Part 11

"Damn!" Lu swore as she slammed the receiver back into the cradle on the wall. She glared at the useless phone in frustration. A gentle throat clearing drew her attention and she glanced over her shoulder to see Sheila still sleep rumpled standing behind her. "Morning, love," she said as she turned and strode over to her lover and kissed her.

"Morning," Sheila smiled as their lips parted. She glanced up at her lover’s frustrated face and grinned. "I take it you didn’t have any luck tracking down the allusive Ashlin Gray."

"No," Lu sighed as she released her and made her way over to the full coffee pot. "I talked to her dad. Just missed her."

"And?" Sheila prompted leaning against the kitchen counter and watching her lover pour herself a cup of coffee and sip it.

"And it seems Ash decided to hare off to Bozeman with her brother for the weekend and didn’t bother to take her cell phone with her," Lu explained shaking her head.

"Oh," Sheila sighed. "So we basically have no way to get a hold of her right?"

"Right," Lu nodded.

"Great," Sheila groaned and rubbed her face. "So what are we going to tell Lauren?"

"Where is she?" Lu asked.

"Still sound asleep on the couch," Sheila said with a fond smile. "I swear that girl sleeps like the dead."

Lu chuckled. "Probably a good thing. I don’t know what to tell her. Guess the truth would be best. Maybe we’ll luck out and Ash will call here."

Sheila looked at her doubtfully. "You think so? She really has no reason to call other than to check on you."

"True," Lu nodded as she sipped her coffee. "But Ash has an uncanny ability to call when she’s needed. I just wish she would’ve called last night!"

"No doubt," Sheila agreed as she filled the teapot and set it on the stove to heat. "Ash has probably been calling Lauren’s place. She’ll probably start getting concerned when no one answers."

Lu thought about it. "Hmm, maybe."

"Are you going in to the office today?" Sheila asked as she pulled her mug out of the cupboard and set a teabag within it.

"Yeah, I have some paperwork I need to do," Lu said. "What’re your plans, hon?"

Sheila turned with a grin, "Shopping!" Lu groaned and closed her eyes. "I thought I’d take Lauren with me and go see about picking some things up for the baby’s room."

"That ought to help distract her from Ash," Lu said with a shake of her head as she gave her lover a sly wink.

"I know shopping always makes me feel better," Sheila stated. "And I know how much you hate it, so having Lauren here just sweetens the deal."

"Well you two have fun melting the numbers off the credit cards," Lu grinned as she gave her partner a hug and kissed the top of her tousled head. "How about I meet you for dinner around 5?"

"What?" Sheila asked looking up at her lover in mild disbelief. "Not for lunch?"

"No," Lu sighed shaking her head. "I have way too much to do for that. I need to go talk to Branigan and you know how that man loves to talk. I’ll probably get stuck there through lunch!"

Sheila chuckled and patted Lu sympathetically on the back. "My poor dear! Having to sit and listen to Branigan’s blarney!"

"It’ll be sheer torture but I’ll muddle through somehow," Lu said with a wink.

"Just don’t end up drinking your lunch!" Sheila admonished waving a finger in Lu’s face. "I know how much Pete loves going to the pub for lunch and he has a way of talking you into just one more pint!"

Lu laughed and gave her a squeeze. "Yes, dear! I promise. One pint is my limit for today. At least I’m not still on the pain meds and can have a pint!"

"Okay," Sheila stated returning the hug. "Now get out of here and go do your paperwork. Don’t forget to eat something for breakfast."

"I already ate," Lu said defensively as she gave her lover a quick kiss before heading towards the door.

"What?" Sheila demanded narrowing her eyes.

"Ummm…" Lu muttered sheepishly. "I had a granola bar and a banana."

"Uh-huh," Sheila shook her head. "You are going to eat more than that, right? You can’t possibly live on that little of food, hon," she said her eyes raking up and down her lover’s long lean frame. "I swear you eat less than I do!"

"Well you are eating for two!" Lu stated pointing to Sheila’s still flat abdomen.

"Ha ha," Sheila growled. "Stop and get something that will stick to your ribs, okay?"

"Okay," Lu agreed with an exasperated sigh. "Where should we meet for dinner?"

Sheila thought about it. "How about Bonsai?"

"Sounds good," Lu nodded. "I’ll meet you out front at 5 okay?"


"Have fun shopping, love," Lu said with a wave as she headed out of the kitchen towards the front door.

"Oh, I’m sure we will," Sheila murmured as she pulled the whistling tea kettle from the stove and poured the boiling water over the tea bag in her cup. "I have a feeling Lauren likes shopping as much as I do and this is expedition is going to go down in shopping history!"


"Uh-huh… uh-huh… shit… uh-huh… you sure?" Roy asked with a frown as he listened to Pablo.

Tommie perched on the end of the hotel bed and fidgeted as he watched his brother talk on the phone. His brother’s side of the conversation so far had not been overly reassuring and he was starting to get a really bad feeling about this whole gig.

"Shit…" Ray shook his head in disgust and his face darkened with a scowl. "Do you know if they’re still in contact?"

Tommie swallowed the lump of anxiety that had taken up residence in his throat and fumbled out a cigarette from the crumpled pack in his shirt pocket. He put the cigarette to his lips and saw how bad his hands were trembling when he lifted his lighter to light it. Oh man! I gotta get a fix soon! Roy is gonna start noticing! Tommie lamented as he lit the cigarette and drew on it deeply. If he finds out I’m still using… especially since the reason we took this job was to pay off my debt… he’ll kill me. The thought sent a shiver down Tommie’s spine. He gulped and stared at his scowling brother as he smoked.

"Okay, Pablo. Thanks for the info," Roy sighed.

Tommie watched as his brother twisted the phone cord between his hands as he listened to Pablo on the other end. Not good. Whatever Pablo told him has gotten him real upset. Shit. Now what? Tommie wondered as his foot began to tap out a nervous rhythm.

"Yeah… okay… bye," Ray growled and slammed down the receiver causing Tommie to jump. "Fuck!"

"What is it, Roy?" Tommie asked nervously. "What did Pablo have to say?"

Roy’s glare landed on him and Tommie gulped. "The bitch who owns that house is none other than Lu Darkcloud."

Tommie frowned. "So?"

"So!" Roy shouted as he slammed his fist into the table making the phone jump. "She’s a god damn bounty hunter, dumbass!"

"Oh," Tommie gasped as he cringed.

"Yeah oh!" Roy yelled sarcastically as he rose from his chair and began to pace. "Not only is she a fucking bounty hunter, but Pablo also said she’s good friends with the Gray Wolf." He scowled at his brother and asked, "You do know who that is don’t you, dumbass?"

Tommie’s eyes widened in fear as he nodded vigorously, "Yep, sure do! She’s the one who put uncle Sal behind bars."
"Yeah, that’s the bitch," Roy spat as he began pacing once more. "Heard she had retired though."

"Yeah, I heard that too," Tommie offered as his eyes tracked his brother’s furious pacing. "So, she’s probably not a threat, Roy. She’s off her game. Besides she ain’t here."

"No shit!" Roy snarled as he clenched his fists in anger. "But if we fuck up and this Darkcloud chick sees us or if blondie has some connection to the Wolf…" Roy halted and stared up at the ceiling in thought. Tommie stubbed out his cigarette with shaking hands and quickly lit another one as he waited for his brother to continue. He sat and smoked his cigarette half down before Roy finally shook his head and glanced at him.

