Mountain Memories

By Kennedy Northcutt ©2011

For disclaimers, see Part 1.

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Part 11

Chapter 27

"How's she doing?" Ben walked into the kitchen and swiped a cookie from the cooling rack on the counter before his wife could catch him at it.

"Hey!" Carrie tried to swat him and missed. "Those are for later, Benjamin Anthony."

"You're making them for Mac and DJ," Ben munched happily on his prize. "I should at least get one of your famous peanut butter cookies. They're delicious."

"Why do you think they're for those two?"

"Mac loves peanut butter cookies," he replied matter-of-factly. "They're her favorite next to Oreos. And DJ just loves cookies. Doesn't matter what kind. He'd eat the entire batch, if you let him."

"Maybe," Carrie shrugged, as she took another batch out of the oven and set them on the counter. "And your sister is asleep. So is your son. They took their medicine, ate the soup I made for them and both are resting comfortably. Is there anything else?"

Ben wrapped his arms around his wife and hugged her to him. "What's for dinner?"

"Oh, you want dinner, now, do you?" She turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck, which meant he had to bend down to be on a level with her.

"Jimmy and Tanner will be in shortly," Ben replied. "They'll be starving. They did work pretty hard getting the stock into the west pasture before that next storm hits. They also helped Blackie repair fences near Mac's place. Didn't know we had so many fences down over there. It's been a bit hectic with all the vet calls I've had to make lately."

"Well, there's a chicken roasting in the other oven," She ran her fingers through his hair. "So, I don't think my boys will starve tonight. And you all worked hard today. So did I. I just can't believe Big Al showed up here, dropped your sister on our doorstep with her meds and left. I think he had a hot date or something."

"Did Mac say anything about where Lacey is or what she's doing?"

"Not really," Carrie extracted herself from his arms and continued puttering around the kitchen. "She really didn't say much of anything. One look at her and I knew she was sicker than a dog. Big Al tossed me her drugs and I took her right up to her old room. She's pretty much been in and out of it ever since. I'm guessing Lacey is still with the SAR people."

"Maybe I should give Sully a call and see what's up," Ben grabbed the phone and quickly dialed a number. "Yeah, Sully? Hey, it's Ben Papadopoulos, Mac's brother. Just wanted to touch base with you to see if you have a Lacey Stephens there and, if so, can I talk to her?" He listened. "Oh, really? When was that?" He listened again. "I see. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I hope the next storm isn't too bad." Another pause. "Well, can you relay a message to her when you get a chance? Just tell her my sister is here at the house with us. She came in this afternoon and will be here until Lacey is finished there." One final pause. "Okay, great. Thanks, Sully. Take care."

Carrie watched Ben hang up the phone and then looked at him expectantly.

"She went with one of the teams," Ben supplied. "Sully wasn't sure when they'll be back. That next storm is a pretty big one and is bringing a lot more snow than expected. He thinks they'll probably hunker down and wait it out."

"Isn't he in radio contact with the team?" Carrie asked. "Can't he get in touch with them and let Lacey know the situation here? I noticed you didn't say anything about Mackenzie being sick."

"There is no radio contact," Ben watched her clean up her baking mess, as she started preparations for dinner. "The storms are interfering with the radios. That's why they have two doctors with them on that team. Sully wanted to be able to cover all their bases, just in case things don't go as planned."

"And the other teams?"

"The others haven't gone out yet," he answered with a frown. "Sully said the Calvert's Ridge SAR was their top priority, because he was sure there was at least one serious injury involved. One of the climbers managed to radio in before the storm hit."

"Why Lacey?" Carrie stopped and turned to look at him. "She isn't even an official member of Teton County Search and Rescue."

"She's a field surgeon," Ben shrugged. "She's used to dealing with trauma cases. It's what she did in Iraq."

"I don't like it, Ben," Carrie shook her head. "It's not enough that she was in a helicopter crash only a few months ago and just learned her mother was murdered. Not to mention Mackenzie rescuing her from that awful place in Louisiana. Now she's traipsing off to God knows where in a blizzard? Is she trying to get herself killed?"

Ben could see how upset Carrie was. "You care about her, don't you?"

"I…" Carrie glanced over Ben's shoulder. "What the hell are you doing out of bed?"

Ben turned to find his sister leaning against the doorway. He took in how truly awful she looked. Not only was her hair in wild disarray, but there were dark circles under her eyes and she was as pale as a sheet. She wore a pair of light-blue flannel pajama pants with ducks on them and a white t-shirt with a purple-and-green flannel long-sleeve overshirt. Her feet were bare and her toes peeked out from beneath her pants.

"Water," Mac croaked out, as a coughing fit shook her entire body and she covered her mouth with a wad of tissues. "Please."

"Go back to bed, Mackenzie," Carrie ordered. "I'll bring you a glass of water. Would you like some tea or juice or something?" Mac nodded. "Okay, I'll bring something up, right away. Now, back to bed with you. You look like death warmed over, for cryin' out loud. Shoo!"

"Where's Lacey?" Mac looked at her brother with the expression of a lost child.

"I'm not sure, lil' bit," Ben walked over to her and put an arm around her shoulders. "Come on. I'll take you back upstairs."

Her head dropped against his shoulder as soon as he was at her side. "Want Lacey, Ben."

"I know, lil' bit," Ben guided her out of the kitchen towards the stair. "I talked to Sully and he said she's out in the field doing what she does best."

"That's my Lacey," Mac replied with a heavy sigh that resulted in another coughing fit that wracked her entire body and left her feeling weaker than before.

Ben paused on the landing in order to let Mac catch her breath. He then proceeded up the stairs with her leaning heavily on him for support.

"You need to stay in bed and rest, Mac," he rubbed her arm. "Get over this illness and regain your strength for Lacey. She wouldn't want you wearing yourself out for her. You said yourself that she can take care of herself."

"She needs me," Mac said in a small voice.

"She needs you healthy and whole," Ben added, as they reached Mac's room. "Now, off to bed with you, lil' bit. And stay there, this time."

"Where's Mindy?" Mac said, as she climbed back into the queen-sized bed and pulled the covers up around her.

"With DJ," Ben smiled. "She hasn't left his side since this morning."

"Traitorous dog," Mac groused as her eyes drifted shut. "'S what I get for lettin' her come over here so much."

"Go to sleep, lil' bit," Ben couldn't help but smile at the childishness Mac was displaying. "Sweet dreams."


Chapter 28

Lacey looked out at the driving snow that was so thick she couldn't see more than ten feet beyond the tarp shelter where she safely lay with her leg propped on the plastic Igloo from the cache. A blazing fire fought against the snow that was falling heavily. And Dani constantly added more logs to keep it going. She added yet another one and sparks flew up into the night sky and quickly disappeared in the snowfall.

"It's really coming down," Dani commented, as she absently stirred a pot of beans on a rack set to one side of the fire.

"Yeah," Lacey tried to see the rock wall that was only twenty yards away. She could see nothing but the snowy darkness. "Are they going to stay up there until it stops? I can't believe they're not down here yet."

"Don't really know," Dani shrugged. "They might. It depends on how bad things are up there. They might attempt to bring the climbers down. They might not." She then looked at the makeshift ice pack on Lacey knee. "How's your leg doing?"

"Numb, mostly," Lacey replied, as she adjusted the ice pack that was nothing more than a plastic Ziploc bag with snow in it. "Can't really feel it anymore."

"That's not necessarily a good thing, Lacey," Dani moved to Lacey's side and examined her leg more closely. "The swelling seems to be coming down a bit. That's good, at least."

"How's the color?" Lacey propped herself up on her elbows. "Still black and blue?"

"Red, mostly," Dani replied. "Which means you're still getting circulation. That's something."

"This sucks!" Lacey let herself drop to her back. "What the hell was I thinking, anyway? Coming up here was such a stupid idea. I can't believe I came."

"Hey," Dani scooted over until she was next to Lacey's shoulder. "Don't beat yourself up over it, okay? I feel bad enough for suggesting you tag along on this crazy expedition."

"I agreed to come," Lacey stared up at the tarp overhead. "I knew the risks and ignored every single one of them. I'm the one who got myself into this. It's my own damn fault, Dani."

"We're all in this together, Lacey," Dani sat down on the sleeping bag that was spread out next to Lacey. "It's part of being a member of this team. We stick together and help each other out. We're like a military combat unit. Leave no man-or woman-behind."

"That's the Marines, Dani," Lacey snickered. "You're confusing your military branches."

"It's all good," Dani smiled. "We get the job done, one way or another. Just please stop beating yourself up over this. Okay? Elaine used to do that about our relationship. It sucked. I hated listening to her go on and on about how she was the cause of all our problems."

"You need to talk about it? I'm all ears."

"Not really," Dani poked the fire. "Not much to talk about. I was a shit and didn't pay attention to her. She felt neglected. That's why she's trying to get custody of the dogs. She thinks I don't pay enough attention to them, either."

"Do you?"

Dani shrugged. "Probably more than I did Elaine. Who knows? I used to bring them on SAR ops. Started doing that when they were still puppies. They would've torn our place apart if I'd left them home while she was at work."

"You mentioned she worked two jobs," Lacey said. "Maybe the neglect went both ways?"

"Maybe," Dani shrugged again. "I don't know. I guess I just didn't give it much thought. We were comfortable together. She cooked. I cleaned. And vice versa. We had our routines and it seemed to work for us. At least I thought so. Then one day she tells me she's done. She can't take it anymore. I went to work at the clinic, came home and she was gone. All her stuff was gone, too. Turns out she moved in with some guy she knew from work."

Lacey's brow rose. "She hooked up with a guy?"

"No," Dani shook her head with a sad smile. "He's just her roommate. There's nothing between them. Elaine is a tried and true lesbian. She tried straight in high school and figured out she wasn't being true to herself. Somewhere along the way, though, we just…I don't really know what happened. That magic spark we had in the beginning of our relationship just fizzled out and died, I guess."

"Huh," Lacey replied thoughtfully. "Six years is a long time to just give up, though, isn't it?"

"For me, six years was enough," Dani shrugged. "We had some good times and a few hard ones, too. The hard ones were the worst. We argued a lot when things weren't how we wanted them. Not really all that much fun."

"That sucks," Lacey frowned. "I can't really see that happening with me and Mac. We have chemistry. I just can't imagine myself living without her. She's," she shrugged, "already so much a part of me. I rely on her for emotional support. I don't think I could've gotten through half of the shit I've been through without her."

"You two sound like the ideal couple," Dani smiled wistfully. "I can only hope to find that myself, one day."

"You will," Lacey said confidently. "Just don't give up. It took me a long time to find Mackenzie. It seemed like forever. Now I can't imagine what things would be like without her. Like I said, she's an integral part of my life now."

