The Reef part 2 by Lois Kay

Part 7

A pair of eyes the color of stormy clouds stared into the distance, without noticing the surroundings. Strong, slender fingers nervously drummed on a cotton clad thigh, while jaw muscles were rhythmically contracted by the clenching of teeth.

Willam Jensen knew that time was drawing near. Only two more days to go and then he would be home free, or there would be hell to pay. There was no middle way.

His eyes followed the gracious greyhounds that were frantically trying to catch the rabbit that was held in front of them. Their speed was amazing and their muscular bodies a beauty to the eyes, but he didn’t even notice it. His eyes were transfixed on the cream coloured dog, leading the pack. He never blinked when they rounded the last corner. All movement and sound around him seemed to disappear. There was just this one dog he had his eyes on. He could almost hear the animal breathe, while pushing itself forward. His future depended on the elegant creature that was desperately trying to stay ahead of the ones following him. Inch by inch a dark brown greyhound came closer, and closer.

Willam Jensen could feel his breathing stop when the two competing animals were running side by side, dashing for the finish line.

The voice through the loadspeakers became hoarse from excitement, almost screaming the names of the dogs into the wide open space. It seemed to encourage them even more. The dark brown dog pushed himself a little more and with his hands clenched into fists, his nails digging into the palms of his hands, and horror in his eyes, William Jensen saw the dog that had been so important to his future, lose by an inch.

All blood drained from his face, when he crumpled up the small slip of paper he had been holding, tossing it on the ground.

He lost and there was just one thing left for him to do. It was the last option, but he had to take it. There were only two more days left. And only one chance to save his life.

It was late when Joan McDonnell and three of her children left Sarah and Megan’s. Jody’s mother had looked drained and compassionately Sarah had asked her to stay for dinner. But Joan had refused in a friendly way, knowing her husband expected her to visit.

” I have to sort this out myself, ” she had answered, sending Sarah a grateful smile. ” There are so many things to think about, so many things to consider. I think I need some time.”

” I’m so sorry, mom, ” Jody had whispered, while hugging her mother. ” I wish things could have been different.”

” So do I, love, ” her mother had answered, pulling her eldest one close and stroking her long, thick hair.

” What are you going to do now?”

” I don’t know yet, Jody, ” Joan McDonnel sighed. ” I have to sort things out first, maybe talk to that cardiologist, see how much your father can take at the moment. I have to thoroughly think things over first.”

Sam, who was watching the exchange between mother and daughter with gentle eyes, caught Jody’s gaze and smiled reassuringly.

” If there’s anything I can do, anything at all, just let me know. Okay?” she adressed Joan McDonnell.

Jody’s mother nodded and smiled at the tall Dutch woman.

” Thank you, Sam. You are very forgiving.”

” It wasn’t you who drove us apart.” Sam simply answered. ” You are a victim, just like we are.”

Sam turned to Gerald, who was bickering with Lucy about who was going to drive the car.

” Ger, ” Sam called. ” You know what to do. Right?”

Sam looked up with a boyish grin

” Keep my eyes open. Don’t drive straight home, but make a detour. Make sure mom and Fiona get home, without being followed, so we’ll take the back road and make sure this sorry excuse for a sister gets her shapely behind home in one piece.”

” Gee, thanks, ” Lucy snapped, pulling her car keys out of his hand unexpectedly. ” You are just too kind.”

” Hey, what can I say? ” Gerald replied with a smirk. ” I am your brother.”

The bedroom was very quiet. The fan at the ceiling was doing it’s routine of lazy circles, making a soft buzzing sound. A pair of emerald green eyes followed the motions, without really seeing them. Jody was so absorbed in the thoughts that kept spinning through her mind that she didn’t even notice Sam coming out of the bathroom, staring at her.

” What are you thinking about?” she finally asked, when Jody didn’t aknowledge her presence. ” Are you all right?”

With startled eyes Jody looked up and a warm smile crossed her face when her eyes met Sam’s.

” I was just thinking what a weird day this has been, ” she answered softly. ” I can hardly imagine it has not even been a full day since we got up this morning. So many things have happened.” She sighed heavily. ” It just….boggles my mind.”

Sam smiled and tossed her towel in the laundry basket. She walked towards the bed and stretched her long frame alongside Jody’s smaller one.

” I know, ” she finally replied. ” It has been a very emotional day. Lots of unexpected things happened.”

Jody looked up into a pair of gentle blue eyes and again felt like time stood still, when her own eyes were drawn into it’s clear depths, like magnets.

Sam reached out a hand and carefully brushed away a strand of hair, that was hiding a part of Jody’s cheek. Her fingers lightly traced the soft skin, enjoying the feel of the warm, silky skin.

Jody swallowed hard when she felt her heart rate increase and she tried to ignore the tingling feeling, that Sam’s fingers caused.

” This morning, ” she hesitantly started. ” Was that…..unexpected too?”

Sam’s fingers stopped their gentle caressing and she scooted closer, leaning her head on her hand.

” Was it to you? ” she replied, her voice soft and tender.

” You are answering a question with a question, ” Jody smiled, gently poking the taller womans shoulder.

Sam smiled and captured Jody’s hand in her own.

” It was unexpected, ” Sam admitted. ” But not unwelcome. And to you?”

” The same, ” Jody honestly answered. ” Unexpected, but very welcome.”

They stared at each other, Sam’s smile deepened when she saw the sparkling green eyes that were so close to her own, even seeing the tiny golden dots around the pupil.

” It was something I thought I could only dream about, ‘ Sam confessed. ” A week ago I would have declared anyone who would have predicted this, insane. Running into you was a dream come true. I never thought I would see you again, let alone restore our friendship. Everything beyond that would have been a blessing. And it is, ” she smiled. ” You are a blessing.”

Sam crossed the small distance between herself and Jody and her lips captured a pair of equally soft ones for a long and tender kiss. Jody’s lips were very willing and she eagerly returned a kiss that spoke more than words could ever do. It left them both breathless and aching for more, but Sam gently retreated, her eyes darkened with unspoken need.

“I have to tell you something, Jody, ” she whispered. ” Something I want you to know about….me….my past.”

” I don’t care about the past, Sam, ” Jody replied, her voice husky with desire. ” This is the present and we are both here, together. It’s so much more than I ever hoped for.”

” You need to know, ” Sam insisted, seeing the look in Jody’s eyes turn into a worried one.

” What is it, Sam?” she asked, raking her fingers through the unruly, blond hair.

Sam took a deep breath and cast down her eyes, not able to look at Jody, because those green eyes were just too distracting.

” I..um..,” she cleared her throat and decided to start again. ” I….Oh, God, this is so embarrassing.”

Jody saw a pink flush creep up Sam’s cheeks and she turned on her side, leaning on her elbow. She had never seen Sam this subdued and she couldn’t help wondering what would be the cause of that.

” You can tell me, Sam, ” she encouraged. ” I won’t judge you. I would never do that.”

A pair of blue eyes were raised and Jody could clearly see a mixture of shyness and humor. A small smile tugged on Sam’s lips when she took Jody’s hand and gently squeezed it.

” Eight years ago, I was madly in love with you, ” she began. ” Believe it or not, but secretly I was already making all sorts of plans for us. Like taking you back to Holland with me, going to university together, getting jobs, staying together and living happily ever after. After the accident and I went back home, it took me along time to recover, physically.” Sam paused and saw a look of intense concentration on Jody’s face. ” It took even longer for the rest to heal. It took years, ” she admitted. ” I finally thought I was over it, just before I came back.”

Jody just stared at Sam, trying to let the words sink in, so she could register them.

” Sam, you mean….? ” Jody’s eyes filled with tears and she desperately tried to swallow them away. ” Sam, there’s been….no one else?”

Sam slowly shook her head and silently wiped away a tear that had escaped it’s green confinement, finding it’s way down Jody’s cheek.

” Just you. Only you,” Sam simply declared.

Jody pressed her forehead against Sam’s hand, experiencing such a feeling of guilt that it left her almost dizzy.

” Don’t feel bad, honey, ” Sam tried to comfort her. ” You didn’t know. Neither did I. Please!”

” But Sam, all that time….and I….I mean, Megan and I….”

” Honey, we already talked about that. I don’t blame you! It’s not like we had taken vows or anything.”

” No, we didn’t, ” Jody agreed. ” But while Megan and I were lovers, I still felt committed to you. I did love Megan, in a way and I’m grateful we still are friends, but in my heart it’s always been you. But I thought I had lost you forever.”

” Then there’s nothing to feel bad or guilty about. We are together now.”

” Yes, we are, ” Jody smiled, kissing the back of Sam’s hand. ” That wasn’t embarassing, Sam.”

” No, ” Sam drawled. ” But this might be a little. I had women and men chasing after me. Of course I made the men very clear I was not interested and the women, even though I did go out with a few of them I….I have never been with one.”

Jody’s heart was pounding so fast she was sure Sam could hear it. But Sam didn’t notice, she stared at the sheet underneath her hand and her finger drew little patterns on the white fabric. Until it was captured by one of Jody’s hands, while the other lifted up Sam’s chin, so she had to look Jody in the eye. Sam swallowed hard when she saw that the emerald green had been replaced by a darker shade, radiating such a love and tenderness it nearly took her breath away.

” Thank you for opening up to me like that, Sam. That means a lot to me. I have to admit I didn’t expect this, don’t ask me why. Maybe because you always look so confident about everything, you are so sure of yourself and even this morning I….I would have never thought it….it was a first.”

” Second, ” Sam corrected with a smirk.

” Second, ” Jody laughed, remembering that night eight years ago.

She brought her face close to Sam’s and kissed the tip of her nose, her cheeks and finally her waiting lips. Sam’s arms slid around her waist, pulling her close and very soon the kiss changed intensity, going from soft and tender to passionate and demanding.

Jody gently pushed Sam back until the taller woman was laying on her back, with Jody half on top. Jody placed soft kisses on Sam’s face and neck and playfully bit her earlobe, catching it between her healthy, white teeth.

” I want to make love to you, Sam,” she whispered, feeling Sam shiver underneath her body.

Sam’s hands had found their way underneath Jody’s shirt, caressing the soft, bare skin of her back. Going around in lazy circles, causing goosebumps to appear.

” Please, ” Sam’s husky voice answered, before she was silenced by a pair of lips that took complete possession of hers. And when a insistant tongue demanded entrance, thoroughly exploring her mouth, Sam lost all ability to think. The only thing her world consisted of was the feel of Jody’s lips on hers, the small hands that roamed her tall body and tantalizingly slow, peeled her out of her shirt, leaving her burning with a desire that was so intense, it threatened to totally consume her.

Jody was tender but passionate. With patience and incredible self control, while ignoring her own need, she guided her newfound lover to such a high place of ecstasy, it left Sam shuddering and gasping for breath. When she finally reached the pinnacle and went over the edge, she whispered Jody’s name, but with such intensity she might as well have shouted it out aloud.

Jody saw the tears leave the now darkened blue eyes and with infinite tenderness she gathered Sam in her arms and kissed the salty drops away, holding the taller woman close, until her breathing returned to normal and her thundering heart beat slowed down to it’s normal rhythm. When Sam finally opened her eyes to look at Jody from up, she smiled and radiated so much happiness and love, words were not needed. Jody just kissed the lips that were so near and nuzzled Sam’s neck. Feeling like she, finally, had come home.

It was still dark and very quiet. Two bodies were laying close together, covered only by a thin, cotton sheet, tossed halfway their naked torso’s. Jody’s head rested on Sam’s shoulder, her arm possesively draped around her bare waist, while Sam’s arm was curled around the smaller woman’s back, providing her all the room she needed to snuggle as close as possible.

After what seemed like hours of quiet, intimate talking and indefatigable lovemaking they had finally fallen asleep, exhausted but happy. Their bodies relaxed and satiated.

Suddenly the silence was rudely interrupted by an insistent buzzing. Jody stirred and mumbled something unintelligible, while Sam’s eyes snapped open, kicking her brain into action. It didn’t take her long to realize what the source of the sound was.

“Honey, ” she groaned, her voice hoarse from sleep, trying to extract her body from Jody’s firm grip. ” It’s my phone. I better answer it.”

A pair of sleepy green eyes were opened and reluctantly Jody released her grip, so Sam could reached for the still, annoyingly buzzing cell phone.

” Hello, ” Sam spoke, anything but friendly.

” Woah, sis, what’s up? Grumpy are we?”

Immediately a bright smile lit up Sam’s face and she sat up straight, all traces of sleep vanished.

” Tom! Hey, brother. What a nice surprise.”

” I’m glad you think so, ” her brother grinned. ” You did sound very pissed off, baby sister. I was afraid you didn’t want to talk to me.”

” Of course I do,” Sam smiled. ” But you do know what time is it, don’t you?”

” Sure. Four a.m., ” Tom answered and in her mind Sam could see his blue eyes sparkle with mischief.

” Right. At your place, ” Sam laughed. ” It’s two o’clock at night here, you goof. So, what’s the emergency?”

” Well, Sam, I did try to email you a few times, but I guess you weren’t on line tonight. You didn’t answer me, so I decided to call you.”

Sam cast a look at her laptop in the corner of the room and realized she completely forgot to check her inbox that evening. She mentally slapped herself. The last thing she wanted to do was to worry her brother and although he did sound relaxed and teasing she knew he never would have called her in the middle of the night, if he hadn’t been worried about her.

” I’m sorry, Tom. I forgot to check my inbox,” she apologized.

” That’s all right, Sam, you must have had a good reason. I’m just glad you are okay. But listen, I did not just call for fun, although it is great to talk to you, but I ran some analyzing programs on that data you sent me. And I did find out some very interesting things. I sent them to you. You got your laptop at hand? I can make more sense if you can see what I am talking about.”

” It’s right here in the bedroom, Tom. I’ll get it, just a moment.”

Sam smiled at Jody, quickly kissing her lips, before jumping out of bed to boot up her computer.

Following her brothers lead she scrolled through a few different programs and Jody, who was awake now, saw the expression on Sam’s face change from surprise, to astonishment, to anger and finally to grim determination.

Finally, after a long time she ended the call, switching off the computer and slowly turning so she could face Jody.

” You’re not going to believe this, ” she sighed. ” This is even worse than I expected. That lovely manager of ours managed to transfer more than three hundred thousand dollars into three different accounts, all owned by him.”

Jody’s eyes widened and she sat up straight, staring at Sam with a shocked look on her face. She pushed away her disheveled hair and rubbed her forehead, totally confused.

” But, Sam, how did he do that? I mean, I know he did most of the bookkeeping himself, but….that much money. I should have noticed.”

” No, honey, you wouldn’t. He has been very crafty. According to Tom he did use fake employees and transferred their paychecks into his own accounts. I knew that wouldn’t add up to the total amount of money he stole.”

” Then, what did?”

Sam looked at Jody pensively. Her eyes took in the picture of her lover, sitting cross legged on the bed, her long hair disheveled from sleep and love making, covering her bare shoulders. It was the only thing covering part of her naked body and Sam had to try very hard not to lose her train of thought.

“Ummm….well, have there been many so called ‘accidents’ lately. I know about the fire, but before that? ”

” Actually, ” Jody drawled. ” A few weeks ago there has been a leak in one of the water pipes at the gym. It ruined a large part of the floor. And before that there was a short circuit in the kitchen, causing a little fire.”

” Did the insurance company pay?”

” I guess so, ” Jody answered. ” William took care of the, he…..oh….you mean……?”

” I mean, ” Sam answered. ” The money from the insurance company was deposited into his own account.”

” But the damage has been repaired Sam.”

” I know, ” Sam answered. ” Guess I’ll have to ask him about that. But I have my suspicions. I wouldn’t be surprised if he used some poor illegal immigrant to do that for him, or someone who owed him a favor. Tom has been checking out some of the accounts that popped up regularly and he did find a pattern. Jensen transfers large amounts of money into the same account every week and it’s not his. Tom thinks he is in serious debt. He might be right about that. It would explain a lot.”

” You are going to confront him, Sam? Do you think that would be wise? Maybe we’d better leave it to the police. Those blokes that trashed my apartment are probably working for William. They mean serious business. I mean, they desperately want those disks. They scare me, he pulled a knife, remember?”

Absently Sam rubbed her affected shoulder, a determined expression on her face.

” They’re gonna pay for this, Jody,” she answered, her voice soft, but decided. ” It’s not just the fraud thing, but they set fire to ‘The Reef” , risking people lives. They demolished your apartment, pulled that knife, and I’m sure they were trying to kidnap Fiona. They are dangerous, honey.”

” That’s exactly what I mean, Sam. You have to stay away from them. Why don’t we give Carol Wong a call in the morning and go talk to her? Let them take over. Sam, please?”

Jody’s eyes were pleading and desperately searching Sam’s face for any sign of resignment. She could see Sam debating with herself and patiently waited, not wanting to pressure her too much.

” All right, ” Sam finally answered, causing Jody to sigh in relief. ” We will give Carol a call. I can show her the data Tom sent me. They can go from there.”

Jody reached out her hand and when Sam took it, she slowly pulled her on the bed, wrapping her arms around Sam’s body, holding her close.

” Thanks, Sam,” she whispered. ” I feel much better now.”

” Two days, Billie Boy, ” Joe Michaels smirked, watching the fidgeting manager who was sitting on the other side of the table. ” Have you already decided where to run to? You know you can’t hide, not from me. ”

Joe Michaels casually leaned back in his chair, studying the nervous man with keen interest. His cold eyes narrowed when William Jenkins didn’t respond to his words, clearly avoiding the piercing eyes from his Nemesis.

” You gonna take your wife with you? Might be a bit of a hassle, hey? I could look after her, if you want. Of course I’ve got no use for the kid.”

William Jenkins suddenly sat up straight, his eyes blazing.

” One finger, ” he hissed. ” Touch her with one finger and I swear you will regret the day you were born.”

” Don’t worry, mate, ” Joe Michaels chuckled. ” She’s not my type anyway. But I tell you one thing, Billie. As long as you don’t come up with the money, I have all the power. So, it’s up to you. You need a plan!”

The manager of ‘The Reef’ debated with himself for a few seconds, and made a decision. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper. Without saying a word he threw it on the table in front of him.

Joe Michaels raised his eyebrows and looked surprised. His eyes traveled from the piece of paper to William Jenkins.

” What’s that?”

” Have a look.”

He reached out his hand and picked up the item, slowly unfolding it, smoothing it out on the table in front of him.

” Mmm, foxy lady. Your new girlfriend? ” he joked.

” Take a better look.” You moron.

Joe Michaels picked up the photo copy and studied it closely.

” Samantha Stevens? ” he reacted, the surprise evident in his voice. ” Isn’t she the daughter of your big boss? Where did you get….? Wait a minute, she is the blond my two apes are chasing?”

William Jenkins didn’t answer, only nodded, trying hard to push away the feeling of guilt that was creeping up his conscience.

I have to do this. I don’t have a choice. Maybe Joe will take over from me, so I’m off the hook. I don’t think I could look Jody in the eyes if….I have to do this!

” You mean, those disks are really in the wrong hands? My God, William, how could you be so stupid? She is a Stevens for crying out loud. If she knows her business, she’ll figure out those accounts you created. They will be after you, but that’s not my problem. My problem is they’ll be after me soon as well! You idiot! You are risking my whole business!!! I should have thrown you off that cliff when I had the chance. Damnit!

“” I’ve been thinking it over, Joe. I have a plan that will get us the disks and a lot of money as well. But I want you to promise me one thing.”

” Me? Promising you? Aren’t you a little bit confused, mate? I am the one who is calling the shots.”

” But I worked out a plan, ” William Jenkins courageously objected. ” I’ll be off the hook and you’ll be a lot richer. So, you want to make me a promise?”

” What? ” Joe Michaels grunted, finding himself cornered by the manager, something that rarely happened.

” Leave my family alone.”

Calm on the outside, but feeling sick to his stomach William Jenkins stared into a pair of cold eyes. He knew Joe Michaels did not have much of a conscience, but when he made a promise, he stuck to it.

So, this is what it feels like when you sell you soul to the devil. I am a coward, I know. But it is the only way. The only chance I’ve got. I’m sorry, Jody, I really am. You don’t deserve this.

” All right, I promise to leave your family alone. Now, what’s this brilliant plan you came up with?”

It was a regular Monday morning. The streets were busy with people going to work, tourists that wanted to enjoy themselves before the blazing heat of the afternoon set in and school children, dressed in uniform, waiting for the bus to pick them up.

The breeze, coming from the East, sliced the already present heat and provided some relief for the two men sitting in their car, waiting.

” How do we know this is the right place?” Fred mumbled, still suffering from a headache after sitting in the hot car for so long, the previous day.

” Because Joe told us, that’s why,” Little Steven replied with a grunt.

” How does he know?” Fred asked, knowing full well he was driving his partner insane with his questions. But he had enough of sitting in overheated cars, doing nothing, while he was being scolded at all the time.

Little Steven cast his younger companion a threatening look before answering.

” Because he checked. Allright? And I don’t care how he did it, so don’t ask! You are driving me insane with all those questions.”

Fred looked outside the window, a small smile tugging on the corner of his mouth. He knew Little Steven was annoyed with him, but this time Fred didn’t mind. He was secretely pleased he was able to provoke the older man. He had reacted the way he had expected and was becoming more predictable. It gave him more self confidence in dealing with the gruff right hand of Joe Michaels. Something that might come in handy in the near future.

” Okay, Freddie, showtime, ” Little Steven interrupted his musings, pointing at the corner where one of the schoolbuses had stopped. ” Just stick to the plan. I will be right behind you with the car. We’ll be out of here within two minutes.”

Fred just nodded and opened the door to get out of the car. Without looking back he casually walked to the corner of the street, while his eyes took in his surroundings. Just a lot of school children and some teachers. But they were standing close together, having an animated discussion and didn’t seem to be very alert.

With a confidence he didn’t feel, Fred walked to the spot Little Steven had pointed out to him before, his eyes scanning the children that passed him on the street. As soon as he was out of sight he stopped a twelve year old boy, who was strolling passed him, kicking an empty beer can with his foot, apparently enjoying the noise it made.

” Hey, mate,” Fred called and the boy looked at him with curious brown eyes. ” Do you know my sister, Fiona McDonnell?”

” Yeah, ” the boy drawled, his eyes examining the man in front of him.

” Could you do me a favor? Would you tell her I want to speak to her a few minutes. I am her brother, Gerald. Just tell her Jody and Samantha sent me.”

The young boy, who had heard all the lessons about not talking to strangers, just shrugged his shoulders and looked bored.

” Why don’t you go up to her yourself? ” he asked, not at all impressed.

” Because I don’t want my mom to see me, okay? ” Fred’s brain was working overtime to come up with a logical explanation. ” See, we’re trying to organize a party for her, you know. She’s not supposed to know anything about it. Just ask her, mate. It’s no trouble for you, is it?”

“Guess not, ” the boy answered, still not entirely convinced. ” I’ll tell her.”

” Thanks mate, ” Fred sighed. ” I appreciate it.”

The boy mumbled something and continued his way, leaving the beer can alongside the road. Fred’s keen eyes followed him and with relief he saw the boy walking up to Fiona, who was the center of attention in a group of peers.

When the boy addressed Fiona and pointed to the corner of the street, Fred made sure he was out of sight. The last thing he wanted, was the girl recognizing him from a distance and raise an alarm.

” My brother? ” Fiona repeated, looking at the younger boy, her eyebrows raised. ” Which one?”

” Gerald, ” Robert Finn answered, shuffling his feet, feeling very uneasy under Fiona’s scrutinizing look. ” Listen you….”

” Gerald? ” Fiona repeated. ” That’s strange. He’s supposed to be going to Brisbane today. Did he say anything else?”

” Just that Jody and Samantha sent him and something about a party.”

” Samantha? ” Fiona snorted. ” He never calls her that. Maybe I should check it out.”

” Are you crazy, Fi?” Suzie Bowden reacted, grabbing her friend by her arm. ” If your brother wants to see you, why doesn’t he come up here? ”

” Yes, Fi, ” Anne-Marie Gunn backed up Suzie. ” It’s weird. Don’t go. If he wants to speak to you he should come here. Besides, you know we’re not allowed to leave the grounds.”

” School has not started yet, ” Fiona replied. ” I’ll go have a look. But I won’t go up to him if it isn’t Ger. If it’s someone else I’ll come running back, okay. I will only go until I can see him.”

” But he’s around the corner, Fi, ” Suzie whined, not at all happy. ” I think you should tell Mr. Richards, he could come with you.”

” Dicky? ” Fiona chuckled. ” No, thanks, he hates my guts ever since I accidently knocked off his wig wihen I ran into him. He’d kill me, given the chance. No, I’ll go have a look. Just keep an eye on me.”

” Why don’t you go across the street? ” Robert suggested. ” You don’t have to go around the corner to see him then.”

Fiona looked at the younger boy, who was blushing fiercly when the three older girls all watched him in silence.

” Great idea, Bob, ” Fiona finally grinned, patting his shoulder. ” I will do that. Thanks.”

Fiona cast a look at the teachers who were enjoying an animated discussion, not seeing the young girl leave the school grounds and crossing the street.

But Fred noticed and he mumbled a string of curses.

” Damnit, that girl is just too smart.”

Jody yawned shamelessly and stretched her body, softly groaning. She had just woken up from a deep sleep, noticing the beam of sunlight peeking through the blinds, realizing it would be time to get up.

She rolled on her side and cast a fond look at Sam’s sleeping form. The taller woman was laying on her back, one arm stretched out alongside her body, the other curled up around the pillow. Her breathing was deep and even and Jody couldn’t resist the temptation of letting her hand wander across the exposed skin of her abdomen. She rubbed the skin in lazy circles, watching Sam’s face for any sign of awareness. But Sam’s face remained relaxed and her breathing never changed.

Jody’s hand traveled up until she could caress the soft swell of a breast, enjoying the sensations that were running through her body, upon feeling the silky softness.

” You always take advantage of sleeping women?” Sam’s amused voice shattered the silence and a pair of twinkling blue eyes were raised to meet a pair of startled green ones. But Jody recovered quickly.

” You sneak, ” she smiled, softly pinching a very sensitive spot that immediately stood at attention. “You were awake the whole time, weren’t you?”

Sam chuckled and reached out her hand to pull Jody close for a very tender and very long kiss. When they broke off they were both breathless.

” Good morning, honey, ” Sam smiled.

” Morning, love,” Jody smiled back, again lost in the blue depths that were so close.

” Magnetic blue, ” she said, all of a sudden, surprising Sam.

” What?”

” Magnetic blue, ” Jody repeated, her finger tracing one of Sam’s eyebrows. ” I finally found the word to describe your eyes. Remember that morning, a long, long time ago when you just woke up on me? I told you how beautiful your eyes were and you were wondering if I could come up with a word to describe them? You wondered if there was a poet inside of me somewhere.”

” I remember, ” Sam softly replied, her fingers gently scratching Jody’s back. ” Magnetic blue. Mmm, I like the sound of that. You must be a poet, honey.”

” Only around you, ” Jody confessed with a wink, making Sam chuckle. ” So, how are you feeling this morning?”

” Blissfully happy, ” Sam immediately answered. ” And very loved.”

They stared into each others eyes for a long time, until Jody leaned in for a fleeting kiss.

” I do love you, Sam.”

” I know, baby. I love you too, I have always loved you.”

It was a simple declaration, but said with such an intensity that it brought tears to Jody’s eyes. But she smiled and buried her face in Sam’s neck, sighing contendly, feeling the grip of Sam’s arms around her tighten. One of Sam’s hands idly played with a strand of long hair and she pressed her lips against Jody’s temple, kissing her softly.

” I could easily stay in bed like this all day, ” she lazily confessed, reveling in the warmth between them. ” Of course, at one point, things could get a bit more intense, but somehow I don’t think you would mind.”

“Not at all, ” Jody mumbled and Sam could feel her body shake from silent laughter.

” What is so funny?” Sam curiously inquired.

” Nothing,” Jody answered in a strangled voice.

” Yeah, right, ‘ Sam chuckled, tickling exsposed ribs, making Jody squirm. ” Tell me, baby. Come on.”

Sam increased the tickling with one hand, holding her lover down with the other until Jody gave in.

” Okay, okay, I’ll tell you, ” she cried out, laughing. ” I was just thinking that you handled your first time pretty well. You seem insatiable.”

” You made a believer out of me, honey, ” Sam grinned, pulling Jody on top of her and catching a pair of lips for a scorching kiss, that soon increased in passion, leaving them both needy for more.

” God, Sam,” Jody panted. ” I want this, I want you, but we have to go to the police station soon. We can’t wait too long.”

” You’re right, ” Sam hoarsly replied, feeling a pang of regret. ” But.can I take a rain check?”

” Absolutely, ” Jody breathed, drawn to Sam’s lips and kissing her passionately.

” We will continue this later today, baby, ” she promised with difficulty, extracting her body from Sam’s arms, trying to ignore the persistent throbbing that their kissing had ignited. ” I promise.”
Part 8
The police station was bathed in an abundance of sunshine. The small building was surrounded by a few high trees, providing much needed shade for the cars parked outside. Everything looked quiet and peaceful and with a sigh Jody parked her car next to a police cruiser. She switched off the engine and cast a look at Sam who was sitting next to her, a pensive expression on her face.

” You think we will be told off for not giving all the information before?” Jody asked. ” Carol Wong might not be pleased at all.”

Sam looked at Jody, a warm smile on her face.

” Don’t worry about it, honey. We didn’t have all the information, remember? We had some ideas, but the real proof that backs them up came last night when Tom sent me those files.” Sam reached out and gently squeezed Jody’s knee. ” I think Carol will be very pleased.”

” I hope so, ” Jody sighed, covering Sam’s hand with her own. ” But even if she’s not, I’m glad the police will take over. The thought that those….idiots tried to get to my sister just pisses me off-big time.”

Sam chuckled and leaned in to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.

” Lets go then, shall we?”

” Yup, let’s get it done and over with.”

Jody stepped out of the car and followed Sam toward the main entrance.

” Wow, it’s going to be a hot day, ” Jody remarked, feeling the early morning sun warming her skin with an amazing speed.

Jody’s cell phone rang just as Sam opened the door and stepped aside to let her lover in to enter the building. The sound was so unexpected, that the already tense Jody nearly jumped, much to Sam’s amusement.

With a scowl Jody reached into her purse and got her phone out. She looked at the display and Sam saw her brow furrow.

” Unidentified caller ID, ” she explained, before pressing a button.

” Jody McDonnell.”

Sam saw her face change from curiosity to surprise.

” Fiona? Aren’t you supposed to be at school? Where are you calling from?”

Sam’s eyes widened and she watched Jody’s face like a hawk, listening intently to the one sided conversation.

” What!!? Where are you now? …..Wait a sec, will you?”

The expression on Jody’s face was one of pure shock and her hands slightly trembled when she looked up at Sam, who was trying very hard not to look impatient.

” What’s up?”

” Fiona is at school and she says one of those blokes that were outside the shop the other day is right outside the school. He asked one of her schoolmates to send her to him, telling the boy he was Gerald.”

Sam’s face lost all color and with a grim expression she took the phone out of Jody’s hand. She grabbed Jody’s hand and pulled her with her toward the car.

” Fiona? It’s me. Are you inside the school right now?…..Stay there. Don’t move. We’re coming to pick you up. …Yes, now, we’re on our way. Whatever you do, don’t go outside!”

Sam ended the conversation and cast Jody a worried look.

” This thing is getting worse every day. Damnit!!! ”

” But Sam, maybe we should…”

” We’ll pick up Fiona and come back here. I have had enough of this. I want the police to protect your family.”

Jody could tell Sam was upset and she knew better than to argue with her when she was that anxious. She knew her sister would be safe, as long as she stayed inside the school building, but realized Sam was making the right choice to go and pick her up to bring her back to the police station, so Fiona could tell her own story to Carol Wong. It would only emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

It took them twenty minutes to reach the school, there was a lot of traffic and every time Jody had to stop and wait Sam was getting more anxious. Her strong fingers impatiently drummed her knee and from the corner of her eye Jody could see her biting her lip, a sign she was nervous. When they finally reached their destination Sam spoke for the first time.

” Park as close to the school as you can, ” she said. ” I don’t want any nasty surprises.”

” I’m not allowed to park there, Sam, it’s for school buses only.”

” I don’t care, ” Sam remarked. ” If we get a ticket, I’ll pay it and get it over with. Besides, I wouldn’t mind a few police officers outside right now.” She looked around, scanning the area with keen eyes. ” I don’t know where those clowns are and I don’t like that one single bit.”

Sam opened the door and stepped outside, stretching her long frame, in the meantime looking at the parked cars opposite the school. She saw nothing out of the ordinary.

” Come on, ” she urged Jody, putting her hand in the small of her friend’s back, keeping her body between Jody’s and the street behind them. She resisted the urge to look back, not wanting to let anyone who might be watching know she was nervous.

They entered the building and Sam decided to let Jody take the lead, when they were approached by a short man, who was obviously wearing a wig.

” Can I help you?” he asked, not too friendly.

