The Darkest Hour
Copyright © 2000 by Talaran
Disclaimers: This is a sequel to my first story, Vendetta. There are things that happened in the first story that are relevant so you may want to read that one first.
The two main characters, and I think you know who they remind us of, are in deeply in love. There will be sexual interactions in this story so if this type of material disturbs you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
A million points of light twinkled in the blackness above. Nic was navigating an unfamiliar, winding road. On one side there was a sheer cliff, while the other was a drop off into apparent oblivion. Nic glanced at the empty seat and wondered where Carly was and where she herself was, for that matter?
She looked at her wrist, but found no watch. Looking down, she realized she was dressed only in her shorts and nightshirt and she was barefooted. When she returned her attention to the road, she was heading straight for the edge of the cliff. Jerking the wheel, she averted disaster and made the wild turn on what seemed like only two tires. Up ahead, the road twisted and turned like a roller coaster and she found that she had all she could do to keep her car on the road.
Further up the road, she noticed the dim taillights of another vehicle. Her heart lightened at the sight of someone else on the desolate road. The car was driving too fast for the sharp bends that came up out of nowhere. The car looked familiar to her even in the darkness that surrounded them. Why did she feel like she should know who was in that car? She quickened her carís pace so that she could get a better look. The car careened around the bend just up ahead and for a brief moment it was completely out of her sight. Applying the brakes Nic slowed down to take the curve at a more prudent speed. Once she rounded the bend, she was surprised that the other car was nowhere in sight. After cresting a rise in the road she spotted the taillights just up ahead and stepped on the gas in an effort to close the distance. When she was within two car lengths an unsettling fear gripped her; the license plate read STONE! Now she understood why the car looked familiar. It was her Miata! But it should be home, safely tucked in her garage. Who could be driving her car? And why were they both on this Godforsaken road? Then it hit her like a brick. Carly! She would be the only person Nic would even think of letting drive that car.
Now she was determined to catch up to the vehicle and bring it to a stop before something awful happened. Just as that thought entered her consciousness she watched, horrified, as the small car failed to negotiate the next turn and flipped over the cliff. "NNOOOOO!"
A piercing wail jerked Carly from her slumber. She was so disoriented that she thought she was dreaming, at first. Reaching over she switched on the bedside lamp. Abruptly Nic rose from the bed and entered the bathroom, quickly closing the door behind her.
Carly sat wide-eyed, staring at the bathroom door. She wanted to go in there, but thinking she might be intruding, she decided to hold back. She rapped lightly on the bathroom door. "Nic, is everything okay?"
Nic stared at her reflection. Her panicked breathing had settled a bit, but she still felt shaken by the image of the car plummeting over the cliff. She knew she had to answer Carly, or the young woman would certainly be in there in a second. "I'm okay, Car. It was just a nightmare, that's all."
Another nightmare? This was the second time within the past four days that Nic had a dream that frightened her so much she awoke in a panic. What could be bothering her? Carly knew a cop's life was stressful, but something inside told her this had nothing to do with Nic's career choice. Her concern was mounting. "Are you sure?"
The door opened. Nic smiled as she dried her damp face off. "Yeah, I'm fine, really. Let's go back to bed," she said as she tossed the towel back into the bathroom. They both slipped back under the covers, though Carly kept eyeing Nic suspiciously. Nic kissed her forehead and opened her arm so that Carly could snuggle into her shoulder. It took a while, but the blonde eventually fell back into a deep slumber. Nic, on the other hand, refused to let sleep claim her for fear that another horrible dream would surface again.
"Damn it!" Nic cursed, as she burned her hand on the edge of the frying pan.
"Meooowww," Harley added sympathetically.
Nic looked down at the cat as she wound herself around Nic's long legs. "Tell me about it. I still don't know how she got out of her clothes so fast." Reaching down she picked up the cat. Looking the feline in the eyes she said, "I may not have made it to the hot tub first, but I did make it to the bedroom first, so you know who is responsible for dinner tonight." The cat playfully swatted at the dark bangs that hung just above Nic's eyes. She gave the cat a kiss on the head before she placed her back on the floor and returned her attention to the stove.
