For disclaimers see Part 1
by Bonnie (email@example.com)
It was quiet in the kitchen. Only the sound of tiny bits of plaster raining down from the ceiling disturbed the mostly shocked silence. On the dark hardwood floor an Australia-shaped piece of the ceiling lay peacefully, surrounded by little white islands of plaster, which continued to fall from above.
Disgustedly, Carlos watched as his black leather shoes were covered by fine white dust, and his eyes sought out the person he felt was responsible.
Fritz Hinkel was lying in a heap on the floor, about two feet from the door. His wife was kneeling next to him, watching his closed eyes with trepidation. Then the gray eyes opened with a tiny flutter and the old man let out a small groan.
"What the hell did you think you were doing, old man?" Carlos's voice was a rough bark, made loud by the total absence of other sound in the room. There was a glint in his eyes that Irene didn't like one bit.
The handsome man motioned for everyone in the kitchen to go back to where the big table was. Reluctantly, Kevin and Mike got their muscles to move them away from the dark-haired man, pulling and lifting Dr. Hinkel with them. Mrs. Hinkel followed silently, her gaze never leaving her husband's face.
When they reached the table, they sat the old man down on one of the chairs, and his wife squatted down next to him. With a shaking hand, she gently moved the thin gray hair from his forehead, then rested her palm on his cheek.
"Mir geht's gut, Liebes." I'm fine, love, he whispered in German to his wife, who nodded and swallowed.
Then she nailed Carlos with a look that Irene never would have thought possible from such an elderly and petite woman. Well, well ... there sure is steel there. Almost as good as Anne's, she chuckled silently.
Then all mirth fled her mind as she stared at Carlos, standing her ground and still refusing to move. She was about four feet away from him, trying to appear as calm as possible, although her heart was still hammering from the excitement of the scuffle before. Her eyes moved back to Carlos' face and watched as his eyes moved over her for a long moment. A malicious gleam entered the blue eyes and Irene swallowed. She and Carlos had never been ... friends. And now ... Irene watched his eyes a moment longer. Now he's as crazy as a Greek goatherd after three bottles of ouzo. Just you wait, you'll be in a lot of trouble, old girl ...
A lazy grin worked its way slowly across Carlos's features. It wasn't friendly, and he knew it. He knew everything about the effect of his smile. He saw the pulse pick up in his prey's pulse point and felt himself react with almost visceral joy. He loved this, loved instilling fear in others. Then he watched as Irene straightened her shoulders, raised her chin, and gave him a smile of her own.
The grin slipped from his face for a split second as he felt the challenge. Well, she has guts, he admitted to himself. He remembered the gun he was still holding in his hand. Right now it was pointing to the floor since he had pulled his arm down after the shot had rung out. His malicious smile returned as he slowly raised his arm until the gun in his hand pointed right between Irene's eyes.
"Move," he whispered.
Irene just stood there. Even if she wanted to move - and by now her head had almost won the fight over her stubborn heart - she felt she couldn't. Her feet were frozen to the floor. God, I can't believe I'm scared. Why should I be? I've got nothing to lose. Nothing! Get your act together here! Still, her feet wouldn't move.
"Okay," Carlos said in his cultured voice, "then don't move." He raised the gun another fraction of an inch. "It will be my pleasure to see you move ... right down to the floor." He gave her a wide smile. "You deserve it anyway."
His finger tightened on the trigger. Ooh, this was too good to be true. The mere thought of killing Irene sent a fuzzy feeling of delight up and down his spine. She had always been so ... nice to him, he thought disgustedly. And yet, he had always been sure that she had never really liked him.
When he had been living with the Patakis family, he had always known that he never stood a chance against the affection Irene had for her own children, and especially not against Pete. Lovable, stupid as a rock, Pete. Thinking about the blond, gentle boy with the silly grin still made him want to throw up. He'd have loved to have killed that one, but who knew the little bugger had it in him to do the charitable deed himself...
He almost, almost laughed out loud at that thought. Well, too late for that, he mentally shrugged. But there was still Irene and the more he thought about it, the more her stubbornness delighted him. He fixed his gaze on her eyes, letting his intent show clearly and unmistakably, and felt a rush of exultation when he saw the older woman's eyes widen in the knowledge that her time was just about coming to an end.
