Winter Snows 

Part 2 of 4

By Anne Azel

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons series are the creation of the author.

My thanks to the readers who have been kind in showing their appreciation of my stories. You are a super group! My special thanks to Lisa and Inga, who are my patient beta readers, and Susan for her comments and insights.

Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.

"Watch out for the wolves!" called Janet, as the mother and daughter waded reluctantly through the snow towards the tool shed. "Ted Potts saw a pack up the other side of Blackberry Rock just the other day. If you're lucky you might see them!"

"Aunt Janet has a funny concept of good luck," observed Ryan dryly, as she watched Robbie unlock the shed. "Can I drive?"

"Do you know how?" asked Robbie, entering the shed, and going over to unscrew the cap on the gas tank.

"Sure, the last school you dumped me in had winter survival classes."

"Guess it paid off," muttered Robbie tipping the contents of a plastic gas can down the funnel she had balance in the snowmobile tank. Snowmobiles were the winter work horses and recreational toys of Canada. They were small motorized vehicles that could carry two people, one sitting behind the other. The front of the snowmobile was mounted on short steering skis and the back on a tread for traction and power.

"If we met wolves, what would you do?" Ryan asked looking around the shed.

"Get the hell out of there," responded Robbie tightening the gas cap back on and then checking the oil level.

"Wouldn't you try to save me?

Robbie looked up to meet intelligent green eyes, suddenly realizing that she was on trial. "I guess I'd credit you with enough sense to be right there beside me as we headed for safety. You ready?"

"Yup!" responded Ryan, mounting the snowmobile and putting the key in the ignition. Robbie climbed on behind.

"Is it okay if I hold on?" Robbie asked.

There was a moment's hesitation. "Sure." Robbie held onto Ryan's waist and they headed out. She was impressed with Ryan's driving. She moved out of the shed and down the bank to the frozen lake with care and only opened the throttle on the flat, windswept lake. Even then, she kept close to the shoreline. The kid was no show off and used a good deal of common sense.

Half way down the south side of the lake, Robbie pointed up into a patch of thick pines. Ryan nodded, turning the vehicle around and slowing as they wound up between the trees to the lodge.

"What is this place?" asked Ryan, after she had turned off the engine, and waited for Robbie to swing off the snowmobile first.

"The lodge was built by Janet's great grandfather over a hundred years ago. It's been standing empty for the past forty years anyway. I bought all this land from a lumber company in the Fall and when I saw the lodge, I decide to restore it. We didn't get too far before winter. Things were pretty wild what with Janet being ill."

"She has cancer, right?"

"Yes," muttered Robbie looking away.

"Is she dying?"

Robbie's head snapped around in anger. "No! No, she isn't going to die! Let's go see inside."

Ryan nodded and the two walked in silence through the deep snow to the door. Robbie got out the key to open the new hasp and lock that had been put on, Robbie having damaged the last one breaking in. "Are you gay?" Ryan asked, and Robbie's hand hesitated on the lock.

What the hell do I say now, Robbie wondered? Well, she's going to catch on sooner or later and Janet said it's best to be as honest as you can. "Yes."

"You're in love with Aunt Janet, aren't you?" observed Ryan, enjoying the blush that was raising in her mother's face.

"Is it that obvious?" Robbie sighed, pushing the door open, and indicating that Ryan should go first.

"Oh yeah, a blind man could figure it out. You two give off vibes whenever you are close to each other!" snorted Ryan.

Robbie turned to look at her very mature fourteen year old daughter. "Does that bother you?"

Ryan met the look with hard, cold eyes. "I've been teased by the school girls all my life for being a bastard. Now I'll be the bastard of the queer. I can deal with it. I always have," concluded Ryan, her chin going up in defiance.

Robbie didn't know what to say. The kid was right. She was paying for her mother's actions. They headed up into the living room.

"Are you going to marry her?"

Robbie stopped and turned around. "I wish I could. But I decided a long time ago that I didn't want anyone, you, a partner, anyone to have to share the consequences of ...of things I did when I was young that were very wrong. Now, well, it's been a long time and maybe I can afford to get closer to people, but I'm still hesitant to give them my name in case some day they are humiliated to know me. I'm speaking very openly here, Ryan. I hope you understand that I don't want any of this talked about."

Ryan nodded surprised by her mother's candour. "You recognized me. You ought to marry her too. She's okay. Do you think she'd have you?"

Robbie sighed impatiently to hide her own insecurity, and turned around, hands on hips, to look at her daughter again. "Cut me some slack here, okay!"

Ryan pulled a face, and clammed up, walking over to the impressive fireplace. Tracy and Doug had been made overseers of the reconstruction until such time as there was a real job to offer them. They had managed to open up and grade the road in, patch the holes in the roof and clean up the inside of debris before the heavy snows had come. "Hey, there's been a fire in the fireplace! Look it's still smouldering.

Robbie came over and looked. The remaining grey and scorched wood was still warm and smoking. "Someone must have broken in. Maybe snowmobilers or something."

"Or something," came a voice from behind them.