” I hope so, ” Jody smiled. ” My name is Jody McDonnell and I came here to pick up my sister, Fiona.”

Mark Richards didn’t answer her immediately. His eyes curiously examined Jody and when they started to roam her body, Sam had to seriously resist the urge to grab him by his tie and wind it tightly around his neck. Instead she cleared her throat, sending him a menacing look.

” Um..right…Fiona. Well, it’s a school day and since I didn’t receive a note from either of her parents, I am afraid I can’t let her leave the school grounds. It’s against the rules, you see.”

Jody could feel Sam’s body tense behind her and with a small gesture of her hand she stopped her lover from interrupting.

” It’s an emergency, Mr. Richards, ” Jody replied politely. ” I really need Fiona to come with me.”

Mark Richard’s muddy brown eyes took on a stubborn expression and he pulled back his shoulders, no doubt to look taller than he really was.

” I am sorry, Miss McDonnell, but as I said….”

Jody felt Sam move behind her and before she knew what had happened, Sam had gently pushed her aside and was standing in front of the teacher, stretched to her full height, looking down at him with a dangerous glare in her eyes.

” My friend here said it was an emergency. Now, you’re gonna tell me where Fiona is, so we can take her with us, or I will make sure that your teaching days are over. It’s up to you.”

In order to see her face, Mark Richards had to crane his neck and look up and Jody saw him swallow hard. He was not inclined to give in yet.

” I don’t know who you are, Miss, but you can’t come barging in here like that, threatening me. I’d suggest you’ll leave before I call the police.”

” Oh, please do, by all means, ” Sam purred, smiled, bearing her teeth in a wicked grin. ” Maybe you can explain to them how it’s possible for one of your pupils to leave the school grounds unseen and nearly get kidnapped. I’d love to hear your side of the story.”

” K…Kidnapped?” the teacher repeated and Jody could see the perspiration form on his forehead, in spite of the air conditioning inside the building. “B…But…”

” Fiona didn’t tell you what happened?” Sam inquired, her eyebrows raised into perfect arcs.

” Um..well…she did tell me there was somebody pretending to be her brother, but…I…um…well, you know how kids are?”

” Of course, ” Sam smiled, but her eyes were chips of ice. ” They all make up stories about being kidnapped, don’t they? And of course all families react the same. I bet you already sent away a lot of worried parents this morning, didn’t you?”

Sam’s words were dripping with sarcasm and Jody saw the pale teacher turn another shade of white. He looked like he could pass out any moment.

” I’m gonna ask you for the last time, where is Fiona? We would like to take her with us. Now.”

That last word was more like a growl and suddenly Jody realized her lover would be a worthy opponent in any boardroom. And despite the seriousness of the situation she had to suppress a chuckle when she saw her tall lover towering over the impressed teacher. Talking about taking advantage of one’s height!

” She..she is in English class, I will get her for you..I…”

” No need, I’m already here, ” a clear voice sounded through the hallway and when they looked around they saw Fiona’s slender form approaching. Her school bag was slung over her shoulder and a wide, mischievous grin split her freckled face. Jody could tell by looking at her sister, that she had been following at least part of the conversation.

” Thanks for your cooperation, Mr. Richards, ” she casually remarked while passing him, making Jody nearly choke.

” Where did you come from?” Sam asked, relieved to see her.

” I saw you two coming in, so I told Mrs. Davids I had to go. She let me, no worries, ” she answered, casting a look at Mark Richards.

” Let’s go, ” Sam urged. ” I want to get to the police station as soon as possible. ” She cast a last look at the teacher. ” Mr. Richards.”

Without looking back she walked towards the door, closely followed by Jody and Fiona.

Muttering under his breath, Little Steven put away the cell phone, looking anything but pleased. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly, his knuckles turned white.

” What’s up?” Fred asked, not used to seeing his partner lose his composure.

” We’re called off, ” the big man next to him hissed between clenched teeth.

Fred’s face lost all color when he realized what that could mean. Shark’s bait. A chill ran up his spine and he had to control himself from shivering.

” W…what do we do now?”

His words were nothing more than a whisper. He suddenly felt sick to his stomach and realized he was about to lose his breakfast.

” The boss wants us to meet up with him. The plan has changed. Goddamnit!!! Just when we were so close!!”

” What does he wants us to do? I mean…are ….are we in trouble?”

Little Steven cast a look at the young man in the passenger seat and felt a little bit of compassion when he saw the fear in his eyes. His face softened and he even mustered up a little smile.

” Nah. He needs us. Don’t worry, mate. Your days aren’t over yet. Neither are mine.”

The long silence was getting more and more uncomfortable. The persistent ticking of the clock was the only sound in the room. A pair of scrutinizing brown eyes , set in a stoic face, slowly traveled between the three persons sitting in front of a desk. One was nervously clasping her hands, one was boldly looking around, the amusement evident in her dark green eyes and the last one looked very calm and relaxed, meeting the almost cold stare from the woman in front of her with a lot of self confidence.

” Why didn’t I hear this before?” Carol Wong finally asked, looking at Sam.

” Because I didn’t know, ” Sam answered politely.

” Come on, Sam, ” the police woman sneered provokingly. ” I am aware you are more intelligent than that. I did do my homework, you know.”

In answer a pair of eyebrows lifted above a pair of clear blue eyes. Sam didn’t respond, but her eyes were hooded and her gaze was cold.

” It’s amazing what a few phone calls can yield. I know you are the daughter of Richard Stevens, who happens to own a whole chain of hotels across the world, among other things. I also know you were intelligent enough to get your business degree cum laude, just like your law degree and, what was the other one? International marketing?”

Sam heard a gasp of surprise and although she didn’t see Jody’s face, she could feel her lovers eyes rest on her and she tried very hard not to smirk. Almost invisibly Sam shrugged her shoulders, still returning the inquisitive stare of Carol Wong.

” So, don’t pretend to be something you are not, ” the police woman relentlessly continued. ” You’re no fool, Miss Stevens and neither am I. I am gonna ask you again, why didn’t I hear about this when the fire brigade hauled you off that roof?”

” I didn’t know, ” Sam answered again. ” I had some suspicions, but no proof. I wanted to be sure something was up. I got the confirmation about that last night. That’s when we decided to come and see you.”

Carol Wongs eyes traveled to Jody, who was obviously still impressed by Sam’s list of academic honors. Her eyes were wide and the expression on her face was one of sheer surprise.

” Jody, is that true?”

” Huh?” Jody’s head turned to the woman opposite her and her eyes slowly lost their dreamy expression. ” Um…yes, it is. Sam is telling the truth. Last night Tom Stevens emailed her the results of his analysis and that’s when we knew what was up. Honestly.”

Carol Wongs face lost some of it’s stoic expression and a small smile tugged on the corner of her mouth.

” Okay, I suppose I’ll take your word for it.”

” Gee, thanks, ” Sam mumbled, making Fiona chuckle.

That remark illicited an annoyed look from the police woman, but Sam was not impressed. Their eyes fought a silent battle, much to Jody’s discomfort. Oh, my goodness. A battle between two strong willed women. This won’t get us anywhere.

Jody reached out a hand and softly touched Sam’s knee. It was a silent plea and when Sam cast her a look, Jody saw her relax a little. She smiled and covered Jody’s hand with her own, gently squeezing it.

” So, what do we do now?” Jody asked, turning her attention to Carol Wong, who sent her a grateful look.

” Well, of course we will take over from here. We will have a look at those disks and after that I suppose we will have a talk with William Jensen. See what he has to say about all this.”

” What about those goons who were after Fiona?” Sam asked with a grim expression on her face. ” We don’t know who they are and who sent them. I want my family to be safe.”

Those last words were spoken without thought and a happy blush colored Jody’s face, while Fiona looked up at Sam with nothing less than pure adoration in her expressive eyes. Carole Wong noticed their reaction and suppressed a smile.

” We will do our best to find out who they are as soon as possible, Sam, ” she replied, knowing her answer would not be accepted. ” As soon as we know, we will bring them in. William Jensen might help us out here.”

” That is not enough, ” Sam objected. ” I want them safe. No risks. I don’t want those idiots around Fiona or Jody or anyone else.”

” I can’t promise anything yet, Sam, ” Carole Wong reasoned. ” I understand your feelings about all this, but we don’t know who they are and we don’t know where they are. You know that.”

” What about police protection?”

The short police woman pressed her fingertips together and creased her forehead in a deep frown. Her eyes rested on Fiona for a while and she sighed.

” I will ask my supervisor, Sam. But I have to tell you I don’t think he will agree. We are badly understaffed. The only promise I can make you is that we will patrol around the McDonnell’s house and Fiona’s school more frequently. Any other descision is up to my superior. Like I said, I can’t promise anything. I am sorry.”

” Fiona’s not going to school then, ” Sam decided, without even looking at Jody. ” I will keep an eye on her myself.”

” Cool,” Fiona beamed. ” No objections from me.”

Her dark green eyes were sparkling with an adventurous glint and Jody sighed when she saw the expression on her youngest sisters face.

” This is not a vacation, you know, ” she reprimanded, but Fiona just shrugged her shoulders, a broad grin on her face.

” Oh, she will study alright, ” Sam added. ” Just not at school.”

Fiona’s triumphant grin disappeared quickly and she shot Sam a look filled with chagrin.

” Spoilsport, ” she mumbled.

Sam smiled and playfully ruffled her hair.

” Come on, Fi, ” she teased. ” It’s better than sitting in class with Mr. Richards.”

“Well, it’s easier to only keep an eye on the house, ” Carol Wong agreed.

” She won’t be there, ” Sam spoke, very determined.

Jody’s eyebrows disappeared underneath her hair and she looked genuinely puzzled.

” She won’t?” the police woman inquired. ” Where will she go? We can’t keep an eye on her, if…”

” I will keep an eye on her myself, ” Sam interrupted. ” She will be safe, don’t worry.”

Those last words were spoken to Jody and were accompanied by a reassuring smile and a look that made Jody understand Sam would explain her plans later.

” Care to share?” Carol Wong asked, a little irritated by Sam’s controlling attitude.

” Not really, ” Sam bluntly answered. ” It’s not that I don’t trust you. Fiona will be with me and I can be reached on my cell phone at any time.”

” But…”

” It will make things easier, Miss Wong, for the both of us.”

Carol Wong was truly impressed by Sam’s determination and firm attitude. She leaned back in her chair, not sure whether to thank Sam for making her task easier or to pummel her senseless. The latter would not be a good idea, since Sam was a lot taller and seemed to be a lot stronger as well.

” Okay, ” she drawled. ” I think I can live with that. So, you’re not going to tell me where the three of you will stay?”

” You can reach me on my cell phone, ” Sam answered. ” That should be enough.”

” And you let us do our jobs then?”

” Of course, ” Sam smiled, but somehow Carol Wong knew that the stubborn Dutch woman would still do some investigating herself.

She must be a heck of an opponant in any boardroom. My God, that woman has a spine made out of steel.

” Alright. I suppose you will let me know when anything happens?”

“Sure, ” Sam answered, still smiling. ” I will be the perfect citizen.”

The long hospital hallway seemed endless. It was quiet, since visiting hour hadn’t started yet. Joan McDonnell wrinkled her nose when she noticed the typical hospital smell. A mixture of dry, cool air and disinfectant. It smelled…sterile. Colorless and emotionless. Cold and distant. With every step she took, she realized it mirrored the feelings in her heart. When she had first met him, David McDonnell had been an enthusiastic young man, God fearing and full of ideas. His most important wish was raising a large family, living close to nature. Work the land and live on what it provided. Shelter his family from bad, wordly influences. Install a love for God and nature in his children. Help them grow into responsible adults who would be able to make a difference in society.

At first Joan had shared his ideas, finding his outlook on life interesting and his ideas worth fighting for. But during their marriage, her husband had gradually changed into a person she no longer pretended to know. Or to love, for that matter. He had forced his own ideas upon his children, demanding obedience, not accepting anything he didn’t believe himself. Things were alright when the children had been very young, but as soon as they went to highschool and were confronted with the outside world, it had all changed. Jody had always had a mind of her own, but when she met her father’s stubborn and rigid perspective, she became withdrawn. She did what was asked of her, without complaining once, but Joan had noticed real early the firey spark in those emerald greens . A determination she envied. She knew her eldest daughter just waited for her chance to go away. She was patient, never rebellious, but had made her plans very early in life. Joan sometimes compared her to an inmate. Captured between walls, just doing her time, waiting for the day to step out in the sunshine. Waiting to be free.

Lucy was a totally different story. She never took ‘no’ for an answer, was always willing to debate, argue and rebel. She pulled her chains at every opportunity she saw fit and never gave up voicing her frustration and discontent. More times than she was willing to remember, Joan had to save her daughter from severe and sometimes even violent punishments by jumping in the battle field, telling her husband she would deal with it, talk to her. Which she tried, but Lucy had always been as stubborn as they came. And more than once she silently agreed with her daughter when she complained about being treated unjust. After Jody left home things got worse and one year later Lucy left home as well. She never came back

Joan reached the door of her husbands room. She tried to push down the nauseous feeling that had been assaulting her and sighed deeply, mustering up strength and courage.

As soon as she entered the room, she was greeted by a pair of indignant eyes, telling her it wouldn’t be an easy visit. David McDonnell was sitting up, in a chair near the window and looked at her disapprovingly.

Before she could even say one word, he gestured her to sit down.

” Father Jamison said you weren’t in church yesterday.”

Joan McDonnell had not expected the news to travel that fast and she braced herself for the storm that was quickly approaching.

” I went to see Jody, ” she truthfully answered.

” Jody?” he almost spat. ” You chose a sinner over God?”

She’s my daughter, David. She’s our daughter. She needed me and I needed her. She’s no more a sinner than you or me. I realize that now. I wish you would do the same.

” I wanted to see if she’s allright. Her apartment got broken into.”

” She’s no longer a part of our life, Joan. She lost that right when she ran away from home and decided to live a sinful life. I don’t want to talk about her. She’s no child of mine. She chose the devil over God. There’s no place in our lifes for her.”

Joan cast down her eyes, to hide the tears that were stinging her eyes and threatening to appear. His words cut her soul like a two edged knife and her heart bled for her eldest daughter. Knowing Jody’s pain for being disowned by her own family. And never been able to forget that look of profound hurt when Jody’s father told her Sam was gone.

Soon, David. Very soon she will at least have the support of her mother. Talking about sinners. What are you? What have I been for neglecting the needs of my own child? She didn’t deserve that. No child does. A parent is supposed to love his or her child, give love and support. What did we do? We pushed her away when she needed us most. It’s a miracle she doesn’t hate us. She was right here, came to see if you were allright. She came to comfort me. Me! Even though I haven’t been the mother I should have been. Our daughter is a bright soul, David. A warm feeling, forgiving adult, with more sense in her little finger than you and I possess between us. She deserves every bit of happiness she can get. And she will, now Sam is back into her life. This prejudice and hatred needs to stop David. It really needs to….I can’t believe this is what God wants. I refuse to believe that….

” Are you sure about this, Sarah?”, Jody asked for the second time, searching her friends face for any sign of discomfort.

” Of course, Jody, ” Megan answered, putting a hand on her lovers’ shoulder. ” Fiona can stay here as long as she needs to. No worries. We are glad to help you out.”

” Thank you, ” Sam answered, her blue eyes revealing the gratitude she felt. ” I really appreciate that. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to ask you before we dropped this on you, but…”

” It’s all right, Sam, ” Sarah spoke, a compassionate and understanding look in her grey eyes. ” I know this situation must be hard on you, but like Meg said, we’d like to help you out.”

Jody turned to her youngest sister, who was casually leaning against the post of the kitchen door. The expression on Fiona’s face was a mixture of curiosity and mischief. Jody raised her eyebrows and cast her a warning look. Fiona didn’t avoid the emerald eyes, but merely smiled.

” I will behave, sis, don’t worry, ” she smirked. ” I can’t say I’d look forward to meeting those idiots again. I will do as I’m told.”

” Good, ” Jody sighed.

She turned to Sam and cast her a serious look.

” I want to talk to you, Sam, ” she said, not waiting for an answer but walking inside the house toward the guestroom they were sharing.

Sam raised one eyebrow and the expression on her face was so comical that Fiona started chuckling.

” You’re in trouble, Sam, ” she couldn’t help but remarking, thoroughly enjoying herself.

Sam cast her an indignant look and without speaking one word, followed her lover, who had already disappeared into the house.

Jody was leaning against the window sill, her arms wrapped around herself, looking very vulnerable and yet determined. Her green eyes looked at Sam calmly, but deep inside a smoldering fire showed it’s little sparks. Sam closed the door behind her and started to walk up towards her friend, but stopped halfway, suddenly realizing there was a certain distance between them that was not being caused by the fact there was half a room separating them.

” Why, Sam?” Jody’s voice was calm, but Sam could hear the undertone of anger and hurt.

” Why what, honey?” Sam replied, puzzled.

Jody sighed and tried hard not to be captured by the confused look in her lover’s clear blue eyes.

” Why did you treat me like a child when we were at the police station? As if it didn’t matter what I was thinking? All the decisions you took this morning were yours, Sam. I felt left out.”

With a few strides of her long legs, Sam closed the distance. Before Jody could even blink with her eyes, Sam was standing in front of her, one hand on her shoulder, the other one lifting her chin to look her friend in the eyes.

” I’m sorry I made you feel that way, honey, I truly am, ” Sam whispered repentant, a sad look in her eyes. ” You are absolutely right, I should have asked your opinion about it, instead of just taking over like I am in some damn boardroom, kicking…butts. But it…,” she paused, looking for words. ” I was so pissed off! Which is no excuse, of course, but…”

Jody raised her hand and placed her fingers gently against Sam’s lips, effectively silencing her. The storm clouds in her eyes had passed and Sam sighed with relief.

” I understand, Sam. I just wanted you to know how I felt, since I’m as much involved in this as you are. I think this morning, when you were talking to Carol Wong I realized there are parts of you I’m not familiar with.” Jody smiled, while her thumb traced the outline of Sam’s lips. ” I knew you could be stubborn, but I never saw that…executive, business arrogance before. Guess I was a bit blind sided by it. It was not the Sam I used to know.”

” It’s not really me, ” Sam softly answered. ” It’s more a role I play. I learned that an attitude like that usually impresses the socks off people and in business meetings that’s a helpful skill. I’m sorry I suprised you with it, baby. I didn’t mean to, but at the time it seemed like the best way to handle it.”

Jody grinned when she remembered the expression on Carol Wongs face when Sam told her the way things should be taken care of.

” I’m sure Carol Wong was as suprised as I was, ” she laughed. ” Did you see her face? She was positively shocked.”

Sam smiled and brushed back a strand of hair that had found it’s way across Jody’s cheek. She bent her head and softly kissed her lover’s forehead.

” It was quite effective, ” she mumbled, hearing Jody’s breathing stop for a second.

Her lips slid down, placing kisses on Jody’s eyebrows, eyes, and finally her nose. Unconsiously Jody leaned into the caresses, until their bodies touched and she felt Sam’s arms tighten around her. With a sigh of contentment she rested her head against a cotton clad shoulder and closed her eyes, soaking up the loving tenderness she was receiving.

” What do we do now, Sam?” she asked in a soft voice. ” It’s Monday. I should go back to work, but somehow I don’t think you will agree.”

” You’re absolutely right, ” Sam answered. ” I’m sure they, whoever the heck they are, keep a close eye on The Reef. I don’t want you near there. You do understand, don’t you?”

” I do, ” Jody admitted. ” But I should let Brian know I am not coming in today.”

” Give him a call, ” Sam suggested. ” Tell him they can reach you whenever there’s a problem they can’t solve themselves. You think he’s capable of handling that?”

” Yes, he is. He has been covering for me before, but that was only for a day or two.”

” Tell you what,” Sam put her hands on Jody’s shoulders and held her on arm length so she could look her in the eyes. ” Since William Jensen won’t be coming back once we’re through with him, why don’t you give Brian the chance to become assistant manager? Now is the right time for him to prove his worth. Is there anyone else you can give the position he is in now?”

” I…I guess, ” Jody stammered. ” But Sam….that’s my job.”

” I know, baby and I don’t want to make your decisions for you. But we will need a new manager and if you want to stay at The Reef, well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t fill that position.”

Jody leaned back a little to be able to look Sam in the eyes.

” You had all of this figured out already, didn’t you?” she asked astounded.

” It’s just a suggestion, honey, nothing else.”

And what will you be doing, Sam? Going back to Holland? Leaving me here? Again? Or do you expect me to come with you? Would I do that? Move to a different country, away from my family, not speaking the language?
Her thoughts must have been showing on her expressive face, because Sam’s eyes became very soft and gentle and she pulled Jody in a hug, holding her close.

” I am not sure how things will work out, honey. But they will. I promise. I won’t leave you, you have to trust me on this one. Once this mess we’re in is cleared up, I want a life with you. I know there might be a few obstacles, but lets cross those bridges when we reach them. Okay?”

Sam could feel Jody nod and with a deep sigh she buried her face in the fragrant hair, breathing in the scent that was so distinctively her lover’s. When Jody’s hands started wandering across her back and shoulders, Sam could feel their bodies melting even closer. She moved her head to gain access to a shapely ear, that begged her to be kissed, illiciting a very soft moan from the woman in her arms.

” Wasn’t there some unfinished business we had to take care of? ” Sam’s voice playfully rumbled, making Jody chuckle.

” Somehow I was expecting you to bring that up, ” she answered, pressing her lips against the soft skin of Sam’s neck.

” But I am afraid you have to control yourself a bit longer, my love. I did hear Sarah mention something about fixing lunch and I don’t think you would be very happy if we were disturbed by a lunch call, now would you?”

” Hmmm…guess not, ” Sam answered, tracing a moist path across Jody’s cheek, aiming for a pair of soft lips. ” I have to admit I am starving, though.”

” Why is it I think you are not talking about food? ” Jody smiled. ” I think that…”

But she was silenced by a pair of lips that were hungrily pressed against her own. All thoughts vanished when she felt Sam’s probing lips and when an impatient tongue sought entrance, she willingly complied, letting her lover in. Her hands traveled up to Sam’s neck, pulling her even closer. With a thundering heart her world spun out of control, until there was only Sam and herself and nothing or nobody else.

The door was closed with a soft click and with a deep sigh and sad eyes Joan McDonnell started her journey through the long hallway, back to her car that was parked close to the entrance of the hospital. Her slow steps echoed against the empty walls, in sync with the dull ache she felt, like an iron chain, clenched around her heart, chilling her from the inside, making her feel lost, like she was drifting on an vast ocean of unfamiliar feelings, with no safe harbor in sight.

Her visit had been anything but pleasant and she left with a long list of do’s and don’t ‘s, which she knew she couldn’t live up to. Not anymore. The future weighed heavy on her slightly slumped shoulders and even though she knew that there were decisions to be made, somehow her brain refused to cooperate. The only thing she could think of, was her husband’s cold determination when telling her not to visit her eldest daughter again. Ever.

Joan McDonnell felt a shiver run up her spine when she realized what her husband’s reaction would be when he found out she was disobeying him. During all the twenty nine years of their marriage he had only raised his hand against her once, genuinely regretting that action immediately, but she knew he wouldn’t hesitate to hit her agin. He had changed so much.

” Mom,” a clear voice interrupted her thoughts and her eyes brightened at the sight of a slender, dark haired woman who just rounded a corner.

” Lucy,” she reacted, feeling a comforting warmth spreading through her body.

Her daughter threw one arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

” Just escaped the lion’s den?” Lucy joked, seeing the tired expression on her mother’s face. ” How is grumpy?”

In the past Joan McDonnell would have told her daughter to speak about her father with respect, but she couldn’t muster up the courage or the strength anymore to do that. So she let the remark pass.

” Your father is recovering quickly, ” Joan answered her daughter in an emotionless voice. ” The doctor says he will be able to go home soon. Maybe in a couple of days.”

” You don’t sound too happy about that,” Lucy replied, casting her mother an inquisitive look. ” What’s going on? Are you allright, mom?”

Joan McDonnell tried to swallow away the lump in her throat and tried to avoid a pair of dark green eyes, that were searching her face for an answer.

” Your father told me not to go and see Jody again. He was very determined about it,” she softly answered and Lucy could hear the bitterness in her voice.

” That’s not his decision to make, mom, ” Lucy said, squeezing her mother’s shoulder. ” Jody is your daughter as well. He has no right to tell you what to do. How long are you going to put up with this?”

Joan McDonnell didn’t answer right away and Lucy could see the muscles in her jaw clench. She had always known her mother to be a gentle person, very slow to anger and the times she had lost her temper could be counted on one hand. But Lucy recognized the signs effortlessly. She put her hand on her mother’s arm and made her stop walking, turning her around so she could face her.

” I don’t want to stir up any trouble between you and dad, because I have no right to, ” she said, her eyes softening when she saw the pain in her mother’s. ” But mom, it is allright to be angry. God knows you have every right to be. It’s not healthy to bottle it all up inside. You have to let it out, someway or the other. And I don’t care how you do it, but I really think you should.”

” I don’t know if I can, honey. ” Joan sighed. ” It might just be too much. It frightens me.”

Those last three words were nothing but a whisper and Lucy felt a stab of pain, when she realized how lonely and lost her mother sounded.

” Oh, mom. Come here, ” she sighed, pulling her mother in a gentle hug. ” Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all? ”

” Well, there is one thing, actually, ” Joan answered, unwrapping herself from her daughter’s arms and looking at her. ” Could you pick up Fiona for me? There are some things I have to do.”

” Talking about Fiona,” Lucy smiled. ” That’s the reason I am here. Jody called me and asked me to tell you what happened this morning. Listen…”

With an impatient gesture Brian O’Conner tossed a pile of documents in one of the drawers that were hidden behind the counter of the reception desk. A quick glance at the clock taught him it was only three minutes later than the previous time he had a look at it. With a sigh he glanced at his watch to make sure the clock was telling the truth and a worried frown creased his forehead when he realized it did. Jody was never late for work and he had to try hard to push away the awful scenario’s that tried to enter his mind. His manager’s behavior the day before had worried him a great deal and ever since his short visit he had wanted to talk to Jody about it.

I suppose I could call her. She did tell me not to disturb her unless there would be a disaster, but still….

His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone and automatically his hand strechted out to pick up the horn and bring it to his ear.

” The Reef, Brian O’ Conner speaking. Can I help you?”

” Hi, Brian, it’s me, Jody”

The relief that flooded through his system was so intense that Brian slumped against the counter.

” Jody!” he sighed. ” I was worried about you. Are you all right?”

” I am fine, Brian, ” Jody answered. ” But I won’t be coming in today, or tomorrow.”

” Little vacation? ” Brian tried to joke, but he failed miserably, not able to hide his concern.

Jody picked up his mood immediately and after a brief silence Brian could hear her clear her throat.

” What’s wrong, Brian?” she gently asked.

” The boss was here yesterday,” Brian blurted. ” He has a picture of Miss Stevens. I don’t know what’s going on, Jody, but I don’t trust him. He had this strange look on his face.”

” A picture of Sam? ” Jody echoed. ” Where did he get …..oh, wait a minute, the copies. Did he take the copy of her passport?”

” I didn’t want to give it to him, Jody, but he threatened to fire me.” Brian answered in a subdued voice. ” I am sorry.”

” That’s okay, Brian, ” Jody sighed. ” I understand. There was’nt much you could have done about it anyway. Don’t worry about it.”

” What’s going on Jody?”

” I can’t tell you right now, Brian, but I want you to keep your ears and eyes open. Whenever you see or hear something out of the ordinary, anything, call me. Okay?”

” I will, Jody.”

” Listen, Brian, I won’t be in for a few days, maybe longer. I want you to cover for me. I know it will be like throwing you off the deep end, but I have faith in you. Ask Miriam to take your place, she’ll jump at the chance. Sam asked me to tell you there’s a raise coming with the new responsibilities.”

” You think Mr. Jensen will approve of that?”

” Don’t worry, Brian,” Jody reassured him. ” Sam will take care of that.”

” Okay, Brian sighed, not knowing whether to be pleased or worried. ” If I run into something I won’t be able to handle, can I call you then?”

” Always, Brian, ” Jody answered and he could hear the smile in her voice. ” But I know you will do a good job.”

” Thanks, Jody. Just one more question…Since you won’t be here, who’s going to handle the paychecks?”

” It’s been taken care of already, Brian. The head office took care of it. The slips might be a bit later than usual, but you can tell everybody their salary will be in their accounts on time.”

” Did it go through head office, but…”

” I can’t explain it now, Brian, but as soon as I can I will tell you the whole story. I am sorry.”

” Is The Reef in trouble? I mean, do I have to start looking for another job?” Brian feintly joked and Jody could hear the anxiety in his voice.

” No, The Reef will be okay, don’t worry.”

” Thank goodness, ” Brian sighed. ” Well, I’ll do my best to run this place smoothly Jody.”

” I know you will, Brian. Thanks. I have to go now, but I will call you tomorrow for an update. Allright?”

” Fair enough, Jody. Talk to you then. Bye.”

Brian put down the phone and stared at the fountain that was the center of the huge lobby. His eyes didn’t register the pretty sight in front of him, because his brain was quickly processing and registering the things that Jody had told him. Jody didn’t have to tell him there was something going on with William Jensen, he already sensed that the moment the manager had demanded the copy of Sam’s passport.

Brian sighed and scratched the back of his neck, mentally making a list of all the things he had to do. First he had to call Miriam Gonzalez, one of the chambermaids. Ever since she injured her leg in a biking accident, Jody had occassionally let her work at the reception desk, to give her a much needed break. Brian suspected she would be very pleased to be able to give her leg a rest for a while. Not to mention the raise. Miriam’s husband owned a small banana plantation. They had three children and could barely make ends meet at the end of the month. Brian smiled while imagining Miriam’s surprise when she would hear about the change in responsibilities.

Well, better give her a call first, see if she’s able to start today. And after that I’d better take a look at the safe. Jody didn’t say anything about it, but it might be a good idea to change the combination. I don’t trust that manager of ours. God knows what he is up to.

With a heartfelt yawn Meghan let herself fall on the bed, ungracefully stretching her tired muscles, not bothered by the sight she was presenting.

” My goodness, honey, ” Sarah chuckled. “If I didn’t know better I’d be tempted to think you spent the day doing hard labor.”

” Such as?” Meghan’s voice lazily came from the bed.

” Oh, I don’t know, ” Sarah answered, amused by her partners obvious weariness.” Shoveling sand? Digging holes? Chopping down half a forest?”

” Ha ha, ” Meghan reacted, rolling on her side, supporting her head with her hand. ” You know, you definetely are the funniest person in the universe. It must have escaped your attention, but I did help Fiona with that awful math assignment.”

” So, Fiona wore you out, huh? ” Sarah gently teased. ” Well, I think that’s a very logical thing, my love. It must have been ages ago since you went to highschool yourself.”

Meghan grinned and watched her lover hitting and shaping her pillow, before crawling into bed herself.

” I’m not taking the bait, ” she replied. ” Besides, you’re two years older than I am so….”

Sarah smiled, a mischievous glint in her grey eyes. She rolled over to face her partner, who stared back at her with an innocent face.

” Better turn off the light then, huh? ” she said. ” I need my sleep if I want to keep up with you.”

” Mmm, yeah, that might be better,” Meghan replied. ” But before you go to sleep I wanted to ask you if you’re okay with Fiona staying here as well?”

” Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be? Jody and Sam are our friends and I am glad we are able to help them out. Fiona can stay as long as she needs to. I like the brat, she’s so much like Lucy!”

” I was just wondering, ” Meghan continued. ” It might be too much for you, you know, considering your age..”

Sarah grinned when it dawned on her that Meghan had been teasing her all along and with a quick movement she pinned her partner to the bed.

” Honey, I think it’s about time to settle this age thing once and for all. I think it’s about time I prove myself to you.”

Meghan looked at the face so close to her own, resisting the urge to kiss a pair of moist, full lips. Her eyes were sparkling and Sarah could feel her body shaking with silent laughter.

” That might be an excellent idea, ” she agreed. ” But aren’t you a bit overdressed for the occassion?”

Sarah glanced down, looking at her t-shirt and panties, before locking her gaze with Meghan’s again.

” Somehow I think you will be able to take care of that, ” she purred seductively, before she brought her lips in contact with Meghan’s.

Immediately she felt a pair of warm hands snake under her shirt, caressing the bare skin underneath it. Meghan shifted, so their bodies came into full contact, slightly spreading her legs to allow Sarah’s thigh to rest between her own. She softly moaned when her lover increased the pressure and impatiently tugged on the shirt, that had become a barrier between their quickly heating bodies. Sarah lifted her torso and felt the fabric leave her body. That was about the last thing her brain could register for a long time, because when Meghan’s lips traveled down her neck, in search for her breasts she lost all coherent thought and willingly let her body take over.
Part 9
The large office was air conditioned and cool enough to eventually want to wear a jacket. That was the way Joe Michaels preferred it. He always told his staff that a low temperature made his brain work faster. And fast it was, while he was explaining his plans to the three men who were sitting opposite him in the low chairs circling his huge desk.