A noise beyond the shelter caught Dani's attention.

"Did you hear that?" Dani glanced out at the falling snow beyond their shelter.

"No," Lacey looked out at the heavily falling snow. "I don't see anything, either."

They both sat there in silence for a few moments, until a jangling of metal several feet away confirmed their suspicions.

"They're coming," Dani said, as she pulled her hood up and scooted out of the shelter. "We're over here, guys!"

Several dark shadows moved in the distance and finally coalesced into five upright figures carrying one horizontal figure on a backboard.

"Set him here," Brenda quickly ducked underneath the tarp and motioned for the others to put their burden down in a cleared space near Lacey. "Hey, kids. Miss us?"

"A little," Dani waited for the two EMTs to move away. "We kept the place warm and cozy for you. Even managed to get some grub going."

"I see that," Brenda glanced at Lacey. "And how are you, Dr. Stephens?"

"I'll live," Lacey was about to sit up, but was waved off by the brunette doctor. "What did you guys find up there?"

"Snow, snow and more snow," Brenda replied, as she quickly checked the patient on the backboard. "And a couple of hypothermic climbers, one of which took a nasty spill onto a granite ledge. Didn't you, Patrick?"

"Y-yes," the twenty-year-old on the stretcher replied. "C-cold."

"Need some blankets over here, guys," Brenda looked to the two EMTs, who were huddled on the other side of the roaring fire.

"Where's Brad?" Lacey glanced from Brenda to the EMTs and noticed only one other person standing at the edge of their makeshift camp.

"He's coming," the stranger stepped forward into the light from the fire. "He said he wanted to secure the rigging and stow it in the cache, so you guys won't have to carry it out in the morning." She then glanced at the young man on the stretcher. "I'm Maggie, by the way. This is my fiancé, Patrick."

"Dr. Stephens," Lacey propped herself on her elbows and gave the woman a quick reassuring smile. "Why don't you sit by the fire, Maggie. Warm up and have something to eat. We have trail bars, water…"

"I'm okay," Maggie continued to stand off to one side. "I'm just really worried about Patrick. He's the one who fell the hardest."

"It's n-not y-your fault, s-sweetheart," Patrick's teeth continued to chatter, even when one of the EMTs gingerly wrapped a thermal insulated blanket around him.

"Talk to me, Brenda," Lacey said to the woman who was examining their patient. "Tell me what we have here."

"Broken tibia and possible fracture of the pelvis," Brenda answered. "He was complaining of pain in his lower abdomen when we brought him down, too. There might be some internal injuries, but I'm not sure."

"S-still hurts like h-hell," Patrick added through gritted teeth.

Lacey glanced at the woman standing nearby and noticed a small trickle of blood on the side of her head. "Maggie?"

Maggie pulled her intense gaze from Patrick and looked at Lacey with wide eyes. "Hm?"

"Why don't you come over here and sit down?" Lacey sat up. "Let me take a look at that cut on your head."

"I'm fine," Maggie averted her gaze from Lacey's.

"You're not fine, Maggie," said Lacey. "You have a cut on your head."

Maggie touched her temple and winced. "It's nothing. I must have hit it when I fell."

Alarm bells went off in Lacey's head. "You fell, Maggie?"

The woman nodded and winced again. "We both fell. I landed on Patrick. He broke my fall." Tears suddenly sprang to her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. "I thought I killed him."

"Did you hit your head when you fell, Maggie?" Lacey glanced at Brenda and Dani, who were engrossed in caring for Patrick.

"I…I think so," Maggie answered with a shrug. "I don't really remember."

"How does your head feel, Maggie?" Lacey watched the woman as closely as she could from where she lay.

And then she saw Maggie sway slightly. Lacey didn't think. She just reacted on instinct and quickly got to her feet. She scrambled toward the woman and wrapped her arms around her, just as Maggie's eyes rolled back in her head and she went limp. They both went down hard in the snow. Maggie collapsed on top of Lacey, whose knee twisted beneath them both. She felt something tear and grunted in pain, as Maggie's legs tangled with her own.

"What the…" Dani rushed over to where the two women were sprawled in the snow and quickly lifted the unconscious woman off Lacey. "Lacey? Are you okay?"

Her eyes shut tight and teeth gritted against the searing pain in her knee, Lacey could do nothing more than breathe as she lay there in the snow trying to will the pain away. It wasn't working.

"Just…" She tried to speak, to tell Dani she would be fine, but the pain was so intense that she was sure she would pass out from it. "Goddammit!"

One of the EMTs was suddenly leaning over her, as Lacey opened her eyes and blinked away the tears that spilled out.

"What can I do, Dr. Stephens?" The bleach-blond Lacey vaguely remembered as Jake asked.

"My…knee," Lacey managed through gritted teeth. "Felt…something…tear…" She cringed when he gently probed the joint. "Yeouch! Stop that, you son of a bitch!"

"Sorry," he sat back on his haunches and held up his hands in surrender.

"Just get an inflatable splint for me, will ya?" Brenda was suddenly on Lacey's other side and glaring at her. "How bad is it?"

"Don't worry about me," Lacey gritted out, as the pain lessened enough for her to actually think and speak. "Take care of Maggie. She has a head injury. She's bleeding from her temple and she was disoriented. Didn't you guys check her when you were up on the mountain?"

"She didn't say anything about hitting her head," Brenda wrapped the inflatable immobilizer that Jake handed her around Lacey's leg and Velcroed it in place. "Besides, we were a little preoccupied with Patrick, there."

"Maggie has probably been in shock this entire time and didn't know it," Lacey gritted her teeth again when the splint inflated around her knee and squeezed her entire leg. "Holy fucking Christ!"

"Too tight?" Brenda looked from Lacey's face to the splint with concern.

"Just hurts like hell," Lacey felt sweat bead her brow and fresh tears spring to her eyes. "Can't believe I did that."

"Yeah, me either," Brenda replied as she got up to return to the other patients. "And I'll agree with the stupid part. Are you a masochist or something, Stephens?"

"Just check her pupils for me, will ya?" Lacey called to the woman's back. "And, for the record, masochism is the furthest thing from my mind."

"Why check her pupils?" Brenda shot over her shoulder. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that trickle from her temple is just a flesh wound and the real damage is from a bleeder in her skull," Lacey said. "If there's blood pooling in there and pressing on her brain, she'll die before we can get her back to base camp in the morning."

"And what do you propose we do, Dr. Stephens?" Brenda stopped with her hands on her hips and turned to glare at Lacey.

"Ease the pressure?" Lacey glanced up at Jake, who was still standing next to her. "Can you pick me up and carry me over there, Jake?"

"Sure thing, Dr. Stephens," he easily lifted her into his arms and returned her to the clearing, then set her on top of the sleeping bag. "Okay?"

"I can't really do anything from here," Lacey groused.

"No, but you can supervise," Dani said. "Tell us what we need to do to get these two stable until we can get them out of here tomorrow morning."

"We can't wait that long," Lacey glanced from one patient to the other. "We need to get them out of here tonight. We don't have a choice."

"What?" Brenda's head shot up.

"You heard me," Lacey looked to Jake again. "Find me a sturdy sapling or something that I can use as a crutch, will ya, Jake?"

"Sure thing, Dr. Stephens," he rushed off into the blowing snow.

"Are you insane?" Brenda stood up and glared at Lacey. "We can't go traipsing off in this shit. There's no way. Have you seen that snow falling in droves? Besides, it's pitch black out there. We'll all die from exposure. Or worse."

"Then we made this trip for nothing," Lacey looked at Patrick. "He has internal injuries and needs surgery. She is bleeding inside her skull and won't last the night without treatment. I've seen it before, Brenda. And we don't have the necessary equipment to help either of them."

Just then, Brad returned with an armload of wood that he dumped near the fire.

"Where've you been?" Lacey glared at him.

"What's it to you, Stephens?" He shot back with a glare of his own, as he added several logs to the fire. "I brought wood back for the fire."

"We won't need it," Lacey said. "We're leaving."

"What?" He glanced from Brenda to Dani and then at, Dan, the other EMT. "Did I miss something?"

"Dr. Stephens thinks our patients are going to die out here," Brenda shot back. "She says we need to get them back to base camp tonight."

"Not gonna happen," he shook his head emphatically. "We bed down here tonight and move out in the morning. That's the plan and we're sticking to it. No arguments."

"They'll both be dead by morning," Lacey said. "I guarantee it."

"You don't know shit, Dr. Stephens," he jabbed at the fire with a stick. "You're delusional from the pain."

Lacey felt her anger flare. "And you do, asshole? Since when did you earn a medical degree? Since when did you spend years as a field surgeon. When did you become such an expert in human anatomy and medical science?"

"Fuck you, bitch!" He shot back with an angry glare. "Who the hell invited you along on this SAR, anyway? I sure as hell didn't."

"I did," Dani put in.

"Fucking dyke bitch!" He shot to his feet and rounded on her. "You shoulda kept your nose outta my op, Dani!"

"What is your problem, Brad?" Brenda moved in between them, as they stood toe-to-toe. "Why do you always have to be such an asshole?"

Dani was livid, but kept her temper in check. None of them were aware that Lacey was on her feet and standing there, until they heard a small hiss from between her lips.

"We're leaving and that's final," Lacey glared at Brad. "If you don't like it, asshole, then stay here next to your nice, cozy fire."

"Fuck you!" He shouted inches from her face. "This is my op, not yours! You're not in charge here, Stephens!"

Lacey would never remember what happened next. All she knew was that she instantly saw red and lashed out without thinking. Her fist connected with Brad's jaw, surprising them all. Then someone grabbed her arm and she snapped.

She was suddenly in Iraq and fighting for her life against, not only insurgents, but the men who had raped her. She felt the world explode as chaos erupted around her. A feral scream tore from her throat as she went completely berserk. Voices melded together and then a fist connected with her cheek and knocked her to the ground. She went down hard, but that didn't stop her from fighting off those trying to pin her to the ground.

"Fucking crazy bitch!" Brad stumbled back from the fray, as the two EMTs attempted to subdue Lacey.

"Don't hurt her!" Brenda tried ineffectually to reach Lacey through the tangle of flying fists. "Let me get in here and give her a sedative!"

Lacey caught sight of the syringe from the corner of her eye and struggled all the harder against the hands that tried to hold her. She kicked out with both legs, despite the pain it caused to her injured knee. She screamed in terror and used every ounce of strength to battle against those she saw as attackers in a nightmare come to life.

"What the hell are you guys doing to her?" Dani jumped on Jake's back and tried pulling him off. "Stop it! STOP!"

Jake dumped Dani off his back as Brad jumped back into the fight.

"Someone get her feet!" Brad shoved half of Lacey's body down into the snow in an effort to pin her down and subdue her.

"You're hurting her!" Dani yelled.

