Eva had been right; Agnes Clemente did not need or want any help in the kitchen. Instead, she sent her daughter and Sigrid into the living room to set the table for the dinner she was preparing.
"How many again?" Sigrid mumbled, eying the huge table.
"Twelve adults and ten children," Eva replied, casting the blonde an amused look. Even though she didn't show it, the Inspector new Sigrid was a little nervous about meeting her family. "The little ones usually don't sit at the table for long," Eva continued. "They usually end up in the den where my parents keep a bunch of toys." She put the last plate she was holding in its proper place on the table and her eyes sought the blonde's.
"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked a little hesitantly. "I know the last few days have been pretty tough and I'd hate for you to think that…"
"I'm fine, Eva," Sigrid interrupted with a smile. "It will be a nice distraction from the tornado in my brain."
"That's for sure," Eva nodded with a grin, tilting her head in an unconscious gesture of closely listening. "I hear a couple of familiar voices," she smiled. "I think Iris is here."
Before Eva was even finished speaking the door was opened and two dark-haired children practically tumbled into the room.
"Talking about tornadoes," Eva chuckled, bending down to scoop one of them in her arms. "Let's see who we have here. Ah, it's Oscar," she laughed, looking into a pair of dark-brown eyes.
"Me too," a voice sounded and Eva looked down into the begging eyes of her two year old niece.
"Hello, Olivia," she greeted the little girl, picking her up also. Both children went silent when they noticed and stared at the blonde with wide eyes.
"Sigrid, meet Oscar and Olivia, Iris and Jesse's twins. They're two years old and might seem shy right at this moment, but that will pass real fast."
"Hello Oscar and Olivia," Sigrid greeted with a smile, amazed by the resemblance between the twins and Eva. They had the same color hair and skin-tone. The only difference was the color of their eyes. It made her curious about Eva's sister and if the two siblings looked that much alike as well.
That question was answered when a dark-haired woman stepped into the room. She looked so much like Eva that Sigrid could only stare.
"Put those kids down and give me a hug," the woman laughed, walking toward Eva with outstretched arms. The Inspector chuckled and put the twins back on the floor, only to disappear into a warm embrace. Iris held her sister tight and for a long moment they stood there, holding each other silently, until Iris pulled back a little so she could look her sister in the eyes.
"I've missed you," she said softly and Sigrid noticed Eva's sister had tears in her eyes. "Are you doing okay?"
"I am," Eva answered with a hoarse voice.
"I promise," Eva nodded, giving her sister another hug before she turned her to face Sigrid. "Iris, this is Sigrid Meyers. Sigrid, this is my sister, Iris."
"Where are my manners?" Iris mumbled, quickly wiping her eyes with the back of her left hand, extending her right one to the blonde. "It's nice to meet you, Sigrid," she smiled warmly.
"It's nice to meet you as well," Sigrid smiled. "I can't believe how much Eva and you look alike. You could have been twins." She cast a look at the twins who were still eying her with a mixture of curiosity and shyness. Iris saw her look and she let out a chuckle.
"Strong genes," she explained. "I know those two look like they could have been Eva's." She gave her sister a playful swat across the stomach and added:"It makes me very impatient for her to have children. I want to know what they'd look like."
"You'll have to wait, Iris," Eva grinned. "But if our genes are as strong as you like to profess, they'd look like yours."
Iris laughed but didn't reply, because at that moment a tall woman with short auburn hair stepped into the room, greeting Eva with an enthusiastic hug.
"Hello, stranger," her voice sounded playful. "It's good to see you."
"Likewise," Eva smiled, grabbing the woman's arm and looking at Sigrid.
"Sigrid, this is Jesse Holbrook. Jesse, this is Sigrid."
Jesse shook the blonde's hand warmly, not aware of the slightly startled look on her face. Iris had noticed though and she sent Eva a questioning look. Sigrid had recovered quickly from her surprise and was exchanging pleasantries with Jesse, while Iris stepped closer to Eva, elbowing her in the ribs.
"Your friend looked a little frazzled for a few seconds," she said softly. "Is she…?"
"No, she isn't, she's very open-minded," Eva replied, equally soft.
"I guess she has to be, since she's your friend," Iris teased.
"Thanks," Eva replied with a wry smile. "I love you, too."