Joe Michaels himself was not sitting down, he was standing behind his desk, his hands leaning on the smooth, dark oak surface. His voice was soft and everybody who knew him could hear the excitement he was trying to hide. His eyes were gleaming and the little smile that curled the corner of his mouth never left his face.

When he finally stopped speaking, the room was filled with silence and his eyes roamed over his silent companions. Little Steven’s face was stoic, as it usually was. William Jensen’s face was pale and he nervously drummed his fingers on his cotton clad knee. The youngest of the three, Fred, was shifting in his chair. It was obvious he didn’t feel at ease and Joe Michaels noticed the sweat on his forehead, in spite of the temperature in the room.

” I have told you my plans, gentlemen, ” Joe Michaels continued. ” And I can assure you, there’s no way back. No way out.”

He glanced at Fred, who tried very hard not to shiver.

” We’re in this together, so you’d better not screw up, because you’d be selling your own hide. If I go down, I will take you all with me.”

He paused to give his words a dramatic effect, not lost on his audience.

” But I promise you, when we succeed you will all be free to go, if you like. And guess what? You’ll be rich!”

His laugh made Fred feel sick to his stomach and he cast down his eyes, so his boss wouldn’t be able to see the repulsion in them.

William Jensen clenched his teeth, making the muscles in his jaw vividely stand out. He was still fighting a feeling of guilt, but he tried to focus on the near future, where there wouldn’t be a Nemesis like Joe Michaels to treat him like some low life criminal. And any thought about Jody and her friend was pushed to the background. He kept telling himself over and over again that it was for the best, that he had a family to take into account. That his wife and daughter needed him to do the job right, because if he didn’t, he’d never come home. He would spend the rest of his life behind bars, or worse….end up dead.

“Any questions?’ Joe Michaels asked, glancing at his watch.

” What about the girl, Joe? ” Little Steven asked. ” Are we supposed to forget about her now?”

” Yeah, just concentrate on the big fish. But if the little brat gets in the way, you know what to do.”

” Eliminate her, ” Little Steven answered calmly, casually as if they weren’t discussing a human life.

Fred cleared his throat to mask the gasp that threatened to come out and he wiped away the moisture from his forehead and upper lip, feeling drops slowly sliding down his back.

She’s my sisters age. Nancy and her are just schoolgirls. My God, she is somebody’s sister as well, how can they even discuss a thing like this. But I have no way out of this. God, please, Fiona, don’t get in the way! I don’t want to hurt you. It would be like hurting my own sister.

Fred felt a stab of pain and he had to take a few deep breaths to control his breathing again. Of course Joe Michaels noticed. He cast a look at Little Steven, his eyes expressionless and his face grim.

” Will he be okay? ” he asked, as if Fred wasn’t present.

Without looking at his young companion Little Steven nodded, his eyes never leaving his boss’ .

” He’ll be right, Joe. No worries. He’s just a youngster, but he’ll learn.”

” Good. Well, if there are no further questions you can all go on your way. Now, remember, be cautious, I don’t want to draw any attention. I’d rather have you blokes taking your time on this. We’ll get her. Just stick to the plan. All right?”

” Fiona, for the umpteenth time, you can’t translate it like this. It’s German for crying out loud, not English. The grammar is different and you have to use those cases, ” Jody cried in frustration, after spending about twenty minutes trying to explain the rules of German grammar to her sister ” Why did you pick that language in the first place? Didn’t they have anything easier?”

” Come on, sis, ” Fiona smirked. ” I know it’s difficult, but Germans have excellent drinking songs.”

Her eyes were twinkling with mischief when she looked at her sister, who frowned and scowled at her.

” Nah, Karen’s granddad is German and I just think it’s a funny language. You should hear him yell at Karen’s brother sometimes, ” Fiona smirked. ” Excellent!”

Jody heard a muffled snicker behind her and when she turned around she saw Sam leaning against the kitchen counter, a steaming mug in her hand.

” Don’t laugh, Sam. This is horrible.Wait a minute!”

Jody’s eyes lit up and she turned around in her chair to be able to look at her lover.

” Dutch and German are similar, aren’t they? Maybe you can help Fiona.”

Sam laughed and her clear blue eyes shone with mirth, while she shook her head.

“Oh, no, my love,” she objected. ” They seem that way, but are totally different. We don’t use cases like that. Besides, I never took German. I can speak it when I have to, but I’m a klutz when it comes to their grammar. No way I could teach Fi. We Dutchies are more interested in beating the Germans at soccer, than speaking their language.”

” You’re no help, ” Jody mumbled frustrated, before turning her attention back to Fiona, ignoring the chuckle that her words ignited.

” Sorry!” Sam mouthed, winking at Fiona, who happily winked back.

While Jody and her sister concentrated on the translation again, Sam stared in the distance, without seeing much. Her thoughts went over the information her brother had sent her and she was trying to come up with a solution for the problems she was faced with.

It was obvious William Jensen was deeply involved in some criminal activities that required a lot of money. The Reef had been an excellent source to withdraw money from, with the headquarters located in Europe. The accounts they had received never held any indication that something could have been wrong, until that anonymous email arrived and Tom took a better look at The Reef’s administration. Large amounts of money had been channeled away, apparently into different bank accounts. Somehow Sam didn’t think William Jensen was the brain behind all that. She suspected that he was just another puppet, working for some kind of criminal organization, that had some power over him.

If I could only talk to him. I bet I could make him sweat a little, maybe spill some information. But I promised Carol Wong to stay out of it. Besides, Jody would be furious.

Sam sighed and her eyes traveled to a red and a dark head, bend over the books that were scattered around the table. Her eyes softened and a small smile curved her lips. No, she wouldn’t risk Jody’s wrath. It was not worth it. She promised to stay out of it, be a good citizen. But it had been two days since she talked to the detective and she was getting restless, being cooped up in Megan and Sarah’s house.

Face it Sam, you are not in control this time. And you are not used to that. This time you have to rely on others to fix the problems. And you don’t like it!

Sam impatiently shook her head as if she was chasing away a fly and with a heartfelt sigh she turned her attention back to her coffee. Hardly tasting the fragrant, sweet liquid. In spite of the promises she made, her mind was busy coming up with a plan.

With trembling hands Joan McDonnell unpacked her husbands suitcase, neatly stacking the clean clothes on the shelves and throwing the dirty ones in the already full hamper. She had picked him up from the hospital, after the doctor released him that morning. Part of her was happy he was well enough to come home, but the other part mourned the loss of the freedom she had been experiencing the week before.

Ever since David McDonnell had found out his wife had been seeing Jody, he had been giving her the silent treatment. Only speaking when she asked him something and always keeping his answers short or gruff . It made her feel nervous and very insecure. Especially when she realized she had to confront him with the information Jody and Sam had given her. She knew she had to face him soon, before he noticed Fiona wouldn’t be coming home after school.

” Any coffee left?” she suddenly heard his voice behind her.

Startled she turned around, to see his still angry eyes rest upon her.

” I’ll get you some, “she answered, leaving the stack of clothes and hurrying into the kitchen. She noticed he followed her and after taking a deep breath, she turned around to face him.

” David, we have to talk.”

” No, we don’t ” he answered emotionless. ” All I want is you to get me some coffee. You disappointed me, Joan. I need time to get over that. A wife is supposed to obey her husband.”

Joan McDonnell could feel the cold creep up het spine and suddenly all anxiety seemed to leave her body, leaving her calm and determined.

” A parent is supposed to love his child,” she objected in a clear voice.

That remark caught his attention and suddenly the cup he raised to his lips, was lowered down, while his eyes turned ice cold.

” What?” he almost spat.

” A parent is supposed to love his child,” Joan repeated, feeling nauseous when she saw the look he gave her.

” What is that supposed to mean? Are you saying I don’t love my children?”

Joan McDonnell pushed her hair back from her forehead and sighed.

” I didn’t say you don’t love your children. I am convinced you do, in your own way. But what seems right to you is not always good for the children, David.”

” Meaning?”

” The way you treated Jody is awful.”

There, she said it. Joan McDonnell bit her bottom lip and braced herself for the outbreak of anger that would soon follow. She didn’t have to wait long.

David McDonnell stared at his wife, as if seeing her for the first time. His eyes turned to slits and his face became red. With a crushing sound he slammed his cup on the kitchen counter. Breaking the glass and spilling the dark brown coffee all over the flat surface. A few drops slowly slid down one of the kitchen cabinets, forming into a small puddle on the immaculate floor.

” And what is that supposed to mean? ” he hissed.

Joan McDonnell swallowed hard and moistened her lips in a nervous gesture.

” You lied to her, when Sam left. And you lied to Sam. You told her Michael became paraplegic after the accident and you threatened her with the police. She went back home thinking Jody didn’t want her see her anymore because of that.”

Joan saw her husband first turn bright red, before all color left his face. For a moment she was afraid his heart wasn’t able to take the pressure, but when he opened his mouth to speak, she knew he had returned to his own self.

” And who told you this?”

” Sam,” Joan McDonnell answered.

” Like in Samantha Stevens? That sinful, God forsaken creature? She is back? That queer? And you believe her?”

Joan McDonnell took a deep breath and unconsciously straightened up, to face the next round.

” I believe her, yes. She’s a very nice, honest person. And even though you didn’t approve of her relationship with our daughter, you had no right to treat her the way you did. You drove our daughter away from us, David. That was wrong!”

David McDonnell was so angry he could not speak. He stared at his wife with a look of disgust and even though he opened and closed his mouth a few times, no sound came out. In blind fury he raised his hand and with a sickening sound he hit his wife square in the face. Her head snapped back and before she could even try to get away he hit her again.

Blood spilled from her nose and a cut in her eyebrow, contrasting with the paleness of her skin. Joan McDonnell was so astounded she didn’t even try to wipe it away. She looked at her husband with unbelieving eyes. For a few moments they stared at each other, without speaking a word. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, Joan McDonnell turned around, grabbed her car keys and purse from the table and headed for the door. She didn’t look back.

It was another beautiful day, with a lot of blue sky and sunshine. Tourists were slowly cruising the streets and the braver ones were on the beach, sunbathing or enjoying the cool, salty water of the ocean. People of the working force were in their air conditioned office buildings, shops and restaurants, happy to be out of the breathtaking heat.

Small groups of people walked through the impressive entrance of The Reef, doing business at the reservation desk, or happily leaving for a day of shopping or sight seeing.

” What’s the use of just sitting here, waiting?” Fred grumbled. ” It feels like the only thing I have been doing lately is sitting around, getting a heat stroke.”

” Stop whining,” Little Steven growled back. ” At least you’ re sitting in the shade for a chance.It could be worse you know.”

” How?” Fred asked, unhappy with himself and the whole world.

Little Steven didn’t answer his young, inexperienced partner immediately, but slowly turned his head to look at him. When Fred finally had the courage to look up he was taken aback by the coldness in Little Stevens eyes.

” You could have been dead.”

Fred felt a chill run up and down his spine and he quickly cast down his eyes, trying very hard to keep his composure, fighting his instincts that told him to jump up and run.

When he swallowed he could taste bile in the back of his throat. Again he wondered how he had ever got involved with Joe Michaels. Even though his youth has been miserable and he ran away from home to escape his drunk and violent father, he had always managed to stay away from serious criminal activities.

What was I thinking when I agreed to work for Joe? I must have been insane! And how do I get myself out of this mess now? I could have been dead already. One mistake and they will kill me, just as easily as slapping an annoying fly. They have no reverence for life. I am not like that…am I? How do I get myself out of here?

A punch in his side woke Fred up from his musings and startled he looked at Little Steven, who cast him an inquisitive glare.

” You ready?”

” For what?” Fred asked, suddenly feeling nervous.

” Don’t you ever listen?” his companion growled. ” What did Joe tell us to do? Cause some distraction and make sure that blonde will come over to visit her dad’s precious resort. Right?”

Fred could only nod, knowing that whatever Little Steven had in mind wouldn’t be very appealing to him.

” I worked out a plan. It’s very simple and effective.”

Little Steven paused, giving Fred the chance to ponder over his words. The inevitable question followed soon.

” What’s the plan?”

” Very old fashioned, ” Little Steven grinned. ” A hold up.”

Fred, who’s face was already pale, almost turned green after hearing those words.

” H..how? ”

” Simple, we walk in, push our guns under the nose of whoever is behind the desk and demand money. Even you can remember a concept like that, Freddie boy,” Little Steven grinned. ” Come on. Show time.”

He opened the door of the car and unfolded his bulky body, leisurely stretching his muscles, stiff from sitting in the car. Fred had no other choice than following his experienced partner, trying not to look anxious and banning the image of his younger sister from his mind.

Brian was just reaching for the phone to ask for someone to take over so he could go to lunch, when he saw two men approaching. An older man, who carried himself with a lot of confidence and a younger one, not more than a teenager, who didn’t seem to be at ease, since he nervously kept looking around.

” Good afternoon, gentlemen. How can I help you?” he smiled.

The older man casually leaned against the counter, curiously looking around.

” Nice place, ” he admired. ” I bet you’re fully booked, huh?”

” If you are interested in a room, I can see if there’s anything available at the moment,” Brian politely answered.

” Sounds like busy times, ” Little Steven grinned. ” Good. I like flourishing businesses.”

Brian couldn’t help but frowning and shot the man a puzzled look.

” See this jacket?” Little Steven asked, pointing at his chest.

” Uh..yes, sir, I do,” Brian hesitantly answered, not knowing how to handle the situation. He glanced at the phone, calculating how long it would take him to reach it when needed.

” Don’t think about it, ” Little Steven calmly stated, still smiling. ” See, inside the pocket of this jacket there’s a gun.” He chuckled, clearly enjoying the situation. ” In fact, right at this moment it’s pointed at your chest. And guess what? My finger is on the trigger.”

Brian felt his mouth go dry and his eyes nervously traveled from Little Steven to Fred, who was silently standing next to his partner, his hands inside his pockets.

” W..what do you want?” Brian asked, after carefully clearing his throat.

” What do you think? Money, of course. I know this place is loaded and I guess there’s a safe somewhere, so…why don’t you take us there?”

Brian’s eyes scanned his surroundings. He was glad most of the guests were out for the day, or having lunch. There were only a few people around, too far away to notice there was anything wrong, but too close in case there woud be any shooting.

” I…I have to call one of my coworkers to come down and….”

” No, you don’t, ” Little Steven interrupted. ” It won’t take long. Besides, I know you have a cute little sign to place on this desk. What does it say? ‘ Be back in minute’ ? ”

” The…the safe is upstairs, in the manager’s office,” Brian explained.

” Great, let’s go and get this over with. I’m sure you’ re ready for lunch. I’m starving myself.”

Little Steven grinned and jerked his head in the direction of the stairs.

” Lead the way.”

Lucy yawned and shot a glance at her watch, pleased to find out it was time for lunch. She had spent the morning sorting out files for one of the attorneys, to enable him to do some needed research on one of his new cases. Although Lucy grew up in the middle of nature and wasn’t afraid to get dirty hands, she hated dust. It always made her sneeze and she wasn’t very pleased with watery eyes and a runny nose.

But she had not complained, knowing David really needed the files. Besides, knowing her dislike for digging through old files he had promised her lunch afterwards.

Lucy grinned and went through a list of expensive restaurants, determined to make the most of it. It didn’t happen often that one of her bosses was in such a generous mood.

When the phone rang she frowned and debated not answering it, but since David had not shown up yet and her job description was quite clear about her duties, she decided to answer it anyway.

” Thank you for calling Johnson, Goldman and O’ Connor. This is Lucy McDonnell speaking. How can I help you?”

” Lucy? It’s me, ” a familiar voice sounded.

” Hey, mom, ” Lucy smiled. ” What’s up? You sound tired. How’s grumpy?”

” I…uhm…I…your father and I had an argument, and…I….I walked out.”

” What?” The smile had left Lucy’s face and she suddenly sat up straight, the phone clenched in her hand. ” Mom? What happened? Where are you?”

Rebellious and outspoken as she was, Lucy never could have imagined that her mother would be able to turn her back on her husband and she realized things must have been very serious for her mother to do a thing like that.

” I jumped in the car and started driving. I….I didn’t really know where to go.”

” Where are you now, mom? ” Lucy urged, recognizing the distress in her mothers’ voice.

” Outside The Reef. In one of the phone booths. I really don’t know what possessed me to come here,” Joan McDonnell nervously chuckled. ” I must have been….confused…”

” Mom, did he hurt you?” Lucy asked, her face pale and her hands shaking.

It took so long for her mother to answer the question, Lucy thought she might not have heard. just as she was about to repeat her question, her mother spoke.

” He hit me.”

Lucy closed her eyes end tried to swallow away the tears that were threatening to appear.

” Stay where you are, mom. I am on my way, ” she urged, her voice strained and husky from emotion.

” I…I challenged him, Luce and he hit me,” her mother repeated, still sounding dazed.

” We will talk about it, ” Lucy answered, grabbing her purse and car keys. ” Stay where you are, mom. I am coming to get you. Okay?”

” Okay, ” Joan McDonnell whispered. ” I will wait here for you.”

” I’ll be there within ten minutes, mom. I will leave right now.”

Lucy jumped up and almost ran to the door, her lunch completely forgotten.

Brian’s heart pounded in his chest and the muscles in his legs were stiff from tension when he climbed the stairs leading to the first floor, Little Steven closely behind him. On their way up, they only met an Asian couple, who nodded friendly, not noticing Brian’s forced smile, his pale face and the persperation on his forehead.

With trembling fingers Brian opened the door of the manager’s office. Immediately he was roughly pushed inside the room, nearly stumbling over his own feet. A soft click told him the door behind him was closed.

Nervously he looked over his shoulder, to see Little Steven taking in the office with appreciative eyes.

” Nice place, Billie boy, ” he heard him whisper.

Without hesitation, Little Steven walked up to one of the oil paintings that decorated the walls. He reached behind the copy of Van Gogh’s ‘ Three sunflowers in a vase’ and pulled out a little key. A triumphant smile crossed his face when he threw the key at Brian.

” Open up that safe, ” he ordered, taking his hand out of his pocket and pointing with his 10mm Glock, which drained all the blood from Brian’s face.

Without protest Brian knelt down in front of the safe and quickly opened the steel door. There wasn’t much inside. A stack of documents, a little box that looked like a jewelry box and a few neatly stacked piles of dollar bills.

” Get me the money,” Little Steven grumbled. ” The rest I’m not interested in.”

Brian took one of the piles, estimating that he was holding about five hundred Australian dollars and hesitantly looked up.

” Um….I…do you want me to put it in a bag or something?” he asked, wishing he was courageous and strong enough to jump up and beat the living daylights out of the tall man with the gun.

And stupid enough. A little voice in the back of his mind sounded. What’s wrong with you? You want to die?

” Give him an envelope or something, Fred,” Little Steven ordered. ” A big one,” he added with a grin.

Fred silently did what his companion asked him and walked to one of the file cabinets to retrieve a big envelope. When he handed it to Brian their eyes briefly met and Brian could have sworn he saw a look of remorse in the younger man eyes.

Quickly he loaded the money in it’s paper confinement, while his brain worked overtime.

There is something about all of this that doesn’t make sense. There shouldn’t be this much money in the safe. I know William was in his office yesterday and he always takes the money to bring it to the bank. Why didn’t he do it? Had he….? Wait a minute! ‘ Billie boy?’ Isn’t that what this idiot said?

Brians suddenly remembered his boss’ strange behavior when he demanded the copy of Samantha Stevens’ passport and the way he had acted. He had been very tense and Brian knew he was hiding something.

Could this robbery have anything to do with that? Does William know about this? Did he send them?

” Get a move on, moron.”

A kick in his back brought Brian back from his musings and he swallowed hard.

Act cool, Bri. Don’t let them know what you’ re thinking. My God, I have to call Samantha or Jody, let them know….

It took Lucy only five minutes to reach the plaza in front of ‘ The Reef ‘ . Ignoring a ‘ no parking’ sign and thus risking a ticket, she parked her car and quickly jumped out, scanning the environment to find her mother.

With a sigh of relief she located her on a bench in front of the resort. Even from a distance, Lucy could see that her mother was shaken up. She seemed to be dazed, not noticing the world around her. But kept staring into the distance, with eyes that were empty and glassy.

Walking closer, Lucy noticed a dark bruise on her mothers cheek and the cracked, swollen lip, from where a little drop of blood was oozing.

She felt her stomach churn and tried to fight tears of sadness, frustration and anger when she approached her mother slowly, not wanting to startle her.

” Hey, mom, ” she softly spoke, kneeling in front of the older woman. ” What happened?”

Joan McDonnell looked up and tried to smile when she saw the worried look in Lucy’s eyes. But instead of a smile, her daughter saw an expression of pain, when the battered lip cracked open again.

” Your….father…and I….We had an argument,” she explained in a voice hardly audible. ” He hit me and I left. Lucy, I….I don’t want the boys or Fiona to see me like this. I…don’t want to go back, but….I don’t know what to do.”

The intense sadness in her mother’s voice and eyes was almost too much to bear. Lucy would have encouraged her mother to be angry with her husband and frustrated, to scream and yell, but there was no trace of these emotions. Just a deep sadness.

Whatever you do, don’t go back to him! He doesn’t deserve it. He has finally proven what kind of person he is. Start worrying about yourself for a change. Stop being his slave, mom.

” I can’ tell you what to do, mom, ” Lucy answered. ” But I hope you won’t go back to him.”

” What about the boys ?”

” They can look after themselves. Don’t worry about them. If you want I will drop by after school and see how they are doing. Okay? Please, think about yourself for a change.”

” I have no place to go,” Joan McDonnell whispered.

” You can stay with me,” Lucy quickly answered, congratulating herself for cleaning up her apartment the previous day.

” He will come and look for me there first,” her mother objected and Lucy realized that would be true.

” Well, I guess we’ll have to find another solution then, ” she said, trying to sound cheerful. ” How about staying with Jody? Or maybe even staying at The Reef. I’m sure Sam wouldn’t mind, after all, it’s her dad’s resort.”

” I can’t do that!” Joan McDonnell prostested. ” I can’t impose on Sam like that.”

” We’ll see, ” Lucy grinned, pulling her mother to her feet. ” Why don’t we go in and ask one of Jody’s coworkers if we can use the phone, ‘ cause in my hurry to get here, I forgot mine.It’s still in the office, getting charged.”

Too tired and too emotionally stressed out, Joan McDonnell let herself be pulled up and followed her daughter to the entrance. Thankful that her children had grown up to be caring, responsible adults.

While walking down the stairs, Brian wondered what might happen next as the threatening shadow of Little Steven towered over him.

Will they just leave and let me be, so I can call the police? Or do they have something else up on their sleeve?

Brian realized it wasn’t the silent companion of the tall man that was a threat to him, but Little Steven himself. The presence of the big handgun he had shown him a little earlier, made him very cautious not to do anything stupid.

” Okay, handsome, ” Little Stevens voice suddenly sounded very close to his ear. ” I want you to walk us to the door. See that cute elderly couple over there? The ones who are just leaving? We will follow them outside,while we leave you at the door. Whenever I look back and not see you standing there, I wll shoot them. You got that? I’m sure you want them to enjoy their well earned retirement, don’t you?”

Something hard poked in his back and Brian swallowed hard, praying the gun wouldn’t go off by accident.

” You got it?” Little Steven asked again.

” I..I got it, ” Brian answered. ‘ I will stay at the door, so you can see me.”

” Good boy, ” Little Steven praised, patting his shoulder. ” Your mom will be proud of you. Now, walk two steps in front of me and remember: don’t try anything stupid!”

When he reached the bottom of the stairs Brian slowly walked in the direction of the entrance. Through the huge glass door he could see that there weren’t many people on the plaza, but he didn’t know if that would be a good thing or not.

When he was halfway down the hall, a movement outside caught his eye and at the same time he heard a sharp intake of breath behind him.

And suddenly, with a blood chilling certainty, he realized that somehow Jody and Sam were involved.

He had met Jody’s sister Lucy a few times and recognized her immediately. The reaction of the thug behind him made it clear that Little Steven knew her as well.

” Our lucky day, Fred,” Little Steven hissed, his voice full of excitement.

She can’t come in. I have to warn her. How?

As he saw Lucy approach and start to open the door, Brian knew what to do. With a courage born out of despair, he suddenly let himself fall down on one knee. While supporting his weight on his right hand he used his outstretched left leg to kick out and sweep Little Steven’s legs out from under him.

” Lucy! Run!” Brian shouted from the top of his lungs, noticing in horror that Little Steven had lost his balance, but was still standing up, ready to make a run for it.

Brian turned his head to look at the entrance and saw Lucy grabbing the arm of the woman she was with, pulling her backwards, until they were outside again.

” Big mistake, fancy boy. Consider yourself dead.”

Little Steven had regained his balance and while walking away from Brian he pulled out his gun, turned around, aimed and pulled the trigger twice. Without looking back he ran to the entrance, Fred closely behind him.

With the echoes of the shots painfully ringing in his ears, Brian, who’s body had convulsed in pain, suddenly felt numb. There was hardly any pain anymore and with amazement he looked down. A steadily flowing stream of blood had made a puddle on the light colored marble floor and Brian could hardly believe it was his. He tried to smile, but his lips felt cold and stiff and he was so tired.

Slowly his eyes traveled across the ceiling and for the first time ever, he realized how beautiful it was. The dark wood, the lights.

I must be losing my mind. Here I am, shot and bleeding and I am admiring a ceiling! How is that for being pathetic?! Strange, I feel no pain. Just tired and a little cold. Is this what dying is like? Hold it! Dying? I don’t want to die! I still have so much I want to do. And what about Chris? I can’t leave Chris!

One of the resort’s guests, a retired nurse, who was trying to apply pressure to stop the gunshot wound from bleeding, heard Brian softly grunt.

” Take it easy, son, the ambulance is on it’s way. Just take it easy, you’ ll be fine. Just take it easy.”

” Thank you, ” Brian managed to whisper.

He was really tired and couldn’ t keep his eyes open much longer. Slowly he let the darkness claim him and he drifted away in a deep, peaceful sleep.
Part 10
Without thinking twice, Lucy pushed her mother in the car, slammed the door and ran across the other side to get in herself.

Within seconds she had started the engine and took off with breakneck speed.

” What are you doing, Lucy? What is going on?” Joan McDonnell asked for the fourth time, her own problems and misery forgotten.

” I’ll tell you later, mom, but we have to get the hell out of here.”

” But…but I heard a shot. Was that a gun? Shouldn’t we…?”

” Absolutely not,” Lucy interrupted, her face pale, but grim. ” That shot is one of the best reasons to leave.”

Her eyes darted from the rearview mirror to the road ahead and back again. Restless. Worried. Agitated. Her heart was pounding and the palms of her hands were sweaty. The death grip on the steering wheel turned her knuckles white and Lucy did her best not to panic.

” I’ll explain later, mom, I promise. But first we have to get out of here.”

” Where are we going ?”

That was a good question. In the past few minutes Lucy had cursed herself numerous times for being so stupid to forget her cell phone. She could have had her mother calling Sam and Jody. And the police. That was the answer. The police. She would drive to the police station. They would be safe there.

A look in the rearview mirror told Lucy that they were followed by a car that was recklessly ignoring all traffic lights and stop signs she and her mother had just passed. Inwardly Lucy cursed. They were running out of time. The police station was a few miles away and there was way too much traffic to really speed up. Not that it prevented the ones that followed them.

When she had heard Brian calling out to her, one look had been enough for Lucy to know that the two men that were inside The Reef were the ones that had been following Sam and Jody. She realized they were looking for them. She had seen it in the look of the larger man’s eyes. He recognized her, even though she had never seen him before. But knowing that they had been after Fiona made her realize they had recognized her as being Jody’s sister.

The gunshot still echoed in her ears and with a sickening feeling she just knew that Brian must have been shot. She had seen him falling to the ground, trying to sweep the man behind him from his feet.

O, God. And now he’s after us. Please, let me make it in time. We have to make it to the police station. I have to let Sam know. And Jody. This is getting out of hand. Damn! Why did I forget my cell phone?

The car behind her came closer and Lucy softly whimpered, knowing she had to speed up to stay out of their reach.

” Hold on, mom,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

She increased the speed, going nearly fifty miles an hour where she was only allowed to do thirty five. All her muscles tensed when she saw a big truck turning into her lane and desperately she changed lanes, squeezing her car in the small opening left between the truck and a bus, ignoring the honking and obscene gestures her actions had caused. Joan McDonnell muffled a scream and closed her eyes, digging her fingers into the soft leather of her purse to stop her fingers from trembling.

With some skill and a lot of luck, Lucy was able to keep her car from skidding and she softly mumbled a curse, realizing she had been holding her breath. She let out a shuddering sigh and cast a look on the road behind her. With satisfaction she saw that her pursuers had not been able to over take the truck and her panic eased a few notches.

” But Jody, there’s nothing wrong with going for a little walk, ” Fiona whined. ” I will stay around the house, I promise. I really need some fresh air! I’m suffering from a bad case of cabin fever here, you know. You don’t want me going insane, do you?”

” Why would you go insane?” Jody sighed, trying not to see the pleading look on her younger sister’s face.

” Because all the symptoms are here, ” Fiona quickly answered. ” I am locked up, under a lot of stress, I am bored and extremely intelligent. That’s all it takes to go stir crazy, I swear.”

A soft chuckle from the porch directed her attention to Sam, who was listening to the conversation between the two siblings, but was clever enough not to interfere.

” Say something, Sam!” Fiona urged, thinking Sam might be more willing to give in than her sister.

A pair of twinkling blue eyes looked from Fiona to Jody and back again. Slowly Sam shook her head.

” You might be extremely intelligent,” she grinned. ” But I am not suicidal. Jody is right, you should stay inside for a while.”

Seeing the disappointment on the girl’s face, Sam quickly took a step in her direction and put a comforting hand on Fiona’s shoulder.

” It’s not safe, Fi, ” she explained, her face deadly serious. ” I know this place is pretty isolated, but there’s no telling who or where those…scumbags are and I don’t think it would be wise to go off wandering on your own. But I promise you this: I will take you out for a walk later this afternoon. Okay? We can hike up the hill for a little while and you can get some fresh air.”

Fiona shrugged her shoulders and stared at her feet for a while, before accepting Sam’s offer.

” Can I come too?” Jody asked with a little voice, pouting, but with eyes full of mirth.

Sam frowned and looked at Fiona as asking her for permission.

” I don’t know. What do you think Fiona? Can she come with us? I can’t remember if she’s one of those girls who faint when they see a snake. I really don’t want to carry her back.”

Fiona grinned, her sour mood forgotten and she looked at her siser’s indignant face, suddenly feeling the need to wickedly add more fuel.

” I’m not sure, Sam, ” she drawled, a frown creasing her forehead. ” I do remember one time when we were out camping and Jody came running out of the tent, screaming her head off, because there was ‘ something’ crawling in her sleeping bag. It wasn’t exactly cool, outdoor behavior, you know. She might be just a little too much like a city girl.”

” That ‘ something’ happened to be a red belly black snake, you little troublemaker,” Jody defended herself, genuinely insulted this time. ” If you had been me, you would have run just as fast, I’m sure.”

Sam laughed and wrapped an arm around her lover’s shoulder, enjoying the pink flush on Jody’s face.

” Watch out, Fi, she’s turning into a little spitfire here.”

She bend down and quickly kissed Jody’s forehead.

” Who got rid of the snake?”

Fiona and Jody exchanged looks and suddenly burst out laughing.

” Mom did,” Jody explained. ” She made us all stand back, grabbed a long stick and dragged the sleeping bag out of the tent. Bird was yelling at her not to kill the snake, because it wasn’t his fault we decided to pick out that spot for pitching our tents up. Fiona started arguing with him about the snake’s gender. I was yelling at mom to be careful and Matthew was yelling at all of us to keep our mouths shut, because mom couldn’t concentrate.”

” I think the noise we made created so much vibration that the snake made a run for it, ” Fiona smirked. ” Or rather, a slither.”

Sam smirked and was about to make a smart comment when her cell phone started buzzing. With a shrug of her shoulders and an apologetic look she pulled her Nokia out of her pocket and pressed ‘ talk’.

” Hello”

Jody and Fiona, who were both watching Sam’s face, saw her face get drained from all color, until she was as white as a sheet. Unconciously Jody reached out and grabbed Sam’s arm, her eyes dark with worry.

They locked gazes and Jody noticed Sam’s clear blue eyes turning dark, cold and distant.

Sam didn’t say much to the person on the phone. She nodded a few times and ended the conversation with a grim: ” I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

After she ended the call and tucked away her cell phone she looked at Jody. Seeing the concern on her lover’s face, her eyes softened. Gently she put a hand on Jody’s shoulder and pushed her down in a chair, while she squatted down in front of her, taking Jody’s hands in her own.

” What?” Jody whispered, knowing something bad had happened.

Sam swallowed a few times and took a deep breath.

” Brian has been shot,” she finally answered.

