by Bonnie (email@example.com)
For disclaimers see Part 1.
Breakfast was a somber affair despite the sun that was slowly peeking in through the big windows in the inn's dining room. The FBI agents were sitting around two tables in one corner while the Hinkels sat as far away from them as possible while still in the same room. Carol had chosen to just have a cup of coffee in the kitchen earlier, and Irene had known why the second the sheriff had told her about the deal.
After that, her good mood had turned sour. She wished Anne and Shana were already up so she could see how they had taken the news, but the two of them hadn't shown up yet. For a while Irene was able to contain her curiosity and anxiety, but it only took her about fifteen minutes to resign herself to the fact that she'd just have to bring them breakfast in bed this morning. And soon.
She carefully balanced a tray with two mugs of hot cocoa and some toast as she silently opened the door to Anne and Shana's bedroom. She smiled at the big lump in the middle of the bed. The two women were taking up as little space as humanly possible. She wondered how Anne had managed to wrap herself around Shana with that wounded arm. Then she saw that Anne was lying on her good side, spooned behind Shana, her bandaged arm outside the covers and resting on Shana's body. Anne's hand seemed to cover Shana's belly, and Irene beamed. She had known all along that things would end up well for her two girls. It just had taken them a long, long time to accept it.
She put the tray down on the nightstand and carefully sat down on the bed. Anne stirred, her face a sudden grimace of discomfort as she moved her arm. "Oh, man," she groaned quietly and took a deep breath.
"Good morning," Irene greeted her when her eyes were open.
"Good morning, Mom." Anne's voice was rough from sleeping. She gingerly moved her arm and tried to untangle herself from Shana without waking her. She bit back a grin when the bed next to her mumbled something like, "Don't you dare."
Slowly Anne sat up and leaned against the headboard. "What time is it?"
"Almost nine," Irene replied. "How was your night?"
"Good." Anne yawned. "I slept like a stone."
"How's your arm?"
Anne focused on her arm and tested it with tiny movements. It hurt some, but it was infinitely more bearable than it had been. "Better. Much better, in fact."
Irene had watched Anne and was glad to see she really did seem to feel a lot better. "Hot chocolate?" she asked. "Or a pain pill first?"
"Hot chocolate," came the instant reply. "I don't need a pain pill, thanks." She accepted the mug and after the first long drink parked it in her lap, her hands cradling it.
"Your hands look much better too," Irene remarked conversationally.
"Yeah, they are." Anne wiggled her fingers. The swelling was gone, and her knuckles didn't look nearly as bad as they had before. "Man, that was stupid."
"Yes, it was," Shana mumbled sleepily. "Good thing I love you anyway." She sat up, still under the covers, and ran a hand through her disheveled hair. "Morning, Mom," she finally said, smiling brightly.
Shana nodded enthusiastically. "But could you hand me that shirt over there first, please?"
"That's my shirt," Anne protested.
"I know, honey." Shana grinned and slipped into the shirt while Irene was busying herself with her own mug of hot chocolate. As soon as Shana was sitting back against the headboard, now wearing Anne's shirt, she handed her a mug as well.
"Oh, that's so good," the blonde woman said around an appreciative moan. "Thank you."
"And how are you this morning, little one?"
"Great," Shana replied seriously. "Actually, I feel better than I probably should." She saw the incredulous looks on Anne and Irene's faces. "Really, it's true. For the first time in months I have everything I want."
"Listen, Anne," she stopped her lover from interrupting her. She put her mug on the nightstand and put her hand on Anne's shoulder. She used the other hand to count. "One, I love you and know that you love me too. I didn't have that a week ago. Two, I'm pregnant, and I don't have to worry how to tell you any longer. And for now, I refuse to think about everything else."
She saw understanding in Anne's eyes, and the promise that they'd talk about everything else whenever Shana felt the need to.
"And three, we're rid of Carlos, one way or another."
"Yeah," both Anne and Irene growled.
"I really, really, really would have preferred to see Carlos in jail," Irene ground out. "And not in some witness protection program. That's not exactly enough punishment for what he did to you two!"
"What he did to all of us, Mom," Anne corrected. She thought for a while, glumly staring into her hot chocolate. "On the other hand, what would have been suitable punishment? He would probably turn any jail he went to on its ear and take over. And he could probably find ways of still hurting us." She shook her head. "Think about it, Mom," she said, trying to convince Irene as much as herself. "Now he has to go hide somewhere like the rat that he is. He'll be afraid for the rest of his life because his partners and clients will be after him, and I really hope they catch him. Can you imagine how much he's going to hate that?" She smiled. "It also means he'll definitely have other problems than harassing us."
"Well, if you look at it that way," Irene said thoughtfully.
"Mom." Shana touched Irene's arm. "We have to look at it that way. It's the only way we can put this behind us and live with it." She shrugged. "It's wrong but we can't change it. We can only hope it's over now." She settled back against the headboard. "And that's exactly what I'm going to do."
"I think I'll have some trouble seeing anything positive in this whole mess but I'll give it a try," Irene said as she got up and gathered her tray. "I'll see you when you're up, okay?" At the door she turned. "I just wonder how the Hinkels will take it. I don't think anyone's told them yet."
Irene walked over to the Hinkels and caught them looking over to the somber but obviously quite happy FBI agents. Their eyes and faces spoke volumes and Irene realized she wouldn't have to tell them anything.
"Hello again," she said as she approached them, mostly blocking their view of the two corner tables. "I guess Sheriff Miller told you what happened last night after we left the hospital?"
"Yes, indeed she did," Fritz Hinkel replied.
"I just hope that it's worth it," his wife added resignedly. "He should have to go to jail for what he did. But if this deal stops all of them from ever doing something like that to young girls and their families again, I'll be glad." She sighed deeply. "And maybe the FBI will even find our daughter."
"I should have killed him last night," Fritz Hinkel roughly whispered. "I could have done it." He ignored his wife's gasp. "I could still do it."
