Disclaimer: See Part 1

Sands of Change

By J.A. Zollicoffer




Chapter Eleven

It had been two weeks and she still didn't know his name, but his face was permanently etched into her memory. This was the enforcer. The one that taught the lessons, but Ginny was being a difficult student. And as soon as he walked in the door, the teenager turned on the waterworks and began screaming and crying.

“I want my mother!”

The enforcer rolled his eyes. “Shut up, bitch,” was ordered in a menacing tone.

Dealing with this girl was becoming increasingly more frustrating by the day. He wanted to strangle Paul and Tammy for bringing this one in. For the last two weeks she would not stop crying, or fighting every John they sent to her room. Even when they shot her up with drugs, she cried through the high. This couldn't go on. There was money to be made, and no one was going to pay for crying, fighting pussy.

“Let me go. Please, please let me go. I won't tell anybody about this place. Just let me go home.”

Without warning, the man struck out, punching the girl in the face, breaking cartilage, releasing blood and mucus to flow freely from her nose and mouth. But the bright and garish display didn't faze him. He had reached his limit.


The girl didn't need to be told again. Although this wasn't the first time she'd been hit, it was the first time she'd been hit with a closed fist…and it hurt like hell.

She now had a better understanding of things. That one, violent punch to the face brought it all home for her. If she didn't get with the program soon, the lessons would become harsher. In addition to the rapes, the drugs, and the loss of dignity she suffered every time she was forced to relieve herself in front of a guard, daily beatings could be added to the list of her many humiliations.

The defeat was heart wrenching, her cries were reduced to whimpers and she curled up on her cot, turning away from her tormentor.

The man stared at the girls back and smiled carnivorously. Good, lesson number one, learned…finally.

When Ginny heard the door close and lock behind her, she began crying again, but this time she turned her bruised and batter face into the pillow to muffle the sound.


The enforcer left the basement, and had to shake the soreness out of his hand. “Damn, that bitch has a hard head.”

He went looking for his second. “Where's her friend? I want Tammy to take her to the truck stop.”

“She's upstairs with the other lot-rats.”

Kathy was brought downstairs and given a row of condoms and four joints.

“Go out to the car and wait for Tammy.”

Kathy had learned that Tammy was the bottom girl, the girl in charge of the others. At first she had wanted to attack the woman that had played a part in her being there, but she knew better. So now, instead of acting on her impulses, Kathy just nodded her head and went out to the car, never uttering a word or putting up a fight.

The more worldly seventeen-year-old had learned her lessons much faster than Ginny, and was given her freedom soon after her arrival. Being more street savvy, she knew the rules of this game, and she would go along to get along, biding her time until an opportunity presented itself to escape.

Chapter Twelve

Shannon's shoes were off, and her toes were wiggling under her desk to loosen the cramps that had settled in, while confined in her shoes. The morning had been long, and the afternoon promised to be even longer.

The case she was working on was a difficult one. The parents were both addicts. The mother was completely apathetic to her two daughter's struggles, and the father had a temper that showed itself whenever his drugs ran out.

Social services had become involved when one of the twelve-year-old twins told a teacher that their father was sexually abusing them. Finding placement for them was what had been taking up most of Shannon's morning. Temporary housing would be necessary until the parents, and the home had been thoroughly investigated.

“Pig.” Shannon said out loud, thinking about the beast of a father. “Somebody needs to show him what it's like to have someone force themselves on you, being helpless without any choices, too weak to protect yourself.” Then another thought entered her mind. “The mother isn't much better. Not protecting her daughters is unforgivable. She's probably some lazy do-nothing.”

While she was still deep in thought, one of her coworkers came in, and without invitation, took a seat across from Shannon. “You look beat, and it's only eleven-thirty in the morning.”

“It's this case, Vicky,” Shannon said, tilting her head in the direction of the folder on her desk.

Without saying anything, Vicky reached across the desk and pulled the file to her. She read the circumstances surrounding the twins being removed from the home, and was disgusted. When she finished reading, she pushed the folder back across the desk.


“My sentiments exactly.”

Vicky sensed that there was something going on with her friend. “You've had cases like this before, Shannon. Why is this one getting to you?”

“I…I'm not sure, Vicky. There is something about these little girls that makes me want to go the extra mile for them.” She began telling her friend about the fraternal twins. “Lindsey, she's the blonde one, and it appears the stronger of the two. She's a feisty little thing, all piss and vinegar. Brandy, she's a little smaller than her sister, with dark hair and has a timid personality.

When I interviewed them, Lindsey did all of the talking, and Brandy would sit beside her with a bowed head, nodding when her sister said something she agreed with. It was heartbreaking, Vicky. I just want to put them in a place where they can stay together, and be safe.”

Vicky listened without interruption, until Shannon was finished talking. Then she gave her friend a patient smile. “Shannon? Do they remind you of anyone?”

Shannon thought for a moment. “No, not that I can recall.”

“Really? They don't remind you of a couple of kids from your past?”

“I don't think so. I can't remember any kids from my past that…” she stopped speaking when a picture of two displaced children formed in her head. And then she spoke in a choked whisper, saying the names out loud. “Me and Brian.”

Vicky waited for Shannon to work through whatever was going on in her head. Victoria Davenport had been friends with Shannon since their college days. She had stood with Shannon when she married Morgan during their sophomore year. She was the only person in their circle of college friends that knew anything about how she had lived before meeting Morgan, and she loved her like a sister.

“I never saw the correlation.” Shannon said with wonder. “I guess…maybe because they were girls of the same age…I…I.” Shannon stopped talking. The sisters were exactly like her and Brian. In looks, in temperament, even down to the addicted, abusive parents. The only real difference being the sexual abuse. That was a line Dave Reynolds had never crossed.

Vicky reached across the desk and grabbed Shannon's hand. “Hey, don't you do it. Don't you dare take a trip down memory lane.” Vicky could already see the glazed look in Shannon's eyes, and knew where she was going. “Because if you do, I'll have to call Morgan the Mighty to come and bring you back.”

This seemed to pull Shannon back. Exactly like Vicky knew it would. The green eyes cleared and the blonde woman laughed a little. “She would, you know.” It was a statement, not a question.

“I know.” Time to shift gears. “What are you guys up to this weekend?”


Jim and Maureen invited us over.”

“Oh, yeah? What's that old bull-wrestler been up to lately?”

“I'll be sure to tell him you called him that.”

“You do, and I'll tell Morgan about the guy down in human resources that thinks you can do no wrong.”

“That's low, Vicky…even for you. And you're too late, Morgan already knows.”

Vicky stood up and stretched. “Why am I not surprised? Come on, let's go downstairs, I'll buy you a cup of coffee.”

Shannon slipped her shoes back on and followed her friend out of the office.



Coffee turned into a full, sit-down meal. The friends were relaxing at one of the cafeteria tables enjoying a quiet conversation, when Vicky looked up just in time to see Raymond, from human resources headed their way. “Don't look now, but here comes your not so secret admirer.”

The blonde head dropped. “What am I going to do, Vicky? I have told him repeatedly that I am a happily married woman.”

“I don't know what to tell you, sexy. You've got “IT” and he want's it.”

“You are such an ass sometimes.”

“Thank you, I try.”

Shannon was about to say something, when a voice coming from her left stopped her.

“Hey, Shannon. I wasn't expecting to see you here.”

Vicky mumbled under her breath. “Bullshit, he probably trolls the halls, waiting until he sees you make an appearance.”

Shannon kicked her under the table.

“How have you been, Raymond?”

“Pretty good. Hey, um…did you get the e-mail about the tax form copies?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Oh, okay. Because if you didn't, I could print a copy for you.”

Shannon didn't respond. She didn't feel like it was necessary, she didn't need any copies. She just looked at him for several moments, waiting for him to get the hint to leave.

Over the years she had learned that if you were too nice to a man that you had no interest in, it could be confusing for him, that is, if he had an interest in you. But, Raymond seemed confused anyway. He was completely ignoring Vicky, and just stood there, silently hoping that he would be invited to join Shannon at the table.

Finally, Shannon cleared her throat. “Don't let us stop you from getting your lunch, Raymond.”

“Oh…right. Well, enjoy your meal,” Raymond said as he left.

The women sat, quietly eating their food. Shannon hoping that Vicky wouldn't say anything about Raymond, but at the same time knowing that she couldn't stop herself.

“You're gonna have to start bringing doggie treats to work,” Vicky teased. “Cause that puppy has got it bad.”

A paper napkin hit Vicky in the forehead.

“Hey, what was that for.”

“You're a smart girl, figure it out.”


Shannon was at home going over the histories of the facilitating parents in the foster care system. She wanted to move the twins from the children's home as soon as possible, so she had narrowed her choice down to four, when Morgan can home.

“Hey, sweet cheeks, how was your day?” Morgan asked with a kiss to Shannon's aforementioned sweet cheek.

“It wasn't too bad. I've spent most of it looking for the right home for one of my cases, but I did find the time to have lunch with Vicky, oh, and Raymond is still trying to start a conversation with me.”

After divesting herself of her work gear, Morgan headed to the kitchen to scan the refrigerator for leftovers. “Well, I must say, he's got great taste.” She pulled out a pan of cold meatloaf and grabbed the bread. “But if he doesn't find a new crush, I'll have to crush him.”

“Aww, aren't you sweet? My own personal restraining order.”

“You better believe it.” She held up the bag of bread. “You want one of these.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Shannon took a seat at the kitchen counter and watched her wife make two sandwiches. “What was your day like?”

“It wasn't too bad. I spent most of it going over the missing girls files that were sent over from Rockville.”

“Anything interesting?”

Morgan put one of the sandwiches on a plate and slid it to Shannon. “Not really, I can't find a pattern. All of the girls come from different backgrounds. They are all socially, economically, and ethnically diverse. I can't find any commonality, except that they're all girls under eighteen.”

Shannon took a bite of her sandwich and began to chew. “Mmm, this is pretty good. I know you'll figure it out. You always do. ”

Morgan was pulling a bag of chips off of the top of the refrigerator. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I'm not so sure this time.”