The healthy color on Jody’s face rapidly disappeared and Sam could feel her friend’s fingernails digging into the palms of her hands.

” They brought him to Tweed Heads hospital and he’s in surgery right now. His condition is critical. Apparently he lost a lot of blood.” Sam sighed and rubbed her eyes in a tired gesture. ” He was shot in the abdomen.”

Jody’s tried to moisten her dry lips and mouth. Her hands still held Sam’s in a death grip and the freckles in her face vividely stood out against her pale skin.

” W..What happened?”

” Two men were in the lobby, with Brian. They were walking toward the door when Brian fell down and tried to kick one of them. The guy pulled a gun and shot him.”

” The guy who was after me?” Fiona suddenly asked, her voice hardly more than a whisper.

Sam looked up into the face of the distressed teenager and although she didn’t answer immediately, Fiona knew the answer.

” O, my God.”

” And the same one that was in my apartment?” Jody asked, her eyes wide.

” I think so,” Sam sighed. ” It’s all linked together.”

” We should call the police and see if….”

” It was Carol Wong who just called me, honey,” Sam interrupted. ” She’s at The Reef right now and I think it’s best if we go over there and see her. After that I want to go to the hospital, see how Brian is doing”

Fiona pushed away the hair that was falling over her forehead and looked at Sam with a lost expression in her eyes.

” Where do I go?”

” You come with us,” Sam immediately answered. ” I am not letting you, or Jody out of my sight. Not until this whole mess is cleared up and over and done with.”

Fiona looked relieved and at that moment there wasn’t much left of the brash teenager with more guts than sense.

Sam’s cell phone rang again and with an impatient gesture she pulled it from it’s confines.

” Hello? Lucy? I….WHAT? You were there? ….Where are you now? ….Did you…? ..Okay….right. No, they are both here, with me. ..No, I will leave nobody behind…We’ll be on our way now. Okay, see you later.”

With a grunt Sam pressed her face against Jody’s shoulder, immediately feeling an arm slipping around her shoulder, pulling her closer.

” Okay, spill it. ” Jody’s voice sounded near her ear. ” What is it this time?”

Sam let out a deep sigh and raised her face from it’s comfortable place. For a moment she wished it was all a dream. That she and Jody could celebrate and enjoy their newfound love and retreat to some tropical island where the biggest worry would be not to get sunburnt. But, reality was so different and if wishes were fishes….

” Lucy is at the police station. She was at The Reef when Brian got shot.”

Sam heard the sharp intake of breath and gently cupped Jody’s face.

” She’s okay, Jody. She’s fine and she is safe. The guys that shot Brian came after her, but thank God your sister is smart! She went straight to the police station and for the time being, she will stay there.”

Sam saw the relief on Jody’s face and smiled reassuringly.

” With your mom,” she added.

” My mom?” Jody echoed.” What…?”

” I don’t know, sweetheart,” Sam answered. ” I only know they are both there, they are both safe and won’t go anywhere until we all know what the hell happened this morning. Okay?”

Sam slowly stood up, wincing when a sharp pain shot through her right leg, usually a warning to take it easy on her never entirely healed limb.

” You okay?” Jody asked softly, jumping from the chair and grabbing Sam’s arm.

Sam nodded and smiled weekly.

” My bad leg,” she explained. ” I’ll be fine, as long as I don’t have to drive today.”

” I’ll drive,” Jody said, grabbing the car keys from the table. ” Let’s go.”

In spite of the coolness of the operating room, the surgeon felt the beads of sweat forming on her forehead. She and her team were working frantically to try and stop the excessive bleeding of the patient, while looking for the injuries that caused it. Taking her eyes from bloody scene below her hands, her dark brown eyes looked for one of the nurses, who immediately understood the unspoken request and wiped the doctor’s face with a soft cloth.

” Thanks,” she mumbled, fully concentrating on her difficult and responsible task again.

Dabbing the tissue with another sterile gauze her keen eyes finally found what she was looking for.

” The spleen,” she said calmly, trying not to think about the fact that the life of the young man on her table was entirely in her hands now. ” We have to take it out. Paul, take care of that artery. Missy, what are his vitals?”

The anaesthesiologist looked at the hissing and beeping machines in front of her.

” Temperature 36,2, Pulse 116, BP 78/49,” came the immediate response.

” Get two more units of blood and squeeze in 500 saline. We don’t want him to go into shock.”

The only sounds heard were produced by the machines that were guarding Brian’s life, now and then interrupted by a soft command or question.

The surgeons worked rapidly, making sure no time was wasted, losing all track of time, until finally the shattered spleen was removed and the bleeding had stopped.

” Okay people. Let’s look him over one more time, make sure we didn’t miss anything. Make sure his stomach, kidney and colon are in one piece. It looks like it was only the spleen. Guess he was lucky. Vitals Missy?”

” Temperature 36,1, Pulse 92, BP 91/ 68.”

” Let’s keep him stable, shall we? Right. It’s up to you now, kiddo.”

” I can’t believe you just shot him,” Fred hissed, his eyes squinted. ” Are you insane?”

” Shut up, Fred. You know nothing! He was trying to take me out.”

” You could have easily kicked him, you didn’t need to shoot him!”

” He would have recognized us, you moron! Are you stupid?”

” No, you are,” Fred almost screamed. ” There were more people around, or didn’t you see that? What was the plan? Shooting them all?”

” He warned the bitch,” Little Steven barked. ” We had a chance to get her and he was in the way. It’s as simple as that. Or did you forget that Joe will feed us to the sharks when we screw up huh? Did you forget?”

” No, I didn’t forget,” Fred snapped back. ” But how would you call what just happened? A smooth operation? We screwed up anyway, you idiot.”

” Who are you calling an idiot?” Little Steven fumed. ” I was trying to save your skin as well, you little shit!”

” Yeah, right! And when did you care about my skin? That’s a first.”

” I’d suggest you keep your mouth shut, Freddie,” Little Steven grumbled. ” I can shoot you as easily as I shoot him, ya know. And it will give me much more pleasure doing it as well.”

Fred shot a glance at the large man sitting beside him. He knew Little Steven wasn’t making empty threats. But somehow the violence he had just witnessed, made him aware of the mistakes he had made joining as one of Joe Michaels’s ‘ employees’ .

Without thinking he opened the door of the car.

” I’m out, ” he said. ” Forget it. I won’t have any part in this. You guys are crazy.”

” Set one foot out of this car and I will shoot you,” Little Stevens voice whispered, very calm and very determined.

Fred turned around to look straight into the barrel of a gun, that was pointed at his head. His face turned pale, but his eyes still shone with a determined fire.

” You will do me a favor,” he laughed humorlessly. ” Help me out of my misery.”

” Or maybe I should go after your sister,” Little Steven grinned, his eyes cold. ” Don’t look so surprised, Freddie. Or didn’t you know that Joe does his homework. He knows all about your sweet daddy and the reason why you ran away from home. He also knows you have a sister, a sweet, teenage sister. How would you like us to feed her to the sharks, huh? Of course after we had some fun with her first.”

” You filthy, sick son of a bitch!” Fred whispered, his eyes wide with horror. ” leave my sister out of this.”

” Only if you stay put, Freddie my boy. Be good and listen to what I say. The choice is yours.”

Fred felt the tears in the back of his eyes and he desperately tried to blink them away, not wanting his companion to see them. Slowly, very slowly he sank back into his seat, closing the door with a soft click.

” Good boy, ” Little Steven grinned, very pleased with himself. ” I knew I could count on you.”
Part 11
” Mmm, what do I smell in here ? Are you baking something ? Smells really nice.”

Megan strolled into the kitchen and deposited her purse nonchalantly on one of the kitchen chairs. She walked over to her partner and put her hands on a pair of slender shoulders, pressing her cheek against a patch of fragrant auburn hair.

” Chocolate chip cookies,” Sarah answered, not giving in to the distraction, but keeping an eye on the batch of cookies on the sheet in front of her.

Megan nodded and gently squeezed the shoulders underneath her hands.

” Care to share ?” she softly asked.

” What do you mean ?”

” Well,” Megan drawled, carefully choosing her words. ” You’re either making cookies for every brownie and boy scout in the area, or there’s something bothering you. So, what is it, love ?”

Sarah let out a heartfelt sigh and finally gave into the urge to turn around and seek refuge in the welcoming arms of her lover. Megan didn’t press the issue, but patiently waited for an explanation. She knew the way Sarah dealt with problems and if there was anything she had learned through the years, it was leaving her partner be, until she was ready to share what was bothering her.

” It’s the situation with Jody and Sam,” Sarah finally answered, feeling the arms that encircled her unconsciously tighten.

” What about it ?” Megan asked, her voice soft, but strained.

” Jody called about an hour ago. They were in the hospital. Brian, one of the receptionists was shot this morning by one of those….guys that have been chasing Jody and almost abducted Fiona the other day.”

” What ?!!” Megan looked into Sarah’s eyes, her face drained of all colour. ” He was shot ? Did he….I mean….Is he?”

” He’s okay now,” Sarah quickly answered. ” They were able to stop the bleeding. Apparently his spleen was shot to pieces and he lost a lot of blood. But according to the doctor’s he’s going to be fine. But Meggie, this is so getting out of hand. Those blokes are ruthless!! It’s clear that they are willing to kill in order to get what they want!”

Megan looked into the distressed face of her lover. Her expression was one of anxiety and sadness. She swallowed and braced herself to ask the question that was playing through her mind.

” Do you think we shouldn’t let them stay here anymore? You think it’s getting too dangerous?”

Sarah’s head jerked up and a pair of grey, very indignant eyes looked at Megan with an astonished expression.

” No,” she whispered. ” No, no! That’s not what I mean. Of course they are welcome here. They are most welcome. I would never turn my back on Jody. Never. It’s just that I am so angry about what happened and I feel so helpless. I wish we could do more. But we have to get that gun out, love! This is our property and they are our friends. If anyone will be stupid enough to come here and terrorize us or our friends, they will be in for a big surprise!”

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Megan threw her head back and laughed out loud.

” Ooo, you little spitfire,” she smiled, kissing Sarah soundly on the lips. ” Mama tiger, huh?”

” You bet,” Sarah answered. ” Those guys don’t know who they could be dealing with. You know, my ancestors were real troublemakers. They weren’t shipped out of England for nothing. They were outlaws and you know what their motto was: first shoot, then ask questions. If I find one of those goons trespassing on our property, I will…..”

” Allright, sweetheart, allright,” Megan interrupted smiling. ” You have made yourself crystal clear. They’d better stay away.”

Megan grinned and pulled Sarah closer, feeling the tense, warm body relax against her own.

” God, I love you!” she sighed, her heart filled with gratitude and tenderness for the woman in her arms. She bent her head and felt her lips being caught by a pair of equally warm and soft ones. The batch of not yet baked chocolate chip cookies stood forgotten on the kitchen counter.

For the umpteenth time Jody looked across the room, to the slender form of Brian’s Asian-Australian partner. Chris was about the same age and height as she was, but his eyes were dark brown and his straight, almost black hair was cut in a fashionable way. In spite of his timid appearance, Jody sensed a strength that was almost palpable. During the past day, Chris had proved himself sensible and strong, making a deep impression on both Jody and Sam.

” My goodness. If it had been Sam who’d been shot I would be hysterical,” Jody mused, the very thought making her stomach churn. ” I would be kicking and screaming, lashing out at just anyone who would be walking by. He is so…gentle, and yet so self assured. So graceful. I could never be that calm. I…”

Jody’s musings were rudely disturbed by a pair of soulfull brown eyes that looked at her pensively. She quickly cast down her eyes and felt her cheeks go warm. A quick glance across the room showed a soft smile and she couldn’t help but returning that friendly gesture.

” I am so sorry, Chris,” she apologized. ” I didn’t mean to stare at you, but I was just wondering where you get the strength to be so calm. If I were you I’m sure I would be kicking and screaming.”

” You think that would help?” was the soft reply.

He smiled again, a sad smile this time and leaned forward, his hands loosely resting on his knees.

” Brian doesn’t need me to fall apart. He needs me to be there for him,” Chris softly explained. ” Don’t get me wrong, I might not look it, but I am angry. Very angry and very capable of hurting the one who did this to him. But right now I need to stay focused. Brian will need me when he wakes up. We can deal with the rest later, together. Most important thing right now is that he gets better again. I need him.”

Jody had to strain herself to hear those last few words. The intensity in his voice brought tears to her eyes and she didn’t try to hide them.

” You really love him a lot.”

It was no question, but an observation.

” I do,” Chris replied. ” Brian has always been there for me. He is the most generous, caring person I know. He stood by me when my family disowned me for who I am, for loving him. When I had to vent my frustration and hurt he was the one who took the heat. He never complained, just accepted all the crap I dumped on him and he never stopped loving me. He is my soulmate. There will never be anyone else for me but him.”

Jody angrily wiped away the tears that were streaming down her cheeks and when Chris looked at her with nothing but compassion in his eyes, she jumped up, crossed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him in a crushing hug.

” How can I ever repay Brian for protecting my sister the way he did?” she sobbed.

Chris smiled and stroked the unruly hair against his shoulder.

” Just accept things the way they are,” he softly replied. ” Brian acted in the only way he could. He would have never forgiven himself if he had not tried. My honey is a hero,” he gently joked. ” I accepted that a long time ago.”

Jody slowly nodded and pulled away from Chris to be able to look him in the eyes.

” As long as you know that I will be forever grateful and if there’s anything I…”

” I know, Jody,” Chris interrupted. ” I guess I would feel the same. Tell Brian. Okay? I am just the worried, significant other.”

Jody smiled and took a seat next to Chris, glancing at her watch.

” You worried about Sam?” Chris casually asked.

Sam had left some time ago to make sure that Lucy and her mother were properly taken care of. She had spoken with Megan, who had insisted that Lucy and Joan McDonnell would be added to their lists of guests, telling Sam that their house was so disgustingly big that it would be a waste not to use all the space. Sam had given in, realizing that it was easier to keep an eye on everybody if they would all be together, even though it would be harder for their pursuers to find any of them if they would all be scattered around town. But Carol Wong had come through, promising Sam there would be two police officers guarding Sarah’s and Megans property around the clock, until the danger was gone.

” I guess she’ll be back soon,” Jody sighed. ” Knowing Sam she wants to make sure that my family has arrived at our friends’ place safely. She’s quite the organizer.”

” When did you two meet?” ” Oh, ages ago,” Jody smiled, pushing back a strand of hair from her forehead. ” We met almost ten years ago, but something happened and we…uh…lost contact. We only recently met again, after all that time, but it feels like those years never existed. It’s strange, but it’s like we’ ve always been together.”

” That’s not real strange,” Chris remarked. ” When I look at the two of you, I see two people who belong together. Like sun and moon, ying and yang,” he smiled. ” Soulmates.”

” You know, I have been thinking about that lately,” Jody mused, not at all finding it strange to have a conversation that personal, with a person who a few hours ago was a total stranger.

” When I look back, I think that from the very first time we met, Sam had my heart. All of it. In the years we have been apart I once thought I loved another, but I didn’t. And then Sam came back into my life and it was like, somewhere, a light went on. Inside of me. It was so warm and comfortable, like it was meant to be that way. I felt complete again, whole.”

” Sounds like soulmates to me,” Chris replied. ” To me it’s that feeling of meeting a twin soul. The pieces just fit together perfectly. Brian once wrote a poem for me and to me it made it all so clear.

In the tapestry of time

A hand weaved our strings

Together, unbreakable.

With my eyes shut tight,

My heart sought you out.

Like the movement of the sea,

Unstoppable and eternal

Our souls entwined and fused.

And I finally came home

When Chris finished speaking, Jody realized she had been holding her breath and slowly she let it out. Touched deeply by Chris’ willingness to share those words with her.

” You are right,” she finally spoke. ” That’s exactely what it feels like.”

” It is,” a husky voice suddenly sounded and Jody and Chris both looked up to see Sam, casually leaning against the door, but her clear eyes dark with emotion.

” That was beautiful, Chris, thank you for sharing.”

” Don’t thank me,” Chris replied. ” Thank that bard of mine, he has a way with words.”

Sam carefully stretched her legs, feeling the cramping muscles in her right leg tighten even more. She tried not to wince when a sharp pain shot through her ankle, but when she saw Jody’s face, she knew she has failed miserably.

” That bad, huh?” Jody remarked, her voice slightly trembling. “Is there anything I can do, honey?”

Sam shook her head and tried to smile reassuringly.

” Nothing a hot bath and some rest can’t fix. Believe me, I have been through this before. Aren’t you curious about what Carol had to say?”

” What do you mean ‘changing topic’? ” Jody snorted. ” Allright. What happened at the police station? Anything interesting? Like, how many people did Lucy manage to upset today?

” As a matter of fact Lucy did great,” Sam smiled. “According to Carol she managed to identify the man who shot Brian.”

Chris’ head shot up and with a grim face he looked at Sam.

” They know who he is?”

” They have a pretty good idea,” Sam answered. ” Lucy could give the police a vague description and when they showed her some photo’s, she recognized him. I saw the pic and I’m pretty sure it was the same guy we ran into when your apartment was ransacked.”

” Do they have a name?” Jody asked, suddenly very pale.

” Steven Hayes. Does that ring a bell?”

Both Jody and Chris shook their heads and Sam slowly nodded.

” I didn’t really expect you to. Carol didn’t really tell me anything about him, but apparently he’s no stranger to the law.”

” I swear to God, Joe. I didn’t have a choice. They guy was trying to take me out! It was him or me.”

Little Steven held his cellphone away from his ear and Fred, who was sitting next to him in the car, could hear his boss shout.

” YOU BLASTED IDIOT!!! WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE? DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING MYSELF?”

A few moments of silence and Little Steven could hear his boss gasping for air. Then, a deceptively calm voice continued.

” All right, this is the deal. You go out there, keep your eyes open and STAY AWAY FROM THE LAW, and I only want to see you and that little PISSANT again when you do have some results. And I mean POSITIVE ones. If I happen to see you before….you’d better make peace with your maker, ’cause I will send you straight to HELL.”

For a few moments Little Steven stared at the phone in his hand, trying to wrap his mind around the serious threat his boss had just uttered, knowing there was only one way left to save his life.

” Goddamnit!!!!”

Furious he threw the cellphone on the backseat of the car, not worried if it would be able to stand such abuse. He turned to Fred and grabbed his shoulder in a vice like grip.

” This is getting serious,” he hissed and for the first time Fred was able to see fear in his companion’s eyes. “Deadly serious. From now on, you are gonna do exactely what I tell you to. EXACTLY! Because if you don’t, it won’t be Joe who’s gonna waste your sorry ass, it will be me!”

After those words Little Steven angrily started the engine of the car and sped away into the darkness, preoccupied with only one thing: surviving.

It was way past midnight when Sam and Jody had finally made it back to the house. Sam had occasionally called Megan and Sarah, to keep everybody informed of their whereabouts and of Brian’s situation.

When they had finally left the hospital, Brian’s condition was stable and his doctor was expecting a rapid recovery.

“He lost quite some blood, but he is young, he is very fit. Luckily the damage was done only to the spleen. I don’t see any reason why Brian shouldn’t make a quick recovery.”

After a quick look at Brian, who was still very sleepy, and saying goodbye to a very grateful Chris, Jody and Sam left the hospital and drove home. Happy to know that Brian would recover, worried about the gunman on the loose and very tired.

” Seems like they are all off to bed,” Jody noticed, when she parked her car alongside Lucy’s.

” Can’t blame them,” Sam mumbled, cautiously exiting the car, careful not to step into a hole.

She tried not to limp while walking towards the porch and was pleasantly surprised when she felt a strong arm around her waist, giving her support.

” Don’t try to be the tough chick, sweetheart,” Jody chided her. ” It’s me, you know. It’s okay to say it hurts.”

” Any excuse to touch me, huh?” Sam joked, her arm slipping around Jody’s shoulders. She gently squeezed and immediately felt Jody’s warm body pressing against her tall frame.

” Of course,” Jody answered, not even willing to deny the accusation. ” It’s been a long day and I can’t even remember the last time I kissed you today.”

They had reached the porch and Sam turned to Jody and, without warning, pulled her into her arms. She buried her face in fragrant hair and inhaled deeply, feeling the tension that had been accumulating all day, slowly slip away.

Jody softly groaned in pleasure and rubbed her cheek against a cotton clad shoulder.

” I needed this,” she whispered.

” I thought you wanted a kiss?” Sam teased, playfully blowing some warm air in her lover’s ear, almost making her jump.

” I do,” Jody sighed. ” But right now I am so comfortable, it has to be a real good kiss to make me give up this comfy spot.”

” Are you challenging me?” Sam purred.

” I don’t know.” Jody peeked up from her position and smiled when she saw Sam’s squinted eyes watching her warily.

” Do you feel challenged?”

The answer was the pressure of a pair of soft, warm lips against her own and Jody unconsciously moaned, when Sam pulled her even closer, deepening the kiss. Slowly, thoroughly exploring the responsive lips that wholeheartedly opened up to give access to a probing tongue. Playful, passionate, and loving.

Jody’s breathing quickened and she was very aware of the thundering heartbeat against her ear and a pair of hands that were insistantly pulling her shirt out of her slacks.

“Sam,” she finally managed to whisper. ” Sam, we’re outside, on the porch.”

” We are?” Sam mumbled between kissing Jody’s neck and sucking her earlobe, letting her hands slide down to the small of her lover’s back, slip underneath her shirt and feeling their way up again.

” What if we run into my mom? Or Lucy? We will never live that down, Sam,” Jody managed to get out, trying to ignore Sam’s fingers unhooking her bra.

” Let’s get inside then, see if we can find our bedroom in the dark.”

” Sam,” Jody breathed with difficulty. ” If you keep touching my breast like that I will never make it inside. ”

Sam didn’t immediately answer, but Jody could feel the chuckle and she playfully slapped her taller lover.

“You are doing that on purpose, you little…..”

“Little? ” Sam echoed. ” Who’s the midget here, my love? I thought that….”

Sam’s mock protest was efficiently silenced by Jody’s lips, warm, soft and very sensual. Sam immediately lost her train of thought and quickly felt her world spinning out of control, until her world only consisted of the woman in her arms, who was turning her knees into jelly and caused her heart to almost pound out of her chest.

” Let’s find that bed, honey,” Jody whispered. ” There are some things I have to take care of. Right now.”

Sam could only nod and let herself be led inside by her lover, too occupied with the raging storm inside her body to notice anything else but the soft, warm hand that was holding hers. And missing the small, triumphant smile on the face of a certain, very aroused redhaired young woman.

Halfway up the driveway leading to Sarah’s and Megan’s house, a dark colored, unmarked car was hidden from view by the surrounding bushes. Even the bright light from the moon wasn’t able to outline it’s contours from anyone climbing the hill up to the house.

It’s two occupants were relaxed, but very alert. Two pair of eyes constantly scanned the enviroment, looking for anything out of place. There was hardly any talking. The rolled down windows made sure that all sounds would reach their ears. They were determined not to be surprised, by anything. And there were plenty of sounds. Now and then the quiet night was disturbed by the characteristic grunts of Koalas that were housing in the trees around the property. Sometimes a soft rustling of leaves gave away the presence of a wallaby or paddymellon, but although they could be heard, they never managed to actually spot one. The little nocturnal animals of the forrest were minding their own business, ignoring the sleek car that was intruding their habitat.

Their instructions had been very clear. Except for family and friends, no one was to pass their car and find their way up the hill. They were provided with a list and descriptions of the ones staying in the house and when Jody’s car had approached their hidden position, they knew who were in there and let them pass, not willing to give away their perfect spot.

Except for the two watchful people in the car, there were another couple that wasn’t asleep yet, in spite of the late hour.

Without much trouble, Jody and Sam had managed to find their way into the bedroom, where they had crashed on the bed and indulged in a session of passionate love making. It had left them spent and tired, but they were so happy and content, that neither of them wanted to go to sleep.

Jody was practically laying on top of Sam, nuzzling a warm neck and breathing in the sweet, distinctive scent of her lover.

“Is it very hedonistic of me to say that I just love the feel of your naked body against mine?” she asked with a sleepy voice, rubbing the inside of her thigh against Sam’s hip.

” Hedonistic?” Sam lazily echoed. ” Uhm….I don’t know, my love. Let me think…..nah! Not hedonistic, just honest.”

” You’re too kind,” Jody mumbled.

” Thank you,” Sam replied. ” You’re not so bad yourself.”

Jody wanted to slap Sam playfully across her belly, but she was so sated and relaxed, that she could hardly lift her arm, which made Sam chuckle.

“Do you think we woke anybody up?” Jody’s voice sounded again, a bit concerned this time.

” When?” Sam asked with an innocent face. ” When we bumped into the kitchen table, nearly knocking that vase off, or when down the hall, you begged me to stop, basically meaning ‘Please, Sam, go on’?”

“I didn’t beg,” Jody snorted. But when Sam didn’t answer she lifted up her head and risked a peek into a pair of innocent blue eyes. ” Did I?”

” I don’t know about that, honey, “Sam chuckled. ” You did sound a bit urgent, especially when you sort of moaned:’God, Sam, now! Please.'”

Jody hid her face against Sam’s shoulder to hide her blush, but Sam could feel the heat radiating against her already warm skin.

” Don’t worry about it,” she whispered, kissing Jody’s temple. ” You were adorable and very….um….inspiring.”

Jody sighed and tightened her grip on the tall body.

” I love you, Sam. Even though you are the world’s biggest tease!”

” I love you too, baby. All of you.”

” It’s a good thing you persuaded me to buy that big table last year,” Sarah grinned, looking into the kitchen, where all their guests were assembled for breakfast. ” At least we can fit all them in there now.”

” Well, honey,” Megan answered, looking at her partner fondly. ” That proves the fact that sometimes I do have good ideas.”

Sarah winked and opened the kitchen door.

” I knew that, ” she smiled. ” The past five years you have proven yourself over and over again.”

” It was in the job description.” Megan mumbled, following her lover into the kitchen, where Joan McDonnell was cooking breakfast for every body.

” Mmmm, mom, you make the best crumpets,” Jody complimented her mother, with a mouthful of the pancake like breakfast item. “They are the best I have ever tasted.”

There was a hint of sadness in her voice when she remembered all those mornings away from home, trying to live with the knowledge that she was disowned by her own family.

Sam and Megan caught on and they exchanged a knowing glance, before Sam reached out her hand and covered Jody’s, gently squeezing it under the table.

” What are you going to do today, mom?” Lucy asked, sipping from her hot coffee.

Before Sam could say “Nothing, everybody stays right here today”, Joan McDonnell turned around and glanced at her three daughters. She looked tired, like she hardly got any sleep, which was not far beside the truth. The room and bed Megan and Sarah had so generously provided had been very comfortable, but her waking hours had been occupied by worrying, while the few hours of sleep had been plagued by restless dreams.

” I think I should let your dad know that I am all right, ” she answered. ” I have to consider your brothers as well. I don’t want them to think I just abandoned them. God knows what your father might have told them,” she added bitterly.

” Are you going over there?” Jody asked, her eyes full of worry.

” Don’t you think that would be the best way to handle this?” Joan McDonnell answered with a question of her own.

Jody bit her lip and slowly nodded, not pleased at all that her mother was going to confront their domineering father on her own. As if Lucy had read her mind, she suddenly put down her coffee cup and turned to fully face her mother.

“I’ll come with you,” she declared in a tone that didn’t leave much room for arguing. ” I am not letting you go by yourself.”

” Bu…..”

” No, mom,” Lucy answered. ” I will come with you. I’ll stay in the car, or outside the door if you really want me to, but you are not going alone.”

Fiona, who had been uncharacteristiclly (LOL)quiet looked from Lucy to her mother and back. She had put down her fork a little while ago and had not taken one bite ever since the conversation started. She played with the food on her plate and when Jody looked at her she saw that her youngest sister’s face was pale and drawn.

” Are you going to leave dad?” she finally asked, not daring to look at her mother.

Joan McDonnell put down the spoon she was holding and leaned her hand on the kitchen counter for support. The question Fiona had just asked her, was the same one that had been floating through her head all night. She tried not to see the pained expression on her daughters’faces when she carefully touched her bruised cheek.

” I have thought about it,” she finally truthfully answered. ” It depends a lot on your father. We have some very important issues to solve, but if he…..if he is….if he doesn’t see we have a problem, I….might….I might leave him.”

” If you do, what will happen to me and the boys?” Fiona asked, her voice was unsteady and Jody and Lucy could hear the fear. ” You are not leaving us with him, are you?”

Joan McDonnell walked over to her youngest daughter and knelt down next to her chair. She tenderly pushed away a strand of dark hair and softly stroked a warm cheek.

” I will never leave you, or your brothers,” she promised. ” If your father and I decide to….split up, it will be your decision where you want to live. I promise.”

Fiona leaned into the touch and swallowed away her tears. The prospect of having to leave her mother had scared her senseless. She knew her dad was a difficult, obsessed and dominant man, but it was the only father she had and she did love him, but being without her mother was something she knew she couldn’t. Not yet. She needed her. Maybe it would be better to say , something she wasn’t ready to do. ?

” But where will we go?”

” If mom decides to go, we will help out,” Jody answered, looking at her mother. ” We will find you a place. Don’t worry about it.”

” And if you want to, you can stay here for a while,” Sarah added, after exchanging a look with her partner, who had nodded smiling. ” As you might have noticed, we have lots of room.”

Joan McDonnell tried to blink away the tears that were making her vision blurry and shot the two young women, who had been strangers to her until the previous day, a grateful look.

Jody smiled when she realized there was more than hospitality behind Sarah’s offer. By staying at their place, Joan McDonnell would be safe from her husband’s wrath, because the police were keeping an eye on the property. If David McDonnell would decide to show up and start problems, the police would be close by, like Carol Wong had promised.

” I will only drive down the road, pick up the mail and come back up, ” Megan sighed, sending her partner a pathetic look. ” Believe me, honey, I won’t go any further and besides, I will take the dog with me.”

” It’s a great dog,” Jody smiled. ” But he’d sooner lick a person to death than attack him.”

” Hey! Don’t you start insulting my dog,” Megan warned, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.

” It’s perfectly safe, Sarah,” Sam spoke in Megans defense. ” Somewhere down the road there’s a policecar hiding. I know it’s there, even though we didn’t see it last night.”

” Maybe they didn’t show up,” Sarah mumbled.

” They did,” Sam answered, pretty sure of herself. ” Carol promised they would be there. They are there, I’m sure. But if it makes you feel any better, I can go with Megan. We’ll be back in ten minutes. And we’ll bring the dog,” she added with a grin.

” Okay, ” Sarah sighed. ” But still, I have this……never mind. Go get the mail. We need to continue our lives like it’s normal, right? Well, next week is our anniversary party and I’d like to know who is coming, so….go get the mail. It’s about time we make a list of guests.”

” We will be back before you know it, ” Sam smiled at Jody, her blue eyes clear and alert, despite the lack of sleep.

Jody felt her cheeks go warm when she remembered the previous night and blushed when Sam winked at her, knowing they were having the same thoughts.

Of course, Lucy had to notice and with a little devilish smile she looked at her sister.

” Warm in here, isn’t it, Peas? Or are you just……blushing?”

She laughed when Jody shot her a lethal look and decided to torture her sister a bit more.

” See, you and Sam were home late, weren’t you? I mean, I can’t remember hearing you come home, or…..wait!” Lucy suddenly sat straight up, her dark eyes full of mischief, ” maybe I did hear! See, I woke up because I heard a thump and …..”

Sarah, who had been hearing the teasing, popped up behind Lucy and covered her mouth with her hand. She bent forward a little and winked at Jody, who smiled a grateful smile and decided to take the opportunity to get out of the kitchen.

” Lucy, ” Sarah drawled. ” There is a time to speak and there is a time to shut up. This is a time to shut up.” She uncovered Lucy’s mouth and sat down in the empty chair next to her.

” I know you like teasing, but believe me, this was not the right time. I mean, of course you heard them,” there was a laugh in her voice. ” I think we all did, at least, when they came in and nearly broke down the kitchen, but…..your sister is very sensitive about these kind of things. You would really embarrass her.”

“Okay, point taken, ” Lucy admitted, stretching and yawning. ” And I guess you’re right. I was about to go way out of line. I’d better not, because knowing Jody, she would remember and take revenge….one day.”

” Or Sam would kick your…..butt,” Sarah laughed.

” Ouch,” Lucy responded, a frown creasing her forehead. ” That would even be worse.”

It did take Sam and Megan less than five minutes to reach the bottom of the hill, take a big stack of mail out of the mailbox and head back up again. The weather was gorgeous. It was still early in the morning and it was cool under the canopy of trees. There were flocks of diamond finches scattered around the road , flying up annoyed when Megan drove the car passed them, disturbing their breakfast.

The road was narrow, wide enough for only one car, but Megan, who had been driving that road every day for years now, exactly knew how to steer the car around the occassional tree that seemed to be sitting in the middle of the road. The road was pretty steep, slowly winding up the hill for about three kilometers. Through the trees Sam could see the surrounding hills and got an occassional glance of the Pacific, like a blue mirror, stretching out to the horizon.