"Fuck you!" Brad's head whipped around and he spat blood at her. "If you're not gonna help us, then get the fuck back, Dani!"

Lacey was well beyond any understanding of what was happening to her or around her. In her mind, she was in Iraq. Those piled on top of her were trying to kill her. Someone was forcing her face into the sand, except that the sand was ice cold. It didn't make sense. Nothing made sense. Nothing mattered but her survival. Someone yanked her coat open and tore at her clothing. A blast of cold air hit the skin of her arm and she shivered. Yet, still she struggled.

"Hold her still," Brenda moved in with the syringe at the ready and was finally able to insert the needle into Lacey's arm. She pushed injected the sedative before the struggling woman could break free. "Just hold her while that takes effect, gentlemen." Brenda watched closely as Lacey's breathing slowed and her eyes eventually drifted closed. "Okay," she nodded to the two men holding her down. "You can let go now. I think she's out."

"Are you sure?" Jake glanced down at the blond spitfire who was now quiet.

"Just get off her, will ya?" Dani pushed Jake aside and knelt next to Lacey. "You guys didn't have to beat the shit out of her."

"She didn't have to go all psycho rabid animal bitch on us, either!" Brad spat out a gob of blood into the churned snow next to him. "What the hell was that all about?"

"I don't know," Brenda sat down in the snow next to Dani and shoved a hand through her damp hair, as the snow continued to fall around them. "No matter what your thoughts are on the subject, though, Brad, I do think we need to break camp and head back to base. Now. We can't stay out here. We just can't."

"Fine," he threw up his hands, got up and stalked away. "Get your asses moving, people. We're moving out."

Dani stroked Lacey's sweat and snow damp hair, then looked at Brenda. "Well?"

"Now I know why she was asking about Heather," Brenda shook her head. "Poor woman. I just hope that wasn't a full-blown psychotic break she just had."

"Poor Brad," Dani snickered. "Did you see that swing she took at him? His jaw is never going to be the same. It swelled up almost instantly. I think she may have knocked a molar or two loose."

"Serves him right," Brenda chuckled. "He shouldn't have gotten up in her grill. He is such a dumbass."

"He really is," Dani continued to lightly stroke Lacey's damp cheek. "How do you propose we get her out of here, along with the others? We only brought two boards with us and there is no way she's walking on that leg of hers. I think she tore it when she caught Maggie and they fell."

"The guys are just going to have to take turns carrying her fireman style on their shoulder," Brenda shrugged. "There's no other way."

"Oh, that will just make their night," Dani scoffed. "She didn't go easy on them, either."

"I think that's what set her off, actually," Brenda said thoughtfully. "She didn't go wild until Jake tried to grab her and Dan moved in to help."

"Yeah," Dani smiled sadly. "I think you're right. I'd really like to know what happened to her that set her off like that. Poor kid."

Brenda glanced at her with a raised dark brow. "Kid? She's probably older than both of us."

"Doesn't look like it," Dani rubbed the backs of her fingers against Lacey's cheek. "She looks like she's just out of high school."

"Please tell me you're not falling in love with her, Dani," Brenda rolled her eyes at the woman. "She's really not your type."

"And what's my type, Brenda?" Dani shot the dark-haired woman a wry grin. "You?"

"Er," Brenda's eyes widened right before her expression turned guarded. "Maybe."

Dani's brow quirked. "Would you like to discuss this over drinks after we get back to town? Maybe get to know each other a little better?"

"I…" Brenda shrugged. "Okay. I guess that would be…um…fine."

"Let's go, people!" Brad's shout brought both women back to the matter at hand. "I'm not getting any younger."

They glanced up to find him with an ice pack on his face.

"We'll continue this over drinks, then," Dani smiled at Brenda as they both got to their feet.

"Most definitely," Brenda grinned. She then sobered when Jake came over and gently lifted Lacey over his shoulder. "Careful with her, Jake. She better not have any more bumps or bruises than she already has from the way you guys handled her."

"No, ma'am," Jake shifted Lacey's body until he had her where he wanted her.

Dani walked over and hoisted one end of the backboard with Maggie on it, while Dan and Brad lifted Patrick.

"I left a couple torches on the ground, there," Brad motioned with his chin. "I figure you can make yourself useful while you're keeping our patients alive, Brenda."

"Not a problem, Brad," Brenda lit one of the torches and held it high above her head.

"Well, aren't we being civil, all of a sudden," Dani muttered as they started on their way.

"Beats kicking the crap out of him for being such a complete dim wad," Brenda chuckled from next to Dani's shoulder.

"I think Lacey was onto something, actually," Dani glanced at the woman dangling over Jake's shoulder a few paces ahead of them. "Too bad she's not awake to revel in her triumph."

"I really don't want to be around when she does wake up," Brenda shuddered. "She's either going to be completely out of it or damned pissed off about the sedative."

"Or wondering why her guts feel like someone used her as a punching bag," Dani added with a wry grin.

"Or that," Brenda agreed with a smirk.


Chapter 29

Mac was drifting on a hazy sea of…Another cough from deep within her chest had her fully awake and brought a groan from her lips. She opened one eye and stared at a ray of sunlight streaming through a slit in the shade over her window. Dust motes danced in the golden glow like tiny fairies.

"Hey, lil' bit," Carrie breezed into the room carrying a tray that she set on the table next to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Like crap," Mac rasped. "Any word from Lacey?"

"Not yet," Carrie stood by the bed with a glass of water and some pills. "Sit up and take your meds, Mackenzie."

Mac shoved her pillow against the headboard and slowly propped herself into a seated position. She coughed again and Carrie waited until the hacking cough passed.

"Hate being sick," Mac groused through her plugged nose. "Sucks."

"Yes, it does," Carrie handed over the pills and water. "Now, take your medicine, lil' bit. I don't want to have to go through what I just did with DJ. That boy could try the patience of a saint." She then set a steaming cup of tea on the nightstand next to the box of tissues. "I also brought you some hot tea."

Mac's answering chuckle turned into a hacking cough that left her slumped against the pillow. She grabbed a wad of tissues and blew her nose. She then lifted the cup of tea to her lips and sipped.

"Want Lacey," Mac looked at Carrie through watery, red-rimmed eyes. "Tea is good. Hot, though."

"It's supposed to be hot," Carrie sat down on the edge of the bed and put a hand to Mac's forehead. "You want Lacey here so she can get sick, too?"

"No," Mac replied without much enthusiasm, as she sipped her tea. "Just want her here. I really miss her. Didn't sleep well without her next to me last night."

"You love her," Carrie said matter-of-factly.

"Yeah," Mac nodded and wiped her nose again. She finished her tea and handed the cup to Carrie. "Thanks."

"Does she love you, too?" Carrie took the cup and set it back on the tray, then turned to gaze intently into the bleary blue eyes.

"Yes," Mac replied with a firm nod.

"I'm glad, Mackenzie," Carrie stroked her sister in-law's damp cheek. "You don't know how long I've waited for you to find the right person for you. There was a time I was really afraid you never would."

"Me, too," Mac admitted with a wry grin. "But I did. She's the one, Car. She makes me so happy I want to cry. I can't imagine life without her. I just want to be with her."

"I see that," Carrie took Mac's hand in hers and held it. "She is a very lucky woman to have you in her life."

"I'm the lucky one," Mac finished with another cough. "Except for this crappy flu bug that just won't go away. Ugh!"

Carrie chuckled. "You sound like your nephew, except slightly older."

"Slightly?" Mac scowled.

"And now you look just like him," Carrie laughed. "Maybe I should have him come over here to keep you company. You can commiserate together."

"We could play video games together," Mac's expression perked up slightly.

"That is a definite possibility," Carrie actually considered the suggestion. "I'll tell him he can come in here with you after he takes his nap. You should probably take a nap, too. You'll kick this thing faster if you rest and drink lots of fluids."

"Yeah, yeah. That's what that quack in the ER said," Mac pulled the covers higher, as Carrie stood up. "I'm gonna beat Digger at that Lego Star Wars game of his. You can tell him I said so."

"I will," Carrie chuckled and shook her head. She then leaned down, kissed Mac's forehead and ruffled her damp bangs. "Rest, lil' bit. I'll be by in an hour or so to check on you and bring you some more tea."

"Thanks, Car," Mac scooted back down beneath the covers and curled up into a ball. "You're the best sister a girl could have."

Carrie grabbed the tray she'd carried in and headed for the door. She paused briefly in the doorway and turned to look at the woman who had become more like a sister than a sister in-law. She smiled at the blue eyes that stared back at her.

"Sweet dreams, lil' bit," Carrie said as she left the room.

Mac didn't really want to sleep and just lay there with her eyes on the empty doorway. She really did miss Lacey and wondered where the woman was. She also wondered if Lacey was getting along okay with the SAR people. Was she making new friends? From what Mac knew, Lacey had very few friends. She certainly didn't talk about any.

Mac's last thought before her eyes fluttered closed and she drifted off to sleep was that she and Lacey really needed to have a night on the town with some of the people Mac knew. Or maybe they should throw a party and invite all the SAR people, the guys at the airport and anyone else who wanted to come. Better yet, maybe Carrie and Ben could help out by throwing a party at their place.


Chapter 30

"I'm here," Lily said into the black telephone in the small cubicle. "What is it you want?"

"Lily," James put a hand on the glass. When she didn't return the gesture, he slowly lowered his hand. "I'm sorry."

"You killed my mother, you son of a bitch," Lily said in a tone devoid of emotion. "Lacey was right. You're worthless."

"It was an accident," James held to his defense. "I didn't mean to shoot her. I just wanted to scare her a little. I didn't even know it was loaded. You have to believe me, Lillian. I didn't mean for Meredith to die like that."

"And Travis?" Lily glared at him. "Why kill our driver? He didn't do anything to you. He was a good man."

James shook his head and sighed heavily. "We struggled over the gun and it went off. That's the God-honest truth. I swear."

"Liar," Lily narrowed her eyes at him. "Why did you ask me to come here? I really don't want to hear your lies, old man."

"I want to see your sister," James said. "I know you know where she is. Bring her to see me and you'll never have to come here again."

"Why?" Lily's expression turned guarded. "Haven't you done enough damage to her over the years? Wasn't abusing her and then having her committed to a mental institution against her will enough?"

"Lillian, you don't understand," James continued contritely. "I just want to talk to her. That's all. Just talk."

"She's not even your daughter," Lily said. "Mother told me what happened. Is that why you killed her? Was it because she told Lacey you're not her father? Are you going to tell Lacey that Mother was lying? Is that why you want her to come see you?"

James was livid. He knew about Meredith telling Lacey that he wasn't her father. But Lily, too? How could she?

"I raised you both, Lillian," he continued in a calm tone that belied the fury he was truly feeling. "You know that I love you both. You're my children."

