Disclaimer: See Part 1
Sleeping on a couch was never as comfortable as in bed, yet Eva was able to ignore the irregular lumps her hip and side were resting on. The warm body that had draped itself around her like a vine was warm and soft. It made her limbs forget they were stiff and uncomfortable, and tempted her into relaxation. Even though her eyes were closed Eva's mind was awake and alert. A soft noise had awoken her and she was aware of a presence in one of the chairs. Someone was observing them. She opened her eyes. "Hi, Morgan."
"Hi." Morgan's voice still sounded hoarse and raspy. "Are you gay?"
Eva felt Sigrid stir and squeezed her a little tighter. What better way to start the day than a conversation about my sexual orientation with a teenager? "I am." Eva saw the pensive look in Morgan's brown eyes and waited for a reaction.
"My sister is, too." Morgan's voice was soft as she stared at the floor. "It's why she left." Her gaze lifted and met Eva's. "My mom's boyfriend kicked her out."
"I'm very sorry to hear that." Eva took a slow, deep breath, willing her voice to be calm and steady.
"She was sixteen." Morgan drew an invisible pattern on her knee. "That was six years ago. I was ten."
"What is your sister's name?"
"Do you know where she went to?"
Morgan shook her head. "No. She wrote me a letter, but Phil ripped it up and threw it in the fire." Morgan's gaze landed on Sigrid. "Is it okay to talk? I mean, I don't want to wake her up, or anything."
Eva smiled and patted Sigrid's back. "Don't worry, she's awake."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Don't be, Morgan." Sigrid raised her head from Eva's shoulder and turned around. "I was only half-asleep anyway." She pushed herself away from Eva and into a sitting position.
Eva smiled. With her disheveled hair and crease in her cheek, caused by a wrinkle in Eva's shirt, Sigrid looked adorable.
"Are you hungry, Morgan?" Sigrid raked her fingers through her hair, causing it to stick up even more, and even Morgan smiled.
"Just a little." Morgan shrugged. "So, you are gay too?"
"And Eva is your girlfriend?"
Underneath the blanket, Eva's hand had found Sigrid's knee and she gave it an encouraging pat, leaving her hand resting on her leg.
"Yes, Eva is my girlfriend."
"That's good," Morgan said with a nod. "Ellen's girlfriend wanted to be a police officer too."
"Do you remember her name?" Sigrid's voice was gentle.
"Meredith. She was nice."
"What about her last name?"
Eva studied Morgan's face. The dark eyes held a mixture of pain, sadness, and desperation and it was clear she was still in some sort of shock. Knowing Sigrid had some experience in dealing with victims of human trafficking she was content to let her take the lead.
"Morgan." Sigrid leaned forward and her gaze as focused on Morgan's face. "Can you tell me what happened to you?"
"Mom died. She overdosed on drugs and just stopped breathing one night." Morgan's voice was void of emotion and her eyes were dull. "Phil said he didn't have the money to take care of me, but he knew how I could pay him back. That way I wouldn't have to go to an orphanage or live on the streets. That's what he said anyway. I said I'd go find Ellen and live with her. He got mad." Morgan bit her bottom lip. "He started beating me and when he was done he thought I had passed out. I waited until he was asleep, grabbed some stuff and ran out of the house."
"When was that?"
"A few years ago. I was thirteen."
"What happened next? Are you able to tell us?"
"I met this girl. She was very nice and said she had run away from home too, but had found people who helped her. She wanted to help me. So, I went with her to this house. There were more people there and they were all nice to me. They said I could stay and they would help me find Ellen. After a few days a man came, Ernie, and he said he could set me up with a job, so I could help with the food and all that." Morgan paused and Eva noticed her shoulders slumped. "I wanted to help." Her voice was no more than a whisper. When she looked up, her eyes were moist. "He made me ... do things." She audibly swallowed and Eva saw her shiver. "He said I could pay my way out, so I could go to school and have my own place. Whenever I didn't do what he wanted, he beat me, or locked me up. I had to turn tricks and make sure to give him all the money. He said that if I'd tell anyone, he'd kill me. He almost did, once." Morgan rubbed her left shoulder and slowly shook her head. "He broke my ribs and they had to take me to the hospital. The nurse asked me all these questions and I knew she didn't believe me when I said I'd tripped over the cat and fell down the stairs. I hoped she didn't," Morgan said in a soft voice. "She was so nice to me. I heard her tell the doctor she was going to call the police. Ernie heard it, too and he told me to get dressed and to get out. That's when they sent me somewhere else."