” I have seen this view several times now, ” she told Megan. ” and it is still breathtaking.”

” I know what you mean, ” Megan answered. ” We have been living here for almost five years now and the scenery never gets boring. I love living here. We are close to, so called civilization, but it feels like we live way out in the bush. And the wildlife on our property is enormous. We even have Koalas around.”

Megan glanced to her left, a twinkle in her eyes.

” I could have sworn I heard a few of them last night. Their grunting is very distinctive.”

” Really? ” Sam answered. ” I didn’t hear………”

She stopped halfway her sentence and looked at her friend through squinted eyes. Megan noticed the look and laughed out loud when she saw the indignant expression on Sam’s face, mixed with embarrassment.

” Don’t worry, Sam, I am just teasing,” Megan grinned. ” We only heard you come in, that’s all. You two apparently forgot that most of the bedroom doors are in the hall behind the kitchen. Once you got to the bedroom we didn’t hear anything anymore. I swear.”

Sam grinned sheepisly and tried not to blush, which failed miserably.

” I guess we were carried away by the moment, ” she explained. ” I’m sorry if we….”

” Don’t apologize, ” Megan interupted. ” You two are crazy about each other, so don’t apologize for moments of passion. Just enjoy them.”

” I do, ” Sam admitted. ” But I don’t really want to make a public display out of it.”

” You didn’t,” Megan reassured her. ” I think that……What the heck?”

Megan suddenly hit the breaks and brought the car to a stop. Sam followed her glance and immediately the hairs on the back of her neck rose. A chill ran down her spine and all her senses were on alert.

About twenty meters in front of them a dark car was parked halfway up the road. It’s nose was hidden in the bushes. The doors were open and two slumped figures were sitting in the front. Unmoving. Silent.

” Sam!” Megan whispered, feeling cold inspite of the sunlight that was streaming through the trees, painting the car in a golden light.

Sam swallowed and frantically scanned their enviroment. The bush was silent. Nothing moved and no sound was heard. It was a green wall of deadly stillness.

” I’ll go have a look. Stay here Megan. If something happens…..get the hell out of here. Just put the car in reverse and make a run for it and don’t stop until you reach the police station.”

” But….”

” Megan, please!”

Sam’s voice was strained with emotion when she realized the situation now was completely out of hand. Her chest constricted when she thought about the five women in the house on top of the hill. Defenseless, without any form of protection.

Jody! Oh, my God. Jody. No! Not like this. Please, God. Please let her be safe. Let this be nothing but a bad dream!

Sam carefully stepped out of the car. Her senses on full alert. She felt the blood pumping through her veins and her breathing increased. The perspiration formed on her forehead and the palms of her hands were sticky and wet. She pushed the car door close with a soft click. Her face was drained of all color and her eyes dark with fear when she slowly, carefully approached the dark car with the two still figures. As soon as she came closer she could see the blood on the inside of the windscreen and she tried to push back a feeling of nausea, that threatened to make her lose her breakfast. With a dry, crackling noise a little twig broke under her foot and she held her breath, listening for any sound that would indicate that they were not alone. Only after a few minutes of dead silence, Sam slowly resumed her walk towards the car, which she was sure was an unmarked police car. She finally reached the back of the sedan and it took all her courage to look inside.

In the front of the car two men were slumped in their seats. There was no movement and Sam could clearly see neither of them was showing any signs of life. The blood on the windscreen was much more than just that and reality became sickingly clear to her. Both men were shot in the back of their head and the contents of their heads were splattered all over the front of the car. Sam had to turn away and take a few deep breaths to avoid throwing up. She turned around and Megan, who hadn’t taken her eyes off her friend, could see the horror in her eyes.

” Oh, God. Sarah,” she whispered, feeling her stomach clench.

With a few long strides Sam arrived back at the car and opened the door. Her face was pale, even her lips were white.

” Megan, ” she started, her voice hoarse. ” I want you to turn around and go to the police station. Tell them two of their officers are down. We need help up here.”

” But Sam, what about you?” Megan asked, while the tears were streaming down her face. ” What about Sarah and Jody and the rest. Sam, I….”

” You need to get help, Megan, ” Sam stressed. ” Keep it together, okay? It might be our only chance. I will run up to the house. This has just happened, I might be in time if I take the short cut. I will go through the bush, skip the corners.”

” What if you run into them?”

” For their sakes I’d better not,” Sam hissed, her face suddenly a ferocious mask of fury. ” Go, Megan. Go get help.”

Sam turned around and sprinted towards the side of the road, disappearing in the green wall of bushes and trees. Megan swallowed hard, put the car in reverse and headed down the hill with breakneck speed. She tried hard not to think about all the things that could happen with her lover and their friends.

” Please, no. Please, no.”

The words were automatically repeated in her head, like a silent mantra, while she skillfully steered her car down the hill.

” Let them be all right. Please, God. Let them be all right.”
Part 12
Sam desperately made herself a path through the dense bushes, while trying not to make too much noise. The last thing she needed was to draw the attention of a bunch of cop killers. She tried not to think of the things the men, who were responsible for the death of two police officers, were capable of doing to her lover, her family and her friends.

Sam softly cursed when her cotton slacks got tangled up in some very persistent lantana. The tough little thorns painfully penetrated the fabric stung and scratched her legs when she tried to free herself.

Impatiently Sam used her bare hands to pull herself free, ignoring the the little cuts it made on her fingers. As a matter of fact, she hardly felt it at all.

There was only one thing on her mind: getting to the house in time. Getting Jody and the rest out of there before the scumbags who were after her, beat her to it.

She knew they could only be a couple of minutes ahead of her and since she and Megan had not seen anything suspicious on their way to the mailbox, she figured that whoever was out there, was on foot. How else could they have sneaked up on two trained policemen?

Sam’s stomach rebelled when she remembered the gruesome scene she had witnessed. Two young men, shot in the head. Executed.

A shiver went down her spine when she thought about the coldness that would have provoked such an act.

” Please, let me be in time,” she whispered, pushing away some ferns and carefully avoiding another lantana bush. ” I can’t lose her. I can’t. I can’t .”

Finally, after what had felt like hours, Sam reached the clearing and was granted a full view of the house on top of the hill. She had crawled through the last few bushes and was laying on her stomach, hidden by some heavy branches of a wild berry bush. Her eyes scanned the house and the garden, looking for any sign of life, while all her muscles were tense, ready to jump up and run.

After a little while Sam became aware of the fact that she was holding her breath and slowly she let it out, replacing the stale air with a gulp of fresh one, that smelled like earth and sweet flowers. She stayed unmoving for another few minutes, slowly breathing in and out, >willing her racing heart to slow down.

Just when she was about to crawl forward a movement behind one of the windows caught her eye. Reality hit her with a sickening blow when she saw the outline of a large man, holding what appeared to be a gun.

“O, God, no,” Sam groaned, feeling the tears sting in the back of her eyes. ” What can I do now?”

She swallowed hard, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, trying not to notice the throbbing pain in her right leg.

” Focus, Stevenson,” an angry voice in the back of her head shouted. ” Focus! This is no time to fall apart. You can do that later, not now. You have to come up with a plan.”

” I have to create some kind of diversion, ” Sam decided. ” But how?”

Her eyes searched the huge yard, looking for something, anything, that would help her create a plan. They fell on a pile of wood.

A fire. No. Bad idea. I could burn down the whole hill. Some rocks. Maybe I can throw…yeah, right, King David. He has a gun. Remember? Wait a second. That pile of wood, that’s firewood. I bet there’s an axe there as well. Maybe if I can get to it and get into the house through one of the bedroom windows, I could…Well, I would have the element of surprise. Maybe I can knock someone senseless with it.

A vision of guns going off, hitting her or someone else was pushed away in the back of her mind. Sam felt she didn’t have much time. And any plan, however stupid it might sound, was better than nothing at all. Slowly she started to crawl towards the huge pile of firewood. Hoping and praying that no one with bad intentions, would look outside of the window any time soon.

An almost hysterical Megan had finally reached the police station, after a reckless drive down the hill, only a few near misses with the huge trees along the road.

The first police officer she had run into had not understood one word of her incoherent story, but realized something must have been terribly wrong. He had brought her into an office and immediately paged his superior.

Within two minutes Carol Wong came dashing into the office, followed by two more officers. When her eyes fell on the woman who was sitting on a chair, trying to hold a glass of water in her trembling hands, her heart sank.

” You are…Megan, right?” she started, pulling up a chair and sitting down in front of the distressed woman.

Megan could only nodd, trying control her breathing and calm down.

Carol clasped her hands together and leaned forward, looking Megan straight in the eyes.

” What happened, Megan?”she asked, more calmly than she felt.

Megan took a sip of water and a deep breath.

” They’re up at the house. The policemen in the car….Sam and I saw the car when we came back up after getting the mail. They are…dead. Shot.”

After those words all color was drained from Carol Wong’s face and suddenly she felt sick when the words sank in.

” The policemen in the car are shot?” she asked. ” Are you sure?”

Megan nodded and felt the tears stream down her face.

” Sam had a look inside when we spotted the car. She went up to the house on foot and told me to get help.”

The inspector turned around and cast a look at the three men who were standing near the door. They looked pale, expressions of hurt, anger and shock on their faces.

” Page Vinnie and get two cars. I’ll be there in a minute. Tell Jennifer to get in here and stay with this lady.”

She turned her attention back to the still shaking Megan and put a hand on her shoulder.

” We’re on our way over there now,” she said. ” Have you got any idea how many…?”

” No, ” Megan interrupted her. ” We didn’t see them. But there are five people at the house and Sam is somewhere out there as well.”

” Thank you, Megan,” Carol said, jumping up and turning around. She wanted to walk away, but Megan’s hand stopped her.

” Get them out of there safely. Please.” Megan whispered.

” I will try my damdest,” Carol promised, squeezing the hand before she released it. ” Just stay here. Jennifer will keep you company and as soon as I have news, I will let you know. I promise. Just hang in there, Megan.”

After those words, Carol was out the door, leaving a sobbing Megan behind.

” Okay, I will ask you for the last time: where is Samantha Stevens? I know she’s around here somewhere.”

Little Steven looked at the five women in front of him and used his gun for emphasis, pointing it at each and every one.

” She went out,” Jody answered, for the third time, trying to ignore the weapon that was almost shoved in her face a couple of times already. ” I swear. She is not here.”

” I wonder if you would still stick to that story if I would hurt….let’s say…that little sister of yours.”

He pointed at Fiona, who swallowed hard, but didn’t cast down her eyes when he looked at her. She cast him a defiant look, not realizing that only made him more angry.

” It wouldn’t change my story,” Jody’s soft voice broke the silence. ” Because what I just told you is the truth. She is not here.”

With a protective gesture Jody put her arm around Fiona’s shoulders and pulled her close, while her brain worked overtime.

If he is so desperate to find Sam, he must not have seen her and Megan go down the hill. That’s good. God, I hope they have noticed them and went to get some help. What happened to those police men who were supposed to keep watch? Did they go around them? Did they come from the other side of the hill? No, that’s impossible. There’s only one way up here. The other side is too steep, it’s one big cliff. Damnit, what happened here this morning? And where are Sam and Megan? They must know something is wrong or they would have been back half an hour ago! Please, God, let Sam be allright. Let her be safe. I can’t lose her. I can’t.

Little Steven walked towards the kitchen sink, pulling out a steak knife from between the stacked up dishes staring at it intently. The little smile on his face never reached his eyes when he turned back to the women, who were all sitting around the kitchen table. When they saw the coldness in his eyes they involuntarily shivered. They didn’t need a psychologist to understand the crazy, almost demented look in the big man’s eyes.

” Right. Okay, I can play that game, ” he smirked. ” I am done asking. Fred, bring that girl over here.”

Jody tightened her grip on Fiona, who softly whimpered and cast a look at the young man who had been standing in the doorway. To her he looked like the regular boy next door and it was hard to believe he was as coldhearted and ruthless as his companion.

Fred almost jumped when Little Steven called out his name. His eyes flew wide open and he nervously plucked at the hem of his shirt. The fear oozing off him was almost palpable. His eyes flew to his companion and back to the dark haired girl at the kitchen table. He looked as insecure as he felt and little Steven looked at him impatiently.

” You got a problem, Freddie boy?”he growled.

” Um….N..No, I….I..she said she wasn’t here, Steve, so….”

“And you believe that, huh? You are bloody stupid, Fred. Now, get that bloody sheila over here, before I really lose my bloody patience with you!!!”

Fred stepped forward, but the pleading look in a pair of ocean green eyes made him stop dead in his tracks. Jody didn’t take her eyes of him, but silently asked him to have mercy.

Fred picked up the sentiment and hesitated. Again he turned to Little Steven, a question in his eyes.

” You want a hole in your head, son?”

Little Steven aimed his gun at Fred’s head and they all saw his finger tightening around the trigger. Fred froze, unable to move, not even now, when his life seemed to depend on it. His fear paralyzed him and the only thing he could do was stare into that steel round eye, breathing death.

It was as if everybody present was holding their breath. Nobody moved and Lucy could feel Sarah, who was sitting next to her, tremble uncontrolably. Without taking her eyes off Little Steven, Lucy reached out and grabbed Sarah’s hand, squeezing it tightly.

Fred tried not to throw up when he remembered what had happened back on the road, just a little while ago. Little Steven had told him to be quiet and after telling him to pay attention, he had stalked up to the parked car, without being noticed. Fred had not really seen the two police men get shot, but the soft, plopping noises still echoed in his mind, almost making him physically ill. He now knew that his companion was capable of taking his life in a heart beat.

And for a moment he wondered if that would not be the best thing. His life was a mess. He had gotten himself in so much trouble, he wondered if he would ever be able to lead a normal life again. With a regular job and friends his own age.

Fred was about to take a step forward when Little Steven spoke again. His voice was low and void of emotion.

” Go find some ropes somewhere,” he ordered. ” We have to tie up this lot. Get a move on,baby boy, before I really lose my patience with you.”

While Fred almost bolted out of the kitchen, Little Steven’s eyes were fixed on Jody again.

He grinned a devilish grin and looked very pleased with himself.

” You know,” he said. ” I think you might be telling the truth. And you know the fun part about all this? I am sure that Dutch cheese head will be stupid enough to come back here. Probably thinks she can save the day.”

He giggled and scratched his two days old beard with the barrel of his gun.

” And I will be right here waiting for her. What do you think?” He leaned forward and brought his face so close to Jody’s, that she could smell his foul breath and see the tiny, red veins in the white of his eyes.

” Would she run faster if she heard someone scream?”

Little Steven chuckled and grabbed Jody’s chin, yanking her face up so he was looking straight into her eyes.

” Or would she run away? Fast!?”

Sam would never run away, you filthy scumbag! She has more style and courage in her little finger than you have in your whole body! Oh, Sam. Honey. Please stay away and let the police handle this. This guy is crazy! Oh, God. I pray you and Megan got some help.

Jody was determined not to be provoked. She just stared right back with a steady glance, outwardly not impressed by the large man’s threats. The anger she felt made her eyes darker and Little Steven could see the determination and defiance glow in the depths of green.

” Little spitfire, huh?” he hissed. ” Maybe it’s about time I should teach you a lesson!

Obviously you don’t know who you’re dealing with. Reds! I have been chasing your sorry ass for about a week now. Thanks to you the boss is about ready to skin me alive and feed me to the sharks! You realize how that makes me feel. Huh?”

Suddenly angry, Little Steven poked Jody hard in the chest with his gun and he laughed when he saw her cringe. Biting her lip not to scream, when a throbbing pain announced the birth of a big bruise.

” Just because you were so nosy and self righteouss. Copying those disks and taking them with you. Where did you hide them, bitch? Did you give ‘em to your boss’daughter? Sucking up to her, huh? Being the good girl!!! Well I have news for you! We’re not interested in those disks anymore! ” Little Steven giggled again and lowered his voice. ” It’s Samantha Stevenson we want now. And you know why?”

He looked around and brought his head close to Jody’s, who tried hard not to show her repulsion.

” She’s worth millions! Did you know that? Her family is loaded and Joe’s sure that daddy dear will pay a fortune to get his baby girl back….in one piece!”

He laughed again and took one of Jody’s red tresses of hair between his thumb and finger and softly stroked it. Genuinely amazed by it’s softness.

” You know, I bet Joe will be willing to cut you a deal when you tell me where the Dutchie is. Think about it, lass, you could end up rich!”

Hearing those words, Jody’s temper snapped and without thinking, her hand shot out and hit Little Steven square in the face.

” We’re not all snakes,” she forcefully spat. ” Or crazy, demented, greedy leeches.”

Oh, my God. What did I do now? Shit, shit, shit! I am dead. I know that now I am dead.

Jody closed her eyes to not see Little Stevens reaction. She was sure he was aiming his gun at her, ready to pull the trigger.

Don’t let him hit Fiona as well. Oh, God. Sam! I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I love you, honey. You know I do. I wanted a life with you, a future. You have my heart Sam, you always had.

A tear slid down from underneath Jody’s closed eyelids and with a pounding heart she waited….

Fred was frantically searching for the rope Little Steven had demanded. He already managed to find a few bits and pieces, big enough to tie around some hands or feet. He only needed a few more.

When walking into one of the bedrooms Fred suddenly realized that if he would run off, Little Steven would have no other choice than to let him go. It would be impossible for his companion to catch up with him and keep an eye on his hostages.

The prospect made Fred’s heart beat faster and with anticipation he looked at the window. He only needed to open it and he would be free. Just run off. Hitch hike up North, or down South and disappear into the anonomity of a big city. He could go to Sydney and try to get a job as a taxi driver. Or head up North, all the way up North to Darwin. Joe wouldn’t be able to find him there. Or maybe go inland and find a job on one of those huge farms.

Fred opened the door of one of the closets and rummaged through it, pulling free a duffel bag with ropes that were once used on camping trips. He automatically pulled them out and threw them on the bed. Knowing he had found more than enough to satisfy Little Steven.

Another longing glance at the window made him bite his lip in frustration. He listened nervously, while wanting to know what was going on in the kitchen. Did Little Steven get impatient already?

I could just jump out of that window and disappear. Why don’t I? I am not a killer. I thought I would be an errand boy and make some easy money. I never meant for any of this to happen. Why would I stay? If I do I will be accountable for murder as well. I didn’t try anything to stop him when he went to that car. God knows what he will do with those women…I’ll get out of here.

Fred quickly walked towards the window and unlocked it. But when he pushed aside the curtain a freckled face and a pair of dark green eyes suddenly blurred his vision. Slowly his hand slid off the window sill, limply hanging down his side.

She’s the same age as my sister. What would Nancy think of me if I would just leave them be? Without even trying to help? I might be able to help. Do something. I am the only one they have and they think I am a criminal, just like Steve. Maybe I can use that fact. Give Little Steven what he wants. For now. Maybe I can do something….

Fred slowly walked back to the bed and picked up the ropes he had gathered. His brain was already busy working out a plan to stop Little Steven and somehow try to make up for past mistakes. With his arms full of rope he stepped towards the door, nearly tripping over the duffel bag, that was sitting in the middle of the room.

He used his foot to kick away the bag and hit something hard. Curious Fred put his load down and knelt down, gingerly reaching into the bag. His fingers came across something cold and suddenly Fred’s heart skipped a

beat and all of a sudden he was filled with hope.

It might work. I have to be really careful, but I might be able to do this.

He tucked his find in the waistband of his jeans, covering it with his shirt and made his way back to the kitchen. He did not notice a pair of clear blue eyes, watching him intently from just outside the bedroom window. After the door closed, the tall owner of those eyes rose up and quickly climbed into the window.

The silence in the kitchen was almost palpable. The sound of Jody hitting Little Steven in his face had the effect of a gunshot. The echo lingered in the air and everybody held her breath, waiting for the inevitable.

Fiona had grabbed Jody’s hand and held on so tight, that she cut of the flow of blood to her sister’s finger, which neither of them noticed.

Little Steven slowly rubbed his cheek, where Jody’s hand had left a red mark and he squinted his eyes when he looked at her, clearly calculating his next move.

” I should shoot you for that,” he spat, his voice filled with menace. ” But I have a feeling I might still need you for something.”

Unexpectedly his arm reached out and his big fist collided with the side of Jody’s face. The impact was so strong and sudden, that she nearly fell off the chair. Only Fiona’s hand prevented her from sliding onto the kitchen floor.

Jody gasped for breath, willing herself not to pass out from the fierce blow. She quickly blinked her eyes, trying to get rid of the darkness that threatened to send her into oblivion.

Slowly she shook her head, while the nerve endings in her cheek and the side of her head screamed out in agony. She felt a warm, thick fluid slide down her face and she realized her eyebrow must have been cut.

At least he didn’t kill me. I am still alive, we all are! Maybe we will still have a chance.

Sudddenly the kitchen door was opened and Little Stevens attention was drawn away from the young woman in front of him

” Good job, Freddie my boy, ” he smirked, when Fred came back into the kitchen carrying the requested rope. ” Tie them up and do it tightly. I don’t want any surprises.”

Fred silently went to work, starting with Joan McDonnell, tying her hands together behind the back of the kitchen chair. He tried not to bind them too tight, but Little Steven suddenly stood behind him, checking up on his work.

” Sloppy job, Fred, ” he grunted. ” It will only take her a few seconds to wiggle her way out of this knot. Make it tighter.”

Obediently Fred untied the knot and pulled the rope tighter. When he checked it he had an apologetic look in his eyes and when Joan McDonnell looked at him, he silently mouthed ‘Sorry’, suprising her by this action.

He quickly cast down his eyes and went over to Sarah and Lucy, who was watching him like a hawk. She had noticed his apology and that had awaken her curiosity. If Fred was reluctant to even bind their hands, they could have chance to persuade him to take sides and help them to get out of the situation they were in, unharmed.

When Fred was down to the last hostage, Fiona, Little Steven sighed contentedly and walked over to the kitchen door.

” I’ll have a look outside, Fred, ” he explained. ” Keep an eye on this lot and don’t let any of these idiots try something stupid.”

With that he disappeared outside, leaving the group of women and Fred in a stunned silence.

The latter one nervously looked around, not knowing what to do with the sudden trust his companion had bestowed on him. Five pairs of eyes watched him intently. Outside they could hear the heavy footsteps of Little Steven , who was apparently walking around the house, checking the windows. Because now and then they could hear him close a shutter, locking it from the outside.

” You could untie us, ” Lucy suddenly whispered, afraid that Little Steven would be able to overhear anything they would say.

” And then what?” Fred answered, swallowing hard and moistening his dry lips. ” Did you see that gun he has? He will use it, you know. Without even thinking about it. If you would try to make a run for it, he would just shoot you down. He would.”

He scratched the back of his head, desperately trying to come up with a plan. When that move pulled up his shirt a little, Sarah gasped.

” You found my gun,” she noticed, not knowing whether to be excited or scared about that.

Fred quickly lowered his arm and felt the cold steel that was tucked in the waistband of his jeans.

” Is it loaded?” he asked, his eyes wide. ” I didn’t have time to check it.”

” It is,” Sarah answered, her face grim. ” I cleaned and loaded it yesterday, when Brian got shot. I was determined to keep us all safe. Guess I was wrong,” she ended bitterly.

Jody shifted in her chair and tried to pull the rope that was keeping her in place. It wasn’t too tight, thankfully, but it would still be hard to pull herself free. Every move she made hurt her head, that was throbbing painfully. She could feel that her right eye was swollen and a steady trickle of blood slowly slid down her face, to disappear in the collar of her shirt.

” Do you know how to use that thing?” she bluntly asked Fred, her voice hoarse and unsteady.

” I…I guess,” he stammered

” What kind of criminal are you anyway?” Fiona suddenly asked, her eyes blazing. ” You do exactly what that piece of….shit tells you to do, but in the meantime…”

” Fiona!” Joan McDonnell’s voice suddenly warned.

Fiona rolled her eyes and tried to look at her mother, which wasn’t an easy task, because with her hands tied behind her chair, she could hardly bend foreward.

” Mom! This isn’t Little House on the Prairie, you know! This is for real and that…bloke outside is a dangerous killer. And my guess is he’s a loony as well. He just beat the hell out of Jody. In my book that defines him as a piece of shit! And that means I am still being kind.”

Lucy nervously chuckled, casting a look at her mother, who was sitting next to her.

” Don’t worry mom, it’s the stress,” she explained.

” It’s not the language, girls,” Joan McDonnell explained, sounding tired. ” I don’t want them to get abusive again. God knows what they will be capable off.”

The words were directed to her daughters, but her eyes were on Fred, who insecurely shuffled his feet.

” I won’t hurt anyone,” he answered, feeling very akward. “In fact,” he looked at the door and lowered his voice. ” In fact, I am trying to come up with a plan to get us all out of here.”

” Good for you,” Lucy sneered. ” You could start untying us, you know. That would help.”

” I don’t think….”

Fred’s answer was interrupted by the sound of something heavy that was dragged along the porch. He could hear Little Steven’s footsteps and suddenly feared that his companion was up to something neither of them would like.

Quickly Fred walked towards the door, trying to push it open. But the door didn’t move.

Frowning he tried it again and when he heard a psychotic chuckle, he knew that Little Steven must have blocked the door with a heavy object.

” What are you doing, Steven?” Fred called out, his voice a pitch higher than usual.

” Locking you in, pretty boy. What does it sound like?”

A cold hand seemed to grab his wildly beating heart and slowly squeeze it. Taking his breath away and sending shivers down his spine.

” Why?” his voice croaked.

” I have no need for all of you,” the muffled answer came. ” It’s the blonde I want. You guys are just disposals.”

Fred’s clammy hands tried the doorknob once again.

” What are you going to do?”

Again the chilling chuckle.

” That’s a surprise, Freddie boy. You just have to wait and see. And don’t try to climb out of the windows, because you can’t. I have closed all the shutters. This is the last one.”

After those words the shutter outside the kitchen window was shut, leaving them all in darkness. The scraping sound made them all realize that it was bolted from the outside.

They were trapped.

” There’s a light switch just next to the door, Fred,” Sarah’s voice sounded, suddenly very calm.

They could hear Fred reaching for it and after he few seconds the lamp over the kitchen table came on, bathing them all in a soft glow.

” Untie us, Fred, ” Joan McDonnell ordered in a no-nonsense voice. ” I don’t think we will have much time.”

Obediently he knelt behind her chair, trying to untie the knot with trembling fingers.

” There’s a knife in the kitchen sink,” Lucy suggested, casting a worried look at her older sister, who had been very quiet and looked like she could faint any minute. The blood still trickled down her face, that was an unnatural shade of white. Contrasting sharply with her freckles and the color of her hair.

Fred retrieved the sharp knife and it only took him a second to slid through the rope, which fell in a heap on the floor.

Jody was the last one who was set free and Fred looked at Lucy with worried eyes.

” Is she gonna be okay?”

” How would I know? I am not a doctor,” Lucy snapped, kneeling down next to her sister on one side, while her mother was kneeling down on the other side. ” This is your friend’s handywork.”

” He’s not my friend,” Fred bit back.

” Stop fighting,” Joan McDonnell sighed. ” We don’t have time for that.”

” We need to get out of here,” Sarah said, walking towards the door of the hall. ” Maybe we can get out through one of the bedroom windows. If we break the glass, we might be able to kick out one of the shutters.”

” And what if he’s still out there?” Lucy replied calmly. ” He has a gun he likes to use. He is probably waiting for us to do something like that.”

” Wait for the police,”Jody suddenly mumbled with difficulty. ” I am sure Sam and Megan knew something was up. I bet they went to the police.”

” That might be the best option,” Joan McDonnell agreed. ” It can’t be long before they are here.”

” They’d better hurry though, ” Fiona suddenly spoke from near the blocked kitchen door. ” I think I smell smoke.”
Part 13
Sam carefully climbed through the window, trying to avoid making any noise at all. Her long legs quickly touched the ground and she stood still, listening to the surrounding sounds.

There was nothing unusual at first. From the kitchen she could hear the mumbled voice of a man, but she wasn’t able to put words to the sounds. She stepped inside the room and tiptoed to the door that Fred had closed behind him. She rested her hand on the knob and slowly turned it , praying that the door wouldn’t squeak. It didn’t and Sam promised herself to compliment Megan and Sarah about the maintenance of their house later.

While holding her breath she slowly opened the door, the ax clenched in her left hand.

Against a gun, it wouldn’t be much of a weapon, but at least it was something, she reasoned.

Tantalizing slow she opened the door and peeked through the little crack, inside the hall. On the opposite side she could see the kitchen door, which was closed. She waited a little while, afraid to make a noise and give away her presence. Her eyes fixed on the kitchen door she listened. Her heart was beating heavy and she could almost hear the pounding in her ears. After a few minutes she heard the closing of a door and her head jerked up.

Somebody had left the kitchen! That could only mean one thing. One of the men had left the house.

Sam calculated the distance to the door and knew it would only cost her about three seconds to come barging into the kitchen. But what if the remaining man had a gun? And what if he was willing to use it ? According to Carol Wong there had been two men at The Reef, when Brian was shot. The shooter had seemed very confident, but his companion nervous and skittish, according to the testimony of the few witnesses. Sam was sure she would be able to overpower him. But the other one, she wasn’t sure.

While debating with herself, Sam heard footsteps outside the bedroom window and without thinking, she stepped inside the hall, closing the door behind her.

” What do you mean you smell smoke?” Lucy snapped at Fiona, her eyes suddenly worried.

” I smell smoke,” Fiona repeated, her eyes nervously flicking from her sister to the door and back again. “Come over here. You can smell it.”

In a few strides Lucy was at the door and sniffed carefully. She paled when realizing her youngest sister was right.

” We have to get out of here,” she stated with a strained voice.

” How?” Sarah asked. ” That idiot is out there with a gun. He’ll use it, I am sure. He’s just waiting for us to do just that, come outside. Besides, he blocked the door and all the windows.”

” Maybe not all of them,” Fred sounded, a bit hopeful.

While they were discussing the situation, smoke started to appear from under the kitchen door and small tendrils slowly rose up, like a silent warning. There wasn’t much time left.

” Stop the car,” Carol Wong ordered, as soon as she saw the unmarked police car blocking half the road.

Before the car came to an halt, the police officer had already jumped out and ran towards the car with the two, dead bodies. Even before she arrived, Carol knew that Megan had been right.

The men inside were dead. Shot through the head. Suddenly she was filled with an ice cold anger , her face set in a grim mask of hurt and determination.

” Can you get that car around?”

” I don’t think so,” Vinnie, the driver said, looking outside the window and measuring the distance between the car he drove and the edge of the road. “I think we’ll go over the side if we try to….”

” Get out and help me push this car back into the bush,” Carol Wong ordered.

” But…that’s a crime scene, I don’t think…”

” Then don’t,” his boss snapped. ” As long as you get your ass over here and give me a hand. There’s lifes at stake up that hill. Get a move on.”

As quick as lightning Vinnie was out the car to help Carol Wong push the car with the bodies of two of his co workers back into the bush, off the side of the road. He tried not to look through the window, but his eyes were drawn to the scene like a magnet.

One of the men inside was his high school buddy. Married only for two years and recently became a father

for the first time.

When Carol Wong hear a suppressed sob, she turned to look at the tall police officer who was standing beside her. She swallowed hard and gently placed a hand on his arm.

” I know, Vinnie, ” she whispered, the pain evident in her voice. ” Let’s cry later. We have to nail the bastard who did this.”

Vinnie slowly nodded and turned to his boss, She saw the pained expression leave his face, making place for a grim, determined one.

” Let’s get him.”

They headed back to their car and Carol motioned to the two police cars coming towards them. They traveled up the narrow road as fast as they could, leaving behind big clouds of dust, and a thin, grey layer on the roof of the unmarked policecar that was pushed off the road.

Sam stayed close to the wall when she crossed the hall towards the kitchen door. If the door opened, at least she wouldn’t be immediately seen, like a deer trapped in the headlights of a car. It would give her a few extra seconds to respond. If things went well.

The sounds coming from the kitchen became more clear as Sam slowly approched. The tight grip on the wooden handle of the ax made her knuckles look white and small drops of perspiration formed on her forehead and upper lip. Sam didn’t even notice that the back of her shirt was sticking to her body, she was too concerned with what was going on in the kitchen. Holding her breath she listened, trying to make sense of the small bits and pieces she was able to hear.

Suddenly a voice was raised and Sam stiffened. Jody!

” As much as I like standing here chatting with the lot of you, I think it’s time to split,” Lucy remarked, her voice almost dripping with sarcasm. ” I don’t know about you all, but becoming smoked meat is not on my list of things to do.”

She walked towards the kitchen door, but was stopped by Sarah.

” We all know we’re in a predicament here, Lucy,” Sarah sighed. ” But let’s stick together, okay? We might have a better chance. And maybe the police…”

” Police?” Lucy sneered. ” I haven’t heard or seen any of those faithful, ‘ We are here to protect you’ civil servants yet. Have you?”