She leaned over the counter and dumped a few chips on Shannon's plate, then her own. “I'm getting a bottle of juice, you want one?”

“Yeah, apple, please.”

“Not to change the subject, but has Brian let you know when he's coming?”

Oh, sorry. I heard from him this morning. He's gonna be coming into Boling Air Force Base in three weeks. He wants us to meet him outside of the gates. He'll let me know the exact date and time when knows.”

“He's not traveling commercial?”

“Nope, he says he's gonna catch a hop and save the airfare.”

“Lucky little shit.”

“Yeah, the air force does have its perks.”

“You ready to head out to Silver Springs tomorrow?”

“Yep, can't wait. We haven't seen Jim and Maureen for a couple of months. It will be fun to catch up.”

“Do you realize that Jim, Maureen and Vicky are the only people that we have consistently kept in touch with over the years?”

“Hmm. I've never really thought about it. Do you think that's weird?”

Morgan was chewing the chips she had stuffed in her mouth. So before she could answer she had to take a swig of juice to help them down her throat.

“No, I don't. The way we grew up kinda made us loners.”

“I never thought about it like that, but I guess you're right. And if we take that a step further, our upbringing is probably why we look at Jim and Maureen as kinda like parental figures.”

Morgan almost snorted juice through her nose. “You'd better not let Jim hear you say that.”

Shannon started batting her eyes. “No. You'd better not let him hear you saying that…me he likes.”

Morgan laughed from her belly. It was true. Jim Driscoll had treated Shannon like a daughter from the first day he'd laid eyes on her…well that wasn't exactly true…it was more like the first second.

Once the field-training trooper had been told what Morgan had done by letting the blonde girl and her runaway brother into her home, he was furious…

“Have you lost your damn mind?! You let a kidnapper into your home?!”

“She's not a kidnapper, Jim.”


“The hell she ain't!”


Morgan pulled in deep, slow breaths. If she didn't remain calm she would never get Jim to help them.


“Jim, she's just a kid that's had a hard time.”


The FTT interrupted her. “You're a kid too. How old is this kid?” he asked with accusation.


“Eighteen. And her brother is twelve.”


The big man ran his hands through his short hair. “Damn.”


Morgan saw her opening and continued talking. “Up until two weeks ago she had been in the children's home with her brother, but she turned eighteen, and had to leave.”


“That sucks.”


“Yeah, it does. They came from a physically abusive home, so when she went to visit her brother and saw that some of the kids had beaten him pretty badly, she snapped, and took him out of there.”


“Poor kid.”


Morgan was mentally rubbing her hands together. Now it was time to move in for the kill.


“I have a huge favor to ask you, Jim.”


“I don't like the sound of that, McCray.”


“Just hear me out.”




“If we…”


She saw Jim's eyes go wide. “We?”


“Yes, Jim, we.”


It had only been three days since she began hiding Shannon and Brian in her home, and she already felt like they were we.


“If we can get a responsible older adult to act as a…sponsor of sorts for Brian…they can stay here.”


“And what would this sponsor have to do?”


“Um, just check in on occasion to make sure things are running smoothly. You know? Stuff like making sure we are sending Brian to school, checking to see if we are having wild parties…that sort of stuff.”


Jim was deep in thought. Although she was only twenty years-old, Morgan McCray was a very responsible young woman, very disciplined. He knew that if he took this on there wouldn't be any problems, the problem would be in talking Maureen into it.”


“I'm not sure, Morgan. That's a lot of responsibility. I'll need to talk to Maureen. There will be interviews. I will need…”


His little speech was interrupted when Morgan called Shannon into the room.


“Hey, Shannon! Come on out here for a second!”


The sound of one of the back bedroom doors was heard being opened, and the next thing Jim knew, the cutest little green-eyed blonde he had ever seen walked in, and he was flooded with paternal feelings. But when a shy little dark-haired boy peeked around her back, he knew it would be a long night of talking Maureen into being a Guardian ad Litem.


“Aw, hell. Make the appointment.”


The women were looking at one another across the counter.

“I'll love Jim and Maureen forever for what they did for me and Brian.”

Morgan reached over and caught the lone tear that had escaped her lover's eye.

“And I'll be forever grateful.”

They were silent for a moment, then Morgan pulled a big grin.

“And the little shit will always remember his first boxing lesson.”

“Oh my god, I thought Jim was going to stroke-out from laughter the first time he tied those gloves on my tiny little brother.”

“The weight of them alone nearly tipped him over,” Morgan added.

Shannon got a faraway look in her eyes. “I miss him so much, Morgan. I can't wait to see him.

Morgan leaned forward and kissed her wife's lips.

“Me either, love. Me either.”

Chapter Thirteen

While Morgan was dressing for Jim and Maureen's barbeque. Shannon was out in the kitchen preparing a side dish.

“Are you almost ready?” Shannon yelled down the hall.

“Yep,” Morgan said as she walked in, tucking her shirt into her pants.

Shannon looked over her shoulder and smiled at her wife. “You look nice.”

Morgan came up behind the shorter woman and rested her chin on her shoulder. “You would say that, since you laid this out for me.”

Innocent green eyes held cheerful blue. “I did that?”

A soft pat on Shannon's bottom was Morgan's response. “What are you mixing?”

“Potato salad.”

Morgan swiped her finger through the creamy mixture before tasting it. “Mmm, that's good.”

Shannon slapped the finger that was attempting to make a second pass. “Stop that. No one wants to eat food that your stinky finger has played in.”

Morgan lifted her fingers under her nose and sniffed. “My fingers don't stink, Shannon.”

“They did last night,” the little blonde teased.

“That's because last night they were in your…”

A firm hand was placed over Morgan's mouth. “If you ever want to get close to any of my orifices again, don't finish that sentence.”

Morgan made a move like she was zipping her lips.

“That's better. Now go get the cooler so we can get out of here.


When the couple walked into Jim Driscoll's backyard, one of Morgan's hands was carrying the cooler, the other was wrapped around Shannon's trim waist.

When Jim heard his wife greet the young couple he looked up from the grill and smiled. His former trainee had come a long way, and he was proud of her.

“Hey, hey it's the McCray's, glad you guys could make it.” The big man made his way over to the couple and embraced them both in one huge bear hug.

“Let…us…go, you big ox,” Morgan squeaked out.

“Jim, let them go so that they can come over here and say hello,” Maureen scolded.

“Sorry, hon.” Jim's hardy laugh echoed around the yard, before he gave the women one more squeeze, then returned to the grill.

Morgan put the cooler down, and they made they're way over to Maureen. She was sitting at a glass patio table, under an umbrella, and she had company.

“Shannon, Morgan, this is Rita Shaw, she just moved into the old Anderson house, four doors down. Rita, these are our surrogate daughters. Shannon and Morgan McCray.”

Shannon smiled and greeted the older woman. She looked to be close to Jim and Maureen's age, maybe in her mid-fifties. Her brown hair was styled in a flattering short cut, and there was a youthful glow in her gray eyes. Shannon had to admit…overall, Rita Shaw was a very attractive woman.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Rita.”

Morgan came up behind her wife. “Nice to meet you,” she greeted the woman.

The woman looked at the young women with curiosity. “It's nice to meet you both,” Rita said. “Forgive my staring, but are you girls sisters?”

Maureen laughed, and answered for them. “Heavens no. That would be awkward. They are married.”

Gray eyes twinkled with amusement. “Well, that explains the lack of resemblance. How long have you two been married?”

Shannon beamed with pride. “Nine years.”

Rita was a little shocked. “Really? You don't look a day over twenty.”

Shannon blushed. “Add eight to that.”

Rita focused on the taller of the two. “And what about, stretch. How old are you?”

At first Morgan was a little annoyed. Who was this woman to tease her? But when she saw the humor dancing around in the youthful gray eyes, and the easy smile, she smiled in reflex. I like her.

“I'm thirty,” she answered.

“That's a nice age. I remember when I was thirty, life was so full of…” Rita stopped speaking and cleared her throat. “Forgive me, I tend to ramble.”

Morgan smiled. “Not a problem.”

Rita gave the tall woman a grateful nod. “Wow, you two got hitched at a very young age.” she observed.

Shannon blushed. “I guess you could say it was a whirlwind romance. I swear sometimes it feels like I fell in love with her the day I met her, and married her the next.”

Morgan ran her finger down Shannon's pink cheek. “And it never gets old…does it?”

Shannon closed her eyes and whispered. “Never.”

The moment was broken when Jim called out. “Hey, Morgan. Come over here and help me with this food.”

A brilliant smile lit up her face. “Ladies, if you will excuse me…duty calls.” She gave Shannon a quick kiss and ran off to help Jim man the grill.

Witnessing such a special moment, Rita had to ask. “You love her very much, don't you?”

“More than there are ways to express it,” Shannon confessed.

“Then it is as it should be,” Rita said with odd tone of approval.


“So, how are things going now that you're working outside of the cold case unit?” Jim asked. “We haven't had a chance to get together and talk about it.”

“It's going okay, Jim, but I gotta tell you, since I've been on this task force I have discovered a lot of disturbing information about the sex industry.”

“Oh, yeah? Like what?”

“First, let me say this. I'm not a prude or anything, so it's not the exchange of money for services that bother me, because if I were to be honest with myself, what consenting adults do between themselves is of no concern to me. What repulses me is the buying and selling of young girls, and it really makes me feel stupid that I didn't know what was going on in my own backyard.”

“What have you found out?”

“Well, I've discovered that human trafficking isn't something that is done in some far off foreign country. Young girls are taken from the streets of Anywhere, USA, and forced into prostitution right in front of our faces. Every young woman that is seen walking the streets selling herself is not always doing it of her own free will.”

“That is the sad truth of it, Morgan.”

“Sometimes the girls are even taken to other states and kept in a conversion house. Conversion houses that, in a few cases are located in nice middle-class neighborhoods. The girls are beaten, raped and most times drugged, until their defenses and self-esteem are broken down, then they are forced onto the streets or truck stops with no money.”

