Tie Break Part 21
For disclaimers see Part 1
Ten minutes later they were all sitting around Irene's large kitchen table, an assortment of mugs filled with steaming hot coffee or tea in front of them. When Anne and Shana had entered the kitchen a few minutes earlier, all the chairs had already been filled, leaving them only two chairs on opposite sides of the table, one next to Mike, the other next to the sheriff. One look from Anne that had wandered pointedly from Mike to the empty seat next to Carol, however, had changed the situation.
Now, Anne sniffed at her coffee with a relieved sigh, enjoying the aroma of the fresh brew. She had cradled the huge mug between both hands, effectively hiding the Klingon warrior who graced the mug with his image. One thumb was hooked through the handle and Anne's nose was almost touching the rim of the cup. Her eyes were closed and she savored the short silence that blanketed the table while everyone was getting settled and mentally prepared for what was to come.
A touch against her leg startled Anne and she opened her eyes to see Carol look at her with an unreadable expression before she averted her eyes. The touch on her leg, however, remained just where it was. Anne glanced to her right, where Shana was enjoying her mug of tea with an innocent air about her. The brunette resisted the urge to look under the table, unsure whether she really wanted to confirm her suspicions about who was touching her. Instead, she moved her chair a little closer to Shana's and unobtrusively moved her leg as far away from the opposite side of the table as possible.
Carol merely raised her left eyebrow and gave her a deceptively sweet smile.
Anne shot her a look that clearly stated 'Hands off!' and was rewarded with a shrug of one slender shoulder and two raised hands. She doesn't care at all that the woman I love is sitting right next to me. God, will she ever learn?
Another quick look towards her right revealed that Shana was watching the sheriff intently, and Anne had the distinct feeling that her lover knew exactly what was going on. Her assumption was confirmed when she felt Shana's hand on her thigh, grounding her with a gentle touch.
Then she felt another touch, much lower on her leg, that didn't come from her lover.
Anne groaned inwardly. Oh man, this is gonna be a long day ...
Just then, Shana leaned over to whisper in her ear. "Don't worry, love. You're mine, and I intend to keep you." She finished her sentence with a small nip on Anne's earlobe, sending a very clear message across the table.
Which Carol acknowledged with a tiny nod and a grin.
Uh oh. My little one is getting possessive. Anne didn't know if she should be proud or peeved at Shana's possessiveness, but finally decided on accepting it for what it was: Shana's right. I am hers, and Carol should be happy that it's Shana and not me she's going up against. I wouldn't be nearly as subtle. She only hoped that Carol didn't take it as a challenge.
Anne looked around the table to see if anyone had witnessed the subtle exchange between Shana and Carol. Irene, who sat to her left at the head of the table, was giving Carol a look that probably curdled the milk in the sheriff's coffee. Okay, so Mom noticed, and she hates it. Gotta love my mom.
To Irene's left, sharing the head of the table, was Kevin, who was too busy smiling at his lover to notice anything. Carol sat to his left, directly across from Anne, and Mike was next to her, across from Shana. At the other end of the table were the Hinkels, huddled together and almost sharing a chair. Wonder what's up with that ...
Anne took a long sip of her wonderfully hot and fragrant coffee. Realizing that no one else had made a move to start the conversation, she sighed and decided to get the ball rolling.
"Okay," she started in her deep voice, "let's get down to business, shall we?" She looked around the table, receiving small nods and an encouraging smile from her mother and Kevin. "We're here to tell the sheriff what we know about Shana's accident and to share as much background information as we can." She couldn't resist the small look at Shana, who nodded almost imperceptibly.
Kevin cleared his throat, interrupting her. "We're also here to share what we know about Carlos, since it seems that almost everyone here has had dealings with the guy ... and we ...," he pointed at Irene, Mike, and himself, "thought it might be a good idea to compare our stories and experiences."
The blonde man paused as if to decide whether to add anything else. He finished by saying, "I think he might well have something to do with Shana's accident." He raised both his hands to make air quotes around the last word.
Anne looked around the table in startled surprise, noticing that she wasn't the only one. Shana and the Hinkels seemed to be just as astounded as she was at the idea that Carlos might be behind the attack. Suddenly, this whole get-together-around-a-table-and-talk thing made much more sense to Anne. She opened her mouth, then closed it again without saying anything. Finally, she just leaned back in her chair and motioned for Kevin to continue.
Just as Kevin was about to speak again, a head poked shyly around the kitchen door and a quiet clearing of a throat could be heard. Anne looked up to see Mishka inching into the room, seemingly unsure of whether he should be there at all.
Ah. My lover's fiancé. The ridiculousness of their situation almost made her laugh, but at the same time she had to fight the urge to break into a full fit of jealousy. She berated herself for feeling like that. You know why she offered to marry him, silly, so calm down. He's gay, she's gay, and what's more, she loves you.
Shana's hand made soothing patterns on her thigh and the tall woman dug deep inside herself for a lopsided grin that she threw Mishka's way. That earned her a loving pat on her thigh and a brilliant smile that lit up green eyes.
Shana got up to meet Mishka halfway, realizing that he was probably insecure with everyone staring at him. She greeted him with a warm hug, which he returned with affection. He then held her at arms' length and looked her over.
"Are you okay?" Mishka's question was laced with a heavy accent.
Shana patted him on the arm reassuringly. "Yes, I'm fine." She looked at Anne and met the taller woman's eyes. "More than fine, actually." Anne smiled.
Shana introduced Mishka to everyone around the table while Kevin fetched a chair that he placed between Shana and Mrs. Hinkel. Irene waited until Mishka and Shana had sat down again before she got up to get him another fine specimen from Anne's mug collection. She grinned when she found the right one for him. Oh yeah. This'll do nicely. She filled it with coffee and put it down in front of Mishka, the tacky image of the world's most famous rodent facing him.
He smiled up at her warmly, and Irene found out that she was beginning to really like the young man. She patted his shoulder affectionately.
Anne hardly noticed what was going on around her. She was lost in her own world, still thinking about what Kevin had said about Carlos and Shana's accident. She knew what he was capable of, had experienced it herself, but she wasn't sure it was him. Why would he hurt Shana like this? What's the point? He hurt her enough already. Unless ... She stopped at the grim thought. Unless he thinks she's too dangerous when she finds out she remembers the night he raped her. But what could she do to him? Go to the police? Good idea. She can't remember anything and it would be her word against his, at least until the baby was born ...
