiful inch of you.”

Morgan leaned down and kissed her wife softly on the lips. “Ditto.”

Heidi Edwards held her daughter in her arms, thankful beyond words that she was going to be okay, but as she watched the devoted couple walk away, arm in arm, the emptiness that had always been her constant companion expanded just a few more inches.
Chapter Twenty-Two
Eight men were seated around a large mahogany table, looking like something out of the godfather movie, but this was no cinematic reenactment. This was real. A woman’s houses had been seized, people had been taken into custody, and sooner or later someone was going to talk.

“You got any information for us, Michael?”

“Nah, I thought I had a plan, Frank, but that fell through. We’ll have to think of something else.”

“We? You promised you’d take care of this. Angela Delmar wasn’t a part of our network, but her people are known to us.”

“I will take care of this, Frank. Stop worrying. I’ve got an inside track on things.”

“That’s what you said before, but you didn’t get a heads-up on that big bust. Your daughter didn’t tell you anything at all. I don’t like where this might lead, Mike. She might get curious and turn her attention to the harbor, and if she does that we are fucked.”

“Something needs to be done,” a stumpy, dark-haired man said.

“Something like what?” Michael asked in a dangerous tone.

“I don’t know,” the man shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe somebody other than you needs to pay your daughter a visit.”

“Somebody with more of an iron fist,” someone else added.

Michael didn’t like where this was going. All it took was for one of these rock-apes to think he could get a rep by roughing up Morgan, and it could become open season on her. But that wasn’t a line he was going to allow them to cross. Before anyone could give a yea or neigh, the option was taken off of the table when a solid fist slammed down on the table.

“If any one of you goes anywhere near my kid I’ll kill you.” His blue eyes blazed around the table. “We understand each other? This is my operation, and I will decide how it’s handled.”

Several okay, calm downs were heard around the room. These men knew Michael McCray’s temper and had no desire to poke at it, but Frank wanted to make one point very clear.

“We ain’t gonna touch your kid, Mike. You’re right, this is your operation, but we have an interest in this business too. If you go down because of family loyalties to a kid that despises you, you’d better make damn sure you don’t take us down with you. We understand each other?”

Michael knew the point had to be respected. “Yeah, Frank. We understand each other.”

When nothing more was said, Philip and Kevin leaned over to give the three of them a little privacy, and whispered harsh words to their father.

“I ain’t going down for some shit Morgan might get into,” Kevin gritted out.

“Me either,” Philip added.

“Then what do you two geniuses think we should do? She don’t know what we’re doing, so she ain’t no threat. Hell, she ain’t even lookin’ at us.”

“Not yet,” Philip said.

“I say let them have her,” Kevin finally said what was on both of the boys minds.

Michael’s eyes came to life again, not sparing his sons any of the heat he had just showed the other men at the table.

“I’m gonna tell you two idiots the same thing I just told them,” he said pointing outwards. “If something happens to her and I find out that you had anything to do with it I’ll cut your nuts off.” He looked back and forth between his sons, the hardness in his eyes conveying the truth of his words. “Do we understand one another?”

Both Kevin and Philip squeezed their legs together at the thought of their father carrying out his threat. “Okay, okay,” Philip said.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, dad, ‘cause if Morgan decides to go hunting in the woods the most lucrative part of our business is gonna be in jeopardy, not to mention our freedom,” Kevin warned.

Michael almost laughed out loud. “Who the fuck taught you a ten-dollar word like, lucrative?”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “I’m serious, dad, save the insults for later.”

Michael looked around the table and saw that the other men were waiting for the private conversation to end, so he waved his sons off, ready to get back to business. “Don’t you girls get your panties in a twist, I’ll handle everything.”

Michael decided it was time to move on with his day, pushing the problems that Angela Delmar’s arrest might cause to the back of his mind. He returned his attention to the other men at the table, and started the meeting.

“Johnny, what’s happening with the girls we’re shipping up north?”

“Just got a new batch in last night. My guys snatched them up skipping school in Georgia. Told them they were looking for models or some such shit. After we get done with the training I’m taking them to the harbor and putting them on a boat.”

“Have you talked to our New Jersey contact?”

“Yeah, he’s got a buyer lined up over seas who is willing to pay big bucks ‘cause they’re young and blonde.”

“Good to hear. Mel, tell me about the car I saw in the shop this morning…”
Chapter Twenty-Three
Shannon picked up her briefcase and was headed for the front door. “Brian, if you want a ride over to Jim and Maureen’s you’d better get a move on!”

The young man came rushing out of his room, tucking his shirt into his pants. “Stop yelling, I’m ready.”

Shannon just rolled her eyes, and opened the door.

“Hey, Shannon, you think we could stop and get something to eat on our way?”

“Aren’t you about to eat breakfast with Jim?”

“Yeah, but I need a first layer.”

Shannon shook her head. “My brother, the bottomless pit.”

*******

Jim dipped the tip of his toast in the runny egg yolk before taking a bite with a strip of bacon, and sipped his hot coffee, all while staring at Brian shovel fork full after fork full of scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns in his mouth.

“When was the last time you ate something?” Jim asked.

The fork stopped midair as Brian thought about the question. “Shannon took me to Duncan Donuts on the way over here. Does two crullers and a small orange juice count as eating?”

Jim just shook his head. “Yep, that counts.”

Brian went back to eating, and Jim continued to stare. Brian had filled out a little since the last time Jim had seen him. The short-sleeved shirt he was wearing revealed a couple of inches added to his biceps. He could tell the young officer hadn’t bother to shave that morning, because he could see the beginnings of a shadow growing along his jaw line. With his head down, Jim could see the deep waves in his short hair, and for some reason it caused him to remembered the day he tried to keep Brian still so that he could gave him a haircut.

“I don’t want my hair cut short, Jim,” the little boy whined. “I like it the way it is.”

Jim rested his large hands on his hips and looked down at the seated boy. “Don’t you want to look sharp?”

Curious brown eyes looked up at the surrogate father. “What’s sharp?”

“You know, clean-cut, short hair, clean crisp suit, shinned shoes…a look a man can be proud of.”

The boy thought for a moment, then changed his mind. “Okay, I wanna look sharp.”

Jim smiled and pulled out the scissors so he could remove the large brown curls before giving Brian a trim. “Now hold still, I don’t want to cut off an ear.”

The sound of Jim’s quiet chuckle got Brian’s attention. “What’s so funny?” he asked while chewing.

“Oh, I was just remember a little boy that didn’t want a haircut.”

Brown eyes rolled. “Man, I was so stubborn back then.”

“And look at you now, an Air Force Lieutenant looking…sharp.”

Brian held Jim’s eyes. No words passed between them, none were necessary. The love they had for one another flowed easily between them, bonding them closer as father and son.

Jim cleared his throat to break the mood. “So, have you and Shannon decided when you’re gonna go looking for your folks?”

Brain drained his coffee cup and leaned back, patting his full belly. “Shannon wants to go by the old house day after tomorrow.”

“How you feeling about that.”

“O…okay I guess. I mean it was my idea.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t be a little…” Jim wanted to be careful here. “scared.”

Brian smiled inwardly. Jim could always read his moods. “Well, maybe just a little,” he said, holding up his thumb and index finger to indicate distance.

“You know whatever happens, good or bad, I’m here for you, right?”

Brian gave a small crooked smile. “Yeah, I know.”

“Good, now, since it’s my day off how about you help me out in the garage?”

Brian stood and rinsed their dirty plates off in the sink before putting them in the dishwasher. “You still working on that old truck?”

Jim was already walking toward the door that led to the garage. “Hey, the nineteen fifty-five Ford F-one hundred is a classic machine, I’m gonna be buried with it.”

Brian followed him out of the kitchen. “I’m sure Maureen will be pleased,” he said as he closed the door behind them.
Chapter Twenty-Four
Shannon had invited Vicky over for game night, and the four adults were in the middle of the longest game of monopoly ever played.

Vicky rolled the dice and landed on New Jersey Avenue, immediately annoyed that she had to pay Brian rent. She counted out the money and handed it over to the way too thrilled man.

“Why are we even playing this game? It’s so…it’s so…retro. I feel like it’s nineteen ninety-four and I’m sitting at my parent’s dinning room table watching them high-five each other because my dad was able to buy Park Place and Boardwalk before one us kids could.”

“Stop complaining, Vicky. It’s Brian’s turn,” Shannon said, waving her hand at her brother, encouraging him to roll. “Besides, it’s family game night and this is what we do.”

Brian rolled the dice and moved his racecar seven spaces, landing on chance. As he read the card Vicky looked at the other women at the table. Morgan and Shannon were sitting beside each other, and they seemed to be in constant contact. A thigh rub here, an arm squeeze there, and even the occasional peck on the lips. Seeing how much in love they were, and Shannon bringing up family game night caused Vicky to wonder out loud about why the couple hadn’t started a family. With her elbow propped on the table, and her chin resting in her palm she blurted it out.

“Why don’t you two have any children yet?”

The question was so foreign and unexpected that even Brian stopped what he was doing to look at the redhead.

“What?” Shannon asked as if she didn’t understand the straightforward question.

“You heard me. How come the big bad police detective hasn’t knocked you up yet?” she asked her college friend.

Morgan almost choked on her drink. “What the hell, Vicky?”

Shannon patted her spouse on the back and laughed. “Believe me, Vicky. If she could do it the old fashioned way we would have a houseful by now, but since that’s not the case, children are something that have to be planned out.”

“Ten years isn’t a long enough time to plan a baby?”

Shannon was really giving it some thought now. Why hadn’t they talked about having a baby? Sure, they had entertained the thought when they first got together, but that was mostly new love talking. Everybody wants to procreate when they first fall in love, but it wasn’t something they had discussed for quite a few years.

“I…I don’t know why we haven’t,” she finally said.

Vicky turned to Morgan. “What about you, blue eyes? Don’t you wanna be a daddy?”

The laugh that erupted was sudden and full. “You are a dumb-ass,” Morgan said once she stopped chuckling.

“Maybe I am, but you guys should really think about it…I think the two of you would be great parents.”

“Me too,” Brain chipped in. “I mean, look at me. The two of you did a great job taking care of me.”

Vicky tilted her head in Brian’s direction. “If I were you I’d listen to the kid. Look at him, he’s not broken, and there’s not a crack on him anywhere,” then she wiggled her brows. “well, except…”

Brian wrinkled his nose. “You are gross, Vicky. Stay out of my pants.”

The redhead waved him off. “Anyway, as I was saying. He has all of his limbs, and he actually got a college degree. That’s more than a lot of parents can get done.”

Shannon shrugged her shoulders and looked thoughtful. “Considering who raised me, I’m not sure of what kind of mother I would be…” Shannon trailed off and stopped talking.

“Hey,” Vicky said, getting her attention. “Don’t let those dipsticks ruin your chance to experience being a parent.”

Shannon began twirling a strand of her hair. “Maybe I’m just feeling this way because we’re going to see them tomorrow.”

Vicky snapped her finger. “That’s right, tomorrow is the big day. Are you really going to go to that house?” she asked with doubt.

Brian looked a bit uneasy. Although Shannon had agreed to go, it still made his insides jump when someone brought up the impending visit.

“That’s the plan,” she said, winking at Brian, hoping to calm his nerves.

Vicky looked in Morgan’s direction. “Are you going with her?”

“She doesn’t want me to,” was said with a pout.

“Don’t be that way, sweetheart,” Shannon soothed. “We don’t even know if they still live there, besides, haven’t you had enough of parents for one week?”

That made Morgan blush. “You have a point there.”

“And that point would be?” Vicky was curious.

Shannon looked at Morgan for confirmation. The only thing Vicky knew about Morgan’s family was that they owned a few businesses around town, and she didn’t talk to them. The redhead didn’t know why and had never asked. When the dark head nodded approval, Shannon answered her friend. “Recently, Morgan went to see her father.”

Russet brows rose with interest. “Ah…the infamous Michael McCray. How’s the handsome devil doing these days?” Vicky inquired.

Morgan could feel the laughter bubbling up again. Vicky had always been good with injecting humor into a situation. That was one of the reasons she liked her, her ability to make Shannon smile had endeared her to the tall woman years ago.

“You’ve met my dad?”

“Nope, but like most of the people in the area I know of him. I mean, who among us hasn’t gone to buy chicken at M & M’s drive-in and seen him there?”

“Me,” Morgan said.

Vicky rolled her eyes. “Other than you. But I must admit, Morgan, the man fries a hell of a bird.”

This made the entire table laugh, giving Vicky the opportunity to ask a couple of questions that she had been curious about.

“Morgan, are your grandparents still living?”

In a split second Morgan had to decide how she wanted this conversation to go. Would she cut Vicky short and risk possibly hurting her feelings, or would she simply answer her question and avoid any friction developing between them? She chose the latter.

“I was told that my mom’s dad died when I was eight, and mysteriously, my grandmother died a couple of years later. I guess she missed him and lost her will to live,” Morgan said with wonder. “But I really wouldn’t know. After my mom left we never saw that side of the family.”

“What about your dad’s parents?” Vicky figured while she had Morgan talking she might as well find out everything that she could about the extremely private woman.

Morgan’s eyes looked sad. “My dad’s parents died in a house fire when he was thirteen.”

“That must have been awful for him.”

“It was, he was an only child, and was left alone.”

“There were no relatives he could go to?”

Morgan shrugged her shoulders. “There might have been, but my dad wasn’t interested in staying with relatives, or being turned over to the state. Right after the funeral he set out on his own.”

This shocked Vicky. “Seriously? A thirteen year-old kid took care of himself?”

Morgan’s sight turned inward, and she spoke, as if to herself. “He started out begging for coins. That kept him fed. Then when the need for clothes and shoes became an issue, he moved on to offering services for money. Things like, mowing lawns, trash removal, or painting. You name it, any kind of manual labor, he was willing to do it. But no matter how much work he did, he still had to sleep on the beach, or under the boardwalk. No one was paying him what his hard work was worth, so his moneymaking endeavors began to drift toward the easy money. He used to say, trying to find warmth in a snowstorm will motivate a person to do things he never thought he would in order to find shelter. He started out stealing car radios for some guy up in Baltimore, those little jobs made him enough money to rent cheap hotel rooms. Then he moved on to stealing the cars, that’s when the real money started rolling in and he could finally afford a decent place of his own. When he got older he stopped working for other people, and started stealing for himself.”

The story wasn’t what Vicky had expected to hear. She thought Michael McCray’s story would be one about how the underdog persevered through the hard times and came out on the other side a winner. But this story’s outcome was very different from the sappy little ending she had envisioned.

“And now he’s an entrepreneur with several businesses under his belt.” Vicky said in an odd far-off voice.

Morgan looked at the woman for a couple of beats. “That’s true. He is very successful. But there is something you should always keep in mind, Vicky. You can take the man out of the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of the man. Everything isn’t always as it seems.”

She knew there was a message she was missing, but Vicky didn’t want to decipher it. Like most of the people in town, she had no clue as to Michael McCray’s secret dealings. To her he looked like a man that had pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became a successful businessman. And that’s all she wanted to know. After what she had just been told she didn’t want to delve any deeper into that pool. Somehow it didn’t feel very safe to do so.

Morgan, in her silence, was dealing with opposing feelings. She felt pride for the kid, barely into his teens that had found his own way, but was equally disappointed in the man that could not let the larcenous side of his life go and be satisfied with making the businesses he had established legitimate.

Feeling like the silence was going to go on indefinitely, Brain cleared his throat. “Um, Shannon, it’s your turn.”

As if she were waking from a dream, the social worker picked up the dice and rolled. Although she knew Michael McCray’s history, hearing it again, the night before she would go looking for her own parents, filled her with a sense of foreboding.