In the meantime Fiona and her mother were stuffing wet tea towels under the door, to keep the smoke out, at least for the time being. They wordlessly worked together like a well oiled team, while Fred stood watching, his face pale and his hands trembling.

” I could try to get out,” he suddenly spoke. ” If I will come barging in through the door, Steven will come after me. That will give all of you time to try and get away through one of the other doors, in the back.”

” No!” Jody suddenly spoke up, almost shouting. It was the first word she uttered in a long time and everybody froze, watching her.

Slowly rubbing her sore cheek, Jody shook her head.

” We’re all in this together. We can’t sit here and wait for the house to really catch fire. What do we know about the road up here? It could be blocked as well. I agree with Lucy, we have to get out. But Fred, we need to stick together. Don’t be the hero, okay? Leave that to the movie stars.”

Suddenly, without any warning, the kitchen door flew open and Sam stormed inside, her eyes wide from anxiety and a big ax clutched in her hands. Her eyes bored into Fred’s immediately and unconciously he stepped back, until he felt the kitchen counter giving him something to lean against.

” Stay where you are,” she growled, seeing the fear in his eyes.

Her eyes turned to Jody, who was still sitting in her chair, one side of her face badly bruised and smeared with blood, that still slowly seeped from her cut eyebrow.

” Oh, honey.”

Sam knelt down to her lover and carefully wrapped her long arms around the slumped figure. She felt Jody relax against her, putting her sore head on her shoulder.

” Sam,” came the muffled response. ” I am so glad you’re here. I knew you would come back. He said he was after you now, I..I was so scared I…”

” Ssh, “Sam softly comforted Jody. ” I am here now. Megan went to get the police, they should be here any minute now.”

” The house is on fire, Sam” Fiona piped up, her eyes big and full of fear.

” We have to get out of here then,” Sam stated, Jody still wrapped in her arms. ” Do you think you can walk, sweetie?”

“Yeah, sure. Anything better than becoming the main course of the barbecue,” Jody joked, feeling so much better now Sam was back.

” Steven has a gun,” Fred dared to say, still impressed by the furious look Sam had greeted him with when she came storming in.

” I have an ax, ” Sam answered. ” We can chop down a door or window and get out.”

” I have a gun as well,” Fred said, reaching under his shirt. He pulled out the gun and stretched out his arm, offering it to Sam.

Sam swallowed and wished, for the first time in her life that she knew how to use such a thing.

” Give it to me,” Sarah said, determination written all over her face. She took the gun from Fred’s outstretched hand. ” It’s mine and I do know how to use it.”

Joan McDonnell had watched the exchange quietly and cast a worried look at her daughter’s tall lover.

” Are you sure this is the best option, Sam. Somebody might get hurt.”

” I don’t know, Joan,” Sam truthfully answered, while softly rubbing her hand in circles over Jody’s back, not even anware she was doing it. ” All I know is that we have to get out of here. When I came in through the bedroom window about five minutes ago, the coast was clear. But whatever we do, we have to get out of the kitchen. Those towels won’t stop the smoke for long.”

” Let’s go then,” Lucy spoke, opening the door towards the hall, dragging Fiona with her.

” Can you walk?” Sam gently asked Jody, taking her hand.

Jody nodded and slowly stood up, which increased the throbbing in her head. She breathed in a few times to fight the dizziness and smiled when she saw Sam’s worried expression.

” I’m fine, honey. Just a bit of a head ache. Let’s get out of here.”

Outside, Little Steven had stacked the wooden furniture that was on the porch, against the door and had drenched it with gasoline he had found in a jerrycan. He hadn’t used it all up, but saved some to sprinkle on the wooden shutters of all the bedroom windows.

With delight he had seen the chairs and table catch fire quickly and he chuckled when he realized the house would go up in flames, destroying everything and everyone in it. Joe would be proud of him. The tall Dutch woman wasn’t inside, so that meant he would still have a chance to find her and bring her to his boss. That would get him all the money he needed to run from the police. He would be rich and they would never been able to track him down.

If just those last few shutters would catch fire! Little Steven tried again to set fire to one of the bedrooms, but somehow it didn’t work. He frowned and softly mumbled a few curses, when after a little sputtering, there was only a thin tendril of smoke, but no flames.

” More gasoline,” he grumbled, turning around to walk back to the porch.

He cocked his head when he heard a sound and squinted his eyes when he looked towards the driveway.

Cars!

He could hear the revving of the engines and through an opening in the trees, he could see a small cloud of dust.

” Damnit!” he cursed, quickly looking around, trying to find a way to escape.

He knew there was only one road leading to the house, but at the moment that wasn’t an option. He had to get away and he had to do it fast.

Little Steven looked around and his eyes fell on a small path, leading towards the trees behind the house. With a worried glance over his shoulder he began to run towards the line of trees. Hoping he would be invisible from whoever was speeding up the road.

” Damnit, damnit, damnit!

” he panted, while running as fast as he could. ” I hate bush walking!”

” God Allmighty!” Carol Wong exclaimed, when they finally rounded the last corner, getting a full few of the house. ” It’s on fire!”

She quickly grabbed the microphone of the radio and pushed the button.

” This is Carol Wong. We need assistence. There’s a fire up on Junction road. I repeat, the house on top of Junction road is on fire. Over”

” Roger that, inspector. House on top of Junction road. The fire brigade is on it’s way. Ambulance as well. Over.”

” Thanks, Les. Over and out.”

Close to the house the three police cars skidded to a stop and six officers jumped out immediately, crouching down behind the relative safety of the open car doors. With their guns drawn they waited for Carol Wong to make the decision about what to do next.

Carol’s eyes scanned the house and the treeline behind it. Everything seemed clear, but it was easy for anyone to hide behind the bushes and trees, letting them walk into an ambush.

” We know there’s at least two of them,” Carol Wong shouted, her eyes never leaving the burning furniture on the porch. ” I will go in first. Vinnie, you are next. Trisha and Peter, you will follow us when I give the signal. Bob and Carl, cover our backs.”

After these commands Carol Wong sprinted towards the house. The adrenaline rushed through her body, giving her the strength and speed she needed to reach the porch in record time. Nothing happened. No noise, except for the crackling of burning wood.

Vinnie followed his boss, while his fellow officers watched with pounding hearts. They knew their action was a risky one. They could easily be shot from somewhere behind the trees, but they didn’t have much of a choice. They knew there were people inside the building and waiting too long could mean they would be severely injured, or even die.

Vinnie crouched down next to Carol Wong and looked at her with a questioning gaze. He was panting and the persperation had already formed on his forehead.

” Okay, boss,” he breathed. ” What’s next?”

Carol Wong turned around and motioned Trisha and Peter to come over, which they did, with amazing speed.

” Vinnie and I will go around the left side, you two take the right. Let’s see if we can find a way inside. Stick together and don’t forget there’s at least two of them. Don’t let them surprise you. We have to get those people out, but be careful. I don’t want any dead heroes.”

Without saying another word the four of them split up, carefully making their way around the house, staying as close to the wall as possible.

” Looks like all the shutters are closed, ” Trisha Waters remarked, stealing a glance around the corner. ” They must have locked them in and ran.”

” Bastards, ” her coworker Peter Jones growled. ” More reason to keep an eye on those bushes, Trish. I promised my wife to be home in time for dinner.”

Trisha let out a nervous chuckle and crouched around a rosebush, cautiously avoiding the sharp thorns.

” Seems like they tried to set fire to these as well, ” she remarked, pointing at the small, blackened spots on one of the shutters. ” Maybe we got here just in time.”

” Yeah, and maybe they are still around,” Peter remarked. ” Just be careful.”

Inside, the women had arrived in the master bedroom, discovering it was locked from the outside as well.

” Okay, this is it,” Sam spoke. ” We have to break through it. I can smell the smoke in here already. We have to get out.”

” What are you going to do, Sam? ” Fiona nervously asked.

” You will all stand back, stay away from the window and stay down. First I will break the glass and then I will knock those shutters out with the ax.”

Sam cast an apologetic look at Sarah, who tried to smile and shrugged her shoulders.

” Go ahead, ” she softly answered. ” It’s just a window.”

” Lucy, make sure everybody is in the back of the room and stay down.”

” Careful, Sam,” Jody’s soft voice pleaded. ” I…just be careful.”

“I will, ” Sam smiled. ” Don’t worry. I have too much to live for.”

She lowered her head and placed a soft kiss on her lover’s forehead.

” Get out of sight. Okay?”

Sam waited until everybody was in the back of the room, before focusing her attention to the window. It was a large window and she realized there would be a lot of sharp glass falling inside once she used the ax to break it.

My goodness, look at me. I look like a hero out of a comic book! And I thought I would come over here on a business trip! And right now I feel responsible for five other human beings. How did this all happen? I look like a pathetic copy of Bruce Willis here! Okay, here we go.
Sam took a deep breath and turning away her head from the window, she hit the glass with backside of the ax, jumping back immediately when she heard a crackling sound. She shielded her face with her left arm, protecting herself from the falling pieces of glass. When she cast a look at the damaged window a small smile tugged on the corner of her mouth.

Good job, Stevenson. Bulls eye!
Only a few sharp pieces of glass were stuck in the bottom of the windowsill and it only took Sam one swipe with the ax to remove them and clear the whole area from the debris.

Right! Next stop: the shutters.

Sam placed her feet apart, so she had a good balance, ignoring the cramp that started in her right leg and grabbed the ax with both her hands. Without thinking twice she swung it back over her right shoulder and with a powerful movement she buried the sharp metal deep in the wood of the shutter. When she pulled the ax back, she heard a satisfying ripping noise.

Through the cracks in the wood, sunlight streamed into the room and Sam knew it would only take a few more blows to either bring the shutters down, or open them up.

” Go for the middle, Sam,” Fiona encouraged. ” They might pop open.”

” Thanks, Fi, I will,” Sam answered, swinging the ax back over her shoulder again.

Fiona was right. The next blow sprung the hinges on the outside and suddenly the shutters gave way to the brutal force and sprang open.

Immediately Sam jumped back, staying out of sight, her blue eyes searching a pair of green ones across the room.

So far, so good.

Jody managed a weak smile and tried not to show Sam how worried she was. The window was open, they could go outside, away from the fire. But where was Little Steven? Was he waiting for them to come out? And where was the police? Had Megan managed to warn them and were they on their way? What would be the next move? Would it be the right one?

Tantalizing slow Sam moved to the battered window, keeping her back against the wall. Her head inched it’s way to the window sill and from the corner of her eye, she could see the rosegarden. It seemed quiet, no signs of life.

Sam released the breath she didn’t know she had been holding and moved a little closer, to be able to carefully peek outside. Five pairs of anxious eyes followed her every move. No one spoke. No one dared to move.

Just as Sam reached the window sill and slightly bent her head to look around the corner an unexpected motion stopped her dead in her tracks.

” Police! Don’t move! Put your hands where I can see them!”

Too surprised to react Sam just stood there, the ax still clenched into her hand. Her clear blue eyes looked at the tall, brown haired woman in front of her and slowly reality sank in.

Sam obediently dropped the ax and slowly put her hands in the air, while her eyes started sparkling.

” I could have hurt you, you know, ” she deadpanned.

It was dead silent for just a few seconds, but then Trishia Waters heard relieved giggling coming from the back of the room and she visibly relaxed.

” It’s okay, Peter,” she called out to her fellow officer, who was standing on the other side of the window.

” Are you all okay? And where is Hayes?”

” We’re fine now, ” Sam answered, motioning the others to come to the window. ” But not thanks to Hayes. He wanted to burn them alive. I guess he took off.”

” Is Megan okay? ” Sarah nervously asked.

” She’s at the station, ” Trishia answered. ” We will let her know you lot are okay. First we have to get you all of here. The front of the house is on fire, mostly the porch. The fire brigade is on it’s way,so maybe there won’t be that much damage.”

” Come on, let’s get out of here,” Sam said, grabbing Jody’s hand.

” Stay near Peter here, we are not sure where Hayes went to, he could still be around.”

Sam nodded and carefully helped Jody climb through the window, making sure that there was nothing her lover could hurt herself on. Trisia Waters and Peter Jones grabbed her arms and gently lifted her to the ground, under the watchful eyes of Sam. Fiona was next and after her Joan McDonnell and Sarah.

Peter Jones, assisted by Carol Wong and Vinnie quickly herded them to the waiting police cars, making sure the women were safe inside.

Sam and Lucy were the last ones who climbed through the window and Lucy gratefully smiled into a pair of greenblue eyes, when her arm was grabbed while climbing out.

” Thanks, ” she smiled.

” I’m Lucy McDonnell.

Nice to meet you.”

” Trishia Waters, ” the police woman grinned, trying not to show how captivated she was by the dark green eyes that bore into her own.

Sam hid a grin and made good use of her long legs, jumping out of the window without any help.

” Show off,” Lucy mumbled, which earned her a playful swat from her sister’s lover.

” Come on, let’s get you two to the car,” Trisia interrupted. ” It might not be safe yet.”

She hardly finished speaking those words when Carol Wong suddenly shouted.

” Trish! Get down!”

Thanks to years of training and excellent reflexes Trisia Waters immediately tackled Lucy, who was walking just in front of her. They hit the ground with an audible thump and Trishia shielded the smaller woman’s body with her own. The loud sound of a gun being fired rang through the trees. By the sound behind her Trishia knew Sam had hit the ground as well and she prayed it wouldn’t have been the bullet that had brought her down.

” Are you…?”

” I am fine, ” Sam croaked. ” Shit! What a mess.”

” What the hell was that?” Lucy idignant, muffled voice came from underneath the tall police woman’s body.

” Stay down, ” Vinnie’s voice came from somewhere behind one of the police cars. ” Whatever you do, don’t get up until we say it’s okay.”

Trishia slightly shifted her body, to give Lucy a little more breathing room, which earned her a soft ” Thanks.”

” I guess our friend is still around, huh?” Lucy remarked with a sigh. ” I knew it was almost too good to be true to be rescued and live happily ever after.”

” It will be over soon,” Trishia answered. ” We will get him, it’s just a matter of time.”

” Keep an eye on that line of trees, ” Carol Wong ordered her fellow police officers. ” Vinnie and I will try and get behind him. ”

She crawled away from the car, closely followed by Vinnie, who held his gun tightly clenched in his fist. His eyes never leaving the line of trees behind the house. He knew Steven Hayes could probably see them and they were running the risk of being shot at, even though it was very difficult to take a good aim at the distance of about a hundred and fifty meters.

Everything was silent. Even the birds, startled by the gun that had gone off earlier, still didn’t move. Only the soft rustling of the leaves was heard and in the distance the piercing siren of a fire truck heralding it’s presence.

Little Steven Hayes had been peeking through the bushes he was hiding behind. With disgust he had watched the police cars arrive and four officers crawl around the house some time later. He was getting really angry when he saw the women he had locked inside the house, came crawling out of one of the windows that had been busted from the inside.

” Filthy traitor’ he had mumbled, watching Fred meekly follow one of the police officers to the car. ” I will get you for this.”

But what finally pushed Little Steven’s limits, was the sight of a tall blonde, emerging from the house. Realizing Samanta Stevens must have been in the house while he was still there, made his blood boil and he grinded his teeth in frustration.

” Joe is gonna have my hide, ” he growled.

Without thinking twice he had pulled his gun and aimed it at the back of the Dutch woman.

” Die, bitch!” he cursed, pulling the trigger.

Afterwards Little Steven would not have been able to tell how the petite Asian woman managed to spot him. But the moment his finger pulled the trigger she shouted a warning and the three women close to the house suddenly dove to the ground. Maybe she had seen him through the dense bushes. Maybe the sunlight had been bouncing off his gun. But he missed. And he knew he didn’t have another chance.

Little Steven did the only thing he could think of that moment. He ran. Disappearing in the forrest behind the house.

” Is that your gun poking in my back or are you just happy to see me?” Lucy joked, feeling Trishia chuckle after those words.

“I’d better not go into that, ” she laughed. ” I am still in uniform, you know. But I think I get the point. I will give you some more breathing room.”

Lucy could feel the body that was shielding hers shift a little and the pressure on her legs lessened.

” Thanks, ” she mumbled, wondering why she wasn’t freaked out. She had just been shot at and could have been injured, or worse, but instead of being intimidated by that, she felt thoroughly protected by the tall police woman, who had tackled her some moments earlier.

Lucy shifted a little so she could cast a sideway glance at the woman next to her. A pair of sparkling greenblue eyes looked straight into her dark green ones and involuntarily she could feel a blush creep up her cheeks.

Wow! What’s that? She mused, her gaze still being held by Trishia’s eyes. Nah! Couldn’t be. Could it? You’re in trouble, McDonnell! Admit it, you are impressed. She’s definetely cute and that uniform….Mmmm…looks good! Dad is so not going to survive this!

A small smile tugged on the corner of Trishia’s mouth when she saw the expression on Lucy’s face and she slowly averted her gaze. Her body still tingled from the contact with Lucy’s and in spite of the situation they were in, her hormones were jumping up and down, almost shouting for attention.

” If you two are done staring at each other, could we maybe crawl to one of those cars?” Sam suddenly deadpanned. ” That bullet might have missed me, but my leg is killing me.”
Part 14
It hadn’t taken the local fire department long to put out the fire that was set on the porch. Within fifteen minutes the flames were extinquished and the only reminder of it was the smoke that slowly found it’s way into the clear sky and the blackened door and outer wall that bordered the kitchen. There was a lot of damage to the kitchen area, but the rest of the house had been spared, much to everybody’s relief.

Sarah had been nervously looking at the firemen, while they were quickly dousing the flames and smiled a pale, yet grateful smile at one of the fire fighters when he came over to tell her it had been an easy job and the house was rescued.

Sam had been glued to Jody’s side, while a paramedic, from the ambulance that had been dispatched, cleaned up her face and was able to close that little gap in her eyebrow by using a small butterfly.

” I am afraid your face will be sore for a few days, young lady,” the elderly man said. ” And you’ll sport a nice, big bruise, but I don’t think there’s been done any more damage than that.”

” Are you sure?” Sam asked, not reassured at all.

” Your friend’s nose and cheekbone are not broken,” the paramedic patiently explained. ” Of course there can always be a hairlibe fracture, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Something like that should heal by itself. But if you’d like, we can take you back to the hospital with us to take an x-ray.”

” No, I am fine, ” Jody answered.

She was holding a cold pack, wrapped in a soft piece of fabric against the side of her face.

” You’ll be fine, lass,” the paramedic smiled. ” But you’re always welcome to come by the hospital if you think anything is wrong.”

” I will. Thanks, ” Jody smiled back, which was akward to do because of the quickly darkening bruise at the side of her face.

Sam smiled at her, her blue eyes conveying all she felt for the woman in front of her and not caring about all the onlookers, she wrapped her arms around Jody, enveloping her in a warm hug.

Jody sighed and rested her aching head against Sam’s shoulder, grateful for the way things had turned out. Revelling in the comfort and love she felt for the tall Dutch woman.

” So, what do we do now, Sam?” Lucy’s voice suddenly sounded from behind one of the police cars.

Sam turned her head to face her lover’s sister and quirked one eyebrow.

” What do you think? Carol Wong told us to wait here with these police men, while they are busy chasing that idiot. I guess we will do just that.”

” I am just dying for a cuppa,” Lucy mumbled. ” I am an addict, I can almost smell the coffee.”

” That’s called hallucinating,” Fiona chuckled from inside the police car.

She glanced at one of the other police cars, looking at Fred’s bent head. He had been quiet and subdued, when he was handcuffed and put inside the vehicle.

“Is that necessarry?” Joan McDonnel had asked, somehow feeling sorry for the boy, because in her eyes that was all he really was, just a boy.

The police officer had looked at her calmly, but determined.

” We think he was at The Reef when the shooting took place, Mrs. McDonnell. He’s a suspect in a murder attempt.”

Fred had cringed when those words were spoken and had bent his head in shame, not daring to look up and meet anyones eyes.

” Is he going to prison?” Fiona softly asked Trishia Waters, who was standing next to the car she, Lucy and her mother were sitting in.

Trishia’s eyes rested on Fiona’s worried face and she couldn’t help smiling, noticing the remarkable resemblence between the teenager and her older sister.

” He will be held in custody, ” she explained. ” There are a lot of charges against him and his partner, I…”

” His ‘partner’ was trying to kill him as well,” Fiona snorted, full of disgust. ” He was trying to help us, you know. He didn’t agree with that other bloke.”

” You can tell that story when we go to the police station, Fiona, and make your statement ” Trishia answered. ” I am sure that will help his case.”

” When will we go? We’ve been sitting here waiting for about an hour now.”

” When the boss says so,” Trishia patiently answered, her eyes constantly scanning the tree lines. ” They are looking for Steven Hayes, who must be around here somewhere. He has a gun and is considered dangerous.”

Megan had been a nervous wreck all the the time she was waiting at the police station. She had tried to think positive thoughts, not giving into the temptation of making up her own dramatic scenarios.

When the call came in about the fire, she had almost jumped up and ran out, but was held back by the strong grip of the woman who was keeping her company. It had taken her all her willpower not to slap the woman and make a run for it. So she had stayed. Nervously pacing the room, her heart pounding almost painfully in her chest. Silently praying for the safety of her lover and their friends. All the time the image of the lonely car, with it’s two lifeless occupants firmly planted in her mind.

Time had crawled. To Megan the clock at the wall had seemed to move it’s hands in slow motion. And it felt like it was trying to make her lose her mind.

Finally, after what had seemed like hours a call had come in informing them that her friends were all safe.

Megan had sunk down in a chair, her hands covering her face, crying some tears out of sheer relief and gratitude.

But then the impatience had taken over and there was only one thing she wanted: going back home and seeing for herself that Sarah was allright. So, after mumbling she was going to use the restroom, she quickly exited the building, jumped in her car and started her short trip home.

Little Steven Hayes stopped for a moment to catch his breath. He had been running for fifteen minutes. Not being used to such an exercise, he felt his lungs burn and his muscles ache. His face and hands were covered with scratches, inflicted when he ran through the dense bushes, trying to stay ahead of the police he knew was chasing him. He had lost all sense of direction and looked around puzzled. All he could see were bushes and the only thing that gave him some idea about where he was heading, was the fact that he was still running downhill. He knew that eventually he would reach a creek, or, even better a road.

Panting and thirsty he pushed away some branches and continued his way down, trying not to make too much noise. But the branches didn’t give way easily and he had to use his whole body to push himself through.

He nearly screamed when he walked straight into a huge cobweb, that was ingeniously build between a few bushes and came face to face with a huge huntsman spider, that was residing in the middle, apparently having some sort of breakfast.

Frantically Little Steven started pushing away the sticky but firm substance, that clung to his hands and face. He almost panicked when the spider quickly moved, aggravated by the unexpected and violent intruder.

Little Steven stumbled backwards and nearly fell in his attempt to get away. His eyes, round with panic didn’t leave the big spider, that was struggling to escape itself.

Almost hyperventilating Little Steven managed to get his feet under his knees and jump backwards. Without looking back he ran, like he was chased by the devil himself.

Sweat was dripping down his pale face and his broad back, drenching his shirt and make it stick to his body. His mouth was wide open and every breath he took, made a wheezing sound. His body was desperately trying to get the much needed oxygen to keep the bulky body going.

Running downhill again Little Steven suddenly stumbled and lost his balance. With a loud crash he fell on top of a small bush, feeling the branches sticking into his skin. He rolled down and unconsiously shielded his face with his hands. A sharp pain shot through his knee when it was slammed against a rock, but then the surface changed and he came to a stop.

Dizzy from the fall and lack of oxygen Little Steven lifted up his head. Slowly his foggy mind registered the surface he was laying on. Gravel. A road.

Grunting he pushed himself to his feet and stumbled to the side of the road. He sat down heavily and slowly shook his head to get rid of the cobwebs that seemed to have taken over inside his brain. Slowly the blurry vision cleared and with interest Little Steven looked around. His eyes lit up when he realized he was on the road that led to the house he had left before. He recognized the sharp corners and knew he was more than halfway down.

With a lot of effort he had to push himself to his feet again, to continue his walk down. He cocked his head to make sure he heard no sound behind him. Pleased to find out that was not the case, he limped downhill.

Megan squinted her eyes against the bright sunlight, cursing at herself for leaving her sunglasses on the kitchen table. She drove as fast as was responsible up the road to her house, knowing most corners in the road could be really trecherous. The last thing she needed that moment, was to end up in the ditch.

She knew she had to pass the car that had been in the middle of the road before and she braced herself for it.

” Just don’t look inside, Megan,” she whispered to herself, knowing how hard that would be. ” You are almost halfway up, almost there. Just don’t look at it.”

Megan put the car back in second gear to steer her car through a sharp bend in the road and suddenly slammed the breaks, coming to a full stop. She didn’t realize she was screaming when she saw the sight in front of the car. It was like a scene from a nightmare.

In the middle of the road, facing the car, stood a big, tall man. His clothes torn, his face and hands scraped and bloody. In one trembling hand he held a gun, that was pointed directly at her. But the thing that scared Megan the most, was the look in his eyes. His face was dirty and covered with angry, red scratches. But her gaze was drawn to his eyes, that stared at her with a predatory look, making the cold shivers run down her spine.

He smiled and Megan could feel her stomach clench.

” Sarah, I am so sorry!”

Joe Michaels paced the tiny room, something he had been doing for an hour. He ignored the nervous man, who was quietly sitting in a corner and looked at his watch for the sixth time in five minutes.

” He should have called by now, ” Joe Michaels growled, suddenly wondering if their plan had been a good one. It was simple plan, but he was convinced that the simplicity of it, would be it’s strength. He himself didn’t believe in complications. That was the reason for his success in business. Or at least, that’s what he liked to believe. He had a ‘take it, or leave it’ mentality he was famous for. Joe Michaels knew that Little Steven and Fred wouldn’t screw up their mission this time. Because if they did, he wouldn’t hesitate to indeed turn them into shark food. It would be a pity, Little Steven had proved himself a valuable asset to his organisation, but he was dispensible. They all were.

Joe Michael glanced at William Jenkins, who was nervously fidgeting with the gold wedding band around his finger.

” If this goes wrong, you’d better run,” he warned the pale looking man, who suddenly sat up straight and looked at him with fear filled eyes. ” After all, if you would have done a better job to start with, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

” They will get here, ” William answered, with more conviction than he felt.

He looked around the small room and involuntarily shivered. It wasn’t a nice place to be. There was a table and one chair and in the corner stood an old, rusty bed, with a thin and lumpy mattress. Filthy and stained by years of abuse and neglect.

The walls were painted dark and the only window was just tiny, covered in cobweb and dirt. So dark, the bright sunlight could hardly peek through it. The only new thing in the room was the lock on the door. A thick cord of steel with a brand new shiny padlock attached to it.

” Not exactly a room fit for one of Stevens’ heirs, don’t you think? ” Joe Michaels grinned.

” I bet she can’t wait to convince daddy to pay up.”

Suddenly he cocked his head and his grin was replaced by a full fledged smile. In the distance he could hear the sound of a car approaching.

” Good on ya, Steve,” he whispered. ” It’s showtime! I can almost smell the money.”

William Jenkins looked at him while he walked to the door, trying to hide the feeling of disgust he knew was showing in his eyes. He wish he knew a way out, but he was involved too much. He had been going too far, letting his addiction to gamble not only ruin his own life, but that of other’s as well. Innocent people, whose lifes could be changed forever. Because of him.

” Please, let no one get hurt,” he silently prayed, trying to push away his feelings of guilt.

The small police office was buzzing with activity. Several officers were busy taking statements of the women who had been rescued from the burning house on Junction road. Fred had been taken to a seperate interrogation room and was guarded by two policemen, while Carol Wong was talking to the boy.

After a thorough search of the area around Sarah’s and Megan’s house, the detective and a few officers had taken the women down to the station, while reinforcements continued the search, with the help of a few eagerly sniffing German Shepards. And although the smart canines picked up Little Steven’s trail without a problem, there was no sign of the man himself.

” Apparently they were after Samantha, ” Joanne McDonnell told the young police officer who was taking her statement.

She rubbed her face with a tired gesture, pushing away the hair from her forehead. She was exhausted. Her life had always been pretty predictable, but now, within two days, it seemed to have changed forever.

” Did one of the suspects hit you, Mrs. McDonell?” the younger man asked in a gentle tone.

Joan McDonnell looked up and looked at him with confusion.

” That bruise on your face and your split lip, did one of the suspects inflict that upon you?”

” Oh, no. No, they didn’t,” she hastily answered, somehow feeling very uncomfortable. “”No, they didn’t touch me.”

” Can I ask you what happened then?” was the persistent question.

Joan McDonnell cast down her eyes, ashamed of the way she looked and tried to come up with a logical explanation. How could she tell a stranger in a few words what David had done to her? How could she explain her husband’s character and temperament to someone who didn’t even know him? What would he think of David? What would he think of her?

” You don’t have to defend him, mom,” Fiona’s voice suddenly interrupted her thoughts. ” He was wrong and you know it.”

Joan McDonnell sighed and looked at her youngest daughter who sometimes seemed so incredible mature for her age. Their eyes met and the love and compassion that radiated from the dark green depths suddenly gave her the courage she needed. How could she raise a daughter to be a self respecting human being, if she didn’t set the example herself?

” My husband hit me,” she finally answered, avoiding the friendly eyes of the officer and missing the look of understanding and support.

Officer Ryan kept the friendly expression on his face, but inside he could feel the turmoil. Unfortunately it wasn’t the first time he had met a battered wife and he suspected it wouldn’t be the last time either. But every time he came across a situation like that, he was almost ashamed for being a man. He could not understand why any man could use his physical advantage to hurt a woman.

” You want to tell me about it?” he offered, his voice soft and compassionate.

Joan McDonnell swallowed hard and slowly nodded. It was time to think about herself for a change. David had crossed a line and it was only fair he would meet the consequences. She didn’t want her sons to think that hitting a woman was something that would be left unpunished.

Fiona saw the pain in her mothers’ eyes and quickly pulled her chair closer, putting her hand on her mothers’ arm, she gently squeezed. It was a wordless encouragement and after taking a deep breath, Joan McDonnell told her story.

Sam was leaning against the wall, staring out of the window into the street below. Outwardly she seemed calm, but inside a storm was raging.

Here I am, thinking I flew in to solve some simple, administrative problems. Gods, what a mess. It’s a good thing you don’t know half of what is happening here, dad. You would freak out and I don’t think that would contribute to your condition. Where did I go wrong? Did I? Could I have prevented all this from happening? Jody, her family and our friends were in danger,because of what? Some money that disappeared? Hell, it’s only money! It’s not like we don’t have enough of that.

Sam sighed and turned her head so she could look at her lover, who was talking to Trishia Waters and almost seemed to disappear behind the huge desk. Involuntarily she smiled and a warm glow spread through her body. Jody seemed to feel her stare, because she looked up and their eyes met. The rest of the world seemed to disappear, when crystal blue and emerald green met. They didn’t need words, their eyes said it all and Trishia Waters,who had looked up when her last question had not been answered, modestly looked away. Looking straight into an inquisitive pair of dark green eyes, that seemed to smile at her. Lucy pulled a face and then winked at her, almost making the police woman chuckle.

Oh, my goodness! That one means trouble!

The skin around Jody’s eyes wrinkled when she answered Sam’s smile and her heart skipped a beat when she saw the look in her lovers’ eyes. Even from the distance she could see the change in color. From a clear blue, they had turned into darker shade, like a clear Eastern summer sky, just before sunset. It was the color she had quickly grown familiar with, because it reflected the most hidden part of her lovers’ soul. A part that was reserved only for her. It had been visible that evening at the parking area of the hospital, when they had shared a passionate kiss. It was there while they were making love. She had seen it in the morning, when she woke up and had caught Sam fully awake, staring at her. Her eyes so full of love and wonder, it had brought tears to Jody’s eyes.

Gods, I love you Sam! I love you so much! You make me complete. I don’t know how I managed all those years without you. But you are back and I will never, ever let you go again. Not without me.

Someone modestly cleared a throat and Jody looked up startled, to see Trishia Waters looking at her with an apologetic look in her eyes.

” Um…you think we can continue? ” she almost stammered, feeling slightly embarassed for interrupting what seemed to be a very private moment.

” Sure, go ahaed,” Jody answered, still smiling and reluctantly breaking eyecontact with her lover.

Sam almost had to laugh and continued to stare out of the window, feeling the happiness bubble up inside of her.

I have her back again, the love of my life. It’s been hard sometimes, but my gosh, Jody, you were so worth waiting for. Once we put this mess behind us, we can start working on our future. Together, my love. You and I.

” Sam? Have you seen Megan anywhere?” Sarah’s voice suddenly sounded behind her.

Sam turned around and a frown creased her forehead.

” Didn’t Carol Wong say that she was here?”

” Yes, she did,” Sarah answered, looking a little bit worried. ” But I have been looking all over the place and I can’t find her.”

” Did you check to see if the car is still here?”

Sarah swallowed hard and moistened her dry lips.