He was surprised, however, that her eyes remained open and kept on staring right into his. He got angry at the feeling of grudging respect her behavior evoked in him, and tightened his hold on the gun, moving the barrel a fraction of an inch until the gun pointed exactly to one of Irene's eyes. That'll teach her to look at me like that.
His finger tensed on the trigger, and he saw how those haunting eyes finally, finally slipped shut. Surprised, he almost relaxed his hold on the gun, but shook the feeling off. Get it done already.
Suddenly, there was a noise from outside, which distracted him. Remembering why he had come to this godforsaken house in the first place, he lowered the gun until it pointed at Irene's chest. "Go to the others, Irene." His voice sounded almost weary.
Irene's eyes opened slowly, a light of stunned surprise showing clearly in them.
"I'll kill you later if I still want to. You're not who I'm here for," Carlos continued, ears straining for further sounds from outside. "Not really," he added softly.
Irene found the strength in her legs to walk over to the table. Once there, she sank onto a chair and laid her head down on her folded hands on the table. What had seemed to her like hours, she realized, went by in seconds, probably barely noticed by the others.
Kevin leaned over to her and touched her shoulder. "Are you okay?" he whispered. "What happened?"
I should be dead by now. I could see it clearly. He wanted to kill me. Whatever did I do to him to deserve that look of hatred in his eyes?
Irene's answer was prevented by the sound of the door, which opened at that moment to reveal a smiling sheriff. Carol entered the kitchen from outside, apparently without a care in the world. Her service gun was held almost casually in her right hand, which rested on her thigh as she walked more fully into the room. She swiped the room with her eyes without moving her head much, then she faced Carlos and stopped moving near the table, putting herself between Carlos and most everyone else.
"Hello, Carlos." The blonde woman's greeting was very friendly. "Long time no see." Then she chuckled, almost feeling the shock on the faces behind her. She waved her arm, pointing with her gun behind her without taking her eyes from Carlos' face.
The dark-haired man seemed confused for a second, but obviously wasn't worried by the sheriff's sudden appearance. He gave her a short nod in greeting, then smiled at her. "Good to see you, Carol. How are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm fine," came the casual reply. "And I'll be even better when this is all over."
Irene's whole body tensed at the display before her. I don't believe it. She's working with ... him. Her disgusted mind refused to even think his name. And I was just about beginning to respect her. She put her hands flat on the table top, ready to push herself into a standing position and throw herself at the traitor.
Kevin noticed the older woman's movement and put his hands on her shoulders in a calming gesture. Please, stay calm. He tried to communicate through touch, not knowing if it was safe to speak at that moment. Wait, this is not over yet. He just hoped that Irene was receptive to his thoughts.
Mike inched closer to his lover and put one of his hands onto his lover's hand on Irene's left shoulder, adding more solid weight in an attempt to ground Irene. His other hand found its way around the blond man's waist in a silent show of support. They both knew the woman's temper and realized that she would only endanger herself if they allowed her to get up. Kevin shot his lover a grateful half-smile.
Irene felt the weight on her shoulders and recognized the gesture for what it was. Her mind struggled for a moment, but her body won out and she let herself relax into the solid presence behind her chair. Thanks, boys. She looked up at Kevin and Mike's faces and gave them a nod. They patted her shoulder in return and reduced the pressure of their hands a bit.
Irene focused her attention on Carlos again, but her eyes constantly strayed to where the sheriff was standing slightly in her line of sight. The blonde woman still held her gun in a casual position against her right leg. Then she noticed the rigid posture of the back before her, and she got a closer look at the seemingly relaxed sheriff.
Huh ... Her eyes flickered from the rigid back to the sheriff's hand as inconspicuously as possible and a tiny kernel of ... something ... took hold in her mind. Well, well, well ...
Just then, Carlos turned to their little group again. He had studied the sheriff for a few moments and had managed to get his emotions under some semblance of control again. "Okay," his silky voice cut into the quiet of the room, "let's stop playing silly games. You know who I'm here for." He paused. "Where is she?"
Anne felt Shana very close behind her as they moved along the hall as fast as possible while still trying to be quiet. Anne had a churning feeling in her guts, which got stronger the closer they got to the kitchen. Her hands were clammy, and having her lover's equally sweaty hand bunching up her shirt in the small of her back didn't exactly make that any better.