God, I hope tomorrow goes well.
Chapter Twenty-Five
In the early morning hours the two women laid in each other’s arms, bring in the new day with quiet conversation.

“Maybe going to see them might finally exorcise your demons, Shannon, and the nightmares can stop.”

“You may be right, I never thought of that.”

Morgan gently ran her hands through golden strands, stopping every few inches to massage Shannon’s scalp. “When you think about it, you were a fourteen year-old kid the last time you saw them. You were powerless and had no voice, but now…”

Shannon cut her off with a tender finger to the lips. “Now I’m an adult, confident, self-assured, and a lot stronger than I was back then.”

Morgan’s eyes filled with love. “And just to add to your list of accomplishments, you’re a college graduate, a well-respected social worker, and the most loving person I know…you’re my hero, Shannon.”

The tears that tracked down Shannon’s cheeks made her feel silly, especially considering the resume of strengths and achievements that had just been recited, but Morgan calling her a hero was the biggest accomplishment of them all. This woman who stood up to the bad guys, put herself out there for the public’s safety. This woman who would stand between her and any foe, accept any challenge to keep her safe, even take a bullet for her. If this woman thought she was a hero, she knew she could never receive a higher compliment.

“You make me feel like I can do anything,” she whispered.

Morgan kissed her softly, then held her gaze, conveying a message of power. “You can.”

Shannon knew, that look and those words was the shield she would carry with her when she visited her childhood home.

*******

Shannon couldn’t believe she was on the porch of the home she had not seen since the day paramedics wheeled her out of it fourteen years before. Not much had changed. The front yard was still nothing more than several square feet of dry dirt, and the screen door still had the same hole in the bottom left corner that had been put there when her foot went through it when she was eight.

Standing there, she hated to admit what she was feeling. In fact, she despised the emotions for their uninvited intrusion. But she became awash with memories from her childhood, and not all of them were bad. Like the day her parents brought Brian home from the hospital. She was standing on this porch, excitedly jumping up and down as they brought the tiny bundle up the stairs, or the old two-wheeler her father had found somewhere and given to her. The days she had spent riding it up and down the cracked sidewalk were filled with fantasies of far-off places and mythical lands.

But that had been a very long time ago. As she got older, things became more violent in her life, and the small amount of peace that had existed was gone. Shaking her head to clear it of the past, Shannon mumbled just before knocking on the door. “What the hell am I doing?”

When the knock ended, almost immediately a woman’s voice was heard on the other side.

“Dave, hurry up and answer the door. That kid is back with the beer.”

Shannon looked at Brian and shook her head. “This is gonna be bad,” she whispered.

*******

When the door opened, Shannon and her father just stared at each other for several minutes. The daughter trying to find her father in the rail-thin, balding man that reeked of cigarettes, and the father trying to figure out who the beautiful blonde was on his porch. Then their eyes met and held, and when he saw the nervous shifting of the green orbs the pieces began to fall into place.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said with a bit of a slur.

“What’s taking so long, Dave?”

Audrey stepped up beside her husband and almost fell over. Unlike Dave, she knew immediately who the visitors were. They were older…a lot older, but these were her kids. And even if she hadn’t recognized them right away she would have known Shannon anywhere. Her daughter was looking at her with those same accusatory green eyes.

“Well look at what the cat dragged in,” she practically snarled.

This made Dave snort with laughter. “You’re a card, Audrey.”

The disheveled woman looked the visitors up and down, making Shannon think she was trying to decide whether or not she should invite them in, or order them off of the porch. Finally she begrudgingly asked them in.

“Well don’t just stand there,” she said reluctantly. “Come on it.”

As soon as they crossed the threshold Shannon was assaulted with familiar sights and smells. She couldn’t believe her eyes…or her nose. The place hadn’t changed a bit.

The air was still stale from nicotine and alcohol. Bottles, cans and debris were littered around the room, and the same tattered furniture, and stained curtains still decorated the living room. When the siblings took a seat on the sofa it took every ounce of their good manners not to wipe off the fabric before it came into contact with their clothes.

Before any words could be passed a second knock was heard. Dave went to the door again, and this time returned with a twelve pack of the cheapest beer on the shelf. He handed one to Audrey, then popped one open for himself.

“You want one?” he asked his children.

They both shook their head, “no”.

After a few sips, Dave looked at his son and took in the crisp uniform, the ribbons across his chest, and the bars on his shoulders. “What are you? Some kind of soldier or something?”

“Um…ah…yes, sir. I’m in the air force.”

Dave took another big swig of his beer, then burped. “If you ask me, they’re a bunch of pansy-asses.”

Nobody asked you, Brian thought.

“Everybody knows that real men join the marines.”

Brian mentally rolled his eyes. This coming from a man that never served a day in any branch of the military.

He looked over at his daughter. “What about you? What do you do?”

“I work for the department of social services,” Shannon answered without hesitation.

This seemed to pique Audrey’s interest, and she leaned forward a little. “You got anything to do with the welfare office? ‘Cause if you do my benefits…”

Shannon cut her off before she could finish. “No, I’m a social worker with child services.”

“Oh,” Audrey said with just a hint of contempt in her voice.

Feeling a little judged? Shannon wondered.

No one said anything for a few long minutes as Dave and Audrey downed another beer. They were feeling really put out that their precious drinking time was being intruded upon, but they would try to make the best of it. After all, their guest couldn’t stay too much longer…could they?

“So…you stationed over at Andrews?” Dave asked his son.

“No, sir. I’m stationed at the Misawa Air Base in Japan.”

The way the answer was given. The pride that could be heard in the words, even the way the young man’s back straightened as he passed on the information, all combined together in his mind, causing Dave Reynolds to become irritated.

“Don’t, sir, me you puffed up little ass-wipe. Just ‘cause you’re wearing shiny shoes, dressed in a decorated monkey suit, and got a government sponsored trip out of the country don’t make you better than me.”

“I never thought it did,” Brain said, not understanding where the anger was coming from. How come our parents aren’t proud of us? he wondered.

Shannon was sadden, but not surprised that their parents were still the exact same people they were fourteen years before. As far as she was concerned, the sooner this visit was over the better, there was nothing here for her…there never was.

Audrey didn’t miss the judgment that had settled in her daughter’s eyes, and it raised her hackles. She didn’t need this. No one had invited the girl here. Who was she to come into her house and try to make her feel bad?

“What did you come here for?” Audrey asked. “What do you want from us?”

Shannon just stared at the woman who had given her life, and something turned over in her. Something that left her numb in that place where mothers lived. “Nothing, we don’t want anything. Brian just wanted to come and see you.”

“And what about you?” Audrey asked her daughter. “Did you want to see us?” When she didn’t receive an answer she turned to her son. “I have her answer, so what about you? Why are you here?” she questioned the young man.

Brian was flustered. This isn’t at all how he had expected the reunion to be. He knew there wasn’t going to be a big celebration, or endless rounds of hugs and kisses welcoming them home, but he did expect his parents to show some level of joy at seeing them again.

“D…don’t you even care that we’re here?” Brian asked in an unbelieving voice.

When no answer came, Shannon stood to leave. “Come on, Brian. It was a mistake coming here.”

It seemed like the condescending tone in Shannon’s voice woke something up in Dave, some deep down need that had long gone unsatisfied. “Did you bring your haughty ass in here to rub our faces in your fancy lives? ‘Cause if you did, we ain’t impressed.”

“No, we came because we thought that maybe the two of you had changed, but I see that was a ridiculous thought,” Shannon challenged.

Dave’s eyes narrowed. “You calling me stupid, little girl?”

The look on his face, and the danger in his voice made Shannon’s insides quiver, but she refused to show any fear to this bully.

“No, I’m not calling you anything.” She looked down at his scuffed-up shoes with the turned over heels, and wondered why he had taken so much pleasure in kicking her as a child. There were times when he had used his fists, but his method of abuse always returned to kicking. She held her head high, and for the first time in her life looked him in the eyes without fear. “Why, dad? Why did you treat me the way you did?”

For a fleeting instant, Shannon thought she saw a veil of shame pass over her father’s coarse features, then it was gone.

Dave shrugged his shoulders with indifference. “All children need to be disciplined.”

“You call what you did to me discipline? Are you insane?”

Dave stood up and took a threatening step forward. “You back to calling me stupid again?”

Shannon didn’t move. She stood her ground, and stared her abuser down. “You bastard,” she said in a strangled whisper. “You have no regrets, do you?”

“Regrets for what?” the man sneered.

Brain moved closer to his sister. If their father made a move to put his hands on her, the man would be met with resistance, no longer would he be the frightened little boy in the corner.

“For everything you did to me,” Shannon accused.

Dave looked his daughter over and sucked on his stained teeth. “Looks to me like you did okay for yourself. Maybe you should be thanking me instead of accusing me.” He looked over at his wife. “What’s that old saying, Audrey? Something about adversity and building character?”

“Yeah, that’s it, Dave,” was Audrey’s tipsy response.

“You can’t be serious.” Shannon was amazed by these people. She turned to her mother. “Didn’t you ever wonder what happened to us?”

“We knew the state had you,” Audrey said in a way that made the listener think she thought her response made perfect sense.

Shannon felt like she was losing her mind. “That was okay with you?!”

“Hey, they got more money than we do. Besides if they was gonna come running in here every time you had a bump or bruise, it was probably best that they took responsibility for you,” Audrey informed her daughter.

Shannon looked at the stranger that had given birth to her, and asked the question that she had always wanted answered.

“Why didn’t you ever help me?”

Audrey looked truly confused. “Help you? Help you do what?”

“Why didn’t you stop him from kicking the shit out me?!” Shannon stated with disbelief.

“It was his right as your father to make you obey in what ever way he thought was best.” The answer was given in a “that is the dumbest question I’ve ever heard” tone.

The numb feeling inside of Shannon went cold. “You are a disgrace to the word “mother”. You shame every woman that has ever sacrificed herself to protect her children,” the corner of Shannon’s lip twitched with loathing. “If being a mother means so little to you, why did you even have children?”

The question made Dave laugh so hard he fell back into his chair. “We was too drunk to prevent it,” he said between cackles.

Audrey joined her husband, the laughter seemed to be contagious. “Yeah, Dave, when you was ready, you was ready.”

“Don’t put it all on me, you wasn’t no nun.”

Audrey’s laugh got even louder. “Maybe that’s what I should have said to you. You ain’t getting none.”

The play on words made the older couple laugh so hard they were doubled over, and tears were running down their faces.

Brian and Shannon just looked at each other. “We’re in the twilight zone,” Shannon said, bewildered.

“I am so sorry I asked you to do this,” Brian apologized.

Shannon reassured her brother. “Don’t be sorry. I think I needed this.” She pointed to their inebriated parents. “Look at them. I can’t believe that is what has been giving me nightmares…they’re nothing more than two pathetic drunks.”

Unfortunately, those were the words that pierced through the drunken giggles, and Dave was furious. He jumped out of his chair and headed for Shannon, hand raised and fist balled. “I’ll teach you to disrespect me in my own house, you stuck-up little bitch!”

He was about to bring his arm down, aiming for the young woman’s jaw, when his strike was stopped mid-arc. Unfocused, confused eyes tracked down to his wrist, then followed the path of the hand that held him until he met furious brown eyes.

“If you touch my sister I’ll break this,” Brian promised.

Dave Reynolds was taller than his son, but he was in far worse shape. Years of drinking, smoking, and doing nothing more physical than lifting his hand to his mouth had left him soft. Where, on the other hand, Brian was young, strong, fit, and ready to protect the one that had always protected him.

“You threatening me, boy?” Dave tried to be intimidating.

Brian squeezed his father’s wrist a bit tighter, just for emphases. “No, I’m not threatening you, I’m promising you. If you ever hurt her again you will answer to me.”

Dave twisted his arm away and shot daggers at his son. “So, you man enough to be making promises now?”

Brian didn’t flinch. “Yes, I am.”

“Yes, I am,” Dave mimicked in a nasal voice.

Audrey stood on wobbly legs and got between her husband and her son. “Don’t waste your time fighting with him, Dave. He’ll just end up calling the law on you again. It ain’t worth it.”

Brian turned his focus on his mother, amazed by the detached way she mentioned the last day they had spent in this house. “Shannon was lying unconscious on the floor. What did you expect me to do?”

“I expected you to sit still and wait for her to wake up. She always woke up…given enough time.”

The young man was having trouble comprehending the person in front of him. “What kind of woman are you?! With him it was just a matter of biology, he supplied the genetic material that helped create us, so you could almost make an argument for his detachment,” Brian said, pointing to his father. “But, you. You carried us for nine months. It was your body that gave us nourishment and shelter. It was your life force that kept us alive until we could survive on our own. For a short time we were practically one being. That’s why I don’t understand how can you feel nothing when you look at us,” he practically screamed.

Audrey chose to ignore her son’s outburst, he was inconsequential…always had been. Instead she turned her focus on Shannon, figuring her to be the instigator in the accusations. Her eyes became slits and a feral sneer tugged at her mouth. She had to have put the boy up to this. He would never have the balls to confront us like this on his own, she thought.

“Do you have any children, Miss I got a good government job?”

The question caught Shannon off guard. “N…no.”

“Then don’t you judge me,” Audrey spewed. “You have been judging me from the second you walked through the door. But you have no idea what it was like to have kids. I thought my body was being taken over by aliens. I couldn’t smoke, I couldn’t drink. Well, mostly I couldn’t. I puked my guts out every morning. I craved food that I found revolting. And the pain. Let me tell you about the pain. It felt like my entire body was trying to turn inside out by way of my lower body. Then when you got here, the never-ending need. The feedings, the diaper changing, the washing.” She stopped talking, looking like she wished she could pat herself on the back for a job well done. “The thing I’m most proud of is that I got you to a place where you could finally take care of yourself and stop depending on me.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?” Shannon asked, unable to believe what she was hearing.

“As a heart attack,” Audrey delivered with concrete certainty.

Shannon tried logic. “So, it doesn’t matter to you that we were helpless infants and couldn’t do for ourselves?”

No answer.

“If we were so unwanted why did you keep us? Why didn’t you put us up for adoption or turn us over to social services. Why keep us and make our lives miserable?” Shannon wanted to know.

Then, as if the clock had been turned back, and she was a pregnant twenty-two year-old again, Audrey shrugged her shoulders. “Our parents wouldn’t let us. Said we was grown-ups. Married and all, and that it was time to act like it.” She looked to Dave. “Guess they thought a couple of snot-factories was gonna stop us from partying.”

Dave popped open another can of beer to emphasize his point. “Guess they was wrong…but they was good for money. The state assistance came in real handy.”

Brian had heard enough. He grabbed for Shannon’s hand then turned to his parents. “As cheated as you might feel about how inconvenient we made your life, remember this. We didn’t ask to be born. That was something that the two of you made happen, and it wasn’t fair for you to make us pay for that choice.” He started for the door pulling Shannon along with him. “Let’s get out of here. I see now that we are orphans, always have been. I was just too young to identify the bodies.”

The siblings walked out of their childhood home for the last time. Even when they heard the door slam behind them they didn’t turn around. This chapter of their life was closed for good, and neither one felt the need to ever pull this book off of the shelf again.
Chapter Twenty-Six
When they returned to the house, Morgan was sitting in the living room watching television. The slamming of the door, and the stomping of feet made her push the mute button and wait.

Brian quickly made his way to the room he was using, and changed his clothes before heading out, intending on going over to Jim and Maureen’s house. “I’ll be back in the morning he yelled before closing the front door.

After he left, Morgan rose from the sofa and made her way to the master bedroom, where she found Shannon in the middle of undressing.

The angry blonde was standing in front of the closet wearing nothing but a pair of panties as she forcefully shoving her clothes back onto the hangers, mumbling under her breath.

“I guess it didn’t go well.”

