Disclaimer: See Part 1
It was very early in the morning when the alarm on Eva's phone softly beeped. With a sigh, she tightened her grip on the woman in her arms, not ready to leave the warm comfort of the bed they were in.
“Is it time already?” Sigrid's sleepy voice sounded close to her ear and Eva mumbled something unintelligible that meant to be a confirmation. The body in her arms shook with silent laughter and Eva felt a pair of warm lips press a kiss just below her ear.
“Not a morning person?”
“Only in the summer.” Eva mumbled and snuggled closer to Sigrid.
“Ah, I can see the logic in that, I think,” Sigrid answered. “Maybe we can just ignore the alarm and stay in bed a little longer.”
“Leon and Felix would never let me live that down." Eva sighed and rolled onto her back, but maintained her grip on Sigrid. “Leon will be here at five o'clock.”
“Is he taking us by boat again?”
“Yes and Felix is waiting with the car we'll be taking. He'll hitch a ride back with Leon, who'll drop him off at the dock in town.”
Sigrid wrapped an arm around Eva's middle and pressed her face against a cotton-clad shoulder.
"I usually don't have a problem getting up early in the morning, but right now I am sinfully comfortable and I don't want to move." Eva's phone beeped again and Sigrid raised her head. “Where's that thing?”
“Next to the bed I was supposed to sleep in." Eva chuckled and pulled Sigrid's head back down against her shoulder.
“Do you think it will stop beeping, eventually?” Sigrid asked in a sleepy voice.
“Eventually. But my phone has a pretty good battery life, so it won't stop any time soon.” She reached out an arm and turned on the light on the side of the bed. She smiled when Sigrid groaned, looking down at the tousled blond head.
“Good morning." She smiled.
“Good morning." Sigrid looked up. "You look positively adorable and seductive." She sighed and untangled herself from Eva's arms. "So the best course of action is to get up and moving, before my body's cravings overrule my brain." She gave Eva a quick kiss. "Even in the morning you look absolutely stunning."
“The light is shining in your eyes.” Eva quipped. She ruffled Sigrid's hair.
“No it isn't. I don't care what you say, I know I'm right.”
“Somehow I don't feel like arguing about that early in the morning, so, thank you, I guess,” Eva answered. She dropped a kiss on Sigrid's forehead. “This feels…comfortable. Very familiar almost, as if we've been waking up like this for a long time already,” she said.
“I know. Sigrid nodded. There was a brief silence and then she smiled broadly. “I like it."
“So do I." Eva admitted. Her hands itched to pull Sigrid, who was slowly getting up, back into her arms. Her body instantly missed the warm softness and she exhaled slowly . I know there will be other nights, but before those come around we have a long drive ahead of us.
"Are you ready to solve a murder?"
Sigrid looked up and smiled.
"I'd rather concentrate on other things right now, but I guess I'm ready to solve some puzzles and arrest some bad guys." She stretched her arms over her head and exposed her abdomen.
Eva averted her eyes and pushed herself upright.
It was still early when Charles Benoit exited his car. A watery sun painted the horizon pink and gave the heavy, gray clouds in the sky a colorful lining. Charles winced when a blast of cold air hit him square in the face. He was counting the days until his retirement. Just the idea of being able to stay in bed, or even stay indoors during cold winter mornings made him almost do a happy dance.
“It's almost March,” he muttered. “I bet it's Spring somewhere.”
“We'll have to wait until May, Chuck,” a female voice said cheerfully and, startled, Chuck looked up, narrowing his eyes when he recognized a familiar figure, dressed in multiple layers of clothing.
“Are you that cold?” he asked with a grin.
“I'm from Boston and spend most of my days indoors,” Casey Planters nodded. “I don't do cold well.”
“Ever considered moving south?” Charles smiled, walking to the building, knowing the reporter would follow him inside the warm hallway.
“Briefly,” Casey shrugged. “The winters here are long and cold, but I wouldn't want to miss the other three seasons.”