“All of that is true, Morgan, but I hear you and I know how you are.” He allowed a little concern to color his tone. “I know how you can get when you think there is a cause to champion. I don't want you going out there thinking that you can save them all. Because if you open yourself up to those kinds of emotions, it will consume your life and drive you crazy.” He looked over at Shannon. “Not to mention ruin your marriage.”

Morgan turned to watch her partner talking with Maureen and Rita, and her heart swelled with love. “I don't have to worry about that happening, Jim. She will always be my priority. I will never let anything come between me and Shannon.”

“Now, that…I know. So, tell me what you've been up to on this task force.”

She was actually excited to tell Jim about the sting operation. It had taken a day or two, but Morgan had finally started to see the up side of the assignment, and knowing the good that she could do, she had every intention of doing the best job that she could.

“I must have impressed the director,” she said with pride. “Because my first day in, he assigned me to head up a sting operation at one of the truck stops on the interstate.”

Thick brows went into a graying hairline. “That happened on your first day?”

Morgan gave a smug smile. “Yep.”

“What happened at that meeting?” Jim asked with a little skepticism.

“Let's see. We all sat around waiting for the director. When he finally came in with his assistant he didn't waste any time. He filled us in on a recent arrest, then hinted around about possibly making a plea agreement to try and reach the next man in line. That's when I questioned him about his intentions.”

Jim shook his head back and fourth. Sometimes Morgan was a little too vocal for her own good. “Let me guess what happened next.”

Morgan nodded her head, signaling her friend he was welcome to try.

“It was right after you questioned the director that you were assigned to head up this sting operation.”

“Yeees,” Morgan said with suspicion.

Jim started laughing.

“What's so funny?”

“They gave you busy work, Morgan.”

A dark brow rose in question. “Busy work?”

“I swear, Morgan, to be so smart you can be real dense sometimes. You've been working cold cases too long. You were asking the wrong questions, so they gave you something to do to keep you out of the way.”

Morgan felt her temper rising. “They don't think anything is going to come of my sting?”

“Nope. Not a damn thing. Nothing. Zilch.”

“Son of a bitch.”

“Welcome to politics.”

“I'll show them busy work.”

Jim looked at his former trainee and shivered. “I know that look. You think you have something to prove.”

“I do have something to prove. I'm not a trainee anymore, Jim. I should be respected. I have worked hard to be where I am. Nobody gave me those sergeant stripes, I earned them!”

Realizing that the tall woman was about to go ballistic, Jim pulled her back in the most efficient way he could. “Calm down, Morgan. The last thing we need is Shannon running over here trying to kiss away your boo-boo.”

This made the detective laugh, and the tension drained from her. “Sorry. I guess I got a little heated.”

Jim held up his thumb and index finger, holding them very close together. “Just a little.”

Morgan shook off the annoyance and changed the subject to something a little more pleasant. “Brain is coming to visit in about three weeks.”

This made Jim smile from ear to ear. “That's great news. I haven't seen him in six months.”

“Neither have we. Shannon is about to explode, she is so excited.”

“I really miss the little guy.” Then Jim had to correct himself. “Well, he's not so little anymore, is he?”

“You really have to put it into perspective, Jim. No, he's no longer shorter than Shannon, but at five-seven, he's still a shrimp to me,” she said with a bit of arrogance.

That's when Jim swelled up to his full height and towered over Morgan. “And at six feet, you're still a shrimp to me.”

“That's just not fair, Jim,” Morgan whined. “You don't have to have his back when he's on the other side of the world.”

“Now, that's where you're wrong. Brain is like another son to me. That means I'll always have his back.”

Morgan's smile was melancholy. “You were always great with him.”

“He was a good kid, just a little nervous.”

“And he had trust issues,” Morgan added.

Jim looked over at Shannon. “They both did.”

He flipped a few burgers and nodded in Shannon's direction. “I remember the first night we saw that little imp.” He corrected himself. “I caught a glimpse of her. I didn't actually get to see her until three days later.”

A smile pulled at the corner of Morgan's lips. “It's a night I'll never forget. When I caught up with her in the sand…everything changed for me. In that moment I was reborn.”

It always warmed Jim's heart to hear the way Morgan spoke about Shannon. Seeing how happy they were was a constant reassurance that he had made the right decision all those years ago to help the young runaway and her little brother stay together.

Jim snorted. “In that moment you almost lost your career.”

“There was that too, but it would have been worth it.”

“Is Shannon the reason why you are so head-strong about these missing girls?”

“No, well at least not at first, but she's been having trouble sleeping,” she looked into Jim's eyes. “This case has brought back a few bad memories for her, and that has made me realize that anything could have happened to her, Jim. I…I can't stand the thought of her being forced into prostitution, and Brian out on the chicken circuit.”

In his thirty years on the job, Jim had seen some terrible things, but young girls and boys strolling the avenue, selling their bodies for someone else's profit wasn't the worst of it. And not for the first time, he was happy that it had been him and Morgan that answered the call that night and not some other unit. Because after spending a decade getting to know Shannon and Brian, he knew that life on the corner would have been a torturous existence for the softhearted siblings.

“Well, thanks to you, super woman, that wasn't their fate,” Jim said, wanting to lighten the mood.

“Yeah, with your help. I can't thank you and Maureen enough for stepping in and volunteering to supervise Brian's care.”

Jim smacked her on the shoulder, nearly pitching her into the grass. “The three of you have thanked us plenty.”


Maureen could feel that Shannon's energy was a little low, and wondered if she was okay. “How have you been, Shannon?”

“I…okay, I guess.”

The way she answered let Maureen know there was something wrong, and she could tell that Shannon wanted to talk. She looked over at Rita, and wondered if she should have invited her new neighbor over today.

Rita, for her part, picked up on Maureen's concern. She could see that the women needed to have a private conversation, so she stood up to excuse herself.

“Well, Maureen. I think I'll be getting home. Thank you for inviting me over.” She looked to Shannon. “It was nice to meet you, Shannon…you and Morgan.”

Shannon felt a strange twinge run down her spine when the older woman said Morgan's name. The way she pronounced it was almost like a caress.

“Rita, please stay. You don't need to leave.”

Gray-colored eyes held a hint of concern. “It seems like there is something you need to discuss with Maureen, I don't want to get in the way of that.”

Shannon wasn't ashamed of her past. She felt like it had made her a stronger person, but she didn't make it a habit to tell everyone she met what her childhood had been like. But there was something about Rita Shaw that put her at ease.

“No. I mean, yes. I want to talk to Maureen, but it's nothing you can't hear.”

The older woman sat back down, and poured herself another glass of tea, hoping to make Shannon more comfortable by somehow blending in with her surroundings.

Now that her guest was resettled, Maureen addressed Shannon. “Tell me what's on your mind?”

“It's silly really. Morgan has been working on a missing girl's case, and I just started on an abuse case that involve two little girls, and…and I think it has triggered something, because lately, I've had a few bad dreams.”

Maureen looked concerned. “What are the particulars of your case.”

“Well, there are two sisters…”

When Shannon finished the story, both of the older women were appalled.

“Pig,” Rita said.

This made Shannon smile. I think I like this lady.

“Shannon, if you don't mind my asking…if these type of cases disturb you so much why don't you transfer to another department?”

“That's a good question, Rita, but I won't do that. Child Protective Services is my passion.” She held Rita's gaze. “When I was younger the Department of Social Services played a huge part in the lives of me and my brother.”

Shannon went on to tell Rita about her childhood, and the day she met Morgan. When she stopped talking, Rita Shaw was thoroughly impressed with the actions of both of the young women. “And how is your brother?”

Shannon's face began to glow. “Brian is great. He is an officer in the air force, stationed in Japan.” At this point her smile became even brighter. “And he will be home for a visit in a few weeks.”

“Now, that's fantastic! I can't wait to see Brian.” Maureen felt like one of her children was coming home.

By the time Shannon and Brian came into their lives, Jim and Maureen's children were out of the house. Their twenty-three year old son had graduated from the University of Southern California, and had loved the area so much, he stayed on the west coast. Their twenty-one year old daughter had followed her brother across the country, and had informed her parents that, like her brother, she would make California her home.

So, Maureen had the time, and the desire to drop-in on Morgan and Shannon to check up on the twelve year-old boy. And just like her husband, on their first meeting, she felt a maternal pull toward the two children. It wasn't too long after, that the Reynolds siblings became a part of the Driscoll family.

“And I'm sure he can't wait to see you, Maureen. You spoiled him rotten.” Shannon teased.

Two strong hands settled on Shannon's shoulders, before she felt a whisper of a kiss on the top of her head.

“If I remember correctly, you got your fair share of spoiling too.”

Shannon looked over her shoulder into teasing blue eyes. “Yeah, and most of it came from you.”

Rita sat and silently watched the interaction between the young couple and realized. I like them.

Chapter Fourteen

“I'll show those buttheads, busy work,” Morgan said as she walked into the Boy Toy. Jim's comments over the weekend had lit a fire under her, and it was blazing. She would show them why they should never underestimate Morgan McCray.

She was in one of the city's only male strip clubs…and hating it, but she had made arrangements to meet with one of her informants, and this was the location the woman had chosen. It was only because Peggy usually had good information that she had agreed to walk into the place.

It took her eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dim lighting, and once they did, it was easy to spot Peggy. The redhead looked a bit haggard in his light. She was well pass her prime, a little too old to still be out on the stroll, but as long as she thought she could make a buck, that's where she would stay.

The closer the detective got to the table, she noticed small changes in the hooker. The red hair was styled in an outdated up do, her blue eyes had lost their sparkle, and her skin didn't hold the glow of rejuvenation that it had just a few years before. But she was a good lady. She'd been a big help to Morgan when she was investigating her very first cold case, and the detective would always appreciate and respect her for the time she had sacrificed to do it. When she reached the table, Morgan greeted Peggy with a warm smile.

“Thanks for meeting me, Peg.”

“Hey, we go way back, Morgan, it ain't no problem.”

The detective looked around the place, and scrunched up her nose like she smelled something bad. “Why are we meeting here?”