"Bullshit!" Lily slammed a fist on the metal shelf in front of her. "You never loved either of us as much as you loved money, power and control. Now I know you're lying, James. And I don't care if you rot in this hellhole. I'm done."

She slammed the receiver back on its hook and stood up to leave. The shout from behind did nothing to deter her as she turned her back on the man she knew as her father and left. A relieved smile graced Lily's lips, as she followed the guard out of the jail.

Her father's trial would begin in a month and Lily hoped they threw the book at him. Better yet, she hoped they locked him away for the rest of his life. He had no money for a high-powered defense attorney and she wasn't about to pay his bail for him. As far as she was concerned, he could go to hell for everything he did. Tears sprang to her eyes when she stepped outside into the bright sunlight of a warm spring day. Thoughts of her mother and sister danced in her mind, as she crossed the street to the parking garage and found the beige rental she was using while in town.

As she slipped behind the wheel and settled into the seat, Lily pulled her cell phone from her purse and speed dialed a number.

"Hello? Commander Willows? Yes, this is Lily Trent. Lacey Stephens' sister?" She listened as recognition dawned. "I'm calling to find out if you've made any further progress with my sister's case." She listened carefully to his reply. "I see. Have you heard from them at all? Or do you think it is safe to go ahead and call them myself?" Another long pause while she listened. "No, no. That's fine. I just haven't heard from Lacey since I called to tell her about Mother. I'm a little concerned that she didn't take the news well." She glanced out the window at the other cars in the garage. "I just finished a visit with my father-my last, I'm afraid. I know he's lying about what he did to my mother. I just can't deal with him anymore. I won't be coming back to Houston, unless you need me for anything." She listened again. "I understand. I'll be sure to let my sister know you're still on top of things for her. Thank you, Commander. Goodbye."

Lily hit the end button on the phone and shoved it back into her purse. She thought of calling the Papadopoulos house again, to see if Lacey was there, then thought better of it. Commander Willows had already advised her it was best if she had limited contact with her sister, just in case someone had a tap on her phone. He said it was illegal to do so, but didn't put it past the government to use any means necessary to pursue and apprehend a fugitive.

Lily couldn't think of her sister as a fugitive. After everything Lacey had been through, she was a victim, not a fugitive. She just couldn't put her sister into the same category as the man she had just left in that jail. Lily glanced out the window again.

"Don't worry, Mother," she said quietly. "He'll get what's coming to him."

She sighed as her thoughts turned to her mother. The medical examiner's office had finally released her body to the funeral home. The service was set for the very next day. Lily couldn't help but hope that Lacey would somehow be there to say goodbye. Lily needed to say goodbye to her mother. She could only imagine that Lacey did, too. It wouldn't make the pain of losing Meredith go away. But it would sure help to ease some of the ache she was feeling.

With a resigned sigh, Lily started the beige Audi and pulled out of the parking lot across from the police station. She turned onto Travis and headed for the Hyatt, where she and Bill were staying. He had volunteered to accompany her on her visit to see her father, but she had declined. She just didn't think it would be appropriate for a U.S. Senator to show up at a police station, even if he was only there to escort her.

He had agreed that it was for the best and said he would wait in the hotel for her.

Glancing at the cell phone on the seat next to her, Lily felt a pang of longing to talk to her sister. She wanted that connection with Lacey. She needed it. But she restrained herself and didn't pick the phone up, as she pulled into the valet parking area in front of the Hyatt.

"Welcome back, Mrs. Trent," the young valet greeted her with a warm smile, as she handed over the keys. "Did you enjoy your lunch?"

"Lunch was wonderful, Brian," Lily replied. "Thank you."

"Not a problem, Mrs. Trent," he said as he climbed behind the wheel and pulled away.

Lily walked through the lobby, past the registration desk and to the bank of elevators beyond. She got into the first one that opened, used her key card to gain access to the penthouse suite and watched the doors close. Once alone, Lily breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed slightly as the elevator ascended to the top floor.

As the doors swished open, she stepped out into the small foyer and opened the door to the penthouse suite. She tossed her purse on a side table and walked down into the recessed living room. Heading directly to the small mini bar across the room, Lily quickly poured herself a snifter of scotch and downed it in several swallows.

"Hello, honey," William Trent stepped from the bedroom to greet his wife. He was taller than she was and had to lean down slightly to kiss her cheek. "How did it go?"

He looked closely at her and noticed tears swimming in her pale gray-green eyes. He brushed her cheek with his thumb and took the empty snifter from her hand, setting it on the table.

"Not one of my best days," Lily leaned into his chest and inhaled the expensive cologne he wore. "I saw my father."

Pulling her over to the couch, he sat down and wrapped his arms around her. "Tell me what happened, sweetheart."

"Don't wanna," she groused against his dress shirt.

"Come on, Lil," he kissed the top of her head. "Tell me all about it. It'll make you feel better."

"I hate him," Lily said after a moment. "I hate the son of a bitch for what he did."

"He's your father," Bill said.

"He killed my mother," she let the emotions loose. "And he killed our chauffeur. He isn't sorry about it, either. I know he meant to do it, even if he says he didn't. Why else would he have a gun with him? Why would he dump the limo in order to get rid of the evidence?"

He tilted his head and rested his cheek against her hair. "You're probably right, sweetheart."

"I am right."


"So, what?"

"What's next?"

"Mother's funeral," Lily sighed. "The notice was in the paper this morning, so all her friends and acquaintances will be there. They'll want to say their final goodbyes and talk about how wonderful she was. She was a wonderful woman. No doubt about that."

"It will be everything she would have wanted," Bill nodded. "Meredith would be very proud of you, Lil. You've done a fantastic job of arranging everything at such short notice."

"I wish Lacey was here," Lily sniffed back the tears that threatened. "She should be here, Bill. Mother would want her here."

"I know," he gently stroked her hair. "And I know you want your sister here, sweetheart. I have a few calls into the boys in Washington. Someone is looking into the accusations against her. They'll get to the bottom of everything. I promise."

"I just really need her here, Bill. You know?" Tears spilled onto his shirt.

"I know, sweetheart," he kissed her head again and felt the tears soak through his dress shirt to the undershirt beneath. "I know how much Lacey means to you and how much you want her here. But maybe this is for the best, sweetheart."

"She's my sister," Lily sat up and grabbed a tissue from the table. "I love her, Bill."

"I know," he said. "I just think there's been a lot going on with her lately and…"

"What the hell does that mean?" She jumped off his lap and stood by with her hands on her hips. Her temper flared. "What the hell, Bill?"

"I'm just saying it's probably best that she's not here for the funeral. That's all." His own temper flared. "Your sister has been kind of a magnet for trouble lately. I just think not having her at your mother's funeral-around your mother's close friends and acquaintances-is probably for the best."

"You know what he did to her," she threw up her hands. "You know that he had her committed against her will-drugged against her will. And Mother told Lacey that our father-my father-isn't her real father. And you know she practically died over in that godforsaken desert, Bill. How could you say such a thing about my sister? How could you?"

She turned her back on him.

"Now, Lillian…"

"Oh, don't 'now, Lillian' me, like I'm some damned child you intend to scold, William," she rounded on him with an angry glare. "Lacey is a wonderful person and a damned fine doctor. She served her country and nearly died for what she believed in. So don't tell me that it's for the best that she can't be here for her own mother's funeral!"

"She's a lesbian, Lil!"

"She's my sister, William!"

"Do you know what her lifestyle choice could do to her?" He asked in a much calmer tone. "Do you? She is still an officer in the United States Army, Lillian. She is a colonel, for Christ's sake. The policy is very clear on gays in the military."

"The policy is crap, William," she shot back. "You know it and I know it! But no one wants to challenge it openly for fear they will face ridicule or censure. And throwing a label around doesn't make it right. My sister is a good person who happens to love another woman. Why is that so wrong?"

"It just is, Lillian," he replied. "And it's not going to change, anytime soon. The Brass won't let it. The politicians in Washington won't allow it."

Deflated, Lily sat down on a nearby chair with her hands clasped in front of her. She wiped her tears and didn't meet his gaze.

"Tell me you don't agree with the Brass and the other politicians, William," she finally said.

He walked away a few paces with his hands on his hips, then turned back to her.

"She's your sister, Lillian," he said. "That's good enough for me."

She raised teary eyes to meet his gaze and saw the genuine smile on his lips. "I still wish she could be here, Bill."

"Me, too," he walked back over, took her in his arms and held her close. "Me, too, sweetheart."


Chapter 31

Dani was definitely feeling the strain of walking through the snow, even with the snow shoes strapped to her boots. Her thigh muscles burned and she had struggled with a cramp in her side for the better part of twenty minutes. But she ignored everything and pressed on with the rest of the group.

Glancing to her right, she noticed that Lacey was still unconscious from the sedative Brenda had given her. During their last rest stop, Jake and Dan had constructed a crude litter out of saplings, some sturdy branches and pine boughs. It was being pulled in the knee-deep snow by Dan, who took turns with Jake. The two had been relieved that they no longer had to carry Lacey on their shoulders and were celebrating with a small flask of scotch whiskey they passed between them.

"You wish you could ride on that thing, instead of her?" Brenda came up next to Dani.

"Not really," Dani shrugged. "My legs are gonna be sore tomorrow from all this walking, but that's fine. I'll just make the best of it and call in sick at work."

"I'm right there with ya," Brenda put her hands to the small of her back and stretched. "That last break wasn't long enough for these old bones."

"Old? Yeah, right," Dani glanced up at the falling snow. "If you're old, then I'm a freakin' ancient Egyptian."

"How about an Amazon warrior?" Brenda teased. "You could pass for a short one."

"Oh, that's it, midget," Dani glared at her. "Those are fightin' words, ya know."

"Yeah, yeah," Brenda smirked. "Try it and you'll be eatin' snow, Bevis."

"Bevis?" Dani smirked back. "Does that make you Butthead?"

Brenda chuckled. "I set myself up for that, didn't I?"

"Yep," Dani glanced up at the falling snow. "Man, I'll be glad when we're back in camp and can get some piping hot coffee. I could sure use the caffeine."

"Me, too," Brenda brushed some flakes off her lashes. "Can't believe it's still coming down so heavily. Is this the second storm or the third?"

"No clue," Dani replied. "What the…"

The guys in front suddenly stopped in the path, set the two patients down and dropped into the snow next to Maggie's side.

"Need you over here, now, Shubert!" Brad's shout pierced the silence.

"What is it?" Brenda hurried over and dropped down next to him. "What's the matter?"

"You tell me," he glared at her.

Brenda pulled her stethoscope from her pocket and shoved it in her ears. She then moved Maggie's blanket and coat aside to listen to her heart. After several moments she yanked the stethoscope away and wrapped it around her neck. She then lifted each of Maggie's eyelids.