In one smooth motion she flipped the omelet over in the sizzling butter of the pan. Even though she had lost the game, she smiled at the fact that she had won the match. The smile grew wider as thoughts of the previous evening entered her mind. And now, here she was, preparing breakfast for her beloved. The realization that she had someone she even considered her beloved made her chuckle a little. A week ago she had only known this woman as her partner's sister and now here she was feeling like they'd been a couple for years. The fact that they seem to fit so perfectly scared the dark haired woman. Maybe that's what is causing the nightmares? She had not intended for this to happen, yet it had and she hadn't even put up a struggle. As she watched the omelet cook she contemplated the last few days and how much and how quickly her life had changed. At this moment she couldn't imagine life without Carly.
Grabbing the pan, she slid half of the omelet onto Carly's plate, then the other half onto her own. After pouring out two steaming cups of coffee, she headed for the bedroom with the breakfast tray.
Carly was comfortably stretched out on the king-size bed, her hands laced behind her head. Unruly blonde hair fell over her shoulders onto the pillow below. She was staring through the skylights into the vastness beyond. Her face was a picture of complete serenity and blissful happiness. A smile curled her lips as she remembered the previous evening's hot tub antics. They had spent at least an hour frolicking in the water and just plain enjoying each other's company. She still couldnít believe everything that had transpired in the past few days.
Her mother and her aunts had always told her that there was someone out there for everyone and she had believed them for most of her life. When she met Sarah in college she had thought she was the person to whom they had referred, but then that all changed when Sarah's parents whisked her away. Carly had felt like her heart had been broken into a million pieces. For weeks she had walked the campus like a ghost, a shadow of her former self. From that point on she never really allowed herself to feel that way about anyone. There certainly had been opportunities, but she had known the price she would pay for opening her heart and she had decided that the price was too high. But, now things were different. She felt a connection to Nic that was much stronger than what she had experienced with Sarah. She really didn't understand it. It was as if they were meant to be together. Maybe her family was right all along. Maybe there is someone out there for everyone. Someone who fits as perfectly as a custom-made glove.
Nic, quiet as usual, stood silently in the doorway and watched the younger woman for several seconds before she was noticed. Once green eyes spotted her she proceeded into the room. "Well, here we are."
Carly watched the taller woman intently. She walked with a cat-like grace. She was wearing a cutoff t-shirt that revealed her well-defined abs and a pair of cotton shorts. Carly thought she was the most enticing thing she had ever seen. If her stomach weren't protesting so much she would have considered forgoing breakfast for a little while. "Something smells delicious! I thought you said you couldn't cook?"
Nic placed the tray across Carly's lap. "I think I said didn't, not couldn't," she remarked.
Carly smirked as she inspected the omelet with growing interest. "This looks pretty good. What's in it?" The tired look in Nic's eyes did not go unnoticed by her green-eyed love. I bet she never even fell back to sleep.
"Oh, some ham, cheese, peppers and seasonings, of course." Nic got into bed and grabbed her plate.
Carly dove right in. "This is great! You're going to be cooking more often."
"Only if I continue to lose, which I don't think I will," Nic replied confidently.
"We'll see," Carly said.
The phone rang, awakening Nic, who was entangled with Carly to such a degree that she couldn't reach it. After breakfast and an exhausting love making session, the pair had fallen asleep in each other's arms. To Nic's pleasure, it had been a contented, dreamless sleep. "Car, honey, I need to get the phone," she whispered softly. She really hoped it wasnít another reporter.
"What?" the blonde grumbled.
"The phone, honey, I need to get it." Nic managed to free one of her arms just enough to grab the receiver. "Hello."
"Is Carly Jamison there?" a deep male voice asked.
Immediately Nic wondered, who was on the other end? A tinge of jealously ran through her at the sound of her lover's name being spoken by an unknown man. Shaking the feeling away she gently rubbed Carly's back, "It's for you."
Sitting up, Carly rubbed her sleepy eyes and took the phone. "Hello?"