"Shit, the boss never said nothing about having to deal with bounty hunters," Roy said shaking his head as he walked back to his chair and slumped into it. "If I’d known about that, I would’ve asked for a hell of a lot more money!"

Tommie nodded. "That’s right, Roy. Maybe you should call her and tell her you know the truth and want more money."

"Yeah, maybe," Roy murmured as he tried to think of some way to do the job and get his fee. "I don’t think I want to mess with the boss though. She’s kind of whacked, ya know?" Roy raised his hand and circled his head in the sign for crazy. "Don’t think she’d take too kindly of being asked for more dough. Nope, guess we’ll just have to be extra careful."

Tommie scowled, "Aw, come on, Roy! We’ve already been overly cautious! Shit, the way we’re going blondie is going to be alive to receive her gifts from Santa!"

"What did you say?" Roy asked in a low menacing voice as his cold eyes pierced his brother.

Tommie gulped and finished off his cigarette. He made a production out of putting it out to buy himself some time before answering Roy. He looked up from the ashtray and met Roy’s cold stare. "Look, Roy," he said and was pleased to note that his voice didn’t waiver. "We’ve been following her for over a day. We gotta make our move. You said yourself that our best opportunity would be while she’s here in Spokane. Just because she knows this Darkcloud chick doesn’t mean she has any connection to the Wolf." Tommie paused and was relieved to see his brother was actually listening. "I mean, how the heck would blondie even know the Wolf? Seems pretty far fetched to me."

"Maybe," Roy grunted as he sat back in his chair and pulled out his own cigarettes and lit one. "But I still think we need to be careful, Tommie. The last thing we want is for the Wolf to know our names!" He shuddered at the thought as he drew heavily on his cigarette. "That is one bitch I definitely want to steer clear of."

"So, we take blondie out here," Tommie shrugged. "That ought to be easy enough. Let’s go back to the house and wait for her to go somewhere and them bam!" He pounded his fist into his open palm for emphasis. "We mow her down with the car and that’s that."

"Yeah, that could work," Roy agreed slowly as he stubbed out his cigarette and stood. "Come on, let’s get back over there before she takes off and we lose her."

"Right behind ya, Roy," Tommie said as he stood and followed his brother out of the dingy hotel room.


"Have you picked out any names yet?" Lauren asked as she and Sheila strode down the aisle of the third furniture store of the day.

"We can’t agree on any," Sheila replied as she stopped before a beautiful hand carved bassinet. "Oh, this is nice."

Lauren eyed the bassinet and nodded. "Yeah, but I thought you just wanted to get a full crib?"

Sheila sighed with resignation. "Yes, but that doesn’t stop me from looking and wishing, now does it?"

Lauren laughed. "Nope, sure doesn’t!"

"Lu is adamant that the baby won’t have an ethnic name," Sheila said as they began to walk once more surveying the different crib setups.

"Really? Why?" Lauren asked surprised as they stopped before another crib and checked out the price tag.

"She doesn’t want the baby to be labeled, I guess," she explained as she lifted the price tag and gasped. "Ouch! Nope, not that nice, thank you!" She turned the price tag towards Lauren so she could see it and Lauren nodded a vigorous agreement.

"Labeled? How do you mean?" Lauren asked as they began strolling once more. "Lu doesn’t sound like an Indian name."

Sheila laughed. "Oh! That’s true, but Lu isn’t her given Indian name either."

"So what is?"

Sheila looked back and forth to make sure no one was near and leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner. "Promise not to tell," she whispered giving Lauren a sly wink.

"Cross my heart," Lauren said solemnly putting action to her words.

"Little Flower," Sheila whispered with a mischievous gleam in her eye.

"Little Flower?" Lauren choked back a laugh.

"Swear to God," Sheila vowed placing her hand over her heart.

Lauren burst out laughing and Sheila soon followed. They stood in the middle of the store and held on to each other as they laughed. People turned to look at the two hysterical women, but they ignored them and kept on laughing.

"Oh, that just doesn’t fit her at all!" Lauren finally gasped between giggles as she held her aching sides.

"I know, I know," Sheila chuckled as she sat down in a convenient rocker and fanned herself. "I tried so hard not to burst out laughing when she first told me. I had a feeling if I did, she would’ve turned right around and never spoken to me again! So, I kept a straight face and then later when I was alone I laughed myself sick!"

"I can see why!" Lauren replied bending at the waist and trying to catch her breath.

"Of course her father wants the baby to have the whole naming ceremony and everything," Sheila said shaking her head. "But Lu is totally against that. I’m not sure why. I think it’s a wonderful idea and I’m happy that her father wants to acknowledge this child."

"So you’re pretty close with Lu’s family?" Lauren asked intrigued.

"Oh yeah," Sheila nodded. "Lu’s family is huge. She has 3 sisters and 5 brothers plus more cousins than I can count!"

"They don’t have a problem with Lu being gay?" Lauren questioned as she crouched down and leaned against the crib behind her.

"No, Lu said they took it pretty well when she told them," Sheila stated as rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Lu told me she went to her grandfather first. They’re really close and he’s the medicine man of the tribe. She said she told him and he just shrugged and told her she had the spirit of a warrior and wasn’t surprised in the least."

"Wow. Bet she was relieved," Lauren said with mild wonder. She wished it would be that easy to tell her own folks.

"She was. She figured if grandfather was good with it, the rest of the family would follow his lead and she was right," Sheila said with a grin.

"What about your family?" Lauren asked as she stretched and stood once more. She offered her hand to Sheila and she took it with a grin and allowed Lauren to pull her to her feet.

"Oh, they weren’t happy at all! My grandmother doesn’t even speak English, though she understands it well enough," Sheila said as they began walking once more. "My mother cried, my father stopped acknowledging my existence and that was that."

"That was what?" Lauren asked perplexed.

"As far as my family is concerned, I’m dead," Sheila stated flatly with a shrug.

"You’re kidding?" Lauren gaped as she grabbed Sheila’s arm and pulled her to a halt.

"Nope. Dead serious I’m afraid," Sheila said sadly with a shake of her head.

"That’s…" Lauren thought hard to think of some way to express her outrage as she gazed into Sheila’s sad dark eyes. "That’s just horrible!"

"It’s okay, Lauren," Sheila soothed giving Lauren’s arm a gentle squeeze. "It was a long time ago. I still talk to my grandmother. She never liked my father anyway!"

Lauren laughed in spite of herself. The very thought of being disowned by her family was what had kept her from telling her parents. She was terrified by the idea and had lived her double life since she was 17 years old. "Well, maybe when the baby comes they’ll come around and want to be grandparents."

"Maybe," Sheila shrugged noncommittally. "I really don’t care one way or the other. Lu’s family is more family than I can possibly handle!"

"Well that’s true," Lauren agreed as she followed Sheila down the last aisle of the store.

"I take it your family doesn’t know," Sheila stated shrewdly as she watched Lauren out of the corner of her eye for her reaction. Lauren blushed and lowered her head to study the top of her shoes.

"No, I haven’t told my parents," Lauren admitted. "But my brother and sister both know. They’re both cool about it and that helps. I’m just terrified to tell my mom and I don’t even want to think about how my father would react!"