Peggy didn't answer right away, instead she took a moment to admire one of the young men dancing on the stage, then she took a sip of her drink. “I'm a little ashamed to admit that there are times when I enjoy watching men debase themselves for a dollar.”

Silently observing, as the man thrust his hips and rubbed his hands over his chest, Morgan turned her nose up again. “I don't get these places,” she said with a bit of disgust.

“That's ‘cause you're a dyke, honey pot.”

Morgan rolled her eyes. “I don't think being gay has anything to do with it.”

“You trying to tell me if it was a pair of perky tits up there swinging around, instead of a crotch full of man meat you wouldn't be just a little less judgmental?”

Morgan gave the question honest consideration. “No, I would still be offended.” Then her blue eyes twinkled. “But not as much.”

After Morgan paid for Peggy's second drink, the detective got down to business. “Over the last several months a few girls have gone missing. I'm not sure what has happened to them, but we suspect human trafficking. I was hoping that you could tell me something, maybe give me a lead.”

Peggy stared sideways at the good-looking detective. “Since when do you look for the living?”

“Since a week ago. I got temporarily reassigned,” was said with irritation.

“Who did you piss off?”

“Nobody. Believe it or not, my Captain put me on this because he thinks I can help.”

Peggy gave the detective a genuine smile. “I'm not surprised, Morgan. You're a bright girl.”

For some inexplicable reason, the compliment brought pinpricks to the back of Morgan's eyes. It almost felt like she was being praised by her mother. Morgan looked at Peggy, and had to concentrate on regaining her composure. This was not her mother, and to her knowledge, Peggy wasn't anyone's mother. Morgan knew she needed to get her head back to the business at hand. I guess Shannon isn't the only one being affected by this case.

“Peggy, have you heard anything about girls going missing?”

The redhead sipped her drink, thinking about the rumors she'd heard on the street. “Well, not about missing girls specifically, but there is something. Do you remember that couple up in Baltimore that was hooking out those little girls back in oh-six?”

“No.” she made a mental note to look up that case. “What about them?”

“Word has it they're back, and in need of a full house. But this time they ain't offering weed and condoms as incentive.”

“What's the pull this time?”

“Ain't no pull, Morgan.” Peggy became sad. “Those bastards are just taking girls off the street, drugging them up, and putting them to work in their house. Or throwing them on a boat in the harbor, sending them up north.”

“Nobody is reporting them missing?”

“Well, some of them was already hooking, so, they ain't really missing, just had a forced change of location.”

Morgan wasn't sure if there was a delicate way to ask her question, so she just came out with it. “Peggy, if the girls are hooking on the streets, isn't working out of a house a lot better?”

“You are too cute for words, Morgan, but no. We ain't talking about the Bunny Ranch, where everything is a nice clean partnership. We're talking about girls doing as many Johns, in as many different ways as he paid for, until the pieces of shit that run the house says she can take a break.”


“Damn, is right.”

“Do you know where they are keeping these girls, Peggy?”

“No, but if I was you I'd try the truck stop up on exit thirty-four. It's always crawling with lot-jockeys in training. If you can figure out a way to get one of them away from their watcher long enough to talk to her, you might get lucky.”

This was encouraging news, and it fell right into Morgan's plans. I guess it's a good thing I'm about to start a sting. Now I know which truck stop to use to set up camp, Morgan thought.

“Thanks, Peggy. I owe you one.” Morgan put a ten-dollar bill on the table, in case Peggy wanted another drink, then she got up to leave.

“You wouldn't owe me anything if you'd let me give you a freebie, Morgan.” She held up her hand to stop the response that was almost a mantra for the dark woman. “I know, I know. You're a happily married woman.”

“That's right,” was said with a loving smile.

Peggy sat and watched the striking woman leave, and sighed. “Wish I was somebody's happily married.”


Morgan drove to Smokey's Truck Stop, off of exit thirty-four, and after pulling into a parking space, she saw why this location was used for training. Three sides of the lot had a huge white wall around it, forming a barrier. The only way in or out was to either climb over the twenty-foot high retaining wall, or walk out of the front entrance, which was impossible to do without being noticed. It was an easy place to keep watch on your girls, and ensure they couldn't escape.

Morgan was about to get out and take a look around, but when she took inventory of her clothes, she realized that the dark, two-piece suit and black leather loafers would be a dead giveaway, announcing to everyone in the place that she was a cop. So she opted to sit in her car and observe the habits of the drivers.

There were several trucks parked along the back and side walls of the truck stop, some with the engines still in idle gear, others sitting silent and dark. After a couple of hours of observation, a pattern became obvious to Morgan. She began to notice the driver's habits. A few of them would eat in the restaurant before leaving, others would pull into the lot, buy gas and a cup of coffee, then leave, then there were the drivers Morgan found the most interesting. The men that would park for a few hours, or the entire night. Some would use the time to rest, others would use the time for more lustful reasons. These were the drivers she paid the most attention to.



Morgan knew she was getting home later than usual, but the time she had spent at the truck stop was worth it. Now she had a better understanding of what she needed to do. She smiled to herself. Being out there was so much more informative than reading a report.


The annoyed blonde appeared with a towel wrapped around her damp head, and a thick robe covering her body. Seeing the state of undress her wife was in, Morgan realized she had been in the shower.

“I'm right here! What are you bellowing about?”

Morgan moved into Shannon's personal space, and kissed her soundly, hoping intimate act would get her out of hot water. When she felt fleece covered arms wrap themselves around her neck, she knew that she was forgiven.

“Mmm…you taste good,” Shannon moaned.

Morgan nipped at the pink lips. “So do you.”

Shannon stepped out of the embrace and tilted her head. “What's up? And why are you late?”

The haze of desire immediately gave way to excitement. “Shannon, I've found the spot that I'm going to use to set up my operation.”

The huge smile and shinning eyes made Morgan look like a little girl, and it caused Shannon to smile in reflex. “That's great news, sweetheart.”

“It sure is.”

“Is that why you're late.”

“Yep, I went out there to check the place out.”

“So I'm guessing you liked what you saw?”

“I did. I watched long enough to see the trucker's routine, and I think I'm going to set the operation to start next week.”

The dark woman's enthusiasm was becoming contagious. “I'm so proud of you, sweetheart. Tell me what you've been up to.”

“Shannon, it was pretty amazing, I mean, once you know what you're looking for it's all very obvious, but until you see it for what it is, it looks like the drivers and their ride-along passengers are doing nothing more than settling in for a few hours rest.”

“So, what you saw makes you confident enough to start next week?”

“Yes, the things I witnessed gave me a better understand of what I've been reading.”

“If you're going to start next week, I guess that means you have decided who you want on your team?”

Morgan blushed a little. “Yeah, it came to me today while I watched those guys. I'm going to ask the Captain to let be borrow Jim for a few weeks.

When Shannon looked like she was about to protest, Morgan held up her hand. “Hear me out.”

Shannon made herself comfortable on the sofa, and pulled Morgan down beside her. “I'm listening.

“Okay, I want you to get a mental picture of Jim.”

Shannon closed her eyes, and once the picture was formed, she nodded her head.

“Now, slap a John Deer cap on his head, and a flannel shirt and blue jeans on his body. You can't tell me that big ol' lumberjack couldn't pass for a trucker.”

Shannon's eyes flew open, and the next several minutes were spent with both women trying to recover from several bouts of laughter. Once the tears had been wiped away, and the stomach cramps had eased, Shannon agreed with her wife.

“I can see your point, but if you ever tell Jim I agreed with you, you and your right hand will become very intimate friends, for a long, long time.”

“You would hold out on me?”

“In a heartbeat.”

“Fine, my lips are sealed.”

Shannon kissed Morgan on the lips, and ran her tongue across the seam. “Don't seal them too tight. I might need them to report for duty later.”

“Why wait for later? Now is really good time,” Morgan murmured into the warm neck she had buried her face in. She started running her hands up Shannon's sides, with every intention of loosening the belt that was holding her robe closed, and making contact with the smooth, silky skin she knew was waiting there.

“Because, I have things to do,” Shannon said in a breathless voice.

Morgan's hand eventually found it's way into Shannon's robe, and the way the large hand was caressing the soft skin of her belly was reeking havoc with her senses.

“You don't sound like there is something you'd rather be doing,” was whispered into a rapidly blushing ear.

When no other protests were made, Morgan let her hand slip further down Shannon's body until she reached blonde curls that were damp from a reason not related to bathing.

“Open your legs for me, baby.”

Shannon's thighs parted so quickly that Morgan almost laughed.

Long fingers moved in and slowly separated the moist lips they encountered. When she felt the hardness of Shannon's swollen nub, she began to circle it. That's when Shannon turned her face into Morgan's throat and started rocking her hips.

“You like that, don't you, baby?”

Shannon just nodded her head, and began to pant.

“You want me to go inside?”

There was no answer, but Shannon's legs did spread wider apart.

Morgan wasn't interested in teasing her spouse, she was still fully dressed, and they were making out on the sofa. This was what she considered a quickie, so she didn't waste any time. Her long fingers slipped inside the waiting entrance, and her thumb pressed down on the engorged clit, sending Shannon's hips off of the sofa.

A strong grip was felt on Morgan's wrist, holding her in place, as Shannon attached her lips to Morgan's neck, sucking so hard she knew she was leaving a mark. When the rhythm picked up Morgan knew that it wouldn't be long.

“Come for me, baby.”

Almost immediately Morgan felt the muscles surrounding her fingers tighten, and guttural noises began coming from Shannon's throat as she pumped harder on the long fingers imbedded inside of her.

When Morgan's hand filled with her wife's passion, she experience a mini orgasm of her own. Finally, when she felt the hold on her wrist loosen, she slowly removed her fingers and raised them to her mouth, and began to slowly lick them clean. She felt great satisfaction as Shannon's eyes began to darken while she watched.

“You're an evil woman,” Shannon choked out.

“But you love me any way,” was whispered back.

Without saying anything, Shannon stood up, and pulled Morgan with her.