"Glad I caught you," he paused, hoping she would recognize his voice. He was a little disconcerted by the fact that she was with someone else. "Hope I didn't interrupt anything. Anyway, what's this I hear about you taking an indefinite leave of absence?"
Carly unwittingly sat up straighter, pulling her hand through her tousled locks. "Hi, John. It's good to hear from you. How was your flight?" Just as she reached for Nic's hand the taller woman stood up, grabbed the breakfast tray and exited the room leaving the blonde bewildered. What brought that on?
Out in the hallway Nic silently berated herself for her impulsiveness. For some illogical reason she felt that she was intruding on the conversation and that initial spark of jealousy was beginning to erupt into a flame.
"I'm sorry, John, could you repeat that?" Carly stared at the doorway, hoping to see Nic return.
"So, now you're not even bothering to listen to me, huh?"
"My attention was diverted for a second, forgive me?"
And just what diverted it? John wondered. "YeahÖwell, as I was saying, why are you taking a leave of absence instead of personal time?"
Carly was actually sorry Nic had picked up the phone. She wasn't in the mood to explain all of this to John right now. Though she appreciated his help at the magazine she didn't feel that she owed him anything. Now if John would just understand that everything would be fine. "Well, for one thing, I don't know how long my brother will be recuperating." She paused, wondering what his reaction would be. "And for anotherÖI've met someone."
Silence on the other end. John was unsure of how to respond to that. He felt hurt that this woman that he had taken under his wing had found someone in less than a week that would make her willingly give up such a plum assignment. He hadn't acted upon any of his feelings for her and now he truly regretted that. "Oh," he paused, absorbing it all. "Is it serious?"
"Yes it is," Carly answered, without hesitation. At least it is for me.
"WellÖI hope everything works out for you, then," he offered in a dejected tone.
"I hope it does, too. Goodbye, John."
"Bye, Carly. Iíll miss you," and with that he hung up.
Carly stood outside the door to Nicís office, her hand poised to rap on the door. She knew sheíd find Nic there even before she checked the rest of the house.
Nic sat with her back to the door as she idly gazed out of the window. She wasnít sure what had brought on the sudden surge of jealousy, or the ugly nightmare she had experienced last night. "What the hell is wrong with me," she said to no one. "Nic, youíre going to screw this up, if youíre not careful." Her remarkable hearing told her that someone was on the other side of the door and she knew sheíd have some explaining to do.
A soft knock, followed by, "Nic? Are you okay? Can I come in?"
Without turning around she answered, "Iím fine and yes, you can come in." It came out harsher than she had intended.
Hesitantly Carly stepped into the room. She didnít know what to make of Nicís sudden mood change. "Why did you leave the bedroom?"
Because Iím being stupid, why else? "I didnít want to disturb you."
Carly looked down at her lover and her heart went out to her. She started to have an inkling of what might be bothering her. Placing her hand on Nicís strong chin she tilted her head up until their eyes locked. "You could never disturb me. Now whatís going on?"
Nic found her embarrassment diminishing as those vibrant green eyes held her. "I guess I was feeling a little jealous."
"Of John?" Crystal blue eyes blinked back at her. "Nic, you have nothing to worry about. John was just calling because he was surprised to hear about my leave of absence."
Nicís eyes widened. "Leave of absence?"
Carly deposited herself in Nicís lap. The taller woman accepted her gratefully. "I was going to tell you today. Actually, I wanted to surprise you. I called the office yesterday and made the arrangements."
Long arms engulfed Carly and she melted into them. "So, you donít have to go back to Washington, yet?" Nic asked.
"Nope. So it looks like youíre stuck with me for awhile." Carly was not ready to tell Nic the rest of her plan. She was afraid that Nic would try to talk her out of it.
The dark haired woman held her companion firmly, almost as if she feared letting her go. "I consider myself blessed, not stuck." Pulling back she met her loveís eyes and then sealed their lips with a heartfelt kiss. Carly could feel their connection growing. It was as if they were riding on a wave, with no ability to control the path or magnitude of the force that carried them.