” I did,” she almost whispered. ” The car is not here. I…I am scared, Sam.”

Sam put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder and gently steered her towards the door.

” Let’s go check it out. You think Megan could have gone back to the house?”

” She’s stubborn enough,” Sarah aknowledged. ” But we didn’t see her drive up. It’s not like we could have missed that sorry excuse for a truck,” she attempted a joke, making Sam smile.

” Maybe there’s a logical explanation, ” Sam tried to reassure her friend. ” Let’s go outside and have a look around. Okay? She might have parked alongside the road, at the back.”

At that moment the phone on Trishia Waters’ desk rang. She apologized to Jody and picked it up. After listening for a few seconds her eyes searched Sam, who was just about to leave the room.

” Miss Stevens,” she called, making Sam stop in mid-motion and turning around. ” There’s a phone call for you.”

Her voice held an edge of confusion and worry as she covered the horn with her hand.

Sam could feel everybody’s eyes on her when she walked to the desk and took the phone out of Trishia’s outstretched hand. With a frown she brought the device to her ear and in a very businesslike voice she said : ” Stevens.”

Jody, who was looking up at her lover from the chair next to the desk, saw the color drain from her face and instinctively she stretched out her hand, it was grabbed in a vice like grip.

Sam’s eyes, dark with anger, searched Sarah’s who immediately felt that the phone call had something to do with Megan. Suddenly feeling weak she stretchted out her hand to find support against the rough surface of the wall. She could feel her knees tremble and it took her a lot of effort to stay upright.

Everybody saw Sam nod a few times, but she didn’t say much. Her face had a grim expression and whenever she said anything, it was just a grunt.

After a few minutes she nodded again, followed by a soft ‘ okay’ and slowly put down the phone. Immediately her eyes were drawn towards Sarah and with a few long strides she walked towards her friend, enveloping her in a big hug.

” I am so sorry, Sarah, ” she whispered, tears in her eyes. ” I am so, so sorry, but I promise we will get her back. We will.”

Sarah hid her face against a broad shoulder and Sam felt the slender body raking with sobs. Gently she stroked the auburn hair, her eyes searching Jody’s, begging for help.

Jody quickly stood up and walked towards her lover. Her worried green eyes never leaving her lovers’ blue ones.

” What happened?” she softly asked, rubbing Sarah’s back.

” They have Megan,” Sam simply answered, her voice void of any emotion. ” They want to trade, ” she added. ” Megan for me.”

The atmosphere in the office was tense. Carol Wong had been called from her interrogation session with Fred and as soon as she had stepped inside, the petite Asian woman had taken control of the situation.

” So, tell me Sam, what exactely did they say?” she asked, casually leaning against a desk, but her intelligent eyes shone with alertness.

Sam’s face was still drawn, but her eyes held a determined glance, which worried Jody, because she could tell her lover had made up her mind about something. And somehow she knew she was not going to like it. At all.

” That Steven person called, ” Sam started. ” He said: We have your little friend and if you want to see her again, alive, you’d better do as you are told.”

” He said ‘we’, huh?” Carol Wong softly repeated. ” Go on Sam.”

” He told me to go to The Reef. In the front there’s a red Toyota. The door is open and the keys are underneath the seat. In the dashboard compartment there is a cell phone. I have to drive South and wait for instructions. That’s about it. Oh, and I should come alone, of course. Unwired.”

The part when Little Steven had growled he would shoot her in an instant if she had any tracking device on her, she had left out.

Sam felt Jody’s smaller hand crawl inside her larger one and grateful for the warmth and love, she entwined her fingers with her lovers’. Holding her tight.

” They didn’t say anything about when they would contact you again?”

Sam shook her head, while chewing on her bottom lip. To those who knew her well that was the only sign of nervousness.

The room fell silent for a few seconds and Carol Wong studied Sam’s tall frame. Her experienced eyes could almost see the tension rolling off her in waves.

” You understand it’s my professional duty to tell you not to go,” she stated in a businesslike tone, but not unfriendly.

” Like you understand it’s my duty as a human being and as a friend to disagree with you and go anyway,” Sam answered, her clear blue eyes fighting a battle with the dark brown ones in front of her.

Carol Wong smiled and slowly nodded.

” I knew you were going to say that,” she answered, a hint of defeat in her voice. ” And I do understand, Sam. If I were you I would do the same. So, I can’t do or say anything to stop you?”

Sam felt the small hand in hers tremble and suddenly she pulled Jody in her arms, holding her so close her lover could feel the pounding of her heart.

” No, ” she whispered. ” I am sorry, but I have to do this.”

She burried her face in a patch of soft, unruly hair and took a deep breath, smelling the sweet fragrance of her lovers’ perfume. It was a scent that was distinctively Jody’s and it tugged on her heart, filling her with fear and sadness. Would she ever smell it again?

” I know that, for now, we have to play by their rules,” Carol Wong continued, touched by the display of deep affection in front of her. ” But I will do anything to at least try and keep an eye on you, Sam. You can’t stop me from doing that.”

” I trust you, Carol,” was Sam’s simple reaction.

” Good. Trishia, I need you to change out of your uniform, wear something casual. You too, Peter. I need the two of you to act like tourists, driving around and enjoying the country side. You’re going to follow Sam. We know she has to go to The Reef and drive South. There’s about an hour and a half between Megan leaving here and the phone call. That means they won’t be that far away, but I don’t expect them to be in town somewhere. Take one of the unmarked cars and wait about one mile South fromThe Reef. Somewhere along the road they might want Sam to change cars, but I bet it won’t be within a mile.”

Trishia looked at her fellow officer and nodded. They quickly rose, knowing that they didn’t have much time.

Lucy’s face was pale, making her eyes look even darker. She was nervous. Her stomach was churning and her palms were sweaty. Looking at her older sister, Sam and Sarah, she could almost feel their pain. And for some strange reason she didn’t like the idea of Trishia being put in harms way.

Her eyes traveled to the police woman, who almost stood ten centimeter taller than she did. They locked gazes for a brief moment and both of them could feel their heart skip a beat. Trishia managed a reassuring smile before she turned around and headed for the door. Confused, Lucy stared at the retreating back.

Damn!

Only when Trishia had left the room, Lucy noticed she had been holding her breath. Slowly she let it go, trying to settle down her racing heart and focusing on the things that were going on around her. Suddenly an idea formed in her head.

” Inspector, wouldn’t it be possible for Sam to take her own cell phone as well and leave the line open? I mean, that way we could keep track of her. Right? She only has to talk out loud.”

She cast a look at her sister’s tall lover and smiled.

” I’m sure Sam is good at talking to herself,” she faintly joked.

Carol Wong looked at Lucy with nothing less than surprise and admiration in her eyes. She smiled broadly and looked genuinely pleased with the offered idea.

” Excellent thought,” she complimented Lucy. ” What do you think, Sam?”

” It’s the best idea I have ever heard her bring up, ” Sam gently teased,still holding on to the woman in her arms.

Jody raised her head to look up into Sam’s face and tried to smile as well. But she failed miserably. Sam could see the pain in her eyes and the quivering bottom lip, announcing the arrival of the tears that were pooling in her eyes.

” It will be okay, honey,” Sam softly spoke, her thumb brushing away a tear. ” Megan and I will be back before you know it.”

” I can’t lose you, Sam,” Jody answered hoarsly, feeling like her throat was being squeezed tight. ” Not now that I have found you again. All those years without you…I…I have missed you so much. Please…come back to me. I need you.”

” I promise I will,” Sam answered, swallowing hard. ” I won’t let anyone or anything come between us. I love you.”

” I love you too,” Jody sobbed, pressing her tear stained face against Sam’s neck. Ignoring the pain of her throbbing head.

Joan McDonnell couldn’t stop the tears that were rolling down her cheeks when she looked at Jody and her lover. It was obvious to anyone present, that the two women loved each other deeply.

Please, God. Let Sam and Megan return safely. Just look at them. They simply radiate love for one another. How can anything so pure, so deep, ever be wrong? Please, allow them the chance to build a life together. They have been through so much already, they need each other. Please, God. Please.

Trishia and Peter came walking back into the office, both dressed casually. Involuntarily Trishia’s eyes immediately sought out Lucy’s. She hid a smirk when she saw the dark green eyes go wide with surprise.

Lucy had only seen the police woman dressed in a uniform, but the sight in front of her now, was totally different.

Trishia was wearing a pair of dark blue shorts, that stopped just above the knees. Revealing a pair of long, tanned legs. A teal colored tank top emphasized a strong, equally tanned athletic upper body, with some very feminine curves.

Lucy felt her mouth go dry and desperately wondered why her heart was beating like it was going to jump out of her chest. She tried to look away, but Trishia’s eyes held her captive and slowly Lucy felt a warm blush creeping up her face.

Oh, my goodness! This is definitely not good. Is she flirting with me? Is she? Do I mind? Oh, absolutely, positively, definitely NOT! Wow!

With her eyes still captured by Trishia’s gaze, Lucy could feel her hormones jump up, giving her a standing ovation, shouting ‘ My turn! My turn. My turn! ‘

A small smile tugged on the corner of Trishia’s mouth when she finally turned to face her boss.

” We’re ready when you are, inspector.”

” Excellent,” Carol answered, having noticed the exchange of looks between Lucy and one of her officers. ” Don’t use the car radio. Take a cell phone, we will call you as soon as possible and keep the line open. Sam will do the same.” She cast a look at the still flustered Lucy and smiled. ” Lucy’s idea,” she smiled.

” Impressive,” Trishia responded, giving Lucy an almost invisible wink. “Okay, Peter and I will leave now. Do we have a back up?”

” That will be taken care of,” Carol Wong promised. ” I’ll fill you in as soon as possible.”

” Okay, inspector. ”

Trishia turned her attention to Sam and Jody and her expression became very serious.

” Miss McDonnell?”

Jody raised her head from Sam’s chest and looked at the tall police woman, who radiated strength and confidence.

” We won’t let her go out of our sight,” she solemny promised.

” Thank you,” Jody whispered, managing a watery smile. And Sam nodded in understanding, grateful to know that there would be at least two police officers tailing her car. Even if it would be from a distance.

” Come on, Pete, let’s go.”

Trishia turned around, casting one last look at Lucy, who mouthed : ‘ Good luck.’ She smiled and nodded, following her fellow officer out of the room.

” I’d better go as well,” Sam spoke in general, but her eyes were glued to Jody’s. ” The sooner I’ll go, the quicker I will be back.”

Sam could feel her lovers’ hands nervously clenching her shirt and gently she pried them loose, holding them in her own. Not caring they weren’t alone, she brought Jody’s hands to her lips and softly kissed the palm of each hand. Her eyes never leaving the green orbs that were so close, she could see the golden specks.

” I will come back to you,” she promised. ” There is this very important question I want to ask you. It’s something I once thought I never would ask anyone, ever, until you came back into my life again. And for old times sake, I need a starlit sky to make it all perfect. See? I have every reason to come back.”

Jody’s placed her hands on either side of Sam’s face and lovingly caressed the soft skin.

” I have faith in you, Sam. But….just be careful, okay? I will hold you to that starlit sky question.”

Sam smiled a genuine smile and was struck by the faith her lover had in her and the courage she displayed.

She bent her head and captured Jody’s lips in a kiss that needed no more words. They poured all the love they felt for each other in the soft caress. It had nothing to do with passion, or desire. It was a confirmation of their deepest emotions.

When they separated, they spent another few seconds looking at each other. But then Sam kissed Jody’s forehead, turned around and headed for the door.

Immediately Joan McDonnell was next to her eldest daughter, wrapping her arms around her and holding the trembling body close. Her hand stroked the long, red hair, while she softly whispered words of comfort.

” Have faith, sweetheart,” she softly spoke, hearing the soft sobs that nearly broke her heart. ” Have faith. I am sure God will protect her. Protect them.”

Jody looked up, her eyes red and puffed up from crying.

” You do? I thought our relationship would be considered….”

” I don’t believe that, Jody. Not anymore,” Joan McDonnell interrupted her daughter gently. ” God is love. How could he look down at you two and not smile?”

Sam was dropped off by a police car in front of The Reef. Looking around she immediately spotted the red Toyota Little Steven had mentioned. Carefully scanning her surroundings she slowly walked towards the vehicle. The tension in her body made her right leg feel stiff and painful and she sincerely hoped that Carol had been right and she wouldn’t have to drive far. Her leg was cramping up already.

When she reached the car she looked around again. She had this eery feeling that somebody was watching her, but she couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Maybe it was just her imagination. Maybe the stress and nervousness made her feel things that weren’t real.

What was real though, was the tight ball that seemed to have settled in the pit of her stomach. No matter how many deep breaths she took, it didn’t want to go away. It made her feel nauseous and affected her whole body, making it cold and stiff.

Sam wiped her clammy palms on her slacks and cautiously opened the door of the car, peeking inside. The heat that had been buidling up inside the car, by the hot summer sun almost took her breath away and she quickly stepped back. She decided to roll down the windows and after she had accomplished that task she lowered her tall frame to feel underneath the seat. Her hand closed around the warm metal of a set of keys and her face was grim when she realized she had to get into the car and start the engine.

The car was old and probably not been taking good care off. It took her three attempts to finally start the engine.

” I hope this bummy, old car will bring me where I need to go,” she mumbled, securing the safety belt. ” Okay, let’s get that phone out.”

She opened the dashboard compartment and pulled out the cell phone Little Steven had said would be there. She placed it on the passenger’s seat, making sure it was on. After that she pulled her own tiny cell phone from her pocket, making sure that no one watching would be able to see her do so and speeddialed the number that Carol Wong had given her. She could hear the connection and suddenly didn’t feel so alone. The phone was placed on her lap and she put the car in gear.

” Okay, I am heading south right now,” she said to the invisble ‘onlookers’ she knew were listening intently.

It was hard for Sam to hear anything from the other side of the connection, but Carol Wong had told her that she would put the phone on speaker, so everybody would be able to pick up the sounds easily.

Sam slowly drove in a Southern direction, her heart still pounding in her chest and focusing on the hours ahead.

Where would they take her? Would she see Megan? Was her friend allright? Would they stick to their promise and let her go as soon as Sam arrived? How was Jody holding up? Was she listening on the other side of the connection as well or would the tension be too much?

A slow smile spread across Sam’s face when she thought about the woman that held her heart from the very first time they had met, years ago. She knew Jody would be there. No one would be able to keep her red haired lover from the close proximity of the phone. At the moment it felt like their life line.

Sam turned right onto the highway, but there was still no sign from the kidnappers. She passed a few cars that were parked alongside the road and recognized Trishia’s face, which instantly made her feel better. She was not alone.

” Just passed my keepers, ” she joked, more to let Jody know she was trying to keep her chin up. She didn’t feel all that confident at all.

Sam had been raised in a fairly protected enviroment and never had been involved in a violent situation before. She did know how to defend herself and was glad her parents had encouraged her to join the local school for martial arts. It had not only helped her to find a balance within herself, but it had also contributed to her building up physical strength. An asset she might have to rely on soon.

When Sam was about three kilometers on the Highway the other cell phone rang. Her whole body jerked at the sound and she suddenly felt the adrenaline surge through her body. Quickly she picked it up. Years of boardroom experience had taught her that often the best defense was to attack.

” Yeah? Glad you finally found the time to call me,” she sarcastically spoke. ” I was starting to wonder if you’d chickened out.”

There was a silence on the other side, shortly followed by a curse.

” Keep your damn wits to yourself, bitch!” Little Steven spat. ” And do as I say.”

” Sure, Little Steven,” she mocked, mentioning the name to let the police know whom she was talking to. ” You are the boss.” For now.

” Where are you now?”

Good! He doesn’t know. That means there’s no idiot friend of his following me.

” Where am I? Let me see. I just passed that German restaurant and by the looks of it, I am heading towards a golf course.”

” When you pass the course, turn into the third road on the right. Follow all the way to the end and wait for instructions.”

Sam repeated his message and heard him break the connection. She slightly shifted in her seat, trying to get more comfortable, because her right leg was starting to send some painful cramps into her calf.

” Okay, audience, you heard. I am going pass the golf course and turn right at the third road. Looks like he is sending me into the hills. I don’t think I am being followed by one of them, but I don’t want to take a risk, so I will leave you all on my lap,” she joked.

Back at the police office, two officers were constantly in contact with Trishia and Peter, while the others were clustered around the phone on Trishia’s desk, intently listening to Sam’s voice, who sounded calm and even had the spirit to crack a joke now and then.

” Peter, she’s taking the third one right after the golf course,” Shaun Dickson informed his fellow officer. ” That would be…Mudgeeraba road.”

” What is up there?” Sarah asked Carol Wong in a strained voice.

” Mainly some bush and banana plantations,” Carol explained.

Not very populated. Good area to hide in.

” Won’t it be suspicious when they also spot Trishia and Peter?” Lucy asked, more worried about the police woman than she wanted to admit to herself.

” Possibly,” Carol Wong answered. ” But they first have to spot them, won’t they? They will keep their distance, don’t worry. They’re no rookies. But it appears to me that this kidnapping was a last minute decision. If, and I repeat, if they have a hide out in those hills, there’s no way they will be able to get away. There’s only a few roads going in there. We would easily spot them.”

” But that Steven is a violent one,” Sarah softly spoke. ” He already killed two police men.”

” And they would have Sam and Megan,” Jody added, grabbing Sarah’s hand.

” I agree,” Carol Wong answered. ” But knowing where they are, would give us a tremendous headstart.”

” I wish I had your confidence,” Jody sighed, her green eyes dull and sad.

Carol Wong put a comforting hand on Jody’s shoulder and softly squeezed.

” Your Sam is a smart cookie. I have complete confidence in her and I have to admit I can’t say that about many people.”

” Okay, I am turning right now,” Sam’s voice suddenly sounded through the speaker. ” Whoa! Nasty road. I hope this car won’t break in half! Lots of holes everywhere. Don’t you Aussies maintain your roads? It’s a disgrace! ”

That last remark made everybody smile and silently Carol Wong thanked the Dutch woman for her positive attitude. By keeping her own spirits up, she was helping the others to have a little more faith in the outcome of things. But she knew who was the most important reason for Sam’s funny remarks. It was the woman who was standing next to her. Looking at the speakers with such an intensity, it was touching. Absorbing every word, every sound that came from her lover.

” Lots of trees…and trees…and, hey, banana’s. There’s a banana plantation to my left. Guess I am halfway up there now. It’s hot in here. Can’t wait for a nice, long, cool shower.”

” With some red haired company, no doubt,” Lucy responded with a chuckle, disappointed Sam couldn’t hear her.

Fiona quickly poked her in the ribs and Lucy rubbed the offended spot with a mock indignant face.

” Come on, girls, Sam is trying to lighten up the mood. Okay? I bet she would be laughing if she’d heard.”

” You’re probably right,” Jody smiled. ” And hey, I am looking forward to that shower as well.”

” Okay, people. I am on top of the hill. Waiting for instructions. There’s a banana plantation to my left and there’s a road going in there. On the right there’s a steep slope with trees, trees and trees. But in the distance I can see the Pacific. Nice view. Guess I’d better be quiet, in case someone is around here.”

Through the connection they could hear the phone ring again and Sam’s cheerful ” Yellow?”. Carol Wong knew she did it just to aggravate Little Steven and she sincerely hoped it wouldn’t backfire. But Sam was smart, she had noticed that before. She knew Little Steven and his companions needed her in order for them to get what they wanted. She was using that knowledge. Sam knew a lot about business negotiations.

” Wow, thanks mate, ” Sam spoke before Little Steven could say a word. ” You let me take the scenic route and it’s really nice.”

” What’s that? Well, you don’t have to be rude! …Okay, this little track on the left? I can do that…..Guess I can do that as well.”

” Well, people, I am about to leave the car,” Sam’s voice calmly related. ” He wants me to get out, push the car down the slope and walk up that track. They sound like amateurs! I can’t take this phone, I am sorry. It’s too risky. They would find out within a minute. Tell my keepers to be careful when they take the track. You can’t see ahead much and I don’t want them to run into nasty surprises. Okay? I’d better break the connection now…..” They could hear Sam take a few deep breaths. ” Sarah? I will bring Megan back home safe. Jody? I love you, honey. With all my heart. I will see you soon. And if you’re interested, we could take that shower together,” she added with a hint of humor in her voice.

After those words the connection disappeared, leaving nothing but a soft buzzing sound.

Sam slowly got out of the car. It had been a relatively short drive, but her leg was hurting and the prospect of a little walk didn’t seem too bad at that moment. She looked down the road, trying to catch a glimpse of the car she knew had been following her from a distance, but she couldn’t see anything.

“I guess that’s a good thing,” she mumbled, not too convinced.

Sam stretched, releasing some of the built up tension in her muscles and slowly walked around the car.

” Pushing you down the slope, huh? ” she mused. ” Well, you know what, car. I don’t think so, that would be littering. I think I will just hide you in the bushes somewhere and if they find out about it, I will just make up a brilliant excuse.”

She quickly put the car in neutral and started pushing it into the side of the road, where there was a little clearing between the bushes. When she was finished she critically looked at her handywork.

” Not too bad, I guess,” she mumled. ” I can still see some red, but most of it is hidden anyway.”

The exercise had been pretty straining and she could feel the moisture on her forehead and dripping down her back. She felt dirty and sticky and somehow that didn’t enhance the mood she was in.

” Okay, scumbags. Here I come.”

” Can you see the car, Trish?” Peter asked for the third time, his eyes nervously scanning the road ahead.

” No, Pete,” Trishia patiently answered. ” I’ll let you know when I do. Okay? Just keep driving.”

Very slowly he steered the car through the next corner, ready to step on the gas if needed, or quickly back up. The image of his two co workers, shot through the head, was burned into his memory. It made him angry, but also very scared. He had a wife and two children and didn’t want to end up dead. Executed, just like that.

” It’s been quite a day already, huh? ” he spoke in an attempt to settle his own nerves and make some small talk.

” Yup, it has,” Trishia answered, while the image of a pair of dark green eyes floated through her mind.

Pete cast a look at the woman next to him and smiled. He had been working as Trishia’s partner for three months now and they had developed a very nice working relationship. He trusted her and knew the feeling was mutual, which was very important in their line of work. After trying to set her up with some of his friends, he had discovered she wasn’t attracted to any of them and one evening, while they were driving around town and everything was pretty quiet, he had asked her boldly about her preferences. Trishia had been silent for a few minutes and just as Peter thought she would either become angry with him for prying into her private life, or not answering the question at all, she had turned to him and smiled. She was gay, she had confessed. Did he have a problem with that?

Peter, a friendly down to earth man, had shaken his head and smiled back. No, of course he had no problem with it. It would give them the opportunity to check out women together, he had joked.

Ever since that evening, their working relationship had turned into a more solid friendship, which they both enjoyed a lot.

” What about that dark haired girl?” Peter asked, not entirely able to hide the smirk on his face.

” Which one?” Trishia answered with an innocent face. ” Let me see, I think there were at least three dark haired….”

” You know the one,” Peter interrupted, not aware of the fact that ever since the connection with Sam had been broken, they had been put on speaker phone.

” Oh, you mean Lucy?” Trishia answered, not aware of the wistful tone in her voice.

” Yup, that one.”

” What about her?”

” That’s what I was asking you, my friend. There seemed to be….something there, between the two of you.”

” You’re seeing things, Pete. I told you not to drink Four X anymore, it’s poison. Just drink Foster’s or stick to water,” Trishia laughed.

” Yeah, right,” Peter snorted. ” You can deny as much as you like, officer Waters, but I am not blind.”

” Just ignorant,” Trishia quipped. ” Better shut up now, Pete. I think I see that car. There, hidden in the bushes.”

Back in the office a few of the police officers snickered over the conversation between their co workers, but made sure there faces were turned into serious mode, when they felt the piercing glance of their inspector.

Carol Wong glanced at Lucy and saw the blush spreading over her face, after hearing the conversation on the phone.

Damnit, Peter! Stupid idiot!

” Anyone want some coffee?” she asked, avoiding Lucy’s eyes.

” I’ll get it,” Lucy volunteered, glad to be able to escape the scrutinizing gaze of her youngest sister and the surprised one of the eldest.

” I will help you, ” Jody offered, jumping up from the chair she had been sitting on for the last thirty minutes.

Together they walked towards where Carol had pointed out where the small kitchen would be. As soon as they were in the hallway, Jody put her hand on Lucy’s arm, turning her so she had to face her.

” Are you okay?” she asked, the concern evident in her voice.

” Funny, I should ask you that question,” Lucy answered.

Jody smiled and gave her sister a quick hug.

” I will be as soon as Sam is back,” she sighed. ” But…Lucy…is…I mean…Aren’t you bothered by that conversation? I mean..”

Lucy stared at the blinking lights of a vending machine, deliberately avoiding her sisters’ eyes.

” I…I don’t know,” she finally confessed. ” Listen, sis, this is a very strange place and situation to discuss a thing like this. Okay? I mean…God! Yes, there is something happening here, inside, whenever she looks at me. I don’t understand it either. Maybe it’s the situation we’re in today. You know, how people always say that whenever you’re in a dangerous situation funny relationships might develop. Look at that movie, Speed. They weren’t together for the sequal, now, were they?”

In spite of the situation Jody had to laugh about that comment. She took Lucy’s hand and pulled her towards the kitchen area.

” It’s just a surprise to me, Luce,” she admitted. ” the fact that you are obviously attracted to a woman. That’s all.”

” Hey,” Lucy objected, a mock scowl on her face. ” Have you really looked at the woman? I mean, really looked?”

” No, I am sorry. I have only eyes for Sam,” Jody answered, her eyes suddenly full of pain and fear.

” C’mere, sis,” Lucy whispered, pulling her sister into a big hug. ” It’s going to be allright. Okay? Just wait and see. Before you know it they are all back here; Sam, Megan….Trishia. And when they do, dinner is on me. Okay?”

” I will hold you to that, ” Jody sniffed.

” Please, do ” Lucy answered. ” Please, do.”

While the sun was relentlessly scorching her head, Sam tried not to think about how thirsty she was. The walk had taken her longer than she had anticipated and instead of being a good exercise, the walk had been proven difficult and painful. The surface of the track was uneven and Sam had to really watch where to put her feet. She had accidentely stepped into a few holes, which had send a burning pain through her overly tired leg. She was limping, trying to forget the pain, heat and thirst. Swatting at the persistent, annoying flies, that seemed to be everywhere.

Finally, after what had seemed to be a marathon, but was not more than five hundred meters a gruff voice suddenly called out to her.

” Stay where you are! Put your hands behind your neck and spread your legs.”

” That should have been my line,” Sam mumbled, knowing it was better to obey.

” Any devices on ya?”

” Define ‘devices’ ” Sam sharply answered. ” I have an iron plate in my leg. Does that count?”

” You know what I mean, any bugs? Tracking devices? ”

” The only tracking devices on me are my sneekers,” Sam snorted, pointing at her comfortable New Balance shoes.

Suddenly she was pushed from behind and almost lost her balance.

” Stop being a smart ass,” Little Steven growled. ” You are not in a position to be witty.”

” Sorry. Guess it’s a birth defect,” Sam answered, knowing full well she was aggravating the big man, and enjoying every second of it. ” You know how we Dutch are. We are very opinionated.”

Another push.

” Keep walking. And do yourself a favour, shut up!”

Sam was herded through a hardly visible track and suddenly stood in front of a little shed, in the middle of a banana plantation.

” Welcome to your hotel,” Little Steven grinned, pushing her through the door, inside the shed.

Sam stumbled and would have fallen, but was grabbed by a pair of strong hands. She looked up in a face she only recognized from pictures.

” Jenkins,” she breathed. ” Nice to meet you in person. Now, where’s Megan?”

” Right here, Sam,” her friends distressed voice sounded.

Sam turned around and while her eyes were trying to get used to the darkness inside, she was able to see the tear stained face of her friend.

Two long strides brought her to the bed in the corner and while she knelt down, she enveloped Megan in a big hug.

” Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”

” No, they didn’t,” Megan answered with a shaky voice. ” But I am scared Sam. How’s Sarah? They said the house burnt down and…”

” It didn’t,” Sam quickly interrupted. ” Sarah is fine, Meg. They all are.”

” Thank God,”

” Just hold on a little longer, okay? I’ll get you out of here.”

Sam got back on her feet and slowly turned around, giving the three men that were standing near the door an icy stare.

” Now, gentlemen. How can I help you?”

” Looks like she walked down this little track, inspector,” Trishia Waters spoke into the phone, closely examening the path that lead straight through the banana trees. ” There are fresh marks here.”

” How do you know?” Peter asked, looking to the marks Trishia was staring at. ” This ground is so dry you could run a truck over it and not seeing any marks.”

” See those blades of grass? They have been stepped on recently. They are still green and a bit moist. The sun will dry them out in less than an hour. She’s been through here allright,” Trishia patiently explained.

” My God, woman, how do you know this stuff? ” Peter sighed, but his eyes were twinkling. ” And don’t tell me you used to be a girl scout!”

” I was,” Trishia deadpanned. ” But I grew up in Darwin and spent a lot of time with my best friend, who happened to be an Aboriginal. His granddad taught us how to track.”

” Inspector? Do you want us to follow Miss Stevens?”

” Yes, I do,” Carol Wong’s voice sounded in Trishia’s ear. ” But make sure you stay out of sight, at leat until we have a clear understanding about what is going on there. There are reinforcements on the way and Trishia? For God’s sake, don’t try to be a hero. We are dealing with cop killers here.”

” We’ll be careful, ” Trishia promised. ” Don’t worry.”

Trishia put the cell phone in her pocket and looked at her partner.

” Come on, Pete. Let’s go get those suckers.”

Joe Michaels looked at the tall woman who was standing in front of him. Her steel blue glare was slightly unnerving. Pulling back his shoulders, he tried to look at least as tall as she was, determined not to let her win the psychological war she had started.

” Better behave, Stevens,” he growled. ” You are not the one calling the shots here.”

” Talking about ‘shots’,” Sam began, the anger that rolled off her tall frame almost palpable. ” You really blew it when you decided to kill those cops, mate. Your ass is toast!”

Joe Michaels looked at Sam through squinted eyes. His face was red and big drops of perspiration had formed on his forehead.

” What the hell are you talking about?” he asked, not pleased with the way his hostage managed to take control of the situation. She made him look like an amateur.

” Those two policemen, up the road to Megan’s house, were shot in the head. From behind,” Sam spat. ” Don’t pretend you had nothing to do with that, mister ‘ I- want- to- be- a- big- boy-criminal,- but- all- I- do- is- screw- up’ ”

” You are lying!” Joe Michaels hissed, seeing William Jenkins jump up and look at Sam in shock.

He turned to Little Steven and when he saw the look on his face, he felt his whole body go numb.

” Why?” he croaked. ” Steve!?’’

Little Steven shrugged his shoulders and cast his boss a look that made the shivers run down his spine.

” They were in the way,” he simply explained, as if he wasn’t talking about human lifes.

” They were cops! You good for nothing, fucking idiot!”

Little Steven clenched his fist and took a step closer to his boss. The veins on his forhead were bulging and everybody could see the anger in his eyes.

” You wanted me to do your dirty work for you. And I did. I have been chasing this bitch for weeks now. You wanted her. You got her! Don’t start complaining now! And I had to do it all by myself. That little weasel you saddled me up with was no good to start with. Should have wasted him when I had the chance. We’re in this together, Joe! You are the boss, you called the shots. Your hands are as dirty as mine.”

After Sam had mentioned the death of the two policemen, William Jenkins felt sick to his stomach, wondering how he could have ever been so stupid as to get involved with Joe Michaels. He should have seeked help when he had the chance. Not try and solve it all by himself. He should have contacted his boss, Richard Stevens and explained the mistakes he’d made. Arranged something to pay back the money he had taken from the company to pay the debts he had accumulated while gambling. But now it was too late. There was no way back. Theft, arson, kidnapping and now murder.

William Jenkins looked from the two men who were still argueing, to Sam, who was standing next to Megan, her hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder as a silent display of support. Sam caught his glance and raised one eyebrow. She saw the former manager of The Reef was up to something and she hoped he wouldn’t do anything stupid and get them all killed.

Sam squeezed the shoulder her hand was resting on and shifted her body, so it was in between her friend and the still fighting men. From the corner of her eye, she tried to see what William Jenkins was up to, while at the same time she focused on Joe Michaels and Little Steven, desperately wishing she was closer to the door.

All of a sudden she saw a movement to her right. William Jenkins had moved towards the only door and had yanked it open. Without even looking back he bolted outside and started to run. He didn’t get far. Two long strides took Little Steven outside the shed. Sam saw him his raise the gun and the scream that left her lips, was silenced by the sound of the gun, that was fired twice.

With horror Sam saw William Jenkins fall, face down. His legs twitched for a few seconds and then he was still. Dead still.

His face a cold mask, Joe Michaels turned to Sam, who was still staring at the unmoving body of William Jenkins.

” This is what I want you to do,” he spoke, his voice slightly trembling. ” You will contact your family and have them pay two million Australian dollars. Pronto. If the money is not here by tomorrow evening, you will be tossed over the steepest cliff I can find. Got it?”

