Part 20

For disclaimers see Part 1


Chapter 25

Kevin was getting nervous. At first there had been some noise coming from the room upstairs that indicated that his two friends were at least alive. But now it was eerily quiet and he hadn't heard a single sound in what felt like hours. He tried hitting the punching ball, but he stopped after he realized that he was interrupting his routine every other minute to listen for any sounds from above.

He sat down in a corner on one of the workout machines. That only made him think. He started picturing what Anne would do to him when things between the two women didn't go the way everyone assumed they would. She's going to kill me. Yup. She's going to beat me up like she did that poor sand bag earlier.

He decided to call Mike to hear what was going on over at the main house was. He walked over to Anne's living room and had just started dialing when his cell phone chirped. He put down the receiver and opened his phone. Ah, great minds think alike.

"Hi," he greeted his lover.

"Hi, gorgeous. How are things over there?" Mike's voice sounded calm and only a little concerned.

"Well," Kevin managed to draw the word into at least three syllables, "I’m getting a bit worried, to be honest."

"Why? Are they shouting at each other? Are they fighting? Throwing valuables? I bet that Wimbledon silver plate would make a mean discus if thrown right."

Kevin tsked. "No, just the opposite. It's much too quiet. I can't hear anything from their room." He nibbled on his lower lip. Maybe they haven't realized that I locked them in. Maybe they've just fallen asleep …

"What do you mean by ’their room‘? Aren't they with you?" Mike sounded puzzled.

"Ah, no, not exactly. You see, I really did lock them up in Anne's bedroom." They had only discussed the possibility shortly before Kevin left with Anne and Shana, and Kevin hadn't really been sure he wanted to do it.

"You did?" Mike spluttered. "Oh man, lover, you better unlock that door before Anne notices and then get back here."

Kevin could hear the smile in his lover's voice. "Why? Are you going to protect me?"

"Nah, I'm smaller than Anne and she's meaner. I figured we'd escape through the back door and change our names. I've heard Canada is beautiful this time of the year, and it's not too far." Mike was laughing by now. "We could be there by tonight."

Kevin grumbled for a second before he decided to join his partner in his amusement. "Yeah, yeah, keep on laughing. You'll be sorry when Anne kicks my ass and you're not getting any because I hurt too much," he finally said with an evil grin.

Mike sobered up quickly at the other end.

Kevin became serious as well. "So, what's going on over there, buddy? Has the sheriff grilled you already?"

"You know, I've been getting some very strange vibes from that woman. She seems mostly interested in Anne and her whereabouts, and for a moment I thought she was disappointed that Shana wasn't hurt more in the crash." Mike's voice showed that he didn't like the sheriff much.

"Can you be a little more specific, please?"

"Well, she came in just after the three of you left, and the first thing she asked Irene was where Anne was. She didn't ask for Shea, she didn't even seem to think of her. You can imagine how well that went over with Irene."

"Oh, yeah," Mike nodded.

"Irene asked her if she had been to the crash site already and when the sheriff said that she had seen it when she was driving by it on her way out here and that she left her deputy there to check it out, you should have seen Irene. I thought she would rip her head off. She was livid! Someone tried to kill her little Shea and the sheriff doesn't even seem to care." Mike chuckled at the memory of a very angry Irene.

"Then what happened?"

"That seemed to have helped because Sheriff Miller actually began asking questions that made sense. Unfortunately, we weren't of much help because none of us had seen anything. She also - finally - wanted to talk to Shana before heading out to the crash site herself for a closer look. Oh, and she still insisted on seeing Anne, of course. I wonder what's going on there …"

So do I, buddy. "So do I." Oh, Anne, if this is another of your stupid one-night stands, I'll … He interrupted his thoughts, having no idea whatsoever what he would do to Anne if his assumption was correct. "Did Irene calm down some?"

"Yeah, some. Once she realized that the sheriff was able to ask good questions, she calmed down. She still managed to make it quite clear, I think, that she was rather disappointed in the sheriff and that she had expected much more of a woman of her reputation. I've never seen a woman in uniform that looked more like a spanked puppy at that moment, but unfortunately that look didn't last."

Mike paused before completing his assessment. "I think she's pretty arrogant. She has a great reputation in this town as far as Irene has heard. She's also very beautiful … and she knows it."

"So, is she gone now?"

"No, she's still here. As soon as she heard that Mishka was here and that he was Shana's fiancé …" Kevin could hear the quotation marks around that last word and grinned. " …she stormed into the library to interrogate him. She's still in there with him. They've been talking for half an hour now, God knows about what."

"Hmmm, it's not as if Mishka has a lot to say," Kevin agreed. "Maybe he's her prime suspect. Or maybe they just can't understand each other. You know how bad Mishka's English is. Is Irene with them at least?"

"Yup, she insisted. She's going to protect our new family addition." Both men grinned at Irene's ability to love and open her heart. "He's going to be all right."

"Sure," Kevin said a bit distractedly, concentrating on the noise he heard from upstairs. "Listen, Mike, I think the girls have realized that they're locked up. I better go check on them. Just in case I won't see you again … it's been great knowing you, buddy." He closed his phone, not waiting for an answer.

"See you soon," Mike laughed and hung up.


Anne joined Shana at the door just as the blonde raised her arm to pound on it. "Wait," she hissed, effectively stopping her friend's movement.

Shana turned to face her tall friend with a curious expression. "Why? Don't you want to get out of here?"

Anne looked into the green eyes before her and inched closer until she was only a breath away from Shana's face. "Yes, I want to get out of here." She caressed Shana's cheek with the back of her hand. "But not before I do this."