"We're losing her," Brenda's tone was defeated. "Her left pupil is not responding, which means the hemorrhaging is pressing on her brain. There's nothing I can do."

"Yes, there is," Dani knelt next to her and glanced over at Lacey. "You can wake her up and let her tell you what to do."

"Oh, the hell you will!" Brad shook his head. "That woman stays unconscious. There's no way I'm dealing with that psycho bitch going all ape on us again. We're on the side of a damned mountain, for Christ's sake. This is no place for another full-blown psychotic episode."

"Shut up, Brad!" Dani shot him a meaningful glare. "Lacey Stephens is a damned fine doctor and is the only one here who can save this woman's life. We need her."

"She's right, Brad," Brenda pulled a syringe and vial from her pack. She inserted the needle into the vial and filled the syringe. "We need her. She knows how to perform the procedure that will relieve the pressure."

"You can't be serious," Brad glanced at Lacey. "What if she freaks out again?"

"Well," Brenda looked him in the eye, "maybe you should go somewhere else, Brad. Considering she only freaked out because you got up in her grill. I'd say it's a good bet she'll do it again if you're here when she wakes up."

Brenda shoved Lacey's sleeve up and injected her with a stimulant to bring her back to consciousness. She then sat back and waited for it to work.

"Come on, Stephens," she said quietly, as Brad moved off to join the EMTs next to Patrick. "We need you back with us."

"Lacey," Dani knelt on Lacey's other side and gently stroked her cheek. "Come on. Wake up."

Lacey's eyes fluttered slightly and her breathing quickened. Then she gasped and tried to sit up. Both Dani and Brenda held her down.

"It's okay, Lacey," Dani said against Lacey's ear. "You're safe."

Lacey looked wide-eyed at the two women, as she tried to figure out where she was. "What…"

"There's no time to explain, Lacey," Brenda said. "We have a situation and I need your expertise."

Lacey felt like her head was about to explode. Her thoughts were disjointed and the world around her was still slightly fuzzy, as she tried to concentrate.

"First tell me why I feel like shit," she managed to say through her dry-as-sand mouth. "Where are we?"

"We're still in the mountains," Dani explained. "You kind of had an episode and needed to be sedated."

"What happened to my leg?" Lacey stared with a slightly unfocused gaze at the inflatable splint. "And why does my head hurt so damned much?"

Brenda and Dani exchanged worried looks.

"Do you remember attacking Brad?" Brenda asked. "Do you remember why we're up on this mountain in the middle of a freakin' snow storm?"

"Who?" Lacey glanced around.

"This is pointless," Dani sighed exasperatedly. "You might as well knock her out again for all the good she'll do us."

"No, please," Lacey glanced from one woman to the other as tears sprang to her eyes. "Don't. No more drugs."

"Hey, it's okay," Dani wiped a tear from Lacey's cheek with her thumb. "I was just kidding."

Lacey closed her eyes and forced herself to stop crying. She sniffed back her remaining tears and made a conscious effort to get her mind to focus.

"What do you need from me?" She finally said after a few moments.

"Your help," Brenda said. "Maggie isn't doing well. I think she's still hemorraging inside her skull."

Her mind awhirl with images and emotions she couldn't quite face at the moment, Lacey tried to tune it all out. She still felt like she was swimming on a sea of disconnected thoughts and feelings that didn't quite make sense. But she knew she had to try to push it all aside and concentrate.

With great effort, Lacey focused on what Brenda had just said and pushed everything else back into the furthest recesses of her mind. It took a concerted effort, but she was finally able to compartmentalize it all and let the logical portion of her mind take over. She ran through all the possible scenarios and finally came up with a solution that would work.

"You need to relieve the pressure," Lacey finally uttered in a voice devoid of emotion. "Drain the blood from her skull before her brain shuts down and she goes into cardiac arrest. If you don't, she'll die."

"How?" Brenda asked.

"You'll need a scalpel, something to use as a shunt, some packing and a compress," Lacey replied in the same dead tone. "Make a small incision in the temple region and insert the shunt. Just be careful that you don't nick the temporal artery. She'll bleed to death, if you do."

"You've performed this procedure before, Dr. Stephens?" Brenda asked.

"A few times, actually," Lacey replied. "Head injuries are fairly common in the desert."

"Maybe you should do it, then," Dani suggested, then she caught the look Brenda gave her. "Not that you can't, Bren."

"I'm not sure I can," Brenda admitted. "I've never had to perform a procedure like this in the field before."

"You'll do fine," Lacey placed a hand on Brenda's. "Just take it slow and easy."

"I'm not a surgeon," Brenda argued. "You should do it, Lacey."

"I…" Lacey swallowed over a sudden lump in her throat and shook her head. "I can't."

"She's right," Dani put a comforting hand on Brenda's arm and squeezed. "You can do this, Bren. You have to do this. Maggie needs you right now. Don't let her down."

"Listen to her," Lacey added with a small smile for Dani. "She'll have your back. And I'm here for you, too-even if it's only for moral support."

"Thanks, girls," Brenda smiled wanly. "I need all the support I can get, if I'm going to do this."

"We're here for you, Bren," Dani gave her a reassuring smile. "Just tell me what you need me to do."

"There's a sterile scalpel in my bag," Brenda pointed to the red backpack near Maggie.

"And a shunt?" Dani rummaged in the bag. "Is there anything in here we can use as a shunt?"

"Use an IV tube," Lacey suggested. "Just cut a piece off the end of one of the sterile ones. That should work."

"Great idea," Brenda said. "Any other useful hints you can give me, Dr. Stephens?"

"Don't nick the temporal artery," Lacey said.

"You said that already," Brenda replied.

"Can't emphasize it enough," Lacey continued. "You nick that and it's all over for her. She dies out here and leaves poor Patrick to fend for himself."

"You remember Patrick, but you don't remember Brad?" Dani gave Lacey an incredulous look.

"I would love not to remember Brad," Brenda added with a chuckle. "He's an ass of the highest order."

"Are you two going to get on with it?" Brad shouted above the howl of the wind. "This damned storm isn't letting up any! We'll be buried alive if you don't get a move on!"

"Speak of the devil," Dani muttered with an exasperated eye roll.

Lacey couldn't see him from where she lay on the litter. But something in his tone set off warning bells in her head. She did know who he was. He was the idiot who had provoked her and sent her over the edge, earlier. And then someone grabbed her and…

She wanted nothing to do with him and was afraid that if he came near her again she would have another episode like the one before. That one had taken her completely by surprise, and she hadn't been able to control her actions. She didn't know if she had the strength of will to fight off those awful flashbacks and didn't want to find out.

"Keep him away from me," Lacey looked pointedly at Brenda.

Brenda caught the look of panic in Lacey's eyes. "You okay?"

"Just keep him away from me," Lacey repeated firmly and grabbed a hold of Brenda's sleeve tightly to emphasize her point. "I won't be responsible for what happens if he comes over here and gets up in my face again."

Brenda patted Lacey's hand on her sleeve. She could see the terror mixed with rage in the dull green eyes and wondered what the woman had seen in her life that would leave such emotional and psychological scars behind.

"Understood, Lacey," Brenda gently pried Lacey's hand free and just held onto it. "Brad won't bother you again. Not if I can help it."

"Me, either," Dani added, as she held out a scalpel that was still in its protective wrapper. "Is this what you wanted, Bren?"

Brenda took the package from Dani's hand. "It is. Thanks."

"No problem," Dani replied with a warm smile. "Ask and ye shall receive, Sherbet."

"Nice," Brenda shot her a wry grin. "Which kind of sherbet am I? Orange? Raspberry?"

"Rainbow, of course," Dani wiggled her eyebrows at the woman.

"Get a room, you two," Lacey said flatly.

Dani looked around at the falling snow and their surroundings. "I actually think this one is kind of cool."

"A little too crowded for me," Brenda added with a wry smirk. "Not a fan of crowds."

"Me, either," Lacey added.

"That makes three of us," Dani glanced over her shoulder at the guys sitting next to Patrick.

"Well," Brenda pulled a pair of surgical gloves from her pocket and donned them. "Let's get this over and done with, shall we? Brad is actually right that we need to get out of here before we're all just mounds of snow for another SAR team to stumble over."

"Did I just hear you right?" Dani followed Brenda to Maggie's side. "Tell me you did not just say Brad is right about something."

Lacey lay there and let their conversation fade into the background, as her thoughts turned inward. She could still sense that thin veil of insanity that lurked just at the edges of her mind. It was there. The flashbacks. The memories. The pain. Rape. Blood. Anguish. Grief. Her mother's murder. The beatings from the man she knew as her father. All the deep emotional and psychological scars she had carried around for as long as she could remember. It was all there. And it had slipped free so suddenly. It terrified her to think that she could lose control again like that. She hadn't even realized what was happening-hadn't thought about it at all. It just happened.

And now she couldn't stop it. She was awake. And so was all that baggage. It was like a monster lurking in the shadowy recesses of her mind. Watching. Waiting. Ready to make another appearance and take control again. It was a beast that needed to see the light of day. And Lacey didn't know if she could handle letting the beast run free. But she didn't know if she could stop it, either.

A tear slipped from a green eye, as snowflakes continued to fall on Lacey's cheeks. She wanted so desperately to have Mackenzie there with her. She needed that anchor in her life. But Mac wasn't there. Lacey was alone and the beast was lurking just behind that thin veil.


Chapter 32

James knew his only chance lay in the phone call he was about to make. He sat in the small room in the county jail and waited for the guard to return. The man had removed his handcuffs, at least. That was something. James hated the things. He also hated the bright orange jumpsuit he was forced to wear. But all that would soon change.

He hoped.

"Time to take that call, Stephens," the guard returned for him. "Sorry about this, but it's procedure."

James waited as the man put the handcuffs on again. The noise of the cuffs being closed around his wrists and the feel of the cold metal were enough to make him cringe, but he didn't. He wouldn't give the guard the satisfaction. James knew it was only a matter of time before he would be free once again.

The guard led him down a dim gray hallway to another small room. This one had a pay phone against the wall and a plastic chair in front of it. There were no other furnishings in the room.

"You have five minutes, Stephens," the guard said, as he quickly removed the handcuffs. "I'll be just outside."

"Only five?" James turned a pleading look on the taller man who looked more like a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys than a jailer.

The guard-Murphy by his brass name badge-had his black hair cut in the high-and-tight style of a soldier and was clean-shaven. His dark-brown eyes were beady, but there was a hint of kindness in them that James had picked up on immediately.

"Can't give you more than that, Stephens," Murphy said. "It would mean my job. And I gotta keep my job. Got a wife and kids to support."