They could hear a voice coming from the kitchen now, a very low murmur, but everything seemed to be rather quiet otherwise. After the shot that had scared them out of their little haven the quiet now almost seemed surreal to Anne. There was the voice again, this time a little easier to understand. Easy enough for Anne to know who was talking.
Oh, God. She felt sick to her stomach all of a sudden and almost curled herself into a ball right where she was standing. Not him. Her mind reeled with the knowledge that Carlos was in the kitchen with her mother and probably all of her friends, and that he had probably been the one who had been shooting before. No, no, no. She tried to keep calm, but the nausea she always felt when he was near threatened to overwhelm her.
She felt an arm go around her waist from behind, steadying her and keeping her grounded in the here and now. There was a comforting hand on her back and a touch between her shoulder blades that felt curiously like a kiss. Anne took a deep breath and felt herself connect to the calm her lover brought her, and she realized with a feeling of almost primal pleasure that the nausea and the anxiety loosened their hold on her under her lover's touch.
The brunette patted the arm that had her body in a very firm hold and felt the muscles under her hand relax slightly. She half turned and gave her lover a grave look.
"Carlos." Shana's very quiet, mumbled comment was not a question. To Anne's ears it sounded almost like a curse. She nodded and leaned to whisper directly into Shana's ear. "How did you know?"
"I'll tell you after this is all over," came the whispered reply. "It wasn't too hard to figure out."
Anne nodded again and looked at the kitchen door that was about 10 or 12 feet down the hall. Her fingers clenched and her muscles tensed up as she concentrated on the noise coming from that room again. She heard the outer door to the kitchen open and close, and heard Carlos and Carol's friendly, if somewhat hesitant, greeting.
"Damn." It came out without her being aware of it. She mentally kicked herself in the butt. I shouldn't have trusted her, I should have known better. If she hurts my family, I'm going to kill her. A growl left her chest and it was rewarded by a questioning look from her blonde lover. "Carol," was her simple response to the curiosity in the green eyes.
After a nod from Shana, she straightened her shoulders and mentally prepared herself for the confrontation. Maybe … A thought suddenly occurred to her and she turned to face Shana again. "I think it would be better if you went over to my house, baby." Seeing the blonde open her mouth she continued before Shana could object. "I need to know you're safe while I go see what that slime wants."
Shana shook her head vigorously. "No way."
"No," the blonde hissed. "Anne, I can't let you go in there alone. Look how you reacted just a minute ago. You need me in there."
Anne took a deep breath, trying to come up with something that would convince her lover to leave. The truth was she knew that there was really nothing she could say that would make Shana leave, and secretly she loved that. She was also very worried. Carlos had tried to kill her lover, after all. Maybe I should remind her of that.
She opened her mouth, but a clear voice from the kitchen prevented anything from coming out. "Okay, let's stop playing silly games," Carlos's voice came sneaking around the corner. "You know who I'm here for. Where is she?"
Anne and Shana looked at each other. "You just ran out of arguments, honey," the blonde whispered and patted her tall lover's back comfortingly. Deep down she knew why Anne wanted her out of there, but she also knew that her lover would need her.
There had never been a question of neither of them going in to face Carlos. What good would it have done anyway? With the sheriff being in there, and in cahoots with Carlos, calling the sheriff's department was out of the question. So, we're both going in and maybe I can stop her from doing something crazy … She heard another, almost animalistic sound from her normally peaceful lover's chest. Then again, maybe not. She sighed. She had never seen Anne like this, and it scared her a bit, but she put that feeling away and gave Anne a shaky smile.
"Let's go, sweetheart," she whispered.
"I love you, Shana," came Anne's very serious reply. "Please, be careful in there."
She waited for the expected nod before she took the blonde's hand. She ignored the clammy feeling of both their palms as they walked steadily towards the kitchen door.
What the hell are we doing here? was Anne's last thought before they reached the kitchen and stopped just in front of the open door.
Anne knew she probably only had a couple of heartbeats before Carlos noticed their presence. If that long. She decided to make them count.