Mrs. Hinkel put a hand on her husband's fingers. "Fritz, you're a doctor. You can't kill anyone. Not even him."
He looked at his wife for a long time, searching her eyes for an answer. Finally he nodded. "Yes, you're right, love. I shouldn't kill anyone. Not even him."
Irene put a hand on his shoulders and gave it a pat. Then she turned and left the couple to their own demons, hoping they would get through this.
Dave caught Carol just as she was about to go back to the kitchen. "Carol, wait."
Reluctantly, the sheriff stopped but she didn't turn around. She just waited.
Her former partner walked around to face her, knowing from experience that touching her in this mood could end with a broken wrist for him. "Please, listen to me," he pleaded. "I know you're mad about the deal but it really is the best thing. We can crack down on the whole trafficking ring now, and stop all this. And you know we couldn't do it without someone from the inside."
Carol remained quiet. She didn't have anything to say to that. She knew that if it were about anyone but Carlos and what he had done to the people she now considered friends, she probably would agree wholeheartedly. But she was a small-town sheriff now, and allowed herself the luxury of hating this.
"Carol, why don't you come back to work with me?" Dave asked. "I know that Walker offered you your old job back, and we could finish this together. We started it together, remember?" He tried to be charming now. "And it would be great to put everyone behind the ring behind bars." He grinned. "Wouldn't it?"
Carol looked at him for the first time. "Dave, you know it would feel great but I'm not sure the price you're paying for that is worth it." She started pacing in the small hallway. "I think –"
"We need him, Carol," Dave said quietly and led the sheriff into the kitchen after checking the room was empty. "We found papers in his house and I started analyzing them last night. You know, this Carlos is a lot of things, but he's not a bad bookkeeper. He has lists of anything and everything, but it's all in some sort of code. Names are initials only but there are trade routes, if you want to call them that, and orders, stuff like that. It would take us forever to decode all the material without him."
"He had all that at his home?" Carol couldn't believe it.
"Actually, yes," Dave grinned. "He had a safe in the basement of his house, pretty well hidden. But we went through that house pretty thoroughly and found it."
"Gods, he's stupid, isn't he?"
"I think that he had a lot of partners, mostly silent partners, who wanted to see numbers once and again. Maybe it was better for him to be able to show them something?" Dave shrugged. "I don't care why, as long as that gives us a chance to get them all." He turned serious again. "Carol, we are trying to do a good job here. We end this, and we want to try and find some of the girls, although that's going to be hard."
"Remember the name I gave you? Daniela Hinkel, the old couple's daughter?" Carol touched Dave's arm. "Please, find out what happened to her and let me know. It would mean so much to them."
Dave nodded. "I'll keep an eye out for her name. It's good to know where she came from; that might really help once we have decoded the papers. It's more information than we have on most of the others." He opened the door and walked out into the hallway.
"Thanks," Carol said, feeling a lot better than she had fifteen minutes earlier.
"No problem," Dave replied. "I've got to go now. Take care."
"Good luck, Dave."
He nodded and walked away. After a couple of steps he stopped and said over his shoulder. "Can you believe most of the girls apparently went to the U.S. and Canada?" He shook his head and left.
Carol found Irene in the now-empty dining room. As she watched the older woman clear the table, she realized that she had never seen the usually energetic woman look quite as weary as she did now. She walked over to her and cleared her throat, not sure of what Irene was thinking. Irene looked up and gave Carol a tired smile. "Hey, Sheriff."
"Hello, Irene. How are you holding up?"
"Probably about as well as can be expected under the circumstances. I mean, in the course of the last couple of days Shana gets driven off the road, and all sorts of ugly things surface around here when that bastard shows up. Then my daughter gets shot, and we all end up in a hospital despite the worst winter weather we've had in while. And now I have to deal with the fact that he," she pointed outside the window in the general direction of the town, "doesn't even have to go to jail for any of the things he's done?" Her voice rose with each word.
"In short, you're mad as a cat."
"Oh, yes!" Irene slammed the bussing tray onto the table. "I'm mad as hell!"
"Look, I'm really sorry about the deal," Carol said. "There really wasn't much I could do."
"I know that, Carol," Irene murmured, trying to calm herself down. "I'm just not sure what the consequences of these past few days will be, you know?"
"What do you mean?"
Irene ran a hand through her hair. "I mean that I'm not like Shana, whose way of getting behind this is to try and forget everything. And she can do it too, I've seen it before. Anne is going along to make Shana happy but I'm sure inside she's stark raving mad and absolutely going crazy. I know my kid … I know that she really hates Carlos for all the things he's said and done to her, to her friends, to Shana." She paused. "To her little brother." She wiped the tears from her eyes. "How can they ignore all the things he's done?"
"I really don't know. I think for the FBI it's all about cracking the whole operation and not just getting one player. Call it the greater good, if you will."
"You'll excuse me if I have a little trouble with calling that the greater good," Irene snorted. "The problem is that the slavery ring, as bad as it is, was only one piece of the evil Carlos spread wherever he went. He was so very good at manipulating and ruining people's lives. And he deserves to be punished for that."
"I agree," Carol said grimly. "But honestly, in our line of work you accept pretty fast that life is anything but fair." She shrugged. "It's really not."
"I hope he gets killed by one of his partners," Irene whispered fervently. "I'd consider that justice."
Carol wisely refrained from saying anything but she silently agreed as she wrapped Irene into a hug and let the older woman cry.
Anne and Shana were still in bed, comfortably snuggling and just holding on to each other.
"Can I ask you something?"
Anne turned her head to look into Shana's eyes. "Do you really love me?" Her voice held a small tinge of wonder.
Shana bit back an incredulous laugh when she saw that Anne was serious. "Yes, I really love you. I've been in love with you for years." She finally gave in to a grin. "And years and years."
"That's good." Anne nodded gravely. "Because I love you too."