"Have you been sent to different places often?" Sigrid's voice was calm and controlled.
"I lost track," Morgan said with a sigh. "They never tell me where they'll take me. It's always in the back of a van, where it's dark." Her gaze traveled up and met Eva's. "I don't have to go back, do I?"
"No, Morgan. It's over. You will never go back there."
"Promise?" Morgan's lips trembled.
"I promise," Eva said.
"What happens now?"
"We'll get you, Danh and Anjuli to a safe place. A doctor will come and check you out, just to make sure you're all fine and then we will ask you more questions. It's important to tell us any name or place you can remember," Sigrid said. "But we'll take our time. You've been through a lot and the last thing we'd want is to hurt you more. So, you will be taking to a social worker and a psychologist who are specialized in helping young people like you."
"What if those guys come back?"
"They won't find us here," Eva said. "It has stopped snowing, so hopefully I'll be able to get through to my office and get some more people over here. If we're lucky we'll be able to wait for them at the cabin."
“But what if you can't?” The fear in Morgan's voice was clearly audible.
“Then there's plan B.” Sigrid's voice was full of confidence. “And there's a plan C and D as well,” she said, squeezing Eva's hand underneath the blanket. “We will not let them get to you, Morgan. Besides, my experience is that as soon as they'll find out you're gone, they'll panic and try to run as fast as they can.”
Morgan raked her fingers through her hair, not able to hide the trembling.
“I know you're scared, Morgan,” Eva said. “It's understandable and it's okay. You've been through a lot, more than I could ever imagine. I will not let anything happen to you. You're safe now, even though it might not feel that way yet.” She leaned forward and put a hand on Morgan's fidgeting ones. Their gazes locked and Eva hoped Morgan would be able to see the confidence she felt. “You are safe now.”
“Damnit, Eva, answer the phone.” Charles hit ‘redial' on his Blackberry. The previous six times he had called his partner there had been no answer.
“She's probably somewhere without a signal,” Casey said. “I know you're worried about her, but she can look after herself.”
“Yes, she can, but usually she has me to watch her back.” Charles rubbed his forehead and put the phone on his knee, staring at the lifeless display. “She should have been in contact by now.”
“You did send her those files, right?”
“All of them,” Charles said. He cast a look at the display of his phone again and tried to ignore the pounding of his heart. “I should have heard from her.”
“Chuck, you're making me nervous.” Casey glanced aside and shot him a questioning look. “We're almost at Sigrid's church. Where do you want to…?”
“Church,” Charles said. “We'll wait there until we hear something.”
“Do you have a strong enough signal here?”
Charles held up his phone so Casey could see the bars on the display. “More than enough.”
“Good.” Casey turned into the small parking lot in front of the church and parked in such a way they had an unobstructed view of the building and the road in front of it. “Take a deep breath, Chuck. You'll hear from her soon enough.”
Eva glanced at Betty who was talking to Morgan in hushed tones. The teenager was sitting next to her on the couch quietly listening to what the older woman was telling her. Eva could not hear the conversation, but when she saw Betty gently pat Morgan's knee and Morgan's small smile she winked at Sigrid who was looking at her with a quizzical expression on her face. Eva gestured to the couple on the couch and Sigrid nodded with a smile. For a few moments their eyes locked and immediately Eva wished they were still wrapped around each other on the uncomfortable couch. The warm softness of Sigrid's body had more than made up for the discomfort of the lumpy surface. Sigrid's smile deepened and Eva could feel a warm rush creep up her neck and cheeks.
“You're blushing,” Sigrid mouthed unseen to Betty and Morgan.
Even across the room Eva could see the sparkle in her eyes. It gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach and she shook her head, not able to hide her smile. I'd better go outside to cool off for a little while.