She closed the distance between them and tenderly brushed her lips against the cheek she was caressing. Then she kissed her way across closed eyelids to the other cheek and ended with the lightest of kisses on soft lips. She pulled away slightly and smiled when she saw that Shana's eyes remained closed.

The blonde slowly opened her eyes when she realized that the lips that made her feel so good weren't coming back. With a growl that came from deep within her throat, she pulled the dark head down again and covered Anne's lips with a searing kiss that left them both gasping for air when it stopped.

"Was this what you wanted to do?" Shana panted.

"Not … exactly," Anne stammered hoarsely, "but remind me to let you do that to me again."

"Don't play with fire, my love," Shana smiled up at her, "if you can't stand the heat." She ended the statement with a brief kiss and an innocent smile.

Anne just shook her head and grinned. "I'll remember that. If not, you'll just have to remind me again." Then she turned and pounded her fist against the door, wincing in pain as soon as she made contact with the wood.

Shana touched her arm. "Honey, you better let me do that if you want those hands to heal anytime soon." With that she started banging at the door with abandon.

Soon, they heard a rather timid Kevin from the other side of the door. "Yes?"

"Kevin, let us out," Anne bellowed.

"Please," Shana added in a gentler tone.

"Are you going to kill me?" Kevin asked.

Stupid question, Kev. "Would you believe me if I said no?" Anne asked sweetly. The question earned her a poke in the ribs.

"Anne," Shana whispered, "it's not going to help if he has a heart attack. Please, behave." Turning to the door again she continued in a louder voice. "Kev, let us out. We're okay, but we really would like to get out now."

They heard the key in the lock as it was being turned slowly. As soon as the lock clicked, Shana yanked the door open, only to have Kevin almost fall over in surprise. She smiled sweetly at him and then said in a stage whisper. "Thanks for letting us out. Just for that I'll make sure your death is going to be quick and painless." Then she patted his cheek and walked past him and down the stairs, sending one last smile up at Anne.

Kevin looked up at Anne and tried an innocent grin. The brunette tried to scowl at him, but couldn't keep up the façade for long. She pulled the taller man into a hug. "Thank you, Kev," she whispered.

Kevin blushed and returned the hug, incredibly relieved and very proud of himself.


Kevin, Anne, and Shana walked over to the main house in silence, all three lost in their own thoughts. Kevin was curious as to what had happened between the two women in the bedroom, he just didn't have a clue where to start with his questions. He also knew that he still had to talk to Anne, but he didn't want to do so in front of Shana without knowing what Anne had told her about her history with Carlos.

Anne and Shana were both thinking of what they had shared while they were locked up. Unknowingly, their thoughts mirrored each other’s. They both were relieved that they had made it through the morning in one piece, but they were also both wary of what was still to come. So many things were still left unsaid between them. Did Shana want the baby? Could Anne accept the baby? And what in hell had taken them so long to realize the depth of their feelings for each other?

The last question was burning its way through Anne's body, taking a slow trip from the ring in her pocket to the tip of her tongue where she could still feel Shana's kiss. She kissed me like thatbefore–well, almost like that, anyway–and then she ran away. I need to know why. Will she run away again? How can I be sure?

Anne's insecurity shouted a big hello at her and took over. This time, however, she decided to do something about it. She reached out to Shana, who was next to her, and took her hand, then stopped walking.

Kevin noticed the stop and turned around. "What's up?"

"Kev, could you go ahead, please? I need to ask Shana something." Anne spoke without taking her eyes off her hand, which was linked with Shana's.

"Sure," the tall man agreed and quickly walked away from the two women.

"What is it, honey?" Shana asked quietly as soon as Kevin was out of earshot.

"I'm sorry, Shea," Anne started, not really sure how to broach the subject. "I guess I'm just feeling insecure right now." Truth. The truth is always good, isn't it. "I was remembering our first kiss and how you ran away from me that evening …"

"And you were wondering if I would run away again." Shana finished the thought quietly.

Anne nodded with downcast eyes, not wanting to see the reaction on her friend's face. "Will you?" she finally asked. "I mean, run away again?" I couldn't take it.

"Anne, darling," Shana whispered, "please look at me." When the dark head didn't move, Shana cupped Anne's face between her hands and raised it, forcing the tall woman to look into her eyes. She held contact with the blue eyes she loved so much, trying to show Anne what she was feeling inside.

"I love you, Anne, and I'm not going to run away again. There was a reason for my behavior back then, but that reason is gone now." She paused for a moment. "And today, that reason wouldn't stop me. Nothing is going to keep me away from you."

"Why?" Anne rasped. "I always wondered why you left me that night. I lay awake at night, torturing myself, asking myself what I had done that you couldn't love me. What was so wrong with me that you had to run away when all I wanted was to love you? I need to know why you ran away."

Shana hesitated. It wasn't that she didn't want to tell Anne … it was just that she didn't want to do it now. She realized, however, that she didn't have much choice if she wanted to reassure her lover. My lover. That's what you are. Or at least what you will be soon. My lover. She realized that she saw Anne as her lover even though they had not yet consummated their relationship. That was only a matter of time and opportunity.

Her voice was quiet and controlled when she finally answered Anne's question. "The reason I left you that evening was that my parents were blackmailing me with the picture of us dancing. My father said that if I didn't stay away from you and concentrate on my career, he would destroy you, telling the papers that you got me drunk at the party and then took advantage of my ’vulnerable state.’ He told me that my sponsors were already thinking about withdrawing their contracts. Later I found out that all of that was a lie," she ended bitterly.