“That’s an understatement.” Shannon turned to her mate. “Those are the most vile creatures to have ever set foot on this earth.”

Morgan gave a quiet laugh. “I think you’re exaggerating a bit.”

Shannon exhaled. “Maybe I am, but not by much.”

“Where did Brian run off to?” Morgan wanted to know.

“To see Jim. He said he needed to talk to him. I think they got to him too.”

Morgan looked at the upset woman with compassion and understanding. She moved forward and pulled Shannon into a loving embrace.

“You must really feel bad for me,” Shannon mumbled into Morgan’s neck. “You haven’t made one comment about me being naked.”

“Oh, I noticed. Believe me, but you aren’t naked, at least not totally,” Morgan snapped the elastic in the waist of the dark panties for emphasis. “Tell me what happened, sweetheart?”

Shannon exhaled a long breath, and pulled Morgan over to the bed. They sat on the side, and Shannon began her story.

“When we got there they were both half drunk…

*******

By the end of the story Morgan was wide-eyed. “Brian stood up to your father?”

“Just like a grown man would,” Shannon said with pride.

“And your demented mother thought that infants should come already potty-trained?”

“Mother of the year, that one is,” Shannon practically snarled.

Morgan rubbed her wife’s back. “What about you? How did you feel when all of this was going on?”

“I…I felt like that unwanted little girl again,” she admitted.

“I wish I had been there for you.”

“You were,” Shannon promised. She put her hand over her heart. “Right here.”

“I should go over there and…”

“No,” Shannon whispered. “I need you here.”

That’s when Morgan saw the deep hurt in her lover’s eyes. It made her pull the woman close. “What can I do, love? Just tell me and I’ll do it.”

“I need you to make me remember that I’m not that unwanted little girl. I need you to help me remember who I am and who I belong to. I need you to love me, Morgan.”

“As you wish,” was the solemn promise.

Morgan got off of the bed and removed her own clothes, then she laid Shannon on her back and reached for the waistband, pulling off the panties that she was still wearing.

“I love you so much, Shannon.”

“Show me.” It was nearly a plea.

When soft lips met her own, Shannon immediately gave in to the kiss, sending her tongue out in search of it’s mate. And when a large hand reached down and cupped her breast, her nether regions flooded with passion. That’s when Morgan tuned onto her back and used both hands to position Shannon on top on her.

The shorter woman was now straddling her spouse’s firm stomach. It was a position she loved to be in, and Morgan knew it. The moonlight streaming through the window, allowed her to look into love-filled eyes that showed their surrender to her. Always her. Only her. Whenever they made love it was the look in Morgan’s eyes that always let her know that they both lay vulnerable to each other.

As she swam in the blue pools, she could feel the wetness leaving her body to form a slick puddle on her wife’s skin, but she wasn’t ashamed. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time she painted her spouse with her passion.

She felt safe and secure in the knowledge that the woman beneath her knew all of her secrets, because they had never held anything back from each other, especially in this. In this there was no hiding. In this she was open and exposed, but she knew Morgan was too.

The love they shared always beckoned her to take this journey with her heart. Trusting that when they reached their destination it would meet it’s mate there and join as one.

Her hips started a slow roll that was so erotic it caused another flood of arousal to escape from her body. Then it was made that much more delicious when two strong hands rested in the curve of her waist, anchoring her to the firm flesh she was sliding against.

“Yesss,” she hissed, with painful pleasure, because that’s what it was. This felt so good it hurt.

“What do you want me to do?” Morgan asked in a choked voice. She was just as turned on as her mate.

“I want to ride you.”

Releasing one hand from the soft skin of her wife’s waist, Morgan worked it between their bodies and positioned two fingers where her lover needed them most.

“Take me,” Shannon whispered.

Morgan slowly circled her wife’s entrance, and then, before another thought could enter her head, Shannon felt strong, talented fingers enter her. She closed her eyes and leaned forward to grip the larger woman’s shoulders, needing to hold on for the ride.

Her hips began to slowly rotate in a circle as her inner muscles clamped down on the fingers buried deep inside of her. Each time she rocked her pelvis forward the long digits touched something in her core, causing her to piston up and down before resuming her slow swivel.

“Oh, god, oh, god,” she chanted.

Morgan leaned up and captured a pink nipple with her lips, swirling her tongue around the tip. That caused the silky smoothness that surrounded her fingers to grip even tighter, so she brought her thumb up and started massaging Shannon’s swollen clit.

“Oh, shit,” she screamed and started moving her hips faster, sending the fingers even deeper.

Feeling the erotic movements that were being used to milk out Shannon’s pleasure caused Morgan’s passion to rise faster than she had expected, and she quickly found herself in need of some relief for her throbbing center.

She was so caught up in the new feeling of the thumb pressed up against her clit, Shannon was oblivious when Morgan flipped them over and started riding her thigh, seeking out her own pleasure.

Because Morgan’s fingers had never left her body, it wasn’t until she heard her lover’s grunts in her ear that she realized she was on her back. The purposeful hip thrust and the soaked curls clued Shannon in to her mate’s needs, so she slipped her hand between them and easily entered Morgan’s slick heat, pleased when she received a deep groan as her reward.

For the next several minutes the room was filled with moans and the sound of skin slapping together as the women lost themselves in each other. Then it was like a bell rung and the slapping noises became faster and faster, and the women knew the end was near.

“I…I’m gonna come, baby,” Morgan strained out.

“Me…me too,” Shannon panted.

They held each other tighter as their bodies rushed to keep up with the orgasm that was sweeping through them, threatening to leave them behind if they didn’t hurry. When they reached their destination they exploded in mutual pleasure, overcome by the euphoria that always waited for them at the end of this ride. Their bodies tensed and shuddered with their final release causing both women to collapse onto the bed. Morgan rolled off of her smaller spouse to prevent squashing her, but she didn’t go far. She remained attached to Shannon’s side. Running her hand up and down the sweat-covered body as the random shudders slowly diminished.

“You feel better, baby?”

Shannon’s chest was heaving. “I…I’ll let you know…after I catch my breath.”

Morgan gave a soft laugh. “Take your time, sweetheart.”

While she waited, Morgan snuggled even closer to her spent mate, burying her face against the softness of a full breast. She didn’t think she could ever get close enough to Shannon. Sometimes it frightened her how much she loved the woman. But she never wanted her emotions to overwhelm her wife, so she didn’t voice her feelings. Then, as if Shannon knew exactly what was going on in Morgan’s head, she spoke a few words that reaffirmed their mutual obsession.

“Sometimes I wish I could crawl inside of you and share your body.”

Morgan started laughing, but when Shannon felt a few tears added to the sweat on the side of her breast she was confused.

“Are you okay, baby?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just so amazing that you always know just the right thing to say at just the right time.”

Shannon ran her fingers through her lover’s damp tresses, trying to untangle the dark hair. “And what mental ramblings did I rescue you from this time?”

“Just me worrying about whether or not I smother you.”

Shannon let out something between a snort and a laugh. “Right. You smoother me. Trust me, you are no worse than I am. I’m the one that needed you to make love to me so that I could feel whole again…remember?”

Morgan wiggled around until her head was in the exact right position to achieve maximum comfort on a plump breast. “Then I guess we are a perfect match.”

Shannon kissed the top of her spouse’s head, and yawned as she felt herself drifting off. “That’s right, my love. A perfect match.”
Chapter Twenty-Seven
“She offered you a job?!”

Maureen had invited the kids over, along with Vicky and Rita, to enjoy one last barbeque before Brian flew back to Japan, and stories of the recent arrest were being shared.

Shannon stood up and put her hands on her hips. “What? You don’t believe I could get a date?”

“I can’t believe she had three houses and was pulling in two-hundred and forty thousand dollars of unreported income each year,” Morgan said. Redirecting the conversation. The thought of that skag being anywhere near Shannon made her gut twist with anger.

“Me either,” Jim added. “And that was after she had paid the rent and utilities at all three brothels, the mortgage on her own home, made payments on the vehicle used to transport the prostitutes. Jim took a breath before finishing the long list. “Pay the sex workers and brothel managers, purchase supplies for her prostitution businesses, and get this. She was in the process of trying to open a business in Florida.”

“There is that much money to be made in prostitution?” Rita asked.

“When it’s as organized as this Delmar broad was, you better believe it,” Jim said with authority.

“How much time do you think she will get?” Brian wondered.

Morgan snorted with derision. “From our meeting the other day. The director expects no more than a couple of years of jail time, three or four years of supervised probation and probably some sort of tax lien.”

Vicky couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “That’s it? That’s all. She has changed these girls lives forever, and all she gets is a couple of years of inconvenience?”

“Sucks doesn’t it?” Morgan said.

“But why?” Vicky wanted to know.

“Because her hands were only soiled, not fully dirty. None of the girls ever saw her do anything. And it doesn’t hurt that she isn’t some penny ante street hooker. She was making a lot of money, and because of that some agencies feel like there is a way they can get into her pockets and wet their beaks.”

“Hence, the tax liens,” Brian said.

“That’s a damn shame,” Vicky mumbled under her breath. “Those poor girls.

This sobered Shannon. After the arrests she had worked closely with Kathy and Ginny, setting them up with proper counseling and programs, so she knew how traumatic their captivity had been.

“That Kathy is a pistol,” she said in a thoughtful voice.

Morgan found the change in subject odd, but picked up the thread anyway.

“I told you, the kid doesn’t pull any punches…and she’s the most honest teenager I’ve ever met,” Morgan informed the room.

“That’s the impression I got too,” Jim added. “That little girl jumped up into that big truck and just laid it on the line.”

“She saved herself and her friend, didn’t she?” Maureen asked.

“That she did,” Morgan said with a measure of respect.

“You know, Morgan I don’t think I was ever her age,” Shannon said in a pensive tone.

“Of course you were,” Morgan stated offhandedly. “we all were. I was seventeen, you were seventeen,” she smirked and tilted her head in Brian’s direction. “Even he was seventeen once.”

Brain stuck his tongue out at his tormenter, but didn’t stop chewing his burger.

“I know that,” Shannon took her time, trying to say what she meant. “Yes, we were all seventeen at one time in our lives, but Kathy is an old seventeen. She has been through so much in her short years, it has aged her…you know what I mean?”

They all understood. The things that Kathy had experienced could make the young quickly become ancient.

“But, Ginny,” Shannon said with wonder. “It amazes me how after everything she’s been through she is still kind of…kind of…”

Morgan heard Kathy’s voice in her head and smiled. “Spoiled,” she finished for her spouse.

“Yes.” Shannon looked a little embarrassed by the admission.

“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Maureen volunteered. “Maybe her being spoiled will help her get passed what she’s been through.”

“You have a point there,” Shannon agreed.

Jim cleared his throat, wanting to move on. The time he had spent working on that case with Morgan had left him ashamed of his male brethren and heartbroken for the lost and abused girls that he had encountered.

“Morgan, have you talked to your dad since the bust?”

Okay, another subject change. I’m getting mental whiplash. “No, I think he has crawled back into his hole.”

“You’ve spoken to your father?” Rita asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

The woman’s question made Maureen’s eye twitch, and her ears filled with the sound of the ocean. She was slowly becoming a nervous wreck, and was wondering why she had ever let herself get involved with this thing with Rita.

She had been feeling panicky ever since Morgan and Shannon had arrived. Rita and Vicky were already there. And although things were a little awkward at first between the McCray couple and Rita, after a few quiet apologies, and friendly words, Morgan, Shannon and Rita fell into a comfortable pattern with one another. But the more they interacted the more light-headed Rita became. She was terrified that Rita’s secret, along with her compliance, would be exposed.

Her ears opened back up when she heard Morgan answer the question.

“Yeah, he called and invited me over,” Morgan said.

“You don’t seem very pleased about it. Him inviting you over was a good thing…wasn’t it?” Rita inquired further.

She knew she was treading lightly with the dark woman, and she didn’t want a repeat of their last interaction, but she had to know why Michael wanted to see the girl.

“Not,” Morgan said with sarcasm. “The only thing I got from that meeting was a lower opinion of the man. Especially when he told me he had paid off the Major so that I would be accepted into the academy.”

“I’m really sorry to hear that, Morgan,” Rita offered.

The tall woman just shrugged it off. “The man will never change.”

Shannon noticed the slight shift in Rita’s gray eyes as she spoke. It was almost as if she was experiencing Morgan’s pain for her. She must be a very empathetic person, Shannon thought.

Jim shook his head. “That one threw me for a loop. I had no clue that old-man Daniels could be bought.”

“Who knows, Jim? Maybe under normal circumstances he couldn’t be, but Michael McCray has ways of convincing people that he knows what is in their best interest,” Morgan said as a way of defending the retired Major.

It took every ounce of Rita’s willpower not to look in Maureen’s direction. She knew the woman would be looking back at her, and with two law enforcement officers at the table she couldn’t risk their odd exchange being noticed.

“You don’t think that visit could be the beginning of you getting your father back in your life?” Rita wanted know.

“I don’t want a relationship with him,” Morgan said with venom. His threat to Shannon was still too fresh in her mind.

“Oh, okay,” Maureen said with hesitation.

Morgan banked the fires in her gut and cooled herself down. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so aggressive. It’s just that he said some things when I say him that rubbed me the wrong way.”

“I see. I only asked because you said you don’t have your mother so…”

Morgan held her hand up. “You don’t need to go any further. For the most part the mother void in my life has been filled,” she looked to her hostess. “Maureen is the closes thing I’ve had to a mother since I was four years-old, and that’s enough for me.”

Maureen saw the other woman wince and gave her a sympathetic glance.

“Don’t you ever wonder about her?” Rita knew she really pushing it now, but this was something she needed to know. She only hoped the young woman’s patience would last a little longer.

Morgan didn’t hesitate with her answer. “No. If she doesn’t care enough to wonder about me, I don’t care enough to wonder about her,” was said with a bit of adolescent petulance.

Rita took her time here. She really wanted Morgan to think about what was being said. “Suppose she does wonder about you, but she can’t get in touch with you?”

Rita’s heart was pounding. She was speaking very close to the truth, and was running the risk of being scrutinized. Maureen, on the other hand, was feeling apoplectic and about to stroke-out. What was wrong with the woman?! She is practically saying, hey, by the way, just in case you were getting curious, I’m your mother.

Morgan looked like the question was ridiculous. “If she wanted to get in touch with me she could. Especially now with my name in the paper. As far as I’m concerned she doesn’t have a good enough reason or excuse for her lack of participation.

“Morgan,” Rita held the woman’s eyes steady. “Didn’t you just say your former Major may have been convinced,” on this word she held her fingers up in quotations. “to accept your father’s offer? If you can see that possibility for him couldn’t you offer your mother that same reprieve? Can’t you let your imagination stretch to include her in that scenario?” Then, to cover for the near confession, Rita shrugged her shoulders as if Morgan’s answer wouldn’t affect her one way or the other. “I’m just saying.”

Morgan’s mouth moved like a fish, but no words were coming out. Then they snapped shut and her brow furrowed, making it obvious that she was deep in thought. I never once considered that he might have threatened her, Morgan reflected.

Shannon was also thinking about the new playing field that had just been laid out before them. Suppose he did force her to stay away? Then what? She looked at her spouse. Better yet…now what?

The other occupants in the room watched in wonder as Morgan began her mental process. Rita with the most interest. Even as a child Morgan had the capability to concentrate on a task until she understood it. The woman remembered watching her dark-haired toddler work on picking up her round cereal off of the high-chair tray until she could do it, if not on the first try, definitely by the second. It was just a part of her meticulous nature. She was going to work on this until she could see the logic of it from all sides.

Rita smiled to herself. The seed had been planted. She could leave it alone for a while and give it time to grow. Maybe, if given enough time her daughter would be open to hear more possibilities. Until then…she would wait.