“Where are we going,” the bewildered detective asked.

“I need another shower. I was hoping you would wash my back.”

Clothes started flying in every direction as the eager to accommodate detective followed her wife down the hallway.

“Just call me Sponge Bob,” was said as long fingers wiggled, and a lascivious grin appeared.

Chapter Fifteen

Kathy remained silent as she watched her friend being led into the living room. Ginny looked thin, haggard, and slightly bruised, but on the up side, she was wearing clean clothes and appeared to be freshly bathed. When Ginny saw her friend she almost voiced her excitement, but Kathy gave a slight shake of the head, signaling Ginny to stay quiet.

Now I can't even say hello to my friend? This is like being in jail, she mentally complained.

She had finally stopped crying and whining for her freedom and her mother, but the girl still needed discipline in other areas. Today she was going to be sent to the truck stop, and there, maybe she would learn that there could be an easier side to things. A side where she didn't have to be forced to submit. A side where, if she just did her job without complaints she would have more freedom.

Tammy entered the room and Ginny's anger began to boil at the sight of the woman who had played a part in her abduction. She opened her mouth, prepared to verbally rip the woman a new one, when she felt a tug on her arm.

“Will you calm the fuck down,” Kathy whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

“But it's her fault we're here.” The girl hadn't been out of the basement for five minutes, and was already falling back into her annoying habit of whining.

“It you want to see the sun you'd better shut up until we get to where we're going,” Kathy warned.

Ginny craved the outdoors. The days she had spent in the dark had been a nightmare, so the promise of daylight was enough incentive to make her keep her mouth shut…for now


Tammy was passing out condoms and giving instructions. Now that she was at the truck stop Ginny was getting anxious about what she was expected to do. When their watcher was out of earshot Ginny turned to her friend.

“I don't think I can do this, Kathy.”

Kathy gritted her teeth and spoke harshly. “I don't have time for this shit, Ginny.” Kathy lit up a joint and pulled in a lung full of smoke. “Now, you can either take a few hits of this, and do what we have to do, or you can take your ass back to the basement.”

Her limit had been reached. As far as Kathy was concerned Ginny's head was as thick as a brick, and her memory as short as a goldfish. If the way she was acting was any indication, no one would think she had spent the last few of weeks locked away in the dark being brutalized.

“What did I do to you?” Ginny whined, hurt that her friend was being so hard with her.

“Look around you, Ginny. This ain't Disneyworld. We are in some serious shit here, I don't have the energy to baby you. It's hard enough for me to hold myself up, I can't carry you too. ”

The anger soared, and Ginny was practically spitting. “You don't think I fucking know that?! I'm not asking you to carry me, all I was looking for was a little understanding.”

“What do you want me to understand, Ginny? Do you want me to rub your back and tell you how hard this must be for you? Well, fuck that. It's hard for everybody.”

Ginny was becoming more irritated. “Do you have any idea what I've been through?!” she yelled.

Kathy just stared at the screaming girl. There was still a faint bruise on her face from the punch she had received three weeks before, so the older girl had a very good idea of what Kathy had been through, but she felt like the girl had brought most of it on herself. All that attitude she was giving, she got back in spades.

“Yeah, I know what you've been through, Ginny, and if you don't get your ass in gear you're gonna go through it again.”

“Bitch,” Ginny sneered.

“Cunt,” Kathy returned.

The standoff was broken when Tammy ordered them into the tractor trailer that was used for communication. “Come on, you tricks, get your asses in the truck. There's money to be made.”

The teenage girls glared at each other, but followed the older woman's order.


After two hours of going out on dates everyone heard a piercing scream echoing through the truck stop, and Kathy's heart began to pound. Something inside of her was saying that the sound of agony had something to do with Ginny.

If any of that stupid bitch's stink rubs off on me I'll black her other eye, was Kathy's thought as she joined the others running toward the truck that Ginny had been sent to.

When they got close enough to see one of the drivers stagger out of his truck holding his crotch. Tammy didn't waste any time. Trying to figure out who did what and why would have to wait until later. All she knew was that someone from her house had caused injury, and they had to get out of there. She quickly rounded up her girls, and headed back to the house.

When she had her hands on Ginny she cuffed the girl in the back of the head. Whatever she had done was going to force them to change locations, and not only that, it was going to cut into profits for a while. Word would get around that there was a crazy lot-jockey on the loose, and the truckers would become a little more cautious, and spending a lot less cash.

The girl would pay…she would pay dearly.



Chapter Sixteen

“So, this one begs me to leave the safe clean environment of my office to come out and suffer through weeks of sitting in a hot musty truck, picking up hot musty women.”

The women at the table laughed.

Maureen had prepared a light supper of cold cuts and crudités, and invited the girls over to help her and Jim eat the platters of food. Shannon and Morgan had readily accepted the invite, relieved that they wouldn't need to figure a dinner menu for themselves.

At the last minute Maureen decided to included Rita in the gathering. There was a veil loneliness that surrounded the woman. Not a full-on dark cloud of misery, but there was enough grayness floating around her to cause Maureen to want to include her. Looking at her now, the joy radiating from her gray eyes, she knew she had made the right decision.

“Now, we're three weeks into it, and this one,” Jim points to Morgan. “Hasn't made one arrest.”

“It hasn't felt right yet,” Morgan defended.

“Well, it better feel right soon, ‘cause if girls keep coming to that truck and getting turned down, our cover is gonna be blown.”

“I know, I know, but you saw it just like I did. None of the girls were going to give up any information…they were too afraid.”

“I agree, but we need to make an arrest soon, or move to a different location. We've already rotated through four different trucks…twice. And how many times can I say the girl isn't my type? Come on, Morgan, I'm supposed to be a trucker. They could be toothless and still be my type.”

Again, the women seated around the table laughed.

Rita looked at Morgan, and got her attention. “Do you enjoy your job, Morgan?”

“Yes. Yes I do, but I must admit, this is new for me.”

A raised brow. “Oh? I thought you had been in law enforcement for a number of years.”

“I have. What I mean is, working this kind of case is new for me.”

“Really? What is it that you usually do?”

Jim sat silently watching the exchange between his neighbor and Morgan. Each word that came out of Morgan's mouth, the woman practically ate with a spoon. Strange, he thought.

“I work in the cold case unit.”

“And you like that better?”

“I thought I did,” she answered with a question hanging on the end.

Jim was amazed. Morgan loved the puzzling together of the cold cases she worked on. “You thinking about a change, Morgan?”

A shrugged shoulder. “I don't know…maybe.”

“What makes the type of investigating you're doing now, interesting to you?” Rita asked.

“I…I guess it's the humanity of it…or, should I say the inhumanity of it.” She looked Rita in the eyes, and held the older woman there for a few long beats. “I wasn't happy when my Captain gave me that missing girl's case. I was even less happy when I had to work with the task force,” she rolled her eyes. “And when I was told I had to head up a sting, you could have fried an egg on top of my head, I was so angry. But the last three weeks that I've spent doing this, it's been eye-opening and very painful. The way these girls have been thrown away, it's awful…and I think I want to do something about it.”

Rita looked like she was about to say something, but Shannon spoke up before she could voice her opinion.

“It makes you wonder what kind of mother these poor girls had. I mean, where were they when their daughter's needed them?”

Feeling defensive, Rita addressed Shannon. “Didn't you say that your mother was an alcoholic, and unavailable to you and your brother? But, I don't see you out on the streets prostituting yourself because mommy wasn't there…mothers aren't always the blame for a child's shortcomings, or the reason for their successes.”

Shannon looked as if she had been slapped in the face. The comment was totally unexpected, catching her off guard and sending a sharp pain through her chest.

Morgan saw the subtle changes in her spouse's face and knew Rita had hit a sore spot. “You just crossed a line, Rita,” she said in a tight voice.

Rita flinched from the look in ice blue eyes. “I…I'm sorry. I meant no harm.”

Shannon reached over and squeezed Morgan's hand, hoping the contact would calm her down, but the gentle touch only served to make the woman more determined to defend her mate.

“Where do you get off throwing Shannon's mother in her face. You have no idea what that harpy's lack of participation did to her. You don't think mothers should be held responsible when they do crappy things to their children?”

“I…I didn't say that, Morgan.”

The detective couldn't hear the regretful woman over the sound of her pounding heartbeat.

“You should be there on the nights that Shannon can't sleep because the nightmares are too vivid…she doesn't deserve that. You should get a look inside my head on the days when I'm tormented, wondering why my mother left me with a father who's love for me was both, precious and revolting at the same time. It was very confusing trying to decide whether to love him or hate him, so, in the end I chose to stay away from him. You know what else, Rita? I have two brothers that I never ever speak to. You know why?” She didn't wait for an answer. “Because they are poison. As uncouth as my father is, my brothers are worse. At least my dad has an idea of what love is. But Kevin and Philip? I wouldn't let them near a puppy, I would be too afraid they would kick it for fun.”

Rita was cringing now. She had no idea she had stumbled into an emotional minefield this littered with debris.

“So, please don't talk to me about when a mother should or shouldn't be held accountable for what goes wrong in a child's life, because sometimes, it doesn't manifest itself in drug addiction or prostitution. Sometimes the scars are emotional…and they run deep.”

Everyone at the table sat frozen. Rita's eyes glistening with unshed tears. The speech had been totally unexpected and shocking to everyone, especially to Morgan.

“I…I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…” Rita stopped talking, too choked up to continue. She quickly jumped up from her seat, and went running out of the front door before anyone could stop her.

“That went well,” Jim deadpanned.

“I'm sorry, Maureen. I didn't mean to run your guest away,” Morgan apologized.

Maureen waved her hand in the air. “It'll be fine.” She looked at the two young women that she loved like they were her own daughters. “How are the two of you doing?”

“I'm fine,” Shannon answered. “My hero jumped in.” She ran her hand over Morgan's warm, red cheek. “How are you?”

“I…I'm okay.” She took Shannon's hand and pulled it to her lips for a soft kiss. “I don't know what came over me, but I think I owe Rita an apology.”