Oh, God, the baby. Even though the baby was Carlos's, she suddenly felt very protective of it. Probably just because it would hurt Shea if something happened to it, right? Right. But this reaction told her more about herself and her commitment to the small blonde and her baby than anything else ever could.
She leaned over to Shana and whispered directly into her ear. "Does anyone else know about the baby?"
The blonde looked at her in puzzlement, but thought about the question. She shook her head. "No one but you and me and Irene. Maybe the boys have figured it out, but other than that ..." She stopped suddenly.
"I don't know for sure, but I took a pregnancy test at home before I went to my gynecologist. I bought several of those test thingies just to make sure. My mother came to visit me later that day ... I don't know if she saw the tests in the bathroom." She closed her eyes as a sense of frustration coursed through her. It would be so like her mother to snoop around in her bathroom. So, no, she couldn't be sure who knew.
The shocked looks around the table told Anne that she had uttered the expletive louder than she had planned. She leaned close to Shana again. "We'll get through this together, baby." She stroked the smaller woman's arm tenderly. "But if Carlos found out that you're pregnant ..." She left the end of the sentence open. After what Shana had told her about the evening of the rape, she didn't doubt that Janet Wilson would probably tell Carlos whatever she found out. And if he had found out, he had every reason to kill Shana as the baby's DNA would prove his fatherhood.
"If he found out I was pregnant, he might have a reason to see the baby hurt ... and me. But ... but my mother wouldn't just go and tell him ... would she?" Shana choked on the last bit of the sentence. She looked up into concerned silver-blue eyes and then noticeably pulled herself together. "Let's hear what the others have to say, okay?" She was pleading for more time to let the very real possibility of someone who was out to hurt her sink in. She wished she could remember more about the crash and the other car that had been there with her, but those things were still nothing more than a blur to her.
Anne gave Shana another long look, trying to see through the green eyes into her lover's soul, needing the long contact to alleviate her concern. Satisfied that the smaller woman would be all right for now, she nodded and let her hand fall down to Shana's thigh. Reluctantly, she pulled herself from her lover's gaze and looked at Kevin.
Kevin and Mike were the first to talk of their experience with Carlos, telling the others about the things they had witnessed over several years on the tennis circuit. There was nothing really that would hold up in court, but it all added to the very bad feeling the name "Carlos" gave all of them. They talked about manipulations, young players who came and went, verbal abuse. All in all, nothing other coaches and managers didn't do as well, although to a lesser extent.
Mike and especially Kevin had tried to see behind the facade, and what they had seen had made them suspicious. But only when the Hinkels had told them their story the night before had they thought about the depths of evil that might be hidden behind that business facade.
And then there was their personal experience.
"Again," Mike said with feeling, "there's nothing there that can be proved, but somehow he's always been around when something bad happened to either one of us. I've always wondered just who was behind the attack on Kevin that night, but of course the police never found out."
He gave his lover a small smile that managed to give away the past hurt they had shared. He continued quietly. "I asked around myself, but no one really wanted to say anything. I chalked it up to disinterest in what happened to a 'damn faggot', but one day I met Carlos and what he told me stayed with me for a long time."
"What did he say?" Irene asked, concern showing in her eyes. Her voice was thicker than usual, from the anger she tried to keep down. With every word that was being said about Carlos, she hated him more. And she already hated him a lot. I should have killed you
He looked at his lover before answering. "He asked me specifically how Kev was coping with his shattered knee and broken arms." He swallowed, remembering the taunting voice.
They hadn't made the extent of Kevin's injuries known publicly. Even the tabloids only knew that he had been beaten up badly, but not how and what exactly was done to him. They had not found out that Kevin had been beaten up by a gang of what seemed to be skinheads, armed with baseball bats and chains. It hadn't been mentioned that they went for his knees and arms and upper body.
"Only someone who had been there or who had instigated the attack would have known," he finished tonelessly. Shana reached across the table and gently laid her own smaller hand on top of his, giving quiet comfort.
Mike shook his head while Kevin looked like he was miles away. "And it wasn't just what he said," Mike went on, "it was more the way he said it. He wanted me to know that he was behind it, wanted to let me know that it was his work and we couldn't prove anything."
"What did you do?" Shana asked.
Surprisingly, it was Carol who answered the question. "He went to the police, but nothing much came of it, I bet." Everyone stared at her, but the blonde ignored them, focusing instead on Mike. "Didn't you?"
The physical therapist nodded. "Yes, I did. They told me they would follow the lead, but nothing ever happened." He looked over at the sheriff. "How did you know?"
Carol took a deep breath and glanced around the table at the others. There was mild curiosity in everyone's eyes. She stopped to look into Anne's eyes for a long moment, seeing more than curious interest there. The blue eyes that stared back at her held a wary question that Carol knew she had to answer sooner or later. "It sounds like the sensible thing to do," she finally answered Mike's question evasively.
"Is that so?" Anne asked quietly.
"Yeah, that's so," Carol replied curtly. When the blue eyes didn't leave her face, she shifted a bit in her seat. "You know, I wasn't always just a small-town sheriff " she added after a long minute, the meaning behind the sentence cryptic to almost anyone but Anne.
"When?" The question came from the brunette, unsurprisingly. The other had lost the thread of the conversation by now.
"Several years ago." Carol decide to be as evasive as possible without much hope that Anne would let her get away with it.
I knew it. Carol sighed. "When we met." Which was exactly at the time when Kevin was beaten up by Carlos and his thugs.
Anne raised her eyebrows in surprise and opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, Carol interrupted her. "Please, Anne, this is not important now. I'll explain later."
The brunette translated the sentence in her head. Not now, in front of everyone, and not in front of Shana. "Okay," she agreed. "But I do have some questions." Like why you never told me you were a cop. Like why you never did anything about Kevin's case if you were a cop. Like why you trashed my room and vanished. And I'm sure it's quite important.
Anne turned her head to look at Shana. The blonde seemed a bit puzzled and was clearly about to say something, so the brunette leaned over and said in a very low voice. "Trust me, baby. You don't want to hear that just now." She felt more than saw Shana's small nod of agreement, and kissed the blonde head gratefully. There are stories better left as private as possible, was her final thought before she concentrated on their meeting again.