*******

Shannon had the room in stitches. She was retelling how she had first met Vicky, and although most of the people had already heard the story it was always good for a laugh. Especially when there was someone new to hear it for the first time.

“Here I am running across campus, late for class, and this stranger sidles up next to me wanting to carry on a conversation, mid run…”

“I’m late for my psych class,” the blue-eyed redhead said, out of breath.

Shannon looked around thinking the stranger had to be talking to someone else. But when she realized that they were alone she responded, just to be polite.

“That’s where I’m headed,” the little blonde panted. She didn’t want to be rude, but there was no way she was slowing down.

“What’s your name?” the redhead asked.

Shannon glanced at the girl. Is she really going to try and talk to me now?

“Shannon,” was forced out between breaths.

“I’m Vicky. Pleased to meet you.”

The girl stuck out her hand and waited for Shannon to shake it. The blonde adjusted the weight of her backpack and moved it to her opposite hand before quickly extended her hand in return. Now that the introductions were over she hoped the other girl would remain quiet.

“I just transfer here from the community college…”

The words were abruptly cut-off when the annoying redhead tripped over a root and fell face first into the fall leaves, Shannon thought about stopping to help, but the need to be on time pushed her forward.

Everyone was laughing, except Vicky. Vicky was pouting.

“You could have stopped to help me up,” she accused.

“Don’t be like that, Vic. I told you I was sorry when I saw you again. I even gave you my notes from that day’s class.”

Rita was wiping her eyes. “Why did you have to give her your notes?”

Morgan burst out laughing, waiting for Shannon to tell this part. Shannon looked sheepishly at her good friend, but chose to ignore the plea in her eyes. She had to tell it.

“She ended up in the infirmary,” Shannon told the woman.

“Oh, my,” Rita gasped. “That’s not funny at all.”

Brian howled. This was always the funniest part to him. “It’s the reason why she was there that is funny, Rita. Go on, Shannon. Tell her.

“Well…she um…she did a face-plant into a pile of dog poop and…”

That was as far as she got before deafening gales of laughter cut her off. She looked to her friend and mouthed, “sorry”, but Vicky didn’t look like she was in the mood to accept it.

“She took the saying “shit-faced”, literally,” Morgan teased. Sending everyone into another round of gut-busting laughter.

Vicky stood hastily and excused herself to the bathroom. “I don’t need to sit and listen to this,” she huffed. “I’ve been laughed at by better than you bunch of yahoos.”

She left the idiots to laugh themselves silly. Deciding she would come back after it had died down. Once she was out of sight she had to laugh herself. Getting that smell out of my nose had taken days, she thought, letting some of the humor seep into her scowl.

“Ah…the good old days,” she said under her breath.

*******

When the door closed behind the last guest, Maureen leaned her back against the cool wood and wanted to sink to the floor.

I can’t handle all of this pressure by myself.

She walked into the dining room and started clearing the table of bottles, cans and plates.

I’ve got to tell Jim. If for no other reason, then to keep my sanity. Because if I have to spend one more day with Morgan and Rita in the same room I’m going to have a mental breakdown.

She began rinsing off and stacking dishes into the dishwasher.

Why did I even agree to keep this secret? I know I don’t have the nerves it takes to pull-off a deception this big.

She filled the tiny drawer with a detergent pack, and after making sure all the dishes were in, she closed the door.

If I didn’t know any better I would think that Rita wants Morgan to figure out who she is anyway. So, what would it hurt for me to tell Jim?

She checked the settings and turned the washer on.

Oh, well. It can’t be helped. It just can’t be helped. I have got to get this off of my chest, she thought, as a way to give herself permission.

She grabbed two V-8 juices from the refrigerator, turned off the lights, and headed for the bedroom.

“Jim, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Chapter Twenty-Eight
“Are you sure you packed everything?”

Shannon was surveying Brian’s room checking the closet and empty drawers to make sure the young soldier wasn’t forgetting anything.

“Yes, Shannon. Everything is packed and ready to go,” he answered like her was speaking to an overprotective grandmother.

“You don’t have to be a brat about,” she said, backhanding him in the midsection.

Brian made an “oof” sound, pretending like it hurt. Then her turned and faced his sister.

The siblings stood in silence, inches apart, just staring at one another. They had shared something very healing during this visit. Something that had changed them both for the better. Brian looked down into his sister’s watery green eyes, and knew that his own tears were not far behind.

“I’m gonna miss you,” she practically sobbed.

She threw herself at him and rocked him back on his heels with the force of her embrace, but he held on tight, returning the emotion with just as much intensity as he was receiving.

“I’m gonna miss you too, Shannon…so much.”

“When will you be home again?” she asked, her face pressed into his uniform.

“It’s going to be a while. I used up all of my leave on this trip, so it will be at least a year,” came the quiet answer.

Her sobs became harder. In the past Shannon had gone for long stretches of time without seeing Brian, but this time felt different. This time it wasn’t just her baby brother leaving. It was her friend, her peer. He was now her equal, and she was heartbroken that she wasn’t going to have the opportunity to cultivate their new relationship.

She pulled back and gave him an order. “You e-mail or text me everyday.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a salute in his voice. “But you’ll have to settle for e-mails. You know they don’t allow texting on the base,” was said with a twinkle in loving brown eyes.

Shannon leaned in for another long hug. “I don’t care how you do it, just do it.”

They stood holding each other in a loving silence, until the mood was broken by a mocking voice.

“Oh, please. Stop with the mush fest, you two. You’re making me sick to my stomach with all of this syrupy sweetness,” Morgan teased from the doorway.

The siblings stepped apart, but still maintained contact by Shannon placing her hand on the young man’s forearm.

“What’s the matter jealous?” Brian teased.

“Why would I be jealous of you? I see her everyday.”

Brian moved so quick, Morgan couldn’t avoid him when he embraced her in a bear hug.

“Not jealous of me, you big idiot. Jealous of her.”

When Morgan realized that Brian was insinuating that she wanted to be the one hugging him instead of Shannon, she started struggling to get loose, thinking the embrace was part of some payback plan on Brian’s part. She continued to struggle until Brian whispered in her ear.

“I love you, Morgan, and I’m going to miss you as much as I’m going to miss Shannon.”

The tall woman relaxed and stopped trying to get free, choosing instead to tightened her arms around the shorter man, because that’s what he was now. Not just in age, but in actions. This trip had brought changes to the young lieutenant. Changes that had been long in coming, but they were finally here, and Morgan’s chest swelled with the knowledge that he would no longer carry around the guilt and shame that had always lurked in the shadows of his mind. He had faced down his demons and taken away their power.

“I love you too,” she intoned. Then she paused. “You, little shit.”

Brian released her and rolled his eyes. “It’s just like you to go and ruin a perfectly good hallmark moment. You will always be a wise-ass.”

Morgan leaned down and kissed the unsuspecting man on the cheek.

“You wouldn’t have me any other way.”

The biggest smile she ever seen began to spread across Brian’s handsome face. “No, I wouldn’t.”

Shannon knew she needed to break up the emotions in the room or the two pranksters would begin to feel uncomfortable, so she hooked her arms through both of the taller people’s elbows, and walked them out to the living room.

“Now who’s having a mush fest, you big weenies?” she teased. “Let’s get going before you two ladies start crying all over each other.”

*******

They could only walk him as far as the main gate. After that Brian would catch a shuttle to the airfield, and be on his way.

Shannon stood with her head down, shifting from one foot to the other. Afraid to speak, because she knew all that was left to be said was goodbye, and she wasn’t ready to say it, or hear it.

Brian cleared his throat when the shuttle pulled up on the other side of the gate. “It’s time, Shannon.”

Morgan stood back, wanting the siblings to spend their last few moments alone.

“Don’t forget what I said,” Shannon mumbled without looking up.

“I won’t,” Brian promised. “I’ll send off an e-mail as soon as I get settled in,” he said, crossing his heart. But Shannon missed the motion because she was still looking at the ground.

Brian reached out and lifted her chin up so that he could see her eyes. The pain he saw there made his heart squeeze tight in his chest.

“Come on, Shannon, don’t do this. If you cry I’m gonna cry, and if I cry those guys,” he pointed over his shoulder at the military police guards. “are gonna laugh their asses off.”

Shannon pulled in a deep breath and steeled her nerves. She wouldn’t embarrass the young officer in front of the enlisted men.

“Okay. I’m okay,” she said with conviction.

“Good. Now give me a hug, and get you butt to work.” He looked at his watch. “You’re already an hour late.”

Shannon moved forward and hugged her brother tight. “They know where I am. I’ll get there when I get there.”

The shuttle driver blew the horn, and the siblings knew that their time was up. Last hugs were shared by the three of them before the two women watched the air force officer load his gear on the transport then take a seat on the miniature bus. As the vehicle pulled away waves were given until the shuttle was out of sight.

When loud sobs were heard coming from outside of the gate, the MP’s didn’t stare or acknowledge the two women’s presence. Witnessing family member’s grief when their loved ones were sent off wasn’t something that they wanted to see. Military life was hard enough without being reminded of the pain they caused their families when they left them behind.

Morgan walked her emotional spouse to the car, heading back home to retrieve Shannon’s car so that she could drive to work. Now that some wrongs had been set right, it was time to get back to their lives.
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Brian was probably somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, Shannon had driven herself to work, and Morgan was back, fulltime at Barracks Q, in College Park, going over a few cold case files that she had set aside while she worked on her task force sting. It had been a couple of weeks since the big bust and now that things had settled down she was back on regular duty.

But she couldn’t seem to keep her mind on track. Her thoughts continued to wonder down a winding path. A path that always led to the task force committee, and everything that the members were doing in the fight against human trafficking. She still wasn’t thrilled about making deals, but she had a better understanding as to why, in some cases, it needed to be done.

“Hmm,” she hummed into the empty room. I Wonder what the next meeting will be about, or what new files the director has for me.

With the unexpected success of her truck stop assignment Morgan had gained the director’s respect. So much so, that the man was now actively seeking her out, asking her opinion on some of the more interesting cases that came across his desk.

That’s what was on Morgan’s mind when a knock sounded at her office door.

“Come in,” Morgan yelled.

A fair head entered before a long body followed. The tall woman walked in and took a seat without being offered one.

Morgan raised a brow and looked the woman over before saying anything. She was quite attractive. She had sun-tanned skin that was blemish free. Her dusty-blonde hair was stylishly cut and feathered around her face, and her eyes were a light gray, that immediately started to take in every inch of the room.

But from the over application of makeup, short skirt, and tight fitting top with a plunging neckline, it wasn’t hard to figure out that she worked in the sex industry. Morgan didn’t know if it was stripping, hooking, or exotic dancing, but she knew it was one of them…she just had that air about her.

“What can I do for you?”

“You the cop that took down those whore houses, right?”

The question was asked without any introductions being made or any build up to a conversation. Morgan was going to rectify that.

“I’m detective McCray, and it you are talking about that raid on a brothel a couple of weeks ago, yes, I was in charge of that.”

“Okay. So I’m in the right place then.”

“What can I do for you, Miss…?”

“Brandi. You can call me Brandi…with an I,” she added as an afterthought.

“Okay, Miss Brandi, what can I do for you?”

“Since you’re the cop that was in charge of that raid I got some information for you.”

“That case is over, Miss Brandi.”

“This ain’t about that case. This is about something different.”

Morgan pushed her paperwork aside and gave her visitor her full attention.

“What’s on your mind?”

That lying-ass Nathan promised that I would be his bottom girl if I turned a few more tricks. But that bastard never came through. I mean, come on, all the girls want the chance to run the stable instead of working it.”

Morgan didn’t know where this odd, long, drawn-out speech was leading, but she was willing go along for the ride and find out.

“So, I guess you’re here because Nathan reneged on the deal.?”

Gray eyes became stern, and Brandi was ready to fire off on the detective. “Why you gotta be using fancy-ass words and shit? Can’t you just talk in plain English?”

Morgan was surprised and unsure of how to react. Did she really just say fancy-ass words and plain English? She held up here hand in sublimation, hoping the woman would calm down.

“I apologize, Miss Brandi. What I meant to say was, did he go back on his promise?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s what he did. Damn, why didn’t you just say that?”

Morgan ignored the last part of the statement. “And him going back on his promise? That made you angry?”

“Hell, yeah. It pissed me off. A girl gets tired of making her money on her knees and back everyday. I was looking forward to the change.”

“So, what are you here to tell me?”

“There’s a house up in Glen Burnie. They front as a halfway house for addicts, but really they’re holding pens where girls are trained and kept like prisoners until they find somebody to buy them.”

Morgan thought about the brothel they had rescued Ginny from, and couldn’t believe there might be a place worse than that. She needed more information, because this didn’t smell right.

“Brandi, is Nathan the one in charge?”

“You mean in charge of the house?”

“No, in charge of the whole operation.”

“Hell no, that dumb-ass don’t have enough sense to run nothing that large. That’s why he should have made me the bottom girl, but that’s okay, I’ll fix his ass.”

“If Nathan isn’t in charge, do you know who is?”

“Nah, I never met him, I would have though, if that bitch-ass Nathan had made me the bottom girl.”

Morgan mentally rolled her eyes. This woman is real serious about that bottom girl position. The detective didn’t think she was going to get any useful information from Brandi. In fact she had a suspicion that Brandi might be fabricating this story to get Nathan arrested, so she decided to end the interview.

“Well, I’d say this is a wrap, Miss Brandi. You can go.”

When Morgan stood up and pushed her chair under the desk, Brandi got a little wild-eyed. “Wait. Where are you going? That’s it? You ain’t gonna arrest him?”

Morgan shrugged her shoulders. “I need more information. I mean, if Nathan is as stupid as you say he is there is no way someone would trust him to keep watch over a holding pen.”

“You think I’m making this shit up?!”

Morgan shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe.”

Brandi started smacking the back of one hand into the palm of the other. She knew she had to make the detective believe her.

Morgan looked on fascinated, thinking that the pap, pap, pap noise was helping the woman think.

“Okay, how about this,” Brandi finally said. “Nathan just started working for a new guy. Sometimes he works local, sometimes he goes out of state, but he brings girls back to the house. Then after they’ve been trained he puts them on a boat in the harbor.”

This immediately caught Morgan’s attention. She remembered Peggy telling her something about girls being taken off of the streets and shipped out of the harbor. Maybe this woman was legitimate.

“How often does Nathan go out?”

“He goes up to Rockville one Friday a month. I think that’s when he meets the man, because when he comes back he has instructions about where to go and look for girls to grab.”

“When is Nathan’s next meeting?”

“This Friday.”

“Do you know where the meeting is going to take place?”

“Usually he goes to the chicken drive-in.”

Morgan’s stomach dropped. “Charlie’s drive-in?” she asked with her fingers crossed.

“Hell no, they serve fried rat at that place. Nathan meets his contact at M & M’s drive-in.”

Oh, god, Morgan privately thought. Please let this just be a coincidence. Dad said he wasn’t involved with this. “Are you sure you don’t know the guy’s name that Nathan meets?”

Brandi thought for a minute. “Nope, he never said.”

“Do have a description of the man? Maybe some initials? A nickname?”

The hand papping started again as the woman searched her memory. “I don’t know if this means anything, but Nathan sometimes talks about the boys. Now, I don’t know if he’s talking about his contact, or a gang, or a group of his friends, but there you have it.”

This made Morgan feel a little better. “If this thing involved a group of boys that was a good sign. He father was definitely no boy.”

“That’s good, Miss Brandi. This will be a good place to start.”

The woman’s voice became animated. “So, you’re gonna arrest his ass?”

Morgan held up her hand. “Calm down. I can’t just walk up to him and slap the cuffs on. I have to get a little evidence first.”

“Oh. Okay, I guess I can wait.”