“I'll be checking on the car and see if I can get a better cell signal outside,” she said holding up her phone.
“The best spot is the side of the house,” Sigrid said. She poured a cup of coffee and walked across to hand it to Eva. “Here you go. Stay warm.” She readjusted Eva's scarf, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, and patted her arm.
“Did anyone ever tell you you're something else?” Eva said.
“Do you really want an answer to that?” Sigrid's eyes were dancing and Eva let out a soft laugh.
“We'll continue this later, I'm sure.”
“Definitely.” Her eyes turned serious. “Eva, I have the feeling we need to get out of her as soon as we can. With the children and our musketeers we're too vulnerable,” she said in a low voice.
Eva nodded. “I know. I hope I can get through to Chuck and see what's happening. I feel like we've been flying blind for the last day or so.”
“I know what you mean.” Sigrid sighed and gave Eva's arm a gentle squeeze. “Good luck.”
“Eva! Eva is that you?” Charles Benoit screamed into his phone, making Casey almost jump.
“Hi, Chuck.” Eva's voice was calm, but he could easily detect an undertone of fatigue.
“Where are you?”
“Where are you ?” Eva asked in a quiet voice.
“Out of reach from curious ears,” Chuck said. “I'm on my cell and you know I've got this thing on me day and night. It's not bugged.”
“I know.” Eva sighed and Charles pictured his partner running her fingers through her dark hair while prioritizing which news she would share with him first.
“Did you get my emails, Eva?”
“I haven't read them yet. Anything pressing?”
“All of it,” Charles said. “Right now I'm sitting in front of Sigrid's church, with Casey Planters.”
“ The Casey Planters?” Eva sounded surprised.
“The one and only. She brought me some files that are pretty explosive my friend. I emailed you some of the contents.”
“Can she be trusted? Are the files genuine?”
“Looks that way to me,” Charles said. “Listen, Eva, we've got a whole lot to discuss, but first things first. Is Sigrid okay?”
“She's fine. Did you get my message about that?”
“About our pastor working with the Feds?” Charles laughed. “I almost fell off my chair. I can't say I saw that one coming.”
“Listen, Chuck. You'll get the long version later, but we need to get out where we are now. We've managed to pick up three elderly ladies and three kids.” Her voice became grim. “Trafficking victims. The kids were shackled to the wall of a basement.”
“Sweet Mother.” Charles paused, trying to wrap his mind around what Eva just told him. “How old?” His voice was reduced to a whisper.
“The oldest one is sixteen, then there's a little girl of about seven and a boy who can't be older than six or seven.”
“Good Lord, Eva.” Chuck's voice croaked.
“The ladies you've met, they're from Sigrid's church and had started their own investigation.”
“Where are you?”
“In a cabin that's owned by Sigrid's family, somewhere off Interstate 93, south of Franconia Notch State park. “
“I know the area. You're about an hour or so away from where we are.” With his free hand Charles drummed on his knee. “What do you need right now?”
“To get out of here. Sigrid and I have a bad feeling about staying here too long. The place where we found the children is not far from here and they might come looking for them.” Charles could tell Eva was taking a deep breath. “Besides, those kids need medical attention.” Her voice was strained and Charles could tell she was trying to control her anger. “There are eight of us and one car, Chuck. I'll have to send Betty, Meg and Grace with the children and squeeze Sigrid in somewhere just in case.”
“What about you?”
“I'll hike my way out of here. I'm sure Sigrid will come back for me.”
“What? Sigrid coming back for me.” There was a touch of humor in her voice and Charles smiled.
“No, you all by yourself.” Charles took a deep breath. “We'll be coming your way, as a matter of fact, we already are,” Charles said, casting a grateful glance at Casey who had started the engine and steered the car out of the parking lot. “Can you wait another hour?”
“Good. Stay put and whatever you do, don't call the local police station. There's something you need to know.”
Sigrid was wrapping Anjuli in one of her sweaters and smiled at the way it reached all the way to the floor. “At least you'll be warmer this way,” she said, brushing a strand of long, dark hair away from her forehead.
The sight of Anjuli in a seriously oversized sweater got a chuckle out of Danh, but as soon as Sigrid looked at him he bowed his head and stared at his feet.