Thursday and Friday came and went quickly with Nic and Carly dividing their time between the hospital and Jimmyís apartment. The doctor informed them that he expected to release Jimmy on Monday, so Carly wanted his apartment cleared of any reminders of the attack. While she had busied herself with that task, Nic had made one quick stop at the station to take care of Harry Wilkinsí parking tickets. A favor for his help the other morning with the reporters. While she was there Nic had scheduled her test for the shooting range. Since she had sustained an injury to her arm she would need to qualify on the range before she could resume active duty. By the time she had returned to Jimmy's apartment Carly had finished getting everything ready for Jimmy's return.
Nic drove the Xterra through the late afternoon traffic while Carly dozed beside her. The overcast day made it seem later than it actually was. As she drove she periodically glanced at her lover, who looked completely at peace. Carlyís hand was lying across Nicís thigh and even that small amount of contact comforted the taller woman. Without thinking about it she interlaced their fingers, then brought Carlyís hand to her lips where she placed a soft kiss. A smile appeared on the blondeís face.
"I like that," Carly said.
"Iím sorry. I didnít mean to wake you."
Green eyes fluttered open. "Donít worry about it. I just needed a few winks. I feel much better, now."
"Well, when we get back to the house Iíll order us a pizza and we can relax in the hot tub for a while, okay?"
"Gee..you, me, the hot tub and a pizza. Youíre starting to spoil me, Nic."
"I havenít even begun," Nic said with a salacious grin and wiggle of her dark brows.
Nic opened her eyes, but couldnít see much of anything. It was completely dark out. Patches of moonlight appeared on the bed from the skylights above. Carly was curled up next to her and Harley was somewhere close because Nic could hear the soft rumble of her purring. At first Nic was content to just close her eyes and drift back off to sleep, but something at the back of her mind was telling her she shouldnít. Then, it hit her. Her eyes darted to the bedside clock. Shit! It was eight thirty.
Gently, she jiggled the blondeís shoulders. "Carly, we have to get up. Sue and Liz will be here in half an hour."
Carly mumbled something, then rolled over. She was having a pleasant dream and she wasnít eager to let go of it.
Nic tried again, this time with a little more force.
Carly groaned. "WhatísÖgoing on?"
"Car, honey, we have to get up. Weíre going out with Sue and Liz, remember."
"You know I like it when you call me 'Car'," she said as she rolled over and snuggled into Nic's side. Then the words Nic had said finally registered. Carly threw the covers back and sat up. "My God, thatís right. What time is it?"
"Well, letís just say we better jump in the shower, pronto."
Doreen walked up to the bar with an armful of various liquor bottles. "You want to give me a hand here, Sandy," she said to the woman who was sharing bar tending duties with her this evening. Sandy was a former truck driver. A tall blonde with broad shoulders, a thin waist and a prominent tattoo of a panther on her right arm that got the attention of every woman she waited on and some that she didn't.
"Yeah, hang on," Sandy replied as she set two draft beers down on the bar in front of a cute couple, one a pudgy brunette with a shaggy hair cut, and the other a slimmer version of the same.
Doreen was starting to lose one of the bottles when Sandy grabbed hold of it. "Got it!" she announced triumphantly. Doreen merely smirked as she stepped behind the bar and put the bottles away.
It was a typical Friday night at the Lavender Rose. The place was chock full of women, some dancing, others talking quietly in booths that lined the outer walls, while still others sat at the bar and ogled everything that moved. Doreen had been working here for nearly a year and in that time she'd seen just about ever type of woman in the bar at one time or another. Hell, half the time she expected to see her own mother appear, even though she was still happily married to Doreen's father. She was glad she had taken the job, though. Since she was currently unattached, it had proved to be the best place to pick up a potential partner.
As she was refilling the peanut dishes she noticed a foursome enter the bar. They were just passing through the ornate oak doors that sported oval glass centers with roses etched intricately in the center of each. Two of the women were tall with black, shoulder length hair, while their respective companions were smaller. One was a redhead and the other a blonde. They chatted to each other as they entered the bar, but it was easy to tell who was paired with whom. They approached the bar and took seats at the end Doreen was covering. She put on her best smile and said, "Welcome to the Lavender Rose. What can I get you?"