“You've got that right,” Charles nodded. “I'm a little surprised to see you here, Casey. Are you chasing something in this area?”
Casey glanced up at the man who was now holding the door open for her and stepped inside the warm entrance.
“Cut the bull, Chuck. You know why I'm here.”
“I honestly have no idea,” Charles replied, shaking his head, while extracting his identification card out of his pocket.
“The Church murder,” Casey spoke, her eyes never leaving Charles' face. She knew his facial expression would stay neutral, but one could hope.
“What about it?” Charles wanted to know.
“I've got information from a reliable source that I want to verify with you.”
“Really?” Charles responded with mild surprise, knowing the reports in the local news reports had been brief, because they were still holding a lot of facts under wraps in order not to jeopardize the on-going investigation. “What information might that be?”
Casey laughed and shouldered the briefcase that was sliding off her shoulder. She knew Charles Benoit would not be forthcoming and she was enjoying the challenge.
“Chuck, please, give me a break. Do you really think I'd cough up any information only to have you tell me: 'Thanks' and not share anything with me? I'm not a rookie.”
“No, you're not,” Charles admitted, leaning against the wall and regarding the reporter with a pensive look. “What do you want from me?”
“I want you to verify some of the…facts…I have,” Casey answered, mimicking his posture at the opposite wall.
“I might not be able to do that,” Charles explained. “There is some information we've been able to keep out of the news, so there are things I will not be able to confirm, or deny for that matter.”
“I know that, Chuck, trust me.”
“Then why would you share information with me?” the elderly police officer wanted to know. “Have you all of a sudden become altruistic?”
“I can't say I have,” Casey shook her head, sending Charles a wry smile. “But I do have my…motives,” she added with a sigh. “Listen, can we talk about this anywhere else than the entrance? If it's not possible to take me inside, then let's go to ‘Jazzy Java' on the corner. I could use a good cup of coffee.”
Charles took a few moments to study the woman in front of him. He had known Casey Planters for a few years and liked her articles. She was a good reporter; honest and not driven by the desire to bring sensational news. Her articles were always thorough and her facts were always correct. Having a cup of coffee with her to hear what she had to say could be beneficial.
“Alright,” Charles said, pushing himself away from the wall. “Let's get some coffee. You've made me curious.”
Betty Avery glanced over her shoulder and cast the woman in the backseat a nervous look.
“Where'd you put them, Twitch?”
“Where did I put what?”
“Those guns you told Meg you were going to bring. Where are they?”
Twitch sported a toothy grin when she patted on the bulky purse that was sitting right next to her on the seat.
“Both of them?” Betty wanted to know, trying to sound calm.
“Yup, but one's a really little one,” Twitch explained, holding her thumb and index finger slightly apart to show her friend the size of her fire arm. When she noticed Betty's frown she hurried to explain. “It will still put a decent hole in somebody,” she said, nodding her gray head. “Only if needed, of course,” she quickly added when she saw Betty's eyes widen in alarm.
Meg who had slid into the passenger seat chuckled softly and shook her head. She couldn't believe the adventure they were going to have. It was excellent. A gun toting Twitch made the whole expedition even funnier. As long as she didn't accidently shoot anyone, of course.
“Do you have the map?” she asked, turning to Betty, deliberately changing the subject to prevent Twitch from pulling her guns out to give them a demonstration.
“I do,” Betty nodded, turning the key in the ignition and starting the engine. “I know exactly where we're going.”
“Good, lead on, Sherlock,” Meg grinned, wiggling a little to get more comfortable in the leather seat.
Betty put the four-wheel drive in the right gear and slowly pulled out of Meg's driveway. Meg lived at the north end of town so they could leave without the entire community knowing about it.
“Alright, girls. Let's do some sleuthing,” Betty said, pushing her sunglasses a little firmer on the bridge of her nose. Even though it was cloudy, there was enough bright light reflecting off the snow to make looking at the road in front of her uncomfortable. But the gas tank was full, the inside of the car was already comfortably warm and Meg and Twitch were humming camp songs. It was going to be an interesting day. She approached a dirt road, grateful that the car that was turning off of it had stopped to let her pass. Even though the roads were clear, it was still early morning and it was possible that patches of black ice had formed overnight. Hitting the brakes hard was something Betty would want to avoid.