More voices sounded in the kitchen and Eva looked at Sigrid, who sent her a reassuring smile. For a brief moment their eyes locked. Sigrid's eyes were pensive, but warm and Eva wished she could take the blonde to a quiet corner and do some explaining, but more family was entering the house, so it would have to wait. Raising one eyebrow she asked a silent question, which was answered with a warm smile and a barely noticeable wink. Relieved, Eva turned to her sister Leah who was entering, aware of the warm feeling in the pit of her stomach that she knew Sigrid's smile had put there.
A few hours later, Sigrid had met the entire Clemente family, dinner had been a slightly noisy, but pleasant experience, the children were playing in the den and the adults were sitting around the table, engrossed in a variety of conversations.
"Did you have enough to eat, Sigrid?" Rick Clemente asked in a deep voice.
"Oh, yes, more than enough thank you Mister Clemente," the blonde replied. "I mean, Rick," she added with a smile. She had taken an instant liking to Eva's father. He was tall with unruly dark hair that was sprinkled with gray. His skin was dark and weathered by being outside on the water so much. Even though Agnes Clemente was an attractive woman, it was easy to see that Eva had inherited her father's good looks.
"Those almond cookies won't last all night, you know," he smiled, pointing at the quickly dwindling freshly baked treats in the middle of the table.
"They're really good," Sigrid nodded. "And it's tempting to eat another one, but I don't want to explode."
"They're my grandmother's recipe," Iris, who sat on Sigrid's left side, explained. "She gave mom the recipe when she married dad, because they were always his favorites." Eva's sister took a sip from her tea and smiled. "And exploding would be messy," she added.
"It would," Sigrid nodded answering Iris' smile.
Iris looked past the blonde and seeing that Eva, who was sitting on Sigrid's right side, was talking to her father, Leon and Felix she turned back to Sigrid.
"I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but I couldn't help noticing you looked a little surprised when Eva introduced Jesse as my partner," she spoke softly.
"I was," Sigrid replied with a nod and a smile. "But not because you're both women. Eva had listed all her family members, so I was a little prepared, but she only mentioned that her sister Iris was married to Jesse."
"Maybe she wasn't sure how you'd feel about that?" Iris mused in defense of her sibling.
"I'm pretty sure she does," Sigrid chuckled. "She knows I'm gay."
Iris eyes went wide and traveled between Sigrid to Eva and back again.
"Oh," was all she said, before adding: "In that case I guess you wouldn't object."
"That would be a little hypocritical, wouldn't it?" Sigrid nodded. "Sometimes things are so normal to us, we don't give it a second thought. I assume Eva didn't feel the need to explain anything because she knew I'm gay."
"How long have you known each other?" Iris wanted to know.
"Not that long. We met through…work," Sigrid explained, knowing she couldn't give too many details, but also unwilling to lie. "It's been less than a week, although it feels like I've known her a lot longer than that."
"Eva can have that effect on people" Iris smiled. "But only if she lets her defenses down. There are people that have known her almost her entire life and they still don't really know her, if you know what I mean."
"I guess I'm lucky then," Sigrid smiled, casting a sideway glance at the subject of their conversation. Unexpectedly, she looked straight into a pair of sparkling green eyes and immediately felt her heart rate pick up.
"Is my sister spilling family secrets?"
"As if," Iris snorted, reaching around Sigrid to punch Eva's shoulder. "No, darling, Sigrid and I are merely discussing you character flaws, which are not a secret."
"Nice," Leon commented from across the table. "Don't forget you and Eva are twins who were born two years apart, so whatever you tell Sigrid about her reflects on you."
"I was only telling Sigrid how wonderful our baby sister is," Iris chuckled. "How intelligent, charming and talented."
"In that case, don't forget stubborn, single-minded and opinionated," Jesse chimed in from Iris' other side, making everybody laugh.
"But you love me anyway," Iris stated with a smug smile, leaning in to give her partner a quick kiss.
"And what does that tell you about me?" Jesse teased with a dramatic sigh and a roll of her eyes.
"Trust me, honey, you don't want to go there."
Sigrid laughed along with the rest of them, turning back to Eva when she felt a soft touch on her elbow.
"Are you properly distracted?" she wanted to know, referring to the conversation they had earlier. When Sigrid nodded, she gave her arm a friendly squeeze, before withdrawing her hand. The soft light from the lamp over the dining table spread golden highlights in Sigrid's hair, making the clear blue eyes stand out even more and Eva felt herself drawn to that source of warmth more and more. It made her tremble inside and mentally she scolded herself for losing focus like that. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath, aware of the questioning look Sigrid was casting her.