A wave of sadness crashed over her and Sigrid had to bite the inside of her lip to force the tears back. Her instinct told her to pull the little boy into her arms, but she knew that would probably scare him even more.
“Danh,” she said, deliberately keeping her voice soft. “Danh, look at me.”
It took him a few seconds, but eventually Danh looked up and Sigrid saw the fear in his eyes.
“Danh. It's okay to laugh,” she said, reaching out her hand to him. Immediately he stiffened, so Sigrid didn't move, but just sat there reaching out to him. Danh's body slowly relaxed and when he looked up again Sigrid was relieved to see he seemed apprehensive now instead of scared. She wiggled her fingers, which made him smile.
Very slowly Danh stepped closer, reaching out to touch Sigrid's hand. She carefully wrapped her larger hand around his and waited to see what he would do next.
He stepped even closer and with a look of wonder on his face he reached out his free hand to touch her hair.
His actions gave Anjuli courage and she stepped closer to Sigrid as well, tentatively touching the blond hair with trembling fingers.
“They're plucked from some village in the middle of nowhere.” Morgan's voice was matter-of-fact and Sigrid wondered how many victims the teenager had been in contact with. “I don't think they've ever seen anyone with your hair color.”
“How long have they been with you?”
“A little over a week or so.” Morgan shrugged. “It's hard to keep track of time in the dark.” She knelt next to Anjuli and gave the little girl an encouraging smile. “I think I heard them say that Anjuli and Danh were smuggled into the country a few days before I saw them.”
Sigrid nodded and looked up in surprise when Anjuli suddenly leaned against her, wrapping a skinny arm around her neck and softly talking in a language she didn't know.
“Oh, sweetheart, I can't understand a word of what you're saying.” She carefully folded an arm around the girl, pleased when she felt the skinny frame relax even more. “But if you want a hug, I have an endless supply.” Sigrid felt her eyes sting and she blinked against the tears when Anjuli pressed her face in the crook of her neck. The realization that she now was responsible for the children's safety came crushing down on her, and for a moment she panicked. A gentle touch on her shoulder made her look up. Eva was standing beside her, looking down at her with a mixture of affection and concern.
“I'm fine,” Sigrid said. Her voice was soft, barely louder than a whisper, but Eva nodded.
“We'll get them to a safe place today.”
“Yes.” Sigrid took strength from the conviction in Eva's voice. “Yes, we'll get them out of here.”
“I know we're down to one car,” Betty said. She was standing in the small kitchen, pouring a cup of coffee for herself and Meg. “The girls and I can stay here until you send someone to pick us up. Right girls?”
“No problem,” Twitch said and Meg nodded.
Betty sent her friends a grateful smile before turning back to Eva and Sigrid. “Besides, we got ourselves into this mess, so it's only fair to make room for those poor babies.”
‘I appreciate your attitude, Betty,” Eva said. “But there are some complications we didn't foresee. “
Sigrid looked up and when she saw the expression on Eva's face she knew t was serious.
“I need to talk to Sigrid for a moment. I promise to fill you in on as much as I can later.” She extended her hand to Sigrid, who grabbed it and let herself be led outside.
“What's going on?” Her eyes registered the anger in Eva's eyes and she reached out a hand to touch her arm. “Eva?”
“This case is a lot bigger than we thought it was,” Eva said. She sighed and pulled Sigrid away from the door.
“You talked to Chuck.” It wasn't a question.
“I did. And I received a few emails from him as well.” Eva leaned her back against the side of the house, reached out and put her hands on Sigrid's shoulders. “There's an arrest warrant out for you.”
“What?” Sigrid was stunned into silence and all she could do was stare.
Eva gave her the time she needed to regain her composure, remaining silent. After a very long time she felt the body underneath her hands relax enough to lean forward. Without a word she wrapped her arms around Sigrid and pulled her close.
“That's unexpected,” Sigrid finally said. Her voice was muffled by Eva's jacket.
“Yes, it is.”
Sigrid had her arms around Eva and without letting go she leaned back a little so she could look up. “So, are you going to arrest me?”
“No.” Eva sent her a small smile, which was answered with a sigh.