One of the taller two looked at Doreen with the most captivating pair of blue eyes she thought she had ever seen. "Iíll have a scotch and water on the rocks. Carly, what do you want?" The woman placed a protective arm around her companionís shoulders.
The blond answered, "A glass of white wine, please."
Doreen smiled, "Very good. And what about you two?" she asked, looking at the other pair.
Susan supplied the answer. "Weíll both have a couple of drafts."
A riveting Melissa Etheridge song started playing over the stereo system. The owner, Rose McCarvel, had spared no expense with the system, or any other part of the establishment, for that matter. Consequently it sounded like a live band was playing. Several patrons partnered up to hit the dance floor. Within seconds the bar area thinned out. Doreen served the drinks to the chatting foursome. Though they were all great looking women Doreen couldnít stop glancing at the blue eyed one. She was something to behold. She sported a sapphire silk shirt, which just intensified her impossibly blue eyes. As if that wasn't enough she wore a pair of black jeans that hugged all the right places.
Sandy elbowed Doreen in the ribs. "Hey, you better knock off the staring cause that little blonde looks like she might gouge out your eyes."
"Hmph!" Doreen said as she caught the young womanís intense gaze. Instantly she felt uncomfortable. "Iím going in the back for a ten minute break. Can you handle it out here?"
"Yeah, go ahead," Sandy replied.
Carly had noticed that from the time they had entered the bar, the one bartender, an athletic woman with short curly brown hair, had not taken her eyes off of Nic. Carly never thought of herself as the jealous type, but suddenly she was feeling very protective of Nic, who seemed to be oblivious of the bartenderís attention. Nic and Sue were absorbed in a discussion of the ongoing Marcone investigation by the DAís office. When the bartender headed for the back room Carly sighed.
Nic instantly heard it and rubbed Carlyís back. "Something wrong?"
Carly wasnít about to tell Nic, so she grabbed her hand and said, "Letís dance."
The music had just shifted from a pulsating beat to a softer Sophie Hawkins melody. Nic followed Carly onto the dance floor and wrapped her arms her. Carly wrapped her own arms around Nicís neck and the two seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. They swayed as one to the rhythms of the song. Just another couple enjoying the bond they shared. Carly thought it was all too perfect.
"You know, I love you more than anything in this world," Nic whispered through the blonde hair that tickled her face. She inhaled deeply allowing Carlyís scent to fill her.
At those words Carly tightened her hold, feeling as if she was barely touching the floor. She felt so completely safe and loved in Nicís arms. "I love you with all my heart too, Nic."
Sue and Liz watched their friends from the bar. It was clear to anyone that they were falling deeply in love. Liz placed her hand on Sueís leg and rubbed it gently. "I canít believe what an affect Carlyís had on Niki. I didnít think weíd ever see her this happy."
"I know. Iím amazed. Itís like her heart has come alive again."
"Well, when you meet the person youíre destined to be with that can happen." Liz winked at her partner.
Two hours and several dances later the group was seated in a booth just enjoying each otherís company. Sue had been mindful of what she drank so that she could get them all home safely. She had switched to club soda after having only a couple of beers. Carly and Liz had definitely had too much as they were both suffering from fits of giggles. Nic, as always, held her liquor well. She looked like she hadnít had a drink all night.
"Why donít we have one more and call it a night?" Nic offered.
Sue looked at her watch. "Sounds like a plan. And, itís your turn to buy."
Nic smiled and headed to the bar. Doreen watched the dark haired woman saunter toward the bar. "Hi there, gorgeous. What can I get you?"
Nicís eyebrow rose at the suggestiveness in the bartenderís voice. "A club soda, a Pepsi with a lemon slice, a white wine, and a draft."
Doreen set up four glasses and began filling the order. "SoÖI havenít seen you here before. New in town?"
"No. Just thought Iíd take my girlfriend dancing," Nic answered, curtly.
"Thatíll be ten even." Doreen winked.