Turning, the two women saw a lean man in a coat way too big for him. The emblem on the sleeve was of a gasoline company. He was dirty and had at least a week's growth of beard. In his hand was a revolver. The man laughed and sauntered forward. "Well, it looks like I'm going to have lots of warm female flesh to keep the cold out tonight, huh?" he joked stopping about three meters away.

"Stay behind me, Ryan," Robbie ordered, pulling the stunned child by the arm.

"Eh, Ryan, you ever done it before?" teased the revolting man. Robbie felt her anger rising to a boil. Stay cool, Williams. Think! She could feel Ryan's hand's on her back. She reached behind and squeezed the cold hand reassuringly. Ryan latched on to her fingers tightly.

The man laughed again, looking them over from head to foot. "You're a couple of hot bitches, that's for sure!" he leered. "But I gotta run an errand before we can have fun so how about you two just step this way," he ordered, gesturing with the gun barrel. Robbie wrapped a protective arm around Ryan, and pushed her on ahead. She followed close behind, walking half turned, keeping her eyes on the man. He led them across the room to a closet.

"Get inside and close the door," he ordered. Robbie gave the closet a quick look. Realizing it would be safe, she gently pushed Ryan in and then followed, closing the door quickly after her. She heard a deadbolt pushed in place and the footsteps of the man retreating.

Beside her Ryan was trembling like a leaf. "Hey, it's okay," Robbie reassured her, taking her daughter by the arm.

Ryan wrapped herself around Robbie. "He's going to rape and kill us, isn't he, mom?!" she said, her voice shaking with emotion. Robbie wrapped her arms around her little girl and held her tight, kissing the top of her head tenderly. Inside, Robbie was terrified for them both but she knew she had to force herself to be calm.

"He thinks he is, Ryan, but trust me, it's not going to happen. Listen to me, this is the plan. I want you to have the keys of the snowmobile ready in your hand. As soon as I get the chance, I'm going to jump him, and you are going to run like hell for that snowmobile and get help, okay?"

"I can't leave you, mom. He'll hurt you!" protested Ryan, showing a courage that impressed Robbie.

"Maybe, but I have a better chance of survival if I don't have to worry about you too. You go and get help. Promise me!" Robbie demanded, rubbing Ryan's head with her hand.

"Okay," agreed Ryan reluctantly.

"Good. Now, worst case scenario. If I get shot and he comes after you, use the keys. Go for his eyes. Don't think. Don't be nice. Hurt him and get away! Okay?"

"Oh, mom!" sobbed Ryan, holding on tight.

"It's okay, sweetheart. I love you. We're going to get out of this!"

Then a realization exploded in her mind and sent her mad. There was only one errand that bastard could have way out here! He was going after Janet! She pushed a stunned Ryan aside, and started smashing at the door with her foot. Blow after blow. Finally, one of the boards cracked. "Help me Ryan! He's going after Janet and Reb!" Now both Ryan and Robbie smashed against the giving door time and time again until finally the two scratched and bruised women were able to squeeze through the shattered panels.

They ran together down to the snowmobile. Robbie took the keys and yelled for Ryan to hold on. They sped across the lake at a breakneck speed. How long had they been in the closet? Fear gripped Robbie's heart in an iron vise. She'd kill the bastard if he'd touched Janet or Reb!

Janet heard the snowmobile returning. Well, that hadn't taken long. Clearly, that plan had not worked out very well. She heard footsteps on the porch, and lifting Reb from her chair, she went to open the door for Robbie.

"Well, that didn't take..." Janet stopped mid-sentence. She was staring down a gun barrel, and behind the weapon was a very scary looking character.

"Hi, neighbour. Your pretty friends sent me over." The man smiled, indicating with the gun that Janet should back up.

"Where are the others?" Janet asked, her heart pounding with fear for Robbie and Ryan, as she tried to think of something to do to save herself and Reb.

"They aren't going nowhere for a long time," the man sneered. "So I thought I'd just come over here and have an afternoon of fun. You know any real hot games, slut, huh?"

"Please, let me put my child somewhere safe," Janet begged. "Over there in the playpen," she rushed on, seeing the man was going to object. Slowly, she backed up and lowered Reb into the playpen and then dropped a kiss on her head. "Be quiet, Reb" she whispered, giving her a toy that she knew fascinated the child.

Then she stood up and backed to the other side of the room where Reb couldn't see anything if things got ugly. "I'm expecting company," Janet said. "That's why I came to the door."

The man snorted. "I know who you were expecting, and they're not coming back. Now take your clothes off."

"No," Janet answered firmly, looking around for a weapon, any weapon. Stay calm!

"Do it!" the man yelled, taking a few steps closer. Janet circled putting the couch between them.

The man cursed, and quick as lightening, he reached over the back of the sofa and grabbed Janet's sweatshirt. Janet gasped, and swung at him, catching him painfully on the bridge of the nose. He swore again and brought the gun down on the side of her head. Janet's world exploded in pain and it took her a few seconds to focus. She felt her feet kicked out from under her and she went down heavily to the floor. He was on her in a second. Tearing at her clothes. Janet fought back in a panic.