“Are you willing to risk your career over that?” Sigrid moistened her lips. “Over me?”
“You're innocent,” Eva said and her voice was calm and strong. “And yes, I am willing to risk my career over that.”
“What am I accused of anyway?”
“You're a possible suspect in the murder of Michael Allen Bell, arson, and tampering with evidence.”
“Wow, I've been busy.” Sigrid rubbed her forehead against Eva's shoulder and moaned softly when she was pulled tighter into a pair of strong arms. “Can I hide in here until it's all over?”
“I wish.” Eva sighed and her lips brushed Sigrid's forehead. “This case is becoming a big stink, Sigrid. I know you can't pull out completely, but maybe...”
Sigrid did not let Eva finish her sentence. Instead, she silenced her with a brief kiss. “If there's a question somewhere in there, the answer is ‘no'. I'll see this through until the end. I did not kill anyone, I did not set fire to my own house and as for tampering with evidence, what did I do?”
“My guess is that they want to get their hands on your files.”
Eva rested her chin on the top of Sigrid's head and stared at the snow covered car. The sun was out and the glare from its reflection made her narrow her eyes. “I'm almost afraid to say it aloud, because that makes it more real.”
“Is it that bad?” When Sigrid looked into Eva's eyes she did not need an answer anymore. The green had darkened and beneath the surface the anger was brewing. “Tell me, Eva. You're worrying me.”
“We were right about Tate. Chuck pulled some records and just before and after the Michael Bell died, he received large amounts of money.”
“Really? Do you know whom from?”
“Ah, that's a little suspicious.”
Eva smiled at Sigrid's understatement. “Just a little. But there's more.”
Sigrid nodded and exhaled loudly. “Of course, there always is more.”
“Chuck followed the money trail and that's where things start to get tricky. It led to an account that is owned by a company. Its main business is an international business consulting.”
“The tone of your voice tells me they do more than that.”
“Agency work. They place housekeepers, nannies, provide reliable help for those who can afford it and are willing to pay a hefty sum.”
Sigrid's body stiffened. “Are they involved in human trafficking?”
“We're not sure yet, but it seems that way.”
“And I have something in my files they want.” Sigrid stared up at Eva who could see the comprehension dawn. “Do you think it's the safe house?”
Eva nodded. “Possibly. But they're too late, we've been there and it will no longer be used by them. We'll have to go over all your files again, because we might have missed something.”
“Did Chuck's investigation turn up more?”
“A name in Washington.”
Sigrid went very still. “I've got the distinct feeling you're not referring to Washington State.”
“No, D.C.,” Eva said. “Someone in Senator Chandler's office, if not the Senator himself.”
“Eva, honey, that's a dangerous line of thought.”
“Not if I show you the files Chuck sent me,” she said, holding up her Blackberry.
“Is this what they call a hornet's nest?” Sigrid tried to joke. “Maybe we should take the first flight out and find a secluded beach somewhere. We could go on a pre-date honeymoon and forget about all this, let someone else deal with the fall-out.”
Eva smiled. “You don't mean that.”
“No, not about letting someone else deal with it. I'm serious about the beach though.” She extended her hand. “May I see the files?”
“I can do this. I must do this, for the glory of the Lord, whose sword is breathing fire. I can do this.” Breaths came in fast, shallow rasps. Hands were clammy and trembling. “The Lord goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them and he will subdue them before you. You will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you. A devouring fire, a devouring fire, a devouring fire.” The words were repeated over and over again, a mantra to focus on. “Lord, God, help me breathe fire to devour those who sin against you. Their last sunrise has passed. Fire. Devouring fire.”
“Chuck, you do know someone is following is, don't you?” Casey's voice was calm. Only someone who knew her well would be able to detect the tension in it.
“I know. It's not like he's hiding it.”
“Does he look familiar?”
“I can't really see his face. Why don't you let him overtake us so we can have a good look at him?”
“Whatever you say,” Casey said with a small smile. She gradually decreased speed and the car behind her came closer and closer.