"I think you’d be surprised," Sheila replied cryptically as she stopped before a beautiful cherry wood crib. "This is the one!" she exclaimed as she leaned in and studied the interior.

"Surprised? What do you mean?" Lauren asked as she leaned in to see the interior of the crib.

"Oh, parents aren’t blind, Lauren," Sheila explained as she grabbed the price tag and brought it up so she could read it.

"And?" Lauren prompted looking over Sheila’s shoulder at the price.

"So I bet your mom probably already has a pretty good idea that you’re gay but just hasn’t said anything about it," Sheila said as she glanced around the store for a salesman.

"Really?" Lauren asked as she stared at Sheila in surprise.

"Yes, really," Sheila said as she waved down a salesman. He waved back and started across the store towards them. Sheila met Lauren’s surprised eyes and smiled reassuringly. "Lauren, she raised you and has known you all your life. Do you really think she hasn’t noticed?"

"Then why is she always asking if I’ve met a nice young man?" Lauren demanded throwing up her hands in exasperation.

"Desperate hope would be my guess," Sheila said as the salesman walked up to them. She turned to him and smiled. "Hi, I’m interested in this crib. Could you tell me a little bit about it, please?"

"Sure thing, ma’am," the young salesman replied.

The salesman began his sales pitch with an avid audience of one, since Lauren was lost in her thoughts. Does mom suspect? She wondered as she stared down at her shoes blankly. She’s not stupid, Sheila’s right about that. Lauren thought back to her senior year in high school and the debacle with Amanda and her mom’s solicitous behavior. Yeah, she knew something was up with me, but I wonder if she knew what? We never really talked about it. I was too devastated by what had happened and too afraid to reach out to mom for comfort. She sighed and shook her head at the folly of her younger self. I think Sheila’s right. Mom wants me to be "normal" and marry like Darby and have a family. But I think she’s aware that that’s not how it’s going to be. An image of Ash sitting with her guitar cradled in her lap flashed through Lauren’s mind. She closed her eyes and willed the image away, only to have it become more vivid. Ash’s raven hair gently caressed by the wind as her blue eyes twinkled in merriment as she laughed at something Lauren had said. Oh god! What am I going to do? The pain and betrayal of Ash’s behavior caused her heart to clench. Why, Ash? Why didn’t you tell me what’s going on?

Lauren felt the tears begin to well up and quickly glanced towards Sheila to see that she was still occupied with the salesman. She spun on her heel and quickly made her way down an aisle, trying to fight down the tears she felt brimming.

"I will not cry. I will not cry!" Lauren ordered herself as she came to a stop before one of the bedroom displays. She stared blankly at it as she fought an inner battle to get her emotions back under control. Well, if things don’t work out with Ash at least I won’t have to come out to mom! She giggled at the sarcastic thought and hugged herself. What am I going to do? I love her and she’s so… so… infuriating! Why didn’t she just tell me she was going to her parents? Why did I have to find out by arriving here just to find out she wasn’t here? The thought brought a white hot flash of anger to the surface burning away the tears.


Lauren quickly swiped at her eyes and turned around to see Sheila standing behind her with a concerned look on her face. "You get everything done?"

Sheila studied her for a moment and then replied, "Yes. So, you want to tell me what has got you so upset or should I take a wild stab in the dark and say Ash?"

"Yes," Lauren acknowledged bowing her head. She couldn’t meet Sheila’s eyes and the pity she was sure would be there.

"Well, how about we go and meet Lu for dinner and you can tell me all about it," Sheila suggested, coming up to Lauren and wrapping her arm through hers. "Come on, honey, let’s blow this Popsicle stand."

That got the intended response as Lauren giggled and gave Sheila a tremulous smile. "Thanks, Sheila. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do half of the time." Sheila glanced at her expectantly and Lauren shook her head. "I mean part of me wants to scream and rage at Ash."

"And the other part?" Sheila asked as she pulled the door to the store open and followed Lauren out into the late afternoon.

Lauren shrugged. "The other part just wants to wrap her up in my arms and kiss her until she’s breathless."

"I understand completely," Sheila laughed as she led the way to the car. "Half the time Lu drives me out of my mind and the rest of the time I can’t get enough of her." She turned and unlocked the car door before continuing. "That’s how you know you are truly in love with someone. When even when they are driving you crazy, you still can’t see your life without them."

Lauren thought about that as she climbed into the car and fastened her seatbelt. Do I feel that way about Ash? She searched deep within and came up with the only answer. Yes, I do. Even though she’s hurt me and I’m furious with her… I still can’t imagine my life without her. So I guess I need to talk to her and find out what this was all about.

"Ready to go get something to eat?" Sheila asked as she started the car.

"Starving," Lauren answered.

"Me too! But I am eating for two," Sheila grinned as she patted her still flat stomach.

"Wish I had that excuse! I just like food!" Lauren giggled.

"Good. Then we can horrify Lu by putting away more food then she can!" Sheila winked as she pulled out of the parking spot.

"Yeah, Ash was pretty shocked by how much food I could actually eat," Lauren replied wistfully.

Sheila glanced at her and saw the far away look. "Oh? Why don’t you tell me about it while I drive us to the restaurant," she suggested.

"Sure, if you really want to hear about it," Lauren said as a smile broke across her face.

"Yes, I really do," Sheila said as she pulled into traffic and settled back in her seat to listen to Lauren regale her of her eating adventures with Ash.


"Where the hell are they?" Lu groused as she glanced at her watch once more. Seeing it was only a few minutes since she had checked it the last time. She began to pace once more in front of the restaurant as she scanned the area for Sheila’s car. "It’s not like Sheila to be late. I hope nothing’s happened."

Lu frowned at the thought and paused in her pacing. Her mind conjured up a myriad of gruesome possibilities. She shook her head in denial to banish the images. "No, everything is fine. They just got caught up in their shopping and lost track of time," Lu assured herself. "I’m sure those two had the salesmen terrified."

Lu walked back to the restaurant and slumped down on the bench in front to wait for her erstwhile partner and Lauren. A cop car drove past and she felt a grin spread across her face as her mind turned to her meeting with Detective Pete Branigan. The two of them had been friends for a lot of years and Sheila had been right in her assumption that Pete would try to encourage Lu into drinking her lunch. She chuckled as her mind drifted back to the meeting.


Lu entered the pub and quickly spotted Branigan’s large bulk sitting with his back towards her at the end of the bar. From the looks of things he was regaling poor Danny the barkeep with yet another story of his prowess as a homicide detective. She strolled quietly across the half full bar towards her friend. Danny looked up and saw her and she quickly placed her fingers in front of her lips to shush him. Danny bit back a grin and gave her a small nod before turning to Pete and asking him a question to distract him from the approaching bounty hunter.

Lu’s grin turned feral as she came up behind Pete and with a conspiratorial wink to Danny stuck her fingers in his ribs and growled, "Reach for the sky, copper!"

Pete stiffened in surprise and let out a yelp before whirling around on his bar stool and glaring at the widely grinning Lu. "You trying to give me a heart attack or something?"

Lu shrugged unrepentive. "You’re the one who was just bragging to Danny here that you’re the numero uno detective. That you know all and see all and I just thought your ego needed a bit of deflating."