The truth was that her reaction when she had realized that it was indeed Carlos in the kitchen had scared her. She had thought that having those kinds of anxiety attacks was far behind her. That the attack she had during that Christmas party years ago was the last time her body would ever subject her to that particularly unpleasant ordeal. Obviously, she was wrong. Just the sound of his voice had been enough to almost make her sick, and only Shana's close presence had prevented her breaking down into a shivering mess right there.
She hated that.
She hated Carlos for the power he held over her emotions and she hated herself for giving him control over her body's reactions like that.
And in that one single moment, when she had felt her lover's clammy hand bunched up in her shirt at the small of her back, she'd let that feeling wash right through her. For just one gut-clenching moment, she opened herself to the feelings of panic with a completeness that she had never before consciously allowed. She was close to throwing up, but she willingly conjured up an image of Carlos in her mind that focused her feelings on the rage she felt.
It was better to hate him than be controlled by him. Much better.
Having the image in her mind of Carlos holding Shana close was really helping her along the way.
Much to her surprise, it worked. She shook off the panicky feeling and decided that from now on, she would gain control. Act, not react, she told herself, just like you do on the court.
And so, as if walking onto a center court for an important match, she tried to take in everything she needed to know about the atmosphere in the kitchen with one look around. Her eyes scanned the layout of the room, resting only for fractions of a second on the things she noted in her head, in the space that was reserved for match strategies.
This ability to take it all in during her first steps on the court, and to absorb the new situation early enough to be able to act, not react, had saved a lot of close matches for her during her long career.
Act, not react.
Carlos was standing several feet in front of her and to her right, in the center and with his back to the huge L-shaped kitchen counter. He was holding a gun and seemed to be agitated. Hmm. Anne stored that away in her mind's game plan zone. He's nervous. The dark-haired man was facing her mother's enormous table and right now, that table was surrounded by her friends and her mother.
The Hinkels and Mishka were huddled to one end of the table, as far away from Carlos as they could get and still be in the room. It seemed as if Fritz Hinkel was a bit shaken up and his wife was obviously trying to take care of him. The old woman was apparently quite worried about her husband. I wonder if that has anything to do with the shot we heard. I hope he's not wounded.
Her mother was sitting at the table, defiantly facing Carlos. Boy, is she mad. Anne knew that expression. She saw that Mike and Kevin both had a hand on her mother's shoulder, either to give her some silent support or to hold her back. Anne gave a soundless sigh. Probably the latter.
Between Carlos and the group at the table was the sheriff. Carol, Anne's mind growled.
Carlos didn't seem to be worried about her presence, even though she saw that the blonde woman was armed. That hardened her belief that Carol had betrayed her - again - and was working with Carlos. The thought was hard to swallow for her since she had really started to like the woman. She was certain they could have ended up being friends after all. Too damn bad.
Then again, her mother didn't seem to be worried either, at least not by the woman standing in front of her. Irene's anger was definitely focused on Carlos. Directly in front of her? Anne's mind turned that thought over in her head. It could also mean that the sheriff was shielding her mother, protecting her from Carlos. She stored the sheriff away as an unknown factor. Knowing she was running out of time, Anne decided to make her presence known.
Act, not react.
Okay, first serve. "Hello, Carlos," she said casually. He almost, almost whirled around to face her. "What do you want?" Admittedly, not the most brilliant of serves. Definitely no ace. But it got the ball on his side of the net. Let's see what he does with it.
Shana did her own bit of watching and thinking when they reached the door to the kitchen. She was still reeling from the realization that it was very obviously Carlos in that room, and she was still stunned by the reason she'd known that without a doubt. If her own guts hadn't hinted in his direction, Anne's anxiety attack sure served as a really big hint.
Shana had only ever seen her lover like that once, years ago at that damn Christmas party. Back then it had been a reaction to Anne's seeing Carlos dancing with her. It had also come totally out of left field for Shana since she hadn't had a clue of the history Anne and Carlos shared and was completely unprepared for Anne's reaction to what she assumed was a normal meeting. She could only imagine what her lover felt like now. Now she knew better. Much better.
What was interesting, though, was the fact that Anne had visibly, and through the connection of their touch tangibly, pulled herself together just now. She even had produced a small nod as if she had made a decision about something, which had changed her behavior in the span of a few seconds.