Within a few minutes they passed a sign that showed they passed the town limits and with a smile Betty joined her friends in the singing, not aware of the car that was following her.
“That was nice of your brother to get us a super large, fresh cup of coffee,” Sigrid commented, looking at out of the car window, noticing houses were scarce in the area they were driving through.
“It was,” Eva replied, casting a quick glance aside. She grinned when she noticed the expression on the blonde's face. “Did it go straight to your bladder?” she wanted to know.
With a sigh, Sigrid nodded, slapping Eva's knee when the other woman started laughing.
“It's not funny, trust me. I've been on the look-out for a gas station, store or whatever, but there's not much of any of that around here, is there?”
“Nope,” Eva acknowledged, a little too cheerful to Sigrid's liking.
“So, what do I do? If we don't find a place to stop soon, I'll dive into the bushes, I swear.”
“That could get a little chilly,” Eva warned in an amused voice.
“I don't care,” Sigrid sighed. “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”
Eva smiled and briefly touched Sigrid's knee in a gesture of encouragement.
“Can you hang in for another ten minutes? I know there's a tiny town with a gas station coming up soon.”
“Ten minutes,” Sigrid promised.
“Ten minutes,” Eva smiled.
A companionable silence descended on the car and Sigrid leaned back against the head rest, studying the woman who was driving the car with a quiet smile.
“Was Iris upset with you last night?” she suddenly asked, seeing the surprise in Eva's eyes when a startled look was sent her way.
“Iris? No, I don't think so. Why?”
“When she left she…never mind, it's none of my business,” Sigrid said. “I'm sorry, I shouldn't be so curious.”
“If you don't ask, you don't know,” Eva replied reasonably.
“And curiosity killed the cat,” Sigrid quipped, making Eva laugh.
“Iris wasn't happy with me leaving so soon,” the Inspector explained. “She had hoped I'd have stayed for a few more days.” Eva sighed and Sigrid noticed she gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.
“They've missed you,” Sigrid concluded.
Eva knew she could leave it at that, but she wanted to be open and honest with Sigrid, especially after the previous evening. Secrets and half-truths would ruin her chances to build a relationship with Sigrid Meyers and that was something she did not want to risk. Eva did not fall in love easily, but deep down inside she knew that was exactly what had happened.
“Yes, they have,” Eva nodded. “But there's more to the story though,” she admitted, aware of the shifting body next to her.
“So there is,” Sigrid responded in a soft voice. “You don't have to tell me, Eva. I've already been too curious and…”
“But I want to,” the Inspector interrupted her. She moistened her lips and swallowed. “It's…it's not a pretty story, but if…if…you and I want to see if…we're…able to build…something…together, I need to tell you this.”
“Okay,” Sigrid nodded, reaching out a hand and gently squeezing Eva's knee. “We just passed a sign for a service station. Do you want to have a pit-stop first? Maybe we can find a quiet place to talk as well,” she suggested.
“Okay, that sounds good,” Eva replied, sending Sigrid a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
Much to Sigrid's relief they reached the promised gas station in less than ten minutes. Before the car came to a full stop, she opened the door and practically jumped out. She knew Eva was laughing at her, but she didn't care. She hurried across the parking lot and almost slipped on an icy patch. Fortunately, she grabbed the doorknob of the service station and was able to keep her balance. She opened the door and glanced over her shoulder. Eva was shaking her head at her and Sigrid stuck out her tongue.
A few minutes later she emerged carrying two bottles of water and a small bag of snacks.
"Hungry?" Eva pointed at the plastic bag Sigrid was carrying.
"Not yet, but I will be." Sigrid closed the door behind her and rubbed her hands together. "It's a lot colder here than at your parents' house." She peered up at the sky, while unzipping her coat. "I hope it won't snow."