After Mike had finished his story, Irene recounted some of the things she knew about Carlos. Shana had already heard most of it from Anne, but she was surprised that Irene talked more about general stuff than special events. She talked about her feelings, about the manipulations Carlos seemed so good at, but she didn't talk about abuse or Pete's death.
The blonde studied her lover's mother closely. Either she doesn't know what's in Peter's letter or she doesn't want anyone else to know. Something in Irene's eyes, however, told her that the older woman knew pretty much what had been going on, at least after the fact. Shana couldn't even imagine that Irene knew of the abuse of her son without doing something about it.
Irene's eyes were half-closed during most of the account. Her body language was, on the other hand, was impressive. It just wasn't Irene. Normally, the older woman talked much as Shana did, using hands and arms, and her facial muscles to good effect. Now, she hardly moved a muscle, neither in her face nor in her body. She's so guarded, like she's trying to keep something from us or the sheriff. I wonder what that is. It's a good thing the others don't know her as well as her family does.
When Irene had finished telling the others about Carlos and his influence on her family's life, there was a lull in the conversation. Everyone seemed leery to continue, although it was clear that some very important people in the room had not talked about their experiences.
Gently, Irene coaxed the Hinkels into repeating their story, since most of the people present hadn't heard it yet. With halting voice and frequent pauses, Fritz Hinkel managed to once again tell the story of his young daughter who had disappeared. His voice took on a sharp edge when he recounted the role Carlos Vila had obviously played in her escape from the GDR and her ensuing disappearance. Encouraged by his wife's gentle touches, he talked about his fears that his beautiful daughter had been charmed by Carlos and then taken away ... and apparently not to make her a great tennis player.
When his voice broke, Kevin took over, letting the others in on the rumors he had heard over the years. Rumors about young players from Eastern European countries who had suddenly vanished and were never heard from again. Young women who all shared beauty, some talent in tennis, and a tall, dark stranger who promised them the world. He also repeated his fears that the girls were either sold or made to work as prostitutes somewhere.
"Unfortunately," he finished in his gentle voice, "nothing could ever be proven. They never found any of the girls, so they never had anyone who would be able to tell what exactly was going on. All we really have are the rumors that have been spreading for years now ..." His voice tapered off.
"And they could still be just that," Anne murmured. "Rumors." Her tone, however, made clear what she thought about that. She just knew it was true. From all her previous experiences with Carlos, she knew he was perfectly capable of finding young, naive girls with huge dreams and selling them to the highest bidder.
She felt sorry for the Hinkels, not only because of their missing daughter, but also because she feared that their quest for her would remain forever unsuccessful. She's probably in some harem somewhere, serving a sheik. Or worse, forced to prostitute herself for some pimp, kept willing by drugs or abuse. But she also knew that it was impossible to tell the elderly couple that. They needed hope like they needed air to breathe. Taking away their hope would be like killing them. She swallowed and closed her eyes in quiet sympathy.
She had wondered, at the beginning of the old man's tale, why they had looked for their daughter here, at her mother's hotel, but when Carlos's name cropped up, she had to admit that it had to seem like a sound idea. The Hinkels couldn't have known that Carlos Vila was persona non grata in their house and that he would just as soon be killed as welcomed, should he ever possess the guts or stupidity to set foot on her mother's land. And when they had found out that Irene would never lead them to their daughter, they had just clung to something they knew, something that gave them a vague sense of purpose, of doing something, to find their daughter.
Who knows, Anne mused silently. With everything that's going on around here, maybe their tenacity will lead them to Carlos in the end.
She wondered for a moment if Carlos had any idea how much hate for him was gathered around a large kitchen table somewhere deep in rural Vermont. Or whether he would even care. Probably not.
But her gut told her that they hadn't heard the last of Carlos Vila. Not by a long shot. She couldn't shake the feeling that he was not too far away, watching and waiting. The feeling left her prickly and uncomfortable, and she wanted nothing more than to end this meeting as quickly as possible. The tall woman just wanted to gather her lover in her arms and bury the two of them under the covers of the big four-poster bed for the next 50 years. We'll forget about everything and let the storms blow over us.
Reluctantly, she opened her eyes to reality and saw concerned looks all around the table directed at her. No, her mind supplied, not at me. At the small blonde sitting very close to her. Anne turned to regard her friend, wondering what was going on.
Shana had fallen very quiet during the accounts of Fritz Hinkel and Kevin, losing more color with every minute that went by. Now, the color of her face almost matched the whiteness of the cup she held in her hands with a white-knuckled grip. Her eyes were focused on a point somewhere beyond the wall of the room they were in, and she appeared to be miles away.
Anne tightened her grip on the blonde's thigh and started a slow movement of her fingers. When that didn't get her any response, she raised her other hand in concern and moved it quickly before Shana's face a couple of times, finally pulling her out of her trance-like state and back to the present.
Anne concentrated on her friend, blocking out the presence of the other people gathered around the table. She lightly touched Shana's chin and turned her friend's face towards her.
"What's wrong?" she asked in a gentle tone.
When the blonde woman remained mute, she softly rephrased the question. "What happened, sweetheart?" Not caring that she had just told everyone around them just how well they had gotten over their differences; all that mattered to her was getting through to the obviously very shaken woman by her side.
She hated being helpless, and that was exactly how she felt that moment, and the need to run out and do something was warring heavily with her concern for the woman she loved. This is not about you, so stay put and take care of Shea. She took a deep breath and was just about to repeat her question when her lover's green eyes lifted and looked straight into her own eyes.
The look inside those eyes made the tall woman shiver slightly. It was full of pain, but there was more, a new depth to that particular feeling. There was a knowledge in those eyes, a certainty, and Anne knew she would hate whatever came out of Shana's mouth next. Reflexively, her grip on a muscular thigh tightened again, and she put her other hand over the two smaller hands that were still hanging onto the coffee cup for dear life.
Shana relinquished the cup and wrapped her fingers around Anne's bandaged hand instead, needing the support and the feeling of being grounded the touch gave her. She sniffed back a tear that threatened to escape at the truth she had just come to acknowledge.