Shana could also remember the cold sweat she could feel gathered in the small of her lover's back from those few seconds.
Now … now they were facing the enemy. To the blonde, Carlos was just that. Nothing more, nothing less. He is not important, she told herself, a little surprised at the thought. She felt the truth of it nonetheless. Anne is and our baby is, but Carlos is just a nuisance. She also realized, however, that her thoughts were probably more wishful thinking than anything else.
Unconsciously, her hand covered her abdomen, her mind able to conjure up images of what could happen faster than she could push them away. There was truth in those images as well, she knew.
Carlos would not be easy to get rid of and they'd all be lucky just to survive the day.
She let her eyes sweep over the kitchen as best she could from her position behind Anne, registering everyone's positions much as she would unconsciously register the layout of a court and the presence of the crowd.
Her eyes hit the tall form of Kevin Delaney and her blood began to boil.
She was still extremely angry on Anne's behalf, even though her lover had told her that everything had been cleared between her and Kevin. How can everything be cleared when he doesn't even know what he made you do? Oh, Kevin, just you wait until this is over. If we all survive this, I'm going to kill you myself. But I'll be nice and won't tell Mike why, she thought, remembering her promise to Anne.
She also figured that storming into the room and hitting Kevin would probably not be a good idea at the moment. Still, she couldn't shake this feeling of … impatience … of wanting all of this to be over so she could hit Kevin over the head and grab Anne to be alone with her for the next nine months or so.
Nothing like getting your priorities straight, eh? Somewhere deep down inside of her, Shana realized that she was losing it a bit, but she really didn't have a clue as to what to do about that.
She looked at her lover and saw the twitch at her eye that told her from years of experience that something was about to happen. Hmm, that's exactly how you look when you're about to serve for the match.
Everyone's head turned in the direction of the door when Anne addressed Carlos. Everyone's except Carol's and Irene's. The sheriff never took her eyes off Carlos and Irene never took her eyes off the sheriff.
Anne's mother could see by the even more rigid back before her that this was not a development that Carol had foreseen or wanted. Her belief in the blonde sheriff strengthened a bit when she considered what the stronger grip on her gun might mean.
Carol groaned soundlessly. Anne, what the hell do you think you're doing? Why can't you leave this to the professionals? Her eyes shifted to Shana, who was still standing half-hidden by Anne's taller body. And you had to drag the main target into this, too?
She realized her job just gotten a lot more difficult.
Carlos gave Anne a bright smile. "Anne," he said with a voice that oozed fake pleasure, "so nice of you to join us."
He gave her a very obvious once-over, as if taking in every curve, every strength, every weakness with that one long look. Then his eyes met that of the small blonde behind Anne. "I see you brought your bitch, too." He nodded, seemingly confirming something in his own mind. "Why don't you come in and join us?"
Anne bristled at Carlos's comment about her lover and tensed all her muscles in an instinctual reaction and took a step forward. That return, she realized, had been aimed directly at her body, and there was no way for her to return the ball without leaving her even more open for attack. Still, her body wanted to move towards Carlos, and only the hand that took a firm grip on the back of her jeans held her back.
Shana took a deep breath, willing Anne to do the same over her connection to her lover's back. As if the taller woman had heard her wish, the blonde woman felt the body close to hers breathe in deeply and exhale slowly, relaxing tensely coiled muscles while doing so.
Anne took another, deliberate step into the room, bringing both her and Shana closer to the center of activity. She was now standing not more than four or five feet in front of Carlos, who watched her every movement with cold blue eyes. Consciously, Anne stood as tall as she could, bringing her own height almost level with that of the man before her. She looked deeply into the eyes that were so similar to her own, lowering her voice to a deep growl when she repeated her question. "What do you want, Carlos?"
To her surprise, the tall man chuckled. "Oh, Anne," he said with a smile that got nowhere close to his eyes, "I've missed you. You're the only one I know who can make my name sound like a curse."
"I doubt that," came Shana's voice from halfway behind her lover.
His smile vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. "I've come to get what's mine, Anne." His eyes traveled to Shana and he continued without taking his eyes off the green ones before him. "And you already knew that, didn't you?"
Something in his voice made the tall woman nod, even though she really didn't know. His voice, however, was persuasive and she felt compelled to agree with what he said.