Then this huge, moving fur ball came from nowhere and leapt on the man, growling and barking. The man crawled away, looking for the gun he had put down when he had pulled the woman to the ground. It was there on the couch cushion. His hand shot out and Rufus bit it. The man howled and pulled his hand back, holding it under his arm.

Then Robbie was there . Her foot caught the man under the chin and sent him flying back. She stepped over Janet and kicked again, catching the man in his kidney as he got to his feet. Then another blow smashed against his throat. The last one flattened his nose before he fell senseless to the floor.

Robbie looked back in fear. Ryan was holding a shocked and battered Janet in her lap. "She's okay, mom. He didn't," she reassured the furious woman. Robbie nodded dully, too consumed with rage to speak coherently. She got the long rope that they used for Rufus's leash and tied the man's hands behind his back and his ankles together. Then she went to the phone. Her hands were shaking so badly that she dropped the receiver. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she dialed 911 for emergency help.

Robbie dropped down beside Janet and Ryan. She reached out a shaky hand to wipe the blood from the teacher's face. You okay?" she asked, in a voice tight with emotion. Janet nodded.

"Here mom, you hold her. I'll go get some warm water to help clean her up," suggested Ryan practically. Robbie nodded obediently, too shocked and upset to think. She lifted Janet's weak and shaking body into her lap and held onto her tightly while the woman released her emotion in deep sobs.

The O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) had come and arrested the man and carried him off. The young officer in charge tried to convince the women that they should go into town and see the doctor, but Janet shook her head. She just wanted to be alone with her family.

Their attacker had escaped from Beaver Creek Penitentiary several days before by overpowering a guard and taking his gun. He'd robbed a gas station and stolen a car and the attendant's clothes. When he'd run out of gas, he'd flagged down a passing snowmobiler and stolen his machine after wounding him.

The police found tracks behind Janet's house. The man must have been snooping around the night before trying to see in the windows. Rufus had barked, that must have made the convict have second thoughts about breaking in then. The women had thought that the silly dog had just been barking at a deer or another winter animal. They had been lucky, and it had left them all badly shaken.

Later, Robbie sat in the middle of the couch. On one side was Janet, her head resting on Robbie's chest and her arm wrapped possessively over Robbie's stomach. Ryan was on Robbie's other side, her hand holding tightly to her mother's arm. Reb lay on her belly across the three of them, fast asleep, and Rufus, the hero of the night, lay on the floor by their feet.

Robbie stared at the flames of the fire. How had this happened? One minute, she was a single, lone woman, cold and aloof and the next she had a family who depended on her and loved her. It was the most scary and wonderful thing that Robbie had ever experienced.

Today, had been one of the worst days of her life. If anyone raped Janet or her girls, she didn't think she could remain sane. Just thinking about that bastard's hands on Janet made her white with rage. She kissed each head in turn and ruffled Rufous's fur with her foot. She pushed the horror into the back of her mind and drew peace from the warmth of her family around her. Being here with was like a magical story. "Hey, guys, I think we need sleep."

"Not alone," protested, Janet, clinging tightly. "All together!"

Robbie laughed gently. "Right, all together. I'll bring in the cot for Ryan that I used when you were sick, and Reb can sleep between us, okay?"

"Okay," agreed Janet, reaching up to kiss Robbie on the ear.

Ryan pulled her cot close to her mom's side of the bed, and when everyone was settled, Robbie turned off the lights. After a few minutes, Ryan's hand reached out and touched her mother's arm. "You awake?"

"Aha. You okay?"

"I guess. You sure can kick butt. Where did you learn to do that?"

"I had to train in martial arts for a few of my earlier movies. Over the years, I've kept it up for exercise. I've never competed or anything."

"You're a weird mother to have," Ryan pointed out honestly.

Robbie felt hurt. She had thought they had broken down some of the barriers between the two of them. "Yeah, I guess. I've never had any practice at it," she admitted.

"That's okay, you're cool," concluded Ryan, and settled down to sleep. On the other side of Robbie, Janet quietly squeezed Robbie's hand. Robbie lay for a very long time just smiling into the darkness.

The next afternoon,found Robbie chopping wood and Ryan watching. Robbie's anger at what had happened to Janet yesterday was being directed at the woodpile. A large pile of kindling was quickly forming. Her mom was awful strong for an old person, Ryan thought. Of course she was strong too. "I could stay here," Ryan suddenly said.

Robbie stopped chopping and looked at her daughter. "What?"

"I think I should stay here instead of the dorm. You're always away and Aunt Janet shouldn't be left alone. Look what happened yesterday."

"Good point," Robbie responded, trying her best not to break out in a goofy grin. "You think you can handle two moms bossing you around?"

"You two can't have anymore rules than your average girl's dorm, believe me!" grumbled Robbie.

"Well, it's not my house and it is getting crowded. I'll talk to Janet and see what she says. I don't know if she'd be allowed to do that with her being the principal of your school."

Ryan looked exactly like a disappointed child who was trying to pretend she wasn't. "Oh yeah, I forgot about that."

"Janet has to go into Bartlett to get groceries. I thought I'd drop her off and then head down to George Drouillard's, Small Motors. He sells snowmobiles down there. Seems to me, we could do with at least one more. You want to come along?"