"Don't let Leon eat all the cookies," she joked in a quiet voice, finally pulling her eyes away from Sigrid's. When she picked up her coffee cup she noticed the slight tremble of her hand and inwardly she cursed, hoping no-one else had noticed.
It was close to midnight when Sigrid walked out of the bathroom, ready to hop into bed and, hopefully go to sleep. The evening had been a pleasant one. Eva's family members all seemed to be kind people who had accepted her presence without question. Without exception they had all been welcoming, for which the blonde was grateful.
When she left, Iris had given her a hug, whispering she expected to see her again soon, which had left Sigrid slightly puzzled. Especially because she had witnessed a whispered, seemingly heated exchange of words between Eva and Iris a few minutes before that.
"You're frowning," Eva drawled from her position on the bed, comfortably stretched out in a t-shirt and a pair of gray sweat pants.
"I am?" Sigrid sighed, sinking down on the edge of her own bed. She pushed her hair away from her forehead, realizing she was more tired than she had thought she was.
"You are," Eva smiled, rolling on her side and supporting her head with a hand. "Is everything okay?"
"Define 'okay'," Sigrid replied quietly.
"You look like something is troubling you," Eva explained.
Sigrid pulled up her legs underneath her, leaning into the pillows beside her. Her eyes were darker than usual when she looked at Eva, a testimony to the turmoil inside.
"When I was brushing my teeth it suddenly hit me I won't be looking into my own mirror again," she spoke softly. "My house is gone. When we solve this case, I don't have a place to go back home to," her voice was slightly hoarse from emotion. "The more it sinks in, the more lost I feel," she said. The pain in her voice was audible.
"I can only imagine what it feels like to lose your house like that," Eva sighed, pushing herself up and off the bed. It only took her a few steps to reach Sigrid and sink next to the blonde. "Is there anything I can do for you right now?" she asked softly. "I feel a little helpless."
"You're being a friend. That's all I can ask for now," Sigrid produced a watery smile and brushed her fingertips across Eva's arm. "Thank you for that."
"I wish I could do more though," the Inspector complained.
"Well, if you can wave a magic wand, solve this case right now and repair my house, I'd be very grateful," Sigrid sighed. She cast a look aside and made a face. "No such chance, huh?"
"I'm afraid not," Eva softly chuckled, stopping Sigrid's finger from drawing circles on her arm by grabbing her hand.
"Ooops, I'm sorry," Sigrid chuckled. "I tend to fidget when I'm stressed or upset."
"I don't mind," Eva smiled. "But you were tickling me."
Sigrid looked at her hand, resting in Eva's slightly larger one and wordlessly she entwined their fingers, liking the feelings that simple gesture caused inside. When the Inspector did not pull back, she used the fingers of her free hand to gently stroke the skin of Eva's hand.
"You have beautiful hands," she finally said, without looking up.
"Thank you," was Eva's soft reply.
"I couldn't help noticing Iris has the same hands." This time Sigrid did look up and she sent Eva a small smile. "I'm still amazed at how much the two of you look alike."
"There's no denying we're related, that's for sure," Eva nodded.
There was a brief silence and Eva could tell by the restless movements of her fingers that the blonde was trying to work something out inside her mind.
"I was wondering," she finally started. "Since you and Iris share so many genes…I…" she paused, not knowing how to continue and with a frown she stared at their joined hands, until Eva's free hand covered her fidgeting one.
"If I'm right and know what you think right now, the answer is 'yes'," the Inspector softly spoke, suppressing a smile when Sigrid's head jerked up and a pair of startled eyes caught hers.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Sigrid wanted to know. There was no sign of blame or irritation in her voice, just curiosity.
"I wanted to be able to keep a distance," Eva explained honestly.
"Because…at the time I felt it wouldn't be appropriate to share a lot of personal information with you. The first hours after you called in the murder I had to treat you as a possible suspect."
"But that didn't last long," Sigrid remarked with a small smile.
"No, thank goodness, it didn't," Eva nodded. "But then I started to suspect you were more than just a small town pastor and…," Eva took a deep breath and cast down her eyes, unwilling to face Sigrid.
"And what?" Sigrid pressed on, suspecting what Eva wanted to say, but needing to hear it.