Nic placed a ten-dollar bill on the bar, but before she could pick up the drinks Doreenís hand covered Nicís. Blue eyes blazed at the bravado of this somewhat attractive brunette. Nic realized sheíd need to diffuse this before it went any further. "Listen, Iím flattered, but Iím here withÖ"
Before Nic could finish her sentence she spotted rapid motion to her left. Unfortunately her hand wasn't free so she couldnít stop the punch that was headed straight for the bartenderís head. Doreen didnít even see it until it was too late. Carlyís fist landed flatly on the bartenderís jaw, snapping her head back. Liz and Sue were still at the booth unaware of what was happening, until they heard someone yell "FIGHT!"
Sandy turned to find Doreen falling to the floor. She had barely missed hitting the back counter where stacks of newly cleaned glasses were sitting. "What the hell?" Sandy exclaimed.
Nic quickly grabbed Carly around the waist and pulled her away. "Carly, what are you doing?" Nic retrieved her badge and flashed it at the advancing crowd. "Police! Settle down!" She was thankful that the crowd didn't seem to notice her badge said Larson PD, which gave her no jurisdiction in Clairmont.
The crowd stopped in their tracks. The tall, dark haired woman was an imposing figure, even while she was holding onto the screaming blonde.
"Nic, LET ME GO! I can take her!" Carly tried to pull herself back to the bar. The urge to tear into the bartender was overwhelming. She knew she had been looking at Nic all night and she'd finally had it.
Within seconds of the commotion Sue and Liz were standing beside Nic and Carly. "What in the hell is going on?" Sue asked. Liz was too stunned to speak.
"You two, take Carly outside. Iíll handle this."
Sue grabbed one arm, while Liz took the other. It was a struggle with Carly yelling every step of the way, but they managed to get her outside.
Sandy helped Doreen to her feet. The small brunette looked like she wasnít capable of standing by herself, yet. "Where is that little bitch?" Doreen screamed.
"All right. Everyone calm down. There is nothing more going on." Just as Nic got the words out she spotted the owner coming out of the back office.
"Whatís going on, Sandy?"
Sandy looked at Nic, then answered her boss. "This womanís girlfriend decided to knock Doreenís lights out."
The older woman smiled upon seeing the person to whom Sandy referred, then she let out a low chuckle. "Hello, Nic. Still causing a stir wherever you go, I see."
"Some habits are hard to break." Nic replied with a smile. Even though Nic hadn't been in the bar in over a year she thought Rose hadn't changed a bit. She was a short, stocky woman who used to have vibrant red hair, about twenty years ago, Nic figured. Nic still remembered the day she had met Rose McCarvel. She was just a beat cop back then and Rose had been a bartender at one of the seedier South side establishments in Larson. Fortunately for Rose, Nic had been in the right place at the right time, so she managed to thwart an attack that probably would have left Rose dead.
"Okay, the show is over. Go back to your tables," Rose bellowed. Walking over to Nic she looped her arm through Nicís and asked, "Care to explain?" They began strolling toward the door.
"Well, I think my girlfriend, who Iíll admit has had a little too much to drink, didnít care for your bartenderís interest in me."
Rose shot Doreen a nasty look. Obviously this hadnít been the first time the bartender had gotten into this kind of trouble. "I canít say that I blame Doreen for her choice in women. Is your friend all right?"
"Girlfriend and yes, sheís fine. Iím sorry about this, Rose. I tried to stop it, but Carly was a little too quick."
"SoooÖyou have someone you're willing to refer to as 'your girlfriend', now, huh?"
Nic knew where this was going. Rose had seen Nic leave this bar with some attractive woman more than a few times, but she never did see her return with any of them. In those days Nic had been content with the occasional one-night stands. "Yes, I do. And don't even think about saying 'I told you so'."
Rose let out a deep, throaty laugh. "Spoil my fun, why don't you." She stopped walking and turned to face Nic. "I'm glad you've let someone into your heart. You deserve to be happy, Nic."
Nic regarded the shorter woman with affection. "Thanks Rose. Maybe we can all get together and have dinner sometime?"