"I understand. I'm a family man myself," James nodded, as the man stepped out of the room and shut the door.

James sat down on the hard plastic chair, picked up the phone and dialed a number by heart. He waited for someone to answer on the other end and wasn't disappointed when they did after only two rings.

"Hello, Harold?" James said. "It's James Stephens. Sorry to call so late. I hope I didn't wake you." He gave the man a moment to greet him, then, "Listen, Harold, I don't have a lot of time to talk. I'm kind of in a jam and need your help." He listened again. "It's legal trouble, Harold. I could really use your expertise and understanding. Also, can you post my bail? They set it at $250,000 and I just don't have that kind of money at hand at the moment. I would really appreciate it from one Harvard grad to…" He nodded, as the voice interrupted on the other end. "Yes, yes, no problem, Harold. You know I'm good for it. I really appreciate this and will make sure you aren't sorry. Say hello to Patricia for me. Goodnight, Harold."

Hanging up the phone, James let the hint of a triumphant smile touch his features. He was well on his way to freedom.

"Time's…" the guards opened the door and stopped, as James walked toward him with a spring in his step. "Never mind, Stephens. I see you're ready to go back to your cell."

"Yes, I am, Murphy," James held out his arms to the man. "Thank you for allowing me to make that call at such a late hour. I really appreciate it."

"Thanks for being so cooperative, Stephens," Murphy quickly cuffed the man. "Not too tight, I hope."

"Not at all."

"Good," Murphy held onto James' arm as he took him back to the main cell block. "Let's get you back to your cell, then."

"Not a problem, Murphy," James smirked. "I look forward to the day I can walk out of here and never return."

"Must have been some call, Stephens," Murphy commented, as they stopped in front of an empty cell and he opened the door.

"It got the job done," James said, as he waited for the guard to remove his handcuffs. "Now I just have to wait until morning."

Murphy closed the cell door and locked it. He then walked away without a backward glance. James walked over to the bed and sat down. He let his grin widen as he thought about what he would do first when he was free again.


Chapter 33

"Ha! I won again!" DJ jumped up and down on Mac's bed in triumph. "You can't beat me, Auntie Mac! I'm the man!"

"You certainly are, Digger," Mac sat up and crossed her legs Indian-style, as she watched her nephew bounce next to her. "Give me five, Diggs!"

He stopped bouncing long enough to slap her hand and then he resumed bouncing next to her.

"Dillan Jeremiah Papadopoulos!"

The jumping stopped instantly, and DJ was suddenly sitting Indian-style next to Mac with a wide-eyed grin.

"Sorry, Mama," he said. "I didn't mean to."

"You know better, young man," Carrie entered the room with a tray and set it on the low dresser next to Mac's wide-screen TV. "What did I tell you about getting rowdy while you're in here?"

"I said I was sorry," he replied contritely and then he grinned. "I won again, fair and square."

Carrie's brow shot up as she looked at Mac. "Are you two enjoying yourselves?"

"Totally," Mac replied with a tired grin, as she wiped her nose with a wad of tissues. "Apparently, kids bounce back from this thing a lot faster than us adults. I can't seem to make my thumbs work fast enough to beat your son."

"That's 'cause I'm the champ," DJ said matter-of-factly.

"Yes, you are," Carrie ruffled his hair. "Now, I brought you both dinner. I expect you to eat it and then it's off to bed with you, young man. Your aunt needs to rest and so do you."

"Aw, Mom," he complained.

"She's right, Digger," Mac coughed into the wad of tissues. "I need to get some sleep if we're going to have a rematch tomorrow. Okay?"

"Okay," he said, as Carrie handed him half a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup. "Can I be the green guy? I know you like green, but I really want to be him."

"Yes," Mac took the sandwich and soup Carrie handed her and saluted him with it. "You can most certainly be the green guy. I'll just have to suffer as Mr. Yellow."

"Col. Mustard," he corrected with his mouth full. "That's what they call him in Clue."

"Dillan Jeremiah," Carrie scolded.

"Sorry," he swallowed his food. "But I like calling him Col. Mustard. Kinda like Col. Stephens. Is Aunt Lacey coming back soon? I really miss her." He glanced at the puppy lying on the floor next to the bed. "So does Mindy."

"Oh, she told you that, eh?" Mac ruffled his hair.

"I just know," he said and shrugged as he took another bite of his sandwich. "Ya know?"

"That's enough, young man," Carrie said as she picked up the tray and carried it toward the door. "You both drink your juice. I'm also making you some more tea, Mackenzie. I'll bring it up when it's ready." She then looked pointedly at her son. "To bed with you as soon as you're finished eating, Dillan. No arguments."

He nodded.

"Don't worry, Car," Mac said between bites of her sandwich. "I'll make sure he gets there."

"You stay in that bed, Mackenzie," Carrie said and then looked pointedly at her son. "Dillan knows he has to get that little butt of his back to bed. I'll be up in fifteen minutes to check on you, young man. Ya hear?"

"Yes, ma'am," he rolled his eyes at her and then grinned at Mac.

Carrie left the two to their meal.

"Oh, no you don't, kiddo," Mac dipped a corner of her sandwich into her soup and took a bite. "I'm not getting on your mom's bad side just because you want to stay up for another few minutes. No way."

He pouted, as Mac ruffled his hair again.

"Not fair," he pouted again in earnest.

"Life's not fair, Digger," Mac said. "Better get used to it."

He shot her a scowl as they continued to eat their soup and sandwiches in silence. Mac just ignored his pout, as her thoughts turned to her wayward lover. Lacey had yet to check in and Mac was more than worried. She wanted to know what was keeping the woman. Did she get caught in the storm? Did they have trouble up there in the mountains? Were the storms keeping them from returning to camp? What the hell was going on?

Mac didn't know. But she was sure as hell going to get some answers, one way or another. It was high time she had Carrie or Ben make some calls. And Mac wasn't going to sleep until she had them. No siree.


Chapter 34

"We can't go any farther," Brad lowered his end Maggie's backboard. "The drifts are too high to scale in the dark."

"What the hell, Brad?" Dani barked, as she lowered Lacey's litter to the ground. "We can't stop now. We have to be getting close. It's well past midnight."

"Yeah," Brenda lowered Maggie to the thigh-deep snow. "This shunt isn't going to work forever. She needs immediate transport to the nearest hospital, Brad."

"Can you see ahead?" Brad countered, as he motioned for the two EMTs to lower Patrick to the snowy ground. "Neither can I. It's fucking hard enough to see with all this snow falling. I don't know where the path is, anymore."

"We need to calm down, people," Dan put in for the first time. "I know I really don't have a say here, but I'm gonna say my peace, anyway. Jake and I have put up with a lot of bullshit on this expedition. We're in agreement that our patients come first. But we can't keep going in this freakin' blizzard. It's just not safe for any of us. Something's gonna happen-someone's gonna get hurt-and then we'll all be screwed."

Lacey listened to them all. The arguments were playing havoc with her already-frazzled nerves and it didn't help that she was frozen to the bone, despite the layers of clothing she wore. Her feet were numb. Her knee hurt worse than it had all night. Her head ached unmercifully and she was sure all the chatter was going to push her over the edge again.

The others were arguing and she could hear Brad's voice above the rest. He wanted to stay out there in the fucking cold. He wanted to risk all their lives to hypothermia. For what? So he could play at being the hero? He was no more a hero than those assholes in Iraq who had raped her and left her for dead.

And that's when Lacey felt the rage kick in and take control. She sat up on the makeshift litter and managed to get to her feet, despite the searing pain in her leg. Nothing mattered in that moment. She had to make the asshole understand, even if it meant beating the shit out of him in order to do it.

"Fucking COWARD!"

No one saw it coming. None of them were prepared for the unexpected attack, as years of rage, years of physical and emotional abuse, finally broke free. Lacey launched herself at Brad and pummeled him with every ounce of strength she possessed. Her fists pounded his face as she lay sprawled on top of him. And when hands grabbed her to pull her off she fought all the harder and lashed out at everyone around her.

"Holy shit!" Dani exclaimed, as she turned a shocked gaze on Brenda. "Where the hell did she…"

Brenda sprang into action and raced over to her backpack. She rummaged around in it for another sedative, digging deep and coming up empty.

"Son of a bitch!" She sat back in frustration. "There isn't any more in here."

"What do you mean?" Dani glanced at the three men with the blond spitfire fighting like a crazed badger beneath them. "You can't be serious, Bren. We need to put her out before she kills one of them."

"Here," Brenda threw the bag at Dani. "You look, then. There was only one vial of Secobarbital in there and I used it up. I didn't think I was going to need more. It's not like we came out here to deal with a psychotic break, Dani."

"No, but that's exactly what we're dealing with," Dani rummaged through the bag and came up empty, as well. She threw the bag down onto the snow in frustration. "Damn! Now what the hell do we do?"

"Wait for one of them to knock her out," Brenda shrugged. "Brad's certainly not averse to fighting violence with violence."

"Would you two bitches get the fuck over here and take care of this psycho bitch!" Brad's voice carried over the din.

"Still think Brad's up to the challenge?" Dani snickered.

Brenda got up and headed back over to the fray. "Don't hurt her any more than you already have!"

"You want to get down here and let her punch your lights out, Shubert?" Brad glared up at her, as he tried to hold one of Lacey's arms. "Now, where the hell is that sedative?"

"We don't have any more, Brad," Brenda kept just out of reach of the flailing and screaming woman. "I used the last of it on Patrick an hour ago."

"Well, what the fuck do we do now?"

They didn't have long to wait for the answer. Lacey suddenly got a renewed surge of energy and burst free from the hold the three had on her. She delivered a roundhouse kick to Brad's head that sent him sprawling in a spray of blood. She then turned on Jake and surprised him with a punch to the jaw that knocked him back into the snow.

Dan grabbed Lacey from behind by wrapping his arms around her. But he neglected to capture her arms. She delivered a jab to his chin with her elbow that knocked his head back. He barely managed to hold her.

"Do something!" He glared at Brenda.

"Lacey!" Brenda shouted. "Stop it! STOP!"

Too far gone to be consciously aware of her surroundings, Lacey didn't respond to the shouts directed at her. Her mind was engulfed in images from her childhood and from Iraq. To her, Brad was her father who needed to be stopped. He was also an Iraqi insurgent trying to take her life. And the two EMTs were two of the men who had raped her. They, too, needed to be stopped. They needed to die. And Lacey would stop at nothing to see them dead.

Breaking free from the Dan's hold on her, Lacey head-butted him in the face and watched with a feral grin as blood spewed from his broken nose.

"Take that, you son of a bitch!" She looked on in satisfaction as Dan covered his nose with one hand.