This is information I can do something with. She mentally rubbed her hands together. Then her thoughts turned to Brandi…with an I. A woman scorned. She chewed it over for a second. I guess the saying is right. Hell hath no fury like one of them scorned.

“Now, tell me what Nathan looks like.”

*******

Morgan had just finished telling Shannon about Brandi’s unexpected visit, and the potentially helpful information she had passed on. Now she was waiting for a response from her mate, and judging from the playful energy that surrounded them it was going to be something unexpected.

Shannon tilted her head in a curious manner. “Honey, ever since you ventured out of the cold case unit you have encountered some of the oddest women.”

Morgan held her arms out to the side, feeling just as bewildered by the unusual assortment of ladies that had been in and out of her office over the last couple of months. “I know. Right?”

“And they have the most peculiar priorities.”

“Well, babe. I’ve learned that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round.”

“That’s true, and at least this one didn’t try and get a date.”

“No, she didn’t. The one and only thing on her mind was making Nathan pay for going back on his word. A mistake that he is soon going to regret.”

That was the part of the story that had grabbed Shannon’s attention the most. Brandi was only focused on getting even with Nathan for what she perceived as disrespecting her skills and abilities. That made Shannon think that the position must be something very special in the world that Brandi lived in. Thinking about what Morgan had said about different people making the world go round, she took on the persona of a bottom girl that understood Brandi’s plight.

“He should regret it,” Shannon changed her voice to sound more street. “Who wouldn’t be pissed-off after being strung along like that? He was treating her like she was unskilled labor.” Shannon put her hands on her hips and started strutting around the room. “You can’t just make any old female a bottom girl,” she informed with brashness. “That ain’t a skill that can be taught. That shit has got to be bred.”

Morgan doubled-over laughing at her spouse as the small woman pranced and preened around the room with a badass attitude.

“That’s right. Laugh now, Morgan,” Shannon said, still in character. “But it won’t be so funny when I pick one of the other girls as your replacement.”

Morgan stopped laughing. Oh, the game continues, she thought. She allowed a suggestive air to surround her as she began a slow stalk toward her mate, taking on a persona to equal Shannon’s. “Oh, so you think there’s someone better than me?” she asked with a predatory smile.

Uh, oh, Shannon thought. That’s her I’m gonna change your mind voice. But she continued with the game.

“I’ve got a couple of girls on standby.”

“And why is that?” Morgan purred.

Shannon ignored the shiver that went down her spin, she had to stay in charge. “‘Cause you never know when one of you girls might get too comfortable, you know, thinking you’re the one or something. I gotta keep you on your toes.”

Morgan came closer, and Shannon took a step backwards. “Is there anything I can do to um…keep my position?” was asked in a lower register. “‘Cause I reeeally want to be the one.”

Shannon felt a bead of sweat roll down her back. How did we get here? She looked up into passion-filled eyes and swallowed past the lump in her throat. And when did this turn into a seduction?

“Yeah, there’s something you can do,” she said. But the weight of her desire caused a slight tremor in her voice.

Morgan heard it, and moved in closer. “Tell me. I’ll do anything,” she promised as she ran her finger down Shannon’s warm cheek.

That’s it, Shannon thought. I’m gonna have her, and I’m gonna have her my way. The small woman reached up and pulled her spouse by the collar of her shirt, forcing the taller woman to bend at the waist so she could kiss her hard before releasing her.

“Follow me,” she said as she hooked her fingers in her wife’s belt loops, leading the willing participant to the bedroom. “I’m gonna need you on your knees.”

Morgan happily followed behind, clapping her hands together and bouncing on her toes. “Oooo, Morgan likey,” she practically sang.
Chapter Thirty
Rita sat quietly, waiting for Jim to say something, to say anything. From the moment that Maureen had warned her that the trooper knew her secret she knew that her most sensible course of action would be to invite herself over to their home and have a sit-down with the couple, prepared to answer any questions that Jim wanted to ask.

“I really don’t know what to say, Rita, um Sharon ah…” Jim fumbled his words.

The gray-eyed woman held up her hand. “Rita is fine. I’ve answered to it for more than twenty years.”

“You’ve kinda put us in pickle,” Jim continued.

“I understand that, Jim, and I’m sorry.”

He ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah, boy. This is a hell of a pickle. It’s been real hard to be with Morgan and not tell her about you…” Rita opened her mouth, but Jim stopped her. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t do that to her. Besides, it’s not my place to tell her,” he held the woman with his eyes. “It’s yours.”

Rita dropped her head. “I know that, Jim, but there are extenuating circumstances that prevent me from exercising that option.”

“I understand that part too, Rita. And believe me my heart goes out to you. I understand this thing all the way around. It’s…it’s,” He ran his hand through his hair again. “It’s just a hell of a pickle.”

Maureen had prepared a pitcher of martinis and was passing out the drinks she had poured. “Since it’s just the three of us I though I would serve adult drinks tonight.”

Rita accepted hers and pulled the olive off of the stick, chewing it before tasting her cocktail. “Thank you.” She returned her attention back to Jim. “You have no idea how much I want to tell her who I am, but Michael would find out, and…and it wouldn’t be pretty.”

“After all of these years you think he would still try and hurt you?” Jim wanted to know.

“Yes. Yes I do, Jim. Especially now.”

“Why especially now?”

“Because Morgan is an officer of the law, and her father probably thinks if she found out that he has kept me away from her for all of these years she might turn on him and start to investigate his dealings.”

Jim didn’t have to think about that. He knew Morgan, she would most definitely turn on her father for separating her from her mother.

“You got that right, Rita. Morgan would make him pay. Jim looked worried again, thinking about the form Morgan’s retribution would take, but he didn’t say anything more.

Rita, seeing the man’s quiet contemplation began to feel guilty for putting this burden on the shoulders of these good people and started to apologize.

“I’m truly sorry for the trouble I’ve brought to your door. I know it hasn’t been easy, but I want to thank the two of you for letting me into your home…into your lives. It’s been,” here she became choked up. “It’s been more than two decades since I’ve been this close to my child, and it’s been just as long since I’ve been able to sit in truth with the people I’ve associated with, and as selfish as it sounds it all feels really good to me.”

Jim reached over and patted the woman on the shoulder, trying to offer her comfort, but instead of conveying the support that was intended, the move nearly caused her glass to dislodge from her hand, resulting in a wave of liquid spilling over the rim into her lap.

“Oh, geeze, Rita. Sorry about that. Sometimes I forget how big I am.”

Having seen the mishap, Maureen was returning to the room with a hand towel. “You have to excuse Lennie. He forgets his own strength,” Maureen apologized.

Rita accepted the towel and began blotting her skirt. “Does that make you George?” she asked with humor.

Maureen refilled the woman’s glass and laughed, enjoying the fact that her guest had gotten the “of mice and men” reference.

“No, I’m always Maureen, but I do have to stop him from squeezing the rabbits too hard sometimes.”

When Rita looked at Jim and saw him wiggle his brows, she understood the suggestion and burst out laughing. The thought of those huge hands caressing anything on Maureen’s much smaller body was hilarious.

Rita sipped her fresh drink and realized that she was feeling good. It seemed like Jim and Maureen were going to put her past behind them, and move forward with building a friendship. And because of that generous reprieve, for the first time in a long time she was beginning to feel like Sharon again.
Chapter Thirty-One
Jim looked to his left and rolled his eyes at the woman sitting in the driver’s seat. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. You would think I have better things to do than to spend a perfectly good Friday night sitting in a car with you watching the strange mating rituals of young people.”

Morgan laughed and tapped the steering wheel, but continued to watch the drive-in patron’s comings and goings. “You could have said no, Jim, but you didn’t. Why don’t you just admit it? You love being back in the game,” she said without turning her head.

Jim shrugged his shoulders. “You could be right. It’s been a hell of a couple of months with you,” he said before taking a bite of the fried chicken breast that had come with his combo meal.

So far, Morgan had been able to remain quiet about their location. She had promised herself that she wouldn’t make any comments about where they were parked, but when Jim followed up his taste of chicken with a fluffy biscuit, then a spoonful of coleslaw, Morgan turned up her nose. “How can you eat that?”

Jim licked his fingers, then wiped them dry with a napkin. “Because it’s good. You should try it, Morgan.”

The detective held up her hand. “Never. Not one penny of my hard-earned money will ever go into my father’s crooked pockets.”

“Crooked or not, the man knows how to fry chicken,” he said before taking another bite.”

Morgan laughed a little. “Now, you sound like Vicky.”

Jim held out a leg for her to sample. “Here, take a bite.”

Morgan pressed her lips tight together. “No.”

“Oh, stop being a baby. Take a bite. It’s not like you paid for it.”

Morgan glared at her former training officer before she leaned forward and sniffed the offering.

Jim watched with twinkling eyes. When he saw her nose flare he knew he had her. “Go ahead,” he encouraged.”

Morgan opened her mouth and took a tentative bite. She chewed it slowly, but before she could say anything, Jim shoved a spoon of coleslaw in her face and forced her to add that flavor to what was already swimming around her taste buds.

“Mmm, that’s pretty good,” she admitted.

“See, I told you.”

Morgan was still chewing. “Too bad Shannon can’t taste this.”

“Why can’t she?”

“Because, I’m not going to…”

Jim held a hand up. “I know, I know. Give your crooked father…blah, blah, blah.”

“I’m serious, Jim” she said with a mischievous smile.

“I know you are. I can tell by the frown on your face.”

He leaned over Morgan and pressed the order button. When a voice came over the speaker he order another combo for Morgan to take home.

“There, now the little woman can share the experience without your precious money being tainted.”

When a server came out with their order Jim waved her over to his side of the car. After paying the bill he offered Morgan the drink.

“You might as well take this. It’s gonna be nothing but melted ice water by the time you get home.”

As they sat in silence, Jim finishing his meal, and Morgan sucking down her lemonade, they heard someone call out a name.

“Hey, Nate! Yo, Nate. Come here.”

“Keep your eyes open. This could be the guy,” Morgan said with anticipation.

When Nate came into view Morgan’s mouth dropped open. Brandi had described the man to her but she thought that the woman had to have been exaggerating. There was no way someone could be as tall, skinny and goofy looking as she had said, but there he was in all his cartoon character glory. The acne-covered redhead didn’t look like he could maintain his balance in a strong wind, let alone being capable of controlling a holding pen of kidnapped girls. The lanky young man had gotten out of a car that had been parked along the curb, not too far from the slot Morgan had pulled into, and was now walking toward the person that had called him.

“That’s what has Brandi so pissed off?” she said in amazement. “He looks about as threatening as a rain-soaked mutt.”

Jim tucked his trash away in the bag the food came in and sat up straight. “Don’t let his looks fool you, Morgan. That boy is probably as ruthless as they come. Haven’t you ever read a Stephen King novel? It’s always the ones that look like society has done nothing but kick them around that are looking for the worst kind of revenge.”

They stopped speaking and watched as the man that had called him over, talked to Nathan for several long minutes before handing him a piece of a paper. Nathan looked at the white slip for a beat, then stuffed it into his pocket, turning away without another word.

“When are you gonna tell someone about this meeting?” Jim asked a totally engrossed Morgan.

“When there’s something to tell. Right now I’m just checking things out, making sure Brandi was being truthful.”

As the skinny man walked away his contact yelled out. “Don’t forget, Nate. Next Saturday at the harbor. Be on time. Don’t make me come looking for your ass!”

Nathan waved his hand in the air, indicating that he had heard the man, but continued to walk toward his car without looking back.

Jim looked at Morgan, and before she could say anything he said what he already knew. “Let me guess. I’m gonna be busy next Saturday?”

Morgan gave a cheeky grin and held up the bag she was taking home to Shannon. “If you do I’ll bring dinner.”

Jim’s face lit up. “Form M & M’s?”

“Nope. From my kitchen.”

Jim mumbled. “I don’t want your kitchen fried chicken.”

“Too bad. It’s that or nothing.”

“Fine,” the big man pouted. “But, that’s not fair,” he said as he pulled a pad and pencil out of Morgan’s glove box.

Morgan started the truck and backed out of the slot, watching through the rearview mirror as another car pulled into her vacated space.

“Sometimes life’s not fair, Jim. You just gotta suck it up. Now hurry up and copy down his license plate number before he leaves.”

“When did you become so bossy?”

“When did you become such a whiner?”

Jim hastily wrote down the number and put the note pad back where he had gotten it from. “This isn’t how you treat a person when you’re looking for a favor.”

Morgan started batting her eyes. “Are you telling me you’re gonna send me out there alone?” she asked with a pout.

Jim just shook his head. “You are such a brat.

*******

Shannon was sitting beside Morgan on the sofa, eating the food that her mate had brought home for her to try, and she was thoroughly enjoying the experience.

“Judging from the grease that is smeared all over your face I’m going to assume you like the chicken,” Morgan said to her spouse, as the woman practically inhaled the meal that was given to her.

“What can I say? The man fries a…”

“Please don’t say it.”

Shannon laughed. “Okay, baby. I won’t become another passenger on the Michael McCray chicken train.”

Morgan gave a heartfelt, “Thank you.”

Shannon leaned in and gave her spouse a gentle kiss that ended with a chunk of chicken and a piece of biscuit being shoved into her mouth. Morgan accepted the offering, without hesitation, chewing and savoring the flavors for what they were.

“Do you think your father knows what is going on in the parking lot of his drive-in?” Shannon asked.

Morgan thought for a moment before she answered. “I really can’t say. What I do know, is that the drive-in is his only legitimate business. I don’t think he launders any dirty money through it.”

“So, you think it is just a coincidence that those guys picked his place to setup their meetings?”

“No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think every crook in town knows who my dad is and what he’s into, so they probably feel safe meeting at the drive-in, thinking that the cops won’t be called on them for loitering.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Shannon said around another forkful of food. “So, you and Jim are gonna hang out at the docks next weekend?”

Morgan snorted. “You make it sound so…so…”

“By the waterfront?” Shannon helped.

A dark brow rose. “What?”

“You know? That old Marlon Brando movie?”

“The one where he is calling for, STELLA?”

“No.”

Morgan shrugged her shoulders. “I gotta be honest with you, babe. If it’s not Marlon Brando in the godfather movie, I’m gonna be clueless.”

“It’s not important. So, back to my question…You. Jim. The docks. Next weekend?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes, and yes.”

“Is it going to be an all day thing?”

“I’m thinking it will be, since I have no idea when Nathan is going to show up.”

“Okay, I’ll make plans with Vicky. Maybe we’ll go see a movie.”

Morgan stretched out on the sofa and rested her head in Shannon’s lap. “That sounds good.” Then she looked up at her spouse. “As long as it’s not that new action movie. I want to see that with you.”

Shannon smiled with affection and wiped a breadcrumb from the corner of her lover’s mouth. “Not a problem. She’s been hinting around about some romantic-comedy that has caught her interest, so I’m guessing it will be two hours of boy meets girl, boy and girl stumble around each other without a clue, boy and girl fall in love. The end.”

Morgan rolled her eyes. “I just don’t have the patience to watch those things. Give me gunfights, alien invasions, or end of the world disasters any day.”

Shannon patted Morgan on the cheek. “How very butch of you, sweetheart.”

“You know this has nothing to do with that. I loved Steel Magnolias, and Fried Green Tomatoes, and Beaches. Who among us didn’t shed a tear when we watched Beaches? I thoroughly enjoy stories about love and emotions. But paying good money to sit in a dark theater watching people work through ridiculous misunderstandings, and suffer through the pains of unrequited love until the end? I can’t do it. I just can’t stand the silliness of it. They are not for me.”

Shannon raised an eyebrow at the mini outburst. “Well, all righty then. I guess you needed to get that off of your chest.”

Morgan looked sheepish. “A little too much, huh?”