"He wanted to tell the papers that I raped you?" Anne asked incredulously. "Why didn't you tell me? We would have found a way. I would have given up tennis --"

"Exactly," Shana interrupted. "That is the reason why I didn't tell you. I couldn't let you give up your career. Anne, you're so talented, such a brilliant player, and tennis is your life." She shrugged. "I couldn't take that away from you."

"No," Anne said with a painful smile, understanding Shana's logic, "but you could take away my soul." Shana looked up sharply at the words.

"Shea, tennis is my job," Anne continued, "but it never meant half as much to me as you did. As you do. If ending my career meant I could love you, I'd have given it up gladly." She opened her arms, inviting the smaller woman into a hug.

"I'm sorry," the blonde said as she walked into the arms that closed around her at once. "We were both so young, and I was still so confused back then. I believed him; he was my father. I believed he had the power to destroy your life." She looked up at blue eyes that were watching her with love and compassion. "And that was exactly what he did, wasn't it? With my help."

With those bitter words Shana began to extract herself from Anne's embrace, but the taller woman held on tightly. "Shea, love," she pleaded, "it's all right. We're together now. And who knows, maybe we needed the years to grow up and find out how deep our feelings really are." Although I could have lived without those years. But I'm not so sure about you … "Anyway," she continued, "we should make the best of the rest of our lives now and for me that means sharing it with you."

"Thank you, Anne."

"What for?"

"For accepting me," Shana simply said. With all my past mistakes.

"Thank you for the same thing, love." I'm the one who should be grateful. You were a victim. I made all my mistakes with open eyes and hate in my heart. She kissed the blonde head under her chin, then let go of the body in her arms. "Why don't we go over to the house before Kevin worries everyone to death, wondering where we are?"

With a nod, Shana reclaimed Anne's hand and they walked on, while a pair of chocolate-colored eyes watched their interaction with interest.





Chapter 26

Back at the main house, Anne and Shana reluctantly parted ways. After one last brief kiss, the taller woman went in search of Mike to get a brace for her injured hand, while the blonde wanted to check on Mishka.

She opened the door to the library just to find the room empty. "Well, I guess Irene took care of him," she murmured under her breath.

She entered the room fully and walked over to the fireplace, enjoying the crackling of the burning wood and the orange glow of the flames. She loved open fires, but had only really learned to appreciate them up here in the north, where winters tended to get rather cold. Back home in Central Texas, a fireplace wasn't really a necessity.

Shana sat down on the low sofa in front of the fireplace and stared into the flames. She closed her eyes, breathing in the scent of the wood and listening to the noise the flames made while eating away at the small logs. To her, the combination of the sounds, scents, and warmth coming from the fire created the ultimate ambience, romantic and sensual, smoldering and exciting. Without conscious thought, her mind turned to Anne and the things she could do to and with her lover in front of this fireplace.

Images of two naked bodies flickered through her mind, moving together on the rug in front of the flames. In her mind's eye she could see Anne beneath her, pushing up against her, straining for maximum contact between their bodies, her face made even more beautiful by the ecstasy visible on it. She could see her own hand as it touched the muscular shoulders, slid over breasts, teased a hip and rested on the inside of a thigh. They kissed, passionately, hungrily, and moved together with an ever-growing intensity. Anne's hands were roaming her body freely, fleetingly, never stopping long enough in one place to satisfy Shana's needs, but increasing her arousal immensely. Anne's leg had slipped between her own thighs, making contact with her wetness without putting pressure where Shana wanted it the most. All that could be heard in the room was the fire and the passionate sounds of the two women. Then finally Anne …

There was a noise outside the door and Shana opened her eyes with a start. Her heart beat furiously and she felt very warm. She realized that she was incredibly aroused by her fantasy, feeling the wetness between her tightly closed legs and knowing that her face was flushed. She took solace in the fact that anyone entering the room would probably think that the blush and the warmth came from the fire in front of her instead of the one burning inside her.

Please, don't let it be Anne, was the last thought she had when the door opened. I couldn't keep my hands off of her right now.

Mike put his head through the door and spotted Shana. He missed the sigh of relief and disappointment that escaped her, however, since he was concentrating on his own lover at the moment.

"Hey, Shea," he greeted her, "have you seen Kev?"

Shana cleared her throat. "No, sorry. He came in before us ... we wanted to ... we had to ..." She stopped talking, embarrassed that she seemed unable to form a coherent sentence and not wanting to talk about the development between her and Anne just yet. Not without Anne by her side.

"Oh," Mike looked at her curiously. "Are you okay?" He walked over to her.


"You know, you seem to be a little hot ..."

A little? Boy, are you wrong. Shana tried to compose herself before she looked at her friend. She put on her match face and looked into his face. "I'm okay, Mikey. It must be the fire, I guess," she ended lamely and pointed into the flames.

"Uh-huh," Mikes replied, unconvinced. With a knowing grin he patted her on the shoulders and got up again. "I'll leave you to your thoughts then … and your fire." He left the room and closed the door behind himself.

"Great," Shana mumbled. "I wonder what he thought …" Probably exactly the right thing, her mind answered her. I must have looked warmer than I thought.

She decided to follow Mike when she realized that Anne had wanted to find him as well. Guess they missed each other. She shrugged, noticing that her shoulders had lost a lot of the soreness over the day. Then she went in search of her lover.