"I know, my love." Shana snuggled closer to Anne and started making small circles on Anne's stomach with her index fingers. "What brought that on? You know that I love you, so why the sudden … uncertainty?"
Anne pressed her lips to Shana's hair. "I've been lying here trying to make some sense of the past couple of days, of everything that's happened. And all the bad things are so clearly visible, almost palpable, and just there, you know." She shrugged and unconsciously clenched her right fist. "I guess I just needed to hear again the one thing that made these days bearable." Shana's hand on her stomach stilled for a second before it resumed its motion. "And hearing you say you love me after all those years makes all the other crap almost worth it."
"I love you, Anne," Shana repeated and raised her head to press her lips softly against Anne's. "I love you," she whispered against her lover's parted lips before they came together in the sweetest kiss either of them had ever known. Soon, however, passion took over and the kiss deepened, becoming hot and hungry.
"Are you trying to kill me?" Anne gasped when they finally broke away from each other. The kiss had left her hard and wet. She could see the glint in Shana's eyes before she moved. "I can't believe it."
"Believe what?" Shana asked around the nipple she was just about to take between her lips.
"Oh, jeez," Anne groaned as Shana's tugged on her sensitive nipple with her teeth. "Oh, God," she groaned. "I can't … believe … you're taking advantage … of my … state." Anne was hardly able to think, much less speak under her lover's surprisingly skillful attentions.
"And what state is that?" Shana began tracing her lover's abs with her tongue, eliciting another, deeper groan. She watched as the muscles quivered and she experimentally traced random lines all over Anne's belly with her index finger. "Tell me."
Anne was fast getting to the point where nothing else mattered, and she couldn't believe Shana wanted her to talk. "My state, huh?" She felt her body go tense as it tried to predict Shana's next move. When Shana crawled up and bit her earlobe, she felt it all the way down to her center. She struggled to speak. "Hot. Crazy. Wanting. You have me … yearning … for your touch." Shana moved back to her breasts and started alternating kisses and small bites, switching from one nipple to the other. "I want to … make love … to you," Anne whispered hoarsely, "but my arm … I'm … pretty much … immobile."
Shana stopped what she was doing and lay alongside Anne, kissing her softly. Then she looked into Anne's eyes. "I know," she said with a small, playfully evil grin, "exactly how I want you." She kissed Anne again, feeling the body next to her tense, then relax under the hand that was moving over it again. "I want to continue what we started yesterday."
Was that only yesterday? It feels like a lifetime ago. Anne remembered the feeling of complete surrender she had experienced during their short, interrupted encounter, and how hard it had been for her to accept that. She swallowed. She also remembered how unbelievably hot it had been, and her clitoris twitched once.
Shana saw the shadows swirling in Anne's eyes. "Do you want me to stop?"
"God, no," Anne groaned. "Don't stop, baby, please. I need you." She stretched her body out, opening her legs slightly. She took Shana's hand and guided it between her legs, letting her lover feel the hot wetness. "See what you do to me?" She pressed Shana's fingers into her clitoris. "I need you now."
"God, you're so wet," Shana said on an uneven breath. She moved her fingers along the clitoris, explored the folds with her fingertips, dipped into her opening, marveled at the clenched muscles that motion provoked. Suddenly she had the irresistible urge to put her mouth where her hand was. "I have to taste you," she growled.
It was all new to her and still felt familiar. Every inch she kissed was smooth; every dip, every curve of Anne's body left her lips tingling, hungry for more. Slowly, Shana kissed and caressed her way down Anne's body.
Anne grew harder with every second, every kiss and nibble. "Please, baby." She prayed that Shana made it to her goal before she exploded into a million pieces. She bit back a loud moan when Shana finally covered her clitoris with her lips and gently flicked her tongue against its hardness. "Please," Anne groaned again, "please, please."
"Please what?" Shana asked between nibbles and kissed her lover's center. She looked up with a grin and waited until Anne's eyes opened and found hers. "Like this?" She trailed her tongue along the labia. Anne arched her back in answer and put her hand in Shana's hair, keeping her head in place. Shana's tongue was insistent and the waves of pleasure broke higher and higher. Anne was writhing now, moaning, and gasping for breath. She had her eyes tightly closed and was totally abandoned to the searing delight being administered between her legs.
Shana let the fingers of her right hand rest against Anne's opening, teasingly dipping into its warm depth with one fingertip, then two. Anne's stomach muscles clenched and her whole upper body rose from the bed when the muscles contracted. "Please, Shay …"
Shana crawled up the long, lean body beneath her and kissed Anne hard. "Please what?" she asked again, enjoying the sense of power she felt. She kissed Anne again.
Anne was so close to the edge she felt the first tremors of orgasm when Shana's tongue dipped into her mouth once, then again. Shana was all she wanted, all she needed, and if she had to beg for it, she would. "Fuck me," she ground out between harsh breaths. "Please, fuck me."
Swiftly, Shana entered her deeply with two fingers, pressing her thumb against Anne's clitoris. She hardly had time to enjoy the velvet heat when the muscles around her fingers clenched and drew her even deeper. She almost came herself, so thrilling was the feeling. "Come for me, Anne," Shana whispered, slowly withdrawing her fingers and pumping them back in hard. She pressed herself hard against Anne's muscular thigh. "Come for me."
And Anne came. Came harder than she could ever remember coming before. Her whole body stretched tautly, she erupted in a loud cry that Shana quickly swallowed with a loving kiss. When she could feel Anne relax under her she began to withdraw her fingers, but was stopped by a hand on her wrist. "No, stay," Anne whispered against her mouth.
For a few seconds nothing but their breaths and the soft sound of their kisses could be heard. Then Shana couldn't stop from pressing her body against Anne's, from sliding her swollen clitoris against Anne's thigh. Anne realized her lover still needed release, and reached between them to touch Shana where she needed her the most.
Shana shook her head. "No, just lie still … your arm," she urged. "I'm so close." She slowly withdrew her fingers and leaned forward to put her hands against the headboard. "Oh, God, I'm so close."