“No. No. Not too much…but close. And by the way, thumbs up. Couldn’t you think of a movie you liked that was from this decade?”

“Sorry,” Morgan bowed her head, but the corner of her mouth twitched a little at the nickname. Thumbs up?

“There’s no need to apologize.” Shannon leaned down and kissed Morgan soundly on the lips. “But I want to make sure I’m understanding things correctly. I couldn’t get you to take me to see a romantic-comedy if I bought a large bucket of popcorn, cut a hole in the bottom, say big enough for the tip of my finger to slip through, and…” she whispered the rest in her wife’s rapidly reddening ear.

Morgan felt the heat rise from the soles of her feet to the top of her head, and sweat began to pool in the creases of her neck. “I think I could be talked into going to see that movie,” was said in a shallow pant.

“That’s good to hear,” Shannon said with a knowing smile. “I’ll check the listings.”
Chapter Thirty-Two
It was six o’clock on a Saturday morning, and Morgan was wondering if she was missing a few brain cells. “Why am I up this early?” she mumbled as she threw her legs over the side of the bed.

“To hunt down the bad guys,” Shannon reminded her as she entered the room with a steaming hot cup of coffee.

“Oh, yeah. That’s it,” Morgan grumbled before taking a sip of the sweet liquid. “Mmm, just the way I like it.”

Shannon stood there sipping from her own cup, taking in the adorably rumpled woman that she had married nearly a decade before. The picture compelled her to move forward and reach out to smooth down some of the wild dark hair.

“You want me to make you a couple of breakfast sandwiches?”

Morgan exhaled a long breath. “Yes, thank you.”

Shannon turned to leave the bedroom, heading for the kitchen. “They’ll be ready when you get out of the shower.”

Morgan was pulling off her pajamas, on her way to the bathroom. “I should skip the shower and just get dressed and leave,” she groused.

“That’s one option, and I’m sure Jim would find a way to appreciate your morning fragrance as much as I do, but I am putting in a personal request that you save that brand of perfume for my nose only,” Shannon teased.

“Fine,” Morgan complained as she entered the bathroom. “But I’m not putting on clean socks.”

Shannon just shook her head. I wonder why she is so grumpy this morning? Then she snorted through her nose. And why is her defiance taking the form of hygiene rebellion? She laughed.

*******

It was noon, and Jim and Morgan had been sitting at their observation post near the docks for four hours.

“I guess these guys don’t conduct any business before lunchtime,” Jim wearily announced.

“So it seems,” Morgan responded in a voice just as worn out.

The breakfast Maureen had cooked for Jim had worn off an hour ago, and his hunger was beginning to rear it’s head. As he watched Morgan from the corner of his eye he remembered something. “I thought you were going to bring us lunch.”

Morgan turned in the big man’s direction with a wicked smile on her face. “As I recall, you said that you didn’t want any of my kitchen fried chicken.”

Jim patted his belly. “Right about now a piece of your overcooked, tough to chew bird would hit the spot.”

Morgan rolled her eyes. “With such a glowing description of my cooking, I say…suffer.”

“Brat,” Jim said under his breath.

They continued to sit in silence, watching the activities of harbor life. The water taxi that was moving back and forth across the bay, the ships that were being loaded and leaving the docks, and the dockworkers going about their duties. It was almost serene. Maybe the calm atmosphere was what inspired Morgan to say out loud what had been on her mind all morning.

“Um, Jim, I’ve been thinking.”

“About what?”

“About what Rita said.”

Uh, oh, the man thought. This is out of left field. “What did she say?”

“That thing about my dad keeping my mom away. Do you think that could have happened?”

Jim was in a quandary. This was the perfect opportunity to tell Morgan what he knew, she seemed open to hear the information, but it wasn’t his place to do it, so, instead he engaged her in conversation.

“Sure, Morgan. You know your dad and what he’s capable of. Didn’t he just threaten Shannon?”

“Yeah, he did,” she said deep in thought.

Jim let her sit and mull this thing over uninterrupted. That was all he could offer her, because he didn’t want to betray Rita’s trust, but more than that, he didn’t want to be the one to hurt Morgan with the truth.

“I…I think I might start looking for her again,” she shrugged her shoulder. “It couldn’t hurt anything.”

Jim smiled at the young woman. “It sounds like a good idea, Morgan. If you need any help just say the word.”

“I appreciate that, but over the last couple of months I’ve taken up enough of your time. I mean, look at you now, sitting here, off the clock on a Saturday afternoon when you could be at home relaxing.”

Before Jim could respond Morgan elbowed him in the side and pointed. “Look,” she said directing his attention out of the front windshield.

There was Nathan, looking just as gangly and unthreatening as he had the week before, but this time he wasn’t alone. Walking behind him, with an uneven gait, was four girls. There was also a man that they didn’t recognize, who was obviously helping him to keep the girls corralled so that they wouldn’t stumble off of the dock into the harbor.

“They must be drugged,” Morgan stated.

“That’s a safe bet. Otherwise they would be running,” Jim added.

They sat watching the odd group make their way to the far end of the waterfront. Occasionally their view would be blocked by a slow moving forklift rolling by with a massive crate held out in front, or a cargo net filled with wears being swung off of a ship onto the wharf, but once their vision was cleared it wasn’t hard to find Nathan and continue to track his progress. Watching the dockworkers go about their duties, it occurred to them that none of the laborers seemed to take notice of the obviously impaired girls.

“It’s as if they can’t see them,” Morgan said, amazed.

“They don’t want to see them,” Jim added.

“Yeah, I guess not. If they saw them they might have to do something about it.”

“I don’t think it’s indifference that’s stopping them, Morgan. I think it’s fear.”

She opened up her mouth to protest, but stopped herself. Putting yourself in the middle of a crime organization’s dealings wasn’t something that that the average Joe was willing to do.

When the ragtag party of six reached their destination, the man from the drive-in greeted Nathan, and it didn’t appear like he was going to waste any time with greetings, instead he walked down the line of unbalanced girls and began looking them over like they were livestock.

Nathan began to nervously move his hands around, talking as he pointed to a specific part of the girl that was being inspected. The man from the drive-in glared at Nathan before taking a menacing step forward, speaking to him through gritted teeth.

Morgan was getting fidgety and needed to voice her frustration. “I wish we could hear what they were saying.”

“I know the feeling,” Jim said in a low voice.

When the man squeezed one of the girl’s bottom and nodded his head in approval Morgan was ready to jump out of the car and go to their rescue.

“Simmer down,” Jim warned. “We have to do this slow and easy. You can’t just put on your cape and go swooping in to save the day.”

The man from the drive-in looked like he was about to turn and walk away, so Morgan and Jim moved to exit the car so that they could move close enough to make the arrests before anyone could escape. But instead of leaving the area the man raised his arm in the air and waved someone over. The two state troopers stopped cold when out of the shadows walk Philip and Kevin.

“No. No. No,” Morgan repeated in a strangled whisper. “Not this. Oh, god, no. Please, not this.”

Jim was just as stunned as Morgan was to see the McCray brothers walk into the open, but he had the presence of mind to latch on to Morgan’s arm, holding the shell-shocked woman in place just incase she decided to rush onto the scene. Damn, the man thought. This kid can’t catch a break with her family.

“Come on, Morgan. Get it together. You can do this,” he said in a harsh whisper, using his field trainer persona, trying to breakthrough to the law enforcement side of the young woman’s mind. He hoped that his commanding voice would pull her away from the calling that he knew was rushing through her veins. A calling that demanded the shielding of the bloodline. It was primal and familiar and her instincts to protect would flood her mind before any other options had a chance to present themselves.

But now was not the time to lose focus. Emotions had to be overcome, and familiar connections had to be set aside. There was work to be done, and the McCray brothers would have to be treated just like any other suspect.

Morgan sat paralyzed. This can’t be happening, she thought. My family cannot be involved in this. What the hell am I going to do? Maybe I should drive away. Maybe I should blow the horn and make our presence known. Maybe I…her thoughts were cut short when Jim’s voice broke through her panicked ramblings, and she realized what he was saying.

Get it together. You can do this, Jim was telling her, and he was right. She could do this. She had to do this. There was really no choice. The people in front of her were criminals, and she knew what she had to do. She was going to have to arrest her brothers.

“You know we can’t let them put those girls on that boat,” Jim pointed out in an effort to steer Morgan’s mind toward the victims and their needs.

“Of course I do,” she answered. With her resolve firmly in place, Morgan pulled out a cell phone.

“What are you doing?”

“We can’t do this alone, Jim. This surveillance is over. It’s time to call in the cavalry.”

*******

Morgan was getting frustrated. She had been sitting in her office for the last three hours wondering what was going on. Although she had been the one to discover the activity at the harbor, because her brothers were involved, she wasn’t allowed to be a part of the interrogations that were being conducted.

She had talked to Shannon, and when she told the social worker what was going on the emotional blonde wanted to come to barracks to give her spouse support, but Morgan told her that it wasn’t necessary. That there was nothing that she could do. A warm smile pulled at Morgan’s lips when she thought about her wife’s response.

“I can share the pain, my love.”

Morgan was about to pickup the phone and call home again, when she heard a knock at her door. She released a heavy breath. “Finally,” she whispered. “Come in,” she said louder.

The First Sergeant walked in and sat heavily in the visitor’s chair across from Morgan. He had been called in for the second time in as many months to run the interrogations because of the unusual circumstances of Barracks Q’s First Sergeant, Jim, once again being involved with the surveillance of an important arrest. When the man didn’t immediately say anything Morgan’s heart started to beat faster.

Finally, Morgan couldn’t take it anymore. “With all do respect, sir. What the hell is going on?”

“First, let me say this,” the sergeant started.

Morgan’s stomach dropped. Oh, shit.

“You are a fine detective and an asset to the troopers, and we hope that you will choose to spend your career working out of Barracks Q. With that said I have disturbing news.

Uh, oh. She held her breath.

“We couldn’t get a thing out of your brothers. Those boys are hardcore.”

“I’m not surprised, sir. They learned their lessons well.”

“Which leads me to this next bit of information. Your brothers wouldn’t talk, but after promising young Nathan a long stretch of time in prison with a dance card that would be filled nightly, the boy cracked.

“What did he say?” Morgan asked. Although her gut was telling her that she already knew the answer.

“He told us that the reason they met at the chicken drive-in was because the boss owned the place.”

“I…I don’t understand what that means. Of course the boss of the chicken drive-in owns the place.”

“I think you do understand what I’m saying, detective, and I’m sorry.”

Morgan didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She knew that her father was capable of many things, but she never in a million years would have thought that he would stoop so low as to rob young girls of their freedom and innocence.

“When are you going to arrest him?” she asked.

Neither trooper needed to explain who “him” was.

A car is on it’s way over to his residence as we speak.”

“After he has been booked I want to talk to him.”

“You got it.”
Chapter Thirty-Three
Morgan was sitting in the visitors area of the county jail finding it hard to believe that she was waiting to talk to her father about his involvement in human trafficking.

When Michael was finally escorted into the room, he took a seat across from his daughter and gave her a little lopsided grin.

“Well, I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t surprised to see you. You are most definitely the last person on this earth I expected to come and see me.”

Morgan didn’t waste her time with questions about whether or not her father was guilty or innocent. She felt like she already knew the truth. What she wanted to know was why.

“You lied to me, dad. You stood in the middle of your living room and lied to me. Why?”

“Come on, kid. What was I gonna do, tell you what was really going on?”

“Duh…yeah.”

Michael couldn’t help but laugh. In that moment Morgan reminded him of that defiant sixteen year-old girl from so long ago.

“You are one for the books, Morgan.”

“How could you do this, dad?”

“How could I do this? It’s not like I go and knock on doors, and snatch people out of their homes. These girls are trash. They are hanging out in the streets begging for trouble. I just gave it to them.”

“You don’t know what’s going on with these girl’s home life. For some of them the street is safer than being with their parents. Sometimes they don’t feel like they have any other choice than to hang with the wrong crowd. But what ever the reason is for them to be out there you don’t have the right to take away their freedom.”

This sparked Michael’s temper. “Their home life, or lack of one is not my problem, Morgan. If they can’t stand mommy, or daddy drinks too much, then go to the library, hang out at the youth center, find something constructive to do with your time. But, decent girls don’t put themselves in a position to be taken. They aren’t out late at night, hanging around with the wrong crowd, or flaunting their bodies, walking around half-naked. Hell, we all know what kind of world we live in, if those fools don’t take the danger seriously, then that’s on them.”

Morgan was amazed by the passion that was exhibited in defense of an act that was so wrong. “So you accept no responsibility for the lives you have ruined?”

“Why should I? Everybody makes choices, Morgan. Take you for instance. You could have used your home life as an excuse to do the wrong thing, hell, I practically insisted on it, but you didn’t. And you had a better excuse than most. You didn’t have to sneak around, I was willing to teach you the ins and outs of things. But you refused to give in. You chose to become a stand up, law-abiding citizen. These girls could have done the same thing. What I’m saying is they chose their path.” He turned his face away from his daughter. “They are just as responsible for their fate as the men that took them.”

Morgan was thrown off balance for a moment. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Was her father giving her a sideways compliment, while at the same time justifying kidnapping girls and forcing them to be sex slaves? She pushed that thought aside for later contemplation, and decided it was time to change gears because it was obvious that Michael was not accepting any blame.

“Dad, that chicken place was the only honest thing in your sorry-ass life. Why did you have to shit on it by working your dirty deals there.”

Michael looked deep into his daughter’s eyes. He wanted to make sure she understood what he was saying to her. “No, Morgan. You’re wrong. It wasn’t the only honest thing in my life.”

There it was again. That small door into his heart. But she wasn’t going to walk through it. She wasn’t going to let him manipulate her.

“You’re not going to get to me, dad. I know this is a part of your game.”

The man shrugged his shoulders. “This whole thing is a game, Morgan. Life is a game. So, don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Morgan’s eyes were bulging. “What the hell does that even mean?!”

“You have got to be kidding! That saying is almost as old as you are. It means, don’t hate me because I participate in less than honest ways to make a living. Hate who ever it is that require my less than honest ways to keep them in a constant supply of the goods I offer. It’s their game, Morgan. Not mine. I’m just another piece on the board.”

She almost let herself understand what he was saying. Of course the unsavory things that went on in the world couldn’t exist without the depraved individuals that fueled the need, but she refused to allow him to use “the powers that be” as a scapegoat.

“That’s not going to fly with me, dad. You didn’t have to play the game at all.”

Michael knew that this was the opening that he had been waiting for. If he was going to get out of this he would need Morgan’s help. So he put on his most sincere face and implored the young woman with his deep blue eyes.

“Don’t you see that’s not true, Morgan. I did have to play the game. I was out there all alone with only myself to depend on. Everything I know I learned the hard way.

When he saw a slight shift in Morgan’s body language he pressed forward and tried to make his efforts more personal.

“I’ve only ever wanted what was best for my kids, Morgan.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’s true. You know I never had any education. Everything I have, I have because I scraped and struggled for it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I didn’t go about it in the most legal of ways.”

“No, shit.”

“Come on, Morgan. Don’t be like that. Don’t treat me bad because of what I do out in the streets. Did I ever hit you? Did you ever go hungry?” Here he paused for effect. “Did you ever have to wonder if I loved you? No. You didn’t. But what did I get for doing the best that I could?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “A daughter that left home when she was eighteen and never came back. I didn’t deserve that, Morgan.”

Morgan was a little off balance. Her father had so skillfully steered her away from the problem at hand that she didn’t realize that they were no longer talking about his crime.

It’s true, she thought. Michael McCray had never been an abusive father, just a crooked one. And he was never one to be lacking in the number of kisses and hugs for her, as a matter of fact, she was the only one he ever said the words “I love you” to.