The blonde saw that Anne was getting more worried by the second, and she wondered how her lover would take what she had to tell her. She had known that her accident had probably not been an accident at all, especially since she remembered that there had been another car close by. But being hit between the eyes with a feeling of absolute certainty that someone wanted to hurt or kill her had shocked her deeply.
And knowing that she would possibly have to keep Anne from running out and doing something stupid didn't make things any easier. The brunette by her side was fidgeting more by the second, and Shana realized that she had to say something before the tall bundle of coiled muscle and worry bolted. Just then, the tall woman opened her mouth to speak, and Shana quickly raised a hand to interrupt her.
"I'm okay, darling." Her voice sounded anything but, and she knew it. She traced the worried frown that appeared to have settled permanently between dark eyebrows. The blue eyes closed in reflex, but opened again quickly.
"Shea, can you tell me what's wrong?" The hoarse voice was laced with worry and the effort not to shake the small woman before her into spilling what had spooked her so.
The blonde head nodded and with a last long look into blue eyes, turned to face the rest of their little group again. "I'm sorry I went out on you for a second," she apologized. "But when Doctor Hinkel told us about his daughter and Kevin talked about those rumors, I remembered something."
She cleared her throat to steady her voice. "About four months ago I was at my parents' house for a visit. Mum had asked me to come over to talk about a family Christmas --"
She was interrupted by a snort that escaped her lover's mouth at the mention of her family, but she chose to ignore it, knowing what the dark-haired woman was thinking.
"She obviously had forgotten to tell my father since he seemed otherwise occupied with one of his partners. As you probably all guess by now, it was Carlos Vila." She paused to look around the table and saw nothing but mild curiosity on the others' faces. "That in itself is nothing unusual, even though my father had told me that business relation with Carlos had stopped years ago - at least where I was concerned."
That had indeed been the case, resulting in a lot of friction between her and her parents, but Shana had insisted on taking more interest in her affairs. She would have preferred to exclude her parents completely, but her mother had guilt-tripped her into keeping them as her managers. The compromise was that Carlos had to go, since Shana had never really trusted him after the warning Anne had given her at the Christmas party.
"My father and Carlos were in my father's office, but there was a briefcase that didn't belong to my father standing next to the coffee table in the family room. When my mother went into the kitchen for a second, I got curious and opened it, but it was empty except for a manila envelope. I took the envelope to check its contents, but my mother returned and I quickly closed the briefcase before I could put the envelope back in. I just slipped it into my backpack to put it back later.
"After a couple of minutes I grew uncomfortable, knowing that I had the envelope in my backpack. I was afraid Carlos would come for his briefcase and I would be found out." Needless to say, I didn't want to see Carlos in the first place. "So I asked my mother to fetch me something to drink from the kitchen, and as soon as she was out of the room, I put the envelope back."
Shana took a long sip of tea. "I left soon after that, certain that everything was okay." Another pause, another sip.
"And?" Irene's voice made clear that she wanted the blonde to continue.
"And when I got home, I noticed that I must have slipped the envelope into my backpack upside down, because there were several sheets of paper in my backpack that definitely didn't belong to me."
At that, everyone around the table sat up a little straighter in their chair. The sheriff leaned forward a bit, placing her elbows on the table. "What did those papers say?" Carol's voice reflected the interest everyone had in the answer to that question.
"It wasn't so much what they said, but what they showed," came Shana's cryptic reply.
"Shea," Anne sounded mildly exasperated, "what did they show?"
"They were printouts of color photographs, each one showing a young woman. Some were head shots, but most were full body shots. The women were wearing bikinis, and in some cases, nothing at all. Below the pictures were some comments about the women, I presume. I didn't read them too closely. I just thought I had stumbled upon one of Carlos's hobbies, you know ... collecting pictures of half-naked or naked young women." She shrugged. "Some of the comments were hand-written, as if notes had been taken in the margin, but I couldn't read it."
"But Carlos's handwriting isn't that illegible," Anne murmured.
"No, but the language was. I couldn't even tell you what it was, only that it wasn't Carlos's handwriting."
"Can you remember any details?" Carol was definitely interested now. "The comments about the women, what did they say?"
Shana thought about that for a long moment. "I'm sorry now that I didn't look more closely, but I didn't think it was that important." Apologetically, she glanced at Kevin and the sheriff. "I had never heard those rumors."
Anne softly stroked her thigh in a calming motion. "Don't worry, love. Just try to remember as much as you can."
Irene butted in. "Why did you remember that just now, little one? What triggered that?"
Shana closed her eyes and thought some more, probing her memory. She opened her eyes again suddenly. "The comments contained information on the women in the pictures. But it wasn't what I expected. Sure, there was the first name --" She broke off and smacked her hand against her forehead. "The names, that's what it was. All the names were quite obviously Russian or Polish or something like that." She shot a look at Mishka. "Sorry I can't keep that apart."
"Can you remember any of the names?"
Shana looked at the sheriff. "Only some. As I said, I didn't look too closely. I wasn't really too interested in what Carlos carried around for his amusement."
"Eewww." The thought apparently disgusted Mike.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," the small blonde agreed. "The names I can remember were all emphasized by a marker pen, that's why they probably stuck in my memory. One was called Djamila, one Ekaterina, one Galina," she stopped and closed her eyes, "and one was called Nadezhda. I remember that one because I liked the name and because the girl seemed rather young in the picture."
That seemed to pique Carol's interest. "How young? What about the others?"
"I'd say Nadezhda was about fourteen when the picture was taken, and none of the others was older than sixteen, I'd say."
Anne was getting increasingly restless. When the implication of what Shana had discovered by chance became clear to her, her first urge had been to run out, find Carlos and beat him to a bloody pulp. It was obvious that the rumors about Carlos were true. It was also obvious that he would have noticed the missing pictures. But ...
"But how did Carlos know you had the pictures when you didn't see him at all that day?" Anne's alto voice interrupted the sheriff before she could question Shana further.
The dark-haired woman wasn't interested in details anymore. She knew what they amounted to, and all she cared about was finding out how Carlos had known about Shana. A thought planted itself in her head. What if the rape had been only a way to keep Shana quiet? No, that would only work if she remembered, which she didn't. But did Carlos know that? Possible. And then when he had heard about Shana's pregnancy, he had had just one more reason to get rid of her. Killing her probably seemed easier than dealing with her then.