Anne ignored her lover's plea. She needed to make Shana come right now, so she didn't even think twice about it. She tensed her thigh, reached between them, and pressed her fingers against Shana's opening. "Let me touch you, Shay," she rasped. "I need to touch you."
Shana was going out of her mind. Anne's fingers dipped into her with very move of her hips, and it was driving her to the edge fast. "Yes, touch me," she pleaded. "I need to feel you." She groaned. "Inside, now, please."
Anne slowly entered Shay with two fingers and began a slow, deliberate pumping in rhythm with Shana's hips. "I love you, Shay," she whispered.
Shana's pressed herself hard against Anne's thigh. "Harder, please," she almost sobbed. Anne withdrew her fingers and drove them back inside hard and fast, driving Shana over the edge. She came with a long groan, gripping the headboard hard, arching her back.
Anne thought she'd never seen a more beautiful sight, and toppled over the edge right after her with a sigh.
Kevin straightened up in his chair and turned his ear towards the wall. He looked at Mike. "Did you hear that?"
Mike shook his head. "No, what?"
"There, again," Kevin said when he could make out that low sound again. They were sitting in the kitchen again, nursing a nice cup of coffee and some serious conversation with Mishka, the Hinkels, and Irene.
"I still don't hear anything," Mike said and took another sip from his garish cup. He looked around to see if the others had heard anything but everyone seemed to be busy talking. He checked his watch. "I wonder when Anne and Shana are going to make an appearance. It's almost noon."
"Yeah," Kevin replied absent-mindedly. He heard the sound again, and his lover's words filtered through to his brain. He smiled. "I don't think they'll be here any time soon."
"Think we should get up?" Shana mumbled against Anne's shoulder.
"Can't move," Anne replied. "You turned me inside out."
"Hmm." Shana raised her head and kissed Anne. "I feel like I have honey running through my veins." She tightened her grip around Anne's waist. "No massage ever made me this relaxed."
"I know," Anne chuckled.
"I think we should try and get up anyway," Shana said. "I'd like to know what everyone is saying this morning."
Anne nodded. "Yeah, we'd better." But she didn't move except to pull Shana tighter against her.
"Come on, love," Shana whispered with a smile. She kissed Anne slowly and tenderly, and when she felt Anne relax into the kiss she swiftly moved away.
"Unfair," Anne groused and touched her tingling lips.
"Indeed," Shana agreed, still feeling the kiss down to her toes. "But at least we're up now," she sighed. She held a hand out to Anne, who took it and let herself be pulled upright. "I'll hit the shower first."
Anne pulled on a robe and winced as she noticed her arm for the first time this morning. "I'll need some help keeping the bandage dry," she murmured. "And I think I need to go to my place for some clothes too." She looked up as Shana cleared her throat and followed her pointed finger to a corner of the room. "I love my mom," she said when she spotted one of her duffel bags there. She grabbed it and walked to the door. "Want to take a shower together?"
"I think we'd better, with your arm and all." Shana grinned and slipped through the door before her. "No foolin' around, though."
"Now where's the fun in that?"
When Anne and Shana made it to the kitchen half an hour later, Carol and Andrea had completed the round. "Hey, everyone," Anne greeted their motley crew of friends.
"Nice of you to finally show up," Kevin teased. "I thought you were a morning person." He wiggled his eyebrows.
To her surprise, Anne actually blushed but decided not to care. She leaned down to him and whispered in his ear. "I am a morning person, and I had one of the best mornings in my life."
She straightened as Kevin got out his chair and wrapped her in a careful but enthusiastic hug. "I'm so happy for you and Shana, despite everything," he whispered back and kissed her cheek.
"Hey." Shana hit his shoulder. "She's mine."
Everyone laughed, and judging by everyone's faces Anne thought the mood had probably been somber before. That was confirmed when Irene said, "Gods, I needed that."
"I think we all did," Mike and Fritz Hinkel said, and the others nodded.
"I think we need to put this behind us," Irene said. "All of us." She looked around the table at the old and new friends. She felt it would be difficult to say good-bye to all of them this time. She really hoped that at least Anne and Shana would stay a while.
"I agree," Carol agreed quietly. "Because, frankly, it's out of our hands now anyway." She looked at the Hinkels. "The FBI is going to find out what happened to your daughter, even if I have to kick my old friend Dave in the backside every week for the rest of his life."
The elderly couple nodded. "Thank you," Mrs. Hinkel said. "It will be good to just … know." She paused. "Either way."
Her husband put his arm around her shoulder and cleared his throat. "There have been good things about the last days as well," he remarked. He saw the look of surprise on Carol's face. "Yes, Sheriff," he insisted. "Look, when we leave in a week, Mishka will go with us to find a new home in Germany." He smiled at the young Russian. "That will give us something to focus on, and he can focus on his tennis."
Mishka smiled and looked up. "And I won't be alone, not at home and not on tour." He looked at Kevin and Mike, who also smiled. "I now know I have friends."
Kevin and Mike looked at each other and then back at Mishka. "You do. In fact," Kevin said quietly, "don't you also need a new coach? I think I'm free at the moment."
"Hey," Anne exclaimed. "What about me?"
Everyone looked at her arm, and Shana cleared her throat loudly. Anne grinned. "Yeah, I know, I know." She raised her injured arm slightly. "I won't be playing anytime soon."
"Didn't you want to quit anyway?" Irene asked.
"Did you?" Shana was surprised.
Anne smiled affectionately at her lover. "Yeah, I thought about it." Her smile turned into a self-deprecating grin. "I'm getting too old for this, and the last thing I want to be is the last standing dinosaur among a group of Russian teenagers."
Shana laughed, knowing exactly was Anne was talking about. "Well, as long as you still beat those girls you don't really have to retire, do you?"
"It's not the only reason," Anne quietly replied. "Without you, I couldn't see much point in hanging around the tour any longer."