Danny laughed and Pete scowled at him. Danny just shrugged and grabbed a glass and filled it with the house ale. "Here you go, Lu. That’s on the house," Danny said as he placed the beer in front of Lu.

"Thanks, Danny," Lu said as she slid onto the bar stool at Pete’s side. She took a sip of her beer and out of the corner of her eye saw that Pete was still scowling at her. She sighed inwardly and turned to face him. "What?"

"Why are you always messing with me?" Pete asked as he picked up his own beer and slammed it back.

"Because you’re so easy. I just can’t resist," Lu answered with a wink.

Pete slammed his now empty glass down and eyed his smug friend. "One of these days I’m not going to realize its you and shoot your ass."

"Uh-huh, sure, Pete. You keep telling yourself that," Lu smirked.

"Hey! I’m a good cop! I have the reflexes of a cat!" Pete defended with a twinkle in his eye.

"A dead cat maybe," Lu shot back.

"Ha ha. Well, I hope you know that you just cost me another life with that little stunt. I’m probably down to my last one so you better watch yourself," Pete said shaking a finger at her. "If I’m not around to clean up your messes, what ya gonna do then, huh?"

Lu rubbed her chin in thought. "Hmmm, guess you got me there, Pete. Guess I better be kinder to your ancient ticker."

"Who you calling old?" Pete growled as he motioned to Danny for another round.

"Why, I do believe that would be you, Detective," Lu answered innocently. "I mean to be so experienced and knowledgeable in your field you must be at least… oh let’s say 50."

Pete’s eyes narrowed. "Is that so."

"Mmm, yep. I don’t think they give that gold shield to guys under 45 and since you proclaim to be the best damn thing to happen to modern policing since drive thru donut shops, that you have to be at least 50," Lu teased.

"I see," Pete grumbled as Danny came up and set 2 fresh pints before them. "Thanks, Danny boy."

"Can I get the lunch menu, Danny?" Lu asked.

"Sure thing, Lu," Danny grinned as he turned and pulled out one of the menus and set it before her.

"Thanks," Lu said as she started perusing the menu choices.

"You really gonna eat something here?" Pete questioned as he eyed the menu with reproach. "I mean the ale is good, but I think the food is a bit questionable."

Lu glanced over and had to bite back a laugh at the look of distasted on Pete’s face. "I promised Sheila that I wouldn’t allow you to make me just drink my lunch. So yes, I am going to get something off the menu."

"Ah, the wife has you well trained does she?" Pete asked with a smug expression.

"Yep and I like it that way," Lu said as she returned her attention to the menu. She fought back the urge to make a snappy comeback to Pete’s parlay and finally gave up the battle and let loose. "So… how’s the ole love life, Pete?" Pete paused with the glass halfway to his mouth and gave her a warning look, which she blithely ignored. "You still dating Rosy Palm or has she left you for greener pastures too?"

Pete took a swallow of his beer and then set the glass down with precision. He turned his chair to face Lu and said through his teeth, "You are a bitch, you know that, Darkcloud?"

"So they keep telling me," Lu agreed with a nod.

"And for you information I am seeing someone," Pete informed her.

"Oh?" Lu asked as she turned to look at him with one eyebrow up and Pete nodded smugly. "I see… do her parents’ know she’s dating someone old enough to be her granddad?"

Pete stared at her a moment puzzled and then frowned. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

"I just figured you were over cruising the high schools for dates, Pete," Lu deadpanned with a small grin.

"Oh very funny," Pete growled. "For your information she’s a cop. A damn good one too."

"Oh?" Lu asked and Pete nodded. "And how did you 2 meet? Please tell me she’s not under your command, buddy. That could look real bad."

Pete snorted, "Of course not! Jesus, Lu, what kind of a guy do you think I am? She works in the Special Victims Unit. Her name’s Jody LeClaire."

"Never heard of her," Lu said with a frown.

"Nah, you wouldn’t know her. She just transferred here from Seattle," Pete explained.

"So, how long have you bee seeing her?" Lu questioned.

"Just a month or so," Pete said trying to sound noncommittal but failing miserably.

Lu grinned and gave Pete a hearty slap on the back. "Good for you, you ole dog! Can’t wait to meet her."

Pete actually blushed at that and quickly brought his glass up to hide it. "Thanks, Lu," he murmured as he studiously stared at his half empty glass.

Lu decided to let him off the hook and changed the subject. "So did you bring me the body receipt for Sullivan?"

"Yeah," Pete nodded as he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the receipt. He slapped down on the bar between them.

Lu picked it up and frowned as she discovered more than one there. "What’s this?" she asked holding up the other receipt in question.

"That’s the one for the guy Ash took out," Pete explained with a nod to the receipt.

Lu frowned as she read the receipt. Her eyes just about popped out of her head when she got to the line that stated the bounty amount. "Is this right?" she gasped pointing to the number.

Pete leaned over to take a look and nodded. "Yep. The boys upstate have been after that bastard for 3 months and they were mighty happy when I gave them a call to let them know we had him."

"I thought he was just wanted for questioning in a double homicide," Lu said still staring at the receipt as she tried to wrap her mind around the figure.

"Well, some new evidence came in linking him to not only that but a shit load of drug trafficking violations and smuggling," Pete explained.

"Shit," Lu said shaking her head.

"Yeah," Pete agreed. "I sure am glad Gray was there to help you out, Lu. I think you were in over your head."

Lu glanced up and saw the sincerity on her friend’s face. "So am I. I had no idea that Sullivan was connected with anyone this big. Thought he was just a small time scumbag."

"Guess he must’ve made some connections while in lockup," Pete shrugged and held up his empty glass to inform Danny he was ready for a refill. Danny saw him and gave him a nod. "How did you get Gray here anyway? I thought she’d retired and went off to sit on some damn mountain."

Lu chuckled, "Oh, she is retired, but I called her in as a favor. I knew Sullivan wouldn’t be alone and to tell you the truth, Wolf is the only one I truly trust to watch my back."

Pete chuckled and nodded in agreement. "You know, Lu, I don’t think I’ll ever forget meeting that woman."

Lu grinned. "Oh? And why’s that?" she asked sitting back and taking a sip of her ale.

"You’re kidding right?" Pete guffawed. Lu shrugged and Pete shook his head. "Come on, Lu, you have to admit it was quite the sight. Here you were bringing in another scumbag. What was his name again?"

"Chad Griss," Lu supplied.

"Yeah, that’s right," Pete nodded. "Wasn’t he the rapist?"


"And you brought him in looking like he’d gone through a meat grinder," Pete said with a shake of his head.

Lu laughed, "I’ll never forget the look on your face!"

"Well shit, Lu! The guy was beat to shit and you had this kid sitting in the front seat of your jeep like this was a normal every day occurrence!" Pete exclaimed as Danny came over and gave him a fresh pint. Pete nodded his thanks.

"You want something to eat, Lu?" Danny asked leaning against the bar.

"Sure, bring me a club sandwich," Lu answered as she slid the menu back to Danny. "That ought to soak up some of the beer and keep Sheila from tanning my hide!"

Danny nodded with a grin and left to place her order.

Lu returned her attention to Pete and said, "Well, I don’t remember there being anything in the papers that said he had to be brought in with kid gloves."

"Uh-huh. And as I recall you were a total smartass when I asked you what the hell happened to his face," Pete accused.