Leaving Shana was harder for Anne than she could ever have imagined. What's wrong with me? She felt as if she was permanently attached to the woman she loved, and not being close to her felt a lot like what she assumed phantom pain had to be like. Get a grip, willya! You've been apart before and that wasn't a problem. You'll see her again in a couple of minutes anyway. She knew this was true, but still wished she could have gathered the blonde in her arms this very second. Anne, you're pathetic.

She shook her hand and walked down the hallway with only a short wistful look in the direction of the library. In front of the kitchen she ran into Kevin.

"Hey, big guy," she smiled, "have you seen Mike?"

"No, I haven't. I'm looking for him myself. Why, do you need anything?" The last was asked with concern.

"Yeah," Anne admitted with a sheepish grin, "I need a brace for my hand. I guess my rendezvous with the sand sack wasn't too good for it." She raised the bandaged hand to let him a have a closer look.

Kevin winced when he saw the bruises and abrasions on the swollen hand. "You know, Anne," he said sternly, "as your coach, I should be very angry at you for doing that to yourself. You need that hand." He paused. "But as your friend, I have to tell you … I can understand it. I just hope everything's going to work out fine."

"So do I." Anne glanced at her friend, thinking about what he had just said. "Ah, Kev, about that coach business and my hand …" She let the sentence trail off.

Kevin looked at her curiously. "Yeah, what about it?"

"I'm thinking of giving up my career," Anne said quietly.

"Are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious." She studied him. "Why do I get the feeling that you're not surprised?"

"Maybe because I'm not." He took her elbow and started to walk into the kitchen, pulling her with him. "Look, Anne, I know you a bit and I have to tell you that you haven't been yourself lately."

"What do you mean?"

"You're still the best player around, don't get me wrong … but I think that you've lost your focus. Your mind isn't on the game anymore. Just look at the last couple of months." Kevin leaned against the kitchen counter, gathering his thoughts. He didn't want Anne to think she had been slacking.

"What about them, Kev?" Anne was pacing in front of her friend. It was one thing to decide to stop playing professionally, but it bugged her that Kevin thought that it was probably a good idea.

"Well, you didn't play your favorite tournaments, for one thing, and it wasn't because you were injured." He spread his hands as if that fact alone said it all. He received a blank stare for his efforts. "Look, I can't remember a year when you haven't played Auckland or the Australian Open, yet this year you didn't give those tournaments a second thought. You never told me why." That had been a point of major contention between them since Kevin hadn't understood why Anne was reluctant to go to Melbourne to defend her title.

Anne turned away from Kevin, deep in thought. She knew he was right, she had always tried to play those two tournaments. Melbourne because it was one of the Grand Slam tournaments, and Auckland … well, Auckland was a very small, not very important tournament, but she had some very fond memories of Shana that were connected to the place. Unconsciously, she fingered her fishhook pendant. Yep, they had some great times there when they were younger. She remembered her first time in Auckland, 15 years ago.

It was the first major tournament she and Shana entered together, six months after they had first met at tennis camp. They both had played other tournaments, winning most of them, but they had somehow never managed to be in the same tournament together.

Anne was positively giddy at the thought of spending a week with Shana in New Zealand. They had been writing and calling each other regularly, but they had only met once in the six months that had passed since the camp in Florida. Anne missed her friend furiously, even though she was still confused about her feelings. She knew that she had this wonderfully strange feeling in her stomach whenever the blonde girl was near and she also realized that everything felt terribly empty when the blonde was far away. She had yet to realize fully that what she was feeling was love. Or sexual attraction. But awareness had already begun to set in.

They met up in their hotel in Auckland, running into each other's arms and holding on tightly. Shana had been accompanied by her parents as usual, while Anne traveled alone, as her father had an important business deal to complete with his partner Carlos. Anne was more than happy to be left alone on the trip, knowing she could spend more time with her friend that way.

Both she and Shana had single rooms, with Shana's parents sleeping in the room next to Shana's. They never noticed that the girls spent most nights together, just playing catch-up, talking deep into the night or just enjoying each other's company. Anne feared that she would smother her younger friend with her constant company, but Shana didn't seem to mind at all. Often, Anne found herself watching the small blonde and she noticed that most of the time Shana was watching her, too.

The day after the final - which Shana had won while Anne was preoccupied with watching her friend - they took off for a trip to Coromandel Peninsula, not too far from Auckland. They had managed to keep Shana's parents from coming along and they enjoyed their freedom. They stayed at a cozy motel in Whitianga, a small town on the east coast of the peninsula.

That night, they shared a room and a bed for the first time. Annefelt awkward when she climbed into the queen-sized bed, somehow knowing that the night wouldn't be easy. When Shana turned off the lights and joined her in the bed, Anne lay quietly on her back, taking deep even breaths to calm herself. She found it strange that she had to put her hands under her back to keep them from reaching out to the smaller body next to her. She wasn't sure why she wanted to touch Shana all the time.

"Anne," Shana's whisper penetrated the silence, "are you asleep?"

For a long minute Anne didn't say anything, really thinking about ignoring the question and

pretending to sleep, but she couldn't bring herself to lie to Shana. "No, I'm awake," she finally answered with a slightly shaky voice.

"Are you okay?"

The quiet voice that seemed to come from somewhere very close to her ear was laced with concern. Anne felt Shana move and looked over to her friend who was now lying on her side, head propped up on an elbow, watching her quietly.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Anne wondered if her answer sounded as unconvincing to Shana as it did to her.

"Somehow I don't believe you." Apparently it did. "What's wrong, Anne?"

Anne lay very still, pondering her options. She could keep on pretending that everything was okay. Or she could tell Shana what was bothering her. Both were probably bad ideas. Shana hated being lied to, but Anne was also sure that Shana wouldn't be too happy to hear that she couldn't keep her hands off her smaller friend.