"Too boring with all those young attractive women, huh?" Shana asked with just a hint of sarcasm.
Anne looked up, searching her lover's face for a hidden meaning. "Yes," she simply stated in the end. "Besides, there never was a player who could challenge me like you did."
"Challenge you?" Kevin snorted from across the table. "She kicked your butt half the time."
Everyone laughed when Shana raised her arms in a victory pose and pretended to dance in her chair. "Yeah, yeah," Anne agreed.
Shana leaned over to Anne and kissed her cheek. "Thanks."
"So," Andrea suddenly spoke, "You're really going to quit?"
Anne thought for a moment. "Yes and no."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Irene wanted to know, and the others nodded.
"It means I'm going to quit." She hesitated and looked at Shana. "After I've played the U.S. Open one last time."
"Ah," Shana simply said, understanding more than anyone what the tournament meant to a player like Anne. It was her home Grand Slam, after all.
"But your arm." Carol pointed at the bandage. "I thought that would stop your career." She looked at Andrea. "Will she be able to play the Open?"
Andrea shrugged. "Sure." She turned to Anne. "As long as you take it easy."
"Why don't you just retire now?" Mishka sounded confused. "Then you could take your time recovering, and start your new life."
"I could do that, of course," Anne answered. "But then I would let someone else decide about my life, and I can't do that." Unconsciously, she clenched her fist. "Especially not when that someone is Carlos. No, I need to quit on my own terms."
Anne was uncomfortably aware of the silence that followed as everyone thought of Carlos again. Damn, need to change the topic. Her eyes darted around the room, finally resting on Shana's face. She watched the light play on her face until Shana lifted her face and their eyes met. Anne took Shana's hands in both of hers and leaned closer to her. "Do you still want to marry me?" The whisper was so low that Shana wasn't even sure she heard it but she nodded anyway.
Anne pressed her hands to stop Shana. She winked to reassure her lover before she looked at the others and cleared her throat to get their attention. When all eyes were on her, she was suddenly nervous. Her throat was dry but she ignored it. "How would you all like to come back here in, say, three or four months for a May wedding?"
There was a short, deafening silence before the Mike and Kevin whooped and hollered and the others joined in. Anne grinned like an idiot. She actually felt great having just said that. She only hoped Shana and her mother would forgive her for springing this on them so suddenly.
She got her answer when she looked at Shana and saw a brilliant smile on her lover's face. Shana looked at her, stunned but obviously quite happy, and nodded her approval. Anne let out the breath she had been holding.
Irene got up from her chair, walked over and wrapped her daughter in the fiercest hug she could manage without hurting Anne more than she absolutely had to. "I promise won't make a big affair out of this," she whispered through her tears. "Don't worry, Anne."
"I know, Mom." Anne kissed her mother's cheek, secretly resigning herself to the fate of a big Greek wedding. The things we do for the people we love …
The others laughed. "Wow," Andrea gushed. "Did you just invite us all to your wedding?" She beamed and took Carol's hand without thinking about it. The sheriff blushed and didn't dare move, hoping Andrea wouldn't notice and take her hand away. She didn't.
Anne looked at her. "Yes, I did." She couldn't stop smiling. One look at Shana confirmed that she seemed to be having the same problem. "And I … we really would like all of you to be there." Her eyes searched out the Hinkels and Mishka.
The elderly couple looked at each other. "I think we will be there," Mrs. Hinkel said.
"Wild horses couldn't keep us away." Mike did a little dance in his chair.
Kevin smiled at his lover's antics and nodded. "We'll be there." He walked over and hugged Anne. "I'm proud of you," he whispered in her ear. "You've really come a long way."
"Yes, I have." Anne put a hand on his shoulder. "And I know how much of that I owe to your friendship, Kevin." She leaned closer. "Are you going to be my best man?"
"Depends," he replied with a grin.
"Whether or not you ask Mike to be your bridesmaid." He glanced at his lover and chuckled. "I'd pay to see him in a dress."
Anne burst out laughing. "I'll see what I can do."
Carol tapped Anne on the shoulder. "Sorry to interrupt," she said. "But I have to go. Duty calls." She shrugged, suddenly slightly uncomfortable.
Anne sensed that there was more the sheriff wanted to say. She decided to take the first step. "Carol," she said seriously, "I'm really glad we could put the past behind us." She looked at her feet. "I know I've treated you very badly and I really appreciate it that you were there for us now."
"It's not like I treated you any better," Carol mumbled. "I really hope we can be friends, Anne." She waited until their eyes met. "I'm really sorry … about everything."
"So am I, my friend."
With a smile Carol hugged Shana and Irene, shyly waved to Andrea, and left. That seemed to spur everyone else into action as the Hinkels and Mishka got up and said their good-byes as well. Anne knew they probably wanted to start packing and planning, as their flight back home was only two days away. She realized that she'd gotten used to their quiet presence, and might even miss them. Funny what a crisis such as this can do. She watched the three of them leave the room, smiling at the way Mishka was holding the door open for the Hinkels.
Kevin and Mike mumbled something about having to go do something. Anne saw the looks they gave each other and had a pretty good idea what that something was. She grinned, hoping to be doing a similar something with Shana again soon. Her thoughts turned to their morning and the way Shana had taken charge of their lovemaking. She suppressed a groan when a wave of desire rolled through her like thunder.
She wrapped her arm around Shana's waist from behind. Her fingers made slow patterns on Shana's belly as she took kissed her head. Anne delighted in Shana's uneven breath and pouted when her lover covered her hand with her own to stop the movement. Shana turned her head. "We're not alone."
"I know," Anne murmured back. "Why don't we change that?"
Shana turned fully around to look at Anne. Her heart skipped a beat at the desire she saw in her lover's eyes and she swallowed to wet her suddenly dry throat. "Do you have any idea what you do to me when you look at me like that?" Her whisper sounded harsh to her own ears.