Shana watched as her lover's expression got more grim by the second, and she tried to figure out what the taller woman was thinking. Who could have told Carlos that she had been alone with his briefcase? There was only one person really. And with that realization came a coldness that started in her heart and traveled through her body. Mother.
Her mother must have told Carlos. That could only mean that her parents and Carlos were working together. Otherwise he wouldn't have asked about the envelope or the missing pictures. That would also explain how her parents could have been so callous as to set her up for the rape.
The blonde wondered how anyone could feel so cold and be boiling with fury at the same time. She knew that Anne had come to the same conclusion when their eyes met and she could read the cold rage in the eyes that had lost almost all color. I've only seen that color once, Shana thought, on the day I met Carlos.
Then she answered Anne's question. "My mother must have told him."
The shocked silence around the table was nearly palpable before Irene's sob broke it. Nobody knew what to say. The implications were clear, and everyone only had one question.
Kevin stared out into the heavy snowfall that had started sometime during their meeting. He was tired and in need of a hug after all the ugliness that had come out in the open that afternoon. He checked his watch. It was already past dinnertime, but then he wasn't hungry and he doubted anyone else was either. He looked around at the faces of his friends and family.
Mike looked as shocked as he felt. Irene was crying, hiding her face in both hands. The Hinkels both looked as if they were still processing what they had heard. Mishka was visibly concerned about Shana. The sheriff was mostly frustrated, he could see. She'd probably like to probe us all further. Just then the slender blonde looked outside and drew a resigned breath. Okay, she knows that nothing much is going to happen now. And that she's stuck here for the time being. The snow was getting worse, even as he was watching.
Then he looked at Anne and Shana. The blonde was huddled in the long arms of her lover, face buried in the taller woman's shoulder. Anne was making small circles on her back with her bandaged hands, continuously murmuring something and placing kisses on the fair head.
The dark head rose suddenly and her eyes met his. Anne's eyes were a silvery blue, full of darkness and fury. He had seen the look before and it frightened him to see it again.
The last time he had seen it Anne had drunk for three days straight, and it had taken a considerable effort to calm her down. The hotel room in which she had finally passed out would never be the same again after that night. Nor would their relationship.
He just hoped that Anne's love for the woman in her arms would prevent her from doing something irreversibly stupid.
Like storming out and killing Carlos.
He regarded the falling snow again and said a quick, silent prayer.
Please, send more snow.
As Kevin had predicted to himself, Shana's revelation and the subsequent realization that her mother had perhaps put her in harm's way was pretty much a conversation stopper.
Anne still hoped that there would be an explanation for Janet Wilson's behavior. Knowing that your own mother didn't care for you was hard enough, but finding out that she might have actively participated in getting you hurt was a little hard to stomach, and she didn't wish that for her lover. However, at the moment she couldn't find anything that redeemed Janet Wilson in her eyes.
The brunette looked around the table. It seemed everyone was as weary as she felt, especially the small blonde in her arms. She was aching, but didn't know whether it came from her injured hands or an overall feeling of dread, hurt, and exhaustion. It wasn't so much that she was physically tired, but her mind felt like it would shut down any second now. She knew that if she didn't get herself and Shana into bed, they would probably all still be sitting around the kitchen table the next morning, as nobody seemed inclined to move too much.
She straightened her body and that of the blonde woman in her arms as well, effectively putting Shana on to her own chair. She received a whimper of protest from the blonde, and gently caressed her back in compensation. Sorry, darling, but I think we need to get everyone to bed, she thought with a smile on her lips.
"Okay, folks," she said a little more loudly than necessary, just to get everyone's attention. Succeeding, she continued. "I think it's obvious that none of us is up to anything more today, so I would suggest that we stop talking for the night and get some sleep instead." She shot Carol a glance. "We can always talk more tomorrow."
The sheriff looked outside again, watching the snow that was twirling eerily in the glow of the outside light. She sighed and resigned herself to her fate. No going anywhere tonight. She perked up at the thought that she would spend the night under the same roof as Anne. Suddenly, the prospect didn't seem as bad as it had only seconds before. Maybe I can pay her a little visit later to talk. Another thought occurred to her. She probably won't sleep alone. Then she shrugged mentally. Obstacles like that were only challenges in her eyes, not reasons to stop. Its worth a try.
Anne was watching Carol's face and saw the predatory grin appear on the definitely striking features. Oh no, you're not. She knew exactly what was going through her ex-lover's mind, and she decided to put a very ostentatious stop to that particular idea. Hope Shana doesn't mind, but this is for her as much as for me.
She turned to the blonde and caught the guarded look in the green eyes that were fixed on the sheriff. Oh yes, she's going to like this. She took Shana's hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Her lover smiled at her and Anne shot her a lopsided grin before she faced the others again.
"By the way," she began, pushing her chair back and getting up from the table, "to end this evening on a high note, I we have an announcement to make." She looked at Shana, who was standing now as well, her smaller hand still in the brunette's larger one. Her lover smiled and nodded when she realized where this was leading to.
"As some of you already know I've been in love with this beautiful woman by my side since forever, but I never deemed myself worthy of her and I never believed she could love me. However," she paused and her face erupted in a brilliant grin, "she does. And now that I know Shea loves me too, I'll never let her go again." Oops, that was a little more than I planned on saying. Wonder what Shana's going to make of that?
The blonde in question put her arms around the taller woman's waist and molded her body to her lover's muscular form. "I love you with all my heart," she simply stated. Before Anne could say anything else, Shana drew her head down and pressed their lips together in a firm and gentle kiss. If Carol doesn't get it now, she never will, was the last thought that went through Anne's mind before she lost herself in the tender touch.
Kevin and Mike's whistles broke their kiss just in time to hear Irene's heartfelt, "Amen. Thank God!" Anne glanced at the sheriff, but the look in the brown eyes was unreadable. Well, we couldn't make it any clearer than that!
Then her mother's comment filtered through and she laughed. "Mom, you don't even believe in God!" The rest of the family - Kevin, Mike, Shana, and Irene - joined in her laughter.
"No," Irene finally said, "but for you to finally get together I'd join the cult in a heartbeat!" She sobered up and spoke more sincerely now, with words coming from the heart. "Honestly, I'm so happy for you." Then mischief brightened her eyes again. "When can I start planning your wedding?" She grinned heartily at the shocked expression on her daughter's face.