“Big crucifix dangling off the mirror.” Charles did not hide the fact that he was looking over his shoulder. “Old Subaru, few dents in the front. License plate ‘4jesus'. “ He looked at Casey and made a face. “He's following us in a car with a vanity plate. He's either very sure of himself or he's completely delirious.”
“The second option worries me a little more than the first one, I have to admit.” Casey's hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and she cast a look in the rearview mirror. “Can you see his face?”
“Not with the visor down.” Charles pulled out his Blackberry and quickly punched in a number from memory. “Paula, hi, it's Chuck. Would you be able to run a plate for me? New Hampshire plates, yes, 4jesus. Sure, I'll wait.” He didn't have to wait long. “Are you sure? Alright, thanks Paula.”
“And?” Casey glance aside before casting another look in the mirror.
“The plate is not in the system,” Charles said. “I guess we didn't consider that option. Maybe he's a delirious, self-assured and smart person.”
“You're not making me feel better, Chuck.”
“I'm sorry. I'd better call Eva and let her know we've picked up an unwanted guest.”
“I might be able to outrun him.” Casey's suggestion made Charles smile.
“I'd like to keep an eye on him, so I know where he is. My gut feeling tells me he might be the one who broke into Sigrid's house and later came back to set the fire.”
“If that's the case he could be dangerous,” Casey said. Her voice was losing its calm and Charles gave her an encouraging smile.
“Don't worry, Casey. I have a feeling he's after Sigrid. What puzzles me though is how he knows where we're going. Nobody knows about this.”
“He might have followed us before today.”
Charles head shot up and he sent Casey a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”
“Who did you talk to last night after I showed you the files?”
“Nobody. I stayed at the office all night and…shit.” Charles rubbed his face with both his hands, before clenching his hands into fist. “Damn that little weasel. The only person I talked to was the Captain. If that sorry excuse for pencil pusher has anything to do with this, I'll wring his neck. Personally.”
“Let's deal with this first,” Casey said. “If this creep behind us is after Sigrid we'll just have to make sure to stop him.”
“Goodness, Eva, this is serious stuff,” Sigrid said, raking her fingers through her hair. “It makes me sick to think that some politician is involved in making money through human suffering.” She handed Eva back the Blackberry. “Is Casey Planters sure about all this?”
“She had an affair with Chandler, that's how she got copies of some of the files. She broke off with him after finding them.” Eva shook her head. “That and finding out he was never going to divorce his wife.”
“Irene Chandler is known for her charity that involves children. If she happens to be involved in any of this I might lose my faith in humanity. And my breakfast.”
Eva stuck her phone in her pocket so she could wrap Sigrid in her arms again. “I don't think she is, Sigrid. We're not sure, of course, but let's hope she's not aware of any of this.” She dropped a kiss on the top of Sigrid's head, very content with the warm body that was pressed against her front. “I could get used to this.” Eva didn't realize she had spoken aloud until Sigrid looked up with a surprised expression on her face. “Um, did I say that out loud?”
Sigrid laughed. “Yes, you did, goofball.” Her face turned serious. “Did you mean it?”
Eva slowly nodded and then smiled. “Yes, I did mean it,” she said after a brief silence. “I love holding you in my arms. Does that sound sappy?”
“Not to me,” Sigrid said. She let out a happy sigh and wiggled herself even closer into the embrace. “I love that you're a little taller. It provides me with the best spot to put my head, not to mention the easy reach for my lips.”
Before Eva could respond her lips were caught by Sigrid's, who started a slow, thorough exploration. All she could do was hold on and softly moan when the tip of a warm tongue began a delicious torture of her bottom lip. For a moment she forgot about the investigation they were involved in, the children inside the cabin and the fact that Charles and Casey could appear at any moment.
“Sigrid.” Eva's voice was husky and she sounded out of breath. She did not recognize it as her own. “Sigrid,” she said against a pair of warm lips. She wanted to tell her they could not lose themselves into each other like that, because it could be dangerous. But Sigrid's lips were so warm and soft and she loved the way her body responded to the increasingly passionate caresses. A slow burning started in the pit of her stomach, spreading outward until her whole body seemed to glow from within. Rational thought was pushed to the background by Sigrid's insisting lips and the soft curves of her body, and Eva willingly surrendered.
To be continued….
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