"I think I do." Anne placed an almost chaste kiss on Shana's lips. "If it's anything like what you do to me."
Irene cleared her throat loudly. "Excuse me, girls." She laughed when the younger women blushed and turned to face her. "Why don't you go do whatever it is you need to do now and let me work in here in peace?"
"We will." Anne grinned, taking Shana by the hand and leading her to the door. "Thanks, Mom."
"Yeah, thanks, Mom," Shana echoed.
"Oh, just get out," Irene hollered, happy to see her daughter so much in love and finally whole.
Outside in the hallway, Anne pressed Shana against the wall and kissed her passionately. "I couldn't wait another second to do that," she breathed when they finally parted.
Shana had a stunned look on her face but she licked her lips and hummed deep in her throat, so Anne figured it was a good thing. She kissed Shana again, softly, and took her into her arms. "My place?" she asked with a grin. "I want to make love to you until you scream, and I'd prefer a little more privacy."
"Can I make you scream?"
"Oh, I don't know." Anne grinned. "But it'll sure be fun while you're trying, don't you think?"
"Oh, yeah." Shana pulled Anne closer and kissed her hard. "I will make you scream." Then she took Anne's hand, and they both walked out.
Anne buried her hands in her jeans pockets and took a deep breath of the early morning air. Standing at her brother's grave, she had told Pete all about the ceremony their mother had planned for her and Shana, and about how happy she was. She knew he would have been happy for her and Shana, and he would have loved to be involved in the planning. Visiting him the morning of the ceremony was her way of including Pete in her wedding.
At the thought of the wedding she balled her hands to fists in her pockets. "I can't believe how nervous I am," she said aloud and she imagined she could her Pete's laugh on the gentle breeze. She was antsy, constantly feeling like she was missing or forgetting something. Having her mother declare that Anne and Shana would have to sleep in separate rooms the night before the ceremony hadn't helped either. Especially since Anne hadn't even been able to sneak into Shana's room during the night: Kevin and Mike had babysat at her house while Irene spent the evening with Shana at the inn.
Anne couldn't believe how much she had missed Shana during the night. She hadn't slept alone since her first night with Shana, and she felt incredibly lonely in her big bed. She lay awake most of the night breathing in Shana's scent from her pillow, telling herself that it was only one night. "God, I'm glad that night's over," she snorted, throwing back her head.
"I really hope Shana got a good night's sleep, though," she added with a grin. She addressed her brother. "You know how cranky she gets when she hasn't had enough sleep." In her head, Pete was laughing again. "Well, bro, I think I better get back. I need to get dressed."
With a smile, she turned and walked towards her mother's inn.
Carol drove up the road to the Irene's inn with a happy grin on her face. It was a wonderful morning and Andrea's hand on her thigh reminded her of the great night they had shared. She looked at her lover and couldn't help but smile at Andrea's happy smile.
I think I'm in love with her, the sheriff thought. But they hadn't talked about their feelings yet, and Carol was simply scared to bring it up first. Maybe later today, if the mood is right.
They were, after all, going to a wedding.
"How do you think they're going to take the news?" Andrea suddenly interrupted her thoughts.
Carol knew exactly what news Andrea was referring to. "I don't know." She slowly blew out a breath. "I'm not even sure I should tell them. At least not today."
Andrea turned in her seat and put one hand on Carol's shoulder. "Tell them," she insisted. "Consider it a wedding present."
"Death is never a good present, Andy."
Andy was quiet for a moment. "That depends totally on the person and the circumstances, my darling." She paused. "Besides, they need to know."
"Yeah," Carol agreed with a sigh. "Before or after, what do you think?"
"Before or after what?"
"The ceremony." Carol parked the truck.
Andy thought about that. "I don't know. Let's play it by ear, okay?"
"Okay." Carol killed the motor and turned to face Andy. "Ready?"
"She's not making me wear this!"
Kevin laughed out loud at Mike's outburst and the truly ugly dress his lover held in front of him.
"Whatever gave Anne the idea I would …" Mike stopped and took a good look at Kevin, who was doubled over with laughter. "You told her to put me in a dress, didn't you?"
His voice was ominously quiet and Kevin stopped laughing. Uh-oh. Mike was shorter than him, but he was muscular and compact. "Now, honey, wait. Don't—"
But it was too late; Mike had already tackled him and pushed him down on the bed. Using his long acquaintance with Kevin's body to his advantage, he tickled his tall lover until he couldn't stop giggling. Only then did he relax his hold on Kevin. "Whew."
Kevin bucked under him and turned them so that Mike was covered by his long frame. "Now I have you." He leaned down and kissed Mike with tender passion.
"That you do," Mike breathed out before leaning up for another kiss. "That you do."
"I love you, Mike."
Mike pulled Kevin into a tight hug. "Ditto, big guy." He kissed Kevin again. "Now, where's my suit?"
Shana begged her cup of tea to cool down to a drinkable temperature. She was desperate. I'm going to kill Irene. She picked up the cup, blew a long breath over the hot drink, and carefully took a small sip. She sighed, and sipped again.
"Good morning, honey," Irene's cheerful voice boomed through the kitchen as the older woman bustled through the door. "Did you have a good night?"
Shana simply growled.
"Not, eh?" Irene laughed. "I shouldn't have kept you up so late." They had talked for hours, and it was well after midnight when she and Shana had gone to bed.
"That was not the problem." Shana glared at Irene.
"Ah." Irene poured herself a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter next to Shana. "Missed her, didn't you?"
"I can't believe how much," Shana admitted. "I slept alone most of my life and suddenly I can't sleep when she's not there?" She shook her head.
Irene took a long drink from her cup to hide her smile. "Your body just got used to her presence, that's all." She touched her shoulder to Shana's. "You're a cuddler, right?”
Shana inexplicably blushed and cleared her throat. I'm not talking to my mother-in-law about what happens in our bed. But she did. "Actually, we both are."