Shana was waiting patiently for her answer, but scooted closer as if to offer comfort for whatever was bothering Anne.

Anne grew increasingly hot under the covers. The t-shirt and shorts she wore felt too tight all of a sudden and she knew that if the lights were on, Shana would be able to see her shiver. In a moment of clarity, she decided to tell Shana the truth, consequences be damned.

She moved to mirror the blonde's position on the bed. They lay inches apart, facing each other, Anne's free hand almost touching the small body in front of her. When the tall girl looked into Shana's moonlit face she could see a smile that made her breath catch in her throat. She swallowed hard before she tried to speak.

"I'm okay, really," she began hesitatingly, "it's just that I'm … I … I can't seem to be able to keep away from you." The last part was rushed out.

Shana gazed at her, her expression unreadable to the dark-haired girl. "That's good. I love spending time with you as well."

Anne wasn't sure if her friend had misunderstood her on purpose, but by now she wanted–no, needed–to make it clear. "That's not what I meant, Shea," she said quietly and then waited for a reaction.

"I know."

And then Shana reached out with her free hand and traced a line from Anne's dark head down to her leg as far as she could reach.

"I know," she repeated. Her voice sounded deeper now and the taller girl shivered again. Anne had goose bumps wherever Shana's fingers had touched her. She felt the need to speak, to break the spell.

"Don't you think it's a bit strange?" Her words sounded like molasses to her own ears.

Shana seemed to think about her question and stopped her hand. "No, not really," she replied after a while. "We've always touched a lot and we're best friends." She nodded as if having made a decision. "It feels great, but it's not like it's important … I mean, we're both girls and it's not as if …"

"As if … what?"

"Nothing," the blonde said quickly.

Anne decided to ignore the obvious lie. "Shea?"


"Can I touch you?"

Shana just nodded, and then they spent most of the night touching each other, tracing each other's faces, stroking each other's hair, but never undressing and never touching bare skin that wasn't face, neck or leg.

The next day they visited a bone carver's studio and made their own carving. Shana made a fishhook, which she later gave to Anne as a present. The taller girl reciprocated with a Koru, a spiral that looked like the rolled-up frond of a fern tree. It was a wonderful day for both of them.

The only thing that bothered Anne was that Shana thought that their feelings weren't important.

Anne became aware of a large hand waving in front of her face, bringing her back to the present. "Huh?"

"Hey, you totally spaced out on me there for a minute," Kevin gave her a concerned half-smile. "What's up?"

"I was thinking about Auckland and the tournaments." Anne shook her head to dispel the last images. "The reason why I didn't play Auckland this time was that there was nothing there for me." Shana had been slightly injured and had decided to stay home. She had also missed the Australian Open.

"Ah, I get it," Kevin said in sudden understanding. "Shana wasn't there, so you didn't need to be there." He put his big hands on his friend's shoulders. "You see, that's exactly what I mean. Your focus is on Shana, not on your career, and you can't play successfully that way. That's why I'm not surprised you want to stop. I think your priorities have changed, girlfriend."

Anne looked up at him through dark bangs. "And … what do you think about that?"

Kevin kissed her forehead and hugged her. "I think it's a very good idea, Anne. You need Shana more than you need your career. Hell, you're richer than God anyway." He swallowed. "I'm going to miss you, though."

"We'll stay friends, you know that," Anne murmured into his chest. "Besides, you could move here and we could all be together. Mom would love that."

"We'll see about that," Kevin grinned. "Now, what do you say we find Mike and take care of your hand?"

At that moment Mike walked into the kitchen, followed closely by Shana. Both stopped at the sight of their lovers in a tight embrace.

"Are we interrupting something?" both asked in unison with a grin.

"Nah, not really," Anne said before she turned around and blinded Shana with a dazzling smile. She walked over to the blonde and whispered into her ear. "I've missed you, baby."

Shana rewarded her with a blush and a chaste peck on the cheek before sending her lover out with Mike to finally take care of her hand.

Before the two left the room, Kevin stopped them. "Anne, I need to talk to you. It's about … you know who?"

"You need to talk about Voldemort?" Anne asked, her mood too good to take anything seriously right now, although she very well understood who Kevin was talking about. She wiped the grin off her face.

"You're right. We need to talk about him and a lot of other things. Why don't we all meet back here in 15 minutes? We should also get Mom. That way we don't have to repeat ourselves and we can all share what we know." Anne saw that Kevin doubted that the idea was any good. "Kev, Shana knows … everything."

Kevin relaxed perceptibly and nodded. "Okay then, you go do something about your hands while I get everybody else together. I think the Hinkels should be here as well." Seeing Anne's questioning look he added, "You'll hear that story when we meet back here. Now get out of here."

Anne walked to the door, but turned to Shana before she left the room. "Come with me?"

"Sure," the blonde said with a bright smile. "Who knows what happens if I leave you alone."

Anne waited until Shana was close to her to answer that. "I'm thinking of you all the time, that's what happens."

Then she took Shana's hand and led her blushing friend to the waiting Mike.





Chapter 27

Irene was pissed off.

First, the sheriff had decided not to come out to the site of the crash at once, and then had the gall to ignore the reason she was called and began to ask for Anne almost immediately after arriving at the house.

"She's not here right now," had been Irene's very curt response to Sheriff Miller's question. "She and Shana Wilson, who by the way is the victim here," she had put a lot of emphasis on that part, "are both injured and resting at the moment." She had ended her admonition with suggesting that the sheriff visit the crash site first before talking to the people in the house.