"Yeah, that would be cool," smiled Ryan.

"Good, we'll go as soon as you have all this wood I chopped stacked," announced Robbie, on her way to put the axe back in the shed.

"Ryan's smile disappeared, but she climbed down off the porch and started stacking. Her mother was cool but she was also going to be a pain in the butt.

Janet looked up from behind a frozen package of peas. Robbie lifted the well used bag off, and looked at Janet's face. Some of the morning swelling had gone down but she still had an ugly red scratch and a bruised jaw. "You okay," she asked, gently, trying not to show how upset she felt.

"Mmmmm, fine. Thanks to you and Rufus, my heroes!" mumbled Janet, with her stiff jaw. She reached out to capture Robbie's hand, needing her close.

Robbie shifted from foot to foot. Oh boy, what's up, Janet thought. "I was just talking to Ryan. Ahhh, we're getting on all right."

"She thinks you are wonderful, and she would be right," stated Janet, squeezing the hand. Robbie blushed.

"She asked if she could stay here instead of at the dorm," revealed Robbie, awkwardly. "I told her that maybe you couldn't because you are the principal and all."

"Ryan is welcome to stay here, Robbie. She is your daughter." Robbie smiled in relief and Janet went on. "I didn't think she would adjust so quickly to having you as a mother but yesterday's sort of pushed the issue. You understand, Robbie, that there are still going to be disagreements and when they occur, she is liable to bring out all the old hurts to use against you."

Robbie sat down and looked at the floor. "Yeah, I guess we've got a long way to go. You sure you're okay with this? Because I'll be on the circuit promoting the film and will be away a lot?"

"Then Ryan will be good company," grinned Janet.

"You are forgetting that she is an olive," laughed Robbie.

"I happen to love olives," responded Janet, leaning forward to kiss Robbie.

"Hey, I'm an impressionable kid, you know!" came a cheeky voice from behind them. "Are we going to town? Or did I get conned into stacking all that wood for nothing?!"

"You, Ryan Williams, are a pain in the butt!" growled Robbie playfully. "Janet said you can stay if you cook dinner each night, do the house work, including windows, make all the beds in the morning, and share the dog blanket with Rufus."

Ryan's eyes got big and she opened her mouth but nothing came out. Janet came to her rescue. "Don't listen to her , Ryan, of course you can stay here if you feel comfortable in doing so, and we'll discuss and come to some agreement on your household responsibilities. All right?"

Ryan's face lit up, "Thanks, Aunt Janet. I'll be good. I promise."

"I'd get that in writing if I were you, Janet," suggested Robbie, her arms crossed as she looked at her daughter with obvious affection.

It had been Robbie's plan to drop Janet at Dave Pott's grocery store, but the fear in Janet's eyes at being left made her change her mind. They all piled out together. Rufus stood guard at the door, while the remaining Williams clan invaded. Ryan wheeled Reb around in her own cart, explaining to her about how neat snowmobiles were, while Robbie wheeled a cart for Janet.

They ended up buying twice as many groceries as they needed because Robbie kept throwing in junk food to supplement Janet's well balanced meals. Janet, for her part bought extra treats and a squeaky rubber ball for her canine hero.

Word, of course, had got around town. The O.P.P. officer boarded at Greta Corry's and she had set a new record in spreading the news of the attack and Robbie's rescue all over town. Those fortunate enough to be in the store at the time came up to express their shock and to ask if there was anything they could do. Janet was obviously uncomfortable, and Robbie stayed close, putting a protective arm around her when anyone stopped to talk.

"It's silly," Janet confessed to Robbie, while Ryan was helping Reb decide which kids' cereal had the best toy inside. "I see everyone now as a potential attacker!"

Robbie rubbed Janet's back reassuringly. "Hey, you had a really scary experience yesterday! It's going to take sometime to get over it."

"The rest of you seem, okay," confessed Janet sheepishly.

"Ryan hasn't left my side all day. And...and, yeah, there's things going on inside me. For one, I'm really having trouble controlling my anger. And....well, it's made me think."

Robbie looked up at her lover, wondering what was going on inside the complex woman. "Think about what?" she asked.

Robbie shrugged. "Just things."

They paid for the groceries and talked to the villagers who were in line too. Robbie was now feeling like an old hand at grocery shopping. How quickly her life had changed over the last three months!

George Drouillard was a little taken aback with the Williams' female invasion of his small motor shop. Mostly, it was men that came in to discuss clogged carburetors or snapped sheer pins. Occasionally, a woman would drop in with a lawn mower that just wouldn't start or to pick out an outfit from his line of sports wear, but he couldn't recall having a crowd of females in his workshop before.

Robbie sat on a snowmobile with Reb in her lap making vrooming noises, and left Ryan to give poor Drouillard the first degree on the pros and cons of each engine. She listened closely however, and was proud of Ryan's astute questions and comments. Ryan, of course, was showing off for mom. Janet watched and shook her head in disbelief as her own little bottle of olives spilt out over the floor, and took over the machine shed. This visit was going to keep the town in gossip for a week!

"Well, Ryan, what do you think?" Robbie asked, looking up from trying a racing helmet on Reb.