"Fucking BITCH!" Brad suddenly launched himself at Lacey and took her down. He lifted a fist high into the air, "I've had enough of your bullshit, Stephens!" And then he punched her so hard that the sound of bone cracking could be heard in the eerie silence that followed. "There! Take that, bitch!"

He looked with satisfaction at the unconscious woman beneath him, as blood streamed down his chin and puddled in the snow next to her head. He then stumbled to his feet, spat a glob of blood out and shuffled off to lick his wounds.

Dani and Brenda were immediately at Lacey's side.

"Holy shit!" Dani's fingers gingerly touched the unconscious woman's already-swelling cheek. "Brad, you asshole! You didn't have to break her face!"

"Fuck you!" He shot back, as he held a handful of snow to his nose. "I knocked her out. So what? She deserved it for what she did to my fucking face. Goddammit!"

The other two slowly sat up and tried to get their bearings in the aftermath of the unexpected skirmish. Jake put his hands on either side of his own nose and shifted it back into place, as if it were something he did often enough that he didn't have to really think about it. And Dan worked his jaw back and forth a few times to make sure it wasn't broken.

"You guys okay?" Brenda quickly checked them both over, before returning to Lacey's side.

"We'll live," Dan nodded with a shy grin. "She's got some pretty good moves for such a small woman."

"She packs a mean right hook, man," Jake chuckled. "Damned, I totally didn't see that coming."

Brenda returned her attention to the unconscious woman lying in the snow. She then glanced at Dani and saw tears swimming in her eyes.

"Hey," Brenda reached out and put a finger under Dani's chin. "You okay?"

"Fine," Dani sniffed. "Just got something in my eye." She rubbed her eye and quickly swiped the tears away.

"Yeah, I'm sure that's it," Brenda said sarcastically.

"You think Brad will come to his senses, now?" Dani glanced at the man, who was holding a bloody cloth to his nose. She then looked down at Lacey and wiped a trickle of blood from a cut above her eyebrow. "I hate to admit it, but we're not really equipped to deal with her if she wakes up again, Bren."

"I know," Brenda sighed and glanced up at the falling snow. "Let me go talk to Brad. Maybe I can talk some sense into him. Or at least appeal to his vanity."

Dani watched Brenda walk over to Brad. The two got into a heated discussion, with Brad waving his arms and motioning in Lacey's direction. Dani couldn't hear what was said over the howl of the wind, but she could well imagine Brenda wasn't getting very far with her arguments.

And then Brenda was stalking back toward her. Dani could see the anger in the set of the woman's shoulders, even before she could see her face.

"Well, that went well," Brenda dejectedly plopped down next to Dani.

"He's not budging, is he?" Dani put a hand on the woman's shoulder. "You tried, Bren. I think I would have just punched him in the nose again."

Brenda chuckled. "I wanted to. Believe me."

"Maybe there's something to be said for having a psychotic break when dealing with Brad Miller," Dani glanced at Lacey. "Someone needed to teach the bastard a lesson."

"Unfortunately, I don't think it did any good," Brenda let her chin rest in her hands with her elbows propped on her knees. "Brad is as much an asshole as he was before. And now he's pissed enough to threaten to press charges against her for assaulting him."

"Damn," Dani shook her head. "As if all of this weren't bad enough? He really is an asshole of the highest order."

"I told him I'd have the police investigate his own actions, including her broken cheek, if he pressed charges against her," Brenda replied with a satisfied half-grin. "I think he'll back off, for now."

"Yeah?" Dani chuckled. "Good for you."

"Are we ready, people?" Brad's voice carried over the wind again. "I don't give a shit if we all go over the side of this fucking mountain and plunge to our deaths. This fiasco ends when we reach camp. I'm done."

Brenda and Dani exchanged quick glances and ducked their heads to hide their twin grins of satisfaction. While Dani grabbed the litter and set it down next to Lacey, Brenda checked on their other patients. Less than fifteen minutes later, the group had their gear gathered and set out again.

It was slow going in the driving wind and snow, but they managed to plod along and make steady progress. No one spoke. No one wanted to say anything in the aftermath of what had happened. There was nothing really to say.

They reached the outskirts of the base camp a little over an hour later. Their arrival was announced by one of the spotters who were watching for them. Word quickly spread and their small group was quickly surrounded by a crowd of onlookers and those who were ready and willing to lend a helping hand.

"Shit! What happened to Dr. Stephens?" Tim Lyons pushed through the group and emerged to find Brenda pulling the litter with a still-unconscious Lacey on it. "Did she fall or something?"

"Or something," Brenda glanced around to see if Brad was still there. He wasn't. "She tore something in her knee and…"

"Just transport her with the others, Tim," Dani interrupted and lowered her voice for his ears alone. "Something happened out there that we're not sharing with the rest of this bunch. You might want to give her a sedative while you're at it. There's no telling what she might do when she comes around."

He glanced from Brenda to Dani with concern. "Did she do that to Brad's face?"

"Yes," Brenda answered with a firm nod. "And I don't think he's very happy about it, either."

"He went right to Sully and quit," Tim said, as they lifted Lacey onto a stretcher and wheeled her toward one of the two waiting ambulances. "His nose looks like he was in a fight with a pit bull."

"You could say that," Dani snickered. "For a woman her size, she packs quite a wallop. I'm just glad I stayed out of her line of fire. I like my nose just the way it is, thank you very much."

The EMTs quickly got Patrick and Maggie loaded into one ambulance, while Brenda, Dani and Tim put Lacey into the second one. Tim rummaged in one of the supply bins and produced a syringe with a vial. He made quick work of injecting Lacey with the sedative.

"There, that should hold her until they get her to the hospital," he said to them. "Do you both want to ride with her and explain what happened?"

"I'll stick around and help out here," Brenda said, as she climbed from the back of the ambulance.

Tim jumped out, too.

"I'll go with her," Dani volunteered. "Make sure they know what they're dealing with." She then winked at Brenda. "See you in town for that drink, later, Sherbet?"

"Most definitely," Brenda said with a quick wink and a warm smile, as she closed the doors and pounded a signal to alert the driver.

Dani watched through the window until Brenda was out of sight. She then sat back with a heavy sigh and looked at the unconscious woman on the stretcher. There were bruises already forming on Lacey's face and her cheek was red and swollen. Dani grabbed an ice pack from one of the bins, activated it and set it against the woman's cheek.

"Mac is gonna be pissed that we didn't bring you back in one piece," she muttered, as she gently pushed a lock of hair off of Lacey's forehead.


Chapter 35

The sun had only been up for a little over an hour, as Carrie stood in front of the stove. She turned the bacon in the pan, when the phone suddenly rang. Putting the tongs down on a paper towel on the counter, she crossed over to answer it on the fourth ring.

"Papadopoulos residence," she said into the receiver and waited for the caller to identify themselves. "Yes, Mackenzie is staying with us. Do you want to speak to her? I'll have to run upstairs to get her…" She listened to the voice on the other end. "Yes, I can take a message." He listened and nodded, then her face turned ashen at the news. "Okay. I'll be sure to tell her."

Ben breezed in at that moment and snatched a piece of bacon from the plate next to the sizzling bacon in the pan on the stove. He then turned in time to see the look of shock on his wife's face.

"What is it, hon?" He asked with concern, as he closed the distance and put his hands on her shoulders. "Who was that on the phone?"

"Lacey's in the hospital," Carrie composed her features as she delivered the news and took comfort in her husband's presence. "The team finally reached base camp at three this morning. She was put in an ambulance and transported immediately. She's in surgery."

"What happened? Did they say?" Ben pulled her close.

"That was Danielle Ellison on the phone," Carrie continued with a shake of her head. "Apparently she was on the team that Lacey went out with. She said something about Lacey's knee and a couple incidences. She didn't really elaborate."

"Are you talking about Lacey?" Mac leaned heavily in doorway to the kitchen. She still wore her pajamas and looked like death warmed over. "Where is she?"

"What are you doing out of bed, Mackenzie Justine?" Carrie rounded on Mackenzie in full mom mode. "Sit down before you fall down, young lady."

Mac did as she was told, as a hacking cough zapped what little strength she'd managed to muster in order to get downstairs.

"God, I hate being sick," she said when the cough finally subsided.

"Let me get you some tea," Carrie grabbed the kettle off the stove and went to work preparing tea.

"Where's Lacey?" Mac repeated her earlier question.

Ben sat down in the chair next to Mac's and put a hand on her shoulder. "They made it back to camp, lil' bit. But…" He finished with a sad shake of his head.

"What?" Mac's expression fell. "What happened to her? Tell me, Ben. Is she dead?"

"She was taken to the hospital, Mackenzie," Carrie joined the two at the table. "She's in surgery, right now. That's all Dani could tell me."

"Surgery?" Mac felt her chest constrict, as another cough shook her to the bone.

"She injured her knee, Mackenzie," Carrie continued quickly, afraid that Mac misunderstood what she was trying to say. "Dani said she might have twisted it and torn something. She wasn't sure. The on-call surgeon thought it best to repair the damage right away, rather than wait. Dani also mentioned something about a cracked cheek bone. That was all I could find out from her."

"I'm going to the hospital," Mac abruptly stood up and swayed slightly.

"Now, settle down, lil' bit," Ben steadied her and pulled her back down. "There's nothing you can do for her in your condition. You need to just calm down and think this through before you go rushing off half-cocked." He then looked at his wife. "Did Dani say when she would be out of surgery?"

"She wasn't sure," Carrie replied. "They didn't take her into surgery until just after five, so…" She glanced at the clock on the wall above the sink. "It's only just after seven now. How long does it take to do a knee repair?"

Ben shrugged. "Not sure. I'm a vet, not a doctor. I'm sure it takes more than an hour or two, though."

"I'm going to the hospital, even if I have to drive myself," Mac said, as she blew her nose and waited for another coughing fit to pass. "I don't care what you two say. I'm going and that's final. Don't care if they make me sit in the waiting room the entire time and don't let me see her. I'm gonna be there, one way or another."

Carrie and Ben exchanged a quick glance.

"I'll drive you in," Ben said with a resigned sigh. "If you feel that strongly about being there, then who are we to argue with you?"

"Benjamin!" Carrie slapped his arm.

"Whatja do that for, Car?" He grabbed his arm. "If she wants to go sit in the hospital waiting room and is going to do it, with or without our help, then I vote for the latter. I'll even wait with her until we have word."

"Thanks, bro," Mac gave him a tired smile. "I appreciate it."

"No problem, lil' bit," he ignored the glare Carrie gave him. "It's what family does. We stick up for each other."

Carrie sighed in resignation. "Fine. Just don't come back here with pneumonia and expect me to take care of you, Mackenzie Justine."

"I'll just have them check me in and put me in the same room with Lacey," Mac said with the hint of a wry grin. "Then you won't have to worry about either of us, Car."