"Yes, I can see that."
"And now I look terrible thanks to you and a sleepless night."
"No, you don't," Irene replied seriously. "You look beautiful as ever."
"I agree," Carol said from the door.
"You couldn't even try to look terrible," Andy agreed. She and Carol walked over to hug Shana and Irene. All of the had become good friends over the last few months.
"Hey, you two," Shana greeted them happily. "You're here early."
"Uh … yeah, we thought we could help," Carol said. It sounded more like a question to her.
Irene saw the look that passed between Andrea and Carol. "What's up?" she asked. "I can see there's something on your mind."
Carol and Andy shared another look. "Yes, there is something," Carol said after a moment. "But I'd prefer to only say it once." She looked at Shana. "Where's Anne?"
Shana checked her watch. "She should be over at her house. She wanted to go to the cemetery this morning but I think she should be back."
"Can you ask her to come over?"
"Sure." Shana grabbed the phone and dialed. "Hey, Kevin … Can't wait, yeah. Listen, is Anne there? … Hm, can you send over to the inn? Carol's here and she wants to tell us something." She saw Carol make a sign. "Kevin, maybe you two better come over as well." She hung up. "They're coming."
"Good." Carol nodded.
Irene saw the sheriff emerge in the tenser features of their friend. She had a weird feeling that she knew what this was all about. "Is there anyone else who needs to hear what you want to say?" she asked.
The sheriff looked at her. "Are the Hinkels here yet?"
Irene nodded and left the room to get them.
Five minutes later, everyone was gathered round the kitchen table.
"Hi, honey," Shana whispered in Anne's ear. "You look great."
"So do you."
"And I'm not even wearing my wedding dress yet." They grinned at each other and looked expectantly at Carol.
"Sorry to make such a fuss," Carol stated as calmly as she could. "I'll get right to the point to make this short. We all have much better things to do today." She smiled at Anne and Shana. "Dave, my ex-partner, called me yesterday, and I have some news."
She hesitated but Andrea hit her arm, and she continued. "Carlos was shot a couple of days ago when the FBI was transporting him to another location. Apparently, it was a single shot from one of the nearby buildings."
It was incredibly quiet in the room all of a sudden.
"A killer?" Anne finally asked.
Carol nodded. "The FBI assumes it was a contract killer hired by one of his business partners."
"He's really dead?" Mrs. Hinkel leaned over the table and touched Carol's arm. "Really dead?"
"This isn't some FBI trick to get this bastard to a safe location?" The mistrust in Kevin's voice spoke volumes.
Astute man, Carol thought. It had been her first question too. "I'm not with the FBI any longer, Kevin, so I can't be 100% sure. But I did believe Dave when he said that Carlos was dead."
Kevin nodded, seeing the sincerity in Carol's eyes.
"I can't believe he's dead," Irene whispered. "But if it's true, I'll be the first to say that it's really good news."
"Yeah." Anne sounded quite satisfied. More sounds of agreement could be heard around the table. Only Shana remained quiet.
Carol saw her pensive face and took a guess as to what Shana was thinking. She leaned over to her. "I don't know anything about your parents yet," she said quietly. "I'm not sure if that's good news or bad news." All she knew was that Shana's parents were under surveillance. She had told Shana that already.
"Thank you, Carol," Shana replied quietly. "I'm not sure either."
"Yes, Mr. Hinkel?" She knew she'd never get the man to call her by her first name.
"Did your FBI friend say anything about our Daniela?"
Carol sighed inwardly. "They haven't found any of the women yet, but Dave said they were pretty close to some of them. The FBI have concentrated on finding the trafficking routes and the whereabouts of the women, and they have most of them under surveillance by now." She paused, not wanting to give the elderly couple false hope. But they looked at her with such trusting eyes that she couldn't help it. "Dave said that they found a really hot trail for Daniela, and she seems to have ended up in one of the relatively better places."
She didn't elaborate further, and looking around she could see that almost everyone had their own images of what could have happened to any of the girls. But the Hinkels looked relieved, and that was more than enough.
The sounds of several cars making their way up the driveway could be heard. Irene looked at the clock. "Oh, boy, look at the time. We have to get ready!"
Everyone got up and most fled the kitchen to get ready for the ceremony. Anne, Shana, Carol, and Andy stayed, but after a look from Anne, Carol and Andy decided it was time for a walk.
As soon as they were alone, Anne took Shana in her arms. She had noticed how quiet her lover had become, but she knew that in this case, Carol's words might have helped more that anything she could have said. Now, however, it was her turn. "Are you okay?"
Shana sighed. Was she? "Yes, I think I am." She looked up, falling into Anne's eyes. "I know deep inside that my parents were somehow involved. Well, at least my father." She shook her head. "And that hurts because they're my parents."
Anne started to speak but Shana interrupted her. "Yes, I know. They did some terrible things to me and to us, and maybe I really shouldn't have been surprised. But I was. We'll just have to wait and see what happens now."
Anne kissed her head. "I know, my love. I'm really sorry."
"It's okay." Shana wrapped her arms tightly around Anne's waist. "But now, I'll have to get ready for our wedding, or I'll look terrible."
"You couldn't look terrible if you tried." Anne kissed Shana tenderly. And again. "Want to run away with me?" she finally asked, a little out of breath.
Shana was just as breathless. "And risk your mother's wrath? I don't think so." She stole another kiss. "Ready to get hitched?"
"I've been ready for fifteen years."
New York City, late August 2002
“Hello and welcome to another day of exciting tennis from the US Open. This is Kathy Myers, and with me today is world number three Caroline Devereaux, who had to withdraw in the second round because of a strained pectoral muscle. Hello, Caroline, thank you for coming.”
“Hello, Kathy. Thanks for having me.”
“The first scheduled match today is the quarterfinal between up-and-coming Italian Paula Ferrara, and former number one Anne Patakis.”