Sam swallowed and slowly tore her gaze away from the man who was laying outside. She could see the blood mix with the dust on the ground and the sight made her slightly nauseous.

” You made it very clear,” she answered, trying not to show her fear. ” But how do I contact my family? I don’t see a phone here, or a computer. Besides, you said you would let Megan go. So, I think that before I make any call or whatsoever, I want my friend to be released.”

” Plans have changed,” Joe Michaels answered, his eyes cold and full of anger. ” She’s staying.”

Sam felt the anger rise up inside and gave the man in front of her a menacing look. Her eyes were cold chips of ice and involuntarily Joe Michaels took a step back.

” I guess I just changed my plans as well, then,” she growled. ” No phone calls, no money. And you know you need the money to get out of here, don’t you? I don’t think the police will give up on cop killers. They will hunt your sorry ass down and make sure you will rot in jail for the rest of your life, being some grizzly’s playmate. And you know what? I really hope it will be a very long life.”

” Let me knock some sense into her, Joe,” Little Steven mumbled, stepping back inside.

” No, Steve. Don’t. I have some other plans. This operation has been bad from the start and right now it’s a real mess. We fucked up, mate. But I am not letting her win, she’s made my life way too miserable lately. Let’s get the car and load them up. We’ll find a place to dump their bodies, no one will ever be able to find them. Then we will get the hell out of the country. I got some friends in Indonesia that will put us up until all of this blows over.”

” You want me to waste them here?” Little Steven casually asked.

” No, we’ll make it look like an accident.”

Sam heard a sob behind her and when she turned around she saw Megan’s eyes, full of fear, looking up at her. Without saying a word, Sam knelt down and pulled the frightened woman into her arms. Her brain was frantically working to come up with a plan and she knew they were running out of time. She had to do something and she had to do it quick. She knew Trishia and Peter would be around somewhere. That, and the fact she had promised her lover to come back, settled her racing heart and suddenly made her able to think clearly.

” Megan, as soon as I say ‘run’, go for it,” she whispered into a shapely ear. ” Don’t look back, don’t worry about me, just go. Don’t use the track, but go for the banana trees. Try to disappear and go downhill. Head for the road, there are police officers down there.”

” Let’s go,” she heard Joe Michaels say, while Little Steven grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet.

Sam looked at Megan and the expression on her face told her she had understood the instructions.

That was the easy part. Now I have to come up with a plan. Damnit! Keep your eyes open, Stevens and as soon as you see a chance, go for it.

Little Steven pushed Sam outside the door and towards the back of the shed where a Landrover was parked. Joe Michaels and Megan were right behind them.

When the door was opened and she was pushed inside the car, Sam saw Little Steven turn around to look at his boss.

My chance!

Sam grabbed the handle of the door and with a strength she didn’t know she possessed, she slammed the door into Little Steven’s body, making him double over in pain. The surprise attack had made Joe Michaels loosen the grip on Megan’s arm and when she heard Sam yell ‘run’, she pulled free and dashed for the banana trees.

Sam had jumped out of the car and slammed the door against Little Steven’s head, who was trying to get back on his feet. He fell backwards and she heard him grunt when he hit the ground with an audible thump. Without thinking twice, Sam jumped in front of Joe Michaels, who was still recovering from the shock and before he realized what was going on, she had floored him with a vicious roundhouse kick. Wincing in pain when her right leg connected with the side of his head. Immediately she ran in the direction Megan had disappeared in. Silently praying that Little Steven would be down a bit longer and cursing herself for not taking the gun, before she ran off.

Sam’s long legs took her to the banana trees in no time and relieved she felt the big leaves surrounding her tall frame.

Okay, maybe we have a chance now. Forget about the pain, Sam. Just keep running. Think about Jody and that shower you will take together. Let’s head for that little car. Damn! I should have told Megan about that.

Sam kept running, making sure she was going downhill all the time, keeping her ears and eyes open for her friend, hoping she would make it to the road.

” Inspector? There were two gunshots!” Peter’s worried voice sounded trough the speakers. ” You want us to go in?”

” Damn!” Carol Wong muttered under her breath, seeing Jody and Sarah turning pale. ” Close in and tell me what you see. Reinforcements should be there any minute now, they’re coming up the road. Can you see them?”

” No, chief, not yet. But we do have a visual on the shed though. There’s a car, a Land Rover. Two men. One body on the ground, inspector,” Peter informed her with a tense voice.

” ID?”

” Can’t see yet. One man jumped in the car, he’s taking off. The other one just ran into the plantation. It’s a man on the ground, ” Peter’s voice sounded a little relieved. ” The door of the shed is open, I don’t think there’s anyone inside. My guess is the girls took a run for it, inspector. ”

” The reinforcements have been informed. They will pick up the Land Rover. Go after the one who’s on foot. Leave this connection open.”

” We’re on our way, inspector.”

Jody had grabbed Sarah’s hand and felt sick to her stomach. Peter’s report had been very clear and even though there was no sign of Sam and Megan, she just knew they were in danger. Although the fact that they apparently managed to escape, had given her hope.

Jody felt an arm around her shoulder and she was pulled into Lucy’s body.

” It’s gonna be okay, Pea.” She whispered. ” I am sure they will be fine.”

Jody nodded and wished she had her sister’s confidence.

” You okay, Sez?” she asked Sarah, who was visibly shaking with tension.

A pair of anxious gray eyes looked at her from close distance and Jody could see the pain and fear inside.

” They will be fine,” she repeated Lucy’s words, trying to ignore the knot of tension that had taken up residence inside her stomach.

Sam panted and and could barely avoid the trunk of a tree when she lost her balance and nearly collided with the hard, dusty ground of the hill. The insistent throbbing in her leg became more persistent with every step she took. The sun was scorching her unprotected head and she could feel thick drops of perspiration slide down her face, the salt stinging her eyes and making her vision blurry. Impatiently she wiped her forehead, wishing she would have some water to quench her thirst. Her lips were cracked and her mouth was dry, making her tongue feel like a piece of dry leather.

” I should be there soon,” she whispered to herself. “Gotta find Megan and get to that car. Where the heck are Trishia and Peter?”

Sam decided to stand still for a few seconds and listen to the surrounding noises. In the distance she could hear the sound of a car coming up the hill and she hoped it would be a police car. The banana trees blocked her vision though and frustrated she realized she wasn’t able to determine whether it would be help on the way, or disaster.

The sound of rustling leaves made Sam cock her head and listen carefully. It came from her right and it sounded like somebody was heading down the hill, like she was. Cautiously Sam continued her way, following the sound, hoping it would be her friend, but realizing it could also be Little Steven, or Joe Michaels coming after them.

After a few minutes Sam’s eyes caught the slender form of her friend and a huge smile crossed her face.

” Megan!” she whispered.

Megan quickly turned around and when she saw Sam she ran towards her tall friend and jumped into her arms.

” O, God! Sam!” she sobbed. ” I am so glad to see you. I’ve been so scared! Where are they?”

” I don’t know, Meg,” Sam whispered back. ” I knocked them down, but I am afraid they will try and come after us anyway. The good news is that there is supposed to be some police around here, although I haven’t seen them yet. But as long as I don’t hear a friendly voice calling out my name, I will stay out of sight. Are you okay?”

” I am now,” Megan answered. ” I was packing it, Sam. While they were waiting for you to come they were talking and I just knew they would never let me go.”

” Yeah, somehow that didn’t surprise me,” Sam sighed. ” Let’s see if we can get down this hill, Megan. I stashed away a little car there somewhere. Maybe we will be able to use it and get the hell out of here.”

” I wouldn’t count on it,” a chuckling voice behind them suddenly spoke and Sam froze. Without turning around, she knew who it was. She swallowed hard and moistened her dry lips.

” How’s the knees? ” she asked, turning around and tucking Megan behind her back.

She looked into the blood stained face of Little Steven, who glanced at her with a murderous expression in his eyes. It was a scary sight. The tall, bulky man was covered in blood, that was dripping form a gash in his forehead. His face was dirty, his clothes torn and he looked like a vision out of a horror movie.

” This is as far as you will get, Stevens. I should have killed you before, when I had the chance.”

” Where’s the fun in that?” Sam answered, her heart pounding in her chest. ” I thought a person like you would like a challenge.”

Sam’s hands were behind her back and she gently pushed Megan further away from her body, hoping she would be able to make a run for it and get to safety.

” No use. I will shoot her like I will you, like the dog you are!”

One chance. One. I have to jump and grab his arm and kick between his legs at the same time. Damn! I need to get closer!

” I thought you were more interested in my money,” Sam answered, desperately trying to buy some time.

” Not any more,” Little Steven growled. ” All I want now is to get rid of you, Stevens. ”

Little Steven raised his hand with the gun and aimed it at Sam’s chest.

” Say your prayers, Dutchie.”

All of a sudden things happened so quick, it was a blur. Sam pushed away Megan, shouting : ‘Run’ and dived towards Little Steven, when the sound of a gunshot pierced the air.

They tumbled to the ground together and rolled down the hill for a few meters, until they were stopped by the trunk of a banana tree.

“Strange. It doesn’t even hurt,” Sam thought, her eyes following a fluffy, white cloud in the sky above. She felt the pressure of something heavy on her legs and when she lifted her head, she saw the still figure of little Steven laying across her legs. Blood seeped from a tiny hole in his temple and slowly Sam realized what had happened.

” Megan!” she shouted, suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of panick.

” Sam,” was the sobbed answer and suddenly her friend knelt down beside her.

” Are you okay?”

” Yes. Are you?”

Sam pulled away from Little Steven’s body and slowly tried to get on her feet. Her right leg was protesting and she winced when a painful cramp shot through her calf. She sat down heavily and looked around, still amazed by the fact that she was alive. Only then she noticed the two police officers standing close.

Peter was checking Little Steven for a pulse and slowly shook his head, his face pale and withdrawn.

Sam saw Trishia swallow hard, while the police woman handed over her gun to her fellow officer.

” You had no choice, Trish,” Peter softly spoke, putting a hand on her shoulder. ” He was about to shoot Miss Stevens.”

” There’s another guy around here somewhere,” Megan informed the two police officers, her voice strained with emotion.

” Don’t worry about him, miss,” Peter smiled. ” He’s been caught down the road and has a lot of explaining to do.”

Carol Wong tried to control her nerves. After they had heard the clear sound of a gunshot, the whole office went silent. All eyes were fixed on the desk where the speaker was softly making a buzzing noise. They could vaguely hear some sounds, but it was hard to determine who was speaking and what was being said.

A few moments before, the announcement had come in that one of the criminals, Joe Michaels had been arrested and was being transported to the police office immediately.

Jody was the only one who was staring at her nervously twitching hands. Her heart was hammering in her chest, making it hard to breathe. The palms of her hands were sweaty and her mouth was dry. There was just one word that was floating through her mind: Sam.

She didn’t have to close her eyes to remember her lover’s clear blue eyes, that could look at her full of love and passion, but just as often twinkled when she was in a teasing mood.

I need to see that twinkle again, Sam. Oh, God. If you are listening, please protect Sam for me. Please keep her safe. I need her so.

” Trishia. Peter, ” Carol Wong spoke for the third time, not being able to hide her nervousness anymore.

” Would any of you please pick up that damn phone and give us an answer!”

The sound of a phone being picked up suddenly filled the room and a second later Peter’s voice was heard.

” Sorry, inspector,” he apologized. ” We had a situation here, but everything is under control.”

” What the f…heck happened?” Carol Wong hissed, just in time remembering her manners.

” We had to take down that Little Steven bloke, inspector. I’m sorry, but we had no choice.”

” How bad is it?” Carol Wong anxiously asked.

” Um…he’s pretty dead, inspector. But everyone else is all right.”

” Are you okay?” Carol Wong asked, closing her eyes and sending a silent thank you prayer to whoever was listening.

” It was Trish who shot him, boss. He was about to take down Miss Stevens.”

Jody suddenly sat up straight and looked at Carol Wong. Her eyes wide with shock and fear.

” Is Miss Stevens all right?” she quickly asked.

” Yes, she is. A bit shaken up, but that’s understandable. I’ll wrap things up here and wait for the coroner. I will send Trish back with the two ladies. If that’s okay with you, inspector. ”

” That’s fine, Peter. Thank you.”

” No worries. Everything’s peachy now, boss. The girls will be back within thirty minutes or so. Better get some drinks ready, they look thirsty.”

Jody didn’t realize tears were rolling down her cheeks, until her mother knelt in front of her and gently wiped them away, pulling her daughter in a comforting hug.

” It’s okay now, honey,” she softly spoke, feeling her daughter’s body tremble. ” She’s on her way back and she is okay, thank God.”

” Oh, mom, I have been so scared,” Jody sniffed. ” I feel like throwing up.”

” Not on me, you don’t,” Joan McDonnell gently joked, making Jody smile through her tears.

” Thanks for your support, mom.”

” Don’t thank me for that, love. I have been letting you down too often and too long. I should have stood up to your father years ago. I am so sorry I didn’t have the courage to do that.”

Jody put her head on her mother’s shoulder and sighed contentedly. Soon they would leave all the misery behind and Sam and she could focus on their future, together. Enjoying each other and celebrating their love.

” Don’t apologize, Mom. We both know what kind of person Dad is. I am just glad you managed to start thinking for yourself.”

Twenty minutes later a police car pulled up outside and Fiona, who had been standing guard at the window, jumped up and ran towards the door, disappearing out of sight.

” I guess they are back,” Lucy grinned, casting a look at Jody and Sarah who both had looked better. Their eyes were red and puffed up from crying, but when the car stopped, they both sported huge smiles, which changed their faces in an instant.

Before Sam and Megan could step inside the building the door was yanked open and a slender teenager threw herself in Sam’s arms, clutching to her like she would never let her go again.

Sam held Fiona close and felt the teenager’s body rack with sobs. Tears welled in her eyes when she stroked the dark hair and whispered words of comfort.

“Ssh, Fi, it’s okay, ” she said, her voice husky with emotion and thirst. ” I am back now, everything is over. We’re safe.”

” We heard the shots through the speaker phone, Sam,” Fiona sniffed, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. ” We were so scared! I though that….”

” I know, ” Sam interrupted the young girl. ” And I am sorry you had to go through all of that, but it’s over now, Fi. It’s all over. Come on, let’s go inside. I want to see my honey.”

Fiona smiled through her tears and let go of Sam, turning to Megan to give her a quick hug.

As soon as the Sam and Megan stepped inside the office, two women launched themselves in their arms, holding on like their lifes depended on it.

As soon as Sam felt Jody’s familiar body against her own, the tension finally broke and she let her tears flow freely.

” Oh, God, baby! It’s over. It’s finally over. I…he…tried to shoot me, and.”

” It’s okay, honey,” Jody felt the tall body tremble and slowly let her hands rub circles across her lover’s back.

” You’re back, everything’s okay. Let’s get you a chair, so you can sit down.”

Immediately a chair was pushed right behind Sam and gently Jody guided her to sit down. She wanted to kneel in front of her, but Sam wrapped her arms around Jody’s waist and pulled her in her lap, burrying her face against her chest. It slowly sank in that the whole situation was done and over with. And they were unharmed. Safe. Now they could try and leave it all behind them and continue to plan their lives, together.

Carol Wong looked at the two reunited couples and realized they had all been extremely lucky with the way things had worked out.

She glanced at Trishia who was sitting on the edge of a desk. Her face was pale and withdrawn and she was staring in the distance, apparently not aware of the things going on around her. Her hands were clenched into fists and her normally relaxed composure, had turned into a very tense one. Carol Wong new there would be an internal investigation about the shooting, but she also knew that Trishia would come out clean. From the little bits and pieces she had heard about what had happened, she knew the police woman only did what she had to do. Luckily she was an excellent marksman. Carol had briefly spoken with Peter, on the phone and he had told her that Trishia had only had once chance to safe Sam’s life. Apparently Little Steven was about to pull the trigger, when Trishia’s shot had taken him down. He had been dead before he hit the ground.

Carol Wong sighed and realized there were stacks of paper to fill out, but looking at the distressed women in the office, she knew it would be better for everybody to send them on their way and let them come back in the next day. The reports could wait. She and her staff had to deal with the death of two fellow policemen and that was hard enough already.

Carol Wong rubbed her forehead and suddenly felt all the responsibility she had weigh heavy on her shoulders. A hand touched her arm and she looked up in the face of Joan McDonnell.

” Thank you very much, inspector Wong, ” Joan McDonnell spoke. ” You and your men….and woman,” she added with a smile, glancing at Trishia. ” came through for us today. I will be grateful forever.”

” Thank you, Mrs. McDonnell,” Carol Wong answered. ” I can’t tell you how happy I am that your friends are safe. ”

” I know your job is not finished yet. There’s all the paperwork and I realize your department suffered a huge loss with those two young men being…killed. We are all willing to cooperate during the investigation, inspector. I know I am speaking for all of us.”

” Thank you, Mrs McDonnell. I appreciate that,” Carol Wong smiled. ” But why don’t you take your friends and family with you? Seems like you could all do with some rest. Be back tomorrow at noon for the statements and paperwork and you won’t hear me complain.”

” I’ll round them up,” Joan McDonnell smiled.

She wanted to turn around, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her.

” Ryan told me about the abuse. It always pains me to see anyone go through something like that. I want you to know, that if you will ever feel threatened, you can call us and we will be right there. You are a courageous woman, Mrs. McDonnell. I see where your daughters get their strength from.”

” Thank you,” Joan McDonnell whispered, deeply touched by Carol Wongs words.

She turned around and walked towards Jody and Sam, kneeling down beside the chair.

” Are you two ready to get out of here? The inspector says that the paperwork can wait until tomorrow. I think we all need a rest and a good meal.”

” And I know the right place for that,” Sam smiled weakly. ” I need a phone.”

She didn’t have to get up to get one, because Fiona, who was acting like her shadow ever since she set foot inside the building, immediately reached out and handed her the requested piece of technology. Inspite of her distress, Sam chuckled.

” Thanks, Fi! Okay, let’s see…”

Sam’s long fingers quickly dialed a number and Jody, who was watching her closely, smiled contendly.

” This is Samantha Stevens. Is everything under control? No problems? Good, excellent Maria. Have you heard anything from Brian today? Oh, that’s good news! I am happy to hear that. Listen, Maria. I need rooms and food for, let’s see….seven people, including me. I would really appreciate it if you could get someone to get the executive wing ready. Three rooms would be enough…” Sam looked up into Lucy’s eyes, seeing the interest and immediately the old Sam surfaced. “Maria? Make that four rooms.”

Lucy quickly turned around to hide her face, but Sam had seen the blush and she grinned mischievously.

“Okay, girls, let’s get out of here,” Jody sighed, happy to be able to leave, but reluctant to give up her snuggly spot.

Lucy was the last one to walk out the door. She looked back to Trishia and hesitated. A pair of tired green blue eyes looked at her and quickly she turned around and walked back inside the office.

” Thank you for keeping Sam and Megan safe,” she softly spoke, putting her hand on a muscular arm.

Trishia managed a smile and slowly shook her head.

” It’s part of the job,” she answered.

” You saved their lifes. There’s nothing we can do to ever repay that.”

Trishia covered the hand on her arm with one of her own and softly squeezed.

” Don’t worry about it.”

” Will you be okay? I mean…” Lucy swallowed and felt the insecurity creeping up on her. ” Is there… anyone…you can stay with ? It must be hard to go through all of this alone. Don’t get me wrong, but…”

” It’s just me,” Trishia answered, her eyes searching Lucy’s face, an unspoken question in them.

” If you would like to come over later, after you’re done here, you are very welcome to.”

They looked at each other, their eyes locked and slowly a smile broke through on both their faces.

” I’d love to. Thanks.”

” Good,” Lucy answered, visibly relieved. ” I will see you later then.”

” Defenitely,” Trishia whispered.

It was hours later. The sun had lost it’s sting for that day and was about to set, coloring the sky a bright orange. The Pacific displayed it’s neverending motion, with white crowned waves, crashing on the beach and then slowly retreating, an eternal, powerful movement.

Sam and Jody were standing on the balcony of the executives room, their arms wrapped around each other, bodies pressed close, enjoying the beautiful scenery and revelling in each other’s presence.

” How’s the leg now, Sam?” Jody lazily asked, snuggling even closer to the warm body of her lover.

” Not too bad,” Sam answered, equally lazy, her blue eyes never leaving the ocean that was stretched out in front of them. ” How’s your face, sweetie?”

” Not too bad,” Jody mimicked, chuckling when she heard Sam growl. ” Tough chick!”

“Mmm…let’s see.”

Sam turned around so she could face her smaller companion. She put her hand under Jody’s chin and lifted up her face.

“Maybe I should try and kiss it better.”

Without waiting for an answer, Sam bent her head and softly pressed her lips against the bruise on the side of Jody’s face.

” Does that hurt?” she whispered against the discolored skin.

” No, it doesn’t,” Jody breathed, her whole body suddenly tingling.

” Good!”

Sam’s lips travelled down a silky cheek, kissing Jody’s nose and finally landing on a pair of soft lips, who immediately responded to the intimate caress. Sam was very gentle, afraid to hurt her lover’s face, but Jody didn’t want any of that. She wrapped her arms around Sam’s neck and pulled her even closer. She sucked Sam’s lower lip, making the tall woman moan soflty. Her tongue sought entry, sensually dancing around Sam’s, while her hips suddenly started a life of their own, grinding into Sam’s thigh, pressing even closer.

When they had to come up for air, Sam pressed her forehead against Jody’s and looked in a pair of eyes that were darkened with desire.

” Jody, honey. I am about to have a melt down,” she spoke in a husky voice, while her hands that were on her lovers’ hips started to squeeze the firm flesh underneath.

” Keep this up and I will spontaneously combust,” Jody answered. ” I love you, Sam. I want to show you just how much.”

She pulled Sam in for another passion filled kiss, nibbling her way down to her colarbone, while her fingers expertly unbuttoned the cotton shirt Sam was wearing. Cool wind touched her skin, when Jody’s hand slid the fabric off her shoulders.

A pair of soft lips left a moist track when they travelled down to the soft swell of firm breasts and Sam’s breathing became shallow and erratic.

” Honey, ” she moaned, feeling like her knees were turned into jelly, ready to give way. ” I really need to lay down….soon.” A teasing tug on one of her nipples. ” Now.”

Jody chuckled and pulled her totally aroused partner towards the huge bed in the middle of the room. She playfully pushed Sam down on the firm mattrass and crawled up the tall body, straddling her hips. Her oceangreen eyes were dark with desire and Sam realized that, despite the dark bruises on her cheek, Jody never had looked more beautiful.

” Now, where was I?” Jody whispered, running the flat of her palms over Sam’s already highly sensitized skin, sliding underneath Sam’s back and skillfully unclasping the lacey bra.

Jody moaned in pleasure whith the easy access to her lover’s firm, but soft breasts. Her hands cupped both mounds, while her thumbs teased already hardened nipples.

Sam arched her back into the touch, silently begging for more, but Jody was relentless.

” Tell me what you want, baby,” she whispered, teasingly biting a soft earlobe.

” I…want…your mouth, where…your fingers…are,” Sam gasped, very aware of the warmth that was spreading through the lower part of her body.

From a close distance her clear blue eyes looked into a pair of green ones, that had taken on the color of a stormy ocean. They stared in each others eyes for a long moment. Suddenly the skin around Jody’s eyes wrinkled and a huge smile creased her face.

” Anything for you, my love,” she whispered, blinking back some happy tears.

She tore her eyes away from Sam’s and without looking at her lover she knew Sam had closed her eyes the moment Jody’s warm, moist lips covered one of her nipples.

The only sound in the room was the distant breaking of the waves on the beach, soft moans and softly whispered words. Two bodies moved against each other on the big bed, slick with perspiration and the effects of their lovemaking. Totally engrossed in each other, not aware of the world around them. Celebrating life and their love for one another.

Hours later, tired but happy and satiated after numerous sessions of lovemaking, Sam and Jody were back on the balcony, once again wrapped in each other arms, a bottle of chilled, white wine on the table. Jody was leaning against Sam’s chest, her lover’s arm protectively around her, pulling her close.

” I wish this moment would last forever,” Jody sighed, stroking the skin of Sam’s hand with her fingers. ” I don’t think I have ever been happier in my life.”

Sam kissed the top of the redhaired head against her chest and tightened her grip on the slender body in her arms.

” Mmm…I am so relaxed I don’t think I can stand up,” Sam smiled. ” And I think I will have a funny walk tomorrow morning, after the way you ravished me.”

Sam felt Jody’s body shake with silent laughter.

” And I am not even finished yet, baby,” Jody answered. ” We’re just having a break here.”

” Oh, my God,” Sam gasped. ” You are wicked!”

” Isn’t that why you love me so much?” Jody teased.

” Well,” Sam drawled. ” That and a few other things.”

She shifted her body, making Jody yelp, because without her lover’s quick reflexes, she would have ended up on the ground. Sam laughed out loud when she saw Jody’s indignant face and quickly kissed her.

” Sorry, honey, but I just needed to see your face.”

” Why? Bruises turn you on?” Jody quipped.

” Not exactly,” Sam answered, her face suddenly very serious. ” But I need to ask you something.”

Jody looked up into eyes that almost looked silver in the light of the moon. She reached out and cupped Sam’s face, placing a soft kiss on her lips.

” What is it?”

” Lots of things happened these last few weeks and because of that we didn’t really have much time together. But…I can’t imagine my life without you, not anymore. I…I…if I have to go back to Holland, I…”

Jody’s body jerked and she suddenly looked at Sam with an expression that was close to panic.

” You’re leaving?”

” I have to go back, honey, but I want you to come with me,” Sam quickly answered. ” I want you to meet my parents and…and…Jody?”

Jody’s eyes had never left Sam’s and her shocked expression had been replaced by a bright smile. Her expressive eyes were sparkling.

” Honey? Will you marry me?”

Jody stared at Sam, suddenly sitting stock still, her eyes wide, filled with disbelief.

” Breathe, baby,” Sam joked, pushing back a strand of long, reddish hair from Jody’s forehead.

” I…you want to me marry me? Sam? God! Yes! Of course. Oh, baby, yes, I will marry you.”

Jody threw her arms around Sam’s neck in a crashing hug. Tears flowed from her eyes, while she claimed Sam’s lips in scorching kiss.

” I love you, Jody,” Sam finally managed to croak, feeling the happiness bubble up inside her heart. ” In Holland we can get married, like anyone else. I want the whole world to know, that you and I belong together. I don’t ever want to leave you behind again, ever.”

In the next room, Megan was wrapped in Sarah’s arms, her head resting on her partner’s shoulder, while a strong hand slowly threaded through her unruly hair. Two pair of eyes looked at the ceiling, sprinkled with moon cast shadows. Their evening had been quiet, filled with closeness. They were content to just lay there in each others arms, feeling alive and content. Happy to be together.

” Sam was great,” Megan told her lover. ” You should have seen her, Sarah. I was scared out of my wits, but she tried to bluff her way out of it the whole time. I even think they were impressed. She constantly tried to protect me, you know.”

” I know, you told me,” Sarah smiled, kissing Megan’s cheek. ” I will be forever in her debt.”

” I guess we have to postpone our anniversary party, ” Megan sighed. ” The house will be a mess, with the kitchen damaged by the fire.”

” That’s no problem, sweetheart. All it takes is a few phone calls. Our friends and family will understand.”

” Yeah, they will,” Megan sleepily answered, snuggling closer. She needed to feel her lover as close as she could. To her it was the most important cure for the demons that were lurking in the back of her mind.

” Go to sleep, love,” Sarah whispered, pressing another kiss on the smooth skin beneath her chin. ” I will be here, holding you. You’re safe now.”

” I love you, Sarah.”

” I love you too, baby,” Sarah smiled, feeling love and tenderness flow through her body. ” Rest now.”

Within a few minutes Megan’s breathing had become deep and even and Sarah knew her lover was asleep. Finally. She stared at the ceiling, thinking back on all the events that had transpired that day. She felt a shiver run up and down her spine, when she realized she could have easily lost the woman, who was now sleeping in her arms.

” Thank you, God, ” she whispered.

Outside, Lucy and Trishia were sitting on the beach, just out of the reach of the waves. They had talked for hours, while casually strolling down the beach. Walking close together, but never touching.

” Thanks for listening, Lucy,” Trishia said, drawing pictures in the sand. ” I know it wasn’t a pleasant story to listen to.”

Every time Trishia closed her eyes, she heard the echo of her gun, seeing the body of Little Steven fall to the ground. Knowing she was responsible for taking a life.

” No worries, Trishia, ” Lucy answered. ” I understand. If you ever need to talk, you know where to find me. I hate to think of you not being able to talk to anyone about this.”

” Well, there’s always the police shrink,” Trishia joked.

” That’s different,” Lucy immediately answered. ” Isn’t it?”

Trishia looked at the woman who was sitting next to her. Her long, dark hair pulled back in a braid, her flawless skin a creamy white in the light of the moon. She swallowed hard and tried to come up with a reason for the closeness she felt to a person she had just met that same day.

” Very different,” she finally answered, staring at her bare toes, that had dug a little hole in the cool sand.

” Trishia?”

” Mmm?”

” I like you,” Lucy confessed, suddenly feeling shy, an emotion that was usually alien to her.

” I like you too,” Trishia smiled.

Lucy shifted so she could look Trishia in the eye and suddenly felt nervous.

” I mean, I don’t know what’s happening here. But I really like you and that’s so weird, because yesterday I didn’t even know you existed. And I…it.s confusing.”

” Why?”

” Because…this is me we’re talking about,” Lucy answered, a hint of a laugh in her voice. ” I always have an answer to everything, much to my famillies frustration. I am the big mouth of the McDonnells, but right now, I have no words.”

” Try just to feel,” Trishia replied, moving so she and Lucy were facing each other.

An invisible force slowly drew their faces closer and Trishia could see Lucy swallow hard. The expression on her face was one of wonder and Trishia could hear a soft intake of breath.

” I have never kissed a woman before, ” she quickly stated, seeing Trishia’s lips come closer.

” But do you want to?”

” O, yes,” were Lucy’s last words for a while, because their lips met in a tentative kiss, that slowly increased in passion and intensity. Trishia took her time, letting Lucy set the pace and she was anything but disappointed, when a pair of arms gently pushed her down in the sand, and a slender body covered her own. She wrapped her arms around Lucy and pulled her close. Her world started spinning and she forgot everything, except the woman in her arms and the lips that somehow managed to turn her into a puddle.

Epilogue

Carol Wong closed the door behind her, feeling the effect of a very long day. All reports were written and Joe Michaels had been officially accused of extortion, murder, kidnapping, laundrying money and a few more criminal offenses. He was facing at least a life time in prison.

Fred had spilled his guts and even though Carol Wong had not showed any signs of pity, she felt for the young boy, who obviously had been in the wrong place, at the wrong time. His coorperation had been appreciated and his sentence would translate that.

William Jenkins was dead. When the police arrived at the scene where he had been shot, it was clear that he had died as soon as the bullet hit his chest. It ploughed through his coronary artery, making sure the life had drained quickly from his battered body. They had found evidence in William Jenkins’ house that proved that he had huge debts, due to gambling. Joe Michaels had offered him a way out, giving him money to pay his debts, but demanding coorperation in draining money from The Reef’s extensive bank account. He had gone so far, as to hire illegal immigrants,who Joe Michaels had also used for drug trafficing between Australia and Indonesia.

Little Steven had died as soon as the bullet that Trishia had fired sunk into the soft tissue of his brain. Ballistic reports showed that he had been the one, who killed the two police men that had been assigned the task of protecting Sam Stevens and Jody McDonnell.

Carol Wong smiled when she remembered the look on Joan McDonnells face, when Sam had offered her a job at The Reef. They needed someone at the front desk and Sam said she was convinced her mother in law would do a great job. Joan McDonnell had shed a few happy tears, especially since she had decided not to go back to her husband. Her two sons, who still lived at home had showed their support and Fiona and her mother would be living in Jody’s appartment, since she didn’t seem to need it anymore.

Her smile grew even bigger when she remembered the happy faces of the two young women, after announcing their plans to get married and take over the management of The Reef for the time being.

The puppy dog look on the face of one of her best police officers, when looking at a certain dark haired, green eyed woman, had made her chuckle. Trishia had fallen head over heels and it was clear that Lucy had wrapped Trishia around her little finger.

Carol Wong opened the door of her car and out of habit she looked at the beach, situated behind the police station. Her eyes grew warm when she saw two familiar figures slowly walk down the beach, their arms wrapped around each other’s waist.

Sam tilted her head and bent down to kiss the woman next to her. They stopped dead in their tracks and Carol Wong averted her eyes when she saw the intensity of the embrace deepen. Carol Wong smiled and got in her car. When she pulled out she saw The Reef in all it’s glory. Bathing in the light of the setting sun, the Pacific at the background, while two very happy people slowly continued their walk.

 

 

The End

Continued in Murrook Farm

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