"Hey! I just told you the gods’ own truth!" Lu defended. "His face was smashed in by a size 11 cowboy boot! It’s not my fault Ash took exception to his advances and made her displeasure known."

Pete chuckled and shook his head in wonder. "I think I just about fell over when you told me that the that young, leggy brunette sitting in your jeep was the one who had done the damage! I thought for sure you were just giving me hell like you usually did." Pete’s face went reflective as he remembered that night. "I thought, ‘no way did this kid do that," and then I looked into her eyes." Pete shuddered. "I’ve never seen eyes that cold and calculating before. Especially not out of a beautiful kid’s face!"

"Yeah, I know," Lu agreed quietly. "I just about swallowed my tongue when I arrived at the park and saw Griss leaning over her with a knife to her throat. I had my gun half out and was running towards them when what I thought was a helpless victim suddenly exploded into motion! One moment she was lying there looking scared and the next she was up and beating the ever living crap out of him! I swear I just stood there and stared with my mouth hanging open!"

"I bet. Wish I could’ve seen her in action," Pete sighed.

"She’s definitely something else," Lu said in a far away voice, her mind still playing out the scene of Ash taking out a guy that outweighed her by at least 70 pounds and who was armed like he was nothing more than a child. "Its like she flows from one move to the next and everyone else around her looks likes they’re moving in slow motion. It really is amazing."

"I’m just glad she’s on our side," Pete said taking a sip of his beer.

"Yeah, me too!" Lu chuckled.

"Is she getting back in the game?" Pete asked as he watched Danny walk towards them with Lu’s lunch order.

"No, this was a one time gig," Lu answered giving Danny a nod as he set her sandwich down in front of her. "Thanks, Danny. Could I get a glass of water too?"

"Water? Blasphemer!" Pete accused pointing a knowing finger at her.

"Hey, one of us has to be able to drive," Lu defended as she batted Pete’s finger away.

"I’ll be right back with that, Lu," Danny said. "And Pete, you’ve reached your limit."

"What?" Pete’s eyes went wide in disbelief. "You cutting me off, Danny boy?" he growled narrowing his eyes.

Danny didn’t seem impressed with Pete’s evil eye as he replied, "Yep. You’re done. Especially if you think you’re going to drive. If Lu here," he nodded towards the smirking Lu, "agrees to drive your ass home, I may let you have another one, but if not you’re done."

"Awww, Danny," Pete whined.

"You heard the man, Pete," Lu chuckled. "So no more of your blarney."

"Fine," Pete grumbled as he played with his glass and pouted.

Danny gave Lu a conspiratorial wink and left to go fetch her water.

"Oh, come on, Pete. It’s not the end of the world!" Lu said giving his shoulder a squeeze before turning her attention to her sandwich.

Pete sighed forlornly. "Yeah, I guess not. Can’t have Jody thinking I’m a lush."

"True," Lu agreed as she swallowed. "You know, Pete, the food here isn’t half bad."

Pete eyed her sandwich and had to agree that it did look pretty tasty. "Hmm, maybe I will have one," he grumbled. "Since Danny won’t let me drink anymore I gotta do something."

Lu grinned and continued to eat her sandwich.

"So what is Gray doing with herself these days?" Pete asked.

"She’s a musician," Lu answered wiping her mouth with her napkin.

"A what?" Pete asked incredulously.

"Did I stutter, Pete?" Lu asked with a smirk. "A musician. You know, someone who plays music for a living?"

"You can’t be serious," Pete said studying his friend’s face for any sign of falsehood.

"Afraid so," Lu answered with a nod. "She’s amazing to tell you the truth. I have a couple of her cds if you ever want to hear her."

"Cds? She has cds out?" Pete asked surprise evident in his tone.

"Yep," Lu nodded and tried not to laugh at the dumbstruck look on Pete’s face. "Why’s that so hard to believe?"

"The Wolf is a musician," Pete stated trying to wrap his mind around the idea. Trying to morph the image of the deadly bounty hunter he knew into a musician and was having no luck. "I just can’t see it, Lu. I mean that woman was completely and totally deadly and now you’re sitting there telling me she’s sitting up on some damn mountain and playing music? Doesn’t that seem a bit farfetched to you?"

Lu laughed, "Well, it’s the damn truth, buddy. In fact that’s what she did before she became a bounty hunter. She was some kind of child prodigy."

"Then how the hell did she become a bounty hunter?" Pete asked throwing his hands up in frustration.

"Long story, Pete," Lu sighed. "And not mine to tell. Just know that she’s back doing what she should never have left and is happy."

Pete nodded dumbly. "If you say so, Lu. I think I may have to borrow those cds from you though. I gotta hear this for myself."

"No problem," Lu stated as she sat back from the bar and rubbed her stomach. "Damn, that was good. I better get a move on, Pete. I have shit I gotta get done before meeting up with Sheila and Lauren."

"Lauren?" Pete questioned.

"A friend," Lu said succinctly as she rose from the bar stool and pulled out her wallet.

"Put your money away, Lu. I got this," Pete growled as he pulled out his wallet and threw down his credit card.

"Thanks, Pete," Lu said as she gathered up the receipts and swallowed the last of her beer. "You can drink my water when Danny brings it."

"You’re just a barrel of laughs aren’t ya?" Pete grumbled.

"Yep," Lu agreed with a laugh. "You give Jody a call and find out what’s good for her and we’ll all get together and have dinner or something okay?"

"Only if you promise that Sheila will do the cooking!" Pete said with anticipation. "You know I have a total weakness for that woman’s cooking."

"Easy there, stud. She’s taken and I don’t think you salivating all over my wife will really impress your date!" Lu chided good-naturedly.

"I promise not to drool on your wife," Pete swore holding up 3 fingers and placing his other hand over his heart. "But I can’t promise I won’t drool over the food!"

"You make that old adage about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach a bonafide fact!" Lu chuckled.

"Yep," Pete agreed and then stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Guess I better find out if Jody can cook before falling totally in love with her."

"You are so bad!" Lu admonished him and he gave her a cheeky grin. "I’m outta here. Talk to you later."

"See you. Say hi to Sheila for me," Pete called after her.

"I will," Lu shot back over her shoulder with a wave as she left the pub.


The sound of a car door slamming brought her out of her musings and she glanced at her watch to see that it was 20 past 5. She jumped up from the bench and started scanning the parking lot and street for any sign of Sheila’s car. Finally her eyes found what she’d been searching for as Sheila pulled into the parking lot across the street and parked.

"Its about time," Lu grumbled as she walked to the curb and waited. She watched as Sheila and Lauren stepped out of the car laughing. "Sounds like they had a good time." She saw Sheila glancing around and let out a piercing whistle and waved her hand. Sheila spotted her and waved back.

Lu crossed her arms and leaned back against a convenient light pole as she watched her lover and Lauren giggle and make their way to the crosswalk. The light changed and Sheila stepped out onto the crosswalk, she stopped when Lauren said something and turned to talk to her.

"Now what?" Lu growled as she watched Sheila speak to Lauren and then start across the street once more without Lauren. Lu frowned as she watched Lauren return to the car and Sheila walk towards her.

When Sheila was close enough to hear her she straightened and asked, "What’s Lauren doing?"

"She left her wallet in the car," Sheila explained as she came up to her lover and pulled her head down for a kiss.