Ryan considered. "The 400 series has the power and good performance but the 364 is the better deal because they're selling off older stock. There is nothing wrong with the 364. I guess it depends whether or not we are going to compete in the Winter Carnival."

"What?!" Janet exclaimed looking out from a rack of snowmobile suits. "Oh, no, you two."

"Of course, we are," grinned Robbie, and Ryan's eyes lit up with pride and delight. Janet rolled her eyes and sighed. They'd have to talk.

"No!" Janet repeated again, looking back at the mean machine sitting on a flat trailer and attached with a temporary hitch to Robbie's truck.

"Why not!" argued Robbie, keeping her eyes on the icy road , as they headed over to Maria's Café for dinner.

"Mom's sure to win!" supported Ryan loyally.

"Oby win! Oby win!" chanted Reb.

Janet rolled her eyes in frustration. "That's just it! You will have to win or die trying. Robbie, this is a friendly, little village carnival not the Indy 500."

"I can do little and friendly," objected Robbie.

"No, you can't! The Williams are competitors, and you, Robbie, are bad tempered and a poor sport."

"I am not!" roared Robbie, startling everyone. "I just like to win," she finished meekly.

Janet sighed. "Okay, but there will be no famous Williams' temper tantrums, and you and Ryan have to take some lessons."

"Reb too!" came a little indignant voice from the child's seat.

"Oh boy!" groaned Janet.

Again the clan piled out of the truck and took over a corner of Maria's Café. Rufus sat outside looking in the window forlornly. Janet waved to a small, wiry woman with dark hair pulled back in a bun. The woman waved back and picked up some menus to take over to the table. Janet leaned over, "Maria Enrico is the mother of Lou who runs the garage now his father is dead."

"Lou, who is stepping out with Tracy?" asked Robbie, with a smile, making quotation marks with her fingers.

Janet nodded as her eyes lit up in greeting. "Hi, Maria. Let me introduce my sister-in-law, Robbie Williams and my niece Ryan."

"Nice to meet you, Maria. I hear Lou is seeing Tracy, who works for me."

"Yes, Tracy is a good girl. My Lou could do worse. I see your announcement on the T.V. You were such a proud mother!" Robbie blushed scarlet. Maria put her menus down on the table and took out a small camera. "It is okay if I take a picture? I will hang it in my café and it will be very good for business! The tourist will come hoping to see you!"

"My luck," muttered Robbie under her breath. "Yes, I'd be delighted to have my picture taken but please, no pictures of my children. Janet, why don't you take a picture of Maria and me together?" Robbie suggested.

Janet got up beaming, and Robbie stood with her arm over the shoulder of the little woman by the dessert counter while Janet took several pictures. Robbie had said MY children. That had sent a flood of warmth through Janet.

"So afraid to get your picture taken with the bastard?" asked Ryan, on their return. Robbie looked like she had been punched. I warned you, love, Janet thought, but said nothing.

Robbie sat down and looked Ryan in the eye. "I'm sorry. I'm so used to the pitfalls of being famous that I take it for granted that everyone understands. I should have explained. I had to explain to Janet too. I am a very rich woman, Ryan. That means all those people close to me are in danger of kidnap. I don't want any of you to get your pictures in the paper or magazines because that means you can too easily be identified. If anything happened to you, or the others because of me, I'd go mad."

The anger in Ryan's eyes was replaced by confusion. "Is that why you ordered the alarm system and floodlights?" asked the teen.

"What alarm system?!" asked Janet in surprise.

"I've ordered a system for the cabin. If anyone tries to break in an alarm will go off, floodlights will come on outside, and an emergency signal will bleep at the police station."

"It cost a bundle," added Ryan, informatively. Robbie gave her a glare, which she blithely ignored.

"Robbie, that wasn't necessary! I've lived there for years with no problems," argued Janet gently, touched by her lover's concern.

"That was before you knew me. Besides, I have to be away promoting the film and I want to know that my family is safe." There it was again! Janet's happy eyes met the sky blue of the actor's. She smiled softly and Robbie winked.

"You two!" groaned Ryan, to hide her teen embarrassment.

They ordered pizza with the works and Ryan had them all in stitches trying to justify the list of school offences that Robbie listed gleefully one after the other.

"Hey. The kid had it coming. She'd been bullying the entire floor and when she picked on little Grace just because she had a stutter, I lost it! I was cool because I knew I was down to my last chance after the goldfish in the drinking fountain incident, so I just told her ever so nicely that if she took a swing at me, I'd knock her block off."

Robbie smiled and shook her head. "And?" asked Janet.

"Well, I let her get three hits in so that I had some blood for evidence and then I decked her."

Janet laughed. "Don't laugh!" protested Robbie, "She broke the kid's arm. I had to send Polenski up there to sort it out so she wasn't charged or sued!"

"Ryan! You didn't!" protested Janet.

"I didn't mean too! She fell against the desk."

"You sure you want her at Bartlett?" asked Robbie, watching Janet wiping tomato sauce of Reb's face. Playing in pizza had been a real hit with the two year old. Rufus too had enjoyed the crusts that Ryan had delivered to her outside.