Shit! I knew that she would never let that little slip rest. She shrugged it off. I intended on asking her anyway, so I just have to do it sooner rather than later. With an evil grin she walked over to her mother's side and whispered something in her ear.
Irene smiled happily and nodded once. The rest of the family exploded in "No fair!" and "Tell us!" calls, but Anne simply beckoned Shana to come over, and together they left the room.
At the door Anne stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "We're going to bed now," she said and grinned. Let them come to their own conclusions I'm not alluding to anything here. Un huh.
As soon as the door had closed behind the two women, Kevin and Mike bombarded Irene with questions, hoping to get Anne's whispered comment out of her. But to the frustration of the two men, she remained steadfast.
The Hinkels soon excused themselves and went to their room. At that, Irene mentally smacked her forehead, went into hostess mode and offered the sheriff a room for the night. She led the slender blonde from the room, intent on giving her the room farthest away from Anne and Shana's room. She had seen the looks passing between her daughter and the sheriff and understood the couple's display for what it was: a warning just as much as a declaration of love and commitment. She would do her part in keeping the sheriff from hurting her girls. She grinned, leading Carol Miller upstairs to a very small single room under the roof.
Down in the kitchen, a bewildered Mishka looked at Mike and Kevin. He wasn't sure what exactly had just gone on, but he understood that Anne and Shana were obviously in love. And that Anne's mother had asked something about a wedding.
"Kevin," he began haltingly, "how can Shana marry Anne when she marries me?" The thought that Shana might not go through with their deal made his future look rather bleak.
Kevin and Mike just looked at each other, stunned by the logical question. "Damn, I totally forgot about that," Mike said with a sigh.
"Yeah, me too," Kevin agreed. He looked at the young Russian. "We don't know that Shana is going to marry Anne, Mishka." He thought it couldn't hurt to reassure the young man, although he strongly believed that he would not be the one to get married to the beautiful blonde. But then again, that wouldn't be completely fair now, would it? He continued. "And if she does, we'll just find another solution to your problem."
"Don't worry, Mishka, everything's going to be all right." Mike's comment revealed more enthusiasm than conviction.
Mishka simply nodded and decided to get some sleep as well.
When they were alone, the two remaining men blew out a very long breath before Mike tugged on Kevin's sweater. "Come on, big guy. There's a bed calling our name."
The tall brunette lost her evil grin as soon as she was alone with the smaller blonde in the hallway. The closer the two women got to their room, the more pensive Anne got. It hadn't been her plan to be quite that demonstrative back in the kitchen when she announced to her family that she and Shana had finally found their way together. It hadn't been her plan to say that forever thing in front of the others. It definitely hadn't been her plan to be kissed like that by Shana.
But she had made her plans without asking Shana, and she had obviously underestimated her friend. And somehow, it all had felt so good and so right.
So what? Anne bristled at the voice that mocked her. I wanted to ask her to marry me anyway! Now, I just have to do it sooner. She swallowed at the thought. After the display in the kitchen she couldn't possibly say no, could she?
How soon? Another thought interrupted her downward spiral with more practical things.
Very soon. In fact, I might do it right now. But
But what? Found an excuse, chicken?
No! I just wanted to do it somewhere else over at the cemetery, in front of Peter. He would have loved that.
Bawk, bawk, bawk
Anne snorted at the thoughts running rampant in her mind, and shook her head to clear it of them. She glanced over at her equally silent companion, but Shana seemed oblivious to what was going on inside of Anne.
Shana was busy with her own thoughts. There were so many things going on all at once that she felt like she was caught in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions. Her heart was filled to bursting with love for the tall woman beside her, especially after that possessive show in the kitchen. She hadn't been able to help herself then, she just had to show that damn sheriff who would get to kiss Anne for the rest of her life.
At that thought the first of her problems reared its very ugly head. Would she be with Anne for the rest of their lives? She hoped so, but would happen with Mishka, who was counting on her? She was also pretty sure that Anne had said more in the kitchen than she had wanted to, since the brunette had looked a little shell-shocked at her own words. Does she really want me after everything I've done to her today? God, has it only been one day? It felt like a month to the blonde.
Then there were Carlos and her parents and whatever they had to do with the disappearance of those girls. Her heart had gone out to the Hinkels when they had told their story, and it had almost broken when she remembered the damn pictures she had inadvertently taken from Carlos's briefcase.
How could parents do that to their own child? Set her up with someone they knew would probably hurt her? Was she mistaken and they didn't have anything to do with it? Was it only Carlos behind everything, and her parents were innocent and had just fallen into a fine trap set by that bastard? She didn't have an answer for the questions that plagued her the most. All she knew was that her mind refused to accept the idea that her parents were out to hurt her, and she pushed all the evidence pointing in that direction from her mind. Knowing that in the past they had hurt her more than once. Knowing, deep down, that her parents were capable of it. She just refused to believe it.
She was so tired. So absolutely exhausted, like she'd never felt before, not even after that record-breaking best-of-five match against Anne several years ago. They had played for hours, evenly matched, until at long last Shana had made a crucial slip in judgment, trying to lob a ball over the impossibly tall brunette on the other side when a passing shot along the line would have been the right thing to do. Man, had Anne slammed that ball right back, unreachable for her, especially with her double-handed backhand. From that point on, Anne had made all the important points.
Shana breathed deeply, getting herself back to the present. She felt Anne's eyes on her, watching her with that quiet contemplative look that meant her tall friend was working her way through something in her head. Maybe she's trying to come up with a way of letting you down gently. How could she still want you after all of that? And with all those complications?
Just then a long-fingered hand reached out and touched her gently in the small of her back, guiding her through the door of their room. She looked into blue eyes that smiled just for her, and Shana relaxed immediately. I wonder if she knows what she can do to me with just one look, with just one little smile.
Inside, Anne turned fully towards Shana and put her hands lightly on the smaller woman's shoulders. "Are you all right?" What a stupid question.
"Yeah," the blonde breathed more than said. "I think my mind has decided to just refuse to think for the next twenty years or so." Her words were muffled by the tall body she practically tried to crawl into. "Just hold me, please."