"What was that for?" Lu grinned as their lips parted.

"Just because I love you," Sheila replied giving Lu a gentle squeeze before stepping back.

"Did you have fun shopping?" Lu asked taking Sheila by the arm and leading her over to the bench in front of the restaurant.

Sheila smiled at her indulgently and dutifully took a seat on the bench to wait for Lauren. "Yes and I found the perfect crib set!" Sheila enthused.

"Did you totally melt the credit card?" Lu asked with a grin.

"Not completely," Sheila said with a gentle shake of her head. "But I only had one day after all! I’m sure I’ll be able to nuke it by the time the baby arrives."

Lu laughed and turned to see where Lauren was. She spotted her making her way towards the crosswalk at a jog. "I’m going to go meet up with Lauren. You gonna be all right here?"

Sheila’s eyebrow rose. "I think I can keep out of trouble for the 5 minutes you’ll be gone, love. I do believe I could probably even handle 10 without any major catastrophes happening."

"Sorry, honey," Lu said contritely.

"That’s okay, love. Now shoo," Sheila grinned.

"Yes, dear," Lu said as she turned and made her way to the crosswalk.

Lauren spotted her and waved. Lu waved back as she waited for the light to change. The traffic was light since the restaurant wasn’t on a main street, but the light seemed to take its own sweet time in changing.

"Come on," Lu growled at the light as she leaned over and punched the walk button.

Finally the light changed and Lauren started towards her. Lu saw movement out of the corner of her eye and quickly turned her head with a feeling of dread. A blue sedan with tinted windows was barreling down the street. The guy must be drunk or on something, Lu thought and then realized that the out of control car was not going to stop and was headed straight for Lauren.

"Lauren, look out!" Lu screamed as she began to run towards her.

Lu saw Lauren stop in surprise at her shout and then her head turned towards the wildly swerving car. Her eyes widened in fear, as she stood frozen in the path of the oncoming sedan.


"Well, here we are," Thomas stated as he flipped on the light switch and swept out his arm to encompass the entire garage that he had converted to a workshop.

"Nice set up," Graham commented as he wheeled his way farther into the room and gazed about at the neatly racked tools. "Sure am glad it’s heated!"

"Yeah, I did that last spring," Thomas agreed with a nod. "What do you think, Ash?"

Ash glanced around the garage and had to admit to herself that Thomas had done an excellent job. "Looks good," she said with a nod. "Thanks for helping me out with this, Thomas."

"Not a problem," Thomas shrugged as he went over to a bin and began rummaging through it. "You said you wanted to do something in leather right?"

"That’s right," Ash answered as she strolled over to lean against the workbench and watch Thomas.

"Here, Thomas, this ought to give you an idea of what we’re going for," Graham said as he came up to Thomas and held out a folded piece of paper.

Ash looked at him in question and Graham grinned and shrugged.

Thomas took the paper and unfolded it. His eyes widened and he looked at Ash and then back to the paper in his hand.

"What did you do, Graham?" Ash growled as she watched the dumbstruck Thomas stare at her slack jawed.

"Oh, nothing much," Graham said nonchalantly. "I just took a picture of Lauren’s painting with my digital camera and printed it out to show Thomas what you’re going for."

"I see," Ash sighed as she turned back to the wide-eyed stare of Thomas. "Snap out of it!" she barked and Thomas jumped.

"Shit!" he gasped as his hand came up to his heart.

Graham laughed and Ash grinned.

"Do you think you can help me make something like that?" Ash asked waving towards the paper in Thomas’s hand.

"Umm." Thomas thought about it and then looked at the picture more closely. His brow furrowed as he contemplated it. "Yeah, I think so. In fact I think I have something we can modify so we won’t have to start from scratch."

"Good. Then let’s get to it," Ash stated.

"Okay," Thomas said shaking his head and trying not to stare at the likeness of Ash in the picture. "Graham, why don’t you go through this bin here and pull out whatever you think we might be able to use."

"Right," Graham nodded and wheeled his chair up to the bin and began to dig through the miscellaneous bits of leather and half finished armor pieces.
"I’ll dig out what I think might work and Ash, you and I can go over it and see what we need to do to modify it," Thomas said decisively.

"Sounds good to me," Ash said as she followed Thomas across the garage.

Thirty minutes later found Ash busily working on a leather vambrace as Thomas and Graham argued about how to modify Thomas’s old Roman breastplate to match the picture. Ash listened to them with half an ear as she relaced the armor piece figuring she could interject if the argument became too heated.

The garage door swung open and a stocky blonde walked in. "Thomas, I’m starving! Are you done playing around out here so we can go get something to eat?" she asked with her hands on her hips.

"Hey, Tiffany. This is Graham and his sister Ash," Thomas said pointing to both of them in turn. "Guys this is my girlfriend Tiffany."

"Nice to meet you," Graham said with a small wave.

"Hi," Tiffany said and gave Thomas a dirty look.

"Umm, Ash is paying me to help her build a Halloween costume, babe. I thought we could just order pizza," Thomas said as he walked over to her and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.

"You promised you would take me out tonight, Tom," Tiffany said with a glare.

"I know, honey, but we could really use the money and they came a long way for me to help. Please, baby, I’ll make it up to you," Thomas explained as he gave her his best smile.

Tiffany stared at him a moment and then sighed, "Oh, okay. I guess it won’t kill me. What kind of pizza do you all want?"

"Thanks, babe," Thomas said quietly as he gave her a kiss.

She pushed him playfully away. "Oh stop! I’ll live."

"I’ve always been rather fond of garbage pizzas," Graham said as he wheeled over to them.

"Yeah, that sounds good to me too," Thomas agreed with a nod. "But I think you better order more than one since I remember that Graham here has a hollow leg!"

"Do not!" Graham defended as he made as if to run Thomas down.

Thomas backed up with a laugh and Tiffany just shook her head. "Men," she sighed with a roll of her eyes to heaven.

"Hey, sis, what do you want?" Graham asked over his shoulder. When he got no response he turned his chair around to look at her. "Ash?"

The sight of his sister sitting there white faced and staring caused a sudden wave of fear to crash over him. He quickly rolled his chair over to her.

"Ash?" he asked, studying her with growing concern. She was just sitting there with the armor piece hanging loosely in one hand totally forgotten and the expression on her face scared him. "Hey, sis! Snap out of it! You’re scaring the shit out of me," he said as he reached out and gently shook her by the shoulders.

"What’s up, G-man?" Thomas asked coming over to them.

"I dunno," Graham answered absently as he tried to get Ash to respond to him.

"She on drugs or something?" Tiffany asked looking at the dazed and pale woman.

"No!" Graham retorted, glaring over his shoulder at her. "She doesn’t do drugs!"

"Easy there, G-man," Thomas soothed placing his hand on Graham’s shoulder. "She didn’t mean anything by it. I think Tiffany and I will go order the pizza."

"Yeah, okay," Graham agreed.

Thomas squeezed his shoulder and then shooed Tiffany towards the door. "Come on, Tiff. Let’s go order that pizza."

"Is she all right?" Tiffany asked looking back at the two siblings.

"I dunno," Thomas said as he pushed her out the door.

Ash heard the three of them talking but it was as if they were far away. She had been listening to them trying to decide what kind of pizza to order when her stomach suddenly dropped and her heart had leapt into her throat. A wave of terror coursed through her and she had no idea where it was coming from.