Unfortunately, Mishka had chosen exactly that moment to peek out of the library and, after hearing that he was Shana's fiancé, the sheriff had decided to just send her deputy to the crash site while she talked to Mishka.

The tone in which she addressed the young man made Irene even angrier and she had declared that Mishka's English was too bad to be questioned alone and that she would sit in on the interview. Reluctantly, the sheriff had agreed, but not without shooting murderous glances at the protective Irene.

The interrogation had been a farce because Mishka didn't have a clue what was going on and the sheriff kept on insinuating that he was a prime suspect nonetheless. That had scared Mishka to no end, not only because he had indeed no idea what the sheriff was talking about, but also because he really liked Shana and was shocked that someone had wanted to hurt her.

Well, Irene thought, I'm glad that's over. She had taken Mishka to a guest bedroom so that he could rest a while since he had been driving for most of the night to arrive so early in the morning. Then she had remembered something. Damn, Shana wanted me to ask him how he knew she was here. I guess that's going to have to wait, then.

Now she was standing outside watching the sheriff talk to her deputy, who had just returned from the crash site with his report. I bet he's more competent than you. The older woman knew she was probably being unfair, but the sheriff's behavior had challenged her very large protective streak and now she watched the blonde officer with hawk-like eyes. I don't trust you and I don't like you.

Irene used this opportunity to study the woman. The sheriff was tall, almost as tall as Anne, and very thin. Her long blonde hair was tied into a braid that hung down to her shoulder blades. She had a nice face with high cheekbones and large brown eyes, and a mouth that could probably break into a wonderful smile. If she ever smiles.

All in all, Irene mused, Sheriff Miller was a beautiful woman, and even the gray-and-green uniform couldn't detract from the impact she made on the people around her. The one thing that weakened her beauty in Irene's eyes was the fact that the sheriff clearly knew about it and was probably used to using it to her advantage. Her deputy was definitely smitten with her, judging from the puppy-dog eyes he gave his boss.

Somehow, seeing this made Irene want to gag. She looked down at her feet, studying the dirty snow between her boots. Oops, I have to be careful around her.

When she looked up again, she saw that the sheriff was coming towards her with a grim expression.

"So," Irene asked when the woman was within earshot, "what did your deputy find?"

"Well," the tall blonde took off her hat, "it looks like another car was involved in the accident."

So? I told you that. Irene tried to remain calm. "And?"

"And I would like to discuss the rest of the findings with Shana Wilson, if you don't mind." A small smile graced her features and for the first time since her arrival, Irene noticed an aura of competence and authority around the sheriff. So. You can be professional if you want to. I wonder what made you so preoccupied with my daughter.

Being her direct self, she decided to just ask, but just as she opened her mouth, Kevin came around the corner of the house and called out to her.

"Hi, Mom," he greeted her, sending a small nod to the sheriff at the same time. Then he addressed both women. "Are you finished here?"

Irene looked at Sheriff Miller and received a firm nod in response. "All I need right now is to finally find Ms. Wilson and talk to her … and to your daughter."

"What did you want, Kevin?" Irene asked. As an afterthought she added, "By the way, Sheriff Miller ... Kevin Delaney, Anne's coach." Kevin and the sheriff shook hands.

"We've got everybody at the house again, and we thought we could get together and compare notes. There's a lot to talk about." He looked at Irene to find out whether she understood what he was talking about. The glint in her eyes told him all he needed to know.

"Compare notes on what, Mr. Delaney?" The interest in the sheriff's voice was clear and unmistakable.

He opened his mouth to tell her that what they wanted to talk about had nothing to do with the accident, but he stopped before the first word got out. What if Carlos had something to do with the crash? Could they really exclude that possibility? He knew the man, and as far as he was concerned, Carlos was capable of just about anything, especially after what the Hinkels had told them.

Irene read the doubt in Kevin's eyes. She was sure she knew what he was thinking, and reluctantly agreed with him. She knew more about Carlos Vila and his evil ways than most other people, and she hated him for what he had made her do. Did she really want the sheriff near when they talked about all that had happened?

A definite no.

All that could bring her was trouble.

On the other hand, the sheriff could also help them bring justice. Or find the Hinkels' daughter.

Irene sighed. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad if the sheriff heard all they had to say about Carlos. In her eyes he was the prime suspect, even if only because he had always tried so very hard to destroy her family. Why not kill Shana to hurt her and Anne? She cleared her throat and shot one last long look at Kevin, who nodded almost imperceptibly. "Why don't you join us, Sheriff? It might be … enlightening?"

Sheriff Miller inclined her head in agreement and the three of them went towards the house.


Anne, Shana, and Mike entered the kitchen from the hall at the same time that Irene, Kevin, and the sheriff walked through the back door. At the sound of other people in the room, Anne stopped tweaking her new wrist brace and looked up, expecting to see her mother or Kevin.

Shana almost slammed into her side when Anne suddenly stopped before her, eyes fixed on a beautiful blonde woman in a sheriff's uniform. Shana couldn't see her lover's eyes, but the expression on the dark-haired woman's face made her swallow reflexively. Tentatively, she reached out to her.

Anne couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the sheriff enter behind her mother, and an irrational anger surged through her. Why didn't Mom tell me who the fucking sheriff is? Because she didn't know, stupid ...

She closed her eyes for a fraction of a second, enough time for a few old and not so pleasant memories to flicker behind them. Then she felt a small hand in the small of her back, just a fleeting touch really, but she leaned into it instinctively, letting the love she felt for the small woman next to her calm her down. She knew that Shana had no idea as to what was going on, and she wished fervently she could keep it that way.