"Of course," Anne replied with a tender kiss to the blonde head. She wrapped her arms fully around the woman before her and tightened her hold, smiling slightly as her brain registered that her hands didn't hurt nearly as much as they had only hours before. Too much else going on, probably.
Anne gave herself completely into the embrace, trying to shield her lover from all the bad stuff they had gone through and that was still surrounding them. Trying to shield her with her love, surrounding her with her larger body.
Shana relished the feeling of complete and utter safety she felt in Anne's arms. A soft sigh escaped her when she realized that Anne was wrapping herself completely around her, even while they were standing, seemingly knowing exactly what Shana needed.
They stood like that for a couple of minutes, just soaking up each other's close presence, reveling in the smell and feel, the sounds of breaths and pounding hearts. It felt good and right and like home.
Simultaneously, they loosened their hold on each other, and Shana raised her head to look into her lover's face. The blue eyes exuded nothing but love and understanding for her, but the longer their eyes were locked onto each other, the darker Anne's eyes became. In a matter of seconds, those eyes turned a deep shade of blue when desire made itself known.
Anne knew that her feelings were showing in her eyes, but she didn't care. What had started out as a comforting hug had rapidly evolved into the desire she always felt when Shana was near. She had been aroused so often that day by the small woman in her arms without being able to do anything about it that she feared she would not be able to control herself any longer. She wanted Shana like she had never wanted anyone else.
Looking into forest green eyes, she realized that they mirrored her own feelings, and before she could even finish wondering about the wonder of it all, determined hands pulled her head down into a searing and possessive kiss that left her momentarily breathless as well as brainless.
They came up for air breathing heavily, and looked at each other with open-mouthed hungry stares. "I thought you were tired," Anne rasped when she had caught her breath enough to speak.
"I changed my mind," Shana replied before pulling Anne's head back down.
"Wait!" Anne stopped her forward motion an inch away from the lips she craved so much.
"What?" Shana was clearly not concentrating on talking right now. When the brunette remained quiet and closed her eyes with a deep breath and a sigh, Shana became worried. "What is it, honey?"
"Shea, darling, I we "
Shana cupped Anne's face with both her hands and slowly led her lover to the bed until the backs of her knees hit the mattress. Without losing contact, the blonde sat down and pulled the taller woman down next to her. "What is it, baby?" Something was clearly bothering Anne.
"If we I we God, Shea," she groaned, "if you continue kissing me like that, I don't know if I can stop." She looked intently at her feet.
"I don't want you to stop, Anne," her lover stated quietly. "I want to make love to you. I want you to make love to me. I want you to dispel the darkness of everything that surrounds us and make me feel loved." She stopped talking, suddenly unsure if that was what her lover wanted as well. "Don't you want that, too?" she finished in a whisper.
"I want you so very much it hurts," came the harshly whispered reply. Anne's voice was raw with desire and barely exercised control. God, do I ever want this woman. But she knew that she would lose all semblance of control the first time Shana touched anything but her hands or face.
It had been so long.
She had waited so long, and now that it was before her, she didn't know how to proceed. She wanted to be tender and gentle, to make Shana's first time with a woman special, but knowing herself the way she did, she knew it could end up being fast and furious just because she wouldn't be able to wait.
In all honesty, Anne "the killer" Patakis was afraid she would come like a schoolboy at Shana's first touch. Especially since the hot kiss they had just shared had almost been enough. God, give me strength. I want her so much. Just let me make her happy first. Please.
She looked at the apprehensive green eyes that were quietly watching her. "I want you so much," she repeated, trying to show all her feelings with her eyes. "But I also want our first time to be special. I want it to be perfect for you and you're hurt, and there's so much I wanted to say to you before --"
Two fingertips on her lips stopped her rambling. "Anne, it's going to be perfect just because it's you who's going to make love to me. It will be heaven because I want you and you want me and because we love each other. How could it be anything but perfect?"
Anne opened her mouth to reply, but the fingertips held firm and stopped her. Gently, Shana trailed her fingertips all over Anne's sensitized lips, memorizing the feel and shape of them by touch. "If I didn't know any better I'd say you're nervous," she murmured.
Anne blushed and swallowed under the green gaze. "I yeah, I guess I am," she admitted.
"Why, honey?" Shana was puzzled. "It should be me who's nervous. You're the one with all the experience."
Anne's blush turned a darker shade at those words. "Shea, baby, I might have a lot more experience, but I've never made love with you before." She paused. "I've never made love at all I don't even know what that's like. Or what it is." The dark head turned away.
Shana gently forced the blue eyes on her own again. "We'll find out together, love." She kissed the dark-haired woman with all the love and want she felt at that moment, worshipping the soft lips, trailing them with her tongue, nipping at them.
There was nothing Anne could think of that would stop them from doing exactly that, right there and then. Except Except she knew, somewhere in the back of her head, that there was something she wanted to do first. If she could only remember what it was She shrugged mentally, all capability of thinking already gone, and pulled Shana closer, intensifying their kisses.
Finally, Shana thought, letting out a languid moan as the kiss deepened. She wanted to, needed to feel Anne anywhere and everywhere, and everywhere at once. For a millisecond she wondered why she wasn't nervous, but then she forgot about it as Anne's tongue began exploring her lips, teeth, and tongue in earnest.
They shared hot, open-mouthed, passionate kisses, lips and tongues moving constantly with each other, around each other, teasing, retracting, giving, taking, exploring, arousing, licking, nipping, and biting.
Soon their mouths were not enough and their hands began roaming freely as far as they could reach. Anne growled somewhere deep in her throat when the bandages around her hands proved to be more of an impediment than she could handle. Breathlessly, she tore herself away from Shana's lips and roving hands to free her hands - or at least the less damaged hand - from the confining wrappings.
"Shea, stop, please," Anne cried desperately when Shea failed to stop exploring her body. "I need to get rid of these, baby, please, help me." The blonde relented and helped her lover to unwrap the bandage from her left hand.
"Will it be okay?" the smaller woman asked, suddenly concerned. "What about the brace on the other hand?"
"It's gonna be okay, baby." Anne continued pulling at her bandages. "I'm just happy I'm left-handed." She grinned rakishly as soon as her left hand was freed. She shook it and clenched it to a fist, testing its mobility, and was pleasantly surprised when it didn't hurt much. She looked over at Shana, who watched her with an intensity that left the tall woman in a boneless heap from the desire that pooled in the lower regions of her stomach.