She could hear Graham pleading with her and she struggled to come back to him. She shook herself and blinked.

Graham saw her blue eyes clear and come back into focus with relief. "Ash? You with me?"

Ash looked at him blankly for a moment and then glanced around the now empty garage. "Where did everybody go?" she asked with a puzzled frown.

Graham laughed in relief. "They went to order the pizza. You okay?"

"I… uh…" Ash sat back and took stock of herself. What the hell just happened? She struggled to come up with an explanation, but none came to mind. Lauren! Oh my god! Something must’ve happened to Lauren! Her mind screamed suddenly. She sat bolt upright startling Graham. "Where’s the phone?’

"What?" Graham asked nonplussed by his sister’s behavior.

"Where’s the damn phone?" Ash ordered grabbing her brother by the shoulders.

"It’s over there," Graham said, pointing over his shoulder to the phone on the wall. "What the hell is going on, Ash?"

Ash didn’t answer as she stood and brushed by him making a beeline for the phone. She noted that her hands were shaking slightly as she grabbed the receiver and began punching in numbers. She brought the phone to her ear and drummed her fingers impatiently on the workbench as she listened to the rings. "Come on, come on, answer damn it!"

"Ash?" Graham asked as he came up behind her.

Ash turned and glanced down at him and saw the look of concern on her baby brother’s face. She tried to give him a reassuring smile. "I’ll tell you in a minute, Graham."

Graham nodded and sat back to wait.

The phone clicked and Ash swore as she heard Lauren’s answering machine. "Lauren… it’s me, Ash… umm… is everything okay? I’ll try and call you again later tonight. I love you. Bye." She hung up the phone and sighed.

"You mind telling me what the hell is going on?" Graham demanded.

Ash stared at the phone trying to think of someone else to call, someone who might know where Lauren was and if she was okay. "Benson!" she shouted as she grabbed the phone and started punching in numbers again.

"You have completely lost your mind!" Graham yelled at her as he grabbed her arm and spun her around. "Would you fucking answer me?"

Ash stared at the angry countenance of her brother and had the grace to blush. "I’m sorry, Graham. Just let me talk to Benson and I’ll answer any questions you have," she apologized as she listened to the phone ring.

"You’re damn right you’ll tell me!" Graham growled as he sat back and crossed his arms across his chest. "I’d really like to know what the hell makes my sister act like a damn mad woman!"

Ash opened her mouth to answer but Benson’s deep bass voice answered the phone and she held up a hand to Graham to wait as she turned her attention to the phone.

"Benson?" Ash asked.

"Yes, this is he. Is that you, Ash?" Ben asked in surprise.

"Yes, its me. Listen, Ben, have you seen Lauren today?"

"No, not today. I haven’t seen her since you left. Why?" Ben asked concern coloring his tone.

"Do you have any idea where she’s at? Is she out with Rachel or something?" Ash asked feeling the anxiety reach new levels as she waited for Ben to answer her.

"What’s this all about, Ash? I’m not Irish’s keeper, you know," Ben said.

"I…" Ash paused not really knowing why she felt this overwhelming need to know if Lauren was all right. It was just a gut feeling and she had a feeling if she said that to Ben he would think she had totally gone off her rocker. "I just haven’t been able to get a hold of her and was a little concerned. You wouldn’t by any chance have Rachel’s number would you?"

"Hmm, I might. I’ll have to go look," Benson mused.

"Well, go look then. I’ll wait," Ash ordered with a touch of impatience.

"Okay! Damn, Ash calm down," Ben grumbled into the phone.

Ash closed her eyes as she heard the clunk as Ben set the phone down. Get a grip! Just take a deep breath and calm down, she ordered herself. She opened her eyes to meet the concerned hazel of her brother’s. She felt her mouth try to smile but by the look on his face she figured she had failed miserably.

"You have some serious explaining to do, sis," Graham stated.

Ash sighed and leaned back on the workbench. "I just have a bad feeling about Lauren okay?"

Graham stared at her blankly for a moment. "What do you mean you have a ‘feeling’? You going all Jedi on me or something?" Graham joked.

"Its not funny, Graham," Ash growled and Graham paled at her tone. She closed her eyes and fought back her temper. She knew Graham didn’t mean anything by it and to tell the truth she’d probably have made the same remark not too long ago. "I can’t explain it any better than that, okay?" she asked opening her eyes and giving her brother a pleading look.

"Okay, Ash," Graham assured her giving her knee a pat. "I just hope you know what you’re doing, because if you think I’m giving you a hard time, wait ‘til you get back to Seattle and have to face Benson and Louis!"

Ash groaned and Graham chuckled.

"Ash? You still there?"

Ash stood up straight at the sound of her cousin’s voice. "Yeah, I’m here. Do you have the number?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah. You got something to write with?" Ben asked.

Ash frowned, "Hold on a sec," she turned to Graham and said, "You got a pen or something?"

Graham pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket and handed it to her without a word. Ash nodded her thanks and turned around to search the workbench for something to write on. She found a scrap of paper that didn’t look too important and set it before her.

"Okay, Ben, go ahead," she said into the phone with the pen poised to write. She quickly scribbled down the number as Ben read it to her. "Thanks, Ben. I’ll call you later."

"Ash, wait a min…"Ash hit the disconnect cutting Ben off in mid sentence and waited for the dial tone so she could call Rachel’s number.

"Did you just hang up on him?" Graham asked incredulously.

"Yeah," Ash nodded as she cradled the phone with her shoulder and began to dial the number Ben had given her. "Now be quiet while I talk to Rachel will you?"

"Whatever," Graham snorted in disgust. "You have definitely gone off the deep end. I’m going to go see what Tom and Tiffany ordered for dinner. When you decide to be human again you can join us." He spun his chair around and shot towards the door.

"Graham…" Ash called but Graham just waved a hand dismissively at her and rolled through the door, slamming it shut behind him. "Damn," Ash swore leaning against the workbench and shaking her head ruefully. She knew Graham was right and she was acting crazy, but she just couldn’t take the time to try and explain. He’ll get over it. He’ll understand once I explain it to him. She snorted. Yeah, right! If someone could explain it to me first!


"Is this Rachel?" Ash asked feeling her heart speed up once more.

"Yes? Can I help you?"

"Hi, Rachel. It’s me Ash. Is Lauren with you?"

"What? Isn’t she with you?"

"What?" Ash asked in confusion. "Why would she be with me?"

"Aren’t you in Spokane?" Rachel questioned.

"No…" Ash said slowly, wondering what this was all about.

"Oh shit," Rachel swore under her breath.

"What was that?" Ash asked feeling her gut clench painfully.

"Umm, why aren’t you in Spokane? I thought you were staying with your friend Lu for the next couple of days."

"I decided to head to my folks last night. What does this have to do with Lauren? Rachel, tell me what the hell you’re talking about!" Ash ordered her voice rising as the anxiety heightened.

Rachel sighed. "Well, you’re supposed to be in Spokane! Lauren borrowed my car yesterday and drove out there to see you! Didn’t you tell her you were going to your folks?" Rachel demanded in exasperation.