Jim piped in. “I wouldn't worry about it. She looks like a tough old bird, I'm sure she can handle it.”

Maureen gave her husband a reprimanding look. Jim held up two big hands. “Hey, I'm just saying.”

Shannon was still concentrating on her spouse. “I didn't know you felt that strongly about your family. You've got to stop keeping it all. You know I'm here for you.”

“I know, sweetheart, but you've got your own stuff to deal with.” Morgan got a curious look on her face. “Besides, I don't usually keep stuff in. What I'm saying is, the issues with my family are not constantly on my mind, but there was something about the way she said mothers aren't responsible for things, well…it kinda rubbed me the wrong way.”

Maureen stood up and went to the refrigerator. She pulled out four beers and four glasses. After setting them down on the table she bent her head in Shannon and Morgan's direction.

“I know you girls don't usually drink, but the recent display of high emotions has left me in need of something a little stronger than papaya juice.

“You're getting no complaints from me,” Morgan said as she twisted the cap off the bottle she was given and poured the beer into a glass.

“Me either,” Shannon echoed.

Jim bypassed the glass and drank his beer straight from the bottle. Enjoying the crisp cold flavor.

“I'll be glad when Brian gets here,” he said, rolling the bottle across his forehead. “Because hanging out with women all of the time is starting to make me feel peri-menopausal.”

The three women stared at him for a beat, then they broke out in laughter.

“Maureen, did you teach him that term?” Shannon asked through tears.

The older woman was wiping her eyes. “I don't know where he picks this stuff up from. Maybe he's been watching Oprah reruns.”

“What?” Jim asked. “It's true. I get hot flashes and everything.”

The laughter continued.

Jim ignored them, and stood up to get another beer.

“Women,” he said under his breath.

Chapter Seventeen

Morgan was getting dressed for her weekly task force meeting, mumbling under her breath as she slipped on her black leather loafers. Practicing her opening speech was turning into a pain in the butt.

Shannon walked in and sat on the bed beside her spouse. “What are you in here fussing about?” she asked as she reached over to straighten the detective's collar.

Morgan tilted her head back giving Shannon the room she needed to finish the job. “Oh, I'm just trying to decide if I'm gonna open with, good morning, buttheads, or kiss my ass, dip-sticks. Considering they think this entire operation is a waste of time, and have sent me out to run around in circles chasing my tail, I think one or the other would be appropriate.”

“I wouldn't go with either one of those, sweetheart.” Shannon brushed imaginary dust from the shoulder of her wife's dark suit and stood between her legs. “How about, good morning, I'm only going to take up a few minutes of your time…yada, yada, yada.”

Morgan rested her hands on Shannon's hips, and softened her features. “What about…good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about the love of my life.”

Shannon leaned down and gave Morgan a deep kiss. “You're a real sweet talker, Morgan McCray.”

Morgan pulled Shannon closer and rested her head on the standing woman's breast. “Sweet has nothing to do with it. I love you, and those words aren't big enough to express how feel about you, Shannon.”

Morgan seemed unusually vulnerable, and Shannon wanted to know why. Soft hands ran through dark locks, offering comfort. “This isn't about the task force meeting is it?”

The dark head shook in the negative.

“Is this is about the phone call last night?”

The dark head nodded.

“You can change your mind, love. You don't have to go and see your father if you don't want to.”

“I know,” came the muffled response.

“Are you sure about this, sweetheart?” Shannon was feeling her lover's unease, and it was making her feel a little anxious too.

Morgan raised her head and ran her fingers down Shannon's cheek. “Yes, love.”

“But…are you going to be okay? He won't hurt you will he?”

Morgan chuckled good-naturedly, realizing she had transferred her feelings of uncertainty. “I know I'm acting like a big baby, but he is my father, so, no, he is not going to hurt me.” At least not physically, she thought.

“I could come with you.”

“I'll be fine, baby. I promise.”

“Well, if you're sure…but if you need me, call me. I'll be there before you can hang up the phone.”

“I'll keep that in mind.”

“I know I'm being silly, but in the ten years that I've known you your father has never called, come over for a visit, or sent you a card or a letter. It just makes me wonder what he has up his sleeve?”

“Me too. That's why I'm going. Something made him want to see me. I have to find out what it is.”

“You be extra careful, sweetheart. You know the saying, curiosity killed the cat. Don't get too inquisitive.”

“That is true, but remember the rest of it. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.”

Shannon laughed and checked the time. “Well, it's almost eight-thirty and I need to get out of here.” She kissed Morgan one last time. “You call me if you need me, baby, and I'll drop whatever it is I'm doing and come running.”

Morgan looked deep into Shannon's eyes and swam there for a few precious moments. “I know she whispered.”


Her meeting was over, and now, she was headed for her father's house to meet with a man she felt like she no longer knew. As she drove along her mind flooded with memories. Memories of better days…

“Higher, daddy, push me higher,” the little dark-haired girl requested as her glossy braids blew back behind her, caught in the wind, while her two front missing teeth let the breeze enter her mouth as her father pushed her higher in the park swings.


“I can't push you too high, Morgan, I don't want you to fall out of the swing.”


“I won't, daddy. I'll be real careful and hold on tight,” the six-year-old reassured her father.


“My girl is tough, huh?”


The swing flew higher, and the little girl giggled. “Yep, I'm tough, just like you, daddy,” she yelled as she swung back waiting for the tall man to push her again.


“So, you want to be like your dad?”


“Yep, just like you, daddy,” the conversation continued as the swing soared. “I even look like you,” she beamed as she flew by.


The dark-haired man smiled wide. “That's right, Morgan. You're my tough little twin.”


“Yeah, that's me,” Morgan said back in the present. “Michael McCray's tough twin.”

She pulled her car in front of a house she hadn't visited for twelve years, and sat there. She wasn't ready to see him…not yet. Old memories were still fresh in her head, and she was chasing them around. When did it happen? She wondered. When did he stop being my daddy? Another memory came to her, one that took place years after the park swing.

“I'm not gonna do it, dad, so stop asking.”


“Come on, Morgan. Why not?”


The sixteen-year-old looked at her father like he was crazy. “Duh, because it's illegal?”


The tall man shrugged his shoulders. “So what. Anybody that's ever gotten anywhere in this would did something crooked to get there.”


Morgan rolled her eyes. “You're pathetic if you believe that.”


“Then I guess I'm pathetic…and so are your brothers.”


Morgan threw her hands into the air. “Don't bring those degenerates up to me.”


“Fine,” Michael McCray said. “But I still need you to do that thing for me.”


She looked at the man for long moments, trying to figure him out. “You seriously want me to break into the high school and steal the computers?”


“Yeah, it would be a nice little job to break you in on. I'll even let you keep the money we make off of the sale.”


Morgan turned her nose up in a sneer. “You disgust me.”


She turned and walked away, deciding then and there that as soon as she was old enough she would leave to be on her own. She walked away from her father with determined steps, and never looked back.


“Oh, yeah, now I remember when he stopped being daddy.” Morgan said. “It was when he tried to become my crime boss.”

It wasn't the first time he had tried to talk her into doing something illegal, and it wasn't the last, but it was the day she decided to separate herself from her father, and become her own person.

Morgan eventually got out of the parked car and started a slow trail up the sidewalk. She looked around at the freshly cut lawn, the colorful flowerbed, and the shiny new car in the driveway. To the outside world it all looked so…normal.

“What a croc,” she said under her breath, before climbing the steps onto the porch, before slamming down the doorknocker with enough force to be heard all the way in the backyard.

When the door opened, there in front of her stood her father, and much to her disappointment the old thug looked just as handsome as ever. A few gray hairs were liberally sprinkled in his formally dark head, a little more than there were when she saw him a year and a half ago. His body was in great shape, all muscular and broad and he still sported what she referred to as his porno mustache, but other than the mustache, Michael McCray still struck an impressive figure.

She saw him move to pull her into an embrace, but when her body visibly stiffened he changed direction and stepped aside inviting her in instead.

“Well, the prodigal daughter returns, come on in.”

“I'm not returning, I'm here at your request,” she said with a clip to her voice.

“Damn, Morgan don't it make your head hurt to stay so pissed for so long. Shit you ain't been home in twelve years, don't you feel nothing being here?”

Blue eyes scanned the room she walked into and was shocked to see a few things from her childhood still on display on the bookshelf. A medal won for track and field, a woodcarving made in art class. Michael watched as his daughter made her way over to the huge wall unit and picked up a gold frame that held the first award she'd ever received. It was a science award that she'd been given when she was seven years-old, and logged the progress of a potato taking root in a cup. She ran the tip of her finger across the top of it and then traced her name.

Seeing how she responded to the aged prize he smiled behind her back. Kevin was right, that old piece of crap was a sweet touch, he thought. That boy is a chip off the old block, he beamed.

“See? We still think about you around here. We miss seeing you, you should come over for a visit sometime.”

Morgan returned the frame to the shelf, but didn't face the man. “It's not like I haven't seen you guys in twelve years. I just haven't been in this house for twelve years.”

Michael shrugged his shoulders. “That's out in the street, it ain't the same thing.”

Morgan felt her hackles begin to rise, this smelled like a setup. Morgan turned to face her father. “What's the game, dad? Why am I here?”

The tall man placed his hands over his heart. “Now I'm hurt. Maybe I just wanted to see my baby girl.” Even as he said it Michael knew that Morgan wasn't going to fall for the we are family act. His other son, Philip, had warned him about that tactic.

“Dad, Morgan's been working with the State Police for the past twelve years. She ain't gonna fall for that sappy shit. Especially from you, you always lay it on too thick. A blind man could see the scam coming.”


I guess the boy was right, so Michael decided to cut to the chase. “Okay, here goes. I here you've moved up in the world, that you're now on the human trafficking task force.”

“Aaand.” Morgan stretched it out, sounding impatient.” She didn't want him to see how much the question bothered her. The fact that he knew anything about her job raised her defenses.

“And I was wondering how that was working out for you. You know, what kinda stuff they got you working on.”