“First off, I’m glad that Anne is back. She has always been a formidable opponent and a great player, and I missed her. I talked to her a couple of months ago, and she was determined to play the US Open. It’s her home tournament, and she loves playing here.”
“But she hasn't played any matches since the Year End Championships last November, almost a year ago. So, how far can she go in this tough tournament? The first rounds were surprisingly easy for her and she’s yet to lose a set.”
“She had a very good draw due to her protected ranking, and even got a walkover in round two. But Paula is a very difficult opponent and I think it’s going to be hard today. It could go either way.”
“It really depends how well Anne’s arm is taking the strain of playing every other day, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it does. But when I talked to her coach this morning he sounded very optimistic. It was a good idea to let the injury heal completely before taking up training again.”
“I’ve heard rumors that she’s just coming back for this one tournament …”
“I’ve heard that too, but I think it depends on a lot of things.”
“We’ll be back with the match after this short break.”
When the commercial started on her monitor, Kathy pulled down her headset and turned to the tall tennis player sitting beside her in the small booth. "Hello, honey."
Caroline leaned in to kiss her partner of two years. "Hello back. Long time no see." She grinned. Two hours were a long time in her eyes.
"So, how is Anne?"
"Nervous but that's normal." Caroline shrugged. "Nothing compared to Shana, though. Now she looked antsy. Ready to climb the walls."
The monitor started showing live action again and Kathy picked up her headset. "Okay, here we go."
Anne's mind wasn't on the game, and it was showing. She was trailing 1-4, 15-30 in the first set, mostly because her serve was all over the place. She seemed unable to get the ball toss right, and Anne knew that was only a matter of focus. Therein lies the rub, she thought, as she tapped the ball on the court with her racket. I can't seem to stop thinking about this morning. I wonder how Shay's doing. Was that just a nervous stomachache? I should have made her stay in the apartment with Mom. The ball hit her foot and rolled away from the baseline. "Damn," she muttered as she took a new ball from the ball girl.
Tap, tap, tap. Toss. Whack.
Anne's shoulders sagged and she let out a long, slow breath before she took the next ball.
Tap, tap. Toss. Whack.
There was a low groan from somewhere behind her. "Yeah, I know I’m playing like crap today," Anne muttered under her breath. Another groan, longer, and this time the pitch of the sound registered in Anne's mind. Pure instinct made her turn in the direction of the groan, zeroing in on Shana who was doubled over in her seat, Irene Patakis hovering over her. "Shana."
Anne was unaware that she had spoken the name out loud as she sprinted towards the wall that kept her from reaching her lover. "Shit," she muttered under her breath as she walked back a few steps so she could at least see what was going on. She breathed in relief when she saw that Shana was sitting upright now and that her mom looked like she was taking care of things. Kevin was running down the steps to where she was standing, and suddenly she could feel the silence all around her. It felt like everyone in the huge stadium was holding their breath and waited to see what she was going to do now.
What was she going to do? Her gut told her to just chuck the game, especially when she was warned for time violation. She shot the umpire a dirty look and received a sympathetic smile back from the woman on the chair. It was a good thing the French umpire, Sandrine Fermer, was a friend.
Kevin motioned for her to go back and play, but she ignored him. "What's going on, Kev?" she shouted into the stands.
"Labor," Kevin replied as calmly as he could. "Mom's taking her to the hospital."
The umpire spoke again. "Warning Ms. Patakis for coaching. Game Ms. Ferrara."
"But it's too soon," Anne shouted unnecessarily, ignoring everything around her. She shook her head. "Shit."
She turned to see the umpire running towards her. "What's going on here? You know the rules, Anne. I'll have to disqualify you if you don't stop this."
"Sandrine, I'm not coaching her," Kevin said.
"So, what's going on?"
"Shana's gone into labor, and Anne was worried, that's all."
Sandrine Fermer looked first at Kevin, then at Anne before she nodded and turned to speak into her walkie-talkie.
"Go, finish your match," Kevin said. "I'll wait for you and then I'll take you to the hospital."
"Finish the match? Are you kidding?" Anne looked at him. "Haven't you been watching the past half hour? What good would it do?"
Kevin sighed. "You will not give up this match, Anne." He could understand her, but you just didn't give up a match at a Grand Slam tournament. "Listen, it's probably going to take a long time anyway. And as soon as you're done here, I'll go with you to the hospital."
Anne knew he was right, but she hated it. "Okay. It'll be over soon anyway." She turned to go to her seat before she was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"Anne," Kevin called her back. "Don't lose this on purpose. If you lose, you'll always know that you gave away your last match. And no matter what, that'll leave a bitter taste in your mouth."
"Thanks, Kev," Anne said as she ran back.
"Game, set, and match Ms. Patakis. 7-5, 6-0."
"Well, this was an interesting match. What do you think, Caroline?"
"Absolutely. But the way Anne Patakis is rushing off the court, it looks like she really was in a hurry."
"Well, my lovely colleague Hank will be back with the next match after this break."
Kathy Myers took off her headset and shook her short dark hair before she turned to her lover. "Surprise, eh?"
"Yeah," Caroline Devereaux replied with a grin. "I guess Shana's having the baby a bit early. Wanna go to the hospital?"
Kathy laughed. "You bet." She kissed Caroline. "You'll organize a car and I'll call Kevin?"
The ride to the hospital was a blur for Anne as she said in the back of one of the official tournament cars. They made it to the hospital in surprisingly good time, and were taken into the delivery room not 45 minutes after the end of the match. By then, Shana's contractions were coming only a minute apart.
Anne kept on a steady stream of whispered words in Shana's ear, constantly telling her how much she loved her while Shana kept telling her where she could disappear to. Anne no longer felt her hand as her lover used both of hers to crush it. Anne was so focused on breathing with Shana and on keeping her as calm as possible that she was almost surprised when she heard the invigorated cry of a newborn baby.
"Congratulations," the young doctor said, "it's a girl."
Shana would never let Anne forget that she fainted right then.