"I need to feel you," she growled before pushing Shana on her back and resuming their passion-filled exchange.
"God, yes, Anne," Shana moaned when Anne's lips, tongue and teeth traced a path from her lips to her jaw, and along the jawline towards Shea's earlobe. Anne bit down gently and sucked the small bit of flesh into her mouth, licking and sucking in turns.
"Can you imagine what I wanna do to you in other places?" the hoarse question was whispered directly into Shana's ear.
The blonde could only groan and arch her body into Anne's taller form, wanting as much contact as possible. "Can't get enough of you," she got out between rapid breaths, "need to feel more of you. Ahhh." The last sound followed on the heels of a nip on her pulse point which, she discovered, was very sensitive to Anne's experienced touch.
"Wanna get you naked, baby," the brunette growled as she began to lift herself off Shea's body. "Can't open your buttons with one hand," she practically whimpered. "Need your help." The control she had regained at least a little during their earlier verbal exchange was rapidly slipping again.
They both agreed that getting undressed as quickly as possible would be a good thing, and that doing it together would probably only hinder their efforts. With supreme speed they got up, shed their clothes - Anne a lot clumsier than Shea, who helped her with the last shirt buttons - and finally stood before each other naked.
All movement stopped as they regarded each other in the soft light from the floor lamp in the corner that illuminated them, bathing them in an orange light that turned their bodies to copper and bronze. Reverently, Shana trailed a fingertip from the dark eyebrows, down the aquiline nose, over soft lips, the slightly square chin, along a pulse point, down the breastbone and over the small hills and valleys of Anne's abdominal muscles. She stopped her touch a fraction of an inch before she got to where Anne really wanted her, needed her.
When Shana came to the end of her slow and sensual exploration, Anne was hardly able to stand, let alone move. All vital resources had pooled in her core and were waiting for the final touch, the touch that would drive her over the brink and into a long-awaited ecstasy. "God, baby, I want you so much." Her voice was more breath than words, but Shana understood her completely.
And then Shana's tongue started a surprise attack on Anne's breasts, licking from one nipple to the other in one long, uninterrupted journey that ended with the blonde's lips closed around a dark nipple, sucking gently, then more forcefully. Anne threw her head back and moaned loudly, showing her lover just how brilliant a move that was.
She was so close, so close, too close. No, no, no. "No!" howled Anne as her climax crawled up from behind, not quite surprising, but not yet wanted. All strength left her legs under the powerful feelings surging through her body, and she fell to her knees. "Oh, God," she cried. "Baby, you don't know what you're doing to me."
Never, absolutely never in all her fantasies and dreams of this day, had she thought that she would come first, and like that. She felt like crying, but her body was way too happy to produce any tears of frustration.
Shana knelt down next to her and cradled her in her arms. "You are so beautiful, Anne," she cooed softly, more than a little surprised at Anne's reaction to her touch. "I've never seen anything quite so beautiful before." Please, honey, it's time for you to say something. Did I do something wrong? Why did you say no? But Anne wasn't up to any comments, as she was still trying to catch her breath.
"Anne, are you okay?" Was that okay? Was I okay? Shana became more insecure by the second.
The small, concerned voice got through to Anne. She looked lovingly into green eyes. "I'm sorry, Shea," she said, almost as an apology, "but when you kissed me like that I couldn't it was too much I couldn't stop it." What a great lover I am, yeah. 'The killer' is shooting before the duel has even started.
Shana looked at the woman in her arms, trying to understand the enigma that was her lover. Anne was obviously not very happy about the way things had gone. I wonder why? She thought about what kind of woman Anne was and what she had heard about her sexual history. Ooh, I get it. It was too soon. She's afraid I'm going to think badly of her now because she couldn't control herself. Doesn't she know it's the biggest compliment she's ever made me? And what do you say when someone compliments you?
"Thank you, Anne." Shana projected all her love through these three simple words.
"What for?" The tall woman was clearly puzzled.
"For making me feel so good. For letting me know so well that I turn you on, that my touch makes you crazy. For letting go so completely for me. For trusting me with your body and soul, for letting me love you. For coming for me in a vision of beauty that could never be compared to anything else." The whole time, Shana's hands touched Anne's body, a lingering touch on a thigh here, a gentle stroke over a still hard nipple there, and the more she touched, the more she felt Anne's body reacting to her.
Anne was touched deeply by the words of her lover. My lover. She sucked in a breath when the blonde's hand returned to her breast. With a very pleasant surprise she realized that the gentle touch aroused her greatly, but now her desire had a completely different quality to it. Instead of the rushing of the first time, this was a burning that needed to be fed gently and with many touches, and that would burn long into the night.
This desire could only be quenched together, with Shana loving her as she was loving Shana. Maybe, just maybe, there was an advantage to that first, fast climax. She smiled and turned to face green eyes. "Thank you, Shea, for letting me feel so very loved. And now, I am going to make you feel as good as you just made me feel."
She accentuated her words by running the fingertips of her hand up the inside of Shana's thigh, gliding over a hip and resting on her stomach. Then her lips made their way over nipples that went hard at even the thought of the faintest touch, but she refrained from touching them, blowing hot breath over them instead. Her mouth traveled south, tongue touching skin, tracing ribs, dipping into a delicious-looking navel. Traveling further south still until her chin touched slightly coarser blonde hair. There she stopped and returned the way she came, hovering over Shana's body, her own weight resting mostly on her knees and elbows. She watched and waited.
Shana closed her eyes in reflex to hearing the sultry voice that snaked its way into her ear and from there directly to her groin. When Anne started her tender touches she almost, almost lost it, but the touches were never firm enough or long enough. Frustration warred with ever-increasing arousal. As Anne reached her nipples the second time, she hoped now would be the first real touch. Now, now, please, baby, I need you, now! But nothing happened except for more gentle breaths that were driving her wild with desire, with hunger for more.
She groaned in anticipation before she opened her eyes to look into indigo gems that seemed to wait for permission. "Oh, yes," were the two syllables the blonde's overtaxed mind could come up with. "Oh, yes!"
And Anne made good on her promise.
She was rewarded in kind.
To be continued soon in Part 22
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