Blue eyes closed in despair. None of their past conversations had ever revolved around her job, why now? And why this particular aspect of it? She knew her father was a crook, but his endeavors had always been somewhat petty. She was hoping beyond hope that he wasn't involved in something as seedy as the flesh trade.

When she opened her eyes again she pinned irises that were just as blue as her own. “Why are you asking, dad? Are you involved with kidnapping little girls and forcing them to sell their bodies out on the street?” she asked in a light, teasing manner, trying to make it sound like she knew that it was furthest thing from the truth.

Michael gave a nervous laugh and held his hands up in front of him as he took a step back. “Hey, don't even joke about shit like that. No, I ain't into whores. I'm just asking for an associate of mine, kinda as a favor.”

“Who are you to be doing favors? Especially favors that I have to deliver on. I don't owe you that.”

“Is that what you think, Miss High and Mighty?” His daughter's superior attitude was really starting to bug him. “You think you did this all by yourself, Morgan?” her sneered.

“Yes I do,” she answered with conviction, but deep down inside she wasn't so sure. Her father never used that tone unless he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Michael let out a short barking laugh. “Really? Are you telling me you never wondered how the daughter of a known criminal could so easily become a member of the police force? Not just any police force, but the State Police Troopers.”

Morgan's face paled, and a knot formed in her gut. “No. I never wondered. ”

She knew she was lying. Over the years there had been a few occasions when she had wondered how she'd slipped through the cracks.

“You're lying, I can see it in your eyes,” he shook his head back and forth. “Always those eyes.” Now he stared at her. “It was the honesty in those eyes that told me you could never be a part of the family business,” he snorted. “You've always been a terrible bluffer. I remember when you were eighteen, and stormed in here all defiant about becoming a State Police Cadet. I admit, my first instinct was to put my foot down and tell you that wasn't going to happen, that you were going to open a hair salon, or a nail shop. But I knew you would never let me run money through one of your businesses, so I just brushed it off as a passing faze and didn't give you any grief. But when, two years later, you signed up to become a trooper, I knew you were serious. I mean it's one thing to be a cadet working at truck inspection stations, it's a whole other thing to be a trooper out in the field. I knew you would need some help”

Morgan's mind was in a windstorm. She remembered with vivid clarity the day she had come home all full of anger and attitude, announcing her plans to become a cadet. She had applied the year before, and when she became of age she was accepted. The starting salary, although minimal, was enough for her to get a cheap apartment, and claim her independence from her father and his dirty deals. But, how did he know when she changed over to trooper training?

Michael watched his daughter, and could see the wheels turning as every thought passed through her eyes. He knew she could be naïve, but to think that just because she had left his home meant that he wouldn't keep tabs on what was happening in her life was just…stupid.

Now he could see the next part of her process taking hold. The part of her mind that had always been extremely adept at solving puzzles, it was now doing some serious work. That thing inside of her that had always compelled her to figure things out was one of the reasons she was so successful as a cold case detective. The woman wouldn't let things go until she had explored every angle of it. But, Michael didn't have the time it would take to see the mental process through to it's completion, so he interrupted her train of thought, and finished his story.

“When I realized that this was really going to be your career path I knew I needed to do something before you took that next step.” He looked at his daughter with a bit of mischief in his eyes. “You see, by then our interests had expanded into other areas, and I knew another background check would create a few problems for you. So, I went down to the cop shop to pay the Major a little visit…and a lot of money.”

Morgan couldn't believe what she was hearing. Major Daniels had long since retired, but she'd always thought the old man to be an honest cop. She looked at her father with disbelief.

Misreading the look as stunned gratitude, Michael held up a hand. “Now, don't get all sentimental on me. What I did, I did mostly for me. I figured one day it would benefit me to have my kid in a position to give me a little help when I needed it…today is that day, Morgan.”

What a putz, she thought. Only my idiot father would think that was a look of appreciation. She was done with this. It was a mistake to come in the first place. She turned away with every intention of leaving the house and never returning. “I don't owe you a thing.”

Her progress was stopped when her father reached out and grabbed her by the arm. “You're gonna help me, Morgan.”

She snatched her arm away from the man. “No I'm not, and there's nothing you can say, or do to make me change my mind.”

Before the words were fully out of her mouth the image of golden sunshine and spring grass beat through her heart and carried to her eyes, causing a quick shifting of her blue orbs, and that told him another story, there was something he could do.

“Ah, ah, ah, Morgan,” he wagged his finger in front of her face. “You're lying. There is something I can do. It's something that you fear so deeply that it reveals itself every time you think about it.” He cocked his head to the side. “You're thinking about it right now…aren't you?”

Morgan just stared at him until she realized who she had just been thinking about. The person she swore she would never let anything happen to. The person she loved above all others. “Are you threatening my wife?”

Michael snorted. “Wife? Give me a break. At best you have a bed-warmer.” He waved his hands over his head indicating the nonsense of it all. “Yeah, yeah. I know the laws have changed, but people's minds haven't. Trust me. You have a bed-warmer. A nicely packaged bed-warmer, but a bed-warmer just the same.

Listen to me, Morgan, short blondes are a dime a dozen. You wouldn't even miss her once she's gone.

Hell, I'll get you one custom picked, or maybe you'd prefer one who has had enough of men. You know the type of woman I'm talking about. The kind that can't handle what a real man has to offer. The kind that only wants to spend her nights cuddling, and talking about her feelings instead of doing what she was built to do. If that is the case I can get you one of your brother's castoffs.”

Morgan didn't know how, or when it happened. All she knew was that one second her father was threatening Shannon, and the next she had pushed him against the wall, and had the barrel of her gun pressed into the soft pallet of his chin. How he knew about Shannon didn't matter. It was obvious that the man had his sources. All that mattered to her was the veiled threat.

“You go anywhere near her, dad, and I'll fucking end you.” Here, she didn't mince words. “I will kill every last one of you. I'll start with Kevin, then Philip. And after you've watched your precious sons die…I'll come for you. And when I have you, dad, I'll take my time and make it last. Then I'll take your bodies to some way-off remote place, and dig a grave so deep in the ground that it will take a construction project to find you.” She moved in closer and pressed the muzzle of the gun a little tighter to that soft spot behind his chin. She wanted to make sure that when he swallowed he had to do it around a lump of metal. “Look into my eyes, dad…am I lying?”

The truth of her threat shone bright in her eyes. He could almost see each detail as she carried out her plan. It was as plain as the gun in his throat. She would in deed kill them if anything happened to the blonde.

“No, no, I don't think you are lying. I can see that you are very serious.” When the gun didn't move, Michael tried to lighten the mood. “Hey, come on now, calm down, kiddo. You called my bluff, now put the gun away.”

The weapon was slowly returned to it's holster, and Morgan didn't speak another word. And this time when she turned to leave, her father didn't try to stop her.

When he was sure his daughter was gone, Michael slumped against the door and rubbed the sore spot in his throat. “I guess Blondie is more than a bed-warmer.” He shrugged his shoulders. “So much for using her as leverage. Guess I'll have to think of something else.”

He quickly straightened himself out and headed for the back of the house, whistling a peppy little tune as he moved along.

“Damn, that girl's a badass. I guess she's got more of me in her than she wants to admit,” he said with pride.


Morgan got as far away from her father's house as she could, before giving in to the need to pull over. She stopped her car and turned it off, then she sat, watching as the tremors in her hands rattled the steering wheel. But, it wasn't the shakes that were bothering her. She was having a problem with how she was feeling, and she was feeling frighteningly justified in her treatment of her father.

When she realized that his intentions were to harm Shannon if he found it necessary, she saw red. The thought of her family harming her tender spouse in any way filled her with such fury that she knew if they were to ever harm a hair on Shannon's head the revenge she sought would be all wrath. Blood lust driven, murderous, life ending wrath. Just thinking about it now made a ball of anger form in her gut.

“Get yourself together, Morgan. You don't want Shannon to see you like this,” she had to tell herself.

She pulled in a few deep breaths, and slowly released them. With each exhale she could feel the rage losing it's hold on her, and the knot in her belly began to unwind.

When she was sure she could face her spouse without bringing her anger into the conversation, she started the car and pulled back onto the road. After a few miles she began to feel better and started to whistle a peppy little tune.

“Boy, when I get home I have a story to tell you, babe.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I can hear it now. Morgan, how did it go?” she mimicked Shannon's voice.

“Oh, just peachy, Shannon, except for the part where I threatened to murder my father and brothers.”

She made a left turn through the intersection. “Yep…just peachy.”

Chapter Eighteen

Ever since the day she had run out of Maureen's house, Rita Shaw wanted desperately to lift the burdens of her life off of her shoulders. She'd called Maureen and asked if she could come over and talk, now she was sitting on the sofa in her living room, dressed, but unable to make herself get up and go.

The step she was about to take could create ripples that would be far-reaching, but she felt like it was something that she needed to do. She wanted Maureen to be a friend, a true friend, and in order for that to happen Rita would have to reveal a few hidden truths and stop acting like some kind of lunatic.

She sat for a few more moments before finally standing up and exhaling, preparing herself to go and meet her destiny. She opened the front door and headed out into the sunshine.

“Get a move on, old girl, it's time to pay the piper.”


When the knock sounded, Maureen opened the door to a nervous and timid looking Rita. “Come on in. I've set out some tea and cake for us.”

Rita followed Maureen into the kitchen, and took a seat at the table while Maureen brought over the teapot and cake plate. Cups and plates were distributed, and once the women were settled in, Maureen spoke.

“What's on your mind, Rita?” She still wasn't sure how she felt about the woman after she'd hurt Shannon's feelings.

“First off, I want to apologize for causing a scene the other day. That behavior is out of character for me. I…I'm not usually that volatile.”

Maureen watched the woman and she could tell from her body language that she was genuinely sorry. “What happened, Rita? Why did you bring up Shannon's mother? Especially after you heard about how the woman had treated the child?”