"Mom! I want to go to this school!"

They all laughed, and Robbie paid the bill, arguing that Janet had paid for the groceries.

Later, that night, with Ryan sharing a room with Reb, Robbie was able to have some private time with Janet. Janet ran a hand up Robbie's naked chest and pulled her down for a kiss. "Mmmmm, I missed that last night" she whispered.

"Me too. I'm going to miss you terribly. Are you sure you are all right staying here?"

"I'm a little jumpy. But the security system that is being installed tomorrow will keep us all safe. Thank you, Robbie," she answered honestly, kissing Robbie again.

"I'll phone each night," Robbie promised.

Janet didn't answer; she had other more interesting ways to express her love to Robbie.

Ryan and Janet sat in the wing chairs watching the T.V. and sharing a bowl of popcorn that sat on a small end table between them. Ryan had been allowed to stay up late to see her mom on one of the late night interview shows. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful and multi-talented, Robbie Williams!" There was much clapping and whistling, and Robbie walked in wearing an elegant, black pant suit.

The host stood and embraced Robbie, and they kissed the air beside each other's head. "Keep your paws off sister-in-law," Janet muttered, and Ryan snorted and threw a piece of popcorn at her.

"Well, we are pleased to have you on the show tonight," said the host once he had helped Robbie settle. "You don't give interviews."

"I don't? Well, I'd better leave," responded Robbie starting to stand. The audience laughed and the host pulled her back.

"No, I meant it is rare for you to agree to come on talk shows."

"I'm very excited about my new movie, Desiree. It's quite a departure in style for me and I think people are really going to enjoy it." She turned to the audience. "Don't forget to go see it!" The applause lights flashed over the stage and the audience dutifully whopped and cheered.

"It looks like mom, it talks like mom, but it isn't mom," Ryan observed with interest.

"It is Robbie, but it is another side of her. This is your mom at work, Ryan. It is all a marketing game. That's what these shows are all about, infomercials for the entertainment trade."

"Pretty mercenary," Ryan said cynically.

"No, it's no different than selling any product. Your mom has over five thousand people working for her in various companies. If she makes a film that doesn't do well at the box office then that has repercussions right down the line. That's a lot of responsibility and pressure that your mom is under."

Back on the television screen the announcer brought up the subject the audience had been anticipating. "We had Tracy Travelli on here the other week, Robbie, and she was furious about the tabloid story that linked you and her romantically. I got to tell you, the men of America were very relieved to hear the two of you were still available! The laughter lights flashed and the audience giggled and clapped.

"Why how nice! What is your number? I'll be sure to put you in my little black book!"

"Ugh" Ryan said, putting her finger in her mouth.

"Little black book! You'd better stop flirting with that man, Robbie Williams, or you are going to be sleeping in the snow when you get back!"

"So tell us about this daughter of yours, Robbie. Is she gorgeous like you?" asked the television host.

Robbie smiled softly, "She is good looking, but she has a lot more important things going for her. She is bright, funny, caring, and adventurous. I wish I could take credit for her but she got that way all by herself. I'm really proud of her."

Ryan sat staring at the screen, a red blush creeping up her face. Janet reached over and gave her arm a squeeze. "That was nice, huh?"

Ryan scowled, "She didn't mean it. It is like you said, just marketing."

"No!" snapped Janet, startling Ryan. "She wouldn't do that, not to people she cares about! Your mother plays hard but she plays fair." Ryan didn't respond, but Janet noticed that she wiped a tear from her eye when she thought Janet was not looking.

"So, Robbie we hear that just like Desiree, you are a real hero! What's this my research department tells me that a criminal escaped from jail and broke into your sister-in-law's house and you saved her!?"

Robbie went still and very serious. "Fortunately, it was the family dog that did the attacking. He bit the intruder, and I was able to subdue the criminal, and tie him up until the police got there. It was very scary, and it brings home again the need for women's crisis centres. It is a cause I very much believe in. Abuse and violence towards women and their children has to be brought out in the open so that this sickness in our world communities can be dealt with."

"I agree completely, Robbie. Folks, here's a number you can call for more information or help if you are experiencing abuse in your life. And I understand, Robbie, that a portion of the profit from each ticket sale to your movie, Desiree, will go to support women's crisis centres."

"That's right."

"Ladies and gentlemen, Robbie Williams! Get out there and see her new movie, Desiree! The canned clapping and flashing lights prompted the audience. We'll be right back after this commercial break!"

"Okay, Ryan, bedtime!" said Janet, getting up and turning off the T.V.

"Do you think she really has a little black book?" Ryan teased.

"Not if she knows what's good for her!" growled Janet, playing along. They hugged good night and went to their rooms.

Gerald Lucier had watched the show too. He'd made a tidy little packet selling the tabloid the story about Tracy and Robbie and although they had denied it, they hadn't sued. He'd also scooped the big papers with the story about the guy breaking into Janet's cabin too. One of the big Toronto dailies had asked him to send in a resume.