"And I realized how…how attracted I was to you," Eva whispered. "This case is becoming more and more complicated and I…I need to be able to focus." She lifted her head and there was a worried look in her eyes. "I know you are trained as an Agent, but still, someone out there wants to hurt you and it's my job to keep you safe." Eva swallowed hard and her eyes were pleading. "I can't allow myself to be distracted, Sigrid."
"I know," the blonde answered in a very subdued voice. "I feel the same, trust me. It's hard to focus when, in the back of my mind, I'm constantly wondering about you…us." She gave Eva's hands a friendly squeeze and smiled. "I guess I don't have to do that anymore." Her face became serious again as she looked up at the other woman. "So, what happens now?"
"We leave for New Hampshire in the morning, solve this case and take it from there?"
"That sounds reasonable," Sigrid sighed unhappily, making Eva chuckle.
"Did you have anything else in mind?" Eva's voice was teasing.
Sigrid looked at the other woman and her eyes slowly traveled from the green eyes to the full mouth and back again.
"You're doing that on purpose," Eva whispered, swallowing hard.
"Doing what on purpose?" Sigrid asked in a soft voice.
"Looking at me like…like…"
"Like I'd die if I don't kiss you right now?" Sigrid asked quietly, aware of her heart beating wildly in her chest.
"Something like that," Eva breathed. "Sigrid…" she swallowed and took a deep breath. "I meant it when I said that being distracted wouldn't be a good idea right now."
"How can I not be distracted when you sit so close to me? I can feel the heat of your body and smell the scent of soap on your skin and I can't help wondering what it would feel like to kiss your lips. They look so soft, Eva," Sigrid whispered, extracting her hand from between Eva's so she could reach up and brush her fingertips across the Inspector's cheek. "I think I'd be a heck of a lot less distracted if I actually could kiss you, so I know what it's like and I don't have to wonder about it anymore."
There was a sparkle in Sigrid's eyes and Eva smiled, feeling herself drawn closer to the blonde. The sensation of Sigrid's fingertips on her skin made her entire body tingle and she could feel the heat spread like a wildfire, making her skin glow and her stomach muscles clench.
"You come up with some pretty solid arguments," she said with difficulty, brushing Sigrid's bottom lip with her thumb, eliciting a groan from the blonde that only amplified the effect of her fingers on her skin.
"Thank you," Sigrid breathed, acutely aware of her body's response to Eva's close proximity. "Does that mean that…?" She never finished her sentence, because the mouth she had admired and wondered about prevented her from speaking when it descended on her lips, soft and slightly hesitant at first, but with growing confidence and passion.
Sigrid moaned into the kiss, wrapped her arms around Eva and pulled the other woman closer, only aware of the feel of those lips and the way her body responded, craving contact that was even closer, losing herself completely in the feel of the other woman. Both women lost themselves completely in the close, intimate contact. Every passing second their need for more contact increased and unconsciously their hands slipped underneath the loose fabric of their sleepwear, touching and caressing soft, warm skin that was growing warmer by the moment. After a very long time, Eva found herself half covering Sigrid's supine body and with an enormous amount of self-control she slowly withdrew herself from the blonde, who whimpered softly at the loss of proximity.
"Sigrid, we have to stop," Eva spoke with difficulty, closing her eyes and moaning when blunt nails raked the sensitive skin of her stomach. "Sigrid, please."
"I know," the blonde finally answered, unable to keep herself from touching the Inspector's skin. "But you feel so good and I don't really want to stop. I want to keep going," she added in a heated whisper, feeling her wandering hands caught by Eva's slightly bigger ones.
"And I want that, too," Eva replied, not able to stop herself from kissing the sensitive skin of Sigrid's neck. "But you deserve so much more than this, and so do I." She slowly withdrew her lips from Sigrid's skin, letting her hands slide down the blonde's arms to grab her hands. "Sigrid, it would be so easy to do this, to make love to you, right here and right now. But there are so many reasons why we shouldn't." Eva swallowed hard and with a small smile she brushed a strand of hair away from the blonde's forehead. "It's not my habit to sleep with someone that quick. I'd like to get to know you better, build up something between us that is more than...than…,"
"Animalistic lust," Sigrid provided with a small smile and Eva nodded.
"Yes. I am sorry."
"Don't be," Sigrid replied in a soft voice. "You are right. And it's not a habit of me either. I usually don't jump someone like this when I barely know them."
"That's good to know," Eva smiled, trying not to moan in disappointment when Sigrid's roaming hands withdrew from underneath her shirt. It had felt so good, but common sense prevented her from continuing what they had started.