"I'd like that," Rose said as she waved goodbye to her friend.
Outside, Sue and Liz were leaning, arms crossed, against Sue's new silver Nissan Maxima. They watched their friend approach and couldn't help the smiles that formed on their lips.
"And just what are you two grinning about?" Nic asked.
"Nothing really. We both just had a wonderful time." Sue answered.
"Oh, yeah, and we think Carly's protective side is rather cute." Liz added, as she batted her eyelashes.
Nic hadn't had the time to give it much thought, but Liz was right. Carly saw the bartender as a threat to what she considered her territory. Nic liked the fact that Carly felt protective, even territorial of her. She never thought she would ever feel that way about someone, but now she did.
"Where is she?"
Sue pointed with her thumb, "Where do you think? She's probably asleep already."
When Nic opened the door that's exactly what she found. Carly was curled up on the seat and sleeping peacefully. Well, at least she hasn't gotten sick, yet, Nic thought as she sat down next to the blonde. Sue and Liz got in the front and within seconds they were headed back to Larson. As soon as the car began to move Carly mumbled something inaudible to the rest of them. Reaching out she pulled herself onto Nic's lap and let out a contented sigh when she felt Nic's arm curl about her waist. I shouldn't have let you drink so much, Car. You're going to have a hell of a headache in the morning.
Thirty minutes later, Sue pulled into Nic's long driveway, triggering two floodlights which completely illuminated the area.
"Carly, we're home," Nic said as she tried to wake the young woman.
"Where are we?" Carly mumbled through her haze.
"We're home, honey. Come on, I'll help you." Nic opened the door and eased the still sleepy blonde from the car. "I'll give you guys a call tomorrow."
Leaning out the window Liz said, "Okay. We had a lot of fun, Nic. Talk to you later."
"Bye, Sue. Bye, Liz!" Carly yelled while turning and trying to wave. The sudden movement caused a wave of dizziness to overtake her and she felt herself falling. Then, just as quickly, she had the sensation that she wasn't. Her feet were no longer touching the ground. She turned her head back around and lost her breath at the sight of Nic. Even in the state she was in she realized Nic had lifted her off the ground and was carrying her toward the back of the house. Wrapping both arms around Nic's neck she said, "You know I love you?"
Nic stopped and looked Carly in the eyes. "Yes, I do. And I hope you know that I love you."
Carly smiled and said, " I do," before laying her head on Nic's shoulder as they continued up the driveway.
When they got to the back of the house Nic noticed that the side door to the garage was ajar. Her senses alert, she scanned the backyard for any indications that someone had been back there while they had been gone. She saw nothing obvious. Climbing the stairs to the deck she placed Carly on one of the lounge chairs. "Carly, I'm going to check the garage out for a minute. Stay here."
Green eyes acknowledged her. "IsÖsomethingÖwrong?"
"No. I just want to check it out. I'll be right back." Nic kissed the blonde on the forehead then descended the stairs as quiet as a whisper. She wished she had her gun on her, but she didn't, so she'd have to improvise. A shovel was propped against the side of the garage so she grabbed it and tested the weight in her hands. This will have to do.
Keeping her back against the garage, she sidestepped until she was next to the door. Inside she heard a scraping sound. Shit! I'm not being paranoid. There is someone in there. She glanced back at Carly who was asleep again. The inside of the garage was completely dark except for a patch of light streaming in through the window just beyond the door. Taking a deep breath Nic kicked the door open and looked inside. A shaft of light cut through the darkness of the interior, but offered little help in revealing the intruder who was lurking inside. Just as Nic stepped inside the garage she heard something which caused her to raise the shovel protectively in front of her face.
The intruder swung a baseball bat across the entrance catching the shovel dead center. Nic's firm grip held and the vibration of the bat in the intruder's hands caused them to yelp in pain as they dropped the bat to the floor. It was a high-pitched yelp and one that sounded vaguely familiar to Nic. Nic took another step inside and reached for the light.
"Jessie?" she said with a look of total astonishment. "What are you doing here?"
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