Ash closed her eyes and swallowed back the tears she could feel brimming. "Oh damn. I didn’t tell her when I talked to her last. I really wasn’t thinking all that straight and I didn’t even think to mention it. I did leave a message on her machine last night to tell her, but I guess she was already gone, huh?"

"Well, she’s in Spokane as far as I know. She was going to call over to Lu’s and get directions when she got there. I figure she’s still there since she called me last night to tell me she had made it there safe," Rachel said. "So if you’re looking for her you better get your ass to Spokane and try and fix this total mess you’ve made!"

Ash nodded and then realizing Rachel couldn’t see that said, "Yeah, you’re right. I really messed up didn’t I?"

"Yes, you most certainly did! Now, you want to tell me why you’re in such an all fire hurry to find her? What’s going on?" Rachel demanded.

"I wish I knew," Ash sighed.


"Nothing. I promise I’ll call you as soon as I’ve talked with Lauren. I’m sorry, Rachel, but I really need to go and call Lu’s," Ash said apologetically.

"You better not hurt her, Ashlin Gray! Or I’ll have to kick your ass," Rachel threatened in a cold voice.

"Okay, Rachel. I’ll remember that," Ash said seriously. "I’ll talk to you later."

"Have Lauren call me when you get a hold of her."



"Bye, Rachel," Ash said quietly and heard Rachel slam down the receiver on her end. "Damn, but I’m in some serious trouble." Ash carefully hung up the phone and tried to think what to do. She couldn’t believe Lauren was in Spokane. What the hell is she doing there? I told her I had to have some time to think some things through! Ash felt a moment of anger flash, but it was quickly doused by the concern she still felt. She went there thinking she could help, you dumbass! She said on the phone that she wanted to help! She probably thought she’d just show up and I wouldn’t be able to argue. Ash smiled knowing that Lauren had been perfectly correct in that assumption. She wouldn’t have argued one bit! But what the hell’s happened in Spokane? Why does it feel like my guts are in knots? She closed her eyes and slumped down to the floor of the garage, wrapping her arms around her knees. I think I’ll totally lose it if something’s happened to you, Lauren. Especially knowing that the only reason you went to Spokane was to see me. Ash rested her head on the top of her knees and struggled to keep the myriad of emotions from busting loose and tearing her apart. I know something’s happened! I… Ash closed her eyes as she delved deep inside herself for the meaning of what exactly she was feeling. I can feel that something’s wrong. Just like Lauren knew when things went bad in the take down! Ash jumped to her feet as her heart began to race. Oh shit! Oh shit! That means that Lauren’s in trouble! And I should’ve been there! Her mind screamed.

She whirled around and practically ripped the phone off the wall in her panic. She began punching in Lu’s number but had to stop and try again since her hands were shaking so bad that she kept miskeying.

"Just calm down!" she ordered herself as she took a few long deep breaths. Finally feeling like she was somewhat in control, she returned to the phone and carefully began punching in her phone card code and then Lu’s number at the prompt.

She listened to the phone ring and ring and felt her stomach plummet. "Come on, Lu, answer!" she pleaded.

After the fifth ring the phone clicked and Lu’s answering machine came on.

"Shit, shit, shit!" Ash swore as she waited for the tone to leave her message. "Lu, its me. I just found out that Lauren is there. Is everything okay? Call me back as soon as you get this!" Ash hung up the phone and then remembered she didn’t leave a number to have Lu call her back at. Lu would more than likely call her cell and she didn’t have it with her.

She picked up the phone and quickly dialed Lu’s number again and waited impatiently for the damn machine to pick up.

"Sorry, I don’t have my phone with me. Call me back at…" Ash leaned forward to read the number on the phone and realized that there wasn’t one. "Shit! Umm… seems I don’t know the number here. Guess I’ll call you back and leave the number as soon as I know it!"

Ash slammed down the receiver and glared at the useless contraption. Now what? She wondered, drumming her fingers on the workbench. Guess I better go ask Thomas what the hell his phone number is and then hope that Lu checks her damn machine and calls me back! She sighed and headed for the door. Or I could just get in my truck and go back to Spokane. She stopped dead at the thought and then shook her head in denial. Don’t be crazy. Wait for Lu to call. You’d feel like a total idiot if you got there and found the three of them just sitting around watching movies or something. She began walking once more but her mind wasn’t finished with her yet. Yeah, but you’re supposed to be there. Lauren is probably really pissed. She felt her heart clench at the thought. Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’ll just have to beg for forgiveness when I see her again.

Ash reached the house and went in through the back door in search of Thomas.


"How the fuck could you have missed her?" Tommie screamed at his brother, pounding his fists on the dashboard.

Roy ignored the tantrum his brother was throwing as he tried to think of what to do next. He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the bitch Darkcloud running after the car. "Shit!" he swore as he quickly spun the wheel and swerved around the corner. Tommie yelled in surprise and grabbed the dash to keep from being thrown from the violence of the maneuver.

"What the fuck you trying to do, Roy? Kill us?" Tommie accused as he straightened in his seat and glared at his brother.

"Would you shut the fuck up and let me think?" Roy growled through his teeth as he swerved around another corner and gunned the engine. "We gotta dump this car and get out of here."

"What? Why?" Tommie asked confused.

"Because that Indian bitch may have got the plate number and I really don’t feel like rotting in jail!" Roy shot back.

"Shit! Do you think she did?" Tommie asked with a note of fear. He spun in his seat and stared out the back window.

Roy reached out and slapped him on the back of the head. "What you looking for, dumbass? She’s not the bionic woman!"

"Hey!" Tommie yelped as he ducked his brother’s second attempt to smack him. "Would you quit fucking hitting me?"

"Yeah, as soon as you quit being such an idiot," Roy growled as he scanned the streets trying to find a good place to dump the car. "Now turn the fuck around and start looking for a good place to ditch the car."

"Okay. Fine," Tommie grunted as he turned back in his seat and sat with his arms crossed over his chest sullenly. He stared out the window searching for a good place like his brother had asked. His eye caught something and he said, "Roy, stop the car." Roy glanced over at him and Tommie pointed out the window to his find. "I think that’s a perfect spot."

Roy felt a smile touch his lips as he nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that ought to do. Good work, Tommie."

"Let’s just ditch this and get the fuck out of here, okay?" Tommie sighed as he sat back.

Roy grunted in agreement and turned the car. "Okay, I’ll let you out here and you can go back to the road and see if you can get us another ride." Tommie opened his mouth to protest and Roy scowled. "Do as I say, Tommie."

Tommie stared at him stubbornly for a moment and then shrugged in surrender. "Fine," he grumbled as he swung his door open and climbed out. "Don’t take fucking forever, okay? We still got to figure out how to take blondie out."

"No shit. Now get going," Roy said as he pulled away and Tommie quickly slammed the door shut. "Shit. This is just getting way out of hand," Roy grumbled to himself as he steered the car to the dumping spot that Tommie had found. "I just wish we didn’t need the money so damn bad and we could just walk away from this."

Roy stopped the car and turned off the engine with a sigh. "I just have a bad feeling about this one," he murmured to himself as he pulled out a rag from his back pocket and began to systematically wipe down the interior of the car to eliminate any fingerprints he or Tommie may have left. "Time to go," he said as he popped the door and climbed out. He slammed the door shut and looked around. "Not a soul in sight," he grinned as he began to whistle and walk nonchalantly back towards the street.



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