"I would really like to get to know you better, before we take this…," she motioned between Sigrid and herself. "Before we take this any further. Call me old-fashioned," she added apologetically.
"I would like that, too," Sigrid replied with a smile. "Although, I have to admit my primal senses are not happy."
"Neither are mine. I need a cold shower," Eva admitted, chuckling when Sigrid groaned.
"Is kissing allowed?" the blonde wanted to know.
"God, I hope so," Eva breathed and this time Sigrid chuckled. She looked up at the dark-haired woman and her eyes turned a few shades darker.
"You're beautiful," she whispered, not able to stop her hand from brushing through Eva's hair. "Am I allowed one more kiss?"
Eva didn't answer, but with a small smile she brought her face closer to the blonde's and lightly brushed her lips with her own.
"You call that a kiss?" Sigrid complained, but her eyes were dancing.
"No, I don't," Eva truthfully answered. "But considering the fact that I'm practically laying on top of you, I guess a chaste kiss right now is safer than the alternative." The expression on her face grew serious. "It would be so easy to lose myself in you right now, Sigrid, believe me. But how would you look at me in the morning? How would I look at myself in the mirror?" Slowly, the Inspector rolled off the blonde, although she didn't break the physical contact. Her right hand was resting on the blonde's stomach, while she supported her head wither other hand.
"I have too much respect for you to take this further right now."
"And I appreciate your honesty," Sigrid replied, mirroring Eva's position on the bed, her left hand resting on the other woman's hip. "And I am grateful for your respect, I really am. Thank you."
Her words were sincere and made the Inspector relax.
"When this case is solved, I plan to court you thoroughly," Eva smiled, tracing Sigrid's eyebrows with the tip of a finger.
"And I will let you," the blonde promised, while her eyes looked at Eva with a dreamy expression. "To be honest, I can't wait to see where this goes."
She reached up and pulled Eva's face closer, kissing the dark-haired woman's lips unhurriedly, before her hand left Eva's neck to limply lie on the bed. "Is it very bold of me to ask you to sleep with me tonight?" she whispered. "I mean sleep…sleep, not…the other…sleep," she hurried to explain when she noticed the rise of Eva's dark eyebrows. "I just…with everything that has happened I'd just like…I'd like some comfort and you bring that," she added softly.
Eva did not answer but she pulled the pulled the comforter up, rolled onto her side and wrapped her arm around Sigrid, pulling her against her body.
"Is this what you have in mind?" she quietly asked, smiling when Sigrid snuggled a little closer.
"Perfect," the blonde sighed. "This feels so good. Thank you, Eva."
"Goodnight, Sigrid," Eva answered, dropping a kiss on the blonde's temple.
Within a few minutes, both women were fast asleep.
Betty Avery made a face and softly chuckled when she stuffed a fleece vest into the overnight bag she was packing. It was always good to make sure one was prepared for everything. The plan was to drive northwest to the spot marked on the map they had found, investigate and return the same day. According to the weather forecast it would be dry and the chance of precipitation was only thirty percent. But, one never knew, so Betty made sure she had enough warm clothes to make it through a blizzard.
When the phone rang she looked up from what she was doing and reached out a hand to grab the cordless device she had tossed on the bed.
"Betty, it's me, Meg. Listen, I just talked to Twitch and she's bringing a couple of guns. I thought I'd warn you."
"Bringing a couple of guns. The old fool thinks that we might need guns to protect ourselves, just in case…," Meg explained, sounding a little nervous.
There was a short silence, before Betty let out a resigned sigh.
"Well, I know we can't convince her to leave those things at home, but I hope they're registered."
"I asked her and she said they are," Meg answered with a chuckle. "She went to the shooting range this afternoon, to practice."
"Oh, my goodness. I hope she didn't kill anyone," Betty couldn't help but exclaiming.
"She said she did good, whatever that might mean," Meg sighed. "So, do you really think we should go ahead with this?"
"I guess…yes, I believe so," Meg replied. "I've got this feeling though, like, I don't know, like we'll get more than we'll bargain for," she added slowly.
"Then maybe it's a good idea to bring some fire power," Betty chuckled. "Who knows, it might come in handy."
"So, we'll meet around seven tomorrow morning?"
"We will. I'll see you then, Meg, and bring extra clothes, just in case."
"Don't worry, I did," Meg answered. "No nasty surprise will cause me to freeze to death."
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