"It will," Eva said. There was so much conviction in her voice that Sigrid chuckled.
"I didn't know you had meteorological skills."
"I don't." Eva shrugged and pointed at the radio. "The weather guy just said it would."
"Did he say how much?"
Eva looked at Sigrid and made a face.
"Five to six inches, if we're lucky."
"What if we're not?"
"We'll get slammed with ten inches and get stuck somewhere between here and your family's cabin."
"I'm sorry I asked." Sigrid handed Eva a bottle of water and reached out to touch her knee. "I guess it's best to keep going then, huh?"
"Do you mind?"
Sigrid took a sip from her water and recapped it with a thoughtful expression.
"Do you? I don't want you to think you're obliged to talk to me about what happened between you and Iris last night. I mean, I know you want to, but I don't mind waiting."
"We'll talk later," Eva said. "According to the forecast we can expect snow in the next hour or so. If we hurry we might make it to the cabin before the weather gets really bad."
"How is your foot? Do you want me to drive for a while?"
"My foot is great, thanks." Eva leaned closer to Sigrid and brushed her lips across her cheek. She took her time, enjoying the feel of soft skin. "Thank you."
"You do realize that drives me crazy, don't you?" Sigrid shot Eva a quick grin.
"Yes, I do." Eva laughed and started the engine. "I love knowing that about you."
Charles Benoit looked at the woman who sat across from him. Casey was sipping her coffee and in the harsh, fluorescent light of 'Jazzy Java' he could easily see the dark circles underneath her eyes. What she had told him was disturbing and much unexpected.
"Are you sure?" Casey nodded and he noticed the pain in her dark eyes.
"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't, she said."I wish I was wrong, Chuck, trust me."
Chuck leaned back into his chair and tried to organize his thoughts.
"I am by no means a rookie, but I wish Eva was here right now." He picked up his coffee and took a sip. "That girl has an amazing mind."
"You'll miss her when she leaves." Casey smiled.
"Why do you think I'll retire?" Chuck grinned and took another sp of coffee.
"Can you call her?"
"I'm afraid she's in an area where there's not much of a signal. But she'll get back to me after she reads the message I sent her." He glanced around at the other occupants of the shop. Nobody seemed to be interested in them and he leaned his elbows on the table. "My question to you, Casey, is what do you want to do about it?"
"Nail the bastard," she said. The brown eyes were hard.
"It's going to create a big stink, all the way to D.C." Chuck studied Casey's face and all he saw was determination.
"I admit it's a delicate matter, but I don't care."
"They'll try to drag you down." Chuck warned her. "Are you ready for that? There might be a way we can do this, while leaving you out of it."
"Are you kidding?" Casey's eyes were blazing. "First of all, I'm an investigative reporter and feel it's my duty to expose crap like this, no matter how personally involved I might be, or have been." She paused and Chuck noticed she clenched her hands into fists. "I feel used, Chuck. And incredibly stupid. I should have known better."
"That's easier said than done when your emotions are involved. Don't beat yourself up over it. I am glad you came to see me. Very glad. I think we have time to do some damage control."
"Do you think Sigrid Meyers is in danger?"
"I know she is," Chuck said. "But I also know she's with someone who'll be able to keep her safe. Eva is one of those honorable people; she'd rather take a bullet than expose her charge to danger." He let out a slow breath and played with the phone he had put on the table. "Who else knows about this?"
"My editor, John Landau."
"Do you trust him?"
Casey nodded. "He's my friend."
"Are all your files in there?" Chuck pointed at the laptop case she had put next to her on the table.
"Every one of them." She patted the leather case and sent Chuck a small smile. "It's like carrying around a time bomb."
"We'd better get it somewhere safe then," Chuck said. He pushed back his chair and stood up. "Let's get back to the office. We need to talk to my Captain."
Sigrid felt her eyes burn, but she was reluctant to take her eyes off the road.
"It's starting to look like a total white-out," she said. She cast a look at Eva whose face displayed pure concentration. "We should almost be there though."