He was there to get what he perceived as his.
She pulled her eyes from his and looked over to her mother, trying to gauge her reaction to Carlos's words. Irene looked mostly confused, as if she didn't really know what he was talking about. The older woman shrugged almost invisibly as she met her daughter's eyes, before she turned her gaze back to the man with the gun.
Shana was more than confused. She didn't understand what Carlos was hinting at. She had never been his, he had rarely hinted at wanting her - except for the rape, which she put down to other reasons than his undying love for her - and only ever when Anne was somewhere in the vicinity. She went over his words again, saw him looking at her again in her mind's eye, and suddenly knew just what exactly he was talking about. She gasped, her hand clenching the waistband of her lover's jeans even tighter.
Anne turned to her lover when she heard the gasp and felt the grip in the small of her back. The question in her eyes turned to concern when she saw the strange look in the green eyes, but before she could ask Shana what was wrong, the blonde woman shook her head and went back to watching Carlos.
Looking at Shana brought Anne's brain back on track and she realized that Carlos wasn't making sense.
Carlos saw the confusion dawning in Anne's eyes, saw uncertainty taking over. He had enjoyed every second of his visit and so far only Carol's presence had surprised him. He wondered what she was doing there in the middle of nowhere, but assumed that she was there for the same reasons he was. To take revenge and to have some fun.
He motioned for Anne and Shana to walk over to where the rest of the group was huddled and he rejoiced in the reluctance with which the two moved. Keeping everyone on one side of the room made keeping them under control that much easier. Not that he had any doubt he could control them, no matter the circumstances. He knew he was good and he had every incentive to end things right there. His future depended on it.
Besides, it is just so much … fun, he thought with a small smile.
He noticed that Anne and Shana had walked up to where Carol was standing and had stopped to stand to her left, effectively putting themselves between his gun and the rest of the people in the room. Nice try, Anne, but so very unnecessary. I don't care about any of them and I'll just kill them when you're out of the way.
He chuckled and raised his gun.
If there was one feeling in the world that Anne hated, it was not being in control. Closely followed by not knowing what was going on. Right now, she was experiencing both feelings and she felt herself nearing the edge of reason because of it.
Ever since Shana's accident, or forced accident, she had been so certain that Carlos was after her lover, that he had some sinister plan that involved Shana. But his behavior now didn't match that and neither did his words. She had seen in Shana's eyes that the blonde had realized that as well. She also had the feeling that her lover was one step ahead of her in this game.
So … if it's not about Shana, what is it about? She tried to concentrate on that question while she slowly and against better knowledge made her way over to the table. She knew she was playing into Carlos's hand as they would all be on the same side of the room, and instead of diverting his focus her only chance now was to put herself between the gun and her family.
She knew she would do it in a heartbeat, knew she would do whatever it took to save her lover. But she also knew that she didn't want to have to do it. She didn't want to die just yet, not now when the strands of her tattered life were finally coming together to form a nice picture. No way.
She focused on the strong hand in the small of her back that was making tiny constant circles against the fabric of her shirt and suddenly she knew what this was all about. The clue hit her where it really hurt. It was about her, had probably always been about her. With that realization came the earth-shattering conviction that she was indeed very much responsible for the death of her brother and all the pain that Shana had to go through at Carlos's hands.
Her head whirled around and she looked straight into eyes that were the exact shade of blue hers were. She could see the amusement in them, could see that her nemesis was having fun at their expense. She was determined to make that stop.
When Carlos grinned at her, Anne turned her face and looked at Carol instead. Her hard gaze was met with an unflinching look from brown eyes and a grim expression on the sheriff's face. Again, something was off with this picture and Anne's eyes strayed over to her mother's for a clue. Irene gave her a half-smile and an almost unnoticeable nod.
Just then, the sheriff spoke up. "Come on, my friend, do what he says. Trust me, it's for your own good."
The choice of words made Anne look at the sheriff again and this time she imagined she could see an almost pleading look in the tall woman's eyes. That look brought Anne face to face with her number one problem again. Can I hand control over to her? Can I trust her with my life, Shana's life?
Do I have a choice?
Good question. So, can Carol be trusted?
This question and more might be answered if you read Part 27 . . .
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