But he wasn't interested in a regular reporter's job at his age. No way. He wanted his own by-line and he figured that he might just have the lead now that was going to put his name right up there! It was going to take some good investigative journalism, but digging for dirt he was good at! With a laugh he took a sip from his beer and lit another cigarette. Might as well watch the rest of the show, he thought.

It was just after three in the morning when the alarm went off and the floodlights came on. Janet jumped from her bed, heart pounding, and ran down to the girls' room amid the wild barks of Rufus and the breaking of furniture.

A paddle, swinging at Janet's head, was barely checked by Ryan. "What are you doing with that?" hissed Janet, slamming closed the door.

"Repelling intruders," Ryan explained in a nervous whisper. "Do you have the rifle?

"No, it's out there," she whispered, jerking her head in the direction of the living room where the sounds of a massive fight seemed to be taking place.

"We'd better lock the door," suggested Ryan, nervously gripping her paddle.

"The interior doors don't have locks. We'll have to barricade ourselves in here until the police arrive." The two women looked around the room. One camp cot, a plastic crib and a diaper changing table were the main articles in the room.

There was certainly nothing to prevent an attacker from breaking through. Janet felt the sweat dripping down her back as goose bumps spread up her arms. Growls and barks came from the living room. "It's an animal!" gasped Ryan.

Janet took a deep breath to calm herself. Animals, at least the four legged kind, she could handle. "Here, give me the paddle."

Ryan did so, and slowly Janet opened the door. An animal, waiting in the hall, cast a menacing shadow on the wall. Janet gripped the paddle and looked around the corner. Rufus stood there alertly, ready to pounce. Seeing Janet instead of an intruder, she sat down happily and wagged her tail. Woof. Woof.

"Come, Rufus," the dog obediently trotted down to the bedroom. "Okay, you stay here with Rufus, and I'll go see what's out there," instructed Janet.

"Not likely! Mom would kill me if I let anything happen to you!"

"Someone has to protect Reb," Janet pointed out, and Ryan nodded, recognizing the logic in this.

"Be careful!"

Janet nodded and headed down the hall. Ryan had to hold onto Rufus's collar to stop him from running down the hall after her. Janet looked around the corner into the living room. It was a complete shambles. Then something jumped from the ledge above her head and she screamed. Rufus broke loose and charged down the hall, Reb woke up crying, the police arrived with sirens blaring, and Ryan tore down the hall, and knocked Janet flying. The intruder, a very frightened racoon, darted out the door with Rufus in pursuit as soon as the police smashed through with guns out.

Early the next morning, it was a sleepy Ryan that answered the phone. "Hi mom! Wow, did we have a night last night! We had another intruder. The police have just left. They smashed through the door with their guns out just like in one of your movies! The alarms worked really well. Rufus fought him, and you should see the livingroom, wow, what a mess!" At the other end of the conversation, Robbie's heart started to pound with fear.

"No, Reb and I are fine but Aunt Janet has a broken nose and..." the phone was snatched from her hand.


"Janet! Sweetheart, are you all right?! My God! I'll be home on the next plane!"

"Robbie, it was a racoon."

There was silence at the other end for a minute while Robbie's panic-stricken mind came to terms with this information. "What?"

"A raccoon. It fell down the chimney, and Rufus chased it around the living room."

"How did you get a broken nose?"

"It's not broken. It was just a nose bleed. Your daughter flattened me in the confusion." Suddenly, Janet started to laugh, "Robbie it was like a French farce! Wait until I tell you!"

Robbie sat on the plane staring blankly at her video screen. A smile came to her lips as she replayed Janet's tale of the Night of the Racoon through her mind again. She missed them. She missed them all terribly. "Where was she going to go from here? It was obvious that her relationship with Janet had gone much farther than a steady date. Hell, they were virtually living together! Janet was helping raise her daughter and she found herself thinking of Reb as her own.

Was Janet right? Was it time to let the ancient history of her youth go and have a real life? Or was Elizabeth right in reminding her, that for them, a commitment to anyone was exposing others to public humiliation or worse. Damn! I don't know! I don't want to hurt Janet or the girls but the truth is I can't live without them!

What would be the difference really? She had long since crossed over the line. If someone did dig something up on her, Janet would be drawn into it. Okay, that's it then, I love her and I'm going to ask her to marry me.

But what if she says no! Let's face it, Williams, you are not easy to get along with. They'd had their fights. In fact, Janet hadn't wanted to sleep with her because it might reflect negatively on her and Reb! So do you think she is going to marry you, idiot! A misery spread through Robbie's soul and she looked out at the puffy, white clouds below as she blinked back tears. I love you so much, Janet!

She had been away almost six weeks now, and was very anxious to get home. Home. Funny I had never thought of my condo as home but Janet's cabin is. Home to Janet and the girls and the furry mountain that might be a dog. Robbie smiled. When did all this happened to me?

Then the eyes turned dark and misty. Janet and the girls would be meeting her in T.O. Tomorrow was Janet's check up. The first to see if they had got the cancer. What if they hadn't? She felt sick at that thought. Janet had to live. She just had to. Five years the doctor had said, five years before they could be relatively sure that the cancer would not return. It was like a darkness always hovering behind them.