"That's good," Eva said without taking her eyes off the road. "It's been a long time since I had to drive in conditions like this."
"A least it's hard to follow us."
Eva laughed and slowed down when a stop sign appeared. The red metal was almost completely covered with snow and barely visible. The road was not in a better condition.
"I can barely see where we're going." Sigrid shifted in her seat and leaned forward. "But there should be a turn here soon."
"Left or right?"
"Left," she said. "There should be a small building on the corner."I can't believe the amount of snow that's coming down."
"I can't wait to get out of this." Eva readjusted her grip on the steering wheel. Sigrid could tell by the way she sat hunched forward her muscles were tense. She reached out and put her hand on Eva's back. She rubbed her shoulders in slow circles, until she felt the body relax a little.
"That feels good, thank you."
"There's more where that comes from."
Eva laughed and sent a quick glance sideways. "Are you flirting with me again?"
"I'm just trying to help you relax," Sigrid said. "Is it working?"
"It might be so effective I'll drive us off the road into a ditch."
"That would be unfortunate." Sigrid grinned and pointed to a fuzzy shape on the left side of the road. "That must be the building I was expecting. Turn here, Eva."
Eva slowed down the car even more and steered toward what looked like a snow-covered track.
"Thank God for four-wheel drive," she said.
"Amen to that." Sigrid peered at the ground in front of the car. "It looks like a car went by here not that long ago."
"Nutcases like us." Eva slowly increased speed in order to crest a small rise.
"I don't remember that being here." Sigrid frowned and almost pressed her nose to the window. "I wish I could see where the heck we are."
"Are you trying to tell me we took a wrong turn?" Eva's voice was calm and Sigrid thought she detected a hint of amusement in it.
"Would you be mad at me if we have?"
"No." Eva let out a laugh and shook her head. "I can barely see the road, so, unless you have super vision, I don't expect you to do a lot better than I have. We'll just have to keep going and hope there's a place we'll be able to turn."
"Maybe we should follow those tracks."
"Good idea. Let me know if there's anything you recognize."
"Snow." Sigrid joked.
Eva chuckled."She's not just cute, she's smart as well."
Sigrid risked a look aside. "Thank you. I think." She returned her gaze to the road and smiled, aware of the tingling feeling in her stomach.
That suspiciously feels like butterflies.
"Okay, it's official, we're stuck." Meg Jones pushed her glasses back on the bridge of her nose. "I always wondered if I would die peacefully in my sleep or not." She paused and glanced at her friends. "I guess I'll freeze to death."
"There are worse ways to go, really." Twitch' voice was almost cheerful. "And you won't be alone."
"That's for sure." Betty Avery put the car in reverse and tried to pull it out of the snow bank. "I should have listened to my inner voice and turned around when it started snowing."
"But your inner voice agreed with us." Meg Jones sighed. "Twitch and I told you to keep going, so it's our fault."
"It's nobody's fault." Twitch disagreed. "We're in this together. Through thick and thin."
"That sounds like something the Three Musketeers would have said." Betty shifted the gears again, but the only thing that happened when she pressed down on the accelerator was that the car shifted sideways.
"It should stop snowing eventually." Twitch spoke from the backseat.
"I'm sure it will. But if there's no cell phone signal out here, it will be May before they find us."
"Do you think that guy ran us off the road on purpose?" Meg said and she sent Betty a questioning look.
"I don't know, Meg. It was creepy and I wonder if he has been behind us ever since we left town. I wish I had paid more attention to who was behind us."
"It's not like you could have known." Meg reached out and patted her knee. "Don't worry about it."
"But I am." Betty hit the steering wheel. "It's maddening."
"We could get out and walk." Twitch' suggestion made both Betty and Meg laugh.
"You're funny, Twitch," Betty said. "Where would we walk to?"
"Well, according to Sigrid's map, we should be close to the spot she marked. Maybe it's a house."
"Maybe it's her favorite fishing hole." Meg's voice was somber. "Or tree, or rock."