"Fine," Carrie threw up her hands and returned to her bacon. "You two go do what you have to do. I'll just feed this bacon to Mindy and be done with it."

Ben snuck up behind her and hugged her from behind, as he snuck a couple additional strips of bacon before she could swat his hand away.

"I love you, Carrie," he said, as he kissed her cheek. "Save me some of that bacon, please. I'll come home and fix a BLT for lunch."

"I'll just go shower and change into something more presentable," Mac said, as she left them alone with each other and headed back upstairs. "They act like a couple of newlyweds, I swear."


Chapter 36

Three hours later, Mac and Ben sat in one of the surgical waiting rooms of St. John's with a small crowd of people who were anxiously awaiting word on the condition of their loved ones. Two of the families were there for a couple of climbers who had been rescued from Calvert's Ridge. Mac overheard them talking about the heroic exploits of the rescuers and how they braved treacherous conditions in order to see the climbers safely back to the TCSAR base camp.

Mac was only slightly heartened to know that Lacey had been one of those rescuers. They had hailed two of the rescuers for saving the life of Maggie, fiancé to Patrick. Apparently, Maggie had suffered head trauma during a fall involving her fiancé. Mac didn't catch the details of what had actually happened on that ridge. All she knew was the families were anxiously awaiting word on the condition of both climbers.

They didn't know that Mac was awaiting word on Lacey's condition. They basically ignored everyone else in the waiting room and talked in hushed whispers amongst themselves.

"Hey," Danielle Ellison suddenly appeared in front of Mac and Ben. "May I?" She pointed to a vacant chair across from Mac.

"Please," Mac looked on expectantly. "Is there any word?"

"She's still in surgery," Dani clasped her hands in front of her and leaned on her knees. "They weren't saying much about her condition after we arrived."

"How about I go get us some coffee?" Ben offered. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Give you two time to catch up."

"Okay," Mac answered absently, then returned her attention to the curly-haired blond. "So? What really happened out there? Tell me."

"It's a really long story, Mac," Dani sat back in the chair with a heavy sigh. "I don't want to get into it, right now."

"How badly was she injured?" Mac prodded, as another coughing fit followed her words. "You gotta tell me, Dani. Please. Just give it to me straight."

Dani eyed Mac closely and noted the dark circles under her eyes. She noted how pale Mac was and could hear the congestion in every word she spoke.

"How'd you get the flu?" Dani tried a change of subject. "You look terrible and sound worse."

"I think my nephew gave it to me," Mac waved her off. "He's sick, too. Never mind that. Just tell me about Lacey."

"Her leg was bothering her on the way to rescue those climbers," Dani said after a resigned sigh. "So, she and I stayed on the ground while the rest of the team went up the mountain. Lacey was icing her leg when the others finally returned. We were all concentrating on Patrick and didn't even give the woman a second thought. But Lacey caught on to something that the rest of us missed."

"And?" Mac leaned in closer, giving Dani her full attention. "What happened then?"

"She was lying on the ground in front of the fire one second," Dani continued. "The next thing I know, she's in the snow with Maggie on top of her and her leg pinned at an odd angle beneath them. I heard something and turned to find them just lying there."

"Her leg has been giving her fits since the crash," Mac added.

"Yeah, she said that," Dani said. "That wasn't all that happened, though."

Mac reached out and took Dani's hand in hers. "Tell me."

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," Dani raised teary eyes to meet Mac's intense gaze. "I don't want you going after him for what happened."

"Him?" Mac was suddenly on alert. "Who him? And what did he do?"

"Brad Miller was the guide in charge of our expedition," Dani continued after a brief pause.

"Brad Miller?"

"Yeah, do you know him?"

"He's a complete horse's ass," Mac blew out an exasperated breath. "I had to take him up in my plane once and he complained the entire time. I wanted to punch him in the mouth for some of the crap he said about pilots and rough terrain and turbulence."

"Well," Dani gave Mac a wan smile. "Apparently, Lacey doesn't have the kind of self-control the rest of us do."

"She punched him?"

"The woman has a mean right hook," Dani nodded. "If she didn't break his jaw that time, then she certainly broke his nose the next time he was shooting his mouth off."

"She hit him twice?" Mac couldn't believe her ears. "Lacey? My Lacey?"

"But Jake and Dan grabbed for her and things got…Well, let's just say she's not as psychologically stable as she appeared to be back at base camp before we left."

"She was gang raped in Iraq," Mac said in a voice barely above a whisper. "Oh, God."

Tears sprang to Mac's eyes, as she slapped a hand over her mouth and tried to blink them away. The hand in hers squeezed and Mac met Dani's concerned gaze.

"That certainly explains her violent reaction to the situation," Dani said with understanding. "I'm sorry, Mac. I didn't know. If I had…"

"It wouldn't have mattered," Mac sat up and blew her nose. "This thing with her has been building for a long time, Dani. There's no way anyone could have foreseen it. There was just no way to predict her reaction."

"No, but I certainly could have kept Brad and the EMT goons away from her," Dani shook her head. "Does she have flashbacks from the rape?"

"Not that I know of," Mac shrugged. "But I can't be sure. I know she has nightmares and used to wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Her sister told me it happened a lot when Lacey lived alone in Houston. She's only had one episode like that since we came to Jackson and that was probably because I wasn't with her."

"Well, Brenda's colleague, Heather Morris, is a really good psychiatrist," Dani said. "I gave her a call earlier and let her know the situation. She'll be here in a little while to monitor the situation and do a psychiatric evaluation. Dr. Carlisle, the surgeon doing the repair on her knee, knows Heather is coming."

"I appreciate you telling me all this, Dani," Mac wiped the tears from her eyes with the wad of tissues she was holding. "And thanks for taking care of her out there. It must have been pretty rough dealing with all of that and Brad, too."

"Well, on the plus side, Brad won't be doing anymore SAR ops," Dani smiled sadly.


"He quit when we got back to base camp," Dani added. "Tim saw him march right up to Sully and tell him he was done."

"Huh," said Mac. "Well, I guess that's something."

"Yeah, I think that second attack did him in," Dani said with a sad shake of her head. "Even with her leg in a freakin' splint, she still managed to take him down with that right hook of hers. It was truly a sight to behold, let me tell ya. I just wish I'd had a video camera with me. I don't think that nose of his will ever be the same."

"I can't believe she attacked him twice," said Mac.

"Who attacked who twice?" Ben walked up and handed each woman a cup of steaming coffee from the to-go carton in his hands.

"Lacey attacked Brad Miller," Mac absently answered.

"Really?" He grinned. "Did she do any damage? 'Cause I hear he is a first-class prick who needs to be brought down a peg or two."

Dani chuckled. "Oh, she got him good, all right. He'll need major plastic surgery to fix his nose."

"Well, isn't that just too bad," Ben grinned. "Maybe he'll move on to other things besides harassing tourists and pissing off the locals. Things should definitely be looking up for all of us if that's the case."

"Or he'll throw a lawsuit at Lacey for what she did to him," Mac added with a scowl. "I wouldn't put it past him. She doesn't need that on top of everything else going on in her life right now. That's for sure."

"Probably won't happen, as long as Heather finds a basis for the psychotic breaks she experienced out there," said Dani. "She can just plead not guilty by reason of insanity and be done with it, if he even has the balls to try-which he doesn't. The man is full of more useless hot air than the Goodyear blimp."

"Here, here!" Ben held up his paper coffee cup in a mock salute.

"I hope you two are right," Mac slumped wearily in her chair and sipped from her own cup.

Ben wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed.

"No worries, Mackenzie," he said. "Lacey will bounce back from all this in no time. She's a fighter."

"Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of," she shot him a wry half-grin.

"Let's just see how things play out, shall we?" He added. "I'm sure everything will work itself out in due course."

"I certainly hope you're right, bro," Mac rested her head against his shoulder and let her eyes drift shut. "I really do."

"Always, lil' bit," he winked at Dani over his sister's dark head. "Always."


Chapter 37

Lily stood next to Bill in her best designer black dress, as the minister droned on about her mother. She also wore a pair of designer sunglasses to hide the tears that streamed down her face as she stared at the casket next positioned above the six foot hole in the ground. Her mother was in that casket.

"…ashes to ashes, dust to dust," the minister said and tossed a handful of dirt onto the casket as it was lowered into the hole.

Lily picked up a handful of dirt from the pile next to the hole and tossed it onto the casket, as well. She then dabbed at her eyes with a silk handkerchief her husband handed to her. People she barely knew streamed past her and offered their condolences, but Lily barely heard any of it. Her heart ached as she silently said goodbye to the woman who had raised her and her sister.

Then her thoughts turned to Lacey and she glanced around at the thinning crowd. Her sister hadn't shown up at all. But that was to be expected. Lacey was in Wyoming with Mackenzie. And the message Lily had left on the answering machine at the Papadopoulos house that morning hadn't really been all that clear. But Lily also knew there just wasn't time for her sister to hop on a plane and return to Houston for the funeral.

And then Lily spotted a figure across the way and her heart nearly jumped into her chest.

"What the hell is he doing here?" She rounded on Bill in anger. "Did you invite him here? And why isn't he in jail, where he belongs?"

"I had nothing to do with it, sweetheart. I swear," Bill held up his hands in surrender. "You posted the announcement in the paper. Maybe he is out on bail and wanted to pay his respects."

"I don't give a good Goddamned," Lily marched over to where her father stood. "Get the hell out of here, you son of a bitch!"

Bill was right behind her and grabbed her arm before she could strike out at the man standing stock still in front of his wife.

"You should leave, James," Bill said, as he held Lily tightly against him. "You're not welcome here."

"I just wanted to offer my condolences," James said. "I am so sorry, Lillian…"

Lily managed to pull one arm free and slapped her father's face hard enough to turn his head. "Go to HELL!"

She then turned and stalked toward the waiting limo without a backward glance.

"You really shouldn't have come, James," Bill glared at the man. "She doesn't want you here and neither do I."

"I didn't mean for it to happen, Bill," James said, as he rubbed his cheek. "It was an accident."

"Tell that to a jury, James," Bill said and then turned away to follow his wife. "Don't bother us again, James. You're no longer welcome in our lives."

James just stared after the man, as Bill helped Lily into the back of the black limousine and then ducked inside himself.

"We'll just see about that, William," James said under his breath, as he walked over to where his wife's casket lay. "You should have listened to me, Meredith. It's a pity you didn't. You might have lived long enough to actually do some good. Unfortunately, your legacy will perish with your offspring. That's right. You heard me. It is only a matter of time now. I will find out where that devil child of yours is and I will make her give back what is rightfully mine." He then reached down, grabbed a handful of dirt and tossed it onto the casket. "Rest in peace, Meredith. May God have mercy on your soul."

He then walked away without a backward glance.


Continued in Part 12

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