Robbie picked up her briefcase after putting on her sunglasses and hat. She walked to the open hatch of the plane where a representative from the airline, who handled V.I.P.s, met her and took her by motorized cart through the corridors to Customs. Here she was passed through quickly. A limo waited to take her to her office while the representative waited behind with her baggage claim tickets to collect and forward her bags after they were unloaded from the plane.

It took almost forty minutes to battle the Toronto traffic from the airport down to her office in the city core. Stepping out, she headed for the automatic doors, then turned away and walked down the street instead and opened the heavy brass doors to DeBeer's.

She walked around looking at various displays. Then, getting her nerve up, she moved over to engagement rings. The selection was amazing. Robbie sat at a stool and a sales representative showed her various styles and qualities. Finally, her eye caught sight of the ring that she knew she had to have for Janet. It was three bands of plain gold joined as one and the centre band had six perfectly matched diamonds in a row. It was elegant and different and a quiet expression of her love. "I'll take it," she said.

With the small, plush box in her coat pocket, Robbie retraced her steps and took the elevator up to her administrative offices. She wasn't sure that she would ever have the nerve to ask Janet to marry her, but somehow buying the ring was a symbol that she had at last broken with her dark past, and was stepping out into the warmth of the sun.

"Hello Gwen, I'm back. You've lost weight. I'll need Brian on line one, and then get me Ernie on two," Robbie ordered as she crossed the carpet of her secretary's office and disappeared into her own. The voice continued a few seconds later on her intercom. "Also I want the balls of the fucking lawyer who is holding up merchandising in Britain."

Gwen shook her head and closed her eyes. Then with a sigh she put through Brian's call. She hadn't seen sight or light of her boss in weeks and the woman walked in like she had been out of the office for five minutes! She wasn't sure she was up to this!

Robbie leaned back in her chair. "Brian, it looks like Desiree is going to do well at the box office. I've got plans; I need to see you. Well, cancel your damn holiday. Why would you want to go to a tropical paradise like Trinidad and Tobago when it's snowing and forty below outside? Here. Now. Bye." Robbie hung up and clicked to line two, she had to watch her assistant director, sometimes he got ideas that he had a life of his own!

She smiled. "Hi Ernie, so are the backers happy?"

"Robbie, baby! We turned our first million the weekend it opened! I hear swords and ballroom dancing are all the rage in California!"

"There won't be too many balls if they're going to waltz with swords," observed Robbie, practically. "I need you to put together a deal for me for the spring, Ernie. I've got some ideas."

"What? Oh! Ideas! Now ideas I like! So when are you going to have something for me to sell?"

"Not before spring. I'm taking the winter off to write," stated Robbie, turning to click through her mail box.

"Good, you write, in the spring, you give me something, and I sell it. I hear Brian is going to Trinidad and Tobago. I passed by on a cruise ship once. It looked lovely."

"Brian has had a change of plans. I need a package put together before spring. Thirty million."

"Thirty million! You want me to sell thirty million of nothing?! Am I the miracle worker?" came the excited voice through the line.

"Make it happen," Robbie yawned, and hung up. Gwen was standing at her desk.

"Hello, Ms. Williams, I'm Gwen Smith, your long suffering and over worked secretary, who has been holding the fort around here for weeks," Gwen opened, sarcastically. "I need at least two hours of your time, and I want it now. I've made an appointment for Brian to see you at two."

Robbie swivelled back and forth on her chair excitedly. "Gwen, wait until I show you where your family is going to live..."

Janet passed her Bartlett School duffel bag up to Ryan in the back of the truck. She stowed it with the rest of the bags in the truck storage box and then jumped down. It was freezing cold, and snow was falling. It was a hell of a day to have to drive to Toronto, but there was no other choice; the 'copter that Robbie told her to use couldn't fly in this weather.

"Okay, let's hit the road. We'll drop Rufus off at Amanda Singh's and then hope we can get through to Toronto. If we can get past the snow belt between Orillia and Barrie we should be alright."

Ryan got in one side and Janet in the other. She looked back to make sure Reb was firmly fastened in her child's seat and then turned on the wipers to clear the snow that had built up in the few minutes that they had taken to put the bags in the back. She put the truck in gear and they headed down the driveway that was quickly drifting in. Tonight she would see Robbie again if she had to get out and push this damn truck all the way to Toronto!

Three hours had gone by before Gwen had finished with Robbie. However, part of this time had been used up with Robbie swearing Gwen to secrecy and showing her the map of the land that she had bought. She had though Gwen would have to be bribed or even blackmailed if necessary, instead the woman had actually hugged Robbie, told her she was a God send, and promised to work for nothing on Christmas Day if necessary. Robbie had no idea that Gwen loved the north.


Brian had proven to be more difficult. He had quit. He announced bravely, that he was going to Trinidad and Tobago no matter what, and that he was not going to live any farther north than suburbs of Toronto. Robbie was forced to resort to blackmail and bribery before the man broke. He handed over his plane tickets to Gwen, when she told him that she was planning on moving north.

Robbie leaned back in her leather chair and smiled happily. Tonight she was going to see Janet and the girls again and as far as she was concerned that made life just about prefect!

Continued...Part 3 of 4

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