The tall woman who slowly walked towards them guaranteed that this wish would never become reality.

We so don't need this right now.

Sheriff Miller stopped in the middle of the kitchen, not more than five feet from Anne and Shana. She looked amused, wearing a half-smile that didn't reach her eyes. She let her brown eyes wander over the two women she had watched only from afar before, reacquainting herself with Anne's beautiful face and graceful body. She frowned when she saw the brace and bandages on the tennis player's arm. She didn't like it.

Her frown deepened when she saw the arm that had a hold on Anne. A hold she never would have gotten away with. Anne had never let her touch her that way, had always been distant and remote, except when they ...

Her thought made her smile again and she swept her eyes over the smaller woman, concluding that this had to be Shana Wilson, the victim of the accident. Her smile widened just a fraction of an inch. She realized the effect that had on her face when the blonde woman inched closer to Anne and the taller woman scowled at her. Ooh, she's protecting her little woman.

Carol Miller knew, deep down, that she should behave professionally, that her job was to find out who had driven Shana off the road, who had wanted to hurt her. The problem was that at the moment, hurting the blonde woman sounded really good to her. Her smile became predatory.

"So," she drawled in a casual tone, "you must be the one who can't drive." She took a step closer to Shana, trying to intimidate her.

"Carol, behave," came a low, quiet voice that she felt in every cell of her body.

Shana looked from one woman to the other. Even without the sheriff's comment, the two words from Anne and the tone in which she said them made it all clear to her. The sheriff's a former lover.

She withdrew her hand from Anne's back in an involuntary reaction to the revelation, suddenly insecure. How am I supposed to react now? She knew they'd meet some of Anne's former lovers sooner or later, but she would have preferred to meet them later. Much, much later.

Then her hand was captured by a warm, lightly bandaged hand, giving her stability and the strength to lift her chin and look straight into the sheriff's eyes.

Her answer came out as a surprise even to her. "I can drive just fine, thank you." Her voice was calm and polite. "I'm not so sure about the guy who drove the other car, though."

She smiled at the sheriff, hiding her insecurity behind a wall of Southern politeness and the love that poured from the woman next to her. Anne's fingers gripped hers a little tighter now, and her thumb made little circles on the back of her hand.

No ... not circles, Shana realized after a moment of curious concentration.

Anne was painting hearts on her hand with her thumb, letting her know she loved her without words. Oh God, Anne. Do you have any idea how much I want to hug you right now? She looked at the tall woman next to her and saw only love in those blue eyes. No doubt. No feelings for the beautiful blonde who was standing before them, challenging them with her proximity.

And just as suddenly as the wave of insecurity had hit her, another feeling swept it away. Compassion. She looked up into chocolate-colored eyes, letting her feelings show.

There was a slight shift in the sheriff's expression. Shana could see how the wariness crept up behind those eyes, dimming the predatory grin and softening the features. Then the eyes looked away.

When they returned to Shana's eyes, she could only see professional detachment in them. I'm sorry for you, Shana thought. She sensed that the taller blonde had some real feelings for Anne. Despite the first impression, she was willing to give the sheriff the benefit of the doubt and try to work with her, hoping the sheriff would do so as well.

Anne watched the exchange between her former lover and the woman she loved with a mixture of pride and anguish. She would have loved to just kick Carol out of the house, but she knew that she couldn't do that without having to face relatively harsh consequences. She had felt the loss of Shea's hand in her back and had reacted promptly, needing to show the small blonde that she was the only woman in her heart. That was the problem with Carol, she thought. Shana has always been the only one in my heart. There just wasn't room for the young, idealistic woman Carol had been back then. Even if she tried her best. Maybe we can work through this now. I used to really like her until she freaked out on me ...

Anne watched the shift in Carol's expression carefully and decided quickly that any further ugliness had been averted by something Shana had done with just her eyes. I have to ask her about that later. That seems like a good trick.

She was surprised when she heard Carol's quiet "I'm sorry."

But she was even more surprised when she heard herself answer. "I understand." I understand? Where did that come from? A tightening around her fingers, however, told her that it must have been the right thing to say. Okay.

"Do you want to start this conversation over again?" she addressed both women.

Without another word, Shana held out her hand. "Hello, I'm Shana Wilson."

Carol's handshake was short, but firm. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Wilson. I'm Sheriff Miller, but please call me Carol."

"Okay, Carol. I'm Shana." She tried a small smile. "And I understand you have some questions for me."

"Yes, indeed," came the professional reply, "but I've heard that you were supposed to have a little conference here and it might be easier if I just sat down with you to discuss things. Unless you'd rather talk in private," she added when she saw the looks that passed between Anne and Shana.

Anne noticed Shana's hesitancy at the request. She herself wasn't sure it was a good idea, but she could see where it would make things easier. She looked at Shana, then at Carol. "Would you excuse us for a second, Carol? I need to talk to Shana for a moment."

Carol nodded. "Sure. I'll be right here."

Irene saw her opportunity and moved closer to the trio to address the sheriff. "Why don't we all sit down over at the table and have something to drink? We're still waiting for two more people anyway before we can start. Kevin, Mike, would you go and get the Hinkels, please? They're in 217."

Kevin and Mike, who had been standing awkwardly in a corner together, looked up at Irene's words and nodded, relief clearly readable on both their faces. They moved around the women and left the kitchen, while Carol and Irene walked over to the table to sit down.