When she came back to herself her father was still talking. “Was there anything that you ever needed, hell, anything that you ever wanted that I didn’t provide for you?”

“No,” was the quiet answer.

“And why do you think that is, Morgan?”

The detective shrugged her shoulders like a teenager. “I don’t know,” she mumbled.

Michael put on his most charming smile. “Yes you do. Tell me why, Morgan.”

The tall woman looked at her father with misty blue eyes. “B…because you love me?”

“That’s right, kid.” He tilted his head at a sympathetic angle. “You know after my folks died I never had nobody. So, I used to always tell myself, if I ever have kids of my own I would make sure they would never have to go through the shit I did. That I would teach them how to survive.”

“You tried to make us crooks, dad. That’s not how you raise kids,” she said, making it almost sound like a plea of understanding.

“It was all I knew, Morgan. Life can be bitch. I just wanted my kids to know how to kick it’s ass. Nice guys finish last, Morgan. That ain’t just some shit somebody made up. I learned that lesson real quick. When I was fifteen I worked my ass off, hauling shit, painting shit, cleaning shit. And what did I get for it?” he snorted in disgust. “Ten dollars if the people were feeling particularly generous that day.”

“Dad, I know how you grew up, but that doesn’t…”

“I know you know the story, Morgan. All I’m saying is ain’t nobody a saint. Even those people that hired me to do that backbreaking work when I was a kid had a scam going.”

Morgan raised a brow in doubt.

“This ain’t no bullshit. Those people that hired a poor street kid to do some work around their houses did it to make themselves feel good. You know what mean? That, look at me I’m so liberal I’m helping the underprivileged, kinda crap. But when it came time for payment they were the most conservative bastards on the block.”

Morgan just sat looking at him. Terrified that she was starting to understand her father and the way he lived his life. When he first set out on his own the man had been an orphaned, uneducated, thirteen year-old kid that had to learn the hard way that nothing in life was free or easy. These realizations were sending tiny fissures of uncertainty through her mind, and Morgan was beginning to feel dizzy.

“The most honest people I ever worked with was crooks,” Michael was saying. “At least with them I got my fair share of the take.”

“I…I’m confused, dad. I…I don’t know what you want from me,” she said, rubbing her temple.

She looked so vulnerable to him, and Michael knew he had her exactly where he wanted her. “You know I’m not a bad guy, not really, not where it counts, Morgan.” He put his hands over his heart. “In here.”

He heard his son’s voice in his head, and realized that, once again, he was probably spreading it on too thick, so he dialed the sappiness back a little.

“Help your dad out, just this one time, Morgan. Help me out of this…please.”

He could already see it happening. The wheels were turning in her head. She was looking for an out for him, and if anybody could figure an angle around this, it was Morgan. She was smart. Ten times smarter than her brothers. She… His thoughts stopped mid sentence, and he was hit with a truth so profound that he felt short of breath.

God, help me. I’m about to corrupt the most innocent thing in my life. Ethics, he thought. Ethics had never been an issue with him, but it was the very foundation on which his daughter stood. And he was about to crush it into powder, leaving her with nothing to hold her up, all so he could avoid paying for a crime that he was guilty of.

With that reality hitting him square in the face, Michael McCray, for the second time in his existence, made an instantaneous life altering decision because of his daughter. He was about to confess something that would all at once set Morgan free of him, and allow her to gain something very precious to her.

He cleared his throat. “But…before you do something for me,” he interrupted her thoughts. “I’m gonna do something for you.”

Morgan rubbed her temples again, she was getting a headache. It felt like her father was pulling her in several different directions at once, and just when she felt like she was about to regain her balance, he would tug her in another direction.

“What is it, dad?” she asked wearily.

He opened his mouth to speak the words he never thought he would say out loud to her. “I need to tell you about your mother.”

*******

He sat with her and quietly confessed to forcing the woman to leave her children, her home, and her life behind. He told the shocked detective how he had made her mother change her name so that she couldn’t be found, and finally, he told her the reason why it had all been done.

“She was interfering with the way I wanted to raise my kids, and I couldn’t stand for that.”

“She was our mother, she had that right,” Morgan said with disbelief.

“The only one that had rights in my house was me,” the man countered.

Morgan dropped her head. “Did you ever love her, dad?” she asked with misery.

“Of course I did. I loved her more than any woman I had ever been with. I never even cheated on her or nothin’. Hell, I was still in love with her the day I made her leave. In some ways I’m still in love with her now.”

Morgan wanted to pull her hair out by the roots. “You loved her, but you would have killed her? I don’t get the way you think, dad. I swear I don’t.”

Michael’s voice became stern, and his eyes became hard chips. “Then let me explain myself to you, Morgan. The only things that were ever truly mine in this world was my life and my kids. And I was not gonna allow your mother to take away my freedom or my family from me.”

Morgan felt a small tear open in her heart for her father, or at least for the little boy he used to be. As dysfunctional as his thinking was the man was holding on to the only family that he had, but it came at the expense of making his children lose the only family they had ever had.

“Where is she?” Morgan wanted to know.

“She’s never been that far away. Always lurking and creeping around, but she knew better than to cross me by contacting you.”

“What about Kevin and Philip? Do they know about her?”

“Hell yeah, but those boys ain’t never had much affection for weak women, and that’s what they considered a woman that could be bullied into leaving her kids.”

Morgan’s anger flared. “But, you would have killed her!”

“Damn right I would have, but your brothers think it would have been an honorable death.”

“An honorable death?! They’re as sick as you are. Who do they think you are? King Arthur? And they are the Knights of the Roundtable? There is nothing honorable or noble about anything that the three of you are involved in.”

“Well, they don’t see it that way,” Michael said with pride.

Morgan felt like her brain was melting, like her reality was tilting off of it’s scales. She knew she needed to focus, to find some stability, something to keep her anchored. And as always she knew where to run, it was the safest place in her world. Her one true thing.

She remained quiet, letting her mind float in the warm golden glow of her lifeline until she felt like she could swim on her own again. Once she was centered again she opened her eyes, and looked at her father through new eyes.

The man was, who he was…without apology. Her Father was never sorry for anything he did, because whatever he did, he did with the full knowledge of the consequences, so him telling her about her mother was as close to making amends and saying he was sorry as he would ever get. Viewing him in this light, she no longer felt the need to lash out, instead, she wanted to seek out answers. But there was still a chill in her voice.

“Why now? Why are you telling me this now?” she asked in a glacial tone.

“Because, me and your brothers are going away for a long time. And a kid needs a parent out there somewhere that can watch over them.”

“How paternal of you.”

Ignoring the sarcasm, Michael told Morgan the other things she would need to know.

“There is a lockbox in the attic. It’s hidden under a floorboard located underneath a trunk full of your old stuff. When you pull up the box look inside, and you will find old pictures and documents and shit that should help you find Sharon.”

Hearing her father speak her mother’s name after so many years made her stomach clench with emotion, but before she could ask him anymore questions their time was up.

Morgan watched in silence as her father was being led away. Then, suddenly he stopped walking and looked at his daughter. “When you find her tell her what I told you. Tell her that I know she found a way to sneak looks at you over years.” He gave her an understanding smile. “Tell her it was okay.”

They stood staring at each other, and he saw it in her eyes. He had lost her. Not in that, you’re a pain in the ass, and I can barely tolerate your presence kind of losing her. This was final. This was the nail in the coffin. This was the I’m never going to speak your name again, kinda losing her…and it hurt more than he thought it could, or ever would. So, in those last few moments he spoke his heart.

“I love you, kid. Always have. Always will. You take care of yourself and that little blonde of yours.”

And with that, he was gone.
Chapter Thirty-Four
Morgan was snuggled up with her wife, her head resting on the blonde woman’s breast as Shannon ran calming fingers through slightly damp hair. The distraught detective had come home splintered, and when Shannon saw the worn-out look to her wife’s features, she didn’t waste any time moving into action. She stripped her, bathed her, and forced a few sips of warm tea down her throat before putting her to bed. Now they were stretched out together as Shannon worked on soothing her body, hoping to keep the negative emotions at bay.

“I am so sorry, love. I know this has been a difficult day for you.”

Morgan gave a slight squeeze to the slim waist her arm was wrapped around. “That’s an understatement.”

“I wish I could fix this for you.”

“Are you kidding? You have me so relaxed that I feel like I’ve had a spa day. I can’t believe it was only this morning that Jim and I were out at the harbor shooting the shit.”

“The day has seemed extremely long.”

“I’m sorry you missed the movie with Vicky,” Morgan apologized.

“You can’t be serious. There is no where on this earth that I would rather be than right here with you.”

“Even now? With all of my chickens coming home to roost?”

“Are we talking about your dad’s food again? Because the last time I checked you didn’t own any chickens.” Shannon teased.

Morgan laughed out loud. “I didn’t even recognize the correlation between that saying and my dad‘s business.”

They remained quiet for a while. Morgan running her fingers along Shannon‘s stomach, and Shannon massaging Morgan‘s scalp and placing soft kisses on top of her head.

“What do you think will happen to your father and brothers?”

“I know them. They won’t talk. So the judge will probably throw the book at them, charging them with everything from violating the prohibition against slavery, and transporting a minor across state lines to engage in prostitution, to sex trafficking.”

“How much time do you think they will get.”

Morgan shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t really say, but if I were to take a guess I’d say that my dad will probably get ten years for interstate transport for prostitution, and Kevin and Philip will most likely be given four years each for conspiracy charges.”

“That doesn’t seem like much for what they’ve done.”

“It’s not, and with good time they probably get out sooner, but that’s what the lawmakers have decided is appropriate.”

“That just sucks.”

They were quiet again, letting the previous conversation settle around them.

“Shannon?” Morgan whispered.

“Yes, baby?”

“You interested in going on treasure hunt in the attic of my childhood home?”

Morgan felt the firm belly under her hand quiver with laughter.

“You couldn’t keep me away. Just say the word and I’m there.”

“How about tomorrow, after lunch?”

“It’s a date, love.”
Chapter Thirty-Five
Standing in the middle of the large attic, Morgan realized that it hadn’t changed much since she was a teenager. There were still boxes, and trunks, and old toys everywhere. Shannon had made her way over to a red tricycle that had streamers hanging from the handles and a little blue license plate with the name “Morgan” stamped on it.

“Oh, I can’t believe how cute this is,” she squealed. She began pushing it around, making a few dust mites float into the air.

Morgan rolled her eyes. “Are you going to act like this every time you see one of my old toys?”

Shannon left the tricycle, and looked for something else to investigate. “I can’t make you any promises, baby. When you said we were going on a treasure hunt I thought that you were joking.”

“I was,” Morgan deadpanned.

As Shannon went in search of more trinkets from her wife’s past, Morgan sought out the old trunk that her father had told her about.

Her eye caught sight of a white sheet draped over something that was shaped like a trunk and made her way over to it. When she pulled the cloth off, a beautiful brown trunk was revealed. Morgan ran her hand across the top and let her fingers caress the buttery softness of the brown leather. “I’ve never seen this before. He must have brought this up here after I left,” she said out loud.

This got Shannon’s attention, so she made her way to her lover’s side. “Are you going to open it?”

Morgan shrugged her shoulders, but didn’t say a word, or make a move.

Shannon rubbed her back. “Sweetheart? Are you okay?”

“I…I’m a little nervous.”

“Why?” Shannon asked in a soothing voice.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want me open it?”

“Yes,” was whispered.

Shannon knelt down, and pulled her lover down beside her. When both women were in place, Shannon reached out and flipped the latches that were holding the top closed. She slowly lifted the lid and revealed nothing more mysterious than a bunch of folded clothes. Morgan tilted her head in a curious manner and reached to pick up one of the shirts that was on top.

“I wonder why he has this up here?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Shannon said as she pulled out a pair of jeans. “Um, Morgan?”

Blue eyes looked in her direction. “Uh?”

“These are women’s clothes.”

Morgan held up the shirt she was holding and realized that it was a blouse. She turned and looked at Shannon. “Do you think my dad is a cross dresser?”

Shannon laughed at her mate‘s silliness. “There is something seriously wrong with you. And if your father is a cross dresser he does it in clothes from the seventies.” She held up the jeans that were still in her hands. “Look at these, they are bell bottoms. She dug further into the trunk and pulled out another blouse. “And look at this,” she said pointing out the color. “When was the last time you saw a lime green this hideous? Certainly not in this millennium.”

Morgan took a closer look, then went completely still. “I…I think they belonged to my mother.”

Shannon dropped the clothes like the material had suddenly become hot. “What?!”

“Yeah, I think they belonged to my mom. He must have packed them up and stored them in this trunk.”

“But why would he keep these out of date clothes?”

Morgan let her fingertips brush over the old clothing. “It’s probably all that was left after he threw her out. I guess she didn’t have need of clothes from the seventies when she was going out into an eighties world.”

“That explains why she left them, but it doesn’t explain why he kept them. And not just keep them, but lovingly preserved them,” Shannon said in curious voice.

“I guess what he told me at the jail is true. On some level he is, and always has been in love with her.”

Morgan felt a little loony when the thought of her father still loving her mother made her feel warm and fuzzy inside. She closed the trunk and put the sheet back over it.

“Back to the search,” she said.

While Morgan moved heavy trunks out of the way, searching for the loose floorboard. Shannon was going through every cardboard box that was marked “Morgan”. The little tricycle was now parked beside a box that she had dumped out, and was now using to fill with items she was going to take home with them.

There were certificates of achievement, physical fitness awards, and the tassel from her graduation cap. She found a stuffed Ziggy doll, and smiled, wondering if the newspapers still ran that cartoon, when she tossed Ziggy into the take-home box she saw a fat brown bear that was hidden underneath.

“Hey, what’s this?” she asked, holding up her find.

Morgan stopped her searching, and smiled with child-like glee when she saw what Shannon had in her hand.

“That’s Chubby Bear. I haven’t seen him since…” here her voice dropped off and an astonished whisper filled the space. “Since my mom disappeared.”

“Do you think she gave it to you?”

Morgan took the offered toy and held it in front of her, then she brought if close and hugged it. Suddenly, she was filled with memories. Not picture memories, but memories of feelings, emotions, and smells. She inhaled deeply, and she could have sworn that she smelled a hint of a long forgotten perfume.

“I’m positive she gave it to me.”

Morgan gave the bear back to Shannon and went back to her searching.

“Then he’s definitely coming home with us,” she said as Chubby Bear joined Ziggy in the box.

Morgan flipped up the lid on a trunk that was filled with her old sweats and athletic shoes from her days as a member of the basketball, volleyball, and track teams.

“I think this is the one,” she announced.

Shannon had just found another toy, but dropped the Barbie with the missing head back where she had pulled it from, deciding to ask her spouse about the decapitation later.

“What did you find?”

“This,” Morgan pointed to the trunk of sports clothes. “It’s the only trunk that I’ve seen with my junk in it.”

Shannon reached in and pulled out a pair of worn-down running spikes, and turned up her nose. “When was the last time you wore these stinky looking things?”

“Hey, I’ll have you know that these are the spikes that I had on when I ran the second leg of our state champion four-hundred meter relay team.”

Shannon ran her hands over Morgan’s chest, and spoke in a husky whisper. “Oooo, tell me more. I just looove jocks,” she teased.

Morgan laughed from her gut. “You are a nut.”

“But you love me anyway.”

“Damn right,” Morgan reassured.

The blonde sobered and looked her mate in the eyes. “Are you ready for this?”

Morgan reached out and squeezed Shannon’s hands before bringing them up to her mouth and kissing the knuckles.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Then let’s do this,” Shannon encouraged.

Morgan bent over and started to push the large trunk away from it’s resting place. Once it was well out of the way she stood and looked down at the empty space that was left behind.

“Well, here goes,” she said as she dropped to her knees.