"Or house." Twitch did not seem willing to let go of her idea. "If you two are too chicken, I'll go and check it out."
"No, you're not," Betty said. She turned off the engine and turned around in her seat so she could look at her friends. "No matter what we do, we should stay together. The idea is tempting, Twitch, but it's better to stay in the car."
"And do what?" Twitch wanted to know.
"For what? A miracle?"
"Stranger things have happened." Meg said, turning around so she too could look at Twitch. "Besides, if all else fails you can end our suffering with a well-aimed shot. Right?"
"As long as you know I'd never eat you." Twitch said. She grinned when she saw the horror in two pair of eyes. "You're both too old and chewy."
Eva narrowed her eyes in an unconscious gesture to see through the thick cloud of snow that surrounded the car. Next to her, Sigrid was doing the same. They inched forward in a nerve-wracking effort to stay on the road and out of the ditch.
"If this is the wrong road, we might not even make it back out." There was a touch of anxiety in Sigrid's voice. "This stuff is accumulating so incredibly fast."
Eva nodded and cursed when, in spite of the crawling speed, the car fishtailed across the track.
"Damn frost heaves are not helping." She let out a shaky breath when the car continued its snail pace. "Let me know whenever you think you see something you recognize, or an area where we can turn the car around."
"What? Don't you want to be snowed in with me?" Sigrid joked, but when she looked at Eva, her eyes were serious. "If we can make it back to the main road, we'll have a chance to make it to the next town, don't we?"
"Yes, but we'll have to make it back first." Eva risked a glance at Sigrid and sent her a small smile. "And yes, I'd love to be snowed in with you, just not in a car. I prefer a place with a heat source and a bathroom."
"I can see the perks of that." Sigrid nodded. She leaned forward and put her hands on the dashboard. "What is that?" She pointed to a shape ahead of them.
"It looks like a big lump of —."
"It's a car." Sigrid interrupted her. "Look! There's a red glow underneath the snow. Those must be the taillights."
Eva nodded and slowly pressed the brake pedal. They skidded and stopped barely five feet behind the covered car. She reached behind her and grabbed a small pile of clothes. Wordlessly she handed Sigrid her gloves, scarf and hat. She donned her own and waited until Sigrid had done the same.
"I'll grab the first-aid kit from the back. Let's start with clearing the windows so we have an idea of what we'll be dealing with. Ready?"
Sigrid nodded and opened the door.
"Goodness. This snow is deep," she said.
"Be careful." Eva kept an eye on her as they both struggled through the deep snow. It was hard to see clearly. The snow was coming down so hard they had to keep their heads down to keep the cold flakes out of their eyes.
Eva used her gloved hands to brush away the snow from one of the windows and saw that Sigrid followed her example with the other window.
"They're in a snow bank." She pointed to the side of the car. It was buried in a rapidly growing pile of snow. She heard a muffled sound from the car and used both her hands to clear the windows.
"Are you okay?" She called out to Sigrid who nodded. A bright blue scarf covered her entire face, except for her eyes. "You're doing great for a Floridian." Eva smiled when she heard Sigrid's laugh. Cheering voices drew her attention back to the car. The windows were clear of snow and for the first time they were able to look inside the vehicle.
"What the hell?" Sigrid's voice was full of amazement. "Eva."
"I know. I recognize them." She turned and shook her head. "Do you think they recognized us?"
"The way we're bundled up? I doubt it." Sigrid wiped snow away from her eyes.
"We need to get them out of here and then either find a shelter or make it back to the main road." Eva cleared the handle on the driver's side. "I'll take Betty. I think Grace is in the back."
Sigrid nodded. "I might have to carry her, because of her bad hip. What the hell were they thinking?"
"We'll get them out first and ask questions later. Let's go."
Eva opened the door and stuck her head inside. "Is everyone alright? I — ." She stopped in mid-sentence and sucked in a breath.
"Hold it right there, Buster."
Eva froze and slowly raised her hands. She was looking straight into the barrel of a gun.
To be continued in part 11
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