Anne turned towards the blonde woman next to her. Shana studied the floor intently, but was forced to look up by a gentle hand cupping her cheek. "Come on, little one," Anne whispered, "I think we need to talk."


Anne led Shana into the laundry at the end of the hallway, closing the door behind her. She leaned against the wall, sliding down a bit and pulling the shorter blonde between her spread legs so that they were eye to eye.

Shana seemed to be deep in thought, looking around, interested in everything but meeting Anne's concerned gaze. The brunette gently cupped her friend's face with bandaged hands and turned it upwards until the blonde was forced to either meet her eyes or keep her own closed. Slowly, the green eyes blinked and then fell guardedly upon tender blue ones.

"How ya doin'?" Anne asked in a low voice, her thumbs caressing the face between her hands. "Are you okay?"

Shana thought about the question. Am I okay? With what? That the sheriff in the kitchen is an ex-lover of yours? Or that she looks at me like she'd like to get rid of me? Or that she looks at you like you were lunch? Am I okay with telling everybody what Carlos did to me? That I'm pregnant?

"I don't think so, no." No, I'm not okay. All I want right now is go somewhere far away, be alone with you, be held by you. Please, take me in your arms and make it all go away.

As if hearing the silent plea, Anne engulfed her in long, strong arms, holding her and holding onto her as if their lives depended on it. "I'm here for you, baby," she whispered directly into Shana's ear. "I'll always be there for you." Anne's hands began a comforting stroking over much of the shorter woman's back, calming both her friend and herself with the gentle touch.

"We don't need to tell the others everything." The tall woman paused. "I don't want to tell them anything either."

Shana looked at her, her head cocked slightly to one side. "Pete?" was the only word that was needed to convey her understanding.

"Yeah." Anne briefly closed her eyes. "I only broke my promise to him twice, and that is one time too many in my eyes. You needed to know, but there's no one else …"

"Close enough to know?" Anne nodded and Shana tightened her hold on the tall woman a bit more. "Anne?"


"Does … does Mom know about Pete … and Carlos … and your father?"

"I th …" Anne stopped. I think so, but do I know it for sure? "I … don't know, really. This is one thing we never really talked about."

"Why? I always thought you two talked about everything," Shana mused, more to herself than to Anne. It was one of the things she had always admired about her friend's relationship with her mother. "I knew you had your troubles, too … but you seemed so close after …" Her voice trailed off.

"After I came around, you mean." The brunette finished the sentence for her. "Yes, we are close and yes, we do talk about almost everything." Almost everything. It's true, she even knew about you long before anyone else did … long before you and me anyway. A small half grin showed briefly on her face at the memory of a very young adult who was told by her mother that she was probably in love with her best friend.

She shook her head, as much at her younger self as to clear her thoughts. "Anyway, I tried to talk to her about Pete and his death many times, but whenever we came across that particular issue she seemed to close down, as if there was something she didn't want to talk about." Or something she didn't want me to know. "I don't know, maybe it just hurts her too much to talk about it."

"Maybe." Shana sounded unconvinced. "Well, maybe I’ll have to talk to her some day." She had a feeling that there was more to Irene's reticent behavior than Anne realized. She looked at her tall friend's thoughtful face. Or wants to realize.

"So." Shana drew out the word. "What are we telling the others?"

"I thought we could leave out Pete's story completely since it has nothing to do with what happened to you. And I thought we could maybe … if it was okay with you, I mean … tell them that …"

"That he drugged me and raped me, and that I remember bits and pieces of the evening." Shana interrupted Anne's hesitant rambling.

"Do you?" Alert blue eyes watched her closely. "Remember … things from that night?" Please don't let her remember that. It would be so much easier if she didn't.

Shana saw the distress that was clearly written all over Anne's face. She carefully judged what she remembered against what she thought Anne needed right now. Disconnected images of hands groping at her, of clothes being pulled off of her, had indeed started to come back to her, flashing up behind closed eyelids or just jumping at her from the dark recesses of her brain.

She now knew without a doubt that it had been Carlos who had taken advantage of her that night, but since they had been very sure of that already, she didn't feel the need to worry Anne with those images. There's enough time for that later. She shook her head. "No, I don't, not really. But I thought it would sound better and more convincing."

"You're right." Anne couldn't quite hide the relief she felt. "I think that will work. No need to worry Mom and the boys unnecessarily." She brushed her lips against Shana's forehead. "Ready to head back?"

She felt the nod against her lips and had to smile at the sensation. Damn it all to hell. I just want to cuddle up with you somewhere. "Shea?"


"Would you … after this is all over … would you like to hole up somewhere with me … where we could be alone, just the two of us? I'd like some time alone with you, just for a while." Like forever.

"I'd like that, darling." Shana smiled and saw an answering smile on her friend's face. "I want to explore you … ah … our relationship unhindered by anything or anyone."

"Sounds like a deal to me then." Anne pushed herself off the wall and moved over to the door. A tug at her shirt stopped her. She looked over to the blonde in question.

"There's more to your history with Carol than just you two being ex-lovers, is there?" That had been nagging at Shana since seeing the sheriff for the first time.

The direct question hit Anne like a kick. She swallowed down the memories and looked directly into beloved green eyes. "Yes, there's more." Her voice was hoarse. "I'm going to tell you all about it, baby." Her eyes pleaded with her lover. "But I don't think right now's the time." Never sounds like the just the right time to me.

"Okay." The blonde granted Anne her reprieve. "But I'll remind you of it." Soon.

"I know." Anne sighed and opened the door. I know.



To be continued in Part 21

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