She felt around, running her large hands across the floor until her slender fingers felt a slight rise in one of the floorboards. When she hooked the tip of her index finger into the ridge, she was able to pull a piece of the floor away.

“Damn,” she whispered. “He wasn’t lying.”

After she had pulled away four boards a square object covered by a piece of dark cloth came into view.

“Come on, Morgan. You can do this, it’s now or never,” she said, trying to pump herself up.

Shannon reached out and covered her partner’s trembling hands with her own. “It’s okay, love. I’m right here with you.”

Morgan kissed her wife softly on the lips. “I love you, Shannon.”

“And I you…forever.”

Taking a deep breath, Morgan removed the cloth off of the box and pulled it out of it’s hiding place. She tried the latch, but it was locked, so turned the object over and over looking for a key. When she discovered the small metal key taped to the bottom she pulled it loose and inserted it into the lock, turning it to the right until she felt the tumblers spin. When the mechanism released the loud click that it made seemed to echo across the entire space of the attic.

At first Shannon thought that the lid was rising on it’s own until she noticed Morgan’s fingers resting along the edges, gently lifting it opened.

Morgan’s eyes grew wide when she saw the contents. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting to see, but a lone manila envelop wasn’t it. She squeezed the tiny little metal arms together that held the envelop closed, and lifted the flap. Reaching in, she pulled out a thick document, ignoring for now the other items that were sitting in the bottom of the package. Once the papers were fully out, both she and Shannon began to read.

Blue and Green eyes scanned the first several sheets until they reached the section they were looking for. When Morgan shook the papers to remove a wrinkle that had formed across the middle, something fell out from the bottom, so Shannon stopped reading to pick it up. When she realized that it was a picture she began to study it. And just as she realized whose face was looking back at her, Morgan was reading her mother’s new name. They looked at one another with their eyes wide and their mouths hanging open.

“Oh, my god,” they said in unison. “It’s Rita.”
Chapter Thirty-Six
Rita had straightened up things around the house. Having spent a lazy Sunday afternoon doing nothing more exciting than changing the sheets on the bed, and cleaning the dust from the wood, she was ready for a few hours of mindless entertainment, so she turned on the television. But just as she had kicked off her shoes and put her feet up on the sofa the doorbell rang.

“Who could that be?” she asked the room as she slipped her shoes back on and headed for the door.

When she pulled the curtain back from the side window and peeked out, her heart skipped a beat at the sight of Morgan and Shannon standing on her doorstep.

“What on earth?” she questioned as she took a few deep breaths to calm her nerves before opening the door.

When the door swung open Morgan just stood there. She hadn’t thought about what she was going to say, or what she as going to do. The only thing that had been on her mind from the moment that she had read the name on the document that she had found was to drive over to Rita Shaw’s house and have a talk with the woman.

“Well, hello. What brings the two of you over here on such a nice day?” she asked the silent couple.

Morgan just stood there, appearing unable to speak. So, Rita turned to Shannon, hoping that the social worker would answer her question, but the blonde seemed to be just as speechless as her spouse.

“Is everything okay?” Rita asked, getting a little worried.

Then an uncomfortable feeling started to settle over her, and she turned to find intense blue eyes boring into her. Eyes that had always been the mirror imagine of the girl’s father. Eyes that were looking at her as if they were trying to find something…anything that was vaguely familiar to them. Then the women made eye contact with one another and Rita’s knees became so weak she almost fell to floor.

“Gods have mercy,” she whispered. “You know.”

Morgan didn’t say anything right away, she just continued to stare. “I…I don’t remember you,” was said in a bewildered voice.

Rita nearly choked on a sob. “Why would you? You were only four years-old. You were a baby.”

“No, I remember some things from being four, but I can’t remember you. I mean, I can’t remember what you looked like.”

“That’s okay, Morgan. It was a long time ago, and I was a lot younger,” Rita said, nervously moving her hands through the air.

Morgan tilted her head in observance. “You were my age.”

“Yes. Yes, I was.” Rita stepped back and invited the couple in. “Please, come in. We have a lot to talk about.”

“Yes, we do,” Morgan said as she crossed over the threshold. But she stopped walking once she had entered the house, and stood in the foyer looking at the shorter woman. “I have thought about you for so long. What you would look like, what you would sound like,” Morgan laughed a little. “But I never got it right.”

“I hope what’s in front of you isn’t too disappointing,” Rita said a little self-conscious.

“No, not at all. You aren’t what I imagined, but for some reason you are exactly what I expected.”

The words touched Rita deeply, and she reached out, as if to touch the young woman, but she pulled back at the last moment, afraid that she was crossing an invisible line.

“It’s…it’s okay,” Morgan said.

Rita tentatively reached out again and laid a gently hand on the tall woman’s arm.

Seeing how timid the women were with one another, Shannon pushed for a little more contact. “Why don’t you give her a hug, Rita?”

Rita looked up at the quiet woman. “Can…can I hug you?” The fear of rejection could clearly be heard in her voice, but she really wanted the opportunity to hold her baby in her arms again.

Morgan didn’t respond immediately. There were too many emotions flooding her senses. The child in her screamed for the contact, but the adult was cautious, not trusting the hurt that this woman could bring. So, she looked to her wife for the answer, and when she saw the support and encouragement in moist green eyes she turned back to her mother and took a hesitant step forward.

When Rita saw that Morgan was moving toward her she quickly moved to cover the rest of the distance. Now that she had permission she didn’t want to waste anymore time doing something that she had been longing to do for over twenty years…she hugged her daughter.

When Morgan leaned over and was enveloped in Rita’s essence, her entire being was instantly surrounded by a familiar scent, something that tickled at the edges of her memory. But it wasn’t until she felt the gentle hand at the back of her head, pulling her closer, that the long lost memory of this woman’s last day with her came rushing back to her with incredible force…

“Mommy is going to go away for a while, Morgan. You will have to be a big girl now, okay?”

The little dark-haired girl dropped the fat bear she was holding and hugged her mother tight around the neck, smelling the pretty flower garden that her mother always made her think of. “Okay, mommy. I can do that. When will you come back?”

The innocent question caused a torrent of anguished tears to flow down Sharon’s cheeks, but she couldn’t stop them. “Not for a long time, sweet girl.”

Morgan pulled back and wiped her mother’s face. “Don’t cry, mommy it will be okay. I can be a big girl until you come back…I promise.”

“I know you will, baby.”

Sharon pulled her little girl to her, and rested her hand on the back of her head, holding her close and feeling the baby-soft hair under her fingers as she inhaled the scent of her youth. She knew that these last precious moments with her daughter was going to have to live in her memories for an eternity, so she branded every scent, sound and touch into her mind.

“I love you,” she whispered to the little girl. “Never forget that, Morgan.”

“I won’t, mommy. I love you too.”

“I love you.” Morgan was hearing those words again, and feeling that hand at the back of her head once more, and smelling that flower garden scent again, and it all came together, hitting her in the chest like a sledgehammer.

“Oh, god,” she moaned as if in a dream. “Mommy,” she whispered, as if she were in pain.

Rita almost collapsed from the emotion that she felt coming off of her youngest child, and was grateful when she felt Shannon come up behind her and hold her steady.

“I have missed you so much,” Morgan sobbed into the older woman’s hair.

“I’ve missed you too, sweet girl. So very, very much.” she sobbed with just as much emotion.

“I’m sorry I forgot. I promised you wouldn’t, but I did.”

Rita was shushing the tall child. “It’s okay, Morgan. You did good. You were my big girl. Don’t worry,” she soothed her daughter as if she were that four year-old again and needed to be told she didn’t do anything wrong.

“He…he wouldn’t let me talk about you. He…he wouldn’t show me a picture of you. He…” The distraught woman was hiccupping and crying at the same time.

Again, Rita soothed her. “It’s okay, Morgan. I know what your father did. It’s okay. Now calm down or you’re going to make yourself sick.”

This seemed to make Morgan cry even harder. Being mothered in this way was something she had missed her entire life. It didn’t matter that she was thirty years-old, married and a police detective. Right here. Right now. She was a little girl being comforted by the mother she had missed for most of her life.

Shannon was standing behind Rita with her hand s on the woman’s waist, holding her steady, crying right along with the two women, feeling her lover’s emotions as if they were her own. Shannon was thrilled for her mate, happy that this void in her life could finally be filled.

“Why don’t you two take a seat before you fall over,” Shannon suggested.

Rita pulled away from her daughter and led the woman to the sofa. Once they were seated, Rita on one side of Morgan, Shannon on the other. Morgan reached over, pulled her mother’s hands into her lap, and just started firing off questions.

“Where have you been? What have you been doing? How…”

Rita pulled one of her hands away and stopped the young woman from talking with the raise of a gentle finger. “Slow down, Morgan. One question at a time, but let me ask one first.”

Morgan nodded her head.

“Did Maureen and Jim tell you about me?”

Two sets of mouths dropped open, and Rita realized her error. “Jim and Maureen know who you are?” asked a shocked Shannon.

Oh, my. I’ve got to fix this. “Well, yes. You see it was becoming very difficult for me to keep this secret with you being so close. So, I selfishly shared my troubles with them and swore them to silence. So you see, Morgan there is no need to be angry with them. This…all of this is my fault.”

Morgan had to admit there was a small amount of anger brewing in her belly. She had known Jim and Maureen for years, their loyalty should lie with her not with some stranger that they… Then it stopped. The anger was gone, and she was filled with gratitude. Her mother had needed someone to lean on, and the kind couple had been there for her, just as they had been there for Shannon and Brian so many years before. And if she were to be honest with herself, she had to admit that in all of this, her mother was as much of a victim to Michael’s cruelty as she was, probably more. The person she should be angry with was the person that had set all of this in motion.

“Don’t worry,” she finally said. “I’m not mad. I’m actually happy that you had someone to talk to, but no, it wasn’t Jim or Maureen that told me…it was dad.”

Gray eyes grew wide with shock. “Michael told you?! What on earth would prompt him to do that?”

“Yeah, he, um. He’s about to go away for a long time, and he felt like it was time to come clean.”

Rita couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Michael McCray had gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar? Unbelievable. But that piece of news would have to be put away for later contemplation. Right now the most important thing was making sure that she was free to see her daughter without risking her life.

“Since it was your father who told you about me I’m hoping that means that I can have contact with you and not have to worry about getting a visit from his goon squad.” Once the words had left her mouth she realized how they must have sound, and quickly apologized. “I’m sorry, Morgan. I shouldn’t have let that slip out, and I certainly shouldn’t have said it in that way.”

“No, it’s okay. I know about his threat. He told me everything about how, and why he made you leave.”

This was another shock. Maybe putting off talking about Michael’s troubles wasn’t the best course of action at the moment.

“What exactly is going on with your father, Morgan? It must be something very serious for him to have, not only told you about me, but helped you find me.”

Morgan went on to tell her mother about the McCray men’s involvement with the sex trade, and how she had been the one to accidentally bring them down.

Rita reached up and cupped Morgan’s cheek in the palm on her hand. “Oh, my poor baby,” she sympathized. “That must have been horrible for you.”

Without thought, Morgan leaned into the hand that was caressing face, and looked into the knowing eyes of her mother.

“It was,” she forced out. “If it hadn’t been for Shannon I would have fallen apart.”

Rita turned to the green-eyed woman and softened her gaze. “Since the day I met you I have wanted to tell you how much I appreciate the way you love and care for my daughter, but of course I couldn’t do that without revealing who I really was. So let me do that now. Shannon, thank you for being there for her, for keeping her whole, for loving her unconditionally, and especially for filling in those gaps that my absence had to have left in her spirit. You make me feel like I’m not just getting back one daughter, but two.”

Now it was Shannon that was being held and soothed in strong arms. “Thank you for saying that,” was said in a teary voice. Rita’s words had hit a chord so deep inside of her that she had broken down from the emotions that had welled up. And Morgan was right there to shield her, because more than anyone else, she knew how much those words meant to her spouse, who had so recently turned the final page on her own parents.

Observing the two women, and the way they fit together made Rita smile. “It seems that the two of you have kept one another’s spirits alive. It is a rare thing to find the yin to one’s yang. Your souls are truly blessed,” she informed the couple.

Morgan reached down and lovingly wiped Shannon’s tears away with the pads of her fingers, taking care not to press too hard against the soft skin under her wife’s eyes.

The tender scene that was unfolding in front of her filled Rita’s heart with a melancholy ache. She had missed so much. That realization filled her with guilt, and before she could stop herself she blurted out her self-recrimination.

“I should have tried harder to stay with you, Morgan. I should have just taken the risk of him killing me, because these years of living without my family, and watching helplessly from the sidelines have been like a slow death anyway,” she said with anguish.

Morgan’s head snapped up, and fear flooded her eyes. “No, don’t say that. What you did back then, gave us this chance now. If you had given up your life you would only be a memory. And for what? When I talked to dad he made it plain that his word was law in his house, so we would have turned out the way we have anyway. At least with the way things played out there is a chance for us to start over.”

“Is that what you want, Morgan? You want us to start over?”

“Yes, I do.”

“So do I.”

The three women sat in silence, not knowing what to do next. Finally Rita slapped her thighs and stood up from the sofa. “You girls look hungry. Come on in the kitchen and let me cook you something,” was said as she headed out of the room, fully expecting the young women to follow her.

“Let the mothering begin,” Shannon whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

“Yeah,” Morgan agreed as she followed behind her long missing parent. “Let it.”

They knew things were not going to be fixed right away. They knew it was going to take time, but they were willing to do what ever it took to get back as much as they could of what had been lost for so long. And it would all start with a Sunday dinner for three.
Chapter Thirty-Seven
The visit with Rita had been emotionally draining on both women, so when Morgan announced that she wasn’t ready to go home Shannon was up for what ever came next.

“What do you have in mind, sweetheart?”

“I want to be outside in the open for a little while.”

Shannon looked up into the night sky and watched the stars as they twinkled in the dark velvet expanse above them.

“I’m game.”

“How about taking a ride? Maybe out to the beach?”

Shannon reached over and squeezed her spouse’s hand. “Will you hold my hand, and walk with me down the shore?”

“Anything you want, gorgeous.”

*******

They were relaxed and content as they sat on a blanket that they kept in the trunk of the car. The moonlight was illuminating the area, bathing everything around them in a soft glow, and the sound of the waves rolling in and lapping at the shore was the perfect background sound to their mood. Everything around them was silent and unmoving. Only the ocean and the moon was sharing this moment with them.

“You know, when we were kids I told Brian that there was no such thing as a magic beach, but now I’m not so sure,” Shannon announced into the silence.

Morgan gently ran her fingers through the soft hair at her lover’s temple. “Why is that sweetheart?”

“Because it was on this very beach that all of my dreams came true.”

Morgan laughed. “Oh, really? It I recall correctly, it was on this very beach that I had you face down in the sand.”

“This is true.”

“So unless you are into some kinky stuff that I don’t know about I don’t see how sucking up wet grit is a dream come true.”

“Stop being silly,” Shannon said, making sure there was humor in her voice. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean, but you gotta know my dreams came true too.”

“Ha! You dreamed of an instant family?”

Morgan teased Shannon’s ear with her teeth. “Now who’s being silly?”

“Mmm…you’d better stop that or else.”

“Or else what?” Morgan asked as she began nibbling an earlobe.”

“Or I’m gonna wish for a house full of kids.”

“You gotta do better than that, baby. That’s not a threat. ”

Shannon stared into her wife’s face for several minutes. Then it hit her like a bolt of lightning. “I want a house full of blue-eyed babies,” she whispered.

A bright smile bloomed on Morgan’s face. “With blonde hair,” she whispered back.

The moon and the stars had bore witness to their heart’s desire. The wish had been made. Now it would only be a matter of time before one day they would bring their children here to play in the sands, where their lives had been forever changed.

The End

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