Instead of answering right a way, gray eyes looked at Maureen, pleading. “I need to get something off of my chest, Maureen. It's a secret I've carried around for a very long time, and it might help you to understand my reaction. I didn't mean to…to…”

Maureen could see that the woman was about to rattle apart, so she reached across the table and place a comforting hand over the one that had a slight tremor.

“You can talk to me, Rita. You can trust me.” She didn't know why she had said that, but it seemed like it was what Rita needed to hear.

“I…I don't know, Maureen, Jim being in law enforcement…I just don't know.”

That was unexpected. “Have you done something illegal?”

“No, nothing illegal, just something immoral.”

“Okay, you've got to explain that. Last time I checked immorality wasn't punishable by law, so Jim shouldn't scare you.”

This made Rita smile. “No it isn't, but in my case, maybe it should be.”

“Talk to me, Rita. Tell me what's on your mind.”

“It's a long story.”

“I've got time.”

Seeing that Maureen was ready to listen, Rita Shaw settled in with her teacup and cake plate, and began to tell her story.

“When I was seventeen years-old I met this fast talking, eighteen year-old, menace to society. And from the first moment I laid eyes on him I knew that I was going to have to think of a way to convince my parents he wasn't bad news…because I wanted him.

For our first date, he came to pick me up in a brand new, cherry red, nineteen-seventy-two GTO hardtop with honeycomb wheels, and Strato bucket seats.” The slight twitching of Maureen's lip made Rita smile. “Don't laugh, Maureen. I learned to really love that car. We had quite a few adventures in it. Anyway, he pulled up in front of my parent's house and I was waiting for him on the porch. I watched in silent awe as his long body unfolded from the sports car, and I thought, this dark, mysterious creature was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and in that moment I lost my heart.

For months he courted me in the sweetest of ways. He would buy me bouquets of flowers, and boxes of candy, and even though he wasn't the most educated young man, he would write romantic love poems in the cards he would give me. It was all so magical. He would pick me up, and we would go to the drive-in movie, or hang out with a few of his friends and their girls.

When my father finally took notice of the fancy car and flashy clothes, he asked me what a teenage boy could be doing for a living to be paid so well. I told him he was a union carpenter apprentice. But that was a lie. The young man I had fallen in love with was a petty criminal. He stole cars, broke into stores and stole electronics, you name it, if it wasn't nailed down, he stole it.

“Why did you continue to see him?”

Rita looked at Maureen like the answer should be obvious. “Because I loved him, and I justified his actions by telling myself the things he did wasn't really hurting anyone. Eventually, after we'd been dating for a couple of years, he asked me to marry him…naturally I said yes.”

“Naturally,” Maureen echoed.

Things were going pretty good, he was a great provider, and after our first year of marriage I found out I was pregnant. As the years went by our family grew, and by the time I was thirty, I lived in a big house, drove a new car and had three beautiful children. My oldest boy was ten, my youngest son was eight, and my baby girl was four.

I loved them with everything that was in me, but I was losing control of my sons. Their father wanted them to be just like him, and I knew I couldn't let that happen. For a solid year I had begged and pleaded with him to let the children be…but he refused.”

Rita became introspective. “It was the oddest thing to witness. He loved his children very much, but he didn't seem to have any concept of how he was corrupting their lives…but I did, so, I told him if he continued to try and turn my children into criminals I would turn him in, and disappear with the kids.”

Maureen made a sound in her throat like a person would make when they wanted to warn the person on the movie screen not to look behind the door.

“I guess you see my error?” Rita asked with remorse.

Maureen nodded her head. “Oh, yeah.”

“Well, I was too stupid to see it for myself. He grabbed me around my throat and slammed me against the wall. Up until that day, he had never laid a hand on me. He held me there, eyes blazing, and he told me if I ever turned him in to the police, or tried to take his children for him he would kill me.”

“Did you believe him?”

“Most definitely. All you ever had to do was look in his eyes, they always verified the truth of his words. He most definitely would have killed me, but just as another threat was about to be delivered, our daughter came in, dragging behind her this fat little stuffed bear that I had bought for her, and my husband released me. As unpredictable as he was, for reasons known only to him, his entire demeanor always soften when our daughter was near. He picked her up, and she wrapped her little arms around his neck, peppering his face with kisses.”

“It sounds like he loved her very much.'

“He did, and so did I, and as I watched them, I think he saw in my eyes what I would do if I ever got the chance. And in an instant, he made a decision that changed all of our lives.”

“What did he do?” Maureen was intrigued, never did she suspect that her neighbor had such a cloak-and-dagger past. Rita Shaw presented herself as an elegant, bridge-playing, tea drinking, widow, but the things that she was telling Maureen didn't fit that picture.

“He changed his mind.”

“Oh, my god. He tried to kill you?”

“No, but he promised that he would if I didn't leave, and never come back.”

“What did you do?”

Rita laughed without humor. “I left and never went back.”

“B…but what about your children?”

“And that is where the immoral act comes in. I knew he would kill me. When he was holding our daughter, he saw the truth of what I would do, given the opportunity…he knew that I would take her. And when our eyes met I knew I would be a dead woman if I stayed. There was absolutely no way he was going to keep a constant eye on me when it would be much easier just to get me out of the way. So, I left and tried to think of ways to get to my children. But when a man lives the kind of life that my husband did, there were eyes everywhere. I remember once, going to the school to see my youngest son on the playground, but before I could get close to the fence, I was approach by a crony and warned off.”

“My, god, Rita. What have you been doing for all of these years? How did you support yourself?”

Rita's entire face burned with shame. “I've never had to work, Maureen. My husband has always made sure that I had a substantial balance in my bank account.”

“H…he pays you an allowance, an…and you take it?”

Rita shook her head in disgrace. “Again…immoral acts.”

“How could you, Rita?”

“Oh, there's more.” Rita thought Maureen's eyes were going to pop out of her head, but she needed to cleanse her soul. “In order to keep my life…and my allowance. I had to change my name, so that my children could never find me.”

“You didn't?”

“Yes, I did. You see, Maureen. My name wasn't always Rita Shaw, twenty-six years ago my name was Sharon McCray.”

Rita waited. She knew it was going to take a moment. First, Maureen was going to wonder why that name sounded familiar, then she would go through a list of the people she knew, and finally the answer would come to her…right about…



“You are Morgan's mother!”

“Yes, I am.”

“So, Michael McCray is your husband? No wonder you don't want Jim involved.” she added as an afterthought.

“Right again.”

“Does she know? Wait, that's a silly question. Of course she doesn't know.”

“You need to calm down, Maureen, you're going to give yourself a stroke.”

Then something dawned on Maureen. “Did you move her on purpose, or was it a coincidence?”

Rita hated to have to admit the truth, but she didn't want to lie to Maureen. “I knew that you and Jim were close to Morgan, so when a house came up for sell on your block, I purchased it.”

Maureen was feeling a little betrayed…and a lot spied on. So she let some venom color her response. “You mean Michael purchased the house.”

Rita understood Maureen's anger, so she didn't react to the obvious dig. “Well, yes it was purchased with his money, but I haven't seen, or heard from Michael in over twenty years, so he had nothing to do with the actual finding, or buying of the house.”

“How did you know that we were close to Morgan?”

“I've kept tabs on her over the years, from a distance of course, but I did notice how often she visited this address. The opportunities I had to see her were sporadic, but I've been able to watch my daughter grow into a wonderful young woman…my sons on the other hand are soulless heathens.”

“Do you wish you had stayed?”

Rita thought about that question for a good long time before answering. “Yes and no.” She wasn't surprised when Maureen pulled a face, she expected it. “Yes, because I missed all of those years watching my children grow up. No, because if I had stayed I would have watched helplessly as Michael turned them into what they are anyway.”

“That's a coward's answer.”

“And isn't that what it takes for a mother to leave her children…cowardice?”

Hearing the self-deprecation, Maureen couldn't find it in her heart to condemn the woman anymore than she was already condemning herself.

“Are you going to tell Morgan?”

Rita snorted. “Not if I want to keep my life.”

“So, what are you going to do, lurk around in the shadows of her life like some kind of ominous mist?”

Rita had to laugh. “Forgive me, but your imagery is very…Hitchcockian.”

Maureen waited for an answer.

“I don't know what I'm going to do, Maureen. This is the first time in more than two decades that I've been this close to my child, and it's like nothing I could have ever dreamed of.”

“This casual contact is enough for you?”

“I…I… how can I put this so that you will understand it? I can live with this casual relationship, because I know that she can like me as a new acquaintance, but I'm terrified to find out that she would hate me as a mother.”

Maureen opened her mouth to reprimand the woman, but thought better of it. Who was she to judge this woman's situation? How can you blame a seventeen-year-old girl for the choices her heart made, or a thirty-year-old woman for not wanting her life to end?

“If you're not going to tell Morgan who you are, why did you tell me?”

“Because…because you're the first person I've met in years that seemed like I could be a true friend with, and after the way I ran out the other day, I felt like I owed you an explanation.”

Maureen was skeptical. “So, this “friendship” has nothing to do with me being close with your daughter and her wife?”

“I would be lying if I said that didn't have something to do with it,” she held her hand up to stop Maureen from protesting. “But, once I got to know you, I really liked you, Maureen.”

“What is it that you want, Rita?” Maureen asked in a tired voice.

“Ju…just someone to talk to. Someone I can tell the truth to.”

Maureen wasn't sure she wanted to be someone's sounding board, that's what a therapist was for, and she was about to say that to Rita, but when she looked into sad gray eyes, the words wouldn't come. Instead, she reached across and held the other woman's hand.

“What do you say we start off slow? Things like telling me about your childhood…we can save your later years for another time.”

Gray eyes filled with relief, and Rita smiled. “I had a really great childhood. My dad…”

Maureen listened, and found that Rita was really a very nice woman, with a degree of charm that reminded her of a certain detective sergeant.

As Maureen listened, she allowed a part of her mind to wander, and she realized that if Rita was going to become a part of their circle her subterfuge wouldn't last long, because eventually a certain little social worker she knew was going to pick up on the slight similarities between this woman and her spouse. And when that happened…all hell was going to break loose.

Continued in Part 3


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